In view of the discussion that has taken place, I thought it would be helpful to the members of the house to give a decision, subject to appeal, with regard to the placing of questions on the order paper.
As hon. members of the house know, it is the Clerk's duty to scrutinize the questions submitted by members for the order paper of the
Questions Dropped jrom Order Paper
house in order that, if these offend the rules, proper action may be taken in order to conform therewith. Bourinot, fourth edition, page 313, states:
It is the duty of the Clerk to point out any irregularities to the Speaker, as in the case of notices of motion, and if the latter is of the same opinion he will order the Clerk to communicate with the member so that he may have an opportunity of amending his notice.
I am informed that for the past few years a practice has developed whereby the Clerk communicates with the member before seeing the Speaker. It is only where the Clerk has serious doubts as to the proper course to follow that he consults the Speaker.
Mr. Fraser, member of parliament for Peterborough West, sent to the Clerk a number of questions inquiring as to the number of motorcycles declared surplus-I emphasize those words, "declared surplus"-by the army and air departments, and asking how many of those vehicles had been disposed of through War Assets Corporation.
Doctor Beauchesne, the Clerk of the House, pointed out to the hon. member that the information sought dealt with matters referred to the special committee on war expenditures and economies, which was appointed on March 22 to examine the expenditures defrayed out of moneys provided by parliament for national defence and demobilization and for other services directly connected with the war, including-and again I emphasize those words -the disposal of surplus war assets. He returned them to Mr. Fraser, and on the next day I made a statement in the house to the effect that the committee was the proper authority from which the information ought to be obtained. Immediately after I had made that statement Mr. Fraser sent the questions again to the Clerk, who understood this as meaning that they should be sent to the war expenditures and economies committee, and he forwarded them to the chairman of that committee.
The said questions were not submitted to me and I did not give any direction as to their admissibility on the order paper, but in looking into the matter I find that the action taken by the Clerk was justified by the following citation from May's fourteenth edition, recently published, and edited by Sir Gilbert Campion, the present Clerk of the United Kingdom House of Commons. At page 337 Campion gives the following as a type of question which may be enumerated as being out of order:
Dealing with matters referred to a royal commission or with matters before a parliamentary committee.
There can be no doubt that Mr. Fraser's questions dealing With war assets referred to matters which had been specifically and distinctly referred to the select committee on war expenditures and economies. The recognized authorities all agree that where a specific matter has been referred to a committee of the house, questions relating thereto were inadmissible, and we properly look to the authorities in Canada and in Great Britain to guide us in the practices and usages that have grown up in the parliamentary system in Canada.
The Speaker has a clear duty to interpret, as best he can, the rules in force and to apply them sensibly to different matters that call for a decision on his part. I can assure hon. members that I have no desire but to carry out this duty fairly and impartially. In case of doubt I shall always decide in favour of free speech and a broad interpretation of the rules which are recognized as a great protection to the members of the house in their assertion of their parliamentary rights and privileges, and particularly to His Majesty's loyal opposition and other parties in minority in the house. I know that members will desire me to uphold that spirit of harmony between the Speaker and all members so much needed in the conduct of the business of the house.
The admissibility of questions on the order paper is complicated during this session by the fact that matters dealing with the affairs of several departments have been referred to select and standing committees by an order of the house, and if the rule is applied too rigidly members might be deprived of their right to inquire into eve^y phase of the public service. There was no doubt as to Mr. Fraser's questions not being admissible, but I would not shut the door to inquiries about the Department of Reconstruction on the ground that the war expenditures and economies committee is functioning, or about any other department because another select committee is functioning. As long as the matter has not been specifically referred I am of the opinion that it may be made the subject of a question to be placed on the order paper. There are certain questions that may be described as borderline cases, that is to say, which concern matters referred in general to a committee of the house, but which do not include themselves in the actual work of the committees. In such cases I have no hesitation in allowing these questions to be placed on the order paper.
Mr. Castleden's question appeared on the order paper on Wednesday, the 10th, was
Questions Dropped, from Order Paper
taken off on Friday the 19th, and restored on Tuesday, the 23rd, without my knowledge. This action was taken by the Clerk of the House because the question was of the same nature as Mr. Fraser's. On second thought, however, the Clerk realized that there was a serious doubt as to whether or not anything can be taken off the order paper without the consent of the house, and he immediately instructed Mr. Sherwood to restore the question in its proper place. He based his action for this on the ground that all orders appearing on the order paper have been placed there by a standing order, which means by command of the house. Standing order 44 authorizes the placing of questions on the order paper seeking information from ministers relating to public affairs, and standing order 45 lays down that forty-eight hours' notice must be given for placing an order on the order paper. The effect of these two standing orders is that a question is the possession of the house from the moment it appears on the order paper, and even the sponsor should not have the right to withdraw it without the consent of the house. When Mr. Castleden's question was called from the chair in the house on Thursday the 11th, and allowed to stand, no decision was given by a vote but the question was disposed of in a manner which cannot be overlooked and is binding on the officers of the house. With this, I am in perfect agreement.
In conclusion, I think it is, generally speaking, a wise rule that provides that while a committee is inquiring into a matter the house will not encroach on its jurisdiction by allowing the same matter to be discussed in the house, but members must not be debarred from seeking information by placing on the order paper questions which are not debatable and do not give rise to discussion. As long as these questions do not deal with the very specific matter referred to, they should be permitted to appear on the order paper.
Hon. members will remember that I started this memorandum by saying:
In view of the discussion that has taken place, I thought it would be helpful to members of the house to give a decision, subject to appeal, with regard to the placing of questions on the order paper.
What I read to hon. members is based on standing order 12, which reads as follows:
Mr. Speaker shall preserve order and decorum, and shall decide questions of order, subject to an appeal to the house without debate.
Subtopic: QUESTIONS DROPPED FROM THE ORDER PAPER- DECISION OF MR. SPEAKER