Committee meetings

Once the chairperson and the rapporteurs have made themselves familiar with the subject matter of the bill and once the working groups of the parliamentary groups have come to their initial conclusions about the bill, the committee chairperson decides, in agreement with the spokespersons of the parliamentary groups, when the bill will be placed on the agenda. During this meeting the content of the bill is presented and explained in detail either by a rapporteur or by a Government representative. All members of the Federal Government and persons commissioned by it have access to meetings of the committees of the Bundestag, as provided for in Article 43 of the Basic Law. It is, however, also desirable for subject specialists from the federal ministries or the Länder to attend committee meetings so that committee members can question them directly about specific rules and about the background to, the reasons for and possible consequences of the bill. The civil servants employed by the Federal Government also have to assist with the wording of the bill. If a committee wishes to change the substance of a provision it does not need to concern itself with the legal niceties of formulating the document but can ask the civil servants from the appropriate ministry to draw up the amendment using the appropriate legal language. During the committee’s initial deliberations on the bill a general debate can also be held for the purpose of comparing the main problems and political viewpoints relating to the bill.

In exceptional cases this debate can be held in public. According to the Rules of Procedure, committee meetings are not in principle open to the public. The committee may, however, decide to admit the public during the discussion of a particular item of business or during parts of the discussion. This means that journalists, interest groups or other interested parties are free to attend the meeting.

After a general debate, the committee begins its deliberation on the individual clauses of the bill. The chairperson calls the individual chapters and sections, whereupon rapporteurs, other committee members or representatives of the Federal Government or the Bundesrat have an opportunity to express their views. At this stage amendments can be proposed and other formal motions for amendments moved. Speakers are given the floor in the order in which leave to speak was requested. Formal motions for amendments are voted upon at the end of the discussion of a particular chapter. If an amendment is adopted by a simple majority of those present, then the amended version of the bill presented by the Government forms the basis of all discussions from that point onwards.

Amendments to bills, which are made frequently and can be identified most easily by examining the recommendation for a decision, are not necessarily the result of formal motions for amendment; they more often result from discussions and negotiations in the committee. During the committee stage, Members do not give speeches intended to be heard by the public, but discuss individual points with each other, submitting and withdrawing proposals for debate. Thus, the committee stage consists of specialised discussions which are designed to create sensible and workable legislation.