From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :
Prelims level : Motion of thanks
Mains level : Freedom of speech in the House and the role of Speaker
- The expunction of portions of the speeches made by some Opposition politicians in Parliament recently is an issue that has sparked off a debate on an action taken by the Speaker. Parliamentarians Mr. Gandhi and Mr. Kharge were both speaking on the Motion of Thanks to the President of India for her address to the Members of Parliament of both Houses.
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Motion of Thanks
- After the President’s address, the two Houses move a motion to thank the President for her speech.
- This is customary practice although the Constitution does not provide for any such motion, except direct that each House shall discuss the matters contained in the address.
- This is a practice adopted from the British Parliament.
Debate after the motion
- An occasion to point out lapses on the government’s part: Debate in When such a motion is discussed, MPs are generally permitted to speak on anything under the sun. It is an occasion to point out lapses on the government’s part and discuss the gamut of issues that concern the governance of the country.
- Speeches are generally political and the Chair never insists on relevance: Since the Council of Ministers is collectively responsible to Parliament, MPs have the right to critically scrutinise the performance of the government.
- Government must respond to the question raised: Accountability to Parliament requires the government to respond adequately to the questions raised by MPs in the debate. Under the Rules of the House, it is the Prime Minister who replies to the debate in both Houses.
The rules that are in place
- Freedom of speech in the House: Article 105 of the Constitution confers on members, freedom of speech in the House and immunity from interference by the court for anything said in the House. Freedom of speech in the House is the most important privilege of a Member of Parliament
- Power of presiding officers and breach of such privilege: Rule 380 of the Rules of procedure of the Lok Sabha and Rule 261 of the Rules of the Rajya Sabha give the power to the presiding officers of these Houses to expunge any words used in the debate which are defamatory, unparliamentary, undignified or indecent. Once expunged they do not remain on record and if anyone publishes them thereafter, they will be liable for breach of privilege of the House.
- Rule 353 if there’s an allegation against a MP or an outsider: There are also occasions when an MP may, during his speech, make an allegation against a fellow MP or an outsider. Rule 353 of the Lok Sabha regulates the procedure in that regard. Under this Rule, the MP is required to give “adequate advance notice” to the Speaker as well as the Minister concerned. The Rule does not prohibit the making of any allegation, the only requirement is advance notice.
Allegations and Speaker rulings
- MP’s who make allegations must be sure about the factual basis: Making an allegation against a Minister or the Prime Minister is considered to be a serious matter; therefore, the presiding officers have carefully laid down a stipulation that the MP who makes an imputation against a Minister should be sure about the factual basis of the allegation, and that he must take responsibility for it.
- Allegations complies with stipulation allowed to remain on record: If the MP complies with this stipulation, then the allegation will be allowed to remain on record. There have been many instances in the Lok Sabha when MPs have made allegations against Ministers.
Here are two rulings made by the Speakers on such occasions
- Allegation bases on press report: On September 2, 1965 when Prakash Vir Shastri, MP, made personal allegations against Humayun Kabir, the then Minister for Education. The MP reiterated his allegation and referred to press reports.
- Ruling- Press report could not be sufficient basis of allegations: In his ruling, the Speaker, Sardar Hukam Singh, said, “Normally the source of information available to members is newspapers. But that is not a sufficient basis for a member to make an allegation against a Minister, member or other dignitaries.
- Allegation based on a weekly: On December 21 1981 in the Lok Sabha, Bapusaheb Parulekar, MP, made a reference to an allegation published in the Sunday (a weekly) against the then Railway Minister, Kedar Pande, and his family members in connection with permanent railway card passes.
- Ruling- The member should be prepared to accept the responsibility for the allegation: The Deputy Speaker, G. Lakshmanan ruled that, “The member should, before making an allegation in the House, satisfy himself after making enquiries that there is a basis for the allegation. The member should be prepared to accept the responsibility for the allegation and the member should be prepared to substantiate the allegation.”
Issue of defamation
- Under Section 499 of the Indian Penal Code (Second exception), any statement respecting the conduct of a public servant in the discharge of his public function or his character is not defamation. If such a statement is made in the House against a Minister who is a public servant, it does not come within the ‘mischief’ of Rule 353 or Rule 380.
- Therefore, it does not afford an occasion for the presiding officers to expunge words in or portions of a speech on the ground that they are defamatory.
- In a House where freedom of speech is the most important privilege of a Member of Parliament, establishing defamatory or incriminatory statements as opposed to critical comments, which an MP has the right to make, is important. It also needs to be ensured that the freedom of speech enjoyed by the Members in the House is not needlessly curtailed.
Q. What is motion of thanks? Freedom of speech is the most important privilege of a Member of Parliament which should not be needlessly curtailed. Discuss.
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