Appendix E – Submission from the Clerk of the House of Representatives
10 December 2010
Ms Julie Owens MP
House Standing Committee on Procedure
CANBERRA ACT 2600
Dear Ms Owens
Thank you for the opportunity to appear before the committee on 25 November to discuss the
operation of the new arrangements.
My perception is that many of the standing order changes that have been made to implement
the parliamentary reform agenda are working well. In particular, they have provided greater
scope for private members - both to raise matters of concern in the additional time provided
for members' statements and the adjournment debate and to pursue issues through private
members' bills and motions, and have them voted on.
At this stage I would like to make are some preliminary comments on matters which could be
addressed by the Committee. There may be the opportunity, once arrangements have been in
place longer, for more significant change to be considered.
PRIVATE MEMBERS' BILLS
Currently, the standing orders provide that a private Member may make a statement for a
period not exceeding 10 minutes when presenting a bill. If the Selection Committee sets time
for the second reading to be moved the member is given a further opportunity to speak in
support of the bill.
This two-stage approach has been a feature of the arrangements for private Members' bills
for more than 20 years. It seems that the original idea was that a private member would
present a bill on a Monday and make a 5 minute statement. The second reading would then be
moved and debated on the Thursday; the 5 minute statement having allowed members to
explain their proposals briefly.
In the present arrangements there seems to be a degree of duplication between the 10 minute
statements being made on presentation and the second reading speeches made when the bills
are listed again.
The committee may wish to consider whether private Members presenting bills should be
able to move the second reading at the time of presentation, instead of making a statement
with debate then being adjourned. This would mirror the practice that applies to government
PRIVATE MEMBERS' BUSINESS - MONDAY NIGHTS
Standing Order 34 provides for Committee and delegation reports and private Members'
business to have priority in the House from 8.00 pm until 9.30 pm on Monday nights.
When a division has been deferred between 6.30 pm and 8.00 pm the time taken from 8.00
pm on (a) division(s) can have a significant impact on the time notionally available for
private Members' business. The usual result has been to reduce the time available for the
It is not easy to see a solution to this problem. One possibility would be a change to the order
of business to try to guarantee a specified period of time for Private Members Business, but
that would have other consequences, such as a reduction in the time for the adjournment
debate. Another option may be to delay the commencement of Private Members' Business
until 8.30 pm (ie extending government business by half an hour), with a compensatory
adjustment to PMB earlier in the day (ie extend it to 12.30 pm). This would allow for
deferred divisions to be held in government business time and not impact on PMB.
PRIVATE MEMBERS' ITEMS IN MAIN COMMITTEE
When the Selection Committee selects items of business and schedules them for the Main
Committee, the Speaker presents copies of the items to the House and further debate is
automatically referred to the Main Committee. This process reflects the thinking that business
items do not originate in the Main Committee, instead they are referred by the House.
The Procedure Committee may think it reasonable that the standing orders provide that when
the Selection Committee schedules items for the Main Committee they be deemed to have
been referred by the House. This would obviate the need for the Speaker to table the terms of
matters in the House and for the matters to be deemed to be presented or moved before they
can stand referred to the Main Committee. It would allow the Member responsible for a
notice to initiate a matter in the Main Committee by presenting a bill or moving a motion.
RETURN OF ITEMS FROM MAIN COMMITTEE
At present, the return of items of private members' business from the Main Committee is
achieved by means of a formal report by the Speaker. A simpler alternative would be to have
a member move, in the Main Committee, that further proceedings be conducted in the House
(SO 197(a)). It would then be possible for items in this category to be listed on the Notice
Paper as orders of the day under Private Members' business for the House. They could then
be called on if standing orders were suspended to enable them to be voted on during
government business time.
While such a process is not prohibited by the standing orders, because it would amount to a
new practice, it would be desirable for the committee to endorse it (if the committee thinks it
ADOPTION OF SELECTION COMMITTEE PRINCIPLES
The Selection Committee has agreed on principles to apply to the selection of items of private
Members' business. The committee has reported these to the House - and the Procedure
Committee may consider that they be considered by the House and, if agreed, adopted by it.
PRIVATE MEMBERS' BUSINESS TO BE VOTED ON - LIST IN NOTICE PAPER?
Selection Committee reports, which are published on the committee's home page, list items
recommended for voting. While this makes the recommendations public, the Committee may
consider that listing the items recommended in the Notice Paper would also be of assistance
to members and others.
Although members will be better judged than I am to assess the matter, my preliminary
observation is that the reduction in ordinary time limits for second reading speeches from 20
minutes to 15 minutes has been successful. The committee may be interested in considering
the provision for time limits for debates not otherwise provided for (20 minutes for the mover
and 15 minutes for other speakers). This 'default' provision applies in the case of motions to
take note of papers and motions to suspend standing orders that have been moved by leave.
The Committee may wish to consider the possibility of the time limits being reduced to 15
minutes for the mover and 10 minutes for other members.
The Selection Committee routinely determines the time limits for each member speaking on
an item of private Members' business. These time limits have applied when an item has been
considered during the times set aside for Private Members' Business, but not when it has
been called on during government business time. Thus when an item has been called on,
perhaps prior to a vote, Members speaking at that stage have been subject to the standard
time limits, and these are longer than those usually determined by the Selection Committee.
The Procedure Committee may think that this is an anomaly that should be corrected and
covered by Selection Committee determination.
On a further point of detail, the Selection Committee has reported to the Flouse (report No. 3
of 21 October 2010) that it has been constrained by SO 1 in adjusting speaking times for the
mover and lead speakers on private Members' bills, despite having the power under SO 222
(c) to determine the time limits for each Member speaking in private Members' business.
REFERENCE OF BILLS TO COMMITTEES
The standing orders allow the Selection Committee to refer bills to standing committees.
Although it is early days, as at the adjournment of the House on 29 November 2010 only two
government sponsored bills and two private members bills had been referred. This is a matter
the Committee may wish to monitor and regard will need to be taken of the processes in the
Senate for the referral of bills to Senate committees; I will be happy to provide further
comment on this matter should the committee wish me to.
When it existed with its more limited role, between 1995 and 2007, the Selection Committee
was chaired by the Deputy Speaker. In many ways, given its wider and newer responsibilities
it has been helpful that the committee has been chaired by the Speaker. Nevertheless, from a
longer term perspective, the Committee may wish to reflect on the desirability of the Speaker
being a step removed from the arrangements and negotiations about the scheduling of
business, decisions about referral of bills to committees and so on.
My colleagues and I will of course be happy to provide any further comment or advice the
committee may require.
Clerk of the House