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 Queen. The Governor-General represents the Queen in Parliament, and his role is a formal one. Once a year, at the official opening of Parliament, he delivers the “Throne Speech”. Beyond this, his parliamentary function is limited to his 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 21 Senators. Thirteen Senators are appointed by the Governor-General on the advice of the Prime Minister. The other eight 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.
The House of Representatives may consist of 60 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. The House of Representatives has control over the Government’s finances. Funds cannot be granted nor taxation levied without the approval of the House.
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 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.
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.
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 a Law is next.