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Towards a New Constitutional Settlement: An Agenda for Gordon Brown's First 100 Days and Beyond

Gordon Brown is committed to a fresh programme of constitutional reform, aimed at breathing new life into our democracy. In a Briefing published on Monday, the Constitution Unit sets out a detailed programme to make his vision a reality. The Briefing highlights the main action points for the first 100 days, the next two years and the next parliament, and the difficult choices along the way.

The Constitution Unit’s director Professor Robert Hazell says: “The first 100 days will reveal the nature of the new Prime Minister’s commitment to constitutional reform. If he is serious, he needs to make some key machinery of government changes and put reform-minded people in charge of the constitution.”

But Professor Hazell also cautions against attempting too much too soon: “We can also judge Brown’s seriousness by what he decides not to do. He would be unwise to make an early bid to introduce elections for the House of Lords; the legislation will not get through in this Parliament. Likewise with a British bill of rights. That requires careful planning and consultation, and cannot be introduced before the next Parliament”.

The main action points highlighted in the Briefing are as follows:

Action in the first hundred days

1 Set out an overarching vision and clear direction of travel
- Give a major speech developing the three key Brown themes; the individual, community and the state; liberty, responsibility and fairness; and Britishness. Explain the objective: is it a written constitution, a new constitutional settlement, or further specific reforms? Set out a vision based on a new compact between citizens, communities and the state.

2 Engaging wider public participation
-Announce interest in a commission or Constitutional Convention or Citizens’ Assembly being asked to define what should go in a British bill of rights and how the House of Lords should be reformed.
-Transfer e-petitions from No 10 to Parliament

3 Restoring accountable and collective government, including:
-Announce the end of sofa government and the restoration of Cabinet government.
-Issue a revised and tightened Ministerial Code of Conduct
-Scrap powers of patronage over House of Lords and Church of England

4 Building a new relationship with Parliament
- Announce the immediate end of prime ministerial patronage powers to the Lords, giving greater power to the Appointments Commission
- Make all senior public appointments subject to parliamentary scrutiny
- Announce a new convention that war and deployment of troops overseas will only take place after proper parliamentary debate and approval

5 Upholding British values and defending the Union
- Announce the creation of a new Department for the Nations, to replace the separate Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland Offices. If the new Department takes in the constitution, this could be a Department of Citizenship
- Hold regular summits with the new First Ministers and Deputy First Ministers in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.
- Express interest in a British bill of rights and responsibilities to protect fundamental British values.

Action over the next two years
- If cross-party agreement on party funding is not possible, legislate for tighter spending limits on campaign expenditure
- Introduce a Civil Service Act to ensure the fundamentals of the civil service cannot be changed without the consent of Parliament
- Review the main prerogative powers to subject them to parliamentary scrutiny.
- Review the position of all constitutional watchdogs, so that they have a closer relationship with Parliament

Items for the next Parliament
- Establish a body to draft the British bill of rights, with wide public participation
- Consider holding a referendum on the British bill of rights, and on any new voting system for the House of Commons
- If no agreement is reached on major Lords reform, legislate to create a statutory Appointments Commission, to end the hereditary by elections and to break the link with the peerage
- Referendum on primary legislative powers for the Welsh Assembly
- Strengthen the capacity of the Welsh Assembly to match its increased powers, by increasing its size from 60 to 80 members.

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