Opinion

What Is A Maiden Speech?

Welcome back to Parliament 101.  As Parliament 101 has observed in previous columns, the modern pageantry and procedures of the Parliament have emerged from a long and rich historical development. 
27 Oct 2014 09:47
What Is A Maiden Speech?
When a newly-elected member speaks for the first time in the Parliament after being elected, it is regarded as a noteworthy occasion.

Welcome back to Parliament 101.  As Parliament 101 has observed in previous columns, the modern pageantry and procedures of the Parliament have emerged from a long and rich historical development.  Some of these traditions were clearly on display recently when the MPs gave their first speech in the Parliament.

When a newly-elected member speaks for the first time in the Parliament after being elected, it is regarded as a noteworthy occasion.  It was even given a special name.  It has long been called a “maiden speech”.

Some parliaments regard this name as antiquated with a gender bias that is no longer appropriate.  However, the name is so well entrenched in parliamentary convention it is remains in common usage in all Westminster systems even where it has been formally re-titled as the “inaugural speech” or “first speech”.

The precise conventions that apply to the maiden speech can vary from parliament to parliament but there are some core principles that are fairly consistent as we saw in the Fijian Parliament.

The main conventions are that the maiden speech should be heard in silence without interruption by applause, interjections or questions.  In order to facilitate this, the speech should not be long or contentious.   Normally, the Speaker is advised in advance that it was the member’s maiden speech to allow these conventions to be observed.

There are other common usages that apply to the member giving their maiden speech.  Often the member uses the occasion to thank their supporters, raise an issue of general importance or as a “free hit” to announce want they want to achieve in Parliament.

If you were following the news, however, you will have noticed that the Speaker had to warn one member that he had breached the convention by being highly controversial in some of his comments.   Later, she also had to remind members that, under Standing Orders, they cannot raise questions during a maiden speech.

There were a number of special features, of course, that made this first set of maiden speeches somewhat unusual by comparison with what we might expect in future years.

There were so many members without previous parliamentary experience virtually all those entering the debate were making their first speeches in Parliament.

For the same reason, the distinction between new members and the “old hands”, who by convention defer to the new members to allow make their maiden speeches first, was less obvious than it will be after the next election.

This may be especially important in the tone of future debates.

The presentation of the maiden speeches obscured somewhat the matter being debated by the Parliament when they were delivered.  This is that they were all part of what is called the Address-in-Reply.

Readers of Parliament 101 will recall the importance of the President’s Address in the opening of the new Parliament.  This was a speech written for the President by the Government to set out the policies and programmes that the Government intends to introduce into the Parliament over the next year.

One of the first acts of the Parliament after the President’s Address is to debate a motion to thank the President for his Address.   This is often called the “Address-in-Reply”.

The motion to thank the President for his Address was moved by the Prime Minister as his maiden speech.

In future, the debate on this motion will probably take longer and involve much more debate on the Government’s agenda.  The reason we might expect a longer debate in future years is that there will be few maiden speeches.  Therefore, there will be fewer restrictions on raising controversial issues than was the case this year.

This is also the reason why the Speaker made a particular point to note that she had been lenient in dealing with the maiden speeches and the convention that these should be non-controversial.   She recognised that it was a bit difficult to have a normal Address-in-Reply with so many members constrained by the maiden speech conventions.

Typically the debate on the motion to thank the President for his address gives the Opposition an opportunity to respond to the Government’s programme outlined in this address by moving an amendment to the motion to thank the President.

The debate on the motion serves a very useful purpose even though it always passes just as the Government framed it because the Government has the numbers.  The Address-in-Reply allows for a very comprehensive debate on the Government’s policies and for the Opposition to say something about its agenda.

We can expect next year’s Address-in-Reply to look much different since there are very unlikely to be any maiden speeches or the restrictions that these impose on the debate.

Response to Reader’s Questions

– Vinaka to “anonymous” for posing this week’s question: “Who choses the Ministers in Fiji – the Prime Minister or the President?”

This is an unexpectedly challenging question that may take more than a full column to answer properly.   Sec 92(3) of the Constitution says that, “The Prime Minister appoints Ministers”.  However, sec 95 (2) says that a Minister “assumes office by taking the oath or affirmation of allegiance and office . . . as administered by the President.”  The 1997 Constitution used more conventional language to explain these relationships saying that the “President appoints and dismisses other Ministers on the advice of the Prime Minister.”  Parliament 101 definitely will come back to this issue again in a later column.  

If you have a question on the Parliament please write to the address below.  Parliament 101 cannot answer every question but the question deemed best each week will get answer and a small prize.

Question Time 

In addition to Parliament 101’s issues, the Fiji Sun wants to encourage readers to raise their own questions about the operation of the Parliament.  If you have a question on the Parliament please write to the address below.  Parliament 101 cannot answer every question but the question deemed best each week will get answer and a small prize.

ADDRESS:

Email:  sokov@fijisun.com.fj

skype:  soko.vakacegu

Post: Parliament 101

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OR  address to Parliament 101 and drop at Fiji Sun offices at MHCC, Nadi, Lautoka or Labasa.

Feedback:  newsroom@fijisun.com.fj

 



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