At the time this article was written
Gordon Barnhart was Clerk of the Legislative Assembly of Saskatchewan.
In mid-1978, a new edition of the most
popular and commonly used Canadian procedural reference, Beauchesne's
Parliamentary Rules and Forms, was published. The fifth edition was edited by
Alistair Fraser, then Clerk of the Canadian House of Commons; G. A. Birch, a
Committee Clerk of the Canadian House of Commons; and W. F. Dawson, Professor
of Political Science at the University of Western Ontario. This marked the
first edition of Beauchesne to be published which had not been updated and
edited by Arthur Beauchesne, the Clerk of the Canadian House of Commons from
1925 to 1949.
In order to be able to look at the newest
edition of Beauchesne in context, one must look at the earlier four editions.
The first edition, published in 1922, was intended to be a brief description of
the rules of the Canadian Rouse of Commons together with references to other
procedural authorities and annotations based on Beauchesne's own experience.
His book was to be a "modest book for Canadian Commoners" a manual to
be used by Members as a quick reference whenever a question of procedure arose
in the course of debate.
Five years later, in 1927, Beauchesne
published a second edition as a result of a revision of the Standing Orders of
the House followed by a third edition in 1943. Each edition grew larger until
the third edition, included over four hundred pages of Speakers' decisions.
The Introduction to each edition was an
opportunity for Beauchesne to comment on the procedures and practices of the
House at that time and to offer recommendations for procedural reform. In 1922,
Beauchesne was already writing about the concept of parliament sending some of
the estimates to a Standing Committee as a timesaving reassure and a way to
interview the Deputy Ministers about the operation of their departments.
In the introduction to the 1943 edition,
Beauchesne discussed the grave disadvantages of the appeal to the Speaker's
ruling and began exploring ways to avoid such an appeal. He also advised
looking at alternate procedures other than closure for limiting the length of
debates. As early as 1943, Beauchesne proposed an allocation of time to
Beauchesne addressed himself to the problem
of ever lengthening Sessions of the House of Commons but was skeptical of
suggestions that strictly procedural reform could solve this problem.
It is often observed that the duration of
the Session could be shortened, but this cannot be done by the adoption of
special rules of debate. it depends entirely on the application of these rules
and the Members' determination not to waste time in the consideration of
measures submitted to the House. (Beauchesne's Parliamentary Rules & Forms,
3rd edition, p. VII)
Beauchesne often urged revisions to the
Standing Orders but counselled the House to not make hasty decisions about rule
changes. Beauchesne argued that the Standing Orders of Parliament have to find
time to both dispose of the business proposed to the House by the Government
and to "reconcile the Government's demands with the rights of the
minority." (Beauchesne's Parliamentary Rules & Forms, 4th edition, p.
It has now been twenty years since the
publication of the last edition of Beauchesne, and thus the arrival of the
recent fifth edition is welcome. This new edition includes the revisions to the
Standing Orders since 1968 and describes the Canadian House of Commons
procedures in a current and modern context. It is interesting to note that the
revisions to the rules include three points that Beauchesne had earlier urged:
the avoidance of the appeal from the Speaker's rulings, the sending of
estimates to Standing Committees and the allocation of time to specific
The first feature of the new edition that
catches ones eye Is the new format: and reorganization. While the first four
editions of: Beauchesne covered topics in the numerical order of the Standing
Orders, the fifth edition is organized according to topic. When researching a
particular procedural problem, the relevant paragraphs are neatly tied
together. This format and reorganization has also led to a new index, all of
which combine to make the fifth edition much easier to work with and more
attractive to read.
The fifth edition has the updated references
to the current British parliamentary manual, Sir Erskine May's Parliamentary
Practice, 19th edition, as well as more current rulings of: Canadian Speakers.
Because of the new edition of: Beauchesne, one can now study the Canadian House
of Commons as it is at present: in relationship to the current procedures and
practices of the British House of" Commons.
The new Beauchesne recognizes organized
political parties within the House, covers the new rules and practices of the oral
Question Period and describes the modern approach to Parliamentary Privilege. A
key section of the book is the description of the present Standing Committee
structure and the current: procedures that are used for the review of the
estimates. The section on the Board of Internal Economy and on the Members'
Services Committee is a new addition and is a good description of the
management by Members of the administration of Parliament itself. The update on
unparliamentary expressions and the paragraphs on the revisions to the orders
for the allocation of time for specific debates are all part of the thorough
description of the revised Canadian parliamentary procedures.
Many of the amendments to the Standing
Orders of the House of Commons outlined in the new Reauchesne have resulted
from Parliament having to find new ways to streamline its procedures and
diversify its review and scrutiny in order to complete all the necessary work
within the year. A comparison of the fourth and fifth editions shows something of
the direction that procedural reform has taken In the House of Commons in
response to the pressures of time. Included here are the far-reaching changes
that have been made In such fundamental elements as financial procedure, the
legislative process, and the structure of the committee system.
The applicability of the book to procedures
in provincial legislatures varies a great deal from Assembly to Assembly
particularly when provincial legislatures, Like most parliaments today, are
continually reviewing and revising their procedures to meet their own needs.
For many years, the Canadian provincial legislatures followed rules and
practices that were patterned on the Canadian House of Commons. There now
appears to be a widening gap between the procedures of the Canadian House of
Commons and some of the Canadian provincial Legislatures. In 1922, Beauchesne
wrote that "whilst governed by the Mother of Parliaments in its broad
lines, the procedure of the Canadian House has evolved since 1867 until it is
now working on principles of its own which are better adapted to our local
conditions." (Beauchesne's Parliamentary Rules & Forms, 1st edition).
This observation could now be applied to what is happening in many of the
Beauchesne's explanation of the Standing
Orders is useful to the House of Commons on a day-to-day basis and to the
provincial proceduralists for information on current practices in the House of
Commons as an example of how particular needs were met by that Parliament.
Parliamentary principles and practices are highlighted in the new edition which
:Is valuable to all Canadian parliaments.
This new edition is a fresh approach to the
revised Standing Orders and Is a reflection of the Canadian parliament in Its
current context. The fifth edition though should not become the final word on
Canadian parliamentary procedure for the next twenty years. I hope that
already, any new trends In parliamentary practice, any, new rulings of the
Chair that establish a new direction for Parliament and any revisions to the
Standing Orders are being noted on a continuing basis so that a new edition of
Beauchesne can be published from time to time. The publication of the fifth
edition raises the suggestion that a "provincial Beauchesne should be initiated
in the near future.
Even though Parliament Is an institution
based on. tradition and precedent, it must continue to revise Its rules to meet
the new and increasing demands that are placed on it. The Canadian procedural
manual must also continue to be updated in such a way that Members and
proceduralists alike can work in and with Parliament in its modern context.