20 Years of Devolution

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 2:49 pm on 11th July 2019.

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Photo of Kevin Foster Kevin Foster Assistant Whip, The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Wales, The Parliamentary Secretary, Cabinet Office 2:49 pm, 11th July 2019

It is always welcome to see how people wish to participate in elections to this Union Parliament, and the fact that it has the higher turnout shows the importance that people attach to it.

Devolution allows for different approaches alongside one another, each the democratic choice of electors who hold their own politicians to account, yet we should not limit this to thinking about the UK Government and the devolved Governments. The Smith commission recognised that when it called for powers to be devolved, not taken away from, local communities in Scotland. We have championed this approach in England, devolving powers to new Mayors in Manchester, the west midlands, Liverpool city region, the west of England, Cambridge and Peterborough, Sheffield, North of Tyne and Tees valley. This enables decisions on services to be made closer to the people that are affected by them and gives a powerful voice to the communities the Mayors serve. This approach to local decision making could also benefit the great cities in other parts of the UK, but of course I respect that that would be a decision for the devolved Assemblies.

For devolution to continue to succeed, it must evolve with changing circumstances and respond to new challenges. The UK Government have adapted to meet this changing constitutional landscape, while maintaining our primary responsibility of being a Government serving the whole United Kingdom.

As the United Kingdom leaves the European Union, and given the changes to the devolution settlements in recent years, it is timely for us to consider whether the institutional structures we have used over the past 20 years remain fit for purpose in terms of intergovernmental relations. At the Joint Ministerial Committee plenary in March 2018, Ministers from the UK Government and devolved Administrations agreed to review the existing intergovernmental structures. On 3 July, the UK Government published the agreement on joint working comprising a set of principles developed jointly by a working group of representatives of all four Administrations. Their publication demonstrates that the UK Government and devolved Administrations are committed to working together to develop inter- governmental structures that will remain fit for purpose after the UK’s exit from the EU. I was pleased to hear some reflection on that today.

The Government have been clear that EU exit will mean an increase in decision-making powers in Edinburgh, Cardiff and Belfast. As we prepare for the UK’s departure from the EU, the UK Government are working with our counterparts in the devolved Administrations to establish common frameworks that uphold our UK internal market. On 3 July, the UK Government published a set of further updates on common frameworks. These detail how we are working together to put frameworks in place and how, across the UK Government, the Welsh and Scottish Governments and the Northern Ireland civil service, we plan to share this work with stakeholders, legislatures and interested parties.

It is also right that, while marking 20 years of devolution, the UK Government also consider whether we are working in the most effective way possible to realise fully all the benefits of devolution within a United Kingdom. The Prime Minister has established an independent review of how the UK Government works with the devolved level of government, which will report to the new Prime Minister in the autumn. It will consider and make recommendations on whether UK government structures are configured in such a way as to strengthen the working of the Union. Let me be clear that this is not a review of the devolution settlements.

As a Government, we are committed to ensuring that devolution continues to serve this Union well. My right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster recently gave a speech to the Law Society of Scotland on the importance of devolution, emphasising that the UK Government’s vision for the UK is one of strong devolved Parliaments within a strong United Kingdom. Just a few days ago, the Prime Minister restated the paramount importance and value of the Union in Stirling. Devolution is not an alternative to the Union. It is not either/or. It is an integral part of a modern Union that will last for generations and serve all parts of our United Kingdom well.