Mr. Speaker, it gives me great pleasure to rise in the House to join in the debate on the motion put by the government House leader dealing with changes to the standing orders, the rules of the House of Commons.
I would like to begin by congratulating the government and its House leader for bringing in these changes at this time. To me they represent the beginning of the reform of this place that my party, the Reform Party of Canada, has been advocating for some time now.
We in the Reform Party are fundamentally committed to changing the way business is conducted in Parliament so the people of Canada and the members of Parliament who represent them can gain some influence over the policy making process.
In our party platform, devised long before the call of the last election, we made it clear we did not believe this place was functioning in a way that best served the people. We proposed in our platform changes which we believe would give members some influence over the policy making process of government. Ours was not a plan released in the heat of an election campaign. Our plan for reform goes much further than what has been proposed today.
We believe the government is reacting positively to our pressure by bringing in these changes to the standing orders. We in the Reform Party will watch the government carefully to see if it is really committed to fundamental reform or if it is simply putting limited reforms in the window for Canadians to look at without any real intention of making them work. However these changes represent a good first step, but it is only a first step.
The changes introduced in relation to bills proceeding to committee prior to second reading and enabling the government to request or ask a committee to draft a bill are really not necessary. If the government wants to do these things it simply has to do them and could do them under the present rules. These changes present an orderly procedure by which bills can be sent to committee after first reading and the government can request a committee to bring in a bill. These procedures allow for limited debate so that the government is assured of accomplishing its objectives without giving up valuable House time.
In relation to the proposal to send bills to committee prior to second reading we know that the subsequent debate on second reading will really become debate on amendments. As well when a bill comes back to the House from the committee which has been asked to draft it, again debate at second reading will not take place.
Debating time which could have been used by the opposition to set out deficiencies will be lost, but as we believe in the greater good of getting on with reform we support these two initiatives.
I hope the government will take advantage of these changes. If it does then we might see the beginnings of real input into the legislative process by both backbench MPs on the government side and by opposition members as well. If the government does not use these new rules then the people of Canada will deal with it appropriately four years hence.
By virtue of changes proposed to Standing Order 81 the mandate of standing committees will be broadened to allow them to comment on departmental spending plans when the committee is dealing with the department's main estimates. This is good as far as it goes, but in reality it will do little to affect the spending patterns of government departments and help bring government spending under control. More changes are necessary and I will be addressing this issue later today.
Also changing a standing order to allow the finance committee to hold pre-budget consultations and report prior to a particular day in December every year sends a welcome signal that at least members of the House will be consulted. Hopefully the report which will be forthcoming yearly from this committee will be taken into consideration by the Minister of Finance and the Prime Minister.
The last proposal in this motion is to refer a number of procedural matters for examination to the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs. I am concerned that the date for reporting on these matters has been lost. We in the Reform Party will be vigilant in ensuring that these matters are reported back to the House at the earliest possible time.
I note that in response to suggestions made by my party this list has been broadened to include elements of direct democracy and I thank the government. The matters contained on this list are important. I look forward to the discussions of this committee.
The list is still incomplete. How can we have meaningful reform or even a study of reform without including in this list the structure and functioning of the standing committee system?
In my initial address to the House I dealt with freer votes and the relaxing of the confidence convention. I also stated that there is a feeling among Canadians that government-and by this I mean government in its broadest connotation, the party in power, the opposition and the bureaucracy-is not serving the needs of Canadians; that is government serves its own needs first and the public's needs second, if at all.
With all due respect to the hon. minister of the government, a point of clarification is we refer to freer votes and relaxation of the confidence convention. This does not refer to the government's saying today or on this issue it will have free votes. Legally and constitutionally all members of the House are guaranteed the right of independence.
Again may I stress this is an attitudinal change. We are all campaigned on party policy, on definite issues which we were elected to support by the Canadians who elected us. However, that does not suggest that each member of the House should be prevented from truly representing their constituents on specific matters which reflect the very serious interests of that area of Canada. We must not operate from fear. If the government loses a vote on a certain initiative, that could have a good positive result. Perhaps it was bad legislation.
I cannot agree with former Conservative House leader, Doug Lewis, who expressed that government is entitled to its bad legislation. Why? When we have the opportunity to correct this waste of valuable debate time in the House and this waste of taxpayers' dollars let us address it.
In my initial address to the House I dealt with freer votes and relaxing the confidence convention. That is why I argued for an attitudinal change in this House that would result in a relaxation and redefinition of the confidence convention, which would result in freer votes. Through such changes members could begin to play a vital role in making and influencing in public policy.
I believe my remarks in relation to the confidence convention and freer votes are equally valid in the context of reform of the standing committee system.
The changes proposed to the rules today, bills to committee prior to second reading and the government's asking committees to bring in bills, are good ones. If they are used and the results of the committee deliberations are not ignored by the government, this will make committee work more rewarding for the members.
I urge the government to go further than this in relation to committees. Let us in the committee on procedure and House affairs examine the report of the House of Commons liaison committee tabled last spring, which addressed committee reform in detail. Let us together devise methods to limit the power of the whips in this Chamber so that substitutions on committee are not made in order to ensure the outcome of a vote which is crucial to the government. Let us look at various structures so that the House, through the committee system, can once again make meaningful comments on government spending.
This House, through changes to the rules brought in over time, has effectively lost control over government spending. This must not be allowed to continue. Ways must be found so that members can gain some control over public expenditures. These changes are worth the time it will take for the House and its committees, especially the procedure and House affairs committee, to study.
Reform goes much farther than what has been presented today. It is a beginning. I congratulate the government for taking the initiative and implementing some of the changes which members of the House, both today and in the past, have strongly recommended.
I also want to recognize the contribution made by the Reform Party toward these changes. Although in our opinion these changes do not go far enough, we do recognize the good intent of the government just as we recognize that the Reform members and the Reform Party have prodded the government into action. If the Conservative Party were sitting in our seats in opposition today it is highly unlikely we would be witnessing these changes.
I look forward to being a part of the procedure in the House affairs committee and contributing to its discussions.