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

5. Parliamentary Procedure

See, for example, Journals, June 27, 1985, pp. 910-9, and Debates, June 27, 1985, pp. 6325-7. This government motion, adopted by unanimous consent, was inspired by the First Report of the Special Committee on the Reform of the House of Commons, presented on December 20, 1984 (Journals, p. 211).
See, for example, Journals, February 7, 1994, pp. 112-20; June 12, 1998, pp. 1027-8.
For examples of changes adopted by unanimous consent without debate, see Journals, October 10, 1997, p. 107; March 10, 1998, p. 549; and November 30, 1998, pp. 1327.
Examples include the adoption of the closure rule in 1913 (Journals, April 23, 1913, pp. 507-9), the time allocation provisions in 1969 (Journals, July 24, 1969, pp. 1393-1402) and a series of procedural changes in 1991 (Journals, April 11, 1991, pp. 2898-932). In the 1969 and 1991 examples, closure was imposed to bring the debate to an end and force a decision. In 1913, the previous question was moved, thus precluding amendments and limiting debate to the main motion.
See, for example, Journals, April 9, 1997, pp. 1366-8.
See Senate Journals, June 3, 1903, p. 156, and House of Commons Journals, June 11, 1903, p. 270; October 10, 1903, p. 644.
See, for example, Journals, November 29, 1982, p. 5400.
Speaking to a motion to adopt provisional Standing Orders in 1982, the President of the Privy Council summed up the nature of procedural reform: “I would like to invite all Members of Parliament to make this experiment a success and not to look for anomalies or weaknesses in this proposal, since it is not perfect as we recognize ourselves and as I think our friends opposite and the members of the Committee also recognize. The rules proposed to this House have weaknesses and unclear elements, and I believe that for a destructive mind, it would be very easy although childlish [sic] to prevent this experiment from being positive and successful. I therefore call on the intellectual honesty of all Members and I want to assure them of the sincerity of the Government in implementing the proposed changes so that this experiment can be a success and result in fact in permanent changes to which adjustments may be made” (Debates, November 29, 1982, pp. 21071-2).
As an example, from 1867 to 1876 the present Standing Order 23, concerning bribery in elections, was put forward at the beginning of each session as a Sessional Order, before finally becoming a permanent rule. See Debates, February 10, 1876, p. 3.
See, for example, Journals, February 2, 1994, p. 96.
Standing Order 86.1, concerning the reinstatement of private Members’ bills, adopted in November 1998, is essentially the same as the special order adopted in March 1996 (see Journals, March 4, 1996, pp. 34-5; November 30, 1998, pp. 1327-9).
Standing Order 53, for example, states: “In relation to any matter that the government considers to be of an urgent nature, a Minister of the Crown may, at any time when the Speaker is in the Chair, propose a motion to suspend any Standing or other Order of this House relating to the need for notice and to the hours and days of sitting.”
Typically, a motion seeking to circumvent the provisions of existing Standing Orders is worded thus: “That notwithstanding any Standing Order or usual practice of this House…” See, for example, Journals, June 22, 1994, p. 657; June 8, 1998, pp. 947-8; February 2, 1999, p. 1457.
Standing Order 71. See Journals, October 1, 1997, p. 56; November 24, 1997, p. 249; May 28, 1998, p. 902.
In June 1998, for example, the House adopted a Special Order to undo the provisions of a previously adopted Special Order and, in so doing, to revert to the provisions of the Standing Orders. The motion read: “That, notwithstanding the Special Order of Monday, February 9, 1998, the length of speeches and the rotation between parties during the consideration of the Business of Supply on Tuesday, June 9, 1998, shall be as provided in the Standing Orders and in the usual practice of the House in considering Government Orders” (Journals, June 8, 1998, p. 948).
Standing Order 56.1. For further information, see Chapter 14, “The Curtailment of Debate”.
Standing Order 10. The Canadian origins of this British-inspired rule can be traced back to the rules of the Legislative Assembly of Lower Canada in 1793: “The Speaker shall preserve Order and Decorum, and shall decide Questions of Order, subject to an appeal to the House” and “When the Speaker is called upon to explain a point of order or practice, he is to state the rule applicable to the case, without argument or comment.”
While the totality of Speakers’ rulings from 1867 onward has not been compiled in any systematic way, a collection of selected decisions has been published for every Speaker since 1966. The collection includes Speakers Lamoureux, Jerome, Sauvé, Francis, Bosley and Fraser.
See, for example, Debates, March 1, 1966, pp. 1939-40; December 1, 1986, p. 1647; June 16, 1994, pp. 5437-40; March 16, 1998, pp. 4902-3.
See, for example, Debates, February 2, 1982, p. 14899; November 16, 1982, pp. 20702-3; October 12, 1983, pp. 27944-5.
See, for example, Debates, May 2, 1995, pp. 12072-4; April 23, 1998, pp. 6035-7; December 3, 1998, pp. 10826-31.
For further information, see Chapter 7, “The Speaker and Other Presiding Officers of the House”.
Standing Order 10.
See Chapter 7, “ The Speaker and Other Presiding Officers of the House”.
In 1987, in a ruling on the acceptability of a motion moved during Routine Proceedings, the Speaker ruled the motion in order but then went on to say that this ruling should not “be regarded as a precedent for all time, and that in other circumstances the Chair might well disallow such a motion” (Debates, April 14, 1987, pp. 5119-24). For other examples, see Debates, October 1, 1987, p. 9528; October 16, 1987, pp. 10091-2; March 14, 1988, p. 13685; February 17, 1999, p. 12046.
Debates, April 14, 1987, p. 5121.
In the 1781 preface to the first edition of his Collection of Precedents of the British Parliament, Hatsell wrote: “It is unnecessary again to put the Reader in mind, that this Work, as well as the former of “Cases of Privilege of Parliament,” are to be considered in no other light than as Indexes to refer him to the Journals at large, and to other Historical Records; from whence alone can be derived a perfect knowledge of the Law and Proceedings of Parliament” (Hatsell, p. v). Josef Redlich wrote: “It is no mere chance that the journals of the House began from the end of the sixteenth century to be compiled with increasing care and detail. It was the outcome of the anxiety of the Commons to maintain their practice in each individual case and, above all, to take care that precedents as to procedure and privilege were safeguarded against forgetfulness and preserved for future use” (Redlich, Vol. I, p. 44).
In a 1991 ruling, Speaker Fraser made that point abundantly clear: “The Speaker has no role in interpreting matters of either a constitutional or legal matter.” See Debates, April, 9, 1991, pp. 19233-4. See also, for example, Debates, July 8, 1969, p. 10955, and October 1, 1990, p. 13620.
While it is for the House to determine what constitutes a “good” rule, good procedure must be binding and “have mandatory effect on those persons or parties to which they apply”; must be “predictable and no business should be sprung on the House without adequate notice” and, finally, must be “clear and readily comprehensible by all those whom they effect, including those charged with their interpretation and enforcement” (Griffith and Ryle, pp. 172-4).
In a ruling concerning the use of Standing Order 39(6) which deals with written questions, Speaker Fraser suggested that the said Standing Order might have “survived so long unchanged because it had remained unused for the past 60 years; that its use in today’s context may not be what was intended; and that it no longer fits the conditions of the present House of Commons.” He went on to add that new elements “which were incorporated in the Standing Orders… have practically eliminated the kind of abuse” Standing Order 39(6) sought to address. See Debates, June 14, 1989, pp. 3023-6, and in particular p. 3025.
Over the last few years, for example, there have been a number of points of order and questions of privilege dealing with noted discrepancies between printed and electronic official records. In one case, the Speaker ruled that the difference between the printed and electronic Hansard was an editorial error and did not constitute a question of privilege, but also pointed out that because the larger issue of the status of the electronic Hansard had never been investigated, the issue warranted an examination by the Standing Committee on Elections, Privileges and Procedure. See Debates, June 6, 1986, pp. 14055-6. The Speaker has also ruled on the use of cellular phones in the House (Debates, April 27, 1993, p. 18495).
Wilding and Laundy, p. 570.
Debates, November 6, 1986, p. 1153.
Often, by unanimous consent, the House agrees to proceed in a way which would otherwise be ruled inadmissible by the Speaker (see, for example, Debates, October 1, 1987, p. 9528; March 14, 1988, p. 13685). Occasionally, the Speaker may make a decision which breaks with past rulings but which is not to be regarded as a precedent (see, for example, Speaker Fraser’s ruling, Debates, April 14, 1987, pp. 5119-24, and in particular pp. 5120-2).
May distinguishes between modern and ancient pratice and describes in the following terms their relationship: “[T]he function of modern practice, besides that of applying… the rules of the ancient usage to changing conditions, is to supplement the standing orders and to harmonize them with each other and with the general body of practice” (May, 22nded., p. 5).
Soon after their establishment, the assemblies of both Lower and Upper Canada chose to be guided by British practice in unprovided cases. See Lower Canada Journals, December 22, 1792, p. 48, and January 16, 1793, p. 124, and Upper Canada Journals, June 22, 1802, p. 286.
With regard to American influence in Upper Canada, O’Brien explains: “Jefferson’s Manual, disguised as Thomson’s Manual, became the Assembly’s chief procedural texbook in 1828. The Speaker was not wigged, as in Britain: instead he wore a cocked hat.” Other examples of American influence include the use of pages in the Chamber, roll-call votes and desks for Members (O’Brien, p. 114, see also pp. 62-4 and 407-8). It is important to note that in 1793, when Lower Canada’s Assembly adopted 71 rules, the British House had a mere six Standing Orders dealing with public business, only one of which was adopted as is by the Lower Canadian Assembly. The rules were not copied from any one source, but rather were inspired by such authorities as Hatsell’s Precedents (British), Jefferson’s Manual (American) and Petyt’s Lex Parliamentaria (British) (see O’Brien, Chapter 3, note 40).
Until 1986, Standing Order 1 read as follows: “In all cases not provided for hereafter or by sessional or other orders, the usages and customs of the House of Commons of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland as in force at the time shall be followed so far as they may be applicable to this House.”
Standing Order 1.
Standing Order 1. In March 1998, in the course of ruling on a question of privilege, Speaker Parent stated: “I have looked carefully at practice here in the House of Commons and in other Canadian legislatures: in the House of Commons of the United Kingdom and in other Westminster-style Parliaments.” See Debates, March 16, 1998, p. 4902.
See Chapter 11, “Questions”.
The division of speaking time between two Members provides a good illustration of a practice which became a Standing Order without much intervention from the Speaker. See, for example, Debates, March 14, 1991, p. 18439. Standing Order 43(2) was adopted on April 11, 1991 (Journals, p. 2910).
See the Special Committee on Procedure and Organization, Third Report, concurred in on May 7, 1964 (Journals, p. 297, and Debates, pp. 3007-10, particularly the comments of Stanley Knowles).
See Standing Order 44.1, which was adopted by the House on April 11, 1991 (Journals, pp. 2910-1). For historical information on the former practice of pairing, see Dawson, pp. 188-90.
Constitution Act, 1982, R.S.C. 1985, Appendix II, No. 44, Part V.
Standing Order 1.

Please note —

As the rules and practices of the House of Commons are subject to change, users should remember that this edition of Procedure and Practice was published in January 2000. Standing Order changes adopted since then, as well as other changes in practice, are not reflected in the text. The Appendices to the book, however, have been updated and now include information up to the end of the 38th Parliament in November 2005.

To confirm current rules and practice, please consult the latest version of the Standing Orders on the Parliament of Canada Web site.

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