We Need an Elected Head of State

There is an important role to play for the head of state.  A new written constitution needs to set out what that role is and ensure that the position is democratically accountable and transparent in the way it works.

As things stand our unwritten constitution concentrates considerable power in the hands of the government, with the head of state – the Queen – acting only on the instruction of the prime minister.  This makes the head of state a fairly meaningless role, doing little more than providing a fig-leaf for prime ministerial actions such as the awarding of honours and peerages, declaration of war and the dissolution of parliament.  A written constitution is an opportunity to put limits on the powers of government and parliament and to provide for a head of state whose constitutional purpose is to protect and defend those limits.

 This works well in Ireland.  For instance, if the constitution protects our civil liberties or if constitutional amendments require approval by referendum, and if parliament attempts to erode our rights or change the constitution, the head of state can step in.  In Ireland this is done by a presidential refusal to sign into law a new Act of parliament.  On those occasions the Act is then sent to the courts for review.

An elected head of state is also required to behave impartially and must be transparent in the way they carry out their duties (unlike the highly secretive monarchy).  And an elected head of state can be held to account when they step over the limits of their duties (unlike the highly political Prince Charles).  So an elected head of state – rather than a monarch – gives us an institution that is better in principle and better in practice and which will ensure any new constitution is absolutely and fundamentally democratic.

For supporting material, please visit http://republic.org.uk/what-we-want 

edited on Apr 15, 2015 by David Taylor

John Z Apr 5, 2015

This proposal does not appear to abolish the Monarchy, but rather merely takes away the title of Head of State from the Monarch.  Can it be implied that the Monarch would retain the other titles?     

Daniel Gaunt Apr 5, 2015

I don't think that was the intended interpretation of Republic's post. Quote from the link:

We want to see the monarchy abolished and the Queen replaced with an elected, democratic head of state.

John Z Apr 5, 2015

Unfortunately, that is what I figured the reply would be.

Fiona Condon Apr 10, 2015

Personally, I could care less if people want to call themselves queen, prince or anything else as long it doesn't confer and special privileges and I can do it too if I feel like it.

View all replies (3)

Ruobing Wang Apr 5, 2015

Hello, Dear Contributors

 

Welcome to the refining stage! In the next 2 weeks, we are looking forward to working with you, in order to refine selected ideas and produce concise final propositions based on these ideas. 

For this purpose, Head of State facilitators would like to remind you of the new features available to every contributor at this stage. Now, you can add, amend or withdraw votes already cast. This would be very important for us to see which ideas truly reflected your preferences, and to ensure that your preferences are represented fairly. 

Also, in the 69 selected ideas, many overlap with others. Please use your judgment when choosing and voting on the ideas that are truly representative of your views.

 

Best,

Robin

Head of State Team

Michael Griffith Apr 7, 2015

For effective government, an elected head of state (president) is essential. This inevitably means abolishing the monarchy.

Peter Stead Apr 10, 2015

The recent "spider memos" ruling means that constitutional reform is urgently needed here. The Government went to extraordinary legal lengths to keep private these memos and Lord Neuberger suggested that the Attorney General's certificate, had it been allowed to stand, would have "cut across two constitutional principles which are fundamental components to the rule of law." Do we want our Attorney General acting in this way? If people want the monarchy, let them have the monarchy, but they must first be allowed to make an informed choice and that means transparency regarding the nature of monarchy, the nexus between monarchy and parliament and the extraordinary privileges afforded to the Monarchy.

Hugh Ryan Apr 13, 2015

My suggestion:

Parliament shall enact laws to establish the office and eligibility thereto, duties, restrictions on and terms of service of, the Head of State.

 

Daniel Gaunt Apr 15, 2015

I disagree. This proposal would make HoS subservient to parliament, which would then make it impossible for that person to effectively hold parliament to account. 

Daniel Gaunt Apr 14, 2015

Plagiarised from the German and Irish Constitutions:

(Suggested final version, changes in bold following comments):

-------

Head of State 

Name and purpose

(1) The Head of State shall be called the President of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, hereinafter referred to as ‘The President’.

(2) The role of the President shall be to act on behalf of the British people to uphold the values of the Constitution by:

i) acting on the advice of the House of Commons, to appoint or dismiss the Prime Minister or to dissolve parliament

ii) giving consent to the enactment of legislation, provided that if the President considers the legislation to be unconstitutional that it should be referred back to parliament for further consideration

iii) representing the British people in its international relations, including concluding treaties with foreign states on behalf of the people in accordance with 16) below and accrediting ambassadors, diplomats and envoys.

Eligibility and nomination

(3) A person who is eligible to stand for election to the House of Commons shall be eligible to stand for election as the President.

(4) A person shall be validly nominated to stand for election as the President if they have acquired either:

ia) The nominations of 30 Members of Parliament or Members of the European Parliament (each member shall be permitted to nominate only one person);  and

ib) Nominations by resolution from twenty councils (to include all Metropolitan Borough, Unitary, County and District Councils but excluding Town and Parish Councils). The resolutions must include nominations from at least three different constituent counties of the United Kingdom; or

ii) The verified nominations of individual electors amounting to 0.2% of the total electorate, which shall include electors from at least half of all parliamentary constituencies and electors from each of England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. Individual electors shall be permitted to nominate multiple candidates. 

Elections and term of office

(5) The President shall be elected by a secret ballot of the entire electorate of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. The election shall be conducted using the supplementary vote method.

(6) The election for the President shall take place at least 60 days and not more than 90 days before the end of the term of office for the incumbent President, unless there is a vacancy in which case the timescales in this clause shall not apply.

(7) The term of office of the President shall be four years. Re-election for a consecutive term shall be permitted only once.

Taking office

(8) On assuming office, the President shall take the following oath before the assembled Members of the combined houses of parliament: 

“I do solemnly and sincerely promise and declare that I will maintain the Constitution of the United Kingdom or Great Britain and Northern Ireland and uphold its laws, that I will fulfil my duties faithfully and conscientiously in accordance with the Constitution and the law, and that I will dedicate my abilities to the service and welfare of the people. 

(9) A Member of Parliament or a Member of the European Parliament shall be defined as having resigned their seat upon their declaration as the winning candidate for President.

(10) The President shall be paid a salary equal to that of the Prime Minister.

(11) The President shall not be permitted to hold any other elected or salaried office, or engage in any trade or profession, or belong to the management or, without the consent of Parliament, to the supervisory board of an enterprise conducted for profit.

Vacancy

(12) If the President is unable to perform the duties of the role temporarily due to illness or incapacity then the Speaker of the House of Commons shall exercise the powers until such time as the President is able to recommence the duties or until the post becomes vacant.

(13) If the office falls prematurely vacant for any reason such as due to the death or resignation of the President, the Speaker of the House of Commons shall fill the role until such time as a new election can be organised. The election should take place within sixty days of the vacancy occurring.

Countersignature

(14) Orders and directions of the President shall require for their validity the countersignature of the Prime Minister or the competent Secretary of State. This provision shall not apply to the appointment or dismissal of the Prime Minister or the dissolution of parliament.

Representation of the United Kingdom for the purposes of international law

(15) The President shall represent the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland for the purposes of international law. The President shall conclude treaties with foreign states on behalf of the British people, and shall accredit and receive ambassadors, diplomats and envoys.

(16) All treaties shall require the consent or participation, in the form of a law, of the House of Commons. 

Appointments

(17) Acting on the advice of the Government, the President shall appoint and dismiss Supreme Court Judges, Civil Service Permanent Secretaries, the Chiefs of Staff of the Military Forces, and other positions as may be provided in law.

(18) The President shall be permitted to appoint such Civil Servants to a President’s department as are needed to fulfil the role. The Exchequer shall make available appropriate funding for this purpose, provided that expenditure shall be subject to the scrutiny of parliament.

Activities of the President

(19) Parliament shall enact legislation to determine the processes and procedures under which the President shall carry out the roles described in Article 2.

Impeachment

(20) Parliament may impeach the President before the Supreme Court for wilful violation of this Constitution or any other statute. The motion of impeachment must be supported by at least one quarter of the Members of the Parliament. The decision to impeach shall require a majority of two thirds of the Members of Parliament. The case for impeachment shall be presented before the Supreme Court by a person commissioned by the impeaching body.

(21) If the Supreme Court finds the President guilty of a wilful violation of this Constitution or any other statute, it may declare that the President’s Office has been forfeited. After the President has been impeached, the Court may issue an interim order preventing exercise of the President’s functions.

 

Hugh Ryan Apr 16, 2015

My main niggle with the above is that the wording in (2.iii) & (15) (conclude) gives the president executive authority in relation to agreeing the terms etc of international treaties, rather than the government of the day. Surely shall sign would be more accurate?

In relation to (9) above the assumption that MEPs shall have been deemed to have given up their seat on election to president is surely something for the European Parliament to decide.

Daniel Gaunt Apr 18, 2015

See 16 though - it's clear that any such action needs the consent of Parliament.

Malcolm Ramsay Apr 17, 2015

"The verified nominations of 50,000 electors (individual electors shall be permitted to nominate multiple candidates)"

I think this should be expressed as a percentage of the population rather than an absolute number and I think they should be required to be spread around the country. So, something like:

The verified nominations of 0.1% of electors in each Parliamentary constituency (individual electors shall be permitted to nominate multiple candidates)

If that's too stringent, an alternative might be 0.1% of the overall electorate including a minimum of 0.05% in each Parliamentary constituency.

Daniel Gaunt Apr 18, 2015

Updated to reflect - I think 0.5% for each constituency would be unachievable (it's 260,000 people, for a start!) I've suggested 0.2% of the total electorate (circa 92,000 people currently) with at least half of constituencies and all constituent countries of the UK represented among the signatories.

Still includes a spread, but gives an achievable threshold.

Users tagged:

Malcolm Ramsay Apr 18, 2015

Thanks, Daniel, but you misread what I suggested. It wasn't 0.5% I proposed, it was 0.05% of each constituency. You've increased the overall threshold but allowed for it to be more concentrated.

I prefer a requirement for every constituency but your latest proposal is certainly an improvement.

Daniel Gaunt Apr 18, 2015

You're right, apologies. I'd still suggest every constituency makes it very difficult to achieve - that's 40 people from each of 650 as it currently stands. I think at least one from at least half including from all constituent countries meets the need for a distribution, but provides something achievable.

View all replies (6)

Tom Austin Apr 14, 2015

[Well done, das Paddy.]

2.(iii) With International Treaties, should this not be 'in consultation with The Cabinet/Government/Parliament?

Daniel Gaunt Apr 16, 2015

Not sure. The provision is there as the role of head of state has requirements in international law which relate to it. 

Tom Austin Apr 16, 2015

MMmmmm...

2. (iii) representing the British people in its international relations, including [concluding] signing treaties with foreign states on behalf of the people and leading on accrediting ambassadors, diplomats and envoys, advised by Government Ministers. (?)

Daniel Gaunt Apr 18, 2015

I've added in a reference to 16) which already makes clear that treaties require a law before they can be signed.

View all replies (3)

Fiona Condon Apr 14, 2015

Should it refer to Great Britain and Northern Ireland rather than the United Kingdom?

Tom Austin Apr 14, 2015

Yes, perhaps, it should so refer, but it will surely be read as so doing? In addition, we must consider 'Crown Dependencies'.

Ian Smith Apr 16, 2015

Dear All,

You may be interested in a discussion going on in another idea, debating the merits of having an appointments commission select the head of state rather than having presidential style elections.  

https://constitutionuk.com/category/view#/post/88229 

You may find this interesting because most of the attention in this topic has been about democratically replacing our existing (constitutional-guardian style) head of state rather than bringing in a new style of presidential head of state.  Please don't get me wrong, I am not advocating for the status quo of hereditary selection!  I am instead inviting the crowd to think about what kind of democratic and legitimate procedure is used to select a head of state and suggesting that political elections or anything like them may not be the best method.

Kind regards,

Ian

 

Ian Smith Apr 17, 2015

Dear All,

I have now modified my appointment commission idea so that it is entirely consistent with this idea.

See https://constitutionuk.com/category/view#/post/88229

What I suggest is that an appointment commission (of people from all walks of life) should be tasked with selecting and nominating a candidate that then can stand for election for the role of head of state.  This would a 4th route to nomination of a suitable candidate and be in addition to the 3 already identified in Degauntier's formulation above.

My reasoning remains that I do not like elitist presidential elections (which as we see in the US favour dynasties) and nor do I consider them to be the best next step after removing our current hereditary head of state.  I do favour a system that gives real possibilities to ordinary applicants who consider that they would be suitable for the role.

Kind regards,

Ian

Kind regards,

Ian

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