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What members of Parliament do

A deputee is holding up a paper in the Plenary Hall.
© Hamburgische Bürgerschaft/Michael Zapf

According to Hamburg’s constitution, Members of the Bürgerschaft are representatives of the people as a whole, subject only to their own consciences and not bound by any orders. This independence is safeguarded by the independent mandate, parliamentary privilege and the right to adequate payment.

The independent mandate makes it possible for Members to take account of a wide range of opinions and interests in their political work without being subject to party influence. Contact between citizens and their elected representatives is the basis of this work. Members often spend time in “their” local districts, visiting events and holding surgeries in their offices.

Members from the same party or with the same political views usually join to form parliamentary groups. If Members leave their parties or groups, or if they are excluded from them, they do not lose their seats. The parliamentary groups nominate Members to serve on committees. Here they mostly discuss motions (proposals for action) and bills (draft legislation) that have been referred to them by the plenary sitting (full meeting of Parliament). Their intensive specialist analysis helps to prepare the resolutions to be decided by the Bürgerschaft. Committee members also play a scrutinising role, calling on government members to make statements on particular themes or dealing with specialist issues even if the Bürgerschaft has not asked them to do so.

The Bürgerschaft is not a full-time parliament. In principle every Member can continue to work in his or her profession. There are a few exceptions, however, which have to do with elected politicians not being allowed to work for Hamburg’s public services or for companies in which Hamburg has a stake. So that Members can coordinate the time they spend on work and parliament, the sittings do not begin until the afternoon. The involvement of Members in working life is seen as the advantage of having a part-time parliament. It is meant to encourage policies that are as close as possible to the people.

Individual Members can speak in the plenary sitting, vote, take part in the meetings of all committees and address oral and written questions on public issues to the Senate. Several Members are needed to submit a request or draft legislation, to require access to Senate files or to demand a commission of inquiry.

Members of the Hamburg Parliament are duty bound not to misuse their office or use it to their personal advantage. They must also be resident in Hamburg.