The House of Representatives unanimously approved the report of a committee which reviewed the Standing Orders governing its operations, on Wednesday February 9.
The report, tabled by Standing Orders Committee Chairman and North East St. Catherine Member of Parliament, Gregory Mair, led to a debate involving members from both sides of the House.
Outlining recommendations made by the committee, Mr. Mair said they felt that to make the work of the House more effective and efficient, Ministers’ Statements should be limited to 10 minutes, and the Parliamentary Opposition should be allowed to make a three-minute statement in response.
“It would be appropriate that the Minister, who would be making a statement on that day, by the latest midday, advise the Speaker; so the Opposition could be advised and prepared to make a response on the matter,” Mr. Mair said.
Regarding statements by members, Mr. Mair said that currently members may raise matters of urgent national importance on the Motion for the Adjournment of the House. However, the Committee felt that members should able to make statements, instead, on matters of concern in their constituencies, in addition to those in the national interest.
The committee recommended that not more than three members per meeting should be allowed to speak for a maximum of three minutes, on matters of national importance.
“They should submit their statements to the Speaker of the House by the latest midday of that day, for him to consider and approve,” Mr. Mairs explained.
A matter, which Mr. Mair said was discussed at length by the committee, but which remains unresolved, related to Parliamentary oversight of appointments to certain public posts. However, noting “legal issues” regarding certain posts, he said the Committee would need to deliberate further on that issue.
Alluding to Section 17(b) of the Standing Orders, which accords precedence to the Prime Minister to respond to questions on matters of national importance on the second sitting of the House each month, Mr. Mair said the issue of whether the questions should be forwarded in writing was discussed.
“What was agreed is that we would amend that provision slightly so as to make it clear…that the question time for the Prime Minister would be spontaneous, and it would be on the second Tuesday of every month. Further, that you can just rise and ask him any question. As the Prime Minister has said before, if there are a lot of technical aspects to the answer, he would probably defer that answer to the next sitting,” he said.
On the matter of Private Members Motions, Mr. Mair said it was recommended that the Standing Orders be amended to limit the duration of contributions on these motions. The amendments would allow 20 minutes for the mover of the motion, 15 minutes for each of the other participants, and 10 minutes for the proposer to close the debate.
Regarding the reading of statements by members during a debates, Mr. Mair noted that currently the Standing Orders precludes members from doing so, while facilitating their reading from written or printed material “in support of (their) arguments” and for refreshing their memories from notes.
The committee agreed that this rule should remain, but that if a member wished to read his or her statement in a debate, they could request a suspension of the Standing Orders to do so.
Mr. Mair said that, following the Committee’s deliberations, its members concluded that there is a need for continued reviewing of the Standing Orders, as there is much more to be done.
“We feel that we should go into retreat for a day, and go through the entire Standing Orders… and come to a final proposal for the printing of new Standing Orders with these new amendments,” Mr. Mair said.
COTACT: DOUGLAS McINTOSH