Constitution Committee looks at referendums in the UK

06 January 2010

The House of Lords Constitution Committee holds the first evidence session at 11.00 am of its inquiry into the role of referendums in the UK’s constitutional experience

Appearing before the Committee will be:

  • Professor David Butler, Emeritus Professor, University of Oxford
  • Robert Hazell, Director, Constitution Unit, University College London
  • Professor Michael Saward, Open University
  • Professor Graham Smith,University of Southampton

The Lords Constitution Committee was appointed 'to examine the constitutional implications of all public bills coming before the House; and to keep under review the operation of the constitution'.

The Committee has decided to conduct an inquiry into the role of referendums in the UK’s constitutional experience.

The referendum has become an increasingly familiar feature of the UK’s constitutional landscape in recent years. Yet in contrast with many other countries, including nations such as Australia and New Zealand that share the Westminster tradition of parliamentary sovereignty, the UK’s experience of referendums remains limited.

In addition, referendums continue to be a focus of political debate. The Labour Party has promised a referendum on the electoral system early in the next Parliament; the Conservatives advocated a referendum on the recently passed Lisbon Treaty; the SNP Government in Scotland has proposed a referendum on Scottish independence in 2010, and the Labour-Plaid Cymru coalition has promised a referendum on the further devolution of powers in Wales. A number of local referendums have also taken place on reform of the system of local government.

The Committee's inquiry aims to tackle this question by analysing:

  • arguments for and against the use of referendums as a democratic and constitutional tool
  • what place the referendum has or might have in the UK’s system of Parliamentary democracy the UK’s experience of the referendum
  • the effectiveness of the Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Act 2000, and the statutory role of the Electoral Commission
  • international case studies of the use of the referendum
  • prospects for the future

Image: iStockphoto

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