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House of Commons Procedure and Practice

Second Edition, 2009

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There is another rule that enables the House to limit debate to some degree. If, at any time during a sitting, unanimous consent is denied for the presentation of a routine motion for which written notice had not been given, a Minister may request under the heading “Motions” during Routine Proceedings[152] that the Speaker put the motion forthwith, without debate or amendment.[153] If 25 Members or more oppose the motion, it is deemed withdrawn,[154] otherwise, it is adopted.[155] This precludes having to put the motion on notice and then having to move and debate the motion under Government Orders. It should be noted that the routine motion does not necessarily have to be moved the same day that unanimous consent was initially denied.[156]

A “routine motion” refers to motions which may be required for the observance of the proprieties of the House, the maintenance of its authority, the management of its business, the arrangement of its proceedings, the establishment of the powers of its committees, the correctness of its records or the fixing of its sitting days or the times of its meeting or adjournment.[157]

Adopted in 1991,[158] this procedure was used quite frequently in the Thirty‑Fifth and Thirty‑Sixth Parliaments (1994‑97 and 1997‑2000), but much less often since then.[159] Prior to its adoption, it was argued that the new proposed rule would have a negative impact on Members’ ability to debate government motions and would “override unanimous consent”.[160] Since its adoption, however, Members have objected in a number of instances that the rule was being used for purposes never intended, and they have differed on the critical issue of what constitutes a “routine motion”.

In fact, while it appeared at first that the range of motions to which this procedure could be applied would be limited,[161] over the years the rule has been used to extend a sitting in order to sit on the weekend[162] or in order to continue the consideration of a government bill;[163] to suspend the sitting for a Royal Assent ceremony;[164] to deal with a government motion;[165] to pass a government bill at any or all stages, or to identify the appropriate time and method to dispose of it;[166] to establish the length of speeches during a take‑note debate;[167] to authorize committees to travel;[168] and to attempt to rescind an Order of the House.[169] Not all of these uses were consistent with the wording or the spirit of the rule, and some of them gave rise to points of order.

In 2001, Speaker Milliken stated, “From 1997 there are signs of a disturbing trend in which Standing Order 56.1 was used, or attempted to be used, for the adoption of motions less readily identified or defined as routine”.[170] Over the years and in response to the many points of order, the Chair has nevertheless clarified certain aspects of the Standing Order. The Speaker specifically ruled that this Standing Order was not intended to be used for the disposition of a bill at various stages, nor for bills that fell outside the range of those advanced on urgent or extraordinary occasions.[171] He further indicated that it was never envisaged that the Standing Order would be used to override decisions which the House had taken by unanimous consent, nor could it be used as a substitute for decisions which the House itself ought to make on substantive matters.[172] The Speaker also ruled that the Standing Order could not be used in cases where unanimous consent to concur in a striking committee report had been sought and denied.[173] In addition, its use to give a direction to a standing committee of the House has been deemed contrary to the Standing Orders.[174]

Furthermore, when asked about the constitutionality of this procedure, as section 49 of the Constitution provides that questions arising in the House of Commons, almost without exception, are decided by a majority of voices, the Speaker ruled that this prescription involved questions of substance primarily, and not matters of internal procedure, the main purpose of the motions to which the rule applies.[175]

In light of the many concerns expressed by Members, Speakers Parent and Milliken both urged the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs to examine the appropriate use of this Standing Order.[176] Having received no feedback from the Committee to the House, the Speaker stated he did not feel it was for the Chair to rule out of order a motion that appeared to be in compliance with the Standing Order, despite any reservations he may have expressed about it.[177]

[152] Unless there is unanimous consent to move the motion at another time. See the Speaker’s ruling on this matter (Debates, October 24, 2002, pp. 828‑9).

[153] Standing Order 56.1.

[154] See, for example, Journals, May 13, 2005, pp. 749‑50.

[155] See, for example, Journals, October 3, 2006, pp. 487‑8.

[156] Debates, October 24, 2002, pp. 828‑9.

[157] Standing Order 56.1(1)(b).

[158] Journals, April 11, 1991, p. 2913.

[159] For example, Standing Order 56.1 was used only four times during the Thirty‑Seventh Parliament (2001‑04) (Journals, June 4, 2001, p. 475; June 12, 2001, pp. 535‑6; October 22, 2002, p. 91; June 13, 2003, p. 935).

[160] Debates, March 26, 1991, p. 19044.

[161] See Speaker Fraser’s comments in this regard (Debates, April 9, 1991, pp. 19233‑7).

[162] See, for example, Journals, March 23, 1995, p. 1265.

[163] See, for example, Journals, October 3, 2006, pp. 487‑8.

[164] See, for example, Journals, April 24, 1997, pp. 1524‑5.

[165] See, for example, Journals, April 12, 1999, p. 1687.

[166] See, for example, Journals, December 1, 1997, pp. 290‑1; June 4, 2001, p. 475; June 12, 2001, pp. 535‑6; May 13, 2005, pp. 749‑50; October 3, 2006, pp. 487‑8.

[167] See, for example, Journals, April 12, 1999, p. 1687.

[168] See, for example, Journals, June 8, 1995, p. 1594.

[169] See, for example, Journals, June 9, 1998, p. 954.

[170] Debates, September 18, 2001, p. 5257.

[171] The Standing Orders already provide that, on urgent or extraordinary occasions, a bill may be read twice or thrice, or advanced two or more stages in one day. See Standing Order 71.

[172] This clarification was provided following a point of order raised further to a motion moved on June 12, 2001 by the government pursuant to Standing Order 56.1. This motion, comprising several parts, ensured that, on the last allotted day in the supply period ending June 23, almost all of the motions for concurrence in the main estimates were to be deemed carried on division (Journals, June 12, 2001, pp. 535‑6; Debates, June 12, 2001, pp. 5027‑31; September 18, 2001, pp. 5256‑8). The motion of June 12, 2001 also included a deadline for the said allotted day when all the questions necessary to dispose of third reading of two government bills and an item of government business were to be put forthwith. A few days earlier, on June 4, the government had used the same procedure to have the House concur in another motion that scheduled a specific sitting day for second reading, Committee of the Whole consideration and report stage, as well as third reading of a government bill. The motion also amended the rules of debate for each of these steps and set a deadline for each of the sitting days where all the questions necessary for the disposal of the bill at the appropriate stage would be put immediately, without debate or amendment. The point of order gave the Speaker an opportunity to look into the use of Standing Order 56.1 and clarify the matter.

[173] In October 2002, the government moved a motion pursuant to Standing Order 56.1 to concur in the First Report of the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs. This report set out the membership and associate membership of the standing committees of the House. The motion was not concurred in; nevertheless, it was raised as a point of order and was subject to a Speaker's ruling (Debates, October 22, 2002, pp. 713, 757‑9; October 24, 2002, pp. 828‑9).

[174] In May 2007, the government used this procedure to have the House concur in a motion that a standing committee not adjourn until it had completed its consideration of a government bill. The motion also proposed that the committee report the bill to the House within two sitting days following the completion of the committee stage. Initially, the motion was concurred in before being ruled out of order by the Chair Occupant in response to a point of order. In his ruling, the Deputy Speaker indicated that there was only one reference to committees respecting the use of this procedure in the Standing Order, and that it was one allowing motions for the establishing of the powers of its committees (Journals, May 31, 2007, pp. 1452‑3; Debates, May 31, 2007, pp. 9962‑4; June 5, 2007, p. 10124).

[175] This issue was raised in connection with a point of order resulting from a government motion under Standing Order 56.1. The motion proposed that any division requested on the second reading stage of two government bills be automatically deferred until May 19, 2005, and that, at the expiry of the time for consideration of Government Orders on that day, all questions necessary to dispose of the two bills be put and decided forthwith (Debates, May 13, 2005, pp. 5972‑4).

[176] Debates, June 9, 1998, p. 7774; Journals, October 3, 2006, pp. 487‑8, Debates, pp. 3536, 3571.

[177] See, for example, Debates, May 13, 2005, pp. 5972‑4.

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