The Constitution UK (Debates on Further reform (Devolution: Has modified…
The Constitution UK
Debates on Further reform
Devolution: Has modified UKs heavily centralised constitution. Has helped to end violence in Northern Ireland. On the other hand Scottish independence which was rejected in 2014 has been revived by Brexit. The devolution settlement thus far is uneven in the way it applies to the component parts of the UK. A federal solution would create greater uniformity.
Electoral reform:Electoral reform has produce more proportional results in Scottish parliament, else assembly and NI assembly. The rejection of AV in the 2011 referendum indicates that there is no public appetite for the extension of reform to Westminster. FPTP delivers strong gov with clear mandate. Although under-representation of smaller parties occurs
HOL reform: We now have an upper house based more on merit and experience. Its greater assertiveness in holding the gov to account is argument for keeping it the same. Elected chamber would mirror commons, producing a house of professional politicians and reducing expertise. However lacks democratic legitimacy.
The Human Rights Act: the 1998 act Brough uk in line with other European states. Protects citizens rights without threatening parliamentary sovereignty. As the act is not entrenched, the gov can modify the way it operates when required, e.g control orders 2005. However there is a case for strengthening act as gov can take away important liberties with parliamentary majority.
Conservative critics would like t see it replaced with British bill of rights which would make the Supreme Court final judge.
Current settlement protects rights of citizens and recognises the desire for autonomy in the component parts of UK. At the same time enables the election of strong governments.
lack of clear agreement on the form that further change should take.
In many respects current settlement is incomplete and illogical. UK is out of step with other countries due to unelected house and voting system that is imperfect.
The role and powers of devolved bodies in the UK
Devolution in England:
Local government in England has undergone several reorganisations since the late victorian period.
From 1965 London,the west midland, south yorkshire, West Yorkshire,tyne and wear, greater Manchester and merseyside all had single authorities.These were abolished by Thatcher in 1986 as they gained a reputation for high spending.
Blair aimed to create a democratically elected strategic authority for the capital which became the London mayor and greater London assembly in 2000. They oversea policing, transport and economic development. 16 urban areas had followed by 2015.
The Blair Government also Tried to extend regional decision making. However this idea was heavily defeated with a 78% no vote in a referendum in the North east.
There has been discussion of an English parliament however there is little public support of this. There is evidence that English national identity is strengthening. However this has yet to translate in to serious political demand for an English parliament.
The Scottish parliament and government were set up in Edinburgh in 1999. The parliament consists of 129 MSPs, elected every year using the additional member system. It scrutinises the work of the Scottish government. The government devises and implements policy on Scotland and proposes a budget to parliament.
Scottish parliament can also vary income tax by 3p above and below the uk rate. And can make social policy e.g no university tuition fees.
The Scottish referendum and the establishment of the Smith commission granted new powers such as controlling over air passenger duty, licensing of offshore oil and welfare benefits.
The welsh assembly and Government:
Assembly members are elected by the additional member system. Small with only 60 member.
They hold the welsh government accountable.
unlike Scotland police and justice have not been devolved.
Northern Ireland assembly and executive:
-Devolution was established following the 1998 good Friday agreement.
-The creation of power sharing executive with both unionists and nationalists have representation. The assembly has been suspended multiple times. Voted in by STV.
How the Constitution has changed since 1997
Pressure for reform in the 1990s:
Demands for modernisation: Tony Blairs New Labour Party was sympathetic to the idea of constitutional reform as part of its plan to modernise British institutions. New labour was more open to demands from pressure groups such as charter 88 who wanted more democracy and stronger citizens rights.
The experience of conservative rule, 1978-97: The conservative governments had refused to undertake constitutional reforms. This had helped to build up pressure for change, especially in Scotland, where the population felt ignored by a distant London government.
Changes under labour 1997-2010: Focused on 5 major areas of reform
House of Lords Reform: When the Labour Gov took office in 1997, the house of lords was dominated by hereditary peers who owed their titles to inheritance. Gov ended the right of all but 92 of the peers to sit in the lords. This reduced conservative influence as most lords were conservative leaning. Most of the peers were now supposed to be more modern with more applicable backgrounds in the armed forces or arts. N o political party no had a dominant position in the lords.
Electoral reform: Various forms of proportional representation were introduced for elections to the Scottish parliament. welsh assembly,northern Ireland assembly and European parliament. Although there were inquests into the current representation system for Westminster no action was taken as labour had won crushingly under the current system.
Devolution: Devolved bodies were created for Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland following referendums in 1997-98. This created the 'west Lothian question' of why English mps couldn't vote on Scottish issues but Scottish mps could vote on English issues. As well as this the Barnett formula meant hat Scotland, Wales and NI received more funding per head than England.
The Human Rights Act: This act incorporate the European Convention on human rights not the UK statute law, enshrining rights such as fair trial freedom from slavery and degrading treatment and respect for privacy. All future legislation and to be compatible with ECHR. however the untrenched nature of this was highlighted in 2005 when the authorities were allowed to limit the freedom of movement of suspected terrorists.
The creation of the Supreme Court: the 2005 constitutional reform act led to the establishment, four years later, of a Supreme Court as the highest court of appeal in the UK for civil cases, and for criminal cases. Previously senior judges known as the law lords, sitting gin the House of Lords, had performed this function.
Reforms under the coalition (2010-15) and the conservative government:
Both parties were open to further devolution and a wholly elected HOL
However areas of disagreement were:
Plans for a mainly elected HOL were dropped after a rebellion by 91 backbench Conservative MPs. The liberal democrats, who were the more committed of the two parties retaliated by blocking the implementation of legislation designed to reduce number of MPs to 600. A move which would have benefited the conservatives.
They also disagreed on electoral reform. A referenda was held in May 2011, with the two parties taking up entrenched positions: the Conservatives campaigned strongly to retain FPTP, whereas the Lib Dems argued for AV however this was rejected by 68% of of voters.
The conservatives wanted to replace the Human rights acts with a British bill of rights whereas the liberal Dems wanted to retain the act.
The most significant changes were:
Devolution: a referendum was held in Wales in march 2011 which resulted in the assembly receiving direct law making power.
The Scottish parliament received more powers under the 2012 Scotland act and tried to gain independence in 2014
Evel was introduced which meant that only English (or welsh) mps could vote about English issues (or welsh and English)
The fixed term parliaments act (2011): This ended the prime ministers historic power to choose the date of a general election. This benefited the coalition as it meant the government had a guaranteed period in which to implement their programme free from speculation about the date of the next election
Reform of the House of commons: Chairs of select committees where chosen by MPs rather than party leaders.
-The recall of Mps act (2015): this means that if an mp faces custodial sentences or is suspended their constituents may remove them.
Development Nature and sources of the constitution
The development of the constitution
Overall effect of developments in the uk political system dating back several centuries are:
-reduce the powers of the monarchy and extend to parliament
-increase the rights and freedoms of the ordinary citizens
-draw together the component parts of the united kingdom
-increase the power of the elected house of commons at the expense of the house of lords
-define the ups relationship with institutions that later evolved into eu
1215 Magna carter : no one should be deprived of liberty or property
-1689 Bill of rights: - regular parliaments - free elections - freedom of speech
-1911,1949: 1911 act affirmed lords could not delay money bills, 1949 reduced this delaying period to one year.
Nature of the UK constitution:
it is unmodified: there is no single legal code or document in which its key principles are gathered together.
-it is unentrenched: it can be altered relatively easily, by a simple majority vote in parliament therefore it is very flexible.
it is unitary: sovereignty has traditionally been located at the centre with Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales being run from London .
The twin pillars of the UK constitution:
Parliamentary sovereignty: 1. No parliament can bind its successor, parliament can repeal or amend any acts previously passed.
Legislation passed by parliament cannot be struck down by a higher body such as a constitutional court, Supreme Court can only interpret but not overturn legislation.
Parliament can make a law on any subject e.g social changes on homosexuality laws and abortion laws in the 1960s
The Rule of Law: 1.This is the main way that the rights and liberties of citizens are protected.
Under the rule of law everyone is entitled to a fair trial, all citizens must obey the law, public officials are not above the law and the judiciary must be independent of political interference.
Five main sources of the UK constitution:
Statute law: Is the body of law passed by parliament.Not all laws are constitutional, only those that affect the nature of the political system and citizens' rights. It is the most important source as it is underpinned by parliamentary sovereignty. Examples include the 1998 Scotland act which created devolved legislative bodies who took some of Westminsters powers.
2.Common Law: Legal principles laid down by judges in their rulings in court cases, which provide precedents for later judgements. Important in cases where it is not clear how statue law should applied. Example is the presumption that a person accused of a crime is innocent until proven guilty.
3.Conventions: customs and practices that do not have legal force, but which have broadly been accepted. For example after the Iraq war it was widely acknowledged that military action would no longer be undertaken without parliamentary approval.
Authoritative works: textbooks that explain the working of the political system.
Treaties: agreements with other EU members, arguably the most important was the Maastricht treaty of 1992 which transformed the European community into the EU.