Point of Order2100 14 Mar, 2013
Mr. B. Williams: If it pleases you, Mr. Speaker. Mr. Speaker, you would appreciate that the Hon. Members, Mr. David Granger and Mr. Khemraj Ramjattan, immediately before you sent the matter, when you were presiding in the Assembly from the Chair to the Committee of Privileges, there was a motion pending before you. It is still pending in this Hon. Assembly. In fact, you ruled on a Point of Order made by the Hon. Attorney General and the Point of Order having been resolved by arguments on both sides, we then got your ruling. No disrespect is meant because this is a learning experience in this Parliament and I wish to submit that this is not a Westminster-modeled Parliament. This Parliament is different from any other Parliament within CARICOM and the Commonwealth Caribbean. We have an Executive Presidency and that is what brought us to this point where one could actually have a President in Government, but the Opposition in the majority within the Parliament. This is once in a thousand years. It would not happen in CARICOM because under their Constitution the Governor General, who is titular, or the President, who is titular, would invite the majority parties, whether in coalition or singly, to form the Government so one would not have, for example… the Government would never bring a Motion of No-Confidence in an Opposition MP because an Opposition MP does not spend the people’s money- the taxpayers’ money. This is a novel event in this country and in this region, if not in the world, that the people have an opportunity through their representatives in the Parliament and the National Assembly who vote moneys for Ministers to do the duty of the people. They now could have true accountability.
In addition to that, following on the recent judgment of the learned Chief Justice, Mr. Chang, the Ministers must now enjoy the confidence of the Assembly. There are two issues. If they do not perform and if they spend the money in a way that the people are not benefiting, the people have a right to bring them to account. We reach to this point…
Mr. Speaker: I was just about to ask Mr. Williams’ Point of Order and I think he is at that point now.
Mr. B. Williams: Thank you very much, Mr. Speaker. In this Parliament we must never ever let partisan views subvert the democratic nature of this Parliament. This is a democratic Parliament. We want to move this Parliament from the paradigm it was in for the last 20 years and bring about a new paradigm in this country. We are saying that we are entitled to be heard when decisions and rulings are going to be made in relation to matters that we bring before this Hon. House.
Mr. Speaker, my respectful submission is that you are the authority for procedural matters. You are the final voice for procedural matters and this is supported by all of the readings. I refer you to the Parliament of Canada, House of Commons Procedure and Practice, Second Edition, 2009. Speaker’s Rulings: “The Speaker has been duty bound to decide all questions of procedure since representative assemblies were first established in the colonies which later formed Canada.” That is your domain Mr. Speaker, but what is the domain of the Members who were elected by the people of this country? It is to determine what issues must be brought into this Hon. House and we are saying that the A Partnership for National Unity (APNU) reserve the right to determine what content they bring in this House. The Alliance For Change (AFC) has that right too and I believe that the People’s progressive Party (PPP) exercised that right for the last 20 years. It means therefore that when we bring an issue to this House, for example, as the motion brought by Mr. Granger, the issue in that was that there was a resolution of No-Confidence and as a result of that, we believe that the Minister should not act or speak as Minister in this House. That is a substantial issue; it is not a procedural issue and in fact, Mr. Speaker, you had admirably dealt with the procedural issue in relation to this motion and you, at the time that you had sent the matter to the Committee of Privileges, had already determined the procedure quite admirably, but we are saying that this is a substantive matter of whether Mr. Rohee could speak or not. It is a substantive matter and the Standing Orders do not speak to whether Mr. Rohee could speak as a Minister or whether an MP could speak; the Standing Orders are merely there to regulate how people speak and approach motions and acts of Parliament.
It is clear that we have not been heard before you made your ruling and I am happy now that you have given us your opportunity on the Point of Order because we are saying that it is a substantive issue. It is an issue that any Member in this Parliament under Article 171 of our Constitution could bring any motion. If one wants to bring a motion that this male must be a female, it is just a question of voting in the Parliament. That is an issue that we want to bring. Notice Mr. Neendkumar is agitated. You will notice, Mr. Speaker, that Mr. Neendkumar has become agitated. We want to make this Parliament a Parliament that has never been of precedence within this region or within this country.
This is a matter of substance. The Hon. Attorney General took this question to the learned Chief Justice in the High Court. This is the question that the court was asked to determine and I quote:
“Whether the National Assembly can prohibit Minister of Home Affairs, Clement Rohee, from speaking or not recognising the Minister of Home Affairs.”
There is nothing here about MP – whether he can speak as an elected Member of Parliament but as Minister. Now the learned Chief Justice answered this question and he answered it in the preliminary judgment five times and in his last judgment he made it even clearer. He said that Mr. Rohee has no right to speak as Minister in this House. His right to speak in the Parliament is as a Member of Parliament and that that was the question that the Hon. Attorney General took and the learned Chief Justice answered this question and he said, “No, he has no right to speak, we would help ourselves, as Minister”. That is what he said. No matter the propaganda and our media that they are using to… that is the position.
Now since we have not been heard on the substantive issue, we believe that this is a question of the right of the National Assembly to debate any matter brought before it after confirming with the standing orders and, Mr. Speaker, because you are saying that that was your ruling, your ruling came before the learned Chief Justice’s ruling and what is the effect of that? Because your ruling came before, this is the learned Chief Justice’s ruling after you make yours and he said this which is important to us in this Assembly: “The court is the final and sole arbiter of matters of law and the Constitution, not the Speaker.” That is a clear decision taken by the learned Chief Justice – “not the Speaker”. It is the domain of the course of our land. This is borne out by the practice in Canada which says, “Finally, while Speakers must take the constitutional statues into account when preparing a ruling numerous Speakers have explained that it is not up to the speaker to rule on the constitutionality or legality of measures before the House.” That is the point we wish to emphasise. Whether Mr. Rohee could speak or not is not a procedural matter. It is a substantial issue and the court is saying that that is a matter for the courts.
Mr. Speaker: The court has ruled.
Mr. B. Williams: The court has ruled that it is not a matter for you.
Mr. Speaker: No, it is unconstitutional.
Mr. B. Williams: No, the court has not ruled that. I just said to you that the court ruled pellucidly that the Minister has no right to speak as Minister in this National Assembly. Because of your ruling coming before the learned Chief Justice, this is the question that we are confronted with in this Honourable Assembly: Will the Speaker ignore the Chief Justice’s ruling to the Attorney General’s and Mr. Nandlall’s, question that MP Rohee has no right to speak as Minister. Is the Speaker going to ignore this? This is a ruling. It is a ruling of the learned Chief Justice.
The second question is: Will the Speaker ignore the Chief Justice’s ruling that matters of law and the Constitution are for the determination by the courts and not the Speaker? I know that you probably want to go to court on this one.
Mr. Speaker: Me? No, I am not going to court.
Mr. B. Williams: I am closing. I wish to remind this Hon. House that our Parliament, as I said earlier, is not a strict Westminster-modeled Parliament. We have an Executive President. He is voted for who is also Head of State and he also an arm of the Parliament. Our system of voting is by proportional representation. We have a minority Government and a majority Opposition in the Parliament. Our Parliament is not supreme, but the Constitution is and the former derives its powers from the latter. We are not a colonial legislature, but we are an independent republican Parliament so do not tell us about the House of Commons’ practice and procedure. Do not tell us about that because we are not a strict Westminster-modeled Parliament.
I respectfully contend that we are in a similar position to that of our Court of Appeal when it was established as our final court. That court was no longer bound by precedence of the House of Lords, the Privy Council or by the law of any other country. All of those laws in so far as they were not received into our laws by legislation were persuasive authority only, mutatis mutandis, for the benefit of Hon. Member, Mr. Neendkumar, “in like manner”.
Our Parliament, our National Assembly, from 1980 at least, was no longer bound by the rules of practice and procedure of the House of Commons which became persuasive only. In other words, they are guidelines for us.
Mr. Speaker: Mr. Williams I have to stop you because you in an e-mail invited me to consider Standing Order No.113 that because our rules are silent, you said that I must go to England because the convention is there that the Minister…
Mr. B. Williams: In my e-mail to you, Sir?
Mr. Speaker: You said that…
Mr. B. Williams: No. My e-mail does not have that.
Mr. Speaker: Not now. I am saying about a few months ago you said that because we are silent on this issue Standing Order No.113 must kick in; that is that I must refer to the practice of the House of Commons.
Mr. B. Williams: That is not of consonance with what I am saying here.
Mr. Speaker: I see.
Mr. B. Williams: All Ministers have guidelines. What, Mr. Speaker, you must appreciate is that you are really sitting atop of history. You are now sitting in a position where you are in a Parliament that is unprecedented in this hemisphere, possibly in the entire Commonwealth. When one looks at the learning, one is told clearly how important is decision of Speakers in creating precedence.
In other words, to be frank, you must now strike out in a direction where you would be developing solid rules and precedence that would last 1000 years. That is where you are sitting right now. This is what they say and I refer you to the second edition of 2009: “In arriving at a decision, Speakers will also review cornerstone events of the past known as precedence which may be useful in the application to a new situation.” A precedent is something that happened once upon a time and that everyone decided to follow. In legal terms it is usually the consequence of a decision made after argument has been proffered to the Chair.” May I repeat that, Mr. Speaker? It is usually made after arguments have been proffered to the Chair on a certain point.
Mr. Speaker, you referred us and I referred you, in my e-mail, to page 7 of the 22nd Edition of Erskine May, under the caption “Rulings from the Chair” and I see highlighted what someone you said gave to you, as they highlighted these lines. Do not forget…
Mr. Speaker: I think you were there when the Clerk shared that out.
Mr. B. Williams: Yes, Somebody gave it to you. Was it the Clerk?
Mr. Speaker: I am saying that you were there when it was shared out by the Clerk. You make it sound as if there was some innocuous, mysterious sharing…
Mr. B. Williams: No. I do not want to call a name.
Mr. Speaker: Does it give a sense of mystery that somebody…
Mr. B. Williams: No misguiding is attempted. This is what I am going to read, it says this, Sir, this is supposed to be the substratum upon which you must predicate the decision that you have the right to rule away from the Chair from the Assembly. This is what Erskine May says here and this exceptional; this entire page he ignored and came to this one line: “…but sometimes rulings are given privately on matters before they are brought to the House.” Mr. Speaker, I am sure that you would agree with me, using your legal mind, that this cannot apply to you because you have been dealing with a matter that has been long before the House so this is totally irrelevant to you that you could use this to say that you have a right to make a ruling on this matter outside of the Chair but what they ought to have highlighted to you, Mr. Speaker, is that part of the learning on page 7 that says this:
“The procedure for obtaining a ruling from the Chair is generally as follows:
Notice is given to the Speaker by a Member who desires to raise a Point of Order so that the ruling, publicly delivered in the House, may take account of any relevant precedence and of all the considerations involved.”
They ought to have highlighted that to you. This is what is stated the Erskine May Parliamentary Practice, Sir. What is given to you is one of the exceptions in private matters. This is not a private matter that has not been brought before the honourable House. This is a matter that is solidly before this honourable House, Sir.
I am saying that the Leader of the Opposition and the Leader of the AFC, both of whom brought this motion, have a right to determine the content of their motion in this honourable House. It is for the Government to vote it down and it is for you to decide whether it is within the procedural framework because we have a right to determine the content of the issues we bring here. Mr. Speaker, we cannot have the court determining the content or what issues political parties in Parliament must bring to this honourable House, otherwise, how could we be men? How could we be women? It would be a question of James A. Michener, of mouse. Is it a question of mouse and men? [Lt. Col. (Ret’d) Harmon: It is of mice and men.]… of mice and men? No…
Mr. Speaker: Thank you Colonel Harmon.
Mr. B. Williams: No. I was thinking singly though, Sir, at the time.
I am saying, respectfully, the APNU, and I am sure the AFC, and I am sure to some extent the Government, wants a Parliament in which it Members can bring their own issues. It is a matter for us to vote on them.
The case of Hong Kong rediffusion verses Hong Kong, a motion was passed there and they thought it was outrageous but the Privy Council stated that any motion can be brought. The fact of passing a motion in the House is not in itself unlawful; that it is a matter of content. All that is to be done is to vote it down, but you cannot do anything that affects the Standing Orders, the procedural matters, because, remember, they say constitutional matters and legal matters are for the courts.
Mr. Speaker, I know that you said that the matter is still before the Committee of Privileges, that is the issue of whether Mr. Rohee could speak as a Minister. I know you head that Committee of Privileges. I know you would honour your undertaking that the matter will be determined there, but, as you know, we will have this conundrum. The issue to be determined by the Committee of Privileges is the issue in the motion, and that is whether Mr. Rohee could speak.
Mr. Speaker: The issues were whether or not this House has powers to restrain a Member or Minister from speaking or participating. That is the issue; it not whether or not this particular person… It is what powers does the Assembly has vis-à-vis a Member, and whether that Member is a Minister or not. That is the issue that was before us.
Mr. B. Williams: No Sir. That was our motion. Our motion states…
Mr. Speaker: No. I am saying what was referred and what is on the agenda for the Committee of Privileges.
Mr. B. Williams: Is that not what we raised in our motion?
Mr. Speaker: I think we can get a copy from Ms. West.
Mr. B. Williams: Yes Sir. We need to clarify that because we are saying that this is…
Deputy Speaker [Mrs. Backer]: The motion is here on the Order Paper today.
Mr. B. Williams: The motion is on the Order Paper, Sir.
Mr. Speaker: I am just saying that what is before the Committee of Privileges is not that the Minister is under sanction…
Mr. B. Williams: It is not the issue that is in the motion.
Mr. Speaker: It is the issue and it is not the person before the Committee. What powers…
Mr. B. Williams: That is all right with us. We are talking about the principle.
Mr. Speaker, you would appreciate that we have to be efficacious in this Parliament. You would appreciate that we want to have certainty in how we go about our business. We must have precedence that would bind all of us and so we are in a quandary, in terms of your ruling and what is to be ruled on by the Committee of Privileges. That is where we are.
We will urge that this is matter really and truly goes to the Committee of Privileges and be determined forthwith. I am respectfully submitting that, Mr. Speaker, and I thank you for showing us that we are going to have a democratic Parliament. We would hope that in the future, that whenever decisions are to be made that we are heard before the decisions are made.
I thank you Mr. Speaker. [Applause]
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