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POWERS AND PRIVILEGES OF PARLIAMENT AD HOC SELECT COMMITTEE
24 February 2004
ADOPTION OF BILL BY THE NCOP AD HOC COMMITTEE
Chairperson: Mr Setona (ANC, Free State)
Documents handed out:
Powers and Privileges Bill: 15th Draft (as voted on)
[Note: This content is the same as the 14th draft only the formatting has changed]
National Assembly's Ad Hoc Committee's Report on the Bill
The NCOP Ad Hoc Committee were taken through the Bill by a Parliamentary Law chapter by chapter, before it approved the Bill clause by clause and adopted the Bill.
Mr Setona reminded the Committee of the briefing on the Bill conducted the previous week by the Chairperson of the National Assembly Ad Hoc Committee, Mr Hendrickse. On that occasion the Committee had been satisfied that there were no fundamental flaws in the Bill. He pointed out that the final version passed by the National Assembly had been the fourteenth draft of the Bill. He noted also that the KwaZulu-Natal Legislature had endorsed the Bill and made a submission, proposing a few amendments but these were largely technical in nature.
Adv Z Adhikari (Parliament's Legal Services) then took the Committee through the Bill:
She noted this chapter dealt with definitions and there had not been any major debates on these. The KZN Legislature had made the minor observation that they felt "the Constitution" should rather be written as "Constitution" and thus be found after "Committee" in the list of definitions.
This deals with the precincts of Parliament and refers to the controlled security within these precincts and how those who do not adhere to the rules should be dealt with.
This chapter addresses the privileges, immunities, independence and protection of members of Parliament. Adv Adhikari noted that Clause 6 specifically deals with freedom of speech in joint sittings of Parliament. Joint sittings were specifically addressed as apart from the NA and NCOP throughout the Bill, as the Constitution did not provide for the joint sittings to be regulated. This lacuna had been identified by the National Assembly Ad Hoc Committee.
The chapter also deals with improper influence of members and proceedings that must be followed if members are required to attend court or give evidence before a tribunal.
Adv Adhikari said this chapter, dealing with disciplinary action against members for contempt of Parliament, envisaged a Standing Committee be established for disciplinary matters. She thought that such a committee might already exist. The chapter also sets out penalties that may be imposed for contempt. These include suspension, the inclusion of which had provoked debate, but a legal opinion had said it should be constitutional.
This chapter gives a Joint Committee power to summons witnesses and sets out summons procedures for Joint Committees as well as National Assembly and National Council of Provinces Committees in terms of Sections 56 and 69 of the Constitution. It sets out how witnesses can be examined and the privileges they enjoy.
This deals with when publications and broadcasting are authorised. It also determines when journals are admissible as evidence and when criminal and civil consequences may arise.
Among other things, this general chapter deals with whom must be cited in civil proceedings against Parliament and the duty of criminal courts with regard to members with criminal sentences.
Chapter Eight sets out in what respect the Bill applies to the provincial legislatures.
Adv Adhikari noted that the most substantial body of law to be repealed by the Bill was Act 91 of 1963. The two sections that remain in force deal with the finances of Parliament, as the Draft Bill on parliamentary finances had not yet reached fruition.
The Chair invited Members to comment on any aspect of the Bill while he read through it clause by clause.
At one point, Ms Dlulane (ANC, Eastern Cape) commented that she felt uneasy as the Western Cape did not have a representative present, even though the provincial legislature had submitted a number of technical amendments. She felt it was in the interests of democracy to note and discuss these suggestions.
The Chair agreed with her but noted that the amendments were not substantive and were merely technical issues that would be rectified when the Bill was edited. He continued to run through the Bill to the silent approval of the Members.
Mr Setona asked if in Clause 24, there was recourse to suspend members convicted of a crime for which the sentence did not amount to twelve months. He explained that some crimes may not carry a heavy sentence, but in terms of internal procedure, they were very bad.
Adv Adhikari replied that Parliament did have internal disciplinary measures available to it when a member committed a crime that brought Parliament into disrepute. The most common measure being to refer the person back to their party for discipline.
Mr Setona expressed concern that this may be seen as a double punishment and thus is illegal. However Adv Adhikari assured the Committee that so-called "double jeopardy" does not apply in labour related matters and an internal remedy may be sought in addition to the court ruling. This is backed up by the Rules.
The Chair asked what the result would be on such a suspension if the member won a court appeal and was later found not guilty.
Adv Adhikari replied that this need not have an effect, as the burden of proof for internal tribunals was lower than that of the Courts.
Ms Dlulane noted that some services made a court ruling a condition for discipline and Adv Adhikari agreed that this was sometimes that most practical condition for some services.
The Chair completed going through the Bill. He noted that the National Assembly Ad Hoc Committee had prepared a Committee Report that highlighted matters that need to be addressed by the standing Rules Committee or by separate legislation.
Adv Adhikari added that the purpose of the Committee Report was also to reflect the debate that had surrounded the more controversial clauses and explain how they had been resolved.
The Chair raised a motion of desirability for the adoption of the Bill in totality, which was agreed to unanimously by the Committee.
The meeting was adjourned.
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