Consultation on A new Magna Carta? - Political and Constitutional Reform Contents


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.[1] We published three illustrative blueprints for a codified constitution—a Constitutional Code, a Constitutional Consolidation Act and a written constitution—prepared for us by the Centre for Political and Constitutional Studies at King's College London, and framed our consultation around three questions:

·  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?

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.

Background

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 codifying—or not codifying—the 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:

·  a 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 blueprints—a Constitutional Code, a Constitutional Consolidation Act, and a written constitution—which 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."[2]

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".[3]

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".[4] 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.[5]

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:

·  Executive powers (30 October 2014)

·  Local government (19 November 2014)

·  The House of Lords (26 November 2014)

·  The 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 activity.

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.[6]

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.[7]

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.[8] The Chair held a Twitter chat on relevant issues during Parliament Week. The consultation was also promoted on the UK Parliament Facebook account.

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".[9] 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 those attending.[10]

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.[11] 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.[12] 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 their departments.

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 in decision-making.[13] 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.[14]

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.[15]

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 proposals.


1   Political and Constitutional Reform Committee, Second Report of Session 2014-15, A new Magna Carta?, HC 463. Back

2   A new Magna Carta?, para 11 Back

3   A new Magna Carta?, para 12 Back

4   A new Magna Carta?, para 14 Back

5   A new Magna Carta?, para 14 Back

6   Unlock Democracy (AMC0154), appendix A Back

7   The entries to the competition submitted online can be viewed at http://www.parliament.uk/business/committees/committees-a-z/commons-select/political-and-constitutional-reform-committee/inquiries/parliament-2010/consultation-new-magna-carta/web-forum/  Back

8   Throughout the campaign @CommonsPolCon increased its followers by over 200 users, had 414 retweets and 228 replies. Back

9   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

10   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-conferenceBack

11   The written evidence received is listed at pp 116-119 Back

12   University of Hull (AMC0171) Back

13   The Sixth Form College, Solihull (AMC0090); Nicholas Allen (AMC0111) Back

14   Pupils 2 Parliament (AMC0116); Finley Sterry (AMC0115) Back

15   Unlock Democracy (AMC0154), appendix A Back


 
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Prepared 9 March 2015