(1 week, 2 days ago)Commons Chamber
[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.
I could not agree more. This simply does not have to happen. Scotland does not need it, and Scotland does not want it.
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.
The hon. Gentleman called the Office for the Internal Market an unelected quango. Does he accept that, if he had his way, he would be handing powers back to unelected quangos in Brussels?
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.
Exactly; my hon. Friend makes a telling point. To say that the protections are opaque would be an exaggeration, because they are nowhere near as good as that.
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.
Indeed, and this is a matter that does not just affect Scotland, as the hon. Gentleman said. Even the Labour-run Welsh Government have come out to stand against these measures.
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.
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving way, especially as I just recently concluded my remarks, but can he confirm two things for me? Who will be on the body, and who has—he will know the answer to this—the final say over this body?
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?
As far as I am aware, the answer is no. The Office for the Internal Market will not be able to override decisions made by the devolved Administrations. What has happened—
Just a minute. We have proposed in this Bill that monitoring and advice regarding the UK’s internal market should be provided on a non-binding basis by the OIM. That will support the development and monitoring of regulation across the UK.
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?
If Euro-integrationism were to get in the way, that would be a problem, but on the question of whether the UK Government are engaged in some kind of power grab while depriving the devolved Administrations of a say, the answer to that is no, too.
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?
It is a good question. In fact, I will answer it the other way: why on earth would the people of Scotland—
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 have the answer—it might not be the one he thinks he is conveying—which is, there is none. There is no answer to how disputes will be resolved because it does not appear that that has actually been achieved.
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?
Order. The hon. Gentleman cannot have conversations across the Chamber. I would be grateful if he moved on to the amendments before us as quickly as possible. Thank you.
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.
If I could just answer my hon. Friend, who is absolutely right. I will address the notion that there is a power surge of any shape or form shortly.
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?
Order. May I just point out that it is very important not to use the word “you” to another Member? We speak to the Chair, so it is “the hon. Member” rather than “you”, just to clarify that.
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.
Is the hon. Lady therefore confirming that Westminster should take sovereignty over the devolved Administrations and the will of the Scottish and Welsh Parliaments?
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.
Is the hon. Lady aware of the Sewel convention? If so, what is her objection to amendment 29, in the names of my hon. Friends?
Amendment 29 states:
“Following legislative approval from all devolved administrations”.
Are you asking for all the devolved Administrations to be represented at the federal level?
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—
On the point about credibility, does the hon. Lady think it is just possible that the reason that credibility has been lost is because of her Prime Minister disagreeing with himself rather than for any other reason?
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.]
Order. Can I just remind Members on both sides of the House that these are very specific amendments that are being debated. We cannot go back to a Second Reading debate.
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’m back. To clarify that point, it is actually the European Commission that oversees the single market, and it is that unelected body that oversees and creates the market framework—[Interruption.]
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.
Could the hon. Member clarify for me how he thinks replacing 60 years of jurisprudence will be terribly difficult, yet replacing 300 years—[Interruption]—will be simple?
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.
Was it not just this Sunday that a UK Government Minister refused to rule out our having to import and sell chlorinated chicken? The product is chlorinated due to the filth of animals living in the cage among pests.
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.
Where is the equality in goods of a lower standard being forced on another country in the UK?
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.
The hon. Gentleman can correct me if I am wrong, but he has just suggested that the Scottish Parliament and other bodies would come together under this new office. May I clarify if that is really what he is suggesting?
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?