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Constitutional Issues and the Case for a UK-wide Constitutional Convention

Published Thursday, December 6, 2018

This House of Lords Library briefing has been prepared in advance of the debate in the House of Lords on the motion scheduled to be moved by Lord Foulkes of Cumnock (Labour) on the “current constitutional challenges within the United Kingdom and the case for the establishment of a UK-wide constitutional convention to address issues of democratic accountability and devolution, particularly in England”.

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On 13 December 2018, the House of Lords is scheduled to debate a motion moved by Lord Foulkes of Cumnock (Labour) on the “current constitutional challenges within the United Kingdom and the case for the establishment of a UK-wide constitutional convention to address issues of democratic accountability and devolution, particularly in England”.

There have been significant changes within the UK’s uncodified constitution over the past twenty years. These have included: devolution settlements, the passage of the Human Rights Act 1998; reforms to the House of Lords; the establishment of the Supreme Court; the introduction of fixed-term parliaments; and new ‘English Votes for English Laws’ (EVEL) procedures in the House of Commons. Of these changes, the devolution settlements in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland have perhaps had the highest profile.

However, there is general agreement that constitutional changes, including the devolution of powers within the UK, have been enacted on a ‘piecemeal’ basis, rather than as part of a comprehensive or fully coherent plan of constitutional reform. In addition, while devolution has been extended to Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, England has continued to be largely administered by the UK Government at Westminster. The implications of this asymmetry have been the subject of ongoing debate, and increasingly so in terms of the so-called ‘English Question’.

Calls for a convention to consider constitutional issues in the round were made following the Scottish independence referendum in 2014 and have continued since the UK-wide referendum to leave the European Union in 2016. Consideration has also been given to the future of intergovernmental relations within the UK in this context. At the 2017 general election, both Labour and the Liberal Democrats called for such an exercise to take place. However, a constitutional convention could take a number of forms and academic commentators have written about the issues that should be considered to ensure such an endeavour would be effective. This briefing summarises the findings and recommendations of relevant reports that have looked at these issues, before summarising examples of parliamentary committee reports that have examined some prominent constitutional questions. It concludes with a selection of recommended reading on different constitutional challenges, and constitutional conventions, for further information on this complex subject.

Lords Library notes LLN-2018-0138

Author: Thomas Brown

Topics: Constitution, Devolution

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The House of Lords Library delivers research and information services to Members and staff of the House in support of parliamentary business.