Home > English > The National Assembly in the French Institutions > File n° 36

 

February 2011

 File n°36  

The Plenary Sitting

 

 

 

 

 

 

    Key Points

    The plenary sitting is one of the highpoints of parliamentary life because it is in the Chamber that laws are passed and that the Government may be held to account. One week out of four is, in addition, outside of the period of discussion of the budget, given over to the monitoring of Government action and to the assessment of public policies.

    The plenary sitting is also called the “public sitting” thus testifying to the importance attached to the public nature of the debates. This constitutes an essential element in all parliamentary democracies.

    The Rules of Procedure of the National Assembly give a special place and role to the main actors in the plenary sitting: the President of the National Assembly, the rapporteurs, the M.P.s. and the Government.

    They also lay down the general rules of the debates and the votes and attempt to facilitate the expression of all shades of opinion.

See also files 19, 22, 23, 24, 25, 26, 27, 37, 38, 45, 46, 47, 52, 73 and 77

 

    “The sitting is open”. These words, spoken by the President or a vice-president of the National Assembly, mark the opening of an essential stage in parliamentary life: the plenary sitting. It is in fact in the Chamber that the M.P.s fully carry out the powers which have been granted to them by the Constitution: passing the law, monitoring Government action and assessing public policies.

    The raison d’être of the plenary sitting is to ensure the public nature of debates for, without this, the representative system would cease to be a true democracy. In order for the plenary sitting to be run correctly, the main actors, the President of the National Assembly, the M.P.s and the Government, must have a place and a role which are strictly defined and the discussions themselves must respect certain rules.

    I. – THE SITTING IS PUBLIC

    The sittings of the two assemblies shall be public. A verbatim report of the debates shall be published in the Journal Officiel” (article 33, paragraph 1 of the Constitution).

    This principle, set down by the Constitution, finds expression, first of all, in the fact that the general public can sit in the galleries, space permitting, and can attend the deliberations. It also requires the publication of a verbatim report in the Journal Officiel. Special facilities are also made available to the press so that they may report on parliamentary proceedings. In addition, the opening-up of the plenary sitting to televised pictures since 1994, the creation of the internet site of the National Assembly and the setting up of a parliamentary channel, have all led to the broadening of the ‘capacity of the galleries’ to all citizens.

    1. – The presence of the general public

    a) The Galleries and Public Access

    The various galleries which surround the Chamber enable the general public to attend the plenary sittings. 273 such seats are available. In addition, 191 seats are reserved for certain official dignitaries as well as for the “official state corps”, in particular, the diplomatic corps and the prefectorial corps. 198 seats are also allocated to journalists of the French and foreign press.

    Public access to the galleries is organized, at the National Assembly, by article 26 (XII) of the General Instruction of the Bureau of the National Assembly. Thus all the following, upon the verification of their identity, may attend the plenary sitting:

    - The first ten people who appear at the Palais Bourbon;

    - Those with a ticket for the sitting;

    - Groups with collective authorization.

    b) Dress code for the General Public

    According to article 8 of the General Instructions of the Bureau of the National Assembly, the “general public who are admitted into the galleries must remain seated, heads uncovered and silent. They may consult parliamentary documents concerning the current debate and take notes”. In addition they must make no sign of agreement or disagreement.

    c) An Exception to the Public Nature of Plenary Sittings: the Secret Committee

    Article 33, paragraph 2 of the Constitution provides that each assembly may sit in camera upon the request of the Prime Minister or one tenth of its members. This provision was applied for the first time on April 19, 1940.

    2. – The official report of the sitting

    In addition to the general public’s right to access the Chamber, an official report of the debates is drawn up and is made available to every citizen.

    Since 1848, there has been a full official report, which has been included in the Journal Officiel since 1869.

    a) Documents of the Transcription of Debates

    The National Assembly nowadays ensures the public nature of debates in two ways:

    - The verbatim report represents the minutes of the plenary sitting. Its publication in the Journal Officiel (Débats parlementaires - Assemblée nationale) enables every citizen to be kept informed on the proceedings of the plenary sittings;

    - The video transmission of the debates live on the internet site of the National Assembly and live or recorded on the Parliamentary Channel and on other television channels (including France 3 for “Government Question Time”).

    b) The Drawing-up of the Verbatim Official Report

    This document is drawn up by the Sittings Report Department “under the authority of the President of the National Assembly and of the Secretary General of the Assembly and of the Presidency”.

    The debate drafters, who are in charge of the verbatim report, are seated at the foot of the speakers’ rostrum. They replace each other every fifteen minutes. They take as detailed notes as possible on the speech of the main speaker without neglecting either interruptions or movement in the Chamber. Then, once they have returned to their office, they draw up a report with the help of a digital recording. The transposition into written language of speeches which are often improvised must respect the thought process of the speaker but nonetheless also requires a certain tidying-up to eliminate the errors, inaccuracies and cumbersome turns of phrase of spoken language. For the legislative part of the debates, the official report must also be in conformity with the Rules of Procedure.

    The work of the writers is revised and, if necessary, corrected by the “heads of sitting” who have, in their own turn, the responsibility of the official report of the sitting they have attended. The speakers may have access to their speeches before publication and may make purely formal modifications to them.

    The official verbatim report of a sitting is made available as it is drawn up on the internet site of the National Assembly in the “Travaux en séance” (“Proceedings of sittings”) section. Its completed version can be read there around six hours after the morning and afternoon sittings and the day after night sittings.

    Once the definitive version of the report has been drawn up, it is transmitted and published internally and is immediately distributed and transmitted (on average within twenty-four hours) digitally to the Journal Officiel which is in charge of its official printing.

    3. – The parliamentary press

    The National Assembly has a broad policy of openness to the press and media in general. Over 350 French journalists are permanently accredited in the Palais Bourbon, as well as forty of their foreign colleagues from more than twenty countries.

    Both public and private television companies frequently broadcast parliamentary debates and show extracts in their news programmes. Since 1957 television has become a familiar aspect of parliamentary life. In addition, since 1982, Government question time has been broadcast live on the France 3 channel. The broadcasts are shown every Tuesday and Wednesday at 3pm every week during the session. Pictures shot by the National Assembly are made available live and at all times to the channels.

    An important step was made by the law of December 30, 1999 which set up “The Parliamentary (TV) Channel”. This is a true civically-minded television channel for both the National Assembly and the Senate and is a consortium of two companies which are legally separate. Its main themes are information, public awareness of civic issues and education and it aims at the broadest possible audience. The cable operators are obliged to carry it and it is available, in addition, through the technology of terrestrial digital television.

    The various political groupings must, of course, be dealt with in an equal fashion by the television media. Thus the Bureau of the National Assembly, under whose supervision the broadcasting of debates has been carried out since the law of June 27, 1964, has set up a sub-committee in charge of communication and the press from amongst its own members, to deal more specifically with this question.

    II. – THE ACTORS IN THE DEBATE

    The Chamber is above all else a place of work but it is also a type of “haven”, for, apart from the M.P.s and certain public servants of the National Assembly, only the members of Government and their assistants are permitted entry.

    The President of the Republic himself does not have access to the Chamber in accordance with the principle of the separation of powers. He communicates with the two assemblies by messages which he orders to be read (article 18, paragraph one, of the Constitution). He may only take the floor in front of Parliament when it has been convened for this reason in Congress (article 18, paragraph 2 resulting from the Constitutional Act of July 23, 2008).

    Since 1993 several foreign dignitaries have been received in the Chamber. Since such events are not part of the plenary sittings in the constitutional sense, the sittings are neither declared open nor closed. For the first of such events, there was no dialogue opened between the guests and the M.P.s. However in March 2005, Mr. José Luis Zapatero, President of the Government of the Kingdom of Spain, and in January 2006, Mr. José Manuel Barroso, President of the European Commission, both, after making introductory speeches, answered one question asked by a representative of each political group.

    1. – The M.P.s

    On June 17, 1789 the representatives of the third estate came together in a National Assembly and invited their colleagues from the nobility and the clergy to join them. This act had huge consequences. Sovereignty was, from now on, shared between the King and the assembled representatives of the Nation.

    Today, the National Assembly has 577 M.P.s. (this is the maximum number allowed in accordance with paragraph 3 of article 24 of the Constitution in its wording resulting from the Constitutional Act of July 23, 2008). Under the authority of the President of the National Assembly, the chairmen of the political groups divide the Chamber into sectors at the beginning of each Parliament. Once this division has been carried out, the chairmen allocate a seat within the sector which has been allotted to their group, to each of its members.

    It is from his seat that the M.P. will vote by show of hands or by sitting or standing according to the procedures of ordinary law or by electronic vote when there is a public ballot.

    It is also from his seat that the M.P. will take the floor after having been so allowed by the chairman of the sitting. The speakers’ rostrum is reserved for the most important speeches. Other speeches are delivered from the benches.

    2. – The President of the National Assembly

    The President of the National Assembly, or the Vice-President who substitutes him, dominates the Chamber from his chair, (the “perchoir” or “perch”) above the speakers’ rostrum, which is that used by Lucien Bonaparte when he presided over the Council of the Five Hundred.

    Article 52 of the Rules of Procedure states that “the President shall open the sitting, direct its debates, enforce the Rules of Procedures and keep order; he may at any time suspend or adjourn the sitting”.

    The main principle that he must uphold is to carry out his office outside of all political party considerations. Running the sitting requires the chairman to constantly pay attention so as to bring together two conditions which are absolutely essential to the proper conduct of the proceedings: he must make sure that the Rules of Procedure are observed and yet allow all opinions to be expressed.

    The very number of sittings means that the President of the National Assembly can not always chair the proceedings. Thus six Vice-Presidents take turns along with him in the chair. The distribution of these positions is carried out within the Bureau, so as to respect the political make-up of the Assembly.

    3. – The President of the sitting

    In accordance with the Rules of Procedure, the President opens the sitting. This procedure is not only formal. As long as the ritualistic words “the sitting is opened” have not been spoken, no one has the right to take the floor.

    a) Announcements, before the Examination of the Matters on the Agenda

    Before moving to the agenda, the President of the sitting announces to the Assembly information which concerns it (such as the resignation or replacement of an M.P.) and then the official messages from the Prime Minister (such as the convening of Parliament in extraordinary sitting). The President may also officially greet, on behalf of the Assembly, any delegation of foreign parliamentarians who may be in the galleries and who have been officially invited by one of the bodies of the Assembly. He may also express the deep feelings of the Assembly following a particularly dramatic event or he may pay homage to the memory of an M.P. who has passed away during his term of office.

    b) Chairing the debates

    In accordance with article 52 of the Rules of Procedure, the President enforces the Rules of Procedure and keeps order. He gives the floor to the speaker and he may also ask the speaker to conclude when he feels that the Assembly has been sufficiently informed. He may take the floor away from the speaker if the latter strays from the question being debated or, on the contrary, he may allow him, in the interest of the debate, to continue his speech beyond the time limit originally allotted to him.

    The President adjourns the sitting and may suspend it, if necessary.

    To assist him in his task, particularly in the framework of the “set time limit debate” procedure (see later), the President has information on the speaking time which has passed. This is provided by a timing device. In the case of a need to call for order, he may cut off all the microphones in the Chamber. If order is not restored he may suspend the sitting.

    The examination of legislative bills (which may entail a large number of amendments) requires great vigilance on the part of the President. He is helped in this task by the civil servants of the General Secretariat of the Presidency and of the Table Office who sit behind him. The quality of the way the laws passed are written and even their internal coherence may depend, in fact, on the order in which amendments are called and on their compatibility.

    4. – The chairmen and rapporteurs of committees

    The chairmen of committees and the rapporteurs who are appointed by the committees play an essential role in plenary sitting. They have special seats on the “committee bench” in the front row.

    The rapporteur is the centrepiece of the legislative procedure and plays a double role: he studies the bill with a view to its examination by the committee and he presents, in plenary sitting, the bill adopted by or the positions taken by the committee in the case of texts concerning which the discussion deals with the actual Government bill or the bill transmitted by the other assembly (constitutional revisions, finance bills or social security financing bills). His speeches enable the M.P.s to come to an understanding of the bill under discussion. In addition to his general presentation, the rapporteur gives the opinion of the committee on each of the amendments proposed.

    The chairman and the rapporteur of the committee they represent have many prerogatives. Thus, they have an unreserved right to speak. Their speeches are not counted in the overall time allotted to their group within the framework of the set time limit debate procedure. They may, by right, request and obtain, suspension of the sitting, a vote by division, a vote by public ballot, deferment, which changes the order of the discussion and second deliberation, whose aim is to ask the Assembly for a final modification of the bill under discussion. They are aided by public servants of the National Assembly.

    The consultative rapporteurs are responsible for presenting the text or the report of the committee which has appointed them and, along with the rapporteur of the lead committee, have the right to speak on the amendments. They do not, however, have the other powers which the Rules of Procedure grant to the rapporteur of the lead committee.

    5. – The chairmen of political groups

    Before the debate in the Chamber, the chairmen of the political groups bring their M.P.s together to decide on the position the group will take publicly, to set out the tactics to be followed and to determine how they will vote, especially when it comes to a final ballot.

    During the actual sitting, they may obtain, by right, suspensions of the sitting to bring their group together or public ballots on the decisions they consider to be the most important. In the case of absence they may confer their prerogatives to a member of the group whom they appoint. However, they must be present in person in the Chamber if they wish to request, before a vote, the checking of the “quorum”, i.e. the presence on the premises of the National Assembly of an absolute majority of members of the Assembly. (This procedure requires, since the reform of the Rules of Procedure of May 27, 2009, that the majority of M.P.s representing the group which has requested the quorum be present in the Chamber).

    Within the framework of the set time limit debate procedure the group chairmen have specific prerogatives.

    6. – The Government

    In the first row of benches, beside the committee bench, is the “ministers’ bench”.

    The Government is systematically represented by one of its members during the debates. The exceptions are rare (the only cases have been when draft resolutions have been discussed). The Government may speak at any moment. Nonetheless, no matter how important the powers that it has are, the Government must always use them within the rules and customs recognized within Parliament.

    Government bills which are tabled by the Prime Minister, in accordance with article 39 of the Constitution, are introduced by a minister, “in charge of presenting the case and of supporting the discussion”. In most legislative debates, this minister sits alone on the Government bench.

    The Prime Minister may ask the National Assembly for its confidence on his Government’s programme or on a statement of general policy. He may also ask for its confidence on the voting of a finance bill or of a social security financing bill or on one other Government or Member’s bill per session. In addition, in cases where confidence in the Government is called into question by the tabling of a censure motion, it is the task of the Prime Minister to defend his Government’s policy. He may also present the most important bills. Similarly, he may reply to questions put to the Government on issues which he feels may require him to do so from a political point of view.

    The Minister in Charge of Relations with the Parliament represents the Government at the National Assembly. He is kept informed of the proceedings of all the debates and makes sure that such proceedings are compatible with the agenda which has been set down. He is the permanent interlocutor with the bodies of the Assembly and attends the weekly meetings of the Conference of Presidents.

    The discussion of a Government or a Member’s bill is the opportunity for a constant dialogue between the M.P.s and the Government. During this dialogue the Government may take the floor when it so requests and has prerogatives which the Rules of Procedure grant it and which are also granted to the standing committees. Thus upon request the Government will obtain a suspension of sitting, a public ballot, deferment and a second deliberation. In addition, the Government may, in particular use the weapons which the 1958 Constitution grants it: the passing of a bill without a vote (article 49, paragraph 3), the objection of legislative inadmissibility (article 41), objection to the discussion of amendments which have not been submitted beforehand to the committee (article 44, paragraph 2), the “forced vote” on all or part of a bill under discussion retaining only those amendments proposed or accepted by the Government itself (article 44, paragraph 3).

    III. – THE RUNNING OF THE DEBATE

    The date and the time of sittings are determined by the regulatory and constitutional provisions. The structure of the sitting will depend on the nature of the tasks carried out by the M.P.s: in the Chamber the Assembly passes the law but it also monitors Government action and assesses public policies.

    1. – The adoption of the law

    The discussion of a legislative bill in plenary sitting usually takes place in several phases: the examination of any procedural motions, the general discussion and the discussion of articles and amendments which are proposed to them.

    The debates deal with the bill adopted by the committee: the only bills which are considered on the basis of the text tabled by the Government or transmitted by the other assembly are constitutional revision bills, finance bills and social security financing bills. The rules however differ according to whether or not the “set time limit debate” procedure has been implemented.

    a) Procedural Motions

    Preliminary rejection motions (whose aim is to have a bill recognized as being contrary to one or several constitutional provisions or to have a decision taken so that there will be no discussion and whose adoption leads to the rejection of the bill) and motions of referral to committee (whose effect, if carried, is to suspend discussion until the committee presents a new report) are examined before the general discussion except during a sitting given over to the opposition or a minority group. In the latter cases procedural motions are debated at the end of the general discussion.

    Since the changes in the Rules of Procedure which were introduced in June 2006 and May 2009, the defence of such a motion is limited to thirty minutes on first reading and may not exceed fifteen minutes as of the second reading, unless decided otherwise by the Conference of Presidents.

    b) The General Discussion

    The general discussion is organized by the Conference of Presidents which sets the overall speaking time limit, according to the importance of the subject and the observations of the group chairmen. This speaking time is allotted to the groups using a weighted proportional system which guarantees a minimal speaking time to the smallest groups.

    Each group chairman declares, within a specific time limit provided by the presidency, the names of the speakers appointed to take the floor and the time allotted to each of them. Generally speaking, each group gives over a substantial amount of its time to a spokesperson whom it enrols, in most cases, as the first of its speakers.

    At the presidency’s behest, the order of speakers is decided in such a way as to allow an alternation between groups. Thus, as one debate follows another, each group can be certain of having for itself, the coveted position of “first speaker”.

    During the sitting, the President is responsible for making sure that each speaker remains within the time limit allotted to him. The M.P.s who speak at the rostrum may consult a timing device which is situated right beside the microphones. A red light, which is in the same place, flashes when the speaking time has been used up. During certain debates the signal marking the end of a speaker’s allotted time may be projected on large screens positioned in three parts of the Chamber.

    c) Speeches on Articles and Amendments

    Speeches made during the examination of the articles of Government and Members' bills and the corresponding amendments tend to be much more specific and technical.

    On the articles themselves, each M.P. may, of his own initiative, enrol to speech for a period of two minutes. The Assembly then moves on to the discussion on the amendments. At this time, the following may take the floor for five minutes: the author of the amendment; the chairman or the rapporteur of the lead committee; the chairman or the rapporteur of the consultative committee; the Government (whose time is not limited); one speaker against the amendment.

    Although this phase of the debate is highly regulated, it often leads to lively and keen exchanges. In the interest of the discussion, the chairmen of the sitting often allow interruptions which lead to two sets of arguments being put forward. In addition, as article 56 of the Rules of Procedure provides, they may “allow a speaker to reply to the Government or to the committee”. Certain important amendments thus lead to broad discussions.

    d) The Use of the Set Time Limit Debate Procedure

    The Set Time Limit Debate Procedure, which is provided for by articles 49 and 55 of the Rules of Procedure, allows the Conference of Presidents to fix the length not only of the general discussion but also of the entire examination of a bill, including the consideration of its articles. Its use is an option. The Set Time Limit Debate Procedure cannot be applied to finance bills, to social security financing bills nor to constitutional revision bills.

    The Conference of Presidents sets the time allocated to groups and to M.P.s who are non-aligned. The ‘committees’ and Government’s speaking time is not limited.

    The setting of the time limits is carried out in respect of the principles contained in the Rules of Procedure and which ensure the right of speech for groups in general and for opposition groups in particular (the latter have around 60% of the overall group speaking time). The chairmen of groups may avail of prerogatives which allow them, where necessary, to have the speaking time allotted to a group increased (the set time limit is extended) or even to oppose the implementation of the Set Time Limit Debate Procedure.

    As the speaking time is taken overall, most speeches are not subject to a specific limit (this is the case, for example, concerning speeches on procedural motions, on an article or on an amendment).

    All the speeches made by M.P.s are deducted from the overall group time limit. There are several exceptions to this rule: speeches made by a chairman or rapporteur of a lead committee, by the rapporteurs of consultative committees if there are any and in addition by group chairmen. All the latter may speak for one hour maximum when the Set Time Limit Debate Procedure has been fixed by the Conference of Presidents at forty hours or less and for two hours in cases beyond this limit.

    When a group has used up the time which it has been allocated, leave to speak will no longer be given to its members. An amendment tabled by an M.P. belonging to such a group shall be voted upon without debate. The chairman of the group can no longer request a public ballot, except on the overall bill. Nonetheless the chairman of the sitting will request the opinion of the committee and of the Government on the amendments tabled by the members of this group so that the vote of the Assembly shall be made clear.

    e) Votes

    During the consideration of a bill in plenary sitting, all votes are public and take place:

    - By show of hands (or by standing and sitting in the case of doubt after a show of hands);

    - By ordinary public ballot (this vote is held by right upon a decision of the Conference of Presidents, which may thus organize a “formal” vote for the most important bills, upon a decision of the President of the National Assembly, upon a request by the Government, by the lead committee or by the chairman of a political group). It takes place electronically.

    2. – Monitoring and assessment

    M.P.s may also carry out, in the Chamber, their constitutional mission of monitoring Government action and of assessing public policies.

    Furthermore, article 48 of the Constitution, in its wording as of March 1, 2009, gives over one week of sittings out of four to monitoring and assessment, with the exception of the consideration of finance bills and social security financing bills for which the Government has priority.

    In addition, in accordance with the last paragraph of article 48 of the Constitution, “during at least one sitting per week, including during the extraordinary sittings, priority shall be given to questions from Members of Parliament and to answers from the Government”.

    These monitoring and assessment activities may, in plenary sitting, take a variety of forms.

    a) Making Government Accountability an Issue of Confidence

    The power to call into question, by means of a vote, the very existence of the Government which constitutes the first characteristic of a parliamentary regime, may be carried out in the Chamber.

    Article 20 of the Constitution states that the Government “shall be accountable to Parliament in accordance with the terms and procedures set out in articles 49 and 50”.

    Article 49 of the Constitution sets down three procedures making Government accountability an issue of confidence before the National Assembly: the Government making its own programme an issue of confidence (paragraph 1), the tabling of a motion of censure by M.P.s (paragraph 2) and the making of the passing of a bill an issue of confidence by the Government (paragraph 3). In accordance with article 50, this issue of confidence may lead to the resignation of the Government tendered by the Prime Minister to the President of the Republic.

    In such cases debates are organized by the Conference of Presidents and the vote is held by public ballot at the rostrum. In order to speed up the procedure, the vote may also be held in the rooms adjoining the Chamber. This means that several polling stations may be opened and is a practice which has become systematic in recent years.

    b) The Monitoring Week

    The agenda of the monitoring and assessment week is set by the Assembly upon a proposal of the Conference of Presidents. The Assembly may however include legislative texts on this agenda.

    This week may be given over to debates on Government statements, to considering motions or to holding question sittings (see after). Debates may also be held on the initiative of a committee or of a group. The new article 48 of the Rules of Procedure provides that each chairman of an opposition or minority group may obtain, as of right, the inclusion on the agenda for this week of a subject in the field of assessment or monitoring.

    Certain of these debates initiated by M.P.s are liable to be based on the reports of committees dealing with, for example, the application of a law.

    One sitting is reserved by priority for European questions.

    The Committee for the Assessment and Monitoring of Public Policies, which is a new body set up in the National Assembly in 2009, may make proposals to the Conference of Presidents concerning the agenda for the week given over to monitoring. It may, in particular, propose the setting-up, in plenary sitting, of a debate without a vote or of question sittings dealing with the conclusions of its own reports or of the reports of fact-finding missions.

    c) Statements Followed by a Debate

    Article 50-1 of the Constitution allows a parliamentary group to request the Government to make, before either of the two assemblies, a statement on a given subject which gives rise to a debate. The Government itself may also take the initiative to make such a declaration. It can decide that such a declaration shall give rise to a vote without making it an issue of confidence.

    For the debate to which the declaration gives rise, the Conference of Presidents sets the overall speaking time limit allotted to groups and to M.P.s not belonging to any group. Half of the speaking time attributed to groups is allotted to opposition groups. Each half is then distributed, on the one hand, between the opposition groups and, on the other hand, between the remaining groups in proportion of their size. Each group has a minimum of ten minutes speaking time.

    When the Government decides that its statement shall give rise to a vote, the Conference of Presidents may accept explanations of vote. In this case, leave to speak is given, for five minutes after the closing of the debate, to one speaker for each group. The vote is held by public ballot at the rostrum.

    d) Motions

    Article 34-1 of the Constitution in its wording after the Constitutional Act of July 23, 2008, allows each assembly to pass resolutions which must be tabled by M.P.s individually or by a group chairman in the name of his group.

    A motion is the instrument by which an assembly provides an opinion on a specific question: its aim is not to make Government accountability an issue of confidence and the Government may declare it inadmissible if it considers that such is the case.

    Motions are debated in plenary sitting: they are neither sent for referral to committee nor may they have any amendments tabled to them.

    Their inclusion on the agenda may be requested by the group chairmen, by committee chairmen or by Government.

    This inclusion may not occur less than six full days after the tabling of the bill and may not concern a draft motion considered by the President to deal with the same subject as a previous motion included on the agenda during the same ordinary session.

    e) Questions

    The holding, every week, on Tuesdays and Wednesdays, of a sitting given over to questions to the Government, is one of the basic markers of the rhythm of parliamentary proceedings. The constitutional revision of July 23, 2008, took this into account by extending this procedure to extraordinary sessions (article 48).

    Furthermore, the wording of article 133 of the Rules of Procedure after the motion of May 27, 2009, provides that:

    - Every week, one half of the questions shall be asked by M.P.s of the opposition ;

    - During each sitting, each group shall ask, at least, one question ;

    - The first question shall be automatically allotted to an opposition or a minority group, or else to an M.P. belonging to no group;

    - To make the exchanges livelier and to allow for more questions to be asked, the speaking time allotted to each speaker, both M.P.s and Government members alike, has been limited, since March 1, 2009, to two minutes instead of two and a half minutes;

    - Beyond this, the week of monitoring, means that more time can be given over to questions;

    - The setting-up of sittings concerning questions to a specific minister is part of the new procedures introduced by the week of monitoring. The groups have great freedom in the choice of minister(s) to whom they may ask questions and such sittings are not necessarily based on prior parliamentary proceedings. The questions may deal with the entire scope of the remit of a minister or on a predetermined subject. The Conference of Presidents draws up the rules for the sitting, given that half of the questions must be asked by M.P.s of the opposition. The speaking time is limited to two minutes but the author of the question may, once the minister has replied, answer him before the minister takes the floor for the last time;

    - This procedure which has been implemented during every week of monitoring and which lasts between one and a half and two hours, directly involves a large number of M.P.s in monitoring and assessment activities;

    - As for the sittings of oral questions without debate, they involve the obtaining of a precise ministerial answer on a given subject which often concerns local issues. In the framework of the wording of the Rules of Procedure after the motion of May 27, 2009, oral questions without debate have taken a natural position during the week of monitoring on Tuesday and Thursday mornings. Half of the questions are asked by M.P.s of the opposition. The time available for each question is now set at six minutes: this includes the question itself, the Government’s answer and the reply by the question’s author.