Reports by SubCommittee on Review of Rules, and Chief Whips' Forum

Joint Rules

06 June 2012
Chairperson: Mr M Sisulu (ANC) (Speaker of National Assembly)
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Meeting Summary

After adopting the Minutes of the meeting on 18 May 2012, the Committee considered matters arising from those Minutes, and asked for clarification on actions brought against the Speaker, with the Chief Whip, Dr M Motshekga, expressing concern that the Speaker and Parliament seemed to be increasingly dictated to by the Courts. Members thought it would be useful to place the report on court actions brought against the Speaker on the agenda of a future meeting, for debate, and to consider the costs and the correctness of individual Members bringing cases. Another question arising from the Minutes related to the apparent conflict between rules 106(5) and 105(5). It was explained that this had been dealt with by a proposed amendment, which was adopted by the House in the previous week, in relation to Member statements and Ministerial statements, and that party responses was an issue still under consideration.

The subcommittee on the Review of the Rules tabled a Report, and the background to the matter was explained, by noting that the current Rule Book had largely continued Parliamentary traditions, and was adopted in 1996, but there was a need to consider whether all Rules were still relevant and apposite to the work of Parliament. Opposition parties had raised some issues, and it was also necessary to take into consideration work on the oversight model and recommendations from he Chief Whips’ Forum taken a couple of years previously, as well as new legislation such as the Money Bills Act. Policy processes already finalised could now be incorporated into the new Rules, whilst others were still in the process. It was noted that a Workshop should be held to capacitate Members, and whilst one suggestion was made that this should take place only after August, so that proposals from parties could be considered, another suggestion was that the party proposals would need to be informed by the Workshop, and that it should be arranged sooner. There seemed to be agreement that two processes would be needed, one to capacitate initially, and another to ensure that Members were fully informed on all suggestions, and the Chairperson  noted that the date would still be arranged and notified to Members. An IFP Member raised concerns that the procedures in this Committee differed from the way in which other committees passed legislation, but it was noted that the Report did reflect what the IFP had raised in meetings of the subcommittee, and that the issues did not need to be redebated at this point. Members made the point that precedent was also very useful, and noted that the booklet containing a composite set of decisions and precedents needed to be updated.
The Chairperson summarised that the review process would include capacity building for Members and support staff, including the workshop, that parties had until the end of August to submit proposals for possible areas of review, and that during this period a specialist consultant and team from the NA Table would consolidate recommendations from reports already before Parliament for inclusion in the process. If further outside assistance was required, permission could be sought from the speaker. The policy issues finally agreed upon would be presented to the Rules Committee which would then use those policies to draft the necessary Rules or amendments. The process should be completed by June 2013.

The Chief Whips’ Forum gave its recommendations that a
detailed study be done on the use of electronic devices in other Parliaments, to inform the drafting of guidelines for this Parliament. That Forum had accepted the guidelines for noting of condolences, with the amendment that the House should acknowledge the passing away of former Members, but that a debate would only take place with the consensus of the Forum. It had also recommended approval of the guidelines for notices for motions, motions without notice and draft resolutions.

Meeting report

Adoption of Committee Minutes
The Committee adopted the minutes of its meeting on 18 May.

Matters arising from Minutes
Dr M Motshekga (Chief Whip of ANC) expressed his concern about the court actions that were brought by Members of Parliament against the Speaker of National Assembly. They seemed to imply that the Speaker and Parliament were effectively being dictated to by the courts, which seemed to him to be a violation of the doctrine of separation of powers. He requested, regardless of the outcome of those applications, that Parliament should seek a legal opinion whether it was correct that it should have to function in this way. The Constitution allowed for courts to become involved after Parliament had done its work. He was worried about the tendency of Members to seek legal action against the Speaker.

The Chairperson noted that Members should know what the issues were, before taking the Speaker to court.

Mr A Watson (DA) asked for a report on court actions against the Speaker. He noted, under the resolutions note in the Minutes, that there was a report, but had not seen it.

Mr J Jeffery (ANC) noted that leave to appeal was granted in that matter. However, there was also the question of costs, and a question whether it was correct for an individual Member to bring a case against the Speaker.

The Chairperson responded that the report had been made available to Members. He asked, and received confirmation from Members, that they wished the report to be placed on the agenda for discussion again at the next meeting.

Ms J Fubbs (ANC) referred the Committee to page 6 of the minutes of the last Committee meeting, saying that although that reflected that the Rules Committee should be making a decision on the rules “in its next meeting” that was not on the agenda for the current meeting. She also asked for clarification of the decision that the Rules Committee would be making recommendations on the apparent conflict between rules 106(5) and 105(5).

The Committee Secretary responded that there were two rules involved. The first dealt with statements by Members, where Ministerial responses would form part of the rules and fifteen statements by Members. The next part dealt with party responses to Ministerial statements. The main issue was whether the time allocation to parties should be agreed by the Rules Committee on its next meeting. There was currently a motion in place that took care of time allocation for party responses to Ministerial statements.

Adv M Masutha (ANC) responded that in the previous week he had, on behalf of the Speaker, introduced an amendment in the House, in a form of a report from the Committee which gave effect to all the amendments. The report was adopted by the House and therefore was no longer with the Rules Committee. In relation to Rule 105, the Member statements had now been increased, from 14 to 15. In relation to Rule 106, Ministerial statements would no longer be three minutes each, but a principle of proportionality would apply, meaning that Ministers would have eight minutes to respond from opposition parties.

The Chairperson emphasised that it was currently the practice, but now a formal decision had been taken.

Ms Marina Nel, Senior Procedural Officer: Research and Parliamentary Practice, Parliament, clarified Ms Fubbs’ question, and said that now this had been adopted, the Rules Committee would need to revisit the issues in order to make a determination for party responses.

Report of the Subcommittee on Review of the National Assembly Rules
Adv T Masutha (ANC) noted that the Subcommittee on Review of Rules needed to consider a proposal, which was in the form of a report, which dealt with the proposed strategy for the review of the NA Rules. The report itself was straightforward and did not need an explanation. However, he reminded Members of the reasons for reviewing the Rules. The current Rules Book was adopted in 1996, when the Final Constitution was adopted. That Rules Book was largely a continuation of the existing traditions to that point. The question was whether these Rules were still relevant and mirrored the kind of Parliament, its culture and orientation, that was currently desirable. Some specific issues had been raised from opposition parties, and from the oversight model. In the process of reviewing the rules it was also necessary to take account of policy reforms or transformation processes in Parliament, including the oversight model, and the new Money Bills Amendment Procedure and Related Matters Act, which had implications on the way committees processed money bills. Policy processes already finalised could be incorporated in the Rules. Other policy processes were still before the Committee, such as the matter dealing with Chapter 9 Institutions, which would have implications for the Rules, and possibly also for a Constitutional amendment. All the policy review processes could find expression in amendments of the Rules. There had been discussion with the Chief Whips’ Forum around the issues of the quorum, questions and other practices in the House itself.

Adv Masutha noted that there were proposals also relating to an external report, which might need outside assistance. Another proposal suggested that in the following year a new Rules Book may need to be produced, and that would trigger a lot of engagement and discussions.

The Chairperson thanked Adv Masutha for his brief report. He agreed that there were number of points raised in the report. Before finalising a new Rules Book, a number of steps would have to be taken, including a workshop to capacitate Members. He agreed that there had been a proposal to invite a consultant to assist Parliament through these processes. However, Adv Masutha’s report had painted a broad picture.

Dr M Oriani-Ambrosini (IFP) raised a concern with the workings of the subcommittee. He thought that this was producing legislation and rules for Parliament in a way very different to that in which other legislation was produced. He pointed out that elsewhere, the procedure would be that policy was determined, a policy framework was drawn spelling out what it was wanted to achieve, and then a specialist consultant would be asked to provide guidance for the process, driven by a dedicated team from the NA table.

He noted that there were essentially two types of jobs to be done. The first was to bring the Rules in line with the Constitution. That was a technical job that any qualified lawyer should be able to do. The second was to look at a number of policy proposals, and assess whether they were viable, and that was a vital step, because the drafting of the Rules themselves was not a complex process. However, there would have to be cognisance taken of historical precedents, conventions, and a range of proposals, in order to reach the correct interpretation.

Dr Motshekga raised a point of order, asking whether the IFP was represented in the subcommittee and had a chance to make those submissions at that level, and had therefore participated in the drafting of the Report from the subcommittee.

Dr Oriani-Ambrosini responded that the IFP was indeed represented in the subcommittee, and that his submission to the subcommittee was one of a number of views and expressions. However, his plea was to have a policy discussion, within the parameters of the subcommittee, to define the scope of the amendments. At present, the scope was comprehensive, but he thought it was possible to set out some proposals that would limit that scope. He reiterated that the drafting was the easiest part of the exercise, and could be carried out in a few days.

The Chairperson thanked Mr Oriani-Ambrosini for his input. He pointed out that it was not possible to re-debate a matter that was effectively already decided upon by the subcommittee, which had submitted its Report.

Ms S Kaylan (DA) said that the input by Dr Oriani-Ambrosini was the same as was given at subcommittee level. His concerns about policy issues had been addressed in the Report now tabled to the Rules Committee. There had been agreement on the issues set out on pages 3 and 4, so the issues he had raised were already dealt with.

Mr Watson asked what the resources were for the work of the subcommittee on Review of Rules.

Adv Masutha responded that the subcommittee had no budget of its own, and therefore it had merely asked for whatever it needed from the budget of the main Rules Committee.

Dr P Mulder (FF+) noted that the subcommittee was obviously reporting to the Rules Committee, and he wondered if the Rules Committee was not now entitled to discuss what had been discussed in the subcommittee. He felt that the Rules Committee should be entitled to do so. The recommendations on page 3 of the subcommittee’s Report set out that parties should be able to give inputs up to end August 2012. He pointed out, however, that two years previously, a fact finding mission of the Chief Whips’ Forum had been undertaken, at considerable cost, and this had also produced a report on how Parliament should function. That report also should be taken into consideration.

The Chairperson assured Dr Mulder that his point had been noted.

Adv Masutha responded that there was a booklet, which contained a composite set of decisions and precedents of Presiding Officers since the commencement of Parliament, and which assisted in ensuring there was consistency in the rulings of successive Presiding Officers. That booklet, however, had not been updated since 1999, and it was essential that this be done. He wanted to make some proposals in that regard. Contrary to what Dr Oriani-Ambrosini was suggesting, some of the wisdom that was derived from practical application of the rules, in the form of precedents, could still be valuable. Improvements reached through shaping the existing rules should not be lost, and precedent was valuable, including what had come from the Chief Whips’ Forum. He agreed that any useful input that would help to improve and enhance the end product should be taken into account.

The Chairperson summarised that the preparations for the review process would include capacity building for Members and support staff, including a workshop on the background and origins of the current rules of the NA. There was also a concrete proposal that parties be given until the end of August 2012 to submit proposals for possible areas of review. He said that these should be broad proposals, accompanied by a motivation for the suggested changes, inclusions or deletions, but should not be draft amendments.

During this period a report would be drafted by a specialist consultant, assisted by a dedicated team from the NA Table, consolidating recommendations from completed reports that were currently before various forums of Parliament, for inclusion for review process. The specialist consultant would consult, using its thorough knowledge and understanding of the rules of NA, as well as drawing on vast practical experience in the implementation and application of the Rules, and would be appointed to coordinate the review process. Should any further outside expertise be required, the subcommittee could approach the Speaker for permission to engage it.

The review process would thus deliberate on and agree policy issues, in principle. The agreed-upon proposals would then be presented to the Rules Committee for approval. That Committee would then proceed to draft the necessary rules or amendments, to complete the process by June 2013.

Ms Kalyan asked for clarity on the timeframes for the workshop.

Adv Masutha responded that this had not yet been fixed. It seemed sensible to delay the workshop until the party inputs were received in August, so that it could be informed by views of different parties. Ideally, it should happen as soon as possible after August.

Dr Mulder suggested that it would be useful to host the workshop first, after which parties could give inputs, as this would make the inputs better informed.

Ms Kalyan agreed, pointing out that it was intended to be a capacity building workshop, after which inputs should be given.

Ms Fubbs agreed that it was intended as a capacity building workshop, so that Members’ knowledge could be further enhanced, but after parties had made their inputs, then another meeting or workshop would be needed to understand what was being added, before Members were asked to vote on it.

Ms Kilian said that Members had already adopted the Report, which was clear. However, the subcommittee had been largely comprised of new Members, and it was necessary to bring everyone else up to speed. She believed that it would be useful to regard the Workshop as one to build capacity, rather than to present party positions.

The Chairperson stated that the date of the workshop would be confirmed.

Report of the Chief Whips’ Forum on matters referred to it by National Assembly Rules Committee
Motshekga set out the Report of the Chief Whips’ Forum (the Forum) in relation to the use of electronic devices in the Chamber. The Forum had recommended that a detailed study be done on the use of electronic devices in other Parliaments, and that guidelines for the use of electronic devices in Parliament be drafted after completion of that comparative study.

The Forum had also debated the guidelines for noting of condolences, and suggested that they be approved, with the amendment that the House should acknowledge the passing away of former Members, but that a debate would only take place with the consensus of the Forum.

Dr Motshekga then noted that the Forum had recommended, in relation to notices for motions, that the proposed guidelines should be approved. In regard to motions without notice, all Forum members had agreed to the guidelines presented, and recommended that it be adopted.

The Forum had also recommended that the guidelines on draft resolutions be approved.

The Committee adopted all the guidelines.

The meeting was adjourned.


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