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Wednesday, 16 May, 2001, 10:04 GMT
Liberal Democrats: Constitutional affairs

Find out more about Liberal Democrat policies on constitutional reform.


HOUSE OF LORDS

The Liberal Democrats say they would make government more politically accountable by replacing the House of Lords with an elected Senate.

They regarded the Royal Commission on the future of the Lords as "disappointing". The Liberal Democrats submission called for:

  • 261 senators to be elected by thirds every two years, for a 6 year term, using single transferable vote based on the existing European Parliamentary Constituencies.
  • The phasing out of appointed members of the second chamber over the first 6-year cycle, with a final decision to be made on retaining a maximum of 50 appointed members at the end of the transitional period.
  • A rejection of reserved places for law lords, bishops or other religious representatives.
  • Granting the Senate additional powers to those of the existing House of Lords.

    This would include the ability to force Governments to hold referendums on constitutional legislation, greater scrutiny of secondary legislation and treaties and oversight of quangos (unelected bodies carrying out public policy work) and public appointments

    The party would also set up a Supreme Court to carry out the judicial functions currently undertaken by the House of Lords.

    This would be charged with upholding a new written constitution. It would also resolve disputes between the UK Federal Parliament and the devolved National Parliaments and new Regional Assemblies.

    Supreme Court Judges would swear to preserve, protect and defend the constitution of the UK.


    DEVOLUTION

    The Liberal Democrats had long been advocates of devolution for Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

    They welcome the fully-fledged Scottish Parliament. However they believe that Labour's one nation approach has led to "timid and incomplete" reform in Wales.

    The party would give the Welsh Assembly greater responsibilities, including tax-varying powers.

    The Assembly would also get increased legislative powers in key areas such as economic development, industry and training, Welsh language and culture, health, transport, education and law and order.

    The Liberal Democrats would also decentralise many of the current responsibilities of central government to the nations. This includes, among others, economic development, housing, health, social services, local roads and public transport, education and planning.

    The Westminster Parliament and the UK Government would continue to be responsible for defence, foreign affairs, national security, immigration, social security, macro-economic management, freedom of commerce, some transport infrastructure and setting minimum standards and targets for public service provision.

    The party would also reform the system that allocates revenue to the nations, although it pledges not to make any cuts in current funding.

    The Liberal Democrats believe the current "Barnett Formula" takes no account of the needs of the nations, being based solely on population figures.

    It would be replaced by a new Revenue Distribution Formula that would include key health, poverty and education indicators.

    The Liberal Democrats would establish a permanent secretariat to support the work of the Council of the Isles, although this was not mentioned in the manifesto.

    This British-Irish body, established under the Good Friday Agreement, seeks to ensure close co-operation between the UK Parliament, the Scottish Parliament, the Welsh Assembly, the Northern Ireland Assembly, the Isle of Man and the Channel Islands.

    A new Secretary of State for the Nations and Regions would replace the separate UK ministers for the devolved nations of the UK.


    REGIONALISM

    The Liberal Democrats are promising English voters referenda on new, elected regional assemblies.

    The party argues the English regions should have a level of government which is on the same democratic footing as the Welsh Assembly and Scottish Parliaments.

    "Labour has given the people of Scotland and Wales much more democratic and accountable government. The same is needed in England."

    The regions would be based on the boundaries of the eight existing regional development agencies set up in 1999 by the Labour government.

    In previous policy statements, the party has criticised the existing agencies as lacking democratic accountability.

    They would be amongt a "multitude of unelected bodies" to be swept away and replaced by "democratic English regional government".

    The new bodies would be funded by central government and through tax-varying powers.

    It says money would be saved in the long run by sacking those who run quangos and redistributing the administrative resources needed to run them.

    "This is not adding another tier of government - it is reducing central government with its 'control freak' tendencies and releasing the energy and potential that is pent up in our regions."

    The Lib Dem plan would see "regional assemblies taking over the budgets of all the quangos and regional government offices that came under their control".


    VOTING REFORM

    The Liberal Democrats have long campaigned for electoral reform and believed it would be delivered by Labour.

    Party leader Charles Kennedy said in January this year he was still confident Labour would hold a referendum on the matter if it won a second term.

    He said the current system was "dying on its feet" as voters stopped going to the polls.

    The manifesto pledges support for the alternative vote top-up system (AV+) as recommended by the Jenkins Commission and promises to put this to the public in a referendum.

    However, the party ultimately wants to see the single transferable vote used for Westminster elections.

    Charles Kennedy has endorsed Labour's decision to postpone a decision about holding a referendum on voting reform until 2003-04. This is expected to follow a review of the PR systems introduced for Scotland and Wales, Europe, and the election for the London mayor.

    The Liberal Democrats also want to introduce voting at 16 years as well as allowing people of this age to stand for elected office.

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