ARCHIVE: Lords committee publishes report on constitutional reform process

[First Published on Thursday 21st 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. For more up to date news on the Constitution and Constitutional reform, make sure to follow the ConSoc blog.

After a six-month inquiry, the Lords Constitution Select Committee has published a report on the process of constitutional change.

The Committee argues that the current situation in the UK, where there is no agreed mechanism for constitutional change and governments are able to “pick and choose” which processes apply to various proposals for constitutional reform, is unacceptable.

Their recommendation is that there should be a “clear and consistent process” applied to all cases of “significant constitutional change”.

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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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ARCHIVE: Government Reform Proposals for the House of Lords

[First Published on Thursday 2nd June 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.

On May 17th the government introduced its Draft Bill for House of Lords Reform in the Commons and the Lords.

The Draft Bill proposes a move to an 80% elected upper house, with the remaining members appointed by recommendation of the Prime Minister.  The new House of Lords would be made up of 300 members, with the 240 elected members sitting for 15-year terms. Membership will not be renewable, which is intended to safeguard the independence of the elected members.

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ARCHIVE: Government hits referendum target

[First Published on Thursday 17th February 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 binding referendum will be held on May 5th to decide whether to change the voting system to the Alternative Vote.

The Parliamentary Voting System and Constituencies Bill received royal assent last night, in time for the programmed referendum date.

While the Lords voted twice to require a minimum 40% turnout in order for the referendum result to be binding, the amendment was overturned by a Commons majority of 68.

Also removed from the final Bill was Lord Pannick’s amendment increasing the amount by which constituencies will be permitted to vary from the national quota.

The most significant government concessions are the special consideration given to the Isle of Wight and the provision for public hearings on boundary review proposals, both of which made it onto the statute book.

The asymmetrical nature of the Bill means that the provisions relating to the reduction in the number of MPs and the redrawing of constituency boundaries will take effect in 2015 regardless of the result of the referendum on AV.  A ‘yes’ vote in the referendum, however, will only lead to a change in the voting system once boundary changes have been implemented.

ARCHIVE: Scaling the Heights of Lords’ Reform

[First Published on Wednesday 5th January 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.

If you had risen to your feet in Parliament 100 years ago and asked the Prime Minister whether his planned reform of the House of Lords would be completed before you could make a telephone call from the top of Mount Everest, Mr Asquith would have doubted your sanity and dismissed your question as facetious.

And yet, as we await the promised Lords Reform Bill to turn decades of modernising dreams into a 21st-century reality, almost all the parameters of that long-desired reform are still undecided: the only casualty so far has been the majority of hereditary peers, whose right to sit in judgement over the elected Commons derived from an ancient forebear’s sometimes questionable service to the monarch of the day.

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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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