I am now prepared to rule on the point of order raised on November 1, by the hon. member for Berthier—Maskinongé concerning the response to the New Democratic Party Vice-Chair of the Standing Committee on Agriculture and Agri-Food during oral questions.
I would like to thank the member for Berthier—Maskinongé for having raised the matter, as well as the members for Cowichan—Malahat—Langford, Perth—Wellington and Durham for their observations.
Essentially, the member is asking for clarification on the Speaker's role with respect to oral questions, given that the NDP vice-chair was not permitted to finish his reply about committee business.
As I reminded members when this point of order was first raised, questions about committees are quite restricted. House of Commons Procedure and Practice, Third Edition, at pages 512 and 513, is clear in this respect, stating:
Questions seeking information about the schedule and agenda of committees may be directed to Chairs of committees. Questions to the Ministry or to a committee Chair concerning the proceedings or work of a committee, including its order of reference, may not be raised.
Speaker Lamoureux, in a ruling on May 20, 1970, which can be found at page 7126 of Debates, explained the only questions that are acceptable when directed to the chairman of a committee are questions that relate to procedural matters, whether a meeting is to be held, whether a committee will be convened, at what time a committee will be held and so on.
The answers to such questions about committees must fall within these same prescribed limits. As indicated at page 1041 of Bosc and Gagnon:
During Oral Questions in the House, a committee Chair may answer questions, provided they deal with the committee’s agenda or schedule and not with the substance of its work.
The Speaker has the authority to judge the admissibility of questions, including those put to a committee chair. Deputy Speaker Blaikie informed the House on April 3, 2008, at page 4406 of Debates, that:
...in future when considering the procedural acceptability of such questions, the Chair intends to demand strict adherence to the intended practice, namely, the scheduling and agenda of committee meetings.
However, it is not up to the Chair to judge the quality or content of answers, save for unparliamentary language. The constant challenge for the Chair is, on the one hand, to uphold the limits placed on questions asked about committees, and on the other hand, to refrain from judging the quality of the answers. Perhaps it is this that explains, at least in part, the approach of the Chair in according chairs and vice-chairs the benefit of the doubt. It is an approach the Chair will uphold going forward.
The rapid pace of question period, given the 35-second limit on both questions and answers, requires the Chair to make quick decisions, and it is always with the intent of respecting our rules and practices. It is in this context that I, as Speaker, look forward to working with all members to ensure that our practices are followed in any exchanges of information about committees.
I thank members for their attention.