A Minister may move that a government bill be referred to a committee before second reading. Traditionally when the House proceeds to second reading of a bill, it is asked to give approval to the principle of the bill. Agreeing to the principle at this stage of the legislative process effectively limits the scope of amendments that may be made during committee study and at report stage. The option of referring a bill to committee before second reading enables Members to examine the principle of a bill and to propose amendments that may alter its scope.
Pursuant to Standing Orders 73(1)(b) and (c), the motion to refer a bill to committee prior to second reading cannot be amended, and debate is limited to ten-minute speeches within a five-hour time frame. At the end of the five hours, or when no more Members rise to speak, the Speaker puts the question on the motion. If the motion is adopted, the bill is referred to a standing, special or legislative committee for consideration.
In general, during clause-by-clause consideration of a bill referred before second reading, the committee follows the same rules and procedures that apply to the consideration of bills in committee after second reading. It may hear witnesses and receive briefs. However, the scope of the amendments that may be made to the bill is much wider, given that the committee study is not limited to the principle of the bill.
At the end of its study, the committee reports the bill to the House, with or without amendment. Provisions of Standing Order 76(1) stipulate that the report stage of the bill may not be taken into consideration prior to the third sitting day following the presentation of the report.
When the committee reports the bill to the House, the next stage is essentially a combination of report stage and second reading. Members may propose amendments after giving written notice two sitting days prior to the bill being called (Standing Order 76(2)), if they can demonstrate that the amendments could not be proposed in committee. Amendments are also accepted if they further amend something the committee amended, or if they propose the deletion of a clause.
When consideration at report stage is concluded, a motion “That the bill be concurred in at report stage and read a second time”, is put and disposed of by the House, without debate or amendment. The text of the concurrence motion can be modified if the bill is amended at committee or report stage. Once concurred in at report stage and read a second time, the bill is set down for third reading and passage at the next sitting of the House.