Glossary of Terms

The following terms, displayed alphabetically, are frequently used in a parliamentary context:



Abstention Refusal to vote either for or against a question.

Ad Hoc Committee A temporary parliamentary committee established for a specific purpose and with a limited life span.

Adjournment When a sitting of a parliament is brought to a close after business has been concluded.

Alternate member A member appointed to substitute a core member of a committee normally where a standing select committee (portfolio committee) has been assigned more than one portfolio.

Appropriation A sum of money allocated by the provincial parliament for a specific purpose outlined in the government spending estimates.

Appropriation bill A Bill to authorise government expenditure. An appropriation bill can only be introduced by the Minister responsible for finance.

Auditor-General The person responsible for the independent examination of the government’s accounts.



Back-bencher A Member who does not hold a leadership position in his/her party and is not a parliamentary office-bearer.

Ballot paper A paper on which a voter indicates his/ her choice. In the House secret ballots are used only for the election of the Premier, Speaker and deputy Speaker.


Bicameralism A legislative body comprised of two chambers or houses.

Bill of rights A part of the national constitution which outlines the basic rights of every citizen.

Budget The provincial government’s statement of its fiscal, economic and social policies. It is usually presented once a year.

Budget speech A speech made in the House by the Minister responsible for Finance introducing the provincial Government’s budget.

By-law Laws written by Municipal Councils.



Cabinet The executive arm of government. It comprises the Premier and Ministers.

Cabinet Minister A member of the Executive, appointed by the Premier and usually chosen from among existing Members. Ministers are responsible to the provincial Parliament for their official actions and those of their Departments.

Casting vote A deciding vote by the Presiding Officer when there is an equal number of votes.

Chamber The place where the House meets for its plenary sittings.

Civil servant An official working in the government administration.

Civil service (or public service) The body responsible for implementing the policies of government.

Clause A division of a bill consisting of an individual sentence or statement. Once a bill becomes an act, its clauses are referred to as sections.


Commission for Conciliation, Mediation and Arbitration The CCMA is an independent statutory body that helps anyone whose labour rights) have been violated and/or is a victim of an unfair labour practice.

Commission for Gender Equality (CGE)  This commission is a watchdog for gender equality and is particularly concerned with the rights of women.

Commission for the Promotion and Protection of the Rights of Cultural, Religious and Linguistic Communities This commission promotes respect and protection of the rights for all communities in South Africa with regard to culture, religion and language.

Committee A group of Members assigned to consider issues relating to a particular subject area. Committees consider and report on bills and issues which the House refers to them. They also provide an oversight function of government and departments.

Conflict of interest A conflict arising from any interest, pecuniary or other, which interferes with a Member’s ability to perform his/her functions. Such a conflict may prevent a Member from voting on a given issue.

Constituency An electoral district to whom an elected representative is responsible.

Constitution The supreme law of the land by which the country is governed.

Constitutional court The highest court dealing only with matters relating to the constitution. All laws can be tested in the constitutional court to ensure that they are not in conflict with the constitution.

Contempt of parliament An offence against the authority or dignity of parliament, including disobedience of its orders or libel against it or its Members.


Co-operative government Co-operative government obliges the three spheres of government (national, provincial and local) to work together in a supportive manner.



Delegated legislation Regulations made by departments, boards or agencies by virtue of the power conferred on them by some act of parliament.

Deliberations Discussions in a committee meeting or plenary sitting without decisions being taken.

Deputy Speaker A Member elected to assist the Speaker and to act as Speaker when the latter is absent. Deputy Speaker also acts as Chair of Committees.

Division The physical dividing of the Members into two groups (the “Ayes” and the “Noes”) in order to indicate support or otherwise for a question.

Division list A list giving the results of a recorded division, printed in the Minutes of Proceedings. Members, identified by name, are listed under “Ayes” or “Noes”.



Embargo A restriction on the distribution or publication of a document or the information it contains, until some time stipulated for its release.

Erskine May’s Parliamentary Procedure A procedural authority providing a complete description of the rules, practices and precedents in the United Kingdom’s House of Commons at Westminster. The original edition was prepared in 1844 by Sir Thomas Erskine May, Clerk of the British House of Commons. Commonly referred to as Erskine May or simply May.

Estimates The departmental expenditure plans, tabled as required.

Executive The branch of government concerned with the formulation and execution of policy.

Explanatory memorandum A brief explanation of the provisions of a bill.

First reading A stage in the House when a bill is introduced and tabled for the first time.

Fiscal The term used when describing money the government receives from taxes.

Fiscal year The twelve-month period, from 1 April to 31 March, used by the government for budgetary and accounting purposes.

Floor of the House That part of the Chamber reserved for the Members of the House.

Front benches The first row of seats in the House which, on the government side, are occupied by the Premier and the provincial cabinet and, on the opposition side, by the leaders of opposition parties and their senior Members.



Gallery A demarcated area in the House for the public and visitors during plenary sittings.

Green Paper A draft policy document a department prepares for consultation purposes.



Hansard The official verbatim report of proceedings in the House.

Hybrid bill A public Bill that adversely affects or may adversely affect the private interests of particular persons or bodies.

In camera meeting A meeting from which the public is excluded.


Instruction A direction by the House to a committee which has already received an order of reference, further defining its course of action or empowering it to do something.

Intergovernmental relations The interaction between national, provincial and local government.

Interpellation A mini debate limited to fifteen minutes in which a member of the Executive replies to a Member’s question.

Introduction of bill The first presentation of a bill to the House for its consideration.



Judicial Service Commission This commission advises government on matters relating to the administration of justice, such as the appointment of judges.

Judiciary The arm of state dealing with the administration of justice.



Leader of the House A cabinet Minister responsible for the programming of government business in the House and who serves as a link between the cabinet and the House.

Legislature A law-making body of elected representatives.

Lobbyist A person or group who actively engages in attempting to influence legislators with respect to some specific area of interest.

Long title The title of a bill which sets out in general terms the purposes of the bill. It must encompass all aspects of the bill and if the bill is amended it may be necessary to amend the long title to reflect those changes.




Mace A richly ornamented staff which is the symbol of authority of the House. When the Speaker takes the Chair, the Mace is placed on the table by the Serjeant-at- Arms to signify the House is in session.

Maiden speech A Member’s first speech in the House.

Mediation Committee A facilitating committee should there be disagreement between the NA and NCOP on a Section 76 bill.

Member of Provincial Parliament (MPP) An elected representative in the provincial parliament chosen from a party list according to the number of votes obtained in the election. There are 42 MPP’s in the Western Cape Provincial Parliament (WCPP).

Ministerial responsibility The principle that Ministers are responsible to the House for their actions and those of their departmental officials.

MINMEC meeting Meeting between a Minister and the nine provincial Members of the Executive Council (MEC’s) dealing with similar portfolios.

Minutes of Proceedings The official printed record of the proceedings of the House.

Money bills appropriate money or impose taxes, levies or duties. These bills can only be introduced by the Minister responsible for finance.

Motion A proposal that the House do something, order that something be done, or express an opinion.

Motion of no confidence A motion which, if adopted, indicates that the Premier and/or provincial Cabinet has lost the confidence of the House.


Mover A Member presenting a motion in the House. When debate is permitted, the Member speaks immediately following the proposing of the question to the House.



Naming a Member A disciplinary procedure to maintain order in the House. The Speaker names a Member for serious misconduct in the Chamber and the Member has to withdraw from the Chamber for the remainder of the day’s sitting.

National assembly A Chamber of national parliament. It currently has 400 Members with each party being represented in proportion to its support in the last election.

National Council of Provinces (NCOP) It represents the provinces at the national level and provides a link to the provinces. Each province has ten delegates: six permanent and four special delegates.

National Prosecuting Authority The National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) headed by the National Director of Public Prosecutions, charged with the responsibility of co-ordinating the effective prosecution of suspects charged with criminal offences.

National Youth Commission The commission established to assist the government in developing a comprehensive youth development policy. It is a statutory body but it is not included in the constitution and does not enjoy constitutional protection.

NCOP Committee A committee which specifically considers NCOP/provincial parliament related matters.



Official opposition The official opposition is the largest opposition party to the governing party/coalition in the House.


Opposition All the parties in the House that do not form part of the governing party/coalition.

Order Paper A programme containing the agenda of the House and other information relevant to the proceedings of a House.

Out of order Contrary to the rules of parliamentary procedure. The expression may be applied to motions, bills or to any intervention which offends against the rules of the House.



Parliament is an elected body of representatives responsible for passing national legislation and overseeing the work of the national Executive. It comprises the National Assembly (NA) and the National Council of Provinces (NCOP).

Parliamentary privilege Members of parliament and of provincial legislatures have freedom of speech in the House and in its committees, subject to its rules and orders. They are not liable to civil or criminal proceedings, arrest, imprisonment or damages for anything they say, produce before, or submit in the House or its committees.

Parliamentary procedure The rules by which the House conducts its business, based on statutes, the standing rules, authoritative procedural works, precedents, and tradition. Decisions by the Speaker are based on these rules.

Parliamentary questions Questions to Ministers by a Member which have been printed on the Question Paper. Answers may be given either orally or in writing.

Party caucus An exclusive meeting of the members of a specific political party.


Party discipline The control exercised by a party over the positions held by its members and over the way in which they vote. The enforcement of party discipline is one of the whip’s duties.

Permanent delegates A permanent representative from a province in the NCOP.

Petition A written request or complaint made by one or more members of the public.

Plenary session A full sitting of the House.

Point of order A question raised with respect to any departure from the standing rules or customary procedures, either in debate or in the conduct of House or committee business.

Political party A group of people sharing a particular ideology and set of goals which puts forward candidates for election to the national and provincial parliament.

Portfolio The specific area of responsibility allocated to a Cabinet Minister.

Portfolio Committee A parliamentary committee that focuses on a particular government department and its field of work.

Prayers At every sitting of the House, the Speaker reads prayers before any business is entered upon.

Precedent A Speaker’s ruling or a practice of the House taken as a rule for subsequent cases of a similar nature. Not all decisions and practices constitute precedents.

Precincts of provincial Buildings accommodating Members, parliament, the Chamber, and the rooms reserved for committee meetings and any other area designated as such.


Premier The head of the Executive in a province elected by the House for a term of five years.

President The head of the national Executive who is elected by the National Assembly for a term of five years.

Presiding officers An officer elected by a legislature to oversee the proceedings of the House and to provide guidance, direction and control. Typically these are the Speaker and deputy Speaker in most legislatures and the Chairperson and deputy Chairperson of the NCOP.

Press gallery A gallery in the House reserved for accredited members of the media.

Proceedings The activities that take place in the House or in a committee.

Proportional representation A political party receives a share of seats in the House in direct proportion to the number of votes cast for the party in the elections.

Provincial Gazette Official provincial paper in which all official documents are printed.

Public hearing The receiving of oral evidence by a committee publicly. Hearings may be held on a specific topic or concerning a particular legislative proposal.

Public participation  Public participation is the process whereby members of the public participate in the law-making process by attending meetings or submitting written or oral submissions on a specific topic.


Public Protector A person appointed by parliament to protect citizens from unfair treatment by the state and its officials as well as from inefficient administration and dishonesty with respect to public money.



Question paper The Question Paper contains notices of interpellations and questions being put to members of the Executive for oral or written reply.

Quorum The number of Members required to constitute a meeting of the House and of committees.



Reading of bill A stage in the legislative process.

Recess The period when the House does not sit and has adjourned for a specified period.

Referendum An official consultation conducted by a government on a specific issue by way of a ballot. The result of a referendum is binding.

Report to House A written statement by a committee to the House, giving the results of an inquiry or requesting additional powers. For a committee studying a bill, the bill itself, and any amendments made thereto, constitutes its report.

Resolution A motion adopted by the House in order to make a declaration of opinion or purpose. A resolution does not have the effect of requiring that any action be taken.

Responsible government The principle that Ministers are collectively responsible to the House for the actions of the government. The legislative branch of government thus exercises control over the Executive.


Ruling A ruling on the procedural acceptability of some matter before the House, which, unless otherwise specified, serves as a precedent to govern future proceedings.



SALGA The South African Local Government Association comprises representatives of local government organisations and aims to promote local government in South Africa as provided for in section 163 of the constitution.

Schedule An appendix to a bill which contains matters of detail not suitable for inclusion in a clause, or the text of an agreement which the bill brings into effect. Schedules form part of a bill and are subject to amendment.

Scope (of a bill) The field of applicability of a bill as indicated by its text. Motions to amend a bill may not attempt either to alter or extend its scope.

Second reading The stage at which the principle and object of a bill is either accepted or rejected. Detailed consideration is not given to the clauses of the bill at this stage.

Secret vote A vote by secret ballot. This method of voting is used for the election of the Premier, Speaker and deputy Speaker.

Secretary The secretary is the accounting officer of the parliamentary administration and the chief adviser on procedural matters.

Section of act Each separate division of an act, numbered with an Arabic numeral. The clauses of a bill become sections, once the bill is assented to.

Serjeant-at-Arms The senior officer of the House responsible for security and the maintenance of the provincial parliamentary building.


Shadow cabinet The group of Members in each opposition party, especially the official opposition, chosen to act as party critics for each of the ministerial portfolios.

Short title The title of a proposed act, used for purposes of citation. Short titles need not cover all of the provisions of a bill.

Sitting A meeting of the House. A sitting may last for only a matter of minutes or may extend over several hours.

Speaker The Speaker is the directing authority of the parliamentary administration and presides over meetings of the House and ensures that debate and proceedings are carried out in accordance with the Rules.

Special delegates The four Members to the NCOP a province is entitled to apart from its permanent delegates.

Standing committee A permanent committee appointed for the duration of a parliament.

Standing rules The collection of the permanent written rules adopted by the House to govern its proceedings.

State law adviser The legal specialist who checks that draft bills are constitutional and refines and approves draft bills.

Statutory body A body established by an Act of Parliament, e.g. South African Human Rights Commission.

Sub judice convention A convention whereby Members refrain from making reference to matters which are before the courts.

Subcommittee A committee of a committee, to which the latter may delegate its powers, except the power to report to the House.


Submission Submissions are verbal or written comments by a person or organisation on a proposed new law or policy.

Supplementary question A question seeking clarification or further information following a Minister’s response to a question during the oral question period. The Speaker has wide discretion in permitting the posing of supplementary questions.

Suspend a Member The action of dismissing a Member from the services of the House and its committees for one or more days as a result of disorder. This action may be exercised by the Speaker alone, or as an order of the House.

Suspension of sitting A pause during the course of a sitting of the House. When the sitting is suspended, the Speaker leaves the Chair but the Mace remains on the table.

Swearing in Making an oath or affirmation in the House in order to take one’s place as a Member in the House.



Table The table in front of the Speaker’s Chair at which the secretary and the other table officers sit. Copies of frequently consulted procedural authorities are kept on the table for the convenience of Members.

Table officers The clerks who provide procedural advice during sittings of the House, take the votes and keep the Minutes of Proceedings.

Tabling The process whereby bills and documents are introduced in the House.

Temporary chairperson A Member nominated to serve as replacement for the chairperson of a committee during the latter’s absence.


Third reading The last stage of consideration of a bill in the House, at the conclusion of which the bill as a whole is either finally approved or rejected.



Unicameralism A parliamentary system in which the legislative power is vested in one chamber.

Unparliamentary language Words or expressions contrary to the proprieties of the House.



Voice vote An oral vote held without recording individual Members’ votes or the number of “Ayes” and “Noes”.

Vote (1) The formal expression of opinion for the purpose of reaching a decision. (2) An individual item of the Estimates indicating the amount of money required by the government for a particular programme or function.



Whip A party whip is a member of the House appointed to ensure the smooth functioning of the House. The different parties represented in the House are entitled to the number of whips relative to their numerical strength.

White Paper Government policy in a specific field.

Witness A person invited to appear before a committee to present an opinion on a particular topic or to provide technical advice with respect to a bill. While testifying, witnesses enjoy the same privilege of freedom of speech as Members.