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Standing Committees

At the start of each Parliament, 14 Standing Committees are established.

Rule 22 sets the number of Standing Committees and defines their scope of competence, which is specified in greater detail in a circular issued for this purpose by the President of the Chamber of Deputies. Each of the 14 standing committees, therefore, has a remit that covers a given sector of the general institutional sphere and its powers are limited thereto.

The Committees form themselves by electing a chairperson and a bureau consisting of the chairperson, two vice-chairpersons and two secretaries. Acting with the participation of representatives of the Parliamentary Groups, the bureau organises the programme of business of the Committee in a manner that assures priority is given to the consideration of bills that are included in the programme and order of business of the House.

The Committees are appointed in a way that reflects the proportionate strengths of the Parliamentary Groups, which distribute their members among the Committees accordingly (Rule 19 of the Rules of Procedure). A Deputy may be a member of one Standing Committee only, unless he or she is standing in for another Deputy who has been appointed minister or undersecretary, in which case the substitution lasts for as long as the government appointment. Moreover, with the permission of the chairperson of the Committee, each group can substitute a member with another member of a different committee for the consideration of a specific bill.

As of the date of formation, Standing Committees are renewed every two years and their members may be re-appointed.

The functions of the Standing Committees

With reference to their scope of competence, the Standing Committees have legislative, investigative, policy-setting and control functions.

As regards their law-making functions, the Constitution states that every bill presented to a House of Parliament shall be examined first of all by a Committee, pursuant to the Rules of Procedure of the Chamber (Rule 72, paragraph 1).

The Rules of Procedure therefore determine how this phase, a necessary preliminary to consideration of the bill by the Floor of the House, is to be carried out.

Each bill is assigned by the President of the Chamber of Deputies to whichever committee is competent in the matters to which the bill refers.

When a Committee is asked to report to the Floor of the House on a bill, it is said to be acting in a reporting capacity.

When acting in a reporting capacity, a Committee carries out a preparatory examination of the bill to assess the quality and effectiveness of the measures contained therein. To this end, it may acquire data and information from the Government and carry out fact-finding activities.

When a bill also contains provisions that refer to the area of competence of other Committees, the other Committees examine the bill in an advisory capacity. They frame an opinion (in the manner prescribed in the Rules of Procedure) and submit the opinion to the Committee that is acting in a reporting capacity.

Certain opinions carry particular weight, for example:

  1. The opinion of the Budget Committee, which is tasked with analysing the impact that a bill will have on the public finances and considering whether the bill fulfils the constitutional requirement to demonstrate how proposed new or increased spending will be funded;
  2. The opinion of the Constitutional Affairs Committee, which analyses how the bill affects the State's constitutional configuration and whether it respects the delegation of powers to the regions;
  3. The opinion of the European Affairs Committee, which analyses a bill's compliance with EU law;
  4. The opinion of the Committee on Legislation in respect of the quality of the legislative text.

Once a Committee acting in a reporting capacity has completed its procedures and drafted the version of the text to be submitted to the Floor of the House, the Committee appoints a sub-committee called the Committee of Nine comprising the rapporteur and representatives of the Parliamentary Groups. On the Floor of the House, during the consideration of the bill, the members of the Committee of Nine sit at a semicircular table in front of the Deputies' benches. Situated at the base of the plenary hall, the Committee of Nine is an important point of reference in the work of the House.

Where there is broad consensus regarding a bill, the power to examine and definitively approve it may be assigned to a Committee. In this case, the Committee is said to be operating in a legislating capacity. The bill, however, is returned to the Floor of the House for discussion if so requested by the Government, one tenth of members of the Chamber of Deputies or one fifth of the members of the Committee. The Constitution requires a normal (not committee-based) process of consideration and approval for bills relating to constitutional or electoral matters, bills granting the Government the power to adopt legislative decrees with the force of law, bills authorising the ratification of international treaties and bills for the approval of budgets referring to future or past spending.

A separate procedure is followed when the House assigns a Committee the specific task of preparing a legislative bill for the House, which then votes on the articles of the bill and proceeds to the final vote without any power to introduce amendments. In this case, the Committee is said to be acting in a drafting capacity.

In the exercise of other functions (fact-finding, policy-setting and control of the government) Committees may adopt resolutions aimed at setting out guidelines or delineating policies on specific themes (Rule 117). They may also convene for the purposes of dealing with questions (Rule 133) including questions requiring an immediate response (Rule 135-ter). They may examine nominations put forward by the Government and express opinions or announce findings relating to draft Government regulatory instruments (Rules 143, paragraph 4, 96-ter). They may also hear and discuss communications of the Government (Rule 22, paragraph 3). They may hold hearings (Rule 143, paragraph 2), including informal hearings, and carry out fact-finding initiatives (Rule 144).

The Committees may set up internal subcommittees, including permanent subcommittees, to which they may assign specific activities such as, for example, the issuance of opinions on bills.

For examinations that involve a variety of different themes and therefore touch upon the areas of competence of several different Committees, the committees may be convened in joint session.

In detail, the Committees are as follows:

I Constitutional, Presidency of the Council of Ministers and Interior Affairs

II Justice

III Foreign and European Community Affairs

IV Defence

V Budget, Treasury and Planning

VI Finance

VII Culture, Science and Education

VIII Environment, Territory and Public Works

IX Transport, Post and Telecommunications

X Economic Activities, Trade and Tourism

XI Public and Private Sector Employment

XII Social Affairs

XIII Agriculture

XIV European Union Policies

The areas of competence of the Standing Committees are more specifically delineated in Circular No. 3 issued by the President of the Chamber of Deputies on 16 October 1996.