Senate President: Cut speaking time
By ANDRE BAGOO Tuesday, August 6 2013
click on pic to zoom in
Senate President Timothy Hamel-Smith....
PRESIDENT of the Senate, Timothy Hamel-Smith, yesterday called for MPs to have less speaking time during Parliament debates in order to reduce the Parliament’s long sitting hours, a problem which he says contributes to the making of bad law, such as the infamous Section 34.
Hamel-Smith said senators should be able to make whatever points they have in a given debate in 20 minutes.
“We need to reduce the time a person is allowed to speak,” he suggested. “A person should be able to make his point in 20 minutes. Thirty minutes is really the maximum people should be allowed.” Currently, senators have a total of 45 minutes speaking time, while MP s have 75 minutes.
The Senate President, who has submitted a 41-page paper to the ongoing Constitutional Reform Committee on a wide range of issues, including Parliament report, welcomed President Anthony Carmona’s call last week Friday for MPs to sit from 8 am in order to boost productivity. But he warned that the issue was really the length of time MPs speak during debate, as well as the need to have MPs function full-time as opposed to part-time.
Hamel-Smith said too often too much time is spent during debates talking about irrelevant matters while the actual scrutiny of legislation during the committee stage is rushed.
“Most of the time is taken up in the debate — where often there is no true debate — and there is no time for the committee stage,” Hamel-Smith said.
The Senate President said long hours mean legislators are less alert, and this results in “bad law” such as the infamous Section 34 — which was approved by Government, Opposition and Independent Senators after a 12-hour debate, which had itself been a continuation of previous days of debate.
“During the Section 34 debate the sitting had been ongoing since 10.30 am and people’s minds were fuzzy as it had been twelve hours,” Hamel-Smith said. “The length of the sitting itself certainly does not support the making of good law because after 12 hours you could not possibly have the same degree of alertness as you did at the start.”
Hamel-Smith said the deeper issue behind the question of whether there should be an 8 am start-time for Parliament is the question of making MPs full-time: dependent solely on their roles for income.
“The truth about it is the Parliament as it was first devised, was seen as a part-time people who were willing to serve,” he said. “A lot of lawyers are Parliamentarians. That is why, historically, sittings started off at about 1.30 pm.” He noted a UNDP consultant has recommended MPs be made full-time.
“Frankly, I think the President is right. It is time for the Salaries Review Commission to recognise that the post is full-time. Until that happens, Parliament will never grow up to what it is supposed to be.”
In his 41-page submission to the Constitutional Reform Commission (CRC), submitted in June, Hamel-Smith wrote, “Membership of Parliament has to be treated as a full time professional occupation and members must be compensated as such, understanding that there ought to be a discount against comparable roles and responsibilities in the Private Sector due to the public service nature, and role of Parliamentarians.”