Who'll get to speak first–former PNM leader Patrick Manning or PNM chief whip Marlene McDonald? That's the question hovering over today's House of Representatives session where the PNM's contribution to debate on proposed bail amendment legislation will be in the spotlight. Both Manning and McDonald have signalled that they would lead off PNM's reply on the bill after it is piloted by Attorney General Anand Ramlogan today. And House Speaker Wade Mark would have to decide who beats who to the punch and gets the nod to speak. A statement from Manning's San Fernando East constituency followed yesterday's exclusive Guardian story, further confirming that the former PM would be breaking his five-month long silence in the House today.
The statement described the move as Manning being "scheduled to make his contribution" to Parliament today. Manning has not spoken since the new Government was installed. He is the longest serving Member of Parliament, having served since 1971 and being Prime Minister on four separate occasions since 1991. The San Fernando East statement indicated that in today's bail bill debate, Manning proposes "to take the Government to task for its handling of the crime situation." The constituency statement also said Manning "will lead off the Opposition's response to a presentation by the Attorney General on the Bail (Amendment) Bill 2010." However yesterday, a PNM spokesman said that PNM chief whip McDonald had notified the House Speaker's office yesterday morning that she would lead off the PNM's reply on the bill.
The spokesman said Manning had been allocated third place in the speaking order of debate. The PNM official said McDonald, an attorney, indicated to the Speaker she would be followed by PNM MP Donna Cox, also an attorney. The spokesman said speakers on the issue were identified by PNM's caucus on Monday. Other MPs who would speak apart from McDonald and Cox would be communicated to the Speaker today, the spokesman added. Those speakers are in order: Manning, along with PNM MPs Patricia McIntosh, Colm Imbert, Nileung Hypolite and Alicia Hospedales. The PNM official said Manning had not attended Monday's PNM caucus and had not done so since the party's election defeat.
"The rules of the caucus since the last caucus leader's (Imbert) time was that if you are not present at caucus, you are not assigned to speak," the official said.
"Recently, a couple MPs who missed caucus asked to speak on matters they had interest in. They made the request and were assigned to speak...we have procedures." The official said Manning indicated to the chief whip three weeks ago that he wanted to speak on the upcoming anti-gang legislation (expected on November 12) and this has been officially scheduled. However, they said Manning only indicated on Tuesday–after Monday's PNM caucus–that he wanted to speak in today's bail bill debate. Parliament officials said yesterday that they were hoping the situation with the two PNM MPs vying to lead off, did not cause any procedural entanglement. They pointed out–a fact confirmed by the PNM also–that despite any official notification of speakers, the rule is whoever catches the Speaker's eye will be allowed to speak in debate. The bail bill debate will take place after debate on a land acquisition Act. PNM's speakers for the latter debate are Opposition Leader Keith Rowley and MP Imbert.
PNM sources said McDonald–who was unavailable yesterday–firmly intends speaking on the bail bill. PNM leader Keith Rowley did not reply to cellphone calls. Contacted yesterday on the possible clash of PNM speakers, a spokesman from Manning's San Fernando East office was unable to say if Manning's lead-off position for the debate was approved by PNM's caucus on Monday. She said all the information in hand was that Manning would lead off. Some PNM members said yesterday that Manning should lead off the bail bill debate since he is the former chairman of the National Security Council and had much information on the crime situation. Other PNMites say McDonald and Cox are best suited to lead off and deal with the bill's possible impact on the public's rights, the judiciary and the Constitution.
Supporters from Manning's San Fernando East constituency are expected to attend today's House sitting to support their MP's expected address, a San Fernando East official said. PNM senators who were appointed by PNM leader Rowley are also expected to attend in support of McDonald. The bail bill which curtails bail in an expanded number of situations requires a three fifth majority vote for passage–about 25 or 26 votes, People's Partnership officials said. Government has a 29-seat majority in the House.