Inter-governmental relations in the United
CHAPTER 1: INTRODUCTION
1. Inter-governmental relations are necessary
in a multi-level political system. As this Committee stated in
our 2002 report Devolution: Inter-institutional relations in
the United Kingdom, devolution "makes inter-governmental
relations inevitable, and integral to the UK's system of government."
The governance of the United Kingdom requires relationships to
be built and maintained between the UK Government, the Scottish
and Welsh Governments and the Northern Ireland Executive at all
levels: between leaders, ministers and officials.
2. Since our previous report there have been
significant changes both in the UK's devolution settlements and
in the political parties involved in government, with a shift
away from the one party dominance that characterised the early
years of devolution. In 1999 the Labour Party were in office either
alone or in coalition across Great Britain's four administrations.
By 2010 five parties were in power, none of them in more than
one administration: Conservatives and Liberal Democrats in Westminster;
Scottish National Party in Edinburgh; Labour anduntil 2011Plaid
Cymru in Cardiff. Meanwhile the four parties in Northern Ireland's
power-sharing Executive between 1998 and 2002 have increased to
five since the resumption of devolved power in 2007.
3. The administrations that will be formed following
the 2015 UK general election and the 2016 elections to the devolved
legislatures will have increasingly complex relationships with
one another, whichever parties are in power. The coming years
will see the further devolution of powers through the ongoing
implementation of the Scotland Act 2012 and the Wales Act 2014,
the devolution of corporation tax to Northern Ireland,
the new Scotland Bill embodying the Smith Commission's recommendations
for further devolution to Scotland promised by the main three
UK parties, and potentially
the further devolution of powers to Wales proposed in the UK Government's
February 2015 Command Paper.
4. We were told by one witness that, in the case
of Scotland in particular, "the new settlement
the extent to which both parliaments will be working in concurrent
jurisdictions, especially in tax and welfare, necessitating cooperation,
coordination and joint decision-making."
This poses a challenge for the administrations to ensure that
their relationships facilitate effective co-operation, and for
Parliament and the devolved legislatures to ensure their executives
are held to account as inter-governmental interactions increase.
It is in the context of this extension of devolution and the additional
complexities that it brings that we undertook this inquiry.Box
1: Why inter-governmental relations are important
|Inter-governmental relations are needed in any nation with a multi-level system of government, such as devolved or federal states. No matter how well-defined the distinctions between the powers of governments at different levels, there will always be some overlap or inter-dependency between them.
Interactions with EU institutions are a prime example: when the UK Government discusses policies with other European Union states relating to fisheries and agriculture, for example, they are talking about devolved matters and the views and concerns of devolved administrations must be taken into consideration.
Some issues cross borders between different jurisdictions and so need a co-ordinated response. This includes devolved domestic matters like railway lines between England and Wales or Scotland, as well as international treaties that affect devolved policy areas. Emergencies can also require a co-ordinated response across borders, as in the response to the foot and mouth disease outbreak in 2001.
The funding of the devolved administrations is another area where communication between the devolved administrations and the UK Government is vital. None of the devolved administrations raise all of the money they spendthis means that much of their funding comes from funds collected on a UK-wide basis and allocated by the UK Government. After the 2010 general election, the UK and devolved administrations worked together to agree a Statement of Funding Policy (the sixth since 1999), setting out "the arrangements which apply in setting devolved budgets in the 2010 Spending Review".
The ways in which the different governments in the UK interact in these areas of common interest or dependency are the inter-governmental relations we cover in this report.
5. The structures and practices underlying inter-governmental
relations have been scrutinised and commented on in numerous reports
by select committees and independent commissions in recent years.
After this Committee's 2002 report, most of the formal structures
underpinning inter-governmental relations fell into abeyancepartly
as a result of the dominance of the Labour party in administrations
across the UK. Formal relations were resumed in 2008, following
the election of a Scottish National Party minority government
in 2007. In 2009 the Calman Commission on Scottish devolution
and the House of Commons Justice Committee made recommendations
aimed at improving inter-governmental relations,
followed in 2010 by the House of Commons Scottish Affairs and
Welsh Affairs Committees.
In the current Parliament, the Silk Commission's second report,
on legislative powers for Wales, and the Smith Commission's report
on further powers for the Scottish Parliament, each assessed and
suggested improvements to inter-governmental relations.
6. In December 2014, the UK Government and devolved
administrations acknowledged the need for change and committed
to reviewing how relations between the different administrations
operated. The Cabinet Office are currently leading the UK Government's
part of this review.
We hope that this report will help them ensure that inter-governmental
relations adapt to the current devolution settlements and are
robust enough to accommodate the further transfers of power currently
envisaged or likely to take place.
The purpose of inter-governmental
7. Before considering how inter-governmental
relations should operate in the UK, we first looked to clarify
what they were intended to achieve. Professor Nicola McEwen, Professor
of Territorial Politics at the University of Edinburgh, told us
"[In] any system, no matter how much you
try to separate the powers of one level and the powers of another
level, there will always be the need to coordinate and interact.
There will always be overlaps and interdependence. That is the
main purpose of intergovernmental relations: managing that
interface and managing that interdependence. In our case,
there is an inevitable interdependence between some of those areas
that are devolved, such as social policy, and those areas that
are reserved, like social security".
8. Professor Michael Keating, Chair in Scottish
Politics at the University of Aberdeen, told us that inter-governmental
relations were required for two purposes: for conflict resolution;
and for joint decision-making where two or more administrations
shared competences, where their separate competences were clearly
inter-dependent or where there was an obvious "spillover
effect from one jurisdiction to another".
9. Other witnesses described the purpose of inter-governmental
relations in less technical terms: as a means of working towards
common goals. The Rt Hon Carwyn Jones AM, the First Minister of
Wales, told us that, "The purpose of inter-governmental relations
is, in an ideal world, to work together on common issues and see
whether there can be common conclusions as a result of that work."
Similarly, Professor Alan Page, Professor of Public Law at the
University of Dundee, told us that their purpose was "to
foster good working relations between the different Governments
who make up the United Kingdom, with a view to the identification,
discussion and resolution of matters of common concern."
10. The Secretary of State for Scotland, the
Rt Hon Alistair Carmichael MP, told us that the fundamental aim
was "better government". Inter-governmental relations
should, he said, enable participants "to share experiences
[and] to thrash out any difficulties".
11. Fiona Hyslop MSP, Cabinet Secretary for Culture,
Europe and External Affairs in the Scottish Government, gave a
further nuance: that the purpose was both building "relationships
of trust and understanding to ensure that there is continuity
and co-operation in areas of mutual interest" and ensuring
issues were "dealt with at official level, where at all possible,
and to leave ministerial discussion for strategic interests and
12. Professor Keating noted that not everything
needed to be "joined up";
indeed, part of the purpose of devolution is to allow different
administrations to pursue different policies.
Good inter-governmental relations should mean that differences
in policy or major implementation decisions are made because of
the active decisions of each administration, rather than through
a lack of consultation and communication.
13. In a practical sense, inter-governmental
relations should enable administrations to work together in areas
of mutual concern and interest, both where there are overlapping
or inter-dependent competencies and on cross-border issues.
When functioning properly they should also allow issues to be
dealt with in a timely manner at the most appropriate level of
government, reserving ministerial involvement to strategic decisions
and resolving serious disagreements.
14. Beyond this functional "plumbing"
of government, Professor Richard Wyn Jones, Professor of Welsh
Politics at Cardiff University, suggested that inter-governmental
relations had a broader purpose: "Amongst academic observers,
and more generally in the devolved territories, there is a view
of [inter-governmental relations] as relating more to the nature
of the unionthe post devolution UK. It goes beyond the
relationship on a day to day basis
It is about what the
union is for and how it is organised."
Professor Jim Gallagher of Nuffield College, University of Oxford,
told us that the UK Government should develop a clear strategy
for the Union and conduct inter-governmental relations in light
of that strategy.
15. David Melding AM, Chair of the Constitutional
and Legislative Affairs Committee of the National Assembly for
Wales, warned that the role of the UK state risked being lost
in discussions of devolution,
and argued that "We need a vision for a reformed, decentralised
UK constitution for a multinational union."
Similarly, the First Minister of Wales referred to the potential
for inter-governmental structures to provide a catalyst for establishing
stable constitutional arrangements: rather than "constitutional
[taking] place in different rooms
Much more thought needs to be given to all four administrations
being part of a process that leads to greater constitutional stability."
16. Good inter-governmental relations are
vital to the effective governance of the United Kingdom. The structures
and practices of inter-governmental relations should serve to
strengthen, and provide constitutional stability to, the Union.
Carrying out the inquiry
17. The Committee decided to undertake this short,
focused inquiry on inter-governmental relations alongside another
strand of work scrutinising the UK Government's response to the
Smith Commission's proposals for the devolution of further powers
to the Scottish Parliament. Our recent report Proposals for
the devolution of further powers to Scotland reflects that
18. While several of our evidence sessions covered
both subjects, most were focused on the inter-governmental relations
strand of the Committee's work. We heard from academics, chairs
and convenors of select committees in the House of Commons, the
Scottish Parliament and the National Assembly for Wales, officials
from Cabinet Office and three other UK Government departments,
the First Ministers of Wales and Northern Ireland, the Scottish
Government, the Secretary of State for Scotland and the Advocate
General for Scotland. We also received 11 written submissions
in response to our call for evidence (see Appendix 3). We are
grateful to all our witnesses.
1 Constitution Committee, Devolution: Inter-institutional relations in the United Kingdom
(2nd Report, Session 2002-03, HL Paper 28), para 12. Back
Corporation Tax (Northern Ireland) Bill [Bill 170 (2014-15)] Back
The Smith Commission, Report of the Smith Commission for further
devolution of powers to the Scottish Parliament, 27 November
HM Government, Scotland in the United Kingdom: An enduring
settlement, Cm 8890, 22 January 2015: https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/
[both accessed 17 March 2015] Back
See HM Government, Powers for a purpose: Towards a lasting
devolution settlement for Wales, Cm 9020, February 2015: https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/408587/
[accessed 17 March 2015]. Back
Written evidence from Professor Nicola McEwen (IGR0010) Back
Calman Commission, Serving Scotland Better: Scotland and the
United Kingdom in the 21st Century, 2009; Justice Committee,
Devolution: A Decade on, (Fifth Report, Session 2008-09, HC 529)
Scottish Affairs Committee, Scotland and the UK: cooperation and communication between governments,
(Fourth Report, Session 2009-10, HC 256); Welsh Affairs Committee,
Wales and Whitehall, (Eleventh Report, Session 2009-10, HC 246) Back
Silk Commission, Empowerment and Responsibility: Legislative
Powers to Strengthen Wales, 2014: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/empowerment-and-responsibility-legislative-powers-to-strengthen-wales
[accessed 17 March 2015]; Smith Commission, Report. Back
Joint Ministerial Committee communiqué: December 2014,
15 December 2015: https://www.gov.uk/government/news/joint-ministerial-committee-communique-december-2014
[accessed 25 February 2015]; Q17 (Dr Philip Rycroft) Back
Written evidence from Professor Michael Keating (IGR0003) Back
Written evidence from Professor Michael Keating (IGR0003) Back
Q89 (Peter Robinson MLA) Back
Written evidence from Professor Jim Gallagher (IGR0007) Back
Constitution Committee, Proposals for the devolution of further powers to Scotland
(10th Report, Session 2014-15, HL Paper 145) Back