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House of Commons Procedure and Practice

Second Edition, 2009

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With few exceptions, a Member may speak to any motion that has been proposed to the House and which is open to debate.[4] In managing the debate on a motion, the Speaker is responsible for deciding the order in which Members are recognized and for applying the rules of debate which govern such matters as speaking once to a motion, the right of reply and unwarranted interventions.

*   Usual Order of Speaking

There is no official order for the recognition of speakers laid down in the Standing Orders; the Chair relies on the practice and precedents of the House in this regard. The Standing Orders simply authorize the Speaker to recognize for debate any Member who seeks the floor by rising in his or her place.[5] The Member who is “seen” first is accorded the right to speak. This is commonly referred to as “catching the Speaker’s eye”, an expression dating back to the early days of British parliamentary procedure.[6] Although the Whips of the various parties each provide the Chair with a list of Members wishing to speak, the Chair is not bound by these.[7] By tradition, some Members of the House such as party leaders, Ministers when appropriate, and often opposition critics or spokespersons are given some priority to speak.[8] A limited number of Members, including the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition, have special rights accorded to them in the Standing Orders, but these rights relate only to the length of their speeches.[9] While the Speaker has complete discretion in recognizing Members,[10] the Chair may follow such informal arrangements as may be made[11] or the Chair may be bound by an Order of the House setting down a specific speaking order.[12]

In the ordinary course of events, after a motion has been proposed to the House, the Speaker recognizes the mover of the motion as the first to speak in debate. If the mover chooses not to speak, he or she is nonetheless deemed to have spoken―simply by nodding, the Member is considered to have said “I move” and this is taken as equivalent to a speech in the debate.[13] The Member who seconds a motion is not required to speak to it at this point, but may choose to do so later in the debate.[14]

The Speaker subsequently “sees” Members from opposite sides of the House in a reasonable rotation, bearing in mind the membership of the various recognized parties in the House,[15] the right of reply,[16] and the nature of the proceedings. For example, during the first round of debate on Government Orders, a representative from the government and from each of the recognized opposition parties are recognized by the Speaker if they rise to seek the floor in debate. For subsequent rounds, the Speaker alternates between Members on the government and opposition benches. The Speaker has given the floor to independent Members and Members of unrecognized parties only after Members of recognized parties have participated in debate in proportion to their membership in the House.[17] During Private Members’ Business, the Speaker exercises greater discretion in recognizing Members, ensuring that all parties and groups in the House are heard and that all sides of the issue under debate are expressed. On supply days, the Chair may recognize Members from the party sponsoring the opposition motion more frequently.[18]

During the period for questions and comments following most speeches,[19] Members may direct questions to the Member who has just completed his or her speech, or may make brief comments on that speech. When recognizing Members, the Chair gives preference to Members of parties other than that of the original speaker, but not to the exclusion of Members from the speaker’s party.[20] If the questions and comments period is interrupted by another proceeding, when debate resumes on the motion, the questions and comments period will continue only if the Member who made the initial speech is present.[21] Since there is no precise time set aside for the length of each individual question or comment, the Chair will sometimes determine how many Members are interested in participating in the questions and comments period and then apportion the time for each intervention accordingly. Members recognized during the questions and comments period may not move dilatory motions,[22] propose amendments,[23] or move motions to extend the hours of sitting.[24]

Motion that a Member Be Now Heard

The Speaker’s decision as to who may speak during debate may be superseded by the House on a motion that another Member “be now heard”. A decision on this motion settles the order of debate immediately.

When two Members rise simultaneously to “catch the Speaker’s eye”, the Speaker will recognize one of them to speak. By rising on a point of order, another Member may move that the Member who had not been recognized be given the floor.[25] The motion “that a Member be now heard” is an exception to the rule that a motion cannot be moved on a point of order. The motion may not be moved if the Member first recognized by the Speaker has already begun to speak.[26] If the motion is ruled in order by the Speaker, the question on the motion is put forthwith without debate. A recorded division may take place. If the motion is carried, the Member named in it may speak.[27] If it is defeated, the Member originally recognized retains the right to speak.[28] In either case, a further motion “that a Member be now heard” may be moved only after the Member ultimately recognized has completed his or her speech.[29] Thus, it is impossible to move a series of such motions in order to prevent one particular Member from speaking. In addition, the motion cannot be moved:

*      if no debatable motion is before the House;[30]

*      if no one has yet been given the floor;[31]

*      if the Member named in the motion did not originally rise to be recognized;[32]

*      to give the floor to a Member whose speech would close the debate;[33]

*      during the period for questions and comments following a speech;[34] or

*      if the House has adopted an Order specifying the speaking order to be followed during debate.[35]

Recognition to Speak when Order Next Called

A Member whose speech is interrupted pursuant either to a Standing or Special Order,[36] or by the adoption of a motion to adjourn the debate, may continue speaking to the full extent of his or her allotted time when debate on the motion resumes. Likewise, should the proceedings be suspended, the Member who had the floor at that time retains the right to speak when the proceedings resume.[37] Should this Member not be present in the Chamber when the House resumes debate, he or she is considered to have yielded the floor and to have finished speaking.[38] This principle applies as well to the questions and comments period: if the Member who made the speech is not present upon resumption of debate, the questions and comments period ends and another Member is recognized on debate.[39]

Retention of Right to Speak After a Royal Assent Ceremony

If the Usher of the Black Rod arrives at the door of the House with a message from the Governor General summoning the House to the Senate for a Royal Assent ceremony, the business of the House is interrupted.[40] No Member will be recognized to speak on a point of order or a question of privilege.[41] The business before the House continues when the House returns from the Senate and the sitting resumes; the Member whose speech was interrupted upon the arrival of the Usher of the Black Rod is recognized to continue his or her speech.[42]

Recognition to Speak Before and After Divisions

Once the Speaker has put a question to the House, there may be no further debate, points of order or questions of privilege.[43] Members must remain seated until the result of the vote is announced, whereupon Members have sometimes risen on points of order to explain or simply to refer to their abstention from voting (thereby ensuring that their words are recorded in the Debates);[44] to explain how they would have voted had they been present in the Chamber to hear the question put; to seek consent to have their vote(s) recorded after the fact;[45] or to inform the Chair how they wish to have their votes recorded for subsequent divisions to which the results are to be applied.[46] On occasion, Members have risen on points of order after recorded divisions to seek unanimous consent to change their votes.[47] However, no Member should raise a point of order to comment on how another Member voted.[48]

*   Speaking Once to a Motion

In order to expedite the transaction of House business, the Standing Orders provide that Members may speak only once during debate on any motion.[49] If a Member inadvertently rises to speak a second time, the Speaker will interrupt and recognize another to speak.[50]

Since motions, amendments and subamendments are separate questions, a Member may speak once to each.[51] However, an amendment is not a separate question until the Speaker proposes it to the House. Thus the Member who moves an amendment is deemed to have spoken not only to the proposed amendment, but also to the main motion.[52] Similarly, the Member who moves a subamendment is deemed to have spoken also to the amendment and cannot do so again, although this does not affect the Member’s right to speak to the main motion.[53] After an amendment (or subamendment) has been moved, seconded and proposed to the House, any Member rising to speak addresses the amendment (or subamendment). When an amendment (or subamendment) has been disposed of, either in the affirmative or in the negative, any Member who has not yet spoken to the main motion (or amendment) may speak to it. An amended main motion is not considered a new question; only those Members who have not yet spoken to the main motion may speak to the amended motion.[54]

Any Member who rises to move a debatable motion must indicate the name of a second Member who formally supports the motion. A government order must be moved by a Minister, but it may be seconded by any Member of the House.[55] If a mover chooses not to speak immediately after the motion has been proposed to the House, he or she loses the right to speak to the motion except in reply.[56] The seconder may be recognized to speak to the motion later in the debate.[57]

If a Member moves a motion during his or her speech (e.g., an amendment or a motion to adjourn debate), the act of moving the motion will terminate the Member’s speech.[58] A Member who has already spoken to a question may not rise again to propose or second an amendment or move a motion to adjourn the debate or the House, although the Member may speak to an amendment if it has been moved by another Member.[59] If the House should negative a motion to adjourn the debate, the mover of the motion will be deemed to have exhausted his or her right to speak to the main question.[60] However, if the motion is adopted, the mover may speak first the next time the Order is called. If the Member does not then rise, he or she forfeits the opportunity to speak.[61]

The House will occasionally grant a Member unanimous consent to speak a second time to a motion.[62] The Standing Orders also provide for exceptions to the rule of only speaking once to a question. One such provision, rarely invoked since the implementation in 1982 of the 10-minute questions and comments period,[63] allows a Member to speak a second time in order to explain a material part of his or her speech which may have been misquoted or misunderstood.[64] In doing so, the Member must rise on a point of order, must limit the intervention to an explanation of the alleged misquotation or misunderstanding and may not introduce any new matter.[65] Another provision of the Standing Orders confers upon the movers of certain kinds of motions a right to speak a second time when no other Member wishes to speak.[66] This is known as the “right of reply”.

*   The Right of Reply

Any Member who has moved a substantive motion may speak a second time to conclude the debate.[67] By custom, this right has also been extended to the mover of a motion for second reading of a bill, but it does not pertain to movers of amendments, the previous question, an instruction to a committee, or third reading of a bill.[68] The right of reply allows for the rebuttal of criticisms and arguments directed against a substantive motion, and its effect is to close the debate. To ensure that no Member wishing to participate in a debate is prevented from doing so by a sudden or unannounced exercise of the right of reply, the Speaker must inform the House that the reply of the mover of the original motion closes the debate.[69]

If a Member moves a motion on behalf of another Member, a later speech by either will close the debate.[70] However, during the debate on the second reading motion of a government bill, a Parliamentary Secretary may close the debate on behalf of the Minister who moved the motion only with the unanimous consent of the House.[71]

Although Ministers may exercise the right of reply,[72] it is typically private Members who now make use of it, and it is entrenched in two of the Standing Orders regulating Private Members’ Business. The mover of an item of Private Members’ Business is entitled to speak in reply for not more than five minutes at the conclusion of debate.[73] When debate on a motion for the production of papers under “Notices of Motions (Papers)” has taken place for a total of one hour and 50 minutes, a Minister (or a Parliamentary Secretary speaking on behalf of the Minister) may speak for not more than five minutes, whether or not he or she has previously spoken, and the mover may close the debate by speaking for not more than five minutes.[74]

*   Interventions

When a Member is addressing the House, no other Member may interrupt except on an unanticipated question of privilege or point of order.[75] Prior to 1982 and the advent of the questions and comments period following most speeches,[76] a Member wishing to ask a question during debate had first to obtain the consent of the Member who was speaking.[77] The Member allowing the interruption was under no obligation to reply, and was often reluctant to do so, as the time taken up in this way was subtracted from his or her speaking time.

While Chair Occupants generally ignore such incidental interruptions as applause and/or heckling, they are quick to intervene when unable to hear the Member speaking or when the latter is unable to continue speaking.[78]

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[4] There are also some proceedings during which Members may be recognized to speak although no motion has been proposed to the House (e.g., Statements by Members, Oral Questions, Routine Proceedings (including “Statements by Ministers”), and on questions of privilege). During the Adjournment Proceedings, only those Members who were notified earlier in the sitting and Ministers (or Parliamentary Secretaries responding on their behalf) may be recognized to speak. For further information on debatable and non‑debatable motions, see Chapter 12, “The Process of Debate”.

[5] Standing Orders 17 and 62. Standing Order 17 exempts Members from the requirement to be in their places in order to be recognized to speak during proceedings pursuant to Standing Orders 38(5) (Adjournment Proceedings), 52 (Emergency Debates) and 53.1 (Take-note Debates). Members may also occupy, speak and vote from places other than those regularly assigned to them during debate in a Committee of the Whole (Beauchesne, A., Beauchesne’s Rules & Forms of the House of Commons of Canada, 6th ed., edited by A. Fraser, W.F. Dawson and J.A. Holtby, Toronto: The Carswell Company Limited, 1989, p. 250).

[6] As noted in Wilding, N. and Laundy, P., An Encyclopaedia of Parliament, 4th ed., London: Cassell & Company Ltd., 1972, p. 81: “Up to 1625, when several members stood up, the House itself had decided whom they wanted to hear, but in that year the House resolved that ‘if two rise up at once, the Speaker does determine. He that his eye saw first, has the precedence given’”.

[7] With regard to this practice, Beauchesne pointedly adds: “… the Speaker is the final authority on the order of speaking” (6th ed., p. 137). See comments of the Chair, Debates, May 5, 1994, p. 3925; November 29, 1994, pp. 8406‑7; September 26, 2006, p. 3284.

[8] By custom, a Member who wishes to make his or her “maiden speech” enjoys the privilege of being the first to “catch the Speaker’s eye” (Beauchesne, A., Rules and Forms of the House of Commons of Canada, 4th ed., Toronto: The Carswell Company Limited, 1958, p. 111). For further information, see the section in this chapter entitled “Maiden Speech”.

[9] Standing Order 43 stipulates that the Prime Minister, the Leader of the Opposition, a Minister moving a government order and the Member speaking in reply immediately after the Minister may speak for more than 20 minutes in any debate. In response to a point of order raised by an independent Member who had sat in the House for many years as a Member of a recognized party, the Speaker ruled that length of service in the House is not a criterion for recognition (Debates, February 22, 1993, p. 16283).

[10] This has been supported by numerous Speaker’s rulings. See, for example, Debates, January 27, 1983, p. 22303; May 20, 1986, p. 13443; March 2, 2000, p. 4254.

[11] See, for example, Debates, September 8, 1992, p. 12723; May 3, 2007, pp. 9024-5.

[12] See, for example, Journals, June 18, 1991, p. 217; September 17, 1992, pp. 2011‑2; October 21, 2003, p. 8521; November 9, 2006, pp. 672-3.

[13] See, for example, Debates, March 19, 1992, pp. 8479‑80, 8490‑1; June 19, 2007, p. 10858.

[14] During the debate on the Address in Reply to the Speech from the Throne, it is tradition for the seconder to be recognized to speak after the mover has spoken. See Chapter 15, “Special Debates”.

[15] For a definition of a recognized party for procedural purposes, see Chapter 1, “Parliamentary Institutions”.

[16] Standing Order 44(2). The right of reply is discussed in detail later in this chapter.

[17] See, for example, Debates, February 22, 1993, pp. 16282‑3; March 14, 1995, p. 10446; June 12, 2007, p. 10500; December 12, 2007, pp. 2114-6.

[18] For further information, see Chapter 18, “Financial Procedures”.

[19] Standing Order 43(1). The House adopted this provision in 1982 (Journals, November 29, 1982, p. 5400) and modified it in 2005 (Journals, February 18, 2005, pp. 451-5). The current version provides for 10 minutes of questions and comments following the speech of any Member who has unlimited time or of any Member limited to 20 minutes. In addition, following all speeches limited to 10 minutes by other Standing Orders, five minutes are provided for questions and comments. See also Standing Orders 95 and 97.1(2)(c) (Private Members’ Business), and 126 (Delegated Legislation).

[20] See, for example, Debates, June 9, 1998, p. 7842; November 5, 1998, p. 9925; February 2, 2005, p. 2992; March 8, 2005, p. 4163.

[21] See, for example, Debates, October 28, 1985, p. 8075; March 3, 1986, p. 11126; October 28, 2003, p. 8847.

[22] See, for example, Debates, March 14, 1985, p. 3029. For further information on dilatory motions, see Chapter 12, “The Process of Debate”.

[23] See, for example, Debates, June 9, 1986, p. 14128; February 11, 1999, p. 11747.

[24] See, for example, Debates, February 17, 1987, p. 3541; March 25, 1993, pp. 17560-1.

[25] Standing Order 62. On one occasion, when the Speaker had recognized a Member on a question of privilege, another Member rose on a point of order to move this motion. The Speaker did not accept the motion “that a Member be now heard” because such a motion is traditionally moved during the course of a debate, and a question of privilege has precedence over any other matter (Debates, April 27, 1989, p. 1003).

[26] See, for example, Debates, October 29, 1999, p. 894; April 18, 2002, p. 10546; June 5, 2003, pp. 6901-2. On several occasions, after a motion had been proposed to the House, a Member moved that a specific Member “be now heard”. The Speaker would not allow the motion to be put because only the mover of the original motion could be recognized at that time (Debates, November 20, 1986, p. 1368; February 23, 2007, p. 7243).

[27] See, for example, Debates, March 19, 1997, pp. 9227‑9; May 13, 2005, pp. 5959-60.

[28] See, for example, Debates, November 20, 1997, pp. 6503‑5; April 18, 2002, p. 10546.

[29] See, for example, Debates, October 28, 1987, p. 10497.

[30] See, for example, Debates, January 31, 1990, p. 7660. There have, however, been instances in which the Chair has accepted such motions during Routine Proceedings when no motion was under debate (Journals, November 7, 1986, pp. 188‑9; April 8, 1987, pp. 722‑3).

[31] See, for example, Debates, November 7, 1986, p. 1191.

[32] See, for example, Debates, September 24, 1990, pp. 13244‑5; October 29, 1999, p. 894.

[33] See, for example, Debates, December 5, 1963, p. 5471.

[34] See, for example, Debates, October 30, 1991, p. 4231.

[35] See, for example, Debates, June 19, 1991, p. 2109. In 1979, after the leaders of the three recognized parties had spoken on an opposition motion, Speaker Jerome explained his reasons for recognizing next in debate, Fabien Roy (Beauce) the leader of the Social Credit Party, which held only five seats in the House. As Mr. Roy, began to speak, Yvon Pinard (Drummond) rose on a point of order to move that another Member “be now heard”. The Speaker ruled that the Member did not have the floor to move his motion. The following day, in response to a question of privilege, Speaker Jerome clarified that he had interpreted the moving of the motion to be an appeal against the ruling he had just given (Debates, November 6, 1979, pp. 1008‑10; November 7, 1979, pp. 1048‑9).

[36] For example, when debate is interrupted because of Statements by Members, Question Period, Private Members’ Business, at the ordinary hour of daily adjournment, or at the time specified in a special order of the House. See, for example, Debates, March 17, 1997, pp. 9091‑2.

[37] See, for example, Debates, September 29, 1994, p. 6348; September 22, 1995, p. 14759; October 6, 2005, p. 8475; November 9, 2006, p. 4963; June 14, 2007, p. 10590.

[38] See, for example, Debates, December 18, 1990, p. 16906.

[39] See, for example, Debates, December 11, 1986, pp. 2025‑6; February 3, 1994, p. 896; February 27, 1995, p. 10084; February 17, 1998, p. 4033; October 28, 2003, p. 8847.

[40] Bourinot, Sir J.G., Parliamentary Procedure and Practice in the Dominion of Canada, 4th ed., edited by T.B. Flint, Toronto: Canada Law Book Company, 1916, p. 353.

[41] Debates, December 17, 1990, pp. 16829‑30.

[42] See, for example, Debates, March 11, 1999, pp. 12775‑6; November 3, 2005, p. 9493; May 11, 2006, p. 1280.

[43] See, for example, Debates, March 20, 1990, pp. 9557‑8.

[44] See, for example, Debates, March 19, 1992, p. 8522; February 24, 1993, p. 16425; March 25, 2003, p. 4684; October 24, 2007, p. 346.

[45] See, for example, Debates, June 21, 1994, p. 5665; November 1, 1994, p. 7539; November 30, 2004, p. 2114.

[46] See, for example, Debates, February 21, 2007, p. 7154; March 27, 2007, p. 8005.

[47] See, for example, Debates, December 9, 1997, p. 3011; November 27, 2001, p. 7600.

[48] See Debates, May 4, 1993, p. 18921.

[49] Standing Order 44(1). “It is essential to the dispatch of business, that the rule and order of the House, ‘That no Member should speak twice to the same question’, should be strictly adhered to; and it is the duty of the Speaker to maintain the observance of this rule, without waiting for the interposition of the House; which, in calling to order, seldom produces any thing but disorder.” See Hatsell, J., Precedents of Proceedings in the House of Commons, Vol. II, South Hackensack, New Jersey: Rothman Reprints Inc., 1971 (reprint of 4th ed., 1818), p. 105.

[50] See, for example, Debates, May 12, 1998, p. 6826; May 25, 1998, p. 7107; June 22, 2005, p. 7651. In a Committee of the Whole, Members may speak as often as they wish (Standing Order 101(1)).

[51] Journals, March 14, 1928, pp. 154‑5. See, for example, Debates, September 27, 2005, p. 8119; October 21, 2005, pp. 8878, 8880.

[52] See, for example, Journals, February 10, 1953, p. 232; Debates, November 5, 1991, p. 4609. See also Bourinot, 4th ed., p. 345. The same rule applies to the previous question (“That the question be now put”): the Member who moves the previous question is deemed to have spoken to both the previous question and the original motion. For further information, see Chapter 12, “The Process of Debate”.

[53] See, for example, Journals, May 30, 1960, pp. 514‑5.

[54] Beauchesne, 6th ed., p. 138.

[55] See, for example, Debates, January 25, 1983, p. 22176; January 31, 1985, p. 1845. Upon commencing debate at second or third reading of a government bill, a Parliamentary Secretary often speaks on behalf of the Minister after the Minister has moved the motion. See, for example, Debates, May 29, 2006, p. 1621.

[56] Unanimous consent has sometimes been used to circumvent this practice. See, for example, Debates, November 18, 1997, p. 1824; March 19, 1998, p. 5138; May 29, 2006, p. 1630. Furthermore, when a Minister moves an item of government business on behalf of another Minister, the latter retains both the right to speak to the motion and the right of reply.

[57] In the debate on the Address in Reply to the Speech from the Throne, the seconder speaks immediately after the mover. For further information, see Chapter 15, “Special Debates”.

[58] See, for example, Debates, December 11, 1990, p. 16563; May 11, 1998, p. 6814.

[59] Bourinot, 4th ed., pp. 345‑6.

[60] Bourinot, 4th ed., p. 346.

[61] Bourinot, 4th ed., p. 346.

[62] See, for example, Debates, September 24, 1991, p. 2672; November 28, 1991, pp. 5481‑2; November 18, 1997, p. 1824; February 25, 2002, p. 9172.

[63] Standing Order 43(1).

[64] Standing Order 44(1).

[65] See, for example, Debates, March 1, 1991, pp. 17872‑3; November 27, 1991, p. 5433, and Bourinot (4th ed., pp. 350‑1) for an enumeration of the types of violations of this rule. See also Debates, May 12, 1995, pp. 12525-7.

[66] Standing Order 44(2).

[67] Standing Order 44(2). A substantive motion is a self‑contained proposal not dependent on another motion or proceeding. Normally such motions require notice before they can be moved in the House. For further information, see Chapter 12, “The Process of Debate”.

[68] Standing Order 44(2). Until 1906, the Standing Order only allowed Members who had moved substantive motions the right of reply. In 1906, the rule was amended to extend the right of reply to the mover of second reading of a bill, even though it was well understood that a second reading motion was not a substantive motion. The reason was given by Prime Minister Wilfrid Laurier, who explained that “When a Bill is moved for the first time the member who introduces the Bill may make his speech upon it. Our practice generally is to have that explanation on the second reading”. Thus the exception was a way of guaranteeing the mover of a bill two opportunities to speak during debate on second reading (Debates, July 9, 1906, cols. 7467‑70). The right of reply does not apply to the third reading motion (Debates, May 4, 1990, p. 11034).

[69] Standing Order 44(3). See, for example, Debates, February 15, 1999, p. 11866; February 19, 1999, p. 12201; November 24, 2006, p. 5334; April 20, 2007, p. 8511.

[70] Journals, February 7, 1961, p. 226.

[71] See, for example, Debates, November 7, 1957, pp. 877‑8; February 11, 1985, pp. 2219‑20. This rule has had a varied history and, as late as 1984, a Parliamentary Secretary was allowed the right of reply to close off debate without seeking the unanimous consent of the House (Debates, June 8, 1984, p. 4492).

[72] In this event, the length of time a Minister would be allowed to speak would depend on the rules applicable at that time. For example, if a Minister chose to close the debate during the five hours of debate on a second reading motion following the first round of speeches, he or she would be entitled to speak for 20 minutes. If a Minister chose to close the debate after that period, he or she would have 10 minutes to reply. For an example of a Minister closing off debate on a second reading motion, see Debates, January 25, 1971, p. 2726.

[73] Standing Order 95(1) and (2). See, for example, Debates, October 31, 1997, p. 1433; October 25, 2006, pp. 4260-1. For further information, see Chapter 21, “Private Members’ Business”.

[74] Standing Order 97(2). See, for example, Debates, November 2, 1998, pp. 9676‑7.

[75] Standing Orders 16(2) and 48.

[76] Standing Order 43(1).

[77] Beauchesne, 4th ed., pp. 113‑4.

[78] See, for example, Debates, November 29, 2006, p. 5517; November 21, 2007, p. 1149.

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