A committee of the whole is a meeting of a legislative or deliberative assembly using procedural rules that are based on those of a committee, except that in this case the committee includes all members of the assembly. As with other (standing) committees, the activities of a committee of the whole are limited to considering and making recommendations on matters that the assembly has referred to it; it cannot take up other matters or vote directly on the assembly's business. The purpose of a committee of the whole is to relax the usual limits on debate, allowing a more open exchange of views without the urgency of a final vote. Debates in a committee of the whole may be recorded but are often excluded from the assembly's minutes. After debating, the committee submits its conclusions to the assembly (that is, to itself) and business continues according to the normal rules.
In the Australian House of Representatives, the "Federation Chamber" meets separately from the House and has its own committee room, and deals with uncontroversial matters. The Federation Chamber was created in 1994, to relieve some of the burden on the entire House: different matters can be processed in the House at large and in the Federation Chamber, as they sit simultaneously. It is designed to be less formal, with a quorum of only three members: the Deputy Speaker of the House, one government member, and one non-government member. Decisions must be unanimous: any divided decision sends the question back to the House at large. The Federation Chamber was introduced in 1994, and replaced the previous Main Committee.
In the House of Commons of Canada, a Committee of the Whole is chaired by the deputy speaker or the deputy chair of committees. In the past, the Committee of the Whole considered a majority of bills, with few bills being sent to parliamentary committees. The increased workload of MPs has led to a decline in this use of the Committee of the Whole. Now the Committee of the Whole is used mostly for monetary bills and on rare occasions to expedite the passage of other legislation.
On June 11, 2008, Prime Minister Stephen Harper formally apologized in the House of Commons for the government's historical role in the Canadian residential school system. A Committee of the Whole was used, so that aboriginal leaders (who were not Members of Parliament) could be allowed to respond to the apology on the floor of the House.
In the Legislative Council of Hong Kong, when the debate of the second reading resumes, members debate the general merits and principles of the bill. At the committee stage, the Legislative Council becomes a "Committee of the whole Council" and goes through the bill clause by clause, making amendments where necessary. After the bill has passed through Committee with or without amendments, it proceeds to the third reading for passage by the Council.
In the House of Commons of the United Kingdom, the Committee of the Whole House is used instead of a standing committee for the clause-by-clause debate of important or contentious bills. The Chairman of Ways and Means presides in this instance. The Committee originated as means to consider legislation without the presence of royal officers and without a formal record being made of the proceedings. The Speaker was not only relieved of his chair but also excluded from the chamber since he was then regarded as partial to the Crown.
In the House of Lords, the Committee of the Whole House examines the majority of bills.
The United States House of Representatives has one Committee of the Whole, called the "Committee of the Whole House on the state of the Union," with original consideration of all bills that include tax increase or outlay provisions. This committee also receives the President's State of the Union message and historically was responsible for dividing it among other committees, but that is no longer the case. The Speaker of the House designates a member to preside over the Committee, who is normally a member of the majority party who does not hold the chair of a standing committee. Other committees of the whole have existed historically but have been discontinued.
Under Robert's Rules of Order an assembly may move to commit to the committee of the whole, or simply to go into a committee of the whole at the suggestion of the presider and without objection. Upon a successful motion to go into a committee of the whole, the presiding officer designates a member to preside over the committee and yields the chair. The committee may proceed on the referred subject by debating it, considering amendments, or adopting recommendations. To conclude its proceedings, the committee votes to "rise and report." The presiding officer of the assembly then resumes the chair and accepts a report from the presiding officer of the committee. The more relaxed committee debating rules are enforced, for examples, Members may speak on a question more than once in a committee of the whole, but members who have not already spoken have priority. While sitting as a Committee of the Whole, an assembly can consider only that matter (or matters) referred to it: Unrelated motions are out of order.
Smaller assemblies can avoid the formalities of committing and reporting by considering a matter as if in a committee of the whole, or by considering it informally. Either option opens debate in the manner of the committee of the whole, but the presiding officer retains the chair. In the former case, also called a quasi-committee of the whole, all amendment adoptions are tentative and open debate ends when the assembly adopts a motion other than an amendment. The chair then announces the amendments that were adopted in quasi-committee, which are subject to a confirming vote. In the latter option, votes are binding on the assembly and any successful motion to dispose of the current main motion ends the informal debate.
The Standard Code of Parliamentary Procedure rejects both the committee of the whole and quasi committee of the whole procedures as being outdated, and instead recommends the motion to consider informally in their place.
J.R. Odgers, Australian Senate Practice (11th edition), Department of the Senate, Canberra, Chapter 14.