The Legislative Assembly Bill, which seeks to separate the management of the legislature from the civil service, has moved to the next stage.

Lawmakers approved the proposed legislation Friday evening on second reading. It will next move to the committee stage for amendments, before going to a third reading, possible later this week.

Premier Alden McLaughlin, in piloting the bill Friday, said it has taken five years to get to the point of making the Legislative Assembly independent of the civil service.

He pointed out that a similar motion was made in 2006 under the first Progressives government.

He said this separation has been a topic of discussion since the conflict between the legislature and executive was officially recognised “for the first time in 1954 in a famous tussle between Commissioner Andrew Gerrard and Ormond Panton” over a motion involving his own salary or pension.

McLaughlin said the proposed law makes provisions for the autonomy of the House by creating a commission to manage the affairs of the legislature.

The management commission will also establish a council comprising the speaker, who will serve as the chairperson; the premier; the leader of the opposition; three members of the Legislative Assembly appointed in writing by the speaker; one MLA appointed in writing by the speaker, acting in accordance with the advice of the leader of the opposition; and the clerk of the assembly, who will serve as the council secretary and will be an ex-officio, non-voting member.

The defining characteristics, McLaughlin said, “are more similar to an independent office, such as the Office of the Ombudsman, which is similarly overseen by a parliamentary committee and whose budget is ultimately subject to the approval of the Cabinet and the Legislative Assembly”.

He said the aim is to have the first council meet in January of next year, assuming the bill is passed and the legislature starts to take responsibility for the management of the Legislative Assembly.

At the Friday legislative sitting, North Side MLA Ezzard Miller said he supported the bill, contingent on certain issues being addressed.

He called for staff on the civil service administrative arm of the House to retain all their benefits, with the same granted to any new staff coming in.

Miller also made the case for better remuneration packages.

George Town Central MLA Kenneth Bryan noted that Miller had advocated for a better salary grade for the opposition leader, one on par with a minister.

“If we are going to continue to develop the system of government we have, which follows a Westminster system, we have to continue to develop the role of the leader of the opposition,” Bryan said, calling that role “an integral part of this democracy”.
While Bodden Town West MLA Chris Saunders welcomed the proposed changes, he said he needed some level of comfort that the move would not increase additional costs, “especially at this time”.
Saunders said, “In principle, I think it is the right step in the right direction in terms of advancing our democracy and as especially since we’re getting ready to move to our parliament,” he said.
On the issue of salaries, Saunders said he believes that is a matter for an independent body to determine as it would be a conflict of interest to have members discussing or determining their own pay.
Deputy Leader of the Opposition Alva Suckoo raised concerns about the auditor general being the entity auditing the accounts of the assembly.
He said he preferred “an independent third party” audit the Legislative Assembly’s accounts instead of the auditor general who “would then refer those accounts to the PAC (Public Accounts Committee) and that could get a bit messy”.

Leader of the Opposition Arden McLean welcomed the proposed separation of the assembly from the civil service but he said he too had concerns about the law.

He lamented that the Opposition, unlike in other parliaments, does not have the financial resources available to them to seek legal assistance on matters to better inform decisions.

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