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EDITIONS
Blair years Monday, 6 May, 2002, 08:37 GMT 09:37 UK
Labour's 1997 pledges: The constitution
The following page details Labour's activity in government on constitutional affairs, based on what it committed itself to in the manifesto. Some pledges have been omitted for the sake of brevity. No judgement has been made to the inherent value of the pledge, but important criticisms are included where applicable.

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Introducton and explanation
Economy
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Constitution
Foreign/Defence

WHAT THE MANIFESTO SAID:
"As an initial, self-contained reform, not dependent on further reform in the future, the right of hereditary peers to sit and vote in the House of Lords will be ended..."
CONCLUSION: PLEDGE MET
The House of Lords Act 1999 disqualified all hereditary peers for membership of the House, but allowed 90 hereditary peers and the holders of the offices of Earl Marshal and Lord Great Chamberlain to say on to ensure there were enough peers to conduct business. The remaining hereditary peers will be excluded when the much postponed 'second stage' of Lords reform takes place.

WHAT THE MANIFESTO SAID:
"The appointment of life peers to the House of Lords will be reviewed. Our objective will be to ensure that, over time, party appointees as life peers more accurately reflect the proportion of votes cast at the previous general election. We are committed to maintaining an independent cross-bench presence of life peers."
CONCLUSION: PARTIALLY MET
The government has yet to publish its proposals for completing stage two of Lords reform. A white paper last year came in for criticism and it is expected that legislation will differ from the proposals it made. While this issue has frustrated the constitutional reform lobby, the government has established a commission to propose non-party peers - though its decisions have been criticised.
WHAT THE MANIFESTO SAID:
"A committee of both Houses of Parliament will be appointed to undertake a wide-ranging review of possible further change [in the Lords] and then to bring forward proposals for reform."
CONCLUSION: PLEDGE MET
A Royal Commission, chaired by Lord Wakeham and including members of both Houses, recommended a mix of elected and appointed members. However, the proposals put forward by the government has been criticised for not bearing any resemblance to the Wakeham findings.
WHAT THE MANIFESTO SAID:
"We believe the House of Commons is in need of modernisation and we will ask the House to establish a special Select Committee to review its procedures."
CONCLUSION: PLEDGE MET
The Modernisation Committee first met in June 1997 and made a series of recommendations that led to some changes such as changing the hours of sittings.
CRITICISMS AND QUALIFICATIONS
For many, however, it has not gone far enough. A group of Labour MPs has led a campaigin to make Westminster more family-friendly, including a protracted row over whether female MPs can breastfeed in the Commons chamber, a campaign they lost. Conservatives have also accused the government of using measures such as shorter hours to kill debate and push through legislation.
WHAT THE MANIFESTO SAID:
"Prime Minister's Questions will be made more effective."
CONCLUSION: DEBATABLE
The only change that has been made to Prime Minister's Questions is to change it from two 15 minute sessions per week to one 30-minute session on Wednesdays. The government says that the longer session leads to a more informed and fairer debate. The opposition says that there are fewer opportunities to put scrutinise the prime minister. Many outside observers think it's still the same outdated occasion where the parties sling mud at each other.
WHAT THE MANIFESTO SAID:
"Ministerial accountability will be reviewed so as to remove recent abuses."
CONCLUSION: PLEDGE NOT MET
Critics say that this was an extremely vague commitment. The best public guide to its completion is the reissued Ministerial Code. This document was criticised by the Public Administration Committee for not properly clarifying issues of accountability.
WHAT THE MANIFESTO SAID:
"The process for scrutinising European legislation will be overhauled."
CONCLUSION: PARTIALLY MET
The Commons agreed in 1998 to widen the scope of European legislation which may be considered by the Commons to include documents brought forward under all three pillars of the European Union, rather than that brought forward purely through the European Commission. The Select Committee on European Legislation has become the European Scrutiny Committee and three European Standing Committees were established. However, the government also built into this resolution the right to override or expedite scrutiny of legislation in certain circumstances.
WHAT THE MANIFESTO SAID:
"The Nolan recommendations will be fully implemented and extended to all public bodies."
CONCLUSION: PLEDGE NOT MET
Although the government has reiterated its intention to legislate in this area, no formal steps have actually been taken. A 2001 report by the Public Administration select committee found that there were ongoing accountability issues with non-departmental bodies.
WHAT THE MANIFESTO SAID:
"We will oblige parties to declare the source of all donations above a minimum figure..."
CONCLUSION: PLEDGE MET
Parties must now declare donations of more than 5,000 to their central offices, as well as declaring donations over 1,000 to local or constituency parties. This has not stopped Labour's opponents from pursuing allegations of under-the-counter sleaze against the party as both the Bernie Ecclestone and Lakshmi Mittal controversies have shown.
WHAT THE MANIFESTO SAID:
"Foreign funding [of political parties] will be banned."
CONCLUSION: PARTIALLY MET
There are some restrictions under European Community law limiting the extent of restriction. Companies registered in another member state but carrying out some business in the UK can still make donations to UK parties. Candidates in Northern Ireland are exempt from all restrictions.
WHAT THE MANIFESTO SAID:
"We are committed to a referendum on the voting system for the House of Commons. An independent commission on voting systems will be appointed early to recommend a proportional alternative to the first-past-the-post system."
CONCLUSION: PLEDGE NOT MET
The Jenkins Commission produced its report on a new voting system in October 1998. The Government has not held a referendum on the subject.
WHAT THE MANIFESTO SAID:
"We are pledged to a Freedom of Information Act, leading to more open government."
CONCLUSION: PLEDGE MET
The Freedom of Information Act received Royal Assent on 30 November 2000.
CRITICISMS AND QUALIFICATIONS
The Act will not come into force until 2005 and it has been widely criticised as being as weak. Ministers will still have widespread exemptions from its provisions and some argue that it is actually weaker than the voluntary code introduced by the former Conservative prime minister John Major.
WHAT THE MANIFESTO SAID:
"A sovereign Westminster Parliament will devolve power to Scotland ... and Wales."
CONCLUSION: PLEDGE MET
The Scotland Act gained Royal Assent on 19 November 1998. The Scottish Parliament met for the first time on 12 May 1999. The Government of Wales Act was passed in 1998 and the new assembly took up powers in July 1999.
WHAT THE MANIFESTO SAID:
"Following a referendum to confirm popular demand, there will be a new deal for London, with a strategic authority and a mayor, each directly elected."
CONCLUSION: PLEDGE MET
The directly-elected Greater London Authority was created in 2000, under the Greater London Authority Act 1999. Ken Livingstone was elected the first mayor of the city.
WHAT THE MANIFESTO SAID:
"Demand for directly elected regional government so varies across England that it would be wrong to impose a uniform system. In time we will introduce legislation to allow the people, region by region, to decide in a referendum whether they want directly elected regional government."
CONCLUSION: PLEDGE NOT MET
While this pledge has not been met within the first five years, the government is expected to shortly propose what it will do. Regional assemblies for England has been hotly debated behind the scenes in Whitehall and at Westminster.
WHAT THE MANIFESTO SAID:
"We will encourage democratic innovations in local government, including pilots of the idea of elected mayors with executive powers in cities."
CONCLUSION: PLEDGE MET
The Local Government Act 2000 placed an obligation on councils to take a new structure, either a cabinet style system or a directly elected mayor. The old committee system has been ditched.
WHAT THE MANIFESTO SAID:
"Labour is committed to a fair distribution of government grant."
CONCLUSION: PLEDGE NOT MET
Labour described this as an 'urgent priority' for reform. But it has continued to use the existing grant formulae with no plans to change it before 2003. Ministers say that a new "fairer and more stable" system will be introduced on 1 April 2003 but there is little detail about how it will work.
WHAT THE MANIFESTO SAID:
"Councils should not be forced to put their services out to tender, but will be required to obtain best value."
CONCLUSION: PLEDGE MET
The Local Government Act 1999 abolished Compulsory Competitive Tendering and introduced "Best Value". Councils now have a duty to subject decisions to "the four Cs": Competition, challenge, comparison and consultation.
WHAT THE MANIFESTO SAID:
"To ensure greater accountability, a proportion of councillors in each locality will be elected annually."
CONCLUSION: PLEDGE NOT MET
Metropolitan districts have elections of a third of council seats each year for three out of four years, a system district councils and English shire unitaries can choose to adopt. However, they can also elect to keep the existing system of elections once every four years. This four-year system remains in place for all other council structures (London boroughs, the GLA, Welsh and Scottish unitaries and as well as a number of district and unitary authorities).

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