I am still on the continent – I return to Hull late tomorrow. The value of travelling by train is that I am able to get on with a mass of work.
I have been using some of the train journeys to work on the contributions to a special issue of the journal Parliamentary History, which I am editing, on a century of constitutional change. It is being published next year on the centenary of the passage of the Parliament Act 1911. I have had to select six major pieces of legislation of constitutional significance. I have opted for the Parliament Act 1911, the Representation of the People Act 1918, the European Communities Act 1972, the Human Rights Act 1998, the Scotland Act 1998, and the House of Lords Act 1999. There were several other candidates for inclusion, but these struck me as the most appropriate for analysis.
There are some interesting points to note about the legislation. One notable feature is that few Bills of constitutional import were the subject of a political consensus. The norm was for the Bill to be contested. Another obvious feature is the concentration of measures in the period since 1997. For much of the twentieth century, the constitution was not a subject of political debate and relatively few major constitutional measures were enacted. There were some in the period from 1918 to 1997, but in terms of concentration they were overshadowed by the Acts that have been passed since 1997. We may of course be seeing others enacted in this Parliament.
Another notable feature is that the measures enacted, and planned, since 1997 do not obviously derive from any intellectually coherent approach to constitutional change. The Labour Government pursued measures that were essentially disparate and discrete, each justified on its own terms and not deriving from an over-arching theory. When I initiated a debate in the Lords on constitutional change, the then Lord Chancellor, Lord Irvine of Lairg, conceded there was no such theory. The coalition government is now pursuing measures agreed by parties that have very different approaches to constitutional change. I have just completed a paper (to be published next year) on the Conservative view of democracy. The constitutional measures embodied in the coalition agreement are compromises that derive from no clear philosophy.