Define 'National Resources' for the benefit of the People

The absence of a constitution that defines what 'national resources'  can be used for, has lead to creeping change over the last few decades, where North Sea oil wealth has been squandered by successive governments, infrastructure assets have been sold off to global companies and large swathes of our city properties are being snapped up by Russians, Chinese and other non-UK millionaires looking for somewhere safer to park their wealth.

I am not anti-business and have spent most of my career working for commercial companies. However, there does not seem to be enough control on what governments can do with national resources, which after all should belong to the people

This idea puts forwards the general principle that we should identify our country's resources (particularly the finite ones) and ensure that there is some fair way of preserving their value for the benefit of its citizens. For example, limits on foreign ownership of residential property and taxing empty homes would help stabilise the property market to help people actually utilise this finite national resource for a defined constitutional purpose - "Enabling it citizens to afford somewhere to live".

While I don't wish to opine in fracking, if it were to go ahead, the Constitution should be able to ensure government was obliged to compensate the affected areas and use the revenues for the benefit of the people.

Claire Finn Apr 5, 2015

Putting aside my disagreement on government owning any "national resources", I don't think you should include the private property market. It's not finite and it's not nationally owned. My house (if I owned one) is not a 'resource' for the nation. It's my private property whether I own 1 or 20 or whether I'm from Yorkshire or China or whether I wish to live in it, rent it out or leave it empty or sell it to my next door neighbour or  someone from Timbuktu.

Christine Farquharson Apr 7, 2015

To help drive forward the phase 2 refining process, here's a summary of what was discussed during phase 1. Please remember to keep voting and commenting so that idea authors have a better sense of what you would like to see in the refined proposals!

- steveg33's clarifications: There are already a number of common resources/rights, like the right to roam and the right to access the coastal foreshore, that should be protected in the constitution. Other resources might include airspace or undeveloped land. (2 up)

- Alastair Bruton: 'The constitution should limit the right of the government to dispose of certain non-renewable assets such as oil and gas', but undeveloped land might not be one of them (that's a matter for tax policy) (1 up)

- steveg33: The Australian government is proposing to consider limits on foreign investment in housing (http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-australia-31615314). The UK is selling off its assets (http://www.channel4.com/programmes/selling-of...mand/60484-001)

- JimF agrees with the proposal and hopes it would also cover public land being sold off and enclosed (1 up)

Christine Farquharson Apr 7, 2015

Also, note that IanSmith1 has posted a similar idea in the Rights and Duties section; it would be ideal for both idea authors to collaborate to determine how best to proceed, or else to read through the comments in the other post to get a sense of how to refine their own. Thanks for participating!

https://constitutionuk.com/post/84281

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Mark Cooke Apr 11, 2015

I think this is misconceived.   A constitution can only provide the framework for working out political differences,   it shouldn't attempt to entrench  a particular view on matters such as this, which properly belong in the realm of political debate.

steveg33 Apr 11, 2015

Mark

I am not sure who determined that a 'constitution can only provide a framework'. Surely it is an open question and up to the People to decide what our Constitution should and should not contain.

The central point here is that there are some resources against which the nation (by which I mean collectively its people) should have some control, but which successive governments have assumed it is in their gift to dispose of, liberalise etc.

I would appreciate some help in trying to frame a general description of this point. The essence of the idea is perhaps contained in the sentence:

"identify our country's resources (particularly the finite ones) and ensure that there is some fair way of ensuring their value is used for the benefit of its citizens and future generations. "

Claire's point above  precisely illustrates what this idea seeks to redress:  

"It's my private property whether I own 1 or 20 or whether I'm from Yorkshire or China or whether I wish to live in it, rent it out or leave it empty...." 

.... is I believe saying ' private ownership of a resource is sovereign over every other right'

I disagree.   I don't think individuals should be at liberty to leave property empty, or buy dozens of flats when they are not citizens of this country etc, when millions of young people cannot afford to own their own homes.

This is not socialism, but it is the Constitution drawing a line in the sand to limit the freedoms of market capitalism.

Malcolm Ramsay Apr 11, 2015

My post on a Right to Land – https://constitutionuk.com/post/84718 – overlaps with this, though it only concerns land in private ownership. I posted a draft phase 2 version earlier today and would welcome comments.

Christine Farquharson Apr 17, 2015

Thanks all for contributing to drafting some concrete wording! Judging by the number of up/down votes, the proposal on the table is currently steveg33's suggestion. However, there are a couple questions still outstanding:

- Who should identify this? Is this something that each government should do, or that a specific body should be responsible for, or that we need to specifically decide on now?

- Again looking at vote numbers, there does not seem to be support for including private property in the national resource stock.

It seems like the community wants this provision to do two things: (a) identify or provide a mechanism to identify national/strategic resources and (b) provide a framework to determine whether a proposed transaction involving one of these resources is in accordance with the principles of stewardship and the public interest. Would anyone like to propose wording to this effect? A list or partial list of resources would also be helpful.

Mark Cooke Apr 17, 2015

Unless you can suggest a form of words to restrict what a future parliament can decide, in a way that would attract broad support,  I can't see what you are trying to achieve by this.

I'm not in favour of filling teh constitution with rhetoric.  Phrases like 'ensure there is some fair way' don't belong in constitutonal rules,  they are the stuff of political debate in the structures the constitution creates.

 

steveg33 Apr 17, 2015

I take Marks point that the statement is too woolly to be in a constitution, which is why I requested some help phrasing it !

Christine's input is very helpful - although I'm not ready to concede the private property point : Claire has been quite vocal about this, but who else ? However, I think the constitution should only define the principle and the mechanism and not the list of assets

Christine's points, I believe get the closest to a practical approach. I have attempted to develop her thoughts below. I need to be clear that the word ‘benefit’ below does not imply distribution of these assets (communist style), but does include rights to expect that their exploitation/usage and disposal is controlled by a national interest test.

1.     SO HERE IT IS :

 " S"Strategic National Resources (SNR’s) are defined as those physical assets  which are deemed to be inherently part of the fabric of the UK and against which its citizens can reasonably expect to derive benefit

2.       A mechanism will be established to determine how an asset will be classed as an SNR and what benefit citizens should expect [this may be through establishment of a non-political body who’s remit is defined legally so that they can test claims and counter-claims against a set of defined rules]

3.       The establishment of a class of asset as an SNR will limit the powers of government and the freedom of individuals to exploit, dispose of, or otherwise utilise the asset, without passing tests of stewardship and public interest.

4.       This would result in a new branch of laws covering SNR’s, which would be refined over time under the normal political process and ensure that the day-to-day transactions etc involving SNR’s were efficiently regulated."

ENDS

The list of asset classes could include the following, but as this would be such a radical step, the content should probably be subject to agreement – and period revision – via public referenda.

-          Mineral rights – including oil and gas occurring within UK territory

-          Access to the countryside, coast and national monuments

-          Airwaves for TV and other communications

-          Works of art and other national treasures

-          Airspace for air traffic

 

-          Residential building land and new property

JimF Apr 18, 2015

I think this list needs expanding a little. I would include ancient woodland, for example, and there may be others.

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Malcolm Ramsay Apr 17, 2015

There's another proposal along similar lines in the Local Government section – Duty to preserve public capital: https://constitutionuk.com/post/101107 – with a fairly simple outline clause which merely enshrines the principle of stewardship. Adapting it slightly gives:

Government has a duty of stewardship in perpetuity over the nation's financial, natural and cultural assets. Elected members are trustees of this duty for the period of their office.

I'm not sure there's much to be gained by listing specific things. The above clause would allow a possibility of legal challenges on the basis that particular decisions violate the duty of trusteeship while leaving plenty of discretion within the political sphere.

steveg33 Apr 17, 2015

Mark - I am not convinced that leaving 'plenty of discretion' to politicians is the aim of this - I would suggest that the essence of the idea, is to narrow their scope, precisely to hand back more control to the electorate.

It has been shown that generations of politicians, due to lobbying, self-interest, incompetence etc, have not been worthy of our trust to manage precious assets in an equitable and strategic manner.

steveg33 Apr 17, 2015

Malcolm

An example of this was a statistic I came across last week: there are more MPs with lettable properties than there are women MPs

Interestingly no major party is proposing removal of loan interest rate tax relief for landlords which tilts the balance in their favour (and acts to the major detriment of private first time buyers)

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Malcolm Ramsay Apr 18, 2015

Steve,

The existing economic landscape is fundamentally tilted by laws which cause wealth to flow towards the wealthy, primarily through land ownership laws which enable cross-generational accumulation of real-estate and a monetary system which allows the rich to take the medium of exchange out of circulation (and therefore charge everybody else, through interest, for the privilege of using it). The provisions I've proposed in a 'Right to Land' – https://constitutionuk.com/post/84718 – and 'Responsibility to provide a stable medium of exchange' – https://constitutionuk.com/post/85294 – would largely fix both those problems. If they get through!

Malcolm Ramsay Apr 18, 2015

"... generations of politicians, due to lobbying, self-interest, incompetence etc, have not been worthy of our trust ..."

I'd say, rather, that it's mostly due to the fact that they've been operating in a political environment with inadequate checks and balances, an environment shaped by traditions rooted in a time when part of the purpose of government and law was to maintain inequality between rulers and subjects.

The primary goal of this project is to redefine that political environment so that politicians are genuinely the servants of the people. If we succeed in that, then I think we can safely allow them the discretion they need to serve us effectively. If, on the other hand, our new constitution doesn't properly define the checks and balances which are needed for good government, the sort of restraints you're proposing aren't going to make much difference. They'll prevent the honest politicians governing well but they'll quite likely just be a minor irritant for the dishonest ones. Making good government impractical isn't usually a sensible way of preventing bad government.

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steveg33 Apr 18, 2015

Malcolm

I think your Right to Land has a lot of resonance with this idea, but differs substantially in both scope and depth.

This idea is wider ranging – covering more than just land – and does not propose any direct attempt to redistribute via birthright, inheritance etc : I prefer the approach that seeks to control how the market works in the case of Strategic National Assets (SNR’s)

It is worth clarifying for all that I don’t envisage a ‘one size fits all’ approach to the treatment of SNR’s. It would be inappropriate for the same controls to be in place to ensure benefit to citizens for access to the countryside and access to the private property market.

 

In the latter case, I would see the provision placing a responsibility on legislators to ensure that the market and tax law favoured citizens buying their main residence over and above second hoimes, investment properties, non-resident speculators etc etc

Malcolm Ramsay Apr 18, 2015

Yes, Steve, yours is considerably broader (and has my vote). Mine is narrower but more detailed. As long as yours does no more than establish broad responsibilities there's no conflict between the two.

The more detail you try to put into yours, though, the more likely it is that it will conflict with other proposals. If the details you're going to propose are the result of years of thinking, that's fair enough. But if you're trying to make it up as you go along, I suggest it would be better to leave your proposal as a broad provision. Apart from anything else, you haven't left others time to debate any details that you might put forward.

steveg33 Apr 18, 2015

Sorry Christine - missed you off the tags above !

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