UCL Constitution Unit

The UCL Constitution Unit has undertaken research which has helped to involve legislation and policy on the Human Rights Act, devolution, reform of the House of Lords, referendums, new voting systems, the creation of the Supreme Court, Church and State, constitutional watchdogs, freedom of information, and parliamentary reform.  Senior members of the Unit regularly act as advisers to parliamentary committees, public commissions, and give evidence in public to such bodies. The Unit’s work is regularly cited in government documents, parliamentary debates and the media.

More recently, the Constitution Unit provided valuable analysis on the UK General Election during April and May 2010, offering guides and forecasts during the General Election campaign and commentary on its potential implications. In particular, a draft report on Hung Parliaments was sent to the Cabinet Office and led them to produce a new Cabinet Manual, which:

  • codified for the first time the conventions on how the Sovereign invites the person most likely to command the confidence of the House to serve as Prime Minister and form a government and determined how the transition after the 2010 General Election was managed, and
  • recommended that the civil service supported the opposition parties in their negotiations, thus ensuring that the subsequent process of government formation went much more smoothly than might otherwise have happened.

Professor Robert Hazell, Director of the Constitution Unit, was also at the forefront of commentary on the workings and implications of a hung Parliament, with multiple media appearances.

The Unit has also influenced House of Commons reform – research by Dr Meg Russell was specifically cited in proposing the establishment of a new committee to look at wide-ranging Commons reform to help restore public confidence in parliament, and Dr Russell was subsequently appointed as the specialist adviser to the new Select Committee on Reform of the House of Commons. The Committee’s report led to:

  • chairs of its select committees being elected for the first time in cross-party secret ballots (as originally recommended in Russell’s report)
  • select committee members in party ballots, weakening the control of party whips, and potentially greatly strengthening the select committees
  • the establishment of a ‘Backbench Business Committee’ to manage a newly created slot of ‘backbench business’ allowing backbench MPs to collectively set the Commons agenda and forcing votes, if necessary, on the topics of their choosing.

Collectively this package of Commons reforms has been cited by The Times as the most important since the creation of departmental select committees more than 30 years ago.

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  • Stephanie Smith

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