Referendums in the United Kingdom - Constitution Committee Contents

CHAPTER 6: Conclusion

204.  Referendums are not a panacea. We note the arguments for their use as a way of strengthening the democratic process. The drawbacks and difficulties of their use are serious.

205.  Referendums may become a part of the UK's democratic and constitutional framework. There has been little consistency in their use. They have taken place on an ad hoc basis, frequently as a tactical device rather than on the basis of constitutional principle.

206.  Notwithstanding this, we acknowledge arguments that, if referendums are to be used, they are most appropriately used in relation to fundamental constitutional issues. There are difficulties in defining what constitutes a "fundamental constitutional issue". Although some constitutional issues clearly are of fundamental importance,[27] and others not, there is a grey area where the importance of issues is a matter of political judgment.

207.  To leave such judgments entirely in the hands of the government of the day is in our view inappropriate. Parliament should decide whether or not a referendum is appropriate in a given circumstance.

208.  We note the recent commitments by the main parties to use referendums in specific circumstances and the proposals for further referendums in Scotland and Wales in the near future. The question of referendums will arise in the forthcoming General Election campaign. We have set out in this report some considerations which we hope will inform future debate.

27   See para 94. Back

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