Under the present parliamentary schedule distributed to MPs, only six days have been set aside for the debate on the motion of thanks for the Royal Address. As two of these six days are reserved for replies by Ministers, this means that there is only one day of debate left after the three-day debate on the motion from Tuesday to Thursday.
So far, however, only ten MPs have taken part in the debate, namely UMNO MP for Tambun Husni Hanadzlah who move the motion of thanks, the MCA MP for Kluang Hoo Seong Chang who seconded the motion and Parliamentary Opposition Leader Fadhil Noor, DAP Parliamentary leader Dr. Tan Seng Giaw, Lau Hoi Chew (SUPP - Sibu), Datuk Ruhanie Ahmad (UMNO - Parit Sulong), Datin Seri Dr Wan Azizah Ismail (Keadilan - Permatang Pauh), Wan Junaidi Tuanku Jaafar (PBB - Batang Lupar), Datuk Mohamad Aziz (UMNO - Sri Gading), P. Komala Devi (BN - Kapar) and Mustafa Ali (PAS - Dungun) who will continue his speech on Monday.
Apart from 66 elected MPs who are Ministers, Deputy Ministers and Parliamentary Secretaries, there are a total of 127 backbenchers from both Barisan Nasional and the Opposition ( 61 Barisan Nasional, 42 Barisan Alternative and 3 PBS) who, I presume, would all want to make their speeches in Parliament in the first general policy debate on the motion of thanks on the royal address. In any event, all the 45 Opposition MPs would definitely want to participate in the debate.
With nine MPs having spoken, It is clearly impossible to accommodate the remaining 118 MPs in the one day left for the debate for backbenchers on Monday, and it would be most unfair and undemocratic to impose too short a time for each MP to speak.
In the circumstances, the debate for the motion of thanks for the royal address should be extended by at least another three days so that there would be another four days of debate for the backbenchers before Ministers take two days to reply.
In the debate on the Royal Address in the ninth Parliament in April last year, more than eight days were set aside for debate (including two days for Ministerial winding-up).
Instead of slashing eight-day debate on the Royal Address last year to six days, it should be extended to nine or ten days as it would be the first policy debate of the newly-elected Parliament after the general election.
The argument that MPs who do not have the time to speak during the debate on the royal address motion could still speak in the debate on the 2000 Budget beginning on February 28, 2000 is not acceptable, as even with the extension of the motion for another three days, there would still be MPs who would not be able to get their chance to speak.
What is important is that MPs should not be treated like school-children and given ten minutes each to deliver their piece, but must be accorded the dignity and respect they are entitled as elected representatives of the people sent to Parliament with a specific mandate and responsibility to articulate the hopes and fears, anxieties and aspirations of the people - and there should be the minimal of restriction on MPs from having the opportunity to have their say in parliamentary debates.