Consideration of Lords message
After Clause 10
Further exclusions from market access principles
I beg to move,
That this House agrees with Lords amendments 8P, 8Q, 8R, 8S, 8T and 8U.
I am delighted to be able to come back to the House today with positive news for business and for our constituents. As I have said before, I am immensely grateful to colleagues across both Houses for their constructive discussions with Government, and I would like to extend my thanks to all colleagues in both Houses for working with the Government to reach agreement on how we can best ensure that the frictionless intra-UK trade we enjoy today can continue into the future, especially as we recover together from covid-19. As we have made clear, this Bill is about protecting businesses and livelihoods—real people and real jobs—and I am pleased that both Houses have worked constructively to do that. I want to again extend my thanks to colleagues on the Opposition Benches in this place, and in the other place in particular, for their engagement.
As I set out to the House yesterday, the Government are committed to the common frameworks programme. We attach enormous value to the fora that they provide for collaborative working with the devolved Administrations. The Government have also been clear that the market access principles will work in tandem with common frameworks. We have been asked to provide as much clarity as possible on our continuing commitment to the programme, and we have thought long and hard about this over recent weeks. It is important that we respect the flexibility, and also the commonality, of common frameworks, paying close attention to the interests of all parts of the UK involved in the common frameworks programme and protecting the voluntary and consensus-driven nature of the programme. Indeed, these aspects are key to the effectiveness of the processes. The Government have listened carefully and reflected on the points put forward in both Houses about putting common frameworks on the face of the Bill, and we have now done so through these Lords amendments.
Obviously we welcome some sort of concession on common frameworks, but the Minister said yesterday that enshrining common frameworks in the Bill would create uncertainty for business, so what has changed from last night to today?
What has changed from last night to today is the convivial and constructive discussions we have had to allow for amendments that are worded to the satisfaction of, certainly, the other place and I hope this place, that will allow us to progress with both the common frameworks as a voluntary process and the certainty of the internal market.
Before the Minister starts launching the fireworks in celebration of the progress in the Lords yesterday, I would like to remind him that the Welsh Government remain deeply dissatisfied and have announced that they intend taking the UK Government to court over the provisions in the Bill, not least the state aid provisions and the economic intervention proposals. Will he explain how the common frameworks process will work and where power will reside within the common frameworks, because there is a degree of ambiguity about that? Will he also commit the British Government to bringing forward a statement on the common frameworks to the House of Commons for scrutiny in the new year so that we can have a discussion about whether this is actually the best way forward?
Clearly it is disappointing that the Welsh Government have chosen to issue that statement, especially in the light of the productive working relationship that we have enjoyed with their Ministers and officials during the passage of the Bill. I know that the common frameworks have been subject to much debate, and I hope I will be able to clarify this as we go through. There will be more discussion in the new year about the frameworks and how they will work moving forward, because they have been productive in a number of areas to date, and I know that that will continue.
I, too, thank the Minister for what he has brought forward, but I seek clarification, as I often do, on the position of Northern Ireland within the United Kingdom. Will the final decisions on any movement of goods, east-west, north-south, or whatever it may be, lie with the Northern Ireland Assembly or with this place? Also, what discussions has he had with the Northern Ireland Assembly, the First Minister, the Deputy First Minister and the Minister at the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Investment?
Ironically, not particularly on common frameworks or the United Kingdom Internal Market Bill, although I have taken over from my ministerial colleague, my hon. Friend the Member for Stratford-on-Avon (Nadhim Zahawi), in the quad discussions with the devolved Administrations. We had my first one this morning, and I look forward to further conversations. As for what happens to Northern Ireland goods to GB and vice versa, we have had an agreement in the Joint Committee. I look forward to seeing the results of the talks that are continuing in Brussels, because ultimately if there is a pathway to a deal, that will help to smooth the transition process. Ultimately, however, the long-term aim of what happens to the workings of the Northern Ireland protocol will sit with the elected representatives of Northern Ireland, given their vote in a few years’ time.
The Government here are demonstrating their commitment to the programme by, first, placing common frameworks on the face of the Bill, through our amendments yesterday in the other place, and, secondly, clarifying the relationship that we see between agreements made under the common frameworks processes and the internal market principles established by the Bill. Specifically, we are making it clear, through amendments 8P to 8S, that delegated powers under clauses 10 and 17 may be utilised to, among other things, make provision to reflect common framework agreements. In such cases, the Secretary of State would be able to bring to the House a statutory instrument to exclude from market access principles a specific agreed area of divergence. That would follow consensus being reached between the UK Governments and all the relevant parties that that was appropriate, in respect of a specific defined topic within a common framework.
For parts 1 and 2 of the Bill, previous amendments are provided for consent to be sought from the devolved Administrations. If that is not forthcoming within a month, MPs and peers from all parts of the UK would thereafter be able to debate and, if appropriate, agree to the change. We do not currently expect such cases to arise very frequently, but want to be clear that appropriate means are in place to respect them when they do.
The amendments to clauses 10 and 17 are complemented by amendments 8T and 8U. In line with other Government amendments to enhance the overall transparency of the United Kingdom Internal Market Bill and the role of the Office for the Internal Market, these amendments demonstrate our commitment to transparency and evidence building regarding the interaction between the market access principles and the common frameworks programme. As part of the OIM’s five-yearly review into the effectiveness of parts 1 to 3 in supporting a healthy internal market, the OIM will now also address how parts 1 to 3 have affected the operation of agreements under common frameworks, including the effect that those agreements have had on the operation of the internal market. This will ensure proper scrutiny of both regulatory changes and the progress made under common frameworks.
The Government are confident that these amendments provide an appropriate way to ensure that market access principles in the Bill can act to ensure certainty and a seamlessly functioning internal market for all British businesses and citizens. They do this while allowing a degree of agreed flexibility, reflecting different circumstances in particular parts of the UK. In reaching agreement on these amendments and thus agreeing on the final outstanding issues of the Bill, both Houses will be protecting and preserving the United Kingdom’s internal market, which has been the bedrock of our shared prosperity for centuries.
Well here we are again—groundhog day. Early on, I dubbed this Bill the infernal market Bill, and it has certainly lived up to that name. It is good to see the hon. Member for Stone (Sir William Cash) in his seat again. I am not sure what he is going to do in a few weeks’ time after all his doughty energies tackling issues around Brexit. I am not sure whose fault it is all going to be in a few weeks’ time. Perhaps Ministers should watch their backs; they might find it is their fault once Brexit can no longer be blamed for all his ills.
Let me start by thanking Ministers and their officials for the discussions that we have had in recent days about how we can make the best of this bad Bill. Let us be honest: when it first saw the light of day, it was clear for all to see what a terrible Bill this was. It was wrong in seeking to break international law, and it was wrong in disrespecting the devolution settlement and failing to understand the way the UK now works through power sharing. That is why we have been so vociferously opposed to it in this House.
We led the way on that, starting, as you will remember, Madam Deputy Speaker, with my right hon. Friend the Member for Doncaster North (Edward Miliband) taking down every single argument of the Prime Minister, who was here himself on Second Reading. Through the Bill’s many stages in this House, we have been clear in our opposition to some of its serious flaws. It has been a long and difficult process.
The hon. Gentleman knows that that is not the case. That is not what happened in the other place. It is thanks to the Labour leadership in the other place that we have seen improvements to the Bill, and I will say a bit more about that in a minute.
The Bill is now in much better shape than it was. It is far from good, let alone perfect, but it is better. That is thanks to the leadership shown by Labour colleagues in the other place, who built alliances and worked with guile and tenacity to get us to where we are. The Government, by the way, have a majority in the other place; despite that, we managed to inflict a number of Government defeats. As a result, the Government dropped most of part 5, which was the international lawbreaking part of the Bill originally and now upholds the Northern Ireland protocol.
After Labour worked cross-party with colleagues and others to ensure successive Government defeats in the other place, and after several rounds of ping-pong— I have lost count of how many—the Bill has been improved in a number of ways. We have the one-month mechanism for the devolved Administrations’ consent on regulations; the operation of the internal market in the interest of consumers; the consent and involvement of the devolved Administrations on the make-up and operation of the Office for the Internal Market, and the removal and review of the Henry VIII powers.
Today, we welcome the Government’s concessions on common frameworks in response to Lord Hope and Lord Stevenson’s amendments. In particular, amendments to clauses 10 and 17 allow for agreements arising from common frameworks to be excluded from the application of market principles. They also include in the Bill a definition of a common framework agreement, something that we have been seeking from the beginning. We also welcome the amendment to clause 31 that provides for the Competition and Markets Authority and the Office for the Internal Market to include in their five-year reporting details of the interaction between market access principles and common framework agreements, and of the impact of common framework agreements on the operation and development of the internal market.
We have fought long and hard to ensure that the Bill does not undermine devolution, because we believe in devolution. These are important safeguards that really do strengthen the Bill.
I have just been alerted to that. I am not sure of the details at this stage, so it is probably best that I do not comment. However, it is obviously a Labour Administration, and we support them and have worked very closely with them. I thank them for their co-operation with us on the Bill.
Common frameworks will allow different nations in the UK to set their own standards in key areas and to agree minimum standards for all. That is why it was so important to us from the start that there was recognition of common frameworks on the face of the Bill. However, it is still far from ideal, and the Government have been dragged kicking and screaming to these issues only because of the pressure we have applied, working tirelessly in the other place, and I pay tribute again to Lord Hope, Lord Stevenson and Baroness Hayter for all their work on this.
It is no thanks to the nationalist parties that we have achieved these concessions. Madam Deputy Speaker, you were in the Chair yesterday, and they were giving me grief as usual, because their tactic is to engage not in the legislative process and in seeking improvements, but in the politics of grievance. Despite one of them being in government in Scotland and having a sizeable parliamentary group here, it is always somebody else’s fault, isn’t it? They sit at the back of the bus, with their arms folded, shouting at others in order to get a bit of clickbait for social media, which I am sure is what they were doing yesterday. Hon. Members should be in no doubt that the Labour party has led the charge in opposing this Bill. We have led the Government to the improvements and changes that we see today, and although the Bill is far from perfect, it is much better. We did that because we have to live with this Bill in the years to come.
However, the Government must reflect too. Their starting point could not have got this more wrong. Devolution and power sharing are about finding common ground and agreement, even with those from other democratically elected political parties, such as the nationalist party in Scotland, that we might not agree with. Trying to power- grab and hug powers close does not defeat one’s opponents; it gives them more oxygen and more grievance.
We accept the improvements to date, but we note that they start from a very bad starting point. Some might describe them, as we say up north, as trying to polish a turd.
I was very taken by the reference the hon. Member for Manchester Central (Lucy Powell) made to improvement. Having looked at the Bill and followed it over the last few weeks, I find it difficult to call it an improvement.
However, I want to pay tribute to the Public Bill Office. Given the amendments, and the contortions the Public Bill Office has had to absorb in looking at the Reasons Committee’s consideration of these issues and at the question of what insistence on disagreement or agreement is at a particular point in time before it comes from one House to the other and goes back again, this has been an incredible exercise in complexity—so much so that it would be asking an awful lot to expect anybody, including the Minister, to be able to claim that they really understand what it is that has ultimately arrived. I was going to ask him if he would like to explain exactly what all this means. We will only find out in due course.
I was looking at the reasons for disagreeing only yesterday, and they were very clear. One said that the Government disagreed with the Lords over the question of legal certainty and disruption to business. Suddenly, almost at the wave of a magic wand, all of that has completely evaporated into thin air, and we have ended up with this extremely contorted, extremely confusing and ambiguous series of statements. However, at the heart of it, there is one point that I want to put to the Minister. Does he recall the famous Schleswig-Holstein question? Only three people comprehended what was going on, or they had originally, but unfortunately one had forgotten, one had died and the other had gone mad. [Interruption.] I am not going to attribute any one of those to the Minister. However, right at the heart of this, a lot of very complicated drafting has been put in to try to salvage some face. As I read it, the Secretary of State can make these regulations but—this goes to the heart of it—that process would be subject to the affirmative resolution under clause 10(2), which is mirrored in clause 17. It strikes me that there is one fundamental question: can the Minister effectively veto matters that have been discussed and consulted on with the devolved Administration? If the regulations are subject to the affirmative resolution, it seems that may well turn out to be the case. Who knows? I do not know at the moment, and only when the process reaches its conclusion will we know whether the reserved powers in the Scotland Act 1998 will bite. I cannot be sure of that. I have a feeling that this may end up in the courts, and perhaps the situation will be made clearer. We are at the end of the line for this Bill, and I regard the whole thing as being difficult to plot in terms of a clear path to any conclusion.
In the 10 years that I have been in this place, I think this is the first time that I have agreed with the hon. Gentleman on a substantial point. The concession last night in the Lords opens up a number of new questions, and there needs to be a well thought out process regarding how the common frameworks will work, where power will reside within the frameworks, and who has the power to create them. I would like a far more consensual approach than we have seen today.
I am glad to hear that. I am not sure—we cannot be sure—whether these provisions might eventually be declared void for uncertainty, and I am not clear about what they will do in practice. At least, however, we have got to the end of the Bill. I am in favour of the Bill in principle, and that is about all I need to say for the moment. As far as I am concerned, the future lies ahead with uncertainty built into these provisions.
Any improvement to the Bill would be welcomed, but the proposed amendment does nothing to protect the devolution settlement—the Minister said as much in his opening remarks—and the provisions will simply allow this Parliament to overrule Scottish Parliament and Welsh Parliament decisions. It is incredible to hear Labour Front Benchers trying to take credit. They say that they led the way, but they have actually paved the way for this Bill to do that to the Scottish Parliament. They talk about the guile they have shown, but it is gall that they have when they talk about this. You can understand, Madam Deputy Speaker, why Labour has only one MP in Scotland.
Instead of taking this Bill apart, as they should have done, those on the Labour Front Bench spend more of their time talking about the democratically elected Members of Parliament that they have here, who, as I pointed out, are in vastly greater numbers than the one Labour MP from Scotland. They are not listening to Scotland—they never do—and Labour has allowed this aberration to come forward in this way by abstaining in the House of Lords.
The amendment does not protect devolution, as I said: the Minister has laid that out clearly today for everybody to hear. Westminster Ministers will still have the right to impose lower food, environmental and other devolved standards on Scotland, regardless of the view of Holyrood. This Bill is the biggest assault on devolution in the history of the Scottish Parliament. It undermines devolved policy making, grabs spending powers, and removes state aid from being a devolved responsibility. The Scottish Parliament and the Welsh Assembly refused to give this Bill consent, and it is outrageous that the UK Government are once again ignoring the wishes of the people of Scotland as well as Wales.
In welcoming the amendment, Professor Aileen McHarg warned:
“There are still significant problems with this Bill: it changes the scope of devolved decision-making; it reserves additional powers to Westminster; it empowers the UK Government to spend in devolved areas that have nothing to do with markets (eg prisons, sport, international student exchanges); and above all—unlike EU law—it has an inherently asymmetrical effect on decision-making for England and for the devolved territories.
This is a Bill which squarely falls within the scope of the Sewel Convention, and the necessity of which is deeply questionable.”
But of course the Government have not listened to that, and Labour has capitulated on it.
The only reason for this Bill as it now stands is to demolish devolution. If the Government take this Bill forward today, as they obviously will, that is what they will be doing. Any pretence thereafter by the Scottish Tory MPs that they respect the democratic rights of the people of Scotland will be blown apart if they support this today. In fact, they have already supported it, because it seems that it will go through. They have done nothing to protect the democratic rights of the Scottish people.
People in Scotland are watching. People in Scotland, when they see the effects of this Bill, will be angry about the fact that their rights are being taken away by these Tory Ministers, aided by their Labour bedfellows. They will be furious about the fact that their rights are being stripped from them. They are listening, they are watching, and they are seeing developments in this place. They are understanding, now, that the only way to protect their Parliament, their rights and their democracy in Scotland is to go forward as an independent nation—and they will be voting for that, I am sure, in due course.
Yesterday I said that there was still time for compromise, so I am glad that the Government have finally gone for some degree of a consensus approach, and there is no doubt that what will be on the statute book is an improvement on the legislation that was initially introduced back in the autumn. I would like to acknowledge the Minister’s engagement over the Bill. I also thank my Liberal Democrat colleagues in the Lords, who have played an important role, and our staff teams across both Houses.
However, I do still have concerns about the Bill, one of which is about the Office for the Internal Market. The Government need to be transparent about what role that office will play in future trade deals. Can foreign investors in a US trade deal use it to undermine the devolved nations? I have asked that question repeatedly. I am also conscious that the legislative value of this Bill might, in practice, be limited, or indeed pretty much non-existent, especially if we reach a trade deal and a standards agreement with the EU. We obviously need more clarity on this, as the hon. Member for Stone (Sir William Cash) said.
Unfortunately, as I pointed out yesterday, these changes, while positive, are too late, because the damage has already been done. The Minister heard the speeches of SNP Members yesterday, but I wonder whether he listened. With this Bill, the Government have been pouring fuel on a fire, as alluded to by the hon. Member for Manchester Central (Lucy Powell). I ask the Minister: what has this all been worth? If the Government are committed to the future of the United Kingdom, they need to start acting like it.
I cannot count the number of newspaper articles I have read over the past year reporting a reset in the Government’s approach to the Union, that a new Cabinet Committee has been set up to finally solve the Government’s problem as regards relations with the devolved nations, or that the Prime Minister is going to love-bomb Scotland. I urge the Government: this is not about Committees, or grand new offices in Edinburgh, or bridges or tunnels over or under the Irish sea. Those of my constituents who are uncertain about where they want Scotland’s future to lie will not be convinced by Union Jacks on UK Government infrastructure projects: cack-handed stuff, as the passage of this Bill clearly indicates. What they will be convinced by is a UK Government who treat the devolved nations with respect, maturity and honesty, and who work together with the devolved nations to find consensus, because I do believe that we have too much in common for borders to divide us. Are we in this place capable of that? I like to believe we are, but for too many of my constituents, it has not felt like that over the last few months with this Bill.
So I do urge the Government: compromise and consensus were the reluctant final steps they took with regard to this Bill. Noting the comments of the hon. Member for Carmarthen East and Dinefwr (Jonathan Edwards) in relation to the Welsh Government’s statement, let the first steps the Government take in their future relationship with the devolved nations be that compromise and consensus.
I suppose it is good to see that the Government have finally admitted that they have to listen to the concerns being raised about their appalling ignorance over devolution and how the UK currently works. Is it not bizarre that the unelected bunch along the corridor had more appreciation of the democratic deficit at the heart of the UK than the Government of “reclaiming sovereignty” fame?
It is appalling too—I have to say this—that the loyal and spineless Opposition betrayed generations of Scottish Labour activists and politicians who fought to establish devolution and battled their own party sometimes, but who learned to work across civic Scotland to deliver it. I think they must not have heard the warnings of Scottish Labour Action that a powerful devolved Administration in Scotland were not a frippery, but an absolutely essential counterpoint to Westminster and Whitehall blindness to issues anywhere outside the south-east of England. I expect nothing better from the Tories, but the Labour party has betrayed its own members and the activists who spent so long on the Calton Hill vigil. This desperate attempt to appeal to Tory values to try to bury the incompetence of the previous leadership might seem a decent old political strategy, but it renders the existence of the Labour party utterly meaningless.
In any case, we finally have a nod to the devolution settlement, even if it has been forced by the House of Lords. In yesterday’s debate, the Minister said this legislation was about devolution, demonstrated that it was about dismantling devolution and failed to answer any of the questions raised during the debate. It seems that Ministers in this UK Government no longer seek to engage in discussion, but instead merely fling pre-written barbs that they clearly think are clever. It is not clear whether they know how to debate and choose not to, or do not actually have command of their brief. Either way, it is unfitting for a Minister and no way to run a Government.
Instead of offering amendments to this elected Chamber yesterday or at any point during the passage of this Bill, the Government arranged their business in the unelected Chamber—somewhere it clearly feels most comfortable, among the privileged and away from the bother of the concerns of the people we represent. Those amendments, I will grant, go a little way towards addressing some of the concerns that have been raised, but I suggest that they were driven more by a desire to mollify cantankerous Lords than by the need to create decent legislation. They are tiny baby steps in the right direction at the time we needed giant strides and they leave, as we have already heard, reams of unanswered questions—how disputes between Governments will be resolved, for example, and how consumers can be protected from unthinking and uncaring Prime Ministers, for another.
The amendments will also embed an imbalance in the framework of a post-Brexit UK that will see England’s Government outweigh the other Governments in any negotiation, as the hon. Member for Stone (Sir William Cash) pointed out. He put his finger on the exact nub of this problem. England’s Government will outweigh the other Governments in any negotiation, because it continues to claim overlordship as the supposed Government of the UK. Labour might be interested in looking at that, because it echoes the democratic deficit that drove the creation of the devolved Administrations in the first place.
I personally have always believed that there should have been a referendum of the whole United Kingdom over the devolution question. I put down my own amendment back in 1997, and half the Conservative party went against a three-line Whip and followed me into the Lobby. That is the real way to get consent. I believe in the Union, and I believe that there should never have been devolution other than through a United Kingdom referendum, if it was going to happen at all.
I do not want to be rude to the hon. Gentleman, but he presents us with a glorious example of exactly why many on the SNP Benches want to get away from this House of Commons.
Scotland faces the same situation as we did in the last quarter of the last century: a UK Government of a hue that we did not vote for and would not support are riding roughshod over the interests of the Scottish people and will ignore them if they can. This Bill will pass today, but the debate will continue, and we have not yet begun to fight.
I would like to briefly add to what my colleagues have said. We welcome some sort of recognition of the common frameworks. There is a lot still to be teased out in terms of how that will work. We know that Westminster’s sovereignty will overrule things, and that is still a big concern, but we welcome that measure. I still do not understand how the Minister stood at the Dispatch Box yesterday and said that common frameworks could not be enshrined in the Bill, because it would be so bad and would cause businesses uncertainty, and now he says, “We’ve listened to the Lords, and everything’s okay.” It would be good if he could clarify that when he sums up.
Despite what the hon. Member for Manchester Central (Lucy Powell) said, Labour did not lead the way on this. Labour gave up on devolution, and it gave up in the other place. Labour did not even back my hon. Friend the Member for Inverness, Nairn, Badenoch and Strathspey (Drew Hendry) in the Reasons Committee. Labour sat on its hands in the vote in that Committee. Lord Stevenson said, “We will not divide the House.” That is giving up. Labour gave up in the Lords.
Let us look at clause 48 and what Labour gave up on. Westminster is now allowed to provide infrastructure at places in the United Kingdom, including infrastructure connected with any of the other purposes mentioned. That infrastructure includes water, which is still publicly owned in Scotland, electricity, gas, telecoms, sewerage—also publicly owned in Scotland—railway facilities and roads or other transport facilities. As the hon. Member for North East Fife (Wendy Chamberlain) said, that paves the way for the glorious Union bridge or Union tunnel that we do not want and do not need, because we can invest better in transport infrastructure ourselves.
There is no doubt that the greatest improvements in Scotland’s infrastructure have come since the introduction of the Scottish Parliament, making decisions for the people of Scotland on behalf of the people of Scotland and representing the people who elected them. [Interruption.] Does the hon. Member for Manchester Central want to intervene? No. As I was saying, the greatest improvements in Scotland’s infrastructure have come since the introduction of the Scottish Parliament. MSPs are answerable to the people who elected them. Unfortunately, we have a right- wing Tory Government who Scotland did not elect, and now they are free to overrule us. Labour backed down. It does not matter what the hon. Member for Manchester Central said; Labour backed down and gave up.
The Bill allows Westminster to spend not only in Scotland but in Wales, overruling the Welsh Labour Government on health, education, culture, sports facilities, court or prison facilities and housing. We are leading the way in building social housing in Scotland. We ended the right to buy. The Tories obviously still think that the right to buy is a good thing, forcing councils to get rid of their housing stock. How dare Westminster legislate to provide housing in Scotland—we have done very well without your help, thank you very much.
State aid is something else that Labour gave up on. It has been stated clearly that state aid was never a reserved function, and therefore it was devolved to the four nations, so why is Westminster taking it back? Does it think that that sends out a good message?
People are watching. Studies in Scotland have shown time and again that people in Scotland trust the Scottish Parliament to legislate and invest in these matters over Westminster, so why Westminster thinks it can do a better job is beyond me. As my hon. Friend the Member for Inverness, Nairn, Badenoch and Strathspey said, it looks like independence is the only way that we can protect the powers of the Scottish Parliament. Bring it on.
Let me quickly answer a few points. My hon. Friend the Member for Stone (Sir William Cash) asked for a bit more detail on the amendments. In the small number of cases in which the market access principles apply to divergence agreed under a common framework, clauses 10 and 17 could be used to exclude the agreement from the market access principles. The Secretary of State would be able to do so following a consensus agreement that that was appropriate under the common framework. That is the appropriate way to ensure that the market access principles in the Bill can ensure certainty and a seamlessly functioning internal market while still respecting agreed limited divergence under the common frameworks programme.
Originally, Lord Hope’s amendments would have required the Secretary of State to exclude any divergence agreed under the common frameworks process from market access principles; by contrast, the Government’s amendment makes it clear that this is an option open to the Secretary of State, thereby giving the Secretary of State the discretion to ensure that the disapplication of the market access principles would never lead to the emergence of unacceptable trade barriers within the United Kingdom.
The hon. Member for North East Fife (Wendy Chamberlain) talked about the CMA, the OIM and what would happen with international players. The CMA and the OIM have the flexibility to investigate and report on any issues that they choose, but they are not themselves decision makers on market access principles. Throughout the Bill’s passage, we have made sure that both the OIM and the Bill itself will apply rules to each part of the UK—to England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland—equally.
I thank the Minister for his response, but will he accept that, in the letter he wrote to the Scottish Affairs Committee after his appearance before the Committee in relation to the Bill, he was unable definitively to rule out foreign investors being able to take the UK Government to court, whether through the OIM or otherwise?
In establishing the Office for the Internal Market through this Bill, I wanted to make sure that it was not the Office for the Internal Market itself that it would be able to work through, so that is within the purview of this particular part of the Bill.
The hon. Member for North East Fife talked about about the fact that when we talk about devolution it is not about Committees, and I totally agree: it is about dialogue, consensus and giving business certainty. This is in stark contrast to what we have seen from the Scottish National party, which walked away from discussions about the internal market in 2019. That is no way to build consensus and to have that dialogue. If the SNP and the Scottish Government want to talk about ending the right to buy and to go with that to the council house-owning residents in their electorate, that is up to them. We are not talking about devolved parts of housing; when we talk about spending or any of these other issues, it is complementary to what the Scottish Government, or indeed the Welsh Senedd or the Northern Ireland Assembly, are doing within their devolved rights.
Once again, the Minister has talked about the Scottish Government walking away from the internal market discussions; of course, the internal market discussions led on to this Bill—we knew it was going to be a bad move forward. The Scottish Government engaged constructively, and continue to be willing to do so, in the common frameworks discussions. The Minister should make that clear when he makes that point about the internal market discussions. On the matter of housing, as my hon. Friend the Member for Kilmarnock and Loudoun (Alan Brown) pointed out, the Government can now interfere in and overrule legislation in Scotland.
No, this is about spreading. I readily accept that the discussions on common frameworks continue, and I very much welcome that. As I say, common frameworks go wider than just trade and the measures covered in the Bill. None the less, to walk away from discussions on the internal market a full year or 18 months before we reached this position is really to walk away from the responsibility to help to shape the discussions, as we have seen in the more fruitful conversations with the Welsh Senedd, including in recent days.
We heard the hon. Member for Edinburgh North and Leith (Deidre Brock) talk about pre-written barbs, but time and again when we have come back to this place it has just been a rehearsal of the arguments not about the devolution settlement or the Bill itself, but about independence. It has been the same debate time and again, instead of Members involving themselves in the detail of the Bill and giving certainty to business.
I will not give way.
I finish by thanking everyone who spoke in the debate, and by once again thanking all hon. and right hon. Members and noble Lords who have engaged with the Bill over the last few weeks. I thank the Public Bill Office for its support to all Members and officials across Government. I pay tribute to the entire ministerial team across both Houses and all Departments, who have worked jointly to deliver the Bill—in particular, Lord Callanan, Lord True and the Minister for the Constitution and Devolution, my hon. Friend the Member for Norwich North (Chloe Smith), and the Minister of State, Northern Ireland Office, my hon. Friend the Member for Worcester (Mr Walker). I also pay tribute to Yasmin Kalhori and the team of the Leader of the House of Lords.
I welcome the contributions and the constructive discussions that we have had in recent days with Opposition Members in both Houses that have got us to this place. We have had some passionate debates on the Bill, because of the importance of the issues. However, the Bill will ensure that UK businesses can trade across the four parts of the UK in a way that helps them to invest and create jobs, just as they have for hundreds of years. I am therefore delighted to ask the House to agree to the amendments, and to complete our scrutiny and consideration of the Bill.
Order. The hon. Gentleman must resume his seat, and he knows that. [Interruption.] This is just showing off. He should resume his seat, otherwise I will name him and order him to leave. [Interruption.] Does he want to be named? Is that what is happening? [Interruption.] If that is what is happening, we can do it. [Interruption.] Okay—I will name him. I know what he is doing. [Interruption.] Oh, for goodness’ sake! Very childish.
Drew Hendry, Member for Inverness, Nairn, Badenoch and Strathspey, was named by the Deputy Speaker for disregarding the authority of the Chair (Standing Order No. 44).
Motion made, and Question put forthwith (Standing Order No. 44),
That Drew Hendry be suspended from the service of the House.—(David T. C. Davies.)
Question agreed to.
The Deputy Speaker directed Drew Hendry to withdraw from the House, and the Member withdrew accordingly.
Main Question again proposed.
Question put and agreed to.
That this House agrees with Lords amendments 8P, 8Q, 8R, 8S, 8T and 8U.