I would now like to deal with the point of order raised on October 22, 2002, by the hon. member for West Vancouver—Sunshine Coast relating to the use of the provisions of Standing Order 56.1. The hon. member argued that an abuse of process had occurred when, earlier that day, the government used Standing Order 56.1 to move a motion to which unanimous consent had been previously denied. The motion in question concerned the report of the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs establishing the committee membership lists for this session.
I would like to thank the hon. member for West Vancouver--Sunshine Coast for raising this question and of course the hon. Leader of the Government in the House of Commons for his contribution on the matter.
The hon. member for West Vancouver--Sunshine Coast raised three objections in this case: namely, first, that the motion pursuant to Standing Order 56.1 was moved under the rubric “Tabling of Documents” of the daily routine of business and not under the category of “Motions”; second, that the government moved this motion on a day different from the day on which unanimous consent had been denied; and finally, third, that the motion to concur in the striking committee report was substantive, not routine, and therefore ought not to be subject to the provisions of Standing Order 56.1. House of Commons Procedure and Practice, at page 571, describes Standing Order 56. 1 as follows:
If, at any time during a sitting of the House, unanimous consent is denied for the presentation of a “routine motion”, a Minister may request during Routine Proceedings that the Speaker put the motion. For that purpose, a “routine motion” refers to motions which may be required for the observance of the proprieties of the House, the maintenance of its authority, the management of its business, the arrangement of its proceedings, the establishment of the powers of its committees, the correctness of its records or the fixing of its sitting days or the times of its meeting or adjournment. The motion, which is neither debatable nor amendable, is immediately put to the House by the Speaker. If 25 Members or more oppose the motion, it is deemed withdrawn; otherwise, it is adopted.
The points raised by the hon. member for West Vancouver--Sunshine Coast are germane to any understanding of Standing Order 56.1, whose invocation has sometimes raised concerns.
Proceedings in this House are governed by written rules, chiefly the Standing Orders, and also by the unwritten practices which hon. members have seen fit to follow over the years. It is clear that, in setting down an explicit rule, the House may adopt new procedures. However, where the House has not made such a deliberate choice, our usual practice is to continue using the way of proceeding that has so far met the needs of the House. When our practice offers no guidance in a particular case, members may raise points of order to seek guidance from the Chair. It then falls to the Speaker to arbitrate between honest differences of interpretation that arise from time to time. I believe that such is the case before us today. Let us therefore consider in turn each of the elements of the objection raised.
The hon. member for West Vancouver--Sunshine Coast contended that the proper place to move a motion during routine proceedings is under the rubric “Motions”. It is true, as the government House leader pointed out, that the text of Standing Order 56.1 requires only that the motion be proposed during routine proceedings. However, our practice has always been that during routine proceedings motions, or “routine motions” to cite the actual text of the standing order, be moved under the heading reserved for them. An examination of previous uses of Standing Order 56.1 does not reveal any case where we proceeded differently.
The day before yesterday, the House, and I dare say the Chair, may have been taken somewhat by surprise when such a motion was moved at the beginning of routine proceedings under the heading “Tabling of Documents”. Since the motion was ultimately deemed withdrawn, I believe that this occurrence might be seen as an exception that will not recur. Our practice is clear. Motions pursuant to Standing Order 56.1 should be moved under the rubric “Motions”, unless there is unanimous consent to do otherwise.
The second point raised by the hon. member for West Vancouver—Sunshine Coast concerned the appropriateness of using Standing Order 56.1 on a day different from the day on which unanimous consent had been requested and refused.
An examination of the records of the House will show that this is an acceptable way of proceeding.
A number of examples may be cited. Unanimous consent was sought on September 28, 1994 and again on October 6, 1994 for permission for a subcommittee to travel. Consent being denied, a motion pursuant to Standing Order 56.1 was moved on October 8, 1994, two days after the request for unanimous consent.
I refer the hon. member to the Debates of September 28, 1994, at page 6263 or October 6, at page 6642, and the Journals of October 7, at page 270. A similar travel permission motion was denied unanimous consent on June 7, 1995 and Standing Order 56.1 was used the following day. I refer the hon. member to the Debates for June 7, 1995, at page 13375, and the Journals for June 8, at page 1594. In a third example on April 21, 1997 unanimous consent was refused to a motion arranging the sitting time of the House with respect to a royal assent ceremony. That motion was proposed under Standing Order 56.1 on April 24. See the Debates for April 21, 1997, at page 10012-13, and the Journals for April 24, at page 1524.
It is clear from these cases that Standing Order 56.1 requires only that the motion in question has been previously refused unanimous consent whether that day or on some previous day.
The last point raised by the hon. member for West Vancouver—Sunshine Coast concerns whether the use of Standing Order 56.1 to propose adoption of a report of the striking committee is procedurally acceptable.
On this last point he maintained that to allow speedy adoption of this report would interfere with consideration of certain proposals now before the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs. The Chair is not persuaded by this view. The Speaker and the House must of course be guided by any changes that may be brought from time to time in our Standing Orders. However, it would be imprudent if not irresponsible for the Chair to impede the House in its normal transaction of business simply because changes are under consideration by a committee.
The crux of this point of order is, in my view, whether or not a motion for concurrence in a report establishing committee membership at the beginning of a session can be reasonably characterized as “routine” and therefore subject to the terms of Standing Order 56.1.
As I stated on September 18, 2001, in my previous ruling on this standing order, Debates , September 18, 2001, p. 5258:
The standing order [56.1] has never been used as a substitute for decisions which the House ought itself to make on substantive matters.
Responding to concerns raised at the time of the introduction in 1991 of the then new provisions of Standing Order 56.1, Mr. Speaker Fraser said:
—this “over-ride” provision can operate, as the Chair understands it, only with respect to a certain very limited range of motions offered at a specific time in our daily agenda by a minister of the Crown—
Mr. Speaker Fraser then went on to speak of what he called, “the very limited application of the new proposal”. I have found his cautionary words very helpful in reaching this decision.
All members will agree that the House does very often see fit to approve the membership of committees, or changes to that membership, by unanimous consent. Indeed, the Chair must acknowledge that a review of our modern practice reveals no instance where motions for concurrence in the report of the striking committee have been debated or amended. However, as I pointed out in an earlier ruling, again at page 5258 of the Debates , that:
--if the House from time to time should agree on a way of proceeding by unanimous consent...one cannot assume that such agreements would automatically fall into the category of routine matters as defined in Standing Order 56.1.
Our research tells us that motions to concur in the reports of striking committees have not in modern practice been the subject of debate or amendment. To extrapolate from that, that these motions are therefore routine, not substantive, is in the view of the Chair to go too far. Accordingly, I have concluded that Standing Order 56.1 cannot be used as a recourse in the event that unanimous consent to concur in the report striking the committees of the House is sought and denied.
I can appreciate the viewpoint of the Government House Leader who has indicated that the establishing of committee memberships is of some urgency but I must remind him that S.O. 56.1 was not meant as an alternative mechanism for limiting debate.
If the situation requires it, I know that the Government House Leader will find that he has other procedural means at his disposal to expedite matters.
Once again, I would like the thank the hon. member for West Vancouver--Sunshine Coast for raising the matter and for the views put forward by the hon. government House leader.
I trust this decision clarifies the issues with regard to Standing Order 56.1 and that it will prove helpful to the House in the future.