Practice and Procedure of the House of Assembly

As in any proper organisation (and the House of Assembly is the highest forum in the land) Parliament is guided by rules and conventions.

The Speaker is the President (or Chairman when the House is in Committee) of the august body or in his absence, the Deputy Speaker who enjoys all the trappings of that office.  The Clerk of the House is the Secretary to that body and Chief  Executive Officer of the Department of the Clerk, which is responsible for the day-to-day running of the organisation.  The burden of the running of the body lies heavily on the clerk, as he/she is the chief Advisor to the Speaker whose office is part-time only.   Of course the Clerk of the House has supporting staff.   Among other duties the staff is responsible for the production of the Hansards (Verbatim  Reports of  Sittings of  the House).   Production of  these commenced some time in the mid-sixties.

After a General Election or at the beginning of a new session of Parliament there is a ceremonial opening when the Governor-General attends the Sitting and opens the new Parliament/Session.  At this time he delivers what is commonly call The Throne Speech, which is really a statement of government’s policy for the ensuring session.   Needless to say that is Cabinet’s and more specifically the Prime Minister’s policies for the period under  review.

The Speaker sits on a dais at the head of the Tables occupied by the Members of the House.   Government  Members are all seated to the right of the Speaker and  the Opposition to the left, each side facing the other.

The Prime Minister who is responsible for arranging the Parliamentary Programme is Leader of the House. One of the requirements is that, except in the case of emergency,  fourteen days notice should be given to convene a meeting of the House.

Upon receipt of notice of a meeting Members are required to submit to the clerk, within ten days after notice, matters they wish to include on the Agenda 9 called the Order Paper). These will include Bill, Questions, Motions, Resolutions, Ministerial Statements, Petitions, and etcetera. The Speaker and the Clerk are expected to examine all these and unless there is any infringement of the Constitution of Rules of the House then  the items must be placed on the Order Paper.

While the Rules of the House provide that in the months of May, June and July,  the House may be on recess this is seen more in the breach than in the observance; of course there is also the proviso that the Leader of the House may call the House to business at any time he deems fit.  Indeed nowadays our yearly budget is presented in December as our fiscal year commences on 1st January.

The quorum of the House as obtains now is eight (8) excluding the Speaker, See section 41 (2) of the Saint Vincent and the Grenadines Constitution.
Decisions of the House are by simple majority and except on constitutional matters all members are entitled to vote; only elected representatives vote on constitutional matters; for example, changing the number of representatives from 13 to 15.   At such an instance a two-thirds (2/3) majority is required for decision.

The House has the power to make, amend, discard or change its rules as it deems fit. Whatever is not provided  for  in our own rules reliance is placed on “Parliamentary Practice” by Erskine May,  which is of course the British Parliament's Bible.

Our House (by regulation) should meet at least once per month. At budget time debate may last for more than one week.

The main Standing Committee of the House is the Finance Committee.   Another committee of the House is the Public Accounts Committee, of which the Leader of the Opposition is always the Chairman.   There are also Select Committees.

The Chamber of the House is located in the Court House and the Chamber serves a dual purpose especially as Sittings of the House are held once a month. When the House is not sitting, the Chamber is used by the High  Court.

Sittings of the house are now broadcast on radio and televised.

According to the rules,  Sittings of the House generally commence at 10:00 a.m. and cannot go later than 12:00 o’clock midnight.

Each session of Parliament shall begin not later than six months from the end of the preceeding session if  Parliament has been prorogued or one month from the holding of  a General Election of  Representatives if  Parliament has been dissolved.

For any bill to become law it must be signed by the Clerk of the House then by the Governor-General and published in the Government Gazette. In a few cases Bills become law on Proclamation, that is, a particular date is stated for its coming into operation.

At the moment the house is governed by Statutory Rules and Orders, 1989 (No. 16 of 189).