House of Commons
When a Bill has passed its second reading in the House of Commons, it is usually referred to a standing committee for detailed examination. In some cases a bill may be referred to a Committee of the Whole House instead.
Bills which have their committee stage on the floor of the House generally fall into one of the following categories:
Bills may be divided between a standing committee and Committee of the whole House.
- bills of major constitutional importance (for example those concerned with the ratification of the treaties constituting the European Union, or with the government of parts of the United Kingdom)
- bills which the Government needs to pass with unusual speed (for example when the Courts have found a previous Act defective, and this has major financial or political consequences, or there is a state of emergency)
- bills which are of a very uncontroversial nature (for example those consolidating existing law) of which the committee stage is expected to be very short and where it would not be worthwhile to establish a standing committee
- private Members' bills which are not opposed and of which all the stages are taken without debate
Generally, some clauses of the annual Finance Bill are taken in Committee of the whole House and the remainder in standing committee.
Particularly controversial clauses of other government bills (for example those which raise questions of conscience, such as capital punishment) are occasionally taken in Committee of the whole House while the remainder of the bill is taken in standing committee.
Standing committees on bills may consist of from 16 to 50 MPs. Standing committee members on bills are appointed afresh for each new bill by the Committee of Selection which is required to take account of the composition of the House (ie. party proportions) as well as the qualification of members to be nominated.
The committees are chaired by a member of the Chairmen's Panel (whose members are appointed by the Speaker).
In standing committees the Chairman has much the same function as the Speaker in the House.
Like the Speaker, a chairman votes only in the event of a tie, and then usually in accordance with precedent. The committees consider each bill clause by clause and may make amendments.
Committees on government bills are 'timetabled' in advance by a Programme Motion which limits the amount of time that a committee can spend on a bill. Due to the pressure of time not all amendments tabled by MPs are selected by the chair for debate.
At the conclusion of the committee stage the bill is reported back to the House (amended or not as the case may be) to await report stage and third reading.
Very occasionally a bill is referred instead to a special standing committee.
These sit as select committees for one deliberative meeting (in private) and up to three meetings for taking evidence (in public).
The chairman for these sittings is chosen by the Speaker, but not necessarily from the Chairmen's Panel, the usual practice being to appoint the Chairman of the relevant departmental committee for this purpose.
These sittings have to be completed by four sitting weeks after the bill is committed, unless the House allows a longer period.
Afterwards, the committees go through the bills clause by clause like other standing committees, and with a member of the Chairmen's Panel in the Chair.
Uniquely for a public bill, the quinquennial Armed Forces Bill is always referred to a select committee for consideration before being re-committed to a standing committee or Committee of the Whole House.