With your indulgence, Mr. Speaker, I would like to make a few points with respect to the question of privilege that was raised yesterday by the member for Delta—Richmond East respecting Question No. 151. I thank you, Mr. Speaker, for giving me the opportunity to put a few points forward prior to your making a decision.
Yesterday the member for Delta—Richmond East suggested that the government had attempted to deny answers to a member of the House of Commons. The member cited a Speaker's ruling on December 16, 1980, which stated that:
While it is correct to say that the government is not required by our rules to answer written or oral questions, it would be bold to suggest that no circumstances could ever exist for a prima facie question of privilege to be made where there was a deliberate attempt to deny answers to an hon. member—
The complete quotation from that Speaker's ruling in 1980 added:
—if it could be shown that such action amounted to improper interference with the hon. member's parliamentary work.
That part of the Speaker's ruling, which the member conveniently left out, is absolutely germane. I can demonstrate that there was in this case no intention whatsoever to interfere with the member's parliamentary work.
The Minister of Labour and Housing wrote to the member for Delta—Richmond East earlier this year and indicated that the material which the member was seeking was part of an action before the British Columbia Supreme Court and, as such, goes to issues before that court. The letter provided background information on the matter of interest to the member. However, given that the matter was at that time before the Supreme Court of British Columbia, the minister explained that it would not be appropriate for him to comment on the particular case.
The government has also declined to provide the material requested by the member because this, itself, would interfere with the court's proceedings.
It is clear that this was not an attempt to interfere with the member's parliamentary work but was done in order to protect the integrity and the work of the B.C. Supreme Court.
The member's suggestion that there is a question of privilege has to be taken in the context of all the circumstances of this case. In fact, if the government had provided the material requested, this would have been an abuse of the obligation of the government and Parliament to protect proceedings before the courts. We in this House have a tradition that Parliament does not assert its privileges at the expense of ongoing judicial proceedings and that is a position which I believe we should continue.
In conclusion, there was no deliberate attempt in this case to interfere with the member's parliamentary work. Rather, the government's approach was guided by the longstanding principle of the respect for the integrity of the courts.
If the House agrees, I would be prepared to table, in both official languages because I think it is important that the House see that, copies of the minister's letter to the hon. member in this case.