Despite the speech a referendum on EU membership seems unlikely

Cameron’s much-delayed and anticipated speech on Britain’s relationship with the rest of the European Union called for a substantial renegotiation of the terms of our membership as well as a repatriation of powers. The renegotiated settlement would then be put to a referendum with the public deciding whether to back his deal or leave the EU completely. 

Many column inches have been devoted to looking at what the terms of renegotiation would be, the likelihood of success, and the internal politics of an increasingly eurosceptic Conservative Party that some claim has led to this move. But while pro and anti European camps prepare to make their cases, the simple fact is that this referendum is unlikely to happen.

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25th January 2013

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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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Scottish Independence: asking the wrong question?

Following last month’s agreement between David Cameron and Scottish First Minister Alex Salmond,  the Scottish Government has now rubber-stamped the SNP’s proposed question for the 2014 referendum on Scottish independence: ‘Do you agree that Scotland should be an independent country?

The proposed question has yet to be approved by the Electoral Commission. The  Commission’s role in determining the intelligibility of proposed referendum questions is, strictly, merely consultative. However it would be at best embarrassing for the SNP to ignore the Commission’s recommendation. 

 Dr Matt Qvortrup, a member of The Constitution Society’s Working party on Scottish Independence and a leading authority on referendums, said last week that in his view the Electoral Commission are unlikely to endorse the proposed question on the grounds that the word ‘agree’ biaised the question towards an affirmative answer.

 Earlier this year a group of academics including Dr Qvortrup proposed an alternative, neutral, phrasing of the question which is broadly supported by the opposition parties: ‘Scotland should become an independent state: I agree/I do not agree

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Salmond and Cameron agree on independence referendum

The British and Scottish governments have largely agreed on the details of a referendum on Scottish independence in 2014. Though some issues remain to be ironed out, it is understood that there will be a simple ‘yes’ or ‘no’ question with no third option on the devolution of more powers. It also appears that agreement has been reached on allowing 16 and 17 year olds to vote on Scotland’s future.

With general agreement reached it seems clear that a referendum on Scotland’s future in the United Kingdom will now be taking place in 2014. The legal consequences of this will be paramount to the Scottish electorate making an informed decision. The Constitution Society will be looking in-depth at these consequences as well as continuing to monitor developments on this important topic.   

The Constitution Society welcomes Chloe Smith

Further to the last post, The Constitution Society has finally been informed that Chloe Smith is to be the minister replacing Mark Harper in the Cabinet Office. Unlike Mr Harper, Ms Smith’s brief appears to incorporate a far wider portfolio – “public sector efficiency and reform, political and constitutional reform and a range of other topics” according to her official website.

Previously Economic Secretary to the Treasury, Ms Smith will take on the newly constituted position of Parliamentary Secretary to the Cabinet Office. 

We welcome Ms Smith to her new role and look forward to engaging with her in the future. Issues surrounding party funding, lobbying and the ongoing debates over Scotland and Europe will require her full attention.

20th September 2012

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No replacement for Mark Harper

Despite the government’s re-shuffle taking place almost two weeks ago, the Cabinet Office is yet to announce a replacement for Mark Harper, former Parliamentary Under Secretary for Constitutional and Political Reform.

During the re-shuffle Mr Harper was appointed to the position of Minister of State for Immigration in the Home Office. However, the Cabinet Office has kept his photograph and biography on their website and continue to describe him as being in his former role. Upon phoning the Cabinet Office and House of Commons Information Office neither could shed any light on who his replacement was – both suggesting the other should know. 

The recent withdrawal of the bill pushing for an elected House of Lords and the effective concession of maintaining current constituency boundaries seems to indicate that the majority of this government’s constitutional agenda is over. The lack of a replacement for Mr Harper indicates the low priority the Coalition is now placing on these issues. 

Nevertheless it is unusual that so far after a re-shuffle no appointment has been made to replace Mr Harper. With issues surrounding Scottish independence and ‘devo max’ as well as continued debate on Europe it seems odd not to have found a suitable replacement.

The Constitution Society wishes Mr Harper all the best for his new portfolio and thanks him for his contribution to the constitutional debates of this parliament. We look forward to working with his successor, as and when he or she is announced.

17th September 2012

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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.