Wednesday, 8 June 2011

Just a Minute?


On 3rd March 2011 the Assembly voted by 23 votes to 22 (with 1 abstention), to adopt paragraphs (a) and (c) of P.1/2011, 'Standing Orders: time limits on speeches during debates,' lodged by Senator Paul Routier. In doing so, the States agreed that Standing Orders should be amended to introduce maximum time limits for speeches made by members during debates, and asked the Privileges and Procedures Committee (PPC) to bring forward for approval the necessary amendments to give effect to the proposal. Paragraph (b) of the proposition proposed a series of time limits and was rejected by 33 votes to 13. Accordingly, the actual time limits were left to be determined by PPC.

The deliberations of Privileges are very fair to the States Members in their report, but show that the end result would resemble something like the popular BBC Radio 4 show "Just A Minute".

States Members, unlike those in that show, invariably speak with hesitation, deviation, and repetition!!

But one aspect of the rules is similar - when challenged, the clock is stopped, because otherwise the minute would be consumed by the challenge and banter between members. Only after that challenge has taken place, and the Chairman has made his decision, does the clock start again. Now look at this comment on limits by PPC:

Time limits would need to be monitored by the Presiding Officer, who would advise members when their allotted time had elapsed. During the course of a debate, if the advice of H.M. Attorney General was sought on a particular point, for example, it would be reasonable to expect that the countdown on the member's speech would be paused during the Attorney General's response. If this was the case, it would follow that the countdown should also be paused if a member's speech was interrupted for a point of clarification or a point of order. The Presiding Officer and/or the Greffier would therefore spend a significant amount of time pausing and restarting the countdown, or attempting to monitor the number of interruptions in order to allow for additional time at the end of the speech, a calculation which could then be disputed by members.

This is very similar to "Just a Minute" with the clock being paused! Of course, part of the problem is that Senator Routier's original proposal was to limit member's speeches to 15 minutes, which means that every second would count - and a clock would be needed:

MOST States speeches may be limited to 15 minutes under new rules proposed by Senator Paul Routier. The Senator has tabled a proposal to cut down on rambling, long-winded speeches by setting a limit on how long politicians are allowed to speak. He wants a big 'TV Countdown-style clock' in the middle of the States Chamber so that Members know that their time is ticking away. (2)

Had he put a limit of 30-40 minutes, losing some time would not have been a problem, and really long speeches would have been curtailed, but 15 minutes was quite absurd and could never be countenanced unless every second counted, which - with a surprising burst of commonsense - PPC realised would be completely unworkable, as it would involve the "Just A Minute" stop/start of the clock.

Senator Routier didn't mention in his original proposition, of course, that in jurisdictions which have limits, while the person speaking may be heckled, they are not usually stopped until their speech is complete.

How much time of the States was consumed on this issue because he put such an absurdly short time limit, and did not stop to think about the practicalities of implementing his scheme  - apart from the "Countdown Clock"? To push the practical matters onto PPC is simply an example of sheer and sloppy laziness, he simply didn't do his homework properly and think matters through.


1 comment:

Anonymous said...

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