House of Commons Procedure and Practice
Edited by Robert Marleau and Camille Montpetit
2000 EditionMore information …
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Conduct of Meetings

In general, the rules governing the process of debate in committees are the same as those in the House of Commons. [395] However, the Standing Orders exempt committees from certain rules which apply in the House: those governing the election of the Speaker, the seconding of motions and limiting the number of times a member may speak on an issue and the length of speeches. [396]  This exemption is permissive in nature; each committee may formulate its own rules with respect to these subjects, provided it does not exceed the powers which the House has delegated to it. [397] 

Deliberations in committee are often conducted in an informal atmosphere. The much smaller size of committees, in comparison with the House, and the specific mandates they are given have led to certain adaptations of House procedures in order to enhance the effectiveness of deliberations in committee.

Generally, the length of time to be devoted to a particular topic is a matter for the committee to decide. This may be done formally, by adopting a work plan, or by simply allowing committee members to discuss an issue until they are ready to make a decision. [398]  Committees routinely limit the amount of time available for presentations by witnesses and allocate time for rounds of questioning by committee members. [399] As there is no limit in committee to the number of times of speaking or the length of speeches, committees may, if they choose, place limits on their own deliberations. [400]  However, certain matters which are routinely referred to standing committees pursuant to Standing Order contain limits to the length of the committee’s consideration. The Standing Orders place limits on committee consideration of a number of matters: the Estimates, the pre-budget consultations of the Finance Committee, private Members’ public bills and Order-in-Council appointments. In the case of the Estimates and private Members’ bills, the committee must either report by a certain time or it is deemed to have done so, in which case the matter no longer stands referred to the committee. Consideration of Order-in-Council appointments is limited to 10 consecutive sitting days of the House, although the committee is not obliged to report to the House. With respect to pre-budget consultations, reports must be presented by a specific deadline, but there is no obligation on the part of the Committee to report. [401]  The House may also, from time to time, impose limits on a committee’s consideration of matters referred to it. [402] 

Authority of the Chair

The Chair presides over the deliberations in committee, recognizing speakers [403] and ensuring that the deliberations adhere to established practices and rules, as well as to any particular requirements which the committee may have imposed upon itself and its members. The order of speakers may be left to the Chair’s discretion; however, committees normally adopt a motion to govern the rotation of questioners, by party, when witnesses appear before them. [404] The Chair also puts the question on all motions before the committee and announces the results of any vote.

The Chair may, at his or her discretion, interrupt a member whose remarks or questions are repetitious, or not relevant to the matter before the committee. If a member’s comments continue to be repetitious or irrelevant, the Chair may recognize another member. If the offending member refuses to yield the floor and continues speaking, the Chair may suspend or adjourn the meeting. A point of order calling attention to a departure from the Standing Orders or from the customary manner in which a committee has conducted its proceedings may be raised at any time, by any member of the committee. In doubtful or unprovided cases, the Chair may reserve his or her decision. [405] 

While the Chair’s rulings are not subject to debate, they may be appealed to the committee. [406]  A member appeals a ruling by requesting that the committee vote on the motion, “That the Chair’s ruling be sustained.” [407]  In the event of a tie vote on an appeal, the decision of the Chair is sustained. [408]  The overturning of a ruling is not necessarily considered a matter of confidence in the Chair. While the decisions made by a Chair are binding on the committee, they do not, however, constitute precedents which bind other committees, nor do they bind subsequent Chairs of the committee in which they are made.

Right to Speak

Members must be recognized by the Chair before speaking. On occasion, committees place strict limits on the amount of time during which a given item will be considered. [409]  In other cases, committee members are free to discuss a matter for as long as they see fit. Members of the House attending committee meetings who are not committee members or substitutes may, at the discretion of the committee, participate in the deliberations. However, they do not have the right to present motions, to vote or to be counted in the quorum. [410]  Although they ordinarily withdraw when the committee deliberates in camera, they are sometimes permitted to remain at in camera meetings. [411] 

Disorder and Misconduct

Disorder and misconduct in a committee may arise as a result of the failure to abide by the rules and practices of a committee or to respect the authority of the Chair. Disorder and misconduct also include the use of unparliamentary language, failure to yield the floor or persistent interruption of the proceedings in any manner. In the event of disorder, the Chair may suspend the meeting until order can be restored or, if the situation is considered to be so serious as to prevent the committee from continuing with its work, the meeting may be adjourned. Neither committees nor their Chairs have the authority to censure an act of disorder or misconduct. [412]  If a committee desires that some action be taken against those disrupting the proceedings, it must report the situation to the House. [413]  The House may make a decision on disorder upon receiving such a report.

Decision-making Process

Decisions in committee are made following the adoption of motions by the majority of the members present. Unless the committee decides otherwise, there is no notice requirement to move a motion. [414] No decision can be made by a committee unless a quorum is present. [415]  At the conclusion of debate on debatable motions or when a non-debatable motion has been moved, the Chair first reads the motion and then asks if the committee agrees to it. [416] If there is evident disagreement among the members, the Chair will then call for the yeas and nays. Members vote by raising their hand. When a vote is taken in this way, the number of those voting on each side of the question is recorded in the Minutes. If any member requests a recorded division, the clerk will read out the names of the members in alphabetical order, each member replying in turn “yea” or “nay”. The results of the vote are announced by the clerk and the Chair declares the motion carried or defeated, as the case may be. The names of the members for and against the motion are listed in the Minutes. Unlike the procedure in the House where Members are summoned by division bells, there is no provision for summoning absent committee members to a recorded vote. [417]

When a vote is held at an in camera meeting, only the fact that a motion was adopted is recorded in the Minutes since adopted motions become orders or resolutions of the committee; the names or number of members voting for or against the motion are not recorded. Motions which have been negatived at an in camera meeting are not recorded in theMinutes nor are the names or number of members voting for or against the motion; this is to ensure that the deliberations of the committee remain confidential. [418]  However, at in camera meetings, matters may be recorded in the Minutes if the committee expressly decides so.

Casting Vote

Like the Speaker, the Chair of a committee votes only to break a tie, except when a committee is considering a private bill, in which case the Chair votes as a regular member of the committee and, in the event of a tie, has a second, casting vote. [419]  The Chair is not bound to give reasons for voting. By convention, the Chair will normally vote in such a way as to maintain the status quo or, when no further discussion on the matter is possible, to keep the matter open for further discussion in the committee or at a subsequent proceeding in the House. [420] Where there is a tie vote on an appeal of a Chair’s ruling, the Chair traditionally does not vote, but declares the ruling sustained. [421] 

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