Is it true to say that the British parliament is no longer truly sovereign?
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Is it true to say that the British parliament is no longer truly sovereign? Parliament, legally, consists of the House of Commons, The House of Lords and the monarchy. However, since the monarch today has only prerogative powers, and since 1911 the House of Lords has lost much of its power, sovereignty now rests largely with the House of Commons (Economist 1995, p25). The doctrine of Parliamentary sovereignty is the idea that parliament is effectively the most powerful decision making body in the land. It can essentially be broken down into three elements: firstly that it has the ability to 'make or unmake any law' (Scully, 2003, p124), secondly that it cannot pass any laws which bind its successors, and thirdly, that any acts passed by Parliament cannot be questioned by the courts of law. There are many contemporary issues which have come to affect the sovereignty of the British Parliament. The rise of Brussels, the process of devolution, the power of the executive and the issue of globalisation, amongst other things, have all contributed to the erosion of parliamentary sovereignty.
Another, more fundamental issue has arisen with the Britain's decision to join the European Community and later the European Union. Because of the supranational nature of the European Union, British membership has greatly affected the issue of parliamentary sovereignty. Britain now has to abide by rules and treaties set by the EU and European law which significantly hinder the UK's independence of action. In other words, the British Parliament cannot pass laws which contravene EU treaties and regulations and has to follow these rules at all times. The European Communities Act of 1972 created a situation where all EU regulations and laws instantly apply to the UK without the assent of Parliament. The Act also gives EU law precedence over the law of the UK (Jones, 2001, p302). This was seen most notably in 1990 when a law was passed by the British Parliament to prevent the practice of 'quota-hopping' by Spanish fishermen. The EU blocked this law because it went against EU legislation on the freedom of movement of workers. (Fisher(ed), 2003, p124). The decisions of Parliament are no longer truly final, as other bodies, namely the European Court of Justice can set these decisions aside.
Globalisation has also played a part in the erosion of parliamentary sovereignty. Multi national corporations have become so economically powerful that the richest of them have a higher Gross Domestic Output than many countries. They can effectively dictate demands to governments in return for financial rewards. Although this is more of a contingent factor than a constitutional one, it cannot be underestimated in the argument over national sovereignty. Although some believe that Parliament in Britain has never been truly sovereign for any long period of time, I feel that as the only publicly elected component of government, it should be the most powerful element in a democratic system of rule. The House of Commons is used by Cabinets to pursue their policies which may not be even in the public interest, the EU, the most powerful elements of which are not publicly elected, dictates to Parliament to a certain extent on a number of issues; and private businesses push their own agendas upon the government. All in all, I believe that the only elected organ of Britain's government is no longer truly sovereign and has become essentially a talking shop and rubber stamp for government and EU legislation.
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