Making Britain more democratic

James Graham has some eminently sensible ideas on making Britain more democratic (with my comments):

1. A Petitioning System Fit for the 21st Century: the system for petitioning Parliament should be simplified and it should be possible to submit petitions online. Parliament should develop a system to formally consider all petitions submitted to it and take action where appropriate. Any resident or expatriate of the UK or a British Overseas Territory would have a right to petition Parliament in this way, including children.

It seems to me potentially a waste of time if Parliament has to consider every petition brought to it, even if by a small number of people. Best change this so that Parliamnet can ignore those petitions with less than, say, 10000 names.

2. People’s Bills: whereby the six legislative proposals that received the most petition signatures from registered voters in any given year would be guaranteed a second reading debate in the House of Commons.

This needs to be changed so that no voter can count as signing more than one of the 6 most-signed petitions. Otherwise, a large group of voters could combine to prevent other petitions from being debated, merely by putting up 6 very popular petitions (perhaps all on varients of the same theme).

3. A People’s Veto: all Acts of Parliament would be subject to a rule whereby, if one million registered voters petitioned against it within 60 days of the law being passed, a referendum would have to be held on whether or not to repeal it.

I like this very much. It should also apply to other government actions as well as primary legislation (I’m thinking here of the Iraq War).

4. A Responsive Electoral System: elect both Houses of Parliament using single transferable vote in multi-member constituencies (STV). Unlike other electoral systems, STV gives the voter choice between candidates from a particular party, as well as choice between parties. No other system is as good at taking politics out of the backrooms and into the daylight.

STV is OK, although I’d prefer a system of STV with a top-up, whereby 95% of the seats are allocated by STV, and the other 5% by giving top-up seats to parties according to the number of 1st-preference STV votes they got nationwide. The people elected under the top-up system would be those candidates who got the most number of votes without being otherwise elected.

5. A Citizen’s Convention: an independent convention to review how to improve the governance of the UK. At least 51% of the Convention’s membership would be made up of randomly selected members of the public. The government would be required by law to co-operate with the Convention in implementing its findings and hold consultative referendums where necessary.

Yes, and this “Citizens’ Convention” should be renamed “the House of Lords”.

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2 Responses to Making Britain more democratic

  1. James Graham says:

    Re having a threshold for petitions.

    I would resist this. What if, for example, all the inhabitants of an island (pop. 125) were to petition Parliament on an issue that was affecting them. Should they be denied a voice because they couldn’t pass some arbitrary threshold?

    No-one is suggesting that every single petition should be actioned on. There will, of course, need to be a sifting procedure. That could be handled by a petitions committee as is done in Scotland or in the European Parliament. But filtering on the basis of volume would mean that the smallest of minorities would be ignored as a matter of policy.

    Of course presently, all petitions are totally ignored.

    Regarding People’s Bills. You are correct that there would almost certainly have to be a degree of compositing. Douglas Carswell MP, who tabled a ten minute rule bill on this recently, proposed a rule that no subject should be debated as a People’s Bill more than once every five years. Such a rule would have a similar effect in that if the first placed bill were debated a similar bill in second place would automatically come off the list.

    But this is detail. I’m more interested in getting the party to support the principle this autumn.

  2. cabalamat says:

    James Graham: But filtering on the basis of volume would mean that the smallest of minorities would be ignored as a matter of policy.

    Only if that was the policy. Under the policy I propose, that would not be true, because parliament would still be able to formally consider a petition that had fewer names than the limit, it just wouldn’t be obliged to do so.

    Douglas Carswell MP, who tabled a ten minute rule bill on this recently, proposed a rule that no subject should be debated as a People’s Bill more than once every five years.

    That sounds sensible.

    But this is detail. I’m more interested in getting the party to support the principle this autumn.

    As long as the party realises that details matter; they can make the difference between a good system and an unworkable one.

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