Obligations of Parliaments to Make the Information

They Create Available to the Citizens: As Affected by the Internet

Влияние Интернет на обеспечение гражданам

доступа к парламентской информации

Вплив Інтернет на забезпечення громадянам доступу
до парламентської інформації

Эрнст Коль

Администрация Бундестага Германии, Бонн, Германия

Ernst Kohl

German Bundestag Administration, Bonn, Germany

Ернст Коль

Адміністрація Бундестагу Німеччини, Бонн, Німеччина

Приводится общая характеристика деятельности парламентов и их функций законодательной, контролирующей, информационной. Информационная функция рассматривается с точки зрения развития Интернет. Рассказывается о системе документально-информационных баз данных немецкого Бундестага DIP (в том числе, о ее Интернет-версии), а также о законодательной системе GESTA и ее представлении в Интернет.

Characterized are the parliamentary activities and functions: legislative, controlling and information one. Examined are information obligations of parliaments as affected by the Internet. Described are the system of Bundestag's document information databases system DIP (and its Internet-version) and the system for current legislative information GESTA and its Internet-version.

Наводиться загальна характеристика діяльності парламентів та їх функцій: законодавчої, контролюючої, інформаційної. Інформаційна функція розглядається з точки зору розвитку Інтернет. Розповідається про систему документально-інформаційних баз даних DIP німецького Бундестагу (в тому числі, про її Інтернет-версії), а також про законодавчу систему GESTA та її представленні в Інтернет.

Introduction

Democracy was once described by the American President Abraham Lincoln as the 'government of the people by the people for the people'. As concerns the postulate 'by the people': apart from a few small cantons in Switzerland where the entire voting population functions as the legislature1), government by the people is achieved through the representative system with parliaments which, by free elections, are legitimated to act on behalf of the sovereign. Their actions are, therefore, per se delegated ones, for which the elected Members of Parliament are accountable to the electorate. This constitutes a stringent obligation for all parliaments to inform the citizens meticulously about their activities.

Parliamentary activities: a broad classification

Parliaments - at least in the Western World - have three major tasks. Firstly, they govern directly by making laws and taking decisions on public finance. Secondly, they govern indirectly by controlling the Government and by issuing recommendations for government action. (In the parliamentary - as against the presidential - system of government they also elect the government.) Thirdly, they raise matters of general topical interest, thus focussing public attention on central political, social, cultural, and economic issues which have a direct impact on many citizens. In pursuance of these legislative, controlling, and communicative functions parliaments create information of various kinds.

The obligation of parliaments to make these informations available to the citizens is facilitated by parliamentary procedural provisions as a result of which every piece of information produced by Parliament takes on the form of a printed document. And printed materials, as we all know, can be marketed, distributed or otherwise disseminated. This will be exemplified by the procedures of the German Bundestag.

The legislative function of Parliament

As regards the law-making function, the legislative process does not start, as one might be led to think by modern theories of inventiveness, by a brain-storming session either in the plenary or in a parliamentary committee. Instead, those who are constitutionally bestowed with the right of initiating legislation2) have to submit a bill which elaborates the proposed law in the most detailed manner clause by clause. Technically, this draft legislation has to be laid before the Bundestag in the form of a Printed Paper (Germ.: Drucksache) which is distributed to all Members. This bill will be dealt with in a first reading by the plenary. As every word said in the plenary is taken down in shorthand, all arguments exchanged pro and con the proposed piece of legislation are thereby put on record. The Verbatim Report (Germ.: Stenographischer Bericht) or Minutes of Plenary Meeting (Germ.: Plenarprotokoll) is printed during the night after the plenary meeting and published the following morning. After the first reading the bill is referred for detailed consideration to one ore more Bundestag committees. As a result of the committee deliberations a Recommendation for Resolution and Report (Germ.: BeschluЯempfehlung und Bericht) is submitted by the committee to the plenary for the second reading of the bill, technically the Recommendation for Resolution and Report being, again, treated as a Printed Paper. For this second reading every individual Member and, of course, also an individual parliamentary group (Germ.: Fraktion) may table a Motion for Amendment (Germ.: Дnderungsantrag), which is likewise published as a Printed Paper. In the second reading each clause of the draft law is voted upon separately, the proceedings, as usual, being covered by the Verbatim Report. In the absence of any amendments a third reading follows immediately after the second reading, otherwise one day after the printed text of the amendments has been distributed to the Members. Amendments may be moved for the third reading, too, but this time they have to be supported by at least five per cent of all Members, i.e. in the current 13th electoral term by 34 Members. The third reading ends with the final vote on the bill3). Laws which require the consent of the Bundesrat are then forwarded to the Bundesrat. Following the adoption by the Bundestag and, if necessary by the Bundesrat the law is then countersigned by the Government, enacted by the Federal President, and finally promulgated in the Federal Gazette4) and can consequently enter into force.

The controlling function of Parliament

The conclusion to be drawn from the suvey above is that every stage of the legislative process is documented in detail, and this is also the case concerning the controlling and communicative functions of the Bundestag. If at least 34 Members wish to obtain information from the Government on any matter they can submit an interpellation, either a Minor Interpellation (Germ.: Kleine Anfrage) or a Major Interpellation (Germ.: GroЯe Anfrage), both of which are published as a Printed Paper. In addition, every Member is entitled to submit up to two questions for oral reply during the question times (Germ.: Fragestunden) of the following sitting week or for written reply within a week. As a rule two question times, each lasting up to 90 minutes, take place in every sitting week. In each question time approx. 25 questions are answered orally. The questions for one question time are all printed in one Printed Paper and the answers are contained in the Minutes of Plenary Meeting.

Finally, a parliamentary group or at least 34 Members may table a Motion (Germ.: Antrag). Motions which are likewise published in the form of a Printed Paper are included in the agenda of the plenary as autonomous items. In most cases they are requests for the Federal Government to submit a bill to deal with a specific matter, or demands to take specific actions, or are political declarations of intent. Motions, unlike bills, are, in principle, given one reading only.

Quantitative assessment of the information created by parliaments

During an electoral term, which in the case of the Bundestag normally comprises four years, the sum-total of all informations created by the Parliament as described above adds up to considerable numbers. In the 12th electoral term from 1990 to 1994 there have been 243 plenary meetings resulting in 21752 pages in A 4 format of Verbatim Reports. In addition, 2150 committee meetings took place. 895 bills were introduced either at the Bundestag or the Bundesrat, of which 493 became law. 709 motions were tabled, 98 major interpellations, 1382 minor interpellations, and 20876 questions for oral or written reply, resulting in 8611 Printed Papers. These add up to 92 bound volumes of approx. 1200 A 4 pages each, that is altogether an amount of 110 000 pages.

Information obligation: solutions prior to the advent of the Internet

Both the Verbatim Reports or Minutes of Plenary Meetings and the Printed Papers are published by a commercial publisher as parts of the Proceedings of the German Bundestag (Germ.: Verhandlungen des Deutschen Bundestages)5), and can be subscribed to by every citizen, at annual subscription rates for the Stenographische Berichte of DM 270 and for the Drucksachen of DM 15006). (Individual issues can also be bought separately.) As the subscription costs are prohibitive for the ordinary citizen, Parliament has an obligation of making its Proceedings available to the public otherwise. The solution the Bundestag has found for this challenge was to single out, in every district of the country, a specific library which is open to the public, either a municipal library or a university library, to which it distributes the Verhandlungen free of charge.

Information obligation: as affected by the Internet

With the Internet becoming popular in Germany in the 1990s, the Bundestag in 1996 started to make use of this medium to acquaint the public with its activities, information contained in the Proceedings being part of the Bundestag information range. An abridged English version is offered as well, however, it does not contain the Verbatim Reports, nor the Printed Papers. Mention of the Proceedings is already made on the homepage of the web-site of the German Bundestag (Aktuelles, Protokolle). Under Aktuelles, the user is offered another contents page which contains plenary meetings (Plenarsitzungen), under which a link is provided to the Minutes of Plenary Meetings (Plenarprotokolle), i.e. the Verbatim Reports. They are listed in descending chronological order. Links are provided to the major subjects of each sitting. Documents can be downloaded. The Bundestag does not charge any fees.

As concerns the Printed Papers, a selection of them is offered only. Nor can they be traced so easily. They are accessible via the Internet version of the Bundestag's data base system DIP (Dokumentations- und Informationssystem fьr Parlamentsmaterialien), and an individual Printed Paper can be accessed directly only if its number is known (Bundestags-Drucksachen im Volltext). Otherwise Printed Papers are included if searches are made for specific legislative activities (Gesetzgebungsstand (GESTA)) or for other parliamentary activities (Parlamentarische Vorgдnge).

Indexing obligation

From its first electoral term, the Bundestag has felt that apart from the obligation of making the information it creates available to the citizens Parliament is also under the obligation of facilitating the access to this information.

A knowledge which all librarians share is that non-fiction books usually have an index, and that the more voluminous a publication is, the more useful an index proves to be, and this is the reason why the Bundestag since 1949 provides an Index to the Proceedings on an electoral term basis,, which certainly is a major effort. In the current 13th electoral term, close to 20 indexers in a particular division of the Bundestag Administration, the Sach- & Sprechregister, permanently work on that.

Indexing is by topics or subjects, and by persons, i.e. Members of the Bundestag, of the Bundesrat, and the Federal Government. As the Bundestag's indexing is aimed at the general public, it was decided to base the subject index on a thesaurus. A thesaurus is particularly suitable for the information work for the benefit of the non-specialist because of a built-in didactic, knowledge-acquisition component. The thesaurus, by disclosing the relationships between concepts in an indexing vocabulary7) and by providing scope notes8), by these means helps the inexperienced user to acquire some subject knowledge. In the Bundestag the thesaurus PARTHES (PARliamentary THESaurus) is maintained by data processing.

The subject index for the 12th electoral term sums up to three volumes with 4641 A 4 pages, the index by speakers to 4406 pages, also in three volumes. Both indexes are part of the internal data base system DIP which is not open to the public. Instead, the Bundestag has installed a telephone hotline operated by the staff of the Sach- & Sprechregister, where every citizen may ask for information stored in DIP. It is one of the busiest numbers of the German Bundestag (+49 228 16 22350).

Formerly the printed version of the Index to the proceedings was published annually. As an effect of the Internet, it is now being published only once, after the end of an electoral term9). It is distributed to depositary libraries in every district of the country like the Verhandlungen. It is also included in the microfiche edition by Saur and Beck publishers.

Both the printed and the microfiche editions are technically difficult to consult. The 21 volumes of the Verbatim Reports, the 92 volumes of the Printed Papers, and the 6 volumes of the Index of the 12th electoral term add up to eight running shelf metres. A CD-ROM version uniting the Verbatim Reports + the Printed Papers + the Index to the proceedings on a single CD-ROM, though contemplated for the 13th electoral term, will not be materialized. The storage capacity of the CD-ROM is still too limited. We may have to wait for the spread of DVD technology with its increased storage capacity to achieve such a publication.

Internet version of DIP

DIP has been made available on the web-site of the German Bundestag, too. Subject searches are subdivided by legislative activities and other parliamentary activities. Together these two correspond to the Sachregister (subject index) of the printed Index to the Proceedings. Activities of persons (Aktivitдten von Personen) corresponds to the Sprechregister (speakers' index) of the printed Index to the Proceedings.

Rating obligation

In view of the amount of information they produce parliaments also have the obligation to rate their informations in order to enable the citizens to sift out less important matters, and to select what is most important for them. Whereas indexing systems facilitate the access to parliamentary information, they, alas, cannot likewise serve as evaluation systems.

In recognition of this rating obligation the Bundestag after the 6th electoral term, when the number of volumes of the Printed Papers had grown to 34 and the number of pages of the Verbatim Reports to 11841, in 1972 started a computer-based special information system selecting all information where Parliament governs directly, i.e. information on its legislative activities, thus offering a bill-tracking service to the public that is called GESTA (GEsetzgebungsSTAnd, current status of legislation). Ongoing legislation will not only one day in the future affect a more or less large part of the population and their legal counsels, the lawyers, information on legislation under way has also a specific characteristics about it. It is operational information enabling as it does citizens and their special-interest groups to lobby parliamentary committees or individual Members in order to influence the future legislative provisions, thus stirring people into action. Democratic governments usually take the principle of responsive rule quite seriously by which those who are affected by a proposed legislation should have a chance of expressing their opinions about it. Parliamentary hearings are instrumental in achieving this goal. Therefore, citizens and their lobbying groups must be made aware of ongoing legislation.

GESTA documents the progress and the current stage of the deliberations of all bills. They are classified by broad subject groups and indexed in great specificity by descriptors of the parliamentary thesaurus. It is published in loose-leaf form by a commercial publisher, Nomos, with service issues after every sitting week of the Bundestag, every sitting of the Bundesrat, and whenever the Federal Government has introduced a bill into the Bundesrat10). At the end of an electoral term a final volume is published in monographic form. For Nomos, GESTA is a complementary publication, as Nomos is also the publisher of the loose-leaf edition Das Deutsche Bundesrecht11), a statutory compilation.

GESTA is also part of the internal parliamentary data base DIP, but it is offered, too, in an abridged form as a public data base by the host JURIS.

Characteristics of the Internet version of GESTA

Both the loose-leaf edition and the GESTA data base have a flaw in that they can only refer to the Printed Papers and to the Verbatim Reports (and to the Federal Gazette as well , in which all new laws are promulgated). When the Internet edition of GESTA was devised the references to the Printed Papers and to the Verbatim Reports were replaced by links. By clicking on these the user will be provided by the relevant Printed Paper, an improvement compared with the loose-leaf edition. As regards the Verbatim Reports links are provided even to the relevant individual pages whereas the loose-leaf edition of GESTA only quotes the plenary sitting number.

An ideal version of GESTA would combine the indexing information with links not only to the relevant Printed Papers and the pages of the Verbatim Reports, but also to the legal provisions in the statutory compilation of German Federal law which have been changed by the particular legislative activity. Such a version is contemplated for a CD-ROM publication of the final GESTA edition of the 13th electoral term in 1999. The combination of the above-mentioned elements will be facilitated by the fact that Nomos already possesses the copyright for the statutory compilation of Das Deutsche Bundesrecht.

Conclusion

The sheer number of informations parliaments of industrialized societies produce these days is a major difficulty for their making this information available to the citizens. The advent of the Internet offers a chance for improving direct communication to the citizens, and parliaments in increasing numbers are realizing that. More information about parliaments in the Internet can be found on the web-site of the Inter-Parliamentary Union, an association of national parliaments in the world. It can be accessed at http://www.ipu.org, and a survey about the web-sites of parliaments is offered under http://www.ipu.org/english/parlweb.htm.

Notes

1) More detailed information can be taken from the World directory of parliamentary libraries of federated states and autonomous territories, Bonn, Deutscher Bundestag, 1993, p. 361 ff (ISBN 3-89372-011-1)

2) In Germany, the right to introduce bills is vested in the Bundestag as well as in the Federal Government and the Bundesrat. As Germany is a federation, the Bundesrat is the chamber which represents the federal states

3) The passage of legislation is described in greater detail in English in a book by Schick, Rupert: The German Bundestag : functions and procedures ; organization and working methods ; the legislation of the Federation / by Rupert Schick and Wolfgang Zeh. - Rheinbreitbach : Neue Darmstдdter Verlagsanstalt, 1997. - 136 p. ISBN 3-87576-382-3 which also exists in a Russian working translation: Tak rabotajet Nemezkij Bundestag : organisazija i prinzipy raboty ; sakonodatelstwo Federazii. - Bonn : Deutsche Stiftung fьr internationale rechtliche Zusammenarbeit. - 115 s.

The workings of the German Bundestag are also described in some detail in the English version of its site in the Internet. This can be accessed at http://www.bundestag.de/btengver/

4) Bundesgesetzblatt / hrsg. vom Bundesministerium der Justiz. - Bonn : Bundesanzeiger Verlag

Teil I. - ISSN 0341-1095 : DM 88.00 (Halbjahresabonnement) Teil II. - ISSN 0341-1109 : DM 88.00 (Halbjahresabonnement)

5) Verhandlungen des Deutschen Bundestages: ... Wahlperiode. - Bonn : Bundesanzeiger Verlag Stenographische Berichte ISSN 0720-7980 Drucksachen ISSN 0722-8333

6) Nevertheless, there seems to be enough public demand for enabling publishers to make a microfiche edition a profitable undertaking. The microfiche edition for the entire 12th electoral term costs DM 8800.

Verhandlungen des Deutschen Bundestages und des Bundesrates : 1949 - 1998 ; Protokolle, Drucksachen, Register. - Mikrofiche-Edition. - Mьnchen : Saur ; Beck 12. Wahlperiode. - 1995 ISBN 3-598-30872-8

7) Whereas in subject heading systems the references between the terms are poorly differentiated - there are, roughly speaking, only two types of references, see and see also references - the relationships between the descriptors, i.e. the terms, concepts and concrete entities of a thesaurus are much more elaborate. For each descriptor the full range of different relationships which exists around a concept, or entity, are displayed which helps the inexperienced user to find his way in a subject with which he may not be familiar:

- hierarchical relations between broader or more general, superordinate and narrower or more specific, subordinate terms;

- associative relations between related terms on the same hierarchical level;

- historical relations between concrete entities and chronological relations between concepts and their terms;

- upward postings by which a concept and its specifications are treated as one equivalence set, the broader term thereby functioning as the preferred term (this technique is particularly used to reduce the number of terms of the indexing vocabulary and is a common characteristics of political thesauri);

- general references between different classes of terms or different microthesauri

8) Scope notes clarify the meanings of terms and indicate the way in which the term is to be used within the indexing vocabulary. This can help the user by pointing to other terms which may be of better use for his search, or warn him that a particular term is not used for particular aspects of a subject

9) Register zu den Verhandlungen des Deutschen Bundestages und des Bundesrates / Hrsg.: Deutscher Bundestag, Referat Sach- und Sprechregister ; Bundesrat, Dokumentation. - Bonn

ISSN 0720-8024

10) Stand der Gesetzgebung des Bundes : verkьndete Gesetze und nicht Gesetz gewordene Entwьrfe / Hrsg.: Deutscher Bundestag ; Bundesrat. - Baden-Baden : Nomos Verlagsgesellschaft. - Losebl.-Ausg.

ISBN 3-7890-0276-3 (Grundwerk)

Das Deutsche Bundesrecht / hrsg. von Josef Kцlble. - Baden-Baden : Nomos Verlagsgesellschaft. - Losebl.-Ausg. Auch als CD-ROM-Ausgabe ISBN 3-7890-9351-3


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