Like the American, British, Pakistan and Indian Constitution, The French constitution also provides for a bicameral legislature called the Parliament. Article-24 of the constitution declares, “The Parliament is composed of the National Assembly and the Senate”. The Article from 25 to 33 describes the composition and functions of the Parliament. But the description is not complete and many things have been left to be determined by the organic law (Article-25). The Present Parliament is no longer the supreme organ of the state as it was under the previous (3rd and 4th) Republics. The relation, between Parliament and the Government is in sharp contrast to the practice prevailing in other countries like USA and Pakistan. This feature has been introduced to check the cases of conflict between the Parliament and the government.
One of the most important features of the French Constitution is that French parliament is bicameral and according to Article-24 consisting of two chambers namely:
- The National Assembly &
- The Senate according
French National Assembly
The French National Assembly is the lower House and popular chamber. At present it consists of 577 deputies (who are) elected by direct universal suffrage. A French citizen having attained the age of 21 years has the right to vote. A candidate who is a French citizen can contest National Assembly election or become its member and he should not be less than 23 years of age. However, government servants, army personnel and employees of nationalized industries are not eligible to contest its elections. The system of election is secret and the operational candidate is required to secure an absolute majority of valid votes polled. In case no candidate secures this majority then there is held a second ballot after a week. All the candidates may also nominate their substitute in case someone dies or becomes permanently disable or accepts the government responsibility. A member, who joins the ministry, must also resign his seat. The National Assembly sits in Bourbon Palace.
Term and Dissolution
The National Assembly is elected directly for a period of 5 years by universal sufferage. However, it can be dissolved earlier by the President of the Republic after consulting the Prime Minister and Presidents of both the assemblies. No dissolution can take place during the year following the new election. There cannot be two dissolutions a year. For electing a new National Assembly, the general elections take place not less than 20 and not more than 40 days after following the dissolution.
The meetings of the National Assembly are presided over by the President of Assembly. He is elected by the members for 5 years. He maintains discipline and decorum in the House. However, unlike his British counterpart, he is not politically neutral and defends his party in all the political battles within the House. He nominates 3 members of the Constitutional Council. .He also advises the President of the Republic at the time of dissolution of National Assembly as well as at the time of declaring state of emergency. (Six Vice-Presidents are also elected by members of the National Assembly, who one by one presides over the meetings in the absence of the President.
The Senate is the upper House or second chamber of the Parliament. It is elected by indirect sufferage. It represents the territorial entities of the Republic. French citizens resident abroad are represented in the Senate. The strength of the Senate is 283. No person below 35 can become its member. It is therefore called the House of Elders. It sits in Luxembourg Palace.
The Senate is a quasi-permanent House. Its members are elected for 9 years. One third of the Members retire every after 3 years like the American Senate. It can’t be dissolved by the President of the Republic. Thus it is a continuous body.
The Senate is elected indirectly by an electoral college. In the electoral college, there are nearly 11,000 members including mayors of the towns, cities and communes, the members of the Municipalities and members of Territorial councils.
The French Senate is presided over by its President who is elected by the members for 3 years. However, there is no limit on his re-election for a number of times, he like. As a chairman he enjoys no special powers. The constitution gives some advisory functions to him. The President of the Republic consults him before the dissolving the Parliament and before declaring emergency in the country has the right to make appeal to the Constitutional Council. He nominates 3 members to the Constitutional Council (Eight Vice-Presidents are also elected by Senate, who one by one presides over the meetings in the absence of the President).
Staff of the Parliament
Besides six-vice Presidents by the National Assembly and eight Vice-Presidents by the Senate, each House also elects a number of secretaries for keeping a record of activities of the House. Each one has also 3 Questeurs to perform administrative and financial functions.
Privileges of the Members
The members of the Parliament enjoy certain privileges. No member can be prosecuted, sought out arrested held in custody or tried on account of opinion expressed or votes cast by him in the exercise of his functions. They enjoy freedom of speech and action in the House. No member can be arrested on account of any crime or misdemeanor during a Parliamentary session without the consent of the Assembly of which he is a member. The members of the Parliament receive fixed salaries and other allowances. They are given bonus for regular attendance.
Session of the Parliament
Each year the French Parliament holds two sessions. The first session begins on 2nd Oct and continues for the next 80 days. The second session beings on 2nd April and it cannot last for more than 90 days. The French constitution provides for the special sessions of the Parliament.