Debating the constitution

Lord Norton

_42544443_lords_bbc203The debate on Lord Tyler’s motion to call attention to legislative proposals for constitutional renewal – mentioned in his earlier post – can be read here.

In my speech, I argued that the current crisis of confidence was in the political class and not in our basic constitutional structures.   The focus should therefore be on rules – standard-setting rules – rather than structures.   We should focus in the remainder of the Parliament on making changes within, and not to, our basic constitutional arrangements.  Any major constitutional change is for later Parliaments and not for the fag-end of this one.   I argued the case for a commission on the constitution, or something similar, in order to make sense of where we are.  We have had a raft of disparate and discrete constitutional changes which, collectively, have had a major impact on our constitution but which derive from no clear coherent view of constitutional change.  We need to make sense of those changes before embarking on more and creating a somewhat mis-shapen constitution. 

Lord McNally thought that there was no need for further reflection, given that we had already had lengthy debates on such issues as electoral reform and reform of the Lords.  This rather missed the point I was making.   There is indeed much literature on electoral reform.  There is a great deal on reform of the Lords.  There is very little on the constitution.  That is the essential point. 

I also invited the minister to tell us what the philosophy was underpinning the Government’s constitutional changes and Wednesday’s statement.   In reminding us of what we had been told the day before, he clearly had one of those absent-minded moments and forgot to tell us.  It is something we will have to work out for ourselves.

2 comments for “Debating the constitution

  1. Croft
    13/06/2009 at 10:14 am

    I found some of the arguments puzzling at best. Particularly Lord Maclennan of Rogart’s belief ‘Many people felt that the arrangements for scrutiny and decision-making on the war in Iraq were 18th century at best, which accounted in no small measure for the division of the public over that major, central issue.’ Like wise Lord Lester of Herne Hill’s remarks about drawing lessons from a near 40 year old commission on the constitution.

    I can’t help but sense a tremendous dusting off of long forgotten plans for any and every constitutional change that happened to catch a members interest and is now being proposed and the solution to the present problems. That these pet projects may or may not have any support from the public or undo recent political damage doesn’t seem to be of real concern. Parliament is rather too good at talking to itself on these matters and then intermittently moaning that the public isn’t engaged enough with the political process 🙄

  2. 15/06/2009 at 6:38 pm

    I agree.

    I’ve argued at length elsewhere that constitutional radicals must not be allowed to hijack this debate. The waters are being deliberately muddied by proponents of a radical reforming agenda that goes far beyond anything justified by this crisis.

    What we need is a precise, targeted package of reforms. What we are being presented with is a glut of hurried, ill-conceived, crowd-pleasing measures. Each element carefully selected for pure partisan advantage. It is not the unelected second chamber that is at the root of the disconnect between people and parliament. Nor is it the first past the post voting system, nor is it the monarchy or any of the other targets of Labour’s newfound reforming zeal.

    We need a set of decentralising measures, mechanisms to shift the balance of power away from the centre and the executive towards parliament and the people. This means renewing and revitalising the legislature. It means an end to the reliance on statutory instruments. It means more time for debate. It means a more robust committee system. It does not mean abolishing the monarchy, abolishing the Upper House or any of the other radical reforming mechanisms trotted out by this discredited government.

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