Magna Carta "perhaps a precursor to devolution"

It is better known as the first formal document to limit the power of the monarch and protect the rights of individuals. But could Magna Carta also be seen as a precursor of devolution?

Lord Bourne of Aberystwyth thinks so. The former Welsh Tory leader made his maiden speech in the House of Lords during a debate on the iconic charter, the 800th anniversary of which is to be celebrated in two years.

"The Magna Carta of 1215," he said, "is the basis of most of our freedoms and a basic statement of the rule of law" before noting its separate provisions for Wales and Scotland (check out paragraphs 56 to 58).

"It is perhaps a precursor both of the Union and of devolution. In the light of our relatively new devolution arrangements within the United Kingdom, I wonder whether a constitutional document should now set out the legal rights and duties of the United Kingdom, building, I hope, on the work of the Silk commission—I declare an interest here, as a member of that commission—and after the referendum in Scotland."

His speech name checked Jamie Oliver, Charles Dickens and Rudyard Kipling, but its main point was the need for a written constitution: "We need to look anew at the issue of having constitutional documents containing our fundamental freedoms.

"Should our precious freedoms be set out in some constitutional document? I know that this has not been the traditional British approach. Mr Podsnap in Dickens's Our Mutual Friend was asked in relation to our unwritten constitution how other countries do:

"'They do, Sir', returned Mr Podsnap, gravely shaking his head; 'they do—I am sorry to be obliged to say—as they do!'".

"A written constitution, even an entrenched one, is admittedly no guarantor of liberty and rights. Some of the worst despotisms in the world have written constitutions. Yet with democratic roots, and with some of the challenges that we now face that are posed to our liberties, this question needs looking at anew."

Maiden speeches tend to be uncontroversial and personal. Lord Bourne found time to thank the woman who chaired his first public speaking engagement as a student in Cambridge. Jean Barker is now better known as Baroness Trumpington, whose long life includes time spent as a Land Girl on Lloyd George's farm during World War II.

Lord Bourne's first speaking engagement must have gone well. Lady Trumpington would have been sure to let him know if she didn't like what she had heard.