Where there is no law, but every man does what is right in his own eyes, there is the least of real liberty
Henry M. Robert

The English lessons...

What are the features of the British parliamentary system and how to make Ukrainian Verkhovna Rada work?
14 March, 2017 - 11:45
PANDICULATING / Photo by Ruslan KANIUKA, The Day

The empty hall of Ukrainian Parliament, ghost voting, browsing real estate or places of entertainment on the smartphone during the voting, and other violations conduct and unethical behavior – these have long been part of the life at the parliament. Recent sociological data show that parliament is trusted by only 5.3 percent of Ukrainians, and not trust by as much as 82.1 percent (according to the Kyiv International Institute of Sociology survey conducted in December 2016). This is not just a simple problem, it is a continuous degradation of parliamentarism. Other institutions of state power have figures that are not much better, but the MPs are the absolute lowest in this regard. Even Russian media have better results, as they are trusted by 2.4 percent of Ukrainians and not trusted by 76.3 percent. And all this in the post-Maidan Ukraine and in the wartime.

What is the solution? Statesman Yevhen Marchuk writes on Facebook: “The material for comparative analysis (youtube.com/watch?v=tBbLA9sa5Gk; youtube.com/watch?v=R4vXNg0Yw0M) is the British Parliament’s lower chamber, that is the House of Commons. This is March 8, 2017. Every Wednesday Prime Minister Theresa May reports on what the Government has done in the past week and answers the questions of deputies. Every Wednesday. Coincidentally, the Wednesday yesterday was March 8. So it was this Wednesday, and the year before; it has been like that for hundreds of years. The Prime Minister stands before the Parliament every week. One does not need to know English to see this. Just look at how Theresa May behaves as the speaker, look at the opposition leader, who always sits in front of the Prime Minister. Try to find at least one free sit in the hall... and then compare it with the work of our governing institutions.”

Thus, we speak on the British parliamentary system and a recipe for the Verkhovna Rada.

“THE BRITISH ARE EXTREMELY PROUD OF THEIR PARLIAMENT”

Bohdan TSIUPYN, journalist, London:

“I have spent almost all of my conscious life in the UK and I dare to assert that the British are extremely proud of their parliament. This is one reason why they voted for exit from the EU in past year’s referendum.

“The fact is, the British feel very close to their own legislature, and despite all the criticism, shortcomings, and skepticism, they believe that the parliament still represents them. However, the biggest issue with the European Parliament was the fact that many British citizens felt it was too far and too non-representative, while British MPs do represent their constituents after all.

EVERY WEDNESDAY PRIME MINISTER THERESA MAY REPORTS ON WHAT THE GOVERNMENT HAS DONE IN THE PAST WEEK

 

“In addition, a very important point is that the British vote for individuals. That is, when a British voter enters the voting booth on the election day, the first thing they see on the ballot is the names of candidates, and only then those of the parties which the candidates represent.”

“THE PARLIAMENT RESPONDS TO THE WILL OF ITS CONSTITUENTS”

“That is, the British constituents know well who their representative in the parliament is. Also, the link between the MP and their constituency operates smoothly. MPs maintain offices both in the parliament and in the constituencies. Many issues are thus dealt with directly by the MPs. That is, voters write a letter or get an appointment with their MP. Thus, they know perfectly well who represents their interests and who can offer help in this or that situation.

“It is important to recall one circumstance having to do with Brexit. A majority of the British parliament was for the country remaining in the EU, most MPs were pro-European. But after the results of the referendum showed the British overwhelmingly rejecting the EU membership, MPs from effectively all parties agreed to do the will of British citizens as expressed in the referendum. It should be remembered that Prime Minister Theresa May led the Remain campaign, but after the referendum, she and most of her fellow party members, and even the opposition Labour Party said: ‘We heard the voice of British voters and will do their will.’ This is a very interesting example of how the parliament reacts to the mood of society and the will of their constituents.”

“ALL TOP BRITISH OFFICIALS ARE MPs”

“Another important point is that all top British officials, starting with the prime minister, are MPs. And they all go through the crucible of political struggle, communicate directly with voters and have to beat their opponents in the political struggle by securing most votes in their constituency. That is, while being the head of government, Prime Minister May is also serving as MP in her constituency and representing these voters. She does it in her spare time from duties as prime minister, and so does every minister of the cabinet. They all are MPs and rely not only on their cabinet offices, but also on the support of their fellow citizens, experience and understanding of what their constituents want, and also experience of tremendous political struggle.

“Meanwhile, it is worth noting that in Ukraine, many high officials and civil servants represent nobody. They never engaged in political struggle, are poor speakers and cannot convince anybody of anything, while every British politician and government official has to be able to do it.

“British MPs are mostly excellent speakers, they are very well aware of what their voters want and are able to convince them, to get them follow their MP.

“Of course, the British are a very skeptical people. Nobody idealizes the system, a lot of criticism of politicians and the parliament can be heard. But comparatively, the national parliament still enjoys far greater support and I think that every Briton knows what the British parliament is doing and how it can be influenced, while not every Briton knows what the European Parliament is doing.”

“BRITISH INSTITUTIONS ARE ALSO A KIND OF MUSEUM”

“On entering the Houses of Parliament, the first impression is that of entering a museum where centuries of history breathe on you from the ancient stones, paintings, various architectural forms both outside and inside it. You can go there for a few days as if it was a museum, to admire paintings, architecture, and interior decorations. And speaking of British institutions, they are also a museum to a certain extent.

“The House of Lords is one of its oldest exhibits. Its defining feature is that unlike the House of Commons, the House of Lords’ members are not elected. Its seats are either inherited or received by appointment, including cabinet members who can be appointed to them and raised to peerage. All former prime ministers and quite a few serving government officials are members of the House of Lords.

THE “HARD-WORKING” UKRAINIAN PARLIAMENT

 

“This chamber is responsible for reviewing and re-approving bills. On the one hand, this is not an elected body, which makes many people criticize it. On the other hand, there are some very experienced people in it. For example, former prime minister John Major is a member of the House of Lords, as is Tony Blair and many former ministers.

“They know very well what is being debated. Particularly when working on this or that bill, they know very well what they can and must amend so that the resulting law works better. Of course there is a problem that the House of Lords also has seats that are held by hereditary members or reserved for representatives of the church. Still, such people are not really problematic either.

“Do not forget that the House of Commons has the upper hand anyway. In other words, the House of Commons can override the objections of the House of Lords if the required number of votes is there.”

“THE QUEEN IS A SYMBOL OF STABILITY”

“I would compare the House of Lords to the monarchy. On the one hand, of course, the Queen is not elected. This is an anachronistic element of public administration and the Queen is not directly accountable to citizens. It is not a clear democratic mechanism. But despite all this, the British have succeeded in finding a useful role for the constitutional monarchy system. That role, in my opinion, is that the Queen, just as the House of Lords, is not hostage to any transient political waves, she is not obliged to toe the line of a political party or some political opinion. She thus shows that the country and the parliament are overall something higher and more permanent than the political party in power, or the ongoing political process, or certain international institutions.

“The British have been lucky in that the reigning Queen Elizabeth II has been able to play this role perfectly. She is helped by the system as well. She has no right to interfere in politics and never expresses an opinion on any issues of domestic or foreign policy. The Queen is a symbol of stability. While any cabinet can be ousted over its mistakes, the Queen, who is the head of state, and the country remain. The interests of the country and the desire of people to live in peace and enjoy well-being remain. There is something transient and something eternal and unchanging. I think that the parliament as a whole and the Queen as part of the overall system of constitutional monarchy provide the British with an understanding of continuity and linking oneself to the history, the country, the way the British organize their lives and their representatives write laws, pass budgets, etc. This is one of the positive aspects of the system.”

PEOPLE WHO WRITE LAWS CANNOT BE ABOVE THE LAW”

“However, the British parliament does have its shortcomings as well as dishonest MPs. Ukrainians will find it of interest that over here, the MPs do not enjoy legislative immunity from prosecution. I cannot imagine ghost voting in the British parliament. For such things, the guilty MP would have paid with their political future, not to mention the possibility of losing one’s freedom and going to prison. The British parliament is very old, there are no buttons to press there. People vote in person. To do this, they need to go into a designated room, to show that they move there, and their votes are then counted. In addition, there are roll call techniques. When there are no objections, the decision is unanimously adopted to speed up decision-making procedures.

“There are examples of MPs having been convicted and imprisoned, including members of the House of Lords, who were found guilty of lying under oath or of some other offenses, and they served time in prison. It does not surprise anyone in Britain. Equality before the law, applying to those who create the laws as well, is an axiom which every Briton understands and which is not doubted by anyone. That is, people who write the laws cannot be above the law. If they adopt a law that applies to all citizens, they cannot say then that it does not apply to them.

“Terrible things that happen in the Ukrainian parliament are simply impossible here. It does not mean that the British parliament is all ‘warm and fuzzy.’ For example, there were scandals and court hearings regarding MPs who were paid to raise some questions in the debate or took money to represent some lobbying interests. They were punished for this.”

“THE HOUR-LONG PRIME MINISTER’S QUESTIONS ARE AN IMPORTANT ELEMENT OF LINKS WITH VOTERS”

“A very interesting part of parliamentary procedure is the hour-long Prime Minister’s Questions. It is a favorite show for many Britons. It is very entertaining, interesting, and noisy.

“All the politicians who had taken part in this business then tell us in their memoirs that it was among the biggest tests of their legislative and government service.

“This is a very important element of links between voters and the government, as it forces the country’s highest official to respond to urgent questions. Moreover, they have to answer them immediately in front of cameras, in a hall full of opponents who will seize on every error or attempt to avoid telling the truth. Britons watch it on TV or listen to it on the radio. Due to it, they realize at once that their political system is alive, it responds to today’s challenges and issues that concern people.”

“ABOVE ALL WE NEED TO UPGRADE THE QUALITY OF POLITICAL REPRESENTATIVES”

Hanna HOPKO, chairperson of the Parliamentary Committee on Foreign Affairs:

“There are particular recommendations, particularly on behalf of the European Parliament’s mission, on internal reform, and increasing the institutional effectiveness of the Parliament. Ukraine signed a memorandum of cooperation between the Verkhovna Rada and the European Parliament in order to bring our parliament up to the level of best traditions of European parliamentarianism. This memorandum has 52 recommendations. Some are essential, some are too premature. It should be understood that above all we need to upgrade the quality of political representatives who have the direct influence on the parliament’s agenda and culture. We can not compare our parliament with the British, because we don’t have the centuries-old tradition. Ukraine, unfortunately, has finally received its statehood only in 1991. Before that the independence process was fragmented, and thus we physically could not acquire the relevant tradition. As part of that, we were very much influenced by the conditions of our stay within the Russian Empire and the Soviet Union.

“The problem of the parties in power and the opposition in the Rada is that there is no culture of consolidation around the priorities of national importance. And so we see the impersonation of the famous fable of the Crawfish, Swan, and Pike. Political movements put their own narrow interests over fundamental issues of national importance. Thus, the lack of coordination and communication within Ukrainian parliament inhibits the formation of these traditions – and it has prevented us from joining the EU and NATO, unlike our closest neighbors.

“In my draft bill on the Verkhovna Rada’s standing order, I suggested that on Mondays, parallel to the conciliation board we would start preparing questions to the government – not in the end of the week; and that we would have also an hour of questions to the government scheduled at the same time. Thus we would assure the quality work for the entire week. Now, the hour of questions to the government is a mere formality in the half-empty hall. It is therefore necessary to separate hours of discussions on draft bills and hours of votes. For example, we should make 12:30 to 14:00 the time to vote for things already discussed before.

“We also need a new electoral code, which would include changes to the electoral law on the presidential, parliamentary, and local elections. As we had developed the law on public funding of political parties, we saw that most of them were simply using taxpayers’ money for PR, not for opening more public receptions or providing legal protection for citizens. Citizens did not feel that parties are anywhere close to them in terms of the pressing problems. This is because we don’t have common rules for everyone.”

By Mykola SIRUK, Ivan KAPSAMUN, Valentyn TORBA, The Day
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