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George Wright issue results in testy exchange over House seating

By Balford Henry
Senior staff reporter
balfordh@jamaicaobserver.com

Wednesday, June 16, 2021

Although embattled Westmoreland Central Member of Parliament (MP) George Wright was absent from yesterday's sitting of the House of Representatives, Government and Opposition legislators engaged in a testy exchange over where he should be seated.

The dispute started after Opposition spokesman on health Dr Morais Guy rose from the seat closest to the door to ask that questions he had tabled recently be answered by Health and Wellness Minister Dr Christopher Tufton.

Dr Guy informed Speaker Marisa Dalrymple-Philibert that he had been assigned the same seat Wright had taken last week when Wright who is now an independent member of the House, having resigned from the ruling Jamaica Labour Party had turned up in Parliament ahead of the expiry of his leave of absence.

But the speaker and Leader of the House Edmund Bartlett wondered why Guy had been assigned the new seat without consultations.

Dalrymple-Phillibert noted that, prior to this week, there were two vacant seats and, although she had no objection to Dr Guy being switched to the new seat, she felt it was really a matter for discussions between the leader of the House and the Leader of Opposition Business Anthony Hylton.

She explained that last week when Wright was in the House she had invited discussions between the two House leaders and the MP, who had been granted leave amidst allegations of assault.

“This is not controversial and I am in agreement with whatever decision is arrived at, but I am saying, as the speaker, that if the seat which was vacant is being used, then a discussion will have to take place with the member who sat there, and you decide what can take place. But you simply cannot say that because the seat was vacant up until last week, when a Member of Parliament took it, [you can] simply just displace the person who sat there,” she said.

Hylton said he had sought to have dialogue with the leader of the House, and had spoken to the speaker about the need for discussion, because he agrees that the good order of the House rests on the discussions about it.

“I am ready to have that discussion, but we are very clear, madam speaker, on this side… Last week it took everybody by surprise, but the fact is that when I made the assignment as the leader of opposition business, I did not purposely leave any seat vacant and, certainly, on the front bench,” Hylton argued.

He said he had agreed that a discussion was needed, so that there can be a quick resolution of the matter.

Bartlett agreed with the speaker that it should not be a contentious but a procedural matter. He also suggested that Dr Guy ask for permission to speak from a seat other than his own until the situation is regularised.

“No problem at all. If it is regularised we don't have a difficulty at all in this matter, and I think that your ruling is eminent and I would suggest that my colleague follow the procedure, and the member appropriately ask to be allowed to speak from a seat other than his own,” Bartlett suggested.

Opposition Leader Mark Golding said he was encouraging that those discussions be had, and be brought to a solution that is agreeable to both sides.

“As far as I am concerned, it is a contentious matter, because the circumstances in which a member from that side is now being asked to sit on this side is a matter we take very seriously…and I would hope that between the leader of opposition business and the leader of government business we can work out a solution that is not confrontational, and which is satisfactory to both sides,” he added.

However, the speaker said: “There is nothing contentious in this because, regardless of what opinion you have, throughout the Commonwealth, if you are not a member of Government you must sit on the Opposition side. It is not contentious, and if it is contentious it is only in your mind. But, for good order, it is important that we have the discussion and settle it.”

But Golding insisted that the issue was not contentious to him alone.

“It is contentious in many minds on our side…and the whole question as to whether somebody supports the prime minister and will vote with the Government side or not is a real issue for somebody who, up until now, was a strident supporter of the prime minister, and there is no reason for suspecting that he is no longer that,” Golding said..

“In our constitutional arrangements it does not matter whether you are a JLP, a PNP, or any P. What matters is if you support the Government's principles and programmes, and will vote with the prime minister on matters, that's what makes you a Government MP,” he said.