Minister Juliana O’Connor-Connolly’s eagle eye observation of the requirements to be followed under the Parliament Standing Orders for the calling of a witness before the Select Committee has now raised a concern about whether Parliamentary procedures were followed correctly by the Select Committee on January 18, 2023.
The concern about proper procedures came about on January 18, 2023, after a push was made for a Select Committee hearing to be held the next day (January 19, 2023).
Regarding this, Minister Kenneth Bryan noted to the members of the Select Committee that, as a preliminary step in dealing with the Bill to amend the Gambling Act, the Select Committee should hear from witnesses, such as the Commissioner of Police, who could explain why the amendments to the Gambling Act were suggested to the government in the first place.
Addressing this, the chairperson of the Select Committee said:
Usually what happens in these proceedings as a matter of convention (I’m advised and from what I read) is that witnesses are given advanced notice to attend these proceedings.
It is the nature of these things over the passage of time that we really just invite witnesses to attend and they usually cooperate I think.
So, we would need to provide adequate notice, advanced notice, to the Commissioner of Police you mentioned, for example.
I don’t imagine that we would be able to do that between now and tomorrow.
This answer caught the attention of O’Connor-Connolly, a stickler for protocol and compliance with the Parliament Standing Orders.
Chair, might I beg your indulgence, standing order 73(1) says, ‘If a committee desires to summon a witness, the chairperson SHALL supply the name, residence and occupation of every such witness to the Clerk AT LEAST SEVEN DAYS before the witness’ evidence is required. The Clerk shall then, subject to the directions of the Presiding Officer, summon the witness on behalf of the House.’
There is [a] provision normally under standing orders where you can suspend the standing orders, but that would require us to go back to the House so I suspect we’re stuck within the clause of standing order 73(1).
Reacting to O’Connor-Connolly’s observation of the need to comply with the Parliament Standing Orders, the Select Committee chair said:
I was pointing out, sometimes what happens, certainly [on] some of the other committees, is that you invite the witness and they attend voluntarily instead of having to go through the exercise of someone summoning them. So, in this case, what we will do is if it is the will that the Commissioner be asked to attend to give evidence, I’m sure he probably wouldn’t have an objection to that.
So, we would make arrangement for him to be invited if the committee so resolves, but we can determine tomorrow when is the convenient time to take his evidence if you don’t mind so thank you very much.
The issue, however, is that if O’Connor-Connolly is right about the Parliament Standing Orders, then the appearance by the witness the next day, on January 19, 2023, without the House of Parliament having first suspended standing order 73(1) and without the Clerk being provided with details of the witness at least seven days before the witness was called, does not appear to follow the Parliament Standing Orders.
The way that compliance with the Parliament Standing Orders was handled here will cause members of the public to flashback to the media frenzy which arose when the now Speaker of the Parliament, Katherine Ebanks-Wilks, was questioned about compliance with Parliament Standing Orders, which ironically, also centered on compliance with notice periods to be followed under Parliament Standing Orders.
The question for members of the public to now consider is if it was critically important to the public for Ebank-Wilks to follow the Parliament Standing Orders by their black and white letters just a few months ago (which she appeared to do), then why is there not similar public uproar concerning the process of the Select Committee now, bearing in mind, of course, if O’Connor-Connolly is correct in her analysis whether the Select Committee properly followed standing order 73(1)?
Note for readers
Full text of Parliamentary Standing Order 73 is reproduced below:
“73. (1) If a committee desires to summon a witness, the chairperson shall supply the name, residence and occupation of every such witness to the Clerk at least seven days before the witness’ evidence is required. The Clerk shall then, subject to the directions of the Presiding Officer, summon the witness on behalf of the House.
(2) The Committee may, at its discretion, refuse to hear any irrelevant evidence or any recalcitrant witness.
(3) Each witness shall be taken in turn and no two witnesses shall, at the same time, attend a meeting of a select committee, unless they are being examined together.
(4) The proceedings of and the evidence taken before any select committee and any documents presented thereto, and decisions of such a committee, shall not be published by any Member thereof or by any other person until after the committee has presented its report to the House.”