Speaker of the House of Assembly Halson Moultrie is moving the Parliament into dangerous territory — and we should not ignore it.
Though he walked back his threat to ban Englerston MP Glenys Hanna-Martin from the House of Assembly unless she apologized for comments she made from her seat during a heated exchange last week, it is troubling that the speaker instructed the House clerk to pen such a letter in the first place.
It is also troubling that there was heavy police presence outside Parliament on Monday morning as reports of the speaker’s threat to ban Hanna-Martin had been widely shared and reported in the news.
Last week Tuesday, after the government, backed by the speaker, moved swiftly to block the opposition from commenting on its bungled handling of the initial emergency proclamation, a seemingly angered Hanna-Martin accused the governing side of running like “scared rats” and of being “liars”.
Her remarks were not spoken into the record of the House, meaning she had not been recognized by the speaker.
Moultrie ordered the sergeant at arms to remove the Englerston MP from the chamber, although police officers just stood at the entrance of the chamber. The House suspended seconds later.
It was clear that the governing side did not want to face parliamentary criticisms from the opposition after it incompetently allowed the first emergency proclamation to expire due to its failure to bring a resolution in time for an extension.
This resulted in the government scrambling back to the governor general to get a new proclamation, granting the competent authority a fresh six months in which to wield complete power over his subjects.
Moultrie, back on a familiar ego trip, determined he would keep the people’s constitutionally elected representative away from the House.
Fortunately, behind the scenes, he was made to see the error of his poor decision prior to the meeting of the House on Monday. He threw his tail between his legs and instructed the House clerk to send a “never mind” letter to the leader of opposition business, advising that he inform Hanna-Martin that the matter had reached “amicable resolution”.
When the House met on Monday, Moultrie did not let the matter die, however.
He told Parliament there are certain words and phrases that are recognized by the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association as unparliamentary words and phrases — including “rats” and “liars”.
Bizarrely, he ordered the words expunged from the record of the House when in fact the words were never on the record of the House to begin with.
This proved to be more hot air from a speaker who has long demonstrated that he is out of his depth and at every turn brings embarrassment to the chair he occupies.
This is the same speaker who does not want cameras on members who are not recognized.
His determination that words spoken by members not recognized by the chair are actually on the record is laughable.
The record of the House is based on who has the proper permission to stand up and speak. Clearly, the record does not reflect side bar comments and behavior.
We have heard uncomplimentary language hurled from one side to the next over many years. There must be order and respect for the honorable House, yes, but if the speaker is determined to go after every sideline comment he finds offensive that members make from their seats, when would he ever have time to focus on the actual business of Parliament?
Moultrie is an embarrassment as speaker.
We have heard members of the governing side whisper the same, although it is the governing side he seems more interested in protecting.
The speaker is mandated to protect the minority, who must have its say, although the governing side will have its way.
If the speaker is not protecting the minority, then we do not have a democratic Parliament.
Like the courts, the speaker must not just be impartial, he must be seen to be impartial. If not, public confidence in the institution is eroded.