Executive Summary


What is the parliamentary contribution to democracy? What makes a parliament or legislature itself democratic? How might it become more so? These are the questions which this Guide seeks to answer. It provides a comprehensive and systematic account of the central role that parliament plays in a democracy, and explains what it means for a parliament to be truly representative, transparent, accessible, accountable and effective in its many functions. The Guide does this, not through a catalogue of externally generated prescriptions, but through examples of good practice contributed by parliaments from every region of the world, to illustrate distinctive aspects of their own activity. From these examples the Guide shows the diversity of ways in which the key elements of a democratic parliament can be realised in practice.

The core of the Guide is a two-page outline framework in tabular form, which identifies each of the key values of democracy in turn, and itemises the typical institutional forms or practices through which a contemporary parliament can realise them. In this way, what otherwise might seem like purely abstract ideas of democracy become grounded in real-life parliamentary practices. For a summary of the Guide, readers could do no better than turn directly to this framework (see below).

The main body of the Guide follows the order of this framework, and illustrates each of its components with examples mainly chosen by the contributing parliaments themselves. These examples show that, despite the relatively low esteem in which parliaments are held in many regions of the world, many parliaments have recently become more open and responsive to their electorates, and more relevant to meeting their needs in a rapidly changing world. In particular, these examples show that parliaments are working hard:

  • to be more inclusive in their composition and manner of working, especially in relation to women and minority and marginal communities;
  • to be more effective public communicators, through opening more of their work to the media, and through the development of their own websites and broadcasting channels;
  • to experiment with new ways of engaging with the public, including civil society, and enabling them to contribute to the legislative process;
  • to recover public confidence in the integrity of parliamentarians, through enforceable codes of conduct and reforms in party funding;
  • to streamline the legislative process without limiting the proper scrutiny of bills;
  • to exercise more effective oversight of the executive, including in the increasingly important field of international policy;
  • to be more active in transnational collaboration, so as to provide a more effective parliamentary component in regional and international organisations, and in the resolution of violent conflicts.

The many examples of democratic practice given in the Guide are not intended to skate over problems or to minimise the challenges which all parliaments currently face; nor to understate the difficulties of realising a genuine democracy in practice. What they can do is provide clear evidence that democratic change is possible, and offer some very practical illustrations of how it might be brought about. In this way, the Guide seeks to make its own contribution to realising a more securely democratic future.

Framework: the parliamentary contribution to democracy

Basic objectives or values. A parliament that is: Requirements Possible procedural and institutional means for the realisation of these objectives or values
Representative An elected parliament that is socially and politically representative, and committed to equal opportunities for its members so that they can carry out their mandates.

Free and fair electoral system and process; means of ensuring representation of/by all sectors of society with a view to reflecting national and gender diversity, for example by using special procedures to ensure representation of marginalised or excluded groups.

Open, democratic and independent party procedures, organisations and systems.

Mechanisms to ensure the rights of the political opposition and other political groups, and to allow all members to exercise their mandates freely and without being subjected to undue influence and pressure.

Freedom of speech and association; guarantees of parliamentary rights and immunities, including the integrity of the presiding officers and other office holders.

Equal opportunities policies and procedures; non-discriminatory hours and conditions of work; language facilities for all members.

Transparent A parliament that is open to the nation and transparent in the conduct of its business.

Proceedings open to the public; prior information to the public on the business before parliament; documentation available in relevant languages; availability of user-friendly tools, for example using various media such as the World Wide Web; the parliament should have its own public relations officers and facilities.

Legislation on freedom of/access to information.

Accessible Involvement of the public, including civil society and other people's movements, in the work of the parliament.

Various means for constituents to have access to their elected representatives.

Effective modes of public participation in pre-legislative scrutiny; right of open consultation for interested parties; public right of petition; systematic grievance procedures.

Possibility for lobbying, within the limits of agreed legal provisions that ensure transparency.

Accountable Members of parliament who are accountable to the electorate for their performance in office and for the integrity of their conduct.

Effective electoral sanction and monitoring processes; reporting procedures to inform constituents; standards and enforceable code of conduct.

Adequate salary for members; register of outside interests and income; enforceable limits on and transparency in election fundraising and expenditure.

At all levels: Effective organisation of business in accordance with these democratic norms and values.

Mechanisms and resources to ensure the independence and autonomy of parliament, including parliament's control of its own budget.

Availability of non-partisan professional staff separate from the main civil service.

Adequate unbiased research and information facilities for members; parliament’s own business committee; procedures for effective planning and timetabling of business; systems for monitoring parliamentary performance; opinion surveys among relevant groups on perceptions of performance.

(a) At the national level: Effective performance of legislative and scrutiny functions, and as a national forum for issues of common concern.

Systematic procedures for executive accountability; adequate powers and resources for committees; accountability to parliament of non-governmental public bodies and commissions.

Mechanisms to ensure effective parliamentary engagement in the national budget process in all its stages, including the subsequent auditing of accounts.

Ability to address issues of major concern to society; to mediate in the event of tension and prevent violent conflict; to shape public institutions that cater for the needs of the entire population.

For parliaments that approve senior appointments and/or perform judicial functions: mechanisms to ensure a fair, equitable and non-partisan process.

(b) In relation to the international level: Active involvement of parliament in international affairs. Procedures for parliamentary monitoring of and input into international negotiations as well as overseeing the positions adopted by the government; mechanisms that allow for parliamentary scrutiny of activities of international organisations and input into their deliberations; mechanisms for ensuring national compliance with international norms and the rule of law; inter-parliamentary cooperation and parliamentary diplomacy.
(c) In relation to the local level: Cooperative relationship with state, provincial and local legislatures. Mechanisms for regular consultations between the presiding officers of the national and sub-national parliaments or legislatures on national policy issues, in order to ensure that decisions are informed by local needs.


Copyright © 2006 Inter-Parliamentary Union