The confrontation happened after government legislator Neville ‘Sheep’ Smith made a snide remark about the Opposition Leader. Penn sought to interrupt Smith with a point-of-information but Smith told the House he would not yield for Penn to make his point.
Willock sided with Smith so, towards the end of the sitting, Penn accosted the Speaker for his perceived one-sidedness, which has become a recurring complaint from members of the Opposition.
“We cannot continue to seem to attempt to shut down the Opposition from speaking in this Honourable House,” Penn stated.
He further told Willock: “I want you to be consistent, Mr Speaker, when you’re applying the rules … [they] [can]not just be rules for one set of members in this House.”
“You have not been fair and the public could see that as well, Mr Speaker,” Penn added.
Willock fired back stating that he rejected Penn’s assertion of him being biased and inconsistent in his role as Speaker.
Further defending his decision to side with Smith who is also his Deputy Speaker, Willock cited a section of the Standing Orders — the rules that govern the HOA.
“Standing Order 37(b) speaks to if a member is unwilling to yield then he continues speaking unless the Speaker recognises the other person … Days ago you accused us of making up the rules as we go. So now we are sticking to the rules and you still have an issue.”
“Leader of the Opposition, I have ensured in this House — and you will agree if you’re honest — that the rules always apply to everyone,” Willock further said.
But Penn took umbrage to the Speaker’s use of the phrase “if you’re honest”, arguing that the tone of the phrase was malicious. He further said the tone resembles that of “particular websites in this country”.
Penn did not specify the websites to which he was referring or whether they included Willock’s own news website, Virgin Islands News Online.
Opposition legislator Mark Vanterpool — who describes himself as a senior member and statesman of the House — later interjected and said his experience is that a Speaker usually allows any person who raises a point-of-information to speak even if another person who was already speaking refuses to yield.
Vanterpool further said he does not want a precedent to be set whereby a person who has a point-of-information is disallowed to speak because another member refuses to yield.