On Petitions

All authorities agree that the right of petitioning parliament for redress of grievances is acknowledged as a fundamental principle of the constitution. It has been uninterruptedly exercised from very early times and has had a profound effect in determining the main forms of parliamentary procedure. – Speaker Gaspard Fauteux (Debates, June 18, 1947, pp. 4278-9) The right of citizens to petition Parliament for redress of grievance well entrenched, based as it is on tradition that dates back centuries and established precedent. The following historical overview is taken from the House of Commons Procedure and Practice, 2nd edition 2009. Petitioning the Crown (and later Parliament) for redress of a grievance originated in the 13th century, during the reign of Edward I. […]

Investigative inquiries and sensitive information: two approaches

The Chilcot Inquiry into the Iraq War was launched in July 2009 by the UK Government to consider the period from the summer of 2001 to the end of July 2009, embracing the run-up to the conflict in Iraq, the military action and its aftermath, to consider the UK’s involvement in Iraq, including the way decisions were made and actions taken, to establish, as accurately as possible, what happened and to identify the lessons that can be learned. The inquiry was set up by the Labour Government, with the members appointed by the Prime Minister, after consulting the opposition parties. A detailed protocol was agreed to for dealing with sensitive information, including the release of, or making public references to, […]

Forming governments in Westminster parliamentary systems

“The verdict of public opinion was pretty clear. Losers don’t get to form coalitions. Winners are the ones who form governments. The coalition in Britain — it is important to point out it was formed by the party that won the election.” – Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper, 3 June 2010 The formation of a government following a general election in a Westminster parliamentary system (in particular, one using First-Past-the-Post) follows certain conventions. It is important to understand that voters in countries such as the UK and Canada do not vote to elect a government, much less a prime minister. They each vote in their individual constituencies or ridings to elect a Member of Parliament (MP), who will represent them […]

The Primacy of Parliament

Chris Bryant (Rhondda) (Lab): On a point of order, Mr Speaker.You said earlier that for the sake of accuracy you had managed to obtain a copy of the Queen’s Speech. You need not have done any such thing, as you might just as well have bought a copy of The Sunday Telegraph. Will you confirm that this is the first time that a draft of the Queen’s Speech has ever been leaked to a national newspaper? Will you personally conduct an investigation to find out whether it was leaked from No. 10 Downing street and whether any money changed hands in connection with it? You rightly used to excoriate Labour Ministers if ever we made announcements before making them to […]

My government will…

The new Parliament in the UK opened today with Her Majesty’s Most Gracious Speech, also known as the Gracious Address or, less formally, as the Queen’s Speech. This is a parliamentary procedure common to all Commonwealth countries which still have the Queen as head of state, however it carries different names in different jurisdictions. For example, in Canada and its provinces, the speech is called the Speech from the Throne, or Throne Speech, and is usually read by the Governor General at the federal level and by the Lieutenant-Governor in the provinces. In Australia, it is simply called the “Opening Speech”, but is read by the Governor General (or Governor at the state level). In both the UK and Canada […]

Fixing election terms and political stability

While fixed term elections are commonplace in some countries, such as the United States, one of the vagaries of Westminster systems is that it remains the prerogative of the Crown to dissolve parliament. A parliament may not last more than 5 years from the date it was first elected, but there is nothing that prevents an election from occurring any time before that date. And while it is the Crown’s prerogative to dissolve parliament and force a new election, we all know that in reality, the decision belongs to the Prime Minister. A longstanding criticism of this process is that countless PMs have called elections early, sometimes to take advantage of their party’s surge in the polls, or to exploit […]