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The route map seeks to address two fundamental issues: to hold power more accountable and to uphold and enhance the rights and responsibilities of the citizen. Constitutional change will not be the work of just one Bill or one year or one Parliament, but I can today make an immediate start by proposing changes that will transfer power from the Prime Minister and the Executive. For centuries, they have exercised authority in the name of the monarchy without the people and their elected representatives being consulted, so I now propose that in 12 important areas of our national life the Prime Minister and the Executive should surrender or limit their powers, the exclusive exercise of which by the Government of the day should have no place in a modern democracy. These are: the power of the Executive to declare war; the power to request the dissolution of Parliament; the
power over recall of Parliament; the power of the Executive to ratify international treaties without decision by Parliament; the power to make key public appointments without effective scrutiny; the power to restrict parliamentary oversight of our intelligence services; power to choose bishops; power in the appointment of judges; power to direct prosecutors in individual criminal cases; power over the civil service itself; and the Executive powers to determine the rules governing entitlement to passports and the granting of pardons. I now propose to surrender or limit these powers to make for a more open 21st-century British democracy which better serves the British people.
Let me set out the measures, the details of which are included in a Green Paper published today by the Secretary of State for Justice. Constitutional change should never limit our ability to deal with emergencies and should never jeopardise the security of our forces or any necessary operational decisions, but the Government will now consult on a resolution to guarantee that on the grave issue of peace and war it is ultimately this House of Commons that will make the decision. I propose, in addition, to put on to a statutory footing Parliaments right to ratify new international treaties.
We will also consult on proposals that this House of Commons would have to approve a resolution for any dissolution of Parliament requested by the Prime Minister and that, while at present members of Parliament cannot decide whether the House should be recalled, for the first time a majority of Membersand not just the Prime Ministershould have that right, subject to your authority, Mr. Speaker.
The House of Commons should also have a bigger role in the selection of key public officials. I propose, as a first step, pre-appointment hearings for public officials whose role it is to protect the publics rights and interests, and for whom there is not currently independent scrutiny. That includes the chief inspector of prisons, the local government ombudsman, the civil service commissioner and the commissioner for public appointments. For public offices where appointments are acknowledged to be market-sensitive, the Chancellor is setting out today how pre-commencement hearings will apply to new members of the Monetary Policy Committee, including the Governor of the Bank of England, and the chairman of the Financial Services Authority. I also propose that we extend pre-commencement hearings in this House to utility regulators and other regulators. I propose that we review too the arrangements for making appointments to NHS boards, and it is right that this House of Commons vote on the appointment of the chair of the new independent Statistics Board.
I can announce also that from now on the Government will regularly publish, for parliamentary debate and public scrutiny, our national security strategy. It will set out for the British people the threats we face and the objectives we pursue. I have said for some time that the long-term and continuing security obligations on us require us to co-ordinate military, policing, intelligence and diplomatic actionand also to win hearts and minds in this country and around the world. So following discussions over the last few months, I have decided to establish within Government a national security council, charged with bringing
together our overseas defence and security, but also our development and community relations efforts, to send out a clear message that at all times we will be vigilant and we will never yield in addressing the terrorist threat.
As the security agencies themselves recognise, greater accountability to Parliament can strengthen still further public support for the work that they do. So while ensuring necessary safeguards that respect confidentiality and security, we will now consult on whether and how the Intelligence and Security Committee can be appointed by, and report to, Parliament. And we will start now with hearings, held in public wherever possible; a strengthened capacity for investigations; reports subject to more parliamentary debate; and greater transparency over appointments to the Committee.
The Church of England is, and should remain, the established Church in England. Establishment does not, however, justify the Prime Minister influencing senior Church appointments, including bishops. And I also propose that the Government should consider relinquishing their residual role in the appointment of judges.
The role of Attorney-General, which combines legal and ministerial functions, needs to change. While we consult on reform, the Attorney-General has herself decided, except if the law or national security requires it, not to make key prosecution decisions in individual criminal cases.
To reinforce the neutrality of the civil service, the core principles governing it will no longer be set at the discretion of the Executive but will be legislated by Parliamentand so this Government have finally responded to the central recommendation of the Northcote-Trevelyan report on the civil service made more than 150 years ago in 1854. The frameworks for granting pardons and for issuing and withdrawing passports should also be set not by Government but by Parliament. And I propose that we reduce the advance sight that Government Departments have of the release of statistical information from as much as five days currently to just 24 hours.
Even as we now reduce the power of the Executive, we will also increase their accountability. Following the decision to revoke the provisions that previously allowed special advisers to give orders to civil servants, I am also publishing a new ministerial code today that provides for a new independent adviser to supervise disclosure, whom I can ask to scrutinise ministerial conduct, including conflicts of interest. I propose that we reinforce the accountability of the Executive to Parliament and to the public with a statement in the summer, prior to the Queens Speech, on the provisional forward legislative programme, and this will start this month. Annual departmental reports will be debated in this House.
But just as the Executive must become more accountable to Parliament, Parliament itself must become more accountable. Given the vote in this House in March for major reform of the House of Lords as a second and revising Chamber with provision for democratic election, a statement will be made by the Government before the recess as we press ahead with
reform. A statement on the reform of local government will propose a new concordat between local and central Government. We will fulfil our manifesto obligation to publish our review of the experience of the various voting systems introduced since 1998, and the House will have a full opportunity to discuss in detail, and to vote here in this House on, the legislation that flows from the European Union amending treaty.
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 now consider creating Committees to review the economies and public services of each region, and we will propose a regular Question Time for regional Ministers. But while we will listen to all proposals to improve our constitution in the light of devolution, we do not accept the proposal for English votes for English laws, which would create two classes of Members of Parliamentsome entitled to vote on all issues, some invited to vote on only some. We will do nothing to put at risk the Union. I am reminded [Interruption.]
The Prime Minister: I am reminded of the statement in 1999 by the right hon. Member for Haltemprice and Howden (David Davis), the shadow Home Secretary, who said that English votes for English laws would cause constitutional chaos.
The right of all the British people to have their voice heard is fundamental to our democracy and to holding public institutions to account. Britain is rightly proud to be the pioneer of the modern liberties of the individual. I think it right to make it a general rule that in these areas there is independent oversight of authorities and accountability to Parliament. I encourage the House to agree a new process for ensuring consideration of petitions from members of the public. Disengagement is too often reflected in low turnout in elections. Britain is unusual in holding elections on weekdays, when people are at work, and the Secretary of State for Justice will announce a consultation on whether there is a case for voting at weekends.
The Government will also bring forward proposals to extend the period of time during which parties can use all-women short lists for candidate selections, and to give more time for all parties in this House to take up this new right, if they choose. While balancing the need for public order with the right to public dissent, I think it rightin consultation with the Metropolitan police, Parliament, the Mayor of London, Westminster city council and liberties groupsto change the laws that now restrict the right to demonstrate in Parliament square.
Although our system of representative democracylocal as well as nationalis at the heart of our constitution, it can be enhanced by devolving more
power directly to the people, and I propose that we start the debate and consult on empowering citizens and communities in four areas. The first is powers of initiative, extending the right of the British people to intervene with their elected local representatives to ensure action, through a new community right to call for action and new duties on public bodies to involve local people.
The second is new rights for the British people to be consulted through mechanisms such as citizens juries on major decisions affecting their lives. The third is powers of redress, and new rights for the British people to scrutinise and improve the local delivery of services. The fourth is powers to ballot on spending decisions in areas such as neighbourhood budgets and youth budgets, with decisions on finance made by local people themselves.
At the same time, we must give new life to the very idea of citizenship. All in this House would acknowledge that there are very specific challenges we must meet on engaging young people and improving citizenship education. I hope that there will be all-party support for a commission to review this and make recommendations. Although the voting age has been 18 since 1969, it is right, as part of that debate, to examine, and hear from young people themselves, whether lowering that age would increase participation. Consultation will take place with you, Mr. Speaker, and through the Leader of the House, with this House as to whether the Youth Parliament should be invited here in this Chamber once a year, on a non-sitting day.
What constitutes citizens rights, beyond voting, and citizens responsibilities, such as jury service, should itself be a matter for public deliberation. As we focus on the challenges that we face and what unites and integrates our country, our starting point should be to discuss together and then, as other countries do, agree and set down the values, founded in liberty, which define our citizenship and help to define our country. And there is a case that we should go further still than this statement of values to codify either in concordats or in a single document both the duties and rights of citizens and the balance of power between Government, Parliament and the people.
In Britain we have a largely unwritten constitution. To change that would represent a fundamental and historic shift in our constitutional arrangements. So it is right to involve the public in a sustained debate about whether there is a case for the United Kingdom developing a full British Bill of Rights and duties, or for moving towards a written constitution. Because such fundamental change should happen only when there is a settled consensus on whether to proceed, I have asked my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Justice to lead a dialogue within Parliament and with people across the United Kingdom by holding a series of hearings, starting in the autumn, in all regions and nations of the country, and we will consult with all the other parties on this process.
So the changes that we propose today and the national debate we now begin are founded on the conviction that the best answer to disengagement from our democracy is to strengthen our democracy. It is my hope that this dialogue of all parties and the British people will lead to a new consensus, a more effective
democracy and a stronger sense of shared national purpose. I commend this statement to the House.
Mr. David Cameron (Witney) (Con): I join the Prime Minister in paying tribute to Corporal Paul Joszko, Private Scott Kennedy, and Private James Kerr, all of whom died in Basra, and to Captain Sean Dolan and Sergeant Dave Wilkinson, who were killed in Afghanistan. They died serving their country. I join the Prime Minister, too, in his praise for the work of the police, the emergency services and the security services and also in thanking the public both for their bravery and for their vigilance.
I thank the Prime Minister for his statement today. Let me begin by congratulating him on becoming Prime Minister. He has achieved his long-held ambition, and I hope that there will be opportunities for us to work together, not least on the issue of terrorism and the safety of our people.
The British system of government and politics needs real and lasting change. The country is too centralised, Parliament is too weak, Ministers do not give straight answers and people feel shut out of decision making. That is why we need change. We welcome much of what is in the statement: the national security council was in our policy review; confirmation hearingsone of our proposals; and neighbourhood budgets are in the Sustainable Communities Bill being taken through the House by my hon. Friend the Member for Ruislip-Northwood (Mr. Hurd). But we have to ask this of the Prime Minister: he says he wants to decentralise Government, but is he not the one who has imposed 3,000 central targets on our public services and local government? He says he wants to strengthen Parliament, but how can we forget the 10 years that he has spent on new ways of trying to avoid Parliament, with his stealth tax changes not even mentioned in his Budget? He says he wants all his Ministers to give straight answers, but when he was Chancellor he did not answer a single question about the tax credit system for which he was responsible for more than two and a half years.
The Prime Minister says he wants to restore trust in politics, but surely he has to recognise that he has been at the heart of the Government who have done more than any other Government in living memory to destroy trust in politics. He says he wants to get to the truth. In that case, I have to ask him why he opposes holding an inquiry into Iraq where, above all, we must get to the truth. That is why, when it comes to restoring trust in politics, we simply do not see that the Prime Minister can be the change this country needs.
Let us look at the detail. There are three key relationships: between Government and Parliament, between different parts of the United Kingdom, and between politics and the people. On Parliament, in May last year I said that Parliament should vote on peace and war and on international treaties, so I am glad the Prime Minister will be introducing that; it has our full support. In June this year, I called for real power for Select Committees. The Prime Minister said a lot about the Intelligence and Security Committee, but there was little in the statement about other Select Committees. Will they be getting more power? Three years ago, we sponsored a Civil Service Bill. Can the Prime Minister confirm that what he was talking about in his statement is a full civil service Act?
Does the Prime Minister agree that in changing the relationship between Government and Parliament, we should go further? Is it not time to give the House of Commons the right to determine its own timetable? Is not that the absolute key to restoring power in Parliament?
I listened carefully to what the Prime Minister said about electoral reform. I have to say this: as a Prime Minister who was not elected by the British people, he must understand that any attempt to alter the electoral system without the consent of the people will be seen for what it isan attempt to change the rules to suit one partys interests and to cling to power.
As the Prime Minister did, let us turn to the relationship between different parts of the United Kingdom. Today, the situation is that neither he, nor I, nor any Member of the House has the right to vote on hospitals, schools or housing in his constituency or in other parts of Scotland, yet he is able to vote on hospitals, schools and housing in my constituency. We already have two classes of MP. Is it not the case that the only effective way to solve that problem is to give MPs in English constituencies the decisive say in the House on issues that affect only England? The Prime Minister has had 30 years to come up with answers to the West Lothian question, and I have to tell him that Question Time for regional Ministers just does not cut it. Does he not see that the failure to answer that question is actually putting the Union at risk?
Now let us look at the third and most important relationshipthat between politics and people. Part of the Prime Ministers answer will clearly be the Bill of Rights and duties, but surely at this most serious of times we need greater clarity about the Human Rights Act 1998. Is it not the case that it is now almost impossible to deport foreign nationals who may do this country harm? That is why we believe a proper British Bill of Rights should mean replacing the Human Rights Act.
On the subject of things that have sapped trust in politics, why have the Prime Ministers Government systematically taken more power from local councils and given it to unelected regional assemblies? The only people who were asked their views about thatpeople in the north-eastgave a resounding no, so why does he not recognise today that regional assemblies are costly, unnecessary and unwanted and should be scrapped?
Above all, how can the Prime Minister possibly restore trust in politics if he will not give the people the final say on one of the biggest constitutional questions of allwhether to sign up to what is in effect the European constitution? He talks about citizens juries. Why not have a jury of all our citizens and ask them to give their verdict on that issue?
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