Legislative Actors’ Resources

   

Are parliamentary committees able to summon ministers for hearings?

EUOECD
 
Parliamentary committees may summon ministers. Ministers regularly follow invitations and are obliged to answer questions.
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Australia
Committees have the legal right to summon ministers to appear before committee inquiries, but in practice compulsion to appear is uncommon. Under the principle of comity, a house of parliament does not seek to compel the attendance of members of that house or another house. It is common, however, for members, including ministers, to appear by invitation or by request before committees, to assist with committee inquiries.
Belgium
Ministers are regularly summoned to parliamentary committees. The rights of committees do not appear to be restricted. This is reinforced by the fact that most parliamentary members (majority and opposition alike) have little chance of seeing their own proposals pass in parliament. Therefore they concentrate much of their time on written questions (which must be answered by the minister in charge), which can improve a member’s media visibility.

However, when the media attention on a topic is intense, one frequently sees important ministers replaced by (less important) state secretaries during questioning.
Czech Rep.
Ministers and the top personnel of major state institutions are obliged to attend committee meetings and answer questions when asked. According to the rules, ministers are also required to present draft bills to appropriate committees. If the ministers send officials below the rank of deputy minister, committees may, and often do, refuse to discuss a legislative proposal. If the Chamber of Deputies believes that there has been serious misconduct and a minister’s explanation is regarded as insufficient, it may establish a parliamentary inquiry committee. Three such committees were established during the period of review.
Denmark
Committees regularly summon ministers for meetings, called consultations (samråd). These meetings are key elements of how the Danish parliamentary system works. Consultations play an important role in the legislative process for members of parliament. At the same time, the meetings are where the People’s Assembly exercises its parliamentary control of the government.
Citations:
Henrik Zahle, Dansk forfatningsret 1: Institutioner og Regulering, 2005.

Henrik Zahle, Dansk forfatningsret 2: Regering, forvaltning og dom, 2004.
Estonia
Permanent committees have the right to request participation of ministers in committee meetings in order to obtain information. However, no information on how regularly committees use this ability is available.

In addition, MPs can individually forward written questions and interpellations to the ministers. These must be answered publicly at one of the national parliament’s plenary sessions within 20 days.
Finland
Committees are able to summon ministers to hearings and do so regularly. Committee meetings usually begin with a presentation by a ministry representative. Ministers can take part in committee meetings and debates but cannot be regular members of the committee. Furthermore, when deemed necessary, committees invite the Ombudsman, the Deputy Ombudsman or their representatives to a formal hearing as experts on questions of legislative drafting.
Citations:
https://www.eduskunta.fi/EN/lakiensaataminen/valiokunnat/Pages/default.aspx
Germany
Parliamentary committees’ right to summon ministers is established by the Basic Law. The Basic Law also gives members of the federal government or the Bundesrat the right to be heard in front of the plenum or any committee.
Latvia
Members of parliament have the right to pose questions to ministers and summon them to answer questions before parliament. At least five signatories are required for such a request. Ministers generally comply with parliamentary requests.

Parliamentary committees have the right to request information from ministries as well as to summon ministers to committee meetings.
Lithuania
Parliamentary committees are able to summon ministers and the heads of most other state institutions (with the exception of court judges). Invited people, which also attend parliamentary commissions and other groups, typically answer questions posed by the members of the parliament and provide other relevant information. In some cases, vice-ministers or other authorized civil servants can serve as substitutes for ministers. However, rather than being used as a forward-looking mechanism, this instrument of parliamentary control is often restricted to the explanation of government activities on an ex-post basis.
Norway
Parliamentary committees may summon ministers for appearances. Ministers regularly respond to invitations and answer questions. In addition, there is a weekly session in parliament where legislators can ask questions directly to the ministers. If a minister is found to have misinformed parliament, he or she cannot expect to continue as a minister for long.
Slovenia
The right of parliamentary committees to summon ministers is enshrined in the Rules of Procedure of the Slovenian Parliament. Ministers regularly follow invitations; if they are unable to attend in person, they can also authorize state secretaries to represent them. Ministers are also obliged to answer questions from members of parliament, either in oral or written form, and this obligation is largely respected in practice. Moreover, the prime minister must personally answer four questions from members of parliament in every parliamentary session. In 2016, members of parliament submitted a total of 1,770 questions to the government as a whole or to individual ministers. For the first time since independence, all of them were answered within the requested 30-day period.
Citations:
National Assembly (2017): Report on the Work of the National Assembly in 2016. Ljubljana (http://fotogalerija.dz-rs.si/datoteke/Publikacije/Letno_porocilo/Porocilo_o_delu_drzavnega_zbora_v_obdobju_2014_-_2018_-_drugo_leto_mandata_-_januar_2016_-_december_2016__Report_on_National_Assembly%E2%80%99s_work_in_the_Parliamentary_term_2014_-_2018_second_year_January_2016_-_December_2016.pdf).
Switzerland
Parliamentary committees can summon ministers for hearings. Formally, this request is not binding. However, for political reasons, ministers typically respond to these requests, and answer the committees’ questions.
USA
Executive officials do not appear on the House or Senate floor. However, department secretaries and other high-level officials of the executive branch appear with great frequency and regularity, essentially on request, before legislative committees and subcommittees. In the context of an investigation, committees sometimes subpoena executive branch members to make an appearance. Most appearances are voluntary, however, motivated by the desire to maintain strong relationships with the congressional committee. The resulting burdens on high-level executives become considerable, with congressional appearances and the required preparation taking up a significant share of executives’ time. Congress uses testimony from executive officials both in evaluating proposals for new legislation and in “oversight,” that is, in reviewing and evaluating the administration’s performance.
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Canada
Ministers are normally expected to appear before parliamentary committees, but are not legally required to do so, and sometimes decline for various reasons. In recent years, ministers have all too often sent their deputy ministers to appear before parliamentary committees.
Chile
In August 2005, a constitutional reform (Law No. 20,050) established the process of ministerial interpellation. Committees in the Chamber of Deputies and the Senate have the right to summon ministers for questioning about matters concerning their area. The ministers are obliged to attend. This political instrument has been used on various occasions. The effectiveness of this new instrument of congressional oversight depends on the quality and quantity of information accessible to the National Congress through other channels.
Greece
Ministers are regularly summoned to committees but they are obliged to appear in front of a committee only if two-fifths of the committee members require them to do so. There are a few restrictions with regard to information given to the committees by the Minister of Defense and the Minister of Foreign Affairs. The former may restrict his or her comments only to armaments supplies, while the latter is not obliged to give information on any ongoing negotiations or talks in which Greece still participates. Owing to the ongoing crisis, ministers were frequently summoned and engaged in acute debates with the opposition in parliament. As expected in a polarized party system, sometimes debates created a spectacle rather than a setting to exchange rational arguments.
Citations:
The summoning of ministers is regulated by article 41A of the Standing Orders of the Greek parliament.
Iceland
Parliamentary committees can legally summon ministers for hearings, but seldom do so. The foreign minister is summoned and usually attends meetings of the Foreign Affairs Committee. The relative representation of each party across and within parliamentary committees reflects the relative representation of each party in parliament.

The Special Investigation Committee, appointed by the parliament in December 2008 to investigate the processes that led to the collapse of Iceland’s three main banks, summoned several ministers and ex-ministers during 2009 and 2010.

The most notable example of a prominent politician being held accountable was the 2010 indictment of Prime Minister Geir Haarde by parliament, which led to a trial in 2012 before the High Court of Impeachment. Haarde was found guilty on one count of negligence relating to his tenure as prime minister before the 2008 economic collapse. He was found guilty of neglecting to hold cabinet meetings, during the first months of 2008, on important issues relating to the economic collapse. This obligation is stated in paragraph 17 of the constitution. As a first-time offender, Haarde was not given a custodial sentence. He is now Iceland’s ambassador to the United States.
Italy
Article 143 of the Chamber of Deputies’ rules of procedure enables parliamentary committees to summon ministers for hearings. Similar rules apply for the Senate. Summoning ministers is a regular practice, and ministers normally comply with such requests.
Japan
Committees may request the attendance of the prime minister, ministers and lower-ranking top ministry personnel, such as senior vice-ministers, among others.
Luxembourg
Interaction between the executive and the parliament is generally straightforward. Every member of parliament (MP) can introduce parliamentary questions (both written and oral) to ministers. Questions are addressed to the parliamentary president. Within one month, the responsible ministers have to respond and deliver more or less detailed information about policy decisions or activities of their departments. Questions and answers are fully published on the Chamber of Deputies’ website. On Tuesdays, when the parliament convenes, there may be a lively question and answer session, covering a broad range of relevant issues posted by opposition parties.

In the 2015 parliamentary year, 966 questions were addressed, an increase compared to the 887 questions in the previous parliamentary year. In addition to the unrestricted exercise of parliamentary questions, informal exchanges between ministers and MPs are frequent. In the last 30 years, only four investigative parliamentary committees were put in place. In this case, parliament enjoys extensive rights, comparable to those of an investigating judge.
Citations:
Schroen, Michael. “Parlament, Regierung und Gesetzgebung.” Das Politische System Luxemburgs: Eine Einführung, edited by Wolfgang H. Lorig and Mario Hirsch, Springer VS, 2008, pp. 106-129.

Rapport d’activité 2016. Ministère d’État, 2017. http://www.gouvernement.lu/6752004/2016-rapport-activite-etat.pdf. Accessed 21 Dec. 2017.
Mexico
Under Article 93 of the constitution, parliamentary committees have the right to summon ministers, which happens quite a lot in practice.

Regarding the resources of legislators to monitor the government, it is worth noting that – through legislative committees – they can (and frequently do) conduct hearings where they summon ministers as well as other public officials, who have an obligation to attend. It is often the case that hearings are held right after Annual Presidential Reports to go over evidence and documents supporting the president’s claims on their respective offices (similar to the State of the Union Address in the United States). While these resources are relevant and useful for monitoring, they very rarely have meaningful consequences for public officials (positive or negative).
Portugal
Ministers must be heard at least four times per legislative session in their corresponding committee. Additionally, committees can request ministers to be present for additional hearings. A committee request requires interparty consensus. However, each parliamentary group may also unilaterally request ministerial hearings. These vary from one to five per session, depending on the size of the parliamentary group. Ministers accede to requests for their attendance at hearings.
Romania
According to Article 54(1) of the Chamber of Deputies Regulations, ministers are permitted to attend committee meetings, and “if their attendance has been requested, their presence in the meeting shall be mandatory.” Furthermore, ministers are requested to present a work report and strategy of their ministry before committees once per session. Notably, the frequency with which ministers attend committee meetings is not documented. Sometimes ministers send deputies who are not always able to respond to queries raised by parliamentarians.
South Korea
The parliament has the constitutional right to summon ministers to appear before parliamentary hearings, and indeed frequently exercises this right. Regular investigation of government affairs by parliament is an effective means of monitoring ministers. Almost every minister has been summoned to answer parliamentarians’ questions in the context of a National Assembly inspection. However, the role of the minister in the South Korean system is relatively weak, with the professional bureaucracy trained to be loyal to the president. In addition, the ruling party and ministers can agree not to invite ministers or to cancel hearings on politically controversial issues.
Spain
According to article 110 of the Spanish constitution, the committees of both the Congress of Deputies and the Senate “may summon members of the government” to ask them questions. At least 70 deputies or one-fifth of the members of a committee need to make the request. The request is subject to a vote in the Bureau of Congress and the Board of Spokesmen, and the party supporting the government, which is always disciplined and easily able to obtain a majority of votes, may reject some of the requirements made by the opposition. If the initiatives are approved, ministers are obliged to answer questions raised in these sessions. Ministers are regularly summoned by the committees overseeing their policy areas (see “Task Area Congruence”) and it is quite common for ministers themselves to request to be allowed to report on matters relating to their respective departments. In 2017, the mechanism of summoning ministers has been frequently exercised.
Citations:
March 2017, Comparecencia del Ministro en la Comisión Mixta Congreso Senado para la UE.
http://www.exteriores.gob.es/P ortal/es/SalaDePrensa/Comparecencia sParlamentarias/Documents/20170329_ COMPARECENCIA.pdf
Sweden
Parliamentary committees summon ministers who appear and respond to questions. This is most frequently the case with the annual review conducted by the Parliamentary Committee on Constitutional Matters, but has been used by other committees, too. Except for very few cases, summoned ministers will appear in parliamentary committees. A few years ago, there was extensive media attention on a couple of instances when former cabinet ministers declined to appear before a parliamentary committee.

The hearings occur regularly and are often broadcasted by public service television. The results of the hearings are published and accessible to everyone.
Netherlands
Parliamentary committees may invite ministers to provide testimony or answer questions. Outright refusal to answer such a request occurs only rarely. Nevertheless, ministers often do not answer the questions in a forthright manner. Every week, parliamentarians have the opportunity to summon ministers and pose a seemingly unlimited number of questions.
Citations:
R.B. Andeweg & G.A. Irwin (2014), Governance and Politics of the Netherlands. Houndmills, Basingstoke: 174-182.
 
The rights of parliamentary committees to summon ministers are slightly limited; ministers occasionally refuse to follow invitations or to answer questions.
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Austria
The legal ability to summon ministers is in practice limited by the majority that the government parties have in all committees. As the majority party groups tend to follow the policy defined by the cabinet, there typically is little interest in summoning cabinet members, at least against the minister’s will.

While this de facto limitation can be seen as part of the logic of a parliamentary system in which the government and the parliamentary majority are essentially a single political entity, it is given additional influence by Austria’s high level of party discipline.
France
Committees can summon ministers for hearings, and frequently make use of this right. In exceptional cases, ministers can refuse to attend. Given the supremacy and the discipline of the majority party in parliament during the Fifth Republic, such a refusal does not result in serious consequences.
Ireland
The powers and scope of Oireachtas committees of inquiry are set out in the Houses of the Oireachtas (Inquiries, Privileges and Procedures) Act 2013, which was signed into law in July 2013. The act provides for Oireachtas inquiries, consistent with the Supreme Court’s judgment on the scope of such inquiries. The scope of legitimate parliamentary inquiries that can now be carried out is broad. The legislation expands the scope of evidence that civil servants may give, thus enabling committees to develop a full narrative of events for the purpose of establishing facts.

Cabinet ministers regularly attend committees and assist them with their work. Oireachtas (parliamentary) committees play an increasingly important role in parliamentary business. They can receive submissions and hear evidence from interested groups, discuss and draft legislative proposals, publish minutes of evidence and related documents, and demand the attendance of government ministers.
Citations:
For a discussion of how a constitutional provision for cabinet confidentiality might impinge on the work of the Banking Inquiry, see the July 2014 post by Dr. Conor O’Mahony on the
Constitution Project @ UCC website:
“Cabinet Confidentiality and the Banking Inquiry”
http://constitutionproject.ie/?p=342
However, the committee’s work was not unduly hampered by these considerations.
For the Supreme Court judgment on the powers of Oirechtas Inquiries see
https://www.google.ie/search?q=abbeylara+case&oq=abbeylara+case&aqs=chrome..69i57.8950j1j7&sourceid=chrome&es_sm=122&ie=UTF-8
New Zealand
It is common practice that ministers follow invitations to visit select committee meetings, but occasionally they refuse to do so. This follows a guideline that committees can request but not require that a minister appear before them. Only the House of Representatives itself can compel members to attend a committee if they do not do so voluntarily.
Citations:
Officials and Select Committees – Guidelines (Wellington: States Services Commission 2007).
Poland
Ministers and heads of the supreme organs of state administration (or their representatives) are obliged to take part in committee meetings whenever issues are discussed that fall within their domain. Groups comprising at least 15 members of parliament and parliamentary party groups have the right to ask for up-to-date information from members of the government. The Sejm then issues opinions, desiderata and suggestions on these reports. The comments are not legally binding, but in a worst case scenario may lead to a vote of no confidence against a minister, and even to his or her dismissal. In the period under review, the parliamentary opposition undertook three attempts to vote the prime minister or individual ministers out of office. All three attempts failed because of the government’s absolute majority. The PiS government has taken the summoning of ministers less seriously than its predecessor.
UK
Ministers can be summoned to parliamentary committee hearings, but they cannot be forced to attend, because ministers have to be MPs or members of the House of Lords, and MPs cannot be forced to attend any meeting. However, the Osmotherly Rules recommend that ministers accept invitations to a hearing as an act of respectful courtesy, and thus ministers will usually accept an invitation to a hearing in a select committee. It would be headline news and damaging to the minister in question if they refused to appear before a committee on anything remotely controversial, although the answers given to committees can be bland. Ministerial questions in plenary sessions of parliament complement the work of committees and can be quite sharp in tone. The prime minister and key aides traditionally refuse to appear before select committees, but have appeared before the Liaison Committee, which is composed of the chairs of all the other committees.
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Bulgaria
Legally, parliamentary committees have the power to summon ministers and the prime minister, and under the Rules of Organization and Procedure of the Bulgarian parliament, these executive-branch figures are obliged to comply. When a minister or the prime minister is asked a parliamentary question, he or she has to respond in person in the National Assembly in due time. However, in practice, there is no sanction for non-compliance except the possible loss of reputation and political image. Members of the executive can afford to ignore such summons indefinitely, often using other duties and obligations as an excuse for their lack of response. On many occasions they do comply, but frequently only after significant delays, and sometimes never.
Croatia
Parliamentary committees can and do summon ministers for hearings. One committee that has done so particularly effectively has been the Commission for Conflict of Interest in the Exercise of Public Office led by Dalija Orešković.
Israel
Parliamentary committees are able to summon ministers. According to the basic law’s provisions on the Knesset, every committee may require a minister to appear before it, and the minister is obliged either to attend the meeting or send a representative to provide the required information. Officials invited by committees generally attend meetings as requested. However, ministers and other public figures do occasionally refuse requests or provide insufficient information, causing conflicts between the Knesset and the government. Committees have no real power to enforce sanctions in these cases. Moreover, they are not authorized to force a minister to provide information at a set date in order to better prepare for meeting. This is part of the motivation behind the recent reform proposed by several Knesset members. The reform proposal would enhance Knesset committees’ role in overseeing their corresponding ministries, expand their roles in approving ministry budgets, and give them greater power to summon civil service appointees to public hearings.
Citations:
Ataeli, Amichai, “The Evasion and its Punishment,” Yedioth Aharonot, 07.07.2016, http://www.yediot.co.il/articles/0,7340,L-4825644,00.html (Hebrew)

Lis, Jonathan, “Instead of an investigation committee, a decoration committee: In the Knesset they are jealous of American congress,” Haaretz 7.9.2014: http://www.haaretz.co.il/news/politi/.premium-1.2426295 (Hebrew)

Plesner, Yohanan, “There is Still Hope for Knesset Reform,” IDI Website, 10.8.2017, https://en.idi.org.il/articles/18582

“The Legislature’s Authority to Inquire Information, and the Obligation to Provide True Information,” Knesset Research and Information Center (December 2002). (Hebrew)
Malta
A parliamentary committee may call any minister unless precluded from doing so by a vote within the committee. In 2012, the house speaker ruled that committees have the authority to devise their own rules and approved this method. However, since 2013, ministers have freely appeared before various committees to provide explanations or answer questions.
Citations:
http://www.timesofmalta.com/articles/view/20150824/local/security-committee-to-discuss-visas-scam.581745
http://www.timesofmalta.com/articles/view/20160919/local/public-accounts-committee-expected-to-examine-state-hospital-contracts.625475
http://www.timesofmalta.com/articles/view/20160118/local/committee-wrapping-up-long-oil-procurement-debate.599271
Slovakia
The right of parliamentary committees to summon ministers is enshrined in Article 85 of the Slovak constitution. In practice, however, committees make little use of this right.
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Hungary
The standing orders of the Hungarian parliament stipulate that ministers have to report personally to the parliamentary committee(s) concerned with their issue area at least once a year. However, they do not guarantee parliamentary committees the right to summon ministers for other hearings as well. Since Fidesz lost its two-thirds parliamentary majority in autumn 2015, however, ministers have appeared more often in parliamentary committees.
 
The rights of parliamentary committees to summon ministers are considerably limited; ministers frequently refuse to follow invitations or to answer questions.
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Cyprus
The constitution (Art. 79) stipulates that the president “may address” or “transmit his views” to the House or a committee “through the ministers.” Moreover, ministers “may follow the proceedings, […] make a statement to, or inform” the House or a committee on issues within their sphere of responsibility. Thus, constitutionally, the parliament is very weak, and has no power to summon executive officials or enforce the provision of documents. In practice, however, ministers and other officials are regularly invited to provide committees with information on issues relating to their mandate. They rarely decline invitations to appear or be represented by high administration officials to provide information or requested data. Thus, though attendance is up to the discretion of the executive, government members usually respond positively to committee invitations. However, there are cases where ministers ignore invitations either when the subject relates to a contentious matter or for other reasons.
Citations:
1. The Constitution of Cyprus, http://www.presidency.gov.cy/presidency/presidency.nsf/all/1003AEDD83EED9C7C225756F0023C6AD/$file/CY_Constitution.pdf
Turkey
According to Article 30 of the parliamentary rules of procedure, the prime minister or ministers can attend committee meetings as a representative of the government without invitation, and may talk on the subject matter at hand. However, the prime minister or ministers may also delegate a senior civil servant to be his or her representative at a committee meeting. If relevant, the committee may ask a minister to explain a government position, but he or she is not required to comply with this invitation if there is no legal obligation. While parliamentary committees are not able to summon ministers for hearings, the responsible minister may voluntarily decide to participate in a meeting. Normally, the committees are briefed by high-ranking ministerial bureaucrats. However, the ministers will always be present at the Planning and Budget Committee when the previous year’s final accounts and following year’s draft budget are discussed.

The annual activity reports of the TBMM do not provide any information on how many ministers were summoned and how many times by which parliamentary commission.

During the review period, the effects of the state of emergency, corruption scandals, resignation of metropolitan mayors, economic instability and regional affairs (e.g., Turkey’s involvement in the war in Syria, the massive movement of refugees from neighboring countries into Turkey, and Kurdish developments in and outside of Turkey) are highly visible. None of the government’s senior executives took responsibility for or allowed an independent parliamentary investigation into these issues. Instead, the government demonstrated a lack of accountability vis-à-vis parliament.
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)
TBMM 26. Dönem 1. Yasama Yılı Faaliyet Raporu, https://www.tbmm.gov.tr/docs/26_1_yd_faaliyet_raporu_20102016.pdf (accessed 1 November 2017))
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Parliamentary committees may not summon ministers.
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