What does the Brown Commission recommend as regards constitutional reform in the UK?

Former PM Gordon Brown was asked to lead a report into potential future constitutional reform.

After becoming Labour leader in 2020 Keir Starmer asked Gordon Brown to lead a commission looking at the constitutional future of the UK. The subsequent report, A New Britain: Renewing our Democracy and Rebuilding our Economy was published on the 5th of December 2022. It has been referred to in short-hand as the Brown Commission. However, whilst the report was led by former Prime Minister Gordon Brown, it was researched and written by 16 Labour Party members of affiliates that also included Anneliese Dodds MP (Labour Chair), Carwyn Jones (Former Welsh First Minister) and Ayesha Hazarika (journalist and former advisor to Ed Miliband). The final report was 155 pages long and was wide-ranging.

Some of the key recommendations of the report are:

1. To embed into law the duties of Government

The report notes that too much of the significant development of the British constitution since 1998 has relied on convention. The report says that these would be placed on a statutory footing, for example, a duty on central government to actively seek to rebalance the economy.

2. To devolve more power to local communities

The report highlights the need to devolve more power to local communities. For instance, towns should be given more power to drive growth and investment. In addition, however, they should also be given more tax-raising powers so they rely less on central government and block funding. In addition, there should also be powers to initiate legislation in Parliament by local leaders.

3. To create a new institution to represent the voice of the devolved nations within central government

The report highlights that government across the UK is currently too fragmented. It recommends new institutions following the abolition of the House of Lords to make sure there is representation for the UK and regions of England in Westminster.

4. To improve to the Scottish and Welsh and Northern Irish Governments

The report recommends a number of things to improve the current devolution settlements. They include:

  • Strengthening the Sewel Convention to stop it being amended by a new Second Chamber.
  • Allowing Scotland to enter into certain foreign relations.
  • New powers for the Welsh Government over youth justice and the probation service.
  • Giving MSPs the same protection under privilege as MPs.
  • Giving enhanced economic resources including new investment banks for Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

5. Mechanisms for greater cooperation between devolved governments

The report suggests there is too little shared government in the UK which makes the fragmentation of the UK more likely. As such, they recommend a new Council of the Nations and Regions to help develop a ‘culture of cooperation’ across the UK. This would help on areas of joint interest such as climate change and security.

6. New procedures to make MPs more accountable

The report says more must be done to clean up politics and make MPs more accountable. It suggest new laws should be passed to limit second incomes for MPs and to eliminate foreign money for UK politics. It also indicates that there should be an anti-corruption Commissioner to focus on these challenges.

7. Replace the House of Lords with a smaller democratic second chamber

The report says that the continuance of the House of Lords is ‘indefensible’. It says that the House of Lords should be replaced with a new second chamber, An Assembly of Nations and Regions. It says the new chamber should have a special roe safeguarding the constitution but not in a way that impacts the primacy of the House of Commons. Finally, it says that unlike today the second chamber must be elected with a different system and cycle for elections to it.

The report said that they believed that their recommendations could all be achieved within one parliamentary term (five years). If so, this would make that period one of the most significant constitutional rebalancing periods in British history.

Whilst Keir Starmer and the Labour leadership welcomed the report, they have not committed to it as policy yet. They will go away and look at the recommendations and consider which can be part of the Labour Manifesto at the next General Election.

The full report can be read here: Commission-on-the-UKs-Future.pdf (labour.org.uk)

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