Reed's Parliamentary Rules
Reed's Parliamentary Rules
Chapter VII -- Committees
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58. Nature and Need.— The committee is the eye, and ear, and hand, and very often the brain, of the assembly. Freed from the very great inconvenience of numbers, it can study a question, obtain full information, and put the proposed action into proper shape for final decision. The appointment of a committee also insures to the assembly the presence during the debate of members who have made some examination of the question, and tends to preserve the assembly from its greatest danger, that of being carried away by some plausible harangue which excites feeling, appeals to sentiment only, and obscures reason.

59. Kinds of Committees.— Ordinary committees are divided into two kinds, standing and select, and rank in the order named. Standing committees are permanent; select committees are temporary. There are also joint committees, conference committees, and committees of the whole.

60. Standing Committees.— Standing committees can be appointed at any time, but are usually selected at the beginning of the session, and to them are referred all matters relating to the subjects of which they are in control. Generally the rules prescribe the jurisdiction of each committee, but the reference of each matter is always under the control of the assembly, the members of which, however, in case of a vote on a reference, ought not, any more than in any other case, to transgress their own rules.

61. Select Committees.— A select committee is one chosen to take charge of a special subject. Investigations are usually conducted by special committees, though the standing committees frequently do this kind of work. Committees of conference are select committees, but are usually made up of members of the standing committee having charge of the subject.

62. Joint Committees.— These are committees made up of members of both branches of a legislature, and may be either standing or select. In some legislatures the committees are joint, and the preliminary work of legislation is substantially done by joint committees. Such a committee system has much to commend it, since one hearing does for both branches, and each knows the arguments and testimony presented to the other.

63. Conference Committees.— A conference committee is a committee appointed by one branch to meet a similar committee appointed by the other branch of the legislature where the two bodies have come to a disagreement as to legislation. At the conference there is an examination and discussion of the points of difference, and an effort at agreement by adopting the action of one house or the other, either as it stands or with amendments. Each conference committee is composed of an odd number, and the majority should represent the majority of the body appointing, and be in accord with the action of the body. To constitute such an agreement as will authorize a report to the two bodies a majority of each committee must assent. The report when made is privileged; that is, is always in order, because of the courtesy due between the two houses, which are on that subject nearer an agreement than on any new subject, and for the furtherance of the necessary joint action. (See Sec. 246.)

64. Selection of Committees.— Committees of all kinds may be appointed in several different ways:

By the presiding officer.

By resolution.

By nomination and vote.

By ballot.

The member who makes the motion for the appointment of the committee is not by parliamentary law entitled any more than any other member to be the chairman, or even a member of the committee. The assembly can not be restricted in its choice.

65. Appointment by the Presiding Officer.— The method of selection of committees most in use in this country is by appointment by the presiding officer. This is because of the greater convenience of this method, and because, being chosen to represent the assembly generally, he is supposed to best understand its will. In assemblies which have a presiding officer not chosen by itself, and not a member of the body, there are no reasons why the appointment should be made by him. In the United States Senate, where the permanent presiding officer is not chosen by the Senate, the committees are selected by the Senate itself. In practice the dominant party announces to the minority the number of places they can have on the committees, and each party selects its own members by the aid of a nominating committee.

66. Selection by Resolution.— A committee may also be selected by a resolution which creates the committee and contains the names of those of whom the mover desires to have it composed. Such a resolution is subject to amendment.

67. Selection by Vote.— After it has been decided that the committee shall be created, any member may move that any other member, mentioning him by name, be of the committee, and after all of the nominations are made, the presiding officer puts the question on each in the order in which each was nominated.

68. Selection by Ballot.— Selection by ballot is rarely resorted to, because so much time is thereby consumed; but when resorted to, the committee may be chosen on one ballot, or each may be separately balloted for, as the assembly may direct.

69. Principle of Selection.— It has been said to be the rule that no one should be on the committee who is not favorable to the principle of the bill or action sought for. This proceeds upon the idea that the sole duty of a committee is to get into proper shape, by proper modifications, what has been committed to it. In some cases this would be so, and the committee should be selected with this in view; but as a general rule the committee, as a whole, should represent the assembly, and its views as far as they have been developed. At the same time the committee in its membership should represent, as far as practicable, the different views of the members of the assembly. This insures in the discussion which follows the report such a full presentation of all views as will enable the assembly to decide wisely and with full knowledge.

Committee Procedure

70. Place and Time of Sitting.— The place and time of sitting may be regulated by the committee itself, unless the assembly gives directions, but the committee can not sit without leave during the session of the assembly. If the committee is sitting without such leave when the main body resumes its session, the committee is thereby adjourned. If the assembly has directed the time and place of meeting and the meeting is not had for any cause, new directions must be obtained from the assembly before any further action; otherwise the committee can not act.

71. Organization.— The committee usually has its chairman named for it by the assembly, but if no chairman is designated the committee may elect. Usually the member first named acts as chairman, but the committee in the absence of direction by the assembly has control of the question. Where a clerk is not provided the committee must complete its organization by the choice of a secretary.

72. Quorum.— The quorum of a committee is a majority unless the assembly otherwise directs.

A committee can of course act by a majority of those present, a quorum being present, but except in cases where the main purpose is to give the assembly a chance to act it would be unwise to be too technical in important cases. The report of a committee being merely advisory, the fact that a majority of all the members of the committee, had they been present, would not have been in favor of the course reported would naturally deprive it of much of its advisory force.

73. Duties of the Officers.— The duty of the chairman is to call all meetings, to preside over them when the committee is assembled, to make all reports to the assembly when the committee does not otherwise order. The duty of the clerk, under direction of the chairman, is to notify members of meetings, and to keep minutes of each meeting. It is his duty also to have custody of all papers sent to the committee, and to transmit them to the clerk of the assembly, when the committee shall cease to have them in charge.

74. Method of Procedure.—The method of procedure in committee is very much the same as in the assembly itself, making allowance for the difference in numbers. It would naturally be less formal. When a paper, either a bill, resolution, or proposed legislation of any kind, is referred to it, the natural course is to have the whole paper read, so that the project in its entirety may be comprehended; then each paragraph is read separately for observation or amendment, and then the committee directs a report to be made by some member, who presents his report to the committee, who approve of it, and thereupon it is by him presented to the assembly. If no other member be designated the duty to report falls upon the chairman.

75. Views of the Minority.— The majority of members determine the report of the committee, and their views constitute the report. Other members sometimes desire to present their views in opposition. This they have no right to do except by consent of the assembly. Such consent is, however, rarely refused.

76. Proceedings Continued.— It is not usual, at the present time at least, in legislative bodies, to send original papers to committees to be acted upon, but if they are so sent the committee has no right to alter or amend by erasure or addition such papers. All alterations must be proposed on a separate paper, designating clearly the changes to be made, and the report of the committee should in all cases make such explanation as will enable the assembly to clearly comprehend the changes proposed by the committee.

77. Substitute Bill.— Where changes are numerous and otherwise not easy to be understood, the best way for a committee to do is to report the bill or paper in a new draft as a substitute for the paper committed. This substitute could then be regarded as an amendment or be acted on as an original bill, as the committee may determine.

In the House of Representatives the bill reported as a substitute is treated in the House as an original bill, and not as an amendment of the bill referred.

78. Secret Meetings.— Unless the committee otherwise directs, its meetings are open to other members of the assembly, but the committee may, if they so direct, exclude all persons from their meetings.

79. Procedure in Committee Must Be Had at a Meeting.— All action of a committee must be taken at a regular meeting duly called, or where all are present. No action can be taken by members not in meeting assembled. The consent of all, individually, without a meeting will not render valid any action. It is conference, and after that consent, and not consent alone which is required.

Action of Committee Before the Assembly

80. Presentation of Report.— When the member of a committee charged with the duty presents the report of a committee to the assembly it is for immediate action, unless the rules otherwise provide. If, however, anyone desires to raise the question of immediate consideration, he does so by demanding that the question be put upon the reception of the report. If this motion be decided in the negative, the committee must wait a more favorable season. If in the affirmative, then the clerk reads it to the assembly, and it becomes the subject of action like any other business.

In the House of Representatives a right given to a committee to report at any time implies the right to ask immediate consideration, notwithstanding the rules.

81. Consideration of Reports.— A committee report may be adopted as a whole, and in that event becomes the action of the assembly, but the reception of a report does not adopt it. It only brings it before the body for adoption, or rejection or modification. Where not much formality is needed, and the assembly is in accord, a simple motion to adopt the report disposes of the question. These remarks and those in the next paragraph of course apply only to reports which are themselves intended to express the opinions of the assembly, and not to those reports which are but explanation of action advised. (See Sec. 82.)

82. Consideration of Reports, continued.— But where the members of an assembly desire modifications, and amendments are offered, the report, if the form and the language of the report constitute the real question, is to be treated like any other question and subject to the same rules. It can be amended and modified and is subject to all proper motions.

83. Consideration of Reports Involving Action by Bill or Similar Proceeding.— Where the report of a committee is merely explanatory of the bill or action recommended, it is merely advisory, and is read solely for the information of the assembly, and action is had on the bill or order which is alone the subject of the procedure. Such a report when printed for the assembly is not read.

84. Committee Amendments.— The amendments proposed by the committee, which are usually explained by the report, are first to be voted on, because they are the first proposed to the assembly, and are in fact offered by the assembly itself, which clothed the committee with power to examine the question.

85. Relation of the Committee to the Report After It Has Been Received.— After the reception by the assembly of the full report of a select committee on the subject referred to it the committee ceases to exist. This is not true where the report is only a partial one. A standing committee after a full report, while it continues to exist, has no further control of the matter reported on without a new reference.

While such is the case the members of the committee are usually regarded by the presiding officer as specially suited, from their examination in committee of the question, to inform the assembly, and therefore, other things being equal, have preference in debate. The member reporting is also regarded as having the measure in charge. In the House of Representatives this preference is carried so far that the Speaker usually gives complete charge of the bill to the reporter of it, and the members of the committee have absolute preference in the debate. In ordinary assemblies this is rather the natural but by no means the necessary course.

86. Committee of the Whole—Origin.— This is but the assembly itself in another form, since the membership is identical. It had its origin in a condition of affairs which has now no parallel. In former times the Speaker was selected by the House of Commons, but must be acceptable to the King. Hence it came to pass that the Speaker began to consider himself the servant of the crown rather than of the Commons, and betrayed their secrets, and was often but the king's spy. For that reason the Commons, when they desired to discuss questions of supply, resolved themselves into a Committee of the Whole, had a chairman of their own, and shut the Speaker out. Thereupon they deliberated and spoke their real sentiments.

87. Committee of the Whole—Methods of Procedure—Organization—Chairman.— In modern times the presiding officer of the assembly when the assembly resolves itself into the Committee of the Whole names the chairman, and his choice is almost invariably acquiesced in. It is sometimes said that the Committee of the Whole, like other committees, has the right to select its own chairman. Although this statement has the help of distinguished authority, it is contrary to the English precedents and to sound parliamentary sense. If there be any question about the chairman, the assembly should settle it, and if the question is raised after the committee is in session the committee should rise, report to the assembly, and take its direction. The appointment of the chairman being made before the assembly goes into committee, the proper time to raise any question of that sort is then.

88. Committee of the Whole—Clerk.— The clerk of the assembly acts as clerk of the Committee of the Whole, but keeps no record of its proceedings except such temporary record as will enable him to aid the chairman in the orderly conduct of the business. The report which the committee makes to the assembly is its record, and becomes part of the proceedings of the assembly.

89. Committee of the Whole—Quorum.— The same number constitutes a quorum in the Committee of the Whole which is necessary in the assembly itself, but the assembly may fix the number to suit itself, the committee being but the creature of the assembly like any other committee. Whenever it appears that a quorum is not present the committee rises and reports the fact to the House, whereupon the roll is called, and if a number equal to the quorum designated for the committee responds, the committee resumes its session at once.

90. Committee of the Whole—Yeas and Nays.— In the Committee of the Whole the yeas and nays can not be called, whereby the original purpose of the committee is in a measure subserved and the doings of the members and parties sometimes escape the notice of the modern sovereign, the people.

91. Committee of the Whole—Debate.— Debate in Committee of the Whole tends more to informality than in the assembly. Each member may speak as often as he can get the floor, and there is no limit to be placed on debate by the committee. Debate can not be adjourned; for a motion to postpone either indefinitely or to a day certain is not in order, nor can the previous question be called or the subject be laid on the table. The only way in which debate can be limited is by order of the assembly.

92. Committee of the Whole—Adjournment.— The Committee of the Whole can not adjourn. The motion which, when carried, terminates its session is a motion that the committee do now rise. Thereupon the committee rises, the presiding officer takes the chair, and the chairman of the Committee of the Whole makes his report.

93. Committee of the Whole—Report.— If the Committee of the Whole has not finished its consideration of the question submitted to it, the chairman reports that the Committee of the Whole has had under consideration the question (describing it), and has come to no resolution thereon. If a conclusion has been reached the chairman reports that the committee has had under consideration the question (designating it), and recommends that the bill do pass or that the report be adopted, with or without amendment or other action, as the case may have been.

94. Committee of the Whole—Preservation of Order.— The Committee of the Whole has no power to punish for disorder. Any disorderly behavior should be reported to the assembly for its action. Whenever the disorder is very great the presiding officer of the assembly should take the chair and restore order. This has several times been done by the Speaker of the House of Representatives and by the Speaker of the House of Commons. When order is restored the Speaker leaves the chair and the committee resumes.

95. Committee of the Whole—Subjects Usually Intrusted to.— In assemblies not legislative it is rarely worth while to go into the Committee of the Whole, since this form of procedure is a complication unnecessary except in a certain class of cases. The Committee of the Whole is useful where the subject to be considered contains many items and relates to divers subjects, or needs to be settled minutely as to the language.

In legislatures bills making general appropriations and those containing items of governmental expense are those most frequently considered in Committee of the Whole.

96. Committee of the Whole—House of Representatives.— By the usual rules of the House of Representatives there are two Committees of the Whole. “The Committee of the Whole House on the State of the Union” and “The Committee of the Whole House.”

The first-named committee may sit on any day, and has charge of all public bills which appropriate money or property or require appropriation thereafter of the money or property of the United States. The second can sit on Friday only, and concerns itself with private bills alone. In both committees there are two kinds of debate, general and under the five-minute rule. The general debate confines each member to one hour, the five-minute debate to five minutes each. The general debate is on the whole bill, the five-minute debate on amendments to each item. In the Committee of the Whole on the State of the Union almost anything is liable to be debated. It has been frequently held that the member is not, in Committee of the Whole on the State of the Union, in general debate, confined to the subject directly before the committee unless the proposition is a special order.

97. Committee of the Whole—Subcommittees.— While all other committees, special or standing, except, perhaps, conference committees, can have subcommittees as instruments for work, the Committee of the Whole can not from its very nature have such adjuncts, and a motion to refer to a subcommittee would be entirely out of order.

98. Committee of the Whole—Future Sittings.— An assembly may determine upon the future sitting of the Committee of the Whole, and in some assemblies it is in order, when the committee rises without finishing its work, to report progress and ask for leave to sit again and to have the time then appointed, but this is not customary in this country. Whenever the assembly sees fit it resolves itself at once into a Committee of the Whole after having directed the committee what subject to take up. If no subject be specified, then the unfinished business of the former meeting becomes the subject first to be considered, and then the first subject on the calendar of things previously committed, if there are any.

99. Practical Suggestions.— In order to make the debate in Committee of the Whole valuable, and to give each member a chance to debate the question in all its particulars, there should be by rule a limitation of time, and the five-minute rule of the House of Representatives is a very good one for practical purposes, either with or without general debate. General debate, if permitted, could most advantageously be limited to ten or fifteen minutes for each member. While the United States House allows an hour for each, it is in practice very frequently divided into much shorter periods.