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Internal Market Bill allows UK Government to ‘alter the competences of the devolved administrations in significant ways’, House of Lords committee concludes

House of Lords - Image credit: PA images

Internal Market Bill allows UK Government to ‘alter the competences of the devolved administrations in significant ways’, House of Lords committee concludes

The UK Internal Market Bill allows the UK Government to “to alter the competences of the devolved administrations in significant ways”, a House of Lords committee has concluded.

According to the House of Lords Select Committee on the Constitution, the bill “takes power to override future devolved legislation” and limits the scope for the devolved administrations to diverge on policy.

The committee raised doubts about the need for the bill at all because “mechanisms already exist to provide a foundation for preserving a strong and functioning UK domestic market”.

It said: “We are not convinced that opportunities for managing the UK internal market through the common frameworks process have been exhausted. This contributes to our doubts about the necessity for the bill.”

The committee said it was “troubling” in the context of devolution that substantive changes to the UK internal market could be made by the UK Government using delegated powers, which are subject to limited parliamentary scrutiny and do not require the consent of the devolved legislatures.

It said: “As the operation of the devolution arrangements and the respective power of the devolved institutions are constitutional matters, we would expect to see them amended by primary rather than secondary legislation – or by using a statutory procedure that requires the consent of the devolved legislatures.

“It would also reassure the devolved administrations if changes to the internal market arrangements were subject to the parliamentary scrutiny brought to bear on primary legislation, which allows for amendments to be considered, and over a period of time which permits their views to be heard.”

The committee also raised concerns about a lack of detail on what consultation would be carried out with the devolved administrations on any changes to the internal market.

It said the UK Government must set out the consultation process and called for an explanation of why joint decision making was not included in the process.

Another area of concern was the inclusion within the bill of plans for the UK Government to spend money directly in devolved areas.

“The government should explain why such a broad power for the UK Government to spend money in devolved territories has been included in this bill.”

It said was important for reasons of democratic accountability that the division of responsibilities for policy and spending between the UK Government and the devolved administrations was clear and the proposals risked “blurring the lines of financial accountability”.

Commenting on the select committee report, Scottish Government minister for Europe Jenny Gilruth said: “This report strongly supports the Scottish Government’s position that this legislation is an attempted power grab on devolution, and is a damning indictment of the UK Government’s misguided and unnecessary Internal Market Bill.

"Indeed the House of Lords report dismantles the UK Government’s proposals.

“The Scottish Parliament has already explicitly and comprehensively withheld consent to the bill, at which point the UK Government should have withdrawn it.

“This House of Lords report underlines why the bill is unacceptable, and why it should be dropped.

“It agrees with our view that the bill allows the UK Government to alter the competences of the devolved government in significant ways.

“It is now beyond any doubt that this bill undermines the devolution settlement and constrains the ability of the Scottish Parliament to make distinctive policy choices for Scotland.

“We also agree with the report's conclusion that the Government is setting out explicitly to break international law in a way that is without precedent.

“The UK Government should think again. We urge them to abandon this deeply damaging bill.”

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