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UK Internal Market

Volume 680: debated on Wednesday 16 September 2020

What recent discussions he has had with the First Minister of Wales on legislative proposals for a UK internal market. (905957)

The Government’s response to the UK internal market consultation published last week highlighted the broad support for the proposals from businesses and job creators in Wales. The Bill gives businesses the continued certainty of seamless trade across the UK as the transition period ends.

Much of the rhetoric around the United Kingdom Internal Market Bill is that it is a shared asset, yet what is missing are any shared intergovernmental structures. On Owain Glyndwr Day, why will the British Government not be honest for once and admit that they are using consequential legislation resulting from Brexit, such as this Bill, to effectively reassert direct Westminster rule over Wales?

I disagree with the fundamental premise of the hon. Gentleman’s question. These proposals went to public consultation, and I will quote the response from one business in Wales that is promoting Wales, employing people in Wales and contributing to the Welsh Government. It said:

“The UK Internal Market Bill will be the making of the UK.”

It seems to me that those commenting on UKIM are divided into politicians who are anxious to protect their cosy clique in Cardiff, and business, employers and the public in Wales, who recognise that this is an important part of the next stage of our economic recovery.

The proposals in the Bill are designed to make sure that UK businesses can continue to enjoy the ability to trade easily across our four home nations in a way that helps them to invest and create jobs, just as they have done for hundreds of years. It is extremely important, therefore, that businesses are on board and happy with our proposals. What conversations has the Secretary of State had with businesses across Wales about these proposals and what sort of a response has he received?

My hon. Friend raises an interesting point. There have been numerous engagements in person with the Business Secretary and others, and online engagements, and I can safely assure the House that those who have responded have not expressed any great concerns about UKIM. In fact, they see it as a perfectly natural successor to the status quo. They want us to proceed with it, they consider it to be fair, and, more important, they think that jobs depend on it.

Ministers seem to be in a state of denial about what this internal market Bill actually says. It is quite clear that it will give the power to the UK Government to make spending decisions in Wales on matters that are devolved to the Welsh Parliament. Can the Secretary of State tell the House how on earth that respects the devolution settlement?

The hon. Gentleman illustrates my point. It seems that in certain nationalist quarters this is all about politics and power, whereas in fact it is all about jobs and the economy and people grafting their way into a post-covid world. The Welsh Government will not lose a single power—not one—after the Bill is passed; in fact, they will have 70 new ones. The fact that the UK Government will be there as well to contribute to the economy of Wales in a way they have not been able to for 45 years should be welcomed by him and his colleagues in Wales as a major step forward.

Next spring, Milton Keynes theatre will host Welsh National Opera—a great, historic institution in Milton Keynes hosting a great Welsh institution. Does my right hon. Friend agree that it is not just the free movement of goods, but the free movement of people, culture, ideas and values between our four nations that makes our Union so strong?

That is a wholly appropriate question because it enables me to say that sometimes when we talk about the strength of the Union, we limit ourselves to talking simply about economic activity, but my hon. Friend is right to point out that the Union is magical for a whole lot of other reasons too. The cultural and social elements he describes sum up why the Union is important. Some of the legislation and ideas we are talking about will enhance and encourage that over the coming years.

I echo the findings of the public consultation on the internal market Bill and reinforce the reality: in mid-Wales and Montgomeryshire, economic activity, transport links and our public services look to the west midlands economy. My constituents and businesses have been watching the progress of the Bill, they welcome it and they want it. They do not want Cardiff Bay or nationalist politicians distracting people’s attention from the fact that they would welcome investment. I look forward to lobbying the Secretary of State and the Department for Transport to build things such as the Middletown bypass.

I am a former resident of my hon. Friend’s constituency and I know exactly what he is referring to. It is worth reminding ourselves that a quarter of his constituency’s workforce cross the border every day to make a living, and cross back again in the evening. The border must be porous. The worst things for jobs and the economy of mid-Wales, or anywhere else, are artificial, political boundaries put up for the advantage of a few people, under a cosy arrangement in Cardiff. We are talking about proper jobs, proper people and proper parts of Wales that require and deserve the support of all the parties, including the nationalists, who make so much noise but never deliver.

On 8 July, the Secretary of State, in response to a question from my hon. Friend the Member for Ceredigion (Ben Lake), said that ending our relationship with Europe would allow public bodies in Wales to buy more local goods, more local products and more local services, yet his own Government’s UK Internal Market Bill appears to block local measures that would prioritise local goods or services over those from other parts of the UK. How does he reconcile those two positions now?

I reconcile the positions by not recognising the claim that is being made. If the public consultation on the UK Internal Market Bill is anything to go by—forget what we politicians may say—the public welcome the idea, because it secures a market that has been enjoyed for hundreds of years. People see it as logical. They see it as a perfectly reasonable step forward to enshrine in UK law what has for 45 years been conducted in Brussels. They see it as good for jobs, and the right hon. Lady seems to have some objection to that.

Well, he said it, and it was in the White Paper; procurement was mentioned there. Given that that is one of the weapons in the armoury of the Welsh Government with which to support businesses, it would be fair to expect something on it in the Bill—but I will move on.

Today marks, of course, the anniversary of the proclamation of Owain Glyndŵr as Prince of Wales at the first Senedd or Parliament in Machynlleth.

There was a Senedd in Machynlleth. The year 2020 saw the renaming of the Assembly as Senedd or Welsh Parliament. [Interruption.] Maybe the significance is lost on a certain Welsh MP; maybe the significance is lost in translation. [Interruption.]

Order. We are not having a debate across the Benches. Please have the discussion outside afterwards, and let me know the result of that discussion.

Maybe even the debate is lost entirely here or lost in translation, but how can the Secretary of State reconcile this historical serendipity with this Government’s brazen power-grab?

It seems astounding to me that the Labour Opposition consider the UKIM Bill to be a threat to the Union and the nationalists consider it to be a threat to separatism. I think they should continue their debate, so that they could inform the rest of the House of their objection. To describe a piece of legislation that would result in 70 new powers and the removal of none as a power-grab is to use a definition of power-grab that I do not recognise.

Last year, the Tory party promised to strengthen the Union and strengthen the devolved settlements, but their Internal Market Bill does exactly the opposite, as the Secretary of State’s colleague David Melding knows. So will the Secretary of State accept that, rather than being about promising more powers to Wales—promises that we simply cannot believe—the Government’s Internal Market Bill actually rolls back the powers, undermines the devolution settlement and gives comfort to those who want to break up the Union?

The answer to that is no, no and no. The reason is that when it comes to testing the temperature and mood of the people of Wales, I rely on public consultations and my engagement with businesses—employers—north, south, east and mid, and none of them make the claims that the hon. Gentleman has made. They see this legislation as a perfectly natural transition from EU rule to UK and Welsh Government collaborative operations in Wales; that seems to them to be perfectly sensible. It seems to me to be perfectly sensible. It seems that the objection is about politics and power, rather than about jobs and livelihoods.

We all know the interest with which the Secretary of State listens to the No. 10 chief adviser, like every other member of the governing party. The Brexit Minister in the Welsh Government, Jeremy Miles, has been very clear that there are no new devolution powers: the measures are within the existing rules of devolution. Members on the Government Benches may pontificate all they like; the reality is that they are trying to roll back devolution because they do not like what the people of Wales do by electing Labour-led Governments in Welsh Government elections. This is a reversal of 20 years of the Tories’ not liking who is elected to Government in Wales.

The hon. Gentleman needs to remind himself that there was not a single seat in Wales where Labour did not lose votes at the last election. He needs to be a little careful—[Interruption.] With respect, he needs to be a little careful about making accusations based on the political reality. The economic reality is that the people of Wales do not share his enthusiasm for defining the next stage of our post-covid and post-Brexit evolution purely in terms of political one-upmanship. They want to see jobs and investment, and that is what we intend to deliver.