Headlines: December 10th, 1998

The Lord Chancellor, Lord Irvine, has said that the most sweeping reforms of the British constitution this century will enrich the UK rather than weaken it.And he said there are changes ahead not just for the constitution, but for the machinery and the people working within Government.

In a speech to the Constitution Unit last night he denied the current tide of constitutional change lacked coherence: “We made conscious choices about precisely which aspects of our constitution needed earliest attention, and on what basis. Many of the measures are responses to particular problems which are the product of lengthy and complex pre-histories of their own.

“We are steering a steady, pragmatic course. Let me assert this as strongly as I may. Pragmatism is not unprincipled. The withholding of uniformity where uniformity would be inept is rational, not irrational.”

He said devolution of powers to Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland would give varying powers to match the history and contemporary circumstances of each.

Proposals to create a city-wide authority for London, and moves to regional government for the rest of England, initially through regional development agencies, would give the regions a greater voice.

And added to the well-trailed reform of the House of Lords, he said the House of Commons was undergoing similar modernisation, with outdated working practices removed and greater pre-legislative consultation and scrutiny.

Hand in hand with all these reforms he said, would be steps to modernise the machinery of Government, so that policy making occurs strategically across departmental boundaries and responsibility is devolved to those who can achieve results.