§ 4.7 p.m.
§ Order of the Day for the Second Reading read.
§ THE PARLIAMENTARY UNDERSECRETARY OF STATE FOR COMMONWEALTH RELATIONS (LORD OGMORE)
My Lords, I beg to move that this Bill be now read a second time. As your Lordships know, the Constitution of Canada is governed by the British North America Act, 1867, as amended by subsequent legislation. Under the original Act the Federal Parliament received exclusive legislative power in certain matters and in all cases where power had not been specifically assigned by the Act to the Provincial Legislatures. There was no provision in the Act of 1867 976 enabling the Canadian Parliament to amend the Constitution created by the Act.
The main intention of the Statute of Westminster, 1931, was to provide for entire legislative independence of the Dominions. Nevertheless, at the request of the Canadian Government Section 7 of the Statute of Westminster provided as follows:Nothing in this Act shall be deemed to apply to the repeal, amendment or alteration of the British North America Acts, 1867 to 1930, or any order, rule or regulation made thereunder.The same Section also provided:The powers conferred by this Act upon the Parliament of Canada or upon the Legislatures of the Provinces shall be restricted to the enactment of laws in relation to matters within the competence of the Parliament of Canada or of any of the Legislatures of the Provinces respectively.There was a further Act in 1949, entitled The British North America (No. 2) Act, which gave the Canadian Parliament the power to amend the Canadian Constitution but still with an exception—namely,except as regards matters coming within the classes of subjects assigned exclusively to the Legislatures of the Provinces,and with relation to certain other matters. The position, therefore, is that amendments of the Canadian Constitution relating to matters, at present the exclusive concern of the Provincial Legislatures— such as old-age pensions—still require legislation at Westminster.
The Federal and the Provincial Governments have, however, agreed in conference that provision should be made for the Federal Parliament in future to pass legislation, if it so desires, relating to old-age pensions, and that Provincial Govments retain their existing powers in this regard. The Canadian Houses of Parliament have therefore submitted an Address to His Majesty praying that the British North America Acts, 1867 to 1949, be amended by the United Kingdom Parliament, enabling the Federal Parliament to legislate concurrently with Provincial Legislatures on old-age pensions. His Majesty The King has been pleased to approve the petition and the Canadian Government have been so informed. This Bill is designed to give effect to the Address to His Majesty.
The Prime Minister of Canada is most anxious that we should do everything 977 possible to expedite the necessary legislation, and with your Lordships' permission, it is intended to take the remaining stages of the Bill this afternoon. I beg to move.
§ Moved, That the Bill be now read 2a.— (Lord Ogmore.)
§ THE MARQUESS OF SALISBURY
My Lords, I rise merely to express the support of those who sit on these Benches with this Bill, which is, in the fullest sense of the term, at any rate so far as we are concerned, entirely non-controversial. As the noble Lord has just explained, the British North America Act is an old-established constitutional instrument which is still on the Statute Book, and for that reason, as I understand it, our formal concurrence is necessary. I am sure we are all happy to agree with what is desired by the people of Canada: it is an internal matter which in modern times is, of course, entirely their concern.
§ VISCOUNT SAMUEL
My Lords, I am sure that your Lordships' House will pass this Bill with unanimity. Indeed, its introduction into this House is nothing more than a constitutional formality. We are happy to meet the wishes of the Canadian Parliament in this regard, and also to amend our usual procedure by passing this Bill through all its stages in one day.
§ On Question, Bill read 2a: Committee negatived.
§ Then, Standing Order No. XXXIX having been dispensed with (pursuant to the Resolution of yesterday), Bill read 3a and passed.