A summary of news from overseas parliaments.
Parliamentary Budget Office
The establishment of the position of Parliamentary Budget Officer as an independent officer of Parliament has been recommended by a joint select committee. The functions of the Parliamentary Budget Office would consist of responding to requests from senators and members, contributing to committee inquiries, initiating its own work, and preparing costings of election commitments. Memorandums of understanding should be negotiated to obtain access to information from government departments or other organisations.
Report: Joint Select Committee on the Parliamentary Budget Office, Inquiry into the proposed Parliamentary Budget Office, 23 March 2011 http://www.aph.gov.au/house/committee/jscpbo/report/fullreport.pdf
Press release, Proposed budget office structure outlined, 24 March 2011
A comprehensive review of MPs' and senators' entitlements recommended restoring the Remuneration Tribunal's power to determine parliamentary base salary, and removing the ability of Parliament to disallow the Tribunal's determinations. Other recommendations by the review committee included: ceasing the overseas study travel entitlement and including a compensatory amount in the base salary; placing restrictions on some entitlements during election campaigns; and requiring the employment of close family members to be declared. The travel entitlement for former members should be significantly reduced, and should be abolished for those who enter Parliament at or after the next election.
Report: Committee for the Review of Parliamentary Entitlements, Review of parliamentary entitlements: Committee report, 24 March 2011 http://www.finance.gov.au/publications/review-of-parliamentary-entitlements-committee-report/docs/review-of-parliamentary-entitlements-committee-report.pdf
Government in contempt of Parliament for failure to produce documents
Three requests from a committee for the government to provide it with financial information were declined for reasons of Cabinet confidence, whereupon the committee raised a question of privilege. Subsequently, the government tabled some of the requested documents, but gave no further reason for the omission of others. After the Speaker found sufficient grounds for finding a prima facie question of privilege, the committee to which the matter was then referred concluded that the government's failure to produce the documents constituted a contempt of Parliament. An opposition motion that the House agreed with the committee's finding and that consequently the House had lost confidence in the government was passed.
Hansard: Privilege, Standing Committee on Finance – Speaker’s ruling, House of Commons debates, 9 March 2011 http://www2.parl.gc.ca/HousePublications/Publication.aspx?Language=E&Mode=1&Parl=40&Ses=3&DocId=5027930#SOB-3794838
Report: House of Commons Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs, Question of privilege relating to the failure of the government to fully provide the documents as ordered by the House, 21 March 2011 http://www2.parl.gc.ca/content/hoc/Committee/403/PROC/Reports/RP5047570/procrp27/procrp27-e.pdf
Members' acceptance of free tickets
After becoming aware that some members had accepted free tickets to a prestigious music awards show, the Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commissioner reminded members that event invitations and tickets constitute benefits, and that under their conflict of interest code members may not accept benefits that might be seen to influence them in the exercise of their duties. She encouraged members to seek advice from her Office before accepting free tickets to events such as concerts, fundraising dinners and sports matches.
Opinion: Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commissioner, Advisory opinion issued under the Members’ Code regarding the acceptability of event invitations and tickets, 9 March 2011 http://ciec-ccie.gc.ca/resources/Files/English/Members%20of%20the%20House%20of%20Commons/Advisory%20opinion%20-%20Acceptability%20of%20event%20invitations%20and%20tickets%20EN.pdf
Senator convicted of fraud
A senator who claimed reimbursement for travel expenses he had not incurred, was found guilty of fraud. He was also convicted of breach of trust by a public official for directing his research assistant to cut down trees on a property owned by himself while the assistant's salary, travel expenses and accommodation were being paid by the Senate. The Senator, who had been on leave of absence, has now resigned. He will be sentenced in May.
Judgment: Ontario Superior Court, R. v. Lavigne, reasons for decision, 11 March 2011 http://www.canlii.org/en/on/onsc/doc/2011/2011onsc1335/2011onsc1335.pdf
Press release: Standing Senate Committee on Internal Economy, Budgets and Administration, Statement, 11 March 2011 http://www.parl.gc.ca/40/3/parlbus/commbus/senate/Com-e/inte-e/press-e/11mar11-e.htm
Media article: Convicted Senator Lavigne quits, CBC News, 21 March 2011 http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/story/2011/03/21/pol-lavigne-resigns.html
Parliamentary oversight of national security
To provide appropriate, in-depth parliamentary oversight of security and intelligence issues, a Senate committee recommended the creation of a statutory parliamentary joint committee with access to all classified information that is not Cabinet confidential. Members would be appointed by the Governor General on Cabinet's advice, and would swear an oath of secrecy. The committee would report to the Prime Minister, who would publish the reports within 60 days of receipt, indicating if any material had been removed for national security reasons.
Report: Special Senate Committee on Anti-terrorism, Security, freedom and the complex terrorist threat: positive steps ahead: interim report, 23 March 2011 http://www.parl.gc.ca/40/3/parlbus/commbus/senate/com-e/anti-e/rep-e/rep03mar11-e.pdf
Media article: Give politicians access to top-secret security data, Senate urges, The Globe and Mail, 23 March 2011 http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/politics/give-politicians-access-to-top-secret-security-data-senate-urges/article1954259/
Ban on use of visual aids in the Chamber
The Instructions of the Bureau of the National Assembly have been amended to ban the use of graphs, posters, documents and other items and objects in public sessions in the Chamber.
Minutes: Bureau de l'Assemblée nationale, Questions diverses, Comptes rendus, réunion du 16 mars 2011 http://www.assemblee-nationale.fr/13/agendas/cr-bureau.asp
The new coalition government plans to put three parliamentary reform issues to the people by referendum. These are: the abolition of the Seanad, an amendment to the Constitution to enable Oireachtas committees to carry out full investigations, and protection of citizens' right to communicate in confidence with public representatives. In addition, the government proposes radical reform of the way in which the Dáil operates.
Glossary: Oireachtas – Parliament; Seanad – Senate; Dáil – House of Representatives
Agreement: Programme for government, 11 March 2011 http://www.taoiseach.gov.ie/eng/Publications/Publications_2011/Programme_for_Government_2011.pdf
Reduction in ministers’ constituency staff
Ministers' constituency offices are staffed by public servants. As part of an overall reduction in ministerial staff numbers, the maximum number of constituency staff for ministers has been reduced from six to four, and for ministers of state from five to three.
Press release: Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform announces new staffing arrangements for ministerial offices, 15 March 2011 http://www.finance.gov.ie/viewdoc.asp?DocID=6740
Minister's non-attendance at debate
When a minister failed, at short notice, to attend a debate on two members' proposals in her portfolio area, the President of the Storting wrote to the Prime Minister asking him to ensure that there should be no repetition of such an occurrence. At the rescheduled debate a few days later, the minister apologised for her previous absence and said she knew that attendance in the Storting came before all else.
Glossary: Stortinget – Parliament
Letter: [Storting President to the Prime Minister], 11 March 2011 http://www.stortinget.no/Global/pdf/Diverse/statsraasfravaer.pdf
Press release: Reagerer på statsråds fravær, 11 March 2011 http://www.stortinget.no/no/Hva-skjer-pa-Stortinget/Nyhetsarkiv/Forsidenyheter/2010-2011/Reagerer-pa-statsrads-fravar/
Media articles: Skoleministeren "skulket time" i Stortinget, Aftenposten, 11 March 2011 http://www.aftenposten.no/nyheter/iriks/politikk/article4057576.ece
Kristin Halvorsen beklaget "skulk", Aftenposten, 15 March 2011 http://www.aftenposten.no/nyheter/iriks/politikk/article4061345.ece
Approval of Speaker's travel
The Speaker sought the Integrity Commissioner's advice on an appropriate approval process for the Speaker's overseas travel. He felt his integrity and that of the office of Speaker had been impugned by allegations that he had embarked on unauthorised travel because he was already overseas on authorised travel when the Premier refused to approve his planned onward travel. He considered it inimical to the interests of an independent Parliament that the Speaker should have to seek the Premier's approval for overseas travel. The Commissioner responded that he did not have the power to suggest institutional changes in this instance.
Letters: [Letters between the Speaker and the Clerk of the Parliament, and the Speaker and the Queensland Integrity Commissioner], 2 March, 3 March, 7 March 2011 http://www.parliament.qld.gov.au/docs/find.aspx?id=5311T3989
Hansard: Speaker's travel, Record of proceedings, 8 March 2011 http://www.parliament.qld.gov.au/view/legislativeAssembly/hansard/documents/2011.pdf/2011_03_08_WEEKLY.pdf
Media article: Bligh should not approve Speaker's travel: Mickel, ABC News, 2 March 2011 http://www.abc.net.au/news/stories/2011/03/02/3152687.htm
Review of committee system
Recommendations for radical change to the committee system, presented to Parliament late last year, will now be taken up by the Committee of the Legislative Assembly, which has been appointed to consider the issues arising. The Committee membership will comprise senior members of the two main parties, or their nominees. Concern has been expressed at the lack of formal representation on the committee for minor parties and independents.
Hansard: Committee of the Legislative Assembly, order of appointment, Record of proceedings, 10 March 2011 http://www.parliament.qld.gov.au/view/legislativeAssembly/hansard/documents/2011.pdf/2011_03_10_WEEKLY.pdf
Report: Government response to the Committee System Review Committee: review of the Queensland parliamentary committee system, 9 March 2011 http://www.parliament.qld.gov.au/view/committees/documents/CSRC/CSRCMR090311.pdf
Media article: New legislative committee to reform Parliament, ABC News, 11 March 2011 http://www.abc.net.au/news/stories/2011/03/11/3161622.htm?site=news
Further powers for Scottish Parliament
Parliament agreed to support the general principles of the Scotland Bill, introduced in the UK Parliament in November 2010, and invited the UK government and Parliament to consider the amendments and proposals put forward by a Scottish Parliament committee. The Bill provides for new tax and borrowing powers for the Scottish Parliament, as well as other alterations to its legislative powers and to the executive powers of Scottish ministers.
Report: Scotland Bill Committee, Report on the Scotland Bill and relevant legislative consent memoranda, 3 March 2011 http://www.scottish.parliament.uk/s3/committees/scotBill/documents/sbcr-11-01_proof2-final_000.pdf
Election date conflict
The UK Fixed-term Parliaments Bill would fix the date of the next UK general election for 7 May 2015, setting up a potential clash with the Scottish general election due on the same day. Parliament has invited the UK government to move the 2015 Scottish general election to 2016, and looks forward to consultation on a legislative provision for a permanent separation of the dates for Scottish and UK general elections.
Hansard: Scottish Parliament elections, Official report, Meeting of the Parliament, 3 March 2011 http://www.scottish.parliament.uk/Apps2/Business/ORSearch/ReportView.aspx?r=6150&mode=pdf
Pairing a cross-bench party
To maintain the party balance, an arrangement will be made for a member from the government or opposition to abstain from voting when a member from the other side is absent. Recent mishaps with this pairing system have seen the minority government win some votes unexpectedly, giving momentum to calls for the one party outside the system, which votes with either government or opposition, to be included. There is debate, however, over whether, since the party is not in government, it should always be paired as an opposition party, or whether it should be paired according to its position on each issue.
Press release: Talmannen, Kommentar angående votering, [March 2011] http://www.riksdagen.se/templates/R_SubStartPage____6694.aspx
Media articles: Ny kvittningsmiss i riksdagen, Riksdag och Departement, 3 March 2011 http://www.rod.se/demokrati/ny-kvittningsmiss-i-riksdagen
Partier positiva till SD-kvittning, Riksdag och Departement, 21 March 2011 http://www.rod.se/demokrati/partier-positiva-till-sdkvittning
The proposed revision of the act governing the Riksdag Administration would set out more clearly the division of responsibilities between the Riksdag Board, with its more strategic role, and the Secretary-General of the Riksdag, with operational responsibility. It would be explicitly stated that, in addition to the Chamber, committees and other Riksdag bodies, the Administration supports the Speaker, the members and the party offices. Due to their cultural and historical significance, care and preservation of the Riksdag buildings and collections would be added to the Administration’s responsibilities.
Glossary: Riksdagen – Parliament
Report: Riksdagsstyrelsen, En ny instruktion för riksdagsförvaltningen, 16 March 2011 http://data.riksdagen.se/fil/8a0a3b6a-f874-4458-863d-645e18650897
Size of lower house
When the party leaders agreed last year to recommend increasing the number of MPs from 25 to 35, they invited an Independent Appointee to review the public submissions on the proposal. Despite the lapse of the agreement last month, the Premier's Office requested the commissioned report be completed. The majority of submissions favoured increasing the number of MPs. The writer of the report said the cost of the increase would be $3.1 million per annum, rather than the $12 million reported in the media. He also commented that there is no fixed and final text-book version of the Westminster 'model', but that Tasmania's adaptation of it appeared to be placing its core principles at serious risk.
Report: P.J. Boyce, Review of the proposal to restore the House of Assembly to 35 members, 8 March 2011 http://www.parliament.tas.gov.au/HA/Review/Final%20Report%20-%20Professor%20Peter%20Boyce.pdf
Media article: Report cuts cost of bigger parliament, ABC News, 9 March 2011 http://www.abc.net.au/news/stories/2011/03/09/3159369.htm?site=news
Cabinet Manual and Parliament
A House of Lords committee concluded that the draft Cabinet Manual was not the first step towards a written constitution, and it strongly opposed any suggestion that the Manual be formally approved by Parliament or any of its committees. It emphasised that the Manual could not affect Parliament's freedom to determine its own procedures and practices, and should not attempt to do so. A House of Commons committee also concluded that the Manual was not a written constitution, but that it had considerable overlap with what might be expected of a constitution, and had already sparked debate about the nature of existing constitutional rules and conventions and how they should be written down. Parliament needed to play a full part in this debate, the committee said.
Reports: House of Lords Select Committee on the Constitution, The Cabinet Manual, HL Paper 107, 7 March 2011 http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/ld201011/ldselect/ldconst/107/107.pdf
House of Commons Political and Constitutional Reform Committee, Constitutional implications of the Cabinet Manual, HC 734, 29 March 2011 http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm201011/cmselect/cmpolcon/734/734.pdf
Limits on written questions
A record number of written questions is placing pressure on the resources of both Parliament and government. The House of Commons Procedure Committee has recommended a three month trial period during which members would be limited to no more than five e-tabled questions per sitting day, to be submitted by a set time. There would still be no limitation on the number of questions members could table in person or by post.
Report: House of Commons Procedure Committee, Improving the effectiveness of parliamentary scrutiny: (a) Select committee amendments; (b) Explanatory statements on amendments; (c) Written parliamentary questions, HC 800, 9 March 2011
Ratio of ministers to members in the House of Commons
Concern over the size of the payroll vote and its effect on the House’s ability to scrutinise the government, if the number of ministers is not reduced in proportion to the reduction in the number of MPs, has prompted a committee to recommend that a strict limit be placed on the number of ministers. In addition, the appointment of parliamentary private secretaries, who act as unpaid assistants to ministers, should be restricted to one per department.
Report: House of Commons Public Administration Select Committee, Smaller government: what do ministers do?, HC 530, 10 March 2011 http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm201011/cmselect/cmpubadm/530/530.pdf
Constituents' right to communicate with members
In a backbench business debate on the Bill of Rights, a member raised the issue of court injunctions that order parties involved in a case not to communicate with members of Parliament. Speakers in the debate emphasised the right of constituents to approach an MP for assistance in seeking a remedy for a grievance, and also the importance of parliamentary privilege in enabling members to speak up for and defend their constituents, and to raise matters of public interest and concern.
Hansard: Backbench business, Bill of Rights, House of Commons official report, Parliamentary debates (Hansard), 17 March 2011 http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm201011/cmhansrd/cm110317/halltext/110317h0001.htm#11031771000346
Use of electronic devices in the House
Provided they are used silently and unobtrusively, a House of Commons committee has recommended that hand-held electronic devices should be able to be used in the Chamber and in committees. This would not, however, include the use of cameras or recording equipment, even if part of a permitted device. The Committee recognises the impossibility of the Chair policing tweeting in the Chamber and urges members to behave courteously, and in particular not to tweet messages that would be disorderly if said in the House. It also deprecates as discourteous any comments on evidence being taken by a committee while a hearing is in progress.
Report: House of Commons Procedure Committee, Use of hand-held electronic devices in the Chamber and committees, HC 889, 24 March 2011 http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm201011/cmselect/cmproc/889/889.pdf
Review of members' expenses scheme
Following the first annual review of the members' expenses scheme, the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority has made some changes. These include: allowing staff to submit members' claims; expanding the London Area; simplifying the budget structure for office costs; and giving MPs discretion to claim for a taxi home or a hotel room if they are required to work late at Parliament. The Authority said that, over time, its aim is to reduce the number of rules, leaving MPs increasingly free to make their own judgements about their expenditure, in the knowledge that the decision and the expenditure will be published.
Report: Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority, Annual review of the MPs' expenses scheme, 2010-11, 25 March 2011 http://www.ipsa-home.org.uk/docs/MP%20expenses%20scheme%2025%2003%2011.pdf
Press release: Press notice, 25 March 2011 http://www.ipsa-home.org.uk/LatestNews.html
Phone hacking as a contempt of Parliament
A House of Commons committee concluded that hacking an MP's phone could potentially be a contempt of the House. It also concluded that allegations of criminal behaviour should be investigated by the police, and recommended that, except in exceptional circumstances, all steps should be taken to obtain any remedy available in law before referring a matter for investigation as a possible contempt.
Report: House of Commons Committee on Standards and Privileges, Privilege: hacking of members' mobile phones, HC 628, 31 March 2011 http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm201011/cmselect/cmstnprv/628/628.pdf