HC Deb 09 December 1980 vol 995 cc780-1
Q1 Mr. Foulkes

To ask the Prime Minister if she will arrange to meet with the Prime Minister of Canada to discuss the patriation of the British North America Acts.

The Prime Minister (Mrs. Margaret Thatcher)

I have no plans to do so.

Mr. Foulkes

But does not the Prime Minister realise that we are now on a collision course with Canada? Since the Prime Minister does not have to seek her problems, will she now say to Pierre Trudeau that changes in the constitution of Canada should be decided over there and that he should now abandon his unilateral action?

The Prime Minister

We have as yet received no request from Canada. When a request comes, we shall try to deal with it as expeditiously as possible and in accordance with precedent.

Mr. Aitken

Is my right hon. Friend aware that it has been reported all over Canada that the British Government have given Mr. Trudeau some sort of commitment that they will push the 59-clause Bill through this House of Commons as quickly as possible? Will my right hon. Friend confirm or deny those reports, and will she bear in mind that constitutional issues of this complexity must surely be decided not by the Government but by Parliament as a whole?

The Prime Minister

I know of no 59-clause Bill. On 14 previous occasions this House has been asked to deal with a request from the federally elected Parliament of Canada. It has done so in accordance with well-established precedent, bearing in mind that we are an elected Parliament and that the federal Parliament of Canada is a similarly elected Parliament. When we receive the request, we shall try to deal with it as soon as we can.

Mr. George

Does the Prime Minister appreciate that there are many advisers outside the Foreign Office who have argued that, unless there is unanimity or near unanimity among the provinces, the Canadian Prime Minister should not proceed to patriate and we should not acquiesce? If we acquiesce, we shall be reneging on constitutional obligations not only to the provinces but to the native people of Canada—people who were there 15,000 years before the French or the English ever realised that Canada existed.

The Prime Minister

If we receive a request, I believe that we have to deal with it in accordance with the statute which governs it—

Mr. English

Hear, hear.

The Prime Minister

—in accordance with precedent, and in accordance with the fact: that it is received from a fully democratically elected Parliament and would be a request from a fully democratically elected Parlament to a similarly democratically elected Parliament.

Mr. Maxwell-Hyslop

Does my right hon. Friend agree bat the only elected body that can make representations on behalf of the Canadian people to another Commonwealth Government, such as our own, is the federal Government of Canada, and that provincial Administrations cannot have any locus standi vis-à-vis the Government of the United Kingdom or the Parliament of the United Kingdom?

The Prime Minister

I believe that we can receive a request, under the relevant statute, only from the federal Parliament of Canada.