Select Committee on Constitution Second Report


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.

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