We must stop meeting like this

Politicians could avoid last-minute cramming of bills into the waning days of legislative sessions, according to a sub-committee looking at how to make better use of legislators’ time.

The Legislative Assembly’s Standing Orders committee, chaired by Chief Secretary George McCarthy, has been considering a proposal to creating a schedule of parliamentary sittings that would use legislators’ time more efficiently.

The proposals have been scrutinised for nearly two years, but Cline Glidden, chairman of the sub-committee that compiled a report into how the House could make better use of its time, is confident that newly elected members of the Legislative Assembly will help push through the changes to the Legislative Assembly’s Standing Orders following May’s general election.

‘I am sure the change will come in the next session. There is wide support for this … When the new legislators come in, I’m sure some will be frustrated [with the current standing orders] … and be motivated to start making changes,’ he said.

The Legislative Assembly is in the midst of marathon meetings to push through critical legislation before the end of the day on 23 March, when the House will dissolve.

The United Democratic Party’s Mr. Glidden said last week that legislators would have to deal with a ‘rush of legislation coming down that we have not been made aware of yet and we’re going to be expected to go in and intelligently debate that and contribute.’

Changes being proposed to the Standing Orders would include the House sitting in the afternoon and into the evening, rather than beginning in the mornings. Instead, mornings could be utilised to inspect and read legislation, papers and bills and for ministerial work.

Other changes would be introducing schedules of business, regular sittings once or twice a week, and introducing question time for ministers, said Mr. Glidden, who added that there was a cross-party consensus on the proposed changes.

Only about half of the Standing Orders Committee meetings into the proposed changes have bee held so far, with the last meeting being held nearly a year ago.

Currently, questions in the House need to be submitted, or notice that the question intends to be asked, 10 days prior to the beginning of a parliamentary meeting. There are usually four meetings in a session, and each meeting can consist of several sittings.

‘That means that a question may have been submitted three months prior to being asked, so of course, it’s often no longer relevant by the time it’s answered,’ said Mr. Glidden. Question time for ministers would allow for more pertinent and topical issues to be raised, he added.

Mr. Glidden said that instead of parliamentary closing time being the current 4.30pm, the committee was considering changing this to 8.30pm, thus allowing members of the public who work during the day to attend parliamentary sittings.

Sub-committee members have visited Westminster Parliament in London and the Parliament of Canada to research how business is conducted there.

Hansard, the official record of business conducted in the Cayman Islands Legislative Assembly, shows that in recent years, parliament has been sitting fewer times than it did in the early 2000s.

In the 2007-08 parliamentary session, the House sat 31 times; in 2006-07, it sat 32 times; in 2005-06, 30 times and in 2004-05, 34 times. In 2003-04, it sat 73 times; in 2002-03, 45 times; and in 2001-02, 76 times. Hansard records for 2000-01 available online show 46 meetings were held between 18 February and 18 September 2000.

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