Amendments to Parliament Standing Orders – Speech by Pritam Singh


(Delivered in Parliament on 8 May 2017)


Madam Speaker, at the outset, I would like to thank the Standing Orders Committee for its work.

I seek some clarity on Standing Order No. 54(4) which is to be deleted by way of these amendments. I would like to enquire about the original reason for this standing order which requires the presence of at least 25 members who are supportive of a motion when a debate is to be closed.

It would appear that the spirit of the standing order is not just to ensure no infringement of the rights of the minority or an abuse of the rules of Parliament, but to ensure that a significant enough number of MPs are present in the House to see through any debate and at the close of the debate.

However, what these amendments could conceivably do is to create a public impression that the deletion of Standing Order 54(4) supports the presence of fewer MPs in the House when the relevant question is put, bearing in mind that the deleted standing order does not call for a quorum of 25 members but the presence of at least 25 members who vote in support of the motion – a higher requirement necessitating a sufficiently robust number of MPs in the House.

So for example, if these amendments are approved by the House and Standing Order 54(4) is deleted, it would permit a hypothetical motion to pass should the matter be decided with 17 ‘ayes’ and 9 ‘nos’, as it would have met the required constitutional quorum of at least 26 members. Even though the Constitution in Article 57(1) is silent on the specific number of majority votes required, in effect, the deletion of this Standing Order supports the presence of fewer MPs in the House at the close of debate when the question is put to MPs. Going back to the example above, should Standing Order 54(4) remain, the same motion would require at least 8 more members in the House, and that is assuming they intend to vote in favour of the motion.

To this end, some members of the public may draw an adverse inference on these amendments and there may be some risk that it will reduce public trust in the institution of Parliament as Singaporeans would expect most legislators to be present in the House at any point in time. This is notwithstanding the fact that Article 56 of the Constitution requires a quorum of one-quarter of MPs to be present when the House is in session failing which, Parliament shall be adjourned. It would be helpful if the Leader can revisit the spirit and purpose of the deleted Section 54(4) in the first place and why it this standing order was drafted as such, so as to pre-empt any adverse public opinion on this matter.

The registration of my concerns notwithstanding, I support the amendments.