9th August 2012

A summary of this term’s constitutional affairs: bringing together debates and questions in Parliament, Select Committee activity and online comment.

As the House of Lords Reform Bill is abandoned and Nick Clegg withdraws the Liberal Democrats’ support for boundary change, two major constitutional reforms are halted by disagreement within the coalition. The argument over political funding continues, as Boris Johnson and Ken Livingstone are criticized for using a legal loophole to conceal the identities of donors who funded their mayoral election campaigns. In news on Scottish independence, David Cameron is said to be ready to give the Scottish Parliament the power to hold a referendum but urges the need for a single question. A recent Democratic Audit report voices serious concerns over ‘the increasingly unstable nature of the UK constitution’, and suggests we cannot move past the current crossroads without reaching agreement on a set of democratic values.

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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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Footage of Shadow Chancellor referring to our report in Parliament

As previously reported the Shadow Chancellor, Ed Balls MP, referred to our groundbreaking report; ‘Select Committees and Coercive Powers – Clarity or Confusion?’ written by Richard Gordon QC and Amy Street. Below is footage from the Parliamentary debate on ‘Professional Standards in the Banking Industry’ in which Mr. Balls cited our ‘very important’ report while calling for a judge-led inquiry into Libor rate-fixing scandal.

 

Clerk of the Commons hails our select committees report

Robert Rogers, Clerk of the Commons, has published a new paper on the powers of select committees. Much of what he writes agrees with the key points of our own report, Select Committees and Coercive Powers – Clarity or Confusion a copy of which can be downloaded here.

Mr Rogers says of our report, “…The Constitution Society’s recent study by Robert Gordon QC and Amy Street, [is] one of the best considerations of the issues I have seen.” This follows on from its citation in the Commons by the Shadow Chancellor, Ed Balls, who described the report as “very important”.

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Ed Balls references our “very important” Power of Select Committees Report amidst Libor scandal

In a Parliamentary session on standards in the banking industry the Shadow Chancellor, Rt Hon Ed Balls MP, called for a judge-led inquiry into the Libor rate-fixing scandal citing The Constitution Society’s groundbreaking research into the power of Select Committees. 

Highlighting some of the key findings of report authors, Richard Gordon QC and Amy Street, the Shadow Chancellor said:

“We should consider the recent experience of the phone hacking scandal and all the deliberations we see in, for example, the very important report on the details and reality of Select Committees and coercive powers, entitled “Select Committees and Coercive Powers—Clarity or Confusion?”, from The Constitution Society.”

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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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Our Director, Nat le Roux, gives evidence to PCRC

Following The Constitution Society’s submission of written evidence (which can be found here) to the Political and Constitutional Reform Committee’s inquiry into ‘Ensuring standards in the quality of legislation’; Nat le Roux, Director of The Constitution Society, was invited to give oral evidence on the 21st of June. He appeared alongside Lord Butler and Sir Nicholas Monck who served as representatives of the Better Government Initiative.

Below is a video of Nat attending the oral evidence session before the Committee.

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APPG Party Funding – 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 Party Funding

The speakers, in order of appearance, were:

  • Sir Christopher Kelly, Chairman of the Committee on Standards in Public Life
  • Matthew Elliott, Chief Executive of the TaxPayers’ Alliance and Campaign Director of NOtoAV
  • Professor Keith Ewing, King’s College London and Unions Together

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’.

Select Committees Parliamentary Launch

Following The Constitution Society’s successful Parliamentary launch event held on the 13th June we are pleased to be able to share videos of the key speakers. The large audience was made up of MPs, Peers, clerks, academics and journalists and the event was chaired by Nat Le Roux, Director of The Constitution Society. Questions following the panel speeches were ‘off the record’ and so are not recorded. 

Richard Gordon QC is an eminent constitutional lawyer and Co-Author of the report ‘Select Committees and Coercive Powers – Clarity or Confusion?’ He makes the opening speech, introduces the report and gives a short overview of the key issues raised by it.

 

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The Constitution Society launches new report: Select Committees and Coercive Powers – Clarity or Confusion?

The Constitution Society is pleased to announce the publication of a landmark Report that it has commissioned on the coercive powers of select committees.

Co-authored by eminent constitutional lawyers, Richard Gordon QC and Amy Street, the Report offers a balanced and neutral investigation into what coercive powers select committees have and what the options might be for change.

In the light of the phone-hacking scandal and the high profile appearances before select committees of the Murdochs and others this is a timely and important intervention.

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