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

Parliament has seen fit to include in several statutes, provisions governing special “statutory” debates. These special debates are a form of parliamentary supervision and review of specific statutory provisions. In some cases, the statutory provision is designed to be permissive; in others, it is mandatory. [154] 

Statutory debates can be grouped into two broad categories, although the procedures pertaining to the debates are similar. The first category provides for a general review of an Act or a particular aspect of it. The second and most common category provides for a debate to confirm, revoke or amend an order, regulation, declaration, proclamation, guideline or other instrument of delegated legislation issued pursuant to the statute in question. Some of these statutes make regulations subject to affirmative resolution of Parliament. This obliges both Houses to adopt the regulations, ostensibly by holding a debate on them, before they can come into effect. [155]  Conversely, regulations subject to negative resolution of Parliament are in effect until revoked by resolution of both Houses, again presumably after a debate. [156] 

Since the 1960s, several statutory debates have taken place. In 1971, for example, pursuant to the Government Organization Act, 1970, the House considered and adopted a motion to establish a Ministry of State for Science and Technology. [157]  In 1974, the House debated a motion requesting the Minister of Veterans Affairs to continue provisions of the Veterans’ Land Act scheduled to expire on March 31, 1975. [158]  One was held in 1977 in an attempt to advance the expiration date of the Anti-Inflation Act[159]  Two occurred consecutively in late 1980 when Members sought to revoke two proclamations tabled by the government in relation to the Petroleum Administration Act: one proclamation concerned regulations prescribing maximum prices for various qualities and kinds of crude oil, the other proclamation involved regulations prescribing prices for natural gas. [160]  Another took place in 1985 when Members invoked a provision in the Western Grain Transportation Act to move a motion to use a parliamentary day to examine a progress report on the Act and any outstanding issues of interest to western farmers. [161]  One statutory debate took place in September 1992 when, pursuant to the Referendum Act, the House adopted a motion approving the text of a referendum question. [162]  The most recent debate occurred in December 1992 when Members sought to amend the Special Economic Measures (Haiti) Ships Regulations in accordance with provisions set down in the Special Economic Measures Act for amending or revoking orders and regulations regarding economic sanctions programs. [163] 

Until 1986, the Electoral Boundaries Readjustment Act contained provisions which allowed Members to discuss their objections to a report of an Electoral Boundaries Commission on the floor of the House. Four debates — in 1966, 1973, 1976 and 1983 — were held under the Act’s provisions. [164]  In 1986, the Act was amended so that these reports are now tabled in the House and automatically referred to a parliamentary committee established for the purpose of dealing with electoral matters. [165]  Objections are filed with and considered by this committee.

Initiating Debate

The manner in which statutory debates are triggered depends upon the provisions contained in each statute. For statutes which allow a debate to be held, such a debate may be initiated by a Minister who, within a specified time, files a notice of motion with the Speaker for the confirmation of an order, regulation, declaration, proclamation, guideline or other instrument of delegated legislation issued in accordance with the law. [166] 

The initiation of a debate to revoke such instruments typically requires that a notice of motion signed by a minimum number of Members or Senators, as the case may be, be filed with the Speaker. [167]  Where statutes require that a debate take place on the use of an instrument of delegated legislation, the relevant provisions typically specify that a confirmation motion signed by a Minister must be laid before Parliament within a specified time. [168] 

After notice has been filed in accordance with House rules and transferred to the Order Paper under the rubric “Statutory Order”, [169]  debate must take place within a set number of days as prescribed in the given statute. For example, in 1974, debate pursuant to the Veterans’ Land Act had to take place within 15 days, and the House adopted a motion fixing the dates for the debate. [170]  In 1977, debate pursuant to the Anti-Inflation Act was required to take place within 15 days of the notice being filed [171]  and, in 1980, pursuant to the Petroleum Administration Act, within four sitting days. [172]  It appears that in both cases the dates for the debate were fixed through all-party consultation. In 1985, pursuant to subsection 62(6) of the Western Grain Transportation Act, which stipulated that debate had to take place within 60 days of the notice being filed, the Speaker assigned the day for the debate. [173]  In September 1992, pursuant to the Referendum Act, the debate on the text of the referendum question took place 24 hours after the notice was given. [174]  In December 1992, after a motion for a debate pursuant to the Special Economic Measures Act had been placed on the Order Paper, the Chair was asked to rule on its procedural acceptability. The Speaker ruled that the motion was acceptable and that pursuant to the Act, the House had to consider the motion within six sitting days. [175]  The House agreed to hold the debate later that day. [176] 

Rules of Debate

Duration of Debate

The duration of a statutory debate is usually prescribed in the legislation, be it one or more sitting days or only a few hours. On occasion, the House has also adopted motions setting out additional guidelines. [177] For example, pursuant to subsection 1(3) of the Veterans’ Land Act, the debate was to take place over two days, without interruption, in accordance with the rules of the House; the House subsequently adopted a motion establishing the days of the debate and suspending Private Members’ Business on the first day of debate. [178]  The debates held pursuant to the Anti-Inflation Act and the Petroleum Administration Act lasted four and three days respectively, in accordance with the statutes. [179]  Subsection 62(6) of the Western Grain Transportation Act stipulated that the progress report was to be debated without interruption for “a period not exceeding the duration of the normal business hours of the House on that day”. A motion to this effect was adopted by the House. [180]  The motion also indicated that the order was to be the first item of business. The debate held in September 1992 pursuant to the Referendum Act lasted two sitting days. The Act stipulates that a decision must be taken on the motion by the end of the third sitting day of the debate. [181]  The House passed a motion, by unanimous consent, to dispose of the motion after two days of debate. [182]  The length of the December 1992 statutory debate was set by subsection 7(4) of the Special Economic Measures Act which limits debate to not more than three hours, unless the House fixes a longer period by unanimous consent. In this instance, the House adopted a special order which had the effect of terminating debate after only two hours. [183] 

A notable exception to the duration of the debate being prescribed in the legislation is found in the Emergencies Act. This statute imposes no time limit on debate on a motion for confirmation of a declaration, or continuation of a declaration, of an emergency or for debate on a motion to revoke or amend a regulation or order. The legislation provides that debate continues uninterrupted until such time as the House is ready for the question. [184] 

Length of Speeches

Unless otherwise specified in the statute, the length of speeches during a statutory debate is determined by the rules of the House. [185]  There have been two exceptions: in 1977 and 1985, the House adopted motions restricting the length of speeches. [186] 

Interruption of Debate

Most statutes which prescribe provisions for statutory debates also stipulate that the debate may not be interrupted. With the exception of the Petroleum Administration Act[187] the acts pursuant to which statutory debates have been held in the House contained these “no interruption” provisions. However, in 1977, debate on the motion pursuant to the Anti-Inflation Act, which took place over four days, was interrupted on three occasions for the Adjournment Proceedings, after which the motion to adjourn was deemed withdrawn and debate continued, due to an Order of the House adopted on May 30, 1977. [188]  In 1985, the debate held pursuant to the Western Grain Transportation Act was interrupted for a ministerial statement by the Minister of Finance pursuant to an Order made by the House. [189] 

Termination of Debate

A statutory debate concludes in accordance with provisions outlined in the legislation. Typically, if debate has not concluded earlier, the Speaker is required to interrupt the proceedings at the expiration of a given sitting day or hour of debate and put the question on the motion. [190]  If a confirmation motion is adopted by the House of Parliament in which it was introduced, the statute will normally prescribe that a message be sent to the other House requesting its concurrence. If the motion is subsequently adopted by the other House, the regulation or Order in Council is thereby confirmed, amended or revoked. [191]  If a revocation motion is not adopted by the House in which it originated or by the House where it was sent for concurrence, the regulation or Order in Council comes into force or remains unaffected as the case may be. [192] 

Normally, motions moved and debated in accordance with a statutory provision are voted on at the conclusion of debate. [193]  In 1985, the proceedings held pursuant to the Western Grain Transportation Act expired at the ordinary hour of daily adjournment: no question was put on the motion nor the amendment thereto. [194] 

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