hen the Second State Council met for the first time on March 17, 1936, the 30-year-old Double Doctor N. M. Perera, who defeated Molamure Kumarihamy of the Meedeniya Walauwa in Ruwanwella, seconded the name of Duraiswamy for the post of Speaker. W. Duraiswamy secured 30 votes defeating Francis de Zoysa who got 28 votes. The very next day allocation of members among the Donoughmore Commission created Executive Committee, [which enabled representatives to share executive power] was taken up. A debate took place on the question of substituting new members for those who were unwilling to accept their original nominations. It was the ‘two-day old fresher’ NM who seconded the name of Duraiswamy the previous day, challenged the speaker; he argued against the ruling when the speaker wanted the representatives next in line to those who stand down to be called to fill the positions, for Leader of the House, DS Senanayake to comment—“An unknown son of an still unknown father.” Young NM exhibited his amazing oratorical skills combined with his comprehensive knowledge of Westminster systems citing the procedures and relevant standing orders set by the first State Council. Dr. Perera based his arguments on procedures and irregularities. He was supported by seniors like G. R. de Silva and A. E. Goonasingha in subduing the Speaker’s unfair partiality. –[Ref…Hansard-1936:State Council Vol 1… Fo 7-8]
Dr N.M.Perera, exactly 60 years ago on Feb 13, 1959, for the first time disobeyed the Chair: MH Ismail was the Speaker in the Bandaranaike government. House was debating a controversial Bill for amending the Public Security Act. PM attempted to impose its will on the Parliament. He wanted it debated and passed on the same day. Late in the evening PM sought the Speaker to wind up proceedings. NM was furious; he argued with precise accuracy quoting various precedents. Pandemonium broke out compelling the speaker to suspend sittings. When sittings resumed NM argued that Speaker by not announcing the time duration of suspension had contravened the Standing orders [Speaker Ismail was a great respecter of Parliamentary practice procedures, that he didn’t suspend SO] nothing unusual or ‘action-packed’ took place as then there were no hooligans carrying Miriskudu (Chilli powder) and Butter knives. NM was on his feet when Speaker cried ‘Order please’. PM’s move for removal of NM was passed; Speaker ordered Sergeant-at-Arms to carryout eviction and suspended sittings for police to forcibly remove him from the chamber. The rest of the LSSP members, 13 in all continued the protest until each one was thrown out, leaving Vivien to be dealt by Police Women’s corp., but Vivien walked out singing the party anthem, “Saadukin pelanavun…” following the cops who carried her husband Leslie Goonawardene out to the lobby.
In 1964, Deputy Speaker Hugh Fernando MP for Wennappuwa, succeeded RS Pelpola as Speaker in the Sirimavo Bandaranaike government. An issue cropped up when the Speaker had to rule if the sponsorship of a particular bill passed down to the House from the Senate was acceptable on procedure. The freethinking Hugh Fernando aroused the anger of SLFP/LSSP/CP coalition Government during its last days. House became unruly, after adjourning it on account of its disorderliness, and after summoning a party leaders meeting, Hugh later reconvened Parliament and ruled that it was correct. The Government was annoyed and proceeded to move a motion that the Speaker’s ruling was incorrect. Dr. N.M. Perera, who was the finance minister, even threatened Hugh Fernando with a possible no-confidence motion.Two Ministers D.S. Goonesekera and Michael Siriwardene invaded the Speaker’s chambers and attempted to threaten Hugh. When opposition leader Dudley Senanayake raised a point of order, the Speaker ruled that a Speaker’s decision cannot be questioned. Hugh Fernando later stated that this crisis made him subject to the worst ever strain in his life.
Dealing with the subject of the role and position of the Speaker, Dr. Perera reaffirms what was said by Erskine May in 1844 in his legendary work, “Treatise on the Law, Privilege, Proceedings and Usage of Parliament”. Not only that, taking into account of the developments that took place during the intervening period, The Speaker stands for the rights of the individual members, particularly the backbenchers, against ministers and the executive. He underlines the importance of the Speaker keeping out of party politics so that the office holder will be able to maintain a “dignified aloofness from factional squabbles”. -- Dr. Ranjith Amarasinghe, Professor of Political Science, University of Peradeniya: In his review of ‘Parliamentary Democracy: A Comparative Study of the English System’ by NM Perera. Persistent heckler in the house, the diminutive Stanley Tillekaratne,MP for Kotte was a LSSPer from his university days. Stanley became Speaker in 1970 when Sirimavo-led United Front (UF) won with a two-thirds majority, who had to maintain decorum in the House. Stanley as Speaker, was subjected to severe bullying by Dr. NM Perera in 1973. The Finance Minister warned him during the press takeover Bill. In fact his cabinet colleague Dr. Colvin R. de Silva made an emphatic statement that Parliament could get rid of the Speaker for “some reason, any reason or no reason at all”. Robert Gunawardene LSSP, once said referring to Stanley’s diminutive form that he didn’t possess the height of two oranges. (Dodan geta dekak vitharai usa!), for Stanley to retort “yes! if my oranges are squeezed you can have sufficient juice to bathe! However, Colvin, later told the Speaker Stanley Tillekeratne [who tried to be like Colvin in his youthful days and was labelled as ‘Pocket Colvin.’] “Mr. Speaker, we completely disagree with the ruling you have given but since it was from the Chair, we bow to it.” Those were the healthy days of parliament run by gentlemen.
- "N.M. Perera, who was the finance minister, even threatened Hugh Fernando with a possible no-confidence motion
- He struggled to establish the rights of the MPs of parliament throughout his career in the august house"
Dr. N. M. Perera was the first Leader of the Opposition of the parliament, he had to confront an unfriendly administration. Both as a member of the legislature and as a Minister, he continued to show an active interest in seeing that the proper procedures; strict adherence to rules, procedures and standing orders in the actual working of the parliamentary institutions.
Extract from a speech delivered by Prof. Vishva Warnapala says;--“It was Dr. N.M. Perera who, throughout his long career in Parliament, made a noteworthy contribution in getting the techniques available at Westminster adapted to the Sri Lankan system and it is this aspect which needs further discussion in order to show that it was he who, indefatigably, fought for the use and retention of techniques of parliamentary government…”
NM struggled to establish the rights of the members of parliament throughout his career in the august house. Dr. Perera made suggestions linked to the functions and responsibilities of the Speaker. He gives a historical viewpoint of the progress or evolution of the office of the Speaker arguing about the significance of holding on to confidence in the neutrality of the office holder, which is an indispensable state for the successful functioning of the conventions and procedures in the parliament. NM says, the Speaker must be impartial— and his neutrality should also be acknowledged as such by the members.
The inception of the office of Speaker can be traced back to 14th century England. Then the function of the Speaker was restricted to giving information to the King on parliament. A power struggle in the 16th century between the monarch and the Parliament resulted in strengthening the position.
We had 21 Speakers over the 71 years. Only on three occasions that we appointed Speakers from the opposition. Sir Albert Pieris held the position for seven years, and T.B. Subasinghe served the shortest period, just 24 days.Stanley, was the only one to have represented a Constituent Assembly, when the house converted itself into one for the purpose of formulating a new Constitution. Sir Francis Molamure set a world record by becoming State Council’s [Donoughmore Constitution] first Speaker, and under Soulbury Constitution and repeated it in 1947 in a contest as the first Speaker of the first House of Representatives too. On August 25, 1935 he resigned from parliament and went missing for a few years [imprisoned being convicted in private cheating case; the first to disgrace the Mace?] Molamure back in Parliament as Speaker once collapsed in the Chair and passed away a couple of days later on January 25, 1951. In 1981, both the President and PM had to attend the Royal wedding of Prince Charles and Diana. The then Speaker, Deshamanya Bakeer Markar for the first time in history, took oaths as acting Head of State. Honesty and sincerity won him respect.
Karu Jayasuriya, is the only Speaker in the parliamentary history of Sri Lanka, who faced the indignity of being reprimanded or rather threatened by a Prime Minister, while the house was in session; PM pointing his finger at the Chair, said, “I will have to remove you…” when the Speaker failed to fall in line with government’s thinking on a certain matter.
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