PARLIAMENT of CANADA
House of Commons Procedure and Practice
Edited by Robert Marleau and Camille Montpetit
2000 EditionMore information …
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13. Rules of Order and Decorum

Manner of Speaking

Place of Speaking

Any Member who wishes to participate in the proceedings must stand and be in his or her designated place to be recognized and to speak. [78]  Exceptions to these two conditions have occurred but only rarely and in unusual circumstances, for example, when a Member has been unable to rise as a result of an injury or illness. [79]  When the Chair occupant rises, a Member must sit down. [80]  Members have been discouraged from sitting on chair arms or on desks with their backs to the House. When the House sits as a Committee of the Whole, a Member may rise and speak from any seat.

Remarks Addressed to the Chair

Any Member participating in debate must address the Chair, not the House, a particular Minister or Member, the galleries, or the television audience. Since one of the basic principles of procedure in the House is that the proceedings be conducted in terms of a free and civil discourse, [81]  Members are less apt to engage in direct heated exchanges and personal attacks when their comments are directed to the Chair rather than to another Member. If a Member directs remarks towards another Member and not the Speaker, he or she will be called to order and may be asked to rephrase the remarks. [82]  In a Committee of the Whole, Members must direct their comments to the Chairman. [83 

Proper Attire

While there is no Standing Order setting down a dress code for Members participating in debate, [84]  Speakers have ruled that to be recognized to speak in debate, on points of order or during Question Period, tradition and practice require all Members, male or female, to dress in contemporary business attire. [85]  The contemporary practice and unwritten rule require, therefore, that male Members wear a jacket, shirt and tie as standard dress. Clerical collars have been allowed, although ascots and turtlenecks have been ruled inappropriate for male Members participating in debate. [86]  The Chair has even stated that wearing a kilt is permissible on certain occasions (for example, Robert Burns Day). [87]  Members of the House who are in the armed forces have been permitted to wear their uniforms in the House. [88] 

In certain circumstances, usually for medical reasons, the Chair has allowed a relaxation of the dress standards allowing, for example, a male Member whose arm was in a cast to wear a sweater in the House instead of a jacket. [89] 

Language of Debate

The Constitution Act, 1867 guarantees that a Member may address the House in either English or French. [90]  Given the bilingual nature of the House and the existence of simultaneous interpretation, [91]  Members rarely have difficulty expressing their views and having those views understood in the Chamber. In addition, all parliamentary publications, such as the Journals, the Debates, and the Order Paper and Notice Paper, are printed in both official languages.

Other languages are occasionally used in debate, but not at great length[92]  and a ember will sometimes provide the Debates editor with a translation of his or her remarks. [93]  As the Speaker has noted, however, serious difficulties could arise in maintaining order in debate (and by extension accurate records of the House) if languages other than English or French were used to any great extent. [94]  A Member has also used sign language to make a statement and to ask a question during Question Period. [95] 

Reading Speeches

While not formally prohibited by a Standing Order, practice holds that when addressing the House, Members should not read from a written, prepared speech. [96] A Member may, however, use notes when delivering a speech. The purpose of this rule, which derived from British practice, is to maintain the cut and thrust of debate, which depends upon successive speakers addressing to some extent in their speeches the arguments put forward by previous speakers. [97] 

Although the tradition of not reading speeches existed at Confederation, in 1886 the House adopted the following resolution:

… the growing practice in the Canadian House of Commons of delivering speeches of great length, having the character of carefully and elaborately prepared written essays, and indulging in voluminous and often irrelevant extracts, [which] is destructive of legitimate and pertinent debate upon public questions, is a waste of valuable time, unreasonably lengthens the Sessions of Parliament, threatens by increased bulk and cost to lead to the abolition of the official report of the Debates, encourages a discursive and diffuse, rather than an incisive and concise style of public speaking, is a marked contrast to the practice in regard to debate that prevails in the British House of Commons, and tends to repel the public from a careful and intelligent consideration of the proceedings of Parliament.[98] 

Despite this resolution, over the years several Speakers expressed concern that Members were not delivering speeches extemporaneously. Attempts to enforce the rule failed and resulted in a number of Speaker’s statements and rulings on this matter. [99]  In 1956, Speaker Beaudoin received the consent of the House to have printed in the Journals a statement on the rule regarding the reading of speeches. In the statement, he examined the rule as established by the authorities on procedure (i.e., May, Bourinot, and Beauchesne and various Speakers) and the practice of the House under the rule. He then summarized the practice which is still being followed today:

A Member addressing the House may refer to notes. The Prime Minister, the cabinet ministers, the Leader of the Opposition, the leaders of other parties or Members speaking on their behalf, may read important policy speeches. New Members may read their [maiden] speeches. The Members speaking in a language other than their mother tongue, the Members speaking in debates involving matters of a technical nature, or in debates on the Address in Reply to the Speech from the Throne and on the Budget may use full notes or, if they wish, read their speeches.[100] 

Other than in the most blatant cases, the Chair has shown a disinclination to insist that Members refrain from reading from a written speech, preferring to wait until attention is drawn to a transgression on a point of order, at which time the Chair typically rules that it is permissible for a Member to refer to notes. [101] 

Use of Lectern

Members are not permitted to use a lectern when delivering a speech in the Chamber, with the sole exception of the Minister of Finance, who may use one during the presentation of the Budget. Chair occupants have, however, indicated that it is acceptable for Members to lay their notes on books. [102] 

Citation of Documents

There is no Standing Order which governs the citation of documents; the House is guided mainly by custom and precedents. Generally, the reading of articles from newspapers, books or other documents by a Member during debate has become an accepted practice and is not ruled out of order provided that such quotations do not reflect on past proceedings in the House, [103]  do not refer to or comment on or deny anything said by a Member, [104]  or use language which would be out of order if spoken by a Member. [105] 

A speech should not consist of a single long quotation or a series of quotations joined together with a few original sentences. [106]  Members may not quote from the “blues” (the unedited preliminary version of Hansard) nor may they quote from correspondence when there is no way of ensuring the authenticity of the signature. [107]  They may quote from private correspondence as long as they identify the sender by name or take full responsibility for its contents. [108]  Finally, Members may not quote from the proceedings of a committee before it has reported to the House. [109] 

Tabling of Documents and Speeches

Any document quoted by a Minister in debate or in response to a question during Question Period must be tabled. [110]  Indeed, a Minister is not at liberty to read or quote from a despatch (an official written message on government affairs) or other state paper without being prepared to table it if it can be done without injury to the public interest. [111]  As Speaker Glen noted in a 1941 ruling, “an honourable member is not entitled to read from communications unless prepared to place them on the Table of the House. The principle upon which this is based is that where information is given to the House, the House itself is entitled to the same information as the honourable member who may quote the document.” [112]  A public document referred to but not cited by a Minister need not be tabled; only the document cited by a Minister is tabled. [113]  If a Minister quotes a private letter in debate, the letter becomes a public document and must be tabled on request. [114]  However, a Minister is not obliged to table personal notes referred to during debate or Question Period. [115]  All documents tabled in the House by a Minister are required to be tabled in both official languages. [116] 

There has been a long-standing practice in the House that private Members may not table documents, official or otherwise. [117]  Speaker Lamoureux submitted that while Ministers must table official documents cited in debate in support of an argument, this rule has never been interpreted to apply to a document, official or otherwise, referred to by private Members. In 1974, when a Member attempted to seek unanimous consent to table a document, Speaker Lamoureux stated that there was “no provision in the rules for a private Member to table or file documents in any way.” The Speaker concluded by suggesting that Members “could presumably make them public in a number of other ways”. [118]  However, since the mid-1980s, Members have been allowed on occasion to table documents or material to which they may have referred during their speeches or during Question Period with the unanimous consent of the House. [119]  These documents (often copies of correspondence or advertisements) have typically been tabled in only one language. [120]  Private Members sometimes place material for the information of all Members on the Table, although this is not considered an official tabling. [121] 

In order that the Debates be as accurate a record as possible of what has been spoken in the House, Members are not permitted to table speeches for printing in Hansard[122]  On rare occasions, a Member has received the consent of the House to have long lists, statistics or similar material printed in the Debates as part of a speech. [123]  There have also been instances when the House has given its consent to have documents or exchanges of letters printed as a formal appendix to the Debates for the information of the House. [124] 

Displays, Exhibits, Props

Speakers have consistently ruled out of order displays or demonstrations of any kind used by Members to illustrate their remarks or emphasize their positions. Similarly, props of any kind, used as a way of making a silent comment on issues, have always been found unacceptable in the Chamber. Members may hold notes in their hands, but they will be interrupted and reprimanded by the Speaker if they use papers, documents or other objects to illustrate their remarks. [125]  Exhibits have also been ruled inadmissible. [126]  During the debate on the flag in 1964, the Speaker had to remind Members on numerous occasions that the display of competing flag designs was not permissible. [127]  Small Canadian flags and desk flags have been disallowed when they have been used to cause disorder in the House for the purpose of interrupting a Member’s speech. [128]  While political buttons and lapel pins have not been considered exhibits as long as they do not cause disorder, [129]  the Speaker has interrupted a division to request that certain Members remove “props” from their lapels. [130] 

Maiden Speech

A Member’s first speech in the House is referred to as his or her maiden speech. Traditionally, the House extends certain concessions or courtesies to a Member delivering a maiden speech. On such occasions, the Speaker may recognize that Member in preference to others rising at the same time; however, this privilege will not be granted unless claimed within the Parliament to which the Member was first elected. [131]  The Member is permitted to read his or her speech [132] and, by courtesy, is not interrupted. Additional time beyond that allotted by the rules is sometimes granted by the Chair to permit a Member to complete his or her speech. [133]  Since consideration of the Address in Reply to the Speech from the Throne is normally the first extensive debate in a new session, many new Members take advantage of the occasion to make their first speeches. [134] 


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