Main Issues [Topic 4 A New Bicameral System] | Birth of the Constitution of Japan

Main issues

Topic 4 A New Bicameral System

1 Suggestions to Democratize the Parliamentary System

The Imperial Diet under the Meiji Constitution could only give "consent" to the Emperor, who held legislative power. It was a bicameral parliament that consisted of the House of Peers made up of the Imperial Family, noblemen, and Imperial appointees, and the House of Representatives whose members were elected. With the exception of the House of Representatives' right to prior consideration of the budget, the authority of both Houses was equal.

With the acceptance of the Potsdam Declaration, sovereignty would be passed from the Emperor to the People, and the Diet was to be democratized. George Atcheson, U.S. Political Advisor to SCAP, gave Fumimaro Konoye an explanation of fundamental points that needed to be revised in the Meiji Constitution. His advice included expanding the authority of the House of Representatives, eliminating the House of Peers' veto power, establishing the principle of parliamentary responsibility, and democratizing the House of Peers. Milo E. Rowell, Judicial Affairs Officer in Government Section, GHQ, indicated in "Report of preliminary studies and recommendations of Japanese Constitution"The comment of [Report of preliminary studies and recommendations of Japanese Constitution] that either a unicameral or bicameral legislature would be acceptable, as long as all the legislators were elected.

On top of that, the U.S. Government also recommended that the legislative body be fully representative of the electorate in Reform of the Japanese Governmental System (SWNCC 228)The comment of [Reform of the Japanese Governmental System (SWNCC 228)comment], sent to MacArthur for his "information."

2 Basic Concept of the Japanese Government

In the Constitutional Problems Investigation Committee (Matsumoto Committee), established by the Japanese government, the dominant opinion was that the bicameral system should be continued, but that it was necessary to democratize the composition of the House of Peers and to limit its power (Records of 3rd general meeting of the Constitutional Problems Investigation CommitteeThe comment of [Records of 3rd general meeting of the Constitutional Problems Investigation Committee]). Several names for the House were considered, such as "Upper House," "Second House," "Senate," "Special Legislature," and "House of Councillors." Of these, "House of Councillors" was considered to be a "safe" choice (Records of the 7th investigative meeting of the Constitutional Problems Investigation CommitteeThe comment of [Records of the 7th investigative meeting of the Constitutional Problems Investigation Committee]). This opinion was reflected in Matsumoto's "Tentative Revision of the Constitution"The comment of [Tentative Revision of the Constitution] and the "Tentative Revision of the Constitution" (Proposal A)."The comment of [Tentative Revision of the Constitution" (Proposal A)] Specifically, (1) the Imperial Diet would comprise "both a House of Councillors and a House of Representatives," (2) If both Houses did not agree on decisions regarding legislation or the budget, the House of Representatives would take precedence in making the final decision, and (3) the House of Councillors would "be composed of members who have been elected thereto and of those who have been appointed thereto by the Emperor, in accordance with the Law concerning the House of Councillors."

3 Negotiating with GHQ

The meeting in GHQ's Government Section on February 5, 1946, concluded that it was preferable to propose a unicameral legislature, because it would be simple and suitable for the conditions of Japanese political development. Also, Colonel Kades in Government Section expressed the opinion that, whether the Japanese legislature would be unicameral or bicameral could be used as "an effective bargaining lever" to negotiate with the Japanese government so that "a more important issue" could be kept in the GHQ Draft. The "GHQ Draft"The comment of [GHQ Draft] that was handed over to the Japanese government on February 13 stated, "The Diet shall be the highest organ of state power and shall be the sole law-making authority of the State." It described the makeup of a single House of elected representatives consisting of at least 300 but less than 500 members. It was described in this way because (1) the peerage would be abolished, (2) Japan was not a federal state, and (3) disputes would arise over the weight of authority between the two houses. In response to this, Matsumoto explained the advantages of a bicameral legislature that (1) many countries employed a bicameral system to provide stability in the operation of their legislatures, (2) a change in government in a unicameral system might pose the threat of radical shifts in government policy, and (3) a bicameral system would promote stability and continuity in government policies. General Whitney, Chief of Government Section, then allowed that as long as the basic principles set forth in GHQ Draft were not impaired, it would be acceptable to consider a bicameral system ("GHQ Records of the Meeting when GHQ Draft was Presented to Japanese Government February 13, 1946"The comment of [GHQ Records of the Meeting when GHQ Draft was Presented to Japanese Government February 13, 1946]).

4 Deliberations on the Principles and Structure of the House of Councillors

In the "Outline of a Draft for a Revised Constitution,"The comment of [Outline of a Draft for a Revised Constitution] which was agreed on during negotiations with GHQ that started on March 4 and lasted throughout the night, it was decided to have both Houses composed of members who were elected by the people to represent all the people. After the publication of this draft, amendments were made to allow for emergency sessions of the House of Councillors, and it was written in ordinary language as the "Draft for a Revised Constitution."The comment of [Draft for a Revised Constitution]

During the 90th session of the Imperial Diet in which the "Bill for Revision of the Imperial Constitution"The comment of [Bill for Revision of the Imperial Constitution] was debated, Minister of State Tokujiro Kanamori argued that a bicameral legislature would be appropriate from "a new point of view." He pointed out that the principle behind establishing a House of Councillors was to call for highly skilled statesmen with knowledge and experience and on the assumption that it should act as a control on the House of Representatives. There was also much discussion about the structure of the House of Councillors, such as whether to introduce a vocational representation system, but it did not lead to any firm modifications to the House's structure. Only an additional resolution was decided in the House of Representatives which declared the need to bear in mind that the House of Councillors should not have similar composition to that of the House of Representatives and that its members should be people with knowledge and experience from every part of society and from every kind of vocation.

For the past half century since then, discussions have continued about the House of Councillors as to what responsibilities it should exercise and what unique features it should have, as it is made up of elected members "representing the people of Japan" the same as the House of Representatives. Discussions have also continued regarding how it is possible to elect suitable people for this House to fill its role as the "Second House" under the Constitution of Japan.

Copyright©2003-2004 National Diet Library All Rights Reserved.