It is shaping up to be a battle of the Constitution of St. Vincent and the Grenadines versus the Standing Orders of the national assembly as Parliament meets today, Thursday.
Member of Parliament for Central Kingstown, St. Clair Leacock, is expected to continue his protest, in Parliament, against a ruling made more than a year ago by Speaker of the House of Assembly, Jomo Thomas
For the past several meetings of the national assembly, Leacock, an opposition lawmaker, has refused to stand as the Speaker enters the chamber, as the rules dictate.
Leacock would remain seated and continue in that position while the Speaker says the prayer, after which he would stand when the Speaker and other members and visitors sit.
Leacock’s protest is over the Speaker’s handling of the vote of no confidence that opposition lawmakers brought against the Gonsalves government in January 2018.
Thomas — a lawyer became Speaker after the December 2015 election in which he failed to win South Leeward for the ruling Unity Labour Party — allowed government members to amend the motion, changing it into a motion of confidence.
Government members then debated and passed the motion in the absence of opposition members, who stayed away in protest.
At the last meeting of Parliament, held on April 1, Deputy Prime Minister Sir Louis Straker spoke out against Leacock’s protest.
Sir Louis pointed out that the standing orders say that when the Speaker makes a ruling, it is final.
“Members cannot take it upon themselves to challenge the Speaker or to protest. It’s out of order. Section 61 in [Erskine May: Parliamentary Practice] says, ‘His actions cannot be criticised in debate or any form of proceedings, except a substantive motion.’”
Sir Louis who has been a lawmaker for two decades further said:
“The honourable gentleman from Central Kingstown has been carrying on this matter and I allow him to even though I know the rules but I thought he would amend his ways or his colleagues would show him the error of his ways, but I am showing that the member is out of order.”
Sir Louis, who is Member of Parliament for Central Leeward, said that Erskine May says that members were charged for disorderly conduct when they sat during prayers.
“And the member has been sitting during the prayer offered in this House and he is out of order, according to Erskine May. And I hope, Mr. Speaker, that you can rule on this matter so it does not go on and on and on that this member can defy the authority of the chair because the chair has made a ruling and we cannot permit that, otherwise we would have chaos and disorder in this House. I so move the point of order.”
In response, Thomas said Sir Louis’ position is “well-grounded in the practice and direction of the House”.
He said that he did not want to give Leacock’s protest legs by speaking about it when it was first initiated.
“… so I allowed him to carry on because his protest normally lasts a second or two. But you are absolutely correct and you have cited the relevant sections of the standing orders — standing order 41, standing order 81(3) and you have gone to the bible of parliamentary procedure,” Thomas said.
“I think that the motion is sustained and we will ask the honourable parliamentary representative for Central Kingstown to refrain from engaging in the action which he has been engaged in.”
The speaker said that if Leacock wants to protest, he could walk out when Parliament begins then return later.
“… but he cannot get up in the well of the House and continue to say what he has been saying because the point has been canvassed by a ranking member of the House and the House is well made and is so sustained,” Thomas said.
“Although I know there is an idea that floats around that there are no ranking members but, Prime Minister Ralph Gonsalves is clearly a ranking member, having been here for all these years and Sir Louis, so, too, is,” the speaker added.
In response, Leacock acknowledged his breach of the rules of the House of Assembly.
“I would have hoped that the point would have been made that the House rules do not supersede the Constitution of St Vincent and the Grenadines …” he said, adding that his protest will continue “until the Constitution is respected with respect to the status of vote of No Confidence.
“We will not be the laughing stock of the world and this country will one day be allowed to have votes of No Confidence tabled here and debated here,” said Leacock, who is a vice president of his New Democratic Party, which holds one seat less than the government in the 15-member parliament.
“I am resolved to that and nobody is going to move me away from that protest whether it will be in here or out,” Leacock said.
“I will stand firm that we as a nation will allow votes of No Confidence to take place in this honourable House,” he said.