Friday, 19 June 2009
A historic day in Parliament – end of semi-bicameralism
Today the Norwegian Parliament sat for the last time this term and it was a historic day which marked the end of the semi-bicameral system which has existed since independence in 1814 – in fact the greatest constitutional amendment in Norway ever.
Back in 1814 the Constituent Assembly did not opt for a traditional bicameral system, but rather chose a semi-bicameral system such as had existed in the defunct Batavian Republic. This meant that Parliament was elected all at once, but then divided itself in two, with ¼ of the MPs sitting in the Lagting and ¾ in the Odelsting when debating bills. Only members of the Odelsting have had the right to propose private members’ bills.
The Lagting has been some sort of upper house which has had the power to return the Odelsting’s decisions, but this has not happened for several years. During the last century the balance between the parties has been the same in the Lagting as in the Odelsting, which means that bills approved by the Odelsting will nearly always also be approved by the Lagting. Meetings in the Lagting have mostly been very short in recent years (down to 27 seconds).
As a consequence of this, Parliament on 20 February 2007 passed an amendment to the Constitution which abolishes the semi-bicameral system from 1 October this year, when the new Parliament convenes after the general election. The amendment was passed by 159 votes to 1, namely that of Sverre Myrli of the Labour Party - the Vice-Speaker of the Lagting, Jon Lilletun (Christian Democratic Party), also intended to vote against it, but died before the vote in Parliament.
At 3.24 a.m. today the Lagting began its final sitting, which was over by 3.55 a.m. Ola Borten Moe (Centre Party) made a short speech before the Speaker of the Lagting, Inge Lønning (Conservatives), brought its existence to an end with a speech where he summarised its 195-year-long history, the plans to abolish it and finally Oscar II’s harsh judgement of the Lagting of 1883. He ended: “With this the work of the Lagting has been brought to its conclusion for ever. In this ever brighter summer morning it only remains for the Speaker to thank the members of history’s last Lagting for good cooperation through four years and to wish everyone a good summer and as good an election result as one may deserve”.
The official account of the last sitting of the Lagting can be read here:
TV2 has a report:
At 4.11 this afternoon the final sitting of the Odelsting followed. Its last debate took place on Monday, while today the Speaker, Berit Brørby (Labour), briefly referred the decisions made by the Lagting in the night and the acts sanctioned by the King in State Council earlier today. She also gave a speech on the history and role of the Odelsting, dealing in particular with female representation in the chamber. At 4.22 p.m. Brørby, her voice breaking, declared this very last meeting under the semi-bicameral system for over. With it, 195 years of history came to an end to the sound of a standing ovation by the MPs.
The official account of the Odelsting’s last sitting:
The first and third photos show the scene in the Parliament Chamber as the Odelsting sat for the last time, while the second shows the beginning and the end – the Odelsting’s last Speaker in front of Oscar Wergeland’s famous painting of the Constituent Assembly of 1814. In the fourth picture MPs Kåre Fostervold, Ketil Solvik-Olsen, Dagrun Eriksen and Bård Hoksrud sign Parliament’s protocol afterwards. In the fifth photo is the Lagting Chamber, lying empty after going out of use this morning. It will now be listed by the Directorate of National Heritage, so that it will always remain as it was on this historic day.
Today Parliament began its summer recess and at least 53 out of 169 MPs will not return after September’s general election. Many political veterans therefore made their final speeches in Parliament today - among them were Carl I. Hagen (Progress Party), the longest-serving MP and one of the country’s most important post-war politicians, and Odd Einar Dørum (Liberal Party), whose excellent last speech was loudly applauded by the spectators in the public gallery.
The Speaker of Parliament, Thorbjørn Jagland (Labour), was also applauded as he presided for the last time. Jagland is also among the veterans who are leaving Parliament and is now a candidate for the post of Secretary-General of the Council of Europe - a decision is expected on Tuesday.