The Government’s Internal Market Bill – on the road to Hypercapitalism

The third day of the internal Markets Bill saw a series of amendments relating to issues around devolved powers and the environment

Speaking in the debate on the third day of the Internal Market’s Bill Committee Stage Jenny said:
My Lords, the Government are certainly getting a lot of advice during the passage of this Bill. As the noble Lord, Lord Cormack, said, they really ought to know that they do not have all the answers. So I do hope that the Minister listens.

The amendments in this group follow perfectly the Government’s announcement that they are putting the trade commission on a statutory footing. If the Government want to run an internal market, surely it is right to create a fully functioning governance body for that purpose. Merely tagging on a few functions to the Competition and Markets Authority shows a weakness of purpose and a lack of understanding of exactly how everything should run.

Giving the new office for the internal market the power to investigate distortive and harmful subsidies could have a powerful impact on wiping out the implicit and explicit subsidies for fossil fuels, particularly unconventional oil and gas fracking. These implicit and explicit subsidies include a streamlined planning process and no requirement for the company to make a bond, unlike the landfill industry, equating to the government underwriting of the clean-up of fossil fuel sites in the event of corporate bankruptcy. So once again taxpayers would pay to clean up other people’s mess.

Just to be clear, the journalist at Drill Or Drop? suggests that the OIM can comment on controversial issues such as fracking, which, as we all know, is a dangerous, polluting, expensive, intrusive and—in view of our global need to limit our carbon emissions—unnecessary process. The OIM could give advice contrary to the devolved Administrations’ decisions. Can the Minister tell me if that is true?

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

Later in the debate Jenny spoke again: My Lords, it is a real pleasure to support Amendment 166 from the noble Baroness, Lady Boycott, which I have signed along with the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, and the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman. I also, of course, support Amendment 169, tabled by my noble friend Lady Bennett of Manor Castle.

These amendments are important because they come back to the crucial question of what the market is for: does the market exist to serve us or do we exist to serve the market?

The noble Baroness, Lady Boycott, used the word “progressive”. We need a progressive agenda. We have to harness and tame the market to make sure that it protects our natural world. The market does not care, and would rather see a woodland turned into logs than exist as a habitat for thousands of species, a sink for carbon, a filter for water, a protector of soils, or the hundreds of other ecosystem services that it provides.

In truth, we should be seeing amendments like Amendments 166 and 169 in every single Bill that the Government bring to your Lordships’ House. Their absence is a dereliction of duty by Ministers, not only because we have made promises about the environment, but because we make things worse for everybody when we do not do these things. It is not just about making the market worse; it is society that suffers.

It is a year to the day since the Government announced that the Treasury would conduct a net-zero carbon review following the passage into law of the 2050 net-zero target. This review is still nowhere to be seen. Can the Minister please tell the Committee what has happened to the review, whether it is still happening and, if so, when it will be published?

Natalie went on to say… It is a pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Judd, and welcome his front and centring of the climate emergency and nature crisis. I thank the noble Lord for his expression of support for Amendment 169 in my name. I also thank the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, for his expression of support.

Before I get to that, I wish to briefly speak in support of Amendments 132, 167 and 168 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Stevenson of Balmacara. It is notable that in the EU there are rules about the funds allocated for the alleviation of poverty and inequality—something that has been entirely lacking from UK practice and procedure, under which the Government have been able to direct money for electoral advantage without rules or oversight. The Americans have a word for that, “pork-barrelling”, and the practice is as unattractive as the metaphor.

I share the concerns expressed by other noble Lords speaking in this group about devolution issues, which other amendments seek to address, but as I have addressed those in other speeches I now speak chiefly to Amendment 169. It seeks to ensure that those who receive financial assistance, provided under the provisions of the internal market, can receive it only if a climate and nature emergency impact statement is undertaken first. This would ensure public money is granted only to development consistent with net climate, nature and environmental targets.

Amendment 169, and my argument for it, build on the comments of my noble friend Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb on the previous group, who reflected on the damage done by massive and continuing fossil fuel subsidies. As others have noted, my amendment has much in common with Amendment 166 in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Boycott, to which my noble friend has already spoken, but my amendment extends further, calling for a detailed mechanism for each project, rather than the overview included in Amendment 166.

I must remind the Committee, as the noble Baroness, Lady Boycott, did, that the UK is the chair of the COP 26 climate talks. We have a responsibility to be the world leader the Government often proclaim they want to be. Green finance is an issue of great interest to a wide range of international bodies and commercial organisations. All new and continuing financial schemes, whatever their sources, have to be green, given the urgency of our climate emergency and nature crisis.

I note that on 25 June, the Committee on Climate Change made a progress report to Parliament, although we are yet to hear the Government’s response. The report showed how far our current policies are from meeting our existing commitments and the future, larger commitments we must surely make to live up to our enhanced ambition, beyond that of Paris 2015—something we have recently seen China taking a clear global leadership role in.

I refer to an Answer I received today from the noble Lord, Lord Callanan, to a Written Question on the green homes fund. I asked whether the programme would be extended and the funding enhanced. In his Answer, the noble Lord helpfully told me that £65 billion of investment will be needed for housing retrofit across the 2020s—£65 billion in nine years versus £2 billion of current funding. We clearly need to see some of the funding covered by this Bill directed towards this area, not nature-destroying, planet-trashing options.

Since the Government are very keen to look at league tables for education, we might look at two published in the last fortnight on the environment. One showed per capita contribution to plastic waste production. In this, we are, unfortunately, world-leading. We are second behind the United States on this plastic-choked planet—a huge and terrible responsibility. We have to use regulatory tools and funding to promote ways of cutting back on this. Secondly, the European Environment Agency reported that the UK has the third-greatest proportion of marine and land areas in bad conservation status; we are close behind Belgium and Denmark. More than 70% of our habitats “exhibit overwhelmingly bad conservation status.”

Again, we must not only make sure we do not fund further damage but, as a matter of extreme urgency, direct funding in ways that start to repair the centuries of damage that has been turbocharged by our economic structure in recent decades.

These are not abstract, environmental, “nice to have” issues. They are about human survival. I ask your Lordships to think about the people of Nicaragua and Honduras seeking shelter and safety. To quote an NBC headline: “Eta forecast to make landfall as a Category 4 hurricane, a rare occurrence in November.”

If noble Lords think that is an odd name for a hurricane, we are using the Greek alphabet now, because the normal alphabet has been exhausted this year.

The Committee might think about the people living now in low-lying areas around the world, including in the UK – we had a reference to flooding earlier. There have been reports from the Arctic of the failure of sea ice to form by the end of last month. That month broke the record for the lowest extent of sea ice in October. Its extent was more than 1.5 million square miles less than the 1980s average. That is an area larger than India, if noble Lords can envisage that.

The proposal in Amendment 169 is modest. Anyone asking for financial assistance needs to prove how their requests measure up to the climate, nature and environmental goals and targets, and the Government need to check to ensure that they are not boosting future hurricanes or ice melt, further treating our planet as a dumping ground or killing our wildlife. If those individual requests are put together it will enable Governments across the UK better to understand the aggregate impacts of the financial assistance—the state aid, as others have called it—and to measure them against the goals and targets to which they are already committed. Impact statements would be not an additional burden, but a necessity to reach shared goals.

I conclude by noting that the Conservative Party manifesto last year promised “the most ambitious environmental programme of any country on earth.” How could any Government elected on that platform decline to include this amendment in the Bill?

Baroness Penn (Con) replying for HMG said: I will now discuss Amendments 166 and 169. Amendment 166 would require, by law, all financial assistance given under this power to be “consistent with the … climate and environmental goals and targets applicable in the relevant part or parts of the United Kingdom.” Amendment 169 would require that any financial assistance provided be accompanied by the Minister’s assessment of the recipient’s climate and nature emergency impact assessment. I commend both noble Baronesses for their commitment to this agenda. It is shared by the Government, who have already committed to ambitious climate targets and will lead the world’s discussion at COP 26 next year. The Climate Change Act 2008 already requires the Government to set five-yearly carbon targets, covering the whole of the UK, to move toward meeting our net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050.

This framework sets the overall level of ambition, with the Government determining how best to balance emissions reductions across the economy. As policies and proposals are developed and implemented, their contributions to emissions increases or reductions are quantified and published regularly. This enables the Government to monitor progress towards meeting the UK’s carbon budgets and inform policy decisions. Therefore, any net emissions increase from a particular policy or project is managed within the Government’s overall strategy for meeting carbon budgets and the net-zero target for 2050, as part of an economy-wide transition.

Through the Environment Bill, as introduced into the other place in January, the UK Government will have a power to set long-term legally binding environmental targets across the breadth of the natural environment. The Environment Bill will also protect the environment from future damage by embedding environmental principles at the heart of policy development across government. The environmental principles will be used by Ministers and policymakers to ensure that policy and legal frameworks help to minimise the impacts of human activity on the environment.

The Fisheries Bill also includes a climate change objective, requiring fisheries administrations to introduce legally binding policies to minimise adverse effects of the fishing and aquaculture sectors on climate change and adapt their activities.

The noble Baroness, Lady Jones, asked about the net-zero review, and I confirm that this will be published in spring 2021.

Given the Government’s strong commitment, already, to meet their ambitious climate targets and the frameworks established under the Climate Change Act and proposed under the Environment Bill and Fisheries Bill, I do not think it is necessary to add such a legislative requirement to this power.

Read the whole debate on Hansard