Tue, Jul 03, 2012 - Page 8 News List

Importance of giving the speaker a real voice

By Liu Kung-chung 劉孔中

During the recent dispute over the relaxation of beef import regulations, opposition legislators blocked legislative proceedings, occupied the podium and slept on the legislative floor until the session was adjourned, thus paralyzing legislative business.

It was not the first time this happened. During past reviews of the Organic Act of the Central Election Commission (中央選舉委員會組織法) and laws regarding local government autonomy and allowing Chinese university students into Taiwanese universities, opposition lawmakers also occupied the podium and locked Legislative Speaker Wang Jin-pyng (王金平) out, sometimes setting off violent clashes. In response to public calls for the speaker to call in the police, Wang said there was no legal basis for him to do so.

Indeed, there are no clear regulations that confer on the speaker the right to call in the police, as Article 3 of the Organic Act of the Legislative Yuan (立法院組織法) only states that a speaker shall maintain order in the legislature based on the principle of neutrality and fairness. There is no clause stipulating that the legislative speaker has any police powers. Nor is there any provision stipulating that the speaker has any such powers in the Rules of Procedure of the Legislative Yuan (立法院議事規則). It is merely stated in Article 5 of the Legislative Yuan’s security guard duty rules that guards shall respond to a call from the speaker or a legislative committee chairman to instill order on the legislative floor, prevent danger and protect the lawmakers.

However, these rules do not have significant power and do not clearly identify the speaker as the person in who these powers are vested, thus making it inappropriate to base the speaker’s police powers on these rules.

Furthermore, mobilizing police who fall under the executive branch might confuse the executive and legislative powers. Legislative Yuan security guards fall under the executive branch. If the legislative speaker is given the right to direct and monitor them or order regular police to intervene in legislative procedure, there is a risk of systemic confusion.

Nevertheless, the parliamentary speakers in many advanced democracies such as the UK, the US, Germany, Japan and France enjoy significant police powers. For example, they can prohibit parliamentarians from speaking if they violate procedural rules or injure parliamentary dignity, and expel them from a session. When a British or US speaker wishes to expel a colleague, the violator is removed by a “sergeant at arms.” In Germany, the speaker can even temporarily suspend the right to attend meetings and review bills or issue a fine, while a French speaker can cancel a violator’s subsidies. All these measures are beneficial to the maintenance of parliamentary discipline and efficiency, and serve as good examples for Taiwan.

There are examples of countries that have legislated to give their speakers police powers, such as Japan and South Korea, while other countries uphold parliamentary autonomy, such as the US, Germany and France. There is no reason why the legislature cannot stipulate the speaker’s police powers in its internal rules, but the legitimacy of such powers would be increased if they were legally regulated.

Moreover, to maintain the principle of separation of powers, the legislature should learn from the US Congress, which created the Capitol Police in 1828, or Taiwan’s own judicial police system under the judicial branch. It could create a legislative police with duties, personnel and appointment that differ from the regular police. Under the direction of a sergeant at arms, they could assist the speaker to maintain legislative discipline, dignity, efficiency and security.

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