Committee work programmes/agendas

18. Rule 12.3.1 of Standing Orders deals with the choice of business for the committees and the setting of agendas.

19. The application of the rule means that the committee work programme, including the topics for inquiry, requires to be approved by the committee. It is, however, the convener who is responsible for the week to week agenda. The Standing Order requires the convener to “notify the Clerk” and for the Clerk to notify members by means of the Business Bulletin.

20. In practice, the committee clerk will prepare a draft agenda for approval by the convener which will take account of any timetables which have been agreed with the Bureau in relation to Bills, constraints imposed by Standing Orders, for example, in relation to the consideration of subordinate legislation and the committee's agreed work programme.

21. For the smooth running of the committee, it is essential that conveners have the opportunity to discuss draft agendas and the handling of meetings with the clerks and, therefore, it is strongly recommended that conveners should schedule regular meetings with the clerking team. As mentioned above, some conveners find it helpful to involve the deputy conveners in this process, although this is not a requirement of Standing Orders.

22. In setting the agenda, it is a matter for the discretion of the convener whether to include an item that an individual committee member has asked to be included on an agenda. It is the committee which is responsible for determining the business to be considered, in the wider sense. However, a convener may not wish to be seen as disregarding the views or concerns of individual members. If the convener is inclined to accede to a request, it may be useful to discuss the matter with the committee clerk before agreeing to add the matter to an agenda so that any preparatory work can be done and a paper commissioned.

23. One option is to ensure that the committee reviews its work programme at appropriate points during the year to allow priorities to be readjusted. The frequency with which committees review their work programmes varies. Conveners may find it prudent soon after the establishment of a committee to agree a practice for reviewing the work programme and dealing with requests by members to add items. This will help conveners manage members' expectations in relation to having items included in agendas.

24. When setting agendas, conveners can allocate timings to each item of business or schedule items to commence not before a particular time. This is not however normal practice and can bring problems in that the timings require to be adhered to, which can add to the difficulties of chairing a meeting. If the agenda states that an item will not start before a particular time and the business earlier on the agenda is concluded quickly, the meeting has to be suspended until the allotted time is reached.

25. Even where formal timings are not set, the length of the agenda and the time available must be considered. When scheduling evidence sessions, an assessment must be made of how many witnesses the committee can reasonably question in one session. This will vary according to circumstances. If a committee meeting requires to be closed before all witnesses have been heard, this can cause adverse publicity for the committee and can affect relationships with stakeholder groups. (see also paras 48-49 below)

26. There are no provisions in Standing Orders for “emergency business” in committees. The agenda which is published in the daily business list must contain notice of all the business that a committee will consider.

27. Items can only be added to an agenda if there is still time to publish an amended daily business list. In the most exceptional cases, this can be done on the day of the meeting. Clerks will make the necessary arrangements. The decision on whether to add an item to an agenda is one for the convener. Particularly if this done at short notice, a convener needs to balance the importance of having an early discussion in the committee with considerations of accessibility (interested parties may not be able to attend or even be aware of the discussion) and the ability of members and witnesses to prepare for questioning.

28. The Standing Orders do not allow the introduction of “ad hoc business” into committee meetings nor do they allow the inclusion of non-specific items such as “any other business” or “matters arising” on committee agendas.