Members of the House of Assembly were put on notice today of being sanctioned if they continued to breach the rules of the Chamber.
Chairman of Committees, James Paul, gave MPs a stern warning in light of “offending” remarks made during the Estimates debate yesterday by former Prime Minister, Owen Arthur, which Paul, for the sake of clarity, this morning directed Arthur to withdraw unconditionally. Arthur did.
The presiding officer cautioned parliamentarians that he intended to enforce the rules of the House against MPs from both sides whose behaviour or conduct was unparliamentary.
“Members, I just want to take the opportunity to refer you to the rules of debate within the House. I try, as chairman, to be as impartial, in fact to be impartial in terms of the operations of the rules and to ensure that it applies to every member,” he said.
“When we get to the point where the members push the rules, I will not be able to defend you, and certainly, whatever sanctions that are provided for in these rules will be given without fear or favour.
“I just want to refer you to rule 28 (10A), which states that ‘no reference will be made in the debate to the character or conduct of any person, except in his official or public capacity,” Paul noted.
He said there had been some cases, which developed into speeches, references made to people outside of their public or official capacity.
“If that is done, I will strike it from the record and the member will be asked to withdraw the statement,” the committees chair admonished.
“Just want to speak to this matter about withdrawal of statements,” asserted Paul.
He said the chairman has the authority, once he sees an infringement, to ask the MP to withdraw the offending statement.
“There can be no condition imposed on the chairman in terms of that request for withdrawal. Once the statement is made and I, or the Speaker, ask for it to be withdrawn, it must be withdrawn, without any terms and without any conditions,” insisted the presiding officer.
“If that is not done the sanctions would be imposed on the member. I just want to make it very clear.”
Another issue, he told the parliamentarians, had to do with asides.
“We saw in the last session, an issue that resulted in an aside. I will not sit as chairman and permit asides to be said in this House, without again, something being done, because at the same time, we have to uphold the integrity of the house,” he advised.
He reminded members they were being watched and that people make decisions based on their behaviour.
“Again I make the point. If an aside comes to my attention, it will be dealt with, and whatever appropriate sanctions are to be meted out, will be meted out. I am asking members from both sides to respect the rules of the house; so that we can at least ensure that when we are finished, at least we can have a Parliament in which the integrity of the institution is preserved. That is all I am trying to do.”
It was at this point that the committees chairman asked Arthur to rise and unconditionally bring clarity to his “withdrawal” of an “offending” statement said in the chamber last night. The former Opposition Leader rose and did as directed. (EJ)††