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John Scott: ‘Parliament is a cowboy operation’

Friday June 26, 2020 Written by John Scott Published in Editorials
Prime Minister Henry Puna arrives in Parliament. 20061707 Prime Minister Henry Puna arrives in Parliament. 20061707

OPINION: In its race to repair the perceived damage to Members' integrity and punish a Cook Islands News reporter, Parliament once again has shown that when it comes to procedure it is still something of a cowboy operation down there.

And coming on the heels of the undemocratic rejection of the chlorination petition, this really just compounds that conclusion.

I am sure that the House is well-pleased in its belief that its dignity has been restored and the slight against it will be properly vindicated. However, sadly, technically speaking, it has not.

Rules of meetings 101: You cannot have two substantive motions on the floor at the same time.

Once a motion has been moved and seconded it has acquired what is recognised in more mature Parliaments the status of being “in possession of the House". 

In other words you cannot go forth, willy-nilly, ignoring it and proceed with another motion when the earlier one has not been resolved or disposed of.

Once a motion has been seconded that indicates there is support for it. The question is then proposed from the Chair and speakers invited. This procedure is seldom observed.

Parliament decided to postpone further deliberation on the motion until the end of the sitting when an entirely new motion enlarging on the earlier one was moved by the PM and the seconder from the earlier one was adopted to support this one without any reference to him or attention to the one intended to be replaced. 

The correct procedure was to withdraw the earlier one. 

To do that required leave of the House, which had to be expressed without dissentient voice, which procedure protected the right of any Member who wished to express his view on it, one way or another. 

In that case a debate could ensue.

That Member's speech might attract other speakers and eventually the Question would be put. If leave however were forthcoming, withdrawal would be accomplished and a replacement motion could be proceeded with.

None of that happened and it is my contention that the second motion which was passed should never have been allowed to progress that far as it was out of order while the earlier motion remained in possession of the House unresolved and not disposed of.

* John Scott was Clerk of Parliament from 1965 to 1973.