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A Self-inflicted wound

SANDY GRANT
Almost everything else, even the problems associated with power and water which were ironically the cause of the problem, were pushed aside by many people by the disgraceful scenario played out in the National Assembly last week.

It may be that the UDC members over played their hand by being over assertive. It may be that the BDP members contributed in kind. If we do not all agree about the cause, we should all agree that what happened should never have happened. Similarly the MPs, whilst likely to be attributing blame, should all be mortified that one of them should have been manhandled by security guards at the request of the Deputy Speaker.

It may be suggested that the mode of removal was not specified and that the security guards took it upon themselves to pick up Hon. Butale, carry him outside and then throw him away like a bucket of dirty washing water.  To that extent, the Deputy Speaker may claim that he could not be held responsible for what so sadly transpired. On the other hand, it must be asked why, if matters in his judgment, were getting out of hand, he did not suspend the session?  A check with Google was sufficient to provide information as to the provisions available in the British House of Commons when problems occur there – my assumption being that what is available to the Speaker there will also be available here. Thus, ‘if an MP disregards the authority of the Chair or persistently obstructs the House in its duties then he or she can be ‘named’.

The Speaker says “I name the Honourable Member for ..... Mr/s. for disregarding the authority of the Chair.” A first offence brings suspension for five days. The second offence in the same parliamentary sitting carries 20 days’ suspension and a third offence a period the House itself decides. Should an MP refuse to withdraw and resists removal, the punishment is suspension for the rest of the session.’  It seems that the practice of identifying MPs by their constituency has been dropped but the provisions for dealing with an offender presumably remain unchanged.  Provision is also made for dealing with a situation which becomes something more than an individual being out of order  -  ‘in the event of grave disorder breaking out in the House of Commons; the Speaker has the power to suspend, or to adjourn the sitting. The power derives from a resolution made on 17 February 1902.’  Of course, it may be that a fine judgment is required to distinguish the one from the other but then Speakers and their deputies

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are elected because they are deemed to be people who are capable of making those distinctions.

Was last Monday’s session of the National Assembly disturbed by a member disregarding the authority of the Chair or could the situation be accurately described as constituting ‘a grave disorder’. If two members have to be ordered out by the Speaker and if indeed party members sought to block security guards from escorting their colleagues to the exit doors, it does seem obvious that this particular session of the National Assembly had indeed become one of grave disorder.

If the Speaker, at the time, had then suspended the session, the humiliating spectacle of an MP being manhandled might never have occurred and he himself might have avoided being held responsible for what did happen. If Hon. Butale does prefer charges as he was reported as saying he intended to do, it will be of exceptional public interest to learn how such charges will be made? Can a Speaker claim that he/she is inviolate and that when discharging his/her duties he/she is automatically exempt from all forms of legal redress? Or alternatively if the Speaker is not exempt and is like the rest of us subject to the law, a defence against his/her prosecution for assault would be presumably on the grounds that the security guards had exceeded their instructions and that they alone must be held responsible for their actions. On the other hand, it does seem that it was the Speaker’s ruling which was itself the factor which led so quickly to mayhem.

Although some BDP MPs might agree that the Speaker was at fault in making his ruling, they might not wish to vote against him were the opposition to table a motion of no confidence. Were such a motion to be lost, however, the opposition is likely to be even more convinced that the Deputy Speaker, being prejudiced and partial, will always rule against them.  I suggest that all MPs should now take long step back and accept that this is not a situation which concerns one party alone, it affects them all. Quite simply they have a choice. Either they both respect each other as elected members, and the institution itself, or collectively they will all lose the respect of those who put them there.  And that in terms of the democratic state would be a disaster indeed. 



Etcetera II

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