One of the frequently asked questions I receive is a sample template of submission on a Bill that is to be submitted to Parliament.
This post answers that question.
An advertisement would have been placed in a newspaper for you to submit a memorandum on a Bill. The deadline would be usually indicated. It is advisable to adhere to the timelines. How do you beat deadlines? One way is to make a habit of reading Parliament’s website, particularly the Order Paper. Reading on the Bills due for First Reading will give you a headstart as compared to another who will stumble on the newspaper advertisement.
If you are sending a memorandum on a Bill, please consider the following:
Organizing your thoughts
The scanned Bill will be available for you to read and submit your comments on the Bill.
Familiarising yourself with how a Bill looks like is important. An important tool in understanding a Bill is what you will find towards the end of the Bill. It is called the memorandum of objects and reasons. These explanatory notes will tell you the reason behind the Bill and it gives a summary on the contents of the Bill. By gleaning through this, you will get a general understanding on the Bill. However, this may not be adequate. You will need to read the Bill, paying close attention to key provisions that will inform your proposed amendments to the Bill.
Importance of previous reports
Most Bills were previously legislative proposals. What this means is that legislative proposals precede Bills. Most often, it starts earlier as legislative proposals as draft Bills. Committees consider these legislative proposals and these reports may be important in understanding any proposed amendments that had been recommended so as to have a fuller understanding of the Bill.
It could be possible that a Bill had been considered in one term of Parliament but it lapsed before its passage. If the Bill is reintroduced in a new term of Parliament, if you previously read the Bill or the committee’s report, that Bill should be easier to comment on since there may be no drastic changes. However, it is important to read the Bill carefully and be sure about its contents.
A few terminologies
Legislative lexicon is key. When referring to provisions of a Bill, refer to them as clauses (as in clause 1, clause 2, clause 3, e.t.c.) and not sections. Sections refer to provisions in an Act of Parliament. What about what comes under a clause? It is a subclause, then a paragraph, then a subparagraph. But this depends on the context but I hope this gives a general guidance.
If you are referring to provisions of the Constitution, then you will refer to them as articles ( as in article 10, article 11, e.t.c) while what comes under it as clauses. Most people make the mistake of saying article 50 sub article 1 instead of saying article 50 clause 1.
A keen interest on what happens at Parliament will help educate you more on parliamentary jargon. Parliament has a YouTube Channel, social media handles, and a website. There are tons of information which will educate you on what happens at Parliament.
Format of a memorandum
So, you have read the Bill and now wish write your memorandum. What is its format? At the outset, there is no standard template but here’s a guide.
First, it is a letter that you write addressed to the Clerk (For the National Assembly, to the Clerk of the National Assembly to the address that you will find on Parliament’s website; and to the Clerk of the Senate if it is a Bill being considered in the Senate).
Secondly, a matrix is most preferred if you are proposing amendments to specific clauses of the Bill. Basically, the matrix will be in columns that will identify the clause of the Bill, list your proposed amendment, and give justification or rationale for your proposed amendment.
This is how it will look like:
CLAUSE PROPOSED AMENDMENT JUSTIFICATION FOR THE PROPOSED AMENDMENT
Now, you have the columns.
What do you fill in the first column? Of course the clause of the Bill, say 7,8, 0r 10.
What of the second column? Your proposed amendment. Take for example that you wish to amend clause 7. You will state this in the second column. Basically, you describe what you wish to be done on that clause.
Not pleased at all with that clause and you don’t want to see it? You state Delete clause 7.
Want some minor changes to clause 7? Fine. State amend clause 7 by deleting certain words or deleting them and replacing them with certain words.
Since this is a bit confusing to most members of public, I mean stating deleting and substituting therefor, there is not harm in describing what you wish to be done in that clause by saying action x or action y be done so that the provision reads in a particular manner (then you reproduce the text).
I have seen some stakeholders creatively deploying italics and bold to their text. Nothing bars you from being creative as long as you are able to communicate clearly your intention.
However, I strongly recommend that you read parliamentary reports on consideration of bills. Parliament’s website is full of these reports and all you need to do is to read a few of them so that you acquaint yourself with certain patterns on their format and language. As an example, go read a few of these reports. Specifically, you might want to read what was submitted by the stakeholders and then go to the appendices and read submissions which are well organized.
Now, you are done filling in the second column on your proposed amendment. In the next column, please take good time to condense your thoughts on the reasons why you wish to propose those amendments.
Most stakeholders spend less time on this important column. This is the column that you have to list reasons why you propose a certain clause should be amended in a particular way or deleted. This is the column that the parliamentary committees spend more time on in deciding whether to agree to or reject your proposed amendment.
So this is the place where you employ your persuasive skills. If there is data, quote it here. If there are overlaps with existing laws, this is where you state clearly which clauses of the Bill overlap with specific sections of a particular law. Avoid sweeping statements. It also helps to propose alternatives. Are there ways in which a mischief in the law could be addressed? Sometimes on issues people are divided on, alternatives help in achieving the same results.
Submit the memorandum
Once you have proof-read your memorandum, submit it to the relevant Clerk. In most cases, the Committee will consider the memorandum without necessarily inviting you to appear before the Committee. However, the Committee can still invite you to make oral submissions or to clarify issues raised in your memorandum. If this happens, having a copy of your memorandum during the oral presentation is important. This document should have been submitted to the Clerk in advance preferably a week or a day or two before the meeting.
After you have submitted your memorandum, that is not the end.
Watch out for the Second Reading on the Bill. Watch the live debate on YouTube. Read the report uploaded on Parliament’s website. Get to know why the Committee rejected your proposed amendment and see whether you agree to them. Learn from this process. If a Bill is one that will still be considered in the other House, you will still have an opportunity to submit your comments if there are issues you wish to be addressed.
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