House of Commons Procedure and Practice
Edited by Robert Marleau and Camille Montpetit
2000 EditionMore information …
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19. Committees of the Whole House

Consideration of Bills in a Committee of the Whole

After a bill has been read a second time, the House may order it referred to a Committee of the Whole for consideration either pursuant to the Standing Orders [146]  or by unanimous consent [147]  or pursuant to a special order of the House. [148] 

Following concurrence in the Main and Supplementary Estimates and Interim Supply, all appropriation or Supply bills (bills authorizing the actual withdrawal of funds from the Consolidated Revenue Fund for government expenditures) are automatically referred to a Committee of the Whole for consideration. [149]  These bills are usually considered at the end of the sitting on the last allotted day in a Supply period when little or no more debating time remains. The Standing Orders provide for the Speaker to interrupt the proceedings at that time and put all questions necessary to dispose of all stages of any Supply bills without further debate. Thus, the committee stage is generally very brief and the bills are reported back to the House without amendment within a matter of minutes. [150] 

Often a Committee of the Whole examines non-controversial bills or bills dealing with matters of political importance on which arrangements on the use of House time have been made. Also, by unanimous consent or special order, the House has examined urgent legislation, such as legislation terminating strikes, in a Committee of the Whole. [151]  Many of these bills are considered by consent of the House at two or more stages in one sitting.

A bill is dealt with in a Committee of the Whole in much the same way it would be if it were referred to a standing, special or legislative committee. [152] Consideration of the preamble and title (as well as Clause 1 if it only contains the short title of the bill) are postponed. [153]  Each clause is a distinct question and is discussed separately in numerical order. Traditionally, when Clause 1 (or Clause 2 if Clause 1 contains only the short title of the bill [154] ) is called, the Committee holds a general debate, similar to that at second reading, covering the principles and details of the bill. After Clause 1 (or Clause 2) is disposed of, debate must be strictly relevant to the clause under consideration. [155]  This tends to make debate on subsequent clauses shorter. Amendments and sub-amendments to a clause may be proposed if found procedurally acceptable by the Chair, and after debate they must be disposed of before the next clause may be called. [156]  After a clause has been considered, the Chair asks if it shall carry. [157]  Once a clause has been disposed of, it may not be discussed again during consideration of another clause. New clauses, schedules, new schedules, Clause 1 (if it contains only the short title of the bill), the preamble and the title are the last items considered. [158]  Similar to proceedings in standing, special or legislative committees, consideration of particular clauses may be postponed or stood by decision of the Committee. [159] 

Since the House is not supposed to be informed of the proceedings of a committee on a bill until the bill has been reported, Members cannot refer to the bill or proceedings on it during consideration of other matters if the bill is still before a Committee of the Whole. [160]  When consideration of a bill in a Committee of the Whole is completed, the Chairman requests leave to report the bill. Often leave is granted automatically, but it is not unusual for a division to take place on the motion. [161]  Once leave is granted, the Mace is put back in place on the Table, the Speaker resumes the Chair and the Chairman reports the bill, with or without amendment, to the House. [162] The report is then received by the House and the Speaker immediately puts the question on the motion for the bill to be concurred in at the report stage. [163]  No amendments or debate are allowed at this stage. [164] 

Should the bill be concurred in at the report stage, the third reading motion may be proposed at the same sitting. [165]  However, if the bill had been read a second time that same sitting, the third reading motion may only be moved with the unanimous consent of the House because the Standing Orders dictate that the three readings of a bill should occur on different days. [166]  With the consent of the House, the third reading motion may be proposed immediately, which is the usual practice, [167]  or later the same sitting. Third reading may also take place at the next sitting of the House. [168] 

During consideration of the motion for third reading, an amendment may be proposed that the bill be recommitted to a Committee of the Whole. [169]  Such a recommital amendment usually limits consideration in the Committee to certain clauses, or new proposed amendments. [170]  In some cases, no limitation is included. [171]  If adopted, this motion becomes an instruction to the Committee. [172]

Motions of Instruction

Motions of instruction are derived from British practice which was developed in the second half of the nineteenth century and incorporated into Canadian practice, although they have seldom been used. Instructions to a Committee of the Whole dealing with legislation are not mandatory but permissive, that is the Committee has the discretion to decide if it will exercise the power given to it by the House to do something which it otherwise would have no authority to do. [173]  However, if the Committee itself wishes to extend its powers, it must request that the House give it an instruction to this effect. [174]  Today, given that the House usually refers a bill to a Committee of the Whole to expedite its passage, the House agrees to define the committee’s work typically by special order. [175] 

In the event the House wishes to instruct a Committee of the Whole to do something, a motion of instruction may be moved without notice immediately after a bill has been read a second time and referred to a Committee of the Whole but before the House has resolved itself into the Committee. [176]  An instruction to a Committee of the Whole has also been moved as a substantive motion under the rubric “Motions” during Routine Proceedings when a bill was already before the Committee. [177]  A motion of instruction is debatable and amendable. [178]  Members have moved motions instructing a Committee of the Whole to divide a bill into several bills, [179]  to consolidate several bills into one bill, [180]  and to insert new clauses into a bill. [181]  A motion of instruction is inadmissible if it seeks to confer upon the Committee powers it already has, such as the authority to amend a bill. [182]  Any number of motions of instruction may be moved successively to a bill referred to a Committee of the Whole; however, each motion is a separate and independent motion. [183]  Once a motion of instruction is adopted, it becomes an Order of Reference to the Committee.

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