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Lords persuades government to think again on devolved powers after Brexit

16 December 2020

EU and UK flags

The House of Lords agreed to a government concession on the common frameworks process in the United Kingdom Internal Market Bill on Wednesday 15 December.  

The bill returned from the House of Commons with previous Lords amendments rejected but with a new set of changes proposed by the government (PDF) in their place. Members debated and agreed to these new changes.

Discussing the changes, the minister Lord Callanan said:

'The government have listened carefully and reflected on the points put forward many times by your Lordships’ House on putting common frameworks in the bill, and I am pleased to say that today we are able to act. Given the strength of feeling on this matter, we would like to demonstrate our commitment to the programme, first, as requested by many noble Lords, by placing common frameworks in the bill. Secondly, we are clarifying a relationship that we see between agreements made under the common frameworks processes and the internal market principles established by this bill.'

Catch up on the debate on Parliament TV or read the House of Lords Hansard transcript.

The bill has now returned to the Commons. If agreed to, the bill is ready for Royal Assent (the Queen's formal approval) and will become law.

'Ping pong' - previous days

Consideration of amendments from the Commons began on 9 December and continued on 14 December.

Monday 14 December

The bill returned from the Commons with the Lords devolution amendments rejected. Members debated motions on consideration of Commons reasons and amendments (PDF) and proposed modified amendments in response.

Three votes took place on amendments. Changes relating to common frameworks and market access were sent to the House of Commons.

Catch up on Parliament TV or read a House of Lords Hansard transcript from the debate.

Wednesday 9 December

Votes took place on changes to maintain the principles of the devolution settlements. Some members argued the bill would undermine these and so amendments were essential to secure the future of the UK union.

The House of Lords voted to put clauses back into the bill on:

Members also agreed to government amendments, including on the former section 5 of the bill. The bill was subsequently sent back to the House of Commons.

Catch up on Parliament TV. Read the the House of Lords Hansard transcript of the debate. 

Third reading

Third reading is a final chance to tidy up the bill and make changes.

Members passed the bill without making any further changes. They said the bill was in a better state following the House's examination of its content. 

Members also urged the House of Commons to give proper consideration to its changes, particulaly in relation to the removal of part five and powers of the devolved administrations.

Catch up on Parliament TV. A House of Lords Hansard transcript is available three hours after the debate. 

Report stage 

Day three - Wednesday 25 November

Votes to remove two clauses

Members voted 323 for, 241 against, amendment 64 removing a clause authorising UK government ministers to spend funds on economic development and certain other activities anywhere in the UK.

The second, amendment 69, removes provisions changing the legislative competence of the devolved legislatures regarding subsidies. The House voted 315 for, 230 against.

Office of the Internal Market

The House also backed amendment 68A by 298 votes to 257. It makes the Office for the Internal Market independent from the Competition Markets Authority and provides for the consent of Scottish and Welsh Ministers and the Department for the Economy in Northern Ireland for its board appointments. 

Votes against two changes

The House voted 155 for, 249 against a change (amendment 62A) for small business exemptions from some penalties. 

An amendment (75) to set specific conditions for the use of certain statutory instruments, failed to pass as members voted 134 in favour and 247 against.

Day two - Monday 23 November

Devolved administrations' powers

The House of Lords voted 319 in favour, 242 against, amendment 15. This change requires the government to seek the consent of the devolved administrations over the use of powers in the bill. If consent is not given within a month, the government can press ahead but this change requires it to publish a statement explaining why its made the regulations. 

Members also voted for amendment 54, by 285 to 224. This change ensures representation for the Scottish, Welsh and Northern Ireland administrations on the Competition and Markets Authority board. 

Day one - Wednesday 18 November

Members voted in favour of two amendments to the bill on the devolved administrations and ministerial powers.

Common frameworks process

The Lords voted 367 for, 209 against, amendment 1 to strenghten the common frameworks process. Members argued the bill would undermine the process, an agreement for the four UK nations to work together on powers returning to the UK after Brexit.

Ministerial powers

The second vote was on amendment 7, to take out subsections that would allow ministers to re-write elements of the bill after it becomes law (secondary legislation). Members voted 327 in favour, 223 against. 

Revising chamber

As the second chamber of the UK Parliament, the House of Lords is a revising chamber: members make arguments for changes to persuade the government to think again. Some of the amendments moved were accepted by the government. For example, the government agreed to amendment two which removed some ministerial powers.

The minister Lord Callanan (Conservative) said the government listened to what members had said. To address the concerns the House raised, it agreed to remove powers that, after reflection, it now considered non-essential.

The House of Lords Library briefing provides background information about the bill.

Committee stage

Day five - Monday 9 November 

Members voted by 433 to 165 to remove clause 42 which included provisions on the Northern Ireland Protocol.

The House of Lords also voted to remove clause 44 which would override parts of the Brexit withdrawal agreement relating to Northern Ireland, by 407 to 148.

Day four - Monday 4 November

Members discussed the responsibilities of the Competition and Markets Authority and promoting research and development and innovation in UK industries.

Day three - Monday 2 November

On day three of committee stage, members discussed the powers of devolved administrations and a future Office for the Internal Market.

Day two - Wednesday 28 October

On the second day of committee stage, members continued to debate these proposed amendments to the bill, with consultation of devolved administrations and the powers of ministers to vary aspects of the bill on the agenda.

Day one - Monday 26 October

On day one of committee stage, members discussed consumer and environmental protection, the Northern Ireland protocol and Good Friday Agreement, and common frameworks between the devolved UK governments.

Main debate on the bill

Rule of law

The rule of law dominated the second reading debate on Monday 19 October. Many members argued that the principle of upholding the law is fundamental.

Vote on Lord Judge's amendment

Lord Judge, Convenor of the Crossbench Peers, put forward a change to amend the wording of the debate motion to state the bill would undermine the rule of law and damage the UK’s reputation. He highlighted that Parliament – responsible for making the law and a body which expects people to obey the laws it makes – would be knowingly granting power to the government to break the law.

The House of Lords voted 395 for and 169 against Lord Judge's amendment, so the change to the debate motion was made. 

UK Union

Members from across the UK expressed concern about the future of the Union and the way the bill would restrict the existing powers of the devolved administrations.


Nearly 70 members took part, including a former Secretary of State for Northern Ireland and the Archbishop of Canterbury.

The collective experience of the speakers covers major public offices: 16 former secretaries of state and ministers, three former law lords and supreme court justices and a former Lord Chief Justice of England and Wales, four former civil service permanent secretaries, two former Lord Chancellors, two former leaders of the main political parties and two former Speakers of the Commons and the Lords.

Baroness Hayman of Ullock (Labour) and Lord Sarfraz (Conservative) made their maiden speeches.

Lords committee reports

The Constitution Committee, Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Commitee and EU Committee reports on the bill call for the government to remove provisions breaching the UK’s international law obligations and the Withdrawal Agreement.

United Kingdom Internal Market Bill

The UK Internal Market Bill makes provision for the UK’s single market and seeks to provide access for Northern Ireland goods to the market in Great Britain. It contains ministerial powers to change the Northern Ireland Protocol.