Sub-committee Report on proposed amendments to National Assembly Rules: Chapters 1 to 9; Rule 70 Points of Order; Deployment of security forces in National Assembly

Rules of the National Assembly

06 March 2015
Chairperson: Mr M Mdakane (ANC)
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Meeting Summary

The Sub-committee on Review of Assembly Rules met to continue its deliberations on its Report to the Rules Committee on proposed amendments to the National Assembly Rules. Before actual deliberations got under way, Members took time to express their frustration that there were only four members in attendance. There was only one Member from the opposition, the DA. A staff member from the IFP was present but the Committee member was not. Both the ANC and the DA stipulated that they would not consider the EFF's submission as they had no presence in the meeting. The EFF had not even informed the Committee of their absence. It was noted by both parties that without the presence of the EFF, the Committee’s business was bound to proceed smoothly.

Particular points raised during the day's debate were the suspension of the Rules through special majority or a two-thirds majority. The sequence of proceedings and public access was also considered. The wording for Rule 70 on Points of Order was re-looked at and there was common agreement between the ANC and DA on this.

The DA and ANC members spoke emotionally about the use and purpose of 'security services' in Parliament and the need for an operational manual to be drafted to clarify their role and powers. The length of time for Notice of Motions was discussed and the ANC and the DA agreed that they could find each other on this matter. The suggestion was that these be dealt with after the main items on the agenda.

Members agreed that they had considered Chapters One to Nine. The Sub-committee was aiming to finalise its work by the end of April. The Sub-committee would meet on 8, 9 and 10 April to discuss Chapters 10 to 15.

Meeting report

The meeting started late as only four Members were in attendance. After 30 minutes Mr Mdakane convened the meeting. It was noted that there was a court case involving the EFF in Cape Town and that was perhaps the reason for their non-attendance. No apology had been recorded.

Mr Mdakane said with the calls for a vote of no confidence in the President, everyone all over the world was waiting to hear what was going to be said about rules. According to the court ruling, every Member of Parliament had the right to move a motion of no confidence to take place within a reasonable time. What was reasonable, however, was very subjective. The Committee needed to address this itself but could not change anything the court had decided on. It was up to Parliament to design its own arrangement: there could not be a vote of no confidence every week but as the court ruling stood this was possible.

Mr Mdakane said recent experience had revealed that Parliament needed to tighten its own rules. The Sub-committee had been established as a task team to consider this and report back to the Rules Committee.

He also suggested that any Member of Parliament should be invited to participate, as non-voting Members, in the Sub-committee’s meetings.  There was no harm and political parties, like the ACDP for example, which was not represented in the Committee, should not be excluded from the process. 

Independent adviser to the Sub-committee, Mr Kasper Hahndiek said he agreed. All parties should be involved and allowed to buy in to the process.

Mr B Mashile (ANC) also agreed, considering the minimum attendance at this meeting. Members from all political parties would require training once the rules had changed, to understand the process. The Chairperson’s suggestion should be extended to the Chief Whips’ Forum.

Ms N Mazzone nee Michaels (DA) said the Chairperson was the most patient man she knew and that even some Members who were part of the Committee sometimes arrived unprepared. They had not read the documents. A stronger stance needed to be taken. Could the meeting go ahead with so few Members?

Mr Mdakane said other MPs should be invited. Some of them had no clue was being decided on. He did not think more than 20 people had even read the proposed amendments document.

Mr Mashile said a point of departure should be the motion of no confidence and the court ruling on "reasonable time". Surely this should include what the reasonable time was for the removal or withdrawal of a motion.

Mr Mdakane said the Committee was trying to be a patient as possible with the EFF. They were in court but they might be coming.

Mr M Booi (ANC) echoed Ms Mazzone’s frustration over the absence of the EFF from the Committee. It was an exercise of futility.

Mr Mdakane said the EFF must be able to articulate its submission in discussions but it could not be forced to attend.

Mr Booi said the Sub-committee was being punished unnecessarily. EFF Member Mr G Gardee had “ducked out” in the earlier stages of committee deliberations and then Mr F Shivambu had taken his place. Neither were present at this meeting. The EFF was holding the Sub-committee ransom. They had not even submitted an apology. The meeting should be postponed.

Ms Mazzone said an IFP staff member had informed her that Ms Mazzone was the only opposition party Member present.

Referring to the EFF written submission, circulated to Members earlier, Ms Mazzone said she saw no reason why, if they were not in attendance, the submission should even be considered. The meeting should not continue with only four Members in attendance.

Mr Mdakane said the meeting must continue.

He was supported by Mr Mashile who said this particular Committee was not hard and fast on quorum. What should then be considered were only the ANC and DA’s inputs on Chapters 1 to 9 of the National Assembly Rules?

Ms J Kilian (ANC) said the Sub-committee was a formal one that had to report back to the Rules Committee. There should be a list of attendance and change of membership.

Rules Committee responses to substantive proposed rules changes: 4 February 2015
Mr Hahndiek took Members through the Rules Committee responses to substantive proposed rules changes which emanated from 4 February Committee discussions (see document).

The document highlighted some rules which required further inputs. Discussions were limited to only issues raised by the ANC and the DA.

Chapter 1 Rule 3(3) Suspension of Rules: special majority
Ms Kilian said the ANC study group had met and agreed that the Rules should not be suspended on a willy-nilly basis but was there another mechanism in place regarding quorum?  It may be useful to have a special majority on sessional grounds. Perhaps unanimous concurrence would do it, if all parties agreed. It would be a technical issue.

Mr Mdakane said the vote to suspend was 50 plus one but perhaps Parliament could make its own arrangement.

Committee Secretary, Mr Perran Hahndiek, said suggestions to increase the special majority even more to say two-thirds might have constitutional implications. If a number was set too tightly, it could impede the working of the House.

Parliamentary Legal Adviser, Mr Gary Rhoda, said it would lead to a constitutional challenge as it would impede on the rights of Members not present.

Ms Kilian said it was a nuisance but perhaps the answer would be to say that a third of the members must be in the House. The minimum requirement constitutionally speaking was 50 plus one.

Mr Hahndiek said Rules are not often suspended. It was correct to say by exception Rules were suspended. They should not be arbitrarily suspended. For that reason, he felt there should be a special majority.

Mr Mdakane said it could possibly be a case of Rules for functionality and Rules for constitutionality.

Mr Rhoda said the Rules were not the Constitution.

Mr Mdakane said if the lawyers were happy, then two-thirds would be scrapped and the Committee would retain the one third vote.

Chapter 3 Rule 18A Removal from Office of Speaker of Deputy Speaker
The Rule covers a removal on political grounds. If a removal were proposed on grounds of misconduct, the same process would apply for Members, namely substantive motion and fair administrative procedures.

Members appeared to be happy with this.

Chapter 3 Rule 19A Declaration of Private Members
“If a member has a personal or private interest or business interest in any matter before a forum of the Assembly of which he or she is a member, he or she must at the commencement of engagement on the matter by the forum immediately declare that interest in accordance with Part 2 of the Code of Conduct for members and comply with the other provisions of the Code.”

Mr Mashile asked if the word ‘financial’ should not be included. He asked for a clearer understanding of what was meant by personal and private.

Mr Rhoda said personal was family, private financial interest could be a private loan for a Chairperson for example.

Chapter 3 Rule 19B Raising a question of privilege
Mr Hahndiek said often there was an allegation of abuse of privilege but it was not clear if it was abuse or considered a breach.

Parliamentary Legal Adviser, Ms Sueanne Isaac, said as the Rule now stood it specifically dealt with breach of privilege not abuse.

Chapter 4 Rule 29 Sequence of proceedings
Ms Mazzone said Motions for all MPs must be treated seriously as they were about people’s issues.  Sometimes Ministers may not be present right up until the end of the day. It was appreciated that some Ministers were very busy. Minister Pandor was the exception as she was always present.

 Mr Mashile said perhaps Members’ statements could be placed at the beginning of the agenda but there was no security that the Minister would be there at any time.

Mr Mdakane said it was not a favour for Ministers to come to Parliament but it was understood that they could not be there every day.

Chapter 4 Rule 40 Public access
Ms Mazzone said she had been pushed by security forces while in the parliamentary precinct.

Mr Hahndiek said this was perhaps an issue she should refer to the Parliamentary Oversight Authority (POA). Parliament Protection Services was not 'security services'. Can they remove? Can they arrest? Are they just ushers or do they have a policing function. There were no clear guidelines.

Ms Mazzone said it was something the POA needed to deal with. Perhaps it needed its own book. Maybe an operational manual should be considered that could be taken to the POA to approve. The Rules document relating to this was not the correct way to go.

Ms Kilian said she agreed there needed to be an operational manual. There was a role for parliament protection just as there was for court officers. Their instruction must not come from the Executive, but from the Speaker. It needed a very clear understanding. It could not be a kind of "para-force"; that was dangerous.

Mr Hahndiek asked if 'security forces' should be inserted and 'parliamentary protection services' removed from the Rule.

Members nodded.

Mr Mashile said it would be problematic to ban security services. There were breaches where more than one person was allowed in to Parliament with only one access card. It was now almost risky to be in the House.

He said the simplest thing was really for Members to do nothing wrong to attract members in blue, then the presiding officers would not need them to come in to House.

Ms Mazzone commented that even if Mr Mashile disagreed with something she said in the House, she would expect him to come to her defence if she was threatened.

Mr Booi said any Member of Parliament had the right to talk. The world was changing and Members could not put their lives at risk. The institution surprised him more and more each day.

Mr Rhoda said the Rule was visitors could be searched. Visitors who could not be searched at all were foreign diplomats.

Mr Booi said foreign diplomats (Americans) brought their own army and took over the precinct. Could the Rules address this?

Mr Hahndiek said he heard Members concerns about armed police in meetings. There were, however, always plain-clothes policemen, not on the Floor but in gallery etc. Section 4 did provide they may take action. They are on there by arrangement.  Parliament by the very nature of things was a target.

Mr Booi agreed that a manual must be compiled.

Mr Mdakane said Members agreed that they could not take a decision that members of the police could not enter Parliament. They were there anyway. They were seconded there. There had to be a differentiation, though, that they intervene only when a life was threatened. The suggestion of a manual should be drafted and presented to the Rules Committee.

Mr Hahndiek said when diplomats and presidents visited Parliament their security teams met with Parliament’s team.

Chapter 5 Rule 45 Conduct of members including dress code
Ms Killian put forward a suggestion that there should be minimum standards agreed on for dress code. Guidelines included no plunging necklines for women. Religious and traditional clothing was allowed but slip slops, gumboots and overalls would not be.

Mr Hahndiek said on the issue, it should perhaps read in the Rules that Members dress according to the guidelines in accordance with the Rules.

Chapter 5 Rule 70 Points of order
[(1) A point of order must be confined to matters of parliamentary procedure and practice and must be raised immediately when the alleged breach occurs.

(2) When a point of order is raised during debate, the member called to order [shall] must resume his or her seat, and after the point of order has been stated to the presiding officer by the member raising it, the presiding officer[shall] must give his or her ruling or decision thereon [either forthwith or subsequently] immediately, or at the earliest opportunity thereafter by way of a considered ruling.

(3) The presiding officer may, at his or her discretion, allow members to address the Chair briefly on a point of order that has been raised.

(4) The presiding officer’s ruling on a point of order is final and may not be changed or questioned.

(5) A member who is aggrieved by a presiding officer’s ruling may subsequently in writing to the Speaker request that the subject of the ruling be referred to the Rules Committee for consideration and report.]

Mr Mdakane said the rule was not being re-looked at just because of what had been happening in the House recently.

There was common agreement between the ANC and DA.

Chapter 6 Rule 81 Declaration of vote
Ms Kilian said Members should agree that the time for declarations be reduced in order to give the ruling party more time to respond to issues raised.

Chapter 7 Rule 98 Notice of motion
Ms Kilian suggested that the issue of time be considered for Notices of motion in order to create an equal platform for debates on other issues of the day. Could a time frame not be considered?

Mr Mashile suggested that there had to be a time limit as there was a misuse of Notice of Motion by the opposition and that very few actually led to a debate.

Ms Mazzone indicated that it was not in the good spirit of the way this committee had conducted its deliberations to suggest that there was a misuse of notice of motion. She explained that the DA used it as a way of illuminating its constituents' concerns and they saw it as a means to being a people's parliament. The ANC is in the fortunate position of being the government. This is a way to give all opposition parties a platform to be heard and the voice of their voters. So you must look at it from when you are not in power - you must look at it from both sides. Members were well aware that all of the notices may never move forward to a debate but it was necessary to have them on record and the concerns has been raised. no time frame should be set.

Mr Mdakane asked if the ANC and the opposition could not be persuaded to find each other on the matter. Ms Kilian and Ms Mazzone said they were sure they could.

Ms D Dlakude (ANC) suggested that as much as they all wanted to raise concerns of their consitituents, perhaps Motions should be held over until the end of the sitting and time be allocated to it then?

Mr Mdakane said he believed that both the ANC and opposition parties were covered because the sequence has been changed and Notices of motion were now held over until the main items on the agenda were completed. All Members needed an opportunity to engage on the issue and it would be in everyone’s best interests to allow the matter to be discussed by the Rules Committee as a whole. 

Mr Mashile said that while he understood what Ms Mazzone and the Chairperson had said, there was a danger that it could not be open-ended as Members needed some sort of expectation as to when they could knock off. But if that is the case, it is fine.

Members agreed that they had considered Chapters One to Nine.

 Mr Mdakane said he wanted the Sub-committee to finalise its work by the end of April.

The Sub-committee would meet on 8, 9 and 10 April to discuss Chapters 10 to 15.

 The meeting was adjourned.


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