[Relevant documents: First Report of the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee, Unfettered Access: Customs Arrangements in Northern Ireland after Brexit, HC 161, and the Government response, HC 783.]
[1st Allocated Day]
Considered in Committee
[Dame Rosie Winterton in the Chair]
I should explain that in these exceptional circumstances, although the Chair of the Committee would normally sit in the Clerk’s chair during Committee stage, in order to comply with social distancing requirements I will remain in the Speaker’s Chair, although I will be carrying out the role not of Deputy Speaker but of Chairman of the Committee. We should be addressed as Chairs of the Committee, rather than as Deputy Speakers.
Functions of the CMA under this Part: general provisions
I beg to move amendment 28, page 20, line 31, leave out “, Scotland”.
This amendment would exempt from the operation of Part 4 (independent advice on and monitoring of UK internal market) regulatory provisions applying in Scotland which did not apply to the whole of the UK.
With this it will be convenient to discuss the following:
Clause 28 stand part.
Amendment 29, in clause 29, page 21, line 3, at the beginning insert
“Following legislative approval from all devolved administrations,”.
This amendment would ensure that the CMA may only undertake a review following legislative approval from all devolved administrations.
Clauses 29 to 34 stand part.
Amendment 21, in clause 35, page 26, line 16, at end insert—
“(1A) Prior to publishing the information in subsection (1) the CMA must consult the Scottish Ministers, the Welsh Ministers and the Department for the Economy in Northern Ireland about how it is to approach the exercise of its functions.”
The intention of this amendment is to ensure that the devolved administrations are consulted before the CMA determines how to exercise its functions in regard to the UK Internal Market.
Clauses 35 to 37 stand part.
Amendment 30, in clause 38, page 29, line 22, after “must” insert
“obtain the agreement of the devolved administrations and”.
This amendment would ensure that the Secretary of State cannot decide amount for penalties with CMA without agreement from devolved administrations.
Clauses 38 and 39 stand part.
New clause 1—Dispute resolution mechanism—
“(1) Within the period of two months after the day on which this Act is passed, the Secretary of State must consult the Scottish Ministers, the Welsh Ministers and the Department for the Economy in Northern Ireland about how any disputes relating to the functioning of the internal market will be resolved between the four parts of the United Kingdom.
(2) Within the period of three months after the day on which this Act is passed, the Secretary of State must lay before each House of Parliament a report detailing how any disputes relating to the functioning of the internal market will be resolved between the four parts of the United Kingdom.
(3) Any dispute resolution mechanism established by the Secretary of State must provide for representation from each nation of the United Kingdom.”
The intention of this clause is to help resolve the functioning of the internal market between the four nations of the United Kingdom.
New clause 2—Limits on powers to override common frameworks—
“The Secretary of State shall not make any order or regulations under this or any other Act of Parliament that has the effect of imposing lower standards on Scotland, Wales or Northern Ireland, in any area for which a common framework—
(a) has been agreed,
(b) is in development, or
(c) becomes necessary,
unless, where subsection (b) or (c) above applies, the Secretary of State judges that a reasonable period has passed and the negotiations have failed to reach agreement, and a draft of the order or regulations has been laid before and approved by resolution of each House of Parliament.”
This new clause puts common frameworks on a statutory footing. Where there is a common framework agreed, Ministers would not be able to override them through secondary legislation to impose lower standards on devolved nations. Where a common framework was in development, or a new common framework became necessary, Ministers could not impose standards until the negotiation of common frameworks had taken place between the nations of the UK and failed to reach agreement after a reasonable period. The UK Parliament would be the ultimate arbiter of standards if reasonable agreement could not be reached.
New clause 3—Duty to consult, monitor and report—
“The CMA has a duty to consult with all relevant national authorities and shall produce monitoring reports on
(a) changes in standards, and
(b) assessments of whether standards have been met.”
New clause 4—Appointment of members to the Competition and Markets Authority board by the devolved administrations—
“(1) Schedule 4 of the Enterprise and Regulatory Reform Act 2013 is amended as follows.
(2) After sub-paragraph 1(1) insert—
‘(1A) The members appointed under sub-paragraph (1)(b) must include—
(a) a member appointed by the Scottish Ministers,
(b) a member appointed by the Welsh Ministers, and
(c) a member appointed by the ministers of the Northern Ireland Executive.’”
This new clause gives the devolved administrations the power to each appoint a member to the board of the Competition and Markets Authority.
Dame Rosie, it is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship. I rise to talk to amendments 28 to 30 in my name and those of my right hon. and hon. Friends.
When the Institute for Government warned that
“it is not clear how disputes around the functioning of the internal market will be managed”,
it opened up the yawning and damning gap in the plans for the governance of the internal market. As a result of ditching co-operation over common frameworks, this Government propose to fill the gap with an Office for the Internal Market—an unelected quango. I will return to the composition of that body shortly. The Office for the Internal Market will have an effective veto over the Scottish Parliament, and the subsequent result is that devolution will be hamstrung. This is yet another step in introducing a system where standards are set by Westminster and they must be accepted by Scotland in devolved areas.
Analysis by the Scottish Government has revealed that successful Scottish policies such as alcohol minimum unit pricing, our policy on tuition fees and the ban on smoking in public places would be among the Bills referred to the Office for the Internal Market. That has been opposed by many bodies who have shone a light on this. The National Farmers Union Scotland has raised a series of concerns about the function of the Office for the Internal Market’s dispute resolution mechanism in managing policy differences, ensuring that the UK Government do not have the final say on areas of devolved policy, including agriculture, and enabling the devolved Administrations to act where it is considered that a policy aligning in a particular manner is unfavourable to devolved interests such as agriculture.
Of course, it would not have to worry about that if the UK Government had simply continued work on common frameworks. Common frameworks are designed to manage cross-UK divergence where EU law and devolved competencies intersect, including in relation to the functioning of the UK domestic market, together with existing processes for regulatory impact assessment and existing structures for regulatory co-operation and information sharing. Let us be clear: they do not need to be supplemented or undermined by a new, unelected body.
Does this not get to the crunch? Government Members keep asking what powers are being taken away from the Scottish Parliament. My hon. Friend is outlining it—the power that is being taken away is the power to make all these decisions. The Scottish Parliament is going to be trumped by an unelected, unrepresentative body, instead of having agreements between the devolved Governments and the UK Government on the framework basis, which should be being implemented.
Yes, I am saying that, but that is also what the National Farmers Union is saying. It is also what the Institute for Government has pointed out. A number of other bodies have pointed out that this is just not necessary. We have something that we could work with, with co-operation, but of course, the UK Government do not want co-operation, consultation and working together. They just want to impose their will, and that is what they are trying to do again.
This Bill not only undermines the basic foundations of devolution but goes further, hitting all existing mechanisms for co-operation and the development of common frameworks. It is not this abomination that is required; it is the establishment of the common frameworks mutually agreed, developed and implemented through consent, with effective governance and processes for regulatory impact.
This is the argument that Government Members try to propagate all the time—that if these powers came to Scotland, they would immediately be transferred to unelected people in the EU. Two things are wrong with that. First, nobody in the EU is actually unelected when they make decisions; they are all elected by either the Parliament or the people who go there. The second and most fundamental point is that, under these proposals, the UK Government are simply taking all control and overriding the ability of Members of the Scottish Parliament to do their job by representing the people who voted for them and their choices.
I will make some progress.
The UK Government say that they want to
“guarantee the continued right of all UK companies to trade unhindered in every part of the UK.”
Under this proposal, businesses simply have to have deep enough pockets to challenge the democratic decisions of the Scottish Parliament and the Members elected by the people of Scotland to represent and make decisions further for them. For some, it will be “Sale of the Century” or “Bargain Hunt” as they go looking for these things. For those who set their sights on Scottish domestic choices, it does not stretch the imagination much to picture private health companies or private water companies operating in England looking at our publicly owned organisations and seeking to claim that, under the UK Government’s auspices, they have a guaranteed right to trade in Scotland. That is the first big flashing red light here.
I agree with the points that my hon. Friend is making. Is he as concerned as I am to find that when the CMA arbitrates on a dispute, it does not have to publish the report of its finding, on the basis that such a report contains
“commercial information whose disclosure the CMA thinks might significantly harm the legitimate business interests”
of any person? That means that the CMA could well cover up the report of any dispute in favour of private business.
I am keen, as I mentioned yesterday, to learn more about some of the points of view that the hon. Gentleman is expressing. In the absence of a common frameworks agreement, if it were not possible to get reconciliation between the constituent nations of the country on what the regulations should be, what would be the implications for business?
The problem with that question is that there is already, as I mentioned at the start of my remarks, a process for dealing with that—the common frameworks. I am saying that the UK Government do not have to take this hammer and smash devolution in order to organise things so that business can co-operate and work across the different nations of the UK, taking cognisance of the choices made by those nations’ individual Parliaments.
I turn to the composition of the Office for the Internal Market, and I would be grateful if the Minister intervened and gave me some answers to these questions. Who are these people? Who will sit down in judgment over the democratically made decisions of the Scottish Parliament? Do we know yet? Do we have any idea? These words from the Prime Minister—he was talking about the EU, of course—are coming back on him, as so many of his outpourings do:
“They may decide that now is the time—even though electorates are already feeling alienated from the political process—to hand sensitive decisions…to unelected bureaucrats.”
But that is what he has decided to do. He has decided to hand these decisions to unelected bureaucrats.
What grace-and-favour appointments will there be to this body? Will any of them have links to the many vested interests that apparently find it so easy to pick up contracts from this Government? The fact that that is something we can only guess at underlines how dangerous this proposal is for Scottish people and communities. We reject the idea of this body of unelected, unknown bureaucrats having power over the Scottish Parliament and the Scottish people.
The SNP has tabled amendments 28, 29 and 30, which are in my name and those of my hon. Friends. Amendment 28 would exempt from the operation of part 4, which deals with independent advice on and monitoring of the UK market, regulatory provisions applying in Scotland that did not apply to the whole of the UK. Via this amendment, the SNP wants Scotland to be removed from part 4 of the Bill, because it undermines devolution.
Decisions made by our elected representatives must be upheld, and this proposal to overrule the Scottish Parliament is a democratic outrage. Let us be clear that we cannot and will not accept this legislation in any form. Under the unelected Dominic Cummings, the Prime Minister is forcing this power grab through, despite overwhelming opposition from Scotland’s Parliament and MPs. It proves that Scotland will never, ever be accepted as an equal partner in the UK. It attacks the foundations of devolution and gives Westminster and an unelected quango a free hand to overrule the Scottish Parliament in devolved areas, threatening our NHS, our food and our environmental standards. It fires the starting pistol on a race to the bottom.
I fully agree with amendment 28, which is very well drafted. The same should apply to Wales and Northern Ireland, because it would allay any fears in the respective devolved countries of the UK that the British Government are using the UK Internal Market Bill to torpedo devolution.
The hon. Gentleman has made some strong points, but does he agree that it does not have to be this way? He will know that our Counsel General, Jeremy Miles, has been giving evidence alongside one of the Scottish Ministers this morning to a Committee in this place. He spoke of the engagement and discussion they had had with the previous Prime Minister, the right hon. Member for Maidenhead (Mrs May), and how that completely dried up at the start of this year, so much so that they did not even get the details of the Bill until the night before it was published.
That sort of attitude towards what should be co-operation over our common interest underlines the contempt that has been shown for the devolved nations. It is yet another example.
As I have said, we cannot and will not accept this legislation in any form. All the Bill does is simply and plainly underline why the democratic choices that represent Scottish people and the protection of our Parliament can only be delivered through the powers of independence for Scotland, so that it can take its place as an independent nation among the other independent nations of the world.
The arguments that I have just heard from the hon. Member for Inverness, Nairn, Badenoch and Strathspey (Drew Hendry) are, in my judgment, completely unjustified. [Interruption.] He might expect me to say that; it is hardly surprising. The reality is that the Bill is intended to provide for independent advice and monitoring through the creation of this internal market within the Competition and Markets Authority arrangements. What the provision clearly states—far from it being just a bunch of nodding donkeys, which is more or less what the hon. Gentleman is saying—is that it will be a non-ministerial department, albeit sponsored by the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, and it will have an enormous amount and range of experience and knowledge brought from its predecessor.
What I can say for sure is that it will not be the European Union, and that summarises the argument in a nutshell. It is something I spoke about in the debate only yesterday, where I made it entirely clear that there is one thing we have to be absolutely clear about, and this Government, as compared with the previous Administration, have made it clear. In relation to that vast range of state aids that I mentioned yesterday—they are effectively decided by the European Commission and imposed on our own companies and our own internal economic sovereignty at the moment, but we are now going to insist on retrieving them, and we have retrieved them by leaving the European Union—the position is simply this: the manner in which the European Court and the European Commission operate needs to be revised, reviewed and abandoned for the purposes of ensuring that in the United Kingdom, we have a competition policy that enables us to be able to compete fairly, not only throughout the whole world, but also in relation to the European Union.
It is well known that the question of state aids, which goes across such a wide range of matters, as I mentioned yesterday, causes an enormous amount of problems in many sectors of the British economy. We have to be able to compete effectively. We have just heard a statement on coronavirus. The damage that has come about as a result of this uncontrollable—or virtually uncontrollable—disease, which has infected so many people, affects the operations of our businesses and has created a great deal of economic dislocation. We will need to be able to compete effectively throughout the world. This is a serious matter about a serious issue. What we cannot have, as I mentioned yesterday, is the situation that we have at the moment, which is where authorisations are given by the European Commission that either create discrimination against British businesses or have the perception or the potential for doing so. They will affect the voters in Scotland—and the voters in Sheffield, if I may say so. I was brought up in Sheffield. I saw what the European Coal and Steel Community did to the British steel industry. [Interruption.] I hear what the hon. Member for Sheffield Central (Paul Blomfield) says. The reality is that those businesses were driven out of business by, in many cases, unfair subsidies and unfair state aids that were given to other member states. I can give an example. I happened to know many people who worked at the coalface—I used to play cricket with them when I played for Sheffield—and I can tell Members that the Sheffield steelworkers, whom I also played with on occasion, sometimes it was rugger, found that they were very severely jeopardised by the massive state aids that were given to the German coal industry—it was as much as £4 billion—and authorised by the Commission. For a variety of reasons, we did not get the same kind of treatment here in the United Kingdom. This is all part of the problem of how to have fair and reasonable competition.
Let us come to the here and now, looking at this Bill. Say, in the future, the Scottish Government want to support the Scottish farming industry, but the UK Government have decided that, as free marketeers, they want to pool all support for their farmers. Under these proposals, is it not the case then that Scottish state aid for their farmers would be ruled illegal and they would not be able to trade in the UK internal market?
Will my hon. Friend confirm that the Bill says that these reports, which are not in themselves binding, are made to the Scottish Parliament as well as to the United Kingdom Parliament? Because of course, the Scottish Parliament will have enhanced powers as a result of our leaving the EU just as the Union Parliament will.
That is absolutely right. In fact, I argue that the provisions of the Bill as a whole maintain the Union, which is absolutely essential to the future of our competitiveness internationally. I do not expect SNP Members to agree with me, but what I am saying is that I actually believe that they should reflect very carefully on the advantages that come from being part of a Union. There are so many people—our friends and relations—who come from different parts of the United Kingdom and who work in different parts of the United Kingdom. When they are doing is contributing to the welfare of the Union as a whole.
I am a Unionist, too. I believe in our Union and I believe that we are stronger together, but the reality is that the approach taken by this Government with this Bill disrespects the devolution settlement and rides roughshod over the wishes of the Welsh Government, which, let us not forget, is run by a Unionist party, Welsh Labour, but one that believes in devolution. So why does the hon. Gentleman think that the Welsh Government, who want to co-operate with this Government in finding common frameworks, are so unhappy with the approach taken in this Bill?
Wait just a minute. The Office for the Internal Market’s provisions will be available to all four Administrations and legislatures on an equal and purely advisory basis. It will provide information to support separate political or legal processes, to resolve any disagreements and to enable intergovernmental engagement. Subject only to my overriding concern that in no shape or form should we end up having a continuation of European Commission decision making, authorisation processes and the rest, which have severely inhibited our capacity to compete effectively throughout the world—and for that matter within the United Kingdom as a whole—I believe that the arrangements here will respect the devolved Administrations on the basis that I describe.
To take the hon. Gentleman back to his comments a moment ago, when he lectured myself and my colleagues on the importance of being part of the same political union in order to trade freely and competitively, if that applies to Scotland in relation to the United Kingdom, why does it not apply to the United Kingdom in relation to the European Union? Can he explain that?
No, I am going to put it the other way around and do it my own way. Why on earth would the Scottish people, in their desire to obtain independence from the United Kingdom, actually want to surrender to the European Union, which discriminates against us day in, day out?
I am going to answer the hon. Gentleman’s question. The Scottish National party wants Scotland to remain part of the European Union—a single market of more than 500 million consumers. The SNP does not wish to put up trade barriers with England. It is his party that wishes to enforce upon us trade barriers if we dare to exercise our democratic right of self-determination, which he has spent the last 40 years banging on about in this House for England.
I am very happy to remain to be seen and to be heard. I will give an example of a company in my constituency that, because of certain economic problems, found that it needed help and wanted some state aid and grants and things of that kind. It so happened that the company owned another company that happened to be in Ireland, and strangely enough, when it came to it and applications were made—I do not know all the details, but this is the general thrust of it—the company in the United Kingdom that needed the benefit of state aid and subsidy unfortunately did not get it, but the company in Ireland did.
The point I make is simply that it seems most peculiar to me that a system that is completely fair should have what I regards as such wanton discrimination in favour of one part of the European Union as compared to another.
Just a minute. I think the hon. and learned Lady is probably exhausting herself by her interventions. I gave the House but one example yesterday, on the issue of Lufthansa. There is a body of opinion and evidence demonstrating the serious discrimination that goes on, although I make the point that European Court of Justice cases on this have gone both ways. However, I think it is very important that we are absolutely clear and certain—because it affects jobs, businesses and people who work for the companies concerned—that the national interests of the United Kingdom, in our mutual interests, are reflected in the decisions taken by whatever the competition authority may be. I know that the previous Administration had in mind the idea of providing for some special reserved powers, which this Government have now decided should be displaced to ensure that we have a proper system—with proper external and internal advice that will be provided by the new Office for the Internal Market within the Competition and Markets Authority—in order to guarantee that we can be world-beating competitors. We have to be able to trade across the world as we have done.
If I may say this to the very distinguished Scottish National party Members, I am sure that they will not forget that Adam Smith was the Scotsman who defined the whole nature of free trade and the ability to compete effectively. The tradition in Scotland has always been to support the ideas of fair and free competition, and that is the essence of these provisions. I am afraid that I cannot come up with an example from Wales, but I am sure there is one. What I can say is that the objects of the Office for the Internal Market will not override decisions made by the devolved Administrations. That is my understanding, and we will hear what the Minister has to say.
There is not a power grab going on. I know that SNP Members always want to get everything for themselves— a kind of power grab in itself—so I am not terribly surprised by their amendments, but this office will be independent in its ability to give fair, reasonable and proper advice to the Government. The Under-Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, my hon. Friend the Member for Sutton and Cheam (Paul Scully), is here now to answer these questions himself, but it seems that the whole arrangement would make enormous sense in the post-Brexit world where we will no longer be subjected to what I regard as predatory arrangements that are built into the undemocratic system whereby those who have the ear of the internal part of the European Commission get their way so often that we are discriminated against.
We will have our own system, on our own terms, in accordance with the decision taken by the British people in the general election last December, which endorsed the decision that was made in the referendum. I do not want to go through that whole argument from beginning to end but it is relevant to this debate, because when we do leave the European Union in all its shapes and forms, we will be in a position to make decisions in the interests of all the people in the Union and with regard to the importance of the devolved Administrations. The provision for the markets authority will be a very fair way of conducting our proceedings. This will serve everybody a great deal of good and we will all benefit from it.
Claire Hanna has withdrawn so we go straight to Richard Fuller.
Thank you very much, Dame Rosie—that was unexpected. It is a great pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, and to have the opportunity to raise some general points and specific questions relating to the clauses under consideration today.
Overall, I am very supportive of the Bill, but, as with any substantial change, caution, checking and prudence should be part of the Government’s process. When I look at regulations and regulatory frameworks—which perhaps I do a little too often—uppermost in my mind is the quality of the regulations or framework, their effectiveness, their relevance, and whether we have the correct allocation of decision authorities given the different parts of the United Kingdom or different groups for which the regulations are being made.
On that last point, I want to pick up on some of the issues that animated the hon. Member for Inverness, Nairn, Badenoch and Strathspey (Drew Hendry) and perhaps others in their questions about the choice of a common approach compared with a common framework. I should perhaps know more about this area, but it is alluded to in paragraph 8 on page 5 of the explanatory notes to the Bill, which states:
“As part of its vision for the UK internal market, the Government is also engaging in a process to agree a common approach to regulatory alignment with the devolved administrations. The Common Frameworks Programme aims to protect the UK internal market by providing high levels of regulatory coherence in specific policy areas through close collaboration with devolved administrations.”
Where is that in the Bill or today’s considerations? What is the Government’s current thinking around engaging in a process to agree a common approach as part of their vision, as the explanatory notes state?
I did not get an answer from the hon. Member for Inverness, Nairn, Badenoch and Strathspey to my question about how disputes would be resolved in a common frameworks approach, which seems like a fundamental issue.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for allowing me to make good my deficit in not answering his question fully. I am happy to try to do so now. I understand that before the Bill was introduced, the Joint Ministerial Committee, with Ministers on both sides, was working on a programme, with some success, I understand, by which all these issues could have been ironed out in a collaborative and consultative way with each of the Governments of the devolved nations, but that has now been torn asunder. I look forward to the answer to the question about how this collaboration will work in the future, given that the Bill simply overlays that with an unelected quango and the ability for the BEIS Secretary and this Parliament to make the ultimate decision.
I think I can clear some of this up. Essentially my hon. Friend is right and the hon. Member for Inverness, Nairn, Badenoch and Strathspey (Drew Hendry) is not right. The very meetings the hon. Gentleman has just described are still going on and will deliver five frameworks by the end of the year, so I hope he will withdraw his remarks about how that programme is not being co-operated with, because that is simply wrong. My hon. Friend is correct in that the section he refers to in the explanatory notes is, as the Under-Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, my hon. Friend the Member for Sutton and Cheam (Paul Scully) will explain later, being delivered alongside the Bill.
I am very grateful for that clarification.
The hon. Member for Inverness, Nairn, Badenoch and Strathspey also said that the Office for the Internal Market was overlaying that process. That is not correct either. It is an advisory body that informs the decisions made by the common frameworks agreement. Perhaps I did not hear him correctly, but on both those points he did not sound precisely on point.
The hon. Gentleman is highlighting the fundamental weakness of the Bill from our perspective. The internal market is a shared asset between the four countries of the UK, but what is missing from the Bill is clear intergovernmental structures to govern it.
The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right. “So get on with it”, would be my suggestion to him and his colleagues. I have heard several points of strong opposition to the Bill rather than engagement. A more constructive engagement with the UK Government would help everyone, because as he rightly says the internal market is a shared asset between the four component nations of the UK. So I urge him and his party to encourage that work with the UK Government.
On the specific clauses in the Bill, I have a general point to make. We are very keen as politicians to do the new things, set new regulations, but we spend very little time checking whether they work or whether the regulatory body is doing any good or indeed doing what it said it would do in the first place, so it is important to get a bit more precision from the Government in some of the words they use in the Bill.
Clause 29 talks about the reports—the Minister may be able to help—the Competition and Markets Authority must prepare or report on. Clause 29(5)(b) states:
“developments as to the effectiveness of the operation of that market.”
The word “effectiveness” can have lots of different meanings to lots of different people. What remit are we giving to the Office for the Internal Market on how it will judge the definition of an effective operation of the market? Does it, for example, include whether the operation of the market continues to have the consent of all constituent devolved Administrations of the United Kingdom? Does it mean that the country has an adequate spread of production across the country? Does it mean that each market is promoting competition? Does it mean that prices are going down? The word “effectiveness” covers a lot of issues.
That issue also relates to clause 29(8), which states:
“So far as a report under this section is concerned with the effective operation of the internal market in the United Kingdom, the report may consider (among other things)—…(i) competition, (ii) access to goods and services, (iii) volumes of trade”.
I would say that that is a partial list. There may be other aspects that we would wish the Office for the Internal Market to look into when it considers the operation of the internal market, some of which I have mentioned. For example, is the Minister considering, or would he consider, that that should include the impact of the internal market on consumer rights? Should it include regional disparities? Most importantly, should it include innovation and competition?
Clause 30(3)(a) talks about advising on proposed regulatory provisions on request. This is an important issue relating to the points raised by the hon. Member for Inverness, Nairn, Badenoch and Strathspey, which is not only on the decision authorities but the scope for devolved Administrations to raise issues with the Office for the Internal Market. Clause 30(3) states:
“The condition is that it appears to the requesting authority that—
(a) the regulatory provision to which the proposal relates would fall within the scope of this Part and be within relevant legislative competence, and
(b) the proposal should be further considered in the light of the significance of its potential effects on the operation of the internal market in the United Kingdom.”
It seems to me, particularly in light of the desire of devolved Administrations to have some potential for innovations in regulations such as minimum alcohol pricing, that that “and” might be better considered as an “or”. It would be feasible for devolved Administrations to raise issues which may be outside the scope of their current remit of responsibilities, but for which the devolved Administrations, elected by their local voters, wish to see as a potential regulatory change in the future. What is the harm that could be caused by enabling that to be considered by the Office for the Internal Market?
The hon. Member for North East Fife (Wendy Chamberlain) tabled amendment 21 to clause 35, which relates to participation in the Competition and Markets Authority. Obviously, she may wish to speak to her amendment directly, but I draw the attention of the Minister to the issue of participation in the CMA. It is a relevant question to ask who will be on those bodies. We put the so-called great and the good on such regulators, but we do not really know who they are. What oversight do we have of their performance? What oversight and decision rights do we have of appointments? Would it not be a consideration to spread that beyond this Parliament to include devolved Administrations? I urge my hon. Friend the Minister to look carefully at the amendment tabled by the hon. Lady, as well as her new clause 4.
I welcome the Bill. As the hon. Member for Carmarthen East and Dinefwr (Jonathan Edwards) mentioned, the internal market is a shared asset and we all want it to work effectively. The Bill is a very good start in making us move in the right direction, but we need some prudence in its implementation. I am very grateful to the Minister of State, Cabinet Office, my hon. Friend the Member for Norwich North (Chloe Smith) for her intervention to clarify some points on where we stand in relation to the common framework.
Before I consider part 4, I wish briefly to set the context of the comments that I will make.
Yesterday, Scotland’s friends in the EU and the wider international community were concerned that a UK Prime Minister was prepared to sacrifice the rule of law in a vain attempt to save his own bacon. Of course, there is disbelief that this arrogance is voiced outside the Cummings bubble, but the deliberate trashing of the UK’s international standing is now endorsed by 340 parliamentarians so can no longer be regarded as the ravings of a few. They are all now complicit in this grand folly of legislation.
The Bill is a disgraceful piece of legislation led by a Prime Minister whose words mean nothing and a party that is lurching ever further to the right, breaking the rules, acting unlawfully and now rewriting its own laws, while rubbishing any moral authority the UK had to hold rogue states—
Order. The hon. Gentleman should resume his seat. I draw his attention to the fact that he needs to address the amendments before us. This is not a Second Reading speech all over again; it is important to address what is before the House today.
Thank you, Dame Rosie. My preface to my comments was just to set the scene, which is what I am doing, but as I move on my comments will relate to the amendments.
The Prime Minister has presided over a summer of U-turns, U-turned on his own Brexit deal and turned away from the rule of law. The comments in terms of Scotland can be summed up by the Law Society of Scotland’s reflections on the Bill. It has stated that
“as a matter of principle”
the Bill should comply with the oldest principle of international law,
“pacta sunt servanda (agreements are to be kept)”.
Quite unfortunately, Scotland has a head start in knowing the hollowness of such a principle. [Interruption.] I’m sorry?
This debate is focused on part 4, in which the authority of the Competition and Markets Authority and the wide-ranging and poorly specified powers of the UK Government’s man in Scotland are nothing short of a British nationalist inquisition. There are wide-ranging powers that cut to the very heart of the devolution settlement across every policy area—powers that the Government claim they will never use; they are there just in case. Well, Scotland is not buying it, and we are not having any of it. Devolution is the settled and robustly expressed will of the Scottish people, and it must be for the Scottish people alone to decide whether it should ever be restricted or changed in any way.
Part 4 of this wrecking-ball Bill takes decision-making powers away from Holyrood and hands them to the unelected body of the Office for the Internal Market. This office of inquisition will have the power to pass judgment on devolved laws and could quickly become the target of rich corporate lobbyists determined to see activities such as fracking go ahead against the will of the Scottish people.
Is not the power grab compounded by the fact that the Government clearly intend to push this legislation through without legislative consent to the Bill from any of the devolved Administrations? When they ask, “Where is the power grab? Give us an example,” that is it. They are refusing even to accept the fact that the devolved legislatures will not consent to the Bill and they will not engage in its detail. The power grab runs right the way through this process.
Sorry, I was a bit keen. Do you agree that without the Bill—without the internal market structure—Scotland would be worse off? [Interruption.] Forgive me, but let me explain my point. I will not talk about whisky, because we always do that when we are talking about Scotland; I will talk about lenses for glasses, which are often made in Scotland. A large number of them are made in Scotland and go across the whole UK. If we did not have the internal market structure, then there could be tariffs—restrictions—on their being sold in, say, Wales or England. So why would you not want to accept this now?
The hon. Lady raises a really interesting point. I wanted to get it into my remarks, and she has now given me a very clear avenue in which to do it. I cannot understand how she could come up with the suggestion that the UK would enforce its own internal tariffs, but with regard to Scottish competitiveness in this internal market, Scotland is already at a disadvantage. There is a company in my constituency that imports chassis from the EU but does not make its lorries here completely—like many of its EU competitors, it buys certain parts and puts them together. Those EU companies would be allowed to import a fully completed vehicle without any tariff, while that company would be subject to a high tariff on the importation of those chassis and therefore at a competitive disadvantage. That is because of Brexit. I am grateful to the hon. Lady for her point. I would also be grateful if the Minister took cognisance of my comments and gave me a detailed response about how the Government will protect companies such as that in my constituency from this type of disadvantage in the importation of completed vehicles.
The internal market does not just guarantee costs and prices of things—it also guarantees standards. One of my favourite Scotland-to-England exports is BrewDog’s Punk IPA. How can the hon. Member, without the internal market, guarantee that my pint of Punk IPA in Peterborough is the same quality as in Aberdeen?
I thank the hon. Member for raising yet another very helpful point. The problem is not whether the quality of Punk IPA will be consistently high in the north and the south, or even in Europe if it is still able to import it; the problem is that the quality at the lowest level will have to be accepted everywhere. It is not the highest level that is the issue; it is the lowest level. I will now try to make progress. I hope that it is now beginning to make sense, Dame Rosie, why I had that preamble.
As I said, devolution is the settled and robustly expressed will of the Scottish people, and it is for them alone to decide if it should ever be restricted or changed in any way. If this law had been in force during the past 20 years of devolution, it would have affected Scotland’s ability to prioritise important issues like free tuition for Scottish students or to set important health policies such as minimum unit pricing for alcohol and introducing the smoking ban before other nations. Those would all have been at risk and may not have happened. Looking forward, there are things like the procurement of changes to food standards that can be imposed on Scotland as devolution is reduced to the powers of compliance, complicity or subjugation. Can you imagine the howls from Government Members if the EU had proposed such legislation? Yet they are content to do this to Scotland, and then tell us that we should be grateful. What a charade!
Well, Scotland is not buying it and we are having none of it. This legislation strips powers of decision making away from our democratically elected representatives in Holyrood. In an email to MSPs on 14 September, the Royal Society of Edinburgh warned that, while final decision-making power ultimately would remain with the UK Government, the use of that authority by the CMA against the wishes of devolved Administrations
“would constitute a failure of intergovernmental relations”.
The reality is that part 4 grabs the powers of devolution and gives them to an unelected, barely accountable quango. The Bill grabs the powers of devolution, animal welfare, forestry, voting rights, food standards and energy—all currently the purview of the Scottish Parliament. The Government say that they are empowering Scotland; the truth is that they are robbing Scotland of democracy itself.
How does the hon. Gentleman reconcile what he has just said with what the Scottish Retail Consortium has said, which is that protecting the UK internal market means that
It talks about the importance of the
“largely unfettered internal single market”.
In the consortium’s view, Scotland welcomes the measures to protect the UK internal market.
The way that I reconcile it is that I am talking about democracy and the hon. Member is talking about trade, and I would say that democracy is slightly more important than trade.
The Bill would make Scotland’s Parliament and our law meaningless and smash devolution. And what of the protestations of this Government’s man in Scotland and his self-congratulatory talk of a power surge? It is crystal clear now that the only power surging is to the CMA, to the Office for the Internal Market and to the Secretary of State in Scotland.
I wonder whether my hon. Friend agrees that the protestations that there is some kind of power surge are simply incompatible with the suggestion that the Office for the Internal Market will be set up in such a way as to enable it to lie above the powers of the Scottish Parliament.
I thank my hon. Friend for those comments, because they illustrate very well the sophistry with which the whole charade has been presented. We are told that it is a power surge, and a power surge it is; but it is a power surge in the wrong direction—it is a power surge away from the devolved Government of Scotland. To judge by past behaviour, those powers will be used to interfere, undermine and diminish not just the elected Government of Scotland but the very voice of the Scottish people.
Yesterday, I heard Members claim in this Chamber that the Bill would strengthen the Union, and in their mind that may be true, but the Union is not being strengthened by a shared vision, mutual respect or other honourable means. It is the strength of bondage, of subjugation and of the pomposity that only Unionist voices matter. I’ve got news for you: it does not strengthen the bonds of the Union; it exposes the bondage of the devolved nations and illustrates why Scotland must choose an independent future. “Lead Not Leave”; “broad shoulders of the Union”; “Vote No to stay in the EU”; “We Love You Scotland”—well, nothing epitomises our Union of equals like the Prime Minister bestowing the effective status of viceroy of Scotland on the right hon. Member for Dumfries and Galloway (Mr Jack), his very own Union Jack.
Today, the international community knows something that the Scottish people have known since 2014: believe not a word, not a promise, not even a vow. To this Government, agreements are always optional. The Bill does not strengthen the Union; it strengthens the case for Scottish independence.
I want to look at the clauses. On clause 28, it is proposed that “Scotland” be left out. On clause 29, amendment 29 would insert that following a legislative appeal from all the devolved powers, we would have a consultation before any changes. On clause 35, it is proposed that prior to publishing any information, the CMA must consult all Scottish, Welsh and Northern Ireland Ministers and the devolved Administrations. All these amendments seem to have one thing in common: they are asking for all consultation on how we move our internal market forward to be done with the devolved powers in the United Kingdom. Many in the House have raised the issue of who will be holding the CMA to account. We here represent the entire United Kingdom. We are elected to represent all parts of the United Kingdom.
Let me clarify for you. An internal market is something that is brought together historically. When we look at successful internal markets of the past, where have they been successful? We can look at the single market within the EU and at the 13 original colonies in the United States. They were 13 separate entities that had no regulatory system and were bound together by an internal market that allowed for free trade and the movement of goods and services. This Bill is not a political Bill—it is an economic Bill to enhance our competitiveness with the world. It is not to detract from the powers of Scotland—it is to make Scotland stronger through the power of free trade within the internal market.
I have been listening very carefully to what hon. Members across the House have been saying and the points that you have been raising, and I am very sympathetic to your cries about a lack of democratic representation. That is why I voted to leave the EU: for the very reason of the lack of democratic representation by the European Commission, which oversees the single market.
The Sewel convention, which was put on a statutory footing—before the hon. Lady was a Member of the House, but many of us who were at that time will remember it—states that this Parliament will not normally legislate in respect of devolved matters without the consent of the devolved Administrations. That convention exists. It is on a statutory footing, so what is her objection to amendment 29?
I would argue that this is not an infringement of your rights or those devolved powers. This Bill is about enhancing all of our abilities to work in a single internal market to allow goods and services to flow freely. My hon. Friend the Member for Loughborough (Jane Hunt) mentioned glasses being made in one part of the Union and then being put together in another part. We have this so that we can frictionlessly move goods and services through the United Kingdom without tariffs and restrictions. There has to be a system through which that federal system is united, in terms of the economic objectives that we are setting, making ourselves globally competitive.
I will not give way—I will make some headway and then give way in a moment. When we talk about the internal market, we are talking not about a political objective, but about an economic objective—to remove regulatory obstacles from more goods and services in the UK so that we are able to trade freely among ourselves and make ourselves globally competitive. We are removing the technical, legal and bureaucratic barriers to allow its citizens to trade and do business freely, for its citizens to enjoy products from all over the UK.
When SNP Members raise concerns about state aid, I would imagine that they are referring to the EU structural funds or the EU development funds, the criteria for which have, in the past, benefited certain deprived areas in regions in Scotland and other parts of the United Kingdom. I can understand how there would be concern, and perhaps something could be established to look at how that fund and the targets were set to help in disadvantaged and impoverished areas where the EU structural funds have helped to improve the livelihoods of people in the United Kingdom, and to look at how we move that forward. This is not a Bill to take any political power: it is to make us stronger economically. It is purely on the grounds of economics—
Is my hon. Friend aware of the decisions being made in Shetland that if the nationalists get their way and there is separation of the United Kingdom following a second referendum, Shetland will seek to go independent itself? Therefore, not only are the nationalists seeking to break up the United Kingdom, they are seeking to break up Scotland.
I do not want to break up the United Kingdom. As I have said, I am a Unionist and I want to see a functioning UK internal market. Does the hon. Member think it is respectful for her Government to give details of the Bill only the night before it was published to Welsh Government Ministers, who also want to see a functioning internal market and want to make sure our country functions effectively and economically in the way she suggests?
I thank you for your point, but I wonder if you would find it respectful for the EU to threaten to put a tariff in the sea—[Interruption.] No, that is a completely valid point to raise. I find that to be disrespectful of our sovereignty and our ability to govern internally.
I will carry on. On that point, the EU’s threat to disrupt our food exports from mainland Britain to Northern Ireland as negotiating leverage fundamentally undermined our credibility and our sovereignty within the United Kingdom itself. The Bill will strengthen our ability to create—
You say it was mentioned by the SNP earlier about wanting to throw off the bureaucratic chains and wanting to have democratic representation, but that is exactly why I voted to leave the European Union, and that is why I will fight to make sure that we have a regulatory system that has less red tape and that has representation. We talk about democratic representation, but we are representing the will of the people who voted for Brexit in one referendum and we are delivering the result. Scotland also—[Interruption.]
I probably should make headway. I am trying to understand and sympathise with the amendments that have been tabled, but I do not feel that they are in any way needed to enhance what is in the Bill. I urge hon. Members to vote to keep the Bill the way it is.
Before I call the next speaker, because a number of new Members are participating in Committee, I remind everybody that Members speak through the Chair, so saying “you” is a reference to me—and I might take that personally. I call Beth Winter.
This Tory Government leadership said during the Brexit campaign that leaving Europe would enable the British people to take back control. This Bill does the opposite of that. It is driving a race to the bottom by harmonising standards in a way that gives the UK Government the power to overrule the devolved nations. Experience tells us that this Conservative Government have repeatedly refused to commit to higher standards in legislation, and there has not been negotiation, involvement or informed consent to any of this with the devolved nations.
While it is important, as the UK leaves the EU, for us to have a system to harmonise standards across the four countries, any internal market legislation should look to do the least possible on a centralised basis and as much as possible on a decentralised basis. In the view of the Senedd in Wales, there already exists a successful regime to form the basis for all future arrangements: the common framework.
This attempt to harmonise standards throughout the UK is, in fact, an attempt to replicate the EU’s internal market but with some crucial differences. In the EU, dispute resolution is independent and done in a way that prevents bigger members from being able to force smaller states to accept undesirable standards. Under the Government’s proposals for the UK, the opposite will be true, as the Conservatives prefer a mutual recognition principle of harmonising standards, so that the lowest standards legislated for by any of the UK Parliaments must automatically be adopted by all.
Devolution is not just an abstract concept. It has allowed the Welsh Government and the Scottish Government to develop more ambitious standards and policies than their Westminster counterparts, such as protecting the NHS as a publicly owned service and developing world-leading standards on food, animal welfare and the environment, which are now under threat from the Conservatives’ internal market Bill.
I am an environmentalist, and I have a great interest in reducing the use of plastics. The Minister for European Transition in Wales, Jeremy Miles, has spoken on this issue in the last couple of days. The Welsh Government propose to introduce a ban for nine single-use plastic items, but the UK Government propose a similar ban on just three of those nine items. The principle of mutual recognition in the UK could mean that Wales will be unable to enforce the ban on the sale of the other six items. The Chair of the Senedd Legislation, Justice and Constitution Committee, Mick Antoniw MS, has stated that it is clear from this Bill that the aim of the Tory Government is
“to cement their neoliberal economic and social agenda into the framework of a centralised… state”,
and that the Bill shows their
“contempt for devolution, the constitution and the rule of law”.
I agree with him.
Mutual recognition is a blunt instrument, and it is not clear why this path is the Government’s preference when it renders the notion of common frameworks completely obsolete at a stroke. The Government have previously supported a common frameworks approach. In fact, all four UK Government signed up to that in 2017, although it should perhaps not come as a surprise that the Government in Westminster are prepared to sign things in bad faith. Common frameworks would allow for a genuinely collaborative approach between Westminster and the devolved Administrations, with standards between the nations being harmonised through discussion and negotiation between equals—I stress that point: equals—as opposed to new obligations being imposed on the devolved Governments against their wishes under the new mutual recognition principle.
My hon. Friend is making a very strong speech and getting to the nub of this issue. She has explained why we should be concerned about unilateralism. I share her concerns about food and environmental standards. We have also seen this with covid testing in recent days, including in her own constituency—unilateral decisions are being taken at a UK level to reduce testing in Wales, which is having an impact on our constituents. Does she agree that there is absolutely a reason why we are so concerned about the way that the Bill is being put forward?
I do, and I thank my hon. Friend for his contribution.
Labour’s new clause 2 proposes a common frameworks approach. I will be voting for it, and I do not see a valid reason for any Member of the House not to do the same. New clause 2 supports the objective of the Bill—the creation of a UK single market to reduce barriers to trade—while still respecting the principles of devolution, which is supported by a strong majority of Welsh people. Diolch yn fawr.
Today we are debating the creation of the OIM. I will try to keep my comments brief and not repeat what has been said. Clauses 28 to 39 set out that the OIM will provide independent and technical advice to the Parliaments—that includes the Westminster Parliament and the devolved Administrations—on any regulation that might damage our internal market. That market is hundreds of years old and spreads from where I live in Cornwall to the rest of the UK, including, happily, Northern Ireland, and that is why we are here today. The OIM is vital to ensuring the integrity of the internal market. We should pay particular heed to the National Famers Union’s comments that the UK’s internal market should operate as effectively as it does now. This body will ensure proper competition and fairness for our businesses, which, I hope will be reassured. I am pleased that the body will have responsibilities and be accountable to this Parliament and all devolved Administrations, so that all parliamentarians, in all of those Administrations, have the opportunities to scrutinise its findings.
Does my hon. Friend agree that we should be pursuing a system that supports British jobs for British people, and that is what this Bill seeks to pursue? If we maintain the status quo, we have a system in which EU law intervenes on us and we open our procurement to all manner of companies from overseas within the EU. That does not support British jobs, particularly given that we know that some of these countries have under-the-radar state aid, which is unfair to British companies.
I thank my hon. Friend for his comments and agree 100% with what he said. I want to confine my comments to the specific measures we are discussing today. We are here today, with this Bill progressing through the House, for exactly the reason he set out and because of the comments made at the joint committee’s negotiating table, where what I will refer to as a “foreign power”, as the Prime Minister did yesterday, is trying to interfere in our internal market. That is why we are here. While wanting to keep my comments specific, I must absolutely reiterate that point.
I am hearing what Opposition Members are saying about devolution and their fears that they are being overruled by Westminster, but that is simply not the case from what I have read in this Bill. The advice goes equally to all the devolved Administrations and all politicians get the chance to sit and scrutinise it.
If I may, I will make some progress. I wish to talk about similarity with the Committee on Climate Change, which spoke to all the devolved Administrations and gave advice to all of them. From that advice, this Westminster Government have formed the Environment Bill, and I am happy to be serving on that Bill’s Committee—I hope it will sit later this autumn. That Bill is facing very little opposition in this place, because it is what we are calling a “broad framework”, and the semantics can be decided after, in this place and by experts in the field. Although I take a great interest in environmental issues and am passionate about them, I am not an expert and I would not expect to be. I hope that those specifics—the targets and everything else being met by that Bill—will be decided with much input from those people.
I do not know whether the hon. Lady is aware that Scotland has more stringent targets on net zero emissions than the rest of the UK. So if there were a conflict over a new project, does she think the Scottish Parliament would simply have to accept a ruling from the OIM and break its own environmental commitments by doing so?
That discussion would have to be done on a case-by-case basis. I do not agree that the Westminster Government should overrule and I do not think they are doing so in this case, because we are talking about an advisory body. If the Scottish Parliament does not agree with what it is saying and the Scottish people do not agree with the Scottish Parliament’s view on that, the people of Scotland can change their politicians at an election, as we can elsewhere.
I am going to make some progress and will draw my remarks to a conclusion quickly.
The reason we are here today and why this Bill is having to be put through Parliament is because of negotiating in bad faith at the joint committee. I was so pleased to hear the Prime Minister’s remarks yesterday that if the treaties come into conflict, Her Majesty’s Government will ask for arbitration—I was reassured by that. These are all things that have to happen, have to be said and have to be set into domestic law in order for us to proceed at these negotiations. That is the only reason why we are debating this Bill today.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir Graham. This Bill is difficult for the Scottish National party. It is offensive to our values, it is not our world view, and it is being introduced in pursuit of a project that Scotland comprehensively rejected. We are engaging in good faith, but we do not consent to this project. Scotland does not consent to the way the Bill is drafted.
However, I was not sent by the people of Stirling to showboat and walk away, or to grandstand and not try to find solutions. As is typical of all our amendments, we have tabled amendments 28 and 29 in good faith, and to insert into this dreadful Bill the principle of consent from the Scottish Parliament and other devolved Administrations. If we cannot do that, we seek to exempt Scotland from this madness. We are engaging in this process in good faith. We are working within the constitutional reality of the United Kingdom, and by rejecting the amendments, this House will prove, in full view of the people of Scotland, that the constitutional reality of the United Kingdom does not work for us.
I was sent here to try to find solutions, and amendments 28 and 29 do that. We believe that decisions for Scotland should be made in Scotland. It is a fundamental principle of devolution that, unless reserved to this place, decisions should be made by the democratically elected Parliament of Scotland. That principle was endorsed by the people of Scotland with 74% of the vote in 1997, and those Government Members who are keen on referendums should be aware that they are up-ending a deeply held principle of the people of Scotland.
As I have said, this Bill is a poor piece of legislation, and it did not need to be this way—that is what I find so frustrating. It is offensive morally, politically, even intellectually, but it did not need to be that way. We are open to negotiation and to frameworks. We respect the fact that we have left the European Union—we regret it deeply, but it has happened. As a solicitor by trade, I accept that a domestic legal construct is needed to replace the single market legislation of the European Union, but it does not need to be this abomination. We could do this better. Our amendments seek to make this bad Bill better. We will still not be keen or in favour of it, but it does not need to be the naked power-grab that it is.
Part 4 of the Bill seeks to replace 60 years of juris- prudence from the European Court of Justice and the European Commission, democratically overseen by democratically elected Members of the European Parliament, and member state Governments who are themselves democratically elected—60 years of expertise on how the single market and internal competition works.
I thank the hon. Lady for that point. In my 15 years at the European Parliament I was always struck by how many unelected bureaucrats had been democratically elected by the people they served. It is great to engage with something that does not quite exist, such as the European Commission that the hon. Lady wishes did exist.
For those who are against unelected bureaucrats, I suggest only that they consider the reality of the Bill. The Bill replaces 60 years of jurisprudence, overseen by experts in the European Commission and the Court of Justice—be they democratically elected MEPs or democratically elected member state Governments—with a group of people who will be unelected. They will be appointed, but they have not been appointed yet. We do not know who they are. They will be operating a competition policy that has not as yet been revealed by this Government, who are so desperately negotiating with themselves that they cannot tell our European partners what they are trying to do. Those people will be operating with a budget that has not yet been shown to us, and with jurisprudence that does not yet exist. It takes a heroically Panglossian approach to think that that can be created in a matter of months.
Sir Graham, I will try to stick to the amendments. I was hoping for a point of consensus with the hon. Lady, but the lady is not for turning. I will stick to the matter at hand, if I may.
This chimera, this shibboleth is going to be created by this Bill. I have already explained the reality of how devolution works: unless reserved to this place, decisions should be made in Scotland. This shibboleth—with people not yet appointed, operating to a policy not yet decided, to a budget that has not been agreed, with a jurisprudence that does not exist—will sit above, as a politically appointed death panel, every single decision of every single public authority in Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland and, indeed, England. Every decision involving public expenditure will be gainsaid by this unelected quango that does not yet exist, and we do not know what it is.
From our perspective, this is replacing a system that we are comfortable with. We respect the fact that we have left the European Union; we do not like it, but we have. A system that works tolerably well is going to be replaced with a system that does not exist. It is politically motivated, ideologically driven and owes nothing to the creation of jobs or safeguarding of jobs or standards. It is entirely a political project to get as much power to this place as possible against the objections of the Senedd in Wales.
Does the hon. Member suspect, as I do, that appointed to this unelected body might be more chums of the Prime Minister of the likes of Tony Abbott—a disgraced former Prime Minister of Australia, a political appointment and totally unsuitable for the role, yet appointed because he shares the same political views as the Prime Minister?
I am very grateful for the point, and I very strongly agree. We do not know who these people are going to be. We do not know how they are going to be appointed and, forgive me, but from the track record of the Government thus far, I have little faith in who they are going to be and what their agendas will be in practice. Our concern is about the lack of power that the people of Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland and, indeed, England will have over that process—and, indeed, this Parliament. The oversight that this Parliament will have over this process under the very text of the Bill, which is a wider discussion than these amendments, is appalling, but it did not need to be this way.
We heard earlier in the debate from some Conservative Members that there should be uniform standards across the UK. It is a superficially appealing point as superficial arguments go, which seem to be what Conservative Members deal in, but the single market within the European Union operates very successfully with different standards. The whole point of devolution is that different places are empowered to make different decisions, so there may well be different standards, different practices, different expectations or different rules in different parts of the four home nations. That is the point. This Bill is a mechanism—a political mechanism—to override and destroy that democratic diversity and replace it with devolution as power retained. It is a naked power-grab for all to see, and I would urge people outside this House to read the Bill carefully, because it makes the case for independence for Scotland all the stronger.
Talking about standards, the British should be very proud of their standards in animal welfare and particularly in farming—I am certainly proud of our Cornish farmers—and we have done that while we have been part of the European Union. Our standards are higher than many of our counterparts in the European Union. Having a single internal market does not mean that we will lower standards. If anything, we can learn from each other and keep our higher standards in all parts of the United Kingdom.
In which case, I do hope the hon. Lady is going to be supporting our new clause 5, which would make it explicit in the Bill that there will be no cutting of standards. That is not under consideration today, but it is there in black and white. It was curious to see Conservative Members refuse to support a previous reasoned amendment from a former MEP colleague of mine, who put forward precisely that on a previous piece of legislation and it was rejected. This is a Government who are so desperate not to tie their hands with such considerations as lowering standards, because that may well be what needs to be traded away in future trade deals.
Absolutely. We are deeply concerned on behalf of Scotland’s farmers—and, indeed, everybody else’s—that trade deals could see a lowering of standards. Mutual recognition of the UK internal market could undermine the capacity of the different authorities to have those rules.
On that concern about the lowering of standards, the International Trade Secretary said previously that consumers would choose what products they wanted on the shelves. Does that not indicate that the Bill is a Trojan horse for a lowering of standards that would affect Scottish farming?
Exactly. I fully agree with my hon. Friend, who has been fighting for farmers in his constituency for many years. New clause 5, for which I hope we have some support from those on the Opposition Benches, is specifically about the maintenance of minimum standards, so I hope that when the House comes to consider it, there will be support for it. If we are scaremongering about lowering standards, then Members can support the amendments to make it explicit in the Bill that standards will not be lowered. Prove us wrong. By refusing to back the amendments, we will be proven right.
The hon. Gentleman is making a very cogent speech in favour of independence, basically. I thank him for his lectures on constitutional history and I thank the hon. and learned Member for Edinburgh South West (Joanna Cherry) for her lectures on the Sewel convention, but those predate us getting into the internal market in the first place. The Bill seeks to restore the status quo ante in this country, which is an internal market. It is not a power grab. The amendments are a grab for independence, and I understand why they have been tabled, but that is what is going on here. The hon. Gentleman is trying to further independence through these amendments. I completely understand that, but that is why we will reject them.
I take the point that the hon. Gentleman makes. He accuses me of promoting the case for independence and, indeed, I do promote the case for independence, but Government Members need to be in no doubt that a substantial element of the population of Scotland is deeply disgusted by this process. They are frustrated by the disrespect that Scotland has been shown since the EU referendum, where we rejected Brexit significantly, but were told to shut up and get back in our box. Just after the 2014 referendum, we were told we were a partnership of equals, but we were then told immediately afterwards that we are part of the United Kingdom, not a partner in it. The Bill makes that explicit in the eyes of the people of Scotland.
I won Stirling from the Conservatives with 51% of the vote precisely because I am in favour of the rule of law and international solidarity, as demonstrated by the multilateral, binding, voluntary solidarity of the European Union. That is a structure we are comfortable with and a structure we are very comfortable with Scotland fitting into in the future. Dare I say it, but Scotland has a far sharper sense of its place in the world than the UK does right now.
This Bill seeks to cement power in the hands of the unelected, aided and abetted by people who—with good intentions, I do not doubt—are facilitating that power grab, but in so doing are upending the principle of devolution that is dear to the hearts of the people of Scotland and Wales and is deeply sensitive in Northern Ireland. When the hon. Gentleman says I am promoting the cause of independence, damn right I am, but I am also defending constitutional probity in the rule of law within the United Kingdom. Perhaps Government Members need to think a little harder about what they are being whipped through the Lobby to support.
To conclude, our amendments seek in good faith to insert into this package, which we dislike so much, the principle of consent of the Scottish Parliament and the devolved Administrations. Failing that, we seek to exempt Scotland from this madness. I urge Members to support the rule of law and democracy within these islands.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir Graham. I do not think I have spoken under you before. My constituents in Rother Valley and fellow Members of this House will be aware of my deep and unwavering commitment to the Union. I am an avowed Conservative and Unionist, and I never pass up an opportunity to celebrate the success of our British family. As such, it is a privilege to promote our Union and this Bill, unamended, which promises to protect the jobs and safeguard the unity of our nation.
As I said last night on Second Reading, we are one family. The Bill strengthens the familial ties between the four countries of our family, but I fear that the amendments—particularly amendments 28 and 29— weaken those ties and fundamentally undermine the purpose of the Bill. The Bill binds us ever closer together. It provides that any goods that are legally sold in one part of UK must also be freely sold in any other part of the UK—equality.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for making that point, but my point is that this is about equality. We are one country and one family, and everyone should be equal. The father is not superior to the mother, the wife not superior to the husband, and the husband not superior to the daughter. I do not know what sort of family the hon. Gentleman comes from, but everyone is equal in my family.
I have just given way, so I will make some progress first. I am mid-flow.
As I was saying, any services that are authorised in one part of the United Kingdom may be offered without any additional authorisation in all other parts of the UK. Professional qualifications issued in one part of the UK will also be recognised in all parts of the UK. This makes it easier for us to trade and work between our four great nations. The SNP’s amendment 28 goes against the fairness and terms of the Bill, and it will make trade and equality harder for everyone.
For centuries, our internal market has been at the heart of the UK’s economic and social prosperity, and it has been a source of unhindered and open trade across all four countries. Our internal market predates all other economic unions, and it has been uniquely successful in pushing forward economic progress and prosperity across the country. This Bill provides businesses with the certainty they need to grow and thrive. What is more, business organisations agree that the Bill, unamended, does so. The CBI has said that protecting the UK internal market is essential, and the Scottish Retail Consortium has said that protecting the UK internal market will mean that Scottish consumers benefit enormously. Are we honestly saying that if the amendment is accepted, Scottish consumers will benefit more? I do not think so. If the voice of business says this, we should listen to them. We are, after all, Conservatives—the party of business. Business will make us prosper.
I turn to some substantive clauses of the Bill and the nub of today’s discussions. This Bill will see the creation of an independent Office for the Internal Market within the Competition and Markets Authority. It will be a British body monitoring British trade, putting mutual recognition and principles of non-discrimination at its heart—equality. If we are to continue with the levelling-up agenda, we must welcome the OIM, so that we have a body that ensures effective competition in every aspect of the country. It will provide balanced oversight and, ultimately, a central point for the different Parliaments to plug into, thus binding us closer together. In other words, everyone will get a say. The Parliaments and Assemblies of the country will get together to talk and work through difficulties. We will not be pulling apart; we will be coming together under this body, and that will strengthen us. That is why the SNP do not like this Bill. As the hon. Member for Stirling (Alyn Smith) said, they want independence, and they want us not to come together. Under this Bill, we will all come together.
I will clarify that I believe this organisation brings the parties together so that we can discuss and get through any issues that arise. Of course, there will be issues and differences of opinion, but this body allows us to talk in a good way. We have heard antagonistic rhetoric from many different parties on both sides of the House, but with this body, we will talk as equals.
The hon. Gentleman spoke a moment ago about families. I believe in this family as well, and I believe in the United Kingdom staying together. The problem is that in families, without respect or communication things go pretty wrong. Does he think it was acceptable for the UK Government only to share the contents of the Bill with the Welsh Government the night before it was published? Does he think that that fosters the type of familial relationship that he so espouses?
I do believe in respect, and I do believe in recognition. I also believe in respecting the will of the people. I think it is disgraceful that Members on the other side of the House come here and talk about respect when, over and over again, they have tried to thwart the will of the people on Brexit. I will take no lectures from such a party talking about recognition.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for giving way once more. With all this coming together, we should bear in mind that we do not yet know who the CMA and the OIM will be made up of, but we know that they will be appointed by the Government, and that Dominic Cummings will probably have a hand in that, so what are the chances of the Scottish Parliament and Scottish business interests being represented by those people? There’s not much coming together there, is there?
I have every faith that the Scottish people will be represented, and the Welsh and the Northern Irish and—I hate to say the word; I do not think the hon. Gentleman mentioned this—the English people as well. This Government and this party want to represent the United Kingdom. The SNP wants to represent the Scottish people only. I want to represent the entire country, so of course we will come together.
Going back to the main part of my speech—
I have taken a huge amount of interventions already, so I will make some progress.
This body, fundamentally, is at last going to look after Britain and British interests, and that to me, is vitally important. Moving on to the main clauses of the Bill, clause 28 as it stands will allow the OIM to monitor the internal market, which is another example of how we have taken back control of Britain’s future. We are looking after our own markets at last. Clause 29 states that the CMA will be able to conduct research of its own volition in addition to research requested by political parties, the devolved Administrations and legislatures and, of course, the UK Government. It will regulate cross-border competition, cross-border investments and the levels of trade between the different parts of the UK. This will be great for the levelling-up agenda, because the CMA will look at all aspects across the borders.
Clause 30 will make the system more transparent. The CMA will have to share all reports commissioned with all national authorities—including the Scottish Parliament—after 15 days, regardless of who requests the report, in order to be compliant. All parties should welcome this level of transparency and openness in politics. In other words, if one body asks for it, everyone gets to see it. There is no cloak and dagger; everyone is involved and treated equally. Clause 32 states that the CMA will be able to report on the economic impacts of the Bills passed into law. It is fantastic to have objective-free reporting, without party-political goggles or restraints. This will allow us to have an objective-free, open way of looking at things.
Clause 34 will allow the CMA, at its own discretion, to exclude particular categories of information from its reports, where they are judged to be significantly harmful to UK business interests. That puts our economy first, which is exactly what the body ought to do. It is not a political body, and it is not a Parliament making political points. It is trying to say, “We are here for business”, because this is a business Bill to promote British business and our British trade. It is not about independence. Is not about a so-called power grab. It is about promoting trade, and nothing more. It is about making things better for everyone—for the people of Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland and England.
Clause 36 grants the CMA information-gathering powers, and states that no information can be requested if it cannot be compelled to be given in the course of civil judicial proceedings before a court. This gives a level of protection against invasive Governments of all colours, whether in England, Scotland, Wales or Northern Ireland, because this party backs business. Despite what the SNP is telling us about a so-called unelected cabal of people being in control, that is simply not the case. This body is about business. We have had many interventions in the debate, but now that I am talking about the clauses and about business, how many times have SNP Members intervened to talk about the nub of the Bill rather than going on about independence? The Bill is not a power grab. It is about business and the economy.
Clause 47 sets out conditions on non-compliance. The CMA will be able to decide whether information requests have been supplied to a satisfactory level, and non-compliance will be punishable with a financial penalty. Dispute resolution will ultimately be a matter for the courts, and the Government will be kept out of it. Once more, we are talking the language of business. We are not doing this in a party political way; we are doing it in a business way. As anyone who has worked in a business or run a business will know, we do not want politicians sticking their noses in business. We actually want a fair way to get through things.
As an utterly pro-business but also pro-democracy party, we would contend that the Parliament of Scotland is best placed to look after jobs and work in Scotland, so will the hon. Gentleman condemn the Prime Minister’s earlier comment when he used a four-letter expletive about business?
I am not sure what word the hon. Gentleman refers to, I will be honest. There are lots of great words for business. “Great” business? That is five letters.
We can all talk about business, but all I know is that this Government are pro-business and always have been; we are the business party, because only through business can we get prosperity. I know that the SNP is not pro-business—it is a sort of left-wing socialist party that wants to stamp down on free trade—but the Conservative party wants businesses to be managed and to operate properly and to get the Government off businesses so that they can do what they do, which is to thrive and create jobs. That is what the Bill is about.
I completely refute that point. In fact, I think the Bill will actually create a better working environment, as I said, by bringing the four components together. Since ’97, the Union has been pulling apart, and the Bill will actually bring the parties together, to talk better. That is why the SNP does not want the Bill, because the Bill actually says that we are one family. Yes, we have differences, and yes, we have different opinions, but we are a family and we need to work together. The Competition and Markets Authority is the Christmas table, bringing us all together from across the land to share the stuffed goose.
I completely agree—this is an economic thing. In fact, I am about to talk about clause 38, which brings me on to answer my hon. Friend’s point. Clause 38 says that the CMA is able to choose between a number of penalties to punish non-compliance, which is good, but is unable to levy a penalty against national or devolved Governments. It can therefore never be a stranglehold on Governments and can never be used as a tool between Governments; it is not going to bash the English Government or the Welsh Government or the Scottish Government. The CMA is actually a business body. This is not a political Bill but a Bill for business, because business will bring us together. Fundamentally, the Acts of Union of 1707 came together over business. Lest we forget, after Scotland’s failed colonial project in Panama, when Scotland went bankrupt, we had to come together to promote business. That is why the Acts of Union happened. This helps to create business.
Ultimately, the Bill ensures that high standards are protected across the whole UK. Our legislation will maintain consistently high standards across every part of it, promoting co-operation between the UK Parliament and the devolved legislatures. There will be no diminution of our food hygiene or animal welfare standards. I know that the people of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland do not buy into this nationalistic, manufactured hysteria. Scottish National party Members claim to represent all the people of Scotland. No, they do not. They represent their own views, and those of many people —I grant them that; many people want independence—but not the whole of Scotland. What represents the whole of Scotland support for business.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for giving way, but how does he explain that those of us who are not nationalist, who do not want to see independence in Scotland, Wales or Northern Ireland and who believe wholeheartedly in the United Kingdom feel that this part of the Bill is damaging and is the very thing that will potentially tear apart the United Kingdom? How does he allow for that, and for the fact that we object to the Bill?
I say sorry that those people are falling into nationalist arguments and giving succour to the independence movement, rather than actually coming together for business, as true Unionists in the House should. They should celebrate coming together for business rather than playing these party political games that will only tear us asunder. We should work together, and I encourage them to work together.
I have already given way once, so I will make progress.
The Bill is not a Westminster power grab, but a guarantee of a strong United Kingdom that will safeguard jobs and make us stand tall on the world stage. It will make us all more prosperous. The devolved nations, like Rother Valley, stand to benefit greatly from this Brexit bonanza, and I will lend them my support every step of the way.
Through the Bill we will enshrine in law the principle of mutual recognition so that goods and services from one part of the UK will be recognised across the country, and the principle of non-discrimination so that there is equal opportunity for companies trading in the UK, regardless of where they are based. This not only protects the integrity of the United Kingdom, but strengthens it. However, I wish to appeal to all our fellow Britons, north of the border, across the Irish sea and in Wales. This is about more than just pounds and pence. The economic benefits of the Union are undeniable, but our United Kingdom stands for so much more than that. I have the greatest respect for Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, and their people, history, culture and devolution settlements. That is why I back the UK Internal Market Bill—it empowers all Britons, wherever in the United Kingdom they may live, and strengthens devolution.
It is pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir Graham, and to speak to new clause 2, which was tabled by Labour’s Front Benchers. This new clause seeks to put common frameworks on a statutory footing. Only yesterday the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster reassured Members of the importance of common frameworks. If that is the case, I expect the Government to have no problem accepting this amendment, which seeks to prevent Ministers from overriding and imposing lower standards on devolved nations against their will. However, the devolved nations have every reason to be worried because when it comes to empty words, meaningless platitudes and empty promises, I am afraid that this Government have form. There is a pattern here: the Government promise to maintain our standards while simultaneously passing laws to allow themselves to lower them.
Let us take, for example, the Environment Bill, which the Government used not to set targets, but to give themselves the power to set their own targets in the future. They voted against the principle of non-regression to stop environmental standards being lowered. We have also heard about agriculture today. The Agriculture Bill offered nothing to guarantee that food standards would not be lowered and undercut in new trade deals. Hon. Members might be wondering why the Government would keep making promises and then refuse to legislate for them. The agenda is pretty clear to me. This is about creating a race-to-the-bottom economy. It is about undermining our standards. It is about the Government allowing themselves to sell off our rights and protections in dangerous trade deals that will undermine our future for decades to come.
Meanwhile, when we tried to amend the Trade Bill at least to ensure parliamentary scrutiny, the Government rejected that, showing very clearly what taking back control actually means—not parliamentary sovereignty, but an Executive power grab. Now with this Bill, especially in its current, unamended form, the Government are trying to cement that power grab by giving themselves the right to impose lower standards on devolved nations while ripping up the withdrawal agreement that they so proudly campaigned on just nine months ago, and breaking international law in the process.
The Government’s posturing will do nothing to protect the millions of workers in all four nations across the country who are worried about losing their jobs; nothing to reassure the British farmers who are worried about their products being undercut and dangerous trade deals that lower food standards; and nothing to foster the international co-operation that we need to defeat this pandemic or tackle the climate crisis. I urge people who have spoken passionately about our food, environmental and trading standards, and the Union, to vote for new clause 2 so that the Bill does not ride roughshod over our devolved nations and so that it resembles something that is fit for purpose.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir Graham
This is a good Bill, and a necessary Bill. It will protect the integrity of the United Kingdom and our internal market as we leave the European Union. In our considerations on part 4, the description we heard earlier of our internal market as a shared asset is very apposite. Part 4 provides an important part of the framework that will allow us to uphold our obligation under the Articles of Union, which state clearly that all parts of the United Kingdom should be on the same footing in respect of trade and navigation and in all treaties with foreign powers. The United Kingdom is built upon a commitment to free trade between our four nations, and prosperity and peace are built on such trade and partnerships. The European Union, for all its faults and all its deviation from its original vision, was founded on that principle and purpose: to preserve peace through trade.
I speak, therefore, in support of an unamended Bill and unamended part 4 in its entirety. Clause 28 to 39 give us an independent advisory office for the internal market under the auspices of the Competition and Markets Authority that will act purely for the benefit of the UK and each of its nations. This replacement of EU legislation will see practical powers brought back to our devolved Parliaments to help regulate the strength and progress of our internal market and ensure a smooth transition for businesses away from the European Union. The Office for the Internal Market will strengthen the internal market’s might and efficient operation and enable real-time and considered advice to the Government to help direct their route forward.
As a one nation Conservative, I believe that global Britain itself begins with one nation—it begins at home between all four parts of the Union—and the Bill will set us up for that mission by reinforcing the United Kingdom and its internal market. We need these provisions to protect, strengthen and monitor the internal market and to make safe the Union and the businesses and jobs within it, and to protect our sovereignty and that of future generations; and we need them to become that outward looking and strong global nation that this Government and I want us to be and which the might of our internal market demands.
The Bill is a demonstration of the UK’s preparedness to manage our markets abroad and at home. It will ensure unfettered trade across the UK and avoid new burdens and barriers being put on us unreasonably. As we begin our recovery from the covid-19 crisis, these two implications of the Bill could not be more important. Businesses in my constituency rely on seamless trade across our four nations and further afield. While the Government can enable growth, they cannot create it. Throughout the crisis, we have relied on frontline heroes, in the NHS, schools, shops, and elsewhere, to get us through, but in this next stage of the recovery, it will be the wealth creators, business people and entrepreneurs who take us forward, but they need a secure, dynamic, investable playing field from which to operate. That is what these clause provide: the framework in which to grow, the springboard from which to flourish, and the rules to operate within.
I will finish by stressing our obligation to uphold the internal market and ensure that our sovereignty as one nation is secured.
No, I will not give way. We have heard so many canards in the Chamber this afternoon, it is beginning to resemble a duck pond, so I will press on to the end.
We have acted in good faith throughout these negotiations and for many of us too many concessions have been made in the name of good politics and friendship, but a reliance on friendship and good faith is not, it seems, assured, so the Government are right to act to provide a safety net. The potential implications of not doing so are too severe to ignore. The easy choice is to hope; the right choice is to prepare, and that is exactly what the provisions in the Bill set out to do.
They will prepare the UK’s internal market for the next stage of our journey and give businesses confidence in, and understanding of, our business and economic ecosystem. By voting for the Bill in its entirety, including these clauses, we are fulfilling our obligations to protect the integrity of our internal market, our United Kingdom. We simply cannot risk the integrity and functionality of the internal market itself. For those reasons, I will be supporting the Government’s clauses and encourage other hon. Members to do the same.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir Graham.
The most important element of the debate around this Bill and its amendments is that the most successful union of nations in the world continues to thrive. The UK’s internal market has functioned seamlessly for centuries. Amendments to this Bill should be accepted only if they make this market more effective. We all have a duty in this House to prioritise that. The Government are absolutely right to ensure that there are no internal barriers to trade within the UK following the end of the transition period, so that business is able to trade unhindered across the United Kingdom.
As has been mentioned in this debate, the Bill establishes the Office for the Internal Market within the Competition and Markets Authority to provide independent and technical advice to Parliament and the devolved Administrations together on regulations that may seek to damage the UK internal market. It will be responsible for monitoring and reporting on our own internal market, and it will do so impartially, away from the undue influence of Ministers, whether here at Westminster or in the devolved Administrations. This is important for obvious reasons. Ministers want and need technical advice. Goods and services must move unhindered and conform to the same standards and requirements whether they are sold in Peterborough, in Paisley, in Prestatyn or in Portrush.
My hon. Friend is giving a very strong argument as to why this legislation is so important. Does he agree with Grahame Crook, the director of Kent Periscopes, in my constituency, who says:
“Barriers to trade within our own borders will not just be harmful but are patently ridiculous. We, the four nations of the United Kingdom, face enough challenges to our prosperity at the moment from outside forces–notably covid–without hobbling ourselves further by having restrictions on trade within the UK”?
I absolutely agree with the businessman in my hon. Friend’s constituency. I think it is the Federation of Small Businesses in Wales that has said that ensuring stability in the UK market is vital. What businesses in Peterborough want to hear is that they can trade freely across these islands. It is an economic argument, not a political argument, which is what many of the amendments tabled by the nationalists are. It seems ridiculous to have to say this, but the vast majority of business-to-business traders in the UK are selling to, and buying from, other businesses within the UK. The Scottish economy and Scottish jobs rely on UK-wide trade. The Welsh economy and the Welsh jobs rely on UK-wide trade. The Northern Irish economy and Northern Ireland jobs rely on UK-wide trade and, of course, the English economy and English jobs rely on UK-wide trade. The Office for the Internal Market is not there to lecture the devolved Administrations. Let me repeat the point that I made earlier: if the SNP had its way, it would hand the powers of the proposed OIM straight back to Brussels.
The nationalists are okay with quangos, just as long as they are European Union quangos and not British quangos. Let us be clear: as my hon. Friend the Member for Rother Valley (Alexander Stafford) said earlier, the Scottish Retail Consortium has said:
“Scottish consumers and our economy as a whole benefit enormously from the UK’s largely unfettered internal single market”.
That is what is at stake. Would amendments 28 and 29 make the Scottish economy or Scottish jobs healthier? They would not, which is why we need to reject them.
The Office for the Internal Market is there to achieve the things I have described; it is not some sort of power grab. It will advise all four Governments of the United Kingdom, including the United Kingdom Government, as equals. As was said earlier, the internal market is a shared asset of all four nations. All four Governments need to be advised equally. If the internal market is a shared asset, we want it to work well.
New clause 4, tabled by the hon. Member for North East Fife (Wendy Chamberlain), would require that Scottish, Welsh and Northern Irish Ministers have a say on who will advise them. I urge Ministers to give that due consideration and listen to those arguments, because if they do, we can avoid some of the politics that surround the argument. It does not matter how many manufactured grievances there are from the Scottish nationalists; we can avoid some of the politics and just get on with it and vote the Bill through unamended.
The hon. Gentleman is making some points on which we might be able to agree. The issue at hand is who sets the rules for the new UK internal market. Does he agree that the four Governments should play an equal role in setting the rules? Or does he believe that it is a matter for Westminster alone? That is the fundamental issue at hand.
I have heard the arguments, as have Ministers, I am sure. Points have been made about the internal market being a shared asset; having clear input from the devolved Administrations on who is appointed to the Office for the Internal Market would be an inherently good thing. I am sure that Ministers have heard those arguments, and if they have been heard, we can go ahead with the Bill unamended and just get on with it.
The CBI has said that protecting the internal market is essential and, as I said earlier, the Federation of Small Businesses in Wales has said that ensuring stability in the UK market is vital. Let us not mess around with the most successful internal market in the world, which has worked well for centuries; let us reject the amendments and vote for the Bill unamended.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir Graham.
I rise to speak to amendment 21 and new clauses 1 and 4, which I and my Liberal Democrat colleagues have tabled with the purpose of building consensus, which has been sorely lacking in the whole process of the Bill. From the publication of the White Paper and its incredibly short consultation period back in July, to the rushed programme for debating the Bill, there is clearly no willingness on the Government’s part to find any degree of consensus. We have heard some of that rancour this afternoon.
The devolved Administrations have indicated that they are unlikely to give legislative consent to the Bill. Although it will not, that should be something that gives the Government pause for thought. It is not just the SNP that thinks the Bill does real damage to the devolved settlements, but Welsh Labour and colleagues in Plaid Cymru. As a Liberal Democrat, I must say that the Government are making it hard for those of us who want to keep the United Kingdom together to make the emotional case for doing so.
It seems easy to forget that just four years ago the Conservative Government were passing the Scotland Act 2016. That piece of legislation was grounded in consensus and, although it was an Act of the UK Parliament, the Smith commission that preceded it was made up of Scottish political party representatives. I am afraid that in the past year the Government have taken us far away from that model of consensus.
The Government have been determined to leave the customs union and the single market above all else, and the Bill is a clear indication of that. I fear there has been no consideration of cost, and not simply in financial terms. The Prime Minister signed a withdrawal agreement that created a border in the Irish sea—one voted for in January and overturned by the Bill we are debating. How many more people in constituencies such as North East Fife that voted clearly to remain in the EU are the Government willing to alienate?
It is a matter not just of conduct but of the practical realities. For example, the University of St Andrews, the largest employer in my constituency, has ongoing concerns, not assuaged by this Government’s current actions, about the impact of our final departure from the EU in December. I urge the Government to change tack. Surely working in co-operation and trying to find consensus should be the way to demonstrate Government good faith in the UK and its workings. That is why I have tabled my amendments, along with my parliamentary colleagues.
New clause 4 and amendment 21 try to take some of the spirit of what was in the Scotland Act 2016 and apply it to this Bill. I thank the hon. Member for North East Bedfordshire (Richard Fuller), who is now back in his place, and the hon. Member for Peterborough (Paul Bristow) for their supportive comments on them. I hope that the Government will give some indication of seriously considering them.
One of the steps recommended by the Smith commission was put into law by section 65 of the Scotland Act, which gave Scottish Ministers the power to appoint a member to the panel of Ofcom. This Bill creates new responsibilities for the Competition and Markets Authority —a body, as has been well debated already, whose public appointees are chosen by the Secretary of State for Business in the UK Government. As others have rightly pointed out, the Government have a less than transparent approach to appointments and contracts of late. Would it not be simpler to mirror what the Scotland Act did for Ofcom for the CMA, given the Government’s intention that the CMA has a very important role in relation to the functioning of the Union? That is what new clause 4 is about. It would give the Scottish, Welsh and Northern Ireland Administrations the ability each to appoint a member of the CMA board, giving them a degree of buy-in to this body. I really hope that the Government will consider supporting the new clause. There is a clear precedent for it in the Scotland Act. It would give the devolved nations a degree of ownership over the CMA and make it a more collective body.
Amendment 21 tries to ensure that, as this raft of new responsibilities is going to the CMA, there is proper buy-in and consultation with the devolved Governments in that regard. Again, this is based on provisions that currently exist in law in the Scotland Act, which specified that for agencies such as the Maritime and Coast- guard Agency there should be consultation with the Scottish Government about their strategic priorities in the exercising of their functions. Consensus, consultation and collaboration, with a four-nations approach, should be the root of all we do as a United Kingdom. It should be and must be our starting point.
One of the key concerns around this Bill is the fear of a race to the bottom, as the hon. Member for Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath (Neale Hanvey) said. One easy way that the Government could assuage these fears is by accepting likely amendments to the Trade Bill and the Agriculture Bill in the Lords, which they have previously failed to do in this place.
New clause 1 fills in one of the missing pieces of the Bill but also provides an opportunity to strengthen intergovernmental relationships. The White Paper for the Bill posed the question of what body to use to examine the functioning of the internal market, but it did not discuss what to do when there is a dispute, nor is this answered in the Bill itself. I find that strange, because there is lots in part 4, not least in clause 32, dedicated to the CMA investigating whether a provision passed by a national authority has a detrimental effect on the functioning of the internal market. If the CMA does indeed find that there is a detrimental effect, then other than clause 33, which states that the relevant Administration should table a written statement in their respective Parliament in response to the report, not a hint of the process to be used to reach a resolution in order to do that is detailed. It may be that the UK Government are intending for dispute resolution to take place within existing intergovernmental bodies such as the Joint Ministerial Committee. As part of the ongoing review taking place, that may well be the case, but it is important that that is set out. It is also important that such a decision is made with the support of the devolved Administrations. New clause 1 will ensure that the Secretary of State has to carry out that process of consultation and that any dispute resolution mechanism provides for representation from each of the devolved nations.
The Joint Ministerial Committee has been at the heart of the devolution settlement for the past 20 years, as the previous Parliament’s Scottish Affairs Committee reported in its inquiry into devolution, but it has its limitations. The Committee’s inquiry found that the
“existing setup and organisation of the JMC has resulted in it being predominantly controlled by the UK Government”,
which has “limited its effectiveness”. In the Committee’s current inquiry into coronavirus, we heard that the JMC has not even met during the pandemic. There is also no formal mechanism for coming to agreement or resolving disputes generally. As I said, there is an ongoing joint review of intergovernmental machinery. The Minister mentioned that that is due to report by the end of the year, but it has been ongoing since March 2018. New clause 1 would set the UK Government and the devolved nations on a path to a dispute resolution mechanism. Fundamentally, we need a route to rebalancing the relationship between the four nations and moving to a more equitable, and arguably more federal, United Kingdom.
It is an honour to serve under your chairmanship, Sir Graham.
I must say at the outset that I agree with the thrust of the points made by the hon. Member for North East Bedfordshire (Richard Fuller) when he said that the Bill was a move in the right direction. I think that in Northern Ireland we can actually agree on that point. This is definitely the right step for the House to take. The Bill is about the internal market of the United Kingdom, so it is important to set the context of what that market means for a place like Northern Ireland.
It is vital that people understand the significance of the United Kingdom internal market for businesses, people and the employed across our beloved Province. Great Britain accounts for 52.7% of Northern Ireland’s external sales, so the majority of things we sell go to the rest of Great Britain. Northern Ireland’s food and drink sales—remember that food production is the single largest employer in Northern Ireland—to Great Britain are valued at over £2.3 billion to our entire local economy. It is the largest market in six out of 10 agri-food sub-sectors. It is absolutely essential that people understand that. Given that the vast majority of our people are involved in food and drink production, the fact that our largest market is our home market means that this market here is vital to understanding how our economy works. It does not look south. It does not look to the north. It looks to our neighbour, the biggest island in this archipelago of islands: it looks to Great Britain. It is essential for people to understand how significant this economy is for Northern Ireland.
Does my hon. Friend agree that for business in Northern Ireland, free and unfettered access to Great Britain is absolutely vital for jobs, growth and prosperity, and that any obstacle would be critical for jobs and businesses in both his constituency and mine?
My hon. Friend makes a vital point, one that I think is shared by Members across the House who recognise how vital GB is to the Northern Ireland economy, and to helping it grow and flourish.
Let me put more flesh on the bone on how vital the internal market is. We have had an increase in freight and vehicle traffic to and from Great Britain for nine consecutive years. Some 532,000 units move out of Belfast harbour to GB. That is absolutely critical to understanding how our economy works. I understand, Sir Graham, that you will want me to move on to our amendments and their effect, but when 65% of what Northern Ireland purchases is from GB, we get an idea of how big and important the GB economy is. That is the point my hon. Friend the Member for Upper Bann (Carla Lockhart) makes. We make £13.3 billion worth of purchases from GB every year. Consider the size of the Northern Ireland economy, with 1.7 million people. We make almost £14 billion of purchases from GB—not from Europe, not from the south of Ireland, not from the United States of America, not from any other European non-EU country, but from GB. Getting this Bill on the internal market right is therefore vital to us. The amendments will ensure that our country either flourishes or fails.
I believe that Members of this House want to see a flourishing Union. We have different interpretations of what that Union is about, and I have to respect those different interpretations, but I believe that the Members from Northern Ireland plead earnestly to ensure we have a flourishing Union. The amendments that my party is bringing forward are about making sure that our Union flourishes and that the finances within it flourish. In terms of foreign and direct investment, after London, Northern Ireland is the single largest part of the United Kingdom that benefits from foreign and direct investment. Therefore, getting trade deals in place is equally important to us, but the Bill is the foundation stone.
Each of these amendments has an impact on the economy of Northern Ireland, and many would have a good impact, but some less so. We want to ensure that the power to disapply or modify export declarations and other exit procedures is implemented fully. We cannot have something that puts Northern Ireland at a disadvantage in terms of its trade and how it operates. In terms of clause 44, on the notification of state aid for the purposes of the Northern Ireland protocol, we want to ensure that Northern Ireland is treated the same as the rest of the United Kingdom. We cannot have a situation where Northern Ireland’s opportunity to flourish from state aid rules from GB would be changed.
Let me give a specific example. The House has been debating for some time the issue of free ports, and there is an attempt to identify the best places for free ports across the whole United Kingdom. I would love some of those free ports to be in Northern Ireland, whether it is up in Londonderry at Foyle, in Belfast harbour, in Larne or in Warrenpoint. I would like to see those areas identified as potential free ports.
Under the protocol, our southern neighbour, who has different economic objectives—set aside its politics—from Northern Ireland, could object in the EU to Northern Ireland having a freeport and stop Northern Ireland having a freeport. Given that the UK Government appear to be looking at free ports as a way to drive the economy forward post Brexit, Northern Ireland could be completely disadvantaged because of the predatory financial interests of a country that wants to look after itself—namely, the south of Ireland, at the behest of the EU. That would be utterly disastrous. Whenever Ministers are considering these issues, I hope they will recognise that we welcome this Bill because it will prevent the attempt to tie Northern Ireland into a protocol and a withdrawal agreement that could damage financial and economic opportunities that would benefit all of us.
Some people put about the idea that this could damage the Belfast agreement. No matter what side we are on in terms of the Belfast agreement of 1998, at the end of the day, we should all be on the side of wanting to ensure that Northern Ireland’s economy flourishes, because it is through jobs and employment that people gain satisfaction and contentment. If we have contented people, we will not have people being dissatisfied, with community tension rising and problems flowing from that. Getting these economic aspects correct will ensure the peace that people cherish and therefore the principles of the Belfast or Good Friday agreement, which Members have enunciated their love for.
I have absolutely no doubt about the sincerity of those who have tabled amendments on how they want to see their part of the United Kingdom operate, but I hope that the Prime Minister is sincere in what he is bringing forward. I hope that Northern Ireland is not going to be used as a pawn in this, and I say that in all sincerity. The Government cannot afford to do that to the emotions of the people of my country. They cannot kick them up and down, turn the volume up and down and not expect a reaction. It is far too fraught with people’s concerns about their economic wellbeing to do that.
If the Government implement this Bill, I appeal to them to implement it with the sincerity with which we are reading through these clauses and agreeing with them. Do not use us as a pawn to extract some other general concession from the EU and then desert Northern Ireland. Once bitten, twice shy. If you fool me once, shame on you, but if you fool me twice, shame on me. There will be no shame on the Ulster Bench in this matter. We are warning the Government: treat us with sincerity, as we are entitled to be treated.
This problem protocol lies behind many of the amendments that have been tabled today. Some Members have objected to the protocol because it is perceived as discrimination against Wales and Scotland, disadvantaging those regions of the United Kingdom compared with Northern Ireland. I would say to my colleagues in the House from those parts of the United Kingdom, that the protocol actually damaged Northern Ireland, and fixing it now is the best way to move forward. We should stop and think about the idea that people can one day support the protocol as if it is the best thing ever, when for the last while we have heard objections to the protocol. The protocol is the problem and it needs to be adjusted and changed, and we need to address that.
The amendments do contain a running theme in that they seek to obtain consent for the devolved institutions, and Members have spoken at length about a perceived power grab. Those are issues that the Government must try to address cogently and they must try to reassure Members on that. It is very difficult for Northern Ireland Members to accept the arguments about making sure that the devolved institutions are entirely in step with all this, because the devolved institutions will never be in step with any of this for this reason: the devolved institution in Northern Ireland cannot make an opinion on this Bill because it cannot agree, it cannot find consensus. It is essentially gridlocked on this matter.
An amendment was drafted—it has not been selected —by the hon. Members for Belfast South (Claire Hanna) and for Foyle (Colum Eastwood) that would have required going back to an Executive that cannot agree or make an agreed statement on Brexit, the internal markets or any of those matters. I do not think we should push things to the gridlock in Northern Ireland. That is why we need legislation to come direct from Westminster and help us to make sure that we govern with the consensus of the whole House.
I was disappointed that the Member for Belfast South decided not to speak in this debate earlier and removed herself from the list. We understand the reason—the amendment was not selected—but I would have been interested to hear the points that the SDLP Members would make on why they would want to hand a veto to a deadlocked Executive or Assembly. The Northern Ireland Executive and the Northern Ireland Assembly need to focus collectively—I think they do focus individually—on businesses, and I hope that they will do that and ensure clarity on how businesses could operate under the Bill.
The one thing I hear every day from constituents—and I am sure it is the same for members of the SDLP, the Alliance party and my own party colleagues—is that they want clarity on how business should be done in Northern Ireland. Businesses from all across Northern Ireland have expressed concerns about the problem protocol and its lack of clarity. Indeed, some of those points have been well made in the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee, where we have sought answers from the Government on the clarity that is ultimately required. The report that we made to the Government showed where we need clarity. Will there be import declarations? Will there be entry summary declarations? Will there be safety and security certificates? Will there be export health certificates for everything? Will there be phytosanitary certificates and certificates of origin? If there are, who will pay for them? How will they be monitored—through a computer process, a desktop process? Will that be for every single good, or will it be for 2% of the goods that are currently moved? Please give us clarity on all of those matters, or do what the Bill suggests and remove the paperwork, remove the burdensome red tape, take it away altogether and let us trade.
I ask any Member representing an English constituency if they would tolerate having to fill in an export declaration form for goods that were moving from Yorkshire to London. They would not, so why should people and businesses in Northern Ireland have to tolerate filling in, or being threatened with having to fill in, declaration forms for that sort of movement of goods? It is not acceptable and will not be tolerated, and rightly so. The Government should address that.
I would also appeal to those people who have tried to be encouraged by what the US Congress have said about the Bill: that if the protocol is removed, they—the US Congress and the Speaker of the House—would do their best to block trade with the United Kingdom. Considering that the highest levels of foreign direct investment from the United States of America have come to Northern Ireland and benefit constituencies such as Foyle, the Belfast constituencies, my constituency and the Upper Bann constituency, who in their right mind would stand in this House and praise American politicians for trying to stop that trade?
I want to see a flourishing trade with the United States of America. We have benefited from it in the past. They have been our greatest friends. Now we have people trying, for the sake of the Bill, to influence America to stop doing trade with this United Kingdom. It is utterly preposterous. If people were to stop and think for one moment of the consequences and the impact that that would have on people’s employment and wellbeing, I think they would realise that making that crass political point serves no purpose other than to call for a blockade of trade and to damage people’s wellbeing.
We have tabled amendments on state aid rules. We want to ensure that Northern Ireland benefits from state aid in the same way as every other part of the United Kingdom. We do not want to have predatory actions from businesses operating in the Republic of Ireland to prevent financial assistance flowing to businesses in Northern Ireland. We want to see the same flow of state aid from Her Majesty’s Government that we are entitled to—nothing more, but I tell Members this: nothing less. We are entitled to the same; we are entitled to those benefits. If the Bill helps to repair that—I believe that our amendments, which will be debated tomorrow, will help to do that—I hope that we could see a significant change in the direction and climate of the agreement and what the Brexit agreement has heretofore put in place. Where there have been concerns about it, some of those concerns could be alleviated. We need to address those issues.
There are many other outstanding points in the Bill. We need greater clarity in clause 40, on the meaning of “special regard” for the authorities and for the flow of goods between GB and Northern Ireland. The Bill appears to make reference only to the mitigation of the challenges facing GB to Northern Ireland trade; there is no detail on how that might work in areas relating to the recognition of standards, goods and access to free trade agreements, or potential divergence between EU and GB standards.
We want to ensure that devolved Departments and businesses have greater clarity going forward. Can or will Her Majesty’s Government disapply Northern Ireland’s membership of the single market provisions from any goods? These are genuine questions that we need clarified, and I hope that the Government will provide that clarity. On clauses 41 and 42 and unfettered access—the point that was raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Upper Bann—that issue is catered for mainly in the context of Northern Ireland to GB checks and customs. Little is contained in the Bill about the GB to Northern Ireland focus. I would like to see more flesh on that point, so that we see both sides of the trading equation.
We welcome the fact that, under clause 43, the Secretary of State will have the ability to interpret state aid protocol provision, but we want further assurances that Northern Ireland will be in the same UK framework. Those matters are important to us, if we are to get fully behind the Bill and see it implemented in a way that will benefit our country.
Unfortunately, what appears to lie behind all this is the question that has dogged this Parliament and its predecessor: who governs the United Kingdom? Is it Michel Barnier? Is it the European Community? Is it this Parliament? I believe it should be this Parliament, and the people from all the nations of this nation coming together to govern us. I hope that will be the outcome.
There are many things wrong with the Bill. Today, we are focused on the creation of yet another unelected body with the monitoring responsibilities to investigate devolved decisions. The current Government seem very keen on creating record numbers of unelected roles. They threatened to abolish the Electoral Commission, so we know that they do not like oversight. But yet another bureaucratic body to investigate and veto what elected politicians decide in the devolved Administrations —is that really what we need? Just because the Prime Minister, and perhaps his Government, are averse to democracy and oversight does not mean that the rest of us are.
Perhaps, if I might be so bold, this is more about the fact that the Conservative party has been unable to win an election in Scotland or Wales since 1957, yet it wants to implement its own policies in disregard of the elected wishes of the Scottish people, who democratically elect the Parliament at Holyrood. Perhaps that is what the Bill is about. Perhaps the Conservative party has taken lessons from some of the donors in the Kremlin.
This unnecessary new body will decide whether a Bill meets the new test for the internal market, putting permanent constraints on the devolved competencies of the Scottish and Welsh Parliaments and the Northern Ireland Assembly. We cannot support such an anti-democratic move in either principle or practice. The amendments seek to remove the Bill’s remit from Scotland. The Office for the Internal Market should not be given powers to monitor the regulatory provisions that apply in Scotland but in not the whole UK. This is nothing short of a threat to Scottish democracy.
How will the OIM’s decisions be scrutinised? Yes, a report must be lodged annually in this place, but nothing tells us at what point that will appear before Members. Will it be like an estimates day? By what process can hon. Members genuinely scrutinise the OIM’s decisions? We need to know. How can we possibly have any clarity about how this will work if we do not know the process of simple oversight and scrutiny?
The regulations proposed to set up this body are unwarranted and lack the necessary clarity about the extent of its remit, how the CMA will receive and consider proposals for investigations and essential mechanisms for democratic scrutiny of the membership and dispute resolution. At very least, it should be essential for all four Administrations to agree at every stage. As the Royal Society of Edinburgh said, the use of this authority against the wishes of the devolved Administrations constitutes a failure of intergovernmental relations.
What happened to the respect agenda? We were told we were in a Union of equals and that we were to “lead not leave”. Where has that gone? Let us make this simple: scrutiny of Bills passed at Holyrood should be undertaken in Holyrood. Transparent, proportionate processes are in place to scrutinise Bills in the Scottish Parliament and consider the input of key stakeholders, including business, public authorities and the public. Replacing that with an unelected body and an unclear process is a retrograde step for transparency in our democracy. It could result in vested interests with financial clout having undue influence, or in regulators challenging the decisions of our elected representatives.
We hear a lot about unelected bureaucrats—we had a lesson from my hon. Friend the Member for Stirling (Alyn Smith), who highlighted that some of the so-called unelected bureaucrats are in fact elected—but this is a genuinely unelected quango. There is no need for the creation of a new body that could scupper much of the excellent evidence-based policy work that has served Scotland so well. Policies such as the minimum unit pricing of alcohol and maintaining free higher education pose no threat to the integrity of the Union, but could fall foul of the rules for this new internal market.
I commend my hon. Friend on a powerful speech. Does he share my concern that as well as the general structure of this body, it is beyond ludicrous that at this late stage, we still do not know who these individuals will be, how they will be appointed, who they will serve and what policy they will implement?
Indeed. Hon. Members could be forgiven for thinking that the Bill was being rushed through without a huge amount of thought behind it—not that I would ever suggest any such thing.
The premise of the internal market on which the Bill is based is false. It seems to regard differences in policy decisions taken across different parts of the countries and nations as somehow a bad thing or an irritating bump in the road that somehow has to be smoothed out. That is devolution. The point and principle of devolution is that decisions can be made in a devolved Administration. It was designed to respect localised democracy and better meet differing priorities in different parts of the United Kingdom. Instead, under the Bill, the centralising tendencies of this unequal Union are being put into overdrive.
The Scottish Government have always recognised the importance of free trade across the isles. We have a system in place to govern trading arrangements across the UK, consisting of reserved and devolved competences. Where work is at an intersection of EU law, the four Governments can and should work jointly through the common framework process, although that involves concepts that might be difficult for Government Members to grasp: mutual trust, respect and constructive dialogue, none of which are evident in this Bill. These processes are already there to ensure the continued frictionless trade across the UK that we all want to see, and the Scottish Government happily signed up to this process—it is the correct way to proceed.
The Bill is a political move to curb the power of the devolved Administration, and if this Government continue to seek to guarantee the controlled right of UK companies to trade unhindered in every part of the UK, they should get on with it and use the processes that are already there. The processes in this Bill mean that private health companies or private water companies operating in other parts of the country could soon have a guarantee to work in Scotland, where these things are run by public companies. This is a constitutional and legislative mess.
The Bill is a blatant political move to scupper those rebellious Scots, who just do not seem to fall for the Prime Minister’s charms. He is throwing his toys out of the pram, taking a huff and saying, “It’s ma baw and ye cannae have it.” The Prime Minister had the brass neck to pretend yesterday that each devolved Administration will be “fully and equally involved” in monitoring the internal market, despite sovereignty resting wholly with the Westminster Government. If he is speaking in good faith—it could happen—Conservative Members will back our amendments tonight. They would at least require the approval of devolved Administrations, bringing at least a degree of democracy and accountability to what is, in effect, an unelected body. Surely, that has to be a simple thing to support.
I rise to speak to Liberal Democrat amendment 21, new clause 1 and new clause 4. It will come as no surprise to this House that I have serious concerns about the Bill. As a Liberal Democrat, I believe passionately in devolution; the role of our regional governments in powering their communities is vital. If unamended, the Bill undermines that key function. Government must work for the whole UK. Food standards are a key example in that regard, and I am sure that most, if not all, Members of this House have been contacted by their constituents on maintaining our higher food standards. It is unacceptable that the Government should compromise on standards or harm British farmers by ramming through a damaging trade deal against the wishes of at least one of the nations of this United Kingdom—it is also unacceptable for all our constituents. The Government must co-operate with our devolved Administrations, and I urge Members from all parts of the House to support our amendments, which will strengthen our devolved Administrations.
This is my first speech on this Bill, so let me comment on its specific implication for Northern Ireland, an integral part of our family of nations. The Bill is intended to allow frictionless trade within our four nations, and of course it would not be acceptable to have a hard internal border between any of the component parts. On that point, I absolutely share the concerns of my colleagues on the Government Benches and of colleagues behind me, but the only reason there is any risk of a hard internal border between Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK is the deal that the Prime Minister signed last year, which threw Northern Ireland under a bus—I never forget the anger from my Northern Irish colleagues behind me.
At the time, the Prime Minister called it a “fantastic” deal, so what happened to this oven-ready deal? He has now remembered that he has a responsibility to keep the Union together. The question is: what can he do, after his deal got us into this current mess? The Government have two options: they can renege on the withdrawal agreement, break international law and trash our reputation as a trusted trade partner, or they can uphold the withdrawal treaty, abide by international law and negotiate a deal with the EU that avoids the need for a significant internal border between Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK.
The principle of the rule of law—a principle founded in this country—will be gravely compromised if this legislation is passed as it currently stands. The UK has a proud history of upholding liberal democratic values and setting a global example to stand up for the rule of law. Without significant alterations, this legislation will undermine our commitment to the rule of law. What does that say to the rest of the world about our values? It sends the message that we are ready to rip up agreed rules at a moment’s notice for political gain, not just to our would-be trading partners, but to authoritarian regimes around the world that are themselves determined to undermine the rule of law and promote the politics of division. The rule of law is under attack across the world, from unrest in Beirut to the horrific accounts of what is happening to the Uyghur population in China. The impending economic consequences of covid-19 are causing authoritarian regimes to grab extra power. This is the worst possible time to send the message that it is acceptable in some instances to break the law and go back on our word.
Getting a good deal with the EU—a deal that would avoid the need for a significant internal border—is eminently achievable and is plainly in the national interest. This is about regulatory alignment: closely following regulations on food and animal standards, workers’ rights and consumer rights, and competition rules. The closest working relationship with our European neighbours continues to be in all our interests. Now is not the time to undermine trust and negotiations held in good faith. The Government must finally put the interests of the whole United Kingdom first to protect the Union and uphold international law. Please support amendments 21, and new clauses 1 and 4.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir Graham. Like my hon. Friend the Member for Bath (Wera Hobhouse), I rise to speak to amendment 21, and new clauses 1 and 4. Ironically, I do so on the International Day of Democracy—a day when the people of this country might expect their elected representatives to be pondering the importance of listening, consultation and the rule of law. To be fair, in a way we are, but not in any way that fills me with pride or a feeling of hope for our future and for the United Kingdom. No, we are standing here in the mother of Parliaments discussing a Bill that is undoubtedly necessary to smooth trade within the United Kingdom, and I find that we are faced with a Bill—and this part in particular—which shows scant regard to several vital pillars of our democracy.
Where is the respect both for elected representatives here and the devolved authorities across the UK? Where is the respect for the need to consult, listen and produce a coherent, consistent and consensual approach with the other elected authorities? Perhaps amendment 21 would deal with that. Most importantly, where is the respect for the rule of law—a principle without which it is difficult for any democracy to work effectively for its people?
We have heard much over the past few days about the potential impact of the Bill on this country’s international reputation, but today I am concerned about, and would like to concentrate on, its impact on the Government’s reputation and on the future of the country. There are reports that the Prime Minister and his team are confident that the general population will not be too bothered about the Bill. I have to tell the Government that they have political opponents all over the country and in this House who will spend every waking moment, every hour, making sure that the electorate are entirely aware of their perception that this Bill is damaging to the devolved nations and how they operate, and they will use it to promote their own separatist agenda to split up not the European Union, but the United Kingdom. I take great offence at the suggestion earlier that I might be a nationalist simply because I am concerned about the impact of that argument. It is precisely because I believe in the United Kingdom that I want us to pay attention to the dangers in what this Government are saying.
I commend the hon. Lady on her Unionism and respect it absolutely. Edinburgh West is a place I know well from my own background. Will she agree that there is not a single thing about independence in the amendments my party has tabled—they are about protecting the devolution settlement—and will she be supporting them as well as her own amendments?
Yes, I support the devolution amendment, and yes I believe, as I will come on to explain, that this is all about the devolution settlement, which is a very different thing from independence.
How often did right hon. and hon. Members listen to me and my colleagues warn the Government they were heading to exactly where we are now? As I said earlier, I fully accept we need a framework by which the powers that were vested in Brussels and are now returning to the UK will work for every part of this country. We need a Bill that does precisely that, but, Sir Graham, this ain’t it.
I cannot understand why the Government, in forming this Bill, did not stop for a minute and listen to the many voices urging them to be more conciliatory—to look, for example, at measures such as those that my Liberal Democrat colleagues and I have proposed: to appoint Ministers from the devolved nations to the CMA and be inclusive. But the Government did not listen to us, especially when we warned about the dangers of the withdrawal agreement to the Good Friday agreement, which everyone in the House should regret. Please listen to us now when we say that this approach—this Bill, these steps—do not respect the spirit of that agreement or the devolution settlement.
I appreciate, possibly more than many, that the devolution settlement is something that Conservative Members, particularly those from Scotland, were not comfortable with 20 years ago, but even they have surely learned to love the enthusiasm, commitment and benefits we have seen in Scotland, and I am sure in Wales, and the great changes brought about in Northern Ireland by devolution, and in London. We have come so far since the turn of this new century in devolving power in this country closer to the people most affected by it. It would be dreadful if this Bill—this attempt to allow us to trade more smoothly—were to undermine it, but I fear that that is exactly what it will do.
In supporting amendments tonight, I appeal to Government Members, many of whom have sat—and one or two of whom are aiming to sit once again—at Holyrood. I am confident that they cherish as much as I do what we have achieved for Scotland in Scotland as part of the United Kingdom, in Wales and, most importantly, in Northern Ireland, where we have peace for the first time in my lifetime. I disagree fundamentally with my colleagues on the SNP Benches about independence and where Scotland should be heading, but I cannot disagree with their anger at the lack of respect for ourselves, our Parliament and others across the United Kingdom.
I do not believe that that is what the Conservative and Unionist party truly believes or wants. I want to believe it was not what it intended when it opened this constitutional and legal can of worms, but we need more than words and platitudes about how it will be fine and it is all about trade. We need Conservative Members to stand with us and say to the Government: please respect our Parliaments, the will of the people across the country and the rule of law. If they will not abandon the Bill, I ask them please to accept the amendments, because that is the only way to respect and protect the United Kingdom.
It is a great honour to serve under your chairmanship, Sir Graham, and to follow the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh West (Christine Jardine).
The Bill claims to be about unity based on the pillars of mutual recognition and non-discrimination; in reality, unamended, the Bill is something quite different. It will enforce the lowest common denominator in goods and services across the United Kingdom. There is such a focus on the fear of letting in through the front door chlorinated chicken or whatever other emblem of lowered standards there might be from a trade deal with the US or anywhere else. This Bill unamended is the route through the back door to lowered standards, whether it be for farmers, in retail or in manufacturing.
What is the value in consistency if it leads to the lowest possible standards, and how do we ensure the integrity of the Union and the dignity and, indeed, sovereignty of Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland and England as we consider how to regulate these deals? We have in front of us the proposal for the Office for the Internal Market, which looks to be utterly toothless, in effect. At the apex of its terrifying range of powers is the ability to launch investigations and to deliver written statements—and that is it. That is the entire arsenal for the devolved nations to protect their standards of goods and services, while those nations will not be around the table making the decisions in the first place.
If the Government think this is a Bill about creating a united front, they are completely and utterly deluded. Rather than finding unity and a common position between the nations of the UK, this set of proposals in reality drives a deeper wedge between them. Like my hon. Friends who spoke before me, that fills me not with joy in the anticipation of another bite at the cherry of independence, but with complete and utter dismay. It should fill Conservative and Unionist MPs with utter dismay, and I am bewildered that it does not.
The problem is that the Government voted for and the Prime Minister signed a withdrawal agreement that he knew—he must have known—was a trade-off between a border separating Northern Ireland and the Republic and a trade border in the Irish Sea. One threatens the Good Friday agreement and the other threatens the very existence of the United Kingdom. There was never a third option: there was no Malthouse compromise and nothing else was on the table. It was all guff, and I pity any Tory candidate who fell for it.
It was a border between Northern Ireland and the Republic or a border between Ireland and Great Britain, and the Prime Minister made a choice, but now he says he does not like his choice, or he did not understand his choice, or it is all the fault of the nasty foreigners. But we have discovered in the last few days, as have millions of people who voted in good faith for this Government last December, that Brexit is not done: it was never done. Either the Prime Minister did not understand what he was signing, or he said a thing, indeed a series of things, that was not so. On this also, there is no third option.
More than 20 years ago, as has been said, this country rightly moved towards devolution to empower Wales, Scotland and then Northern Ireland. To their great shame, the Labour Government at that time did not do go further in empowering the regions of England also. Of course, the devolution that did happen at the time was opposed by the Conservative party in opposition, but in time it grew to accept the new devolved nature of Government in these islands, because—guess what?—proportional representation gives it seats in Scotland.
If on issues where the devolved Administrations have competence this Government force them to submit to whatever standards they decide on in the guise of unity, all we are doing is enforcing the lowest common denominator. We will not be levelling up; we will be forcibly levelling down. The Government will be sticking up two fingers at devolution.
This is a significant threat to the Union. I am waiting and waiting for the moment when Conservative and Unionist party Members will grasp the second part of their name and their mission. The current Conservative leadership deems this Bill to be just another convenient trench in the culture war. I implore Conservative MPs to take back control of their party before it is too late and we lose our country, for then there will be no Union for us to be Unionist about.
In South Cumbria, I am 50 miles from the Scottish border. I have no desire to live 50 miles from a foreign border—not in my lifetime, nor in my children’s or grandchildren’s lifetimes.
There are both practical and emotional reasons why this Bill is the worst thing to come to this House in the 15 years that I have been a Member of Parliament. Cumbria does not have a more important internal market than our relationship with south-west Scotland. It is a porous border, not even recognised by many: people work on one side of the border and live on the other; they go to school on one side and visit their GP on the other. Sheep reared in Cumbria are sold in Scotland. Cattle reared in Scotland are sold in Cumbria. Farmers dependent on common standards on both sides are about to see those standards undermined. Our farmers, across all nations, are to be sold down the river. Every poor decision, every compromise will sow more seeds of discontent in the devolved nations, playing into the hands of those who are desperate to split us asunder.
To many, this might feel academic, perhaps to the genius spin doctors in Whitehall who play with our country as though it is some kind of great board game, some game of Risk; it is academic for them, funny for them, a game for them, but it is not for us in Cumbria—not for our farmers and not for our tourism sector. In fact, for most of us, it matters massively. It is emotional and it is practical, and you are playing games with the future of our relationship with our most important trading partners.
The Government seem not to care one bit about the cross-border single market of Cumbria and Dumfriesshire, for example. We need all the nations around the table and robust regulation of market and trading decisions, so that my farmers in Cumbria are not undercut by Government regulations—and then really until they are none the wiser and it is too late. We have the best standards of animal welfare, environmental control, and food safety in the world. I do not want there to be an in-built race to the bottom within the nations of the United Kingdom that undermine that correct reputation.
If I may, I will pick up on something that the hon. Gentleman has said. Many speakers on the Opposition Benches have also said this. They talk about the race to the bottom with regard to regulations. Please will he indicate where he sees any of that deregulatory zeal in this Government? I would like to see some deregulatory zeal. The truth of the matter is that, historically and certainly in recent years, the pattern of regulation of markets, whether in Scotland or in the rest of the United Kingdom, is for more and higher regulation. That is the story. The Government want to continue to maintain high standards. Where can he point to, so that I can see all these things that he is waving around as something we should be fearful of?
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his intervention. We should be aware that, on top of the desire politically for greater regulated markets, which I absolutely welcome, there is also a desire to maximise profit. What do we do when we are trying to maximise profit? We reduce costs. What are regulations? Well, sadly, they often involve more costs. One of the benefits of the European Union is that we lock ourselves in to an understanding that there are common rules. If, within the United Kingdom, we create an in-built incentive for one part of the United Kingdom to reduce its standards and therefore automatically drag down the standards of the other three parts of the UK at the same time, we have made this possible. Indeed, I argue that, thanks to the laws of free-market economics, we have made it more than likely—we have made it almost certain.
The Competition and Markets Authority should be representative of all the nation. There needs to be unity in the decisions and not just in the implementation of the conclusions. I am afraid for the future of our United Kingdom. Do this Government want to be the Administration responsible for the disintegration of our Union, whether by negligence or design? That is where they are taking us. This Bill, through its inherent relegation of the importance of devolution, is a colossal step—a witless step even—towards undermining the unity of the Union. This Government have taken us out of one Union. We will not let them wreck another, which is all the more precious even than the one that we have left.
It is always a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Westmorland and Lonsdale (Tim Farron). Although I perhaps did not agree with everything that he said today, we do agree on many other things. Indeed, I think that it is perhaps the first time that I have followed three Liberal Democrat speakers. I am not sure whether that gives them a numerical advantage, but one DUP man is equal to three Liberal Democrats—I say that in jest; we are not in any way against each other.
I have listened very closely to the speeches both last night and this afternoon. I must say that the case presented by the Prime Minister outlines what our fears were with the withdrawal Bill, which is the same withdrawal Bill that we voted against on three occasions when it was brought forward by the former Prime Minister. In January this year, we also voted against the withdrawal agreement because we felt at that time that it put us at a disadvantage. What makes this different is the position we now find ourselves in. The Prime Minister has brought forward a Bill that gives protection to Northern Ireland in a way that we would like to see. With that thrust and protection in the Bill for Northern Ireland, there is something that we agree in our party we can support, and we look forward to that. The exception is clause 47, to which we are bringing forward an amendment tomorrow that we feel would strengthen our position again. Hopefully the Prime Minister, Ministers, the Government and others will feel that that is the right way to go.
I am without doubt a proud Brexiteer. That is not a secret—it is well known. As a Unionist, I love this United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. I love my Scottish colleagues and they know that. I love my Plaid Cymru friends and I try to work with most people in this Chamber. They might have a different political viewpoint about the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, but I will tell the House one thing: they are genuine people and I respect their point of view, even though I, in many cases, do not agree with it. I am simply someone who has experienced, in my nation—in Northern Ireland—the difference between intent and reality. This Bill has been brought forward to give help to the devolved Administrations as they look at trade, and I am very pleased to see that.
I am reminded of a devolved Administration today that I was a Member of for some 12 years, as long as my hon. Friend the Member for North Antrim (Ian Paisley) was—the Northern Ireland Assembly. As a Unionist, I forewarned that the make-up of Stormont would lead to one party being able to bring the institution down. I listened as I was told that it would not happen as it was in the best interests of Northern Ireland to continue to work together. I sat in my office and watched the country being left adrift for almost three years, with this place reluctant to take over and upset the premise of devolution in everything other than the imposition of abortion against the will of the Assembly and the general public. But the Assembly is now up and running, and we want it to succeed. I want it understood in the internal market Bill that we can have an input, a contribution and a say from the Northern Ireland Assembly.
When my party and I warned that the good faith aspect of the withdrawal agreement was not enough security against what we were surrendering—the sovereignty of the UK over Northern Ireland—I did so not only as an anxious person, but as an experienced person, who has seen the process, and I understand why this Bill, without any changes, with the exception of clause 47, has been brought forward in a way that we can support: because it makes us stronger within the United Kingdom. I am pleased to see that.
Europe is doing what I knew it would always do, what it has historically done—ride roughshod over good intent to achieve its goal. There was an outcry when it was felt by my right hon. Friend the Member for Ross, Skye and Lochaber (Ian Blackford), the leader of the Scottish National party, that there would be a possible rise in food prices, with supermarket shelves lying empty, in the event of a no deal. And yet Europe has blatantly threatened that all goods may be considered at risk and that the rest of the United Kingdom may not be considered a third nation, meaning that the shelves in my constituency could be empty or that there could be price rises, whereas a trip over the Irish sea to my right hon. Friend’s constituency will see nothing of the same. Is that acceptable? In terms of the internal market Bill and the Trade Bill, as they have been put forward, are families in my constituency richer than those in the constituencies of others? No, they are not. Are their bellies less deserving of food?
I want to make a plea in respect of this Bill for the agri-food sector in my constituency—for Mash Direct, Rich Sauces and Lakeland Dairies, three companies that have some 2,500 jobs. I agree with the hon. Member for North East Bedfordshire (Richard Fuller). With this Bill, are we decreasing or minimising our standards? No; he is right to say that we are not. Companies will grow, and we will retain the standards that we have achieved. There is no way in the world that we will let it be otherwise, and I respectfully suggest that anyone who thinks that we will has got it wrong. Previous Ministers have sought and got agreements across the world, including for trade deals in China. We got those markets with our products, quality levels and standards. We are not going to surrender them; we are going to keep them with this Bill.
The fisheries sector is also important to me and my constituency. It is important that this Bill becomes law to ensure not only that we can produce the products that we do out of Portavogie, Ardglass, Kilkeel and elsewhere in Northern Ireland, but that we can increase our trade and potential to grow, and continue to feed the United Kingdom and Europe.
The UK’s chief negotiator has confirmed:
“I am afraid it has also been said to us explicitly in these talks that if we are not listed we will not be able to move food to Northern Ireland…if GB were not listed, it would be automatically illegal for NI to import food products from GB.”
That is why this Bill, as it was presented by Government, is the way for us to move forward. The European institutions are using Northern Ireland—as I knew they would—to exert control and undermine our sovereignty, and the House is considering a method of protection, which is what the Bill is about. Yes, there could be a breach, but it is one of acting in bad faith, and the blame lies with the Europeans. They are threatening my constituents, Northern Ireland and the whole United Kingdom. They are threatening my constituents with the possibility that our biggest supplier, GB, will have checks and perhaps tariffs on my food—on my constituents’ food. Tariffs on fish, tariffs on food—am I less British than those from Scotland, Wales and England? Do I deserve less consideration and support from this Government? I do not, and my nation does not. The opinion and wishes of the Northern Ireland Assembly are entitled to such consideration.
I have listened to those who trounce out the Belfast agreement as a talisman against the United Kingdom internal market. When I look back—I say this with great respect—at the treachery of both Blair and Major with on-the-runs letters and shady backroom deals, and when I look at their banner-waving of the Belfast agreement as the only consideration in this debate, it is difficult to understand their absolute abandonment of the principle of consent, which is being demolished by the Northern Ireland protocol. I understand why the amendments have been tabled, but I feel that the protection that the Government have put forward is worthy of consideration and support, and our party will be supporting the Government on their proposals.
We have heard legal opinions from other people, and I want to put this one on the record. Martin Howe QC has clearly said that
“the alteration of the constitutional status of NI (which across the board tariffs on GB to NI exports would entail) would breach the core principle of the Good Friday Agreement…International law does not justify a later treaty to which these community representatives are not parties being used to over-ride the rights they enjoy under the earlier treaty”.
That legal opinion tells us that the Good Friday agreement is not under any threat; indeed, I suggest that it enhances where we are and where we are going.
Let us grasp why the Bill exists. As my esteemed colleague, my right hon. Friend the Member for Lagan Valley (Sir Jeffrey M. Donaldson) outlined yesterday, we should consider who is threatening to destroy the peace process. The only such threats are coming from Europe. As is often the case, they are smoke and mirrors—they have no validity. Those who espouse the Belfast agreement and devolution, and who respect the will of the people that the Northern Ireland Assembly should have a say, need to think carefully about what will happen. We can see our fears coming to be reality. It is right and proper not just that the Government understand that but that, with this Bill, they are putting in place measures that can be enacted if Europe continues down the route of bad faith that tit has set out on.
It is equally right and proper that we as a House protect Northern Ireland as an intrinsic part of the United Kingdom and ensure that the devolved Administrations, and in particular the Northern Ireland Assembly, have a say. That is why the Bill, as put forward and without change—with the exception of clause 47—is the right way to do it.
The Prime Minister hopes that the provision will never need to be used and sees it as an insurance policy should Europe act in bad faith. I see it as a necessary tool for when Europe throws the dummy out of the buggy or pram and uses my country as a way to attack the rest of the United Kingdom. We need each other. The hon. Member for Rother Valley (Alexander Stafford) described it as a family. Northern Ireland needs to be able to trade with our strongest ally—the rest of the United Kingdom. We need the principle of consent within the internal market, and the devolved Administrations need to be involved.
GB accounts for some 53% of Northern Ireland external sales, to the value of £2.3 billion. GB is the largest market for six of the 10 agrifood subsectors. The increase in freight vehicle traffic of some 532,000 units indicates to me that over the next period the opportunity to grow will be even greater. Exports of Northern Ireland aggregates are rising. That again shows the importance of the internal market and of having the opportunities to sell products. Many of the roads around London have rock and stone from Ballystockart quarry in my constituency, because the view is that it is the best rock and stone for roads around London. That is a fact. That is why the internal market is so important. We need to have that trade. Of course, the rock and stone is taken further afield than that as well.
Some 65% of Northern Ireland’s purchases are from GB, and they are worth £13.3 billion. More than 90% of Northern Ireland businesses trading with GB are SMEs. In Northern Ireland, we have the largest number of SMEs in the whole of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. They are an integral part. We have 90% of our businesses trading with GB. That is why the United Kingdom Internal Market Bill is so important. That is why we need to get it right. That is why we need to preserve the Bill as is. Tomorrow, we will have the opportunity, with clause 47, to present to the House an opportunity to cement and strengthen that situation even more.
While many are caught up in the argument of who would be breaking the treaty, how that appears internationally and the effect on our reputation, I am looking to this Bill and the Trade Bill. I am looking to food on the shelves. I am looking to job opportunities. I am looking to my companies in my constituency and across all of Northern Ireland working together with strength to ensure that we can get those things in the future. I am looking to trade for our businesses and our legal right under the Act of Settlement to be treated the same as any other nation in this great United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland—we want to be treated the same as Scotland and Wales—strengthened by the principle of consent in the Belfast agreement.
Just today, the figures came out for unemployment. I just want to state them for the record, because it is important for showing where we are. Northern Ireland’s unemployment rate is 2.9%. The United Kingdom’s unemployment rate is 4.1%. The EU’s unemployment rate is 6.7%. The Republic of Ireland’s unemployment rate is 5.3%. That would indicate to me and probably to others in this House the importance of Northern Ireland’s relationship within the internal market with the United Kingdom and how we can collectively ensure that unemployment rates are kept down through the Northern Ireland Assembly and the Government here.
To conclude, will the House please stand with us and send a very clear message that if the intention is to undermine British sovereignty and for negotiations to fail, as they have failed thus far, we will not be pushed? Northern Ireland, as part of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, is worth standing up for, and I urge all in this House to do just that.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Evans. I rise to speak to the amendments tabled in my name and the names of my right hon. and hon. Friends.
We have had some good contributions from colleagues from all parties in today’s discussion of the United Kingdom Internal Market Bill—or, as the Prime Minister now calls it after his roasting yesterday, the infernal market Bill. Let us hope that when the Minister rises to speak he is better briefed than the Prime Minister, although I have no doubt that he will be because, unlike his boss, he very much is a details man.
Before I address the substance of the amendments, I want the House to be clear on a few points. Labour wants the Government to get Brexit done and we want a strong internal market that respects devolution and protects high regulatory standards, but we will not fall for the Prime Minister’s attempt to rerun the Brexit arguments, and neither should the public. The Brexit issue is settled and the Government now need to get on and get the deal that they promised the British people at the general election.
The Prime Minister’s attempts to boost his falling poll ratings have failed. Brexiteer after Brexiteer has denounced this Bill; they clearly did not get the memo that opposing it was some kind of remainer plot, which it is not. We have had a roll call of the great and good—some not so good, but I will let Members decide—including Lord Howard and Lord Lamont, the right hon. and learned Member for Torridge and West Devon (Mr Cox) and the hon. Member for Gillingham and Rainham (Rehman Chishti), to name but a few. They have spoken out with courage because this Bill, in its current form, is not in the national interest.
Let me turn to the amendments. The central challenge that faced those drafting the Bill was how to square an internal market where goods can be sold across the UK with the fact that regulatory standards are devolved in key areas such as animal welfare, the environment, food safety and many others. There was an obvious answer, because since 2017 there has been a process of agreeing common frameworks—a joint approach to standards in the different devolved areas. The Government could have chosen to legislate for those common frameworks to make them the default option for regulation, thereby granting a proper voice to the devolved nations on the regulatory standards to which we have to adhere.
To be clear, that approach would have imposed a duty on all Governments to seek to establish common high standards. There would have needed to be an ultimate last resort in case the way forward could not be agreed on, at which point the UK Parliament would have needed to step in. That would have been the way to square the circle of the internal market and respect for devolution but, unfortunately, it is not the route that the Government have chosen. Instead, they have chosen non-binding common frameworks, up against what is in essence a Westminster veto, potentially leading to lower standards, with no guarantee of a voice for the devolved nations.
The Government say that they will still negotiate for common frameworks; that is welcome but it is not enough. If we do not put the process for common frameworks on a statutory footing, we undermine the very process itself, making the nuclear option of imposition more and more likely. Common frameworks without legislation are toothless. As time for regulations to be implemented becomes more and more pressing, and with the looming prospect of other trade deals and their inevitable call on UK-wide standards, we can see how things will play out, with the imposition of regulations via statutory instruments becoming the norm.
In line with getting Brexit done, there is now a huge repatriation of powers from the EU to the UK. The Government have a choice to make: do they want to respect and strengthen the devolution settlement by pushing power closer to people in communities, as promised in the referendum? Or do they want to retain all those powers here in Westminster? At best, the Bill is a missed opportunity to strengthen our Union; at worst, it threatens the future of the UK itself, giving—as we have heard today—the First Minister and the SNP all the grievances they need to turbo-charge their independence campaign. One has only to listen to the voices across our four nations to realise that, yet the Prime Minister and the Government have a tin ear.
A Front-Bench Conservative Member of the Welsh Assembly resigned because of the Bill’s disregard of and disrespect towards the nations of the UK. It is worth listening to what he had to say, which was that
“the Internal Market Bill has done nothing to lessen my anxieties about the dangers facing our 313 year old Union. Indeed they have been gravely aggravated by the decisions made in the last few days by the Prime Minister…I will feel it necessary to speak out against what I consider to be a lack of statecraft at this crucial time for the UK’s very survival”
as a multi-state Union.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right to draw attention to those comments by a very honourable man, one of my constituents, David Melding, the shadow Counsel General, a lifelong and loyal Conservative with whom I disagree on many issues. However, he was pointing out the pattern of behaviour from the Government of disrespect for devolution. I have just been speaking to the First Minister of Wales, and he has been clear this is a pattern of behaviour in everything from covid testing to the situation regarding the Bill. Does she agree that the Government need to take a completely different approach if they want the UK internal market to work, as we do?
I absolutely do. My hon. Friend has made some powerful points today about the disrespectful way in which the Welsh Government were consulted over the Bill, and he is absolutely right to highlight those. I am afraid that, if that continues, that will not be good at all.
Labour firmly believes that the UK single market is the foundation stone of our Union and brings huge economic benefits to the entire UK. That is why we support the principle behind the Bill and why our amendments are so necessary to improve the Bill in Committee. The UK internal market will be essential in recovery from the coronavirus pandemic. We know that we need mutual recognition for our internal market to function coherently, and we believe that we should use this opportunity to drive standards up further.
Our amendments are about the way in which we arrive at those minimum standards, not whether minimum standards are required. The common frameworks programme has been in place since 2017 and has led to some extremely positive outcomes, even in policy areas as complex and contentious as food standards. I am grateful to the Minister of State, Cabinet Office, the hon. Member for Norwich North (Chloe Smith), for speaking to me last night about how the common frameworks programme is progressing. The Government and the devolved Governments should be commended for having established this collaborative forum. It could have proceeded with perhaps a little more speed and zeal, but we recognise the competing demands on the Government.
However, the Bill as it stands has the potential to undermine those processes entirely. On food standards, for example, where a common framework has already been agreed, if the Prime Minister were to pursue a free trade deal with the US, we may see chlorinated chicken imported into the UK and making its way on to Welsh, Scottish and Northern Irish supermarket shelves, irrespective of the standards that they have worked so hard to agree through the common framework.
However, it is not only about food. The Bill could have far-reaching implications for the country’s ability to reduce waste and meet our net zero targets. Wales, as we heard, has high ambitions to reduce single-use plastic items, but the UK Government have proposed a less ambitious target for England. It would be tragic if the UK Government imposed a lower standard on Wales, when we should all be working together to eradicate plastics and keep standards as high as possible and going ever higher. Instead, my fear is that the Government are firing a starting pistol on a race to the bottom for regulatory standards across the United Kingdom, which we do not want to happen.
New clause 2 sets out a process that would underpin the common frameworks approach in good faith and within reasonable time commitments and would put the common frameworks programme on a clear statutory footing. We propose that, where common frameworks are already in place, Ministers should not be able to unilaterally override them via secondary legislation to impose lower standards on devolved Administrations without their consent, as the Bill would currently allow. Where any frameworks are currently in development, or as any new common frameworks become necessary, Ministers would need to allow a consensus-based negotiation via the framework process within a reasonable timeframe before making any further intervention via Westminster. Only if an agreement could not be reached through this process would a Minister be able to intervene and protect the internal market.
I agree with the vast majority of new clause 2, but this is the one point that really worries me, because it indicates that Westminster will have supremacy over Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland. Am I right in interpreting the end of the new clause in that manner? Surely the hon. Lady’s colleagues in Wales will be very concerned about any proposal that means that the Westminster Parliament will have supremacy over the Welsh Parliament.