з. THE FUSION OF POWERS As we saw in Chapter i, Montesquieu

February 25, 2018 | Author: Anonymous | Category: Social Science, Political Science, Government
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з. THE FUSION OF POWERS As we saw in Chapter i, Montesquieu based his famous doctrine of the separation of powers on his understanding of the contemporary eigh- teenthcentury constitution in this country. He was also influenced by the writings of John Locke, and by Henry St John Bolingbroke, the Tory politician whom he had met when he visited London in 1729. But the separation of powers, at least as formulated by Montesquieu, has 21

See V. Bogdanor, 'The Political Constitution' in his collected essays, Politics and the Constitution (Aldershot, 1996).

The United Kingdom Constitution


never really been taken seriously in the United Kingdom. Instead, one of the principal characteristics of the constitution is said to be the fusion of powers. Walter Bagehot wrote in a much quoted remark: 'the efficient secret of the English [sic] Constitution may be described as the close union, the nearly complete fusion, of the executive and legislative powers.'22 What he meant was that the government, or executive, is drawn from members of the legislative body, mostly the House of Commons, to which it is responsible. Equally, the executive is able to secure the passage of its legislation in normal circumstances by the threat of its head, the Prime Minister, to dissolve Parliament and call a general election. Certainly, the United Kingdom constitution does not recognize the pure theory of the separation of powers as it has traditionally been understood in France. Nor does it reflect the system of checks and balances incorporated in the Constitution of the United States, with, for example, Senate control of some executive and judicial appointments, and judicial review of legislation by the courts. In particular, as Bagehot emphasized, there is no separation of membership of the legislative and executive organs, as there is in both the United States and France. A provision in the Act of Settlement 1701 would have prevented persons holding offices under the Crown from sitting as Members of Parliament, and thereby have protected the House of Commons from Crown influence, but it was never implemented. During the eighteenth century the distinction was drawn between ministers who have been permitted to sit in the House and civil servants and other officers, e.g. of the armed forces, who are not. The current law is contained in the House of Commons Disqualification Act 1975 and the Ministerial and other Salaries Act 1975. A key provision of the former statute allows no more than ninety-five ministers to sit in the Commons. That is still about 15 per cent of its total membership; a significant proportion of Members of Parliament are also members of the executive. On the other hand, there is a sharper separation of the judicial power. No fulltime judge, whether High Court, circuit court, or stipendiary magistrate, may sit in

the House of Commons, though the principle is compromised so far as the House of Lords is concerned. Law Lords may speak and vote on legislative measures, though under a strong constitutional convention no lay peer is entitled to sit with them when they consider appeals as the Appellate Committee of the House of Lords, in 22

Bagehot, 65.

An Introduction to Constitutional Lair

effect the supreme court of the United Kingdom. Perhaps of more significance is the role of the Lord Chancellor, who is Speaker of the House of Lords, a member of the Cabinet, and entitled to sit in the Appellate Committee of the Lords as a judge. He, therefore, participates in all three functions of government. His position constitutes a clear violation of that aspect of the separation of powers, requiring each function of government to be discharged by a distinct person or institution. However, the apparently anomalous position of the Lord Chancellor is more comprehensible if it is seen as a legacy of a traditional understanding of the constitution popular in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries.23 Under the theory of balanced government, each part of government, at the time drawn from a distinct social class was able to share in the performance of several functions. It was not confined to the performance of one of them. The most important illustration of this principle was that the Commons, Lords, and King all participated in the enactment of legislation. Equally the House of Lords enjoyed legislative and judicial power, as in certain contexts did the Commons. At the same time the King's executive powers, in particular to raise money or keep a standing army, needed the consent of the Houses of Parliament under the Bill of Rights 1689. The balance of the constitution, and the avoidance of arbitrary government, were under this theory ensured by the checks that each class, or branch, could impose on the others when they jointly exercised the same function. It was in a sense a forerunner of the formal separation of powers found in many modern constitutions, a separation which is legally enforceable by the courts with powers of constitutional judicial review.24 What has happened over the last century in the United Kingdom has been a growing imbalance between the branches of government, largely attributable to the rise of the mass political party system. First, neither the House of Lords nor the Monarch can be regarded as an effective check on the House of Commons. As will be explained in Chapter 5, the House of Lords has lost a significant part of its legislative power.

The Crown's prerogative power to refuse assent to legislation enacted by Commons and Lords has been limited by the clear convention that Royal Assent must be given to a Bill which has passed through Parliament; the Monarch's power to exercise other important prerogatives may now be very limited.25 During the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries there was a rough balance between the legislature and execu23

See M. J. C. Vile, Constitutionalism and the Separation of Powers (Oxford, 1967). 24 See Ch. 1, sects. 3 and 4. 25 See Ch. 6, sects. 2 and 3.

The United Kingdom Constitution tive, which gradually freed itself during these centuries from the King's control. The formation and survival of the executive (or government) depended increasingly on the support of the House of Commons rather than of the Monarch. In the middle of the nineteenth century in particular, governments often resigned because they were unable to command the shifting loyalties of Members of Parliament. With increasing party discipline and the perception that the electorate votes for a party and its programme, the executive is normally able to control the legislature through the threat to dissolve Parliament and therefore hold a General Election. If the government is defeated on an important legislative measure, it can in effect reverse the defeat by tabling a vote of confidence in the House of Commons. That happened in July 1993 when the Conservative government lost its motion to bring the legislation incorporating the Maastricht European Union Treaty into effect. A number of Conservative dissidents hostile to the Maastricht Treaty voted with the Opposition. The Prime Minister, John Major, immediately tabled a vote of confidence which the government won comfortably, because the rebels were unwilling to precipitate an election at which many of them would almost certainly have lost their seats. The episode nicely illustrates the ability of the executive to control Parliament, even over matters of great political and constitutional controversy. "The United Kingdom not only lacks a clear separation of legislative and executive institutions, but has lost the balance of powers which characterized the traditional constitution of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Apart from the judicial branch is therefore no strict separation of institutions in the United Kingdom. But there is to a limited extent a separation between the three functions of government. The government is not sharply separated from the legislature, and is now able normally


to control it, but it must nevertheless use Parliament to enact general rules. The origins of this principle can be traced back to the early seventeenth century when, in the Case of Proclamations,26 it was held that the King was not entitled to change the law by proclamation. (At much the same time it was also decided he could not sit in the courts.27) It would have infringed the separation of powers if the Monarch, then the effective head of the executive power, was able to legislate without resource of Parliament. The provisions in the Bill of Rights 1689 which, among other things, outlawed the power of the Crown to impose 26 27

(1611) 12 Co. Rep. 74. Prohibitions del Roy (1607) 12 Co. Rep. 63.

taxation without the consent of Parliament and its power to suspend legislation also illustrate the separation of functions. Any attempt by the executive to exercise these powers would amount to a trespass on the functions of the legislature. The requirement that general rules made by the legislature is an important one, even though the government controls the Parliamentary timetable, can secure the passage of its own measures, and may block any attempt by a back-bencher to introduce a Bill. The parliamentary process subjects legislation to public debate and scrutiny, and it affords the possibility of amendment under pressure from concerned individuals and interest groups. In this respect, the separation of powers principle reinforces an aspect of parliamentary legislative supremacy: the Crown cannot set itself up as a body with rival legislative powers. However, the principle of the separation of functions is not always followed rigorously in the United Kingdom, or for that matter in other countries. Acts of Parliament and of, say, the United States Congress frequently delegate broad rulemaking powers to the executive. Exceptionally wide powers are delegated in war-time and other emergency periods.28 But even in normal circumstances ministers and executive agencies are given delegated legislative powers to supplement or fill in the details of statutes. Parliament may even give ministers power to make regulations which amend Acts of Parliament; these provisions are sometimes known as 'Henry VIII clauses' after the autocratic Tudor monarch.29 Delegated legislation contravenes the strict separation of legislative and executive functions, but there are many practical arguments in favour of it: the difficulty of finding adequate Parliamentary time for the enactment of legislation, the need to avoid excessively detailed and complex legislation, and the flexibility which comes from the power of ministers to amend statutes. What is important is that there is provision for scrutiny of delegated legislation by Parliament. Regulations made by ministers are usually issued subject to annulment by resolution of either House of Parliament, but on

occasion must be approved by affirmative resolutions of both. Further, the courts may review regulations to ensure that the executive has not exceeded its power to make delegated legislation. The separation of functions is also blurred when judicial functions are given to administrative tribunals or authorities. For instance, decisions 28

Ch. 9, sect. 2. For delegated legislation, see H. W. R. Wade and C. F. Forsyth, Administrative Law (7th edn., Oxford, 1994), ch. 22, and P. P. Craig, Administrative Law (3rd edn., London, 1994), ch. 7. 29

The United Kingdom Constitution on entitlement to social security benefits are taken by specialist adjudication officers with appeal to a tribunal, while many decisions concerning immigrants are appealable to independent adjudicators and then to an Immigration Appeal Tribunal. Arguably these are judicial functions which belong to the courts, but there are practical arguments for assigning them to administrative tribunals. Such bodies generally adopt a more informal procedure than the ordinary courts; perhaps as a result, they are relatively inexpensive to both tax-payers and litigants. They develop an expertise within their particular area of competence. We will see in Chapter 7, however, that the judges are normally anxious to preserve their jurisdiction in, civil liberties cases and to protect the right of individuals to challenge administrative decisions in the courts. They rightly consider it important to prevent the total usurpation of the judicial function by the executive, for that would be a significant step in the direction of arbitrary or totalitarian government. The high-water mark of this aspect of the separation of powers principle came in a decision of the Privy Council, Liyanage v. The Queen, discussed more fully in Chapter 7. After an unsuccessful coup parliament of Ceylon (now Sri Lanka) enacted legislation specifically to deal with the chief participants; among other things it retrospectively created new offences, instituted a special tribunal to try them, and altered the normal rules of evidence. The Privy Council held these provisions violated the separation of powers principle, which was implicit in the structure of the constitution of Ceylon. (Liyanage) was a Privy Council decision, and so it is not binding on the English and Scottish courts when they decide a point of constitutional law. Strict application of the principle of parliamentary legislative supremacy would probably require an English court to enforce the most monstrous retrospective legislation, including a measure akin to that struck down in Liyanage.31 It is in fact hard to reconcile the legislative supremacy of Parliament


with any strong commitment to the separation of powers principle. For that reason it is difficult to take too seriously Lord Diplock's view that the constitution is based on it.32 At most it is a principle which has influenced aspects of the United Kingdom constitution, in particular the independence of the judiciary. In contrast to other countries, notably the


[1967] AC 259. See Allan, n. 20 above, ch. 3, for the view that English courts should disallow legislation which usurps the judicial power. 32 Duport Steels v. Sirs [1980] 1 WLR 142. Sir John Donaldson has described the principle as a constitutional convention: R v. HM Treasury, ex parte Smedley [1985] QB 657. 31

An Introduction to Constitutional Law


United States, it would be hard to conclude that the separation principle has exercised a decisive influence on the development of the constitution in general or on the treatment of major constitutional cases. If, as was argued in Chapter I, the separation of powers is a fundamental principle of a liberal constitution, its weak status in the United Kingdom brings out much of what is inadequate in the present arrangements—their failure to impose significant checks on the conduct of government.

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