The National Assembly is the Legislature or Parliament of Belize. It consists of two Houses: the Senate (Upper House) and the House of Representatives (Lower House). The thirty-one (31) Members of the House of Representatives are elected in general election under the provisions of the Representation of the People Act. Meanwhile, the twelve (12) Members of the Senate are nominated and appointed by the Governor General of Belize. However, in accordance with the provisions of section 90 of the Belize Constitution, the National Assembly may by law increase the number of Members of the House of Representatives.
The National Assembly of Belize is the body that makes laws for peace, order and good governance of Belize. The Power of the National Assembly to make laws shall be exercised by Bills passed by both Houses and assented to by the Governor General. In other words, no law made by the National Assembly shall come into operation until it has been signed by the Governor General. But the National Assembly can postpone the coming into operation of any such law and can make laws with retrospective effect. All laws made by the National Assembly are styled “Acts”.
A very important role of the National Assembly is also to provide oversight to the administrative policies and economics of the government through various Standing Committees of the House of Representatives. For example, all proposed legislation, messages, petitions, reports, motions and other matters under the title of each Standing Committees shall be referred by the House to such Committee for examinations, consideration and report to the House.
The Life of the National Assembly is for five years. It can, however, be prorogued or dissolved at any time by the Governor General, who shall act in accordance with the advice of the Prime Minister.
How a Bill become a law?
There are several stages a Bill goes through before becoming law. The stages ensure that a Bill is subject to public debate and scrutiny and also subject to changes or to be amended. The stages a Bill goes through include the following:
Introduction and First Reading of Bills
During its introduction, the Member who is in charge of the Bill reads the preamble (Long Title) and gives a brief statement and background on the Bill. The Speaker puts the question “that the Bill be read a first time” and refers it to a Standing Committee, at the same time ordering it to be printed and published in the Government Gazette. At that stage the Bill becomes publicly available. A Bill has no formal existence until it is introduced.
Once a Bill is referred to any Standing Committee, the Committee shall, as far as practicable, make such report to the House within 60 days. If any Standing Committee does not report to the House within the prescribed time, the House may in its discretion proceed to read a Bill for a second time. At the Committee stage, public participation is invited either in person or by writing to the Clerk of the National Assembly. The Committee reports its findings and suggestions to the House stating clearly if it recommends or does not recommend amendments for the second reading.
Second Reading of Bills
At the second reading of a Bill, debate arises covering the general merits and principles of the Bill. A debate on any amendment proposed by the Committee or by any other Member during the second reading can also take place. At the conclusion of the debate the Member in charge of the Bill moves “that the Bill be now read a second time” and the Speaker puts the question. When the Bill is read a second time, it stands committed to a Committee of the Whole House.
Committee of the Whole House
The Deputy Speaker takes the chair in the Committee of the whole House. The Speaker leaves the chair without question put. The chair calls the title of the Bill and the number of each clause in succession. If no amendment is proposed thereto or when all proposed amendments have been disposed of, the chair puts the question “that the clause or the clause as amended stand part of the Bill”. After considering the Bills in the Committee of the Whole, the House resumes for the third reading of Bills.
Third reading of Bills
At the resumption of the House, the Member in charge of the Bill reports to the House that the Committee of the Whole has considered the Bill and passed it with or without amendments and moves the third reading of the Bill. The Speaker then puts the question without debate. If the House approves the third reading, the Bill is then prepared to be sent to the Senate.
Consideration of Bill by the Senate
When a Bill has been approved by the House, a printed copy of it, signed by the Clerk of the House of Representatives and endorsed by the Speaker, is sent to the Senate for its consideration. In the Senate, when the Leader of Government Business signifies his willingness to take charge of the Bill brought from the House of Representatives, the Bill is recorded in the Minutes as having been read a first time. It has also been the norm that the Leader of Government Business would move that the Bill be taken through all its stages forthwith. Hence in the Senate, a Bill would normally go through all three readings at one sitting. It is important to note that the Senate has restricted powers when it comes to money Bills, which appropriate revenue, or other public money. The House of Representatives is responsible for making decisions on money Bills and the Senate consider these Bills but cannot block or amend them. Any amendments made by the Senate to a Bill is sent back to the House of Representative for its concurrence on the amendments and if agreed to then the Bill goes, as amended, to the Governor-General for assent.
Governor General's Assent
When a Bill is passed by both Houses, copies are certified by the Presiding Officers and the Clerk of both Houses before it is sent to the Governor-General for his assent. The Governor-General’s signature and the impress of the public seal are necessary formalities, which represent the final stages in converting a Bill into Law. The law styled as “Act” is then published in the Gazette.
In Belize there are persons that have specific duties to perform in how Parliament operates.
The Governor-General represents the Queen in Belize and has important duties to perform in Parliament. He assents to Bills passed in the House of Representatives and the Senate so that they become Laws of Belize. The Governor-General also opens the first Sitting of the House of Representatives (Inaugural Sitting) by delivering what is known as the Government Speech (Throne Speech). The Government Speech usually entails Government’s intention for the coming session or term of Parliament. The Governor-General also ends a parliamentary session and term by proroguing and dissolving, respectively, the National Assembly by proclamation. Therefore, after any general election, the Governor-General appoints by proclamation published in the Gazette the date, the place and the time for the holding of a session of the National Assembly. In addition, the Governor-General appoints Members of the Senate.
Speaker of the House of Representatives
The Speaker of the House of Representatives presides over the Sitting of the House. It is the Speaker’s role to ensure that there is order and decorum during a Sitting and also to apply the rules of the House (Standing Orders), and to oversee procedures. The Speaker chairs the National Assembly Staff Committee and is also the chief diplomatic representative of the House of Representatives.
Deputy Speaker of the House of Representatives
The House of Representatives elects a Deputy Speaker from among its Members, not being a Minister. The Deputy Speaker may perform the Speaker’s role when the Speaker is absent. The Deputy Speaker chairs the Committee of the Whole House which considers Bills clause by clause.
The Prime Minister is the leader of the House of Representatives. This is largely separate from his Executive role. The Prime Minister plays a major role in the House of Representatives and has significant influence over the Public Business on the Orders of the Day. The Prime Minister also leads the Government’s contribution to major debates
Ministers and Ministers of State
The Governor-General appoints Ministers and Ministers of State on the advice of the Prime Minister. The Ministers of States are part of the Executive and may also be a part of Cabinet meetings if invited by the Prime Minister. Members of the Senate can also be appointed as Ministers. Ministers are responsible for particular areas of public administration and/or policy called ministerial portfolios. Ministers are accountable to the House for thier responsibilities. A Minister’s role in the House is to introduce Bills to the House that relate to their portfolios and to lead debate on those Bills through the stages in the House. They also account for Government activities under their portfolios by replying to questions by Opposition and Backbench Members and by making statements to the House on matters covered under their portfolios.
Leader of the Opposition
The Leader of the Opposition is the Member of the House of Representatives who leads the largest political party that is not part of the Government. Its role is to be the leader of a government in waiting and to lead opposition responses in major debates. The Leader of the Opposition sits directly opposite the Prime Minister in chamber.
Clerk of the National Assembly
The Clerk of the National Assembly is the principal officer to the House of Representatives and the Senate. The Governor-General appoints the Clerk on the advice of the National Assembly Staff Committee. The duties of the Clerk are to advise the Speaker and Members on the rules, practices, and custom of the House; to record the proceedings and decisions of the House; to certify Bills ready for Governor-General’s Assent; to issue the Order Paper for each Sitting to Members; to administer the Oath or Affirmation of Allegiance to new Members of the National Assembly; and to provide secretarial service to the House and Senate Committees.
Deputy Clerk of the National Assembly
In the absence of the Clerk, the Deputy Clerk shall carry out the duties of the principal officer. The Deputy Clerk is also appointed by the Governor-General on the advice of the National Assembly Staff Committee. The Deputy Clerk sits at the Clerk’s Table during meetings of the House of Representatives and the Senate. In addition of being the Clerk’s assistant in all parliamentary procedures, the Deputy Clerk is also the personnel officer of the staff of the National Assembly.
The Macebearer is an officer of the House of Representatives. The Macebearer is responsible to the Speaker for maintaining proper standards and behavior for visitors in the galleries of the House of Representatives. At the start of each Sitting of the House of Representatives, the Macebearer carries the Mace and precedes the Speaker into the Chamber and announces the Speaker’s arrival. While the House is in session, the Macebearer sits at the other end of the Clerk’s Table.
President of the Senate
The President of the Senate has the same responsibility as the Speaker of the House of Representatives. She/he presides over the Sitting of the Senate. It is the President’s role to ensure that there is order and decorum during a Senate Sitting and also to apply the rules of the Senate (Standing Orders of the Senate). The President of the Senate chairs the Committee of the Whole Senate, the Constitution and Foreign Affairs Committee of the Senate and also any other Committee of the Senate. The President of the Senate is the Deputy Chairperson to the National Assembly Staff Committee.
Vice President of the Senate
The Senate elects a Vice President from amongst the appointed Members who are not Ministers. The Vice President may perform the role of the President of the Senate when he/she is absent.
Leader of Government Business
The Leader of Government Business is appointed by the Prime Minister to take charge of the Government business in the Senate. He moves Motions and Bills on behalf of the Government. The Leader of Government Business may ask the President of the Senate to summon special Sittings of the Senate. He also leads debates on Government Bills and Motions.