Madam Speaker, 10 minutes is not long enough to talk about this important area. Let me go over it quickly.
It has been argued that Parliament has been abdicating its responsibility with regard to legislation, the reason being that much of our legislation includes references to regulations, which parliamentarians do not see during the normal cycle of legislation. They are in fact promulgated after the fact and often include policy initiatives which, had members known about them, might in fact have influenced their opinions on certain of the clauses, if not the bill itself. I wanted to raise that as a general concern and give a specific example.
In the last Parliament, the 38th Parliament, in the second session, the second half of Bill C-13 on reproductive technologies had to do with controlled activities. There were about 24 references to the regulations. Royal assent was given to that bill on March 29, 2004, over a year ago, and those regulations still have not appeared. They are very important to the functioning of the bill. The bill is very important to Canadians, yet those regulations are still outstanding. I would simply ask why. I think there has to be a sunset clause at some point in time, where, if regulations cannot be promulgated within a reasonable period of time, the bill must come back to the House and we must determine what the problem is.
I would also suggest, as a pre-emptive strike, that we should require all bills having references to regulations to include where possible draft regulations or at least a statement of intent of the regulations so that the members can have a reasonable opportunity to understand what they can expect in that bill.
I want to move now to report stage motions, on which I got quite a bit of experience during that same bill. These motions are opportunities for members who are not on the committee to have some input into a bill. Under the Standing Orders, members can put them in. If there are too many, the Speaker has the right under the Standing Orders to group them. Since each member only has 10 minutes to debate, on one grouping alone I had 13 report stage motions.
If every report stage motion is to be respected, it is not acceptable to have more than five report stage motions in one group, simply because how could anyone possibly describe their motion and make their argument as to why that motion should be accepted in such a short period of time? I think that has to be looked at. Under Bill C-13, there were something like 10 or 12 groupings. It does not happen very often, but in controversial bills it will. I just suggest that we have to look at this situation.
We also have to look at the timing. When a bill finishes at committee and is reported back to the House, report stage motions can happen very quickly. As members know, the transcripts from the committee are not available until several days, if not a week or so, after the hearing. Report stage motions are inadmissible if they have already been dealt with at the committee stage.
Therefore, members are spending all kinds of time drafting report stage amendments that will ultimately be thrown out because they were dealt with at committee. How can a member possibly know unless when a bill is reported the committee should also report all of the amendments that were proposed? Then we have to provide a reasonable amount of time for members to draft up their ideas, submit them to the Journals branch and get the proper form in hand, in both official languages, for review prior to signing off.
The current time under the Standing Orders is absolutely insufficient to allow members of Parliament to properly deal with report stage motions. I believe that if we are going to respect report stage motions as having legitimacy we have to amend the time and the arrangements with regard to report stage motions so they get the attention they deserve.
I also want to refer to a problem that occurred. It was a very serious problem. A motion that was passed at committee stage by the committee on a particular bill came to this place in a report stage motion. There was a government motion to reverse that motion. It had to do with having a 50% representation of women on a board related to reproductive technologies.
The debate was over on that report stage motion, at which time the Speaker's normal process is to say, “All those in favour of the motion will please say yea”, and “All those opposed will please say nay”. Then the Speaker is supposed to say, “In my opinion the yeas have it” or “The nays have it”, whatever is the case.
In this case, the Speaker in the chair at the time, Reg Bélair, did not indicate in his opinion who had it and then proceeded to say, “Carried”. A very important motion of the committee was overturned. There was no opportunity to deal with it in a proper vote, because the Speaker made a mistake. He thought he had said, “In my opinion the yeas have it”. That was not the case.
I rose on a point of order. He said, “No, I did. I called it. It is carried”. That was it. The next day I rose and, with the Speaker in the chair, raised the issue again on a matter of privilege. The Speaker said the person in the chair at the time had made his decision and it would stand. That was a very serious problem. I think there has to be a solution.
Let me suggest one solution. It would be that the Table have a running recording of the dialogue going on in the House, which could be quickly reviewed in the event that there were ever a question about who said what and when. We just cannot rely on hearing “go away” and count on the blues. Sometimes important motions die because mistakes are made. I simply raise it because it can happen, it did happen and it was a very serious issue with regard to this place.
Finally, there is the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs. Very often during routine proceedings the procedure and House affairs committee chair comes before this place and tables a report. Then, at motions, he stands and requests the unanimous consent of the House to concur in that report he has just tabled and no one has seen.
If that is the will of the House, that is fine, except that what happens if from time to time there is a substantive matter there that members have not seen? I understand that there are routine matters of changing people on committees or other routine matters that have to come forward, but what happens if there is a substantive matter that members have not seen? The point is, why should I be asked to give unanimous consent and even vote on a report that I have not seen? I think it is inappropriate to ask members to put themselves in that position.
In my view, to the extent that the procedure and House affairs committee has routine matters there should be an amendment to the Standing Orders that would make them deemed adopted on tabling, just as we have with other routine matters.
If it is viewed that all matters coming out of the procedure and House affairs committee have representatives of all parties at the highest levels, and if they are going to make the decisions on our behalf, then we might as well say any report coming from procedure and House affairs, once tabled in the House, is deemed to be adopted. We have to make that decision.
I know that the Lord's Prayer was deleted or eliminated from this place on a Friday by a report that was tabled and for which concurrence was obtained immediately during routine proceedings. I believe that sometimes there are items within the reports of the procedure and House affairs committee that members should be apprised of.
I also believe that if we could at least have those non-routine items here that there shall not be automatic concurrence given, that there should be a requirement for a concurrence motion to be put and to be debatable, like there is for any other standing committee. It is a standing committee and standing committee reports are debatable, but when I rose on one occasion to debate an item of interest in a report, I asked for debate on the motion to concur and was denied. The reason given was that it is traditionally not our practice.
I do not care about “traditionally not our practice”. I care about what the Standing Orders are. The Standing Orders say that the reports of standing committees are debatable in this place.
One way or another we need to address the activities of the procedure and House affairs committee. I do not want to see someone sneaking into the House in the middle of debate, interrupting the House and asking for unanimous consent to adopt a report that was brought forward during routine proceedings.
Again, I find it absolutely untenable that members would be asked to vote on something and have no idea what is in it. We should not be interrupting the House if that is going to be the case and if that is the will of the House.
Finally, I have talked with many members about the activities that go on in the House and how we can improve the operations of the House and the productivity of members. I have also served on a couple of the committees on the improvement and the modernization of Parliament. I have found them very exciting, interesting and productive, but most members in this place do not get anywhere close to that. It is their whips and House leaders who are driving the agenda here.
I believe that other members in this place have a vested interest in how this place operates. They should have an opportunity. I would strongly recommend that the House leaders get together and provide for a broad consultation meeting where all members of Parliament would be invited to provide their input on how to make the House of Commons more productive.