Editor: An article in the April issue explaining parliamentary procedures on Private Members’ Bills was prepared before recent changes were made. The following explains how Private Members’ Bills now proceed through the House of Commons.
The new rules governing Private Members’ Business are substantially different. All Members wishing to submit bills (or Motions) to be debated during Private Members’ Hour enter their name and item of business in a “draw.” The Speaker then literally draws at random 20 of the entries to form the “order of precedence.” Thus the first item drawn will be the first debated, and so on, up to a maximum of 20 items. As items are disposed of, others are drawn on to the bottom of the list to maintain it at between ten and 20 items.
These changes are significant for the pro-life movement. If a pro-life bill is deemed a “votable item” by the Standing Committee on Private Members’ Business, and we have reason to believe that one will be, it will afford the opportunity of a recorded vote on the issue of abortion. The Prime Minister has stated that any vote in the House on abortion will be a “free vote,” that is, party discipline will not be enforced. Therefore, pro-lifers will be able to lobby their MPs to vote in favour of pro-life legislation. This tactic had been used for years by our American counterparts.
In the event of an affirmative vote on Second Reading, the Committee Stage to which the Bill progresses affords the pro-life movement excellent opportunity to provide expert testimony regarding the humanity of the unborn child, the necessity for its legal protection, etc.
Among the bills chosen for the first “Top 20” are two of especial interest. PC Bill Domm (Peterborough) has a bill designed to bring back capital punishment. A majority of the 210 Conservative MPs are said to favour the death penalty. Another Conservative, Lawrence O’Neil (Cape Breton Highlands-Canso) is sponsoring a bill requiring that the unborn child is represented by counsel at Therapeutic Abortion Committee meetings.
For the first time since the Criminal Code changes of 1969 we have the means at our disposal to force the issue of abortion in Parliament. We must be aware, however, that pro-abortion advocates have these same opportunities. An organized and concerted effort will be needed to educate our democratically-elected representatives in Parliament. We now have the tools we need and it is up to us to use them.