THE UK Government has signalled that it is to set up a new arbitration system to resolve disputes between the administrations in London and Edinburgh, already dubbed a “devolution referee”.

Appearing before the Commons Scottish Affairs Committee for the first time, Alister Jack revealed the move - which will be part of a “package of proposals” to boost intergovernmental relations - following questioning by the SNP’s Tommy Sheppard.

The Edinburgh East MP said: “We've previously expressed concern about arbitration when there's a difference of opinion and argue for a third party arbitration process, something which your predecessor didn't commit to but said he would have a look at. I'm wondering if you've got a perspective on that and whether or not that is going to be something that the Cabinet Office review is likely to record upon?”

Mr Jack replied: "The new dispute resolution process is something that's quite high on the agenda now.

“Before I come to answer the last part of your question, the disputes between governments are rare, we should put that on the record.”

The Secretary of State explained that in the 20 years of devolution there had only ever been four disputes of any significance between the two administrations.

“Obviously, our prime focus is to avoid disputes between all administrations but, as regards the introduction of an independent or third party involvement in that process, our current plans are to propose that that should be the case.”

Pete Wishart, the committee Chairman, interjected to say: “That's interesting, that's speedy progress...Speedy Jack we'll call you.”

The Scottish Secretary replied: "Union Jack I'd prefer."

In response to a question from his Conservative colleague Paul Masterton, the minister talked up the relations between the two administrations behind closed doors.

"My experience in discussions with the Scottish Government is that I find myself to be on the same page as them in pretty much everything and to be very focused on the right things.

"We do come out and tear strips off each other. We both do it, so I can't pretend that it's one-way traffic; it's just the nature of politics,” he insisted.

Elsewhere in the committee session, the Cabinet minister also defended his office’s communications budget, which has increased more than six-fold to more than £800,000 since 2010.

“The increases are because we’re trying to better communicate with the public the work that UK Government is doing in Scotland which is part of strengthening the Union and we feel that’s very important,” explained Mr Jack.

He added: “All I would say is that the Scottish Government spends more; it’s is a fraction of what they’re spending.”