Government legislator Delroy Chuck on Tuesday rushed to the defence of House Speaker Juliet Holness as she continued to be pressured by the Opposition to share the Attorney General’s opinion on how reports are to be tabled in the Parliament.
For several weeks members of the Opposition have been insisting that the Speaker share this opinion, which was sought as a result of discussions regarding the manner in which reports from the Integrity Commission (IC) and the Auditor General’s Department are tabled and what pertains in the Standing Orders.
Just a few minutes into the sitting of the House on Tuesday, Leader of Opposition Business Phillip Paulwell again asked that the advice of the Attorney General on the matter be provided.
However, Chuck quickly responded to the request, stating that he has been watching the “to and fro” on the matter and insisted that it is not appropriate for the Speaker to be incessantly interrogated about the issue.
“It doesn’t look good for you to be interrogating a Speaker inside of Parliament. You undermine the integrity of the Speaker when you start interrogating her in this case; it’s not good,” Chuck said.
“I don’t think it is appropriate… asking the Speaker why you’re not doing this, when are you going to share [an] opinion… If the Speaker does not provide it, that’s the end of the matter… because the ruling of the Speaker is final,” he said to objections from Opposition members.
He suggested that if members have a dispute with the Speaker’s rulings “we go back to the Standing Order or, in the case of the IC, we go back to the IC and change them. Parliament can do that”.
Chuck, who was acting as Leader of Government Business for Tuesday’s proceedings, insisted that the House move on from the matter, but this was met with disapproval by the Opposition.
Opposition member Julian Robinson, who rose on a point of order, objected to Chuck “imputing motive in relation to comments from this side, which I believe to be totally out of order”.
Robinson said he did not agree that the fact that, because questions have been raised, the acting House Leader would consider it as challenging the Speaker.
“These are fundamental issues about how the Parliament operates, and in that regard we have a right to know what the opinion is, and that is what we are asking, and that opinion has not been shared,” he said.
He reminded the House that the whole issue arose when he had challenged former Speaker Marisa Dalrymple-Philibert on a ruling she made on the tabling of reports, which was in contravention of regular proceedings.
“She indicated she would seek the advice of the Attorney General on the matter. Having sought the opinion of the Attorney General she didn’t do so in a private capacity, she sought it because there was a dispute about how matters of this nature should be dealt with. Now, having made a ruling, which you have, you should share with us the opinion of the Attorney General, so that we can understand the thinking behind the ruling,” Robinson argued.
“We have an opinion from the Government’s chief legal advisor, and that opinion should be shared with us. The decision that you have made goes against years of convention of how matters should be dealt with in the House. Now, having done that, I am saying share with us the thinking, the advice provided by the Attorney General, so we can understand the conclusion that you have come to,” he said.
Government Member Robert Morgan also rose to defend the House Speaker, arguing that she has “absolutely no obligation to share an opinion from the Attorney General to the Government to the Opposition. You may do it because of your good nature, but you have no such obligation.
“We have been subjected, as a country, to some very disgusting and inappropriate commentary by members of the Opposition about the integrity and good sense of the Speaker, and I don’t believe that this House should tolerate it. They have sought to caricature the Speaker as hiding reports…” he said.
At this point, Chuck again insisted that the House needed to move, saying “We have heard enough.” But that, again, triggered loud objections from the Opposition, this time from Opposition Leader Mark Golding, who argued that the right and transparent thing to do would be to share the Attorney General’s opinion with the Members of Parliament.
“It is an opinion that was rendered on an important procedural matter affecting the governance of this country and its Parliament and we have a right, as Members of Parliament, to know the contents of that opinion and whether or not the reasoning is sound as to how the change has been implemented as to how these reports are to be treated with,” he said.
Golding further argued that his understanding is that the Attorney General’s opinion says that the prior convention was sound in law and that there was nothing in the law that made it wrong for those reports to be tabled as soon as they come to Parliament.
“If that is the case, why are we departing from a sound convention that is in the interest of good governance and transparency, and why would anyone want to hide the advice that the Speaker is relying on in making a ruling that affects all of us in here?” Golding asked.
“It is not good policy, it is not good governance, and I ask you, Madam Speaker, as the umpire of proceedings in this House, to consider the matter in that light, and to share the opinion with us. And also to consider whether we should not go back to the convention that has served this country well,” he said.
In response, the House Speaker again insisted that her ruling is in keeping with the law and Parliament’s Standing Orders, noting that the opinion sought from the Attorney General is for the guidance of the Speaker in coming to a determination, but does not absolve the Speaker from clearly understanding the legislation.
“The ruling of the Speaker is not inconsistent with the law. So when there are issues that arise in the Parliament that come to blows from different members of the House, it causes the Speaker to have to look closer at the law and the Standing Orders which govern us within the House and make a ruling, and that was done,” she said.
Holness further insisted that there are no reports in contention that have not been laid and properly laid.
“Not one report has come and has not been laid, up to today, and this has been the case for weeks. Members, respectfully, the ruling is settled and you have recourse through the Standing Orders if you so desire,” she said.