Secrets of the Political Constitution

Publication Date01 March 1999
DOIhttp://doi.org/10.1111/1468-2230.00208
AuthorIan Leigh
REVIEW ARTICLE
Secrets of the Political Constitution
Ian Leigh*
Adam Tomkins,The Constitution After Scott: Government Unwrapped, Oxford:
Clarendon Press, 1998, xiii + 275 pp, hb £45.00, pb £18.99.
Sometimes the past seems not so much another country as another galaxy. After
years of deprivation of real developments in the UK constitutionalists now have a
surfeit: like the proverbial No 27 bus, devolution, the Human Rights Act, reform of
the House of Lords, electoral reform and freedom of information have all come
along at once. It is easy to forget that just three years ago the major source of interest
was a drawn-out and convoluted investigation into an obscure area of government
policy: export licence applications. The Major administration was overshadowed by
Waiting For Scott. Unlike Godot, the central character finally arrived (in February
1996)1and for a fortnight the broadsheets and the sun-dried tomato buying classes
were occupied with little else. For most normal life then resumed, but a faithful band
of retired civil servants, political scientists and public lawyers pursued the lasting
significance of it all. A veritable academic cottage industry – conferences, symposia,
and special journal issues2– flourished. Adam Tomkins’ book, building on his own
earlier work,3is the latest contribution to this feast.
After a section setting the scene, the book is divided into four parts. The first three
deal, respectively, with the position of government and Parliament, government and
the intelligence agencies, and government and the courts. Part Four is a comparison
of the Scott Inquiry with the Congressional investigations into Iraqgate. This
framework allows for separate chapters on the subjects of ministerial responsibility
to Parliament, the role of the civil service, freedom of information, the intelligence
input to the export licensing process, and public interest immunity. The Conclusion
assesses the Inquiry’s significance in the context of constitutional reform.
Government, parliament and information
Although the Scott Report found that there had been repeated failures by Ministers
to give an account to Parliament, paradoxically no one resigned in the aftermath.
ßThe Modern Law Review Limited 1999 (MLR 62:2, March). Published by Blackwell Publishers,
108 Cowley Road, Oxford OX4 1JF and 350 Main Street, Malden, MA 02148, USA.
298
* Department of Law, University of Durham.
1Report of the Inquiry into the Export of Defence Equipment and Dual-Use Goods to Iraq and Related
Prosecutions, HC (1995–96) 115; discussed in I. Leigh and L. Lustgarten, ‘Five Volumes in Search of
Accountability: the Scott Report’ (1996) 59 MLR 695.
2Public Law, Autumn 1996; Parliamentary Affairs, January 1997 (re-issued as F. Ridley and B.
Thompson (eds) Under the Scott-Light: British Government Seen Through the Scott Report (Oxford:
OUP, 1997)).
3 ‘Public Interest Immunity After Matrix Churchill’ [1993] PL 650; ‘A Right to Mislead Parliament?’
(1996) 16 LS 63; ‘Government Information and the Public: Misleading by Design or by Default?’
[1996] PL 472; ‘Intelligence and Government’ (1997) 50 Parl Affs 109.

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