United Kingdom Internal Market Bill - Commons Reasons and Amendments – in the House of Lords at 5:30 pm on 9th December 2020.
Moved by Lord Thomas of Cwmgiedd
Leave out “Amendment 50B” and insert “Amendments 50B and 50C—
50C: Clause 50, before subsection (1) insert—“(A1) Subsections (1), (2) and (3) shall take effect when the Welsh Ministers, the Scottish Ministers and the Northern Ireland Executive have agreed with the Secretary of State a common framework applicable to the United Kingdom to regulate the provision of subsidies by a public authority to persons supplying goods or services in the course of a business or, if agreement cannot be reached, three years after the passing of this Act.””
My Lords, I am very grateful to all who have taken part in this very interesting and difficult debate. The points may seem obtuse, in that they concern state subsidies, but there are very real issues of principle involved. In the first place, it is quite clear, as the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope of Craighead, pointed out earlier in this debate, that the state subsidies are devolved. For example, Schedule 5, Part III, paragraph 4(1) of the Scotland Act says:
“This Schedule does not reserve giving financial assistance to commercial activities for the purpose of promoting or sustaining economic development or employment.”
When one then looks at the amendment that is brought in by Clause 50, it speaks of:
“Regulation of the provision of subsidies which are or may be distortive or harmful … to persons supplying goods or services.”
There can obviously therefore be an argument, as any subsidy may be distortive, that the whole of the power is subsumed in what the Government are seeking to do through their Amendment 50.
Where we have got to is an almost Alice in Wonderland situation: they want to change the devolution settlement first, in this way, which cuts right across agreed provisions, quite apart from the general reservation, and then work out the policy second. Surely, the better way to do this is to work out the policy first, and to do it in consultation with the devolved Governments. The amendment I have put forward gives a way of doing that and, most importantly of all, apart from these technical issues, to take away power—express power in the devolution agreements—because all these powers are not reserved. The Government would not need this change. Not having a clear idea that you can explain and work out how this works with the devolution settlement in my view is a gift to those who say, “The union will not work. We offered to co-operate and they won’t”. I therefore want to test the opinion of the House on this amendment, which is a compromise to try to secure the future of our union, in which so many of us have such faith.
Ayes 313, Noes 236.