Monday, 20 April 2009

“One assembly less”

The latest issue of the weekly newspaper Morgenbladet has an article by Håkon Gundersen on the demise of the Lagting, one of the two divisions of Norway’s semi-bicameral parliamentary system which will cease to exist on 1 October this year.
Rather than introducing a bicameral system of the sort which is known from for example the United States, the Norwegian Constituent Assembly of 1814 opted for a rare system of semi-bicameralism, inspired by the constitution of the Batavian Republic, which already then had ceased to exist.
This means that the entire Norwegian Parliament has been elected at once every fourth year, but thereafter elects ¼ of its members to sit in the Lagting, while the remaining ¾ become members of the Odelsting. This separation is only in use when Parliament is dealing with bills and means that the Lagting acts as some sort of upper house which has the power to return the Odelsting’s decisions if not approved. If approved in the Lagting the bill becomes an Act of Parliament and thereafter it needs only the King’s sanction to become law.
For about a century the party balance has however been the same in the Lagting as in the Odelsting, which means that the outcome will be the same in both “chambers”. Today debates in the Lagting are rare and its sittings are generally over in minutes (or even less – the record is 27 seconds).
On 20 February 2007 Parliament passed an amendment to the Constitution which did away with the semi-bicameral system from the next general election, meaning that on 1 October 2009 a pure unicameral system will be introduced. The amendment was passed by 159 votes against 1 (Sverre Myrli, a Labour MP, voted against). It is probably no exaggeration to say that it was the most major amendment of the Constitution since 1814, but passed mostly unnoticed by the media at the time.
Morgenbladet’s article erroneously claims that there are only scheduled two more sittings of the Lagting – one on Tuesday next week and then the final one on 18 June. There will however also be sittings on 14 May, 4 June and 16 June.
The article can be found at the following link:

The pictures show interiors of the Lagting Chamber in Oslo's Parliament Building.

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