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Meeting reportPRIVATE MEMBERS’ LEGISLATIVE PROPOSALS AND SPECIAL PETITIONS: STANDING COMMITTEE
19 October 2007
VAN DER MERWE’S FLOOR CROSSING PROPOSAL; KELLERMAN PETITION; GERBER’S PROPOSAL FOR REPEAL OF DUTCH REFORMED CHURCH UNION ACT, APOSTOLIC FAITH MISSION ACT, METHODIST CHURCH ACT, BIBLE SOCIETY OF SOUTH AFRICA ACT: DELIBERATIONS
Chairperson: Ms P Mentor (ANC)
Documents handed out:
Correspondence from Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) [Part1]&[Part2]
Terms of Reference for Market Research Questionnaire to Test Public Opinion of the Present Floor Crossing Legislation
Floor Crossing Questionnaire
Dutch Reformed Churches Union Repeal Act
Apostolic Faith Mission of South Africa (Private) Repeal Bill
Methodist Church of South Africa (Private) Repeal Bill
Bible Society of South Africa Repeal Bill
Audio recording of meeting
Members discussed the way forward on the van der Merwe Floor Crossing proposal. The researchers had been asked to deal further with some issues. Three service providers had indicated their intention to submit quotations, but one quotation was still outstanding. Members discussed in depth the terms of reference, the questionnaire (which was intended as a guideline) and the procedures and representative samples. It was agreed that the Committee would indicate that the questionnaire should be changed so that some questions were more open-ended, that it should be translated into languages in use in the rural areas, and that whichever institution was awarded the tender should brief the Committee before conducting the surveys, and should also have its questions approved by the Committee. Floor crossing would appear on the agenda for all future meetings to ensure progress reports.
Mr P Gerber attended the meeting to present his proposal to repeal the Dutch Reformed Church Union Act, the Apostolic Faith Mission of South Africa Act of 1960 and Amendment Act of 1970, the Methodist Church of South Africa Act , and the Bible Society of South Africa Act of 1960 and Amendment Act of 1970. He noted that although there were hundreds of churches in South Africa, only these were covered by statute. Not only was there no need to have the statutes, he highlighted discriminatory clauses, both in terms of gender and race, which ran contrary to the Bill of Rights. Members asked whether the repeal would affect the working of the churches, and it was agreed that the proposal be forwarded for comment to all other interested religious groups (not only churches).
A Member expressed his concern that despite the fact that the Committee had decided in favour of the petition of Mrs Kellerman some eighteen months previously, the necessary steps to give effect to her increased pension had not been taken and had in fact now been shifted to the Parliamentary programme only in 2008. The Committee expressed its concern not only around the financial implications to Mrs Kellerman, but the fact that the Committee’s instructions had not been taken seriously. It was resolved that Minister Trevor Manuel be called to the Committee to discuss the issue.
The Committee clarified the arrangements for the study tour to Brazil on 26 October.
The Chairperson asked that the committee’s sincere condolences be conveyed to the family of the South African musician, Mr Lucky Dube,. He had been an inspiration to South Africans over a period of twenty-five years. His shooting highlighted the need to find a real solution to curb crime.
The Chairperson noted that floor crossing was again on the agenda, because following the ANC Policy Conference the Members had agreed that a study should be done, and asked the Committee researcher to do some work, which was now at an advanced stage. She would like the Committee to approve a questionnaire. There were three possible research institutes who had submitted quotations.
Ms Pansy Tlakula, Chief Electoral Officer of the Independent Electoral Commission (IEC), had made remarks about floor crossing, and the Chairperson had invited IEC to be present today. She wondered if the IEC was not entering the political terrain or usurping the role of Parliament in telling it what to do. IEC had suggested that all parties, including the ANC, had agreed that floor crossing must be scrapped, that it was a nightmare to the IEC because parties tended to do a number of things just before floor crossing, including expelling members they suspected were about to cross the floor. She wished to understand from the IEC what were the objects of their recent meeting in Mafokeng, and asked for copies of documents from that meeting, the attendance register, and the key decisions relating to floor crossing, so that this could be placed on record.
IEC had responded that it could not come to this Committee because it accounted to Home Affairs. The Chairperson pointed out that this excuse did not hold water, as IEC had previously attended when this Committee dealt with the proposal for funding models for political parties. However, IEC had sent documents. These showed that the meeting was held to celebrate the tenth anniversary of the IEC and its successes. One agenda item was funding models for political parties, and another was floor crossing. There was no attendance register. The ANC Premier of North-West delivered the keynote address.
The Chairperson said that the reason for extending the invitation to the IEC was to enrich the process and to get more information on the feeling of the political parties. She spoke to the Chairperson of the Home Affairs Portfolio Committee, and it was agreed that the IEC should meet with the two Committees sitting jointly.
Mr S Mshudulu (ANC) felt this committee had endeavoured to be very considerate on the matter and he believed there should be a public hearing. However, he was concerned that if this Committee had continuous meetings with the IEC there would be other entities that would have to do the same, and time mitigated against this. He agreed that an open process that would allow input without arriving at a definite conclusion would be useful, but he would not like to interrogate the status of such a meeting.
The Chairperson reminded Mr Mshudulu that the Committee had already take the decision to do the study; and the chair had written numerous letters to the Speaker and to the Chief Whip. There had been argument that the Committee could not hold public hearings, as was its initial intention. On a one-to-one basis the Speaker had suggested that perhaps this Committee could hold public hearings, but there was nothing official on record. She suggested the Committee could perhaps ask the Portfolio Committee on Home Affairs to initiate public hearings in addition to the study.
Ms S Rajbally (MF) had attended the IEC Conference in Johannesburg for the ten years celebration. About twelve parties were represented, and there was a panel discussion. The IEC was working closely with Home Affairs and all parties except one, felt strongly that floor crossing should be done away with because it made a mockery of democracy and of fair elections in South Africa. Strong support was apparent from the floor as well. There was discussion on the party allowance but no conclusion. She agreed with a meeting with the Home Affairs Committee and reiterated that there was a strong indication from various parties against floor crossing.
The Chairperson noted that subsequent to that there was the Mafokeng meeting. The question of who was controlling whom was very critical. She needed to know from the IEC whether there was a recommendation or an instruction in regard to floor crossing; if it was an instruction there was a problem as IEC should not enter political discussions.
Mr A Ainslie (ANC) believed the survey was a very important initiative and would bring the Committees up to date with current thinking on floor crossing. The success and value of the survey would depend on the sample of voters who completed the survey. He asked the Researcher later on to indicate what the nature of the survey being contemplated was, as suggested also that the archives be searched for previous surveys on the issue.
Mr H Bekker (IFP) noted that IFP would support the basis of the survey. He suggested that this matter should be discussed with the proposer, Mr van der Merwe, to find a way to proceed, as the indications were that Mr van der Merwe was open to other suggestions. The IFP’s best option would be to scrap floor crossing altogether. However, to move the process further, IFP would be amenable to a survey. IFP believed that if floor crossing were to remain then a person could not form his own new party but only cross to an existing political party already represented in Parliament. Further, a person in a one-man party should not gain financially by claiming a leadership status, but could only be regarded as an ordinary member. IFP also believed that any money allocated by IEC to one party in respect of the crossing individual should remain with his or her original party. Mr van der Merwe agreed to these aspects, and Mr Bekker indicated that if the Committee wished to propose amendments, he would be cooperative, in order to change the legislation in line with the majority thinking.
The Chairperson asked to check the minutes after the meeting. The Committee would look into that after a public hearing and could entertain this suggestion as a way forward.
Adv Swart concurred that public hearings were the best and most democratic option. However, he would caution that this would involve time, and the Committee should be careful not to duplicate parliamentary work. He fully agreed with the research programme and the survey.
Ms Rajbally noted that there was a comment made during the Johannesburg Conference that a person should be free to go from one party to another but could not take with them the benefits that in fact accrued to the original party.
The Chairperson said that until a decision was made, the issue of floor crossing would remain on this Committee’s agenda, and should be dealt with soon. The Johannesburg meeting was not immediately relevant, and the Mafokeng meeting would remain on record.
The Chairperson clarified that she would propose a joint meeting with the Home Affairs Portfolio Committee to be briefed by IEC.
Mr Ainslie proposed that the media statement be obtained from Adv Tlakula.
Mr G Magwanishe (ANC) noted that this committee had the right to call any institution to appear before it. He was asked by the Committee to convey this in writing.
Ms M Tlake (ANC) agreed that it was out of order for the IEC to state it was not accountable to this committee.
The Chairperson then asked the Parliamentary Researcher to inform the meeting of the work done so far and to present the questionnaire for the committee to adopt..
Mr G Rhoda, Parliamentary Researcher, stated that he did not have the terms of reference with him but would get them. There were three expressions of interest, from IDASA, Markinor and Case. Markinor had requested another five days to finalise their proposal. The quotations set out exactly what was to be done by the service providers, as well as the cost implications, and CVs of those who would be involved in the drafting process and in conducting the survey.
Adv Swart noted that IDASA was talking about a sample size of 5000, and Case mentioned 4500.
Mr Rhoda clarified that in the terms of reference the total amount of the fund to be used would differ depending on which service provider was used, and also on the response, which would be dependent also on the size of the province being questioned.
Adv Swart asked if the Committee had any say in dealing with those quotations.
Mr Rhoda was not sure. He and Ms Mahapa would be dealing with the funding, and the application to the Committee Section, as well as the Speaker.
Mr Mshudulu clarified that in the past the Committee had taken decisions on involvement of researchers and the funding in principle, then the Chairperson, together with the Chair of Chairs, would deal further with the matter.
Adv Swart noted that even if the Committee could make recommendations it could not do so before getting all three quotations.
Mr Rhoda explained the terms of reference for doing the survey and the importance of that survey. His presentation covered briefly the background to the matter, the scope of the survey, the aims and what was to be achieved and delivered.
Mr Mshudulu commented that the terms of reference would be affected by the principles set out in Chapter 9 of the Constitution. He suggested that the legal advisors dealing with Chapter 9 institutions would be able to comment on terms of reference and funding.
Adv Swart asked whether the terms of reference were in line with what the Committee had in mind when it asked for the research.
Mr Mshudulu said the issue of floor crossing was very topical in South Africa. Regard should also be paid to what the media was reflecting as the view of the general population. Balanced terms of reference would determine the structure of the questionnaire. All parties were equally concerned to reach the fundamental and correct democratic process.
Ms P Sekgobela (ANC) was very happy with the terms of reference but would have indicated time frames as well.
Adv Swart took over as Acting Chairperson at this point.
Ms Tlake added she was not happy with the formulation of representative samples, and wondered if there was sufficient capacity to cover the proposed samples. She also commented that the questionnaire should use simple and clear language that could be readily understood, even by those with little education.
Adv Swart clarified the “x 9” indicators meant that the market research must be conducted in all nine provinces. The quotations already differed; one suggested 5 000 coverage, and the other 4 500. He asked whether, apart from the terms of reference, researchers were still busy with media surveys or other information.
Mr Rhoda agreed that the terms of reference before the Committee were drawn specifically for the institutions. The official terms of reference were linked to the questionnaire and would be presented to the Committee when the survey was presented, together with a background document. Some sections dealt with floor crossing in terms of a petition system.
Adv Swart suggested that a memorandum should be included as part of the documents to be sent to the successfully tendering company.
Mr Ainslie was surprised 5 000 people were allocated per province. He thought it would have been done on a provincial demographic basis, otherwise there would be a skewed result.
Mr Rhoda clarified that the 5 000 was only a basic guideline for service providers as a general total. That figure would move up or down given the population size of each individual province.
Adv Swart agreed that widespread information from the population was required.
Mr Mshudulu felt there might be a need to compromise on the demographics, which were further complicated by distance, boundaries and rural and urban areas.
Adv Swart suggested that once the final quotations were received the Committee should discuss further the question of numbers and demarcations. In the meantime he would suggest the Committee confine itself to the questionnaire, which must be approved by the Committee before being sent out.
Mr Rhoda took the committee through the questionnaire, noting that it could still be changed. The questions were phrased as simply as possible. There were two sections, and these were open-ended questions so as not to force the respondent to give a specific response. The first one introduced the respondent to the mechanisms of floor crossing, as some people in the rural areas were not aware of the issue nor understand the terminology. In this event, the service provider would read through a description of floor crossing – and obviously the Committee would be drafting that description.
Mr Ainslie cautioned that the Committee should not underestimate the rural voters. He was fairly certain that voters in his rural constituency would know what floor crossing was and hold an opinion. They did know what service delivery was and whether it was taking place to their satisfaction. However, he was pleased that the first paragraph and explanation would be provided. He cautioned that the question must not be loaded and must give the required result.
Mr Ainslie said the second point was rather confusing, as it seemed to suggest that a vote would be for an individual or a party, whereas of course voters would do both. He suggested a rephrase.
Ms Sekgobela said it was probably phrased this way to ascertain whether the voter would be likely to follow the person to another party, or remain loyal to the party first voted for.
Mr Ainslie said that the budgets provided already made no reference to translation to indigenous languages. He hoped that that would take place, as a proper survey must be done in the local languages. He suggested that when the tender finally awarded the chosen company should brief the Committee, before starting work, to ensure that these issues were covered and to ensure this was to be an objective survey.
Mr C Wang (ANC) felt that the second question should be rephrased. Asking “what were the problems” implied that there were problems. He suggested the new wording refer to “advantages and disadvantages” of floor crossing..
Mr Bekker did not think too much emphasis should be placed on the questionnaire. A professional person skilled in statistics and surveys would be aware how to get objective answers, which would in any event probably seek to assess on a “one to five scale”. Before finalising the tender the Committee could ask what the team would put forward, including a demographic projection of the survey. Each survey group would have an experienced team and he suggested that the Committee should not become involved in the survey, further than giving terms of reference and comments. He thought that the Committee must now approach the authorities, check the budget available, and proceed with the survey.
Ms Rajbally raised concerns with numbers 10, 11 and 12 of the questionnaire, and asked whether it should mention the different spheres of government. This might imply that the decision on floor crossing could vary according to the sphere of government.
Adv Swart agreed that there had been difficulties when the British system used different spheres, and the position was further complicated by wards.
All Members agreed that the questionnaire should be translated into the languages used in the rural areas.
Mr Mshudulu agreed in principle but cautioned that this might not always be possible, as there was limited competence in translation and limited resources to undertake it fully.
Adv Swart would not like to be in a situation where the quotations were meaningless.
Mr Ainslie agreed that the Committee would have to look at the cost, but agreed that the survey would not be as effective if it was not available in the respondent’s language of choice. Costs would determine what could be done.
Adv Swart thought if it was going to be a one page questionnaire, to a sample of 4 500 or 5 000, it would be a simple document, involving mostly printing and paper costs. He felt the Committee should make it clear that, particularly in rural areas, respondents should wherever possible be interviewed to complete the questionnaire in their mother tongue.
Mr Bekker noted that this would probably involve English and Afrikaans and probably seven to nine other languages. The cost should not be too high for a one page document.
Mr Bekker added that this whole issue had arisen from Mr van der Merwe’s proposal. He wondered if the Researcher could then look at adding questions as to the feelings if a member were to cross only to an existing political party. He suggested that there must be different variations on the floor crossing over the years, and the Committee was seeking not simply a yes or no answer, but how the matter should be dealt with. The service provider would need to be briefed also on this.
Adv Swart reminded the Committee that some other options had already been suggested in relation to one-man parties, crossing to existing parties and the funding. He asked the Researchers to include all matters discussed previously.
The committee agreed that any other input would be put to the professionals, along with the views on the language, but that the Committee should not dictate how the survey should be performed.
Mr Mshudulu reminded the Researcher that the questionnaire had minor errors that must be corrected.
Mr Rhoda noted that he had requested the service providers to give the CVs of those involved in the process so that the Committee could ensure that there would be proper engagement on both the political side and the psychology. He reminded the Committee that the questionnaire was merely a guideline. The service providers would give a presentation to the Committee.
Adv Swart asked Mr Rhoda to remind the service providers, when submitting their quotations, not to print the questions before the Committee had approved them. Strict confidentiality must be maintained on the tender procedures.
Gerber’s Legislative Proposal to repeal the following Acts:
Dutch Reformed Church Union Act
Apostolic Faith Mission of South Africa Act No. 24 of 1961 & No. 4 of 1970
Methodist Church of South Africa Act No. 111 of 1978
Bible Society of South Africa No. 15 of 1970 and No. 24 of 1960
Mr P Gerber (ANC) thanked the Chairperson for the privilege of addressing the Committee on the proposal. He wished to place on record that it had been an emotional decision to make the proposal, raised as he was in the Dutch Reformed Church and growing up in the parsonage and a religious family. His proposal, if accepted, would end more than a century of religious statutes in the history of Southern Africa. At times certain churches were so close to the government they were almost equated with government in prayer. South Africa was not a truly secular State: even the Constitution ended with the words ‘May God protect our people’, expressed in many official languages. Its national anthem was a prayer sung by millions over the world, and in hundreds of churches. However, despite all of this, Clause 15 of the Constitution noted that everyone had the right to freedom of conscience, religion, thought, belief and religion, and it was with that in mind that his proposal to repeal this Bills referred to was introduced.
The Chairperson intervened to propose that all the Bills be taken all together.
Mr Gerber continued that there hundreds of churches in South Africa, yet only three were covered by statute. There was no real need for churches to have founding or governing statutes. Although the majority of South Africans were believers, they had not right to receive special preferential treatment. Six bills were proposed to be repealed, of which two were amending pieces of legislation. They dealt with the Dutch Reformed Church; the Methodist Church; the Apostolic Faith Mission; and the Bible Society of South Africa.
The Dutch Reformed Church Act was passed in 1911, after the Union was formed in 1910. Although it was a private act it was highly politically debated for more than ten days. There were two controversial issues in that act. One related to the necessity for an Act, and the other was Clause 9, which set out certain conditions for “people of colour” who, after unification, would not be admitted as members of the Church if moving to another part of the Republic. Mr Gerber read out part of the political debate at the time.
The Apostolic Faith Mission Church legislation had two problematic clauses: Paragraph 2 of the Schedule dealt with non European adherents and paragraphs 48, 44 and 54 of the schedule expressly excluded female members from holding influential positions within the Apostolic Faith Mission structure. The amending Act had included the old South West Africa.
The same principles were adhered to in the Methodist Church Act.
The Bible Society of South Africa Act and its amendment Act (which split the work in Namibia away from South Africa) should also be repealed. .
The Chairperson suggested that letters of invitation to give their views should be sent to the South African Council of Churches; all the affected churches; the Department of Justice (to advise on the issue of a secular state); the Chapter Nine Commissions; the Presidential Advisory Committee on Religious Affairs; and any other stakeholders.
Mr Mshudulu added there was a Council for Independent Churches.
The Chairperson also noted that the Muslim Judicial Council; and the Jewish Board of Deputies should be included in the call for comment.
Mr Magwanishe thought there might be more affected bodies, and he suggested the Committee give authority to invite all affected parties, and finalise the list outside the meeting.
The Chairperson asked the Committee Secretary to ensure that letters of invitation and all correspondence went out today.
Mr Ainslie agreed that there were obnoxious and outdated clauses in those statutes, but asked whether the repeal of other clauses could have an adverse effect on the programmes and organisations of those specific churches?
Ms Rajbally asked for clarity as to whether Mr Gerber was only representing these Churches, or whether he was representing all faith-based organisations.
Adv Swart thought Mr Gerber was limiting himself to these organisations because they were the only organisations covered by statute. He agreed that a wholesale repeal could have adverse structural effects. He was amazed that the clauses mentioned could still remain on the statute books. He was a firm Christian and a firm believer, but fully supported the principle and was sure that none of those organisations would argue for continuation of the statutes in their present form.
The Chairperson stated that she was also a staunch practicing Christian and agreed that this legislation was discriminatory, She declared having received a gift of a Bible from the Bible Society, which she treasured, but noted that this would not preclude her from doing her work objectively and without favour or prejudice.
Mr Gerber had set a good example, particularly as the private Members’ legislative proposals normally emanated from the opposition parties, who could assert themselves through the proposals.
Mr Mshudulu took over the Chair at this point..
Mr Mshudulu said Hon Gerber would today present the proposal for the first time and then he would allow questions and comments with the intention of getting the matter finalised next week.
Ms M Tlake (ANC) echoed the concern that such discriminatory clauses only now came to the attention of Parliament. She commended Mr Gerber for making Parliament aware of them, and noted that Parliament should itself have picked up on the issue. The experience of the Chapter 9 institutions and Gender Commission had shown that religion often brought about oppression, particularly for women. It was a struggle for the Gender Commission to tackle such issues.
Mr Mshudulu reminded Mr Gerber that the questions would allow him to motivate further or to do further research.
Mr Gerber responded that perhaps these pieces of legislation may have been less formally produced in the past. These were the only Acts he could find, but there could be others he had missed.
Mr Gerber noted that in his discussions with many Dutch Reformed Church members and Ministers, many were not even aware of the existence of the Act, although there still existed separate Dutch Reformed Churches for the different races. Although the Act was not being used, its repeal would send out a clear message that thirteen years into democracy there must be unification of the churches.
Mr Gerber clarified that the Bible Society was not a church, but attended to distribution of Bibles, and clearly no legislation was required to do this. When the Act was passed, only two Members had spoken, being the Prime Minister and a Member of the opposition, and both agreed with the purpose of the Act, which was a private bill to register the Bible Society as a private company. A Member of the Bible Society had asked, during a meeting of that Society, why it was necessary for the Society to be registered as a company if it could operate as a welfare society, and the Treasurer had explained that a company enjoyed a higher status than a welfare society and would add to the Bible Society’s esteem in the eyes of the public, and would replace a foreign company set up under an English Private Bill. There was really no need any more to have this legislation.
Mr Mshudulu commented that the Committee would be well aware of the sensitivities around religion in the 1970s. The Committee had no doubt that the provisions of these Acts did not conform to the Bill of Rights. However, he asked that Mr Gerber circulate his motivation, and that Members should study the minutes of this meeting and raise any issues at the meeting the following week. Submissions from other parties should also be circulated.
Ms Tlake agreed with Mr Mshudulu. She was a teacher and also a Christian, and would like to add that some other religious and cultural practices may have been missed, that were undermining the provisions of the Constitution. Issues that threatened democracy and constitutional values must be challenged.
Mr Mshudulu clarified that he had to be careful in selecting his words used. The Committee was not competent to deal with the content of the Bible. Media freedom applied both to reporters and the freedom of people to know what was happening. He noted that there was already a Commission dealing with religious, cultural and linguistic rights. The Committee would deal with the objective tabled and presented by Hon Gerber. He suggested that the matter be further discussed next week, when there would be other participation.
Adv Swart had asked to raise this issue, because it seriously affected the authority of this committee and reflected on how it was dealing with matters.
Adv Swart noted that before he had joined the Committee, it had dealt with the petition of Mrs Kellerman regarding pension rights, relating to the break in service of her husband. On 14 March 2006, eighteen months ago, the Committee decided to approve the petition. It gave instructions that processes should be set in motion relating to the Government Employees Pension Fund. The legislation to be introduced by National Treasury to give effect to the decision was originally listed for this year, but now appeared as a Bill to stand over to 2008. There were very specific circumstances that caused the Committee to agree to that petition, and the fact that nothing had transpired until two and a half years later had serious financial implications for the petitioner. In addition, the Committee must be taken seriously. A Treasury employee apparently had indicated that Mrs Kellerman would live for another thirty to forty years, and he did not find this acceptable; there were specific implications. He felt the Committee should take a strong stand.
The Chairperson asked that this matter be placed back on the committee’s agenda for next week. She noted that the DA had sponsored the petition, and effectively the Executive, by way of the Department, was undermining Parliament. She had spoken last year to the media about the petition, and the Minister of Justice had indicated that she had not been consulted. Treasury had no right to play God and predict the widow’s lifespan. Mrs Kellerman also had a child to support. She had exhausted all other avenues and petitioned Parliament as a last resort, on the advice of the Minister of Justice. The deceased Adv Kellerman had given sterling service to both regimes. She asked that Mr Trevor Manuel be called to the next meeting so the Committee could express itself on the issue, and wished it to be placed on record that the matter was long overdue.
Adv Swart thanked the Chairperson and looked forward to meeting with the Minister of Finance on 2 November.
Following a suggestion from Mr Mshudulu, the Chairperson stated that a letter would be forwarded to the Speaker, because petitions went to the Speaker.
Study Tour to Brazil
Mshudulu had received an e-mail regarding the Brazil trip and asked for
Ms Mahapa explained that it was proposed to go on 26 October. Reservations had been made; she was waiting on the formal programme and formal approval from Mr Doige. Five delegates would be going, plus Ms Mahapa and Mr Rhoda.
The Committee discussed availability of Members and it was agreed the Committee could not meet on the following Friday.
The meeting was adjourned.