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A closer look at extended hours

Published date: 11 Dec 2019

The usual sitting hours of the House are 2pm to 6pm and 7:30 pm to 10pm on Tuesdays and Wednesdays, and 2pm to 6pm 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, in late 2011 the Standing Orders Committee 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 on this page.

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Source: Source: istock

Notice requirements

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 motion must include the details of the business that the Government is proposing to consider 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 the Parliament website.

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 House or the Business Committee agrees to an additional stage or stages).

Sitting hours

Under an extended sitting on a Tuesday or Wednesday, the House rises as usual at 10pm and resumes the next morning at 9am. It continues sitting until 1pm, or earlier if the business in the extended sitting motion has been completed. It then resumes its normal sitting at 2pm. If extended hours are taken on a Thursday, the House sits from 7:30 pm until 10pm, and again from 9am to 1pm 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 1pm to 2pm and from 6pm to 7pm. 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).

Effect on the Order Paper

When there is an extended sitting of the House, the Order Paper for the normal 2pm sitting can’t be published until the extended hours are finished. This could be as late as 1pm.

When the House is sitting under urgency the parliamentary calendar remains on the day that the House went into urgency. There is no new Order Paper until the period of urgency ends.