We hear reference to the Standing Orders all the time, as members of the Lower and Upper Houses of the Jamaican Parliament debate the country’s business. The Standing Orders are the rules made by Parliament to govern how it operates, but most people know very little about their provisions, apart from hearing Members complain that they are being breached.
The Standing Orders of both the House of Representatives and the Senate can be found on the website of the Jamaican Parliament. I will be writing a series of posts looking at some of their provisions. I will paraphrase where necessary for readability, and won’t go into some procedural points that I don’t think are of general interest. I will also raise questions, in some cases, about the provisions. Here we go!
1. The proceedings and debates of the House shall be in the English language. Every petition shall be in the English language. (So the Standing Orders would have to be amended for debates etc to take place in Jamaican patois/creole as has been suggested by Dr. Carolyn Cooper. She has also suggested that the Prime Minister address Parliament in Jamaican creole at least once per year and that the budget presentations be given in both English and patois. But I digress. That’s for another day.)
2. The Quorum of the House and of a Committee of the whole House shall consist of sixteen (16) members besides the Member presiding. (Remember the House now consists of sixty-three (63) members. The quorum is therefore about 25% of the House.)
3. If, during a sitting of the House, a Member validly raises the objection that there isn’t a quorum, the person presiding shall direct Members to be summoned. If there is still no quorum at the end of five minutes, the person presiding shall adjourn the House without question put.
4. (There has been a lot of discussion about the frequency (or lack thereof) with which the House meets.) The Standing Orders provide that the House shall meet on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays at 2 o’clock in the afternoon, and unless previously adjourned, shall sit until 7.30 in the evening. The House may at any time, however, by motion made and carried without amendment or debate, suspend or vary this provision. (There are further detailed provisions about the procedure for arranging subsequent sittings, which I am not going to go into. You can check the Standing Orders yourself for those details.)
5. There is a prescribed order for conducting the business of each sitting which is as follows:
Oath of Allegiance of a new member
Call of the Roll
Statements by Ministers
Bills brought from the Senate
Reports from Committees
Notices of Motions given orally
Motions that may be made at the commencement of public business requiring notice
Motions relating to sittings of the House
Motions for leave to introduce Bills
Presentation of Bills without leave of the House first obtained
There is, however, provision for a Minister, at any time after Question Time, to move “that this House shall now adjourn” but any other Member has to follow a different procedure to do so. After public business has been entered, the Member may ask leave to adjourn the House to discuss a “definite matter of urgent public importance.”
The M.P. would have had to have given the Speaker written notification of the matter before the sitting, and the Speaker is supposed to refuse to allow this if not satisfied that the matter is one of “definite, urgent and of public importance.” If the Speaker is satisfied, the House then has to give leave or at least sixteen (16) Members have to rise to support the request.
Next time: Question Time