What is a committee?
Committees are one of the key mechanisms that enable the Assembly to fulfil its statutory and constitutional functions.
At the Assembly, a committee is made up of a number of Assembly Members from different party groups who are appointed, by the Assembly in Plenary, to work together to undertake detailed work and carry out specific functions. The Assembly also decides who will be the chair of each committee. Members of an Assembly committee, or sub-committee, may not include anyone who is not an Assembly Member.
Standing Orders do not prescribe which committees must be established. They give the Assembly freedom to design a committee structure that reflects the priorities and circumstances of the day. They do include a requirement to ensure that key functions listed in Standing Orders are delivered by the committee structure.
The Business Committee is responsible for the organisation of Assembly.
Sub-committees and informal sub groups
Once a committee has been established, its members may decide to form smaller groups to undertake work that is the responsibility of that committee.
A committee may decide to use Standing Order 17 to establish a sub-committee to carry out a task on their behalf, and report back to them. Sub-committees are formal groups that are regulated by Standing Orders in the same way as the committee that established them.
When establishing a sub-committee, the committee must decide its membership, Chair, what task it is to do and how long it will exist for.
As an alternative, members of a committee may decide that it would be beneficial to undertake a particular piece of work less formally. The committee can establish an informal group, using interested members of the committee, or even ask an individual member of the committee to carry out a piece of work.
An informal group, sometimes called a rapporteur group, will involve members of more than one party group drawn from the committee membership, and usually members will volunteer to be part of it.
The group will then undertake its work through meetings and visits. There are no transcripts of the meetings, but a note that captures key issues is usually produced so that the group can use the information when they are preparing a report.
Once they’ve completed their work the group agree a draft report to submit to the committee.
Committees of the Assembly undertake most of their activity in meetings.
Committees are usually allocated times when they are able to meet, and can decide what work they want to undertake in this time. Details and times of meetings are published on the Assembly’s website so that anyone who is interested can find information about what is happening.
Meeting in public
Most often committees meet in public, in the Senedd. Committee meetings are broadcast live on Senedd TV and a verbatim Record of Proceedings (essentially a transcript of the discussion) is produced. The proceedings of all committees are bilingual.
Anyone participating in a committee meeting may speak in English or in Welsh, and simultaneous interpretation is provided for proceedings that are in Welsh. Committee rooms are fitted with microphone systems which allow the sound to be transmitted. This is used by broadcasters and interpreters. Headsets are provided in the room and in the public gallery for anyone who wants to listen to either the translation or an amplified version of what is being spoken.
Committees can meet away from Cardiff Bay at locations throughout Wales relevant to their current work. If this is a formal meeting then the same services will be provided as though the meeting were in the Senedd.
Committees are able to meet in private, in particular circumstances, perhaps to discuss their forward work programmes, or to discuss the content and recommendations of forthcoming reports. Committees can also meet informally. These meetings are not usually held in public. They may be used for a variety of purposes such as fact-finding events or informal briefings from Assembly staff or outside bodies. Informal meetings can involve all members of a committee or a smaller number of them; for example, a rapporteur group undertaking some investigative work on behalf of the committee.
When taking evidence to inform their work, committees often hold informal meetings before or after a formal meeting. This enables the committee to consider and discuss possible lines of questioning and to consider the main issues that have emerged from evidence they have just heard.
Agendas are drafted by the clerk on behalf of the committee chair. In general, agendas are determined by the committee’s work programme; or, in the case of legislation, committees by the agreed timetable of work to be completed.
In order to help plan their activity, and to assist people outside the Assembly who may be contributing to the committee’s work, committees usually agree on a work programme. Work programmes are drawn up by the clerk based around the tasks the committee wishes to undertake, the meeting time available to it and any other limiting factors, for example, a legislative timetable. A detailed work programme is a working document and can be revised to take account of the changing priorities of the committee.
To enable anyone who is interested to know what work committees are doing their agendas and documents connected to the agenda are published on the internet, except when they relate to items that will be considered in private. This is done in advance of the meeting by the clerking team.
After the meeting, concise minutes of what took place are published within a few days, and a transcript of what was said becomes available later.
Openness of committees
When committees are undertaking formal business they must meet in public, unless there are specific circumstances that are allowed, by Standing Orders, to be considered in private meetings. When committees are meeting at the Senedd, this means people can watch the meeting from the public gallery, although arrangements might be different if a meeting is taking place in another location. The meetings are broadcast on SeneddTV, where they can also be watched later.
Voting in committees
Unlike Plenary, committees do not vote on issues as a routine part of each meeting. Many of a committee’s meetings will take place without needing a vote to take place. However, there are some activities that require a vote to agree a formal decision. Examples are agreeing a committee report or dealing with the amending stage of the legislative process.
Where a vote is necessary, the Chair must invite the committee to agree the motion or amendment. If no Member raises an objection, the motion or amendment is agreed by consensus of the committee.
If any Member objects to the proposal, a vote must be taken by a show of hands. If any member of the committee requests that the vote be recorded, the names of those voting are recorded in the minutes of the committee’s proceedings.