The Process of Constitutional Change - Constitution Committee Contents


The constitution is the foundation upon which law and government are built. Yet the United Kingdom has no agreed process for constitutional change. We do not accept that the government should be able to pick and choose which processes to apply when proposing significant constitutional change. We therefore recommend in this report the adoption of a clear and consistent process. Our recommendations are not intended to restrict the government's right to initiate constitutional change, but to hold ministers to account for their decisions.

We regard it as essential that, prior to the introduction of a bill which provides for significant constitutional change, the government:

  •   consider the impact of the proposals upon the existing constitutional arrangements,

  •   subject the proposals to detailed scrutiny in the Cabinet and its committees,

  •   consult widely,
  •   publish green and white papers, and
  •   subject the bill to pre-legislative scrutiny.

We examine these processes in this report, as well as considering the desirability of public engagement and building consensus. We also stress the importance of not rushing parliamentary scrutiny of legislation once introduced into Parliament and of conducting comprehensive post-legislative scrutiny of significant constitutional legislation once passed.

We recommend that the minister responsible for a significant constitutional bill in each House set out the processes to which a bill has been subjected in a written ministerial statement. The processes which we recommend are intended to form a comprehensive package from which the government should depart only in exceptional circumstances and where there are clearly justifiable reasons for so doing. Our proposals will, if accepted, focus the minds of ministers and help to bring about a cultural change in Whitehall regarding constitutional legislation. We believe that our approach is pragmatic and achievable, enabling the flexibility of the United Kingdom's current constitutional arrangements to be retained whilst enhancing and underpinning those arrangements.

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