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Government: Devolved Administrations

Volume 703: debated on Monday 7 July 2008

asked Her Majesty’s Government:

What steps they have taken to provide information on new legislation and policies to the devolved Administrations.

My Lords, the Government have long-standing liaison arrangements with the devolved Administrations. We aim to adhere as closely as possible to the spirit of the Memorandum of Understanding governing relations with them, which stresses close co-operation and communication. The Joint Ministerial Committee, which met last month in plenary form for the first time since 2002, offers further opportunities for exchanges of information and views with devolved Ministers.

My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness the Leader of the House for that Answer. We hear in this House of strategic plans for England. To what extent is the noble Baroness satisfied that the devolved Administrations are able to share in these plans and, if they so desire, adopt them in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland? Is there sufficient funding available if they decide to take that step?

My Lords, on funding, I refer the noble Lord to Treasury documents that I have here and which I am happy to make available to him and to any other noble Lord. They go into great detail on how funding is allocated—not just through the Barnett formula but way beyond that; the noble Lord might find that useful.

On the general discussions, Ministers of the UK Government talk to the devolved Administrations in a whole range of ways; from phone calls and regular meetings to plans set out between the Leader of the House of Commons and the Administrations when looking at the draft legislative programme. They range across everything the noble Lord can think of, but are working, as far as we can see, quite effectively.

My Lords, the noble Baroness has told us that the Joint Ministerial Committee has met once since 2002. Is it due to meet again? How often will it meet? Will the Government publish the agenda and the minutes of those meetings?

My Lords, the committee meets under the auspices of the Secretary of State for Wales. The Prime Minister has just asked him to undertake a series of meetings. I do not yet know how many there will be. That will depend partly on the agenda. This is part of trying to ensure that as we go forward with our colleagues in the devolved Administrations we do this properly. I understand that the minutes will not be published because they are part of the Cabinet sub-committee route. If I am wrong about that, I shall correct it.

My Lords, what is the Government’s current thinking on English devolution? Does the noble Baroness not see a danger that opportunistic parties might play on resentments if it is thought that English regions are being treated less favourably than the devolved nations?

My Lords, as the noble Lord will know, last July we published the sub-national economic development and regeneration review, the purpose of which was to think more strategically about an integrated regional strategy which looks at regional development agency work and the need to link it more closely to local authorities. We have consulted on those issues and I understand that we shall report in September. That may form part of legislation that will be introduced next year.

My Lords, does my noble friend accept that the devolved Administrations do not include just Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland but the Greater London Authority, which has substantial devolved powers? Will she ask why Mayor Boris Johnson has abandoned his plan to hold an independent inquiry into the circumstances surrounding the departure of Deputy Mayor Ray Lewis? Is it because he is afraid of what such an inquiry might reveal? Will she ask him to think again?

My Lords, I cannot pretend to understand the Mayor’s mind. Perhaps noble Lords opposite are better able to answer my noble friend’s questions.

My Lords, will the noble Baroness assist the House by placing in the Printed Paper Office copies of the record of any proceedings that may have taken place in the devolved Administrations on significant clauses in United Kingdom Bills which relate to Wales, Scotland or Northern Ireland?

My Lords, I think the noble Lord is asking whether we are able to give more information about the response that the devolved Administrations may have given to legislation which affects them. I hope that we do that when preparing Bills. We certainly do so in the pre-legislative scrutiny and on the Floor of the House. I shall certainly consider the matter because it is very important that those conversations take place. Suffice to say that legislation that reaches your Lordships' House which affects the devolved Administrations has been through that whole process. However, as I say, I am certainly happy to look at this.

My Lords, will the Minister clarify the situation with regard to the Crown territories? Are they informed of new legislation and new policies? Are they then allowed—as it sometimes seems—to pick and choose which ones they apply and which they do not, or is there clear guidance from the Ministry of Justice, which I think is responsible for this, on which ones they should implement and which they are allowed to opt out of?

My Lords, as the noble Lord would expect, the relations with the Crown territories are complicated, depending on which they are and what the relationship is. This process is often carried out through Orders in Council, and I have the privilege to be the president of the Privy Council. It would be better for the Ministry of Justice to set this out more clearly rather than my trying to give a detailed explanation of what happens from my memory of when I had responsibility for this area of policy. Of course, the Ministry of Justice talks appropriately to those Administrations about legislation that could, or would, affect them.

My Lords, the Question refers to providing information on legislation, but is there also a process of consultation? Do these devolved Administrations have an opportunity to have an input before things are fully decided?

My Lords, the noble Baroness is right to raise that point. The current processes vary between the different Administrations. Taking Wales as an example, as it was the origin of the Question, there are bi-weekly telephone calls between the Ministers; weekly meetings between the Secretary of State for Wales and the First Minister in Wales; when legislation is proposed, there are opportunities for the Welsh Assembly to discuss the issues, if it so wishes; and there are ways in which we keep the dialogue going between officials all the time. It is an ongoing relationship with the different Administrations, depending upon which legislation will directly affect them. For our proposed programme, 14 out of 18 Bills will apply wholly or in part to Scotland, 17 out of 18 will apply wholly or in part to Wales and 13 out of 18 will apply wholly or in part to Northern Ireland.