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Senate troubles - Government scrambles to pass bills

Published:Saturday | March 20, 2010 | 12:00 AM

Daraine Luton, Senior Staff Reporter

THE SENATE yesterday struggled to pass legislation following yet another walkout of the sitting by the Opposition People's National Party (PNP).

Ten of the 14 government senators attended the sitting, but the habit of government members leaving the chamber during the sitting threatened to cripple Government's ability to pass the bills.

The Standing Orders of the Senate stipulate that at least eight members must be seated for votes to be taken. At some points during the sitting, the governing side had as few as four members in the chamber.

This forced Leader of Government Business Dorothy Lightbourne to send young senator, Kamina Johnson, to inform members on the outside that their presence was needed to pass the bills.

The government side found itself against the wall after A.J. Nicholson led a furious PNP out of the chamber following a verbal clash with Government members.

The contention surrounded the Government's insistence on passing the terrorism-prevention regulations. The PNP protested, saying it was not only against the rules of the Senate to debate the issue on the day it was tabled, but that it was unwise, owing to the magnitude of the regulations contained in the 27-page document.

infuriating comment

During the stand-off, Opposition Senator K.D. Knight said Lightbourne was "rude and stupid", a comment which infuriated the government side.

"We ought not to put up with that behaviour in this Senate. You ought to take a stand, Mr President. We will not sit here with him. He ought to go outside and he ought to be referred to the ethics committee," Lightbourne said.

President Oswald Harding directed Knight to

withdraw the comment but Knight would have none of it.

"I have read May's Parliamentary Procedure and it says I can say
so. I withdraw nothing," Knight said.

May's, regarded as the Bible for parliamentary procedures, regards
as unparliamentary, "abusive and insulting language of a nature likely to create

The PNP walked out of the Senate after Harding ruled that National
Security Minister Dwight Nelson should be allowed to continue his presentation
on the terrorism regulations.

basis of ruling

Harding based his ruling on an earlier approval by the Senate for
the suspension of Standing Orders to allow for the terrorism-prevention
regulations, as well as other matters to be taken at a later stage in the

The rules of the Senate require matters to be laid on the table
for at least two days.

However, in outlining the Opposition's gripe, Nicholson said the
rules existed "... not only for the benefit of the Opposition so that they may
study and be prepared for the matters that are to be taken, but also perhaps
even more important, for the members of the public to know what is laid on the
table of the House of the Senate so they may lobby their members of parliament
or the senators to make contributions."

not wise

Knight, before his tussle, said that while the minister could
proceed, technically, it was not wise to do so given the nature of the

"These are regulations pursuant to what was from the inception a
controversial piece of legislation," Knight said.

The pleading of the Opposition did not move the government side
and the walkout followed.

The Senate, however, passed the terrorism-prevention regulations,
an amendment to the Betting, Gaming and Lotteries Act, the Casino Gaming Act,
and a bill to establish an independent commission to investigate excesses by the
security forces.

The regulations for the Registration of Strata Act were passed
while the PNP was in the Senate.