Baroness Bloomfield of Hinton Waldrist contributions to the United Kingdom Internal Market Act 2020


Wed 25th November 2020 United Kingdom Internal Market Bill (Lords Chamber)
Report: 3rd sitting (Hansard): House of Lords
3 interactions (33 words)
Mon 23rd November 2020 United Kingdom Internal Market Bill (Lords Chamber)
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Mon 2nd November 2020 United Kingdom Internal Market Bill (Lords Chamber)
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Wed 28th October 2020 United Kingdom Internal Market Bill (Lords Chamber)
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Mon 26th October 2020 United Kingdom Internal Market Bill (Lords Chamber)
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Mon 19th October 2020 United Kingdom Internal Market Bill (Lords Chamber)
2nd reading (Hansard): House of Lords
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United Kingdom Internal Market Bill

(Report: 3rd sitting (Hansard): House of Lords)
Baroness Bloomfield of Hinton Waldrist Excerpts
Lord Flight Portrait Lord Flight (Con)
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My Lords, I apologise for having to move my timing, but I had to get something urgently for my wife.

Baroness Bloomfield of Hinton Waldrist Portrait Baroness Bloomfield of Hinton Waldrist (Con)
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My Lords, I regret that I do not believe that the noble Lord, Lord Flight, was here for the start of the debate and, therefore, cannot speak. His name has already been called.

Lord Lexden Portrait The Deputy Speaker (Lord Lexden) (Con)
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I apologise. The noble Lord, Lord Flight, told me that he was here at the start of the debate, but that is not so. I am sorry, Lord Flight. In that case, I cannot call you, as you were not here at the start of the debate.

United Kingdom Internal Market Bill

(Report: 2nd sitting (Hansard): House of Lords)
Baroness Bloomfield of Hinton Waldrist Excerpts
Monday 23rd November 2020

(3 months, 1 week ago)

Lords Chamber

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Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy
Lord Stevenson of Balmacara Portrait Lord Stevenson of Balmacara (Lab) [V]
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My Lords, the key word of this debate has been “clarity” and the fact that clarity is required. I think that the Minister needs to get to the Dispatch Box and answer as many of the questions as she can, but I assume that government Amendment 51A is intended to answer the points raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett of Manor Castle. But questions have been raised that do not seem to point in the same direction, so I look forward to hearing from the Dispatch Box that the amendment does what it is required to do. If not, perhaps the Minister will confirm that she will come back at Third Reading with a better version of it, to make sure that the doubt is removed.

Baroness Bloomfield of Hinton Waldrist Portrait Baroness Bloomfield of Hinton Waldrist (Con)
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My Lords, I will start with some of those questions, particularly because there was a common theme from the noble Lords, Lord Purvis and Lord German, and the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett, about the definition of teachers and why we have excluded them. By referring to “school teaching”, it is intended that primary and secondary school teachers, as well as teachers in maintained nurseries in England, will be within the scope of the amendment. Where further education teachers are employed to teach in a school, we suggest that they too are likely to be covered by this exclusion. However, it is not intended to cover further or higher education teachers in institutions that are not schools.

The exclusion is worded to refer specifically to school teachers rather than teachers more generally. In answer to my noble friend Lord Naseby, we do not intend to include pilates teachers or flying teachers in the scope of this. The latter is a much wider term that could be interpreted so broadly that it could be difficult to establish what would be within the scope of this exclusion.

In response to the noble Lord, Lord German, on care workers, social care workers are in scope of Part 3 as they are not included in the list of excluded professions. If the competent authority believes that the automatic principle is not appropriate, it can adopt an alternative recognition system.

I shall go back to my speaking notes. I begin by reassuring noble Lords that this Government are committed to maintaining excellent teaching standards across the UK. Given the attention dedicated to the issue in this House and representations from interested parties, we have given further consideration to the status of school teachers in Part 3 of the Bill. As part of this, it is important to note that, under the alternative recognition process in Clause 24, relevant authorities are able to assess individuals’ qualifications and experience on a case-by-case basis and can refuse access to the profession if they do not meet the required standards. This means that relevant authorities in each part of the UK will still be able to set and maintain professional standards, and are able effectively to hold professionals to those standards.

However, having taken into account the representations that have been made and the long history of differences in the regulation of teaching in schools across the UK, the Government have now decided to exclude school teachers from the scope of Clause 22. To this purpose, Amendment 51A seeks to add school teachers to the list of professions excluded from the recognition provisions in Part 3 of the Bill in the same way as legal professions are excluded. As government Amendment 51A meets the intended purposes of Amendment 50, I reassure noble Lords that Amendment 50 is now duplicative and unnecessary.

I shall explain why Amendment 37 is also unnecessary. The amendment would add “teaching services” to the list of services in Schedule 2 that are excluded from the mutual recognition principle in Part 2 of the Bill. However, the amendment does not address the noble Baroness’s concerns. I understand from Committee that the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett, is concerned that the Bill will allow individuals to teach in a part of the UK even if they do not meet the required standards in that part. However, the recognition of qualifications and the ability to practise a regulated profession such as teaching are wholly governed by Part 3 of the Bill.

Clause 16(5)(b) excludes from the scope of Part 2 provision that limits the ability to practise a profession by reference to qualifications or experience. Additionally, services provided in the exercise of a public function, including education services, are already excluded from the scope of Part 2 by virtue of the entries in Schedule 2 in respect of

“services provided by a person exercising functions of a public nature.”

Most aspects of teaching services are therefore already covered under this public function exclusion from the mutual recognition and non-discrimination principles in Part 2. For example, the exclusion covers most activity carried out within state-funded schools and further education colleges, so they would not be affected by the amendment either. The amendment would therefore have an effect on only a very limited number of service providers.

My noble friend Lord Flight asked, as did the noble Lord, Lord German, why other professions were not excluded. Legal professions, as we know, have been excluded from the Bill’s provisions because they carry out roles that rely on their expertise in the underpinning legal systems, which are different across the UK. School teachers have been excluded after considering the representations on the matter carefully and taking into account the long history of differences in their regulation across the UK, and to put beyond all doubt that teaching regulators will retain control over who can teach in a part of the UK.

So, in answer to the noble Lord, Lord German, the devolved Administrations will still have control over who can have access the profession in their jurisdiction. A relevant authority may consider that automatic recognition is not appropriate for that profession because of a difference in policy environment or specific regulatory needs in that part of the UK. If so, it is possible for it to disapply automatic recognition by putting in place an alternative process to recognition that complies with the principles set out in the Bill.

The noble Lord, Lord German, also asked about common frameworks. We continue to work constructively with the devolved Administrations on developing a common framework. We are working to make sure that any arrangements sit alongside the work to review the regulatory landscape for regulated professions, as set out in the call for evidence on the recognition of professional qualifications and the regulation of professions.

I do hope that I have managed to answer most of the questions, but I will look at Hansard and if there is anything else that I need to reply to I will of course do so in writing. I hope that the Government’s Amendment 51A will have allayed the noble Baroness’s concerns on this matter and that she will feel able to withdraw her amendment.

Baroness McIntosh of Hudnall Portrait The Deputy Speaker (Baroness McIntosh of Hudnall) (Lab)
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My Lords, I have one request to ask a question of the Minister, from the noble Lord, Lord Purvis of Tweed.

Lord Purvis of Tweed Portrait Lord Purvis of Tweed (LD)
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My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for her thorough response. When she comes to read Hansard, perhaps she could reflect on the point that the General Teaching Council for Scotland, the regulatory body, now also includes college lecturers. Perhaps she would reflect on the point that it is the regulatory body, rather than the type of teaching that the registers are responsible for. I am sure that there is no intention to have an anomaly, but I would be most grateful if she could look at this.

Baroness Bloomfield of Hinton Waldrist Portrait Baroness Bloomfield of Hinton Waldrist (Con)
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I will of course be delighted to do that and I will take the point back to the department.

Baroness Bennett of Manor Castle Portrait Baroness Bennett of Manor Castle (GP) [V]
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I thank the Minister for her answer and I apologise for not noting the changeover in Front Bench responsibilities.

To be honest, I am not entirely reassured, and I want to put a specific question to the Minister that follows on from what the noble Lord, Lord Purvis of Tweed, has just said about further education. The suggestion of Pilates teachers is something of a red herring, or perhaps a straw man or woman. I am not a lawyer, but perhaps a term like “registered teachers” would allow for an arrangement whereby those who are currently covered by the General Teaching Council for Scotland, or indeed those teachers who are covered by the Education Workforce Council in Wales, would be covered by such a term.

I do not think that we have gone into the detail of the question asked by the noble Lord, Lord German, about the common frameworks and how they work with the Bill, which is a question that noble Lords have been wrestling with right through this Bill. I will quote the noble Lord, Lord German, who said that we are trying to “bottom out the detail” of the Bill. I do not think that we are there yet, and the government amendments do not quite get us there.

Before I make a final call on this amendment, perhaps the Minister could say why a term like “registered teachers” would not do the job more clearly and fully than the term “school teachers”.

Baroness Bloomfield of Hinton Waldrist Portrait Baroness Bloomfield of Hinton Waldrist (Con)
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We are talking about semantics here. We are trying to be clear that who we intend to exclude from this provision are school teachers working in a school environment, whether or not they come from a higher education college in order to work in that environment. I do not believe that I can go further than what I have said already.

Baroness Bennett of Manor Castle Portrait Baroness Bennett of Manor Castle (GP) [V]
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I thank the Minister for her answer. I am still not sure that we are where we need to be or that we have dealt with the issues raised by the noble Lord, Lord German, regarding youth work and the social care professions. However, I am not sure that pushing a vote on Amendments 37 and 50 would get us to where we need to be. I hope very much that, as the noble Lord, Lord Stevenson, said, the Government will look at the lack of clarity and problems that have been exposed in this debate and seek to tidy up the Bill, as the noble Lord, Lord Purvis of Tweed, has said. For the moment, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

United Kingdom Internal Market Bill

(Committee: 3rd sitting (Hansard): House of Lords)
Baroness Bloomfield of Hinton Waldrist Excerpts
Monday 2nd November 2020

(3 months, 4 weeks ago)

Lords Chamber

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Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy
Baroness Bowles of Berkhamsted Portrait Baroness Bowles of Berkhamsted (LD) [V]
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My Lords, we have had an extensive and thoughtful debate, and I thank all noble Lords who have taken part. I thank my noble friends Lord Palmer and Lord Purvis for supporting my amendments, and indeed others who have mentioned them; one who springs to mind is the noble Baroness, Lady Altmann. As ever, the major constitutional issue has taken pride of place over technical issues. I am sure that noble Lords have realised that I am rather interested in the technical issues too, but we will end up having to come to grips with them, so I will not reiterate now.

To comment on some of what has been said—I cannot do justice to all speakers—my noble friend Lord Palmer said that there needed to be much more clarity to the OIM, and that we needed to resolve the ambiguity of its structure, flesh out how it works and find out what it meant in real terms. I think that is also the basis for a lot of other thoughts, whether they are technical or to do with devolution. What comes out loud and clear is whether all parts of the UK will feel that they have voice or ownership. My noble friend Lady Randerson led with the proposals that others have also spoken on and which have the support of the Welsh Government. It is all about having a structure that is workable for everybody and not part of something working inside the UK Government.

The Minister says that the CMA is independent. I accept that to a large extent that may be true, but there is still the problem that its strategy can be directed or steered by BEIS. That is just not the way to give the devolved Administrations confidence when, as has been outlined, the hybrid role of UK Ministers leaves us in the rather unsatisfactory situation of the same person trying to arbitrate. It is like the referee in the rugby match that my noble friend Lady Randerson referenced. Indeed, the noble Lord, Lord Wigley, said that basically the referee cannot be the manager of one of the teams—which rather seems to be the situation that we have here.

Some very valid points were made by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Thomas of Cwmgiedd, who said that judges had to be drawn from the different parts of the United Kingdom who understood everything vis-à-vis their specialist knowledge. I would not hold myself out at the level of a judge. I am not bad when it comes to negotiating things internationally, but I am English and would never hold myself out as being able to represent the positions of the devolved Administrations. I know that there are known unknowns that I do not know, and that is the situation we have to recognise. Whatever the integrity of the people on the CMA, you just do not know that the background is there unless they are drawn from a diverse field. I am very much one of those people who says that you cannot have sectoral interests, but this is different. I do not consider that devolution is political in that sense—we are all trying to get on together.

The noble Baroness, Lady Finlay, made a very interesting point when she suggested that it could perhaps be an interim measure because it has all been brought together very quickly. The noble Lord, Lord Hain, investigated the governance of the CMA and came up with many of the same conclusions as others. The noble Baroness, Lady Bennett, echoed that it is all about a voice for the legislatures and how to keep devolution alive.

As I said, I share with the noble Baroness, Lady Noakes, the view that the CMA is meant to be a UK-wide body and that nominees are not always the best people, but what is good enough for judges is, I think, good enough for the OIM. Yes, perhaps you always have to compromise, but my compromise comes down on the side of voice and ownership; otherwise, the body will never be trusted, as the noble Lord, Lord Empey, said. You have to have the confidence of knowing that people are properly at the table. I acknowledge that we have had rather haphazard devolution but, just because we have left the EU, that cannot be solved with “Whitehall knows best” and by taking back things that properly have been devolved.

The noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope, supported consensual Motions and said that consultation is not a guarantee. The noble Lord, Lord Cormack, warned us of the danger of a broken United Kingdom, emphasising again that there was a need for more time to be taken and for more confidence. The noble Lord, Lord Judd, had a good point in suggesting that we need a federal UK. That would perhaps make things easier, but we are not able to resolve that now—so, as he said, it comes back to understanding separate identities and to ownership.

The noble Baroness, Lady Altmann, supported some of my amendments and wanted the proper involvement of all parties. She also felt that the CMA was the wrong home, and really was not a viable place or a viable alternative to constructing a new body, because of the strategic involvement of BEIS and HMT, and because of it not being sensitive to matters of small businesses and diversity.

The noble Baroness, Lady Ritchie, was I think the first to bring forward the same points about needing a degree of independence and embracing the devolved legislatures, and also the fact that the Constitution Committee had also asked, “Why the CMA?” This was echoed by the views of my noble friend Lord Purvis. I agree with him; I could not find the flagging up of the CMA. It may be that one respondent said “a body such as the CMA”, but I did not see any consultation on it being the CMA or whether it was appropriate. The noble Baroness, Lady Ritchie, and other noble Lords also pointed out that the CMA is used to dealing with private business and enterprise and has a BEIS strategic influence.

I cannot begin to summarise what was said by my noble friend Lord Purvis, but the fact is that the CMA is left trying to analyse hypothetical benefits. It is true that we do not really know how this is all going to work out. If noble Lords follow the logic of my noble friend’s argument, they will find that he concluded by asking what incentive there was for this body to be used by the devolved Administrations. It is not intended to stir up wars between the devolved parts of the UK and the centre, but my view is that, by its set-up, it is likely to stoke rather than resolve concerns.

As I said before, the noble Lord does not like looking to the EU for examples, but it is a bit like when the Commission comes out with a proposal. It always wants to harmonise everything to make it easier and then the member states, notably the UK, get stuck in. You then get down to the nitty-gritty and you solve it. At the moment, we have this sort of overview coming from the Government that gives the devolved Administrations no room to manoeuvre—yet, when they get down to the nitty-gritty in the common frameworks, what happens? You can reach a conclusion.

Baroness Bloomfield of Hinton Waldrist Portrait Baroness Bloomfield of Hinton Waldrist (Con)
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Perhaps the noble Baroness cannot feel the mood of the Committee, which is that she should now withdraw her opposition.

Baroness Bowles of Berkhamsted Portrait Baroness Bowles of Berkhamsted (LD) [V]
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I am sorry; I had basically come to a close anyway. There is much more that needs to be done. I do not think this is politicising; I think it is respecting devolution.

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Lord Fox Portrait Lord Fox (LD)
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My Lords, so far there have been four groups of amendments dealing with the CMA and the OIM, and three different Ministers fielding. That perhaps summarises the fragmented nature of this Bill and the unjoined-up nature of what we are seeking to achieve. In those four groups, and this group, amendments have sought, in a sense, to correct and improve this Bill, but there is no point, because this Bill is beyond that stage. Other speakers have sought to probe and get information from the Government, and there has been no point to that either, because the Government have not answered questions. Despite extremely well directed, forensic analysis and questioning, the Government have ducked, dived and shrugged.

In addition to supporting the request made by the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh of Pickering, for the consultation to be published, I would like this Minister, who is before us for the first time in this debate, to answer the questions on this group, and to undertake, on behalf of the other Ministers, to answer all the questions that the last four groups have presented, because they are all extremely important to understanding what on earth the Government intend to do.

Baroness Bloomfield of Hinton Waldrist Portrait Baroness Bloomfield of Hinton Waldrist (Con)
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My Lords, I appreciate the comments made in the debate and I appreciate that these amendments seek to correct, improve and debate the issue. Indeed, that is the role of this Committee. Given that, I take issue with the last point made by the noble Lord, Lord Fox.

Amendments 115 and 131 would bring in fundamental changes to the statutory basis for the Office for the Internal Market. They propose making the office a separate, standalone public body, thereby removing its Crown status. The noble Lord, Lord Stevenson of Balmacara, suggested that the new OIM should use Ofcom or the National Audit Office as a model. This would fundamentally change the nature of the OIM. It would change its funding model and would ask it to operate like a regulator, although it is not intended to act as one.

It has already been explained that the Government have concluded that the CMA is best suited to house the Office for the Internal Market to perform these functions, and the reasons were set out in the Government’s consultation response. I will again emphasise the key points. The CMA has built up a wealth of expertise and experience that makes it a natural fit to take on these additional functions. It has a global reputation for promoting competition for the benefit of consumers and for ensuring that markets work well for consumers, businesses and the economy. We will come on to discuss the concerns of the noble Baroness, Lady Hayter, about the interests of consumers being reflected in the OIM.

The Office for the Internal Market will build on the CMA’s existing technical and economic expertise which will now support the further development of the UK internal market. My noble friend Lady McIntosh asked how we can guarantee the independence of the OIM and ensure that we carry the devolved nations with us. The OIM will be independent and will operate at arm’s length from the Government and the devolved Administrations. It will not be an enforcement body and it will not be able to override the decisions of any of the Administrations. As noble Lords will know, the Government are continuing their engagement with the devolved Administrations as the functions are developed further.

In the last group, the noble Lord, Lord Purvis, asked what the incentives are for the devolved Administrations to use the OIM. All of the devolved Administrations have an interest in the smooth functioning of the internal market and the development of effective regulation to support it. The Government are confident that all the Administrations and legislatures will value the expertise and advice of the OIM and the authority of the evidence base that it will build up.

The noble Baroness, Lady Jones, asked whether the OIM will give advice on the decisions made by the devolved authorities. I assure the noble Baroness that the non-binding advice of the OIM will provide a complementary and expert resource to help facilitate better regulation and, should it be requested, this will include regulation developed by the devolved Administrations as well as by the UK Government. The OIM will be independent and will operate at arm’s length from the Government and the devolved Administrations. As I have said, it will not be an enforcement body and it will not be able to override the decisions of any of the Administrations.

An earlier grouping addressed the involvement of the devolved Administrations in the panel membership of the office. I will therefore say briefly that the direct devolved Administration appointments to the panel of the OIM would risk its effective and independent operation. Appointments to the body will be made by open and fair competition and the chair through the robust procedures of the Public Appointments Commission and the Cabinet Office, which operates across the jurisdictions of all of the devolved Administrations.

I turn to UK subsidy control. Clause 50 reserves to the UK the exclusive ability to legislate for a UK subsidy control regime in the future. It is an issue of national economic importance as it is essential to supporting the smooth functioning of the UK’s internal market. We will debate the detail of subsidy control reservation in a later grouping, but I will cover it briefly now. On 9 September, the Government published a statement regarding the future of subsidy control. In that statement, we committed to publishing guidance on the international commitments that will apply to the UK on 1 January 2021, before the end of the year. This will cover World Trade Organization rules on subsidies and any commitments we have made in free trade agreements.

We also set out our intention to publish a consultation in the coming months on whether we should go further than our WTO and international commitments. This will include consulting on whether any further legislation should be put in place. The amendment would create uncertainty and fundamentally undermine the future consultation which will be the mechanism through which decisions regarding future regulations for UK subsidy controls will be made.

In addition, it should be noted that the function of the office for the internal market will be to provide non-binding technical advice, monitoring and reporting on the health of the internal market. It is not the Government’s intention to give it a range of enforcement and regulatory powers, which the proposed new schedule would do in respect of UK subsidy control.

My noble friend Lord True said on an earlier group of amendments said that, in line with GDPR, not all respondents had consented to sharing their views, so publishing only a subset of the consultation would not offer an accurate enough reflection.

For the reasons set out now and earlier, I am not able to accept this amendment. I hope that the noble Lord will therefore withdraw it.

Baroness McIntosh of Hudnall Portrait The Deputy Chairman of Committees (Baroness McIntosh of Hudnall) (Lab)
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My Lords, I have had no request to speak after the Minister, so I call the noble Lord, Lord Stevenson of Balmacara.

Break in Debate

Baroness Garden of Frognal Portrait The Deputy Chairman of Committees (Baroness Garden of Frognal) (LD)
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My Lords, the noble Baronesses, Lady Noakes, Lady Jones and Lady Neville-Rolfe, and the noble Lord, Lord Palmer, have all withdrawn so I now call the Minister, the noble Baroness, Lady Bloomfield of Hinton Waldrist.

Baroness Bloomfield of Hinton Waldrist Portrait Baroness Bloomfield of Hinton Waldrist (Con)
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I start by trying to reassure the noble Baroness, Lady Hayter, that we do not wish to see monopolies increasing and choice and quality declining either.

Amendments 136, 139, 140 and 142 aim to give the monitoring and reporting obligations of the office for the internal market a specific focus on the interests of consumers. Clause 31 enables the office for the internal market within the Competition and Markets Authority to operate general and periodic reporting and monitoring to assess the effective operation of the UK internal market and Parts 1 and 3 of the Bill, including how it operates for consumers. These amendments would limit this function to assessing the operation of the market as it affects consumers.

The role of the office for the internal market is to monitor the health of the UK internal market, including specific regulations, sectors and nations. Moving to a narrower definition of the assessment criteria of Clause 31, from the outset, would hinder its effectiveness in fully delivering this function.

To appreciate this, it is worth setting out the breadth of the areas of monitoring that are in scope. They include emerging trends and developments in the UK internal market, cross-border competition, the nature and level of trade between different parts of the UK and access to goods, services and trade. Monitoring may be undertaken independently by the CMA or upon request by other parties such as the UK Government and the devolved Administrations. Proposals can be submitted to review specific sectors relating to the UK internal market.

In doing its work, the office for the internal market will naturally be able to gather information from consumers, businesses and public bodies. Clause 32(4) also specifies that its advice and reporting can involve consideration of the impact of new regulatory proposals on the pricing, quality and choice of goods and on services for consumers. The interests of consumers are therefore an important concern which is already laid out for the office for the internal market when undertaking its monitoring and reporting functions. So, I can assure your Lordships that it will take into account consumer interests in undertaking its wide monitoring and reporting functions and there is no need for a specific reference to this in Clause 31.

Amendment 138 aims to impose an additional requirement in Clause 31 that reporting on reviews which the CMA undertakes of its own initiative or following a request under subsection (1) on matters relevant to the effective working of the UK internal market must be published. Clause 31(4) already requires that all reports the Competition and Markets Authority produces on matters in subsection (1) be published. Clause 32(10), Clause 33(6)(b) and Clause 34(10) also require publication of the reports on the operation of the UK internal market referred to in those clauses as soon as reasonably practicable. In light of this reasoning, I trust that the noble Baroness, Lady Hayter, will be assured that the amendments are unnecessary and that the amendment moved should be withdrawn. We are already doing a lot of background thinking on consumer protections; it is not a closed issue.

Baroness Hayter of Kentish Town Portrait Baroness Hayter of Kentish Town (Lab)
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I thank the Minister for that reply and particularly for her last few words about ongoing consideration. If these debates feed into that consideration, we will not all have stayed up late for nothing.

I also thank the noble Baroness, Lady Bowles, for her support. I have not looked at the exact wording or at whether what the Minister said is right, but what the noble Baroness said about transparency is important. Because it is very difficult for individual consumers to take up these big questions, transparency is really important for their advocates—that is, consumer representatives—who are often very underrepresented on all these committees. Transparency is particularly important for those who, from the outside, are trying to ask questions about choice, redress, standards, quality and so on. I hope that those who are thinking about that issue will hear some of the arguments we have made. If they influence the sort of questions that are posed, we will put one little tick there, but the proof of the pudding will be in the eating. Will this be better for consumers when we have the market going? For the moment, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

United Kingdom Internal Market Bill

(Committee: 2nd sitting (Hansard): House of Lords)
Baroness Bloomfield of Hinton Waldrist Excerpts
Lord Stevenson of Balmacara Portrait Lord Stevenson of Balmacara (Lab) [V]
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My Lords, we are obviously in competition to make the shortest speech of the evening; I cannot imagine why, because this is quite an interesting question, although we had a partial answer to it in an earlier debate. My take on it was not so much about the points raised clearly by the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh; I am worried about how acceptably these phrases, put into this Bill at this time, work in a digital world. It is clearly stated in the clause that we are talking about businesses that are local and not local, businesses which are located or not located in an area. We are talking about propinquity and the ability of those who have to interpret these clauses to understand where there are real businesses and how they are operating if they are to be seen to be local.

That does not work for Amazon or quite a lot of the shopping we will be doing between now and Christmas, which will be largely digital in form. Is “hypothetical” to mean virtual? I leave that rather complicated philosophical question for the Minister to respond to.

Baroness Bloomfield of Hinton Waldrist Portrait Baroness Bloomfield of Hinton Waldrist (Con)
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My Lords, I understand that the purpose of this amendment from my noble friend Lady McIntosh is to probe the meaning of “actual or hypothetical goods” in the Bill, which has foxed a number of other noble Lords. I am very happy to provide further information on that. The inclusion of actual and hypothetical goods in this clause is critical, as it means the provisions work effectively in scenarios that could arise where there are no actual local goods against which impacts on incoming goods can be compared.

If a company has a product which is subject to a patent, it can therefore be made by only one company in the UK. If an authority were to regulate against that product because of where it is produced, there could not possibly be a local good to compare it against to determine relative disadvantage. Being able to compare it to a hypothetical good addresses this and allows the rules against direct discrimination to operate properly and protect all businesses across the UK.

Let us take as an example a new technology which takes an innovative approach to food processing, cutting production times by half. The technology may be completely unique, novel and unlike other technologies for food processing on the market. Without being able to compare this against a hypothetical good, it would be very challenging to deem whether any new measures taken by Administrations were discriminatory or not. Equally, as a further example, if a Scottish company patented a technological breakthrough in quantum computing, this same technology would not be present on the English market and we would therefore need a hypothetical good to be able to compare this innovation to in order to determine whether new English regulations discriminated against this Scottish technology and otherwise created an unfair disadvantage.

The existing wording is also important to deal with situations where arguments could be posited that a local good is similar to, but not the same as, an incoming good, and therefore would not be a good comparator in determining whether discrimination exists. Being able to compare a hypothetical good that is the same as the incoming good, save for location, enables that determination to take place.

I was also asked who determines what a hypothetical good actually is. Ultimately, it would be the courts, but a business would bring forward the challenge and claim discrimination.

I turn to the stand part debate on Clause 7, which sets out the test for direct discrimination. Direct discrimination is where a requirement applies explicitly differently to local goods and goods from elsewhere in the UK and that difference results in disadvantage for the goods from elsewhere. This means, for example, that a Scottish regulator cannot impose additional licensing requirements for Welsh goods unless it does the same for Scottish goods. As another example, take a scenario where Scotland regulated that only Scottish whisky could be sold in pubs; this would be directly discriminatory against the very fine Penderyn whisky produced in Wales, as they would have a clear disadvantage against similar goods on the Scottish market—I see that meets with approval.

“Disadvantage” simply means that it is more difficult or less attractive for those incoming goods to be bought or sold. In this example, any additional licensing requirements on Welsh goods may impose additional costs and potentially increase the price of the Welsh good, meaning it would be less attractive to buy. To be clear, the goods that we are comparing here are the local equivalents of the incoming goods that are materially the same, or materially share the same characteristics, but do not have the same connection to the originating part of the UK. For example, a potato produced in Wales is compared with a potato produced in Scotland. This clause will ensure that directly discriminatory barriers cannot be created by rules that aim at the way in which a good is sold to circumvent the effect of mutual recognition. For example, if English butchers were banned from selling Welsh lamb, this would be directly discriminatory.

It is worth noting that Schedule 1 to the Bill allows for direct discrimination where a requirement discriminates in a reasonable way, as a response to a public health emergency, ensuring that the rules leave scope to react to such situations. I ask my noble friend to withdraw her amendment.

Baroness McIntosh of Pickering Portrait Baroness McIntosh of Pickering (Con) [V]
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I am grateful to all noble Lords who have contributed to this little debate, which I hope wins the prize for the shortest debate during the passage of the Bill. I am grateful for the attempt of my noble friend Lord Naseby to give us the benefit of his marketing experience and take a stab at what is meant here, but I am very much in line with the noble Lords, Lord Fox and Lord Stevenson, in that I think it would help to have an explanation in the Bill. Many Bills include definitions, and it would help if this was one such.

One hypothetical example that springs to mind is that, in the days before cloning, one would never have thought that a cloned animal could be bred in the way that Dolly the sheep was by the Roslin Institute, which is part of the University of Edinburgh. As my noble friend has gone to the trouble of explaining—I hope I understand it a little better—in the final analysis, it is for the courts to determine. It is regrettable that we do not have a definition in the Bill that would save court time and legal fees, going forward.

I very much enjoyed the contribution from the noble Lord, Lord Stevenson, particularly his hypothetical question about how this would apply to virtual sales. I do not think we have had an answer to that, so I would be grateful if the Minister could write to us.

Generally, the difficulty I have with Clause 7 has been eased, to some extent, by the explanation from the Minister. As my noble and learned friend Lord Mackay said in an earlier debate, a lot of EU law has been passed over and retained. The non-discrimination part of EU law, under the treaties, is on the grounds of nationality and is inherently clearer. The complicated process we have come up with in Clause 7 could be summed up by how no one can discriminate against a good—or a service in a later part of the Bill—simply because it comes from a different nation of the United Kingdom. That could have been explained more clearly, but I am grateful for the opportunity to have had this little debate and the explanation, as far as it went, from my noble friend Lady Bloomfield. At this stage, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Break in Debate

Lord Falconer of Thoroton Portrait Lord Falconer of Thoroton (Lab)
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I am obliged to the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh of Pickering, for raising these points. There is a raft of unanswered questions here. It is late at night, so I will try to focus on only the most important. Am I right in assuming that the market access principles, recognition and discrimination, apply to the rental and gifting of goods? If they apply to the rental of goods, what is the policy purpose? What is the purpose of applying them to the gifting of goods and what does it mean in practice? For example, does it apply to statutory requirements for the provision of food by food suppliers that are subject to statutory requirements?

The second head of issues concerns the position of public bodies engaged in commerce. I understand, but only from the Explanatory Notes, that the supplying of drugs by the NHS, even though it does so in a commercial context from time to time, is not covered by the Bill. Is this right? I have particularly in mind Clause 14(2), which says:

“‘Sale’ does not include a sale which … is made in the course of a business but only for the purpose of performing a function of a public nature.”

I read in the Explanatory Notes that that means the NHS supplying drugs. If that is right, what does the completely impenetrable Clause 14(3)(b) mean when it says:

“Subsection (2)(b) does not exclude a sale which is … not made for the purpose of performing a function of a public nature (other than a function relating to the carrying on of commercial activities)”?

Can the Minister explain this to the House? It matters quite considerably because I suspect it will cover a great deal of commercial activity performed by public bodies.

Thirdly, and separately, what is the position in relation to the goods that are made partly in one part of the United Kingdom and partly in another—for example, cars on an assembly line that crosses borders, or planes or high-tech equipment where parts from elsewhere come into it? As a result of Clause 15(3) and (4), is there a separate application to each of the individual components or does one look only at the completed goods?

Lastly, and this is perhaps the most significant, how do the Government envisage that this will operate? My understanding of Clause 6, on the non-discrimination principle, is that where a statutory or regulatory requirement in one part of the country discriminates indirectly, making the sale of those goods disadvantageous in another part of the United Kingdom, that disadvantageous provision can be supported only if it has one of the legitimate aims identified in Clause 8(6).

Let us take minimum alcohol pricing in Scotland. This is a relevant requirement which indiscriminately discriminates against incoming goods on the basis that alcohol brought into Scotland from England by a supplier is the subject of a disadvantage as defined in Clause 8(2); namely, minimum pricing makes it less attractive because the goods are more expensive to buy. As I understand it, this can be justified only if that minimum pricing statutory requirement has one of the following aims:

“the protection of the life or health of humans, animals or plants”

or

“the protection of public safety or security”.

Am I right in understanding that if, for example, a large supplier of alcohol from England into Scotland wished to challenge minimum alcohol pricing, he could do so by taking his buyer to court? There would then be a private law action in the courts of either Scotland or England—could the Minister tell me which it would be, assuming that the minimum alcohol pricing was in Scotland and the supplier was in England?—and the courts would have to decide whether or not minimum alcohol pricing was a regulation that had a legitimate aim.

The consequence of this Act—which is quite tricky to understand and is perhaps unthought-out—is that we in Parliament are handing over to the courts the determination of policies such as minimum alcohol pricing. That seems at the moment to be the consequence of the way that the Bill is drafted. I cannot believe that that is what any sensible Government would wish. Could the Minister please explain how Clause 8 works? I hope she can explain why my conclusions on the basis of Clause 8 are wrong—I really hope they are.

Baroness Bloomfield of Hinton Waldrist Portrait Baroness Bloomfield of Hinton Waldrist (Con)
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My Lords, I thank noble Lords for their contributions to this short debate. There were a lot of questions in there, some of which I will just have to write to noble Lords about because my briefing does not cover the whole gamut of what was asked and I would rather give a full answer.

Amendments 66 and 67 are relatively technical amendments relating to the definitions of “sale” in the Bill. I am willing to provide further details on this issue and discuss any concerns that my noble friend has. Amendment 66 would narrow the definition of “sale” in the Bill. It would narrow the types of supply-related activities that a trader could carry out and benefit from the market access principles. It would therefore reduce the effectiveness of the market access principles in reducing barriers to trade across the UK.

The United Kingdom Internal Market Bill is intended to provide a structural underpinning and additional protections to the status quo of intra-UK trade, ensuring certainty for businesses and investors in the form of a safety net of regulatory coherence. We should not cut holes in the safety net. The definition of “sale” that we have will ensure that businesses can continue to trade in a frictionless way, no matter how they are supplying their goods. It also seeks to align broadly with the scope of the “placing on the market” concept that is central to our existing goods regulation.

I say to my noble friend Lady McIntosh that the Sale of Goods Act 1979 was a very UK-specific way of defining a sale. The EU style of definition that has been brought into our legislation is much broader, and there is a need to ensure that the same principles align across the whole legislative piece. “Placing on the market” is therefore included in this as a concept but not in the Sale of Goods Act. In short, the Government cannot support this amendment, and I ask my noble friend to withdraw it.

Amendment 67 would exclude the supply of goods free of charge from the market access principles. It would include the rental of goods, as the noble Lord, Lord Purvis, pointed out. That would lead to the strange outcome that a good could be lawfully sold under the mutual recognition principle in a part of the UK for only a penny but could not be supplied there under that principle free of charge. This would affect a range of items such as commercial samples, marketing merchandise or introductory offers, and would reduce the effectiveness of the market access principles in reducing barriers to trade across the UK.

I was asked a question by the noble Lord, Lord Purvis, when we were talking about coal. I think the distinction my noble friend was trying to make was between a ban on the sale of coal and a ban on its use. As in his example, you could legally buy it in Wales, but you could not then legally use it in England just because you bought it over the border due to the difference in rules. For these reasons, I ask my noble friend not to move Amendment 67.

Lord Alderdice Portrait The Deputy Chairman of Committees (Lord Alderdice) (LD)
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I have received a request to speak after the Minister from the noble Lord, Lord Purvis of Tweed.

Break in Debate

My third question is absolutely not meant to be a “gotcha”. I did not give notice to the Minister and it has not been raised, so perhaps she will be able to write to me. It comes from information provided by Universities Scotland, which is interested in whether “sale” would effectively cover tuition fees as the purchase of a good. Under this legislation, higher education is not considered to be a public authority. Public authorities are excluded under this part of the Bill, but higher education, as a provider—like, for example, the NHS—is potentially not excluded. If the Minister could write to me on that, it would be very helpful, and I think that Universities Scotland will benefit from having clarity on how it will be treated under the sale and purchase of either goods or services.

Baroness Bloomfield of Hinton Waldrist Portrait Baroness Bloomfield of Hinton Waldrist (Con)
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I remember the noble Lord asking that question earlier in the debate. I am more than happy to write to him on that and on the other issues that I have not been able to cover in my response.

Lord Falconer of Thoroton Portrait Lord Falconer of Thoroton (Lab)
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I am not complaining, but the Minister did not try to answer any of my questions, so I would like a comprehensive response.

I am really interested in whether the Government envisage that in private law actions the courts will be resolving whether regulations that are discriminatory on the face of it for public purposes, as defined in the Bill, are valid—that is, whether they are for a legitimate aim. If they are, then the consequence is that Parliament is subcontracting decisions on these policy issues to the courts. I am not asking the Minister to deal with the other issues, but if she could deal with that one now, I would be grateful. If she cannot, because the answer is not yet known or has not been worked out, I would be grateful if she could indicate that. This issue seems to be absolutely key to the question of certainty for business. If where we come out at the end of the Bill is the courts system deciding on the legitimacy of a whole range of regulations, I am sure that that would not be what the Government would have wished. That is why the common frameworks process looks so much more attractive.

Baroness Bloomfield of Hinton Waldrist Portrait Baroness Bloomfield of Hinton Waldrist (Con)
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Having looked at that question, I would rather write to the noble and learned Lord giving a full answer—but I will do so very speedily, before we come to the next stage.

Baroness McIntosh of Pickering Portrait Baroness McIntosh of Pickering (Con) [V]
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My Lords, I am grateful to have had this little debate. I am particularly grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Purvis, and the noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer, for identifying even more issues than I and the Law Society of Scotland had done.

I thank my noble friend Lady Bloomfield for her answers, as far as they went, but, bearing in mind in particular the way that procedure operates in this place as opposed to the other place, it is extremely important that we have a very full letter. Perhaps she could write to the three of us who have contributed, as well as putting a copy of her letter in the Library, before we get anywhere close to the next stage.

I would like to, and still do not, understand why we are bringing in a new definition of “sale” that has a different meaning from that in the Sale of Goods Act 1979. I do not know whether my noble friend is saying that we are widening the definition to include what is generally understood in EU law, but I do not recognise any of this from what is before us in the Bill, so I would be grateful if my noble friend could write to me and say what, precisely, is the legal basis for widening and changing the definition in the way that the Government have in that regard.

I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Purvis, for the definitions that he gave and the illustrations that he posted as being a particular problem north of the border. I am also grateful to the noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer of Thoroton, because I think this is absolutely vital: none of us here this evening wants to put up barriers to trade between the four nations of the United Kingdom. However, it is absolutely essential that we have clarity on the face of the Bill for the reasons that the noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer of Thoroton, has given: we do not wish to have to resort to private-law actions before the courts—that, surely, is not acceptable. I quite understand that the Government have had to bring this Bill forward in something of a hurry, but I am here this evening to help them identify these issues.

Certainly, I am now even more confused as to why Clause 14(6)(c) has been introduced, particularly as regards the noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer of Thoroton, referring to Clause 8(6) in this regard. However, rather than delay proceedings this evening, I will say that it would be extremely helpful to have a written understanding from my noble friend Lady Bloomfield as to why we are in this position this evening. With those remarks, I beg leave to withdraw Amendment 66 at this stage.

United Kingdom Internal Market Bill

(Committee: 1st sitting (Hansard): House of Lords)
Baroness Bloomfield of Hinton Waldrist Excerpts
Lord Stevenson of Balmacara Portrait Lord Stevenson of Balmacara (Lab) [V]
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My Lords, at the end of the previous group the Minister, the noble Lord, Lord True, kindly said that his mind was not closed to further discussion on this issue about common frameworks and how they relate to the Bill. I welcome that. In a sense, the amendments in this group are part of the same debate. I therefore hope that they will also be included in the next-stage discussions, as they are a variation on the theme.

I set out my route map for progress in my response to the previous group and I will not repeat it. However, I endorse the points made by the noble Baroness, Lady Finlay, my noble friend Lady Andrews, the noble Lord, Lord German, and the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope, particularly their growing confusion about what exactly is in the Government’s mind on this issue. Perhaps the noble Baroness, Lady Bloomfield, coming fresh to the debate, can persuade us that there is indeed a coherent logic to the Government’s position—because it certainly eludes me.

Baroness Bloomfield of Hinton Waldrist Portrait Baroness Bloomfield of Hinton Waldrist (Con)
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I hate to disappoint the noble Baroness, Lady Andrews, but it falls to me to respond to this debate. I will now speak to the two amendments—Amendment 6 and the consequential Amendment 44—concerned with how UK market access principles, as proposed in the Bill, will apply. I understand that the noble Baroness, Lady Finlay of Llandaff, has tabled these amendments on behalf of the Welsh Government. Accordingly, I would like to begin by thanking the Welsh Government for their positive engagement on this Bill so far. The UK Government look forward to continuing constructive future engagement with the Welsh Government.

As my noble friend Lord True said earlier, we continue to work closely with the Welsh Government to develop common frameworks, in line with the framework principles agreed by the Joint Ministerial Committee (EU Negotiations) in October 2017. I know the Senedd were happy to see the Joint Ministerial Committee provisionally confirm the first two frameworks of the programme on hazardous substances and nutrition. Work continues in earnest to reach further such agreements in the coming months and beyond.

Before I turn to the detail of the amendments, I want briefly to cover the context of the Bill in order to explain the approach the Government took to applying the market access principles. At the risk of repeating the arguments of my noble friend Lord True, now that we have left the EU and as we recover after our fight against Covid, it is vital that we deliver legislation which allows the continuing smooth function of our UK internal market at the end of the transition period. The Bill aims to ensure frictionless trade, movement and investment between all the nations of the UK. The policies that different parts of the UK choose to pursue in the future is a matter for each Administration. The Bill ensures that these local policies can be pursued while maintaining seamless trade in the UK internal market. There is no question of the UK Government intending to bypass the common frameworks; the Bill is intended to complement them.

The approach we have taken in the Bill will give businesses the regulatory clarity and certainty they want. It will ensure that the cost of doing business in the UK stays as low as possible, and without damaging and costly regulatory barriers emerging between the nations of the UK. With this context in mind, I turn to the amendments. They would, in combination, prevent the market access principles from applying at the end of the transition period. The lengthy process they put in place before the principles can apply, including the need to exhaust frameworks discussions, would mean a considerable delay in securing business certainty that trade can continue unhindered within the UK’s internal market. The resulting threat of unmanaged regulatory divergence would not provide the certainty businesses need and could deter businesses that wish to expand and supply customers across the UK. This is not desirable, especially as we continue our recovery from Covid-19.

The amendments would also limit the areas to which the market access principles can apply. Again, this would unduly constrain the scope of the principles and fail to protect the internal market fully. In contrast, the Government’s approach is more comprehensive and ensures that businesses in all sectors can continue to trade across the UK without facing new barriers or discrimination.

The amendments also present a challenge in defining the exhaustion of the frameworks process. In all cases, common frameworks are designed as living arrangements, capable of change by agreement as required. Thus, the process is never wholly exhausted. The new clause also specifies a consultation process with the devolved Administrations and the CMA, or, failing that, a 12-month delay before any regulations can be made specifying areas to which the market access requirement would apply. The Government are already committed to appropriate consultation with the devolved Administrations; however, under the terms of the amendments, the time limits proposed would create unnecessary delay.

The noble Lord, Lord German, asked about the timing of the Bill. Reduced certainty would indeed be a disaster to our recovery from Covid-19. We do not believe that it is acceptable for businesses to have less certainty on trade with their UK supply chain after 1 January 2021 than they have today and have had for centuries. The UK Government are committed to ensuring that the status quo of seamless internal trade is maintained for the shared prosperity and the welfare of people and businesses across all four nations of the UK. Without the internal market, livelihoods would be at risk. There is also the issue of future-proofing the Bill to allow that, for the jobs of the future, mutual recognition will apply across areas that we may know nothing about today, including things such as the artificial intelligence industry.

My noble friend Lady Neville-Rolfe and the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope, asked whether reference should be made to the common frameworks should be made in the Bill. We already have a statutory obligation to report quarterly on progress on the common frameworks, so there is no need to put this in the Bill as well. Far from being silenced, as the noble Baroness, Lady Randerson, suggested, as she knows, two common frameworks have already been agreed. However, some 38 more have yet to be considered, with only nine or 10 weeks until the end of the transition period. They do indeed provide a very sensible framework, but they remain voluntary. Ultimately, the common frameworks depend on continued co-operation. In spring 2019, the Scottish Government walked away from the internal market project. This legislation is required to provide certainty for business and consumers.

The noble Baroness asked about labelling in Welsh. There is nothing to prevent labelling in Welsh for goods produced in Wales. I was also asked about the use of plastic teaspoons. The Welsh Government can still ban their use, but perhaps not their sale.

For these reasons, and for the uncertainty and confusion that it would generate for businesses and consumers, unfortunately the Government cannot support the amendments in this group and I would ask noble Lords to withdraw or not move them.

Earl of Kinnoull Portrait The Deputy Chairman of Committees (The Earl of Kinnoull) (Non-Afl)
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I have received one request to speak after the Minister. I call the noble Lord, Lord Purvis of Tweed.

Lord Purvis of Tweed Portrait Lord Purvis of Tweed (LD)
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My Lords, I listened very carefully to what the Minister said about the need for certainty, which seems to be the overriding approach. But, having listened to my noble friend Lord German and the noble Baroness, Lady Finlay, I would refer to the Food Standards Agency report, Food and Feed Safety and Hygiene Common Framework Update. Paragraph 3.15 states, in relation to adopting mitigating measures against mutual recognition, which we will discuss in another group on another day, makes a quite interesting point that

“where common approaches are taken, mutual recognition will not apply.”

If that is the case in this Bill, the common approaches across the nations—the mutual recognition and certainty that she indicated—will not apply. But we do not yet have full agreement on all the common frameworks, so how can that apply under this Bill, given that we have not reached the agreements yet? However, the Government’s own position is that mutual recognition will not apply if common approaches are taken on any regulatory changes. So which is it? Is it in this Bill or is it within the common frameworks?

Baroness Bloomfield of Hinton Waldrist Portrait Baroness Bloomfield of Hinton Waldrist (Con)
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I am afraid that the noble Lord has the advantage of me in that I have not seen that bit of the food standards framework. I would rather look at his question again in Hansard tomorrow and reply to him in detail. I do not think that I am able to give him a full answer now.

Baroness Finlay of Llandaff Portrait Baroness Finlay of Llandaff (CB) [V]
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My Lords, I am most grateful to all noble Lords who have spoken. I am grateful to the Minister for her response but it is disappointing.

I must say that I appreciate the noble Lord, Lord German, pressing the Government on why they cannot specify any examples of potential disruption to the internal market, because we really need to hear those. Perhaps the Minister might write to me with some of those specific points following this debate. I note that the noble Baroness, Lady Andrews, confirmed that there is no evidence that common frameworks are breaking down, nor that there is an inability to be fast.

I can see that the timing in the amendment needs to be looked at and renegotiated, and I am sure that would not be a problem. I know that the Welsh Government are sincerely committed to bridging the gap that the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope, outlined so clearly; at the moment it is a chasm, but it can be bridged.

I agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Neville-Rolfe, and the noble Lord, Lord Naseby, that we all want the UK to prosper and things to work, but we must find a way to make them work by not splitting the UK, which is what the Bill seems to be doing at the moment.

I am grateful for confirmation from the noble Baroness, Lady Randerson, and the noble Lord, Lord Stevenson, of cross-party support for this approach. I have to agree with the noble Baroness that there is little evidence of the Government’s good will towards devolution in the Bill as drafted, and that at the moment the logic of the Government’s approach is quite difficult to discern.

The amendment was a genuine attempt to restore confidence between the central Westminster Government and the devolved Governments. I hope we will return to it because I think we need to. This was a hand of peace, an olive branch, and we must return to it later on Report. For the moment, though, pending further discussions and negotiations, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

United Kingdom Internal Market Bill

(2nd reading (Hansard): House of Lords)
Baroness Bloomfield of Hinton Waldrist Excerpts
Monday 19th October 2020

(4 months, 1 week ago)

Lords Chamber

Read Full debate Read Hansard Text
Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy
Lord Whitty Portrait Lord Whitty (Lab) [V]
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My Lords, most contributions so far have related to Part 5 and the Government’s somewhat ham-fisted attempt to unilaterally disavow an undertaking made only a few months ago. I agree with those sentiments. and with the reports of the Constitution Committee and the EU Select Committee and the contributions by their chairs, the noble Baroness, Lady Taylor, and the noble Earl, Lord Kinnoull. I will also support the Motion in the name of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Judge, at the end of the debate.

However, this is quite a big Bill, and I want to talk about something else. Before doing so, I welcome my noble friend Lady Hayman to the Chamber. I commend her speech, including the importance that she stressed of environmental standards, which relate to this Bill as much as they do to much of the legislation we will face over the coming months.

I want to talk about state aid, which is in the Bill but is dealt with rather superficially. It needs to be clearer before the Bill finishes its passage through this House. In a sense, the noble Baroness, Lady Noakes, referred to this in her contribution. She and I were members of an EU Select Committee that produced a report on state aid about two years ago. We rarely agreed on anything fully, but we do agree on the importance of this issue.

At its most acute, the issue of state aid could be epitomised by the issue in Northern Ireland. As a result of the agreement and the way the Government are now pursuing the matter, through the Northern Ireland protocol Northern Ireland is to be part of the customs union and, to a large extent, the single market. So if the Stormont Government gave a subsidy or preferential public procurement arrangement to, say, a Northern Ireland textile company, the main exports of which are to the Republic, and if its Irish competitors objected, would EU state aid rules prevail or would the UK internal market rule prevail? It is clear that we need a UK state aid regime and it is fairly clear how that will relate to our international obligations under the WTO and, I hope, to future bilateral free trade agreements. But it is not at all clear how it will operate in relation to the internal market, which is the focus of the Bill. If that same Northern Irish company’s main export were to Scotland, what then would the arrangements be? If it were to England, would it be different again, because there would be an equivalent objection from England-based competitors?

The fact is that industrial, employment and consumer policy—all of which are relevant to state aid considerations —are differentially devolved between the three Administration and centralised in England but not in the UK. Of course, even in England there is the expected intention to devolve more industrial and employment policy to the English regions, so the question could, at some stage in the future, apply to Greater Manchester, which may have a different industrial and employment support system from that in the West Midlands. How does that play out in the new state aid framework?

The central question is whether there is yet a draft framework for all of this in relation to state aid, at least between the UK Government and the Scottish, Welsh and Northern Irish Governments. If not, what do the Government think it should look like and, above all, how should it be enforced? Is the office for the internal market, due to be established within the CMA, wholly a creature of the UK Government or will the devolved Administrations have a say in its governance and decision-making? During the EU regime, the Commission’s state aid arm had authority over member states, with prohibitions and fines at its disposal. That could be the case for the CMA.

Baroness Bloomfield of Hinton Waldrist Portrait Baroness Bloomfield of Hinton Waldrist (Con)
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I remind noble Lords of the speaking limit.

Lord Whitty Portrait Lord Whitty (Lab) [V]
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Before the passage of the Bill, we need to clarify these issues.

Break in Debate

Lord Howarth of Newport Portrait Lord Howarth of Newport (Lab) [V]
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My Lords, I add my warm welcome and congratulations to my noble friend Lady Hayman of Ullock. Despite the case just made by the noble Lord, Lord Cavendish of Furness, it is a puzzle to me that the Government have introduced this Bill, given the commitment agreed in the Joint Ministerial Committee—of Ministers of the UK and the devolved Governments—to develop by consensus common frameworks for the UK internal market. We are told that good progress has been made on that yet, with perfunctory consultation, the Bill has been brought in.

The Bill contains no mention of common frameworks. It takes powers to override devolved legislation by means of regulations passed at Westminster and to spend money in areas of devolved competence. It contains only patchy and vague provisions for future consultation on the exercise of the powers that it creates. It has provoked indignation in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland, and legislative consent is highly unlikely to be forthcoming. The Bill is disrespectful to the devolved Administrations. When the union is under great stress from Brexit and Covid, it is also reckless.

The Bill is disrespectful towards this Parliament. It contains egregious Henry VIII clauses, most notably Clause 53(2), which says:

“Any power to make regulations under this Act includes power … to amend, repeal or otherwise modify legislation.”

The Bill is disrespectful towards our treaty partners. It authorises breaches of the Northern Ireland protocol and the withdrawal agreement. The Government offer as justification that the EU may intend to interpret ambiguities in the withdrawal agreement—ambiguities that the Government were happy to write in a year ago—to the detriment of the UK’s internal market and the Good Friday agreement. Ministers may see this as a suitable tactic in the Brexit negotiations. It may also be a reckless reminder to other countries not to trust perfidious Albion.

The brutal declaration in the House of Commons by the Northern Ireland Secretary that the Government are deliberately taking power to break international law sounds a loud alarm. The Bill is disrespectful to the rule of law and the judiciary. In this regard it echoes thinly veiled threats to the judiciary in the Conservative manifesto, the notorious remarks in Conservative Home by Suella Braverman shortly before she was appointed Attorney-General, and attacks on lawyers by the Home Secretary and the Prime Minister at the Conservative Party conference.

The Government make the case in self-exculpation that their defiance of international law is legal under domestic law. They also insist that they are not precluding judicial review, although in Clause 47 they go to extreme lengths to insulate regulations made under the Bill from challenge. The Government cannot justify what they are doing by quibbling. Constitutionality entails acting in a spirit of respect towards the rule of law, including both international law and, in our domestic jurisdiction, the effective ability for persons to have redress in court for the misuse of executive power.

It consists in respecting conventions which, though uncodified, ought to be binding on Ministers and on Parliament. These conventions include respect for the role of other institutions which form part of the constitution, among them the devolved Administrations as well as the judiciary, and therefore acting with restraint towards them. Proper government keeps the convoy moving along together. It shows itself to be trustworthy. The doctrine of the omnicompetence of statute, undoubtedly valid, is gratifying to the vanity of parliamentarians and convenient to Governments, but such ill-judged deployment of statutory power as we see in this Bill risks imposing intolerable stresses on the cohesion of the constitution and of the United Kingdom.

The Bill is an expression of a loutishness that characterises this Government’s political dealings. Where will this debasement of our democracy take us if we collude in it?

Baroness Bloomfield of Hinton Waldrist Portrait Baroness Bloomfield of Hinton Waldrist (Con)
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I remind the noble Lord of the advisory speaking time. We cannot go beyond midnight, and if everybody goes over, some Lords will have to wait until tomorrow to speak.

Lord Howarth of Newport Portrait Lord Howarth of Newport (Lab) [V]
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In this House we must do all we can to limit the damage that the Bill causes, starting by supporting the amendment of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Judge.