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United Kingdom Internal Market Bill

Volume 808: debated on Wednesday 2 December 2020

Third Reading

My Lords, before the House begins its Third Reading on the United Kingdom Internal Market Bill, it may be helpful to say a few words about Third Reading amendments. In line with the procedure agreed by the House, the Public Bill Office advises the usual channels that Amendment 2 in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Ritchie of Downpatrick, on the Marshalled List for Third Reading today, falls outside the guidance in the Companion on Third Reading amendments. On the advice of the Public Bill Office, the usual channels met and have recommended to the House that Amendment 2 should not be moved. The noble Baroness, Lady Ritchie, was informed of the view of the usual channels. She has confirmed to my office that she will not move her amendment today.

I am grateful to the noble Baroness and the other signatories of the Report stage amendment and for the positive engagement with the noble Baroness that took place yesterday with my noble friend Lord Callanan and Ministers in the Northern Ireland Office, of which the House will hear more later.

My Lords, I am required to inform the House that on 7 October the Scottish Parliament voted not to grant legislative consent because of its assertion that the Bill negatively impacts the devolution settlements. We have remained open to engagement with the Scottish Government on the contents of the Bill, and this offer still very much stands. The Senedd and Northern Ireland Assembly have not yet voted on legislative consent, but we have continued to engage with both Administrations on the Bill’s contents in recent weeks. This engagement has been fruitful, and the Government have listened closely to concerns. It has resulted, for example, in the Government tabling an amendment to ensure that the devolved Administrations have a strong role in appointments to the Office for the Internal Market panel, in light of Welsh Government proposals.

We appreciate the significance of the UK Government legislating without consent for this Bill. Our ambition, of course, remains to secure legislative consent Motions for the Bill. As I have said throughout the passage of the Bill, the UK Government remain open to discussions with all the devolved Administrations.

Clause 12: Modifications in connection with the Northern Ireland Protocol

Amendment 1

Moved by

1: Clause 12, page 8, line 30, leave out subsections (6) and (7)

My Lords, my original Amendment 21 on Report, also signed by the noble Lords, Lord Anderson and Lord Wigley, and the noble Baroness, Lady Bowles, on which I spoke on 18 November 2020 and moved formally on 23 November 2020, replaced the original Clause 10 with a new clause listing public interest derogations from market access principles. I was pleasantly surprised and grateful that the Government accepted the amendment without a Division. The clerks subsequently advised us that the amendment required some consequential changes to the Bill to remove minor inconsistencies. These changes are set out in the amendments before your Lordships’ House today. Amendment 1 removes two subsections on page 8 and Amendment 3 removes Schedule 1 entirely. I beg to move.

The Government regret the changes made to the previous Clause 10 on Report, but I will not reopen that debate here. I appreciate the need for these amendments to tidy up the Bill text so the Government will not oppose them.

Amendment 1 agreed.

Amendment 2 not moved.

Schedule 1: Exclusions from market access principles

Amendment 3

Moved by

3: Schedule 1, leave out Schedule 1

Amendment 3 agreed.


Moved by

I thank noble Lords from across the House for the quality of the debates and the scrutiny provided throughout the passage of this Bill. I am grateful for the constructive engagement from many noble Lords from all parts of the Chamber that we have had both in and out of the Chamber, and hope that we can continue these discussions in the same spirit. I extend my thanks to other members of the ministerial team: my noble friends Lord True, Lady Bloomfield of Hinton Waldrist, Lady Scott of Bybrook and Lady Penn, as well as Shreena and the rest of the excellent civil servants on the Bill team.

I have said throughout the debates that this Bill is essential for guaranteeing the economic and political integrity of the United Kingdom. It will ensure much-needed certainty for businesses as we leave the transition period. It will preserve our ability to trade freely across all parts of the United Kingdom. Having listened to all the debates in this House on this Bill, I believe I can say that all noble Lords share this objective. While noble Lords and I may not have always agreed on every single point—to put it mildly—the challenges posed by noble Lords and debates we have had have always been conducted in a constructive and courteous manner—except, obviously, the noble Lord, Lord Foulkes, but we accept his contributions.

On a related note, I want to touch briefly on an amendment in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Ritchie of Downpatrick, referred to by the Leader of the House. As I committed to do on Report, I facilitated and joined a meeting on this issue between my honourable friend Robin Walker, Minister of State in the Northern Ireland Office, the noble Baronesses, Lady Ritchie, and Lady Suttie, to discuss this in more detail. I thank the noble Baronesses for a good meeting, which assuaged their concerns on this issue.

For the benefit of the House, let me be clear: Article 2 of the Northern Ireland Protocol is vital, and the Government are fully committed to upholding it. I assure noble Lords that the rights for individuals in Northern Ireland captured within the scope of the Article 2 commitment will continue to be protected going forward, and will not be impacted by the workings of this Bill. I have explained this in greater detail in a letter to the noble Baroness, Lady Ritchie. To reassure noble Lords who may have similar concerns, I will place a copy in the Library. I beg to move.

My Lords, it is a great honour to be speaking at this point. My noble friends on the Cross Benches have brought their wide range of experience, wisdom and differing views to crucial amendments to the Bill.

The Bill is of huge constitutional significance: it goes to the heart of our history, to the devolution settlements that have matured as we enter a new era outside Europe. As the UK takes back control and seeks to be more independent than over recent decades, decision-making and mutual respect among the four nations of the United Kingdom will be more important than ever.

We now see that Scotland is withholding legislative consent and Wales is pending, as is Northern Ireland. To lose those nations would compound the threat to the union from a party that is called the Conservative and Unionist Party. In each nation, elected representatives know the intricacy of local problems and ways to achieve solutions to make our nations attractive for innovation and new ways of working. Covid has made the challenges greater, as many in the population have been deeply traumatised by bereavement, isolation and rising unemployment.

This House has examined every word of this Bill with rigour. The amendments it has made have been resoundingly supported around the House and outside. They have laid a foundation for the UK’s reputation to be restored, as we foster new relationships and rebuild older ones around the globe. Through its amendments, the House has shown its commitments to the future well-being of our national relationships and constitution. We have delivered a clear beheading sentence to Henry VIII’s dangerous clauses, and the rumble of Llewellyn the Great and Robert the Bruce turning in their graves was audible at times.

We have ensured that there is a secure negotiating framework on the face of the Bill to achieve that consensus across our four nations, which history has taught us achieves so much more than mere directive dominance. We have removed one clause that would allow the Government to use the allure of taxpayers’ money to work around, not with, the devolved Governments and to undermine their priorities. We have removed another that would explicitly impose new reservations on their competence in respect of state aid. We have protected the devolved institutions’ ability to introduce ecological and environmental improvements and new public health initiatives in their nations, the learning from which will benefit us all.

This Bill has posed a major threat to the union itself. With my noble colleagues on these Benches, particularly the noble and learned Lords, Lord Hope of Craighead and Lord Thomas of Cwmgiedd, we have done all we can to ensure that threat diminishes. It has been an enormous privilege, if daunting at times, to be able to participate in this Bill. So many across the House have brought their expertise—from the Select Committees on which they serve, particularly on common frameworks, as well as past experience as elected representatives of widely differing areas—to a shared goal of improving the Bill.

Now we send the Bill on to the next part of its journey, and I hope the Government will continue to listen hard and will reflect on the importance of the amendments and the eloquent speeches of many, including my noble and learned friend, Lord Judge. I genuinely believe that noble Lords should and will resist the reinsertion of distasteful parts of the Bill and the deletion of key amendments.

Finally, it is my pleasure to thank all those who have contributed to the Bill’s passage: the outstanding Public Bill Office and parliamentary clerks, the Bill team and the many who work to support us behind the scenes, particularly the digital team and broadcasting hub, which enabled so many smoothly unmuted contributions—I beg your pardon that mine failed just now—and efficient votes. We have shown that we can function very effectively as a hybrid House, voting remotely, with numbers that showed how clearly the Lords can express its collective views.

The Ministers, Whips and Peers showed they can still maintain a sense of humour under pressure. I would particularly like to thank the Lord Speaker and my fellow deputies, who chaired us through very complex parliamentary procedures. I thank them all very much indeed. Once again, to all in this House who supported these critically important changes to the Bill, I give a huge thank you.

My Lords, it is a pleasure to follow the noble Baroness, Lady Finlay of Llandaff. At this stage, I thank the Ministers, the noble Lords, Lord True and Lord Callanan, the Opposition Front-Bench team, the noble Baroness, Lady Hayter, the noble Lord, Lord Stevenson of Balmacara, and the noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer of Thoroton. I thank the noble Lord, Lord Purvis, on the Liberal Democrat Benches, and the noble Baroness, Lady Finlay of Llandaff, and the noble and learned Lord, Lord Judge, from the Cross Benches.

In his speech today, the Minister, the noble Lord, Lord Callanan, referred to the meeting that he had with the noble Baroness, Lady Suttie, and myself yesterday on the non-discrimination principle in relation to Clause 11 of the Bill, which specifically refers to Northern Ireland and the two commissions: the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission and the Equality Commission for Northern Ireland, which have agreed today with the dedicated mechanism in respect of the Northern Ireland protocol. Our meeting yesterday was very productive, and, in fact, the Minister’s subsequent letter to me, following our exchanges on Report, was also productive and provided good clarification on the point of the market access principles and the non-discrimination principle in relation to the Bill.

Both commissions found it very helpful, because the issue was central to the recent amendment and recent correspondence with the Minister and concerned the operation of those market access principles introduced in the Bill, particularly the non-discrimination requirement. The question was whether these principles applied to legislation introduced to ensure that there will be no diminution of certain rights in Northern Ireland resulting from the exit of the UK from the EU, as required by Article 2 of the protocol. As already referred to, the two commissions have direct responsibility, as they have agreed to act as the dedicated mechanism responsible for monitoring, supervising, advising, reporting on and enforcing the Government’s commitment under Article 2 of the Northern Ireland protocol of the withdrawal agreement from the end of the transition period.

Following that period of uncertainty, shall we say, the Minister’s letter to me of last Friday—which was productive—and our meeting yesterday proved a very useful exchange, providing the necessary clarifications, for which the noble Baroness, Lady Suttie, and I are extremely grateful. I further note that the Minister has agreed to our request to put that letter, plus another one to do with procurements, in the Library of your Lordships’ House.

Robin Walker, Minister at the Northern Ireland Office in the other place, has agreed to write to both commissions: the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission, for which he has responsibility, and the Equality Commission for Northern Ireland, which is the responsibility of the Northern Ireland Executive. In that letter, he will state what the Minister, the noble Lord, Lord Callanan, has already stated to me.

I thank Ministers for their deliberations with us and productive outcomes, and I hope it all works well. I hope that Part 5 of this Bill, which deals specifically with the Northern Ireland protocol, will not be reinstated in the other place, because I firmly believe in the principle of reconciliation. Breaking international law and the other international agreement, the Good Friday agreement, at any point would not be good for peace or political progress in Northern Ireland.

My Lords, to save time, I ask your Lordships’ House to read into my remarks the kind words of the noble Baroness, Lady Ritchie, about those behind this Bill. I think it is appropriate for me, a disagreeable Conservative Back-Bencher, to congratulate the Ministers, my noble friends Lord Callanan, Lord True and Lady Bloomfield, as well as my other friends on the Front Bench, for their conduct of the Bill, good spirit and sense of humour, as they have watched large parts of the Bill of which they had conduct, crumble during its passage. The Bill has had a bumpy ride; I do not think that is controversial. Today, we will return a somewhat different Bill to the other place compared to the one that it sent to us.

None the less, I urge that we do let it pass and go back to the other place. As I implied on Report, it has, on occasion, been tempting to think that, in relation to the progress and development of the Bill, Downing Street had

“learned nothing and forgotten nothing”.

Of course, Talleyrand was referring to the Bourbons after the abdication of Napoleon: they seemed determined endlessly to repeat the mistakes of their predecessors who had been swept away in the French Revolution. That is clearly not a fate I wish for the Government, although last night’s revolt in the Commons suggests that they need to have a care.

It may be said that all that needs to be said has already been said about the Bill. In the other place, that is often seen as a good reason to say it all over again. I will not say it all over again, but I will point out two themes that have emerged from our consideration of the Bill, which I hope the other place will not ignore when it considers the Bill we return to it.

The first relates to the rule of law. The Bill did not start well. It began with my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland announcing that the Government would deliberately renege on their international treaty obligations, albeit, as he said, in a very specific and limited way. It was not a slip; it was a deliberate statement. But it was certainly a mistake, and it made the Government look ridiculous.

The Government sought to cure that error by passing the buck to the other place, and then sought to avoid the error by arguing that they were not breaking their rule of law obligations, or that there was a difference between our international law and domestic rule of law duties, or that it did not matter, or that they had to break their obligations because, in some unspecified manner, the EU was going to act in bad faith. I sincerely regret that the Lord Chancellor and the Attorney-General took part in this because, objectively observed, they did not assist. Few Britons who believe in the rule of law and in our respecting treaty obligations were convinced by any of that.

Part 5 of the Bill was unsupportable and it was rightly removed for the reasons set out by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Judge, and many other thoughtful contributors, from all parties and none. I therefore gently ask the Government and the thinking majority in the other place not to put Part 5 back into the Bill.

It is always a joy to have the support of my noble friend.

No British Government, and certainly no British Conservative Government, should be in the business of persuading the United Kingdom Parliament to enact a law that breaks a treaty that is barely a year old, the terms of which were put into domestic law earlier this year by the very same Government and Parliament. They cannot break the law, still less the law of their own making, and expect to engender respect at home or abroad.

My second theme relates to the maintenance of the United Kingdom—something already touched upon by the noble Baroness, Lady Finlay. I am a unionist, and I want to see the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland continue and thrive. Of course, I know that there are some people in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland who want to see a different constitutional arrangement, whether that be through greater devolution, a federal system or the separation of Wales and Scotland from the United Kingdom and the unification of Northern Ireland and the Republic. But there are, and there were, provisions in the Bill—no doubt sincere arguments were made in favour of them by the Government—that will encourage those against the continuance of the union to conclude that the United Kingdom Government do not care about their views and that they should therefore try even harder to leave. My noble friend Lord Callanan’s statement at about 2.20 pm exemplified that.

The law too often passed by Parliament is the law of unintended consequence. If we are not more aware of the effect of our words and deeds upon the minds of those who want to bring the union to an end, it is we unionists who will live to regret it. It was, after all, the leader of the Scottish Conservatives, my honourable friend Douglas Ross, who recently said that the case for separation was being won in London, not in Scotland.

I therefore ask the Government, in relation to this second theme—the maintenance of the United Kingdom —not to do anything that will give the separatists any excuse to say that the United Kingdom has had its day and that London knows nothing and cares less for the opinions and self-respect of the devolved Administrations. Of course separatists will find insult where none is intended and make good use of every slight, actual or perceived, so let us not give them any excuse to do so. Let us treat the devolved Administrations with respect and co-operate together as a functioning union, with more to gain from being one country than four separate ones.

I urge the other place to rest content with the Bill as we return it to them. It is in better shape now than it was and it will do less damage to the union and our country’s international reputation.

My Lords, when the Bill entered your Lordships’ House, it presented many problems—not to put too fine a point on it. It is a great honour to follow the noble and learned Lord, Lord Garnier, who, among his many pieces of advice, advised Peers not to rehearse the arguments that we have heard over the course of the Bill. So I will not do that, but I agree that the Bill leaves your Lordships’ House in a better state than when it arrived, though it is of course still far from perfect.

During the scrutiny process, as the noble Baroness, Lady Finlay, alluded to, over 30 amendments have been inserted into the Bill through your Lordships’ overwhelming votes. At the same time, as other Peers have said, large and important parts of the Bill were removed as a result of this process. I hope this gives Her Majesty’s Government cause to reflect further, rather than simply trying to move on.

Additionally, the Government themselves have made more than 30 amendments to the Bill, and that indicates that the Ministers have been listening to and participating in this debate. I thank the noble Baronesses, Lady Bloomfield, Lady Penn and Lady Scott, and the noble Lords, Lord True and Lord Callanan—the full cadre of Ministers—for their stamina and general good humour through this process. I agree that the Ministers listened, and the government amendments are testimony to that. The departmental Bill teams must get much credit for keeping Ministers on the straight and narrow—if indeed they did. The Bill has been drafted and debated on an extremely tight schedule, and I am sure that the Bill team lost many weekends and evenings as it stewarded Ministers through this process—as well as drafting the many letters for my noble friend Lord Purvis that have emerged.

I thank all the Cross-Bench and Labour speakers, the Bishops and their teams for the great collective effort on the Bill. It is invidious to pull out names but I would like to thank the noble Baronesses, Lady Hayter and Lady Finlay, the noble Lord, Lord Stevenson, and the noble and learned Lords, Lord Judge, Lord Hope, Lord Thomas and Lord Falconer, who put in many hours to get us to where we are today. Perhaps the Law Society of Scotland and the Welsh Government should also get a special mention for the hours that they have put into drafting amendments.

I would also like to mention the parliamentary clerks, as well as the Whips’ Office and the usual channels, for helping to get the Bill timetabled and get us through it. It was not an easy task in the circumstances. From our team, I would single out Elizabeth Plummer and Sarah Pughe in the Lib Dem Whips’ Office, who have done a fantastic job. Finally, I thank the cadre of colleagues I have on the Benches today, my noble friends Lady Bowles and Lord Purvis, and the 20 other Lib Dem Peers who have participated in the various stages of the Bill.

It is clear from what I have been saying over the past weeks that this is not the way the Liberal Democrats would have done it, but I feel that the debates have been deep as well as wide, and serious and well considered on all sides. It is important that this is considered as the Bill leaves this House and goes forward.

The Minister mentioned legislative consent. Other speakers have said how important it is that Part 5 remain out of the Bill; that is very true. Many of the other amendments were also targeted at the grab at devolution that the Bill seeks. The principle of legislative consent requires that those amendments be given full consideration in the other place. If they are summarily dispatched, as is often the case with your Lordships’ amendments, the message will be sent clearly to the devolved authorities about what this Government consider to be important in terms of the devolution settlement. That runs far past this Bill, and far past the term of this Parliament. It is a very important issue—and not one that I think the Government, in the end, want to have on their hands.

I am wont to give Ministers advice, and they are wont to ignore it, but there are many other people wiser than me who are also giving Her Majesty’s Government this advice. I hope that, when it all comes out in the wash, that advice will be listened to— because this issue is far more important than just this Bill.

I thank the ministerial team for their time and accessibility while we have been working on the Bill. Bills that span departments—three, in this case—are a nightmare to run. Credit is due to those involved, in BEIS, the Cabinet Office and the Treasury, for their seamless performance. We tried hard to find divisions between them, but we failed. I particularly want to thank the Minister from the Cabinet Office, Chloe Smith MP, at a difficult time for her. I am sure the whole House will want to join me in wishing her well for the next six months, and a speedy recovery.

Our team in the Lords is used to working collaboratively, and we have tried to blend our experiences and interests to good effect in working on the Bill. I thank in particular my noble friend Lady Hayter for her endless supply of wit and wisdom, and my noble and learned friend Lord Falconer, who must have been a terrifying vision when he rose at the Dispatch Box to take on the combined ministerial skills that he was dealing with. We have also worked closely with Commons colleagues, and we now pass to them the responsibility for defending the changes that we have made.

The Bill team has supported the parliamentary processes very well and has managed the large number of Zoom meetings and letters with huge professionalism. We thank them. We should also thank the technical teams who have supported the hybrid House so well. Last, but not least, I thank Dan Harris, our legislative support team member, who has absorbed huge amounts of work and juggled his other commitments so as to keep us on track, drafting all our amendments and dealing with the Public Bill Office to get us to where we are. He celebrates a big birthday this week, and he deserves the break that he is taking.

As the noble Lord, Lord Fox, said, it is customary to say that Bills that have been sent to us for consideration by the other place leave here much improved by the detailed scrutiny that your Lordships’ House brings to legislation. I am not sure that this Bill—with, as the noble and learned Lord, Lord Garnier, observed, its 65 amendments in all, and shorn of about one third of its original material—can qualify for that appellation. It still seems to have some problems and deficiencies. However, we think it has been improved.

My colleagues and I were heartened by the handover meeting we held yesterday with the ministerial team, involving Commons Ministers as well, which seemed to open up possible joint solutions to many of the remaining issues. Of course, external events may well intervene, but we are not far apart on many issues, and we remain willing to work together with the Government to resolve the outstanding issues over the next period.

My Lords, let me first thank all those who have contributed to the debate for their remarks. Again, all noble Lords have approached the subject in a timely and constructive manner, in the finest traditions of this House, as has been demonstrated throughout the passage of the Bill. It is now up to the other place to scrutinise the changes that this House has made to the Bill. It would be wrong of me to prejudge what will happen there, but I can say that should the Bill return for further consideration in this House, I look forward to working with all noble Lords in the spirit of constructive—well, sometimes constructive —co-operation that we have all shown so far.

Bill passed and returned to the Commons with amendments.

Sitting suspended.