Professor Michael Keating speaks about Scotland’s future

Professor Michael Keating is currently writing a paper for The Constitution Society on the important topic of Scotland’s future after the independence referendum in 2014. We will be launching his piece along with responses from CentreForum, the Fabian Society and ResPublica at the party conferences.

In the meanwhile, Professor Keating was kind enough to join us for a quick talk on the issues facing Scotland and her relationship with the rest of the UK. Click here to watch the video.

Professor Keating is the Chair in Scottish Politics at the University of Aberdeen and a key voice on the topics of devolution and nationalism.

The Constitution Society looks forward to launching this timely piece of research in Glasgow at Liberal Democrat party conference, before taking it to Brighton and Manchester platforming the groundbreaking work before Labour and Conservative party conferences respectively. 

Two distinguished recruits for The Constitution Society Advisory Board

The Constitution Society is pleased to announce the addition of Sir Malcolm Jack and Sir Thomas Legg to The Constitution
Society advisory board. 

Sir Malcolm Jack (top picture) was Clerk of the House of Commons from 2006-2011 and is the co-author of our latest report, on Parliamentary privilege. Sir Malcolm is the editor of the current, twenty-fourth, edition of Erskine May’s Parliamentary Practice as well as writing and lecturing on constitutional and historical subjects.


Sir Thomas Legg (bottom picture) was Permanent Secretary of the Lord Chancellor’s Department and Clerk of the Crown in Chancery. Sir Thomas has led three inquiries, most famously into the MPs’ expenses scandal. As well as The Constitution Society, Sir Thomas plays an active role in the Better Government Initiative

Both Sir Malcolm Jack and Sir Thomas Legg bring an excellent range of skills and experience to our organisation. The Constitution Society looks forward to working with them to further our call for an informed debate on constitutional issues.

Constitutional legislation is ‘qualitatively different from other types of legislation’ – PCRC reports

The Commons Political and Constitutional Reform Committee (PCRC) has published its report  on legislative standards [1]after an eighteen month inquiry. 

Graham Allen MP, Chair of the Political and Constitutional Reform Committee

The Constitution Society welcomes the report as an important contribution to the campaign for a general improvement in the quality of legislation. [2] We especially endorse the fourth of the report’s five key recommendations:  that a test for identifying constitutional legislation should be agreed between Parliament and the Government.

In evidence to the Committee in 2012, the Society argued that constitutional legislation should be distinguished from ordinary legislation for three reasons[3]:

-        Constitutional legislation is the architecture of the state. The elements of the constitution are unavoidably interconnected, so an alteration in one part of the building can have unforeseen consequences in other parts.

-        Most major constitutional legislation has an effective presumption of irreversibility.

-        A practice has arisen under the current government of employing ‘manner and form’ restrictions where a piece of legislation passed by an ordinary majority imposes restrictions on future Parliaments regarding how that legislation is to be implemented or repealed.

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Is it time to codify Parliamentary privilege?

There is little understanding of the concept of Parliamentary privilege outside Westminster. The term tends to arouse suspicion: privilege is against the spirit of the times – it smacks of unfairness and elitism. It did not help when some of the MPs prosecuted for fiddling their expenses a couple of years ago tried to base their defence on the doctrine of privilege (the Supreme Court gave that argument very short shrift [1] ). So why should MPs be exempted from laws which apply to everybody else?

The most important aspect of Parliamentary privilege is freedom of speech in Parliament which derives from the 1689 Bill of Rights. It is a right which can be justified on simple functional grounds: MPs cannot do their job unless they can speak freely without fear of being prosecuted or dragged through the courts by wealthy litigants. For that reason it is essential to maintain Parliamentary privilege, something that is recognised in all modern, democratic constitutional systems.

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Rt Hon John Bercow MP launches ‘Young People and the Constitution’

The Constitution Society was delighted to host the Speaker of the House of Commons, Rt Hon John Bercow MP, as he spoke to an audience of young people on his role in the British constitution chaired by our Project Manager, James Hallwood.

As patron of YPC, Mr Bercow spoke of the importance of neutrality and some of the changes he has brought to the Commons, as well as several more he would like to implement. 

On the British constitution, Mr Bercow explained that he believed that traditions and practices that work should never be got rid of for the sake of ‘reform’ – but when there is a case for change he supported looking at what could be done. 

The audience put some interesting questions to Mr Bercow. The Speaker’s answers offered what he said was an “honest politician’s views” and that he avoided “sitting on the fence” despite his neutrality. For instance, Mr Bercow voiced support for same-sex marriage, suggested Britain was best placed to remain in the European Union, rejected a call for separation of powers, and advocated the doctrine of Parliamentary Supremacy as remaining potent and relevant.

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The Constitution Society launches new report: Parliamentary Privilege – Evolution or Codification?

The Constitution Society’s latest paper – Parliamentary Privilege: Evolution or codification - will be formally launched tonight at a dinner for select guests. However the PDF is now available to download here. The authors are Richard Gordon QC, and Sir Malcolm Jack, former Clerk of the House of Commons.

Parliamentary privilege is vital to the effective running of a modern, democratic Parliament and free speech in Parliament is still a crucial component. Today an over-powerful judiciary could be considered Parliament’s main ‘adversary’. In modern times the context, within which parliamentary privilege works, has changed greatly.

This paper examines how best to convince the public that parliamentary privilege remains essential to a twenty-first century parliament. It considers options such as principles legislation on the issue or leaving things alone. It considers the Government’s Green Paper on Parliamentary privilege and asks how real is the danger of judicial activism in the affairs of Parliament and whether that danger is increased or diminished by a new statute.

For any queries on the paper or the launch please email James Hallwood via


New paper on Parliamentary privilege to be launched

The Constitution Society is pleased to announce the launch of our latest paper – Parliamentary Privilege: Evolution or codification.

Written by eminent barrister, Richard Gordon QC, and Sir Malcolm Jack, former Clerk of the House of Commons (2006-2011), the paper looks at the critical constitutional issue of Parliamentary privilege from a number of interesting angles.

A formal launch on Thursday 9th May will be attended by parliamentarians, journalists and academics for a discussion on the paper’s key findings.

Until then, the paper is embargoed but a preview can be found from Joshua Rozenberg on the Guardian Law website.

Once the paper has been distributed a PDF copy will be available from the website. 

For any queries on the paper or the launch please email James Hallwood via

Mr Speaker announced as the patron of our new youth initiative

The Constitution Society is delighted to announce that Rt Hon John Bercow MP, Speaker of the House of Commons, has agreed to be the patron of our new youth initiative, Young People and the Constitution (YPC).

YPC is The Constitution Society’s initiative to inform today’s young people and tomorrow’s leaders on the workings of the British constitution and the arms and levers of our state.

Bringing young people from a broad range of experience and backgrounds together with key figures in the workings of the British constitution, we aim to better prepare the politicians and civil servants of tomorrow.

Mr Speaker will be delivering a talk on the role of Parliament in the British constitution on Monday 13th May at 5pm in Westminster. To register for a place or for any queries, please email

15th April 2013

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Resignation shines light on PCC powers

The resignation of Paris Brown, Britain’s first ‘Youth Police Commissioner’, shines light on the powers of appointment elected Police and Crime Commissioners have and raises questions as to how appropriate these may be. 

The revelation that Ms Brown had once sent violent, racist, and homophobic tweets made her position untenable, but her resignation does not usher in the end of the role of a ‘Youth Police Commissioner’ in Kent. Introduced by Kent’s Independent PCC, Ann Barnes, the role sought to engage the police with young people – a replacement will be appointed in due course. This was a position created in Kent alone and at the behest of its PCC. 

Questions of vetting, transparency, and the powers of PCCs are now in the spotlight. Making summary appointments is one of the important powers that PCCs have been granted, but until now it has been little explored. The landmark election of PCCs would have been the ideal opportunity for a constitutional discussion on the rights and wrongs of democratisating key roles – yet the election did little to explore the constitutional implications of this new position and the low turnout (below 15%) spoke for the lack of enthusiasm or clarity on the remit of the office. 

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Eleanor Laing MP joins The Constitution Society Advisory Board

The Constitution Society is delighted to announce that  Eleanor Laing MP has joined us as a key member of our Advisory Board. Eleanor has been the Conservative Member of Parliament for Epping Forest since 1997 and, before the 2010 General Election, Eleanor was the Shadow Minister for Justice.

Eleanor has a long been at the forefront of constitutional discussions in Parliament, serving as Frontbench spokesman on Constitutional Affairs in 2000, a key member of the Political and Constitutional Reform Committee since 2010 and an important voice on the Joint Committee on House of Lords Reform. Eleanor is also the Chairman of the 1922′s Sub-Committee on Home and Constitutional Affairs and the government’s Special Representative to Gibraltar.

Eleanor joins Labour Peer, Lord Howarth of Newport and former Liberal Democrat MP, David Howarth, bringing political balance to our Advisory Board and key expertise. 

We very much look forward to working with Eleanor in the future.

To see the rest of our Advisory Board, our Trustees, and staff click here