Dozing off all part of being an MP’
Long sessions in the House of Assembly and dozing politicians are a normal part of politics, present and former MPs insisted yesterday.
Mark Pettingill, who stood down before the 2017 General Election, said that the job of an MP was often exhausting.
He added: “I think it’s unfortunate if in the wee hours of the night people doze off in the House — but it’s also perfectly understandable.”
He was speaking after the final sitting of the House session on Friday ran until just before 3am.
The sitting also included a warning from Dennis Lister, the Speaker of the House, about the use of recording equipment after pictures of MPs asleep in the Chamber were circulated on social media.
Mr Pettingill said the issue of politicians falling asleep was not unique to Bermuda.
He added: “We are not special, and it certainly isn’t anything that reflects on the current government or any of their ministers.”
Mr Pettingill said that Bermuda could be better served by a different system of government.
He added: “I think we have too many MPs — I think we need to address that again.
“When I was in government, there were people who never, ever spoke substantially on any issue.
“And there are certainly people there in that House today that do not contribute.”
Mr Pettingill said it was time to have “full-time, professional ministers and MPs”.
But Dale Butler, a former Progressive Labour Party MP who lost his Warwick North East seat to Mr Pettingill in 2012’s General Election, said that the Westminister system was the best option for Bermuda.
He added: “You’re not going to find anything better, anywhere.”
Mr Butler said that he had sympathy for the sleeping MPs caught on camera.
He explained: “It’s a thankless job.
“Even while you’re awake, you never do enough.
“My heart goes out to those Members of Parliament who were unfortunately filmed.”
Trevor Moniz, Shadow Attorney-General, said anyone critical of MPs falling asleep in the House should sit in a darkened room for 15 hours and try not to close their eyes.
He added: “If you go in the back room, people will say ‘well he wasn’t in his chair’.”
Mr Moniz said that in the past it was not unusual for Parliament sessions to stretch for 24 hours.
He added: “We’d go in at 10am Friday and finish at 10am on Saturday.
“I’ve made speeches at 6am.”
Mr Moniz agreed the use of a Westminster-style system in Bermuda was not outdated.
He explained: “If you want people who have active lives and active careers to participate, then you tend to have a system which operates on a Friday. The one day a week is what’s going to work for those busy, intelligent, ambitious people.”
Renée Ming, a Progressive Labour Party MP, introduced a Joint Select Committee report on a public register of sex offenders late into Friday’s sitting.
Ms Ming told MPs: “When I did this motion in December, I think I did it at 1.25am.
“So how we start is how we’re going to finish.”
But Ms Ming said yesterday she did not think the quality of the debate was hurt by the late hour.
She said: “To me, it’s just the way that it is.
“It’s the political process. It’s what we signed up for.”
Ms Ming said that her only worry about the time was concern for members of the public who wanted to follow broadcasts from the House of Assembly.
But she added: “I’ve been approached by several members of the public who, even though the hour was late, they were still listening.”
Efforts to shorten sessions in the UK’s House of Commons — on which Bermuda’s Parliament is based — have been under way for years.
The Commons agreed in 2003 to cut back on late sittings.
But MPs also voted to have a shorter summer break and impose a general time limit of tenminutes for speeches.
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Ernest Tucker (1932-2019)
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