Mr. Speaker, this issue was raised yesterday and again today. I know that the whips have discussed looking at clearing this up. Perhaps I could explain it to other members because I think there is a lot of concern not only by the independent members but by others about what it is that the whips and the procedure and House affairs committee are concerned about here.
As I understand the issue, it is this: When there are a number of independent members there are obviously a certain number of questions and Standing Order 31 statements by members that could be assigned to those independent members.
We have had cases in the past, and indeed we could have cases in the future, where a party falls below the requisite 12 members. For that purpose there has been a precedent set for Speakers to pool the questions that those independent members would be entitled to so that they could assign their questions to their leader or to some other member of their caucus.
In my political lifetime, members will recall that post-1993, we had that situation with two parties in the House of Commons. While the Progressive Conservative Party and the New Democratic Party were recognized registered political parties outside of this chamber, they did not have the requisite 12 members to be a recognized party in the chamber at the time. One had two members and the other had nine, as I recall. The Speaker at the time pooled, or bundled, or whatever term one wants to use, the number of questions that they would get during question period and then assigned the questions to them as a group.
I think this is where the problem lies, Mr. Speaker. Let us take into consideration that there are currently four independent members of Parliament. Of the questions that we usually go through in the rotation, the number of questions in a day, if we divide those, excluding the three that the government gets, by the number of opposition members of Parliament, whether they are one of the three recognized parties or the four independent members, we get to a ratio of how often each member would be eligible for a question, all things being equal.
The problem arises if, for example, there were three independent members, each one of them should get one question per week. That makes sense. To make it equal, whether they were in a recognized party or sitting as an independent, they would have exactly the same rights to ask one question per week.
What has been happening as I understand it, Mr. Speaker, is that if you bundle those questions together and there are three questions for independents in a week and then two of the independents choose not to ask a question and you give the other questions to that other member as though they were a party, then that individual independent member would obviously get more questions than they would be entitled to if they sat in a recognized party.
I think that is the question that we are trying to deal with. Certainly, and I can speak for myself here, I do not want to see any inequity. I want to see the same rights and responsibilities for every member of Parliament, whether the member is an independent or whether the member sits in a recognized party, with no greater or lesser advantage to being in a party or sitting as an independent when it comes to those rights of a Standing Order 31 statement or asking a question in our chamber.
I think the goal is to ensure that if we take that equation, the number of questions asked per day or the number of questions asked per week and divide it by all the opposition members and we get to how many questions that person would get in a week, then it should be the same whether the person is an independent member or in a party.
Obviously when a member is in a party, there is a mechanism in place to assign that question. Let us say for argument's sake, every member would get one question per week, whether the member was an independent or was in the Liberal Party, for example.
Obviously the Liberal Party has a mechanism in place in its caucus to assign those questions to certain members, whether it is the leader, the deputy leader or whoever it is. However, it should not detract from the basic rule that each member is equal in the eyes of this chamber. That is what we are trying to get to, I believe. I would look for others to support that fundamental principle of equality.