Stages in the Legislative Process
A bill is carried forward through all the stages of the legislative process “by a long chain of standardized motions” which must be adopted by the House before the bill becomes law.133 It is these motions, and not the bill, that are the subject of the debates and decisions of the House. The stages to which the motions correspond “constitute a simple and logical process in which each stage transcends the one immediately before it, so that although the basic motions—that the bill be read a first (second or third) time—appear the same, and seem repetitious, they have very different meanings”.134 Moreover, the House does not commit itself conclusively to a bill until the final stage, when it takes a decision on whether or not the bill should receive final passage.135
The Standing Orders of the House of Commons require that every bill receive three readings, on different days, before being passed.136 That practice derives from an ancient parliamentary practice which originated in England.137 At that time, when the technology was not yet available to reproduce large numbers of copies at low cost, bills were introduced in handwritten form, one copy at a time. In order for Members to discern the content of the bill, the Clerk read it to them; thus, the idea of “reading” the bill was originally taken literally.138
Today, while a bill is no longer read aloud, the readings have remained as formalities. When the Speaker declares that the motion for first reading has passed, a clerk at the Table rises and announces “First reading of this bill”, thus signifying that the Order of the House has been obeyed. This scenario is repeated when the House has ordered a second and then a third reading of the bill.
A certification of reading must be affixed to every bill immediately after the motion for each of the three readings is adopted. The Clerk of the House is responsible for certifying each reading, and entering the date of passage at the foot of the bill.139 A bill remains in the custody of the Clerk throughout the stages of consideration. No substantive alteration to the bill is permitted without the express authority of the House or of a committee, in the form of an amendment. The original bills, certified by the Clerk, form part of the official records of the House.140
All bills must pass through the same stages of the legislative process, but they do not necessarily follow exactly the same route. Since the House adopted new rules to make the legislative process more flexible,141 three avenues have existed for the adoption of legislation (see Figure 16.1, “The Three Options of the Legislative Process (Government Bills Originating in the House of Commons)”):
- After appropriate notice, a Minister or a private Member may introduce a bill, which is given first reading immediately. The bill is then debated generally at the second reading stage, after which it is sent to a committee for clause-by-clause study.
- A Minister may propose a motion that a committee be instructed to prepare a bill. A bill will be presented by the committee and carried through the second reading stage without debate or amendment.142
- A Minister may move that a bill be referred to a committee for study before second reading.
Regardless of the avenue taken, the bill will have to be carried through report stage, be read a third time and be sent to the Senate for consideration and passage before receiving Royal Assent.
At the start of a new session, a government bill may, if it is identical to a bill introduced in the preceding session, be reinstated at the stage it had reached at the time of prorogation.143 This may be accomplished by passing a motion to that effect.144 Private Members’ bills, on the other hand, are not affected by prorogation and do not, therefore, require reinstatement at the beginning of a new session. A separate procedure is set out for the reinstatement of Senate bills.145
On urgent or extraordinary occasions, if the House so decides, a bill may receive two or three readings on the same day, or be advanced two or more stages in one day.146 This provision of the Standing Orders applies only to the reading stages.147 It is up to the House itself, and not to the Chair, to determine whether the matter is sufficiently urgent.148
The following are the stages that a bill must pass through before becoming law:
- Notice of motion for leave to introduce and placement on the House of Commons Order Paper;
- Preparation of a bill by a committee (where applicable);
- Introduction and first reading;
- Reference to a committee before second reading (where applicable);
- Second reading and reference to a committee;
- Consideration in committee;
- Report stage;
- Third reading (and passage);
- Consideration and passage by the Senate;
- Passage of Senate amendments by the Commons (where applicable);
- Royal Assent; and
- Coming into force.
A bill that is introduced in the Senate must pass through essentially the same stages, except that it is considered first in the Senate and subsequently in the House of Commons.149 Most bills may be introduced in either House, except for bills which involve spending or relate to taxation, which must be introduced in the House of Commons. There are special rules dealing with the introduction of such bills.150
Notice of Motion for Leave to Introduce and Placement on the Order Paper
Forty-eight hours’ written notice is required prior to the introduction of any public bill.151 Once notice has been given for the introduction of a bill, no further notice is required in respect of the bill at the other stages of consideration, with the exception of motions to concur in Senate amendments and to amend at the report stage. Separate requirements apply in respect of the notice required for private bills.152
A Minister or a private Member who intends to introduce a bill in the House of Commons must first give notice to the Clerk of the House before 6:00 p.m. Monday to Thursday and before 2:00 p.m. on Friday.153 The title of the bill to be introduced is then placed on the Notice Paper. The day after it appears in the Notice Paper, the title of the bill will appear in the Order Paper in the order in which the notices were received, together with the titles of other bills awaiting introduction in the House. This is understood to satisfy the 48-hour notice requirement in the Standing Orders. The title of the bill remains on the Order Paper, under the rubric “Order of Business”, until such time as the Minister or private Member decides to introduce the bill.
Preparation of a Bill by a Committee
In order to instruct a committee to prepare and bring in a bill, a Minister must give 48 hours’ written notice of the requisite motion.156 Once the notice period has elapsed, the motion is placed on the Order Paper under Government Orders. When it is called by the government, it may be debated for a maximum of 90 minutes, after which the Speaker will interrupt the debate and put all questions necessary to dispose of the motion.157
Once a motion to concur in a report of a committee instructed to prepare and bring in a bill is adopted by the House, it becomes an order to bring in the bill.158 If, at the time the motion for first reading of the bill is proposed, the mover states that the bill is based on the committee report, the motion for second reading will be moved at a later date, without debate or amendment. Consideration of a government bill at the second reading stage may not begin before the third sitting day after first reading.159 After second reading, the bill will then be subjected to the other ordinary stages for public legislation.
Introduction and First Reading
The first real stage in the legislative process is the introduction and first reading of a bill in the House. The notice period having elapsed, the sponsor of the bill, once ready to do so, notifies the Chair of his or her intention to proceed during Routine Proceedings when the rubric “Introduction of Government Bills” (if the sponsor is a Minister) or “Introduction of Private Members’ Bills” is called. Leave to introduce a bill is granted automatically, and the motion is deemed carried, without debate, amendment or question put.160 A Minister seldom provides any explanation when requesting leave to introduce a bill, but may do so.161 On the other hand, a private Member normally provides a brief explanation of the bill he or she is introducing in the House.162
First reading allows a bill to be formally brought before the House, printed and made available publicly.163 It is at that point that it is assigned a specific bill number. Passage of the motion for first reading involves no commitment on the part of the House beyond agreement that the bill be made generally available for the information of Parliament and the public.164 No discussion is permitted at this stage. Once leave to introduce the bill has been granted, the Speaker proposes the following motion to the House “That this bill be now read a first time and be printed”. The motion is deemed carried, without debate, amendment or question put.165 The Speaker then asks: “When shall the bill be read a second time?” and answers, “At the next sitting of the House”. The question is in fact a formality which enables the bill to be placed on the Order Paper under the heading Government Orders or Private Members’ Business, as the case may be.166
Since Senate bills have already been printed when they are sent to the House of Commons, no request for leave to introduce the bill is required. The motion for first reading is deemed carried without debate, amendment or question put.167 Senate bills then pass through the same stages as House of Commons bills.
Reference to Committee Before Second Reading
Traditionally, adoption of the motion for second reading amounts to approval by the House of the principle of the bill. This effectively limits the scope of any amendments that may be made during committee study and at report stage. In order to provide more flexibility in the legislative process, the House amended its Standing Orders in 1994,168 instituting a new procedure that allows Ministers to move that a government bill be referred to committee before second reading.169 This empowers Members to examine the principle of a bill before second reading, and enables them to propose amendments to alter its scope.170 The procedure can also be used with respect to bills based on ways and means motions.171
When the Order of the Day is read for second reading of a government bill, a Minister may,172 after notifying representatives of the opposition parties, propose a motion that the bill be forthwith referred to a committee before second reading. The Standing Orders are silent as to the manner in which the representatives of the opposition parties are to be notified. The current practice is for the Government House Leader to give such notice during the Thursday Statement,173 although it is not uncommon for a Minister to inform the House of the government’s intention at the time of introduction and first reading of the bill.174 The motion to refer forthwith the bill to a committee is not subject to amendment, and debate is limited to five hours. At the end of the five hours, or when no Member rises to speak, the Speaker puts the question.175 If the motion is adopted, the bill is referred to a standing, special or legislative committee for consideration.
In general, during clause-by-clause consideration of a bill, the committee follows the same rules and procedures as those that apply to the consideration of bills in committee after second reading.176 It may hear witnesses and receive briefs. However, the scope of the amendments that may be made to the bill is much wider, given that the committee study is not limited by the principle of the bill, the principle not yet having been approved by the House. At the conclusion of its study, the committee reports the bill to the House, with or without amendment. The report stage of the bill may not commence prior to the third sitting day following the presentation of the report.177
After the committee has reported the bill to the House, the next stage essentially fuses report stage and second reading. Members may propose amendments, after giving written notice two sitting days prior to the bill being called.178 When consideration of report stage is concluded, a motion “That the bill (as amended) be concurred in at report stage (with (a) further amendment(s)) and read a second time” is put and forthwith disposed of by the House, without debate or amendment.179 Once concurred in at report stage and read a second time, the bill is set down for third reading and passage at a subsequent sitting of the House.
Second Reading and Reference to a Committee
Central to the second reading stage is a general debate on the principle of a bill.180 Although the Standing Orders make no specific reference to this practice, it is deeply rooted in the procedural tradition of the House.181 Accordingly, debate must focus on the principle of the bill and not on its individual provisions.182
Perceptions of the importance of this stage of the legislative process have evolved over the years. Traditionally, it was felt that second reading was the most important stage in the legislative process.183 In 1968, the Special Committee on Procedure and Organization of the House stated in its report, after examining the stages of the process, that the significance of the second reading stage had been over-emphasized in the past, and that the decisive stage should occur later in a bill’s passage, after it had been reported by a committee.184 In the Committee’s view, passage of the motion for second reading simply implied that the House had given preliminary consideration to the bill, without any commitment to its final passage, and had authorized its reference to a committee for detailed scrutiny and possible amendment.185
Second reading of a bill and reference to a committee are moved in a single motion which specifies the committee (standing, special, legislative) to which the bill is referred.186 In most cases, this allows the sponsor of the bill to select the committee to which it is to be referred. The Standing Orders require, in certain cases, that a bill be referred to a Committee of the Whole.187
Debate on second reading begins when the Minister or private Member, as the case may be, rises when the Order of the Day is read for the second reading of the bill and moves “That Bill (number and title) be now read a second time and referred to the (name of committee)”.
The Standing Orders regulate the length of speeches of Members during debate.188 Only speeches by the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition are not subject to time limits.189 Otherwise, on government bills, during the initial round of speeches and during the first five hours of debate that follow, Members may speak for no more than 20 minutes, after which a period not exceeding 10 minutes is made available for questions and comments.190 If there are no questions or comments, or if the time has not been fully used, another Member may then speak. Questions and comments must be relevant to the Member’s speech.191
With the exception of the initial round of speeches on government bills, the Whip of a party may indicate to the Chair that one or more of the 20-minute periods of debate allotted to Members of his or her party will be divided in two. Alternatively, Members may themselves advise the Speaker of their intention to divide their time when they are recognized to speak. After the initial round of debate and the five hours of debate that follow, any other Member rising to speak has a maximum of 10 minutes, followed by a five-minute period for questions and comments.192 By custom, every Member who moves a substantive motion is allowed a reply. In current practice, a Member who proposes a motion for second reading of a bill is also permitted a reply.193 In the case of government bills, a Parliamentary Secretary may exercise that right on behalf of the Minister only with the unanimous consent of the House.
Amendments to the Motion for Reading
A public bill not referred to a committee before second reading may not be amended before being read a second time and referred to a committee.194 On the other hand, the motion for second reading of a bill may itself be amended,195 but only three types of amendments may be moved without notice: a three or six months’ hoist; a reasoned amendment; and a motion for referral of the subject matter to a committee.
The Hoist Amendment
The hoist is an amendment that may be moved to a motion for the second or third reading of a bill. Its effect is to prevent a bill from being “now” read a second or third time, and to postpone the reading for three or six months.196 If it is adopted, the bill is deemed withdrawn for the remainder of the current session. If it is defeated, the debate nonetheless has been extended as a result and Members enabled to speak a second time.
The hoist amendment originated in British practice during the 18th century as a method of postponing the resumption of consideration of a bill. It was subsequently agreed that the adoption of such an amendment by the House was tantamount to the rejection of the bill since the length of the postponement was intended to prevent further consideration before the end of the session. Normally, if the session continued beyond the anticipated date, the bill was not placed again on the Order Paper.197
Historical events were responsible for the establishment of three or six months as the postponement period. A hundred years ago, sessions rarely lasted longer than six months, and so a six-months’ hoist amendment would be proposed at the beginning of a session and a three-months’ hoist in the final weeks of a session. Today, sessions of the House of Commons of Canada are longer, but their length is neither regular nor fixed in advance.
An analysis of hoist amendments moved in the House of Commons since Confederation reveals that the cases in which this procedure has been used fall within two specific periods: 1867 to about 1920, and 1920 until the present day.
The first hoist amendment was moved on November 28, 1867.198 Prior to 1920, it was the government, not the opposition, that resorted to hoist amendments most often.199 Because the House had little time for government business during the short-lived sessions of that era, the government sometimes felt obliged to make use of hoist amendments in order to dispose of a great number of private Members’ bills, thereby gaining more time to devote to its own legislation.
Since 1920, the period set aside for government business has expanded to occupy the largest share of the time in the House, and hoist amendments have gradually come to be used almost exclusively by the opposition as a means of prolonging debate. The precedents indicate that hoist amendments were moved to motions for second and third reading during periods of considerable tension between the parties, and that they rarely passed. Indeed, of the scores of occurrences recorded in the Journals, only four succeeded. In each of those four cases, the hoist amendment was moved by the government with the intent of disposing of a private Member’s bill.200
A hoist amendment must satisfy a number of requirements if it is to be ruled in order. Since the amendment seeks to neutralize the word “now” in the motion for reading, it must propose the elimination of all of the words following “That” in the motion and replace them with the following proposition: “Bill (number and title) be not now read a second time but that it be read a second time this day three months (or six months) hence”. A hoist amendment requires no notice and is debatable but may not be amended.201
When a hoist amendment is rejected, debate continues on the main motion; however, only one hoist amendment may be moved per reading motion.202 The adoption of a hoist amendment (whether for three or six months) postpones further consideration of the bill for an indefinite period.203 For this reason, the bill disappears from the Order Paper and may not be introduced again, even after the period specified in the hoist amendment has elapsed.204 The bill is thus defeated indirectly and any attempt to place it back on the Order Paper would be ruled contrary to the decision of the House. Attempts to apply the hoist amendment to a resolution205 or to include it in the text of a reasoned amendment206 have been ruled out of order by the Chair.207
The Reasoned Amendment
The reasoned amendment allows a Member to state the reasons for his or her opposition to second or third reading of a bill with a relevant proposal replacing the original question. A reasoned amendment is introduced in the form of a motion, and deletes and replaces all of the text of the main motion after the word “That”.
It is believed that the first reasoned amendment was introduced in 1882.208 An analysis of those that have been proposed since Confederation reveals an initial period, from about 1882 to 1930, in which great latitude was allowed in their wording. Throughout that period, the admissibility of reasoned amendments was rarely contested and the Chair rarely intervened. In the early 1930s, regular requests began to be made to Speakers to rule as to whether reasoned amendments were in order and a number of precedents were established. By the 1970s, it had become increasingly difficult for Members to move reasoned amendments that were procedurally acceptable209 thanks to the accumulating body of precedent in this regard.
While the Standing Orders of the House of Commons make no explicit provision for reasoned amendments,210 rules of procedure respecting the latter have become established over the years by precedent. These rules govern both the form and the substance of such amendments. Today, a reasoned amendment generally takes the form of a proposal that the House decline to give a bill second reading, for a specific reason.211 The reasons put forward fall into two broad categories:
- the reasoned affirmation of a principle adverse to or differing from the principles, policy or provisions of the bill; or
- an opinion as to any circumstances connected with the introduction or consideration of the bill, or with any other initiative opposed to its progress.
For a reasoned amendment to be in order, it must observe the following rules:
- It must be strictly relevant to the bill being considered.212 A reasoned amendment is irrelevant, for example, if it relates to another bill,213 is intended to divide the bill,214 proposes that the bill be withdrawn and replaced by another bill,215 relates to the parent Act rather than to the amending bill,216 goes beyond the scope of the bill,217 or involves the expenditure of funds or proposes changes that exceed the scope of the royal recommendation.218
- It must not be a direct negation of the principle of the bill. The procedure to be followed when a Member does not agree with the principle of a bill and wants to reject it is simply to vote against the motion for second reading of the bill.219
- It must not relate to particulars of the bill220 if what is sought may be accomplished by amendments in committee.221
- It must not attach a condition to the adoption of the second or third reading motion.222
A reasoned amendment which is merely a statement of opposition to portions of the bill is not admissible.223 On the other hand, a reasoned amendment need not necessarily oppose the principle of a bill in order to be admissible.224
When a reasoned amendment is ruled in order, the House must dispose of it. To date, the House has never decided in favour of a reasoned amendment. Were it to do so, debate on the bill would end, as would debate on the motion for second or third reading of the bill.225 The order relating to the bill would then disappear from the Order Paper.
Referral of the Subject Matter of a Bill to a Committee
During debate on the motion for second reading, a Member may propose an amendment to withdraw the bill and to refer its subject matter to a committee for the latter to consider and report to the House. This type of amendment replaces all the words after “That” with a proposal that the bill be not now read a second time, that the order for second reading be discharged, the bill withdrawn from the Order Paper and the subject matter referred to a committee.226
The earliest attempt to instruct a committee to study the subject matter of a bill can be traced back to the early-1870s.227 This type of amendment was originally seen as an opportunity to allow a committee to recommend if a bill should proceed. Throughout the years, the wording of the amendment evolved in order to clarify that this type of motion would empower a committee to study only the subject matter of the bill and not its provisions.228 In the mid-1970s, the notion that such an amendment would effectively defeat the bill was underscored with the addition of the words “that the order be discharged, the bill withdrawn”.229
Certain conditions must be met, however, for this type of amendment to be in order. First, the subject matter of the bill may be referred neither to more than one committee230 nor to a non-existent body.231 Second, an amendment that would attach a condition to the adoption of the motion for reading of a bill is out of order.232 Third, the actual provisions of the bill may not be referred to a committee since this would amount to instructing the committee to consider certain provisions of a bill even before it has been read a second time and referred to a committee.233
Unless the amendment specifies a deadline for reporting to the House, the committee to which the subject matter of a bill is referred is free to do so within a time frame of its own choosing.234
Motions of Instruction
Once a bill has been referred to a committee, the House may instruct the committee by way of a motion authorizing what would otherwise be beyond its powers, such as, for example, examining a portion of a bill and reporting it separately,235 examining certain items in particular,236 dividing a bill into more than one bill,237 consolidating two or more bills into a single bill,238 or expanding or narrowing the scope or application of a bill.239 A committee that so wishes may also seek an instruction from the House.240
The House may give instructions to a Committee of the Whole or indeed to any of its committees. More than one motion of instruction may be proposed in relation to the same bill, but each such motion must be moved separately.241 Motions of instruction respecting bills are permissive rather than mandatory242 in that it is left to the committee to decide whether or not to exercise the powers given to it by the House.243
Motions of instruction derive from British practice during the second half of the 19th century and were carried over into the practice of the Canadian House of Commons. Nearly all of the precedents on instructions relating to bills are drawn from a period when bills were referred to a Committee of the Whole after second reading.
A motion of instruction is not admissible as an amendment to the motion for second reading of a bill, and may not be moved while the bill in question is still in the possession of the House.244 Motions of instruction may be moved immediately after the motion for second reading where it refers the bill to a Committee of the Whole.245 No notice is required and a motion of instruction made at this stage of the legislative process is neither debatable nor amendable.246
A motion of instruction may also be moved in the form of an independent motion.247 Forty-eight hours’ written notice is required,248 and when the motion is moved in the House, it may be debated and amended.249 Debate on a motion of instruction must be strictly relevant to the instruction and may not be directed to the substance of the bill.250 A motion of instruction may be moved in the House even after a committee has begun its deliberations on the bill.251
A Minister proposing such a motion may choose to have it placed either under Government Business or under “Motions” in Routine Proceedings on the Order Paper. When moved by a private Member, however, such a motion would usually be placed under Private Members’ Business, unless the motion were in connection with a bill presently before a committee. In the latter event, the motion may be placed under “Motions” in Routine Proceedings on the Order Paper.252 When it is called, a motion of instruction is dealt with as an independent substantive motion, even though it is meaningful only in connection with the bill before the committee. Should debate on the motion be adjourned or interrupted before the end of the sitting, the motion is transferred to Government Orders and the time for resumption of the debate is left to the pleasure of the government.253
There are a number of reasons for which the Chair may rule a motion of instruction out of order. A motion of instruction may not be used to deal with an item in a bill that could properly constitute a distinct measure, or to attempt to interfere in the work of a committee which has not yet reported.254 A motion of instruction which is not in proper form, or which is not worded in such a way that the committee will clearly understand what the House wants, is also out of order.255 A motion of instruction will be ruled out of order if it does not relate to the content of the bill if it is unclear, or if it attempts to delete a portion of the bill. A motion of instruction will also be ruled out of order if it attempts to confer upon a committee powers which it already possesses,256 if it enables a committee to divide a bill that does not lend itself to such division,257 or if it extends the financial prerogatives of the Crown without a royal recommendation for that purpose.258
Royal Consent (which should not be confused with Royal Assent or royal recommendation) is derived from British practice and is among the unwritten rules and customs of the House of Commons of Canada. Any legislation that affects the prerogatives, hereditary revenues, property or interests of the Crown requires Royal Consent, which in Canada originates with the Governor General in his or her capacity as representative of the Sovereign.259 Consent is necessary when property rights of the Crown are postponed, compromised or abandoned, or for any waiver of a prerogative of the Crown.260 It was, for example, required for bills in connection with railways on which the Crown had a lien,261 with property rights of the Crown (in national parks for example),262 with the garnishment, attachment and diversion of pensions263 and with amendments to the Financial Administration Act.264
The consent of the Crown is not required where the bill relates to property held by the Crown for its subjects.265 The consent of the Crown does not, however, signify approval of the substance of the measure; it means only that the Crown agrees to remove an obstacle to the progress of the bill so that the latter may be considered by both Houses, and ultimately submitted for Royal Assent.266
Although Royal Consent is often signified when a bill is read for the second time,267 this may take place at any stage prior to final adoption.268 It may take the form of a special message,269 but it is normally transmitted by a Minister270 who rises in the House and states: “His/Her Excellency the Governor General has been informed of the purport of this bill and has given his/her consent, as far as Her Majesty’s prerogatives are affected, to the consideration by Parliament of the bill, that Parliament may do therein as it thinks fit”. If consent is not given in advance, the Speaker will refuse to put the question for passage at third reading.271 If, through inadvertence, a bill requiring Royal Consent were to pass all its stages in Parliament without receiving consent, it would be necessary to declare the proceedings in relation to the bill null and void.272
Consideration in Committee
During consideration in committee, Members examine the clauses of a bill in detail. It is at this stage that they have their first opportunity to propose amendments to its text. It is also at this stage that witnesses may be invited to present their views and to answer Members’ questions. A bill is referred to a standing, special or legislative committee for consideration,273 normally after second reading in the House, but sometimes before second reading.274 While any bill based on a supply motion must be referred to a Committee of the Whole,275 any bill may be referred to a Committee of the Whole by unanimous consent,276 typically after having passed through more than one stage of the legislative process in a single sitting.277 The House may also adopt a special order to refer a bill to a Committee of the Whole.278
Mandate of the Committee
When a bill is referred to a committee, the order of reference is understood exclusively as a mandate to examine the bill and to report it to the House, with or without amendment.279 If the bill has already received second reading, the committee is bound by the decision of the House and may not amend it contrary to its principle.280 This is not the case when the committee considers a bill that has not yet been read the second time.281
During consideration of a bill, a committee may receive clarification from the House of its order of reference. Such “instructions” from the House may extend the committee’s mandate by giving it additional powers.282
A committee may be asked by the House to reconsider a bill which it has already reported. This reference is normally proposed in the form of an amendment to the motion for third reading of the bill. The House may refer a bill back to a committee to have only certain clauses amended or reviewed; it may refer the bill several times, and it may refer it with or without any limitation. In the latter case, the whole bill is open to reconsideration. When a bill is referred with limitations, the committee can consider only the clauses or amendments referred to it.283
Role of a Committee on a Bill
The role of the committee is to consider a bill clause by clause, and if necessary, word by word, and to approve the text or to modify it.284
The committee has the power to modify the provisions of a bill to the extent that when it is reported to the House it may be completely different in substance from the bill referred to the committee.285 For example, the committee may negative a clause or clauses of a bill (even to the extent that nothing is left of the text of the bill) and report the bill to the House with amendments; the committee may also negative all the clauses of a bill and substitute new clauses, as long as the new clauses respect the rules of admissibility.286
Length of Speeches
Every member of a committee may speak as often and as long as he or she wishes, subject only to the provisions of any relevant motions previously adopted by the committee.287 Frequently, a committee will pass motions governing its proceedings, such as motions limiting the length of speeches, establishing a rotation of speakers (usually according to political parties) and imposing time limits for the proposal of certain types of motions or amendments.288
A committee itself may also limit the time it devotes to consideration of a bill by adopting a motion to that effect. Such a motion may be debated and amended. A committee may also adopt the equivalent of a time allocation motion, allotting time for the examination of each clause,289 or terminating consideration of a bill at a particular time or date.290 Motions have also been adopted to suspend consideration of particular bills until certain conditions have been met.291
Hearing of Witnesses
A committee to which a bill is referred usually chooses to hold public hearings. Its steering committee (referred to as the subcommittee on agenda and procedure), or the whole committee, if no steering committee has been established, may discuss a timetable for meetings and compile a list of witnesses whom the members wish to invite to appear.292 A steering committee will usually present its recommendations to the whole committee in the form of a report. The committee may then adopt the report with or without amendments. It may also elect to call upon the services of the analysts of the Library of Parliament,293 or to retain any other specialist it deems necessary to assist it in its work.294
At the outset of the first meeting on the examination of the bill, the Chair of the committee calls Clause 1 for debate (or Clause 2, if Clause 1 contains the short title295) to permit general discussion of the bill and questioning of witnesses, if any are appearing. Ordinarily the first witness to appear before the committee is either the sponsor of the bill, the Minister responsible for it or the Minister’s Parliamentary Secretary. Other witnesses may then be invited to express their views on the bill. Such witnesses may include individuals, experts or representatives of organizations potentially affected by the legislative measure. At this stage, discussion is wide-ranging and relates both to the general principle and to the details of the bill. Later, upon commencement of clause-by-clause consideration of the bill, the Minister responsible, or the Minister’s Parliamentary Secretary, may again address the committee.296 Departmental officials will also make themselves available during this phase to provide explanations of complex or technical aspects of the legislative proposal.297
On occasion, committees have considered two bills at a single meeting in order to question a Minister and witnesses on both bills at the same time.298 The bills in question had issues in common that made it practical to consider them simultaneously. Notwithstanding these similarities, the bills were examined separately at the clause-by-clause stage.299 A committee has also simultaneously considered a bill referred to it and the subject matter of another bill.300
Once the witnesses have been heard, the committee proceeds to clause-by-clause consideration of the bill. It is during this phase of the committee’s deliberations that members may propose amendments to the bill.
Order in Which the Elements of the Bill Are Examined
Unless the committee decides otherwise, clause-by-clause consideration is ordered as follows:
- clauses allowed to stand (if any);
- clause 1 (short title);
- preamble (if any); and
The elements of a bill must be considered in a prescribed order. Consideration of the preamble (if the bill has one) is postponed until after the clause-by-clause examination.301 Consideration of Clause 1, if that clause contains only the short title, is also postponed. If the bill contains an alternative title in place of a short title, current practice is to treat the alternative title in the same manner as a short title and postpone its consideration. The other clauses and the schedules are considered in the order in which they appear in the printed version of the bill.302 The new clauses and new schedules are considered in the order in which they would appear in the bill. While some authorities on parliamentary procedure recommend a different order for examining new clauses and schedules,303 committees have generally preferred the practice of proceeding with new clauses and new schedules in the same manner as with proposed amendments to clauses; that is, in the order in which they would appear in the bill. Indeed, this approach has been used to such an extent that it is now solidly entrenched in the practice of the House of Commons.304 Once all the provisions have been decided, the committee considers Clause 1 (if it was postponed), the preamble, and finally, the title.305
Consideration of the Clauses
Each clause of the bill is a distinct question requiring separate consideration. The committee Chair calls each clause successively by number and, after discussion, puts the question on the clause if no amendment is proposed. If an amendment is proposed, the Chair recognizes the mover, who is given the opportunity to move the amendment and explain the provision to the committee. A new question is then placed under consideration and there is a new debate. When debate has concluded, the Chair first puts the question on the amendment to the clause and then on the clause itself (as amended, if applicable). Once the clause is carried, it may not be discussed further without unanimous consent.306
The committee may adopt a motion to divide a clause in order to debate its parts separately or to put the question on the parts separately.307
Clauses Allowed to Stand
The committee may, by motion, decide to stand a clause, or a group of consecutive clauses en bloc. Debate on a motion to postpone consideration of a clause is limited to the issue of postponement, and may not touch upon the merits of the bill or of the clause in question. Unless provision to the contrary is made in the motion, clauses which were allowed to stand are considered after all the other clauses of the bill have been disposed of.308
Proposed during debate on a clause, an amendment attempts to modify the text of the clause under consideration so that it will be more acceptable, or to propose an alternate text to the committee. An amendment must be relevant to the clause it is seeking to amend,309 and may therefore relate only to a single clause of the bill.310 This said, the Chair, for practical reasons, may permit debate to range over several other amendments which are interconnected or which raise different aspects of the amendment under consideration.311 Once an amendment has been proposed, it may be withdrawn only at the request of the mover and with the unanimous consent of the members of the committee.312
A subamendment may be moved. Its purpose is to alter or clarify an amendment. It must relate to the amendment and may not increase the scope of the amendment by bringing up a matter that is foreign to it.313 A committee may consider only two amendments at a time; that is, an amendment to a clause and a subamendment to the amendment.314
Only a member of the committee, or his or her designated substitute,315 may move an amendment or vote on an amendment.316 The Chair of the committee, like the Speaker of the House, may neither move motions nor vote, except in the event of an equality of voices.317 It is generally acknowledged that, in the case of an equality of voices, a Chair should vote in such a way as to permit further discussion of the question. Thus, in casting a vote on a clause of a bill, the Chair would vote in the affirmative and on an amendment or subamendment, the Chair would vote in the negative in order to maintain the status quo and to keep the question open to further amendment either in committee or in the House at report stage. A Chair is not required to state reasons for his or her casting vote, or to explain it.318 This practice does not apply when a private bill is before a committee; in this event, the Chair may vote on any matter concerning the bill and is entitled to a second (casting) vote if there is an equality of voices.319
The Office of the Law Clerk and Parliamentary Counsel provides legislative drafting services to committee members who wish to move amendments to a bill. When Members choose to avail themselves of these services, it is understood that all communications between them, the staff of the Office of the Law Clerk and Parliamentary Counsel and any other House of Commons staff in connection with the proposed amendments are to be treated as strictly confidential. Each amendment must be submitted in writing to the clerk of the committee, and may be moved in either official language. In contrast to the rules that apply to motions presented to the House, no seconder is required.320
Although there is no formal notice requirement for amendments, the normal practice is for movers to communicate with the clerk of the committee in order to arrange for the translation, compilation and circulation of the amendments to all members of the committee.321 If the Chair has advance notice, he or she will then be able to ensure that a proposed amendment is considered at the appropriate point during consideration of the bill. To ensure that clause-by-clause consideration proceeds in an orderly manner, a committee may consider a motion imposing a deadline for the acceptance of proposed amendments.322
Order in Which Amendments Are Considered
Three types of amendments may be moved during consideration of a clause of a bill:323
- an amendment to leave out certain words in order to insert or add others;
- an amendment to leave out a word or words; and
- an amendment to insert or add other words, or to add new clauses or schedules to the bill.
The committee Chair calls the proposed amendments in the order in which they would appear in the bill, except when several amendments are moved to the same line. In the latter case, the amendments are proceeded with in the chronological order in which they were submitted. The Chair may rule that an amendment is not moved in the right place, or that it should be moved as a new clause.324
Amendments must be proposed following the order of the text to be amended. Once a line of a clause has been amended by the committee, it cannot be further amended by a subsequent amendment as a given line may be amended only once.325
Admissibility of Amendments
Amendments and subamendments that are moved by Members in committee must comply with certain rules of admissibility. It is incumbent upon the Chair to decide upon the admissibility of amendments once they have been moved; the Chair does not rule on hypothetical motions. He or she relies on the procedural rules that have been established as precedents over the years and upon the authorities on parliamentary procedure and practice.
In contrast to practice in the House, where there is no appeal from the Speaker’s decisions,326 the decision of a committee Chair may be appealed to the committee by motion.327 However, neither the decision of the Chair nor the motion to appeal may be debated. The Chair’s decision may be reversed only by a majority vote. Consequently, if a motion asking that the Chair’s decision be upheld results in a tie, the decision is upheld.328
If, during debate, the Chair determines that an amendment that was moved (but on which no decision has yet been made) is out of order, the Chair so informs the committee and halts consideration of the motion by the committee.329
The rules concerning the admissibility of amendments are essentially the same for a bill referred to a committee before or after second reading, or for a bill being considered at report stage.330 However, the rules respecting the principle or scope of a bill do not apply to a bill referred to a committee before second reading since the principle of the bill has not yet been adopted by the House.
The rules governing the admissibility of amendments to the clauses of a bill may be grouped according to the following characteristics and elements:
Principle and Scope: An amendment to a bill that was referred to a committee after second reading is out of order if it is beyond the scope and principle of the bill.331 (This rule does not apply to a bill referred to a committee before second reading since the principle of the bill has not yet been agreed to by the House.) Similarly, an amendment which is equivalent to a simple negation of the bill or which reverses the principle of the bill as agreed to at second reading332 is out of order.
Relevance: An amendment to a bill must be relevant in that it must always relate to the subject matter of the bill or to the clause thereof under consideration. In the case of a bill referred to a committee after second reading, an amendment is inadmissible if it proposes to amend a statute that is not before the committee333 or a section of the parent Act, unless the latter is specifically amended by a clause of the bill.334 Conversely, an amendment of that nature would be admissible in the case of a bill referred to a committee before second reading, as long as the amendment was relevant. In that case, the principle and scope of the bill would not yet have been defined, making a broader examination possible.
Consistency: The committee’s decisions concerning a bill must be consistent with earlier decisions made by the committee. An amendment is accordingly out of order if it is contrary to or inconsistent with provisions of the bill that the committee has already agreed to, if it is inconsistent with a decision that the committee has made regarding a former amendment,335 or if it is governed by336 or dependent on337 amendments which have already been negatived.
Financial Initiative of the Crown: Since an amendment may not infringe upon the financial initiative of the Crown, it is inadmissible if it imposes a charge on the public treasury,338 or if it extends the objects or purposes or relaxes the conditions and qualifications specified in the royal recommendation.339 An amendment is also inadmissible if it exceeds the scope of the ways and means motion on which a bill is based, or if it imposes a new charge on the people340 that is not preceded by the adoption of a ways and means motion or not covered by the terms of a ways and means motion already adopted.341
Form: An amendment that attempts to delete an entire clause is out of order since voting against the adoption of the clause in question would have the same effect.342 An amendment is also out of order if it is moved at the wrong place in the bill, if it is tendered in a spirit of mockery, or if it is vague or trifling.343 Moreover, an amendment is out of order if it refers to, or is not intelligible without, subsequent amendments or schedules of which notice has not been given, or if it is otherwise incomplete.344 Last, an amendment which would render a clause unintelligible or ungrammatical is also out of order.345
Interpretation Clause: The interpretation clause of a bill is not the place to propose a substantive amendment to a bill unless other amendments have been adopted that would warrant amendments to the interpretation clause.346 In addition, an amendment to the interpretation clause of a bill that was referred to a committee after second reading must always relate to the bill and may neither exceed the scope of nor be contrary to the principle of the bill. This rule does not apply to a bill that has been referred to a committee before second reading.347
Headings: It has long been held that because the headings attached to various parts of a bill are not part of the text, they cannot be amended.348 However, on occasion, committees have amended headings without objection, and relevant jurisprudence has caused some authorities on the legislative process to take a more permissive view in this regard.349
Coming into Force Clause: An amendment intended to alter the coming into force clause of a bill, making it conditional, is out of order350 since it exceeds the scope of the bill and attempts to introduce a new question into it. However, an amendment to delay the coming into force is admissible as long as the delay is considered to be reasonable and not seen as an attempt to thwart the implementation of the provisions of the bill.
Schedules: An amendment may be moved to a schedule and it is also possible to propose new schedules,351 except in the case of a bill giving effect to an agreement (a treaty or convention) that is within the prerogatives of the Crown. If the schedule to such a bill contains the agreement itself, the schedule may not be amended. Notwithstanding this, amendments may be proposed to the clauses of the bill as long as they do not affect the wording of the agreement in the schedule.352
Preamble: In the case of a bill that has been referred to a committee after second reading, a substantive amendment to the preamble is admissible only if it is rendered necessary by amendments made to the bill.353 In addition, an amendment to the preamble is in order when its purpose is to clarify it or to ensure the uniformity of the English and French versions.354 If the bill is without a preamble, the committee may not introduce one.355 In the case of a bill that has been referred to a committee before second reading, if there is not already a preamble, one may be proposed as long as it is relevant to the bill; in addition, substantive amendments to an existing preamble are admissible.356
The Enacting Formula: The enacting formula is not subject to the approval of the committee or the House and therefore may neither be debated nor amended.357
Titles: Titles, whether it be the long, short or alternative title, may be amended only if the bill has been so altered as to necessitate such an amendment.358 Any change made to a title by a committee becomes effective when the bill, as amended, is concurred in at report stage.359
Consequential Amendments: When an amendment is ruled inadmissible, the ruling applies as well to any other amendments consequential to it.360
Putting the Question on Amendments
When an amendment and a subamendment have been moved in committee, the Chair of the committee puts the question first on the subamendment. If it is negatived, the question is then put on the amendment; if the subamendment is carried, the question is put on the amendment, as amended. Sometimes, by unanimous consent, the committee may arrange a group of amendments to be disposed of as if each amendment had been moved and voted on separately. This is called disposing of amendments “severally”.361
Adoption of the Bill
Once the committee has concluded its clause-by-clause consideration, the bill in its entirety, with or without amendments, is submitted for the approval of the committee. While the normal practice is for the committee to agree at this point to the question “Shall the bill carry?”, opposition to the bill is normally expressed either by voting against all the clauses of the bill before adoption, or by adopting a motion that the bill not be further proceeded with (see section in this chapter entitled “Abandonment of a Bill”).
Leave to Report to the House
After the bill is adopted, the Chair asks the committee for leave to report the bill to the House. The standard formula is as follows: “Shall I report the bill (as amended) to the House?” If the committee agrees, and unless otherwise directed, the Chair reports the bill to the House as soon as possible.
Reprinting of the Bill
If any amendments have been adopted, the committee generally orders that the bill be reprinted for the use of the Members who will have to consult it at report stage.362
Report to the House
The committee is bound by its order of reference—the bill—and may report the bill only with or without amendment to the House.363 Consequently, the committee may not include substantive recommendations in its report.364 On several occasions, the Speaker has ruled reports containing recommendations365 or motions to concur in reports containing recommendations out of order.366 In 1973, Speaker Lamoureux ruled that “… there is no authority to support the contention that a committee of the House when considering a bill should report anything to the House except the bill itself”.367
However, there is nothing to prevent a standing committee, under its permanent mandate in the Standing Orders, from presenting a separate report in which it sets out substantive recommendations with respect to the subject matter of the bill.368
Obligation to Report
Every committee is bound to report to the House every bill referred to it, together with any amendments which have been made to the bill,369 and every bill reported from any committee, whether amended or not, must be received by the House.370 However, no committee has the authority to submit two reports to the House on one bill, as the effect of this would be to divide the bill.371 A committee may negative all of the clauses, the title, and even reject the bill. It then reports the bill with amendments, even though only the bill’s number may be left.372
Unless an order of the House373 or a provision of the Standing Orders374 imposes a deadline by which a committee must report a bill to the House, it is up to the committee to decide when it reports the bill.375 The House retains the right to modify the terms of the committal of a bill to a committee. If a Minister or a Member believes that a committee to which a bill has been referred is defying the authority of the House by refusing to consider the bill or to report it to the House, he or she may choose to bring this fact to the attention of the House and to propose a time limit for consideration of the bill in committee. This may be done by placing on notice a motion to require the committee to report by a certain date. The notice may, as appropriate, be placed under Government Orders or Private Members’ Business.376
Private Member’s Public Bill
A committee to which a private Member’s public bill has been referred must, within 60 sitting days of the date of the bill’s reference to the committee, either report the bill to the House with or without amendment, or present a report containing a recommendation not to proceed further with the bill377 or requesting a single extension of 30 sitting days, giving the reasons therefore.378 If no bill or report is presented by the end of the 60 sitting days, or the 30-sitting-day extension if approved by the House, the bill is deemed to have been reported without amendment.379
Abandonment of a Bill
On a number of occasions, a committee has presented a report to the House either recommending that a bill be withdrawn380 or informing the House that the committee has agreed that the bill not be further proceeded with.381 As well, a committee will occasionally decide not to proceed with consideration of a bill, without reporting it to the House.382
In such circumstances, the final decision as to the fate of a bill lies with the House as a whole, and not solely with the committee, whose function is to discharge its mandate from the House and to report the bill. The House alone has the power to refuse the passage of a bill or to order its withdrawal.383 While reminding the House that the Chair does not become involved in the conduct of business within a committee, Speaker Fraser pointed out that there is nothing to prevent any Member or Minister from placing on notice a motion to have the House exercise its authority by ordering the committee to resume its consideration of the bill and report it to the House.384
Report Containing Inadmissible Amendments
Since a committee may appeal the decision of its Chair385 and reverse that decision, it may happen that a committee will report a bill with amendments that were initially ruled out of order by the Chair. The admissibility of those amendments, and of any other amendments made by a committee, may therefore be challenged on procedural grounds when the House resumes its consideration of the bill at report stage.386 The admissibility of the amendments is then determined by the Speaker of the House, whether in response to a point of order387 or on the Speaker’s own initiative.388
In a 1992 decision, Speaker Fraser ruled:
When a bill is referred to a standing or legislative committee of the House, that committee is only empowered to adopt, amend or negative the clauses found in that piece of legislation and to report the bill to the House with or without amendments. The committee is restricted in its examination in a number of ways. It cannot infringe on the financial initiative of the Crown, it cannot go beyond the scope of the bill as passed at second reading, and it cannot reach back to the parent act to make further amendments not contemplated in the bill no matter how tempting this may be.389
Presentation of Report
The report of a committee which has completed its examination of a bill is presented to the House by the Chair of the committee390 during Routine Proceedings, when the rubric “Presenting Reports from Committees”391 is called. No debate is permitted at that point.
Once a bill has been examined in committee, it is considered again by the whole House. At this stage, called “report stage”, Members may, after giving written notice, propose amendments to the text of the bill as it was reported by the committee. Those motions are then debated.
At Confederation, the Standing Orders of the House of Commons set out the procedure to be followed for the consideration of bills in committee and the presentation of reports to the House. Although bills could be referred to a standing or special committee, they had nonetheless to be considered in a Committee of the Whole.392 The amendments adopted in committee had to be communicated to the House, which received them immediately. In addition, the Standing Orders provided that if bills were reported with amendments by a Committee of the Whole, these could be debated and amended before the House ordered third reading. If bills were not amended during consideration in a Committee of the Whole, consideration at third reading would proceed forthwith or at a time to be set by the House.
Over the years, it was observed that amendments were being proposed only in committee, and that when they were presented to the House, a motion to concur in the amendments was made and the question on the motion called immediately.393 In 1955, the House amended its Standing Orders to reflect this practice. It was agreed that amendments had to be presented to the House and that the motion for concurrence in the amendments had to be disposed of forthwith before the bill was ordered for debate at third reading at the next sitting of the House.394 The effect of these amendments to the Standing Orders was to eliminate what then constituted the equivalent of report stage. In 1968, the House undertook a thorough revision of its legislative process with the result that all bills, except for those based on supply or ways and means motions, were thenceforth to be referred to standing or special committees, and would not be reconsidered by a Committee of the Whole House. In addition, the House restored report stage and empowered the Speaker to select and group amendments. It also adopted provisions relating to notice of amendments and the length of speeches at this stage of the legislative process.395
In recommending that report stage be restored, the 1968 Special Committee on Procedure believed that stage to be essential in order to provide all Members of the House, and not merely members of the committee, with an opportunity to express their views on bills under consideration and to propose amendments, where appropriate. For all that, the intent of the Committee was not for this stage to become a repetition of committee stage. Unlike committee stage during which the bill is considered clause by clause, there was not to be any debate at report stage unless notices of amendment had been given, and then debate would have to be strictly relevant to those proposed amendments.
The provisions of the Standing Orders relating to report stage have been amended on a number of occasions since 1968. In 1986, the House made changes in respect of the length of speeches,396 clarified the purpose of report stage and added a “note” setting out guidelines for the Speaker in selecting and grouping amendments.397 In 1994, further changes were made respecting the procedure allowing a Minister to propose that a government bill be referred to committee before second reading.398
Then, in 2001, an additional paragraph was added to the above-mentioned “note”. This occurred in response to the flooding of the Notice Paper with hundreds of amendments in respect of certain controversial bills.399 The new text emphasized that the Speaker will not select motions which are “repetitive, frivolous, vexatious or serve only to prolong debate unnecessarily”.400 Most recently, in a 2012 ruling, the Speaker encouraged the House to find ways to allow independent Members to submit amendments to bills in an effort to limit the number of motions in amendment at report stage.401
Drafting of Motions in Amendment at Report Stage
Members frequently obtain drafting advice and assistance from the Office of the Law Clerk and Parliamentary Counsel. While there is general agreement that the communications necessary to this process should be treated as confidential, questions of privilege asserting this principle402 led to the adoption, in March 2000, of a motion referring the issue to the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs. The Committee recommended “That the process for drafting Members’ amendments to bills, and Private Members’ Bills and Motions, including the confidentiality accorded thereto and the people with whom information is shared, be clearly outlined in practice guidelines”, but the report was not concurred in. Nonetheless, existing administrative practices were modified to reinforce the confidentiality of the drafting process.403
Notice of Amendment
In order that a motion to amend a bill404 may be considered at report stage, notice must be given in writing405 at least one sitting day prior to the commencement of report stage, if the bill was referred to committee after second reading,406 and two sitting days before, if the bill was referred to committee before second reading.407 Notice must be received by the Clerk of the House before 6:00 p.m. Monday to Thursday, and before 2:00 p.m. on Friday, to appear on the Notice Paper for the next sitting day.408 During an adjournment period, the deadline for giving notice is 6:00 p.m. on the Thursday before the House resumes sitting.409 No notice may be given on the day on which consideration of report stage of a bill commences, or on the days following.410
Amendment as to Form Only
The Standing Orders provide one exception to the above notice requirements. A Minister may propose an amendment without notice, if the amendment is in relation only to the form of a government bill.411 In that case, debate must relate solely to the amendment. The purpose of this rule is to facilitate the incorporation into a bill of amendments consequential to other amendments adopted by the committee. It is then up to the Chair to determine whether each such amendment flows necessarily from the acceptance of another amendment, or whether it would change the intent of the bill.
Notice of Royal Recommendation
In the case of an amendment containing financial implications which requires a royal recommendation,412 the Standing Orders require that notice of the royal recommendation be given no later than the sitting day before report stage is to commence. The notice must be printed on the Notice Paper along with the text of the amendment to which it pertains.413
Admissibility of Motions in Amendment
It is up to the Speaker to decide which amendments will be considered at report stage. The Speaker rules not on whether the purport of the amendment or its substance is worthy of debate, but rather on whether the amendment is procedurally acceptable within the framework of the rules established for the admissibility of amendments presented at report stage.414
At report stage, a bill is examined as a whole and not clause by clause as is the case at committee stage. Generally, the rules relating to the admissibility of amendments presented at committee stage also apply to motions in amendment at report stage.415 However, certain rules apply only to report stage. For instance, since 1968 when the rules relating to report stage came into force, a motion in amendment to delete a clause from a bill has always been considered by the Chair to be in order, even if such a motion would alter or go against the principle of the bill as approved at second reading,416 and a motion to amend a number of clauses of a bill has been considered out of order.417
At report stage, the Speaker has ruled out of order a motion in amendment that: infringed upon the financial initiative of the Crown;418 proposed to alter an agreement that was within the prerogatives of the Crown;419 proposed to amend a statute or a section of a statute not amended by the bill;420 and proposed to alter the title of a bill when no substantial changes had been made to the bill that would have necessitated a change in the title.421
The Chair has also ruled out of order motions in amendment to a bill that was referred to a committee after second reading, although the same motions in amendment would have been admissible had the bill been referred to a committee before second reading. For example, the Speaker has ruled out of order a motion in amendment that: exceeded the scope of the bill or the clause in question;422 was contrary to the principle of the bill as adopted at second reading;423 proposed to change the interpretation clause by making a substantive amendment which exceeded the scope of the bill;424 would amend a statute not contemplated by the bill;425 would amend, not a clause of the bill amending the parent Act, but a section of the parent Act itself;426 and was equivalent to a complete negation of the bill.427
The Chair has also ruled, that because report stage is not a reading stage, motions in amendment cannot be moved in the form of reasoned amendments, since the latter can be moved only on second and third reading of a bill.428
Since motions in amendment at report stage are open to debate, they fall into the category of substantive motions that are subject to amendment and subamendment.429 An amendment to a report stage motion must be strictly relevant to that motion.430 An amendment with the same objective as a motion already at report stage could be ruled out of order since it could be seen as a new substantive motion for which notice should have been given before the commencement of report stage.431
Power of the Speaker to Select Amendments
In 1968, fearing that Members would take advantage of report stage to move similar amendments which were insubstantial or dilatory in nature,432 the Special Committee on Procedure recommended in its report that a rule be adopted to empower the Speaker “to select and combine the amendments of which notice had been given”.433 Such a rule was thereupon adopted.434
In 1985, the Special Committee on the Reform of the House of Commons (McGrath Committee) deplored the fact that “[a]lthough successive Speakers since 1968 have used the power under the Standing Order to combine amendments, they have never used the power to select”.435 The Committee pointedly recommended that the Speaker exercise the power to select motions in amendment at report stage. In 1986, the House decided to add a “note” to that effect to the relevant Standing Order.436 Speakers were thereby encouraged to exercise their power to select amendments, particularly after the addition to the note, in 2001, of an additional paragraph emphasizing the breadth of the Speaker’s discretion in this regard.437
Under the Standing Orders, the Speaker has the power to select or group motions in amendment to be proposed at report stage.438 The process of selecting and grouping motions in amendment has been refined since the 1970s. In the early years of the new rule, Speaker Lamoureux regularly consulted the House before making a final decision as to the admissibility and grouping of amendments.439 Over the years, however, Speakers came to consult the House only when they were experiencing difficulties as to whether an amendment was in order. As Speaker Fraser explained in a ruling, the Chair followed a review process whereby motions in amendment were the subject of very extensive discussion, in some cases, between the Member filing the motion and the Clerk’s staff.440 Until 1994, all motions in amendment proposed by Members appeared on the Notice Paper, even those that were subsequently determined to be out of order. In June 1994, the Standing Orders were changed to provide that only those motions found to be in order by the Speaker were to appear on the Notice Paper.441 When a motion is found to be out of order, the motion is returned to the Member along with the reasons for the decision.
As a general principle, the Speaker seeks to forestall debate on the floor of the House which is simply a repetition of the debate in committee.442 Normally, the Speaker will not select a motion in amendment previously ruled out of order in committee, unless the reason for that ruling was the requirement for a royal recommendation443 or that the amendment moved in committee had proposed the deletion of an entire clause of the bill. Furthermore, the Speaker will normally select only those motions in amendment that could not have been presented in committee.444 In such cases, Members can send a written submission to the Speaker explaining why it was not possible to present these motions in committee.445 A motion previously defeated in committee will be selected only if the Speaker judges it to be of such significance to Members as to warrant further consideration at report stage.446 For the purpose of debate, the Speaker will also group motions that have the same intent and are interrelated. In so doing, the Speaker will consider whether individual Members will be able to express their concerns during the debate on another motion.
On the other hand, the Speaker could, if he or she thinks fit, call upon any Member who has given notice of an amendment to explain it so as to enable the Speaker to form a judgment upon it, but in practice, Members would send a written submission to the Speaker if there were any doubt as to the selection of their amendments for debate.447 When an amendment that has been submitted by more than one Member is selected, the Speaker, after consultation, will designate the Member who will propose it (normally, the Member who first gave notice of the motion).448
The Speaker’s decision on the grouping of motions in amendment at report stage addresses two matters: the grouping for debate; and the voting arrangements.
Motions in amendment are grouped for debate according to two criteria: their content; and their position in the bill. Motions which could form the subject of a single debate are grouped according to content if, once adopted, they would have the same effect in different parts of the bill or if they relate to the same provision or similar provisions of the bill. Motions in amendment are combined according to the location at which they are to be inserted in the bill when they relate to the same line or lines. These motions in amendment will then be part of a single scheme for voting purposes.
When the Speaker selects and groups motions in amendment, he or she also decides on how they will be grouped for voting, that is, the Speaker determines the order in which the motions in amendment will be called and the effect of one vote on the others. The purpose of the voting scheme is to obviate any requirement for two or more votes on the same issue.
The Speaker delivers his or her decision regarding the grouping of motions in amendment after the order for the consideration of report stage of the bill has been read. The Speaker informs the House of the motions in amendment that he or she has selected and grouped for debate, the voting arrangements,449 and, where applicable, the motions in amendment that have not been selected, stating the reasons for this.450 Speakers have sometimes intervened at a later stage of the debate to revise the selection and grouping for debate of the motions in amendment.451
When the Order of the Day for the consideration of a bill at report stage is called, the House first considers any motion in amendment of which notice has been given. Each motion in amendment is open to debate and amendment.452 However, if no notice of motion in amendment has been given at report stage, no debate is held.453 Consideration at report stage may commence without regard to the availability to Members of committee evidence or minutes.454
The consideration at report stage of any bill that has already been adopted at second reading cannot begin prior to the second sitting day following the presentation of the committee’s report.455 In the case of a bill that has not yet been adopted at second reading, consideration at report stage must await the third sitting day following the presentation of the report.456 These procedural intervals are strictly observed.457
After ruling on the grouping of motions for debate, the Chair reads the motions in the first group (or the motion in that group, if there is only one).458 The motions that have been moved and seconded are then debated. Once a motion has been moved, it may be withdrawn only with unanimous consent.459
When the time comes for a particular motion in amendment to be taken up by the House, and the Member who gave notice of it is absent, the motion may not be debated unless it is moved by another Member with the unanimous consent of the House.460 When notice of a motion in amendment is given by the government, the motion may be moved by any Minister in the absence of the Minister responsible.
During debate at this stage, no Member may speak more than once or longer than 10 minutes on any motion (or group of motions) in amendment. The sole exception to this is the 20-minute limit applicable to the first round of speeches on the first motion in amendment at report stage of a bill that has not yet been read the second time.461 Members’ speeches are followed by 10-minute (following the 20-minute speeches discussed above) or 5-minute (after all other speeches) questions and comments periods.462 Of course, debate at report stage is subject to the general rules of debate, such as the rule of relevance.463
Deferral of Recorded Division
When a recorded division is demanded on any motion in amendment proposed during consideration of a bill at report stage, the Speaker may defer the calling in of the Members for the vote until some or all subsequent motions in amendment to the bill have been debated. In practice, the Speaker usually defers all recorded divisions until the consideration at report stage has been completed. A recorded division, or divisions, is deferred in this manner from sitting to sitting.464 In cases in which there are an unusually large number of motions in amendment for consideration at report stage, the Speaker may, after consulting with the representatives of the parties, direct that deferred divisions be held before all motions in amendment have been considered.465
Concurrence at Report Stage
The report stage of a bill that has not yet been read a second time is an integral part of the second reading stage of the bill.466 At the end of report stage, a motion “That the bill (as amended) be concurred in at report stage (with (a) further amendment(s)), and be read a second time” is moved, the question is put on the motion, and the House disposes of it forthwith, without amendment or debate.467
At the end of report stage of a bill that has already been read a second time, the motion for concurrence at report stage is also put forthwith, without amendment or debate. The wording of the concurrence motion will vary, depending on whether the original bill has been amended or not, and depending on the stage at which the amendments were made. If, for example, a bill was not amended in committee or at report stage, the motion is as follows: “That the bill be concurred in at report stage”. However, if a bill was amended in committee, but not at report stage, the motion will read as follows: “That the bill, as amended, be concurred in at report stage”. When the bill was amended at report stage, but not in committee, the motion is as follows: “That the bill be concurred in at report stage, with an amendment or with amendments”. Lastly, if the bill was amended in committee and at report stage, the following motion is made: “That the bill, as amended, be concurred in at report stage, with (a) further amendment(s)”. In any event, for the bill to be concurred in at report stage, a motion to do so must be moved by the sponsor of the bill. If the motion is not moved, the order for concurrence at report stage is discharged and the bill is then dropped from the Order Paper.468
If no motion in amendment is moved at report stage of a bill that has already been read a second time, no debate may take place and consideration of report stage becomes the simple adoption (or rejection) of the motion for concurrence at report stage,469 before proceeding to third reading.470 A bill that is reported from a Committee of the Whole, with or without amendments, may not be debated or amended at report stage.471 The House must dispose of the bill at report stage as soon as it is received from a Committee of the Whole.472
Third Reading (and Passage)
Third reading is the final stage through which a bill must pass in the House of Commons. It is then that Members must decide whether the bill should be adopted by the House. Although third reading is often regarded as a formality, it is in fact a decisive stage in the legislative process. This is particularly so in the case of a highly controversial bill.473
Third reading and passage of a bill are proposed in the same motion, which may be debated in the same sitting as report stage, if no amendment has been proposed at report stage or if the bill has been reported from a Committee of the Whole, with or without amendment.474 Otherwise, when debate has taken place on a bill at report stage, it may not be presented for third reading and passage before the next sitting of the House.475 In like manner, when a bill has been considered by a committee before second reading and the report and second reading stages have then been combined, it may not proceed to third reading and passage until the next sitting of the House.476
Debate on third reading commences when the Order of the Day is read for third reading and the Minister or private Member, as the case may be, moves: “That the bill be now read a third time and do pass”.477 The rules relating to the length of speeches during debate are the same as those applicable to speeches and to questions and comments at second reading.478
Debate at this stage of the legislative process focuses on the final form of the bill. The amendments that are admissible at this stage are similar to those that were admissible at second reading stage.479 It is in order to propose an amendment for a three- or six-month hoist,480 as well as a reasoned amendment.481 However, at third reading stage, reasoned amendments must deal strictly with the bill and may not be contrary to the principle of the bill as adopted at second reading.482 If the hoist amendment or reasoned amendment were adopted, the bill would not go any further and would be removed from the Order Paper.
It is also in order to propose an amendment to the third reading motion to recommit the bill to a committee with instructions to reconsider certain clauses for a specific purpose.483 The purpose of such an amendment may be to enable the committee to add a new clause, to reconsider a specific clause of the bill, or to reconsider previous amendments.484 Despite this, an amendment to recommit a bill should not seek to give a mandatory instruction to a committee,485 nor should it seek to recommit a bill to a committee other than the one which previously considered it.486 If the amendment to recommit a bill to a committee is carried, the committee may consider only that part of the bill specified in the order of reference.487
When the motion for third reading has carried, the Clerk of the House certifies that the bill has passed and records the date of passage at the foot of the bill.488 The bill is then sent to the Senate for approval. Defeat of a motion for third reading will result in the withdrawal of the bill.489
Consideration and Passage by the Senate
Once the House of Commons has passed a bill, a copy of it (in the form of a parchment paper) is sent to the Senate with a message requesting its passage by that House.490 Any bill may be returned summarily to the House of Commons in the event that it is determined to have been sent to the Senate by mistake or that a serious error is discovered in the bill.491 The legislative process through which bills must pass in the Senate is very similar to that in the House of Commons. When the Senate has passed a bill, it so informs the House of Commons by message.
Because most government bills originate in the House of Commons, the Senate is sometimes asked to expedite its consideration of a bill. The Rules of the Senate provide for a procedure known as pre-study, which involves referring the subject matter of a bill that has been introduced in the House of Commons, but has not yet been adopted at first reading in the Senate, to a standing committee of the Senate.492 In this way, the Senate may consider the bill and form its opinion even before the bill is sent to it. When the bill does arrive, the Senate is accordingly in a position to adopt or to amend it in a very short time. As always, these and other requests to the Senate are dependent on the willing cooperation of the latter. As Speaker Parent, in other circumstances, reminded the House, “The rules of one House cannot be applied to the other, nor can one House compel the other to conduct its work in a specific manner or according to a specific timetable”.493
Passage of Senate Amendments (if any) by the House of Commons
When the Senate adopts a bill without amendment, a message is sent to the House of Commons to inform it that the bill has been passed,494 and it normally receives Royal Assent very shortly thereafter, or during the following few days. The bill itself is not sent back to the House, unless it is a supply bill.495 However, when the Senate amends a bill, it informs the House of the amendments in the message it sends back to the House, along with the bill.496 The Senate sometimes includes observations or recommendations of the Senate committee that examined the bill in its message to the House.497 Messages received from the Senate are printed in the Journals.
Once they are received, Senate amendments to a bill are brought before the House for consideration.498 It is not for the Speaker of the House of Commons to rule as to the procedural regularity of proceedings in the Senate and of the amendments it makes to bills;499 rather, it is for the House itself to decide whether it accepts or rejects the amendments proposed by the Senate and whether it wishes to inform the latter of the reasons for its decision.
A motion for the consideration of Senate amendments requires 24-hours’ written notice.500 In such a motion, the sponsor of a bill may propose that the House concur in,501 amend or reject502 the amendments made by the Senate. The motion may simultaneously reject some amendments made by the Senate, and concur in or amend others. The motion must relate exclusively to the Senate amendments, and not to other provisions of the bill not contemplated by the amendments.503 The House may elect to reject the Senate amendments for a variety of reasons, for instance, because it believes that they contradict the principle of the bill504 or that they infringe upon the financial initiative of the Crown (and the House of Commons).505 “Motions Respecting Senate Amendments to Bills” appear on the Notice Paper under that heading. Such motions are considered during Government Orders if the bill in question is a government bill, or during Private Members’ Business if it is a private Member’s bill.
When debate takes place on Senate amendments, Members who speak must confine themselves to the amendments being considered and may not address other aspects of the bill, or the bill as a whole.506 The motion for the consideration of Senate amendments is itself open to amendment and subamendment during debate.507 Members opposed to Senate amendments may move reasoned amendments to them.508 The Prime Minister, the Leader of the Opposition, the Minister moving the motion or the Member speaking first on behalf of the Minister and the Member speaking immediately afterwards have unlimited speaking time, followed by a 10-minute questions and comments period. Other Members may speak for not more than 20 minutes and they may share their time with another Member.509 Following each 20-minute speech, a period not exceeding 10 minutes is made available for questions and comments. Motions for time allocation510 and for closure511 may be moved by the government to limit or close debate.512
When the House agrees to Senate amendments, a message to that effect is sent to the Senate and the bill is returned to it while awaiting Royal Assent. If the House amends or rejects Senate amendments, it so acquaints the Senate by message as well. The Senate may then reconsider its amendments, having regard to the message from the House. It may decide to accept the decision of the House, to reject that decision and insist that its amendments be maintained or to amend what the House has proposed. Regardless of what the Senate decides, it sends another message to the House to inform it of the decision. Communication between the two Houses continues in this fashion until they ultimately agree on a text. If agreement cannot be reached by exchanging messages, the House in possession of the bill may request that a conference be held.
Conference Between the Houses
When a disagreement arises between the House of Commons and the Senate as to the amendments to be made to a bill, there are two possible ways of proceeding: the disagreement may be communicated in a message (this is normally the first step taken), or a conference may take place. Although this practice has fallen into disuse,513 a conference may be requested by either of the two Houses in the following cases: to communicate a resolution or an address to which the concurrence of the other House is desired; to discuss the privileges of Parliament; to discuss any matter that warrants the use of this procedure; to require or to communicate statements of facts on which bills have been passed by either House; or to offer reasons for disagreeing to, or insisting on, amendments to a bill.514
Either of the two Houses may request that a conference be held, as long as the initiator of the request is in possession of the bill or other matter that is to be the subject of the conference.515 The Standing Orders of the House of Commons stipulate that the House is to agree upon the reasons to be given before a message is sent to the Senate requesting a conference.516 On the other hand, the terms and conditions for consent to and preparation for the holding of the conference and the course of proceedings at conferences are governed by custom and tradition rather than by the Standing Orders.517
Until 1906, the process relating to the holding of conferences was rather complex. The role of representatives at the conference was limited to communicating the reasons to the representatives of the other House and no discussion was permitted. In October 1903, three conferences were held, only one of which was a “free conference”, to attempt resolution of a dispute arising from amendments that the Senate wished to make to a bill passed by the House.518 New rules were incorporated into the Standing Orders in 1906,519 following the passage of a joint resolution of the two Houses the preceding year.520 The purpose of that amendment to the Standing Orders was to make conferences “free”521 in order to facilitate agreement. The representatives (referred to as managers) were thereby given the freedom to talk and to negotiate as they saw fit.522
Although the two Houses frequently transmit messages to each other, they have rarely held conferences. No conference has taken place since 1947, and there have been only 16 since 1903.523 Of these 16 conferences, 13 were held after the provisions relating to the holding of free conferences came into effect in 1906.524 All of these “free” conferences were held at the request of the House of Commons to resolve disputes in respect of bills. A long-standing disposition on the part of the Senate to leave the initiative in such matters to the House of Commons is reflected in the Senate rule respecting conferences, which specifies messages as the normal method of resolving differences and adds, “unless at any time the House of Commons wishes to communicate the same at a conference”.525
Over the years, the exchange of messages and the appearance of Ministers before House and Senate committees have considerably reduced the need for this procedure,526 which is nevertheless held in reserve in case of a deadlock in connection with Senate amendments to a bill. In this event, a Member, usually the Member responsible for the bill, could propose that a message be sent to the Senate asking it to participate in a free conference on the amendment or amendments in dispute. Once the message was approved and sent to the Senate, the Senate would in turn respond to the House by means of a message. If the Senate agreed to participate in the conference, a message would also be sent to the House of Commons to inform it of the time and place chosen for the conference, and of the names of the Senators (“managers”) who would represent the Senate. A similar motion would be moved in the House of Commons to designate the representatives of the House (who would normally include the Member responsible for the bill)527 and to order that a message to this effect be sent to the Senate.
At the time agreed upon, the managers would meet to try to resolve the impasse. The records of proceedings show that in the event that the House was sitting at the time chosen for the conference, the Speaker would rise and announce that the time had come to hold the conference, and the Clerk would announce the names of the managers who would then go to the Senate.528 When the House managers arrived in the Senate, the Speaker of the Senate would announce the names of the Senate managers, who would immediately leave the Senate Chamber. Since no official report or minutes were prepared for those conferences, there is very little information available as to how free conferences were held in the past and on who attended them in addition to the managers from the two Houses.
A “free conference” is one in which discussion may continue as long as is required for an agreement to be reached, but a successful outcome is by no means guaranteed. There are, in fact, three possible outcomes: the conference fails; a compromise is reached; or the House accepts the Senate amendments, or the Senate accepts the House amendments, as the case may be. If the conference fails, the matter is closed and the bill simply remains on the Order Paper where it dies at the end of the session (or Parliament if it is a private Member’s bill).529 During that time, no new bill may be introduced in the House in respect of the same subject matter and containing similar provisions. If a compromise is reached, one of the representatives of the House submits a report to the House concerning the conference and moves that the report be approved and a message informing the Senate be sent to the latter. Lastly, if the House decides not to press for the approval of its amendments, it accepts the Senate amendments and sends a message to this effect to the Senate.
Royal Assent brings together all three constituent elements of Parliament (the Crown, the Senate and the House of Commons). An integral part of the legislative process, it is the stage that a bill must complete before officially becoming an Act of Parliament. A version of the bill identical to that passed by the two Houses is approved by a representative of the Crown and thereby attains “the complement and perfection of a law”.530 This approval may be conveyed in either of two ways: by ceremony; or by written declaration. The traditional way is an essentially ceremonial procedure which takes place in the presence of Members and Senators, after the Members have been summoned by the Usher of the Black Rod to go to the Senate to attend the Royal Assent ceremony. Since relevant statutory provisions came into effect in 2002, this formal ceremony is frequently dispensed with and Royal Assent to bills is signified by written declaration.531
The origins of Royal Assent date back to the reign of Henry VI (1422–61; 1470–71),532 during which the practice arose of introducing bills in both Houses in the form of complete statutes, and not in the form of petitions as had been the case since the early days of the English Parliament. Royal Assent was granted by the Sovereign in person until 1541; in that year, to spare King Henry VIII the discomfort of having to give Royal Assent to the bill for the execution of his wife, Katharine Howard, the task was assigned for the first time to a royal commission.533 It then became common practice to appoint Lords Commissioners with responsibility for signifying Royal Assent on behalf of the Sovereign. Royal Assent was last refused by a Sovereign on March 11, 1707, when Queen Anne refused to assent to a bill for settling the militia in Scotland.534 The last time that the Monarch granted Royal Assent in person in Great Britain was on August 12, 1854, during the reign of Queen Victoria.535 In 1967, the British Parliament passed the Royal Assent Act whereby a bill now acquires the force of law on simple report of Royal Assent by the Speakers of the two Houses.536 This procedure eliminates the need for holding a ceremony.537
In the Canadian House of Commons, while the formal ceremony of Royal Assent has sometimes been criticized,538 these criticisms were effectively addressed in 2002 by the adoption of the Royal Assent Act. In its retention of the formal ceremony, however, Parliament has remained faithful to conventions expressed in rules derived from those in effect in Great Britain at the time of Confederation.539 Neither the Standing Orders of the House of Commons nor the Constitution Act specifically mentions the procedure for granting Royal Assent (although the Royal Assent Act now does so). Initially, Royal Assent was customarily deferred to the end of a parliamentary session, when the Governor General’s presence was in any case required for the prorogation of Parliament. This practice gradually disappeared over time and today Royal Assent is given to bills at any time during a session.540
Since it was assented to on June 4, 2002, the Royal Assent Act has provided for the signification of Royal Assent by written declaration (by the Governor General or his or her Deputy).541 The Act preserved the traditional ceremony in the Senate Chamber by requiring its use at least twice each calendar year and in the case of the first appropriation bill of each session of Parliament. Moreover, during adjournments of the House, the Speaker may, at the request of the government,542 give notice that the House will meet at an earlier time for the purposes of Royal Assent; being convened “for those purposes only”, the House cannot proceed to any other business.543 This has seldom been necessary since provision was made for the signifying of Royal Assent by written declaration while the House stands adjourned. New Standing Orders added in 2002 require that Members be informed of this in a special issue of the Journals,544 and that messages received from the Senate during an adjournment be deposited with the Clerk. Such messages are deemed received by the House the same day.545
When the House is sitting and a formal ceremony is desired for the signifying of Royal Assent, the House may suspend its proceedings until a certain time,546 “to the call of the Chair”,547 or until the bells are sounded.548 In the absence of any special arrangements to extend the sitting, the proceedings are interrupted at the normal hour of adjournment and the House stands adjourned until the next sitting day.549 If the ceremony is scheduled for the same time as other items of business, a decision must be made as to which matter will take precedence.550
The Governor General may give Royal Assent in person, particularly in the case of laws of great importance. At other times, it is given by a deputy either in person or via a written declaration.551
Royal Assent by Ceremony
When a bill has been passed by both Houses of Parliament, a special copy is inscribed on parchment paper and endorsed by the Clerks of both Houses. When a ceremony is to take place, members of the Governor General’s staff inform the Speaker of the House of the date and time at which the Governor General or the Deputy Governor will attend the Senate to give Royal Assent to bills. The Speaker of the House then relays the message to the Members.552
At the appointed time, the Usher of the Black Rod (an officer of the Senate) informs the House that the Governor General or the Deputy Governor desires their presence in the Senate Chamber. Before entering the Commons Chamber, the Usher knocks three times on the door.553 Any proceeding then under way is interrupted by the Speaker.554 Quorum is not required for the House to receive the message from the Usher of the Black Rod.555 The Sergeant-at-Arms announces to the Speaker that the messenger from the Senate wishes to enter. The Speaker replies: “Admit the messenger”, after which the doors are opened to allow the Usher of the Black Rod to enter. Because the House cannot always arrange for its order of business to coincide with the time when Royal Assent is to be given, the messenger is sometimes obliged to wait. This has prompted considerable discussion regarding the scheduling of the House’s time, particularly as regards moving on to other business while the House awaits the Senate messenger.556
When the Usher of the Black Rod has entered and bowed three times, he or she stands before the Table and informs the Speaker of the desire of the Governor General or his or her Deputy that the House attend him or her immediately in the Senate Chamber.557 The Usher of the Black Rod then leads the House to the Senate, followed, in order, by the Sergeant-at-Arms bearing the Mace, the Speaker, the Clerk and the Table Officers, and the Members.
While the Speaker and the Members gather at the Bar of the Senate, the Usher of the Black Rod moves toward the far end of the Senate Chamber. He or she bows to the Governor General or to the Deputy Governor and calls out: “Order!” The Speaker of the House then raises his or her hat and bows to the Governor General (or to the Deputy Governor). A clerk at the Table in the Senate Chamber then reads, in English and French, the titles of the bills that are to receive Royal Assent, with the exception of supply bills. The Clerk of the Senate displays the bills and states: “In Her Majesty’s name, His/Her Excellency the Governor General (the Honourable the Deputy of the Governor General) doth assent to these bills”.
If there is a supply bill to be assented to, the Speaker of the House of Commons brings it into the Senate Chamber and reads a message, in both official languages, asking that it be given Royal Assent, using the following formula:
May it please Your Excellency (Honour558): The Commons of Canada have voted Supplies required to enable the Government to defray certain expenses of the public service. In the name of the Commons, I present to Your Excellency (Honour) the following Bill: (title), to which Bill I humbly request Your Excellency’s (Honour’s) Assent.
A Senate clerk at the Table goes to the Bar, is handed the supply bill by the Speaker of the House of Commons, and returns with it to the Table. After reading the title of the supply bill in both official languages, the Clerk of the Senate reads the declaration of Royal Assent as follows:
In Her Majesty’s name, (the Honourable the Deputy to) His/Her Excellency the Governor General thanks Her Loyal Subjects, accepts their benevolence, and assents to this Bill.
The representative of the Crown consents to the enactment of the bills by nodding his or her head. This is the action by which Royal Assent is officially conveyed, and from that moment the bills have the force of law, unless one (or more) of them specifies another date of coming into force.559 The Usher of the Black Rod then turns to face the main doors of the Senate, indicating thereby that the ceremony is concluded. The Speaker of the House raises his or her hat, bows to the representative of the Crown, and withdraws from the Chamber, returning directly to the Commons Chamber.
The Speaker then takes the Chair and informs the Members that the Governor General, or his or her Deputy, was pleased to give, in Her Majesty’s name, Royal Assent to certain bills. The House resumes the business that was interrupted, or adjourns if the hour for adjournment has already passed. Normally, the entire ceremony lasts no more than 20 minutes.560
Royal Assent by Written Declaration
The date on which Royal Assent is to be signified by written declaration is determined by the government once a bill has been passed by both Houses. If the Governor General is unavailable on that date, a Deputy of the Governor General may act for this purpose. Since the Royal Assent Act specifies no location, this also lies in the discretion of the government.
The Governor General (or his or her Deputy), the Clerk of the Parliaments (or his or her Deputy) and, at the government’s request, a representative of the Privy Council Office are always present for the signing of a written declaration of Royal Assent, as is a House Table Officer in the case of a supply bill.561
At the time of signing, parchment paper copies of the bills are presented to the Governor General or to his or her Deputy together with a signed letter from the Clerk of the Parliaments confirming that the bills have been passed by both Houses which accordingly request that they receive Royal Assent. The Governor General or his or her Deputy signs a Declaration of Royal Assent, which is then witnessed by the Clerk of the Parliaments.
Letters advising that Royal Assent has been signified are delivered without delay to the Speakers of both Houses by the Clerk of the Senate. The Royal Assent Act requires that each House of Parliament be notified of a written declaration of Royal Assent by the Speaker of that House or by the person acting as Speaker. With few exceptions (for example, during an adjournment) the letters are read to the two Houses upon receipt.562
A bill may not receive Royal Assent if it has not passed through all stages of the legislative process in both Houses. However, a bill may be read three times and be given Royal Assent at the same sitting.563 The Constitution Act, 1867 provides for the circumstances in which statutes may be disallowed or Royal Assent withheld, but does not specify the procedure to be followed.564
Coming into Force
A distinction must be made between the date on which a legislative measure is enacted by Parliament and the date on which it comes into force. The Interpretation Act contains provisions governing the coming into force of statutes.565 A bill becomes law after it has been passed by both Houses in the same form; the resulting statute comes into force either when it receives Royal Assent, if no date of commencement is provided for in the Act,566 or on another date provided for in the Act. Accordingly, an Act may come into force on one or more dates specified in the Act itself or fixed by an order of the Governor in Council.