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Debate: Should the UK adopt a written constitution?

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Background and context

At present in Britain we have no written constitution, but instead a collection of laws and customs which govern our political system. Along with Israel, we are one of only two democracies in the world not to have a written constitution.

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Argument #1

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Yes

Clarity. Enshrining our constitutional laws and customs in one document would provide clarity for those working within the system and for those who wished to scrutinise it.

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No

Britain has survived very well until now with an unwritten constitution. The public is not clamouring for a written constitution because it does understand the conventions which govern political procedure.

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Argument #2

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Yes

Checks and balances. At the moment our judiciary is relatively weak in its ability to act as a check against parliament. A written constitution would increase its power.

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No

Written constitutions are ruled upon by judges. In Britain our judges are unelected and it is therefore undemocratic to take power away from our elected representatives and give it to judges who tend to be quite reactionary.

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Argument #3

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Yes

Safeguards. At present, if a party has a majority in the House of Commons they can change our constitution. An example of this is Blair’s reform of the House of the Lords. He was able to completely change half of our legislature without a referendum or other means of checking consensus. A written constitution would act as a safeguard as it would make it difficult to change. For example you would have to have a 2/3 majority in both houses or a it would have to be passed by referendum.

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No

One of the benefits of the current system is it’s flexibility. If they have a political mandate from the people, the government can reform the constitution, as with the example of the House of Lords. If you had to have a 2/3 majority in both houses, this measure would never have been passed; neither would devolution. In countries like the USA, it is nearly impossible to change their constitution. How do we know that what is best for us now will still be best in 100 years time?

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Argument #4

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Yes

Protection from extremists. A written constitution would offer protection if an extremist came to power and wanted to disregard democratic procedures.

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No

Iraq has a written constitution. If somebody wanted to flaunt democratic procedures it would be as hard now as it would with a written constitution.

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Argument #5

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Yes

Europe. In the context of further political integration in the EU, it is important that we enshrine and clarify Britain’s political system.

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No

A written constitution would make us much less flexible with Europe. Are we going to enshrine their powers in the constitution when there is still so much political debate surrounding it?

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Argument #6

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Yes

Rule of Law. The British Parliament is subject to no authority beyond itself and this goes against the principle of the rule of law which our democracy is based on.

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No

Parliament is subject to a constitution, it is simple not written down. The constitutional conventions that Britain has are very strong and have served us well. There are also laws such as the 1911 Parliament Act.

See also

External links

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