July 12, 1955 (22nd Parliament, 2nd Session)


Jean-François Pouliot


Mr. Pouliot:

Mr. Chairman, the discussion of the rules on July 1 was on a very high plane. I have just a few remarks to make about the proposals that are before us at the present time.

Eighteen years ago I was a member of the empire parliamentary conference. At a sitting of that conference, which took place at Westminster hall on May 6, 1937, the coronation year of the late King and the Queen Mother, I mentioned the rules of the house. Hon. members know that for centuries the British rules were few in number. The first one dates from 1707. It was standing order No. 63. Then there were two others, one in 1713, No. 6 and one in 1715, No. 65. The next one is 1821, No. 66. Therefore between 1707 and 1821 there were only four standing orders in force at Westminster and they referred to public money. In 1835 another standing order was passed, namely No. 81, to the effect that seats were not to be taken by members before prayers. In 1842 five standing orders were passed by the House of Commons, namely Nos. 75 to 79, relating to public petitions. Therefore at the time when May published the first edition of his valuable treatise only 10 standing orders were in force in the house at Westminster.
I thought that it might be of some interest to write a book on the rules of the various legislatures of the commonwealth. As one always does before writing a textbook, I made my own library. I obtained the rules up to date in 1937 from each legislature of the empire and I started my work on the standing orders of Australia. They were much more numerous than ours. I made my tabulations with great care in order to show what rules were the same in the larger number of the legislatures of the British Empire.
Then I went to Longmans, Green and Company in the shadow of St. Paul's cathedral and a reader gave me an interview. He was a very bright gentleman. He was a mind reader who could finish my sentences. It was an easy conversation. I showed him my notes or my tabulation and I asked him whether it was worth while writing a book on those lines. He said: Leave it with me and I will answer you in two or three days. When I returned to see him, he was friendly and he told me this: "Young man, if you want to write a book like this you may do so, but do not undertake such a work unless you have a foundation behind you because nobody will read it; nobody reads the rules."
What he said is true. I had proof of that fact when, after my speech, a gentleman by the name of Mr. F. W. Schramm, M.P. from New Zealand, said that he was delighted to have travelled 10,000 miles to listen to a great man like Sir John Simon; then he said: "What is the use of speaking of such a large number of rules when nobody pays any attention to them?" That was my experience. I destroyed my manuscript, which represented
12, 1955
Special Committee on Procedure some work, but it gave me the opportunity to realize what the rules of the house are.
The book of standing orders is divided into two parts. One part relates to the discussion of public bills and the other to the discussion of private bills. There should be another distinction made with respect to the duties of the clerk and assistant clerk of the house and the chief of orders because there are many rules that do not interest members. They are those that relate to the compilation of the orders of the day and Votes and Proceedings. When we come here we have two booklets in front of us. Votes and Proceedings relates to what has been done on the previous day and the orders of the day are the agenda for the present day. No member of the house, except possibly the leader of the house with the advice of the leaders of the other groups, has anything to do with them. It is done mostly by the chief of orders and notices and the clerk and assistant clerk of the house.
Therefore there are many rules that concern the members but which they are not interested in reading, and most of the time they take for granted that the work done by the officers of the house is satisfactory. In my personal knowledge extending over 31 years I do not recall a complaint being made by any member about the priority of one matter over another. Perhaps it has been suggested once or twice. Therefore, leaving aside those rules that concern the officers of the house gives us the opportunity to read the rules that are the shield and armour of members when they are engaged in debate or discussion. They are very few. Of course there are the rules of good education. One shall not be covered when he addresses the chair. We learned that in our families. It is nothing extraordinary.
There is a practice that members can wear their hats when they sit in the house. It came about because of the drafts at Westminster. They had to protect their skulls against the drafts coming across the hall. There is another practice that when members rise to speak during a division they must be covered. Not very long ago a member of parliament had to borrow a hat from a lady member to cover his head when he was addressing the chair during a division. But that is exceptional and it is rather ridiculous. It is outdated and out of fashion, and nobody would think of following tradition to that extent.
Now, what is the rule about sittings? Is it necessary to learn it by heart? I do not think so because the bells are there to summon the members. Sometimes they do not

Special Committee on Procedure ring long enough and we happen to arrive during the prayers. We miss the prayers because the ringing of the bells has been too short, but the bells are heard by all members of the house. Then there is another rule concerning the quorum, which is 20 members. If some members wish to object to what is said when there is a lack of a quorum they may do so. It happens very seldom, and the chair is always indulgent and waits until more members come to give a decision.
Then there is a rule to the effect that Mr. Speaker shall preserve order and decorum. There is standing order No. 15 concerning the business of the house and the orders of the day which are prepared by the chief of orders and notices and the clerks of the house.
Standing order No. 16 is a very important one and makes provision for the immediate consideration of any matter of privilege. This is fair because when there is an argument between two members, and a member objects to anything offensive which has been said, he may rise in the house. A member may exercise his right to rise on a question of privilege if any insults have been published in the press for speeches given outside of parliament. If some newspaper attacks a member of parliament, he has a right to defend himself and to defend his honour as a member of parliament in the very chamber where he is sitting. There is no question about it, because if the offensive language is used against the member in his capacity as a member of parliament, he has a right to defend himself in the House of Commons; that is clear.
Naturally, there is abuse of the privilege at times. There are some members who rise to say that their hockey team or rugby team has won something, and that is of no interest to the lawmakers of the country. It is very good publicity, and we must be tolerant in cases like that because they make members so happy in the thought that the best sportsmen in Canada live in their constituency and have accomplished a remarkable success.
To continue my line of argument, sir, standing orders Nos. 17, 18, 19, 20, 21, 22, 23, 24, 25 and 26 refer to the clerk of the house. Then, standing order No. 37 concerns the limitation of speeches. I feel that 20 minutes is long enough for a speech, provided that one is not interrupted and provided that no sermon is made during the speech. Then, one can go on and express what he has to say in 20 minutes. This rule is not fair because there are exceptions for some cabinet members and some members of the opposition. I do not see why these gentlemen could not answer any charge in 20 minutes, except

when they have to reply to specific accusations and they have to read some papers which form part of the evidence.
Then, there is the rule concerning debatable motions, and there is a list of them. There are many members who rise to speak to motions, but it is for the Chair to decide whether or not a motion is debatable.
Standing order No. 40 says that members have a right to explain their point of view, and it refers also to irrelevance or repetition. I am never so happy as when one of my colleagues says the thing I would have liked to say before I speak. This is in accordance with the law of the least effort, and it is a great joy to hear what I wanted to say said by another member.
Under standing order No. 41 no member shall speak disrespectfully of Her Majesty, and offensive language against any member of parliament is forbidden. There is something that surprises me about this rule. It extends not only to Her Majesty but also to the governor or person administering the government of Canada. The order reads:
No member shall speak disrespectfully of Her Majesty, nor of any of the royal family: nor of the governor or person administering the government of Canada; nor use offensive words against either house, or against any member thereof.
If it applies to the royal family, it should apply also to the whole family of the governor general and the person administering the government of Canada in his absence. Nobody attacks them, but it would be fair to put them on the same standing as the royal family. The order continues: \
No member may reflect upon any vote of the house, except for the purpose of moving that such vote be rescinded.
Standing order 41 goes with standing order 16, which reads:
Whenever any matter of privilege arises it shall be taken into consideration immediately.
We can ask a colleague to withdraw when he uses offensive language, but not when he has made an erroneous statement which contains nothing offensive. For instance, if a member says that a minister has not consulted his colleagues, it is a statement of fact. The minister rises and says: "I have consulted my colleagues." The matter is closed. If a member uses offensive language against any one of his colleagues, the member concerned may rise and ask for a withdrawal, but the member is bound to withdraw only offensive language, not a statement of fact which might be erroneous, but which contains nothing offensive in itself. Well, that is about all.
Questions are given to the clerk. A few years ago it was not necessary to sign them. Now they have decided the members should

sign the questions. If we give two copies of the questions it helps the officers of the house downstairs, and it is a very simple matter. The questions shall contain no statement of fact; that is all.
I have come to the conclusion that Mr. Schramm of New Zealand was right when he said that nobody paid any attention to the rules of the house and the discussion was nevertheless carried on satisfactorily. You remember, sir, that I complained not so long ago that a big concern like the Canadian National Railways had no regulation with respect to discussion. It is provided for in the new act that they are to have bylaws concerning the discussions at their meetings. That is new. I asked the Canadian Bankers Association whether they had any rules governing the annual meetings of the shareholders or the meetings of the board of directors and they said, "We never heard about it", but the discussion is carried on very well because, as the Minister of Finance, the leader of the house, mentioned the other day, it must always be carried on in a spirit of fairness.
One should not be too punctilious and too dogmatic about the rules. I remember that one of the predecessors of the present leader of the house referred at one time to rule 510, and I told him there was no such rule. Afterwards the word "citation" instead of the word "quotation" was used. What is that citation? That citation is a quotation from a ruling that may have been made 200 or 300 years ago, before the standing orders existed at Westminster, by a gentleman who happened to be Speaker, who made a decision under circumstances and conditions entirely different from those in which we live. Are we bound by that? What was the case before that Speaker? We do not know. That is why I said that most of the books which have been manufactured by Pepper, scissors and glue, the dicta of Redlich and all the other illustrious men, Anson, Bourinot, Sir Courtenay Ilbert and Beauchesne, were very easily manufactured. One had only to have the excerpts copied and then put them in disorder, in complete disorder. Cut them out with scissors and have them glued by Pepper, who was messenger to His Grace, and it was the rules of the house. Nobody understood anything in them, but there was one expert who could tell the government and the opposition, who wrote the rules of the house, and finally the books came out as an anthology of learning. I do not believe in it; I never did. I believe that the discussion should be according to the unwritten rules of fair discussion and debate, and then everybody would be satisfied. It would be in order; everybody would be satisfied. The less regard
Special Committee on Procedure we pay to the obsolete precedents the better we are, because these British precedents are completely ignored in Westminster at the present time. The Chair must have a broad outlook and be fair to members of parliament, as you are, sir, in order that they may fulfil their painstaking duties with the greatest ease and without any discrimination.
It is very easy for hon. members to understand the rules that concern them, because they are very few. They are clear enough to be understood by members who are not experts.
With regard to legislation, it is very seldom that members sponsor public bills, and when they do those bills do not go very far. I remember that I succeeded in having a bill passed in a few minutes to abolish one of the boards that had been created some years ago. I sponsored legislation to repeal the economic council act, and it was passed. It went out like that, but there was a barrage in the caucus the same day. I also sponsored bills to repeal the social legislation of the Conservative government which had been declared void by the privy council, but the prime minister of the time, Mr. Mackenzie King, adjourned the debate on each bill and it was never resumed.
The time is late and members have made concessions to each other in order to expedite the business of the house and I shall not insist upon this any further. What I want to say is that for 31 years in the House of Commons I have been more or less active. On looking up the index I find that I have made more speeches than any member of parliament. I have never bothered about the rules because I believed in the fairness of the Speakers when there was any difficulty.
I was glad that the prime minister and the government recognized the merits of Speaker Black and Speaker Bowman in appointing them members of the privy council. Other Speakers were appointed to the privy council upon leaving office but it took a Liberal government to give this deserved reward to these Conservative Speakers.

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