House of Representatives Practice, 6th edition – HTML version

14 - Control and conduct of debate

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Powers of Chair to enforce order

The Speaker or the occupier of the Chair at the time is responsible for the maintenance of order in the House.[436] This responsibility is derived specifically from standing order 60 but also from other standing orders and the practice and traditions of the House.

Sanctions against disorderly conduct

Under standing order 91, a Member’s conduct is considered disorderly if the Member has:

  • persistently and wilfully obstructed the House;
  • used objectionable words, which he or she has refused to withdraw;
  • persistently and wilfully refused to conform to a standing order;
  • wilfully disobeyed an order of the House;
  • persistently and wilfully disregarded the authority of the Speaker; or
  • been considered by the Speaker to have behaved in a disorderly manner.

While specific offences are listed, it is not uncommon for a Member to be disciplined for an offence which is not specifically stated in the terms of the standing order but which is considered to be encompassed within its purview. For example, in regard to conduct towards the Chair, Members have been named for imputing motives to, disobeying, defying, disregarding the authority of, reflecting upon, insolence to, and using expressions insulting or offensive to, the Chair. Since 1905 an unnecessary quorum call has been dealt with as a wilful obstruction of the House.[437]

When the Speaker’s attention is drawn to the conduct of a Member, the Speaker determines whether or not it is offensive or disorderly.[438] The standing orders give the Speaker the power to intervene[439] and take action against disorderly conduct by a Member, and to impose a range of sanctions, including directing the Member to leave the Chamber for one hour, or naming the Member.[440]

Before taking such action the Chair will generally first call a Member to order and sometimes warn the Member, but there is no obligation on the Chair to do so.[441] Sometimes the Chair will issue a ‘general warning’, not aimed at any Member specifically.[442] Members ignoring a warning may expect quick action by the Chair.

Direction to leave the Chamber

Pursuant to standing order 94(a), if the Speaker considers a Member’s conduct to be disorderly he or she may direct the Member to leave the Chamber[443] for one hour. This action is taken as an alternative to naming the Member—the decision as to whether a naming or a direction to leave is more appropriate is a matter for the Speaker’s discretion. The direction to leave is not open to debate or dissent. When so directed, a Member failing to leave the Chamber immediately[444] or continuing to behave in a disorderly manner may be named.[445]

To avoid interrupting proceedings—for example, on occasions such as the Treasurer’s Budget speech or Opposition Leader’s speech in reply to the Budget—the Speaker may direct a Member to leave the Chamber by written note, with any further action initiated at the commencement of the next sitting.[446]

Speakers have not proceeded with directions to leave the Chamber after Members concerned have apologised for their actions.[447] Several Ministers have been directed to leave the Chamber under this procedure, including the Leader of the House at the same time as the Manager of Opposition Business.[448] Eleven Members have been directed to leave on a single day.[449] The mover and seconder of a motion have been ordered to leave the House during the debate that followed.[450]

This procedure was introduced in 1994 following a recommendation by the Procedure Committee. The committee, noting the seriousness of a suspension and that the process was time-consuming and itself disruptive, considered that order in the House would be better maintained if the Speaker were to have available a disciplinary procedure of lesser gravity, but of greater speed of operation. The committee saw its proposed mechanism as a means of removing a source of disorder rather than as a punishment, enabling a situation to be defused quickly before it deteriorated, and without disrupting proceedings to any great extent.[451] Since the procedure has operated the number of Members named and suspended has declined considerably.

A Member directed to leave the Chamber for an hour is also excluded during that period from the Chamber galleries and the room in which the Federation Chamber is meeting.[452]

Two Senators who disrupted proceedings at a meeting of the House and Senate in the House Chamber were ordered to withdraw from the House for one hour. On their refusing to do so, they were named ‘for continuing to defy the Chair’ and suspended for 24 hours, preventing them from attending a further such meeting the following day.[453]

Naming of Members

The naming of a Member is, in effect, an appeal to the House to support the Chair in maintaining order. Its first recorded use in the UK House of Commons was in 1641.[454] The first recorded naming in the House of Representatives was on 21 November 1901 (Mr Conroy). Mr Conroy apologised to the Chair and the naming was withdrawn.[455] The first recorded suspension was in respect of Mr Catts on 18 August 1910.[456] A Member is usually named by the name of his or her electoral division, the Chair stating ‘I name the honourable Member for …’. Office holders have been named by their title.[457] In 1927, when it was put to the Speaker that he should have named a Member by his actual name the Speaker replied:

It is a matter of identification, and the identity of the individual affected is not questioned. I named him as member for the constituency which he represents, and by which he is known in this Parliament.[458]

Office holders named have included Ministers,[459] Leaders of the Opposition[460] and party leaders.[461] Members have been named together, but, except in the one instance, separate motions have been moved and questions put for the suspension of each Member.[462] No Member has been named twice on the one occasion, but the Chair has threatened to take this action.[463]

The naming of a Member usually occurs immediately an offence has been committed but this is not always possible. For example, Members have been named at the next sitting as a result of incidents that occurred at the adjournment of the previous sitting of the House.[464] A Member has been named for refusing to withdraw words which the Chair had initially ruled were not unparliamentary. When that ruling was reversed by a successful dissent motion and the Chair then demanded the withdrawal of the words, the Member refused to do so.[465]

The Chair has refused to accept a dissent motion to the action of naming a Member on the quite correct ground that, in naming a Member, the Chair has not made a ruling.[466]

Proceedings following the naming of a Member

Following the naming of a Member, the Speaker must immediately put the question, on a motion being made, ‘That the Member [for …] be suspended from the service of the House’. No amendment, adjournment, or debate is allowed on the question.[467]

Especially before the introduction of standing order 94(a), it was not uncommon for the Chair to withdraw the naming of a Member or for the matter not to be proceeded with after other Members had addressed the Chair on the matter and the offending Member had apologised.[468] Such interventions are usually made by a Minister or a member of the opposition executive before the motion for suspension is moved, as it was put on one occasion ‘to give him a further opportunity to set himself right with the House’.[469] The motion for suspension has not been proceeded with when:

  • the Speaker requested that the motion not proceed;[470]
  • the Speaker stated that no further action would be taken if the Member (who had left the Chamber) apologised immediately on his return;[471]
  • a Member’s explanation was accepted by the Chair;[472]
  • the Chair thought it better if the action proposed in naming a Member were forgotten;[473]
  • the Chair accepted an assurance by the Leader of the Opposition that the Member named had not interjected;[474]
  • the Chair acceded to a request by the Leader of the Opposition not to proceed with the matter;[475]
  • the Member withdrew the remark which led to his naming and apologised to the Chair;[476]
  • the Member apologised to the Chair;[477]
  • the Speaker instead,[478] or having withdrawn the naming,[479] directed the Member to leave the Chamber for one hour.

On one occasion the motion for a Member’s suspension was moved but, with disorder in the House continuing, the Speaker announced that to enable the House to proceed he would not put the question on the motion.[480]

A motion for the suspension of a Member has been moved at the commencement of a sitting following his naming during a count out of the previous sitting.[481] Although the Chair has ruled that there is nothing in the standing orders which would prevent the House from proceeding with business between the naming of a Member and the subsequent submission of a motion for his suspension,[482] the intention of the standing order, as borne out by practice, is presumably that the matter be proceeded with immediately without extraneous interruption.

Following the naming of a Member it is usually the Leader of the House or the Minister leading for the Government at the particular time who moves the motion for the suspension of the Member[483] and the Chair has seen it as within his or her right at any time to call on the Minister leading the House to give effect to its rules and orders.[484]

The motion for the suspension of a Member has been negatived on three occasions. On the first occasion the Government did not have sufficient Members present to ensure that the motion was agreed to.[485] On the second occasion the Government, for the only time, did not support the Speaker and the motion for the suspension of the Member was moved by the Opposition and negatived. The Speaker resigned on the same day because of this unprecedented lack of support.[486] On the third occasion the minority Government did not obtain sufficient support from crossbench Members to ensure that the motion was agreed to.[487]

During the short-lived experiment with Friday sittings on 22 February 2008, during which any divisions were to be deferred until the next sitting, two Members were named and motions moved that they be suspended. The motions were agreed to when the divisions on them occurred two weeks later.[488]

A suspension on the first occasion is for 24 hours; on the second occasion in the same year, for three consecutive sittings; and on the third and any subsequent occasion in the same year, for seven consecutive sittings.[489] Suspensions for three and seven sittings are exclusive of the day of suspension. A suspension in a previous session or a direction to leave the Chamber for one hour is disregarded and a ‘year’ means a year commencing on 1 January and ending on 31 December.[490] There is only one instance of a Member having been suspended on a third occasion.[491]

A Member has been suspended from the service of the House ‘Until he returns, with the Speaker’s consent, and apologises to the Speaker’.[492] The relevant standing order at that time had a proviso that ‘nothing herein shall be taken to deprive the House of power of proceeding against any Member according to ancient usages’. Members have also been suspended for varying periods in other circumstances—that is, not following a naming by the Chair— see ‘Punishment of Members’ in the Chapter on ‘Privilege’.

Once the House has ordered that a Member be suspended he or she must immediately leave the Chamber. If a Member refuses to leave, the Chair may order the Serjeant-at-Arms to remove the Member—see ‘Removal by Serjeant-at-Arms’ at page 725.

A Member suspended from the service of the House is excluded from the Chamber, its galleries and the room in which the Federation Chamber is meeting,[493] and may not participate in Chamber related activities. Thus petitions, notices of motion and matters of public importance are not accepted from a Member under suspension. A suspended Member is not otherwise affected in the performance of his or her duties. In earlier years notices of questions have been accepted from a Member after his suspension,[494] although this has not been the recent practice, and notices of motions standing in the name of a suspended Member have been called on, and, not being moved or postponed, have been lost, as have matters of public importance.[495]

Suspension from the service of the House does not exempt a Member from serving on a committee of the House.[496] The payment of a Member’s salary and allowances is not affected by a suspension.

Members have been prevented from subsequently raising the subject of a suspension as a matter of privilege as the matter has been seen as one of order, not privilege,[497] and because a vote of the House could not be reflected upon except for the purpose of moving that it be rescinded.[498] Members have also been prevented from subsequently referring to the naming of a Member once the particular incident was closed.[499]

A Member, by indulgence of the Speaker, has returned to the Chamber, withdrawn a remark unreservedly and expressed regret. The Speaker then stated that he had no objection to a motion being moved to allow the Member to resume his part in the proceedings, and standing orders were suspended to allow the Member to do so.[500] On other occasions Members have returned and apologised following suspension of the standing orders[501] and following the House’s agreement to a motion, moved by leave, that ‘he be permitted to resume his seat upon tendering an apology to the Speaker and the House’.[502]

Gross disorder by a Member

If the Speaker determines that there is an urgent need to protect the dignity of the House, he or she can order a grossly disorderly Member to leave the Chamber immediately. When the Member has left, the Speaker must immediately name the Member and put the question for suspension without a motion being necessary. If the question is resolved in the negative, the Member may return to the Chamber.[503]

This standing order has never been invoked but its pre-1963 predecessor was used on a number of occasions. The standing order was amended in 1963 to make it quite clear that its provisions would apply only in cases which are so grossly offensive that immediate action was imperative and that it could not be used for ordinary offences. In addition, provision was made for the House to judge the matter by requiring the Chair to name the Member immediately after he or she had left the Chamber.[504]

Removal by Serjeant-at-Arms

If a Member refuses to follow the Speaker’s direction in a case of disorderly conduct, the Speaker may order the Serjeant-at-Arms to remove the Member or take the Member into custody.[505]

No cases have occurred of a Member being taken into custody by the Serjeant-at-Arms. Removal by the Serjeant has usually occurred after a Member has been named and suspended but has refused to leave the Chamber.[506] On one occasion, the Speaker having ordered the Serjeant-at-Arms to direct a suspended Member to leave, the Member still refused to leave and grave disorder arose which caused the Speaker to suspend the sitting. When the sitting was resumed, the Member again refused to leave the Chamber. Grave disorder again arose and the sitting was suspended until the next day, when the Member then expressed regret and withdrew from the Chamber.[507]

A Member has also been escorted from the Chamber by the Serjeant when failing to leave when directed under standing order 94(a).[508]

Grave disorder in the House

In the event of grave disorder occurring in the House, the Speaker, without any question being put, can suspend the sitting and state the time at which he or she will resume the Chair; or adjourn the House to the next sitting.[509] On four occasions when grave disorder has a risen the Chair has adjourned the House until the next sitting.[510] The Chair has also suspended the sitting in such circumstances on eight occasions.[511]

Disorder in the Federation Chamber

The Deputy Speaker, or the occupier of the Chair at the time, is responsible for keeping order in the Federation Chamber. The House may address disorder in the Federation Chamber after receiving a report from the Deputy Speaker.[512]

In the Federation Chamber the Deputy Speaker has the same responsibility for the preservation of order as the Speaker has in the House.[513] However, the Chair of the Federation Chamber does not have the power to name a Member. If disorder occurs in the Federation Chamber the Deputy Speaker may direct the Member or Members concerned to leave the room for 15 minutes. Alternatively he or she may, or on motion moved without notice by any Member must, suspend or adjourn the sitting. If the sitting is adjourned, any business under discussion and not disposed of at the time of the adjournment is set down on the Notice Paper for the next sitting.[514] Following the suspension or adjournment or the refusal of a Member to leave when so directed, the Deputy Speaker must, or in other cases may, report the disorder to the House. Any subsequent action against a Member under standing order 94 may only be taken in the House.[515]

Sittings of the Federation Chamber (then named Main Committee) have been suspended because of disorder arising. On the first occasion, in reporting the suspension to the House the Main Committee Chair further reported that a Member had disregarded the authority of and reflected on the Chair. Following the report the Member concerned was named by the Speaker and was suspended.[516] On a later occasion the Member concerned was named and suspended after the Main Committee Chair reported that the Member had defied the Chair by continuing to interject after having been called to order.[517] In 2002 disorder arose when a Member defied the Chair by refusing to withdraw a remark. Instead of suspending the sitting[518] the Deputy Speaker requested another Member to move that the Committee adjourn.[519] On another occasion the offending Member, having withdrawn and apologised when the matter was reported to the House, the Speaker stated that he had discussed the matter with the Deputy Speaker and no further action was taken.[520] In such cases the matter considered in the House is the defiance of the Chair, rather than any matter which gave rise to it.

Other matters of order relating to Members

The Speaker can intervene to prevent any personal quarrel between Members during proceedings.[521] This standing order has only once been invoked to prevent the prosecution of a quarrel[522] but the Chair has cited the standing order in admonishing Members for constantly interjecting in order to irritate or annoy others.[523]

A Member who wilfully disobeys an order of the House may be ordered to attend the House to answer for his or her conduct. A motion to this effect can be moved without notice.[524]

436. See p. 738 re order in the Federation Chamber.
437. H.R. Deb. (24.8.1905) 1478. A Member who calls attention to the lack of a quorum when a quorum is present is immediately named by the Chair and a motion moved for the Member’s suspension—S.O. 55(d), e.g. VP 1978–80/1277–8; VP 1993–95/194; H.R. Deb. (9.3.2004) 26264–5.
438. S.O. 92(b).
439. S.O. 92(a).
440. S.O. 94.
441. See H.R. Deb. (5.6.1975) 3404, where a Member was named for disorderly conduct without being called to order or warned; and see statement by Speaker Hawker H.R. Deb. (9.3.2005) 67; and see H.R. Deb. (14.2.2008) 387—statement by Speaker Jenkins.
442. Generally understood as applying to all Members for the remainder of the sitting.
443. Former S.O. 304A used the term ‘order the Member to withdraw from the House’.
444. VP 1996–98/758–9, 2461–2 (the naming supersedes the direction to leave the Chamber).
445. E.g. VP 1998–2001/397–8, 2052, 2126; VP 2002–04/1527–8; VP 2008–10/1142.
446. H.R. Deb. (10 5 2011) 3432.
447. E.g. VP 1998–2001/663; VP 2004–07/941; H.R. Deb. (5.6.2008) 4717.
448. VP 2008–9/509; H.R. Deb. (4.9.2008) 7244.
449. VP 2004–07/724–5, H.R. Deb. (2.11.2005) 64–66, 68, 71, 76, 82, 84–5.
450. VP 2004–07/1899.
451. Standing Committee on Procedure, About time: bills, questions and working hours. PP 194 (1993) 28.
452. S.O. 94(e).
453. VP 2002–04/1276; J 2002–04/2597. Although the motion agreed to took the usual form of suspending the offenders ‘from the service of the House’ they were in effect also barred from a meeting of the Senate. Odgers reports that the Speaker ‘purported to eject two Senators from one meeting and exclude them from the other’(13th edn, p. 175). For other references see ‘Addresses to both Houses by foreign heads of state’ in Ch on ‘Order of business and the sitting day’.
454. John Hatsell, Precedents of proceedings in the House of Commons, 4th edn, London, 1818, vol. II, p. 238. Josef Redlich, The procedure of the House of Commons, Archibald Constable, London, 1908, vol. III, p.72 n 1.
455. H.R. Deb. (21.11.1901) 7654.
456. VP 1910/78.
457. E.g. H.R. Deb. (27.2.1975) 824, but the identity of the Minister named is shown in the Votes and Proceedings as ‘the honourable Member for . . .’, VP 1974–75/502.
458. H.R. Deb. (1.12.1927) 2397.
459. VP 1929–31/593, 828; VP 1937–40/135 (and suspended); VP 1961/36 (and suspended); VP 1974–75/502–3 (motion for suspension negatived, leading to resignation of Speaker).
460. VP 1914–17/148–9; VP 1948–49/295–6; VP 1985–87/1151. On each occasion suspensions followed.
461. E.g. VP 1973–74/404–5; VP 1985–87/1081–2 (and suspended).
462. VP 1932–34/608–10; VP 1973–74/93–5; VP 1974–75/1068–9. On the occasion when two Members were suspended on one motion an attempt to raise the matter as one of privilege the next day was ruled out of order as the vote could not be reflected upon except on a rescission motion, VP 1946–48/40, 43.
463. H.R. Deb. (9.10.1975) 1927; while bells were ringing for division on question for suspension, the Member reflected on the Chair.
464. VP 1934–37/361; VP 1974–75/154. On the latter occasion the Member was named for refusing to apologise for his conduct on the adjournment of the House at the preceding sitting.
465. VP 1937/106–7.
466. H.R. Deb. (24.9.1986) 1316–18.
467. S.O. 94(b).
468. E.g. H.R. Deb. (29.11.1901) 8056–7; VP 1970–72/1268; H.R. Deb. (19.10.1972) 2955; VP 1983–84/916; H.R. Deb. (4.10.1984) 1631; VP 1990–92/1899.
469. H.R. Deb. (4.7.1919) 10464. On occasions the Chair has, initially at least, declined to allow Members to apologise, H.R. Deb. (1.10.1912) 3622–3, H.R. Deb. (12.12.1912) 6941. On other occasions Members named have been given no opportunity to apologise, H.R. Deb. (27.4.1955) 218–21, 222–3; H.R. Deb. (5.6.1975) 3404; H.R. Deb. (11.9.1980) 1225–6.
470. VP 1937–40/233.
471. VP 1973–74/166.
472. VP 1974–75/109, 256. On the latter occasion the motion for the suspension had been moved but the question had not been put, H.R. Deb. (23.10.1974) 2727. On an earlier occasion, a Member having apologised for his conduct after the suspension motion had been moved, the motion was withdrawn, by leave, VP 1970–72/324. See also H.R. Deb. (24.11.1992) 3391. H.R. Deb. (11.8.1999) 8386–8.
473. H.R. Deb. (30.8.1962) 943–4.
474. VP 1964–66/153; H.R. Deb. (15.9.1964) 1093.
475. VP 1964–66/626; H.R. Deb. (23.8.1966) 307.
476. VP 1978–80/342.
477. VP 1983–84/216; H.R. Deb. (14.9.1983) 750.
478. P 1998–2001/2509.
479. H.R. Deb. (22.11.2010) 3255.
480. H.R. Deb. (18.2.1982) 321–4, VP 1980–83/720–1.
481. VP 1914–17/567.
482. H.R. Deb. (16.3.1944) 1473–4.
483. The motion has been moved by a Member other than a Minister, VP 1974–75/502, VP 1996–98/360 (no seconder in either case); and has not been moved when it appeared that the Chair did not wish the Minister to do so, H.R. Deb. (27.4.1955) 223.
484. H.R. Deb. (14.7.1920) 2710; H.R. Deb. (28.7.1920) 3015.
485. VP 1937–40/223; H.R. Deb. (14.10.1938) 862.
486. VP 1974–75/502–3; for details see ‘Speaker’s authority not supported by the House’ in Ch. on ‘The Speaker, Deputy Speakers and officers’.
487. Following the vote the Speaker announced that he would consider his position. A motion of confidence in the Speaker was immediately moved by the Leader of the Opposition, seconded by the Prime Minister and carried unanimously. VP 2010–12/584, H.R. Deb. (31.5.2011) 8284–6.
488. VP 2008–10/120, 122, 128, 129.
489. Before February 1994 the penalties were 24 hours, 7 calendar days and 28 calendar days.
490. S.O. 94(d) refers to ‘the same calendar year’.
491. VP 1917–19/506—suspended for one month under the rule then applying (until 1963 the count was not recommenced in each calendar year or each Parliament).
492. VP 1914–17/148, 153. A letter of apology was submitted and accepted at the next sitting.
493. S.O. 94(e), e.g. H.R. Deb. (1.12.1988) 3667. This standing order (i.e. former S.O. 307) was adopted in the 1963 revision of the standing orders and followed a 1955 resolution to that effect, VP 1962–63/455; H of R 1 (1962–63) 55. Prior to this Members under suspension had on occasions been instructed to leave Parliament House.
494. NP 38 (6.9.1960) 366–7; VP 1960–61/159.
495. VP 1974–75/788–90; NP 82 (5.6.1975) 8523–4; VP 1987–89/527; 1987–89/1273.
496. Redlich comments on the adoption by the House of Commons of a resolution on this matter (later to constitute a standing order) ‘The chief question which was raised upon this rule, and which led to some debate, was whether a suspended member was to be excused from serving upon committees, more particularly upon select committees on private bills. It was correctly argued by several speakers that, if he were so excused, suspension might in some cases afford a refractory member a very pleasant holiday from parliamentary work; it was therefore decided to retain the former practice, i.e., that suspension should not release a member from the duty of attending committees upon which he had been placed’. Josef Redlich, The procedure of the House of Commons, Archibald Constable, London, 1908, vol. I, p. 182. See also May, 24th edn, p. 458.
497. VP 1917–19/509.
498. VP 1946–48/43.
499. H.R. Deb. (13.12.1912) 7032–3.
500. VP 1970–72/327.
501. VP 1962–63/461; VP 1964–66/98.
502. VP 1959–60/15. In this case standing orders should have been suspended to enable the motion to be moved.
503. S.O. 94(c).
504. VP 1962–63/455; H of R 1 (1962–63) 55; see also Report of 2nd Conference of Presiding Officers and Clerks–at–the–Table, Brisbane, 1969, PP 106 (1969) 120.
505. S.O. 94(f).
506. E.g. VP 1914–17/567; VP 1920–21/213–14, 258–9, 386; VP 1923–24/159; VP 1990–93/757; VP 1996–98/3194–5.
507. VP 1970–72/76.
508. VP 2008–9/120.
509. S.O. 95.
510. VP 1954–55/351; VP 1956–57/169; VP 1973–74/405; VP 1985–87/1273.
511. VP 1917–19/453 (15 minutes); VP 1954–55/184 (until 2.30 p.m. the next day); VP 1970–72/76 (on two occasions, until the ringing of the bells and until 10.30 a.m. this day); VP 1970–72/209, 691 (until the ringing of the bells—both occasions followed grave disorder arising in the galleries); VP 2008–10/120, 122 (two occasions on the same day, for 15 minutes and until the ringing of the bells).
512. S.O. 60(b).
513. S.O. 187(a).
514. S.O. 187(b).
515. S.O. 187(c).
516. VP 1996–98/751, 765. See also VP 1926–28/421–2 (former committee of the whole).
517. VP 1998–2001/2076–7, 2090.
518. Before September 2002 the standing order provided only the option of suspension.
519. VP 2002–04/135, H.R. Deb. (20.3.2002) 1830. On report of the matter to the House the offending Member was named and suspended. VP 2002–04/137.
520. VP 2002–04/507, 502, H.R. Deb. (17.10.2002) 7973.
521. S.O. 92(a).
522. VP 1980–83/1118; H.R. Deb. (20.10.1982) 2318.
523. H.R. Deb. (27.6.1906) 751.
524. S.O. 93.