Parliament: Changes to rules of parliamentary proceedings and conduct accepted

Among the changes adopted are some that will give Parliament more time to consider Bills and amendments. ST FILE PHOTO

SINGAPORE - Parliament has unanimously accepted proposed changes to the rules governing parliamentary proceedings and conduct.

The changes to the Standing Orders are meant to improve parliamentary and Bill procedures, and also flesh out changes to the constitution on the elected presidency that were passed last year.

They were recommended by a 10-member parliamentary committee - chaired by Speaker of Parliament Halimah Yacob - that included People's Action Party and opposition MPs.

Leader of the House Grace Fu said in her wrap-up speech that the recommendations in the report released last month were unanimously agreed on by the committee.

She added that the amendments would refine a system that has worked well for Parliament.

Among the changes adopted are some that will give Parliament more time to consider Bills and amendments.

For instance, the minimum interval between the introduction of a Bill and when it comes up for debate should now be 10 clear days instead of seven.

"The increased interval would avoid situations where Bills come up for second reading too quickly because the House is sitting for an extended period, for example, during the Budget debates," said Ms Fu.

Another change has to do with the petitions that Parliament receives.

If the petition has to do with a Bill or motion that is before the House, Parliament will have the option of considering it together with the Bill or motion, instead of sending it to the Public Petitions Committee. Ms Fu said this will prevent a situation where a petition is considered only after it is moot.

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

One requires that Parliament is kept informed if the President fails to exercise his custodial powers on measures passed by the House, such as Supply Bills, within the time limits prescribed by the Constitution.

The Clerk of Parliament will publish a notice in the Hansard and the Gazette if the President does not signify his decision on such measures within the prescribed time limit.

Under the Constitution, if the President fails to make a decision within the prescribed time limit, he is deemed to have agreed with the proposed measure.

The other procedure related to the elected presidency concerns Parliament's power to overrule the President if he goes against the advice of the majority of the Council of Presidential Advisers (CPA) and exercises his veto power.

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

In such a situation, the President's grounds, and the recommendation of the Council, must be made available to Parliament at least two clear days before a motion is moved to overrule the President, to give MPs time to study them.

There will also be "a standard form of words for motions to overrule the President", with no amendments allowed to avoid any uncertainty.

Ms Fu said the constitutional amendments to the elected presidency were passed last year and had come into force last month, and noted that Monday's debate was not about the constitutional changes.

Other changes to procedures include requiring MPs whose questions have not been answered by the end of Question Time to indicate within an hour whether they want their questions postponed or withdrawn, and allowing MPs to 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 to ensure that the correct facts on key issues and policies are swiftly placed on the public record.

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