Colleagues, I am now ready to render a decision on the question of privilege raised by the hon. member for Sarnia—Lambton on December 4 concerning the draw for Private Members' Business.
On December 4 the hon. member for Sarnia—Lambton rose on a question of privilege regarding a random draw to establish an order of precedence for additional items on Private Members' Business. While ruling that the matter did not constitute a question of privilege, I undertook to return to the House after having examined the situation about which the hon. member complained.
Notice of the draw was given on Wednesday, in accordance with Standing Order 87(2), and the draw is scheduled to be held today at 1.15 p.m. The member pointed out that a draw had recently been held on Tuesday, November 25, 1997, when 14 names were drawn.
The subcommittee on private members' business is planning to meet next week to begin the process of deciding which of the members whose names were drawn on November 25 have items which should be selected as votable.
The hon. member for Sarnia—Lambton pointed out that there were already only two openings for additional votable items, one bill and one motion. By holding another draw at this time the subcommittee might be faced with having even more items from which to choose, namely nine bills instead of six. This, the member suggests, would put him at a disadvantage. In effect, he would have to compete against a slightly larger field of candidates for what was already a very small number of openings.
The member's concern is not at all unreasonable. At first blush it does appear that he might be disadvantaged by having to compete against three additional candidates for the single opening for another votable bill. However, if we look at the process in more detail, the Chair is of the opinion that the member will not really suffer any prejudice.
First, we should note that unlike the draw itself, which is entirely random, the selection of votable items is based on the merits of the bills or motions put forward by members. Indeed Standing Order 92(1) specifically states:
In making its selection, the Committee—shall allow the merits of the items alone to determine the selection—.
The merits of the member's bill are not directly affected by the number of bills being considered by the subcommittee.
It is nonetheless true that the subcommittee is, on occasion, unable to choose as many votable items as it might like because the votable items selected after a previous draw remain in the order of precedence on the order paper.
As some of you may recall, the subcommittee in the previous Parliament was put in the unenviable position of not having openings for additional votable items following a draw. Unfortunately, votable items chosen at the same time all tend to remain on the order paper for approximately the same length of time, after which several openings may be created within a short period of time when they are put to a vote.
This is because all votable items may be debated for up to three hours. How many openings for votable items exist at the time the subcommittee meets to select additional votable items is something over which none of us have any control.
Members should remember that although draws are usually held when there are only 15 or 16 items remaining in the order of precedence, the standing orders do not stipulate that a draw cannot be held sooner. Standing Order 87(2) provides that:
The Clerk of the House, acting on behalf of the Speaker, shall, when necessary during a Session, conduct a random draw to establish an order of precedence for not more than fifteen additional items of Private Members' Business—
It is thus possible to conduct a draw even though there are more than 15 items in the order of precedence, provided it is considered necessary to do so.
The principal reason for not holding draws more frequently than we normally do is in order to limit the number of meetings of the subcommittee on private members' business.
The order of precedence used to contain 20 items, but in the 34th Parliament this was increased to 30, the present number, precisely because the subcommittee at that time wanted it so.
The Chair would point out that the subcommittee is by no means obliged to consider any new items placed in the order of precedence following today's draw. The subcommittee may confine its selection to the items added after the November 25th draw. Furthermore, members whose names are drawn later today will have until the end of the day Tuesday to designate which of their bills or motions are to be added to the order of precedence, and the subcommittee has 10 sitting days following the draw before it must begin the process of selecting votable items.
Moreover, and there is no way to predict this, some members whose names are drawn may not wish to be considered by the subcommittee. They may prefer that their bills or motions not be designated votable.
The Chair would also draw members' attention to the fact that the subcommittee may select an item as votable at any time before it is taken up by the House. Thus, if an item is not selected as votable by the subcommittee next week, it may still be selected in February. There may be more openings for votable items at that time.
Finally, the member suggested that since this draw is being held to remedy a problem arising from the accidental exclusion from the previous draw of a member with a motion, then the proper course would have been to conduct a draw for motions only. However, that would have meant that the number of bills in the order of precedence would decrease faster than the number of motions, causing more bills to be drawn next time.
Since Standing Order 87(1)(b) stipulates:
—the draw shall be conducted so that there shall be in the order of precedence an equal number of motions and bills originating in the House of Commons—
The Chair is of the opinion that any draw should be held for both bills and motions.
I thank the hon. member for bringing this matter to the attention of the House. This may seem to some like a lot of quibbling over numbers and technical details, but it reminds us all that in attempting to remedy a wrong done to one member, we must not cause harm to another.
After considering the situation thoroughly, I am of the opinion that the draw will not adversely affect the hon. member for Sarnia—Lambton but will allow another member to have the opportunity to participate.