A summary of news from overseas parliaments.
Call for reform of MPs’ pensions
A non-profit, advocacy organisation published a report criticising the MPs’ pension plan and calling for it to be phased out. It recommended enrolling current and future MPs on a voluntary basis in the government’s new pension plan, set out in a bill currently before Parliament. A minister said that the issue of MPs’ pensions was being examined as part of the larger government-wide spending review.
Report: CTF report on MP pensions: a taxpayers’ indictment, Canadian Taxpayers Federation, Jan. 2012 http://taxpayer.com/sites/default/files/CTFMP-PensionReport-WEB.pdf
Media article: MP pensions ‘a ripoff on a massive scale’, The Ottawa Citizen, 19 Jan. 2012
Legitimacy of using parliamentary money to pay party staff
Between 2004 and 2011 the salary of the general manager of Bloc Québécois was paid out of the then party leader’s parliamentary budget. The House of Commons Board of Internal Economy is now investigating the payments. The former leader has denied any wrongdoing, saying there was no attempt to hide anything. He has obtained a legal opinion which says that the use of the funds for partisan activities was legitimate. The Board of Internal Economy, which does not include a Bloc Québécois member, has turned down the party’s request to be represented on the Board for the investigation.
Opinion: François Gendron, Opinion préliminaire, 27 Jan. 2012 http://www.scribd.com/Radio-Canada/d/79879597-L-avis-juridique-de-Gilles-Duceppe
Press release: Dépenses du cabinet de Gilles Duceppe: Le Bloc Québécois demande à participer aux comités visés, 23 Jan. 2012 http://www.blocquebecois.org/Bloc.aspx?bloc=a7aef169-b4c7-40d7-a1ba-a5fdc08610e8
Media articles: Gilles Duceppe denies Bloc Québécois broke House rules, Montreal Gazette, 22 Jan. 2012 http://www.montrealgazette.com/news/Gilles+Duceppe+denies+Bloc+Quebecois+broke+House+rules/6033235/story.html; Duceppe a agi en toute légitimité, selon un avis juridique, Radio Canada, 30 Jan. 2012 http://www.radio-canada.ca/nouvelles/Politique/2012/01/30/002-duceppe-ottawa-lundi.shtml
Speaker does not rule on matters of law
Members’ privileges were violated, a member argued, by the way in which the government had managed proceedings on the bill to reorganise the Canadian Wheat Board, thereby rendering the bill and the House’s consideration of it illegal. In response, the Speaker said that ruling on the legality of a bill was outside the bounds of what could be considered by the Speaker. He must confine himself to the procedural aspects of the question, and he could find no evidence that members’ ability to fulfil their parliamentary duties had been interfered with.
Hansard: Privilege, Legislation to reorganize the Canadian Wheat Board – Speaker’s ruling, House of Commons Debates, Official Report (Hansard), 31 Jan. 2012 http://www.parl.gc.ca/HousePublications/Publication.aspx?Language=E&Mode=1&Parl=41&Ses=1&DocId=5347027#SOB-6459805
Committee oversight of public service delivery
Recommended changes to a joint committee’s terms of reference would, if accepted by both Houses, empower it to receive Ombudsman’s reports and public petitions and, informed by these, oversee the quality and standards of public service delivery. A formal, structured relationship with the Ombudsman would focus on regular, constructive parliamentary engagement in a manner appropriate to the Ombudsman's statutory independence. Public petitions on matters of general public concern or interest on which the Oireachtas had power to act would be received and processed by the Committee. The Committee would evaluate the administration of policies and programmes, identify shortcomings and make recommendations for improvements.
Glossary: Oireachtas – Parliament
Report: Joint Committee on Investigations, Oversight and Petitions, Report on revised orders of reference for the Joint Committee, 25 Jan. 2012 http://www.oireachtas.ie/parliament/media/committees/investigationsoversightandpetitions/Report-on-Revised-Orders-of-Reference-for-the-Joint-Committee.pdf
Press release: New committee to place citizens at heart of parliamentary system, 25 Jan. 2012 http://www.oireachtas.ie/parliament/mediazone/pressreleases/name-3403-en.html
Media article: Oireachtas body seeks new powers, Irish Times, 25 Jan. 2012 http://www.oireachtas.ie/parliament/mediazone/pressreleases/name-3403-en.html
President not in favour of women’s seats
The President said that his government would encourage greater participation by women, and that it will happen of its own accord as women take on leadership roles in the community, but he wondered whether it would be democratic to put as a matter of law that women must have reserved seats. Following last October’s election, three of the 44 members of Parliament are women.
Media article: Kiribati rules out special women’s seats, Islands Business, 19 Jan. 2012
Breach of confidentiality in committee hearing
At an open hearing of the special committee looking into the attacks that occurred in Norway on 22 July 2011, the head of the Police Security Service confirmed the Norwegian Intelligence Service’s presence in Pakistan. She resigned and is now under investigation for a possible breach of confidentiality for having disclosed classified information. A law professor has suggested that the fact that the information was provided in answer to a member’s question in an open hearing at the Storting could be a mitigating circumstance.
Glossary: Stortinget – Parliament
Press release: Janne Kristiansen går av som PST-sjef, 18 Jan. 2012 http://www.regjeringen.no/nb/dep/jd/pressesenter/pressemeldinger/2012/janne-kristiansen-gar-av-som-pst-sjef.html?id=670023
Media articles: Norway intelligence chief resigns after hinting Oslo has agents in Pakistan, The Telegraph, 20 Jan. 2012 http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/europe/norway/9027536/Norway-intelligence-chief-resigns-after-hinting-Oslo-has-agents-in-Pakistan.html; Kristiansen skal granskes, Bergens Tidende, 19 Jan. 2012 http://www.bt.no/nyheter/innenriks/Kristiansen-skal-granskes-2642824.html
Executive influence over the Storting’s composition
Under the Constitution members of the Storting may be appointed as state secretaries, to assist cabinet ministers. Like ministers, they may not sit in the Storting for the term of their appointment. This means that the executive can potentially directly influence the composition of the Storting by, for example, appointing ‘troublesome’ members as state secretaries. The President and other senior members of the Storting have proposed amending the Constitution to make members of the Storting ineligible for appointment as state secretaries.
Glossary: Stortinget – Parliament
Report: Grunnlovsforslag fra Dag Terje Andersen, Øyvind Korsberg, Per-Kristian Foss, Marit Nybakk, Dagfinn Høybråten, Trygve Slagsvold Vedum, Trine Skei Grande og Snorre Serigstad Valen om endring i Grunnloven § 14 med sikte på å utelukke at stortingsrepresentanter kan beskikkes som statssekretærer, 31 Jan. 2012 http://www.stortinget.no/no/Saker-og-publikasjoner/Publikasjoner/Grunnlovsforslag/2011-2012/dok12-201112-001/
Papua New Guinea
Prime Ministership in dispute
Parliament filed references with the Supreme Court asking whether someone who is not a member of Parliament can be Prime Minister, and whether Parliament can rescind its own previous resolutions and decisions. A few days earlier Sir Michael Somare, dismissed from his parliamentary seat in September, had attended Parliament to deliver a copy of the Supreme Court order reinstating him as Prime Minister. Prime Minister Peter O’Neill said security at Parliament would be tightened to prevent the repetition of such an act.
Media articles: Somare’s visit disrupts house, The National, 19 Jan. 2012 http://www.thenational.com.pg/?q=node/28068; O’Neill warns Somare of arrest, The National, 19 Jan. 2012 http://www.thenational.com.pg/?q=node/28067; Somare to be referred, Post-Courier, 20 Jan. 2012 http://www.thenational.com.pg/?q=node/28067; Court bid sought on PM’s post, The National, 23 Jan. 2012 http://www.thenational.com.pg/?q=node/28185
Parliament’s power to legislate for independence referendum, UK view
The United Kingdom government believes that it is outside the powers of the Scottish Parliament at present to legislate for a referendum on independence. Certainty can only be provided by legislation involving the UK Parliament, since under the Scotland Act 1998 the union of Scotland and England is one of the matters reserved to that Parliament. Either the UK Parliament could pass legislation giving the Scottish Parliament power to deliver a referendum on Scottish independence, or it could pass legislation for a referendum directly itself. The government considers that the first option presents a good way to deliver a legal referendum.
Report: Scotland’s constitutional future: a consultation on facilitating a legal, fair and decisive referendum on whether Scotland should leave the United Kingdom, CM 8203, 10 Jan. 2012 http://www.official-documents.gov.uk/document/cm82/8203/8203.pdf
Press release: UK government offers to transfer power to Holyrood for independence referendum, 10 Jan. 2012 http://www.scotlandoffice.gov.uk/scotlandoffice/16425.html
Parliament’s power to legislate for independence referendum, Scottish view
The Scottish government believes that the Scottish Parliament has the power to legislate for a referendum on Scottish independence as long as it does not change a reserved law or relate to aspects of the constitution that are reserved by the Scotland Act 1998. The government is ready to work with the UK government to put the referendum effectively beyond legal challenge by the UK government or any other party. It notes that any change to the definition of the Scottish Parliament’s competence would require the consent of both the Scottish and UK Parliaments.
Report: Your Scotland, your referendum: consultation, 25 Jan. 2012 http://www.scotland.gov.uk/Resource/0038/00386122.pdf
Press release: Independence referendum consultation, 25 Jan. 2012 http://www.scotland.gov.uk/News/Releases/2012/01/referendumconsultation25012012
Boycott of Public Accounts Committee
After opposition members boycotted meetings of the Public Accounts Committee, the Speaker appointed two new members to make it possible to form a quorum and enable the budget hearings to continue. The reason for the opposition boycott was the Speaker’s appointment of a government member as chairman of the Committee, following the previous chairman’s election to the post of Deputy Speaker.
Media articles: PAC shun, delays budget, Solomon Star, 11 Jan. 2012 http://www.solomonstarnews.com/news/national/13364-pac-shun-delays-budget; I have the power: Speaker, Solomon Star, 12 Jan. 2012 http://www.solomonstarnews.com/news/national/13368-i-have-the-power-speaker
Restrictions on members’ pay and pensions
For the fourth consecutive year the Congress and Senate have agreed to freeze the pay of deputies and senators. Contributions to the deputies and senators’ pension plan have also been suspended, in line with the government’s actions in the public sector. These measures will also apply to parliamentary staff, following negotiations with their representative bodies.
Size of lower house
Ten more seats will be added to the House of Assembly for the 2014 election if budgetary circumstances permit. The Premier said that she believed that the extra seats would help bolster democracy, but that the expansion could only occur if the necessary $3 million could be found. The number of seats in the House of Assembly was reduced from 35 to 25 in 1998.
Media article: Labor to expand Parliament, The Mercury, 24 Jan. 2012 http://www.themercury.com.au/article/2012/01/24/294891_tasmania-news.html
Speaker breached bail conditions
The Speaker was arrested on his arrival back in Tonga for having breached his bail conditions, which have since been extended. He had been given special permission to lead a parliamentary delegation to Israel, but instead he left the delegation in Los Angeles and spent two months in the United States. The Speaker is accused of illegally possessing an unlicensed firearm and ammunition.
Media article: Tonga's Speaker of Parliament arrested on arrival at Fua'amotu Airport, Islands Business, 20 Jan. 2012, Tongan Speaker pleads not guilty, Islands Business, 27 Jan. 2012
Consideration of House of Commons procedures following devolution
An independent, non-partisan commission has been set up to consider how the House of Commons might deal with legislation which affects only part of the United Kingdom, following the devolution of certain legislative powers to the Scottish, Welsh and Northern Ireland legislatures. The commission is expected to report back during the next parliamentary session.
Press release: Commission on the consequences of devolution for the House of Commons established, 17 Jan. 2012 http://www.cabinetoffice.gov.uk/news/commission-consequences-devolution-house-commons-established
Media article: West Lothian question inquiry ‘risks creating second-class MPs’, The Guardian, 17 Jan. 2012 http://www.guardian.co.uk/politics/2012/jan/17/west-lothian-question-inquiry-commission?INTCMP=SRCH
Annual review of MPs’ expenses scheme
The Speaker, in his submission to the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority’s annual review of the MPs’ expenses scheme, remarked on the difficulty of distinguishing between parliamentary and party political activity. He also commented on MPs’ employment of staff and staffing budgets, and the use of constituency offices for political or campaigning purposes after Parliament had been dissolved. The Committee on Standards in Public Life also commented on the difficulty of clearly distinguishing between parliamentary functions and party political activities.
Report: Speaker, Submission to the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority’s annual review of the MPs’ expenses scheme, 18 Jan. 2012 http://www.parliament.uk/documents/speaker/Response-to-the-Annual-Review-of-MPs-scheme-of-expenses-and-costs.pdf; Committee on Standards in Public Life, Response to annual review of the MPs’ scheme of expenses and costs, 18 Jan. 2012 http://www.public-standards.gov.uk/Library/CSPL_Response_to_2011_Annual_Review_of_MPs__Expenses_Scheme.pdf
Finding time for e-petition debates
Since the government’s e-petitions website was launched last July, six petitions have passed the 100,000 signature threshold for consideration by the Backbench Business Committee for debate in the House of Commons. The Committee has recommended that a special Monday afternoon sitting in Westminster Hall be dedicated to debating e-petitions, to ease the pressure on debating time. In addition, the information on the e-petitions website should more accurately reflect reality, and the lead petitioner of a petition that has passed the threshold should be advised to seek an MP who is willing to apply to the Committee for debating time for the petition.
Report: House of Commons Procedure Committee, Debates on government e-petitions, HC 1706, 19 Jan. 2012 http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm201012/cmselect/cmproced/1706/1706.pdf
Member failed to notify changes in financial interests
On his election to Parliament a new member intended to resign from his former position, and in the meantime decline the salary from it, so did not register it as a financial interest. As it turned out, he continued to work for and receive payments from his former employer for several more months, but did not fulfil the requirement to register this remunerated employment. A committee viewed this breach of the registration rules as serious, but, taking into account that he was new at the time, accepted the member’s apology and recommended that his register entry be updated.
Report: House of Commons Committee on Standards and Privileges, Jack Dromey, HC 1766, 19 Jan. 2012 http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm201012/cmselect/cmstnprv/1766/1766.pdf
Review of guide to members’ conduct
The Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards is conducting a review of the Guide to the Rules relating to the conduct of members. The issues for consideration include the registration of members’ financial interests, the declaration of financial interests during debate, restrictions on lobbying by current and former members, and the procedure for dealing with complaints concerning breaches of the Code of Conduct.
Report: Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards, Review of the Guide to the Rules relating to the conduct of members: consultation paper, 19 Jan. 2012 http://www.parliament.uk/documents/pcfs/Review%20of%20Guide%20to%20the%20Rules/Consultation-on-Guide-to-the-Rules.pdf
Consultation on proposed register of lobbyists
Consultation has begun on the government’s proposals for a register of lobbyists. The register would cover lobbyists lobbying government and Parliament on behalf of a third party. It is suggested that public trust in the register could be enhanced if it were operated by a body independent of government and the lobbying industry. One option for achieving this would be to extend the remit of an existing parliamentary body to undertake the management and enforcement of the register.
Report: Introducing a statutory register of lobbyists: consultation paper, Cm 8233, 20 Jan. 2012 http://www.cabinetoffice.gov.uk/sites/default/files/resources/Introducing%20a%20Statutory%20Register%20of%20Lobbyists.pdf
Press release: Proposals for register of lobbyists, 20 Jan. 2012 http://www.cabinetoffice.gov.uk/news/proposals-register-lobbyists
Motions for additions to the House of Commons budget
Under a proposed new standing order, motions and amendments that would add £50,000 or more to the House Administration budget could only be considered by the House of Commons if a memorandum setting out their financial consequences had been made available. This would ensure that the House could take these consequences, and the effect on competing priorities, into account when making a decision.
Report: House of Commons Finance and Services Committee, Proposed standing order on motions and amendments with implications for the House Administration budget, HC 1768, 23 Jan. 2012 http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm201012/cmselect/cmfinserv/1768/1768.pdf
Statutory basis for bilingual services updated
A newly introduced bill would update the legislative framework for bilingual services in the National Assembly. It states that Welsh and English are the Assembly’s official languages and must be treated equally. It also requires the Assembly Commission to adopt a scheme to implement this. A draft scheme outlining practical arrangements to enable the Assembly to operate bilingually covers services to the public, corporate arrangements, and a complaints procedure, and includes a guarantee of everyone’s right to participate in Assembly proceedings in either language.
Bill: National Assembly for Wales (Official Languages) Bill, 30 Jan. 2012 http://www.assemblywales.org/bus-home/bus-business-fourth-assembly-laid-docs/pri-ld8779-e.pdf?langoption=3&ttl=PRI-LD8779%20-%20National%20Assembly%20for%20Wales%20%28Official%20Languages%29%20Bill
Explanatory note: National Assembly for Wales (Official Languages) Bill: explanatory memorandum, 30 Jan. 2012 http://www.assemblywales.org/bus-home/bus-business-fourth-assembly-laid-docs/pri-ld8779-em-e.pdf?langoption=3&ttl=PRI-LD8779-EM%20-%20Explanatory%20Memorandum%20National%20Assembly%20for%20Wales%20%28Official%20Languages%29%20Bill
Press release: Assembly Commission introduces new Bill to affirm its commitment to bilingual services, 30 Jan. 2012 http://www.assemblywales.org/newhome/new-news-fourth-assembly.htm?act=dis&id=229888&ds=2/2012
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