Good morning. My name is Julian Willock, the Speaker of the Fourth House of Assembly. I thank God for allowing me to be here with good health and strength.
I recognise the Honourable Premier Andrew A. Fahie and his Cabinet along with the two Junior Minsters and the Deputy Speaker designate, Leader of the Opposition - Hon Marlon A. Penn and other members of the Opposition, Deputy Governor David D. Archer, overseas visitors, and dignitaries, our friends from the United States Virgin Islands, my own family - my mother Mrs. Bernice Tobin is here, my son Chad, families of elected Members, the Clerk and staff of the Office of the House of Assembly, former elected Members of this august body, the wife of Member Emeritus Hon. Ralph T. O’Neal OBE, Reverend Edris O'Neal, Permanent Secretaries, Heads of Departments, including statutory Bodies, Chairpersons of Boards, Our new first lady Mrs. Sheila E. Forbes-Fahie, Captains of Industries, public officers, school children, teachers, residents from throughout the Territory, the media and those who are tuned in via social media, radio and TV.
I wish to personally thank Premier Hon Andrew Fahie and his entire team for the confidence reposed in me. I am aware you had a long list of choices- and options and even a long list of reasons why I should not have been Speaker, or maybe why I should be!
I am humbled and I take this post with no reservation. Just last night I went back to look at the history of Speakers worldwide, particularly the Westminster system of Governments and Speakers in the United Kingdom.
I note that as early as 1253, there were Speakers in the United Kingdom House of Commons and the role has evolved over some 700 years. In the early days the Speaker was put in place to part physical fights in parliament and sometime they took sides. Then over the years a Sergeant at Arms was hired as the person to help stop the physical fights, remove disorderly members and to protect the mace.
What I have also discovered is that in some 85% of Commonwealth Countries a Speaker is a sitting elected member of the ruling party, in others words, he or she would have ran with the party, won their seat and the majority gets the right to choose the Speaker.
Even in the United States of America the Speaker of the House is a sitting member of Congress who is decided on by the majority party, as well as the United Kingdom where the Conservatives now in power are the ones to nominate a Speaker, and the majority vote carries. The Opposition in the UK never puts forward a nominee for Speaker.
Our system is a bit different where a non-elected Member from outside is put forward by the government. However, since the birth of the 2007 Constitution in section 69, (3) a member could be elected from amongst the body.
I pledge that my tenure as Speaker will be fair, non-partisan and objective. I am aware that while the Opposition is in the minority, those districts that sent them to the House, deserve to be heard through their members and will be heard. Notwithstanding, I also have a duty to preside in a way where the government business is not unnecessarily frustrated, or undermined.
That balance is always a test for any Speaker.
Beyond the proceedings held in the Chambers, I wish to help elevate this House of Assembly to the Centre for good governance and working with both The Leader of Government Business Hon Fahie and the Leader of the Opposition Hon Penn to see that the Government’s legislative agenda is achieved.
Our House of Assembly, must return to a place where young boys and girls can aspire to be Ministers of Governments, Premiers and even Speakers.
While there are three branches of government, the legislative branch’s role must be taken seriously, and the Speaker and Members must serve with dignity, integrity and with utmost professionalism.
Working together we will ensure this House is not used under the privilege of immunity to engage in personal attacks against ordinary residents or businesses. The dignity of the House must not be compromised, or should the Chambers be used to victimize and be dismissive of Opposition Members.
Elected Members have a right to advocate, if residents and their constituencies are being mistreated by the powerful, they have a right to speak about ills in the Territory. As a matter of fact elected Members will be allowed and encourage to do so, and speak truth to power, however, they must do so while balancing their privilege not to be challenged in a court of law when speaking in the Chambers.
The security of House Members must also - Hon Premier and Leader of the Opposition - be high up on the agenda as in a few weeks you will be going through the budget exercises. Times have changed, our society has changed and we must take security in the modern Virgin Islands seriously, not just during Sittings of the House, but for the Premier and his Cabinet and Members of the Opposition.