HOW DOES PRIVATE MEMBERS’ BUSINESS WORK?
Private Members’ Business begins with the idea of a Member of Parliament. To give effect to that idea, the Member must decide whether to put it in the form of a bill or a motion. Only then can it be debated in the House.
Before beginning work on a bill or motion, however, the Member may find it worthwhile to check whether another Member has already given notice of a bill or motion on the same subject. The Journals Branch, on behalf of the Speaker, is responsible for ensuring that no two items on the Order Paper are substantially the same. If notice has already been given for substantially the same bill or motion, the Member may ask the Journals Branch to record his or her name as a seconder (i.e. a supporter) of the bill or motion. Up to 20 Members may be listed as joint seconders of any one item. The Member who seconds the bill or motion in the House does not need to be one of the joint seconders on the Order Paper.
In deciding between a bill and a motion, the first difference to keep in mind is in their effect. Since in agreeing to a motion expressing a resolution, the House is only stating an opinion, the government will not be bound to adopt a specific policy or course of action. By contrast, because it becomes law when passed by Parliament, a bill may have far reaching implications for both the government and the public.
Bills and motions are also treated differently by the House. Once debated and voted on, a motion has been disposed of by the House; the House may agree to the motion, or the motion may be defeated, but either way it receives no further consideration. Bills, on the other hand, must pass through several stages: introduction and first reading, second reading, committee stage, report stage, and third reading in the House of Commons, then a similar process in the Senate. The period between introducing a bill and seeing it become law may therefore be lengthy.
The differences between bills and motions mean that different considerations must also go into drafting them. Although Members may not always need expert help in drafting motions, either the Private Members’ Business Office or the Journals Branch is available to assist in putting their ideas into correct parliamentary language. A motion expressing a resolution is usually worded as follows: “That, in the opinion of the House, the government should”, followed by a clear and succinct statement of the course of action the Member wishes to see adopted. Motions may propose the expenditure of public funds, provided that they do so in terms which only suggest that course of action to the government without ordering or requiring it. Resolutions to amend the Constitution are, however, in a special class and should be treated like bills as far as drafting is concerned.
Because it could become law, a bill must be drafted with great care and the skills of experienced parliamentary counsel are normally called for. The Legislative Services Section of the Office of the Law Clerk and Parliamentary Counsel is responsible for drafting bills for private Members and acts on their instructions about the purposes and objectives of their legislative proposals. Legislative drafting services are provided by lawyers who are qualified parliamentary counsel.
The parliamentary counsel needs clear written instructions regarding the policy direction the Member wants to pursue with the proposed legislation. The Member must also inform the parliamentary counsel of the facts and practical background of a problem before a viable solution, in the form of a bill, can be formulated. Preparing a bill is often a team effort, engaging the time and efforts of the sponsoring Member, the parliamentary counsel, and any research assistance or technical expertise that may be available to the Member.
There is a constitutional requirement that a bill for the appropriation of any part of the Public Revenue for a new and distinct purpose be accompanied by a Royal Recommendation. The recommendation is made by the Governor General and may be obtained only by the government and introduced by a Minister. In developing legislative proposals, Members should bear in mind that bills containing specific provisions or clauses authorizing such charges will require a Royal Recommendation before they can be passed by the House. Members may not present bills involving an increase in taxation since such bills must be preceded by a Ways and Means motion, which can be moved only by a Minister.
All private Members’ bills must be certified by parliamentary counsel before being introduced in the House. The parliamentary counsel ensures that draft bills are acceptable insofar as their form and that they comply with legislative conventions. After the draft bill has been approved by the parliamentary counsel, two certified copies are returned to the Member along with a form on which the Member will indicate to which committee the bill will be referred following its adoption at second reading.