The United States oath of office for members of Congress is as follows:
“I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; that I take this obligation freely, without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion; and that I will well and faithfully discharge the duties of the office on which I am about to enter. So help me God.”
Of course the stuff about enemies is really because this style of oath was first introduced in the war of independence so you had to profess your allegiance to the United States and not George III of Britain.
This was itself based on another oath guarding against enemies – that is the Oath of Supremacy introduced by Henry VIII to ensure that he, and not the Bishop of Rome, was recognised by all those in public office as head of the English church.
We’ve ended up with a similar, if much shorter, oath when MP’s are sworn in:
I (name of Member) swear by Almighty God that I will be faithful and bear true allegiance to Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth, her heirs and successors, according to law. So help me God.
Now the principal difference is that the Americans swear allegiance not to the President, Commander in Chief though he may be, but to the Constitution; whereas for the British it is just to the Queen.
I think that it would be better that British office holders should be more like the Americans and we could also add something from the English and Welsh Police attestation:
I (name) …of (police force)… do solemnly and sincerely declare and affirm that I will well and truly serve the Queen in the office of constable, with fairness, integrity, diligence and impartiality, upholding fundamental human rights and according equal respect to all people; and that I will, to the best of my power, cause the peace to be kept and preserved and prevent all offences against people and property; and that while I continue to hold the said office I will to the best of my skill and knowledge discharge all the duties thereof faithfully according to law.
An addition about upholding fundamental human rights would be very useful and I’m sure that, if the Police can do it – then Home Secretary Ms Patel could have no possible objection….
So the MP’s oath would become something like (this one based on the ‘solemn affirmation’):
I (name of Member) do solemnly, sincerely, and truly declare and affirm, that I will be faithful and bear true allegiance to the British Constitution and its Monarch and to always uphold fundamental human rights.
It seems to me that this puts right the two obvious omissions from the current version – MP’s would be required to uphold both the British Constitution and Human Rights.
Many will remark that the British Constitution is unwritten, but that doesn’t mean it cannot be upheld – otherwise we’d have no constitution at all. If there is more doubt than there would be with a written one, then that might either encourage some MP’s to get writing, or encourage others to play less fast and loose with the current one.
When, as we have discovered, that what the historian, Peter Hennessy called the ‘good chaps’ theory of Constitutional Law doesn’t work, then we need a method of trying to ensure that the executive in particular are better behaved than they otherwise would be.
How to enforce it?
I’d suggest a minimum of 20 MP’s be required to pass an appropriate resolution with support from say just one quarter of the MP’s in the House where it is considered that an MP has failed to uphold the oath of office, which would automatically require the Crown Prosecution Service to prosecute in a jury trial – preferably in the members own constituency. The penalty I would make simply as a debarral from office for a maximum of six years.
This would represent a significant transfer of power from the executive to the legislature – in other words from government to Parliament and with a relatively small number of MP’s able to precipitate a compulsory prosecution it might also be effective in discouraging some of the current corruption highlighted by the Good Law Project.
Moreover it is likely to encourage much more respect towards Parliament and less ‘dictatorship’ by the executive, especially when, like now, government has such a large majority.
It might in the end even ensure that rather more good chaps and chapesses became MP’s….