House of Commons Procedure and Practice

Second Edition, 2009

House of Commons Procedure and Practice - 15. Special Debates - Take-note Debates


Since the early 1990s, a number of take-note motions have been debated in the House or in Committee of the Whole.[159] These debates solicit the views of Members on some aspect of government policy and allow Members to participate in policy development, making their views known before the government makes a decision.[160]

Standing committees studying the idea of take-note debates in 1993 and 1994 saw them as an alternative to emergency debates, which could only be authorized by the Speaker after a series of criteria had been met.[161] As most of the House’s time was spent considering legislation, take-note debates were viewed as an opportunity for Members to address national issues in a detailed manner. However, early proposals to establish a procedure for such debates were not adopted by the House.[162]

In the early years, the government normally gave notice of a motion to take note of some matter and called it for debate during Government Orders.[163] In other cases, the House adopted a special order scheduling a take-note debate on a specific issue for a specific time.[164]

In 2001, after experimenting with the Committee of the Whole format, the House adopted a new Standing Order governing the timetable and the holding of take‑note debates in Committees of the Whole.[165] Although the House uses this Standing Order for most of its take-note debates, it can still hold take-note debates during Government Orders by considering a government motion.[166]

Over the years, take-note debates have covered a wide range of domestic and international issues, including cruise missile testing, Canada’s commitment in Afghanistan, and the situation in the Canadian textile industry.[167]

*   Initiating Debate

The Standing Orders allow a Minister, after consultation with the other parties, to propose a motion setting out the terms of an upcoming take-note debate. The debate must be scheduled at least 48 hours in advance. The question on the motion is put immediately, without debate or amendment. On the day when the debate is scheduled, at the ordinary hour of daily adjournment, the House resolves itself into Committee of the Whole and the take-note debate begins.[168]

The House has occasionally agreed to set aside the 48 hours’ notice requirement before beginning a debate, as well as the provision that the motion setting out the terms of the debate must be moved by a Minister.[169] Though most take-note debates are held with the support of all parties, in one case the Official Opposition requested a recorded division on the motion to schedule the debate.[170]

*   Rules and Termination of Debate

Take-note debates held in Committees of the Whole are governed by the Standing Orders that are applicable to this type of committee.[171] There is no limit, therefore, to the number of times a Member may speak.[172] However, the Standing Orders provide for a few exceptions to the normal rules during take-note debates. First, Members’ speeches are limited to 10 minutes and may be followed by a period of not more than 10 minutes for questions and comments. In addition, the only receivable motion during a take-note debate is a motion “That the Committee do now rise”. Finally, and exceptionally in Committees of the Whole, the Speaker may preside over the Committee debate.

The debate ends when no Member rises to speak or after four hours of debate, whichever is earlier. The Committee of the Whole is immediately adjourned. The House does not proceed with the Adjournment Proceedings, but when the Committee rises, the House immediately adjourns to the next sitting day. The motion considered by the Committee, that the Committee take note of the theme of the debate, is not put to a vote. When the Committee rises following the debate, the motion is dropped from the Order Paper.

The House has frequently changed the rules and parameters for take-note debates by special order. For instance, it has often changed the starting time and end time for the debate.[173] In some cases, it has held the debate over more than one sitting day.[174] The House regularly orders that, during the take-note debate, no quorum calls, dilatory motions, or requests for unanimous consent be received by the Chair.[175] Finally, for debates in Committee of the Whole, it has on occasion allowed Members to share their speaking time with one of their colleagues.[176]

[159] The first experiments were carried out in 1992. The Journals of the House of Commons recorded these debates under the rubric “Special Debates” (Journals, March 11, 1992, pp. 1124, 1127-8; May 6, 1992, p. 1405; May 7, 1992, p. 1418; December 7, 1992, pp. 2291-2, 2300). During the last two debates, the question on the main motion before the House was put and carried (Journals, May 7, 1992, p. 1418; December 8, 1992, pp. 2306-8).

[160] See the Prime Minister’s comments on this matter (Debates, January 25, 1994, pp. 261‑2). A similar practice exists in the British House of Commons, where a Minister may move the motion “That this House do now adjourn” in order to initiate a general debate on a topic which does not require a decision by the House. At the conclusion of debate, the motion is normally withdrawn with the leave of the House. See May, T.E., Erskine May’s Treatise on The Law, Privileges, Proceedings and Usage of Parliament, 23rd ed., edited by Sir W. McKay, London: LexisNexis UK, 2004, pp. 325‑6.

[161] For further information on these criteria, see the section in this chapter entitled “Emergency Debates”.

[162] See the Eighty-First Report of the Standing Committee on House Management, pp. 19-20, presented to the House on April 1, 1993 (Journals, p. 2774) and the Thirtieth Report of the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs, presented to the House on June 17, 1994 (Journals, p. 610). Both documents contained a recommendation that a special debate be held on a specific issue if 100 Members requested it, and that no dilatory motions be permitted. The 1994 report set out measures aimed at limiting the length and number of such debates.

[163] See, for example, Journals, November 14, 1994, pp. 877, 879; March 11, 1996, pp. 75, 78.

[164] The debates often took place outside the normal sitting hours. See, for example, Journals, February 28, 1996, pp. 9-10; October 7, 1998, pp. 1132, 1135-6.

[165] Journals, April 24, 2001, p. 322; May 1, 2001, p. 351; September 20, 2001, p. 621; October 1, 2001, p. 671; October 15, 2001, p. 709.

[166] See, for example, Journals, October 28, 2002, p. 119.

[167] See, for example, Journals, January 26, 1994, p. 67 (cruise missile testing); December 14, 2004, p. 355 (situation in the textile industry); April 10, 2006, p. 42 (Canada’s commitment in Afghanistan). The House or Committees of the Whole may also hold take-note debates on standing committee reports. See, for example, Journals, December 12, 2006, p. 899. In addition, the Fourth Report of the Special Committee on the Modernization and Improvement of the Procedures of the House of Commons mentioned that parliamentary associations should be encouraged to make requests for take-note debates on issues of importance or issues on which they have reported to the House as a result of their activities. See par. 51 of the Report, presented to the House on June 12, 2003 (Journals, p. 915) and concurred in on September 18, 2003 (Journals, p. 995).

[168] Standing Order 53.1.

[169] See, for example, Debates, January 28, 2002, p. 8298; February 3, 2004, p. 71.

[170] See, for example, Debates, February 12, 2004, pp. 516-7. The Opposition House Leader objected to the debate being held on the same day as a supply day.

[171] Standing Orders 53.1, 100, 101, 102 and 103.

[172] In practice, however, the Chair Occupant will generally try to ensure that all Members wishing to speak are heard before inviting Members to speak again. See, for example, Debates, October 3, 2006, p. 3599.

[173] Journals, December 4, 1995, p. 2203; April 5, 2006, p. 23.

[174] For example, a take-note debate on bovine spongiform encephalopathy took place on October 7 and 12, 2004 (Journals, October 7, 2004, pp. 33-4, 58-9; October 12, 2004, pp. 81, 83).

[175] See, for example, Journals, May 1, 2006, p. 113.

[176] See, for example, Journals, October 2, 2006, p. 483.

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