An image showing the Siambr empty

An image showing the Siambr empty

Concerns of “unfulfilled opportunities” discussed at fifth meeting of the Interparliamentary Forum

Published 18/03/2024   |   Reading Time minutes

The Interparliamentary Forum (IPF) has held its fifth meeting, bringing together UK parliamentarians to discuss cross-cutting issues.

Representatives from the Senedd, House of Lords, House of Commons, Northern Ireland Assembly, and the Scottish Parliament met on 29 February 2024 in Westminster to discuss issues such as intergovernmental relations and legislative consent. This article looks at how the IPF came to be, collective concerns recently discussed, and hopes for progress with the establishment of a Northern Ireland Executive.

How should legislatures interact?

In 1999, the House of Commons Procedure Committee considered how the UK and devolved legislatures should work together. It noted that:

… witnesses hoped that there would be good working relationships between the Select Committees of this House and Committees of the devolved legislatures.

Discussion continued as devolution developed. In 2014, the second report of the Silk Commission recommended that:

… there should be improved inter-parliamentary cooperation to increase mutual understanding of the work of the National Assembly and both Houses of Parliament, especially in terms of committee-to-committee cooperation

However, the development of structures for interparliamentary relations has arguably been seen as a low priority.

What is the IPF?

Following Brexit and the transfer of powers from the European Union to Westminster and the devolved legislatures, the governments of the UK developed new intergovernmental initiatives, such as new structures for meetings between Ministers, and Common Frameworks to manage policy divergence.

What are Common Frameworks?

Agreements between the UK and devolved governments on how to manage divergence in policy areas formerly governed or coordinated at EU level. Policy areas subject to Common Frameworks include public procurement, animal health and welfare, agricultural support, chemicals, and public health protection and health security.

In response to these changes, there were calls to reform interparliamentary relations, which some academics considered to have been generally “limited in frequency and scope”. The House of Lords Select Committee on the European Union in its report on Brexit and devolution recommended that the “structures for interparliamentary dialogue and cooperation be strengthened”. It proposed that joint meetings of the legislatures to discuss issues initially in relation to Brexit should be set up.

In October 2017, the Interparliamentary Forum on Brexit was established in response. The Forum met between 2017-2019 to discuss matters related to the UK’s withdrawal from the EU.

The IPF on Brexit lost momentum following the 2019 general election and the COVID-19 pandemic, however, calls remained from various bodies and parliamentary committees for better interparliamentary working.

Following discussions between the Lord Speaker, Lord McFall of Alcluith, and the Speakers and Presiding Officers of the Senedd, Northern Ireland Assembly, and Scottish Parliament, the current iteration of the IPF was formed. It held its first meeting in February 2022.

The Senedd’s website notes that the IPF’s initial priorities include:

  • Inter-governmental relations including agreeing a joint annual report on addressing common scrutiny challenges;
  • The operation of international agreements including the Trade and Cooperation Agreement, the Withdrawal Agreement and the Ireland/Northern Ireland Protocol;
  • The UK internal market including the UK Internal Market Act and Common Frameworks;
  • The impact of the new constitutional arrangements on the legislative process including the use of secondary powers and the legislative consent process.

A Hansard Society and Study of Parliament Group report labelled the IPF a “modest but useful step forward towards interparliamentary cooperation”.

What was discussed at the fifth IPF meeting?

Meeting in the House of Lords, the Forum was chaired by the chairs of the House of Lords Constitution and European Affairs committees, Baroness Drake and Lord Rickets. Chair of the Senedd’s Legislation, Justice and Constitution Committee, Huw Irranca-Davies MS, represented the Senedd. A joint statement was released following the meeting.

Lord McFall of Alcuith noted that it was the first IPF since the establishment of a new Northern Ireland Executive, and as such Members of the Northern Ireland Assembly were participating in the IPF for the first time

Issues of common interest discussed included Intergovernmental relations under the revised structures, the legislative consent process, and the UK Government’s Safeguarding the Union Command Paper.

The joint statement noted that, at its meeting in October 2023, the IPF discussed shared concerns about the transparency and scrutiny of Common Frameworks. The IPF wrote to the Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities and Minister for Intergovernmental Relations, Michael Gove MP, setting out the collective concerns and suggesting that there were “unfulfilled opportunities” within the Common Frameworks programme.

The Minister’s reply included a commitment to:

…continue to encourage ministerial colleagues to attend the Inter-Parliamentary Forum to discuss devolved matters including Common Frameworks

At the most recent meeting, the IPF again wrote to the Minister, to stress that the establishment of the Northern Ireland Executive should make it possible for more progress to be made on Common Frameworks.

The next meeting

With the IPF likely to meet next in Autunm 2024, members will continue to keep a keen eye on developments relating to Common Frameworks and the operation of intergovernmental relations.

Article by Adam Cooke, Senedd Research, Welsh Parliament