Language Policy for Parliament & Draft Rules

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Meeting Summary

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Meeting report

24 February 1998

Present: Speaker, Deputy Speaker, 9 members of the ANC and 11 members of minority parties (DP, ACDP, IFP, NP, FF).

1. Proposal for Language Policy for Parliament

A member for the NP started the discussion on the 'Language of Record' by proposing to postpone a decision on this item until a survey on the first and second languages of the current MPs is carried out and a report on practicalities and costs has been received. The Speaker answered by saying that there is no need for such a survey or report. It is clear that the costs of introducing 11 official languages of record are enormous. She gave the example of the European Union where 1/3 of the budget of the European Parliament is spent on accommodating for the 11 official languages in parliament. The Speaker pointed out that there is a lack of simultaneous translators in this country (which means that parliament would first have to set up a training school for translators in order to follow the example of the EU) as well as a lack of translation facilities in the parliament building, especially in the committee rooms.

The discussion continued by a member for the ANC commenting that this is not just a practical matter, but also a matter of principle: parliament should find a way of meeting the constitutional obligation to elevate the status and advance the use of the 11 official languages. A member for the DP added that the committee should also bear in mind the costs of not setting an example if parliament does not take any action on this issue. A member for the ANC then accused the NP of filibustering: the NP only asks for a survey and report because they want to delay the matter, according to this member.

Finally, the committee agreed that the 'Proposal for Language Policy for Parliament' will be discussed in the party caucuses and the resulting party proposals will be discussed in a meeting of the Rules Committee on March 24. The proposal as it is now sets out different rules for different type of records. Firstly, all legislation will still be in English and Afrikaans, but parliamentary papers like order papers, question papers and minutes will be in English and the language of the month. This means that each month one of the 10 remaining official languages will be used as an additional language of record for the internal business of parliament. Secondly, the transcript - Hansard - records of parliamentary proceedings will be in English with inserts in all other languages. Speeches will be recorded and published in the language in which they are delivered but all speeches will also be published in English.

2. Draft Rules (on the committee system and the legislative process) as developed by the Rules Subcommittee

The Speaker urged the members to take the latest draft of the NA Rules (as developed by the Rules Subcommittee, 23 February 1998) back to their caucuses for discussion, because the new rules will have to be finalized before the end of the parliamentary session. The Chairman of the Subcommittee on Rules then went through the latest draft, explaining the work of the subcommittee. There were several documents handed out, mainly opinions explaining technical details of the draft, e.g. on 'Private and Hybrid Bills' and on 'Consolidation Bills'. On the draft itself, there were some questions in the committee meeting as to the necessity of spelling out all the principles underpinning the legislative process in the new rules.

Mr De Lange, the chairperson, felt it is an important way of making the rules more accessible for MPs. He subsequently mentioned the fact that there are several rules items that still have to be finalized. The Committee on Private Members' Legislative Proposals, for example, has to report on the section of the rules covering Private Members' Bills. There are also some items in the Joint Rules that still have to be finalized. When that is done and the draft NA Rules plus the draft NCOP Rules have been adopted, there will be a whole new set of Rules for parliament. De Lange stated that for reasons of clarity and accessibility of the rules his Subcommittee suggests producing a binder including all the parliamentary rules and recommends a system of annotations.


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