Mr. Speaker, this morning democracy took a turn for the worse in the Standing Committee on Agriculture and Agri-Food. On December 15, 1999, the committee passed the following motion:
That this Committee study and report to the House about a clear and mandatory labelling mechanism for genetically modified organisms.
Contrary to the decision by the committee, the chair, despite our repeated requests, has refused to call the sub-committee on procedure in order to establish a schedule for calling witnesses, drafting a report and so on. In the face of this refusal, I tabled, in February, a notice of motion to have the decision taken by the committee in December 1999 implemented.
This morning, we began the debate on this motion, but after one hour, the question was put on the motion, contrary to Standing Order 116 provides, and I quote:
- In a standing, special or legislative committee, the Standing Orders shall apply so far as may be applicable, except the Standing Orders as to the election of a Speaker, seconding of motions, limiting the number of times of speaking and the length of speeches.
Furthermore, at page 855, Marleau-Montpetit, provides:
In general, the rules governing the process of debate in committees are the same as those in the House of Commons. However, the Standing Orders exempt committees from certain rules which apply in the House: those governing the election of the Speaker, the seconding of motions and limiting the number of times a member may speak on an issue and the length of speeches.
The decision by the committee chair contravenes the rules of the House. And yet, Marleau-Montpetit provides on pages 856 and 857, and I quote:
The Chair presides over the deliberations in committee, recognizing speakers and ensuring that the deliberations adhere to established practices and rules, as well as to any particular requirements which the committee may have imposed upon itself and its members.
Although I had not finished speaking, the committee chair, once again contrary to the rules established for the House and for committees, immediately put my motion to a vote. Marleau-Montpetit goes on:
Any ruling of the Chair may be appealed to the committee. There is no appeal to the House on rulings of a committee chair except through committee report.
Generally, if the chair had properly carried out his duty to protect the right of expression of parliamentarians, he would have allowed me to finish my speech, particularly since the committee had never adopted the special rule limiting the duration of interventions and the time allowed to debate a motion.
Mr. Speaker, I once again appeal to your sense of democracy to intervene and put an end to a situation that is, unfortunately, occurring too often in committee.
You need to overlook the rule that you are not allowed to intervene in committee deliberations. There have already been instances of a Speaker intervening in order to put an end to a practice that was jeopardizing members' freedom of expression. I quote Beauchesne, 6th edition, citation 760(4).
760(4). In 1986, after a grievance was raised in the House concerning procedure in a committee, the Speaker undertook to write to all committee chairmen pointing out that when a grievance is not resolved satisfactorily in committee it often results in the time of the House being taken when the grievance is raised in the guise of a question of privilege. ( Debates , December 9, 1986, page 1932).
It is your responsibility, under Standing Order 10, to intervene in order to put an end to such practices. The credibility of the House and of the committees is at stake.