Mr. Speaker, I am the chair of the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs. I think it might be useful if I described the process the committee is undertaking because the inquiry is still ongoing.
We received the reference by motion from the House of Commons. As soon as possible thereafter we convened a meeting where we heard and were able to question an expert on general matters concerning privilege and contempt in the House of Commons. Based on that meeting our steering committee met and decided that first of all we should invite in our colleagues who were cited in the article which was part of the reference to us from the House of Commons.
We decided at that meeting that they would be invited to a meeting today, that they would be asked to make a statement of up to five minutes and that would be followed by a question and answer period.
At the meeting today there was a discussion on the nature of the questioning. It has been agreed the members would appear one at a time. There was a general agreement in the committee that for the first round we would confine the questioning and the statement to a total of about 20 minutes. It was made clear at the beginning and the end of each witness presentation that he might be invited back either later in today's meeting or at future meetings of the committee.
The intent of this approximate time period the committee provided and for which there was a formal agreement which the record will show was not to cut off questioning. The intent was to show fairness and equality to each of our colleagues who would be appearing before us.
It was made clear that this was not some sort of gag, gag order that is. The purpose of it was so that each member as the hearings unfolded would be faced at first with the same period of time for questioning.
On the matter of the motion and the unilateralness of the decisions as chair, I believe I was following the clearly expressed wishes of the committee. The 20 minutes was not a time limit in the sense of questions. Questions can be put at later hearings, no doubt. It was intended to show fairness to the members concerned.
This plan was developed properly through the steering committee at which all members were represented. As in other meetings, as chair I have two purposes. The first is to show fairness to our colleagues. I think that is very important. The second is to deal with the reference that the House of Commons has given to us and keep to that discussion.
Mr. Speaker will find that the record will show all parties had equal time. All members where they asked to speak had equal time within the limits set by the committee. I stress the guiding principle of our meeting was fairness to our witnesses.
As I have mentioned, this is not a question of pressure on any party or individual on the committee. The next meeting of the committee is next Tuesday when we will continue these hearings. Thereafter, once we have considered the evidence we have received, we may well call members back or proceed in some other fashion.
This is an ongoing set of hearings. There was absolutely no intent to limit questioning of one party compared with the questioning by another.