Mr. Speaker, I rise on a question of privilege today because I feel my privileges as a member of Parliament were severely breached during committee proceedings last night.
As the House knows, the Standing Committee on Human Rights and the Status of Disabled Persons was considering, clause by clause, Bill C-64, an act respecting employment equity. During debate on clause by clause my first amendment was ruled inadmissible by the chairman, the hon. member for Winnipeg North, on the grounds that it was only available in English.
As you know, Mr. Speaker, the rules of Parliament state that a member may move an amendment in the language of his or her choice. This happens all the time. No notice is required and the onus is on the chairman and the clerk of the committee to provide the translation to members of the committee if needed.
The chairman's ruling was immediately challenged by members of my party but overruled by the rest of the committee. In supporting a ruling on a matter over which the committee had no authority in the first place, the committee breached my right as a member of Parliament to move amendments to a very significant piece of legislation.
I approached the chairman and the clerk to try to obtain an explanation of this obvious breach of my privilege. In a questionable justification of his ruling, the chairman explained his actions in an inconsistent manner, ruling my amendments out of order because I was "not a member in good standing of the committee", which the clerk immediately refuted. I was a member in good standing.
The chairman's subsequent behaviour was reprehensible. Legitimate motions were tabled and immediately ruled out of order. Debate was cut off. The questioning of witnesses was curbed. The list goes on and on. On more than one occasion we were put in a position to challenge the ruling of the chairman. I believe the record, upon review, will speak for itself.
As an example, the committee had agreed to adjourn at midnight. I brought to the attention of the chair that midnight had come and gone and he continued with the next motion. At the end of that motion, which was voted and carried by the government side, I again brought it up that it was past midnight, according to our previous agreement, and they passed a motion without a vote.
I recognize that committees are masters of their own destiny, but democracy must prevail. I will quote from Speaker Fraser in his ruling of 1987, which states:
It is essential to our democratic system that controversial issues should be debated at reasonable length so that every reasonable opportunity shall be available to hear the arguments pro and con and that reasonable delaying tactics should be permissible to enable opponents of a measure to enlist public support for their point of view.
Despite this, the members of the committee then proceeded to move time allocation, restricting the debate to five minutes per clause, and this after two hours of committee proceedings. Five total minutes was given for all parties on this clause by clause.
This is totally unacceptable. There were clauses last night on which not only was I not allowed to move an amendment, I was not allowed to utter one word of debate. I cannot do my job as a member of Parliament if I am not allowed to move amendments and debate amendments. It is just absolutely unacceptable. I do not know what I can do. I am a bit beside myself.
In his conduct last night, the chairman of the committee, the hon. member for Winnipeg North, overstepped his authority.
I ask, Mr. Speaker, that you rule on this very important matter and you suspend clause by clause consideration until such time as you do rule, because the committee sits as we speak. I am at your mercy. I know not what to do. I cannot speak and I cannot move amendments. I give up.