AN inquiry has been launched examining the relationship between national and devolved governments by a House of Lords committee.

The Constitution Committee probe will be looking to pick apart how relationships between Westminster and the Scottish, Welsh, and Northern Irish administrations are conducted - including how the UK Government consults with the institutions.

It will additionally look at whether the Sewel Convention is being respected. This states that the UK Parliament will “not normally” legislate in devolved areas without permission from Holyrood, the Senedd, or Stormont.

There have been severe concerns raised about respect for the Sewel Convention in recent years.

In October, Independence Minister Jamie Hepburn said it had been breached 11 times in recent years as he accused the UK Government of using “tactics tantamount to blackmail” to get consent to its legislation.

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Scotland’s Constitution Secretary Angus Robertson has also accused the UK Government of “imposing Westminster rule by stealth” as a paper highlighted the impact of the UK Government imposing authority over Holyrood.

It highlighted how, before BrexitWestminster governments had never passed new laws in devolved policy areas without the consent of the Scottish Parliament, but found it had done so on nine occasions as of last June.

The UK Internal Market Act 2020, the EU (Future Relationship) Act 2020, and the Professional Qualifications Act 2022 are all examples of legislation passed without the consent of the Scottish Parliament.

Last year, the UK Government refused to grant Scotland an exemption to the Internal Market Act to allow its planned Deposit Return Scheme (DRS) to include glass, which ultimately led to a major delay in implementing the recycling legislation. 

The committee has put out a call for evidence with submissions being taken until April 8.

Key questions being looked at by the committee include whether respect for the Sewel Convention has been eroded and whether it can be strengthened in any way.

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Some of the other questions the committee will be looking to answer are:

  • How effective are the new intergovernmental relations structures—introduced in January 2022—at maintaining and improving relationships between the UK Government and the governments of the devolved nations?
  • Is there scope to strengthen the role of the territorial departments (the Office of the Secretary of State for Scotland, the Office of the Secretary of State for Wales, and the Northern Ireland Office) at official and ministerial level?
  • To what extent are the devolved administrations consulted prior to legislation being introduced in the UK Parliament that alters the executive competences of the devolved minister

Back in January 2022, a new intergovernmental relations structure was established from a review which concluded: “All governments are committed to promoting collaboration and the avoidance of disagreements, facilitated by the new intergovernmental machinery in which engagement will normally take place at the lowest appropriate level possible.”

The inquiry will examine how well governments are co-operating with each other following this review.

The review also stated the role of the Secretary of State for Scotland “is to ensure the interests of the relevant nation are represented ‘at the heart of the UK government’ and that the UK Government’s responsibilities are represented in the relevant nation”.