Study Notes

UK Constitutional Reform

AS, A-Level
AQA, Edexcel, OCR, IB

Last updated 22 Mar 2021

Constitutional reform is the means by which changes are made to the way that the UK is governed. It can include devolution, reform to the House of Lords and changes to the way the judiciary works.

Conservatives, as their name suggests, are less likely to make constitutional reform as they traditionally feel that institutions are there because they work and shouldn’t be ‘fixed’ unless they are broken. So there were no major constitutional changes under the 1979-97 Conservative governments.

However, under Labour there was, between 1997 to 2010, House of Lords Reform, Electoral Reform, Devolution & Regional Government, a Bill of Rights (Human Rights Act), a Freedom of Information Act, more use of referendums, and a Constitutional Reform Act setting up the UK Supreme Court and increasing the independence of the Judiciary. These reforms were conducted on an ad hoc basis, with no systemic overhaul of the constitution.

Meanwhile the Conservative – Lib Dem coalition agreed upon a large number of constitutional reforms. These include the 5-year Fixed Term Parliament Act, which was enacted. However, others were not put in place during that five years. These include changing the voting system for Westminster elections from FPTP to AV, House of Lords reform to create an elected House, House of Commons reform to reduce the number of constituencies and redraw boundaries, and Local Government reform to enables citizens to directly elect mayors to run cities.

The new Conservative Government is faced with the challenge of Scottish Nationalism, and in the aftermath of the Scottish Referendum of 2014 will be looking at further devolution to the Scottish and Welsh Parliaments as well as ‘English Votes for English Laws’ for situations where only England is affected. It will also be holding a referendum on membership of the EU and trying to push through repeal of the Human Rights Act and the creation of a ‘British Bill of Rights’.

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