A summary of news from overseas parliaments.
Distribution of seats
The Democratic Representation Bill amends the constitutional formula for the distribution of House of Commons seats among the provinces. There has always been an endeavour to strike a balance between representation by population and ensuring effective representation for the smaller provinces and those with declining populations. The most recent change to the formula, in 1985, was designed to restrict the overall increase in the number of seats in the House, while complying with the Constitution’s minimum seat guarantees for provinces. The faster-growing provinces of Ontario, British Columbia and Alberta have, however, become under-represented. The new formula, for use after the 2011 census, would provide for fairer representation for these provinces and, based on current population projections, would result in an increase in the overall number of seats from 308 to 338, rather than 315 as under the 1985 formula.
Bill: An Act to amend the Constitution Act 1867 (Democratic representation), C-12 http://www2.parl.gc.ca/HousePublications/Publication.aspx?Docid=4405260&file=4
Press release: Canada's government restores fair representation in the House of Commons, 1 April 2010 http://www.democraticreform.gc.ca/index.asp?lang=eng&Page=news-comm&Sub=news-comm&Doc=20100401-eng.htm
Tweeting in the House
A point of order was raised over an MP's comments on Twitter regarding members' absence from the House. The Speaker said it was clearly impossible to police the use of personal digital devices by, for example, trying to determine whether or not texting had originated from within the Chamber, but he strongly advised all members to refrain from such behaviour. Given the increasing frequency of incidents involving social networking technologies he also believed it would be helpful if the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs would consider the issues related to these technologies and their impact on House and committee proceedings.
Hansard: Allusions to members or ministers – Speaker’s ruling, House of Commons debates, 1 April 2010 http://www2.parl.gc.ca/HousePublications/Publication.aspx?Language=E&Mode=1&Parl=40&Ses=3&DocId=4408558; Points of order, References to members or ministers, House of Commons debates, 24 March 2010 http://www2.parl.gc.ca/HousePublications/Publication.aspx?Language=E&Mode=1&Parl=40&Ses=3&DocId=4377565
Media article: MP claims his Tweets are not a breach, The Ottawa Citizen, 30 March 2010 http://www.ottawacitizen.com/technology/claims+Tweets+breach/2741991/story.html
Parliament Buildings renovations and governance
Buildings on Parliament Hill are in need of major repairs and upgrading. Work is due to start on the West Block, containing committee rooms and MPs' offices, later this year with completion expected within 8-10 years, but a report by the Auditor General concludes that the current governance framework is inadequate for guiding the buildings' overall rehabilitation. She recommends the development of proper mechanisms to ensure that responsibility and accountability for the Parliament buildings rest with the Senate and House of Commons. The Speaker has suggested there should be a parliamentary official to manage control of the Parliamentary Precinct.
Report: Office of the Auditor General of Canada, Report of the Auditor General of Canada to the House of Commons, Spring 2010, Chapter 3, Rehabilitating the Parliament Buildings, April 2010 http://www.oag-bvg.gc.ca/internet/docs/parl_oag_201004_03_e.pdf
Press release: Governance arrangements limit progress on rehabilitating the Parliament buildings, 20 April 2010 http://www.oag-bvg.gc.ca/internet/English/mr_20100420_e_33743.html
Media article: House Speaker Milliken, MPs slam 'ridiculous' delays in Parliament Hill renovations, The Hill Times, 15 March 2010 http://www.thehilltimes.ca/page/view/renovations-03-15-2010
Disclosure of documents
The Speaker has ruled that it is perfectly within the existing privileges of the House to order the production by the government of documents regarding Afghan detainees. The House adopted an order for the documents' production in their original and uncensored form in December 2009, but the government cited Canada's security, national defence and international relations as reasons for not doing so. The Speaker found assertions that members of Parliament were not sufficiently trustworthy to be given confidential information troubling. He has allowed a fortnight for a resolution to the impasse.
Hansard: Privilege, Provision of information to Special Committee on the Canadian Mission in Afghanistan – Speaker's ruling, House of Commons debates, 27 April 2010 http://www2.parl.gc.ca/HousePublications/Publication.aspx?Language=E&Mode=1&Parl=40&Ses=3&DocId=4470112#SOB-3122448; Privilege, Provision of information to Special Committee on the Canadian Mission in Afghanistan, House of Commons debates, 1 April 2010 http://www2.parl.gc.ca/HousePublications/Publication.aspx?Language=E&Mode=1&Parl=40&Ses=3&DocId=4408558#SOB-3079096; Privilege, Provision of information to Special Committee on the Canadian Mission in Afghanistan, House of Commons debates, 12 April 2010 http://www2.parl.gc.ca/HousePublications/Publication.aspx?Language=E&Mode=1&Parl=40&Ses=3&DocId=4417662
Partisan or personal identifiers on funding announcement props
In response to complaints that members had breached the Conflict of Interest Code for Members of the House of Commons by using partisan or personal identifiers on ceremonial cheques or other props when making federal public funding announcements, the Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commissioner concluded that these actions did not further members' private interests as outlined in the Code, and that it was to be expected that members would always try to enhance their image with constituents. She also concluded, however, that government funding is not a partisan activity and took the view that the use of partisan identifiers in announcing government initiatives had gone too far, and had the potential to diminish public confidence in the integrity of members and the governing institutions they represented.
Report: Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commissioner, The cheques report: the use of partisan or personal identifiers on ceremonial cheques or other props for federal funding announcements: made under the Conflict of Interest Code for Members of the House of Commons, 29 April 2010
Media article: End partisan identifiers on government messages, ethics watchdog urges, The Globe and Mail, 29 April 2010 http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/politics/tory-prop-cheques-draw-ethics-rebuke/article1551082/
Members in receipt of ministerial pensions
Former ministers who are currently TDs or senators have been under pressure to give up their ministerial pensions. Almost all have agreed to do so. Challenged in the House to accept an Opposition bill to terminate the payment of ministerial pensions to serving members, the Taioseach replied that when the government legislated on the matter last year the issue of pensions as property rights had arisen and the government had been advised that any reduction or removal of pensions by legislation had to be proportionate. The 2009 Act provides that in the current Oireachtas a former Taoiseach or minister who is entitled to a pension receives 37.5% of the pension they would receive from the age of 50, instead of 50% as previously. From after the next election no former Taioseach or minister will receive a ministerial pension while they are a member of the Oireachtas.
Glossary: TD – MP; Taioseach – Prime Minister; Oireachtas – Parliament.
Act: Oireachtas (Allowances to Members) and Ministerial and Parliamentary Offices Act 2009 http://www.oireachtas.ie/documents/bills28/acts/2009/a2909.pdf
Hansard: Leaders' Questions, Dáil Debate, 27 April 2010 http://debates.oireachtas.ie/DDebate.aspx?F=DAL20100427.xml&Node=H5#H5
Media article: Ahern yields to Opposition pressure on pensions, The Irish Times, 28 April 2010 http://www.irishtimes.com/newspaper/ireland/2010/0428/1224269223752.html
Members have been awarded an 11% increase in their pay by the Parliamentary Entitlements Commission, as well as substantial increases in allowances and benefits. Additionally members may receive up to a year's advance on their pension before they leave office. The Chairman of the Commission said the salary increases would bring parity between MPs' and public service salaries, and also made reference to the number of people who relied on MPs for food and accommodation.
Media articles: MPs' pay increased, Solomon Star, 12 April 2010 http://www.solomonstarnews.com/news/national/4718-mps-pay-increased; Chairman defends MP's salary increase, Solomon Times, 13 April 2010 http://www.solomontimes.com/news.aspx?nwID=5088
The Constitutional Reform and Governance Bill received Royal Assent on 8 April, but with many of its provisions removed. These included the provisions on a referendum on the voting system for parliamentary elections, on the ending of by-elections for hereditary peers, on the removal of members of the House of Lords, and on demonstrations in the vicinity of Parliament. Among the provisions retained in the Bill were those on the process for ratifying treaties, on amendments to the Parliamentary Standards Act 2009, on the tax status of MPs and members of the House of Lords, and on transparency of government reporting to Parliament. Also included was a provision that the Minister for the Civil Service should ensure that civil servants who advise ministers should be aware of the constitutional significance of Parliament and of the conventions governing the relationship between Parliament and Her Majesty's Government.
Act: Constitutional Reform and Governance Act 2010 http://www.opsi.gov.uk/acts/acts2010/pdf/ukpga_20100025_en.pdf
Web page: Constitutional Reform and Governance Bill 2008-09 to 2009-10 http://services.parliament.uk/bills/2009-10/constitutionalreformandgovernance.html
Manager, Law and Government Team
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