UK Liberty

Henry Porter on Parliamentary Sovereignty

Posted in state-citizen relationship by ukliberty on March 5, 2008

 [Hat-tip Jon Bright at Our Kingdom]

Quoted in full from his submission to the Joint Committee on Human Rights (I’ve separated it into a few more paragraphs to make it easier to read) because I think he makes an excellent point:

Parliamentary Sovereignty is the reason that discussion about a Bill of Rights never gets anywhere. Its mystical power is unquestioningly viewed as the secret, or at least the guardian, of our free society. But is that really so?

In the political context, the OED defines sovereignty thus: “Supremacy in respect of power, domination or rank; supreme dominion, authority or rule.” It must be evident to members of both houses that parliamentary sovereignty is a hollow phrase. Parliament is not sovereign, because the executive runs everything. The government decides on and schedules parliamentary business, appoints the chairs of select committees and controls and smothers debate by means of Standing Orders and Standing Committees.

One of your previous witnesses suggested in his oral evidence that 99 per cent of law was made by secondary legislation. Even if only roughly accurate, this is an astonishing statistic and it explains why so many laws affecting our fundamental freedoms are passed without debate and take their toll on our society without proper scrutiny.

Here are some examples. There is no statutory basis for the ever-expanding Police National DNA database, which contains the biological essence of hundreds of thousands of innocent people; or for the expanding network of ANPR cameras; or for the proposals to take 19 pieces of information from people travelling abroad; or for the Transformational Government Project.

These things just happen without debate of the issues or any attempt to defend the people from these oppressive and high-handed measures. For MPs to protest about parliamentary sovereignty in such circumstances seems odd.

Of course it is argued that Parliament is the authority for all SIs but it must be clear that it has no real control over the way Ministers use these delegated powers.

As the story of the HRA shows us, the truth of the matter is that parliament can offer the public little effective protection because it is itself in the control of the executive.

Ideas summed up in two words by Lord Hailsham: elective dictatorship.

It is extraordinary in a way that this is the case even though less than a quarter of the country voted for the party now in power.


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