When he came into office last Summer, Gordon Brown's first speech to Parliament as Prime Minister was aimed at seeking to redress the balance between Parliament and the Executive. The Prime Minister's "to do" list sought to reform 12 existing prerogative powers, introduce a public petition procedure for the House of Commons, provide for weekend voting, consider lowering the voting age and also raise the possibility of a written constitution. The aim of all these proposals was an attempt to increase the accountability of those who hold power and enhance the rights and responsibilities of the citizens.
The Prime Minister's speech in August 2007 was essentially a promise to consult on this wide range of issues. After a decade which had seen the introduction of the Human Rights Act, devolution to Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, further reform of the House of Lords and the establishment of a Supreme Court for the United Kingdom, constitutional reform looked to be remaining very much on the agenda for the foreseeable future.
These initial consultations came together in March 2008 in the form of the draft Constitutional Renewal Bill which accompanied the Government's White Paper "The Governance of Britain: Constitutional Renewal".
That Bill, which touches upon many of the issues that the Prime Minister raised in his first speech to Parliament, has now been considered by the Joint Committee of Parliament that was established to consider the Bill. They have come to the view that further work is needed before a finer Bill could be framed to give effect to the goals of the current draft Bill. This draft Bill concentrates on issues such as the role of the Attorney General, the ratification of International Treaties by Parliament and the organisation and management of the Civil Service. Although in principle most of the proposals contained in the draft Bill are welcomed, the Joint Committee has come to the view that they need further thought and refinement before they would be in a form suitable to present to Parliament.
Over a year on from the Prime Minister signalling his intention to tackle these issues, we have a draft Bill which is a long time in politics but a very short time in the history of our constitution. For a constitution that has evolved over centuries, the last decade has seen considerable upheaval and change. Judging by the proposals contained in this Bill, and others that are waiting in the wings, the coming decade looks like it will be no less traumatic for our unwritten, but increasingly codified, constitution.