History and workings of Parliament in 800 years of Magna Carta

Mr Speaker delivers lecture at the British Ambassador’s residence in Japan
06 August 2015

The Speaker of the House of Commons, John Bercow, delivered a lecture at a dinner at the British Ambassador’s residence in Japan.

In his speech, Mr Bercow spoke about the legacy of the Magna Carta and the de Montfort Parliament, and how the House of Commons is seeking to modernise its functions whilst remaining faithful to the values which Parliament stands for.

Defining those values, Mr Speaker said:

“I think that they can best be expressed in three essential principles. The first is the notion that authority must be subject to checks and balances if it is not to become arbitrary in character, or even tyrannical. The second is that political legitimacy must ultimately be derived through political representation and not on individual status alone. The meaning of “representation” and the nature and numbers of those to be represented has, manifestly, changed fundamentally over the centuries, but to me this has been the continued extension of a principle with deep historical roots. Finally, both Magna Carta and the first Parliament pay homage to the importance of the rule of law.”

Expanding on how a modern Commons was seeking to build on these principles, the Speaker made reference to the restoration of Urgent Questions and the effect that this has had on the immediacy and relevance of Parliamentary debate. “We have to be talking about the same subjects which our people are talking about and on a similar timetable to them. Otherwise we will appear to be in a universe of our own, oblivious to the rest of our national discourse.”

The wide-ranging speech concluded by referencing the ongoing efforts to make Parliament more relevant to a younger, and more technologically aware generation. He drew attention to the recommendations of the Digital Democracy Commission, which reported at the end of 2013, as a prime example of how the House was seeking to “embed the spirit of innovation into every aspect of the work of the House of Commons in the years ahead of us.”

The Speaker, as a representative of the House of Commons, was invited to Japan by the Speaker, Mr Oshima.

During his four day visit, he met with a number of key figures, including the Prime Minister and chairs of committees. The aim of the trip was to share knowledge about the respective Parliamentary systems and foster good relations between the legislatures.

Image: Foreign and Commonwealth Office

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