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16 December 2011
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Overseas parliamentary news

November 2011

A summary of news from overseas parliaments.


Consideration of a code of conduct for MPs

Rather than developing a code of conduct for members, a House of Representatives committee decided not to reach a conclusion on the merits of adopting a code. Instead it assessed the arguments for and against such a code and considered its possible content. A draft code of conduct proposed by the committee contains six key principles. The application of the code would be a matter for the House, the Committee of Privileges, Ethics and Members’ Interests and a Parliamentary Integrity Commissioner.

Report: House of Representatives Standing Committee of Privileges and Members’ Interests, Draft code of conduct for members of Parliament: discussion paper, 23 Nov. 2011

Resignation of the Speaker

The Speaker of the House of Representatives unexpectedly resigned, saying that he had become frustrated at having to divorce himself from involvement with his parliamentary party and that he wished to participate in policy and parliamentary debate. When elected Speaker last year he announced that he had, as demanded by the parliamentary reform document, put himself in self-imposed exile from his parliamentary party.

Hansard: Parliamentary office holders, Speaker, Resignation, Votes and Proceedings: Hansard, House of Representatives, 24 Nov. 2011

Media article: Parliament in turmoil as Speaker resigns, ABC News, 24 Nov. 2011


Committee request for documents in court case

Opposition members sought a ruling from the Speaker on a committee’s demand for the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation to produce documents that are currently the subject of litigation before the Court of Appeal. They argued that the committee was in breach of the convention that Parliament respects the work of the judiciary by not interfering or appearing to interfere. The Speaker ruled that in the interests of giving the committee time to address the issues that confronted it, he would not at that stage presume to prejudge the direction and outcome of its deliberations.

Hansard: Committees of the House, House of Commons Debates, Official Report (Hansard), 14 Nov. 2011; Committees of the House, House of Commons Debates, Official Report (Hansard), 15 Nov. 2011; Committees of the House – Speaker’s ruling, House of Commons Debates, Official Report (Hansard), 21 Nov. 2011

Media articles: Opposition boycotts Commons probe of CBC, The Globe and Mail, 2 Nov. 2011; Parliamentary law clerk sounds alarm on Tory demand for CBC documents, The Globe and Mail, 14 Nov. 2011

Rules of the Senate revised

A revised Rules of the Senate has been recommended to the Senate for adoption. The revision clarifies the existing rules while avoiding significant changes. A new feature is the incorporation of constitutional and statutory references.

Report: Senate Standing Committee on Rules, Procedures and the Rights of Parliament, First report, 16 Nov. 2011

Changes to rules for senators charged with a criminal offence

Changes have been proposed to the Rules of the Senate relating to leaves of absence and suspensions. A senator who was charged with an indictable criminal offence would be granted leave of absence from attendance to the Senate, and some or all of their entitlements, including to funds, travel and telecommunications, could be suspended. If a senator were found guilty of such an offence, the payable portion of their sessional allowance could be withheld.

Report: Senate Standing Committee on Rules, Procedures and the Rights of Parliament, Second report, 29 Nov. 2011


Voluntary registration of financial interests questioned

While members are recommended to register financial interests such as directorships, shareholdings, income-generating activities and gifts, it is not compulsory for them to do so. The fact that 48 of the 179 members in the new Folketing have not registered their interests has caused comment. Some parties are calling for registration to be made compulsory.

Glossary: Folketinget – Parliament

Media articles: Liberale skjuler private interesser, Jyllands-Posten, 21 Nov. 2011; Politikere kan blive tvunget i register, Jyllands-Posten, 23 Nov. 2011; MPs duck disclosure, The Copenhagen Post, 25 Nov. 2011


Gallery disturbance staged for tv

An actor posing as a television reporter shouted out from the gallery during question time and pulled open his shirt to reveal a t-shirt with a photo of the Minister of Foreign Affairs. He was with a television crew making a light entertainment programme that had earlier interviewed the Minister and was now filming question time. The Speaker viewed the disturbance very seriously because it was exploiting Parliament for money-making purposes. The production company has apologised to Parliament.

Media articles: Ung man ställde till med ovanligt uppträde i riksdagen, Hufvudstadsbladet, 17 Nov. 2011; Finnish Parliament asks Fremantle to explain gallery stunt, Helsinki Times, 18 Nov. 2011


Parliamentary television channel launched

Broadcasting of live and recorded footage of the Dáil, the Seanad and committees has begun on a pilot basis on a dedicated digital parliamentary channel. Ireland’s largest cable television operator is providing the free public service broadcast to all its digital cable customers. The Ceann Comhairle hopes that other TV providers will also roll out the service.

Glossary: Dáil – House of Representatives; Seanad – Senate; Ceann Comhairle – Speaker

Press release: Houses of the Oireachtas to be televised on UPC, 15 Nov. 2011


Changes to members’ pension scheme

A bill making changes to the members’ pension scheme was introduced. Eligible members would be able to begin receiving their pension between the ages of 62 and 75; the later the starting age, the higher the amount of the pension. The former ’75 year rule’, which allowed members to retire on a pension early if their age and years of service in the Storting added up to 75, would no longer apply. There would be no restrictions on combining receipt of the pension with other income-generating work.

Glossary: Stortinget – Parliament

Bill: Lov om pensjonsordning for stortingsrepresentanter og regjeringsmedlemmer, 11 Nov. 2011

Papua New Guinea

Reserved seats for women constitutional amendment passed

With the passage of the Equality and Participation Bill, it is now constitutionally possible to create 22 reserved seats for women. The Prime Minister said that legislation would be needed to determine the number of women’s electorates and their boundaries.

Media articles: UN praises women’s bill, The National, 29 Nov. 2011; O’Neill: More work needed on reserved seats bill, The National, 29 Nov. 2011


Withdrawal of tabled document depicting military officers

Responding to a request from the minister who had tabled it, the Speaker invited him to seek leave of the House to withdraw a document consisting of images of a fellow MP with members of the armed forces. The document did not breach standing orders or the rules of the House, but the minister had subsequently been informed that some of the officers depicted were about to embark on active service overseas. He wished to withdraw the document because of the possible security implications.

Hansard: Tabling of papers, Record of Proceedings, 15 Nov. 2011

Member found in contempt for tabling documents breaching standing orders

A member was found to be in contempt of the House on two charges. He had failed to ensure that documents concerning a child subject to the Child Protection Act 1999 were tabled in a non-identifying manner, and he had tabled a document that passed comment on a matter that was under consideration by a criminal court at the time of tabling. The member was suspended for a total of five sitting days.

Hansard: Ethics Committee report No. 118, Record of Proceedings, 17 Nov. 2011

Opposition members censured for their absence

Following the absence of all the members of the opposition from the chamber for a period of about 20 minutes, during which three bills were passed, the Premier moved that the opposition be censured for their failure to meet their duties in the Parliament that morning. The opposition accused the government of having been dishonest about the order of debate for the day. The motion was passed.

Hansard: Censure of opposition, Record of Proceedings, 29 Nov. 2011

Media article: LNP’s parliament no-show angers Bligh, ABC News, 30 Nov. 2011


Planning permission sought for security facility

Parliament has applied for planning permission to construct an external security facility for screening visitors. The facility would incorporate current blast technology and materials and would be linked to the Parliament building by a walkway. The application is part of a staged process; the final decision on whether to build the facility has still to be made.

Report: External security facility, 15 Nov. 2011

Press release: SPCB to submit planning application for external security facility at Holyrood, 15 Nov. 2011

United Kingdom

House of Lords members suspended

Two members of the House of Lords, convicted of false accounting for claiming reimbursements for overnight and travel expenses they had not incurred, have been suspended from the House of Lords for nine and twelve months respectively. The periods of their suspension match the lengths of their prison sentences.

Reports: House of Lords Committee for Privileges and Conduct, The conduct of Lord Taylor of Warwick, HL Paper 210, 4 Nov. 2011; House of Lords Committee for Privileges and Conduct, The conduct of Lord Hanningfield, HL Paper 211, 4 Nov. 2011

Press release: Privileges and Conduct Committee reports on Lord Hanningfield and Lord Taylor of Warwick, 4 Nov. 2011

Full disclosure of members’ remunerated employment

Members of the House of Lords who hold directorships must now enter in the Register of Lords’ Interests the precise source of each individual payment made in relation to any directorship and the nature of the work carried on in return for payment, unless disclosure would breach an established professional duty of privacy or confidentiality. This will ensure that members who set themselves up as companies meet the requirement to make full disclosures of remunerated employment, rather than just registering the total income from their company.

Report: House of Lords Committee for Privileges and Conduct, The guide to the code of conduct, HL Paper 212, 4 Nov. 2011

Lay membership of a select committee

The inquiry into lay membership of the House of Commons Committee on Standards and Privileges has resulted in a recommendation that the House be given an opportunity to restate its acceptance of the principle of lay membership. In the event of lay membership, the Committee should be divided, and lay members appointed to the Committee on Standards only. If lay members were to be appointed with full voting rights, it is recommended that legislation be introduced to put beyond reasonable doubt any question of whether parliamentary privilege applied to the Committee where it had an element of lay membership.

Report: House of Commons Procedure Committee, Lay membership of the Committee on Standards and Privileges, HC 1606, 7 Nov. 2011

Members’ code of conduct reviewed

A review by the Parliamentary Commissioner of Standards of the Code of Conduct for Members of Parliament has been recommended to the House of Commons for its approval. The Commissioner has proposed refinements and amendments to clarify the Code’s purpose and effect and to ensure it continues to meet public expectations.

Report: House of Commons Committee on Standards and Privileges, Review of the Code of conduct, HC 1579, 8 Nov. 2011

Changes proposed for security administration

The House of Commons Commission has decided there is a need for a full-time Parliamentary Security Director, with executive responsibility for security across both Houses of Parliament, in order to provide greater clarity in decision-making and accountability. The Serjeant at Arms would remain responsible for operational delivery in the House of Commons. The matter will be discussed with the House of Lords.

Report: House of Commons Commission bulletin, 8 Nov. 2011

First intake of interns on paid work experience programme

Nine interns have begun a nine month programme, during which they will spend four days a week in an MP’s office and the other day in rotating placements in departments across the House of Commons. They are the first intake of a cross-party scheme, supported by the Speaker and the House of Commons Commission, to provide individuals from lower-income and disadvantaged backgrounds with the opportunity to gain paid work experience in Parliament.

Press release: Speaker welcomes first intake of interns from new placement scheme, 10 Nov. 2011

Review of procedures for investigating entitlements claims

Responding to the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority’s review of the procedures for investigating complaints concerning MPs’ entitlement claims, a House of Commons committee said that the system needed to be both transparent and fair, and to be seen to be fair. Information needed to be communicated to the press and the public in a balanced way and guidance on the procedures should give a full picture of the system.

Report: House of Commons Committee on Standards and Privileges, IPSA procedures for investigations and related matters, HC 1578, 11 Nov. 2011

Unpaid placements for interns questioned

The practice of MPs offering placements for unpaid interns has raised the question of whether it is a breach of the law. Intern placements have been offered by members from all three main parties for periods of up to ten months. The government has been advised that most interns are likely to be workers and therefore entitled to the national minimum wage.

Media article: MPs may be breaking law in offering work to unpaid interns, The Guardian, 27 Nov. 2011


Parliamentary staff to wear uniforms

On the Speaker’s instructions, uniforms have been purchased for all parliamentary staff. The Speaker told the staff that by introducing the uniforms he was trying to awaken members regarding their attitude and their clothing, and to show respect for Parliament’s image.

Media article: Parliament buys Vt30 000 uniform for staff, Vanuatu Daily Post, 24 Nov. 2011

Constitutionality of Parliament’s resolutions

Parliament’s suspension of the previous Speaker from Parliament and its resolution that he should not hold any parliamentary posts for the rest of the term were within its powers and privileges, the Supreme Court ruled. Resolutions that he had acted in contempt of the constitution, and that he should personally pay all legal costs incurred by the state in various constitutional cases this year were, however, unconstitutional and of no effect. Save for sitting allowances, the member should continue to receive all his monetary entitlements.

Judgments: Supreme Court, Korman v Parliament of the Republic of Vanuatu [2011] VUSC 304, 23 Nov. 2011; Supreme Court, Korman v Parliament of the Republic of Vanuatu [2011] VUSC 305, 25 Nov. 2011


Speaker criticised on Twitter

The Speaker of the Legislative Assembly agreed that the issue of social media should be referred to the Standing Orders Committee for consideration after a series of points of order drew attention to the potential precedents that might be created by his demand for an apology from a member for a tweet they had sent. The tweet had commented adversely on the Speaker’s performance during question time. The member declined to apologise and was suspended from the chamber.

Hansard: Member for Albert Park: conduct, Parliamentary Debates (Hansard), Legislative Assembly, 9 Nov. 2011

Media article: Speaker demands apology over Twitter comments, ABC News, 9 Nov. 2011


Bilingual record of proceedings reinstated

From January 2012 a fully bilingual record of proceedings will again be produced, using a combination of machine translation and in-house control and editing. Translations of English contributions into Welsh ceased to be produced in 2010.

Press release: Assembly Commission reinstates fully bilingual record and confirms its commitment to bilingual services, 24 Nov. 2011

Pleasance Purser

Research Analyst

Parliamentary Library

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