Academic journal article Canadian Parliamentary Review

Round Table on Private Members' Business

Academic journal article Canadian Parliamentary Review

Round Table on Private Members' Business

Article excerpt

On May 2, 2002 the House of Commons Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs held a round table on the topic of Private Members' Business. For more than two hours a lively discussion took place about what could be done to improve this aspect of parliamentary business. The discussion was divided into four broad themes: the purpose of Private Members' Business; whether all items of Private Members' Business should be votable; the details of the selection of votable items; and whether more radical changes should be considered. The following are extracts by some of the members in attendance. For the complete transcripts see the online proceedings of the committee at www.parl.gc.ca.

Peter Adams (Chairman, Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs): The expression "Private Members' Business" refers to the time the House sets aside for business emanating from private members--one hour a day, five days a week. That business can take the form of a bill, which before it becomes law must go through the same stages as do government bills--three readings in the House, three in the Senate, all the way through Royal Assent; or that of a motion, which results in a resolution of the House, often expressing an opinion or calling upon the government to do something.

Unlike government bills or motions, Private Members' Business is determined by a draw. This is largely because there are far more bills and motions tabled than there is time to deal with them.

For example, so far in this session of Parliament, which began in January 2001, there have been a total of 251 bills and 496 motions tabled in the House. Of these, 750 or so, 128 have been placed on the order of precedence, 22 of these have been voted on or will be voted on, while the rest have been or will be dropped from the Order Paper after one hour of debate. In addition, five Senate bills have been debated in the House.

The Standing Orders provide for the establishment of an order of precedence, a sort of running list at the beginning of each parliamentary session and at various intervals thereafter. This order of precedence consists of 30 items of private members' business, an equal number of bills and motions in the sequence established by the draw of members' names. To add to the complexity of this system, private bills and public bills from the Senate are automatically placed at the bottom of this order of precedence.

Now all of the 30 items on the order of precedence will be debated for an hour in the House, but only some of them will be voted on. At any time, up to 10 of the 30 items can be declared votable, which means that they get up to three hours of debate and they come to a vote at the end of this period.

The decision as to which items should be votable is made by this committee, the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs, through its Sub-committee on Private Members' Business. That sub-committee consists of one member from each party in the House, plus a government chair. So the government does not have a majority on that sub-committee.

John Reynolds (Canadian Alliance): Private Members' Business is a vital and essential part of the parliamentary and legislative process. We are here today to discuss ideas, to bring the current Private Members' Business procedure out of the nineteenth century and into modern times. There is a desperate need for reform and I think we all agree with that. This issue lies at the very heart of democracy.

We have been asking for a long time with support from all parties for all Private Members' Business to be votable. There needs to be a new mechanism in place to ensure that all items are brought to a vote and to make sure that the divisions on these questions remain free votes.

Many reform proposals have come to the table in the past years. The last time this committee took on this issue the government made a decision not to make a decision. …

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