It is the committees’ responsibility to prepare the matters that will be deliberated by the Storting.
The composition of the Standing Committees is decided by an Election Committee of 37 members. The parties are proportionally represented as far as possible on this committee, with geographical distribution also being taken into account. In practice, however, the preparatory work is done in the parliamentary party groups, which determine how their Members are allocated among the various committees, and by contact between the party groups. The matter is then dealt with by the Election Committee, which usually approves the proposals made by the party groups.
The provisions concerning the composition and duties of the committees are laid down in the Storting’s Rules of Procedure. It is not always possible to achieve the same party political distribution in all of the committees as is found in the Storting as a whole. This is due to the fact that some party groups do not have enough Members to be represented on all 12 committees.
Once the committees have been appointed, each committee elects a chair, a first vice chair and a second vice chair. The committees vary in size from 8 to 18 Members.
The committees are supported by a secretariat. Each committee has a committee secretary (the Standing Committee on Finance and the Standing Committee on Scrutiny and Constitutional Affairs have two), employed by the Storting to assist Members in carrying out the work of the committee.
Most of the matters deliberated by the Storting are first prepared by one of the Standing Committees. Matters are usually prepared by the committee whose remit most closely reflects that of the Ministry responsible for the matter. For example, the Standing Committee on Transport and Communications deals with matters within the remit of the Ministry of Transport and Communications.
Normally, the committees may only consider matters referred to them by the Storting. The Standing Committee on Scrutiny and Constitutional Affairs is an exception in this respect. This committee has the power to initiate business itself, the Rules of Procedure stating that it is free to “make any further inquiries within the administration deemed necessary for the Storting’s scrutiny of the public administration”.
For each item of business it deals with, the committee elects a spokesperson. This person is responsible for presenting the matter to the committee, obtaining information and seeing the matter through the procedure in committee until a final recommendation has been adopted. The spokesperson also formulates the recommendation in writing.
In the course of proceedings, a committee may call in representatives from ministries, organizations, or private individuals to hearings for the purpose of obtaining information. Organizations and individuals may also request to appear before a committee to present their views. These hearings must be held in public unless otherwise decided.
The recommendation contains a summary of the matter and the comments of the committee along with a proposed decision. The recommendation is submitted to the Storting, which is responsible for making the final decision.
Many matters are concluded with a unanimous decision by the committee. Disagreement among the Members may give rise to exhaustive discussions, and committees often split into two or more factions over specific issues. Each faction may elect its own spokesperson and, if the committee is unable to reach agreement, the minority viewpoints are included in the recommendation as dissenting remarks.
In particularly difficult or complex matters, it is common for the factions to discuss the issue in question in meetings with the parliamentary party groups or their steering committees. The political standpoints that are clarified in these deliberations form the basis of the negotiations that take place in the subsequent closed committee meetings.
Consideration of the various matters by the committee involves a considerable amount of work. The spokesperson plays a particularly important role in the final drafting of the recommendation. The recommendation is signed by the chair and the spokesperson before being submitted to the Storting.
The recommendation of a committee generally determines the outcome of the measure in the Storting, as Members tend to follow the vote of their party in the committee. A measure which has received a majority vote in a committee will normally receive a majority vote in the Storting as well, though the outcome is less predictable if the proportional representation of the parties in the committee differs from that of the Storting.