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The National Council of Provinces (NCOP) commenced its two-day Members Induction Programme with a refresher on the rules of debate in the NCOP. The purpose of this induction is to train Members, or in this case, remind them about the procedures and the rules to be used while executing their duties.

The purpose of the rules, as explained by the Secretary to the NCOP, Adv Modibedi Phindela, is to ensure that debates are conducted in an orderly, free and civil manner.  It further serves to ensure that debates are conducted openly, and that Members are given equal opportunities during debates. The rules that dictate these debates are not only based on the Constitution, but are also guided by parliamentary practices and the rulings of the Chairperson.

A number of Members said that Chairpersons are often biased and do not afford Members the same opportunity. Members of the opposition parties highlighted that rulings need to be consistent and applied equally to all Members. In making rulings, they said the Chairperson should be guided by the advocates present during the sitting.

While Members were encouraged to exercise the right to freedom of speech as stipulated in Chapter 2 of the Constitution of the Republic of South Africa, a strong reminder was given that this freedom of speech is also guided by the House rules. Anything said by Members during a sitting of the House is protected against crimen injuria, this does not apply to things said outside of these sittings or committee meetings.

A recommendation from one Member stipulated that an offensive utterance by a Member to another should not only be dealt with by removing the Member who refuses to withdraw the utterance from the House, but the spoken words should not be allowed to be on the records of Parliament.

Adv Phindela said that while these utterances are not expunged from the Parliamentary Record, the record does indicate if there was a withdrawal or apology.

Members were reminded of the difference between motions, where notice of motions refers to a statement alerting the House in advance to do something (usually to be discussed during the next sitting) and motions without notices, which calls on the House to take a decision on a particular matter (motions of congratulations or condolences). It was highlighted that the House is not able to attend to the vast number of notices of motions received from Members, who in turn suggested that alternative methods of dealing with motions need to be explored.

Adv Phindela advised that members of the Rules Committee present during the induction should note these suggestions, which include a rotational system where each member gets a chance to pose his or her motion or the possibility of political parties moving one or two motions instead of having a merit number of Members moving notices. Members were advised that it will also assist the process of having notices moved if notices were based on issues that are current so that Members do not debate issues that have been overtaken by other events.

Adv Phindela told Members that notices of motions are often very long and cannot be read in the two minutes assigned. Members were encouraged to keep notices of motions short and precise in order to deal with these more effectively.

Members continued these robust conversations by looking at the law-making process (classification of Bills, introduction of a Bill, the structure of a Bill, consideration by a committee), as well as the facilitation of public involvement.

By Felicia Lombard
31 January 2018