Thursday, April 18, 2024

If I was in the chair!


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HAVING BEEN Deputy Speaker of the great Parliament of 1976 to 81, I offer my personal opinions on recent matters arising in our House of Assembly, if only to clear some of the cobweb!
The complaint lodged by Miss Mia Mottley and Mr Dale Marshall on the evening when the original incident took place was NOT a matter for the Committee of Privileges, simply because that request for a gun policy could not affect the parliamentary privileges of any member, and in any event Mr Speaker is the sole guardian and boss of the Parliament. Not even the Prime Minister and his Cabinet ministers have any legitimate claim to a higher or superior status within the curtilage of Parliament.
To talk about referring the gun policy issue to the Committee on Privileges was something which did not find acceptance with me, and the incident thereby got off on the wrong foot, and led directly to the boycott of the House by the Opposition.
No Speaker should in any way concede any of his power to any parliamentary committee however august that committee may be. Fortunately, that notion of reference of the gun policy to the Committee is no longer on the table, but in the meantime more contentious matters developed on the floor of the house of Assembly last Tuesday, and I found myself imagining what my response would have been, had I been sitting in the “hot seat.”
As I recall, The Leader of the Opposition was trying to give the House notice of her intention to raise a definite matter of urgent public importance. From the letter written to Mr Speaker in accordance with the rules, it was clearly about Clico, and I waited to hear Miss Mottley outline her case for showing that the matter sought to be raised was (1) a definite matter, (2) that it was of public importance and (3) that it was urgent. I did not hear her arguments.
As she began to speak, the Speaker ruled that it was not urgent. Miss Mottley sought to raise several points of privilege, but these did not meet with the favour of Mr Speaker and an untidy session ended with the Speaker ordering the marshals to remove St Andrew MP George Payne and the Opposition Leader from the Chamber. This removal was not apparently done.
Had I been presiding, I would have heard Miss Mottley’s entire submission, and then ruled against it if I was so minded. The early ruling by Mr Speaker robbed my expert ears from hearing Miss Mottley show how the issue was NOW urgent, even though it was in the public domain for two years.
The new disclosures on the preceding Sunday about the sale of 800 policies after a cease-to-sell-Order was given by the Supervisor, might have convinced me if I was in the Chair that there was NOW something definite and urgent and of public importance, but it is reasonable to say that any such arguments died an unnatural death, and never saw the full light of day!
If I was in any doubt I would remember that the best presiding officers always act on the premise that “one should allow the Opposition to have its say, because by force of numbers, the Government will have its way”.
Anyway on Tuesday, as tempers flared, The Speaker called for a glass of water, and two Opposition members held forth against Mr Speaker’s rulings and were suspended (not expelled) for the remainder of the day’s sitting. Veteran retired politician Lionel Seymour Craig has suggested that the sitting of the House should have been adjourned to allow tempers to cool, but sensible as Mr Craig’s opinion is; he knows that if I were presiding, I would never have allowed matters to so slip out of my control that I would need to resort to such measures!
Defiance of the presiding officer and challenges to his presidential authority and rulings hardly take place when a presiding officer has stamped his authority on the House. To have Members defy Mr Speaker speaks volumes about how frustration, real or perceived can lead to a breakdown of authority even if defiance of the chair can never be easily excused!
In my time, I always treated points of order and points of privilege with unusual sensitivity. A point of order is usually raised when a member thinks that an inaccuracy has been spoken into the record about some matter of importance or there has been a breach of the Standing Orders (the Rules of the House) and he wishes to set the record straight.
Points of privilege arise most often when a member thinks that his privileges as a member have been or are being adversely affected. Both Miss Mottley and Mr Payne thought that their right to speak was under threat, and hence they repeatedly tried to raise points of privilege.
If I was presiding I would have allowed them to make their points and then ruled as I saw fit. Yet these are only my opinions as indeed all Speaker’s rulings are! But then I never got into any tangles with honourable members challenging my rulings, and certainly not if and when I was standing!
* Ezra Alleyne is an attorney- at-law and a Deputy Speaker of the House of Assembly between 1976 to 1981.


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