Real Subsidiarity

 "In fulfillment of the principle that the sole legitimate source of political power is the people, all levels of government are required to respect the principle of subsidiarity. The lowest level of government (including local and parish councils) reasonably capable of exercising any given responsibility should be entitled to do so if that is the clearly expressed choice of its voters."

This clause is derived from the original idea below and from the comments made in the second phase.

Subsidiarity - the principle that any given responsibility should be exercised by the lowest level of government reasonably capable of doing so  - has been mentioned in several posts (mostly under the International  Relations topic heading), but always in the context of the EU.

As presented in the Lisbon Treaty, subsidiarity concerns only the EU and national governments. Lower levels of government don’t get a look in.

Real subsidiarity would give local and regional levels of government (ie Wales, Scotland, Northern Ireland and any other regions that might be established in the future) the right to take back certain powers from central government if that was what their voters wanted.

The constitution would have to establish a set of criteria by which the supreme court could judge which powers could reasonably be exercised at any given level. But the legitimacy of political power derives from voters in the first place – see my post “Power to the People” on the Values topic. Where practicable, they should be able to decide at what level of government their power is exercised.

The consequence of writing this presumption into the constitution would be to reverse the centralisation of power at Westminster which has taken place over the last hundred or so years and which has been so damaging to public life – see my post “A New Perspective” on the Devolution topic.

 

edited on Apr 16, 2015 by Alastair Bruton

Christine Farquharson Apr 7, 2015

To start off comments for this phase, here's a summary of some of what was discussed in the first phase of the project. Remember to keep commenting and - especially - voting, since your votes will determine what the idea authors incorporate into their ideas!

- DebraStorr: expand this idea so that powers can be given to parish/community councils

- JimF: agree in principle, but the implementation needs some development. Also, the principle should be extended to any and all local governments that exist, including e.g. neighbours deciding where a new lamppost should be located.

- Alastair Bruton: Clarifying the idea: every few years, voters would be able to decide which level of government should have responsibility for each policy area. So voters in a local government area could choose to have either their local government or the regional/national government control education. This would create competition between different levels of government.

Andrew Bulovsky Apr 13, 2015

Hi all,

With only one week remaining in the refining stage, the facilitators will draft some language for this idea. We'll do everything we can to redraft the original submission in line with your comments and suggestions. If the original poster would like to take over the idea they are more than welcome to at any point. Please do comment to offer suggestions on specific wording and to guide us on which suggestions should take priority (by voting them up/down).

Here is the proposed language:

"To help prevent the centralisation of power at Westminster, the Prime Minister and his or her Cabinet shall recognise the principle of subsidiarity when drafting legislation. This includes respecting the wishes of lower levels of government that believe their purview would more effectively solve a given public policy concern. These lower levels of government include, but are not limited to, regional governments, local governments, and parish/community councils. At the beginning of every Parliament, these lower levels of government are able to formally request, in writing, their beliefs about the most appropriate level of government for a given policy area. This request must be answered in writing by a representative of the Cabinet within 60 days of submission detailing the reasons for accepting or rejecting the request."

Please feel free to comment with suggestions for changes to the language, everyone!

Debra Storr Apr 13, 2015

I'd turn that upside down.  The default is that power resides with the lower tiers. 

'To help prevent the centralisation of power, legislation will be drafted in line with the principle of subsiduarity: powers in principle lie at the lowest tier of government and are delegated to higher tiers.  Accordingly any lower tier of government can withdraw its delegation at any time and higher tiers are required to co-operate in interim arrangements.' 

Anything where we are in the land of requests and explanations is fundamentally way too weak. 

Alastair Bruton Apr 14, 2015

I agree with Debra that Andrew's suggested wording is too weak. How about:

"In fulfillment of the principle that the sole legitimate source of political power is the people, all levels of government are required to respect the principle of subsidiarity. The lowest level of government (including local and parish councils) reasonably capable of exercising any given responsibility should be entitled to do so if that is the clearly expressed choice of its voters."

We might also consider incorporating this idea into "Making regional governments work" at https://constitutionuk.com/post/90350.

 

Malcolm Ramsay Apr 14, 2015

I support this but the difficulty lies in establishing a consensus on what the lowest level is that specific responsibilities can reasonably be exercised at. To my mind, there has to be some way for the views of local government bodies to be aggregated which is why I'm supporting ScepticOptimist's proposal for Lords reform: A smaller parliament – https://constitutionuk.com/post/80237

View all replies (2)

Scott Wilson Apr 14, 2015

Would this include defence, international trade, foreign affairs, monetary policy? This would effectively grant the power of any council to declare full independence if it wished. if one looks at the statelets that dot the planet, it is perfectly conceivable to have city states or other tiny sovereign entities, such as Andorra, San Marino, Liechtenstein (so "reasonably capable of exercising any given responsibility") may be challenging.

If that is the goal, then let's be clear, but of course at that point the entity will create its own constitution.

Andrew Bulovsky Apr 14, 2015

Happy to see the back and forth here- great discussion so far, everyone!

I think the proposal on the table- judging by the number of "up" votes is Alastair's:

"In fulfillment of the principle that the sole legitimate source of political power is the people, all levels of government are required to respect the principle of subsidiarity. The lowest level of government (including local and parish councils) reasonably capable of exercising any given responsibility should be entitled to do so if that is the clearly expressed choice of its voters."

Are there proposed amendments for this?

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