Wednesday, 7 March 2007

Historic day for UK?

In a very surprising move, members of the UK House of Commons have voted to change the system by which the Parliament has been structured for ages. However, the vote is not final. It proposes a change in the House of Lords, which is currently filled with unelected peers. Even though it is technically the upper body, like the Queen its power is very limited. The vote was 305 to 267.

The Guardian:

MPs tonight voted in favour of a fully elected House of Lords, in a historic move towards reforming and democratising the upper chamber.

In a series of votes, the Commons also voted for an 80% elected Lords, and rejected all other options.

Although the vote is purely advisory, it gives huge momentum to reformers in all three parties wanting to see an elected second chamber.

Jack Straw, the leader of the Commons, called it a "historic step forward", although he only favoured a 50/50 split between elected and appointed members.

The Liberal Democrat leader, Sir Menzies Campbell, called it a "truly historic occasion" and a "famous victory for progressive opinion both in parliament and in the country".

The prime minister, Tony Blair, voted for the 50/50 option, Downing Street later confirmed.

It will now be up to the government to decide whether to accommodate the wishes of the Commons in a bill to reform the Lords.

Peers will themselves vote on the same options next week.

MPs faced several votes on various options for the future of the upper chamber, with differing proportions of elected to appointed members on offer.

It’s hard to believe that a nation with such a standing on democratic tradition and reform can still the posses the antiquity of the unelected, monarchal system. It bothers me not that the figurehead and technical head of state of Great Britain is a monarch; what does trouble me, however, is that the House of Lords — at the risk of sounding blunt — still exists in such an undemocratic form. Though the previous Lords’ Act of 2000 did much to bring the Upper House of British Parliament out of the dark ages, and acts before that also accomplished much, what is keeping the British government from demolishing the hereditary and appointed constructs of Lords, not to mention the Church of England’s seats. It may be too hard a move to remove the ceremonial figurehead of the Crown, but the House of Lords’ large uselessness, redundancy, and hereditary peer aspects are unacceptable — would it hurt England’s government or tourist revenues if those parts were removed?

The Constitutional Reform Act of 2005 also played a role in cutting the power of the Lord Chancellor and, thus, the House of Lords as a whole. 2008 will see a new area of British government form: the Supreme Court of the United Kingdom will then be the highest judicial body. What will that do to the Law Lords? Come 2008 the House of Lords will serve only the purpose of giving large political campaign financiers peerage (cash for peerage scandal). Not only will it be undemocratic, it will be redundant, serving only for debate on policy, (thankfully) not action on it. The executive branch of Britain is Her Majesty’s Government, though the queen really has no power. The executive contains the Prime Minister — right now Tony Blair — and his or her cabinet as well as governmental departments similar to that of the United States’ executive branch.

I understand that the elected House of Commons is more powerful, and is ultimately where governmental power lies, and some aspects of the House of Lords, such as the judicial area where judges, Law Lords, are appointed to the House of Lords like in the United States Supreme Court, are fine, but the legislative part with its traditionalist ties is not. One might think of the House of Commons as the real parliament of the UK, and many democratic legislatures are based off of it.

Even in a country such as the US with a non-parliamentary system, the House of Representatives closely resembles the House of Commons — both have representatives elected from local districts and a subset power structure within the legislative body. With the exception of the highest appeals court, the British justice system is independent from the legislative and executive branches; many governments have this same structure as English law, novel in its time, spread.

1689 brought the monarch’s real power to a virtual halt (emphasis on virtual, it took a little while until it became more than words on a sheet of paper, remember the power-limiting Magna Carta in 1215?). Though the Crown is theoretically in charge of all three branches of British governance, that’s obviously not a reality. The UK is a constitutional monarchy, ironically without a constitution, with a parliamentary system of government. I am in favor of a parliamentary system; though I am torn between a presidential system like that of France and the basically just-parliamentary system of the UK.

A problem with democratizing the House of Lords is there is (thankfully) no federal system in the UK. I think having a portion of Lords elected and some appointed because of their specializations, and not because they are part of the Church or their father was a peer, would be the best and most likely route.

Technorati technorati tags: , , , , , , , , ,

No comments: