Unremarked, it would seem, is a consultation being undertaken by the Political and Constitutional Reform Select Committee into the shape of our democracy; one which began on 10th July 2014 and closes on 1st January 2015. From the Parliament website we learn that the Committee has been working on a major project with King’s College London to develop several different visions of what a democratic settlement for the UK could look like. For those interested – and, I would suggest, that should be everyone – further details can be found here, here, here; and here.
The Committee has published three blueprints for a codified constitution:
and these, too, should be read.
There is a competition being run for the best 350-word Preamble to any new Constitution and Graham Allen (Labour), Chair of the Political and Constitutional Reform Committee has offered his version - purely as an example, of course. The three categories are for (a) the general public; (b) Under 18s; and (c) journalists (yes, I looked twice at the last category as at the first time of looking I fell off my chair laughing – but I digress).
Eight months prior to this consultation starting, an extremely short debate took place in the House of Lords, instigated by Baroness Bothroyd – Betty Boothroyd as was (when we had a ‘proper’ Speaker in the House of Commons), on the subject of celebrating the 800th anniversary of Magna Carta.
It is not my intention to comment on the three ‘blueprints’ as I do not wish to’influence readers comments, but one cannot but help noticing that in the Constitutional Code our ‘rights’ are being defined – but again I digress.
Notwithstanding the foregoing caveat I do wish to raise a few points – and begin with the offering from Graham Allen. Setting to one side the ‘whereas’ which seems to smack a little of the faxed instructions the United Kingdom receives from Brussels, one section stood out:
Now, we the people of the United Kingdom have created this Constitution as an expression of our nation, our democracy and as the framework of our government whose just powers derive only from our consent. We, through the agency of our representatives in Parliament assembled, have devised and agreed this constitution……..
No, first, we will not have created this Constitution – it will have been created by our representatives in Parliament (and their ‘stakeholders’, no doubt too numerous to mention). Second, if we have ‘agreed’ this Constitution then presumably it will have been put to a referendum?
Allen continues that this Constitution:
secures them from the tyranny or caprice of those in power over them.
No, it does not, not while the present system of representative democracy prevails. Consequently, if we are to have a consultation on the introduction of a written constitution then perhaps we should also have a consultation on ‘democracy’ and what form of democracy under which we wish to live. After all, it was Lord Prakesh (col: 422) in the HoL debate (linked to above) who stated that:
Democracy is the rule of the people
and if the people are to rule then it is not Parliament that is sovereign but the people. As a result the people must have the ability to question any law that is proposed by Parliament – and be able to so do before said law becomes ‘enacted’.
One other related – and important point – does need to be made and it comes as a result of the intervention in that HoL debate by Baroness Lane-Fox (col: 425). Detailing a visit she made to a school in Willesden, at which she was speaking to 200 or 300 15 to 16 year-olds and to break the ice and calm her nerves, she asked the pupils in the room how many had heard of the website that she co-founded, namely lastminute.com, at which point around 80% of hands shot up. When asked how many had heard of the House of Lords only around 5% of hands shot up. As Fox-Lane stated, it is indeed a problem when more know how to book a holiday on-line than know about Parliament; which then begs the question: what price our educational system and the curriculum in use – but again I digress.
On an equally serious note are we, the people, really going to leave the formation of a new Constitution to a group of people who cannot even transpose EU law without creating a later problem for themselves; to a group of people who an eminent QC described their British Bill of Rights as ‘rubbish’ - and which contained a number of obvious legal errors.
Are we really going to stand to one side?