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The plenary session is the most visible aspect of Parliament's work. Less visible, but of central importance is the work done in committees, since reports drafted by committees provide the basis on which Parliament takes nearly all of its decisions.

Committees' tasks

Parliament has 15 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.

Appointment and composition

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.

Each committee has 17 members and 9 alternate members, with the exception of the Finance Committee (21+19), the Audit Committee (11+6) and the Grand Committee (25+13).

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

Handling of matters

The handling of a bill or other matter begins with a preliminary debate in plenary session. At the end of the preliminary debate Parliament refers the matter to the appropriate committee on the basis of a proposal by the Speaker's Council.

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.

Hearing experts

A committee starts by hearing experts and obtaining information from other sources. Each committee decides what experts to call in a particular matter. Hearings generally begin with a ministry representative or representatives and then proceed with other persons who have assisted in preparatory work or can speak for agencies, organizations and other interested parties that the matter concerns.

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.

Debate stage

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.

Decision stage

After the committee has approved the content of a report or statement, it can unanimously decide to dispense with further debate. The handling of most matters is terminated in this way.

If a committee does not unanimously decide to dispense with further debate, handling proceeds on the basis of the report or statement that has been approved by the committee, with another general debate followed by detailed discussion.

A matter must be put to a vote if a committee cannot reach unanimity. 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.

Committee reports

In its report a committee presents its views on a matter together with grounds and recommends what course of action Parliament should take. A committee report also contains a motion for a resolution and draft provisions if the committee has decided that a Government bill should be amended.

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 handling of a matter are listed in a committee report. A member can also have a dissenting view appended to a report, together with grounds and a motion for a resolution.

When a committee report has been completed, preparation of the matter continues in plenary session.

Special committees' tasks

Constitutional Law Committee
Constitutional laws, legislation closely related to constitutional laws, election legislation and legislation concerning the highest organs of government, self-government of the Ă…land Islands, citizenship, language matters and political parties.

Foreign Affairs Committee
Matters involving the amendment or termination of international treaties and other international obligations requiring Parliament's approval, the management of foreign affairs, security policy, peacekeeping policy, foreign trade policy, development cooperation and international organizations.

Finance Committee
Government bills and parliamentary initiatives concerning the state budget and other financial matters, legislation pertaining to taxes and similar charges and state loans.

Audit Committee
Oversight of the management of government finances and compliance with the state budget.

Employment and Equality Committee
The work environment, labour and employment, equality and civilian service.

Administration Committee
General organization of state administration, state administration at the regional and municipal levels, administrative procedures, state personnel policy, regional and structural policy, public order and safety, rescue services, Frontier Guard, immigration matters, municipal affairs and church matters.

Legal Affairs Committee
Matters involving family, estate, corporate, contract, property, criminal and procedural law as well as courts and tribunals.

Transport and Communications Committee
Road, rail, air and water traffic, navigation and communications.

Agriculture and Forestry Committee
Agriculture and forestry, water resources management, veterinary medicine, hunting, fishing, reindeer husbandry and animal protection.

Defence Committee
Military service, Defence Forces and legislation pertaining to emergencies.

Education and Culture Committee
Education, science, the arts, culture, sports, youth work and student aid.

Social Affairs and Health Committee
Social services and healthcare, income support, social insurance and pension legislation.

Commerce Committee
Banking, trade, industry, business, consumer protection, competition, private insurance, energy, legislation pertaining to the foreign exchange and securities markets.

Committee for the Future
Matters related to development factors and models, futures research and assessment of the social impact of technological development and technology.

Environment Committee
Housing, land-use and building legislation, waste management, environmental protection and nature conservation.
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Guided tours of the Parliament will begin again autumn 2017 after the renovation is finished.

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