Forum of the World's Senates
Meeting of the Senates of the World
14 march 2000
CHAIRMAN MR. CHRISTIAN PONCELET
President of the Senate of the French Republic
The Meeting of the Senates of the World opened at 9 :05 am
CHAIRMAN - In these few words welcoming you to the Senate of the French Republic I cannot fail to be moved, because it is the first time in the history of parliaments that presidents of second chambers have met to discuss bicameralism. Moreover, it is taking place in a year that has great symbolism in itself.
It is also moving to see the number and quality of the delegations who have accepted this invitation, despite the great distances involved for many of you, and despite the shortness of our session. A single day is clearly not enough to debate on our common problems, the present situation and the prospects for bicameralism on the eve of the third millennium.
What do we have in common? We belong to institutions whose number and influence show how vital they are. In 1970, there were 45 of us, today there are some 70, and in a few years there will most certainly be over 80. Another thing which characterises second chambers is their great diversity of composition and functions. Diversity is inherent in bicameralism, since second chambers reflect the social and political realities of their countries. While first chambers everywhere are always elected in more-or-less the same way and have the same functions, second chambers are not tied to an abstract model. They can diversify representation and take better account of the way the society in each State operates. In our present climate of globalisation, this respect for diversity is of special significance.
The purpose of bicameralism is, of course, to avoid the confrontation between the executive and a single assembly, in other words, to avoid confusing the parliament with the government in parliamentary régimes dominated by the will of the majority, without a separate body as a counterweight. It also guarantees a second hearing of proposed legislation, by offering a different, thought-provoking view. Another object is to ensure that debates are public, by allowing public opinion to be involved in policy issues. In a word, bicameralism is the very bulwark of democracy.
There are of course many other functions, whether transitional or permanent. Among the transitional functions, I would mention the possibility of integrating social categories likely to contest it into a process of democratisation. Furthermore, by taking account of national realities, bicameralism allows a democratic model sometimes perceived as artificially imported or imitated to be integrated. The permanent functions I would like to mention include representation of federated States in a federal system, improving the legislative process, representation of local and regional authorities, as is the case in France, and compliance with the principle of separation of powers.
I feel that two features are of the greatest importance.
Bicameralism does not mean rivalry with the first chamber. If it is to complement the other chamber, it must strengthen, not weaken it; it must diversify powers, not amputate them. The purpose of bicameralism is not confrontation, but resolution of conflicts, as can be seen in Cambodia, or in the planned second chambers in Georgia and Lebanon.
There is nothing surprising about the relevance and the vitality of bicameralism. They stem from its usefulness, because it is a factor for balance, and Nations and people are thirsting for such balance. A bicameral system is the only one suited to complex societies, whether the complexity is ancient or results from modern development. Its flexibility and evolutionary character make it the only system that is capable of coping with these complexities and ensuring a successful shift from one to the other.
So yes, bicameralism is an idea for the future and we must do everything to strengthen and promote it. This is the message I wish to bring to you and submit to Dr Najma Heptulla, our colleague from the Indian Senate, who is also the President of the Council of the Inter-Parliamentary Union.
We are starting a process of discussion that can only benefit the people, the territories and the communities that we represent, and deepen the relationships between our assemblies. How will the process unfold? It is up to each of us to make suggestions. You can be sure, in any event, that by coming in such great numbers, you have created the impetus for this process and, in the name of all my colleagues in the Senate of the French Republic and in my own name, I would like to thank you.
Bicameralism: diversification and improvement of representation
Chairman - Let us move on to the first debate on bicameralism in the forum: diversification and improvement of representation. Two subjects will be considered: territorial representation and community representation.
Mr. Geraldo José de MELO, Vice-President of the Federal Senate of Brazil (Applause) - I cannot conceal my emotion, addressing you in these historic surroundings where I have the honour of representing my country. My mind goes back to the humble house in Natal where I spent my childhood overlooking the ocean, in the state of Rio Grande do Norte. My father had a lifelong passion for France and for the French language, since the moment when he welcomed the first aviators who had come from France to build a bridge in the sky across the South Atlantic. The companions of Mermoz and Saint-Exupéry, they were men whose daily work was the stuff of legend, full of daring, adventure and poetry. It was with those aviators that I learnt my first words of French, and here I am today, speaking in the Senate of the French Republic...
On behalf of my colleagues in the Brazilian Senate, my rôle is to speak for my people at this great event taking place at a key moment in human history. Defenders of bicameralism and supporters of a single-chamber system alike must take account of the rapid advances in technology and the far-reaching changes that are transforming our ways and customs by offering new possibilities of communication. These changes call for bold reform, but that does not mean we should abandon the expression of pluralism enshrined in and guaranteed by parliamentary systems. It is for politicians to find the ways and means for parliamentary institutions to address the new requirements while preserving individual freedom. Those institutions must reflect the tensions inherent in society, not giving way to pressure or circumstance but maintaining a certain balance. That has been the rôle of the Senate since Brazil became independent.
I should like at this point to refer to Brazil's history. Having become independent in 1822, the Empire of Brazil adopted an initial Constitution in 1824 with a bicameral Parliament instituted by Dom Pedro I. While the method of nomination and the Senate's powers were not the same then as they are now, the chamber has played an essential part in Brazil's political achievements over the last two hundred years. Brazil has preserved its territorial and linguistic unity. A country of 8 million square kilometres with 160 million inhabitants of different origins has managed to live in peace and to speak the same language, within borders recognised by its neighbours, without being undermined by separatist movements. This achievement has been the result of deliberate and determined action by politicians of all sides.
A number of fears were expressed when the Republic was established in 1889, particularly about the unity of a young nation that was in the process of becoming a federation of states. As the eminent lawyer Rui Barbosa - who was also an eminent Senator - said at the time, "if the first acts of Congress do not show that it wishes to preserve the unity of this great country, the Republic will have been the most wrenching of disappointments". If Brazil's national unity has survived all the country's troubles and crises, it is partly due to the role played by the Senate in preserving internal equilibrium.
It is now more necessary than ever to preserve the existence of the Senate, given the concentration of the population in the south and south east of the country, just as it is vital to achieve a better distribution of national wealth. For example, the State of São Paolo - one of the twenty-seven states in the federation - accounts for 50% of national income and 40% of the population. It has 80 representatives in the Chamber of Deputies, while eleven states have only eleven representatives. These poorer states have legitimate claims, but a better distribution of wealth is difficult if they have no real voice in the Chamber.
The balance is struck in a federal Senate where territorial representation is ensured by the presence of three Senators for each State: true bicameralism forestalls many an excess. Either chamber may put forward legislation and each can amend the other's proposals. The Senate also has a number of specific and exclusive powers: for example, it approves the appointment of certain officers such as the Public Prosecutor of the Republic, the president of the central bank and other institutions, and ambassadors. Other Senate prerogatives include authorising Federal Union, State and municipal debt and ratifying international agreements and treaties. The Senate has the sole right to try the President and Vice-President of the Republic.
Membership of the Brazilian Senate is renewed every four years (one third and two thirds of the members alternately), allowing the chamber to go about its work less subject to electoral pressures. The Senate acts as a curb on the immediate impulses of representatives of the elected majority. As Mr. Poncelet has already emphasised, this moderating influence is doubtless why the number of countries with a bicameral system has risen from forty to sixty in recent years.
Despite its imperfections, a bicameral system is the one best suited to preserving national unity while respecting the plurality of the population. It is doubtless at times of uncertainty that we act as a key factor in preserving freedom: it is a challenge that we must all meet. (Applause).
Mr Bachir BOUMAZA, President of the National Council of Algeria - I should start by expressing my wholehearted thanks to President Poncelet for his warm hospitality. I would also like to congratulate him for this excellent initiative of bringing us together to discuss one of the major themes of democracy: the bicameral system. I am convinced that our work will be successful and serve as a starting point for in-depth consideration of the way our institutions operate. In the name of the Algerian delegation, I shall present the origins of bicameralism in Algeria.
The National Council was born out of the 1989 revision of the constitution, which came into force in 1996. The circumstances were exceptional. Violence was disturbing the workings of the Republic, threatening institutional structures and jeopardising our nascent democracy. However, the idea of establishing a second chamber was not seen merely as a means of coping with the crisis. It was primarily the result of domestic and international developments.
At the domestic level, changes in Algeria's political system, with the shift from "revolutionary" to "institutional" legitimacy and the consecration of the rule of law, paved the way for opinions to be expressed within a pluralistic framework. A single chamber elected through direct universal suffrage with fully proportional representation can become turbulent and give rise to brinkmanship, especially in the early days of a democracy. Against the background of the crisis experienced by Algeria, the need was felt to establish a source of stability and balance to ensure the future of the Republican State and democracy. One of the reasons for establishing the National Council of Algeria in 1996 - like France's own Council of the Republic in the past - was to ensure balance and stability. With a multi-party system replacing the single-party system, bicameralism has improved the parliamentary system.
At the international level, the creation of the National Council is part of a global trend towards bicameralism. In Europe, most of the States in the European Union have a second chamber, which is the expression of an advanced democracy and the guarantor of balance and stability. In Africa, there is also a general trend towards establishing a second chamber, as the reforms under way in many countries have shown. Immediately after gaining their independence, the drafters of African constitutions were not tempted by bicameral systems, partly because of their determination to centralise political power (since we inherited some of France's Jacobinism) and above all because of the importance given to representation of the population. Today, the establishment of a second chamber is part of the process of democratising political systems. Even though the representative nature of the second chamber is often questioned, the National Council of Algeria ensures representation for all and enhances the legitimacy of institutions in a country where political parties have weak structures, where pluralism is a new experience and where historical and cultural distinctions are strong.
The National Council provides broad territorial representation. Two thirds of its members are elected by the members of the communal and popular assemblies of the Wilaya, which are our prefectures. Each Wilaya sends two representatives. A country is not merely the reflection of its people, but of both its population and its territory. A former President of the Senate put it very aptly: "While the National Assembly reflects the demographics of the country, the Senate reflects its land and its geography." Algeria's vast size, the diversity of its territory and the uneven geographical distribution of its population mean that the National Council gives all of the local communities a chance to express themselves. It is the link between local authorities and central government. Its composition reflects the constitutional meaning of decentralisation, which is defined as "a means for citizens to participate in the management of public affairs".
Each of the forty-eight Wilaya sends two delegates. Some of the Wilaya are as large as France, but have only thirty-six thousand inhabitants, whereas several million people live in the Algiers region. This is both a way of offsetting rule by the greatest number and a way of compensating for the country that nature has given us, with its vast territory and uneven distribution of resources.
The National Council takes part in the legislative process and in the different phases of law-making, even though bills are not brought directly before it. The composition of its membership means that it provides an answer to the growing technical complexity of issues as well as ensuring the required "professional" approach to parliamentary business, so often dominated by ideological, or even narrowly partisan, debate.
The President of the Republic appoints one third of the National Council members from amongst qualified persons. Their competence and independence make a great contribution to the quality of legislative work.
Bills must be adopted by three-quarters of the members of the National Council in order to become law. Its power to block legislation is primarily theoretical. In fact, the National Council must avoid two major pitfalls in its legislative work: merely rubber-stamping legislation and engaging in systematic obstruction. It must be "neither a conduit or a dam".
The National Council plays an important role in supervising government action, particularly with regard to the use of budget allocations. The Constitution also gives it the power to instigate commissions of enquiry into matters of general interest.
The National Council is also part of the constitutional machinery and monitors compliance with the Constitution. In this capacity, it verifies that legislation is consistent with the Constitution by virtue of its President's power to refer matters to the Constitutional Council, where it sits as of right by electing two of its members, and by its role in the process of amending the Constitution. The National Council helps to maintain the Constitution and to safeguard the future of the State. If the President of the Republic is incapacitated, the President of the National Council, who is the country's second-ranking official, serves in the interim. The President of the National Council must be consulted before the declaration of a state of emergency, a state of exception or a declaration of war.
This shows that the National Council, in its capacity as the second chamber, is not "one body too many" in the constitutional scheme, nor is it a "counterweight" intended to block the will of the majority in the National Assembly. Mr President, you were right to remind us that the second chamber is not the adversary of the first!
In spite of the difficulties, the National Council plays a key role: "wisdom and balance can be reconciled with imagination and modernity". Detailed documentation about this institution is available. No doubt the National Council can be improved, but it is in tune with the changes taking place in Algeria and around the world. It is the guardian of the constitutional temple.
I would like to say how much I appreciate the opportunity this forum has given us to meet, to get acquainted and to share our experiences. I wish it the greatest success! (Applause).
Representation of local and regional authorities
Mr. Brian MULLOOLY, Cathaoirleach Seanad Eireann (Chairperson of the Irish Senate) -(Applause)
- I wish to thank the Chairman of the French Senate for organising this debate, as well as for his welcome and hospitality.
In this brief speech, I will describe the importance of the Irish Senate's role.
The Irish constitution was promulgated on July 1st, 1937 ; in Article 15 it provides that the Parliament shall consist of a President and two houses : the Dail Eireann (House of Representatives) and the Seanad Eireann (Senate). The Constitution provides that no person may be a member of both Houses at the same time.
Whenever there is a General Election to the Dail Eireann, there must also be a General Election to the Seanad Eireann within 90 days. At its first meeting, the Seanad Eireann elects a Cathaoirleach (Chairperson) to preside impartially over the proceedings of the House.
Paradoxically, the Seanad is more community representative than the Dail. Representatives are elected by the people on the system of proportional representation in 42 constituencies, each of which returns between three and five members. The current membership of Dail Eireann is 166. Senators do not represent territorial constituencies and are not directly elected by the people. The Constitution provides that the Seanad shall be composed of 60 members, of whom 49 are elected and 11 appointed by the Taoisieach (Prime Minister). Traditionally, these eleven senators are mostly practising politicians, but they may also include representatives of voluntary organisations or minorities.
Six of the 49 elected members are elected by the graduates of Ireland's two oldest universities (three for the National University of Ireland and three for Dublin University, better known as Trinity College. Generally, these senators are not active members of political parties.
The other 43 senators are elected from five panels of candidates : the Cultural and Educational Panel, five Senators ; the Agricultural Panel, eleven Senators ; the Labour Panel, eleven Senators - I have myself been elected from this panel in every Seanad election since 1981 ; the Industrial and Commercial Panel, returning nine Senators ; and finally, the Administrative Panel , 7 Senators. In each of these panels, the candidates are elected by proportional representation.
Each Panel is divided into two sub-panels, which are called the Oireachtas and Nominating Bodies sub-panels ; a minimum number of candidates must be elected from each.
Given the system of nomination, many candidates fail to secure a nomination, and then those who are nominated must contest the election. In 1997, 118 candidates contested 43 seats. Since the vast majority of Seanad electors are members of political parties, the candidates are mostly elected along party lines. This is not precisely what was intended by those who in 1937 saw the Seanad as a vocational chamber. However, the interests of the five sectors have been well represented in the Seanad. First of all, most electors are members of local authorities and must serve the interest of the communities they represent. As for the Senators who are not local authority members, they remain in close contact with their electorate and with the issues affecting them.
Membership of Seanad Eireann provides Senators with a national platform for raising matters of local concern, using various procedural methods. Any question of local importance, such as financing a project, may be debated and voted in the House. Senators may also raise questions of local importance through Private Members' Motions. Each week, one motion of this type is discussed for two hours in plenary session, in the presence of the Minister concerned. Finally, the Senators may raise matters of general concern at very short notice, to which a written answer is given by the Minister.
The link thus established with local democracy enhances the image of the Seanad and strengthens its role as representative of the community. It ensures that Senators are aware of the aspirations of the electorate at local level, and allows even the most marginal groups to be heard at national level.
If the current project to preclude Seanad members from holding office as elected members of local authorities is implemented, the present electoral system would continue to ensure that politics, even at Senatorial level, is simply another name for structured community representation.
CHAIRMANSHIP OF Mr. JEAN FAURE
Vice-President of the French Senate
CHAIRMAN - I shall now open the debate to delegates that wish to speak.
Mr. Andrès ZALDIVAR LARRAIN, President of the Chilean Senate - I congratulate the French Senate for taking the initiative of bringing us together to discuss our role in the 21st century. We all wish democracy to work properly, unlike in the 20th century, when numerous dictatorships were established, not least on our continent. Bicameralism is the best way of getting the parliamentary system to work better.
In addition to its legislative duties, the Chilean Senate seeks to forestall conflict and achieve consensus. It also has specific competence in the nomination and judgment of certain State authorities. However, there is room for doubt, bearing in mind that alongside the 36 senators, half of whom are subject to re-election every four years, there are a number of senators for life, including General Pinochet. Once exiled by his government, I am now obliged, as President of the Senate, to give him the floor! Representing the population, senators should be elected by the population, by direct or indirect suffrage. At the present time, in order to pass certain legislation, we need a majority that in some cases requires the support of Senators for life.
This raises the question of how to constitute the Senate so that bicameralism strengthens democracy. My answer is by election. (Applause)
Mr. Boubou Farba DIENG, President of the Mauritanian Senate - I thank the French Senate for offering us this historic opportunity of meeting each other to discuss the future of our institutions and to work on bringing our peoples closer together. This Forum meets an obvious need.
The Mauritanian Senate created by the Constitution of 20 July 1991 represents local authorities. I shall go into greater detail this afternoon.
To all my African colleagues I suggest the organisation of a Forum of African Senates to share our experiences and look to the future together. I invite all those who are interested to contact me. (Applause)
Mr. Taher MASRI, Jordanian Senator - I thank the French Senate for taking the initiative of bringing us together to help us get to know each other and to support the principle of bicameralism.
There could be no better place to hold this meeting than Paris, the capital of culture and democracy.
Since independence, the upper chamber of the Jordanian parliament has served the cause of democracy and pluralism. To be sure, its members are appointed by the King, but they are perfectly representative of the country's economic, political and social make-up. The Jordanian Senate fully plays its constitutional role, even if it has fewer powers than the lower house. In addition, the Supreme Court, whose role is to interpret the Constitution and if necessary to try members of the government, is composed of senators.
As well as preserving institutional stability, bicameralism in Jordan ensures that the population is properly represented and that decisions are taken in a considered and reasonable manner. We find the system satisfactory and we hope that it will be taken up by the world's other democracies. (Applause)
Mr. Mohamed Jalal ESSAID, President of the Chamber of Councillors of Morocco - I warmly thank all the speakers for their remarks, which will strengthen all those who believe in bicameralism. Emphasis has been placed on the aspect that is at the very origin of the bicameral system, namely representation of territorial units, minorities and communities. But there is more to bicameralism than that: in Morocco, two fifths of the members of the Chamber of Councillors, as the Senate is called, represent socio-economic categories, what the late King called "those who ensure that Moroccans can eat", that is to say the productive economy, representatives of the professional chambers and of labour organisations. (Applause)
Mr. Moussa SANOGO, Chairman of the Chamber of Representatives of Burkina Faso - The contributions by the representatives of Brazil, Algeria and Ireland have shown us different functions of Senates. How can we ensure that second chambers play their full role in deepening and strengthening democracy? The question of national unity is central to the debate. The issues should be considered bearing this in mind, so that representation can be extended to religious, customary and ethnic movements. I shall talk to you about my country's experience this afternoon. (Applause)
Mr. Abdelaziz ABDELGHANI, President of the Consultative Council of Yemen - I thank the French Senate for its invitation and welcome its initiative. The Yemen Senate was created in 1994: all the country's governorates and parties are represented. It participates in law-making. The bicameral system is essential to strengthening democracy and developing the political pluralism to which my country is strongly attached. Our efforts must help to extend the Senate's prerogatives and encourage the widest possible popular participation in the decision-taking process. (Applause)
Mrs Françoise SAUDAN, First Vice-President of the Swiss Council of States - I thank the French Senate for giving us this opportunity to discuss a subject that is vital for the future of democracy. Switzerland is a good example. Both chambers are elected in a completely different way and meet separately, but they have the same responsibilities and the same powers. The system is a response to political, historical and geographical imperatives. Local authorities have an important part to play in our very particular system of semi-direct democracy. We also have to ensure the coexistence of cantons of different size, albeit with the same powers, four national languages and several religions. The gravitational force exercised by Lombardy on Tessin and by the Rhône-Alpes region on the canton of Geneva, and the development of cross-border cooperation in the canton of Basle, highlight the challenge of regional integration, a challenge that we will have to meet in the future. (Applause)
Mr. Mohammad MOHASIN, President of the National Council of Nepal - I should like to address my respects to the Senate of the French Republic, which had the auspicious idea of organising this conference at the dawn of a new era, and I should like to express the thanks of our delegation for its hospitality.
The Nepalese Constitution provides for a bicameral system, but Nepalese society still needs proper representation. The electoral system still contains an element of discrimination which marginalises the poorest members of society, since only the well-off take part in elections. Both the Senate and the National Assembly should be reformed, and the exchanges taking place today can but help my country to improve the way in which its two houses work, by finding a balance that is satisfactory to all. A consensus needs to be reached in our upper house, and I hope that this Forum will help us to approach the issues from a new angle. I am delighted to be taking part in such an in-depth discussion and, on behalf of the Nepalese delegation, I thank the President of the Senate and all the Senators present here today for the excellent organisation of this event. (Applause)
Mr. Ramon ALBUQUERQUE, President of the Senate of the Dominican Republic - I thank the Senate of the French Republic for organising this historic meeting, which is bound to strengthen bicameralism throughout the world. I should like to give a brief description of the reforms that have made it possible to improve the democratic system of the Dominican Republic, a Caribbean country with 8 million inhabitants. It has a bicameral system. The Senate has thirty members, one for each of the twenty-nine provinces and one for the national district. Senators and deputies are subject to re-election every four years, which may have the drawback for the Senate of a total renewal of its membership. In 1984, a major reform withdrew the responsibility for electing judges from the Senate and created a High Council of the Judiciary. Mr. Ray Guevara, Senator for Samana province, who is here today, was one of the instigators of the reform. The High Council now comprises the President of the Senate and an opposition Senator, the President of the Chamber of Deputies, a deputy from a different party and two Supreme Court judges.
In addition, we have recently adopted a bill which reserves 33 per cent of elected positions for women, since men currently predominate in political life. The target was 40 per cent in the initial draft of the bill and we hope to achieve parity one day. We have also separated presidential, parliamentary and municipal elections, ensuring genuine representation in the provinces and in local authorities. The President of the Republic still has very wide powers, especially in budget matters, and we would like Congress to have more responsibilities, especially in the control of public spending. The Senate has many duties, including Presidency of the National Assembly - constituted by a joint session of both houses -, giving it a certain pre-eminence in relation to the Chamber of Deputies. In the future, we wish to establish a genuine bicameral system, as the guarantor of a strong democracy.
CHAIRMANSHIP OF MR. PAUL GIROD
Vice-President of the French Senate
Functional characteristics of bicameralism
CHAIRMAN - We shall now move into the second debate in the Meeting, devoted to the functional particularities of bicameralism. We will tackle three topics successively : first, the role of stabilisation and conciliation, then the role in protection and stability of legal norms, and finally, improvement of legislative production.
The role of stabilisiation and conciliation
HRH Prince Chivan Monirak SISOWATH, First Vice President of the Cambodian Senate - On behalf of the President of the Cambodian Senate, His Excellency Samdech Chea Sim, I am particularly pleased to be able to bring you the warm greetings of the Cambodian Senators. My sixty colleaugues and I wish to express our deep gratitude to you.
First of all I am overjoyed to see my country's Senate taking part in the dialogue among Senates of the world. The magnificent event which has brought us together today gives us the opportunity to express our gratitude for your generous assistance in the re-birth of our institution, and even more, in the re-birth of Cambodian society itself, which as you know has undergone untold suffering in recent years.
Because this meeting is taking place in France, Cambodia's old and trusted friend, I wish to offer the French Senators the most cordial thanks from its humble Cambodian counterpart for this welcome and the perfect organisation of the day.
Cambodians today are more than ever inspired by the noble maxim proclaimed by H.M King Norodom Sihanouk Varman : " Cambodians help themselves ". Hungering for peace, they have chosen me to express their gratitude for the precious, unswerving friendship of France, and they are counting on continued support in strengthening the rule of law.
The re-birth of the Cambodian Senate has been a stabilising factor in the balance of power between the legislative and the executive branches, and has contributed to strengthening democracy. Today, this assembly has an essential role in the legislative process, since it examines the bills adopted at the first reading by the National Assembly and may propose amendments which will be returned to the lower house for a second reading, before final adoption.
In this chamber, in which so many illustrious Senators sit or have sat, it is as a humble newcomer that I wish to describe the role of our Senate, its youthful past, its active present, and its encouraging prospects for the future. The Cambodian Senate, it should be remembered, was re-created by royal decree on March 8th, 1999, promulgating the Constitutional Review dated 1993, and its first session was held on March 25th, 1999.
Re-created is indeed the appropriate term, since a bicameral Parliament, known as the " Council of the Kingdom ", had already been formed under the aegis of HM Norodom Sihanouk Varman in 1947, with a National Assembly and a Senate. But after 1970, twenty-three years of foreign wars and internal strife swept away our institutions as well as our basic freedoms, and martyred our people. The crisis of July 1997 - we hope the last - looked set to be a new tragedy. Fortunately, guided by the clear-sightedness of HM Norodom Sihanouk Varman, the joint efforts of high Cambodian officials - notably their Excellencies Samdech Chea Sim, Samdech Hun Sen and HRH prince Norodom Ranariddh - and the international community enabled us to recover stability and democracy as provided by the Paris Agreements dated October 23rd , 1990. With the intention of preserving the higher interest of the Cambodian nation, a compromise was found to put an end to the government by joint leaders, each with the same powers and prerogatives, which was found to be unworkable. Government agreements were signed in November 1998. One of the keys to their success has been the re-creation of the Senate to foster national reconciliation. It was decided that the National Assembly would be presided over by the President of the Royalist party Funcinpec, HRH Prince Norodom Ranariddh, assisted by two Vice Presidents from the Cambodian People's Party, and that the Senate would be presided over by HE Samdech Chea Sim, President of the Cambodian People's Party, assisted by two Vice Presidents from the Royalist party Funcinpec. The presidents and Vice Presidents of the two houses are members of the Council of the Throne, responsible for choosing the sovereign.
Today, the Cambodian Senate has one main function : it examines the bills adopted after a first reading by the National Assembly and may suggest amendments which will be studied by the National Assembly before the bill is finally voted. The Senate also has a goodwill function : facilitating relationships between the Royal Government and the National Assembly. This mission is of particular importance in the process of national reconciliation currently being conducted by HM King Norodom Sihanouk Varman. Another important aspect of the Senate's duties is to maintain direct dialogue with the people in order to act as a channel for their aspirations. The Constitutional Review of March 8th, 1999 provided for the two legislative bodies to meet in Congress to examine major issues. A law on the organisation and operation of the Congress is in preparation.
The question of our Senate's independence has been raised. It has already been proved, but time will tell if it can resist the siren songs with their sometimes unreasonable demands.
The number of Senators was fixed by the Constitution as half that of the deputies. Currently, 61 Senators sit in ordinary sessions of three months at least twice yearly ; extraordinary sessions may be convened during intermediate periods, during which our Senators receive and transmit the aspirations and grievances of the people. In the first legislature, 59 Senators were nominated according to the number of seats held by deputies in the National Assembly, in proportion to the three political parties ; two Senators were nominated by HM the King, as Head of State. A law currently in preparation will define the elections to the Senate. Finally, nine commissions were created on the lines of those in the National Assembly.
Cambodia does not yet have enough resources to meet the many challenges it faces. We are therefore sincerely grateful to the countries and organisations which are assisting us, especially as regards strengthening the rule of law. The People's Republic of China has shown immense generosity in financing and building our Senate. Again, I wish to express our deepest gratitude to the Chinese authorities.
May I again bear witness to the great kindness of France, our ally over the past 150 years of amicable dialogue and co-operation. The first discussions with French representatives in Phnom-Penh have raised hopes of legislative assistance in the near future.
The efficient assistance we have received from Japan shows how sympathetic the Japanese have been towards our people. We are grateful to the authorities in Tokyo who have very generously met our requests for equipment. The Socialist Republic of Vietnam, Indonesia, Korea and Brunei also deserve our thanks for their help and assistance. Finally, our thanks go to Australia which is examining our request for expert legislative assistance.
The mission of our Senate is clear : we must consolidate the rule of law, contribute to true separation of the three powers, ensure freedom of parliamentary debate, and meet our citizens' aspirations. The transformation of our world into a " global village " offers us openings to the world outside. The Cambodian Senate has begun to develop co-operation and friendships in the Assembly of French -speaking Parliaments, the Inter-Parliamentary Union, the Association of Asian Parliaments for Peace, the Organisation of ASEAN Parliaments, and several friendship groups.
Difficult steps are ahead of us, such as the examination of the bill to create extraordinary courts for judgement of the Khmer Rouge leaders. Although the bill has not yet been examined at the National Assembly, impassioned debate has already begun in the international community. The Senate's major difficulty will be to address the problem with the serenity it requires. We have a sacred duty to give the Cambodian people the justice it clamours for, and this can only be done within a legal framework providing indispensable guarantees to all. One question weighs on me, as on millions of my compatriots : will human justice provide sufficient redress for the unutterable monstrosities suffered by our people ? And yet we must find a solution, and we ask for your compassion.
A more general legislative task in the form of the many laws required by the Kingdom awaits us in the longer term. The weakness of our human resources is a major handicap and your expertise is essential.
I will return to my country comforted by the impression that our colleagues in the Senates of the world have welcomed the Kingdom of Cambodia with warmth and friendship. (Applause).
Mr. Junzo IWASAKI, Special Representative of the House of Councillors of Japan - The Japanese parliament is currently in session: it is examining the budget for the tax year 2000, which begins on 1 April. That is why I am representing the President of the House of Councillors of Japan. I speak on his behalf.
In 1997, to celebrate the fiftieth anniversary of the creation of our House of Councillors in Japan , we hosted the first Conference of Presiding Officers of Upper Houses, which met to discuss the prospects for upper houses in the 21st century and their contribution to the happiness of humankind.
On conclusion of the discussions, a joint communiqué was unanimously adopted, asserting the importance of the contribution of upper houses to democratic life and emphasising its role in scrutinising the executive branch and the legislative process.
The Conference of Presiding Officers of Upper Houses was acknowledged to have been a historic event that could only strengthen democracy by increasing exchanges between parliamentarians.
In Japan, the House of Councillors was created by the new Constitution, whose 53rd anniversary we celebrate this year. Throughout this half-century, our House has done much to assert its role and functions: successive Presidents, including the current President, Mr. Seito, have undertaken many reforms.
In our country, the primary role of the upper house is to review legislation drafted in the lower house, which has the last word in the legislative process. Both houses are elected by direct suffrage and hence operate through the same political parties.
The first reform was the creation of the House of Councillor's own commissions of enquiry. Members of the upper house are elected for six years; as it cannot be dissolved, it is an appropriate forum for addressing medium-term issues. Commissions of enquiry have been set up to cover the economic life of the nation, international issues and ways of improving equality between men and women.
The second reform was the creation of a commission to oversee the administration, an idea which arose in 1995 in the commission of enquiry on administrative organisation. The commission has set up permanent machinery to scrutinise the administration and examines complaints from the public, rather in the manner of an ombudsman.
The third reform concerned the organisation of standing committees. Traditionally, the House of Representatives has one committee per ministry; the House of Councillors had single-issue committees. Now, the remit of these committees corresponds to a general policy area, enabling them to examine government policy from a standpoint that cuts across strict departmental lines.
The fourth reform related to communication policy, including television coverage of debates in the House of Councillors, creation of a Web site and development of a database containing the proceedings of the House.
The fifth reform, introduced during the current session, concerns the creation of a committee on fundamental national policies.
Bicameralism is based on the principle of separation of powers dear to Montesquieu: parliament restrains despotism but must also control itself. No matter how thoroughly a bill is examined, a second reading in the upper house is irreplaceable.
The development of democracy remains a major concern for many countries; I hope that this Forum will contribute to this process and that its work will be crowned with success. (Applause)
Protection and Stability of Legal Standards
Mr. Yegor STROIEV, President of the Council of Federation of the Russian Federation - Over the past ten years, the world has changed more than in the fifty years preceding them ; globalisation is on the increase, the illusion of greater security is challenged by the proliferation of local conflicts and increased terrorism, drug dealing and corruption. Today, mankind has more questions than answers. We must therefore ask our peoples what will allow us to adapt to these changes without sacrificing the values of our forbears. The way forward is not to reject the past, but to use what the past has to offer.
Are Senates necessary ? Clearly so, particularly in multinational States. In this chamber with its rich history, which has heard Hugo, Clemenceau and Poincaré, I wish to remind those present that the roots of bicameralism go deep in Russia, since traces can be found in the Land Congresses of the 16th and 17th centuries. In 1906, the first Russian Parliament had two chambers. Bicameralism persisted throughout the existence of the Soviet Union and was reaffirmed by the Constitution of 1993. In six years, Russia became a full-fledged democracy : nothing would have been possible without the upper chamber, the Council of Federation, which I have the honour to preside. In association with the Duma, it has adopted over 1,500 laws, some of which were fundamental : the Civil Code, the Electoral Code, the Criminal Code, and the Tax Code. All these laws follow the strictest standards of the rule of law.
We have created a legal framework without which the Constitution which confers the rule of law on Russia would have remained a dead letter. Much remains to be done if a permanent structure is to be maintained. The upper chamber offers protection from extremist political parties, pressure groups and short-term opportunists.
The Council of Federation represents the interests of the 89 independent States in the Federation, peopled by 100 different nationalities. Its mission is also to bring the legislative process closer to the citizen. Finally, there can be no rule of law without an independent judiciary. Therefore we take our task of nominating the Public Prosecutor and the judges of the Supreme Court, the Constitutional Court and the High Arbitration Court very seriously.
The Council of Federation also acts as an intermediary : we all know how difficult it is to foster dialogue between the executive and the legislative powers : it is even more difficult in a federal State where responsibility must be shared. The goal of the Council of Federation is to stabilise society without jeopardising the principle of separation of powers. We intend to accomplish that " symphony of authority " that was talked of in Russia two hundred years ago.
The transition towards democracy and the market economy has shown that a strong State is needed to establish the rule of law. Ignorance of this essential fact has caused serious difficulties in Russia and encouraged the criminal rebellion in Chechnya. I wish to state very clearly that terrorism will be eliminated in Chechnya and that the citizens will again be able to live there in peace and enjoy the benefits of civilisation.
The main priorities of the Council of Federation are to ensure the symphony of authority and strengthen the democratic process . This must be seen as part of a greater picture, that of strengthening the world order. However, in the past few years, some international laws have been insidiously threatened. When one State acts arbitrarily while holding itself up as a model of democracy, it is international law itself which is discredited.
The recent increase of executive power can be explained by the difficulty in managing the economy and regulating social issues. However, the role of the parliaments must be strengthened at the same time because they , as John Stuart Mill said, express " the soul and reason of nations ". Senates symbolise experience and wisdom. Our peoples expect us to participate more actively in the search for solutions to today's challenges. I hope that our meeting today will not be a one-off affair and that there will be a practical outcome : why not set up a permanent working group ?
May I again thank the French Senate and its President for having taken this timely initiative and I wish all the participants in this beautiful city health and happiness. (applause).
CHAIRMANSHIP OF MR JACQUES VALADE
Vice-President of the French Senate
Mrs Naledi PANDOR, Chairperson of National Council of Provinces of South Africa - I thank President PONCELET for his warm welcome to the French Senate. As I only recently became Chairperson of the National Council of Provinces, I find this gathering particularly timely and I am happy to be the first woman to speak at it (applause). Over the course of history, democratically elected institutions have taken a long time to realise that women are people too, and to welcome them into their ranks. I hope that Senates will not take as long (applause).
The National Council of Provinces is only two years old. It was established by the 1996 Constitution. The previous bicameral system did not successfully establish the necessary link between the national and provincial levels of government. The new Constitution sets out the principle of co-operative governance, which embraces all levels of government.
The new Parliament elected in 1994 had to contend with the legacy of apartheid, with a multitude of territories divided up by race or by tribe and vast inequalities between different population groups.
It was decided to take the government closer to our people and this is one of the key roles played by the National Council of Provinces. We wanted to achieve unity with diversity by establishing a decentralised democracy on a non-racial and non-discriminatory basis. We no longer speak of levels of government, but of inter-linked spheres of government. In the interest of harmony between the spheres, powers have been allocated between them or are shared by two or more spheres, for example, between the local and provincial governments.
Chapter III of our Constitution sets out the key principle that we call co-operative governance. Each sphere of government must put the national interest first. The intention is to protect the integrity of each sphere while ensuring co-operation. They must implement policies that are consistent with the national interest. Different does not mean totally separate.
The National Council of Provinces (NCOP) is the institutionalisation of the principle of co-operative governance and the vehicle for its implementation. It is the only body that brings national, provincial and local government into a single structure. Under the terms of the Constitution, the NCOP ensures that provincial interests are taken into account by participating in the national legislative process. It has a duty to alert the National Assembly when provincial interests have not been taken into account. Ten delegates from the South African Local Government Association also sit on the NCOP. They do not have the same powers as the provincial delegates, but they take part in deliberations and can defend local interests.
On provincial matters, where powers are shared with other spheres, each provincial delegation votes as a single unit, on the instruction or mandate of the provincial legislature. This requires prior agreement between the political forces. The Premiers of the provinces lead the provincial delegations. Thus the NCOP brings together the legislative and executive arms of government to improve the representation of provincial interests in the national sphere of government. The NCOP has decisive powers in the national legislative process on matters that affect the provinces directly. The National Assembly can only override the opposition of the NCOP to legislation in these matters with a two-thirds majority, which is very hard to achieve. A Mediation Committee has been established to facilitate dialogue between the two Houses of Parliament, but it has only met once. In practice, the Lower House has accepted all the amendments made by the NCOP.
We need resources and influence to ensure that provincial interests are taken into account. We should be able to consider bills long enough in advance to make our voices heard. After all, the provincial and local governments are the ones that implement legislation on the ground. We have recently passed important legislation that enables provinces to assess the impact of any budget legislation that concerns them and requires the national legislature to give a projection of the financial implications of new obligations imposed on the provinces. It remains to be seen whether the national government will provide the financing required and, if not, how the provinces are supposed to apply the law.
The NCOP plays an important role in the allocation of revenue between the different spheres of government. The annual Division of Revenue Bill must be passed in the same form by both Houses. We would like it to be introduced before the National Budget so that the provinces have time to consider it in detail.
The provinces can step in for local governments that cannot fulfil their duties, but the NCOP must approve their intervention. For this purpose, it has defined the terms of reference, the timetable and an assessment process so that provincial governments do not abuse their powers.
The President of the Republic of South Africa holds an annual meeting with provincial Premiers and local government representatives. The NCOP plays an important part in this co-operative structure.
I would like to conclude by summarising the role and the importance of the NCOP in South Africa.
Through the NCOP, national government is sensitised to provincial interests, while provincial legislatures are brought into the formulation of national legislation. In this respect, Germany's Bundesrat is the assembly most similar to the NCOP, but there are a few differences, since the drafters of the South African Constitution built on their own experience and formulated an instrument that can be considered unique. But I would like to share this experience with other assemblies and learn from their experience as well. We are here to listen to what other Upper Houses have to say, so that we can improve existing institutions. We thank the French Senate for giving us the opportunity to take part in this prestigious gathering. (Applause).
The Improvement of Legislative Production
THE CHAIRMAN - We shall now address the third topic, the improvement of legislative production.
Mrs Alicja GRZESKOWIAK, President of the Senate of the Polish Republic - Legislative power rests with a Parliament, elected by the nation, which can be monocameral or bicameral. In a bicameral system, each chamber is representative of the nation as a whole in its own way and exercises its own powers in the legislative process. It is only the joint work of both chambers that creates the law. No one step is more important than any another, even if the first chamber often plays the leading role, while the function of second chamber is to scrutinise.
By vesting legislative power in two distinct bodies, the nation wishes to ensure the quality of its laws. The assembly must not merely examine proposed legislation, but also correct any flaws in it. In carrying out this scrutiny, the second chamber of Parliament becomes one where a measured view of issues can be taken, one where the law is upheld. It is somewhat less in the thrall of political opinions.
This special position of the Senate, or the second chamber, stems from distinct electoral systems. In Poland, both chambers are elected through universal suffrage, but the Sejm is elected by proportional representation and the Senate by simple majority.
The main function of the Senate is legislative since it examines the laws passed by the Sejm. This is the function that enables it to fulfil its constitutional duty to improve legislation.
The Polish Senate has a tradition stretching back six hundred years. But it was not re-established in its current form until 1989, after a fifty-year absence under the communist regime. The Polish parliamentary system is now a bicameral one and the Senate, which is a body with legislative powers, fulfils the deliberative function I have just described. Its supervisory function is intended to improve the quality of the law during the legislative process. It exercises its full constitutional powers by considering both the form and substance of the laws submitted to it.
The Polish Senate considers laws by examining the content of legal standards passed by the Sejm. It starts by analysing whether the law complies with the Constitution and legislation in force. It also checks for consistency and compatibility with positive law. In its scrutiny, the Senate refers to the values that are the basis of the rule of law, meaning human rights and the principles of justice, legality and social utility. These are values rooted in Christian civilisation: fundamental to the identity of the Polish nation, and they have been made universal the international community.
The Polish Senate also makes corrections based on formal criteria. It corrects the law so that it is formulated according to proper legislative procedures and complies with the rules of style and logic.
It has the power to adopt a bill without amendment, reject it or amend it, if it feels the amendments will improve the quality of the bill. It also has the power to make any changes it deems necessary to new laws. However, the Constitutional Court has restricted the Senate's powers when one law amends another and amendments can only involve the amending law and not the amended law. The Senate is empowered to take the initiative to amend laws in force in order to improve them, but this power often leads to controversies between the two chambers. The Senate feels that the Court has restricted its constitutional rights.
The Polish Senate also has the power to initiate legislation. In more than two years, the current fourth legislature has taken such initiatives eighteen times. The Senate has examined 262 laws, rejected four and proposed more than two thousand amendments to 117 laws. The Sejm adopts nearly 65% of the Senate's amendments.
In order to fulfil its constitutional function, the Senate should be autonomous and keep its independence without giving in to pressure from the Sejm or the government. This is the prerequisite for its ability to examine laws impartially and objectively in the interest of better quality law. (Applause).
Mr Mohammed Jalal ESSAID, President of the Chamber of Councillors of Morocco - I would like to start by expressing wholehearted thanks in the name of the Moroccan delegation and in my own name for inviting us to this meeting and for the excellent welcome we have received. This great gathering is a precious opportunity to share our experiences of bicameralism and to ponder ways of consolidating and refining the bicameral parliamentary system.
This meeting is very timely as it enables us to return to issues that were debated at the meeting organised by the Chamber of Councillors of Morocco in Rabat on 10 November 1999, with the kind participation of the French Senate. That meeting was a "dress rehearsal" for today's meeting, as President PONCELET declared at the time.
As agreed, my speech to this honourable audience will deal with the contribution that the Chamber of Councillors of Morocco makes to the improvement of legislative production. The Chamber of Councillors' raison d'être is set out in the Constitution. The legislative initiative and the right of amendment are shared by the Government and members of Parliament. Bills are tabled, with no precedence of referral, either in the House or Representatives or in the Chamber of Councillors, which sends them to the appropriate committee for examination. After two readings by each chamber, the Government can call a meeting of the Joint Committee with equal representation. The conclusions of the Committee can then be submitted to the two chambers.
The standing rules of the Chamber of Councillors establish the procedure for sending bills tabled in the Chamber by the Government, Councillors or the House of Representatives to the appropriate parliamentary committee for examination. The standing rules also set out the procedure for sending bills back and forth between the two chambers and procedures for debate in parliamentary committees and plenary sessions. Six standing committees have been set up in the Chamber of Councillors for this purpose and each has responsibilities in defined areas.
The Chamber of Councillors is clearly vested with the same legislative powers as the House of Representatives. It is called on to take the lead in legislative business, as well as perfecting bills put before the Parliament. In this way, it steers the dynamics of parliamentary debate towards compromise and the best wording possible for legislation. Far from being a rubber stamp or a powerless body, the Chamber of Councillors plays an active role formulating the law.
Although it has not completed its third year of activity, by the end of February, the Chamber of Councillors had already examined 68 bills: 31 tabled by the Government and 37 by the House of Representatives. It adopted 62 and rejected one on privatisation. Other bills to reform the education and training system have just been tabled: four before the House of Representatives and four before the Chamber of Councillors.
The Chamber of Councillors is a dynamic body. It has never, as was feared by some, engaged in obstruction. According to some members of the Government, the Councillors move business along more quickly than the House of Representatives. This does not mean that things are going badly in the House of Representatives, but that the Councillors are contributing to the improvement of legislative work!
Many bills make it through the legislative process and are adopted by both Chambers after undergoing various amendments by the members of the Chamber of Councillors. The profile of the Councillors makes it possible to enhance legislation. The Councillors are elected by electoral colleges composed of bodies representing professional chambers and wage-earners as well as local and regional authorities. Their experience in economic and social matters means that they are particularly well-equipped to improve the quality of legislation. This ability is especially apparent in the pertinence of the many amendments that the Councillors have made to the micro-credit bill, the economic interest grouping bill and the mortgage securitisation bill. It was also highlighted during the discussion of the privatisation bill, which the Chamber of Councillors rejected after it had been passed by the House of Representatives.
Why did the two chambers take different views on the issue, even though they are made up of representatives of the same parties? The Chamber of Councillors represents particular views, particularly those of working people, who were badly affected by previous privatisations. Councillors representing trade unions close to the Government sided with the opposition to reject the bill. The Government preferred to withdraw the bill and table a new version, which was eventually adopted.
Reckoning with the profile of the Councillors and in an effort to streamline legislative work, the Government has increasingly taken to tabling bills in the Chamber of Councillors first, when they deal with economic and social matters, such as the recently proposed Labour Code. Bills dealing with political and organisational matters are tabled in the House of Representatives first. This purely pragmatic pattern is supported by all, given that both chambers have to examine each bill, pursuant to the Constitution, with no predetermined specialisation or precedence, unlike other bicameral systems.
In conclusion, even though the Chamber of Councillors makes an undeniable contribution to legislative production, we must acknowledge that the newness of the bicameral experience in our country leads to some malfunctions in the legislative process. That is why, in keeping with the royal guidelines set out in the opening speech to the previous Parliamentary session, we have set up a joint committee with our colleagues from the House of Representatives to harmonise the standing rules of both chambers and to improve co-ordination of legislative work and, more generally, to streamline parliamentary business.
I am convinced that today's gathering will be beneficial in many ways. I wish every success to the Forum. President PONCELET is right: bicameralism is an idea for the future, but it is an idea that we must promote together! (Applause).
CHAIRMANSHIP OF MR. GUY ALLOUCHE
Vice-President of the French Senate
CHAIRMAN - I thank Mr. Mohammed JALAL ESSAID for the quality of his speech. I shall now open this second debate to delegates who wish to speak.
Mr. Gildas MOLGAT, President of the Senate of Canada - I should like to add my voice to the thanks addressed to President Poncelet. A descendant of Breton emigrants, I am greatly honoured to speak in this place.
The Canadian Senate owes its existence neither to luck, nor chance, nor happenstance, but to necessity. For the "Fathers of the Confederation", the Senate was a key element, the only institution capable of ensuring the balanced representation of dissimilar regions. The Senate has changed little since it was created over a century ago. Originally modelled on the House of Lords, it is currently made up of Senators appointed for life, mainly by the Prime Minister, a system that is difficult to accept in a modern democracy. Reform is needed, but no province wants to lose its senators... Furthermore, one of the advantages of nomination is to allow for the representation of women and minorities. Canada is considering other countries' solutions, a fact which heightens the interest of gatherings such as these. (Applause)
Mrs Klaudia MARTINI, Vice-President of the German Bundesrat - Yes, the second chamber does have a future: as the pace of globalisation increases, so will the importance of Senates.
Germany has 80 million inhabitants and 16 Länder, provinces with their own parliament and their own government. The Bundesrat, the Federal Council of Germany, is made up of representatives of the governments of these Länder. It has wide-ranging responsibilities, since it takes part in the legislative process, not least through its right to initiate legislation, and participates in the election of the members of the Constitutional Court.
The exceptional nature of Germany's federal system offers many advantages, not least those that flow from decentralised administration: we can react faster and more flexibly.
Decentralised systems have proved their worth. Decentralisation is essential, especially in Europe where it allows for cooperation between regions.
May I too congratulate the French Senate on its initiative. (Applause)
Mr. Armand DE DECKER, President of the Belgian Senate - I in turn should like to congratulate President Poncelet on his excellent initiative: the quality of this morning's debate proves the interest of such a meeting. I also thank the Senate Bureau for its excellent organisation of this conference.
Belgium is situated on a cultural frontier that separates Roman Europe from Germanic Europe. Our country, which is 170 years old, has undergone profound change, evolving from a centralised parliamentarian monarchy into a federal parliamentary monarchy. Its three communities are organised into three extensively autonomous regions. Our institutions have had to adapt to these changes. The elitist, aristocratic Senate of 1830 has become more democratic. Since the 1995 reform, its membership has evolved to take account of Belgium's federal structure.
The Belgian Senate has 71 Senators: 40 are directly elected from constituencies, 21 are elected at regional level and 10 are co-opted by the foregoing 61. The recent reform has enabled the Senate to specialise more, so that the system has moved from equal bicameralism to specialised bicameralism. Although bicameralism remains total for all matters relating to the Constitution, institutions and the judiciary, the Senate has a right of evocation (ie, a right to call up bills for examination): it may adopt as such, amend or reject a bill voted by the Chamber of Representatives, which nevertheless has the last word. As a result of this specialisation, the Senate has expanded its role as a chamber which can take time to consider difficult issues in depth, such as euthanasia. In doing so, it helps to improve the quality of legislation, an aspect which should be an attribute of all Senates the world over. We have also begun to take an interest in the evaluation of laws: we need to stop adding to the corpus of legislation and clear away the legislative jungle by repealing laws that are out of date or have fallen into disuse. In a nutshell, we are beginning to "delegislate". (Applause)
Mr. Milton RAY-GUEVARA, Senator of the Dominican Republic - We have spoken of the importance of the Senate in strengthening the principle of separation of powers. In some developing countries, when the executive arm faces difficulties or does not wish to subject itself to scrutiny, it has no hesitation in organising attacks, as was the case in February 1999 against one of my country's Senators. I propose that the Forum adopt a declaration according to which any aggression against one Senate is an attack on all the Senates of the world. It would be a way of strengthening solidarity between us. (Applause)
Mrs Syringa MARSHALL-BURNETT, President of the Jamaican Senate - I am very happy to be here at this meeting, at which I am learning a great deal. Amongst other things, the Jamaican Senate helps to improve legislative production. Of course, the quality of its work depends on that of its members and their capacity to extend and enhance their knowledge. Since independence, we have set up joint commissions with the House of Representatives to consider all legislative matters before they are taken up by other authorities. The system works to the general satisfaction of all concerned. Sessions are open to the press and the public, and all interested parties can make their observations known.
The Jamaican Constitution will soon be revised, and preparatory commissions are already at work.
Jamaica's Senators have just been given a vote of confidence by the population. They wanted this green light so that they can continue their work. They would like all sectors of society to make their voices heard through wider representation.
We have put forward candidates for ministerial positions except those of Prime Minister and Finance Minister. We hope that the choice will be wider in future.
At present, we are operating in a two-party system. One day, we would like it to be possible for candidates not affiliated to a political party to be elected.
For the time being, we are focusing all our efforts on improving legislative production through a system of broadly based commissions. (Applause)
The session was suspended at 12.40