Colleagues, I am now ready to rule on the question of privilege raised by the hon. member for Hamilton-Wentworth on Tuesday, March 11, 1997 concerning the scheduling of the consideration of the subject matter of Bill C-46, an act to amend the Criminal Code (production of records in sexual offence proceedings), by the Standing Committee on Justice and Legal Affairs.
I thank the hon. member for Windsor-St. Clair, the hon. member for Berthier-Montcalm, the hon. member for Winnipeg Transcona, and the hon. member for North Vancouver for their comments in this matter.
In his submission, the hon. member for Hamilton-Wentworth argued that his rights as a member of Parliament had been breached by the Standing Committee on Justice and Legal Affairs. He claimed that the committee had misinterpreted and misused Standing Order 108(2) by scheduling that morning a meeting to consider the subject matter of Bill C-46 when he believed that second reading debate on the bill was to resume in the House that same afternoon.
He maintained that in order to participate in a more relevant manner in the committee's meeting, it was important for him to be present in the House that afternoon for the second reading debate on the bill. Thus he claimed that his rights and privileges to appear and participate in the committee's deliberations had been denied.
As members are well aware, important procedural reforms have evolved from the recommendations contained in the report of the Special Committee on Reform of the House of Commons, commonly referred to as the McGrath Report, which was tabled in June 1985. One of the main features of the report was its proposal
to empower committees to initiate their own studies without any specific order of reference from the House.
This proposal resulted in what we now know as Standing Order 108(2), which confers upon standing committees a wide-ranging authority to examine and report on all relevant matters pertaining to the mandate, management, organization or operation of specified departments. It is pursuant to this Standing Order that the Standing Committee on Justice and Legal Affairs chose to undertake a study of the subject-matter of Bill C-46.
As indicated by the justice committee chair, the member for Windsor-St. Clair, this course of action has been followed by other committees. For example, the Standing Committee on Finance decided in January 1990 to undertake consideration of the subject matter of Bill C-52, an act to amend the Income Tax Act and related acts. More recently the justice committee initiated an examination of the subject matter of Bill C-45, an act to amend the Criminal Code (judicial review of parole ineligibility). It is interesting to note that in both these cases the committees were holding meetings on the subject matter of these bills while the House was either proceeding with or resuming second reading debate of the same bills.
Committees are free to set their own priorities, establish work plans and schedule their business. As the Speaker, it is not my role to get involved in such committee matters and I would refrain from doing so, as have my predecessors. However, as the hon. member for Winnipeg Transcona stated that "the spirit of the McGrath reform was that things would not be happening simultaneously", perhaps committees could keep this in mind when planning their work.
I would also like to remind all members that the daily publication, Projected Order of Business, provides them with the listing of all business expected, and I repeat expected, to be taken up on a particular day as well as some days to come. However, as you know, the government is not bound by this publication and retains the right, under Standing Order 40(2), to call any item of business listed under government orders on that day's Order Paper.
May I draw your attention to the fact that the business printed on the Projected Order of Business is subject to change without notice. This is clearly emphasized in the note appearing under the title of the document. As committees plan their work, they may or may not be aware of changes to the Projected Order of Business, or the progress made on a bill for that matter.
In the case presently before us, the resumption of second reading debate on Bill C-46 was listed on the
Projected Order of Business
published for Tuesday, March 11, 1997. This may have caused some members to assume that this item would be taken up that day. In fact, this particular item was not called on that day. It would therefore appear to have been premature on the part of the hon. member for Hamilton-Wentworth to raise the question at that time as Bill C-46 was not considered by the House that day.
I have given careful consideration to the matter presented by the hon. member for Hamilton-Wentworth and I have taken into account the extent to which this matter infringed on his ability to perform his parliamentary duties.
It has always been difficult, and increasingly so nowadays, for members to manage their time because of the constraints imposed on them by the House, committee meetings, as well as caucus and constituency business, and members often must make choices as to what business they should give priority.
Although I can certainly sympathize with the hon. member's predicament, he was not, in my estimation, prevented from carrying out his parliamentary responsibilities. Therefore the Chair does not find that a prima facie case of privilege has been made.
I thank the hon. member for Hamilton-Wentworth for bringing this matter to the attention of the House.