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House of Commons Procedure and Practice

Second Edition, 2009

 
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13. Rules of Order and Decorum

Photo of high relief entitled 'Education' from the British North America Act series of the Heritage Collection in the Chamber of the House of  Commons.

 

*    Usual Order of Speaking

Motion that a Member Be Now Heard

Recognition to Speak when Order Next Called

Retention of Right to Speak After a Royal Assent Ceremony

Recognition to Speak Before and After Divisions

*    Speaking Once to a Motion

*    The Right of Reply

*    Interventions

 

 

*    Place of Speaking

*    Remarks Addressed to the Chair

*    Proper Attire

*    Language of Debate

*    Speeches

*    Use of Lectern

*    Citation of Documents

*    Tabling of Documents and Speeches

*    Displays, Exhibits and Props

*    Maiden Speech

 

 

*    References to Members

*    Reflections on the House and the Senate

*    Reflections on the Chair

*    References to the Sovereign, Royal Family, Governor General and Members of the Judiciary

*    Reference by Name to Members of the Public

*    Reference to Previous Debates and Proceedings

*    Unparliamentary Language

*    Repetition and Relevance in Debate

Historical Perspective

Repetition

The Rule of Relevance

*     Bills

Second Reading

Committee Stage

Report Stage

Third Reading

*    Debates on the Address in Reply to the Speech from the Throne and the Budget

*    The Sub judice Convention

Criminal and Civil Cases

Courts of Record and Commissions of Inquiry

Role of the Speaker

*    Personal Explanations

 

 

*    Raising a Point of Order

*    Ruling on a Point of Order

 

 

*    Decorum During the Taking of a Vote

 

 

*    Naming

Historical Perspective

The Process of Naming

 

As members of Parliament, we all deal regularly with differing interpretations of various events or situations and differing views of documents laid before the House. Members can, and often do, disagree about the actual facts of the same situation. Disagreements of this kind form the basis of our debates. Our rules are designed to permit and indeed to encourage members to present differing views on the given issue. This tolerance of different points of view is an essential feature of the freedom of speech and of the decision making process that lie at the heart of our parliamentary system.

Speaker Peter Milliken

(Debates, October 1, 2003, p. 8041)

One of the guiding principles of parliamentary procedure is that debate and other proceedings in the House of Commons be conducted in terms of a free and civil discourse. Accordingly, the House has adopted rules of order and decorum governing the conduct of Members towards each other and towards the institution as a whole. Members are expected to show respect for one another and for viewpoints differing from their own; offensive or rude behaviour or language is not tolerated. Emotions are to be expressed verbally rather than acted out; opinions are to be expressed with civility and freely, without fear of punishment or reprisal.[1]

Freedom of speech is one of the most important privileges enjoyed by Members of Parliament.[2] This freedom is circumscribed, however, by the necessity of maintaining order and decorum when debate is taking place. Thus, the right to speak is tempered by the written rules of the House which, in general, impose limitations on what may be said, and when, by whom and for how long.

The Speaker is charged with maintaining order in the Chamber by ensuring that the House’s rules and practices are respected.[3] These rules govern proper attire, the quoting and tabling of documents in debate, the application of the sub judice convention to debates and questioning in the House, and the civility of remarks directed towards both Houses, Members and Senators, representatives of the Crown, judges and courts. In addition, it is the duty of the Speaker to safeguard the orderly conduct of debate by repressing disorder when it arises either on the floor of the Chamber or in the galleries, and by ruling on points of order raised by Members. The Speaker’s disciplinary powers are intended to ensure that the debate remains focussed and they permit the Chair to order the withdrawal of Members who persist in behaving inappropriately. Nonetheless, while it is the Speaker who is explicitly charged with maintaining the dignity and decorum of the House, Members themselves must take responsibility for their behaviour and conduct their business in an appropriate fashion.

This chapter examines the practices and rules germane to debate in the Chamber and the powers of the Speaker to enforce order and decorum when breaches occur.



[1] Franks, C.E.S., The Parliament of Canada, Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1987, pp. 124‑5.

[2] Freedom of speech enables Members to speak in the House (and in its committees), to refer to any matter, to express any opinion and to say what they feel needs to be said in the furtherance of the national interest and of the aspirations of their constituents, without inhibition or fear of legal prosecution. For further information on freedom of speech, see Chapter 3, “Privileges and Immunities”.

[3] Standing Orders 10 and 11. For further information, see Chapter 7, “The Speaker and Other Presiding Officers of the House”.

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