10:10am Thursday 4th December 2008
By Michael Spicer
THE opening of Parliament by the Queen yesterday had more than its usual constitutional significance. It came at a time when the authority and status of Parliament is being questioned as never before in recent history.
The Damian Green affair, and in particular the ease with which the police were able to invade Parliament without a warrant on what appears to have been the slimmest of pretext, has brought to a head the whole question of the sovereignty of the people through Parliament.
No one should be under any illusion as to the importance of this question.
The Speaker of the Commons called it “an issue of grave concern”.
We do not have a written constitution in our country. In its place we have the theory, and until the European Union came along, the practice, of rule by the people through the House of Commons.
It is how we guard ourselves against a dictatorship. A government only remains in office if it can command the support of the House of Commons, as determined by the electorate.
Since the Single Act and the Treaty of Maastricht the British Parliament has hung on to its sovereignty by a thin thread.
Its superiority over the European Court is under intense pressure.
It just remains true in the view of most lawyers that the British Parliament has the edge because it can still rescind our tie to the European Union.
Against this background, the Damian Green case has shattered any remaining illusions about the nature and stability of British democracy.
For the first time for nearly 400 years an outside body has been able to crash through the barrier of parliamentary privilege.
The matter goes well beyond the interests of an individual MP or indeed of MPs in general.
We are talking about the constitutional rights of the people as a whole.
These have been the envy of the world. Perhaps not any more.
It is a matter of supreme irony that two measures mentioned yesterday by the Queen were: “My Government will continue to take forward proposals on constitutional renewal, including strengthening the role of Parliament.”
And “A Bill will be brought forward to increase the effectiveness and public accountability of policing.”
It is just as well that the world knows that her Majesty’s speech is written not by her but by the Prime Minister.
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