Wed Jul 4th, 2007 at 05:16:09 AM EST
These are excerpts from the UK Chambers' Hansard of Gordon Brown's speech on Constitutional Reform.
Promoted by Colman -- So what do you think of the prospects for one of the EU's important leaders? I caught some of his speech on TV yesterday and he didn't seem cut from the same cloth as Blair. He seems to be proposing to undo some of Blair's Presidential changes and reduce the power of the executive.
Brown outlines twelve areas where power will devolve from the executive to the legislative:
The route map seeks to address two fundamental issues: to hold power more accountable and to uphold and enhance the rights and responsibilities of the citizen.
While constitutional change will not be the work of just one Bill or one year or one Parliament, I can today make an immediate start by proposing changes that will transfer power from the Prime Minister and the Executive.
For centuries, they have exercised authority in the name of the monarchy without the people and their elected representatives being consulted, so I now propose that in 12 important areas of our national life the Prime Minister and the Executive should surrender or limit their powers, the exclusive exercise of which by the Government of the day should have no place in a modern democracy.
These are: the power of the Executive to declare war; the power to request the dissolution of Parliament; the power over recall of Parliament; the power of the Executive to ratify international treaties without decision by Parliament; the power to make key public appointments without effective scrutiny; the power to restrict parliamentary oversight of our intelligence services; power to choose bishops; power in the appointment of judges; power to direct prosecutors in individual criminal cases; power over the civil service itself; and the Executive powers to determine the rules governing entitlement to passports and the granting of pardons.
I now propose to surrender or limit these powers to make for a more open 21st-century British democracy which better serves the British people.
He is arguing for checks and balances between the Executive and Legislative. Which is very wise and makes for a more deliberative process. It should be noted that Australia lacks several of these too.
I did not realise that parliament could appoint bishops, surely in a republican system, secularism is the goal and parliament, or politics, should play no role in the appointment of clergy. I am aware that the UK is not a republic, and that the Queen is the head of the church as well as state, but surely it could just be gotten rid of and the church told to deal with it themselves.
It is also interesting to note, particularly with the issues in the US, that Brown wants to devolve power, or oversight for pardons into the legislative. In the Washington system the President has absolute authority in this area. It is supposed to be a check and balance against arbitrary judicial decisions, not a political get out of jail free card.
On the issue of dissolution of parliament, under these reforms there must be a majority for the dissolution rather than just the executive council deciding it. This would probably be better handled by fixed terms. The executive calling the election date gives too much incumbent advantage anyway.
Brown seeks to make the Attorney-general have less political intrusion into cases:
The role of Attorney-General, which combines legal and ministerial functions, needs to change. While we consult on reform, the Attorney-General has herself decided, except if the law or national security requires it, not to make key prosecution decisions in individual criminal cases.
Seems wise. There is also a requirement for the public service to be governed by legislation rather than executive procedures. There is also a decoupling of politics and civil service by not allowing special advisors to give orders to the civil servants.
This has been an issue in Australia and has allowed the "I don't know, no-one told me" type get out of jail free cards to Government Ministers. IIRC Bob Brown tried to pass a private member bill in the Senate seeking to stop this practice in Australia.
Gordon Brown also argues for 'citizen juries'. He didn't embellish on them so not sure how they compare to Segelene Royal's 'citizen juries' policy:
The first is powers of initiative, extending the right of the British people to intervene with their elected local representatives to ensure action, through a new community right to call for action and new duties on public bodies to involve local people.
The second is new rights for the British people to be consulted through mechanisms such as 'citizens juries' on major decisions affecting their lives. The third is powers of redress, and new rights for the British people to scrutinise and improve the local delivery of services. The fourth is powers to ballot on spending decisions in areas such as neighbourhood budgets and youth budgets, with decisions on finance made by local people themselves.
He is also seeking to reduce the age of enfranchisement to lower than seventeen. Ultimately Brown wants it all wrapped in a written constitution (like Australia, but not like Tasmania or Western Australia):
In Britain we have a largely unwritten constitution. To change that would represent a fundamental and historic shift in our constitutional arrangements. So it is right to involve the public in a sustained debate about whether there is a case for the United Kingdom developing a full British Bill of Rights and duties, or for moving towards a written constitution.
Because such fundamental change should happen only when there is a settled consensus on whether to proceed, I have asked my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Justice to lead a dialogue within Parliament and with people across the United Kingdom by holding a series of hearings, starting in the autumn, in all regions and nations of the country, and we will consult with all the other parties on this process.
This is an important speech, which, ironically, because Australia shares a Westminsterish system (Australia is federalist and mixes Westminster and Washington systems, sometimes known as the Washminster-mutation) and is deficient in many of the same areas, will probably have political ramifications in Australia too.