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LIB DEM LEADER LOSING PATIENCE WITH GO-SLOW ON HOME RULE - ASHDOWN'S CONSTITUTION SPEECH (FULL TEXT)

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Liberal Democrat party leader Paddy Ashdown's speech to Westminster Forum: 'Rebuilding Trust, Empowering People' la...
Liberal Democrat party leader Paddy Ashdown's speech to Westminster Forum: 'Rebuilding Trust, Empowering People' last night:

'My subject is the way we run our country. I shall be making four assertions.

One: that Britain's political system is failing her people.

Two: that the effects of this failure are not abstract or academic - they are real, and they affect us all - our lives, our stability, our success and our prosperity.

Three: that there is a programme of reform - a coherent,

mutually-supporting package of reforms - which can rectify this. And

which is, incidentally, set out in a new Liberal Democrat policy paper

launched earlier today.

And four: that, in completing these reforms we are, in effect, completing the British revolution started - you and she will be surprised to hear - by Mrs Thatcher.

My case will be, that the Thatcher years were about the financial

empowerment of the citizen through share ownership, the purchasing of

council houses and so on. While the present programme of constitutional reform is about matching that with the political empowerment of the citizen. It may strike some of you as paradoxical that we have to carry through this phase of that change with the Conservatives not in the lead, but in opposition. But that is just another example of how the modern Conservative Party has sunk back to defending the past, rather than creating the future.

But this is not change for change's sake. It is only part of a much wider modernisation programme which includes the reform of our welfare system, of our attitude to Europe, of our public services and of our attitude to the environment.

Here is a thought which has often struck me.

Look at modern firms, competing in the global market place, where Britain has to compete and what do you see? Participation, flat structures, networking, quality relationships, the maximisation of human assets, partnership, job flexibility, decision and responsibility sharing at all levels.

Now look at politics and what do you see? The vertical hierarchies

longingly preserved. Top down government. Westminster is the biggest job preservation conspiracy in the land. It would rather die than share a decision with someone else and probably will, if it cannot mend its ways.

Britain probably now leads Europe in our modern business structures. But we're far, far behind almost every other free democracy when it comes to the openness and structure of our politics.

It's time to catch up.

And that's what we Lib Dems are committed to.

It's what we've been committed to, in one form or another, for 100 years. And it's our Liberal Democrat agenda that is now centre stage.

Now, there is a lot Liberal Democrats disagree with the new government

about. Their underinvestment in our schools and hospitals. he

insufficient attention being paid to the environment. Their damaging

timidity over the Single Currency, to name just three.

But on the need to reform Britain's outdated political structures, our two parties, Liberal Democrats and Labour, are natural partners

How could we be anything else?

We worked together in Scotland to draw up plans for a Scottish parliament.

We worked together in opposition to produce a joint report on

constitutional change which has now been incorporated as the government's programme for this parliament and the next.

And that report - the Cook-Maclennan report - has also formed the basis for our co-operation in the joint cabinet committee that was set up in July last year.

A move quite unprecedented in our politics. Two parties, working

together, not out of weakness, or because they had to, but self

confidently and because they believed it right.

Two parties fighting each other at the ballot box, but working as partners where we agree, in a common cause, to improve the governance of Britain and restore people's faith in their elected representatives.

And already, in just 12 months, we have made great strides.

Scotland will have its parliament, and Wales its Assembly, both

democratically endorsed by the people of those nations.

And both will be elected by a fair voting system.

London has voted for an elected Assembly, and a Mayor. A bill is

currently going through Parliament creating Regional Development Agencies and regional chambers which could become the forerunners of elected regional assemblies for the rest of England.

The European Convention on Human Rights is about to pass into UK law.

A Freedom of Information Bill will be enacted next summer.

Later this year a bill will implement the first stage of House of Lords reform.

We will have our first 'fair votes' election within a year - for the

European Parliament. And this autumn, Lord Jenkins and his Commission on

the Voting System will recommend a proportional voting system for the

House of Commons to be put to the British people in a referendum.

That's not bad for 12 months!

The Government of Britain will never be the same again.

As I observed to the CBI a few months ago, we politicians are finally,

belatedly, learning from business, and engaging in the politics of the

joint venture. Or perhaps, as far as we Lib Dems are concerned, the

reverse take-over, although you'd better keep that to yourselves!

Professor Patrick Dunleavy of the LSE recently observed that: 'For Labour,

constitutional reform has become like privatisation for the Tories in the

1980s - an initially small and particular set of ideas ... built up into a

hegemonic rolling programme of reform with a clear ideological rationale.'

That's an apt comparison - but it contains a warning too. Privatisation

was the great reform of the Tory years. And people understood it, even if

they didn't always agree with it. It was easily understandable, even to

the non-political layman.

People knew what the Gove rnment were trying to do.

I am not convinced they yet do, when it comes to constitutional reform.

The onus is now on those of us who believe in reform to setout why we

believe in it; to set out the big picture; to explain to people the kind

of society we are trying to build.

I am going to start with three basic principles.

One: power belongs to the people, and flows upward from them. They are

the masters. Government is the servant.

Two: in a representative democracy, those we select to take decisions for

us in government must be as truly representative of us and our views as

possible.

Three: too much power in one place, or in the hands of too few people,

leads to bad government.

Power from the people. Representative government. Separation of powers.

>From these simple tenets flows the whole great constitutional reform

agenda which I believe in.

Let's take them in turn.

Number one. Power belongs to the people.

Well, does it? Not under our present constitution it doesn't.

In Britain today people are restricted by laws - as they should be. But

the Government's power is unfettered. Civil liberties can be trampled.

The press gagged. Law courts manipulated, even ignored. Westminster can

do as it pleases.

The only restrictions are convention, and elections every four years.

And if you doubt how easily these can be disregarded, consider the

abolition of the GLC in the 1980s, on a ministerial, or rather Prime

Ministerial, whim because it was proving too much of an irritant.

And think how easily the 1689 Bill of Rights - the very declaration that

gives us the doctrine of parliamentary sovereignty in our law - was

amended in the last Parliament, so that one Conservative MP, Neil

Hamilton, could take the Guardian newspaper to court. Unsuccessfully, as

it turned out.

This is not the settled, natural, much admired, British constitution that

supporters of the status quo would have us believe. It is, in fact, a

constitutional bear garden, where individual rights, public and legal

bodies, and other tiers of government depend on national government's

goodwill and decency for their very existence.

It is a matter of some irony - and not a little arrogance too - that while

generations of British Governments have insisted other countries have

written constitutions - notably in all our past colonies and in post-War

Germany - we have never felt the same need for ourselves. We have always

felt that the sense of honour and gentlemanly spirit of English

parliamentarians was enough.

To borrow the words of Jonathan Aitken, that 'the simple sword of truth

and the trusty shield of fair play' would prevail.

One only has to say those words to recognise how ridiculous they sound

nowadays!

So the first consequence of a belief that power flows from the people, is

that we must, over time, move towards a formal, written, or at least

codified, constitution, which sets the limits on government power, and

defines the relationship between different tiers of government and between

each of them and the citizen.

And which protects the rights of individual citizens too.

Every person should have the unshakeable right to equality before the law.

To freedom of speech and of belief. To privacy, or to gather in public.

The right not to be persecuted because of colour, sex, religion or any

other ground. The right to be treated as innocent until proven guilty.

Fundamental human rights that should never be taken away from us.

And the right to know. The right to know information about you that is

held by the state. And the information the state uses to inform its

decision making processes.

It is essential that we enable the political system to recover democratic

legitimacy. That means enabling people to identify with it, to understand

it and feel it to be fair. For me this is far more important than any

concept of a 'scientifically logical' system, imposing uniformity across

the country, however pleasing that might be to the sense of logic of the

political scientist or the sense of convenience of the state bureaucrat.

Think about the 'Good Friday' agreement, recently voted upon and accepted

by the people of Northern Ireland. The Assembly that will be elected

there will be unique - the first of its kind, and quite possibly the only

one of its kind. It is a bespoke body, made to measure for the specific

requirements of the Northern Irish people, and no-one is arguing it should

have been anything else.

But then, contrary to the case made by the enemies of reform, the United

Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland has never been a uniform

body with uniform institutions. And is that much richer and better for

it. For decades we have had secretaries of state for Scotland, Wales and

Northern Ireland, but not for England. It has not been an issue.

Scotland has had its own legal system - up until next year, incidentally,

the only legal system in the world without its own Parliament. Some parts

of the UK have one tier of local government, some two. None of this is

seen as a problem. Rather it is a sign of our flexibility, and our rich

national diversity.

And so it should be with a Scottish Parliament and Welsh Assembly. They

are a consequence of the legitimate demands of the Scottish and Welsh

people for self-rule.

But there is not the same demand for self-rule in England. And until, if

ever, there is, the question of an English Parliament does not arise, any

more than the Good Friday Agreement in Northern Ireland creates the need

for matching institutions on the British mainland.

The question of the English regions is slightly different. In some parts

of England there is a demand for some tangible expression of a regional

identity. London, Yorkshire, the North East and Cornwall are all cases in

point. What is needed here is a flexible approach, enabling the creation

of regional assemblies where they are wanted, but not forcing them on

regions, like the South East, for example, where they are obviously not.

We should not try to shoehorn every part of Britain into a straitjacket of

conformity.

We should encourage a climate of diversity and innovation. We should be

prepared to allow communities to experiment with new ideas. Take the idea

of elected mayors. I have some doubts about these. But I believe the

risks could be worth taking if it leads to more awareness and

accountability for local politics.

And the principle is the same in other areas. Allow people to try new

ideas. Enable experimentation. Don't assume that central government has

all the answers.

Which brings me to the question of referendums.

I believe, and the Government appears to, that referendums have an

important role to play in our political future. They are vital for

ensuring that constitutional change has the democratic legitimacy that it

needs to succeed.

At the national level, I would confine the use of referendums to purely

constitutional matters.

The Constitution, after all, does not belong to politicians. In a system

where sovereignty derives from the people, the constitution belongs to

them, not the Government. So it is right and proper that, before the

constitution is changed, the consent of the people has to be obtained.

But at local level, we should be prepared to use referendums much more

widely. I would, for instance, be prepared to give local government much

wider powers of expenditure on capital projects, subject to certain

economic safeguards, provided they had first obtained the agreement of

their voters in a referendum. And I would be prepared to see, at local

level, wider use of ci tizens initiatives and of the so-called

contestability procedures regularly used in the US in respect of, for

instance, appointments to Health Authorities.

I have for some time felt that we may have reached the end of the utility

of the 19th century version of pure representative democracy and will

have, increasingly, to give citizens the means to participate in more

direct democracy in defined circumstances.

So the need to create a new political legitimacy provides the spur to

greater direct involvement in political decision-making. And it could be

that the new technologies can provide the means. Cometh the hour, cometh

the microchip?

But if we are going to make greater use of direct democracy and

referendums, then there is an urgent need to start writing some rules

about when and how they are held. Rules on media balance, on timing, on

expenses. Should there be a 'minimum yes' figure for change? And how

should campaigns be funded - by voluntary subscription, or by the state?

And, perhaps most importantly of all, who should write the question that

gets put?

A permanent Electoral Commission, made up of independent commissioners,

along the lines of the Boundary Commission would be one way of doing this.

But increased limited use of direct democracy does not mean that we should

leave our representative system as it is. Because as it is is

undemocratic, unrepresentative and unreasonable. Consider these facts.

At last year's General Election Labour actually got fewer votes than John

Major in 1992, but a majority almost nine times bigger.

The Conservatives under Margaret Thatcher and John Major were consistently

opposed by well over half the British population, but stayed in power for

18 years.

The last Government to get over half the votes cast in a General Election

was in 1935.

So no, our electoral system does not provide for majority rule as

democracy requires.

Most of the time it lets the strongest minority rule.

But not even that, always. Twice since the War the party that won the

most votes in a British General Election actually lost!

And polling experts predict Labour could win the next election, even if

they get less votes than the Tories - because their votes are in the right

places, and the Tories' aren't!

What about the second function of an electoral system - making sure all

significant minorities are fairly represented?

In 1992 the Scottish Nationalists got six times as many votes as the Welsh

Nationalists in the General Election, but won fewer seats.

In 1989 the Green Party won nearly one in six votes at the European

elections, but won no seats.

In this year's local elections Labour won just over half the votes in the

borough of Newham, and won all the seats.

And then there are the people who feel that none of the candidates on

offer will represent them.

Look at the figures for turnout from recent elections. They make pretty

depressing reading.

At this year's council elections apathy won. Fewer than three in ten

people bothered to vote. And even at last year's General Election the

turnout was just 75% - the lowest since the war.

It's deeply odd, when we think of how the world is changing, that politics

is now the only place in our society where the Henry Ford doctrine still

prevails: 'You can have any colour you like, so long as it's red ... or

blue.'

Think about it. The 21st century voter marches down the aisle of their

new supermarket polling station on election day. What do they see? 20

brands of washing powder. 30 flavours of soup. 40 kinds of microwave

meal. Pesto, sun dried tomatoes, five choices of curry powder.

But at the ballot box only two choices of Government.

Think about it. How should a true socialist have voted at the General

Election if Peter Mandelson was their La bour candidate? Or a New Labour

devotee faced with Dennis Skinner? Or a pro-European Tory in John

Redwood's seat? Or an anti-European in Ted Heath's?

Why should a Green Party supporter, or a Referendum Party supporter, or a

Tory or a Labour or a Lib Dem in much of the country, have bothered to

even go out and vote when it was clear they stood more chance of winning

the lottery than getting their candidate into Parliament?

There are huge numbers of people in Britain who look at ballot papers and

find no candidate able to reflect their views. And there are many, many

more who have no candidate to vote for who stands a chance of winning, and

therefore feel they have no way of making their vote count.

So does our electoral system make sure all significant minorities are

fairly represented? No.

Some people have suggested that, by working with the Labour Government on

constitutional reform, the Liberal Democrats are trying to create a

political duopoly and deny voters choice. That could not be further from

the truth.

Our mission is extending choice in politics. Bringing people in who are

being excluded now, because they're not being represented - like more

women and ethnic minorities. Making people feel their vote really counts.

By making it really count.

That's what proportional representation is about. It's the politics of

inclusion. It's about giving people a chance to vote for what they really

believe in, rather than their second, or third, or least worst choice.

It's about an end to elections where three quarters of the country gets

ignored because all the parties know it's only the marginal seats that

matter. With PR everyone matters.

And, of course, no one will run the country unless they have the support

of a majority of the people of the country. Now there's a novel idea!

Some say PR will mean weak government. John Major, of all people, had the

gall to claim this in Parliament last week. PR, he said, leads to

governments which are 'unstable' and 'uncertain'. To administrations

beset 'by coalition, compromise and indecision'. Even, he said, to

governments 'hamstrung by small religious parties'.

Not like his then!

All governments are coalitions. And his was one of the broadest. The

difference PR makes is it leads to open coalitions, rather than closed

ones. What our current system forces behind the scenes - into party

committees and secret cabals, terrified lest any internal disagreement be

discovered - coalition government would bring into the open. Open

Government. Now there's another novel idea!

What PR actually leads to is not weaker government, but more considered

government, without the opportunity for a Government elected with minority

support to railroad through proposals which lack broad, popular support.

We would not have had either the poll tax or rail privatisation under PR!

And in local government, we would never have had Derek Hatton in

Liverpool, or 'Red Ted' Knight in Lambeth, or any of the loony left

Councils, all of whom obtained power from a minority of votes under the

present system.

Confusingly, as well as saying PR means weak government, its opponents

also often claim it helps extremists get power. Kenneth Baker, then Home

Secretary, said in 1992: 'PR has helped the fascists to march again in

Europe.'

This is a serious charge.

But it is totally wrong.

Whether PR helps or hinders extremists depends on whether their support is

spread across a country or region, or clustered in a small pocket - say,

one estate with particular race problems. Itis under the first past the

post system that Gerry Adams and Ian Paisley won election in Northern

Ireland. And it was because of the anomalies of first past the post that

the National Party was elected in South Africa in 1948, despite winning

10% less of the vote than their main rivals, and went on to use their

minority power to introduce apartheid.

Even the example, so often used by PR's opponents, of Hitler's Nazi Party

being elected under PR in Germany is a misrepresentation. The 1932

election which led to Hitler becoming Chancellor saw the Nazis get nearly

40% of the national vote. They would almost certainly have got more votes

and more power, under first past the post. Whatever the causes were of

Nazi power in Germany the voting system was not one of them.

Indeed a principal cause was Germany's pre-war constitution, which shared

many of the weaknesses of our current day one, in particular its lack of

checks and balances against central abuse of power.

Which brings me to the last of my three guiding principles. Balanced

Government.

Government that is not, in Lord Hailsham's famous phrase, an 'elective

dictatorship'.

Or, to quote another Conservative peer, Lord Alexander of Weedon, 'the

most centralised state in Western Europe.'

There are five strands to this.

First decentralisation - to the nations, regions and local authorities of

the UK. Subsidiarity should be the order of the day. No decision should

be taken at any level of government if it could be effectively taken by a

lower authority, closer to the people.

Second - and perhaps most crucial - would be the creation of a Supreme

Court with responsibility for ruling on the constitution and when it is

being breached - by Government, by Parliament or by anybody else.

The third and fourth strands of this process of separating powers involve

strengthening other aspects of our Parliament against the executive, to

enable them more fully to hold it to account.

The Commons, by taking away the threat of dissolution with the

introduction of fixed term Parliaments. By giving parliamentary select

committees more powers to scrutinise Government and other public bodie s.

By looking at internal reforms to make the House more effective, like

electronic voting, and a semi-circular chamber, to give the place a less

confrontational atmosphere.

And the Lords, by legitimising its role and making it a full partner in

the legislative process. Turning it into a Senate - mainly elected, but

with a small number - say a sixth - of its members appointed - and not by

the Prime Minister, but by a Committee of both Houses of Parliament, and

sitting as crossbenchers, to give the House a less party political feel.

And fifth, and finally, reducing the power of Government by reducing its

numbers.

Liberal Democrats aren't fans of big government. We're fans of good

government. The two are not the same.

Our plans for the Lords would cut its numbers by 900. And with the

decentralisation and dispersal of power, we would cut the number of MPs

too, by at least 150. 500 is, in my view, a more than adequate number.

Many countries survive on far fewer.

And I do not believe we need all 100 of the ministers we have now either.

It is absurd that over the last four Parliaments the number of ministers

has increased while the number of civil servants has shrunk.

It should be a principle that the number of ministers does not exceed a

tenth of the number of MPs. In other words, 65 now, 50 when the size of

the House is reduced. That's a cut in half. We don't need them. There

is no need for ministers to do everything, and respond to everything that

moves. They should concentrate on providing less active, but more

effective government. Government that steers, but doesn't itself row.

So, these five elements - decentralisation, a Supreme Court, a modern

Commons, a reformed Upper House, and a huge cut in the number of

ministers, would amount to a total rebalancing of institutional political

power in the UK. Twinned with fair votes, and a written, or at least

codified, constitution they would be a bulwark against corruption and

abuse of power, and a battering ram for good and open government.

What does all this add up to?

It can be summed up in a single sentence.

Our aim is a Britain built around a single concept - that of the powerful

citizen, living in a strong community and supported by an enabling

Government.

But there are two aspects to this. One is to do with the political

empowerment of the citizen. The other with the economic empowerment of

the citizen.

Constitutional reform, to give the citizen greater influence over how the

power they confer on Government is used.

Economic reform, to give the citizen greater influence over how the taxes

they pay to Government are spent.

This speech has been about the first of those. But in the next few weeks

I will be mapping out the second as well and explaining the part that it

has to play in reconnecting, not just the citizen with the politician, but

the tax payer with the tax spender in a modern Britain.

So this is our agenda. And these are our guiding principles.

Political power comes from, and belongs to the people.

In a representative government the way we choose our representatives

should combine fairness, openness and the maximum choice.

And good government is best served by a more balanced political system, in

which decision-making is decentralised and power dispersed.

Tonight I have set out what these principles mean - for politicians, for

the political process, and, most importantly of all, for the people of

Britain.

Britain is changing.

But it is not a leap in the dark. We are doing no more than modernising

Britain and bringing our politics up to date. In fact it is a step out of

the shadows and into the light.

Any who fear the journey should bear in mind the words of Edmund Burke,

that great constitutional conservative: 'Whatever now is establi shed, once

was innovation.'

And so it is.

What we have helped others do we can now do for ourselves.

Build on our traditions. Empower our communities. Return power to the

people.

Trust in ourselves.

And build a new Britain for the new millennium. Liberal Democrat party leader Paddy Ashdown's speech to Westminster Forum: 'Rebuilding Trust, Empowering People' last night:

'My subject is the way we run our country. I shall be making four assertions.

One: that Britain's political system is failing her people.

Two: that the effects of this failure are not abstract or academic - they are real, and they affect us all - our lives, our stability, our success and our prosperity.

Three: that there is a programme of reform - a coherent,

mutually-supporting package of reforms - which can rectify this. And

which is, incidentally, set out in a new Liberal Democrat policy paper

launched earlier today.

And four: that, in completing these reforms we are, in effect, completing the British revolution started - you and she will be surprised to hear - by Mrs Thatcher.

My case will be, that the Thatcher years were about the financial

empowerment of the citizen through share ownership, the purchasing of

council houses and so on. While the present programme of constitutional reform is about matching that with the political empowerment of the citizen. It may strike some of you as paradoxical that we have to carry through this phase of that change with the Conservatives not in the lead, but in opposition. But that is just another example of how the modern Conservative Party has sunk back to defending the past, rather than creating the future.

But this is not change for change's sake. It is only part of a much wider modernisation programme which includes the reform of our welfare system, of our attitude to Europe, of our public services and of our attitude to the environment.

Here is a thought which has often struck me.

Look at modern firms, competing in the global market place, where Britain has to compete and what do you see? Participation, flat structures, networking, quality relationships, the maximisation of human assets, partnership, job flexibility, decision and responsibility sharing at all levels.

Now look at politics and what do you see? The vertical hierarchies

longingly preserved. Top down government. Westminster is the biggest job preservation conspiracy in the land. It would rather die than share a decision with someone else and probably will, if it cannot mend its ways.

Britain probably now leads Europe in our modern business structures. But we're far, far behind almost every other free democracy when it comes to the openness and structure of our politics.

It's time to catch up.

And that's what we Lib Dems are committed to.

It's what we've been committed to, in one form or another, for 100 years. And it's our Liberal Democrat agenda that is now centre stage.

Now, there is a lot Liberal Democrats disagree with the new government

about. Their underinvestment in our schools and hospitals. he

insufficient attention being paid to the environment. Their damaging

timidity over the Single Currency, to name just three.

But on the need to reform Britain's outdated political structures, our two parties, Liberal Democrats and Labour, are natural partners

How could we be anything else?

We worked together in Scotland to draw up plans for a Scottish parliament.

We worked together in opposition to produce a joint report on

constitutional change which has now been incorporated as the government's programme for this parliament and the next.

And that report - the Cook-Maclennan report - has also formed the basis for our co-operation in the joint cabinet committee that was set up in July last year.

A move quite unprecedented in our politics. Two parties, working

together, not out of weakness, or because they had to, but self

confidently and because they believed it right.

Two parties fighting each other at the ballot box, but working as partners where we agree, in a common cause, to improve the governance of Britain and restore people's faith in their elected representatives.

And already, in just 12 months, we have made great strides.

Scotland will have its parliament, and Wales its Assembly, both

democratically endorsed by the people of those nations.

And both will be elected by a fair voting system.

London has voted for an elected Assembly, and a Mayor. A bill is

currently going through Parliament creating Regional Development Agencies and regional chambers which could become the forerunners of elected regional assemblies for the rest of England.

The European Convention on Human Rights is about to pass into UK law.

A Freedom of Information Bill will be enacted next summer.

Later this year a bill will implement the first stage of House of Lords reform.

We will have our first 'fair votes' election within a year - for the

European Parliament. And this autumn, Lord Jenkins and his Commission on

the Voting System will recommend a proportional voting system for the

House of Commons to be put to the British people in a referendum.

That's not bad for 12 months!

The Government of Britain will never be the same again.

As I observed to the CBI a few months ago, we politicians are finally,

belatedly, learning from business, and engaging in the politics of the

joint venture. Or perhaps, as far as we Lib Dems are concerned, the

reverse take-over, although you'd better keep that to yourselves!

Professor Patrick Dunleavy of the LSE recently observed that: 'For Labour,

constitutional reform has become like privatisation for the Tories in the

1980s - an initially small and particular set of ideas ... built up into a

hegemonic rolling programme of reform with a clear ideological rationale.'

That's an apt comparison - but it contains a warning too. Privatisation

was the great reform of the Tory years. And people understood it, even if

they didn't always agree with it. It was easily understandable, even to

the non-political layman.

People knew what the Government were trying to do.

I am not convinced they yet do, when it comes to constitutional reform.

The onus is now on those of us who believe in reform to setout why we

believe in it; to set out the big picture; to explain to people the kind

of society we are trying to build.

I am going to start with three basic principles.

One: power belongs to the people, and flows upward from them. They are

the masters. Government is the servant.

Two: in a representative democracy, those we select to take decisions for

us in government must be as truly representative of us and our views as

possible.

Three: too much power in one place, or in the hands of too few people,

leads to bad government.

Power from the people. Representative government. Separation of powers.

>From these simple tenets flows the whole great constitutional reform

agenda which I believe in.

Let's take them in turn.

Number one. Power belongs to the people.

Well, does it? Not under our present constitution it doesn't.

In Britain today people are restricted by laws - as they should be. But

the Government's power is unfettered. Civil liberties can be trampled.

The press gagged. Law courts manipulated, even ignored. Westminster can

do as it pleases.

The only restrictions are convention, and elections every four years.

And if you doubt how easily these can be disregarded, consider the

abolition of the GLC in the 1980s, on a ministerial, or rather Prime

Ministerial, whim because it was proving too much of an irritant.

And think how easily the 1689 Bill of Rights - the very declaration that

gives us the doctrine of parliamentary sovereignty in our law - was

amended in the last Parliament, so that one Conservative MP, Neil

Hamilton, could take the Guardian newspaper to court. Unsuccessfully, as

it turned out.

This is not the settled, natural, much admired, British constitution that

supporters of the status quo would have us believe. It is, in fact, a

constitutional bear garden, where individual rights, public and legal

bodies, and other tiers of government depend on national government's

goodwill and decency for their very existence.

It is a matter of some irony - and not a little arrogance too - that while

generations of British Governments have insisted other countries have

written constitutions - notably in all our past colonies and in post-War

Germany - we have never felt the same need for ourselves. We have always

felt that the sense of honour and gentlemanly spirit of English

parliamentarians was enough.

To borrow the words of Jonathan Aitken, that 'the simple sword of truth

and the trusty shield of fair play' would prevail.

One only has to say those words to recognise how ridiculous they sound

nowadays!

So the first consequence of a beliehe Department for Education and

Employment.

3. Foodlink is the UK Food and Drink industry funded public

information campaign aimed at increasing awareness of how to keep

food safe from the time it is bought until the time it is eaten.

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