Joint Rule- Venue for joint sittings of Houses of Parliament: February 2022
Joint Rules 6th Edition: June 2011
Review of Joint Rules of Parliament: Draft Programme for Subcommittee process of review of Joint Rules April 2023, High Level presentation on Review of Joint Rules and Chapter 1: Interpretation and Application & Chapter 2 – proposed amendments (awaited documents)
The Subcommittee received a briefing from parliamentary officials on the proposed changes to the joint rules.
Amongst the suggested changes dealt with the Opening of Parliament, State of the Nation Address, alternative venues for joint sittings, and general authority and responsibility of presiding officers during joint sittings. Further, “innovations” were added to Chapter2A for hybrid sittings in relation to venue, papers, privilege, and application of the Joint Rules in hybrid or virtual sittings, presiding officers, attendance, control of microphones, public access, member ordered to leave the virtual platform and removal of a member from a virtual platform.
Members highlighted the importance of closing all the gaps in the Joint Rules.
During the discussions about reviewing the joint rules, there was a proposal about opening up the revisions for public comment. A Member cautioned against this and highlighted that they dealt with the internal business of the Houses as opposed to the other legislative functions which were more outward-facing and with a direct bearing on the public, such as dealing with legislation.
There was consensus on the need to adopt the revised Joint Rules ahead of the 2024 State of the Nation Address.
Co-Chairperson Dlakude opened the meeting. She sought clarity if Members from both Houses were presented.
The Table Staff indicated that this was a Subcommittee meeting so no quorum was required.
Co-Chairperson Dlakude thanked Members for attending the meeting. She noted it was a Friday afternoon and Members had other commitments.
The agenda for the day was considered and adopted.
Review of Joint Rules of Parliament: Draft Programme for Subcommittee process of review of Joint Rules April 2023
Mr Masibulele Xaso, Secretary to the National Assembly (NA), took Members through the document which covered ideas to come out of a meeting of the Committee in April 2023 for reviewing the Joint Rules. Some of the ideas were a workshop and a call for public comments on the Joint Rules.
High-Level presentation on Review of Joint Rules
Mr Xaso took Members through the presentation which covered the purpose of reviewing the Joint Rules, review of the Joint Rules initiated in the Fifth and Sixth Parliament, innovations from review of NA and NCOP Rules, proposals on review of the Joint Rules, and outstanding work.
Chapter 1: Interpretation and Application - Proposed Amendments
Adv Benny Nonyane, Under-Secretary in the NCOP, took Members through the revisions to Chapter 1 of the Joint Rules, focusing on “innovations”. The document outlined definitions added including that of “grave disorder”, “grossly disorderly conduct”, “hybrid joint sitting”, “independent candidate”, “misconduct”, “organised local government”, “parliamentary protection services”, “point of order”, “precincts of Parliament”, “question of privilege”, “security services”, “unparliamentarily conduct” and “virtual sitting”.
Members were taken through Part 2 which dealt with sources of authority of the joint business of the Houses. Unforeseen eventualities were added to and there was an insertion of directives and guidelines for Joint Rules. Part 2 also dealt with contempt and conventions and practices.
Chapter 2 Proposed Amendments
Chapter 2 dealt with the Opening of Parliament, State of the Nation Address, alternative venues for joint sittings, and general authority and responsibility of presiding officers during joint sittings.
“innovations” were added to Chapter2A for hybrid sittings in relation to venue, papers, privilege, and application of the Joint Rules in hybrid or virtual sittings, presiding officers, attendance, control of microphones, public access, member ordered to leave the virtual platform and removal of a member from a virtual platform.
Adv Nonyane then moved to Chapter 2B, dealing with freedom of speech, conduct of members, dress code, irrelevance or repetition, grossly disorderly conduct, and expression of regret. Control of microphones in the Chamber was a new insertion in the Joint Rules. The section also included deletions and insertions on points of order.
Dr G Koornhof (ANC) highlighted that the Joint Rules were last updated in 2011. He felt the proposals were a culmination of many months of discussions in the Subcommittee and he welcomed this. He suggested Members seriously consider adopting the proposals in the Joint Subcommittee and take this to the full Rules Committees for recommendation before the end of the Sixth Parliament. If required, Members can be workshopped on the revised Joint Rules. He was unsure if public comment was required on these revisions. He said it would be good for the revised Joint Rules to be ready for the Seventh Parliament. He was particularly pleased with the revisions around rules to remove Members from the platform.
Co-Chairperson Nyambi commended the team for a job well done.
Mr H Papo (ANC) urged that the Joint Rules should be ready for the State of the Nation Address (SONA) in 2024 otherwise there could be another “chaos”. He highlighted that loopholes usually occurred during the Joint Sittings. “The current status quo cannot exist in 2024 SONA”.
Mr R Dyantyi (ANC) also thanked the teams from both Houses. He agreed that both Houses should adopt the Joint Rules ahead of the next SONA. He raised that processes should be conducted precisely so that it was not challenged procedurally as some of the revisions and additions were “stringent and far-reaching”. He highlighted that it was 12 years since the Joint Rules were last amended so this was an important task.
On Chapter 1, Section 2, “unforeseen matters”, Mr Dyantyi said he could not recall this rule being applied. He stressed that rules were only useful if they could be put into action. He suggested “unforeseen eventualities” be added to the rules of powers of presiding officers as it allowed for flexibility and discretion of the presiding officers.
Regarding the rule of “switching off of microphones”, Mr Dyantyi said this should include “disabled” and “taken away” to cover all eventualities, both physical and virtual microphones.
On “sources of authority”, he said one might not be able to exhaust the list of authorities but asked that “rules” be added to “the Act and any other applicable legislation”. This could be ignored if this was already covered.
Mr Dyantyi said he did not see enhancements or innovations added to written questions on the side of the NA when this list was provided. There were new arrangements for written questions which he felt should be added.
Mr Dyantyi highlighted the constitutional powers afforded to the National Assembly to deal with its internal processes and business, including public access. He cautioned against opening these revisions to public comment as they dealt with the internal business of the Houses as opposed to the other legislative functions which were more outward-facing and with a direct bearing on the public, such as dealing with legislation. The issue of time limitations was another factor to consider.
He turned to “points of order” noting that what happened on the floor in view of the public is often what brought Parliament into disrepute. He raised the Eastern Cape practice where it should be more explicit that points of order should not be allowed when the President is addressing the House. This would avoid disruption and enable decorum to return to the House.
Ms C Labuschagne (DA, Western Cape) raised a lacuna in the Joint Rules experienced during the Fifth Parliament regarding Bills returned to Parliament by the President causing some procedural problems as the Joint Rules were not clear. She proposed finding time to look at this ahead of the Seventh Parliament.
Co-Chairperson Dlakude agreed with the need to adopt the revised Joint Rules ahead of the 2024 SONA because one did not want disruptions as always experienced during SONA.
Mr Xaso noted the point on “unforeseen eventualities”, explaining it was used in 2021/22 regarding the fire. The Act referred to the Powers and Privileges Act. He noted the point on written questions. The team would consider revisions required to the Joint Rules on Bills returned by the President – this would be contained in revisions to the chapter on legislation.
Adv Nonyane also noted Mr Dyantyi’s comments on the microphones. He would consider the Eastern Cape practice for consolidation of the Rules for the processes of the House to run smoothly.
Co-Chairperson Dlakude said Members should further consult with their political parties on these proposals while the team looked at the other chapters. Perhaps these chapters can be considered next week. Once completed, the Subcommittee can then make recommendations to the full Joint Rules Committees.
Mr Dyantyi agreed noting the process should not be open-ended and should be completed before the end-of-year recess. Specific timelines should be developed so that the deadlines are adhered to. It was important that the teams from both Houses look at closing all gaps in the Joint Rules. He noted that his point on “unforeseen eventualities” referred more to in-the-moment events while presiding officers were chairing.
Co-Chairperson Dlakude reiterated the importance of this task which must be finished as soon as possible. Another meeting would be called to finalise and finish the other chapters by the end of November – “that was a promise”.
The meeting was adjourned.
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