Lords reform: the problem of piecemeal constitutional amendment

Andrew Blick

How far is it possible to carry out piecemeal reform of a constitution when we do not know and cannot agree on the rules governing such amendment, and are not even clear about the nature of the constitution in question?

In most democracies – that is to say, in the overwhelming majority that have written constitutions – the main rules of governance are set out in a single document or set of interlinked documents (though how well they perform this task can vary). This text also includes certain requirements that must be fulfilled – such as legislative supermajorities and/or assent by the electorate through referendums – if it is to be amended.

In the UK – famously – we have no such provisions. The constitution is scattered across various Acts of Parliament, codes, judicial decisions and unwritten (and often contested) understandings. Alterations to it can be carried out in a wide variety of ways. Sometimes a referendum is deemed necessary; sometimes it happens with few outside the government knowing it has occurred. No clear, consistent system exists. Continue reading

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