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LETTER OF THE DAY - Speaker should apologise to Warmington

Published:Sunday | March 14, 2010 | 12:00 AM

The Editor, Sir:

The Speaker of the House of Representatives, Delroy Chuck, owes the Member of Parliament for South West St Catherine, Everald Warmington, an apology.

The rules of procedure of the Jamaican Parliament derive from the British Parliament at Westminster. Those rules, with slight variations, have been observed all over the British dominions, colonies, empire, and now the Commonwealth of Nations, for hundreds of years.

The then Clerk of the House of Commons, Thomas Erskine May, codified the rules in a volume titled Parliamentary Practice, first published in 1844 and now in its 23rd edition, having been revised by successive clerks of the Commons over the past 166 years. Erskine May's Parliamentary Practice is not only the bible of Commonwealth parliamentary procedure but also a cherished model for the conduct of legislative and non-legislative discussion and decision making throughout the civilised world.

The Jamaica House of Representatives version of Parliamentary Practice is embodied in the Standing Orders, adopted in 1964 and amended in 1973, 1976, 1979, 1984, 1991 and 1996. Standing Order No. 45 states: "At the conclusion of a debate the question shall be put by the Speaker or Chairman and the votes may be taken by voices 'aye' and 'no', and the result shall be declared by the Speaker or [Committee] Chairman stating 'I think the ayes have it' or 'I think the noes have it', as the case may be, but any member may challenge the opinion of the Chair by claiming a division."

Standing Order No. 46 states: "(1) A division shall be taken by the Clerk's asking each Member separately how he desires to vote and recording the vote accordingly. (2) In taking the division the names of Members shall be called in alphabetical order ... (7) When a division is claimed either in the House or in any Committee every Member present shall, unless he expressly states that he declines to vote, record his vote either 'aye' or 'no'. The Clerk shall enter in the minutes the record of each Member's vote and shall add a statement of the names of Members who declined to vote. (8) As soon as the Clerk has collected the votes the Speaker, or in any Committee the Chairman, shall state the Members voting 'aye' and 'no' respectively and shall then declare the result of the division ..."

The leaders on both sides of the House seem to have ditched a centuries-old rule in defence of a defenceless convention that is a few years old - defenceless because in simply rubber-stamping the proposal of one of its creatures, the Electoral Commission, Parliament, enshrined in the constitution as our supreme lawmaking body, has divested its responsibility as lawmaker.

Talk of Mr Warmington facing disciplinary action by his party is as nonsensical as what has so far transpired. Members of parliament represent their constituencies. There is not a single reference to 'party' in the Jamaican Constitution.

I am, etc.,


Kingston 8