By anguillian June 13, 2016 10:58 Updated




When I first learnt that the Honourable Palmavon Webster, Opposition Leader, was going to be moving a vote of no confidence, also called a censure motion, in the House of Assembly in relation to the Honourable Chief Minister, my initial thought was that this was a waste of time. Based on the composition of the House, a motion of no confidence cannot succeed. Why then would Ms Webster, an astute, seasoned attorney be bringing such a motion? I took the opportunity to do my own research on UK parliamentary practice in relation to motions of no confidence.

Prior to 2011 (when the law was changed) – in the United Kingdom a successful motion of no confidence resulted in the resignation of the Government or the dissolution of Parliament. Such motions are more likely to meet with success where there is a minority or coalition Government, or conflicts within the ranks of the existing Government as was the case in 1977 when serious rifts in Ronald Webster’s PPP Government led to its collapse following a motion moved by lone opposition member, Hubert Hughes. Given the commanding majority that our current Government has in the House of Assembly, the likelihood of success is nil. However, research notes that when opposition leaders bring such motions they are fully aware that they are unlikely to succeed. Richard Kelly in a House of Commons publication called Confidence Motions said:

“… the majority of censure motions moved by an Opposition will be in circumstances when the parliamentary arithmetic can provide it with no real prospect of winning the vote.”

Yet, the opposition leaders continue to do it. It appears that its use is not limited to seeking the removal of the Government of the day, but as a means of challenging a particular policy and/ or forcing an elected Government to give an account of its stewardship. Rodney Brazier in Constitutional Practice highlighted the fundamental constitutional importance of confidence motions:

“The real significance of the general requirement that a government retain the confidence of the House of Commons is not in the rare loss of a vote of confidence or in the somewhat more frequent legislative defeat, but rather that it obliges every government to defend itself, explain its policies, and justify its actions, to its own back-benchers, to the opposition parties, and through them to the country as a whole.”

This is indeed a profound statement and one to which I would like to believe Opposition Leader Ms Webster was privy when she brought a motion which she is aware cannot result in the removal of the Chief Minister and, by extension, his Government. It can, however, result in further elucidation of issues in relation to a particular policy position taken by Government.
Whether we agree or not, based on observations over the past year, it is obvious that the Opposition Leader has every intention of holding Government’s feet to the fire on issues of concern to her and members of the public. In recent days many have questioned Ms Webster’s strategies. Her ill-timed address at the official parade on Anguilla Day, which resulted in an open display of disapproval from attendees and earned her much criticism in the public, was followed the next day by her motion of no confidence in the House of Assembly. Based on feedback I have received, a significant portion of the public is of the view that, as the lone opposition member of the House, Ms Webster’s motion is an exercise in futility. If her motion is intended to remove the Chief Minister and his government, then I fully agree that it is futile. However, if, as I suspect, it is being used as a means to provoke further debate on a particular Government policy, there may be some merit in this strategy. In any event, the ultimate motives of the Opposition Leader will only become clear when the motion is actually debated. Perhaps we should therefore reserve judgment as to whether this is simply a waste of time or a useful means of holding Government accountable to the people they are elected to serve.

By anguillian June 13, 2016 10:58 Updated


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