Constitutional Reform and Renewal - Justice Committee Contents

2  Our Inquiry

17.  There is little evidence in the material published to date that the inter-relationships and interaction between the individual proposed reforms (outlined in the Constitutional Reform and Governance Bill and Building Britain's Future) have been thoroughly explored by the Government, or that their relationship to the major constitutional reforms which have been introduced since 1997 have been considered in depth. This is not a new phenomenon. In our recent report, Devolution: a decade on, we identified the Government's lack of a strategic vision for the constitution,[23] and in previous reports, we have noted the Government's seemingly ad hoc approach to constitutional reform.[24] Furthermore, the Joint Committee on the Draft Constitutional Renewal Bill also concluded that it was "difficult to discern the principles underpinning" the disparate nature of the proposals included in the draft Bill.[25]

18.  In July 2007, we published a special report welcoming the Governance of Britain Green Paper. While we acknowledged the legitimate interests of other select committees in examining specific proposals included in that Green Paper, we said that we would "take responsibility for scrutiny of the overall process of constitutional reform".[26]

19.  We decided to continue our oversight of this initiative by launching an inquiry into constitutional reform and renewal, with a view to:

  • assessing the overall purpose and goals of proposed reforms;
  • outlining and commenting on the merits and pitfalls of specific proposals as they emerge; and
  • identifying further proposals for reform which we find desirable.

We also considered it necessary to look at the overall picture of constitutional reform in the United Kingdom, focusing on the relationships between the individual proposals, and the potential unintended consequences of those proposals and interactions between them.

20.  In this report we are chiefly concerned with the actual process and mechanisms of how we 'do' constitutional reform in the United Kingdom: of identifying and achieving the appropriate balance between Government responsibility, parliamentary ownership and public engagement in the process of constitutional reform.[27]

21.  This report outlines some of the main features of the proposals that have emerged from the Government, from the leaders of the three main political parties and from other sources.[28] In doing so we identify some fundamental principles for the process by which constitutional reform should be achieved in the UK. This is our second report in this inquiry (we have already published a report on the Parliamentary Standards Bill). We will return to a more in-depth study of the detail of the specific proposals for reform as these emerge.

23   Justice Committee, Fifth Report of Session 2008-09, Devolution: A Decade On, HC 529-I, para 6 Back

24   For example, see the Third Report of Session 2004-05, Constitutional Reform Bill: the Government's proposals [Lords], HC 275-I Back

25   Joint Committee on the Draft Constitutional Renewal Bill, Draft Constitutional Renewal Bill, HL 166-I and HC 551-I, Session 2007-08, 31 July 2008, para 376 Back

26   Constitutional Affairs Committee, Second Special Report of Session 2006-07, Scrutiny of Constitutional Reform, HC 907. During this Parliament alone, the Justice Committee has produced several major reports on constitutional issues, including: the Constitutional Role of the Attorney General, Party Funding, and Devolution: A Decade On. For a full list see Appendix A to this report. Back

27   Further questions to be addressed include: How can public engagement be achieved? Do we require referendums for major constitutional reform? Should we move towards citizens juries or citizens assemblies? Back

28   For example, see: Meg Russell and Akash Paun, The House Rules? International lessons for enhancing the autonomy of the House of Commons, The Constitution Unit, October 2007 Back

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