Interpretation of Motion
Regarding Amendments at Report Stage,
Speaker Peter Milliken, House of Commons, March 21, 2001.
Background: On February 26 the Government
House Leader introduced the following motion relating to the selection of
report stage motions by the Speaker.
“For greater clarity, the
Speaker will not select for debate a motion or series of motions of a
repetitive, frivolous or vexatious nature or of a nature that would serve merely
to prolong unnecessarily proceedings at the report stage and, in exercising
this power of selection, the Speaker shall be guided by the practice followed
in the House of Commons of the United Kingdom.”
After debate, it was adopted on
February 27, 2001. On March 15, in a ruling on a point of order raised by
the the Member for Richmond –Arthabaska, André Bachand, the Speaker undertook
to return to the House with a statement on how this motion will be interpreted.
The Ruling (Speaker
Milliken): From time to
time when the House adopts new procedures, Speakers have seen fit to address
the manner in which they will be implemented. Often this occurs when a certain
amount of latitude or discretion is given to the Chair. In enforcing new
procedures, the Speaker acts as a servant of the House, not as its master.
Therefore, in order that these new procedures function properly, I see it
as my duty to make a statement on their operation now, before the House is
seized with a bill at report stage.
In 1968, rules concerning the
selection of report stage amendments were established. At that time, the House
first undertook a thorough revision of its legislative process which resulted
in our modern rules where bills are sent to committee for detailed examination,
followed by an opportunity for consideration in the House in what is known as
report stage. As House of Commons Procedure and Practice explains:
In recommending that report
stage be revived, the 1968 Special Committee on Procedure considered that stage
to be essential in order to provide all Members of the House, and not merely
members of the committee, with an opportunity to express their views on the
bills under consideration and to propose amendments, where appropriate.
However, the intent of the Committee was not for this stage to become a
repetition of committee stage. Unlike committee stage where the bill is
considered clause by clause, there was not to be any debate at report stage
unless notices of amendment were given, and then debate would have to be
strictly relevant to those proposed amendments. (p. 663)
In order to prevent report stage
from becoming merely a repetition of committee stage, the Speaker was given the
authority to select and group motions of amendment for debate. Over the past 30
years, a large body of practice has grown on how this important legislative
stage is conducted.
Let me briefly review how it
works today. When notice of a motion of amendment is given by a member, the
Speaker has a number of issues to address. First of all, the Speaker must judge
the procedural admissibility of the motion; if the motion does not meet the
time-tested rules of practice, it will not be deemed admissible and therefore
will not be accepted for publication on the the notice paper.
Once a motion passes the basic
test of admissibility, the Speaker must then determine whether the motion can
be selected for debate. For guidance, the House has given the Speaker certain
criteria to apply, for example, motions already defeated in committee are not
normally selected. Once the Speaker has selected the motions that will be
debated, a decision is made on grouping them for debate with other motions that
have a similar theme or purpose. Finally, the Speaker determines how the
motions should be voted on, for example, whether one vote applies to several
motions, or whether the adoption of one motion obviates the need to vote on
another motion. When all of these questions – admissibility, selection,
grouping, voting pattern – have been addressed, the Speaker provides the House
with the report stage ruling.
The first two tests which the
Speaker applies to motions, those of admissibility and selection, are the most
important in our discussion today. I would refer the House to Marleau and
Montpetit, pages 649 – 669, for a detailed discussion of our rules and practice
in this regard.
With regard to admissibility,
the Speaker must strictly apply a number of rules of procedure. Does the motion
go beyond the scope of the bill? Is it relevant to the bill? Or is the motion
incomplete? Either the motion is inadmissible and is returned to the member, or
it is admissible and proceeds to the next test, that is, the test of selection.
With regard to selection, the
Speaker in 1968 was given a greater amount of flexibility and discretion. In
the last 30 years, as practice evolved, successive Speakers were encouraged to
exercise more rigour in the selection of motions in amendment.
In 1985, the third report of the
all party Special Committee on Reform of the House of Commons, the McGrath
committee, recommended that the Speaker use existing powers to select as well
as combine amendments at the report stage. The committee suggested certain
principles to guide the Speaker on how this could be done.
An amendment disposed of in
committee should not be revived unless it is of exceptional significance.
Amendments ruled out of order in committee should not be reconsidered unless
there are reasonable grounds for doing so. Amendments proposed to implement
government undertakings should be selected automatically. In selecting other
amendments, the Speaker should seek guidance through consultation. The Speaker
should determine, in consultation with the House leaders, which amendments are
regarded as the most important from the party point of view.
The report proceeded to list
several other guidelines. It is evident that this was a very tall order for any
Speaker. The committee recognized the significance of such discretionary powers
in the hands of the Speaker and commented that, in their view, successive
Speakers had hesitated to use to its fullest the power to select without
further direction from the House.
The House sought to provide such
direction in 1986 when amendments to the standing orders included for the first
time the note to the present Standing Order 76. This note took up some, but not
all, of the criteria contained in the McGrath Committee report.
From that point on, our
practices have evolved to where they are today and in reviewing those
practices, I was struck by the reluctance of my predecessors to use the powers
of selection in any but the most generous manner, giving members the benefit of
the doubt in most instances.
In the last Parliament, the
House was faced with several bills (i.e., Nisga’a, clarity, young offenders)
where, at report stage, hundreds of motions in amendment were placed on the
The most recent attempt to
address the situation occurred last February 27, 2001 when, by adopting
Government Motion No. 2, the House again sought to provide the Speaker with
more guidance on the manner of selection of report stage amendments.
Here again, as so often in the
troubled history of report stage, we see the hope that a more interventionist
approach by the Chair will resolve difficulties that are being experienced.
It is not for me as your Speaker
to interpret the confluence of events that led up to the unprecedented gridlock
the House faced at report stage in the last parliament.
However, even if one grants that
the Chair has, in the past, been too reticent in the exercise of its power of
selection, I would argue that this abundance of caution, if such we may call
it, is only one of the circumstances that have contributed to the potential
crisis that we face at the report stage.
As your Speaker, I am ready to
shoulder the report stage responsibilities that the House has spelled out for
me. However, I think it would be naive to hope that the frustrations implicit
in the putting on notice of hundreds of motions in amendment of a bill will
somehow be answered by bringing greater rigour to the Speaker’s process of
On that cautionary note, I want
now to outline my approach with regard to the selection of report stage
amendments for debate in view of this most recent directive from the House.
First, past selection practices
not affected by this latest directive will continue to apply. For example,
motions and amendments that were presented in committee will not be selected,
nor will motions ruled out of order in committee. Motions defeated in committee
will only be selected if the Speaker judges them to be of exceptional
significance. I refer hon. members to pages 667 – 669 of House of Commons
Procedure and Practice for a fuller discussion of these practices.
Second, regarding the new
guidelines, I will apply the tests of repetition, frivolity, vexatiousness and
unnecessary prolongation of report stage proceedings insofar as it is possible
to do so in the particular circumstances with which the Chair is faced.
It is in regard to these four
criteria alone that I will have reference to the practice followed in the House
of Commons of the United Kingdom, and not to the wider practice surrounding
what is called “consideration stage” of bills at Westminster, which practice is
not relevant to our own traditions and not helpful to their clarification.
I intend to apply these four
criteria to all amendments at report stage no matter which side of the House
they come from. I also intend to apply those criteria in the original note,
whose validity has been endorsed by the adoption of government Motion No. 2.
Specifically, motions in amendment that could have been presented in committee
will not be selected.
Accordingly, I would strongly
urge all members and all parties to avail themselves fully of the opportunity
to propose amendments during committee stage so that the report stage can
return to the purpose for which it was created, namely for the House to
consider the committee report and the work the committee has done, and to do
such further work as it deems necessary to complete detailed consideration of
That being said, I believe that
this approach will result in the Speaker’s selection of amendments at report
stage being a far more rigorous exercise than it has been to date, no matter
how challenging such an exercise may be.
Finally, the Chair intends to
maintain its current practice of not providing justification for the selection
of amendments, or reasons for the non-selection of amendments at the time of a
report stage ruling.
However, in exceptional
circumstances, the Chair may expand this usual approach and explain its reasons
where this shall be deemed necessary or appropriate.
May I end my remarks by
reminding members that at the conclusion of today’s debate, the House will have
adopted a motion creating a special committee to make recommendations on the
modernization and improvement of its procedures.
Without anticipating what the
committee may decide to recommend, it is entirely possible that the House may at
some future date be seized with proposals that may have an impact on my
Naturally, as your servant, I
will continue to be guided by whatever rules the House may, in its wisdom,
decide upon to conduct its business.