28th October 2020: Lord Faulkner of Worcester:

My contribution to the debate on the United Kingdom Internal Market Bill:

Lord Faulkner of Worcester (Lab)

My Lords, I wish to draw the Committee’s attention to the risk to future public health policy as a result of the inconsistent nature of this Bill and focus on the impact of artificially splitting the public health exclusion so that it applies unevenly across the market access principles.

I will concentrate on Amendments 39A, 47A and 52A —tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Young of Cookham—to which I have added my name and which are also supported by the noble Baroness, Lady Northover. As the noble Lord, Lord Young of Cookham, said, the exclusions to the market access commitment differ between mutual recognition and non-discrimination. I struggle to understand the rationale of legislation that recognises the importance of allowing policy that is necessary to protect some aspects of human health but provides no equivalent avenue for others. This is not a continuation of how our internal market is currently regulated, but a significant departure from it.

The example of minimum unit pricing for alcohol, which was mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Young, illuminates the risk of arbitrary distinctions. Much of the discussion in the House of Commons on this Bill’s health impacts revolved around its potential effects on minimum unit pricing, which arguably was covered by the mutual recognition principle. If it were covered by mutual recognition, this could have rendered any future similar policy—possibly even modifications of the existing minimum pricing regime—largely untenable due to the lack of a public health exclusion from mutual recognition.

In responding to this, rather than applying a public health exclusion to mutual recognition, the Government instead moved minimum unit pricing and similar manner-of-sale policies from mutual recognition. When introducing these amendments, the Minister in the other place said:

“We are taking the opportunity to put it beyond any possible doubt that alcohol minimum unit pricing-type regulation and any other sales requirements are not in the scope of the mutual recognition principle, unless they amount in practice to a total ban on a good being sold.”—[Official Report, Commons 29/9/2020; col. 189.]

While your Lordships may consider that this represents an improvement at face value, on closer inspection, it is a cause for considerable concern.

First, the Government’s decision to do this indicates that a thoroughly evidenced-based policy such as minimum unit pricing, which has steadily defeated challenge in the courts, might not have been possible if it were included within mutual recognition. That illustrates just how narrow the exclusions are to this principle.

Secondly, it demonstrates the risk that this Bill poses to future public health legislation. We know about minimum unit pricing, so we can modify the Bill to attempt to protect it, but it is not hard to imagine that we might in future see innovative and effective policy based on health labelling bans or content reformulation ​of alcohol, tobacco or food products. All these aspects would likely be subject to the rigid mutual recognition principle.

Lastly, regarding the amendments on the powers of the Secretary of State to amend the Bill through secondary legislation, the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee concluded that the Government’s adoption in the Bill of wide-ranging Henry VIII powers, whereby:

“Any power to make regulations under this Act is exercisable by statutory instrument”

and includes the power

“to amend, repeal or otherwise modify legislation”

is completely inappropriate. In effect, it allows the removal or weakening by ministerial diktat of the limited public health protections currently included in the Bill.

At Second Reading, I discussed the importance of allowing the Governments of the four nations of the United Kingdom to protect the health of their populations and how that can lead to innovative policy solutions. The UK has been a leader in the past on tackling smoking, alcohol and sugary drinks. This legislation risks us being unable to embrace, let alone lead, key public health policies in years to come. Our amendments will protect the future of public health legislation, and I commend them to the Committee.

A link to the complete Hansard here