HC Deb 15 July 1964 vol 698 cc1285-7

Order for Second Reading read.

7.33 p.m.

The Under-Secretary of State for Commonwealth Relations and for the Colonies (Mr. R. P. Hornby)

I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.

It may perhaps seem strange for the House to be asked to approve amending legislation to the British North America Acts which in effect form the Constitution of Canada. It may seem even stranger when the point under discussion is one so obviously of domestic concern to Canada as a change in the law relating to pension there. Perhaps I might therefore be allowed to explain the background to the Bill, and I hope not to detain the House too long on the point.

The Bill has been introduced to comply with an Address to Her Majesty the Queen which was adopted by both Houses of the Canadian Parliament. The reason for the Address, and hence for the Bill, is that the British North America Act of 1867 contained no provision, as I understand, for the amendment of the Constitution by Canada herself, and that position was reaffirmed at the specific request of Canada in the Statute of Westminster when it was passed in 1931.

A change was made to some extent in 1949 when the British North America Act No. 2 provided that the Canadian Parliament was able to amend the British North America Acts in virtually all respects except in those matters which touched upon the area reserved for the provincial legislatures, and in those matters where those legislatures were concerned legislation by the United Kingdom Parliament still remains necessary.

The Bill arises out of these conditions. It arises out of a decision of the Canadian Parliament to take further powers in the field of their pensions policies which affect the jurisdiction of the provincial legislatures. The House may like to know that the Canadian Government hope to discuss at the next Federal Provincial Conference ways in which the British North America Acts could be amended, in future, in all respects without making reference to this House. It is pending any decision which the Canadian Government may be able to take on this that a Bill of this kind comes before us. I hope that the House will agree that for me to say more than I have said would be to trespass on a subject which is patently the concern of Canada. Therefore, with these words I commend the Bill to the House.

7.36 p.m.

Sir Frank Soskice (Newport)

Nobody in the House or outside it could possibly question the right of Canada to enact legislation relating to old-age pensions and supplementary benefits. This is perfectly obvious. But it is a bit of a shock, as the Under-Secretary said, to those of us who are so deeply used to the idea of Canada being one of the great sovereign independent countries, to be reminded, as we occasionally are, that the Canadian Parliament has to submit an Address to Her Mjesty praying that Her Majesty may be pleased for a Measure to be laid before this Parliament in the United Kingdom, as in this case for the amendment of the British North America Acts.

I took some steps to research into the history of this and I was most astonished to learn that technically Canadian legislation is still subject to the Colonial Laws Validity Act, 1865. It is one of the most astonishing and absurd historical anomalies that we have now, as we are doing, to accede to the request of the Canadian Parliament that it should be allowed to legislate in regard to old-age pensions.

I believe that I am right in saying that there has been a considerable difference of view in Canada with reference to the proper procedure to be inserted into Canadian legislation with a view to amending the Constitution and that there are some who prefer to leave the matter as it is in statu quo. I would hope that the view would prevail in Canada that the time really has come when Canada in terms should be recognised in her own legislation and in ours as what she is, one of the great sovereign countries of the world, and we should not have to accede to a request addressed to us or rather to Her Majesty by the Canadian Parliament. This is my only observation and, having said that, I greatly hope that we would say without the slightest hestitation to Canada, "If you want to legislate you certainly shall, and we hope that in future you will by some means find ways so that you do not need to approach us".

Question put and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read a Second time.

Bill committed to a Committee of the whole House.—[Mr. Ian Fraser.]

Committee Tomorrow.