Clause 28 - Functions of the CMA under this Part: general provisions

Part of United Kingdom Internal Market Bill – in the House of Commons at 2:30 pm on 15th September 2020.

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Photo of Richard Fuller Richard Fuller Conservative, North East Bedfordshire 2:30 pm, 15th September 2020

The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right. “So get on with it”, would be my suggestion to him and his colleagues. I have heard several points of strong opposition to the Bill rather than engagement. A more constructive engagement with the UK Government would help everyone, because as he rightly says the internal market is a shared asset between the four component nations of the UK. So I urge him and his party to encourage that work with the UK Government.

On the specific clauses in the Bill, I have a general point to make. We are very keen as politicians to do the new things, set new regulations, but we spend very little time checking whether they work or whether the regulatory body is doing any good or indeed doing what it said it would do in the first place, so it is important to get a bit more precision from the Government in some of the words they use in the Bill.

Clause 29 talks about the reports—the Minister may be able to help—the Competition and Markets Authority must prepare or report on. Clause 29(5)(b) states:

“developments as to the effectiveness of the operation of that market.”

The word “effectiveness” can have lots of different meanings to lots of different people. What remit are we giving to the Office for the Internal Market on how it will judge the definition of an effective operation of the market? Does it, for example, include whether the operation of the market continues to have the consent of all constituent devolved Administrations of the United Kingdom? Does it mean that the country has an adequate spread of production across the country? Does it mean that each market is promoting competition? Does it mean that prices are going down? The word “effectiveness” covers a lot of issues.

That issue also relates to clause 29(8), which states:

“So far as a report under this section is concerned with the effective operation of the internal market in the United Kingdom, the report may consider (among other things)—…(i) competition, (ii) access to goods and services, (iii) volumes of trade”.

I would say that that is a partial list. There may be other aspects that we would wish the Office for the Internal Market to look into when it considers the operation of the internal market, some of which I have mentioned. For example, is the Minister considering, or would he consider, that that should include the impact of the internal market on consumer rights? Should it include regional disparities? Most importantly, should it include innovation and competition?

Clause 30(3)(a) talks about advising on proposed regulatory provisions on request. This is an important issue relating to the points raised by the hon. Member for Inverness, Nairn, Badenoch and Strathspey, which is not only on the decision authorities but the scope for devolved Administrations to raise issues with the Office for the Internal Market. Clause 30(3) states:

“The condition is that it appears to the requesting authority that—

(a) the regulatory provision to which the proposal relates would fall within the scope of this Part and be within relevant legislative competence, and

(b) the proposal should be further considered in the light of the significance of its potential effects on the operation of the internal market in the United Kingdom.”

It seems to me, particularly in light of the desire of devolved Administrations to have some potential for innovations in regulations such as minimum alcohol pricing, that that “and” might be better considered as an “or”. It would be feasible for devolved Administrations to raise issues which may be outside the scope of their current remit of responsibilities, but for which the devolved Administrations, elected by their local voters, wish to see as a potential regulatory change in the future. What is the harm that could be caused by enabling that to be considered by the Office for the Internal Market?

Wendy Chamberlain tabled amendment 21 to clause 35, which relates to participation in the Competition and Markets Authority. Obviously, she may wish to speak to her amendment directly, but I draw the attention of the Minister to the issue of participation in the CMA. It is a relevant question to ask who will be on those bodies. We put the so-called great and the good on such regulators, but we do not really know who they are. What oversight do we have of their performance? What oversight and decision rights do we have of appointments? Would it not be a consideration to spread that beyond this Parliament to include devolved Administrations? I urge my hon. Friend the Minister to look carefully at the amendment tabled by the hon. Lady, as well as her new clause 4.

I welcome the Bill. As Jonathan Edwards mentioned, the internal market is a shared asset and we all want it to work effectively. The Bill is a very good start in making us move in the right direction, but we need some prudence in its implementation. I am very grateful to the Minister of State, Cabinet Office, my hon. Friend Chloe Smith for her intervention to clarify some points on where we stand in relation to the common framework.