MP calls for more technology-friendly Parliament

With the revised Draft Standing Orders being up for debate after more than 50 years and the advancement of technology, Member of Parliament for St. Peter Hon. Asot Michael has encouraged his colleagues in The House to consider a few forward-thinking methods.
Speaking on the subject on Tuesday, the MP said the opportunity has to be taken to bring the Draft Standing Orders into the current electronic age.
“Why update to the 20th century, when we are in the 21st century?” he asked, adding that the draft in its current stage did not embrace or accommodate the use of technology sufficiently.
“The draft does not deal adequately with certain procedural matters that have caused disharmony in the House,” MP Michael said.
He said, too, that the while the Standing Orders of 1967 did not account for virtual parliamentary sittings and global crises like COVID-19, Antigua and Barbuda has undoubtedly made history with its first video conference parliamentary meeting in March.
“Questions have been asked as to whether there must be a quorum in the Parliament building, the validity of virtual meetings. When will virtual meetings be permitted – states of emergency? Hurricanes, earthquakes, pandemics? These must be covered, especially as it would appear that we have to live with the pandemic for the foreseeable future,” Michael said.
On the matter of electronic voting, the MP said the collection of voices in the “I think the ayes have it” Order 52, was antique and suggested that advancements in telecommunications in the country should allow for a state-funded modern system of recording votes with the simple push of a button.
“The technology is there – let us modernize the Standing Orders in this respect… let us make provision for an alternate way of voting in the House using the technology,” Michael said.
He debunked the inclusion of the aged fax machine technology that remains an option in the revised SOs.
“In light of recent events, I think we have to use this opportunity to expand this Order,” he said moving on to the matter of Personal Explanation, where Speaker Sir. Gerald Watt. QC’s had presented an elaborate explanation of what constitutes such.
The MP said, “The Speaker has quoted Erskine May and a Canadian text: why not put all that learning in this rule. Spell it out so going forward all will be clear as to how it works, thus avoiding ugly scenes as we witnessed in the House recently.”
He went further to request clarity in the section that speaks to Prime Ministers Questions. Asking, how often these questions could be posed and who are allowed to pose them.
“Who is allowed to ask the questions – Leader of the Opposition only? Can a back-bencher ask questions of the PM? Who else?” Michael asked, considering the fact that the PM, according to the SOs would require notice of said questions in order to respond preparedly.
An area of keen interest to the MP, that was not addressed in the revised Standing Orders, was interestingly the seating arrangements for governing officials when the opposition is whitewashed at the polls.
He also interestingly questioned where should an elected member sit “when they are no longer a member of the party on whose ticket the member was elected?”