I am now ready to rule on the point of order raised by the Parliamentary Secretary to the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons concerning the procedural admissibility of the second report of the Standing Committee on Finance tabled in the House yesterday.
I would like to thank the parliamentary secretary for raising this important matter, as well as the hon. member for Saint-Maurice—Champlain for his remarks.
The parliamentary secretary argued that the report was out of order because it was beyond the mandate of the committee as laid out in Standing Order 108. In his view, it was clear that the allocation of funds to the Library of Parliament for the Parliamentary Budget Officer was outside the mandate of the Standing Committee on Finance. He pointed out that the chair had ruled as such in the committee but that the committee had overturned the ruling. In concluding, the parliamentary secretary quoted from House of Commons Procedure and Practice at page 879, as follows:
Committees are entitled to report to the House only with respect to matters within their mandate. When reporting to the House, committees must indicate the authority under which the study was done, (i.e. the Standing Order or the order of reference). If the committee's report has exceeded or has been outside its order of reference, the Speaker has judged such a report, or the offending section, to be out of order.
The parliamentary secretary went on to quote from my ruling of March 14, 2008, the Debates on page 4181-3, concerning the proceedings in the Standing Committee on Access to Information, Privacy and Ethics, as well as my ruling of March 29, 2007, in which I stressed the importance of respecting the parliamentary procedures by which we govern our deliberations.
For his part, the member for Saint-Maurice—Champlain argued that the intent of the report was to give the Parliamentary Budget Officer the funds necessary to operate effectively. Stressing the close relationship between the Parliamentary Budget Officer and the committee, he pointed out that section 79.1 of the Parliament of Canada Act states that the Parliamentary Budget Officer is mandated to serve the Standing Committee on Finance.
For the benefit of the House, I would like to briefly summarize the events surrounding the adoption of the second report in the finance committee.
On Tuesday, March 31, in the Standing Committee on Finance, the hon. member for Saint-Maurice—Champlain moved a motion recommending an increase in the Parliamentary Budget Officer's budget and that this be reported to the House. The chair of the committee, the hon. member for Edmonton—Leduc, ruled the motion out of order because it went beyond the mandate of the committee. In his ruling, the chair cited the mandates of committees in general and those of the finance committee and of the Standing Joint Committee on the Library of Parliament in particular. The ruling was appealed, the committee overturned the ruling of the chair and then proceeded to adopt the motion which became the second report of the committee.
As the chair of the Standing Committee on Finance noted in his ruling, the mandate of standing committees is specified in Standing Order 108(2) and states in part:
The standing committees, shall, in addition to the powers granted to them pursuant to section (1) of this Standing Order and pursuant to Standing Order 81, be empowered to study and report on all matters relating to the mandate, management and operation of the department or departments of government which are assigned to them from time to time by the House.
The mandate of the Parliamentary Budget Officer is defined in section 79.1 of the Parliament of Canada Act. Although he is specifically required to provide research services for the Standing Committee on Finance, as members know, section 79.1(1) states that the Parliamentary Budget Officer is an officer of the Library of Parliament. Thus, the resources and budget of the office are provided through the estimates of the Library of Parliament and not through those of the Department of Finance.
Standing Order 108(4) states that the mandate of the Standing Joint Committee on the Library of Parliament includes the review of the effectiveness, management and operation of the Library of Parliament. Thus, matters pertaining to the mandate and the resources allotted to the Parliamentary Budget Officer fall within the purview of the Standing Joint Committee on the Library of Parliament.
As members will recall, the issue of a committee attempting to go beyond its mandate as defined in the Standing Orders was raised last year. In a ruling given on May 15, 2008, in the Debates at page 5924-25, on the admissibility of the seventh report of the Standing Committee on Access to Information, Privacy and Ethics, I reminded the House that while committees are masters of their own proceedings, a committee cannot stray beyond its mandate.
I am sure that hon. members would agree that the work of committees is vital to the functioning of the House and of Parliament. Because of their importance, the House has taken great care to define and differentiate the responsibilities of its committees, particularly where there might at first glance appear to be overlapping jurisdictions. While it is true that the House has given its committees broad mandates and significant powers, with such power and authority comes the responsibility of committees to respect their mandates and not exceed the limits of their authority.
Thus, it is expected that committees will be judicious in the exercise of their mandates so as to avoid bringing disputes to the House for the Speaker to adjudicate.
As explained in House of Commons Procedure and Practice at page 857, decisions of committee chairs may be appealed to the committee. However, as I noted in rulings on March 14, 2008 and May 15, 2008, committees that overturn procedurally sound decisions by their chairs and choose to present procedurally unacceptable reports to the House will have them declared null and void.
In this instance, while one might understand the concerns of hon. members of the finance committee, their concerns are not sufficient cause for circumventing the Standing Orders. Indeed, I find it troubling that a committee chose to proceed as it did with the knowledge that what it was doing was beyond its mandate.
The subject matter of the second report of the Standing Committee on Finance is clearly not within the mandate of that committee, as spelled out in Standing Order 108, but rather is within the mandate of the Standing Joint Committee on the Library of Parliament, and therefore, in my view, the report is out of order.
For this reason, I rule that the second report of the Standing Committee on Finance be deemed withdrawn and that no further proceedings may be taken in relation thereto.