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Parliamentary documents

We started systematic digitization of library documents in 2001. In the first stage some 600000 pages of parliamentary source documents that merit special protection were digitized.In concrete terms this involved transcripts of parliamentary debates and papers from the period 1861–1990. This means verbatim records of plenary sittings (of both Houses when the Parliament was bicameral); occasionally minutes that summed up debates; plus background materials and so-called papers, which were numbered for each parliamentary term. Carefully edited indexes are available for both types of documents.Between 1884 and 1949 almanacs were issued about the members of the Lower and Upper House in 18 volumes, which have also been digitized.Midterm turnover among the MPs can be followed by studying the so-called address books, whose digitization has also begun. As from 1848 the Lower House could freely elect its officeholders: the speaker, two deputy speakers and the notaries. They worked observing the Standing Orders of the time. The monarch appointed the speaker and deputy speakers of the Upper House. A link on the portal takes you to digitized versions of the Standing Orders of the period 1848–1990. Hungary's central budget is also available in digitized version.

Legislative debates have been recorded in writing for centuries, ever since the diet of estates. Until 1790 there were hand-written summaries of the proceedings in Latin. Thereafter the records were printed in Hungarian and Latin and, as from 1832, they were only printed in Hungarian.

Shorthand writers, who could record every word said in the legislative chamber, were first employed in the Lower House in 1830 but only in 1839 were the rules of editing the records defined for district assemblies, the Lower and the Upper House. From then on each sitting got a serial number and a brief definition of the Order of the Day; the names of MPs contributing to the debates were recorded, transcriptions were authenticated and parliamentary papers got numbered. That is how the format of parliamentary records and papers gradually evolved and has come down to us in a nearly unchanged form.

Parliamentary records were first produced in the Upper House in 1840. During the last diet in Pozsony/Pressburg (today Bratislava in Slovakia) (1847–48) there was talk of setting up a permanent office of shorthand writers but that only materialized during the first national assembly elected on the basis of people’s representation (1848–49) in Pest. The periodical Közlöny [Gazette] carried verbatim transcripts of the debates in the Lower House. Shorthand writers recorded the debates of both Houses of the Parliament, which was convened for 2 May 1861, and the records were made public in a printed form. In form the authenticated transcriptions of that time are identical with present ones, and the past and present ones are identical in including coverage not only of words said but reference to emotional reactions to statements, like expressions of approval and words shouted during speeches. We know from service regulations dated to the end of the 19th century that the shorthand parliamentary records were printed within about 20 days of the sittings. Once a volume was compiled, editors started to make its name and subject index. Three months after a parliamentary term ended, it was required to come up with a consolidated index of names and subjects for the entire term.

In the late 18th and early 19th centuries the hand-written, Latin documents, called Acts, that were discussed at diets of the 17th and 18th centuries were collected (and called "Acta Diaetae"). As from the diet of 1790, the following documents were printed: those debated by the plenary meetings, the correspondence between the two Houses and between the Houses and the monarch, law amendments and petitions. Under an instruction issued in 1839, those parliamentary papers were numbered. As from 1865 (and still today) the printed and numbered documents – those discussed by the Parliament – are called papers (irományok). The category paper includes draft laws, motions to amend, committee and other reports, petitions etc.

The parliamentary almanacs carry brief biographies of both Houses of Parliament. The first one was issued in 1886 and edited by Dr Sándor Halász. A review on the front page of the 3 February 1887 copy of the literary daily Fővárosi Lapok said: "This volume carries little-known and intriguing information about dignitaries, whom one usually only sees from a distance during festive occasions. Reading it helps us understand and evaluate their personality."

The almanacs were published at the beginning of parliamentary terms, that is, upon the election of members of the Lower House and the appointment of members of the Upper House. MPs that entered the Parliament in midterm could not be included. The last such almanac before the Second World War was issued in 1940; thereafter a gap of fifty years followed. Almanacs were relaunched at the first freely elected National Assembly (1990–94) and since then they are usually published toward the end of the parliamentary terms. A new genre, the so-called historical almanac was started in 1993. The first one covers the Provisional National Assembly (21 December 1944–16 December 1945), the second one the National Assembly of 1945–47 and the third one the National Assembly of 1947–49. The historical almanacs tend to offer biographies that cover complete careers. Nowadays you can read the biographies of all MPs elected since 1990 on the website of the National Assembly.

Midterm turnover among the MPs can be followed by studying the so-called address books (lists of names and addresses)

The MPs’ roster and address book consists of the alphabetized list of the MPs’ name, constituency (later on: party affiliation), permanent address and temporary address in Budapest. (For Upper House members the occupation and title were also indicated.) Such brochures were issued annually. The MPs were listed in groups according to county and constituency. The brochures also included the name and address of officeholders and other staff members of the National Assembly, the names, composition and officeholders of the committees in the Upper House.

The Standing Orders carry the norms of the internal organization of the National Assembly. Between 1848 and 1946 the Hungarian term for Standing Orders was házszabályok and between 1949 and 1990 it was ügyrend.

Palatine Miklós Esterházy was the first parliamentarian to come up with a recommendation for Standing Orders in Hungary in 1637 but his motion was ignored. More than two centuries had to pass before the National Assembly approved the first Standing Orders in 1848. The issues thus regulated included the verification of mandates, the constituent sitting, the order of the debates, the procedure of submitting and handling petitions, the election and competence of officeholders, and attendance at public plenary meetings. Those Standing Orders stood the test of time with hardly any changes down to 1912. Changes in the character of political power usually motivated modifications of the Standing Orders. Controversial issues were whether or not to expand the speaker’s competence, whether to enlarge or narrow the powers of the Opposition; the freedom of speech, and discipline during the plenary sittings.) The Standing Orders are also called the Parliament’s constitution. By studying the Standing Orders, a constitutional expert can ascertain far-reaching conclusions about features of the political institution concerned.

Act III of 1848 on the formation of the first independent, responsible Government (which was called responsible Ministry at the time) was the first statute in Hungarian history to declare the right of the Lower House of the Diet to create an annual central budget for the country:

Article 37

Each year the Ministry shall submit for perusal and approval to the Lower House [a document on] the [planned] revenues and expenses of the country and the appropriation accounts of the past period.

Since then it has become routine that the central budget is drawn up by the Ministry of Finance, submitted by the Government and adopted by the Parliament. Between 1868 and 1914 the budgets covered periods between 1 January and 31 December; between 1914 and 1940 the budget periods covered the second half of one year and the first half of the next; between 1941 and 1944 there was a return to the 1 January–31 December format; between 1946 and 1948 the 1 July–30 June format was revived; and since 1949 the 1 January–31 December format has been applied. For historical reasons Hungary did not have a central budget in 1910, 1915–16, 1919–20 and 1945. Without budgets in those years, the library does not have a budget volume to cover those years. The volumes of budgets dating to before 1918 often exceed 1500 pages and the thickest ones (that of 1911 and 1913) are in excess of 3000 pages.

When the Parliament wishes to check on the implementation of a budget, it examines the appropriation accounts. The Parliamentary Collection of our library keeps volumes of appropriation accounts as from 1868. They document the implementation of the central budgets, the actual revenues and expenses.