My colleagues, I am now prepared to rule on the question of privilege raised on Friday, November 28, 1997 by the hon. member for Prince George—Bulkley Valley and on Monday, December 1, 1997 by the hon. member for Markham.
The hon. member for Prince George—Bulkley Valley raised the matter of a premature disclosure and newspaper publication of part of the draft report of the Standing Committee on Finance concerning pre-budget consultations.
The hon. member for Markham also objected to the premature disclosure of the draft report and to the fact that some committee members had been denied access to the draft report until after the occurrence of the leak. The hon. member for Markham further claimed that the delay in providing him with the draft report interfered with his ability to carry out his functions as a committee member in examining the draft and preparing, if necessary, a dissenting opinion.
I thank the hon. members for bringing these matters to the attention of the House. I would also thank the other hon. members who raised points related to these questions for the Chair's consideration.
Let me begin by saying that the matter of the premature disclosure of committee documents is one which has been raised on a number of occasions in the past few weeks. The Chair has clearly set out the principle that committee matters should be raised on the floor of the House as a result of the presentation of a report from the committee concerning them.
There is a further principle related to premature disclosure of committee documents which Speaker Jerome used as the basis for a ruling given on October 22, 1975. No potential breach of in camera proceedings can be taken up without a specific allegation of misconduct directed against particular individuals.
I refer hon. members to citation 877(2) of Beauchesne's, 6th Edition, which clearly states that a complaint concerning premature publication of a committee report is incomplete without reference to the specific source responsible for the disclosure of the report. In consequence, I cannot find that this matter constitutes a prima facie breach of privilege at this time.
With respect to the issue concerning the preparation of dissenting opinions, Standing Order 108(1)(a), which gives committees the power to append dissenting or supplementary opinions, is permissive in nature. It is up to each committee to decide whether or not dissenting opinions should be appended to a report and the form that they should take. However, when a committee has taken the decision to permit the appending of such opinions, it is only reasonable that that decision should be reflected in its work plan. Any adjustments to that work plan must be made in a spirit of fairness to all members of the committee. The majority must allow reasonable time for dissenting opinions to be submitted.
Concerning the question of access to draft material by members of a committee, I once again remind members that committees are masters of their own affairs. As such they are free to order their proceedings as they see fit. At the same time, the Chair is troubled by the fact that some members may feel unable to adequately perform their parliamentary duties.
Drafts of committee documents, whether they are prepared by government members or opposition members, should always be made equally accessible to all members. I know that all members value the collegial nature of the work that is carried out by committees of this House. I remind the committee chairs that good working relations require that all members be able to present their views and contribute appropriately to the committee process.
I would like to thank the hon. members for Prince George—Bulkley Valley and Markham for having brought these matters to the attention of the House.