That the committee take note of proposals to modernize the Standing Orders.
Madam Chairman, I will be sharing my time with the hon. member for Durham.
This is the second debate we have had on modernization of the standing orders in this House. The first was held on March 21 in which 44 members spoke for almost 10 hours, a very long time, which obviously indicated a lot of interest on the part of members on all sides of the House. I thank the members who contributed on that day to the process.
As members are aware, the House agreed to establish a special modernization committee on the House rules, which has been meeting since that first debate. Tonight we are actually participating in this debate in committee of the whole where all members are able to congregate around the clerk's table instead of the far corners of the House, as is normally the case. That is something that was developed in the modernization committee on which the House leaders sit.
I hope that some members will speak tonight as well and add their contribution to the debate to give us some more good ideas on how to modernize the House rules.
In the last debate I gave an extensive talk on some of the ideas that I had on modernization. I will not repeat them again this evening because obviously they are all on the record. I am sure that all members read Hansard on a daily basis, so they are aware of what I said at the time.
I will take a moment, though, to thank all members of the modernization committee; in other words the House leaders of all parties, as well as the Deputy Speaker who chairs that committee so well.
I have to say that we are making considerable progress. We have gone a long way, but I cannot reveal the content because pursuant to the order of the House we are sitting in camera until our report is tabled.
I cannot in any way criticize my colleagues in other parties. They have been most productive. We have worked very well together. I am looking forward to the June 1 tabling of our report. I am quite optimistic that we will have a number of changes to present to the House. As a result of tonight's debate hopefully we will gather and garner new ideas and be able to add to that again.
As I said on March 21, the House has already taken several parliamentary reform initiatives since the beginning of this parliament, along, of course, with the changes that have been made to the Standing Orders.
For instance, funds for political parties represented in the House have been reallocated to take into account the new standings in the House following the last election and, of course, each political party was given additional staff.
We have provided political parties with an additional $900,000 in funds for items such as party research, caucus services, whips' offices and so on, so that they could do a better job for their constituents.
Members office budgets have been increased by $20,000 per member of parliament to cover items such as salary expenses and, of course, other operating costs.
The members of parliament housing allowance has also been improved by $3,000 to cover higher accommodation costs that MPs face in the Ottawa housing market, which is of course very tight. So, accommodation costs have gone up.
The Library of Parliament has received an additional $986,000 to better support House committees.
One point that is not said enough around here is the quality of work performed by parliamentary committees. I have had occasion to visit several other parliaments and bar none, the quality of the work that comes out of our committees is tremendous, particularly the review of legislation from the House.
It is quite common to have dozens and dozens of government amendments after we hear witnesses and so on. What does that mean? It does not mean that the legislation was initially poorly drafted or some such. It means that the system we have developed whereby many people make contributions to the debate makes the legislation better. We should thank members who sit on the committee, the clerks, the research staff, the witnesses and so on.
Everything I have described so far today have been non-partisan changes made by all members of the House or on behalf of all members of the House. I am looking forward again to more members contributing tonight.
I know that one member talked in the House today in a different context about private members' bills and how we should handle them. There is a subcommittee looking at that now. It will make recommendations to the modernization committee. I am quite willing to hear those recommendations. I know all other House leaders are as well.
Some people say that every bill should be votable. I do not disagree, per se. We have to remember, though, that a votable bill takes six hours of the House: three hours at second reading and three hours at third reading. That is six hours instead of one. It effectively means that we reduce the number of private members' bills that will be considered in any year by approximately two-thirds. We could say by five-sixths, but it is not quite like that because some are votable already.
It is fair to say that the number would be reduced by two-thirds. How would we construct that? I would like to get the advice of hon. members. Perhaps, for instance, members should be limited to one private member's bill per parliament to ensure that everybody gets their turn. Even then they would not all get their turn but a greater proportion of them would. That would be another method of doing it.
We cannot just say all the items will be votable. We have to look at the rest of the picture and provide an answer. I know that the committee is doing that now. I thank the committee for the work it is doing. I hope it will make its counsel available to the modernization committee so that we can take it into account.
That being said, those are the preliminary remarks I wanted to make tonight. My parliamentary secretary will be attending later and making a contribution of his own. I know the hon. member for Durham with whom I am sharing my time this evening would like to give us his ideas on modernization of House rules. I hope members on all sides of the House will contribute to that process.
In closing, any comments made by members on the modernization of the House rules are compiled by the clerk of our committee on modernization. The suggestions by members are presented to us and we go through them every week trying to find where there is consensus and where could incorporate them into the changes we are about to make. Anything that is said here is obviously very useful to us. It is brought immediately to the attention of our committee in the subsequent week.
I want members to know that their contribution is helpful and what they say tonight will assist us. We do not go at this in a partisan way. First, the way our modernization committee works we must have unanimity to change any rule. If all parties agree then a recommendation is presented. If one or more of us disagree a recommendation is not presented. That is the way the modernization committee has been working and working very well, if I can describe it that way.
I am looking forward to listening to the contributions of other members to the debate. I repeat for the benefit of another House leader who is joining us that the advice given to us by members tonight, as was the case the last time as well, is extremely useful. It is compiled and it is brought to the attention of our committee by our researcher, Mr. Robertson, who makes a list of all recommendations that are made, and then they are studied. The list also indicates who made each recommendation so that we can speak to those particular measures at the committee.
If there is any time left I would be pleased to answer questions for the few minutes until the member for Durham takes over.