The Curtailment of Debate in the House of Commons: An Historical Perspective

Article 7 / 12 , Vol 36 No 1 (Spring)

The Curtailment of Debate in the House of Commons: An Historical Perspective

Time is certainly one of Parliament’s most precious resources. Since a happy medium must be found between the right to debate as long as is desirable and the right of Parliament to make a decision, House of Commons procedure has evolved to enable the government, when it sees fit, to limit the time available for debate. This article presents a historical analysis of the creation and use of the time management tools provided in the Standing Orders. These tools are closure, time allocation, the previous question, the motion to suspend certain Standing Orders for matters of an urgent nature and the routine motion by a Minister. Although debate in the 41st Parliament (2011–) has been curtailed more often than in previous parliaments, the use of time management tools has been on the rise since the mid1970s. Various factors such as the larger number of tools available to the government, the adoption of a fixed schedule and calendar and the systematic increase in opposition obstructionism likely explain this trend.