House of Commons Procedure and Practice

Second Edition, 2009

House of Commons Procedure and Practice - 15. Special Debates - Standing Orders and Procedure


The Standing Orders provide for a one‑day special debate on the Standing Orders and procedures of the House and its committees early in each Parliament.[54] The debate takes place on a day designated by a Minister between the 60th and 90th sitting day of the first session of a Parliament. If no day is designated, the debate is held on the 90th sitting day.[55]

Standing Order 51 was agreed to by the House in 1982 on the recommendation of the Special Committee on Standing Orders and Procedure, which believed an opportunity should be provided for Members to “express their views concerning the procedures and Standing Orders of the House”.[56] Since its adoption, however, the rule has been suspended several times, as Members have been given other forums to debate procedural matters.

The first opportunity for a debate under this Standing Order came at the beginning of the Thirty-Third Parliament in 1984. However, well before the required 60th sitting day of the first session had been reached, the House unanimously agreed to suspend the Standing Order, presumably because debate to establish a special committee to study reform of the House had recently taken place.[57] The First Sessions of the Thirty‑Fourth (1988) and Fortieth Parliaments (2008) ended after only 11 and 13 sitting days respectively, thereby pre‑empting the use of the Standing Order. The rule was again suspended in the Thirty-Fifth Parliament (1994), when the House debated several amendments to the Standing Orders early in the session,[58] and in the Thirty-Seventh Parliament (2001), when the House established a special committee to study the modernization and improvement of the Standing Orders.[59] In addition, a Special Order was adopted early in the Thirty-Ninth Parliament (2006) deeming the debate pursuant to the Standing Order to have taken place.[60]

There have only been two debates under this Standing Order. The first took place in the Thirty-Sixth Parliament (1998),[61] and the second in the Thirty-Eighth Parliament (2005).[62] In both cases, Members were given an opportunity to discuss the procedures of the House and its committees on a day designated by the Government House Leader.

*   Rules of Debate

Pursuant to the Standing Orders, the motion before the House in this type of debate is: “That this House take note of the Standing Orders and procedure of the House and its Committees”. Debate on this motion takes precedence over all other business and lasts a maximum of one sitting day. The proceedings on the motion expire when the debate has concluded or at the ordinary hour of daily adjournment, whichever comes first.[63] The motion is deemed to have been proposed[64] and, to encourage participation, no Member may speak more than once or longer than 10 minutes.[65] A questions and comments period of not more than five minutes may follow each speech.[66]

[54] Standing Order 51.

[55] Standing Order 51(1). In the First Session of the Thirty‑Sixth Parliament (1997‑99) and of the Thirty-Eighth Parliament (2004-05), the day was designated by the Government House Leader (Debates, March 26, 1998, p. 5422; April 2, 1998, p. 5724; April 7, 2005, p. 4818). In both cases, the order was placed on the Order Paper under Orders of the Day before Government Orders (Order Paper and Notice Paper, April 21, 1998, p. 13; April 11, 2005, p. 17).

[56] Journals, November 5, 1982, p. 5328; November 29, 1982, p. 5400; Special Committee on Standing Orders and Procedure, Minutes of Proceedings and Evidence, November 4, 1982, Issue No. 7, p. 23.

[57] Journals, December 5, 1984, pp. 153‑4; December 7, 1984, p. 164.

[58] Journals, February 7, 1994, pp. 112-20.

[59] Journals, March 15, 2001, pp. 175-6. In addition to the debate on the motion establishing the special committee (Journals, March 21, 2001, pp. 208-9), on May 1, 2001, there was an additional debate on the special committee’s First Report, to “take note of proposals to modernize the Standing Orders” (Journals, p. 351). During the Second Session of this same Parliament, Members once again had an opportunity to debate ways of modernizing the Standing Orders under Government Orders; the debate informed the work of the special committee which was struck a few days later to hold a new round of discussions (Journals, November 20, 2002, p. 210; November 21, 2002, p. 215; November 22, 2002, p. 217; November 28, 2002, p. 236).

[60] Journals, November 9, 2006, pp. 672-3.

[61] Journals, April 21, 1998, pp. 681-2. This was the 89th sitting day of the session, one day before the debate would have been held automatically. Debate on the motion concluded at the end of the time provided for Government Orders, after which the House proceeded to the taking of deferred divisions and then to Private Members’ Business (Journals, pp. 682-9).

[62] Journals, April 11, 2005, pp. 599, 601-2, 604-5. The debate, which was held on a Monday, was relatively brief, as the House considered a motion to concur in a committee report for three hours during Routine Proceedings, which used up the time that might have been spent on the debate on the Standing Orders and procedures (Journals, pp. 601-2). The debate ended, however, at the ordinary hour of daily adjournment, after which the Adjournment Proceedings were held.

[63] Standing Order 51(1) and (2).

[64] Standing Order 51(1). See, for example, Journals, April 11, 2005, p. 599. In 1998, the Government House Leader was the first person recognized on debate (Debates, April 21, 1998, pp. 5863‑4). In 2005, the first person recognized was the Chair of the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs (Debates, April 11, 2005, pp. 4852-4).

[65] Standing Order 51(3). On April 20, 1998, however, a Special Order was adopted by unanimous consent allowing the first spokesperson for each recognized party to speak for a maximum of 20 minutes (Journals, April 20, 1998, p. 677).

[66] Standing Order 43(1)(c).

Top of Page