House of Commons Procedure and Practice
Edited by Robert Marleau and Camille Montpetit
2000 EditionMore information …
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13. Rules of Order and Decorum

Powers of the Chair to Enforce Order and Decorum

The Speaker ensures that debate conforms to the rules and practices that the House has adopted in order to protect itself from excesses. While the House is the master of its own proceedings and the Speaker its servant, the Speaker has extensive powers to enforce rules of debate and maintain order so that the House can conduct its business in an orderly fashion. Indeed, the Standing Orders state explicitly that the Speaker shall preserve order and decorum, and decide questions of order. [325]  In addition, the Standing Orders empower the Speaker to call a Member to order if the Member persists in repeating an argument already made in the course of debate or in addressing a subject which is not relevant to the question before the House. [326] 

The preservation of order and decorum has been a duty of the Speaker since 1867, but the task was never as difficult later as it was in the early years of Confederation. Speakers at that time were regularly confronted with rude and disorderly conduct which they were unable to control. The throwing of paper, [327]  books, [328]  and other missiles, including firecrackers in one case, [329]  combined with the noise Members made imitating cats, [330]  making music [331]  and generally being loud, made for a very riotous assembly. [332]  The early twentieth century House was a much more austere and calm place, although in 1913, during the debate on the naval bill, the House very nearly got out of control. [333]  Subsequent occasions of turbulence were infrequent and usually occurred in connection with the imposition of closure. [334]  It was not until 1956, during the Pipeline Debate, that the Speaker again had great difficulty preserving order. [335]  The 1960s with a succession of minority governments and the late 1970s with the introduction of televised sittings also proved a challenge. Speakers Jerome, Sauvé, Francis and Bosley all had to contend with scores of language breaches and other violations of order and decorum. [336]  During the 1990s, both Speaker Fraser and Speaker Parent had to deal with a number of incidents of disruptive behaviour. [337] 

Accepted conventions of parliamentary conduct and respect for the authority of the Chair are normally sufficient guarantees that order and decorum are maintained during debate and other proceedings. However, if a rule of debate is being breached, [338]  the Speaker will intervene directly to address a Member or the House in general and to call to order any Member whose conduct is disruptive. [339]  The Speaker’s declarations on disorderly or indecorous conduct are typically made quickly before any discussion takes place.

Members rarely defy the Speaker’s authority or risk evoking the Chair’s disciplinary powers. If a Member challenges the authority of the Chair by refusing to obey the Speaker’s call to order, to withdraw unparliamentary language, to cease irrelevance or repetition, or to stop interrupting a Member who is addressing the House, the Chair has recourse to a number of options. The Speaker may recognize another Member, [340]  or refuse to recognize the Member until the offending remarks are retracted and the Member apologizes. [341]  As a last resort, the Chair may “name” a Member, the most severe disciplinary power at the Speaker’s disposal.


Naming describes a disciplinary measure invoked against a Member who persistently disregards the authority of the Chair. If a Member refuses to heed the Speaker’s requests to bring his or her behaviour into line with the rules and practices of the House, the Speaker has the authority to name the Member, that is, to address the Member by name rather than by constituency or title as is the usual practice, and to order his or her withdrawal from the Chamber for the remainder of the sitting day. [342]  Alternatively, the Speaker may prefer to let the House take any supplementary disciplinary action it may choose. In either case, naming is a coercive measure of last resort.

Historical Perspective

Until 1927, the British practice of naming Members applied in both the Legislative Assembly of the Province of Canada before Confederation and in the House of Commons after Confederation. [343]  Although there were instances of naming before Confederation, [344]  from 1867 until 1927 there was only one case. In 1913, Speaker Sproule, who had taken the Chair to quell disorder in a Committee of the Whole, cited a British rule and named Mr. Clark (Red Deer) for “disregarding the authority of the Chair and flagrantly violating the rules of the House.” [345]  After the Member was named, he apologized to the House and the House considered his explanation satisfactory. No motion to suspend him was proposed. [346]  Still, in the 46-year interval between Confederation and 1913 and in the years 1914-27, there were times when the Speaker, facing Members unwilling to respect the Chair’s calls to order, might have resorted to naming but did not. [347] 

When the naming sanction was formally provided for in the 1927 Standing Orders, [348]  it referred simply to the Speaker’s power to name a Member who engaged in persistent irrelevance or repetition; [349]  no reference was made to naming a Member for refusing to retract unparliamentary language or for disregarding the authority of the Chair. Furthermore, the Standing Orders did not specify the procedure to be followed after a Member had been named. [350]  It was not until 15 years later, in 1942, that the first incident of naming occurred under the amended Standing Orders. In this case, after Speaker Glen had named Mr. Lacombe (Laval–Two Mountains), the Minister of Finance immediately moved a motion to suspend Mr. Lacombe. The motion carried easily. [351]  Thus, the practice developed that after being named by the Speaker, a Minister, usually the Government House Leader, would move a motion to suspend the Member, typically for the remainder of the day’s sitting. Subsequent naming incidents occurred in 1944 (twice), 1956, 1961, 1962 (twice) and 1964. [352] 

Beginning in 1978, after television had been introduced in the Chamber, the frequency of naming increased dramatically. [353]  Possibly even more significant than the rise in the number of namings was the fact that the House appeared increasingly willing to divide on the subsequent motion to suspend the offending Member. This placed the Speaker in a potentially vulnerable position in that after naming a Member, it was up to a Minister (usually the Government House Leader) to move a motion to suspend the Member, and since the motion was votable, it could be defeated. Thus, the authority of the Speaker depended, in each case of naming, on the initial support of the government to move the motion and on the subsequent support of the House to adopt it. [354] 

In 1985, as the number of naming incidents continued to increase, the Special Committee on Reform of the House of Commons (the McGrath Committee) addressed the question of “whether the disciplinary powers of the Chair should be clarified and strengthened”. [355]  The Committee’s final report recommended “that the Speaker be empowered to order the withdrawal of a member for the remainder of a sitting … [and] that the proceedings consequent upon the naming of a member be set out in the Standing Orders.” [356]  In February 1986, the government tabled proposed amendments to the Standing Orders that went beyond the recommendation of the Committee to include measures that would allow the Speaker, on ordering the withdrawal of a Member for the second or any subsequent occasion during a session, to suspend him or her for a period of five days without resort to motion. [357]  During debate on the motion to adopt these new provisions, Members expressed strong support for the concept of granting the Speaker authority to order the withdrawal of a Member for one sitting, but were equally hesitant to extend such power further, preferring to leave subsequent punishments in the hands of the House itself. [358]  In February 1986, the House agreed to amendments to the proposed changes to the Standing Orders, and they came into effect that same month. [359]  The rule changes left untouched the Standing Order that had existed since 1927 [360]  but added a new Standing Order granting the Speaker the authority to order the withdrawal of a Member for the remainder of the sitting. [361]  Although the method of naming, followed by a votable motion to suspend the Member for a specified period of time, has not been resorted to since October 1985, [362]  it remains a practice which can still be referred to by the Speaker or invoked by the House.

The Process of Naming

The Speaker typically calls upon a Member who has transgressed the established standards of decorum to retract the offending words or otherwise apologize without qualification. Should the Member hesitate or refuse to comply, the Speaker normally repeats the request, often with a warning that the persistent disregard will result in the Member being named. Such exchanges may continue at the Speaker’s discretion, but once it is clear that the Member will not comply, the Speaker names him or her, and orders a withdrawal for the remainder of the sitting day. In naming a Member, the Speaker will say:

(Name of Member), it is my duty to name you for disregarding the authority of the Chair, and to direct your withdrawal from the House for the remainder of the sitting.

Alternately, in some circumstances, after naming a Member but before ordering a withdrawal from the House, the Speaker may wish the House to decide what disciplinary action to take against a Member. This option involves a motion, usually proposed by the Government House Leader, to suspend the Member named from the service of the House for a specified period of time. This motion is neither debatable nor amendable. It carries a greater penalty since suspension from the service of the House bars the Member not only from attendance in the Chamber, but also from committees and the proposed suspension may exceed the remainder of the sitting. Notices standing in the name of the suspended Member are removed from the Notice Paper for each day that the Member is suspended. [363]  The Speaker may also order the Sergeant-at-Arms to take the necessary steps to remove a Member who refuses to leave the Chamber after being ordered to withdraw. [364] 

During debate in a Committee of a Whole, if a Member refuses to obey the warning of the Chairman to discontinue his or her unparliamentary behaviour, the Chairman of the Committee may rise and report the conduct of the Member to the Speaker. The Chairman may do this on his or her own initiative without recourse to a motion from the Committee. [365]  The Speaker will deal with the matter as if it had occurred in the House. [366] 

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