Internal Market Bill could ‘destabilise’ devolution, peers warn

A House of Lords committee has said the UK Government’s Internal Market Bill could “destabilise” devolution.

In a report published on Friday by the House of Lords Select Committee on the constitution, peers said ministers should listen to the concerns of the devolved administrations over the Bill and amend it accordingly – or scrap the relevant powers entirely.

The three devolved administrations of the UK have raised concerns over the Bill, with the Scottish Government describing the legislation as a “power grab”.

The law would mean goods or services sold in one part of the UK would have to be allowed to be sold in another, effectively limiting standards across the country to the lowest of the four nations.

Members of the committee said the provisions should be removed or be subject to consultation before being used.

The report said: “The Bill adopts an unnecessarily heavy-handed approach to reconciling the demands of free trade within the UK and the need to respect the role and responsibilities of devolved institutions.

“It provides the UK Government with powers that could allow it to alter the competences of the devolved administrations in significant ways.

“As such, it risks destabilising this integral part of the UK’s constitutional arrangements at a time when it has never been more important for central and devolved governments to work together effectively.

“These powers should be removed or subject to clearer duties of consultation and joint decision-making.”

The Scottish Parliament voted to reject a legislative consent motion on the Bill earlier this month by 90 votes to 28.

Legislative consent motions are a political convention rather than legally binding, and are used to indicate that a devolved legislature is content for the UK Parliament to pass a law on a devolved matter.

The committee also took aim at relations between central and devolved government, saying better joint ministerial committee processes would improve the relationship.

Jenny Gilruth
Jenny Gilruth

The Scottish Government’s Europe minister 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.”

She added: “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.”

The Internal Market Bill also features legislation that will break international law, flouting the European Union (Withdrawal Agreement) Act 2020 and the Northern Ireland Protocol, which were agreed to facilitate the UK’s departure from the EU.

The report says: “We consider the proposed breaches of international law in the United Kingdom Internal Market Bill unprecedented.”

It also claims the Bill “casts doubt on the UK’s willingness to abide by its international commitments”.