18 May 2018
The Cabinet Office in Whitehall is responsible for the overall management of relations between the UK Government and the devolved governments in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. Together with the three territorial departments it advises Whitehall departments on the devolution settlements. One of the ways it has done this is through the development of Devolution Guidance Notes (DGNs) which are prepared to assist Whitehall civil servants in dealing with aspects of devolution.
Following on from the coming into force of the “reserved powers” model of devolution on April 1 some of DGNs have been replaced.
What are DGNs?
Following the May 2015 General Election, the Prime Minister agreed that those areas of constitutional reform for which the Deputy Prime Minister previously held responsibility, should transfer to the Chancellor for the Duchy of Lancaster and continue within the Cabinet Office. This includes responsibility for constitutional matters, devolution and electoral reform. Responsibility for the Electoral Commission, the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority (IPSA) and the Boundary Commissions also remains in the Cabinet Office.
The DGNs that are of relevance to Wales are the following:
- Common working arrangements (DGN1): Sets out advice on common working arrangements between the UK Government and the devolved administrations and also sets out an introduction to the main principles involved in the managing of the devolution settlements. It looks in more depth at bilateral relations, correspondence, parliamentary business, legislation and concordats.
- Handling correspondence under devolution (DGN2): Sets out the general principles for the handling by UK Government departments of correspondence from members of the devolved legislatures.
- Role of the Secretary of State for Wales (DGN4): Sets out the functions and the role played by the Secretary of State for Wales following devolution.
- Circulation of inter-Ministerial and inter-departmental correspondence (DGN6): Sets out the conventions to be followed by UK Government departments when they are involving devolved administrations in matters which are the subject of correspondence between UK Ministers, or otherwise writing to ministers of devolved administrations.
- Ministerial accountability after devolution (DGN11): Sets out general advice on matters which remain the responsibility of UK ministers, and for which they are accountable to the UK parliament.
- Attendance of UK ministers and officials at committees of the devolved legislatures (DGN12): Sets out advice for UK ministers and civil servants on how to deal with invitations to attend committees of devolved legislatures.
New Guidance Note
The UK Government has issued a new DGN which has superseded the former DGNs 9 and 16: Parliamentary and Assembly Primary Legislation Affecting Wales. It explains that:
In order for departments to reflect the Welsh devolution settlement in UK Parliamentary legislation, it is necessary to understand the parameters of the Assembly’s legislative competence to make primary legislation in the form of Assembly Bills.
The DGN explains the main features of the Welsh devolution settlement. The settlement is set out in Part 4 of the Government of Wales Act 2006 (“the Act”) as amended by the Wales Act 2017. The DGN explains the UK Government’s view of the legislative competence of the National Assembly for Wales and the executive competence of Welsh Ministers, as well as the effects of the Welsh devolution settlement on UK government policy development and legislation in the UK Parliament. It also sets out how the legislative competence of the Assembly and the executive competence of Welsh Ministers can be modified in future.
The Constitutional and Legislative Affairs Committee’s Report
Earlier this year the Assembly’s Constitutional and Legislative Affairs Committee (@SeneddCLA) published a report: UK Governance post-Brexit. It made a number of recommendations about how intergovernmental arrangements across the UK should change in light of Brexit. It recommended that DGNs should:
- be subject to a thorough overhaul involving collaboration between all governments of the UK with the aim of establishing shared governance around the machinery that supports the delivery of effective and fair inter-governmental relations;
- as part of that overhaul, be subject to full public consultation, enabling scrutiny by parliamentary committees across the UK, in the interests of transparency, accuracy and good governance, as well as improving the understanding of inter-governmental relations across civic society; and
- be reviewed on a regular basis thereafter.#
Article by Alys Thomas, National Assembly for Wales Research Service