Common Frameworks can help the four nations of the UK collaborate, while still making different choices
What will happen to the new powers that devolved governments gain as a result of Brexit? That is the key question that the House of Lords will be dealing with this week as the Internal Market Bill enters its Committee Stage.
The UK Government argues that the Internal Market Bill is necessary to set binding rules, which will limit the freedom of devolved governments, to ensure that the UK internal market will function smoothly post-Brexit. However, there is another way. Since October 2017 the four governments of the UK have been working together to set up Common Frameworks to agree a collaborative approach across a range of policy areas, while enabling the Devolved Administrations to continue to make different choices as they see fit – over minimum alcohol prices, for example.
Michael Russell MSP, Cabinet Secretary for the Constitution, Europe and External Affairs, described these Common Frameworks as the “jewel in the rather tarnished crown” of the work to create a UK internal market. These proposed frameworks cover significant areas such as food safety and air quality, on which agreement is needed to ensure that the four nations of the UK trade seamlessly together and the UK’s natural resources are protected.
You would be forgiven for not having heard of Common Frameworks. Although they have been in development for three years, much of the progress on them has been slow and largely invisible. But that is changing. In these last few months before the end of the transition period, the four governments of the UK are beginning to publish these. With one already published so far, we expect to see four more frameworks before the end of the year and a further 35 in the new year.
In order to ensure that these agreements get the attention they deserve, the House of Lords recently appointed the Common Frameworks Scrutiny Committee that I have the privilege of chairing. The Committee consists of members from across the four nations of the UK and includes experience from the Scottish Parliament, the Scotland Office and the Scottish judiciary, as well as a wealth of other areas.
We recognise that this is not a task that our Committee is undertaking alone. Committees in the devolved legislatures will be scrutinising these frameworks and we intend to work closely with them. We will also be building on the significant inquiry done by Scottish Parliament’s Finance and Constitution Committee on Common Frameworks, and hope to hear from stakeholders across Scotland as we scrutinise individual frameworks and the process as a whole.
We have already begun our work, writing to UK Government departments about upcoming frameworks on the Emissions Trading System, nutrition rules and food safety, as well as to the Cabinet Office which is overseeing the UK Government’s approach to Common Frameworks. All have important questions to answer to ensure that the committees looking into these frameworks in each nation have the information they need to undertake effective scrutiny.
Common Frameworks already play a crucial role in fostering a positive relationship between the four nations of the UK, and hold great potential for even closer working, but for that to happen there needs to be proper cooperation, transparency and effective scrutiny. If the different legislatures of the UK work effectively together, then we can play an important role in achieving that.
Baroness Andrews is chair of the Common Frameworks Scrutiny Committee