The Standing Orders of the House of Commons are the permanent written rules under which the House of Commons regulates its proceedings. There are currently more than 150 Standing Orders, which provide a detailed description of the rules governing the legislative process, the role of the Speaker, the parliamentary calendar, the work of committees, and private Members’ business, among other things. The Standing Orders also include, as appendices, the Conflict of Interest Code for Members and the Code of Conduct for Members of the House of Commons: Sexual Harassment.
A change in the rules brought about by the adoption of a new Standing Order may represent the creation of a new rule reflecting a long-standing practice of the House of Commons or the permanent adoption of a provisional, sessional or special order. A rule change may also come about as an attempt by the House to avoid repetition of a particular incident or event.
At the beginning of each Parliament, a debate must be held on the following motion: “That this House take note of the Standing Orders and procedures of the House and its committees”. This debate allows Members of the House of Commons, at the beginning of each new Parliament, an opportunity to review, reflect upon and debate whether there is a need to change, delete or add to the Standing Orders of the House of Commons. At the expiry of the debate, the matter is referred to the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs for its consideration.
In addition, through its permanent mandate, the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs is empowered “to review and report on the Standing Orders, procedure and practice of the House of Commons and its committees”. The Committee can make recommendations to change the rules as part of its mandate or as the result of a specific order of reference from the House of Commons. In order for these recommended changes to take effect, the House must concur in the Committee’s report.
Over the years, several special committees have been established to review and suggest changes to the rules and to report their recommendations to the House. The Standing Orders may also be amended either through unanimous consent of the House of Commons or by the adoption of a Government or private Member’s motion.
Some Standing Orders explicitly allow the House of Commons to suspend the operation of other Standing Orders. It is also common for the House of Commons, at any given time, to set aside its rules through the unanimous consent of all Members present in order to do something that would otherwise be inconsistent with the Standing Orders. The House does this, for example, when it wants a bill to pass all stages in one day, a procedure that otherwise contravenes the rules.
Just as statutory provisions cannot set aside constitutional provisions, the Standing Orders cannot set aside procedural provisions enacted through statutory law such as the Parliament of Canada Act. Only Parliament can enact or amend statutory provisions.