Committees examine in detail law bills, budgets, treaties, and petitions. They also investigate other matters that fall within their jurisdiction. Sometimes committees establish sub-committees.

In order to open a committee meeting, at least half its members must be present. Committee meetings are, as a rule, closed to the public. However, members of the press, radio and TV, and other media may be admitted to meetings at the discretion of the chairman.

A committee may demand the presence of the Prime Minister, other Ministers of State, the Deputy Chief Cabinet Secretary, Senior Vice-Ministers, Parliamentary Secretaries, Government special advisers or the President and members of the Audit Board so that they can explain certain specific matters; they may, with prior notice given to the chairman, attend meetings of a committee and speak at them.

At the committee stage, a committee may confer with other committees and hold joint examination meetings with them. Such meetings are simply and solely to conduct examinations; they can render no decisions on bills.

A committee must hold public hearings on the general budget and important revenue bills and may do so on important bills of public interest in order to hear the opinions of interested parties or people of learning and experience. A committee may, if deemed necessary for an effective examination or investigation, summon a witness to appear before it to give evidence.

The committee chairman, as the presiding officer at meetings, arranges the proceedings of the committee, maintains order, and represents the committee. Among other matters, the chairman has the right to call committee meetings, precipitate a decision by initiating a vote, report to the house regarding the matters examined by the committee, explain in the other house the purport of a bill initiated by the house to which the chairman belongs, and offer opinions at other committee meetings. A committee may choose several directors from among its members. If the Chairman becomes disabled for some reason, one of the directors discharges the functions of chairman. The chairman and directors must affix their signatures to the minutes of the committee meetings.

There are two types of committees:

(a) Standing committees

The House of Representatives has 17 standing committees, each having 20 - 50 members; the House of Councillors has 17 standing committees, each with 10 - 45 members. Every Diet member should serve on at least one standing committee. Committee members are nominated by the speaker or the president of the house they belong to and hold their membership until their term of office as members of the Diet expires. The places on each committee are allocated to political parties or groups in proportion to their numerical strength in the house, and the presiding officer nominates them on the recommendation of parties or groups. The terms of reference of each standing committee cover a specific sphere of government administration, but these are not always identical with those of any one government ministry or agency.

Each house ostensibly nominates the chairmen of the standing committees, but in practice the selection is entrusted to the speaker or the president. In both houses, chairmanships are distributed among the parties in accordance with their numerical strength.

There are Committees on Cabinet; Internal Affairs and Communications; Judicial Affairs; Foreign Affairs; Financial Affairs; Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology; Health, Labour and Welfare; Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries; Economy, Trade and Industry; Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism; Environment; Security; Fundamental National Policies; Budget; Audit and Oversight of Administration; Rules and Administration; and Discipline in the House of Representatives. A Committee on Fundamental National Policies was set up in each House in January 2000 to provide the Prime Minister and the Leaders of Opposition Parties with an opportunity to conduct a one-on-one debate on basic policies of the nation. The system was introduced on the model of the "Prime Minister's Question Time" in the U.K. Parliament. The Committees of both Houses hold a joint meeting once a week in either House alternately, with 30 Members from the House of Representatives and 20 from the House of Councillors. The Budget Committee, which has the largest membership in each house, examines national revenue and expenditures, and members representing various political parties and groups ask questions of the prime minister and all other ministers of state pertaining to national administration in general. The Committee on Rules and Administration has the task of fixing the dates of plenary sittings, the order of business, speakers and their allocated time, and discussing general administrative matters of the house. Its meetings are attended by the Speaker, Vice-Speaker and the Secretary General of the House. The Committee on Audit and Oversight of Administration in the House of Representatives was set up to upgrade and strengthen the function of oversight of administration in the House of Representatives. A Professional Adviser or "Semmon-in" is allocated to each Standing Committee to assist Committee members, together with researchers as his/her subordinates, in investigating matters under the jurisdiction of the Committee.

(b) Special committees

Each house may appoint a special committee in order to examine those matters that the house decides are in need of examination or matters that do not come under the jurisdiction of any standing committee. The members of a special committee are appointed by the house so as to reflect the proportional representation of the political parties or groups in the house, and members serve until the matters referred to the special committee have been decided upon by the house.

The chairman of a special committee should be elected from among its members, and in practice he or she is selected by a motion of recommendation by the committee.

The House of Representatives
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