A wonderful anachronism of the British constitution managed to both rear its head and bare its buttocks for all to see a few days ago - thankfully bringing grim daylight to a part of politics that’s often overlooked on this island.

Eyebrows were raised this week when the headlines showed that a member of the House of Lords had suggested that any referendum on Scottish independence should be a UK-wide decision, and not a matter for the people of Scotland alone to make.

The comments, described as being “politically illiterate”, were most notable not necessarily for their content, but by the person whose mouth delivered them: The Bishop of Blackburn.

Bishops and Archbishops have sat in the House of Lords since the 14th century, so surely there would be a Scottish clergyman to counter the Bishop of Blackburn’s thoughts?

Because of the hodge-podge, make-do-and-mend nature of the UK’s constitution, only clergy from English dioceses get to be members of the unelected chamber - so this undemocratic organ of British democracy is even less democratic than it first appears.

The National Wales: The Bishop of Blackburn Rt Rev Julian Henderson speaking in the House of Lords on constitutional issues. Should he have the right to do so?The Bishop of Blackburn Rt Rev Julian Henderson speaking in the House of Lords on constitutional issues. Should he have the right to do so?

The last major reforms to the Lords Spiritual came through the Manchester Act of 1847 - which limited their number to 26 - suggesting that they had outlived their original purpose nearly 200 years ago.

This is not to be against religion. There’s an important role for religious leaders in guiding hearts and minds, and to speak out on moral issues - even those pertaining to politics - as the Archbishop of Canterbury did recently when he described the government’s policy of deporting migrants to Rwanda as being “against the judgement of God”.

But that role should be exerting pressure from the outside of our legislative institutions, not from within.


They can be a moral compass, but for Bishops and Archbishops to have an active role in lawmaking and to have the right to debate and vote on legislation is completely absurd in the year 2022. This constitutional hangover puts the UK in league with the Vatican City and Iran in terms of clerical clergymen.

As it stands, Wales is in a bit of a constitutional no-man’s land. There’s a legislative house, but there are few checks and balances on lawmaking.

If Wales were to become independent, would it need an upper chamber?

I asked former Plaid Cymru leader Leanne Wood, who’s currently a member of the Independent Commission on the Constitutional Future of Wales, for her thoughts. She told me that “a bicameral parliamentary structure could be what Wales would require”, although she insisted that “there are other models!”.

Before being able to recommend myself as a benevolent dictator over a Welsh free state, she told me that “if we were to develop a second chamber in Wales, it would have to be fully elected to improve democracy.”

So nothing like the current set-up?

“The present House of Lords is anti-democratic and should be abolished”.

Although if we were to become independent and create a new state from scratch, we could leave that problem behind for the English to deal with.

The National Wales: Former leader of Plaid Cymru, Leanne Wood, is currently on the Independent Commission on the Constitutional Future of Wales.Former leader of Plaid Cymru, Leanne Wood, is currently on the Independent Commission on the Constitutional Future of Wales.

Very clearly, even without independence, there’s a constitutional deficit in Wales today.

Wood continues: “I see one of the biggest weaknesses being Wales having no legal jurisdiction despite having a law-making Parliament. We need courts and police and, in fact, the whole criminal justice system to enforce Welsh laws.

"I’m not aware of anywhere else in the world that has a set up like this”.

Of course, she’s right.

The Senedd won the right to pass laws via referendum eleven years ago, but still doesn’t have the apparatus available to enact those laws and to oversee their implementation. The transfer of policing and justice from Westminster to Cardiff are long overdue.

If Wales has the power to create laws it should also have the ability to oversee the bodies that enforce those laws. The second part of that equation seems to have been forgotten about by the Welsh Government, and pretty much anybody in Welsh politics, for the last eleven years.


While there’s currently no Welsh judicial branch of government, there’s a fundamental lack of checks and balances that’s been accidentally built into the Welsh constitution. Expansion of the Senedd has to happen to help fill the deficit of checks and balances and the lack of scrutiny that the Welsh Government currently has.

These aren’t just things that would be nice to have - they’re fundamental aspects of a functioning government.

It feels as if I don’t stop banging on about this - but if Nicola Sturgeon announces another referendum on Scottish independence, which she’s expected to announce the pathway towards next week, Wales needs to be thinking about its own constitutional future - how does an expanded Senedd hold the government to account?

Do we create an upper house and fill it with the Gorsedd - recreating what we already have? Or do we think outside the box?

Leanne Wood’s words reverberate in my head: “there are other models…”

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