Parliament

MPs get more time to consider Bills, amendments

Changes will help strike a balance between different demands on parliamentary time

Members of Parliament will have more time to consider Bills and amendments after Parliament yesterday unanimously accepted changes to the rules governing proceedings and conduct in the House.

There will now be a minimum 10 full working days between the introduction of a Bill and its debate, instead of seven days.

Among other things, Parliament can also choose to consider petitions together with the related Bill or motion, instead of sending it to the Public Petitions Committee.

Leader of the House Grace Fu said the changes to the Standing Orders would refine a system that has worked well, and help strike a balance between the different demands on parliamentary time.

Some of the changes also flesh out constitutional amendments to the elected presidency passed last year.

Over the past 10 years, the average time taken for parliamentary sittings has crept up. Between 2006 and 2011, each sitting lasted 5 hours and 8 minutes on average.This has gone up to 6 hours and 23 minutes in the current term of Parliament.


Leader of The House and Minister for Culture, Community and Youth Grace Fu

Ms Fu said the increase was not a matter of serious concern, noting that it is a result of having more MPs and also more complex issues facing the country.

But she urged MPs to keep speeches short, saying: "Good time management does not mean that members should pull their punches or mute their criticisms of government policy. But it does require members to focus and deliver their key points succinctly and sharply."

On the rules to do with the elected presidency, Ms Fu said they dealt with two narrow, procedural issues.

One requires that the Clerk of Parliament publish a notice in the Hansard and the Gazette if the President fails to exercise his custodial powers on measures passed by the House, such as Supply Bills, within the prescribed time limits.

Under the Constitution, the President is deemed to have agreed with the proposed measure if he does not decide within the time limit.

The other procedure concerns Parliament's power to overrule the President if he exercises his veto power against the advice of the Council of Presidential Advisers.

In such a situation, the President's grounds and the council's recommendations must be made available to Parliament for at least two full working days, to give MPs time to study them before a motion is moved to override the President.

RIGHT FOCUS

Good time management does not mean that members should pull their punches or mute their criticisms of government policy. But it does require members to focus and deliver their key points succinctly and sharply.''

LEADER OF THE HOUSE AND MINISTER FOR CULTURE, COMMUNITY AND YOUTH GRACE FU

Ms Fu said yesterday's debate was not about amendments to the elected presidency, which were passed last year and came into force last month. She added: "We had hearings and a report by the Constitutional Commission, a White Paper in Parliament, and a full debate in Parliament last November. The opposition made its points, and the Government responded."

Speaking on the motion, Mr Desmond Choo (Tampines GRC) noted that the change in the rule regarding petitions would allow them to be considered more fully.

But Ms Sylvia Lim (Aljunied GRC) said it must not be seen to curtail the public petition process.

Ms Fu said there were now two avenues for petitions to be considered, adding that it would be advantageous for Parliament to consider all the different viewpoints.

Mr Pritam Singh (Aljunied GRC) questioned a rule relating to parliamentary questions. MPs must indicate within an hour whether they want their questions postponed or withdrawn if they were not answered during question time.

He asked if postponed questions will be prioritised in the next sitting.

To this, Ms Fu said: "There's actually no rocket science involved in the sequencing. If there are lots of questions on the topic, they get put in front. If a question concerns a topical issue, it gets put in front. And a balance is struck between questions from all sides of the House."

Ms Fu also announced that the Attorney-General's Chambers (AGC) is starting a project in July to make available tracked changes when Bills are drafted. This will more clearly show which parts of the main Act are being changed.

The AGC will review its usefulness before making it a permanent arrangement, she said.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 09, 2017, with the headline 'MPs get more time to consider Bills, amendments'. Print Edition | Subscribe