Select Committee on Constitution First Report


50. Our working definition of a constitution is that it is the set of laws, rules and practices that create the basic institutions of the state and its component and related parts, and stipulate the powers of those institutions and the relationship between the different institutions and between those institutions and the individual.

51. We take the view that the five basic tenets of the United Kingdom Constitution are:

  • Sovereignty of the Crown in Parliament
  • The Rule of Law, encompassing the rights of the individual
  • Union State
  • Representative Government
  • Membership of the Commonwealth, the European Union, and other international organisations.

52. We shall work within these tenets, focusing on issues of constitutional significance. The criteria that we shall normally apply to determine significance will be the "two p's" test: principal and principle. That is, the issue must be one that is a principal part of the constitutional framework and one that raises an important question of principle. We may arrive at the topic of inquiry either by identifying a broad issue that clearly meets the "two p's" test or by being prompted by concern over a specific matter derived from a broader issue of principle that would leave us free to look at specific issues.

53. We anticipate that undertaking inquiries under our remit (derived from our Terms of Reference) "to keep under review the operation of the constitution" will, at a time of constitutional change and development, constitute our principal activity.

54. We shall examine legislation which has clear constitutional significance and report on it, locating the measure in its broader constitutional context and identifying the salient issues that it raises. Our purpose will be to inform debate in the House. In this respect, we see our role as similar to that fulfilled by the Delegated Powers and Deregulation Committee in reporting on the constitutional significance of the Regulatory Reform Bill last session[26]. We shall not, save in the most exceptional circumstances, present conclusions on the merits of a Bill.

55. However, unlike the Delegated Powers and Deregulation Committee, which has usually reported following the Second Reading of a Bill, we aim to report prior to Second Reading in the Lords in order to inform the debate on the principle of a measure. For this purpose, we may undertake preliminary research once the intention to introduce a Bill has been announced, and hear evidence while the bill is still in the Commons, recognising of course that we can make no assumptions about the form in which the Commons will in fact present a bill to the Lords, or indeed whether they will in fact pass it at all. We welcome, in principle, the publication of Bills in draft; we note that such publication will also greatly facilitate the work of the Committee.

56. We do not anticipate, save in exceptional circumstances, reporting on amendments that are tabled; nor do we anticipate making it our usual practice to report on Private Members' Bills introduced into the House.

57. We shall hold a meeting following each Queen's Speech to identify Bills which may have constitutional significance and then hold meetings as necessary to consider the Bills once they are introduced. We do not anticipate that such meetings will form the majority of the meetings that we hold.

58. We were grateful for the opportunity to draw on the legal advice available to the Joint Committee on Human Rights, the Delegated Powers and Deregulation Committee and the Select Committee on the European Union and look forward to future collaboration and co-operation.

59. We shall seek to avoid duplicating the work of related committees, but we may undertake inquiries that complement the work of other committees. We also propose to ensure regular liaison with other committees. This will be done through contact between Clerks and, if other committees are agreeable, occasional meetings of Chairmen and Clerks. We also do not rule out seeking co-operation with other committees and institutions through joint meetings or informal seminars.

60. The organisation of Government in dealing with constitutional issues means that, unlike Departmental Select Committees in the Commons, we shall not be confined to dealing with one particular Government Department in Whitehall since there is no single Department of the Constitution; though it is in practice likely that we shall be dealing with a limited number of Departments.

61. We shall maintain liaison with other public bodies dealing with issues that may fall within the rubric of the constitution—such as the Electoral Commission and the Committee on Standards in Public Life—but we do not anticipate much overlap with their areas of inquiry.

62. As with other Select Committees, we shall make reports to the House for information or for debate. Our reports on the constitutional implications of Bills introduced into the House will normally be for information, as the debate on a bill during its passage will provide adequate opportunity for our views to be of assistance to the House.

63. We propose to be open in our activities and to ensure that details of our inquiries are made as widely known as possible. We do not intend to appoint a specialist adviser on a permanent basis but we may appoint specialist advisers for particular inquiries. We shall invite evidence from witnesses with particular expertise but we shall seek to ensure that the range of witnesses is a wide one. Details of how we can be contacted are given in Appendix 3. We will be exploring how to make our work as accessible as possible to those with an interest in the constitutional arrangements of the United Kingdom.

26   2nd and 10th Reports Session 2000-01 (HL Paper 8 and 38). Back

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