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Montserrat Legislative Assembly

History of Montserrat’s Parliament

History of Montserrat’s Parliament

Montserrat is said to have been discovered by Christopher Columbus in 1493, but it was not until 1625 that Charles I of England issued letters patent for its settlement. The letters patent provided the means by which some form of Government could be set up in Montserrat. The early form of governance which these letters patent allowed, is far different from what exists today.   Reuben T Meade, former Premier of Montserrat, presented a paper to The C24 UN Decolonisation Committee in Quito, Ecuador which provides a concise and very useful outline of the history of the Legislature in Montserrat and how it evolved into its current form. The relevant section of the presentation is shown below:

The initial elements of our constitutional development started with the letters patent which were legal instruments conferring the right to set up governing instruments and to rule. The earliest patents were general and open and therefore ideal for oppressing and exploiting native people. Prior to emancipation there was a Legislative Assembly comprised of planters and merchants elected from among themselves. It was an oligarchy of the wealthy and privileged. The qualification to be an elected member of the Legislative Assembly was based on wealth.

In 1866 the franchise was withdrawn and the Governor or his deputy, the Lieutenant Governor ruled with the advice of a totally nominated Council comprised of planters, merchants and some officials. Constitutional changes came in a very slow and evolutionary way. In 1936 representative government was reintroduced, however elected members were in the minority. In 1943 R W Griffith was elected into the Legislative Assembly.

The 1951 Letters Patent brought about more significant changes as a consequence of protests and riots throughout the region. These protests and riots led to the birth of the Trade Union Movement in the Caribbean. The letters patent of 1951 also saw the introduction of universal adult suffrage, allowing for elections without the requirement for wealth as a qualification. It is noteworthy that these changes came as a result of protests by the people. This ushered in the Legislative Council where the majority comprised elected members for the first time. In 1952 W H Bramble and his group were elected into the Legislative Council.

The Letters Patent was further amended in 1959 to allow for a Ministerial system of government. This gave a greater level of local self-government. W H Bramble then emerged as our first Chief Minister. Also of note would be the Montserrat Royal Instructions of 1959 and the Montserrat (Governor) Order 1971.

In 1989 the letters patent were withdrawn and replaced with our first written Montserrat Constitution Order. The Honourable John Osborne was the first Chief Minister to operate under that first Constitution Order. There was really no local consultation or debate it was simply an order of the Privy Council. [1]

Today, provision for the Legislature on Montserrat is a far cry from its starting point. The Letters Patent evolved into the 1989 Montserrat Constitution Order and the latter has since been revised. The 2010 Montserrat Constitution Order which is now in effect, is the result of the revision process. Part IV of the current Constitution makes provision for a Legislature. Clause 47 states that, “There shall be a Legislature in and for Montserrat, which shall consist of Her Majesty and a Legislative Assembly.   Clause 48 further indicates that, “The Legislative Assembly shall consist of nine elected members of the Legislative Assembly and two ex official members, namely the Attorney-General and the Financial Secretary. Provision is made for an increase in membership of the Legislative Assembly, if necessary, and the qualifications for persons who wish to be elected to the Legislative Assembly are clearly set out in Clause 51. Wealth is no longer a pre-requisite for membership of the Legislative Assembly.

[1] Meade, Reuben TStatement By Premier Reuben T Meade to the 024 UN Decolonisation Committee meeting in Quito Ecuador. May 29-June 01, 2012. Caribbean Web. 4 January 2016.

Historical Facts About the Legislative Assembly

  1. Montserrat’s first Chief Minister was Mr William Henry Bramble. He was part of the populist majority elected to Parliament in 1952, but he was not called Chief Minister until after the election of 1961.  The letters patent of 1959 introduced the ministerial system of Government and that after the ensuing election, he was appointed as the Chief Minister of Montserrat. He was the leader of the Montserrat Labour Party, which won five general elections though he himself only contested four.
  1. From 1952 to 2019 Montserrat has had 67 years of popular Parliamentary Government.
  1. With the completion of the 2019 General Elections Montserrat now has its 17th Parliament, since the first populist majority Parliament was convened in 1952.
  1. The Parliament was referred to as the Legislative Council up to 2011 when the Montserrat Constitution 2010 came into force. Along with that Constitution, came the name Montserrat Legislative Assembly.  At the same time the name Chief Minister was dropped in favour of Premier, a Deputy Premier was introduced and the position of Leader of the Opposition was formalised.
  1. Margaret Rose Kelsick of the Montserrat Labour Party was the first female elected to the Legislative Council. This took place in 1961; about 10 years after the election of the first popular parliamentary Government.  She represented the Plymouth Electoral District.
  1. Nominated members served in the Legislative Council between 1952 and 1996. These members were nominated by the Governor who also took on board advice given by the Chief Minister.
  1. Ex-officio members i.e. Attorneys General and Financial Secretaries were a part of the Legislative Council from earliest times, as they are today.
  1. It has always been considered good parliamentary practice to refer to Members of the Executive, now known as Cabinet, by the constituencies which they represent. Prior to the introduction of the at-large-system of voting, a member would be referred to for example, as the member from Southern, the member from Northern, the member from Central or some other constituency depending on which constituency they represented.  This is why Members of the Legislative Assembly are addressed by their roles, as far as possible, as opposed to using their personal names, for e.g. Ministers of Government are referred to as Honourable Minister of whichever Ministry they are appointed to.  The Leader of the Opposition would be referred to as Honourable Leader of the Opposition, the Parliamentary Secretary would be referred to as Honourable Parliamentary Secretary and where the Member does not have a specific post, they may be addressed as Honourable Member of the Legislative Assembly, followed by a name to differentiate between the different Members who do not have a specific appointment.
  1. The leader of Government Business was called Chief Minister up to 2011, when the name was officially changed to Premier. There were 7 Chief Ministers of Montserrat as follows: Mr William H Bramble, Mr Percival Austin Bramble, Dr John A. Osborne, Mr Reuben T Meade, Mr Bertrand B Osborne, Mr David S Brandt and Dr Lowell Lewis.  Mr Reuben T Meade was the Chief Minister at the time of the name change and so he became the first Leader of Government Business in Montserrat, to be called Premier.  Since then Mr Donaldson Romeo was elected as Premier followed by the incumbent leader, Honourable Joseph Easton Taylor Farrell.
  1. There have been several political parties, whose leaders were elected to Office, from 1952 to the present time. These parties are as follows: Montserrat Labour Party led by former Chief Minister William Henry Bramble, Progressive Democratic Party led by former Chief Minister Percival Austin Bramble, People’s Liberation Movement led by former Chief Minister John Osborne, National Progressive Party led by Former Chief Minister Reuben T Meade, Movement for National Reconstruction led by former Chief Minister Bertrand Osborne, New People’s Liberation Movement led by Chief Minister John Osborne, Montserrat Democratic Party led by Dr Lowell Lewis, People’s Democratic Movement led by former Chief Minister Donaldson Romeo and the incumbent party Movement for Change and Prosperity, led by Premier Joseph Easton Taylor Farrell.

More about the past of Montserrat's Parliament