Skip to main content

Prime Minister: Meeting with First Ministers of the Devolved Governments

Volume 822: debated on Wednesday 8 June 2022


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government when the Prime Minister next expects to meet with the First Ministers of the devolved governments; and what subjects are expected to be on the agenda.

My Lords, the new Prime Minister and heads of devolved Governments council commits to meeting at least annually as part of the Review of Intergovernmental Relations published in January. The inaugural council will meet to consider issues of strategic importance to the whole of the UK, and the Prime Minister may also engage with the First Ministers in other fora, as he did four times last year.

My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for his reply, but does he agree that devolution means that devolved authorities should be spending money only on the devolved areas and that any spending on reserved areas would be improper? Can the Government now consider monitoring the expenditure of the devolved authorities to ensure that they are not spending money on reserved areas, as the Scottish Government are? They are spending £20 million on the constitution, including employing civil servants to prepare for a referendum and for breaking up the United Kingdom. Should this not be on the agenda for the next meeting between the Prime Minister and the First Ministers?

I take the point that the noble Lord has made on a number of occasions. It is clearly an important issue to maintain the union. The devolution settlement set out those responsibilities that fall within devolved and reserved competence. Scottish Ministers are accountable to their own legislature and electorate for their actions, including their expenditure decisions.

My Lords, on the subject of ministerial responsibility and competence, my noble friend answered a Written Question yesterday indicating that the Government had decided that they would not make the QEII Centre available, should this House need to move, as part of their levelling-up agenda. Does my noble friend not realise that this is a matter for this House and not for the Government, and that £10 million of taxpayers’ money has been spent on looking at the suitability of the QEII Centre? Who will pick up the tab for this PR stunt?

Well, I was forewarned that the written response that I gave would not exactly be popular with Members on all sides of the House. All I can say is that it is not for my right honourable friend to determine where the House sits but, as someone who is responsible for the QEII Centre, he has ruled that out. I have outlined that in my written response.

My Lords, can the Minister confirm that when the Prime Minister next meets the First Minister of Wales, he will confirm the pledge that he made at the time of the Brexit referendum, that Wales will be fully reimbursed for every penny of EU regional and social funding lost as a consequence of that Brexit vote?

There is a commitment to invest in Wales and we have seen so far, as part of the 2021 spending review, 20% more per person for the Welsh Government. I am sure that we will continue to honour those commitments.

My Lords, the Minister has not answered my noble friend Lord Forsyth’s question. Some £10.9 million of public money has been spent on the Queen Elizabeth II conference centre. It is completely wrong for that money to have been spent for the Government arbitrarily to make a decision that rules it out.

All I can say in response is that I understand where the noble Lord is coming from. I realise there has been some expenditure, but my right honourable friend can determine whether he wishes to make the QEII available; it is for this House to decide its future. I will take away sentiments from all sides of the House.

My Lords, the devolved Governments are consulted on the effects of international treaties but, for reasons of confidentiality, the Government refuse to disclose the results of these consultations. The noble Lord, Lord Grimstone, told the International Agreements Committee on 27 April that he could “categorically” say that the devolved Governments were not “satisfied”. Will this matter be put on the agenda at any future ministerial meetings?

I am not sure I can specifically answer that at the Dispatch Box, but there are now mechanisms, as part of the review of intergovernmental relations, to ensure we have the structures to take these points on board in the appropriate setting.

My Lords, I welcomed the demise of the Joint Ministerial Committee earlier this year. It was doomed to failure principally because it was rarely convened by the Prime Minister. What structures have been put in place to ensure that two of the main weaknesses of that system are addressed: so that the First Ministers meet with the PM, in the new intergovernmental forum, more regularly than once a year; and that all four nations are able to contribute issues to the agenda?

There are structures. There is a commitment to one meeting a year for the council, as I said in my initial response, and we have 10 interministerial groups, the Interministerial Standing Committee and the Finance: Interministerial Standing Committee. The infrastructure is there, but we have to go with the spirit of the legislation, as machinery and structures are not enough.

My Lords, when the Minister and the Prime Minister attend the council, will they remind the First Ministers of the extraordinary success of the Platinum Jubilee weekend and of the strength of the union?

I am sure there will be every opportunity to point to the strength of the union. I think the Platinum Jubilee celebrations were an absolute triumph; my favourite was breakfast with Paddington Bear.

My Lords, earlier this year, the UK Government published plans for the UK shared prosperity fund, which replaces the European Regional Development Fund and European Social Fund. Despite a previous pledge to match the size of former EU funding in each nation of the UK, the Government have clearly broken that promise for Wales, which is expecting a shortfall of £772 million. What discussions has the Prime Minister held with the Welsh Government over this? I believe the Welsh First Minister is here next Monday, celebrating 100 years of Welsh Labour. Maybe the Prime Minister and the First Minister can have those discussions while enjoying those celebrations.

I am sure they will have those discussions but, as I said in a previous answer, 20% more has been spent on the Welsh Government per person, as part of the spending review 2021. In addition, the UK shared prosperity fund is going to deliver £2.6 billion spread across the country, with £585 million earmarked for Wales. That is a significant sum of money.

I served as an elected Member for the first eight years of the Scottish Parliament. Will the Government keep up a close working relationship with the Scottish Government? It is very much in the interests of the United Kingdom as a whole. Will he confirm that necessary relevant steps relating to security will be shared by both Governments?

I am sure there is a commitment to share security matters. Importantly, the intergovernmental relations review has provided the infrastructure to ensure that these matters can be discussed in the appropriate way.

As the Minister will know, the Scottish Government have been unable to complete the census. People who lose out from that are usually in low-income groups, who do not complete the census there. I have a feeling that that will affect the financial settlement that the UK Government then have to give to Scotland. If he does not have the answer to that, perhaps he could let us know whether the failure to complete the census in Scotland will impact on the financial settlement for Scotland.

Clearly, it is important to get a census right. On a normal basis, that is completed every 10 years. I am sure there will be an opportunity to discuss these matters as part of the finance and interministerial committee. I am sure that will be at the top of the agenda.

My Lords, are the Government aware that only 2% of the insulin used so essentially by diabetic folk in the UK is produced in the United Kingdom, in Wrexham in Wales? What are the Government doing to ensure, if there is a split in the United Kingdom, and with our foolish distancing from Europe, that we—or you—have any insulin to keep your diabetes in check?

I was wondering when that was going to get back to the original Question, but it is important that we maintain a strong union. We are aware that the Welsh Government have established an independent commission to look at constitutional matters. We should wait for that to report. I do not see any strong desire from the Welsh to leave our great United Kingdom.