Devolution Committee calls for transparency between Scottish and UK Governments to be enshrined in law

06.10.2015

Holyrood’s Devolution (Further Powers) Committee has called for improved scrutiny of relations between the Scottish and UK Governments.

In a report published today on ‘intergovernmental relations’, MSPs say the principles of transparency and accountability should be placed in statute in the Scotland Bill, to put the requirements on a legal footing.  

In addition, the Committee considers that the fiscal framework is critical to the operation of the powers proposed for devolution.  As a result, the Committee expects to be consulted on the fiscal framework before it is formally agreed. 

Devolution Committee Convener, Bruce Crawford MSP said: 

“The Smith Commission, in its final report, called for the Scottish and UK Governments to work together to create a more productive, robust, visible and transparent relationship.  Our committee’s view is that the last of these principles - transparency along with the principle of accountability is vital. 

“Despite the importance of intergovernmental arrangements, the Scottish Parliament has not been, to date, as involved as it could be in scrutinising how the Scottish Government deals with other governments in the UK and how best it is held accountable for this. 

“Our international research shows that whilst inter-governmental relations in federal and quasi-federal systems also tend to be executive-dominated, in almost all the countries examined by the Committee, the role of parliaments in scrutinising IGR is greater than the role the UK’s parliaments currently fulfil in the scrutiny of IGR in the UK. 

“To help improve this situation, our committee has set out a series of recommendations, including writing the principles of transparency and accountability into the Scotland Bill.   

“Furthermore, we expect our recommendations are taken into account in the on-going discussions and negotiations currently taking place between the Scottish and UK Government.” 

Background information

  • The committee’s full report: Changing Relationships - Parliamentary Scrutiny of Intergovernmental Relations, is available online.
  • Inter-governmental relations (IGR) refer to the processes by which different governments seek to communicate and cooperate to address issues where their policy responsibilities overlap, where there are common policy challenges, and to prevent or resolve areas of dispute.  As the Committee has noted previously, in its interim report ‘New Powers for Scotland’, inter-governmental relations in the UK are mainly informal and underpinned by the need for good communication, goodwill and mutual trust.  Nevertheless, the focus of this report is on the formal structures and processes which currently govern IGR in the UK and the implications of the current proposals for further devolution may have upon these structures and relationships.
  • In particular, this report considers the role of the Scottish Parliament, as well as Parliaments more generally, in scrutinising intergovernmental relations.  In doing so, the report considers the practices in parliamentary scrutiny of IGR in other jurisdictions in order to seek examples and experiences which may help inform the on-going evolution of UK IGR and the role of legislatures in overseeing it.
  • The Committee is grateful to the University of Edinburgh for its external research on international comparators that help informed its findings.  The University’s research can be found at Annex B in the committee’s report. 

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