The Role of Select Committees in Lawmaking

Before a bill gets to a committee

  • Committee clerk appreciates early warning of bills coming
  • First reading speech must foreshadow:

- Committee proposed
- Any special instructions for the committee (SO 284(1))

  • Minister must provide written notice of instruction (SO 284(2))

Public service advisers

  • Committee appoints one or more departments as advisers
  • The Government speaks with one voice
  • Possibility of independent advisers
  • Public service advisers represent the Minister
  • Public service advisers do not provide political advice
  • Minister can attend to give political perspective (SO 211(2))
  • Duty to act in good faith
  • Parliament is not an impediment to lawmaking

Departmental advisers’ role

  • Initial briefing
  • Attend hearings of evidence - may involve travel at departmental expense
  • Analyse submissions
  • Produce departmental reports
  • Discuss reports with the committee

Difference between evidence and advice

  • Advice from departmental advisers is private
  • Evidence (from witnesses) is heard in public
  • Always clarify if in doubt

Contempt of the House

  • Be aware of possible contempts
  • Never mislead a committee
  • Never release confidential committee proceedings

Role of committee staff

  • Clerk of committee is main contact
  • Clerk

- manages the programme
- prepares meeting papers
- advises on procedure
- records committee amendments to bills

  • Committee staff draft committee reports
  • Committee staff work for the Clerk of the House, not the Government

Committee process for bills

  • Usually 6 months to report
  • Early notice needed if deadline needs changing
  • About 6 weeks for submissions
  • Hearing oral submissions

Committee process (cont’d)

  • ‘Consideration’

- Committee works through departmental report
- Decisions on departmental recommendations
- Possible alternatives considered
- Usually more departmental reports sought
- Sometimes inter-party negotiations before agreements reached on amendments
- ‘Scope’ of amendments should be discussed with committee clerk
- Parliamentary Counsel asked to draft agreed amendments
- Contents of commentary discussed

Committee process (cont’d)

- Formal process of adopting amendments and commentary
- Members may move amendments
- Advisers do not normally participate at this stage
- A few days’ delay for printing and proofreading
- Report presented (commentary + bill reprinted with amendments shown)
- Majority amendments identified
- All proceedings become publicly available

Second reading

  • All majority amendments adopted or rejected by a single vote at end of debate
  • Unanimous amendments adopted at time of vote on second reading


  • Working with Select Committees
  • Public Servants and Select Committees - Guidelines
  • Effective Select Committee Membership
  • Standing Orders of the House of Representatives

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