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Wednesday, 29 November 1905

Mr JOHNSON (Lang) - I second the motion, because I feel that it is desirable that this question should be discussed. If the ruling of Mr. Deputy Speaker is applied generally to the conduct of business in this Chamber, it must necessarily reduce our proceedings to an absolute farce. If it is disorderly for one honorable member to use an argument that has previously been employed - not by himself, but by some other honorable , member - it seems to me that not only will discussion of any measure be confined to a very limited number of speakers, but, in some instances, it will be entirely blocked.

Mr Watson - It would be a terrible thing if honorable members were confined to new arguments, I suppose?

Mr JOHNSON - Every honorable member will feel the effect of the ruling to which I have referred. I have been looking through the pages of Hansard with a view to ascertaining if there be anynotable exception, and I find that there is scarcely a member of this Chamber, who, at some time or other, has not employed arguments which have been previously used either by himself or other honorable members. Upon some questions there may possibly be only two or three main arguments which can be advanced, either for or against them. I can easily conceive that if the ruling of Mr. Deputy Speaker be upheld, one honorable member may rise, and put forward all those main arguments, and by so doing absolutely prevent any further discussion of the question at issue. As a matter of fact, under the ruling to which I allude, even a reference to arguments which had been advanced by other honorable members 'Av>as prohibited. It seems to me that if a question is to be discussed at all, it is impossible for it to be fairly debated without honorable members referring to arguments which have been already used, and, perhaps, for purposes of clearness and emphasis, repeating them. It is easy to imagine that a proposed law which is advocated by honorable members upon one side of the House may be opposed by the first speaker upon the other side of the Chamber, on the ground of its injustice. The injustice which it would inflict may be the central argument upon which the whole opposition, to the proposal rests. Does anyone suggest that because the first honorable member - who has been fortunate enough to catch Mr. Speaker's eye - has used that' argument in opposition to the proposal, other honorable members ought to be prevented from employing it? It is due, not only to the members of the House, but to their constituents, whose mouth - piece they are, that they should have the freest right to express their opinions upon a matter of that kind, even though they might feel called upon to repeat arguments which had already been adduced. If it were not so, it must be clear to anybody who considers the matter, even from a superficial stand-point, that a Presiding Officer who was disposed to be tyrannical would be vested with power to effectually " gag " every honorable member. That condition of things ought not to obtain in a free Parliament. Mr. Deputy Speaker relied, in support of his action, upon the Standing Orders of the House of Commons. Hi's supposed authority is to be found on page 300 of May's Parliamentary Practice, which says, in relation to irrelevance or repetition -

A member who resorts to persistent irrelevance may, under Standing Order No. 24, be directed by the Speaker or the Chairman to discontinue his speech, after the attention of the House has been called to the conduct of the honorable member -

It will be seen there that the attention of the House has first to be called to the conduct of the member who is guilty of persistent irrelevance. May continues - and akin to irrelevancy is the frequent repetition of the same arguments, whether of the arguments of the member speaking, or the arguments of other members; an offence which may be met by the power given to the Chairman under Standing Order No. 24.

It will be observed that there is a very important qualification imposed by the introduction of the word " frequent." My reading of the standing order in question is that it is not disorderly to repeat an argument which has previously been used either by the same speaker or by another honorable member ; but it is disorderly to frequently repeat it. That is an important qualification, which appears to have been entirely lost sight of in the Deputy Speaker's ruling. It seems to me that the standing order of the House of Commons does not preclude reference to arguments which have been used by other honorable members, nor the repetition of an argument which the speaker himself has previously used. What it does preclude is the frequent repetition of the same argument. Turning to page 828 of the appendix of May, I find the following, which deals with the question of irrelevance or repetition : - (27th November, 1882, and 28th February, 1888) That Mr. Speaker or the Chairman, after having called the attention of the House or of the Committee to the conduct of a member who persists in irrelevance, or tedious repetition either of his own arguments or of the arguments used by other members in the debate, may direct him to discontinue his speech.

In this connexion, I say that we have a standing order - I refer to standing order No. 276- which gives Mr. Speaker power to deal with honorable members who are guilty of tedious repetition. And there was no necessity under the circumstances to fall back upon the British House of Commons procedure, unless it was desired by the Chair to arrogate powers which the Standing Orders did not confer or contemplate. But May's Parliamentary Practice does not support the Deputy Speaker's attitude. In the quotation whi(ch I have just made, it will be noted that the word " repetition " is again qualified by the word "tedious." Tedious repetition, I take it, means more than one repetition. Indeed, k means more than one repetition by the same person. .From both these readings it seems that a reasonable interpretation of the standing order is that an honorable member may use an argument which has been previously employed by another honorable member irrespective of whether he does so designedly or as the result of inadvertence. But it is clearly disorderly for him to indulge in tedious repetition of that argument- -in other words, to say the same thing over and over again. If it were not so, it would be useless to debate any question, because two or three honorable members might virtually advance all the main arguments either for or against any specific proposal.

Mr Watson - That would be " hard luck."

Mr JOHNSON - Such a ruling would, therefore, operate very unjustly. The honorable member for Bland himself might be excluded from speaking under such circumstances. He might spend a considerable amount of time consulting- authorities in the library in order that he might be qualified to address himself to a certain question, and yet he might be denied an opportunity to give expression to his ideas ; because during his absence some one else had forestalled him and employed the arguments he intended to employ. He might attend in this Chamber with the intention of delivering an important speech - a speech which not only concerned the House and his constituents, but the country at large, and which by virtue of its importance ought to go before the country. But under the ruling of the Deputy Speaker, he might be absolutely prevented from delivering that speech, and consequently the pearls of wisdom which might otherwise have flowed from his lips would be lost to the present generation and to posterity. I am not arguing this question from any sense of personal ill-usage. I am eliminating the personal element entirely, and viewing the matter simply from the stand-point of reason and justice. It seems to me that if the ruling %of the Deputy Speaker be enforced within such narrow limits, the proceedings of this House as, a deliberative assembly will be reduced to an absolute farce.

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