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

Part of United Kingdom Internal Market Bill – in the House of Commons at 4:30 pm on 15th September 2020.

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Photo of Owen Thompson Owen Thompson SNP Whip 4:30 pm, 15th September 2020

There are many things wrong with the Bill. Today, we are focused on the creation of yet another unelected body with the monitoring responsibilities to investigate devolved decisions. The current Government seem very keen on creating record numbers of unelected roles. They threatened to abolish the Electoral Commission, so we know that they do not like oversight. But yet another bureaucratic body to investigate and veto what elected politicians decide in the devolved Administrations —is that really what we need? Just because the Prime Minister, and perhaps his Government, are averse to democracy and oversight does not mean that the rest of us are.

Perhaps, if I might be so bold, this is more about the fact that the Conservative party has been unable to win an election in Scotland or Wales since 1957, yet it wants to implement its own policies in disregard of the elected wishes of the Scottish people, who democratically elect the Parliament at Holyrood. Perhaps that is what the Bill is about. Perhaps the Conservative party has taken lessons from some of the donors in the Kremlin.

This unnecessary new body will decide whether a Bill meets the new test for the internal market, putting permanent constraints on the devolved competencies of the Scottish and Welsh Parliaments and the Northern Ireland Assembly. We cannot support such an anti-democratic move in either principle or practice. The amendments seek to remove the Bill’s remit from Scotland. The Office for the Internal Market should not be given powers to monitor the regulatory provisions that apply in Scotland but in not the whole UK. This is nothing short of a threat to Scottish democracy.

How will the OIM’s decisions be scrutinised? Yes, a report must be lodged annually in this place, but nothing tells us at what point that will appear before Members. Will it be like an estimates day? By what process can hon. Members genuinely scrutinise the OIM’s decisions? We need to know. How can we possibly have any clarity about how this will work if we do not know the process of simple oversight and scrutiny?

The regulations proposed to set up this body are unwarranted and lack the necessary clarity about the extent of its remit, how the CMA will receive and consider proposals for investigations and essential mechanisms for democratic scrutiny of the membership and dispute resolution. At very least, it should be essential for all four Administrations to agree at every stage. As the Royal Society of Edinburgh said, the use of this authority against the wishes of the devolved Administrations constitutes a failure of intergovernmental relations.

What happened to the respect agenda? We were told we were in a Union of equals and that we were to “lead not leave”. Where has that gone? Let us make this simple: scrutiny of Bills passed at Holyrood should be undertaken in Holyrood. Transparent, proportionate processes are in place to scrutinise Bills in the Scottish Parliament and consider the input of key stakeholders, including business, public authorities and the public. Replacing that with an unelected body and an unclear process is a retrograde step for transparency in our democracy. It could result in vested interests with financial clout having undue influence, or in regulators challenging the decisions of our elected representatives.

We hear a lot about unelected bureaucrats—we had a lesson from my hon. Friend Alyn Smith, who highlighted that some of the so-called unelected bureaucrats are in fact elected—but this is a genuinely unelected quango. There is no need for the creation of a new body that could scupper much of the excellent evidence-based policy work that has served Scotland so well. Policies such as the minimum unit pricing of alcohol and maintaining free higher education pose no threat to the integrity of the Union, but could fall foul of the rules for this new internal market.