Effective organisation of parliamentary work requires good preparation, therefore decisions and discussions of the plenary are examined in smaller, professionally oriented bodies, the committees.
According to the Standing Orders, committees are of two main types: standing committees and temporary committees.
The parliamentary structure of committees is created at (or after) the constituent sitting of the Parliament; decision is taken as to the number, name, membership and leadership of the standing committees. Since 1990, setting up and modifying the structure of standing committees has always been agreed upon by the parliamentary factions. The Standing Orders enumerates those standing committees that are compulsory to set up, such as the committee dealing with constitutional matters, the budget, foreign affairs, national defence, matters of immunity, incompatibility, and mandates, as well as most recently the committee of EU affairs.
The number and scope of activities undertaken by the standing committees basically follows the structure of the Government, although this correspondence is not automatic. (There have been cases when a standing committee dealt with issues belonging to two or more ministries, and vice-versa, when one Ministry "gave work" to two standing committees.) Nevertheless, there are certain standing committees that are exclusively set up to deal with the issues and problems of the internal functioning of the Parliament or with the legal status of the Members of Parliament. (The Committee on Immunities, Incompatibility and Mandate is a good example.)
Standing committees are bodies of the Parliament taking initiatives, making proposals, giving opinions, participating in the supervision of the Government and, when law or the Standing Orders specifically empowers them, taking decisions.
The activities and tasks of the committees are in line with those of the Parliament. However, the balance between legislative work and supervision of the Government varies within each committee.
In the parliamentary cycle of 1990-1994, the Parliament set up 18 standing committees at its constituent sitting, while at the end of the period there were 18 committees functioning. In 1994 the constituent sitting created 17 standing committees, and by the end of the cycle 19 committees were at work. At the beginning of the 1998-2002 cycle, the Parliament set up 22 standing committees and created one more committee later on. In the last parliamentary cycle between 2002 and 2006 the number of committees reached a peak with a total of 25 standing committees at work. The new National Assembly created a simpler and more cost-effective committee system with 18 standing committees at its constituent sitting 30 May 2006.
Quite often standing committees perform their duties in sub-committees. The sub-committee responsible for following the implementation of the law, assessing its social and economic impact is compulsory to set up.
Members and officials of the committees are elected by the Parliament. All the members and officials of the standing committees are Members of Parliament.
The number of MPs having a seat in one of the committees has continuously grown cycle after cycle. At the beginning of the cycle 1990-1994 there were 300 committee seats for the 386 MPs that steadily rose to 369 by the end. Between 1994 and 1998 numbers rose from 334 to 387, while between 1998-2002 478 seats were counted at start and 505 towards the end. Finally, the figures of the last period show a growth from 492 in 2002 to 496 seats in 2006. Furthermore, between 2002 and 2006, there were 6 MPs having membership in three committees, while 141 MPs sat on two committees and 197 MPs were members of one committee only. On top of that, some MPs were also delegated to a temporary committee. There were 43 MPs (among them the Speaker of the House, most of the Deputy-Speakers, some of the faction leaders, the ministers and undersecretaries of state) who did not participate in the work of the committees. In case of ministers and undersecretaries of state committee work would be incompatible with their positions since one of the major tasks of committees is to supervise the Government. Members and officials of the committees are entitled to extra remuneration for their work.
The new Parliament adopted a new philosophy; the general principle is to have one MP working only in one standing committee, so the total number of seats equals to the total number of MPs in Parliament: 386.
The membership ratio in a committee follows the size of the parliamentary group, but parliamentary groups may come to a different agreement. Each independent MP is entitled to participate in the work of one standing committee.
Membership in the standing committee on Immunities, Incompatibility and Mandate and the committees of inquiry is based on the principle of parity, in other words both the governing parties and the opposition nominate an equal number of MPs (committees based on parity).
There are two types of temporary committees: committees of inquiry and ad hoc committees. Ad hoc committees are set up to examine issues of current importance. In the last cycle such issues included preparing the national equestrian program, facilitating ragweed-free environment, nominating the vice-presidents of the State Audit Office. On the other hand, committees of inquiry are formed to examine a particular issue or question. Between 2002 and 2006 a total of fifteen committees of inquiry were established; nine of them on the initiative of the opposition, while five on the initiative of the government and one committee (with the consent of both sides) on the initiative of the Committee on Human Rights. Results of the work of both types of committees are presented in the form of a report submitted to the plenary that passes a resolution on the acceptance or rejection of the report following its general debate. (The majority of the 30 committees of inquiry formed since 1990 ended their work without formally handing in a report to the plenary. The reports lacked consensus.)
Ad hoc committees and committees of inquiry are established by the resolution of the Parliament that also determines the scope of the committee. Temporary committees are continuously formed and terminated in each parliamentary cycle.
Only MPs can become officers or members of committees of inquiry. Ad hoc committees may on the other hand, invite members who are not MPs, although these members do not have voting rights. Membership in temporary committees is not remunerated.
There were 15 committees of inquiry and 4 ad hoc committees between 2002 and 2006.
Meeting of Committee Chairpersons
The weekly meetings of committee chairpersons have an important role in preparing sittings of the plenary and synchronizing the work of the committees. This is the meeting that makes a proposal to the House Committee on the weekly work schedule of the Parliament, and the distribution of the proposals to the committees which are eventually designated by the Speaker.
This is the meeting that serves to discuss those questions that are related to all of the committees (such as for example, the use and distribution of funds for hiring experts, international relations, or the development of the committee homepages etc.)
Working of Committees
Chapter 4 of the Standing Orders compiles the rules defining the operation of committees.
Committee sittings are held regularly, usually on a weekly basis, and are convened by the Chair of the committee (or in case of his/her absence by the Deputy Chairperson). Similarly to the procedure in plenary, following the opening of the committee meeting, the agenda needs to be formally adopted. In order to have a quorum more than half of the members must be present at the sitting. However, the Standing Orders provides a possibility for substitution in case a member is not present at the sitting; he may give a mandate to a fellow MP to vote in his name. Participation of the representatives of the Government (ministries) at the meetings of the committee, especially during discussions of agenda items is an essential condition for the work of the committees. However, certain agenda items may require the invitation of the leaders of different business federations or members of civil society. Committees may also request the help of experts. Standing committees may discuss any matter within their competence. Meetings of the committees are open to the press, but the committee may decide to sit in camera with regard to state or official secret, or for reasons of data protection. (Most often the Committee on National Security and the Committee on Immunities, Incompatibility and Mandates holds meetings in camera.) As a result of their discussions committees may adopt a standpoint or a resolution. Verbatim minutes are prepared on the committee meetings that may be downloaded from the homepage of the National Assembly (www.parlament.hu).
As far as rules for the operation of temporary committees (committees of inquiry and ad hoc committees) are concerned, rules relating to the work of standing committees shall - in the absence of rules set by the National Assembly or the specified committee - apply accordingly. Following their formation, committees of inquiry and ad hoc committees set their rules of operation in a procedural motion so as to restrain as many questions as possible from dispute.
Chairperson of Standing committees 1990-