CLA News / Vivian Kuan, YCLA Representative for Malaysia, reports on her visit to the Houses of Parliament, London
On 3th July 2023, I visited the Parliament of the United Kingdom at Westminster and had the opportunity to watch the debates in the House of Commons. The House of Commons is the democratically elected house of the UK Parliament, responsible for making laws and checking the work of Government. This is where Members of the Commons (MPs) debate pertinent political issues of the day and make proposals for new laws.
The Commons Chamber proceedings started off with Topical Questions to the Home Office including steps to reduce illegal migration, compatibility of the Illegal Immigration Bill with the 1951 UN Refugee Convention, how the Department will support victims of modern slavery and its steps to ensure that the police forces are adequately resourced. The Secretary of State for the Home Department, Suella Braverman addressed each question in turn.
Thereafter, the Speaker of the Commons Chambers moved on to take Urgent Questions. Tim Farron, the MP for Westmorland and Lonsdale asked the Chancellor of the Exchequer if he will make a statement on road fuel prices in light of the staggering rise of fuel prices in the UK. This was in the context of the financial impact of the 6p per litre increase just in the fuel margin from 2019 to 2022, which had cost customers of the four UK supermarket fuel retailers £900 million last year alone. The Minister for Energy Security and Net Zero, Graham Stuart responded by indicating its commitment to work with the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) to investigate this rise in prices, including implementing a voluntary scheme by next month (August 2023) where fuel retailers will be expected to share accurate, up-to-date road fuel prices. Through this voluntary scheme, CMA will monitor the fuel prices. Chair of the Transport Committee, Iain Stewart supported the proposal for a real-time fuel price comparator and remarked “Motorists should not be used as cash cows by the fuel industry”. The Shadow Minister for Climate Change and Net Zero, Kerry McCarthy highlighted that it is indeed pertinent that the CMA steps in to help bring down prices of fuel given that people across Britain are facing the highest mortgage costs in Europe, the highest inflation among advanced economies, and the highest tax burden in 70 years. Philip Hollobone, MP for Kettering remarked that petrol and diesel forecourt retailers have been inflating prices well above where they should be and that prices go up far too quickly and come down far too slowly.
Next, the Speaker of the Commons Chambers took Ministerial Statements, specifically from the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, Steve Barclay on the NHS Long-term Workforce Plan. Against the backdrop of 80-week waits due to the increasing backlog in GPs and specialists in primary care and almost 170,000—leaving the NHS in 2022, Barclay introduced a long-term workforce plan for NHS, backed by £2.4 billion of new funding. The plan sets out three priorities: to train more staff, to retain and develop the staff already working for the NHS and to reform how training is delivered, taking on board the best of international practice. The government implement this plan by doubling the number of medical school places, increase the availability of GPs being trained by 50%, train 24,000 more nurses and midwives and increase the number of dentists by 40%. This is said to be the largest-ever workforce training expansion in the NHS’s history.
Thereafter, I visited the House of Lords chambers and had the opportunity to listen to the debates on the Illegal Migration Bill, in particular, the amendments to the Powers of Detention in the said Bill. The Bill paves the way for judicial oversight by way of a writ of habeas corpus, application for bail to the First-tier Tribunal, or a judicial review. In any such judicial review proceedings, the Secretary of State’s assessment as to whether a period of detention is reasonable can be challenged on conventional public law grounds, including whether the decision is Wednesbury unreasonable. The House of Lords plays a crucial role in examining bills, questioning government action, and investigating public policy.
Malaysia adopts the same Westminster-style of parliamentary structure, in that, the Malaysian parliament is also bicameral, consisting of the Dewan Rakyat (House of Representatives, lit. “People’s Assembly”) and the Dewan Negara (Senate, lit. “State Assembly”). The Yang di-Pertuan Agong (King), as the head of state, is the third component of Parliament.
The difference lies in the constitutional status of the UK Parliament. Unlike Malaysia, the UK has an unwritten/uncodified Constitution. The UK Parliament institutionally embodies the British Constitution. The UK Parliament is (constitutionally and legally) sovereign and the Acts of Parliament are the highest law of the land. This means that the fundamental pillars in a parliamentary democracy, separation of powers and rule of law are embodied by the Acts of Parliament.
Contrasted to the written and codified constitution in Malaysia, the Federal Constitution is the supreme law of the land (as per Article 4 of the Federal Constitution). The Federal Constitution encapsulates the same fundamental pillars in writing.
It was a rewarding experience to have been able to observe the UK Parliament proceedings—it being the primary and fundamental guarantor of the rule of law and separation of powers in the UK.
Source: Debates in the UK Parliament on 3 July 2023 from https://hansard.parliament.uk/