Committee stage is the line-by-line, word-by-word examination of a bill and is the Member’s first, and maybe only, opportunity to amend the provisions of the bill. Once the committee has amended and adopted the bill, it reports it, as amended, to the House.
When a bill is referred to a committee, the bill itself constitutes the order of reference. A committee studying a bill may report it with or without amendments but may not include any comments or recommendations in its report.
Second reading fixes the scope of the bill—the field of applicability or ways by which the principles of the bill are achieved. Bills can be sent to committee before second reading, which allows more latitude in the amendment process.
If the bill has already received second reading, the committee is bound by the decision of the House to approve the principle of the bill. However, this is not the case when the committee is considering a bill that has not yet been given second reading. In accordance with the broad powers of standing committees under Standing Order 108(2), they may make recommendations to the House related to a bill that has been referred to them by way of a separate report.
Members of a committee may speak as often as they wish, subject to any rules or guidelines adopted by the committee in that respect. A committee may limit the time it will spend on consideration of a bill by adopting a motion to that effect. Such a motion may be debated and amended. A committee may also pass the equivalent of a time allocation motion, that is, allot time for the examination of each clause or terminatie consideration of a bill at a particular time or date. The House may also adopt a time allocation motion to limit the committee’s consideration of the bill.
A committee to which a bill is referred usually chooses to hold public hearings. The practice is that the first witness to appear before the committee is the private Member or the Minister responsible for the bill (or the Minister’s Parliamentary Secretary). Other witnesses may then be invited to express their views on the bill, including individuals, experts or representatives of organizations that would be affected by the legislative measure. Members may question any or all of these witnesses.
At this stage, discussion is open and relates to both the general principle and the details of the bill.
Once witnesses have been heard, the committee proceeds to clause-by-clause consideration of the bill during which Members may propose amendments. During clause-by-clause consideration, the Minister responsible, or the Minister’s Parliamentary Secretary, may return to address the committee or answer questions. The officials of the department will also make themselves available during this phase, to provide explanations of certain complex or technical aspects of the legislative measure.
When a committee studies a bill clause by clause, the Chair calls each of the clauses, one at a time, in sequential order. A committee member may ask questions about provisions in the clause or may debate any part of a clause, even if he or she has no amendments to propose.
When all parts of the bill have been voted on, the bill in its entirety is then submitted for the approval of the committee. After the bill is adopted, or adopted as amended, the Chair asks the committee for leave or permission to report the bill to the House.
Once a committee has concluded its clause-by-clause consideration of a bill, it reports the bill (or the bill as amended) to the House. The report can contain only the actual text of the adopted amendments.
If the number of amendments made by the committee necessitates it, the committee generally orders that the bill be reprinted as a working copy for use at report stage.