The Office of the Deputy Prime
69. The Secretaries of State are by no means the
only Cabinet Ministers with a specific interest in devolution.
The Cabinet Ministerial Committee on Nations and Regions is chaired
by the Deputy Prime Minister, the key figure at the centre of
Government, and other Cabinet Ministers attend. (The Committee's
predecessor, the Devolution Policy Committee, was chaired by the
Lord Chancellor.) Although the existence of the Committee was
mentioned in evidence, we were not told how often it meets or
what functions it now serves.
We therefore have to question what central co-ordinating role
that Committee in fact now plays.
70. Official support for the central co-ordination
role for devolution has also changed its identity over time.
Initially this role was played by members of the Cabinet Office's
Constitution Secretariat, which provided specialist advice on
issues such as human rights, freedom of information and House
of Lords reform as well as devolution. Following legislation
to implement much of the Government's agenda for constitutional
reform, that Secretariat was wound up in June 2001, as part of
changes to the machinery of government.
The officials dealing with devolution became part of the Devolution
and English Regions team in the General Policy Division of the
Office of the Deputy Prime Minister (ODPM).
Further changes occurred in June 2002, with the Office of the
Deputy Prime Minister becoming a department in its own right,
incorporating the local government, planning and housing functions
formerly exercised by the Department for Transport, Local Government
and the Regions.
The role of the Deputy Prime Minister in developing policy on
the English regions means that there has been a link between those
working on devolution in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland
with issues of English regional government.
71. Throughout all these organisational changes,
we are told that the devolution team has remained in constant
existence and with essentially the same personnel. Its staffing
is relatively small, but it plays a crucial role. 
That role includes:
(a) providing oversight of the devolution arrangements
in general and the concordats in particular;
(b) general liaison across the UK Government on devolution
(c) liaising with similar groups in the devolved
(d) providing the Secretariat for meetings of the
Joint Ministerial Committee and British-Irish Council.
72. The Cabinet Office/ODPM team is small, comprising
six officials. These are the specialists in intergovernmental
relations at the heart of the UK Government. It is in the UK Government's
own interest to ensure that it has at the centre a group of highly
knowledgeable specialists who understand the institutional framework
of devolution, the policy issues involved, and are able to advise
Ministers on the political issues in the devolved administration.
Admittedly this role is not one exercised solely by the Cabinet
Office/ODPM team - it is shared with the Secretaries of State
and their teams, who are the experts in their particular devolution
settlements and the consequent issues arising. But it appears
to us that the importance of devolution means that such expertise
is needed gathered together at the centre not distributed across
a number of Whitehall departments.
73. Moreover, while the present level of staffing
may be adequate for the demands the UK Government currently places
on its devolution advisers, it cannot assume that this situation
will continue indefinitely. We have discussed in Chapter One
the issues arising from the present amicable state of relations
between Westminster and the devolved institutions, and the ways
in which relations will need to become more formal, if not more
adversarial, in future.
74. We recommend that the Cabinet Office/Office
of the Deputy Prime Minister devolution team should be strengthened
in anticipation of an increase in formal liaison between Westminster
and the devolved institutions. In particular we consider that
the UK Government will require more specialist advice on intergovernmental
75. The changes to the structure of government made
in June 2001 and June 2002 have implications for the way the UK
Government deals with devolution which have so far escaped public
attention. The original arrangements, with the Constitution Secretariat
a key part of the Cabinet Office, meant that devolution was emphatically
at the heart of government. By moving the devolution team to
the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister within the Cabinet Office
and then moving ODPM out of the Cabinet Office, devolution is
no longer so intimately integrated with the Cabinet Office.
76. This has some importance symbolically, indicating
how central devolution issues are to the UK Government. It has
greater importance practically, if the Prime Minister and those
responsible for the centre of government are to have ready access
to devolution expertise. It also means that devolution is removed
from two other parts of the Cabinet Office. One is the Central
Secretariat, which deals with key Civil Service issues - grading,
the Senior Civil Service, the Civil Service Code, for example.
Civil Service issues are discussed in detail in Chapter Five
below, but for present purposes the key point is that the close
linkage that previously existed has been broken. The second
part of the Cabinet Office with which a direct link has been broken
is the European Secretariat. Such a link appears to us to have
been valuable in two ways. First, EU issues are of very great
importance to the devolved administrations (and we discuss them
in Chapter Six below). The recognition of the need to link EU
and devolution issues appears to have eased the way such issues
were dealt with in the Cabinet Office. Second, the former situation
meant that intergovernmental relations 'up' (with the EU) and
'down' (with the devolved administrations) were dealt with on
a common basis. That is no longer the case; treating them in
different ways implies that the UK Government considers one set
of relations to be more important than the other, by virtue of
its closeness to the centre of government.
RELATIONSHIPS AT THE CENTRE
77. A further issue arises from the relationship
between the Cabinet Office/ODPM team and the Offices and Secretaries
of State for the devolved areas. We have already remarked on
the disparities of size between the Scotland and Wales Offices.
It does not appear to us that there is any significant duplication
of work at the official level, although we are less clear about
the respective roles of the Deputy Prime Minister and the Secretaries
of State. However, the principal roles of the Deputy Prime Minister
and the Secretaries of State for Scotland and Wales - as identified
above - relate to intergovernmental relations. That is important
for the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland as well, although
he has other more pressing concerns. Consequently four Cabinet
Ministers are chiefly or heavily concerned with intergovernmental
relations. Whether or not that involves duplication, it certainly
implies a loss of focus. Four Ministers cannot devote the same
attention to the framing of policy for intergovernmental relations
and implementing that policy that one could. This may raise
no problems in present circumstances, when relations are amicable
and informal. If relations become less amicable, clarity of focus
and consistency of approach will be at a premium.
78. We therefore recommend that the UK Government
consider with care how to deal with devolution matters at an early
date, so that the machinery of government relating to devolution
can cope not just with intergovernmental relations as they stand
but as they are likely to become in the medium term. While implementing
major changes would raise problems in the short term, the situation
would change dramatically if the National Assembly for Wales were
to acquire primary legislative powers.
41 Evidence of Ian Gordon, 20 March 2002, Q. 97. Back
Evidence of the Rt Hon. Helen Liddell MP, 10 April 2002, Q. 152.
Evidence of Mr Bill Jeffrey, 20 March 2002, Q. 99. Back
Memorandum by the Cabinet Office, paras 16 and 22, evidence volume,
p. 16; evidence of the Rt Hon. H. Liddell MP, the Rt Hon. P. Murphy
MP and the Rt Hon. Dr J. Reid, 10 April 2002, QQ 153-55. Back
Evidence of the Rt Hon. P. Murphy MP, 10 April 2002, Q. 164.
Evidence of the Rt Hon. P. Murphy MP, 10 April 2002, Q. 175.
Evidence of Mrs A. Jackson, 20 March 2002, Q. 100. Back
Evidence of the Rt Hon. H. Liddell MP and the Rt Hon. Dr John
Reid MP, 10 April 2002, QQ 166 and 168 Back
Memorandum by the Cabinet Office, para. 13, evidence volume p.
15; evidence of Mr I. Gordon and Mrs A. Jackson, 20 March 2002,
QQ 10, 103 and 122; evidence of Andy Kerr MSP, 16 May 2002, Q.
544; Memorandum by the Welsh Assembly Government, National Assembly
for Wales, para. 7-8, evidence volume p. 230; evidence of Carwyn
Jones AM, 28 May 2002, QQ 956-59. Back
Evidence of the Rt Hon. H. Liddell MP and the Rt Hon. P. Murphy
MP, 10 April 2002, QQ 161-62 and 168; evidence o Back
Evidence of the Rt Hon. John Prescott MP, 27 February 2002, Q.
63; evidence of Mr I. Gordon, 20 March 2002, Q. 121. Back
Evidence of the Rt Hon. H. Liddell MP and the Rt Hon. P. Murphy
MP, 10 April 2002, QQ 157, 174-75; evidence of Mr I. Gordon and
Mrs A. Jackson, 20 March 2002, Q. 105. Back
Evidence of the Rt Hon. Dr John Reid MP, 10 April 2002, Q. 158
and Q. 166; evidence of Mr W. Jeffery, 20 March 2002, Q. 116.
Evidence of the Rt Hon. P. Murphy MP, 10 April 2002, Q. 164; evidence
of Mrs A. Jackson, 20 March 2002, QQ 103 and 141. See also Memorandum
by Professor K. Patchett, paras 7-9, 17-19, 32-33; evidence of
Professor K. Patchett, Q. 1069; supplementary memorandum of Professor
K. Patchett, para. 8. Back
Evidence of the Rt Hon. P. Murphy MP, 10 April 2002, Q. 154; evidence
of Lord Elis-Thomas AM, 27 May 2002, Q. 946. Back
Evidence of the Rt Hon. H. Liddell MP, 10 April 2002, QQ 167 and
198; evidence of Mr I. Gordon, 20 March 2002, QQ 111, 142-43.
See HL Debates, 21 July 1998, col. 791. Back
Scotland Act 1998, section 33; Northern Ireland Act 1998, sections
11 and 14. See also evidence of Mr I. Gordon, 20 March 2002,
QQ 142-43. Back
Evidence of Mrs A. Jackson and, Mr P. Unwin, 20 March 2002, Q.
Evidence of the Rt Hon. H. Liddell MP, the Rt Hon. P. Murphy MP
and the Rt Hon. Dr John Reid MP, 10 April 2002, QQ 199-201;
evidence of Mrs A. Jackson and, Mr P. Unwin, 20 March 2002, QQ
See for example evidence of Andy Kerr MSP, 16 May 2002, QQ 544-45;
evidence of Edwina Hart AM, Minister for Finance, Local Government
and Communities, National Assembly for Wales, 27 May 2002, QQ
886, 890-92 and 906. Back
Scotland Office Departmental Annual Report 2002, Chapter
1 figure 4; Wales Office Departmental Annual Report 2002,
para. 1.4. Back
See evidence of Mr I. Gordon, Head of Department, Scotland Office;
Mrs A. Jackson, Head of Department, Wales Office; Mr W. Jeffery,
Political Director, Northern Ireland Office; and Mr P. Unwin,
Head of General Policy Division, Office of the Deputy Prime Minister,
Cabinet Office, 20 March 2002, QQ 143-47. Back
Memorandum by the Cabinet Office, para. 32, evidence volume p.
17; evidence of the Rt Hon. John Prescott MP, 27 February 2002,
Q. 73. The committee was not mentioned by any of the territorial
Secretaries of State in their evidence to us nor by the Director
of the Deputy Prime Minister's Central Policy Group in Cabinet
Office, the Heads of the Scotland and Wales Offices or the Political
Director of the Northern Ireland Office. Back
We commented on this in our Fourth report, Changing the Constitution:
The Process of Constitutional Change, Session 2001-02, HL
Paper 69. Back
Memorandum of the Cabinet Office, para. 32; evidence volume, p.
Letter from the Deputy Prime Minster, 13 June 2002; evidence volume,
p. 34. Back
Evidence of Mr P. Unwin, 20 March 2002, Q. 147. Back
Evidence of Mr P. Unwin, 20 March 2002, Q. 112. Back