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Census Act (Draft Order-In- Council)

Volume 245: debated on Monday 24 November 1930

The text on this page has been created from Hansard archive content, it may contain typographical errors.

I desire to submit a point to you, Mr. Speaker, and to ask if you will be good enough to give a Ruling for the assistance of Members of this House. A draft Order-in-Council under the Census Act, 1920, was laid on the Table of the House on the 28th October, and, under the Act, has to lie on the Table for 20 sitting days. I endeavoured to obtain a copy of this draft Order shortly after the date on which it was laid on the Table, and found that it was not available. I ultimately, by inquiry, obtained a print from the Vote Office on the 18th November, which was the 15th sitting day. My information was that it was available had I inquired on the previous night, the 17th November, which would have been the 14th sitting day, but that was the earliest date. It was, in fact, notified to Members on the House of Commons Votes and on the usual pink demand paper on the 19th November, or the 16th sitting day.

I desire to put on the Order Paper a notice of Motion for an Address praying that this Order in Council be not made. Of course, if the time is reckoned from the date on which it was technically laid on the Table, namely, the 28th October, I am out of date; but I find that, according to Erskine May, Speakers in the past have ruled, in similar circumstances, that, if a Paper is laid on the Table of this House in dummy form, the time during which it has to be laid only runs from the time at which a. full copy was available to Members. I therefore ask you, Sir, if, in protection of the privileges of this House, you will rule that in this case the time during which this draft Order in Council has to lie on the Table of the House should run from some date not earlier than the 17th November, the first day on which it could have been seen on inquiry by any Member of the House.

Undoubtedly, the Rule that an Order must lie on the Table for 20 days means that during those 20 days a copy of the Order must be available to Members of the House. Of course, if a copy is not available during the 20 days, those 20 days must only run from the day upon which the copy becomes available; and, of course, I endorse entirely the views of my predecessors that it need not necessarily be a printed copy, but it must be a copy, and not merely a dummy. I think that that answers the question of the hon. Member.

Do I understand, Sir, that the answer you have just given does not raise the issue as to whether or not this Order was available in the Library for the examination of Members?

That question was not put to me. The hon. Member who raised the question told me that he went to the Library and that a copy was not available. I understood that that was the position.

That is so, and I was hoping that that would be accepted, or that, if it is not, the other side would be put to you. Perhaps I might ask if you would rule definitely that, if I put down a Motion, it should be accepted and put on the Order Paper? The facts are that inquiries were made in the Library for this Paper a few days after the 28th October, and the answer was that it was not available, that it was only laid in dummy form. I made subsequent inquiries, and, ultimately, I found a copy in the Library, with the assistance of the Librarian. That was on the 18th November. That was a printed copy, and I was told that I could get a copy at the Vote Office. I then went to the Vote Office and obtained a copy, and I took the opportunity of asking at the Vote Office how long it had been there. I was told that the prints were only delivered on the previous day, that they had not yet been notified on the form of demand for Papers, but that they would appear on it the next day, and- that was so. Therefore, I can only say that my -attempts, which were genuine attempts, to obtain it failed, and the information 1 was given by the officials of the House was that the earliest day on which I could possibly have seen a copy of this Order in the House was, in fact, only the day before that on which I did obtain it, namely, the 17th November.

May I ask, for our guidance, whether, if t copy was as a matter of fact in the Library, the days during which the copy lay in the Library are to be counted as effective days?

Certainly. The days on which a copy was available—not a dummy, but a copy, not necessarily a print—the days upon which that copy lies in the Library must be counted as days upon which that copy is available for Members.

I believe that what really happened was that the copy which was laid was sent to the printers—

What I discovered from my inquiries was that a copy was not available—I will not be certain as to the exact date, but within about seven days of the 28th October. It is just possible that the copy may have been available during the first five or six days and then taken away and sent to the printers. It is, at any rate, certain from my inquiries that from a date about three days after 28th October until 17th November there was no copy in the Library or the Vote Office.

If in any case of this kind a copy is available and then ceases to be available, may I suggest that those days upon which it ceases to be available are not effective counting days; in other words, that your Ruling is that only those days shall count on which it is possible and open for a Member to go to the Library and see it, whether it is in manuscript or in print?

Before you answer that question, Sir, may I ask whether the existence of the document in the Library must not be on 20 consecutive days? To take an extreme case, it surely cannot be admitted that, if a document were there on one day, withdrawn on the next and presently replaced, only to be withdrawn again, those days should count in the same way as if the document had been continuously available for inspection by Members.

May I ask you, Sir, also to consider this question, whether or not a copy of this Order additional to the copy alleged to have been sent to the printer was or was not available in the Library for the inspection of Members? That question, I submit, cannot be definitely answered on the basis of a statement made in the House by a Member who applied and says that he failed to get a copy.

The test is that it should he available for a Member. I took every ordinary and proper step for the purpose of seeing it, and I did not succeed. If there was a copy in some way hidden away in the Library, I inquired for it, and I could not see it.

I can only say that however many copies were sent, the information I obtained on inquiry was that the document could not be seen because it was only laid in dummy.

I do not suggest that there is any doubt as to the correctness of what the hon. Gentleman has said. In fact, I deliberately omitted to make any remark as to whether the Order was available or whether it was not. I merely laid down the Ruling that the 20 days must he days on which a copy of the Order is available for Members. If there is any doubt about it, of course, I will have it looked into. As regards the point raised by the right hon. Gentleman, the words of the Act of Parliament which lay it down that a copy shall be laid for 20 days are "not less than 20 days." The word "consecutive" does not occur.

I do not think this is a party question and I am not intervening with any party animus. It must be to the interest of all of us that where a document is supposed to be available under certain conditions, we should know that it will be so available. May I submit that if a document can he withdrawn for uncertain intervals and then replaced for a day, nothing but a daily inquiry will ever enable a Member to know when the document is available. If the Statute does not expressly say 20 consecutive days, it must surely be read as meaning that the document is to be open to inspection for 20 consecutive days before it becomes effective.

May I suggest that this vitally important matter might be referred to the Committee of Privileges for their consideration.

With regard to the point that he right hon. Gentleman raises as to consecutive days, I have not had an opportunity of going into it, but the Act of Parliament does not use the word "consecutive." It merely says 20 days when the House is sitting.

May I ask, Sir, whether you will be good enough to look into that matter. I regret that I had to put the question to you without any notice, but I have myself had no notice of my hon. Friend's intention.

Certainly, I will look into the matter and see if there is any specific Ruling upon this point.