The hon. member for Greenwood has raised a question of privilege in relation to the non-production of a certain document in the Standing Committee on External Affairs and National Defence. He has indicated that if the Chair were to find that there is a prima facie case of privilege he would move a motion suggesting that this matter be referred to the Standing Committee on Privileges and Elections.
The Chair has in the past, on many occasions and based on many precedents, suggested that it might be very unwise for the House to decide that proceedings in one committee be investigated by another committee. I am sure that the hon. member would want to bear that in mind. The hon. member also suggested that there is a motion which should be put. I wonder whether it would be the wish of hon. members that we spend the afternoon debating this motion which, as a debate on a motion of privilege, might go on for some days.
I have had a few moments to look into the situation, and in a preliminary way there would appear to be at least three questions involved in the matter raised by the hon. member for Greenwood. The first is whether it is procedurally acceptable to raise in the House under the heading of privilege a proceeding in a standing committee. I suggest that this can be done only when such proceeding is presented to the House by means of a report accompanied, if necessary, by the relevant evidence. In my view, it is not possible to initiate a debate in the House on the evidence alone of a committee unless there is before the House a formal report. I mean by this that the report must state the specific question and be brought to the House by means of a specific motion to concur.
Second, there is at least implied in the question of privilege the matter of the conduct of a witness before a
May 8, 1974
Report of Committees
committee. Again it seems to me, and I believe that precedent will support my view, that the conduct of a witness can be considered by the House only on receiving a report thereon from a committee and the consideration, as I said a moment ago, of a motion to concur in the report with the required 48 hours notice.
Finally, there is the question of the extent of the power of a committee to send for papers. Hon. members are aware, of course, of the Standing Order to which the hon. member has referred and of the practice of the House. Hon. members know that a committee has the power to send for persons, papers and records. The fundamental question is whether a committee, without reference and submission to the House, has the authority to exercise that power in every case.
The hon. member for Greenwood (Mr. Brewin), in his question of privilege, suggests that the House should study immediately the problem posed by the refusal of CIDA's president to produce a certain document to the committee.
Can the committee, on its own, without reporting officially to the House, take any coercive steps against the witness? Can the committee, on its own authority, conclude in judgment: Down with Gerin-Lajoie? The Chair will have to think about it seriously.
For the moment, I think it would be the sense of the House that, rather than embark on an extended debate on the question of privilege raised by the hon. member for Greenwood, the Chair should be given an opportunity to reflect on the matter, taking into account the representations of the hon. member and the precedents, and then give a ruling later, perhaps tomorrow.
Topic: MR. BREWIN-FAILURE OF PRESIDENT OF CANADIAN INTERNATIONAL DEVELOPMENT AGENCY TO PRODUCE TO COMMITTEE REPORT ON ADMINISTRATION