PARLIAMENT of CANADA
House of Commons Procedure and Practice
Edited by Robert Marleau and Camille Montpetit
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24. The Parliamentary Record

Parliamentary Publications

The following publications of the House of Commons are described in this chapter:

  • Journals: The official record of what is done in the House, drawn from the scroll kept by Table Officers during the sittings of the House and signed by the Clerk of the House.
  • Debates: The transcribed, edited and corrected record of what is said in the House and in a Committee of the Whole.
  • Order Paper and Notice Paper: The Order Paper is the official agenda of the House, produced for each sitting day, and listing all items that may be brought forward in the Chamber on that day. The Notice Paper contains notices of items which Ministers and Members may wish to bring before the House.
  • Projected Order of Business: A document, produced each day the House sits, containing an unofficial forecast of the order of business for the House that day, including such information as the length of speeches and any time limits on debate.
  • Status of House Business: Updated daily when the House is sitting, this document provides cumulative information on the status of bills and motions.
  • Minutes of Proceedings, Evidence, and Reports of Committees: These three documents form the records produced by parliamentary committees — the “minutes” being the official record of business; the “evidence” being the verbatim transcript of proceedings held in public; and the “reports” containing the observations and recommendations that committees make to the House.
  • Bills: A bill is a proposed law, submitted to Parliament for its approval.

In 1994, the House began to distribute its publications electronically and the following year, it began the process of making its publications accessible worldwide through the Parliamentary Internet Parlementaire[1]  The growing accessibility of official publications by electronic means has meant a rationalization in production and distribution of the printed product. [2] 

Governing Provisions

The House of Commons has exclusive control of its publications. [3]  These documents are published under the authority of the House (as represented by the Speaker or the Clerk). All parliamentary publications are produced in both official languages. The Constitution and the Official Languages Act provide for the use and equal status of the official languages in the “records and journals” of Parliament. [4] 

Many of the Standing Orders of the House of Commons make explicit reference to the Journals, the Debates, the Order Paper and the Notice Paper[5]  These publications, along with minutes of committees and bills introduced in the House of Commons, are produced by order of the House, under the authority of the Speaker and are considered as “official” publications. Other unofficial publications (for example, the Projected Order of Business and the Status of House Business) have come into existence through administrative decisions or following recommendations of committees. They are also published under the authority of the Speaker or of the Clerk of the House.

The Standing Orders confer on the Clerk of the House responsibility for the preparation of House documents, as well as the safekeeping of parliamentary documents and records. [6] 

The Journals

The Journals record all that is done, or deemed done, by the House. They are the minutes of the meetings of the House [7]  and as such, the authoritative record of its proceedings, which may be used as evidence in a court of law. [8]  The Journals are prepared by House staff under the responsibility of the Clerk. The basis of the Journals is the scroll — notes and records kept by the Clerk of the House and other Table Officers in the course of a sitting. Formerly, the House produced daily Votes and Proceedings which were not designated as Journals until they had been revised and bound at the end of the session. Since September 1994, revised weekly Journals have been produced as well as unrevised daily Journals[9] 

No explicit authority exists by which the Journals are published. At the time of Confederation, the then Votes and Proceedings were published under a sessional order [10]  which read as follows:

That the Votes and Proceedings of this House be printed, being first perused by Mr. Speaker, and that he do appoint the printing thereof, and that no person but such as he shall appoint, do presume to print the same. [11] 

The record has since been produced without interruption; by the late 1870s, however, the practice of adopting a sessional order appeared to have fallen into disuse. [12] 

When the House is sitting, the unrevised Journals for a given sitting are available on the morning of the following weekday; revised compilations are published on a weekly basis. The Journals are also available in electronic format on the Internet. At the end of a session, a compilation of the revised Journals along with other information is available in a limited number of bound copies [13]  and on CD-ROM.

Format and Contents

Until the Second Session of the Thirtieth Parliament (1976-77), the Journals were printed in separate English and French editions; thereafter they have been printed in a bilingual side-by-side format. The Journals follow the order of proceedings in the House and succinct entries are made of the business conducted and decisions taken by the House.

The Standing Orders expressly state that a record is to be made in the Journals when a vote is cast by the Chair and reasons are given; [14]  and when documents and papers are tabled, presented or filed, including petitions and reports from committees and parliamentary delegations. [15]  In the event the House adjourns for want of a quorum, the names of Members present are to be recorded in the Journals[16]  Similarly, when a recorded vote has taken place, and Members have been registered as paired, their names are to be recorded in the Journals[17]  When a bill involving expenditure of public funds is before the House, the accompanying Royal Recommendation is recorded. [18]  Also, when the Clerk of Petitions reports to the House following the presentation of a petition for a private bill, the report is printed in the Journals [19]  and further Journals entries are made at subsequent points in the legislative process with regard to private bills. [20] 

The Journals contain no record of debate in the House, except to note that it took place on a question. Likewise, no record is made of the proceedings or decisions taken in a Committee of the Whole, except to note when a Committee of the Whole sits, reports progress and reports back a bill with or without amendment. When amendments are reported, they are printed in the Journals.

Corrections and Alterations

The daily Journals are revised and corrections or changes are incorporated prior to publication of the weekly Journals. The accuracy of the record has rarely been questioned. [21]  Errors or omissions have on occasion been brought to the attention of the House; [22]  editorial errors are corrected by those responsible for the publication. [23]  On one occasion, the Speaker informed the House that the record of the previous day’s proceedings had to be reprinted to correct a number of inaccuracies in voting lists. [24] 

The Debates

The House of Commons Debates, commonly known as the Debates or as Hansard[25]  is the report in extenso of the debates which take place in the House and in a Committee of the Whole, with due regard to necessary grammatical, vocabulary and editorial changes.

In the pre-Confederation assemblies and for some years after Confederation, there was no official reporting of debates in the House of Commons. [26]  Contemporary newspapers carried accounts of legislative proceedings including debates, with varying degrees of thoroughness, accuracy and impartiality.

After Confederation, there were attempts to establish a reporting service, which did not succeed as not all Members were convinced of the need. [27]  In 1875, reporting of proceedings in the House of Commons began to be carried out on a contract basis, overseen by a committee of the House and in accordance with guidelines meant to ensure the accuracy of the record. [28]  Over time, the system of contract reporting was found wanting, and the House came to the view that an improved and comprehensive official parliamentary report was needed. [29]  In April 1880, the House concurred in a committee report which recommended, in the interests of “greater permanency” and “a higher state of efficiency”, that the House engage its own permanent reporting staff. [30]  Thus, verbatim reporting of debates became an official function of the House under the control of a committee of the House. In 1882, with the adoption of a report from a committee appointed to supervise the Official Report of the Debates, the House agreed to produce an index to the Debates[31] 

The Debates are published under the authority of the Speaker of the House. They are compiled using the audio recording of the proceedings as well as information provided by Hansard staff stationed on the floor of the House. They are produced in both official languages and are available the next day.

Format and Contents

The Debates are published under separate cover in each official language, with uniformity of pagination between the two editions. [32]  The language used by the Member speaking is indicated. [33]  Like the Journals, the Debates follow the actual order of proceedings in the House, based on the order of business for the sitting; unlike the Journals, the Debates contain the full deliberations of the House — speeches and statements of Members as well as other comments and interventions made in the Chamber. It is not considered usual or regular to include in the Debates material not delivered in the Chamber; however, some exceptions exist. For example, the Debates contain:

  • division lists, when a recorded division takes place (paired Members are included); [34] 
  • written answers to questions on the Order Paper[35] 
  • the text of the Speech from the Throne at the beginning of each session;
  • other material specifically ordered by the House. [36] 

For information purposes, the House has occasionally agreed to print a text as an appendix to the Debates[37]  In certain circumstances, editorial notes may also be inserted. [38]  Each Friday, [39] the Debates contains an appendix comprising the following lists:

  • Chair occupants;
  • Members of the Board of Internal Economy;
  • Members of the House of Commons listed alphabetically and by province, including constituency name and political affiliation;
  • Committees and their membership;
  • Panel of Chairmen of Legislative Committees;
  • the Ministry, with ministerial titles and according to precedence;
  • Parliamentary Secretaries.

The Debates are also available in electronic format on the Internet, and at the end of each session, a compilation of the revised Debates is produced in a limited number of bound copies and also in CD-ROM format.

Corrections and Alterations

The unedited transcripts of Hansard, at one time produced on blue paper, continue to be known as the “blues”. The Debates Reporting Service sends to a Member who speaks in the House the transcript of his or her intervention. [40] Blues are also sent to the Press Gallery. Question Period blues are sent to the offices of party leaders, party research offices and the office of the Speaker. The blues may also be made available on request to other Members, to the Clerk and to senior House officials. At times, the Chair has referred to the blues in deciding points of order or grievances raised by Members. [41]  However, the blues are a preliminary copy and are not to be quoted from during debate. [42] 

A Member verifies his or her own intervention and may suggest corrections to errors and minor alterations to the transcription; a Member may not make material changes in the meaning of what was said in the House. It is a long-standing practice of the House that editors of the Debates may exercise judgement as to whether or not changes suggested by Members constitute the correction of an error or a minor alteration. [43]  The editors may likewise alter a sentence to render it more readable but may not go so far as to change its meaning. [44]  Editors must ensure that the Debates are a faithful reflection of what was said; any changes made, whether by Members or editors, are for the sole purpose of improving the readability of the text, given the difference between the spoken and written word.

In order for corrections and alterations to be considered, the blues must be returned within stipulated deadlines. Returned blues must be clearly initialed by the Member or a designated agent. If a Member’s blues are not returned, it is assumed there are no modifications to be made.

Substantial errors, as opposed to editorial changes, must be brought to the attention of the House by means of a point of order, as soon as possible after the sitting, if a Member wishes to have the verbatim record changed. Such mishaps may be attributed to a misstatement on the part of the Member, or to transcription error. [45]  A Member may correct the record of his or her own statement, but may not correct that of another Member. [46]  When a question arises in the House as to the accuracy of the record, it is the responsibility of the Speaker to look into the matter. [47]  On occasion the Speaker has seen fit to order the printing of a corrigendum to the Debates[48] 

Since the advent of broadcasting of House proceedings, occasional points of order have been raised on the basis of discrepancy in the content of the Debates and the broadcast tape. [49]  While such matters have been resolved as they arose, the Speaker, in 1978, noted:

An examination of the record through these electronic recording devices is being resorted to by more and more Canadians all the time. Therefore, additional strain is being put on the reporting staff who have enjoyed this editorial licence in the past. They now find themselves under the constraint of matching their records exactly with the language used on the radio and television. [50] 

In 1986, the Speaker repeated these remarks and suggested that the issue of the official status of the electronic Hansard ought to be clarified. [51]  Until this occurs, each discrepancy must be examined on its own merit. [52] 

The Order Paper and Notice Paper

The Order Paper and Notice Paper is a single publication, published daily when the House sits. It consists of two parts: the Order Paper and the Notice Paper. The Order Paper is the complete and authoritative agenda of all items of business which may be considered by the House of Commons; unless otherwise provided for in the Standing Orders, only those items may be considered by the House during a sitting. As its name suggests, the Notice Paper contains all items for which notice must be given. Together, these documents contain virtually all items of business which are before the House or which may be brought before the House.

The rules of the House require notice to be given before almost any matter of substance can be raised for consideration by the House. [53]  The usual way of giving notice is for the sponsoring Member to send a written and signed notice to the Clerk for inclusion in the Notice Paper. Notices given or deemed given on a particular day are printed in that day’s Notice Paper and transferred to the Order Paper after the applicable notice period has elapsed. All items, with the exception of Government Orders, are to be taken up in accordance with the precedence assigned to them on the Order Paper[54]  Thus, the Order Paper has a double significance. It contains, first, all items of business to be considered (orders) and, second, the sequence in which the orders are to be considered.

The Standing Orders require the Clerk of the House to provide the Speaker, each day before the House meets, with the official agenda of proceedings for the day. [55]  This rule has traditionally been interpreted to mean that the Speaker must be in possession of a copy of the Order Paper and Notice Paper before the business of the House may proceed.

Historical Perspective

The Order Paper originated as a document containing any item of business which the House had ordered to be taken up on a specified day. The Order Paper still contains such items; [56] other items are placed on the Order Paper not because the House has adopted an order but because the Standing Orders require it, after proper notice. [57] 

Formerly, it was the practice for notices submitted by Members to be appended to the Votes and Proceedings of the sitting during which the notice was given. [58]  The current practice of producing the Notice Paper with the Order Paper began on October 27, 1969, when the House was in the process of computerizing its production processes for publications. [59] 

Role of the Speaker

As with other parliamentary publications, the Order Paper and Notice Paper is published under the authority of the Speaker of the House. When a notice is submitted for inclusion on the Notice Paper, it is examined by procedural staff of the Clerk. If any procedural irregularity is found, modifications as to the form and content of the notice may then be made in consultation with the sponsoring Member. [60]  Where items of Private Members’ Business are concerned, it may happen that a certain item for which notice has been given is deemed to be substantially the same as another. In such cases, the rules give the Speaker discretionary power to refuse the most recent notice, inform the Member and return the item. [61] 

Format and Contents

The Order Paper and Notice Paper is a bilingual publication, available electronically and in a printed version. The part containing the Order Paper is divided into sections corresponding to the various categories of orders the House considers:

  • Order of Business: Items for which notice has already been given and which are awaiting introduction during Routine Proceedings. They are listed under Introduction of Government Bills, Introduction of Private Members’ Bills, First Reading of Senate Public Bills, and Motions (including motions for concurrence in committee reports);
  • Government Orders: Items which are already before the House and are awaiting first consideration or resumption of debate. They are listed under Supply Proceedings, Ways and Means Proceedings, Government Bills (Commons), Government Bills (Senate), and Government Business;
  • Notices of Motions for the Production of Papers: This list appears only on Wednesdays; [62]
  • Private Members’ Business: Items in the order of precedence appear in the order in which they are to be considered by the House. The list may change from day to day as items are added or dropped and because the rules allow exchanges of place. [63]  The list of items outside the order of precedence is available electronically, and an updated copy is kept for consultation at the Table in the House;
  • Questions: Written questions are printed only when they appear on the Notice Paper. The complete list of questions on the Order Paper is also available electronically and at the Table for consultation.

The Order Paper also includes the “Weekly Review of Business”, a compilation of information on items of business introduced, placed on notice or considered in the House during the course of the week. The Review in Monday’s Order Paper contains the complete summary for the preceding week. The information is also incorporated in the Status of House Business, which is updated daily when the House sits.

Similar to the Order Paper, items on the Notice Paper are listed under the following categories of business:

  • Introduction of Government Bills;
  • Introduction of Private Members’ Bills;
  • Motions (Routine Proceedings);
  • Questions;
  • Notices of Motions for the Production of Papers;
  • Business of Supply;
  • Government Business;
  • Private Members’ Notices of Motions;
  • Private Members’ Business;
  • Report Stage of Bills.

Transfer to Order Paper from Notice Paper

When the notice requirement for a given item has been met, the notice is transferred to the appropriate section of the Order Paper. Some particularities found in the Notice Paper are worth noting:

  • Opposition motions under Supply proceedings, which are to be debated on “allotted” or “opposition” days, require only 24 hours’ notice. [64]  The motion is usually taken up by the House on the sitting day following the day notice is given. The text of the motion appears simultaneously on the Order Paper and on the Notice Paper.
  • Motions to amend a bill at report stage following second reading also require only 24 hours’ notice. [65]  In order to keep all such proposed amendments together, the list of these notices together with the list of any deferred divisions on report stage motions are kept in the Notice Paper even after the notice requirement has been met.
  • The rules require that any item of Private Members’ Business to be considered on a given day must also appear on that day’s Notice Paper; if the notice does not appear, no Private Members’ Business is taken up that day. [66] 

Written questions appear once on the Notice Paper when notice is given, and are then moved to the list of questions on the Order Paperwhich is available electronically and at the Table. [67]  When a question has been dealt with (answered, made an order for return, withdrawn or transferred [68]), the fact is noted in the Status of House Business.

Withdrawing Items from the Order Paper

As long as a motion has not been proposed to the House, it remains a notice and the sponsoring Member is free to withdraw it; the consent of the House is not required. [69]  A notice may be withdrawn in one of two ways: the Member either makes a written request to the Clerk to withdraw the notice or rises in the House to withdraw the notice orally. [70]  This applies to items on the Notice Paper and on the Order Paper, as long as the House has not been seized of them — for example, bills not yet introduced, motions not yet moved, [71]  and notices of motions for the production of papers. [72]  The item is then removed from the Notice Paper or the Order Paper. In addition, in certain circumstances notices have been removed from the Order Paper and Notice Paper by the Speaker when informed, for example, of the death or resignation of a sponsoring Member. [73]  On one occasion, the Speaker informed the House that a revised Notice Paper had been prepared, which included notices of report stage amendments inadvertently left off the original. [74] 

Once a notice has been transferred to the Order Paper and moved in the House, [75]  it is considered to be in the possession of the House and can only be removed from the Order Paper by an order of the House; that is, the Member who has moved the motion requests that it be withdrawn, and the House must give its unanimous consent. [76] 

Special Order Paper

From time to time, a Special Order Paper is published. [77]  This may happen before the opening of the first or a subsequent session of a Parliament, or when the House stands adjourned and the government wishes the House to give immediate consideration to a matter or matters for which notice would have to be given. [78]  Once advised of this, the Speaker ensures that the required notice is published in a Special Order Paper, which is circulated to Members at least 48 hours before the session either begins or resumes.

The format of a Special Order Paper is like that of a regular Order Paper. It contains only the notices of the measure or measures which are to receive the immediate consideration of the House.

The Projected Order of Business

The Order Paper lists all the business which might be taken up by the House on a given day, but it does not indicate which items the government intends, or is likely, to call. The Projected Order of Business, published each sitting day, is a tentative working agenda which lists all the government and Private Members’ Business expected to be taken up on a particular day. It was first published in 1983 as a result of a special procedure committee’s identification of the need for a “simplified, unofficial, daily agenda, in addition to the Order Paper, to indicate the likely order of business for any particular day”. [79] 

Format and Contents

The Projected Order of Business is produced in side-by-side bilingual format. A printed version is available and distributed daily to Members when the House sits; in addition, it is available electronically and may also be viewed on the parliamentary television channel.

Material is organized under a sequence of headings corresponding to the Order of Business for the day, including Government Orders and Private Members’ Business. Entries under the headings indicate which items from the Order Paper are expected to be taken up when that heading is called by the Chair. When no entry appears under items for which notice is required, it may be taken to mean either that the Order Paper has no items listed for that category of business, or that any of the items appearing on the Order Paper under that heading may be taken up. Typically, there would be no entries under other items which do not require notice, such as tabling of documents or presenting petitions.

In addition, the Projected Order of Business contains notes providing the reader with information, such as length of speeches and any time limits on debate (with reference to the applicable Standing or Special Orders) applying to items expected to come before the House, as well as a projection of business for subsequent days. The projection is based on the order of precedence for Private Members’ Business and on the weekly statement on government business. [80]

Subject to Change

Items listed under the heading of Government Orders are included on the basis of the weekly business statements and information provided to the Clerk by the office of the Government House Leader. As indicated on the document itself, the listing is subject to change without notice, as the government retains its right to determine the sequence in which items of government business are called and considered. [81] 

The Status of House Business

The Status of House Business provides a concise history of each item of business which has been consiered by the House or which has appeared on the Order Paper and Notice Paper since the beginning of the session. Produced under the authority of the Clerk, it is available electronically and updated daily. Until the end of the Thirty-Fifth Parliament (1994-97), the Status of House Business was printed approximately once a month when the House was sitting.

Format and Contents

The Status of House Business is produced in both official languages and has three parts. Part I contains the legislative history of all the bills in the House (government bills and private Members’ bills, as well as bills originating in the Senate). Part II gives similar information with respect to motions (motions under Government Orders, motions for the production of papers, private Members’ motions and motions dealing with other business such as the operations of the House and its committees). Part III contains information on written questions submitted by private Members.

The Status of House Business is accompanied by an alphabetical, subject-based index. References in this index are to the various items of business and sections of the document. Lists are provided under certain headings, such as bills, government business, Supply proceedings and Ways and Means proceedings.

Minutes of Proceedings, Evidence and Reports of Committees

Each committee of the House produces its own records. Since 1995, these records have become available primarily by electronic means. They include three main documents:

  • the minutes of proceedings: the formal record of business occurring during a committee meeting;
  • the evidence: the in extenso transcript of what is said during a meeting;
  • reports to the House: the means by which committees make their views and recommendations known.

All committee records are made available electronically under the authority of the Speaker of the House. Under the Standing Orders, committees are empowered to print papers and evidence in accordance with any such decision they may make. [82]  However, this authority is somewhat qualified by limitations set by the Board of Internal Economy. [83] 

Corrections and Alterations

Unedited transcripts of committee proceedings, known (as with the Debates) as “blues”, are made available on request to committee members, usually within 24 hours after a committee meets. Traditionally, minor corrections could be effected by informing the committee clerk, who would have an erratum printed; corrections of a more significant nature would be made by the committee itself as a corrigendum[84]  In 1993, the decision of a committee to alter its official record by expunging portions of testimony gave rise to a question of privilege in the House. The Speaker’s ruling established that a committee’s power to print includes the right not to print, which may be extended to a decision to omit evidence from the record. [85] 

Bills

The House of Commons considers proposed laws — or bills — submitted for its approval by Ministers or private Members. Bills originating in the House are published and circulated under the authority of the Speaker; they are also available in electronic format. They are designated by letter and number in accordance with the type of bill and its House of origin. Bills originating in the House and sponsored by Ministers are numbered from C-1 to C-200, in the order of their introduction during the session. Bills originating in the House and sponsored by private Members are likewise numbered from C-201 to C-1000 through the session. All bills originating in the Senate are numbered from S-1. Most private bills originate in the Senate, but any originating in the Commons would be numbered from C-1001. All bills originating in the House are printed in both official languages by order of the House. [86] 


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