National Assembly Rules review: Subcommittee deliberations

Rules of the National Assembly

20 January 2015
Chairperson: Mr R Mdakane (ANC)
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Meeting Summary

The Committee met briefly to review the new draft of the National Assembly Rules. The Chairperson outlined the procedure and made it clear, several times, that it was not this sub-Committee who would be making the final decision on the Rules of the NA; instead, individual members of this sub-committee were invited to discuss, and if necessary draft more proposals on the Rules, for a final decision of the Rules Committee. Any proposals must clearly set out which Rules they related to, how they were to be amended, the reasons and what purpose this would serve in the overall context of the NA Rules. The Chairperson also pointed out that the review was long overdue and Members should not think that it was in any way related to the new political parties or coming into operation of the Fifth Parliament.

Committee Members discussed rules 74 to 89. In relation to Rule 74, Members asked why the Rule made reference to some sections of the Constitution, but not others, and the Committee Consultant explained that the wording was deliberately slightly different but that this would be looked at again, to ensure that it was effective. The Committee spent some time deliberating on the purpose and principles around quorums, and opposition. Clarity was provided on the reference to division of bells in proposed Rule 74B, and Members were agreed that a vote should not be taken before a quorum was established. Opposition parties stressed the importance of the presence and active voting and contribution of opposition party members. There was no discussion needed on Rule 77A, other than a suggestion that the language may need to be tightened. Rule 79 was clarified. Members asked for clarity also on Rule 81, and it was noted that there were three options; either to retain the present wording, or take out the rule on the basis that the monthly debates could be used to make declarations, or to allocate specific times for declarations, since sometimes the time allowed was being abused. Some Members took the view that there was no need for change, and an opposition Member insinuated that the ruling party should not push for removal of Rules that might result in the majority party being able to censor the minorities. It was agreed that all three options would be put forward to the Rules Committee, with a suggestion that the number remain at four. The point was made that the rules around division were intended not to promote the rights of political parties but to further the administrative business of the House. The purpose of Rule 88 was outlined. A suggestion was made for secret ballots rather than the electronic system, which was said to have the possibility of error. The difference between the current Rule on points of order during division and the ANC proposal, which sought to limit the points of order to those related directly to the division, was explained.
 

Meeting report

Subcommittee dealing with review of the National Assembly (NA) rules:

The Chairperson said the subcommittee would be reviewing the National Assembly Rules (the Rules) to ensure that they are relevant for the National Assembly (NA). He said that the Rules must be dynamic and should not undermine the quality of work that needs to be done. The Committee should focus on the purpose of each Rule, the language that was used to explain the Rule. There should be no confusion as to what each rule meant, and the way that the purpose of the Rule was set out should be clear so that it could be understood by everyone. Every Rule should be relevant to the work that was being done by Parliament and the government.

The Chairperson asked that before proposing a Rule, Committee members must:
-explain the Rule
-explain what the purpose of the Rule in the NA is and how it tried to help with the role that was being played by Parliament.

The Chairperson made it clear that Parliament was not reviewing the Rules because of the new composition of the NA, since that review would have taken place even if there were not any new political parties in Parliament; it had already been decided, prior to the last election, that a review was needed. The new legislature was not an issue and Members should avoid any suggestion that it was.

The Chairperson also asked the Committee to focus on the dress code for the Members of Parliament (MPs), saying that guidelines would also have to be given, and this too was a long-outstanding issue that Parliament had wanted to address for some time.

The Chairperson asked the Committee to spend at least only 30 minutes on Chapter 6 and then move onto Chapter 7.

Discussion
General points, leading to discussion on draft Rules 74A and 74B
Mr N Singh (IFP) said the numbering of the document was a problem. He asked what the terms were for establishing a quorum. He also asked why the terms 'Rules' and 'Constitution' appeared to be used interchangeably in the document.

Mr Perran Hahndiek, Committee Secretary, said the description of a quorum in the Rules was given to ensure that decision-making would be able to take place.

Mr Kasper Hahndiek, Consultant to the Committee, agreed that quorum Rules were there to ensure that decisions were made, and also served to speed up the processes too. It would be impossible for a Committee to conclude on a matter if there were not enough members present that would decide on an issue.

Mr Singh asked what would happen if there were not enough members to form a quorum.

Mr K Hahndiek replied that there had been suggestions to change the numbers. However, he asked Members to note that the proposed new Rules 74A and 74B did not cover the same issues in regard to a quorum.

The Chairperson said all the suggestions being made by Committee Members in this meeting would be taken as proposals and passed to the Rules Committee for approval. He noted that the references to the Rules and Constitution were essentially emphasising that the Rules were allied to the Constitution. Members should respect the Rules and could not simply suggest in National Assembly Chamber that the Rules should be changed.

The Chairperson suggested that Rules for meetings should be coupled with different quorum percentages that would allow for decisions to be made even if certain members had not attended, and this would also make it easier for all Members to know what percentage of members must be present at each committee in order to proceed with taking a decision. He pointed out that there was a need to draft another document to set the percentages for quorums, because Chapter 6 dealt only with decisions and questions.

A Committee Member put forward the proposal that the Rules should contain a cross-reference to the Constitution, and that this be done to make it easier for Members to understand how the rules around decision making in the NA applied.

Another Member pointed out that section 53 (a) and (b) of the Constitution were essentially captured in what was set out in the draft of Rule 74A, but section 53 (c) did not appear to be covered. She suggested that a way should be found to cater for this.

Mr G Gardee (EFF) agreed to that proposal.

Mr Singh also agreed to the proposal but was concerned that the wording of the new draft Rules was not the same as was used in the Constitution.

Mr K Hahndiek replied that the sentence was slightly changed, because in most cases all decisions were, or should be taken by a majority.

Mr F Shivambu (EFF) proposed that records should be kept of members who did not agree with a majority vote, noting that this was not provided for in the Rule.

Rule 74B
Ms S Kaylan (DA) said Rule 74B (b) was likely to cause an administrative problem for the Speaker because the Speaker was not always aware of who was present or not during a vote.

Mr Singh asked if the time of the division of bells could be changed, and asked what it would mean if there was a lapse of time.

Mr K Hahndiek replied that the time lapse meant that the division bells could ring in less than three minutes if the presiding officer decided to do so, but the maximum time should be five minutes.

Mr P Hahndiek said the reason why there were presiding officers was to make sure that there were no disruptions in the NA, and that the presence of all Members necessary to reach a real quorum had been recorded.

Members were agreed that it was desirable for the House firstly to establish a quorum before MPs could vote.

The Chairperson said that it was an individual MP's responsibility to ensure that s/he had been recorded as present, for a quorum to be established, and then they could proceed with voting.

Ms C September (ANC) said it was not the role of the ruling party to provide quorums.

Mr B Mashile (ANC) said it was important to remember that when there were votes cast in the NA, all the political parties' votes were counted, and not only those of the ruling party.

The Chairperson asked the Committee Members if they were all in agreement that a quorum should be established first, before votes could be taken. It did not matter if an MP decided to leave the Assembly before taking a vote, but the presence had to be recorded. An MP could still walk out of the Assembly without voting if s/he did not want to partake in the procedure.

Mr Shivambu asked what the use of the quorum was, if MPs were allowed to walk out of the Assembly without, or even before, voting.

All the members of the Committee agreed that a quorum should be established first.

The Chairperson said that Rule 76B dealt with the question that Mr Shivambu was asking, and referred him to the detailed wording.

Mr Booi (Member of an opposition party) made a statement about the importance of opposition parties in the NA. It did not matter which political party had the majority of seats, but opposition parties should always remember that they too were representing the public. Voting was a crucial aspect and how it was dealt with was also very important.

The Chairperson made it clear again to all Members that they could, if they wished, draft alternative proposals for any of the Rules, and those would then be referred to the full Rules Committee where appropriate decisions would be made on each proposal.

The Chairperson noted that the manual voting procedure was used when the electronic voting system was not working. He suggested that there was no need to discuss the proposed Rule 77A, because everyone seemed to understand it.

Rule 77A

Mr Singh agreed with the Chairperson, but suggested that the use of language in the underlined section of the Rule should be reconsidered because it seemed to contradict the first part of Rule 77A, which was not underlined. The role of a presiding officer was not needed in this regard.

Rule 79

The Chairperson said that Rule 79 referred to the situation when there was no quorum and the NA had not understood the question the first time, when it was put forward. The question could again be put forward for a second time, once there was a quorum.

Rule 81

Ms N Michael (DA) said, referring to Rule 81, that it was important for MPs to understand and know when a declaration of vote could be taken.

Mr Singh said the drafting of the Rules allowed for multi-party democracy.

A Committee member said the declaration of vote was one of the tools that were designed to be used by opposition parties and therefore she did not understand why Committee members would want to take the Rule out of this document.

The Chairperson said that this raised two areas for consideration. Members could either retain the wording around the declaration of vote in its present form, or take out the Rule altogether, on the basis that Members debated every month and could use that platform to make their declarations. Another option would be to allocate time for declarations. He asked Members to decide which option they wished to take forward to the Rules Committee.

Mr Booi disagreed with the alternative proposals and said there was nothing wrong with Rule 81 in its present form. He was worried that the ANC was suggesting the removal of this Rule in order to censor opposition parties.

The Chairperson said if Mr Booi did not agree with the proposal then he should draft an alternative, which should include the purpose of the Rule.

Mr Booi repeated his view that the Rule should not be taken out because other political parties had a role to play in the democracy; including policies which they would like to submit. He urged that they should be given the opportunity to represent their voters properly, in a democratic fashion.

Ms September made an inaudible remark.

Another Committee Member said clarity was needed as to when the declarations could be taken.

The Chairperson said Members should now conclude their comments on this matter. If there was no agreement then the matter would be referred to the Rules Committee who would make the final decision. The Committee must remember that there were three options to Rule 81, and they should be considered and any further options drafted for the Rules Committee as well.

Mr Booi repeated his view that the Committee should not entertain the option of taking out Rule 81.

Mr Gardee said the ruling party seemed to be forgetting that there would come a time when it would want to persuade opposition political parties on certain matters, and at that time the ruling party would then need the vote of the opposition parties. He suggested that the proposal on this Rule should be withdrawn. He was of the view that ruling party seemed determined to close all avenues which would allow opposition parties to make declarations.

The Chairperson said that it was up to the Members to decide how many proposals they wanted to make to the Rules Committee. They should, in each case, motivate their views for either keeping the Rule  as it is now, and what purpose it served to have this Rule, or not to have it.

An ANC Committee Member assured the meeting that the intention of the ANC was not to close any of the avenues which the opposition parties had. However, if a matter was not debated then the declarations could take place and time must be allocated. If the matter had been debated beforehand, then there was no need for declarations to take place. Members should then raise their concerns during the debates.

Mr K Hahndiek said the purpose of the declaration was for parties to state why they were for or against a decision, but MPs often took a much longer time than was actually needed to do so. He proposed that declarations should have time allocations linked to them, and the time should only be used so that MPs could clarify their reasons for their vote. They should not be used to open up another debate.

The Chairperson said the point had been debated enough and asked Members to move forward.

Members noted their agreement to put down three options for the Rules Committee to consider.

Mr Gardee interjected said the African National Congress (ANC) tended to be a general liberation movement.

The Chairperson interrupted Mr Gardee and asked for the Committee to proceed with the Rules.

Mr Gardee says he was of the view that the division of the NA should be agreed to by at least a minimum of five to ten people.

The Chairperson replied that the original Rule said the minimum should be four people, and not the ten that had been proposed.

Another Committee member proposed that the Rule should be kept at four as it would allow smaller political parties to take part in debates.

Mr Hahndiek said the division of the House should not be about the rights of political parties, but anything proposed must consider the administrative purpose of the House.

Rules 87 to 89

The Chairperson said that Rule 87 had been deleted; therefore there was no need to discuss it.

The Chairperson noted that Rule 88 simply stated that an MP who calls for a division must vote with those that were part of the minority. If an MP chose to abstain from a vote then his or her vote must be counted with the majority, as stipulated by Rule 89.

A Committee Member proposed that the NA should use secret ballots instead of the electronic voting, because this tended to record incorrect votes.

The Chairperson replied that such a proposal could be drafted for the Rules Committee, who would make the final decision.

Mr Singh said if Members were present in the NA then they should participate in the activities as well, as determined by the presiding officer.

Mr Hahndiek said the only difference between the ANCs 'Points of order during division' and the existing wording was that the latter pointed to the fact that MPs may speak to a point of order on other matters not related to the ones being currently debated, but the ANC's proposal limited the making of points of order to something related to the division.

Mr Hahndiek raised a query on how Members would know if their vote had been incorrectly recorded, as Rule 92(b) stated.

The Chairperson said all the political parties' proposals would be submitted to the Rules Committee. He reminded Members present that they were not responsible for making the final decisions but only the recommendations. He agreed that the issue of secret ballots should be guided by clear guidelines.

The meeting was adjourned.

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