A possible constitution

The English/British/UK Parliament is a thing of wonder. For more than half a millennium it has defended the Liberties of the English/British. The current UK constitution has four roles for Parliament, and three for the Cabinet.

  • Parliament:
    • Drafts legislation in detail
    • Consents to legislation
    • Consents to taxes
    • Has confidence in the Cabinet
  • Cabinet:
    • Raises taxes
    • Proposes a legislative programme
    • Enacts everything

It has the feature that the people at large are consulted every 5 years. It has the feature that between elections the government is mostly stable and generally is free to act. It has the feature that the actions of the executive are questioned regularly by those who have the power to fire them in very short order. Here’s a possible alternative to it, which might be instructive to think about:

Composition

Divide parliament in two. I don’t want to call the upper house the Lords because that gives the wrong impression. Privy Council is more accurate. The lower house can still be called the Commons.

Let the Privy Council be large, with most members frequently not attending, or only contributing on certain issues. Have a broad range of different interests represented. Ex officio bishops, judges, lawyers, vice chancellors of both the universities, a few peers, some elected members on longish rotating terms, some people chosen by the Queen (on advice of etc) who are generally sound and sensible. That sort. Let them by default have long/indefinite terms, expected to resign if they get into a scandal. The Cabinet are all members of this.

Let the House of Commons be large but manageable. Say 500 people. Every time the House of Commons is assembled each constituency should choose a member to represent itself. But rather than by election let this member be chosen as for jury service from qualified electors. (Sensible sorts of restrictions apply of course, nobody criminal, underage, insane, bankrupt etc).

The roles of the bodies in this system would be:

  • Cabinet:
    • Proposes a legislative programme
    • Raises taxes
    • Enacts everything
  • Privy Council:
    • Drafts legislation in detail
  • House of Commons
    • Consents to legislation
    • Consents to taxation
    • Has confidence in the Cabinet

I imagine the system roughly like this:

The House of Commons first votes on confidence in the Cabinet. If it grants it then it votes on legislation. It can vote to censure a minister, in which case they have a fortnight’s grace to fix the problem. It can vote to withdraw confidence. In which case a new House of Commons is assembled. First to consider the PM’s attempts to fix the situation, then to replace the PM if needed.

The Privy Council debates and discusses legislation and makes recommendations. But the final draft is down to the Cabinet. The Privy Council appoints particular people to speak about the bills to the House of Commons. Both the Privy Council and the House of Commons question ministers.

In detail:

Privy council

The Cabinet introduces bills to the Privy Council. First reading covers broad plenary debate on the wide issues. At second reading an actual rough draft is considered by all interested members. Then it is sent to a committee which produces detailed recommendations. In the report stage these are considered by the cabinet, who produce a new daft. (The committee and report stages may be repeated as often and for as many different committees as the Cabinet desires). Then at third reading the whole Privy Council again debates the issue at large.

The Privy Council never votes on bills per se, but members formally declare themselves for or against. Members of the Privy Council who are for the bill elect amongst themselves Her Majesty’s Speaker For the bill, those against elect Her Majesty’s Speaker Against the bill.

The Privy Council regularly questions cabinet ministers, both in plenary and in committee (committees also question anyone else they want to, especially junior ministers).

Committee members are chosen by double election. First by public STV the whole Privy Council chooses the committee. Then the elected portion of the Privy Council plus cabinet can veto member(s) of the committee secretly. If one committee member gets a veto from more than 1/3 then they are replaced by the next runner-up in the election and so on. RON if needed.

 Commons:

Members of the HoC are chosen and assemble. The Queen gives the speech from the throne in which she explains her Cabinet’s legislative programme. The HoC votes on confidence in the Cabinet.

Once legislation arrives from the upper house it is considered as follows:. The PM makes a speech, members ask the PM questions. The leader of the opposition makes a speech, is asked questions. Ditto the relevant minister and shadow minister. Ditto the chair of the relevant committees in the upper house. Ditto Her Majesty’s Speakers For and Against. Once all that is done the house votes to consent to the legislation without amendment. Same process for the budget. If legislation fails it is simply knocked back to the upper house to be re-drafted. If the budget fails the Cabinet has lost confidence.

The PM and rest of the Cabinet are questioned in detail, at length, and regularly.(PM at least the present half hour a week, hour would be better). After each scrutiny session the house votes on a motion of consent, or censure. If a majority choose to censure the minister then the minister should either go away and consider how to improve, or resign and be replaced by the PM. In the former case the minister returns to the House in a fortnight and the exercise is repeated, if they lose that vote they resign and we are in the latter case. In the latter case there is a reshuffle, which is formally considered a new government. So writs are drawn up for a new House of Commons and we start again.

If the PM is ever censured, or if the budget fails, or if the Queen’s speech fails, then the Cabinet has lost confidence and is bound by purdah rules (no large expenditures, no irreversible contracts etc), while a new HoC is assembled called a “parliament of confidence”. This HoC passes no laws, though it may approve an emergency finance bill if required. It’s function is to scrutinise the Cabinet in detail and to vote on a single question of confidence in the government.

If the Cabinet gets confidence from a “parliament of confidence” we start again with a regular HoC. If the Cabinet loses confidence from a “parliament of confidence”, or if the PM resigns/dies/etc, then the same HoC becomes a “parliament of election”. Any member of the Privy Council can (with say ten nominations) stand to be Prime Minister. All candidates give a speech in random order. Then the HoC votes for a candidate. If someone gets a majority they become PM. If not the bottom candidate (and any who stand down) get eliminated, remaining candidates are questioned, and a re-vote happens the next day. Repeat until a PM emerges, the second placed candidate is the Leader of the Opposition. PM appoints a cabinet plus junior ministers from amongst the privy council. The Leader of the Opposition appoints shadows for the same. Then call a new HoC.

A regular HoC never lasts more than 3 months, we never go more than 1 month between sessions, the members of the HoC can ask questions but don’t make speeches. Serving in the HoC if selected is compulsory failing a very good excuse, and is well compensated.

Questions:

  • Is this system more or less stable than the current one?
  • More or less populist?
  • Is this system more or less likely to produce legislation which hurts in the short run but is good in the long run?
  • Is this system more or less likely to produce despotism?
  • Would the legislation it produced by more or less technically competent?
  • Would the system be more or less prone to gridlock?
  • Would ministers be more or less likely to resign when they failed?
  • Is this system better or worse?
  • What changes ought to be made to this system?
  • Would it, thus improved, be better or worse than the present system?

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s