I am now prepared to rule on the question of privilege raised yesterday by the hon. opposition House leader concerning the conduct of the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs with respect to its obligations following the adoption by the House of the committee's 4th report.
I thank the hon. opposition House leader for having raised this matter, as well as the hon. members for Beauport—Montmorency—Côte-de-Beaupré—Île-d'Orléans, Acadie—Bathurst and Brandon—Souris, the hon. government House leader and the hon. members for Mississauga Centre and Peterborough for their contributions on the question.
The hon. opposition House leader rests his case on the House's concurrence on November 6, 2002 in the 4th report of the procedure and House affairs committee. He argues that in so doing, the House gave the committee an order of reference to report to it, before the end of the fall sitting, standing orders that would implement the proposals contained in the report.
I need not remind members that the 4th report of the procedure committee contains a wide ranging proposal for changes to our procedure with regard to private members' business. Notably, this proposal guarantees each eligible member debate on at least one item of private members' business during the course of a Parliament. It also provides, except in certain circumstances, that all items of private members' business would be votable. These recommendations repeat those contained in the committee's 66th report presented in the first session of this Parliament but never taken up by the House.
The Procedure and House Affairs Committee has met to review the draft Standing Orders provided by the Clerk. It considered them in the context of a draft report which recommended that they be made the provisional rules governing private members’ business for the period January 27, 2003 until the end of this Parliament; and further provided for the committee to revisit and perhaps make changes to this provisional regime a year after its coming into force. The committee decided by majority vote not to submit the draft provisional Standing Orders to the House.
Instead, the 14th report of the committee was presented to the House on December 11 recommending the continuation of the existing private members' business procedure “until such time as the Special Committee on... Modernization completes its business and reports to the House of Commons”. I am quoting from the words of the report in that case. The hon. opposition House leader argues that in so doing, the committee displayed contempt for the House and asks the Speaker to find that there thus exists a prima facie breach of privilege.
As all hon. members will know, like previous Speakers I am always reluctant to interfere in the internal proceedings of committees. Our practice has been quite consistent in disputes such as this one. Should a committee report concerning matters related to breaches of privilege or contempt, the Chair stands ready to accept such a report as evidence of a prima facie question of privilege and permit the House to proceed accordingly. I refer hon. members to House of Commons Procedure and Practice , page 827 and to the ruling of Mr. Speaker Fraser on March 20, 1990, at pages 956 to 958 of the
The case before us, like many such cases that have been brought before the Chair, is not based on a committee report. Rather the hon. House leader of the official opposition, supported by representatives of the other opposition parties, argues that the procedure committee has acted counter to its order of reference which, as I noted earlier, he interprets as the text of the fourth report in which the House has concurred.
Although I have no intention of entering into a debate on this subject, I believe it is important to note certain facts in this case.
I draw to the attention of the House a statement from the introductory paragraph of the fourth report which reads, and I quote:
We understand that some Members of the House and some Senators, may have concerns with respect to a few of the recommendations in [the 66th] report, and these should be addressed prior to the changes being adopted and implemented.
The proceedings of the committee indicate that attempts have been made to address those concerns.
Furthermore, and perhaps most significantly, the fourth report concludes with the following words:
Accordingly, we would request that the Clerk of the House of Commons draft the necessary changes to the Standing Orders, and that these be submitted to the Committee for approval when the House of Commons resumes sitting in the autumn of 2002.
My understanding is that the Clerk did submit the changes to the committee and that these changes were considered but not approved by the committee. I refer members to the Journals, December 11, at page 298 and to the minutes of the committee that were tabled with the report.
There is quite evidently a serious problem here, but I am not persuaded that it is a procedural problem. The committee has presented a report recommending an alternate course of action to that which the House selected in adopting its fourth report. It is true that in adopting the fourth report, the House has agreed to a new approach to private members' business. However it is also clear from the concluding lines of the fourth report, that the House agreed to have the draft Standing Orders implementing this new approach presented to the committee for its consideration and approval. The committee has considered the matter and recommends no action at this time.
The Chair can appreciate the frustration expressed by hon. members at this turn of events in the committee. If the House is dissatisfied with the recommendation made by the Procedure and House Affairs committee in its 14th report, there are a variety of options at its disposal to convey its wishes to the committee. Refusal to concur in the 14th report or giving a new order of reference to the committee are two possibilities that readily come to mind. Members will, I am sure, be able to think of others.
The committee has sought to carry out the wishes of the House and has seen fit, after this attempt, to recommend an alternate course of action. I can find no procedural irregularity in such a manner of proceeding. It is for the House to choose the course of action which best suits it in light of what the procedure committee has recommended.
Once again, I would like to thank the hon. opposition House leader for having raised this matter, and all other members who contributed to the discussion.