The second and third readings

Once the committee has completed its work, the parliamentary groups must decide what position to take on the bill in its present form. Although the experts from the parliamentary groups are thoroughly familiar with the bill, it is important that all Members now have an opportunity to form an opinion on the bill. Further discussions are held if necessary by the relevant working groups or working parties, and after the executive committees of the parliamentary groups have been informed, the topic is placed on the agenda at a full meeting of each parliamentary group. Each parliamentary group then has to decide whether or not to accept the bill in the form proposed and which Members to appoint as speakers for the debate during the second reading.

The Council of Elders sets the date on which the second reading will be held. The second reading is then placed as an item on the agenda of the plenary sitting concerned, and is duly called by the President chairing the sitting. The President first of all gives the committee rapporteur or rapporteurs the opportunity to supplement the written report, if they so desire. The general debate then begins and is followed by either a debate on each separate clause, with each clause being called and voted upon individually, or a vote on the bill as a whole, particularly if no motions for amendments have been tabled. During the second reading, amendments may be moved not only by the parliamentary groups and groupings, but also by individual Members of the Bundestag. This is important for Members who do not belong to a parliamentary group. It is also important in practice, however, for individual Members to have this opportunity, as the various parliamentary groups are thus obliged to take seriously any concerns or reservations their members may express and either take these into account or dispel them in the course of discussions. If a parliamentary group simply chose to ignore the dissenting views of its Members who had an interest in the bill, these Members would probably make their opinions clear during a public sitting of the Bundestag, either by moving amendments or perhaps by voting against the party line. The public might take this as evidence of disunity within the parliamentary group and would lose confidence in its ability to take decisions. As the parliamentary groups are well aware of the risks involved, it is fairly rare for individual Members to move amendments during the second reading. It is more often the case, however, that the opposition, if it does not wish to support a particular bill, will present its views in one or several motions for amendments which it will submit for debate and to be put to the vote.


Dr h.c. Susanne Kastner:

I call item 5:

Second and third readings of a bill presented by the Federal Government for an Act for the Promotion of Families and Household-related Services (Family Benefits Act - Familienleis-tungsgesetz)

- printed papers 16/10809 and 16/ 11001 -

Recommendation and report of the Finance committee (7th committee)

- printed papers 16/11172 and 16/ 11191 -

Rapporteurs: Patricia Lips, Lydia Westrich, Carl-Ludwig Thiele, and Barbara Holl,

Members of the Bundestag

Report of the Budget Committee (8th committee) under Rule 96 of the Rules of Procedure

- Printed paper 16/11184 -

Rapporteurs: Jochen-Konrad Fromme, Carsten Schneider, Otto Fricke, Roland Claus, and Alexander Bonde, Members of the Bundestag

Motions for resolutions on this bill have been tabled by the group of the FDP, the group of The Left Party and the group of Alliance 90/The Greens. We shall take a recorded vote in due course on the motion for a resolution tabled by the group of Alliance 90/The Greens.

The parliamentary groups have agreed that an hour be allocated to this debate

- I do not hear any objections, so we shall proceed as planned.

The first speaker is Parliamentary State Secretary Nicolette Kressl.

{Applause from the SPD)

Nicolette Kressl, Parliamentary State Secretary to the Federal Minister of Finance:

Madam President, ladies and gentlemen, with this legislation for the assistance of families we shall initiate measures of support for families on the basis of four pillars.

The first pillar is an improvement in material assistance to families through an increase in the tax allowance for dependent children. The basis of this increase is the assessment of the fiscal minimum subsistence requirement for children. This measure, in other words, is based on facts. I set great store by this observation, because in political debates here and there the impression is sometimes given that the amount of the tax allowance for children can be set at any level we choose. That is not how we do it - we base it on a proper detailed calculation.

Secondly, since it is inherent in the existing system of tax allowances that families who earn more are given more tax relief, the decision of the Government and the parliamentary groups in favour of a simultaneous increase in child benefit is a political one. Let me emphasise that we are under no constitutional obligation to do so. Raising child benefit is a deliberate policy decision, and a good decision, taken by the parliamentary groups and the Federal Government.


Vice-President Dr Hermann Otto Solms:

The debate is closed.

Before we proceed to the vote, I should like to make two announcements.

Firstly, 52 explanations of vote have been submitted under Rule 31 of our Rules of Procedure, which we shall minute.

Secondly, Carl-Ludwig Thiele would like to move an oral amendment on second reading, which he will now present and explain and to which you may then respond if you wish.

Thank you.

Carl-Ludwig Thiele (FDP):

Mr President, ladies and gentlemen, I do not wish to lengthen the debate unduly. Mr Lehrieder has already touched on the point, as have Ms Westrich and Ms Lips, that, quite apart from the discussion as to what more should be done, there seems to be a cross-party consensus that the limitation of the package to the end of the tenth year of schooling is utterly wrong.

(Applause from the FDP and from SPD and Left Party Members.)

Because we in the Bundestag are all legislators, I believe it is only right that we should not wait for the Mediation Committee or until next year. Instead, my specific motion is that, in Article 3 of the bill, the words 'bis zum Abschluss der Jahrgangsstufe 10' ('until the completion of year 10') in the third and fourth lines of section 24a be deleted in toto. This would be enough to effect my desired amendment.

Should there be more in addition to this amendment, that would suit us fine. But what we can achieve today should certainly be done today.

Thank you very much.

(Applause from the FDP and The Left Party as well as from Alliance 90/The Greens Members)

Vice-President Dr Hermann Otto Solms:

May I ask whether one of the Parliamentary Secretaries of the coalition groups wishes to respond? Peter Struck, chair of the SPD group, would like to respond. The floor is yours, Dr Struck.

Dr Peter Struck (SPD):

Mr President, ladies and gentlemen, of course we admit this motion, but it is crystal-clear that the Honourable Member is playing a purely tactical game here.

(Applause from SPD Members -protest from Carl-Ludwig Thiele [FDP])

- Yes, you are, Mr Thiele. It never crossed your minds to initiate your own school-requisites package. That was our idea.

We shall reject your motion. We shall discuss the project properly in the Mediation Committee or in the next legislative process. Then we shall obtain exactly what we want.

We reject the motion.

(Applause from the SPD)

Vice-President Dr Hermann Otto Solms:

We now come to the vote on the bill presented by the Federal Government for an Act for the Promotion of Families and Household-related Services.

Before we proceed to the vote on the proposal from the committee, we shall now vote on the oral amendment moved by Carl-Ludwig Thiele. If you wish to vote in favour of this amendment, please raise your hand. -Who wishes to vote against? - Who wishes to abstain? - Mr Thiele's oral amendment is rejected, the coalition groups having voted against it and the opposition groups and some Members from the coalition groups having voted in favour.

In its recommendation, comprising printed papers 16/11191 and 16/11172, the Finance Committee proposes adoption of the bill contained in printed papers 16/10809 and 16/11001 as amended in committee. May I ask those who wish to vote for the bill as amended in committee to raise their hand. - Who wishes to vote against? -Who wishes to abstain? - The bill is adopted at second reading, the coalition groups having voted in favour and the opposition groups having abstained.

We now come to the

third reading

and final vote. Those who wish to approve the bill, please stand. - Who wishes to vote against? - Who wishes to abstain? - The bill has been adopted, with the same voting pattern as before.

We shall now take the vote on the amendments. Who votes in favour of the amendment tabled by the FDP group in printed paper 16/11225? Please raise your hand. - Who votes against? - Who abstains? - The amendment is rejected, the coalition groups and the group of Alliance 90/ The Greens having voted against it, the FDP group having voted in favour and the group of The Left Party having abstained.

Who votes in favour of the amendment tabled by the group of The Left Party contained in printed paper 16/11188? Please raise your hand. - Who votes against? - Who abstains? - The amendment is rejected, the group of The Left Party having voted in favour of it and all the other groups having voted against.

We nowcome to the amendment tabled by the group of Alliance 90/The Greens in printed paper 16/11224. At the request of the group of Alliance 90/The Greens, we shall now take a recorded vote on this amendment. May I ask the secretaries to take up their positions. -Are the secretaries in position? - I see that they are.

I declare the voting open. - Are there any Members of the House who have not yet cast their vote? - There are not.

I declare the voting closed and ask the secretaries to begin the count. The result of the vote will be communicated to you in due course....

Vice-President Dr Hermann Otto Solms:

Before calling the next speaker, I shall give you the result of the recorded vote, as established by the secretaries, on the motion tabled by the group of Alliance 90/The Greens on the draft of an Act for the Promotion of Families and Household-related Services. The number of votes cast was 546. There were 48 ayes, 394 noes and 104 abstentions. The amendment has been rejected.

... (There follow the names and voting behaviour of Members)

The stenographic record shows that during the second reading, a motion for an amendment to the Federal Government's bill was tabled by the Member Carl-Ludwig Thiele. A vote was taken on this motion for an amendment first, so that the voting procedure could be simplified during the rest of the second reading. Instead of a vote being taken on each paragraph or section in turn, the text was voted on as a whole. The stenographic record also shows how the vote was conducted, namely by a show of hands. Furthermore, it shows that a number of Members submitted written statements on the vote in line with Rule 31 of the Rules of Procedure; these statements were printed in an annex to the stenographic record. Written or oral statements on the vote allow Members to justify the way in which they personally have voted, in particular if they do not follow the party line.

If, as in the above example, a bill is adopted as it stands during the second reading, the third reading can begin straight away. During the third reading, the final vote is taken on the bill. The Members vote by rising from their seats when the President calls for votes for, votes against and abstentions. In practice the Bundestag often proceeds immediately to the third reading even if amendments have been adopted during the second reading. This is only possible, however, if at least two thirds of the Members present agree. Generally, at least two thirds of Members give their consent. If not, the third reading can only begin on the second day after distribution of the printed papers containing the amendments adopted.

The stenographic record in the above example shows that no further debate was held during the third reading. A debate is only held if a parliamentary group or at least five per cent of Members so demand. Moreover, individual Members are no longer permitted to move amendments during the third reading; only parliamentary groups or a group of Members of equivalent size may do so. Amendments may only refer to provisions that were amended at second reading.

Immediately after the bill's third reading, votes took place on several motions for resolutions, which had been tabled by the opposition parliamentary groups on the Family Benefits Act. Resolutions are intended to show the view of the German Bundestag on certain items of business which are on the agenda. Generally, the resolution calls on the Federal Government to take a concrete course of action. Resolutions are an instrument often used by opposition parliamentary groups in order to set out their views on a matter under discussion. Motions for resolutions may be tabled by one parliamentary group or at least 5 per cent of Members (i.e. 36 at present) and are voted on at the end of deliberations on a bill or other item.

In our example, in addition to tabling a motion for a resolution, one parliamentary group demanded a recorded vote. Such a demand must be complied with, since this instrument is one of the rights guaranteed to minorities in Parliament. In votes of this kind, the stenographic record shows how each Member voted.

A special category of bills are those which ratify treaties with foreign states. These are dealt with in two readings only. In such cases, the Bundestag can only accept or reject the text as a whole. As the Federal Government negotiates the whole text of the treaty with foreign states, the Bundestag cannot subsequently amend parts of the bill.