The Jamaican Parliament consists of two Houses – the Senate, also called the Upper House, and the House of Representatives, also known as the Lower House – and the British Monarch. The Governor-General represents the Monarch in Parliament. Once a year, at the official opening of Parliament, the Governor-General delivers the “Throne Speech”. Beyond this, his/her parliamentary function is limited to his/her formal assent to Bills passed by the two Houses of Parliament.
The maximum life of a Parliament is five years, at the end of which Parliament must be dissolved and a general election held. However, the Prime Minister may advise the Governor-General to dissolve Parliament at any time within the five years and name a date for a general election. Also, Parliament must be dissolved and a general election held, if a majority of all the members of the House of Representatives supports a no-confidence motion against the Government.
The Senate is a nominated House made up of twenty-one (21) Senators. Thirteen (13) Senators are appointed by the Governor-General on the advice of the Prime Minister. The other eight (8) are appointed on the advice of the Leader of the Opposition.
Not more than four Ministers can be appointed from the Senate, and they may have portfolio responsibilities. The Senate usually functions as a review chamber, considering Bills passed by the House of Representatives. But the Senate may also initiate legislation, except money Bills. It cannot delay money Bills for more than one month nor any other Bill for more than seven months.
At the first meeting of a newly appointed Senate, or when there is a vacancy, Senators elect a President and a Deputy President. A Minister or Parliamentary Secretary may not hold office as President or Deputy President.
House of Representatives
The House of Representatives may consist of 63 members (the maximum allowed by the Constitution), elected by single-member constituencies on the first-past-the-post basis. The Government in power can only exist if it has the support of the majority of the members of the House of Representatives. In practice, most Bills are initiated in the House of Representatives. No Bill may become law unless it is passed by a majority of the members present in the House. The quorum of the House is 16 in addition to the person presiding. The House of Representatives has control over the Government’s finances. Funds cannot be granted nor taxation levied without the approval of the House.
The Speaker of the House is formally elected by the members of the House of Representatives from among their number, at the first sitting after each general election or when there is a vacancy. Although the Speaker is usually a member of the ruling party, a minority party member may be chosen. The Speaker rarely takes part in debates. His job is to see that other members keep within the rules of the House, that the rights of the Opposition members are protected, and that every member gets a fair hearing.
Leader of the House
The Leader of the House of Representatives is responsible for the direction of business in the House. It is his job to see that time is provided for debate on various matters in the House. In doing so, the Leader of the House consults the Opposition and seeks to reach agreement as to what business will be done in the House each day.
Members of Parliament
Any Commonwealth citizen 21 years or older, who has been domiciled in Jamaica for the 12 months preceding an election, may become a member of the House of Representatives if elected. Among those who may not become members of the legislature are members of the defence force, persons serving a foreign government, judges of the Supreme Court or Court of Appeal, and, persons holding or acting in public offices.
How a Bill Becomes Law
A Bill is an act of Parliament in draft, and no Bill can become law until it is approved by the Houses of Parliament and receives the formal assent of the Governor-General. Bills may be introduced in either the House of Representatives or the Senate, but no Bill involving finance can be first introduced in the Senate. “Public Bills”, designed to give effect to Government policy, are introduced by Ministers or other officers of the Government. “Private Members’ Bills” are introduced by any other member of the House, whether of the governing party or the Opposition. After a Bill has been introduced in the House, it must pass through several stages, known as “readings”.
At “first reading” no debate on the Bill is allowed. The “short title” of the Bill is read by the Clerk of the House, the Bill is ordered to be printed and a day is appointed by the member in charge of the Bill for “second reading”.
The Bill is debated fully at the “second reading”. At the end of the debate a vote is taken.
If the Bill passes its second reading, it moves on to the “committee stage”. This committee comprises the whole House unless the House refers the Bill to a “Select Committee”. At this point, the Bill is considered in very close detail. Every clause is carefully examined, and amendments to the Bill may then be moved and voted upon. A Bill may not be rejected during the committee stage, as this power is reserved for the House.
After the committee stage, there is the “report stage”, when the Speaker reports what has happened to the Bill in committee, whether there have been amendments or not.
No amendments of a substantial nature may be made at the “third reading”; a Bill may be accepted or rejected by means of a vote. When a Bill is first passed by the House of Representatives, it is sent to the Senate, where it goes through the same procedure as one which originated in the “Lower House”.
If the Senate disagrees with any aspect of the Bill and makes an amendment, the Bill is sent back to the House of Representatives for consideration. If the House disagrees with the Senate’s amendment, it informs the Senate, which is then asked to reconsider the Bill.
When an agreement is reached and the Bill has been passed through all its stages in both Houses, it requires only the Royal Assent to make it law. The Royal Assent is given by the Governor-General.
Money Bills, which may be initiated only in the House of Representatives, deal with any aspect of the Government’s finance, such as taxation, loans and audit of accounts.
The procedure for money Bills differs from that for ordinary Bills. The revenue and expenditure are settled in the following way. Government Ministers put forward resolutions stating what money will be spent and how. These estimates are debated by the House in committee. When the various resolutions have been agreed to, they are incorporated into Bills, which are passed in the usual way.