HC Deb 03 December 1980 vol 995 cc247-8
3. Mr. Foulkes

asked the Lord Privy Seal if he will make a statement on the Government's attitude to a request from the Federal Parliament of Canada for patriation of the British North America Act.

The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Mr. Nicholas Ridley)

No request has been received. The matter is before a joint committee of both Houses of the Canadian Parliament. It is also being considered by the Select Committee on Foreign Affairs of this House. This is, therefore, not the moment to make a statement.

Mr. Foulkes

As there are now grave doubts about the constitutionality of that which will be proposed to us and as there are provinces pursuing this matter in the Canadian courts, would it not be helpful for the British Government to make a statement now to the effect that they want Mr. Trudeau to get agreement in Canada before bringing this matter before the United Kingdom Parliament?

Mr. Ridley

It would be constitutionally improper for me to comment on the substance of any request that might be made or on any events that are taking place within Canada.

Mr. McQuarrie

Surely my hon. Friend will be able to make a form of comment that will take away the fear in the Canadian provinces, especially those such as British Columbia where there is a tremendous British content. Is he aware that they fear a sell-out of their nationality or the relationship that they have had with Britain for so many years because the Canadian Prime Minister wants to try to change the constitution to suit himself when he has no electoral right to do so?

Mr. Ridley

Any views of that sort should be kept within Canada. It would be wrong for me to respond to whatever may be said within a sovereign independent country.

Mr. George

Will the Minister give assurances that if a Bill is to be introduced to the House it will not be a simple two-clause Bill with all the contentious stuff in the schedules? If he is not prepared to make a formal statement, can he not allow vibrations to emanate from his Department to supplement the vibrations emanating from this place to the effect that the issue should be tested in the Canadian Supreme Court first, and that we should proceed after that court has pronounced on the validity of the package that is to be ram-rodded through this place as well through Canada?

Mr. Ridley

I can assure the hon. Gentleman that there are any amount of vibrations. However, I do not think that it would be right for me to comment on the views of the Canadian provinces. Nor would it be anything other than hypothetical to suggest that legal action in Canada might still be taking place if and when a request is made. If that situation arises, we shall have to consider it at the time.

Mr. Wall

Can my hon. Friend give any reson why we should pull Prime Minister Trudeau's coals out of the fire for him? Is he aware that there is a supposition in Canada that what is really behind this issue is a desire on the part of the Prime Minister to declare a republic?

Mr. Ridley

It would be wrong for me to comment on the substance of any request that is made. If a request for patriation were received from the Parliament of Canada, it would be in accordance with precedent for the United Kingdom Government introduce in Parliament, and for Parliament to enact, appropriate legislation in compliance with the request. That is the convention.

Mr. Shore

Is the Minister aware that many of us would wish him to handle this matter with the utmost care and caution because we believe in maintaining the strongest possible relationships with our partners the Canadians? Has the joint consideration that I understand is taking place by the Canadian Parliament been completed? If not, when is it likely that the joint resolution—I think that I have the right form of words—will be submitted to the United Kingdom?

Mr. Ridley

I gather that the issue is still before a Standing Committee of both Houses of the Canadian Parliament. The latest news is that it might be as much as two months before the consideration of the measure is completed by the Canadian Parliament.

Mr. Speaker

We come next to question No. 4. It is due to a misprint in the Order Paper that the hon. Member for Chipping Barnet (Mr. Chapman) appears to have tabled a question on Iraq and not the hon. Member for Wokingham (Mr. van Straubenzee). In fact, the hon. Member for Chipping Barnet tabled a question on Afghanistan and the hon. Member for Wokingham tabled a question on Iraq.

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