Constitutional change

I promised I would provide summaries of the forthcoming publications I listed in my earlier post.  As I explained, I am editing a special issue of the journal Parliamentary History on the subject of ‘A century of constitutional change’, examining key constitutional measures enacted since (and including) the Parliament Act 1911.    Space meant only a few measures could be covered.  In my introduction, I seek to provide an overview of the century.  This is the abstract:

“With the United Kingdom lacking a codified constitution, there has been no extraordinary formal mechanism for amending the provisions of the constitution.  Change has been achieved through parliament.  The century since the passage of the Parliament Act 1911 has witnessed significant constitutional change.  The measures enacted have affected basic relationships at the heart of the nation’s constitutional arrangements: those between the two chambers of parliament, between parliament and the people, between the state and the individual, between the UK and the rest of the world, and between the centre and the rest of the UK.  The measures enacted prior to 1997 were essentially individual statutes produced in response to particular challenges.  The period since 1997 has seen proactive and extensive legislation, changing substantially the contours of the constitution.  Despite the scale of the change, the measures have been disparate and discrete and not generated within a coherent philosophical framework.  Although achieving their principal goals, not all have had the effects intended.  This volume treats some of the key measures enacted in this period.”


About Lord Norton

Professor of Government at Hull University, and Member of the House of Lords
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6 Responses to Constitutional change

  1. djb13 says:

    You seem critical of the lack of philosophical framework. Would you welcome a constitutional convention, if so, of whom?

    • Lord Norton says:

      djb13: Not a convention, not least since conventions are practices that develop and become conventions. They are not the means for providing a philosophical framework. I adhere to a particular philosophical approach, but not one that leads to radical constitutional change. If you are going to engage in radical change, it would at least be helpful to know where you think you are going.

      • djb13 says:

        Perhaps I misworded that. Constitutional Convention in the ‘capital c’ sense. In other words, starting our constitution again, working up from basic principles, then developing a constitution in line with those principles. Would you welcome a Constitutional Convention in that sense, and if so, who should serve on it (an elected elite, appointed constitutional experts, a random selection of citizens, etc.)? I’m asking this separately to your views on codification (which I’m aware of), so let’s just play a thought experiment in which it’s possible to hold a Constitutional Convention, yet retain an unwritten constitution.

        I ask, because it seems there’s an odd contradiction, which is most unlike your thinking (that is to say, whilst I might disagree with you, your thinking is always consistant). You seem to prefer piecemeal change (when you do favour change) to radical steps, yet the inevitable result of piecemeal change is that we end up with a constitution that looks like ours – one without a clear philosphical outlook.

      • Lord Norton says:

        djb13: I see. Yes, I have made the case for a Royal Commission, or something similar, not for the purpose of crafting a new constitution but rather for making sense of where we presently are and identifying the key principles that underpin our constitutional arrangements.

        Piecemeal change takes place within the existing constitutional framework, whereas several radical changes at the same time can change the framework. I favour the former.

  2. Carl.H says:

    My Lord would you agree that the last 100 years have also been a blow to the Bill of Rights insomuch that Government and Ministers are now administering fines and forfeitures without the need for Courts ?

    Four MP`s as you know may try still to invoke the Bill of Rights regards parliamentary privilege.

    Is it possible that the Bill of Rights may also be used in cases concerning the DEB ? Or in the case of the Governments new pledge to withdraw benefits ? I noted that Ian Duncan Smith stated that the work for those on benefits will be aimed toward those “THOUGHT” committing fraud in an attempt to stop it. There are also problems with the Jobseekers Act when it comes to this new plan, as the original stated that no man HAD to gain work that wasn`t his usual trade nor was below his normal level of acceptable income. These were put in for very good reason and there is plenty more legal argument against the Governments forthcoming plans.

    • Lord Norton says:

      Carl.H: The Bill of Rights seems to be holding its own. The case in which the former MPs tried to employ it was held by the courts not to apply: the provision exists to protect the freedom of members to express their views freely within the chamber, and as such privilege attaching to proceedings in Parliament exists for the benefit of Parliament rather than the individual members. I would not regard the process of claiming expenses and constituting a proceeding within Parliament.

      On ministers’ actions, they may be able to act within existing legislative powers – usually order-making powers conferred by statute – or can seek such powers through new legislation. The waters are sometimes muddied by ministers (or other public bodies) making defiant noises when courts hold they do not have the power do what they have done or seek to do, but they have to accept the decision of the courts. Sometimes the defiant noises means they plan to appeal to a higher court or it may simply be a letting-off of steam prior to accepting the judgment of the court.

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