The Future of the Union, part two: Inter-institutional relations in the UK Contents

1Introduction: Inter-institutional Relations in the UK

1.Since the election of the Labour Government in 1997, the UK’s constitution has undergone significant change. Devolved legislatures and Governments have been established in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, with each institution accruing considerable new, and varying, powers since they became operational in 1999. From having had only one UK-wide, and three sub-state, referendums prior to 1997, there have now been further referendums on devolution in Wales and Scotland, the Good Friday Agreement and Scottish independence. There have also been two UK-wide referendums, the most recent resulting in the United Kingdom voting to leave the European Union. However, while the UK’s constitution, and, in particular, the territorial constitution, bears little relation to that of twenty years ago, there has, with few exceptions1, been little reform to the central institutions of the UK state and particularly the way in which Whitehall and Central Government operates.

2.In July 2015, PACAC launched a multi-phase inquiry entitled ‘The Future of the Union’, in order to examine the broader consequences of devolution, and decentralisation, for the future of the United Kingdom. 2 We published our first Report in this inquiry, The Future of the Union, part one: English Votes for English Laws, in February 2016. It explored the constitutional implications of English Votes for English Laws, as implemented following amendments to the House of Commons’ Standing Orders.3 In December 2015, PACAC launched the second phase of our inquiry into the future of the Union: Inter-Institutional relations in the UK.4

3.Once the United Kingdom was defined (with the exception of Northern Ireland between 1921 and 1972) by a compact array of political institutions. But, as the House of Commons Justice Committee noted in 2009, “the devolution of responsibilities from UK central Government to new devolved institutions with their own electoral mandates transformed the territorial politics of the UK from a set of relationships between departments within a single UK Government into a set of relationships between different governments”.5 The UK Government was joined in 1999 by the Northern Ireland Executive, the Scottish Government and the Welsh Government. Relations between the Governments have been the subject of repeated criticism for their reliance on informal, ad-hoc and bilateral meetings, and the ineffectiveness of the formalised machinery and framework for the conduct of these relations.6

4.This weakness has been brought into sharp focus as a result of the outcome of the EU referendum. The majority of voters in Scotland and Northern Ireland voted to remain in the European Union. The Scottish and Welsh Governments supported a Remain vote during the referendum. Since the EU referendum, the UK Government has promised to ensure the “full engagement” of the devolved administrations, as part of a “Team UK approach” to the “Brexit” negotiations.7 Despite this, many politicians have questioned the extent and significance of this engagement. The UK’s exit from the European Union will require not just diplomacy and effective intergovernmental relations at the EU level, but also within the UK. It offers both risk and a fresh opportunity, and, therefore, an incentive, to develop more effective intergovernmental relations in the UK. Chapter Two outlines the longstanding criticisms of intergovernmental relations in the UK, alongside proposals for reform.

5.The transformation of UK politics since devolution has also encompassed relationships between the UK Parliament, the Scottish Parliament, the National Assembly for Wales (NAW) and the Northern Ireland Assembly (NIA). These intra-parliamentary relationships have been more limited and modest in scope than their intergovernmental counterparts and, as will be explored in Chapter Three, this has often been identified as an area where greater collaboration and cooperation should be sought.8

6. Devolution has also had implications for the continued existence, within Great Britain, of the unified Civil Service. As a result of devolution to Scotland and Wales, the unified Civil Service now encompasses officials serving Governments of differing political parties in Holyrood, Cardiff Bay and Whitehall. Indeed, during the Scottish independence referendum the unified Civil Service included officials serving an administration that sought independence from the rest of the United Kingdom as opposed to those serving the pro-Union administrations in Cardiff Bay and Whitehall. Our predecessor committee, PASC, explored the conduct of civil servants serving both the Scottish and UK Governments in its 2015 report, Lessons for Civil Service Impartiality from the Scottish Independence Referendum and concluded that the single Civil Service for Great Britain should be maintained,9

7.In addition, the British Civil Service also collaborates with a separate Northern Ireland Civil Service (NICS). The NICS was established as a result of the Government of Ireland Act 1920 and the creation of a devolved Parliament and Government for Northern Ireland in 1921.10 The operation of the Civil Service, post-devolution, will be briefly discussed in Chapter Four, and will be one of the areas of focus of our next inquiry into ‘The work of the Civil Service’.

8.This report explores how these different intergovernmental, inter-parliamentary and intra-civil service relationships have developed since devolution, and the changes that will be required for these relationships to become stronger and more effective in the future. The latter is of particular significance in the context of the enhanced devolution settlement that Scotland will enjoy as a result of the Scotland Act 2016, the proposed further devolution of powers to Wales in the Wales Bill - currently before Parliament, and the UK’s exit from the European Union. The continued evolution of the devolution settlements across the UK, particularly the financial settlements between the four governments, will be examined in later stages of our ongoing inquiry into ‘The Future of the Union’.

9.During the course of this inquiry, PACAC took evidence in the National Assembly for Wales and the Centre for Constitutional Change at Edinburgh University. Witnesses included the First Minister of Wales, Rt Hon Carwyn Jones AM; the Deputy First Minister of Scotland, John Swinney MSP; the Permanent Secretaries to the Welsh and Scottish Governments, Sir Derek Jones and Leslie Evans; the former Clerk of the National Assembly for Wales and Chair of the Commission on Devolution in Wales, Sir Paul Silk; the then Presiding Officer of the National Assembly for Wales, Dame Rosemary Butler AM; the former Presiding Officer of the Scottish Parliament, Rt Hon Lord Steel of Aikwood; and the three territorial Secretaries of State, Rt Hon Alun Cairns MP, Rt Hon David Mundell MP and, at the time, the Rt Hon Theresa Villiers MP. A full list of those who gave evidence can be found at the back of this report. We thank all of those who gave evidence to this inquiry and to the National Assembly for Wales, Cardiff University and Edinburgh University for hosting these sessions.11


1 The changes to the Standing Orders to create a system of English Votes for English Laws, the creation of the Supreme Court and the expulsion of all bar 92 of the hereditary members of the House of Lords stand out as the few examples of change to the ‘centre’.

2 Standing Order No.146, as agreed by the House of Commons on 5 June 2015, reconstituted what was the Public Administration Select Committee as the Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee. The Committee’s remit is “to examine the reports of the Parliamentary Commissioner for Administration and the Health Service Commissioner for England, which are laid before this House, and matters in connection therewith; to consider matters relating to the quality and standards of administration provided by civil service departments, and other matters relating to the civil service; and to consider constitutional affairs.”

3 House of Commons Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee, The Future of the Union, part one: English Votes for English Laws, Fifth Report of Session 2015–16, HC 523.

4 For the terms of reference for our inquiry into inter-institutional relations, see: Call for evidence on inter-institutional relations in the UK

5 House of Commons Justice Committee, Devolution: a Decade On, Fifth Report of Session 2008–09, HC 529–I, para. 88.

6 A. Trench, Intergovernmental Relations and Better Devolution, UK’s Changing Union, December 2014, p.7; Bingham Centre for the Rule of Law, A Constitutional Crossroads: Ways Forward for the United Kingdom, May 2015, p.9.

8 The Smith Commission, Report of the Smith Commission for further devolution of powers to the Scottish Parliament, 27 November 2014, para. 29; Commission on Devolution in Wales, Empowerment and Responsibility: Legislative Powers to Strengthen Wales, March 2014, p.162; Commission on Scottish Devolution, Serving Scotland Better: Scotland and the United Kingdom in the 21st Century, June 2009, p.12.

9 Public Administration Select Committee, Lessons for Civil Service Impartiality from the Scottish Independence Referendum, Fifth Report of Session 2014–15, HC 111, 17 March 2015, para. 24.

10 Government of Ireland Act 1920, S.8.

11 During the course of our inquiry we were unable to visit Northern Ireland to take oral evidence from the First and Deputy First Ministers. The Northern Ireland Executive, however, have agreed to provide written evidence to PACAC on intergovernmental relations which will be published in due course. We hope to visit Northern Ireland at a later stage of our ongoing inquiry into the ‘Future of the Union’.




6 December 2016