Mr. Speaker, on the first issue raised by my friend regarding the fashion in which the committee chose to seek or invite the assistance of other committees regarding advice on the bill and assistance with study, I think that is a matter that has been thoroughly litigated. My friend is seeking to litigate it again before you. I simply want to address that I think it is a settled and established practice. What the committee did is something it has done quite often.
The more novel issue before you is the invitation to ensure and allow the participation of the independent members of Parliament, those who do not reach official party status. We have a growing number of them in this Parliament, notably the Green Party, members of the Bloc Québécois and some others that represent such members. The effort by the committee was to ensure that they would have an opportunity to participate at the committee stage to propose amendments.
This was not something, I understand, the committee dreamed up on its own. It is obviously a clear effort by the committee to respond directly to the invitation you made in your previous ruling on how this challenge should be particularly responded to. I will quote from your decision when this matter was up before. We were dealing with the question of an inordinate number of report stage votes and the cumbersome fashion of dealing with them. You said the following in your ruling:
It is no secret that independent members do not sit on committees in the current Parliament. In light of recent report stage challenges and the frustrations that have resurfaced, the Chair would like to point out the opportunities and mechanisms that are at the House's disposal to resolve these issues to the satisfaction of all members.
The Standing Orders currently in place offer committees wide latitude to deal with bills in an inclusive and thorough manner that would balance the rights of all members.
That statement by you, Mr. Speaker, is in direct contrast to the very constraining and rigid approach being advocated by the opposition House leader that would freeze out independent members. I will repeat again some of the phrases and words. Your statement was that the “Standing Orders currently in place offer committees wide latitude to deal with bills in an inclusive and thorough manner that would balance the rights of all members”.
It is trite, of course, to say that committees are masters of their own process. That is the fact, and what we have here is an example of where the committee has sought to devise an approach to their own process that responds directly to your invitation. I will further quote from your decision:
In fact, it is neither inconceivable nor unprecedented for committees to allow members, regardless of party status, permanently or temporarily, to be part of their proceedings, thereby opening the possibility for the restoration of report stage to its original purpose.
Further on you say:
...there is no doubt that any number of procedural arrangements could be developed that would ensure that the amendments that independent members wish to propose to legislation could be put in committee.
That is exactly what the committee did. The committee did exactly what you in your ruling on this previous matter on report stage votes invited them to do. This what is sometimes called in the world of law a conversation with the courts. In Parliament, on the evolution of rules, with you as Speaker and judge of this place, we are having that conversation with the committee, and the committee is responding to your invitation. It has done so with the motion it put in place and with the processes it followed. Indeed, such amendments did occur at the committee pursuant to the process it put in place, based on your invitation.
I will conclude with your further comments:
Were a satisfactory mechanism found that would afford independent members an opportunity to move motions to move bills in committee, the Chair has no doubt that its report stage selection process would adapt to the new reality.
Mr. Speaker, what you did in your original ruling was wrestle with a difficult problem that was a source of frustration that led to vexatious disputes here. It was having an adverse effect on the ability of this place to function well. You made what I think were some very constructive and practical suggestions on how that could be remedied.
A change in our process and, indeed, your decision, Mr. Speaker, speaks to the fact that what we have, and what we have had throughout the question of dealing with report stage votes, is an evolving process to which there have been responses in the Standing Orders and now to which you invited another set of responses that could occur in the processes that committees adopted. In this case, the committee did exactly that.
As a result of that, there is an expanded ability of independent members of Parliament to participate at the committee stage of the process. They did so in this case. Their amendments were heard and they had an opportunity to proceed. We think that is an appropriate response to the invitation the Speaker provided specifically on bills of this nature, on the processes that we have in place. For that reason, it is one that should be encouraged and rewarded. It is four square within the direction your ruling set out and the invitation you provided, Mr. Speaker, and, as such, I see no fault in the process.
I may wish to come back to you, as I have not had an opportunity to prepare to make these arguments or respond in this fashion, but, on its surface, that is the essence: that the committee has done exactly what you, as Speaker, asked it to do.