Moved by Lord Hope of Craighead
1: After Clause 1, insert the following new Clause—“Common frameworks process(1) The United Kingdom market access principles shall not apply to any statutory provision or requirement that gives effect to a decision to diverge from harmonised rules that has been agreed through the common frameworks process.(2) No regulations may be made by a Minister of the Crown with regard to a matter that is under consideration under the common frameworks process while that process in relation to that matter is still in progress.(3) The “common frameworks process” is a means, established by the Joint Ministerial Committee on European Negotiations, by which a measure of regulatory consistency to enable a functioning internal market within the United Kingdom may be mutually agreed between the United Kingdom and devolved governments.”
My Lords, I wish to move the first of three amendments in this group, which consists of Amendments 1, 38 and 51. They address the rules for the mutual recognition of goods in Part 1 of the Bill, of services in Part 2 and of professional qualifications in Part 3. They are all directed to the same essential point: the relationship between the common frameworks process and the internal market that the Bill seeks to create. Underlying this is a question which goes to the heart of the relationship between the Governments of the four nations in this United Kingdom.
There are two ways in which our internal market can be created. Is this to be a market created by all four nations working together, as they are doing through the common frameworks process, or is it to be created by imposition from Westminster, as the Bill seeks to do? If it is the latter, do the Government really support devolution, as the Prime Minister is now asking us to believe? Actions speak louder than words. How the Government respond to these amendments will tell us where the truth lies.
I am grateful to those noble Lords who have joined with me in proposing these amendments. I should make it clear that I intend to divide the House if the Minister is unable to give me an assurance that the Government accept the principle that lies behind the amendments and will come back at Third Reading with amendments of their own that give effect to it.
The noble Lord, Lord True, has said several times that the market access principles are designed not to replace but to complement the common frameworks. I am sure that he will not mind when I say that he was not the first to use that expression, nor, since it is not his word, if I tell him what I think of it.
The word “complements” is in the White Paper. The noble Lord assured us that the Government remain committed to the common frameworks programme. I would like to take him at his word, but what does he mean by that? Are the market access principles that the Bill sets out really complementary to each other, as he has indicated? It is hard to see how that can be, unless the Bill itself tells us how these two systems are to work together towards the same aim. As it is, when you consider the effect of the market principles on that programme, to say that they complement each other seems a complete misuse of language. My amendments seek to bring the two together, in a way that fully respects the devolution settlement while allowing the principles to operate fully in all the other areas that the common frameworks do not touch.
Without going over again all the ground that I covered in Committee, I should remind your Lordships that the common frameworks process has its origin in an agreement reached at a meeting of the Joint Ministerial Council in 2017. Something had to be done to create a harmonious working relationship between them all when we left the EU. The devolved nations had been able, within the limits of EU law, to fulfil their responsibilities as devolved Governments to formulate and apply policies that best suited their local circumstances. So it was agreed that they and the United Kingdom Government would work together through common frameworks in order to enable the functioning of the UK internal market, while—this was a crucial part of the agreement—acknowledging policy divergence. Therefore, each devolved Administration was to retain the ability to diverge from the harmonised rules in their territory within the mandate given to them by the devolution settlement, after consulting the relevant policy group to see whether a common outcome could be reached and agreed to. Now, three years later, and without the agreement of the JMC or any of the devolved nations, we have this Bill.
Not only does the Bill ignore the common frameworks process but it destroys one of the key elements in that process that brought the devolved Administrations into it in the first place: it destroys policy divergence. It destroys those Administrations’ ability through that process to serve the interests of their own people, and to innovate. The common frameworks operate by working out solutions by agreement between the four nations. If a policy divergence is sought, it has to be agreed to. The market access principles system, on the contrary, does not operate by agreement; it is hard edged. It is a set of strict statutory rules which, apart from the few limited exceptions, do not allow for any divergence at all.
A policy aim which is designed to deal with serious threats to human, animal or plant health will be protected by the exclusion in Schedule 1, but that exclusion is narrowly drawn—threats to the environment, for example, are not mentioned. So policy aims giving effect to advances in the science relating to biodegradable plastics, for example, are outside its scope. As time goes on, there will be others which one party to the common frameworks system would like to put into effect. Business is nothing if it is not dynamic, so there must be room for improvement in what we do across all four nations. The common frameworks system should be allowed to develop but, under the Bill as it stands, all of that will be inhibited by rigid rules.
It does not have to be that way. Our amendments seek to go to the heart of the problem. They assume that a requirement is enacted by a devolved Administration that has been agreed by all four nations under a common framework. They assume that it is being enacted to give effect to a policy formed within its own part of the UK, which the other nations, having assessed its effect on the market as whole, are willing to accept. The question is: how can that requirement retain its effect if traders from another part of the UK can simply ignore it when trading across the border? There is nothing that a trading standards officer—or a court, for that matter—could do to prevent that. This is an invitation to traders—who operate, after all, in their own commercial interests according to the rules of the marketplace—to disregard the requirement as they please when they cross the border.
The devolved Administrations deplore the fact that a process that all four nations have agreed to is at risk of being undermined in this way. The Welsh Government have indicated that they cannot agree to this. The Scottish Parliament has refused to consent to it. Others will speak for Northern Ireland. How can this be a UK internal market when it does not have the support of the other nations? Please do not say that there is widespread support for this Bill. That is not an answer to the very precise question that I am raising, which the White Paper said nothing about at all.
Our amendments seek to do no more than allow the two systems to live together. It will enable them both to work together towards the same common aim. In that way the market principles will truly complement the common frameworks, instead of undermining them and calling into question the whole process. Had it not been for the devolved settlements—for devolution itself—there would have been no problem. We would have been a single Administration and there would have been no need for this Bill at all. But we cannot turn the clock back. Devising rules for this internal market requires us to accept the constitutional arrangements that now exist. It is the genius of the common frameworks that a way was found, by agreement, of doing that. That is what our amendments are all about. They are no wider than is necessary. They are not seeking to undermine the Bill. I beg to move.
My Lords, in this group I wish to speak in particular to Amendment 1, which my noble and learned friend Lord Hope of Craighead has explained most eloquently. In Committee, the Government tried to assure us that Parts 1 to 3 of the Bill were somehow compatible with or complementary to the common frameworks process, that the Government were fully committed to that process, and that the intention of the Bill was to fill in the gaps where common frameworks did not operate. But we had no explanation of how the common frameworks process and the market access principles would work alongside each other. No real-world example was cited that the existing common frameworks process did not or could not address in the future.
For example, we were told that different building standards would tie the construction industry in knots. But there are already different building standards, including the excellent requirement in Wales that builders must install fire suppression systems in all new residential premises. This was introduced 14 years ago by the then National Assembly, and guidance to the sector on it runs to several hundred pages—understandable for a measure that will save lives. Has the construction industry been campaigning against devolution as a result? No. Then there was the risk to the English supply of malting barley to Scotland from divergent restrictions on pesticides. That case folded when the noble Lord, Lord Purvis of Tweed, pointed out that the use of fertilisers and pesticides was one of the extremely rare explicit exclusions from the market access principle.
In Part 3, the regulation of qualifications, we heard that there are no examples of current professions where the measures might be needed, but that they might be needed in future. We were told that
“there may be new technologies, ideas and proposals that will come forward. There is the whole world of artificial intelligence or gene editing—there is a massive range of new and potential professional areas, bodies and qualifications that may come forward.”—[
In response, I simply say that we all want and welcome innovation. Advancement is accommodated in the common frameworks process. This Bill does not complement the common frameworks process; it consigns common frameworks to becoming a meaningless sideshow.
The Bill does not simply maintain the status quo ante EU membership; it shackles the ability of the elected Parliaments in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland to find their own solutions to the problems we face. It is not based on warm support for devolution but rather on hot resentment of the fact that the devolved Governments and legislatures can innovate at speed and take their populations with them. In response to every example of innovative policy-making by the devolved institutions—on plastics, minimum pricing of alcohol and so on—Ministers say that they would not be affected by this legislation. But what of future innovations? There have been no assurances, because the day this Bill is enacted is the day an iron curtain falls between the past and the future capacity of the elected Parliaments in Scotland and Wales to make a difference.
The charge on disposable plastic bags in Wales resulted in a 90% reduction in consumption, and this has not slipped significantly. But the Welsh Government’s desire to ban all nine types of single-use plastics in combating the environmental emergency could get caught without common frameworks in place. Yet, on the world stage, the UK can now turn this to advantage as, in discussions with President-elect Biden to build and repair relationships, we evidence our ability to action initiatives to tackle climate change.
Amendment 1 and the similar Amendments 38 and 51 to Parts 2 and 3 make the market access principles the fall-back, not the default. They build on the hard work that has already gone into the common frameworks process, rather than negate it. The future of the UK depends on good internal working arrangements, respecting the devolution settlements and ensuring that all four nations work together for the common good. Securing different trade agreements will be difficult, and those negotiating need to know that the four nations recognise the importance of clear external policies, while also ensuring that the specific needs of their own populations are being actively addressed.
I ask everyone who is a unionist to think very carefully before voting against these amendments, because a rejection of this approach of mutual respect across the four nations of the UK is a rejection of devolution itself. Rejecting the uniting processes in common frameworks signals a step towards the break-up of the United Kingdom. We left Europe to have the ability to set our own rules. Now let us respect that ability internally and amend this Bill accordingly.
My Lords, I very much support these amendments. It has been my privilege to often lead the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope of Craighead, and today I am very glad to follow him.
I want to say a bit about the nature of the common frameworks. They were brought into being in 2017, as the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope, said, and he and I played some little part in encouraging that to happen. It seemed to us that it would be entirely right to take account of the different views of the devolved nations and bring them together. To a great extent that is what has happened since this system was set up.
The UK internal market is not a fixed law like the laws of the Medes and the Persians. The detail in the part that deals with the Competition and Markets Authority shows that it is intended that the internal market should develop in accordance with circumstances as they develop. It is not a rigid matter. Some mechanism therefore has to be found before allowing change. As I have understood my noble friend Lord True, he has said that the common frameworks are complementary to the Bill—or the other way round, whichever way you like to take it. That was set out quite clearly in the White Paper that preceded the Bill.
The fundamental point is that the UK internal market law will apply in the whole of the UK, but that does not preclude that law allowing for circumstances that may vary from one devolved nation to another. At the moment I live in the very north of Scotland, and I can see that there is a good justification for having somewhat different rules about building regulations relating to temperatures and so on from those in London. That kind of thing is much easier to deal with if it is dealt with by people who know about it in detail, and that is what has happened in the common frameworks over quite a long time. It has been found that a large number of those frameworks do not require any innovation at all in the circumstances, although there are some, which are still under consideration, that require modification as a result of changes in the various conditions that apply across the United Kingdom.
I take it from what my noble friend Lord True, whom I greatly respect, has said on behalf of the Government from the Dispatch Box that those two ways of legislating are complementary. I am anxious that the way they complement each other should be set forth in the Bill because that is an important part of how the UK market Bill will develop. As I said, there is no question but that it is expected to develop and change.
The situation is that the common frameworks are dealt with by a committee set up by principles. So far as I know, and I have sought information on this point, it has worked very well, so why not allow it to continue? All that is required to happen is that the particular result of agreement in the common frameworks will lead to a modification of the United Kingdom Internal Market Bill agreed in the whole of the UK. That seems a very good way of dealing with some kinds of change. The Bill provides for the Competition and Markets Authority to have a function of the same general kind, leading to advice and legislation in Parliament. That is an extremely good and wise way of conducting the business of an internal market, and it makes it clear that the same law applies over the whole of the UK—nothing else but that the law recognises agreed variations suitable to the circumstances of particular nations. I cannot for the life of me see why that is not legislated for in the Bill.
As I have said already, it is said that the two are complementary. There is no provision in the Bill at the moment to say how that complementary relationship is to work. We have sought to do that after a fairly thorough consideration of how it can be done, and that is what this series of amendments is trying to do. If the Government can think of a better way of arranging it then we would be glad to hear it, but we cannot leave it without any consideration at all. If the Bill goes forward without any reference to the common frameworks, it is hard to see how those frameworks affect the issue as they ought to.
I am very much in favour of the amendment, and of the union. All my life I have been concerned with Scotland and I am very anxious that it should remain in the warmth and success of the United Kingdom, which it has done already for a long time. I have personally found that a very great comfort, as your Lordships will understand. So I hope the Government can accept this amendment or, if not, will come forward with a better way of recognising the complementarity of the common frameworks with the Bill and put it in an express form that would be better than this, if they can find one.
My Lords, I apologise to the House that I was unable to participate in Committee, but I spoke at Second Reading.
I shall speak particularly to Amendment 1. I was pleased to add my name to the signatories to this amendment. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope of Craighead, and my noble and learned friend Lord Mackay of Clashfern have unparalleled understanding of the principles and workings of devolution in the United Kingdom today, while my good friend the noble Baroness, Lady of Llandaff, has a very practical grasp of the day-to-day issues and realities of the operation of devolution in a plethora of policy areas, particularly health and palliative care.
My experience of devolution was initially very much at the coalface of the operation of what was then the Welsh Assembly—now the Senedd Cymru, the Welsh Parliament—for 12 years as a Member and a party leader from its establishment. The reality of life was largely driven not by idealism in those early days, and indeed now, but by ensuring that it operated in the best interests of the people of Wales and of the wider UK. I believe that that lodestar is still what guides Members of the Senedd today in making it work effectively.
The year 1999, with the setting up of both the Scottish Parliament and the then Welsh Assembly, represented a very real break with the past. There were of course pressure points between Wales and Westminster, and certainly between Scotland and Westminster, even when the parties in power were the same, which of course they were in the early days, both being Labour. That phenomenon is possibly more acute when the same parties are in power. Over time, those points of friction have decreased and eased. Politicians and officials got used to closer working. There were still points of dispute, of course, but that is the nature of politics. Devolution was extended and deepened by the Conservatives in Wales with a referendum for full powers, which was passed decisively, and the Silk commission report being acted on and introducing new powers from Westminster. There was a new devolution settlement, which has been honoured by successive Governments and needs to continue to be honoured.
Let us flash forward to the withdrawal from the EU and the work of this House and the other place on common frameworks. As was noted by my noble friend Lord Dunlop in Committee, the introduction of common frameworks was a success and agreement was
“reached … 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.”—[
That approach has delivered on the policy areas that were identified, with very few exceptions, which were all truly exceptional. It is worth restating that the common frameworks have delivered and are delivering.
It may be an unpalatable truth for some that consensus has succeeded, but it has. Dirigiste action—directions imposed top down from the centre—will not be successful. As the Constitution Committee of your Lordships’ House has concluded in relation to this Bill:
“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.”
Respectfully, I very much agree with that view.
I am a committed unionist and a proud Briton. I was pleased to see how successful the common framework was in delivering. I was at some of those meetings where the common frameworks were being discussed, representing both Northern Ireland and Wales on those occasions. I take no pleasure at all in the possible break-up of what, to me, is the greatest country in the world. It is far from inevitable, but the preservation of the union has to be worked at constantly. It is vital for the devolved Administrations and Westminster to work together—which Amendment 1 provides for—never more so than now. That is why I support this amendment and urge others, and indeed the Government, to do the same.
My Lords, it is a delight to follow the noble Lord, Lord Bourne, with whom I served in the National Assembly 20 years ago and who has done a good hard day’s work for Wales. We do not always agree, but we certainly agree on the need for us to work together whenever possible in the interests of Wales and the wider interest represented in this Chamber.
I rise to support Amendments 38 and 51, to which I have put my name. I will also speak to Amendment 1, moved so effectively by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope. The House is indebted to him for the diligent and convincing work he did in Committee and has done on earlier legislation before this House. He has highlighted the need to establish an acceptable mechanism for facilitating a harmonious working relationship between the four Governments of these islands in the context of the UK common market. The noble Baroness, Lady Finlay, has also been diligent in pursuing these points, and has warned graphically today about the iron curtain that will fall if the Bill goes forward unamended. I know that several colleagues will have received representations from the Welsh Government on these and associated matters.
I will not restate the detailed arguments in favour of the common frameworks. I am sure that I am not the only Member participating in this debate who is, by now, heartily sick of having to restate time and again the same old arguments concerning the relationship between the devolved Governments and the Westminster Government in the context of the post-Brexit world that we inhabit. I am sure that noble Lords from England are tired of hearing the same issues arise time after time—as they have in a succession of Bills and debates over the last four years—about how new legislation to create appropriate manufacturing, farming and trading relationships between Wales, Scotland, Northern Ireland and England will work out, how a level playing field may be established and how differences may be resolved without undermining either the integrity of the UK market or the authority of the devolved Governments within their own devolved competences. Both need to be achieved, but the Government address only the first: the integrity of the UK market.
Members of this Chamber from Wales are heartily sick of having to press the same issues time after time for the simple reason that they still have not been resolved. Colleagues from Scotland and Northern Ireland may well feel likewise. The Minister is no doubt equally tired of having to trot out the same old responses. The debates continue because the uncertainty continues and, even now, six weeks before the end of the transition period, we still do not know what the trading parameters applicable from
If that uncertainty were not enough, this week, the Prime Minister described devolution as a disaster. The tragedy of the post-devolution era is that Westminster still has not adjusted its mindset to accept that it now has to work in partnership, not as a domineering and patronising big brother that always expects to get its own way. It is that failure, more than anything else, that now stands to blow the United Kingdom apart, and it is central to this amendment.
It is facile to blame the SNP for advocating the policy that is, after all, their raison d’être. The far more relevant question is why, in every election since 2003, have the SNP secured the support of the Scottish electorate to govern Scotland? It is no use the Prime Minister shooting the messenger; he must ask himself, as must all his colleagues in government: how is it that such a clear message from Scotland has come about? One element in the answer to that is Brexit and, in particular, the failure of the Government to put forward an acceptable model for the post-Brexit trading relationships within the United Kingdom. This amendment offers them an opportunity to put that right.
Once again, these amendments seek to establish a partnership in which, as the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope, described, there is a system of framework agreements that can help to ensure that one Government will not overrule the other three Governments on matters where responsibility is now returning from Brussels. I am glad that the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mackay of Clashfern, has his name to these amendments because, through the passage of this Bill and earlier legislation impinging on these matters, he has consistently advocated to join common frameworks. He understands how important this is in a Scottish context for such a provision to be included; indeed, he understands the reservations that many Members of the Scottish Parliament, across party lines, have with this Bill as it currently stands.
I am glad that the noble Lord, Lord Bourne, added his name to this amendment and was delighted to hear him speak from his personal experience. As former leader of the Conservatives in the National Assembly, as it was then, he understands the need to get this right. He also understands the thinking among Senedd Members in Wales today. There is enough cross-party agreement in Cardiff, Edinburgh, Belfast and Westminster that this area needs to be revisited and that the Government, surely, must move to make some accommodation along the lines of these amendments. I hope that the Minister is in a reflective mindset and, indeed, a conciliatory mood today, and that he will be positive in his response.
It is a pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Wigley, and a real privilege and honour to follow the speeches of the noble and learned Lords, Lord Hope of Craighead and Lord Mackay of Clashfern, the noble Baroness, Lady Finlay of Llandaff, and the noble Lord, Lord Bourne of Aberystwyth. They were speeches of real quality, and they got absolutely to the heart of the problem that had been identified in the Commons—indeed, identified time and again.
Everybody accepts the need for trade that is as frictionless as possible within the internal market of the UK. Everybody equally respects the need for appropriate divergence. How are those two matters to be dealt with? The answer, which everybody in this House and the Commons agreed with, was the common frameworks process, set up by the Conservative Government, with the agreement of the devolved Assemblies, in October 2017. It is a process that has stood the test of time and works to deliver divergence by agreement.
I note in passing that the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mackay of Clashfern, said that he often led the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope of Craighead. However, one thing that the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope of Craighead, did not learn from the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mackay of Clashfern, was emollience. However, the trenchant language used by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope, today was appropriate. He said that “actions speak louder than words”. He said that if we are to believe the commitments repeated in the last 24 hours by the Government on devolution, they need to deliver on their promise that the common frameworks process should be allowed to complement the internal market arrangements.
The noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope of Craighead, said that, without some amendments to this Bill, it would be a “misuse of language” to say that they complement each other. I beg to suggest that what he meant by that is that if you have only the market access principles and no legal recognition of the common frameworks process, that process is completely ignored because—to use the language of the noble Baroness, Lady Finlay of Llandaff, in an earlier part of the proceedings on this Bill—this is a “blunderbuss” that, in the words of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope of Craighead, does not allow for a key part of the functioning of devolution, namely divergence in the appropriate case.
We on this side of the House support Amendments 1, 38 and 51. We think they do give effect to the common frameworks in a legally binding way, without in any way undermining the need for a properly functioning internal market—the need for which we recognise. I earnestly ask the Government, on behalf of this side of the House, to do what they kept saying they would do: find a solution to the problem. It is so important, not just for the proceedings of this Bill but for the preservation of the devolution settlements in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland, and the preservation of the union.
My Lords, it is a great privilege to follow all the speeches so far, which have so compellingly made the case for the common frameworks process. I wish to speak in favour of the amendments in this group, which have been spoken to so effectively by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope of Craighead. These are amendments which, rightly, seek to give effect and primacy to decisions agreed under the common frameworks process. I regret that it was not possible for me to join the Committee stage proceedings, but I have read the Official Report of the first-class discussion of similar amendments debated on
The issue of common frameworks and the lack of any recognition in this Bill of their existence, let alone their importance, goes to the heart of many of my profound misgivings about this proposed legislation. As has been noted several times in the past and already several times today, the creation of the common frameworks process can be traced back to the Joint Ministerial Committee declaration on
“Common frameworks will be established where they are necessary in order to: enable the functioning of the UK internal market, while acknowledging policy divergence”— and the noble and learned Lords, Lord Hope and Lord Falconer of Thoroton, emphasised the words “policy divergence”. Among the other principles was that:
“Frameworks will respect the devolution settlements and the democratic accountability of the devolved legislatures, and will therefore … maintain, as a minimum, equivalent flexibility for tailoring policies to the specific needs of each territory as is afforded by current EU rules”.
Crucially, and to state the obvious, that declaration was agreed by the United Kingdom Government and the devolved Administrations.
The importance of such agreement being reached was recommended by the conclusions of the European Union Committee of the House, which, in its fourth report of the 2017-19 Session, said:
“Any durable solution will need the consent of all the nations of the United Kingdom, and of their elected representatives.”
It went on to say that
“A successful settlement cannot be imposed by the UK Government: it must be developed in partnership with the devolved Governments.”
The Government themselves acknowledge in their most recent report, published only a few weeks ago, that
“the UK Government and devolved administrations have continued to work jointly to develop UK Common Frameworks, to protect the UK economy and give maximum certainty to businesses, consumers and international partners”,
and, notably, that United Kingdom Ministers commend UK common frameworks as ensuring
“regulatory coherence across the UK by flexibly managing any potential policy divergence across the four nations.”
However, instead of building on the positive and constructive work of the common frameworks process, we have this Bill, which surely runs counter to the conclusions of the European Union Committee report. Quite clearly it does not command the support of the devolved Administrations, nor was it developed in partnership with them—it is being imposed by the UK Government. That is why I believe that these amendments are so essential to restore the common frameworks process as the main driver for giving certainty to business and allowing potential policy divergence to be sensibly managed.
With respect, the efforts of Ministers to date to explain why the common frameworks are insufficient to achieve that goal have so far been unconvincing. In a letter of
“Common Frameworks cover the large number of policy areas where powers previously exercised at EU level will flow directly to the UK Government and the devolved administrations in Edinburgh, Cardiff, and Belfast. The Common Frameworks programme is restricted to these areas, and is not intended to cover the full spectrum of the UK economy or of business operations.”
The last sentence is factually correct, but the implication is surely that the provisions of this Bill are intended to go beyond areas where powers were previously exercised at EU level. That runs counter to what is said in the opening paragraphs of the Explanatory Notes, where we are told that businesses should be able to trade freely across the UK “as they do now.” The measures in this Bill obviously do not apply “now” to areas where powers were not exercised at an EU level, nor have they applied, or indeed been needed, in the 21 years since the devolved legislatures were established.
Rather than building on the common frameworks process, and in spite of there being no examples of trading among our UK nations having been disrupted by the legislation of a devolved legislature in these 21 years, this Government seek to take powers to regulate and diminish these legislatures as some kind of safety net against some unspecified hypothetical measure which might be brought forward at some unspecified future time. On no account can that be described as proportionate.
Surely the better way of achieving a durable and successful solution would, as advocated four years ago by the European Union Committee and reflected in the recent report of the Constitution Committee, be to reinvigorate the common frameworks based on consent and in partnership with the devolved Administration—or as the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope, put it, “all four nations working together.”
If the Government feel that there are gaps, far better to negotiate and agree with the devolved Administrations principles of mutual recognition which can be incorporated in a fresh memorandum of understanding, as well as establishing a common way forward on resolving disputes. Of course there may be challenges involved, but the agreement on common framework principles in 2017, and the admirable co-operation shown since in developing them, suggests that it is a far from impossible task.
Many of us would be reassured if, before Third Reading, Ministers were able to show a willingness—reciprocated by the devolved Administrations—to engage constructively with the objective of producing the draft of such a fresh memorandum of understanding, together with proposals for a common way forward on resolving disputes. Building on the common frameworks process, agreed jointly and implemented co-operatively, surely provides us all with a better way forward.
My Lords, I am delighted to follow the noble and learned Lord, Lord Wallace of Tankerness and I support the amendments in this group in the name of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope of Craighead. I declare an interest as a member of the Common Frameworks Scrutiny Committee.
The purpose of this important group of amendments is to safeguard the common frameworks process and ensure that it is placed in legislation. The common frameworks process cannot be bypassed by attempts by the Government to impose themselves on the constitutional devolution settlements. I agree with the premise that the amendments seek to ensure that primacy and due recognition are given to the common frameworks and that they are enshrined in legislation. They should not be perceived by the Government as a means of conflict with the internal market Bill. As the noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer of Thoroton, has said, there has to be frictionless trade and divergence by agreement. The best way to capture that is by ensuring that common frameworks sit within the legislation itself.
Common frameworks are built on the assumption that consent and agreement can be reached between Westminster and the three devolved Administrations and that they should not be undermined. The process of common frameworks should be respected and honoured in the legislation and should not be eclipsed in any way. It is interesting that in our Common Frameworks Select Committee yesterday Professor McEwen said that the process of common frameworks has sufficient flexibility to allow divergence. That builds on the comment of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer. In Committee, it was said that the legislation is seeking to jettison the common frameworks process that was started in October 2017. In many ways it is a common approach to managing divergence, a point made to our committee last week by the Welsh Counsel General, Jeremy Miles.
The Governments have been working on a primacy or a hierarchy of Governments in this to develop common frameworks in areas where they agree it is necessary to replace EU regulations with shared EU regulations or non-legislative frameworks. The Joint Ministerial Committee made clear that common frameworks will be established where they are necessary in order to, among other things, enable the functioning of the UK internal market while acknowledging policy divergence. These points have been made by earlier speakers today. It was clear from listening to the Ministers from the Scottish and Welsh Governments last week that, although they come from different political perspectives, they see the benefits of working together in partnership to manage divergence on certain policy issues through the common frameworks. So why would the Government want to nullify that process? It is surely eminently complementary that they can work together in legislation with the regulations of the United Kingdom Internal Market Bill.
I make a plea to the Government and the Minister to change their minds and make such provisions for common frameworks in the legislation. By abstracting the internal market from these frameworks and pushing ahead unilaterally, against opposition from the devolved authorities in Scotland and Wales, the UK Government are putting the common frameworks and devolution arrangements at risk. Coming from Northern Ireland, I fully recognise that there will be divergence anyway in Northern Ireland because certain measures to do with electricity transmission and the agri-food industry will be subject to the rules of the Northern Ireland protocol. What is the Government’s view of the devolution settlements? Do they view the devolved Administrations as subordinate or equal to Westminster, which I believe they should be? Common frameworks should be allowed to work; they are an innovative process to manage divergence.
Like the noble Lord, Lord Wigley, I hope that the Minister is in a conciliatory mood today and that he can accept Amendment 1 and Amendments 38 and 51 which are consequential. The noble Lord, Lord True, said that the Bill and common frameworks are complementary as they work together to deal with future divergence. The best way to deal with that is, surely, in the internal market Bill. That would eradicate the frustrations and any difficulties, which is an important thing to do.
My Lords, I will speak briefly in support of the amendment in the name of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope of Craighead. Before I do so, I thank the noble Lord, Lord True, for his graciousness in coming to speak to the Common Frameworks Scrutiny Committee, which I have the privilege of chairing, and I follow my esteemed colleague the noble Baroness, Lady Ritchie of Downpatrick, in her speech.
The Committee has since taken evidence from Ministers and leading academics across Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. I have to tell the Minister that we have found no evidence whatever to support the Government’s claim that the Bill is complementary to the common frameworks. We have heard, time and again, of the deep anxiety on all sides that the Bill undermines them in principle and practice and that, most significantly, it will do serious harm to trust and confidence between the four Governments, as the House has already heard this afternoon. In the words of many witnesses, those relationships have never been worse. We have heard from those witnesses of many examples of how the common frameworks themselves, in pioneering innovative, collaborative ways of working across the nations, have brought a new common purpose and are, in that way, improving relationships.
My first question to the Minister has been asked already: is this not in itself a prize worth keeping? That unity of purpose which makes it possible for two systems to live together to make the internal market stronger and more innovative is at the heart of the amendment in the name of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope of Craighead, which he introduced, as usual, in a measured style and with devastating power. The amendment encapsulates both the principles and the purpose of the common frameworks as a means of managing the internal market, but in a rational and predictable way by managing the future divergent policy choices made by the four countries in a post-Brexit world, as they have for many years in the past.
Divergence is the signature and symbol of devolution and a mark of confidence in the right to make choices in each country, in law, which are appropriate to each nation. Doing that brings clarity and stability in the trade in goods and services across the internal market by agreement. The amendment simply asks the Government to change the Bill so that when the common frameworks have reached agreement on divergence, whether in goods or services, that is not demolished or overridden by the operation of the Bill.
No matter what examples the Minister gives, or whatever rationale he finds, this is the effect of legislation made in Westminster. Governments may be equal, but Parliaments are not. The Minister may say that nothing is being taken away from the powers of the devolved Governments in these clauses, and he is right. The Bill does not need to do that. Its effect, however, is the same, because future legislation in Wales which would, say, have enabled the abolition of a further six types of single-use plastic—which is the ambition—would not be able to be put into effect as long as other manufacturers of plastic goods are able, as they will be under the principles of mutual recognition and non-discrimination, to bring their goods for sale in Wales.
I shall ask the Minister a direct question, and I would very much appreciate a direct answer. Was the Welsh Attorney-General right when he told the Common Frameworks Scrutiny Committee that the legislative preferences in the Senedd could not be enforced on the ground in Wales—that we would not be able to enforce the ban on the extra six plastic products if this Bill came into force? “Enforcement” is the key word. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope, was eloquent on how difficult is going to be for trading officers and the courts to know how to enforce it. There is no certainty here, yet certainty is at the heart of the Government’s argument. All this very modest amendment is asking is for the Government to acknowledge this and stop dodging this reality.
As many noble Lords have said already, the far greater impact is what this Bill is doing to the principles of devolution and the future of the union. I have searched hard to find why the Government are taking such a provocative line that runs such risks. I had hoped we might have seen more of a thaw in Downing Street now the architects of chaos have been chucked out, but it seems Ministers are still in thrall to that toxic heritage.
It is clear, not least from recent government statements, that this Bill is seen as a purely commercial proposition. Its authors cannot see any ethical or political problems that cannot be ignored, dismissed or overridden. Ministers have told us that it is necessary to bring certainty but in reality, it is a dreadful combination of uniformity, imposed by the UK Government, and uncertainty. Where is the comfort for business there?
We are told that the Bill is necessary because it creates a coherent legal framework within which the common frameworks can sit, which is needed because there are gaps. But this very framework chokes the common frameworks off. Whenever we or anybody else have asked, publicly or privately, where the gaps are and why the common frameworks cannot develop to fill them, there has been a deep and embarrassed silence from the Government. We are told that the common frameworks are limited in scope, but when we ask why they cannot be expanded to cover what may be needed, since they have proven to be so flexible, we are again met by silence. Why will the Government not give the common frameworks the time and opportunity to prove themselves?
On Monday in this House, the Government set out their plans for the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee in 2022, which will be a fantastic opportunity to celebrate everything good about this country—its institutions and communities, in all four nations. I find it profoundly sad and ironic that we should now be debating a Bill that will do more harm to the unity of this precious union of the UK than we can imagine, because it will become a symbol of the disrespect this Government have shown to the devolved nations. I would urge the Minister to read the evidence our committee has taken from those Ministers in Wales and Scotland who are profoundly aggrieved by the conduct of the Westminster Government—by the fact that 24 hours before this Bill was published, they knew nothing about it, and by the fact that every argument and piece of evidence for the damage it would do is brushed aside.
It is not too late for the Government to salvage this situation. The Minister has heard many persuasive arguments from many senior Members of this House already this afternoon. Ministers in this House are always trusted to do their best to prevent the worst consequences and to act on principle. This amendment offers the Government a dignified option that would remove the threat of a major national disruption. I have no doubt that the House will support the amendment this evening. I hope, with all sincerity, that the Minister can show some flexibility.
My Lords, it is a pleasure to follow the noble Baroness, Lady Andrews, and I would like to congratulate her and her committee for all the work they have done in connection with common frameworks. I would also like to express my support for the amendments in this group and, in particular, Amendment 1, for the eloquent reasons set out by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope of Craighead, and my noble and learned friend Lord Mackay of Clashfern. I would also like to recognise and pay tribute to the work they did in instigating the common frameworks, and to note the role of the Joint Ministerial Committee on EU Negotiations in agreeing in 2017 to create the common frameworks.
If the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope, is minded to press this amendment to a vote, I intend to support it, for two principal reasons. One is the advanced stages of discussions on the common frameworks that have been reached, as a number of noble Lords have said, and which have proved quite fruitful; the other is the lateness of this Bill and the proceedings, and the poor consultation of the devolved nations.
In progressing these arguments, I would like to refer briefly to the eighth European Union (Withdrawal) Act and Common Frameworks report and the revised analysis, which were published on
The noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope of Craighead, in moving his amendment, and the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mackay of Clashfern, and others have referred to the environmental aspects. I have a particular interest in this as I am fortunate enough to be a member of the EU Environment Sub-Committee. Paragraph 1.21 of the latest report, to which I have just referred, states:
“There have been regular Frameworks Project Team meetings between officials in the UK Government and the devolved administrations, where productive collaborative work continues.”
Examples are then given. Paragraph 1.22 states:
“Multiple meetings have taken place between officials in the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) and their counterparts in the devolved administrations. These include working group meetings … on Animal Health and Welfare,” plant health,
“Waste … Chemicals and Pesticides, and Fisheries.”
The noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope of Craighead, specifically mentioned the need to recognise conditions relating to the environment where divergences and different threats need to be established. He noted that there is no specific reference to the environment in the exclusions given in Schedule 1.
As I mentioned at Second Reading, for all these reasons it is bewildering that the Government have parted from the very advanced discussions of the common frameworks process. I would like to pay tribute to and thank those involved in them, particularly the Defra officials, who, in addition to all they have had to deal with at this time, have worked closely with their counterparts in the devolved Administrations.
My Lords, I am one of no fewer than seven members of the Common Frameworks Scrutiny Committee, including our chair, the noble Baroness, Lady Andrews, who we have already heard from, and the mover of this amendment, who are participating in this debate, which shows our interest—one of those interests you do not need to declare. I call it a debate but I fear that, sadly, even more so than usual, because of the hybrid nature of our proceedings, it is more a series of statements. That is a great pity and I look forward to the day when we can get back to all sitting round this Chamber and having a proper debate.
I also speak as a strong supporter of devolution since the early 1960s, when, as some of my colleagues here, who are nearly as old as I am, will recall, to be a supporter of devolution was not the most popular thing to be in the Labour Party. We had to work very hard to persuade the party to move in that direction. I say that now to put into context what I will say later, but I sound a cautionary note. People sometimes get on to a bandwagon, and it goes faster and faster, more and more people jump on, and they do not always know which direction it is going in and what the consequences and all the implications are.
We have had devolution for a very long time in Scotland, but mostly it was administrative devolution. We have had a different educational service for a long time. As my noble and learned friend Lord Falconer and the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh, who is a Scots advocate—not practising, as she keeps reminding us—could tell us, we have had a Scots law system that is entirely different. We have had that for decades—indeed, in some cases for centuries. However, for so long, legislation in Scotland was dealt with at Westminster right at the end of lots of other legislation, as a sort of afterthought or codicil. There was little time spent on it, or interest in it. I was a Member of Parliament, along with the noble Lord, Lord Cormack, and others who will remember that it was not the main business we were dealing with. That is why we pushed hard.
The main argument in favour of a Scottish Parliament was to provide democratic accountability in relation to the administrative devolution that had already taken place. But we always understood—this is what I think some people have forgotten—that Westminster remained and remains ultimately responsible for the good government of the whole United Kingdom. That is something never to forget. Some people want us to forget it, but it is very important. We have a sort of quasi-federal system. It was supposed to develop throughout the whole United Kingdom, but the proposal that the Labour Government put forward for devolution in the north-east of England was ill thought out. It was put forward at a bad time and did not get through. Had we had devolution for the whole United Kingdom things would be very different from the way they are at the moment.
The other thing is that devolution is completely different from independence. The two are completely separate concepts, and it is important never to forget that. It is in the interests of the SNP, the nationalists, to obfuscate, to muddy the waters, to pretend that one and the other are very similar, and to say, “Don’t worry”. Boris Johnson, our Prime Minister, recently showed that he does not understand devolution, but beware: equally, the SNP does not want us to understand devolution and is not using it as it is meant to be used, to benefit the people and improve the conditions of the people in Scotland.
Someone—I think the noble Lord, Lord Bourne—raised earlier that when we have Governments of similar political persuasions in Scotland and in the rest of the United Kingdom there are sometimes substantial difficulties. I know exactly that situation: I was Minister of State for Scotland in the United Kingdom Government and I dealt with an Administration in Scotland that was run by the Labour Party in coalition with the Liberal Democrats. We worked very well together. I used to meet weekly with Ministers in the Scottish Government. We had discussions about free personal care and how it should be funded. They were good, positive discussions and we all understood the position exactly.
I acknowledge as much as anyone—after all, I was a Member of the Scottish Parliament for four years, so I saw it as an MSP—the importance of involving the Scottish, Welsh and Northern Irish Parliaments and Governments, consulting where appropriate, giving them powers, allowing them total control over all the devolved areas and having them involved in other areas through the legislative consent Motions and the Sewel convention. I know that, and I felt it myself. But it is equally important to remember that each of the devolved Governments are not always right. Sometimes I think that some people assume that they are always right. I worry sometimes that we in Westminster do not want to be seen as big brothers, or to impose on or upset them, so we take what they say as gospel. We give them a veto where it is not appropriate. Sometimes I wonder whether those who came late to supporting devolution are the strongest advocates of taking account of their concerns: it is the zeal of the convert, perhaps.
Having said all that, I strongly support the amendment because it is better to achieve consensus through a common frameworks procedure, a procedure by which agreement can be reached in most cases, and if it cannot be reached there are mechanisms for resolving that, rather than the clumsy, if I may say so, blunderbuss of the internal market Bill, which was rushed in without consultation. This is where I do understand and agree with what others have said, and with the devolved Administrations. I do not blame the noble Lord, Lord True, but I know who is to blame—he does as well.
I do not want to see one—particularly one—of the devolved Administrations having a veto. That is why I hope the Government will look carefully at the possibility of the qualified majority and how it can be used, so that if three out of the four agree to go forward, one, for its own particular reasons, cannot stop this being achieved. I also hope that the Minister will look at the amendments relating to the super-affirmative resolution and the kind of safeguards that gives.
Finally, I say to beware of wolves in sheep’s clothing: if you throw meat at them they just ask for more. Beware: it is sometimes better that, from time to time, they be tethered. It is better that, from time to time, we give the people of the countries of the devolved Administrations the opportunity of looking forward to having Governments that look after the interests of the people, not their own political aims and ideals. What we have in Scotland now, sadly, is a Government who put that above everything else. We have seen it in some of the services in education, in the health service and in justice that have been neglected. It is something that I ask colleagues in this debate—I hope it will become more of a debate—to remember.
My Lords, it is always a privilege to follow the noble Lord, particularly in his plea that we parliamentarians should debate in depth with all who want to take part in this Chamber. This is my first opportunity to thank colleagues on the Front Bench, my noble friends Lord True and Lord Callanan, for the way they handled Committee stage. It was not an easy Committee; nevertheless, one notes that among the amendments on Report there are a number of government amendments that follow some quite long debates on issues. We should reflect as colleagues and thank them for listening and coming forward with those amendments.
Subject to rereading the debates on the final day, I also hope that it is now recognised in the House that there is nothing illegal about the Bill. Noble Lords may disagree with it and with the politics of it, but its legality is now without question.
I am sure everybody is pleased, as I am, that there appears to be total agreement that the common framework is complementary to this Bill as matters stand and that—we have listened to noble Lords from Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland—it appears to have worked well. That is to be cherished but, having spent five years in the chair looking at this, I note that it is pretty unusual to have a linkage across one Bill that becomes an Act and another Bill that hopes to become an Act. If there is to be such a linkage, the evidence must be absolutely conclusive, because if you go down that road you will find a clash of interests at some point. As a parliamentarian, for me that is the worst of all worlds.
At some point, arising from the dimensions of some of the contributions today, we may well need a further Bill reflecting some of the issues voiced this afternoon. However, we should not impose a new clause which appears to undermine to a degree the drive of this Bill. We need to reflect that this is a UK government Bill. It is all about the powers of the UK Government, particularly regarding the internal market but nevertheless recognising that the UK Government are responsible for external matters.
This amendment appears to me, having looked at and thought about it quite a lot, to undermine this. I am really concerned that, as it stands today, this may undermine devolution to a degree. I fully accept and understand that we may well want a full debate on a different Bill on the powers that rest with the Northern Ireland, Welsh and Scottish Governments and with the central UK Government, but this is not the Bill for that. I understand people’s concern about it, but this Bill focuses totally—and I believe should continue to focus totally—on making a success of leaving the EU.
My Lords, I reflect from the debate so far that the leadership of the main political parties at Westminster would do themselves a favour if they studied the speech of my noble friend Lord Foulkes. I will not go over the detail, but there were sufficient warnings there from someone who has had experience of the Scottish Parliament, the House of Commons and the House of Lords that really need to be listened to.
The first four speeches, from the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope, the noble Baroness, Lady Finlay, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mackay of Clashfern, and the noble Lord, Lord Bourne, were masterclasses in argument in favour of the union, going well beyond this amendment. To be honest, I must tell the Minister that this is not a modest amendment, as far as I am concerned; no way is it a modest technical adjustment of the Bill.
This Bill, as was said earlier, destroys policy divergence. It is a one-size-fits-all Bill; to that extent, it is a rejection of devolution. I well remember the examples that my noble friend Lord Foulkes gave, as will the noble Lord, Lord Cormack. Take the 1974-79 Parliament; it was always at 10 o’clock at night that we got Scottish business, on housing and education, and we were on a three-line Whip, with slender government majorities or, most of the time, no government majority. We always thought, “Why can’t Scots deal with this themselves? This is a different legal system, which most of us do not understand.” Moreover, there was never enough time for those representing Scotland, who did understand it, to debate the matters fully. Born out of that was devolution.
My experience, which I will not go into in detail, was as a Minister at the ODPM and MAFF—which had massive contacts with the devolved Administrations simply because of the devolution of food, farming and agriculture—and then at the Food Standards Agency. At the time, the Scottish Government were in effect forced to set up their own food standards agency, as they were entitled to do by the legislation. Wales and Northern Ireland may well do the same—the legislation allows them to do it—because they will be forced into the situation as a result of issues such as this Bill.
I do not quite understand this issue of complementary arrangement. I spent a bit of time while listening to everybody’s speeches going through my dictionaries, thesaurus and everything, and I still do not understand it. There seems to be no connection between the common frameworks set-up and the Bill. If that is the case, I cannot for the life of me see how there can be any complementary arrangements. The Bill overrides the other processes; there is no connection whatever to that extent. Amendment 1 puts in a connection, which is crucial.
In terms of divergence over what is required with imports, the UK Government will take no account of what happens in the common frameworks process if the Bill goes unamended. Again, it will be one size fits all. The trade department will do the trade deals and take no account whatever of any desired or agreed policy divergence between the four constituent parts of the UK.
The Prime Minister has made the position crystal clear. It does not matter how much spin he puts on it or how many weasel words come from him and his acolytes; the fact is that he said that
“devolution has been a disaster north of the border”.
That is a fundamental attack on devolution; it would not matter who was in charge north of the border. He said it was a fundamental mistake of Tony Blair, but he later tied it to the actions of the current Government in Scotland; he did not say that to start with. He was fundamentally opposed to devolution. You cannot compare the devolution of the Mayor of London with what happens in the Governments of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.
The union is at stake. Ministers seem to gloss over this. I think we are on our way to a federal Great Britain. I give full support to this amendment, which is fundamentally required. This is nothing personal, but I have never seen a spark of conciliation from the noble Lord, Lord True—I am sure he will take that from me as an absolute compliment—and I do not expect him to be at all conciliatory to what the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope, has said, and in due course I expect to vote for the amendment.
My Lords, I congratulate the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope, and his fellow signatories on these amendments. Amendment 1 neatly turns this Bill on its head, so that market access principles will not apply to any decisions to diverge that are agreed through the common frameworks process. That means that common frameworks come first, and it is only when they do not provide complete cover that the provisions of this Bill need to come into effect.
The Government have maintained throughout these debates that they remain committed to common frameworks, despite their determination to avoid even mentioning them in the Bill. They have insisted that all they want to do is fill the gap left by our leaving the EU and that they have no intention of attacking devolution. The mask slipped on Monday when the Prime Minister called devolution a “disaster” and “Tony Blair’s greatest mistake”—which makes it a greater mistake than the Iraq war. The cards are now on the table.
The Government have also hidden behind what they allege to be the requirements of the business community, and that is what I want to deal with now. That seems to have been a misrepresentation, too. Some noble Lords may have been contacted by the Aldersgate Group, which represents major businesses, professional institutes, civil society organisations and academic institutions. Its corporate members have a collective turnover of £550 billion a year and include Associated British Ports, Tesco, John Lewis, Siemens, Michelin and many more household names. The group wants this Bill substantially amended. It says specifically that, although it wants frictionless intra-UK trade,
“these objectives should be pursued in a way that allows individual nations of the UK to go above and beyond minimum common standards.”
The group points out that EU rules allow member states to go beyond harmonised rules relating to the environment, for instance, and that this has allowed the UK in the past to set higher standards on single-use plastic, for example. The group states:
“Allowing different approaches in different jurisdictions that are subject to common minimum standards can drive improvements and result in a race to the top.”
Finally, it points out that frictionless trade and encouraging a race to the top in environmental standards are not mutually contradictory.
I live in Cardiff and, like the noble Lords, Lord Bourne and Lord Wigley, I am an ex-Member of the Welsh Assembly. Therefore, I have a strong awareness of the successful efforts within Wales over the last two decades to encourage responsible and sustainable economic development. As a country, we know that we cannot win markets on the basis of our size and dominance, so we set out to win business on the basis of excellence and higher standards. That is a noble ambition and Wales—as I have pointed out before—is a perfect size for experiments and pilot projects.
It is common frameworks that lie behind the development of higher standards. I am a member of the Common Frameworks Committee. We have had evidence from academics, reports from officials involved in developing common frameworks over the last three years and conversations with Ministers from the devolved Assemblies and Parliaments. All these people say that the common frameworks process is working well, that collaboration is good and flourishing, and that they are a good and firm foundation for the future of the internal market in the UK. So this Bill is not needed—and certainly not without major amendment to cement the central and primary role of common frameworks, so that, as long as there is agreement between Governments via a common framework, innovation and specific requirements for individual markets will be possible. My noble friend Lord Bruce is also a member of the Common Frameworks Committee and has specifically asked to be associated with my remarks on this today.
As it stands, the Bill severs all incentive for the development of best practice and stops innovation in its tracks, not just within the devolved nations but, by read across, in England as well, because there is no compulsion or incentive to raise standards. In the words of the Aldersgate Group, the Government’s proposals will “stifle innovation”. That is a long way from the world-beating post-Brexit economy of the Government’s imagination. At the same time, this Bill strikes quite deliberately at the whole basis of devolution. It is designed to roll back devolution, and I warn the Government, as several noble Lords have done already, that their tactics are dangerous, not clever, and that they are playing with fire.
It is a very great privilege to follow the noble Baroness, Lady Randerson, and the many other noble Lords who have spoken in support of these amendments, and in particular Amendment 1. I strongly support that amendment in the names of my noble and learned friends Lord Hope of Craighead and Lord Mackay of Clashfern, the noble Baroness, Lady Finlay of Llandaff, and the noble Lord, Lord Bourne of Aberystwyth.
It is a great shame that these issues were not addressed some time ago in the House, after the promising steps taken in the withdrawal Act. It was obvious that there had to be arrangements to deal with a common approach to standards and—a matter to which we will come later—state subsidies, and any other matters that are essential to the operation of any internal market. We are where we are, but this Government cannot say that we have to continue to proceed along the lines of the Act without thinking through the consequences of passing it—particularly passing it unamended.
Some have said that people must be sick of points being raised about devolution. But it is important to point out that the provisions of the Act and the ones we are considering not only affect the devolution settlements and the positions of Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland, but should be as much a concern for England. We are concerned with standards that can apply to an internal market across the UK and can be enforced in England, as in other places. Sometimes, we forget the effect this could have on England.
I will take two examples. In its current form, this Bill would prevent the operation of one of the nations that wished to produce a product that was beneficial to the environment. I will take Wales as a country that would want to do that as it innovated in the case of plastic bags. I will take the example of selling ketchup in single-use plastic bottles and Wales being the first in the UK to think of introducing legislation banning that sale. In the other nations the regulations that may have to be complied with would say nothing about that, so manufacturers there would be able to sell ketchup in single-use plastic bottles. If a common framework were agreed that Wales was allowed to diverge and ban the use of ketchup in single-use plastic bottles, Wales could then proceed and make such a regulation. The effect of this Bill would be that the Welsh regulation could not be enforced in Wales against the sale of ketchup in single-use plastic bottles manufactured in England, Scotland and Northern Ireland or imported into England, Scotland or Northern Ireland. The Welsh regulation would have been rendered nugatory.
Of course, if the amendment from the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope, is accepted, it would prevent that result. It would allow the Welsh regulation to be enforced and it would be a provision that gives effect to a decision to diverge from the common framework process—and while the common framework was under discussion it would prevent the principles in the Bill applying. That has the wholly beneficial effect of driving up standards. I will put the converse example and substitute for a beneficial aim an example where one of the Governments decided to pursue an aim that was not in the results beneficial: for example, if a Government decided to allow a manufacturer to make and sell a product in packaging that was harmful to the environment.
It is not difficult to envisage this happening when a Government bow—as they do, regrettably—to pressure from a manufacturer to allow such packaging, as it would provide much-needed employment and, at the same time, play down the harmful effects. As it currently stands, the Bill would allow that manufacturer not only to sell the packaging in the nation that was prepared to permit this, but in all the other nations. Without this amendment, the Bill would have the effect of driving down standards. These two examples show, therefore, that this is a matter of concern for the Governments of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, and for the Government of the UK in its capacity as the Government of England. However, as my noble and learned friend Lord Hope has so eloquently explained, deeper issues are involved. Will the Government stick with their commitments to respect the devolution arrangements or will they undermine them? Alternatively, do they wish to achieve an internal market by consensus and with proper discussion?
I do not need to say again that, without the amendment, these provisions demonstrate a desire to undermine the devolution settlements for, without this amendment, common frameworks are pointless. However, it is worth thinking a little further. As the noble Lord, Lord Foulkes, has tried to explain, dealing with an internal market is a complex matter, and it would be much better if there was time for proper debate. Taking the second of my examples, it is easy to see how the consequences that I have outlined would undermine a proper approach to an internal market and bring about a result that no Government would want. Surely the better way of proceeding is to allow this amendment, to allow the common frameworks to develop, and to think again about how we deal with these issues of standards—as we come later in the debates to deal with the issue of subsidies—so that we create an internal market which is thought through, works, is achieved by consensus and will build the prosperity that I, like the Government, wish to see come out of this process.
My Lords, without the new clause proposed by the noble and learned lord, Lord Hope of Craighead, the common framework system is redundant and, without a change of attitude by the Government, the union of Great Britain and Northern Ireland is gravely threatened. I agree with the new clause as proposed by the noble and learned Lord and his co-signatories for the reasons that they have given, and I will support them accordingly if a Division is called. That I am disagreeing with my noble friends, the hard-working and overworked Minister on the Front Bench and Lord Naseby, is a matter of avoidable sadness.
As will readily be appreciated, common frameworks are a mechanism for the UK and devolved Governments to agree among themselves some regulatory consistency for policy areas where powers returning from the EU are within devolved competence. As the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope, told us, the principles for when a common framework is needed were agreed between the four Administrations in October 2017. It was then agreed that common frameworks would be established where they are necessary to enable the functioning of the UK internal market, while acknowledging policy divergence; to ensure compliance with international obligations; to ensure that the UK can negotiate, enter into and implement new trade agreements and international treaties; to enable the management of common resources; to administer and provide access to justice in cases with a cross-border element; and to safeguard the security of the United Kingdom. We expect common frameworks on a wide variety of topics, from the UK emissions trading system to food safety.
This House has appointed the Common Frameworks Scrutiny Committee to scrutinise and consider matters relating to these frameworks. I am, as the noble Lord, Lord Foulkes, has indicated, one of seven members of that Committee speaking today. It is a privilege to follow another, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Thomas, whose remarks, as always, deserve close attention. Under the chairmanship of the noble Baroness, Lady Andrews, we have already considered in a properly collegiate way a number of draft framework agreements, and we have more work to do.
It will perhaps be said by the Minister that this proposed new clause would disapply elements of the Bill, leaving people waiting in limbo for framework agreements to be concluded where consensus between the four Governments was not being achieved. It could create legal uncertainty about when an agreement has been finalised and hinder the Government’s ability to act where there was a need to do something quickly to avert a crisis. However, these are not convincing arguments. In which framework agreement area do the Government expect a prolonged—or even any—lack of consensus? If there is a damaging delay, the Government and Parliament can deal with the actuality, as opposed to the theoretical, with a one or two-clause Bill in a matter of hours. If the Government refuse to accept this proposed new clause, they will be doing something entirely contrary to government and Conservative Party policy, namely to encourage and even hasten the break-up of the United Kingdom. I cannot believe that they intend this. If they do, the policy behind the Bill is even more eccentric than I had previously thought. I identified some serious concerns at Second Reading and in Committee, and do not wish to add to them.
To prevent this proposed new clause becoming part of the Bill will undermine the purposes set out in the 2017 communiqué and have the adverse consequences that the noble and learned Lord, Lord Thomas, cited but, worse, it will endanger the union. I assume that the Bill is intended more as a political instrument than a constitutional one. I know that the development of our constitution over centuries has been at times unplanned, pragmatic and even haphazard, but we have tended to avoid deliberately destructive or destabilising measures.
The devolution settlement is by no means perfect but, as a Conservative and unionist, in company with my noble and learned friend Lord Mackay of Clashfern and my noble friend Lord Bourne, and many other noble Lords who have spoken today, I want to resolve the conundrum without destroying the integrity and cohesion of the United Kingdom. The natural and probable consequence of enacting this statute in its unamended form only three years after the quadrilateral agreement underpinning the common frameworks process will pull us in a damaging direction, through unwanted domination, absence of collaboration, lack of respect for the limited powers of the devolved Administrations, and a failure to recognise the complex and dynamic nature of this area of public policy. It will provoke an unequal and opposite reaction and hasten the break-up of the union.
My Lords, speaking after so many distinguished noble Lords, I will try to avoid repeating what has been said. I formally offer the Green Party’s support for these amendments and thank the noble and learned Lord who tabled them and his co-signatories for their labours and powerful arguments.
I will offer three perspectives from green political philosophy. First, on the value of diversity, which the common frameworks approach embraces, a healthy ecosystem and a healthy governance system contain diversity. Our outdated, dysfunctional Westminster system acts to suppress that and, in response, we have seen the successful drive for devolution that has brought in political diversity across these islands. As we speak, the Senedd is considering extending that diversity to local government in Wales. That is a direction of travel that the Bill clearly and deliberately seeks to wrench into reverse, being deliberately destructive, as the noble Lord, Lord Garnier, said.
Diversity has obvious practical benefits, such as the ability to experiment, as the noble Baroness, Lady Randerson, reflected earlier, with different approaches to blocking the flood of single-use plastics into our choked islands; different approaches to producing healthy food from flourishing small market gardens and farms; and different approaches to educating our children, which later amendments in my name address. Where one approach is transparently successful, we hope others will follow its lead—unless political calculations get in the way.
The second philosophical point is about the value of localism—the people affected making the decisions that affect them, ideally democratically, as the nations other than England enjoy their democratic devolved legislative structures. “Take back control” was a very popular slogan in 2016. I entirely agree with that need, and put it to your Lordships’ House that this is what the amendments in support of the common frameworks agreement do for the people of these islands.
Finally, there is the value of co-operation. Working co-operatively is something that we, as Greens, find is very popular with the public. They are fed up with the see-saw of two-party politics, of a new Government seeking to sweep aside and to argue against everything their opponent did, just for the sake of claiming victory. The common frameworks approach is the very epitome of a co-operative way of working.
The noble Baroness, Lady Finlay, said that for the Government to reject these amendments is to reject devolution itself. I agree. She said that it would be a step towards the break-up of the United Kingdom. I agree. My view of the union is different from the noble Baroness’s. I believe there is a strong natural current towards taking back control in many parts of the United Kingdom but, if it is to happen, we can surely agree that it should be in a co-operative, positive environment, not nations feeling that they have to struggle their way out from under the boot of an overweening, care-less, distant Westminster.
Finally, taking the scientific perspective that reflects my background, I invite your Lordships’ House to consider the fate of the trilobites, whose long story of ocean success and eventual extinction was laid out in a paper in the Proceedings of the Academy of Natural Science this week. Through three periods of mass global extinction, the trilobites were a large part of ocean ecosystems but, after each challenge, they had less diversity in ecological niches and bodily forms. Eventually, they dwindled to one species and disappeared. In diversity, co-operation and local power is strength. In homogeneity, dominance and centralism is a loss of resilience, decline and the potential for disaster.
My Lords, this has been a remarkable afternoon. I agreed emphatically with my friend the noble Lord, Lord Foulkes, when he said it was not so much a debate as a series of statements. I have said similar in the past about other debates. I really believe it is essential that we do something to restore debate. My very good and noble friend Lord Naseby made an interesting speech, but I would have loved to have intervened. I would have challenged him, for instance, when he said the Bill is entirely legal. It is now, because we took out Part 5 last week but, if they attempt to put it back, it will become illegal again. He would have responded robustly and interestingly to that sort of interchange. It brings the place alive. We are in a dead, one-dimensional Parliament and we have to do something about it.
Having said that, I will make a suggestion. If we group the speakers who are in the Chamber, it should be permissible for me to intervene on the noble Lord, Lord Foulkes, the noble Lord, Lord Foulkes, on me, me on my noble friend Lord Naseby or whatever. At the beginning, whoever is on the Woolsack reads the rubric about all noble Lords being treated equally, but there is a time to depart from that. It is entirely right and proper for noble Lords to speak on the screen but, if they are there and not here, they cannot expect to enjoy all the privileges and preferences that those of us who take the risk to come here ought to have. I urge those who arrange these things to consider that.
Outside Part 5, the subject of today’s debate is the most important part of the Bill. We had a magisterial introduction to the debate from the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope of Craighead, wonderfully and amusingly backed up by somebody who led him so often, my noble and learned friend Lord Mackay of Clashfern. I beg the Minister, in his reply, to reflect on what those two eminent lawyers said. One was a Conservative Lord Chancellor of many years, and he was backed up by others such as the noble Baroness, Lady Finlay, who was another signatory to the amendment. I think that all noble Lords who introduced this amendment gave, as one noble Lord described, a masterclass in how to do it.
Despite what my dear and good friend the noble Lord, Lord Rooker, said, the Government have demonstrated that they can listen to your Lordships’ House—not only on the Agriculture Bill a week ago, but today on the Order Paper. We have all had a letter, signed by my noble friends Lord True and Lord Callanan, thanking us for our contributions in Committee and saying that they have taken points on board. They have—not enough, but they have. If any point is to be taken on board it is that which we are debating in this first series of amendments. It is crucial, as several noble Lords have said, as the union is at stake.
We were not helped by a certain insensitive remark by an eminent personage a couple of days ago. As we have said before, the noble Lord, Lord Foulkes, and I were on opposite sides in the 1970s when we were debating devolution, but it has happened. It is a fact of life. Therefore, there has to be an arrangement between the constituent Parliaments of the United Kingdom. Every noble Lord who has spoken today, with the possible exception of the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett of Manor Castle, has expressed a fervent desire to keep the union. It is the most remarkable union in modern history, but it is at risk. It is at risk because the Prime Minister is perceived—and perceptions are so important in politics—to have a rather haughty attitude towards Scotland. It is at risk because the Government are perceived not to care sufficiently about the frameworks of the constituent Parliaments of the United Kingdom.
The noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope, laid this out with forensic and clinical precision. I beg my noble friend, in his reply, to reflect on what the noble and learned Lord said in introducing our proceedings. Notice that I am not calling them a “debate”. I beg and beseech my noble friends, Lord True and Lord Callanan, to show a degree of sensitivity, as they have on some other amendments. Sensitivity is not a political weakness; it is sign of political maturity and strength. Reflect and, as I hope, we may not have to vote this afternoon.
I hope the Minister promises to come back at Third Reading, having had conversations with the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope, my noble and learned friend Lord Mackay of Clashfern, and my noble friend Lord Bourne of Aberystwyth. Remember that, for several years, he led the Conservative Party in the Welsh Assembly, as it then was. These are not political enemies and this is not a party-political issue. It is a constitutional issue of supreme importance to all parties. I ask the Minister, please, to take it away and have conversations with the noble and learned Lord, my noble and learned friend and other noble Lords, and to come back at Third Reading. If he cannot give that conciliatory, sensible and constructive answer, then I will have no hesitation in pressing the “Content” button on my machine.
My Lords, first of all I say how much I agree with what the noble Lord, Lord Cormack, has said about how we should organise our affairs. We have to bring back genuine debate to this Chamber, and I hope that those responsible will take on board what he has just spoken about.
Secondly, I had prepared what I thought was an extremely well-argued speech on the subject before us today. However, having listened to far more eminent figures than me talk about the need for these common frameworks, I am not going to deliver it. All I will say is that the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope, in opening the debate, spoke with a sharpness, a forcefulness and a logical directness that the Government would be well advised to take into account.
I have a couple of questions for the Minister because I think political questions arise from this discussion. First, does he acknowledge that the Government have changed their policy on these common frameworks since 2017-18, and why? It is clearly the case that there has been a change of policy and that Theresa May, in her commitment to “our precious union”, as she put it, saw the dangers that Brexit would pose to the devolution settlement and tried to find a consensual way of resolving them. David Lidington, with the help of people such as the noble Lord, Lord Dunlop, came up with this concept of common frameworks as a way of doing this.
Why, in this Bill, if the Government have not changed their policy on these common frameworks, can they not find a place for them in the legislation? What is the objection to actually acknowledging their existence to balance the abstract principles of mutual recognition and non-discrimination, which every single lawyer in this Chamber tells us will override the practical effect of these common frameworks? Why do the Government not come clean about this? Why do the Government not admit that what they actually want is to take power to the London Government to get their way on whatever they want in this area, rather than using the bottom-up, consensual approach that David Lidington and the noble Lord, Lord Dunlop, put together in the passage of the EU withdrawal Act? I think the Government should do that because we are marching into very dangerous territory for the future of our United Kingdom.
I remember that the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope, in his speech in Committee, argued that common frameworks were consistent with the principles of subsidiarity and proportionality that had been underlying principles of the European Union in this area of law. The noble Lord, Lord Callanan, said in response, “Well, those are European principles. We have now left the European Union; we don’t have to follow them anymore”. What principles are the Government following? What is the Government’s vision for the future of the United Kingdom now that the Prime Minister has described devolution as Tony Blair’s biggest disaster? Will he please set out to us what is his vision of the balance of relationships between the devolved nations? We are really getting into very dangerous territory.
I hope that we can somehow rescue the situation by getting these common frameworks back. If we do not, I hope that my party will press the case hard for a major constitutional convention on the future of the United Kingdom. It seems to me that unless we provide that credible alternative, the nationalists in Scotland will break up what has been one of the greatest ventures in history.
My Lords, I start by saying how much I agree with what a number of noble Lords have said about the nature of debate in this sterile House, and I hope that we can certainly move on. I think it is important to say that because, as noble Lords might expect, I am not going to be saying much else which will find favour with other noble Lords who have spoken in this debate.
I respect the concerns about protecting the powers of the devolved Administrations which lie behind the amendments in this group, but I believe that these amendments would not be helpful in the context of the internal market and might well be very harmful. There is no exact correlation between what the common frameworks cover and the UK’s internal market covered by the Bill. Indeed, the functioning of the internal market is only one of six objectives of the common frameworks programme. Not every common framework will have a UK internal market dimension, and not every aspect of the UK internal market is included in the common frameworks programme.
So if Amendment 1 is agreed to, we will have uncertainty from day one about which bits of the common frameworks would override the market access principles. Uncertainty kills businesses. Uncertainty might be resolved only by the courts, and that could take five, maybe 10, years to bring to conclusion. Businesses cannot in general cope with timeframes of that nature, and that is especially true in today’s lockdown-harmed business environment.
The common frameworks are by their very nature detailed and specific. They are practical solutions to well-defined problems, such as compliance with international obligations. They do, however, have two big weaknesses. First, they have no guiding star, or no guiding principle, and they cannot, by their nature, cope with future change. By contrast, the internal market enshrined in the Bill is based on the overarching and enduring principles of market access, namely, mutual recognition and non-discrimination.
I am very clear that businesses want the Government to deliver an internal market which has as few barriers to trade as possible. They do not want to have to master thousands of pages of common frameworks, which may or may not impact the internal market, just to do business 10 miles away if that is over one of the UK’s internal borders. I have to say to the noble Baroness, Lady Randerson, that I have never even heard of the Aldersgate Group she referred to as representing business opinion, and I do not believe it represents the opinion of the whole business community.
In Committee, I urged noble Lords to consider the provisions of the Bill through the lens of businesses and individuals who will be trying to live, work and trade within the United Kingdom—that is what the Bill is about. By viewing the Bill through the lens of what the devolved Administrations think they might lose in terms of devolved competence, I believe that they may end up inflicting acts of self-harm on the people and businesses in their own territories.
I remind noble Lords of the high degree of dependence of the devolved nations on trade with other parts of the United Kingdom. This is an issue for Scottish businesses and residents, Welsh businesses and residents and Northern Ireland businesses and residents. It is important but not such a big issue for English businesses and residents. If trade is made more difficult, the result, as night follows day, will be higher cost and less choice for consumers. At a time of economic stress, that does not seem a sensible route to follow.
I have heard many arguments of principle adduced by the supporters of the amendments, but I have heard less about the practical issues. We heard about Scottish concerns on minimum alcohol pricing, but that was debunked in Committee. I believe that building regulations are a new red herring that has been introduced and will not conflict with the Bill. The Bill does not outlaw every variation within the UK, as some have tried to suggest. More importantly, I am still waiting to hear what will make life better for the businesses and residents of the devolved nations if the amendments are passed.
More than 90% of UK small and medium-sized enterprises, and nearly 60% of large businesses, trade only within the UK. That is the scale of the issues we are facing with the amendments. I hope that noble Lords will not jeopardise the aims of an internal market which works for the whole of the United Kingdom by pressing the amendments.
My Lords, the noble Baroness, Lady Noakes, is right: I found cause to agree with her opening statement, as I did with the noble Lords, Lord Foulkes and Lord Cormack, and others. The need to have proper debate—not least to allow the noble Lord, Lord Foulkes, to go back to his heckling—would add to the debate.
Congratulations should go to the proposers of the amendments and to the noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer and my noble friend Lord Newby, who have managed to create a debate which gives your Lordships a proper choice. That choice centres around the words “mutual respect”, because the Bill as it stands, unamended, is disrespectful to the devolved authorities and to the process of devolution. The amendment gives your Lordships a chance to build that respect back into the Bill.
On many occasions, Ministers have freely used the word “complement” and expressed the view that the common frameworks complement the process devised by the Bill. Unless those common frameworks can be built into the Bill, and unless the Minister can explicitly explain how they complement, there is no complementary process; there is replacement, which I believe is sought by the Bill. The noble Lord, Lord Naseby, spoke of the common frameworks as if they were some Bolshevik plot. I remind him that they were the policies of a Conservative Government whom he probably supported and voted for at some point in the recent past.
The amendments give an opportunity to put respect back into the Bill, but there is also a practical element to them. We should remember, as we were reminded by, I believe, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mackay, that trade and the internal market are flexible: they move, they change. The common frameworks are designed to be a flexible, living document. As many Peers have pointed out, they are also there to manage divergence. The common frameworks are there to manage divergence and, as we have heard from a number of speakers, not least my noble friend Lady Randerson, that divergence delivers innovation, progress and better things for this country.
My noble and learned friend Lord Wallace brought up something very important. In the words of the Minister, the Bill seeks to do that which the common frameworks do not do. The common frameworks do that which is being transferred from the European Union. Therefore, the Bill is trying to do more than was being transferred from the European Union. This is a zero-sum game. Where is that power coming from? It is being reserved by the Government from what was previously devolved. My noble and learned friend showed that that is the clear plan that sits underneath the Bill.
Your Lordships have spoken at length about the symbolic nature of what the Bill does to the devolved settlements and their future, and I will not re-emphasise those points, but I prescribe to the Minister, who I understand is a busy person, the Second Reading speech of the noble Lord, Lord Dunlop. It makes good reading and could very well inform some of the decisions that have to be taken as a result of what we are discussing today. I will not read the whole speech, but I pick up one sentence:
“The broader question for the House and for this union Parliament is: do we want our country’s future to be all about endless intergovernmental competition and conflict or about co-operation and confidence?”—[Official Report, 19/10/20; col. 1336.]
The noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope, said that actions speak louder than words. He also said that these amendments reset the relationship with the four nations, which is why noble Lords on these Benches will support these amendments if they are pushed to a vote.
My Lords, this has been an excellent debate, despite the fact that it is decidedly one-sided—although the noble Baroness, Lady Noakes, did her best to redress the balance—and I look forward to the Minister’s response. I said to him in an earlier meeting that this might be one occasion—perhaps the only one—when the House would be happy to hear a full response from him to the points made by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope, and his distinguished co-signatories and supporters.
I say that because, as the noble and learned Lord said, although the amendments sensibly address the rules for the mutual recognition of goods in Part 1, services in Part 2 and professional qualifications in Part 3, their underlying, ancillary purpose is to support and enhance the relationship between the Governments of the four nations of this United Kingdom. They focus on the key question raised by the Bill: is this to be a single market under new rules created and imposed from Westminster or is it to be all four nations working together, managing appropriate divergence, as they are currently doing through the successful common framework process?
I hope the Minister will give us a full answer to the important questions raised by this debate. I also hope that he will reaffirm his Government’s commitment to our devolution settlement, because, as we have heard, our current settlement is under pressure—not least because of recent comments from the Prime Minister. This is not confined to the devolved Administrations. The virus, the recession and recent spats over local lockdowns, who manages public health and welfare best and who pays have exposed a centre that seems unable to listen and outlying areas that do not feel they are being consulted. As we will come to in later amendments, these are bodies with far greater knowledge of what is happening locally, but which lack the resources to solve the problems they identify. It can be argued that the Bill is actually about gathering powers which should be devolved to an insensitive centre which is trying to imprison a multinational country composed of vibrant, diverse regions with diverse histories and needs into a straitjacket of a unitary state. We can and need to do better than that.
As many noble Lords have said, the most striking aspect of this debate so far has been the wide cross-party support for these amendments, coupled with the fact that no fewer than seven members of the Select Committee considering common frameworks have made it clear beyond peradventure that the common framework process is alive and well, doing the job that the Government say they need done: supporting frictionless trade across the UK, improving standards, managing divergence and strengthening the union. Why is this process not at the centre of the Bill?
We support these amendments and will support the noble and learned Lord if he decides to test the opinion of the House. However, we heard from the Minister in earlier stages of the Bill and in separate meetings that his mind was not closed on this issue. Obviously, other interests are at stake here. However, the case made today by virtually everyone who has spoken has been strong and formidable in the arguments deployed. I urge the Government to give the House an assurance that they accept the principle that lies behind the amendments and that they will come back at Third Reading with amendments of their own which give effect to it. If so, we would support that.
It is clear that there is more that unites us on this issue than divides us, and it is clear from the tone and content of the debate that this would be the preferred solution of your Lordships’ House.
My Lords, in preamble, I say again that I agree with those who would like to see our old proceedings back; as long as I am trusted and have the privilege to answer to this House, I will seek to do so from this Dispatch Box. However, I say to my noble friends on the Liberal Democrat Benches that if they want to have heckling from the noble Lord, Lord Foulkes, they should be careful what they wish for.
In reply to the noble Lord, Lord Rooker, I try always to be in a conciliatory mood. Particularly after a debate such as this I am mindful of the wise advice of the Emperor Marcus Aurelius: “Accept modestly; surrender gracefully.” Unfortunately, however, as noble Lords who have had the privilege of serving in office will know, conciliation does not mean that one must accept specific amendments.
This debate was rooted in a passionate and sincere spirit, almost universally shared, of concern for the union and respect for devolution. As I say, that unites almost all of us who have spoken, including the Member now on his feet. The noble Lord, Lord Foulkes of Cumnock, made a fascinating and thoughtful speech, which of course I will study carefully. Those of us who care for the union and support devolution should be cautious in echoing the separatist claim that this or that action is being done to undermine devolution when it is not. The debate about effect and perceived effect is legitimate. The claim of bad intent that we have had from some is risky, if not perilous.
The UK Government and the devolved Administrations all have a clear stake in a smooth-functioning internal market, as my noble friend Lady Noakes pointed out. However, the Government have been clear—we have made no secret of this in the Bill—as my noble friend Lord Naseby said, that the right place for final decisions on the internal market should be the United Kingdom Parliament, where parliamentarians from all parts of the United Kingdom can debate and vote on legislative proposals.
I was asked a specific question by the noble Baroness, Lady Andrews; the noble and learned Lord, Lord Thomas of Cwmgiedd, touched on it also. New restrictions on the sale of goods, including goods made from plastic produced in or imported into one part of the UK, will be subject to the mutual recognition principle for goods unless an exclusion in Schedule 1 applies. The Bill will preserve the devolved Administrations’ ability to regulate in line with their own strategies and regulate production of goods in their territory. However, goods, including ketchup, sold lawfully elsewhere in the United Kingdom will not be denied access to other parts of the UK market unless an exclusion applies. Consumers are of course not required to buy them.
The noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope of Craighead, in his powerful opening speech claimed that the Bill “destroys divergence”—that it is not possible under the Bill. I want to make it clear that to say it is not possible is incorrect. The Bill will apply only where divergence would create a market barrier under the conditions set out in the Bill. Domestic producers will have to conform to local regulation, and devolved Administrations will be able to regulate the use of all goods.
My noble friend Lord Callanan and I have welcomed positive engagement with a number of your Lordships across the House on the common frameworks programme— some noble Lords have been kind enough to allude to that. This issue and the concerns raised in our debates are important. I hope we will be able to draw lessons from these discussions in the constructive spirit that they have taken on to date and find ways to set at rest some of the concerns expressed that we believe are unjustified.
As I have said before to your Lordships’ House, we, along with the devolved Administrations, remain committed to the common frameworks programme. We recognise the importance of the issue and the need to underline unequivocally the Government’s continued commitment to the frameworks programme, before and after the passage of the Bill. An iron curtain will not fall. For all the profound respect I have for the noble Baroness, Lady Finlay, I do not believe that that sort of language is helpful.
Our commitment has been made clear to your Lordships’ House at every stage in our debates and discussions on this to date, as the noble Lord, Lord Stevenson of Balmacara, said, and in the regular publication of framework analysis, which has been in circulation since 2008. The pursuit of this aim must respect the interests of the other parties involved in the common frameworks programme. There is no indication at present that the devolved Administrations would support placing common frameworks on a statutory basis. Indeed, when I had the privilege of giving evidence to a Welsh Senedd Select Committee last week, that was not the impression I received. However, in any case, common frameworks have not been designed to carry legal force.
The Government have made it clear—yes, I will use the word—that the frameworks programme and the UK internal market are two complementary undertakings. The devolved Administrations will continue to be able to innovate and regulate in devolved policy areas, but the UKIM Bill will create limits on the extent to which they can enforce new requirements against traders from other parts of the United Kingdom. The market access principles will ensure that any divergence does not damage the ability of UK companies or investors to trade with every part of the United Kingdom. I appreciate the feeling across the House on this matter, but the Government view retaining the flexibility and voluntary nature of the programme and respecting market principles as important and viable complementary objectives.
I acknowledge that there may be an appropriate way to put frameworks into the Bill while retaining the flexibility and the voluntary nature of the programme and respecting the market principles. However, I respectfully suggest that the approach proposed here to make these amendments to the Bill is not the right one, and I will seek to explain why.
The approach proposed in these amendments would significantly change the nature of common frameworks, giving agreements within them primacy over the market access provisions in the Bill, as acknowledged and argued by the amendments’ signatories. Although I understand the intention of these amendments in seeking to define the relationship between the common frameworks and the market access principles, they are problematic in a number of respects. The approach would automatically disapply the market access principles and mutual recognition of authorisation requirements in relation to regulations or requirements that implement agreements reached under common frameworks. I disagree with my noble and learned friend Lord Garnier; this creates a risk of legal uncertainty. On this I agree with my noble friend Lady Noakes in her powerful speech about the interests of business and consumers, particularly in the smaller economies of the United Kingdom—an aspect ignored by the signatories to the amendments.
The approach in the amendments goes against the very purpose of the Bill, which is to give businesses across the UK certainty on the conditions under which they must operate. The amendments would make the operating environment potentially unstable and create confusion for business. No one could know for sure, until the question was determined in court, whether a regulation or requirement, or a combination of regulations or requirements, was giving an effect to an agreement reached within a common framework. There would be uncertainty as to whether or not the market access principles applied.
For instance, in the case of the provisions of Amendment 1, proposed subsection (2) creates the risk that Ministers would not be able to make any regulations in the absence of an agreed framework. This approach is too broad and would allow for a situation where Ministers are unable to legislate until a common framework process has been completed, even where there is a pressing need. Ascribing an expansive legal definition may well lead to unintended consequences, without having the safety net of mutual recognition and non-discrimination present for citizens and businesses.
Equally, Amendment 51 would disapply the mutual recognition of professional qualifications, set out in Clause 22(2) in its entirety. This could lead to significant uncertainty for those reliant on continuing mutual recognition of professional qualifications across the United Kingdom. There is also scope for legal uncertainty on exactly when mutual recognition under Clause 22(2) would be disapplied. Furthermore, where these amendments refer to the completion of framework processes, they leave open, as we discussed in Committee, the question of what would constitute an end—I think the word then was “exhaustion”—to the relevant framework process in a given area. If it is not possible to agree a common framework, it is unclear at what point limitations proposed by these amendments would cease to apply. Once again, such uncertainty would create the risk of an excess of litigation and perverse outcomes, as different Administrations might differently interpret what constitutes an end to negotiations on a common framework. As I said in Committee, not everyone has the same definition of an end.
In our judgment, this broad approach to using common frameworks to disapply elements of the Bill goes too far and could lead to legal and regulatory uncertainty. Subjecting businesses to the uncertainty of waiting for numerous individual agreements to be reached between four parties is not in the interest of the devolved Administrations, inward investors, or the businesses and citizens of the United Kingdom.
I appreciate your Lordships’ interest in this, and will restate the Government’s wish to find a way to allay concerns, in the context of this Bill or outside. We remain absolutely committed to the common frameworks programme. However, in the light of the contributions today, which I have listened to carefully, I must none the less tell the House that these amendments do not provide a basis for any agreement before Third Reading. I recognise that noble Lords may therefore wish to press their amendments. None the less, I formally urge noble Lords to withdraw them for the reasons I have outlined.
The Minister cast doubt on warnings about the impact on devolution. Has he looked at opinion polls in Wales tracking support for independence? That is a country that only 20 years ago very narrowly accepted devolution. It is a country that voted for Brexit, and one that is governed by a Labour-Lib Dem coalition—two unionist parties. You can see in that country the clear feeling about the way in which this Government are behaving.
My Lords, I am not sure that is directly relevant to the subject matter of the Bill. I thought I had in fact made the point that imputation of motive and intent is a political choice that should be exercised wisely. This Government’s intention in this Bill is in no way to undermine the devolution settlement and I have restated, from this Dispatch Box, our commitment to the common frameworks. As for opinion polls, if I were a Liberal Democrat I would not live by them.
[Inaudible.]—perspectives have offered support to what these amendments seek to do. Picking up a point made by the noble Lord, Lord Cormack—sitting on my own in my little room, participating virtually—I too very much regret that it has not been possible for us all to join together in the Chamber. I see the value of the points he was making about introducing some more lively spirit among those in the Chamber, so there could be a real atmosphere of debate, which even remotely we would be able to enjoy.
I listened very carefully to what the noble Lord, Lord True, said. He expressed his position, as always, very clearly in careful language. I think, on a fair reading, that the clauses in Parts 1 and 2 are more absolute in their effect than he was making out, and I do not accept the criticisms that he makes of the amendments’ effect. Of course, I do not claim that the amendment I have put forward is a final solution; there was always an option open to the Government. If they thought the amendments could be improved upon or altered to meet some of the points that the Minister made, that could have been done—but there was no such offer forthcoming from him, for reasons that I understand.
The question was whether the devolved nations should continue to be free to develop and apply market policies within their devolution mandate which have secured agreement under the common frameworks process, or whether that freedom should simply be brushed aside, as the Bill really seeks to do. It is difficult to avoid the conclusion that this Government regard devolution as an inconvenience that can simply be ignored when they want to. I regret that very much indeed. I am a unionist and I believe in the union and all that it stands for, and all the values that I hope it will continue to give us in future. But I am afraid we see here an uncompromising, careless and centralist style of government, which divides our United Kingdom into pieces at a time when harmony is most needed. That has no place in our democracy.
I know that the Minister will reflect very carefully on what has been said today, and I hope that he will do his best to persuade those at the heart of government to think again, but what he has said in his reply leaves me with no alternative. I seek to test the opinion of the House on my amendment.
Ayes 367, Noes 209.
My Lords, we now come to the group beginning with Amendment 2. I remind noble Lords that Members other than the mover and the Minister may speak only once, and that short questions of elucidation are discouraged. Anyone wishing to press this or anything else in this group to a Division should make that clear in the debate.
I should inform the House that, if Amendment 2 is agreed to, I cannot call Amendments 3 or 4. In that case, the debate on the group beginning with Amendment 3 will take place with Amendment 8 or 9, as called. The debate on Amendment 4 will take place with Amendment 5, with the same list of speakers. I hope that that is all clear.
Clause 3: Relevant requirements for the purposes of section 2