FORMER Government Member of Parliament George Wright took a back seat on the Opposition benches yesterday, paying little attention to the raucousness circulating around him, as he formally returned to the House of Representatives after a leave of absence for two months.
Following last week's uproar over whether he should be allowed to sit in a seat he had assumed the previous week on the Opposition's front benches, which both sides had agreed to have settled prior to yesterday, there was absolutely no reaction from the embattled MP for Central Westmoreland as the two sides quarrelled bitterly over the issue.
Wright has been wrestling with cries for his removal from Gordon House after a video depicting a man hitting a woman went viral mid-April, and resulted in suggestions that he be recalled from Parliament. The police eventually dropped the case for lack of cooperation from both the rookie MP — who has neither denied nor acknowledged any link with the incident — and the woman who was said to be in the video, after she refused to cooperate with the investigations.
The exchange in the House yesterday started when Leader of the House Edmund Bartlett rose and introduced Prime Minister Andrew Holness who was scheduled as the first speaker on the agenda, and who would deliver a much-anticipated statement about changes to the COVID-19 protocols.
Leader of Opposition Business in the House Anthony Hylton, suggested that Wright was really “a stranger in the House”. This is a term formerly used in the House of Commons in the United Kingdom to describe visitors to Westminster. However, it was replaced in 2004 with the use of either “member of the public” or, simply, “the public”, and never used to refer to Members of Parliament.
Bartlett insisted that the House follow the agenda and allow the prime minister to speak. But Hylton insisted that they first deal with the seating of Wright, who was comfortably seated in one of two vacant seats on the Opposition benches.
“There is no stranger in the House, and the House will not tolerate any kind of expressions of this sort which continue to distort the efficacies of democracy, in the interest of the people,” Bartlett insisted.
“I think we are tired of the situation where that side [Opposition] continuously tries to deny the fact that they are the Opposition and not the Government, because by definition in the Westminster system, especially with the Parliament structured in a way to allow for you either to be on the Government side or you are on the Opposition side, and so everybody who is on that side but not on this side is therefore a part of the Opposition. So there is no stranger in the House,” Bartlett explained.
“I just want to respond by saying that we have a marshal here in the Parliament, and if there is a stranger in the House he will be removed,” Speaker of the House Marissa Dalrymple-Philibert.
“It is my considered opinion and my ruling this afternoon that the Opposition benches here in Parliament belong to any Member of Parliament who is not a member of the Government,” she insisted.
“I respect everybody's view…but I am saying that I have looked in the Parliament and I am not blind. I see no stranger. I see members of the Opposition [including Wright] seated on the Opposition benches. Every member sitting in here this evening is a duly elected Member of Parliament,” she told Hylton.
After the Opposition MPs insisted on criticising the Government for refusing to acknowledge their resistance to the seating, the speaker said that she would not recognise any of the MPs who remained seated in their chairs while speaking to her. She also ordered the Hansard (stenographers) to stop taking notes, after Opposition MP Angela Brown Burke refused to accept her ruling that the prime minister should be allowed to make his statement.
Brown Burke claimed that the speaker had allowed Bartlett “to impute motive and call us histrionic, because we have sought to express our opinion”. She claimed that the speaker was wrong and was “abusing her authority”.
Dalrymple-Philibert would not relent, however, and insisted that the members accept the seating arrangements with Wright, and allow Holness to make his presentation.
“It is the right of the speaker of the House to make a ruling. I respect the views of everybody in this island, but I have made a ruling and my ruling is that we move now into the statement by the honourable prime minister,” she concluded.