I will now deliver my ruling on the question of privilege raised by the hon. member for Athabasca concerning the use of his signature in support of Bill C-206, an act to amend the Access to Information Act and to make amendments to other acts, in the name of the hon. member for Wentworth—Burlington.
The bill was originally introduced during the previous session, on October 23, 1997, as Bill C-264. The member for Wentworth—Burlington gathered over 100 signatures in support of this bill, including the signature of the hon. member for Athabasca.
On June 11, 1998, by unanimous consent, a different text was substituted for the original text of Bill C-264. In the second session this bill was reinstated on October 14, 1999, in the same form as at prorogation.
In accordance with Standing Order 87(6) the bill, supported by 100 signatures, was placed on the order of precedence.
The complaint of the hon. member for Athabasca arises from the use made of his signature in helping to have his revised bill placed on the order of precedence. This support, he maintained, was limited to Bill C-264 in its original form and the use of his signature for any other purpose constituted “false representation to gain unjust advantage”.
The hon. member for Wentworth—Burlington claimed that he never intended to mislead the House by his use of the list nor did he feel that its use in support of Bill C-206 was illegitimate.
In his view, the signatures indicated only that the issue at which the bill was aimed was one deserving of debate. He further maintained that the revisions to the bill in the previous session were, for the most part, of a technical nature and that no one had indicated any difficulty concerning them in the 19 months since they were placed before the House.
I point out to all hon. members that the procedure at the heart of this issue is a relatively new one. Standing Order 87(6) came into effect on February 1, 1999, as part of a small number of changes to our standing orders designed to further increase the opportunities that private members have to present their initiatives for debate.
The first paragraph of the standing order reads as follows:
At any time after the holding of the first draw in a Session, a Member may file with the Clerk a list containing the signatures of one hundred Members, including at least ten Members each from a majority of the recognized parties in the House, who support a specific item, sponsored by the Member, eligible to be placed in the order of precedence.
An item supported in this way is then placed in the order of precedence provided that the member presenting it does not already have another item there and that only one such item at any time may be placed in the order.
As I said, this is a new procedure. The bill presented by the hon. member for Wentworth—Burlington is only the second to have been placed in the order of precedence pursuant to this standing order. There are no previous rulings to which the Speaker can turn for guidance in such a case, nor were comments made in the House prior to the adoption of these new standing orders which might be of assistance.
A member signing such a list does not appear to be seconding the item, for which we have other procedures, but the exact meaning of placing a signature on the list is not clear. Does such a signature represent support for the content of the item, or simply that the item be given precedence?
If our new procedures to increase the opportunity of members to present their own initiatives are to be a success, we must ensure that we proceed on the basis of a common understanding and agreement as to how the rules governing them are to function.
While I have my own views on these matters, it is not my role as Speaker to impose them on the House. There does not, at first glance, appear to have been any actions carried out other than in good faith. However, given that important questions have been raised about how this procedure should work, I feel that it would be unfair to the House and to the hon. members concerned to simply turn our backs on this problem.
I am not disposed to give a final ruling at this time. This, in my opinion, is an issue which should be considered by the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs so that the Speaker has guidance about how to proceed both with Bill C-206 and with future cases related to Standing Order 87(6). I would ask the committee to give its attention to this issue as an urgent matter.
In order to afford the committee time to examine the questions raised concerning this matter, I am ordering, pursuant to the power afforded me by Standing Order 94(1)(a), that Bill C-206 be dropped to the bottom of the order of precedence. When we have had the benefit of the committee's advice I will make a further ruling if it is necessary at that time.
I would like to thank the hon. member for Athabasca, the hon. member for Wentworth—Burlington, as well as the other members who contributed to the discussion of this issue which relates to the fundamental nature of our relations with one another in the House.