It’s good to talk, MPs tell UK and Scottish Governments

31 March 2010

The Scottish Affairs Committee today publishes its report examining the arrangements in place for communication between the UK and Scottish Governments.

It concludes that a sophisticated network of intergovernmental contacts and communication has developed since the Scotland Act 1998 but that more can be done to keep Scottish interests on the Whitehall agenda.

Daily communication between the UK and Scottish governments at a ministerial and official level appears to work well. Problems only tend to occur where civil servants in Whitehall are less used to dealing with devolution issues.

A devolution champion within each UK Government department at senior level should be introduced to maintain higher levels of devolution awareness amongst staff.

The Committee says it is important that the Secretary of State for Scotland and the Scottish government work together to improve communication where possible.

Robust debate and discussion between Ministers is healthy and the resumption of Joint Ministerial Committees is to be welcomed. However, greater transparency of proceedings is needed to allow scrutiny of intergovernmental cooperation.

Opportunities for participation by Scottish Ministers in European Council meetings should be provided by the UK government, where appropriate and where there is agreement on the negotiating line.

An updated Memorandum of Understanding between the UK and the devolved administrations is long overdue; the 2001 version did not provide adequate guidance on how disputes should be resolved – as demonstrated during communications between the governments on the UK's negotiations with Libya on the Prisoner Transfer Agreement.

Communications between Whitehall and Scotland at an earlier stage during the negotiations between the UK and Libya could have produced a more satisfactory outcome with a possible carve-out of the prisoner transfer agreement for Mr al-Megrahi. Lessons should be learnt from this.

The Chair of the Committee, Mohammad Sarwar MP, said:

"Formal memos and the education of civil servants alone will not be enough to ensure the lines of communication between the UK and Scottish governments are kept open and effective. It is up to both governments to display the necessary political will to ensure mutual understanding and respect characterise all their dealings."

"We invite our successor Committee in the next Parliament to continue to scrutinise relations between the two governments."

Image: PA

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