A new Magna Carta? - Political and Constitutional Reform Contents

Illustrative blueprints

10. The three blueprints that Professor Blackburn has produced can be summarised as follows:

·  A Constitutional Code: this would be a document sanctioned by Parliament, but without statutory authority, and which would set out the essential existing elements and principles of the constitution and the workings of government.

·  A Constitutional Consolidation Act: this would be a consolidation of existing laws of a constitutional nature in statute, the common law and parliamentary practice, together with a codification of essential constitutional conventions.

·  Written Constitution: this would be a document of basic law by which the United Kingdom would be governed, setting out the relationship between the state and its citizens, an amendment procedure and elements of reform.

11. There are advantages and disadvantages to the United Kingdom's currently uncodified constitution, and these arguments are explored in the papers by King's College London. We wish to be absolutely clear that we are not in this report endorsing one view or the other. Our intention is to generate a forward-looking debate, alongside the Magna Carta 800th anniversary celebrations, by placing in the public domain the results of a unique four-year research project. Like Professor Blackburn, we believe that a consideration of detailed alternative models showing how a constitution might be designed and drafted will inform and advance the debate on the desirability, or not, of codifying the constitution in one place.[4] Our aim has been to ensure that, if and when a decision is taken to make progress on this issue, a thoroughly scrutinised and properly devised plan is already in place to achieve a successful outcome.

12. We wish also to be very clear that although the third blueprint—the Written Constitution—includes some changes to the United Kingdom's current constitutional arrangements, we are not in any way endorsing or recommending these specific changes. They are simply one example of how a written constitution could take shape and we encourage participants to rewrite parts or the whole of their favoured option, or submit a rousing, lyrical introduction or preamble to their preference.

13. The blueprints could be regarded as standalone documents, in the sense that each is an example of a particular approach to codifying the constitution, or, as Professor Blackburn states, they could be studied as "three stages or building blocks to go through in the process of working towards a written constitution of the UK—identifying the basic principles and elements of government and the constitution; establishing the detailed content and boundaries of existing constitutional law as expressed in statute, the common law, parliamentary practice, and convention; then preparing a modern documentary constitution of fundamental law that binds the working of the state and its relationship with its citizens."[5]

14. Select Committees normally address their recommendations to Government, but we hope that the leaders of all political parties in the United Kingdom, politicians from local and central government, academics, think tanks, and other organisations, read the research and take part in the discussion. Above all, we hope that the public, including school and university students, seize this unique opportunity for the nation to debate the future of our democracy. The constitution, written or not, should belong to the people of the United Kingdom. The research we are publishing will enable a large number of people to access a comprehensive source of information about the form, if any, a codified constitution could take. We will also produce popular guides to the research for the lay reader and others.

15. At a time of declining membership of political parties and public disillusionment with the political establishment, it is a good moment to return to fundamentals. There are few things more fundamental than the arrangements that determine how the state operates and exercises power in a democracy, and how it interacts with the people. We want people to discuss the blueprints and to decide for themselves whether there is a need for a new Magna Carta for the 21st Century and beyond. No constitution is a panacea but it should be the framework that supports our democracy. Our intention is for the work we are publishing to prove a source of inspiration to all who are interested in how the United Kingdom is governed in the future. What should the next 800 years look like?

16. We are holding a consultation on the options we are publishing with this report. We ask anyone who is interested in the future of the United Kingdom's constitution to send us their views on the questions below:

·  Does the UK need a codified constitution?

·  If so, which of the three options offers the best way forward?

·  What needs to be included in/excluded from your favoured option if you have one?

Comments can be emailed to pcrc@parliament.uk or sent by post to the Political and Constitutional Reform Select Committee, House of Commons, London, SW1A 0AA. The consultation closes on 1 January 2015. We will then report on the responses from the public in time for them to be taken into account ahead of the general election.

4   Professor Robert Blackburn, Centre for Political and Constitutional Studies, King's College London, Introduction to the Three Illustrative Blueprints, Appendix, p 29 Back

5   Professor Robert Blackburn, Centre for Political and Constitutional Studies, King's College London, Introduction to the Three Illustrative Blueprints, Appendix, p 29 Back

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Prepared 10 July 2014