Thank you, Mr. Chair and honourable members of the committee.
I am pleased to be here today to talk about parallel debating chambers. I understand that the former clerk of the United Kingdom House of Commons, my good friend Sir David Natzler, who retired recently, as you know, has also appeared to discuss that legislature's experience with its parallel chamber, Westminster Hall.
I would like to begin by reminding the committee of an updated briefing note that was initially submitted in 2016 during your study of initiatives towards a family-friendly House of Commons. This updated note was sent to you a few weeks ago, and I hope the information it offers will be helpful as you discuss the possibility of establishing a parallel debating chamber.
My presentation today is intended as an open discussion on establishing a second debating chamber parallel to the House of Commons, and on the implications for our practices and procedures. I would like to share a few thoughts on the issues being studied by the committee.
The work of the House is governed by practices and rules of procedure that structure each sitting, from government orders and private members' business to routine proceedings. These rules also apply to the House of Commons calendar, voting and many other areas.
Changes in House practices have often been influenced by the needs of members themselves. Major procedural reforms are often the result of a consensus among MPs.
Establishing a second chamber could open up some interesting opportunities for members, and I encourage you to study innovative recommendations and proposed options that, as Mr. Natzler explains so well in his testimony, could be new, unexpected and different from the operations of the House.
It is up to you, as a committee, to determine the scope of your study and the recommendations you wish to make. It will then be the responsibility of the entire House to decide whether to proceed with this reform.
Australia and the United Kingdom offer starting points for a look at how our own House of Commons could introduce a parallel chamber. Some elements could be copied and applied to our legislature. Others may not be as easy to apply since our practices and procedures differ in many respects from those of our counterparts. It is therefore a good idea to analyze how parallel chambers function elsewhere, but still take into account our own rules and way of doing things.
And so, if your committee intends to recommend a parallel chamber, you must determine how it will operate. This involves such issues as where the chamber would sit, what limitations would be placed on its activities and what decisions it could take.
There are many, more specific questions to be answered as well. In terms of logistics, where would members want this new chamber to be housed? How would the chamber be laid out? Would members debate face to face as they do in the House of Commons or would the room be arranged in a hemicycle?
The committee might also address some important questions concerning the debates themselves. For example, how would the work of the House, such as bills, the business of supply, and private members' business, be managed? Would the parallel chamber be empowered to make decisions? Similarly, what would be the quorum requirement? Would members be able to move motions and amendments during debates in the parallel chamber? How would the two chambers be allowed to communicate to ensure continuity in proceedings? What rules of debate would apply? Would they be similar to the rules of the House or more like those used in committee? What would be the hours of sitting for the parallel chamber? What would happen if there were a sitting in the second chamber and the bells rang for a vote in the House of Commons, or if it were time for oral questions or other activities that required all MPs to be present in the House?
These are a few of the procedural matters that the committee will want to consider. As you discuss these questions and their answers, you may find that they give rise to other complex issues.
And so, while I encourage the committee to pursue your study and report back to the House, I am tempted to recommend, if I may, that you use this report as a springboard and a starting point for the debate on procedure at the beginning of the next parliament. Your report would serve as a benchmark and its recommendations would be food for thought in the debate pursuant to Standing Order 51.
As always, your committee is the master of its own proceedings and is solely responsible for deciding on the next steps to take. If your committee, and subsequently the House, decides to proceed with a parallel chamber, it goes without saying that the administration, my procedural team and I will be pleased to provide our support. We will be ready to act on your recommendations and provide you with all the resources necessary to implement them.
I would be happy to answer any questions you may have.