The venerable British constitution, that amorphous product of centuries of legal evolution, has not been treated by successive Governments of recent times with the respect it deserves.

So suggests a House of Lords committee, which has now embarked on a study of the way constitutional changes have been put forward, particularly since the turn of the millennium.

It has in mind in particular the messy process under Tony Blair's Labour administration that led to the emasculating of the role of the Lord Chancellor, together with the replacement of the appellate House of Lords by the UK Supreme Court; and the rushed job under the coalition Government in legislating for the referendum on electoral reform, along with the reduction in the number of MPs and the fixing of the present Parliament at a five year term.

Questions it wants to examine - and on which it invites public comment (click here for news report) include whether constitutional laws should be considered to have a special character, and attract special procedures for policy making; what role should Parliament or other bodies (apart from the Government) have in forming proposals for change; and the nature and extent of consultation that should take place.

One can readily sympathise with the view that constitutional change should not be subject to the whims of short term political advantage, nor should ancient institutions be recast without a thorough look at ways in which the rest of the pile might start to shift in consequence. But the initial suggestions seem to me to point to a somewhat haphazard arrangement without a body that might take some ongoing responsibility for keeping matters under review. 

Of course we must be wary of creating new quangos, and also of instituting any procedures that might risk reforms coming to fruition at all, because of the length of time they would be under consideration - it is said that the current electoral reform proposals, for example, have to work to a tight timetable because of the work necessary to put them into place before the next general election, if they get the go-ahead in the forthcoming referendum. But I hope that the committee will recognise the need to do more than just energise various interest groups to make the running on constitutional matters, valuable though their input may be.

An important question should be where proposals for human rights reform might in to any new framework. Here the Conservative part of the coalition seems to have got itself into a fine old mess, with Lord Woolf this week becoming only the most senior of many legal figures to have pointed out that ministers are indeed bound by the European Convention - all part of the rule of law, you know - with little prospect of seeing it amended as proposed by Kenneth Clarke.

And there would be little sense therefore in promoting some British Bill of Rights, which could only make a difference if it were to add further to the protections under the ECHR - not what supporters of the idea intend at all.

Even the Prime Minister has fallen into the trap of playing up the significance of the rulings that are currently causing most of the fuss. What election result would actually be affected by giving some prisoners the vote? And why is conferring a right of appeal on registered sex offenders, which by definition should only be successfully exercised in meritorious cases, any kind of evil?

This issue has the potential to generate a messy outcome that would make the Lord Chancellor saga look pretty tame. How we need some means of injecting a bit of common sense into human rights matters, and for our poliical leaders to run less scared of the nonsense-spouting tabloids. If a constitution watchdog could take us any distance in that direction, it would be well worth it.