§ Mr. Speaker
On Thursday of last week, the hon. Member for Islington, South and Finsbury (Mr. Cunningham) and the hon. Member for Hackney, Central (Mr. Davis), and yesterday the right hon. Member for Norwich, North (Mr. Ennals) raised questions with me concerning the Canada Bill, the Second Reading of which is due to take place today. I have also been asked privately by other hon. Members for advice.
I will now give a ruling on the points for which my guidance has been sought.
The first question is that of language. The rule of the House is that we speak in the English language. The Bill before us is a Bill in two languages—Canadian French and English. The House will be aware that the Canadian Federal Parliament is bilingual. The Bill that is before us comes from that Parliament after very long deliberation. The long title and preamble to the Bill show that the Canadian Parliament requests the House to enactthe provisions hereinafter set forth.Those provisions embrace the French text which, according to clause 3, is to have the same authority in Canada as the English version. [Interruption.] Order. This is a very important ruling.
Since the Bill is unique in modern times, it is essential for us to be quite clear in our minds about the course to follow. I cannot escape the conclusion that the bilingual Canadian Parliament, which has made the request to us to pass this Bill, is satisfied that there is no difference in substance between the Canadian French version and the English version.
In addressing itself to the substance of the Bill, this English-speaking House will therefore need to direct its scrutiny to the English version. If the House were to make any amendment to the English version of the Bill, it might well become necessary, at some later stage, for a consequential amendment to be made to the French version. However, after consultation with the Chairman of Ways and Means, I am satisfied that it will not be proper—either in Committee or on Report—for amendments addressed to the French version to be selected for debate.
It follows that the rule that requires any amendment, if it is to be in order, to be accompanied by any necessary consequential amendments, will not be so interpreted, either in Committee or on Report, as to require an amendment to the English version to be accompanied on the Notice Paper by a consequential amendment to the French version. Our debate, therefore, although confined to the English language, will in no way be inhibited from dealing with the substance of the Bill.
I have also been asked about the extent to which discussion and amendment of the Bill and its schedules would be in order. As with any other Bill, that is a matter for decision in the first instance by the Chairman of the Committee concerned. However, it may help the House if I say that I have no reason to believe that the English text of the Bill is unamendable.
In reply to those right hon. and hon. Members who have drawn my attention to the fact that certain legal proceedings are still pending, I remind them that the sub judice rule has never been allowed to prevent the House from undertaking legislation. In that context, the hon. Member for Hackney, South referred to the possible effect of the Queen's consent. However, I am satisfied on 291 precedent that this is not a Bill to which the Queen's consent is required. I hope that what I have said has been helpful to the House and that we may now proceed to the Second Reading debate.
§ Mr. Robin Maxwell-Hyslop (Tiverton)
On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I should be grateful if you would advise the House whether those hon. Members who have visited Canada at the expense of a party with an interest in the Canada Bill should specifically declare that before—should they have the good fortune to catch your eye—speaking in the debate.
§ Mr. Speaker
The hon. Gentleman has drawn our attention to a very important matter. I should have thought that it was clear to all hon. Members that if any hon. Member has been placed in that position he should inform the House, when he addresses it, that he has been so entertained.
§ Mr. Peter Tapsell (Horncastle)
On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Did I understand you to say, Sir, that the Queen's consent would not be required? Perhaps you could explain to a layman such as myself how any Bill can become an Act of Parliament, under our constitution, without the Queen's consent?
§ Mr. Speaker
Bills are considered regularly without formal consent being necessary in this Chamber before we can proceed. The question is whether consent is necessary before we proceed.
§ Mr. Leslie Spriggs (St. Helens)
On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. The House must feel obliged for the ruling you have given. However, one aspect is not clear. When today's business is concluded, will any business which should go to the House of Lords be dealt with before this Bill goes into Committee? Should we delay Committee proceedings until we get the answer from the House of Lords?
§ Mr. Christopher Price (Lewisham, West)
On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I wish to clarify two points concerning your ruling on the French language, which, of course, we all accept. If amendments are made to the English version, who is responsible for the consequential amendments into French Canadian? You made it clear, Mr. Speaker, that as the Bill stands we must accept both the English text and the French Canadian text to be a request from the Canadian Parliament. However, if an amendment were made, any translation into French Canadian could not bear that assumption which we can make for the Bill as a whole.
§ Mr. Speaker
The hon. Gentleman raises a speculation on which I am not prepared to embark. We will see if that situation arises. If it does, I know of no-one in this House capable of amending it. In any case, the House must understand what amendments are on the Notice Paper. I cannot rule on that until the situation arises; we will deal with it then.