‘Distinguishing Constitutional Legislation’ New paper

The Constitution Society’s latest paper ‘Distinguishing Constitutional Legislation: a modest proposal’ by Andrew Blick, Nat le Roux and David Howarth is now available online.

In most democratic states, the mechanisms for constitutional change are clearly separated from mechanisms for enacting ‘ordinary’ legislation. They are also designed to make any significant alteration in existing constitutional arrangements a relatively difficult undertaking. In Britain, however, there is no legislative process for constitutional change other than ordinary legislation, nor is there any clear or generally agreed distinction between constitutional and other laws.

The potential shortcomings of this approach have become increasingly evident in the period since 1997, which has been marked by frequent, sometimes hectic, constitutional change. Constitutional modification is now an established part of every government’s legislative programme. If elected governments too often seem to amend these rules in a self-interested way then trust in the legitimacy of the political system may be progressively undermined.

This paper considers the options and proposes a mechanism whereby Parliament could identify and impose the special procedures it deems appropriate for legislation of first-class constitutional importance. It concludes that if Parliament wants to, it has the power to bring about a better approach in this area.

19th August 2014

‘The Reality of the British Constitution’ New paper by David R. Howarth and Shona Wilson Stark

A paper by David R. Howarth (University of Cambridge) and Shona Wilson Stark (Christ’s College, Cambridge) is available online. It breaks new ground in its assessment of the British constitution.

Using interviews with senior UK officials about their views of the rules of recognition, change and adjudication, it concludes that there may be in effect three different constitutions operational in this country.

An abstract follows. The full paper is available on the SSRN website here.

  Read more ›

15th August 2014

‘Unconstitutional Democracy?’ New discussion paper by Nat le Roux available

A paper by the founding Director of The Constitution Society, Nat le Roux, is published online today, discussing the background and underlying constitutional tendencies against which the Society was formed in 2009.

The paper expresses the personal views of the author, but provides an insight into the decision to establish the organisation and the problems it was intended to address.

Download a copy of the paper here. 

30th July 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.

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13th August 2013

APPG Constitutional Developments Under the Coalition – Podcast

The Constitution Society provides organisational and secretarial support for the All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on the British Constitution, chaired by Lord Norton of Louth. The Group works to broaden legislators’ knowledge base and improve the quality of debate on proposals for constitutional change and the way in which they are introduced.

We are excited to announce that the APPG meetings will now be available to listen to as podcasts. The most recent meeting of the APPG on the Constitution was on on the subject of Constitutional Developments Under the Coalition. 

 The speakers, in order of appearance, were: 

  • Professor Robert Hazell, Director, The Constitution Unit 
  • Dr Michael Pinto-Duschinsky, Senior Consultant on Constitutional Affairs, Policy Exchange

You can listen to the podcast on our website here. If you would like to download the podcast simply right click the link above and select ‘save as’.

23rd January 2013

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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.

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11th January 2013

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How not to ‘do’ constitutional reform – by James Hallwood

The latest Coaltion fall-out over Lord’s reform has highlighted the way in which constitutional issues can easily turn into a game of political football. Booted between the Coalition partners, a decision of crucial importance on how we run our democracy has descended into short-term politicking.

A turnaround from a principled stand in favour of boundary changes to opposition marks a new low in how constitutional issues are addressed. The debate on whether AV or Lord’s reform was the price of reducing the size of the Commons misses the point entirely – constitutional changes require scrutiny and well-thought out legislation, not horse-trading and tit-for-tat.

While there are principled reasons for and against specific changes on either side of constitutional debates it is frankly depressing how these have often been quieter than discussion of partisan advantage. From arguments within Labour as to whether AV would benefit them or not to the quid pro quo agreement in the Coalition that AV would benefit the Liberal Democrats and boundary changes would benefit the Tories. 

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ARCHIVE: The Cabinet Manual; controversy over codification

[First Published on Tuesday 21st December 2010]

The following post was first published on ConSoc’s previous site. It is recorded here as a window onto issues as they were at the time. For more up to date news on the Constitution and Constitutional reform, make sure to follow the ConSoc blog.

Published last week by the head of the civil service, the Draft Cabinet Manual  is the UK’s first comprehensive guide to the functioning of the Executive; “a guide to the whole business of government seen from the perspective of the executive branch”.

Drawing together various existing pieces of guidance for ministerial behaviour, the Manual has been heralded by many as the first step towards a written constitution.  Others criticise the document as a power grab by its civil servant drafters.  The Constitution Society put these issues to the experts.

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ARCHIVE: Chief Civil Servant advises Brown to stay put in event of hung parliament

[First Published on Thursday 4th March 2010]

The following post was first published on ConSoc’s previous site. It is recorded here as a window onto issues as they were at the time. For more up to date news on the Constitution and Constitutional reform, make sure to follow the ConSoc blog.

The head of the Civil Service is warning Gordon Brown not to leave Number 10 if it is unclear who has won the upcoming election. Sir Gus O’Donnell told MPs that it is “the Prime Minister’s duty not to resign” until a successor can be found. 

The comments, made during an investigation into what will happen if the next election results in a hung parliament, are an attempt to reassure jittery markets that having no clear winner wouldn’t obstruct government. 

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ARCHIVE: Cabinet Manual launched

[First Published on Monday 24th October 2011]

The following post was first published on ConSoc’s previous site. It is recorded here as a window onto issues as they were at the time. For more up to date news on the Constitution and Constitutional reform, make sure to follow the ConSoc blog.

Today the government published the Cabinet Manual, heralding it as ‘the ultimate user’s guide to government’. An innovation in government originally pioneered by New Zealand, it brings together a broad range of sources – including the relevant parts of the ministerial code, internal Government procedures, common law and key legislation – and aims to give a descriptive account of the procedural arrangements of the executive.

The intention to create a UK Cabinet Manual was declared by Gordon Brown in February of 2010. Cabinet Secretary Sir Gus O’Donnell soon after published a draft chapter entitled ‘elections and government formation’, which was utilised in the wake of the 2010 general election. In December 2010, after the Coalition entered office, a Draft Cabinet Manual was published.  Today, following a period of consultation which concluded on the 8th of March of this year, the finished document has arrived.