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

The Standing Orders

The permanent written rules under which the House regulates its proceedings are known as the Standing Orders. [36] The continuing or “standing” nature of rules means that they do not lapse at the end of a session or parliament. Rather, they remain in effect until the House itself decides to suspend, change or repeal them. There are at present more than 150 Standing Orders, each of which constitutes a continuing order of the House for the governance and regulation of its proceedings. The detailed description of the legislative process, the role of the Speaker, the nature of the parliamentary calendar and the rules governing the work of committees and private Members’ business are some of the topics covered in the Standing Orders. The House declares these continuing orders to be Standing Orders when it formally adopts them, and it periodically issues them as a publication for the guidance and use of all Members.

When the House of Commons first met in 1867, the rules it adopted were largely those of the Legislative Assembly of the Province of Canada, itself created in 1840. [37]  While it can be said that the Legislative Assembly of the Province of Canada obtained its rules from the assemblies of Upper and Lower Canada, created in 1791, the vast majority of these came from the House of Assembly of Lower Canada. [38]  Of the many rules the Assembly of Lower Canada adopted in the first years of its existence, particularly in 1793, [39]  more than 35 have survived virtually unchanged and are still in effect today in the House of Commons. A further 40 also pre-date Confederation. [40] 

Since 1867, there have been countless reviews of the Standing Orders. [41]  New Standing Orders have been adopted, while others have been significantly modified or deleted, leading on occasion to substantial renumbering. Furthermore, interpretations given to the older rules have been adapted over time to fit the modern context. [42]  Occasionally, the adoption of a new Standing Order merely represents the codification of a long-standing practice of the House [43]  or the permanent adoption of a provisional, sessional or special order. At other times, a rule is changed or added as a result of an incident or event which convinced the House to seek a way to avoid its repetition. [44] 

As an indicator of the importance the House attaches to reviewing the Standing Orders, at the beginning of each Parliament a debate must be held on the following motion: “That this House takes note of the Standing Orders and procedures of the House and its committees”. [45]  In addition, the permanent mandate of the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs [46]  includes “the review of and report on the Standing Orders, procedure and practice in the House and its committees”. [47]  The Committee can make rule change recommendations as part of its continuing mandate or as the result of a specific order of reference. [48] 

Although the means by which the House reviews the Standing Orders vary greatly, the Standing Orders may be added to, changed or repealed only by a decision of the House, which is arrived at either by way of consensus or by a simple majority vote on a motion moved by any Member of the House. [49] 

On many occasions, a special committee has been established with a mandate to suggest revisions to the rules and report its recommendations to the House. These recommendations, presented in the House in the form of a report, were often debated on a motion to concur in the report. If the House concurred in such a report, the Standing Orders were immediately modified. The content of the report was sometimes also used as the basis for further discussions leading to changes to the rules. [50] 

In other cases, the Standing Orders have been amended through the adoption of a government motion by unanimous consent; such a motion can at times resemble the recommendations of a procedure committee. [51]  The motion can also be a government initiative for which proper notice has been given and which appears on the Order Paper under “Government Business”. [52]  More often than not, however, procedural changes are the result of a broad consensus among Members of all parties and are readily adopted without debate. [53]  That being said, since 1867, there have been occasions when controversial proposals have led to lengthy debates where the government used its majority to amend the Standing Orders. [54] 

Finally, changes to the Standing Orders have also been made through the adoption of a motion by a private Member [55]  and the concurrence in a report presented by a joint committee of the Senate and House of Commons. [56] 

Besides the permanent Standing Orders, the House may adopt other types of written rules for limited periods of time. Provisional Standing Orders are individual Standing Orders adopted for a specific period of time which does not correspond to the duration of a Parliament or a Session. [57]  They may be adopted on an experimental basis, [58]  extended provisionally, dropped, or eventually made permanent.

Sessional Orders are intended to be temporary and remain in effect only for the duration of the session in which they are adopted. Sessional Orders may be renewed from session to session, and some eventually become Standing Orders. [59] 

The House may also adopt special orders in addition to the Standing, Provisional, and Sessional Orders which form the collected body of written rules. A frequently used instrument for the conduct of House business, special orders do not modify the “written” Standing Orders. Since they routinely concern the business of the House and are thus often moved without notice, following consultations, they are often adopted without debate by unanimous consent. They may apply to a single occasion or to such period of time as may be specified. [60]  Some special orders over time have become Standing Orders. [61] 

Finally, some Standing Orders explicitly allow the House to suspend the operation of other Standing Orders. [62]  It is also common for the House, at any given time, to set aside its rules with the unanimous consent of all Members then present in the House, so that something can be done which would otherwise be inconsistent with the Standing Orders. [63]  The House does this, for example, when it wants a bill to pass all stages in one day, a procedure which would otherwise contravene the rules. [64]  Furthermore, the House can adopt a Special Order to supersede a previously adopted Special Order. [65]  The Standing Orders also provide for the House to proceed in situations where unanimous consent has been denied, but where the overwhelming majority of Members nevertheless agree to proceed with the action contemplated. [66] 

In the hierarchy of parliamentary procedure, just as statutory provisions cannot set aside constitutional provisions, Standing Orders cannot set aside statutory law. Only Parliament can enact or amend statutory provisions; the House of Commons can adopt its own rules as long as they respect the written constitution and statutory law.

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