A summary of news from overseas parliaments.
Statutory secrecy provisions and parliamentary privilege
The Senate Committee of Privileges did not accept that safeguarding taxpayers' privacy required overturning accepted law and practice in relation to parliamentary privilege. It recommended that provisions in the Tax Laws Amendment (Confidentiality of Taxpayer Information) Bill 2009 relating to the disclosure of taxpayer information to parliamentary committees should be amended to leave existing law to continue to operate. The Committee drew attention, in view of the very large number of statutory secrecy provisions already enacted, to the danger of a creeping reduction in the areas of parliamentary inquiry.
Report: Senate Committee of Privileges, Statutory secrecy provisions and parliamentary privilege – an examination of certain provisions of the Tax Laws Amendment (Confidentiality of Taxpayer Information) Bill 2009 (referred 18 March 2010), 4 June 2010 http://www.aph.gov.au/senate/committee/priv_ctte/report_144/report.pdf
Review of committee system
A comprehensive review of the House of Representatives committee system has been completed by the Standing Committee on Procedure. The review's recommendations cover the committees' structure, membership, powers, work and resourcing, suggesting mainly incremental change.
Report: House of Representatives Standing Committee on Procedure, Building a modern committee system: an inquiry into the effectiveness of the House committee system, 21 June 2010 http://www.aph.gov.au/house/committee/proc/committees2/report.htm
The House of Representatives Petitions Committee, established in 2008, has reviewed the effectiveness of its work and of changes to the petitions process, including the referral of petitions to ministers for a response and greater prominence for petitions on Parliament's website. It considers that the revised arrangements have been successful and recommends further strengthening of the petitions process.
Report: House of Representatives Standing Committee on Petitions, The work of the first Petitions Committee: 2008-2010, 21 June 2010 http://www.aph.gov.au/house/committee/petitions/committeework/report/fullreport.pdf
Digital parliamentary papers
The Parliamentary Joint Committee on Publications has recommended that the Parliamentary Papers Series should be made available electronically, and that a digital repository for the Series, based in Parliament, should be accessible to users by early 2011.
Report: Parliamentary Joint Committee on Publications, Inquiry into the development of a digital repository and electronic distribution of the Parliamentary Papers Series, 24 June 2010 http://www.aph.gov.au/house/committee/publ/edpps/report/report.pdf
Auditor General to audit House of Commons
After last month declining the Auditor General's request to conduct a performance audit of the House of Commons, the House's Board of Internal Economy has now decided to invite her to undertake such an audit. The Auditor General says the audit will look at administrative systems, including support to individual members. It will not be looking at the management of members' offices, nor the merits of their financial transactions. The report is expected to be ready for presentation in autumn 2011.
Press releases: House of Commons Board of Internal Economy, Remarks by the Hon. Jay Hill and Marcel Proulx, spokespersons for the Board of Internal Economy, 15 June 2010 http://www.parl.gc.ca/information/about/process/house/GeneraLInformation/BOIE_Statement-e.pdf, Auditor General's opening statement, Audit of the administration of the House of Commons, 15 June 2010 http://www.oag-bvg.gc.ca/internet/English/osm_20100615_e_33897.html
Use of new technologies in the House
At the Speaker's invitation, arising out of an instance of tweeting in the House, the House of Commons Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs reviewed the use of new technologies and their impact on proceedings in the House and in committees. The Committee affirmed the existing Standing Orders and accepted procedures and practices, and recommended that the longstanding principle that a Member cannot do indirectly what cannot be done directly should prevail.
Report: House of Commons Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs, New technologies and their impact on House and committee proceedings, 16 June 2010 http://www2.parl.gc.ca/HousePublications/Publication.aspx?DocId=4624469&Language=E&Mode=1&Parl=40&Ses=3
Withdrawal of unauthorised committee report
The Speaker ruled that a report by the Standing Committee on Government Operations and Estimates on lobbying was out of order and should be deemed withdrawn. He said it was clear the House had not granted the Committee authority to study issues related to lobbying; authority for this having been divided between two other committees. He noted that objections to committees acting beyond their mandate were nothing new and reminded members that while the House gave its committees broad mandates and significant powers, committees had a responsibility to respect their mandates and not to exceed the limits of their authority.
Hansard: Points of order, Standing Committee on Government Operations and Estimates – Speaker's ruling, House of Commons debates, 17 June 2010 http://www2.parl.gc.ca/HousePublications/Publication.aspx?Language=E&Mode=1&Parl=40&Ses=3&DocId=4641103#SOB-3244118
Social media and the purpose of the House
During the 16-hour closing debate, some Folketing members updated their Facebook pages and the Social Democrats set up a service on their party website for members in the House to chat with the public, so that everyone could contribute ideas during the debate. The President of the Folketing said that the Chamber was created for debate between the government and the members of the Folketing, and it had never been intended as a place for a dialogue with citizens. That could occur in the community. He also said members should be paying attention to what was happening in the Chamber, but that that was probably a very old-fashioned view.
Glossary: Folketinget – Parliament
Media articles: Facebook-krig er brudt ud i Folketinget, Jyllands Posten, 3 June 2010 http://jp.dk/indland/indland_politik/article2087713.ece Politiker skrev på Facebook 59 gange under debat, Jyllands Posten, 3 June 2010 http://jp.dk/indland/indland_politik/article2086756.ece
Parliamentary immunity waived
Parliament has voted to agree to the request from the Director of Public Prosecutions to waive parliamentary immunity for a member accused of making a racist statement in a newspaper. Under the Constitution no member of Parliament may be charged or imprisoned without the consent of Parliament, unless they are caught red-handed. Immunity has been waived for 37 members since 1955, most recently in 2004.
Report: Udvalget for Forretningsordenen, Betænkning og indstilling fra Udvalget for Forretningsordenen om Folketingets samtykke i henhold til grundlovens § 57, 14 June 2010 http://jp.dk/indland/indland_politik/article2086756.ece Media article: Controversial MP welcomes racism case, The Copenhagen Post, 9 June 2010 http://www.cphpost.dk/news/politics/90-politics/49191-controversial-mp-welcomes-racism-case.html
Interparliamentary cooperation in the European Union
The European Parliament's Rules of Procedure have been amended to take account of the Treaty of Lisbon. Included among the changes is the nomination of two Vice-Presidents to be responsible for the implementation of relations with national parliaments. The organisation and promotion of effective and regular interparliamentary cooperation within the Union are also addressed. Other changes relate to Parliament's increased legislative powers and the new budget procedure, and also provide for the legislative impact of the Charter of Fundamental Rights, and Parliament's right to propose treaty changes.
Text: European Parliament decision of 15 June 2010 on the adaptation of the Rules of Procedure to the Treaty of Lisbon http://www.europarl.europa.eu/sides/getDoc.do?pubRef=-//EP//TEXT+TA+P7-TA-2010-0204+0+DOC+XML+V0//EN&language=EN
Report: Committee on Constitutional Affairs, Report on the adaptation of Parliament's Rules of Procedure to the Treaty of Lisbon, 6 Nov. 2009 http://www.europarl.europa.eu/sides/getDoc.do?pubRef=-//EP//TEXT+REPORT+A7-2009-0043+0+DOC+XML+V0//EN&language=EN
Bribery of MPs and trading in influence
The government has introduced a bill to strengthen the existing law against bribery of MPs, to correspond with the requirements of the Council of Europe's Criminal Law Convention on Corruption. The government has, however, decided not to withdraw Finland's reservation to article 12 of the Convention, on trading in influence. It considers that it would be difficult to draft a provision that would be precise enough to meet the Finnish Constitution's principle of legality in criminal law. Experts had raised the possibility that such a provision could jeopardise acceptable lobbying and the opportunity to influence policy.
Bill: Regeringens proposition till Riksdagen om godkännande av tilläggsprotokollet till Europarådets straffrättsliga konvention mot korruption och av återkallandet av en av reservationerna mot konventionen samt med förslag till lag om sättande i kraft av de bestämmelser i tilläggsprotokollet som hör till området för lagstiftningen och till lag om ändring av strafflagen, RP 79/2010 rd, 11 June 2010 http://18.104.22.168/TRIPviewer/show.asp?tunniste=RP+79/2010&base=errp&palvelin=www.eduskunta.fi&f=WORD&kieli=ru
Publication of members' expenses
Since March this year members of the Oireachtas have received a Parliamentary Standard Allowance, comprising a travel and accommodation allowance and a public representation allowance. The amounts paid to each member for March and April have now been released on the Oireachtas website, and publication will continue on a monthly basis.
Glossary: Oireachtas – Parliament
Press release: Houses of the Oireachtas fulfils its commitment to publish members' expenses, 1 June 2010 http://www.oireachtas.ie/parliament/mediazone/pressreleases/name-1816-en.html
New South Wales
Disclosure of pecuniary and other interests
The Legislative Council Privileges Committee recommended that the draft Constitution (Disclosures by Members) Amendment (De Facto Relationships) Regulation 2010 be supported. Members are not required to disclose gifts received from or debts owed to a relative, or travel contributions made by a relative. The Regulation would extend the definition of the term 'relative' to include anyone in a registered relationship or interstate registered relationship with a member or with anyone else included within the definition of relative.
Report: Legislative Council Privileges Committee, Final report, draft Constitution (Disclosures by Members) Amendment (De Facto Relationships) Regulation 2010, 23 June 2010 http://www.parliament.nsw.gov.au/Prod/parlment/committee.nsf/0/439a5fe4670100f3ca25774b000a4f92/$FILE/Report%2051%20-%20Final%20Report.pdf
Member's failure to disclose gifts
The Integrity, Ethics and Parliamentary Privileges Committee found that a member, who has since left Parliament, had failed to disclose in the Register of Interests payments he had received on 36 separate occasions. The Committee recommended the House should find the member had committed a contempt of Parliament and should impose a fine of $2,000 for each of the 36 occasions.
Report: Integrity, Ethics and Parliamentary Privileges Committee, Matter of privilege referred by the Speaker on 13 November 2006 relating to the alleged failure by a former member to register a payment received in the Register of Members' Interests, Report no. 105, 10 June 2010 http://www.parliament.qld.gov.au/view/committees/documents/MEPPC/reports/Report%20105.pdf
Tabling of documents
Members' enjoy an almost unfettered right to table documents. Concerned about the number of documents being tabled, and therefore needing to be archived, and that some documents contain material that offends against Standing Orders, the Speaker referred the issue to the Integrity, Ethics and Parliamentary Privileges Committee. The Committee found there was no significant misuse of the right to table documents, but it endorsed a previous recommendation that members would commit a contempt of the House if they sought to table material that offended against Standing Orders. It also recommended that electronic documents should have the prior approval of the Speaker or Clerk before being tabled, until it becomes possible for them to be instantaneously and widely disseminated in the Chamber at reasonable cost.
Report: Integrity, Ethics and Parliamentary Privileges Committee, Matter of privilege relating to the tabling of documents by members, Report no. 106, 10 June 2010 http://www.parliament.qld.gov.au/view/committees/documents/MEPPC/reports/Report%20106.pdf
Officers of Parliament
Under the newly passed Scottish Parliamentary Commissions and Commissioners etc. Bill, the Commission for Ethical Standards in Public Life in Scotland will comprise two commissioners, one of whom, the Public Standards Commissioner for Scotland, will take over the role of the present Scottish Parliamentary Standards Commissioner. The Commission will be supported by the Scottish Parliamentary Corporate Body, and be accountable to Parliament but independent in the exercise of its functions.
Bill: Scottish Parliamentary Commissions and Commissioners etc. Bill [as passed], 9 June 2010 http://www.scottish.parliament.uk/s3/bills/39-SPCC/b39bs3-aspassed.pdf
Explanatory note: Scottish Parliamentary Commissions and Commissioners etc. Bill: explanatory notes (and other accompanying documents) http://www.scottish.parliament.uk/s3/bills/39-SPCC/b39s3-introd-en.pdf
Audit of MSPs' local offices
The Scottish Parliamentary Corporate Body will conduct internal audits of MSPs' local offices, visiting all offices over the course of a parliamentary term. The audits will cover verification of assets, use of equipment, lease agreements, staffing and signage.
Report: Internal audit reviews at local offices, Scottish Parliamentary Corporate Body, 16 June 2010 http://www.scottish.parliament.uk/corporate/spcb/minutes/papers-10/0616_Paper_53.pdf
Registration of members' interests
Changes to the registration of members' interests are proposed in a consultation report by the Standards, Procedures and Public Appointments Committee. The intention is to clarify and simplify registration, while capturing significant financial interests.
Report: Standards, Procedures and Public Appointments Committee, Consultation report on MSPs' registrable interests: proposed changes to section 2 of the Code of Conduct, 29 June 2010 http://www.scottish.parliament.uk/s3/committees/stanproc/reports-10/stprr10-04.htm
Use of Hansard as evidence in court
A losing candidate in the recent election has petitioned the Court of Disputed Returns, claiming that during the election campaign extracts from his speeches in Parliament were used against him in a misleading and defamatory way. It was argued for the defence that the full speeches could not be used as evidence in court. The judge ruled that as long as neither the motives nor the truth of what was said in Parliament was under question, it was difficult to see how parliamentary privilege would be abrogated or diminished.
Media articles: Parliament speaker joins election challenge case, ABC News, 15 June 2010 http://www.abc.net.au/news/stories/2010/06/15/2927414.htm?site=news Democracy on trial, Independent weekly, 18 June 2010 http://www.independentweekly.com.au/news/local/news/general/democracy-on-trial/1862401.aspx
MPs’ employment of family members
The Auditor-General has recommended that MPs should only be allowed to employ family members as electorate office staff for short periods following unsuccessful, reasonable efforts to hire staff, or if the family member receives no pay or other benefit. The employment of a family member should be recorded in the Register of Interests. The review was prompted by a Legislative Councillor’s employment of her mother in her electorate office. The Auditor-General also recommended that agreement should be reached on a formula for setting staffing levels for opposition parties. Between 1991 and 2008 ministerial staff increased by 86% and opposition staff by 63%.
Report: Auditor-General, Employment of staff to support MPs, Special report no. 87, 10 June 2010 http://www.audit.tas.gov.au/publications/reports/specialreport/pdfs/specialreport87.pdf
Criminal charges and parliamentary privilege
A judge ruled that the conduct of three former MPs and a member of the House of Lords, all of whom are charged with false accounting, is not covered by parliamentary privilege and is triable in the Crown Court. He could see no logical, practical or moral justification for a claim for expenses being covered by privilege, nor legal justification either. The defendants were granted leave to appeal.
Judgment: R -v- Morley, Chaytor, Devine and Hanningfield, Judgment on parliamentary privilege, Judiciary of England and Wales, 11 June 2010 http://www.judiciary.gov.uk/docs/judgments_guidance/parliamentary-privilege-judgment2.pdf
Media article: MPs' expenses: accused demand to be tried by parliament, not courts, The Guardian, 29 June 2010 http://www.guardian.co.uk/politics/2010/jun/29/mps-expenses-demand-parliament-trial
House of Lords members' expenses
In the next step towards the implementation of the Review Body on Senior Salaries' proposals for changes to the financial support for members of the House of Lords, the House Committee has endorsed the proposals for a daily allowance and an overnight accommodation allowance, and recommended changes to the proposals relating to office and travel costs.
Report: House of Lords House Committee, Financial support for members of the House of Lords: report of the ad hoc group, 28 June 2010 http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/ld201011/ldselect/ldadhoc/13/1302.htm
Parliamentary Integrity Commissioner
A review of Victoria's integrity and anti-corruption system has recommended that a Parliamentary Integrity Commissioner be appointed as an independent officer of Parliament, responsible to the privileges committees of both Houses. The Commissioner would advise members on fulfilling the requirements of the code of conduct and register of interests and would investigate alleged breaches, as well as having the power to investigate the conduct of members' publicly funded staff. The review also recommends that a parliamentary committee should monitor and review both the Office of the Ombudsman and a new Victorian Integrity and Anti-Corruption Commission, and that a position of Investigations Inspector, reporting to the committee, should be established.
Report: State Services Authority, Public Sector Standards Commissioner, Review of Victoria's integrity and anti-corruption system, 31 May 2010 http://www.ssa.vic.gov.au/CA2571410025903D/WebObj/PSSC_Integrity_Review/$File/PSSC_Integrity_Review.pdf
Press release: Government adopts the Proust integrity model, 2 June 2010 http://www.premier.vic.gov.au/component/content/article/10643.html