…then you’ll need to understand the legislative process, and particularly, Committee of the Whole!
Committee of the Whole is a process that takes place on any given sitting day, during which members are able to thoroughly consider proposed new laws (“bills”) or amendments to existing laws. It is when the Legislative Council does some of its most important work as a House of Review.
The rules for Committee of the Whole facilitate free-flowing debate and provide members with more flexibility when exchanging their views on certain issues. For example, the debate time limits that apply to other items of business are relaxed in Committee of the Whole, and members are allowed to speak more than once to a question.
Committee of the Whole takes place after the second reading of a bill, and so it actually takes place in the very same chamber, and consists of the very same members as the upper house. However, it is presided over by the Chair of Committees rather than the President, and it may only consider matters referred to it by the House.
This process is not to be confused with “committee inquiries”, which are a separate but equally important mechanism of good governance. Committee inquiries are conducted by small groups of members who meet on days the House isn’t sitting. The role of this type of “committee” is to receive submissions and hold hearings in order to prepare a report on a particular issue.
Where does it fit within the Legislative Process?
The legislative process begins with a minister or private member providing notice to the House of his or her intention to introduce the bill. Next, the bill is introduced and read a first time, followed by the second reading debate. During this debate, all members are able to express their opinions about the principles of the bill, and at its conclusion, a vote is taken on the question “that this bill be now read a second time”. If agreed, and importantly, if there are some proposed changes to the bill, the House will need to proceed to Committee of the Whole to consider these changes in detail.
Once any proposed amendments are agreed to, then the Chair of Committees will report the bill back to the House, with the President again presiding. The President will ask the House whether it agrees to the bill as amended by putting the question, “That this bill be now read a third time”, and if the majority agree, then the bill has successfully passed all stages of the legislative process in the Council!
The final steps after this are slightly less complicated… where the bill has been introduced into the Legislative Council, the bill will be sent to the Legislative Assembly for consideration. Conversely though, if it originated in the lower house, a message will be sent from the Legislative Council to the lower house detailing whether any amendments to the bill have been made. This would then require the lower house to consider whether they agree to the amendments or not.
Hopefully, after all of this new information, you now have a strong grasp of what Committee of the Whole is and where it fits within the NSW law-making process!