7.112 The Standing Orders provide for select committees to be appointed to consider bills and other business. Select committees play an important role in the House's functions of scrutinising the Executive and holding it to account, examining proposed and past expenditure, and considering bills. Cabinet Ministers are not usually appointed to the subject select committees, but Ministers outside Cabinet may be appointed as members.
7.113 All government bills, except those taken under urgency, and Appropriation and Imprest Supply Bills, are referred to select committees for consideration. Select committees also:
- consider petitions;
- receive briefings and carry out inquiries;
- examine certain international treaties (see paragraphs 7.127 – 7.137);
- examine the Estimates; and
- conduct the annual reviews of agencies, Crown entities, state-owned enterprises, Offices of Parliament, and other public organisations.
Consideration of bills
7.114 Select committee consideration of bills allows members of Parliament, interest groups, and the general public to examine and have input into draft bills before they pass into law. In considering a bill, a select committee usually calls for submissions from interested organisations and individuals. A select committee may also seek advice from officials at various stages. Select committees may recommend to the House amendments to a bill, provided that they are relevant to the subject matter and consistent with the principles and objects of the bill as introduced.
7.115 By default, a select committee must report on a bill to the House within six months. A longer or shorter reporting deadline can be sought when the House refers the bill to committee, but seeking a date less than four months away requires a separate, unlimited debate in the House. For further information, see the chapter on legislative procedures in the Standing Orders. Information on the role and conduct of officials in relation to select committees is set out in paragraphs 3.91- 3.94.
7.116 The Standing Orders allow a Minister to take part in the proceedings of a select committee, even if the Minister is not a member of the select committee. In such cases, a Minister is not entitled to vote (see the section entitled “Conduct of proceedings” in the chapter on select committees in the Standing Orders). Recent practice has been for a Minister to be available to a select committee to explain the considerations underlying a government bill, and to otherwise facilitate the select committee's consideration of the bill.
7.117 A Minister should actively liaise with the chairs or senior government members of select committees that have the Minister's bills before them, to be aware of progress and to personally ascertain any intervention or other action necessary to advance the bills.
Submissions on bills by agencies
7.118 Government policy should reflect a whole of government approach rather than a single agency's view. Agencies must therefore not initiate submissions to a select committee on any bill (government bill, local bill, private bill, or member's bill), or any other matter, such as a petition or an inquiry, without consulting their Minister in advance and obtaining the approval of the Cabinet Legislation Committee and Cabinet. When preparing requests to the Cabinet Legislation Committee, agencies should give the reasons for making a submission to the select committee and set out the substance of the proposed submission.
7.119 Any department that is asked or invited to provide information, advice, or evidence to a select committee should inform the portfolio Minister of the details and clear the proposed response with the Minister (see paragraphs 8.94 - 8.97 and Officials and Select Committees - Guidelines on the Public Service Commission website). The Minister may need to consult colleagues, particularly in a coalition government or if the issue affects several portfolios. Sometimes Ministers may direct that a policy-related issue be referred to the appropriate Cabinet committee for decision or a proposed response be referred for agreement by the Cabinet Legislation Committee.
7.120 If the subject matter is broader than the agency's sphere of interest, the agency should establish whether other agencies have been similarly approached. If several agencies have been approached, a lead agency should be identified by Ministers to liaise with the other agencies, to ensure coordinated and comprehensive responses.
7.121 It is expected that agencies in the public sector that wish (or are invited) to make a submission to a select committee on any matter will discuss the matter first with their Minister.
7.122 In practice, the government's approach to a local bill, private bill, or member's bill is likely to be resolved at the political level or through a department providing advice to a select committee on a bill, rather than through the formal process of making a submission. Guidance on Ministers' responsibilities in relation to non-government legislative proposals is in paragraphs 7.81 - 7.84.
Government responses to reports of select committees
7.123 If a report from a select committee to the House on an inquiry or petition includes recommendations to the government, a government response to the recommendations must be presented to the House within 60 working days of the committee's report.
7.124 The Office of the Clerk of the House of Representatives advises the Cabinet Office that a response to a select committee's report or petition referral is required. The Cabinet Office asks the appropriate Minister to report on the recommendations and to prepare the text of the government response.
7.125 The Minister's report and the proposed government response are considered by the relevant Cabinet committee and Cabinet.
7.126 If the select committee's report on the inquiry or petition raises matters that require policy decisions by Cabinet, a paper should be submitted to the relevant Cabinet committee before approval is sought for the final government response. After Cabinet has approved the response, the office of the Minister concerned must arrange the presentation of the government response to the House, by delivering the response to the Office of the Clerk of the House of Representatives. Further information on procedures for the preparation and presentation to the House of government responses can be found in the CabGuide.