The 1997 Labour authorities’s constitutional reform programme: 25 years on

The 1997 Labour authorities’s constitutional reform programme: 25 years on

25 years have handed for the reason that Labour election win of 1997, which preceded a plethora of constitutional adjustments, together with partial reform of the Area of Lords, devolution to Scotland, Wales and Northern Eire, and the Human Rights Act. Tom Leeman summarises the contributions of 3 knowledgeable audio system (Professor Robert Hazell, Baroness (Shami) Chakrabarti and Lord (Charlie) Falconer of Thoroton) at a up to date Unit tournament to mark the anniversary.

This yr marked 1 / 4 of a century for the reason that victory of Tony Blair’s New Labour within the 1997 Common Election on 1 Would possibly. Blair’s first authorities embarked upon a programme of constitutional reform, many parts of which, akin to devolution, the Human Rights Act (HRA), and the standing of hereditary friends within the Lords, nonetheless spark debate in the United Kingdom nowadays.

To mark the anniversary and talk about the Blair authorities’s constitutional legacy the Unit convened an tournament with 3 knowledgeable panellists: Professor Robert Hazell, founding Director of the Charter Unit, who supported the Cook dinner-Maclennan talks on constitutional reform between Labour and the Liberal Democrats in 1996; Lord (Charlie) Falconer of Thoroton, who served as Lord Chancellor in the second one and 3rd Blair ministries from 2003 till 2007; and Baroness (Shami) Chakrabarti, who was once Director of Liberty from 2003 till 2016. The development was once chaired via Professor Meg Russell, Director of the Charter Unit. The summaries beneath are introduced so as of the audio system’ contributions.

Robert Hazell

Robert Hazell introduced slides to summarise New Labour’s constitutional reform programme from their first election victory in 1997 till Gordon Brown’s resignation as high minister in 2010. The reforms in Blair’s first time period (1997-2001) had been the largest package deal of constitutional reforms within the 20th century. They integrated devolution of energy to assemblies in Edinburgh, Cardiff and Belfast in 1998; incorporation of the Ecu Conference on Human Rights into home legislation within the Human Rights Act; and the elimination of hereditary friends from the Area of Lords.

Then again, key spaces earmarked for reform within the 1997 Labour manifesto, akin to referendums on euro club and the vote casting device for Westminster elections, weren’t addressed. The second one degree of Lords reform, to make the Area extra democratic and consultant, and of human rights law, in a British invoice of rights, by no means materialised. Regional authorities in England made no additional development after defeat of the North East referendum in 2004. The Brown authorities’s formidable plans to codify all of the prerogative powers resulted in a whimper. However the second one Labour authorities legislated for the brand new Ultimate Courtroom and Judicial Appointments Fee, and in all of the New Labour reforms noticed the advent of ten new constitutional watchdogs.

Lord Falconer

Lord Falconer started via remarking at the common temper referring to the United Kingdom charter in 1997; particularly, that it had stagnated below a Conservative authorities he believed to be bored to death within the constitutional standing of the non-English portions of the rustic. Crucially, although, Falconer added that although there was once a outstanding feeling that the charter wanted reform, this narrative, save for most likely Northern Eire, had no longer been born out of constitutional breakdown or disaster.

Falconer introduced two foremost commendations of the 1997 constitutional reform programme. Initially, the passage of the HRA and the Freedom of Knowledge Act helped to foment a extra rights-driven tradition in the United Kingdom, with voters empowered to offer protection to themselves towards the chief. Secondly, the Labour government-brokered 1998 Belfast/Just right Friday Settlement in Northern Eire has ended in ‘25 years of peace’.

Regardless of this top reward, Lord Falconer additionally said that the Labour authorities was once most likely too timid in some spaces of constitutional reform; particularly, he argued that the overly typical view of parliamentary sovereignty put ahead via the federal government ended in a belief some of the devolved our bodies that their powers weren’t set in stone and might be modified on a whim from Westminster. Falconer additionally echoed Robert Hazell’s remarks at the problems with English governance and the Westminster electoral device, prior to claiming that the political penalties of the worsening financial state of affairs of the decade have led the charter to a disaster level that it was once no longer at 25 years in the past.

Baroness Chakrabarti

Baroness Chakrabarti began with a defence of the HRA, describing it as no longer simply a ‘superb, fashionable’ invoice of rights, but additionally an excellent compromise, given its standing as a invoice of rights inside of an unwritten charter. Chakrabarti’s complaint of the HRA relates to not its substance, however to its loss of promotion via the Blair authorities; the Act was once ‘snuck in like a thief within the evening’ with little fanfare or public marketing campaign.

Chakrabarti’s primary complaint of Labour’s later years in energy was once of cuts to civil prison help, which she believed lent credence to a post-9/11 rebranding of human rights as being for ‘criminals and terrorists’ via the United Kingdom media. Baroness Chakrabarti additionally alluded to an interaction between this and the loss of fanfare for the HRA; briefly, that the Labour authorities’s failure to teach folks about human rights in its first time period ended in an erosion of a few of the ones rights in the second one.

Panel dialogue

At the factor of the federal government’s failure to promote the HRA to the general public, each Robert Hazell and Lord Falconer remarked that while some contributors of the Labour authorities had been sufficiently fascinated by constitutional issues to build a coherent reform package deal, Blair himself was once no longer. Baroness Chakrabarti sought to distinguish Gordon Brown’s push for a written charter in 2007 with the Johnson authorities’s try to repeal the HRA and change it with a brand new British Invoice of Rights, claiming that the latter represents a diminution of the courts and of current rights.


A matter-and-answer consultation with the target market adopted the panel dialogue. A member of the target market requested why preliminary plans for a public data marketing campaign for the HRA in 1998 had been dropped. In reaction, Lord Falconer argued that the political route of the Labour authorities was once all the time extra financial than constitutional, with Blair particularly deducing that problems akin to well being and training had been extra necessary to electorate right through common elections.

Taking a look to the present and long term devolution agreement in Wales, Robert Hazell mentioned that he agreed with Labour and Plaid Cymru’s proposal to magnify the Senedd, to account for the frame’s higher powers since 1997, however that he believed the general public must be consulted in this factor thru a referendum. At the wider query of how you can introduce vital constitutional reforms in some way that promises popular public settlement, the panellists agreed that the HRA had to be reintroduced to society, however Lord Falconer and Baroness Chakrabarti discussed that the usage of the HRA as a political soccer would make this very tricky.

At the failure to reform the Westminster vote casting device, Lord Falconer lamented the loss of inner ideological coherence of the 2 primary events produced via the first-past-the-post device. Each Falconer and Robert Hazell attributed the Labour authorities’s unwillingness to carry a referendum at the vote casting device to a loss of give a boost to among Cupboard ministers for proportional illustration.

The video of the total tournament, together with a full of life and informative Q&A, is to be had on our YouTube web page, whilst the audio model paperwork a Unit podcast. Discuss with our Occasions web page for information of long term occasions and video and podcast hyperlinks for earlier webinars.

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