There is a wider issue – the question of a written constitution - an issue on which I hope all parties can work together in a spirit of partnership and patriotism.
I can announce today that I have asked the Cabinet Secretary to lead work to consolidate the existing unwritten, piecemeal conventions that govern much of the way central government operates under our existing constitution into a single written document.
In the summer I announced that we would consult on the question of codifying our constitution as part of the consultation exercise on the British Bill of Rights and Responsibilities. There is, however, no consensus on what a codified constitution would be for, on what it would encompass and on what its status would be.
But if we are to go ahead with a written constitution we clearly have to debate also what aspects of law and relationships between each part of the state and between the state and the citizen should be deemed ‘constitutional’. I can therefore also announce today that a group will be set up to identify those principles and i hereby issue an invitation to all parties to be represented on this group. And if we are to decide to have a written constitution the time for its completion should be the 800th anniversary of the signing of the Magna Carta in Runneymede in 1215.
But what does he mean? Does he mean an Constitutional Act of Parliament which would be subject to Parliamentary sovereignty (like Magna Carta, the Bill of Rights 1689, the Acts of Union/Settlement) or does he mean an entrenched instrument which could only be amended by referendum or by a specified majority in Parliament. If the latter - can Parliament actually promulgate such an instrument (one Parliament cannot bind the next) - or will there be another British and bloodless revolution by which the Constitution is promulgated by the people by referendum (like the 5th French Republic)? And will the Supreme Court be able to strike down Acts of Parliament which do not conform with the Constitution (as it can do with Scottish Acts)?
The best summary of our present constitutional arrangments in to be found in the judgment of Laws LJ in Thoburn v Sunderland.
The supremacy of Parliament died, de facto, when we joined the EU and the idea that the rule of law is satisfied by Judges politely reminding the Executive to comply with the Human Rights Act 1998 by making non-binding declarations of incompatibility makes our present constitutional arrangements laughable.
Saying that they are quaint and particularly British is no defence. I look forward to us being a normal western democracy and having an entrenched Constitution. I do not look forward to another Constitutional Reform Act which keeps the judges tamed and which continues to live in the fantasy land that Parliament is supreme in its sovereignty.