MPs invited to propose changes to House procedures

Mr Zaqy Mohamad (Chua Chu Kang GRC) would like MPs to have the various ministries' responses to parliamentary questions when they enter the Chamber.

That is a proposal he is thinking about, after Leader of the House Grace Fu yesterday called for MPs to propose amendments to rules that govern parliamentary proceedings and conduct.

Members of the House have until March 17 to submit their proposals to amend the Parliament Standing Orders.

Mr Zaqy said MPs will have more time to mull over the information and craft supplementary questions, if they are given a copy of the ministries' responses to parliamentary questions in advance.

"Asking supplementary questions is useful, because that is when members are able to go beyond the ministries' prepared responses and probe the issues of the day," he said.

Meanwhile, Mr Saktiandi Supaat (Bishan-Toa Payoh GRC) and Mr Louis Ng (Nee Soon GRC) hope MPs will be given more time to ask questions. Currently, the first 90 minutes of a parliamentary sitting are devoted to queries for oral answers.

Mr Ng said members are filing more questions now, and issues are being debated more extensively.

And when questions are not answered in Parliament due to time constraints, and the ministries issue a written response instead, "we lose the chance for debate, which can be very important in some cases", he added.

However, Mr Saktiandi acknowledged that it may be hard to allocate more time to questions, "because there are so many things to cover in one sitting", he said, referring to debates on Bills.

The last review of Standing Orders was in 2010. It resulted in MPs having their speech time cut from a maximum of 30 minutes to 20 minutes.

Ms Fu, who is Minister for Culture, Community and Youth, said the Government is initiating a review of the Standing Orders for two reasons.

First, as a general review to ensure that the House has an efficient set of procedures to support its work.

Second, to reflect constitutional amendments to the Elected Presidency scheme which were passed in Parliament in November last year.

"The Standing Orders must be updated to ensure that parliamentary processes are able to support changes we have made to the system," said Mr Desmond Choo (Tampines GRC).

He sits on the 10-member Standing Orders Committee chaired by Speaker of the House Halimah Yacob. The committee will review MPs' proposals before recommending changes to the House.

Other members include Mr Png Eng Huat (Hougang), Mr Lim Biow Chuan (Mountbatten) and Ms Rahayu Mahzam (Jurong GRC).

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 21, 2017, with the headline 'MPs invited to propose changes to House procedures'. Print Edition | Subscribe