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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Talking sense on Lords reform: why the PSA’s new Briefing fills a crucial gap

Stuart Wilks-Heeg

On 19 May 2010, just weeks after the General Election, the new Deputy Prime Minister, Nick Clegg, promised that the incoming coalition government would preside over ‘a wholesale, big bang approach to political reform’, amounting to ‘the biggest shake up of our democracy since 1832’. It scarcely needs pointing out that, following the decisive ‘no’ vote in the AV referendum, the bang very quickly became a whimper, and that the DPM no longer seeks to invoke comparisons with the Great Reform Act of 1832.

Liberal Democrat hopes for major constitutional change now rest with House of Lords reform – a proposition which many commentators assume is not only dead in the water, but also risks holding up other aspects of political reform, such as changes to party funding arrangements.  Meanwhile, proponents of reform ranging from the Electoral Reform Society, to Unlock Democracy and Take Back Parliament are engaged in some much-needed, honest reflection on the lessons to be drawn from the AV referendum and on the future priorities for the reform movement.

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