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February 2011

 File n°73 

The Table Office

 

 

 

 

 

 

    Key Points

    The activities of the Table Office are centred on the plenary sitting.

    In advance of the plenary sitting, the Table Office contributes to its preparation by manning the secretariat of the Conference of Presidents, which is the body of the Assembly which draws up its agenda and organizes the debates. The Table Office lays out and classifies amendments according to the order in which they will be called. It also prepares the President’s file which is used as the guideline for discussions in plenary sitting.

    The Table Office assists the President during the plenary sittings by providing him with information useful to the resolving of any problems concerning the Rules of Procedure which may arise. It also monitors the time limits for speeches and records the decisions of the Assembly.

    After the plenary sitting, it draws up the texts decided upon by the debates in the Assembly and notes, in the form of ‘precedents’, all that could contribute to the creation, within the activity of the Assembly, of statutory or constitutional jurisprudence.

See also files 26, 36, 37, 38 and 45

 

    The main activity of the Table Office revolves, quite naturally, around the plenary sitting, its preparation, running and follow-up.

    However, being as it is, in direct contact with the Presidency and situated at the cross-over point between the work of other departments, the Table Office also possesses a remit which includes matters of a more general nature. The Table Office is, more generally speaking, in charge of procedure and the application of the Rules of Procedure.

    The Table Office includes three units:

    - The Plenary Sitting Unit which includes, under the authority of two unit heads, five advisers and three deputy advisers ;

    - The Joint Affairs and Vote Unit which is led by a unit head and has three deputy advisers;

    - The Law Unit which is made up of one head of unit, two advisers, three deputy advisers and two secretaries.

    - Six other secretaries are available for the entire Table Office.

    - In addition, the Table Office includes nine porters and twenty-five ushers who carry out their duties in the Chamber or in the adjoining rooms.

    I. – THE PLENARY SITTING UNIT

    In general terms, the activity of the Plenary Sitting Unit, which is carried out as the case may be, before, during or after the plenary sitting, may be divided into five categories: the drawing-up of the agenda and the preparation of debates, legislative procedure, monitoring and assessment procedures, various procedures linked to the make-up of the Assembly and to appointments within different bodies and, finally, statutory and constitutional jurisprudence.

    1. – The drawing-up of the agenda and the preparation of debates

    a) The Secretariat of the Conference of Presidents

    The Conference of Presidents meets each week during the session. It is chaired by the President of the National Assembly and is made up of the six vice presidents, the chairmen of political groups, the chairmen of committees, the Chairman of the European Affairs Committee, the General Rapporteur of the Finance Committee and the Minister in Charge of Relations with Parliament. It draws up the agenda for the Assembly and organizes the debates.

    The Plenary Sitting Unit services the secretariat of the Conference of Presidents. It calls the meetings of the Conference of Presidents, prepares them and draws up the minutes of such meetings.

    - Before each meeting, it makes contact with the Minister in Charge of Relations with Parliament to be sure that the agenda which will be put before the Conference of Presidents by the minister for the weeks reserved for Government business is compatible with the progress made on bills in committee. It also provides a sufficient time allotment for each bill by taking into account, in particular, the estimated number of amendments.

    - In collaboration with the political groups and the committees, it draws up a draft agenda for the week reserved for parliamentary initiative and for that reserved for the assessment of public policies and the monitoring of Government action.

    - It prepares files for the President on all matters which are likely to be discussed. In particular, it puts forward a suggested time allotment for the general discussion of bills or for debates which are scheduled to take place in the coming weeks.

    b) The Organization of the Discussions

    It is the duty of the Plenary Sitting Unit to ensure the correct organization of debates and speeches during both the discussion of bills and during the debates which take place in the Assembly.

    - It calculates the allotment of speaking time between the political groups, which depends upon their size, taking into account the overall time for discussion decided upon by the Conference of Presidents. It informs the political groups of its decision.

    - It records M.P.s requests to speak.

    - It draws up, under the authority of the President, the order of speakers.

    2. – Legislative procedure

    The unit carries out its duties at every stage of procedure.

    a) The Tabling of Bills

    In order to be tabled, Government and Members’ bills and parliamentary reports are received by the Plenary Sitting Unit. It provides every one with a registration number which means that each document can be identified during the entire procedure. It draws up, at the end of the final sitting of the day, a list of all the documents which have been tabled that particular day.

    Except in cases when an ad-hoc committee is set up, the Plenary Sitting Unit, under the authority of the President to whom disputed cases are referred, decides to which standing committee the tabled bills must be sent. It then takes the necessary measures to publicize the tabling of the bills (notably in the Journal Officiel) and transmits them to the Communication Department which is in charge of their printing, their publication on-line and distribution.

    It also mans the secretariat of the Bureau’s commission in charge of examining the financial admissibility of Members’ bills; article 40 of the Constitution, in fact, prohibits parliamentary initiatives which would have the effect of creating or increasing an item of public expenditure or which would diminish public resources.

    b) The Preparation of the Plenary Sitting

    - The Plenary Sitting Unit records, lays out, arranges the printing of and distributes the procedural motions –preliminary rejection motion or motion of referral to committee – which may be tabled on each bill.

    - Its most important task concerns amendments. When the initiative for such amendments comes from Parliament, it must, first of all, check their admissibility. If a doubt is raised concerning their financial admissibility, it requests the advice of the Chairman of the Finance Committee. The lay-out of such amendments and their recording represents a substantial amount of its activity. This requires the standardization of their presentation and their being limited to the modifications proposed so that the discussion in plenary sitting may be suitably organized. It also entails the publishing of the recorded admissible amendments on-line on the site of the National Assembly.

    - The Plenary Sitting Unit then prepares the “President’s File” which constitutes the very centre of its activity. This file includes a number of formal expressions (formulae) corresponding to the procedure being followed, which are read by the chairman of the sitting. The amendments are listed, article by article, according to the statutory instructions which decide the order in which they will be called and voted upon.

    c) The Course of the Plenary Sitting

    - During the plenary sitting, the Plenary Sitting Unit is seated behind the President on the “Plateau”. Its first task is to constantly keep the President’s file up-to-date. The list or the order of speakers may be modified. New amendments or sub-amendments may be tabled and it may be necessary to lay them out and include them in the pre-organized file.

    - In addition, the Plenary Sitting Unit puts together and arranges the reproduction of bundles of amendments listed by the order in which they are called. It distributes them to M.P.s during the discussion.

    - The Plenary Sitting Unit also has the task, at all times, of providing the means to resolve problems concerning the Rules of Procedure which may be raised during the course of a plenary sitting. It does this in collaboration with the “head of the plateau” - the Secretary General of the Assembly and the Presidency, the Director General of Legislative Departments or the Director of the Table Office – who is in charge of assisting the President.

    3. – Monitoring and assessment procedures

    In plenary sitting, the monitoring of Government is carried out by confidence votes in Government, debates preceded or not by a Government statement and the different questioning procedures.

    a) Confidence Votes in Government

    When a censure motion is tabled, the Plenary Sitting Unit oversees the application of the time limits set by the Constitution (the vote may not be taken within 48 hours of the tabling of the motion) and checks that the list of signatories corresponds to the number required (at least one tenth of the members of the Assembly) and to other criteria (the same M.P. may not sign more than three “spontaneous” motions during the same ordinary session.) laid down by the Constitution.

    For all the procedures concerning votes of confidence in the Government, the Plenary Sitting Unit organizes the discussion according to the time limits set by the Conference of Presidents.

    b) Debates

    The Plenary Sitting Unit organizes the debate according to the rules laid down by the Conference of Presidents. .

    4. – Procedures concerning the composition of the Assembly and various appointments

    At the beginning of each term of Parliament and at the opening of each session, the Assembly is recomposed. This means that all the members of the Bureau are re-elected although the President of the Assembly is elected for the entire term of office.

    In addition, the Assembly is called upon, at the beginning of the Parliament or during the session, to appoint certain M.P.s to sit on various bodies such as the Court of Justice of the Republic and various extra-parliamentary bodies.

    These appointments follow a variety of procedures but all nonetheless are organized by the Plenary Sitting Unit:

    - It first of all calls upon candidates to make themselves known, notably by sending a memorandum to the political groups reminding them of the time limits and appointment mechanisms involved.

    - It receives the candidacies and renders them public.

    - It prepares the appointment file.

    - When an appointment is made, it ensures that it is published and transmits it, if need be, to the competent authorities and to those directly concerned.

    - In addition, the Plenary Sitting Unit receives the political statements of the political groups, if need be their declaration of membership of the opposition as well as the requests for membership and resignations of their members. It makes all such information public.

    5. – The drawing-up of “precedents”

    The Plenary Sitting Unit notes and comments upon all those matters which, within the activities of the Assembly, provide interesting information on the application of the Constitution, institutional acts, the Rules of Procedure or the General Instructions of the Bureau.

    This jurisprudence of parliamentary practice is kept article by article. It, of course, means that the Table Office has substantial catalogued archives which serve as a kind of “memory” of the Office but also that, through the repetition of the same scenario, a tradition is created whereby the President may use such documents to take or to justify decisions.

    II. – THE JOINT AFFAIRS AND VOTE UNIT

    The Joint Affairs and Vote Unit has four main tasks: managing the procedures which are common to all committees; providing information on the plenary sitting and on parliamentary activity; managing the electronic voting system; publishing the “Feuilleton” (daily bulletin).

    1. – Joint procedures

    The unit deals with all procedures which are common to all committees.

    - It is thus in charge of the initial composition of committees at the beginning of a term of office and of their renewal at the opening of each session. It prepares the file for the election of the chairman and Bureau of each committee. During the session, it receives the appointments and resignations of members of committees and makes sure all such information is made public as is laid down by statute.

    - Its remit also includes the composition of non-permanent bodies such as ad-hoc committees, committees of inquiry and fact-finding missions of the Conference of Presidents and fact-finding missions common to several committees. It is also in charge, along with the Senate, of the composition and organization of the joint committees.

    - It is also in charge of the follow-up of the committee work and in particular in the field of the making of statistics on their legislative and monitoring activities.

    - The unit also distributes the rooms reserved for the various committees according to the requests which it receives.

    2. – Information concerning the activities of the assembly

    - The Joint Affairs and Vote Unit centralizes a large amount of information on the activity of the Assembly. It can thus provide details on all the legislative and monitoring procedures. It draws up, at the end of every Conference of Presidents, a table presenting the order of business of the Assembly (the Green Sheet). It also updates documents concerning the individual status of M.P.s (elections, litigations, committees, groups, various bodies to which they belong).

    - It draws up annually statistical data on the activity of the Assembly.

    - At the beginning of each term of office, it publishes lists of elected M.P.s by alphabetical order and by Department.

    - In collaboration with the political groups, it allots seats to the M.P.s in the Chamber.

    3. – Votes

    Except for ballots by show of hands during the plenary sitting, all votes at the Assembly are by an electronic system and fall within the remit of the Joint Affairs and Vote Unit.

    - Thus, along with the Information Systems Department, the Joint Affairs and Vote Unit has responsibility for the upkeep and the technical development of the electronic voting system.

    - Before each plenary sitting, the unit receives the proxy votes from the political groups by electronic mail – each M.P. may vote for one of his colleagues by proxy. It may also process such proxy votes in the final minutes before certain votes.

    - The unit also carries out, under the authority of the chairman of the plenary sitting, the public ballots which are requested for certain votes. It prepares and organizes the specific ballots which take place for the application of constitutional procedures (such as motions of confidence in the Government) or for personal appointments which take place in the rooms adjoining the Chamber.

    - If the Parliament convenes in Congress for the approval of a constitutional revision, the unit is also in charge of the preparation and organization of the vote. In this case it works in direct collaboration with the Vote Unit at the Senate.

    - In addition, the Joint Affairs and Vote Unit also make sure that the results of all public ballots are made public.

    4. – The Composition of the “feuilleton”

    The Joint Affairs and Vote Unit is in charge of the drawing-up of the “Feuilleton” which is a publication which brings together, every day of plenary sitting, all useful information on the activity of the Assembly, such as the agenda, the committee meetings or the publication of parliamentary documents.

    III. – THE LAW UNIT

    The tasks of the Law Unit may be divided into two categories: those which are linked to the plenary sitting and which follow its rhythm and those which are not directly dependent on the plenary sittings of the Assembly.

    1. – The passing of legislative bills

    The main aim of the Law Unit is, as its name suggests, to follow the passing of legislative bills. This task is carried out throughout the process of the passing of a bill.

    a) Before Their Examination in Plenary Sitting and as of Their Inclusion on the Agenda

    The Law Unit is in charge of the prior layout of the Government and Members’ bills tabled and thus ensures the respect of the norms for presentation which are specific to the National Assembly. In particular it carries out the ‘numbering’ of the bills which consists of providing numbers to the paragraphs of each article of the text so that amendments can be more easily inserted. This ‘numbering’ is carried out at every stage of the procedure where a bill can be amended.

    Legislative texts – Government bills, Members’ bills and amendments – are subjected to a prior examination by the Law Unit both at the tabling stage and after their adoption by a committee in preparation for their discussion in plenary sitting. As regards content, the provisions and the references to prior bills are checked so as to ensure the coherence of the bill to be passed. The Law Unit is also in charge of examining whether the bill to be discussed, falls within the ambit of statute, so as to enable the President to rule on a potential inadmissibility based on such a reason. This possibility is very rarely used. As regards form, particular attention is paid to the correct typography, punctuation, spelling, grammar and numbering of the bill.

    When such verifications (which require a knowledge of the art of drafting legislative texts) involve modifications other than purely formal ones, such changes are suggested to the M.P.s, the Government and to the committees so that they may rectify their amendments or table new ones.

    b) During Plenary Sitting

    The Law Unit follows the discussion of the bills in plenary sitting.

    Its first task is to monitor the speaking time and to provide the President and the speakers with the necessary indications to remain within the time limits.

    It also records the decisions of the Assembly on articles and amendments.

    c) At the End of the Plenary Sitting

    On the basis of the decisions taken by the Assembly which the Law Unit has recorded, it draws up the bill which is the result of such deliberations in a digital form and checks it.

    The bill which has been passed is then transmitted, in provisional form, to the General Secretariat of the Government (SGG), to the minister concerned and to the Senate. After a final verification, the Law Unit has the bill printed and distributed in the format of a “petite loi” (bill which has yet to be passed in the Senate).

    Two copies on vellum paper of this text, which is deemed authentic, are signed by the President of the National Assembly and are given the seal of the National Assembly. One is transmitted to the General Secretariat of the Government and the other is placed in the archives of the National Assembly.

    When the definitive text is passed by the National Assembly after the “shuttle” with the Senate, the Law Unit drafts this definitive text and specifically reintroduces the provisions which were previously in conformity or unmodified and it coordinates the numbering of the articles.

    2. – Permanent Tasks

    a) Publications

    The Law Unit produces certain publications for the National Assembly.

    - It is in charge of publishing the Rules of Procedure and its successive modifications as well as the General Instructions of the Bureau. It also publishes the Rules of Procedure of the Congress.

    - It is also responsible, along with the Law Unit of the Senate, for the drawing-up of the Recueil des pouvoirs publics, which is a collection of texts concerning the constitutional bodies of the Republic (the executive power, Parliament, the Constitutional Council, the judicial authority, the Economic, Social and Environmental Council).

    c) The Interpretation of Constitutional and Statutory Texts

    The Law Unit contributes, from a parliamentary point of view, to the interpretation of constitutional, institutional and statutory texts. In parallel with the Plenary Sitting Unit, it participates in the drawing-up of “precedents” in the areas which fall especially within its remit. This is particularly the case for the application of articles 34 and 37 of the Constitution which deal with matters for statute and matters for regulation.