New paper by Sir Malcolm Jack and Richard Reid: ‘Financial Privilege: The Undoubted and Sole Right of the Commons?’

The Constitution Society Paper, ‘Financial Privilege: The Undoubted and Sole Right of the Commons?’, by Sir Malcolm Jack and Richard Reid, is available online.

Since ancient times the House of Commons has claimed privilege in respect of financial legislation, whether over bills dealing with taxation or the granting of money to the Executive. Conventions governing the way restrictions apply to the House of Lords in handling such bills have grown up over a long period and are regulated by the Parliament Acts, 1911 & 1949. In 2015 the Lords delayed the draft Tax Credits Regulations, a statutory instrument dealing with fiscal legislation that had passed the Commons. The Government claimed that Commons’ financial privilege had been infringed and subsequently set up the Strathclyde Review to examine the ‘constitutional crisis’ that had arisen and to make recommendations. Since then a number of parliamentary committees have made critical reports of the Review.

In this paper the authors examine the historical origin of the Commons’ privilege, consider the provisions of the Parliament Acts and how they apply to the passage of financial bills between the Houses before turning to the subject of statutory instruments and the Executive’s increasing reliance on them as a means of legislating. They conclude by examining the issues brought out by the Strathclyde Review and endorse the position of the parliamentary committees in recommending that a Joint Committee of both Houses be established to inquire into the whole area of secondary legislation and financial privilege. They stress that this is a matter for Parliament and it should act before Government takes any further steps.

This pamphlet presents the personal views of the authors and not those of The Constitution Society, which publishes it as a contribution to debate on this important subject.


13th June 2016

New Paper by Lewis Baston: ‘Pushing The Boundaries of Democratic Practice: Individual Registration and Boundaries, Revisited’

New Constitution Society pamphlet: ‘Pushing The Boundaries of Democratic Practice: Individual Registration and Boundaries, Revisited’, by Lewis Baston.

This paper by Lewis Baston follows up on his previous Constitution Society pamphlet, Electoral Collision Course, published in 2014. The 2014 report dealt with the interaction between two apparently unrelated changes to electoral law. These were the transition to Individual Electoral Registration (IER) which was then underway, and the new mechanism for distributing and designating parliamentary constituencies established under the Parliamentary Voting System and Constituencies Act 2011. Baston warned then that: ‘If the register numbers in December 2015 are inaccurate, the boundary review will contaminate the entire basis of the electoral system.’ In this paper he argues this has duly come to pass.

We are holding a launch event at the House of Commons for this paper on 6th July at 5pm, please register to attend here

This paper presents the personal views of the author and not those of The Constitution Society, which publishes it as a contribution to debate on the subject.

See the earlier Lewis Baston pamphlet on this subject here.

10th June 2016

New Paper by Richard Gordon QC and Rowena Moffatt: ‘Brexit: The Immediate Legal Consequences’

The Constitution Society Paper, Brexit: The Immediate Legal Consequences’, by Richard Gordon QC and Rowena Moffatt, is available online.

The outcome of the referendum on 23 June 2016 will, in practice, bind the government on the question of whether or not the United Kingdom will remain in the EU. This paper does not engage in the issues about ‘remain’ or ‘leave’ about which it is neutral. But if there is a vote for Brexit the legal implications of such an outcome will suddenly occupy centre-stage. Thus far, they have hardly been addressed. Here, the authors explore the two pressing and immediate legal consequences of Brexit. Part 1 examines the constitutional consequences of a vote to leave the EU and Part 2 focuses on the consequences of such a vote for EU citizenship rights. The thesis presented is that identifying the immediate legal effects of Brexit can neither be avoided nor deferred and that, once identified, they need to be planned for well in advance of any exit from the EU. Constitutionally, these legal challenges encompass the uncertainties surrounding the operation of Article 50 TEU regulating the exit of member states, the complexities of uncoupling EU law from domestic law, and the implications of Brexit for devolution including the engagement and justiciability of the Sewel Convention. There are also likely to be substantive legal effects on EU citizenship rights that are vested and that may become the subject of legal proceedings either in the UK or elsewhere in the EU.

This pamphlet presents the views of the authors and not those of The Constitution Society, which publishes it as a contribution to debate on this important subject. 

20th May 2016

New paper by Professor Vernon Bogdanor: ‘The Crisis of The Constitution’, 2nd Edition

The Constitution Society paper, ‘The Crisis of the Constitution’ (2nd Edition) by Professor Vernon Bogdanor, is available online.

The general election of 2015 answered conclusively, to the surprise of most commentators, the question, ‘Who governs Britain?’ by yielding a single-party government with an overall majority in the House of Commons. But it did not answer two of the fundamental constitutional questions facing Britain. The first is how Britain is to be governed in an era of party fragmentation in which the electoral system, even when, as in 2015, it produces a single-party majority government, yields one enjoying just over one-third of the popular vote.

The second and even more fundamental question is – will there still be a Britain to be governed, will the United Kingdom remain in being, or has the outcome of the election in Scotland, where 56 of the 59 seats were won by the SNP, given an irreversible push to separatism. Read more ›

3rd February 2016

New paper by Professor Dawn Oliver: ‘Constitutional Guardians’

The Constitution Society paper,‘Constitutional Guardians: The House of Lords’ by Professor Dawn Oliver, is available online.

This pamphlet explores the arrangements for guardianship of the UK constitution and its values and the role of the House of Lords in particular.

Effective constitutional guardianship is important in any liberal democracy. In most democracies the courts have important roles in deciding whether laws breach the constitution and striking them down if so. This is not a role that the courts are able to perform in respect of legislation passed by the UK Parliament, since it possesses legislative supremacy. Protection of constitutional values in the UK is therefore essentially a matter for parliamentarians, and particularly a responsibility of the second chamber and its committees: party political partisanship is less strong there than in the Commons, the government does not have a majority in the House of Lords, and an independent and professional element in the membership of the Lords enables that chamber to carry out its guardianship roles authoritatively and fairly. However the composition of that chamber presents political problems for the guardianship role which need to be overcome.

(This pamphlet presents the personal views of the author and not those of The Constitution Society, which publishes it as a contribution to debate on this important subject). 

19th December 2015

‘Labour and the electoral system: The myth of defeat and the chimera of victory’ – by Nat le Roux of The Constitution Society

The political commentariat comprehensively failed to predict either the Conservative victory in the May general election or the emergence of Jeremy Corbyn as the eventual victor of the Labour leadership contest. Following a perhaps inappropriately brief period of reflection, the mainstream media have lighted on a consensus interpretation of these events which many in the Parliamentary Labour Party apparently share. Two soundbites of received wisdom now seem to frame most conversations about the result of the general election and the future of the party. They can be summarised succinctly:

Labour lost the 2015 general election because it lost the argument with the Conservatives on the economy’

‘Labour is unelectable in 2020 with Jeremy Corbyn as leader’ – and is thus by implication electable under a different leader

An analysis of the electoral arithmetic provides very limited support for either proposition.  

Read more ›

4th November 2015

Evidence from The Constitution Society published by House of Lords select committee inquiry into ‘The Union and Devolution’

The House of Lords Constitution Committee has recently published evidence submitted by The Constitution Society, as part of its inquiry into ‘The Union and Devolution.’

The published evidence can be viewed online here.

A full list of evidence published by the select committee as part of this inquiry can be viewed here. 

17th October 2015

New paper by Professor Matt Qvortrup: ‘A Tale of Two Referendums’

A Tale of Two Referendums: Elite Manipulation or Civic Engagement?The Constitution Society paper, ‘A Tale of Two Referendums: Elite Manipulation or Civic Engagement?’ by Professor Matt Qvortrup, is available online.

Can we make referendums work? This pamphlet provides a brief overview for the perplexed and provides an understanding of how referendums operate before the vote on British membership of the European Union.

The author holds that the two major referendums held by David Cameron’s governments so far have been qualitatively very different. The referendum on Scottish independence in 2014 was a model of civic engagement; the one on electoral reform in 2011 was the archetype of elite manipulation. After considering the historic background to referendums and some of the theoretical issues, he makes recommendations designed to ensure that the EU referendum is conducted in the most appropriate way.

(This pamphlet presents the personal views of the author and not those of The Constitution Society, which publishes it as a contribution to debate on this important subject). 

21st September 2015

‘Constitutional Standards, Constitutional Change and EVEL’: A blog by Dr. Jack Simson Caird

Today the Constitution Unit UCL, with the support of the Constitution Society, is publishing the second edition of ‘The Constitutional Standards of the House of Lords Constitution Committee’. The report, by Robert Hazell, Dawn Oliver and myself, contains a code of 140 constitutional standards, covering five areas: the rule of law, delegated powers, the separation of powers, individual rights and parliamentary procedure. The second edition extracts and codifies standards from all 168 reports of the House of Lords’ Constitution Committee published from its inception in 2001 to the end of the 2010-2015 Parliament.

When the first edition of the code was published in January 2014, I made the basic case for the use of a code of constitutional standards within Parliament. In this post, I focus on the role that a code of constitutional standards could play in the specific circumstances facing Parliament today: that of the first parliamentary session of a newly elected government intent on making major constitutional changes. In particular, I will examine the introduction of English votes for English laws (EVEL) as an example of constitutional change, and explore how the use of this code in both Houses of Parliament and in government could enhance the scrutiny of those proposed changes to parliamentary procedure.

A defining feature of the UK’s constitution is that a government fresh from the polls can use its majority in the House of Commons to implement major constitutional change in their first parliamentary session. If the policy was in the manifesto of the winning party then the Salisbury Convention means that it will not be blocked in the second chamber. And the change will be able to ‘bed down’ during the whole of the Parliament. In one sense this is a strength of the UK constitution. A weakness of this arrangement is that it can result in changes being made to the constitution without the detailed analysis and scrutiny within Parliament that they deserve. This is where a code of parliamentary constitutional standards, such as the one included in this report, could make a difference. Read more ›

27th August 2015

New Advisory Board members announced

We are delighted to be able to announce four new appointments to The Constitution Society Advisory Board. They are: Prof. Vernon Bogdanor, The Rt. Hon. the Lord Foulkes of Cumnock, The Rt. Hon. Dominic Grieve MP and Sebastian Payne.

Professor Vernon Bogdanor CBE

Vernon is Research Professor at the Institute for Contemporary British History, King’s College London. He was formerly Professor of Government at Oxford University and Senior Tutor and Vice-Principle at Brasenose College, Oxford. He has written widely on government and politics. Vernon has been an adviser to government and parliamentary bodies. He is a fellow of the British Academy.

The Rt. Hon. the Lord Foulkes of Cumnock

George Foulkes is a Labour member of the House of Lords. He was a Member of the House of Commons from 1979 – 2005 and a Member of the Scottish Parliament from 2007 – 2011. From 1997 to 2001 George was Parliamentary Under-Secretary at the Department for International Development and from 2001 – 2002 he was Minister of State at the Scotland Office.

The Rt. Hon. Dominic Grieve MP

Dominic has been Conservative MP for Beaconsfield since 1997 after working as a barrister and serving in the Territorial Army and as a Hammersmith councillor. He first joined the front bench of the opposition in 1999 as a spokesperson on Constitutional Affairs. He was Attorney General from 2010 to 2014. Presently he is a member of the House of Commons Standards and Privileges Committee.

Sebastian Payne

Sebastian is President of the United Kingdom Constitutional Law Association, a Lecturer in Public Law at the Kent Law School and a Barrister of the Inner Temple. As well as publishing on the law relating to terrorism he is the editor (with Professor Maurice Sunkin) of The Nature of the Crown (Oxford University Press 1999).

Details of all Advisory Board members can be found here:

29th June 2015