Review of National Assembly Rules

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Meeting Summary

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Meeting report

24 February 1999

Documents handed out

Draft of National Assembly Rules (dated 18/2/99)

Chairperson: Mr J De Lange

Important issues arising
The question of the airing of minority views – although this would be desirable, it will slow down the process considerably, and probably require extra staff, time and admininstration costs.
The ANC is strongly opposed to those sections in the rules which allow for the airing of minority views, which are likely to be very long, and there will often be multiple minority views.
The IFP feels strongly that minority views should be aired, and is not happy with the section in the chapter on the Committee System (s124(3) and (4)) dealing with Reporting.

General concerns
The chairperson voiced concern that the sub-committee’s deadline (23/25 March) may be unobtainable – hence the reason that meetings are called at such short notice. However, he pointed out that the rules are divided into (a) legislative procedure and (b) structures. The sub-committee is almost finished with legislative procedure, and structures will be far easier and less complicated.

Part 10: General
Deals with bills which are incomplete/not ready at the end of a term, and with bills which are not passed for technical reasons, such as lack of a quorum.

S 281 (New) Second vote on Bills rejected through absence of members
Where a bill has been voted on but not passed due to absence of members, this section allows the speaker to put the bill to a vote within seven days, subject to certain conditions, for example, the consent of the chief whip.

The rationale is expediency: where a bill that is clearly desirable is not passed simply because there were not enough people present, there should be an easy way to allow for it to be passed.

Everybody approved of this new section.

S 283 (New) Lapsing of Bills and motions on last sitting day of annual session
‘Lapse’ in this context means the bill falls away; it must be renewed or reintroduced if this is desired; the idea is neatness: the incomplete bills fall away so that the new year begins with a clean slate. (This is mainly aimed at bills which are no longer really wanted, but remain at the bottom of the pile because they are not dealt with.)

Subsection (2): refers mainly to committee reports etc – things which are there to inform only, not for consideration.

Subsection (3) was problematic to certain committee members – what if a bill is there for second reading and has not been finalised by the end of the term – why should it have to go through the whole process again? The Chairperson clarified that it is undesirable for the bill to lapse at the end of a one year session, but it is in order for it to lapse at the end of a five year term. Hence ‘term’ and ‘session’ need to be clearly defined in the rules; ‘term’ to carry the same meaning as in the Constitution.

S 284 Withdrawal of Bill
This needs to be changed: the minister/person in charge of the bill needs a way out (‘to avoid embarrassment’) if – for example – the two houses cannot agree on amendments etc. S/he needs to be able to unilaterally withdraw the bill. Another problem is that the NCOP should have some say as well; at the moment it only allows for the National Assembly.

The rule must be changed to read that before the second reading the minister/person in charge should be able to withdraw the bill unilaterally and thereafter with the permission of both houses. (This point must be put under "Joint matters")

The question must still be addressed whether, when it is clear that parliament will not pass a certain bill, the minister should be able to withdraw it? Or should it be left until the end of the session, when it lapses?

S 285 Discrepancies in versions of Bill
Subsection (2):
Must be changed to read ‘…such an amendment’
The Note must be changed/removed – this will be needed even if the proposal is accepted.

There is a new section delineating a prescribed procedure for international agreements:
S 293 [International agreements] Submission to parliament for approval
‘Approval’ should be changed to read ‘approval and/or ratification’

S 294 (3)(b) 293 [International agreements] Tabling and referral to committee
This clause states that with regard to international agreements, the Committee must in its report to the National Assembly state:
" (b) if it is not a unanimous report-
specify in which respects there is not consensus; and
in addition to the majority report express any views of a minority in the committee."

It was decided that this should be removed. This raised the tension between the desirability of airing minority views, and the overwhelming time and administrative costs of allowing this. The ANC resisted clauses which allow for minority view (see also rule 260 etc – the proviso crops up a few times).

The committee proceeded to look at the Section devoted to Parliamentary Structures:
Chapter 10: Committee System
S 114 List of committees

(h): Pensions.
The question arose as to how to deal with people who deserve pensions of certain amounts because of their unique circumstances, but are not provided for by law?
Previously under parliamentary sovereignty, parliament could decide to grant a pension and then pass a specific law to allow it, now the question of constitutionality arises. The issue is the desirability of giving people special treatment (in the context of pensions) and the possibility of this being unconstitutional, especially the equality clause (this would not be covered by the limitations clause since it would not be a law of general application).

The committee decided:
It is desirable to allow petitions for pensions, and to grant pensions to deserving people (as the inequalities of the past come into this)
However the question of constitutionality must be addressed – need some external advice/opinions on this
If it is constitutional, it needs to be decided whether the NCOP should be involved, and if so how.
If constitutional, guidelines must be worked out, and a process for dealing with petitions on pensions (as well as other kinds of petitions.)
Petitions must be clearly defined, as opposed to ‘public inputs’

While on pensions, the Committee moved to Part dealing with the Committee on Legislative Proposals by Members and Petitions on Pensions. It was decided to:
Delete S 203 Chairperson (because the general rule applies in terms of s 115).

S 204 Functions and powers
Add (c): ‘all petitions referred to it by the speaker requesting specific or personal relief’
This would mean a consequent amendment to the name of the committee: ‘…petitions dealing with pensions or other specific or personal relief’

The committee returned to Chapter 10: Committee System
S 114 List of Committees
With regard to (g) the Public Accounts Committee wants to be excluded from the portfolio committees, because it overlaps all portfolios.
The request must still be considered.

Subsection (2) of S 114
Rationale: to prevent proliferation of committees and sub-committees. Subrule (4) is intended to soften this a bit.

Part 2: Rules applicable to all committees
This is seen as a tricky section.

S116 First meeting of committees
There was disagreement about whether they should set time periods for when a quorum should be present (IFP: yes; ANC: no)

S 119 Provisions of Chapter 4 apply to committees
The chairperson was not happy with this and it was decided to flag it. (Deals with defamation and privilege in committees)

S 121 Alternates and co-opted members
This was found to be very cumbersome.
Change to: ‘subject to anything to the contrary in these rules, if a member of a committee and that person’s alternate are both absent at a meeting of the committee, the chair may co-opt another member to act as a member of the committee until they are present".

S 134-6 Rules committee (composition, function and powers)
One issue needing addressing is how to deal with situations where important issues of policy must be decided during a recess period – see s 136

The chairperson asked Mr Hahndick to draft something along the lines: the speaker must/may convene a meeting of the Speaker or the deputy Speaker, the chief whip or the deputy chief whip, the chair of relevant committee as well as the whips of the other parties.

The committee still needs to discuss the issue of including minority views in committee reports.


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