I am now prepared to rule on the point of order raised on December 8, 2010, by the hon. parliamentary secretary to the government House leader concerning the length of Order Paper Question No. 614, standing in the name of the member for Honoré-Mercier.
I would like to thank the hon. Parliamentary Secretary for bringing this matter to the attention of the House, as well as the hon. Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Canadian Heritage, and the members for Honoré—Mercier, Windsor—Tecumseh, and Kitchener—Conestoga for their contributions.
The parliamentary secretary to the government House leader argued that Question No. 614 was too lengthy to meet the definition of “concise”, as required by our rules, and emphasized the difficulty the government would have in responding to so lengthy a question in its current form within the prescribed 45 days.
As all hon. members know, written questions are one of the key tools that members have at their disposal to help them seek detailed information from the government. At the same time, the practice of submitting lengthy written questions has become commonplace, particularly since the implementation of the recommendation of the 1985 report of the Special Committee on the Reform of the House, the McGrath committee, to limit members to a maximum of four written questions on the order paper at any given time.
It is in this context that the parliamentary secretary has raised the issue of what constitutes a “concise” question for the purposes of Standing Order 39(2). The Standing Order confers upon the Clerk of the House, acting for the Speaker:
...full authority to ensure that coherent and concise questions are placed on the Notice Paper in accordance with the practices of the House, and may, on behalf of the Speaker, order certain questions to be posed separately.
House of Commons Procedure and Practice, second edition, at page 520, specifies that:
Since questions must be coherent and concise, the Clerk may split a question into two or more questions if it is too broad or if it contains unrelated subquestions.
Speaker Parent added further clarification to what defines coherent and concise when, in relation to the procedural acceptability of a written question, he pointed out, on February 8, 1999, at page 11532 of Debates, that:
The issue was not the length of the question but rather the fact that it contained unrelated sub questions.
Indeed, when ruling on a similar matter on October 18, 2006, at page 3934 of the Debates, I found that very interpretation to still be valid and in keeping with our practice, noting that:
...the term concise in Standing Order 39(2) has evolved since this rule was first adopted. It is no longer interpreted to mean short or brief but rather comprehensible. Undoubtedly, this practice has evolved as a means of getting around the limit of four questions per member.
I also emphasized that in order for a question with multiple subquestions to be found admissible, there must be a common element connecting the various parts. Thus, we see that conciseness is not a matter of length, but rather of breadth and the absence of unrelated subquestions.
When written questions are submitted to the Journals Branch for inclusion in the notice paper, they are examined with a view to ensuring that all of their parts are interrelated, that they are not too broad, and that they meet various other criteria for written questions.
Because of the concerns raised with respect to Question No. 614, I took it upon myself to review it with care in light of how our practice has evolved in this regard. I am satisfied that its subquestions are indeed interrelated and that therefore there were no procedural impediments as to form and content in placing the question on the notice paper.
In short, the scope of this question is sufficiently narrow to satisfy established procedural requirements. Accordingly, the question will be allowed to stand in its present form on the order paper.
I thank hon. members for their attention to this matter.