Tuesday, 8 May 2007

A Robust Constitution?

Some time ago a post on Samizdata.net by Perry de Havilland entitled What now, England? prompted a discussion on what would constitute an ideal or, “wish list”, British constitution.

Having taken into account many comments and with acknowledgements to Mandrill, Tim C, Mark E, Jim, Freeman, Nick G, RC Dean, Paul Marks Pietr, Cat, Sunfish, Nicholas Gray and the US constitution, here is a distillation/consensus of the comments.

It is still a work in progress, so feel free to offer any sensible comments, or suggestions, including the order of importance of the clauses. It is really a means to make one consider exactly what one considers the ideal role of government and the citizen, what rights they both need and the duties they owe.

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1. The powers not delegated to the State by the Constitution are reserved to the people. The State shall make no law amending this except by the will of the people expressed in a full referendum .

2. The state shall enter into no treaty, or agreement with any individual, group or state, that in any way abrogates or diminishes the sole sovereignty, or power, of the people of the United Kingdom, save with the full agreement of the people as expressed in a full referendum.
Any such agreement must be subject to a full referendum to reaffirm , or revoke any such treaty, or agreement. At any time on a Petition signed by over 25% of the eligible citizens, or in any case within 14 years of the agreement.

3. The State shall make no law concerning the establishment, elevation or imposition of any religion, or prohibiting the free peaceable exercise of religion. No person or persons shall have the right to impose any religion on any person by means of force or threat.

4. The State shall make no law abridging the freedom of speech, including the written word, or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.

5. The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated. No warrants shall be issued, except on probable cause, supported by oath or affirmation, and precisely specifying the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.
The State shall have a duty and the power to enforce this by appropriate legislation.

6. All persons born, or naturalized, in the United Kingdom, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United Kingdom.
The State shall make no law, or enforce any law, which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the State. Nor shall it deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within it’s jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.

7. Neither slavery, nor any form of involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime where the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United Kingdom, or any place subject to it’s jurisdiction.
The State shall have a duty and the power to enforce this by appropriate legislation.

8. The right of citizens who are over 21 to vote shall not be denied, or abridged by the Government or by any Local authority on account of race, creed, colour or sex. This right shall not be denied, or abridged, by reason of failure to pay any poll tax or other tax.
The State shall have a duty and the power to enforce this by appropriate legislation.

9. The State shall make no law interfering with the right of any individual, groups, or companies, to freely associate, or make agreements and contracts together, excepting where said are contrary to, or bound by the constitution of the United Kingdom.

10 The State shall make no law in separation or isolation or special case . in other words, parliament shall be of the people, not of itself.

11.The State make no law which infringes on the rights of all citizens to bare arms in personal and collective defence of the constitution and against enemies both internal and external. Towards this end any honest citizen of voting age and sound mind has a right to take training, obtain a licence of competence to bare arms and subsequently to bare arms. Citizens shall have a right to form and join licensed militia.
The State shall have a duty and the power to enforce this by appropriate legislation.

12. The citizen has an absolute right to protect their life family and property, also lives and property for which they may be responsible, against unlawful attack. The citizen may use reasonable force, up to and including deadly force, if necessary, in order to exercise that right.
This right shall only be bound by the constitution of the United Kingdom. The State, or any other governing authority, shall enact no law, and enforce no law, which shall abridge, abrogate, or diminish that right.

13. The citizen shall have a right to pursue health, wealth, happiness, associate and conduct their lives however they choose, provided it is within the constitution and is not to more than minimal detriment of others and does not harm the general good. The State shall have a duty to ensure this and shell enact no law, allow no law, and enforce no law, which shall abridge, abrogate, or diminish that right.

14. The constitution recognises that from time to time for certain needs the State may need to raise Taxes. Taxation should be limited as much as possible and at no time, except temporarily, for no more than three calendar years, in a state of dire emergency, or war, should total taxation exceed 21% of Gross Domestic Product. Total individual and total Company taxation should not exceed 14% of income in any three year period and in the case of individuals be restricted to those over voting age. Any new tax, or increase in taxation, shall be subject to ratification by a full referendum.
The State shall not incur debt, or increase borrowing, beyond it’s ability to pay within it’s existing tax structure and income without a full referendum.
In furtherance of clause 9 - The state shall make no tax nor impose any unreasonable hindrances on the sale and transport of goods and services.

9 comments:

CBA said...

Clause 2: a full referendum on all agreements and treaties. By this do you mean, in effect, all decisions on foriegn and domestic policy? If so the role of the government is solely that of administrator and policy enforcer. This would grant the people unprecedented rights in the actions of their government and truly make government policy that of the people. I wonder though if this would not cripple the government's capacity to take action because of its need to inform the public of the consequences of taking/not taking action. Would this not also effectively eliminate government's own capacity for decision making and thus eliminate political parties. The people would be given unprecedented freedom but also burdened with unprecedented responsability for decisions they may not feel they can or want to make. Wouldn't this force everyone to be a politician whether they want this or not?

Phil A said...

Clause 2: a full referendum on all agreements and treaties. By this do you mean, in effect, all decisions on foreign and domestic policy?

cba, No the words “…that in any way abrogates or diminishes the sole sovereignty, or power, of the people of the United Kingdom limits the effect of this clause. It would not apply to agreements and treaties in general, just any that impact on the sovereignty/power of the people of the UK.

Were it otherwise, you would indeed be correct, in that it would limit Government’s ability to treat with foreign powers.

TCA said...

number 5 is especially relevant considering the current state of affairs wih our pensins. it's a togh one, seeing as how, even without taxation, the government can effectively devalue your savings/pension by manipulation of the money supply. That's the trouble with Fiat currencies. I've heard suggestions that we should bring back the Gold Standard, or even peg currency to energy credits. Certainly, something has to bedone to take this excessive power out of the hands of politicised individuals.

TCA said...
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Phil A said...

Re: I've heard suggestions that we should bring back the Gold Standard, or even peg currency to energy credits.

The trouble with pegging – well, anything to anything - is that the value of whatever you are using as a ‘gold’ standard will fluctuate, depending on supply and demand.

One only has to look at what happened to gas & oil last winter as a recent example. Gold, Silver, Diamonds, they are all subject to the same problems. There are benefits to an actual gold currency, but disadvantages too.

Savings in the form of paper money are always hostages to fortune and competent control of the money supply. Maybe converting your savings to a ‘basket’ of precious stones and metals kept in a safe deposit might do the trick. A basket of Shares, bricks and mortar, unfortunately all can go down as well as up.

TCA said...

History shows that gold retains its value against other assets. It's singular and resillient properties make it an effective means of exchange, it's hard to see a circumstance where demand would be significantly reduced.

Also, for the forseeable future I can't see the demand for energy credits falling. What could they be replaced with?

I agree with your point of being better off just with assets and without currency altogether - I've heard it suggested that in the future tecnology could allow for currency to simply be replaced by electricity, stored on a card - a means of exchange not susceptible to government manipulation (and very hard to tax). I can't see how for the forseeable future the value of this means of exchange would decline, considering the extent to which we all rely on it.

Phil A said...

Re: I've heard it suggested that in the future technology could allow for currency to simply be replaced by electricity, stored on a card

Presumably this would in effect be some sort of capacious zero loss ‘battery’ of some sort.

Granted being a given amount of ‘work’, it would seem stable. But if the demand for the energy fell, say because of a drop in population, more efficient technologies, or a really cheap means of producing large amounts of energy (fusion, matter annihilation). Then the currency would experience a severe inflationary drop in value.

If I had to pick anything maybe a coinage made up of several precious metals. Each coin containing the same ratio of your ‘basket’ of metals, but each denomination varying in size, with an outer ring of a filler non precious metal, to make the actual size practical. Maybe bank notes could have strips of the chosen metals incorporated in them, much like the metal strip in current notes.

Probably something as simple as the currency being backed by actual real physical precious assets - and the Bank of England being absolutely held to not printing their way out of trouble would do it. Managing to do that, now that would be the trick.

Bishop Hill said...

If we stand back a little from this, I think mostly you have a Bill of Rights rather than a constitution here.

The US Constitution defines what the government may do. The BoR (amendments 1-10) then sets out some things it can't do, notwithstanding what the Constitution proper says). Most of what you are talking about here is saying what government can't do. The much more powerful approach is to say what it can do (the implication being that anything else is off limits).

The argument of the anti-federalists was that inclusion of a BoR would lead to unenumerated rights being snitched by the state. This is basically what has happened, even though the constitution says this is not allowed.

I strongly recommend that you get hold of a copy of Randy Barnett's "Restoring the Lost Constitution", which explains (in readable fashion) how the state has overridden many of the protections afforded by the US Constitution. Then you have to start working out how this is going to be prevented in your constitution. For an example, Clause 1 (obviously a lift from the US) has been honoured more in the breach than the observance on the other side of the pond.

As a wish list BoR, I like what you have written. I think a more interesting exercise is to write one which might have a chance of winning general acceptance.

Phil A said...

BH, Thanks for your interesting comment.

I do take your point that it would not necessarily win general acceptance. As it was put together, it was a sort of UK Libertarian slanted wish list, hence not necessarily designed to appeal to all.

As the post indicated it is cobbled together from a discussion somewhat modelled on the US amendments to the constitution (as a starting place) with a definite Libertarian slant. The discussion rather skimmed over the mechanics of the business of government.

The subject interested me so I put it together and posted it in the hope that others might comment to improve or add to it. I also take your point on the on the government only have permission to do certain things. The point was to limit their power as much as possible.

The idea of coming up with something that might gain a wider acceptance is interesting, but problematical. How do you reconcile say a libertarian point of view with an authoritarian? Probably pin as little down as possible I suppose. Also what about the Marxist viewpoint?