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

A United Kingdom Constitutional Convention

The All-Party Parliamentary Group on Reform, Decentralisation and Devolution in the UK has published its paper ‘A Parliament for Reform 2015-2020′ which can be downloaded here.

The paper includes the following proposed wording for inclusion in the manifestos of all parties at the coming General Election:

“We will establish a UK Constitutional Convention to mark the 800th anniversary of Magna Carta in 2015. The Convention will operate independent of government and will include members of the public as well as representatives of the political parties, local authorities and the nations and regions of the UK. Members of the public will make up more than half of the total membership.

Sitting for no longer than a year, the Convention will consider, and publish recommendations on:

  1. The relationship between the nations, and all parts within the UK, including their fair representation in the Westminster Parliament.
  2. Arrangements for the governance of England.
  3. Other issues that may require the attention of a successor Convention.
We will bring before Parliament proposals to respond to the recommendations of the Convention within six months of its reporting.”

12th March 2015

New paper by Vernon Bogdanor: The Crisis of the Constitution

The Constitutions Society’s paper, ‘The Crisis of the Constitution: The General Election and the Future of the United Kingdom’ by Vernon Bogdanor, is available online.

Who governs Britain? That is the question being put to the voters on 7th May. But there are other questions lurking in the background, constitutional questions, that are the subject of this pamphlet. The first of them is – how is Britain to be governed in an era of party fragmentation in which the electoral system either fails to yield a single-party majority government; or, if it does yield such a government, it is likely to be a government enjoying little over one-third of the popular vote?

The second and even more fundamental question is – will there remain a Britain to be governed, or will the election give a further push to those forces in Scotland calling for separation? But these are not the only constitutional questions that Britain will face. There are in addition a European Question, a Human Rights Question and an English Question. The constitution, which many politicians hoped might have been disposed of after the Scottish referendum, has returned to the political agenda with a vengeance. Vernon Bogdanor discusses both the problems and possible solutions. Read more ›

12th February 2015

BGI Report – ‘Financing Scotland: Is there a workable financial settlement for Scottish devolution?’

The Better Government Initiative‘s latest report – “Financing Scotland: Is there a workable financial settlement for Scottish devolution?” – points out that the airy assurances given in the heat of the referendum debate, that financial devolution could go ahead while retaining the Barnett formula, may not prove so easy to deliver in practice.

The settlement recommended by the Smith Commission and welcomed by the PM will mean that more services (employment and training provision for example) will be devolved and so will fall within the scope of Barnett. Some welfare spending will be devolved for the first time. Scotland will be given the revenue from income tax in Scotland and a share of VAT revenues, and powers to change income tax rates and thresholds.
Where does all this leave Barnett? Suddenly an obscure but very simple formula has been caught up in a welter of complicated adjustments and indexations. Can it take the strain?

25th December 2014

‘How not to change the constitution’: Opinion paper by Nat le Roux

A paper by the co-founder and former Director of The Constitution Society, Nat le Roux, is published online today. It discusses the handling of the Scottish referendum, its aftermath, and the implications for the way in which constitutional reform takes place in the UK.

The paper expresses the personal views of the author.

Download a copy here. 

24th September 2014

After the Referendum…

Political developments around the ‘No’ vote in Scotland last Thursday have highlighted the salience of two recent papers published by The Constitution Society, both available online:

After the Referendum: Options For a Constitutional Convention, by Alan Renwick, was produced in partnership with Unlock Democracy. The pamphlet argued that, whatever the result of Scotland’s independence referendum, careful constitutional thinking would be needed. It examined how such constitution-making should take place. It set out the options, gathered evidence from around the world on how these options might work, and weighed the advantages and disadvantages of each alternative. It concluded that constitutional proposals in the UK should best be developed by a convention comprising a mixture of ordinary members of the public and politicians; and that these proposals should be put to a referendum. This approach, the paper argued, offers the best route to high-quality debate, stronger democratic engagement, and, ultimately, deeper legitimacy for our governing structures.

‘If Scotland says ‘No’: What Next For The Union?’ examined the implications of a ‘No’ vote for the UK constitution. It concluded that a ‘no’ vote would not mean ‘no change’, and that it was very likely that unionist parties would adopt proposals for more devolution. It examined the possible consequences for Scotland and for the Union as a whole. To produce this paper,  The Constitution Society brought together three leading think tanks from across the political spectrum to explore these questions and propose some possible answers. With contributions from Professor Michael Keating, Magnus Linklater, Jim Gallagher and Philip Blond, this collaboration with CentreForum, the Fabian Society and ResPublica set the scene for the post-referendum debate.

22nd September 2014

Sir John Elvidge APPG Meeting On Scottish Referendum

The latest meeting of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on the British Constitution was honoured to have as its main speaker, Sir John Elvidge, former Permanent Secretary to the Scottish government 2003 – 2010.

Sir John opened the discussion of the issues surrounding the upcoming independence vote by: firstly laying out what he believed were three misjudgments about the nature of constitutional change relating to it, secondly stating what he believed were the two most interesting judgments the UK government has made in its wrangling with the independence movement, and finally outlining the most difficult decision the Scottish government has to consider and get right in this process. Following his introduction, the distinguished guest fielded questions from a room full of parliamentarians and interested observers on the nature of the upcoming referendum, its most important developments so far, and where it might go in the future. 

 Topics discussed included:

  • The calculated risks taken by both governments in framing how the referendum will take place.
  • The extent to which voters’ decisions will be driven by emotional and idealistic notions tied to culture or hard-headed economic reasoning.
  • How the SNP plans to deal with fiscal issues of social security spending and its investment in renewable energy.
  • How important the UK’s continuing EU membership is to Scottish voters.

  And perhaps most intriguingly…

  • The continuing future of ‘DevoMax’ as an alternative option to a Yes/No decision.
  • What a close-margin outcome to the vote could mean for the future of Scotland, independent or not.
  • The possible future of the Orkney, Shetland, and Western Isles if the rest of the country decides to vote Yes.

The full audio recording of this meeting can be found here to listen to or download along with a host of other APPG podcasts.

Read more ›

13th August 2013

The Coalition’s mid-term constitutional plans

It’s been a furiously busy two years of constitutional news: from the AV referendum and failed Lords reform to elected Police Commissioners and fixed-term parliaments. But now with the Coalition reaching mid-point in this parliament what constitutional issues will be raised in the run-up to 2015?

The downgrading of Chloe Smith’s role from that of her predecessor’s indicates that the Coalition will be placing less priority on parliamentary and constitutional reform, but there still remain huge constitutional matters that will be addressed before the end of this parliament.

Read more ›

11th January 2013

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