The Task Team met to continue its review of the Rules of the National Assembly. The previous meeting of the Task Team ended with the Table Staff and the Committee being asked to consider various options regarding the use of offensive and unbecoming language in Parliament. The Task Team had to decide whether it wanted to maintain the wording of Rule 63, or it wanted it to be as elaborate as that of Rule 66, which referred to Reflections upon Judges. The Task Team and Members discussed what it would be appropriate to raise in Parliament, what would be done in the case of illegal activity by a Member, and what type of conduct may be seen as impacting on the institution of Parliament. The point was stressed that there was a thin line between private life and public life, for public officials and political office bearers, and it was suggested that other Parliaments’ experiences and Rules be examined, to find out how they restricted insults and improper language without stifling debate. The Table Staff was to come up with a final draft for consideration by the Task Team.
The Task Team then went through Rules 64 to 74. The Rule relating to reflections upon decisions or statutes of the same annual session was flagged for further debate, particularly whether there was a need to change the current wording which prohibited such debate only in relation to the House decisions on individuals and statutes, or whether Members should be required to show due respect for other decisions arrived at by the House legitimately and democratically, at least for the remainder of the annual session in which such decisions were taken. Members asked that the heading of Rule 66 be changed. The changes to Rule 70 (3), dealing with points of order, were set out, and Members agreed that there was a need to educate Members about decorum in the House. Previously-numbered Rules 25(2) and 26 had been moved to follow on from Rule 74, and were renumbered as Rules 74A and 74B. The time period of five minutes had been reduced to three. Rule 76B now contained provision for a secret ballot as an option, in respect of no-confidence motions under Section 102 of the Constitution. Rule 94 had been debated by the Task Team but it was agreed that it should not be changed to include any reference to a special category of constitutional motions, although this may be adjusted after the separate consideration on no-confidence motions by the Rules Sub-Committee. It did need to be clarified that draft resolutions, like subjects for discussion, could be both debated and put for decision. Rule 96 had two options, and the Committee approved the second, which was that any member may propose an amendment to a draft resolution, provided that the amendment did not extend the scope of the draft resolution or was ruled out of order for any other reason by the presiding officer, or that they did not propose the exact opposite of what was contained in the first draft moved. Members asked the drafters to combine Rules 97(c) and (g) for consistency. In relation to Chapter 8, it was noted that the Task Team had recommended that “private member” be defined. The Committee was asked to consider what would be sufficient notice for withdrawal of discussions on matters of public importance, or allowance for a motion without notice. Chapter 9 related to executive statements, and it was noted that the three minutes presently contained in Rule 103(5) must be amended to bring this rules in line with procedural developments. The drafters were asked to complete the final draft on Chapters 1 to 9 to have it approved by the Team and thereafter by the Sub-Committee. The review on Chapters 10 to 15 would also now proceed.
Continuation of review of new draft of the National Assembly Rules
The Chairperson welcomed members of the Task Team and said that the Team was about to complete its review of the drafted Rules. The last meeting had ended with the Table Staff and the Committee being asked to consider various options regarding the use of offensive and unbecoming language in Parliament. He asked Mr Kasper Hahndiek, from the Parliamentary Technical Staff, to brief the Team on what the technical and table staff had come up with.
Mr Kasper Hahndiek said that there were two aspects where research was required. The first was in regard to improper conduct, and the second was in relation to offensive language. The Task Team had to decide whether it wanted to maintain the wording of Rule 63, or it wanted it to be as elaborate as that of Rule 66, which referred to reflections upon judges.
Mr Perran Hahndiek, Committee Secretary, said that one of the substantive issues was the role of the Speaker. The Speaker had discretion but the evidence had to be compelling. That was not included in Rule 63.
Mr J Jeffery (ANC) said that only the Speaker could have the discretion to establish whether conduct was improper.
Mr Kasper Hahndiek said that the Speaker could disallow a substantive motion if he considered that it was backed by adequate or compelling evidence.
Mr Jeffery said that the intention was not to restrict debate but to limit insults. Insults of a personal or political nature had to be unacceptable in Parliament. He said that he was not sure if Rule 63 was well enough worded to reflect this intention.
Ms S Kalyan (DA) said that the use of substantive motions was going to complement the Rule, as it related to provision of evidence for an insult or improper conduct.
Mr Jeffery said that a substantive motion was supposed to deal only with one issue, and the basis of the issue raised in the motion had to be dealt with appropriately. All allegations had to be substantiated with proof and full explanations.
Mr Kasper Hahndiek said personal remarks about a person’s appearance or circumstances would never go by way of substantive motions, and so they could simply be regarded as offensive in terms of Rule 63. Insults about the private lives and physical conditions of Members of Parliament (Members or MPs) were not matters to be dealt with by the National Assembly.
Ms S Seaton, Consultant to the Task Team, and former Member of Parliament, said that if a Member was doing something such as abusing his wife or not paying maintenance, then it was important for such a matter to be raised in the House, as such actions were destroying the image of both the Member and the institution to which he belonged. She believed that although this was a personal matter, it was relevant to his work as he could not be preaching virtue yet practising vice.
Mr Hahndiek replied that if a Member was going against the law, then it was a different issue, and could be raised through a motion as illegal activities on the part of a member. However, he remained of the view that essentially private matters were out of the jurisdiction of Parliament.
The Chairperson said that there was a difference between private matters and criminal matters. However, if a Member of Parliament had evidence that another member had beaten up his wife and children, then such an issue could be raised in the House. Members were not above the law.
Mr Hahndiek said that such an issue had to follow a legal process, outside of Parliament.
Ms Kalyan agreed that if a Member was breaking the law, a charge could be laid against him or her, and the due process of the law could be followed. If the actions were such that they impacted on the image and integrity of Parliament, then Parliament had the obligation to act. She did not think that a motion in the House was the way to go about it.
The Chairperson said that it was important for the Task Team to note that there was a very thin line between private life and public life, for public officials and political office bearers.
Mr Jeffery said that it was important for the Task Team to find out how other Parliaments around the world handled the issue of restricting insults and improper language, yet not restricting debate in the House.
The Chairperson said that the Table Staff would come up with a final draft for the Task Team to confirm before the draft was finally forwarded to the Sub-Committee on Rules.
Mr Kasper Hahndiek read through Rules 64 to 74. He noted that the Rule relating to reflections upon decisions or statutes of same annual session was flagged for further consideration. As the rule was currently worded, only decisions of the House relating to individuals and statutes were included in the prohibition. The question for further consideration was whether members should not be required to show due respect for other decisions arrived at by the House legitimately and democratically, at least for the remainder of the annual session in which such decisions were taken.
Ms J Killian (COPE) said that she did not agree with Mr Hahndiek, as there were totally different issues at play. Members had the right to differ and have their opinions reflected at later stages, even if the final decision of the House was not in line with their opinion. Such a right or space could not be limited as this would not be democratic.
The Chairperson said that it was important to note that once a decision was taken in the House, it had to be recorded and reflected upon as the decision of the House, not of the majority party. If Members were allowed to state contrary opinions could create confusion and misunderstanding about the decisions of the House. It was one thing to criticise the opinions of the majority party, but it was another thing to insist on disagreeing with the decision of the House.
Mr Jeffery said that he was worried about the constitutionality of the provision. He agreed that in regard to a decision affecting a member, it would be appropriate to have no further reflection on it for the rest of the term but for other decisions and statutes, he was not sure what exactly the problem was. It was all about politics.
Mr Hahndiek said that what the rule was trying to do was to ensure respect for a decision arrived at by the National Assembly, through a democratic process. Once a decision was taken, it had to be respected, whether a political party liked the decision or not.
Ms Killian asked if the Task Team was just going to define a session or change the wording to read “term” and not “session”.
The Chairperson said that the staff was going redraft the Rule and revert to the Team.
Mr Jeffery commented that, in relation to Rule 66, the use of the word “etc” in the heading of a rule was not acceptable, and suggested that this be substituted with a reference to all relevant officials.
Mr Hahndiek turned to Rule 70, dealing with points of order. This had been reworked in line with the previous discussions of the Task Team. He noted that it was important that in (3), there was now wording stating that the presiding officer may, at his or her discretion, allow Members to address the Chair briefly on a point of order that had been raised. Once the point of order had been taken and the presiding officer was responding to that, he was not, however, obliged to hear and respond to an unending sequence of points of order. The presiding order must restore order in the House. If the presiding officer was clear on an issue, then he was not supposed to entertain further points of order in the House. This was because serious points of order could lead to massive disruption of the sitting. The ruling of the presiding officer could not be challenged or questioned at the time, but if a member felt aggrieved by such a ruling, the matter could subsequently be taken up in writing.
Mr Jeffery said that the rule was very important for decorum and order in the House. He suggested the need for clarification as to what was a breach of order. He asked if there could be any restriction that points of order should not be called for on frivolous and unimportant matters.
The Chairperson said that members usually called for a point of order when they did not agree with an issue, and that usually derailed the Member who was speaking.
Mr Kasper Hahndiek said that the presiding officer had the discretion and responsibility to maintain order so he could deal with frivolous and unnecessary issues. It was not very important for that to be stipulated in the rules.
Mr Jeffery replied that the intention was to protect and maintain order in the House. Most often, the Member raising the frivolous points of order well knew that they were frivolous. He could understand if this happened once, but in many cases it was done repeatedly. He thought that a rule could be drafted as an option for this kind of situation. Another situation was that some Members did not know what a point of order actually was.
Ms Kalyan said that the essence of a point of order was about the procedure and rules, but the deterioration in the decorum in the House recently had related to points of order raised for personal attacks on Members.
Mr Jeffery said that the training of Members in this regard was very important.
The Chairperson said that the presiding officer had the duty to maintain order in the house, and the Whips of the various parties had to also be concerned about disorder created by members of their parties.
Mr Hahndiek moved on to Chapter 6. Rule 74 dealt with quorums, and he pointed out that Rules 74A and 74B had been inserted, which were previously numbered as Rules 25(2) and 26. Amendments had been proposed as indicated by the Task Team. The time period of five minutes had been reduced to three minutes, in line with Rule 85, allowing that they may be rung for a longer period, at the discretion of the presiding officer, if requested by the Whips.
Mr Hahndiek described Rule 76B, which related to the casting of votes, and noted that provision for a secret ballot was to be considered as an option, in respect of no-confidence motions under Section 102 of the Constitution.
The Chairperson said that the Task Team, the Sub-Committee on Rules and the Rules Committee had discussed and deliberated extensively on the issue of motions of no confidence and voting, and the ideas from these discussions had been adequately captured in the draft rules.
He asked the Task Team to move on to Chapter 7.
Mr Hahndiek moved to Rule 94, dealing with the nature of motions. The draft rule stated that a member may propose a subject for discussion, or a draft resolution for approval as a resolution of the House.
Mr Hahndiek said that the Task Team had discussed whether this rule should include a reference to a special category of constitutional motions, including no-confidence motions, and prioritisation of such motions. After debate, it was generally agreed that the rule should remain unchanged. Any adjustments, including provisions to schedule certain motions, should await the outcome of the separate consideration of no-confidence motions by the Rules Sub-Committee.
Mr Hahndiek proposed that the Task Team should consider rules concerning the frequency with which motions were programmed and, for instance, the use of Extended Public Committees. The present practice was that relatively few Members’ motions were considered. He said that it was not clear from Rule 94 that draft resolutions, like subjects for discussion, may be both debated and put for decision. It was necessary to amend this rule for greater clarity.
The Chairperson said that it was important for the members of the Task Team to realize that there was a lot of work to be done, and he urged them to follow the proposals by the technical and table staff. He said that only very important issues should be raised, as the general discussions were good but were not very necessary for the progress of the work of the Task Team.
Mr Hahndiek described Rule 96, which set out that no amendment to a draft resolution may be moved, except an amendment to a draft resolution on a question of privilege, to substitute the name of another member in a draft resolution, or an amendment which was allowed by the presiding officer.
Mr Hahndiek said that the question of privilege was to be defined in the Definitions Rule.
His alternative proposal to the current Rule 96 was that any member may propose an amendment to a draft resolution, provided that the amendment did not extend the scope of the draft resolution or was ruled out of order for any other reason by the presiding officer. He said that, as a further option, amendments could be allowed provided that they did not propose merely to state the exact opposite of what was contained in the draft resolution as moved.
The Chairperson approved the alternative draft of the Rule.
The Committee Secretary said that this was one of the issues which could be put to the Rules Sub-Committee for deliberation and decision.
Mr Kasper Hahndiek moved on to Rule 97, pertaining to motions without notice, and pointed out that rule 97(c) had been amended to read that “for the postponement or discharge of, or giving precedence to, an order of the day scheduled for that day”. The phrase “scheduled for that day” had been included.
Mr Jeffery said that the issue was that decision could be taken on a motion without notice, if the decision was unanimous.
Mr Hahndiek replied that the issue of unanimity was handled in Rule 97(g).
Mr Jeffery said that if that was the case, then both sub-rules (c) and (g) should be merged so that the issue could be dealt with exhaustively in one sub-rule.
The Task Team went through Chapter 8 pertaining to discussion of matters of public importance. Rule 103 stated that a private member could request the Speaker in writing to place a matter of public importance on the order paper for discussion.
The Task Team agreed that the term “private member” must be defined in the definitions rule, and, for purposes of this rule, must include Committee Chairpersons, House Chairpersons and the Deputy Speaker.
Mr Hahndiek made a proposal that the Committee may need to consider what would constitute sufficient notice for the withdrawal of discussion on matters of public importance. Alternatively, a Member could be permitted to move in the House, without notice, that the order be discharged at the time when that order was reached.
Mr Hahndiek read through Chapter 9, pertaining to Members’ statements and executive statements.
Rule 106(5) stated that, following any executive statement, a member or members of each of the parties represented in the House may comment on the executive statement. The time allocated to each party for that purpose, and the sequence for party comments, was to be determined by the Rules Committee. Mr Hahndiek proposed that an addition be made which read “for not more than three minutes per party, commencing with the official largest opposition party, and followed by other parties in the order of the size of their membership in the Assembly.”
It was agreed by the Task Team that the three minutes allocated in Sub-Rule 5 must be reviewed by the Rules Committee, especially in the light of increase in the global time for smaller parties to “no less than” three minutes. According to procedural development in the National Assembly, Item 6, Issue 7, a practice had been developed for the House to adopt a resolution with altered times for parties on each occasion of a ministerial statement.
The Chairperson said that the Task Team had done the major part of its task by completing the review of Chapters 1 to 9. These Chapters had not been reviewed from the time that the rules were first written. He suggested that, to take matters forward, the technical and table staff should now consolidate the draft Rules and place them before the Task Team for confirmation. The final approved draft would then be forwarded to the Rules Sub-Committee for consideration.
Ms Kalyan said that the process on Chapter 1 to 9 could be initiated while the Task Team looked for an appropriate day to complete the rest of the Rules. She said that the Task Team could even meet over a weekend, as she was keen to see the process completed.
Ms Seaton said that she hope that she and Michael Ellis were going to be informed, and presented with the final draft which was going to be submitted to the Rules Sub-Committee. She was raising the concern because they were the only two members of the Task team who were not part of the Rules Committee.
The Chairperson replied that the final draft was going to be circulated to the entire team.
Mr Jeffery said that Chapters 10 to 15 were relatively easy to review as there was not much to be done on these chapters.
The meeting was adjourned.
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