Legal News & Views by Dionne Jackson Miller

Legal updates and commentary

QUESTIONING THE PRIME MINISTER


                    Should the Prime Minister take impromptu questions? This is something done in the UK House of Commons to good effect but not in the Jamaican Parliament. That’s a pity.

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.”

http://www.parliament.uk/about/how/business/questions/

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.

http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/uk_news/politics/p-q/82556.stm

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.

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5 comments on “QUESTIONING THE PRIME MINISTER

  1. Mel
    February 15, 2012

    It would appear that accountability from the head of this government will be hampered by accessibility to her whether via the parliament or through media.Such a pity…

  2. Arthur Hall
    February 15, 2012

    Not sure that a seven day delay is worth arguing about although I really love the oral question and answers. Remember that is how the Manatt issue started with former PM Golding putting himself in a position from which he never recovered after responding to Peter Phillips

  3. Sherona Johnson King
    March 14, 2012

    I agree with Arthur Hall’s comment. However, I think impromptu questioning allows the truth to come out, instead of being given seven days to “doctor” responses. If the question asked requires research or consultation then that’s where the seven days should be allowed. It also forces our political leaders to keep themselves abreast of what is happening across government and augurs well for accountability.

    • djmillerja
      March 14, 2012

      I agree that Prime Ministers in particular should have a broad and general understanding of the affairs of the country, and agree with your point about accountability. I also take your point about research. There are some issues for which time is needed to get information if the response is to be at all meaningful.

  4. Pingback: Five provisions of the Standing Orders of the House of Representatives | News and Views by Dionne Jackson Miller

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This entry was posted on February 15, 2012 by in Parliament.
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