Legislation: Maturing Through Debate

Chen Qiuping

In order to improve the quality of legislation in China, the country’s top legislator has drawn up a framework of major principles to be followed in the drafting of laws.

Li Peng, chairman of the Standing Committee of the National People's Congress (NPC), has stated that China's legislation must be more democratic and scientific and should observe the provisions of the Law on Legislation which was adopted on March 15, 2000.

He has further stated that legislation should serve the fundamental interests of the overwhelming majority of the Chinese people, as well as fulfilling the general status quo of reform, development and stability.

The power of the NPC in this regard was previously minimal for an extended period of time. The NPC and its standing committee played a passive role, the initiative being taken by the specific government departments proposing bills. This situation continued until the 1980s, when various special committees were finally established within the NPC system to rectify the previous malpractice of "laymen making laws."

At present, the NPC administers nine special committees that have, to an increasing extent, taken on the responsibilities of drafting, revising and reviewing laws.

To ensure the fairness of legislation, a legislative authority makes a unified examination of a bill before its approval, taking into consideration the interests of the majority, while being open to reasonable opinions and suggestions from various quarters. On a national level, this task is now undertaken by the NPC Law Committee. Its purpose is to improve the quality of legislation and guarantee a unified legal system by ridding the system of the potential for serving sectarian interests.

The Law on Legislation, while setting out the procedures for deliberating a draft law, not only pays attention to the role of NPC special committees, but also issues a series of operational standards. It requires, at the same time, unified deliberation of a draft law by the local people's congress.

Increasing divergence among legislators has resulted in an upgrading in the quality of legislation, thus indicating the leading role of the people's congress within the process of law making.

In the past, there was rarely more than one speaker during discussion by the NPC of a new bill, let alone heated argument.

As the development of democratic politics continued after the mid-1980s, an increasing number of legislators began engaged in debate on any particular bill. In the history of bill deliberation by the NPC Standing Committee, the following instances have been recorded:

In 1986, the Securities Administration Punishment Act was submitted for deliberation. Issues of public concern such as whether prostitution should be punishable, ignited heated debate for the first time in the history of NPC. The act was adopted after being deliberated three times.

During the same year, the more sensitive Bankruptcy Law was submitted for deliberation. Bankruptcy was a concept difficult to accept in China at that time, as it involves making decisions on the asset disposal of state-owned enterprises, re-employment of laid-off workers and many other difficulties. Consequently argument between legislators became heated, to the extent that voices were raised, and tables were thumped.

The year 1987 saw another lively discussion during the meeting of the NPC Standing Committee to deliberate the draft Organic Law of Villagers' Committees. At the meeting, certain government officials reluctant to divert from the traditional administrative system attempted to block the democratic progress, while the majority of the NPC Standing Committee members were determined to advance the democratic progress of the rural grass-roots units. The draft law was first deliberated by the NPC Standing Committee and, due to failure to reach consensus, was then submitted to the NPC for deliberation. The NPC then returned the draft to the Standing Committee for their further deliberation. The law was finally adopted on a trial basis.

In the 1990s, although a large proportion of laws continued to be drafted by departments under the State Council, the deliberative body was no longer merely a rubber stamp. Only those bills which had no direct influence on the respective businesses of the departments involved in deliberation were adopted smoothly. The Securities Law, for example, from being first submitted for deliberation, and going through repeated discussion and modification, before being finally adopted, took a full five years.

In April 1999, the ninth session of the 9th NPC Standing Committee convened to deliberate the revised draft Highway Bill. Despite having been discussed twice by the Standing Committee, the issue was nevertheless a matter of heated debate. Many committee members considered the specific implementation regulations of the State Council on collecting fuel tax to be completely unpractical and believed that they would add greatly to the burden of farmers. An unprecedented event occurred on April 29, the day of official voting, when, after a count of votes, the draft law was abandoned owing to there being less than the required majority of votes necessary for a bill to be passed. This was a first in the history of the NPC.

Allowing the voicing of different opinions and reaching common understanding through debate is the basic requirement of modern democratic politics. This requirement is now embodied in the newly adopted Law on Legislation, which definitively sets out the procedure for discussion in its system of legislative deliberation for the NPC and its Standing Committee.

(CIIC 11/30/2000)

In This Series

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China Accelerates Maritime Legislation

Preliminary Choice Sparks Heated Debate



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