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: Could Harriett have the Answer to the West Lothian Question?

[First Published on Monday 25th October 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.

Harriett Baldwin, Conservative MP for West Worcestershire, spoke to ConSoc about her private members’ Bill, scheduled to have its second reading in February 2011, which will seek to find a solution to the issue commonly known as the ‘West Lothian Question’.

“The West Lothian Question” was a term coined in the 1970s when Tam Dalyell, MP for West Lothian drew attention to thefact that MPs in Scotland, N Ireland and Wales were entitled to vote on issues that impacted solely on England,whilst English MPs could be effectively disenfranchised from voting on similar matters if they formed part of the devolved settlements.

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ARCHIVE: The unseemly haste to introduce fixed term parliaments

[First Published on Thursday 16th September 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.

Following five hours of debate, the Coalition’s Fixed-term Parliaments Bill received its second reading on Monday 13th September and was passed with a government majority of 288.  A long-standing policy of the Liberal Democrats, fixed-term parliaments have become a central plank of the Coalition’s plans for constitutional reform.

How it works at present:

  • The UK does not have fixed term Parliaments and the only requirement is that Parliament must be dissolved after five years.
  • In reality, it is the Prime Minister who decides when to dissolve Parliament and call a general election. (Constitutionally, the dissolution of Parliament is a prerogative power of the Queen who exercises that power on the advice of the Prime Minister. Theoretically the monarch has a discretion as to whether or not to grant a request for dissolution by the Prime Minister.)  
  • Current constitutional practice requires a  government to resign or to seek a dissolution if it loses a vote of no confidence

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ARCHIVE: The Politics of Electoral Reform

[First Published on Friday 30th July 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.

On 22nd July 2010 a bill was introduced in Parliament providing for a referendum on the voting system used to elect MPs to the House of Commons and a reduction in the number of MPs, together with an equalisation of the sizes of constituencies.  The Parliamentary Voting System and Constituencies Bill provides for an asymmetrical linkage between these two sets of proposals:

  • Assuming the Bill is passed, the boundary changes take effect at the time of the next general election whatever the result of the referendum
  • Even if there is a ‘yes’ vote in the referendum, Alternative Voting will not be introduced unless the boundary changes have been made. Alternative Voting is explained in more detail here.

Is a referendum even necessary?

There is no constitutional precedent which suggests that a referendum is required to change the voting system for the House of Commons. In the first half of the 20th century there were two separate attempts (in 1917-18 and 1929-30) at legislation to introduce a form of AV. Both attempts ultimately failed, but neither the supporters nor the opponents of these measures believed that a referendum was required.

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ARCHIVE: Fear and Lothian in Westminster. The English question is not going to go away

[First Published on Monday 7th June 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 next sentence might offend about 171,000 people. The main ‘claim to fame’ of West Lothian – in spite of its being “the happiest place in Scotland”, in the words of its own tourist authority – is through a much-quoted 1977 speech in Parliament by Tam Dalyell, then MP for the West Lothian constituency.

“For how long will English constituencies and English Honourable Members tolerate [...] Honourable Members from Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland exercising an important, and probably often decisive, effect on English politics while they themselves have no say in the same matters in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland?”

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ARCHIVE: AV or not AV? Resources to help you decide

[First Published on Wednesday 6th April 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.

THE DATE:

Thursday 5 May 2011.

WHO CAN VOTE:

You can vote if you;
(1) are over 18 over on 5 May 2011
(2) are registered to vote and
(3) are either a British citizen, a qualifying Commonwealth citizen or a citizen of the Irish Republic resident in the UK.

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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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Continued controversy over EU Bill

  • Against a backdrop of Lords working through the night, The European Union Bill was afforded a fifth day of debate in the Commons yesterday, though calls to remove the normal House time limits were rejected.

The five days of amendment debate in the Lower House (almost twice that awarded to the Fixed-term Parliaments Bill) is indicative of the controversy surrounding the government Bill, with criticism waged from both eurosceptics and europhiles on both sides of the House.

Hear what the expert thinks: Vernon Bogdanor

Eurosceptic Tory MPs have argued that the programme does not go far enough and that the Government should have allowed the House to continue debate beyond the usual 10pm cut-off, removing the potential for filibustering.

Tory MP Peter Bone criticised Government handling of amendments, which prevented debate of his own proposal to hold a referendum on UK membership of the EU.

Bernard Jenkin, Chair of the Public Administration Select Committee, was also dismissive of the extra day, commenting that “this is not what was envisaged when we discussed the strengthening of Parliament in the previous parliament.”

The criticsm continues the Bill’s turbulent path since its introduction in November, with the Europe Minister David Lidington recently forced to redraft the Bill’s explanatory notes amidst criticisms of poor legistlative drafting.

 

The Bill At A Glance

 

Government intention

The European Union Bill reflects two promises made by the Conservatives in their 2010 manifesto:

  • To require a referendum before any further transfer of power to the EU
  • To introduce national sovereignty legislation “to make it clear that ultimate authority stays in this country”

 

What the Bill does

  • Requires a referendum to take place before any ‘significant’ transfer of power to the EU.
  • Requires a referendum before the use of any existing ratchet clause to transfer competences or areas of power from the UK to the EU.
  • States that EU law has effect in the law of the UK only through an act of parliament. This rejects the notion that EU law has legal precedence in the UK in its own right.

 

What the Bill doesn’t do

  • Repatriate any powers from the EU back to the UK.
  • Affect the primacy of EU law.
  • Require a referendum in the case of accession treaties or any ‘insignificant’ change to EU powers.
  • Prevent a future government repealing the referendum lock.

 

Comment

Professor Vernon Bogdanor argues that the EU Bill is both:

Contradictory: it involves a sovereign Parliament calling for a binding referendum (“like asking if an omnipotent God can bind herself”)

and

Redundant: it sees an executive legislate for a referendum-lock when it already has the power to veto any applicable decision.

ARCHIVE: EU debate leads to significant rebellion

[First Published on Tuesday 25th 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.

A backbench motion debate on Britain’s relationship with the European Union has led to a significant rebellion of government MPs.

The motion, introduced by David Nuttall MP, moved:

‘…to introduce a Bill in the next session of Parliament to provide for the holding of a national referendum on whether the United Kingdom should:

  1. remain a member of the European Union on the current terms;
  2. leave the European Union; or
  3. re-negotiate the terms of its membership in order to create a new relationship based on trade and co-operation.’

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.