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

Part of United Kingdom Internal Market Bill – in the House of Commons at 5:30 pm on 15th September 2020.

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Photo of Paul Scully Paul Scully Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy), Minister of State (London) 5:30 pm, 15th September 2020

I take the hon. Gentleman’s point, but prior to his contribution, other Members did raise the point about how these people were being recruited and for what reasons.

This measure means that each devolved Administration will be fully and equally involved in the oversight of the UK internal market. It minimises the need to seek court action, thus ensuring the continued smooth operation of the UK internal market that businesses crave. The provisions set out in the Bill provide broad oversight on an equal basis for all Administrations. The new Office for the Internal Market will be able to provide non-binding, expert reporting, technical monitoring, regulations and proposals, which will provide robust evidence on the actual or potential impact of regulatory measures, thus ensuring enhanced transparency and accountability for decision making across all the Administrations, including the UK Government acting on behalf of England. It is important that by doing this, the Office for the Internal Market will add an extra economic impact assessment that could otherwise just boil down to a political debate, which would not provide the consistency and coherence that businesses are seeking at this time.

I turn now to the amendments, starting with amendment 28 to clause 28. The clause is important because it defines those regulatory provisions on which the CMA will report and advise. This will ensure certainty and transparency for Administrations, businesses and the general public. Regulatory provisions are in scope if they set requirements for the purposes of mutual recognition and non-discrimination principles in the Bill for the sale of goods and equivalent services, as well as recognition of professional qualifications, and if they apply to one or more nations but not the whole of the UK.

As we have heard, amendment 28 seeks to exclude Scotland from the benefits of the new Office for the Internal Market. It would carve out regulation that applies only in Scotland from the definition of regulatory provisions across this part of the Bill, which basically means that the Scottish Government could not proactively request advice and its regulatory measures could not be included in the regular monitoring of impacts and trends in the UK internal market. If the functions of the new Office for the Internal Market applied asymmetrically, as is suggested, its work would be severely undermined from the outset.

Full UK-wide coverage and relationships with all four Administrations will be vital in gaining and maintaining the confidence of stakeholders, so I strongly question how the office could effectively fulfil the functions given to it by the Bill if it cannot assess impacts across the UK internal market as a whole. Parity is a central principle in how the office for the internal market will conduct its affairs. It will be of service to all four nations of the UK, but in turn it will legitimately expect to consider the impacts of regulatory measures across all four Administrations. The clause empowers the Scottish and Welsh Parliaments, as well as the devolved Administrations.

Equally, the amendment would deny Scottish Government policy makers an important support system for the development of regulation following the transition period. The expertise and analysis of the Office for the Internal Market, offered to all Administrations equally, should not be rejected in this way. Finally and most importantly, since this provision plays a key part in ensuring there are no trade barriers, businesses across the UK would suffer.

To ensure the ongoing smooth operation of the UK internal market, clause 29 will ensure that emerging trends and developments in the market are independently reviewed by the CMA. The CMA has a strong reputation for independence and impartiality, which the Government have striven to preserve in setting out the functions of the office for the internal market. The UK Government have no role in what I have described: the function of the office in reporting to this House, the other place and devolved legislatures, discussing such topics as intra-UK competition, free access to goods and services, and the impact of diverging regulatory conditions in different parts of the UK.

My hon. Friend Richard Fuller raised other areas that the office could look into. It is important to know that the list is not exclusive; there are other areas, and the CMA has a great track record in championing the consumer, so the consumer point he raised is covered.

I said that there was no role for the UK Government in what I have just described. Truly independent scrutiny is crucial if anyone is to have faith in the office’s pronouncements on the health of the UK internal market, especially our business community at a time when those same businesses find themselves stretched thin by the impact of the coronavirus.