The Ministerial Statement on Duties and Privileges of the Leader of the Opposition, delivered by Ms Indranee Rajah, Leader of the House of the 14th Parliament, on 31 August 2020.
Ministerial Statement on Duties and Privileges of the Leader of the Opposition
Following the General Election, on 11 July 2020, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong announced that Mr Pritam Singh would be formally designated as the Leader of the Opposition in the 14th Parliament of Singapore and that he would be provided with staff support and resources to perform his duties.
This has been reported in the media and Mr Singh has since been briefed on his duties and privileges as Leader of the Opposition, as was announced on 28 July.
However, it is proper that the duties and privileges of the Leader of the Opposition be also stated in Parliament.
The position of Leader of the Opposition is not provided for in our Constitution or the Standing Orders of Parliament. Singapore’s legislatures have not previously formally recognised or ascribed specific duties and privileges to the leader of the opposition. Even in the late 1950s and early 1960s, when there were many opposition Assemblymen in our Legislative Assembly, there was no Leader of the Opposition. For example, Mr Lee Kuan Yew was not formally designated the Leader of the Opposition, when the PAP formed the largest party in the opposition in the Legislative Assembly between 1955 and 1959.
Still, leaders of the main opposition party in past Parliaments have from time to time been referred to informally as ‘leader of the opposition’ during parliamentary debates. And it has been the consistent practice of the PAP government to liaise with them as the “de facto” or “unofficial” leader of the opposition. For example, at the Opening of Parliament in 1991, when there were four Opposition Members of Parliament (MPs), then Leader of the House, Mr Wong Kan Seng said he would deal with Mr Chiam See Tong as the unofficial leader of the opposition and that Mr Chiam would be given due courtesy and precedence among Opposition MPs.
Now, with more Opposition MPs – reflecting a “strong desire among Singaporeans for a greater diversity of views in politics” as noted by the Prime Minister in his swearing-in speech – and a constitutionally guaranteed minimum of 12, it is timely and appropriate that the position of the Leader of the Opposition be more formally recognised.
As Leader of the Opposition, Mr Pritam Singh will be accorded appropriate privileges and duties.
a. The leader of the main opposition party typically takes the seat directly opposite the Prime Minister in this Chamber during Parliament sittings, similar to the practice in other countries that formally recognise the role of the Leader of the Opposition.
b. He will be given an office in Parliament, staff support and resources, and additional allowance.
c. The Leader of the Opposition will generally be given the right of first response among MPs to ask the lead question of Ministers on policies, Bills and motions in Parliament. This will be at the discretion of the Speaker, and subject to existing speaking conventions.
d. The Leader of the Opposition will also be given a longer speaking duration for speeches than other MPs. I will be moving a motion to give effect to this later.
I have consulted the Speaker on these arrangements, and he has agreed that they are appropriate.
With more Opposition MPs in Parliament, we hope the Opposition will play a bigger role in putting up alternative views and proposals for debate.
As Leader of the Opposition, Mr Pritam Singh will lead and organise the opposition’s Parliamentary business. This includes leading the Opposition in:
a. Presenting alternative views in parliamentary debates on policies, Bills and motions;
b. Scrutinising the Government’s positions and actions in Parliament; and
c. Nominating opposition members for appointment to Select Committees, including Standing Select Committees such as the Public Accounts Committee.
Mr Singh may also be called upon to take on other duties such as attending official state functions and taking part in visits and meetings alongside members of the Government and the Public Service.
To ensure better understanding across both sides of the House on important national issues such as security and external relations – especially in the event of a national crisis or emergency – the Leader of the Opposition will from time to time receive confidential briefings by the Government. The matters to be briefed will be determined by the Government.
In deciding on the duties and privileges of the Leader of the Opposition, the Government considered the conventions and practices of other Westminster-style parliamentary systems, such as the United Kingdom and Australia. What I have set out in this Ministerial statement reflects what we have adapted to suit our current political and parliamentary context.
With greater diversity of views, we can expect more robust debate and, in some cases, sharper exchanges. But we should work to ensure that diversity does not lead to polarity, of country or people. Experience elsewhere shows that unity in diversity is not an assured outcome. Our goal should be to harness this diversity of views in a constructive manner, so that we can as a Parliament better serve the interests of Singaporeans and Singapore.
The role of the Leader of the Opposition in Singapore will evolve with our politics. It must always be the ambition of this House to live up to the expectations of our people and create a political system that is focussed on serving Singapore and Singaporeans to the best of our abilities. I congratulate Mr Pritam Singh on being designated the Leader of the Opposition and look forward to working with him to achieve this outcome.
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