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House of Commons Procedure and Practice

Second Edition, 2009

 
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A point of order is an intervention by a Member who believes that the rules or customary procedures of the House have been incorrectly applied or overlooked during the proceedings. Members may rise on points of order to bring to the attention of the Chair any breach of the relevance or repetition rules, unparliamentary remarks, or a lack of quorum.[263] They are able to do so at virtually any time in the proceedings, provided that the point of order is raised and concisely argued[264] as soon as the irregularity occurs.[265] Points of order respecting procedure must be raised promptly and before the question has passed to a stage at which the objection would be out of place. As a point of order concerns the interpretation of the rules of procedure, it is the responsibility of the Speaker to determine its merits and to resolve the issue.[266]

Although Members frequently rise claiming a point of order, genuine points of order rarely occur. Indeed, points of order are often used by Members in attempts to gain the floor to participate in debate; in such cases, the Speaker will not allow the Member intervening to continue.[267] One point of order must be disposed of before another one is raised. Should a point of order be raised during consideration of a question of privilege, the point of order will usually be given precedence until the Chair has determined whether or not a rule has been breached and the matter settled.[268] The Speaker has, on occasion, refused to hear a point of order during the consideration of a question of privilege.[269] The necessity to control disorder either on the floor or in the galleries would oblige the Speaker to put aside a point of order temporarily.

*   Raising a Point of Order

Any Member can interrupt a Member who has the floor of the House during debate and bring to the Chair’s attention a procedural irregularity the moment it occurs, in which case the Member who has the floor resumes his or her seat until the matter is resolved or disposed of.[270] When recognized on a point of order, a Member should only state which Standing Order or practice he or she considers to have been breached; if this is not done, the Speaker may request that the Member do so.

Under the Standing Orders, a brief debate on the point of order is possible at the Speaker’s discretion.[271] This rule was carried over at Confederation from the Legislative Assembly of the Province of Canada.[272] Many Members interpreted the rule to mean that any question of order was to be discussed before the Speaker ruled. In fact, the practice and rule did not coincide until 1906, when the rule was amended to legitimize the custom of allowing debate on points of order at the discretion of the Speaker.[273] In the early 1980s, there were increasingly prolonged discussions on points of order, and Chair Occupants felt compelled to intervene and sometimes to refuse to recognize Members on points of order.[274] Despite pressure from Members, successive Speakers relied more and more on the literal meaning of the Standing Order and, while still allowing debates on points of order, limited these considerably. When a point of order is raised during a speech, the Speaker will decide whether the intervention is included in the amount of time allotted to that particular stage of debate.[275]

There are numerous exceptions to the rule that a point of order must be raised at the moment a procedural irregularity occurs. Points of order arising out of the debate on the adjournment motion (Adjournment Proceedings) are taken up on the next sitting day.[276]

Points of order arising out of Question Period or the time set aside for Statements by Members are usually delayed until after Question Period.[277] From Confederation until 1975, it was the practice of the House that points of order were raised as soon as the procedural irregularities on which they were based occurred, including during Question Period.[278] In 1975, however, as part of a reform in the sequencing of House business and the conduct of Question Period, the House agreed that points of order should not be raised during Question Period.[279] Although the decision of the House in this regard resulted only in a provisional understanding, successive Speakers upheld its spirit, despite strong objections from Members, even after it ceased to be in effect in October 1977, when the House declined to make certain sessional orders permanent. The Speaker nevertheless continued this new practice.[280] The condition was also applied, in 1982, to the time for Statements by Members.[281] The practice was finally codified in the Standing Orders in 1986.[282] If a Member rises on a point of order during Statements by Members or Question Period, the Speaker advises that he will hear the Member after Question Period.[283]

Any other matter being raised as a point of order should be brought to the Speaker’s attention after Routine Proceedings (held at 10:00 a.m. on Tuesday and Thursday, at 3:00 p.m. on Monday and Wednesday, and at noon on Friday),[284] although the Speaker now typically invites Members to raise such points of order following Question Period.

A Member may not direct remarks to the House or engage in debate by raising a matter under the guise of a point of order.[285] A Member may not rise on a point of order to move the adjournment of the House,[286] the adjournment of debate, or the extension of the sitting[287] or to proceed to the Orders of the Day.[288] In addition, Members may not rise on a point of order during a quorum count.[289] Despite the rule that Members may not rise on a point of order to move a substantive motion,[290] Members frequently rise on points of order to seek the unanimous consent of the House to move such a motion.[291] During Routine Proceedings, Members have been permitted to rise on points of order to ask about the status of a question on the Order Paper[292] or of a notice of motion for the production of papers.[293] Members have also risen on points of order to seek unanimous consent to extend the time for questions and comments following a speech[294] or to proceed to Private Members’ Business before the designated hour.[295]

A Minister may rise on a point of order at any time during a sitting to table a notice of a ways and means motion, although the Chair has suggested that such notices should be tabled at the end of Government Orders and before the start of Private Members’ Business hour, or after a Member has resumed his or her seat and before another Member is recognized during debate.[296] A Minister may also rise on a point of order at any time during the proceedings to give oral notice of a time allocation[297] or closure[298] motion.

A point of order may be raised after debate has concluded but before the Speaker puts the question, or after the vote has been taken, but a Member may not interrupt the Speaker when he or she is putting the question to the House.[299] There have been occasions when the Chair was obliged to refuse points of order either after calling in the Members for a vote or before declaring the result of the division.[300] If attention is called to a breach of order during the course of a division, the division is completed before the point of order is dealt with.[301] Points of order related to a vote are typically raised immediately after the announcement of the result of the vote.[302]

*   Ruling on a Point of Order

The Speaker has the duty to preserve order and decorum and to decide any matter of procedure that may arise.[303] The Chair is bound to call the attention of the House to an irregularity in debate or procedure immediately, without waiting for the intervention of a Member. In addition, the Speaker decides questions of order once they have arisen and not in anticipation. Though raised on a point of order, hypothetical queries on procedure cannot be addressed to the Speaker nor may constitutional questions or questions of law.[304]

When a point of order is raised, the Speaker attempts to rule on the matter immediately. However, if necessary, the Speaker may take the matter under advisement and come back to the House later with a formal ruling.[305] In doubtful cases, the Speaker may also allow discussion on the point of order before coming to a decision but the comments must be strictly relevant to the point raised.[306] When a decision on a question of order is reached, the Speaker supports it with quotations from the Standing Orders or other authorities, or simply by citing the number of the applicable Standing Order.[307] Once the decision is rendered, the matter is no longer open to debate or discussion and the ruling may not be appealed to the House.[308] A Member may not rise on a point of order to discuss a matter which the Speaker has already ruled was not a question of privilege[309] or to raise a matter as a question of privilege after the Speaker has ruled that it was not a point of order.[310]



[263] See, for example, Debates, October 20, 2006, p. 4062.

[264] Redlich, J., The Procedure of the House of Commons: A Study of its History and Present Form, Vol. II, translated by A.E. Steinthal, New York: AMS Press, 1969 (reprint of 1908 ed.), p. 146.

[265] See Speaker Marcil’s ruling, Journals, February 20, 1911, p. 190.

[266] Standing Order 10.

[267] See, for example, Debates, November 17, 1994, p. 7951; October 23, 1997, p. 1031; February 16, 1998, p. 3947; March 16, 1999, p. 12913; November 5, 2003, pp. 9194-5.

[268] See, for example, Debates, April 27, 1989, p. 1003; June 4, 1992, p. 11372; March 19, 2002, p. 9836.

[269] See, for example, Debates, March 23, 1999, p. 13372; June 3, 2002, p. 12020.

[270] Standing Order 19. In the early years after Confederation, the rule was not specific about who called Members to order and, as a result, Members called each other to order (see, for example, Debates, March 23, 1868, pp. 387‑8; March 7, 1878, p. 808), but the practice eventually evolved to the less direct method of Members raising points of order for decision by the Chair. It was not until 1925 that a special committee recognized that “This rule seems to state that a member may be called to order by another member …” (Journals, May 29, 1925, p. 353). The committee recommended clarification of the rule. The rule was eventually changed in 1927 to its present form (Journals, March 22, 1927, pp. 326-7).

[271] Standing Order 19.

[272] The rule read as follows: “A Member called to Order shall sit down, but may afterwards explain. The House, if appealed to, shall decide on the case, but without debate. If there be no appeal, the decision of the Chair shall be final” (Rules, Orders and Forms of Proceeding of the House of Commons of Canada, 1868, Rule No. 12).

[273] Debates, July 9, 1906, cols. 7465‑7.

[274] See, for example, Debates, February 11, 1982, pp. 14899‑904; February 12, 1982, pp. 14969‑70; March 2, 1982, pp. 15532‑9; February 14, 1983, p. 22816; October 27, 1983, pp. 28361‑77. In one instance, a Member was named and ejected from the House over the issue (Debates, October 31, 1983, pp. 28591‑4).

[275] See, for example, Debates, December 8, 1995, p. 17446; March 16, 1999, p. 12913.

[276] For further information on points of order during the Adjournment Proceedings, see Chapter 11, “Questions”.

[277] Standing Order 47.

[278] See, for example, Debates, January 14, 1971, p. 2401.

[279] See Items 3, 4 and 5 of the Second Report of the Standing Committee on Procedure and Organization, presented to the House on March 14, 1975 (Journals, p. 373), and concurred in on March 24, 1975 (Journals, p. 399). See also Speaker Jerome’s ruling (Journals, April 14, 1975, pp. 439‑41).

[280] See, for example, Debates, December 7, 1977, pp. 1649‑52; December 7, 1979, pp. 2134‑5.

[281] See, for example, Debates, April 19, 1983, pp. 24624‑6.

[282] Journals, February 6, 1986, p. 1648; February 13, 1986, p. 1710.

[283] See, for example, Debates, April 4, 1989, p. 32; June 19, 1992, pp. 12437, 12448‑9; February 9, 1993, p. 15637.

[284] Standing Order 47.

[285] See, for example, Debates, March 16, 1999, p. 12913; April 30, 1999, p. 14552; May 3, 1999, p. 14628; May 4, 1999, p. 14680; December 12, 2006, p. 5964.

[286] See, for example, Debates, December 4, 1992, p. 14633; June 21, 1994, p. 5698.

[287] See, for example, Debates, February 14, 1969, p. 5560; March 9, 1993, p. 16747. This prohibition does not apply to a Minister rising on a point of order to propose a motion pursuant to Standing Order 53.1. See, for example, Debates, June 8, 2007, p. 10373. For further information on extending a sitting, see Chapter 9, “Sittings of the House”. For further information on the moving of dilatory motions, see Chapter 12, “The Process of Debate”.

[288] See, for example, Debates, June 15, 1983, pp. 26394‑5.

[289] See, for example, Debates, May 5, 1982, p. 17067.

[290] See, for example, Debates, September 24, 1998, p. 8350.

[291] See, for example, Debates, May 4, 1999, p. 14689; April 6, 2005, p. 4753.

[292] See, for example, Debates, May 3, 1999, p. 14603; November 23, 2005, p. 10048.

[293] See, for example, Debates, March 24, 1999, p. 13449; April 24, 2002, p. 10774.

[294] See, for example, Debates, May 3, 1999, p. 14608; November 3, 2004, p. 1182.

[295] See, for example, Debates, April 30, 1999, p. 14550; May 31, 2005, pp. 6430-1.

[296] Debates, September 11, 1985, p. 6498.

[297] See, for example, Debates, June 19, 1992, pp. 12472‑3; March 5, 1999, p. 12508; April 23, 1999, p. 14287; June 11, 2007, p. 10439.

[298] See, for example, Debates, October 25, 1989, p. 5096; June 19, 1995, p. 14150; March 13, 1996, p. 666; June 22, 2005, p. 7646.

[299] See, for example, Debates, November 26, 1996, p. 6770.

[300] See, for example, Debates, February 19, 1929, pp. 266‑7; December 7, 1945, pp. 3133‑4; April 4, 1946, pp. 572‑3; April 12, 1962, p. 2909. Speakers have occasionally relaxed the application of this rule. See, for example, Debates, October 18, 2001, p. 6312; October 4, 2006, p. 3664.

[301] Beauchesne, 4th ed., p. 53.

[302] Points of order have sometimes been resolved prior to the announcement of the result of the vote. See, for example, Debates, June 20, 1995, pp. 14259‑60; October 4, 2006, p. 3664. Members who were unable to be in the Chamber for a vote sometimes take the opportunity to rise on points of order after the vote to explain how they would have voted had they been present. See, for example, Debates, October 29, 1991, p. 4176; February 23, 1994, p. 1729; November 4, 1997, p. 1557. For further information, see Chapter 12, “The Process of Debate”.

[303] Standing Order 10.

[304] See, for example, Journals, July 8, 1969, pp. 1319‑20; April 12, 2005, p. 4953.

[305] See, for example, Debates, October 4, 1995, pp. 15219‑21; October 23, 1995, pp. 15671-2; September 20, 2006, p. 3028; October 18, 2006, pp. 3933-4.

[306] Standing Order 19.

[307] Standing Order 10. See, for example, Debates, February 10, 1998, pp. 3647-8; February 12, 1998, pp. 3765‑6; May 27, 1998, pp. 7276‑7, 7283; October 24, 2002, pp. 828‑9.

[308] Standing Order 10. While it has never been the practice to debate Speakers’ rulings on matters of order, it was possible until 1965 for any Member who disagreed with a Speaker’s decision to appeal it immediately to the House. For further information, see Chapter 7, “The Speaker and Other Presiding Officers of the House”.

[309] See, for example, Debates, May 7, 1998, pp. 6674‑6. Speakers have sometimes allowed points of order from Members seeking clarification of rulings on questions of privilege. See, for example, Debates, May 11, 2005, p. 5934.

[310] See, for example, Debates, October 3, 1995, p. 15186.

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