It is typical of this government that Parliament should not be meeting on this day of all days.
On 13th February 1689 â€œthe Lords Spiritual and Temporal and Commons assembled at Westminsterâ€ presented a declaration to the new sovereigns, King William and Queen Mary.
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This declaration, known as the Bill of Rights, established Parliamentary supremacy over the Crown in important areas, and guaranteed Parliamentâ€™s freedoms .It did so that the people could practise the religion of their choice, avoid arbitrary manipulation of their laws and require redress of ills before they had to pay taxes.
The Declaration included amongst other articles:
â€œThat the pretended power of suspending the laws or the execution of the laws by regal authorityâ€¦is illegal
That the levying of money for or to the use of the Crown â€¦.without grant of Parliamentâ€¦is illegal
That the raising or keeping of a standing army within the kingdom in time of peace, unless it be with the consent of Parliament, is illegal
That election of Members of Parliament ought to be free
That the freedom of speech and debates or proceedings in Parliament ought not to be impeached or questioned in any court or place out of Parliament
And that for the redress of all grievances, and for the amending, strengthening and preserving the laws, Parliaments ought to be held frequentlyâ€
This new settlement was designed to put an end to the rule of James II and of any other King who thought he could govern without Parliament, raise money without Parliamentary approval, suspend the laws and manipulate the army.
It proved effective. All subsequent monarchs had to acknowledge Parliamentâ€™s power, and seek accommodations with Parliament when they needed money, wanted to amend the law or wished to drive through important changes in the nation.
It is sad that todayâ€™s Parliament allows itself to be regularly suspended, to be timetabled into subservience on crucial matters, sidelined by Ministers who tell the media before the Commons, and overruled by Brussels. If Mr Straw wants a new constitutional document, he could do worse than enforce the provisions and spirit of the Declaration of Rights, one of the central documents to emerge from our predecessorsâ€™; struggles for liberty and free speech.