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House of Commons Procedure and Practice

Second Edition, 2009

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A number of rules and traditions are enforced by the Speaker in order to ensure that debate proceeds in a civil and orderly manner. A Member must be in his or her place to take part in any proceedings in the House and must address his or her remarks to the Chair.[311] In order to prevent unnecessary interruptions when a Member is speaking, no other Member is to cross between the Chair and the Member who is addressing the Chair.[312] The only interruption permitted is for a Member to raise a point of order.[313]

As nothing should come between the Speaker and the symbol of his or her authority (the Mace), no Member is to pass between the Chair and the Table, or between the Chair and the Mace when the Mace is being taken off the Table by the Sergeant‑at‑Arms.[314] A Member must sit down when the Chair Occupant rises.[315] When Members cross the floor of the House, or otherwise leave their places, they should bow to the Speaker. When the House adjourns, Members are expected to stay in their seats until the Speaker has left the Chair, although in practice most Members merely pause, whether standing or sitting, during the procession out of the Chamber.[316]

In the Chamber, Members may refresh themselves with glasses of water during debate, but the consumption of any other beverage or food is not allowed.[317] Smoking has never been permitted in the Chamber. The use of cellular phones or cameras of any kind is not permitted in the Chamber.[318] Since 1994, Members have been permitted to use laptop computers in the Chamber provided that their use does not cause disorder or interfere with the Member who has the floor.

The Speaker usually turns a blind eye to the many incidental interruptions, such as applause,[319] shouts of approval or disapproval, or heckling[320] that sometimes punctuates speeches, as long as disorder does not arise.[321] Members have been called to order for whistling and singing during another Member’s speech.[322] Excessive interruptions are swiftly curtailed, particularly when the Member speaking requests the assistance of the Chair.[323] Speakers have consistently attempted to discourage loud private conversations in the Chamber and have urged those wishing to carry on such exchanges to do so outside the Chamber.[324]

The House may elect to conduct its proceedings in camera. It may also order the withdrawal of “strangers” from the galleries of the House.[325]

*   Decorum During the Taking of a Vote

During the taking of a vote, no Member is permitted to enter, leave or walk across the Chamber or to make any noise or disturbance from the time the Speaker begins to put the question until the results of the vote are announced.[326] Members must be in their seats to vote and must remain seated until the result of the vote is announced.[327] Ordinarily, points of order and questions of privilege are postponed until after this announcement.[328] Members who enter the Chamber while the question is being put, or after it has been put, cannot have their votes counted.[329] As is the rule in the House during a recorded division, no Member may enter a Committee of the Whole while a division is in progress.[330]

On one occasion, the Speaker interrupted the calling of a vote to request that a leader of an opposition party remove a prop because of the disorder it was creating in the Chamber.[331] The Speaker has also asked Members standing in the middle aisle to take their seats or to leave the Chamber in order that the House might proceed with the taking of a vote.[332]

[311] Standing Order 17.

[312] Standing Order 16(2). The Speaker can reprimand Members who have distracted the Member speaking by passing between him or her and the Chair. See, for example, Debates, October 16, 1970, p. 219; January 25, 1984, p. 738; April 30, 1985, pp. 4269, 4273; August 26, 1987, p. 8431; September 27, 1991, p. 2825; May 17, 2006, p. 1495.

[313] Standing Order 16(2).

[314] Standing Order 16(3). See, for example, Debates, October 29, 1997, p. 1309.

[315] See, for example, Debates, February 24, 1993, p. 16404.

[316] Standing Order 16(4).

[317] See, for example, Debates, October 5, 1990, p. 13892; September 30, 1997, p. 320; November 3, 2005, p. 9509; June 4, 2008, pp. 6570‑1.

[318] See, for example, Debates, February 29, 2000, p. 4151; January 31, 2002, p. 8532; September 28, 2005, p. 8151; October 31, 2007, p. 624.

[319] In the past, it was the custom for Members to pound their desks to signify approval, but after the House proceedings began to be televised in 1977 and the public voiced its displeasure with this custom, Members took to applauding instead.

[320] On occasion, the Speaker has asked Members not to heckle (see, for example, Debates, March 7, 1994, p. 1887; April 5, 1995, p. 11552; May 17, 2000, pp. 6965-6), while in other instances, the Speaker has indicated that heckling is part of debate (see, for example, Debates, April 1, 1992, p. 9193).

[321] Speaker Parent admonished Members that their applause for their colleagues prevented others from hearing Members’ statements (Debates, February 19, 1998, p. 4156). Speaker Milliken consistently emphasized the need for Members to be able to hear what was being said in the Chamber. See, for example, Debates, October 5, 2006, p. 3719.

[322] Debates, October 10, 1990, pp. 14010‑1; September 30, 1994, p. 6373. On February 26, 1998, Suzanne Tremblay (Rimouski–Mitis) was prevented from speaking by the singing of the national anthem (Debates, p. 4503). The House Leader of the Bloc Québécois, Michel Gauthier, subsequently raised a point of order about the disorder (Debates, pp. 4509‑12). Speaker Parent ruled on March 16, 1998 (Debates, pp. 4902‑3), that the event had been out of order: “Our law guarantees the right of all duly elected members to speak: our practice guarantees their right to be heard. It is the duty of the Speaker to guarantee that those rights are respected by guaranteeing that the House’s rules and practices are respected.”

[323] See, for example, Debates, April 1, 1992, p. 9193; March 20, 1996, p. 986; October 5, 2006, pp. 3719-20.

[324] See, for example, Debates, February 9, 1994, p. 1147; June 10, 1994, p. 5169; November 28, 1994, pp. 8384‑5; February 9, 1995, p. 9446; June 16, 2006, p. 2496.

[325] For further information, see Chapter 6, “The Physical and Administrative Setting”.

[326] Standing Order 16(1). See, for example, Debates, June 22, 1988, pp. 16731‑2; April 9, 1990, p. 10390; November 27, 1991, p. 5458; October 28, 1997, p. 1258; June 9, 1998, p. 7884; December 7, 2006, p. 5813. For further information on the taking of divisions, see Chapter 12, “The Process of Debate”.

[327] See, for example, Journals, April 18, 1956, p. 416; Debates, February 16, 1976, p. 10986. Members are not required to be at their allocated desks during a division taken in a Committee of the Whole.

[328] Speakers have, from time to time, made exceptions to this practice. See, for example, Debates, October 4, 2006, p. 3664.

[329] See, for example, Debates, February 14, 1983, pp. 22822‑3; June 9, 1986, p. 14140; October 28, 2003, p. 8865. In doubtful cases, the Member is asked if she or he has heard the question, and the Chair accepts the word of the Member. See, for example, Debates, April 28, 1988, pp. 14942‑3; June 9, 1998, p. 7890. Occasional attempts to insist that Members be in the Chamber at some earlier point (e.g., before the Whips have taken their places) are summarily dismissed by the Chair. See, for example, Debates, June 5, 2003, p. 6930.

[330] For further information, see Chapter 19, “Committees of the Whole House”.

[331] Debates, June 22, 1995, p. 14466. Just prior to the taking of the vote on a government bill, Speaker Parent had asked Members to refrain from using props―in this instance, buttons decrying Members’ pension benefits (Debates, p. 14465).

[332] Debates, March 1, 1999, pp. 12212‑3.

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