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Tuesday, September 15, 1998 Published at 10:57 GMT 11:57 UK


UK Politics: Talking Politics

The evolving British constitution



BBC Constitutional Affairs Correspondent Joshua Rozenberg examines the British constitution in a series of articles for BBC News online.

Click on the links below for a detailed analysis of each point:

First and foremost, he asks whether there is such a thing as a 'British constitution'?

Most countries have a written constitution - a single document regulating the powers of its government and the rights and duties of its citizens.

The United Kingdom is one of only a handful of countries which does not.

What the UK does have, however, is a series of conventions which are respected as a fundamental part of the constitution even though they are not enforceable by law.

Conventions evolve over time and the new Labour government has introduced a new element by its increased use of referendums.

Within a year of being elected, the government has organised referendums on important constitutional issues in Scotland, Wales, London and Northern Ireland.

These have formed part of a comprehensive package of constitutional measures contained in a range of important Bills going through Parliament or planned for the near future.

These include regional parliaments or assemblies for Scotland and Wales, a Human Rights Bill and a Freedom of Information Bill.


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The UK is a constitutional monarchy and the Queen is often seen as little more than a figurehead. But the Sovereign has important powers which could come into play if potential changes to the electoral system result in hung parliaments.

A constitution needs to put constraints on the government - the checks and balances which prevent an "elective dictatorship" - and in the UK these are provided by three main methods.

As well as the constitutional changes mentioned above, there are the courts and the media.

These developments will further restrict the power of government, making it harder for critics to claim that the UK has an over-mighty, over-centralised executive at the heart of its constitution.



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