Mr. Speaker, as per the notice we served 48 hours ago, I move that the second report of the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs, presented to the House on Tuesday, October 29, be concurred in. The report deals with the election of chairs of committees.
Mr. Speaker, I will be splitting my time with the member for Brossard—La Prairie.
As the House knows, this is the report of the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs. This is an unusual committee. As members realize, but members of the public may not, it is a committee which is very central to the operation of the House. Its name is procedure and House affairs and obviously it is greatly seized with the procedures of the House on a day to day basis but, in particular, the procedures of the House as they are enunciated in the standing orders.
As the House affairs side of the title suggests, it is very much seized with the effectiveness of the House of Commons and greatly seized with the effectiveness of individual members of Parliament.
A great deal of the work of members of Parliament is their work in committee, and members take great pride in that. Many of them at the moment deeply regret the fact that the vast majority of the committees are not functioning yet, believe it or not, after so many weeks. It is my hope, as chair of the committee, and the hope of other members, that the committees operate as quickly as possible and as soon as possible.
The Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs deals with the operations of the House of Commons. In the last year or so I have to say that members on both sides of the House on that committee have been very involved with the question of modernizing and reforming the House of Commons in various ways.
For example, it was this committee that made it possible for every sitting of every committee of the House to be televised. This was not the case before. As the House knows, we have always had committees that could be televised and we have rooms for special televised hearings but now, as a result of the work of this committee, it is possible to televise any committee meeting. We think that is a step forward. It has been a very progressive group.
Also in the last House the committee tabled a report, which it has retabled, on the reform of private members' business. Again, this is something which has to do with the very grassroots operation of this place and with the way individual members function. I think that report on private members' business is a considerable step forward. It is my hope, now that it has been reintroduced, that we will move forward on many if not all of the reforms suggested in that report.
I also have to say that this is not a normal committee. Its members include all five whips of the House. As well, the membership often includes House leaders and parliamentary secretaries on the government side. It is a very unusual committee. When the committee meets the parties are, in a very real sense, talking to each other directly, through their whips and other party officers, about the operations of the House today and for the future. Therefore it does not make decisions lightly. In my experience as chair, the members on all sides work very hard and do their best to maintain the health and quality of what goes on in this place.
In this case, the report that is before us proposes that rather than an open ballot at the first meeting of the year of any standing committee, that there be a secret ballot to elect the chair and the two vice-chairs of the 17, 18 or whatever number of standing committees we have.
The current practice, except in two cases, is that the chair and one vice-chair are from the government side, and one vice-chair is from the opposition side. Normally there is a show of hands and people are elected. I was elected in that way two or three weeks ago.
In my case, as far as I could tell sitting there when the clerk was conducting the election, I was elected unanimously but the members had to indicate by a show of hands who it was they were voting for.
The proposal in the report is for that process to take place in secret through a secret ballot. The report was brought forward by a majority of the committee. I think, as everyone knows, it was a majority which included government members and opposition members.
I want you to know, Madam Speaker, that the report had majority support but there were divisions in the committee and amendments were put during the debate. The amendments included the fact that the distribution of chairs and vice-chairs remain exactly the same as I have just explained: a chair usually from the government, except in special cases; a vice-chair from the government and a vice-chair from the opposition.
One amendment also included the provision for a review at the end of a year so we could see how the new procedure would operate and then there would be a review. At that time the committee and certainly the House would have a chance to re-address the matter.
In my view, the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs gave this matter very full and open examination. It engaged in as passionate a debate as I have seen in my time as chair of that committee, which is normally, I have to say, a fairly dispassionate committee. This morning I am moving concurrence in the report which I tabled earlier this week.