Constitution amended to allow Parliament to meet in multiple locations
Parliament will be able to meet in multiple locations if necessary, after the House yesterday unanimously passed a constitutional amendment to legally allow this.
Covid-19 has affected how people around the world work, including parliaments and legislatures, said Leader of the House Grace Fu, in presenting the Constitution of the Republic of Singapore (Amendment) Bill for debate.
Prior to this Bill, the law required Parliament to meet in one physical location, she noted. Certain provisions relating to parliamentary privileges, immunities and powers had also been drafted with reference to Parliament House and its precincts.
This is why MPs being spread out in the Chamber and public galleries since March "was about as far as we can go under the law today", said Ms Fu. "But it is entirely conceivable that exigencies may make it unsafe or even impossible for us to meet at one place," she added.
In such times, it is even more critical for Parliament to carry on its constitutional functions of legislating and holding the Government to account, she said. Citing the Covid-19 (Temporary Measures) Act and the Resilience and Solidarity Budgets as examples of the critical role played by Parliament in the last two months, she said: "In the constitutional framework, we are an essential service."
The new Article 64A in the Constitution creates a mechanism for Parliament to meet under continuity arrangements. When triggered, Parliament need not meet with all MPs in one place, but instead across two or more places appointed by the President, and in communication contemporaneously, or live.
Details of the continuity arrangements, such as the appointed places and the mode of communication between those places, will be decided by the House or the Speaker.
When activated, the arrangements will mean MPs can take part in Parliament proceedings fully despite being in separate places, and their presence will count for attendance, quorum and voting purposes. The powers, immunities and privileges of the House will also apply.
Replying to Non-Constituency MP Leon Perera and Nominated MP Anthea Ong, Ms Fu said while remote participation - with MPs dialing in from, say, their homes - was considered, the Government decided not to take this path.