By Horace Mills, BVI News Online Staff
Leader of the Opposition Andrew Fahie has raised concern that lawmakers often are not given enough time to properly peruse bills that are brought before the House of Assembly, adding that he and others sometimes approve the proposed laws only because they don’t want to hold up the legislative process.
“Some of these bills that were passed are very lengthy, and some of them I just let couple pages go because I didn’t want to be seen like I was holding up the process. But I don’t feel right,” Fahie told his colleagues during a recent sitting of the House.
He added that legislators sometimes examine different bills for several hours in one day – sometimes going until night. “You are gonna get diminishing returns if we continue to have so many second and third readings [of bills] in one sitting [of the House].”
The Opposition leader further explained that he has grown to appreciate the ‘seriousness’ of passing a bill and how profoundly it affects people. “I take it very seriously,” he added.
Fahie further told the House that, although he understands that the passage of certain bills may be urgent, the majority of those that are being rushed unnecessarily are in fact not urgent.
“To pass seven bills in three days – hardly any of us in the House are lawyers; hardly any of us in here are experts in some of these areas [addressed in the bills]. I know some people get elected and a wand hit them on their head and they know everything about every topic.”
“I am asking that we limit the number of second and third readings [of bills] so we can do these bills justice for the people of this territory. I am not saying that I can’t keep up with the pace… I want to do justice for the people of this territory by going through each of these bills page by page to make sure that you understand each section and you could give some meaningful input,” Fahie further said.
Over the years, concerns also have been raised about the territory’s lawmakers approving bills without allowing residents a reasonable time-frame within which to make an input. Even the media is often left clueless about amendments made in the House. This as the amendments are done in private – and without any subsequent explanation in the legislature.
Five minutes too short
In the meantime, the Opposition leader recently lamented the fact that Speaker of the House Ingrid Moses-Scatliffe has been giving each legislator a maximum five minutes to contribute to a section of each parliamentary session known as ‘Other Business’.
During that section, each member of the House is allowed to speak about any issue of their choice.
Fahie noted that, unlike Government ministers who are allowed greater latitude such as the making of statements, the Opposition doesn’t have such luxury.
As such, he thinks the Speaker should not impose a strict five-minute talk-time on the Opposition members during the ‘Other Business’ section.
“We need a better balance on what we are doing in this House,” the Opposition leader said.
Review to be conducted
In response to the concerns raised, Premier Dr D Orlando Smith said he understands Fahie’s concerns.
He said: “The Leader of the Opposition mentioned the question about having too many Bills on the Order Paper, and sometimes we are changing [the Order Paper]. I do understand his concern, and I will review the way we are discussing – and we are presenting bills to the House.”
“I will do my best to make sure that the bills that come before the House are scheduled in a reasonable time so that members will have more time to be able to look at them more carefully. What we will also do is continue to do some informal meetings so that will help all of us to better understand bills by the time we get to the session of the House,” the premier further said.
He also suggested changes regarding the posing of questions to Government ministers.
“I also think that we need to have a look at what time the questions come. In some countries – for example, the UK, there is specific question time – not in the normal sitting [of the House]. So I think it is time for us to sit down as a legislative body and discuss how best that should be handled,” Premier Smith further said.
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