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Parliamenary Procedure

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Parliamentary procedure is often criticized as being complex and archaic. Complex it certainly is, and with good reason. Because of the antiquity of its origins there are also certain archaic elements about it. But is serves its purpose and is continuously evolving in order to meet the changing needs of Parliament.

The purpose of Parliamentary procedure is to provide the conditions in which free and representative debate can take place. It is designed to allow minority opinion to be expressed without unreasonable restrictions and to enable the House to reach decisions on the issues before it without undue obstruction and delay. Its complexities serve to protect the rights of all Members collectively and individually.

The procedure of the Canadian House of Commons is based on that of the British House of Commons although there are many important differences of detail. Parliamentary procedure consists of three main elements: the traditional practice, the Standing Orders and the accumulated precedents. The traditional practice provides the fundamental framework of procedure. The Standing Orders are a later development which have introduced new procedures and imposed time limits and restrictions necessitated by pressure on parliamentary time. The accumulated precedents form the parliamentary case-law and derive from rulings of successive Speakers interpreting both the traditional practice and the Standing Orders.

There is a fourth element: parliamentary convention - usages for which no rules provide but which are based on mutual agreement and the general will of the house. A fundamental rule of procedure is that no debate can take place unless there is a motion before the House. The wording of a motion must conform with accepted parliamentary practice and be framed in such a way as to enable the House to reach a firm decision on it. A motion is normally subject to amendment and all amendments must be disposed of before the main motion is voted on. At the end of the debate the motion may be adopted, with or without, or rejected.

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