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House of Commons Procedure and Practice

Second Edition, 2009

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The Speaker ensures that debate conforms to the rules and practices that the House has adopted in order to protect itself from excesses. While the House is the master of its own proceedings and the Speaker its servant, the Speaker has extensive powers to enforce rules of debate and maintain order so that the House can conduct its business in an orderly fashion. Indeed, the Standing Orders state explicitly that the Speaker shall preserve order and decorum, and decide questions of order.[333] In addition, the Standing Orders empower the Speaker to call a Member to order if the Member persists in repeating an argument already made in the course of debate or in addressing a subject which is not relevant to the question before the House.[334]

The preservation of order and decorum has been a duty of the Speaker since 1867, but the task was never more difficult than during the early years of Confederation. Speakers at that time were regularly confronted with rude and disorderly conduct which they were unable to control. The throwing of paper,[335] books,[336] and other missiles, including firecrackers in one case,[337] combined with the noises Members made imitating cats,[338] making music[339] and generally being loud, made for a very riotous assembly.[340] The early twentieth century House was calmer and more austere, although in 1913, during the debate on the Naval Aid Bill, disorder in the Chamber grew to a point almost beyond control.[341] Subsequent occasions of turbulence were infrequent and usually occurred in connection with the imposition of closure.[342] It was not until 1956, during the Pipeline Debate, that the Speaker again had great difficulty preserving order.[343] The 1960s with a succession of minority governments and the late 1970s with the introduction of televised sittings also proved to be challenging. Speakers Jerome, Sauvé, Francis and Bosley all had to contend with scores of language breaches and other violations of order and decorum.[344] During the 1990s, both Speakers Fraser and Parent were obliged to deal with a number of incidents of disruptive behaviour.[345]

During the minority Parliaments of the following decade, the decline in decorum continued to the extent that the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs was asked to consider recommending changes to the Standing Orders in order to strengthen the disciplinary powers of the Chair. While admitting that “drastic options” might prove necessary in the future, the Committee recommended that the parties assist and support the Speaker in maintaining decorum and encouraged the exercise of “the full extent of [the Speaker’s] disciplinary powers”.[346]

Accepted conventions of parliamentary conduct and respect for the authority of the Chair are normally sufficient to permit order and decorum to be maintained during debate and other proceedings. However, if a rule of debate is being breached,[347] the Speaker will intervene directly to address a Member or the House in general and to call to order any Member whose conduct is disruptive.[348] The Speaker’s declarations on disorderly or indecorous conduct are typically made quickly before any discussion takes place.

Members rarely defy the Speaker’s authority or risk evoking the Chair’s disciplinary powers. If a Member challenges the authority of the Chair by refusing to obey the Speaker’s call to order, to withdraw unparliamentary language, to cease irrelevance or repetition, or to stop interrupting a Member who is addressing the House, the Chair has recourse to a number of options. The Speaker may recognize another Member,[349] or refuse to recognize the Member until the offending remarks are retracted and the Member apologizes.[350] As a last resort, the Chair may “name” a Member, the most severe disciplinary power at the Speaker’s disposal.

*   Naming

“Naming” is the term used to designate a disciplinary measure invoked against a Member who persistently disregards the authority of the Chair. If a Member refuses to heed the Speaker’s requests to bring his or her behaviour into line with the rules and practices of the House, the Speaker has the authority to name the Member, that is, to address the Member by name rather than by constituency or title as is the usual practice, and to order his or her withdrawal from the Chamber for the remainder of the sitting day.[351] Alternatively, the Speaker may prefer to let the House take any supplementary disciplinary action it may choose. In either case, naming is a coercive measure of last resort.

Historical Perspective

Until 1927, the British practice of naming Members applied in both the Legislative Assembly of the Province of Canada before Confederation and in the House of Commons after Confederation.[352] Although there were instances of naming before Confederation,[353] from 1867 until 1927 there was only one case. In 1913, Speaker Sproule, who had taken the Chair to quell disorder in a Committee of the Whole, cited a British rule and named Mr. Clark (Red Deer) for “disregarding the authority of the Chair and flagrantly violating the rules of the House”.[354] After the Member was named, he apologized to the House, which found his explanation satisfactory. No motion to suspend him was proposed.[355] Still, in the 46-year interval between Confederation and 1913 and in the years 1914-27, there were times when the Speaker, facing Members unwilling to respect the Chair’s calls to order, might have resorted to naming but did not.[356]

When the naming sanction was codified in the 1927 Standing Orders,[357] it referred simply to the Speaker's power to name a Member who engaged in persistent irrelevance or repetition;[358] no reference was made to naming a Member for refusing to retract unparliamentary language or for disregarding the authority of the Chair. Furthermore, the Standing Orders did not specify the procedure to be followed after a Member had been named.[359] It was not until 15 years later, in 1942, that the first incident of naming occurred under the amended Standing Orders. In this case, after Speaker Glen had named Mr. Lacombe (Laval–Two Mountains), the Minister of Finance immediately moved a motion to suspend Mr. Lacombe. The motion carried easily.[360] Thus, the practice developed that after being named by the Speaker, a Minister, usually the Government House Leader, would move a motion to suspend the Member, typically for the remainder of the day’s sitting. Subsequent naming incidents occurred in 1944 (twice), 1956, 1961, 1962 (twice) and 1964.[361]

Beginning in 1978, after television had been introduced in the Chamber, the frequency of naming increased dramatically.[362] Possibly even more significant than the rise in the number of namings was the fact that the House appeared increasingly willing to divide on the subsequent motion to suspend the offending Member. This placed the Speaker in a potentially vulnerable position in that after naming a Member, it was up to a Minister (usually the Government House Leader) to move a motion to suspend the Member, and since the motion was votable, it could be defeated. Thus, the authority of the Speaker depended, in each case of naming, on the initial support of the government to move the motion and on the subsequent support of the House to adopt it.[363]

In 1985, as the number of naming incidents continued to increase, the Special Committee on Reform of the House of Commons (the McGrath Committee) addressed the question of “whether the disciplinary powers of the Chair should be clarified and strengthened”.[364] The Committee’s final report recommended “that the Speaker be empowered to order the withdrawal of a member for the remainder of a sitting … [and] that the proceedings consequent upon the naming of a member be set out in the Standing Orders”.[365] In February 1986, the government tabled proposed amendments to the Standing Orders that went beyond the recommendation of the Committee to include measures that would allow the Speaker, on ordering the withdrawal of a Member for the second or any subsequent occasion during a session, to suspend him or her for a period of five days without resort to motion.[366] During debate on the motion to adopt these new provisions, Members expressed strong support for the concept of granting the Speaker authority to order the withdrawal of a Member for one sitting, but were equally hesitant to extend such power further, preferring to leave subsequent punishments in the hands of the House itself.[367] In February 1986, the House agreed to certain amendments to the proposed changes to the Standing Orders, and they came into effect that same month.[368] The rule changes left untouched the Standing Order that had existed since 1927[369] but added a new Standing Order granting the Speaker the authority to order the withdrawal of a Member for the remainder of the sitting.[370] Although the original method of naming, followed by a votable motion to suspend the Member for a specified period of time, has not been resorted to since October 1985,[371] it remains a practice which can still be referred to by the Speaker or invoked by the House.

The Process of Naming

The Speaker typically calls upon a Member who has transgressed the established standards of decorum to retract the offending words or otherwise apologize without qualification. Should the Member hesitate or refuse to comply, the Speaker normally repeats the request, often with a warning that the persistent disregard will result in the Member being named. Such exchanges may continue at the Speaker’s discretion, but once it is clear that the Member will not comply, the Speaker names him or her, and orders a withdrawal for the remainder of the sitting day. In naming a Member, the Speaker will say:

(Name of Member), it is my duty to name you for disregarding the authority of the Chair, and to direct your withdrawal from the House for the remainder of the sitting.

Alternatively, in some circumstances, after naming a Member but before ordering his or her withdrawal from the House, the Speaker may wish the House to decide what disciplinary action to take against a Member. This option involves a motion, usually proposed by the Government House Leader, to suspend the Member named from the service of the House for a specified period of time. Such a motion is neither debatable nor amendable. It imposes a greater penalty since suspension from the service of the House bars the Member not only from attendance in the Chamber, but also from participation in the work of committees, and the proposed suspension may exceed the remainder of the sitting. Notices standing in the name of the suspended Member are removed from the Notice Paper for each day of the Member’s suspension.[372] The Speaker may also order the Sergeant-at-Arms to take the necessary steps to remove a Member who refuses to leave the Chamber after having been ordered to withdraw.[373]

During debate in a Committee of the Whole, if a Member refuses to obey the warning of the Chair to discontinue his or her unparliamentary behaviour, the Chair of the Committee may rise and report the conduct of the Member to the Speaker. The Chair may do this on his or her own initiative without recourse to a motion from the Committee.[374] The Speaker will deal with the matter as though it had occurred in the House.[375]

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[333] Standing Order 10.

[334] Standing Order 11(2). For further information, see the section in this chapter entitled “Repetition and Relevance in Debate”.

[335] See, for example, Debates, May 9, 1883, p. 1086.

[336] See, for example, Debates, April 25, 1892, col. 1636.

[337] Debates, May 13, 1882, p. 1520.

[338] See, for example, Debates, April 27, 1885, p. 1405.

[339] See, for example, Debates, April 17, 1878, pp. 2063‑4.

[340] It was often suggested, not without some truth, that the root of the problem of order and decorum lay in the basement of the Parliament Building, just below the Chamber, where a much‑frequented public saloon plied “intoxicating liquors” to Members seeking “refreshment” during the lengthy evening debates. In 1874, the House resolved to instruct the Speaker to close down the bar, but the decision was not enforced. This was attempted once more in 1881 but again to no effect. For a discussion on the closing of the bar, see Debates, February 28, 1881, pp. 1166‑71. The saloon was finally closed when Wilfrid Laurier became Prime Minister (Debates, September 15, 1896, col. 1208). See also Ward, N., “The Formative Years of the House of Commons, 1867‑91”, The Canadian Journal of Economics and Political Science, Vol. 18, No. 4, November 1952, pp. 432‑4.

[341] Debates, March 15, 1913, cols. 6015‑22.

[342] See, for example, Debates, September 12, 1917, pp. 5768‑71.

[343] Debates, May 24, 1956, pp. 4292‑313.

[344] Perhaps the worst scene in modern times occurred in 1980 when closure was moved on a motion to establish a committee to study a constitutional resolution. Several Members, angered by the closure motion, stormed the Chair, demanding to be heard. The resulting disorder on the floor of the House led to the entrance, behind the curtains, of members of the protective staff on the orders of the Sergeant‑at‑Arms. See Debates, October 23, 1980, pp. 4049‑51; October 24, 1980, pp. 4065, 4068; November 6, 1980, p. 4499; November 7, 1980, pp. 4553‑4. Another particularly serious incident occurred on October 16, 1985, when a Member, after asking a question about the British Columbia fishing industry, placed a dead salmon on the Prime Minister’s desk (Debates, p. 7678).

[345] See in particular, Speaker Fraser’s reprimand of Ian Waddell (Port Moody–Coquitlam) who was called to the Bar of the House for physically attempting to prevent the Mace from leaving the Chamber (Debates, October 31, 1991, pp. 4271‑8, 4279‑85, 4309‑10), and Speaker Parent’s ruling of March 16, 1998, in regard to the disorder which broke out in the Chamber on February 26, 1998, when a Member of the Bloc Québécois, Suzanne Tremblay (Rimouski–Mitis), attempted to speak (Debates, March 16, 1998, pp. 4902‑3).

[346] Thirty-Seventh Report of the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs, presented to the House on March 1, 2007 (Journals, p. 1092).

[347] See, for example, Debates, September 25, 1989, p. 3818; September 26, 1996, p. 4715; February 6, 1997, p. 7790; September 24, 1998, p. 8354; October 17, 2006, p. 3907.

[348] See, for example, Debates, February 14, 1992, pp. 7039‑40; February 15, 1993, pp. 15918‑9; February 4, 1997, pp. 7645‑6; October 17, 2006, p. 3886.

[349] See, for example, Debates, September 26, 1991, p. 2773; March 24, 1994, p. 2738; November 6, 1995, p. 16238; May 8, 1996, p. 2482; November 24, 2005, p. 10112.

[350] See, for example, Debates, October 30, 1987, pp. 10583‑4; November 18, 1987, pp. 10927‑8; January 17, 1991, pp. 17294‑5, 17304‑5; November 27, 2002, p. 1949.

[351] Standing Order 11(1)(a).

[352] For further information on the British practice, see May, T.E., A Treatise on the Law, Privileges, Proceedings and Usage of Parliament, 6th ed., rev. and enlarged, London: Butterworths, 1868, p. 323; 23rd ed., pp. 448-55. See also Hatsell, Vol. II, pp. 230‑8, in particular pp. 237‑8.

[353] Province of Canada, Legislative Assembly, Journals of the Legislative Assembly of the Province of Canada, September 9, 1852, pp. 125‑6; May 9, 1861, p. 270.

[354] Debates, March 15, 1913, col. 6019.

[355] Debates, March 15, 1913, cols. 6016‑22.

[356] See, for example, Debates, March 5, 1877, pp. 482‑5; May 9, 1890, cols. 4717‑8; September 28, 1903, col. 12562; January 18, 1910, col. 2084. In one case, the Speaker did take action, although not by naming a Member: “In the session of 1875 Mr. Domville, member for King's, N.B., made some remarks which appeared to be most insulting to the House as a body. The Speaker called him to order but he persisted in repeating the offensive expressions and the Speaker immediately ordered the Sergeant‑at‑Arms to take him into custody. Mr. Domville apologized, for in his excitement he did not seem to know what he had been saying. On a subsequent day, whilst the doors were closed, Mr. Speaker stated frankly that he believed he had exceeded his power in ordering the hon. member to be taken into custody” (handwritten endnote in Bourinot’s personal copy of May, 6th ed., p. 330).

[357] Journals, March 22, 1927, pp. 326‑7.

[358] Standing Orders of the House of Commons, 1927, Standing Order 40(2).

[359] An interpretation of both these points was advanced in the same year by the Clerk of the House, Arthur Beauchesne, who wrote that a Member's persistent use of unparliamentary language (in addition to repetition or irrelevance) was sufficient reason for the Speaker to name that Member (Beauchesne, A., Rules and Forms of the House of Commons of Canada, 2nd ed., Toronto: Canada Law Book Company, Limited, 1927, p. 89). As to the procedure to be followed after naming, Beauchesne cited a British Standing Order: “... the Speaker shall forthwith put the question, on a motion being made ... ‘That such member be suspended from the service of the house’” (Beauchesne, 2nd ed., p. 92).

[360] Debates, March 24, 1942, pp. 1603‑7. The Minister apparently followed the procedure set out in Beauchesne (2nd ed., p. 92).

[361] Journals, July 4, 1944, p. 526; July 31, 1944, pp. 761‑2; May 25, 1956, pp. 625‑34; February 10, 1961, p. 238; March 16, 1962, pp. 241‑2; Debates, October 5, 1962, p. 233; Journals, June 19, 1964, pp. 456‑7. The July 4, 1944 incident is the only case of naming in which a Member was suspended for more than a day (seven days was the penalty). In the July 31, 1944 case, the Chairman of Committees of the Whole House ruled that certain remarks by a Member were unparliamentary and asked the Member to withdraw the words. The Member appealed the Chairman’s ruling to the House, Speaker Glen took the Chair, and the House confirmed the Chairman’s ruling. The Speaker asked the Member to withdraw until the House decided what it would do. In his absence, the House passed a motion to suspend the Member for the remainder of the sitting day. All this was done without the Member being “named”. See Debates, July 31, 1944, pp. 5677‑84. A similar incident occurred in 1956 when the Chairman of Committees of the Whole reported a Member to the House for not resuming his seat when directed to do so (Debates, May 25, 1956, pp. 4340‑52).

[362] The broadcasting of House proceedings began in October 1977. There was one naming in 1978 (Debates, May 16, 1978, pp. 5455‑8) and another in 1979 (Debates, March 21, 1979, pp. 4382‑5), while two took place in each of the years 1981 (Debates, February 23, 1981, pp. 7586‑8; December 3, 1981, pp. 13685‑7) and 1982 (Debates, May 19, 1982, pp. 17593‑6; June 16, 1982, pp. 18523‑5). Four incidents occurred in each of the years 1983 (Debates, March 24, 1983, pp. 24109‑10; May 20, 1983, pp. 25628‑31; October 19, 1983, pp. 28129‑31; October 31, 1983, pp. 28593‑4), 1984 (Debates, May 25, 1984, pp. 4078‑9; June 8, 1984, pp. 4482‑3; December 17, 1984, pp. 1292‑3; December 19, 1984, pp. 1363‑4) and 1985 (Debates, May 22, 1985, pp. 4966‑7; June 19, 1985, pp. 5973‑4; June 27, 1985, p. 6270; October 11, 1985, pp. 7589‑91). Five Members were named in 1986 (Debates, February 24, 1986, p. 10889; April 23, 1986, pp. 12568‑9; May 21, 1986, pp. 13478‑9; May 28, 1986, pp. 13713‑4; June 11, 1986, pp. 14242‑5).

[363] Beauchesne appeared to have anticipated this problem as early as 1927: “The vote on the motion that a member be suspended from the service of the House after having been named by the Speaker is a mere formality, as a rejection of the motion would assuredly be followed by an immediate resignation of the Speaker, a circumstance which his complete freedom from partisanship would render unwelcome even to the parties in opposition” (Beauchesne, 2nd ed., p. 92). Between 1944 and 1986, there were 19 instances when the Member named was suspended after a recorded division was taken on the motion. On several occasions, the offending Member withdrew from the Chamber after having been named, and the House took no further action (Debates, October 5, 1962, p. 233; February 23, 1981, pp. 7586‑8; May 20, 1983, pp. 25628‑31; May 25, 1984, pp. 4078‑9; December 19, 1984, p. 1364). On one occasion, the named Member withdrew, but in the absence of a formal motion for suspension, the Leader of the Opposition insisted that there be one so that his party could vote against it. The Prime Minister refused to move the motion. The House was left with no choice, however, when the named Member returned to the Chamber and resumed his seat. The Member left the Chamber when the suspension motion was finally put and agreed to on a recorded division (Debates, June 19, 1964, pp. 4489‑94, 4521‑5).

[364] Third Report of the Special Committee on the Reform of the House of Commons, p. 37, presented to the House on June 18, 1985 (Journals, p. 839).

[365] Third Report of the Special Committee on the Reform of the House of Commons, p. 38, presented to the House on June 18, 1985 (Journals, p. 839).

[366] Journals, February 6, 1986, pp. 1645‑6.

[367] Debates, February 11, 1986, p. 10668.

[368] Journals, February 13, 1986, p. 1710. These changes were made permanent on June 3, 1987 (Journals, p. 1016).

[369] Standing Order 11(2).

[370] Standing Order 11(1). Under Speaker Fraser (1986‑93), only one Member was named (Debates, March 24, 1993, pp. 17482, 17486‑8). During the Thirty‑Fifth Parliament (1994‑97), Speaker Parent named six Members, two on the same day (Debates, September 30, 1994, pp. 6386‑7; May 29, 1995, pp. 12900‑3; November 2, 1995, pp. 16144‑5; April 24, 1996, p. 1894; February 12, 1997, pp. 8016‑7), and during the Thirty‑Sixth Parliament (1997‑2000), he named four Members (Debates, October 1, 1997, pp. 334‑5; December 1, 1998, pp. 10730‑1; February 15, 2000, pp. 3573-4; April 5, 2000, pp. 5716-7). During the Thirty-Seventh Parliament (2001-04), one Member was named by the Deputy Speaker and Chairman of Committees of the Whole, Bob Kilger (Debates, December 6, 2002, pp. 2379-80). No Member was named during the Thirty‑Eighth Parliament (2004-05), during the Thirty-Ninth Parliament (2006-08) or during the First Session of the Fortieth Parliament (2008).

[371] Journals, October 11, 1985, p. 1094.

[372] Beauchesne, 4th ed., pp. 44‑5.

[373] Standing Order 11(1)(b). No Member has been physically removed from the Chamber after being named by the Speaker. There have been, however, instances where, at the request of the Speaker, a Member has been escorted from the Chamber by the Sergeant‑at‑Arms (Debates, July 4, 1944, p. 4514; May 19, 1982, p. 17596).

[374] Standing Order 11(2).

[375] See, for example, Debates, May 25, 1956, pp. 4340‑52; March 16, 1962, pp. 1888‑90. For further information, see Chapter 19, “Committees of the Whole House”. The Chair of any standing, special, joint or subcommittee may not take such action. The committee may only decide to report these offences to the House.

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