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UK delegation to the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe

Published Monday, November 16, 2015

How democratic is the UK’s ‘democratic conscience’?

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On Monday 16 November 2015 the House of Commons will debate a motion calling for a new method of selection of the UK Parliament’s delegation to the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE). The proposed list has been criticised for not including three ‘independently minded’ Conservative former members of the delegation, and described as ‘undemocratic’. The Government insists that the usual procedures have been followed.

If the motion is passed, the UK will have only 11 days at the very most to agree a new process and a new delegation before PACE’s next meeting on 27 November 2015 (and in fact the new delegation’s credentials should be presented at least a week before that meeting). If it does not, the UK would be unrepresented at that meeting and for at least two months afterwards. The UK’s last delegation’s credentials expired at midnight on 7 November 2015.

The UK delegation to PACE comprises 36 Members of the House of Commons and House of Lords (18 full members of PACE and 18 substitutes). The UK Parliament – like many others – has no formal procedure for selecting who joins its delegation. It appears to be a matter for the party Whips, although the Labour Party holds internal elections. PACE rules allow delegates to be appointed or elected, as long as they are members of the national or federal parliaments and the delegations are a ‘fair representation of the political parties or groups in their parliaments’.

A previous controversy in 1992 led to calls for the UK system to be reviewed. PACE would prefer its delegates to be elected by the national or federal parliaments, but as long as its rules allow appointment it cannot object to a system that enjoys the broad support of the parliament concerned.

PACE is an inter-parliamentary human rights and democracy body that holds governments to account, provides a forum for debate on Europe’s political and social issues and elects to various positions including judges of the European Court of Human Rights. It meets four times a year in Strasbourg and also works through various committees. PACE describes itself as ‘the democratic conscience of Greater Europe’.

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