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Parliament says "the dog wrote my website"
Apparently nobody is responsible for important public statements on sovereignty
I have gone through a process of making an informal request from Parliament to challenge the accuracy of its website statement on sovereignty, followed by a formal freedom of information request to understand who is accountable for what is being said. I have now received a response, and it is… revealing in how it doesn’t reveal anything. Ready for a quick bit of fun as we go through the endless loops of holding the powerful to account?
Dear Martin Geddes,
Freedom of Information Request F23-139
Thank you for your request for information as copied below. You asked the House of Commons five questions regarding a statement regarding Parliamentary Sovereignty on our webpages, which we have sought to answer below.
Which formal role or position holds authority in Parliament for the approval of this public statement?
Which living man or woman (acting in that role) is responsible for the approval of this specific text currently on the website?
This information is not held by the House of Commons.
You mean it spontaneously appeared one day? Ghosts in the vault came up and decided to get into web design? That the dog wrote your website? OK… they explain further…
In the first instance, please note that the intention of the page linked in your request is to educate the public. It is not intended to be an official, formal statement or legal interpretation by the House of Commons in the way you suggest. Typically, pages of this nature are drafted with input from procedural and subject specialists from across the House, and they are therefore a collaborate effort. There is therefore no “formal role or position” who approves this text in this instance.
Just “wow!”. How can a claim on the (lack of) limits of power of Parliament on its own website not be seen as “official”? How come miseducating the public on the authority Parliament has is not a matter of deep concern? Why is there a “collaborative effort” but none of those involved have decision authority? I am just stunned by this response. What ought to be the simplest possible question about process has drawn an evasive answer. Maybe they have something to hide?
Let’s press on!
What process exists (if any) for the review of such public statements, including any expert input or review, and input from the public?
This information is not held by the House of Commons.
Wowzers! An information black hole has appeared over Westminster…
As stated above, these webpages are intended to educate the public as opposed to being formal statements made by the House. On occasion, when drafting information for pages of this nature a team may seek advice from specialists within the House depending on the subject matter, but this is down to the discretion of the team who manages the page in question.
So these pages just magically appeared, and no team, person, or role is responsible or accountable for what is being say. In an age of PR and media optics, this is quite an eye-opening claim by Parliament. If there is one statement that ought to be absolutely precise and with zero room for misunderstanding, it ought to be on the extent Parliament is sovereign (versus the people). That is because a false claim is treasonous, although perhaps I should not be surprised — as treason appears to be their core business model.
Does Parliament have an official position statement on the limits of its own sovereign power (with respect to the sovereignty of the people and the monarch), and if so, where might it be found?
This information is not held by the House of Commons. We do not hold an “official position statement” of the nature specified.
In this case, fair enough. Maybe there should be one, given how important this matter is after Covid and the grotesque overreach of power? Just as we have the Nolan principles of public life, maybe we need a short and snappy official reference on what Parliament can and cannot do in principle, referencing the appropriate constitutional, scriptural, or legal evidence? Surely the absence of such a thing is rather telling, since it allows any ambiguity to be exploited to the benefit of the unscrupulous?
If there are concerns about the accuracy of the public statement made re Parliament's sovereignty, what is the correct process to raise this formally as an issue needing attention?
Whilst the House of Commons holds this information, it is also already available from a public source. … You may, if dissatisfied with the handling of your request, complain to the House of Commons. Alternatively, if you are dissatisfied with the outcome of your request you may ask the House of Commons to conduct an internal review of any decision regarding your request. [Administrative detail removed.]
The answer didn’t actually address my question, as I had already been around the standard inquiries route, and not had a satisfactory response. So, time to escalate…
As per your stated process, I wish to submit this for internal review. Specifically, I wish to have the responses to questions 1, 2, and 5 reviewed.
With respect to questions 1 and 2, it is implausible that nobody has decision authority over the publication of such an important public website and statement. This page is about the core claim to legitimacy and power of Parliament, and is self-evidently "official", so accountability for the accuracy of the statement is obviously of public interest. Even if such a statement is purely "educational" in intent, then miseducating the public about the limits of power of Parliament is still a serious matter.
Are we expected to believe that no named committee, team, role, authority, or (wo)man is involved? That nobody evaluated different wording or chose the final text? Can we not even identify the author? Is it standard procedure for Parliament to publish material with zero accountability for what is said?
With respect to question 5, I have already been in touch with the inquiries office. While most of the references they sent me on sovereignty were uncontroversial, I would claim that the blog post they linked to was quite alarming in the context. They did not address my questions or concerns directly in any way. Your response likewise feels weak, in that you list generic ways of interacting with Parliament, and reflects the refusal of anyone to be accountable (as with questions 1 and 2 above). Which person or role is specifically empowered to deal with changing the text if it does not sufficiently reflect the lawful authority of Parliament?
I ask myself if Parliament can be trusted with grave matters when it refuses to be accountable for the text of its own website. We might quibble with the wording of my questions, but surely as a member of the public I am entitled to know as a matter of open record how this text got to be written, and how it might be changed.
Please respond with some substance.
I have now submitted this request for internal review, since it is beyond belief that there is nobody that made the final decision on what text went on their own website. As a simple matter of public interest, how the text got chosen, who put it there in public, and who is empowered to change it ought to be on the public record. That they are unwilling to unable to be accountable for such a seemingly minor matter suggests they should not be trusted with the levers of power over the people.
I will keep you informed…
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