I am now prepared to rule on the question of privilege raised on May 30, 2022, by the member for Perth—Wellington concerning questions related to the Board of Internal Economy in Adjournment Proceedings.
In presenting his question of privilege, the member for Perth—Wellington explained that he had put a question to the chief opposition whip, in his role as a spokesman for the Board of Internal Economy, during Oral Questions on May 16, 2022. Since he was not satisfied with the response, he gave notice of his intention to raise the matter with the whip during Adjournment Proceedings.
The Private Members’ Business Office, which organizes these debates, then informed him that his notice was inadmissible because, under Standing Order 38(5), only a minister or parliamentary secretary can respond to questions asked during this period.
According to the member, this decision does not take account of an order adopted by the House on October 2, 2001, that indeed allows a spokesperson for the Board of Internal Economy to answer these questions. Even if no such change was made to the Standing Orders, he believes that this order was of a permanent nature. He also argued that the decision to refuse his notice was a breach of his privileges and non-compliance with an order of the House.
First off, since this is a question of interpretation of the Standing Orders and our practice, the matter will be dealt with as a point of order and not a point of privilege.
Fundamentally, what is at issue in the case before us is the nature of the order adopted by unanimous consent on October 2, 2001. Normally, an order is valid for the session under way. When the House wishes to make permanent changes, it normally does so by amending the Standing Orders. In fact, the name of this document, “Standing Orders”, expresses this well. These are orders that remain in effect from one session to the next. The member did, however, cite examples of orders adopted by the House that, without amending the Standing Orders, were permanent. This was the case with the adoption of the current wording of the prayer and with the designation of a committee for the consideration of certain reports.
The recourse of unanimous consent is described thus in the third edition of House of Commons Procedure and Practice, at pages 591 and 592:
At times, the House may choose to depart from, vary or abridge the rules it has made for itself. When the House has made substantial or permanent modifications to its procedures or practices, it has usually proceeded by way of motion preceded by notice; ad hoc changes, on the other hand, are often made by obtaining the consent of all Members present in the House at the time the departure from the rules or practices is proposed. Such a suspension of the rules or usual practices is accomplished by what is termed “unanimous consent”.
The motion adopted on October 2, 2001, that the member cited, began with the words, “notwithstanding any Standing Order”, which normally announces a temporary departure from the rules of the House. As such, a question was exceptionally allowed to be answered by a spokesperson for the Board of Internal Economy who is neither a minister nor a parliamentary secretary during Adjournment Proceedings.
By all appearances, the decision was an agreement for the case raised a few days earlier, on September 28, 2001. At that time, everyone agreed that it was an inconsistency in the Standing Orders, an inconsistency that, in the opinion of the Chair, is still there. The solution chosen at the time was a temporary order. In order to make that decision permanent, it should have been worded differently.
In the meantime, if the member for Perth—Wellington wishes the chief opposition whip, one of the spokesmen for the Board of Internal Economy, to be able to answer the question during Adjournment Proceedings, he can ask for the unanimous consent of the House to temporarily depart from the Standing Orders.
Moreover, if the member wishes to suggest a permanent change to Standing Order 38, I invite him to take advantage of the debate on the Standing Orders and procedure of the House and its committees, held pursuant to Standing Order 51, to make the suggestion. He can also raise the matter with the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs, whose mandate is to guide the House in reviewing the Standing Orders.
I thank all members for their attention.
The hon. member for Perth—Wellington is rising on a point of order.