I am now prepared to rule on the question of privilege raised by the hon. member for Ottawa—Vanier on March 18, 2002, concerning the selection of votable items by the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs.
I thank the hon. member for Ottawa--Vanier for drawing this matter to the attention of the Chair, as well as the hon. member for Yorkton--Melville and the hon. government House leader for their contribution on this question.
The hon. member for Ottawa—Vanier in raising the matter argued that the bill he sponsored, Bill C-407, an act to amend the Canada Health Act (linguistic duality), should have been selected as votable since it met all the criteria (approved by the House) in order to be considered eligible for “votable” status.
The member expressed himself very clearly and conveyed a deep sense of dissatisfaction and frustration with the way that private members’ business currently operates, especially with the fact that he was not able to obtain an explanation as to why his bill was not selected as a votable item.
As all hon. members know, the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs has the mandate to select votable items from the items placed on the order of precedence as the result of a draw. The committee must determine, in accordance with a set of criteria that it has adopted, the selection to be made.
I refer the House to a decision by Mr. Speaker Fraser on December 4, 1986 ( House of Commons Debates , p. 1759) with respect to the responsibility that the House has delegated to the procedure and house affairs committee relating to the selection of votable items.
—its decision in regard to the selection of items of business which must come to a vote cannot be challenged. When embodied in a report which is presented to the House, that report is deemed adopted by the House. The Committee, therefore, plays a very important role in safeguarding the rights of private members.
—It is not for the Chair to dictate to the Committee how it should take care of its responsibilities.
I want to emphasize that the Chair takes this matter very seriously even though, after careful examination, the case raised by the hon. member cannot be considered a question of privilege. It is a procedural matter which requires a procedural solution.
As hon. members know, several attempts at finding such a solution have been made and continue to be made. To begin with, a number of recommendations were made by members, in particular during the procedure debates in the House on March 21, 2001 and May 1, 2001.
These suggestions were taken into consideration by the Special Committee on the Modernization and Improvement of the Procedures of the House of Commons and there is a reference to the issue in the committee’s report as adopted by the House on October 4, 2001.
While acknowledging the dissatisfaction with private members’ business as it currently operates and recognizing the need for changes, the special committee could not find consensus on the nature of specific reforms.
Following the report of the special committee the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs further considered the question of improving procedures for the consideration of private members' business and concluded in its report presented to the House on December 14, 2001, that:
--changes to the Standing Orders for the consideration of Private Members' Business, including a workable proposal allowing for all items to be votable, cannot be achieved at this time.
This leaves the door open for the committee to consider the matter once again in the future.
The hon. government House leader in his response to the hon. member for Ottawa—Vanier reflected the opinion of many members when he said that “this subject matter has expressed itself in frustration on all sides of the House of Commons” and that he thinks “that there is a general desire in the House to find a better way of dealing with these matters”.
I can only urge the hon. government House leader to follow up on his suggestion that an attempt be made to find another way of solving these issues to the satisfaction of all members so that our procedures may be improved in this regard. I am sure that, with the help of interested members, like the member for Ottawa—Vanier, the member for Yorkton—Melville and others, including the nembers of the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs, a solution will be found.
I thank the hon. member for Ottawa—Vanier for having drawn this very important matter to the attention of the House.