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I fully agree with the idea of being more democratic, especially since we've recently been accused of being a rather one-man band.

The way Scottish and Welsh MPs have voted on very contentious legislation that affects only English constituencies has propped up the Blair administration and is one of the biggest "scandals" of his premiership.

Conservatives are sceptical friends of constitutional change , but it is time we made some bold moves in this area. Clearing up this anomaly in our legislature would be a sensible first step. Helpfully it is also good politics that puts Brown, very much on the back foot.

Although much criticised on here, I suspect the constitutional policy group will be one of the most radical and interesting when it reports. I look forward to it.
ncidentally, does anyone on the inside (editor?) know if the findings of these policy groups are going to be staggered like their creation?

"the status and power of Parliament"

What does Mr Cameron (and Mr Clarke, for the matter) have to say about the fact that the Parliament has surrendered the power to set Britain's agricultural and fishing policies, and our external trade policy?

What do they say about Parliament's incapacity to frame much of our employment, environmental and product safety legislation, and many key aspects of our intellectual property laws? What about the fact that we have no choice but to levy VAT as an EU tax, and that we cannot restrict the scope of its application without the consent of other EU countries?

What about Parliament's incapacity to legislate on all aspects of company taxation? What about the droit de suite and the harm it will increasingly cause to our art market? What about the fact that we are increasingly living in a one-party state, where whoever is in power, increasingly more of our laws and taxes cannot be amended one iota by any elected British MP?

I agree that it is important to consider the role of the royal prerogative and the proper functioning of cabinet government. But it is far more important, I submit, to reassert the right of the British people to elect MPs who can actually change, repeal or legislate new laws in every aspect of public life, as they were elected to do.

If Parliament will not assert its right as the sovereign and sole legislative body in the land then it does not deserve the status which it formerly held.

If it does not do this, then what is the point of our democracy, and what is the point of voting?

"What do they say about Parliament's incapacity to frame much of our employment, environmental and product safety legislation, and many key aspects of our intellectual property laws? What about the fact that we have no choice but to levy VAT as an EU tax, and that we cannot restrict the scope of its application without the consent of other EU countries?

What about Parliament's incapacity to legislate on all aspects of company taxation? What about the droit de suite and the harm it will increasingly cause to our art market? What about the fact that we are increasingly living in a one-party state, where whoever is in power, increasingly more of our laws and taxes cannot be amended one iota by any elected British MP? "

they would probably say something about pooling sovereignty to increase British influence etc etc.

I have yet to see a sound argument that justifies why politicians who are elected or appointed by other nations should have a say over British law.

The fact is that if Europe were to be just a free trade zone, the more socialist economies would find it much harder to compete due to our more flexible economy. They therefore see the EU as a way of forcing us to put up with the regulations they have to so that we can't "unfairly" undercut them.

Mr Cameron is right to want to appear as PM rather than President, but he totally misses the point. Tony Blair has broken the convention which makes the PM the Queen's first minister in Her Majesty's Government. In this role the PM has all the powers of the royal prerogative at his disposal, without appearing to have them. Declaring war and peace is a royal prerogative and Churchill, in the war, assumed those prerogative powers of the monarchy which gave him, more or less, absolute power.
The srength of our unwritten constitution is that in a crisis the PM can act decisively.Indeed the modern PM has more power than King John ever had. The American President is more circumscribed. Blair has queered the pitch by alluding to "his government" and appearing to be acting on his own as a dictator, and not as the vehicle for the royal prerogative. Giving MPs a say in war and peace is wrong in principle
because soldiers' allegiance is to the Queen ( whose prerogative powers are used by the PM when declaring war) and not to Parliament.


Interesting how the Guardian interprets it.

The full speech is now available here.

Looks like they wont be looking at localism very much then.

The Queen acts in use of all but the personal prerogative on advice of her ministers. These ministers are answerable to Parliament - which includes the Crown, the Commons & the Lords
('Queen in Parliament' is the formal title of the British legislature, which consists of the Sovereign, the House of Lords and the House of Commons (from royal.gov.uk).
Extending to the Commons and/or Lords the ability to scrutinise the PMs use of some of the Prerogative powers seems sensible - in times of crisis or war these could be restored to the executive quite simply. In 1939 for example Parliament would have voted to give Germany a last chance and empowered the Gov't to declare war if this failed.
I cannot see how extending scutiny to the Houses would impinge on the Oath of Allegiance to the Crown.

Surely a PM who used the Royal Prerogative to take the country to war without the majority support of Parliament would face a vote of no confidence and be removed anyway? So what are we gaining with this?

The "West Lothian Question" and "Engish MPs for English laws" is a minefield. It is quite likely for a Labour PM to have a Labour minority in England, and a Conservative PM to have a Conservative minority in Scotland and Wales. This in itself is a constitutional nonsense if the UK ruling party has to defer to the Opposition in different parts of the UK.

Devolution is a constitutional nightmare and should be scrapped. However, to avoid an emotional backlash, the very reasonable criteron should first be established that two thirds of the elecorate would have to vote "yes" in order to agree a major constitutional change, and any devolved assembly/parliament would have to finance itself without English subsidy. As Devolution was effected on a minority vote, it should be put to the electorate again, in the light of experience, to ascertain whether Devolution should continue or not.
Hopefully, the unitary state wil be re-established. If not, then we will at least know that the Scots and Welsh mean what they say.

I think the point is that we have genuinely no idea what will come out of this move. I'd like to be a fly on the wall if Ken Clarke calls Tony Benn to give evidence.

Which raises a thought - will the Democracy Taskforce be taking evidence in open hearing? If not, why not?

It would make sense to throw open the appointments to the big quangos to prior vetting by a Select Committee (presumably the relevant departmental one? e.g. the Culture Committee vets the Chairman of the BBC) on a black ball system: if the committee clear them, it goes to a confirmation vote by (both?) Houses.

I expect the appointment of Bishops would be changed too, although I doubt any one would want to adopt the same method of a political vote; which might be a shame. Can you imagine candidates being grilled on points of theological doctrine by Mark Oaten or John Hemming? (I'm told the parliamentary debate on the revised Anglican Prayer Book in the 1920s was one of the best of the 20th Century.)

Treaty-making power is something of a non-event, since any serious treaty requires legislation any way. The Americans seem to get by with a system where the President confucts diplomacy but treaties rest with the legislature.

As for prior votes on a declaration of war: well, we don't fight wars any more. The last time we declared war on anyone was against Siam in January 1942.

Don't laugh: war is now an over-regulated activity and the red tape and consequences (e.g. The Trading with The Enemy Act; fiddly procedures under the UN Charter) mean that its simply too much hassle to do it.

We didn't declare war in 1950 over Korea, 1956 over Suez, 1982 over the Falklands, or any of the Iraq expeditions in 1990/1, 1998 or 2003, nor with the expeditions to Kosovo in 1999 or Sierra Leone (1998?).

1950, 1990, 1998 (and, arguably 2003) were not wars but police actions of collective security under the UN Charter authorised by a resolution.

1956 was something of a freelance spasm about which the least said the better.

1982 was an act of self-help to evict squatters from British territory.

From memory, Sierra Leone was justified because the legitimate govmt asked us to intervene.

Kosovo is a little tricky (and disputed) but the justification was pre-emptive action under the NATO Charter was needed to prevent a threat to regional stability and so uphold the values of the UN Charter (I think).

Quite how you would frame rules to govern all of those, I'm not sure. And it may not matter. Following Blair's example, no govmt will be able to conduct similar operations without a prior vote. The test would become: will I get away with this without putting it to a vote in the Commons? Which would be probably more effective than a clear set of written rules, which the lawyers would try to subvent (and as happened with the non-use of "wars" since 1942).

The only equitable form of devolution is for each of the 4 parts of the United Kingdom to have an assembly/parliament elected or appointed in exactly the same way and with exactly the same powers. 'English votes for English laws' is inadequate because a party with an English majority is unable to initiate English legislation under the present Westminster system unless it has a majority in the UK as a whole. Only a separate English Parliament is adequate.

I thought that sovereignty was placed in parliament, not the PM? Am I wrong? So the proposal makes sense to me.

Whatever the sense of the particular War proposal, I do very very much like this demarkation of the role of the legislature in checking the executive, eg wrt appointments to important quangos.

"I thought that sovereignty was placed in parliament, not the PM?"

The UK constitution can be boiled down to the simple phrase, Parliament has the power to make or unmake any legislation retrospectively. However things are much more complex than that. The PM, being appointed by the monarch, as the individual who can command the confidence of the majority of Parliament, namely the House of Commons. The PM and his cabinet take on a whole series of powers derrived from the monarach, known as Royal Prerogative and powers of patronage. The PM also dominates parliament thanks to the intense whipping system, partisan loyalty and electoral system, therefore Parliament may be sovereign, but under usual circumstances, the PM dominates Parliament.

John C:Only a separate English Parliament is adequate.

Please, spare us another large super-quango, with impressive iconic building. Imagine the arguments about where you'd put the damn thing. We can't decide on a building for the new Supreme Court (=5 old men in wigs) or construct a football stadium at Wembley.

"English votes for English laws" would actually be very simple to achieve:
(1) Speaker has the power to certify Bills as all-UK, England-only, or mixed.
(2) English-only legislation must go through a three-reading procedure in an English Grand Committee (i.e. all MPs for English constituencies) after completing the normal Commons procedure.
(3) In effect the Commons stages for such legislation would be accelerated and be replaced by an identical system involving only English MPs, but be retained as at present for all-UK legislation.
(4) Yes, it would be a nightmare for laws which applied to different parts of the UK outside these two simple categories. But there is already a special procedure for "hybrid bills", which is used only rarely precisely because it is such a nightmare. It would encourage Govmt to present Bills which were clearly delineated.
(5) In theory you could have a UK Govmt using the Lords to throw out n English Grand Committee amendments where the Govmt doesn't have an English majority - but the Lords can throw out Commons Bills now.
(6) Not sure what you'd do about legislation to extend the powers of devolved assemblies in Wales and Scotland. Can see arguments on both sides as to whether this is all-UK law or just affecting the one country.

Graeme Archer: I thought that sovereignty was placed in parliament, not the PM? Am I wrong?

Yes. Sovereignty is vested in the sovereign. You may be confused with the doctrine of "parliamentary sovereignty" which means that nobody can overrule parliament as a law making-body - which has been battered a bit in the last few years.

(However, whilst power has been conceded to, e.g. the EU, note a development the other way: the classic exposition of the doctrine was that 'Parliament can do anything it likes except rule that a man is a woman and a woman is a man', and Parliament has now decided that it can in fact also do that.)

The West Lothian question isn't a problem with an UK Conservative Govt and Lib-ab regional ones because of the separation of competencies. UK Gov't manages UK issues not Scottish devolved ones (which Gordon doesn't seem to understand as regards the Forth Road Bridge!).

It is however an issue when Scots MPs (or Welsh) vote on issues only affecting England. MPs from Scotland (or in some cases Wales) should only be able to vote on UK matters - not English, Scots or Welsh ones. Exclusion of non-English MPs in English matters creates a de-facto English House of Commons in those cases (more thought is needed on House of Lords).

I actually can't see that a Labour Govt facing a minority reresentation in English matters is a great issue - it just means that they will need to scope legislation in a manner that will win majority support so giving more power to English standing committees and to the MPs. They could co-opt Conservative or Liberals to ministerial posts - and seperate UK and English Cabinets could evolve. The advantage of an un-written constitution is that it can evolve to fit circumstances.

"Surely a PM who used the Royal Prerogative to take the country to war without the majority support of Parliament would face a vote of no confidence and be removed anyway? So what are we gaining with this?"

It looks good on the news bulletin?

Really this blog is amazing. I've bodded along for decades in my hopeless science geek type way, believing that after the civil war there was a sort of british compromise whereby we had a sovereign only as much as that sovereign agreed to vest all the actual sovereignty in parliament. I tihnk William is the new Schama!

I agree so much with the "English votes for English laws" rule. In fact I don't think we'll ever have a PM who represents a scottish seat again until that comes to pass (but I don't think we should alert Gordon to this fact post Labour leadership battle).

"PRE leadership battle" I should have written!

It looks good on the news bulletin?

What? Surely some mistake? I can't see honest 'Dave' Cameron subsrcibing to this sort of cynical politics you are alluding to.

Keep it real yeah.

I believe Graeme is thinking of the concept of The Queen in Parliament as the vessel of sovereignty, whereby all sovereignty resides in the monarch but is exercised in unison with parliament.

It's interesting that Cameron continues to criticise 'Punch and Judy' politics, while in fact proving himself to be actually rather good at it when it comes to PMQs.

William, you haven't addressed the question of where the legislation for an English Grand Committee would come from. Suppose after the next election the Conservatives had an overall majority of English MPs but Labour still had a majority in the UK as a whole (not impossible). Would English legislation then be prepared by the English members of the Conservative Shadow Cabinet sitting as the English Cabinet ? Would the Conservative party become the Government for the purposes of English legislation ?
Proceedings would easily become farcical and destructive of the whole parliamentary tradition. Far better to have a clearly separate English parliament.

- according to Royal.gov (which should know) the Queen in Parliament is The Queen, House of Commons & House of Lords (its actually what our legislature is called - isn't the internet amazing, I never knew that)
John C - If Labour has a majority it could either choose a Secretary of State for Health in England from its own benches or agree with the main English parties for a nominee. It would by necessity have to agree a virtual or real coalition on English matters. Legislation proposed would need approval from English members, be examined by an English Committee on Health (reflecting the English seat distribution) before completing its passage to legislation.
It's what minority governments do all the time. Saves us from having an expensive uneccessary English Parliament (with arguments about it being in Birmingham, Manchester, York etc.)

That's what I said, Ted.

On the question of devolution, as I have said several times before the current situation is clearly unsustainable. Therefore there are only 3 realistic options that we can take.

1)Return to a unitary state with all power resting at Westminster.

2) Create a Federal UK

3) Give Scotland, and perhpas Wales and Northern Ireland independence.

Clearly the first is politically impossible at the current time, unless there is a dramatic shift of opinion north of the border.
The second is complex and expensive, and could bring about all sorts of conflict.
Perhaps the best and most realistic option in the long run is independence.

Rob you are being too logical - the British are best at muddling through. It might not turn out to be tidy but if it works well enough?

Too logical? Thats something I've never been acccused of before. You may settle for muddling through, but when things come to the constitution of this country, where power lies and whether we have an fair and equal democracy, hopefully logic will prevail.

To put it another way, the current system is unjust, and 'moderation in the pursuit of justice is no virtue'.

John C:William, you haven't addressed the question of where the legislation for an English Grand Committee would come from.

I thought everyone knew that draft legislation is found under mulberry bushes by the Whips.

Who needs an English Cabinet? Who wants an English Govmt? Legislation would be brought forward in exactly the same way as at present, with a procedural change for enactment. If a UK Govmt without an English majority wanted to play silly buggers, let it. If alternatively it was persuaded to cut down the flow of England-only legislation: great.

Ted/James H:
"Queen-in-Parliament" is the expression of the sovereign acting in her legislative function. New law is promulgated by the sovereign by and with the consent and advice of Parliament. The sovereign also has a judicial aspect (as the fount of all justice) and an executive aspect.

The official title of parliament when it was formed was "The Parliament of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland" (Act of Union 1800, article 3rd) and presumably the name changed in 1929 when the current name of the UK was adopted.

I think a different solution would be if we divided into states in union with the federal government of America.

England could be it's own state, Cornwall, Wales, Scotland and Northern Island too. States have a fair amount of autonomy.

We'd have to then see we'd be fairly represented in the national american democracy though.

Channel 4 News are shit-stirring again, portraying Cameron's statement on the royal prerogative as his latest one-fingered salute to Tory traditionalists.

On the Conservatives.com homepage, there's now a banner saying "Ken Clarke's Democracy Taskforce - Restoring trust in politics".

Which is a bit ironic given that Ken Clarke was a member of a government that started the destruction of trust in politics.

I'd add my voice to the call for the solution to be an English Parliament. It would allow a single settlement of similar powers to each of the local country parliaments (avoiding the nonsense of today where each devolved assembly has different powers). Retain all properly national issues at Westminster, with the PM remaining the majority leader in that parliament.
As to location, I've always been keen on Westminster Guildhall, across the road from the Palace of Westminster. It's a decent size, means we wouldn't have to spend too much on it, and keeps the continuity of an English Parliament in Westminster, while making the point that the Westminster Parliament is the "federal" one (a point which seems more important to you if, like me, you grew up on a Celtic Fringe).

That should of course be Middlesex Guildhall. That'll teach me to post without previewing.

portraying Cameron's statement on the royal prerogative as his latest one-fingered salute to Tory traditionalists.

I saw that Dan and thought KC handled it well The roblem for left wing news organisations is they have spent so long assuming Tory=reactionary that they forget we are the party who have always been most radical and Cameron's proposals seem a sensible way to begin looking at a proper reordering of the constitution to increase freedom and accountability and try and sort out some of the mess that Peter hain was so proud of on the Today programme this morning. I think a 70% elected House of Lords with 7 year terms would be worth a look as well.

Nobody sems to have mentioned the most important long term feature of DCs speech which is the nice duck-egg blue backdrop which is surely going to be the new softer shade of blue for all our rosettes in the months and years to come!

I'm all for reform of the West Lothian question (who isn't, apart from NuLab?) I think it has a simple solution though. A party can still form a government with its majority being relied upon by Scottish and Welsh MPs, as our Parliament is the UNITED Kingdom parliament. Then, English-only matters could only be voted upon by English-only MPs.

It WOULD create a two-tier system but an effective one. Technically, the "English Parliament" would reside in the Commons and its members would simply be all of the English MPs.

It would still be possible for a government with a majority of UK seats to govern effectively, even if they did not have a majority of English seats. After all, the government is elected to represent the whole of the United Kingdom, of which England is only a component. It could still deal decisively with matters affecting the whole union. Seperate agreements and arrangements could be made between the parties on English only issues, if the government did not have an English majority.

Elena, that would be over complicated and unsustainable in the long run. A government without an english majority couldnt make any serious legislation whatsoever, either on England and Wales, or on Scotland with its powers devolved. What you are proposing is an attractive short term offer, but in the long run, it simply isnt sustainable. Other considerations, such as Scottish MPs over representation, the unfair subsidy of England and Wales to Scotland, etc. A more long term solution must be decided, one of the three I highlighted earlier in this post.

Interesting how BBC news online "have your say" page is trying to confuse the issue by making out that D.C. is trying to disempower the Queen. They're saying "royal prerogatives" and not explaining that in practise the PM wields the powers. Sneaky, sneaky.

On a lighter note Michael White's comment in his review of the launch
"Just by sitting there, looking as if he had come from a pub fight, the ex-chancellor exuded genial menace. "Nice little royal prerogative, you've got there, squire. Shame if anything happened to it," he seemed to be saying."

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