| Parliamentary Developments
Electoral Law: The Electoral and Referendum Amendment Act (No. 1) 2001 was assented to on 28 April 2001. It amends the Commonwealth Electoral Act 1918 and the Referendum (Machinery Provisions) Act 1984 with a view to incorporating technical amendments contained in recommendations of the Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters' report on the 1998 federal election.
Standing Orders: 31 January 2001 marked the entry into force of the amendments to the Standing Orders of the Senate and House of Representatives consisting of inserting a new article in each set of Standing Orders in order to limit possibilities for MPs to hold more than one office concurrently. The new provisions stipulate that when an MP takes up office, he or she must provide the Speaker of his or her Chamber with all information on the other mandates, functions and offices of a political nature that he or she exercises, with a view to the application of the provisions relating to incompatibilities and prohibitions concerning ministers, former ministers and ministers of States, as well as members and former members of legislative chambers.
Parliament of Canada Act: On 4 June 2001, the Government introduced amendments to this Act regarding increases in MPs' salaries. The legislation was based on the recommendations of a Commission to Review Allowances of Parliamentarians, which was appointed following the November 2000 federal general election. As recommended, the bill proposes to convert the tax-free expense allowance into a taxable allowance and adds it to the base salary of MPs, which would accordingly be increased by 20%.
Standing Orders: On 24 April 2001, the Standing Orders of the Folketing was amended introducing changes regarding the Parliamentary Groups and the collective employment agreement for the staff of the Folketing Ombudsman.
The practice of approval of a parliamentary group entitled to parliamentarian rights and benefits corresponding to those of the parties, has now been codified in the Standing Orders. It is stated that in order to be considered a parliamentary group, such a body must consist of
The Standing Orders also now entitle the Folketing Ombudsman to enter into agreements with two major unions concerning payment of the employees of this institution.
- who have been elected in the last parliamentary election representing a certain political party, and who still represent this party;
- who establish a new group and a new party which obtains the right to nomination according to the rules of the Parliamentary Election Act;
- who join an existing party which is not represented in the Folketing, but entitled to nomination, or
- of whom nobody belongs to the party on whose ticket they were elected, but who continue as a united group with a common policy.
Constitution: Two articles of the German Constitution have been amended. One amendment now makes possible to establish a legal arrangement for the extradition of Germans to an international court of law or to a Member State of the European Union as an exception to the general ban on extraditions. The other amendment permits women to serve in the German armed forces in a combat role on a voluntary basis.
Federal Election Act: On 4 May 2001, two amendments to this Act were passed. The first one facilitates the formation of election committees and restricted access to personal information in election registers as well as establishes a more detailed definition of requirements for the nomination of candidates by parties. It also lays down new regulations for compensation paid to the state governments for costs incurred in connection with the general election. The second refers to the adjustment of constituencies to population trends in the Federal Länder.
Members of Parliament Act: Various sections of this Act were amended at the end of 2000 to allow an increase in the salary and expense allowance for Members of Parliament as of 1 January 2001 in three annual steps of 1.9% each, as well as adjusting accordingly the basis for assessment of the old-age pension of Members.
Law on the status of MPs: This law was amended to stipulate that MPs and all members of their family living with them must submit annual written declarations of assets. According to the law, this declaration is made public by the Speaker of the National Assembly.
Standing Orders: The Standing Orders of the National Assembly were amended to specify the steps to be taken by the Speaker of the National Assembly and parliamentary committees in order to protect State secrets that are contained in an individual motion, in an address preceding the establishment of the agenda of the plenary sitting or in a committee motion. The new provisions have enhanced the transparency of the proceedings of the National Assembly by requiring the minutes of sittings to be posted on the Internet.
Constitution: On 7 June 2001, two changes to the Constitution were approved in a referendum. One amendment (the 21st to the Constitution) prohibits the Oireachtas (Parliament) from enacting any law providing for the imposition of the death penalty. The other amendment authorizes the State to ratify the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court done at Rome on the 17th day of July, 1998.
Standing Orders: A new paragraph has been introduced creating the Committee on Tax Measures with responsibility for examining all matters relating to new tax measures for the ensuing financial year presented to the Parliament and making such recommendations to the Parliament as may seem fit and appropriate; the Committee consists of nine members and is required to report to the Parliament within sixty days of any tax measures being referred to it.
Another amendment to the Standing Orders deals with the Standing Finance Committee and establishes that its deliberations shall be public, instead of private as in the past.
Standing Orders: On 31 January 2001, an amendment went into effect to the Diet Law, on the reorganisation of the Standing Committees. In line with the restructuring of the central government ministries and agencies effective in January 2001, the Standing Committees of the House of Representatives and the House of Councillors have been regrouped into seventeen Committees for each House. The Rules of both Houses were also amended to fix the membership of each Committee and to provide for matters coming under its jurisdiction.
On 15 March 2001, there was another partial amendment to the Rules of the House of Representatives, regarding the notice on non-attendance for reasons of childbirth. The rule stipulates that when a woman Member is not able to attend the House for reasons of childbirth, she may give the Speaker notice of non-attendance in advance, specifying the number of days.
Law on punishment of those who have profited from influence-peddling while in public office: On 1 March 2001, a rule came into effect establishing that "If a Member of the House of Representatives, a Member of the House of Councillors, a member of a local assembly or the head of a local government has profited financially as a reward for exerting influence from his/her position in order to make public servants carry out official duties, or prevent them from carrying out official duties, he/she is liable to a three-year maximum prison term".
Standing Orders: In May 2001, the new Rules of Procedure of the National Assembly (NA), the House of Representatives and the Senate were promulgated to replace, respectively, the 1996, 1997 and 1998 rules.
The new Rules of Procedure of the National Assembly give its President new powers and duties which include setting dates for sittings of the National Assembly and appointing committees to perform the functions as mandated by the National Assembly. Voting by show of hands has been replaced by the use of the voting machine and alphabetical roll call.
With reference to the House of Representatives, the new Rules of Procedure increase the number of Standing Committees to 31 from the previous 23. A chapter concerning the consideration of all bills submitted by voters in accordance with Section 304 of the Constitution has been introduced. Furthermore a member is now entitled to submit a candidate to be Prime Minister, who must be seconded by not less than one-fifth of all existing members. Finally, the membership of the Ombudsmen Recruitment and Selection Committee has been increased to 31 members.
As regards the new Rules of the Senate, the casting of votes shall be secret if not less than 10 members second the motion (in the past 20 members were required to second a motion). Five new Standing Committees have been created in addition to the 16 that existed under the old Rules. The new Rules also stipulate that in cases where the National Assembly approves the further consideration of all bills or organic law bills, further proceedings must be handled as emergency items on the agenda.
Electoral Law: In March 2001, the National Assembly passed an amendment to the Electoral Act stipulating that the register of voters will henceforth be compiled, maintained and updated on a continuous basis. Before this was done once a year.