Governmental means of action in the legislative procedure
A very wide range of means, defined by the Constitution or the Rules of Procedure, allow the Government to intervene at all the stages of this procedure. Some of these means have already been presented.
The Government engages and ‘feeds’ the debates by tabling bills pursuant to its right to initiate statutes (Article 39, paragraph 1, of the Constitution) and by using its right of amendment (Article 44, paragraph 1). For texts resulting from joint committees, only amendments accepted by the Government are debated (Article 45, paragraph 3, of the Constitution). More generally — but this provision is rarely implemented — the Government can object to the consideration of any amendment which has not previously been referred to committee (Article 44, paragraph 2, of the Constitution).
It can determine the schedule for the adoption of its bills thanks to the precedence it enjoys in determining the agenda (Article 48, paragraph 1, of the Constitution).
It can accelerate debates (declaration of urgency - Article 45, paragraph 2, of the Constitution) or, on the contrary, let them follow their course (non-convening of a joint committee).
It can conclude debates, either by convening a joint committee and sending a request to the National Assembly, in the event of failure of the former, to ‘make a final decision.’ (Article 45, paragraph 4, of the Constitution), or by making an issue of its responsibility regarding a bill (Article 49, paragraph 3). In this latter case, ‘debate shall immediately be suspended for twenty-four hours.’ (Rule 155-1 of the Rules of Procedure) pending the possible tabling of a motion of censure (see hereafter).
It can suspend debates or have them stopped for good (pure and simple withdrawal of bills before their final adoption — Rule 84, paragraph 1, of the Rules of Procedure — or withdrawal from the agenda).
The Government may also with the authorisation of Parliament, ‘take measures by ordinance that are normally a matter for statute.’ (Article 38, paragraph 1, of the Constitution). In this hypothesis, intervention in the legislative procedure leads to the Government substituting itself for Parliament. This procedure is regularly used for bills of highly varying importance.
The following procedures have special importance.
These are of a legislative (Article 41 of the Constitution) or a financial nature (Article 40 of the Constitution).
Pursuant to Article 41, if a Member’s bill or an amendment ‘is not a matter for statute or is contrary to a delegation granted by virtue of Article 38 the Government may object that it is inadmissible. In the event of disagreement between the Government and the President of the assembly concerned, the Constitutional Council shall rule within eight days.’
This is a little used procedure as, once an Act is adopted, the Government can in any case get the Constitutional Council to observe that certain provisions are of a regulatory nature, and therefore, if it desires, it can proceed to amend them by decree.
Inadmissibility pursuant to Article 40
‘Bills and amendments introduced by Members of Parliament shall not be admissible where their adoption would have as a consequence either a diminution of public resources or the creation or increase of an item of public expenditure.’ A difference exists in the procedure applying to the appreciation of whether a Member’s bill or an amendment is financially admissible. Whenever, at the time of the tabling of an amendment, there is a doubt as to its admissibility, it is submitted to the Chairman of the Finance Committee who exercises strict control. The inadmissibility of a Member’s bill is not, on the other hand, pronounced by the designated Bureau members unless it is quite clear. However, if during the legislative procedure, it is objected that a Member’s bill (or a report) is inadmissible pursuant to Article 40, strict scrutiny is exercised, this time by the Finance Committee Bureau.
Compensation is not allowed, either between expenditure and income (a Member’s bill increasing costs is inadmissible even if its author proposes simultaneously an increase in resources, for instance by creating a new tax or by raising a social contribution), or between expenditures (a deputy cannot propose to increase a cost while decreasing another). The diminution of a resource can, for its part, be compensated by the creation of another resource, on three conditions: the new resource must be real, it must benefit the same community, and the compensation must be immediate.
A Member’s bill or an amendment which has been observed to be inadmissible is not distributed.
Article 44, paragraph 3, of the Constitution allows the Government to ask the assembly having a bill before it to decide ‘by a single vote on all or part of the text under discussion, on the sole basis of the amendments proposed or accepted’ by it.
The Government defines the contours of the bill for which it is asking for a single vote, commonly called a block vote. In that, Article 44, paragraph 3, can be likened to Article 49, paragraph 3, which also entails a set-up of provisions imposed by the Government, and of amendments possibly accepted by it. The aim is to force deputies to commit to a binary choice, without any medium term: rejection or acceptance of a bill in the version suiting the Government. However a block vote may concern only amendments previously debated in the manner laid down by the Rules of Procedure.
Article 49, paragraph 3, of the Constitution allows the Prime Minister, after deliberation by the Council of Ministers, to make the passing of a bill an issue of the Government’s responsibility before the National Assembly. This bill shall be considered adopted unless a motion of censure, introduced within the following twenty-four hours, is carried by the majority of the members of the Assembly. In making an issue of the Government’s responsibility, only a part of the bill may be concerned and it can take place any time during the debate, including immediately after it opens. Once an issue has been made of the Government’s responsibility, consideration of the bill in question is immediately suspended.
Once an issue has been made of the Government’s responsibility, a twenty-four hour time limit commences during which deputies can deliver a motion of censure to the President of the Assembly. In accordance with Article 49, paragraph 2, of the Constitution, such a motion shall not be admissible unless signed by at least one tenth of the members of the National Assembly (in other words presently 58 deputies as the 577 Assembly seats are filled).
Two hypotheses can then be envisaged :
- If no motion of censure has been tabled at the expiry of the afore-mentioned time limit, the Assembly shall take note that the bill has been passed with the content defined by the Government.
- If a motion of censure is tabled, it is debated in the manner set forth by the Constitution and by the Rules of Procedure (see Third part).
Adoption of a motion of censure would force the Prime Minister to hand in the resignation of the Government and, subsidiarily, to reject the bill, but the case has never arisen since 1958 within the framework of Article 49, paragraph 3, of the Constitution. Rejection of a motion of censure produces the same effects as the absence of the tabling of a motion of censure: the bill ‘shall be considered adopted’ by the National Assembly.
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