Calling for respect and co-operation to build a stronger Union for the 21st century
20 January 2022
Following its inquiry into the future governance of the UK, the Constitution Committee has published its report: Respect and Co-operation: Building a Stronger Union for the 21st century.
- Report: Respect and Co-operation: Building a Stronger Union for the 21st century (HTML)
- Report: Respect and Co-operation: Building a Stronger Union for the 21st century (PDF)
- Inquiry: Future Governance of the UK
- Constitution Committee
The Constitution Committee’s inquiry into the future governance of the UK considered the current balance of powers within the UK, the challenges for multi-level governance, the approach to devolution within England, the role of Whitehall and the UK funding arrangements, among other matters.
- As the Union marks its centenary in 2022 the Committee believes it continues to be a vehicle for improving peoples’ lives in all its constituent nations, but for confidence to be maintained in the Union, its current strains need to be addressed without delay. The Committee calls for the creation of a revitalised, better-functioning and less rancorous Union, and set outs how such a union of respect and co-operation can be achieved.
- The report welcomes the recently published Review of Intergovernmental Relations but believes the new structures will only be a success if they are accompanied by a stronger culture of co-operation and partnership between the UK Government and the devolved administrations.
- The report calls for more meaningful dialogue between the UK Parliament and devolved legislatures on legislative consent issues and greater accountability from the UK Government about its approach.
- The report strongly supports the development of devolution within England to help improve economic performance and address regional inequalities.
- Once published, the Committee believes the success of the levelling up agenda will require a long-term commitment, with cross-party support, to delivering effective and properly resourced devolution within England.
- The Committee recommends the Government examine how funding arrangements could more effectively address relative needs across the UK.
- Other than in exceptional circumstances, the UK Government ought not to seek to legislate in devolved areas without consent. The House of Lords should strengthen its scrutiny of bills that engage the Sewel convention. It is more appropriate for Parliament to scrutinise the convention’s operation than the courts.
- Effective scrutiny of intergovernmental relations needs to be underpinned by greater transparency including the provision of information about the Government’s engagement with the devolved administrations. The Government should enter into a formal agreement with the House of Lords on the information it will provide about its intergovernmental engagements, to enhance the current scrutiny arrangements.
- The renewed intergovernmental structures should be accompanied by enhanced interparliamentary relations to allow all legislatures in the UK to scrutinise the new intergovernmental arrangements, holding their respective executives to account and helping to foster greater mutual respect between them.
- The Government should develop a principled devolution framework, in cooperation with English devolved authorities, to provide a clear baseline for further devolution of powers within England.
- To deal effectively with and respond to the challenges of governing the United Kingdom in the 21st century, significant culture change is required in Whitehall, including the end of its top-down mindset.
- The Government should introduce greater fiscal devolution to English devolved authorities, which will require the Treasury to relinquish a degree of control over expenditure.
- To rebuild trust and partnership, the devolved administrations and English devolved authorities should have a more constructive role in the governance of the Shared Prosperity Fund, including decisions about local priorities and the allocation of funding.
Baroness Taylor of Bolton, Chair of the Constitution Committee said:
“The Union marks its centenary in 2022, and after the challenges of Brexit and Covid-19 we believe there is a clear opportunity to reset relationships to achieve a better functioning Union which can keep pace with the rapid changes and address the many challenges that confront its nations and regions in the 21st century.
“The Government needs to articulate a compelling vision and narrative for the United Kingdom in the 21st century. The Committee’s vision is of a more cooperative Union based on a renewed sense of respect and partnership between the different layers of government and a new emphasis on shared governance in the interests of all its citizens. But for this to be a success requires good faith and a constructive approach from central, devolved and local government.
“We believe a significant culture change is required in Whitehall, including the end of its top-down mindset. This will be critical if the new intergovernmental arrangements and any extension of devolution across England is to be a success. Fostering greater respect and cooperation between Whitehall and the different parts of the United Kingdom will be even more important in strengthening the Union.
“We believe that the Union’s strength historically has been its ability to adapt to changing circumstances. The Union should continue to do so, so it can achieve its full potential in the 21st century and fully demonstrate its benefits to all its nations and regions.”