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Thursday, 22 March, 2001, 12:47 GMT
Labour: Constitutional affairs

Find out more about the Labour party's policies on constitutional reform.


HOUSE OF LORDS

Tony Blair is the first Prime Minister to have given up his sole power of patronage to the House of Lords.

This function passed to an independent Appointments Commission last spring.

Labour accepts the principles underlying the Royal Commission's proposals on the future role and structure of the House of Lords. It's pledged to act on these. These include:

  • Electing a minority of at least 65 members to the new second chamber.
  • The House of Lords should reflect the gender, ethnic and geographical diversity of Britain, as well as being politically balanced.
  • The Appointments Commission should have its power and functions set in statute.

    Labour believes that the timing of reform of the House of Lords will depend on the outcome of consultation with all interested parties.

    A joint committee of both Houses will be appointed to undertake a wide-ranging review of possible further change.


    DEVOLUTION

    Labour says that in government it delivered devolution as promised: a Scottish Parliament, National Assembly in Wales and an assembly in Northern Ireland.

    Labour does not have any policies for further devolution, though it is "committed to making devolution work".

    The next task, it says, is to ensure these new institutions take root and retain public confidence, by responding to their wishes.

    The party has considered advocating cutting the number of Scottish MPs, though there are no firm proposals at present.

    This, says Labour, will help to mitigate the 'West Lothian Question', that Scottish MPs can vote on English matters at Westminster, while English MPs cannot vote on Scottish matters.

    Similarly, the party in government has considered replacing the national secretaries of state with a new slimmed down ministry covering Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

    Labour is opposed to the reform of the Barnett Formula - the complicated system by which Scotland and Wales receive money from Westminster.

    The Scottish and Welsh Labour parties will be campaigning during the general election on the full UK policy spectrum, even though there are no elections to the Welsh Assembly until 2003.

    On devolution the Labour leaders of both the Scottish Parliament and the Welsh Assembly, are in agreement with the UK party.

    |In Wales, Rhodri Morgan, the First Secretary, has a more liberal view on freedom of information than his colleagues at Millbank - Labour Party HQ in London.

    Mr Morgan is pushing away at what he calls the "fusty corridors of the Whitehall method of doing things" and implementing more open government in Wales. He has already published the minutes of cabinet meetings to show his commitment to this.


    REGIONAL ASSEMBLIES

    Nearly 10 years ago Labour promised to introduce new regional government for English voters.

    Ahead of the 1997 election it made a slightly different promise - to let those in the different regions vote on whether they wanted elected assemblies.

    In the event, Labour, in government, has steamed ahead with devolution for Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland and London.

    As yet there has been no devolved democracy to the English regions.

    In April 1999 Labour set up eight regional development agencies to co-ordinate regional economic development, including job training, attracting inward investment, and distributing single regeneration budgets

    Each agency is managed by a board of government-appointed members and scrutinised by a chamber whose representatives are drawn from local government, trade unions, business, education and the voluntary sector.

    Deputy Labour leader John Prescott and the Chancellor of the Exchequer Gordon Brown both support devolving power to elected assemblies. The 1997 commitment is repeated in the 2001 manifesto.

    Under Labour's Local Government Act 2000 local councils have three options for a new structure: a leader elected by the council, a directly-elected mayor and cabinet; or a directly-elected mayor with a council manager.

    The first powerful directly-elected mayor is in place in London, with an assembly whose main role is to hold the mayor to account.

    Elected mayors are being considered by other English cities such as Birmingham, Liverpool, Manchester and Newcastle.

    If they go ahead, it is likely the appeal of regional assemblies in those areas, will be diminished.


    VOTING REFORM

    Labour promised in its 1997 election manifesto to hold a referendum on electoral reform.

    While in power it set up a commission to look at alternative voting systems.

    The Jenkins Commission did just that and reported back in 1998.

    It recommended the alternative vote top-up (AV+) system - a hybrid of two existing voting systems not currently used anywhere in the world.

    A Labour report on electoral reform since said there were "serious concerns about the acceptability of AV+".

    However, while in government Labour introduced proportional representation for elections to the European parliament, the Scottish Parliament, Welsh and Northern Ireland Assemblies, and the Greater London Authority.

    The party has now made a pact with the Liberal Democrats that there will be a review of the new voting systems following elections to the Scottish Parliament and Welsh Assembly in 2003.

    If that review recommends that there should be a change in the Westminster voting system then there will be a referendum, says Labour.

    ALL-WOMEN SHORTLISTS

    Labour faced controversy in the run-up to the 1997 poll when its all-women shortlists for selecting the party's prospective MPs were declared illegal and it was forced to abandon the system.

    The 2001 manifesto states that the party is "committed, through legislation, to allow each party to make positive moves to increase the representation of women".

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