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Parliament should take the lead on constitutional reform in the UK according to Lord Chancellor

Queen Mary University of London has hosted a major conference exploring the successes and failures of constitutional reform in the UK. Lord Chancellor Rt Hon Robert Buckland QC MP delivered the keynote speech, setting out the delicate balance that is required between institutions as the constitutional system continues to evolve.

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Houses of Parliament. Credit: Pixabay
Houses of Parliament. Credit: Pixabay

The past two decades have seen some of the most far-reaching changes to the UK constitution since universal suffrage. Many of the reforms have been lauded as a successful, and whilst criticism exists, there have been continued debates about the need for further reform.

UK Constitutional Reform: What Has Worked and What Hasn’t?

The conference, comprised 35 speakers from more than six countries, included a number of cabinet ministers from the Blair, Brown, Cameron, May, and Johnson governments.

Speakers included Rt Hon Ruth Kelly, Rt Hon Caroline Flint, Rt Hon Andrea Leadsom, Rt Hon Robert Buckland as well as Chair of Vote Leave Gisela Stuart, Baroness Stuart.

Former Northern Ireland Minister of Justice Claire Sugden MLA, Former Labour ministers Tom Harris and Tony McNulty, Conservative peer and academic Philip Norton, Lord Norton of Louth were also in attendance. The conference was organised by Dr Richard Johnson, Lecturer from Queen Mary’s School of Politics and International Relations.

During the two day conference, Lord Chancellor Rt Hon Robert Buckland QC MP delivered a keynote speech on the need for balance between law and politics when it comes to the constitution. He said: “As a modern Lord Chancellor my duties are to properly balance our constitutional arrangements, and so to protect the Judiciary. To maintain a clear delineation about where the power lies, it falls to me to propose reforms which, as far as possible, avoid drawing judges into the political realm and forcing them to adjudicate on moral or philosophical issues.

“The best solution is to avoid getting into this situation in the first place by Parliament taking the lead and ensuring that the discretionary field of judgement is appropriately construed.”

The UK’s constitutional puzzle

Topics for debate included whether constitutional reforms have delivered as they should and whether they have improved governance or added further complications. At a time when there has been much debate about how unified the United Kingdom really is, the conference served as a timely reminder that constitutional questions are ever evolving.

Dr Richard Johnson, Lecturer in US Politics and Policy at Queen Mary said: “What puzzles me about the constitutional reform debate in Britain is that some of the staunchest advocates of introducing more veto players into the British system identify as being on the left of politics.

“The Attlee, Wilson, and Callaghan governments understood that the old British constitution, with its absence of codified checks and balances, provided enormous potential for a democratic socialist party.

“Today, I hear Keir Starmer and Labour members and MPs singing the praises of the very devices which would constrain the power of a majority Labour government from implementing a socialist programme — or indeed supporting reforms that would make a majority Labour government impossible altogether.

“I think what has been lost is that faith in the power of the British people to act as our constitutional safeguard.”

More information

UK Constitutional Reform: What Has Worked and What Hasn't Worked was supported by Queen Mary's School of Politics and International RelationsQueen Mary's Mile End Institute and UK Research and Innovation (UKRI).

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