Take note of parliament’s history, says PM Stuart
Barbados’ parliament does not have an entirely unblemished record over the 375 years of its existence.
Prime Minister Freundel Stuart acknowledged this fact of history yesterday while addressing both houses of parliament during its anniversary celebrations.
Stuart, who is a keen student of history, said: “It was a product of its time and was a malleable instrument in the hands of the planter-merchant elite for the better part of its history.
“Its legislative enactments were used in the main, therefore, to prop up slavery for as long as that barbaric system existed. In those years, it sanctioned the designation of the bulk of the population of Barbados as chattel and sanctioned also the exposure of our children to unspeakable patterns of abuse.
“The fact that these unfortunate experiences were authorised by the parliament does not mean that parliaments are in themselves bad institutions, but rather points to the fact that at any stage in a country’s history, those who are deemed to be politically relevant will usually be the ones to influence the decision-making processes in parliament. For the better part of this parliament’s life, access to it was restricted to those who satisfied either income or property qualifications or, sometimes, both. Those who were were empowered to elect representatives to parliament, themselves had to satisfy income or property qualifications,” Stuart added.
The St Michael South MP paid tribute to the Right Excellent Samuel Jackman Prescod who protested against those restrictions, managed to be elected to parliament in 1843 and became the first member of African descent to enter our parliament.
He argued that it was no exaggeration to say that the owners of property voted for the owners of property to protect and promote the interests of that class.
Tracing the evolution of the political process in Barbados, Stuart said: “Such was the nature of our parliamentary tradition and experience until the 1930s, and the advent of the mass political party and the trade union. Thereafter the centre of gravity of political relevance began to shift to the broad mass of people, heretofore excluded from the decision making process.
“We owe a profound debt of gratitude to the Barbados Progressive League, later to become the Barbados Labour Party, and the Barbados Workers Union for their contribution to the effecting of that shift.
“The Democratic Labour Party in time also played a significant role. By 1950, the Representation of the People Act had been amended to remove those income and property qualifications that had for so long kept the local franchise restricted.
“The vast majority of the people were at last given the right to elect to this parliament persons who could empathise with their condition and represent their general interests,” he said.