Sunday 28 March 2010

Tom Harris, Our Sovereign

For a Labour MP, Tom Harris is usually fairly balanced, and even exhibits that rare Labour ingredient of common sense, occasionally. Which is why this article on Heathrow expansion came as a bit of a surprise.

IT’S BEEN confirmed that the true government of the UK is based not in Westminster – and not even in Brussels – but in the High Court.

The daft decision by Judge Carnwath on Heathrow’s third runway may well set a precedent that means governments can no longer make policy decisions without the approval of their bewigged masters.

Now, I have no doubt that for those who oppose the third runway, this is a victory for common sense. But for those of us who believe that parliament is – or should be – sovereign, it’s a very worrying development.
Now, I'm not a politics graduate, nor a lawyer, nor an expert on royalty and constitution, so I'm quite happy to be shot down on this.

But isn't the 'sovereign' in our domestic governance the, err, sovereign?

Despite the fact that she's not likely, very soon, to put her foot down and tell this bunch of idiots to stop playing silly buggers (her being quite rubbish and all that), she IS still the head of state and her power trumps parliament every time.

The courts are offices of the Crown - hence defendants being quoted as being prosecuted by the monarch - and therefore answerable to the Queen, not parliament.

Parliament itself handed any claim to be top dog to Brussels by signing Lisbon.

So, out of the four authorities involved (one of which was not mentioned by Harris) - the monarchy; the EU; the courts; and parliament, the one which has least claim to be 'sovereign' is parliament.

The EU is in charge thanks to Queenie not quashing the Lisbon ratification, her nibs comes second, the courts make law themselves by precedent and one of the purposes of the courts is to keep the common man in check if they take the piss.

Parliament is the House of Commons. A collection of commoners elected to represent the people. There is nothing sovereign about them and they should be, and are, as accountable to the courts as anyone else in the country.

To this commoner, Harris's claim that parliament should be left alone by those pesky judges appears to be another illustration of the arrogance exhibited by 646 645 (sorry, added one too many) massively-inflated egos.

By the way, for the record, and in the interests of transparency, I am in favour of Heathrow expansion.


Angry Exile said...

"But isn't the 'sovereign' in our domestic governance the, err, sovereign?"

Bar a handful of reserve powers Mrs W is sovereign (as opposed to the Sovereign) in name only. Probably a better term to use would be something like 'pre-eminent' or 'primacy of Parliament'. Starting from the Magna Carter there are all sorts of restrictions that make the UK a constitutional monarchy rather than an absolute monarchy, and given who's next up in the monarchy batting order I'd say thank fuck for that.

Chuckles said...

Given her cottage down the road, don't you think she'd take the NIMBY viewpoint?

AE, While you may well be right on the letter of the law, all poll data seem to suggest that it is political suicide to mess with Lizibetti Mrs. Queen in any manner whatsoever.
Such courtesy does not fortunately seem to be extended to 'Speaker to Plants'.

Angry Exile said...

Chuckles, yes, Mrs Queen is still very popular despite having been absolutely useless at doing her only real function for her citizens/subjects, that of making sure their liberties aren't shat all over by her government. Even here in arguably the most republican state in Oz many people hold her in pretty high regard. When the 'Speaker to Plants' (I like that, by the way) takes over I expect that to change. My prediction is that the loony won't have finished picking out new recycled official Buck House stationery before a republic referendum is back on the agenda here.

Angry Exile said...

Oh, and she'd be a bloody sight more popular with me if she'd done her fucking job. If it weren't for the loss of liberties and their replacement with nannying and surveillance Mrs Exile might not have minded staying in Britain.

Pat Nurse MA said...

My impression is that since the signing of the Lisbon Treaty, she is no loner head of state but an ordinary citizen of Europe like the rest of us. Her role now is one of tourist attraction and that's about it. If she really cared about "sovereignty" she wouldn't have conspired to give the country away by signing the Royal Assent to Lisbon. Perhaps she had no choice?

I was pretty crap when I studied politics, but one thing I remember is that we have three arms - executive - pretty powerless these days because of the EU - legistalure - the law - court judgements such as this that set precendents that become law, and the Monarchy - which does nothing but could.

Sam Duncan said...

You're probably right, Angry E, but “parliamentary sovereignty” is certainly a regularly used and well accepted term.

And Dick, he's right. Parliament is sovereign (or supreme, pre-eminent, whatever) and can do whatever it likes, providing it doesn't break the law. Of course it has an absolute right to pass another act changing the law, if it can. In other words, parliament is sovereign, but it's not a dictator: it's bound by the same laws as the rest of us. Harris doesn't seem to understand the difference.

Given the talk in the High Court's decision of “climate change”, my guess is that the present government has been hoist on its own petard(s). It's passed all these planning laws to stop the little people getting above themeselves, and finds that it can't do what it wants now either. It could go through the decision and try to change every law getting in its way, but that would take time it doesn't have, and cause no end of embarrassment, not to say political damage.

As for the EU, there's nothing to stop parliament unilaterally repealing the European Communities Act 1972 as amended, except a lack of political will and a fear of explaining themselves to their chums in Brussels. Of course, it would also mean them having to do some real work for a change, instead of passing countless Statutory Instruments sight unseen from Brussels via the Civil Service.

Dick Puddlecote said...

"And Dick, he's right. Parliament is sovereign (or supreme, pre-eminent, whatever) and can do whatever it likes, providing it doesn't break the law. Of course it has an absolute right to pass another act changing the law, if it can"

Which the courts can rule as illegal with regard Human Rights law or Geneva or whatever too, IIUC?

Still doesn't make Harris somehow superior to the courts or the Queen, I'd say.

Great discussion from AE, Chuckles and yourself, though. Very illuminating, so thanks. :-)

Anonymous said...

Ranty is the expert here, but I'm pretty sure that The Crown is an Entirely separate entity from Mrs. Queen too...

Sam Duncan said...

“Which the courts can rule as illegal with regard Human Rights law or Geneva or whatever too, IIUC?”

Probably, but again, it has the right to repeal those or withdraw from the relevant treaties even if it may not be able to, in terms of practical politics.

Sovereignty is about rights, and the excercise of rights is often precluded by practicalities. I have the right to tell my boss to stick his job where the sun don't shine. Doesn't make it any easier; and that difficulty doesn't mean that I don't have the right.

Mark Wadsworth said...

I think Sam D comes closest to nailing it. Parliament (or the government or whatever) can pass any laws it likes. If it passes a law saying 'Heathrow may be built' then that is (or should be) the end of that.

Do no imagine for one second that our railway network would have been built had Parliament passed one Act after another to get the planning permission through againts the wishes of 18th and 19th century NIMBYs (including compulsory purchase orders and so on). Or our motorway network or pretty much anything else.

neil craig said...

Ludicrous though the judge's decision was it was clearly required by the laws Mr Harris & his pals chose to pass. It was them who passed a law saying we must destroy most of our fire creating capacity & thus national wealth over the next 40 years to prevent the catastrophic global warming we experienced last month.

The main effects of that law will not come in until these corrupt, lying, thieving, organlegging, pro-Nazi parasites (I don't share your passable opinion of Harris) will be gone but increasingly we will see minor effects. We will see the eco-fascists invoking this on every new project designed to stand for 40 years.