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 james@constitutionsoc.org.uk

 

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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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: 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: 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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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: Political reform: still a choice or new political necessity?

[First Published on Monday 1st November 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.

Professor Margaret Wilson, Former President of the New Zealand Labour Party and Speaker of the NZ Parliament, gave a fascinating lecture at Portcullis House last week on behalf of the NZ-UK Link Foundation.  Discussing New Zealand’s experience of proportional representation in the context of UK proposals for constitutional reform, Professor Wilson was responded to by Professor Vernon Bogdanor, a well-known authority on the British Constitution.   The speakers agreed unreservedly: there is many a lesson to be learnt in the UK from the experience of our Commonwealth cousin.

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ARCHIVE: 71% think independent body should draft referendum question

[First Published on Wednesday 6th 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.

Opinion polls on AV over the summer have tended to highlight a general scepticism towards the proposed system but have remained largely focussed on voting intentions.  An on-line poll carried out by YouGov on behalf of The Constitution Society has now probed public opinion on a broader range of issues surrounding electoral reform and the government’s referendum proposal, with remarkable results.

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ARCHIVE: British politics hits a purple patch. A look at calls for electoral reform

[First Published on Saturday 29th May 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.

If you’re out and about in town and find yourself surrounded by purple people, it’s probably not just a fashion statement. Once reserved for royalty and bishops, purple is now being touted as the colour of public protest over electoral reform.

Behind these purple protests is Take Back Parliament, a coalition of groups – including the Electoral Reform Society (ERS)POWER2010 and Unlock Democracy (incorporating Charter88) – that is coordinating demonstrations around the country, and one of many energetic bodies pushing for a fairer voting system. The current ‘First Past The Post’ (FPTP) system – described this month as “creaking at the seams” by Lord Mandelson, and blamed for “the worst election ever” in 2005 by the ERS – appears under attack from almost all sides.

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