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

Recognition to Speak

With few exceptions, a Member may speak to any motion that has been proposed to the House and which is open to debate. [4] In managing the debate on a motion, the Speaker is responsible for deciding the order in which Members are recognized and for applying the rules of debate which deal with such matters as speaking once to a motion, the right of reply and unwarranted interventions.

Usual Order of Speaking

There is no official order for the recognition of speakers laid down in the Standing Orders; the Chair relies on the practice and precedents of the House when recognizing Members to speak. The Standing Orders simply authorize the Speaker to recognize for debate the Member who seeks the floor by rising in his or her place. [5]  The Member who is “seen” first is given the right to speak. This is commonly referred to as “catching the Speaker’s eye”. This expression has become an established phrase in parliamentary terminology and dates back to early British procedure. [6]  Although the Whips of the various parties each provide the Chair with a list of Members wishing to speak, these lists are used only as a guide. [7]  By tradition, some Members of the House such as Party Leaders, Ministers when appropriate, [8]  and often opposition critics or spokespersons are given some priority to speak. A limited number of Members, including the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition, have special rights accorded to them in the Standing Orders, but these rights relate only to the length of their speeches. [9]  While the Speaker has complete discretion in recognizing Members, [10]  the Chair may follow such informal arrangements as may be made [11]  or the Chair may be bound by an Order of the House setting down a specific speaking order. [12] 

In the usual order of speaking, after a motion has been proposed to the House, the Speaker recognizes the mover of the motion as the first to speak in debate. If the mover chooses not to speak, he or she is nonetheless deemed to have spoken — by simply nodding, the Member is considered to have said “I move” and this is taken as speech in the debate. [13]  The Member who seconds a motion is not required to speak to it at this point, but may choose to do so later in the debate. [14]

The Speaker subsequently “sees” Members from opposite sides of the House in a reasonable rotation, bearing in mind the membership of the various recognized parties in the House, [15] the right of reply, [16]  and the nature of the proceedings. For example, during the first round of debate on Government Orders, a representative from the government and from each of the recognized opposition parties are recognized by the Speaker if they rise to seek the floor in debate. For subsequent rounds, the Speaker alternates between Members on the government and opposition benches. The Speaker has given the floor to independent Members and Members of unrecognized parties only after Members of recognized parties have participated in debate in proportion to their membership in the House. [17]  During Private Members’ Business, the Speaker exercises greater discretion in recognizing Members, ensuring that all parties and groups in the House are heard and that all sides of the issue under debate are expressed. On Supply days, the Chair may recognize Members from the party sponsoring the opposition motion more frequently. [18]

During the 10-minute period for questions and comments following most speeches, [19]  Members may direct questions to the Member who has just completed his or her speech, or may make brief comments on that speech. When recognizing Members, the Chair gives preference to Members of parties other than that of the original speaker, but not to the exclusion of Members from the speaker’s party. [20]  If the questions and comments period is interrupted by another proceeding, when debate resumes on the motion, the questions and comments period will only continue if the Member who made the initial speech is present. [21]  Since there is no precise time set aside for the length of each individual question or comment, the Chair will sometimes determine how many Members are interested in participating in the questions and comments period and then apportion the time for each intervention accordingly. Members recognized during the questions and comments period are not allowed to move dilatory motions, [22]  to propose amendments, [23]  or to move motions to extend the hours of sitting. [24] 

Motion That a Member Be Now Heard

The Speaker’s decision as to who has the right to speak during debate may be altered by the House on a motion that another Member “be now heard”. A decision on this motion settles the order of debate immediately.

When two Members rise simultaneously to “catch the Speaker’s eye”, the Speaker will recognize one of them to speak. By rising on a point of order, another Member may move that the Member who had not been recognized be given the floor. [25]  The moving of the motion “that a Member be now heard” is an exception to the rule that a motion cannot be moved on a point of order. The motion may not be moved if the Member first recognized by the Speaker has already begun to speak. [26]  If the motion is ruled in order by the Speaker, the question on the motion is put forthwith without debate. A recorded division may take place. If carried, the Member named in the motion may speak. [27]  If the motion is defeated, the Member originally recognized retains the right to speak. [28]  A second motion “that a Member be now heard” may only be moved after the Member recognized has completed his or her speech. [29]  Thus, it is impossible to move a succession of these motions in order to prevent one particular Member from speaking. In addition, the motion cannot be moved:

  • if no debatable motion is before the House; [30] 
  • if no one has yet been given the floor; [31] 
  • if the Member named in the motion did not originally rise to be recognized; [32] 
  • to give the floor to a Member whose speech would close the debate; [33] 
  • during the period for questions and comments following a speech; [34]  and
  • if the House has adopted an order specifying the speaking order to be followed during debate. [35] 

Recognition to Speak When Order Next Called

A Member whose speech is interrupted either pursuant to a Standing or Special Order, [36]  or by the adoption of a motion to adjourn the debate, may continue speaking to the full amount of his or her allotted time when debate on the motion resumes. Likewise, should the proceedings be suspended, the Member who had the floor at the time of the suspension retains the right to speak when the proceedings resume. [37]  Should this Member not be present in the Chamber when the House resumes debate, the Member is considered to have lost the floor and to have finished speaking. [38]  This principle also applies to the questions and comments period: if the Member who made the speech is not present upon resumption of debate, the questions and comments period does not continue and another Member is recognized on debate. [39] 

Retention of Right to Speak After a Royal Assent Ceremony

If the Usher of the Black Rod arrives at the door of the House with a message from the Governor General summoning the House to the Senate for a Royal Assent ceremony, the business of the House is interrupted. [40]  No Member will be recognized to speak on a point of order or a question of privilege. [41]  The business before the House continues when the House returns from the Senate and the sitting resumes; the Member whose speech was interrupted upon the arrival of the Usher of the Black Rod is recognized to continue his or her speech. [42] 

Recognition to Speak Before and After Divisions

Once the Speaker has put a question to the House, no further debate is permitted. No points of order or questions of privilege are allowed. [43]  Indeed, Members must remain seated until the result of the vote is announced. After the result of a recorded division has been announced, Members have, however, risen on points of order to explain why they abstained from voting; [44]  or how they would have voted if they had been present in the Chamber to hear the question put; [45]  or how they wish to have their votes recorded for subsequent divisions for which the results are to be applied. [46]  On occasion, Members have risen on a point of order after a recorded division to seek unanimous consent to change their votes. [47]  However, a Member should not raise a point of order to reflect on how another Member voted. [48] 

Speaking once to a Motion

In order to expedite the transaction of House business, the Standing Orders provide that no Member may speak twice during debate on any motion. [49]  If a Member inadvertently rises to speak a second time, the Speaker will interrupt the Member and recognize another to speak. [50] 

A motion, an amendment and a sub-amendment are three separate questions and are treated as such for the purposes of the rule of speaking only once to a question. [51]  However, an amendment is not a separate question until the Speaker proposes it to the House. This means that the Member who moves an amendment is deemed to have spoken not only to the amendment, but also to the main motion. [52]  Similarly, the Member who moves a sub-amendment is deemed to have spoken also to the amendment and cannot do so again, although this does not affect the Member’s right to speak to the main motion. [53]  After an amendment (or sub-amendment) has been moved, seconded and proposed to the House, any Member rising to speak addresses the amendment (or sub-amendment). When an amendment (or sub-amendment) has been disposed of, either in the affirmative or in the negative, any Member who has not yet spoken to the main motion (or amendment) may speak to it. An amended main motion is not considered a new question; only those Members who have not yet spoken to the main motion may speak to the amended motion. [54] 

Any Member who rises to move a debatable motion must indicate the name of a second Member who formally supports the motion. A government order must be moved by a Minister, but it may be seconded by any Member of the House. [55]  If the mover of the motion chooses not to speak immediately after the motion has been proposed to the House, he or she loses the right to speak to the motion except in reply. [56]  The seconder may be recognized to speak to the motion later in the debate. [57]

If a Member moves a motion during his or her speech (e.g., an amendment or a motion to adjourn debate), the act of moving the motion will terminate the Member’s speech. [58]  A Member who has already spoken to a question may not rise again to propose or second an amendment or move a motion to adjourn the debate or the House, although the Member may speak to an amendment if it has been moved by another Member. [59]  If the House should negative a motion to adjourn the debate, the mover of the motion will be deemed to have exhausted his or her right of speaking to the main question. [60]  However, if the motion is adopted, the mover is allowed to speak first the next time the Order is called. If the Member does not then rise, he or she forfeits the opportunity to speak. [61] 

The House will occasionally grant a Member unanimous consent to speak a second time to a motion. [62]  The Standing Orders also provide for exceptions to the rule of only speaking once to a question. First, although rarely invoked since the implementation in 1982 of the 10-minute questions and comments period, [63]  a Member may be allowed to speak a second time in order to explain a material part of his or her speech which may have been misquoted or misunderstood. [64]  In doing so, the Member must rise on a point of order and must limit the intervention to an explanation of the alleged misquotation or misunderstanding and cannot introduce any new material. [65]  Second, the Standing Orders also allow the movers of certain kinds of motions a right to speak a second time when no other Members wish to speak. [66]  This is known as the “right of reply”.

The Right of Reply

Any Member who has moved a substantive motion has the right to speak a second time to close the debate. [67]  By custom, this right has also been extended to the Member who moved a motion for second reading of a bill, but it does not pertain to movers of amendments, the previous question, an instruction to a committee, or third reading of a bill. [68]  The right of reply gives the mover of a substantive motion an opportunity to rebut the criticisms and arguments used against his or her motion, and its effect is to close the debate. So that no Member wishing to participate in a debate is prevented from doing so by a sudden or unannounced exercise of the right of reply, the Speaker must inform the House that the reply of the mover of the original motion closes the debate. [69] 

If a Member moves a motion on behalf of another Member, a later speech by either will close the debate. [70]  However, during the debate on the second reading motion of a government bill, a parliamentary secretary may close the debate on behalf of the Minister who moved the motion only with the unanimous consent of the House. [71] 

Although Ministers may exercise the right of reply, [72]  it is typically only private Members who now make use of the right of reply. Indeed, this right is entrenched in two additional Standing Orders respecting Private Members’ Business. The mover of a non-votable item of Private Members’ Business is entitled to speak in reply for not more than five minutes at the conclusion of debate. [73]  During Private Members’ Business, when debate on a motion for the production of papers under “Notices of Motions (Paper)” has taken place for a total of one hour and 30 minutes, a Minister may speak for not more than five minutes, whether or not he or she has previously spoken, and the mover may close the debate by speaking for not more than five minutes. [74] 


When a Member is addressing the House, no other Member may interrupt except to raise a question of privilege which has arisen suddenly or to raise a point of order. [75]  Prior to 1982 and the advent of the period for questions and comments following most speeches, [76]  if a Member wanted to ask a question during debate, he or she first had to obtain the consent of the Member who was speaking. [77]  The Member allowing the interruption was under no obligation to reply, and was often reluctant to do so, as the time taken up in this way was subtracted from his or her speaking time.

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