How does the House extend its sitting hours?
On Thursday 8 March 2012 the House of Representatives will sit for extended hours. The provision allowing the House to sit for additional time was introduced in late 2011, and differs from when the House goes into “urgency”.
The usual sitting hours of the House are 2 pm to 6 pm and 7.30 pm to 10 pm on Tuesdays and Wednesdays, and 2 pm to 6 pm on Thursdays. Sometimes the Government wishes to extend the House’s sitting hours to allow it to make progress on its legislative programme. In the past Governments used urgency to allow them to make progress outside the normal sitting hours. However, the Standing Orders Committee in the last Parliament agreed that the House needed a way to increase the number of sitting hours available without sitting under urgency. This should allow the use of urgency to be limited to situations that truly require an urgent approach.
Key differences between an extended sitting and urgency are outlined below.
Ministers are not required to give notice of their intention to move an urgency motion for specified business. The motion is not debated by the House, although the Minister must inform the House why the Government wishes to take urgency.
The Government must give the Business Committee formal notice that it intends to move a motion for the House to sit extended hours at least the week before the motion is moved. This notice must include the details of the business that it is proposed be considered during the extended sitting, and can only allow for the extension of a Tuesday or Wednesday sitting. The motion itself is not debated.
It is also possible for the Business Committee to agree to one or more extended sittings in a week, including an extension of a Thursday sitting. Decisions of the Business Committee are published on this website (see related links).
Business to be transacted
The business listed in an urgency motion may include items on the Order Paper or new bills the Government seeks to introduce and progress through some or all stages. Under an extended sitting, only business already on the Order Paper can be debated, and then only for the stage set out on the Order Paper (unless the Business Committee agrees to an additional stage or stages).
Under an extended sitting on a Tuesday or Wednesday, the House rises as usual at 10pm and resumes the next morning at 9 am. It continues sitting until 1 pm, or earlier if the business in the extended sitting motion has been completed. It then resumes its normal sitting at 2 pm. If extended hours are taken on a Thursday, the House sits from 7.30 pm until 10 pm, and again from 9 am to 1 pm on Friday (unless the business is completed sooner).
When the House’s sitting hours are extended under urgency, the sitting is suspended at the time it normally would finish that day, and the extra hours commence the next day. The only exception to this rule is that on Thursdays the sitting can continue into the evening (until 10 pm) if the Government has previously given special notice of its intention to move an urgency motion that day.
On the second day of a sitting under urgency, the sitting resumes at 9 am and runs until midnight, with breaks from 1 pm to 2 pm and from 6 pm to 7 pm. This continues on subsequent days until the business is completed or the Government decides not to continue, up until midnight on Saturday (the House does not sit on Sundays).
For a fuller description of the effect of urgency, see the related documents on this page. Chapter 2 of the report of the Standing Orders Committee (see related documents) discusses the reasons for the new provisions in detail, and how they are intended to operate.