A Committee of the Whole is the entire membership of the House of Commons sitting as a committee. Each time the House resolves itself into a Committee of the Whole to deliberate on a specific matter, a new committee is created. Once that committee has completed its business, it ceases to exist. Over the span of a session, many Committees of the Whole may be created on an ad hoc basis.
A meeting of a Committee of the Whole is held in the Chamber itself and is presided over by the Deputy Speaker, as Chair of Committees of the Whole, or by the Assistant Deputy Speaker and Deputy Chair of Committees of the Whole or the Assistant Deputy Speaker and Assistant Deputy Chair of Committees of the Whole. The presiding officer sits at the Table, in the Clerk’s chair, while the Speaker’s chair remains vacant; the Mace is removed from the top of the Table to signal that the House itself is no longer in session. The Mace rests on the lower brackets at the end of the Table during the entire time that the House sits as a Committee of the Whole.
The function of a Committee of the Whole is deliberation, not inquiry. Unlike standing committees, which have the authority to initiate studies of continuing concern to the House, a Committee of the Whole may consider only questions and bills that the House decides should be dealt with in that forum. The Standing Orders provide for a Committee of the Whole to examine appropriation bills and, from time to time, by special order or unanimous consent, the House orders that other bills be referred to a Committee of the Whole for consideration. The rules in a Committee of the Whole are less formal than those that apply when the House is in session. For example, pursuant to Standing Order 101(1), Members may speak more than once on any item, and motions do not require a seconder.
If legislation is being discussed, the Minister or Parliamentary Secretary responsible for the legislation sits at one of the front desks on the government side of the Chamber, both appearing as the key witness and entering into the debate. The Minister may be assisted by one or two departmental officials who are seated at a small table on the floor of the House in front of the Minister.
The Standing Orders provide for the review of the main estimates by Committees of the Whole. Not later than May 1, the Leader of the Official Opposition, after consultation with the other opposition leaders, may give notice of a motion to refer the votes in the main estimates of no more than two departments or agencies to Committees of the Whole. These votes are then deemed withdrawn from the standing committees to which they were referred. The Committees of the Whole must deal with these estimates by May 31 and may consider them for a period of up to four hours each.
Finally, a format similar to a Committee of the Whole is used for take-note debates, which are initiated by the government as a means of soliciting the views of Members on some aspect of government policy. While most of the rules are the same as those applied during a Committee of the Whole, the Speaker may preside and Members may speak for up to 10 minutes, followed by a ten-minute questions and comments period.