Parliament has 16 permanent special committees and the Grand Committee, which focuses mainly on EU affairs. The special committees prepare Government bills, legislative initiatives, Government reports and other matters for handling in plenary session. Committees also issue statements when requested to do so.
As a rule each committee deals with matters that fall within the scope of a corresponding ministry. For instance, the Social Affairs and Health Committee deals with matters that come under the Ministry of Social Affairs and Health, the Education and Culture Committee with matters that come under the Ministry of Education and the Administration Committee with matters that come under the Ministry of the Interior.
Committees are appointed for the entire electoral period, which is four years. The composition of each committee reflects the relative strengths of the parliamentary groups. In practice the parliamentary groups divide committee seats and appoint members to them.
Most committees have 17 members and 9 alternate members. The Grand Committee has 25 members and 13 alternate members.
A committee constitutes a quorum when at least two-thirds of its members are present. Each MP generally belongs to two committees. The Speaker and Government ministers do not sit on committees, nor do the Deputy Speakers in most instances
Committees generally deal with the matters referred to them as soon as possible. It usually takes one or two months for a committee to finish handling a matter, but urgent matters can be dealt with in just a few days. The handling of major legislative reforms can easily take many months or even years. At the end of the electoral period, bills are allowed to lapse, except for EU affairs.
Committee meetings are not open to the public. Committee reports, statements and minutes are public documents.
The scope of hearings varies: in some cases only one expert may be called, but in major legislative projects a committee may hear dozens of experts.
Experts usually give oral presentations at committee meetings. A committee can also ask an expert for a written statement.
After hearings have been concluded the committee conducts a preparatory debate and then the committee secretary drafts a report or statement.
Members have unlimited speaking rights at committee meetings, provided they stick to the point and conduct themselves with dignity and decorum. Members can make different kinds of motions - that a matter be shelved, that particular experts be called or that a proposal be amended or rejected, for example.
The committee conducts a general debate on the basis of the draft report or statement and then proceeds to detailed discussion of the matter, in which it decides on details. If the draft report contains legislation, the committee goes over this section by section.
If a committee does not unanimously decide to dispense with further debate, reading proceeds on the basis of the report or statement that has been approved by the committee, with another general debate followed by detailed discussion.
If a committee cannot reach unanimity, a matter must be put to a vote. This requires a motion, which must be seconded. Voting usually takes place by a show of hands, but a roll call is conducted for this purpose if the chairman deems it necessary or a member so demands. The chairman acknowledges votes and announces the outcome. In the event of a tied vote, lots are drawn.
A committee can recommend that a bill be approved as it or with minor or major changes. It can also recommend that a bill be rejected.
A committee report may propose that Parliament issue a statement or adopt a position, for example regarding how the Government should proceed in implementing legislation.
The names of all members and deputy members who have taken part in the decisive reading of a matter are listed in the committee report. A member can also have a dissenting opinion or a protest appended to the report, together with grounds and a motion for a resolution. They must be based on the view the member has proclaimed during the decisive reading.
When a committee report has been completed, preparation of the matter continues in plenary session.