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Bills are committed to a select committee when it is considered that they require detailed investigation or when the hearing of evidence is considered necessary on the bill’s provisions. After finishing its deliberations the committee will decide whether or not the bill should proceed. If the committee believes that the bill should proceed, it will produce a report to the House which will include any amendments considered necessary. The bill is then re-committed to a committee of the whole House, after which it will follow the remaining stages of a public bill. If the committee believes that the bill should not proceed, then a report is made to the House accordingly, containing no amendments, and the bill will not be re-committed to a committee of the whole House. However, in any event the committee has no power to kill the bill. Bills are usually committed to a select committee after second reading but this can happen at any stage before third reading. Paragraphs 8.106 to 8.110 and 8.118 to 8.123 of the Companion to the Standing Orders provide full details of these procedures.

The most recent occasion on which a Government bill was referred to a select committee was the Constitutional Reform Bill in 2004 (which went on to receive royal assent in the following session). Lord Richard, the chair of that select committee, noted that “the select committee procedure is used very rarely in respect of Government bills. The last occasion on which a government Bill was so committed and reported back to the House with amendments was as far back as 1917. In 1976 a select committee on the Hare Coursing Bill recommended that the Bill should not proceed and it was thereby killed” (HL Hansard, 13 July 2004, col 1137). There have also been a number of unsuccessful attempts to refer Government bills to a select committee.

The Select Committee on the Constitutional Reform Bill noted in 2004 that “in recent times” the practice of committing a bill to a select committee was “not unusual in respect of contentious private members’ bills”. The two most recent examples of this are the Assisted Dying for the Terminally Ill Bill in the 2004–05 session (which was defeated at second reading when it was re-introduced in the following session) and the Dangerous Dogs (Amendment) Bill in the 1995–6 session (which went on to receive royal assent when it was re-introduced in the following session).


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