The Assembly usesto hold the Executive to account. They scrutinise the work of and , including how they spend their and proposals for laws. They can call Ministers and to attend meetings. They hold into issues that they want Ministers to take action on.
Statutory Committees also advise and assist Ministers to developand plans for their Departments.
There are 12 Statutory Committees. One for each of the 11and their and one for the (OFMdFM). The Committee for the OFMdFM co-ordinates the work of the . It is sometimes called the ‘Twelfth Department’.
The roles and responsibilities given to Statutory Committees under theand are deliberately extensive. This is because of the lack of formal party opposition in the . Currently, all of the main parties are in the Executive, or . There is no substantial party outside the Executive to hold the governing parties to account. Statutory Committees have a central role to play in the scrutiny function of the Assembly. They have the power to:
- consider and advise Ministers on new for their Department’s and plans;
- consider matters brought to their attention by Ministers;
- consider secondary legislation and take the of ;
- introduce legislation;
- hold into issues of their choosing; and
- call for persons to give evidence or supply documents (if the person refuses, they may be guilty of an offence and could be fined or imprisoned for up to three months).
Statutory Committees have a wide remit and are potentially powerful. The House of Commons has Standing Committees that consider legislation and Select Committees that investigate the work of Departments. In the Assembly, Statutory Committees carry out both these roles.
Statutory Committees are keen to foster close working relationships with Ministers, officials and others to benefit the public. However, they will not compromise on their scrutiny or the role they play in calling Ministers to account.
The advisory and consultative role
Statutory Committees advise and assist Ministers to formulate policy. Therefore Ministers must consult committees about changes inor the development of new policies. This gives committees an opportunity to shape policy at an early stage. Committees themselves can initiate a new policy or a change in policy.
In 2008, the Committee for Culture, Arts and Leisure held an inquiry into a Museums Policy for NI. The Committee’s key recommendation was that the Department should develop a policy and it agreed to do so. This is an example of a Statutory Committee’s role. See below for further examples of influence on policy.
The Northern Ireland system of government is a specialmodel of democracy. This is because of our history and political situation. Assembly Committees are an important part of the checks and balances built in to our system of . Assembly Committees implement power-sharing for the different communities by ensuring that each committee has:
- a Chairperson and a Deputy Chairperson that are appointed under the ;
- a Chairperson, or a Deputy Chairperson, from a different political party to that of the Minister;
- membership that reflects the composition of the parties in the Assembly; and
- members from at least five of the political parties.
Find out more about the work of individual Statutory Committees at www.niassembly.gov.uk/io/Statutory.htm