Rules, Procedures and the Rights of Parliament—Fourth Report of CommitteePublished on 28 March 2017 Hansard and Statements by Senator Joan Fraser (retired)
Hon. Joan Fraser:
Honourable senators, like Senator Eggleton before me, I apologize for getting to my feet twice in the same day, but I shall try to make this as brief as I can.
This report is the second part of the Rules Committee’s response to the Modernization Committee’s proposals for the way we handle the Order Paper. You may recall that the Rules Committee has already reported on and the Senate has adopted our proposals on how items are ordered on the Order Paper so that now bills, motions and inquiries are listed in numerical order instead of the previous, rather more confusing method of listing them — confusing not only in my view but in that of quite a number of people. That’s been done.
The remainder of the Modernization Committee’s proposals in this context had to do with stood items — the items where we say “stand” when we want the adjournment on that item to continue.
A reasonable number of senators find this practice perhaps Victorian. Regardless, they find it less than appropriate for a modern, soon-to-be-televised chamber. The Modernization Committee composed a relatively complicated process to handle the objections to the use of the procedure where we call “stand.”
There have been quite a few debates in this chamber about how to do that. Some suggest the solution might be worse than the problem, or at least more confusing than the problem, involving giving advance notification of who was going to speak on that item and then at the end of the category or of the day, giving someone space to revert to a previous item on the Order Paper.
The fundamental difficulty was and is, of course, that we want to preserve the ability of any senator to speak to any item on the Order Paper on any day if that senator so wishes. It’s one of the distinguishing features of this chamber, and it has on occasion produced some really excellent debates. No one wanted to lose that. At the same time, there was a view that just saying “stand, stand, stand” was not going to be conducive to respect for this institution, particularly once we have television cameras.
The Rules Committee is proposing a sessional order to tackle this by actually tackling the word “stand.” Rather than getting into a further re-ordering of the Order Paper depending on who is giving advance notice about who is to speak. We’re suggesting it might be appropriate — and we can try it for the duration of this session — simply to eliminate the use of the word “stand.” The table would call, for example, second reading of Bill S-225, followed by Bill S-226, followed by Bill S-234. But when the clerk called Bill S-225, instead of the senator having to say “stand” and the Speaker then repeating “stand,” there would be a brief pause. The clerk would pause for two or three seconds before going on to the next item, and it would be the responsibility of the senator who wished to speak to that item to pop to his or her feet right away and draw the Speaker’s attention to the fact by saying, “Your Honour.”
If we adopt this proposed sessional order, it will be necessary for senators to take the initiative and call upon the Speaker to recognize them, because there are times when the Speaker cannot see everyone. I’m told this is particularly true of senators who sit in that far corner of the chamber, because the clerk is standing and, unless we were to have a very short clerk, would be blocking the view of the speaker.
It would be the responsibility all senators, if you want to speak, as soon as the item is called, to get to your feet and say clearly, “Your Honour,” and the Speaker would recognize you.
We would not therefore have this endless repetition of the word “stand,” which bothers some people, and I can also appreciate it may be a bit mystifying to members of the public who do not understand the fine details of our Rules.
Almost all of this can be done on an experimental basis without a decision by the chamber, except for one wrinkle. That wrinkle is that for an adjournment of a debate to be continued, the Senate must have indicated a decision that an adjournment continue or that any other course of action be adopted.
That’s what “stand” does. “Stand” indicates that the Senate is being asked to make a decision to let the adjournment continue, and if no one objects, the adjournment continues.
What we need is a sessional order to say that such authorization by the Senate for the adjournment to continue does not need to be stated out loud in words. This sessional order would say that for the remainder of the current session, if no senator rises to speak when an item on the Order Paper and Notice Paper has been called, the item be deemed to be stood to the next sitting of the Senate.
We don’t know if this would work — if it would be deemed more agreeable than other approaches — but it seemed this would be worth a try as an attempt to square the circle of what we want to preserve and what a great many people want to improve.
Therefore, honourable senators, I hope that I have not made matters more confusing in my attempt to explain what this is all about. I commend this report for your favourable consideration.