Private Members' Legislative Proposals & Special Petitions Porfolio Committee Second-Term Quarterly Report

Private Members' Legislative Proposals and Special Petitions

12 August 2010
Chairperson: Mr S Thobejane (ANC)
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Meeting Summary

The Chairperson again expressed his disappointment at the poor attendance, and noted that to try to resolve this and clear some of the Committee’s backlog a special meeting had been arranged for Wednesday 18 August, from 08:00 to 09:00, which ought not to conflict with other committees. Members suggested that it might be useful to make this into a permanent arrangement. The Chairperson expressed his concern that a DA Member of the Committee had dissented against a Committee Report when it was presented, and felt that this was embarrassing, unprofessional and unethical, as well as affecting the unity of the Committee. Dissenting views of the party should be raised during Committee discussions. The Member apologised and explained that his party caucus had changed its mind after the meeting but in future this should not recur. That party felt that this Committee should not be discussing the complexities of proposed legislation but should refer proposals directly to portfolio committees.

The Chairperson noted that the Committee was seeking permission to prepare a Petitions Act, and was engaging with the formalities of how to do that. A workshop on the Petitions Act was provisionally planned for 29 October, should the memorandum be approved on the following Wednesday. Members noted that some provincial legislatures had Petitions legislation, and it would be necessary to consider the effect of a national Act on that.

The Chairperson reported that he had attended the Rules Subcommittee, during which the processes to follow had been discussed. He had understood that there was an intention to amend the rules in a holistic way, but that certain areas would be prioritised, including the problems that currently beset this Committee.

Meeting report

Meeting dates
The Chairperson once again expressed his disappointment at the poor attendance. In order to address that challenge he had requested to have a special meeting on Wednesday 18 August from 08:00 to 09:00 which would not conflict with other committees. There would need to be a quorum, and the Committee would focus on taking decisions to clear its backlog.

The Committee would, at that meeting, take decisions on the legislative proposals of Hon Selfe and Hon de Lille around the President’s powers to grant pardons. Pardon and also that of Hon de Lille. Also on the agenda would be the previous quarterly report and sets of minutes that still required adoption. Members were asked to look at the submissions and reports, and come prepared so that the Committee could make progress.

The Chairperson, over and above requesting this special meeting for 18 August, had also requested that meetings be relocated to Wednesdays, provided that the time of 08h00 to 09h00 was suitable to Members, so that decisions could be taken on Wednesdays, although stakeholder submissions would still be heard during the Friday meeting.

Ms Sosibo suggested that perhaps it might be better for the Committee to apply to sit every Wednesday for one hour rather than attempting still to sit on Fridays, which were problematic.

Ms M Mdaka (ANC) said that Members had other meetings on Wednesdays, commencing at 08:30 or 09:00 and having meetings every Wednesday could also be a problem. She reminded Members that Friday was a working day.

Ms A Molebatsi (ANC) was concerned that one hour was too short for a meeting that hoped to deliberate on issues. She would attend, but this would be stressful, as she had other meetings at 09:00 on Wednesdays. She would prefer Fridays, but understood this could be a problem for others.

Mr Pretorius noted that he must also attend a Standing Committee on Public Accounts meeting at 09:00 on Wednesdays, but supported  Wednesday meetings, with submissions continuing to be heard on Fridays.

Ms Mdaka agreed to a one-hour meeting on Wednesdays.

The Chairperson clarified that the reason the special meeting was applied for was because the committee had a backlog that emanated from failure to have a quorum, resulting in decisions not taken at meetings. It was agreed that as people were all in Parliament on Wednesdays, by starting earlier and finishing at 09h00 Members could then attend their other meetings. Wednesday meetings would only deal with the backlog, and Fridays would only sit for submissions from stakeholders, as an hour would not be sufficient for them.

Mr Pretorius noted that the draft programme for Wednesday showed briefings by Hon Davidson and Hon Lee.

The Chairperson responded that these were set down for a Wednesday because it was not easy for Members to be available on Friday. Other briefings could also be received on Wednesdays if this was the only available day, because of other commitments of political parties or Parliament.

Chairperson’s comment on the process for Committee Reports
The Chairperson then expressed his concern at the way in which a DA Member of the Committee had raised his dissent about Committee Reports. He stressed that the interests of the people of South Africa must take precedence over private political ambitions. He noted that when Hon Kohler Barnard raised proposals to amend the Police Act, the Committee agreed that there was no conflict between her viewpoint and that of the Ministry, although the Ministry had a broader scope. Similar considerations applied when Hon Mentor raised proposals to amend the Commission for Gender Equality Act, because the Committee had agreed that although the principles were noble, it was not possible to pass laws seeking to be of application outside South Africa. However, yesterday the DA Member claimed, on behalf of his party, to be dissenting against the Committee decision, which was embarrassing, unprofessional and unethical. If the party caucus of the DA had felt differently on some issues, then this should have been raised at Committee level, but the Member had participated in a Committee decision and his dissention later affected the Committee’s unity.

Mr P Pretorius (DA) said that he had apologised to the Chairperson for raising a dissenting view in the House. His party had a change of mind, subsequent to discussions in the Committee. He pointed out that individual party members were bound by caucus decisions and his party caucus had taken the decision that because the legislative proposals did not seem to progress much further, the DA would prefer that all proposals should go through this Committee straight to the relevant portfolio committee, where the actual in depth discussion should take place. This Committee did have certain considerations, but he said that the Rules did not help to clarify the issues and therefore there were attempts to have the Rules adjusted to give very clear indications to the Committee as to what it could or could not do. The DA did not believe that this Committee should be discussing complex legislation, and should not deal with detail of specific topics that Members did not know anything about. For instance, the proposals on the Termination of Pregnancy Bill were highly technical bill, and the Committee was placed under a huge burden in trying to decide whether or not it should be pursued. Much of the proposed legislation being placed before the Committee was of a similar nature, and should go to the portfolio committees. If there were clear cut cases, and the Committee could see that the proposed Bill might be unconstitutional or merely represented a frivolous attempt to get something on the table, or clashed with existing law, then the Rules should state that the Committee had a duty to stop the matter then and there. The DA felt that, in general, this Committee should not be a stumbling block, but should act as the first “clearing house” to pass matters on. He undertook that in future he would be consistent. He apologised again for the error and said that the DA would be consistent in its stance from now on.

Ms J Sosibo (ANC) said that she too had been embarrassed, but noted Mr Pretorius’s apology.

Petitions Act
The Chairperson tabled a draft memorandum in terms of Rule 238 of the Rules of the National Assembly, which related to how a Bill was initiated by the Committee. In this memorandum it was set out that the Committee proposed that it be given permission to prepare a Petitions Act. It was presently engaging on the formalities of how to achieve this. A workshop on the proposed Petitions Act was provisionally planned for 29 October, should the memorandum be approved. He quoted from Rule 238 and noted that  ‘this memorandum would then be tabled in the House and be considered as to whether Parliament agreed or did not agree’. The Committee could not embark on anything without receiving that approval. It would also be necessary to reflect on the opportunity given through the House to adopt the Committee’s reports.

Mr Pretorius asked if the memorandum was drafted by the Legal Department of Parliament.

The Chairperson replied that the Legal Advisor was stretched for time, so the Secretariat and Researcher had drafted it according to guidelines. The Legal Advisor would check the memorandum.

Mr Pretorius said it was a critical process and the Committee should not need to craft legislation, but Parliamentary staff must be involved in the process.

Mr Pretorius also noted that the proposed Bill would seek to address issues that may arise in the provinces, since provinces administered their own legislation. Mr Pretorius thought that “give effect to” meant that the legislation was not yet in operation, but would only be brought into operation when this Bill kick-started the process. He was not sure that that was the situation. Gauteng had a Petitions Bill and the Western Cape may have one also, which were already in operation. He therefore questioned whether “to give effect” to those was technically correct.

The Chairperson said that was why it was very important to circulate the memorandum if the Committee wished to adopt it on Wednesday.

Mr Pretorius said it took some time to read it through. The heading “Submission of a legislative proposal” should be changed to ‘Submission of a legislative proposal/special petition’.

The Chairperson said the Committee was expected to send through submissions but could not do so itself, but had to submit documents to the Speaker. When this Committee was given the opportunity to raise and debate the issues, it would need to indicate to Parliament why the Committee felt that this was necessary, an should also be able to give good examples from provinces as to how this worked at provincial levels, as well as in other parts of the world.

Mr Pretorius was surprised to hear that the National Parliament did not have a Petitions Act, but provincial legislatures apparently did have.

The Chairperson said that Parliament did not have such an Act. This tool would also empower other committees to ensure that when a petition was referred, they would know how to handle it. This Act would not necessarily be used by the Committee but by Parliament as a whole, and it was necessary to have this legislation.

Ms Sosibo asked who would be attending the workshop on 29 October, pointing out that if other people were invited one day may not be sufficient

Mr Pretorius asked whether the date for the workshop was negotiable, as the DA had a caucus breakaway that weekend.

The Chairperson clarified that the Committee had applied to have the workshop on 29 October, but this date had not yet been approved, pending approval of the Memorandum.

Subcommittee on Rules
The Chairperson noted that he had attended a meeting with the Rules Subcommittee, although that Committee had merely discussed what processes to follow. His understanding was that this Committee agreed to amend the rules in a holistic way, with certain areas being prioritised.

Mr Pretorius said the Chairperson’s summary was correct, but the Subcommittee had not specified which areas to concentrate upon. One of the first categories of rules that would be changed related to the old Committee Procedure section. This Committee’s problems would be catered for during that session. Some rule changes would be effected, hopefully shortly, and then the Committee related rules discussions would commence.

/Ms Sosibo asked whether the Chairperson would wait for an invitation, or would advise that he still wished to be heard.

The Chairperson replied that Mr Pretorius had indicated that a report would be given to the broader Rules Committee and would recommend that a circular be issued to all Chairpersons of Committees and identified stakeholders, to ask for submissions as to what ought to be amended in the Rules. Following these, certain Committee activities and functions would be prioritised. Hon Oriani-Ambrosini’s case was related to the Committee discussions.

Second Term Quarterly Report and Minutes: Adoption
The review and adoption of the Second Term Quarterly Report, as well as of the outstanding Minutes, was deferred to Wednesday, 18 August.

The meeting was adjourned.


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