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Second Reading and Referral of a Bill to a Committee

Debate on the general scope of a bill takes place at second reading. Consequently, debate must focus on the principle of the bill and not the details of its provisions. Second reading of a bill and reference to a committee are moved in the same motion. The motion specifies the committee (standing, special, legislative) to which the bill is being referred.

Debate begins as the Minister or Member rises when the Order of the Day is read for the second reading of the bill and moves “That Bill ______ be now read a second time and referred to the ______ Committee.”

Pursuant to Standing Order 73(2), public bills may not be amended before being read a second time and referred to committee (except in the case where they are referred to a committee before second reading). The motion for second reading of a bill may be amended, but only three types of amendments may be moved: a three months’ or six months’ hoist; a reasoned amendment; and a motion to refer the subject matter to a committee. These amendments do not require notice.

The Standing Orders of the House of Commons offer the government mechanisms for limiting debate at second reading, and at other stages of the legislative process, by using time allocation motions. These permit the government to establish a timetable for consideration of a public bill. The government has another mechanism, referred to as “closure”, to compel the House to make a decision. However, this procedure is rarely used in relation to bills.

At the end of the debate on second reading, the Speaker puts the question on the motion “That the bill be now read a second time and referred to the______ committee”. Once the motion is adopted, the bill is referred to the appropriate committee. The defeat of a motion for second reading results in the bill being withdrawn.

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