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‘Automatic suspension’ of unruly MPs in Parliament will have a sobering effect

For Speakers of the Lok Sabha to emulate their British or Australian counterparts they need to be guaranteed their independence and assured of their continuity in office

columns Updated: Dec 17, 2017 08:31 IST
automatic suspension,Parliament,MPs
Vice-President Venkaiah Naidu at a convocation at SRM University, near Chennai, Tamil Nadu (File)(PTI)

What a joy to be able to agree with a politician, particularly one who formerly was a BJP member! Today I’m writing to endorse the vice-president’s call for enforcing strict discipline on members of Parliament who deliberately flout rules and disrupt the House.

In a recent lecture, Venkaiah Naidu called for the “automatic suspension” of MPs who rush to the well of the House. That’s an excellent idea. However, to enable this to happen we need Speakers who don’t just act tough but also have the character to assert their authority forcefully. Not everyone is capable of the latter, which means we need to consider more carefully the people we choose for the speakership.

Watch for a moment the British House of Commons or the Australian House of Representatives and you’ll observe the strictness with which the Speakers of either House enforce discipline. Leave aside disruption they won’t even tolerate unparliamentary language. I have seen the Speaker of the Australian lower house compel the prime minister (at the time Julia Gillard) to apologise for her disrespectful reference to the Leader of the Opposition (Tony Abbott). When she did not fully comply the Speaker raised his voice and rebuked the prime minister. Without further ado Gillard apologised.

Yet for Speakers of the Lok Sabha to emulate such behaviour they need to be guaranteed their independence and assured of their continuity in office.

This means we need to follow a second British convention: Once chosen, a Speaker is guaranteed parliamentary re-election. No one will contest their re-nomination as MP. Furthermore, a speaker continues till such time as he or she chooses to step down. This is why John Bercow, the British Speaker, is so different to his Indian counterparts.

One other thing: Our Speakers must have the power to force members to withdraw from the House when they misbehave. In Canberra, MPs, including ministers, who gratuitously interrupt, defy the Speaker’s orders or pass unparliamentary comments, are ordered to leave the chamber and promptly do so. This is a form of instant punishment which is imposed as often as necessary. I’ve seen it done three times in the space of just 20 minutes. Then, after an interval of half an hour or so, the offending MP is readmitted.

However, all of this depends on MPs recognising the unique importance of Parliament. Only then will they accept the need for decorous behaviour. This, of course, needs a change in their attitude but the process will be greatly helped if Parliament is restored to the importance it used to have.

These days it doesn’t even meet for 70 days in a year. Over the last 10 years, it’s been between 64 and 67 on an average. In contrast, between the years 1952-1972 the House ran for a period between 128 and 132 days a year.

The record of the present Parliament is particularly dismal. In 2014 the Lok Sabha only sat for 55 days (Rajya Sabha for 52). So far in 2017, both Houses have clocked just 48 days.

Finally, Parliament was reconvened on Friday but I wonder if these issues are at the top of its agenda? No doubt a few individuals share my concerns but what about the institution as a whole? And what about our leading politicians, both of the government and Opposition? Is their silence suggestive?

The views expressed are personal

First Published: Dec 16, 2017 16:15 IST