Queen’s Speech - Debate (3rd Day)

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 5:04 pm on 13th May 2021.

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Photo of Lord Bhatia Lord Bhatia Non-affiliated 5:04 pm, 13th May 2021

My Lords, the Government have stated their intention to introduce several measures relating to the constitution. These include a review of the constitution, repeal of the Fixed-term Parliaments Act 2011 and legislation to improve the integrity of elections. In its 2019 general election manifesto, the Conservative Party said that it would aim to restore public trust in government and politics. To do this, it said, it would establish a constitution, democracy and rights commission and repeal the Fixed-term Parliaments Act 2011. The Government have also said they will introduce measures relating to the integrity of elections.

In its manifesto, the Conservative Party said that it would establish a constitution, democracy and rights commission to examine the broader aspects of our constitution and said that the commission would look at, first, the relationship between the Government, Parliament and the courts; secondly, the function of the royal prerogative; thirdly, the role of the House of Lords; fourthly, access to justice; fifthly, the balance between the rights of individuals, national security and effective government; and, finally, judicial review.

The commission was announced in the December 2019 Queen’s Speech . However, in evidence to the House of Commons Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee in December 2020, the Lord Chancellor, Robert Buckland, stated that this work would now be carried out in a series of independent reviews rather than in one commission. He further stated that the Independent Review of Administrative Law, set up in July 2020, and the independent review of the Human Rights Act, which started in December 2020, were to be the first pieces of work in this series and said that this change of approach was called for by Covid-19.

One determining factor that led us down this path was the importance of postal votes. Since the election, the Covid-19 emergency has had the potential to have, in effect, put back any work on these important issues. There was also the benefit of having individual focused reviews involving people with particular expertise on specific questions. The review panel has issued a call for evidence and has scheduled a series of public events to be held in universities across the UK. It aims to produce its report, which will be submitted to the Lord Chancellor in the summer of 2021.

Finally, the Lord Chancellor stated that the other work streams will be announced to take forward other elements of the commission on the constitution, democracy and rights.