Under a written constitution all would have access to the political ‘rulebook’.
Does the UK need a written constitution? Joshua Rozenberg said that he had been writing essays on the subject since his school days. What is different now is that parliament itself is setting the question and asking for your views.
The project on which parliament’s Political and Constitutional Reform Select Committee has been working for the past four years does have a familiar ring to it. During the latter part of the 20th century, there were attempts to produce example constitutions for the UK or suggestions of what such constitutions should contain. Authors include O Hood Phillips QC, Lord Hailsham, Frank Vibert, John Macdonald QC, Tony Benn, the Institute for Public Policy Research, and Richard Gordon QC.
However, this time new technology will allow the possibility of there being millions of founding fathers and mothers.
With the crisis of confidence in British politics, question marks over the ECHR, the rise of anti-political feeling, our over-centralisation, and the stress on the union, it is time to revisit the public’s ownership of its democracy.
Parliament, through my committee, is seeking to start a national conversation – among academics and lawyers, and involving everyone, young and old, who is interested in the future of the UK – about whether a written constitution is necessary and what it should contain. Our constitution is about how the state exercises powers and how it interacts with the people; nothing could be more important.
The main way in which the committee has sought to revitalise the debate is to publish a report called A new Magna Carta? and, with it, the results of a four-year collaborative research project with the Centre for Political and Constitutional Studies at King’s College London, led by Professor Robert Blackburn.
Blackburn has produced three blueprints for the committee, providing examples of what shape a codified constitution for the UK could take. The first is a constitutional code, which would not have statutory force; the second is a consolidation act; and the third is a fully fledged written constitution for the UK.
As Rozenberg said, the committee is very careful not to take a view, but he is also right to say that the committee would not have commissioned a four-year research project if all its members were happy to leave things as they are.
I support a written constitution for the UK. I think everyone should have access to the political ‘rulebook’ – it should be something with which the people of the UK are familiar and of which they are proud. People should know how they are governed. Others will disagree with me – that is fine.
What I want most of all is a proper discussion. The 800th anniversary of Magna Carta is a great opportunity to look back and take stock of our shared history and values, but I don’t want it just to be about looking back. We should celebrate the past, but we shouldn’t live in it. We should be thinking about the future and what we want from the next 800 years.
That is why I would encourage everyone who is reading this article to submit their views to our consultation on whether or not the UK needs a codified constitution.
Rozenberg noted that Blackburn’s third blueprint – the fully fledged written constitution – introduces changes to our current constitutional arrangements. Again, the committee was clear that it was not endorsing these particular changes. If you disagree with them, or you think other changes should be made, let us know. That is one of the points of our consultation.
Unlike Rozenberg, I don’t think codifying the constitution is either unattainable or pointless. Indeed, I believe that the work we have just published demonstrates that codification is an attainable goal, if that is what people want.
- The closing date for submissions is 1 January 2015. The report and research can be viewed here. There is a competition to write the preamble to a new constitution – see Obiter