1. The Committee on Procedure and Privileges is empowered by Standing Orders to consider, among other things, matters of procedure generally, and it may recommend additions or amendments to Standing Orders.
2. It has lately had under consideration the provisions of Standing Orders relating to Special Committees and Select Committees. Where the Seanad has given a Bill a second reading, it may consider the Bill in Committee of the whole House or it may opt to refer it to a Special Committee or a Select Committee specially appointed for the purpose. The differences between the two latter types of Committee are, in brief,
(a) that a Select Committee may be empowered by the House to send for persons, papers and records, such provision not being made in relation to Special Committees and
(b) that a Bill reported from a Select Committee, empowered as above, must be recommitted to a Committee of the whole House while in the case of a Special Committee the Bill can go directly to Report Stage.
3. References of Bills to either type of Committee is a rare occurrence in the Seanad. In the other House, quite a number of Bills have in recent years been sent to Special Committee. It has not been the practice, however, to send Bills to Select Committees, presumably because the Select Committee procedure is likely to be more lengthy, because evidence from outside persons is rarely considered necessary, and because an additional stage is added to the process.
4. The principal advantage of sending a Bill to a Special Committee is that it can bring together in a small group those members of the House who have special detailed knowledge of the area of legislation involved and facilitates in-depth study of a Bill. The House itself is, of course, not deprived of a further opportunity of considering the Bill, not only because it must come before the House on Report and Fifth Stages but also because the House may recommit it to a Committee of the whole House if it so orders.
5. Only certain types of Bill may be considered appropriate for reference to Special Committee. In the case of the great majority of Bills, the House as a whole would wish to be engaged in the Committee Stage. However, from time to time, Bills of mainly a technical nature come before the House. In such cases, not only could the Bill benefit from reference to a group of Senators expert in its particular field but the House itself would benefit from the resultant report.
6. The primary purpose of a Select Committee is to consider a matter and to report its opinion thereon for the information and assistance of the House. Outstanding examples of Select Committees are the Joint Committee on the Secondary Legislation of the European Communities and the Joint Committee on State-Sponsored Bodies, each of which consists of Select Committees of each House joined together. As stated above, Select Committees may be empowered to send for persons, papers and documents to assist them in their consideration of the matter referred to them. A particular benefit which may be derived from the Select Committee procedure is that it could be used to create a forum in which elected representatives could consider some expert reports of public interest, many of which, perhaps because of the technical complexities of the subjects they deal with, do not at present receive such consideration.
7. In one respect, present procedure in relation to Special and Select Committees requires amendment. Standing Orders provide that such Committees be held in private unless the particular Committee otherwise orders. It is considered that the proceedings should as a general rule be open to the public and the press in the same way as are meetings of the Seanad. Standing Orders could be amended to provide accordingly, reserving, of course, to a particular Committee the right to exclude the public and press where it considered such a course necessary.
8. The Committee on Procedure and Privileges is at present carrying out a review of Standing Orders generally as part of an on-going process. It will report to the House in due course and intends to incorporate in its recommendations the point referred to in paragraph 7 above.
9. The purpose of this Report is to bring to the special notice of the House its capability of appointing Special and Select Committees, to advert to the advantages of the available procedures, and to recommend to the House that, for the reasons discussed in this Report, opportunity should be taken where suitable of utilising those procedures.
(Signed) SÉAMUS Ó DÓLÁIN,
13 December, 1978.