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Get Carta

Graham Allen

3 min read

Chair of the Political and Constitutional Reform Committee, Graham Allen, calls on David Cameron to commission a new Magna Carta.

Unlike most Western democracies, we don’t have a written constitution setting out the rules and principles that govern our county. Instead, our rulebook has developed gradually over time and is not collected together in one document.

In Prime Ministers Questions today I will be asking the Prime Minister if he will commission a new Magna Carta to renew democracy in the UK as part of the celebrations of the 800th anniversary of the sealing of the first Magna Carta.

So what would a new Magna Carta mean for the people? We would have a real political reference book which people could refer to, citizens could own and be proud of. Our country’s rulebook could be in your pocket, clearly setting out the principles and rules we live by. The people could decide what political rules they wanted. To vote directly for the Prime Minister? To have an elected second chamber? Greater powers for local councils? All of these questions could be answered in a new constitution decided by the people ultimately in a referendum.

My question is designed to raise the issue of making our democracy fit for purpose. It points to the draft written constitution produced by Parliament's Political and Constitutional Reform Select Committee, of which I am Chair. The draft is the culmination of four years’ work into what our democracy should look like, including the views of the British People after a long public consultation.

It is vital that in this year of celebration for the 800th anniversary we look forward to the future, not just back to the past. Magna Carta is one of the earliest constitutional documents, and has shaped British democracy as we know it, and influenced the constitutions of many democracies around the world. But this ancient document is now of largely historical significance.

We are living in a time of profound constitutional and political change. Further devolution to Scotland is leading to similar calls from the other nations in the Union. The Conservative Party has pledged to repeal the Human Rights Act, and our position within the European Union looks increasingly uncertain.

This uncertainty about our political future highlights our desperate need for a codified constitution. A number of difficult questions about our democratic arrangements need to be addressed: is our current constitution clear enough? Does it enable us adequately to hold those in power to account?

It’s important to celebrate the past, but we should must use this milestone of Magna Carta to consider the future. It is time to undertake an honest appraisal of our current constitutional arrangements, acknowledge their strengths and weaknesses, and write them down in a new Magna Carta, fit for purpose in a modern democracy.

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