Regrettably, the new Standing Orders only deal with length of speeches and not the quality of speeches given in Parliament, Leader of Government Business Dr Roodal Moonilal said yesterday.
He was piloting the debate on the motion asking the House to adopt the first report of the Standing Orders Committee in the House of Representatives, at Tower D, International Waterfront Centre, Port of Spain.
The amendment calls for a reduction in the speaking time from 75 minutes to 40 minutes for all MPs, except for a budget debate when MPs would have 55 minutes. Also, the person piloting the bill or moving a motion would enjoy an additional ten minutes of speaking time.
Apart from proposing the cutting of MPs’ speaking times, the report recommended the introduction of a Prime Minister’s question time, the introduction of “urgent questions to ministers”, the recognition of the “crossing of the floor” provisions, the establishment of procedures for breaking a deadlock in the election of a Speaker and the introduction of a number of committees.
Moonilal said the date of the implementation of the report should coincide with the new parliamentary session, which would be in August to September.
“This would allow MPs ample opportunity to read and study the new Standing Orders,” he said.
Moonilal said the amendments would deepen the accountability of Parliament. He said one of the more “innovative” and “revolutionary” elements was the introduction of the Prime Minister’s question time.
“It is an opportunity...for members of all the political parties (in the House) to question the Prime Minister for a maximum of 30 minutes on any subject,” he said, adding questions could be put on matters of national importance or on the general performance of Government and its agencies.
“This question time is meant to be a useful, crisp and energetic period.... It speaks of the additional accountability and transparency and the role of the Parliament in debate on critical issues,” he said.
Moonilal also noted the amendment would prevent a repeat of the 2002 18-18 deadlock, which saw Parliament not being able to elect a Speaker.
“Mr Speaker, those of us who participated in that would never forget in our life, the experience of seeking to elect a Speaker when members of the then opposition, several of us, brought in a suitcase.”
As Opposition Leader Dr Keith Rowley interjected it was a “wheelbarrow”, Moonilal quipped: “It was a suitcase, not a wheelbarrow. Wheelbarrow is from Landate, that is why you remember that.”
He said the Opposition MPs and Government MPs came armed with CVs (curriculum vitae) of persons whose names were being forwarded.
“As you raised the name of one person...the other team raised the name of another person, and it continued for about two days,” he said.
“And one candidate who was rejected, through no fault of his own, later went on, I believe, to become Head of State of the Republic,” Moonilal said.
Moonilal said the amendments would also allow for the Speaker to identify each party and to recognise the leader of each party in the House. He said with the fluidity of politics, leaders could change.
Taunting Rowley, he said, “As May (the time of the People’s National Movement’s internal election) comes around, one never knows.
“If your efforts would bear fruit,” Rowley chimed in.
Moonilal said Rowley may well find out that “his friends” are on the opposite (Government) side and not on the Opposition side.
Moonilal said the process to elect a Speaker was a traumatic experience.
“I remember the Member of San Juan/Barataria who on that day appeared very cagey, and the then prime minister thought he would get his support,” he said.
He said with the amendments, the clerk should determine by lot which candidate would be eliminated in the event of a tie.
He also referred to the number of new committees—Committee of Government Assurances, Foreign Affairs, Energy, Public Administration and Appropriation—which would be created.
He said the new Standing Orders would have implications for the workload of MPs.
“And I am sure that in the fullness of time, MPs would be adequately compensated,” he said.
Moonilal said the new Standing Orders represented a historic moment in the evolution of parliamentary practice and governance.
He noted since the Standing Orders were drafted in 1961, the Parliament waited until 2014 to do a full, comprehensive review of the Standing Orders.
He said the amendments would enhance governance of Parliament and the representative role of MPs.
“We are extremely proud as a Government and Opposition that we have arrived at this juncture,” he said. “It has taken a lot of effort and a lot of time, but we are finally here.”