If you have been asked to attend a committee meeting, you will probably also have been asked to provide information in advance of this. This will help the committee members prepare their questions. It is also useful to put factual information on the record.
Many people use the same information for a committee meeting as the one they provided (or are in the process of providing) in response to a committee's call for written and digital evidence. If you want to do this, just let the clerking team know.
If you would like to provide additional information please let the clerking team know. They will advise you of deadlines.
Hearing oral evidence
The committee will usually invite people in to answer questions about the subject of the inquiry. This will be done at a committee meeting called an 'oral evidence session'.
Oral evidence sessions normally take place in public where people can watch them online or attend in person. Committee members will ask questions to people giving them information (often referred to as 'witnesses'), usually about the issues described in the written or visual evidence they have already given.
The meeting will be broadcast on Senedd TV. Senedd TV broadcasts all meetings of the Senedd for people to watch online (you can also watch recordings of previous committee meetings at www.senedd.tv). A written record (or 'transcript') will be produced, which will be sent to the witnesses for them to check a week after the meeting. A draft transcript will be published on the committee's web pages one week after the meeting.
People who speak to committees are often called 'witnesses.' This word can sound intimidating, but really it just means that the committee is going to ask that person for extra information to help with their inquiry.
A committee will discuss and agree on a list of witnesses who they want to invite to speak with them. This process is often referred to as 'giving oral evidence'. The clerking team for the committee will contact those people to invite them to a committee meeting.
During the Fifth Senedd, until the Covid-19 pandemic, committees normally met in a committee room in the Senedd, but could also meet in Tŷ Hywel (the red brick building attached to the Senedd), and occasionally in other locations across Wales. Most committee meetings were held in public, with space available in the public galleries for people to come along and watch.
Under emergency procedures introduced as a result of Covid-19 to protect public health, committees can also meet remotely online by video conference. This might be either a completely remote virtual meeting, or meeting in a ‘hybrid’ form, when some people are in a committee room and others join in by video conference from other locations. The clerking team will provide advice and guidance to witnesses on how the committee meeting will work and what to expect. Meetings that take place remotely by video conference will still be broadcast on Senedd TV.
Committees can either take evidence from one organisation or individual at a time, or they can arrange organisations or individuals into panels.
Panels are usually used if a committee wants to ask similar questions to a number of different witnesses. This can be useful if a committee has limited time for taking evidence. It can also be useful for witnesses who might work with other organisations that cover different areas of the same issue.
Committee members may ask questions to the panel as a whole, or direct them to a specific witness. If you are giving evidence at the same time as another witness, you do not have to answer a question if you are satisfied that another witness has already answered it. You can tell the committee that you agree with the answer provided by the other witness.
Preparing for a committee meeting
The committee clerking team will contact you about giving evidence prior to the committee meeting. This will normally be at least three weeks in advance of the meeting date, although this may vary, particularly if the committee is looking at a possible new law ('scrutinising legislation').
You will normally be asked to provide a written paper to the committee around ten working days in advance of the meeting to set out your views on the issues being considered by the committee. The majority of the questions that the committee asks you will be based on the issues you have raised in your paper.
If you are unable to give oral evidence to the committee in person, please contact the clerking team, who can discuss other options with you. These could include giving evidence by video or audio conference link. Please do this as far as possible in advance to allow suitable arrangements to be made.
Evidence sessions in committee are time-limited, and as a witness you will be responding to questions from Members of the Senedd rather than making a presentation (so PowerPoint is not normally available).
How the committee's clerking team can help you
The committee's clerking team will inform you of the exact date, time and location of the meeting at least a week before the meeting, and arrange for you to have a copy of the agenda and committee papers as soon as they are available.
The clerking team can also advise you if other witnesses are appearing at the same session as you. If other witnesses are scheduled to appear prior to your appearance, you may choose to attend earlier and listen to evidence given by these witnesses. This information will also be available on the meeting's agenda.
The clerking team may be able to give you advice on what you might be asked about, to help you prepare for the session. However, any advanced briefing is at the committee's discretion and the committee may ask questions outside the given brief.
Spaces at committee meetings are limited. It is not usually possible for more than two people from one organisation to attend a committee meeting, and usually only one if you are giving evidence at the same time as witnesses from other organisations. If you know in advance that several people from your organisation want to attend, the clerking team can help by arranging seats in the public gallery or possibly in a space behind the committee table, though this will depend on space and availability.
Committees understand that sitting at the table and providing oral evidence in the formal committee setting can be daunting. Provided there is space in the room, it is permissible for a witness to bring along someone to provide support. The supporter does not give evidence at the meeting (and often does not sit at the meeting table) as they are not a witness, but they can provide emotional support through their presence in the room. Parents, teachers and youth-work leaders have attended meetings in the past in this role. The clerking team can give specific advice on a supporter's role, as required.
You can also ask the clerking team to help with:
- explaining any jargon/words used in committee meetings which you are not familiar with (e.g. 'evidence,' 'witness,' 'inquiry,' 'scrutiny'…);
- explaining what will happen after you have given evidence;
- helping you to familiarise yourself with the Senedd's buildings and processes (for example, you might want to observe an earlier committee meeting, either in person, or on Senedd TV);
- explaining the rules of committee procedures and behaviour in formal committee meetings.
How you can help the committee's clerking team
The clerking team needs to know the following information in advance of any meetings you will be attending:
- the names and job titles of the people who will be appearing as witnesses. Where the witness is an organisation, it is usually left to the organisation to decide which of its members or staff should attend the meeting. Committees may request the attendance of specific individuals or post-holders. If you have not notified the clerking team of the names of representatives from your organisation, the Senedd security team may refuse entry to the room where the meeting is being held;
- if you know that matters which may arise during oral evidence are currently before a court of law, or court proceedings are imminent; if you anticipate such issues arising, you should discuss this with the clerk of the committee;
- if you have any specific needs (for example if you are visually impaired or have specific access needs). The Senedd building and Tŷ Hywel committee rooms are fully accessible to those with a disability and we are able to make additional arrangements if notified in advance.