Select Committee on Constitution Second Report


17 DECEMBER 2002

By the Select Committee on the Constitution.




Use of formal mechanisms

  1. We recommend that further use should be made of the formal mechanisms for intergovernmental relations, even if they seem to many of those presently involved to be excessive. Formal mechanisms, such as the Joint Ministerial Committee (JMC), are not intended to serve as a substitute for good relations in other respects, or for good and frequent informal contacts, but rather to serve as a framework for such relations and to act as a fall-back in case informal personal relations cease to be sufficient. Such mechanisms are likely to become increasingly important when governments of different political persuasions have to deal with each other. (para. 29)

Joint Ministerial Committees

  1. We recommend:

(a) that the criteria to determine whether a meeting should be a Joint Ministerial Committee meeting should be resolved and published;

(b) that at least one formal meeting of the JMC in 'functional' form should be held each year in each policy area where functions are devolved to two or three devolved administrations and exercised by the UK Government for the rest, or where there is substantial overlap between functions that are devolved and those retained at United Kingdom level; and

(c) that the existing agriculture Ministers' meetings become JMC meetings, assuming that they meet the criteria stipulated above. (para. 33)


  1. We recommend the following steps to ensure greater openness:

(a) the UK Government should issue a substantive press statement as a matter of course after every meeting of the Joint Ministerial Committee. Wherever possible, that statement should be agreed by the parties, and should contain as much information as possible. At the very least, it should record the fact that the meeting took place, where it took place and who attended it; and

(b) the UK Prime Minister should make a statement to the House of Commons after each annual plenary meeting of the JMC regarding both that meeting and the conduct of intergovernmental relations within the United Kingdom generally over the previous 12 months. (para. 37)


  1. We recommend that concordats be made for a fixed term only, capable of being varied during that term if necessary but to terminate at the end of that term and be renegotiated. During that term, it would not be open to a party to withdraw from or repudiate a concordat. (para. 43)

  1. We also recommend:

(a) that all concordats and other agreements between the UK Government and any devolved administration should be deposited in the Libraries of both Houses of Parliament within two weeks of their being concluded; and

(b) that the UK Prime Minister's annual statement about intergovernmental relations should be accompanied by the deposit of a list in the Libraries of both Houses of Parliament of all concordats and other intergovernmental agreements concluded during the previous 12 months or in force at the date of the plenary Joint Ministerial Committee meeting. (para. 45)

The Secretaries of State for the devolved areas and their Offices

  1. We recommend that the Government should consider:

(a) merging the existing Devolution and English Regions team (presently in the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister) and those parts of the Scotland and Wales Offices dealing with intergovernmental relations, to create a single group of officials able to deal with the full range of intergovernmental issues;

(b) whether such an intergovernmental group would require leadership and support from three Cabinet Ministers. For Scotland and Wales, adequate Ministerial involvement might be secured by one Cabinet Minister with responsibility for intergovernmental relations overall, with the possibility of appointing Ministers of State to deal with particular policy issues or devolved areas. (For the foreseeable future, however, we envisage that there will continue to be a need for a Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, supported by appropriate staff); and

(c) providing civil service support for this function in the light of the arrangements for dealing with intergovernmental relations at Ministerial level. (para. 68)

The Office of the Deputy Prime Minister

  1. We recommend that the Cabinet Office/Office of the Deputy Prime Minister devolution team should be strengthened in anticipation of an increase in formal liaison between Westminster and the devolved institutions. In particular we consider that the UK Government will require more specialist advice on intergovernmental relations. (para. 74)

Relationships at the centre

  1. We recommend that the UK Government consider with care how to deal with devolution matters at an early date, so that the machinery of government relating to devolution can cope not just with intergovernmental relations as they stand but as they are likely to become in the medium term. While implementing major changes would raise problems in the short term, the situation would change dramatically if the National Assembly for Wales were to acquire primary legislative powers. (para. 78)

The Barnett formula

  1. We recommend that:

(a) information about changes to public spending for England should be made available in a manner that relates directly to the categories attracting consequential payments under the Barnett formula; and

(b) the statistics collected and made available by HM Treasury to the devolved administrations be reviewed so as to ensure that all the information needed by the devolved administrations is available to them. (para. 93)

Payments outside the scope of the Barnett formula

  1. We recommend that where discrete disputes arise, they should be referred to an independent body, such as a Devolution Finance Commission, with that body then making a recommendation to the Cabinet. To the extent that macro-economic management requires control by the Treasury of the aggregate amounts of funding involved, such amounts could be set as the total value of a settlement to be allocated by the same body without the Treasury being able to determine the way in which it is allocated. (para. 102)

Reviewing the Barnett formula?

  1. We recommend that, when the Barnett formula is reviewed or a needs assessment is carried out, it be done by an independent and impartial body. This body should include persons nominated by the devolved administrations and by the UK Government, and should include people who reflect the views of all parts of the United Kingdom, including the English regions. (para. 107)
  2. We recommend that there should be consultations with the devolved administrations about macro-economic and fiscal policy before decisions about such matters are taken by the UK Government. (para. 109)

The Scrutiny of Intergovernmental relations

  1. We recommend that a review of intergovernmental relations, looking both at the UK's institutional arrangements for intergovernmental relations and the UK Government's conduct of such relations, be conducted at least once during every Parliament - or at least once every five years. We consider that this would be best undertaken by a Joint Committee of both Houses of Parliament. (para. 117)

Legislating for Scotland and Wales after devolution

  1. It appears to us that a number of steps could be taken to improve Westminster legislation affecting the National Assembly. We therefore recommend:

(a) that greater consistency be introduced into the process by which Westminster legislates for Wales. It seems to us that the Principles adopted by the Assembly Review of Procedure, following recommendations made by Professor Richard Rawlings (see Box 5) establish a very useful starting point for bringing a greater measure of consistency to legislation;

(b) that the Explanatory Memorandum for any bill affecting the functions of the National Assembly (or not affecting the Assembly's functions directly, but affecting areas of policy in which the Assembly has responsibilities in Wales) include a section explaining briefly how the bill affects the Assembly and its functions. Such a section should also explain how the bill complies with the Principles adopted by the Assembly Review of Procedure;

(c) that further steps be taken within Parliament to improve the consideration of legislation specifically applying in Wales, whether as a distinct Wales-bill or Wales-only parts of bills applying in England and Wales. One way to do this would be for the Welsh Affairs Select Committee to carry out inquiries into such bills, for which it might wish to take evidence in Wales from affected interests including the various parties represented in the National Assembly. Another would be to make greater use of the Welsh Grand Committee, possibly for the Committee stage of bills; and

(d) that further thought be given to how Members of the National Assembly can be afforded the opportunity to consider Westminster legislation that will affect the Assembly and its functions. Such an opportunity needs to take account not only of the needs of the UK Government and MPs and Peers at Westminster, but also the different ways of working and timescales applying to the National Assembly. The trend toward publishing bills in draft is especially welcome and will, we believe, be especially helpful in this context. (para. 124)

  1. While the UK Government may have a view about whether a Bill affects devolved matters or not, and what action should be taken as a result, we recommend that such communication should be between the UK Parliament and Scottish Parliament, not mediated by the executives at each end. (para. 131)

Lessons for Westminster from Holyrood, Cardiff Bay and Stormont?

  1. We welcome the greater use of pre-legislative scrutiny at Westminster and recommend, in this context, that the approach to legislation adopted in the Scottish Parliament be the subject of further consideration. (para. 145)
  2. We recommend that the use of business committees at Westminster be considered further in the light of the experience of the devolved bodies. (para. 147)

One Civil Service or Several?

  1. We believe that the advantages that flow from having a single Home Civil Service are such as to justify the retention of a single Home Civil Service and we recommend accordingly. (para. 169)

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