Speaker rules Opposition Bill does not comply with provisions of the Constitution and Standing Orders of the National Assembly

Speaker of the National Assembly, Hon. Curtis Martin (photo by Erasmus Williams)

BASSETERRE, ST. KITTS, APRIL 27TH 2011 (CUOPM) – Speaker of the St. Kitts and Nevis National Assembly, the Hon. Curtis Martin ruled Thursday morning that an opposition-sponsored Bill, The Integrity in Public Life Bill, 2011, submitted by Leader of the Opposition , the Hon. Mark Brantley has not complied with the provisions of section 20 of the National Assembly Elections Act, Cap. 2.01; the procedure relating to the drafting of such Bills and the constitutional requirement stipulated in Standing Order 54.

“Hon. Members, the Chair has the clear authority not to allow this motion which has not received royal recommendation from His Excellency, The Governor General via a Fiat to proceed at this time and sitting of the Honourable House. Therefore, Hon. Leader of the Opposition, the Chair wishes to advise that after carefully reading the contents of the drafted Integrity in Public Life Bill, 2011 and the Standing Orders of this Honourable House that you would not be allowed to move forward with this motion until full compliance is met in accordance with the Standing Orders of the House as set out earlier,” Speaker Martin told the lawmaking body.

Describing the day as a defining moment as St. Kitts and Nevis embarks on new developments since he assumed then role of Speaker, Mr. Martin said he duly recognizes the submission of a Private Member’s Bill captioned-The Integrity in Public Life Bill, 2011 on behalf of the Hon. Leader of the Opposition to the Office of Clerk of the National Assembly dated 18th April 2011 but received at 11.54am on 19th April 2011.

The Chair must advise from the outset of these remarks that submissions of Bills on either side of the aisle are indeed necessary, mature and welcome by the Chair and by no means of less importance by the Public we continue to serve from this august Chamber.

Therefore, the Speaker’s office upon receiving the draft submission of The Integrity in Public Life Bill, 2011 from the Private Member immediately obtained advice and guidance from Parliamentary Counsels, who have been placed at the disposal of the Speakers Office in all matters needing legal advice from a Parliamentary perspective or obligation.

Hon. Members, In the Parliament of Saint Christopher and Nevis, as in all legislative assemblies based on the British model, there is a clearly defined method for enacting legislation. A Bill, as you are aware Hon. Members, must go through a number of very specific stages in the National Assembly before it becomes law. In Parliamentary jargon, these stages make up what is called the legislative process.

In the context of the foregoing, Hon. Members, section 42 of the Constitution makes provision for the mode of exercise of legislative power. The power to make laws, which is vested in Parliament, is exercised by Bills passed by the National Assembly and assented to by the Governor-General. The Constitution of Saint Christopher and Nevis, the National Assembly Elections Act, and the Standing Orders of the National Assembly do contain provisions that govern both the introduction and the passage of the Bills of the National Assembly.

The Speaker in a lengthy statement said: Section 20 of the Revised National Assembly Elections Act, Cap. 2.01 makes provision for the introduction of Bills in the National Assembly.

It provides as follows: 20. (1) Subject to the provisions of this Act and of the Standing Orders of the National Assembly, any member may introduce any Bill or propose any motion for debate in, or may present any petition to, the National Assembly, and the same shall be debated and disposed of according to the Standing Orders of the National Assembly.”

Hon. Members, that section then empowers any member of the National Assembly to introduce a Bill in the National Assembly. However, before a Private Member’s Bill is introduced in the National Assembly, the Member introducing the Bill must be aware of the contents of Standing Order 14 of the Standing Orders of the National Assembly which provides as follows:

“14.Contents of Public Business.
(1) Public business shall consist of motions and public bills.
(2) Unless the National Assembly otherwise direct the order of public business shall be as follows:

(a) Government business;

(b) Private Members business.

(3) Government business shall consist of motions proposed to be made and bills sponsored by Ministers.
(4) Private members business shall be set down on the Order Paper in the order in which it was entered in the Order Book.”
Hon. Members, since Private Members Business is public business then that business must consist of motions and public bills. That being the case, the Member introducing the Private Member’s Bill must comply with the provisions of Standing Orders 17, 25, 26 , 27, and 54.

Who drafts Bills which are introduced by private Members? Hon. Members, our Standing Orders are silent on this point. However, Standing Order 85 provides a solution in the following words:
“(1) In any matter not herein provided for, resort shall be had to the usage and practice of the Commons House of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, which shall be followed as far as the same may be applicable to the National Assembly, and not inconsistent with these Standing Orders nor with the practice of the National Assembly.”.

In the United Kingdom a private Member’s Bill is typically drafted with the assistance of Legislative Counsel to ensure that its text conforms with the provisions of the statutory law should it be given Royal Assent. In drafting a legislative proposal, Legislative Counsel acts on the Member’s clear, written instructions about the purpose and objectives of the proposed legislation and ensure that the draft Bill is acceptable in terms of its form and compliance with legislative and parliamentary conventions. A private Member’s Bill has to be certified by the Legislative Counsel to indicate that the Bill is in correct form. The certified copy of the Bill is then returned to the Member. In light of the provisions of Standing Order 85, this procedure should be followed in Saint Christopher and Nevis.

There is a constitutional requirement that Bills proposing the expenditure of public funds must be accompanied by a royal recommendation, which can be obtained only by the government and introduced by a Minister [See Standing Order 54 of the Standing Orders of the National Assembly]. Since a Minister cannot propose items of Private Members’ Business, it appears a private Members’ Bill should therefore not contain provisions for the spending of public funds.

The question therefore is: Do our Standing Orders permit a private Member to introduce a public Bill containing provisions requiring the expenditure of public funds, or only to introduce public Bills which do not contain such provisions? It may appear that a private Members Bill may not contain provisions requiring the expenditure of public funds, but a reading of Standing Orders 14 and 54 indicate otherwise.

Even if the Standing Orders were silent on that issue Standing Order 85 empowers the Speaker to resort to the usage and practice of the Commons House of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, which usages and practices must be followed as far as the same may be applicable to the National Assembly, and not inconsistent with the Standing Orders nor with the practice of the National Assembly.

In the context of the foregoing discussion it is quite clear that the Standing Orders of the National Assembly of Saint Christopher and Nevis do not prevent a private Member from bringing to the National Assembly a Bill containing provisions requiring the expenditure of public funds, provided that Standing Order 54 is complied with.

This Order states as follows:
“(1) The introduction of bills shall be in accordance with the of provisions section 20. (2) of the National Assembly Elections Act, Cap. 2.01, that is to say,
Except on the recommendation of the Governor-General signified by a Minister, the National Assembly shall not proceed upon any bill (including an amendment to a bill) which, in the opinion of the Speaker would dispose of or charge any public revenue or funds of this territory or alter any disposition thereof or charge thereon or impose, alter, or repeal any rate, tax or duty.

(2) The signification made by a Minister shall be recorded in the minutes.”

The Speaker said he will invite the Leader of the Opposition to meet soonest with the Leader of Government Business and the Attorney General to discuss and clarify issues relating to the existing short comings of the draft submission of the Integrity in Public Life Bill, 2011.

“By so doing, it can be duly introduced, read and passed at the next best convenient sitting,” said Mr. Martin, who added:

“The Chair is also mindful that this may be seen as an obstruction to the introduction and eventual passage of this piece of hallmark legislation. However, the Chair wishes to make it pellucidly clear that it has an obligation to make decisions base on the rules and standing orders of the National Assembly. Once, all requirements are met as expressed by the standing orders then the Chair will be duty bound to proceed on this Bill.”

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