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Meeting Summary

A summary of this committee meeting is not yet available.

Meeting report

2 May 2002

These minutes were provided by the National Assembly Table Staff

The Speaker, Dr F Ginwala

Mahlangu, M J
Deputy Speaker
Maine, M S
Andrew, K M
Mars, I
Bakker,D M
Niflindisi, I S
Benjamin, J
Mngomezulu, G
Montsitsi, D
Chauke, P H
Chikane, M M
Morwainoche, K W
Doidge,G Q M
Ncube, B
Dowry, J J
Nel, A C
Ellis M J
Njobe, MAA
Frolick, C T
Rajbally, S
Gibson, D H M
Seaton, S A
Green, L M
Skhosana, WM
Sosibo, J E
Greyliiig, C H F
Thabethe, B
Hendrickse P A C
Van der Merwe, S C

Ms N Mapisa- Nqakula; Bhengu, F; Blanche, J P; Mr Carrim, Y I; De Lange, J H;
Dirshe~1o, P H K; Hendrickse, P A C; Masutha, M T; Mfiindisi, I; Selfe, J; Van Wyk, J
F; Van Wyk, A; Van der Merwe J H, Kota, Z.
Staff in attendance: K Hahadiek, K Mansura, N Ismail, N Mpuntslia-Ntintiii, Yako 0 R.

1. Adoption of the Agenda

The Deputy Speaker opened the meeting and welcomed Members.

The minutes of 5 February and 13 March (Special NA Rules meeting) were adopted.

2. The Auditor -General's Report on Financial Support to Political Parties

Mr Jeffery said that this issue was still on the agenda of the Chief Whip's Forum and that it had been briefly discussed.

Mr Nel said that the matter had not been finalised by the Forum

It was agreed that the Forum should report back on this matter at the next NA Rules Committee meeting.

3. Quorum Requirements

The Deputy Speaker said that the matter had been referred to parties for their consideration.

Mr Jeffery said that parties were supposed to comment on the draft rules. The quorum requirements were in his view straightforward and he proposed that they be tabled in the House.

Mr Gibson said that the DP was of the view that the South African public expected to see Members attending meetings, and a fill House during debates. If there were no quorum requirements, no obligation on parties to see to it that their Members attend committee meetings and House sittings, then Parliament might end up having a House that sits with no Members. Voters would not like to see such a situation prevailing in Parliament. He said that the DP preferred a pattern of quorum requirements similar to those obtaining in Australia where, if Parliament is in session, then Members are still obliged to attend debates He said that the second issue he wanted to raise related to putting an amendment before the House. His view was that as far as procedure is concerned regarding rule changes, first the subcommittee has to decide on the matter, then the Rules Committee, and lastly it is put before the House for adoption.

The Speaker said that policy is determined at the Rules committee level. The subcommittee also looks at policy issues and then finalises the policy. And it raises other issues that the Rules Committee was not aware of

Mr Nhleko said that there was general acceptance that Parliament i~ broader than the House and if one were to move from that premise then it is also important to educate the public on what constitutes parliament

The ANC is of the view that if the NA were to do away with the quorum requirements then it should also find a mechanism to deal with sanctions, to ensure that Members attend the House sittings. Mr Nhleko further said that Parliament should explore other ways of dealing with the matter.

Mr Green said that the reason behind the ACDP's acceptance of the relaxation of the quorum requirement was that in order for Members of Parliament to be productive they would have to be interested in debates that capture the subject of their field or expertise. He said it would be worse for the public to see Members of Parliament disinterested, reading newspapers and chatting during debates.

Ms Seaton said that the IFP was in support of the relaxation of the quorum requirement, but that there should be a minimum requirement. If Parliament met this requirement, then the IFP would support the relaxation of the quorum requirement.

Mr Andrew said that if there were no quorum requirements, what would the point be of having a debate. The concept of debate implied that there is a possibility of influencing the people that one debates with. He said that it was essential that if Parliament were to have debates, then it had to have the quorum requirement in place.

Mr Greyling said that the NNP could not support the rule change regarding the quorum requirement because it would mean that there would be no quorum at all. He further said that the public perception about Members' attendance at debates is already negative and, as such, a relaxation of the quorum requirement would merely strengthen this perception.

The Speaker said that she thought that Parliament would be failing if it were to do away with the quorum requirement. Her concern was not only the public perception, but also the question concerning how Members were supposed to be informed of what was going on in Parliament. She further said that she had previously stated that this was not a Parliament of autonomous committees, and the authority of Parliament has not been delegated to committees and, therefore, Members were required to participate in the debates as well as in committees. The Speaker said that she had called for sanctions but was informed that the intention was to put it in the Powers and Privileges legislation. If Parliament were to defer sanctions, then it would be unacceptable for Members to absent themselves from Parliament over a long period of time, unless it was a case of illness. She said that Members were required to be in attendance at Parliament as part of their responsibilities. Only Members who attend to urgent and necessary committee business are exempted from this requirement.

Mr Nhleko said that it would be incorrect to create the perception that no quorum requirement should be in place for meetings. His party was in support of setting minimum requirements for specific functions to be executed at different levels. The proposal does not say that no quorum is required. He further said that the ANC would like to debate the issue of sanctions, in particular how they would be applied. It is a matter that requires urgent attention.

Mr Frolick said that the UDM caucus does not support the proposed amendment to the quorum requirement. And concerning debates in the House, his party is of the opinion that it was important for Members to attend all debates. He further said that Members earned more than the living wage, they were in full time employment by the Parliament of South Africa and they had the responsibility to carry out that duty.

Mr Hendrickse said that the ANC was not proposing that Members should absent themselves from committee meetings and House sittings for no reason at all. Quorum requirements, he said, were always seen by the opposition as a responsibility of the governing party. It was, however, the responsibility of all parties and not only that of the governing party to ensure that their Members attend the debates. He agreed that the issue of the relaxation of quorum requirements needed to be linked to the issue of sanctions.

The Deputy Speaker said that there were a number of issues that the parties were in agreement with. She further said that there was concern that Members should be able to carry out their duties in terms of the different aspects of the work they have to do in Parliament. There was a need to clearly spell out rules and specific quorums for specific or different types of debates. She said that there did not seem to be much disagreement on what the parties were saying. There was a need to capture this in a rule, and to link it with the question of sanctions.

The Speaker said that she wanted to formally table a sanctions document. She also proposed the loss of a day's gross salary for Members who were absent from the National Assembly without a valid reason. She also proposed that an old proposal in Mr Gibson's name, dealing with leave, should be revived. Leave would 6nly be granted in particular circumstances and the leave would have to be applied for in the House and not granted arbitrarily.

Mr Nhleko said that he was in support of the principle of sanctions but it would be advisable for it to be worked out in a document that spells out implementation and administrative aspects on how it would be enforced.

The Speaker said that the Rules Committee only needed to agree on the principle, and once that was done, then the mechanisms on how to achieve that agreement could be worked out later.

Mr Jeffery said that what was needed was a practical proposal on how this had to be worked out - a document outlining implementation of the sanctions. He wanted clarity on the process to be followed with the quorum rule as parties had already made submissions on the rule. His concern was that the matter had been with the committee for a considerable time.

The Deputy Speaker asked if parties had made decisions on the proposals.

Mr Hahndiek explained that the amendments at hand captured the requirements in the
Constitution relevant to taking decisions on Bills and on other questions before the
House. The other rules which dealt with quorum for debates were removed, and this is
the issue now requiring consideration.

The Deputy Speaker asked if Parliament did not have a draft rule which addresses the issue of the quorum.

Mr Hahndiek said that the existing rule included a quorum for debates. The Subcommittee looked at meeting the requirements of the Constitution which only speaks about decision making. Thus, the requirement for debates where no decision was taken, was taken out of the current rules, and that is the issue which is now to be looked at.

The Speaker said that there were two issues. First, whether there was a need to have a quorum for debates. Second, whether the current rule, which required a quorum for debates should be deleted. The parties have to decide on whether we need to remove any need for a quorum during debates.

The Deputy Speaker said that the question for decision at present was what is the reason for having to do away with the quorum requirement in debates when Parliament was actually managing.

Mr Gibson said that since the Subcommittee was established by the Rules Committee, it had to report to the Rules Committee and not to Parliament. His motivation was that the draft rule in connection with the quorum requirement was not acceptable. He suggested that the Subcommittee should be instructed to draft a rule agreeable to the Rules Committee for tabling in the House. His view was that the proposal was not that the quorum requirement should be relaxed but that it should be dispensed with. The DP could' not support such a proposal. The parties still cannot get the Members to attend debates regularly although it was their responsibility to make Members attend sittings. It is farfetched to suggest that the situation would improve if the quorum requirement was removed. He added that if the quorum requirement for debates were to be removed, then his party would support sanctions.

Mr Nel said that the relaxation of the quorum requirement does not open the gates for Members to have free time. He supported 'the suggestion that the matter should be referred back to the Rules Subcommittee to be looked at further.

The Deputy Speaker said that the Rules Committee has to decide on the matter and should instruct the Subcommittee to draft a rule accordingly.

Mr Jeffery said that the relaxation of the quorum requirement would also help the committees to finalize their work. As far as process is concerned, the matter has been with the subcommittee and it needs to be finalized.

Ms Seaton said she agreed with Mr Jeffery on the minimum number but it needs to be reduced and she would propose that Parliament looks at instituting a 25% quorum for debates.

Mr Andrews said that the quorum relaxation was mooted to save committees the embarrassment of not having quorums. He further said that Parliament schedules committee weeks separately from House sittings. Having a quorum in meetings is just as important as having a quorum in the Chamber.

Ms Rajbally said that the committees have to specify why they have to sit when the House is in session.

The Speaker said that it would require 270 Members of Parliament to attend meetings I quorum requirements were to be met. and committees should regulate their programrnes and functions. She further said that she accepted that it was necessary to impose quorum requirements in committees as well. She said that she would circulate a sanctions proposal within a week.- and at the next N A Rules meeting a decision on it could be taken. At the next N A Rules meeting the committee will have to decide whether to abolish the current quorum requirements and also discuss how to regulate committee meetings.

The Deputy Speaker said that the committee Members need to engage in these issues in preparation for decision making at the next NA Rules Committee meeting.

4. Certification of Bills

The Speaker said the question was whether Parliament wanted a rule dealing with certification of Bills and parties had indicated that they wanted such a rule. A draft rule had been formulated and had been circulated to Members. She added that the NCOP should proceed to look at the draft rule.

Mr. Gibson said that his view was that the draft rule related to Government Bills and not to Private Member's Bills. He asked whether there was a reason behind insisting that the State Law Advisers should be the ones who certify the Bill.

Mr Jeffery said that the rule was clear and it applied to Bills introduced by Cabinet Ministers and not to Private Member's Bills. He further explained that on the issue of certification, the State Law Advisers are asked for an opinion. Furthermore, the rule is not restrictive but it will assist Parliament

The Speaker said that the issue was that some reference point was needed but Parliament had an obligation to ensure that the legislation that is enacted was in compliance with die Constitution. Having a reference point of the State Law Advisers was a good starting base if Parliament had to enact legislation which was constitutional. She added that the Immigration Bill had merely brought to Parliament's attention that a rule was non-existent.

Mr Andrew said that his concern was that the Law Advisers were part of the Executive, and in that sense the Legislature was saying that it was okay for the Executive to inform Parliament that a Bill was in order. He however accepted that if Parliament had doubt it could take farther advice and that Parliament was not bound by the Executive's decision.

Mr Gibson said that in the case of the Immigration Bill, the Minister had complained that the State Law Advisers delayed the processing of the Bill. He said that if there is certainty that the State Law Advisers could not 'play games' then the rule should not be changed.

The Speaker said that without the rule, Parliament had no authority to insist on a certificate from the State Law Advisers. Part 1B of the proposed new rule builds in the safeguard to allow a bill to be introduced without being certified but with an explanation.

Mr Andrew said that he was uncertain if the wording of the rule would eliminate the problem of procrastination by the State Law Advisers. He said that there was a need for a time related reference in the rule so that Parliament could question the State Law Adviser regarding delays.

Mr Jeffery said that if there were delays, the Minister could highlight such delays with the State Law Advisers for Parliament to intervene, but that was an unlikely event.

It was agreed that the draft be referred back to the Subcommittee on the basis that the Rules Committee agrees with it in principle but that 1B should be redrafted to allow Parliament to request either that the Minister has to submit the certificate or that Parliament can request the State Law Adviser to provide a report on why there has been a delay in certifying the Bill. This would allow the Minister to put in such a certificate if the Minister wishes. A revision of the text of the rule is therefore required.

5. The New Questions Procedure

Mr Moonsamy indicated that he only received the draft questions document at 12:00 and therefore he could not make a meaningful input.

Mr Mansura explained that the document submitted contained no new proposals but that stiff had merged the two documents that Members had in their possession since the previous meeting. The document had merely been made reader friendly.

Mr Jeffery said that he was concerned that the matter was dragging on endlessly. He said that the new draft rules had been exhaustively debated in the Chief Whips' Forum. According to him, the document did not contain new information.

Ms. Seaton said the document was briefly discussed at the last NA Rules committee meeting, but Members could not be asked to take a decision on it at this meeting, given that they received it late.

Mr Bakker said that the last questions document discussed contained options and he was not certain about the one tabled for consideration at this meeting.

The Speaker said that the matter would have to be deferred to the next NA Rules meeting given that Members did not have sufficient time ~ study the document.

Mr Andrew thanked the staff for preparing a useful comparative study pertaining to questions to Ministers He said that it would be useful for the Rules subcommittee to look at the comparative research which had been circulated.

The Speaker said that parties should decide if they needed to take on board the proposals in the research document and they should formulate amendments or their own proposals on this matter. Amendments would be circulated to Members.

Mr Jeffery reiterated that the new document did not contain new information. The only difference between the two documents was in the formatting/presentation of the information.

The Speaker disagreed and said that she was not certain that the integrated document was the same as the previous one.

Ms Seaton said that it was only fair that parties should be given more time to look at the document.

The Speaker said that parties needed to submit amendments which would be circulated to all Members. The matter was deferred to the next N A Rules meeting.

The Speaker said that the existing arrangements pertaining to questions would remain. The next NA Rules meeting will be called for within the next two weeks.

6. Follow up on matters from the Rules Committee Workshop

The Speaker said that it was unacceptable that the Executive summary had not been circulated to parties on time. She said that she had asked that the document be circulated some days ago. The Speaker also apologized to Members for the late circulation of the document entitled "Rules that have not been implemented or that require revision." Parties were urged to discuss this document and advise whether there was a need to revise the rules.

Mr Jeffery said that quite a number of documents were forwarded to Members at a very late stage. The committee needs to make a ruling on the time period for circulation of documents

The Speaker said that there was a rule that documents had to be circulated two weeks prior ~o a meeting.

The Speaker said that she would monitor the problems related TO the late circulation of documents and there was need to use electronic mail more often.

The meeting adjourned at 15:50 p.m.


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