The Parliament of Barbados is the national legislature of Barbados. It is accorded legislative supremacy by Chapter V of the Constitution of Barbados. The Parliament is bicameral in composition and is formally made up of: Elizabeth II, Queen of Barbados (represented by the Governor-General), an appointed Senate (Upper house), and an elected House of Assembly (Lower house). Both houses sit in separate chambers in the Parliament Buildings (commonly known as "The Public Buildings"), in the national capital Bridgetown in Saint Michael.
The Senate is made up of twenty-one Senators, while the House consists of thirty Members of Parliament (MPs) in addition to the Honourable Speaker of the House. Members to serve in the Cabinet of Barbados may be chosen by the Prime Minister from either the House of Assembly or Senate, (the Prime Minister alone who must be chosen by the Governor-General must come from the House of Assembly.)
In theory, supreme legislative power is vested in the Queen-in-Parliament; in practice during modern times, real power is vested in the House of Assembly, as the Governor-General generally acts on the advice of the Prime Minister and the powers of the Senate have been limited.
Sittings of both House and Senate are usually held once per month, with other meetings called as necessary. The House sits on Tuesdays beginning at 10:30am, and are broadcast live on the local radio station, Quality 100.7 FM. Sittings of the Senate take place on Wednesdays.
The Parliament of Barbados is the third oldest legislature in the Americas (behind The Virginia House of Burgesses, and Bermuda House of Assembly), and is among the oldest in the Commonwealth of Nations.
The genesis of a legislature in Barbados was introduced by Governor Henry Hawley, creating a structure of governance to Barbados, itself patterned after the Parliament of England). The then unicameral Parliament originally was tasked with establishing a system of laws and was completely under the domination of the island's planter-class. The first meeting of the Barbados Assembly was held in 1639.
The initial location known as the "Sessions House" which was situated in the Marlhill, which is now known as Spry Street. Built by Captain Henry Hawley, the building may have originally accommodated his Courts of Law. (On 25 June 1989, a monument was unveiled to commemorate the site outside of the current Central Bank.)
By 1653, the Assembly moved to the State House then located in Bridgetown area known as Cheapside (then encompassing Broad Street). In 1668 the State House was destroyed by a great fire started by an explosion of the Bridgetown military magazine. Over the next century, the colony’s elected officials assembled at various locations all over Bridgetown, which were rented taverns and homes of local merchants and landlords. The Roebuck Tavern located on Roebuck Street was a favourite assembly point and was also owned by Henry Hawley. The movement of the Assembly among the various taverns in the town eventually presented an irony for the thriving colony. Governor Atkins, who was attending a meeting at Gwynn’s Tavern in 1674 commented, "I must confess I am a little astonished to see so honourable an Assembly to meet in a place so considerable as the island is, and have no house to receive us but a public tavern" (TOB 71). For many years the Barbados Assembly continued to meet in various places. In 1724 an Act was passed providing for a building for the Council and Assembly, Law Courts and gaol. The building located on Coleridge Street was completed in 1731-1732, yet the House of Assembly still often met at times at different private houses and taverns. The current Parliament Buildings were built in the neo-Gothic style in the early 1870s on the site of what was known as the "New Burnt District", which was part of a 10-acre area in the town that was destroyed by the great fire in 1860.
The Parliament of Barbados in its current form was first introduced following the 1961 general elections. In 1963 the colonial era Legislative Council was disestablished. In its place came the Senate in 1964 (due to Barbados' status as a colony of Great Britain). As the years went by, governance in Barbados continued to change in structure until both of the present chambers assumed their present numbers.
"BE IT ENACTED by the Queen's Most Excellent Majesty, by and with the advice and consent of the Senate and House of Assembly of Barbados and by the authority of the same as follows:-"
"ENACTED by the Parliament of Barbados as follows:-"
The next general election in Barbados is constitutionally due on 14 May 2018 with the countdown of 63 days from 11 March to 14 May 2018. According to the Constitution of Barbados elections can take place no longer than every five years from the first sitting of Parliament. The last general election was held on 21 February 2013.
The Constitution of Barbados also establishes that at any time before this date the Government in power may seek a new mandate from the electorate and may ask for the current sitting of Parliament be dissolved by the Governor General and allow for the announcement of a new date for General elections. The Governor General of Barbados may also announce a new date of General elections should the Prime Minister in power not survive a vote of no confidence motion.
The English settlers on Barbados consciously sought to replicate the ways of their homeland, to make their Caribbean colony truly English.
Barbados’ Parliament, which postdates that of Britain and Bermuda could not then be the third oldest. Perhaps Barbados might take a leaf from Bermuda’s book and describe our Parliament not as the third oldest in the world or the third oldest in the Commonwealth, but truthfully as "the oldest continuous Parliament of an independent Commonwealth country outside the British Isles".
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