Tuesday, 24 July 2012

Bicameral Government

Bicameral Government: Some Comments

Some small jurisdictions, such as Barbados, have a bicameral government.  In the case of Barbados, the second chamber, or upper house

1) is not directly elected by the population - it consists of appointees by the Governor-General but in some instances on the advice of the Prime Minister, and HM's Loyal Opposition.
2) All legislation can be introduced and amended in either house with the exception of money bills
3) the second Chamber has a restricted power of veto over legislation
4) Members of the second chamber can be Ministers.

It has been suggested that Jersey adopt a bicameral system, but that would seem to be a regressive step if it consistent of appointees.

Guernsey had a system by which 12 Conseillers were elected by a college, and while forming part of the States, were not subject to accountability at the Ballot box.

Likewise, Jersey before the post-war reforms had Jurats and Rectors in the States; again, these were not subject to election at the ballot box.

To move to a system which would give greater powers to a chamber that was unaccountable to the electorate would seem a regressive movement. The post-war changes in Jersey and Guernsey (and even Sark) have been towards greater accountability, where all politicians with the power to vote on measures have to face the electorate at the ballot.

The creation of a second Chamber in Barbados would appear to fulfil much the same function as the House of Lords, as a brake on change. It is a means of sharing political power to the benefit of a social class whose pre-eminence has been challenged by social change.

Historically, it seems to have come about around the same time as the change to independence in 1966, and can be seen as a  guarantor of stability in the transition to self-governance. It prevents majority rule, which in a nascent democracy, in an area of the world which has seen tribal factions using majority rule as a self-serving means for their own faction, and excluding minorities, this was probably a wise decision. The proximity of Cuba was probably instrumental as by 1965 this had an established single-party communist state with the repressive apparatus of State control (imprisonment of dissidents, labour camps etc).

A bicameral government acted as a bulwark against change by providing a veto - this is a common strategy for stability where there is a regime transition (see, for example, Ronald A. Francisco, "The Politics of Regime Transitions", 2000).

It should be noted that in various forms, the government of Barbados has only been in existence for 369 years, comparatively recently, compared with Jersey's 800. Moreover, most of the changes have been more recent that Jersey. The length of time it has had to develop a modern Parliamentary democracy is comparatively short. Up until 1944, there were income qualifications on men voting, and women did not have the right to vote.

As Jersey has been independent for a considerably longer regarding domestic policy, our system has had time to evolve more checks and balances. The imposition of a second chamber would impede the democratic system. The main problems with bicameral systems are:

- Unelected members (in the case where upper house members are appointed by the head of the executive branch)
- Less democratic legitimacy and under-representation of minority ethnics and sexes
- Government expenditure on the maintenance of the house
- Longer and unlimited terms in office (leading to accusations of monarchism)
- Slow process of legislation due to upper house scrutiny

But what could be considered would be if Jersey could adopt a second Chamber which was elected - such as a House of Senators or a House of Constables. This would be on the lines of Sherman's arguments in the 1787 Constitutional Convention, that a second chamber was "an instrument for preserving that residuary sovereignty" of the States. He noted that "No law or resolution can now be passed without the concurrence, first, of a majority of the people [the House of Representatives], and then of a majority of the States [the Senate]."

A house of Constables, which perhaps would need to meet less frequently, and with more of a scrutiny function to protect Parish matters would fit this model. If the remainder of the States were be elected in larger constituencies (with 5-6 members in each), then a House of Constables would preserve that "residuary sovereignty" of the Parishes. But as with Sherman's compromise, which resolved a deadlock in 1787, this would mean two elected Chambers, not an unelected upper house.

Equally, if the Constables and Deputies were arranged in much smaller districts, so that there might only be one or two people standing per district, a House of Senators (or indeed the retention of the Senators) would provide the same kind of balance between Parish and Island.

However, given that Constables have a Parish to run, and Senators do not, the option of a House of Constables, with lesser powers than the States, and meeting less frequently, would be a more suitable option, and perhaps be worth considering. It would mean a diminution of the role of the Constable within the main States, as they would have more of a veto / scrutiny function, but the demands of most Parishes today mean that Constables can seldom stand as Ministers and satisfy the demands of a Parish workload adequately, although as elected representatives, it would not be impossible for them to be Assistant Ministers.

In conclusion, the Bicameral System as seen in Barbados would be a retrograde step for a mature democracy like Jersey, and probably came about historically as a result of drives to independence and stability in a politically unsettled locality. However, the notion of Bicameral Government, with two elected Chambers, one of the Constables, might be worth consideration, and could be argued for on the same basis as Sherman in 1787. But whether it would be workable, or cost effective, is another matter.


Anonymous said...

Nice try, Tony, but a House of Constables simply wouldn't work. Two points:

1. Most of the legislation the States passes these days affects all of Jersey, not a part of it.

2. Most of the legislation is highly technical - if you expect a bunch of septuagenarians whose training for the job is twenty years directing the traffic as an Honorary (or in one case, ten years screeching Beautiful Jersey at every opportunity) to do any meaningful scrutiny, you are going to be deeply disappointed.

Anonymous said...

Aware the mori poll for keeping constables in dips each year as the elderly die off, Bailhache is looking for new ways to maintain their power and veto effect.
If only he would actually attempt to understand a few fundamentals about democracy, rather than arranging matters to suit his agenda.
The sooner he goes, the better.

TonyTheProf said...

I should say that I'm not in favour of bicameral government for Jersey because (1) it's too small a jurisdiction (2) the Barbados model is in unelected upper house (3) I don't think it would be workable.

However, as PB has said he needs to see how it worked in Barbados, I thought it would be worth pursuing all the ramifications, and at the very least ensuring that the option for an unelected upper house is ruled out.

I don't rule out the Constables coming out of the States, but I think that too many changes at once would probably be a bad thing. Seperate the Deputies from Parishes into Districts, let that bed down, and then see how strong a Parish element exists supporting the Constables.