Public Access to the work of the National Assembly

In the course of its work, the National Assembly represents citizens' interests as well as different political opinions embedded in society and adopts legislative acts binding all citizens. Therefore, one of the most important requirements of its operation is to provide public access to its work. This ensures citizens' right to information on issues of public interest and provides them the basis for participating in discussions and in decision-making of public affairs.

The history of the National Assembly forms a part of national history. The Parliament building has become a symbol of the country and represents an important part of national culture, even though it is barely one hundred years old. In a survey of public opinion, three-quarters of interviewed citizens mentioned the Parliament building among the country's symbols, more than half putting it on the first place. 41% of voters have already visited the building housing their representatives, and 48% are planning to visit (again). The Parliament is an outstanding tourist „attraction", accepting almost 1 million guests a year. The Holy Crown and other coronation symbols, regarded as representing Hungarian statehood, are on display in the building. The building itself often houses considerable events of national and international importance; conferences, cultural and other events.

Parliament may hold in camera meetings only in exceptional cases outlined in the Hungarian Constitution, which ensures the transparency of parliamentary activity. (Only 3 in camera meetings of the plenary were held during the past 15 years.) A verbatim transcript of the minutes is published on the web-site of the National Assembly. Plenary meetings are broadcast live on national television (m2, the public service channel) in three hours on Mondays and in five hours on Tuesdays (and Wednesdays). Radio Kossuth broadcasts plenary meetings from beginning to end and a live broadcast is also available on the parliamentary web-site. The necessity for making decisions of the National Assembly accessible derives from the rule of law; therefore such decisions and laws are promulgated in the Hungarian Official Journal.

Participation of the press in the sittings of committees also ensures transparency of parliamentary work. The Press Office has issued entry passes for more than 500 national and international accredited correspondents.

The Speaker of the House holds regular press conferences on Thursdays in order to review the agenda of the plenary meeting of the following week and to answer questions. Press conferences also shed a light on what happens behind the scenes in parliamentary work, e.g. through summarizing the positions adopted by the House Committee or reviewing correlations of the legislative procedure. Factions of the political parties regularly hold press conferences as well in order to elaborate their views on a draft legislative proposal, an issue of national or international importance or any other parliamentary affair.

The web-site of the National Assembly (http://www.parlament.hu/) gives a full picture of the work of the House and provides some insights to life backstage. Among others, interested visitors may acquire knowledge on how laws are adopted, what questions, interpellations MPs have to answer to, or how parliament voted on a given issue. They can also search for past information, present and future events. As a recent development, in addition to the minutes of the plenary, the minutes of committee sessions are also accessible on the Internet. The parliamentary homepage included elements necessary for providing a wide range of information to the public already before the Act on the free access to electronically stored data has been agreed upon. Since the conclusion of this Act, and already during the course of preceding debates, the web-page has been expanded to include additional information on the Office of the National Assembly, as well as the administration of its budget. A larger number of easy-to-understand descriptions and explanations are helpful for visitors interested in the work of Parliament. The English language version has also been extended with new elements in the last semester.

The Information Centre of MPs operates a telephone-line (441-6481) and e-mail service (ktk@parlament.hu) for citizens. There, all questions concerning the institutional structure and operation of the National Assembly are answered.

Plenary sittings and the building of the parliament may be visited according to a set schedule. All information concerning visits is available on the web-site. MPs may also provide an opportunity for parliamentary visits for their electorates. However, even if you cannot personally visit the parliament building there is a virtual tour of this unique beauty available on the web-site.

Committees of the National Assembly aim at establishing contacts with a variety of social organizations, associations, foundations. These organisations may also register on the so called 'lobby list'. Another form of establishing contacts with civil society is the committee open-day programme. The aim of such an event is to provide a forum for actors of civil society to voice their thoughts and concerns in relation to a draft act under discussion in a committee and to consult with members of the committee. The Office of Public Affairs operated by the Cabinet of the Speaker plays a vital role in liaising with members of civil society, taking care of citizens' complaints and declarations, as well as gathering society opinion on the operation of parliament. The Parliament Journal (also available on-line) published quarterly targets primarily members of civil society.

The Standing Orders of the National Assembly foresees a considerable role of the Library of Parliament in providing public access to information. Access to parliamentary proposals, minutes of the plenary, voting lists were made accessible by the Library until they became available electronically on the internet. Researchers and experts with in-depth interest find the huge and unique collection, the databases and volumes of parliamentary documents of the Library indispensable in their pursuit.

There are a number of publications that provide broad and in-depth knowledge on the many-folded aspects, the international practice of parliamentary work or the past of the National Assembly. Just to mention a few examples like the „Parliamentary Almanach”, the „Companion on the National Assembly” and the „Tasks of the National Assembly" published since 1990; or the „Parliamentary studies" and the „Europe Booklet” series as well as many other publications concerning the EU. All publications may be found in the Library of Parliament, while the list of publications is available on the homepage of Parliament.