Expressing my own views, although I am happy in the belief that my
Special Committee on Procedure views are shared by quite a number of my colleagues and other members of the house as individuals, not as any official group.
Another reason why I think this suggestion has merit is-it is rather delicate to discuss, but I think we should discuss it here among ourselves-that obviously the application of a code of self-discipline does require certain sanctions behind it so that if a voluntary agreement is arrived at between parties or individuals that the length of speeches, let us say, will be limited to 30 minutes in a particular debate, and one member breaks that voluntary agreement, a measure of sanction will be required. It is going to be a great hardship on other members who are conscientiously abiding by the agreement if that is not the case. Such sanctions, in my view, cannot be written into the rules. The only way such sanctions can exist and be applied is through the Speaker.
In some instances those sanctions may have to be quite rigorous and have the appearance almost of being harsh. I suggest to the committee that it would be putting the Speaker in an impossible position to expect him to apply those sanctions absolutely automatically and vigorously when he is open to any suggestion of partiality. I ask my colleagues to believe that I am not making this discussion personal. Indeed, what I say with regard to the dangers of partiality does not in my view apply in the slightest to our colleague whom we have at the moment the privilege of having as our Speaker. I am speaking in general terms. I suggest that this business of rotating Speakers every parliament, so that as the end of a parliament approaches he knows that he is dependent upon the good will of the government for some other appointment, is not a good one. Yet that is the system under which we operate now, and I suggest that it places a very heavy premium on the exercise of impartiality by the Speaker. Human nature being what it is, it is difficult for a Speaker to be entirely impartial under those circumstances, although I believe that our Speakers as a whole have approached as close to impartiality as any Speaker could under those conditions.
I also suggest this. When members have the knowledge of that situation and an apparently harsh decision is applied by the Speaker against a member, say, on the opposition side, the temptation is to say: "the Speaker is being partial; he is being prejudiced. He sat me down without a word, but what else could you expect? After all, he knows that when this parliament is over he has to look to the government for his next appointment". Under these circumstances, I believe it would
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Special Committee on Procedure be difficult for us as members to accept the rapid and vigorous method by which the Speaker would have to apply those sanctions, even although he might be, in fact, completely impartial as between the two sides of the house. I think, therefore, our present system of rotating Speakers makes it impossible for that code of self-discipline to be applied in the way and with the effect that it might be applied elsewhere, where the position of Speaker is permanent.
I realize that one of the reasons why we rotate Speakers is because of the very proper recognition of the fact that there are two main language and racial groups in the country, French and English. I am not suggesting for a moment that in the appointment of a permanent Speaker we should depart from the recognition of that feature. I think the Speakers should be alternated, but that a Speaker having been appointed should be there until he retires of his own accord. Then, the next Speaker to be appointed should be of the other race and language group. In that way, we would preserve the principle of alternation but at the same time have the permanent feature of the office. There are a number of advantages which would flow from such a change. I realize that we cannot do it overnight, but I should like to see very serious consideration given to that suggestion.
Another approach which we feel should be followed with respect to the application of the rules is that a very much greater attempt should be made to arrive at ad hoc agreements with respect to the duration of any individual debate. This again is in accordance with our view that we should not write into the rules these rigid limitations which we think further circumscribe the functions of parliament. We feel there should be an agreement between the parties as to the length of time it would be sensible to devote to any particular debate as that debate arises.
One other feature of the United Kingdom system which I find attractive is the provision there of safety valves which we do not have here. I call them safety valves. I am thinking of the right of a member to raise a matter on the daily adjournment of the house and to discuss it for half an hour. If a member there is not satisfied, say, with an answer given by a minister to his question he gives notice immediately as follows: "Mr. Speaker, I intend to raise this on the adjournment." Then, by I believe a process of balloting, if he is lucky, he gets the right to discuss that particular matter and his particular complaint for half an hour only. It has the effect of forcing the minister to deal with it and to answer what the member regards as a legitimate complaint.
The second feature which they have there is the feature which gives them the right, if a sufficient number of members believe that the matter is important and urgent, to set it down for discussion. They can sign a motion and if a sufficient number of them sign it will be set down and discussed at a certain specific time and for a limited period. They cannot altogether interrupt the routine business and important government business, but there is a safety valve. If enough members believe it is important they can get it set down.
When you have those safety valves, then you can accept to some extent not only limitation of the rules but particularly the limitation which is imposed by the code of selfdiscipline and the sanction behind that code of self-discipline which is applied by Mr. Speaker.
There is one other suggestion which I think we should make here and I hope the minister will take it in good part. For myself, I believe the government at this session has done a commendable thing in getting the legislation by and large introduced and on the order paper early in the session. The minister said that was his intent, and generally speaking he has succeeded in his attempt, although there were a rather larger number of bills than we should like to see introduced late in the session. Nevertheless, in general, the attempt has been made and I think has been successful. However, that being the case, I do want to suggest that it will do a very great deal to expedite the business of the house and, if you like, shorten the session, if the house leader and the government would set the pattern of taking up a subject and carrying it through and completing it before they take up another subject.
I recognize that quite frequently interruptions in debate are made to meet the convenience not only of members and ministers on that side of the house but of members on this side as well. I want to be fair in this. But I do think that even allowing for that, there is much too great a tendency to take up a subject, debate it for a couple of days, drop it and take up something else, which has the effect of course of making the debate less coherent, less effective, and also the very important effect of giving members a second wind and thus protracting the debate beyond what would quite possibly be the duration if it were taken up, dealt with, and disposed of before we went on to something else.
Subtopic: CONSIDERATION IN COMMITTEE OF THE WHOLE