PARLIAMENT of CANADA
House of Commons Procedure and Practice
Edited by Robert Marleau and Camille Montpetit
2000 EditionMore information …
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14. The Curtailment of Debate

Closure

Closure is a procedural device used to bring debate on a question to a conclusion by “ … a majority decision of the House, although all Members wishing to speak have not done so”. [30]  The closure rule [31]  provides the government with a procedure to prevent the further adjournment of debate on any matter and to require that the question be put at the end of the sitting in which a motion of closure is adopted. Apart from technical changes as to the hour at which debate is to conclude, [32]  the rule has remained virtually unchanged since its adoption in 1913.

Closure may be applied to any debatable matter, including bills and motions. The rule was conceived for use in a Committee of the Whole [33]  as much as in the House, but it cannot be applied to business being considered in standing, special, legislative or joint committees of the House. When these committees are considering bills, the House may use the time allocation rule [34]  to impose a deadline on the committee stage or to force a committee to report the bill to the House.

Historical Perspective

Introduced at Westminster in 1881 and in the Australian House of Representatives in 1905, the closure rule was not adopted by the Canadian House of Commons until 1913. [35]  The idea of closure had, however, been discussed on a number of occasions, but the House had never been able to adopt a closure rule satisfactory to both government and opposition. By 1913, strong and organized opposition had managed to delay the adoption of government legislation on at least four occasions. [36]  Speeches from that period allude to the occasional inability of the House to come to a vote on a question and, in 1911, during one of these protracted debates, a Member of the opposition spoke of the possibility of “illimitable discussion”. [37]  Opposition Leader Robert Borden, who would eventually introduce the new rule, had himself suggested that a closure rule would be “undesirable,” [38]  but nearly two years of discussion on naval policy convinced him of the necessity to bring forward a motion which, among other things, would introduce the closure rule. These changes, vigorously attacked by the opposition, were debated for nearly a month before being adopted. [39]  The new closure rule was immediately tested by the government only a few days after its adoption, during debate at the Committee of the Whole stage of the Naval Aid Bill. [40] 

Used nine times from 1913 to 1932, the closure rule was then not resorted to for 24 years. In May and June 1956, during the Pipeline Debate, closure was invoked at each stage of the legislative process. [41]  This episode, which gave rise to much analysis and commentary, had lasting repercussions on Members’ perception of how the House operates. [42] 

The rule has been the subject of scrutiny and discussion on numerous occasions. In December 1957, the new Diefenbaker government placed a notice of motion on the Order Paper to repeal the closure rule, but the motion was never debated. [43]  In July 1960, Prime Minister Diefenbaker expressed the hope that “the rules committee will give consideration to removing from the rule book the closure procedure”. [44]  The Committee never acted on that matter. In March 1962, another special committee was set up to consider the procedures of the House and, in particular, “to consider the desirability of repealing” the closure rule; [45]  it did not report on this issue. The Throne Speech in September 1962 indicated that the House would be asked to abolish closure, but this also was not acted upon. [46]  During the Thirtieth Parliament (1974-79), a sub-committee of the Standing Committee on Procedure and Organization recommended, in its report on the use of time, that a new Standing Order based on the British House of Commons’ closure rule be adopted, [47]  but this was never recommended to the House. The issue of repealing the closure rule still resurfaces from time to time. [48] 

Notice of Closure

Prior to moving a motion for closure, an oral notice of intention to do so must have been given by a Minister at a previous sitting of the House or a Committee of the Whole. The rule is not specific as to when such notice may be given; thus a variety of precedents exist. Notice of intention to move a closure motion has been given: when there was no question before the House; [49]  when the motion to be closured was under debate; [50]  and when the question before the House was not related to the notice. [51]  Notice has been given on the first day of debate on the motion to be closured, [52]  and after one or more days of debate. [53]  Regardless, debate on the item which is the subject of the notice must have begun before notice of closure may be given. [54] 

Although there is no requirement to give notice more than once, Ministers have provided the same notice in several sittings so as to avoid any objection that notice had not been given at the previous sitting. [55]  On the other hand, no obligation exists to proceed with moving the closure motion even if notice has been given; there have been cases where the notice was not proceeded with. [56]  On one occasion, the government gave notice of closure on four separate bills, all at the same time: three at second reading and one at third reading; [57]  however, four motions proposing closure, one for each bill, had to be moved separately.

Motion of Closure

After notice has been given of the intention to move a motion of closure, the motion may be moved during a subsequent sitting, whether the following day or later. The motion for closure must be moved by a Minister, and the debate on the motion or bill to which closure is to apply must have been adjourned at least once before a closure motion can be moved. [58]  The motion for closure must be moved immediately before the Order of the Day for resuming debate on the item to which the closure motion is to apply is called, either in the House or in a Committee of the Whole.

Closure motions are neither debatable nor amendable and, once moved, the Speaker or the Chairman puts the question immediately, “That debate … shall not be further adjourned” (or in a Committee of the Whole, “That debate … shall not be further postponed”). How much debate the government will allow on a measure before moving closure depends on political factors. The Speaker has at times been asked to use discretionary authority to refuse to put a closure motion to the House on the ground that a measure had not yet been given enough debating time. Invariably, he or she has declined to interfere with the application of the rule, deciding in each case that the Chair has no authority to intervene in the process when the closure rule is applied properly. [59] 

When a motion for closure is adopted, debate resumes on the now-closured business, typically leading to an extended sitting of the House through the evening. The debate becomes subject to the restrictions imposed by the closure rule. [60]  No Member (including the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition) may speak more than once, nor for longer than 20 minutes. A Member who has spoken to the main motion prior to the adoption of the closure motion may speak again if an amendment or sub-amendment is moved during the closured debate. However, a Member who speaks to the main motion after the adoption of the closure motion may not speak to any subsequent amendment or sub-amendment. Any Private Members’ Business which might have been scheduled is still taken up at its regular time.

All questions necessary to dispose of the closured business are to be put no later than 11:00 p.m., or as soon as possible thereafter, having allowed any Member who might have been recognized prior to 11:00 p.m. to finish speaking. [61]  No Member may rise to speak after 11:00 p.m., [62]  at which time the Speaker or the Chairman will put all questions necessary to dispose of the closured business, including any amendments and sub-amendments. [63]  If a recorded division is demanded in the House, the bells will sound for up to 15 minutes. [64]  Should the debate conclude before 11:00 p.m., the bells for any recorded division will sound for not more than 30 minutes. [65]  The wording of the Standing Order is quite clear that the question on a closured motion must be “decided forthwith”. A recorded division, if demanded, is therefore held immediately unless it is deferred by unanimous consent of the House to a later day, as it was done on occasion, [66]  or with the agreement of the Whips of all recognized parties. [67] 

In a Committee of the Whole, it is not necessary for all clauses of a bill to be called and then postponed before invoking closure. [68]  Furthermore, once closure is adopted, the moment a clause of the bill is called by the Chair, it is deemed to be under consideration. [69]  If consideration of one clause ends and debate begins on the next clause, Members have a further 20 minutes to speak to that clause. [70]  The adoption of a closure motion in a sitting ensures that the committee stage will be completed in that sitting. [71] 


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