Legislative Actors’ Resources

   

Are parliamentary committees able to summon experts for committee meetings?

EUOECD
 
Parliamentary committees may summon experts.
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Australia
Parliamentary committees conduct inquiries, to which experts are always invited to give evidence. Experts are also sometimes compelled to appear before committee inquiries.
Austria
Parliamentary committees have no formal limits in terms of summoning experts. Every party, including the opposition (i.e., the committee’s minority parties), can nominate or invite experts it deems qualified. Expert hearings are held quite regularly.

However, this opportunity is not used in the best possible way. The twin factors of party discipline and cabinet dominance over the parliament’s majority mean that independent expert voices do not ultimately have great influence.
Bulgaria
Under the Rules of Organization and Procedure of the Bulgarian parliament, parliamentary committees are able to invite experts. This opportunity is available to deputies from the opposition as well. Experts are obliged to provide the committees with any information and documents that the latter require for their work. While experts cannot be obliged to attend the committee meetings, these invitations carry considerable prestige and an opportunity to have an input in the legislative process, thus providing incentive to respond promptly. Since the expert work is paid and the parliamentary budget for such expenditures is small, committees have to be selective and cannot invite a broad range of experts.
Canada
Parliamentary committees have the right both legally and de facto to summon any expert they choose to provide testimony. In turn, experts have the right to decline the invitation. Committees cannot compel experts to testify.
Parliamentary committees now allow witnesses to appear via Skype, which has increased the pool of experts available.
Croatia
Croatia is one of the rare countries where experts can be named as outside members of parliamentary committees, and this has become a regular practice. The Committee for International Relations, the Committee for European Integration and the Committee for Internal Affairs and National Security are the only exceptions to this rule. Some civil-society actors, such as Citizens Organize to Oversee Voting (Građani organizirano nadgledaju glasanje, GONG), insist that committees’ use of experts be fully open through the use of a transparent summoning process.
Czech Rep.
In the Czech Republic, parliamentary committees may and often do summon experts.
Estonia
Parliamentary committees can summon experts for committee meetings. They do this regularly, and to an increasing extent. Each committee determines which experts to call for each particular matter. In addition to ministerial representatives, researchers from universities and think-tank representatives, NGO activists involved in draft-law preparatory work are often invited. The scope of hearings varies depending on the public interest and priority of the issue under investigation.
Finland
Parliamentary committees are able to summon experts for committee meetings, which they do so regularly and increasingly frequently. A committee starts its work with a recommendation by the committee’s own experts on which additional experts to call. This may include ministerial representatives or other individuals who have either assisted in preparatory work or represent specific agencies, organizations, or other interested parties. The scope of hearings varies greatly. In some cases, only one expert may be called, but in major legislative projects a committee may hear dozens of experts. Data from earlier research shows that committees in 1938 consulted advisers in 59% of all cases on which they prepared reports. The corresponding figure for 1960 was 94% and 100% in 1983. The number of experts consulted has likewise been increasing.
Citations:
https://www.eduskunta.fi/EN/lakiensaataminen/valiokunnat/Pages/default.aspx
Dag Anckar, “Finland: Dualism and Consensual Rule”, in Erik Damgaard, ed.: Parliamentary Change in the Nordic Countries, Oslo: Scandinavian University Press, 1992, pp. 182-186.
France
The parliamentary committees can summon as many experts as they wish as often as they need in all matters, and they often make use of this right. The main problem is often related to the absenteeism of members of parliament even in cases of very important issues such as Brexit.
Germany
Parliamentary committees are able to hold public hearings at any time, and can summon experts to attend them. This mechanism is regularly used. Rule 70 Section 1 of the Rules of Procedure of the German Bundestag states that “for the purpose of obtaining information on a subject under debate, a committee may hold public hearings of experts, representatives of interest groups and other persons who can furnish information.” Experts are often able to influence parliamentary discussions or ministerial drafts and bring about changes in the draft laws.
Iceland
Independent experts are frequently asked to appear before standing parliamentary committees. Following the 2008 economic collapse, committees have more frequently summoned experts, particularly lawyers, economists, and finance and banking experts. Furthermore, political scientists and other experts were asked to give advice relating to the drafting of a new constitution. However, no substantive minutes are recorded of expert testimonies before parliamentary meetings. There have been examples documented of experts making outlandish statements in their testimonies (Gylfason, 2014).
Citations:
Gylfason, Thorvaldur (2014), Tvöfalt líf — Allir segjast vera saklausir …, samtal við Þráin Bertelsson (Double Life – Everyone proclaims innocense …, a conversation with Thráinn Bertelsson), Tímarit Máls og menningar, 4. hefti.
Ireland
There are no restrictions on summoning expert witnesses to their meetings.
Norway
Each party represented on a parliamentary committee has the right to invite experts to appear at committee hearings. This kind of invitation is becoming increasingly common, with experts coming from interest organizations, NGOs, businesses and academia to present information and views on various issues and policy proposals. Moreover, the parliament has a group of independent experts who assist legislators by collecting and analyzing information.
Sweden
Parliamentary committees may certainly summon experts. They do not usually do so as part of the regular deliberation of the committees, but rather in the form of a public hearing on some specific issue.
Switzerland
Parliamentary committees are free to invite experts to provide testimony at hearings.
UK
Parliamentary committees may summon expert witnesses who will usually provide any evidence willingly. Should they decline to do so, committees then have the power to order a witness to attend, though this would be exceptional. Committees also often employ experts as specialist advisers.

Committees may also summon actors involved in an issue being investigated by a committee. Examples include the examination by the Treasury Committee (in February 2009) of the deposed chairmen and chief executives of the Royal Bank of Scotland and HBOS following the public bailouts of their banks, of press barons in the context of the Leveson Inquiry into phone hacking by journalists, and of the entrepreneur Philip Green regarding the pension deficit of the BHS store chain. Such hearings invariably attract extensive media coverage.
USA
The invitation of outside experts to testify at committee hearings is an established, highly routine practice in the legislative process. Hearing transcripts are published, and testimony from a variety of qualified witnesses is expected in a competent committee process. Although congressional norms call for permitting both parties to select witnesses, some committee chairs in the current era severely limit the minority-party witnesses, resulting in a selection of witnesses strongly biased in favor of the majority-party position.
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Belgium
Experts are regularly invited and questioned in parliamentary committees. The rights of committees do not appear to be restricted. Experts are often called upon, for instance when committees are addressing so-called ethical laws (involving issues of euthanasia, adoption rights for same-sex couples, religious-related disputes, and so on) or institutional reforms. There are some de facto restrictions as to the range of experts invited, as the decision in principle to query expert advice must be validated by an absolute majority of committee members. This gives a de facto veto power to the majority parties.
Chile
Congressional committees may summon any civil servant to interview as a subject-area expert. Private experts can also be invited, but the National Congress lacks the financial funds to pay for the assistance of prominent private experts. However, there is a group of 50 to 60 specialists from a variety of subject areas affiliated with the Library of the National Congress whose task it is to offer professional support to the members of Congress in their lawmaking, representative, diplomatic and oversight tasks.
Citations:
https://www.bcn.cl/
Denmark
Normal committee meetings take place behind closed doors. However, committees can decide to hold open meetings – including ones without the minister present – and invite experts from outside, as well as civil servants and representatives from interest organizations to explore and discuss issues. Such meetings are also open to the press.

Committees may also decide to conduct larger hearings, sometimes in cooperation with the Danish Board of Technology or other organizations. Such hearings normally take place in the room in which the former second chamber of the Danish parliament, the Landsting, met until it was abolished by the new constitution in 1953. To learn more about the issues they legislate, members of parliament also go on study trips and take part in conferences.
Citations:
Folketinget, Håndbog i Folketingsarbejdet. October 2015.
http://www.ft.dk/Dokumenter/Publikationer/Folketinget/~/media/Pdf_materiale/Pdf_publikationer/Folketinget/H%C3%A5ndbog%20i%20folketingsarbejdet_web_7%20MB.pdf.ashx (accessed 24 April 2013).
Greece
Regular committees summon experts from ministries, universities, NGOs and professional associations. Examples include high-ranking EC officials who have briefed the European Affairs Committee and university professors who have briefed the Committee on Cultural and Educational Affairs on university reforms.

Typically, government and the opposition tend to disagree on everything, even if there is consensus among experts that policy choices are very limited (e.g., the consensus on the obvious unsustainability of the pension system and on the destructive impact of party-led politicization on Greek universities). Recurring disagreements in parliamentary committees reflect the long-term polarization in the Greek party system and the wider mistrust and limited social capital available in Greece. However, in the period under review, parliamentary committees summoned many different experts, including technocrats, activists and academics.
Citations:
Summoning experts to regular committees is regulated by article 38 of the Standing Orders of the Greek parliament.
Hungary
According to the standing orders of the Hungarian parliament, all parliamentary party groups can invite experts, and the sessions of the committees are open to the public. In practice, however, Fidesz’s overwhelming majority and the hectic pace of legislation have reduced the involvement of experts to a mere formality. The real policy discussions, if any, usually take place not in the parliamentary committees but in the media or at conferences organized by opposition expert groups or NGOs.
Israel
Parliamentary committees are entitled to invite experts or any interested civilian to meetings, as described in Section 6 of the Knesset regulations. However, these figures are not obligated to attend, unlike civil servants or representatives of the executive. In addition, independent experts are not compelled to answer committee members’ questions. Their testimony cannot serve as evidence, and has no official status. A bill presented in 2016 by parliamentarian Yoav Kish (Likud party) proposed an expansion of committee authority, including the ability to punish civilians who failed to appear after being summoned. Despite these issues, citizens who appear before Knesset committees are generally interested in voicing their opinions in order to reinforce their viewpoints in the eyes of decision makers and the public.
Citations:
Freidberg, Chen and Atmor, Nir, “How to improve the Knesset’s position as a legislator and a supervisory body?” The Israel Democracy Institute 2013: http://www.idi.org.il/media/2438022/00321913.pdf (Hebrew).
Shapira, Asaf, “Citizens in the Parliamentary Committees,” The Israel Democracy Institute, (September 2010). (Hebrew).
“The authority of the legislature to inquire information, and the obligation to provide true information,” Knesset Research and Information Center (December 2002). (Hebrew).
Kam, Zeev,“Refused to show up in a Knesset committee after summoning? A punishment will follow” NRG 19.4.2016 http://www.nrg.co.il/online/1/ART2/770/601.html (Hebrew)
Italy
Parliamentary regulations provide for the right of committees to invite any person able to provide important information (art. 143, 144 Regolamento Camera dei deputati). They can also ask the government to command special studies from the National Statistical Office (ISTAT) (art. 145). The rights of committees are not limited, and committees frequently use this opportunity to summon experts. This also reflects the fact that the Italian committee system plays a more prominent role in the legislative process than do committees in other European parliamentary regimes. Special parliamentary commissions may be established to investigate particular topics. These parliamentary commissions can also summon experts to give evidence. Recently, a joint parliamentary commission of inquiry on the banking system was established and senior officials from the Banca d’Italia were summoned.
Lithuania
When considering draft legislation, parliamentary committees can receive and consider comments from experts. Committees can also invite experts to participate in special hearings focusing on draft legislation, or engaging in a parliamentary oversight function. Committees can establish preparatory working groups whose membership can involve experts or scientists. The extent to which experts are involved in the activities of parliamentary committees varies by specific committee and policy issue.
Luxembourg
Consultation with experts and representatives of interest groups, regularly takes place in the course of various ongoing commission work. Domestic and foreign experts, as well as other lobbyists and concerned groups in civil society, may be invited to participate in commission meetings. Under particular circumstances of public interest, experts are invited to parliament to introduce subjects and to offer professional opinions.

In the case of important policy reform projects, the government usually asks for advice from reputable foreign institutes, being aware of the limited knowledge within the country. For example, a German and a Swiss institute were consulted over psychiatry reforms in health care. Such policy projects are implemented by a specific parliamentary commission and a budget allowance was made available to support outsourced inquiries. Innovation is often driven by foreign expertise and reports, which overcomes domestic resistance.
For instance, in April 2014, OECD experts invited by the parliament’s Commission on Higher Education, Research, Media and Communications were asked to provide a new report reviewing innovation policy. This OECD report, published in April 2015, recommends a new strategy involving both diversification and consolidation.
Citations:
“Mémorial A n° 227 de 2014.” Journal officiel du Grand-Duché de Luxembourg, 11 Dec. 2014, legilux.public.lu/eli/etat/leg/memorial/2014/227. Accessed 21 Feb. 2017.
Malta
Parliamentary committees may summon experts to make presentations or help committees evaluate policies under discussion or shed light on issues under investigation. In January 2018, the opposition called for stakeholders to testify within the context of scrutinizing a controversial deal that saw government sign a 30-year contract with Vitals global health care to run three state hospitals.
Citations:
Let MPs summon Vitals deal stakeholders. PN tells government, Times of Malta 06/01/1
Standing Orders of the House of Representatives Subsidiary Legislation Constit.02 Article 164
Mexico
Congressional committees frequently summon experts, including international ones, and often take their input seriously. Indeed, there is evidence that experts play a considerable role in the legislative process. This aspect of governance mostly works well, because it provides a source of independent scrutiny.
New Zealand
Select committees may summon experts. The only restriction is with regard to public servants who need the approval of their minister to attend committee meetings.
Citations:
Officials and Select Committees – Guidelines (Wellington: States Services Commission 2007).
Portugal
Parliamentary committees are generally free to request the attendance of experts at committee meetings.
Romania
According to Article 55(2) of the Chamber of Deputies Regulations, “committees may invite interested persons, representatives of non-governmental organizations and experts from public authorities or from other specialized institutions to attend their meetings. The representatives of non-governmental organizations and the experts may present their opinions on the matters that are under discussion in the Committee, or may hand over documents regarding the matters under discussion to the Committee President.” The frequency with which experts are invited has differed among committees.
Slovenia
Parliamentary committees in Slovenia may invite experts or form expert groups in charge of helping to draft legislative proposals. Under the Cerar government, the number of experts invited has increased. Parliamentary committees have launched several public expert discussions on important pieces of legislation.
Netherlands
Parliamentary committees can and often do invite experts to answer questions, or to facilitate the parliamentarian committee members in asking questions and interpreting the answers. Limited finances are usually the only real constraint on the number of experts summoned.
Citations:
R.B. Andeweg & G.A. Irwin (2014), Governance and Politics of the Netherlands. Houndmills, Basingstoke: 163-174.
 
The rights of parliamentary committees to summon experts are slightly limited.
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Slovakia
In Slovakia, parliamentary committees may invite experts. However, this is not a very common practice.
South Korea
Parliamentary committees are legally able to, and frequently do, invite experts to parliamentary hearings. Following the Choi Sun-sil scandal, some big-business (chaebol) representatives were summoned multiple times. There have been several cases where civilian experts have refused to attend these hearings.
However, the public parliamentary hearings on the Park Geun-hye and Choi Soon-sil scandals served to change the old informal rules, and many figures who refused to attend the hearings or repeatedly gave false testimony have been punished by law.
Spain
The standing orders of the Congress of Deputies and the Senate state that parliamentary committees may request, through their respective speakers, “the attendance of persons competent in the subject-matter for the purposes of reporting to and advising the committee.” The rights of parliamentary committees to send invitations to independent experts are not limited by any legal constraint. Requests to summon experts have increased in number in recent years, particularly at the beginning of the legislative process or in specialized subcommittees, but this is still a rare practice. The limited nature of the Spanish parliament’s staffing and financial resources prevents systematic involvement in the lawmaking process by university scholars, think tank analysts and other experts. According to the Congress’ website, fewer than 100 experts were summoned during 2015 by the 28 standing committees and the several subcommittees. The parliamentary committee tasked with studying Spain’s current territorial model will organize numerous hearings with experts.
Citations:
November 2017, El País: “Solo Podemos niega en el Congreso la injerencia de Moscú en la crisis catalana”
https://politica.elpais. com/politica/2017/11/23/actualidad/ 1511464360_611345.html
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Cyprus
The law on the Deposition of Data and Information to Parliamentary Committees gives committees the power to summon officials or private persons to provide documents or data. No explicit obligation is set in law other than to provide genuine data and information and tell the truth if one chooses to attend.

In practice, interested parties and stakeholders are invited to present their views, but inviting independent experts or seeking their written comments remains very rare.
Citations:
1. Law on the Deposition of Data and Information to the House of Representatives and to Parliamentary Committees, L.21(I)/1985, http://www.cylaw.org/nomoi/enop/non-ind/1985_1_21/full.html (in Greek)
Japan
Under Article 62 of the constitution, the Diet and its committees can summon witnesses, including experts. Summoned witnesses have the duty to appear before parliament. The opposition can also ask for witnesses to be called, and under normal circumstances such requests are granted by the government. However, the use of expert testimony in parliamentary committees is not widespread; experts, academic and otherwise, are relied upon more frequently within the context of government advisory committees, in particular at the ministry level.
Latvia
Parliamentary committees are able to invite experts to committee meetings but have no power to make attendance mandatory. The parliament largely relies on the pro bono participation of experts to compensate for its own lack of substantive capacities and resources. However, committee chairs do have some discretion to pay modest honorariums to external experts.
Poland
Parliamentary committees have the right to invite experts to give statements on hearings on particular issues or to take part in normal committee proceedings. However, if bills are introduced by individual members of parliament (as has often been the case under the PiS government), the summoning of experts must be supported by a majority of members of parliament. The PiS majority in the Sejm has used this procedural rule to limit the invitation of experts close to the parliamentary opposition. Given the maneuvering of the PiS in the Sejm, some experts have refrained from participating in what they consider political manipulation.
Turkey
According to Article 30 of the parliamentary rules of procedure, committees are legally able to summon experts from non-governmental organizations, universities or the bureaucracy to provide testimony without limitation. During the review period, parliament made de facto use of this right, for example in committees to investigate past military coups, the mass killings in Tunceli (Dersim) in 1937 and 1938, and the Uludere incident of December 2011. The parliamentary majority of the ruling party and the polarized atmosphere in Turkish public policy, however, silence critical voices and diminishes the impact of independent experts in the policymaking process. Some academics and independent experts were invited to the parliamentary inquiry committee on the FETO Terror Organization Coup attempt.
Citations:
Rules of Procedure of the Grand National Assembly of Turkey, http://global.tbmm.gov.tr/docs/rules_of_procedure_en.pdf (accessed 5 November 2014)
Fethullahçı Terör Örgütünün (Fetö/Pdy) 15 Temmuz 2016 Tarihli Darbe Girişimi İle Bu Terör Örgütünün Faaliyetlerinin Tüm Yönleriyle Araştırılarak Alınması Gereken Önlemlerin Belirlenmesi Amacıyla Kurulan Meclis Araştırması Komisyonu Raporu, May 2017.
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The rights of parliamentary committees to summon experts are considerably limited.
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Parliamentary committees may not summon experts.
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