CHAPTER 7: CONCLUSION |
190. The two most significant findings of our inquiry
are the differences between the devolved settlements and the extent
to which devolution has bedded in with remarkably few problems.
Underlying both findings are potential difficulties.
191. Though it is common to refer to 'devolution',
the use of a single term rather masks the disparate and discrete
nature of what has taken place. Though powers have been devolved
to elected bodies in different parts of the United Kingdom, there
is no uniformity in terms of the powers devolved, nor in terms
of how the elected bodies exercise their powers. Though the powers
devolved to Scotland and Northern Ireland are legislative as well
as executive, the circumstances of Northern Ireland mean that
the situation is unique to the province. No legislative powers
have been devolved to Wales.
192. The differences in the arrangements for the
devolved bodies have given rise to complaints. It is clear from
the evidence that we took in Cardiff that many would like to see
the Welsh Assembly acquire legislative powers. As we have noted,
an inquiry into the workings of the devolved arrangements in Wales
has been established under the chairmanship of Lord Richard.
However, it is not just in relation to the devolved bodies that
differences are apparent. We are conscious that our inquiry has
focused on the workings of devolved bodies. As such, we have
largely neglected England. Though there is an elected mayor and
assembly in London, there is no parliament or assembly for England.
Given the absence of any such body, there has been nothing for
us to study. Nonetheless, we recognise that there is an English
dimension that may well become more significant over time.
193. The extent to which devolved government has
settled in may, in part, be attributable to the fact that the
issue has been seen as one for the different parts of the United
Kingdom rather than for the United Kingdom as a whole. The demand
for a parliament in Scotland has been far more marked than demand
for a parliament in England and devolution has, in large measure,
been seen as a matter for Scotland, for Wales, and for Northern
Ireland. The move towards regional government in England, with
a Bill introduced in the current session of Parliament to provide
for regional referendums on the subject, may possibly proceed
as a discrete development. We think it will be difficult to divorce
it from a comparison with the powers and operation of the elected
parliaments and assemblies outside England. Though it has not
been within the remit of our current inquiry to pursue such a
comparison, since we have been concerned with extant institutions,
the time may well come when an inquiry into the distribution of
decision-making power throughout the United Kingdom will be desirable.
194. The fact that inter-institutional relations
in the UK have settled down in a relatively painless manner is,
as we have seen, attributable in large measure to goodwill between
the different administrations and to the professionalism of the
civil service. We have stressed the extent to which issues are
discussed and resolved on an informal basis. This extensive informal
contact has considerably aided the process of intergovernmental
relations. However, in the long term, when administrations are
run by different political parties, informal contact will be difficult
to sustain. In such circumstances, the value of a single civil
service may be at a premium, though there may be pressures for
the civil services to be patriated to their respective administrations.
Given that, we think that preparations for the time when there
will be administrations in place of different political persuasions
are necessary. In particular, we see the need for relations to
be put on a more formal, as well as a more transparent, basis.
It is important not to wait. We think it prudent to anticipate
and to start taking action now. We have identified the ways in
which we think this outcome can and should be achieved.
195. Devolution constitutes a major change in our
constitutional arrangements. The fact that the intergovernmental
arrangements have operated smoothly thus far against a background
of dominance by one party has perhaps masked the significance
of the change and its implications. How the process evolves depends
in large part on popular attitudes towards the different devolved
bodies and also, in our view, on ensuring that the structures
and processes in place are sufficiently robust to survive strains
in the future. We believe that our recommendations could help
to ensure that they are.