Professor Robert Hazell is Director of the Constitution Unit at University College London and will today be giving evidence to the House of Commons Justice Committee.
The Conservatives’ agenda for constitutional reform will require difficult decisions in their first weeks in government. The timing of their decisions provide early tests of their sincerity and their capacity to govern. David Cameron’s plans are much bigger than perhaps even he realises, in spite of his bold pledge to repair our ‘broken politics.’
No one has pulled the Conservatives’ constitutional agenda together and viewed the elements as a whole before, as the Constitution Unit has just done in this major report. We have worked very hard on how their plans might be implemented, talking to all the main policy experts, and our report brings out how early in the life of the new government they would need to make some difficult and important decisions.
Some policies are better thought through than others. And which policies get implemented depends crucially on which Ministers are put in charge: how committed they are to the policy, and how competent. We will learn a lot about a new Conservative government simply by seeing who is put in charge of what: and what Cabinet committees they establish to oversee the process.
First signs that Cameron means business as Prime Minister would include:
- Reducing the shadow cabinet of 30 to a real Cabinet of 20;
- Merging the three territorial Secretaries of State, for Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland into one, now that justice powers look like being transferred to Stormont;
- Reducing the number of Ministers, to match their commitment to reduce the size of the House of Commons by 10 per cent;
- Restoring collective Cabinet government with a strengthened Ministerial Code and new Cabinet Manual;
- Implementing in full the Wright Report on Reform of the House of Commons, to reduce government control of the parliamentary timetable and of Select Committees, if Labour hasn’t done so first.
A Cabinet Committee will be needed for early and difficult decisions on how to reduce the Commons by 10 per cent, which the Conservatives want to do in time for the next election. This will mean abolishing the usual local inquiries into boundary changes, and abandoning the Conservative target of equal sized constituencies if the exercise is to be completed in time.