UK, HL, “British North America (No. 2) Bill [H.L.] Lords”, vol 165 (1949), cols 809-813

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Date: 1949-11-22
By: UK (House of Lords)
Citation: UK, HL, “British North America (No. 2) Bill [H.L.] Lords“, vol 165 (1949), cols 809-813.
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2.38 p.m.

Order of the Day for the Second Reading read.

THE LORD PRIVY SEAL (VISCOUNT ADDISON) My Lords, this is one of those times of great importance in the history of the British Commonwealth, which almost imperceptibly proceeds from one stage to another. In this case we are asked by the Government of Canada to accord to them some of the powers which are possessed by all the other members of the Commonwealth, but not, strangely enough, by Canada. It so happens that, when the Statute of Westminster was passed, at the express request of the Canadian Government an exception was made with regard to the British North America Act, with special reference to the division of powers between the Federal and Provincial authorities. As the result of that decision your Lordships have been asked at different times to agree 810 to certain legislation. But now the Canadian Houses of Parliament have submitted a Petition to His Majesty of which the Bill before you is the consequence and which will authorise the Canadian Parliament to amend the Canadian Constitution in relation to matters which are solely within the jurisdiction of that Parliament. That is a power which, except for the conditions to which I have already referred, is possessed by all other members of the Commonwealth—Australia, New Zealand, India, Pakistan, Ceylon and South Africa. It is only because of the circumstances I have mentioned that your Lordships are asked to take this action to-day.

I understand that early in the New Year there will be a conference between the Federal and Provincial authorities in Canada to consider matters which are semi-federal or semi-provincial in their character. So far as this is concerned, I am sure that your Lordships’ House will be only too glad, and indeed anxious, to fall in with the wishes of the Canadian Parliament, and I hope you are willing to pass through all its stages this short measure which will be of great convenience to them. This occasion affords us an opportunity, of which I am sure we shall all be glad to avail ourselves, to express our gratitude to this oldest member of the Commonwealth overseas and our recognition of their splendid and loyal friendship and of their increasingly powerful help. I beg to move.

Moved, That the Bi11 be now read 2ª.—(Viscount Addison.)

2.41 p.m.

THE MARQUESS OF SALISBURY My Lords, this I am sure is not a matter upon which noble Lords in any part of this House will desire that there should appear to be any difference between the Parties and the State in this country. I therefore rise to say quite briefly that I entirely concur with what has been said by the Leader of the House, and that I associate myself fully with his remarks about the country and the people of Canada.
2.42 p.m.

THE MARQUESS OF READING My Lords, if there were ever a time when matters of this kind were the subject of controversy in your Lordships’ House, that time has long since passed. The 811 questions dealt with in this Bill appear to be largely both an anomaly and a survival, and if it be the desire of the Canadian Government that they should now be removed we certainly should be fully willing to fall in with their wishes, associating ourselves as we do with the very well-merited tribute of gratitude which the Leader of the House expressed.
On Question, Bill read 2ª; Committee negatived.

Then, Standing Order No. XXXIX having been dispensed with (pursuant to the Resolution of November 17):

VISCOUNT ADDISON My Lords, I beg to move that the Bill be now read a third time.

Moved, That the Bill be now read 3ª.—(Viscount Addison.)

2.43 p.m.

VISCOUNT SIMON My Lords, as this is a very interesting moment, perhaps I may be allowed to add one word in the warmest support of what has already been said. It so happens that the constitutional development of Canada has been a subject to which I have professionally had to attend over a very long span of years. This moment is really both historic and moving. As the Leader of the House has said, Canada has a Constitution which, because of its antiquity, is in a tighter framework than the Constitutions of other members of the Commonwealth which have been more recently brought into being.
It is eighty years and more since the British North America Act was framed. Of course, it was not framed in this country. It was framed by Canadian statesmen, meeting at Quebec to devise a plan of federation, then for only part of what we now know as Canada, and it brought together the original Provinces under one Federal Government. When the Fathers of Federation at Quebec had finished their work, they sent Resolutions over here and asked the Imperial Parliament to express their conclusions in a Statute, which Parliament did in 1867, eighty-two years ago. At that date, it was thought desirable to create a Constitution which, to a very large extent, was rigid and could not be altered by any internal amendment. That is the reason why, as the Leader of the House no doubt 812 well remembers—for he has known of this happening on several occasions—at various intervals we have had before us Bills to make small changes in one way or another in the Act of 1867. But all that is archaic. It is now recognised that every one of these great members of the British Commonwealth enjoys just the same status and self-government as we enjoy in our own country, and each has the right, as we have, to alter its own Constitution. That has been prominently done in the case of Eire: the present Constitution of Eire is hardly recognisable as compared with the original Constitution. It has been done in the case of India. In the case of the Constitution of Australia, which was not drawn up until 1900, and of the Constitution of the Union of South Africa, which was drawn up in 1909, there are provisions which enable modifications in the Constitution to be made without referring to the British Parliament at all.

We are therefore doing a very interesting thing to-day. It is perhaps the final stage in the evolution of the complete autonomous self-government, in a constitutional sense, of the oldest of our Commonwealth members. Your Lordships will notice—though we did not, of course, need to have a Committee stage—that the language of Clause 1 of the Bill is such that it carefully preserves the rights of the Provinces of Canada, Canada, of course, is a Federation—we took part the other day in adding the last, the tenth of the Provinces, Newfoundland, to the Federation of Canada—and the Provinces are jealous of their rights as against a Dominion. That being so, your Lordships will notice that the language of the Bill very properly preserves matters coming within the classes of subjects assigned exclusively to the Legislatures of the Provinces, and in the same way: … as regards rights or privileges by this or any other Constitutional Act granted or secured to the Legislature or the Government of a province.… That, I apprehend, refers more particularly to the special protection which is to be found in the British North America Act—in the cases of both Quebec and Ontario—relating to matters connected with religious education.

So, my Lords, while I apologise for taking up your time at this moment, I cannot help feeling that we are assisting 813 in what is both an historic and a romantic change. I need hardly say that I join fully with what has already been said as to the unanimous delight of the House in putting this last matter in order, so that Canada may enjoy, in the fullest measure, the right to reconstitute herself as she thinks proper. We do it with a firm assurance that, whether in peace or in war, the greater be the completeness of her freedom, the better will be the understanding between the Canadian people and our own.

On Question, Bill read 3ª, and passed.

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