Letter: After the Lords

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The Independent Culture
Sir: It is important when advocating constitutional change to think of the political system as a whole rather than cherry-pick individual pieces for reform.

The Prime Minister has already found that devolving power unevenly to two parts of the United Kingdom raises questions about the English dimension. Being rid of the hereditary element in the House of Lords leads to overwhelming support for an elected Second Chamber, but with little thought given as to how this might work in a bicameral parliamentary constitution. Membership of the European Union, which has a developing constitution of its own, further complicates the problem.

To seek, as you do, an elected monarch (leading article, 8 November) smacks of the same kind of irresponsible approach to constitution-making.

The Australians at least knew what the alternative to their constitutional monarchy would be, and I am not surprised they rejected it. The powers of a constitutional referee in a parliamentary system are rarely used without controversy, as Sir John Kerr found to his cost, but to give the politicians the right to elect that referee is not a solution. On the other hand, direct election of a monarch or president is likely to lead to rivalry between prime minister and president, even where they are of the same political colouring. Britain, with a parliamentary constitution, it lacks a constitutional court, which might take over the referee's role.

If we are to have articles like that by Steve Richards (8 November), they might discuss such problems rather than assume that change can be easily accommodated.

Further, if the Crown is to go, a codified constitution will have to be established, since much of our current practice is written in terms of limits on the powers of the Crown, and the Prime Minister's powers derive almost as much from exercise of the Crown's prerogative as from leadership of a parliamentary majority.

JOHN BARNES

Government Department

London School of Economics

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