My colleagues, I am now prepared to rule on the question of privilege raised on Tuesday, November 25, 1997 by the hon. member for Winnipeg North Centre.
The hon. member first raised the matter on October 1, 1997, at which time she contended that a preliminary draft report of the Standing Committee on Industry was divulged in the last Parliament. In the ruling which I delivered on October 9, 1997, I indicated that while this was a matter of considerable importance, it did not constitute a breach of privilege.
On Tuesday, November 25 the hon. member for Winnipeg North Centre presented a letter from House of Commons legal counsel to officials at the Department of Industry dated August 25, 1997. That letter reiterated the principle that pursuant to the law of parliamentary privilege, the House of Commons and its committees are masters of their own proceedings.
The hon. member also suggested that rules for the handling of committee documents might be subject to review by the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs.
I would like to thank the hon. member for providing the Chair with a copy of this document and for her continued concern that the proprieties of this House and its committees be observed. I would also like to thank the government House leader and the hon. member for Regina—Lumsden—Lake Centre for their interventions.
First, I will repeat what I stated in my ruling of October 9. It is clear both from the authorities and from earlier Speakers' rulings that a breach of privilege in one Parliament may indeed be punished by another.
I have carefully reviewed the documents submitted by the hon. member for Winnipeg North Centre as well as the submissions made when this issue was first brought before the House. I have also examined the procedural arguments with some considerable attention.
The hon. member made reference to citation 57 of Beauchesne's 6th edition. This citation states:
The House has in the past regarded the publication of the proceedings or reports of committees sitting in camera to be a breach of privilege. Unless, however, a specific charge is made against an individual allegedly responsible, the Speaker has refused to find a prima facie case.
Parliamentary procedure as set out in this citation and as reflected in our practice is quite clear. Reports adopted by committees must be tabled in this House prior to their divulgation or publication. Similarly, what is said and done at an in camera meeting must remain confidential.
With respect to the manner in which committees deal with other aspects of their business, I will refer again to my ruling of October 9, 1997. Committees have not only the right but also the responsibility to manage their own affairs. They must be very clear about how they expect draft reports and other confidential material to be treated. As well, they must ensure that everyone present at such meetings, including departmental officials, is aware of their obligation to respect the confidentiality of the proceedings.
The fact remains however that these are matters which fall within the responsibilities of each committee. If irregularities occur concerning their proceedings or reports, committees may decide to report to the House on these matters. It is on the basis of such a report that the House will then give consideration to the situation.
After careful review, I am convinced that no new material element is brought forward in the case which the hon. member presented during her submission of November 25, 1997. I would like to thank the hon. member for Winnipeg North Centre and other members who contributed to this question.