§ [SECOND READING.]
§ Order of the Day for the Second Reading read.
§ THE UNDER-SECRETARY OF STATE FOR INDIA (LORD ISLINGTON)
My Lords, this is a Bill to extend the term of the present Parliament of Canada for one year—that is, until October 7, 1917. Under a 203 provision of the British North America Act, 1867, the duration of the Canadian House of Commons is limited to five years, and that provision cannot be varied except by an Act of the Imperial Parliament. This Bill is introduced at the desire of the Canadian Government, and is in accordance with the terms of an Address to His Majesty the King from both the Senate and the House of Commons of Canada. The Bill has already been passed in its original form in another place. I hope that it will be regarded by this House as a formal measure, and that your Lordships will be good enough to give it a Second Reading to-day.
§ Moved, That the Bill be now read 2a.—(Lord Islington.)
§ VISCOUNT BRYCE
My Lords, this Bill is an exceedingly interesting instance of the services which the Imperial Parliament is able to render to our great Dominions. It is not necessary, of course, to say anything about the substance of the Bill. What I wish to call your Lordships' attention to is the fact that it is extremely valuable for the great Dominions, and particularly for Canada, to have in reserve a power of this kind on the part of the Imperial Parliament, which can be used at their request.
By Section 50 of the British North America Act, 1867, the duration of the Parliament of the Dominion is limited to five years, and what is desired now by the Address to which my noble friend referred is that the Imperial Parliament will be pleased to alter the Constitution in that respect pro hac vice so as to permit of the duration of the present Parliament being extended beyond that period. Were it not in the power of Canada to ask us to do this, and were it not in our power to do it on their behalf, the Dominion would have been put to the great inconvenience and expense of trying to amend their Constitution themselves. If, as in the United States, it had been necessary in Canada, in order to amend the Constitution, to secure an Act agreed to by the electors, the Canadian Parliament would have had to go through the long and costly process of taking the votes of the people to secure the object desired. But fortunately, the Imperial Parliament having retained this power—although it is a power which would never be exercised except in accordance with the wishes of the Dominion—and having received a unanimous request 204 from the Senate and the House of Commons of Canada that we should act in this way for them on this occasion, it is, of course, a privilege and pleasure to us to be able to comply with their desire and save them from the inconvenience which would arise if it were necessary for them to amend their Constitution in the way in which the Constitutions of independent States are usually amended.
I think it may be worth while to add that this offers a singular instance of the patriotism and public spirit of the Parliament and people of Canada. In Canada, as your Lordships are aware, Party spirit is at least as strong as it is in any other part of the King's Dominions; and in Canada there is not, as there is here, a Coalition Government. It was at the instance of the Coalition Government that it was decided some months ago to prolong the existence of the present Parliament here. In Canada there is no such Coalition Government. But, with perfect patriotism and good faith on both sides, it has been agreed there between the Government and the Opposition that the duration of the Canadian Parliament should be prolonged. I think we may reasonably feel gratified not only that the Parliament of Canada has shown its public spirit in this way, but also that it has given us, if we needed it, a confirmation of the wisdom of our own Legislature in prolonging the duration of the present Parliament so as not to have a General Election in the midst of the war. I assume that we shall all agree to the passing of this Bill.
§ On Question, Bill read 2a, and committed to a Committee of the whole House To-morrow.