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

Part of United Kingdom Internal Market Bill – in the House of Commons at 5:15 pm on 15th September 2020.

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Photo of Lucy Powell Lucy Powell Shadow Minister (Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy) 5:15 pm, 15th September 2020

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Evans. I rise to speak to the amendments tabled in my name and the names of my right hon. and hon. Friends.

We have had some good contributions from colleagues from all parties in today’s discussion of the United Kingdom Internal Market Bill—or, as the Prime Minister now calls it after his roasting yesterday, the infernal market Bill. Let us hope that when the Minister rises to speak he is better briefed than the Prime Minister, although I have no doubt that he will be because, unlike his boss, he very much is a details man.

Before I address the substance of the amendments, I want the House to be clear on a few points. Labour wants the Government to get Brexit done and we want a strong internal market that respects devolution and protects high regulatory standards, but we will not fall for the Prime Minister’s attempt to rerun the Brexit arguments, and neither should the public. The Brexit issue is settled and the Government now need to get on and get the deal that they promised the British people at the general election.

The Prime Minister’s attempts to boost his falling poll ratings have failed. Brexiteer after Brexiteer has denounced this Bill; they clearly did not get the memo that opposing it was some kind of remainer plot, which it is not. We have had a roll call of the great and good—some not so good, but I will let Members decide—including Lord Howard and Lord Lamont, Mr Cox and Rehman Chishti, to name but a few. They have spoken out with courage because this Bill, in its current form, is not in the national interest.

Let me turn to the amendments. The central challenge that faced those drafting the Bill was how to square an internal market where goods can be sold across the UK with the fact that regulatory standards are devolved in key areas such as animal welfare, the environment, food safety and many others. There was an obvious answer, because since 2017 there has been a process of agreeing common frameworks—a joint approach to standards in the different devolved areas. The Government could have chosen to legislate for those common frameworks to make them the default option for regulation, thereby granting a proper voice to the devolved nations on the regulatory standards to which we have to adhere.

To be clear, that approach would have imposed a duty on all Governments to seek to establish common high standards. There would have needed to be an ultimate last resort in case the way forward could not be agreed on, at which point the UK Parliament would have needed to step in. That would have been the way to square the circle of the internal market and respect for devolution but, unfortunately, it is not the route that the Government have chosen. Instead, they have chosen non-binding common frameworks, up against what is in essence a Westminster veto, potentially leading to lower standards, with no guarantee of a voice for the devolved nations.

The Government say that they will still negotiate for common frameworks; that is welcome but it is not enough. If we do not put the process for common frameworks on a statutory footing, we undermine the very process itself, making the nuclear option of imposition more and more likely. Common frameworks without legislation are toothless. As time for regulations to be implemented becomes more and more pressing, and with the looming prospect of other trade deals and their inevitable call on UK-wide standards, we can see how things will play out, with the imposition of regulations via statutory instruments becoming the norm.

In line with getting Brexit done, there is now a huge repatriation of powers from the EU to the UK. The Government have a choice to make: do they want to respect and strengthen the devolution settlement by pushing power closer to people in communities, as promised in the referendum? Or do they want to retain all those powers here in Westminster? At best, the Bill is a missed opportunity to strengthen our Union; at worst, it threatens the future of the UK itself, giving—as we have heard today—the First Minister and the SNP all the grievances they need to turbo-charge their independence campaign. One has only to listen to the voices across our four nations to realise that, yet the Prime Minister and the Government have a tin ear.

A Front-Bench Conservative Member of the Welsh Assembly resigned because of the Bill’s disregard of and disrespect towards the nations of the UK. It is worth listening to what he had to say, which was that

“the Internal Market Bill has done nothing to lessen my anxieties about the dangers facing our 313 year old Union. Indeed they have been gravely aggravated by the decisions made in the last few days by the Prime Minister…I will feel it necessary to speak out against what I consider to be a lack of statecraft at this crucial time for the UK’s very survival” as a multi-state Union.