In the last few weeks, ordinary citizens have suddenly become very interested in Parliamentary procedure. Which is a good thing really – it is educational to know how our Members of Parliament make our voices heard in assembly.
Now, let’s take a look at Lim’s decisions closer.
The Workers Party doesn’t want the office of elected President. But oddly, she now wants to speak about the mechanics of the presidential elections. Nevertheless, we know that she had submitted an “adjournment motion” to voice these things.
In every sitting of Parliament, Government business has precedence over other members. These “other members” are also known as private members, members not holding an appointment in a Ministry. It is not just the opposition that is a private member. Plenty of PAP MPs are also private members and hold no government appointments.
In order for these members to voice their opinions or call for an action, they can apply for an “adjournment motion”.
An adjournment motion is a motion moved to ask Parliament to hit the pause button. This is so that an ordinary MP can raise matters of national importance. To get this motion heard, he/she needs to ballot. Those that have failed to get chosen get rolled over to the next sitting.
In such a motion, the member is only allowed to speak for up to 20 minutes and then a Minister would give a reply for 10 minutes. No debate follows.
As we all know, Vikram Nair’s adjournment motion on National Service had been denied four times owing to Workers Party’s Sylvia Lim’s motion on the Reserved President.
The adjournment motion is not the only way to get heard, or to get policies started for matters that do not relate to government business.
A non-government member can also move a “Private Member’s motion”. All that is required are any 5 backing supporters. These members could come from the incumbent, the opposition or either the NCMPs or NMPs. No ballot is required and the member can speak for 40 minutes.
What follows after he/she speaks is an active debate – all members will be allowed to take part. When all that is over, the member will get another 40 minutes to roundup.
If you were a responsible Member of Parliament voicing up for an angry electorate, which motion would you chose?
a.) An adjournment motion that limits your speech to 20 minutes followed by a 10 minute reply?
b.) A private member’s motion that would plunge Parliament into active debate and allow you 80 minutes of grilling?