Respect in and for the House


WE used to take our Constitutional Law students for a day trip to Parliament. Everyone would be dressed up and we would troop there in two buses.

Usually the mood on the trip there was one of excitement. Most, if not all, of the students would never have been in Parliament and this was a big deal.

After all, here is the place where our laws are made. All those statutes that they have to learn, understand and argue about are created in this place.

And there was usually an eagerness to listen and watch the debates. When I used to go on these trips, there was no live telecast of Parliamentary proceedings, so to see the Members of Parliament in action, one had to be physically there and this was a rare treat indeed.

The expectations of hearing intelligent and sophisticated debate by the “honourable” ladies and gentlemen of the House were usually dashed within a few minutes.

The standard of the exchange would often be of the lowest level, being not much different from a coffee shop argument.

I remember one student turning to me and saying disbelievingly, “These people make our laws?”

I am not one for formality. In most situations I find it ludicrous and self-important. But there must be some places where a degree of respect has to be maintained.

Parliament is where laws that affect the lives of millions are made. There must therefore be a sense of the gravity of such an endeavour.

It is not the place to be coarse and crude.

It is shameful that in this day and age, an MP can still be utterly disrespectful to women, speaking words that treat them as objects and not as equal human beings. I suppose the people in his constituency like him so much that they continue to vote him in despite his comments in Parliament.

Of course there will be claims that he was only joking.

Sure, if you want to joke, why don’t you do it with your cronies in whichever other places you gather? I am sure a bunch of middle-aged men love nothing better than to crack sexist jokes about women while they rub their misshapen bellies in glee.

But not in the House. To do so is to disrespect, not only all women, but also the dignity and importance of the House.

And Parliament must also be a place of fair play, where all sides are given equal opportunity to speak and votes are carried out in a fair manner with absolutely no favouring of one side or the other.

If even this basic thing cannot be achieved, then those who are supposed to be running the place would have failed in their duties.

There are so many problems with our Parliament.

The speed with which bills are rushed through, the lack of cross-party cooperation, the short amount of time given to prepare debates on new legislation; the list goes on.

But it seems that we can’t even get the basics right. How can we say we do when impartiality is questionable and grotesque things can be said freely?

  • Azmi Sharom (azmi.sharom@gmail.com) is a law teacher. The views expressed here are entirely the writer’s own.

Opinion , Azmi Sharom , columnist

   

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