As members of Parliament, we all deal regularly with differing interpretations of various events or situations and differing views of documents laid before the House. Members can, and often do, disagree about the actual facts of the same situation. Disagreements of this kind form the basis of our debates. Our rules are designed to permit and indeed to encourage members to present differing views on the given issue. This tolerance of different points of view is an essential feature of the freedom of speech and of the decision making process that lie at the heart of our parliamentary system.
SPEAKER PETER MILLIKEN
(Debates, October 1, 2003, p. 8041)
Guiding principles of parliamentary procedure require that debate and other proceedings in the House of Commons be conducted in a civil manner, and that freedom of speech, one of the most important privileges enjoyed by Members of Parliament, be respected. This right enables Members to speak in the House and in its committees, to refer to any matter, to express any opinion and to say what they feel needs to be said without fear of punishment or reprisal.1 This freedom is circumscribed, however, by the necessity of maintaining order and decorum when debate is taking place.
Accordingly, the House has adopted rules of order and decorum governing the conduct of Members towards each other and towards the institution as a whole. Members are expected to show respect for one another and for viewpoints differing from their own; offensive or rude behaviour or language is not tolerated, and emotions are to be expressed verbally rather than acted out. Thus, the right to speak is tempered by the written rules of the House which, in general, impose limitations on what may be said and when, by whom and for how long.
The Speaker is responsible for maintaining order in the Chamber by ensuring that the House’s rules and practices are respected.2 These rules govern proper attire, the quoting and tabling of documents in debate, the application of the sub judice convention to debates and questioning in the House, and the civility of remarks directed towards both Houses, individual Members and Senators, representatives of the Crown, judges and courts. In addition, it is the duty of the Speaker to safeguard the orderly conduct of debate by curbing disorder when it arises either on the floor of the Chamber or in the galleries, and by ruling on points of order raised by Members. The Speaker’s disciplinary powers are intended to ensure that the debate remains focused. Nonetheless, while it is the Speaker who is explicitly charged with maintaining the dignity and decorum of the House, Members themselves must take responsibility for their behaviour and conduct their business in an appropriate fashion.
This chapter examines the practices and rules of debate in the Chamber and the powers of the Speaker to enforce order and decorum when breaches occur.