All 7 Lord Thomas of Cwmgiedd contributions to the United Kingdom Internal Market Act 2020

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Mon 2nd Nov 2020
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Committee stage:Committee: 3rd sitting (Hansard) & Committee: 3rd sitting (Hansard) & Committee: 3rd sitting (Hansard): House of Lords
Mon 9th Nov 2020
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Committee stage:Committee: 5th sitting (Hansard) & Committee: 5th sitting (Hansard) & Committee: 5th sitting (Hansard): House of Lords
Wed 18th Nov 2020
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Report stage & Report stage:Report: 1st sitting & Report stage (Hansard): House of Lords & Report: 1st sitting & Report: 1st sitting: House of Lords
Mon 23rd Nov 2020
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Report stage:Report: 2nd sitting (Hansard) & Report: 2nd sitting (Hansard) & Report: 2nd sitting (Hansard): House of Lords
Wed 25th Nov 2020
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Report stage:Report: 3rd sitting (Hansard) & Report: 3rd sitting (Hansard) & Report: 3rd sitting (Hansard): House of Lords
Wed 9th Dec 2020
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Consideration of Commons amendmentsPing Pong (Hansard) & Consideration of Commons amendments & Ping Pong (Hansard) & Ping Pong (Hansard): House of Lords
Mon 14th Dec 2020
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Consideration of Commons amendmentsPing Pong (Hansard) & Consideration of Commons amendments

United Kingdom Internal Market Bill

Lord Thomas of Cwmgiedd Excerpts
Committee stage & Committee: 3rd sitting (Hansard) & Committee: 3rd sitting (Hansard): House of Lords
Monday 2nd November 2020

(3 years, 7 months ago)

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Baroness Randerson Portrait Baroness Randerson (LD) [V]
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My Lords, I will speak to the amendments in this group to which I have added my name: Amendments 117 and 118, and Amendments 120 to 124. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Thomas of Cwmgiedd, and the noble Baroness, Lady Finlay of Llandaff, have also signed these amendments, which have been put forward with the agreement of the Welsh Government.

Clauses 28 to 40 of this Bill establish a new Office for the Internal Market, within the CMA, as other noble Lords have already noted. The OIM will have reporting, monitoring and advisory functions and information-gathering powers; it will monitor the health of the internal market and provide advice on the economic impact of proposals and regulations, including their impact on trade, investment and competition. It will publish reports available to stakeholders and devolved Administrations. The problem is that all this is to be provided within the existing structure of the CMA, which is a body established and designed to work within the UK Government structure.

These amendments relate to the status, role and membership of the CMA, which was established in 2013 as a non-ministerial government department, accountable to Parliament via its sponsor department, which at the moment is BEIS. Although the CMA works at arm’s length from the Government, BEIS gives it a strategic steer that outlines the Government’s strategic priorities. The Secretary of State appoints, or removes, the chair and board of the CMA, and it produces an annual report for the Secretary of State. It is the CMA which represents the UK Government abroad on relevant issues.

The CMA was designed to deal with purely reserved matters, whereas the Office for the Internal Market is designed to have functions in relation to the devolved Administrations as well. The OIM is therefore a mismatched limb, grafted on to the CMA. For instance, Schedule 3 includes measures to establish an OIM panel and task groups. The Secretary of State must simply consult the devolved Administrations before these appointments. That is inadequate, as it provides no guarantees of agreement from the devolved Administrations before appointments are made and no guarantees of balanced representation.

These amendments seek to address these problems and to be fully respectful of devolution, including requiring the Secretary of State to get the consent of the devolved Administrations to appointments, although with the provision that they must respond within one month so they cannot unreasonably hold up the work of the OIM. Importantly, these amendments would also adjust the structure and relationship of the CMA so that it will no longer be a purely UK Government and parliamentary vehicle. The DAs would each be able to appoint and remove a CMA board member, subject to the usual five-year term and the CMA’s annual plan and annual report would be laid before the devolved legislatures as well as Parliament. Thus the parent organisation, the CMA, is structured to ensure that its offshoot, the Office for the Internal Market, works genuinely for all parts of the UK.

I spoke in an earlier debate about the hybrid role of UK Ministers, who are expected by this Bill to operate at one moment as English Ministers, acting in the specific interests of England, then to switch hats into their UK role and act as impartial arbiters between the interests of the four nations. This Bill requires a similar constitutional contortion from the CMA in relation to its baby, the Office for the Internal Market. There is a reason why the referees in Saturday’s rugby internationals did not come from either of the nations represented on the field—and we all know that. You cannot guarantee an even-handed approach unless you have the structures in place to ensure that, and it has to be built into and throughout the appointments of the organisation, into its remit and reporting processes.

Lord Thomas of Cwmgiedd Portrait Lord Thomas of Cwmgiedd (CB) [V]
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As the noble Baroness, Lady Randerson, has very carefully explained the purpose of these amendments, I can be much briefer than I had intended.

The amendments are directed at the CMA and the Office for the Internal Market as set out in the Bill, but the principles behind these amendments would apply to any different structure that emerged, as the noble Baroness, Lady Bowles of Berkhamsted, envisaged. It seems to me that the critical point for this House to consider is that whatever structure is established must command the confidence of all the nations of the United Kingdom. Secondly, it is obvious that there will have to be a body that exercises independent powers and makes judgments that may go against one part of the United Kingdom or another part of it.

Thus, it is important to ensure, as these amendments seek to do, that the appointments both to the Competition and Markets Authority and to the office for the internal market take into account the change in the CMA’s role and cater for the new role of the OIM—assuming that these roles will be given to them when the Bill emerges from Parliament.

It seems to me that there is one useful analogy to make. Because the CMA has certain quasi-judicial and independent functions, it must be set up in such a way that those who are affected by its decisions know that those appointed to it have their confidence. They must also have a proper knowledge of the different constituent parts of the UK. When this House enacted the Constitutional Reform Act in 2005, a statutory provision was included that there had to be judges from Scotland and Northern Ireland; Wales was dealt with as part of England, and I will say nothing about that today. But recent experience of devolution legislation has shown how important it is for a body such as the Supreme Court—and for this body—to have representatives who know and understand the position in each of the constituent nations.

I need not elaborate on the detail of how this provision will work. I stress that the body must comprise those who understand the different nations of the UK and are able to provide it with confidence in its decision-making. It must address the point to which the noble Baroness, Lady Randerson, referred—namely that, more and more, Ministers are seen not simply as UK Ministers but as Ministers of England.

Lord Palmer of Childs Hill Portrait Lord Palmer of Childs Hill (LD) [V]
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My Lords, I speak in support of Amendments 116, 127 and 130, to which I have added my name. I agree with the arguments put forward by my noble friend Lady Bowles, who put it much better than I can.

The aim of the amendments is to seek to bring some clarity to the office for the internal market. Gosh, it needs some clarity. I am unsure that we even require this quango. If it stays in the Bill, then please let us flesh out how it could work. Does the Minister accept that, if the office for the internal market remains, there is still much ambiguity in this Bill? It is not even constructive ambiguity; it is ambiguity pure and simple. Can he explain it?

Amendment 116 seeks to add a clause which should be the bed-rock of the Bill. There has to be an understanding agreed between the Secretary of State, Welsh and Scottish Ministers and the Northern Ireland department in order to make the internal market work, be transparent and involve all the devolved authorities.

Amendments 127 and 130 underline the need for transparency and representation. I hope the Minister can accept that the amendments seek to clarify and flesh out what the Bill means in respect of the office of the internal market and to get rid of any ambiguity. Amendments 116, 127 and 130 seek to do that.

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Baroness Garden of Frognal Portrait The Deputy Chairman of Committees (Baroness Garden of Frognal) (LD)
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My Lords, I apologise; I should have reminded noble Lords that anyone wishing to speak after the Minister should email the clerk during the debate and anyone wishing to press this or anything else in this group to a Division should make that clear in debate.

Lord Thomas of Cwmgiedd Portrait Lord Thomas of Cwmgiedd (CB) [V]
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I am very grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Stevenson of Balmacara, for explaining the place of this in the Bill and for his proposal to try and make something of the provision. As it stands, it seems wholly separate from the other provisions of this Bill. It should not be there, and it is profoundly undemocratic. Its only connection with the rest of the Bill is that it seems part of an attack on the scheme of devolution. I therefore seek to argue that Clause 48 should not, in its current form, stand part of the Bill.

The Bill is concerned with the internal market; it is not concerned with the allocation of government powers to spend money between the devolved Governments and the United Kingdom or English Government. It authorises the UK Government, as it stands, to spend funds in devolved areas—education, roads—and, giving Clause 48 (1)(a) and (b) their ordinary meaning, almost any aspect of government spending, including hospitals.

Therefore, I have a question for the Minister: why is this in the Bill? How is it going to work? Let me put forward some ideas as to why it may be there. First, the Government might, as the noble Lord, Lord Stevenson of Balmacara, has suggested, have the noble aim of investing additional resources into the devolved nations and the other regions of England. If that were the case, they might be doing the work alongside the Governments of the devolved nations and doing it as the English Government in their capacity as the UK Government. If so, why do they need these powers? They have done city deals and dealt with expenditure of this kind without specific statutory versions. If that is the noble aim of this Bill, it seems unnecessary.

There may be a different aim, which again has been foreshadowed by the noble Lord, Lord Stevenson: that the UK Government see themselves as taking over the role of the EU Commission, steering the use of such funding. If the Commission did it, so the argument goes, why should not the UK Government? In other words, it is an example of this Government doing something the EU has done rather well, but which they will never give it credit for. If that is the Government’s aim, it is fair to point out that the European legislation provided for the European Commission to set overall very high-level objectives for funding, and then to negotiate with the devolved Governments of Wales and Scotland as to how these objectives should be reflected in the programmes the devolved Governments designed. The European Commission, at the end of the day, had the veto, but it negotiated with the elected authorities in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland, rather than bypassing them in the way the Bill would enable it to.

There may be a third aim, which is that the United Kingdom Government, the Government of England, know far better how to direct spending and cannot trust the Scottish, Welsh and Northern Ireland Governments to spend wisely. Nor, if that is their reason, can they trust the people of Wales, Scotland or Northern Ireland to choose the Government they want, as that entails the choice between different manifestos regarding the way in which money is to be spent on areas of devolved competence.

As it stands, the clause strikes at that democratic choice and the devolution schemes. It will enable the UK Government to spend funds in ways that the UK/English Government think best, but which the people of Wales, for example, may have rejected. That is not democracy. In effect, it would give legislative underpinning to the now discredited principle that the Government in Westminster know best and the people of Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland, which have Governments with devolved competences, are not to be trusted to spend money wisely in areas of devolved competence.

In short, I can see no justification for these powers which is compatible with the commitment to the integrity of the devolution schemes. Last week, Ministers were asked repeatedly to confirm whether they supported the devolved institutions’ powers to tailor their policies and spending needs to the wishes of the people of the devolved nations. I understand that no such assurances were given. If Ministers wish to overturn the devolution settlements, let them say so. Let them show that the devolution schemes do not work and, in the light of recent experience, that we would all be better off in the devolved nations if only the UK Government could take spending decisions on matters that have been devolved, in place of the Governments in Cardiff, Edinburgh and Belfast.

As it stands, therefore, the clause should not be in the Bill. If there are constraints on how this is to operate, they should be set out in the Bill, or a proposal of the kind made by the noble Lord, Lord Stevenson of Balmacara, should be put in its place.

Lord Bruce of Bennachie Portrait Lord Bruce of Bennachie (LD) [V]
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The Bill appears to invite a clutch of ironic metaphors. In moving the Bill at Second Reading in the House of Commons, the Prime Minister drew inspiration from Adam Smith’s invisible hand but, by contrast, the Bill delivers a clunking great fist, and the Prime Minister’s oven-ready deal is at best not even half baked. The Government assert that substantial powers are coming to the devolved Administrations and, on the surface, that is true. However, the lack of reference to common frameworks, which we have debated, and the subordination of the proposed office of the internal market, on which previous amendments have focused, to the Competition and Markets Authority, all points to a centralising agenda. The state aid and financial powers clauses of the Bill—which, as the noble and learned Lord, Lord Thomas, said, do not appear relevant to the Bill’s stated purpose of regulating the internal market—raise serious questions, providing sweeping powers for the UK Government to intervene directly on a wide range of policy areas without even consulting the devolved Administrations, let alone securing consent and agreement.

At a time when relations between the UK Government and the devolved Administrations are at rock bottom, and with elections for the Scottish Parliament and the Welsh Senedd only six months away, this is absurdly provocative and, frankly, foolhardy. Following the shambolic communication of the emerging lockdown in England over the weekend, confusion reigns today over furlough provision in Scotland. On the one hand, the furlough extension is UK-wide, which is welcome. On the other, it appears that if Scotland goes into lockdown at a later date, comparable support to that being provided in England is not assured. Scottish Conservative leader, Douglas Ross MP, is at odds with the Government over this. It raises the question of whether the Government are trying to force Scotland into a similar lockdown at the same time as England, not because the measures currently being applied north of the border are not working—it is too early to judge that—but just to secure funding for any lockdown. That is not the way to promote trust or make rational, balanced and objective decisions.

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Baroness Garden of Frognal Portrait The Deputy Chairman of Committees (Baroness Garden of Frognal) (LD)
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The noble Baroness, Lady Neville-Rolfe, has withdrawn, so I now call the noble and learned Lord, Lord Thomas of Cwmgiedd.

Lord Thomas of Cwmgiedd Portrait Lord Thomas of Cwmgiedd (CB) [V]
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I can be very brief in speaking to Amendments 151 and 152, which stand in my name. They relate to matters that were discussed earlier. The first deals with the need to insert into the Bill provisions to ensure that the Competition and Markets Authority—if indeed it is to be the body that plays a central role in the Bill—consults the devolved Administrations in relation to its policy for enforcement.

The second amendment deals with penalties. The Minister has a regulating power and the amendment proposes that the penalties are made with the consent of the devolved Governments. That is obviously in line with what I hope will be the approach of the Government —that is, to work with the devolved Administrations. The reasons were set out earlier and I need not repeat them.

Baroness Randerson Portrait Baroness Randerson (LD) [V]
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My Lords, like the noble and learned Lord, Lord Thomas, I will be very brief. I have added my name to his amendments, which simply reiterate the need for the CMA to consult the devolved Administrations, as well as the Secretary of State, and to obtain consent. They emphasise the importance of respecting devolution. I say to the Government that small things count. They guarantee good and fair government. It is important that the Government take note of the tone of the debates this evening and pay that respect to devolution in the terms in which the CMA operates in the future.

United Kingdom Internal Market Bill

Lord Thomas of Cwmgiedd Excerpts
Committee stage & Committee: 5th sitting (Hansard) & Committee: 5th sitting (Hansard): House of Lords
Monday 9th November 2020

(3 years, 7 months ago)

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Leon Brittan was our United Kingdom commissioner in charge at the time. He did a magnificent job. We worked together for the United Kingdom on the distortion of French and Italian bids hiding behind state aid to our disadvantage. We abided by the rules but we lost. Cossor Electronics, a UK company in Harlow, was bidding for the air traffic control contract for the Hong Kong airport. We suspected that their bids went through research and development projects; make of it as you will, it was wrong. At this instance, we felt the hideous effects of distorted competition when the EU integration process had hardly begun. That is why I ask your Lordships to support these amendments: to have research and development incorporated into this Bill now, regardless of our EU position, to safeguard unfair state aid in any future international contracts. I beg to move.
Lord Thomas of Cwmgiedd Portrait Lord Thomas of Cwmgiedd (CB) [V]
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I speak to oppose the inclusion of Clause 50 in the Bill. It is important to distinguish between what I spoke about on the last occasion the Bill was before the House: under Clause 48, what regime is to govern EU structural funds in future. This clause deals with state aid.

Both clauses have one thing in common: they seek to alter the devolution schemes as they stand, for economic development powers are devolved. For example, in respect of Scotland, paragraph 4(1) of Part 3 of Schedule 5 to the Scotland Act makes that clear. The position at present, therefore, is that it is for Scottish Ministers, Welsh Ministers and Ministers in Northern Ireland to determine what financial assistance is provided, in the same way as they determine how the structural funds are dealt with.

State aid is of obvious, considerable importance. It can help to address market failures and provide incentives for research and development, of which the noble Baroness, whom it is a privilege to follow, has spoken. They also deal with areas where the Government want to deal with strategic objectives, such as promoting the use of green technologies or promoting more sustainable agriculture.

Of course, state aid can be harmful if it is not directed in the same way; that is why there must be some form of regime in respect of state aid. The present position on state aid is, as we remain part of the European Union regime, that the devolved Governments make the decisions within the EU regime. In consequence—and it has been during the whole period of devolution—state aid is not a reserved matter. It is devolved.

The British Government’s stated position had been to retain the EU regime and put in place an independent body to police it in place of the Commission, as has happened in respect of other parts of the regime that still governs us but will not do so for much longer. That obviously would not have required any change to the devolution scheme. However, the present Government have decided to change this. They intend to use their Henry VIII powers to do so by statutory instrument. However, they have not consulted on what they want to put in its place, and seek agreement and the views of industry and others, in particular the devolved Governments. As in the other parts of this Bill, the UK Government want to do so without reference to working with the devolved Governments within the devolution schemes. However, in this case, they have hit the snag to which I have referred: they lack the power to do so. State aid and schemes are not reserved.

Clause 50, therefore, seeks to make state aid a reserved matter by what I regret to call a “device” of extending the competition reservation so that it can be used, in effect, to direct policy on state aid. This is not the way to proceed. A regime for state aid subsidies is needed unless, within the current negotiations, we agree to some arrangement that mirrors those of the EU. As is clear from the recently published IfG paper, Beyond State Aid, there are many reasons why a state aid regime is essential, but we need a properly thought-through regime before we legislate, including thinking through the role of the regulator. Such proposals should have been set out before we considered such a clause as this. They should have been consulted on and agreed with all the relevant interests—businesses, universities and others.

Furthermore, the regime to be put in place would have to command the confidence of the devolved Governments, who are responsible, under the devolution schemes, for economic development. Bodies within England also have economic development responsibility. After all that consultation, it should have been determined how this would best be implemented. One way of proceeding would be a common framework with an independent regulator such as the CMA, but a decision would have to be made on the kind of regulator wanted. Would it be the kind of light-touch regulator that some have suggested, with an advisory role, or one with policing powers? If it was a light-touch regulator, to whom would it report—to the UK Government only or to the devolved Governments as well?

Tackling all of this without a policy and through the back door is wrong, as I see it. That course of action also has long-term implications. Proceeding in this way will set policy on the legal basis that it is designed to avoid anti-competitive practices. It will not be based on a forward and positive way of setting out a policy based on looking for economic development.

Therefore, in opposing the inclusion of this clause in the Bill, in short, it is wrong to change the devolution arrangements in this way and without any consultation about the future regime, let alone agreement on it having been reached. I have no doubt that we need a competition regime and that it will need some kind of advisory or other independent policing body. However, we should do this in the proper way and not rush to do it by putting a clause such as this in the Bill. It should not stand part of the Bill.

Lord Alderdice Portrait The Deputy Chairman of Committees (Lord Alderdice) (LD)
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The noble Lord, Lord Purvis of Tweed, has withdrawn, so I call the noble Baroness, Lady Finlay of Llandaff.

United Kingdom Internal Market Bill

Lord Thomas of Cwmgiedd Excerpts
Report stage & Report stage (Hansard): House of Lords & Report: 1st sitting & Report: 1st sitting: House of Lords
Wednesday 18th November 2020

(3 years, 7 months ago)

Lords Chamber
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As it stands, the Bill severs all incentive for the development of best practice and stops innovation in its tracks, not just within the devolved nations but, by read across, in England as well, because there is no compulsion or incentive to raise standards. In the words of the Aldersgate Group, the Government’s proposals will “stifle innovation”. That is a long way from the world-beating post-Brexit economy of the Government’s imagination. At the same time, this Bill strikes quite deliberately at the whole basis of devolution. It is designed to roll back devolution, and I warn the Government, as several noble Lords have done already, that their tactics are dangerous, not clever, and that they are playing with fire.
Lord Thomas of Cwmgiedd Portrait Lord Thomas of Cwmgiedd (CB) [V]
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It is a very great privilege to follow the noble Baroness, Lady Randerson, and the many other noble Lords who have spoken in support of these amendments, and in particular Amendment 1. I strongly support that amendment in the names of my noble and learned friends Lord Hope of Craighead and Lord Mackay of Clashfern, the noble Baroness, Lady Finlay of Llandaff, and the noble Lord, Lord Bourne of Aberystwyth.

It is a great shame that these issues were not addressed some time ago in the House, after the promising steps taken in the withdrawal Act. It was obvious that there had to be arrangements to deal with a common approach to standards and—a matter to which we will come later—state subsidies, and any other matters that are essential to the operation of any internal market. We are where we are, but this Government cannot say that we have to continue to proceed along the lines of the Act without thinking through the consequences of passing it—particularly passing it unamended.

Some have said that people must be sick of points being raised about devolution. But it is important to point out that the provisions of the Act and the ones we are considering not only affect the devolution settlements and the positions of Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland, but should be as much a concern for England. We are concerned with standards that can apply to an internal market across the UK and can be enforced in England, as in other places. Sometimes, we forget the effect this could have on England.

I will take two examples. In its current form, this Bill would prevent the operation of one of the nations that wished to produce a product that was beneficial to the environment. I will take Wales as a country that would want to do that as it innovated in the case of plastic bags. I will take the example of selling ketchup in single-use plastic bottles and Wales being the first in the UK to think of introducing legislation banning that sale. In the other nations the regulations that may have to be complied with would say nothing about that, so manufacturers there would be able to sell ketchup in single-use plastic bottles. If a common framework were agreed that Wales was allowed to diverge and ban the use of ketchup in single-use plastic bottles, Wales could then proceed and make such a regulation. The effect of this Bill would be that the Welsh regulation could not be enforced in Wales against the sale of ketchup in single-use plastic bottles manufactured in England, Scotland and Northern Ireland or imported into England, Scotland or Northern Ireland. The Welsh regulation would have been rendered nugatory.

Of course, if the amendment from the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope, is accepted, it would prevent that result. It would allow the Welsh regulation to be enforced and it would be a provision that gives effect to a decision to diverge from the common framework process—and while the common framework was under discussion it would prevent the principles in the Bill applying. That has the wholly beneficial effect of driving up standards. I will put the converse example and substitute for a beneficial aim an example where one of the Governments decided to pursue an aim that was not in the results beneficial: for example, if a Government decided to allow a manufacturer to make and sell a product in packaging that was harmful to the environment.

It is not difficult to envisage this happening when a Government bow—as they do, regrettably—to pressure from a manufacturer to allow such packaging, as it would provide much-needed employment and, at the same time, play down the harmful effects. As it currently stands, the Bill would allow that manufacturer not only to sell the packaging in the nation that was prepared to permit this, but in all the other nations. Without this amendment, the Bill would have the effect of driving down standards. These two examples show, therefore, that this is a matter of concern for the Governments of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, and for the Government of the UK in its capacity as the Government of England. However, as my noble and learned friend Lord Hope has so eloquently explained, deeper issues are involved. Will the Government stick with their commitments to respect the devolution arrangements or will they undermine them? Alternatively, do they wish to achieve an internal market by consensus and with proper discussion?

I do not need to say again that, without the amendment, these provisions demonstrate a desire to undermine the devolution settlements for, without this amendment, common frameworks are pointless. However, it is worth thinking a little further. As the noble Lord, Lord Foulkes, has tried to explain, dealing with an internal market is a complex matter, and it would be much better if there was time for proper debate. Taking the second of my examples, it is easy to see how the consequences that I have outlined would undermine a proper approach to an internal market and bring about a result that no Government would want. Surely the better way of proceeding is to allow this amendment, to allow the common frameworks to develop, and to think again about how we deal with these issues of standards—as we come later in the debates to deal with the issue of subsidies—so that we create an internal market which is thought through, works, is achieved by consensus and will build the prosperity that I, like the Government, wish to see come out of this process.

United Kingdom Internal Market Bill

Lord Thomas of Cwmgiedd Excerpts
Report stage & Report: 2nd sitting (Hansard) & Report: 2nd sitting (Hansard): House of Lords
Monday 23rd November 2020

(3 years, 7 months ago)

Lords Chamber
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Lord Callanan Portrait Lord Callanan (Con)
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My Lords, noble Lords will have noticed that we have listened carefully to the many constructive points put forward in Committee as well as from the devolved Administrations on the provisions in the Bill to establish the office for the internal market, tasked with overseeing the smooth operation of the internal market. As set out in my recent letter to colleagues on government amendments for Report, we have made a number of important changes throughout Part 4 to make it clear in statute that the OIM will work in the interests of all parts of the United Kingdom and for all Administrations on an equal basis. I believe that these changes take into careful consideration the points raised in Committee and put beyond any doubt concerns around the consumer focus of the OIM—I hope that the noble Baroness, Lady Hayter, will welcome this—and the devolved Administrations’ involvement in the OIM’s governance arrangements.

Amendments 56 and 57 ensure that there is an enhanced role for the devolved Administrations in OIM appointments, requiring Ministers to seek consent with all Administrations within a one-month timeframe. This builds on the model proposal developed by the Welsh Government and tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Finlay, previously. We believe that this strikes a delicate balance by ensuring that the OIM can operate independently and that all Administrations can have a meaningful input in the appointments process. At the same time, we have been clear that it is essential that the OIM operates independently and at arm’s length from Ministers from all Administrations. Therefore, we do not believe that reserving the right for each Administration to make appointments to the CMA board as set out in Amendment 54 is the correct way forward. Likewise, it is important that appointments are made through fair and open competition, which is what our amendments ensure.

We believe that Amendment 57 and our changes made to Schedule 3 ensure a fair, independent and equitable process for all Administrations. It will ensure that consensus is always a first preference, but recognises that, if it is not reached, appointments can still proceed after an appropriate time has elapsed. This represents a pragmatic way forward and avoids the risk of prolonged deadlock over appointments that would prevent the OIM fulfilling its duties under the Bill.

We agree with previous arguments in Committee that all OIM appointees should reflect a range of expertise from all parts of the United Kingdom. That is why we have tabled Amendment 55, which clarifies this in the Bill, making clear the desirability that panel members have a variety of skills, knowledge and expertise. It is important to remember that the OIM will be a neutral custodian of the UK internal market through its non-binding reporting, advisory and monitoring functions. If there are potential concerns in future about how the OIM conducts its duties, Amendment 61 ensures that the CMA’s annual plans, proposals and performance reports are laid before the devolved legislatures as well as Parliament, ensuring equal scrutiny and oversight of these developments, which can be discussed between Ministers from all Administrations where that is appropriate.

Finally, I am aware that there has been considerable interest in this House in ensuring that the OIM operates in the interests of consumers. We have listened carefully to these discussions and are confident that our amendments throughout Part 4 resolve the concerns expressed and put it beyond all doubt that the OIM will operate in the interests of UK consumers.

For all the reasons I have set out, I hope that noble Lords can accept the Government’s amendments and consequently will not press their own. I beg to move.

Lord Thomas of Cwmgiedd Portrait Lord Thomas of Cwmgiedd (CB) [V]
- Hansard - -

I shall speak to Amendment 54 but, before doing so, I thank the Minister for the substantial progress that has been made in relation to the office for the internal market, and for the recognition that it is necessary for the strength of the union and for equality and fairness between the people of the four nations of the United Kingdom that that office has representations from all four nations. However, the purpose of Amendment 54 is that that principle should be applied to the Competition and Markets Authority. This is a non-ministerial department with very substantial powers, which it has exercised since its creation in 2013, but Part 4 of the Bill gives it further and more substantial powers and a role in the operation of the internal market. What precise form those powers will take may ultimately depend on further changes to the Bill, but there can be no doubt that the powers are substantial.

Amendment 54 is therefore a modest amendment, seeking to build upon what the Government have agreed to in relation to the office for the internal market. At present, the Competition and Markets Authority has its chair and members appointed by the Secretary of State and the panels under the Act. But it seems that there is no reason at all why the principles that have been brought to bear for the office for the internal market should not be applied to the CMA itself. As I shall try to explain in a moment, it is essential that the CMA should have representatives of each of the four nations.

It was said at a previous sitting that this would be politicising the body. That is not so. First, the CMA is an independent, non-ministerial department, and people appointed by the Secretary of State, including its chair, are independent. The persons under this provision would be independent in exactly the same way. They are not going to be representatives of the devolved Governments in exactly the same way that the persons appointed by the Secretary of State are not representatives of Her Majesty’s Government but independent people.

Secondly, it is very important to ensure that now that the CMA will have an important role in the internal market, it will have at least one member from each of the nations who understands the issues in the internal market as it affects that nation. Thirdly, the amendment will not politicise the position in any way because the appointment will be by an independent public appointment process, in the same way that the chair and members appointed by the Secretary of State are appointed by an independent appointments process. That is the purpose of the first amendment.

Amendment 58, which is also in this group, is now covered by government Amendment 57 if Amendment 54 is agreed to. Amendment 59 is agreed to be consequential on Amendment 54. Before explaining briefly my reasons for tabling Amendment 54, I wish to make it clear that at the appropriate time this evening, unless the Minister is prepared to come forward with some alternative proposals, I propose to take this amendment to a Division.

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Moved by
54: Schedule 3, page 47, line 26, at end insert—
“(2A) After sub-paragraph (1)(b) insert—“(c) one person appointed to membership of the CMA Board by each of— (i) the Scottish Ministers,(ii) the Welsh Ministers, and(iii) the Department for the Economy in Northern Ireland.””Member’s explanatory statement
This amendment provides for each of the devolved administrations to appoint a member to the CMA Board.
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Moved by
59: Schedule 3, page 48, line 28, at end insert—
“(2A) After sub-paragraph (2) insert—“(2A) Sub-paragraph (2) applies to a member of the CMA Board appointed under paragraph 1(1)(c) as if the reference to the Secretary of State were a reference to whichever of the Scottish Ministers, the Welsh Ministers or the Department for the Economy in Northern Ireland appointed the person.””Member’s explanatory statement
This amendment means that, if a CMA Board member appointed by one of the devolved administrations wishes to resign from membership, they must do so by giving notice to the devolved administration in question.

United Kingdom Internal Market Bill

Lord Thomas of Cwmgiedd Excerpts
Report stage & Report: 3rd sitting (Hansard) & Report: 3rd sitting (Hansard): House of Lords
Wednesday 25th November 2020

(3 years, 6 months ago)

Lords Chamber
Read Full debate United Kingdom Internal Market Act 2020 Read Hansard Text Read Debate Ministerial Extracts Amendment Paper: HL Bill 150-III(Rev) Revised third marshalled list for Report - (23 Nov 2020)
Moved by
64: Clause 42, leave out Clause 42
Member’s explanatory statement
This amendment is intended to remove the provision for a Minister of the Crown to provide financial assistance for economic development etc. anywhere in the United Kingdom.
Lord Thomas of Cwmgiedd Portrait Lord Thomas of Cwmgiedd (CB) [V]
- Hansard - -

My Lords, I rise to move this amendment to remove Clause 42 of the Bill. This amendment and Amendment 69, to which we shall come later and which stands in my name, deals with two clauses that are in some ways closely related. This clause authorises the UK Government to spend funds on the huge area of government expenditure—indeed, almost any aspect of government expenditure. Clause 44 deals with the quite separate question of state aid, and it is very important to keep them distinct. I make it clear in moving this amendment that I intend to press this to a Division.

First, I shall say a little bit about the clause. What is it for? The Conservative manifesto spoke of a shared prosperity fund which was intended to be a successor to the European Union regional structural funds. I looked on it as something that would strengthen the union by sharing the prosperity of our four nations. However, because it wore the word “shared”, it carried with it the connotation that the Governments of the four parts of the United Kingdom would share in the way in which it was distributed in accordance with the constitutional arrangements in place.

That such a fund would be greatly welcomed does not need to be stated. There are parts of the UK—and being here in Wales it is evident—that are far poorer than other parts of the United Kingdom, and investment is needed. Of course, we need to look carefully and in a structured way at how they are to be dealt with. I think we have—and I shall come to this later—some guidance published this afternoon in the Red Book, at box 3.1 on page 37. It is convenient for me to deal with that when I come to deal with the role of the devolved Governments.

There is one thing I ought to say—and I hate that this is something that will not come to pass. In Committee, the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett of Manor Castle, drew our attention to another term. She pointed out that in the European Union there were rules about funds allocated for the remediation of poverty and for equalling people up which had been made available to parts of the United Kingdom, including Wales. She pointed out that there would be detailed rules, and that Europe operated detailed rules. However, this shared prosperity fund still has no detailed rules, despite what is said in box 3.1, to which I have referred. She pointed out that the Americans have a term, pork barrelling, for this kind of fund. I would like to continue to call it a shared prosperity fund, because I believe in the union and in sharing the way our country is governed, and I hope that we will never have this aspect of American politics brought into our way of doing things but, plainly, there are dangers along those lines.

This clause is best analysed by asking eight questions. The first is why it is included in the Bill? As it stands, it is wholly separate from the other provisions we have been debating, which are to do with the internal market. The Bill is not concerned with the allocation of government powers to spend money between the devolved Governments and the Government of the United Kingdom with England. Secondly, what is its aim? I have addressed that: as was stated in the Government’s manifesto and now in box 3.1, it is intended to level up the divisions of society within the union and to help.

One immediately has to ask why this clause is needed. The Government have done city deals and have provided money, perfectly property, under our existing constitutional arrangements. Why do they need this power? If they were to provide the funds through the existing constitutional arrangements, this power would not be needed. The devolved Governments of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland would be involved and the spending programmes would go along the way they have always gone along, this fund being an additional fund provided from moneys no longer remitted to the European Union. Indeed, if it were to follow the lines of the city deals or its predecessors in the European Union, the Government would negotiate the other Governments, in the case of the devolved nations, or, in the case of England, the various regions and cities, what they felt the money should be spent on, consider it and make a decision. That is all perfectly feasible. So, yes, it is a very good idea to have a shared prosperity fund, and it needs no legislation.

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Baroness Penn Portrait Baroness Penn (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

The Government are seeking the power under this Bill to spend across the whole of the United Kingdom in the areas set out in the Bill. The operation of the £220 million announced at the spending review will start from the next financial year and the full shared prosperity fund will begin the year after. More detail on how that will operate will be set out in due course.

Lord Thomas of Cwmgiedd Portrait Lord Thomas of Cwmgiedd (CB) [V]
- Hansard - -

I thank all noble Lords who have spoken in this interesting debate. I apologise to the noble Baroness, Lady Noakes, for referring to the document published today as the Red Book instead of its true colour which, as one sees on the screen, is blue. I was misled by the heading Google has for it, which is the Red Book.

However, Google had another use because it took up a point made by the noble Lord, Lord Naseby, and alerted me to the fact that the great and late Senator McCain had a member of staff who would go through Bills before Congress and find where there were pork-barrel provisions. He was known as the ferret, so ferrets do have great uses in politics.

To return to the points made, it is clear from the debate that we all share a number of objectives: first, to have a more prosperous United Kingdom; secondly, to spend the money wisely; and thirdly, to spend it in a way that is effective and goes to those areas that need it. We all believe that such spending and levelling up will benefit the union. However, there is profound disagreement as to the way in which this should work with our devolution settlement. It seems to me from the response given to my noble friend Lord Purvis of Tweed and from the Minister’s speech that only one conclusion can be drawn from what the Minister is saying and that these powers are needed not to spend the money outside the areas of devolved competence but to spend it in the areas of devolved competence. That is the aspect that fundamentally divides us and is fundamentally wrong about this clause. It seems to me that, given the Minister’s position and the clarity that comes through her statements, this is a direct attack on devolution under the guise of some other words. Therefore, I seek to press to a Division the amendment that I tabled to remove this clause, which is so destructive of our union.

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Moved by
69: Clause 44, leave out Clause 44
Member’s explanatory statement
This amendment is intended to remove provisions changing the legislative competence of the devolved legislatures to prevent devolved Acts making provision about the regulation of the provision of certain subsidies by public authorities.
Lord Thomas of Cwmgiedd Portrait Lord Thomas of Cwmgiedd (CB) [V]
- Hansard - -

My Lords, in a way this issue is much simpler because Clause 44 has been put in with one purpose only: to alter the devolution scheme. I intend to move that it be removed from the Bill and, if necessary, I will press this to a Division.

I ought to say from the outset that the regime of state aid is plainly necessary, and it is necessary to have one for the whole of the UK, as I will explain in a moment. It is necessary first to say a little about the background. Until relatively recently, the British Government’s stated position had been to retain the EU regime and put in place an independent body, such as the CMA, that would police it. Whether it was like the Commission or whether it was advisory was something to be worked out. Obviously, that would not have required any change to the devolution scheme because we would have been proceeding as we had during our membership of the EU.

However, the present Government decided to change that, and they intend to use Henry VIII powers to do so by statutory instrument. That instrument has been drafted and is no doubt to be debated soon. It has been considered by the Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee, which has concluded, and I think it important that noble Lords hear its conclusion:

“The House will be aware of the Committee’s concern, raised on several previous occasions, that secondary legislation is being used to introduce policy changes about important issues which should more properly be the subject of primary legislation, thus affording a higher degree of parliamentary scrutiny. This is another such occasion and one on a subject that appears central to the UK’s negotiation position with the EU. We take the view that it is neither a welcome nor indeed acceptable use of secondary legislation”.


That is a clear intimation that we should look at this in a proper debate on state aid.

Obviously, that is for another occasion, but if that instrument is passed and the EU regime is revoked, the Government’s position is very simple, and we will live under this regime for the next several months—that is, the World Trade Organization rules will apply. We, as the United Kingdom, are bound by them as a matter of treaty obligations and the devolved Governments are bound to follow World Trade Organization rules in relation to subsidies. Of course, it will be without any direct policing authority, but that is the course that has been decided on, so there is no urgency about this issue and I will return to that in a moment. Of course, the position could change.

I very much hope that there will be a deal with the EU, and no doubt there is a prospect that a deal may deal with the subsidy regime, but at the moment we have to proceed on the assumption that, first, the current regime will be withdrawn, and that we will move to the WTO regime. That is the background.

Secondly, I emphasise again that this is not an amendment suggesting that the UK does not needed a regime. It is perfectly obvious that any internal market has to have a state aid regime, just as world trade has to have a set of state aid rules, weak though the WTO rules are on this issue. One cannot see a stronger argument for a properly thought through regime of state aid than in the recently published paper of the Institute for Government Beyond State Aid. It explains why it is necessary, how it should be done, what should be done before it is established and that it should be widely consulted on. Of course, there has been a lot of time to do this, but nothing has been done.

I think it must be accepted that the Government desire to proceed. Why they want to do so now is unclear, but they believe that they have hit a snag, which is the fact that for the time of our membership of the European Union we lived with the devolved Governments dealing with all these issues and, as I outlined in the previous debate, this competence is not reserved. Therefore, unashamedly, the Government want to use this legislation to alter the devolution settlements. Whereas in other parts of the Bill I have been critical of the fact that the Government are trying to do something by stealth, here what they are trying to do is much clearer. What they are trying to do is, if I may say so, not open dealing or being straightforward. They are trying to make state aid a reserved matter by the device of expanding or extending the competition policy reservation. If they wanted to do this properly, one would have expected it to be dealt with in a much more straightforward manner.

The real issue is how should we now proceed, and there are three alternatives. The first, obviously, is to leave this clause in the Bill. I will come back to that in a moment. The second is to work out a policy and enact it by primary legislation. The third is to use the common frameworks. I shall deal with the second of those suggestions first.

If there is to be a state aid policy, it cannot be denied that it would need widespread consultation. If we were to go down this route, the Government would need to carefully craft legislation and bring it before Parliament. If, in such legislation, there is a need to change the devolution settlements, that can be in the Bill so that we know what is required and how it can be dealt with. That is one solution. There is absolutely no reason why we cannot do that, because we will be living under a World Trade Organization regime in the interim and the devolved Governments will be bound by that.

Secondly, to my mind a much more attractive way forward is to use a common framework. I regret that this matter came up in Committee very late on a night when, as the Minister will remember, we were all fairly exhausted at the end of the debate on Part 5. I hope he will recall that I then suggested that maybe one way forward was a common framework.

Having the privilege of being a member of the Common Frameworks Scrutiny Committee, I raised the question of a common framework with the Counsel General for Wales, Mr Jeremy Miles, and the Cabinet Secretary for the Constitution, Europe and External Affairs in the Scottish Government, Mr Michael Russell. They expressed a view that this was a way forward. Last night the Counsel General wrote in very clear terms, and I hope that the letter has safely reached the Minister and many others. He made it clear that state aid had always featured on the list of common frameworks but there had been no progression. He continued:

“The Welsh Government has been clear that it would wish there to be a single state aid subsidy control regime for the whole of the United Kingdom, or at least for Great Britain if the Northern Irish protocol makes this impossible, provided it is co-designed by all the Governments which have to implement it. I therefore wish to make a clear and unequivocal offer on behalf of the Welsh Government. If the Government will remove Clause 44 and agree without prejudice to its legal position to participate in discussions on a legislative framework on state subsidy control, we will commit in good faith to work intensively on such a framework on a tight timetable to reach agreement within three months of the Government tabling a proposal, or in any event by 31 March next year. In the meantime, we will commit to not put forward any primary or secondary legislation to the Senedd which in any way touches on the regulation of state aid subsidies until these discussions have concluded.”


So there is a plain offer of a way forward on the table. That is the second alternative.

The third alternative is to proceed with this clause. I urge noble Lords to take the view that it would be quite wrong to do so. At this stage there is no clear knowledge of what the policy will be. It is not clear what changes, if any, need making to the devolution settlements. The appropriate time to make such a change would be with the policy properly devised and the powers that are needed.

I urge noble Lords to take the view that tackling all this now, with this proposal to change the devolution settlements without a policy by this back-door device of altering the competition reservation, is wrong. It would be better by far to work out what is needed and, if possible, to proceed by a common framework, because that will produce a legal regime with no doubt proper enforcement powers across the UK. We should not put this in at the tail end of a Bill without proper thought as to the context. There is time to do this: the WTO regime will tide matters over until a common framework is agreed or until there is legislation. I therefore move the amendment and I will be prepared to test the opinion of the House on this matter.

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Lord Callanan Portrait Lord Callanan (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I am not sure whether that was a question or a speech in the wrong place—but I take the noble Lord’s point. I think he is getting issues conflated. The common frameworks programme of course is a programme of work with diffuse levels of power and ultimately it is not clear where regulation lies. To resolve those matters on a cross-UK basis, there is no doubt in our mind where the proper operation of these powers is—state aid, or rather subsidy control, is a reserved matter for the UK Government. However, we have said that we want to work collaboratively. We want to work with the devolved Administrations and of course, as we have said, we will consult closely with them on any new policy that we develop and indeed on whether legislation is necessary. But, given my general support for the framework and the Government’s support for the framework programme, I do not believe that it is appropriate for this matter to be included in the framework programme.

Lord Thomas of Cwmgiedd Portrait Lord Thomas of Cwmgiedd (CB) [V]
- Hansard - -

I will be brief, as obviously it would be very unfair if the Welsh were totally to outnumber everyone else in the number of speeches delivered this evening. I thank all noble Lords for their contributions to an interesting, though short, debate.

First, it is very encouraging that there is complete consensus on the need for a single subsidy regime for the internal market. There is no doubt about that. Secondly, there must be a consensus that at the moment this is not something that the UK Government have power over—otherwise this clause would be unnecessary. It is not a reserved matter and therefore under the devolution schemes it is a matter for all the devolved Governments. Thirdly, it is clear that there is no uncertainty. The Government are taking us out of the EU regime, assuming the instrument is passed, and we will go into the WTO regime—so that is the regime for the foreseeable future.

The real question is: are we going to go forward by diktat from Whitehall and Westminster or are we going to go forward by consensus? An obvious way of going forward is a common framework. I regret to say that I cannot agree with the Minister that a common framework is inappropriate. It is absolutely appropriate, because it will cater for the kind of divergence that will be allowed in the subsidy regimes. This is a matter of acute importance to people such as fishermen and those involved in agriculture. We need to know what level of divergence is permissible and negotiate that.

Finally, a decision has to be made on the role of the CMA. I moved amendments earlier this week in relation to the CMA simply because I imagine it will have to be the policeman of this regime. But what is it to be? Is it to be an adviser? Is it to have a central role? Or are things to be laid out in a common framework?

I therefore say that this clause ought to be removed. Get the policy right first. Try it by common framework and let us go forward on that basis. Therefore, I want to take the opinion of the House on the appropriate means of going forward—and the appropriate means is taking this clause out of this Bill.

United Kingdom Internal Market Bill

Lord Thomas of Cwmgiedd Excerpts
Consideration of Commons amendments & Ping Pong (Hansard) & Ping Pong (Hansard): House of Lords
Wednesday 9th December 2020

(3 years, 6 months ago)

Lords Chamber
Read Full debate United Kingdom Internal Market Act 2020 Read Hansard Text Read Debate Ministerial Extracts Amendment Paper: HL Bill 156-I Marshalled list for consideration of Commons reasons and amendments - (8 Dec 2020)
Moved by
Lord Thomas of Cwmgiedd Portrait Lord Thomas of Cwmgiedd
- Hansard - -

At end insert “and do propose Amendments 48B, and 48C to the words restored to the Bill by the Commons disagreement to Amendment 48—

48B: Clause 48, after subsection (1) insert—
“(1A) The powers in subsection (1) may only be exercised—
(a) after consultation with the relevant authority on the principles under which financial assistance may be provided by a Minister of the Crown;
(b) after publication of such principles; and
(c) with the consent of the relevant authority where the financial assistance is assistance that could be given by a relevant authority.”
48C: Clause 48, in subsection (2), after the definition of “providing” insert—
““relevant authority” means the Welsh Ministers in respect of Wales, the Scottish Ministers in respect of Scotland, and the Northern Ireland Executive in respect of Northern Ireland.””
Lord Thomas of Cwmgiedd Portrait Lord Thomas of Cwmgiedd (CB) [V]
- Hansard - -

I thank the Minister for the opportunity to discuss this matter with her. In light of what she said about wishing to set up a governance structure, I am sure that progress could be made. However, there are five short reasons why I hope the House will accept the compromise I have offered in Motion K1, which I now seek to move. First, the Commons reasons were, as has been stated by the Minister, to do with financial primacy. With the utmost respect, they are not correct. Powers to spend in devolved matters are powers of the devolved Governments, not the UK Government. Most of what is covered in this clause are matters that are devolved. Secondly, the clause therefore seeks to change the devolution settlements to enable the UK Government to override the devolution settlements. The clause is therefore a constitutional and not a financial issue.

My second reason is that, at present, funds provided by the EU for regional aid for matters within devolved powers are provided to the devolved Governments, who have to agree how the funds are to be spent. The amended clause would continue this architecture for the shared prosperity fund, the successor fund to that. Under the amendment, the UK Government would agree with the devolved Governments the way in which the funds would be spent where the funds were for matters within the devolved competences—roads, health, education and the like. This would combine the benefit of an overall strategy for the UK with the benefit of devolved Governments agreeing how funds were to be expended in the areas for which they and they alone were responsible.

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Baroness Penn Portrait Baroness Penn (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, the Government made a number of commitments on the shared prosperity fund in the manifesto, both about the overall quantum of the fund and the funding that different parts of the UK can expect to receive. We set out in the spending review that that would ramp up to £1.5 billion per year as the structural funds tail off. Our approach will be guided by that but, as I say, more detail will be set out in advance of the operation of the fund in spring next year, with the multiyear settlement coming in the following year.

Lord Thomas of Cwmgiedd Portrait Lord Thomas of Cwmgiedd (CB) [V]
- Hansard - -

I thank all noble Lords who have spoken in this short but interesting debate. I will deal with the Minister’s points in turn.

First, it seems clear that these powers—the Minister actually said this in Committee—were being taken to give the UK Government power to spend across the United Kingdom. These powers would plainly not be needed unless they were encroaching on devolved powers. City deals can be done without them; the Government can spend without them. I say respectfully to the Minister and to those who say this is a financial matter that it is not. When powers are devolved, the spending power goes with them. The reason of financial privilege is not correct.

Secondly, on how the funding works, I find it difficult to understand why, in light of what the Minister has said, she cannot agree to the very short amendment I have put forward. It spells out the principles, deals with consultation and ensures that, within the areas of devolved spending only—the amendment is clear on this—there should be agreement so that funds are spent together. With respect, the importance of this amendment is to show that, as we go forward, we do so as a United Kingdom with the central UK Government and the devolved Governments working closely together. Putting this provision in the Bill, particularly the structure under which this is to be done in this area, would be an enormous reassurance. It would strengthen the union, not imperil it, by enabling inconsistent spending to occur in devolved areas. Having listened to the debate and heard what all noble Lords have said, I seek to take the opinion of the House on this issue.

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Lord Faulkner of Worcester Portrait The Deputy Speaker (Lord Faulkner of Worcester) (Lab)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I now call the noble Lord, Lord Thomas of Cwmgiedd, to speak to, but not at this point move, Motion L2.

Lord Thomas of Cwmgiedd Portrait Lord Thomas of Cwmgiedd (CB) [V]
- Hansard - -

I am grateful to the Minister for the opportunity to discuss this clause with him. I hope that there is a basis on which we can move forward to agree this. I will explain the purpose of the amendment in five short reasons. First, it has always been the position that there must be a competition regime that must apply to the whole of the UK. The issue is how we get there in a way that preserves and strengthens the union.

The position at the moment is that there is no agreed new competition policy. We will be operating, subject to anything that may be agreed with the EU, under the WTO regime, which devolved Governments are bound to apply under the existing devolution settlements. There is therefore time to set about this constructively. It is clear that, in devising a competition regime for the control of subsidies, a lot of things need to be ironed out. What is the role of the CMA to be? Is it to be an independent adjudicator or merely advisory? If so, whom does it advise? What does control over subsidies mean? These issues need to be examined carefully.

There are two ways forward. Way one—what I would call the UK Government’s way—is, first, to change the devolution settlements. This is a change to the devolution settlements because they operate on the basis that, if a power is not reserved, it is devolved—and there is no reservation in respect of this matter. It is therefore plainly devolved, and the purpose of this amendment is to change the devolution settlement. Having changed the settlement for a policy that they have not yet devised, the Government then wish simply to consult—and I am grateful for the clauses that affirm that they will at least do that—and then announce their decision. That is what I would call “way one”—the UK Government way.

But there is a better way, which is to do it by agreement but with a backstop. I think that there are good prospects of agreement. The Welsh Government offered unequivocally, in a letter sent on 24 November—the day before the Report stage of the Bill—to try to agree a common framework, but what I do not think many have appreciated the significance of is that the Scottish Government committed themselves to joining in that. I am not sure the extent to which that might have been appreciated at the highest levels of government, but if we simply reject this offer by the Scottish Government, that will, in my view, have very serious consequences.

Therefore, the amendment seeks to build on the progress that we have been able to make and to provide that an attempt should be made to agree a common framework—which is a regime that can govern the control of subsidies. However, if one is not agreed in the specified period of time—I have suggested three years—this clause would then take effect. If there is a view that that period is too long, obviously that is a matter that can be discussed.

The vital question is that the amendment, I respectfully urge, would allow for a further strengthening of the union, with an agreed way forward and the UK Government and the devolved Governments working together to achieve a regime applicable across the UK under the mechanism of consensus through a common framework. This would achieve what the Government want by consensus, not simply consultation. To reject the amendment and restore Clause 50 would be to impose unilaterally a change in the devolution settlement by reserving a power that is not reserved. This would be a gratuitous present to those who say that the union does not work.

There is an offer to work together from the Scottish and Welsh Governments. This House should not allow the Government simply to reject a consensual solution, as there is a time limit for that consensual process. In due course, I will move my Motion and seek t test the opinion of the House.

Lord Faulkner of Worcester Portrait The Deputy Speaker (Lord Faulkner of Worcester) (Lab)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, the following noble Lords have indicated that they wish to speak: the noble Baronesses, Lady Bowles of Berkhamsted and Lady Neville-Rolfe, and the noble Lord, Lord Liddle. I call the noble Baroness, Lady Bowles.

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Moved by
Lord Thomas of Cwmgiedd Portrait Lord Thomas of Cwmgiedd
- Hansard - -

Leave out “Amendment 50B” and insert “Amendments 50B and 50C—

50C: Clause 50, before subsection (1) insert—
“(A1) Subsections (1), (2) and (3) shall take effect when the Welsh Ministers, the Scottish Ministers and the Northern Ireland Executive have agreed with the Secretary of State a common framework applicable to the United Kingdom to regulate the provision of subsidies by a public authority to persons supplying goods or services in the course of a business or, if agreement cannot be reached, three years after the passing of this Act.””
Lord Thomas of Cwmgiedd Portrait Lord Thomas of Cwmgiedd (CB) [V]
- Hansard - -

My Lords, I am very grateful to all who have taken part in this very interesting and difficult debate. The points may seem obtuse, in that they concern state subsidies, but there are very real issues of principle involved. In the first place, it is quite clear, as the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope of Craighead, pointed out earlier in this debate, that the state subsidies are devolved. For example, Schedule 5, Part III, paragraph 4(1) of the Scotland Act says:

“This Schedule does not reserve giving financial assistance to commercial activities for the purpose of promoting or sustaining economic development or employment.”


When one then looks at the amendment that is brought in by Clause 50, it speaks of:

“Regulation of the provision of subsidies which are or may be distortive or harmful … to persons supplying goods or services.”


There can obviously therefore be an argument, as any subsidy may be distortive, that the whole of the power is subsumed in what the Government are seeking to do through their Amendment 50.

Where we have got to is an almost Alice in Wonderland situation: they want to change the devolution settlement first, in this way, which cuts right across agreed provisions, quite apart from the general reservation, and then work out the policy second. Surely, the better way to do this is to work out the policy first, and to do it in consultation with the devolved Governments. The amendment I have put forward gives a way of doing that and, most importantly of all, apart from these technical issues, to take away power—express power in the devolution agreements—because all these powers are not reserved. The Government would not need this change. Not having a clear idea that you can explain and work out how this works with the devolution settlement in my view is a gift to those who say, “The union will not work. We offered to co-operate and they won’t”. I therefore want to test the opinion of the House on this amendment, which is a compromise to try to secure the future of our union, in which so many of us have such faith.

United Kingdom Internal Market Bill Debate

Full Debate: Read Full Debate
Department: Cabinet Office

United Kingdom Internal Market Bill

Lord Thomas of Cwmgiedd Excerpts
Moved by
Lord Thomas of Cwmgiedd Portrait Lord Thomas of Cwmgiedd
- Hansard - -

At end insert “and do propose Amendments 48E and 48F in lieu—

48E: Clause 48, page 40, line 41, at end insert—


“(1A) The powers in subsection (1) may only be exercised—


(a) after consultation with the relevant authority on the principles under which financial assistance may be provided by a Minister of the Crown;


(b) after publication of such principles; and


(c) after considering the advice of persons jointly appointed by the Minister of the Crown and the relevant authority for each of Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland as to the way in which, applying the principles, the allocation of financial assistance respectively to Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland which could have been given by a relevant authority should be provided.”


48F: Page 41, line 10, at end insert—


““relevant authority” means the Welsh Ministers in respect of Wales, the Scottish Ministers in respect of Scotland, and the Northern Ireland Executive in respect of Northern Ireland.””

Lord Thomas of Cwmgiedd Portrait Lord Thomas of Cwmgiedd (CB) [V]
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My Lords, I thank the Minister for the opportunity to have had discussions with her on two occasions. I am grateful indeed. There are three short reasons why I hope that the House will accept Motion F1 and Amendments 48E and 48F, which I seek to move and the compromise within that is intended. Those reasons can be explained briefly as follows.

The first is that the assertion of financial privilege is one to which there are two answers: it is not a financial issue, it is a constitutional and devolution issue. The scope of financial privilege is a question that will need to be discussed further in due course as the precedents on financial privilege need to be considered in the light of devolution. However, this is not the occasion. The issues in relation to devolution are addressed in this amendment in a way that simply seeks to clarify the need for consultation, principles and advice, all of which are so essential to the function of a union, but they do not impinge on the power of the other place.

My second reason for the amendment is that the way in which it seeks to proceed is to set out a principal reason for spending in the devolved areas. The UK Government and the devolved Governments should work together to strengthen confidence both in the Governments and in the union. The clause requires, as before, consultation in establishing the publication of principles and—this is new—the consideration of advice from the devolved Governments in the field where powers have been devolved. This goes nowhere beyond the devolved powers and it seeks simply to uphold the devolution settlement. The keys are consultation, principle and advice.

It is of course for the UK Government to decide whether they will follow that advice, but perhaps I may make three short points. If the advice were to be followed, it would stop the UK going back, as the Minister has observed, to “Westminster knows best.” If the UK Government were to follow the advice, it would say that they can work with the Governments that have been elected by the people of Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales to spend wisely in the devolved fields by accepting the advice of those who know best in the devolved institutions. Secondly, it would also give the spending of those funds a considerable degree of democratic legitimacy by ensuring that the democratic mandate to spend in the devolved fields was heeded. Thirdly, if the advice was followed, spending would be much more efficient, as there should be co-ordination of spending. The real risk of inconsistent and, worse still, competitive spending, would be avoided.

My last main reason is, in short, is that the amendment seeks to lay part of the foundation for the exercise of statecraft, something that is so necessary to ensure the future of our union. The question may therefore be asked: why is it necessary to put this into a Bill? We simply cannot afford the failure of statecraft in relation to the union. Experience has shown that a clear mechanism is the best way of providing for co-operation between the four nations. There can be no more important area in which to do this than in relation to the working together, with a common and unified purpose, to increase the prosperity of each of the four nations, and here I refer in particular to the very deprived areas within those four nations. I beg to move.

Lord Adonis Portrait Lord Adonis (Lab)
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I strongly support everything that has just been said by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Thomas, and I hope that my noble friends in the Labour Party will support him in his amendment if he presses it to a vote. The points he has raised are absolutely fundamental to the devolution settlement. The big issue here is what happens in lieu of the big decisions that used to be made about the structural funds. The noble Baroness the Minister said in our last debate that it was the European Union that would decide, which of course was technically true because these were EU funds, but the advice upon which projects are prioritised within the devolved Administrations very clearly flowed from the devolved Administrations themselves. If we do not observe that principle in respect of the Shared Prosperity Fund and whatever may replace it over time—the noble and learned Lord, Lord Thomas, has explained that we are putting in place within statute a regime that could now last for decades—what we will be doing is substantially rolling back the devolution settlement.

The noble and learned Lord used a slightly antiquated term, “statecraft”, but it is coming back into vogue, because we have so little of it. Indeed, as some noble Lords might recall, the Prime Minister told us some while ago that it would be a failure of statecraft if there was not a deal, which he very nearly railroaded the country into over the past weekend. It would be an equal failure of statecraft if the devolution settlement starts to break down because of irreconcilable differences between the devolved Administrations and the UK Government on fundamental issues relating to the allocation of structural and regional funding within the UK.

The position that we are in, which is why I think it is so important that the noble and learned Lord presses his amendment, is this: can we simply take the rather vague assurances that the Minister has given us today as being sufficient? In respect of the operation of the whole devolution settlement, which is something that one would expect to roll over from Government to Government as a part of our constitution, I do not think that the assurances which have been given as set down in Hansard are sufficient. It is important to have them in statute. Thus, I think that the arrangements that the noble and learned Lord has set out in his Amendment F1 are absolutely appropriate to what we are facing in this area.

The other reason is that in my experience, people’s past behaviour is always the best guide to their future behaviour. On the basis of the Government’s past behaviour, I do not believe that we can accept those assurances as being sufficient. This is the Government that introduced the towns fund under which Ministers themselves could decide on a wholly arbitrary basis that was not related to any objective statements of need, how they would allocated hundreds of millions of pounds—I think in the end billions of pounds under the fund; I have just been told £4 billion—based on arbitrary and essentially political criteria. How can we accept a vague assurance about consultation with the devolved Administrations when we know that that is how Ministers of the Crown have behaved?

It seems to me to be absolutely essential, not simply desirable, that we put into statute the requirements of the noble and learned Lord’s Amendment F1. They seek that the Government should make these further investments only after consultation, which is the crucial element of his proposed new wording for Clause 48

“on the principles under which financial assistance may be provided by a Minister of the Crown.”

That would set out in law the requirement that there must be consultation on principles.

If I have a concern about the noble and learned Lord’s amendment, it is that it is too weak. This is the classic problem when one starts to compromise. You end up by giving up too much ground. As I read it, I think that the wording of his amendment is too weak because it requires consultation on principles. On my reading of the amendment, it does not require the consent of the devolved Administrations to disbursements that are made in respect of additional investments like the Shared Prosperity Fund.

I will put this to the noble and learned Lord: what would happen if, having consulted, the United Kingdom Government do what they now seem to do routinely—the Prime Minister has told us that he does not believe in devolution—and simply override the view of the devolved Administrations and decide on a political basis to make what are essentially politically motivated investments anyway?

I hope the noble and learned Lord can disabuse me, but my reading of the wording of his new amendment is that the United Kingdom Government would, having consulted, none the less be able to ride roughshod over the devolved Administrations and decide what they want to do for political reasons in London and Westminster. The noble Baroness said—we liked her words—that she was seeking to give backing to the principle that it is not the case that Westminster knows best; my reading of the state of the law, which is what will matter on these things, is that it would be perfectly okay for future Governments to say not only that Westminster knows best but that the Conservative Party knows best and will distribute funding in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland in respect of Conservative Party priorities and not any priorities agreed with the devolved Administrations.

I strongly support the noble and learned Lord’s amendment. It goes to the heart of what will happen to devolution after Brexit. My concern is that, in the process of compromising as this Bill has gone through, the amendment is too weak to deliver the objectives which the noble and learned Lord so rightly set out.

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Lord Thomas of Cwmgiedd Portrait Lord Thomas of Cwmgiedd (CB) [V]
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I thank all noble Lords who participated in this debate—particularly the noble Lords, Lord Adonis, Lord Fox and Lord Liddle, and the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett of Manor Castle—which has lasted slightly longer than I anticipated.

The debate on both this occasion and previous ones has centred on the question of financial privilege. I am very grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Noakes, and the noble Lord, Lord Stevenson of Balmacara, for their observations on the uncharted territory into which we might be moving. It is important for the future to work out the way in which ancient principles may no longer be applicable to constitutional issues if we are to keep our union together.

In looking at this whole series of debates together, there has been another consideration. At least there is now a much greater understanding of the importance of respecting the devolved settlements and devolution. I was heartened when the Minister referred to an abandonment of “Westminster knows best”. That is progress indeed. I have also taken the Minister’s assurances into account. As one looks at the debates in the other place on the previous debates in this House, it is clear that those from Edinburgh, Cardiff, Belfast and other places within those three nations, pay particular attention to what has been said. I am glad the Minister has given assurances in relation to principles of consultation and heeding advice.

It is a question of weighing up whether putting a structure into the Bill in the circumstances I have outlined would be a sufficient safeguard. Or is there a better safeguard: that is, the deterrence of the catastrophic result for our union if the Government did not adhere to the principles that have been explained? It would be catastrophic not only for the union but for trust in government if there was ever a hint of unprincipled distribution or application of these funds—[Inaudible.]—and of the pork barrel.

Therefore, with considerable hesitation, but bearing in mind that deterrence is a strong way of ensuring people keep to their principles—possibly stronger than structures in some places—with great reluctance I beg leave to withdraw this amendment.

Lord McNicol of West Kilbride Portrait The Deputy Speaker (Lord McNicol of West Kilbride) (Lab)
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Is it your Lordships’ pleasure that Motion F1 be withdrawn?

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Baroness Bowles of Berkhamsted Portrait Baroness Bowles of Berkhamsted (LD) [V]
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My Lords, I will speak to my Amendment 50F and Motion G2, which I may wish to move. I also support Amendment 50E and Motion G1. Amendment 50F looks to the stage at which there may be changes to state aid provisions, whether that be changes in definitions, remedies, or the scope of exemptions, or introducing conditions or time limits on approval. I agree with the Minister that at the moment they are gone, but might not alternatives be introduced, or some aspects reintroduced? I think that would also constitute a change.

The EU state aid provisions were indeed the subject of a statutory instrument recently, and they end at the end of the transition period. But, as the Minister has informed us previously, the UK will follow WTO rules and consult and report on whether any wider scope is to be introduced. If the outcome is a recommendation for going wider—some kind of policy change—it begs the question of how it will be introduced.

My proposal is not made instead of consultations and approvals with the devolved Administrations, which we support; it is in recognition that the full range of public authorities and businesses are affected wherever they may be. Therefore, the detail of how any post-consultation policy change is implemented is of significant interest.

The withdrawal Act was used to make the changes that happen at the end of the transition period. But it would seem inappropriate for that to be used for any new policy. A new policy other than moving to the WTO default should surely have the scrutiny of primary legislation.

I know the Minister may say that how policy is to be implemented can be a point in consultation, but my submission is more constitutional than convenience. Parliament should be able to scrutinise and amend, and to spot those weaknesses and problems that this House in particular has the experience to iron out, especially at the first time around of making independent, post-Brexit state aid rules.

Therefore, my Amendment 50F seeks to put on the face of the Bill that changes to the test for harmful subsidy remedies, the scope for exemptions or the conditions or time limits on approvals may not be done by regulation. I do not seek to prevent policy change being made by the Secretary of State; I am just saying that, at least first time around, it should be made by primary legislation. It may be that the Minister can put my mind at rest, and I await his response with interest.

Lord Thomas of Cwmgiedd Portrait Lord Thomas of Cwmgiedd (CB) [V]
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My Lords, I will speak briefly in support of the eloquent and persuasive speech of my noble friend Lady Finlay in moving the amendment in Motion G1. First, I thank the Minister for his letter of Friday, which makes clear the Government’s wish for a constructive and collaborative relationship with the devolved Governments on state aid control and that the clause does not cut across the power of the devolved Governments to provide state aid or to determine how it is provided; it seeks only to restrict the distortive effects. With those thanks comes one short observation and two questions.

My observation is this: the proposal is very modest and not to the devolved institutions’ liking because, at the end of the period put forward in this amendment, it would nevertheless reserve a matter that the devolved Governments are right in saying is devolved. Of the many strengths of the proposal, it would provide a means for agreeing the regime and ensuring that it does not go forward without any risk of unilateral attack by a devolved institution. Surely the prize of agreement and strengthening the union is worth having.

I now pose my two questions to the Minister. First, the devolution statutes are now all framed based on reserved powers. That means that, if the UK Government have not reserved something, it is devolved. The power to control state aid is not reserved. If it were, these amendments would be unnecessary. This amendment therefore plainly changes the devolved settlements by removing a power that the devolved Governments have and transferring it to the UK Government. In those circumstances, I ask why the UK Government would not work together with them, consult them before the Bill was produced and try to find a common solution to that which I have always accepted as an absolute necessity: a unified state aid control regime. I fear it is an example of Westminster saying that it knows best, rather than working with the devolved Administrations.

Secondly, if the desire was to work together but, at the same time, provide a means of subsidy control, why, when changing the scheme of devolution, was a commitment not made in the Bill to work together with the devolved Administrations to develop the new regime? These questions seek to show that much could have been done to proceed in a way that strengthens the union, for that is the point of these amendments: to ensure that the UK Government work together with the devolved Administrations.

It is therefore necessary to ask the Minister a general question: how serious are the UK Government in their claims that the devolved legislatures and Governments will be fully involved in developing the subsidy regime? There are many important questions, particularly the role of the CMA as an independent regulator and not an adviser to the UK Government. I am grateful to the Minister for his letter and the constructive conversations we have had, but I join the noble Baronesses in asking for these further assurances and hope we receive them.

Baroness Fookes Portrait The Deputy Speaker (Baroness Fookes) (Con)
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I have received a request to speak from the noble Lord, Lord Adonis.