House of Commons Procedure and Practice
Edited by Robert Marleau and Camille Montpetit
2000 EditionMore information …

9. Sittings of the House

… there is nothing wrong in trying to improve the life style of parliamentarians, many of whom are men and women with family responsibilities… . The fact that Members of Parliament would not have to sit in the evening will upgrade their role in the sense that … they would be free to come and go as they please, to look after the interests of their constituents, to sit on the standing committees of the House, to participate actively in the special caucuses of their respective parties, [and] to go and address the Canadian people in many communities located within a reasonable distance from Ottawa.

Yvon Pinard, President of the Privy Council
(Debates, November 29, 1982, p. 21070)


meeting, or “sitting”, of the House begins when the Speaker takes the Chair and, seeing that a quorum is present, calls the House to order. A sitting ends upon the adjournment of the House. On days when the House meets, it does so in accordance with a predetermined daily schedule or timetable. [1] Within this context, the House retains a large measure of flexibility in the timing and duration of its sittings, and departures from the usual daily timetable do occur.

This chapter provides an outline of the manner in which a sitting commences, the requirements for quorum, and the way that the hours of sitting are set or altered, as well as an examination of unusual or special types of sittings of the House.

Opening of a Sitting

Before a sitting commences, a ceremonial procession known as the Speaker’s parade makes its way from the Speaker’s chambers via the Hall of Honour to the House of Commons Chamber. The procession is led by the Sergeant-at-Arms bearing the Mace, [2]  followed by the Speaker, a page carrying documents for the Speaker’s use during the sitting, the Clerk of the House and other Table Officers. As the parade enters the Chamber, Members rise while the Speaker proceeds to the Chair. The Sergeant-at-Arms pauses at the end of the Table until the Speaker has taken the Chair, then places the Mace on the Table, bows and takes his or her seat at the Bar of the House. Once satisfied that a quorum is present, the Speaker reads the prayer and opens the sitting.

In the absence of the Speaker, the Presiding Officer for the sitting takes the Speaker’s place in the parade. [3]  Once the Presiding Officer has entered the Chamber, the Clerk will inform the House of the unavoidable absence of the Speaker and the Presiding Officer will then take the Chair as Speaker. When a quorum is present, the Presiding Officer will then read the prayer [4] and open the sitting.

At the end of a sitting, the Speaker adjourns the House and then exits the Chamber, this time, through the doors at the rear of the Chair, preceded by the Sergeant-at-Arms bearing the Mace.


Under the Constitution Act, 1867, a quorum of 20 Members, including the Speaker, is required “to constitute a meeting of the House for the exercise of its powers”. [5]  This constitutional requirement is reiterated in the Standing Orders, which also set out the procedure to be followed in cases where the House lacks a quorum. [6]  Although there have been several attempts to increase the size of quorum, it has remained unchanged since Confederation. [7]  Modern-day demands on Members’ time are such that attending the sittings of the House is only one of many duties. Party whips have thus traditionally been responsible, through the use of roster systems, for ensuring that the required number of Members is present to maintain the quorum. [8] 

Quorum Before a Sitting Begins

Should a quorum appear not to exist at the time the House is scheduled to meet, a count of the House is taken by the Speaker. If fewer than 20 Members are present, the Speaker adjourns the House until the next sitting day. [9]  The Speaker may take such an initiative only before the House has been called to order. [10]  Once the sitting has begun, “control over the competence of the House is transferred from the Speaker to the House itself. … The Speaker has no right to close a sitting at his own discretion.” [11]  There are no known instances of this having happened at the beginning of a sitting and, in practice, the bells summoning Members to the House at the start of a sitting are not silenced until a quorum exists, often some minutes after the appointed meeting time. [12] 

Quorum During a Sitting

During a sitting, any Member may draw the attention of the Speaker to the lack of a quorum, requesting a “count” of the Members present. Such a request may be made while another Member is speaking. If a quorum is obviously present, the Speaker may simply announce that there is a quorum, dispense with the count and proceed with the business. If there is some doubt as to there being a quorum, a count is made by the Speaker. If a quorum is present, business continues. [13]  However, if no quorum exists after the first count, the bells are ordered to be rung for no longer than 15 minutes. Within that time period, if a second count determines that a quorum is present, the Speaker will order the bells silenced and the House will proceed with the business before it. [14]  If at the end of the 15 minutes a second count reveals that there is still no quorum, the Speaker adjourns the House until the next sitting day; [15]  the names of the Members present are recorded in the Journals[16] 

As in the House, the quorum in a Committee of the Whole is 20 Members. If notice is taken by a Member that there is not a quorum present in a Committee of the Whole, the Chairman counts the Members. If there is not a quorum, the Committee rises and the House resumes its sitting. [17]  On a report from the Chairman of the Committee, the Speaker counts the House. If there is not a quorum, the bells are rung for a maximum of 15 minutes.

Usually, quorum is quickly restored so that the House may proceed with the business before it. [18]  Should the House be required to adjourn for lack of quorum, any Order of the Day under consideration at the time, with the exception of an item of Private Members’ Business not selected to come to a vote, retains its precedence on the Order Paper for the next sitting. [19] 

A number of practices govern how the determination of a quorum is made. A Member who calls quorum need not remain in the House. [20]  Furthermore, a Member who calls quorum while speaking and who subsequently leaves the House may, upon returning after a count that confirmed a quorum, resume speaking. [21]  As well, Members need not be in their seat in order to be counted. [22]  While the count is taking place, no point of order or question of privilege will be considered by the Chair. [23] 

When the Speaker adjourns the House for want of a quorum, either at the start of a sitting or during a sitting, Members present are asked to come to the Table and sign the scroll in order that their names may be recorded in the Journals. Logically, only the names of those Members counted ought to appear in the scroll, although in practice this has not always been the case, given that Members are free to enter or leave the Chamber during and after a count. As such, the list of Members entered in the Journals may exceed 20 names. [24]  Thus, to adjourn the House, it is the count which is decisive, not the list of names. [25] 

Lack of Quorum During Divisions

During a recorded division, if the Speaker’s attention is drawn to the fact that the sum of the votes and the number of Members present who did not vote (including the Speaker) do not total at least 20, then the question remains undecided; the usual quorum procedure is then triggered. If no objection is raised at the time the result of the vote is read to the House, the Speaker simply confirms the result and business proceeds as though there were a quorum. [26] 

Quorum When the Attendance of the House is Requested in the Senate

A quorum is deemed to exist, regardless of the number of Members in attendance, whenever a message is received for the attendance of the House in the Senate. [27]  The constitutional requirement for a quorum of 20 Members does not apply when the House is summoned to the Senate, since the House is not, in fact, exercising any of its powers in responding to the message; it is simply acting as a witness to the proceedings about to take place in the Upper Chamber.

Most messages requiring the attendance of the House in the Senate Chamber are, by prior arrangement, delivered by the Usher of the Black Rod at times when the House is sitting and thus when a quorum is likely to be present. In those instances, the message is received by the Speaker as soon as it arrives and the House, led by the Speaker, proceeds to the Senate. [28]  However, there are occasions when the House stands adjourned and its attendance is required for Royal Assent ceremonies. In such cases, the Speaker may, at the request of the government, cause the House to meet during a period of adjournment for the sole purpose of giving Royal Assent to a bill or bills, following which the House stands further adjourned. [29]  In such circumstances, when it is known that the attendance of the House in the Senate will be desired, the Speaker causes the House to meet at an appointed hour. When the Usher of the Black Rod arrives, the Speaker receives the message and, with the Members then present (often less than a quorum), proceeds to the Senate.

Daily Sitting

Each sitting of the House customarily occurs on a separate day. However, in the nineteenth century, the holding of two or more sittings on a single day was used in an effort to expedite the business of the House by creating a mechanism to circumvent the rule prohibiting a bill receiving more than one “reading” on a single day. [30]  Generally, some time prior to the prorogation or dissolution of Parliament, the House would adopt an order specifying that there would be two sittings a day, stating the times of meeting and adjournment. [31]  This practice was abandoned with the extension of sittings, the introduction of extended hours prior to the June adjournment, and time limits for debate on certain items of legislation through time allocation or agreements to suspend the rules. In the twentieth century, the holding of two sittings on one day has occurred for entirely different reasons, such as the end and opening of successive sessions of a Parliament; [32]  and to allow Members to attend special ceremonies. [33] 

The Standing Orders provide for the House to meet on Monday at 11:00 a.m., Tuesday, Thursday and Friday at 10:00 a.m., and Wednesday at 2:00 p.m. [34]  Once the House meets and begins its proceedings, it generally does not adjourn until the scheduled adjournment time: 6:30 p.m. on Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday, and 2:30 p.m. on Friday. [35]  On Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday, a motion to adjourn the House is deemed to have been made and seconded. Officially referred to as the Adjournment Proceedings and informally as the “late show”, [36] this motion is debatable for not more than 30 minutes, after which the Speaker deems the motion to adjourn to have been carried and adjourns the House until the next sitting day. [37]  On Friday, no motion to adjourn the House is proposed; the Speaker adjourns the House without question put.

Altering Days and Hours of Sitting

Notwithstanding the rules, the House may alter days or times of sittings, through special orders. Special orders have been adopted for many reasons: to eliminate a sitting in order to allow some Members to attend a political convention; [38]  to start a sitting earlier on given days in order to consider government business; [39]  to begin a sitting later in order for a visiting leader or head of state to address both Houses; [40]  not to sit on days on which the House would otherwise sit; [41]  and to sit on days on which the House would not otherwise sit, including Saturdays and Sundays. [42]  If the special order adopted to sit on a Saturday or Sunday does not designate the order of business, it will be that of a Friday sitting. [43]  At one time, sittings of the House conducted on a Saturday were common towards the end of a session or prior to the summer adjournment when the government wished to expedite the passage of legislation. However, since the adoption of Standing Orders to accommodate extended hours of sitting within the regular parliamentary timetable, the House rarely sits on a Saturday or Sunday. [44] 

Suspending a Sitting

Although the proceedings of the House run continuously from the beginning of a sitting through to its adjournment, the House may agree to a pause, called a “suspension”. Suspensions are common and may be initiated for any number of reasons, as they are a simple method by which the House is able to manage its time as it sees fit. Upon the suspension of a sitting, the Speaker leaves the Chair but the Mace remains on the Table, thus indicating that the House is still constituted. Sittings of the House are routinely suspended with the intention of resuming the proceedings sometime later that day. There are no Standing Orders which explicitly govern the suspension of a sitting. Provision for a suspended sitting may be contained within the wording of a motion or special order of the House; [45]  or, the House may suspend its proceedings simply through an agreement by unanimous consent. [46] 

Sittings are most frequently suspended when the House, having terminated the consideration of an item of business, halts its proceedings to the call of the Chair or to the time when the next order of business is scheduled to begin. This is achieved either through the suggestion of a Member, who asks for the unanimous consent of the House to suspend the sitting; [47]  or, through the action of the Speaker who, seeing that debate on an item has come to a conclusion, suspends the sitting. [48]  In the latter case, it is generally understood that the Speaker is acting with the concurrence of the House.

In recent years, the House has suspended its sittings for a variety of reasons: to await a specified time ordered by the House for a recorded division; [49]  to allow for Royal Assent; [50]  to allow the Speaker to deliberate on a ruling; [51]  to await the time ordered for a Budget presentation; [52]  because of a fire alarm; [53]  to allow specific Members to be present in the Chamber for debate; [54]  in order to await a message from the Senate regarding an amendment to a bill; [55]  to allow for negotiations between parties on an item of legislation; [56]  to allow copies to be made of motions introduced without notice; [57]  to await an anticipated statement by the Prime Minister; [58]  to allow Members to attend the funeral of a Member; [59]  to allow Members to attend the unveiling of a statue on Parliament Hill; [60]  to rectify a technical problem with the simultaneous interpretation in the Chamber; [61]  and due to a Member taken ill in the Chamber. [62] 

To resume the sitting, the Speaker takes the Chair and has the bells rung briefly. The proceedings of the House recommence without a count of the House, or pursuant to the terms of the special order adopted by the House, or according to the agreement or understanding reached by the House prior to the suspension.

Continuing or Extending a Sitting

Under certain conditions, it is possible for any Member to move a motion, without notice, to continue or extend a sitting beyond the fixed daily adjournment time in order to continue the consideration of a specific item of business at one or more stages. [63]  From the time the fixed adjournment rule came into effect in 1927 until 1965, a multitude of motions were agreed to, many with unanimous consent, to continue or extend sittings through mealtimes or beyond the ordinary hour of daily adjournment. By the early 1960s, however, it had become increasingly difficult to secure agreements to extend a sitting beyond the obligatory adjournment time on any given day. [64]  This kind of inflexibility undoubtedly led to the introduction of a new Standing Order in 1965 which put forward a different sitting extension mechanism. [65] 

Since then, a motion to continue or extend a sitting of the House may be proposed, provided it is while the item to be considered is under discussion, [66]  and at some time during the hour preceding the time at which consideration of the item would customarily be interrupted by Private Members’ Business or the fixed daily adjournment time. [67]  A motion of this nature is neither debatable nor amendable [68]  and may not be moved during Private Members’ Business. [69]  Such a motion can be moved by any Member in the course of debate but not on a point of order, [70]  nor during the period reserved for questions and comments following a Member’s speech, [71]  nor when the House is bound to complete a proceeding by a specific time. For example, a motion to extend the sitting beyond the normal hour of adjournment may not be proposed when votes are scheduled on days allotted for the Business of Supply and during debate on the Address in Reply to the Speech from the Throne or on the Budget, when time allocation or closure is applied to a bill or motion, or when any special order of the House prescribes a precise time to dispose of a proceeding.

When a motion to continue or extend the sitting is moved, the Speaker puts the question to the House and specifically requests those Members who object to rise. If 15 or more Members do so, the motion is deemed to have been withdrawn; otherwise, the motion is adopted. [72]  The motion has been moved more than once in the same hour. [73] 

When the House is in a Committee of the Whole, it is necessary for the Committee to rise briefly so the motion can properly be moved and disposed of with the Speaker in the Chair. [74]  When a motion to extend a sitting is adopted on a Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday or Friday prior to the consideration of Private Members’ Business, the debate on the item is continued after Private Members’ Hour.

When a motion to continue or extend the sitting has been adopted, the House may be adjourned by the Speaker only upon the completion of the item of business in question or by the adoption of a motion to adjourn made by a Minister if the item of business is not yet completed. [75] 

Extending Sitting Hours in June

Since 1982, and the advent of a fixed parliamentary calendar, the Standing Orders have provided for the extension of sitting hours during the last 10 sitting days in June. [76]  This rule represented a codification of a long-standing practice whereby, prior to the prorogation of the Parliament or the start of the summer recess, the House would arrange for longer hours of sitting in order to complete or advance its business. These longer hours of sitting were generally provided for by the House sitting on Saturdays; [77]  meeting earlier in the day; [78]  sitting during evenings that the House was not otherwise scheduled to sit; [79]  or suspending lunch and dinner breaks. [80] 

In order to extend the hours of sitting in June, a motion, for which no notice is required, must be moved by a Minister during Routine Proceedings on the tenth sitting day preceding June 23. [81]  The motion, which must propose to extend sittings to a specific hour, but not necessarily for every day during that period, [82]  is subject to a maximum two-hour debate before the question is put by the Speaker. [83] 

Although the Standing Order to provide for the extension of the hours of sitting in June has been in effect since 1982, it has not been used at every opportunity. On a number of occasions, special orders have been moved instead and adopted, usually by unanimous consent. [84] 

A Sitting Which Lasts More Than One Day

A sitting of the House is not necessarily confined to a single calendar day as one sitting may consume more than one day. Prior to the establishment in 1927 of fixed hours of adjournment for all days of the week, [85]  sittings often extended over more than one day. [86]  Since that time, these types of sittings have occurred infrequently and mainly as the result of events such as the prolonged ringing of the division bells; [87]  the extension of a sitting beyond the ordinary hour of daily adjournment for the purpose of considering a specified item of business; [88]  the continuation of an emergency debate past the hour of adjournment stipulated in the Standing Orders; [89]  and the decision to complete all remaining stages of a bill [90]  or to allow all Members wishing to do so to speak on an item. [91]  At the conclusion of an extended sitting, the House stands adjourned until the regular commencement time of the next sitting, which is either later the same day if that time has not yet been reached, or the next day if the extended sitting has gone beyond that time. [92] 

Altering the Adjournment Times

There are times when the House may wish to temporarily set an adjournment time earlier or later than the time prescribed in the Standing Orders. The House may do this by adopting a special order to this effect. [93]  At other times, when debate on an item of business concludes shortly before the specified adjournment, the House may adjourn earlier than the usual hour of adjournment by unanimous consent; Members ask that the Speaker “call it 6:30” (or “2:30” on Friday). This request is usually met and thus the need for a motion to adjourn is avoided. [94] 

The adjournment of the House may also take place under other conditions. Any Member may propose a motion to adjourn the House without notice except when specifically prohibited by the Standing Orders; [95]  the motion “That this House do now adjourn” is not debatable and not amendable. The adoption of such a motion immediately concludes a sitting.

Furthermore, when the House has extended its sitting beyond the fixed hour of adjournment for the completion of a specific item of business, [96]  a motion to adjourn the House before the item is completed may only be proposed by a Minister. [97]  When the business for which the House has extended its proceedings beyond the hour of daily adjournment is completed, the Speaker adjourns the House until the next sitting day in the usual manner. [98]  When a sitting has been extended for a “take note” debate, the Speaker adjourns the House when no Member seeks the floor unless the special order governing the “take note” debate provides for a specific mechanism for adjournment. [99] 

Special or Unusual Sittings

The House sometimes alters its normal schedule of sittings to accommodate special events or ceremonies. These “special” or “unusual” sittings have included: sitting for the sole purpose of attendance at the Royal Assent ceremony; sitting for the purpose of electing a Speaker; conducting a secret sitting; and sitting to hear addresses by distinguished visitors.

Sitting for the Sole Purpose of Attending Royal Assent

In the late 1980s, the House followed the practice of adopting special orders permitting the Speaker, during periods of adjournment, to recall the House for the sole purpose of attending Royal Assent. [100]  The Standing Order authorizing the Speaker to recall the House, if it is deemed to be in the public interest, has also been invoked to recall the House for the sole purpose of attending Royal Assent. [101]  In 1994, the House codified in the Standing Orders the practice of recalling the House, at the request of the government for the sole purpose of Royal Assent. [102] 

A sitting for the sole purpose of Royal Assent is treated as a recall of the House with proper notice given so that the Speaker may make the necessary preparations to reopen the House. The House does not need a quorum for the Speaker to take the Chair when the Usher of the Black Rod appears in the Chamber to request the attendance of Members in the Senate. [103]  In responding to a summons of the Crown, the House is simply being asked to witness an event, rather than to make a decision. At the conclusion of the ceremony, the Speaker returns to the House and, once in the Chair, reports that the Governor General was pleased to give, in Her Majesty’s name, Royal Assent to certain bills. The Chair then immediately adjourns the House [104]  without proceeding to any other business. [105] 

Election of a Speaker

At the first sitting of a new Parliament or at any time during the course of a Parliament when the Speakership becomes vacant, the House may, if necessary, sit beyond the regular hour of adjournment until such time as a Speaker is declared elected. The election of a Speaker takes precedence over all other business. No other business may be addressed and no motion for adjournment, nor any other motion, may be entertained. If the House has continued to sit beyond the regular hour of adjournment, the Speaker, upon being elected and taking the Chair, adjourns the House until the next sitting day. [106] 

Secret Sittings

Although not explicitly provided for in the Standing Orders, the House has the right and authority to conduct its proceedings in private. This has been referred to as a “secret sitting”. The House may conduct an entire sitting or a portion of a sitting where “strangers” (anyone who is not a Member or an official of the House of Commons) are either not admitted or asked to withdraw from the galleries of the House. [107] These meetings are regarded as sittings and are noted as such in the documents of the House. To conduct a secret sitting, the House has either adopted a special order to initiate the proceeding, [108]  or has simply not opened the doors of the House to the public following the prayers at the beginning of a sitting. [109] 

The House has met in secret on four occasions, all during wartime. [110]  As well, in the years shortly after Confederation, the House would, upon the commencement of a sitting but prior to the doors being opened to the public, conduct a portion of its sittings out of public view in order to discuss internal or “domestic” matters. [111] 

Addresses by Distinguished Visitors

From time to time, the House of Commons Chamber is the site for a joint address to Parliament by a distinguished visitor (usually a head of state or head of government). Since the early 1940s, numerous distinguished visitors have addressed Members of the Senate and the House of Commons from the floor of the Chamber. (See Figure 9.1.)

Figure 9.1 – Joint Addresses to Parliament Since 1940
December 30, 1941 Winston Churchill, Prime Minister, Great Britain
June 16, 1943 Madame Chiang Kai-shek
June 1, 1944 John C. Curtin, Prime Minister, Australia
June 30, 1944 Peter Fraser, Prime Minister, New Zealand
November 19, 1945 Clement R. Attlee, Prime Minister, Great Britain
June 11, 1947 Harry S. Truman, President, United States
October 24, 1949 Pandit Jewaharlal Nehru, Prime Minister, India
May 31, 1950 Liaquat Ali Khan, Prime Minister, Pakistan
April 5, 1951 Vincent Auriol, President, French Republic
November 14, 1953 Dwight D. Eisenhower, President, United States
February 6, 1956 Sir Anthony Eden, Prime Minister, United Kingdom
March 5, 1956 Giovanni Gronchi, President, Republic of Italy
June 5, 1956 Dr. Sukarno, President, Republic of Indonesia
March 4, 1957 Guy Mollet, Prime Minister, French Republic
June 2, 1958 Dr. Theodor Heuss, President, Federal Republic of Germany
June 13, 1958 Harold Macmillan, Prime Minister, United Kingdom
July 9, 1958 Dwight D. Eisenhower, President, United States
July 21, 1958 Dr. Kwame Nkrumah, Prime Minister, Ghana
May 17, 1961 John F. Kennedy, President, United States
May 26, 1964 U Thant, Secretary General, United Nations
April 14, 1972 Richard M. Nixon, President, United States
March 30, 1973 Luis Echeverria, President, Mexico
June 19, 1973 Indira Gandhi, Prime Minister, India
May 5, 1980 Masayoshi Ohira, Prime Minister, Japan
May 26, 1980 José Lopez Portillo, President, Mexico
March 11, 1981 Ronald W. Reagan, President, United States
September 26, 1983 Margaret Thatcher, Prime Minister, United Kingdom
January 17, 1984 Zhao Ziyang, Premier, State Council, People’s Republic of China
May 8, 1984 Miguel de la Madrid, President, Mexico
March 7, 1985 Javier Perez de Cuellar, Secretary-General, United Nations
January 13, 1986 Yasuhiro Nakasone, Prime Minister, Japan
April 6, 1987 Ronald W. Reagan, President, United States
May 25, 1987 François Mitterand, President, French Republic
May 10, 1988 Her Majesty Queen Beatrix of the Netherlands
June 16, 1988 Dr. Helmut Kohl, Chancellor, Federal Republic of Germany
June 22, 1988 Margaret Thatcher, Prime Minister, United Kingdom
February 27, 1989 Chaim Herzog, President, State of Israel
October 11, 1989 His Majesty King Hussein Bin Talal, Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan
June 18, 1990 Nelson Mandela, Deputy President, African National Congress
April 8, 1991 Carlos Salinas de Gortari, President, Mexico
June 19, 1992 Boris Yeltsin, President, Federation of Russia
February 23, 1995 William J. Clinton, President, United States
June 11, 1996 Ernesto Zedillo, President, Mexico
September 24, 1998 Nelson Mandela, President, Republic of South Africa
April 29, 1999 Vaclav Havel, President, Czech Republic

Since the 1970s, the practice has normally been for the House to adopt a motion for a joint address, without debate, prior to the delivery of the address. [112]  In addition to the order to append the address and related speeches to Hansard[113] the motion has also included the date and time of the adjournment of the House, as well as other conditions for the order of business on the day of the address. By 1980, the motion also included permission for the transmission of the address and related speeches by the media. [114] 

When a joint address takes place, Senators and Members of the House of Commons assemble in the House of Commons Chamber. However, the assembly does not constitute a sitting and the Mace is not on the Table. An established protocol is nonetheless followed.

The seating arrangements in the House are not what they would be for a regular sitting. The Speaker of the House takes the Chair, with the Speaker of the Senate seated in a chair to his or her right. The Table is cleared of the usual paraphernalia and a lectern placed at its head. The Prime Minister and the distinguished visitor are seated along the side of the Table to the Speaker’s right; the Clerk of the Senate and the Clerk of the House of Commons are seated along the other side of the Table. Seating for the rest of the official party, the Justices of the Supreme Court and the Senators is arranged on the floor of the House in front of the Table.

On arrival at the Centre Block, the distinguished visitor is met in the Rotunda by the Prime Minister and the Speakers of both Houses, and signs the Senate and House of Commons’ visitors books. At the appointed hour, the official party enters the House of Commons Chamber. The Prime Minister provides an official welcome and invites the visitor to address the assembly. Afterwards, the visitor is thanked by the Speaker of the Senate, followed by the Speaker of the House of Commons who will then conclude the assembly. At this point, the official party exits the Chamber and proceeds to the House of Commons Speaker’s Chambers.

See Chapter 10, “The Daily Program”.
When entering or leaving the Chamber, the Speaker is always preceded by the Sergeant-at-Arms, who carries the Mace (Bourinot, 4th ed., p. 176).
Parliament of Canada Act, R.S.C. 1985, c. P-1, s. 43(1). The Presiding Officer would be either the Deputy Speaker, the Deputy Chairman or Assistant Deputy Chairman of Committees of the Whole.
For further information on the prayer, see Chapter 10, “The Daily Program”.
Constitution Act, 1867, R.S.C. 1985, Appendix II, No. 5, s. 48. A quorum of 20 Members had previously been established for the Legislative Assembly of the Province of Canada (see Union Act, 1840, R.S.C. 1985, Appendix II, No. 4, Art. xxxiv).
Standing Order 29.
There have been attempts in the past to change the quorum from 20 to 30 and even 50 (see, for example, Journals, May 29, 1925, p. 348). As well, between 1952 and 1980, Stanley Knowles (Member from 1942-58 and 1962-84) repeatedly introduced private Members’ bills to increase the quorum to 30 and to 50. None of these bills was passed.
In 1990, Nelson Riis (Kamloops) argued, among other things, that it was the responsibility of the Government to maintain quorum when dealing with government supply (see Debates, April 2, 1990, p. 10083). In the subsequent ruling, Speaker Fraser stated that it was difficult for the Chair to conclude that the government must bear sole responsibility for the House adjourning for want of quorum (see Debates, April 3, 1990, p. 10119).
Standing Order 29(2).
On November 16, 1982, when the House resumed sitting following the evening meal interruption, the Acting Speaker, not seeing a quorum, took the initiative to order the bells to be rung. When the ringing of the bells failed to produce a quorum, he adjourned the House (see Debates, November 16, 1982, p. 20729; Journals, November 16, 1982, p. 5353).
Redlich, Vol. II, p. 74.
In practice, the bells summoning Members to the House at the start of a sitting are not in fact interrupted until a quorum exists, occasionally 5 to 10 minutes after the stated hour of meeting. On Wednesday, the practice is to start the bells a few minutes before the stated hour of meeting so that prayers can be said earlier without time being lost from Members’ Statements and Oral Question Period (see Debates, March 27, 1991, p. 19068, and December 4, 1991, p. 5762).
See, for example, Debates, December 6, 1984, p. 969.
Standing Order 29(3). See, for example, Journals, August 25, 1987, p. 1378; May 24, 1990, p. 1755; December 6, 1990, p. 2390; June 11, 1991, p. 163; April 2, 1993, p. 2790; April 11, 1994, p. 323; June 15, 1995, p. 1756; October 29, 1996, p. 786; April 24, 1997, p. 1537; May 26, 1998, p. 892.
Standing Order 29(3).
Standing Order 29(4). See, for example, Journals, March 30, 1990, p. 1477; October 19, 1995, p. 2032.
See Journals, June 6, 1899, p. 239. See also Chapter 19, “Committees of the Whole House”.
Prior to December 1982, if the first count requested during a sitting confirmed the lack of a quorum, the Speaker was compelled to adjourn the House. On November 29, 1982, the House adopted the current text of Standing Order 29(3) in accordance with a recommendation made by the Special Committee on Standing Orders and Procedure, which provided for the ringing of the bells for not more than 15 minutes. The Standing Order came into effect at the end of Government Business on December 22, 1982. See Journals, November 29, 1982, p. 5400. There have been instances since 1867 when the House has been adjourned during a sitting for want of a quorum: see Journals, June 14, 1869, p. 244; June 29, 1917, p. 402; March 11, 1919, pp. 49-50; June 9, 1938 (Supply Committee), p. 434; July 10, 1969, pp. 1329-31; December 17, 1974, pp. 217-8; March 23, 1979, pp. 588, 590; May 5, 1982, p. 4797; November 16, 1982, p. 5353; March 30, 1990, pp. 1477-8; October 19, 1995, p. 2032.
Standing Order 41(2). Prior to the adoption of this Standing Order on May 13, 1991, any item under consideration at the time of a lack of quorum would drop from the Order Paper, and the House could be asked at a subsequent sitting to revive any item that may have lapsed because of the lack of quorum. See, for example, Journals, March 30, 1990, p. 1477; April 3, 1990, p. 1486. See also Debates, April 2, 1990, pp. 10076-89; April 3, 1990, pp. 10119-21. Since the adoption of Standing Order 41(2), there has only been one instance of the House being adjourned during a sitting for want of a quorum: October 19, 1995. The business before the House at that time was a votable item of Private Members’ Business in its second hour of debate. This item was dropped to the bottom of the order of precedence on the Order Paper (see Order Paper, October 20, 1995, pp. 22-3). The lack of quorum only meant that the House adjourned for the day.
See, for example, Debates, December 13, 1990, p. 16724.
See, for example, Debates, April 19, 1982, pp. 16368-70.
See, for example,Debates, February 12, 1997, pp. 8022-3.
See, for example, Debates, May 5, 1982, p. 17067.
For examples where the list of Members in the Journals exceeded 20 names, despite the fact that the House adjourned because of the lack of quorum, see Journals, May 5, 1982, p. 4797, and November 16, 1982, p. 5353.
Journals, July 10, 1969, pp. 1329-30.
For examples where recorded votes did not total 20 Members and no objection was taken in the House, see Journals, June 15, 1988, p. 2893, and May 26, 1989, p. 274. See also Speaker Sauvé’s ruling of July 12, 1982, where it was stated that since no one, according to the record of the proceedings, had asked for a quorum call, “a quorum did exist” (Debates, July 9, 1982, p. 19201; July 12, 1982, pp. 19214-5).
Standing Order 29(5).
See, for example, Journals, May 12, 1994, pp. 459-60; Debates, May 12, 1994, p. 4300.
Standing Order 28(4). On occasion, points of order have been raised concerning the proceedings in the House when Members have assembled in anticipation of being summoned to the Senate Chamber for Royal Assent during an adjournment of the House. On December 30, 1988, and on June 29, 1989, Marcel Prud’homme (Saint-Denis) rose to suggest that as the House was being convened for the sole purpose of awaiting the arrival of the Usher of the Black Rod who would summon the House to the Senate, the House should not have proceeded with Prayers nor should the Speaker have taken the Chair prior to the announcement of the arrival of Black Rod by the Sergeant-at-Arms (see Debates, December 30, 1988, pp. 851-2, and June 29, 1989, pp. 3803-6. See also Debates, July 13, 1995, p. 14499).
Standing Order 71.
See, for example, Journals, July 18, 1895, p. 300. On June 21, 1869, the House conducted three separate sittings throughout the course of one day. This is the only known example of this occurrence (Journals, pp. 292-308).
See, for example, Journals, October 9, 1951; November 20, 1952; January 8, 1957; May 8, 1967; October 12, 1976.
See, for example, Journals, March 8, 1955, pp. 245-7 (unveiling memorial to the late Agnes Macphail, the first female Member elected to the House of Commons); Debates, March 29, 1973, pp. 2726-7; and Journals, March 30, 1973, p. 229 (joint address by the President of Mexico).
Standing Order 24(1).
Standing Order 24(2). Until 1906, there was no requirement for the House to adjourn automatically on any sitting day. That year, the House agreed to adjourn the proceedings of the House at 6:00 p.m. on Wednesday in order to provide for one night in the week when the House would not sit (Debates, July 9, 1906, cols. 7463-5). It was not until 1927 that the House adopted a mandatory time of adjournment for all sitting days (Journals, March 22, 1927, pp. 318-9).
Since the Adjournment Proceedings normally take place at the end of the sitting, they thus became known as the “late show” at the time of late evening sittings.
Standing Order 38. For further information on the Adjournment Proceedings, see Chapter 11, “Questions”.
See, for example, Debates, June 7, 1993, p. 20462.
See, for example, Journals, May 30, 1977, p. 874.
See, for example, Debates, June 9, 1992, p. 11622.
See, for example, Debates, June 22, 1994, p. 5767.
See, for example, Journals, December 19, 1975, p. 970; December 20, 1975, p. 971; March 23, 1995, p. 1265.
An unusual situation occurred in 1961 when the House, having adopted an opposition amendment to a government motion extending the hours of sitting, agreed to Saturday sittings without providing for their order of business (Journals, April 24, 1961, p. 468). The government attempted to introduce a motion covering the omission but failed to receive the consent of the House to do so (Debates, May 5, 1961, p. 4443). As a result, the Order Paper for Saturday, May 6, included the items available for consideration, ordered as for a Friday sitting. (See Speaker Michener’s ruling, Journals, May 6, 1961, pp. 511-4.) On March 23, 1995, the House adopted an order to sit at 9:00 a.m. on Saturday, March 25, 1995, and at 1:00 p.m. on Sunday, March 26, 1995, for the purpose of considering Government Orders and attending a Royal Assent ceremony. On these two days, the House considered Bill C-77, An Act to provide for the maintenance of railway operations and subsidiary services, at the report and third reading stages. Royal Assent also took place on the Sunday (see Journals, March 23, 1995, p. 1265; March 25, 1995, pp. 1277-88; March 26, 1995, pp. 1289-91).
The last occasion of a continued period of Saturday sittings was in 1961, prior to the summer adjournment of the House. The House sat on every Saturday in the months of May, June and July, prior to the adjournment of the House for the summer on July 13, 1961, pursuant to a sessional order to that effect adopted on April 24, 1961 (Journals, April 24, 1961, pp. 467-8). The House has conducted a Sunday sitting only once, on March 26, 1995 (Journals, pp. 1289-91).
See, for example, Journals, November 7, 1990, pp. 2239-40; October 10, 1991, p. 471; and February 19, 1992, p. 1042.
See, for example, Journals, November 21, 1994, p. 905; February 9, 1995, p. 1109.
As in the case of motions to adjourn earlier than scheduled, suggestions to suspend the sitting are often proposed by House officers such as the House Leaders, the Whips or their deputies. This is done either after consultation with the other parties, to facilitate negotiations on a matter, or because there has been co-operation among the parties over House business. See, for example, Debates, December 2, 1991, p. 5627; April 21, 1994, p. 3340; June 20, 1994, p. 5597; February 7, 1995, p. 9299.
This is true particularly in the case of Private Members’ Hour. It has become the practice that when proceedings on an item of Private Members’ Business have been completed before the end of the time provided in the rules, as there can be no further business before the House at that moment, the Chair will suspend the sitting until the time for Government Orders (on a Monday) or the Adjournment Proceedings (on a Tuesday, Wednesday or Thursday). This has been proposed both by Members and the Chair, or the Chair has suspended the sitting with the tacit consent of the House. See, for example, Debates, October 23, 1989, p. 5026; October 24, 1989, p. 5074; April 23, 1990, p. 10508; October 28, 1991, p. 4070; February 4, 1992, p. 6406; February 6, 1992, p. 6530; December 7, 1992, p. 14701; June 1, 1993, p. 20192; March 21, 1994, p. 2518; September 26, 1994, p. 6116; October 3, 1994, p. 6416; October 17, 1994, p. 6753. It also is frequently proposed by Members that the House by consent proceed immediately without a suspension to the next scheduled order of business, if the House is ready to do so. See, for example, Debates, September 27, 1991, p. 2867; October 28, 1991, p. 4121; December 4, 1991, p. 5806; November 19, 1992, p. 13676; June 3, 1993, p. 20341; April 21, 1994, p. 3340; May 24, 1994, p. 4377; March 3, 1995, p. 10346.
See, for example, Debates, June 19, 1991, pp. 2130-1.
See, for example, Debates, November 26, 1986, pp. 1551-2; October 10, 1991, p. 3618; October 29, 1991, pp. 4203-4.
See, for example, Debates, February 7, 1990, p. 7953; October 31, 1991, pp. 4277-9; March 12, 1996, pp. 651-2.
See, for example, Debates, May 23, 1985, pp. 5011-2; February 26, 1986, p. 10979; February 25, 1992, p. 7593; April 26, 1993, pp. 18464, 18470.
See, for example, Debates, May 25, 1990, p. 11910; April 6, 1992, p. 9359; March 15, 1993, p. 16964; September 29, 1994, p. 6348; April 25, 1997, p. 10218.
See, for example, Debates, March 11, 1993, p. 16893.
See, for example, Debates, July 24, 1986, pp. 15011-2, 15061.
See, for example, Debates, December 11, 1989, p. 6784.
See, for example, Debates, June 14, 1990, p. 12788.
See, for example, Debates, January 17, 1991, pp. 17268-70.
See, for example, Debates, November 20, 1989, p. 5853; Journals, November 21, 1989, p. 862.
See, for example, Debates, September 26, 1990, pp. 13452-3, 13455.
See, for example, Debates, January 24, 1994, p. 246.
See, for example, Debates, December 9, 1998, p. 11122.
Standing Order 26(1).
On one occasion, the refusal of unanimous consent to extend a sitting to complete the consideration of an item of business indirectly resulted in the holding of a sitting on Good Friday (see Journals, March 27, 1964, p. 137).
See Standing Order 6(2) inJournals, June 11, 1965, p. 224.
On November 7, 1986, a motion was adopted to sit beyond the ordinary hour of daily adjournment for the purpose of continuing the rubric “Introduction of Bills” under Routine Proceedings (see Journals, November 7, 1986, p. 190).
Standing Order 26(1)(a) and (b). See, for example, the ruling of Acting Speaker Milliken (Debates, November 27, 1996, pp. 6813-4).
Standing Order 26(1)(c). On one occasion, a motion was amended by unanimous consent to provide a dinner hour (see Debates, August 31, 1966, pp. 7862-3).
On June 3, 1987, the House prohibited the moving of such motions during Private Members’ Business (Journals, pp. 1016-28, and in particular p. 1017). See, for example, Debates, December 14, 1990, pp. 16797-8. From 1965 to 1985, six motions to extend the sitting on Private Members’ Business were moved and two were adopted. See Journals, February 13, 1976, p. 1021; February 9, 1983, p. 5587; February 16, 1983, p. 5612; Debates, February 23, 1983, pp. 23153-4; Journals, February 7, 1984, p. 149; March 18, 1985, p. 387.
See, for example, Debates, February 14, 1969, p. 5560; November 5, 1991, pp. 4513-4; May 20, 1992, p. 10968; June 8, 1992, pp. 11596-7; March 9, 1993, p. 16747.
See, for example, Debates, February 17, 1987, p. 3541; March 26, 1991, pp. 19010-1.
Standing Order 26(2).
See, for example, Debates, June 1, 1993, pp. 20176-7, 20181-2.
Standing Order 26(1)(a). See, for example, Debates, March 13, 1969, p. 6606; November 17, 1970, p. 1270. See also Chapter 19, “Committees of the Whole House”.
Standing Order 25.
Standing Order 27.
See, for example, Journals, April 24, 1961, pp. 467-8.
In the nineteenth century, the House occasionally met earlier each day, usually at 11:00 a.m., and arranged to hold two distinct sittings each day. This allowed the House to advance certain business, such as the completion of several stages of a bill, on the same day. By 1900, however, longer hours were provided for almost entirely through earlier meeting times. See, for example, Journals, June 8, 1897, p. 222; June 22, 1900, p. 359.
See, for example, Journals, July 20, 1956, p. 911.
See, for example, Journals, June 27, 1950, p. 600.
Until 1991, the rule permitted a motion of this nature to be moved by any Member. On June 15, 1988, Nelson Riis (Kamloops–Shuswap), the House Leader for the New Democratic Party, moved a motion to extend the hours of sitting pursuant to the Standing Order, as was permitted at that time. Debate on the motion was adjourned before the maximum two hours of debate had taken place. See Journals, June 15, 1988, p. 2894. See also Debates, June 15, 1988, pp. 16498-501. The rule was amended on April 11, 1991, limiting the moving of the motion to Ministers (Journals, p. 2906).
In June 1991, the motion to extend the hours of sitting omitted two sitting days: Wednesday, June 12, and Friday, June 14, 1991 (Journals, June 10, 1991, p. 157). In June 1992, the motion did not refer to the sitting day of Tuesday, June 16, 1992 (Journals, June 9, 1992, p. 1661). In June 1994, the motion omitted two sitting days: Friday, June 10, and Friday, June 17, 1994 (Journals, June 9, 1994, p. 557). In June 1996, the motion omitted four sitting days: Thursday, June 13; Friday, June 14; Thursday, June 20; and Friday, June 21, 1996 (Journals, June 5, 1996, p. 490). On these days, regular hours of sitting remained in effect.
Standing Order 27.
When sitting hours have been extended in June by special order, it has generally been before the date on which, had the rule been invoked, such motions could have been moved. See Journals, June 14, 1984, p. 566; June 13, 1985, pp. 803-4; June 11, 1986, p. 2301; June 12, 1987, p. 1089; June 13, 1989, pp. 360-1; May 31, 1990, p. 1791; June 5, 1990, p. 1821. On June 20, 1988, the House adopted a government motion to extend both the days and hours of sitting of the House into the summer (see Journals, pp. 2925-7).
Debates, March 22, 1927, pp. 318-9.
There are numerous examples of single sittings consuming many days at a time (see Bourinot, 4th ed., pp. 213-4).
A notable example occurred in 1982, when division bells were rung continuously for several days resulting in a two-week sitting (see Journals, March 2-17, 1982, p. 4608). See, for example, Journals, March 19, 1984, pp. 260-3; March 28, 1984, pp. 314-6.
See, for example, Journals, October 31, 1983, p. 6383; February 3, 1987, pp. 433, 443; November 28, 1990, pp. 2312, 2316; June 18, 1991, pp. 216, 223; February 19, 1992, pp. 1043-4; May 25, 1993, pp. 2993, 3004.
Standing Order 52. See, for example, Journals, April 4, 1989, pp. 23-4; December 18, 1989, pp. 1034-5; May 5, 1992, pp. 1398-9; June 22, 1992, pp. 1825, 1829. For further information on emergency debates, see Chapter 15, “Special Debates”.
See, for example, Journals, March 23, 1999, pp. 1650-3, 1656-7.
See, for example, Journals, January 16, 1991, p. 2571.
See, for example, Journals, April 28-29, 1987, pp. 796-7.
For examples of the House adopting special orders to adjourn earlier than the regular time of daily adjournment, see Journals, February 19, 1992, p. 1042, and June 19, 1992, p. 1811. For examples of the House adopting special orders to sit later and adjourn at a time later than the regular time of daily adjournment, see Journals, January 25, 1994, p. 62; February 1, 1994, p. 89; April 21, 1994, pp. 381-2; and May 6, 1994, p. 435.
Such suggestions are usually made by the government, either the Chief Government Whip or the Parliamentary Secretary to the Government House Leader. See, for example, Debates, February 4, 1994, p. 956; November 4, 1994, p. 7697; December 2, 1994, p. 8604; December 5, 1994, p. 8658; February 13, 1995, p. 9562. Occasionally, when an item of business has been concluded, the Chair, sensing the mood of the House, will suggest that it be called 6:30 or 2:30 (see, for example, Debates, March 11, 1994, p. 2188).
Standing Order 60. For example, the motion is prohibited during the election of a Speaker (Standing Order 2(3)). For further information on the restrictions on the use of this Standing Order, see Chapter 12, “The Process of Debate”.
For example, by special order or pursuant to Standing Orders 26 or 57.
Standing Order 25. Ministers have rarely moved the adjournment of the House before the completion of proceedings under this rule. See, for example, Journals, October 31 to November 1, 1983, pp. 6383, 6388-9. However, on several occasions, motions to adjourn the House have been refused on days when a special or Standing Order required completion or disposition of an item or items of business. See, for example, Debates, January 31, 1983, p. 22341; February 1, 1983, pp. 22400-1; May 23, 1985, pp. 4984, 5011-2; December 7, 1990, p. 16470.
Standing Order 24(2). See, for example, Journals, October 20, 1997, pp. 119, 122; February 17, 1998, p. 497; February 18, 1998, p. 503; June 8, 1998, pp. 947-8, 951.
See, for example, Journals, April 12, 1999, p. 1687. For further information on “take note” debates, see Chapter 15, “Special Debates”.
See, for example, Journals, December 23, 1988, p. 80; June 27, 1989, p. 463; December 20, 1989, p. 1060; December 19, 1990, pp. 2513-5; June 16, 1993, pp. 3321-2.
Standing Order 28(3). See also Debates, June 23, 1994, pp. 5781-2. For further information on recalls of the House, see Chapter 8, “The Parliamentary Cycle”.
Standing Order 28(4). See Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs, Twenty-Seventh Report, June 8, 1994, Issue No. 16, p. 3, adopted by the House on June 10, 1994 (Journals, p. 563).
Standing Order 29(5). Though a “sitting” for the sole purpose of Royal Assent is not a regular sitting, it has become practice for the Speaker’s parade to be held and for the Speaker to read Prayers prior to receiving the message from the Governor General for the House’s attendance in the Senate. See also section above, “Quorum When the Attendance of the House Is Requested in the Senate”.
See, for example, Journals, December 10, 1998, p. 1440.
This also precludes the deposit of any document with the Clerk of the House and the reading of any Senate message except for those regarding Royal Assent. See, for example, Journals, June 23, 1994, pp. 668-70; July 7, 1994, pp. 672-3; July 13, 1995, pp. 1877-9; December 15, 1995, pp. 2267-8; February 2, 1996, p. 2269; December 18, 1997, pp. 399-400; June 18, 1998, pp. 1029-32; December 10, 1998, pp. 1439-40.
Standing Order 2. The election of John Fraser as Speaker in September 1986 serves as an excellent example of the operation of this Standing Order. The House met at 3:00 p.m. on Tuesday, September 30, and proceeded with the election process. After 11 ballots, John Fraser was elected Speaker and, after taking the Chair, adjourned the House at 2:30 a.m. on the morning of October 1 (see Journals, September 30, 1986, pp. 1-9). For further information on the election of the Speaker, see Chapter 7, “The Speaker and Other Presiding Officers of the House”.
For further information on “strangers”, see Chapter 6, “The Physical and Administrative Setting”.
Journals, April 15, 1918, p. 151.
Journals, November 28, 1944, p. 931. Prior to the adjournment of the House on the day preceding the secret sitting, Members discussed various ways by which the House could conduct a sitting in secret. It was decided, on the invitation of the Speaker, that, upon commencing the sitting the following day, the prayers would be read but the doors would not be opened. The Speaker then indicated that he would leave it to the House, at that point, to proceed as it deemed fit (Debates, November 27, 1944, pp. 6632-3).
See Journals, April 17, 1918, p. 160; February 24, 1942, p. 93; July 18, 1942, p. 553; November 28, 1944, p. 931.
See, for example, Debates, December 6, 1867, p. 199; December 19, 1867, p. 317.
See, for example, Journals, March 29, 1972, p. 232; March 11, 1999, p. 1593. Prior to the 1970s, the motions to append the text of the address and introductory and related speeches were normally adopted at the sitting following the delivery of the address by distinguished visitors (see Journals, January 21, 1942, p. 654; May 18, 1961, p. 561).
The joint address by U Thant, Secretary-General of the United Nations, on May 26, 1964, was not printed in Hansard.
See, for example, Journals, April 29, 1980, p. 94; April 1, 1987, p. 689; March 11, 1999, p. 1593.

Please note —

As the rules and practices of the House of Commons are subject to change, users should remember that this edition of Procedure and Practice was published in January 2000. Standing Order changes adopted since then, as well as other changes in practice, are not reflected in the text. The Appendices to the book, however, have been updated and now include information up to the end of the 38th Parliament in November 2005.

To confirm current rules and practice, please consult the latest version of the Standing Orders on the Parliament of Canada Web site.

For further information about the procedures of the House of Commons, please contact the Table Research Branch at (613) 996-3611 or by e-mail at