Select Committee on Constitution Fourth Report


12 February 2003

By the Select Committee appointed to examine the constitutional implications of all public bills coming before the House; and to keep under review the operation of the constitution.



1.  A bill has been introduced into this House to make provision for the holding of referendums about the establishment of elected assemblies for the regions of England (except London); for reviewing the structure of local government in regions where the holding of a referendum is under consideration; for implementing the recommendations of such reviews; for the Electoral Commission to give advice in connection with the establishment of assemblies; for payment of grant in connection with the activities of regional chambers; and for incurring expenditure in preparation for assemblies and in connection with the transfer of functions to them. The Regional Assemblies (Preparations) Bill was brought from the House of Commons on 27th January 2003 (HL Bill 25).

2.  The Deputy Prime Minister, the Rt Hon. John Prescott MP, wrote to the Committee on 23rd January drawing attention to the constitutional implications of the bill. Annexed to his letter were a short summary of the bill, and further details of the Government's position on three areas of constitutional significance: referendums; local government reorganisation; and regional boundaries. This letter, together with its annexes, is printed with our report as Appendix 1.

3.  We found the Deputy Prime Minister's letter very helpful in our deliberations on the bill. We are grateful to him for taking this proactive approach, and consider it to be an excellent example of good practice in relation to Parliamentary scrutiny.

4.  We considered that the bill raised significant constitutional issues which we wished to explore further.[1] We therefore invited the Rt Hon. Nick Raynsford MP, Minister of State for Local Government and the Regions, to a public evidence session on the bill. The transcript of that meeting is at Appendix 2.

5.  During the meeting we raised the following matters which were of concern to us:

·  the asymmetrical model of regional government which the bill implies, and the ensuing different levels of accountability in local government;

·  the proposal to hold referendums at different times in different regions;

·  the criteria which would have to be met to trigger a referendum in a particular region;

·  public participation in consultation, and the provision of information to voters before a referendum;

·  the lack of a turnout threshold in any referendum;

·  the potential for changing boundaries and the independence and powers of the Boundary Committee; and

·  the funding of Regional Assemblies and their independence from central government.

6.  We draw these matters to the attention of the House as raising questions of principle about principal parts of the constitution.

1   Our normal practice is only to report on public bills which raise an important question of principle affecting a principal part of the constitution. We consider that this bill meets these criteria. Back

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