Amendment 6

United Kingdom Internal Market Bill - Committee (1st Day) – in the House of Lords at 9:00 pm on 26th October 2020.

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Baroness Finlay of Llandaff:

Moved by Baroness Finlay of Llandaff

6: After Clause 1, insert the following new Clause—“Legislation to which market access principles apply(1) Legislation on market access principles may only apply—(a) when the common frameworks process in respect of subjects within a description listed in Schedule (Subjects to which market access principles may be applied) has been exhausted, and(b) only so far as it relates to a subject specified in regulations made by the Secretary of State.(2) Regulations under subsection (1) may specify a subject only if it is within a description listed in Schedule (Subjects to which market access principles may be applied).(3) The Secretary of State may by regulations amend Schedule (Subjects to which market access principles may be applied).(4) Regulations under this section are subject to the affirmative resolution procedure.(5) Before laying a draft of a statutory instrument containing regulations under this section before either House of Parliament, the Secretary of State must give notice of the proposed regulations to—(a) each devolved authority, and(b) the Competition and Markets Authority.(6) The Secretary of State may not lay the draft instrument before either House of Parliament until—(a) the Secretary of State has received—(i) a statement in relation to the proposed regulations from each devolved authority, and(ii) a report or advice on the proposed regulations from the Competition and Markets Authority, or(b) the period of 12 months beginning with the day on which notice was given under subsection (5) has ended.(7) When a draft of a statutory instrument containing regulations under this section is laid before either House of Parliament, the Secretary of State must at the same time lay before that House copies of any statements, report or advice mentioned in subsection (6)(a).(8) In this section, “devolved authority” means—(a) the Scottish Ministers;(b) the Welsh Ministers;(c) the Department for the Economy in Northern Ireland.”Member’s explanatory statementThis amendment means that the United Kingdom market access principles only apply after the process for agreeing common frameworks has been exhausted. It introduces a new Schedule, inserted by another amendment in the name of Baroness Finlay, listing the subjects to which the common frameworks apply and for which regulations may be made if common frameworks are not agreed.

Photo of Baroness Finlay of Llandaff Baroness Finlay of Llandaff Deputy Chairman of Committees, Deputy Speaker (Lords)

My Lords, I have tabled both the amendments in this group. Amendment 6 is arguably the most important of all the amendments that I have laid, because it aims to do what many of the amendments in the previous group also intended to achieve. In the light of the disappointing ministerial response to the amendments in the previous group, so superbly introduced by my noble and learned friend Lord Hope of Craighead, it could be said that I am having another go, in a more watertight way. Amendment 6 puts common frameworks on the face of the Bill. Amendment 44 is consequential on Amendment 6, since it would make the point at which the regulations came into force the trigger point from which the market access principles would apply. I assure the Government that these amendments are drafted with the Welsh Government, who want the process on the face of the Bill.

I am grateful to the Minister for meeting me and other Peers last week and for his letter of yesterday. In it he states:

“The common frameworks programme was designed to find effective, pragmatic and flexible ways of working with the devolved administrations. The purpose of frameworks is to ensure that intra-UK policy-making is based on agreed structures for cooperation across the UK. They are voluntary in nature and allow the UK Government and devolved administrations the opportunity to find common approaches to the exercise of powers returning from the EU. One of the main benefits of the programme is its inherent flexibility to adapt to changing circumstances.

Enshrining common frameworks in legislation would remove the voluntary element on which the common frameworks programme is based. As frameworks are developed jointly with the devolved administrations, any change of this nature which departs from the agreed principles of the programme would need to be agreed with the devolved administrations. It would also likely eliminate the flexibility which makes frameworks effective in managing intergovernmental policy development in the long term.”

I agree that they are voluntary, but without them in this Bill it reads rather like a blunderbuss, sweeping over all in its path. That is precisely why the devolved Government in Cardiff want common frameworks to be the starting point for this legislation, not hidden away and never referred to, like the first Mrs Rochester. These principles of frameworks were first agreed in October 2017. More than 150 areas have been identified where EU law intersects with devolved competence, including 24 areas, now narrowed down to 18, where legislation may be needed. Thirteen of them are well on their way for early delivery. In the Minister’s response to the first group of amendments today, he flagged up that there will be “dozens of new powers” and responsibilities for the devolved Governments—I hope I have quoted his words correctly. This will inevitably mean wider divergence and, I suggest, is an even stronger reason for an agreed mechanism to find consensus and avoid the situation outlined by the example of flour. Only when that hits the buffers should Parliament step in.

The reason they need to be in the Bill—I believe that Scotland would strongly support this approach—is that they provide an agreed framework, whereas the Bill as drafted empowers the imposition of market access principles across all areas of economic activity, regardless of whether divergence between the devolved nations on a specific issue would pose a threat to the coherence of the internal market. It ignores the frameworks process that has been developed. It seems to assume such frameworks will fail without spending time listening to both sides to reach agreement, which may—let us be realistic—be an agreed compromise. It fails, if I may draw on John Lennon, to “give peace a chance”. It may not be the intention—though some may fear it may be—to launch a full-frontal attack on the current system of devolution, but whether it is or not, its approach feels overbearing and intolerant of difference.

This amendment and equivalent ones in respect of Parts 2 and 3 reverse the burden of proof. This would require the frameworks to be worked through properly, not in a tokenistic way. Failure to reach agreement would trigger action. It would create a system where the market access principles could then be brought into effect by affirmative resolution of this House and the other place. The principles would then, and only then, apply to specified areas of economic activity: areas where attempts to agree a common framework by negotiation between the four Governments of these islands had failed and where the Government could make a credible argument that there was a threat to the economic coherence and well-being of the United Kingdom.

That approach would turbocharge the efforts which are already under way to agree common frameworks in all those areas which the Government identified as risking the integrity of the UK market if divergence was not constrained. I am sure that the noble Baroness, Lady Andrews, will update us, but my understanding is that, while progress has been somewhat slow, there are no areas where there is deadlock and—despite what the Government are saying—there is no urgency to resort to the draconian measures of the Bill. This is because all parts of the United Kingdom will operate within retained EU law after 31 December, and the devolved Governments have made it clear they will not make regulatory changes while final sign-off on the frameworks is pending.

Noble Lords might ask why that matters to me, a Cross-Bencher. Put simply, if the Government can impose market access at will and bypass the frameworks, it will lessen the opportunity for different parts of the United Kingdom to set an example in tackling the huge environmental, social and economic issues that face us. Over the past 20 years, devolution has provided an opportunity for policy innovation in a wide range of areas, from charging for plastic bags to the presumption of consent for organ donation to minimum unit pricing for alcohol. Devolution has allowed one part of the UK to lead on a policy, evaluate it and iron out difficulties before others adopt the change. I am grateful to the Secretary of State for Wales and to Ministers who met with me and other Peers to discuss this Bill. We were told that these policy areas themselves, where the legislation is already on the statute book, will not be affected. However, I heard no reassurance that similar innovation will be possible in practice in future and that the ability to exert devolved powers will indeed be protected. Obesity is an enormous threat to our health but, as I highlighted at Second Reading, action to ban sugary fizzy drinks in one part of the UK could effectively be prevented by the Bill. That is simply not acceptable, particularly when the Government here in Westminster come under great pressure to defer far too much to the interests of some of the large multi-national food conglomerates.

The system Amendment 6 proposes is practical and increases parliamentary control of how the balance is achieved between the devolved institutions’ freedom to experiment and the concern to safeguard the internal market, whether or not the term “common framework” appears on the face of the Bill. It is exactly the same approach that came out of the debate on what is now the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018. In that debate, the Government’s initial rationale was that a blanket power was required to stop any change being made by the devolved Governments. However, this was later amended following persuasive debate in this House and was replaced with a requirement for the Government to justify any areas in which they wish to freeze EU retained law. That approach has worked well: the devolved institutions have not developed proposals to jettison retained EU law as soon as the supposed shackles are removed, and consequently the fall-back powers in Section 12 of the EU (Withdrawal) Act have not been required.

Let us follow the example we set with that legislation. There is no need to agree to the blunderbuss approach in this Bill. A great deal of work has gone into the common frameworks already, work that can and should be built on. At the end of the day it will help restore confidence by demonstrating that the Government genuinely want to respect all four nations of the UK and do not want to fuel separatist rhetoric. I beg to move.

Photo of Lord German Lord German Liberal Democrat 9:15 pm, 26th October 2020

My Lords, these amendments have been prepared by the Welsh Government and have their support; I am pleased to support them. The Welsh Government, as noble Lords know, are committed to the union of the United Kingdom. These proposals before us today seek to find a route through in the way that the Bill has been put together. In fact, they intend to put the horse before the cart rather than the cart before the horse. In the discussions that we had on the previous group and subsequently, there have been for me some very puzzling matters, and I am trying to work out quite where the Government have placed themselves.

First, on timing, the Government seem to argue that we must have the Bill in place in its entirety so that on 1 January they can move forward and have something absolutely concrete to work from. I will come back to that point in a moment. The second point is that the Government have not been able to find any way to describe something which falls outside the area of the structure.

In the last round of amendments, the Minister described additives for flour. Flour and additives are part of the common framework on nutrition. I am told that the three frameworks which are already on the way to early delivery and will be fully operational by the end of the year cover nutrition, hazardous substances and emissions.

I am puzzled why the Government are not able to provide any specific examples of what falls outside the framework, apart from “the future”. We do not know what the future is, but as it arrives we will sort out legislation and frameworks as we move along. That is bound to happen.

Timing is another puzzle because the Government do not want to proceed with the common frameworks as the underpinning structure for this Bill. They seem to want to use what the noble Baroness, Lady Finlay, called a blunderbuss. Battle axe might be another way of putting it. Basically, they do not want the co-operative approach which has been at the forefront of these frameworks.

In September, the Government published their view of the frameworks. Right at the front—on the first page—were the principles which the Government are now seeking to break about the way in which they intend to govern, and about giving and not taking away powers from the devolved Administrations. They were right at the top of the Government’s own papers as recently as last month. If the Government want to put them front and centre, but need something temporary, why not say so? Why not put in a sunset clause, or some form of clause which says this will be a temporary measure until particular frameworks are in place?

The Government’s position is not defensible inside Wales as I know it. The Welsh Government have sought to bring forward a proposal which meets the Government’s aspirations. It says, “Put the common frameworks first and then, if there is any dispute whatever, use the backstop which is being put into this Bill through regulations.” We all want to see an alteration to the way in which they have been carried out and for there to be adequate consultation and debate.

My concern is that I am not certain that the Government know where they are going. I am not certain that they know what they mean by “putting the common frameworks front and centre”. Is this a timing issue? I hope that the Government will be able to answer all these questions.

I want to talk briefly about the one-use plastic teaspoon. They will be banned next year by the Welsh Government, through the Welsh Assembly, because they are bad for the environment and do not degrade in the soil. One-use cutlery is damaging for us as a country and for our environment. However, if that legislation is passed, there is nothing to stop a whole generation of English single-use plastic spoon manufacturers bringing them across the border and distributing and selling them wholesale in Wales. This is an extreme example, but it illustrates that there are bound to be some divergences if the power exists. If, as a Government, you have been given powers and you want to enable them, but you find you are being stopped because of this sort of extraordinary behaviour by a Government somewhere else, that is not going to help the union. The union of this United Kingdom is to be treasured, but to treasure it you have to respect it. I do not believe that the Government are doing so in this Bill. So I ask them all those questions about the direction in which they are going. Will they try to outline whether these frameworks will be placed front and centre? Is it a timing issue? Can they come up with some examples—one would do—which would tell us where the gaps are?

Photo of Baroness Andrews Baroness Andrews Deputy Chairman of Committees, Deputy Speaker (Lords), Chair, Common Frameworks Scrutiny Committee, Chair, Common Frameworks Scrutiny Committee

My Lords, I can speak more briefly to this amendment than the one I spoke to earlier, because my arguments will be much the same. What attracts me particularly about this amendment is that it once again asks the Government to look at the possibility of putting in the Bill the process whereby the Bill becomes the default position and the common frameworks process has to be exhausted before the market principles kick in. I have said before that I think that this is logical. It helps the Government to achieve their own objectives.

When the Minister replied to the previous debate, it was very welcome to hear him say that he was prepared to give more thought to things he had heard the House say this evening. He seemed to think that this process of exhaustion was somehow going to be rather difficult and messy to achieve. From what we have seen in the Common Frameworks Scrutiny Committee, the dispute resolutions are worked out very clearly and in detail. I do not see a problem with that process at all and I would be happy to talk to the Minister about it. If he is worried about that, we can provide some reassurance and, as we scrutinise it, there may be some things we can do to improve the process. If it is a technical problem, then that is what we are here to solve. If it is a problem in principle, then we need to know; he needs to tell us.

The rest of the amendment is slightly more legislative in structure than the amendments from the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope of Craighead, but I continue to support it in principle because it flags up the significance of common frameworks and the importance of the need for a fit between the Bill and the common frameworks.

The noble Baroness, Lady Finlay, asked me whether we had come across any areas where there was deadlock or difficulty in securing agreement. In the summaries of the frameworks that we have seen so far, and in the one completed framework, we have not seen anything that would alert us to the fact that there is a continuing problem. The problem that the framework negotiators have is the unsettled nature of European negotiations and the issues posed by this Bill itself. They are bound to be waiting for resolutions of different sorts. The processes that they are establishing are clear, transparent and robust. As I say, they offer a solution in practical terms, as well as, frankly, in ethical and political terms, as far as the Government are concerned.

With that, I simply say that I am pleased to support the amendment in principle. I look forward to the Minister, the noble Lord, Lord Callanan, having another go at some of these very specific questions that I think we have a right to hear some answers to.

Photo of Baroness Neville-Rolfe Baroness Neville-Rolfe Conservative

My Lords, I will speak to Amendment 6. I have already expressed some concerns about delays and problems that could arise in trying to satisfy devolutionary feelings beyond the existing devolution settlements and the withdrawal Act, which have already given many powers to Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

We need always to bear in mind the need for a well-functioning single UK market. That is in the interests of citizens, and of charities and businesses which operate across the borders of Northern Ireland, Scotland, Wales and England. My noble friend Lady Noakes cited some figures which bear repeating. I think she said that 60% of Welsh and Scottish exports and 49% of Northern Ireland exports come to other parts of the UK. Incidentally, I was glad to hear my noble friend the Minister committing the Government to high regulatory standards.

We heard from the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope, in an impressive speech, and from the Minister in an equally persuasive one, about the role of common frameworks in relation to Amendment 5. I heard what my noble friend the Minister said, but it may be that a brief reference to these common frameworks could make everyone more comfortable with this Bill—I was thinking of an annual report on how they are working and how consultations have progressed. It seems odd, given their importance, that there is no reference to them at all.

While I share the desire of the noble Baroness, Lady Finlay of Llandaff, to have more clarity and agreed processes, I fear that these amendments could be a recipe for an ineffective single UK market from day one. As we have heard, the common frameworks will take time to agree, in the same way as they did when they were established in the original EU Common Market in the 1960s and 1970s. The Constitution Committee has acknowledged this, so I cannot see that we can agree to an amendment that delays market access principles until the frameworks are all agreed.

On a point of detail, whatever we agree that the CMA might do in the way of monitoring, it does not have the skills to participate in law making in the way proposed in this amendment. I also have some concerns about yet more delegated powers. I need to understand better, perhaps from the noble Lord, Lord Stevenson, why we would want to put in extra measures using delegated powers, rather than adding what is needed to the Bill substantively.

In closing, we should remember that the transition period ends on 31 December, and we must be able to look after the economic interests of all four countries of the UK from 1 January next year. That is why the Bill has been brought forward. While this has been an interesting debate, I will not be supporting the amendment as it stands.

Photo of Lord Hope of Craighead Lord Hope of Craighead Chair, High Speed Rail (West Midlands - Crewe) Bill Select Committee (Lords), Chair, High Speed Rail (West Midlands - Crewe) Bill Select Committee (Lords) 9:30 pm, 26th October 2020

My Lords, it is a pleasure to follow the noble Baroness, Lady Neville-Rolfe. I found myself in agreement with some of what she was saying, and I respect very much the background in business and marketing from which she comes, which of course is of great value to the House in this discussion. She said that we were all agreed on the need for a fully functioning internal market and, as I tried to make clear in my speech, I am in absolute agreement with that aim. Obviously, everything we would do is working towards that aim, despite the differences of perspective across the various nations of the United Kingdom.

The noble Baroness said that a brief reference might be a way of making the devolved Administrations more comfortable. For my part, I have been trying to adopt a light-touch approach, which may not be too far away from what she is talking about—but it would have to be pointed enough to meet the concerns of the devolved Administrations and give them the assurance that they need for the future. So in a way I find myself in a rather frustrating position. I cannot believe that we are all that far apart, but the gulf that divides us at the moment is very deep. I would love to find a ladder, or something, that would take us across this gulf and solve the problem. That is why I am certainly open to discussion.

Before I go any further, I should say that I am entirely behind the noble Baroness, Lady Finlay of Llandaff, on the principles that lie behind her amendment. Indeed, I am extremely grateful to the Welsh Government, who have done so much to inform us about the background to the issue and who have done a great deal of drafting work to show us what amendments might be made to work to solve the problem as they see it. Although they look very different, my own amendments were inspired by the work that they have done, and I owe a considerable debt of gratitude to them for that, and for their generosity when I indicated that I would want to take a rather different approach in the way that the amendments should be worded. The principles behind us are exactly the same and, for that reason, I entirely support, in principle, the amendment in the name of the noble Baroness and applaud the way in which she introduced it.

This issue is simply not going to go away. We will be pursuing it in various ways on Report. For the time being, I encourage the Minister to appreciate that there is some force in the point made by noble Baroness, Lady Neville-Rolfe. If her approach were adopted, one could see this frustrating gap narrowing slightly—and I would love to see it closed over so that we could solve the problem completely, to the satisfaction of both sides.

Photo of Lord Naseby Lord Naseby Conservative

My Lords, I apologise to the House. I understand I was on the list for Amendment 5, but I never applied to speak on that one.

This is an interesting amendment. My colleagues, the noble Baronesses, Lady Noakes and Lady Neville-Rolfe, have already made the point that we are very close to 1 January—in fact, we are 66 days away, by a quick calculation—and so I look at that time dimension against the complications within this proposed new clause.

As I said much earlier in the evening, I am a marketing man by profession; I worked very closely with a large number of manufacturers when I was a senior director in one of the major advertising agencies. I find some of the elements of this amendment, or proposed new clause, too prescriptive. Take subsection (1)(a), where the whole principle is that nothing is going to happen until the

“access principles may be applied” and have been “exhausted”. We are in a time framework where that is not going to work. It may be necessary, later on, to look at how it does work in principle, and maybe some changes should be made then.

I worry deeply. We are a creative nation. We are in an enormous period of change. One sees now what is happening in the fintech world: it is moving forward at an enormous rate, and it does not want to be stultified by a whole series of restrictions before it can be added to a particular schedule or not. All of us are conscious that there is a whole variety of different companies, across the world, trying to find an answer to Covid-19 through new drugs and vaccines.

Personally, I am terribly practical, and I just do not see the elements of this amendment helping the United Kingdom move forward. There may be bits of it that have some relevance—I am sure there are—and I recognise that they are put forward with a genuineness by people who want things to work. But when I listen to the noble Lord opposite talk about the Welsh Government, and having observed what is happening down in Wales now, one has to say that it is not terribly practical. I am not sure that the credibility of the Welsh Government is very strong in today’s world.

I hope my noble friend on the Front Bench will understand that, perhaps in the future, some of these elements may need to be applied, but, as matters stand today, with 66 days to go, frankly, I do not think that this proposed new clause helps at all.

Photo of Lord Morris of Aberavon Lord Morris of Aberavon Labour

It has been a most interesting debate. I do not think I have anything to add. I await the Minister’s reply with great interest.

Photo of Baroness Randerson Baroness Randerson Liberal Democrat Lords Spokesperson (Transport)

My Lords, the concept of common frameworks is notable for its absence from this Bill, as many noble Lords have said. For three years, they have been accepted as the way forward, on which the future operation of the UK internal market would be built. Now, they have been silenced.

I, along with a number of other noble Lords who have spoken on this and previous groups, am a member of the Common Frameworks Scrutiny Committee, ably chaired by the noble Baroness, Lady Andrews. I can report that common frameworks are alive and well and that a great deal of work has gone into them. There is general agreement from stakeholders, the devolved assemblies and UK Government representatives that they can provide a sensible and effective way forward. Amendment 6 seeks to flesh out the principles of co-operation on which they should work. That common frameworks process should be exhausted before the market access principles come into place.

The Government respond by saying that there is no need for common frameworks, as a concept, to be enshrined in legislation. I am sceptical. There are already signs that the Government are attempting to sidestep common frameworks—for instance, on the emissions trading scheme, where they have announced their intention to consider replacing it with a carbon tax, which would be a UK responsibility and would effectively take away the devolved powers. That is despite the fact that the common framework on this issue—emissions trading—has just about got to the final point. Despite the Minister’s assurances, I fear that the Government are poised to put the principles in the Bill into effect with the excuse that common frameworks have not proved workable.

Amendment 6 has cross-party support. Noble Lords have emphasised that it has been designed in consideration with the Welsh Government and reflects the well-founded concerns of the devolved assemblies. As with a number of issues, there is a lack of clarity on how common frameworks will link with the market access principles. Common frameworks set up a system—a framework—for the operation of markets, complete with dispute mechanisms. They allow for changing standards over time. So, I ask the Minister: how does this fit in with the provisions in the Bill that remove the right of devolved Administrations to introduce new standards in many circumstances? If the Government genuinely support common frameworks as the fundamental building blocks of the way forward, will the Minister agree to accept Amendment 6, which states that the Bill’s market access principles apply only after the common frameworks process has been exhausted? Will she clarify the relationship of the Bill to common frameworks? Will she accept our assurances that the Welsh Government, for instance, want common frameworks in the Bill?

Will the Minister also explain precisely how the measures in the Bill will guarantee that the devolved Administrations will be able to experiment and develop novel approaches, as they have in the past? That is how a great deal of social and environmental progress has been made in the last two decades. I give the example, used earlier in the debate, of single-use plastic bags. Wales experimented with the concept of paying for single-use plastic bags and was dramatically successful in reducing their use. The English approach to this, taken by the UK Parliament, was very sceptical, but Parliament saw that it worked and, in due course, England followed suit. Wales is an ideal size as an experimental sounding board.

Amendment 44 to Clause 9 refers to the non-discrimination principle. For clarity, can the Minister spell out to us where the requirement for the provision of, for example, labelling in the Welsh language would stand in relation to that principle? There is a legitimate reason for the need for Welsh labelling in certain circumstances, and as policy in relation to the Welsh language matures, it is fairly certain that there will be increasing demand and need for labelling in the Welsh language. How will that fit with the Bill?

In response to the noble Baroness, Lady Neville-Rolfe, there is no question of a delay to the operation of the single UK market. It is operating well now, and there is absolutely no reason why it cannot continue to operate well.

The noble Lord, Lord Naseby, was concerned about the time potentially taken for agreement of common frameworks. I can assure him that strict time limits are built into common frameworks in the way in which they would operate.

In summing up the previous group, the noble Lord, Lord True, emphasised the Government’s commitment to common frameworks. However, he also said that many businesses support the Bill because it will deal with uncertainty. I say to him that the uncertainty is caused not by the devolved Administrations but by the Government’s failure to secure a deal with the EU. He then went on to produce a hypothetical example of how common frameworks might not cover all eventualities. That is a prime example of how this Bill is a solution in search of a problem rather than the other way round.

Ever since the establishment of devolution, constitutional experts have warned about its flimsy foundations. However, it has continued to operate, largely on the basis of good will. This Bill is not offered in a spirit of good will. It also illustrates how easy it is to dismantle the process of devolution. My own experience of Welsh devolution—as a Member of the Welsh Assembly, as it then was; as a Welsh Minister; and, in this place, as a UK Government Minister—has brought home to me the importance of the detail of devolution powers. Welsh devolution powers came slowly and piecemeal, and only in the most recent Government of Wales Act were they given true coherence. I say to the Government: hollow out those powers now at your peril. A large majority support Welsh devolution, and it is cross-party support. There is also, to my regret, increasing support in Wales for independence. If the Government have any common sense, they will leave well alone. They will face renewed uncertainty in Northern Ireland with this, and will continue to face persistent problems in Scotland. They should concentrate on bridging the gaps with the devolved Administrations and not widening them.

Photo of Lord Stevenson of Balmacara Lord Stevenson of Balmacara Opposition Whip (Lords), Shadow Spokesperson (Digital, Culture, Media and Sport), Shadow Spokesperson (Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy and International Trade) 9:45 pm, 26th October 2020

My Lords, at the end of the previous group the Minister, the noble Lord, Lord True, kindly said that his mind was not closed to further discussion on this issue about common frameworks and how they relate to the Bill. I welcome that. In a sense, the amendments in this group are part of the same debate. I therefore hope that they will also be included in the next-stage discussions, as they are a variation on the theme.

I set out my route map for progress in my response to the previous group and I will not repeat it. However, I endorse the points made by the noble Baroness, Lady Finlay, my noble friend Lady Andrews, the noble Lord, Lord German, and the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope, particularly their growing confusion about what exactly is in the Government’s mind on this issue. Perhaps the noble Baroness, Lady Bloomfield, coming fresh to the debate, can persuade us that there is indeed a coherent logic to the Government’s position—because it certainly eludes me.

Photo of Baroness Bloomfield of Hinton Waldrist Baroness Bloomfield of Hinton Waldrist Baroness in Waiting (HM Household) (Whip)

I hate to disappoint the noble Baroness, Lady Andrews, but it falls to me to respond to this debate. I will now speak to the two amendments—Amendment 6 and the consequential Amendment 44—concerned with how UK market access principles, as proposed in the Bill, will apply. I understand that the noble Baroness, Lady Finlay of Llandaff, has tabled these amendments on behalf of the Welsh Government. Accordingly, I would like to begin by thanking the Welsh Government for their positive engagement on this Bill so far. The UK Government look forward to continuing constructive future engagement with the Welsh Government.

As my noble friend Lord True said earlier, we continue to work closely with the Welsh Government to develop common frameworks, in line with the framework principles agreed by the Joint Ministerial Committee (EU Negotiations) in October 2017. I know the Senedd were happy to see the Joint Ministerial Committee provisionally confirm the first two frameworks of the programme on hazardous substances and nutrition. Work continues in earnest to reach further such agreements in the coming months and beyond.

Before I turn to the detail of the amendments, I want briefly to cover the context of the Bill in order to explain the approach the Government took to applying the market access principles. At the risk of repeating the arguments of my noble friend Lord True, now that we have left the EU and as we recover after our fight against Covid, it is vital that we deliver legislation which allows the continuing smooth function of our UK internal market at the end of the transition period. The Bill aims to ensure frictionless trade, movement and investment between all the nations of the UK. The policies that different parts of the UK choose to pursue in the future is a matter for each Administration. The Bill ensures that these local policies can be pursued while maintaining seamless trade in the UK internal market. There is no question of the UK Government intending to bypass the common frameworks; the Bill is intended to complement them.

The approach we have taken in the Bill will give businesses the regulatory clarity and certainty they want. It will ensure that the cost of doing business in the UK stays as low as possible, and without damaging and costly regulatory barriers emerging between the nations of the UK. With this context in mind, I turn to the amendments. They would, in combination, prevent the market access principles from applying at the end of the transition period. The lengthy process they put in place before the principles can apply, including the need to exhaust frameworks discussions, would mean a considerable delay in securing business certainty that trade can continue unhindered within the UK’s internal market. The resulting threat of unmanaged regulatory divergence would not provide the certainty businesses need and could deter businesses that wish to expand and supply customers across the UK. This is not desirable, especially as we continue our recovery from Covid-19.

The amendments would also limit the areas to which the market access principles can apply. Again, this would unduly constrain the scope of the principles and fail to protect the internal market fully. In contrast, the Government’s approach is more comprehensive and ensures that businesses in all sectors can continue to trade across the UK without facing new barriers or discrimination.

The amendments also present a challenge in defining the exhaustion of the frameworks process. In all cases, common frameworks are designed as living arrangements, capable of change by agreement as required. Thus, the process is never wholly exhausted. The new clause also specifies a consultation process with the devolved Administrations and the CMA, or, failing that, a 12-month delay before any regulations can be made specifying areas to which the market access requirement would apply. The Government are already committed to appropriate consultation with the devolved Administrations; however, under the terms of the amendments, the time limits proposed would create unnecessary delay.

The noble Lord, Lord German, asked about the timing of the Bill. Reduced certainty would indeed be a disaster to our recovery from Covid-19. We do not believe that it is acceptable for businesses to have less certainty on trade with their UK supply chain after 1 January 2021 than they have today and have had for centuries. The UK Government are committed to ensuring that the status quo of seamless internal trade is maintained for the shared prosperity and the welfare of people and businesses across all four nations of the UK. Without the internal market, livelihoods would be at risk. There is also the issue of future-proofing the Bill to allow that, for the jobs of the future, mutual recognition will apply across areas that we may know nothing about today, including things such as the artificial intelligence industry.

My noble friend Lady Neville-Rolfe and the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope, asked whether reference should be made to the common frameworks should be made in the Bill. We already have a statutory obligation to report quarterly on progress on the common frameworks, so there is no need to put this in the Bill as well. Far from being silenced, as the noble Baroness, Lady Randerson, suggested, as she knows, two common frameworks have already been agreed. However, some 38 more have yet to be considered, with only nine or 10 weeks until the end of the transition period. They do indeed provide a very sensible framework, but they remain voluntary. Ultimately, the common frameworks depend on continued co-operation. In spring 2019, the Scottish Government walked away from the internal market project. This legislation is required to provide certainty for business and consumers.

The noble Baroness asked about labelling in Welsh. There is nothing to prevent labelling in Welsh for goods produced in Wales. I was also asked about the use of plastic teaspoons. The Welsh Government can still ban their use, but perhaps not their sale.

For these reasons, and for the uncertainty and confusion that it would generate for businesses and consumers, unfortunately the Government cannot support the amendments in this group and I would ask noble Lords to withdraw or not move them.

Photo of The Earl of Kinnoull The Earl of Kinnoull Chair, European Union Committee, Principal Deputy Chairman of Committees, Chair, European Union Committee

I have received one request to speak after the Minister. I call the noble Lord, Lord Purvis of Tweed.

Photo of Lord Purvis of Tweed Lord Purvis of Tweed Liberal Democrat Lords Spokesperson (International Trade)

My Lords, I listened very carefully to what the Minister said about the need for certainty, which seems to be the overriding approach. But, having listened to my noble friend Lord German and the noble Baroness, Lady Finlay, I would refer to the Food Standards Agency report, Food and Feed Safety and Hygiene Common Framework Update. Paragraph 3.15 states, in relation to adopting mitigating measures against mutual recognition, which we will discuss in another group on another day, makes a quite interesting point that

“where common approaches are taken, mutual recognition will not apply.”

If that is the case in this Bill, the common approaches across the nations—the mutual recognition and certainty that she indicated—will not apply. But we do not yet have full agreement on all the common frameworks, so how can that apply under this Bill, given that we have not reached the agreements yet? However, the Government’s own position is that mutual recognition will not apply if common approaches are taken on any regulatory changes. So which is it? Is it in this Bill or is it within the common frameworks?

Photo of Baroness Bloomfield of Hinton Waldrist Baroness Bloomfield of Hinton Waldrist Baroness in Waiting (HM Household) (Whip)

I am afraid that the noble Lord has the advantage of me in that I have not seen that bit of the food standards framework. I would rather look at his question again in Hansard tomorrow and reply to him in detail. I do not think that I am able to give him a full answer now.

Photo of Baroness Finlay of Llandaff Baroness Finlay of Llandaff Deputy Chairman of Committees, Deputy Speaker (Lords)

My Lords, I am most grateful to all noble Lords who have spoken. I am grateful to the Minister for her response but it is disappointing.

I must say that I appreciate the noble Lord, Lord German, pressing the Government on why they cannot specify any examples of potential disruption to the internal market, because we really need to hear those. Perhaps the Minister might write to me with some of those specific points following this debate. I note that the noble Baroness, Lady Andrews, confirmed that there is no evidence that common frameworks are breaking down, nor that there is an inability to be fast.

I can see that the timing in the amendment needs to be looked at and renegotiated, and I am sure that would not be a problem. I know that the Welsh Government are sincerely committed to bridging the gap that the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope, outlined so clearly; at the moment it is a chasm, but it can be bridged.

I agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Neville-Rolfe, and the noble Lord, Lord Naseby, that we all want the UK to prosper and things to work, but we must find a way to make them work by not splitting the UK, which is what the Bill seems to be doing at the moment.

I am grateful for confirmation from the noble Baroness, Lady Randerson, and the noble Lord, Lord Stevenson, of cross-party support for this approach. I have to agree with the noble Baroness that there is little evidence of the Government’s good will towards devolution in the Bill as drafted, and that at the moment the logic of the Government’s approach is quite difficult to discern.

The amendment was a genuine attempt to restore confidence between the central Westminster Government and the devolved Governments. I hope we will return to it because I think we need to. This was a hand of peace, an olive branch, and we must return to it later on Report. For the moment, though, pending further discussions and negotiations, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment 6 withdrawn.

House resumed.

House adjourned at 10.01 pm.