Madam President and Members of the Senate
Mr. Speaker and Members of the House of Assembly
Members of the Diplomatic Corps
Other Distinguished Guests
It gives me great pleasure to open this Special Session of both our Houses, convened for the purpose of commemorating the 375th Anniversary of the Parliament of Barbados. I extend a very warm welcome to each of you, especially to our esteemed guests from overseas.
It is well known that our Parliament is the third oldest in the Commonwealth, and this is a distinguished achievement ??? a very highly prized accolade, for our tiny nation state ??? and we accept and bear it with much pride and humility.
Yet, when travelling back to the year 1639, the record shows that tremendous constitutional changes have been wrought against the backdrop of this mighty bulwark. In 1639 the majority of our ancestors did not have the right to vote, for democracy was reserved for the plantation classes. Step by painful step, our freedom was won, and universal suffrage was granted to all adults. This still did not represent full democracy, because decisions about our welfare were made in London, and it was not until 1966, that independence was eventually secured.
Many ask why therefore are we commemorating an anniversary of an event, which was of no immediate benefit to the majority of our ancestors? Those who do so, overlook the importance that the legacy of the past, plays in current times. By looking at our achievements, through the long lens of history, we appreciate not simply our achievements, which are many, but our mis-steps too.
Those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it. We should recognise that this anniversary is as much part of our history, as much part of what makes us Barbadian, as Bussa and Crop Over do. The freedoms we enjoy now, the universal suffrage of all adults, were achieved gradually, and piece meal. They were achieved on the back of sacrifice of many, and in some instances, through loss of life, and they should be treasured all the more.
The lessons of history, and recent events around the world, teach us that democracy must be constantly nourished, watered and cherished, if it is to continue to thrive. We can see daily reminders from around the world of havoc, destruction and loss of life, which occur, when a people are unable to achieve some, harmony and agreement, on the way they are to be governed.
Democracy flourishes and the human spirit thrives, when opposing parties recognise, that however vehemently they disagree with each other, there is something more important which they must safeguard: the institutions of state; the sanctity of Parliament, the independence of the judiciary, the role of the executive. Our democracy has grown organically and largely peacefully, and in this regard we owe a debt to those who went before us. We can name a list of distinguished parliamentarians, trade unionists and politicians who have served this country well.
Parliament is but one aspect of what makes a great democracy, and allows people???s rights and freedoms to reach fulfillment. The judiciary, to which I once had the honour and privilege to belong, must uphold the rule of law, and secure the rights of individuals, and the duties of the state. The government of the day, the executive, must act with integrity, and be held to account by Parliament.
Parliament must act in the interest of the people. In that greatest of democratic tests, the government of the day must organise elections which allow another party to take over at the helm of government, and all parties must respect the will of the people as expressed by the ballot. In all these measures, we can hold our heads high and despite struggle and set back, we can recognise our considerable achievements in this regard.
When our young people think that politics and civic life are irrelevant to their existence, they should know that these rights and responsibilities were hard won, and should not be lightly cast aside, because they seem as natural as the air we breathe. In more recent history we can recall with respect and affection Grantley Herbert Adams and Errol Walton Barrow who used the paths of negotiation, compromise and commitment to the common good, as their guiding principles. The peaceful transitions that we have made between parties in government, and parties in opposition, are the result of their careful stewardship at times, when a fledging democracy could so easily have been jeopardised.
In 1989, this august body met with Sir Hugh Springer standing where I am today. Sir Hugh had the great distinction of having been a member of Parliament, and although in my youth, I once toyed with such an ambition, I have however toiled valiantly for my country in other fields. Sir Hugh, having rendered long and meritorious service to his country, is now at rest.
We must also acknowledge other distinguished members who were present in this chamber in 1989 but are no longer with us today: namely, Lawson Alvin Weekes, Frank Leslie Walcott, James Eustace Theodore Brancker, Richard Christopher Haynes, George Eustace Theodore Brancker, Former Clerk of Parliament, James Cameron Tudor, Marcus de-Lambert Jordan, Brandford Mayhew Taitt, Harold Alphonza Blackman, Joseph Josiah Payne, Leroy Livingstone Brathwaite, David John Howard Thompson, Cyril Valentine Walker and Lionel Seymour Craig. As we mourn their passing we note with pride their distinguished successors.
We now have a female leader of the Senate and a female leader of the Opposition. Each generation allows different talents to be used and cherished.
Winston Churchill is oft quoted as saying that democracy is a very bad form of government, it is unruly, chaotic and can cause delay and aggravate division. But he immediately recognised that all the other forms of government were so much worse.
Three hundred and seventy five years of debate, contribution, disappointments and struggle have brought us to this point in our history. All Barbadians, but particularly those of you, whom the people have honoured by electing you to this great institution, need to draw on your collective wisdom and intellect to guide Barbados through the momentous times in which we live. You must ensure that 50 or 100 years from now our successors can look back and congratulate us on our stewardship of their inheritance.
Notwithstanding the vicissitudes of life in Barbados today, it is right and proper that this ceremony and these celebrations should take place, to commemorate this historic landmark in our country???s history. It is hoped therefore that whatere befalls, that an event such as this will take place in 2039, and every twenty-five years thereafter, until time with us shall be no more. May Almighty God continue to bless Barbados and its people.
Madam President and Members of the Senate
Mr. Speaker and Members of the Honourable House of Assembly.??My wife and I appreciate highly the singular honour and privilege accorded us this day. We shall always remember it, indeed, we shall cherish it. We are beholden to you.