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Parliamentary constitution committee needed to restore trust – report

A new parliamentary committee dedicated to the constitution and a strengthened civil service are needed to restore trust in politics, a think tank has recommended.

The Institute for Government says recent political turmoil shows the need to reassert constitutional principles, arguing they have been tested or broken in pursuit of party political interests.

It has completed an 18-month review of the UK’s constitution, taking advice from former supreme court judge Baroness Hale as well as former ministers Sir Robert Buckland and Sir David Lidington.

Its report, co-authored with Cambridge University’s Bennett Institute for Public Policy, makes a number of recommendations

Supreme Court hearings in Scotland
Baroness Hale was among those who provided advice (Jane Barlow/PA)

The report says: “The UK is facing a crisis in trust in politics and political institutions.

“Recent political instability has undermined the UK’s reputation as a stable democracy, damaging its international reputation and, as a consequence, its economic prospects.”

It also states that “25 years on, Westminster and Whitehall are still adjusting to the realities of devolution to Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland”.

Parliament should have more scrutiny on constitutional Bills, it says, as well as a standing committee which would give an independent view.

The report’s authors say there should be an independent Office for the Constitution to support this committee, as well as a clarified and strengthened role for the civil service to give constitutional advice.

The report notes that responsibility for constitutional matters has shifted between several different government departments in recent years.

It is currently split across the Cabinet Office, the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities, and the Ministry of Justice.

The Institute for Government said its proposals would strengthen the system of checks and balances on government power which the UK constitution relies on.

London aerial views
The report said Whitehall is ‘still adjusting’ to devolution in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland (Steve Parsons/PA)

Director Hannah White said: “Some governments enter office with a manifesto commitment to constitutional change, others find the temptation to tinker with the constitution comes upon them.

“Our recommendations are intended to ensure that any politician considering changing the UK constitution is supported with robust advice, and to ensure that the UK constitution is changed only with appropriate consideration and public support.”

Baroness Hale also commented on the report, describing it as a “timely, sensible and practicable set of proposals for constitutional reform which, though modest, would make real improvement in the way we are governed”.

A Cabinet Office spokesman said: “The Government takes seriously its constitutional role and responsibility for upholding our unique constitutional settlement.

“We already have two parliamentary committees which are responsible for scrutinising constitutional policy and holding the Government accountable on these issues.”