THE EDITOR: At last Friday’s parliamentary sitting, a matter arose which put questionable focus on House Speaker Bridgid Annisette-George. No, it was not the matter of her casting vote as it relates to the status quo, as raised on the floor of the House by MP for Oropouche East Dr Roodal Moonilal and by the Leader of the Opposition with the media after the sitting. It was instead a matter of much greater concern, and one that seemed to escape the scrutiny of members and media alike.
During the appointed time for Questions on Notice, the member for Couva South rose in his place seeking the withdrawal of question No 196 for oral answer, which stood in his name. The Speaker in reply ruled that “question 196 is supposed to be withdrawn in writing. It is not in accordance with the procedure so I will ask you to ask the question.”
This unfortunate judgment by the Speaker appeared to have the effect of intimidating the Member for Couva South into submission as he hesitatingly proceeded to ask the question that he wanted to withdraw. Or perhaps the member, like his parliamentary cohorts, believed that any ruling of the Speaker would be based on sound learning, logic and advice and entrusted the matter to her.
In examining the extent of her faux pas, it is necessary to refer to the Standing Orders of Parliament which at SO 29 states, “Withdrawal of Questions: (14) A question may be withdrawn only at the request of the member in whose name the question stands on the Order Paper.”
There is no stipulated condition that the withdrawal must be made in writing. There is also no stated time until which a member can seek a withdrawal. One can logically infer, therefore, that this could be done at any time before the question is posed.
My research on the subject of withdrawal of questions in the Parliaments of the United Kingdom, Canada, Australia and India revealed a strong similarity to the our Standing Order 29 above. In the case of Canada, its rules on House of Commons Practice and Procedure further state, “A member may also rise in the House to request that the Speaker withdraw the question.”
India’s Lok Sabha Practice and Procedure similarly reads, “The question can also be withdrawn if the member makes a statement to that effect in the House when his question is called by the Speaker.” As well, Australia’s House of Commons Practice states, “Withdrawal does not need to be notified in writing; oral advice is sufficient.”
Why then did Speaker Annisette-George insist that the member for Couva South proceed with his question against his wishes? How can Madam Speaker not know that a question filed by a member is the property of that member, who has an exclusive and unconditional right to withdraw his/her question?
Notwithstanding the Speaker’s comment that a member must signify in writing his/her withdrawal, in no way should this impede a member from seeking and obtaining a withdrawal if put to the floor of the House when called upon by the Speaker.
To prevent a member from expressing their determination over an item of business under that member’s purview is tantamount to denying a member their privilege of freedom of speech.