House of Commons Procedure and Practice
Edited by Robert Marleau and Camille Montpetit
2000 EditionMore information …
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6. The Physical and Administrative Setting

This has taken place on each anniversary since 1977 (see, for example, Debates, February 3, 1994, p. 847). The tradition began in 1961 during the tenure of Speaker Michener (Debates, February 3, 1961, p. 1701) and was revived by Speaker Jerome in 1977 (Debates, February 3, 1977, p. 2665).
“The Mace in the House of Commons”, House of Commons Library Document No. 3, London: Her Majesty’s Stationery Office, 1957, p. 7. See also Hatsell, Vol. II, p. 141.
Standing Order 157(1).
This long-standing custom may have originated in the Elizabethan period, when the large committees of the time began to meet in the Chamber as an alternative to less-convenient locations outside the precinct. The position of the Mace— on the Table or below it— would have provided a clear indication as to whether Members were sitting as a House or as a committee (“The Mace in the House of Commons”, House of Commons Library Document No. 3, pp. 9-10).
In 1642, in a conflict over the respective rights and authority of the monarch and the British Parliament, Charles I issued a warrant for the arrest of five Members of the British House of Commons. The King himself went to the Commons Chamber, crossed the Bar— the first and last monarch to do so— and took the Speaker’s Chair, demanding the presence of the five wanted Members. The King’s intentions were foiled by Speaker Lenthall whose famous words (“May it please Your Majesty, I have neither eyes to see, nor tongue to speak in this place, but as the House is pleased to direct me, whose servant I am here, and I humbly beg Your Majesty’s pardon that I cannot give any other answer than this to what Your Majesty is pleased to demand of me.”) established the precedence of the privileges of the Commons over the authority of the Crown (Wilding and Laundy, pp. 708-9).
On October 30, 1991, angry at having missed a vote, Ian Waddell (Port Moody–Coquitlam) attempted to take hold of the Mace as it was borne out of the Chamber at the end of the sitting. The Member’s actions were judged to be an attempt to obstruct the House, as well as a challenge to the Chair’s authority to adjourn the sitting. A prima facie breach of privilege was found and a motion was adopted calling the Member to the Bar to be admonished by the Speaker (Debates, October 30, 1991, pp. 4269-70; October 31, 1991, pp. 4271-85, 4309-10). As a sitting Member, the individual could have received the admonishment at his assigned place, which would have been the normal practice. In this case, however, the motion adopted by the House specifically requested the Member to appear at the Bar.
For further information, see Chapter 3, “Privileges and Immunities”.
At one time the Ladies’ Gallery was reserved for women (who tended to be the wives and daughters of Members), as is the Ladies’ Gallery in the British House. See Wilding and Laundy, p. 424; Redlich, Vol. II, pp. 22, 35.
The Parliamentary Press Gallery is a non-profit corporation whose membership comprises journalists assigned by media organizations to cover Parliament.
For further information on this custom, see Chapter 7, “The Speaker and Other Presiding Officers of the House”.
In March 1997, the House was made aware that an aboriginal visitor carrying an eagle feather had been refused admission to the public galleries. The House took note of the sacred character of the eagle feather for aboriginal peoples, and the Speaker stated that it is permissible for an aboriginal person to bring an eagle feather into the House (Debates, March 12, 1997, pp. 8946, 8954-5).
This has traditionally been interpreted as conservative business dress; for example, jackets and neckties for male guests. Appropriate national costume and traditional aboriginal dress are also acceptable. The dress code is not applied in the public galleries.
For further information on the authority of the House over its precinct, see Chapter 3, “Privileges and Immunities”. When it came to the attention of the House in June 1998 that Ernst Zundel (notorious for having published his claims that the Holocaust never occurred) had been granted use of the Centre Block press conference facility managed by the Parliamentary Press Gallery (Debates, June 4, 1998, pp. 7608-9), the House agreed that, for the remainder of the session, Mr. Zundel would be denied admission to the House of Commons precinct (Journals, June 4, 1998, p. 937).
There have been rare exceptions. In 1944, the House twice agreed to permit the Minister of National Defence, who was newly appointed and not an elected Member, to address the House during a sitting (Journals, November 23, 1944, p. 926; November 24, 1944, p. 928). In addition, the House met in a secret session at which the Minister was present and participated (Journals, November 28, 1944, p. 931; Debates, November 28, 1944, p. 6634).
In 1996 and 1998, the House sat as a Committee of the Whole for ceremonies recognizing the national Olympic and Paralympic teams of the 1996 Summer Games and 1998 Winter Games, for which the athletes were brought onto the floor of the House (Journals, October 1, 1996, p. 699; Debates, October 1, 1996, pp. 4944-6; Journals, April 22, 1998, p. 691; Debates, April 22, 1998, pp. 5959-60).
For historical background, see May, 1st ed., pp. 163-4; 5th ed., pp. 238-40; Redlich, Vol. II, pp. 34-5.
See Rules and Forms of Proceedings of the House of Commons of Canada, 1868, Rule 6; and Debates, March 27, 1871, col. 655, for an example of its use.
Debates, March 29, 1876, p. 905.
No such motion was ever adopted, although attempts were made (see, for example, Journals, September 7, 1950, p. 38; Debates, April 4, 1990, pp. 10186-7). In the 1990 example, Speaker Fraser ruled that a Member could not propose the motion on a point of order.
Standing Order 14 (Journals, June 10, 1994, p. 563).
See the section on secret sittings in Chapter 9, “Sittings of the House”.
Standing Orders 157(2) and 158.
See, for example, Debates, May 11, 1970, p. 6796; November 28, 1989, pp. 6342-3. On October 18, 1990, a question of privilege was raised accusing a Member of complicity in a demonstration in the galleries on the previous day, when some 20 individuals identified as students had shouted and pelted Members with macaroni and messages of protest before being escorted from the galleries by security staff (Debates, October 18, 1990, pp. 14359-68). The Speaker ruled out the allegation of complicity, but found a prima facie breach of privilege in the demonstration. The matter was referred to committee, which recommended that participants in such demonstrations be charged or otherwise punished for their actions (Debates, November 6, 1990, pp. 15177-81; Journals, November 6, 1990, p. 2228; March 6, 1991, pp. 2666-7). For text of the report, see Standing Committee on Privilege and Elections, Minutes of Proceedings and Evidence, March 6, 1991, Issue No. 39, pp. 3-8. The report was not taken up by the House.
The development of the system in the British House was watched with interest; see reports tabled by the Speaker in Journals, December 5, 1947, pp. 7, 30-2; March 15, 1951, pp. 177-9. The special committee’s report was presented and adopted on June 19, 1951 (Journals, pp. 517-8).
See Journals, February 29, 1952, p. 9 (tabling of an Order in Council authorizing the Minister of Public Works to contract for the supply, installation and operation of a sound system); Debates, June 25, 1952, p. 3732 (questioning of the Minister in the Committee of Supply); Debates, November 21, 1952, p. 11; November 26, 1952, p. 123 (Members’ comments on the new system).
Journals, August 11, 1958, p. 402.
See the discussion in the House when the decision was taken (Debates, August 11, 1958, pp. 3331-40) and on an earlier occasion when a motion seeking the establishment of simultaneous interpretation was debated (Debates, November 25, 1957, pp. 1456-99).
Journals, January 25, 1977, p. 287.
See the Speaker’s statement when the House began broadcasting its proceedings (Debates, October 17, 1977, pp. 8201-2).
See, for example, the special order adopted on May 11, 1961 (Journals, p. 535). On another occasion, when a Member objected, the Speaker sought the consent of the House for photographs to be taken during a sitting (Debates, November 27, 1964, p. 10597; December 17, 1964, p. 11263). In January 1967, the Speaker wrote to all Members, informing them of arrangements made in consultation with the House Leaders for photographs to be taken of the House in session.
See Debates, October 24, 1979, p. 557.
See Debates, January 25, 1983, p. 22194.
From time to time, the House of Commons Chamber is the site for an address by a distinguished visitor to assembled Members and Senators. In order for such a meeting to take place, the House first adopts a motion to that effect (see, for example, Journals, June 9, 1992, pp. 1660-1). When a joint address takes place, an established protocol is followed. It does not constitute a sitting of the House and the House is not in session. For further information on joint addresses to Members of both Houses, see Chapter 9, “Sittings of the House”.
Orientation sessions, usually given for Members after a general election and before the opening of Parliament, were held in the Chamber following the general elections of 1993 and 1997.
For example: The Teachers’ Institute on Canadian Parliamentary Democracy, a professional development seminar held annually since 1996; the annual meetings of the Forum for Young Canadians, a program operated by the non-profit Foundation for the Study of Processes of Government in Canada, for students of secondary school age to learn about the workings of government and the responsibilities of citizenship; and the annual swearing-in ceremony for the parliamentary pages.
In 1921, Members and Senators assembled in the House of Commons Chamber for a ceremony to receive the Speaker’s Chair, a gift to replace the Chair lost in the fire of 1916. The gathering was not a sitting of the House and the Mace was not laid on the Table. When the House sat later the same day, special orders were adopted to prefix the remarks made at the ceremony to that day’s Debates (Journals, May 20, 1921, pp. 305-6).
Sessions were held in the House of Commons Chamber when the Parliament of Canada hosted the XIth and XVIIIth General Assemblies of the Association internationale des parlementaires de langue française in 1980 and 1991 respectively (since renamed l’Assemblée parlementaire de la Francophonie (APF)) and the XXVth General Assembly of the Assemblée parlementaire de la Francophonie in 1999.
In 1996, Members and Senators past and present gathered in the Chamber and galleries to witness a ceremony unveiling the first of a series of plaques commemorating the service of individual parliamentarians since Confederation.  The event was not a sitting of the House. (The ceremony was televised but the official documents contain no written record; see references in Debates, May 29, 1996, pp. 3124, 3133.)
For further information, see Chapter 20, “Committees”.
See Chapter 19, “Committees of the Whole House”.
The Standing Committee on Railways, Canals and Telegraph Lines was in existence from 1867 to 1965, when its name was changed. The Railway Committee Room opens off the Hall of Honour. It is one of the largest committee rooms, and it has been equipped to broadcast committee proceedings.
Standing Order 115(4). The priority system is based on the Committee’s report (see Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs, Minutes of Proceedings and Evidence, June 10, 1994, Issue No. 16, pp. 9-10), which was adopted by the House on September 19, 1994 (Journals, p. 682). See also Chapter 20, “Committees”.
Members’ Manual of Allowances and Services, House of Commons, March 1998, Vol. I, Chapter B-1, p. 1.
In 1991, Louis Plamondon (Richelieu), a Member of a non-recognized party, raised a question of privilege about the reassignment of his office by the Speaker without his authorization. The Speaker ruled that the Member’s complaint was an administrative rather than procedural matter (Debates, April 8, 1991, pp. 19126-7; April 9, 1991, pp. 19232-3; April 11, 1991, p. 19340). Prior to the opening of the Thirty-Sixth Parliament in 1997, John Nunziata (York South–Weston), a former Member of a recognized party who had been re-elected as an independent Member, was reassigned office space by the Speaker against his will.
At that time, sessions of Parliament were on average well under six months in length; see Appendix 12, “Parliaments Since 1867 and Number of Sitting Days”.
The original building had residences for the Speaker and Sergeant-at-Arms as well as living quarters for housekeepers, servants and messengers. The new building was two storeys higher and additional space was made available by eliminating the residences, though the Speaker retained a suite of rooms in order to offer the traditional hospitality (J. D. Livermore, “A History of Parliamentary Accommodation in Canada, 1841-1974”, published as Appendix III of the Report of the Advisory Commission on Parliamentary Accommodation, which was tabled on December 17, 1976 (Journals, p. 254)).
The West Block was renovated and reopened for Members in 1963, and the Confederation Building in 1973. Since 1980, the East Block (which had always been used by the Prime Minister) has been used by other Members. Office space is also available to Members in the Wellington Building, which the House of Commons began to use in 1977 (Maingot, 2nd ed., p. 169). More space will be made available to Members in the Justice Building.
Constitution Act, 1867, R.S.C. 1985, Appendix II, No. 5, s. 17.
Maingot, 2nd ed., pp. 183-5. See also Chapter 3, “Privileges and Immunities”.
An example would be the House-wide program of environmental awareness and conservation, known as “Greening the Hill”, established in 1990 by Speaker Fraser, well in advance of other such initiatives in the public sector.
See page 3 of the Report on Plans and Priorities 1998-99, tabled on March 25, 1998 (Journals, p. 620).
See the Sixth Report of the Special Committee on Procedure and Organization, presented on May 20, 1964 (Journals, pp. 331-7).
For a description of the administrative review, see comments of the Speaker in Debates, November 1, 1979, pp. 841-3.

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