On Monday, I chaired a meeting of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on the Constitution. The speakers were Professor Dawn Oliver, of University College London, and Jack Simson Caird, of Queen Mary College, addressing their report, published by the Constitution Unit, on The Constitutional Standards of the House of Lords Select Committee on the Constitution. (You can read the report here.) The report draws together the constitutional standards advanced by the Committee in the 149 reports it has published since it was established in 2001. The standards are grouped thematically, encompassing for example the rule of law, separation of powers, and individual rights.
There was a valuable discussion as to how to utilise the research. The Political and Constitutional Reform Committee in the Commons has made the case for a Code of Legislative Standards, but the standards proposed are essentially to do with process. This report deals with constitutional principles and provides not only a useful document for the Constitution Committee in examining Bills (and reporting to the House when a Bill meets the two P’s test – affecting a principal part of the Constitution and raising an issue of principle), but also for Government in drafting Bills. It can serve as a useful discipline, enabling Government to avoid provisions that breach the standards already advanced by the Committee.
If the Government are not minded to accept what is in effect a code of constitutional standards, then there is nothing to stop the House endorsing it as a code. I was the first Chairman of the Constitution Committee and the Committee has gone from strength to strength since, being especially influential in the current Parliament. This report is not only a testimony to its work over the past thirteen years, but a valuable basis for ensuring that the standards developed by the Committee are recognised and utilised in the scrutiny of public legislation.