Rules, Procedures and the Rights of Parliament—Eighth Report of Committee AdoptedPublished on 1 June 2017 Hansard and Statements by Senator Joan Fraser (retired)
Hon. Joan Fraser:
Colleagues, as you can see by this report, which was distributed to everyone in paper form yesterday, the Rules Committee is continuing its work to propose changes to our rules, the Rules of the Senate, that reflect the concerns addressed in various reports of the Modernization Committee and more generally by senators at large, in light of the changing realities in this chamber.
Some of the four reports that the Senate has already adopted in this connection have been initiated by the Rules Committee itself. This report, however, is in response to an order of reference from the Senate, relating to the Modernization Committee’s report on the composition of committees. That order of reference contained long and specific suggestions from the Modernization Committee about how the Selection Committee and other committees should be constituted. The suggestions are extremely detailed and — I know this to be true — are based on an enormous amount of work in the Modernization Committee.
They go down to having the Selection Committee decide which parties should chair which committees and really very detailed matters. The order of reference for the Rules Committee, however, did say that we should use this very detailed set of recommendations from Modernization as an initial basis for our work on committees, but that we should also take into account any other relevant factors that we, on the Rules Committee, think should be taken into account.
As you will see when you look at this report, it is very short. It is silent on many of the matters addressed in the Modernization Committee’s report . I want to stress that this does not mean that the Rules Committee has rejected or recommended rejection of those recommendations. What the Rules Committee has done, after considerable reflection and discussion, is decide that, at this time, collectively our best course is to focus on one element of the Modernization Committee’s report.
We decided this for a number of reasons. One, frankly, is that we want to be very sure that we have buy-in from everyone. It’s important that, when the Rules of the Senate are being changed, everybody has a sense that this is an appropriate course to take, and we are still in a state of debate about many of the changes that we may indeed end up making.
Secondarily, I think it’s important to realize that we on the Rules Committee have been trying very hard not to pre-empt or get ahead of work that the Modernization Committee is doing because that would not be productive. It would be, indeed, counterproductive.
The Modernization Committee has a subcommittee look at committees. Probably much more importantly, the Modernization Committee is, as we all know, engaged in a major consideration of the Westminster system and how the Senate, in its new shape, should reflect, adjust, conform or not conform to the Westminster system as we have known it for a century and a half. Committees in this place are a truly vital part of the way we have implemented our version of the Westminster system, and I think it is not foolish to suggest that for the Rules Committee to come forward now with a bunch of suggestions might in fact end up being counterproductive in light of the work that the Modernization Committee is, I think, going to report on fairly soon. That is certainly, I think, the hope of many people, and it will be fascinating when we get there.
I would also note that the Rules Committee has, in its work on matters related to modernization, operated on the principle that until we have a further understanding of the broader context of the Westminster system, we should, in the Rules Committee, not make any recommendations that would have any impact on the status, rights, powers, privileges of either the government or the opposition. There are quite a number of elements in our rules that will need adjustment, but for the time being, we on the Rules Committee have not wanted to pre-empt that broader discussion.
So what did we do for this report? We addressed ourselves to the fundamental matter of the Committee of Selection. In so doing, we adopted the principle urged by the Modernization Committee and, both in committee and in discussions that one has, upheld — with great conviction by the new members of the Senate, the Independent Senators Group — the principle of proportionality and the idea that the proportions of recognized parties or groups in the chamber should be reflected in the composition of the Committee of Selection. That is what this report is about. That is all that it is about.
Our existing rules, for example, do not say anything at all about the way in which individual parties or groups are going to select their members, their representatives on the Selection Committee. That will remain, as it has always been, a matter for those groups or parties to determine for themselves. But what we do say is that we preserve the existing rule, which states:
12-1. At the beginning of each session, the Senate shall appoint a Committee of Selection composed of nine senators.
We don’t say how they are chosen, either by the senators or by the groups, but we do say — and this is what becomes new — that, “The initial membership of the committee, as well as any subsequent change to the membership of the committee” — and both of those have to be adopted by motions of the full Senate — “shall, as nearly as practicable, be proportionate to the membership of the recognized parties and recognized parliamentary groups.”
This is, in many ways, an extension of what we have always done. We have always paid attention in the composition of our committees, including the Selection Committee, to the rough balance of numbers in the Senate. But what we are doing now is making that explicit because it seems an appropriate step to take when we are no longer talking about a Senate composed almost entirely of two parties. We’re now talking about a Senate composed of three groups — lowercase G — two recognized parties and one recognized parliamentary group. Those numbers may change as time goes on.
We also suggest that senators who are not members of any recognized party or recognized parliamentary group — that is, the complete independents, the ones who are not affiliated with anybody — collectively should for this purpose, and this purpose only, membership of the Selection Committee, be treated as if they were a separate and recognized group.
Gazing at the composition of the Senate as it now stands, that last requirement is purely academic because those senators constitute less than 1 per cent of our membership, and I don’t know how you could put less than 1 per cent of a senator onto a committee. It might require drastic surgery, so we didn’t recommend that.
For greater certainty, I would note that in almost all committees — Conflict of Interest, for example, is an exception — including the Selection Committee, the leaders of the government and of the opposition are ex officio members, they or their deputies. Those ex officio members would not be counted, therefore, as ordinary members of the Selection Committee. Therefore, they would not be taken into account when proportionality was being determined.
For those who are interested, my arithmetic, which may be very shaky, suggests that if we were to appoint a Selection Committee today on the basis of the current membership of the Senate, it would include four Conservatives, plus the Leader of the Opposition, three members of the ISG and two Liberals. That gets us to nine, plus, of course, ex officio, the Leader of the Government or his deputy.
So I think it’s very simple, colleagues. Often the hardest work a committee does is to get to a simple result, and there was a great deal of work done on this report in order to get to a clear and simple result. Everybody put a little bit of water in their wine. There were things that we all wanted that we set aside for now in the interests of achieving a report that we could all support, and I commend it to your attention and I hope you will support it.
Some Hon. Senators: Hear, hear.
Hon. George Baker: Will the honourable senator accept a question?
Senator Fraser: Yes.
Senator Baker: Reading the actual report with the heading “Appointment of Committee of Selection,” the chair of the committee made note of the fact that recognized parliamentary groups would form a part of the selection. Then she said that those who are not members of a political party or group shall be treated as if they were members of a separate group. But when the chair was giving her speech, she included the word “recognized.” In other words, a separate recognized group.
Does this mean that the word “recognized” should be inserted or assumed between the words “separate group”? The way this reads is that you have your recognized groups, parties and parliamentary groups, and then you have people who do not belong to those who will be treated as members of a separate group. Is the intention to have that as a separate recognized group?
Senator Fraser: Senator Baker is always so acute. Clearly, when I said “recognized,” it was for clarity of understanding. But we don’t have the word “recognized” formally in this proposal. That goes back to the quite intense discussions in the last Rules Committee report that the Senate adopted, which had to do with precisely recognition. You will find that we have used the word “recognized” in conjunction with “party” or “parliamentary group,” and only in that case.
I think it is clear from the context of this proposal that all the others, everybody who doesn’t belong to anything, that we would be putting them together as if they constituted a recognized group. I think that we might be creating more confusion than clarity if we inserted the word “recognized” here, when you start to look at the other areas in which we have used the word “recognized.” I hope that’s acceptable and recognized.