The House of Lords Select Committee on the Constitution has published its new Report The Union and Devolution which draws heavily on evidence from Professor Matthew Flinders, Director of the Crick Centre.
Professor Flinders was invited to give oral evidence to the Committee in January, alongside Katie Ghose, Chief Executive of the Electoral Reform Society. Both were representing the Democracy Matters consortium who organised the ground-breaking ESRC-funded Citizens’ Assembly pilots in autumn 2o15.
The Committee highlight the findings of the Citizens’ Assemblies, and explore in depth how the Citizens’ Assemblies were established and operated. The Committee conclude:
“We illustrate in this Chapter a range of ways in which the public could be informed and engaged in conversations about the territorial constitution of the UK. While we do not advocate a particular method, the implementation of our recommendations would benefit from public engagement and consultation. If the public are to remain convinced of the benefits of the Union, and the Union is to reflect their needs and preferences, they should be involved in the steps we recommend to strengthen it.”
Professor Flinders said:
“It’s wonderful to see the House of Lords Constitution Committee drawing-upon the very best social science in order to underpin their concerns regarding the future of the UK and their recommendations concerning the promotion of informed public engagement. This is a first class report and I hope the Government responds positively.”
Matt Flinders and Katie Ghose give evidence to the House of Lords Select Committee on the Constitution
The Citizens’ Assembly pilots were held in October and November 2015 in Sheffield and Southampton. The pilots were funded by the Economic and Social Research Council and led by the Sir Bernard Crick Centre at the University of Sheffield, in association with the University of Southampton, University College London, University of Westminster and the Electoral Reform Society. In Sheffield the Citizens’ Assembly was comprised of 32 citizens from the four local authority areas of South Yorkshire who discussed whether a new devolved regional body should be formed and, if so, what form it should take.
The success of Citizens’ Assemblies suggests that, far from being anti-political, members of the public were very keen to engage in discussions about the future of the United Kingdom, in general, and about English decentralisation, in particular. Furthermore, the findings of project suggests that deliberative assemblies can deliver informed public engagement that can add value to the policy-making process and potentially bring added depth and legitimacy to the decision-making process.