Hon. R. B. BENNETT (Leader of the Opposition):
Since the motion has been
called, a rather serious situation has developed. I am not saying at the moment that a deliberate endeavour has been made to prevent investigation, but the fact is that two very prominent members on the opposite side of the house are energetically taking action that, if carried to its finality, would result in the investigations never being completed. I need hardly point out to the house that it has been a rule from time immemorial that when an item is under consideration in the public [DOT] accounts committee, you may trace it back to its origin without any further reference to the house. Unfortunately, however, the contention has been made-and a majority vote in the committee succeeded in carrying the views of that majority, of course-that you cannot investigate an item, the details of which appear in a previous auditor general's report, beyond the year preceding the year just ended. I need hardly say that such a contention, if carried to its finality, would render nugatory any effort made by the public accounts committee.
The rule, as I understand it-and I have asked some of the oldest members of the house-is perfectly clear, that if in the public accounts for the year ended March 31, 1928, there appears an item indicating that payments have been made to A. B. and it becomes necessary to trace the matter back to its origin, even as the hon. member for South Wellington (Mr. Guthrie) said, to confederation itself; if it is a continuous series of transactions, then you can trace it back to its origin without referring the matter to the house. That looks on the face of it so sensible as not to require discussion. The hon. gentleman who has made the motion has an entirely different view. He believes the house adopted another rule. I do not find any evidence of the adoption of such a rule. The public accounts are on the motion of the Minister of Finance (Mr. Robb) referred to the public accounts committee. It will be recalled that last year a little conversation took place with respect to that owing to the late date in the session at which the public accounts were referred; and without prejudice to our position. At the
moment, the motion of the hon. member for Quebec West is a motion intended to empower the committee to go back beyond the Auditor General's report for 1928 with respect to a certain related item, and of course the Minister of Justice (Mr. Lapointe) will realize just what that means. You cannot carry on your discussion with respect to the final payment of an account unless you can go back to its origin and trace it down, because it is based on a contract either express or implied, a contract in writing or a verbal contract given by one of the departments. That may be five or six years ago. I know of one ten or eleven years back.