Barbados’s parliament is the 3rd oldest in the Commonwealth, surpassed only by Britain and Bermuda.
The 1st Barbados Parliament was established in 1639 when Governor Captain Henry Hawley formed a representative body from the local planters for inclusion in his administration.
As it was then called, this House of Burgess was intended to sit with a handpicked Council to run the island’s affairs.
The earliest General Assembly met at a building in Bridgetown known as the Sessions House, situated on the northwestern side of the Central Bank of Barbados building. The Assembly later met at several other places in Bridgetown until 1874, when the present Parliament Buildings were constructed.
In the early days, the Legislative Assembly’s duration was not fixed, and the Governor summoned or dissolved it as he thought fit. In 1653, the members demanded that the House of Assembly be established and confirmed by law for one year, but this was rejected, and it was not until 1660 that this request was granted.
In 1938 Barbados moved the life of parliament to 2 years. This was further extended to 3 years in 1949 and 5 years in 1953.
The 1st female Member of Parliament was Mrs. Ermie Bourne, who took her seat as a member of the Barbados Labour Party in 1951. However, the ladies had to wait another 20 years before a 2nd woman was elected to parliament. Mrs. Gertrude Eastmond was elected in 1971 as a member of the Democratic Labour Party.
Another woman, Miss Billie Miller, now Dame Billie Miller, was the 3rd female elected to parliament. She first mounted the House of Assembly steps in 1976 and was appointed the first female Minister of Government.
Medical practitioner Esther Byer-Suckoo joined this illustrious group when she won a seat in the 2008 elections and became Minister of Family, Youth Affairs, Sports, and the Environment.
Few countries can boast over 370 years of unbroken Parliamentary tradition. For Barbados, this tradition is a testament to the island’s stability over the years.
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