Moved by Lord Fox
4: Clause 1, leave out Clause 1 and insert the following new Clause—“Purposes of Parts 1, 2, 3 and 4(1) Parts 1, 2, 3 and 4 promote the continued functioning of the internal market for goods (see Part 1) and services (see Part 2), including the recognition of professional and other qualifications (see Part 3), in the United Kingdom by establishing the United Kingdom market access principles.(2) The United Kingdom market access principles are—(a) the mutual recognition principle for goods and services, and(b) the non-discrimination principle for goods and services.(3) Those principles have no direct legal effect except as provided by Parts 1, 2, 3 and 4, and only to the extent that they have been agreed in a memorandum of understanding by—(a) the Secretary of State,(b) the Welsh Ministers,(c) the Scottish Ministers, and(d) a Northern Ireland department.(4) The Secretary of State must lay before Parliament the memorandum of understanding, which must also set out—(a) how the agreed policy frameworks on the functioning of the internal market in the United Kingdom will operate,(b) any agreed exclusions from the market access principles,(c) proposals for the establishment of a council or councils, comprising representatives of the Secretary of State, the Welsh Ministers, the Scottish Ministers, and a Northern Ireland department to oversee the operation of agreed policy frameworks and the functioning of the internal market in the United Kingdom, and(d) proposals for the establishment of an agreed dispute resolution mechanism relating to the internal market in the United Kingdom for any disputes among the Secretary of State, the Welsh Ministers, the Scottish Ministers, and a Northern Ireland department.(5) A statutory instrument containing regulations under section 56(3) may not appoint a day for the commencement of Parts 1, 2, 3 or 4 until the requirement in subsection (4) is met.”
My Lords, as I said in winding up at Second Reading, the eight hours of speeches broke the Bill down into three areas of serious concern: its illegality, its threat to the union, and its structural contradictions. As the noble Baroness, Lady Hayter, said, even if Part 5 is removed one way or another, there will still be great dangers lurking within the Bill. This amendment focuses squarely on putting the threat to devolution on ice.
The Minister was right when he said that the devolved authorities get new powers through the Bill, but these new powers are heavily constrained—more so than they were before when there was EU flexibility. We have heard some of this debate already. More importantly, both Ministers have omitted to mention that, at the same time, the Government are taking significant powers away. These losses are far more significant than any notional gains. This has already been correctly characterised by the devolved authorities as rolling back the devolution settlements.
The Governments of Wales and Scotland need only look over their respective borders to see how the UK Gossvernment are treating their regions and cities—where there is only piecemeal devolution—to conclude that taking power back to the centre is not an accident; it is a pattern of behaviour. As an aside, this is not a unique pattern of behaviour. My Scottish friends tell me that the Scottish Government are very enthusiastic about centralising power away from their local councils.
Returning to the Bill, we should not worry when it comes to Westminster’s reputation in Scotland. I read in the press that Michael Gove is heading up a new unit to tackle the secessionist movement in Scotland. What could go wrong there? Perhaps a better way of dealing with the unpopularity of Westminster is to deal with the central devolution issue in the Bill.
There are many later amendments concerning parts of the problem with the Bill. This amendment seeks to deal with it all in one go, taking it head on. It is driven by a central principle which we on these Benches share. We do not believe that it is only the UK Government or this Parliament that should dictate how the future internal market should work. It has to be a collaborative effort between Westminster, Edinburgh, Cardiff and Belfast. To achieve this, Parts 1 to 4 of the Bill need to be rewritten by consensus, not imposed, which is why this amendment seeks to halt the progress of Parts 1 to 4 until a joint process has created the future market structure. In essence, it will put on ice the Bill’s implementation until agreement is reached on the operation of the internal market frameworks.
In order to do this, the amendment rewrites the purpose of the Bill. What stays is the promotion of the continued functioning of the internal market for goods, in Part 1, and services, in Part 2. It includes the recognition of professional and other qualifications in the UK—in Part 3—by establishing the UK market access principles, including, as now, the mutual recognition and non-discrimination principles for goods and services. It adds the important rider that those principles have to be agreed in a memorandum by the Secretary of State, the Welsh and Scottish Ministers and a Northern Ireland department. This memorandum would cover how the agreed policy frameworks on the functioning of the internal market in the United Kingdom would operate and any agreed exclusions from market access principles. It would establish a council or councils, comprising representatives of the Secretary of State, the Welsh and Scottish Ministers and a Northern Ireland department to oversee the operation of the agreed policy frameworks and the functioning of the internal market in the United Kingdom. The current Joint Ministerial Council would need to be strengthened to achieve this objective.
The amendment would also establish an agreed dispute resolution mechanism, relating to the internal market of the United Kingdom. It requires the Secretary of State to lay this memorandum before Parliament. In short, this amendment makes the Government do what it should already have done. Amendment 4 requires them to consult and reach agreement with the devolved nations of the United Kingdom. By pausing and putting this on ice, Her Majesty’s Government can then create the consensus that is needed. It can also address the holes in the Bill, including the role of the common frameworks, which will be discussed in much more detail later, and it can put in place a process of dispute resolution. The deliberate absence of detail around dispute resolution can be viewed with great suspicion by those who are so minded. It seems that in the end, the Westminster-based UK Minister will decide disputes if the Bill remains unamended.
Why should the Government agree to this amendment? The first reason is due process. I met the noble Lord, Lord Callanan, on Friday. His key anxiety was about discipline and time in order to get through all this. If he were to accept this amendment, he would, at a stroke, remove large portions of the subsequent debate up to, but not including, Part 5 of this Bill. He would then meet his time objectives. Much more seriously, by accepting this amendment, the Government could step back from a truly appalling act of political vandalism. To say that this Bill drives a coach and horses through devolution is not hyperbole. This cynical approach to the balance of powers established between Westminster and Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, is calling down issues that, once started, will not easily be halted. This amendment seeks to avert this disaster, creating a role for the devolved authorities, including the operation of the internal market frameworks, robust dispute resolution, agreed exclusions from market access principles and representation for all four nations on oversight councils. I beg to move.
My Lords, I refer to my interests in the register as this is the first time I have had the honour of speaking in Committee. Amendment 4 introduces an expanded purpose for the Bill. The noble Lord, Lord Fox, has explained the rationale for his wide-ranging proposal. I can understand his wish to refer to services at this introductory point in the Bill, given that they comprise over 80% of GDP, and to professional and other qualifications, harmony on which is so important to the UK’s single market.
I accept that the changes to subsections (1) and (2) merit consideration. However, I am very uneasy about the proposed new subsections (3) and (4). I fear that they make this a wrecking clause. They give the devolved Administrations a veto over the way internal market arrangements will work, in addition to the substantial powers and money that they have already been given in the various devolution settlements and EU exit Bills. This is a recipe for the politics of national resentment, chaos and delay, at a time when we need rapid agreement on the new order so that the country can move forward and make the EU exit work, difficult though this may be.
Resources are already massively redistributed out of London and the south-east to other parts of the UK, with Scotland alone having a fiscal deficit of £15 billion—namely, a subsidy from richer England—according to a recent article by David Gauke, who served in the Treasury for seven years. We do not want yet another stand-off at this moment in time with the devolved nations, able to hold things up. There has been quite enough of such delay in the exit negotiation process, now more than four years long, I remind noble Lords.
Where I have more sympathy with the noble Lords, Lord Fox and Lord Purvis of Tweed, is on the fact that we need clarity now, before the Bill takes effect. Perhaps I can explain why by way of analogy.
When I was at Tesco, one of the key reasons for success was a clear understanding of who had responsibility for what and a readiness to accept the rules for the greater good. Procurement was done centrally by buyers, who could work with the supply chain, such as British food producers, understand their needs, strengths and innovations, agree a reasonable deal and ship goods to the stores in line with customer demand. When it came to other areas, such as who to hire as employees and how to schedule their hours, that was locally determined. The key was that everyone knew and accepted the division of labour because it contributed to the success of the whole. There was no council where everyone could waste hour after hour arguing the toss, as appears to be proposed in this amendment.
Let us have clear divisions and let us decide them now, not leave them for a great fight over a memorandum of understanding or yet more devolved government bodies backed up by dispute resolution. That is just an invitation to politically motivated folk to stop the country adjusting to the new norms and getting ahead with economic recovery and international ambition.
The proposals in the Bill are a good start, and, as noble Lords can see, I am uneasy about this particular amendment. I served for nearly three years as the single market Minister in the EU and for years as a British official negotiating in Brussels and Luxembourg, and the truth is that, subject to some minor subsidiarity, internal market rules for goods were set at the EU level in the interests of the efficient functioning of the market. By analogy, rules for the UK single market should be set at the UK level. EU services were less streamlined, but we all recognised that and wanted to bring about improvement, which was one of the main objectives of the UK presidency in 2017, but that never happened. I look forward to hearing from my noble friend the Minister, but I will take a lot of convincing that subsections (3) and (4) make sense.
My Lords, I fear I must disagree with the noble Baroness, Lady Neville-Rolfe. I support this amendment. The House will be aware of my approach as a devolutionist, and I will not repeat my general views. However, for my part, the key is subsections (3) and (4) of Amendment 4 on what should be contained in a very necessary and vital memorandum of understanding.
At Second Reading, I raised the divergence in understanding between the Welsh Government and Whitehall. The Welsh Government spelled out that they were losers from the Bill—their powers would be changed. There were two particular differences in understanding between HMG and the Welsh Government. First, they said that the Bill takes powers to spend money over the heads of devolved Ministers on devolved matters; and, secondly, that the Bill amends the Government of Wales Act to add the decision on and operation of state aid policy to the list of reserved powers. In the factual briefing on the Bill, the Government actually claim that they are increasing the powers of the devolved legislatures. Indeed, in the discussion on the previous amendment, the Minister claimed again that new powers were being given to the devolved legislatures. They cannot both be right. A recent meeting of Peers with the Welsh Secretary failed miserably to clarify the position. I now specifically ask for the Government to publish a reply to the Welsh Government’s document on their concerns about the Bill.
Subsection (3) is of the utmost importance. There must be a clear understanding of the need for the consent of the devolved legislatures in a memorandum of understanding before this House finishes with the Bill. I need not say much more than that we also need an important statement that Her Majesty’s Government have not wished, deliberately or by inadvertence, to undermine the unity of the United Kingdom, both by actions and words. I express my deep concern about this approach by the Government of going back on the devolution settlement, which has worked for many years now.
Certainly, the unhappiness of the Welsh Government is clearly expressed in their document. We should have—and I hope the Minister will be able to promise as much—a document setting out where they agree and disagree with the specific points made in the document which has been circulated.
My Lords, I regret that I was unable to take part at Second Reading, but that does not mean that I am not deeply concerned—[Inaudible.]
[Inaudible]—needed at all, certainly at this stage. The earlier parts of the Bill, which deal with the establishment of new rules to maintain the internal market now that we have left the EU, have received much less publicity than Part 5. However, these parts are just as constitutionally significant because, under the cover of Brexit, the Government are attempting to slip through the unravelling of devolution. They have claimed that this Bill will increase the powers of the devolved Administrations, which is akin to President Trump claiming that the virus is waning in the USA: the facts demonstrate its falsity, as the clauses in this Bill demonstrate multiple ways in which it undermines current devolved powers.
The UK’s internal market appears to function perfectly well at the moment. The barriers cited by the Government as the reason for this Bill are hypothetical and unlikely to materialise because they are clearly against the interests of the devolved Administrations. There is no clamour to diverge from existing standards set by the EU because they are both high and universally recognised. Therefore, taking the Bill at face value, it seeks to solve a problem that does not exist, but that judgment is rather too kind because the details betray the Government’s real purpose.
Until now, devolution in the UK has functioned under the umbrella of EU legislation. Most of the fundamental devolved powers have operated in that way, and EU regulation has been accepted with noticeably little argument because it operates on such a large scale that there is little perception of party-political bias. The new arrangements set out in this Bill will be very different. Obviously, England will dominate, come what may, but the Government are not content with relying on size alone. This Bill steals all the remaining cards from the devolved nations.
We have a ragged devolution settlement—lopsided, confused, and already under huge strain. Leaving the EU has destabilised it further. Because there is no proper devolution in England, UK Government Ministers are effectively hybrid Ministers. One minute they are acting as Ministers for England and the next they are UK Ministers. Indeed, in some cases, such as agriculture, the Secretary of State is largely just the Minister for England, so it is essential that there is a strong dispute resolution mechanism: there will be problems if that fell back on the Secretary of State alone. This Bill itself will become a protected enactment, which devolved Administrations cannot repeal or modify. However, the UK Parliament will, in practice, be able to override the market access principles when legislating for England. Hence it will have an inherently asymmetrical effect.
Looking at how the market access principles will be enforced, we see a much tighter definition than allowed under EU law. It narrows the territorial scope of devolved legislation, which will no longer be able to apply to all activity within that nation. The Senedd could still vote to ban a wide range of single-use plastic items, for example, but that ban could no longer be applied to products entering Wales from the rest of the UK, nor could it ban sales of those goods. Such a ban would therefore be pretty meaningless. Amendment 4 applies the Government’s own market access principles, but with a framework of respect for the decisions and views of the devolved nations. With all due respect to the noble Baroness, Lady Neville-Rolfe, the UK is not a supermarket. The nations of the UK have individual and proud heritages and identities.
The Government’s regulatory impact assessment recognises that the broad application of the market access principles will limit the ability of the devolved Administrations to introduce distinct approaches to environmental and social policy, which will of course undermine the fundamental purpose of devolution. In the interests of centralisation of power, the Government are attacking innovation. The freedom provided by devolution has encouraged new approaches, such as plastic bag pricing, in Wales and minimum alcohol unit pricing in Scotland and Wales. There is an insidious pattern in many of the controls in the Bill. It allows the status quo to stand in some instances, but removes the right of devolved Administrations to change regulations in the future. This looks like the path to a stagnating economy.
Amendment 4 seeks to strengthen the hand of the devolved Administrations so that their voice can be heard. It replaces the very weak duty to consult with a much stronger principle of consent. That would force the Government to return to a normal approach of partnership and respect. The Bill scythes its way through devolved powers, and the amendment attempts to tackle some of that. The Government have lately reminded me of a drunk in a bar, who swaggers around aggressively challenging the other customers over imagined insults and picking unnecessary fights. This really is an unnecessary fight with the devolved Administrations. Devolution was always incomplete and uneven, and UK identity has been stretched pretty thin recently. Throughout the Bill there is a thread seeking to reverse devolution and recentralise the state, and this Government simply must not be allowed to get away with it.
My Lords, I want to comment on some of the issues raised by the amendment. It is useful in that, so far as this Bill is concerned, it draws attention to—if I may put it this way—the dog that did not bark. The dog in this case is the agreement reached at the Joint Ministerial Committee in October 2017, between the UK Government, the Scottish and Welsh Governments and the senior civil servant representing the Northern Ireland Executive, on the principles to guide the work on common frameworks. There will be an opportunity to debate in more detail how common frameworks intersect with the Bill’s provisions in the next group of amendments, but looking at the JMC principles is a good starting point.
In its report on the Bill, your Lordships’ Constitution Committee, of which I am a member, concluded:
“We consider that adhering to the principles agreed for formulating common frameworks would improve the likelihood of reaching agreement on how to progress the Bill. We are not convinced that the opportunities for managing the UK internal market through the common frameworks have been exhausted”.
The JMC principles embody what can reasonably be assumed to be core UK Government concerns: the effective functioning of the UK internal market; compliance with international obligations; the ability to negotiate, enter into and implement new trade and international agreements; the management of common resources; and cross-border justice and security. They also address those issues likely to be of most concern to the devolved Administrations: respect for the devolution settlements; devolved competence not normally adjusted without consent; and equivalent flexibility for local tailoring of policies as is afforded by current EU rules, as we have heard.
One of the witnesses from whom the Constitution Committee took evidence— Professor Nicola McEwen from Edinburgh University—contrasted the approach adopted for common frameworks, which she characterised as a co-operative and co-owned process, with the provisions of the Bill, which she described as more top-down. It is fair challenge to wonder whether a top-down approach might be necessary because one of the participants in the common frameworks negotiations is often seen as provocative and difficult to deal with, and of course committed to the break-up of the United Kingdom. The introduction this summer in the Scottish Parliament of a second continuity Bill, designed to give Scottish Ministers powers to maintain dynamic alignment with the EU, might well have been seen by the UK Government in this light. However, I would make three observations about this:
First, the Welsh Government, who, unlike the Scottish Government, gave their legislative consent to the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018, are a unionist Government but nevertheless as concerned as the Scottish Government about the implications of the internal market Bill for devolution. Secondly, we have now had eight of the statutory quarterly common frameworks reports from the UK Government mandated by the 2018 Act. Each has confirmed that common frameworks are making progress and that the Government have not felt the need to exercise their power to freeze devolved competence to counter any imminent risk of policy or regulatory divergence. Thirdly, even at a time when relations between the UK Government and the Scottish Government are at a low ebb, and the Scottish Government initially insisted that they would withhold legislative consent as a matter of principle for all Brexit-related Bills, the Scottish Government have in recent months recommended legislative consent—albeit with some qualifications—to the Fisheries, Agriculture and Trade Bills.
In conclusion, the amendment in the names of the noble Lords, Lord Fox and Lord Purvis, seeks to inject into the Bill the spirit of the JMC principles—here I am concerned more by its spirit than its precise terms—and to provide a more co-operative intergovernmental architecture for taking forward the UK internal market, which is currently missing from the Bill. I therefore hope that Ministers—despite the challenges, which I do not underestimate—will not give way to pessimism about the governance of the union, nor give up on a collaborative “four nations, one country” approach to protecting free trade within the UK. As such, I hope they will work constructively to address the concerns raised about the Bill during this debate.
My Lords, I am delighted to follow the noble Lord, Lord Dunlop. That was a thoughtful contribution, and I hope the Government will reflect on it, because it is in the interests of both the Government and the future of the United Kingdom that that kind of approach is thought through.
I speak in support of the amendment, which I contend is a constructive approach to maintaining trust in the existing devolution settlements, which are strained, and establishing a consensual way forward. I believe it is consistent with the report of this House’s Constitution Committee, which, along with others, has questioned the need for the Bill at all—a point that has been mentioned by a number of speakers. Very late in the day, it appears that some in this Government show signs of a growing awareness of the dangerous game they are playing with the devolution settlements and the implications for the future of the United Kingdom. The question arises why the Government are in such a hurry to get this through with totally inadequate consultation with business or the devolved Administrations. The Minister’s claims of business support during Second Reading was, frankly, extremely thin.
The devolved Administrations are, as has been said, opposed to the Bill as it stands, and amendments have been tabled on their behalf on a cross-party basis. When challenged as to why the powers in the Bill are needed, the Government’s responses are wholly unconvincing. From everything I have seen and heard, the Bill appears to be a solution looking for a problem. When Ministers airily suggest, for example, that Scotch whisky distillers may be prevented from buying malting barley from England, without any shred of evidence, they refer to different building standards, apparently in ignorance of the fact that Scotland has different standards that well predate devolution.
Given the flimsiness of the Government’s case and knowing what we do about the high-handed, centralising, cavalier approach of the Government, we are surely entitled to be suspicious about their intentions. After all, as the noble Lord, Lord Dunlop, pointed out, three years ago it was possible to set out in a communique the principles and approach behind the common frameworks process. The language is detailed and consensual. Specifically, the communique setting out the common frameworks describes the objective as enabling the function of the UK internal market while acknowledging policy divergence. It further stated that the devolution settlement should be respected and frameworks will
“be based on the established conventions and practices, including that the competence of the devolved institutions will not normally be adjusted without their consent.”
This approach and language are entirely missing from the Bill, so the question to the Minister is not only why the Bill is needed, but, even if that case can be made, why the hurry? More pertinently, having rejected letting common frameworks take all the strain, can the Minister explain why the eminently sensible and constructive approach of the common frameworks is not incorporated into the Bill, as I hope subsequent amendments will allow it to be? We will return to that.
That said, there remains a flaw in the common frameworks approach, which must be addressed and attached to the Bill if it goes forward, and it is identified in this amendment. It is that the devolved Administrations must be fully involved throughout the process and represented in the institutions that progress the frameworks. The proposals for the office for the internal market to be incorporated into the Competition and Markets Authority has been widely criticised. First, the CMA has a dedicated and reserved function, and there is no provision for the devolved Administrations to be represented, but they surely must be represented on the OIM or a better alternative.
As has again been commented on, so far, the common frameworks are progressing with all the appearance of a high degree of consensus and the dispute mechanism has not been called into play. It might be thought that, given the constructive, consensual approach to date, the likelihood is that if dispute resolution reached the apex, it would be accepted. However, it would not be satisfactory as it stands, and certainly not fit for purpose in relation to this Bill. The weakness is that as a dispute escalates, first to Ministers of the devolved Administrations, which includes UK Ministers acting for England, the final resolution lies with UK Ministers. The noble Baroness, Lady Neville-Rolfe, was concerned that the devolved Administrations might be the cause of delay, but I fear she underestimates the resentment of UK English Ministers overruling the devolved territories. That, I suspect, sadly helps explain the rather smug responses from UK Ministers: devolved Administrations may huff and puff, but UK Ministers can blow their houses down.
The Government have quoted examples from abroad to justify their approach but, ironically, they are mostly drawn from countries with properly established federal constitutions, notably Australia and Canada, where state and provincial governments’ views are fully involved in decision-making. In the case of Australia, a two-thirds qualified majority is required.
According to weekend reports, Michael Gove is establishing a unit to combat the SNP and its pressure for independence. I certainly believe that the largely unchallenged fantasy and lies which are fuelling the case for independence that would be so disruptive and damaging on a disastrous scale on top of Brexit and post-Covid recovery need to be challenged, but Mr Gove should have enlightened his colleagues that in its present form, the Bill will make his task almost impossible. Amendment 4 would greatly help him by delaying implementation of Parts 1 to 4 until an agreed approach is confirmed.
As the party with the deepest commitment of any to home rule—we battled for it for over a century—Liberal Democrats are determined to protect the devolution settlement against a centralising government in London and the separatist thrust of the SNP. Scotland’s best interests lie in using the powers that have been secured, ensuring they are not eroded and gaining a positive relationship with the other devolved Administrations and the UK Government. As we rebuild after a botched Brexit and a mishandled Covid-19 crisis, businesses do not need further disruption over constitutional arguments.
With the mechanisms in place and goodwill to seek the best for Scotland, the devolved territories and the UK, confidence can be restored. Ideally, the Government should abandon this Bill, which is at best premature and probably unnecessary but, so long as they push ahead, Liberal Democrats will push to secure this responsible and constructive amendment and save us from an unwanted and unnecessary constitutional crisis. Surely we have had enough disruption for one year—or even 10.
My Lords, it is a pleasure to follow my noble friend. Amendment 4 was ably moved by my noble friend Lord Fox, and I want to outline some further considerations based on principles and on practical considerations.
I start by reflecting on the important contribution of the noble Lord, Lord Dunlop. I first met the noble Lord when he was the adviser to Prime Minister David Cameron in Downing Street and I was chair of the cross-party Devo Plus group in Scotland, which was arguing for enhanced powers for the Scottish Parliament, which subsequently came into legislation with the Scotland Act 2016. The noble Lord considered our proposals carefully, he has been a very thoughtful contributor to our debates and I look forward to the conclusions of his review on intergovernmental relations. The fact that he has asked for a degree of pause on what could be considered a constitutional rush is important and should be taken seriously. If despite his wise counsel and the thrust of the amendment—which has been tabled sincerely—the Government insist on moving forward on their current trajectory and in their current manner, it will be the first time in a quarter of a century that a major constitutional change will have been imposed on the nations without any form of public or parliamentary consent. That will not serve the start of a new functioning internal market well. The principle of consent is therefore not a theoretical argument; it is important at the political level for those of us who believe strongly in the continued functioning of the United Kingdom and its internal market.
That is in stark contrast with the following groups that we will be considering, where, as the Minister has heard, the frameworks process has been good and we have supported it. The fact that it has been supported across all parties and, indeed, the nations is important.
I reflected on the point indicated by the noble Baroness, Lady Neville-Rolfe, which is that we need the Bill to prevent a veto by one of the nations. That argument would have some form of justification if we had seen that approach within the common frameworks. They cover the policy areas that are being repatriated: 154 of them, of which only four remain where there is not agreement whether they are reserved or devolved. Two of them will be resolved only after we know what is the agreement with the European Union, because they concern geographical indications and state aid—we don’t know what the Government’s proposals are for those two areas because we don’t know what the agreement with the European Union is. That will leave only two. For the 18 that require legislation, it is well under way to being proposed.
So it is not the case that there will be a major gap on the statute book at the beginning of January, and nor is it the case that any of the nations that are in receipt of these powers are seeking to exercise their veto. What those nations are asking, justifiably, is whether the powers being repatriated under the Bill—not the frameworks—are being constrained in a manner that is significantly different from how they were exercised under the single market in the European Union? These are justifiable concerns. So, with the greatest respect, I do not think that the point made by the noble Baroness, Lady Neville-Rolfe, holds any water at all.
It is of concern that in the first group the Minister was not able to categorically reinforce what has been referred to so far, which was the agreement made among the Ministers of Wales, Scotland and the United Kingdom and the representative from Northern Ireland of the principles of moving forward on the framework agreement. I hope that, when the Minister responds to this, he will be more clear in supporting that. If the approach of this amendment had been followed from the outset, I believe that we would have been able to secure consensus, because it would have been consistent with the manner in which we have been approaching it so far.
The point that my noble friend Lady Randerson indicated, which I thought was a very powerful one and which I hope the Minister is not only aware of but very sensitive to, is that this Bill, probably more than most, brings into stark reality the fact that we do not have a federal Government, which means that there are not designated Ministers for England on devolved areas for England. So we will continue to have UK Ministers who will be operating both at a UK level and effectively as Ministers for England. When it comes to areas of the functioning of the internal market, which is about the four nations, and then separately a consideration at the supra-United Kingdom level, the direct conflict of interest that exists in a Minister making the decision in the interests of England, and thus being the arbiter of the approach of Wales or Scotland as to whether they are in breach of the market principles, is a very valid concern.
We have already heard the example of a decision made on legislation in Scotland, the deposit return scheme, where the Minister himself said in the debate on the first group that, under the Bill, it could be disapplied unless UK Ministers decided that it could be within the principles. Now UK Ministers will decide on that. The Minister is shaking his head. If he is shaking his head, it is on the basis of agreement—which is my point. Consensus would be secured on agreement for that.
What is certainly the case—and the Minister cannot shake his head at this—is that the Bill states that decisions made for England by the UK Parliament cannot be bound by any successor UK Parliament. But if decisions made in Scotland or Wales are overridden by the UK Parliament, those parliaments themselves cannot subsequently legislate within those areas. That is why paragraph 88 of the Constitution Committee report asked the Government to
“explain why clause 6 treats legislation intended for England differently from that passed by the devolved legislatures.”
This is the reality—which is why there is justifiable concern. If there is such a concern, what is a better way of approaching it? A better way, as my noble friend Lord Fox and others indicated, would be to look to other countries.
Before I move on to outlining why I think we could look at international precedents, I would like to pick up a further point regarding dispute resolution. My noble friend Lord Fox and I met the Minister and the noble Lord, Lord True, and I am very grateful to the Minister for sending a long letter answering the points that we raised in the question that we asked about when these issues would inevitably arise in disputes. The Minister’s reply of
“dispute resolution between Administrations will be managed through the appropriate intergovernmental relations fora and are interlinked with the outcomes of the review of intergovernmental relations which is due to conclude in the autumn. The Office for the Internal Market will have a role in providing independent advice in the dispute resolution process.”
But that begs two questions. The first is that, if we are awaiting the other intergovernmental fora working that is to be concluded, would it not make sense for that work then to be put in a memorandum of understanding that is very transparent and clear, rather than progressing this Bill first? Secondly, the role of the OIM in disputes is not clear in the Bill at all; in fact, my reading of the Bill is that the OIM will have no role in such disputes. The letter from the Minister says that it will have a role in providing independent advice in the dispute resolution process—but to whom, and on what? It puts the OIM in an incredibly invidious position if it itself is now an adviser in a dispute; it is basically a UK body advising on that dispute. That begs the question of why the Government are insisting on progressing at this pace.
I mentioned that we can look to other areas for other approaches. In the Second Reading debate I referenced Canada and Australia—and I am not alone, because the Prime Minister references those countries very frequently. Both countries in the 1990s introduced an approach for mutual recognition, but both Canada and Australia had had concerns from their states and provinces, which guard their legislative competences as conscientiously as Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland do here.
But the approach of Australia in particular was different. The then Prime Minister announced in 1990 that the Australian Government would be seeking a mutual recognition approach for goods and services within Australia. At a special premiers’ conference in July 1991, state and territory Governments agreed in principle to enact a mutual recognition scheme for registered occupations and trade in goods. In May 1992 the heads of government signed an agreement to implement mutual recognition, and this was subsequently implemented progressively by Australian Governments in their states and territories between 1992 and 1995. Furthermore, the Commonwealth established a Commonwealth and state committee on regulatory reform to oversee the scheme.
In an approach so starkly different from this Government’s approach of having a reserved body, the CMA, to oversee the single market, the Australian committee comprised officials from each jurisdiction and, for example, was chaired for a period not by an appointee of the Commonwealth Government but by the director-general of the New South Wales Cabinet Office, which also provided the secretariat. This approach is closer to the principles of the framework approach but could not be further from the way of the UK Government. It is fair to assume that it would never even have crossed the mind of a UK Minister to allow a devolved Administration to have a chair and secretariat for a body to have consideration of the overall market.
The approach in Australia established ministerial councils comprising Ministers from each jurisdiction to oversee the mutual recognition scheme. They could also agree standards that could cover all of the country, while recognising local differences—again, similar to the framework approach that we have recognised as being positive. As my noble friend Lord Bruce indicated, a voting mechanism protected the interests of the countries and states but did not provide a mechanism where one state alone could veto any approach from another.
So the approach outlined in our amendment is not novel around the world; in fact, it is the approach of a Westminster system that a Commonwealth country has adopted. Crucially, it would also provide clarity on a mechanism to resolve disputes. It would provide a breathing space in the constitutional log-jam that exists at the moment that would prevent the start of an internal market system being imposed on two constituent parts of this Government.
I hope that the Government will reflect on this very carefully. I have indicated that we do not need this rush before the end of the year, and I have stressed the importance of having consensus on the way forward. Up until now, the Government have chosen not to go down this route, but it is not too late. I hope that they will reflect very carefully on this approach and that those on the Cross Benches and Labour Benches will work with us to ensure that there is a degree of consensus to allow the Government some space to change their course.
My Lords, I shall resist the temptation to follow the noble Lord, Lord Purvis, in what he has said. However, I reflect that in the other place I was responsible for, and chaired most of, the Maastricht Bill, with 500 amendments and 24 days of debate. Even there, I think that I would have been really stretched to have enabled what is labelled here as a new clause to be put into the purpose of Part 1 on an introductory basis.
I understand the feelings of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. I had the privilege of being Parliamentary Private Secretary in Northern Ireland, and I was a local government leader. Of course they feel strongly, as I do about local authorities and the Covid situation. Nevertheless, it is quite clear that the purpose of Part 1 is
“the continued functioning of the internal market for goods in the United Kingdom by establishing the United Kingdom market access principles.”
It then lists what the mutual recognition and non-discrimination principles should be.
If the Opposition and those who do not like what is in Part 1 want to make a point, there is a case for having a small amendment including just the words “and services”. I see merit in that because, as I said earlier, that seems to have some validity, but to suggest in the introductory part, under “Purpose of Part 1”, that we have to await a statutory instrument
“containing regulations under section 56(3)”, et cetera, is extraordinary. I cannot believe that there have ever been many Bills where that sort of new clause has been inserted into the introductory part.
Therefore, I say to my noble friend on the Front Bench that there are valid questions arising from this alleged new clause to be asked in the right place, but this is certainly not the right place in this Bill.
My Lords, as the noble Lord, Lord Dunlop, said, this debate is a sort of appetiser for the main course to come in later groups, when we will dig much deeper into the right approach to ensuring that our current well-functioning internal market continues after the transition period ends and that we can manage the necessary and inevitable policy divergences that we need across the United Kingdom and should welcome.
The noble Lord, Lord Bruce, said that the key questions are why we need the Bill at all, let alone now, why the Government are ignoring the evident successes of the co-operation and constructive progress which have been hallmarks of the common framework programme, why threaten the devolution settlement so directly, and what it is about the top-down approach that the Government wish to introduce that is so attractive, given the huge risks to devolution. Those are very important questions and I look forward to hearing what the Minister says when he comes to respond.
The noble Baroness, Lady Neville-Rolfe, said that she recognised the value of proposed new subsections (1) and (2) in the amendment but was worried that proposed new subsections (3) and (4) made it a wrecking amendment. I do not think that it is. Indeed, I make the same points about the need for a pause before we implement in my Amendment 178, which is in a later group.
I hope that the Government will think very hard about the clear message that seems to come from this debate. We need to carry on down the road well travelled in recent years, encouraging the devolved Administrations to continue to collaborate, to work together with mutual understanding until agreement is reached, and then to go further so that there is agreement on all the issues that need to be agreed and a way of resolving any issues that are left over. This is the way in which we make progress—not by imposing a top-down solution. Indeed, anything else risks destroying the complex but pretty successful devolution settlement that we currently enjoy.
My Lords, Amendment 4, tabled by the noble Lords, Lord Fox and Lord Purvis, would prevent the market access principles applying by the end of the transition period. As my noble friend Lady Neville-Rolfe pointed out, that would produce a considerable delay in providing certainty to businesses that free trade can continue within the UK’s internal market.
I heard the noble Lord, Lord Bruce, query my assertion at Second Reading about business support for these measures, but over 270 businesses and organisations responded to the public consultation on our proposals and, overwhelmingly, businesses supported our approach. Particularly as they look to recover from the impacts of Covid-19, businesses need certainty, and that is what this Bill, as drafted, seeks to provide.
I repeat that the aim of the Bill is to ensure that there are no internal barriers to trade within the UK, while respecting the devolution policies. All devolved policy areas will stay devolved. The proposals ensure only that no new barriers to UK internal trade are created. The Bill aims only to procure frictionless trade, movement and investment between all nations of the UK. The policies that different parts of the UK choose to pursue in the future is a matter for those Administrations. The Bill ensures that these local policies can be pursued while, at the same time, maintaining seamless trade in the UK internal market.
The noble Lord, Lord Bruce, asked me specifically about barley, and indeed the noble Lord, Lord Purvis, has written to me on the same subject. We believe that this provides a good example of the risks that businesses could be exposed to. Food produce placed on the market must comply with rules on pesticide maximum residue levels. These are currently set at EU level, and so are consistent across the United Kingdom, meaning that food can be traded across the devolved Administrations. This is an example of a policy area which will be devolved after
However, without the Bill’s mutual recognition provisions, there would be the possibility of divergent decisions being taken, which would then introduce new trade barriers on food between different parts of our country. Depending on any particular decision, this could affect any agricultural or horticultural produce that has been previously treated with pesticides. For example, different residue rules might mean that it is not lawful to sell in Scotland barley grown in England.
More broadly, without the principles set out in the Bill, harmful divergence would be possible, in spite of the important protection provided by industry standards. That is because industry standards are voluntarily agreed between private economic actors and so cannot provide the same certainty for businesses and investors as the legislative principles set out in the Bill.
The consent process proposed in the amendment would remove that certainty and make operating conditions for businesses across the UK dependent on a number of fairly onerous conditions. These conditions include matters that would cut across ongoing collaborative work with the devolved Administrations. I say to the noble Lord, Lord Bruce, that these include the common frameworks programme and the intergovernmental relations review, both of which the Government are fully committed to pursuing. Indeed, in the next group, we will examine the common frameworks principles in more detail, and my noble friend Lord True will explain our position in more detail.
However, I assure noble Lords that the Government have already committed to appropriate consultation with the devolved Administrations on these matters. Furthermore, we are engaging them in all suggestions for how practically to improve intergovernmental relations, including both the machinery, such as dispute resolution, and the way in which these joint forums are run.
The noble Lords, Lord Fox and Lord Purvis, asked a question about dispute resolution. I can tell them both that the office for the internal market will support existing arrangements for dispute resolution. Its non-binding reporting will ensure that evidence-based dispute resolution takes place in line with the current memorandum of understanding on devolution. The OIM’s reporting will be available to all four Administrations and legislatures on an equal and purely advisory basis. It will provide information and support separate political processes to resolve any disagreements and enable intergovernmental engagement. The amendment would cut across all ongoing collaborative work with the DAs and remove our ability to give businesses the certainty they need at this time.
The noble Baroness, Lady Randerson, said that the Government would override the rest of the UK when legislating for England. That is certainly not our intention. The nature of our constitution is that the UK Parliament will be able to legislate over existing legislation, but the Bill aims to treat all domestic legislation in the same way. Her Majesty’s Government will be cognisant of the importance of market access principles in supporting any extra legislation.
Regarding the question asked by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Morris, about spending power in Wales, the Government believe that reserving subsidy control is the best way to guarantee a single unified subsidy control regime which could be legislated for in the future and that meets the needs. A UK-wide subsidy control regime will ensure that subsidies do not unduly distort competition within the UK’s internal market. Importantly, this power is in addition to the devolved Administrations’ existing powers. We intend to work with them to ensure that this power is used to best effect, augmenting their existing powers to support citizens in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. As always, we will address the Welsh Government’s concerns. My colleague Chloe Smith, the Minister for the Constitution and Devolution, met with Jeremy Miles AM on
My Lords, the Minister cited the example of pesticides, a subject on which there will almost certainly be unanimity. But on matters such as subsidy control, where there may be a justifiable difference in approach, does the Minister not accept that unless the Government are willing to accept a mechanism such as this to secure consent from the devolved Administrations, he is in effect imposing his solution on them, and cannot in any way claim that this Bill is agreed by the devolved nations—with all the consequences that flow from that unfortunate situation?
The Bill would legislate for subsidy control becoming a reserved matter. We are committed to consulting further with the devolved Administrations before proceeding, if we do, to any further legislation.
I have two questions. First, I called for clarity, trying to explain its importance to organisational success, which, frankly, is very relevant. I noticed almost no support for this from the Benches opposite, yet businesses, citizens and professionals will have to manage in the new market, and if the rules are at risk of changing in different ways regularly, that could be a problem. Obviously, sensible consultation and collaboration are needed, but we must be wary of a political veto. Does the Minister agree that this is a problem, or is the noble Lord, Lord Purvis, right?
My second question is whether the noble Baroness, Lady Randerson, is right or I am. At Second Reading, I mentioned with approval the ability of the devolved territories to do their own thing and gave two examples: minimum pricing of alcohol and carrier-bag charges, both of which I supported at the time. The noble Baroness, Lady Randerson, suggested that the powers to do such things will be undermined, and quoted exactly the same examples. Am I right or is she right?
My noble friend is putting me in the very difficult position of choosing which noble Baroness is correct. If I might venture to say, on the measures she has quoted my noble friend is correct. The Bill has no effect on minimum pricing of alcohol; that is excluded as a policy area, as are all pre-existing measures. This would also apply to carrier-bag prices. The Bill provides clarity and certainty for businesses, which is what we seek.
My Lords, I take it as a little chink of victory that the Minister found it difficult to say whether he agreed with his noble friend or me. I will secure that as an achievement of the day, if he does not mind. I will return in a future group to minimum unit pricing and single-use carrier bags, because I am not convinced about that position.
I suspected that the Minister would refer to pesticides, so I took the liberty of reading the Health and Safety Executive’s board report on the framework, which has now been agreed, on pesticides and maximum residue levels. That agreement has been reached, so the concern the Minister is putting forward, of a threat to the operation of the single market, does not exist. That will be a UK-wide provision, and the regulations for Scotland are about policing it. The approach of the HSE has been well established for many years, and the regulation required to police this in Scotland is quite different from what the Government are asserting, which is the exercise of a power that would effectively prohibit goods from entering a Scottish market. That is notwithstanding the fact that if it concerns what is ultimately used for produce such as whisky, it is an industry standard, based on the minimum base that would be taken. The chemicals and pesticides framework from Defra and HSE has been resolved, so perhaps the Minister should stop using this an example. It is not convincing.
Regarding the office for the internal market, the Minister has now said something new: that the CMA, the parent body of the OIM, is involved in existing disputes under the Joint Ministerial Committee’s memorandum of understanding that was agreed after devolution. This will be news to the CMA. Can the Minister repeat that the CMA has a role in the Joint Ministerial Committee’s disputes, under the memorandum? That is what he said in response to the question, but it is not the case. As outlined in the Bill, the OIM has no role in disputes. If the Minister is saying that the dispute resolution mechanism for the internal market is the JMC memorandum of 20 years ago that was agreed for devolution, it simply will not work, because it does not provide for the operation of the single market.
The noble Lord asked a number of questions, and I am sure he will be quick to write to me if I do not answer all of them. On the famous subject of barley and pesticides, he is correct, but the whole point about frameworks is that they are voluntary agreements. Any one of the Administrations can walk away at any time. We are committed to agreeing voluntary frameworks and will continue to take part in those discussions and advocate them, but the point of this legislation is to provide a legislative underpinning for all of the work taking place on frameworks.
Could the noble Lord remind me what the other questions were?
I am grateful to the Minister and may well be writing to him on that basis, as he predicted. Can he clarify what the intended role of the office for the internal market will be under the CMA? In a previous answer, he indicated that it has a role in the dispute resolution mechanism in the devolution memorandum of understanding. My understanding is that it does not. Which is the case? If the intention is that the OIM has a role in the dispute resolution mechanism, there is no reference to that in the legislation.
The purpose of the office for the internal market is to provide advice, reports and monitoring to all four Governments and legislatures. It will have no direct role in dispute resolution, which will be a matter for the Joint Ministerial Committee to discuss.
My Lords, I apologise to the Deputy Chairman of Committees for having jumped in so soon. I thank all noble Lords for their contributions; the subsequent questions were worth waiting for, so I am glad that I did not plough on.
This has been an interesting debate; however many more hours we will have in Committee, it has uncovered above all else how half-baked—how completely undercooked—this Bill is. It is not worked through. The point of this amendment was to highlight, and give the Government, an opportunity to step back and admit that there are so many open questions and so many issues. I feel sorry for the Minister—I rarely do, but on this occasion I do—because he is having to respond to things that have not been properly locked down in this legislation. So I will look at Hansard, but it is quite clear that, one way or another, we will have to come back on Report to these absolutely central issues. Having said that, I beg leave to withdraw Amendment 4.
Amendment 4 withdrawn.
Clause 1 agreed.