July 1, 1955 (22nd Parliament, 2nd Session)

PC

Edmund Davie Fulton

Progressive Conservative

Mr. Fulton:

I thank my hon. friends for enabling me to be more gallant than I was, and I would like to make their modifications my own.
In other words, we feel that this parliament, being an assembly of mature persons, is and must be in a position where from day to day it decides for itself within the limits of its rules-I am not saying there should be no rules-and within the pattern set down by the rules, just what time should be allotted to the various subjects which come before it, and that it does not require restrictions in advance such as we might impose upon persons of no discretion or of limited discretion, in order to prevent them from wasting their time or from abusing the opportunities for debate which are presented to them. Parliament is a responsible body and only so long as it remains responsible and maintains its responsibility will it maintain the respect which it must have in the eyes of the people. It is wrong in principle to say in effect to parliament that its members cannot be trusted and have to have every right and opportunity circumscribed, limited and hedged about by rules which will ensure that they do not abuse their rights and opportunities. We do not think that is a sound approach to parliament.
I have referred already to the related objection to the principle which we felt the government's proposals in their original form embodied, namely that there would be no opportunity to give important debates that emphasis which they deserve under the limitations first suggested. There is, I know, a very substantial body of opinion-I hope it is perhaps not as substantial now as it appeared at one time to be-which feels that the pattern we should follow is to cut down the time of speeches by formal rule.
I conceive that to be a fundamentally unsound approach, for reasons I have already

Special Committee on Procedure given. It is also interesting to note that in the United Kingdom parliament, where they have over 600 members as compared to our 270, and where their budget deals with more money than we do and in many ways the problems of their economy are more numerous than ours, they nevertheless have no limitation by rule on the length of individual speeches. There is no rule in the United Kingdom parliament to prevent a private member from speaking for two hours if he wants to do so, but the fact is that under their system the average length of speeches of ordinary members appears to work out at somewhere around 25 minutes. I mention that as a matter of interest and as supporting the argument that we make that it is not necessary, in order to have a curtailment of the length of speeches, to write that curtailment into the rules, but that it is a matter which this assemblage of grown men and women is able to handle for themselves.
These were the objections we took to the government's proposals in their original form. After those proposals had been discussed in the committee for some considerable time a series of more detailed negotiations took place in the committee itself and in the subcommittee to which the Minister of Finance has made reference. I should like to take this opportunity, if I may be permitted, to express my appreciation of the attitude shown by my colleagues on that subcommittee, one of those colleagues being the Minister of Finance, who forgot to mention himself. We were encouraged to find that when we got into the subcommittee we were able to make much more progress towards compromise and concession, and we found much more readiness to understand and accommodate our points of view than had at first been apparent. I want to make it very clear that we appreciated the attitude taken by the minister in the subcommittee and carried forward by him into the main committee after the subcommittee had completed its negotiations. As a result of these negotiations there were compromises and concessions which had the effect already outlined in the report of Mr. Speaker, referred to in the minister's statement this morning, and embodied in the report now before the house.
In general 1 would summarize the report itself and our attitude to it by saying that while it does not proceed along lines which we would like to have seen it follow, and while, if we were approaching it ab initio, it contains some things we would rather not see in it, compared with the original proposals made by the government which might have been forced on us had there been a decision to put it through by a majority vote,

it represents a satisfactory compromise. Its effect is not to initiate such changes, departures or limitations as we would feel to be entirely unacceptable.
I think there was a fair effort made after the negotiations commenced that where limitations were to be written into the rules they should be as closely as possible an average of the length of time which had been taken in respect to particular debates over the past number of years. There are only three main limitations, on the throne speech, on the budget debate and on the supply motions which are now limited to six of two days each. The length of the over-all number of days allotted to these three subjects is, I believe, a fair approximation of the average length of time devoted to these subjects in the past.
I want to make it clear that we regard the report as a substantial concession by the government from its original proposals, a concession which I think was won only as the result of hard bargaining, but I have no resentment of that. We all had quite different views and I have no objection to the fact that it was necessary to bargain vigorously because in the result I think the outcome was fair.
I have mentioned the approach that we would like to have seen adopted as the basic approach towards this question of a change of the rules. I should like to dwell on that for a few moments. In this portion of my remarks I will be speaking for myself and in no sense for the party to which I have the honour to belong. As a matter of fact, in connection with this whole matter I think the proper approach is that the rules are not a party matter. The rules do not belong to any party in the house and should not be changed by a majority vote of any party in the house. The rules belong to the House of Commons, and in the outcome that was the spirit in which the committee approached the matter. Therefore in putting these views forward I am speaking for myself, although I am happy to believe that a number of my colleagues as individuals share the point of view I am going to express.
In my view, accepting the principle referred to by the minister earlier this morning that the object of the rules and the object of any change in the rules should be to ensure that parliament makes the most efficient use of the time available to it in which to discuss the public's business, and confronted as we are with an increasing volume of public business both in the sense of dollars and in the physical sense of the number of pieces of legislation that come before us, the answer to the problem is to be

found in the principle of self-discipline on the part of members and on the part of parties rather than along the lines of writing rigid limitations into the rules. It may be found subsequently that such rigid rules limit the rights of parliament and of members in a manner which is most undesirable. When an issue arises in a manner which could not be foreseen when such limitations were written into the rules, the effect may be that parliament cannot deal adequately, and individual members are denied the opportunity to deal adequately with the particular issue.
I believe again, while not saying that just because it is done in the United Kingdom it should be done here, that we can benefit from certain examples and from certain patterns afforded by the United Kingdom. I am ready to confess that there they do have a number of very rigid limitations in their rules. Nevertheless, by and large, the pattern there, and the only way they can get 650 members feeling they have a proper right to be heard, is by the imposition of a code of self-discipline. Members agree that they will not abuse the right to speak and parties agree with respect to the length of time to be occupied by a particular debate. It is my belief that such a pattern of selfdiscipline can only be made effective by recognition of the feature that the appointment of a member of parliament to be Speaker of the house should be permanent.
In my view, there is nothing more absurd, if you analyse it, than our system of changing Speakers every parliament. The responsibilities of a Speaker are enormous. The training that a Speaker has to give himself, the study he has to devote to the rules, to their application and interpretation, is really a lifelong study. I do not suppose there is a Speaker in any parliament who would not agree that, even after being Speaker for 15 or 20 years, he was only just beginning to be really on top of the situation. But in our parliament a Speaker is really only beginning to get a grasp of the rules and to feel at home in his position when we change him for a new one. In that connection, I think our system should be re-examined and we should study the question of the appointment of a permanent Speaker.

Topic:   SECOND REPORT OF SPECIAL COMMITTEE ON PROCEDURE
Subtopic:   CONSIDERATION IN COMMITTEE OF THE WHOLE
Full View