Former Prime Minister Golding had elected to answer questions on the day on which they were asked. But when MP Delroy Chuck, a former House Speaker, tried to put oral questions to Prime Minister Simpson Miller on Tuesday without notice, he was shut down by the House Speaker.
The Standing Orders of Parliament support the Speaker’s action.
S. 17 B which speaks to Prime Minister’s Question Time says that:
“During the second sitting of the House in each month, there shall be a Question Time during which responses by the Prime Minister to questions asked of him in relation to matters of national importance and national interest shall take precedence.”
However, section 15 which deals with Notice of Questions, says in sub-section (5) that:
“Where a question for oral answer is asked of
(a) the Prime Minister in relation to a matter of national importance or national interest…
it shall be put down for a day not earlier than seven clear days after it has been handed to the Clerk.”
Leader of Government Business in the House Phillip Paulwell has stated that PM Simpson-Miller intends to stick to the standing orders and will not be answering such questions without notice. She undeniably has the right to take that position and as stated, she is supported by the Standing Orders.
However, this is one area in which I wish we had followed the British Parliament.
In the first place, the British Prime Minister answers questions for half an hour every week in Parliament. It is a lively, engaging and yes, entertaining example of parliamentary democracy at work.
The opposition presses the government on topical issues, and the Prime Minister has to respond quickly, on his feet. The website of the UK Parliament says that:
“…in theory, that the Prime Minister will not know what questions will be asked of him. However, the Prime Minister will be extensively briefed by government departments in anticipation of likely subjects he could be asked about.”
Of course, there are critics who question the value of this kind of impromptu questioning, and argue that it is more theatre than serious politics.
It is undoubtedly theatre, but that doesn’t mean it is not also useful. The questions from Government backbenchers are posed to give the Prime Minister the opportunity to highlight Government successes, so the advantage is not all on the Opposition’s side. The Opposition, for its part, will often be asking the very same questions the public is asking on a day to day basis, and in answering, the Prime Minister will be speaking directly to the country and giving some insight into his or her thinking and the thinking of the administration.
Do I think we’ll ever see such an innovation, though? Not a chance.