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

I absolutely do. My hon. Friend has made some powerful points today about the disrespectful way in which the Welsh Government were consulted over the Bill, and he is absolutely right to highlight those. I am afraid that, if that continues, that will not be good at all.

Labour firmly believes that the UK single market is the foundation stone of our Union and brings huge economic benefits to the entire UK. That is why we support the principle behind the Bill and why our amendments are so necessary to improve the Bill in Committee. The UK internal market will be essential in recovery from the coronavirus pandemic. We know that we need mutual recognition for our internal market to function coherently, and we believe that we should use this opportunity to drive standards up further.

Our amendments are about the way in which we arrive at those minimum standards, not whether minimum standards are required. The common frameworks programme has been in place since 2017 and has led to some extremely positive outcomes, even in policy areas as complex and contentious as food standards. I am grateful to the Minister of State, Cabinet Office, Chloe Smith, for speaking to me last night about how the common frameworks programme is progressing. The Government and the devolved Governments should be commended for having established this collaborative forum. It could have proceeded with perhaps a little more speed and zeal, but we recognise the competing demands on the Government.

However, the Bill as it stands has the potential to undermine those processes entirely. On food standards, for example, where a common framework has already been agreed, if the Prime Minister were to pursue a free trade deal with the US, we may see chlorinated chicken imported into the UK and making its way on to Welsh, Scottish and Northern Irish supermarket shelves, irrespective of the standards that they have worked so hard to agree through the common framework.

However, it is not only about food. The Bill could have far-reaching implications for the country’s ability to reduce waste and meet our net zero targets. Wales, as we heard, has high ambitions to reduce single-use plastic items, but the UK Government have proposed a less ambitious target for England. It would be tragic if the UK Government imposed a lower standard on Wales, when we should all be working together to eradicate plastics and keep standards as high as possible and going ever higher. Instead, my fear is that the Government are firing a starting pistol on a race to the bottom for regulatory standards across the United Kingdom, which we do not want to happen.

New clause 2 sets out a process that would underpin the common frameworks approach in good faith and within reasonable time commitments and would put the common frameworks programme on a clear statutory footing. We propose that, where common frameworks are already in place, Ministers should not be able to unilaterally override them via secondary legislation to impose lower standards on devolved Administrations without their consent, as the Bill would currently allow. Where any frameworks are currently in development, or as any new common frameworks become necessary, Ministers would need to allow a consensus-based negotiation via the framework process within a reasonable timeframe before making any further intervention via Westminster. Only if an agreement could not be reached through this process would a Minister be able to intervene and protect the internal market.