Principles and Guidelines for Oral Questions
The primary purpose of Question Period is to seek information from the Government and to call it to account for its actions. Practice, precedents and statements made by various Speakers in the House have helped over time to define the conduct of Question Period.
There is no formal notice requirement for the posing of oral questions, although some Members, as a courtesy, inform the Minister of the questions they intend to ask.
Members are given the greatest possible freedom during Question Period as long as their questions are consistent with the guidelines.
All questions and answers must be directed through the Chair. When recognized in Question Period, a Member should:
- ask a question concerning a matter that is within the administrative responsibility of the Government or of a specific Minister;
- be brief; and
- seek information.
Restrictions on Oral Questions
A question should not:
- be a statement, a representation, an argument or an expression of opinion;
- be hypothetical;
- seek an opinion, either legal or otherwise;
- seek secret information such as the particulars of Cabinet proceedings or legal advice given to the Crown;
- reflect on the character or conduct of Chair occupants, Members of the Senate and of the House or judges;
- reflect on the character or conduct of the Governor General or of the Sovereign;
- refer to proceedings in the Senate;
- refer to a matter that is under investigation by the Ethics Commissioner for the House of Commons;
- refer to public statements by Ministers on matters not directly related to their departmental duties;
- address a Minister's former portfolio or other presumed functions, such as party or regional political responsibilities;
- deal with the subject matter of a question of privilege previously raised, on which the Speaker has not yet made a ruling;
- create disorder;
- make an accusation by way of a preamble;
- be a question from a constituent; or
- be on a matter that is sub judice (before the courts).
Sub judice Convention
The sub judice convention ("under the consideration of a judge or court") applies to debate, to statements and to Question Period. Members are expected to refrain from discussing matters actively before the courts or under judicial consideration in order to guard those involved in a court action or judicial inquiry from any undue influence. It is deemed improper for a Member, in posing a question, or for a Minister, in responding, to comment on any matter that is sub judice.
No attempt has ever been made to codify this convention and its interpretation is left to the Speaker. While all Members share in this exercise of restraint, the Speaker must ultimately determine whether a subject raised during the consideration of oral questions is sub judice. The Speaker routinely rules out of order questions concerning criminal cases between the time that a charge is laid and the time at which a verdict and sentence have been reached. In civil proceedings the practice is to disallow any discussion from the time a hearing date is set, until the proceedings end.