The first reading

The Bundestag generally deals with bills in three readings in the plenary. During the first reading, a debate is only held if this is recommended by the Council of Elders or demanded by one of the parliamentary groups. Debates tend to be held on bills of topical interest or political significance if the Government wishes to state its reasons for introducing them or if the parliamentary groups wish to make public their initial position. It should be remembered that the primary reason for holding debates is not to give parliamentary groups an opportunity to convince each other of their point of view but to present to the public and the media in particular - as the most important source of public information about Parliament - the different political standpoints regarding a particular bill. Only then can the general public form an opinion about issues on the Bundestag’s agenda and party-political viewpoints. Likewise, only if the public is informed about debates in the Bundestag can those affected respond to parliamentary debates concerning issues of relevance to them. By making statements on legislation being proposed and publicising the issues involved, they make their own view on the matter public. The main function of plenary debates is therefore to contribute to the transparency of parliamentary proceedings, which is so important for democracy. However, the often very complex problems which appear on the agenda of the Bundestag cannot simply be resolved through argument and debate. Intensive preparatory work needs to be done by the parliamentary groups and specialised committees in the Bundestag, which consult relevant experts, hold hearings of those affected and of representatives of interest groups, present reports and much more.

A debate is therefore held during the first reading of a bill if the public needs to be made aware of the issues involved and the various political viewpoints before the bill is considered in greater depth by the committees. Irrespective of whether or not a debate takes place, the bill is always referred to one or more committees of the Bundestag at the end of the first reading. In exceptional cases the Bundestag may decide to dispense with the committee stage if, for example, the bill is very simple and it is clear from the outset what position the individual parties will take. This is only possible, however, if a two-thirds majority of the Bundestag votes to move straight to the second reading. This occurs only very rarely, however, since each bill should in principle be discussed in detail by the relevant committees. For the same reason the Bundestag cannot reject a bill completely or declare it disposed of during the first reading. Otherwise, the governing majority might be inclined to reject an opposition bill if, for example, it did not want the bill to become law. Even bills from minority parties, however, must be referred to the committees.

German Bundestag - 16th electoral term - 187th sitting. Berlin, Thursday, 13 November 2008

Dr Norbert Lammert:

I call item 15:

First reading of a bill presented by the
Federal Government for an Act for the
Promotion of Families and Householdrelated
Services (Family Benefits Act -

- Printed paper 16/10809 -

Proposal for referral to:
Finance Committee (lead committee)
Committee on Labour and Social Affairs
Committee on Family Affairs, Senior
Citizens,Women and Youth
Committee on Health

Committee on Education, Research
and Technology Assessment
Budget Committee (committee asked
for an opinion under Rule 96 of the
Rules of Procedure)

The parliamentary groups have agreed
that an hour and a quarter be allocated
to this debate - I do not hear any
objections, so we shall proceed as

The debate is opened. I call Lydia
Westrich to speak on behalf of the SPD
Dr Norbert Lammert:

The debate is closed.

The parliamentary groups have jointly
proposed the referral of the bill set out
in printed paper 16/10809 to the
committees listed in the agenda as well
as to the Committee on Education,
Research and Technology Assessment.
Are there any alternative proposals? -
There appear to be none. The bill will
therefore be referred as proposed.

In the above example, it was planned to hold a debate during the first reading and the speeches were delivered orally. In certain circumstances, however, plenary debates can also be included in written form in the minutes of plenary proceedings instead; this is possible if the speakers concerned so wish and at least two thirds of the Members of the Bundestag present agree or if it has been agreed in the Council of Elders in advance and no parliamentary group has objected.