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House Speakers agree on new roles

NEW DELHI, Jan 7 – A meeting of Speakers and Clerks of the Commonwealth has resolved that the role of Speakers is not just to regulate debate in the House.

The meeting of the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association in New Delhi was unanimous that the Speaker should also be a mediator between opposing sides in Parliament.

They said the role of the Speaker is not merely to regulate, but to try to foster consensus among politicians for the betterment of society.

Louis Galea, the Speaker of Malta said: “The Speaker cannot take a narrow orientation of merely regulating debate… to enjoy the trust of all he or she needs to be an arbiter.”

The Speaker, he added, must stand up to resolve controversial issues through consensus so that they may be respected by the lawmakers and public as a whole.

His Guyana counterpart, Ralph Ramkarran argued that Speakers must always balance the interest of the Government and the Opposition.

“Speakers mustn’t get too inflated in their self importance; they have an important role to play in society as they are seen as people who can maintain a degree of neutrality,” he said.

Also sharing in the view were New Zealand’s Speaker Lockwood Smith, his Canadian counterpart Peter Milliken and Pakistani’s Fehmida Mirza.

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Dr Mirza said the office of the Speaker was very key in mediating in fragile democracies of Africa, Asia and the Caribbean where undemocratic forces and military dictators reign.

“In such cases, the power tussles amongst the President, Prime Minister, the military or judiciary has resulted into break-down of the entire system as these opposing parties have failed to resolve their disputes through consensus,” she observed.

Kenya’s Speaker Kenneth Marende also said the duty of the Speaker in addition to presiding over debates, is to solve problems in the House in a manner that is fair and impartial.

“The role of the Speaker goes beyond regulating debate… the Speaker must be in charge and know what happens in Parliament so that he is answerable not just to the institution but also the society,” he observed.

In addition to his role as a regulator of debate and mediator in the House, the Speaker should be on top of all that happens in Parliament.

Mr Marende said if Speakers were not above things, they could suffer the fate that befell House of Commons Speaker Michael Martin, who was forced to resign last year following an expenses scandal by MPs. 
“Martin was held to account for commissions and omissions he was not responsible for.  As the Speaker you take responsibility for everything that goes on in Parliament,” Mr Marende added.

However, the Speakers were divided on the use of modern technology equipment inside the chamber.

Whilst others argued that the use of modern technological equipment like laptops and mobile phones interfered with the sanctity of debate, others said it was important for MPs to use the apparatus.

Mr Milliken and Mr Galea saw nothing wrong with new technology finding its way in the House.

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However, Indian Speaker Meira Kumar and speakers from Bahamas, Zambia and Namibia vehemently opposed the use of the devices arguing that it disrupts debate.

India said it had installed mobile jammers in the House to deter MPs from using their mobile phones.
The deputy speaker of the United Kingdom said the devices should only be allowed if they don’t interrupt debate.

The meeting that began on Monday discussed the Speaker as a mediator, their roles in the administration of Parliament, ensuring security within the precincts and use of technology in Parliament.

Also present at the conference was the Clerk of Kenya’s National Assembly Patrick Gichohi.

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