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File n° 56
The Other Means of Information Available to M.P.s
The means by which M.P.s can gather the information necessary for the exercise of their office are extremely varied. The contacts which they have, either in Paris or in their constituencies, with heads of administrations, public bodies, professional trade unions, associations and beyond that with their voters allow them to collect de jure or de facto much information on the way the law is applied and improvement which could be made. They also have the various departments of the National Assembly at their disposal to answer their requests (documentation made available, writing of memoranda etc.). In addition, parliamentary work presents various ways for obtaining information from the Government or from representatives of civil society (hearings in committee, written and oral questions, fact-finding missions, commissions of inquiry, reports transmitted by Government to Parliament etc.).
This file aims at examining the means of information which are not dealt with in the other files: the activities of study groups, the holding of symposiums on the premises of the National Assembly and the enrolment of representatives of certain interest groups on a list set up by the Bureau.
I.– STUDY GROUPS
Study groups are bodies open to all M.P.s and are set up to examine specific questions more deeply and to follow them. These questions may be of a political, economic, social or international nature. Such groups do not intervene directly in the legislative procedure. Their task is to ensure that a legal and technical watch be kept on issues which are too specialized to be subject to detailed examination by standing committees (problematic, sector of activity etc.). The study groups are also unique fora for discussions and exchanges between M.P.s of all sides.
In order to ensure the respect of the prohibitions laid down by article 23 of the Rules of Procedure which forbids the setting-up within the National Assembly of any “group representing private, local or occupational interests which binds its members” or of any “meeting in the precincts of the House … of any permanent association, whose purpose is to represent such interests”, the setting-up of a study group is subject to an approval procedure by the Bureau.
Every request for such a group to be set up is examined by a specialized delegation of the Bureau of the National Assembly (this is called the Delegation in Charge of Study Groups and Parliamentary Offices). Before presenting its conclusions, the delegation consults the relevant standing committee to discover if the subject of the group appears compatible with the exercise of its statutory powers and the conduct of its work. Then, based on the report of its delegation, the Bureau grants or rejects its approval for the setting-up of the study group. It is also the task of the Bureau to decide on the political group which will hold the chairmanship of the study group. It is then up to the political group to appoint the chairman of the study group.
Approval provides the right to a certain number of operational advantages (the possibility of reserving meeting rooms, of printing and sending invitations, the assistance of a volunteer civil servant in charge of the secretariat). However study groups receive no operational financing.
There were 106 such groups as of October 1, 2009. The range of themes covered is extremely diverse: sects, insurance, tourism, rural areas, towns and suburbs, regional languages, longevity, cancer, ethics and doping in sport, animal protection etc.
As they enjoy broad operational flexibility, the study groups develop many various activities: hearings of members of the Government, of heads of administration, of experts from the concerned sector (CEOs, representatives of professional federations or trade unions, heads of associations etc.), visits to sites and to companies, participation in events outside the National Assembly (symposiums, corporate exhibits etc.).
II.– THE ORGANIZATION OF SYMPOSIUMS AT THE NATIONAL ASSEMBLY
The National Assembly may make available certain of its premises for the holding of symposiums or seminars. These are meant to encourage exchanges between M.P.s and the various actors of civil society (representatives of the world of industry, of research, of the university etc.).
This organization is bound by a certain number of rules. The availability of rooms, in particular to outside bodies, is subject to the M.P. providing an application and a room reservation form which have been countersigned both by him and by the chairman of his group. The final decision for providing the room is in the hands of the College of Questeurs. It is, in addition, required that the organizers provide a sum for the room and the reimbursement of the technical expenses.
III.– THE REPRESENTATIVES OF CERTAIN INTERESTS AT THE NATIONAL ASSEMBLY
So as to introduce more transparency and ethics into the relationships between M.P.s and the representatives of public or private interest groups (administrative authorities, public bodies, private companies, professional organizations, consulting firms, associations etc.), the Bureau adopted, on July 2, 2009, new rules which are applicable to the activities of these representatives at the National Assembly. The aim is both to establish the role that they play in providing information to M.P.s and to ensure that their activity conforms to a few simple rules of good conduct.
The rules adopted by the Bureau provide that the representatives of public or private interest groups, appearing on a list set by the Bureau, or by its relevant delegation, should be provided with badges valid for one day which would grant them access to the Palais Bourbon. These representatives could thus have entry to the “Grande Rotonde”, the “Salon de la Paix” and the “Salle des Quatre Colonnes” (rooms or spaces in the Palais Bourbon often frequented by M.P.s either before or after sittings), except for the latter, on Tuesdays and Wednesdays, one hour before the opening of the afternoon sitting and until the end of Government question time.
In order to appear on this list, the representatives must, along with their employer, fill out a form providing information on their activities and the interests which they defend and address it to the Secretary General of the Presidency. These representatives must also sign up to the code of conduct adopted by the Bureau.
The requests are then examined by the Delegation in Charge of the Representatives of Interest Groups. Enrolment on the list is approved by the Bureau or by its Delegation.
After a report of the Delegation in Charge of the Representatives of Interest Groups, the Bureau can decide to withdraw from the list, either provisionally or definitively, a representative of an interest group who has not respected this code.
Code of Conduct Applicable to Representatives of Interest Groups adopted by the Bureau on July 2, 2009
1. The representatives of interest groups shall provide the Bureau with the required information in order to have access rights to the premises of the National Assembly defined in article 26, paragraph III-B of the General Instructions of the Bureau. They must also subsequently transmit to the Bureau, all data which would be liable to modify or complement this information.
2. In their contacts with M.P.s, the representatives of interest groups must provide their identity, the body for which they work and the interests they represent.
3. They must follow the rules of movement in the premises of the National Assembly which have been set by the General Instructions of the Bureau. They must clearly wear their identity pass when on the premises of the National Assembly.
4. It is strictly prohibited for them to sell or to exchange against any form of compensation, parliamentary documents as well as any other document of the National Assembly.
5. It is strictly prohibited for them to use headed notepaper or the logo of the National Assembly.
6. The representatives of interest groups must refrain from any behaviour which would appear to be seeking information or decisions by fraudulent means.
7. Information provided to M.P.s by the representatives of interest groups must be open without discrimination to all M.P.s whatever their political tendencies.
8. This information must not include elements which are purposefully incorrect so as to mislead M.P.s.
9. All trading or advertising is strictly prohibited for the representatives of interest groups on the premises of the National Assembly.
10. The representatives of interest groups cannot take advantage, with a third party, for trade or advertising purposes, of their presence on the list set by the Bureau.