Yes, Mr. Speaker.
This morning the member for Hamilton-Wentworth raised a question of privilege concerning the operation of the Standing Committee on Justice and Legal Affairs. His allegation is that the committee has misinterpreted Standing Order 108(2) and in so doing has violated his rights as a member of Parliament.
By a motion on report of the subcommittee on procedures, our steering committee, the committee on justice and legal affairs which I chair agreed unanimously to embark on a study of the subject matter of what has now become Bill C-46 which is presently before the House at second reading. It is an act to amend the Criminal Code with respect to the production of records in sexual offence proceedings.
The member objects and claims his privileges have been breached. I did not have notice of his objection this morning but I do have the blues now. From the blues, as near as I can tell his allegations rest on the following: first, he has expressed grave reservations about the subject matter of the bill and second, he wants to stay in the House during the debate and at the same time wants to put questions during committee hearings. He says that he cannot ask those questions until after he has heard the debate.
In support of his position he argues that nothing in Standing Order 108(2) gives us the authority to discuss, deliberate or consider the subject matter of a bill before the House. He also argues what I would suggest is a tautology, that the bill is the subject matter and the subject matter is the bill, et cetera, forever in a circle.
In response I would argue that in June 1985 the McGrath report was published. It suggested that committees of the House of Commons should have more power. As a result Standing Order 108(2) was enacted. It is a successful attempt to give committees more power by allowing them to very much control the process as well as the subject matter that is studied. In addition to studying matters referred to them by the House, committees on their own initiative can undertake other endeavours which are thought important.
In this case, the agenda is very full. The justice committee has probably the busiest agenda of any committee in the House. We wanted to take a look at policy initiatives which are now embodied in Bill C-46 and are the subject matter which we resolved to study as a priority. Because the committee is busy its work had to be prioritized. One priority was Bill C-55 dealing with dangerous offenders. It was reported last week. The committee then wanted to study Bill C-46 which it suspected was coming or knew was coming.
A great deal of attention has been paid to the subject matter of Bill C-46 in terms of letters and public response. As a committee, all parties, including the one that is heckling me right now, unanimously agreed that the subject matter of this bill would be a high priority.
Section 108(1)(a) gives us the authority to sit while the House sits. I want to point that out because that is one of the objections that the member raises.
Section 108(2) empowers committees to study and report on all matters relating to the mandate-and I am paraphrasing-of the departments of government which are assigned to it and that includes the Department of Justice which is the primary source of the legislative agenda at this time.
In the commentaries in the Annotated Standing Orders at page 324 the author states:
Standing committees are now empowered by the House to inquire into and report on all aspects of the departments assigned to them-the Standing Order includes a blanket reference permitting the standing committee to examine any matter relating to the department as it deems necessary and worthwhile.
We are doing exactly that.
With the end of term approaching and knowing that the agenda would be very full, members of the committee really cannot afford any down time and that is why we prioritize our work.
The policy initiatives in Bill C-46 are a subject matter that we resolved unanimously to study as a priority. There are precedents for this. The finance committee was the first committee to do this during the last Parliament and our committee has done this with Bills C-45 and C-110. As well, I understand the transport committee has studied some subject matter in the same way.
The hon. member's specific argument that he wants to hear the debate and then go to committee and question people can be responded to this way. First, the blues are available to him almost immediately. I had the blues of his motion by noon today. Hansard is available to him. The committee briefs are public and are available to him. Witness lists are public and are available to him. Department officials and briefings are available as they have been to all members who require them. All of these could help him prepare for committee work.
I would suggest that section 108(2) gives committee members the power to do what we are doing. Really, all we are doing is controlling our own destiny and determining what work we will do at what priority.
I would like to thank the Deputy Speaker for giving me notice of this motion and allowing me the opportunity to speak.