Two views on scrutiny of new laws in the House

Two views on scrutiny of new laws in the House
Mr Pritam Singh, MP for Aljunied GRC.

More Bills should be sent before a Select Committee, to raise awareness and support for legislation, Workers' Party MP Pritam Singh (Aljunied GRC) said.

He said it is Parliament's responsibility to scrutinise Bills through such committees, made up of MPs who can solicit public feedback, call witnesses, hold hearings and suggest changes.

But the Leader of the House, Dr Ng Eng Hen, said various Bills had been sent before such committees over the years, when further scrutiny was deemed "necessary and beneficial".

He added that there were other Parliamentary processes through which Bills can be scrutinised.

After Bills are debated, Parliament will move to become a Committee of the Whole Parliament for MPs to go through the Bills line by line and propose changes.

But Bills may also be referred to specially convened Select Committees for extra scrutiny. The last time this was done was in 2004, with the Building Maintenance and Management Bill.

Mr Singh said referring Bills to such committees adds "much-needed civility to public discourse" and allows the Government to "deepen discussions and generate greater public support for laws".

His party's MPs and Non-Constituency MP Lina Chiam had called for two Bills to be committed to a Select Committee last year, he said.

But both times they were rejected, he added, as feedback garnered through the Government's feedback channel, Reach, was "deemed to have been sufficient".

But Dr Ng said the Government refers Bills to such committees to "further examine the details of implementation for complex issues or seek views from experts and other focus groups on matters related to the Bill".

He cited nine of the instances it has done so, such as with the Parliamentary Elections Amendment Bill in 1988 and the Advance Medical Directive Bill in 1996.

But he added that there are other ways to scrutinise Bills and improve on legislation, such as through public consultation exercises before Bills are introduced.

He pointed out that many Bills have gone through such "extensive public consultation", most recently this year's Liquor Control (Supply and Consumption) Bill.

This article was first published on March 11, 2015.
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