Nominated Member of Parliament, Eugene Tan, had to intervene twice during parliamentary proceedings on Monday when two Bills were to be voted on.
When amendments to the Radiation Protection Act and the Copyright Act were to be passed, Mr Tan observed that there was no quorum, or the required number of MPs present in the House, as required by the Constitution.
A quorum is one-quarter of the total of 87 elected MPs. That is, 22 MPs.
So, at least 65 MPs were not in the House when the two Bills were to be voted on.
“I think, in order for this Bill not to be challenged on the basis that it’s not constitutionally passed, can I just clarify that we do have a quorum?” he asked the Speaker, when the Radiation Protection Act amendments were to be passed.
Deputy Speaker of Parliament, Charles Chong, concurred that the House was one member short of a quorum.
A division bell was then rung to summon the MPs back to the Chamber. The Bill was subsequently passed – with the required quorum.
Mr Tan, who is a constitutional and administrative law professor in SMU, again raised a point of order later in the day, when the second Bill came to the vote, for the same reason – that there wasn’t a quorum.
This time, however, instead of summoning the MPs back into the Chamber, the Leader of the House, Ng Eng Hen, asked for an adjournment instead, which the Speaker granted.
The amendments to the Copyright Act will now be put to the vote on Tuesday instead.
Mr Tan had also twice raised similar observations in Parliament in 2012, one of which was when the amendments to the LTA (Amendment) Bill were put to the vote.
The debate on the Bill “lasted more than two hours”, according to news report.
But when it came to the vote, Mr Tan observed that there were too few MPs in the House as required by law.
“The Land Transport Authority of Singapore (Amendment) Bill was not passed yesterday as fewer than a quarter of members were present in the House at the end of the debate,” the Straits Times reported at the time.
The vote on the Bill, like the amendments to the Copyright Act on Monday, had to be adjourned then.
The lack of a quorum then prompted former presidential candidate Tan Kin Lian to ask:
“How can there be fewer than 25 per cent of the MPs present in our Parliament at the end of a debate? A Parliament is in session and so many of them were absent or left midway? Less than 25 per cent means 3 out of 4 MPs are absent. How effective is such a debate? And the session is an important one as it is with regard to the SMRT breakdown last year. Is it not ironic that so much time, effort and money were spent in a COI and yet when the issues were discussed and debated in Parliament less than 1 in 4 of our MPs were not even there!”
MPs are notified, through the Order Paper, at least a day before Parliament sits, the questions MPs have tabled, along with the Bills which would be heard in the House.
It is unclear if any amendments to any Bills have been passed without a quorum.
Questions have also been raised on why it was an NMP who raised the matter, and not the Speaker or the Deputy Speaker – both in 2012 and yesterday.