August 3, 2009.
I refer to Mr. Winston Murray’s letter published on August 1, 2009, captioned: “This was an obvious and serious violation of the Standing Orders.” Mr. Murray accused me of countenancing a violation of the Standing Orders when I allowed a motion approving the Report of the Special Select Committee on the Local Government (Elections) (Amendment) Bill to be debated without the motion having the requisite one day’s notice. This is not true. There was no motion in connection with the Bill before the House because in the specific circumstances in which the Bill was referred to the Special Select Committee, no motion is required to be tabled. None was.
Mr. Murray did indeed object to the Second Reading of the Bill, on the ground stated above, when I announced at the beginning of the Session that it would take place at that Sitting. He is accurate when he said that I indicated that I would rule at the appropriate time.
I later came to the conclusion that, once I was satisfied that no Standing Order was violated, I was not obliged to rule on Mr. Murray’s point because he had clearly forfeited his right to be responded to when he, along with his colleagues of the Opposition, abandoned their responsibilities to the Assembly and walked out of the House amidst a raucous clamour. Notwithstanding this provocative act, I did extend the courtesy to the absent Mr. Murray of dealing with the point he raised. I ruled on the issue at an appropriate time – before the question that the Bill be read a second time was put by me to the House. For the benefit of Mr. Raphael Trotman, who has been publicly claiming the same procedural lapse as well as relying on a point made by Mr. Bernard DeSantos, but was not in the House, having announced a boycott of the proceedings, my ruling also incorporated the point raised by Mr. DeSantos.
A Bill can now be referred to a Special Select Committee either before or after its Second Reading. It is at its Second Reading when the full debate takes place. Under the old Standing Orders a Bill could only be referred to a Special Select Committee after its Second Reading and not before. The power given to the National Assembly to refer a Bill to a Special Select Committee before its Second Reading is one of the innovations in the new Standing Orders adopted in May, 2006.
After consideration of a Bill by a Special Select Committee, its Report is laid in the National Assembly. A motion is tabled to adopt the Report only where the Bill is referred to a Special Select Committee after the Second Reading, in which case the Assembly adopts the Report and is bound by its conclusions. This motion must satisfy Standing Order 103(8) to which Mr. Murray referred. The debate, which is typically brief, takes place on the motion to adopt the Report because there has already been a debate on the Second Reading. The motion is usually adopted along with any amendments it recommended.
When a Bill is referred to a Special Select Committee before the Second Reading, the Report of the Special Select Committee is laid but no motion is tabled to adopt it. This is because the Second Reading has not yet taken place. During the Second Reading, which would take place in the normal way, the Report is usually referred to in debate and its recommendations for amendments adopted during Committee stage.
The Local Authorities (Elections) (Amendment) Bill was referred to a Special Select Committee before its Second Reading. Thus, while there was a Report by the Special Select Committee which was laid, there was no motion before the National Assembly because none is required. Hence Standing Order 103(8) could not have been violated because it did not apply. A debate on the Second Reading, not a debate on a non-existent Motion, took place.
It is disappointing that Mr. Murray did not check either with me or with the Clerk before hastily writing an ill conceived letter. It is even more disappointing that Mr. Murray obviously did not heed the letter of the Clerk written recently to all members in which the above procedures were set out.
I am obliged to impartially uphold the Standing Orders at all times, as I always try to do. I refer to the occasions that I have ruled against the Government on procedural matters on points raised by members of the Opposition. Mr. Murray is similarly obliged to observe the Standing Orders. I now ask Mr. Murray to explain to the public what logic compels him to publicly (and wrongly) accuse me of violating the Standing Orders when he joined in their most egregious public violation, by approbating the scattering of books, the sprinkling of a white powdery substance and walking out by the members of his Party while some of them were shouting, thereby displaying utmost disrespect and contempt for the House and the same Standing Orders relating to conduct of members which he seeks so boldly to defend.
Ralph H. N. Ramkarran
Speaker of the National Assembly