House of Commons Procedure and Practice

Second Edition, 2009

House of Commons Procedure and Practice - 20. Committees - Contents and Introduction

20. Committees

Photo of high relief entitled “Bilingualism” from the British North America Act series of the Heritage Collection in the Chamber of the House of Commons.


*    British Precedents

*    Committees of the Assemblies of the Two Canadas and of the United Province of Canada

*    Development of the House of Commons Committee System



Figure 20.1    Committee System of the House of Commons

*    Standing Committees

Figure 20.2    List of Standing and Standing Joint Committees of the House of Commons

General Mandate

Specific Mandates

*    Standing Joint Committees

*    Legislative Committees

*    Special Committees

*    Special Joint Committees

*    Subcommittees



*    Effect of Prorogation and Dissolution on Committees

*    Resuming Proceedings in a New Session



*    Committee Powers by Committee Type

Standing Committees

*     To Examine and Enquire into All Such Matters as the House May Refer to Them

*     To Send for Persons

*     To Send for Papers and Records

*     To Sit While the House Is Sitting and When It Stands Adjourned

*     To Sit Jointly with Other Standing Committees

*     To Print from Day to Day Papers and Evidence as May Be Ordered by Them

*     To Report to the House from Time to Time

*     To Print a Brief Appendix to Any Report Containing Opinions or Recommendations Dissenting or Supplementary to It

*     To Delegate to Subcommittees All or Any of Their Powers

Standing Joint Committees

Legislative Committees

Special Committees

Special Joint Committees


*    Obtaining Additional Powers



*    Authority to Conduct Studies: Orders of Reference and Instructions

*    Types of Studies Conducted

Legislative Measures

*     Bills

Committee Prepares and Brings a Bill

Bills Referred to Committee Before or After Second Reading

*      Order of Consideration

*      Reports to the House and Deadlines for Reporting

Referral of the Subject Matter of a Bill to a Committee

Recommital of a Bill

*     Consideration and Review of Existing Laws

*     Review for the Purpose of Approving or Rejecting/Revoking Delegated Legislation Emanating from an Existing Act

Subject Matter Studies


*     Reference to Committee and Timeline for Reporting

*     Consideration in Committee

*     Initiatives Since 2000


*     Order-in-Council Appointments

*     Officers of Parliament

Failure of the Government to Respond to Petitions or Written Questions



*    Membership

Members and Associate Members

*     Status of Members, Associate Members and Non-members

*     Establishing Committee Membership

Standing and Standing Joint Committees

Legislative Committees

Special Committees and Special Joint Committees


*     Changes in Membership

Standing and Standing Joint Committees

Legislative Committees

Special and Special Joint Committees



*     Status of Substitutes

*     Methods of Designating Substitutes

Standing and Standing Joint Committees

Legislative Committees

Special and Special Joint Committees


Participation by Non-Parliamentarians

*    Chairs, Vice-Chairs and Acting Chairs

Roles of Chairs, Vice-Chairs and Acting Chairs

*     Role of Chairs

Procedural Responsibilities

Administrative Responsibilities

Representative Responsibilities

*     Role of Vice-Chairs

*     Role of Acting Chairs

Methods of Designation

Figure 20.3    Methods of Designating Chairs and Vice-Chairs by Type of Committee

*     Standing and Standing Joint Committees

*     Legislative Committees

*     Special and Special Joint Committees

*     Subcommittees


*    Committee Staff

Committee Clerk


Legislative Clerks

Other Staff



*    Procedural Framework for Committee Activities

Committee Procedure and Its Sources

*     Constitution and Acts of Parliament

*     Orders of Reference, Instructions and the Standing Orders of the House of Commons

*     Rulings by the Speaker of the House and Committee Chairs

*     Practice

Masters of Their Procedures and Proceedings: a Freedom with Boundaries

*    Committees and Questions of Procedure and Privilege

Disorder and Misconduct

Decisions of the Chair and Appeals

Points of Order

Questions of Privilege in Committee

*    Rules of Debate and the Decision-making Process

Rules of Debate

Decision-making Process

*     Notice

*     Moving Motions

*     Votes

Use of Unanimous Consent

*    Motions in Committee

Format and Admissibility

Types of Motions

Figure 20.4    Types of Motions in Committee

*     Substantive Motions

*     Subsidiary Motions

*     Privileged Motions


Superseding Motions

*      Dilatory Motions

*      Motion for the Previous Question

*    Organization and Conduct of Business

Organization Meeting

*     Routine Motions

Analyst Services

Subcommittee on Agenda and Procedure

Meeting Without a Quorum

Time for Opening Remarks and Questioning of Witnesses

Document Distribution

Working Meals

Travel, Accommodation and Living Expenses of Witnesses

Access to In Camera Meetings

Transcripts of In Camera Meetings

Notice of Motion

Determination of Studies and Preparation of Work Schedules and Lists of Witnesses

Figure 20.5    Usual Order of Business for Committee Study Leading to a Substantive Report


Gathering Evidence and Soliciting Opinions

*     Evidence

Swearing-in of Witnesses

Figure 20.6    Swearing-in of Witnesses


Briefs and Other Papers

Deliberations for the Production of a Report

Adoption of a Report by a Committee

Presentation to the House

Government Response

Concurrence in a Report by the House

*    Types of Meetings and Activities

Public Meetings

In Camera Meetings

Informal Meetings

Meetings or Activities Outside the Parliamentary Precinct

*    Physical Setting

Figure 20.7    Committee Room Configuration

Figure 20.8    Committee Room

*    Scheduling, Convening and Conduct of Meetings

Times of Meetings and Room Allocation

Convening a Meeting

*     By the Chair

*     At the Request of Four Committee Members

*     Cancelling a Meeting

Conduct of Meetings

*     Quorum and Call to Order / “Reduced Quorum”

*     Suspension

*     Adjournment

*    Funding of Activities

Key Authorities in the Financial Management of Committees

*     Board of Internal Economy

*     Liaison Committee and Subcommittee on Committee Budgets

*     Obtaining Funding for Committees

Basic Operational Budget or Interim Funding

Supplementary Budget for Project-related Activities or Travel

Figure 20.9    Approval Process for Operational and Travel Budgets for Standing Committees

Legislative and Special Committee Budgets

Supplementary Funding and Unused Funds

Figure 20.10  Approval Process for Special and Legislative Committee Budgets, Presented in Addition to Interim Funding

*     Financial Accountability

*    Reporting of Activities and Deliberations

A Single Window for Information: the Committees Web Site

Written Information

*     Notice of Meeting

*     Minutes of Proceedings

*     Evidence

*     Press Releases

*     Reports

Press Conferences

Electronic Information

*     Radio

*     Television

*     Webcasting


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Experience has shown that smaller and more flexible committees, when entrusted with interesting matters, can have a very positive impact on the development of our parliamentary system, upgrade the role of Members of Parliament, sharpen their interest and ultimately enable this institution to produce much more enlightened measures that better meet the wishes of the Canadian people.

Yvon Pinard, President of the Privy Council

(Debates, November 29, 1982, p. 21071)

As with many other legislative bodies, the House of Commons has a committee system. A parliamentary committee is a small group of Members created and empowered by the House to perform one or more specific tasks.[1] There are a number of different types of committees and they are formed on a temporary or permanent basis. They usually consist of Members drawn from all recognized parties in the House. Committee work, in fact, represents a substantial portion of the parliamentary activity of a Member of Parliament in Ottawa.[2] To enable them to perform their work effectively, the House generally delegates to its committees its powers of inquiry and the authority to compel the appearance of witnesses and the production of documents.

A deliberative assembly derives a number of advantages from the use of parliamentary committees. It is more efficient to perform in small groups work that would otherwise be difficult to accomplish in an assembly of more than 300 members. In essence, the responsibilities of parliamentary committees are to review in detail and improve bills and existing legislation, and to monitor the activities of the machinery of government and its executive branch: conducting reviews of and inquiries into government programs and policies, reviews of past and planned expenditures, and reviews of non-judicial appointments.

Parliamentary committees also offer a more informal setting, in which Members have the opportunity to develop close working relations with their colleagues. Moreover, if they remain members of the same committees for a sufficient length of time, they are able to develop or strengthen their expertise in specific fields. Through the public consultations they conduct, parliamentary committees represent the main avenue for elected Members of Parliament to enter into a direct dialogue with those in civil society, such as: individual citizens, non‑governmental experts, and representatives from the private sector. Through their work, committees can draw attention and raise the awareness of the government and the general public to specific issues.[3]

The process followed in the work of a parliamentary committee is essentially the same for all of them. It begins with the task entrusted to it by the House. The committee draws up a work plan and begins its study or inquiry. It may then hear witnesses and seek opinions. It concludes its study by recording its observations and making recommendations in the form of a report it presents to the House. In some cases, the committee may request that the government respond to its recommendations.

This chapter describes the procedure and practice of committees of the House of Commons. After a brief historical survey of the development of the committee system, the types of committee, their mandates, lifespan, powers and the types of studies they conduct are examined. This is followed by a discussion of their membership, leadership and staff, and their deliberations: the procedure that regulates them, how they are organized, the physical framework in which they do their work, how they are funded, and how their work is reported.

[1] Committees of the Whole are the exception; they are made up of all Members of the House of Commons. For further information, see Chapter 19, “Committees of the Whole House”. Senators may also sit as members of a parliamentary committee, as in the case of the joint committees of both Houses of Parliament. For further information, see the section in this chapter entitled “Types of Committees and Mandates”.

[2] In fiscal year 2007-08, for example, parliamentary committees held nearly 1,200 meetings, which represented nearly 1,700 hours of work. By comparison, the House of Commons held 113 sittings during the same period.

[3] For a critical examination of the committee system of the House of Commons, see Jackson, R.J. and Jackson, D., Politics in Canada: Culture, Institutions, Behaviour and Public Policy, 6th ed., Toronto: Pearson Prentice Hall, 2006, pp. 323-5. For further information on the various functions and advantages for deliberative assemblies of a committee system, see National Democratic Institute for International Affairs, “Committees in Legislatures: A Division of Labour”, Legislative Research Series, No. 2, Washington, 1996.

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