Burt to push Speaker for written ruling
The Premier said he would push the Speaker of the House to deliver a written ruling to justify his decision to halt his ministerial statement yesterday on the floor of the House.
Mr Burt and Speaker Dennis Lister clashed when Mr Burt tried to get Mr Lister to explain his ruling at a stormy session of the House of Assembly.
Mr Lister returned to his seat to deliver the ruling after a 20-minute recess and ordered the Premier to move on to the next orders of business.
Mr Burt said after the House rose for lunch that he had met the Speaker before the House convened to give him his prepared statement and that Mr Lister had “requested me to remove content”.
He added: “I told the Speaker that rules do not allow for the Speaker to comment on the content of a statement.
“It cannot be the Speaker’s place to tell a government minister what he can or cannot say in the House.
“That in itself is censorship of the question of democracy. We have rules which state when things are out of order. There are certain things you are allowed to say in the House and you’re not allowed to say.”
Mr Burt said that Lawrence Scott, the Government Whip, would ask Mr Lister to explain “on what basis was the ruling made”.
He added it put him in “a difficult position for a Speaker to then say that ‘no, you can’t say that’”.
Mr Burt said he had “tremendous personal respect for the Speaker”.
He added: “When I sit inside this office, I have to be guided by the Bermuda Constitution. When I go into the House of Assembly, I have to be guided by the standing orders.”
Mr Burt dismissed repeated Opposition objections to his delivery of the statement as “electioneering”.
He said Craig Cannonier, the Leader of the Opposition, “staged” his challenges to the ministerial statement, which resulted in the Speaker ordering him to leave the House.
Mr Burt added that his intent had been to update the House and that his actions were in line with the Constitution.
He said: “The ministerial statement contained a number of things — most importantly that now we have a balanced budget, austerity is over and we can begin to return money to the people in form of tax cuts and increased capital spending now that we have a balanced budget.
“I think that’s important notice for the people of this country.”
Several Opposition MPs protested that Mr Burt’s statement had been a “Throne Speech in disguise” and allowed them no right of reply.
However, Mr Burt said the One Bermuda Alliance would have had “plenty of time in the Motion to Adjourn” or could “lay down a motion to discuss their particular things”.
He added: “The funny thing is, part of that charade, and I will call it a charade by the Opposition, was to prevent the Government from sharing information.”
Mr Burt insisted that by not holding a Throne Speech, he had dispensed with “ceremony or distraction” and that the legislature had not been dissolved, or prorogued, in the usual way.
He added: “Many countries have different traditions. The Constitution of the country does not require a session of the Legislature to be limited to only eight or nine months. So the session continues.
“When the legislature is prorogued, that means the legislature does not sit, committees don’t sit, and questions can’t be asked. That’s what prorogation means — it means that the legislature doesn’t exist.”
Mr Burt said: “We decided just to let the legislature continue to sit. A Throne Speech, which is at the beginning of a particular session, lays out the Government’s plan for that session.
“Sessions are traditionally ten months. It’s important to recognise that the work needed to continue and we’re continuing the work.”
Mr Burt declined to reveal which parts of his ministerial statement had been objected to by Mr Lister.
He said: “I don’t want to disclose the full contents of my conversation with the Speaker of the House.
Mr Burt added: “I can tell you the statement was submitted in the time required.”
He said that MPs met for a parliamentary prayer breakfast, held in the Hamilton Princess & Beach Club, before the House session and that Mr Cannonier had given “a prayer for humility and unity”.
Mr Burt added: “In that spirit, I practised humility today because I did not want to engage, and I’m trying my best to remain calm.
“But the fact is, there are people counting on all 36 of us to work together.”
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