Inter-governmental relations in the United Kingdom - Constitution Committee Contents


The House of Lords Constitution Committee, chaired by Lord Lang of Monkton, is conducting an inquiry on inter-governmental relations between the United Kingdom Government and the devolved administrations.

The Committee invites interested organisations and individuals to submit written evidence to the inquiry.

The deadline for written evidence submissions is 5pm on Thursday 15 January 2015. Public hearings will be held in January and early February 2015. The Committee will report to the House in spring 2015, prior to the dissolution of Parliament.


Following the Scottish electorate's vote to remain part of the United Kingdom, the UK Government established the Smith Commission to produce cross-party agreement on further devolution of powers to the Scottish Parliament. The Smith Commission's proposals were published on 27 November 2014 and are expected to be reflected in a new Scotland Bill after the 2015 general election. Draft clauses for that bill are due to be published by the Government by the end of January 2015.

The proposals of the Smith Commission raise a number of important constitutional issues. Given the limited time available before Parliament is dissolved on 30 March 2015 in preparation for the general election, the Committee has decided to focus in this inquiry on inter-governmental relations between the UK Government and the devolved administrations. The Committee hopes to consider and comment upon the draft clauses due to be published by the Government implementing the recommendations of the Smith Commission when these are available, and expects to return to the subject of devolution in greater depth in the next Parliament.

The relationship between the UK Government and the devolved administrations is currently maintained through a mixture of formal mechanisms (set out in a Memorandum of Understanding) and informal contact. Some of these mechanisms are quadrilateral with representatives from the UK Government and the devolved administrations in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland; others are bilateral and governed by a series of concordats between UK Government departments and each devolved administration.

Inquiries by parliamentary select committees (including our own[290]) and independent commissions have highlighted deficiencies in current inter-governmental arrangements. The Smith Commission stated that "the current inter-governmental machinery between the Scottish and UK Governments, must be reformed as a matter of urgency". It recommended a new Memorandum of Understanding between the UK Government and the devolved administrations, new sub-committees for the quadrilateral Joint Ministerial Committee, and improvements to dispute-resolution arrangements. The Smith Commission also echoed earlier calls for greater transparency and parliamentary scrutiny of these arrangements.


The Committee invites evidence on how inter-governmental relations in the UK can be improved. While our primary focus will be on Scotland, in light of the proposed new powers for the Scottish Parliament, we also welcome evidence on UK-wide quadrilateral arrangements and the UK Government's relations with the Welsh Government and Northern Ireland Executive. The Committee is also interested in whether and how the UK Parliament can best scrutinise and hold ministers to account over these inter-governmental relationships.

The focus of the Committee's inquiry is inter-governmental relations between the UK Government and the devolved administrations: the Committee is not seeking to address the issue of which powers should or should not be devolved.

The committee welcomes written submissions on any aspect of this topic, and particularly on the following questions:

1.  How can existing arrangements for inter-governmental relations be improved, particularly in light of the further devolution of powers (under the Scotland Act 2012, the Wales Bill and the further commitments made by the Government during its passage, and the recommendations of the Smith Commission)? Are new inter-governmental mechanisms required, particularly in the light of further fiscal devolution, including tax-raising powers?

2.  To what extent do the current inter-governmental structures promote proactive co-operation, rather than simply acting as a means of dispute resolution? How could they be improved in this regard? To what extent is the scope for cooperation limited by policy and party differences between the devolved administrations, and between those administrations and the United Kingdom Government?

3.  What is the appropriate balance between formal mechanisms and informal relationships?

4.  To what extent should inter-governmental mechanisms comprise bilateral arrangements, as opposed to those including all four administrations?

5.  How should inter-governmental mechanisms cope with the asymmetrical development of devolution within the UK?

6.  Should any elements of inter-governmental relations be set out in legislation, or should they remain non-statutory? What are the advantages and risks of statutory mechanisms?

7.  How can the UK Parliament best scrutinise and hold to account both formal and informal inter-governmental relations between the UK Government and devolved administrations? Are there lessons to be learned from the devolved legislatures?

8.  Should the role of the territorial Secretaries of State and their departments be altered in light of the further devolution of powers? If so, how?

You need not address all the questions. The Committee would welcome other relevant views of which you think the Committee should be aware, and in particular examples of good and bad practice in this area.

290   Constitution Committee, Devolution: Inter-institutional relations in the United Kingdom (2nd Report; Session 2002-03, HL Paper 28) Back

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