Moved by Lord Stevenson of Balmacara
At end insert “and do propose Amendment 8M as an amendment to the words restored to the Bill by non-insistence on Amendments 8L, 13 and 56—
8M: Schedule 1, page 48, line 47, at end insert—
“5A (1) The United Kingdom market access principles do not apply to, and sections 2(3) and 5(3) do not affect the operation of, any requirements which—
(a) make a contribution to the achievement of—
(i) environmental standards and protection, or
(ii) protection of public health,
(b) are a proportionate means of achieving that aim, and
(c) are not a disguised restriction on trade.
(2) For the purposes of subparagraph (1)(b), a requirement is considered disproportionate if the aim being pursued in the destination part of the United Kingdom is already achieved to the same or a higher extent by requirements in the originating part of the United Kingdom.””
My Lords, in moving Motion B1 in my name, I thank the Minister for his full and comprehensive introduction and make it clear that we agree with his Amendment 15C, which we think is very helpful to the overall operation of the internal market Bill. In particular, it picks up points that we have been making in relation to market access. I have just one point of correction to what he said: the changes set out in my Amendment 8M remove the amendment completely from the main part of the Bill. He said Clause 1, but I think he meant Schedule 1; in other words, even more disguised and hidden than perhaps was the impression he gave when speaking.
In opening this debate, I do not want to spend a lot of time on this issue, which is quite narrow. Indeed, the arguments are very similar to those we have already heard from the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope. The Minister’s defence of the current drafting in the Bill depended largely on the often-used threat by Ministers that those who are preparing amendments do not understand the unintended consequences that might flow from their drafting. I suggest to the Minister with some humility that we are not the experts on drafting. If there is an issue here that we should progress a little, we would certainly be happy to work with him and the team of draftspeople in his department to try to make sure that any egregious issues are removed. He drew particular attention to a concern about the phrase used in proposed paragraph 5A(1)(c), which those who wish to bring forward changes to market access would not be permitted to do so if they were disguised restrictions on trade. As I understand it, that comes from the existing WTO regulations and is therefore relatively well understood among those involved in the operation; these are trivial points, however, compared to the main points of principle that he raised.
I want to make three main points. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope, has already explained in his amendment that the common frameworks issues he talked about require a market access regime as well; the two are interrelated—almost two sides of the same coin. The devolution settlement has to be observed in both the spirit and the letter of the law. We think that the Bill can both honour and enhance the devolution settlement, provided, first, that we emphasise the common frameworks and the coherence that they can bring to the whole process of a devolved settlement and, secondly, that we do not make the market access principles, which operate automatically, too narrow and too prescriptive. That would fatally undermine the opportunities for devolved Administrations to diverge—if they wish and as agreed by all concerned—in a managed and coherent way.
We have a devolved system of government. That must necessarily imply divergence, so it has to be part of the system. In some way, the argument revolves around how it is possible to frame that managed divergence in legal terms. My Amendment 8M uses derogation powers that are already in the Bill to highlight areas of public good that could benefit consumers, workers and traders. The Minister said there was already coverage on these areas within the Bill, so, in a sense, he is making my point that areas such as public health and the ability of people to work in the environmental areas will be public goods if they can be brought forward. Any sensible Government would ensure that the system made it possible for those who wish to make changes that would raise standards —managed and with agreement—to do so.
The amendment therefore enhances efforts to improve environmental standards and public health; I cannot believe that the Government would want to be against that. It amends a schedule, and does not change any of the main clauses in the Bill. We are talking about trying to find a system for allowing divergence to happen in a proportionate way, which will not in any sense damage the ability of traders to trade but will benefit consumers and workers. It is a very small change. As the Minister rightly said, it has been slimmed down in the process of arriving at this point in the Bill’s discussions, and it is very much tied to the amendment that we have just accepted by a majority of over 100 in relation to the common frameworks. I beg to move.
The question is that Motion B1, as an amendment to Motion B, be agreed to. I have had no notice of anyone in the Chamber wishing to speak—in fact, I call the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett.
My Lords, I rise to speak physically in the Chamber for the first time since March, so I hope your Lordships will forgive me if I feel a little rusty. Although we refer to people taking part remotely and those in the Chamber being treated equally for many procedures in your Lordships’ House, that is unfortunately not the case with ping-pong. That is why I felt that I needed to be here.
In reflecting on that, I want to comment very briefly on the earlier discussion about procedures in your Lordships’ House, because I respectfully disagree with the many people who said that they wanted to go back to how things were before as soon as possible. I think that the remote participation that enables people to participate who, for all kinds of reasons—whether it be disability, caring responsibilities or all kinds of other reasons—may not be able to be in the Chamber is something that we should keep. Of course, remote voting allows a wider democracy, as much as we can, which would surely be a good thing.
I am in favour of Motion B1, in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Stevenson of Balmacara. I will focus in particular on the environment side of it and cite Alok Sharma, the Government’s chair of the COP 26 talks, who spoke yesterday at the climate ambition summit. He pointed out that 45 leaders had announced new climate target plans for 2030, 24 had committed to net zero and 20 had talked about strengthening adaptation. But we are still not on track for 1.5 degrees. As we start to gear up for COP 26, we are starting to see the revival of “One-point-five to stay alive”. We have a long way to go.
If we look at the situation of the nations of the UK, there is no doubt, sadly, that leadership has often not come from Westminster. On everything from home energy efficiency to plastic bag taxes and bottle deposit schemes—all kinds of environmental issues—leadership has come from the nations of the UK other than England. So, if we do not allow that to happen, we are cutting off the opportunity of progressing faster, which I suggest is not in line with the Government’s intentions.
I was speaking at the weekend at an event focusing on the beauty and diversity of the Amazon. There is an innate strength in diversity, in difference, and in different places trying different things and approaches. If you shut that off, as we will by not having this amendment or something very like it, we will actually hamper the efforts on the environment which the Government, I am pleased to say, tell us they are so keen to succeed with.
Finally, I will pick up on the words of the noble Baroness, Lady Hayter of Kentish Town, on our first group of amendments about the “Take back control” issue. When participating remotely, or in the Chamber, I often find myself shaking my head as speakers say, “We are all supporters of the union here”. I believe in subsidiarity and in local decision-making, but I will offer some free advice to those who want to keep the existing arrangements. Squeezing people tighter and taking away independence or rights that have been given is not a way for that to continue. In your Lordships’ House, we have been awaiting for quite some time the very important domestic abuse Bill, which will bring the idea of coercive control into our law. If we attempt to coerce people and take away their independence and the rights that they already have, I would suggest that it will make them seek more independence.
I regret the fact that Motion B1 has been diminished from earlier, similar versions of the amendment. I regret the loss of animal welfare and cultural expression, but it is crucial that we keep the environmental standards and protection. As the noble Lord, Lord Stevenson of Balmacara, said, how in the middle of a pandemic could we not keep the opportunity for every Government in the United Kingdom to protect the public health of their people as best they can?
My Lords, I welcome the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett, back to her seat—just in time for tier 3 to arrive. We have again had a short debate. As we have seen the evolution of this argument—in the amendment’s approach to common frameworks it is, in a sense, the yin to the yang of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope—we are now looking at a different way of trying to ensure that diversity can survive under the automation of the market access measures.
In the past, the Minister has brought to bear the Government’s disapproval of the breadth of the exclusions that previous versions of this amendment made. As the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett, pointed out, many of those have now dropped off. So, in a sense, the Government have already pushed this to a narrower set of exclusions. The Minister highlighted his uncertainty around the word “proportionate”. Of course, none of us would want to do something disproportionate, but I cannot help thinking that the Government, in all their wisdom and with all their clever legal people, could come up with a frame of words that will prevent hideous problems developing in the courts—so I cannot help thinking that that is something of a red herring.
As the noble Lord, Lord Stevenson, said, this is getting more modest than was previously attempted, but it still has the overriding aim of dealing with the problem which keeps coming up throughout this debate. The Minister has magnanimously said that the devolved authorities are perfectly at liberty to develop new and innovative ways of doing things—so far, so good—and then, of course, the market access principles mean that those innovations will get undercut if someone else in the British Isles is doing it differently. I do not understand how the Minister can keep linking those two sentences without seeing that the one excludes the other. If it does not do it in governmental terms, it will do it in the courts. This will be a creature of the courts, because there will be businesses that will be going at a legal opportunity to get their products into devolved authorities that have sought to raise standards, as they see it.
The issue of minimum-unit alcohol pricing often comes up, and it is quite clear that this legislation will not affect that at all. We are all in agreement there. But if we were seeking to bring that in once this legislation was in place, what chance would it have of surviving the courts? That is why we will support this amendment.
I thank everybody who has contributed to what has been a very good, albeit brief, debate. I have listened very carefully to the points that have been raised, and I will respond directly to the points of the noble Lords, Lord Stevenson and Lord Fox. Innovative policy-making relating to public health and the environment will be fully possible under the Bill, within the clearly defined market access principles. Schedule 1 sets out a clear exclusion process for:
“Threats to human, animal or plant health”.
There are also several other exclusions relating to the environment and public health: chemicals and pesticides, for example. All of these are drafted tightly to strike the right balance between these objectives and the integrity of the market.
It is also essential to remember that neither of the market access principles affects the devolved Administrations’ abilities to uphold and enforce rules governing how consumers use goods. Neither would they prevent reasonable “manner of sale” restrictions, as long as they are not discriminatory. If an Administration wanted to introduce minimum alcohol pricing or the plastic bag charges, they are fully able to do so and can use them to fulfil environmental or public health aims in future; the principles would not be an obstacle to that, as long as those rules do not discriminate. I say to the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett, that she is wrong: if a future devolved Administration wanted to introduce the plastic bag charges, they would be able to do so under these market access principles, as long as they were non-discriminatory.
We believe that the targeted list of exclusions achieves the right balance, providing certainty about the areas where market access principles would apply while still retaining the ability for the DAs and the UK Government to implement innovative new policies. I hope that all of us in this place agree that the innovation in the devolved Administrations is to be welcomed—but discrimination is not. This Bill provides a means to assure that this is reflected in the operation of our UK internal market.
With that explanation, I hope that noble Lords will be able to support the Government’s approach—the noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer, looks sceptical—to reinstate these original clauses on exclusions in the Bill.
My Lords, this has been a very short debate, but, as the Minister has said, it has been quite interesting, and revelatory in some senses. I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett, for speaking in support. I think that I thank the noble Lord, Lord Fox, for his suggestion that “yin and yang” are the words I was looking for in terms of my relationship with the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope. We are certainly not yin and yang if you consider size or intellectual ability, but, even so, it is a nice thought.
I recognise that the Minister was not going all out to take down the arguments I was making, and I am grateful to him for that; he can sometimes be quite destructive when he does, and it is nice to have the sunny side of him on show today—he does have a sunny side.
I cannot understand why there is such a concern about divergence. For those of us who were born and brought up in Scotland, it is well known that building regulations there are substantially different for not unreasonable reasons: the weather up there is so different from that which one experiences further south. Those regulations were different in Scotland for many years before devolution took place, and have continued to be.
Of course, there are many other areas of difference, right across a range of activity in Scotland: a different legal system, a different religious environment as well as other factors. This has led to different ways in which people operate, trade is conducted, and people shop and carry out their business. The idea that divergence is not already present in the system and not respected as such seems very strange.
I know that the Minister stands by Schedule 1 because he referred to it at length, but those who have read it carefully—I suspect that not many people have read it right the way through because it is dry—will know that, basically, the only real reason for divergence is set out there very clearly. It says that there has to have been a threat to life caused by a “pest or disease”—that is a very wide-ranging thought and a way we can approach it. Nevertheless, that is really the only sure and certain basis under which divergence would be permitted, other than that which already exists.
In that sense, we are on the right track: there could be a better way of formulating that. The schedule contains many other ways of implementing curtailment and restriction that we could use if the wording currently in our amendment is not satisfactory. However, I do not think that the Minister has said anything that would negate our feeling that this amendment, in its essence, is the counterpart to the amendment that we already agreed in relation to common frameworks—and that it would play a necessary part in making sure that devolution continues. I recommend it, and I would like to test the opinion of the House.
Members taking part remotely have given their voices in support of this Motion, and I will take that into account.
Ayes 302, Noes 254.