Of the approximate 11 hours parliamentarians spent in the House of Assembly last Thursday,March 24 more than half the time was taken up by congratulatory remarks before a break could be given — an act that at least one opposition MP described as “unconscionable, unreasonable and poor political hygiene”.
Last Thursday’s parliamentary session began at 10:00 a.m with the usual prayer, which was followed by Obituaries and then Congratulatory remarks.
Though these items on the Order Paper are known for being lengthy in some instances, a seemingly new record was set when more than six hours later, members were still in the House without a break as the majority of government Members of Parliament (MPs) sought to use the congratulatory remarks to bestow commendations on the Unity Labour Party, in honour of its 21st anniversary since forming government.
“It is really extending judgement to have us arrive in the Parliament at 10 o’clock, and at 4 o’clock we are still not able to proceed to a lunch break. I do not know what record we want to prove but it is really beyond reasoning and conscience simply as its appearing and unfolding now, that this has been a planned activity that every single member of the Unity Labour Party will speak on the subject of congratulations on a day when we have questions, some 20 something questions presented,” St Clair Leacock, the Parliamentary Representative for Central Kingstown said.
Leacock’s objection came as Montgomery Daniel, the deputy prime minister and leader of government business on that day, rose to make his own contribution to the proceedings.
Other opposition MPs could also be heard in the background supporting Leacock’s statements and expressing their own displeasure with the day’s activities.
The parliamentarian questioned the management of the House, noting that “six hours in the Parliament without a break is unconscionable, unreasonable and poor political hygiene”.
“It is ridiculous. I should not be subjected to this. No business place in town, no organisation intends to have its employees at work by law, for more than a four hour period,” Leacock said. “If the minister wants to continue his contribution, we should at least take a break, have lunch or whatever we want to call it and come back here and let him have his say. But to have me sitting here now from six going to seven or eight hours, is irresponsible and does not speak to my health and consideration.”
The representative for Central Kingstown said he thought it unreasonable and questioned why there was “not even a break for members’ convenience”.
In response, the deputy prime minister said that once a specific item is being dealt with on the agenda, the practice is to conclude the item before proceeding on a break.
“We have been on congratulations and it has been very extended and I thought that once the congratulatory message is complete, then we can break and go for lunch,” he said.
“Therefore, Madam Speaker, on the agenda item, we will continue on with congratulations and therefore Madam Speaker, I stand to make my remarks –,” Daniel added as he once again attempted to proceed to deliver his congratulatory remarks to the ULP.
Adding her voice to the matter, Speaker of the House, Rochelle Forde agreed that a significant amount of time was spent on the agenda item and that parliamentarians, including herself, needed a break.
Forde subsequently suspended the House for 10 minutes for members’ convenience.
Following the 10-minute break, the House resumed for just over 20 minutes before breaking at approximately 5:00p.m for an hour and a half luncheon period.
About four hours and 20 minutes was spent on the rest of that day’s proceedings, which included the Questions for Oral Answers, when parliamentarians returned after the break.