David Cameron speaks during PMQs

Clarifying PMQs

Dale Smith has an interesting post dissecting proposals for reform of Question Period in the Canadian House of Commons as put forward by the Liberal Party. He raises some valid points, but also makes a notable error, which I will endeavour to correct here. Smith writes: Part of what’s been the beauty of our QP as we have structured it is that the PM can be called upon to answer any question on any day, with no advance notice. That’s not the way it works in Westminster, where the PM is given questions in advance. This isn’t 100% accurate. Most of the time, the UK Prime Minister does not know in advance what questions will be put to him or […]


When a Party isn’t a Party, Part 3

(This is the third installment of a series on the history of ministerial statements and officially recognized party status. Please read Part 1 and Part 2 before proceeding.) As discussed in Part 1, the Standing Order governing Statements by Ministers was adopted in 1964 on a provisional basis. The new rule, which allowed only for factual pronouncements of government policy, also required that these not provoke debate. It further codified the existing practice of responses by the opposition. The new rule read as follows: On motions, as listed in section (2) of this standing order, a minister of the crown may make an announcement or a statement of government policy. Any such announcement or statement should be limited to facts […]


When a Party isn’t a Party, Part 2

(This is the second installment of a series on the history of ministerial statements and officially recognized party status. Please read Part 1 before proceeding.) After the amendments to the Senate and House of Commons Act contained in Bill C-91 were adopted in July 1963, the House adjourned for the summer. During the summer, the Social Credit Party (SC) split into the Quebec-based Ralliement des Créditistes (RC) with 13 members led by Mr. Caouette, and the western-based Social Credit Party, under the “national” leadership of Mr. Thompson, with the remaining 11 members. Before the House resumed sitting in September, the leaders of each faction contacted the Speaker to explain what had transpired. The NDP also wrote to the Speaker and asked that […]


When a Party isn’t a Party, Part 1

On March 24 2015, the Prime Minister of Canada delivered a ministerial statement to the House of Commons on the matter of expanding Canada’s mission in Iraq against the Islamic State (ISIL). The leader of the Opposition as well as the leader of the third party followed with responses of their own; Green Party leader Elizabeth May’s efforts to speak were denied by the House. Later in the week, in an opinion piece for the Globe and Mail, Ms May stated: The right to speak on behalf of my constituents is something I asserted from my first day in the House. As each leader stood to welcome the new Speaker, I stood and was recognized. It is not for the major […]

Towards a Parliament 2.0

UK House of Commons Speaker John Bercow delivered a speech to the Hansard Society (PDF downloadable here) outlining his plans for a Speaker’s Commission on Digital Democracy. The first part of his speech highlighted the Westminister Spring – the remarkable revival of the UK House of Commons as an institution since the 2010 general election. Mr. Speaker noted that when he became Speaker in 2009, the House of Commons as a meangingful political institution, an effective legislature, had been in decline for some decades and was close to reaching the point wher eit had become, to distort Walter Bagehot slightly, a diginified part of our constitution without any dignity. (…) Parliament appaered to have been reduced to the status of […]

Holding ministers to account

Continuing on my recent post regarding ministerial statements, an interesting exchange occurred in the UK House of Commons today following a ministerial statement by the Secretary of State for Defence, Mr. Phillip Hammond. Hammond delivered a statement on the future of the UK’s reserve forces. He announced that the government was publishing a White Paper setting out its vision for the reserve forces and the detail of how it will make reserve service more attractive. An important part of the announcement was that the overall number of Army Reserve bases will be reduced from the current total of 334 to 308. Hammond then said: “With your permission Mr Speaker, I will distribute a summary sheet that identifies the reserve locations […]