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Devolved Administrations: Intergovernmental Relations

Volume 825: debated on Tuesday 8 November 2022


Asked by

To ask His Majesty’s Government what meetings have been held in 2022 with the devolved administrations as part of the intergovernmental relations arrangements.

My Lords, the Prime Minister spoke with the First Ministers of Scotland and Wales on his first day in office, underlining the Government’s commitment to working closely with the devolved Governments on the shared challenges facing people across the UK. From January to September this year, there have been over 200 ministerial meetings between the United Kingdom Government and the devolved Governments on a wide range of issues.

I thank the Minister for that reply. Unfortunately, there is a sense of quantity overriding quality in some of these meetings. I have searched high and low to find as many minutes and communiqués as I could, but I get the impression that many of these meetings are simply going through the motions. Academics have put this down to the Government having a unitary mindset, even after 20 years of devolution, and not actually accepting that there has been a fundamental change in the constitution. Does the Minister understand why people in Scotland and Wales feel that their Parliaments and political representatives are not given the level of respect that they should be afforded?

I do not agree with that. The UK Government and the devolved Governments are working under jointly agreed operating arrangements; therefore, the quality and frequency of engagements are a joint endeavour between Governments. The UK Government deeply value transparency, accountability and effective scrutiny by the UK Parliament and the broader public of the Government’s participation in intergovernmental structures. We will continue to update the House on our published transparency reports. The last one came out on 21 July, and there is one due out shortly, in the third quarter of 2022.

My Lords, given the reliance on science during the pandemic, which does not recognise national boundaries, and the frequency of travel between nations, what lessons have been learned from the divergence of pandemic policies between each area? Will the Government take account of the agreed actions of the four vets from each area in dealing with the avian flu in any evidence they give to the Hallett inquiry?

I thank the noble and learned Lord for that question. I think it goes slightly away from today’s Question, but I can tell him that, last year and the year before, the number of ministerial meetings between the UK Government and the devolved Governments increased considerably. That is important, because it reflects the work they all did on Covid-19 issues. I will certainly take his questions on avian flu and the learnings from Covid to the Department of Health and Social Care.

Would the Minister agree that relations between the Government and the devolved Administrations fall far short of what was hoped for when devolution was established? Will the Government therefore set up a genuine consultation to ensure that what is devolved stays devolved, what is reserved is reserved and what is shared is shared with an atmosphere of mutual respect?

I do not agree with the noble Lord. I think it is. We have clear arrangements between the UK Government and devolved Governments about how they work together, the frequency of those engagements and what they talk about. This is not just at Prime Minister level but right the way through, through the Ministers and down to the officials. The work done between the four areas of the United Kingdom is good and works well.

My Lords, the Minister will be aware that the Scottish Government plan to publish their budget for 2023-24 on 15 December. Is she aware of any discussions or considerations the UK Government have had with the devolved Administrations on the Chancellor postponing the Autumn Statement until 17 November and the corresponding ability of the devolved Administrations to plan for their budgets, less than a month later?

The Treasury considers a range of factors when setting fiscal events, including the impact on the devolved Administrations. The Scottish Government’s agreed fiscal framework sets out that funding will normally be finalised in the autumn prior to each financial year. Delivering the Autumn Statement on 17 November is therefore in line with these normal arrangements. The fiscal framework also recognises that normal arrangements sometimes need to be delayed, so sets out alternative arrangements in such a scenario. However, I do not think that delivering this on 17 November is such a case; for example, I think what it is thinking of are abnormal events such as when we had a general election close to Christmas.

Will the Minister accept that the last three or four years have been a period when relationships between Westminster and Cardiff have been far from satisfactory? Given that we have a new Government, will she give an undertaking that there will be a positive initiative to try to overcome the difficulties that have existed, particularly by giving information to the Government in Cardiff in good time, so that they can react after considering the matter and not be rushed into taking decisions that cause problems later?

The Prime Minister set the tone for the Government’s collaborative approach to working with the devolved Governments right from his very first day in office. I can tell the House that the Prime Minister expects to meet the First Ministers again later this week. That is the tone that he has set and that we will continue.

My Lords, is my noble friend aware that the Constitution Committee issued a very important report on the future of the United Kingdom? We would hope that intergovernmental relations will be taken very seriously, but there is a particular problem, in that the consent of the devolved Governments does not have to be sought for delegated legislation on matters that I am very aware would otherwise not be reserved. May we hope that this problem will be looked at very seriously, because it causes intense irritation among the devolved Administrations?

I thank my noble friend for that comment. I will take it back to the department, discuss it and then come back to her.

My Lords, the challenges we face—the cost of living crisis, the climate crisis and standing up to Putin—are common across our four nations and we need to face them together. Can the Minister detail what recent engagements the Government have had in the past few months with the devolved Administrations on the climate crisis as part of preparations for COP 27?

I thank the noble Lord. I cannot give the dates for what happened but it is possible, at any time, to go on to the government website and see what those meetings were about. However, I can tell the noble Lord that if those are the issues which the devolved Governments want to speak to the Prime Minister about, I am sure he will be listening at this coming meeting.

My Lords, I do not think the Cross Bench has had a go yet. The first inter- governmental relations quarterly report came from the Cabinet Office. The latest one comes from the Department for Levelling Up. Can the Minister explain why that has moved and explain how the machinery of government works so that if a ministry is found not to be pulling its weight in this important aspect, it is encouraged to do so?

The area of inter- governmental relations was with the Department for Levelling Up prior to the last reshuffle. It then went to the Cabinet Office and it is now back with the Department for Levelling Up. That is the place—the communities area—where it should be.

My Lords, I hope the Minister appreciates that the people of Liverpool can feel as alienated from the UK Government as those in Wales and Scotland. Does the Minister accept that Liverpool and other regions should be represented in these discussions, alongside the devolved Administrations?

I do not agree with that. There is a completely separate area of discussion with the devolved Administrations and another, which I think is important, with the rest of local government and the regions of the whole of the United Kingdom. Those two separate things go alongside each other and work well.