1 Consulting on A
new Magna Carta?|
1. On 10 July 2014 the Political and Constitutional
Reform Committee of the House of Commons launched a broad consultation
on the question of codification of the United Kingdom's constitution.
We published three illustrative blueprints for a codified constitutiona
Constitutional Code, a Constitutional Consolidation Act and a
written constitutionprepared for us by the Centre for Political
and Constitutional Studies at King's College London, and framed
our consultation around three questions:
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
2. We said that the initial consultation would close
on 1 January 2015.The level of public involvement in this consultation
has been unprecedented for this Committee, with over 3,000 separate
interactions with the Select Committee. We report below on the
conduct of the consultation and the activities organised to promote
the Committee's work, and on a number of themes which have emerged
from the responses to our consultation. We do not intend discussion
of constitutional proposals to end here, and we have proposed
a draft accessible summary of the UK's constitution, with illustrative
options for reform, to inform continuing debate on codifying our
democratic settlement throughout the General Election campaign,
the Magna Carta anniversary year and beyond.
3. The Political and Constitutional Reform Committee
was established by the House of Commons in June 2010 with a remit
to consider political and constitutional reform. The proposal
by the coalition Government to establish fixed-term parliaments
of five years, enacted in the Fixed-term Parliaments Act 2011,
gave the Committee the freedom to plan a programme of work more
expansive in scope than select committees before 2010 had generally
been able to contemplate.
4. In September 2010 the Committee, in a unique innovation,
accepted a proposal from asked the Centre for Political and Constitutional
Studies at King's College London to collaborate on an inquiry
entitled Mapping the path to codifyingor not codifyingthe
UK's Constitution. At our request the Centre for Political
and Constitutional Studies, under the direction of Professor Robert
Blackburn, produced a series of research papers for the Committee,
including a literature review and a comparative study of 23 international
examples of constitutional codification. The last of these research
papers, prepared to inform the Committee's inquiry and the policy
debate on constitutional codification more widely, was delivered
to the Committee in June 2014 and published as an appendix to
the Committee's report entitled A new Magna Carta? The
paper contained a number of elements:
chapter setting out arguments for and against a codified constitution
· a chapter setting
out the process that could be adopted in the preparation, design
and implementation of a codified constitution
· three illustrative
blueprintsa Constitutional Code, a Constitutional Consolidation
Act, and a written constitutionwhich indicate how a codified
constitution for the UK could take shape.
5. We published the paper to inform debate on constitutional
codification as the 800th anniversary of Magna Carta and the 2015
General Election approached: as our report stated, "what
we are publishing now represents the most comprehensive attempt
so far to provide different detailed models of a codified constitution
for comparison and consideration". We hope that this consciously
large document of 423 pages continues to act as a resource for
all politicians and electors who have an interest in codification
of the UK's democratic arrangements.
6. We made clear in our report that we did not endorse
one view or the other in the debate on codification: the three
models of codification were published to inform and advance the
debate on the desirability or otherwise of codification. Our stated
aim was "to ensure that, if and when a decision is taken
to make progress [on constitutional codification], a thoroughly
scrutinised and properly devised plan is already in place to achieve
a successful outcome."
7. We also made clear that, although the written
constitution blueprint included some illustrative elements of
constitutional reform, we did not endorse or recommend these specific
changes: they had been included in the blueprint as "one
example of how a written constitution could take shape".
8. In opening the consultation, we expressed the
hope that "the leaders of all political parties in the United
Kingdom, politicians from local and central government, academics,
think tanks, and other organisations, [would] read the research
and take part in the discussion".
We went on to say that:
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.
Activities to promote the consultation
Seminars and conferences
9. In addition to inviting comments on the exercise
from as broad a range of participants as possible, we arranged
expert seminars to discuss some of the key features of the proposals
for codification, and in particular the blueprint for a written
constitution. These took place as follows:
powers (30 October 2014)
government (19 November 2014)
House of Lords (26 November 2014)
judiciary (3 December 2014).
10. In addition, issues of constitutional codification
were discussed at seminars on the Committee's visits to Edinburgh
(16 October 2014), Cardiff (3 December 2014) and Belfast (8 January
2015). We are very grateful indeed to all those who participated
in expert seminars to discuss the blueprints for constitutional
codification which we have published.
11. We held an all-day conference on A new Magna
Carta? A constitution for the 21st century in Portcullis
House on 11 December 2014. Some 80 people attended, including
Members and staff of both Houses, academics and researchers, writers
and campaigners on constitutional issues and barristers practising
in constitutional law. Four panels of speakers addressed the conference,
covering subjects such as the prospects for constitutional reform
in 2015, how democratic principles could be reflected in a written
constitution, what type of body could prepare a written constitution
for the UK and what constitutional changes could engage the public
in politics. We are grateful to the Centre for Political and Constitutional
Studies at King's College London for providing support for the
event, and to the Institute for Public Policy Research for assistance
in publicising the conference more widely. A transcript of the
conference proceedings is published as an appendix to this Report.
12. The Parliamentary Outreach service was an active
partner in promoting the consultation at its regional events,
and used its local networks and its connections with university
faculties to raise awareness of the consultation. We thank Parliamentary
Outreach for its support for our consultation, which we hold up
as a model for collaboration between select committee and outreach
OTHER CONSULTATION ACTIVITIES
13. The consultation required dedicated work to engage
directly with members of the public and to encourage participation
in the consultation through a number of channels other than the
traditional call for evidence and consideration of long-form written
submissions. Committee staff devised further channels for members
of the public to give their views on the issues on which the Committee
was consulting. Attendees at a Parliament Week event for young
people addressed by the Chair were invited to complete an online
questionnaire about some of the issues raised by proposals for
constitutional codification. A further questionnaire on codification
issues, promoted through Parliamentary Outreach and on social
media, received over 440 responses.
14. Interested third parties organised events to
discuss the proposals and to seek further views from members of
the public. Unlock Democracy, which campaigns on constitutional
issues, ran an online survey on issues raised in the Committee's
consultation, and received over 2,100 responses.
15. The Committee also ran an online competition
to find a suitable preamble for a future written constitution.
Prizes were awarded in two categories: the best preamble submitted
by a member of the public, and the best preamble submitted by
someone under 18. The winner in the public category was Richard
Elliott, while the joint winners in the under-18 category were
Harrison Engler and Jake Kennedy. The winning entries are reproduced
at Appendix 1 to this Report. We congratulate all those who submitted
entries to the competition.
USE OF SOCIAL MEDIA
16. Social media was an important channel for promotion
of the consultation, and Committee staff used #UKconstitution
to promote the conversation across social media platforms. Wherever
possible this campaigning activity was linked to other relevant
Parliamentary activity, for example the events of Parliament Week
(14-20 November 2014).
Twitter and Facebook
17. Over five weeks Committee staff encouraged engagement
by asking questions relevant to the issues under discussion from
the Committee's Twitter account. These tweets were cross-promoted
through the Parliamentary Outreach and UK Parliament Twitter accounts
and were also targeted at specific interest groups and networks.
The Chair held a Twitter chat on relevant issues during Parliament
Week. The consultation was also promoted on the UK Parliament
Buzzfeed and Storify
18. To follow up the 'In the House' event during
Parliament Week, Committee staff created a Buzzfeed community
post using photographs of participants at the event giving their
views on "What our democracy needs".
Committee staff published a storify of the Chair's Twitter chat
during Parliament Week and also produced a storify of the 11 December
conference to highlight the topics covered and points made by
Responses and levels of engagement
Written submissions from individuals and organisations
19. By the end of January 2015 the Committee had
received and accepted for publication 161 long-form submissions.
Of these responses, 143 were from individuals and 28 from organisations.
Organisations submitting evidence included Unlock Democracy, Republic,
the Law Society of Scotland, solace, the Convention of Scottish
Local Authorities, the Constitution Society, the Better Government
Initiative, the National Secular Society and the Institute of
Local Government Studies (INLOGOV) at the University of Birmingham.
20. Among the individual responses we received were
contributions from a former Foreign Secretary, a former First
Parliamentary Counsel and a number of leading academics in the
field of politics and constitutional law. While the breadth of
experience and knowledge represented in these submissions is highly
valuable, we were also pleased to receive responses from members
of the public prompted to respond because of their interest in
the issue, their concern at the present state of the uncodified
constitution or their concern to preserve the present uncodified
nature of the constitution.
Responses from schools and universities
21. The Committee particularly encouraged schools
and universities to participate in the consultation, and the Parliamentary
Outreach service assisted us in promoting engagement with the
exercise. Several universities participated, in a variety of ways.
Students on politics courses at the University of Manchester and
Cumbria University drafted submissions as part of their course
assignments. A number of universities facilitated joint submissions:
students on political science courses and law courses at Manchester
Metropolitan University, the University of Greenwich, Northumbria
University, the University of Liverpool, Lincoln University and
Canterbury Christ Church University all contributed to joint submissions
from those institutions. Students of the Law School and the School
of Politics at the University of Hull organised a constitutional
symposium for lecturers and students to respond to the issues
raised by the consultation.
Some 300 first-year students at Birmingham Law School collaborated
in the drafting of over 30 preambles for a written constitution.
In all, over 500 students contributed to joint submissions from
22. The views of several 16-18 year olds were also
reflected in the responses we received. Thirteen sixth formers
at the Sixth Form College, Solihull made a joint submission setting
out a number of elements they would like to see addressed in a
written constitution, while 58 16-18 year olds from schools and
sixth-form colleges in the Runnymede area participated in a deliberative
event organised by Royal Holloway, University of London which
was designed to demonstrate creative ways of using youth engagement
We received a submission from 29 pupils aged 9 and 10 from Year
5 of William Fletcher primary school in Yarnton, Oxfordshire participating
in the Pupils 2 Parliament scheme, and an individual submission
from Finley Sterry, aged 10.
23. We are very encouraged by the willingness of
students to participate in our consultation, and the imaginative
ways in which universities and other educational bodies have facilitated
the participation of many young people in democratic debate over
the future of the UK's constitution.
Responses to surveys and forums
24. As outlined above, Committee staff ran an online
survey via Parliamentary Outreach, asking a number of focused
questions around issues raised in the consultation (e.g. 'Should
the UK have a written constitution?'). The survey was promoted
via Twitter, and received 440 responses from members of the public.
25. Unlock Democracy ran their own survey on questions
related to the consultation, and received over 2,100 responses:
the responses received are summarised in the evidence which Unlock
Democracy has submitted.
26. While it is possible that a number of individuals
who have made a written submission may also have contributed to
the Outreach and Unlock Democracy surveys, a rough estimate is
that over 3,000 individuals have engaged in at least one activity
related to the Committee's consultation.
27. In the year in which the 800th anniversary
of agreement to Magna Carta is commemorated, as well as the 750th
anniversary of the establishment of a representative Parliament
in England, it is right that citizens should not only reflect
on our democratic legacy but also consider the future of our constitutional
arrangements. The consultation has been an exciting and productive
process with very high levels of engagement for a Select Committee
report. This is not only a new benchmark for the way Parliament
can involve the public, but is an important precedent should the
UK ever choose to adopt a written constitution. The aspiration
that such a choice could with new technology involve several million
founding fathers and mothers is eminently realisable. We are very
grateful to all those who have taken the time to respond to our
1 Political and Constitutional Reform Committee, Second
Report of Session 2014-15, A new Magna Carta?, HC 463. Back
A new Magna Carta?, para 11 Back
A new Magna Carta?, para 12 Back
A new Magna Carta?, para 14 Back
A new Magna Carta?, para 14 Back
Unlock Democracy (AMC0154), appendix A Back
The entries to the competition submitted online can be viewed
Throughout the campaign @CommonsPolCon increased its followers
by over 200 users, had 414 retweets and 228 replies. Back
Buzzfeed is a news and entertainment website aimed at the under-35
demographic that uses photographs and short videos to illustrate
points. The post is available at http://www.buzzfeed.com/commonspcrc/13-things-our-democracy-needs-14mep.
This has had over 300 views to date. Back
Storify is a website that allows users to create timelines of
events or stories using numerous people's posts on social media.
The Twitter chat storify is available at https://storify.com/ParliamentWeek/ukconstitution-live-parliament-week-twitter-chat;
the conference storify is available at https://storify.com/commonspcrc/a-new-magna-carta-conference. Back
The written evidence received is listed at pp 116-119 Back
University of Hull (AMC0171) Back
The Sixth Form College, Solihull (AMC0090); Nicholas Allen (AMC0111) Back
Pupils 2 Parliament (AMC0116); Finley Sterry (AMC0115) Back
Unlock Democracy (AMC0154), appendix A Back