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JOINT SUBCOMMITTEE ON POWERS AND PRIVILEGES
6 September 1999
REPORT ON POWERS & PRIVILEGES
Documents handed out:
The Speaker of the National Assembly v Patricia De Lille
Members were introduced to the Report on the Powers and Privileges of Parliament and the need for existing legislation to be changed or amended. The report was not discussed in great detail but members were rather requested to go back to parties and look at the report in more detail.
The Speaker said that due to the constitutional changes and the need as well as the desire of Parliament to reconsider its procedures led to the commissioning of a study on the powers and privileges of Parliament. This study was commissioned last year and a report on the Powers and Privileges of Parliament was compiled. The objectives of the study were firstly, to obtain clarity and certainty on the powers and privileges enjoyed by Members of Parliament and secondly, to establish whether The Powers and Privileges of Parliament Act of 1963 (1963 Act) has to be amended or whether new legislation is required.
The Speaker raised several open questions relating to the powers and privileges of Parliament. Amongst these questions were the following:
- Is there anything that Parliament needs to run its affairs?
- What does Parliament need to serve its function?
- Can parliamentarians override the rights of citizens?
The Speaker expressed the view that parliament cannot create a set up to protect parliament from the public.
Mr D Schutte (NNP) expressed the opinion that there is no doubt that present legislation (1963 Act) is outdated and fundamental changes are necessary. The concern is, however, that the procedural aspects of changing present legislation must be approached with caution. Mr Schutte further proposed that the speaker identify some aspects for consideration.
Several members said that they would like to read the report first before any valuable input could be expected from them.
Mr L Landers (ANC) said the report is well prepared and echoed the view that existing legislation is outdated. He said that committee needs to identify, from the report, the important ideas and move forward from there.
The Speaker admitted that at this stage it is difficult to determine how proceedings should follow and proposed that members go back to their respective parties and discuss the report. Specialist teams within parties should look at the report and it seems inevitable that members would have to be brought aboard as discussions around the issue proceed. As a starting point, the speaker said that in looking at the issue one needs to look at the founding principles of the constitution and the functioning of Parliament as set out in the constitution.
A members asked the Speaker to give specific examples of why something is wrong with the present tradition of powers and privileges. The Speaker said that if one looks at the two judgments in the "Patricia De Lille matter", there are conflicts. In the Cape High court the judge said the speaker has the power to suspend members and the Supreme Court confirmed this. The Supreme Court however also said that should a member be suspended the right of citizens to be represented in Parliament will be infringed upon. Therefor in this instance it would have been preferable and convenient to refer to the rules and be certain as to what the actual position is. Furthermore not only will new legislation create certainty, but the exercise is also going to help the public understand the powers and privileges enjoyed by parliamentarians.
A member raised the question of whether there is a time frame in which to complete the task. The Speaker suggested that parties look at the report and setting time frames could be considered at the next meeting. It is also important that this is not dealt with in a great hurry. The committee will also be in a better position once members are familiar with the report and the surrounding issues.
Since there were no further matters to be discussed the meeting was adjourned.
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