Committee of the whole

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A committee of the whole is a device in which a legislative body or other deliberative assembly sits as a single committee with all assembly members being committee members. The procedural rules for committee meetings are different from those of other business conducted on the floor of the assembly; such meetings proceed as a collegiate discussion with questions and answers, rather than as a sequence of speeches each with minimal interruption from other members and strictly moderated by the speaker. The committee of the whole also differs from an assembly's other committees, such as standing committees and special committees, which usually have limited membership, meet outside the main debating chamber, and have less public access and recording than business conducted on the floor. The committee stage of important bills is typically conducted by the committee of the whole, whereas lesser bills may be disposed of by a smaller committee. Other main motions may also be considered by the committee of the whole.


In the Australian House of Representatives, the "Federation Chamber" meets separately from the House and has its own committee room, and deals with uncontroversial matters. The Federation Chamber was created in 1994, to relieve some of the burden on the entire House: different matters can be processed in the House at large and in the Federation Chamber, as they sit simultaneously. It is designed to be less formal, with a quorum of only three members: the Deputy Speaker of the House, one government member, and one non-government member. Decisions must be unanimous: any divided decision sends the question back to the House at large. The Federation Chamber was introduced in 1994, and replaced the previous Main Committee.

In the Australian Senate, the Committee of the Whole is provided for by Chapter 21 of the standing orders.[1] It is presided over by the Chairman of Committees.[2]


In the Canadian House of Commons, a Committee of the Whole is when all the MPs sit in the chamber in one large committee. The committee is chaired by the deputy speaker or the deputy chair of committees. It uses committee rules rather than House procedures.

In the past, the Committee of the Whole considered a majority of bills, with few bills being sent to parliamentary committees. The increased workload of MPs has led to a decline in this use of the Committee of the Whole. Now the Committee of the Whole is used mostly for monetary bills and on rare occasions to expedite the passage of other legislation.[3]

On June 11, 2008, Prime Minister Stephen Harper formally apologized in the House of Commons for the government's historical role in the Canadian residential school system. A Committee of the Whole was used, so that aboriginal leaders (who were not Members of Parliament) could be allowed to respond to the apology on the floor of the House.[4]

Hong Kong[edit]

In the Legislative Council of Hong Kong, when the debate of the second reading resumes, members debate the general merits and principles of the bill. At the committee stage, the Legislative Council becomes 'a Committee of the whole Council' and goes through the bill clause by clause, making amendments where necessary. After the bill has passed through Committee with or without amendments, it proceeds to the third reading for passage by the Council.

United Kingdom[edit]

In the House of Commons of the United Kingdom, the Committee of the Whole House is used instead of a standing committee for the clause-by-clause debate of important or contentious bills. The sitting is presided over by the Chairman of Ways and Means, rather than the Speaker of the House.

In the House of Lords, the Committee of the Whole House examines the majority of bills.

The Committee of the Whole House originated as a device by which to consider legislation without the presence of royal officers and without a formal record being made of the proceedings. The Speaker is considered to have duties both to the House and to the Crown. Thus, the House would resolve to form a committee, consisting of all the members, "Mr. Speaker and the Clerk excepted."[citation needed]

United States[edit]

United States Congress[edit]

In the United States House of Representatives, the Committee of the Whole is a device in which the House of Representatives is considered one large Congressional committee. The presiding officer is chosen by the Speaker of the House and is normally a member of the majority party who does not hold the chair of a standing committee.

The United States Senate used the Committee of the Whole as a parliamentary device for 197 years from the 1st Congress in 1789 and ceased using it in 1986 during the 99th Congress.

Non-legislative use and variants[edit]

Robert's Rules of Order states that the committee of the whole is suitable to large assemblies. The procedure is invoked by a motion to commit to the committee of the whole, or simply to go into a committee of the whole. The only motions in order in a committee of the whole are those to adopt a proposal for inclusion in the committee's report; to amend; to "rise and report"; as well as certain incidental motions and requests.

Variants of the committee of the whole are the quasi committee of the whole and to consider informally. The difference between a committee of the whole and a quasi committee of the whole is that in the latter, the presiding officer of the assembly remains in the chair and presides. Informal consideration simply removes the normal limitations on the number of times members can speak in debate.[5]

Going into a committee of the whole or quasi committee of the whole are alternatives to taking a straw poll (which is not allowed according to Robert's Rules of Order).[6]

The Standard Code of Parliamentary Procedure rejects both the committee of the whole and quasi committee of the whole procedures as being outdated, and instead recommends the motion to consider informally in their place.


  1. ^ ANNOTATED STANDING ORDERS OF THE AUSTRALIAN SENATE Chapter 21 - Committees of the Whole, Parliament of Australia.
  2. ^ ANNOTATED STANDING ORDERS OF THE AUSTRALIAN SENATE Chapter 3 - Deputy President and Chairman of Committees: 11 Duty of Chairman, Parliament of Australia.
  3. ^ Jackson and Jackson, Politics in Canada, p. 320
  4. ^ Toronto Star, Jun 13, 2008 "NDP aide's Commons sense saved the day"
  5. ^ Robert, Henry M.; et al. (2011). Robert's Rules of Order Newly Revised (11th ed.). Philadelphia, PA: Da Capo Press. pp. 530–531. ISBN 978-0-306-82020-5. 
  6. ^ Robert 2011, p. 429

Further reading[edit]

J.R. Odgers, Australian Senate Practice (11th edition), Department of the Senate, Canberra, Chapter 14.