Procedure on Bills
Public Bills, almost all of which are introduced by the Government, are given three readings. The first reading, on introduction, is formal only and is decided without amendment or debate, though a short debate normally takes place during the introduction procedure, which immediately proceeds first reading. Bills, having been read a first time, are printed and set down for second reading. The second reading debate is used for a discussion of the general principles of the Bill. It is followed by a clause by clause consideration of the Bill in Committee of the Whole House. At this stage amendments are offered and considered.
Standing Orders were amended shortly after the abolition of the Legislative Council to provide that the report from Committee of the Whole, having been presented to the House, be considered on a future day. This was to ensure an additional stage. This amendment has had no effect in practice. Reports have been considered immediately either “by leave” or because “urgency” procedures were in force. Members understandably showed little inclination to traverse again the arguments of the Committee stage.
The third reading of the Bill is not normally the occasion for protracted debate, though whatever transpired in Committee of the Whole and the general principles of the Bill as amended are open to debate at this stage. Standing Orders provide that the third reading be set down for “a future day” after the adoption of the report. Though the same possibilities of making exceptions to this rule exist as for the report itself, the delay is normally observed.
Bills are finally sent to the Governor-General for the Royal assent and become law immediately or whenever specified in the Bill itself.
To facilitate detailed informal discussion, and so that evidence from experts and interested parties may be heard by the House on legislation which is before it, a number of select committees are appointed regularly each year. Their terms of reference indicate areas of legislative interest corresponding to the various Ministries. There are normally 10 members on each committee and party strength roughly reflects party strength in the House. Bills which are to go to select committee are given only a pro forma second reading before being referred. Committees have power only to report their opinions to the House. They cannot amend, though they can recommend amendments. The House as a whole thus retains its responsibility for approving legislation or rejecting it.
Apart from legislation, select committees deal with petitions, and, from time to time, ad hoc select committees are set up with some specific matter referred to them.
Local and Private Bills
There are special procedures for dealing with local Bills and private Bills. Local Bills are those affecting a particular locality only, normally introduced at the request of a local authority. All such Bills stand referred to a select committee, the Local Bills Committee, after their first reading. The Committee holds hearings at which interested parties appear, and it reports to the House on the merits of the Bill. The Committee's report is often the decisive factor in local government legislation and always carries considerable weight with the Government and the House. Private Bills are those which apply specifically to a person or group of persons. They are initiated, after public notice, by a petition presented to the House by a member. The costs of any Bill, including a fee of £50 payable to the General Assembly Library, have to be met by the promoter. Like all other Bills, private Bills are given three readings, but after second reading they go to an ad hoc committee on the Bill nominated by a committee of selection set up at the beginning of the session. The committee on the Bill may hear counsel and take evidence. It attempts to ensure that the rights of other individuals are not infringed by the proposed legislation. The committee reports to the House and if the report is agreed upon, the Bill is set down for third reading.