English › About the Danish Parliament › Tasks › Parliamentary Control of the Government
Usually, Members of Parliament (MPs) and committees perform this task by putting questions to Ministers. As a possible result of its control, the Parliament may decide to unseat the Government. But in practice, it is extremely rare for the Parliament to resort to this measure. Naturally, it is especially the opposition that considers the monitoring of the Government a particularly important task.
While the Danish Constitutional Act describes in considerable detail how the Parliament must handle Bills, it does not in the same way outline how the Parliament must carry out its control of the Government. Instead, control is based on the parliamentary principle, which means that the Government must resign or call a general election if the Parliament adopts a vote of no confidence in the Prime Minister.
The Parliament has a range of instruments at its disposal for scrutinising the Government:
One method of exercising parliamentary control of the Government is to put questions to Ministers. Collectively, Ministers are asked more than 15,000 questions a year, primarily about current issues and problems. To a certain extent, these questions may promote the questioner's own opinion on a given issue. Parliamentary control can thus be used to express political standpoints and to point out areas of disagreement.
Individual MPs have various options for asking questions of Ministers. One option is to submit questions in writing and ask for oral or written replies. Written answers are forwarded continually whereas oral answers are given briefly during the weekly Question Time in the Chamber. MPs can also ask "impromptu questions", which means that Ministers must answer questions they have not seen in advance. This happens once a week during what is known as Question Hour. The purpose of the Question Hour is to strengthen the political debate in the Parliament.
Interpellations are used when one or more MPs wish to discuss a societal problem and have one or several Ministers explain or elaborate their viewpoints. Interpellations are primarily used to create a debate on broad political issues of a more general character. An interpellation debate usually lasts for several hours, depending on the MPs’ eagerness to discuss the subject. There are typically between 40-60 interpellations a year.
After an interpellation debate, the Parliament may adopt a resolution on the subject that has been debated. This could take the form of anything from a request or an expression of criticism to the passing of a vote of no confidence in the Minister in question or the Government as a whole, in which case the Government must resign. However, the latter course of action has very rarely been chosen. If criticism is in the offing, the Government parties can react with a "counter motion" that expresses satisfaction or only very mild criticism.
Finally, parliamentary control of the Government can also be exercised in the Parliament's 26 standing committees. In addition to their work on Bills and proposals for parliamentary resolution, the committees can also put questions to Ministers to be answered orally or in writing. Such questions could deal with concrete issues or more general subjects within the committee’s area of responsibility. Questions from committees are asked on behalf of the committee as a whole and are therefore generally more neutral in tone than questions asked by MPs on their own initiative.
When a Minister answers questions orally at a committee meeting, this is known as a consultation. Committees can decide to hold open consultations, so that the public can attend them. Moreover, the majority of these consultations are broadcast live on the Parliament's TV channel and streamed online at www.ft.dk/tv.
Anita May Jayasinghe