Monday, July 9

Our Changing Democracy

Last week at the dispatch box Gordon Brown referred to two fundamental changes - remember what Mr Brown said on the day he became PM, ''change'' is very much on his agenda.

Regionalisation, which with the political demise of John Prescott, had been kicked into the long grass by Tony Blair has been revived by Gordon Brown whose statement speaks for it self:

''Just as we have appointed ministers for each region of England, I propose that to increase the accountability of local and regional decision-making the House consider creating committees to review the economies and public services of each region - and we will propose a regular question time for regional ministers.''

So there we have it Regionalisation rules OK!

The other Brown 'change' (well planned change to be correct) announced from the dispatch box is a tad more complex but typically crafty.

"I now propose to surrender or limit powers to make for a more open 21st-century British democracy which better serves the British people." So said Gordon Brown referring the exercise of powers under Crown prerogative.

Very importantly tucked into 'the small print ' in the 'change' is the power of the Executive to ratify international treaties without decision by Parliament. This sounds all very well and good, except of course that the main treaties are those to do with the European Union. Those, in effect, are always ratified by Parliament, by virtue of it approving amendments to the European Communities Act, which brings the treaties into force.
As to the rest, Mr Brown is a little bit out of date. Treaties which require ratification are always ratified by a decision of Parliament and have been since 1924 when what is known as the Ponsonby Rule was introduced.
The procedure is that they are "laid" before Parliament for 21 sitting days before ratification (or its equivalent) is effected, which is done by means of a Command Paper, accompanied since 1997 by an explanatory memorandum. Approval is taken to be given in the absence of any objections but, if the opposition forwards a formal demand for a debate, time is always given – an undertaking made in 1924 which has been honoured by all governments.
However, there is an even more substantive issue at stake in Mr Brown's change. In huge areas of international relations, successive governments have given up the right (or power) to make treaties at all, through our membership of the European Union. We cannot, for instance, make trade deals with third countries, or agree terms in WTO negotiations.
Furthermore, this is set to get worse. If Gordon Brown approves a new treaty which conforms with the "mandate" issued by the European Council on 23 June, it will include a provision for granting the European Union "legal personality". With that, the EU will be able to agree treaties with third parties in its own name, binding on member states, and thereby completely by-passing Parliament. Mr Brown's idea of a changed 21st-Century British democracy, therefore, is one of robbing Parliament of most of its powers.
This is an areas when an alert leader of the opposition could have excelled. However what did David Cameron say? He told the Prime Minister he was "glad" he was introducing the provision on international treaties. "It has our (the Conservative Party's) full support," he declared. Now, how depressing is that responce ?

1 comment:

Peter Troy said...

Very depressing. We must educate our masters!