The Union Legislature—Parliament
Conduct Of Business
Each House has a Roll of Members which is to be signed by every member before taking his seat. Every member should also make and subscribe to an oath of affirmation in order to formally assume his seat. With the Speaker or any other presiding officer in the chair and in the presence of at least one-tenth of its total membership which is the quorum, the House can begin its business. If at any time during a meeting of the House there is no quorum, the presiding officer will either adjourn or suspend the work of the House. Normally, all questions are decided by a majority of the votes of members present and voting. The presiding officer may vote only when the House is equally divided.
The first hour of each sitting is devoted to parliamentary questions and interpretations and therefore known as Question Hour. Normally, this is the time when the House is most lively. The main purpose of questions is to seek information and draw attention to grievances of public importance. There are elaborate Rules of Procedure to determine the admissibility of questions. The Speaker’s decision in this respect is final. Usually, every question is sent days in advance of the session so that all relevant information is collected in the department concerned and transmitted to the House. There is, however, a provision for asking short notice questions under certain conditions.
After the Question Hour, the House takes up, item by item, the business that is allotted for the day. The business takes different forms and for each of these a separate procedure is prescribed. More important of these which deserve special mention are adjournment motions, resolutions, no-confidence motions, other motions for discussion, legislative business and financial business. There are also other types of business such as statements on policy made by Ministers from time to time and laying of papers and documents on the Table of the House. In the latter case, the Minister concerned will rise in his seat and make a formal statement drawing the attention of the House to the document that is placed on the Table.
Adjournment motions are an unusual feature. A motion for adjournment is meant to draw the attention of the House to a matter of public importance which has arisen suddenly and which deserves immediate attention. It should deal with a specific matter of recent occurrence and of urgent public importance. Such a motion is intended to focus the attention of the House to a particular action or inaction of the Government. It also compels the Government to act in a manner that is appropriate to the situation on the penalty of otherwise losing the confidence of the House.
Resolution is a device by which the House is made to declare an opinion on a particular matter. A resolution should deal with only one issue and should be worded clearly and precisely. It should not contain arguments, imputations or defamatory statements nor refer to the conduct and character of persons except in their official or public capacity.
No-confidence or Censure motions are a rare feature. A censure motion is an expression of want of confidence in the Ministry. Permission to move such a motion will be given only if at least fifty members in the House rise in support of it. If leave is granted to move the motion, a date is fixed for discussion and the Speaker may allot one or more days for the purpose. Resort to a no-confidence motion is not usually made unless the Opposition has a reasonable chance of defeating the Ministry. But sometimes it is also made use of as a political weapon to discredit a Ministry or highlight its various failures in the public eye with a view to bringing down its prestige.
Under the Rules of Procedure, a member can, with the consent of the Speaker, move a motion for the discussion of a matter of general public interest. If admitted, the Speaker will allot a day or more for its discussion. The possibility of such discussion depends upon the availability of time during a particular session. Sometimes, the Government itself may bring forward such motions in view of the importance of the matter involved. This provision is, in a way, one that enables members as well as the Government to bring to the floor of the House any matter of public importance which is not covered by legislative proposals and other parliamentary business.
There is also a provision to cut short the discussion on any matter by moving what is known as a “closure motion”. Any member can move such a motion and if the House adopts it, discussion is stopped forthwith and the matter before the House is voted upon. Sometimes when the time set for a particular measure is already over, despite the fact that the discussion on all its parts has not been completed, a vote is taken on the motion before the House. Then the rest of the measure is put to vote without discussion. This procedure is described as the “guillotine”.
There are at present 389 rules which regulate the procedure in the House covering every aspect of its activities. These are supplemented by “Directions by the Speaker”. There are 123 such directions by the Speaker which are codified for the use of members and others concerned. Taken together, these form the foundation of parliamentary procedure in India, which facilitate the orderly transaction of business in the Parliament. But the picture is not complete with these alone. One must add to it the numerous rulings of the presiding officers, precedents and conventions, all of which, in a substantial measure, serve the successful working of Parliament.
The primary function of the Parliament is law-making. Historically, it was the function of making laws that made the legislature a distinctly separate department of the Government. In spite of all the additional functions that the Parliament takes up as a result of the complexities of modern Government, law-making still remains its most important activity. A Parliament without legislative work ceases to be a Parliament in the real sense, whatever else it might be.
A law-giver has to look to the future, while being rooted in the experience of the past. He has to take into consideration the conditions and circumstances of the society to which the laws would be applicable. Modern society is so complex that laws which govern it have necessarily to be complex. Naturally, law-making too has become a complex process. This will be illustrated by the procedure prescribed under the Constitution of India.
The first stage of legislation is the introduction of a Bill embodying the provision of the proposed law, accompanied by the “Statement of Objects and Reasons”. If a private member desires to introduce a Bill, he must give notice of his intention to the Speaker. Every Bill that is introduced in the House has to be published in the Gazette. There is provision, however, for the publication of any bill with the consent of the Speaker even before its formal introduction. Usually, at the time of the introduction of a Bill, there is no debate. The person who is given leave to introduce a Bill, if he so chooses, may make a short statement indicating broadly its aims and objectives. But if the introduction of the Bill is opposed, then the Speaker may allow one of the opposing members to give his reasons too, after which he will put the question to vote. If the House is in favour of the introduction of the Bill, then it goes to the next stage. The introduction of the Bill is also called the first reading of the Bill.
There are four alternative courses of action open at the second stage : The Bill may be taken into consideration; it may be referred to a select committee of the House; it may be referred to a joint committee of both the Houses; or it may be circulated for the purpose of eliciting public opinion on it. In the case of every proposed legislative measure, which is likely to arouse public controversy and agitate public opinion, resort to the last alternative is invariably made. But there are many Bills which are of minor importance or pertain to routine matters, and others of an emergent nature, which may not, therefore, permit any long delay. In these cases one of the first three alternatives is adopted.
After the committee’s report has been considered and the motion that the Bill as reported by the committee be taken into consideration is adopted, the fourth stage begins when a detailed clause-by clause-discussion of the Bill starts. Each clause is taken up by the House and amendments are moved, discussed and disposed of. The amendments that are moved in the House are those which have already been checked by the Secretariat with a view to seeing that they are within the scope of the Bill and relevant to the subject matter and satisfy all the conditions laid down in regard to their admissibility. This is the stage when the Bill undergoes substantial changes, should some parts be found necessary. It is also the most time-consuming stage. Once clause-by-clause consideration is over and every amendment is voted, the second reading of the Bill is over.
The next stage is when the member in charge, who has piloted it, moves that “the Bill be passed”. Such a motion may be moved either immediately after the second reading or on a subsequent date. Unless there is any great urgency, the third reading takes place after sufficient time is given to members to study the Bill in the amended form in which it was passed at the second reading. At the third reading, normally only verbal or purely formal amendments are moved and discussion is limited and progress is quick. Once all the amendments are disposed of, the Bill is finally passed as a whole. And, when the work in one House is over, the Bill is sent to the other House for its action.
The sixth stage starts with the consideration of
the Bill by the other House where it goes through the same procedure and the
different stages. The House has three alternatives before it.
It might finally pass the Bill as sent by the originating House. It might amend or altogether reject the Bill. In both these latter cases, the Bill may be returned to the originating House. Or it may not return the Bill at all within six months after its receipt which will mean the same as rejection.
At the seventh stage, the returned Bill is considered by the House in the light of the amendments made by the other House. If the amendments are accepted, it sends a message to the other House to that effect. If they are not accepted then the Bill is returned to the other House with a message to that effect. If in this process of sending the Bill up and down, the Houses do not come to an agreement, the only solution is a joint sitting of the two Houses (under Article 108) called for the purpose by the President. The disputed provision is finally adopted or rejected by a simple majority vote of those who are present and voting.
A Bill that is finally passed by both the Houses, goes, with the signature of the Speaker, to the President for his assent. This is normally the last stage. If the President gives his assent, the Bill becomes an Act and is placed on the Statute Book. But even at this last stage, the Bill can be stopped from becoming an Act. The President is empowered, if he so chooses, to refuse assent to a Bill that is placed before him. He may send the Bill back to Parliament for reconsideration. This will reopen almost the whole process and if the Bill is passed by both the Houses again with or without amendments, it will be sent to the President for a second time. At this stage, the President shall not withhold his assent.
Thus, it can be seen how long, detailed and time-consuming is the process of law-making and how difficult it is if a Bill has to be passed within a short time. The magnitude of the work will be fully understood only if one takes into consideration the number of Bills which Parliament is called upon to pass every year.
It is the unquestioned right of Parliament under any responsible system of Government not only to ensure that public funds are raised only with its consent but also to exercise complete control over the way in which the nation’s revenues are spent by the Government. The framers of the Constitution had kept in view these basic considerations while laying down the principles which would guide the operation of public finance and the procedure that would regulate the financial transactions of the Government.
The basic principles underlying the financial provisions of the Constitution are as follows :
(1) There shall be no taxation without a law authorising it. If any levy is to be imposed upon the people, the sanction must be that of law (Article 265).
(2) There shall be no expenditure without the authority of the Parliament. Such authority should be embodied in an Act of Parliament and not merely expressed by a Resolution.
(3) As an essential safeguard for the sound administration of the nation’s finances, Parliament should have unrestricted power to superintend, scrutinise, regulate and determine financial administration.
(4) The executive should alone have the initiative in making proposals for taxation and expenditure and no such proposals can be initiated by a private member.
(5) The House of the People should have supremacy over the Council of States in all financial matters. A Money Bill shall not be introduced in the Council of States (Rajya Sabha).
(6) All revenues received by the Union Government should form the “Consolidated Fund of India” from which alone the Government shall withdraw money for its expenditure and repayment of debts.
(7) To meet unforeseen requirements exceeding
the authorised expenditure, a reserve fund, called the “Contingency
Fund of India”, should be placed at the disposal of the Government facilitating advances subject to subsequent regularisation (Article 267).
(8) The President shall not withhold his assent for a Money Bill passed by the Parliament. In the matter of finance, the Parliament is supreme (Article 111).