INFORMALITY AND THE RELIANCE ON GOODWILL
24. We have noted the heavy reliance on goodwill
in intergovernmental relations. Many of our witnesses emphasised
the need for goodwill to make these relations work, and attributed
their smoothness to date to the existence of such goodwill.
The view that came across was that such goodwill permitted the
high level of informality that presently exists, and meant that
the need to have more formal procedures, or use those that already
exist, was reduced. As the Secretary of State for Scotland put
it in evidence
there is little doubt that the easy,
informal relationship which exists between myself and the present
First Minister, and existed with the previous First Minister,
because we are all members of the same party, does help
the very fact that we can each lift the phone to one another
and discuss matters knowing we are among friends and with a similar
long-standing desire to see not just a successful Scottish Parliament
but also a stronger United Kingdom helps." [our italics]
25. We would certainly not seek to recommend the
absence of goodwill as an element of intergovernmental relations.
We are pleased to note that goodwill exists and acknowledge its
value to date. However, we are concerned by the sheer extent
of the reliance on goodwill as the basis for intergovernmental
relations within the United Kingdom. We are also concerned that
goodwill appears to have been elevated into a principle of intergovernmental
relations: it is used to explain the avoidance of disputes and
to justify maintaining the present informality of the system.
Some also argue that it works against the pluralist concept of
devolution in that informality helps perpetuate previous practices.
While matters may be relatively straightforward now, we wish to
ensure that good and effective relations between governments can
continue even if the present level of goodwill should decline.
26. In any case we suspect that the present levels
of goodwill will diminish over time. The first reason for this
is political. At present, Labour is the dominant partner in the
administrations in Edinburgh and Cardiff and also forms the UK
Government in London. It is clear that commitment to a common
set of values and objectives, including making devolution appear
to be a success, is an important element of the present cordial
relations. Even in the present situation, the similarity of outlook
of the different Labour administrations can be exaggerated. Sooner
or later, moreover, Labour will lose its dominance in one or more
administrations, and governments of different political complexions
will have to deal with each other. Whether that takes, for example,
the form of a Labour government in London and a nationalist administration
in Cardiff or Edinburgh, or a Conservative one in London and a
Labour administration in office in Scotland or Wales, is a secondary
issue. It is having administrations of different political persuasions
that is our principal concern. Ways to deal with such differences
beyond relying on goodwill and being "among friends"
need to have been established in advance if a change of government
is not to threaten devolution as a whole. There was widespread
acknowledgement that ensuring there could be successful co-operation
between governments formed from differing parties and with different
priorities would be a challenge.
However, there was a marked reluctance to take any action now
that might reduce the scale of that challenge.
27. Second, part of the foundation of the present
level of goodwill is that the senior politicians involved, whatever
their party, know each other well. That is because so many of
the prominent figures - whether Ministers, opposition politicians
or indeed presiding officers - have shared experience as MPs at
Westminster. However, many of those elected to the devolved legislatures
and assemblies have never held elected office before. As all
the United Kingdom parties and Plaid Cymru and the SNP have declared
their opposition to people holding multiple mandates and being
elected to both Westminster and a devolved body, this trend is
likely to increase over time. (Only Northern Ireland still has
individuals who are both MPs and MLAs.) Unlike his predecessors,
the present Scottish First Minister (Jack McConnell MSP) has never
been elected to the United Kingdom Parliament, and the only members
of his Cabinet with Westminster experience are Jim Wallace MSP,
the Deputy First Minister and Minister for Justice and Home Affairs,
Malcolm Chisholm MSP, Minister for Health and Community Care,
and Lord Watson of Invergowrie MSP, Minister for Tourism, Culture
and Sport. In the Welsh Assembly Government only Rhodri Morgan
AM, the First Minister, has sat at Westminster. As politicians
make their careers wholly within a devolved administration, and
look less to Westminster, governments will find that they can
no longer rely on past acquaintance serving as a foundation for
continued relations. The system needs to be able to cope with
people who have no knowledge whatever of each other until they
become ministerial counterparts.
28. Third, the range of differences that need to
be dealt with at the moment is limited, but that too will change
with time. The devolved administrations increasingly pursue distinct
policies. As this process continues, the aggregate differences
involved will increase. These differences are likely to develop
whatever changes there may be in the political parties in office
at the various levels. At the moment the areas of policy difference
are limited, but as they grow the more issues may need to be dealt
with through the formal mechanisms, and the more complex those
issues will be.
29. 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
The role of the Joint Ministerial
30. Joint Ministerial Committee meetings are the
tip of the iceberg of intergovernmental contact. They take a
number of forms. The annual 'plenary' JMC is attended by the United
Kingdom Prime Minister and Deputy, the Chancellor of the Exchequer,
the Secretaries of State for, and the First Minister and Deputy
First Minister from, each devolved administration. The JMC for
European matters now appears to meet at least twice a year, as
part of the UK Government's preparations for European Council
meeting at the end of each EU Presidency. This is discussed in
more detail in Chapter Six below. There are also functional JMC
meetings in a number of areas, most notably Health, and the JMC
for Officials also appears to have recently been revived, after
a single meeting in November 1999.
31. Under the Memorandum of Understanding it is for
UK Ministers to determine whether to convene a meeting of a 'functional'
JMC, although any Minister may call for one. The UK Minister
also chairs any meeting. The only meeting required is an annual
plenary meeting of the JMC.
However, the areas in which 'functional' JMC meetings are held,
and the frequency with which they are held, do not correspond
with the areas of important interaction or overlap of policy between
governments. In the area of health - a very important devolved
function - JMC meetings have taken place only once a year. Although
education, like health, is devolved to all three administrations,
its ministers do not appear to meet at all. Environmental matters
are to a greater or lesser degree devolved too, and can raise
complicated issues involving the powers of UK Government, public
agencies, local authorities and devolved administrations (as for
example with the question of planning permission for the windfarm
at Cefn Croes, Ceredigion, which Mrs Morley drew to our attention).
They too are not discussed within the JMC framework, although
the interaction between devolved and retained functions in this
area is clearly highly intricate. While a number of functional
JMC meetings on Poverty were held in 1999-2000, those have not
recurred - even though anti-poverty strategies are likely to involve
co-ordination of a number of areas of policy, some devolved (e.g.
health, education or inward investment and economic development)
and others reserved (e.g. social security). Again, however, there
is no use of the JMC framework for such matters.
32. We have not been able to find any clear criteria
to establish whether intergovernmental Ministerial meetings are
held, and whether meetings are held within the JMC framework or
not. We believe that there is a need to clarify the basis on which
such meetings take place and whether they take place within the
JMC framework or not.