In the nearly twenty years since the Blair Government established devolution in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, the pace, and scale of, devolution has advanced considerably. However, the quality of inter-institutional relations has lagged behind these developments, with a reliance in both intergovernmental and, to an even greater degree, inter-parliamentary relations on informal and, often ad-hoc, arrangements.
Withdrawal from the EU
The underdeveloped nature of inter-institutional relations has been brought into sharp focus as a result of the outcome of the EU referendum and PACAC recommends that reform is now needed to ensure there is meaningful engagement with the devolved administrations during the negotiations on the UK's withdrawal from the EU.
Chair of the Committee, Bernard Jenkin MP, says:
"The time pressure of negotiating our withdrawal from the EU now forces the machinery of intergovernmental relations in the UK to be imbued with a sense of purpose. We cannot go on with the notion that the devolved administrations are treated as an afterthought by Whitehall, particularly as all the devolved administrations are run by different political parties. It is, therefore, vital that the UK government's commitment to engage with the devolved administrations is meaningful and not simply a tool to allay the concerns of the Scottish and Welsh Governments and the Northern Ireland Executive."
Annual Heads of Government Summit
Among the report's recommendations is the proposal that the four governments should examine evolving the plenary sessions of the Joint Ministerial Committee (JMC) into an annual Heads of Government Summit, with the responsibility for hosting, and setting the agenda of these summits rotating among the four UK governments.
In addition, PACAC recommends that the four UK governments consider further how the JMC structures can be best structured so as to assist the development of a truly UK-wide approach to the negotiations on our withdrawal from the EU. This might, for example, include the creation of new agriculture, fisheries and economic affairs sub-committees.
Parliamentary and Civil Service relations
PACAC's report also examines the quality of inter-parliamentary and intra-Civil Service relations in the UK. With regards to inter-parliamentary relations, PACAC's proposal includes the recommendation that the Standing Orders of the House of Commons be amended to enable all Committees of the House to meet jointly with the Committees of any of the three devolved legislatures.
As for intra-Civil Service relations, PACAC's report welcomes the work undertaken by the UK Governance Group, including the development of the Devolution Toolkit, though PACAC expresses its disappointment that it took 16 years of devolution for such efforts at boosting Whitehall’s devolution awareness and capabilities to be made.