‘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.

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15th August 2014

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

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

Lords Reform: the Steel Bill and beyond

Lord Steel’s bill allowing retirements and expulsion from the House of Lords has its second reading in the Lords on 28 March. While the core content of the bill has been widely welcomed, some concerns have been raised about a potential “loophole” which could allow the Lords to become a launchpad for future MPs.

The Constitution Society is delighted to be hosting a closed event in Parliament with the Constitution Unit to look at the implications of the Steel Bill on the House of Lords and the wider British constitution.

Chaired by Ruth Fox from the Hansard Society, Meg Russell and Lord Steel will talk about the latest attempt to reform the Lords.

This piece by Meg Russell sets out her concerns, explaining the risk of a “loophole”.

The discussion will be held in a closed meeting but shall be written up for the website later this week.

31st March 2014

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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House of Lords Bill Published

The government’s House of Lords Bill has been formally published amidst discontent on the Conservative backbench. 

The Bill is having its Second Reading on 9th July which will then be followed by the Committee Stage assuming the Bill passes this first hurdle. After this there would be a Report Stage followed by the Third Reading and movement of the Bill to the Lords where the process is repeated. 

Labour has already committed to voting against a timetable motion, designed to limit the time spent debating the Bill, and is likely to table an amendment for a referendum on this constitutional change. It is widely believed that many Conservative backbench MPs are considering voting with Labour on this.

The main details of the government’s proposals are as follows:

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APPG meets to discuss House of Lords reform

The All-Party Parliamentary Group on the Constitution works to improve the quality of debate on proposals for constitutional change and the way in which they are introduced. Previous topics explored range from the AV referendum to Scottish independence. The APPG is supported by The Constitution Society. 

The meeting on 16th May 2012 was a response to the House of Lords Reform Report and was attended by Members of both Houses. The event was chaired by Lord Norton of Louth with presentations from Dr Meg Russell (Deputy Director, Constitution Unit, UCL) and Professor John Curtice (Research Consultant to NatCen Social Research).

The APPG meetings are open only to members of both Houses and are unattributed so the following is a brief summary of the topics explored.

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Queen’s Speech – the constitutional highlights

This year’s Queen’s Speech is the second under the Coalition and the 57th of Her Majesty’s reign, the full text of which can be found here. While the emphasis of the government programme appears to be to ‘reduce the deficit and restore economic
stability’ this is a speech that outlines some potentially monumental constitutional changes. 

Succession

The speech notes that the  ‘…government will continue to work with the 15 other Commonwealth realms to take forward reform of the rules governing succession to the crown’. Building upon the Perth agreement between Commonwealth Realms in 2011, the speech alludes to the plans to end male preference primogeniture, allow those who marry Roman Catholics to remain in the line of succession and reduce the need to ask permission of monarch for a marriage to only the six closest in line to the throne. 

While relatively uncontroversial, such moves will require the amending of several key constitutional laws such as the 1689 Bill of Rights and the 1701 Act of Succession. 

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Joint Committee publishes its report on House of Lords Reform

The Joint Committee on the Draft House of Lords Reform Bill published its report today.

Amongst its main recommendations are:

  • An 80% elected chamber by STV with 20% nominated for expertise
  • 450 member strong House to provide an adequate pool to scrutinise legislation
  • 15 year non-renewable terms for members
  • A referendum to decide if members of the House of Lords are to be elected

The End of the Peer show? Responses to the draft bill on Lords reform

[First Published on Tuesday 19th July 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.

The end of the peer show? is a collection of responses to the Coalition Government’s reform proposals for the House of Lords, published in May 2011.

When The Constitution Society commissioned these essays we asked our contributors to focus on the specific proposals in the draft bill rather than on the broad narrative of incomplete reform which has been ongoing for a hundred years since the passage of the 1911 Parliament Act.

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