With this it will be convenient to discuss the following:
Government amendment 90.
Amendment 89, in clause 2, page 2, line 8, leave out from “requirements)” to end of line 10 and insert
“must meet the relevant requirements of the part of the United Kingdom with the highest level of standards for that sale of that good.”
This amendment would ensure that any good produced, or imported, into the United Kingdom would have to meet the level of standards for sale of that good in the part of the UK with the highest level standards.
Government amendment 91.
Clause 2 stand part.
Amendment 34, in clause 3, page 3, line 24, leave out “consult” and insert “gain the agreement of”.
Clause 3 stand part.
Amendment 73, in clause 4, page 3, line 35, leave out “not”.
The intention of this amendment, linked to Amendment 74, is to ensure that mutual recognition applies to existing legislation as well as future legislation.
Amendment 74, page 3, line 36, leave out from “principle” to end of line 10 on page 4.
The intention of this amendment, linked to Amendment 73, is to ensure that mutual recognition applies to existing legislation as well as future legislation.
Clauses 4 and 5 stand part.
Amendment 35, in clause 6, page 5, line 22, leave out “consult” and insert “gain the agreement of”.
Clauses 6 and 7 stand part.
Amendment 86, in clause 8, page 6, line 40, at end insert—
“(c) the promotion of environmental, social and labour standards.”
This amendment would expand the definition of “legitimate aim” that could permit discrimination against incoming goods to include the promotion of environmental, social and labour standards.
Amendment 36, page 6, line 41, after “State” insert
“, after obtaining the agreement of the devolved administrations,”.
Clause 8 stand part.
Amendment 76, in clause 9, page 7, line 4, leave out “not”.
The intention of this amendment, linked to Amendment 77, is to ensure that the non-discrimination principle applies to existing legislation as well as future legislation.
Amendment 77, page 7, line 8, leave out subsections (2) and (3).
The intention of this amendment, linked to Amendment 76, is to ensure that the non-discrimination principle applies to existing legislation as well as future legislation.
Clause 9 stand part.
Amendment 78, in clause 10, page 7, line 17, at end, insert—
“(2A) In making these regulations, the Secretary of State must have special regard to the need to maintain the integral place of Northern Ireland in the United Kingdom internal market.
The intention of this amendment is to ensure that further exclusions from the application of the access principles have regard to safeguarding unfettered access of NI businesses to the UK Internal Market.
Clause 10 stand part.
Government amendments 5 and 6.
Amendment 79, in schedule 1, page 44, line 40, at end, insert—
“(6A) In the case that there is one REACH authorisation process for Great Britain, an authorisation that is lawful for the Northern Ireland market will be valid for the Great Britain market.”
The intention of this amendment is to apply the non-discrimination principle to the REACH (Registration, Evaluation, Authorisation and Restriction of Chemicals) regime.
Government amendment 7.
Amendment 80, page 45, line 2, at end insert—
This amendment would exempt fisheries in Scotland from market access principles.
Amendment 87, page 45, line 23, at end insert—
“11 The United Kingdom market access principles do not apply to (and sections 2(3) and 5(3) do not affect the operation of) any legislation so far as it relates to public procurement.”
This amendment would include specific reference to public procurement within those areas of regulation that are exempt from market access principles under Schedule 1.
Schedule 1 stand part.
Clauses 12 and 13 stand part.
Government amendments 93 to 95.
Amendment 40, in clause 14, page 9, line 26, at end insert—
“(8A) A reference in this Part to “regulations” must take into account the requirements of section (Maintenance of minimum standards).”
Government amendment 92.
Clause 14 stand part.
Government amendments 97 to 107.
Clause 15 stand part.
Government amendment 108.
Clause 16 stand part.
Government amendments 112 and 111.
Schedule 2 stand part.
Clauses 17 to 20 stand part.
Government amendments 109 and 110.
Clause 21 stand part.
Amendment 81, in clause 22, page 13, line 33, after “23)” insert “or frontier worker”.
This amendment would accord to frontier workers the rights accorded to qualifying UK residents under this clause, to have experience or qualifications awarded in one part of the UK to be recognised in another part.
Amendment 82, page 13, line 34, after “resident” insert “or frontier worker”.
This amendment is linked to Amendment 81.
Amendment 83, page 13, line 39, at end insert—
“(3A) For the purposes of this Part, “Frontier worker” shall have the meaning given in Article 9(b) of the Agreement on the withdrawal of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland from the European Union and the European Atomic Energy Community.”
This amendment is linked to Amendment 81.
Clauses 22 and 23 stand part.
Amendment 84, in clause 24, page 15, line 2, after “resident” insert “or frontier worker”.
This amendment would accord the same rights to frontier workers as to qualifying UK residents under this clause.
Amendment 85, page 15, line 9, leave out “, the resident” and insert “or frontier worker, the resident or frontier worker”.
This amendment is linked to Amendment 84.
Clauses 24 to 26 stand part.
Government amendment 96.
Amendment 27, in clause 27, page 19, line 42, after “training” insert
“that has been agreed and approved by the devolved ministers”.
Clause 27 stand part.
Government new clause 12—Guidance relating to Part 1.
New clause 5—Maintenance of minimum standards—
“Regulations under this Part must not result in lower food or environmental standards applying in any part of the United Kingdom than apply in the European Union.”
New clause 10—Environmental derogation for market access principles—
“The United Kingdom market access principles do not apply to (and sections 2(3) and 5(3) do not affect the operation of) any legislation or other requirement so far as—
(a) its purpose is to protect the environment, and
(b) it is a proportionate means of achieving a legitimate aim.”
The purpose of this new clause is to provide for exceptions and derogations that allow all four UK nations to put in place proportionate measures to protect the environment and improve environmental standards.
Amendment 72, in clause 48, page 38, line 49, at end insert “or
(b) has the effect of making Northern Ireland businesses less competitive in the Great Britain market.”
The intention of this amendment is to include within the definition of distortive or harmful subsidies a subsidy which has the effect of making NI businesses less competitive in the GB market.
Clause 48 stand part.
Amendment 88, in clause 49, page 39, line 2, leave out subsection (1).
This amendment would prevent the United Kingdom Internal Market Act 2020 from being inserted into Schedule 4 of the Scotland Act 1998, meaning that this Bill would not become a “protected enactment” under that legislation.
Clauses 49 and 51 to 53 stand part.
Amendment 4, in clause 54, page 41, line 24, at end insert—
“(2A) The relevant sections of this Act come into force in accordance only if—
(b) that motion is approved by resolution of the House of Commons.
(2B) The relevant sections for the purposes of subsection (2A) are sections 42, 43 and 45.”
This amendment would prevent any of sections 42 (Power to disapply or modify export declarations and other exit procedures), 43 (Regulations about Article 10 of the Northern Ireland Protocol) and 45 (Further provision related to sections 42 and 43 etc) coming into force before the House of Commons had approved by resolution the date from which they would take effect.
Amendment 9, page 41, line 25, leave out subsections (3) and (4) and insert—
“(2A) The other provisions of this Act may not come into force (and in particular no additions may be made to Part 2 of Schedule 7A to the Government of Wales Act 2006 (specific reservations), Part 2 of Schedule 5 to the Scotland Act 1998 (specific reservations) or Schedule 2 to the Northern Ireland Act 1998 (excepted matters)) until the Prime Minister is satisfied that resolutions have been passed in Senedd Cymru, the Scottish Parliament and the Northern Ireland Assembly in favour of those provisions coming into force.”
This amendment would ensure that no additional powers are reserved to Westminster through this Bill unless the devolved legislatures of Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland give their consent.
Government amendment 66.
Amendment 39, page 41, line 26, at end insert—
“(3A) Regulations under subsection (3) may not be made before a legislative consent motion relating to this Act has been approved by the each of the devolved legislatures in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.”
This amendment would require the remainder of the Act to have gained consent of the devolved legislatures before coming into effect.
Clause 54 stand part.
New clause 9—UK Council of Ministers—
“(1) The Secretary of State must publish no later than three months from the date on which this Act is passed a framework for a UK Council of Ministers to be agreed by resolution of each House of Parliament.
(2) The responsibilities of the UK Council of Ministers must include—
(a) considering the UK Government’s use of financial assistance for economic development in terms of section 46 of this Act;
(b) considering the terms of any reports prepared by the Competition and Markets Authority in terms of section 29 of this Act;
(c) considering the extent to which its members have acted in a manner consistent with the devolved settlement;
(d) reviewing and considering the impact of any aspect of the internal market of the United Kingdom on any part of the United Kingdom;
(e) requesting that the Secretary of State take specific necessary action to facilitate policy objectives in an area within the competence of the Secretary of State.
(3) The membership of the UK Council of Ministers must include representatives from all parts of the United Kingdom and its devolved administrations.”
This new clause establishes a UK Council of Ministers to ensure the effective functioning of the Internal Market and to examine spending under this Bill.
New clause 11—Review of the Act—
“(1) Within three months of the date on which this Act is passed, the Secretary of State must lay a report before each House of Parliament on the dates on which each section—
(a) was commenced; or
(b) is planned to be commenced.
(2) The Secretary of State must arrange for a review to be carried out within three months of the date on which this Act is passed, and thereafter at least once in each calendar year on the operation of this Act.
(4) The reviews under subsection (2) must make an assessment of—
(a) the functioning of the United Kingdom internal market;
(b) the effectiveness of market access principles;
(c) progress towards agreeing common frameworks with the devolved administrations;
(d) progress towards drawing up a shared prosperity fund framework; and
(5) The Prime Minister must arrange for a report of any review under this section to be laid before each House of Parliament as soon as practicable after its completion.”
The intention of this new clause is to provide Parliament with information on the working of this Act in the context of developing common frameworks.
As ever, it is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Dame Rosie. This Cummings-directed Tory UK Government are breaking international law, and they are breaking devolution. Behind the innocent-sounding mutual recognition mechanism, the Bill simply starts a race to the bottom on standards with the UK Government imposing it against our will in Scotland.
The Bill will see the Tories mount an assault on devolution with the biggest power grab since the Scottish Parliament was re-established. People in Scotland are seeing through the contempt that the Tory Government and Westminster have for their democratic choices. They are not daft. They know that this shabby, illegal, dogmatic Bill is not designed to fix anything, but it is designed to game the system for vested interests.
It is a fact that existing mechanisms and simple changes to Standing Orders could have worked with consensus instead, but this Government do not believe in consensus, just in getting their own narrow ideological way.
The UK Government’s approach—the diktat—is the opposite of the democratic European single market approach. The development of the EU single market has been based on the principles of equality, co-operation, co-decision, subsidiarity and, of course, consent. Crucially, it sets a baseline of minimum agreed standards with which all member states’ own rules must be compatible. What a contrast with this hasty, badly written, contemptuous Bill. The Government are even having to amend their own Bill as they go along, so shabby is it. Government amendment 109 is necessary to remove clause 20—how slapdash is that?
On the mutual recognition mechanism, clauses 2 to 9 contain sweeping powers to compel Scotland to accept lower standards, set elsewhere in the UK, on animal welfare, food safety and environmental protections, among a host of other areas.
My hon. Friend is making a very important point. One issue raised by the General Teaching Council for Scotland is that teachers in Scotland must adhere to certain professional standards. That is not the case in England. If professional qualifications were accepted across the United Kingdom, Scotland would potentially have to accept teachers with lower professional standards. That is a real concern for the GTC in Scotland. Does he share that concern?
I do indeed. I thank my hon. Friend for her intervention. As I mentioned in my speech last week, the Bill affects every aspect of Scottish public life. These powers radically undermine the ability of the Scottish Parliament to serve the people who elected it.
The UK Government want to ditch high regulatory standards. They continually refuse to confirm whether the UK will keep pace with EU standards after
The hon. Member is absolutely right that there will be no trade deal if any damage is done to the Good Friday agreement or the protocol. It is also the case that the Houses of Congress have to ratify any trade deal, so no matter who wins the White House, it is clear that Congress will not support a US-UK trade deal after any damage is done to the Good Friday agreement.
I completely agree with my hon. Friend. His point that the Good Friday agreement is being put in jeopardy is absolutely spot on. That is why the Government are betting on a Trump victory. President Trump has declared that when it comes to doing business with the UK, as far as he is concerned
“everything is on the table.”
“We need to make sure that we don’t use food safety as a ruse to try and protect a particular industry.”
The Government have even voted against their own Back Benchers’ amendments to protect high standards. They voted five times against amendments to the Agriculture Bill, and five times against food standards amendments to the Trade Bill.
The effect of clauses 2 to 9 would be to prevent the Scottish Parliament from requiring goods or services to meet the standards that it decides. The UK Government’s White Paper outlined examples of this. Page 77 has a case study on deposit return schemes, page 78 has one on food labelling and pages 79 to 82 cover food manufacturing, including hygiene, recycling and animal welfare. On page 82, it specifically mentions minimum pricing as a regulatory restriction. Page 85 talks about building regulations and construction permits. As Professor Michael Dougan of Liverpool University observes, Scotland’s minimum price controls could be
“characterised as a form of product requirement”, making them
“fully subject to the principle of mutual recognition.”
This would mean that
“imported English alcohol would not have to comply with any new Scottish requirements. Once the mutual recognition obligation applies, there is virtually no scope for Scotland…to justify applying its new rules to English imports: mutual recognition can only be set aside on the basis of serious health threats arising from the internal movement of pests/diseases/unsafe foodstuffs.”
I am sure that the hon. Gentleman shares my concern that Professor Dougan also draws attention to the fact that policies that already exist under the auspices of the Scottish Government and the Welsh Government, if they were to be adapted, might then fall within the scope of this Bill. These are popular policies that we have made to cut our own path in the past, and yet this now threatens their future.
Indeed—I agree. In fact, Professor Dougan has said:
“I do not share UKGov’s apparent assumption that regulatory divergence is inherently problematic and must be strictly controlled, by imposing extensive limits (in effect) on the ability of devolved institutions to make different choices from Westminster”.
I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on his very carefully crafted amendment 89, which would mean a race to the top as opposed to the race to the bottom that he has alluded to.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for that. Of course, that is where we all should be aiming—a race to the top. That should be the principle that is being set by elected Members in the Parliaments that they are elected to represent, yet we find here a complete travesty of that.
Devolution has proved that the market can successfully operate across the UK with variations in standards. This Bill’s proposals work against the interests of our high-quality producers and our consumers. As the National Farmers Union of Scotland explained in its submission to the UK Government’s White Paper consultation, the proposals for the UK internal market, in the absence of effective common frameworks, could trigger a race to the bottom. In a Scottish context at the very least, they could force a choice between upholding high standards of production or maintaining the competitiveness of agricultural businesses.
The existing common frameworks were designed to manage cross-UK divergence where EU law and competences intersect. They do not need to be supplemented or undermined. Scottish Environment Link is clear that the UK Government’s plans could
“force Scotland to follow the lowest common denominator, especially where countries negotiating bilateral trade deals with the UK demand lower standards seriously undermining efforts to combat climate change and biodiversity decline.”
I am interested in why the hon. Gentleman seems to assume that any standards legislated for in this Parliament would inherently always be lower, as he puts it. Why would that necessarily be the case?
Perhaps you should ask your hon. and right hon. Friends on your Back Benches who voted against your own Back Benchers’ amendments to protect—
Order. The hon. Gentleman knows that he should not address another hon. Member directly. When he uses the word “you”, he is talking about me, and I am sure he would not want to do that.
You will notice, Dame Rosie, that it is a very uncommon mistake I have made, in that case. I take the scolding in good grace. Thank you, indeed.
Perhaps the hon. Gentleman would like to ask his colleagues why they voted five times on the Trade Bill and the Agriculture Bill against protecting these standards. We know—the Scottish public know—what this is all about. They are not daft; they see this. They see that this grubby attempt to make sure that we can get a deal—any deal as long as it is not with the EU—is the reason these things are being sacrificed.
This Tory UK Government do not care about the views of the experts that we have quoted here today or of the groups that are concerned about these issues. They do not want to hear those views. They simply want to oversee the biggest power grab in the history of devolution.
Clause 48 reserves state aid. We know that state aid provisions will mirror those of the World Trade Organisation, making an already diminished deal option with the EU even more difficult. Incidentally, Tory claims about the constraints imposed by EU state aid rules are inevitably always exaggerated. Automatic approvals applied to nearly 95% of state aid last year, and this year the EU acted swiftly to sign off on a raft of Government help to aid industry during the pandemic.
Is the hon. Gentleman aware of the manner in which authorisations are given? Stating that it has been approved is one thing, but the way in which it has been arrived at—behind closed doors and without anybody knowing how it has been done—is a really big problem.
It beggars belief that this kind of intervention attacking EU procedures is being made when the Bill will directly give powers not only to the UK Government to overrule devolution, but to the Secretary of State himself to overrule essentially anything that he wants to. I will return to that point in a moment. The Bill directly undermines the Scottish Parliament’s ability to protect Scottish farmers’ livelihoods. Cheaper meat will drive out quality production. The ability to choose the highest standards in environmental protection and in building control and the ability to keep our NHS and water in public hands will all be affected. The UK Government want private companies to be given a guaranteed right to trade unhindered in Scotland. The UK Government claim that there are exclusions from the principles of non-discrimination, but that is absolutely blown out of the water by the fact that the Secretary of State will retain
“a power to alter these exclusions.”
No, I will make some progress on this.
That is regardless of the views of the people of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. It does not matter what the devolved Assemblies or Parliaments are saying, that is the ability that the Secretary of State has.
The Law Society Of Scotland warns that clause 8(7) empowers the Secretary of State to amend by adding, varying or removing an aim in clause 8(6). This is a very wide power, and regulations are subject to the affirmative resolution procedure. Unlike other order-making powers earlier in the Bill, the Secretary of State is under no obligation to consult the devolved Administrations before making such regulations. The Government should explain why clause 8 adopts a different approach from the earlier clauses in this respect.
The real threat to trade comes not from what could have been agreed on common frameworks across the nations of the UK, but from this Tory Government’s incompetent handling of the process to agree a deal with the EU. Their lofty ambitions are now, at best, low deal or no deal following their decision to remove Scotland against its wishes, and of course the rest of the UK, from the EU, a prosperous and highly integrated market no less, with an integrated trade and regulatory partnership of 450 million customers, along with the associated social vandalism that this has inflicted.
By the way, we hear that we should trust this Government. Just in case anybody is under the illusion that we can rely on the altruism of Westminster, they should listen to the words of Tory Luke Graham, who lost his seat in this place in December. Even he could see that it is foolish to do so. He said in this very Parliament:
“To reiterate my point and the frustration that I have felt since I have been in this place, sometimes…it appears that the Treasury is not so much a British Treasury but an English Treasury, which becomes incredibly frustrating for people trying to fight for projects in Scottish constituencies.—[Official Report,
Vol. 652, c. 368WH.]
That was a Tory MP who was in this House until December last year.
The UK Government are breaking international law and devolution. The mutual recognition mechanism fires the starting gun on a race to the bottom on standards, with the UK Government imposing those standards on Scotland against our will. This Bill oversees the biggest power grab since the re-establishment of the Scottish Parliament. As I said earlier, the real threat to trade is the looming no deal or low deal that the Government are railroading through with the EU. It is now clear for all in Scotland to see that the only way to represent the public needs and to protect our way of life and our hard-won Parliament is through becoming an independent nation, taking our own place as an equal partner within the European Union.
It is, of course, a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Dame Rosie. Did I get those words right? I think I did.
In my view, this Bill is unfixable. It is probably unamendable. It is an assault on international law and an assault on devolution, and I think it is the beginning of the biggest act of economic self-harm for many a year. Our proposed amendments address the fact that the Government have, once again, forgotten about—that is a generous way of putting it—frontier and cross-border workers in Ireland. That is why we have tabled amendments 81 to 85, in my name and that of my hon. Friend Claire Hanna.
Before I get on to those specific amendments, I want quickly to address the amendment in the name of Sir Robert Neill. The amendment seeks to prevent from coming into effect, unless actively approved by the House of Commons, those parts of the Bill that give Ministers the powers to implement, against international law, parts of the Northern Ireland protocol. I fully believe that the hon. Gentleman is making a genuine attempt to inject some accountability into this process. However, let me tell hon. Members that people in Northern Ireland have been watching and they have absolutely no faith that this Government have one iota of interest in accountability, international law or the interests of people where I come from.
It seems to be generally understood that my hon. Friend Sir Robert Neill will withdraw his amendment. I do not know whether that has been stated formally yet, but I wonder whether the hon. Gentleman could take into account the fact that that appears to be the case. I do not know whether Mr Speaker is aware of that. Sadly, my hon. Friend is not in his place at the moment, so it is rather difficult for us to be absolutely precise. I wonder whether I could have a ruling from the Chair on whether the amendment has been withdrawn.
It is important to remember, as the hon. Gentleman has said, that Sir Robert Neill is not in his place at the moment. It is a question of the amendment having to be moved and withdrawn, neither of which has happened, so I think we need to wait until he is here. At the moment, we work on the assumption, obviously, that it is something that can be discussed.
Thank you, Dame Rosie, and I thank Sir William Cash for his intervention. Regardless of whether the amendment is moved, the principle is utterly ridiculous, because only last week this House voted in full knowledge to allow this Government to break international law. It has voted down every single attempt to prevent this Government from breaking international law, so Opposition Members will be very cautious about waiting around for this Government to check back with this Parliament as to whether or not they are going to break international law.
Our amendments on frontier and cross-border workers are designed to address an anomaly that could have a serious impact on those living and working across our border region and beyond. Clause 22(2) seeks to ensure mutual recognition of professional qualifications within the UK internal market. However, that is limited to UK residents only. Constituencies such as mine are hubs of regional, cross-border economies, where frontier workers, according to the Government’s own European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018, are supposed to be respected and protected. They should not face any barriers to continued working, which they would not if they were residents of the United Kingdom. These clauses will mean that someone who works in, for example, Derry, but who lives in Donegal may be unable to work on projects that are UK-wide because their residency is in the Republic of Ireland. These measures would mean that their professional qualifications were not recognised in Scotland, Wales or England. UK residency is not a precondition for practising their profession habitually and properly in Northern Ireland, so why should it be a precondition for them being equally eligible to serve in other parts of the United Kingdom?
Frontier workers are specifically mentioned in articles 9 and 26 of the withdrawal agreement, and the Government tell us that this Bill is in keeping with some undertakings in that agreement, even though it breaches others wholesale, as we have heard over the last two weeks. I am being very generous here; I do not want to presume that the Government have deliberately set their face against frontier workers in these clauses. My hon. Friend the Member for Belfast South and I have tabled our amendments to prevent inadvertent discrimination. Those who might be adversely affected include people who, alongside their quality professional services, also contribute to the community and public life on many levels. Indeed, some have been upstanding public appointees, including through nomination by UK Ministers as well as devolved ones.
An estimated 30,000 people cross our border every day for work. I am not sure that it is quite understood in this Chamber just exactly what it means to live in a border community in Ireland. In Derry, where I come from, we are bordered on three sides by the Republic of Ireland—by Donegal. We socialise on both sides of the border. I get my diesel in Donegal. We have familial ties that stretch across the border. Whatever people’s politics on the constitutional issue, we do not acknowledge the border in our day-to-day lives. That has been a terrific advance since the Good Friday agreement and the removal of the border installations. Although this Government seem determined to threaten to put some of those installations back up again, we are determined to continue to move on with our lives in a very normalised way. I sometimes wonder whether people who write these Bills actually have any understanding of life in a border area. I would prefer it if they came to our border areas, saw what it is like, and tried to understand what it is like for frontier workers and for the rest of us who work and live across that border every single day.
As I have said already, I do not believe that this Bill can be fixed, but there is one part of the Bill that the Government could easily fix if they determined to listen to our amendments and make the changes required. Many people will be left out if they do not do so.
Order. It may be helpful for me to clarify a point for Colum Eastwood. Under the programme order that the House agreed on
After that very helpful clarification, I have to say that the issues that I was going to raise would have been related to the questions raised by Colum Eastwood. There appears to be some misunderstanding. In these circumstances, I understand that today we will not, in fact, be discussing amendment 66 in the name of the Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, my right hon. Friend Alok Sharma. May I have your ruling on that, Dame Rosie?
I shall refer, then, to the more general questions about the state aids that I have just heard and that I mentioned in an intervention.
I wish to explain the rationale behind the remarks that I made on Second Reading, when I spoke for only four minutes, and the short speech that I made yesterday dealing exclusively with questions relating to international law and the breaking of it, as is alleged by some. I made my position entirely clear then and wrote a piece published on “ConservativeHome” that has been seen and commented on by many people—with some approval, I am glad to say—and in The Daily Telegraph online. That is now out there, on the record. However, the question of state aids to which I referred in those articles was not really examined in a way that I regard as satisfactory by Drew Hendry. I say that because he made a lot of points about the manner in which the results would take place, in his view, under the new Office for the Internal Market, the new internal market arrangements and in the context of devolution.
At an earlier stage, with respect to the issue of the economic prosperity of the United Kingdom as a whole, which obviously includes the important issue of devolution, including our wanting to be properly aware of the issues for Scotland, I mentioned Adam Smith as a good example of a great Scot who really understood the nature of free trade. The problem is the EU itself. We must succeed in ensuring that the state aids policies of the EU no longer apply to the United Kingdom, including Scotland in this context. That is so important that, in the interests of the prosperity of Scotland, no attempt should be made such that Scotland could somehow find itself still following EU state aid rules. That is the burden of what I would like to address.
I have spent 35 years serving on the European Scrutiny Committee. I am Chairman of it now and have been for the past 10 years. I know a little bit about state aids and mentioned yesterday, in passing, my experiences, given the fact that I have been around for a certain amount of time, during the 1950s and ’60s, when I was brought up in Sheffield and witnessed the manner in which the European Coal and Steel Community acted. Of that supranational body, even Sir Con O’Neill, who was the prime negotiator for the United Kingdom in taking us into the European Community, as it was at the time, said in a book that I read fairly recently that nobody in Government really appreciated just how important, significant and, I would say, dangerous it was for the whole concept of state aids and all the things that went with the supranational policies that were imposed as a result of our membership of the European Community and the European Coal and Steel Community, and the effect it would have on jobs and businesses in England, Scotland and Wales.
Of course, in those days devolution was not an issue, but the comparison certainly still applies. The jobs of many people in the coal mining and steel industries in Scotland were decimated, as they were in Sheffield. The greatest and most important part of the world steel industry was in Sheffield. As a result of matters into which I do not need to go in detail, the bottom line is that the grandchildren of the coal miners and steelworkers, whom I got to know extremely well—I think I mentioned in an earlier debate that I played cricket and rugger with them; I knew these people—remember all this.
If we put the red-wall seats on a transparent map and placed it over a map of England, in particular, and Scotland, we would find a direct correlation with the seats where people even would not vote for the UK Independence party but voted Conservative because they knew that leaving the European Community was something they wanted to do, because their grandparents had been decimated by how state aid worked. State aid is not just about subsidies; it is also about taxation, incentives, free ports, carbon emissions and the whole of our trading relationships internationally. It is the most important specific question, which is why I congratulate the Government on what they are seeking to do, although I may prefer it to be a little tighter, but let us leave that for the moment because we have a Report stage to come. I simply say that the people of Scotland know and understand the impact of the policies of state aids in shipbuilding, for example, on Harland and Wolff, in Northern Ireland. These people are all well aware of the almost irreparable damage done.
Let us consider the ports regulation as an example of the kind of thing I am talking about. I do not know whether Drew Hendry is aware of what went on a couple of years ago in the European Scrutiny Committee and during the European Standing Committee stage on the ports regulation. It is very relevant to this state aid clause. I believe that every port in Europe is publicly owned, whereas every port in the UK, including those in Scotland and Northern Ireland, is owned privately. [Interruption.] They are supported by state aid in the European Union, and the impact on the people I am discussing is so great that every trade union throughout the whole UK and every private employer was against this measure, as were the Government, but there was nothing we could do.
Just a moment. This refers back to what I said earlier when the hon. Member for Inverness, Nairn, Badenoch and Strathspey wanted to intervene on me to suggest that somehow or other I was exaggerating the issue, as I am certainly not. The reality is that the EU takes all these decisions behind closed doors; nobody really knows how the authorisations are made; and—surprise, surprise—we could not stop any of those ports regulations, as indeed we could not stop any of the state aids authorisations. That is the essence of it, and he will not be able to explain to the people of Scotland why they will not benefit if the day comes when he gets his way, which I do not think he will, by our ending up removing the state aids from the EU. The people of Scotland would benefit so much by having a system in place that they can deal with on the Floor of the House.
The hon. Gentleman puts forward capable arguments. I notice how he weaves his way round these subjects. That is a compliment, in a way, but it does not alter the fact that the people in Scotland will suffer grievously if they continue to have EU regulatory arrangements inflicted on them. The Bill ensures that they will not. I dare say that the Minister is noting what I am saying—I hope that he is—because it is important to understand the damage that has been done.
I have heard the hon. Gentleman’s arguments before and I understand the point he is coming from, but does he appreciate that the Bill would reserve powers out of the Government of Wales Act 1998 that would otherwise see powers over state aid going to Wales? Does he not see the possibility that there could be another point of view?
I am always extremely aware of other points of view—I have been subjected to them for the past 35 years in this House, but so far they have not prevailed. I am clear in my mind about the benefits of the United Kingdom as a whole, on all these matters—there are so many aspects that we do not have time to go into today—but state aid is central to the whole question of maintaining our spirit of enterprise. It is central to the degree to which we can provide tax incentives to facilitate and encourage UK jobs for the whole UK, including Scotland. It is central to our ability to encourage competitiveness, based on our own laws, and level up throughout the entire country, including Scotland. This is fundamental stuff.
The hon. Gentleman discussed the situation in the 1950s and ’60s, and I know that he likes to dwell on that era. I note that he conveniently airbrushed Margaret Thatcher out of the demise of the coal industry in Scotland. For his information, we have trust ports in Scotland, too. Does he get the irony of arguing about another body’s interference in an elected Parliament’s ability to make decisions while he is making this argument? That is exactly what is happening to the Scottish Parliament through the Bill.
That is interesting, because the counterpoint to that—the hon. Gentleman would expect me to come back with this—is to ask why on earth the people of Scotland would want to subjugate themselves to the European Union system, which we are escaping from, when it has such deleterious and tragic consequences for so many people and jobs in Scotland, as well as in Wales and England. He argues that Scotland can do this better, but I tell him that the consequences of staying in the European Union would be extremely damaging.
We have made it clear that the laws would continue under the protocol, as we discussed yesterday. I know that from the advice and analysis that we are doing in the European Scrutiny Committee, and the Cabinet Office Minister is coming to see the Committee very soon to discuss all these questions. Given the manner in which the European Union functions—as I have said, behind closed doors and without even a transcript—and with the wholly unelected European Commission making the authorisations, the system is very bad news for Scotland. It will be no substitute for having these things handled in an objective and down-to-earth way by the Minister; I have no doubt that he will ensure that the people of Scotland are looked after properly.
This is a bread-and-butter issue for those who work in our economy. It is about putting food on the table, into the indefinite future, for all voters, whether they are Conservative, Labour, DUP, SNP or others. It is similarly important for those voters’ representatives in this House. If Members vote against the Bill, they will have to explain to every one of their constituents, including those in Labour constituencies—I am not looking at anybody in particular or making a point about that, because we represent the whole country through different political parties—why our economy and voters’ jobs and businesses have continued to be undermined by unfair and discriminatory EU state aid and other uncompetitive lawmaking.
The Bill will ensure, among other things, that the UK escapes unfair discrimination under the EU state aid regime, which I mentioned yesterday in relation to the steel industry. The voters in the red wall know this, as do their parents, including those in coalfield communities. I became vice-chair of the all-party parliamentary group on coalfield communities—this is going back five or 10 years—because I understood, as did many Labour Members from Mansfield and all over the country, how important those communities are. I even got up the other day and spoke in the House about pension arrangements for coalminers. We need to take account of the fact that the state aid rules cause total misery and tragedy, and ultimately the destruction of our coal and steel industries.
As someone who represents two coalmining valleys, I think the hon. Gentleman might be guilty of some historical revisionism. The French, the Germans and the Spanish also went through a similar transition in coalfield communities, but they did it over a number of decades. It was a decision of the British Government to bring a guillotine over the coal industry and decimate it in one go, and that was a Conservative Government.
I voted against my own Government and nearly defeated them on the question of the closure of pits around Stoke-on-Trent. I actually challenged Arthur Scargill on a platform in Hanley and grabbed the microphone from him. It was recorded by BBC and apparently won an award. The issues to which the hon. Gentleman refers are very important, but I do not agree that this is revisionism at all. It is what happened and I objected to it.
Let us consider state aid. I will give the figures: Germany received as much as £4 billion a year in grants and subsidies, while our coal and coalfields in the United Kingdom were languishing. I know that coal is not popular now in quite the way it was, but none the less the principle is there: the state aid policy discriminated in favour of Germany and France. It is part of the deal: the European Coal and Steel Community, and supranationality—that is what it is all about. Our people in those communities were not compensated by grants and regional aid under various EU schemes and handouts, and they have never forgotten it.
Furthermore, the Court of Auditors reports that we debate in this House, although not on the Floor of the House, which we should, have genuinely never been signed off. Almost never has a Court of Auditors report ever been signed off. The money never got to those who really needed it. That was compounded by a wave of scandals—for example, over milk quotas, backhanders and fraud—all of which has been well documented over the years. The list is endless. In any case, our taxpayers—from the whole United Kingdom—paid for those inadequate grants through our own massive contributions to the EU of up to £18 billion a year and rising. If we do not fully disengage, this is what we—the people of Scotland, too—will be suffering from.
The Bill is therefore about the economic future of our future generations. It is about a new competition law administered on our own terms in our own country by our own courts. It will prevent our professional working voters from being trapped indefinitely in an EU economic satellite run by the unelected European Commission and Council of Ministers. We will have no veto. It will be imposed on us and it is an outrage that that should be the case. That is why the notwithstanding clauses, which I played some part in developing, are a matter of vital national interest and sovereignty. Otherwise, we will continue to be subjected to EU laws on terms and conditions imposed on us by them. The bottom line is that, for the vital national interest of this country, that situation cannot be allowed to continue.
I believe that my hon. Friend Sir Robert Neill perhaps understands that a little better as we move forward. Yesterday, I got the impression that although he was very concerned about breaking international law, the reality is that there are circumstances—my exchanges with him yesterday are informative on this point—about which he is now very aware, as are other Members who signed that amendment, which as yet I do not think has been completely disposed of. This is about our sovereignty and our ability to maintain political and economic sovereignty and to save jobs, develop them and create enterprise.
This is not a small matter; this is monumental. It is all very well for the hon. Member for Inverness, Nairn, Badenoch and Strathspey to talk about this in terms of independence, but people will not thank him, and they will not thank Liz Saville Roberts or anyone from any other part of the United Kingdom when the truth comes home to roost, which is that the EU will not allow us to compete favourably or at all. Its cardinal principle is to make sure that we cannot compete with it, and that is a reason in itself why we have to stand firm on the whole question of the notwithstanding clauses.
Diolch yn fawr, Dame Rosie. It is an honour to follow Sir William Cash. I rise to speak to amendment 9 to clause 54, which I tabled with my Plaid Cymru colleagues and the hon. Members for Inverness, Nairn, Badenoch and Strathspey (Drew Hendry), for North Down (Stephen Farry), for Belfast South (Claire Hanna) and for Brighton, Pavilion (Caroline Lucas). This amendment seeks to rectify the anti-democratic nature of this shabby Bill by giving the devolved legislatures the opportunity to hold a vote on the Bill before its provisions become law. It would also ensure that no additional powers were reserved to Westminster through the Bill unless the devolved legislatures of Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland gave their explicit consent.
In its current form, the Bill prevents the devolved legislatures from legislating effectively by requiring regulatory standards in one part of the UK to be automatically accepted in others, even if those standards were to be lower. It also gives the Westminster Government spending powers in entirely devolved areas without so much as consulting the devolved Governments. The Bill also explicitly modifies the devolution settlement by reserving new powers over state aid to Westminster and by restricting the devolved Parliaments from amending the Act by either primary or secondary legislation.
Members across the Committee would concede that the Bill, whether they agree with it or not, does indeed make sweeping changes to the current devolution settlement, which has been endorsed by the people of Wales in two successive referenda. It does so without even giving the devolved Parliaments the right to voice their concerns—an egregious example of this Government’s contempt for devolution and their desire to centralise. I would challenge those on the Government Benches on whether they have any basis upon which they can justify such a rolling back of our devolved powers, because so far, I have only heard bluster, spin and obfuscation—a wall of sound to conceal the reality of what is actually being conducted here.
If the Minister is to be believed, there is no threat to devolution contained in the Bill. Indeed, the only threat that the UK Government see is an abstract, hypothetical threat to free-flowing trade between the nations of the UK. Plaid Cymru’s position has been clear from the outset. We make no apology for fighting for Wales to run her own affairs and set her own laws and regulations as an independent nation, but we also recognise that, for our economy to thrive, free-flowing trade must continue. That is why we have supported the principle of UK-wide frameworks, as long as those frameworks are collectively agreed between the four Governments of the United Kingdom and fully respect the existing devolution settlements. That is what mutual respect looks like—not a power grab, but an agreement on principle among equals. This Bill goes precisely and directly against that principle by overriding common frameworks, allowing Westminster to change standards across the UK and allowing this Government to spend according to their own wishes in entirely devolved areas. How can we, 23 years since the people of Wales first voted for devolution, justify such a situation?
To close, I would like to quote the First Minister of Wales, who has said:
“This is an enormous power grab—undermining powers that have belonged to Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland for over 20 years.”
He went on to say that the Welsh Government will
“oppose it every step of the way.”
Additionally, the Counsel General for Wales today told my Plaid Cymru colleague Delyth Jewell that he would “welcome” cross-party co-operation in Parliament, as we saw between Labour, Plaid and other parties in the Senedd last week, to reject the principles of the Bill. I therefore trust that all Labour Members representing Welsh constituencies will support Plaid Cymru’s amendments this evening. Anything less would be an abject abdication of their responsibility to their colleagues in government, let alone the people of Wales. Nobody would want to say that Labour was throwing Labour under a bus.
I propose to press my amendment when it is called, to give all the Parliaments of the UK a say on this disastrous Bill, and I trust that all Members representing Welsh constituencies will join Plaid Cymru by voting to defend Welsh powers for Wales—for the people they represent—in the Lobby this evening.
I have listened to days of this debate and to many constituents, and while I started off feeling quite concerned and nervous, I am more certain today of the need for the Bill than I have been up until now. It would be foolhardy to make no provision if a free trade arrangement is not secured, and I want to speak to parts 1 and 2 of the Bill.
The UK internal market has functioned seamlessly for centuries, and it is the responsibility of all of us to work to ensure this remains the case. The Bill ensures that businesses can continue to trade across our country as they do now. We cannot accept new burdens and barriers in any part of the UK, and I was stunned to hear the SNP talking about the kind of restrictions they wanted to place on their own great nation by not allowing the UK to work for free trade.
I cannot stress enough how much the business community wants leadership, confidence and clarity regarding the environment it will be expected to operate in on
I am also reassured regarding the scope of the Bill; I do not share the concerns we have just heard about the power grab. It is clear to me that Brexit achieves the very opposite: rather than Brussels dictating how state aid, for example, should be applied, it is for the UK Government and the devolved authorities to work together to work out how businesses can be supported to grow and flourish, and how communities can be supported do so through good business. I look forward to the Government being able to identify which parts of the UK face inequalities and barriers to success, and to be free to apply support and intervention as part of their levelling up agenda, targeting taxpayers’ money at improving life chances.
I am also reassured that if this Act is needed, and if a breach of international law is needed, Parliament will be required to trigger it. In most constituencies, international law was not a regular topic of conversation prior to the introduction of the internal market Bill. However, that is not the case in west Cornwall and Scilly; it crops up regularly across my patch, and has done for as long as I have been an MP, because it relates to fishing, which it is crucial that we ensure we get right as we go into next year. Breaching international law presents a trip hazard for UK fishing. There is one key element to reassuring our fishing fleets about UK fishing policy, and it played a part in the Brexit referendum result: international law gives the UK control of access to UK waters, and confidence in the rule of law allows us to look UK fishing in the eye.
The hon. Gentleman makes a point about international law being talked about among his constituents, but can he assure me that the international law of UNCLOS—the United Nations convention on the law of the sea—will be adhered to, despite his Government’s apparent intention to breach international law around this agreement?
What I am clear about, which is why I said at the beginning I was more nervous until we got to this part of the debate, is that there is very little risk that we will breach any international law or even that this Act will be needed. I am confident that we will continue to work for the free trade agreement, and I am confident we can avoid that, and, if and when it comes to it, I am confident that it will be Parliament that triggers these provisions or not.
Returning to our fishermen, they have followed our lead and they are confident that, as a country that abides by the rule of law, international law will be on their side, so we must press ahead, but with great caution; I agree with the comments made on that. People expect their MPs to work in their best interests and the UK interest first and foremost. In my view, the motivation of every colleague who votes in favour of the Bill is to do just that.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Dame Rosie. I rise to speak on behalf of the Liberal Democrats on parts 1, 2 and 3 of the Bill.
In part 1, which deals with the principles of non-discrimination and mutual recognition of goods, the Secretary of State proposes to award himself the power to vary the statutory requirements included in the mutual recognition principle by statutory instrument. The Bill states that he has only to consult with the relevant Ministers in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, rather than to receive their consent. I put it to the Government that that undermines the ability of the devolved legislatures to set standards for the goods being sold to the citizens in their nations.
I am sorry for interrupting the hon. Lady so early in her speech, but she hits on a key point. There is a world of difference between consulting and consenting. Any respect agenda must be based on the latter as opposed to the former.
I entirely agree. I was going on to say that the Secretary of State also awards himself the power to vary the statutory requirements in the non-discrimination clause, such as on transportation and inspection of goods or regulation of the markets, in the same way. Is it not the case that, should the Secretary of State find that such requirements no longer suited the needs of English producers, he could change them, to the detriment of Scottish, Welsh or Northern Irish producers, without the express consent of their Governments?
I wonder whether the hon. Member might reflect on the fact that this is a UK Government—a Government for all four nations. As a Welsh Member, may I ask her also to reflect on how the Bill changes the relationship with the devolved Administrations from the way it operated with Brussels, where, of course, the DAs were consulted by the member state rather than consent being reached?
The hon. Member touches on quite an important point. I do not believe that it is in the scope of the Bill to address this, but of course we have devolved Assemblies for Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, yet no similar provision exists for just English matters. That presents a constitutional anomaly, which arises in situations such as this. That is why I made the point that where the interests of English producers are reflected, it is only by the Secretary of State, who should be acting for the whole of the UK. It is precisely that principle that the Bill seeks to undermine.
The plans for mutual recognition of qualifications are welcome, especially the exclusions for areas such as law and healthcare, where there is already a great deal of divergence across the four nations, but it is concerning that the exclusions do not extend to education. As was pointed out earlier, there is already substantial divergence, which could disadvantage our children and young people.
The overriding concern is that the Government in London could quietly amend these requirements and exclusions without the consent of the devolved Administrations, or even a further vote in Parliament, to accommodate new trade agreements with international partners. The Trade Bill also completed its passage through this place untroubled by any attempt to impose parliamentary scrutiny requirements on it. That leaves the Government free to negotiate any kind of trade agreement they choose with any international partner and accept whatever conditions that partner wants to impose—access to our markets, reduction of the standards we impose on goods sold in this country, reduced professional standards and oversight, or changes to any one of dozens of other conditions that we have actively chosen to impose for the health and welfare of our citizens.
Back in December, this Government won for themselves the right to implement Brexit in any way they chose. As a second choice to remaining in the European Union, I would have hoped for ambitious plans to manage a just transition away from carbon-emitting industries, with the creation of new green jobs and a highly skilled workforce. I would have hoped for a United Kingdom that looked to be a leader in promoting human rights, international development and the battle against climate change. Was it too much to hope that the promised sovereignty, which was so precious that everything had to be sacrificed to it, would be granted to Parliament to help steer the course of our independent future?
Instead of a Brexit that underpins our Union, supports our businesses and promotes the United Kingdom as a global leader, we have this sordid Bill. It promises a Brexit that diminishes and disempowers our nation and its constituent parts. It shames us on the world stage, presenting us as a country that, far from being a beacon of democracy and probity, hoards power in the hands of unelected advisers and breaks international law when it suits its purpose. It heightens division between our nations instead of binding us together in a unity of purpose that will strengthen us on the global stage.
It has been suggested that this is some clever negotiating tactic in the discussions with the EU on our future trading relationship.
If that is the case, the Government should stop playing games and apply themselves to providing for the very real challenges faced by business as we anticipate the end of the transition agreement at the end of December. What progress has been made in recruiting the additional 50,000 customs agents who will be needed to complete the estimated 220 million extra import and export declarations in 2021? What progress has been made towards negotiating a replacement for the Dublin agreement, which enables us to return migrants to the country where they first claimed asylum? What of provisions for data sharing between the EU and the UK, or the sharing of information between our security services? Our businesses are already operating at a time of heightened uncertainty—which increased as we learned today of new restrictions on activity—and they need urgent action to resolve these issues.
This Government took on the responsibility of delivering Brexit, implementing the withdrawal agreement and getting a deal with the European Union that could enable us to enjoy frictionless borders. Britain is waiting. Britain expects the Government to deliver on their promise.
I would like to raise two main points on the clauses that are being discussed today. The first is around how the Bill protects our successful internal market through mutual recognition and non-discrimination. It is crucial to protect that internal market from a short-term race to the bottom and from measures being taken by devolved Administrations or even the UK Government to favour certain parts of the country over others. That is why it is so important that we maintain that internal market.
The second thing I want briefly to talk about is state aid. Without state aid powers coming back to the United Kingdom, as my hon. Friend Sir William Cash said, we will not be able to deliver on the Government’s manifesto commitments on levelling up, which are crucial to areas such as mine. He mentioned extensively the coalfield communities and the former steelmaking communities—places that I represent in the now blue wall in the north-east—and it is crucial that we have state aid powers to enable us to deliver on those commitments.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his comments on state aid, and I also thank Sir William Cash—I did not realise the Tory party was so in favour of state intervention. However, will the hon. Gentleman square this circle for me? The other big driving force of British Government policy at the moment is international trade deals, and the big ambition is the Trans-Pacific Partnership. That trade deal with the 11 countries in that part of the world has very strict conditions on state aid, so how does the hon. Gentleman square the circle with his argument this afternoon?
The hon. Gentleman might not have recognised where the Conservative party has moved to, but I guarantee that a lot of voters across the country did recognise that, especially when they saw us standing up for them at the general election in the broader sense of wanting to bring powers back to the UK from the EU, which has been particularly restrictive. We are looking for international agreements, and there will be debates. For example, we have just seen what has happened with the Japan free trade deal. There are going to be measures around this, and negotiations are going to take place. It is particularly important that, as we look at these things, they are part of a broader picture. However, state aid will be important in helping to level up certain parts of the country. I am sure that debate will go on over the next few years, and it is one we will need to keep an eye on as we see these trade negotiations going through the House in future years.
My hon. Friend is a doughty champion for trade and prosperity. Does he agree that, in these difficult times—not eased by today’s announcement—what the businesses of Britain need most are confidence and certainty, and that one thing this House can do today by passing the Bill, with only 100 days to go before the new opportunities to trade prosperously with the wider world, is give businesses confidence and certainty about what our trading arrangements will look like, what our internal market will look like and what our legislative affairs will look like going forward?
I could not agree more with my hon. Friend. We need only to look at the crucial trading relationship that my constituency and others in the north-east have with Scotland. On the Scottish side, the trade with the rest of the United Kingdom is many times the trading relationship with even the European Union, which as a whole bloc is obviously our largest international trading partner; it is many times that within the UK internal market. For most of the companies in the United Kingdom, it is these internal United Kingdom measures that are so crucial, and that is what the Bill really does deliver.
I would like to speak briefly about amendment 89. We have heard a lot over the last few months, particularly from SNP Members, about how they view a lot of what is happening at the moment as some form of Westminster power grab, but I could not disagree with them more. In fact, their amendment, if it were supported, would almost be a power giveaway. It would not only involve those big powers returning from the EU to Westminster and, in some cases, all the way down to the devolved Administrations; it would give other parts of the United Kingdom an ability to change standards. It would give powers away from the Scottish Parliament and away from the United Kingdom Parliament, in which Scotland is represented, to other devolved Administrations, who could then make up rules for other parts of the United Kingdom that could then be imposed on Scotland without any form of Scottish representation at all.
The hon. Gentleman talks about standards, but he started his speech this afternoon by saying that this was not a race to the bottom. How does he respond to the concerns of the General Teaching Council for Scotland, a professional organisation underpinned by law, which is now looking at having to accept teachers from other parts of the UK who do not reach the professional standards required to teach in Scotland?
The hon. Lady makes an interesting point, but she does not answer the point that I was making: the amendment that her party is supporting would mean that any part of the UK could impose new restrictions on Scotland or any other devolved Administration. The Northern Ireland Assembly or the Welsh Assembly could pass something and impose it on Scotland without the consent of the Scottish people. In trying to make what is probably a quirky political point with amendment 89, her party is not seeing the larger consequences that could flow from it. Opposition Members need to pay attention to this important point, because the amendment would give power away from the Scottish Parliament to the rest of the devolved Administrations. There is also the potential for more devolved powers, perhaps for the counties and regions of England, which could also be imposed on Scotland without the say of elected Scottish Members. We need to be very careful about this—
No, I have already given way to the hon. Lady once on this point.
More broadly, it is crucial that as we leave the European Union we give as much confidence as possible to British business, especially at this time of covid-19. There is a lot of uncertainty at the moment in my constituency—and I am sure in the constituencies of other hon. Members—particularly relating to the covid pandemic, and anything we can do to provide assurance on our important ongoing internal market relationships will be crucial. That is why I shall be supporting the Government and opposing the amendments proposed by the Opposition.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairship, Dame Rosie. I reiterate my support for amendment 9, which would very effectively put powers back where they belong with the devolved nations.
I turn to my new clause 10 on environmental standards, an issue that has been raised by several hon. Members on the Opposition Benches. I want to start by reminding hon. Members of two Government commitments. The first was in the Business Secretary’s foreword to the UK Internal Market Bill White Paper, which stated that its proposals would
“prevent any part of the UK from blocking products or services from another part while protecting devolved powers to innovate”.
The second was when the Bill was published and the Government website sought to assure us:
“The UK’s existing high standards across areas including environmental standards, workers’ rights, animal welfare and food standards will underpin the functioning of the Internal Market”.
I have tabled new clause 10 because the Bill does not give legislative effect to either of those commitments, and fails to create the proper framework and give the safeguards and assurances needed to ensure that all four nations of the UK will be able to legislate ambitiously, progressively and, indeed, effectively to protect the environment.
As it stands, the Bill allows market access principles to trump the environment, risking, as others have said, a race to the bottom and stagnant, if not actually diminishing, environmental standards. To date, the UK Government and the devolved Administrations have been aligned behind a common baseline of minimum EU standards, and that baseline has been kept high in part by the requirement for environmental measures to aim at a high level of protection. EU law has also provided—crucially, in certain circumstances—scope to go beyond the baseline to protect the environment and human health.
Regulatory divergence already exists in the UK, and there have been several examples from the devolved Administrations of innovative policies that deliver legitimate public policy objectives and, specifically, progressive environmental rules and regulations. I am thinking, for example, of the fact that Wales was the first country in the UK to introduce a charge on carrier bags. I have tabled this new clause because I believe the measures set out in the Bill could affect the ability of all Administrations within the UK to achieve their environmental ambitions and, indeed, to keep improving environmental standards. It could, in other words, lead to a race to the bottom in the absence of commonly agreed minimum standards.
Under the current Bill, while the devolved Administrations are not legally prohibited from introducing new requirements for goods and services, under the market access commitment, these new requirements will be disapplied for incoming goods if standards remain lower elsewhere. That risks rendering such measures ineffective in practice, creating a chilling impact on their creation in the first place. The mutual recognition principle means that the lowest standards legislated for by any of the UK Parliaments must automatically be adopted by all, and that will disincentivise individual Governments from improving existing standards and implementing new higher standards.
The Bill sets out no possibility of exception to mutual recognition requirements for environmental purposes. Mutual recognition can be denied only to prevent the spread of pests, disease and unsafe foodstuffs, and even then only under extremely strictly controlled conditions. The broad scope of the mutual recognition and non-discrimination duties and the lack of grounds to justify local requirements will stifle policy innovation in the devolved Administrations, as well as more routine improvements.
My new clause provides for a wider system of derogations, allowing an individual jurisdiction to refuse mutual recognition on the justification of legitimate public policy objectives and, specifically, on the grounds of measures to protect the environment. This is needed to begin more properly to address the need to improve environmental standards to deal with the climate crisis and nature’s stark decline. It is also needed to support and respect the devolution settlements by ensuring that measures taken by the devolved Governments in areas within their competence will not be undermined by this Bill.
It might be helpful to give a few examples of the difference that this new clause makes. First, on the blight of single-use plastic items, the Welsh Government are proposing to introduce a ban on the sale of nine single-use plastic items, while the UK Government are proposing to ban only three. The mutual recognition principle would mean that the Welsh Government would not, in effect, be able properly to regulate the sale of the additional six products if they were manufactured elsewhere in the UK. Producers in England would be able to sell the six products in Wales, irrespective of the higher Welsh environmental standards. As the Welsh Government have stated, a ban that could apply only to Welsh-produced plastics would undermine the policy and render it ineffective.
Secondly, as this Bill stands, the rules governing packaging would also be classified as a product requirement, and would therefore be fully subject to the principle of mutual recognition. Therefore, imported goods would not have to comply with any new devolved requirements. As Professor Dougan from the University of Liverpool has said—others have already quoted him today—the basic effect of the UK internal market
“would be a powerful disincentive for Scotland to exercise a devolved competence to regulate packaging on environmental grounds, since any new rules would end up applying only to domestic goods, not English imports.”
Finally, a third example is a Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs initiative that, without new clause 10, could be negatively impacted by the provisions of this Bill. DEFRA has plans to phase out sales of house coal and wet wood in England. However, if this Bill comes into force before those bans, they will be less effective, since the sale of materials originating from other parts of the UK would not be banned. For example, pre-packaged domestic coal originating in Wales, Scotland or Northern Ireland could be sold in England because the ban will be disapplied in relation to its sale. There will be no possibility of an exception or defence of proportionality, because the Bill does not provide for one.
My new clause 10 would address the Bill’s failure to include the exceptions and derogations vital to enabling all four UK nations to put in place sensible and proportionate measures to protect the environment. It deals with the practical consequences of mutual recognition by requiring suppliers to comply with devolved rules where they relate to the pursuit of environmental protection. The condition under paragraph (b)—that any regulation to which this amendment applies must be a proportionate means of achieving a legitimate aim—will help to ensure that derogation on the grounds of environmental protection cannot be exploited for other policy or market aims.
I urge Ministers to accept that the provisions in new clause 10 are needed, because the measures set out in the Bill could otherwise affect the ability of all the Administrations within the UK to achieve their environmental ambitions and to keep improving environmental standards. We hear so much from the Government about how much they care about these issues. Here is an opportunity for them to demonstrate that, by accepting the new clause.
It is a pleasure to follow Caroline Lucas. As someone who opposed Brexit, I have bought into the fact we have left the EU. I accept exactly where we are. I guess that my frustration, like so many people around this place, is that we find ourselves at this crossroads, at this dangerous juncture, at such a late hour. I think all of us want a Brexit deal that protects our economy and protects jobs, regularises our standards and provides environmental protections, but foremost also secures our businesses, which are so dependent on relations with our nearest neighbours, within Europe.
I want to speak to new clause 11, but I will also address in passing amendment 86. We were told that we had an oven-ready deal. According to the Foreign Secretary, it was going to be a “cracking deal” for Northern Ireland. But of course, the Prime Minister was not talking turkey, certainly not in anticipation of Christmas, as we have just heard. This was a deal that the Prime Minister himself cooked up, yet now it is stated that this could break up our country—our Union. This is an historic admission of failure. New clause 11, put forward by my honourable colleagues, seeks to ensure that we get this Brexit deal done. It is a broad new clause that demands that the Government should review and report to Parliament on the workings of the Act, addressing the functioning of the UK internal market Act and the effectiveness of the market access principles that have been promised, as well as agreeing common frameworks with the devolved Administrations.
My concerns lie with the fact that the Bill, to my mind, frustrates a deal. The trade economists we on the International Trade Committee have heard from made it pretty clear that failure to get a deal will cause our manufacturing industry exports to fall by around 20%. For the automotive industry specifically, which I have a clear passion for, should we not have a deal by
Jaguar Land Rover has warned that it could be forced to close plants if the right Brexit deal is not agreed, jeopardising £80 billion of planned investment. Ford has said that no deal would be disastrous and would make it reconsider its investments in the UK. Nissan has said that its operations in Sunderland would struggle to survive the extra tariffs imposed by a no deal. Toyota has said it would be forced to halt car production in the UK, temporarily closing its plant in Derbyshire. BMW has said that it could shift production of the Mini from Cowley to the Netherlands if there is a no-deal Brexit. These are not idle threats; this is the reality faced by many multinational businesses.
I am afraid that the Prime Minister is prepared to play Russian roulette—hardly a surprise, given the nature of his sponsors—with our businesses, our jobs and our prosperity in this country. That has to be our concern. Although there might be talk about the possibility of a US trade deal, we have heard in recent days that the passing of this Bill would jeopardise any UK-US trade deal. It is very unlikely to pass through Congress, such is the strength and purpose of the Irish caucus in Washington.
Let me turn to international law and Britain’s reputation. This is not simply about Brexit. Do we want to be a trustworthy nation—one that stands up for the rule of law? Does the Prime Minister really want to throw that all away by disregarding international treaties, in particular one that he personally negotiated and signed up to? That will undermine our standing in the world.
I am reminded of the incredibly powerful speech yesterday by Mrs May, who said:
“whether a decision to break international law is taken by a Minister or by this Parliament;
it is still a decision to break international law. This can only weaken the UK in the eyes of the world… It will lead to untold damage to the United Kingdom’s reputation”.—[Official Report,
Vol. 680, c. 667-668.]
It is clear that our Prime Minister is being reckless. Can Members imagine what the co-founder of the modern Conservative party, Robert Peel, would be thinking now—a person who championed law and order? In our Prime Minister, we have a man who is legendary for wrecking restaurants in Oxford. Does he not see that by his behaviour and actions, he is damaging Britain’s reputation—doing a modern-day Ratner? Members may recall Gerald Ratner, the entrepreneur who set up an incredible business empire and then destroyed his entire business with a few ill-chosen words. We risk not just tarnishing our reputation but seriously damaging it. We must be concerned about that.
Madam Deputy Speaker, I turn to new clause 11(4) and the need to preserve the Union. It is clear that while we are in danger of destabilising the Belfast/Good Friday agreement, we also risk undermining the devolution settlement. With the Bill, the Government are seeking to usurp the process of agreeing common frameworks on key devolved matters such as agriculture and food standards. The Welsh Government have made it clear that this is seen as a power grab, a centralisation of powers and an emasculation of the devolved Government. They have described it as
“an attack on democracy and an affront to the people of Wales”.
The voice of the Welsh Government is echoed by the Scottish Government in Holyrood, who say that it is “impossible to recommend” that the Scottish Parliament give its consent to the Bill. It has been condemned by the First Minister and Scottish Labour.
Finally, let me turn to the situation with state aid. For me, this is a red herring. I listened closely to the comments made by Sir William Cash, who has served this House for many decades and championed the cause of leaving the European Union. To my mind, however, what I have witnessed over decades is how intelligently other nations have used state aid to their benefit. They have long provided aid, support, guarantees—call it what you will, even state ownership. I do not believe that this has been to their disadvantage and I do not believe it would be to the disadvantage of Northern Ireland either—I think it would actually be to its great advantage. I heard the comments by Mr Holden, but as I see it, both Germany and France have stronger steel industries, and they have made the system of state aid work for them. For all those reasons, Madam Deputy Speaker, I will be opposing the Bill.
Order. Just a gentle reminder that because we are in Committee, it is usually customary to call me “Chair” rather than “Deputy Speaker”. I know that it is difficult to follow, because we said this at the beginning and people are in and out of the Chamber, but that is just a reminder.
Thank you, Dame Rosie. It is my pleasure to follow Matt Western.
I wish to briefly speak in support of the Bill, and in particular, on the significance of clause 54 and the importance of rejecting amendments that seek to limit the territorial extent of the Bill. Since the Acts of Union of 1706 and 1707, the UK internal market has been a source of unhindered and open trade across the United Kingdom. Beyond the end of the transition period on
As chair of the all-party group on Mersey Dee North Wales, I know how important the UK internal market is to businesses throughout the region, where 12 million daily cross-border commutes take place annually. In fact, a 2018 Welsh Government policy briefing noted:
“In the case of the UK internal market the economy in Wales is deeply embedded within the wider UK economy.”
It went on to say:
“Close proximity means natural transport routes and lower transport costs, shared institutional and business contexts, and cultural and historical ties”.
Parts 1 to 3 of the Bill propose a commitment to market access. This will guarantee that UK companies can trade unhindered in every part of the United Kingdom, ensuring the continued prosperity and wellbeing of people across the land. Qioptiq, a manufacturer of optical instruments, which has a base in my constituency, says:
“With the current economic uncertainty driven by the global pandemic, it is important for industry to be able to continue with a consistent approach to trade across all of the UK. Legislative stability and consistency, without additional barriers, are keys to success.”
Wales sells three times more to the rest of the UK than it does to the whole of the rest of the world combined. UK supply chains are also highly integrated. Data shows that almost three times as many intermediate inputs used by businesses in Wales come from other parts of the UK as from every trade market combined, and modelling shows that Wales would suffer a GDP loss five times higher than the UK as a whole from any reduction in internal trade due to unmitigated differences in regulation.
The clauses under consideration today are vital to provide certainty for businesses and ensure that we retain the status quo of no barriers to the movement of goods and services in all parts of the United Kingdom, so that companies can focus on their recovery and plan to invest and create jobs.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairship, Ms McDonagh. I rise to speak in support of amendment 88 and amendments 27, 34 to 36 and 39, which are in my name and those of my hon. Friends.
I make no apologies for seeking throughout our proceedings to defend devolution and the principle that power devolved is power retained. This Bill represents the most substantial transfer of power from Holyrood to Westminster since the reconvening of Scotland’s Parliament in 1999, placing a straitjacket over Scotland’s desires to uphold high environmental standards and high food standards, as well as to protect our economy from being sold out by the Tories in a race to the bottom.
The Bill as currently drafted means overriding the devolution settlement in key areas such as food standards, environmental protection and building control. As a member of the all-party parliamentary fire safety and rescue group, I am particularly concerned by the warnings of Peter Drummond from the Royal Incorporation of Architects in Scotland, who said earlier this week that Scotland’s significantly higher building standards on cladding and fire prevention measures were threatened by the overarching desire of the Bill to achieve alignment on the basis of mutual recognition of standards.
Throughout this Bill, the principle of consent to legislate in areas normally devolved under the Sewel convention is notably absent. It is clear that throughout the passage of this Bill, the concerns of the devolved Governments, regardless of their political colours, have been totally ignored. Amendments 27, 34 to 36 and 39 should therefore present no problem for the UK Government if they want to continue to operate on the principle that they should seek a legislative consent motion for those aspects of the Bill that are devolved.
The power grab that the Bill creates on devolution will be cemented by virtue of the Bill’s inclusion within schedule 4 to the Scotland Act 1998, which means in practice that the Scottish Parliament’s ability to legislate in devolved areas will be constrained as a result of the passing of this Bill. Any legislation placed within that schedule to the 1998 Act is protected from modification by primary or secondary legislation, even if that legislation is within the Scottish Parliament’s existing devolved responsibilities. It should be noted that the same provision was used during the passage of the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018 to place constraints on the Scottish Parliament’s ability to directly legislate in devolved areas of retained EU law.
The UK Government’s sudden interest in the use of schedule 4 to the 1998 Act in the past two years reveals their ultimate intention to use Brexit to re-reserve powers that are currently within devolved competence. Their power surge is proving true to its word—the Bill is fundamentally damaging everything that it comes into contact with.
In the drafting of part 2 and clauses 48 and 49, the UK Government’s inherent assumption is that any regulatory divergence would somehow undermine the functioning of cross-border trade and subsidies. There is no credible evidence to suggest that primary legislation is needed in those areas where there have historically been big differences between the legal framework and therefore the regulatory standards in Scotland and England.
Aileen McHarg, professor of public law and human rights at the University of Durham, hit the nail on the head when she highlighted:
“In all the fury re the UK Internal Market Bill’s impact on the NI Protocol, let’s not forget that it also radically recasts the devo settlements in a way that will, to a much greater extent than EU law, restrict the devolveds’ ability to effectively regulate their own territories”.
Amendment 88 would entirely remove the Bill’s status as a protected enactment under the Scotland Act 1998 when it reaches the statute book. That is a necessary step to stop the Westminster power grab and move the Bill back towards an approach based on agreed common frameworks for trade within the UK that also respects devolution and the desire of devolved Administrations to legislate in accordance with the wishes of their respective electorates.
A quote that is most often attributed to Donald Dewar is that devolution is
“a process, not an event”.
Any hon. Member who wants that process to continue in Scotland’s favour should oppose the sweeping and overreaching approach taken by this Bill, and that is what I intend to do today.
I am glad that the Minister is in favour of the Bill as well; that is good news.
In the modern world, trade matters just as much as—if not more than—it ever has. There has been much talk about trade, not just over the days in which we have considered the Bill, but over the past couple of years. I do not want to put us through the last couple of years again, but we spend a lot of time talking about tariffs. Although tariffs are important, the biggest obstacles in modern trade are often non-tariff barriers such as professional standards, standards for goods or different standards relating to services. The whole Bill seeks to address these aspects of trade, particularly through these clauses.
We need to consider not just trade between the United Kingdom and other countries, but trade within the United Kingdom. We all have businesses in our constituencies that trade. I was talking to a business in my constituency this summer about the places with which it is trading. I said, “Are you trading with China or the United States?” and the people from this business said, “With Aberdeen.” It is easy to forget that we need to ensure that our internal market—some people may prefer the term “internal single market”—is as seamless and as free as possible, and that is what this Bill does.
The Bill also ensures the principle of non-discrimination within the United Kingdom internal market. It allows businesses to expand within the UK as well as trading abroad, and helps businesses to access procurement from across the United Kingdom. For example, the Scottish Government may procure goods from a Welsh company, or Hertfordshire County Council may have a procurement contract with a Northern Irish business. Our trade within the United Kingdom is of paramount importance, and this House should not forget how much trade happens within our nation.
It is important to address some of the criticism of the Bill. I have been listening to the debate over the last couple of weeks, and, frankly, I find it rather odd hearing SNP Members criticise the Bill on the basis that the Scottish Parliament, the Welsh Assembly or the Northern Irish Assembly would not be able to have their own say vis-à-vis certain standards. On some level, one could argue that that is an argument for independence. Obviously that is the SNP’s stated position and they are entitled to have it, but contained in the same breath SNP Members are saying, “But we want the European Union to impose common standards.” We are talking about a European Union that, even under the most generous terms of electoral governance it may devise, would give the Scottish people, the Welsh people or the Northern Irish people—
In a second. I would like to make a bit of progress.
The European Union would not give its voters a direct say in the making of such common standards as Members would have in this House. Yet SNP Members would prefer the European Union, which has more than 450 million people in 27 member states, to impose common standards, rather than the United Kingdom Parliament, where SNP Members quite rightly speak for their constituents in this House. I find that a bizarre position.
I do not believe Carol Monaghan is in her place, but earlier she became very exercised—she mentioned it several times—about the idea, the horror, of English teachers being able to teach in Scottish schools. This is not a place to talk about the SNP’s record on education, but it is odd if we cannot have an amity between the four nations and would regard an English teacher as somehow not qualified to teach in Scotland. Do we not want fully qualified English teachers to be able to go to a Scottish school and to say that they want to teach in Scotland? The Bill allows the sort of non-discrimination that that would outlaw.
The hon. Gentleman is mischaracterising the attempts by my hon. Friend Carol Monaghan to point out that qualification standards in Scotland are higher than those required in English schools. I can tell him right now that free schools, which are so popular with his Government, are allowed to employ teachers without qualified-teacher status. That is not the case in Scotland. What is his answer to that?
I was afraid that the hon. Lady would not understand my point fully. Let me make it for her again: the idea that standards for teachers in Scotland are somehow higher than those in England is not correct. The fact is that across all our nations there are certain small differences in the professional qualifications of different people in different professions. This argument—almost—that we are having illustrates the fundamental point, which is that we should have a principle of non-discrimination for goods, services, teachers and all professions across this United Kingdom.
I am having some fun, so let me take on another point in respect of amendment 89. My hon. Friend Mr Holden made this point very well, and I am sad that he is not in his place because I do like to praise him—he is a very intelligent, smart fellow. The amendment would in effect allow a devolved Assembly or Government from one part of the United Kingdom to impose regulations on the people of Scotland. If I was a member of the SNP and believed that the people of Scotland’s interests were paramount, I would think that quite odd. Again, it illustrates the illogicality of the SNP position.
Fundamentally, SNP Members care about one thing: they do not care about free trade across the United Kingdom or prosperity for businesses; they just care about breaking up the United Kingdom. The reason why the Scottish nationalists dislike this Bill so much—I have been wondering what is driving their animus toward the Bill—is that they know it can help to bind the United Kingdom together. That is why they hate it, that is why I support it and that is why the Minister and the Government are putting it forward.
Does my hon. Friend agree that if SNP Members actually wanted to break up the Union and the Bill was as terrible as they claim, they would vote with us to put through such a terrible Bill? The fact that they oppose the Bill shows that it is a good Bill that will bind us together, showing once again the illogicality of their arguments.
As always, I agree with my hon. Friend.
The Bill has been put forward and we are in the position we are in. The Prime Minister made his statement earlier today and will make a statement to the country this evening. We are in the midst of a global pandemic, and we all know that.
We also know that the economic consequences of that pandemic are only starting to show. We must do everything we can, regardless of party politics, regardless of where we sit on various issues on the constitution or anything else, to help jobs. It is about jobs, jobs, jobs—people’s livelihoods. This Bill can underpin and help strengthen that aim.
Sixty per cent of Scottish exports—I am sure I will be corrected if I am wrong—go to the rest of the United Kingdom, and yet the SNP says that it wants more, not fewer, barriers to that trade. The biggest long-term challenge of this Parliament, after the terrible health consequences of the pandemic, is, I believe, the economic damage that ensues. The Bill helps not just the United Kingdom come together, but any United Kingdom Government support businesses, jobs, people and communities across these nations—that is something to be commended, strengthened, and supported—alongside increasing by more than 100 the powers going to devolved Assemblies and Governments. I believe that that will strengthen the Union, strengthen our internal single market, and strengthen the economy of this country.
It is a pleasure to speak in this debate; I have spoken in a number of debates during the passage of this internal market Bill. For me and my colleagues, the Bill is about the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland together and we wish, through our contributions, to try to explain where we stand on these issues. We do not want to ruffle feathers in a way that annoys people.
The briefing for this debate outlines the aim of the Bill, which is well worth repeating for those who perhaps do not understand the point that we are trying to make. There are those who are fixated on what could be said about us. Well, I am fixated, and my party is fixated, on this definition. The briefing says:
“The Bill sets out two principles that will govern access to the UK market for goods and services. The principles aim to allow people and businesses to trade across the UK without having to face different barriers in its different nations.”
We are convinced that the people of Northern Ireland should have the right to the same opportunities as those in England, Scotland and Wales. The briefing says:
“The first principle means that if a good or service can be legally sold in one part of the UK (as it meets the relevant regulations) then it can be sold in any part of the UK.”
That is exactly what we think and this is the principle of mutual recognition. The briefing goes on to say:
“The second principle prevents parts of the UK treating goods coming in from other parts of the UK less favourably than local goods. This is the principle of non-discrimination.”
We have recorded our amendments, but we will not be pressing them today. They are on the amendment paper, so if Members get a chance, they can take a look at them and get a fair idea of where we stand on this matter.
I know that I must sound like a stuck record, but the fact is that, for the sake of my constituents, for the sake of my local businesses and for the sake of my local industries, I have to say again that the principle of non-discrimination must apply to Northern Ireland as an intricate part of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. That is what this Bill seeks to do. That is why the DUP has tabled various amendments, which we will not be pressing today. They set out the statement of our position and it is important that we have that recorded in this debate. We seek to underline the fact that we are, and must remain, on an equal footing with every other nation—Scotland, Wales and all of England—and must remain on an equal footing across this wonderful Union that we all take so much for granted.
On the point that my hon. Friend is making about unfettered access across all four nations of the UK, that is a fundamental prerequisite that we need to see in this Bill, however it is amended. Hopefully that is an objective that everybody in the Committee should be committed to.
I thank my hon. Friend. That is exactly what I am saying and exactly the point that we are trying to put forward today. It is about east-west trade and west-east trade. It is about how this affects our agrifood sectors. It is about how our businesses can continue to operate and not be restrained in any way.
Derek Thomas referred to the fishing sector, which is very important for me in my constituency. At one time, Portavogie had 120 boats in its harbour, but owing to EU regulations and all the bureaucracy that came in, that number is now down to approximately 60. We hope that through this our fishing sector can grow, and we are quite convinced that that will happen.
“In making these regulations, the Secretary of State must have special regard to the need to maintain the integral place of Northern Ireland in the United Kingdom internal market.”
It also requires that we must
“have regard to safeguarding unfettered access of NI businesses to the UK Internal Market.”
That is the very point that he refers to and that our party has consistently uttered in this Chamber—that we want to have the same rights as everyone else.
I have yet to hear a single convincing argument that tells me that Northern Ireland does not deserve the same recognition. I think we all know that, and hopefully it will be delivered whenever this Bill is finally concluded. I have yet to see one single statement that points me to the holy grail of the Belfast agreement that is being waved about as a reason we cannot have our place in the United Kingdom. There is no clause in the Belfast agreement that precludes us from maintaining our place in the UK outside of Europe. We believe that our position on this Bill today will be one that all of us, on all sides of political opinion, can support.
Again, we hark back to the legal opinion. It is important in this debate to have a legal opinion that is balanced. Martin Howe QC has unequivocally stated that
“there are good arguments that the government’s clauses will not breach international law. First, there is a general principle of international law that treaty powers should be exercised in good faith, and an EU blockage of reasonable ‘goods at risk’” between GB and Northern Ireland
“could be classed as a bad faith exercise of treaty powers…Secondly…the alteration of the constitutional status of NI (which across the board tariffs on GB to NI exports would entail) would breach the core principle of the Good Friday Agreement...International law does not justify a later treaty to which these community representatives are not parties being used to over-ride the rights they enjoy under the earlier treaty”.
That legal opinion is very pertinent to this debate and to the importance of where we stand. It also states that
“section 38 of the Withdrawal Agreement Act preserves Parliamentary sovereignty and makes it quite clear that Parliament has the right to pass the clauses which the government is proposing and thereby override these errant clauses in the Protocol.”
That is why I can support the Government in what they put forward and reject the Opposition arguments, while ever understanding that people have differences of opinion. We can agree to differ on these things while feeling very strongly on the stance that we have. That highlights the importance of this debate in terms of the legal and moral necessity of our opinion as stated in our amendments, which we are not pressing.
For me, this is all about free trade. It is all about having the same opportunity. It is about businesses in Strangford and across the whole of Northern Ireland being able to trade east-west and west-east. It is about my fishermen being able to land their fish in Portavogie harbour and not be subject to a tariff that would make it nonsensical to do so. It is about my fishing sector growing. It is about my agrifood sector, which employs some 2,500 people, growing. I believe that that could happen through this Bill.
On day four in Committee, it is tempting to regurgitate all the points that have been made previously, but I can assure Members that I will resist that. It is a pleasure to follow Jim Shannon; I agree with much of what he said about our precious Union. It was also a pleasure to hear from my near neighbour, my hon. Friend Dr Davies, and my hon. Friend Bim Afolami about the non-tariff barriers. Those two key points—non-tariff barriers to trade and market access for our Union—are why I was so exercised that I put myself forward to speak in this debate.
I want to briefly talk about market access. We have heard some Members getting exercised about the creation of this market access framework, but much of what is in the Bill replicates the EU market as it was. Much of the political debate around the Bill thus far has been a regurgitation of the former Brexit argument—it is just the same old politics in a different guise.
A third of my constituents in Montgomeryshire travel across the English-Welsh border every day, whether that is for education, jobs, skills or goods. It is entirely porous. It is essential for my constituency—I task the entire Welsh nation with this—that we get market access right, with no distortions and no non-tariff barriers internally or externally, for the rest of the world. It is critical that this is done at a UK level.
I want to touch on amendment 9 and the perceived attack on devolution. This is one of the single biggest transfers of powers to the Senedd, the Welsh Parliament —70 powers. I will happily take an intervention from anyone who can name a single power that the Welsh Parliament will not be able to exercise because of this Bill. Indeed, the Counsel General of the Welsh Government went as far as to say that
“this doesn’t specifically prevent the Senedd from exercising its powers”.
All the noises to date in this Chamber and in the press are a lot of politics.
Of course, it is not a single power. The effect would be felt across many of the devolved powers. If the hon. Gentleman would care to have a look at page 12 of the explanatory notes, he will see that it is explained quite clearly in the paragraph entitled “Constitutional embedding and devolved competence”:
“the Bill’s provisions create a new limit on the effect of legislation made in exercise of devolved legislative or executive competence.”
No more than the market access operated under the EU market. The devil is always in the detail, and the hon. Lady can name no specific power—these are just broad political statements again and again. My constituents expect better. This Bill is essential for jobs, jobs, jobs. That, more than ever, is what my constituents expect me to support.
Does the hon. Gentleman accept that there already exist wide regulatory differences between the four nations of the UK? When I sat on the Committees considering both iterations of the Agriculture Bill, we heard from the National Farmers Unions, and they always wanted any changes to regulations or to approaches in the different nations to be agreed, not imposed, as is happening with this Bill.
My constituency has a huge concentration of high mountain and hilltop sheep farming. This Bill affects none of that. It changes no specific powers. The point that the hon. Lady just made means absolutely nothing in detail—nothing to jobs in my constituency, nothing to the constitutional changes and nothing to the devolved Administrations. All this does is continue what we had under the European Union.
We come at this a different way. Can the hon. Gentleman name a single power that will not potentially be affected? Can he name a single devolved power that is ring-fenced? On Wednesday evening I asked Ministers for assurances on a range of different potential interventions, but I did not receive any, so I will ask again. Can the hon. Gentleman name a single power that this Bill would not allow the Government to scoop in from the opposite direction?
That is a wonderful intervention. Such is the power of the hon. Lady’s argument that she asks me to help her name a power in reverse. I have asked Opposition Members to name one specific power, but it has not been forthcoming. This is a complete politicisation of what is an essential Bill.
In conclusion—I am conscious of my promise to keep my contribution short—the Bill clearly does not affect the powers of the DAs. It clearly reinforces the importance of the market to the United Kingdom and to my Welsh constituency, and it clearly will protect the jobs that I have been sent here to protect. I commend the Bill and thank the Minister for promoting it.
I will address you in the Chair, Ms McDonagh, as is customary, but I hope through you to get a message to the people of Scotland, because it is our duty to warn those who are not yet aware of it that this Government down here in London are planning to take powers away from the Scottish Government, the Scottish Parliament and, ultimately, the people of Scotland.
They say that they have no such plans. Nobody in my party believes that, but let us say that they are correct. I am going to give a couple of examples of what we are so alarmed about, and I would be very happy for any Government Member to stand up when I have done so and tell me that I am wrong and have misunderstood. But they should be warned: if they plan to do that, they had better be able to point to the actual legislation that guarantees that our fears are unfounded. If no Government Member can do that, the people of Scotland will know. Whether this Government like it or not, an independence referendum is on its way to Scotland, and our people are watching very closely.
Let me start with the first example. We in Scotland, as Members will have heard many times today, are very proud of our minimum price controls on alcohol. It is a policy that I, as a former Member of the Scottish Parliament, and others fought tooth and nail to introduce many years ago, though unsuccessfully at the time. In fact, I remember making my speech in the Scottish Parliament, holding aloft a 2-litre bottle of what was at the time a very cheap top-strength cider, to illustrate a point. As an aside, my hon. Friend Stewart Malcolm McDonald was my researcher at the time, and his job was to buy it and empty it down the sink so that I did not take alcohol into the Chamber.
We are very proud of minimum pricing, because in two short years we have already seen a decrease in harmful drinking in Scotland. But what if we had not passed that legislation already, and what if the democratically elected Scottish Parliament wanted to do so next year, after this Bill has been enacted? It would not matter how many bottles of cheap liquor we held up. It would not matter how many stories we shared of the untold damage done to individuals and their families because of the easy and cheap access to very high-strength alcohol. It would not matter if every single Member of the Scottish Parliament—Scotland’s democratically elected Parliament—voted yes to minimum pricing next year. With this Bill, the UK Government could drive a bulldozer through it and there would be nothing we could do while we remained a part of this Union.
As we heard earlier, Professor Michael Dougan of Liverpool University has identified that Scotland’s minimum price controls could be characterised as a form of product requirement. That would mean that the principle of mutual recognition in this Bill would apply, and once that obligation applies there is virtually no scope for Scotland to justify applying new rules to imports from England.
Members might ask, “Why does that matter now? Scotland did pass minimum pricing. This legislation applies to new rules, and minimum pricing is not new.” But it does matter, because what happens when we in Scotland come to review minimum pricing? And what if, in that review, the democratically elected Scottish Parliament were to vote for tighter legislation? What if it were to step it up because it works? None of the new rules would apply to alcohol imported from elsewhere in the UK, so cheap high-strength alcohol from England, Wales and Northern Ireland could flood the market in Scotland and a bulldozer would again be driven through all of our good work.
I am listening very carefully to the language the hon. Lady is using. There are lots of coulds and woulds, but no actual evidence. It is always “could” and supposition. Is she admitting that the Scottish Government do not have the power or the willpower? Concrete facts would be great.
The hon. Gentleman is in effect saying that we have to just trust that the UK Government will not do that. I will tell him what I do trust: EU laws. In this scenario, if we were still subject to EU laws the principle of proportionality would apply and that would protect those public health decisions.
Further to that point, does my hon. Friend not find it extraordinary that, if the Government are so carefully minded to protect the different regulations of the nations of the UK, there is no mechanism in the Bill for negotiating or agreeing minimum standards?
I do indeed find that extraordinary, but perhaps they will have a change of heart if what Alexander Stafford says—that the “could” and “should” and “would” is not going to happen—is correct. But we know that is not going to happen.
No, I need to get on.
The Government say that the Bill creates an internal market based on the principles of the EU single market, but there is a considerable gap between the principles enshrined in EU law and those proposed in the Bill, as I have just demonstrated. Perhaps the Government think it is in Scotland’s best interest for them to take away those controls, because they know best. I, personally, do not expect to be able to change that centuries-old colonial attitude, but it might be worth remembering that there are policies started in Scotland that have subsequently been adopted by the rest of the UK.
I will let the hon. Gentleman intervene in a minute.
Banning smoking in public places is one such policy and plastic bag charges is another. Perhaps sometimes Scotland does know best and perhaps at other times other countries know best. This proposed legislation, however, only recognises one legislature that apparently knows, and that is the UK Government.
I thank the hon. Lady. May I just touch on alcohol pricing? Of course, that would not change much. At the moment, if alcohol is dispatched from England, Wales or Northern Ireland, minimum pricing does not apply in Scotland, so what would the Bill actually change on alcohol pricing? It does not apply at the moment if dispatched from other parts of the UK to Scotland.
I think what the hon. Gentleman is doing is making an argument for independence. If he is saying that the only way we can control this is by Scotland becoming independent, well I will be looking forward to that in the not-too-distant future.
I want to come on to my second scenario, which is procurement. There are many differences between procurement rules in the UK and in Scotland. I will give the House some examples. Scotland excludes companies that have breached blacklisting regulations. That is a good thing, but the UK does not agree. In Scotland, public bodies are forbidden from awarding contracts solely on the basis of cost alone; not so in the rest of the UK. Scottish rules put an explicit requirement on public bodies to include conditions of contract which ensure the contractor complies with environmental, social and employment law in the performance of that contract—also a good thing, but also something where UK rules do not apply. Yet we could be compelled to ditch our rules in favour of the weaker procurement system.
Is there anything in the Bill to prevent this scenario? A company with a dodgy track record on blacklisting eyes up a juicy contract from a public body in Scotland. Could the Bill enable the dodgy company to argue that Scotland’s different rules be considered disruptive, and, in arguing thus, it becomes eligible to apply for the contract? There is nothing to stop that happening. Yet again, the UK Government are asking us to permit them to bulldoze their way through carefully crafted responsible legislation. And yes, I am aware of the exclusions, but I am also aware of the powers of the Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy to alter those exclusions. And yes, I also know that this relates to goods rather than services, but after this week, when the UK Government said they would break international law, we cannot take a single assurance of theirs seriously. Still they cannot point to the legislation that guarantees that what I just described could not possibly happen.
In fact, clauses 3, 7, 6, 5 and 10 give considerable latitude to the Secretary of State to amend the scope of the mutual recognition and non-discrimination principles, by using affirmative resolution procedure. This is a sweeping power that gives very limited room for parliamentary scrutiny. The clause pays lip service to consulting with the devolved Administrations, but contains little detail on what happens if they do not consent. The dictionary definition of the word consultation is
“the process of discussing something with someone in order to get their advice or opinion about it”.
What is the point if that opinion is simply disregarded? The Government always deny that that would be the case. They say, “That will never happen. You’re making it up,” but I am afraid it happens all the time.
My very good, honest and honourable friend Michael Russell MSP, who is the Scottish Government’s Cabinet Secretary, talks of the disrespect and even hostility coming from the current UK Government towards the devolved nations, and we hear it all the time. He says that there is “no trust” between the UK and Scottish Governments. That is a ridiculous state of affairs. The UK Government can hardly claim that they are behaving respectfully when there are no safeguarding provisions in this Bill to respect the consent of the devolved Administrations by protecting the Sewel convention.
In the general election campaign, the Prime Minister drove a bulldozer with “Get Brexit done” emblazoned on it through a polystyrene wall. Now he and his colleagues are doing the same thing to the devolution settlement. We know exactly what the Prime Minister meant when he talked about taking back control. He meant that the UK Government should take back control of Scotland.
You know how sometimes a song will keep popping into your head, Ms McDonagh? Whenever I hear this Government talk about Scotland these days, the old Who song “Won’t Get Fooled Again” pops up, and there is nothing I can do to get rid of it. I will not subject you to my singing, but I will share some of the lyrics:
“I’ll tip my hat to the new constitution
Take a bow for the new revolution”—
I will miss out the bit about picking up my guitar—
“Then I’ll get on my knees and pray
We don’t get fooled again”.
“Lead, don’t leave”, we were told in 2014. I do not blame those who trusted the UK Government, but they will not be fooled again.
I want to respond to Bim Afolami, although he has gone now. To win the next independence referendum, one side has to convince the people in Scotland who embraced devolution but voted no last time. Either the Unionists convince them to vote no again, or we convince them to vote yes. If the UK Government keep on with this level of respect, keep driving that bulldozer through everything we in Scotland hold dear and pass this legislation, they will be doing our jobs for us. Perhaps in time, when I look back from our newly independent country where people and the environment come before profit, my anger will, ironically, turn to gratitude.
I rise to support amendments 81 to 85, which are in my name. I will also pick up on a couple of the points raised by Bim Afolami, who performed some logical somersaults in becoming the defender of free trade. I have to remind Members that it is this Government’s decisions that are erecting barriers, because we were already part of the largest, most stable and most successful free trading body in the world. I suppose we are the ones who are attempting to deal with the complications of those barriers.
I am not sure if it was just rhetoric, or if the hon. Gentleman genuinely does not understand why the regulations that we all shared while we were in the EU are not perceived to be such an imposition. That is the case precisely because they have raised standards in things such as environmental protection, food standards, the safety of products and toys, and workers’ rights. We see them as a guarantor, an enforcer and a raiser of standards. Unfortunately, we see the Government as no such thing, and in the first year of their term they have resisted and rejected numerous attempts to put into legislation protections for food and environmental standards. This Bill makes absolutely no mention, let alone guarantee, of consultation.
I do not like to keep refighting the last war, but the fact is that when the UK was in the EU, 95% of the regulations that the Government want to change—we never know which ones they want to change—were agreed by consensus. The UK had to oppose only 2% of them. Such consensus-based decision making is not currently enjoyed in the United Kingdom.
Our amendments 81 to 85, which are in my name and that of my hon. Friend Colum Eastwood, are designed to address a specific issue about frontier workers, and I will take a wee minute to explain what that is. The border on the island of Ireland is soft and invisible, as Members know, and it runs for hundreds of kilometres. It goes through villages and townlands, and even through homes, churches and farms, so a lot of people live a very cross-border existence. Over the last few years we have tried to soften out some of the bumps that will come up, and that is what we are trying to do with this Bill. One of them is about frontier workers. Between 23,000 and 30,000 people routinely cross the border for their job; I am talking not about people going for social reasons or going up and down, but people whose daily commute crosses the border. That is very common, and until now people have not had to think about decisions in their personal or working life that might involve crossing a continental barrier, but now they do, and we are trying to address this.
Some 19% of frontier workers work in health and social care, which is already an area that suffers from some recruitment issues. Borders hospitals that serve border communities, such as Altnagelvin, the South West Acute Hospital and Daisy Hill, are increasingly doing cross-border services and would be affected, and while the withdrawal agreement protects the rights of workers already in cross-border employment, it does not safeguard the rights of people who will take up an employment after the transition period ends.
EU directive 2005/36/EC currently allows for Irish and UK professional qualifications to be mutually recognised. Both jurisdictions have confirmed that even in the event of no deal they would recognise those existing qualifications, which is very welcome, but in the event of a no deal, qualifications would have to be processed as a third country, and we are told that this would add substantial delays. I am sure Members are aware of people coming from other countries and facing challenges in translating their professional qualifications even in the current situation, but obviously that is more acute in border areas. Some 9% of doctors in Northern Ireland are trained in another EU country, usually the Republic of Ireland but some others as well, and that proportion is consistent across other disciplines. If that level of movement between the services continues, this will be a fairly substantial problem and could add to existing recruitment problems. We would prefer an arrangement that covers everybody within the common travel area. I am aware that those negotiations are very complicated with a number of fences to jump, but we are trying to deal with this very specific problem.
I am also very pleased to have added our support to a number of other amendments, including amendment 9, from our friends in Plaid Cymru, about further attempts to protect the principle and practice of devolution. The song that was in my head and the heads of the hon. Members for Glasgow North East (Anne McLaughlin) and for Strangford (Jim Shannon) was Simon and Garfunkel’s “If I Could”, which one of us started singing during the last part of the discussion, and the lyrics just popped into my head:
“I’d rather be a hammer than a nail”.
I think that probably applies to those on Government Benches.
We are also very pleased to support Labour amendment 87 on public procurement, which could have positive effects in the area of social causes, and we greatly support new clauses 5 and 10 on the maintenance of food and environmental standards, which I spoke about at the start and which other Members have laid out very well. They would ensure that regulations reflect our moral duties to the planet, with sustainable farming, and compatible with our obligations to the climate, but also protect food standards for consumers. Crucially, in Northern Ireland, which trades very much on its reputation as a high-quality producer of agricultural products, we would be able to continue to protect that standard and would not have to drop our standards and therefore be uncompetitive on price and unable to trade into our existing markets.
We are talking about songs today, and I appreciate Anne McLaughlin quoting The Who; lest we forget, the famous Roger Daltrey is an ardent Brexiter and has made it perfectly clear that he supports Brexit, so I will take his words any day.
I welcome the opportunity to speak again on the Bill in Committee—I also spoke last week and on Second Reading—because it is of fundamental importance to us as a country. It is not a political Bill; it is not about being for or against independence or for or against taking powers. It is a Bill about jobs and economic prosperity and ensuring that when we leave the EU fully at the end of this year we can trade as one big bloc. I believe that is why the SNP is against the Bill: because it is a good Bill that binds the country together. There may be some tweaking around the edges, but, fundamentally, this Bill will increase prosperity in the UK, and I think it will convince more people in Scotland that the Union is a good thing and is here to stay.
Moving on, however, this Bill will ensure that businesses can continue to trade across our country, as they do now, avoiding new burdens and barriers. The amendments that SNP Members and others are putting forward will increase those barriers and burdens on business. If there is anything we have learned from this crisis, it is that we need to support business. The only way we can pay for the great schemes the Government have introduced—the furlough scheme, the bounce back loans—is by having businesses thriving.
We want businesses to thrive and this Bill allows businesses to thrive, but I fear the SNP amendments would not. They would put up a barrier between England and Wales and Northern Ireland and Scotland, and that would be detrimental for the people of Scotland as well. I think those amendments are very crass, dare I say it, because they will actually increase hardship for the people of Scotland. We want to make things easier for their everyday lives, not harder for political gain.
We have talked about powers being given, and this Bill clearly guarantees more powers for the devolved bodies, with powers increasing in at least 70 policy areas. This is a good Bill. If people believe in subsidiarity and in devolution, this Bill is good because it gives more powers to the people. It is taking them off the European Union, yes, but giving them back to the devolved nations, and that is a good thing.
Furthermore, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland disproportionately benefit from market access, with the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy risk assessment calculating that internal barriers to trade would impact on Scotland and Wales four or five times worse than on the rest of the UK.
Amendments 34 and 35, from the nationalists, seek to tie the hands of the UK Government. We have seen time and again in this House that SNP Members want to tie our hands and not allow free trade to flow and free conversations between our nations, which is worrying. The nationalists want to amend the provisions of the Bill so that the Government must gain the agreement of the aforementioned Administrations, in an attempt to paint Westminster as overruling the will of the Scottish, Welsh and Northern Irish people. These amendments are actually trying to paint us as the baddies that we are not. We are one family—Scottish, Welsh, Northern Irish, English. We are the same people, and we are cut from the same cloth.
The hon. Gentleman is talking a lot about this family of nations and how we are all going to come to some sort of agreement, but can he answer the question about there being no internal mechanism within the Bill whereby minimum requirements or an agreed harmonisation of standards could take place?
I think we discussed this last Tuesday in relation to the Competition and Markets Authority and markets, which are how we come together, but I want to touch on the point about that minimum of low standards. Why do we have to legislate for everything? Why do we have to legislate for every could, should and would? SNP Members keep trying to portray the worst-case examples, saying, “Oh, you know, the asteroid might hit us. Why does this Bill not talk about the asteroid and how we could deal with it?” We cannot think about all these coulds and shoulds; we have to deal with what is in front of us. We have to work together, and this Bill allows us to work together to overcome any issues, and to come together.
Once again, this comes back to the difference between our parties. I believe in one country—one United Kingdom. The SNP and the Scotland did have a say. The people of Scotland had a say when they elected the Government in 2019. They have their voice in this Parliament: under the Acts of Union, they have this voice and they can talk contribute through this voice. To balkanise our country into these small states is just wrong.
I banged my head on the desk when I was upstairs watching this on television. The separatists on the opposite side of the House seem to forget and never talk about the fact that we have a £1.5 billion city and region growth deal, on which the Scottish Government and the United Kingdom Government came together and worked together to bring prosperity to the people of Scotland. Why do they not celebrate success like that, rather than talking about breaking up the United Kingdom?
I could not agree more, but let us be honest, SNP Members do not want to talk about success; they want to talk about breaking up the country, and about how bad it is, because they are unashamedly nationalist. That is their prerogative—they have been elected on a nationalistic ticket—and they will do anything to push this false narrative, but my hon. Friend is completely correct about the benefits. However, I do want to make some progress now.
Turning to amendments 38 and 88, it is critical that the UK Government insert the Bill as a protected enactment in respect of the devolution Acts. The Bill applies to the whole of the UK. If devolved legislatures were able to amend it, it would rupture the internal market and cause chaos for businesses and consumers. Again, I emphasise that this Bill is about businesses and consumers. We want to give them stability after we leave the European Union; we want to ensure that businesses flourish, not to try to break things up and create uncertainty for business. That is incredibly important.
Labour’s amendment 86 looks to undermine the very purpose of the Bill by expanding the definition of a “legitimate aim” to permit discrimination against incoming goods from one part of the UK to another on grounds of environmental, social and labour standards. I am sure that Members on both sides of the House agree that our country is a world leader in those areas already, and nothing will alter that fact. Accordingly, it is important that we permit internal discrimination against goods only on the most restricted and limited basis, such as to prevent threats to life. Expanding the list of legitimate aims threatens to frustrate the purpose of the Bill—the market—and to go on to fragment and balkanise our internal market. We must keep our single market as one. Therefore, I cannot see why any Member would support Labour amendment 86.
The SNP and the Alliance party have collaborated to produce new clause 5, which seeks to ensure that regulations under part 1 do not result in lower food or environmental standards applying in any part of the UK than those that already apply in the EU. It is abundantly clear that those parties have not accepted the vote of the British people in 2016, our subsequent withdrawal from the EU this past January, and now our exit from the transition period at the end of the year.
Is the hon. Gentleman aware that Scotland did not vote to leave the EU? Scotland voted to remain in the EU, and we voted quite decisively. He seems not to be able to acknowledge that.
I hate to rehash the arguments, but the United Kingdom did vote to leave the European Union. I am sure that Mrs Miggins at 34 Acacia Avenue in my constituency did not vote to leave the European Union either, but we are still part of the same family and we are leaving. We cannot balkanise our country. We cannot split up this family. That is the fundamental difference between Government Members and Opposition Members. We see this as a family—a family of nations; a family of people that we love. We want to keep us together, and we will not parcel off our great country. I will not be ashamed of promoting what this country voted for.
I turn to Government new clause 12, which enables the Secretary of State to issue guidance relating to part 1 of the Bill explaining how the UK internal market principles operate, in order to support traders, regulatory authorities and the public. That guidance will help us all to understand and benefit from the Bill, which will increase the internal market. Again, I emphasise that this Bill is about the market, not politics. It is not an independence Bill or a Brexit Bill; it is a business Bill—a Bill to get businesses going and to recover our economy.
The House must pass this Bill, which protects our domestic markets, rejects separatism and division, eliminates chaos and confusion, ensures transparency and impartiality, and strengthens our world-beating standards. I believe that in doing that, the Bill, with the Government amendments, will create a better business environment for all.
I hope that my hon. Friends will forgive me if I do not go down exactly the same route as some of the conversations we have had recently. I had a good deal to say yesterday on the previous part of the Bill, and I will not repeat that, because I see my good friend the Minister in his place, no doubt ready to ensure that amendment 66 is moved at the end of the day. He knows—as do you, Ms McDonagh—that since that is the case, my amendment 4 will not need to be moved. Having made sure that he will remember to move amendment 66, I can now move on to the stand part debate.
I am a little prejudiced here; a name like Robert James MacGillivray Neill is probably indicative that my heritage comes from various parts of the United Kingdom, and I am very proud of my Scots background. I might add that the weekend after the European Union referendum, in which everybody knows I campaigned vigorously to remain in the EU, I happened to come across my call certificate to the Irish Bar via King’s Inns in Dublin. Who knows, it might come in handy one day, but it reminded me that there are huge and deep-rooted linkages between the countries of the United Kingdom. We can talk about what are the right governance arrangements between them, but there are personal interdependencies and economic interdependencies that benefit us all. I hope that later this evening we are going to be able to deal with a number of those concerns. No doubt there is more to discuss, but, having banked that progress, I want to say that the rest of the Bill is desirable.
That is why the thrust of the Bill is desirable and, as I said yesterday, I have no trouble supporting it all, apart from my concerns about part 5.
An obvious example of the interdependencies and the synergies is in my constituency, in London, where about 35% or 36% of the working population are in financial and professional services. As it is commuter land, they work in large measure for the City of London, which is Europe’s and indeed the world’s pre-eminent financial centre, but there is an impact on other important financial centres. For example, there is a natural link and synergy between the expertise and pre-eminence of the financial services in the City of London and the very highly established, very well regarded financial services sector in Edinburgh, in Scotland; it also has a very good reputation. Making sure that they remain part of a single and connected market is to both sides’ benefit, so making sure we do not have needless obstacles in those regards is obviously desirable.
The point about professional qualifications was well made by Claire Hanna, and it is why I was struck that my membership of the Irish Bar might be of use, because, ironically, the legal profession has always had a carve-out from those regulations. It is a recognition going back to the Act of Union that we were not seeking to impose absolutely uniformity. To respect and protect the separate legal systems in Scotland and now, separately, in Northern Ireland, legal professional regulation is different and is carved out. As an English barrister, I do not have the right automatically to practise in the courts of Scotland. If I had, I would perhaps be trying to see whether I could measure up the Lord Advocate’s office. I do not have that right, but the irony is that as a member of the Irish Bar, an EU member state Bar, I would have that right. That is perfectly reasonable and I do not have any problem with it; we know it is necessary because the legal system’s distinctiveness is part of the national character of each of the parts of the UK. However, the free flow of goods, workers and services is in everybody’s interest.
If the hon. Gentleman is perfectly happy for our separate legal systems to mean that someone has to be qualified in the given jurisdiction, is he not uncomfortable with the idea that teachers who learn to teach, or who do not get a teaching qualification, in one country can move to another country and teach there? If he is perfectly happy with that, may I talk about—and will he go to the Home Secretary on this—all the teachers I know who have come to this country from other countries across the world, are not allowed to transfer their qualifications and are therefore not allowed to work? If he is happy to provide support on that, I will perhaps think about what he has to say.
The first point is that there have to be professional qualifications in order to recognise the people qualified. The Bill does not seem to cause any difficulty about that. I was also making the point that the carve-out on legal qualifications accepts that there are legitimate areas of difference, but there are many other areas where it is entirely legitimate for us to try to work together as a single UK market. I would have therefore thought that the Bill was balanced and proportionate in that regard. I cited services and the importance of the financial services sector, both north and south of the border, as a key example of that. I hope that after the transition period we will also continue our good links with the financial services sector in Dublin, where a number of English legal and professional firms have bases because of those links. The Bill is not malign in any of those regards.
Although the Bill does not and need not cover this, I hope as we go forward that we will see what can be done to help other parts of the broader British family that would desire access to our new internal market—for example, the Crown dependencies, the Channel Islands and the Isle of Man. Many of their financial sectors— their trust arrangements and their banking fund arrangements—are importantly and closely linked to the City of London and the UK. The Justice Committee has oversight of the Ministry of Justice’s work on the relationships with the Crown dependencies, and I think there is a great desire to see how we can strengthen the access between them and the UK. The aspiration for the Crown dependencies to have free and unfettered access to the UK market is something we should look to explore with them on a reciprocal basis.
That particularly and specifically applies to our British territory of Gibraltar—as you know, Ms McDonagh, I have the honour to be the chair of the all-party parliamentary group on Gibraltar. It is a well expressed intention of the Gibraltar Government, supported by all parties in Gibraltar’s Parliament, to have access to, in effect, a free trade area with the United Kingdom. I hope the Minister will take that back to his colleagues in the Government, because it ought to be a no-brainer as we go forward. It causes the United Kingdom no difficulty, and it would be of considerable reassurance to the people of Gibraltar, who despite having voted overwhelmingly to remain in the European Union, none the less trumped even that and asserted their membership of the British family and the desire to remain with the United Kingdom and not to be coerced, sometimes, by their neighbours. Supporting them by making sure they have full access to the internal market ought to be a high priority, both practically and morally, for the United Kingdom Government.
Finally, there is one area that we can perhaps simplify. I am not generally in favour of simplifying or lowering food standards, and I am certainly not in favour of lowering environmental or food standards as we leave the EU or in any future free trade deal, but there is one area, ironically, where leaving the EU may give us something we can turn to our advantage, and that relates to public procurement and, in particular, local authority procurement.
As a number of hon. Members know, I served in local government for many years before I came into this House, and I was local government Minister for the first half of the coalition. One of the genuine complaints I had from councils of all political complexions was about the complexity of going through the OJEU—Official Journal of the European Union—process, where contracts over a fairly basic level had to be advertised through a pretty bureaucratic process. That had the no doubt laudable objective of ensuring that firms across the single market could access those contracts, although, in practice, doing a contract in Bromley, Merton or wherever was not likely to be attractive to a small-sized firm of builders in Poland or the Czech Republic.
Does my hon. Friend note, as I do, that the OJEU process in the United Kingdom resulted in less than 1% of procurement exercises yielding a bid from outside the United Kingdom?
My hon. Friend, whose experience in local government is huge and much more recent than mine, is absolutely right. That is the irony—what was a theoretical process none the less caused considerable delay and cost for local authorities seeking to carry out a range of capital works. I hope the Government will say, “Let’s seize the advantage and simplify the public procurement process.”
For a raft of reasons that have been well rehearsed and that I need not repeat, local authorities are hard pressed for cash, and we could certainly make their lives easier by enabling them to save money in the way they do their procurement. We can make it easier for them to adopt a policy of sourcing contractors locally, as they already try to do, so that they can be drivers of support for businesses in their area, without needing to parcel up contracts artificially, as was historically the case to avoid the need to go through the OJEU process. That is one area where I hope the Minister, whose own experience in local government is considerable, will talk urgently and swiftly to his colleagues in the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government so that we can sit down with the local government sector and get rapid reform of local government procurement rules.
So without more ado, I commend the Bill, now that the little obstacle that might potentially have been in its way has, I hope, been resolved. We can now get on with the serious business of making the best of what is, to be frank, a bad job. This is not where I wanted to be, but it is in the interests of the country that we have a proper working set of rules to enhance the internal market in the United Kingdom.
I rise to speak in favour of the amendments tabled by the Labour Front-Bench team, and to put on the record my opposition to the Bill which, as has been pointed out by many, risks undermining devolution by driving a wedge between our Government and the devolved Administrations and infringing on the devolution settlement. The Trades Union Congress is particularly concerned that, unless specifically exempted, restrictions may be placed on the ability of devolved authorities to adopt new or revised regulations to support progressive public policy objectives, which may have a direct or indirect discriminatory impact.
Fundamentally, this legislation shamefully undermines the basis of the Good Friday agreement, a solemnly agreed international treaty that laid the basis for peace in Ireland. Ministers should not need reminding that the withdrawal agreement is part of a binding international treaty, and that breaching a treaty breaches international law. However, we should not be surprised, because the Conservative party has repeatedly shown contempt for international law and collaboration. There are now real problems with Britain’s approach to international law, particularly with regard to the protection of human rights in the UK.
In many areas, particularly in the spheres of immigration control, national security, counter-terrorism, freedom of association and speech and the treatment of persons with disabilities and other vulnerable groups, UK law has frequently been the subject of criticism from experts such as the United Nations Human Rights Committee and the Council of Europe. Recently, we also learned that the UK is to resume arms sales to Saudi Arabia, despite concerns that they could be used against civilians in Yemen, in complete violation of international humanitarian law. Today, the Government are increasing the healthcare charge for migrants, widely thought to impinge on fundamental human rights. It is therefore clear from the Bill and many contributions from Government Members that there is little or no respect for democracy, devolution or international diplomacy on the Government Benches.
My contribution is brief, but I conclude by saying that, while some of the Government’s amendments aim to correct the Government’s approach, they do little fundamentally to resolve the vast array of problems with the Bill as a whole.
I am grateful for the opportunity to contribute to the debate. I will focus my remarks—like many, including Apsana Begum, whom it is a pleasure to follow—on the key clauses and amendments, most of which stem, so far as I can see, which is why I support them, from the absolute need to retain the economic integrity of the United Kingdom, both for the future and temporarily, in the face of a regrettably provocative and unreasonable stance from the European Union.
I have listened to many powerful speeches, today and on previous days, from all parts of the Chamber and from all vantage points, on the Bill itself and the amendments to it. It will not be a surprise that I do not share the views of Scottish National party Members or their amendments; my view remains that those amendments may result in—or may explicitly seek, in many instances—the skewing of, or disruption to, the common market of the United Kingdom, which has served us so well for many centuries.
Does the hon. Gentleman not recognise that there are actually differences in regulations at the moment, and have been for many years? They have never disrupted trade within the UK.
I absolutely recognise that, which is why I chose my words extremely carefully in referencing the common market, rather than saying that we are absolutely the same. I accept that there are differences, but the overall benefit of the United Kingdom, and why I am a member of the Conservative and Unionist party, is that I see in the coming together of Northern Ireland, Wales, Scotland and England something greater than the sum of its parts. I know that we will never agree on that; I recognise that the hon. Lady has profound differences with me, but I hope she will accept my view that the UK is greater than the sum of its parts.
More broadly, I do not agree with some of the sentiments expressed today or in previous discussions regarding the Government’s position towards the EU, as outlined by the hon. Member for Poplar and Limehouse. It seems to me that the EU appears to have again successfully found our domestic fault-lines and pressure points, in this instance the internal market of the United Kingdom, and particularly Northern Ireland, to aid its own interests in the negotiations.
There is no doubt, as has been indicated by our exchange already, that the debate on the structuring of the Bill and the structure of our internal market is a challenging one in places, within this Chamber and beyond. To me, however, the Bill and its clauses seem only logical in supporting the key principles of mutual recognition of goods, recognition of qualifications and non-discrimination of goods and trading within the UK’s internal market, and from that follows a clear statement about the implications for our wider relationship with Europe as a consequence.
I agree with my hon. Friend Craig Williams , who is no longer in his place, that some of the discussion sadly seems to fall back into an opportunity to replay the Brexit wars of 2016 to 2019, to return to our leave and remain tribes and to build up the usual rhetorical architecture that returns us all to our comfort zones. For some,
“this is not a question of leave or remain.”—[Official Report,
Vol. 680, c. 739.]
It should not be, and for many, it is not. It does not need to be, if we reject many of the amendments to our domestic legislation tonight and, more widely, if we accept the reality that we have a job to do in our negotiations with the European Union in the coming months, which we all hope will succeed, but that we must prepare for the worst if we need to.
There are many reasons why I am a Conservative, and one of them is a clear recognition that, unlike in some other traditions, we have to deal with the world as it is rather than the world as we wish it to be. That is not to be cynical or glib about the way in which we interact in our international relations, but simply to be realistic about the challenges that face us, the levers we have to resolve them and the way in which we legislate domestically to meet them, as we are doing in this Bill. There are many good elements in the Bill, but also some that have been brought forward by necessity. We should have no desire to use some of the powers conferred in the Bill, but we acknowledge that they are present if the European Union continues, based on the reports we have received, to act in bad faith.
I also want to pick up on some of the points made by my hon. Friend Sir Robert Neill, who is no longer in his place. It behoves us in this place to recognise that the external negotiations—we are debating the domestic legislation that comes from them today—are not motherhood and apple pie. They do not come feting us with rose petals as we walk down the street to have those discussions. In all these negotiations there are hard choices to be made, whether they are those that have been made by a supranational organisation such as the EU on our behalf for the past 40 years—for example, the EU is involved in many disagreements with other countries, none of which has ever really troubled many people in this area—or the difficult decisions we will have to make on our negotiating strategies with the EU when these powers come to the United Kingdom. Indeed, if some people in this Chamber got their way and the United Kingdom was broken up, those hard choices would still be devolved to the areas that had been broken up. Those difficult decisions would need to be taken none the less.
This is why I struggle with some of the amendments today and with some of the sentiments that have been expressed. The idea that there are no hard choices in trade is for the birds. The idea that the negotiations will not be difficult or choppy, when much will be on the table to be used as leverage—
I will not. I apologise, but I wish to make some progress.
The idea that the negotiations will not be difficult or choppy is unrealistic. Our values of openness, internationalism, free trade, partnership, fairness and freedom never change, but we have to prepare our domestic legislation and ensure that it works. Certain key questions remain, however. What else can be done? How else can this be remedied? How can the United Kingdom protect its own interests, its fundamental, historic economic integrity and its right of self-determination? I have yet to hear one realistic alternative to the legislation in front of us today that would create a functioning, coherent and integrated internal market, based on a historic precedent, that would work and that would, as a result, allow us to be clear with our friends over the channel that, as a consequence, the economic integrity of the United Kingdom must be respected.
Scottish architects have raised concerns about the Bill imposing the much lower English building standards on Scotland. The Royal Incorporation of Architects in Scotland pointed out this week that Scotland’s standards have helped prevent tragedies like that at Grenfell. Peter Drummond of the RIAS said that
“it is simply inexplicable that the bill seeks to align the more robust Scottish regulations with the English system. Those powers are now to be removed. The lowest common denominator within the UK will apply. And that is, on any fair reading, a spectacularly poor step backwards.”
One would think that England would want to move towards the Scottish standards, but the Bill makes it clear that England’s Government seek to bring Scotland’s standards down rather than improve English standards. That poverty of ambition will haunt England for decades, but it should not be allowed to shackle the rest of us.
In areas of devolved responsibility, the Government in Whitehall are the English Government rather than the UK Government. The Bill, under the myth of removing barriers to trade, ignores that division and seeks to force Scotland—and, of course, Wales and Northern Ireland—into a lockstep Union of diminishing standards and lessening protections, with a Government determined to rip away what they would term red tape and the rest of us term sensible precautions.
The White Paper singled out various building standards as a supposed barrier to the smooth functioning of the market, in spite of decades of experience showing that to be utter nonsense. What about other standards? Will the minimum tolerable standard for living accommodation be lost? Will teaching qualification standards be removed?
In answer to Bim Afolami, who is no longer in his place, I have had a number of WhatsApp messages since the earlier exchange and I am told that in England a teacher can be unqualified or can switch subjects. For example, a PE teacher can start to teach physics if there is a shortage. That is not the case in Scotland. Scottish teachers must have a degree in teaching or in the subject they are teaching, plus a postgraduate qualification. Again, that is not the case in England, as I understand it. Will free schools and academy schools be foisted on an unwilling Scottish populous? Will the power grab destroy Scotland’s consumer protections?
The exemptions in schedule 1 include water and sewerage, to be sure, but clause 10 allows the Secretary of State to amend those exemptions by secondary legislation. Is this the back door to privatising Scottish Water?
The Bill is a parade of threats to Scotland, not least among which is the threat to our food and drink industry. The Government will remove food protections. Animal welfare standards, environmental standards and protections against genetically modified crops are all in the firing line. Ministers will tell us that this is not so, but let me tell them that no one believes them. England’s Government will not protect English consumers, but they should not get in the way of Scottish Governments protecting Scottish consumers.
I have solutions. The first is the obvious one and by far the best: Scotland as an independent nation state making her own decisions, which will happen soon. The second is less direct but would have some effect: instead of reducing everything to the lowest common beast, as is proposed in the Bill, raise it instead to the highest standard. Our amendment 89 would do that. Where goods are traded across the borders of these nations, let them be traded at the highest standards. Scotland has banned flammable cladding on high-rise buildings and that should be respected. A ban on hormone-treated beef should be respected, and so on. Respect the higher standard and protect the consumer, the brand reputations, the businesses and the investment—protect jobs. The higher standard should be the goal, not the lower. I urge Members to adopt that principle and Ministers to consider it.
There are other problems with the Bill. Regulations will be made in Whitehall. Unlike the EU process, this will not be co-decision-making. EU competences are constrained by the need to achieve consensus among member states. This regime will be dictatorial: rule from the bunker, not the negotiating table. The mutual recognition clause is actually the Whitehall superiority clause.
Scots academics have given this Bill short shrift. Professor Michael Dougan has been quoted at length in this debate. Professor Michael Keating, professor of politics at Aberdeen University, points out that under the 1999 devolution settlement there was no hierarchy of laws; some were reserved to Westminster and the rest were devolved. Under this Bill, UK Ministers would have
“powers to regulate a…wide range of otherwise devolved matters in the name of the internal market”.
Professor Nicola McEwen of Edinburgh University makes it clear that rules made by the devolved Administrations will not apply to goods or service providers that satisfy less strict regulations in England. She says that
“unfettered market access is given priority. EU principles of proportionality and subsidiarity are…excluded.”
Also on the chopping block would be the right to differentiate production methods in procurement, so there goes organic farming—even if it survives the drop in exports after the Government’s failure to agree an equivalence with the EU. This is an absolute mess, and that is why amendment 89 is so important.
Do not drag us down; use the good example set by a neighbour to raise up your own standards. Let us have goods crossing the national borders of these islands meeting the highest standards, rather than the lowest. There has been much ado about the fact that the Bill will potentially breach international law. It is a matter of at least equal concern that it would change our constitutional arrangements without asking the people for approval in a referendum. Furthermore, the Bill would give Ministers the right further to amend the constitutional settlement without the bother of primary legislation. Some folk would call that a coup d’état. It represents the dismantling of the devolved settlements, the disempowerment of this Parliament and the centralisation of power in the hands of a very few Ministers. Surely that is the mark of a failed state.
In short, this Bill is a mess that would have been better off consigned to a skip, but if we are all going to have to suffer it—we in Scotland, hopefully, for the shortest time possible—at least let us pitch for the higher standard, rather than the lower.
I also rise to speak to amendment 89 and the other amendments listed in my name and the names of my colleagues.
Part 1 of the Bill introduces two key trade mechanisms within the UK for the first time: mutual recognition and non-discrimination. Lee Rowley tries to make these sound benign, but that just shows his lack of ability to see what they look like from any of the devolved nations. Non-discrimination, which is covered in clauses 5 and 6, would affect labelling regarding the source of produce. It would therefore remove the ability for consumers to reduce their food miles or to support local producers if they choose to, and could be used to undermine or challenge protected geographical indicators or the Scottish brand—as in Scotch whisky and Scotch beef. Despite their long tradition and international recognition as Scottish products, we already see the promotion of British whisky and British haggis, of all things.
Clauses 2 and 3 cover mutual recognition, which creates a powerful deregulatory pressure, because if any UK nation has lower standards or regulations, the other three must just shut up and accept such goods. As England is the largest nation and economically the most powerful, it is assumed that its standards will dominate, particularly as the Secretary of State has the power to change the Bill on a whim if he wishes. Although clause 3(9) says that the Secretary of State “must consult” the devolved nations, I am afraid that the last four years have shown just how worthless and meaningless such a phrase is.
Clause 3(4) lists the aspects of a product that could come under mutual recognition, including its characteristics, performance standards, packaging and labelling, and certification.
There is even a catch-all line for
“anything not falling within paragraphs (a) to (f)”.
Basically, every single aspect of commercial goods could be challenged under this legislation.
The Government claim, as indeed do many on the Conservative Benches, that the Bill is needed to maintain trade throughout the UK, yet previously trade continued without any problems, despite the variations in the four nations’ regulations. All three devolved Governments have been working to agree common frameworks to ensure that there are no obstacles to trade but also that the devolved powers and different priorities of the four nations are respected.
It is claimed that the Bill is needed to protect British producers, but clauses 2 and 5 refer also to goods that are “imported into” or that “pass through” any part of the UK. This is not about UK producers, which already meet high standards; it is clear that, despite all the rhetoric and protestations, it is about either lowering UK standards or accepting lower-quality products to achieve a trade deal. That concern is heightened by the UK Government’s repeated refusal in the proceedings on the Agriculture Bill or the Trade Bill to protect food standards or exclude the NHS and other public services from future trade deals. Indeed, there is no guarantee of preserving minimum standards on anything.
Does my hon. Friend agree that it tells a huge story that the Government have voted against those kinds of protections on 10 occasions?
Does my hon. Friend share my amazement that not a single Scottish Tory has attended today’s debate, despite the impact that the proposals will have on the devolved nations and on Scotland?
The Conservatives tend to count on the farming community in Scotland. I echo what others have said: the National Farmers Union of Scotland is none too happy with what has been happening, particularly the failure to protect standards.
That brings us to the dreaded chlorine-washed chicken. Of course, it is not the chlorine that is the issue—if someone is not a great swimmer, they will have swallowed more in a swimming pool; the concern is about why the chicken is washed in chlorine in the first place. Because of the overcrowding of poultry and poor animal welfare standards, the US has between seven and 10 times the salmonella food poisoning rate of the UK, even after washing its poultry. It is clear that most consumers are none too keen on chlorine-washed chicken or hormone-fed beef, but the labelling restrictions under the Bill may well mean that they are not allowed to know. A lot of people may consider becoming vegetarian when such products appear, but that will not help them, because the US also allows higher pesticide residues.
After clause 46, which takes back control of spending in devolved areas, the mutual recognition clauses will have the biggest impact in respect of removing powers from the devolved Governments. Mutual recognition will mean that any devolved legislation to maintain or drive up standards will end up applying only to local producers and not to goods from elsewhere in the UK. That would, of course, put local producers at a disadvantage, without achieving the benefit that the devolved Government were seeking. The EU single market is based on mutual recognition, but the EU generally sets higher standards rather than lower ones and, as was mentioned previously, new standards are agreed by all 27—previously 28—nations. Unlike the UK, the EU accepts derogation for social benefits such as public health, consumer protection, waste reduction or tackling climate change. The Bill has no such derogations at all.
It has often been the devolved nations that have driven forward ideas and legislation in the UK. That should be welcomed, not obstructed. On health, Scotland was the first UK nation to introduce the smoking ban in 2006, and it led the way on the minimum-unit pricing of alcohol in 2018, which Wales is now seeking to follow, but this was specifically attacked as a regulatory restriction in the White Paper and could fall foul of either mutual recognition or non-discrimination—the Government do not seem to be very clear on that. While legislation that is already in place is exempt, any change to that legislation could bring it within the scope of the Bill, so that might act as a disincentive to increasing the unit price on alcohol in the future. Indeed, the whole Bill is a disincentive to creative legislation within the devolved Governments to improve life for their citizens.
On the environment, Wales was the first to charge for carrier bags in all shops in 2011, followed a couple of years later by Northern Ireland and Scotland. England finally followed in 2015, but only for large retailers. Last year, Scotland was the first UK nation to ban plastic stemmed cotton buds, which make up 5% to 10% of marine waste. Yet Scotland’s plans for a deposit return scheme to increase recycling and reduce litter is attacked in the White Paper. If the devolved nations have to always wait for the slowest, innovation and action will be stifled.
Part 3 of the Bill establishes similar new rules over professional qualifications and, ironically, seems to be modelling itself on freedom of movement. Under clause 22(2), anyone recognised as professionally qualified in one part of the UK must be accepted in all other nations of the UK. Of course, medical qualifications such as mine are part of a UK-wide registration, but there are professions with specific requirements to be registered in Scotland and Wales.
I note that, miraculously, there were still enough lawyers left in the Government to make sure that the new rule did not apply to the legal profession, as Scots law is of course completely separate, but what about other professions? England has introduced nursing apprentices and nursing associates, while Scotland still maintains nursing as an academic profession. Scotland and Wales both require a teaching qualification, but in England anyone with a degree can become a teacher without any formal teacher training. Education in Scotland was not devolved 20 years ago, but like Scots law and the Church of Scotland, it has been a separate entity since prior to the Act of Union and was protected in that Act.
This Bill is a piece of wanton vandalism. The Tories never supported devolution, and this Bill is driven by anti-devolution politics and control freakery, rather than anything to do with economics or business. There is an alternative to this high-handed and heavy-handed legislation. The UK Government should get back to the table and continue working on agreeing common frameworks, instead of winding back two decades of devolution.
I can tell the House that, regardless of their views on independence, the vast majority of people in Scotland support devolution. They appreciate the value of maintaining a unified public NHS and of Scotland’s wellbeing policies, from the baby box to free personal care. Last Friday was the sixth anniversary of our independence referendum, when the people of Scotland held control of their future in their own hands for 15 hours, but sadly gave it back. Among the broken promises of “Better Together”, which achieved that outcome, were “Vote No to stay in the EU” and promises of more devolution, not less, and of Scotland being an “equal partner” in a “family of nations”. This Bill leaves any shred of such a claim twisting in the wind. If the Prime Minister and his Government think this Bill will strengthen their precious Union, I have news for them: it will do precisely the opposite.
I rise to speak to new clause 9, which I have tabled with the support of my Liberal Democrat colleagues. During the Bill’s passage through the House, we have frequently heard from Ministers and Alexander Stafford, who is no longer in his place, that this is not a political Bill. Last Tuesday, the Under-Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, Paul Scully emphasised that in his wind-up. He said that he wanted
“to put the Bill into context, so that we can see where it sits…This is an economic Bill”.—[Official Report,
Vol. 680, c. 263.]
I simply disagree. I will leave to one side the fact that the Bill breaks international law. I am just talking about the sections of the Bill that are before us today, for which the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy is responsible.
This is a political Bill because, at its heart, it is about the question of who decides, which is of huge constitutional importance. The powers that went to the European Community nearly 50 years ago are returning to a UK that has had, despite appearances, a constitutional makeover. Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland all now have devolved Governments, and that constitutes profound change. To expect that the responsibilities that are returning from Europe will map neatly back on to our new constitutional settlement is to live in the past.
Looking at some parts of the Bill, we have to wonder whether those drafting and proposing it truly understand what is devolved and what is reserved and the implications of that. We have heard from some Members today who have not previously engaged with this either. The Government clearly believe that the default position in relation to returning powers should be to Westminster, whereas the Scottish Government believe that it should be to Holyrood unless specifically reserved. I go back to what I said in relation to part 4 of the Bill last week. Breaching this divide means consensus, consultation and collaboration—a four nations approach, which has to be the root of all we do as a United Kingdom.
Does the hon. Lady agree that there requires to be added another “c”: consent? We hear a lot about consent for the people of Northern Ireland, but for such a radical change and undermining of devolution, we hear nothing of any consent to this process for the people of Scotland.
I thank the hon. Lady for her intervention. I would argue that consensus also implies consent, because it is about seeking agreement from all parts.
There are other areas where the Bill gestures towards the reality of our constitutional settlement but simply offers no compatibility. As I mentioned last week, there is no answer on the face of the Bill as to how disputes between the four nations will be resolved, which is surely crucial to the functioning of the internal market.
This Bill applies more pressure to the splintering foundations of our constitutional settlement, so of course it is a political Bill. If the UK Government and members of the Conservative and Unionist party care about the United Kingdom, they will have to educate themselves. Measures such as those in this Bill that fail to respect the devolution settlement are giving the Scottish National party and its Members here free rein in relation to their narrative about Scotland being ignored and controlled from afar, with the only solution being to leave the UK. How can a Bill like this not be political when the future of the UK is arguably at stake?
We urgently need to assess how we work together as four nations—as one United Kingdom—if we are to overcome the politics of grievance and division. That means a real focus on working collaboratively for the whole UK while respecting the devolution settlements. I call on the Minister to recognise that there are plenty of ways in which the Bill could be improved in that regard, not least by giving the Scottish, Welsh and Northern Irish Governments the ability to appoint a member to the board of the Competition and Markets Authority, as proposed by my party’s amendment to part 4 last week, which would give real ownership. I would be interested to hear his response to that.
It goes beyond this Bill. We need a total rethink of how the four Governments interact, because our constitutional settlement does not work for the whole UK. There has been substantial change since 1973, and devolution is now 20 years old. The UK remains a country with one of the most centralised Governments in the world. With devolved Administrations in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland but the UK Government operating under the old pre-devolution structures, we have created the perfect storm for those who wish the end of the UK to drive a coach and horses through an unwritten constitution.
Members of this House have to recognise, when they look at increasing support for leaving the UK, that the feeling that our constitutional settlement is broken is not limited to Scotland. If we do not attempt to fix it, we will lose it. My new clause 9 aims to improve the Bill but also to provide a way to allow us to reinvent our constitutional settlement. It would require the Business Secretary to publish a framework for a UK council of Ministers three months after the passage of the Bill. The council would ensure the effective functioning of the internal market, with representation from all the devolved Administrations, as well as the UK Government. That would be a way of getting back to a model of collective buy-in, working collaboratively for the whole UK while respecting the devolution settlements. We can work in a much more transparent and accountable way together. It is entirely possible.
This new clause would also be the first step towards the development of a more federal approach to the UK, which will benefit all of us. Ultimately, that is what this Union needs to survive. We cannot rely on the old institutions, which are not fit for purpose. The hon. Members for Edinburgh North and Leith (Deidre Brock) and for Central Ayrshire (Dr Whitford) highlighted the consensual approach to standard agreements within the EU. Given the Scottish National party’s desire to join the EU, such a federal step, if taken by the UK Government, would arguably negate one of the central arguments for departing the UK. A more federal approach would give people in the devolved nations a degree of autonomy that, had it been on the ballot paper in 2014, would have been voted for.
I call on the Minister to reflect on the measures in the Bill. We have to do so much more to ensure that the devolved nations and regions of England are listened to and can play an active part. I urge the Government to bring forward amendments that will give the devolved nations a degree of buy-in to this piece of legislation. That would at least be a start.
May I say what a fine speech that was? I may not agree with much of what was in it, but it was a heartfelt plea to protect our Union. To Unionist politicians such as me, it is a strange thing indeed—I am elected in Bury but I consider myself part of the same country as the Scottish National party Members. I may have a naive point of view, but I believe that we all live in the same country, with defined, different nationalities—I understand that. However, I consider myself British, and although SNP colleagues may well not do this, I consider them to be British as well—[Interruption.] I see the shaking of the heads, but the preservation of a Union that I think has benefited the whole of the people of all our islands is so important.
Rather than commenting on internal Scottish or Welsh politics, I would like to make some general points on the Bill and why I support it. In the era and the time that we are living in, a Bill that regulates and standardises the way that firms and businesses interact with one another across the United Kingdom has to be a good thing. I understand the arguments that have been put forward, but from my point of view, free and unfettered access, fair access and fair treatment for all individuals and businesses is an honourable intention.
Does the hon. Gentleman not accept that there has been about a year’s worth of work on agreeing common frameworks to deal with difference? Wendy Chamberlain talked about having a consensus. Would that not be a more successful approach than one country bullying the other three?
I think that there is a lot of merit in that approach. I suspect—I am sure that the hon. Lady will tell me that I am wrong—that, literally, Ministers could say anything and the Scottish National party would not agree and would find a different argument to take a different course. However, I think it is a very valid point.
I want to make two simple points. I think that the Bill is meritorious and positive and that it seeks to achieve an outcome that increases prosperity for everyone within the United Kingdom. This is the first opportunity that I have had to speak in this debate, but I was somewhat surprised that on the first day of debate, SNP Members were arguing that money should not be invested in Scotland because it comes from the United Kingdom Treasury, so—[Interruption.] That is certainly my perspective—
I will just develop my point and then of course the hon. Lady can come back in. I see a Bill that allows Ministers of the Crown of the United Kingdom to invest moneys in different parts of the United Kingdom, in collaboration with the devolved Assemblies, as an extremely positive thing. The argument will come back that there is nothing in the Bill to confirm what the framework is—whether they are going to build a bridge or whatever the investment will be—but I would never stand here and say, and I cannot understand the argument to the contrary, that money should not be invested in an area to benefit citizens because it comes from a certain pocket. Hon. Members constantly argue that the EU is a positive change for good. They had no objection to the way EU money came in. I believe that my Government have the most honourable and positive intentions to invest moneys in all parts of the United Kingdom to kickstart and supercharge the economy to get us through the coronavirus period, and that is why I think that this Bill is a positive step.
Order. I am sorry, but we have strayed a bit off the point. I like to give flexibility and latitude, but I do not want to kick off a long-standing discussion about something that was discussed last week.
To get to the point about regulation and standards, I have listened to the debate and there have been numerous comments regarding a race to the bottom, and a derogation of standards. I can see no evidence at all in the papers that I have seen that anything other than the highest standards are to be maintained in regulation, food and all the other powers and competences that the UK Government will now be administering. There is no evidence for any of this. I appreciate the point that has been made, but numerous examples can be put forward by those who say, “I have concerns about this and concerns about that. This might happen or that might happen.” The central point is that the UK Government have repeatedly stated their commitment to the highest standards, whether that be in food, health, animal welfare standards and all the other examples that have been given.
Why, then, will the Government refuse to protect those standards in legislation? We have had an Agriculture Bill and a Trade Bill, so there was plenty of opportunity to put in writing the commitment not to go below the levels that we currently have.
Certainly, in my view, the Government have not at any point refused to give such a commitment. Let me repeat again for the hon. Member: the Government have repeatedly stated their commitment to the highest possible standards. I am talking about EU standards—standards that have regulated businesses and the various sectors of the economy to which I have referred. I would accept the argument if some evidence could be pointed to by SNP Members, but there is no evidence at all that the Government are going to derogate from the highest possible regulatory standards.
The hon. Gentleman says that there is no evidence at all that the Government will lower standards, but there is nothing to stop them doing so in the legislation. It is all very well their telling each other, chatting in the corridors and saying to us, “No, don’t worry, we won’t do that”. They have to put it in the legislation, otherwise how are we supposed to be clear that we will not have to lower standards against our will?
Many, many things could happen in life, but the point remains that not one Opposition Member has been able to point to one action of the Government—they have not pointed to literally anything—that would indicate that they are derogating from the highest possible standards and the standards that we enjoy at this moment in time and that we have under the European Union.
This is a good Bill and this is a positive Bill. Rather than dwelling on the legal argument, which would be somewhat going off the point in respect of where we are today and which I am tempted to do, I will say that this is a Bill to strengthen our United Kingdom, to invest moneys in every part of it, to ensure that we have free unfettered access and to ensure that all parts of the United Kingdom are within the UK internal market, as set out in the withdrawal agreement and the Northern Ireland protocol. I congratulate Ministers on this Bill as it will only do good for our fellow citizens in all parts of the United Kingdom.
At this stage in the debate, my challenge is to try to say something original on the various different topics that we are considering. Today’s business concerns mutual recognition and non-discrimination. Having spent many happy days of my life in the Centre Borschette on the rue Froissart in Brussels, alongside very good colleagues from Scotland, Ireland, Wales, the United Kingdom and the other composite states of the European Union, debating these issues in respect of, in my case, education, while committees alongside us debated those issues around financial services, veterinary products, fish and every possible type of goods and services, it is clear that the United Kingdom has long played a key role in writing these rules.
I welcome the commitment that was alluded to by my hon. Friend James Daly that, at the end of the transition period and as part of the process of withdrawal, the United Kingdom’s commitment is that all those standards are written into the law of the United Kingdom, so the minimum standards that apply to us as a member of the European Union that already prohibit chlorinated chicken and hormone-fed beef will become the law of the land.
Let me try to concentrate on three points that have not been covered in sufficient detail yet. The first is the importance of the integrity of the UK single market and why this matters in the context of the trade deal that we are seeking to achieve. In 2018, the United Kingdom was fined £2.4 billion for failing to uphold its treaty obligations as a member of the EU to enforce the standards that we are committed to apply at our borders.
Having spent so much time in Brussels, I do understand that the UK is a little notorious with our friends and allies, and the risk they fear is that the United Kingdom, with our global reach in terms of our international maritime trade, will become a backdoor into the European single market for goods that do not meet the minimum standards that we need to uphold. That is a legitimate concern, especially as Brussels expects to receive significant amounts of trade tariffs on those goods that are coming into the UK single market and, potentially, with an open border on the island of Ireland, would then be re-exported. We need to respect the fact that that is a genuine concern on the part of the European Union, we need to pay the attention that Ministers have referred to to ensuring we uphold rigorous standards on our own borders, and we need to ensure that our voters and the wider public recognise the commitment that the United Kingdom single market will continue to uphold the high standards that we have in the European Union, and in future, where we seek to diverge, it will be in an upward direction, with higher standards, rather than lower.
The second issue I would like to touch on is devolution. I do have some sympathy with the concerns of Members from devolved nations about the power grab point. Many colleagues—Tony Buchanan and Stewart Maxwell from Scotland, Arnold Hatch and Jonathan Bell from Ireland and many others from across the United Kingdom, and other Members of this House, including Claudia Webbe and my hon. Friends the Members for Northampton South (Andrew Lewer) and for Bromley and Chislehurst (Sir Robert Neill)—have played a role in exercising UK local and regional government powers in Brussels over the way in which we, as part of that wider single market, both regulate and choose to spend the funds that we are part of, like the European structural fund and the European social fund.
I note that those issues have already been exhaustively debated, but a point that has not been aired very much in the debate is that, following the ending of the arrangements whereby we participated in those bodies, we have a range of UK Joint Committees, including ones that are there to exercise a similar scrutiny and oversight role around how that regulation is undertaken and how those funds are expended. It should be of concern to us that with an agreement already in place—I know Scotland has nominated SNP Members to the Joint Committee, with the Committee of the Regions to supervise and provide oversight of the run-out period of the European structural funds—we still need to hear a little more about how we are all committed to making those arrangements, which were committed to by Ministers on the Floor of the House, work effectively in the interests of our UK single market in future.
We are seeing many parts of our constitution—our local authorities, our regional authorities—stepping up to the plate, and our businesses being a part of that. It is very sad not to hear that debated and aired in this place, especially when in the case of structural funds there is £730 million unspent that the UK has already contributed, which will be returned to Brussels if Members across the House do not put pressure on our Front-Bench team to make sure it is spent by the end of this year.
Finally, I would like to touch on the point about legality. I am not a lawyer by background, but it is very clear to me that this debate has been something of a lawyers’ delight. We have had advice from those with eminent legal qualifications about whether things do or do not contravene international law and what triggers those decisions, and opinions given by people with immense political experience about the impact that that will have on the UK’s reputation. It strikes me, however, that what is being proposed by the Government is quite similar to what is common practice when sending our armed forces to places where there is a high degree of tension, when the rules of engagement say that people will not fire unless fired upon. What I am hearing from the Government is that these arrangements are there in the backstop so that unless the negotiations— which, as the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland indicated, are proceeding in good faith—break down irretrievably, they will not come into play, but it is a fact that, whether they are in the Bill or not, the UK would have recourse to those provisions if we needed them, and it is an appropriate precaution for the Government to take to bring those forward now.
These kinds of conflicts are not unusual. On
I understand the fury and frustration of many of our colleagues who have given so much of their political lives in seeking to reach a deal. To me it is very clear that both sides are seeking to negotiate in good faith and the more that we can respect that, the better. The European Union is our largest, our most valuable, and, importantly, our most mature single market partner that we engage with. It is crucial to our economy and enormously valuable to their economy that we get a deal. I can see that behind the scenes Ministers and negotiators on all sides have been putting the mechanisms and structures in place to deliver that. I support the Government in seeking to ensure that the deal is in place for the good of the United Kingdom and our allies by the end of the year.
I rise to speak to the amendments and new clauses in my name, and in the names of my right hon. and hon. Friends.
We are the end of four full days of debate on the Bill. We have heard from many new Members, some of whom I, until recently, served with on the Education Committee, as we have just heard. Remarkably, we also heard a former Conservative Prime Minister, a former Northern Ireland Secretary, the Conservative Chairs of the Foreign Affairs Committee and the Defence Committee, and many other highly respected Members across the House voicing their deep concerns about the Bill. Yet as we come to the final day in Committee, aside from a small amendment on a further vote, the Government have, I am afraid, been typically blinkered in their response.
Such is the significance and seriousness of the Bill, it has even caught the attention of presidential candidates and the Congress in the United States for all the wrong reasons. At every stage, good and decent people inside and outside this House have warned the Government that this is a bad and damaging Bill: five former Prime Ministers; four former Lord Chief Justices; three former Conservative Attorneys General; two senior Government Law Officers, now resigned; and even one want-to-be director general for the World Trade Organisation, Dr Fox. Many of them are self-proclaimed ardent Brexiteers. The Government’s charge that this is an attempt to stop Brexit has fallen very short indeed.
Most, including the Labour party, support the intention behind the Bill. An internal market Bill could have achieved widespread support: a strong, flourishing UK internal market, respecting the devolution settlement and underpinning the Union; Northern Ireland’s unique place within our Union safeguarded; a successful trade deal with the EU delivered. Yet the legislative hooligans in No. 10 won out and instead we have this blunderbuss of a Bill fronted by the Prime Minister, which undermines each and every one of those intentions.
The Prime Minister promised an oven-ready trade deal with the EU, yet the antics of the Government around the Bill now mean we are further than ever from achieving that. The Prime Minister promised to safeguard Northern Ireland’s unique place within our Union, yet the unpicking in the Bill of delicate and sensitive agreements is now putting that at risk. The Prime Minister promised a successful global Britain doing trade deals around the world, yet this Bill’s disregard for a treaty the Prime Minister himself signed up to less than a year ago now makes his signature not worth the paper it is written on. The Prime Minister promised to strengthen and keep intact our precious United Kingdom, yet the utter disrespect of the devolution settlement in the Bill has handed the First Minister of Scotland all the ammunition she needs to power her campaign for Scottish independence. We have sought, at every stage, to improve the Bill in the national interest. Today, we try again.
I will turn now to our principal amendment. New clause 11 would place a duty on Ministers to report on the progress and impact of the Bill. Throughout the Committee stage, the Government have sought to reassure both sides of the House of their good intentions in relation to the common frameworks process, the Joint Committee talks and their ambitions for the shared prosperity fund, yet their warm words have not been backed by either statutory underpinning or transparency in the publication of their plans. As such, our new clause 11 gives the Government one last opportunity to report back to the House regularly on those important issues.
On common frameworks, the Government should stand by their stated intentions. Ministers herald this approach yet refuse to put them on a statutory footing. Our new clause would require Ministers to return to the House regularly to update us on the progress of agreeing common standards. Crucially, they would have to demonstrate that they had agreed them, as they said they would, and that they were acting in good faith in exhausting all opportunities to do so before using the powers in this Bill. For the sake of completeness, we believe—for those who did not hear my comments last week—that the ultimate arbiter of the UK internal market has to be the UK Parliament. However, the Government could and should have taken a more respectful and co-operative approach to agreeing the minimum standards that underpin that market.
On the collective desire for a shared prosperity fund to replace the EU structural funds, we had a long debate with concerns raised across the Committee about how these funds will be distributed. The promised framework has yet to be published, and Members from all parties have been left unconvinced by the Government’s reassurances. We want to ensure that within three months of this Bill becoming an Act, the Government must produce the framework and operating principles of the new shared prosperity fund. At its heart, funds should follow need and be administered locally.
We have heard much over the past four days in Committee about how the clauses in part 5 would be used only as a very last resort after serious breaches in terms of bad faith by the EU. Yet we have heard a lot less about how the conversations are progressing through the Joint Committee. Indeed, we have heard contradictory accounts from the Government as to whether the EU is or is not acting in bad faith. It is about time we had a more transparent and honest appraisal of Joint Committee progress. Our new clause 11 would put a legal duty on the Government to report back to the House on this within three months.
Our amendments 86 and 87 seek to clarify the Government’s position about the impact of this Bill on public procurement policies of the devolved Administrations. Public procurement is a crucial lever in the promotion of industrial strategy, regional economic development, employment, and environmental standards. Unless specifically exempted, there are concerns that restrictions may be placed on the ability of the devolved authorities to adopt new or revised public procurement policies. Will the Minister confirm that public procurement is outside the scope of the Bill?
I echo the importance of public procurement remaining a devolved power. The Government contracted Amazon to deliver and collect home tests for covid without bothering to think through the fact that Amazon does not deliver to huge swathes of the Scottish highlands and islands. That kind of ignorance is the reason we need devolution.
The hon. Lady makes a good point. As Labour has been arguing throughout this crisis, local decisions are how we are going to overcome this virus, if we can make them effectively.
Many of the Government amendments are a tidying-up exercise and we have no quarrel with them. However, as learned Friends on the Labour Benches and in the other place, as well as on the Government Benches, know, Government amendment 66, which we will be voting on tonight, still amounts to tearing up an international agreement and breaking an international treaty that the Prime Minister has himself just signed. As my hon. Friend Paul Blomfield said in his excellent speech yesterday, the breach of international law is not when we enact the provisions of this Bill, but prior to that. The Government could not answer the point made by Karen Bradley yesterday regarding the point at which this international treaty is being broken. Many would argue that even publishing these measures breaches article 5 of the withdrawal agreement. Can the Minister clarify that for us today?
The ink is not even dry on the bilateral treaty between the UK and the EU—a treaty that is about and for dealing with some of the difficult issues that we have debated over four days. Reneging on that treaty so soon, and the loss of trust resulting from that, is not comparable with a disagreement arising from a ruling by the European Court of Human Rights, as was the case with, say, prisoner voting, which was raised by Members across the House. Government Members do not have to take our word for it. They should listen to Mrs May, who delivered the most scathing rebuke of this Bill yesterday, saying that the Government were “acting recklessly and irresponsibly” and warning of “untold damage” to the UK’s international reputation.
It could have been all so different. The Government could have worked cross-party and in a respectful way with the devolved Administrations to build a strong internal market based on mutual respect, to deliver the “oven-ready” deal we were promised, to enhance our reputation around the world, not diminish it, and to strengthen our precious Union, not put it at risk. Ministers could accept new clauses this evening and introduce further amendments on Report that unite the whole House. They could drop the clauses of the Bill that are so divisive and against the national interest. I hope that, for once, this Government will remove their blinkers and listen.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Evans, and to conclude this debate. We have heard a number of passionate contributions, not least from my hon. Friends the Members for St Ives (Derek Thomas), for North West Durham (Mr Holden), for Vale of Clwyd (Dr Davies), for Hitchin and Harpenden (Bim Afolami), for Montgomeryshire (Craig Williams) and for Bromley and Chislehurst (Sir Robert Neill), who were passionate about the Union and the need to ensure that businesses can continue to trade in Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland and England without interruption.
Before I address the details of the clauses and amendments, let me explain what that means to each of the nations in the UK. About 50% of Northern Ireland’s sales are to Great Britain, and nearly 60% of Scottish and Welsh exports are to the rest of the UK, which is about three times as much as their exports to the whole of the rest of the EU. That is £51.2 billion worth of trade for Scotland, £10.6 billion for Northern Ireland and £30.1 billion for Wales. The Bill secures and clarifies the internal market, which has been the bedrock of our shared prosperity for centuries.
The Bill will establish a market access commitment by enshrining mutual recognition and non-discrimination in law. The principle of mutual recognition is that goods and services from one part of the UK will continue to be recognised across the country, and that ensures that the devolved Administrations will benefit from freedom outside the EU. As the transition period ends, they will gain increased powers to set their own rules and standards across a wide range of policy areas within their competence. At the same time, this provides firm assurances to our businesses, which they have been asking for, that their goods can continue to flow freely throughout the United Kingdom.
Non-discrimination ensures that there is continued equal opportunity for companies to trade in the UK regardless of where in the UK their business is based. Measures in the Bill will also ensure that Northern Ireland qualifying goods benefit from the market access commitment and receive mutual recognition in the rest of the UK. That means that we are going to fulfil our commitment to legislate for unfettered access, as we promised the people and businesses of Northern Ireland.
In addition, the Bill will ensure that the same principles of mutual recognition and non-discrimination continue to apply to services, and it will establish a process for the recognition of professional qualifications across the UK internal market, allowing professionals such as doctors and teachers qualified in any part of the UK nations to continue work in any other part, as all hon. Members would expect.
A couple of canards kept coming up during the debate, including one about teachers. As my hon. Friend the Member for Bromley and Chislehurst pointed out, someone needs to have a qualification in the first place for it to be recognised in another nation of the UK, but it is true that the General Teaching Council for Scotland will continue to regulate teaching in Scotland, as happens at the moment, uninterrupted. This package guarantees a continuation of the centuries-old position that there should be no economic barriers to trading within the UK. Businesses need this—they are asking for this. Citizens need this. That is why it is right that we deliver this Bill.
I turn to the amendments in question today, starting with some of those tabled by the Government. Government amendments 90, 91 and 92 are technical drafting amendments that I hope the House will be able to pass.
Government amendments 5 and 6 are designed to ensure that local sanitary and phytosanitary measures are based on science and are technically justified to prevent barriers to trade arising that go beyond what is necessary to effectively prevent pests and diseases spreading to pest and disease-free areas.
Government amendment 7 has two elements, covering fertilisers and pesticides respectively. It excludes pesticide authorisations and approvals from mutual recognition. It also excludes from mutual recognition the safeguarding decisions of Administrations in relation to fertiliser. That is necessary to allow each part of the UK to prevent the movement and use of certain fertilisers that may be dangerous, and of pesticides unless they have been assessed as safe and authorised for use in that part of the country, thus allowing for local environments to be considered and protected.
Government amendments 93 to 95 together clarify the way in which goods are defined as produced in a particular part of the UK. Government amendments 97 to 110 are all technical and drafting amendments to add clarity to the Bill, rather than changing any policy direction. This is again the case with Government amendments 111 and 112, which add notaries to the list of exclusions from mutual recognition and non-discrimination in services. Government amendment 96 is minor and technical. The change makes it clear that the ability to practise a profession is the ability to practise the profession as a whole, not just specific activities that may form part of that profession.
Government new clause 12 sets out that the Secretary of State has the power to issue statutory guidance about the market access principles of mutual recognition and non-discrimination, including guidance on enforcement. That will explain how the internal market principles operate within the current regimes and how they apply to the product in scope. This is necessary to support traders and existing regulatory authorities to understand, comply with and benefit from the principles and provisions in this Bill.
Amendment 89, which covers mutual recognition for goods, dictates that each good must meet the highest levels of standard anywhere within the UK for the sale of that good. However, we have designed the internal market regime so that it requires that a good conforms to the regulation where it has been produced or is imported. We as a Government have made the firm commitment to maintaining the UK’s high standards across the board, and in many cases we have higher standards than the EU itself requires, including health, food safety and our environmental standards. In many areas, UK standards are some of the highest in the world. These high standards will continue for every part of the UK. Common frameworks are the most productive and consensual way to move that forward, rather than trying to define this in legislative terms.
Amendments 34 and 35, in seeking to attach a requirement to obtain consent from the devolved Administrations, would undermine our ability to avoid trade barriers and provide certainty for firms, going against the core objective of the Bill. Amendments 73, 74 and 76 would bring existing regulations into the scope of mutual recognition. Fundamentally, however, the internal market Bill’s system is about continuity and certainty. We do not want to change the rules that businesses already know and where they have already paid for adjustments, as that would cause disruption.
On amendment 86, there is no doubt that the protection of environmental, social and labour standards is an area we greatly care about across this Chamber. Our standards, as I have said, are among the highest, and we will continue to move ahead of others in this area. However, we believe that it is important to keep the list of legitimate aims tightly defined so as to limit the grounds on which goods from one part of the UK could face discrimination in another, eroding the benefits of the UK internal market. We have already provided for derogations given the fact of threats to human, animal and plant life. Expanding the list of legitimate aims in this way is not appropriate.
Does the Minister not accept that trying to improve public health, reduce waste and protect the environment are perfectly good reasons for a derogation?
As I say, we are trying to keep this narrow so that one part of the UK does not face discrimination in another. We want to make sure that we get the balance right between having the benefits of the UK internal market and having legitimate aims on an environmental basis, on public health or on any number of other areas.
Amendment 36 seeks to alter the process by which the list of legitimate policy aims may be changed in the future. These aims allow for an exemption from the requirement prohibiting indirect discrimination, and that could therefore be cited as necessary for implementing a measure that is indirectly discriminatory. The aims are tightly drawn, but the Government recognise that it is important to retain flexibility for the future—for example, to reflect the experience of the effect of the market access principles in practice and based on business feedback. That is why the power is necessary and we cannot accept the amendment.
Amendment 80 seeks to exclude fisheries in Scotland from the market access principles. It is essential that the Scottish industry is able to maximise the return on its fish by being able to access a diverse range of markets and a wide range of consumers. Scottish fish is sold across the UK. However, this amendment would create new barriers to trade, going against the fundamental purpose of the Bill. Dr Whitford talked about procurement. With regard to amendment 87, the Government intend to deliver measures on procurement through a wider package of procurement reform that is being implemented shortly after the Bill. A procurement rules reform Green Paper has been drafted and there will be a formal consultation. The aim is for separate primary legislation to follow.
I turn to new clause 5 and amendment 40. The protection of our environment and maintenance of high food standards are of great importance, and the UK Government are committed to maintaining standards across the UK in all these areas. The intention of the amendments appears to be to prevent Ministers from developing standards that differ from those in the EU, even where UK standards better serve the needs of the UK. On that basis, I urge Members not to move the new clause and the amendment.
I thank the hon. Members for Foyle (Colum Eastwood) and for Belfast South (Claire Hanna) for tabling amendments 81 to 85, as they raise the important issue of the recognition of professional qualifications in the common travel area. However, I must oppose the amendments as set out. This Bill is not the vehicle for honouring our commitments in relation to the common travel area. I can reassure the hon. Members that the UK Government acknowledge that the recognition of professional qualifications is an essential facilitator of the right to work associated with the common travel area. My officials are progressing work in relation to the common travel area so that the UK can continue to meet its commitments.
Amendment 27 seeks to give devolved Ministers the ability to decide which qualifications can be accepted as part of the internal market. By giving devolved Ministers the power to decide which qualifications should benefit from these provisions, we could reduce the number of professionals who can move within the internal market. The alternative recognition process outlined in clause 24 grants the flexibility, and will enable authorities to assess on a case-by-case basis whether a person’s existing qualifications and experience are sufficient evidence of the skills required for the profession in question.
I turn to new clause 10 and thank Caroline Lucas, who is no longer in her seat, for her contribution. As I have tried to highlight, the protection of the environment is hugely important and something to which this Government are very committed. However, passing this amendment would not be the best way to protect the environment. We have made sure that there are exemptions from indirect discrimination where the health of animals and plants and humans is concerned. Further to this, the powers in the Environment Bill will mean that future Governments must be open and transparent about the impact of future primary legislation on environmental protections.
Amendment 88 seeks to prevent the Bill from being placed into schedule 4 to the Scotland Act 1998, thus preventing it from being protected from modification or repealed by the Scottish Parliament. If the Bill were to be modifiable by one or more devolved legislatures, it would not be able to provide consumers and businesses with the vital certainty that they currently enjoy. Businesses trading in Scotland would need to consider how the Scottish Parliament may seek to amend or repeal elements of this legislation. That would create disruptive uncertainty, which must be avoided, particularly as we seek to support the UK’s economic recovery from the covid-19 pandemic.
I turn to amendments 9 and 39, and new clause 9. We will continue to work closely with the devolved Administrations to understand and respond to their concerns. In accordance with the Sewel convention, the UK Government have requested legislative consent motions for this Bill from all the devolved legislatures. New clause 9 in particular would place intergovernmental structures in statute, limiting the capacity for discussion among all Governments and the capacity to adapt to this change.
New clause 11 seeks to provide Parliament with information on the working of the Act in a context of developing common frameworks. It is essential that the Office for the Internal Market is available and able to perform its functions at arm’s length from political interference from the UK Government and devolved Administrations.
I cannot at the moment, I am afraid. I hope that hon. Members will not press their amendments to a Division, for the reasons that I have given, and that they will support the Government’s amendments.
Apsana Begum, who is not in her place, talked about the concerns over the Belfast agreement. The Bill does not interact directly with the Belfast agreement. It does interact clearly with the withdrawal agreement and the Northern Ireland protocol, but it seeks to make the Belfast agreement work in certain given circumstances.
Exactly. As my hon. Friend knows, it has none. Importantly, as we bring back power from the EU to the UK Government, we will work to pass on many, many powers to the devolved legislatures, whether it is the Scottish Parliament, the Welsh Assembly or the Northern Ireland Assembly. They will be getting powers, and we will all work together as the UK to give businesses the continuity that they need with our UK internal market.
I have several pages of amendments and clauses that I will put before the House. At this stage, may I reiterate the Speaker’s stricture? I will do this now, and I will do it again before the vote, but people are normally already moving when we do this just before the vote, and nobody is moving at the moment, so I have a captive audience. I therefore use this time to re-emphasise that if Divisions take place on any of the clauses, new clauses or amendments, the Front Benchers can go towards the exit in front of me to vote and use the card readers. Let us hope that they are working this time; they should be. Everybody else, please—calmly and with social distancing—leave through the exit behind me and make your way towards Westminster Hall, where you will do a socially distanced conga towards the Division Lobbies to present your cards to the readers. I hope that that is understood.
Question put and agreed to.
Clause 1 accordingly ordered to stand part of the Bill.