By Leong Sze Hian

I refer to the article “WP adjournment motion on town councils inadmissible” (Singapolitics, May 9).

Adjournment motion inadmissible?

It states that “Speaker of Parliament Halimah Yacob has ruled that an adjournment motion on the town council review, filed by Workers’ Party chairman Sylvia Lim, is inadmissible in Parliament when it sits next Monday.

The reason: The subject of the motion will be fully debated under a ministerial statement to be presented at the same sitting.

Ms Lim had filed the adjournment motion earlier this week, on Monday, following last Friday’s announcement that National Development Minister Khaw Boon Wan would deliver a ministerial statement on the review in Parliament.

She did so as she wanted more time to discuss the issue, she had said, citing Standing Order 23 of parliamentary rules. It states that MPs may only seek clarification on a ministerial statement, not debate it.

An adjournment motion would let her speak for 20 minutes at the end of the sitting.

Hence, to avoid repetition, the Clerk said: “The Speaker has ruled it inadmissible.”

She cited Standing Order 53(2), which states it is out of order to discuss the subject matter of a motion – which in this case is the ministerial statement – in an adjournment motion.

I do not know much about the rules of Parliament, but allow me to make the following comments as a layman and concerned citizen:

Ministerial Statement – can seek clarification but no debate?

Standing Order 23 of the parliamentary rules state that “Ministerial Statements – 23. A statement may be made by a Minister in Parliament on a matter of public importance. Members may seek clarification on the statement but no debate shall be allowed thereon.”

No indication that there would be debate?

With regard to “When contacted, Ms Lim told The Straits Times that when she filed the adjournment motion on Monday, there was no indication that the Government would provide for any debate.

Maybe no debate if not for adjournment motion?

“In any case, this is an important matter and we will be participating in the debate on the motion, which was notified on Tuesday,” she added.” – If MP Sylvia Lim did not file an adjournment motion on Monday (6 May), there may have been no debate at all because a media report on 3 May (“AIM deal given all-clear: MND review”, Channel NewsAsia) said “Minister for National Development Mr Khaw Boon Wan will deliver a Ministerial Statement on the MND Review, including both the AIM transaction and the overall governance of TCs, when Parliament next sits on 13 May”.

No mention of Ministerial Statement with debate?

You will note that there is no mention that the Ministerial Statement on 13 May also has a motion for a debate. So, in accordance with Standing Order 23 – “Members may seek clarification on the statement but no debate shall be allowed thereon”.

Notification of debate only a day after adjournment motion was filed?

Fortunately, after the adjournment motion was filed on Monday (6 May), MP Silvia Lim said that she was notified on Tuesday (7 May) – that there will be a debate in conjunction with the Ministerial Statement on 13 May (Sylvia Lim’s words – “we will be participating in the debate on the motion, which was notified on Tuesday,” she added”)

“Inadmissible”?

So, in a way, the “inadmissibility” of her adjournment motion was like an “after the fact” thing, because how could she have known on 6 May when she filed the adjournment motion that the motion to include a debate would be notified the day after on 7 May?

How would anyone know on 6 May that debate may be moved?

As to “But yesterday, the Clerk of Parliament said debate on ministerial statements is provided for under Standing Order 44.

“Members can make their speeches during this debate, not only clarifications,” said the Clerk.

Each MP can speak up to 20 minutes, followed by a wrap-up speech from Mr Khaw that can last up to 40 minutes” –  Standing Order 44 (1) states that “Debate on a specific matter – 44. – (1) Except for matters considered under procedure on Bills or financial procedure, whenever it is desired that any matter be debated on which it is not intended to formulate a motion in express terms, a Minister may move, without notice, “That [subject matter] be considered by Parliament”. No amendment shall be allowed on
the motion”.

You will note that “a Minister may move, without notice, “That [subject matter] be considered (debated) by Parliament”.

In other words, had the adjournment motion not been filed on 6th May, there may have been no debate at all on 13th May – unless the Minister decides to move for a debate as well (“a Minister may move, without notice”).

But again, how would anyone know on 6th May that the Minister will move to have a debate?

Parliament is so fascinating?

Don’t you feel as I do that Parliamentary proceedings and rules can be so intriguing, fascinating and exciting – like trying to piece together a Sherlock Holmes mystery!

 

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