Monday, August 03, 2009
We Now Have a new Constitution since 1997 Argues Vernon Bogdanor
Professor Vernon Bogdanor of Oxford University published a book-The New British Constitution- which argues that, in effect Britain had evolved a ‘new’ constitution, in the place of the old one. This famously unwrittren one, of course, was basically quite simple. As parliament was sovereign, acccording to the great 19th century theorist AV Dicey, so the British constitution, says the author, ‘can be summed up in just eight words- what the Queen in Parliament enacts is law.’
Bogdanor goes on however to argue that so many developments have happened since 1997 as to undermine the old certainties and provide an ‘essential prologue’ to an emergent new constitution.
He lists 15 such developments, the most important of which are: the Scotland Act setting up the Scottish Parliament; the Government of Wales Act doing the same thing for the Welsh Assembly; the Northern Ireland Act, like the other two in 1998, providing for devolution in that province; the establishment of an elected mayor for London and a related Assembly; the Human Rights Act affecting all levels of public bodies; PR for European elections in 1998; the House of Lords Act abolishing all but 92 hereditary peerages from the Lords; the Freedom of Information Act, 2000, providing access to government information; the Political Parties and Referendums Act, 2000, regulating parties; and the Constitu-tional Reform Act, 2005, reforming the office of Lord Chancellor and setting up the Supreme Court.
There can be little doubt that Bogdanor is justified in saying that ‘the new constitution is being created before our eyes’ and whatever New Labour might not have achieved, Blair and co will go down as the greeat modernizers of our system of government.
Certainly the pre-1997 settlement has been torn up - whether what we have is a new constitution or just an unstable mess that needs further tidying is another question entirely.
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