Wednesday, 25 June 2008

Committed committee

You can't get enough committees in my job. It's a relief to discover one that actually calls itself a committee, rather than convention/working party/task and finish group or any of the other synonyms offered by our elected representatives.

The Joint Ministerial Committee met today for the first time in six years and for the first time with nationalists from Wales and Scotland present.

The committee's been exhumed by Gordon Brown to bring the devolved governments together within a UK framework. It may have something to do with his attempts to highlight Britishness in the age of devolution.

The committee isn't a decision-taking body, in the words of its co-ordinator, Welsh Secretary Paul Murphy. He sees it as a consensus-seeking, and with that aim will play a role resolving disputes between administrations.

It also offers the chance for the devolved governments to gang up on the UK Government and there are already signs that this is happening. Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland are uniting to press for a greater share of extra cash being spent on the 2012 Olympics in London.

The committee spent two hours meeting in a windowless ministerial committee room in the Palace of Westminster. Lord Chancellor Jack Straw chaired the meeting - there are some jobs even Gordon Brown delegates.

Its members have agreed to rewrite the rulebook to reflect the changed political landscape across the UK. Devolved governments hope it will provide a forum for settling disputes over funding in a more sympathetic way than direct appeals to a Treasury with a vested interest in rejecting them.

Fans of committees will be pleased to know that the JMC may be expanding. The official statement afterwards says: "They agreed, therefore, to a meeting in the autumn, which, subject to further consideration, might be in a new format, JMC (Domestic), to be chaired by Paul
Murphy (carrying out his responsibility for JMC issues within the UK Government,
separate from his role as Secretary of State for Wales). Other ministers would
participate as appropriate. This meeting could consider a range of domestic
issues, paralleling the successful JMC(E) format, which deals with EU issues."

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