Constitutional refom has been prominent since the late 1990s.
- 'Third parties' such as the Liberal Democrats, are enthusiastic for constituional reform because they would limit the power of other parties.
- This means that these parties' chances of winning an election or more seats in the HOC would increase.
- It is less easy to see why the larger partues would reform the constitution because it would conflict with their interests.
- Labour and the Conservatives would not want the smaller parties to grow.
- E.g. EU referendum has caused conflicts within the Conservative party.
Reform under Blair and Brown
Labour was traditionally not interested in constitutional reform as they are a large party, until the late 1990s, they developed sympathy for constitutional reform (when it was in opposition):
- In 1997, Labour's manifesto was to hold far reaching reform, influenced by wishes to strengthen checks and balances after the reforms of the Thatcher period.
- They also wished to grant devolution to Scotland and end the Conservative Party's control of the HOL.
- As a result, Blair's govt was the most radical reforming govt on constitutional matters of any elected in the 20th Century.
- Their reforms included:
- The Human Rights Act 1998
- The creation of the Northen Ireland Assembly in 1998.
- The House of Lords Act 1999 abolished all but 92 hereditary peers' right to sit in the HOL.
- In 1999, the Scottish Parliament and Welsh Assembly was created.
- In 2000, a Greater London Authority was created, which consists of the London Mayor and the Greater London Assembly.
- The Freedom of Information Act 2000
- Increasing use of referendums to approve the devolved bodies.
Reform under Blair and Brown
These reforms set the stage for further reform, such as the SNP bid for independence in 2014.
In addition, the HRA has a semi-entrenched status, meaning it can only be changed through special parliamentary procedure.
- The HRA linked the UK's constitution with the European Convention.
- The proposed British Bill of rights will restore sovereignty, on human rights, to Parliament.
The removal of hereditary peers paved the way for replacing the HOL with an alternative (maybe elected) second chamber.
Reform under Brown includes:
- The Prime Minister's right to declare to war was reformed, by making it Parliament;s right to be consulted before a major military operation became, by a constitutional convention.
- E.g. David Cameron had to consult the the HOC before approving the Syrian Air Strikes.
Criticisms of reform under Blair and Brown
On the other hand, the reforms under Blair and Brown have been criticised:
- Enthusiasm for reform quicklyfaded because Labour didn't want to throw their decisive support away.
- For example, Labour did not want to hold the proposed referendum on the alternative vote.
- In addition, the further reform on HOL did not happen.
- These particular issues that was not reformed, showed that there was a lack of real reform as to where power lays.
As there were no official rules on how to form a coalition, Cabinet Secretary of 2010, Gus O'Donnell wrote a work of authority which set presidence for future coalitions govts:
- This showed a major area of constitutional reform.
- Therefore, the coalition had an impact on introducing constitutional reform:
- Government formation
- Collective responsibility
- The Obligations of the HOL.
The key developments during the Coalition Govt
The key developments took place in the following areas:
- Government formation.
- This is where the way things occured is likely to become a blueprint for future coalitions (should they form).
- Collective responsibility and 'agreements to differ':
- This constitutional convention of collective responsibility meant that Nick Clegg and Cameron had to agree, or agree to disagree.
- E.g. This was not seen when Danny Alexander, Lib Dem MP, produced his own budget after Osborne did.
- 'Agreements to differ' is seen in the EU referendum where MPs have been allowed to campaign how they like.
- The obligations of the House of Lords:
- The Salisbury convention can work under a coalition because the Lords' Select Committee, on the constitution recommended that the Coalition's Programme for Govt (2010) should not be treaqted as a manifesto.
Reforms under the Coalition Govt
In the Conservative-Liberal coalition, reform was on the agenda for the Liberal Democracts as they are a third party:
- They wanted to check the govt's [pwer and uphold individual liberties.
- The key areas of reform under the Coalition includes:
- The Fixed term Parliaments Act
- Reform of the Westminster electoral system (AV referendum: majority no vote)
- The HOL reform
- Bill of rights and the judiciary.
- However, even though the Conservatives supported some reform, bitter disagreements were created, which ensured that there was much less progress in reform.
Reforms under the Coalition Govt Part 2
Reforms under Cameron and Clegg also include:
- Public Initiated bills:
- This would give the people the ability to give an issue for debate in Parliament.
- This is done through e-petitions.
- E.g. A petition was made to ban Donald Trump from the UK, which recieved 246,000 signatures.
- Public Reading Stage:
- This was to be introduced for bills, to give the public a chance to express their opinions on proposed legislation online.
- However, only a handful of pilot public readings were introduced during the 2010-2015 Parliament, and this reform ended.