- The Empire Club of Canada Addresses (Toronto, Canada), 17 Nov 1955, p. 101-110
- Beaudoin, Hon. Rene, Speaker
- Media Type
- Item Type
- The third session of the 22nd Parliament, summoned by Royal Proclamation, and issued upon the advice of the Cabinet for the dispatch of business to get under way on January 10th next. A description of how the first session will open and proceed. Some history and background of parliament and the House of Commons. The role of the elected Speaker. Some history of the Speaker's position. The Speaker's lack of participation in debate. The reasons which inspired Sir John A. Macdonald to propose the appointment of a Deputy-Speaker. Some traditions which Canada still follows. The genius of the parliamentary system; the centuries it took to develop. The need for the ceremonials to give parliament the august atmosphere and dignified behaviour becoming a body in which is vested the authority that God and the people wish Canada to have.
- Date of Original
- 17 Nov 1955
- Language of Item
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- Full Text
- "SUMMONED TO THE BAR"
An Address by HON. RENE BEAUDOIN, M.P. The Speaker of the House of Commons
Thursday, November 17th, 1955
CHAIRMAN: The President, Dr. C. C. Goldring.
DR. C. C. GOLDRING: The Speaker of the House of Commons is a very important member of the Parliament of the Dominion of Canada. He is not only the presiding officer but in addition is the adviser of the Members of Parliament in matters of procedure. He has wide powers to direct debates and to pass judgment on various points concerned with the motions that initiate debates. In addition, he is the administrator of the House of Commons building and as such has authority over the parliamentary restaurant, cafeteria, library, stenographers, debates reporters, etc. We are happy to welcome today, the occupant of this very important post, the Hon. Rene Beaudoin.
Mr. Beaudoin was born in Montreal and graduated from the Faculty of Law of the University of Montreal. He was elected a Member of Parliament for the constituency of Vaudreuil-Soulanges in June, 1945, and was re-elected in the same constituency in 1949 and in 1953. He has had extensive experience in committee work in the House of Commons and has served as Deputy Chairman and Chairman of the Committees of the Whole. In 1952 he was elected Deputy Speaker of the House of Commons and became Speaker on November 12th, 1953.
With his wealth of experience in the practice of law and in the House of Commons, he is well-qualified to speak on the subject "Summoned to the Bar".
We accord to Mr. Beaudoin a very hearty welcome to this meeting of the Empire Club of Canada.
MR. BEAUDOIN: On January 10th next, the third session of the 22nd Parliament summoned by Royal Proclamation issued upon the advice of the Cabinet for the dispatch of business will get under way.
His Excellency the Governor General will open this session in the ceremonial manner becoming a Parliament constituted after the model and image of the Parliament of Great Britain.
On the opening day of the first session, the elected Speaker, having been approved by the Sovereign, claimed and secured for the duration of the 22nd Parliament, the ancient and undoubted privileges of the House of Commons.
Specifically, the Speaker has asked for freedom from arrest and molestation, liberty of speech, access to the Royal Person and a favourable construction to all their proceedings.
Although not claimed by the Speaker, the House has the undoubted right to provide for its own constitution and the power to maintain its authority even by punishing for breach of privilege.
The conditions necessary to members for the efficient performance of their duty as a body have therefore been established.
Once the causes for summoning Parliament, as outlined in the speech from the Throne, will have been declared, the House will return from the Senate to its own Chamber, physically arranged and organized along the British Parliamentary specifications, and will embark upon its task, guided by a set of principles, rules and forms which it took Great Britain centuries to develop and perfect.
By the grace of my colleagues, I occupy a Chair dominating a scene on which is being transacted the important business of the House, legislative, financial, and critical; and on which also are being unfolded the greatest moments of English and Canadian history.
The actors are necessarily very much preoccupied by their daily housework, debate in the House and debate in committee. I do not take part in debate, I am, of course, very much interested in what is being said and very much impressed by the decors and the background of the stage before me.
Relieved as I am of the terrible anxieties which at one time besieged the Speaker, I may enjoy the show.
I do not fear losing my head as King Henry VIII once threatened a Speaker.
Whenever I act as spokesman for the Commons I present texts in the exact form in which they have been prepared.
Legislation by petitions presented to the Sovereign by the Speaker, often in words which were at variance with the substance of the petitions, was out of style when we began in Canada to legislate under British Parliamentary Rules. In 1414, British Commoners had submitted "that there never be no law made and engrossed as statute and law neither by additions nor discriminations by no manner of term or terms which should change the sentence and the intent asked" and the Sovereign agreed that from henceforth "nothing be enacted to the petition of the Commons contrary to their asking whereby they should be bound without their assent."
Ever since 1414 therefore, it became the practice to present to the Sovereign for assent, not a petition but a bill. Refusal to assent to a bill cannot now practically be refused.
Illbert, a former Clerk of the British House of Commons, tells us that "since the time of Queen Anne, no English King or Queen has ever refused assent to a bill."
Like in England, since in 1407, the Sovereign agreed that money grants were left to the initiative of the Commons, supply bills are presented for assent, after both Houses have passed them, by the Speaker of the Commons himself.
Although Commoners have no more reasons to suspect their Speaker when he acts as their spokesman and although the Speaker has no more reasons to fear unfavourable reactions from the Sovereign, there are surviving delightful customs reminding us of those days of struggle for equilibrium among the three component parts of Parliament.
At the opening of a new Parliament, the elected Speaker is supposed to be taken by the shoulders and dragged to the Chair so that when he goes to seek the approval of the Sovereign, he may give as an excuse that the Commons compelled him to take the Chair. Nowadays, that particular scene is very poorly acted. After the motion is carried, the Mover and Seconder walk resolutely toward the elected Speaker: the roughing on the part of the formers and the resistance on the part of the latter are purely imaginary. However, the stage is still being set and as long as it is, one never knows when the scene might be reenacted in strict accordance with the script.
Since the middle of the 17th century, it has been the practice in England to use committees to take care of detailed business. At first, they consisted of a few members specially selected from the membership of the House: they were select committees. When it was found that the small committees, almost always composed of the same select few, were a useful instrument of royal influence, committees of the whole House came into being. In these committees all members could have their say and know what was going on. There remained one suspicious character, he was the Speaker. So British Parliamentarians invented the magic formula: Mr. Speaker, they said reverently, we move that you do now leave the Chair for the House to resolve itself into a Committee of the Whole. And thus, ever since the long Parliament, the Speaker is moved out of the Chair whenever the House wishes to resolve itself into a committee of the whole and then discuss more freely and in detail the matter under consideration.
In Canada, except for the purpose of explaining the estimates of the House in Committee of Supply, no Speaker has taken part in any debate in Committee of the Whole since Mr. Speaker's Lemieux's time and since 1885, by the enactment of a statute and a standing order, a member other than the Speaker, must be appointed at the beginning of a Parliament to take the Chair of all Committees of the Whole.
It is interesting to note, however, the reasons which inspired Sir John A. Macdonald to propose the appointment of a Deputy-Speaker. After stating that it was proper to introduce a practice which obtained in the United Kingdom, he said, as reported in Hansard, I quote: "It is found and we have found that the Chair of the Speaker is not a bed of roses. In Canada, the health of our Speakers has suffered from the too long sittings which have taken place. I do not like, Sir, to allude to yourself in your presence, but you have, I believe, had more than one significant hint that the long sittings which you have been obliged, in the performance of your duty, to submit to, have been prejudicial to your health. I know that your immediate predecessor suffered materially and I am sorry to say that my old friend and colleague, Mr. Cockburn, died in consequence of a disease caused by the long sittings in the Chair."
It was in Tudor times in England that the Commons acquired a distinct home of their own: St. Stephen's Chapel.
When it was destroyed by fire in 1834, the Commons were given a specific meeting place in the Palace of Westminster. St. Stephen's Chapel was Royal property. Although no Sovereign has lived at Westminster since Henry VIII moved out in 1512, Westminster is still a Royal Palace.
When on the occasion of Coronation Parliamentarians of the Commonwealth gave a special dinner in Her Majesty's honour, it was only proper for Queen Elizabeth II to preside as she was in her own home.
Although the Canadian House of Commons is not a Royal Palace but the property of the Canadian people, the Speaker of the Senate and myself were pleased indeed to invite Her Majesty The Queen Mother to preside at the dinner given in her honour a year ago in our Parliamentary Restaurant, because we felt that for a person for whom all Canadians have so much admiration, respect, and affection, the only place was the presiding chair.
For nearly three hundred years, from 1547 to the fire in 1834, the English Commons met in St. Stephen's Chapel. It is said that the rectangular shape of the Chapel is responsible for the development of a house divided as we know it today between government and opposition.
In his book on the British House of Commons, Martin Lindsay, M.P., describes this development as follows: "The seating in this narrow rectangular Chapel could only be conveniently arranged on two sides facing an aisle down the centre which gave great encouragement to the inception of two mutually antagonistic parties sitting opposite each other. The logical development of this was, of course, the conception of government and opposition, with the latter's duties of constructive criticism and the provision of an alternative government which in itself provides the most powerful safeguard against maladmimstration with its logical consequence of revolution.
It is impossible to over-estimate the effect on our history of that casual decision. For had the Commons been allotted a square room, they would almost certainly have sat, as in foreign Chambers, upon semi-circular benches. This would have encouraged numerous groups of opinion shading from left to right, and would probably have resulted in a continuous series of weak administrations always at the mercy of some new majority alignment."
In St. Stephen's Chapel the Speaker's Chair was placed in front of the altar. Upon entering, Members, in respect for the altar, reverently bowed. On January 21st, 1580, the House adopted a resolution stating that Members "should depart and go forth in comely and civil sort for the reverence of the House; in turning about with a low courtesy like as they do make at their coming into the House; and not so unseemingly and rudely to thrust and thrung out as of late time hath been disorderly used."
In England, Members, Messengers from the Sovereign and the Lords, and the new Member being introduced bow three times in entering the House.
In Canada the Gentleman Usher of the Black Rod, who is the Messenger from the Sovereign and the Senate, conforms to the three traditional bows when he visits the House.
He, perhaps, persists in this polite behaviour because of the fact that since Charles I erupted into the Commons, took the Speaker's Chair and enquired about five of its leading Members which he wanted to arrest he finds the Commons doors locked, and has to knock three times before he can be admitted.
New Members elected outside a general election are still being formally introduced by two sponsors. In many instances the traditional bows are reduced from three to one. As to Members generally, most of them do still bow reverently, others merely bow, others hardly bow, but ail only once.
A few sometimes forget to bow at all. Some thought could perhaps be given to the installation of an altar behind the Speaker's Chair.
On the Clerk's Table rests the symbol of authority: the Mace.
Originally a heavy weapon, it is now a splendid ornament. The present English Mace dating from 1660 is considered the one which replaced the Mace thrown into the Thames after Cromwell dismissed Parliament and ordered his men to take away that "shining Bauble".
Our present Mace was given to us in June, 1916, by Colonel The Right Honourable Sir Charles Wakefield, then Lord Mayor of London, and by Sir George Alexander Touche, M.P., and Sir Samuel George Shead, then Sheriffs of London. It was officially accepted by the House on May 16th, 1917 upon a resolution moved by Sir Robert Borden and seconded by Sir Wilfrid Laurier.
It was paraded for the first time in the present House of Commons on Thursday, February 26th, 1920, when the House opened its sitting in the new Parliament Building.
Every sitting day the Speaker, preceded by the Mace, borne by the Sergeant-at-Arms parades from his quarters to the House of Commons Chamber. The Speaker and the Mace are inseparable. Without them the House is not properly assembled.
"To show that unless the Speaker is in the Chair the House is not constituted" says Campion, "the Mace is removed from the Table when the House is in committee. A similar distinction marks the proceedings in connection with the election of a Speaker. The Mace is kept under the Table until the new Speaker is elected. It is then placed upon the Table as a sign that the House is properly constituted for its own proceedings. Until, however, the Royal approbation has been received, the Speaker Elect is not fully in office and this is symbolized by the fact that he is not preceded by the Mace when leaving the House during the interval between his election and the receipt of the Royal approval."
On the Clerk's Table also there is a calendar stand, an ink stand, and a seal press. These articles have been made by artists on the special order of the House of Commons. I do encourage every one to read the description of the motives embodied in the design of these articles, as it appears in the document laid by Mr. Speaker Lemieux on Friday, May 28th, 1926 the text of which appears in the Journals of that day at Page 365.
Worthy of note also is the Speaker's Chair which is a beautiful replica of the Speaker's Chair in the British House of Commons at Westminster before the bombing of the House in the last World War. The Chair was presented to us by the Right Honourable James William Lowther, P.C., on behalf of the United Kingdom Branch of the Empire Parliamentary Association, on Friday, May 20th, 1921.
In presenting the Chair to us the Right Honourable James W. Lowther described what he called an exact replica of the Speaker's Chair in the House of Commons which was erected in that building in 1844. "Above the Chair", he said, "in the canopy you will observe the Royal Coat of Arms. This is carved out of a piece of oak which, until recently, has formed part of the roof of Westminster Hall. The roof of Westminster Hall was erected in the time of Richard II in the year 1397. I think, imitating the celebrated mot of Napoleon, I can fairly say that from here five centuries will look down upon you." And in conclusion he said: "I would say that the Speaker's Chair is the symbol not only of parliamentary government as evolved by the great constitutional elements of the Commonwealth of Nations, but of authority, the authority of the individual selected by his colleagues to preside over them, authority to regulate debate, to maintain order, and to insure the free expression of all opinions. It marks, therefore, not only the similarity and the continuity of parliamentary institutions in the new world as in the old, but it emphasizes the principle that without law, order, and authority, there can be no true freedom. Upon the Chair itself you will find this principle enshrined in the succinct maxim, "libertas in legibus."
"It is the hope then of the donors that the parliamentary instincts and traditions which `broadening down from precedent to precedent' have come to us in St. Stephens, may flourish and abound in this country, and that when this generation and future generations look upon this Chair the sight may kindle in their hearts a spark nay, I would rather say a flame of respect and admiration, and, I trust, affection for the Old Country."
When the Right Honouurable J. W. Lowther paraphrased Napoleon's words and said that from the Speaker's Chair "five centuries will look down upon you", he could have said that more than seven centuries "will look down upon you".
In fact, is it not by virtue of Magna Carta signed by King John at Runnymede on June 15, 1215, that from prorogation of the last Session on July 28th, 1955 to the opening of the next Session on January 10th, 1956, notices of summons of Parliament by Royal proclamation must appear at intervals not exceeding forty days.
Yes, Magna Carta signed in 1215, the first Parliament of 1295, the fight for freedom of speech led by Peter Wentworth who died in the Tower in 1593, the right of airing grievances before granting Supply, and in connection with it the efforts of John Elliot, who died in the Tower in 1632, the five Members: Pym, Hampden, Hazlerig, Hollis, and Strode, who returned in triumph to Parliament on January 11th, 1642 and thus establishing freedom from arrest, the advent of Cabinet or Parliamentary Government in 1688, the adoption of the Bill of Rights in 1689, the twenty-year-long struggle for liberty by John Wilkes from 1763 to 1782, and the adoption of the Reform Act of 1832 one of the great landmarks of English history, constitute part and parcel of the parliamentary institution that we have inherited from Great Britain. We all agree, I believe, that the British parliamentary system is the most outstanding and lasting importation ever made to this country.
Canadians of the ethnical group to which I belong, have, I think, quickly and very early grasped the genius of that parliamentary system. Under it, many of them have contributed to the growth of this country in a manner and to a degree of which all Canadians may be justly proud.
Although the rules of procedure of the English House of Commons were compiled by Sir Erskine May only in 1849, in 1792 and 1793 under Mr. Speaker Panet, Members of the Assembly of Lower Canada adopted Standing Orders most of which are to be found yet almost word for word in our present Book of Rules.
In the last hundred years, Baldwin, Macdonald, Borden, Meighen, and Bennett, on the one hand, Lafontaine, Cartier, Laurier, Bourassa, and Lapointe, on the other to name but a few-and you will understand that I purposely avoid mentioning present day parliamentarians - they carved in that parliamentary system distinctive Canadian landmarks.
No matter how simple may appear to us today the form of debate which consists of a motion proposed, discussed, and voted on, and in the acceptance of the will of the majority as the will of the House; no matter how simple may appear to us today the principle enunciating that the Crown recommends expenditure, the Commons approves it, and the Senate agrees to it; let us not forget that it took centuries to develop them.
No matter how archaic some of our ceremonials may be, they are, I believe, necessary to give a parliament the august atmosphere and dignified behaviour becoming a body in which is vested the authority that God and the people wish Canada to have.
To use parliamentary vocabulary, I was pleasantly summoned to appear at your Bar today to speak about Parliament. May I suggest that you continue and increase your interest in the doings of your Parliament. You have even invited me to sit with you within the Bar. For your generous words, your kind attention, and hospitality, I am deeply grateful.