As they begin their work, committees adopt a series of motions to deal with items of routine business. Since each committee is free to organize its own affairs, there is no standard list of “routine” motions that it must adopt. Following is a list of the principal routine motions that committees have found useful. In many instances, a committee will adapt these motions in order to suit its particular circumstances.
Most committees establish from among their members a subcommittee on agenda and procedure, usually referred to as the “steering committee”. The steering committee recommends how the committee should proceed to consider its orders of reference and advises on such topics as the selection of witnesses and the schedule of meetings. It usually consists of the Chair, the Vice-Chairs, and representatives from each of the other parties and, in the case of committees having a departmental responsibility, the Parliamentary Secretary.
A steering committee usually meets in camera to discuss the future business of the committee. Since the recommendations of the steering committee are reported to the main committee and so appear in the Minutes, steering committees do not require the power to print and do not publish their own minutes.
In order to carry out their work, committees seek the assistance of expert analysts from the Library of Parliament. The usual motion leaves the control and coordination of the research staff to the Chair of the committee.
Committees may authorize the Chair to hold meetings for the sole purpose of hearing evidence when a quorum is not present, as provided for in Standing Order 118(2). Although the Standing Orders permit the Chair to hear evidence when no other member is present, it is more usual for the committee to stipulate that some minimum number of members must be present in order for the committee to hear witnesses. This number is referred to as a “reduced quorum”.
When hearing witnesses, committees normally set limits on the time each group or individual is given to make an opening presentation. They also set out the length of time that will be devoted to questioning by committee members and how that time will be divided among the members of the various parties represented on the committee. The division of time for questioning may change from Parliament to Parliament to reflect changes in the number of parties represented on committees. Each committee seeks to balance, as well as it can, opportunities for representatives of all parties to put questions with the limited time available.
Whether attending meetings held on Parliament Hill or while a committee is travelling across Canada, many witnesses incur expenses in travelling to appear before committees. As no expenditure can be made from committee funds without committee approval, it is necessary that a motion be adopted setting out the conditions under which witness expenses are to be paid. The Board of Internal Economy has set out guidelines for acceptable levels of reimbursement, but it is up to each committee to decide under what circumstances they will agree to reimburse witnesses.
Members of the House of Commons are entitled to receive documents in the official language of their choice. At the same time, members of the public have the right to communicate with a parliamentary committee in either official language. This stipulation frequently leads to the situation in which a document is presented in a single official language to a committee. While the committee members are entitled to receive it in whichever official language they prefer, each committee decides, by way of a routine motion, whether documents submitted to it in only one official language will be distributed to members immediately or only once a translation is available.
While no public record is produced of what is said during in camera proceedings, committees often find it useful to have a transcript produced for the private consultation of the members and staff of the committee. In addition to deciding whether or not to keep a transcript of an in camera meeting, the committee must also decide how such transcripts will be disposed of at the end of the session (i.e., whether they will be made part of the committee’s permanent record for historical purposes or destroyed). Committees sometimes prefer to deal with the question of the disposal of in camera transcripts on a case-by-case basis.
The referral of Order in Council and Officer of Parliament appointments to committees and their review of such appointments are governed by the Standing Orders. As some committees are referred a large number of such appointments, each committee must decide how to deal with the consideration of the nominations and the large volume of documentation associated with each one.