Attorney General Nisbett gives reasons for increase in number of senators in the National Assembly

Legislation seeking to increase the number of senators in the St. Kitts and Nevis National assembly from the current number of three to six is in keeping with the trends in modern government.

"The business of a modern government has become more sophisticated because of the social, political, technological and other developments which are taking place globally. In other words, Mr. Speaker, a modern government today is such a complex business, much of which business requires or demands legislation, and for that reason we are constantly being called upon to make new laws which are very sophisticated. And so this, in the main, makes modern legislation to be a complex and peculiar branch of business," said Attorney General and Minister of Justice and Legal Affairs, the Hon. Patrice Nisbett.



The Nevisian-born Attorney General, who was also appearing as Leader of Government Business in the lawmaking body said the complexity of running government business today inevitably requires additional human resources.

"Mr. Speaker, because of what I have just stated, it is really necessary to improve on the complexion of our Parliament by introducing in the House new blood, and, Mr. Speaker, this initiative is intended to give us an opportunity to revisit, for instance the issue of gender balance, if we are to fulfill our national and international obligations in that regard. In essence, Mr. Speaker, we want to ensure that the contributions made in this House benefit generally from the views of the entire community," he submitted.

He also pointed out that the framers of the 1983 Constitution saw it prudent to have such a provision in the Constitution to allow for the appointment of non-elected members of Parliament basically to provide alternative non-partisan views in the National Assembly.

He further submitted that the framers of the Constitution realized that the Federation’s political system should be strengthened by appointing a few non – partisan people recognized in certain professions or who possess special knowledge and could represent the various groups in society.

"This, Mr. Speaker, is intended to encourage greater participation from the general public, and to contribute to good governance supported by more constructive dissent and alternative views. Mr. Speaker, the different expertise which such people bring to the parliamentary process would certainly enhance the democratic process of our Federation. In other words, Mr. Speaker, the issue being addressed by this Bill is how do we deal with the question of running complex government business," the Attorney General Assembly.

Mr. Nisbett also pointed out that the framers of the Constitution contemplated that as Government business became more complex it would be necessary to have additional human resources with special expertise and knowledge etc, which meant that the number of Senators would inevitably be increased.

He pointed out that since the current Parliament started its business in 2010, it has not been possible to fill the post of Deputy Speaker.

"Such a situation, Mr. Speaker, has given rise to a concern as to whether Parliament is properly constituted when the post of Deputy Speaker is vacant. Also, Mr. Speaker, the absence of a Deputy Speaker puts much strain on the shoulders of the Speaker. So, Mr. Speaker, I believe that this is now the time to give effect to the provisions of section 26. (2) of our Constitution so that we can deal with the kind of challenges that we are facing in an appropriate manner," in commending the Bill to safe passage.

He said what the National Assembly was doing is something which is apparently globally shared and referred to similar situations in the United Kingdom, Uganda and Singapore.

"The United Kingdom, a country with a parliamentary government based on the Westminster system that has been emulated around the world – a legacy of the British Empire. Its parliament, which meets in the Westminster, has two houses; an elected House of Commons and an appointed House of Lords. In other words, Mr. Speaker, UK has a bicameral parliament. Mr. Speaker, for quite a long time, if you follow the trend of what has been, and what is, going on in the United Kingdom you will realize that some reforms have been going on in relation to the House of Lords. These reforms are in respect to its powers and membership. Mr. Speaker, the House of Lords, referred to as the second chamber of Parliament of UK, because it is not elected does not have the same powers as the House of Commons, but it retains the right to revise and scrutinise the Government’s actions and legislation."

"Mr. Speaker, its independent minds and extensive expertise form a crucial check on the power of the executive in Parliament, but it is much more likely to wield this power by asking Ministers to think again than to veto whole pieces of legislation.

Mr. Speaker, historically, the power of the Lords-the representatives of the landed interests-was greater than that of the Commons, but as democratic ideals took root in the UK its power has gradually been eroded. Indeed, in 1911, Mr. Speaker, the primacy of the Commons was explicitly stated by the Parliament Act, 1911, which compelled the Lords to approve financial legislation, and the Parliament Act, 1949, which removed the Lords’ power of veto over the laws. Mr. Speaker, the point I am trying to make here is that UK realizes the fact that if circumstances change and necessity a change in the membership of Parliament, so be it.

Mr. Speaker, this is why the Law Lords, appointed to the House of Lords under the Appellate Jurisdiction Act of 1876, sat in the upper chamber for the last time in July 2009. The judicial functions of the Lords were transferred to the Supreme Court established under the Constitutional Reform Act, 2005, and the Law Lords became Justices of the Supreme Court in October 2009.

Mr. Speaker, until the Life Peerage Act of 1958, with the exception of the Law Lords and the Bishops, the right to sit in the House of Lords derived from membership of the hereditary nobility. However, the 1958 Act introduced a new type of member: the Life Peer who may sit in the Lords for life, but cannot pass his rights on to his descendants."

"Today, Mr. Speaker, the debate about reform of the House of Lords refers more to its composition than to its powers. Mr. Speaker, although the growing number of Life Peers diluted the hereditary basis of Lords membership for the next 4o years, the House of Lords Act of 1999 all but dissolved it. Thus, Mr. Speaker, those two recent events have changed the way Members of the House of Lords are appointed: the 1999 House of Lords Act which ended the hereditary Peer’s right to pass membership down through family, and the introduction of the House of Lords Appointments Commission, which triggered off other routes to becoming a Member of the House of Lords.

Mr. Speaker, the House of Lords Appointments Commission, which was set up in May, 2000, is an independent, public body which recommends individuals for appointment as non-party – political life peers and vets nominations for life peers to ensure the highest standards of propriety."

He also said that Uganda is another example where in Article 78 of the Constitution of Uganda (1995) there are provisions that seek to ensure that Parliament is composed of members who are able to ensure that the views and interests of various groups of people are taken into account in the best interest of the country.

"The framers of that article, Mr. Speaker sought to ensure that even views of the minority and other marginalized groups of people like women and youth could be represented in Parliament. Mr. Speaker, that Article provides for a Parliament which consists of (a) members directly elected to represent constituencies; (b) one woman representative for each district; (c) such numbers of representatives of the army, youth, workers, persons with disabilities and other groups as Parliament may determine; and (d) the Vice President and Ministers, who, if not already elected members of Parliament, shall be ex-officio members of Parliament without the right to vote on any issue requiring a vote in Parliament.

"(2) Upon the expiration of a period of ten years after the commencement of this Constitution and thereafter, every five years, Parliament shall review the representation under paragraphs (b) and (c) of clause (1) of this article for the purposes of retaining, increasing, or abolishing any such representation and any other matter incidental to it. (3) The representatives referred to in paragraph (a) of clause (1) of this article shall be elected on the basis of universal adult suffrage and by secret ballot. (4) Parliament shall, by law, prescribe the procedure for the elections of representatives referred to in paragraphs (b) and (c) of clause (1) of this article," said Mr. Nisbett.

He further pointed out that the framers of the Constitution also realized that as government business becomes more complex they would need to review the representation of people.

In Singapore, Mr. Speaker, it was in 1990 when Parliament introduced the "Nominated Member of Parliament" (NMP) Scheme to allow for the appointment of non-elected Members of Parliament to provide alternative views. These members, Mr. Speaker, are short listed by a Special Select Committee of Parliament from a list of candidates nominated by the public.

"Mr. Speaker, I wish to inform you that while Singapore introduced that amendment in March 1990, they further amended their Constitution in July, 1997 to raise the maximum number of NMPs from six to nine.

Thus, Mr. Speaker, Singapore recognizes the importance of their Scheme in strengthening the "political system of Singapore.

Mr. Speaker, let me take you a little bit back. Singapore, before introducing the Nominated Member of Parliament Scheme, they introduced the Non-Constituency Member of Parliament (NCMP) Scheme in 1984 in which the losing Opposition candidates with the highest percentage of votes during a general election can be offered seats in Parliament, if the number of Opposition candidates elected as Members of Parliament fell short of the minimum number.