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by Margaret Taylor
09 June 2023
MPs to probe how well Whitehall understands devolution

MPs to probe how well Whitehall understands devolution

A House of Commons committee has launched an inquiry to examine the extent to which the UK Government understands devolution and considers the devolved nations of the UK in its policymaking.

The Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee is seeking views on whether ministers and civil servants based in Whitehall are suitably informed about the devolution arrangements in place in Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland, and whether the Dunlop Review of Union Capability – which in 2021 found that intergovernmental machinery was “not fit for purpose” – is being properly implemented. As part of the review it was recommended that civil servants be given the opportunity to move between the four administrations of the UK.

Committee chair William Wragg, who is also vice-chair of the Conservative Party’s 1922 Committee, said: “It has been 25 years since the devolution settlements fundamentally changed the governance of the United Kingdom, with the establishment of devolved institutions in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. In that time, we have also seen the repatriation of powers to the UK after leaving the EU and further changes to the powers of the devolved institutions.

“It is crucial that ministers and civil servants in Whitehall fully understand the implications of the devolution settlements on the policymaking process and maintain the skills and knowledge necessary to deliver for every part of the UK.

“The Government committed to improving devolution capability in response to the Dunlop Review in 2021, but has it done so satisfactorily? We want to find out what progress has been made and hear from those who have worked with and within Whitehall and the devolved administrations.”

The Scottish Government has repeatedly raised concerns in recent months that the UK Government is undermining devolution by putting a block on Holyrood legislation such as the Gender Recognition Reform bill and the planned Deposit Return Scheme (DRS).

First Minister Humza Yousaf called it a “democratic outrage” when the UK Government effectively stopped the DRS from going ahead by using the post-Brexit Internal Market Act to prevent it from including glass. Announcing earlier this week that the DRS has been postponed until 2025, Green circular economy minister Lorna Slater accused the UK Government of “sabotaging” the plan.

Last week Yousaf and Welsh first minister Mark Drakeford released a joint statement in which they urged the UK Government to respect devolution and abide by the principles of mutual respect, trust, effective communication and accountability laid out in last year’s Inter-Governmental Relations Review.

They said the Westminster administration repeatedly breached the Sewel Convention, which requires the devolved administrations to give their consent for the UK parliament to legislate on a matter that is within devolved competence, and said the UK Government must “engage in good faith in common frameworks designed to manage different policy approaches across the UK following EU exit”.

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