During Private Members' Business on Wednesday, May 11, 1994, the hon. member for Restigouche-Chaleur raised a point of order concerning Standing Order 73 and Bill C-216, standing under his name on the Order Paper. At that time I stated that the terms of the standing order are unambiguous. It reads in part:
Immediately after the reading of the Order of the Day for the second reading of any public bill, a Minister of the Crown may propose a motion that the said bill be forthwith referred to a standing, special or legislative committee.
Clearly, the prerogatives of Standing Order 73 are for ministers of the Crown. For this reason, backbenchers cannot exercise them. Therefore the Chair cannot accept the hon. member's argument.
The hon. member raised a very interesting point by drawing a parallel between Standing Orders 68 and 73, definitely suggesting that an amendment to Standing Order 73 could give backbenchers the same prerogatives as the minister.
The Chair has taken this matter under advisement and is now ready to make a ruling.
Let me say at the outset that having looked at the text of Standing Order 73 and examined its context, the Chair has no doubt that the ministerial prerogative it grants applies only to government public bills. While I must concede that the phrase "any public bill" might lead to ambiguity, the Chair could not accept as appropriate the application of Standing Order 73 by a minister with reference to a private members' bill. In my view such an approach would have the practical effect of transforming a private members' initiative into an item of government business and so violate the spirit that underlies our standing orders and our practice, namely, the absolute separation of government business and private members' business.
However the suggestion of redrafting Standing Order 73 to grant to the sponsor of a private member's bill the same prerogatives with regard to that bill that a minister of the crown enjoys with regard to a government bill seems to merit further consideration. It would, as I see it, offer a means for making an item votable that would create an alternative to the existing procedure, an alternative which many members might welcome. I would therefore suggest with respect that, under the terms of this ongoing mandate to study House operations and procedure and notably, its existing responsibilities vis-à-vis Private Members' Business, the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs take this matter under consideration.
I wish to thank the hon. member for Restigouche-Chaleur for raising the subject and thus reminding the House of the obligation which all members have to ensure that their rights are maintained, while taking an innovative attitude to the evolution of these rights.