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

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] 

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