Panel of MPs recommends changes to House rules

The 10-member committee was chaired by Speaker of Parliament Halimah Yacob, and included her two deputies, Mr Charles Chong (centre) and Mr Lim Biow Chuan.
The 10-member committee was chaired by Speaker of Parliament Halimah Yacob, and included her two deputies, Mr Charles Chong (centre) and Mr Lim Biow Chuan.PHOTO: BERITA HARIAN, ST PHOTO: ONG WEE JIN, ST FILE

Committee spells out procedure to overrule President should he go against CPA advice

A parliamentary committee spelt out the procedures the House will follow to override the President, in a report released yesterday.

These procedures, which flesh out changes to the elected presidency passed last year, will kick in if the President goes against the advice of the majority of the Council of Presidential Advisers (CPA) and exercises his veto power.

Parliament can override such a veto with a two-thirds majority.

The President's grounds and the Council's recommendation should be made available to Parliament at least two clear days before a motion is moved to overrule the President.

This gives MPs time to study the President's reasons for using his veto as well as the CPA's advice.

The two-day period was one of various recommendations made by a panel of MPs who reviewed changes to the rules that govern parliamentary proceedings and conduct, or Standing Orders.

The Government will move a motion to adopt the recommendations when Parliament sits on May 8.

The 10-member committee was chaired by Speaker of Parliament Halimah Yacob, and included her two deputies, Mr Charles Chong and Mr Lim Biow Chuan.

It also recommended that a motion to overrule the President should be decided on a yes-or-no basis, with no amendments allowed.

This change will avoid amendments that may create uncertainty about whether Parliament did in fact decide to overrule the President, said the report.

In another change, the minimum amount of time between the introduction of a Bill and when it comes up for debate will be increased from seven to 10 clear days.

This will give Parliament more time to consider Bills and amendments, said the committee.

Other changes include requiring MPs whose questions have not been answered by the end of Question Time to indicate within an hour whether they want to postpone or withdraw their questions.

This will facilitate the circulation of written answers to MPs who choose not to do so, said the report.

In addition, MPs may choose to record their abstaining from a vote. They were previously allowed to record only their dissent.

Ministers who make factual errors in a speech can also circulate a written statement to correct the errors, with the Speaker's permission.

This will ensure that the correct facts on key issues and policies are swiftly placed on the public record.

But the committee felt there was no need to increase the duration of Question Time, as the Government said it is prepared to continue to extend Question Time on an ad hoc basis, based on the number of questions and volume of public business.

Currently, the first 90 minutes of a parliamentary sitting are devoted to queries for oral answers.

Ms Grace Fu, who is Leader of the House and Minister for Culture, Community and Youth, said the Government recognised the importance of Question Time as the means by which Members hold the Government to account.

The Government had previously extended Question Time for up to three hours, she added.

The committee also received suggestions to provide MPs with a budget for a parliamentary office and legislative assistants, to create a parliamentary live feed, and to create a parliamentary research service.

But these suggestions did not relate to the Standing Orders and are beyond the committee's remit, said the report. The suggestions were submitted to the committee by Nee Soon GRC MP Louis Ng and Nominated MP Kok Heng Leun.

Said Madam Halimah: "We periodically review our Standing Orders to ensure it is updated and continue to meet the needs of Members."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 26, 2017, with the headline 'Panel of MPs recommends changes to House rules'. Print Edition | Subscribe