Doc. 7684
7 October 1996

REPORT1 on quorum in committees

(Rapporteur: Lord FINSBERG, United Kingdom, European Democratic Group)


Summary

      Committees are experiencing more and more problems in obtaining a quorum, and this constitutes a hindrance to the Assembly's work.

      The Assembly notes that since 1991, the Western European Union Assembly has introduced a new system on quorum which has now proved its worth and which constitutes a remedy for the afore-mentioned problems.

      The Assembly considers that, subject to the necessary adjustments, this system should be taken over in its own Rules of Procedure.

I. Draft resolution

1.       The Assembly notes that since 1994 some general committees of the Assembly have experienced quorum problems which have hindered the progress of their work.

2.       To remedy this situation the Assembly decides to supplement Rule 45, paragraph 10 in fine, of its Rules of Procedure with the following text:

"If no such request is made and if no quorum exists when a committee begins a meeting which is taking place at the date, time and place which was notified to its members, the Chairperson shall have the power to close the meeting and forthwith open a subsequent one when those present, irrespective of their number, shall be deemed quorate. During such a meeting, the agenda sent out to committee members beforehand shall not be changed."

3.       The Assembly decides that these provisions will enter into force at the opening of the 1997 ordinary session (27 January 1997). It asks its Committee on Rules of Procedure to review them, if necessary, after two years of application.

II. Explanatory memorandum

by Lord FINSBERG

A. General remarks

1.       Since the last Rule change in 1979, the system foreseen in order to ensure the quorum in committee has operated relatively satisfactorily. However, since 1994 several committees have again experienced quorum problems. This was the case, for example, for the meetings of the Committee on Rules of Procedure in April and June 1996 and considerably hindered its work.

2.       In response to a letter sent by the Chairperson of the Committee on Migration, Refugees and Demography to the President of the Assembly on 19 September 1995, the Bureau asked the Secretariat to prepare a document giving general information on the attendance of members of the Assembly at committee meetings.

3.       It results from the calculation of the averages of seats occupied in the 13 general Assembly committees that these range from 40,75 to 71,66 %.

4.       The present report recalls the current situation and submits proposals with a view to resolving the difficulties relating to the matter of quorum in committees.

B. Current situation with respect to the quorum at committee level

5.       Rule 45, paragraph 10, of the Rules of Procedure which governs the quorum is worded as follows:

      "A committee may deliberate and take decisions when one-third of its members2 are present; however, if so requested by one-sixth of its members before voting begins on a draft opinion, recommendation, resolution or order as a whole, or on the election of the Chairman or the Vice-Chairmen, the vote may be taken only if the majority of the committee members are present.

      The number of members who constitute a committee shall be the number of representatives and substitutes whose appointment to the committee has been confirmed by the Assembly in pursuance of Rule 43.5 above3".

      It was introduced in 1979 by Resolution 689 and, with one exception of a technical character4, remained unchanged. This modification was the final result of several reports which the Committee on Rules of Procedure had elaborated on this matter between 1970 and 1978.

C. Proposals to reduce quorum problems

6.       What can be done to facilitate committees' obtaining a quorum? A series of possibilities were indicated in the report of the Committee on Rules of Procedure of December 1978 (Doc. 4259, see the Appendix to the present report), which should now be considered again. Among the reasons advocated for quorum difficulties, two additional ones should be mentioned:

-       the proliferation of international parliamentary institutions;

-       the narrow political majorities in several national parliaments of the Council of Europe.

7.       In this connection, the situation in the WEU Assembly and, to a smaller extent, in the European Parliament (Rule 150, para. 1) with respect to the quorum in committee are of particular interest.

      a. Measures inspired by the solution adopted in the WEU Assembly

8.       According to the WEU Assembly's Rule 43, para. 4b "a committee may deliberate when one-third of its members are present. However, if so requested by one-sixth of its members before voting begins on a draft recommendation, opinion, resolution, order or decision as a whole, or before voting to elect the chairman or the vice-chairmen, the vote may be taken only if the majority of the committee members are present. If no such request is made and there are not the relevant number of members present, the meeting shall be declared closed and an other one may be opened immediately which shall be deemed quorate".

9.       A similar proposal had been discussed by the Parliamentary Assembly's Committee on Rules of Procedure in the 1978 report (Doc. 4259, para. 20). However, it had some reservations on one aspect. It considered that there should be a reasonable interval between the two meetings so that all members of the committee can be informed. The interval should be fixed at tenor fifteen days out of a session and twenty-four during session. However, as the WEU Assembly's practice with a similar provision, mentioned in para. 10 and in force since 1991, has raised no problems at all, the reservations on the interval aspect could now be dropped.

10.       However, on 25 April 1996 the members of the Committee on Rules of Procedure set two conditions for its introduction:

-       the meeting which is deemed quorate whatever the number of members present must take place at the date, time and place notified to members;

-       during such a meeting the agenda sent out to committee members beforehand should not be changed.

11.       In addition, at its meeting on 24 September 1996, the committee specified that, except during Assembly sessions, this power shall not apply if the date, time or place of the meeting notified to the members in the first convocation notice was subsequently altered.

12.       The Committee on Rules of Procedure therefore envisaged to supplement Rule 45, para. 10 (see para. 5 above) with the following text:

"If no such request is made and if no quorum exists when a committee begins a meeting which is taking place at the date, time and place which was notified to its members, the Chairperson shall have power to close the meeting and forthwith open a subsequent one when those present, irrespective of their number, shall be deemed quorate. During such a meeting the agenda sent out to committee members beforehand shall not be changed."

13.       The implementation of this provision is acceptable because the committee can take no decision that binds the Assembly and, therefore, if there were any objection, the decision can be called into question by the Assembly.

      b. Other complementary measures

14.       Delegations concerned should again be encouraged formally to leave vacant some of the seats allotted to them in committees, thus reducing the quorum, when they are unable to participate regularly in the meetings.

15.       These seats may, under Rule 43, para. 6, always be filled on an ad hoc basis. This provision stipulates that "Where a seat on a committee is vacant it may be provisionally occupied by a representative or substitute from the national delegation to which the seat is allocated, the representative or substitute being appointed by the Chairman of that delegation".

16.       The Committee on Rules of Procedure also insists that Rule 45, para. 15 be applied, according to which: "If a seat remains empty for three consecutive meetings, the Chairman of the committee shall so inform the Bureau of the Assembly".

D. Final remarks

17.       The Committee on Rules of Procedure decided that the present report should be submitted to the Standing Committee for adoption. It proposed that the new provisions should enter into force at the opening of the Assembly's 1997 ordinary session (27 January 1997) and be re-examined, if necessary, by the committee after two years of application. Furthermore, the regulatory measurers in paragraphs 14 to 16 above should be brought to the attention of the Bureau of the Assembly.

Appendix

Extract from Doc. 4259

Report

on procedure in commission -

quorum, vacant seats and replacements

(Rapporteur: Mr McGuire)

Reporting committee: Committee on Rules of Procedure

Budgetary implications for the Assembly: None

Reference to committee: Doc. 7594 and Reference No. 2098 of 28 June 1996

Draft resolution unanimously adopted by the committee on 24 September 1996

Members of the committee: Mrs Lentz-Cornette (Chairperson), Mr Rewaj, Mr Verbeek (Vice-Chairpersons), MM. Açba (Alternate: Akçali), Alloncle, Cummings, Dias, Djerov, Sir Anthony Durant (Alternate: Sir Russell Johnston), Mr Fenech, Lord Finsberg, MM. Frankl, Gabrielescu, Gjellerod, Goovaerts, Mrs Holand (Alternate: Thoresen), MM. Kostiutkin, Kyprianou, Laakso (Alternate: Jansson), Lorenzi, Magnusson (Alternate: Bergqvist), Marten (Alternate: Zierer), Masson, Molnár, Proriol, Pukl, Mrs Pulgar, Mr Pyatnitsky, Mrs Ragnarsdottir, MM. Rokofyllos, Schieder, Schloten (Alternate: Bindig), von Schmude, Seiler (Alternate: Columberg), Selva, Sinka, Slobodnik, Soldani, Spahia, Stretovych, Tahiri, Wallace

N.B. The names of those members who took part in the vote are printed in italics

Secretary of the committee : Mr Schade


1 1 By the Committee on Rules of Procedure.

2 2If it not possible to divide the number of members of a committee by 3, the quorum shall be calculated on the basis of the next lower multiple of 3; for example, the quorum for a committee of 53 members shall be 17, for 44 members 14, etc.

3 3When vacant seats are occupied provisionally, account of this must be taken in the calculation of the quorum in accordance with Rule 43.6 above.

4 4The words "substantive part of a report" were replaced by "draft opinion, draft recommendation, draft resolution or order".