Posts Tagged ‘Simon de Montfort’

Tory Lies Alert! House of Lords Purpose to Check Taxation, Not Laws

November 1, 2015

Tory Lies Drawing

I’ve come to the conclusion that the Tory party is constitutionally incapable of telling the truth. They’re so used to lying that they’d tell the public that Paris is the capital of Luxembourg, or that Schleswig-Holstein was a type of beer brewed in Iowa, and that Boris Johnson was Qahless, Emperor of the Klingons, if they could get away with it. Or if one of their paymasters in big business paid them.

Last week they were firmly trounced by the House of Lords, which threw out their plans to cut tax credit for the very poorest families. As a result, they’ve thrown their teddies out their prams, and promised to go round the Lord’s to give them a good kicking. David Cameron started ranting about how ‘undemocratic’ the House was, and how he was going to flood it with good and loyal Tories, who would all vote his way in future, so there!

And yar, boo, sucks to the rest of us.

Have I Got News For You on Friday pointed out that the House of Lords already has 800 or so members. This is large enough without the further 100 Cameron is planning to pack in there.

They also showed a clip of a Tory official, giving his learned opinion on the constitutional origins and purpose of the House of Lords. By ‘ learned opinion’, I do, of course, mean ‘lies’.

The official stated that the purpose of the House of Lords was simply to revise legislation. It’s scope was strictly limited to taxation. The House of Lords had exceeded the scope of its functions, and needed to be reformed. QED.

Not quite.

The House of Lords is basically a remnant of the feudal grand council, going all the way back to the witangemot, in Anglo-Saxon times, which monarchs called to advise them. It is not limited to examining matters of taxation, and has always had the power to throw out legislation. It may only do this three times. It constitutional purpose is to examine and amend legislation passed by the Lower House, in accordance with the theory of the separation of powers. It is also designed to act as a constitutional check on the power of the monarchy.

It was the House of Commons that was originally set up to examine matters of taxation. It was established by Simon de Montfort during the thirteenth century. The English Crown wanted to raise taxes, and the aristocracy refused to do so unless they had a say in how it was spent. The House of Commons is basically one section of the feudal grand council, which has been amended so that its members are elected, rather than sit by hereditary right or the monarch’s pleasure. And its constitutional function was to check the oligarchic power of the Lords.

Of course, the Tories have absolutely no objections to oligarchy, and really want to bring it all back. Hence their reforms to the registration process, which will leave about ten million people disenfranchised. They do, however, have a problem with members of the House of Lords, who suddenly wake up and do their constitutional duty, rather than simply collecting their expenses and going home. Hence all the fury from the Tory benches.

Not everyone was taken by the guff the Tories have been spouting about the origins of parliament and the British constitution. On the clip shown by Have I Got News For You, the lady MP standing next to the Tory was most spectacularly unimpressed, as his lies flowed out of him. She responded by pulling faces. It’s probably the best response possible to this latest barrage of Tory lies.

Of course, they’re hoping that people will be taken in by it. After all, they’ve always considered themselves the natural party of government, and Tory clubs up and down the country have called themselves ‘Constitutional Clubs’. This assault on the constitution and the British people’s constitutional liberties shows that they aren’t. But they won’t tell you that, just more lies.

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Resources for Constitutional History: Kenneth Mackenzie’s The English Parliament

March 9, 2014

Parliament Book Cover

Mike over at Vox Political has several times mentioned that there’s a need for books on parliament because of the way the Coalition has repeatedly interfered with it, or ignored it, when MPs have had the audacity to do something it didn’t like. Like demand a cumulative assessment on the impact of the government’s welfare reforms on the poor and disabled. Mike blogged on this live, as the debate was broadcast from parliament. What emerged from that debate was the government’s absolute and complete contempt for those who didn’t agree with it. They sent about three members of the Tory party to defend the government’s policies during the debate, which shows you precisely how far they feel they have to justify themselves to the nation’s elected representatives at Westminster.

I strongly agree with Mike about this issue. The past two decades have seen profound changes to the British constitution. The most obvious of this was Blair’s reform of the House of Lords, which has resulted in a partly appointed upper house. Other changes have been in the way consecutive prime ministers since Blair have begun side-lining or ignoring parliament. Blair’s administration was strongly criticised for the way he reduced Prime Minister’s Question Time to once a week, and appeared to attempt to stage manage his appearances before parliament as carefully as his other, public appearances were choreographed. The most notorious example of the offhand way Blair treated parliament was in his refusal to hold a proper debate in Westminster prior to the invasion of Iraq. Blair’s regime has been described, with more than a little justification, as ‘presidential’, which causes problems as this is a parliamentary democracy. The Coalition have continued this transformation of the office of Prime Minister into a quasi-presidency. This needs to be stopped, and more power restored to parliament as the expression of the people’s political will, and a check to the growing, arbitrary powers of the prime Minister.

Unfortunately, there appear to be very, very few books actually on the shelves of bookshops on parliament. Looking around the ‘Politics’ section of Waterstones, I can’t remember seeing a single book on it. There are any number of books on other, important political issues, such as the situation in the Middle East, Islamic radicalism in the UK, analyses of the structure of British politics, the European Union, the global policies towards the Developing World, analyses of race relations and tensions in Britain, and questions of poverty, entrepreneurship and so on, as well as books on various political philosophies and tendencies, like Neo-Liberalism. But no book could I see on parliament, what is and does.

One book on the subject I did manage to find was Kenneth Mackenzie’s The English Parliament (Harmondsworth: Penguin 1951). Subtitled ‘A survey of the historical development of parliament describing how and why it has come to work in the way that it does today’, it does indeed trace the rise and development of the English parliament from its emergence from the feudal grand conseil of the king’s feudal lords during the Middle Ages and its foundation by Simon de Montfort.

It has the following chapters:

1. A Court Becomes a Parliament, with sections on the feudal nature of parliament and the arrival of the House of Commons;

2. The Commons Become Legislators, with sections on the position of the commons, and petition and bill;

3. Liberty from Tyranny, with sections on freedom of speech, freedom from arrest, and the power to commit;

4. Rules, Clerks, Records, with sections on the early history of procedure, clerks and journals, and the publication of proceedings and debates;

5. Consent to Taxation, with sections on the final establishment of the consent of parliament to taxation, and the Commons’ gain of sole control over taxation;

6. The Ministry Becomes Responsible to the Commons, with sections on early attempts to control policy, and ministerial responsibility.

7. The Commons Represent the People, with sections on the early history of representation, the reform of the electoral system, and the party system;

8. The Modernisation of Procedure, with sections on procedural reform, 1800-72, obstruction and disorderly conduct, 1877-88, the pressure of business, and the government takes the time of the House.

10. The Commons Control Expenditure, with sections on the history of the attempt, and the modern system;

11. Parliament Delegates Power to Make Law;

12. The Second Chamber, on the House of Lords, which has sections on its composition, its financial and legislative powers, and its jurisdiction.

There is also a concluding chapter 13, The Secret Garden of the Crown, which assesses it history and considering some of the problems facing the future of parliament.

Each chapter is prefaced with a suitable quotation from that age’s leading politicians and constitutional theorists. The two quotes for the first chapter on the origins of parliament give a very good summary of its feudal origins and the role they have played in keeping Britain free from tyranny. The first is by the great 19th century Liberal constitutional historian, Lord Acton. Acton said

The one thing that saved England from the fate of other countries was not her insular position, nor the independent spirit nor the magnanimity of her people – for we have been proud of the despotism we obeyed under the Tudors, and not ashamed of the tyranny we exercised in our dependencies – but only the consistent, uninventive, stupid fidelity to that political system which originally belonged to all the nations that traverse the ordeal of feudalism.

Acton was an ardent advocate of constitutional liberty and an enemy of absolute tyranny. It was Lord Acton who coined the phrase, ‘power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely’.

The second quote comes from the Anglo-Norman legal writer, Bracton. Bracton was one of the magistrates responsible for founding the British common law tradition, in which law is influenced not just by abstract legislation, but also by custom and precedent. This quote runs

Moreover, the King has over him a court, that is to say the earls and barons; for the earls, as their name (comites) implies, are the companions of the king, and he who has a colleague has a master.

The word ‘comites’, which is translated as ‘earls’ in the above passages, is the origin of the modern English word ‘count’. it comes from the Latin word comes, companion. This became a technical term for a very senior Roman governor, as it stood for someone, who was the companion of the emperor.

That passage shows how, even during the Middle Ages when kings had massive powers and could rule for years without calling parliament, there was nevertheless a feeling that there were constitutional checks to the power of the monarch. Indeed, after John’s defeat by the barons at Runnymede and the issuing of the Magna Carta, there appeared a saying in Norman French. Translated into modern English, this read ‘This is the Commune of England, in which everyone has his own opinion’. ‘Commune’ was the term used in the Middle Ages for a town, which had acquired the freedom to govern itself. It’s a classic summary of English political liberty as it has descended from the Middle Ages. The monarchy has gradually been the subject of even further checks, so that they liberty of people under parliament has grown since the time that was uttered. Unfortunately, the Coalition are doing their level best to undermine it.

The book is very dated, but nevertheless it gives a good introduction to parliament in England. We need more books like this as parliamentary procedure is increasingly attacked under the guise of reform.