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Exploring the Constitution

Has constitutional reform produced stability?

There is still no clear means of changing the constitution. It has been accepted that some issues, such as a change in the voting pattern or a new form of government, should be approved in a referendum but not others.  Changes appear to have been often taken for party political purposes. Labour wanted to remove the Conservative majority in the Lords, the Coalition parties wanted to bind each other into a five year Parliament and it has been suggested that legal reform took place in 2005 because Tony Blair wanted to remove Derry Irvine as Lord Chancellor.

Constitutional experts have argued that overall the reforms are not coherent.  Normally constitutions are developed as single documents with the relationships between different parts of the constitution thought out.  Devolution may mean that the different parts of the nation should be reflected in the composition of the House of Lords.  The Human Rights Act conflict with Parliamentary Sovereignty and a compromise had to be worked out.

Many areas that have been reformed are still evolving.  Devolution led to a momentum towards Scottish independence and greater devolution to Scotland will lead to similar demands for Wales.  The settlement in Northern Ireland has needed frequent renegotiation. Greater devolution has revived the West Lothian Question which asks why English issues should be voted on by Welsh and Scottish MPs.  House of Lords reform has not been settled. The way in which judges use the Human Rights Act is still developing.

Disagreements between the parties over the Constitution suggest that further reform is likely.  The parties disagree over the voting system, the means of solving the West Lothian Question, House of Lords reform and the Human Rights Act.

Although power has shifted from Westminster to the Council of Ministers and the European Parliament, to the devolved institutions and to the Judiciary, politicians, and especially Ministers, still behave as if Britain is a centralised state with the Government deciding all issues. A change of political culture is needed to catch up with constitutional changes.  

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