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Question time for PM proposed

Saturday, December 14, 2013
Changes to Parliament’s Standing Orders...

Among revisions proposed to the House of Representatives’ Standing Orders are a recommendation for a Prime Minister’s Question Time, during which questions may be put to the PM about matters of national importance, or on the general performance of the Government and government agencies. Prime Minister’s Question Time is proposed for a time designated on the House agenda during the second sitting of each month.



The PM’s Question Time is not to exceed 30 minutes and question to the PM should not exceed 15 seconds in length, must be asked “without argument or opinion and shall not address more than one matter of general government policy.” Another proposal is to trim MPs’ speaking time from the current total of 75 minutes to a total of 40 minutes. Currently, MPs in the Lower House can speak for 45 minutes with a 30-minute extension. 


The report suggests that the mover of a motion or an MP who pilots a bill should be able to speak for 40 minutes and the first three MPs speaking on bills on each bench will also speak for 40 minutes. Other MPs will speak for 30 minutes with a ten-minute extension if necessary. Presentation of the annual budget, however, remains at an “unspecified” period both for the presenter and the Opposition’s response. Other MPs will have 45 minutes plus a ten-minute extension to  speak on a budget.


Question for ministers
It also proposed parliamentary committees on topics including national security, public administration and appropriation and on government assurances. The latter will scrutinise assurances, promises and undertakings given by ministers on the floor of the House and report on the extent to which these have been implemented and whether this was done in the minimum time necessary for the purpose. 


A 15-minute period for urgent questions is also proposed. Questions would have to be submitted to the Clerk of the House in advance. The Speaker must approve if the   question relates to a matter which is urgent and has arisen suddenly and he considers to  require immediate responses in the public interest. A minister would be allowed to decline to answer, if, in his opinion, publication of the answer would be contrary to the public interest.


Another proposal calls for answers to questions on the agenda to be deferred once only for a maximum period of 14 days. Currently, such questions can be deferred repeatedly and for longer than two weeks. If the query remains unanswered at the end of the 14 days, the MP who asks the question may ask the Speaker to write to the minister concerned seeking reasons for the delays in answering.


Another proposal involves allowing an MP from any party in Opposition to the Government to pose questions on any statement delivered by a minister. If the minister can  answer, he shall reply. The question must be no more than 15 seconds in length and should not address more than one matter of general government policy. The reply will be limited to two minutes. 



The report also states that before participating in consideration of any item of business in the House in which an MP has a financial interest, the MP should disclose the extent of that interest. Another proposals bans the use of Parliament excerpts by political party advertising or election campaigns, satire or ridicule or commercial advertising. The revisions are contained in the report of the Standing Orders Committee, presented in Parliament yesterday. 


House leader Roodal Moonilal, who laid the report, said work on the issue had been ongoing for years through various Parliaments. The committee comprised Speaker Wade Mark, Moonilal, PNM MP Colm Imbert, PNM whip Marlene McDonald plus PP’s Collin Partap, Jairam Seemungal and Delmon Baker.


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