Wake up call

Lord Tyler

In tune with so much of what has been happening in London this week, I attempted on Tuesday to arouse some politicians from their complacency about the dire reputation of Parliament.

My Constitutional Renewal Bill, which received its First Reading then, seeks to put this whole issue back on the agenda.  You may recall that, in his very first statement as Prime Minister, Gordon Brown set out proposals to “agree a new British constitutional settlement that entrusts more power to Parliament and the British people.”   Those brave intentions have long since been diluted, through a series of documents and even a draft Bill, but the need to revive them now is greater than ever.  In the midst of this economic crisis, with the reputation of Parliament and politicians at a very low ebb, people may well feel completely disillusioned, disconnected and dangerously alienated.  That is how extremist groups can flourish.

My Bill could start a process of reform which would at least show that we are listening in Parliament to the people we represent, and not merely to ourselves.  If Gordon Brown was right about the need for renewal in July 2007 he would be even more right now.

I do not know, of course, whether the Bill will make any progress, since we are well into the legislative year.  I was, however, intrigued to note that the consent of the Queen would be required because I (like the Prime Minister) seek to get back some of the so-called “Royal Prerogative” powers that the Government has inherited and make them subject to Parliamentary sanction – like decisions on going to war.

The Queen’s “consent” is not to be confused with the “Royal Assent”, which is a very different matter indeed.   That comes much later, and I am not that optimistic !

Meanwhile, the House of Lords has printed my Bill here with its Explanatory Notes here, and your comments would be very welcome.

9 comments for “Wake up call

  1. 03/04/2009 at 3:15 am

    ‘agree a new British constitutional settlement that entrusts more power to Parliament and the British people.’

    The first question has to be: “If we honestly believe in entrusting more power to the British people, why have we handed so much power to the EU Government: a government that has a Foreign Minister, in all but name, and embryo Navy, fighting pirates, an embryo army, and an Executive that formulates the majority of UK legislation?”

  2. Francisco
    03/04/2009 at 6:25 am

    What’s the time-table on the Bill? At 43 pages long, I’m going to able to look at it until for a while.

  3. Croft
    03/04/2009 at 11:03 am

    Ok, I’ll take a punt:

    On 2 ss1 it may be neater but I can’t personally see an issue with an independant/crossbench peer acting as AG. Obviously a party peer is a different matter.

    4. Do you not expect the consequence of effectively removing client privilege for the government with the AG that they will inevitably take less legal advice, less AG legal advice or simply take it from another lawyer?

    21 The Treaties Committee would seem obviously susceptible to the PM stuffing it full of a compliant majority. ss4 seems weak beyond belief and likely to have no real influence on the decision. Resolution of either house to block an appointment? It feels you need some ultimate red flag.

    22) Reason why EU Treaties exempted?

    24) The PM can still easily cite security concerns, new intelligence or tactical considerations to use the 24/2/a exemption. Though I think many politicians would like to forget it parliament voted for the Iraq invasion and the legal requirement for as vote seems to not change that. Parliament will always be asked with a gun to their heads governments and government with majorities are not going to lose even without an opposition likely to be sensitive to being called weak on security. So I wonder if this will change a thing but is gaining traction more as a totem or something akin to a ‘quasi-religious sacrifice’ for forgiveness by those who feel guilty over past decisions.

    37/3+4 I’m much taken with the idea of tying contracts to ministers terms and/or election cycle but is the taxpayer exposed to a termination payment to the SAs on each ministerial resignation/move?

    44/2 Am I reading this correctly but what happens if no government can be formed or it irrevocably breaks down. Most fixed term systems have an emergency clause for an election but I don’t see one here.

    47) Citizens’ Assembly with a 1/3 party vote doesn’t seem to say much for either trusting the people or really leaving them to make a decision without party political interference.

    54 part 1. Without wishing to repeat too much the bill contains the same wording as Lord Steel’s bill re ‘found guilty after the commencement of this section of one or more
    offences (whether in the United Kingdom or elsewhere)’. It’s the ‘elsewhere’ that continues to grate. No requirement that you are given a fair trial – or any trial. There is no requirement that it at least be for an offence equivalent to one in UK law. I suspect there would be considerable disquiet if a peer were disbarred after being convicted without a fair trial in a foreign country for writing a controversial book, think Rushdie, for being homosexual or any of a number of other obvious freedoms we accept here.

  4. Senex
    06/04/2009 at 9:02 am

    A solar environment undergoing change, a world environment unable to change, this is the wake up call, the politics of reward?

    “It is difficult to get a man to understand something, when his salary depends upon his not understanding it!” Socialist Upton Sinclair, quoted by Al Gore in ‘An Inconvenient Truth’.

    Perhaps this is where your party should be focusing its efforts.

    Ref: NASA, Deep Solar Minimum
    http://science.nasa.gov/headlines/y2009/01apr_deepsolarminimum.htm

  5. 06/04/2009 at 9:21 pm

    The time to “It’s the EU what’s running our country now, gawd” levels of crankiness is getting shorter and shorter.

    I wish that people would have more of a clue about the EU other than that it’s somehow full of dirty foreigners before they jumped in with comments like that. We’re not living in the 1600s any more – amazingly, the concerns of the signatories at Westphalia are not all still entirely relevant.

  6. lordtyler
    07/04/2009 at 4:14 pm

    Many thanks for the comments so far, particularly to Croft for such a detailed response, to which I’ll need to give careful consideration. I hope that more readers will be able to respond to the issues raised too in due course, and I agree with McDuff that some of the wilder ideas about the European Union are really a red herring. I am working with the Liberal Democrat Whips’ Office and the elusive ‘usual channels’ to try and agree a date for a Second Reading debate in the House of Lords. All the issues that appear here can then feed into our examination of the Bill in Parliament itself. I am keen to examine how we can make the Fixed Term Parliament system work well, and account for situations in which no Government can be formed (though I think these would be highly exceptional), and I am meeting with a Professor of Constitutional Law after the Easter Recess to discuss just that. Equally, I have worked with Unlock Democracy and others on the matter of making Citizens’ Assemblies work, and am happy to consider how to make the process even more effective. The Bill as drafted is not the final word on any of this, but I hope most will agree it is a far more radical attempt to move Britain’s constitutional settlement in a more democratic direction than anything the Government have so far produced. Please do keep the comments coming in, and I’ll keep you posted on any progress I make in the meantime.

  7. 07/04/2009 at 4:58 pm

    When you say that “I attempted on Tuesday to arouse some politicians from their complacency about the dire reputation of Parliament.” I feel you underestimate the EU effect.

    People might not understand the details of many EU directives, but they are understanding the effect. They know they are being deceived, even if they don’t understand just how. Parliaments reputation is suffering as a result. MPs might rarely mention “The Elephant in the Room” but occasionally they slip up and actually mention that they cannot implement, say, incremental VAT rates, because “We are not allowed to” A Darling. They might drop “Road Charging” but then try to sneak in the “Cooperative Vehicle-Infrastructure System”. People are not as daft as some in Westminster think.

    To dismiss this as a red herring, is a mistake, IMO. The results on June 4th will be interesting.

  8. 07/04/2009 at 5:00 pm

    BTW, I enjoyed your piece on the BBC radio podcasts, last week. Points well put, I thought.

  9. Croft
    08/04/2009 at 1:06 pm

    While I think under FPTP the chances of no government forming are very small they would certainly increase, or the chance of a coalition splitting irrevocably, under PR. Either way we’d all agree, I think, you can’t wait for the first occasion then try to legislate a solution!

    If you take Germany as an example article 68 allows for early elections called by the President if the government loses a vote of confidence. However on 2 of the 3 occasions this has been used it was for political advantage by the government – deliberately calling and losing a confidence vote in the hope of doing better in the elections. The whole thing led to argument in the constitutional courts and while successful in the end was pretty messy, destabilising and undesirable to have government decided in the court room.

    This ties back into one unmentioned concern about your proposal (45) which allows the commons alone to (slightly) alter the electoral date. Whether it is calling an emergency election or setting the day it does rather seem in both instances that giving those with the most political interest in distorting the timing for advantage the power to make such a decision is inevitably going to lead to the system being abused. On a quick view at least one might be able to bypass both threats either by requiring a super-majority in the commons, 2/3rds would require two of the 3 main parties to agree, or require both houses to agree. The latter seems an ideal constitutional role for the lords where it is much harder to whip a party line and there is no government majority. If the government has a good case for an election they should not fear the judgement of two houses.

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