The Organization of the Chambers
The Double-chamber System
parliament is divided in two assemblies: the Senato della Repubblica (the Senate
of Republic) and the Camera dei Deputati (Chamber of Deputies). The Assemblea
Costituente was influenced by at least two factors when it decided for an
assembly with two chambers. On the one hand it was considered opportune to
establish political representation on a balance of power guaranteed by
discussion between two assemblies, both of which derived their democratic
legitimacy from direct election. On the other hand a procedural consideration
was paramount as two chambers allowed for a major `reflection' in the execution
of their functions and imposed a need for co-ordination that ought to secure at
least two successive phases of debate.
Constitutionally the powers of the two
chambers are equal and do not represent distinct social interests. The
difference between them is so slight that it is possible to speak of an almost
`perfect' double-chamber system. The major difference between them is the
functional co-ordination of the two assemblies.
parliamentary reforms have been proposed to speed up their flow of work, which
is often subject to procedural obstacles. Proposals have been made to introduce
a single-chamber system, to drastically reduce the components of each assembly,
or to introduce a form of specialization in the work with a more efficient
co-ordination between the two chambers and their internal divisions.
The Parliament in Common Session
Where the structure of parliament is
concerned a general observation can be made that the chambers usually follow
their own distinct functions. Only in particular cases, specified by the
Constitution, do the two chambers unite in common session. The latter occurs for
the election and swearing in of the President of the Republic, for the election
of the constitutional justices (5 of which are nominated by parliament), for the
election of a third of the members of the Consiglio superiore della magistratura
and for the indictment of the head of State, the president of the council and
the ministers. When it is necessary for the two parliamentary chambers to unite
they sit together in the Camera dei deputati at Montecitorio.
The Double-chamber Commissions
The two assemblies also utilize a system of
interchange and co-ordination through double-chamber commissions. These are
composed of deputies and senators in equal numbers and correspond
proportionately to the size of the different parliamentary groups.
Double-chamber commissions are used for enquiring into cases of accusation, for
directing and controlling the radio and television services and for intervening
in the Mezzogiorno (Southern Italy), as well as for other controls and enquiries
specifically set up by parliament.
The Senate of the Republic
Under the Republican Constitution the Senate is
an elected body, unlike when under the monarchy it was appointed by the king
according to the the provisions of the Statuto albertino. It is elected, every
five years, on a `regional basis' by uninominal colleges or electoral bodies,
with the use of regional proportional representation if no candidate succeeds in
receiving the necessary 65% of valid votes.
The Constitution has fixed the
number of senators at 315. To this number are to be added former presidents of
the republic and senators, up to five, nominated by the presidents in office.
These last are chosen among those citizens who have made an outstanding social,
scientific, artistic or literary contribution to the country.
The Chamber of Deputies
Like the Senate, the chamber is elected every five
years. It is chosen by universal, direct, secret vote according to a
proportional system of plurinominal colleges. The number of deputies is fixed at
For the election of deputies, Italy is divided in 32 electoral
constituencies, each one having a number of deputies equal to the division of
the entire population (based on the latest general census figures) by 630, the
seats being assigned in accordance with the population of each constituency
based on whole electoral quotients and the highest remainders.
The work of the parliamentary assemblies and the
internal organization of the chambers are regulated by approval expressed
through absolute majority votes made independently in each chamber.
Parliamentary regulations for both the Chamber of Deputies and the Senate were
established at their first election, largely reflecting those foreseen by the
pre-Fascist parliament, and underwent a widespread institutional and procedural
reform in 1971.
Each chamber elects from its members the president of the
assembly and his office officials, consisting of vice-presidents, quaestors and
The presidential office contains representatives from the
different parliamentary political groups. The president carries out important
representational duties, as well as organizing and di recting the work. He has a
duty to ensure that the chamber over which he presides functions efficiently and
that parliamentary regulations are respected. In the accomplishment of these
tasks the president is assisted by the other members of his office and
The Parliamentary Groups
The senators and deputies must declare to which
parliamentary group they intend to belong. Any political group consisting of at
least ten senators and twenty deputies has the right to be represented in
The president of either chamber may also authorize the
constitution of parliamentary groups composed of a smaller number. If there are
not sufficient numbers to form an independent group, individual senators and
deputies not adhering to any established group, are entered in a mixed group.
These groups then feature as representatives of political factions within the
sphere of parliamentary institutions. They form important elements in both
organizing the work of the assembly and that of its commissions.
it is consultation among the leaders of these groups that selects the programme
of work and its calendar. In fact, the required unanimous agreement between
groups is seldom reached and the agenda frequently has to be fixed by the
The Permanent Commissions
Much parliamentary work is carried out by
commissions that are internal organs of both assemblies. The composition of
these parliamentary commissions reflect the proportions of the political groups
represented in the assembly. These permanent commissions are formed at the
beginning of the legislature and can make laws and exercise control over policy
andi nformation in their respective fields.
Session of the Chambers
The parliamentary chambers hold ordinary and
extraordinary sessions on the summons of the president. By law the sessions of
the plenum are held in public. The public, guests and representatives of the
press may watch from thea ppropriate reserved areas. For a session to be valid
the necessary legal number must be present, normally this is presumed to be the
case except where a request is made for verification or when voting is
The work of parliament and its commissions is subject to ample
scrutiny, not only through sessional reports supplied by parliamentary
functionaries and the public right to attend the assembly but also through the
use of closed-circuit video for commission proceedings. In addition, numerous
journalists are accredited to parliament.
The Guarantees Underlying and
Ensuring Parliamentary Liberty and Independence
The Prohibition of the
The relationship between the parliamentary member and the
political part from whose electoral lists he has been elected is complex and
attempts at simplification can be misleading. The Constitution confirms the
classical parliamentary principle that members of the chambers represent the
nation and exercise their functions without mandatory restrictions.
Parliamentary members are therefore neither the representatives of their
electoral colleges nor the mandatories of the political party to which they
The Party Restrictions
Nevertheless, modern political representation is
characterized by the interchange between the parliamentarian and his particular
party in the context of the influence exercised by political forces in the
democratic state. So it is that the constitutional principle mentioned above has
only resulted in a judgement of inadmissibility where cases of individual
parliamentarians coming into disagreement with their own political parties have
been concerned, even in the event of such a drastic political fracture as the
splintering of a group. The structural weakness of the
electoral-party-parliamentary group system and the uncertain boundaries of the
political responsibility involved suggest the need for further reflection on
this type of political representation and on the constitutional dynamics
involved in the actual relationships between public institutions.
Ineligibility and Incompatibility
The law establishes the cause for
parliamentary ineligibility and the election of any such candidate is invalid.
Causes of ineligibility are: the holding of certain offices (eg. regional
councillor, president of a provincial administration, mayor of a commune with
more than twenty thousand inhabitants, chief of police, prefect etc.); and being
a member of the legal profession who acts for a foreign state or a private firm
that has business dealings with the state.
Members of the chambers cannot be prosecuted for
the opinions expressed and the votes given in complying with their mandate, nor
can they be subjected to restrictions on their personal liberty other than in
the case that a parliamentarian is caught in the very act of committing a crime.
In order to make an arrest, carry out a search or any other penal procedure
whatsoever involving a member of parliament, the investigating authority must
first request the authorization of the chamber to which the parliamentarian
belongs. Every request for permission to proceed against one of its own members
is examined by the relevant chamber, assisted by a `junta' drawn proportionately
from all the political groups. This junta can also decide to shelve the case
without reaching a vote of the plenum.
Formation of Laws, Political Control and other Functions of the
The Legislative Function
Since the institution's earliest
origins a typical function of parliament has been that of legislating. So it is
in today's constitutional State that the legislative function prevails over the
other parliamentary attributes. As set down by the Constitution, the legislative
function in Italy is exercised by both chambers. Proposed laws must in fact be
approved in the same form by both chambers independently. Any modifications
proposed by one assembly must be discussed and voted on by the other. This
`shuttle' continues until a single text emerges. The Constitution lays down two
procedures: an ordinary legislative, one for the approval of formal laws and one
supplemented by constitutional revision for the approval of laws modifying the
Constitution. The latter case involves a more complex procedure and can also
include a direct appeal to the electorate by way of referendum.
Procedure for the Passing of Ordinary Laws
The right to propose laws is
enjoyed by different categories: the government, who must debate the form of the
law in the Consiglio dei ministri and obtain the authorization of the President
of the Republic, through presidential decree, to present it in parliament;
members of parliament, each one of whom can promote a legislative proposal;
regional councils; the Consiglio nazionale dell'economia e del lavoro for
matters involving the economy and employment; and, finally, a group of 50,000
electors. All of these complying with the specified form. The president of the
assembly assigns the proposed law to the relevant parliamentary commission. It
can be approved by ordinary procedure or by a decentralized procedure in
commission. In the former case the commission examines the text during `a
referral sitting' and forwards it to the chamber for approval; in the latter
case the same commission considers the proposal's merits, without a vote being
taken in the chamber. When this procedure is used the approval given is known as
`in legislative or deliberative sitting'.
After the law has been approved by
the two chambers it is promulgated by the President of the Republic, whereby he
makes manifest parliament's passing of the law, orders its publication and
demands its observation. The law is then inserted in the `official collection of
the laws and decrees of the Republic' and published in the Gazzetta Ufficiale.
Usually the law enters into force on the fifteenth day after its publication,
unless specified otherwise in the text itself. From that moment the law must be
obeyed and ignorance of it cannot be used as a defence, according to a principle
of criminal law that is also applicable to all juridical norms.
Political Control and the Chambers' Functions
important functions of political and financial control over the government and
public administration. The executive's activities, through the use of the
parliamentary vote of no confidence, are subject to a careful political check.
The Constitution specifies that if a `motion of no confidence' in the government
is carried then the executive must resign, in this way parliament can revoke the
confidence accorded to the government in the act of its investiture. However, in
the actual functioning of the constitutional model, parliament does not make use
of this formal instrument to force a confrontation between majority, opposition
and government. This is because `crises' are almost always provoked by political
relations within the majority coalition. The phases that precede the resignation
of governments and the motions that determine them must be seen within the
context of the role played by the political forces of the majority and their
leaderships, rather than in the institutional relationships between the majority
and the opposition in parliament.
The chambers' function of political control
is further reinforced by powers to enquire and obtain explicit information both
through the appointment of public functionaries and experts and through fact
gathering hearings undertaken by commissions.
A particularly important
element of financial control is exercised by parliament having to give some acts
formal approval. Among these is the state balance, consisting of the estimated
budget, the final balance for the previous year and the finance laws. In
addition, it debates numerous economic and financial reports and declarations
presented to parliament by the presidente del consiglio and the leading economic
ministers: ministro del bilancio, ministro del tesoro and ministro delle