Thursday, December 19, 2013

Less speaking time in House

MPs past and present are divided on the issue of how much speaking time they should have. Some agree with the proposed changes to the Standing Orders of Parliament, which would cut down the speaking time of MPs from 75 minutes to 40 minutes, saying this would reduce the amount of time they have to talk foolishness. Others, like former prime minister Basdeo Panday, appear baffled as to the rationale behind the proposed changes; charging it was an underhand plot to cut down on the working hours of MPs.

And there are those, like Health Minister Dr Fuad Khan, who noted that a motion on the matter is yet to be brought before the House and debated and, in truth, it may not even become a reality. Khan said, as is fitting for a well-behaved public servant, he did not, and should not, have a personal opinion on the matter. Former energy minister Conrad Enill, who was a senator in the last administration, said the matter was not a new one. “This was something that was under review for a long time.”

Enill agreed the speaking time should be cut down. “Under the current system, in the Lower House an MP has 45 minutes to talk and an extension of 30 minutes. In many instances, people spend all their time talking about all kinds of matters except that which is being debated. There are 28 MPs downstairs and if you multiply that by 75 minutes for one bill, where is it going to lead?” Enill asked. “The changes will help them make more efficient use of their time.”

Enill said the fact that nobody might be listening to them was of no consequence to MPs, since the main thing was that what they were saying was being recorded by Hansard. He said the speaking time would be different in different jurisdictions because of the differing number of MPs. “In England, you have 200 or 300 MPs, for instance,” he said. Donna Cox, MP for Laventille East/Morvant, readily agreed that the speaking time should be cut down.

“I am one who always felt the speaking time was too long. You have people speaking irrelevant things and we have to be there until two or three in the morning to listen to them,” Cox said. “I think in half an hour, with a ten-minute extension, you should be able to say a lot. Because many times people have too much time for picong and ole talk. If they know they have a stipulated time, they will get to the point and would not have the time to say things irrelevant to the bill.”

Panday, however, felt the cause of the problem needed examining. “Why do they want to cut down on the speaking time? They meet once a week, and not every Friday either. They are trying to hold less Parliament and have less talk.” Panday said the very name Parliament means to talk. 

“Parliament is derived from a French expression which means to talk. The purpose of Parliament is to talk out your differences instead of killing each other. Parliament should meet every day,” Panday said. “So what’s the problem? Are they irrelevant? There are standing orders to deal with that. If it’s because they are talking foolishness, they will only talk less foolishness.”

Panday said: “I think it’s a reaction to my call for constitutional reform. They are trying to hoodwink the people by saying we have reformed the standing orders.” Khan noted there were existing standing orders to deal with MPs who are irrelevant, tedious or repetitive.
He said: “The Speaker could direct him to take his seat and cut his speaking time.” “I go according to what the system says.”  

The Standing Orders Committee report was laid in Parliament recently and the Government plans to have the House debate it early next year.

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