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House of Commons Procedure and Practice

Second Edition, 2009

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The privileges of the House can be examined from two vantage points: the rights and immunities of its individual Members and the rights of the House in its collective capacity. Within this framework, the individual Member’s rights are subordinate to those of the House as a whole in order to protect the collectivity against any abuses by individual Members. For instance, a Member’s individual privileges may be considered suspended if the House orders that Member to attend in his or her place or at the Bar of the House[139] and answer questions demanded by the House. It is extremely rare, however, that the rights of the House collectively will be used to override those of an individual. Some of these immunities are applicable to House officials and to individuals summoned by the House on official business.[140]

In addition, both the House in its collective capacity and Members individually have the responsibility to not abuse their rights and immunities, particularly freedom of speech.[141] Members should avoid any arrangement which might limit their independence as Members;[142] they should not raise trivial matters as matters of privilege or contempt; and they should not use the privilege of freedom of speech to be unfairly critical of others in debate. The House should exercise its powers with regard to privilege and contempt sparingly and ensure that when exercising its power to punish for contempt, the action it orders is appropriate to the offence.[143]

[139] Although a rare occurrence, two Members have been ordered to appear at the Bar of the House in the past 20 years to be reprimanded: Ian Waddell (Port Moody–Coquitlam) in 1991 (Journals, October 31, 1991, pp. 574, 579, Debates, pp. 4271‑85, 4309‑10) and Keith Martin (Esquimalt–Juan de Fuca) in 2002 (Debates, April 17, 2002, pp. 10526‑7; Journals, April 22, 2002, pp. 1323‑4, Debates, pp. 10654‑70; Journals, April 23, 2002, pp. 1337‑8, Debates, pp. 10747‑8; Journals, April 24, 2002, p. 1341, Debates, p. 10770). For further information, see the section in this chapter entitled “Censure, Reprimand and the Summoning of Individuals to the Bar of the House”.

[140] An official is “a person in the service of the House whose duty or one of whose duties requires him or her to be in immediate attendance upon the service of the House or its committees” (Maingot, 2nd ed., p. 160). See also Parliament of Canada Act, R.S. 1985, c. P‑1, s. 86(2) which refers to the Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commissioner who is an Officer of Parliament: “The duties and functions of the Commissioner under subsection (1) are carried out within the institution of the House of Commons. The Commissioner enjoys the privileges and immunities of the House of Commons and its members when carrying out those duties and functions”.

[141] This responsibility has been described in the Australian House of Representatives Practice (5th ed., pp. 753‑4) and is pertinent to the House of Commons.

[142] Section 550 of the Canada Elections Act (S.C. 2000, c. 9) was enacted to expressly prohibit pledges. This section makes it illegal for any candidate for election as a Member of Parliament to sign any written document by way of a demand or claim on the candidate if it requires the candidate to follow any course of action that will prevent him or her from exercising freedom of action in Parliament, if elected, or to resign as a Member if called on to do so by those presenting the pledge. See also Chapter 4, “The House of Commons and Its Members”.

[143] In 2002, the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs stated in a report to the House that: “The power to punish for contempt must not be exercised lightly. It exists for those rare occasions when Parliament’s ability to function is impeded or compromised” (Fiftieth Report of the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs, par. 39, presented to the House on March 22, 2002 (Journals, p. 1250)).

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