Wednesday 13 July 2022
Procurement Bill [HL]
Committee (4th Day)
Relevant document: 3rd Report from the Delegated Powers Committee
Debate on Amendment 45 resumed.
My Lords, I will just wind up the debate we had on Monday. In this group, I have Amendment 52, which is about adding the improvement of
“economic, social and environmental well-being”
to the procurement objectives. I also put my name to a similar amendment, Amendment 48 in the name of my noble friend Lord Hunt of Kings Heath. I completely support everything that he said in his introduction; it covered what I would have said in support of my amendment, so there is no point in going over all that again. In fact, we discussed a number of amendments in this group that looked at the economic, social, environmental and cultural benefit and value of the Bill and considered what we mean by “public benefit”. It was a useful debate to explore those potential objectives and what the definition of “public benefit” is. It will be interesting to hear the Minister’s response to those discussions.
I also supported the amendments laid by my noble friend Lady Thornton, Amendments 47A and 52A. As my noble friend said, we believe that maximising social value is something that contracting authorities should have regard to. This is in line with the social value Act and the national procurement policy strategy, so this should all be put in line together. We also know that the Government are committed to expanding the use of social value within procurement to maximise these areas. The noble Baroness, Lady Parminter, who is not in her place today—
Oh, the noble Baroness is there; I was looking for her in the place in which she sat on Monday. She moved, just to confuse me. This is the trouble with picking things up later.
The noble Baroness rightly said that meeting net zero is a government-stated objective and we believe, as she does, that this should also be an objective within the Procurement Bill. It could make a genuine difference, should that be something that needs to be taken account of. We also support those noble Lords who said in the debate that this helps to meet the levelling-up agenda as well as achieving net zero.
We know that social value is included in the NPPS—the national procurement policy statement—so I ask the Minister: if it is in the policy statement, why is it not referenced in the Bill? It concerns me that the policy statement can be changed at any point, so not having it in the Bill and just having it in the statement means that it is not absolutely embedded within the legislation. I will briefly mention that, between 2012 and 2020, there was no statutory guidance on social value. This inhibits its development, so we need to ensure that this does not happen in future.
I express strong support for Amendments 49 and 58 in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Worthington, which are about climate and environmental matters and the importance of having these based within the Bill. She also said that “public benefit” needs further clarity, so I must ask again: does “public benefit” include environmental outcomes? It would be helpful to have further information on this. The noble Baroness, Lady Parminter, spoke importantly about the fact that using procurement in this way is an opportunity to drive behaviour change, because we are not going to achieve the Government’s net-zero objectives without behaviour change.
Amendment 45 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Wallace of Saltaire, specifies a number of overarching requirements that a contracting authority must take due regard of when carrying out procurement. We support the main points that he made—particularly, as well as the carbon account, the ethical and human rights record of the supplier, as he said. I know that we will talk about this in a later debate, but that is important.
Amendment 53 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Lansley, which the noble Baroness, Lady Noakes, introduced, again talked about defining “public benefit”. I think that the Minister can see that this is not party political: right across the Committee there is concern about what “public benefit” means and what it is going to deliver as part of the Procurement Bill. The noble Lords, Lord Wallace of Saltaire and Lord Purvis, also tabled amendments on this issue.
I finish by briefly mentioning an interesting briefing that I had from UKCloud. I do not know if other noble Lords have received it, but it is about the importance of maximising social value through procurement in the world that UKCloud works in—the cloud providers—and how doing so would be consistent with wider net-zero policy aspirations. UKCloud feels that it is important to support businesses in this country that are providing those kinds of platforms and support and that the sector can lead in the provision of clean, green technologies, which can help to digitise and decarbonise users of its services. It also believes that, if the sector got that kind of support from government, UK businesses would have the opportunity to really innovate and become leaders in this field. I found that an interesting briefing. If the Minister has not seen it, I would be happy to share it with him, because it had some interesting thoughts in it. The briefing also said that UKCloud feels that weighting should be given to make sure that cloud providers for the UK Government are paying their taxes in full on all earned income in the UK—that is an important point—and that they should have a clear and measurable track record of investing in local jobs and skills. The briefing has some interesting points about how procurement could help its particular type of business. I finish there and I look forward to the Minister’s response.
I thank the noble Baroness and all those who spoke on this group on our previous day in Committee. It was obviously unfortunate that we could not finish this group then, but I am grateful to all noble Lords, including those who were here on Monday who are not able to be here today. It has been an interesting debate and I think that we will wrestle with the philosophy of this as we go forward. I have been interested in the contributions made.
I am constantly asked to define “public benefit”. One of the reasons why we have different political parties in this country and why politics has evolved is that, at different times, different people define it in different ways. The search for a total, accurate, 100% agreed definition that covers every possible eventuality may be an illusion. However, I understand that noble Lords are saying that they feel that there needs to be more clarity. No doubt we will continue this conversation on other amendments to come.
I was interested in this debate. As he knows, I have very considerable affection and enormous respect for the noble Lord, Lord Hunt of Kings Heath—it is very easy to say in this House that you have very considerable affection for somebody, because we are such a nice lot; I think generally we do mean it—and his experience. He said something very interesting. Having argued for his amendment, he said that this Bill would finish with something akin to what he wanted in it and that it would do that because it was a Lords starter.
The only way to interpret that is that the noble Lord would advocate using the power of the House of Lords to force the elected Government to include something in a Bill that they did not wish to include, in their judgment and in the judgment of the House of Commons. That is a perfectly legitimate point of view, but I was interested to see that the noble Baroness from the Labour Front Bench had signed that, as she just reminded us, and expressed her support for what the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, had said. Perhaps I should take this away and tell my friends that if ever there is a Labour Government, it would be reasonable for the unelected House to hold up Labour legislation indefinitely on a Lords starter in order to force change.
My Lords, he really cannot get away with that. There are huge numbers of different amendments, which all have the same intention of trying to implement the Government’s policies on climate change and sustainability, which, as the Committee on Climate Change has said, are absolutely fine. The Government’s problem is that they do not have the policies to implement their own strategy. All I am trying to do is to help them implement their strategy. I do not think that that is a great constitutional abrogation by your Lordships’ House. This is a Lords starter, the Government chose to bring it to the House of Lords, the Parliament Act does not apply and it is quite reasonable for this Committee—of course, I cannot speak for my Front Bench; I am speaking entirely as a lowly Back-Bencher—who is seeking to encourage the Government to recognise that they will lose this in this Committee and that the leverage they have to respond is less than it might be.
My Lords, I think that was the noble Lord trying to wriggle off the hook but impaling himself back on it at the end of his remarks. We have to make this House work via the usual channels, and it is reasonable for an elected Government in another place to listen respectfully to the other House, which it should—it is our duty to ask the other House to think again on certain things—but there is a point where we do not say that it should be taken to the wire. However, if I am ever a Back-Bencher and there is something from a Labour Government that I do not like, perhaps I will take away the Hunt dictum—one of the advantages of continuing on Wednesday what you did on Monday is that you can read Hansard, and I read carefully what the noble Lord said—and practise what he preaches. Anyway, let us get on with the business at hand. It is an important issue on which the Front Bench opposite might wish to reflect.
Amendment 45, tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Wallace, and the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett, seeks to ensure that contracting authorities consider a number of additional requirements when carrying out procurements, including reducing net carbon budgets, supplier human rights records, data security in the platform, and transparency. In our view, as I have argued before in Committee, contracting authorities are able to deal with these matters as things stand, and in a way that is more targeted and effective than through inclusion in a broad obligation to “have regard”. In a sense, that is the difference between us. Although the noble Lord, Lord Wallace, said that his were modest demands, and deliberately did not include net zero, for example, that is brought in by the analogous amendment tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Worthington.
Contracting authorities will be able to take account of suppliers’ carbon-reduction plans and other environmental objectives where they are relevant to the subject matter of the contract. It is unnecessary and potentially unhelpful to contracting authorities to attempt to impose on them all an obligation to have regard to a range of other factors, including net zero—as mentioned in the amendment tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Worthington—in and throughout all of their procurement activities.
In particular, it places unnecessary burdens on them in relation to areas where this is of limited relevance and would open up smaller contractors unnecessarily to the risk of legal challenge. After all, these matters are also covered in another legislation. Contracting authorities will need—this is in the Bill—to consider the ethical and human rights record of the supplier, in some respects, when considering whether a supplier is eligible to participate in the procurement. We will discuss this issue later. The Bill contains effective provision on the exclusion and debarment of those who do not.
Maintaining data security within a digital platform, which is another of the reasonable points that the noble Lord put forward, is a matter for the Cabinet Office team that runs the platform in accordance with the Data Protection Act. It is not something that could easily or legitimately be placed at the feet of the contracting authorities. It should be regulated and policed through the platform.
On transparency, this is an area where I agree with the noble Lord that some overarching obligation is helpful. But we submit that that can already be found in the Bill at Clause 11(1)(c). Furthermore, because the Government place importance on this concept, it can also be found in procedural obligations at each stage of the procurement process that will provide clarity to contracting authorities on exactly what they need to publish.
I turn to Amendments 47A and 52A, tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Thornton, and alluded to by the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman of Ullock, which seek to change the term “public benefit” to “public value” and add “maximising social value” as a procurement objective. As the noble Baroness told us on Monday, “public benefit” is already on the statute book without an accompanying definition in a number of places, including Section 4 of the Charities Act 2011, which I think she referred to. It is therefore a term that, while perhaps not in everyday use for public bodies, has a certain degree of understanding. The “public benefit” objective in Clause 11(1)(b) already means that contracting authorities need to think about how public money can achieve additional benefit in the way that the contract is delivered, which would include how to maximise social value, so we think an additional objective of “maximising social value” would be duplicative.
On Amendment 49, tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Worthington, as we have discussed, the Government’s view is that it would not be appropriate to include wider policy objectives such as she proposes in primary legislation for public procurement.
I am sorry, but the Minister has said that there is no definition of public benefit, and that is quite right. However, there is a legal definition of social value. It exists and is on the statute book, so why are the Government not using “social value” in the Bill?
My Lords, again, I have set out the argument. The noble Baroness disagrees but I am not going to repeat a third time the reason why we think maximising social value is unnecessary and would be a duplicative addition. Each procurement is different and what is appropriate, for example, for a large-scale infrastructure project is not for smaller transactional procurements.
Furthermore, procurement policy should be aligned with wider government policy and, as such, the publication of a national procurement policy statement is based on the strategic policy priorities relevant at the time. It would not be appropriate, in our submission, to include in the Bill priorities which can and probably will change —we have heard that they will—based on an Administration’s objectives. It is always important that policy priorities are included in individual procurements only where they are relevant to the subject of the contract.
On Monday, for example, noble Lords on all sides gave those of us on the Front Bench, I freely confess, a hard time in discussing the importance of minimising bureaucracy to facilitate SME participation in procurement. I took that away as a powerful call, which I have said we will discuss. As I think I have already indicated outside the Chamber, the Government are keen to meet and consider these points.
The paradox is that seeking to include extraneous requirements, which this and other amendments in the group risk, could make it harder for small businesses to bid for public contracts. One cannot talk the small business game, which noble Lords did strongly and fairly, while adding compliance requirements that make things harder for small businesses and help larger organisations to corner the market.
We think that Amendments 48 and 52 in the names of the noble Lords, Lord Hunt and Lord Coaker, and the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, are unnecessary and potentially unhelpful to contracting authorities in attempting to impose on them an obligation to have regard to improving the economic, social, environmental and cultural well-being of the relevant area in and throughout all their procurement activities. In particular, they would place unnecessary burdens on them in relation to areas where this is of limited relevance and, again, open them up unnecessarily to the risk of legal challenge.
I wonder whether we would all agree—in fact, I do not have to wonder; I know that we would not all agree—on what carrying out procurement in a “socially responsible way” means. In a sense, that is implicit in the challenge from the noble Baroness opposite. We all might have rather different understandings of what that requires. Imposing a legal obligation of such potential breadth on contracting authorities is, we submit, exposing contracting authorities to unnecessary risk and complexity. Contracting authorities will be able to take account of measures that improve the economic, social and environmental well-being of the relevant area—this may differ from local authority to local authority, for example—where it is relevant to the subject matter of the contract. The Bill already allows this, which is absolutely in line with the Government’s levelling-up agenda.
On Amendments 53 and 58 in the names of my noble friend Lord Lansley and the noble Baroness, Lady Worthington, as I said in our debate on an earlier group, the term “public benefit” is deliberately undefined; consequently, it is intended to be a flexible concept that gives contracting authorities a degree of discretion. Again, local authorities may have different views from place to place on what the most urgent benefit in their area is. Although all the proposed economic, environmental and social additions, including creating new businesses, jobs and skills, and reducing geographic disparities in the United Kingdom, might be facets of public benefit in different circumstances—I do not challenge that—we do not believe that it would be helpful to elaborate them in the Bill.
It might also be unfair to small contracting authorities to impose an obligation to consider the reduction of geographic disparities in the United Kingdom; they might be more concerned about disparities up the road. Doing so risks excluding other matters that might be more valid in specific circumstances. The Government consider that contracting authorities are better placed to make that decision in the individual circumstances at hand. We want contracting authorities to think about the extent to which public money spent on their specific contracts can deliver greater benefit than it otherwise would. I think that there is agreement in the Committee on that point. As I have said, each procurement is different; for example, what is appropriate in delivering a giant infrastructure project is not appropriate for smaller procurements.
I turn to Amendments 59 and 59A from the noble Lord, Lord Wallace—
My Lords, I have listened carefully to what the Minister said but I am still puzzled. We are trying to craft a Bill that will have quite a long shelf life over a period when we may have a change of Government or some change in government. The Minister is saying that the catch-all public benefit is the only thing that we should have in the Bill in terms of principles and objectives. I would have thought that the consensus across all our democratic parties on public benefit and social value is a little wider than that and that it would help to provide guidance if that were spelled out rather more in the Bill. Otherwise, the principles and objectives will simply swing from one side to the other when different Governments come.
Everything cannot be left to each changing Minister to define. Surely the concept of public benefit is one that we share, as is the concept of social value. We also share the view that £300 billion-worth of public procurement sets a culture, the core of which I hope that all Conservatives, Labour, Liberal Democrats and Greens share, because that is what we are attempting to get. The Minister is saying that we cannot agree on that. I am aware of some people—the Chicago school of economists and those who follow them—who deny the concept of public benefit altogether and believe that private benefit is the only thing that drives the economy, prosperity and society. I hope that we are not there and are not starting from there.
The noble Lord always slightly loses me when he rides off in his speeches. I have a vision of him lying awake, trying to get to sleep, thinking of these terrible right-wing Conservatives whom he always cites and seeing the worst in everything. I thought that the great tradition of the Liberal party and liberal values, which I was brought up with and adhere to, is to give space to variety and not uniformity; there should be flexibility, with opportunities for local judgments and for contracting authorities to make them. The concept of public benefit is wide and flexible and should be so to give contracting authorities a degree of discretion to consider whether their specific contracts can deliver greater benefits than they otherwise would.
For example, contracting authorities are already able to make it clear in their technical specifications that fair trade options can be included in the products provided to meet the requirements of the contracts, provided that they do not discriminate against other products of other suppliers. The noble Lord objected to the mention of the terrible word “money”, but public procurement needs to have a focus on achieving value for money. The two things are not contradistinctions.
While I would expect contracting authorities to consider these matters where appropriate, it would not be helpful to elaborate them in the Bill, for the reasons that the Government have submitted, as they would not apply to all contracts. The course that the other side is proposing will lead to a uniformity imposed on a diversity, which is the antithesis of local values. I respectfully request that these amendments be withdrawn.
Just before the Minister sits down, I really do not think that that is what we are trying to achieve. It is just to try to bring in a definition of something. If you have an objective laid out, without proper understanding of what the phrase is trying to achieve or what it means, it could be quite confusing. All we are trying to get is some clarity on what is meant by “public benefit” and what the Government are trying to achieve by having it as an objective. I have no problem with there being flexibility around this—that is important in procurement—but, as the noble Lord, Lord Wallace, said, we need some sort of guidance. If the Government do not want to put a definition in the Bill, some guidance underpinning it, on what this is looking at and what the Government are trying to achieve, would be extremely helpful.
My Lords, in a sense, it depends where the straitjacket applies and where flexibility is enabled. We will come on shortly to debate the national procurement policy strategy and I gleefully anticipate that that will be another zone of contention in our Committee, to which many of your Lordships will want to add more and more things. The noble Lord, Lord Coaker, was enthusiastic about the national procurement strategy at the opening of our proceedings and it is something that an incoming Government would be able to change and mould. Maximising public benefit is an important objective of the Bill.
Some of the details of how that is done—or part of how it is done, as some of the stuff is in statute and we will talk about things such as preventing modern slavery and so on—will come within the national procurement strategy, which we will discuss on a later group. That would be my response to the noble Baroness. I sense that I have not persuaded the whole Committee on this but, for all the reasons I have given, there is a danger in trying to place too much of this in primary legislation, which is why I urge that the amendment be withdrawn.
I have listened very carefully and have just reread every amendment in this group. Can the Minister point to one amendment that prescribes how the principles in each amendment have to be enacted by each local authority or each purchasing authority? They are broad principles which allow the flexibility that the Minister has just described or relate to issues such as social value, which is already in Clause 11. The amendments are exactly the same regarding social value, the environment and social aspects. Where does the Bill say what that means and where does it not allow discretion?
A considerable number of amendments mandate that contracting authorities must have regard to certain items. Others add to the objectives in Clause 11. It is a difference of interpretation. The Government are in one place. On reflection, I think that perhaps people outside government circles will think that that is not as unwise as it now seems. I again respectfully suggest that the amendment be withdrawn.
Amendment 45 withdrawn.
Amendment 46 not moved.
Clause 11: Procurement objectives
Amendments 47 to 53 not moved.
54: Clause 11, page 8, line 38, at end insert—
“(1A) In carrying out a procurement, a contracting authority must take into account the impacts or potential impacts on local good work as a consequence of awarding the procurement contract with particular regard to the evaluation of—(a) the gains or loss of employment in the contracting authority,(b) the terms and conditions of work available, and(c) the quality of work available.”
My Lords, I should start by apologising for not being able to be present for Second Reading, but I hope that we can have an interesting niche debate about the importance of good work and good work in respect of government procurement. There are five amendments in my name in this group, and I am delighted that I was joined by my noble friends Lord Hendy and Lady Hayman and the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett. I am grateful to them for their support. Also in this group are some important amendments from my noble friend Lord Hendy.
There are two aspects of regulation as I see it. One is about putting some minimum standards in place, which is what my noble friend’s important amendments are about, and the other is about commissioning better practice and better performance, and that is where my amendments sit.
I should also remind your Lordships that I am the co-chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on the Future of Work, along with David Davis in the other place. We have been working with the Institute for the Future of Work on this good work agenda and have found from the evidence around good work that the more you can increase the quantity of good work in the economy and society, the better the prospects are for people and the communities in which they live. We therefore remind the Minister and the Committee of the importance of this agenda in terms of levelling up, in particular, but also building security, prosperity and self-respect—there is a virtuous circle in play.
We are also trying to tackle particular problems that the Institute for the Future of Work, for example, uncovered in its report The Amazonian Era. It looks at the supply chain in the logistics sector that starts with the Amazon warehouses and the problems of algorithmic management where people are being managed by machines and are suffering in terms of their mental health, self-respect, security and prosperity as a result. The Committee may be interested to know that President Biden in the United States is currently instigating a whole swathe of work around supply chains for procurement in order to look at this very topic.
In one of the amendments, we define what good work is, but it is important to remember how good work aligns social, economic and health interests. Taking health, for example, the institute’s good work monitor shows a really strong correlation between health outcomes and higher-quality work, especially regarding chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, heart disease, some cancers, liver disease, drug use and self-harm. All those can be improved by people being able to work in a better environment. This was underscored by the Deaton review for the Institute for Fiscal Studies in May 2019.
There is also a correlation between the pay and benefits that workers receive and the productivity they then generate—hence this is also good for employers. The Resolution Foundation today has published a report showing that UK households are, on average, £8,800 worse off than their equivalents in France and Germany, in large part because of low productivity. This is a British disease that we need to tackle. I suggest that tackling, and incentivising through procurement, a better quality of work is at the heart of what we might want to do. I can also tell the Committee that this is not at the expense of unemployment. There is a very useful correlation showing that good work creates good and higher levels of employment.
I will not run through the principles of good work, as they are set out in one of my amendments. However, in terms of the requirement that we want to put on those entering the process to secure government procurement, there are plenty of indicators to help them demonstrate the quality of the work that they are offering and engaged in. The amendments would essentially ensure that the impacts on access to work and the conditions and quality of work are evaluated at a prequalification stage in procurement. They would thereby deliver strong public benefits. I listened carefully to what the Minister, the noble Lord, Lord True, said in response to the last group of amendments around public benefit. The essential argument was, I think, that it applies differently to different projects, and he therefore wants to keep it loose and flexible.
I say to him that I worry, first, about the possibility of companies that are successful in procurement off-setting one social or public benefit against another. I really do not want to see anyone off-setting the quality of the work against some other social good or public benefit. Secondly, my understanding of how good, successful capitalism works is that business and employers demonstrate four types of value: value to the shareholder; value to the customer, in this case the public purse; value to society, namely public benefit; and employee benefit and value. That is the value mix we are looking to incentivise and get right. In this context and this group of amendments, we are arguing—there is really good evidence to support this—that you can deliver really strong employee benefit and in doing so deliver extremely successful social and public benefit along the way. I seek to get this written into the Bill through these amendments. I beg to move.
My Lords, I will speak to Amendments 186, 292, 297, 315, 319 and 519. I express my gratitude to the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett, and my noble friends Lord Hain and Lord Monks for adding their names. Of course, I support the amendments moved by my noble friend Lord Knight, for the reasons he advanced.
All the amendments in this group are designed to utilise the tremendous power of public procurement to improve the lot of Britain’s 32 million-strong workforce. As the Minister reminded us at Second Reading, £300 billion of public contracts is involved, some 13% of GDP. Public contracts involve tens of thousands of employers and hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of workers in their execution.
At Second Reading, I tried to make the case for the Bill to restore the fair wages resolution of the House of Commons, which subsisted to protect terms and conditions from 1891 through to 1983. The response of the Minister, the noble Lord, Lord True, was:
“To impose your political objectives on a nation, you have to win an election and form a Government.”—[Official Report, 25/5/22; col. 925.]
He made that point earlier this afternoon in different words. It was a powerful point, but we do not think it is sufficiently powerful to answer the amendments proposed.
There are two reasons for this, one ethical and the other legal. I will deal with the ethical issue first. As we know, Clause 11(1) of the Bill includes “maximising public benefit” as one of four objectives to which the contracting bodies must have regard in letting public contracts. Clearly, one way of maximising benefit is to improve or maintain the condition of the working lives of both the workers engaged on public contracts and the many more millions whose employers will be influenced by the terms and conditions set on public contracts.
The other side of that coin is the public benefit in preventing bad employers undercutting good ones in the obtaining of public contracts. Bad employers such as P&O Ferries, which deployed employment practices which the Prime Minister and other Ministers condemned as abominable, should not on any basis be the beneficiaries of public contracts, as I am sure the Minister will agree. Schedules 6 and 7 of the Bill already specify various mandatory and discretionary grounds for excluding potential bidders from public contracts, among which are various forms of abuse of workers. So the principle is established, but the exclusions do not go far enough.
Amendments 186 and 319—one is mandatory and the other discretionary, if your Lordships do not like the idea of mandatory exclusion on this basis—would provide for the possible exclusion of bidders on the basis that the bidder has been found by an employment tribunal or court to have significantly breached the rights of an employee or worker, or that it has admitted that it significantly breached those rights, or that it has made a payment to an employee or worker in respect of a significant breach of their rights. That would catch the P&O Ferries-type employer. Of course, it is necessary to include, as the previous legislation did, a mechanism for self-cleansing so that bidders that are genuinely remorseful and have changed their practice can be included.
I have also defined rights broadly. The idea of a significant breach of rights turns on what rights are protected. Looking at it broadly, it should cover: common law; contract and tort; statutory rights, of course; and those protected by the international obligations of the UK, which are set out in Article 399 of the Brexit deal, the trade and co-operation agreement of 2020, which I will come back to later.
The Bill’s existing grounds do not do anything to protect against the sort of behaviour manifested by P&O Ferries, and although they protect against child labour, modern slavery and so on, they do not protect fundamental trade union freedoms, including the right to bargain collectively. In fact, the Bill, in revoking the existing procurement legislation contained in the Public Contracts Regulations 2015 and parallel regulations, actually removes the present discretion to exclude bidders that have breached these fundamental rights, and currently does not replace that discretion. I do not understand what justification there might be for what is in effect a diminution of labour standards by the Bill, and I would be grateful to hear what the Minister has to say on that.
I will explain the current position. Regulation 57(1) of the 2015 regulations, which is the existing legislative structure, obliges contracting authorities to exclude a bidder if it has been convicted of any of various specified offences, including child labour and other forms of human trafficking. That provision, reworded, is reproduced in the Bill, but Regulation 56(2) of the 2015 regulations also permits a public authority to refuse a tender where the authority has established that the tender does not comply with the various environmental, social and labour law obligations listed in Annexe X to the relevant EU directive, Directive 2014/24, on public procurement. This is, in effect, reiterated in Regulation 57(8)(a).
I will summarise the labour law provisions listed in Annexe X: ILO convention C087, on freedom of association and the protection of the right to organise; ILO convention C098, on the right to organise and collective bargaining; and various other conventions on forced labour, minimum age, discrimination, equal remuneration and child labour. The UK of course has ratified and is bound by each of those international treaties. The specified labour standard grounds for exclusion should be added back into the Bill, preferably by making them mandatory for public authorities, but if not, at least giving public authorities the discretion to exclude on those grounds.
So much for ethics. I come to the legal reason why the Government need the amendments that we propose. In short, this is deference to the rule of law. Of course, the first point is that the UK is bound by the ILO conventions, which are listed in Annexe X, so its legislation should be guided by them. Putting it conversely, it is not consistent with the rule of law to remove treaty obligations from the legislation governing public procurement where they previously had effect.
However, the legal issue goes further than that: the Brexit deal—the trade and co-operation agreement to which I referred—provides in Article 399.2 that, among other things,
“each Party commits to respecting, promoting and effectively implementing the internationally recognised core labour standards, as defined in the fundamental ILO Conventions, which are … freedom of association and the effective recognition of the right to collective bargaining”,
and other conventions on forced labour, child labour, and discrimination.
Article 399.5 provides that
“Each Party commits to implementing all the ILO Conventions that the United Kingdom and the Member States … have respectively ratified and the different provisions of the European Social Charter that, as members of the Council of Europe, the Member States and the United Kingdom have respectively accepted.”
So the conventions listed in Annexe X are among the fundamental ILO conventions and fall squarely within the internationally recognised core labour standards. The UK and the EU member states have the obligation not only to respect and promote the conventions but to effectively to implement them. The duty of implementation surely prevents the Government from removing those ratified obligations from a legislative area in which they previously applied. This should not be confused with Article 387, but in view of the time I will not deal with that now. Article 399.5, which I quoted, goes further than the ILO conventions and refers to the European Social Charter, which in Article 6 protects the freedom of trade unions to bargain collectively.
Finally, my Amendment 519 would effect the Local Government Act 1988, which is referred to in Clause 104 of the Bill. Section 17 of the Act barred local authorities from taking into account certain “non-commercial matters” in the selection of contractors, including terms and conditions of work and the legal status of workers. These inclusions do not appear to be consistent with the obligations in relation to the labour law provisions in the current Bill, and my amendment would repeal the relevant subsections.
I am conscious that the amendments are modest compared to the scope of the Welsh Government’s Social Partnership and Public Procurement (Wales) Bill, which will put collective agreement, social partnership and good labour standards at the heart of public contracting in Wales. The fair wages Bill currently before the New Zealand Parliament goes further still. Collective bargaining is a model elsewhere in western Europe and is advocated by both the ILO and the OECD. I urge the Minister to take these examples to heart.
My Lords, I rise very briefly and with great pleasure to follow the noble Lords, Lord Hendy and Lord Knight of Weymouth. I could not possibly repeat large amounts of what they said. I will just add a couple of points.
First, Amendment 186 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Hendy, and signed by the noble Lords, Lord Hain and Lord Monks, looks at excluding suppliers for other improper behaviour, particularly the mistreatment of workers. This a change to the Bill that I think would be welcomed by many good employers, because it would help them to ensure that they can compete against cowboys and potential cowboys.
It raises a point that I raised in our earlier discussion about supporting small and medium-sized enterprises; there is continuing debate on this issue, which I am sure we will take to Report. In many cases, we have seen that small and medium-sized enterprises, although not all of them are angels, know their workers as individuals. They are very often better employers, whereas large multinational companies treat their employees like blocks of labour to be moved around on a chess board. I would assert that ensuring that bad labour practice is punished would be of benefit to small and medium-sized enterprises, which noble Lords all around the Committee agreed was a good idea.
Moving on to the amendments in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Knight of Weymouth, particularly Amendment 54 and the linked Amendment 535, it is really useful to put this into context, so I will refer to a UNISON report entitled Outsourcing the Cuts: Pay and Employment Effects of Contracting Out. It focuses on some very detailed case studies and looks at what we have seen, particularly over the past decade: an increased work intensity forced on staff, with greater job insecurity and low or non-existent increases in pay. That has happened right across the UK economy, but it has particularly been the case with outsourced contracts of the kind we are talking about here. As the report says,
“outsourced public servants are at the sharp end of this pressure.”
Those are the circumstances we have been in.
I want to pick up on what the noble Lord, Lord Knight, alluded to: that the quality of life we have in the UK, and the quality of our economy, is acutely related to the nature of that work. Amendment 54 in particular says that the
“contracting authority must take into account the impacts … on local good work”.
We have low productivity; extremely poor public health, both physical and mental; and communities that have truly been hollowed out by low pay, where no one has any money to support local independent businesses. This is a spiral downwards, and we have to get out of that. These amendments are working towards putting in provision to change that. I point to the Government’s levelling-up agenda, which is regionally based, so I believe that they do indeed want to address this.
I will pick up on one practical point and an example of how this might be used. Let us imagine that we have two bids for a contract, one of which is from a company that is trialling—as many now are, and as many have fully implemented—a four-day working week as standard with no loss of pay. I suggest that this amendment says that the impact that could have on the local community must be taken into account. Think of all the extra time people would have for volunteering or for childcare, and the impact that would have on the quality of local life. This would build in things that the Government say are part of their agenda. Perhaps it was more Cameronian, but I think the idea of communities providing local services and volunteering is probably still part of the Government’s agenda. So these amendments would deliver things that the Government say they want to deliver, and I believe they would be truly impressive improvements to the Bill.
My Lords, I support Amendments 54, 104 and 535 and will speak to Amendments 67 and 116, which I have signed, which were all so well introduced by the noble Lord, Lord Knight. I declare an interest as vice-chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on the Future Of Work.
My own interests, and indeed concerns, in this area go back to the House of Lords Select Committee on AI. I chaired this ad hoc inquiry, which produced two reports: AI in the UK: Ready, Willing and Able? and a follow-up report via the Liaison Committee, AI in the UK: No Room for Complacency, which I mentioned in the debate on a previous group.
The issue of the adoption of AI and its relationship to the augmentation of human employment or substitution is key. We were very mindful of the Frey and Osborne predictions in 2013, which estimated that 47% of US jobs are at risk of automation—since watered down—relating to the sheer potential scale of automation over the next few years through the adoption of new technology. The IPPR in 2017 was equally pessimistic. Others, such as the OECD, have been more optimistic about the job-creation potential of these new technologies, but it is notable that the former chief economist of the Bank of England, Andrew Haldane, entered the prediction game not long ago with a rather pessimistic outlook.
Whatever the actual outcome, we said in our report that we need to prepare for major disruption in the workplace. We emphasised that public procurement has a major role in terms of the consequences of AI adoption on jobs and that risk and impact assessments need to be embedded in the tender process.
The noble Lord, Lord Knight, mentioned the All-Party Parliamentary Group on the Future of Work, which, alongside the Institute for the Future of Work, has produced some valuable reports and recommendations in the whole area of the impact of new technology on the workplace. In their reports—the APPG’s The New Frontier and the institute’s Mind the Gap—they recommend that public authorities be obliged to conduct algorithmic impact assessments as a systematic approach to and framework for accountability and as a regulatory tool to enhance the accountability and transparency of algorithmic systems. I tried to introduce in the last Session a Private Member’s Bill that would have obliged public authorities to complete an algorithmic impact assessment where they procure or develop an automated decision-making system, based on the Canadian directive on artificial intelligence’s impact assessments and the 2022 US Algorithmic Accountability Act.
In particular, we need to consider the consequences for work and working people, as well as the impact of AI on the quality of employment. We also need to ensure that people have the opportunity to reskill and retrain so that they can adapt to the evolving labour market caused by AI. The all-party group said:
“The principles of Good Work should be recognised as fundamental values … to guide development and application of a human-centred AI Strategy. This will ensure that the AI Strategy works to serve the public interest in vision and practice, and that its remit extends to consider the automation of work.”
The Institute for the Future of Work’s Good Work Charter is a useful checklist of AI impacts for risk and impact assessments—for instance, in a workplace context, issues relating to
“access … fair pay … fair conditions … equality … dignity … autonomy … wellbeing … support”
and participation. The noble Lord, Lord Knight, and the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett, have said that these amendments would ensure that impacts on the creation of good, local jobs and other impacts in terms of access to, terms of and quality of work are taken into account in the course of undertaking public procurement.
As the Work Foundation put it in a recent report,
“In many senses, insecure work has become an accepted part of the UK’s labour market over the last 20 years. Successive governments have prioritised raising employment and lowering unemployment, while paying far less attention to the quality and security of the jobs available.”
The Taylor review of modern working practices, Good Work—an independent report commissioned by the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy that remains largely unimplemented—concluded that there is a need to provide a framework that better reflects the realities of the modern economy and the spectrum of work carried out.
The Government have failed to legislate to ensure that we do not move even further down the track towards a preponderantly gig economy. It is crucial that they use their procurement muscle to ensure, as in Good Work, that these measures are taken on every major public procurement involving AI and automated decision-making.
My Lords, this is an important group of amendments, which focus on what we believe work in this country should look like. There are a number of amendments in the name of my noble friend Lord Knight of Weymouth, to which I was pleased to add my name. He introduced them in his usual way—eloquently, knowledgably and passionately. I thank him for that.
We believe that a commitment to good work standards in procurement, in response to the new challenges faced in the labour market that noble Lords have talked about, is an extremely important and appropriate part of what we need to be looking at. We know that Scotland introduced a commitment to fair work first and my noble friend Lord Hendy talked about its introduction by the Welsh Government, so this is not new or untried. Other parts of the United Kingdom are looking at how best to achieve this and we think that the Treasury should also be looking at it. It should be not just about procurement but much broader: how do you underpin good work?
My noble friend Lord Knight of Weymouth’s amendments clearly recognise that procurement can be a powerful tool to support public policy goals and targets, beyond just ensuring value for money. We have heard about the Institute for the Future of Work and its research that shows that creating and protecting good-quality jobs provides resilience and promotes well-being and prosperity at every level. Again, that supports the Government’s levelling-up agenda. My noble friend Lord Knight also mentioned how it would increase productivity in this country. Surely that is an ambition that the Government and the Minister share. We believe that promoting good work is a public good that advances national, economic, social and health interests and priorities.
The noble Baroness, Lady Bennett of Manor Castle, spoke in support of my noble friend Lord Knight’s amendments. She made a couple of important points about how work intensity has increased while, at the same time, work security has decreased in this country. I agree with her on the issue of outsourced contracts. That is something that we have to look at because, as the noble Baroness rightly said, quality of work is related to quality of life, because we spend so much time at work.
The noble Lord, Lord Clement-Jones, spoke to a number of amendments and focused particularly on AI, automation, the impact of new technologies and their potential disruption to jobs. There has been some good research on this, which we need to take account of as we develop legislation. It would be interesting to hear the Minister’s thoughts on how that could be managed in this Bill or perhaps through other means.
My noble friend Lord Hendy also had a number of amendments in this group and I thank him for his detailed and careful introduction. A lot of this is incredibly important. He spoke about previous and other legislation and how we need to bring it up to date in this Bill. That is incredibly important if we are to get the best legislation that we can. He was quite right when he said that we need to use procurement to improve the lot of Britain’s workforce and ensure that we have high standards.
We all need to pay attention to the point that my noble friend made about P&O Ferries because, as he explained on his Amendment 186, we need some buffer or means to manage bad employers—as you could simply call them—as opposed to good employers. The Government condemned the actions of P&O Ferries, as I am sure the Minister did. If there is anything that we can do with the Procurement Bill to stop that kind of behaviour happening again, we should take clear advantage of it. The noble Baroness, Lady Bennett of Manor Castle, also supported the amendment.
I am sure that the Minister would support the fact that we are trying to improve the quality and security of the British workforce. I will be interested to hear his thoughts on the debate.
My Lords, I am sorry to disappoint. The following amendments are concerned with placing additional requirements on contracting authorities so that their procurements create good jobs and opportunities in local areas. I will address the issues in turn.
Amendment 54, tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Knight, whom I thank for his extremely interesting opening remarks, the noble Baronesses, Lady Hayman and Lady Bennett, and the noble Lord, Lord Hendy, seeks to include a new procurement objective in Clause 11, requiring contacting authorities to have regard to the importance of local “good work” when carrying out a procurement. We believe this is unnecessary. Under the Bill, contracting authorities will already be able to give more weight to bids that create good-quality jobs and opportunities for our communities, where this is relevant to the contract being procured and is not discriminatory. This is absolutely in line with the Government’s levelling-up objectives and means better value for money.
Additionally, the concept of “good work” includes a wide range of matters, such as union representation and access to facilities for career guidance and training. Including this provision would have the effect of slanting public procurement away from SMEs and VCSEs, which this Government have worked hard to champion in the Bill, and in favour of large employers with significant resources and a highly unionised workforce. That is very much the opposite direction of travel to the policy behind the Bill.
Amendment 67 was tabled by the noble Lords, Lord Knight, Lord Hendy and Lord Clement-Jones, and the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman. I thank the noble Lord, Lord Cement-Jones, for not only taking us into the future but looking at what is starting now and what has been going on for quite a few years to create a different workforce from the one we have now. He talked about something that we will have to discuss further in both Houses—both the opportunities and the challenges to the workforce that we see today. That is probably not for this Bill, but I can see much further work being done on the issue.
The amendment seeks to include in the national procurement policy statement the creation and protection of “good work”. We have already set out in previous debates the rationale for not including policy priorities in the Bill and why instead the national procurement policy statement is a more appropriate vehicle for this.
Amendment 104, tabled by the noble Lords, Lord Knight and Lord Hendy, and the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, seeks to lay out a new rule in the Bill which would allow contracting authorities to request information from a supplier submitting a tender about good work standards and practices. This amendment is not necessary: the Bill already allows contracting authorities to set the criteria against which they wish to assess tenders and it is open to them to include these matters within those criteria. Any bidder will therefore have to submit information setting out how they meet the chosen criteria. Including a specific power for contracting authorities to require such information could call into question the ability of contracting authorities to request other information relevant to the assessment of tenders.
Amendment 116, tabled by the noble Lords, Lord Knight, Lord Hendy and Lord Clement-Jones, and the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, requires extensive quantities of information about contracting authorities’ good work policies and measures to be included in the tender notice. I have set out already the Government’s objections to including significant requirements on contracting authorities in relation to this and other similar matters. Public procurement needs to be focused on achieving value for money. We do not consider that it would be appropriate to embed obligations on policy objectives such as “good work” in the tender notice or indeed elsewhere throughout primary legislation for public procurement.
Amendments 186, tabled by the noble Lords, Lord Hendy, Lord Hain and Lord Monks, and the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett, and Amendments 315 and 319, tabled by the noble Lords, Lord Hendy, Lord Hain, Lord Monks and Lord Woodley, seek to introduce new exclusion grounds in relation to breaches of labour rights. Employers who seriously violate the rights of their workforce are not fit to compete for public contracts. The Bill expands the range of serious labour violations to be considered as part of the mandatory grounds for exclusion, for example the failure to pay the national minimum wage and offences relating to employment agencies.
A number of noble Lords, including the noble Lord, Lord Hendy, and the noble Baronesses, Lady Bennett and Lady Hayman, talked about P&O Ferries. The Government do not comment on specific cases, but we advise employees and employers to make use of the expertise and free conciliation and mediation services of ACAS. We continue to emphasise that we always expect employers to treat employees fairly and in a spirit of partnership. We have been very clear that using threats about firing and rehiring simply as a negotiating tactic is completely unacceptable.
The noble Lord, Lord Hendy, also mentioned the ILO. In order to provide greater clarity for contracting authorities over the grounds that apply, the grounds are framed in terms of UK offences and legislation. In respect of ILO conventions, this serves to ensure that the grounds apply where a supplier may be based in a country which is not a signatory to the convention in question. The Bill is clear that the exclusion grounds are blind as to where misconduct may have occurred with the grounds extending to equivalent overseas offences and conduct occurring overseas.
The noble Lord, Lord Hendy, also mentioned the TCA.
As that is a legal question, I shall get a legal answer for the noble Lord, and I will certainly write. I thought I had answered him, but I will make sure that that is clearly written legally.
On the TCA, with respect to Articles 387 and 399 of the EU-UK Trade and Cooperation Agreement, procurement law does not grant rights to workers and, as such, the exclusion grounds are not inconsistent with the UK’s obligations under those articles. The rights protected by these provisions are provided elsewhere in national laws, none of which are affected by the Bill. The exclusion grounds are not intended as a means of enforcing labour rights; rather, exclusion is a mechanism to ensure that contracting authorities do not award contracts to suppliers that pose a risk.
I am confident this will enable contracting authorities effectively to protect the rights of workers delivering public contracts, especially when combined with other changes we are making to strengthen the exclusions regime, such as the inclusion of serious labour misconduct in the absence of a conviction as a discretionary ground for exclusion; requiring assessment of whether the exclusion grounds apply to subsidiaries of the supplier; and extending the current time limit for discretionary exclusion grounds from three years to five years.
Amendments 292 and 297, tabled by the noble Lords, Lord Hendy, Lord Hain, Lord Monks and Lord Woodley, remove the requirement for contracting authorities to consider the risk of the circumstances giving rise to an exclusion ground recurring in applying the exclusions regime. Exclusion is not a punishment for past misconduct; that is for the courts to decide. Exclusion is a risk-based measure and, as such, suppliers should be encouraged to clean up their act and given the right to make the case that they have addressed the risk of the misconduct or other issues occurring again. This might be through better training, stronger compliance controls or dismissing the staff involved in any misconduct. It is for contracting authorities to decide whether the evidence they have seen is sufficient to reassure themselves that the issues in question are unlikely to occur again.
Amendment 519, tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Hendy, proposes to use Clause 104 of the Bill to omit Section 17(5)(a) and (b) from the Local Government Act 1988. It would remove the prohibition on relevant authorities, as detailed in Section 17(5)(a) and (b) of the 1988 Act, to consider in relation to public supply or works contracts the terms and conditions of a contractor’s workers and the employment status of their subcontractors.
The Bill provides for a range of labour violations to be considered as part of the grounds for exclusion, which must be considered for every supplier wishing to participate in each procurement within the scope of the Bill. These matters will be subject to further debate, possibly later today, when the Committee considers the exclusions and debarment regime in the Bill. I am sure my noble friend Lord True will have more to say on that.
The purpose of Clause 104 in the Bill is, first, to ensure that authorities to which Section 17 of the Local Government Act 1988 applies are not prevented by that section from complying with their duties under this Bill; and, secondly, to enable a Minister of the Crown or the Welsh Ministers to make regulations to disapply, when required, a duty under Section 17. The clause ensures that authorities covered by the 1988 Act can take advantage of domestic procurement policies that may be implemented during the life of the Bill.
Clause 104(1), which amends Section 17(11) of the Local Government Act 1988, directly achieves this. However, it amends Section 17 only to the extent necessary to ensure that the relevant authorities are not prevented by virtue of the section from complying with the Bill. It would not be appropriate to use the Bill as a vehicle to make further amendments to the 1988 Act, as proposed by the noble Lord, Lord Hendy.
Amendment 535, tabled by the noble Lords, Lord Knight and Lord Hendy, and the noble Baronesses, Lady Hayman and Lady Bennett, creates the concept of “good work”, relied upon by the other amendments in this group. In the light of my responses on substantive amendments, there is little I can usefully add on this amendment. I therefore respectfully ask that noble Lords do not pursue these amendments.
My Lords, I am grateful for the response and to those who took part in this relatively short debate. The arguments were well made, and I think the Minister at the Dispatch Box, the noble Baroness, Lady Scott, agrees with the basic premise. As ever with these things, I was not surprised but disappointed at the response.
My noble friend Lord Hendy made a really good case about the importance of punishing bad labour practice. Recalling P&O Ferries is important; these cases come along and it always ends up feeling like too little too late. This is an opportunity to act more proactively and actually put something into statute.
On the amendments in my name, I was grateful to hear about the UNISON report, as I was not aware of that. I was grateful to hear that the Labour Administration in Wales are getting on with something like this. It is good to hear, as ever, the insights from the noble Lord, Lord Clement-Jones, on AI and algorithmic accountability and regulation. I will need to think about that. I was really pleased to hear the Minister say that she thought more needs to be done on that.
In closing, I offer this up to the Minister: before we come to Report, is it worth having a chat? I listened carefully to what she said about the impact on SMEs from the way we frame some of this. If she is interested in having a meeting to discuss how we can achieve something on the good work agenda in this Bill, probably including David Davis, because I think he is minded to table similar amendments when it goes to the other place, we would be delighted to do that. Perhaps, with the noble Lord, Lord Clement-Jones, tagging along too, we can start to sketch out what we might be able to do on algorithmic regulation in this Bill or in future legislation. On that basis, I withdraw my amendment.
Amendment 54 withdrawn.
Amendments 54A to 59A not moved.
Clause 11 agreed.
Clause 12: The national procurement policy statement
60: Clause 12, page 9, line 2, leave out “may” and insert “must”
My Lords, with the leave of the Committee, I will move Amendment 60 in the name of my noble friend Lord Lansley and speak to Amendments 61, 63 and 64 in his name. As on our previous Committee day, at his request I am handling his amendments this week.
Amendment 60 is one of those favourite Committee amendments that changes “may” to “must”. No Committee can ever get through without at least one of them; there will be some others, I think. The amendment would change “may” to “must” in Clause 12(1) so that it would require the Government to produce a national procurement policy statement. Although it is clearly the Government’s intention to publish a statement, the current wording of Clause 12 leaves it open to them not to do so. That is a serious omission, especially given the introduction of covered procurement, which we will debate on Report. The NPPS will be the only way to ensure that all public procurement is conducted in accordance with the principles and objectives set out in it.
Amendments 63 and 64 would require that the consultation is based on a draft statement. The present drafting would allow a consultation without the benefit of seeing what the Government intended the statement to say. I do not think this is an acceptable or effective consultation process. It makes something of a mockery of consultation, particularly for the first NPPS. I note that Amendment 74 in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Parminter, also includes proper consultation on a draft.
The other amendment in my noble friend’s name is Amendment 61. The noble Baroness, Lady Bennett of Manor Castle, has added her name to it, and I understand that she will also speak to it. That is probably just as well, because I am not much in favour of lists such as the one here, even when they are non-inclusive. The various other amendments in this group show that noble Lords are attracted to attaching other pet causes to the list. I should say, though, that my noble friend Lord Lansley believes that we must ensure that the existing statutory obligations on the environment and social value are included in the priorities in order to reaffirm Parliament’s will, and he has added innovation and competitiveness in UK industry because they are stated Treasury priorities, as set out in the Spring Statement. Lastly, he included
“the minimisation of fraud, corruption, waste or the abuse of public money”,
which should be underlying values in relation to public procurement. He believes that these items should be specifically referenced in the Bill.
I beg to move.
My Lords, I have two amendments in this group. In the absence of the noble Baroness, Lady Worthington, I rise to introduce Amendments 65 and 546.
This is an important group of amendments. Although contracting authorities may never bother to read a Bill that we have debated for hours, all of them must have regard to the NPPS, so what is in that document is really important. The amendments in this group look at two particular areas. One is what is put in the Bill about the strategic priorities. The second is the process for parliamentary scrutiny to bring that into being.
Amendments 65 and 546, in my name and the names of the noble Baronesses, Lady Worthington, Lady Verma and Lady Young of Old Scone, so they are cross-party amendments, are intended to tease out the strategic priorities that the Government allude to in the opening sentence of the NPPS, as stated in the Bill, because it does not put anything in the Bill.
The noble Lord, Lord True, has been holding us off with the promise that he was not going to put anything in the Bill when it talks about procurement objectives, but of course we are coming on to talk about the NPPS. This is his chance to put down on the face of the Bill what some of those strategic priorities are—to actually state on it what matters the NPPS will cover. It will come as no surprise to him or to colleagues that the issues that the four of us think must be on the face of the Bill pertain to the need to meet net zero and environmental goals; the amendments clearly state that. Other noble Lords will want to flesh out other areas, but those are the issues that we feel must be in the Bill. If the Government are not prepared to do it on the objectives—it has been made quite clear that they are not—this is the place to do it.
My two amendments, Amendments 74 and 62, are about process. I am not a process person; I did not know much about it until the past six months, when we have had the Environment Act and I have had the privilege of being chair of the Select Committee on the Environment and Climate Change. The now Environment Act was the first skeleton Bill from this Government with the promise of producing an environmental principles policy statement, so in the Chamber we went through what would be the process for ensuring that it came into being. In the then Bill, the Government proposed a draft statement. If it is good enough in the Environment Act to propose a draft statement for the Government to consult on, I do not understand why they have not proposed it in this Bill. If the Minister is not prepared to propose a draft, when he sums up will he say why, given the precedent that they have created by proposing to produce a draft EPPS in the Environment Act, they will not do the same for the NPPS? It is equally significant, arguably even more so. The EPPS was about embedding environmental principles across government; this is about embedding the principles and strategic directions not only across government but across all contracting authorities—it goes wider than just departments. I find this extremely hard. The case that the noble Lord, Lord Lansley, and I have made from both sides of the Chamber about preparing a draft is a strong one.
My next point follows from one made by the noble Baroness, Lady Noakes. This is our chance to ensure adequate parliamentary scrutiny of what will be an incredibly important document. Therefore, with the help of the Public Bill Office, I have gone to the trouble of setting out a process that gives this House the opportunity for adequate scrutiny. I remind colleagues who are not familiar with the processes for a policy statement that it is not like an SI. The Government table it and then there is no guaranteed debate unless somebody determines to pick it up, so it is important that not only both Houses but Select Committees or Joint Committees get the chance to look at it. I have tried to table a process, mindful of what is in the Government’s own Environment Act, that will give this House adequate scrutiny.
The only change of substance that I have made from the Environment Act is that it, like this Bill, talks about a 40-day period. The evidence from when we tried to do that process for the environmental principles policy statement was that 40 days was not enough. When you take out all the Thursdays and Fridays and try to get the Minister before you, and you want to get stakeholders so that the Select Committees can do an adequate job and inform the House to have a proper debate, you cannot do it in 40 days. I can prove that because, when we could not get it all done on the Environment Act and then have a debate in the House, the Government were good enough to say, “We will extend the period even though the legislation says 40 days. We will allow for the debate to go beyond that, because we accept that it is not sufficient time for adequate scrutiny.” I have picked 60 days. I do not care what you pick, but the evidence is that 40 days was not enough when we tried it on the EPPS.
I will sit down, but this is an important group of amendments. It is about putting in the Bill the strategic priorities of the Government, so that people who read it understand what they are, and having a proper process whereby this Parliament can scrutinise it.
My Lords, I declare my interests as set out in the register. Before I speak to Amendment 66, I express my wholehearted support for the amendments so well introduced by the noble Baroness, Lady Parminter. Of course, this is a place where we see the colours of the Government, because this is how they spend their money. So, this is not about idle words—it is about hard cash and what actually happens on the ground.
Having worked in local government on a London council, I know the power of procurement—it is absolutely massive. The amendment that I am introducing—I am pleased that the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett, is supporting it—is about how we can ensure the health and sustainability of food and catering services. That priority appears to be currently missing across the NPPS. My amendment sets out in subsection (3A) a range of topics that must be covered in relation to food, including the requirement to set targets on those matters. I know that the targets are a matter for the NPPS, but I have specified a minimum target, which has come from the national food strategy.
In common with other noble Lords, I see this amendment as addressing a key strategic priority, which is both nationally and locally important: that high-priority, cross-cutting topics such as sustainability and the health of our food system must be front and centre in legislation, rather than being left to a policy statement that could be changed unilaterally when we get a change of Government. While I fully accept that you have to have flexibility and be able to change, this argument applies to the technical detail and second- order priorities. It seems reasonable to assume that it is unlikely that considerations such as local and environmentally sustainable sourcing, servings and diets, or the management of resource inputs and waste outputs, will cease to be key national or local priorities, even in the medium to long term. Even were we to fully address them, we would wish to be watchful and continue to prioritise them to ensure that they remain addressed.
I have been pleased to see that the Government agree with me on the importance of this issue, hence the recent public commitment in the government food strategy to consult on extending the government buying standards for food and catering services across the whole of the public sector and the accompanying Defra consultation on how we are going to do it. The government food strategy also agrees that public sector food should be healthier, more sustainable and provided by a range of local suppliers, which will improve accountability and inform future policy changes. It also commits us to requiring public organisations to report on the food that they buy, where they serve it and what they waste. I think that this amendment is wholly uncontroversial. It simply captures the key topics that make up the buying standards.
My amendment sets one minimum target on the face of the Bill in relation to local and sustainable sourcing. The government food strategy has an aspirational target that 50% of food by value should be sustainable or local, but my assumption in setting a target of 30%, rising to 50%, is that the strategy’s target was not intended to mean that 50% of food should be local but unsustainable, with the other 50% being wholly sustainable but from miles away. I have therefore anticipated a degree of overlap from the start, until, over time, both sides meet the 50% criteria.
I do not think that there are any sensible grounds to reject this amendment on the basis that procurement authorities are wholly on top of this agenda and that a statutory footing for food and catering standards, however flexible, is therefore unnecessary. Rather, a considerable amount more might be done to strengthen the oversight of food and catering.
The Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee highlighted a number of issues in its report last year. Monitoring appeared to be almost absent, no penalties were ever applied where standards were visibly not adhered to and an independent survey covered in the Select Committee report found that 60% of secondary schools were not even following the school food standards. Another report found that half of hospitals were not complying with the government buying standards—you can see why that happens when they get paid by Coca-Cola to keep a machine in their lobby, which then becomes part of a hospital’s budget.
Its conclusion was that we do not have a clear picture of how frequently and effectively buying standards are being followed by the public bodies that are mandated to follow the standards. It means that food supply chains cannot normalise around one set of baseline standards. If we put a framework for the food aspects of the NPPS on a statutory footing, it will flow down through all areas of the contracts.
Before leaving this subsection, I draw noble Lords’ attention to what has happened in one particular place in the UK—Preston. Between 2010 and 2016, the council estimated that it lost roughly 60p in every £1 from central government payments. Preston City Council identified the biggest organisations in the city—council, university, police and housing associations—and worked out that they had a combined annual spend of £750 million. In 2012-13, only £1 of every £20 stayed in the local economy. It was reworked so that, by 2017, the six local public bodies spent £38 million in Preston itself and £292 million in the area. It used the social value Act, a 2013 law that requires people who commission public services to think about how they can ensure wider social, economic and environmental gain. Local food obviously creates local jobs in horticulture, which is also set out in the Government’s response to the National Food Strategy. A target on local spend will only help to make this really work.
Proposed new subsection (3B) takes the recommendation of an updated reference diet for the nation, in line with our health and sustainability goals. As Henry Dimbleby explained in the food strategy, this diet, which he recommended to be published by the FSA working with the Office for Health Improvement and Disparities, Defra and a range of other consultees, would create a single reference point and a consistent approach across government policies. The NFS observed that
“Dietary guidance in the UK is based on evidence of the health effects of individual nutrients and foods rather than overall diet”.
Therefore, it is not consistent. It continues:
“Our current Eatwell guide, the closest we have to a reference diet, does not take sustainability into account”—
at all. The absence of mandatory dietary guidance for public procurement has been widely cited as one of the reasons—in fact, probably the main reason—for the poor quality of food on offer in public settings. Creating a legal obligation for food procured by the public sector will not only avoid inconsistencies—as in an “eat as I say, not as I do” approach—but allow the Government to lead by example.
The point of all this is that it empowers local communities and farmers, creates jobs and makes children more interested in food. All the way through, it will help to change the health of our nation and put us on a much better footing. If this diet is created in the future, the Minister of the Crown who produces the NPPS would be obliged to have regard to it, which does not tie the Government’s hands or force them to carry out work they do not want to. It merely provides for joined-up governance.
With those remarks, I reiterate my belief that this amendment is completely uncontroversial and ought to meet the Government’s support. I commend it to the Minister and look forward to hearing their views.
My Lords, it is a great pleasure to follow the noble Baroness, Lady Boycott. I have already spoken to the positive case for the inclusion of climate and nature in the Bill. Amendments 65 and 546, to which I have added my name, would offer the particular benefit of providing additional stability or, if noble Lords wish, discouraging repeated tinkering through the frequent updates of the national procurement policy statement by putting the essentials of the NPPS in the Bill.
I make one other point, which relates to the contrast between the Green Paper and the language on the national procurement policy statement. The Green Paper said, strongly and correctly, that
“money spent through public procurement will be used to deliver government priorities through projects and programmes that generate economic growth, help our communities recover from the COVID-19 pandemic and tackle climate change.”
These have all been mentioned already by noble Lords. Elsewhere,
“government spending must be leveraged to play its part in the UK’s economic recovery, opening up public contracts to more small businesses and social enterprises to innovate in public service delivery, and meeting our net-zero carbon target by 2050.”
The eventual text of the current non-statutory NPPS is perhaps a little more modest in its application: it only requires contracting authorities to have regard to considering contributing to the UK’s climate target—but not to its interim carbon budgets or climate adaptation—and to considering identifying opportunities to enhance biodiversity. There are no specific environmental targets. With such a large annual spend on public procurement, this may be a missed opportunity for the Government to strengthen these provisions by instead requiring contracting authorities to have regard to actively contributing to specific climate and nature targets, rather than just considering contributing to them.
The text in the amendments will also provide more consistency with the Health and Care Act, without at any time tying the hands of contracting authorities in the scope of the Bill. Tackling climate change is a global issue, but the UK can show leadership and improve competitiveness by explicitly driving change across supply chains through sustainable public procurement, while simultaneously supporting domestic priorities such as levelling up.
I believe totally in social justice and in our small and medium-sized enterprises. I will continue to fight from these Benches for the interests of those businesses, because they have suffered so badly, particularly during the last two or three years. It is also an opportunity for us to be able to put them in a much firmer position. The Minister, during the debate on the previous group of amendments, was very kind enough to agree to meeting the noble Lord, Lord Knight. I hope that the same opportunity to meet with the Minister will also be given to me and the noble Baronesses, Lady Worthington, Lady Parminter and Lady Young of Old Scone.
My Lords, I will speak very briefly to Amendment 75A in my name. I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett, my noble friend Lady Hayman and the noble Earl, Lord Devon, for putting their names to this amendment.
This amendment is consistent with the remarks I have already made in Committee: that there should be specific reference to “social value” as being part of public benefit in order to provide clarity to public bodies, companies and social enterprises; and that social value should be embedded in the procurement process through the appropriate guidance and reporting requirements for public bodies, which this amendment concerns.
This new clause would be added to the Bill mandating the Government to provide “guidance” to the public sector about “how to implement social value”. The Committee is aware that this is of great concern, given that the public policy—the legislative framework—is there for social value, and yet there is no mention of it in the Bill and no mention of how it might be implemented or how it might work with the procurement regime. I hope that we can resolve this matter between now and Report.
My Lords, I have Amendment 71 in this group, which is a simple probing amendment seeking to understand why the Bill exempts contracting authorities from having regard to the national procurement policy statement for contracts involving frameworks or dynamic markets. I can find no explanation, in the Bill’s Explanatory Notes or elsewhere, why such arrangements should not be covered by the terms of the national policy statement, but perhaps the Minister will be able to give a simple answer.
A large number of construction-related public projects will be procured through frameworks and dynamic market contracts. A framework is an agreement with suppliers to establish terms governing contracts that may be awarded during the life of the agreement. The Government themselves acknowledge in the Cabinet Office’s Construction Playbook that framework agreements, as a means of longer-term strategic collaboration in construction, can provide the best medium through which procurement and contracting can deliver transformational improvements.
Last December, the Cabinet Office also published Constructing the Gold Standard: An Independent Review of Public Sector Construction Frameworks, based on an independent and objective review commissioned from Professor David Mosey of King’s College London. To quote the then Cabinet Office Minister:
“This review recognises the potential of frameworks as a powerful engine-room for implementing Construction Playbook policies that include strategic planning, integrated teams, continuous improvement and the delivery of better, safer, faster and greener project outcomes.”
The review states that the Civil Engineering Contractors Association
“identifies over 1,660 public sector construction frameworks procured between 2015 and 2019 with an aggregate value of up to £220 billion.”
Given that the national procurement policy statement will seek to define strategic priorities and set the parameters for better public procurement in line, I hope, with the gold standard prescribed by the review, why should contracting authorities be exempt from having regard to it in agreeing the terms of frameworks?
A similar question arises in relation to dynamic markets. At Second Reading, the Minister stated:
“The new concept of dynamic markets … is intended to provide greater opportunity for SMEs to join and win work in the course of a contracting period.”—[Official Report, 25/5/22; col. 929.]
Again, it is not clear to me why the terms of the national procurement policy statement should not also apply to dynamic markets—although I am quite prepared to believe that I may be missing something.
My Lords, I have several amendments in this group: Amendments 69, 70, 76 and 79. It was interesting to hear the comments from the noble Baroness, Lady Boycott, about hospital food. She may not know that I am president of the Hospital Caterers Association. I must come to its rescue: it does a fantastic job, given the budget it is given. What she may not know is that in the Health and Care Act there is a section which mandates Ministers to set standards for hospital food, following the hospital food review. The issue will be whether there is enough resource with which to fund the standards that Ministers will set. As part of this Bill, the noble Baroness might like to look at amending the Health and Care Act to ensure that there is consistency of approach, because she has made a very important point indeed.
We are continuing this debate about the relationship between the Bill and sustainability and environmental outcomes, and the Minister has been responding. His first response was at Second Reading, when he accepted that the Bill does not include any specific provisions on the target to achieve net-zero carbon emissions by 2050, but he went on to say that contracting authorities will be required to have regard to national and local priorities, as set out in the national procurement policy statement.
The problem is that the existing national procurement policy statement, published in June last year, is full of ambiguity. If I were a procurement director, I would find it very difficult to find my way through all these objectives, some of which are in a tension with each other. I think the Minister’s response will be, “Ah, but that’s the flexibility we want to give to public bodies to make their decisions themselves”. The problem is that in translating that you still come back to the point that the Government are not, at the end of the day, prepared to use procurement sufficiently to ensure the implementation of their sustainability and environmental policies.
Paragraph 10 of the national procurement policy statement sets out:
“Contracting authorities should have regard to the following national priorities in exercising their functions relating to procurement. The national priorities relate to social value; commercial and procurement delivery; and skills and capability for procurement.”
“All contracting authorities should consider the following national priority outcomes alongside any additional local priorities in their procurement activities: creating new businesses, new jobs and new skills; tackling climate change and reducing waste, and improving supplier diversity, innovation and resilience.”
“Achieving value for money in public procurement remains focused on securing from contractors the best mix of quality and effectiveness to deliver the requirements of the contract, for the least outlay over the period of use of the goods or services bought. But the Government wants to send a clear message that commercial and procurement teams across the public sector do not have to select the lowest price bid, and that in setting the procurement strategy, drafting the contract terms and evaluating tenders they can and should take a broad view of value or money that includes the improvement of social welfare or wellbeing, referred to in HM Treasury’s Green Book as social value.”
Paragraph 12 states that the award criteria can be incorporated
“for comparing final bids and scoring their relative quality, to encourage ways of working and operational delivery that achieve social, economic and environmental benefits”.
This includes tackling climate change and reducing waste; contributing to the UK Government’s legally binding target to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to net zero by 2050; reducing waste, improving resource efficiency and contributing to the move towards a circular economy; and identifying and prioritising opportunities in sustainable procurement to deliver additional environmental benefits, for example enhanced biodiversity, through the delivery of the contract.
Paragraph 13 makes it clear:
“Public procurement should be leveraged to support priority national and local outcomes for the public benefit. This Statement sets out the national priorities that all contracting authorities should have regard to in their procurement where it is relevant to the subject matter of the contract and it is proportionate to do so”.
But here is the rub. Paragraph 15 states:
“Taking additional social value benefits into account effectively is a balance with delivery of the core purpose of the contract. Contracting authorities should ensure that they do not ‘gold-plate’ contracts with additional requirements which could be met more easily and for better value outside of the contract compliance process, particularly where legislation has already determined that such provisions do not apply, for example by imposing requirements in the Equality Act 2010 on the private sector that are only meant to apply to the public sector”.
Paragraph 14 says:
“There should be a clear link from the development of strategies and business cases for programmes and projects through to procurement specifications and the assessment of quality when awarding contracts. This is in line with Green Book guidance which makes it clear that the procurement specification should come from the strategic and economic dimensions of a project’s business case, and that commercial experts should be involved in the development of the business case from the start”.
The question I would ask is this: if you were a finance director or a procurement director in the public sector, what would you make of it? One has to see this in the context of having been through a decade—in fact, longer than a decade—of austerity where short-term fixes are much more common than longer-term sustainability investments.
I turn to the NHS, where I have some experience, and where I could certainly point to some really good examples of sustainability policies. In theory the intent in the Bill, as I see it, is to place greater emphasis on wider value than lowest price. But what this ignores, certainly in the NHS context, is the financial and economic reality that exists on a day-by-day basis. In an environment where savings are demanded in-year and budgets set annually, the overpowering financial incentive is to achieve cost improvement programmes. These savings filter down through the NHS financial system and become a target for finance directors and procurement directors who generally report to the finance director. While I am sure that if we had some finance directors in front of us, they would say that they strive to focus on long-term value, this requires a less tangible and measurable saving than the fact that product A costs less than product B.
In an NHS environment that is financially driven, targeted and appraised for striving to deliver savings targets in-year, and where the most measurable saving is lowest price, it is clearly going to be challenging to move away from that. This experience is probably reflected across much of the public sector; indeed, other parts of the public sector would probably say that the NHS has had it easier. Those of us in the NHS would of course say, “That’s because we need more money”, but the fact is that if the NHS is finding it difficult, other sectors are going to find it very difficult indeed.
My amendments are simply aimed at seeing sustainable development principles incorporated within the national procurement policy statement and the Wales procurement policy statement. At the end of the day, there really is an issue here, is there not? Whatever procurement policy is set out, public authorities will have challenging decisions to make. My own view is that, because of the way in which this has been put together, and potential future national procurement policy statements, public bodies are going to be left with very ambiguous statements where they do not quite know what they are expected to do. The Minister says, “Ah, but that’s flexibility”. I say that it undermines the wider goals towards which our procurement policy should be driven.
My Lords, I apologise; this is my first appearance on this Bill as I missed Second Reading. I rise to support the noble Baroness, Lady Thornton. I have put my name to her Amendment 75A; I equally put my name to her Amendments 47A and 52A, which also go to the issues of social value and social enterprise.
I should note that I am a member of the APPG for Social Enterprise. Last year, I chaired an inquiry into the performance of social enterprise during the pandemic; we reported at Christmas last year. The outcome of that was to highlight the remarkable performance of social enterprise during the chronic conditions of the pandemic. However, it also highlighted how little understanding of social enterprise there was in government, particularly in Westminster but also in local government. We discovered that this was not as common Wales or Scotland, because social enterprise and social value are built into the fabric of their public procurement, which is so much better than what we have in England. I just wanted to make that point briefly. Amendment 75A is a means of addressing this issue and ensuring that local government is familiar with the role of social value and the purpose of social enterprise.
Before I sit down, I will just endorse and support Amendment 66 from the noble Baroness, Lady Boycott. I do a lot of work with the South West Food Hub on the absolutely critical need for the procurement of good, healthy, locally sourced food, so I give this amendment my solid support.
My Lords, public and parliamentary debate on the national procurement policy statement is a very important aspect of this Bill. So is the relationship between Clauses 11 and 12. The Minister will have noted the consensus view across this Committee that clear principles and objectives should be included in the Bill—that is, primarily in Clause 11. We still hope that we will return on Report with appropriate language to enshrine
“in law the principles of public procurement”;
I have taken that from paragraph 27 of the Government’s response to the Transforming Public Procurement consultation, which they now seem to have forgotten. That document also states that 92% of those consulted were in favour of the proposed legal principles; it is therefore unacceptable that they have disappeared from the Bill as presented to this House. I cannot understand why the Government have abandoned their response, having undertaken an extensive consultation of that nature.
At present, the Bill leaves articulation of the principles of public procurement almost entirely to the Minister in post at the time, with the completed document to be laid before Parliament and subject to the negative procedure if time is found within the 40-day period to debate it. That is clearly inadequate. It stems from a resistance to parliamentary scrutiny and accountability that has been characteristic of the Johnson Government and, in particular, of Jacob Rees-Mogg in his various ministerial roles. However, it is not compatible with the principles of parliamentary sovereignty or the conventions of our unwritten constitution. I will do the Minister the compliment of assuming that he has always been unhappy with this approach to executive sovereignty and will be happier if the next Prime Minister returns to proper constitutional practice.
I have Amendment 75 in this large group, which seeks to ensure that a review of compliance with the national procurement policy statement takes place within three years, noting in particular how far it has in practice protected and promoted the interests of small suppliers, social enterprises and voluntary organisations in that period—a matter that concerns noble Lords across all parties in this Committee. I support the intentions of many of the other amendments in this group, from the insistence of the noble Lord, Lord Lansley, that such a policy statement must be published on a regular basis to those that insist that it should cover a specific range of issues including social objectives, concern for the environment and measures to combat climate change.
Many of us would consider including climate change and sustainable development concerns as particularly important when some candidates for the leadership of the Conservative Party are playing to climate change deniers on their party’s right. The Minister’s dogged resistance to putting any closer definition of the principles and objectives in the Bill makes the quality and regularity of this statement all the more important.
Good government requires a degree of continuity, not rapid switches of emphasis and guidance every time Ministers or Prime Ministers change. I remind the Minister that under our single-party Conservative Government since 2015 we are now about to embark on the fourth Prime Minister—four Prime Ministers in seven years under the same party. Some major departments of state are now on their eighth or ninth Minister. That is not continuity. Continuity and a degree of consensus are what contractors to government want, and that is more likely to emerge from cross-party debate in Parliament informed by wider public attention and contributions from stakeholders in the sector. That would promote greater stability and continuity both when Governments are in power for extended periods and when Governments change. Stability and a degree of continuity are what contractors want to see in their relations with government.
My Lords, I apologise for my late arrival. I will be brief. Amendment 65 in my name and the consequential Amendment 546 seek to put more detail in the Bill in relation to the national procurement policy statement. I shall not rehearse all the arguments that have been made but simply say that the issues highlighted by Amendment 65 are enduring and long-term goals of government. There is a need to see that they are continuously integrated into government policy-making, as the noble Lord who spoke before me just highlighted. We need to have clarity if we are going to make transitions happen in our economy that make it fit for the future. It is entirely appropriate that the Bill should set out specific guidance for the policy statement on these long-term, transitional issues. All procuring parties need to have clarity of purpose set out for them with no doubt. I agree that the continued resistance to this signals something that we should be very concerned about, because it indicates a degree of deviation from accepted policy in other parts of the Government and across all parties. We would like to see something in the Bill and would very much welcome discussions with the Minister on this topic as there is a strong degree of consensus on this issue.
I also strongly support the amendment in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Lansley, which would make it a requirement that the statement be published rather than there being merely a power. It seems entirely correct that that should be changed to make it a duty. I am also in favour of Amendment 66 in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Boycott. Part of the reason I was late is that I was at a meeting discussing a response to the Government’s food strategy. There are some very important things in that strategy. We need levers with which they can be delivered. You cannot simply make policy statements and expect things to happen. If the Government are seeking greater reliance on British-grown, healthy, nutritious food, the procurement process is the way to do that, and we must see more clarity on that in the Bill. I fully support that amendment.
I also support the amendments in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Parminter. We as a Parliament should be more included in the process through which the policy statement is derived, and I fully support her amendment that seek to improve the process by which we scrutinise and agree the statement.
My Lords, I have waited until the latter stages of this debate before intervening, for the simple reason that my Amendment 78A deals with totally different subjects from everything else that has been debated. I overwhelmingly agree with the comments made in the general debate, but I will not follow them through at this point.
I will speak briefly to my Amendment 78A, which is included in this rather diverse group. It relates to what I might call the “Welsh clause”—Clause 13. I was glad to hear the comments of the noble Earl a moment ago on the way that policy is being unfolded in Wales. That point has arisen on a number of occasions, in various debates.
We have already heard from the Minister that there has been close co-operation between the Welsh and UK Governments in reaching an agreed approach and wording, reflected in this Bill. That being so, it is surely of fundamental importance that this clause is not distorted or undermined by later legislative steps taken by this or any future UK Government. This amendment, if passed, would require agreement by Senedd Cymru to any proposed changes to this section. That is not an unreasonable proposition, given that the clause relates solely to Wales and is itself predicated on an approach of good will and co-operation. All that is needed by this amendment is a straight majority of Senedd Members present and voting.
In the spirit of co-operation in which Senedd Cymru, the Labour Government and Plaid Cymru have approached this matter, I invite the Minister to accept this amendment.
My Lords, it is a pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Wigley. I agree with him, but I will take us back to the issues that have mostly been covered in this group. There are six amendments to which I have attached my name and I am sure the Committee will be relieved to know that I am not going to speak to them all.
I will speak chiefly to Amendment 61 from the noble Lord, Lord Lansley, to which I have attached my name. It was very kindly introduced by the noble Baroness, Lady Noakes, although it was not backed by her. I will now attempt to present the argument in its favour. I stress that the intellectual work on this has been done very much by the noble Lord, Lord Lansley, but, when I saw the amendment, I thought it was so important that it needed to be picked up.
The purpose of this amendment is linked to the description of the national procurement policy statement in Clause 12, which is
“setting out the Government’s strategic priorities in relation to procurement.”
Wrestling with all the government amendments and the complexity of this Bill has been challenging for the small Green group, but I understand that there are no government amendments to change “procurement” in Clause 12(1) to the technical term “covered procurement”. It is the Government’s intention that their strategic priorities should apply to all public procurement, including below-threshold procurement, light-touch procurement, international agreement procurement, and defence and security contracts.
As noble Lords have been talking about a lot in this group, the first part of this clause is the achievement of targets set out in the Climate Change Act 2008 and the Environment Act 2021. I posit that there are good reasons to put statutory obligations such as these in a list of strategic priorities; if they are not included, they are effectively deprioritised, which would be potentially damaging to the achievement of targets that have been mandated by Parliament, with very strong cross-party support. To pick up the points made by the noble Lord, Lord Wallace, these are things that have been agreed but need to be delivered on.
On that point about delivery, I refer to the report two weeks ago from the Committee on Climate Change. In what has to be called the strongest of language, it spoke about “major policy failures” and “scant evidence of delivery”. Through this procurement, we need to see this urgent delivery.
In introducing this group, the noble Baroness, Lady Noakes, suggested that this was a list of pet clauses, but the first elements here, on the climate targets and the Environment Act, are clearly not pet clauses. We have covered proposed new paragraph (b) about the Public Services (Social Value) Act 2012 at length, so I will not go back to that territory. I admit that proposed new paragraph (c) on innovation and competitiveness is not the wording I would have chosen and might perhaps fit in that category, but there is an important fourth point here with proposed new paragraph (d) on
“the minimisation of fraud, corruption, waste or the abuse of public money”.
Noting the broad if not completely broad support for this from the noble Lord, Lord Lansley, and myself, I will draw in some more political breadth. I doubt we will see the noble Lord, Lord Agnew, participating in this Committee, but it is entirely appropriate to refer to his resignation speech as a very powerful argument for the need for proposed new paragraph (d). I also make the point that Amendment 61 does not prevent Ministers adding their own priorities to this list. I have done my best to present that argument.
I am delighted to see how many members of the Committee have expressed support for Amendment 66 on food, tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Boycott. Having signed it, I want to stress how much movement we have seen in this area. I am very aware of this, because some of the first Written Questions I asked in your Lordships’ House were about the procurement of locally sourced, healthy and organic food for schools, hospitals and prisons. The Answer I got back in relation to all three was, “We don’t know”. Yet we have now seen, through the Government’s food strategy, an acknowledgement—although I would say it is inadequate —that public procurement has to address these issues.
The Government often talk about being world leading. These targets, which, as the noble Baroness, Lady Boycott, set out, have been established through very careful consideration and development of the national food strategy, are still extraordinarily modest by international standards. I know of many cities where targets for food in schools, hospitals and prisons are very close to 100%, with very demonstrable positive effects. I agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Boycott—and the comments in the Committee have supported this—that this is an uncontroversial amendment which the Government can surely accept.
My Lords, this has become a fascinating discussion, particularly when linked to the previous group on Clause 11, as my noble friend Lord Wallace of Saltaire said. I rise to support what I think is the most important amendment in this group: Amendment 60, tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Lansley. If the wording is “may” rather than “must”, all the subsequent amendments are irrelevant, because the Government do not have to produce a national procurement policy statement.
We need to press the Government further on the framework, beyond the four issues in Clause 11, that needs to be laid down in this statement because very few people, if any—particularly not the Minister—have discussed this from the perspective of business and those who will be making significant investments in contracts to try to ensure that public value is delivered. They take signals over the medium to long term about where to invest. These signals are really important in terms of business planning and those businesses being able to make long-term commitments to the public sector.
Both Ministers keep coming back to saying that things are in different parts of different legislation in different parts of government. We have been told that the whole purpose of this Bill is to make public procurement simple, particularly for small to medium-sized enterprises. I do not know many small to medium-sized enterprises that have a department that can wade through different public sector Bills to work out what the signals are and what the company needs to do to make secure, good bids for public sector procurement. If the Government are minded not to amend Clause 11, they have to write a very detailed outframe of the national procurement policy statement to make those signals so business can make the right decisions—
Does the noble Lord accept that you need to do that as much for procurement directors as for the businesses? With his experience of the NHS, how does he analyse what the current procurement statement actually means? I think it is very confusing.
I particularly did not use the prism of public sector procurement professions, because I thought that the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, had already made the case for the NHS, and others had made it for different government departments and professionals. I was trying to point out that there is a different aspect to this. This is about helping business by making it simpler for it to get involved in procurement, particularly small to medium-sized enterprises. That is the Government’s desired aim. A lack of detail in Clause 11, along with the fact that the national procurement strategy statement may not be done, makes that really difficult for business.
I come back to the view that everything here helps not just procurement professionals and government but businesses, particularly small to medium-sized enterprises, to be successful. It is really important that the Bill contains a co-ordinated and codified approach to the Government’s strategy on public sector procurement, and that it is not left to myriad different policies and Bills, for the sake of business being able to negotiate and navigate what is at the moment the very complicated field of public sector procurement. If the Government do not take up many of the amendments about the environment, food and social value, I assure the Committee that their aim to simplify public sector procurement, particularly for small and medium-sized enterprises, will not happen.
I just wanted to add something to my amendment; I thank Members of the Committee for their support. I have very little time for Brexit, as probably everybody knows, but when the French attempted to do this, they were stopped under EU rules as it was to do with restrictive trading. Now that we are out of the EU, we have a chance to produce a fantastic procurement Bill that favours small and medium-sized enterprises, local procurement, local health and local sustainability. If we do not take that chance, frankly we will have missed one of the great opportunities that Brexit gave us.
My Lords, I wish the noble Lord, Lord True, well. I hope that he feels better than he did. I will speak to Amendment 68 in my name and that of my noble friend Lady Hayman, and Amendment 80 in our names and that of the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett. I recognise that there has been a plethora of really good amendments that we support; it would be impossible to go through everybody’s amendments, but I am particularly pleased to see those in the names of my noble friends Lady Thornton and Lord Hunt.
I praise the noble Baroness, Lady Noakes, again for the brilliance of her “may”s to “must”s and “must”s to “may”s. I feel for her, because I do that sort of thing all the time. The change of one word is astonishingly important. I recognise how difficult it was for her to move the amendment tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Lansley, which changes “may” to “must”, when all of her amendments to later parts of the Bill change “must” to “may”. I can see the split in the Conservatives between those who wish to see greater market involvement, the Minister in the middle with his socialist bent, and the others seeking to restrict the role of the state.
Our amendments, particularly Amendment 68, which builds on Amendment 74 tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Parminter, are about the process, which is particularly important. But first, to pick up the point from the noble Lord, Lord Scriven, Amendment 60 from the noble Lord, Lord Lansley, is crucial, as otherwise the rest of the amendments are pointless. We will have the most brilliant national procurement policy statement that is not published and is not mandatory. I agree with all the points and comments that have been made about environmental principles, the very important points raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Boycott, about food, what the noble Lord, Lord Wigley, said about Wales, and all the different things that everyone has mentioned, but the Government are not required to publish the statement.
The first question the Minister needs to answer is: what has happened since June 2021, when the Government published the national procurement policy statement that can be found on their website and the accompanying note that says they will legislate to ensure that when people procure, they must have regard to the statement? The Government stated that they would provide a legislative vehicle that would ensure that the national procurement policy statement was adhered to by business, or whoever the contracting authorities are. Yet, in the Bill, there is a legislative vehicle of sorts, but it is nowhere near what was envisaged in June 2021. Why has BEIS or the Cabinet Office changed its mind between what was going to be required in June 2021 and what is now in this legislation? I am pleased that there is a legislative vehicle, but the changing of “may” to “must” by the noble Lord, Lord Lansley, is absolutely fundamental and crucial, because it will require all these other things that we have discussed over the past hour—so ably and with great effect, I think—to be in the Bill.
I just say this, because I know that the noble Lord, Lord True, will say that it is a mixture of Lord Coaker the socialist, other liberals, Greens and goodness knows who else—some wet people on his own side and so on. He will say it is completely and utterly ridiculous and dismiss it. However, I am a bit of an anorak and I look at what the Government publish and what you can find if you look on the internet and google things. The Government very helpfully provide all sorts of information. The letter of 7 June that the noble Lord, Lord True, had from the Constitution Committee was published; helpfully, so was his response of 27 June. The serious point that I make is that all the points that have been made in Committee about changing “may” to “must” and the mandatory requirement that many of us think is essential are supported by the Constitution Committee. The Minister will know that, because he was written to on 7 June by its chair, my noble friend Lady Drake.
I will not read the whole of the letter, just the final paragraph:
“The Committee would be grateful for clarification as to why the statement of priorities is not mandatory, given that it is considered important enough to require consultation and Parliamentary approval. Further information you can provide as to the justification for this approach would be welcome.”
In other words, the cross-party Select Committee is saying to the Government that they have got it wrong. In Clause 12(1), it should not be
“A Minister of the Crown may publish a statement”;
it should be that a Minister of the Crown “must” publish a statement. The Select Committee agrees with the amendment that has been tabled, and so I think do a large number of this Committee. The Minister, however, has already made his mind up because, on 27 June, he wrote back to say that the Government do not agree. For the benefit of the Committee, it is important for us to understand why the Minister thinks that the movers of these amendments, such as the noble Lord, Lord Lansley, and those of us who support them are wrong and why he wrote the letter back on 27 June to the Select Committee chair, my noble friend Lady Drake, explaining why she was wrong. I think that is really important.
I emphasise this again for those who read our proceedings: unless it is compulsory for the national policy procurement statement to be published, the real power and driving force will go. If the Minister were a business or a contracting authority who saw all these various priorities put into the statement one year, and then it disappeared, why would he think that it was important to the Government for him to conform to it if it is not mandatory? Presumably, if it is not mandatory, there is no requirement for businesses to conform to it. If the statement is not published, where does that leave us?
This takes us to the amendment tabled in my name and that of my noble friend Lady Hayman and the process amendment put forward by the noble Baroness, Lady Parminter. These are crucial because they are saying that we cannot just have a negative process where it withers on the vine and disappears. There needs to be a process by which the national policy procurement statement is written and is followed by a debate on what should and should not be included in it, which would take place through the consultation. That will then be looked at and agreed to, or not, by the Government, things will be put in or left out, and then an affirmative resolution will be put before both Houses and that process will go through. Surely, that is the proper way of doing it. With the consultation suggested by the noble Baroness, Lady Parminter, and the affirmative proposal in our Amendment 68, all the other amendments can be discussed so that we can include social value, the social and environmental policies that others have mentioned, food standards in schools and all the various things that we think are important.
I believe that the Minister himself thinks that much of this is important; no one is for the degradation of the environment. We are all trying to say to the Government that they need to go further to ensure that the agreed procurement strategy will achieve the effect that the Government want. The Government have a net-zero by 2050 policy, so the procurement policy is an essential way for the Government to deliver their own policy. Why would it be controversial for the procurement policy statement to require businesses, contractors and contracting authorities to adhere to that policy, thereby enabling the Government to achieve their own objective? That is the question many of us want answered: why is it not mandatory? Why is it not subject to an affirmative process so that all the other amendments before us become relevant for inclusion in what would be a progressive statement that would excite and inspire people and help the Government deliver something that we all want them to achieve?
I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Coaker. This has been an extremely interesting and thought-provoking debate, and I thank noble Lords for it.
There have been various strands in this debate, one of which is the last one alluded to by the noble Lord. There appears to be a suspicion in some minds about whether this lies in the may/must thing and whether there will be a national procurement policy statement. We have published a draft statement, which I will come back to later in my speech. I will not read any of it out, because the noble Lord, Lord Hunt of Kings Heath, was kind enough to read out some of it—although I do not think that he quoted this specific bit—about
“contributing to the UK Government’s legally-binding target to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to net zero by 2050”.
I know that noble Lords are saying, “Oh well, yes, but, et cetera”—
This document was produced at one stage of the process of working towards this procurement legislation to illustrate what the national policy statement might look like. I will come on to the question of consultation because that was a second theme and ask in the debate. It was clear in the speech by the noble Baroness, Lady Parminter, about how Parliament will be involved in the process and the hope that Parliament will be able to influence the process in an effective way. I have heard that call and will reflect on it.
The third strand takes us back to where we were before. Noble Lords are seeking to put in primary legislation constraints on what a procurement strategy might and should contain. Having been taken to task by the noble Lord, Lord Scriven, in the debate on the previous group about being diffident about amendments that say “must have regard to”, all the amendments in this group, bar those that are applying the thing, are “must” amendments. They are a tighter straitjacket on the potential procurement statement than what we had before in terms of what is proposed to go into primary legislation, so I am instinctively less likely to be attracted to them.
For the reasons that we have debated at length—that there is a difference between insight and knowledge, that some people want to tie a lot down in primary legislation and that the Government are arguing for flexibility—we sadly cannot accept any of the amendments in this group. Amendment 60, tabled by my noble friend Lord Lansley—the may/must amendment—would require the Government to publish a national policy procurement strategy. We have shown, in earnest, what we might move towards, and we have drafted Clause 12.
However, any procurement policy should be aligned with wider government objectives and, as such, the publication of an NPPS is a decision based on the strategic policy priorities relevant to the Government at that time. Our feeling is that we should not seek to bind a future Government—that may be of a very different complexion to ours—to publish a specific document. Therefore, we think that changing the drafting of Clause 12 from “may” to “must” and mandating the statement in this manner would not be appropriate. However, I have listened carefully to what has been said, and it goes into the box of satisfying Parliament that it will have an opportunity to have influence because we are a parliamentary democracy, and Parliament should have influence. That is a fundamental faith that I hope is shared by all of us who have the honour of being Members of Parliament.
The noble Lord, Lord Davies, raised a point about statutory versus non-statutory. I believe that I said—but somebody behind me said that perhaps I did not—that it was not necessarily statutory but the paving, if you like, was included in statute. The current NPPS is non-statutory. If I gave the opposite impression, that was not my intention, but obviously we are talking about the future here. It is there to show what a statutory NPPS might look like in the eyes of the Government. I hope that I have clarified that.
Similarly, Amendment 546, tabled by the noble Baronesses, Lady Worthington, Lady Young and Lady Parminter, and my noble friend Lady Verma, provides for Clause 12 to be brought into force immediately upon the Act being passed. Again, this amendment seeks to ensure that, in one sense, the things that people want to happen will happen quickly. I hear strongly what my noble friend says about small businesses and the need to reach out and help innovators and the creatives and, on the other hand, to get an NPPS before the public and into operation.
As my noble friend Lady Verma and others will know, it is currently envisaged that there should be a period of six months after the Act is passed before it comes into force, which will allow for consideration and discussion, and for training and learning about implementation. In that light, there are certain difficulties in the proposal to bring the NPPS in on the very first day. I can assure her that the contracting authorities will be required to have regard to the NPPS and embed it in their own organisations. If it is mandated to be on the day the Act is passed, the process may not work as we currently envisage it, but I have heard what has been said in the Committee about the concerns people have on the process and will take that away to colleagues. At the passing of the Act—the point mandated in this amendment—the new regime would be yet to be fully implemented, and we are allowing this period for familiarisation.
The other strand in the debate, as I have alluded to, goes back to our previous group on setting specified strategic priorities in primary legislation. The range of topics we have heard has been very wide—the Government profoundly agree on many of them—and some were very detailed. I know of the passion of the noble Baroness, Lady Boycott, on food matters and am frankly horrified to hear that Coca-Cola is paying for its product. You would have to pay me to have a tin of Coca-Cola, I can tell you. However, the set of details in the proposal could potentially be quite onerous, and the noble Baroness’s objectives are secured or sought in other legislation and activities. I will come back to this later in my remarks.
The range of amendments in this group shows that there are many different priorities. It is precisely for that reason that we believe the contracting authorities should have a range of flexibility and that some of these matters are potentially better detailed in the NPPS than in primary legislation. But I understand why, through these amendments, noble Lords are trying to express their concern on the matters that they wish to have put in. For example, Amendments 61, 65, 69, 70, 70A and 79, in the names of a number of noble Lords, refer to the climate change proposals and net zero. As I have said, these are in the current non-statutory document. While I recognise the importance of this, it is absolutely correct in our view that public procurement needs to be focused on achieving value for money.
The noble Lord, Lord Hunt, read out parts of the current draft and said that there is a dichotomy and a balance here. Yes, we admit that there is a dichotomy and a balance to be reached but we maintain that it would not be appropriate to include wider policy objectives in primary legislation. Each procurement is different and, as I have said before, what is appropriate for a large one is not necessarily appropriate for a small one. It is always important that policy priorities are included in individual procurements only where they are relevant to the subject of the contract, in our submission. That is to avoid making procurements unduly complex and difficult, particularly for smaller or new entrants and innovators, to comply with.
Amendment 76 requests the same inclusion in primary legislation of objectives for the Wales procurement policy statement. My previous comments relating to ensuring that priorities are flexible applies to this amendment as well. I will come back to the specific amendment from the noble Lord, Lord Wigley, on devolved competence later. We will continue to work closely with Wales on this Bill. As I said at an earlier stage and earlier in this Committee, the Bill makes provision for the Welsh Government to set their own strategic priorities—we have heard that they are doing so—and Welsh contracting authorities will be able to take into account individual priorities within the parameters of the Wales procurement policy statement, which also might change over time. We therefore do not believe that we should set those specific strategic priorities in this primary legislation.
Amendment 66 is in relation to food. I am sorry for the disobliging comments about the directors of Coca-Cola, wherever they are. The Government have introduced policies for below-threshold procurement which allow contracting authorities to identify local suppliers who can deliver. This will be of use for schools and perhaps individual hospitals for purchasing food below a certain threshold. In addition, Defra plans to consult separately on the food-buying standard which will encourage engagement with small businesses during public sector food procurement. I hope that will go some way towards meeting the noble Baroness’s objectives.
As I said at the outset, many amendments relate to the process for publishing and scrutinising a national procurement policy statement. I must say with all humility that I understand the legitimate questions that your Lordships are asking in this area, and I will very carefully read the comments made in Hansard. Amendments 62, 63, 64, 68 and 74 request a change to the process by generally requiring publication of a draft statement and providing longer timescales. I assure noble Lords that the Government are committed to ensuring that any NPPS is published with the approval of Parliament. The Procurement Bill provides the process to safeguard this. The noble Baroness, Lady Parminter, criticised this. It is correct that a Minister of the Crown has accountability for the establishment of procurement policy priorities. This will be done in a process of consultation with all stakeholders. We will aim to share the draft with relevant stakeholders prior to publication. We already do this with most procurement policy notes and obviously we will go through the usual processes of consultation. The usual legal rules on consultation will apply. Ultimately, if Parliament does not agree with the statement as published, it has available to it the mechanism set out in Clause 12 to stop it, although it has been put to me that it is insufficient.
I have just one more question. It is about periodicity. From the point of view of a contractor, it would be unwelcome to have too frequent changes in the public policy statement or too long periods in which the statement is not revisited. If I were a contractor, I would want to know when a new statement might be coming.
We have a relatively strong convention that strategic reviews of foreign policy and defence take place every two to four years or at the beginning of each Parliament. Would the Minister consider whether there needs to be something in the Bill to prevent new Ministers, when they come into their department, nine months after their predecessor took office, having their statement instead, which would be quite chaotic; or a Minister who had been there for seven years deciding that he did not want to have anything to do with it? Some encouragement for a regular period of ministerial statements might be a positive aspect for the Bill.
As so often, the noble Lord makes an important point. I was charmed by one aspect of his arguments on continuity, when he complained that the Conservative Party kept changing Prime Ministers. I thought he was one of the main cheerleaders for a change in Prime Minister, so he cannot, in the immortal phrase, have his cake and eat it.
There is a duty in the Bill as drafted for a Minister of the Crown to keep the national procurement policy statement under review. It is not in the Bill—noble Lords have not been particularly receptive to the argument I put forward, although the noble Lord, Lord Coaker, has shown his eagerness to get his hands on the levers of power and use them—but the Government’s intention, with great generosity, is that it should be possible for a review of the NPPS to be undertaken in each Parliament. If one made a period of eight years or whatever statutory, then a new or different Government coming in would have to task primary legislation to make that change. That is the kind of structure we have been trying to operate in. Part of the reason the Bill has been framed in the way it has is to leave flexibilities, some of which your Lordships do not like and some of which at least one of your Lordships does.
I turn to Amendment—
The Government have put some objectives into legislation, such as the climate change targets. What we are saying is, for goodness’ sake, where that happens, link this Bill to the other pieces of legislation. Surely it all fits together then.
I remember well when we were debating the then Climate Change Bill how important it was to include a list of conditions that needed to be taken into account when setting the climate change budgets, including economic competitiveness and all sorts of other things. All we are asking for here is to have a reciprocating set of policies to ensure that the same things happen the other way around. I do not mean to be provocative, but there is a purpose for having a Government, and it sometimes feels as if the people in government do not really want to be there. If you are in government, you have levers, so use them.
On a serious note, I add the example of pension schemes. The Government have laid a series of responsibilities on pension schemes to have regard to matters such as climate targets. The Government have accepted the principle of doing it this way and the Minister seems to be ignoring that.
In the real world, we are dealing with a Bill which relates to contracting authorities. The counterparties to contracting authorities are would-be suppliers. The more one lays a duty on contracting authorities to do something, the more a small business which is seeking to enter the procurement process will have to come forward with pages and pages of compliance documents. Noble Lords may think that is not the case. On a personal note, my wife, who is far greater than me, runs a small business. When she started, the compliance requirements were about an inch thick, but now they are much thicker. The danger is always that, in the desire to do good, one ends up creating barriers to entry.
Is it not the case that small and medium-sized enterprises are facing these requirements from other quarters? I am thinking of a meeting I attended of the northern Country Land and Business Association where we heard from the banking sector that no farmer would be able to apply for a loan unless they could show their carbon budget. We have talked about food, as one area. This is going to be the reality of doing business. These will be pre-existing things, so this would simply ensure they are taken into account.
I hear that but I must say this: it is sometimes quite extraordinary to listen to noble Lords. You would not think that it was this Government who amended the Climate Change Act 2008 in 2019 to introduce the target of a reduction of at least 100% in the net UK carbon account by 2050. The other parties had every chance to do that but did absolutely nothing. I am then lectured in this way about the Government not putting in the small print of this particular piece of legislation a target for which, to be fair, this Government legislated and, frankly, this Prime Minister pushed strongly. Procurement Policy Note 06/21 already sets out how to take account of suppliers’ net-zero carbon reduction plans in the procurement of major government contracts. Included as a selection criterion is a requirement for bidding suppliers to provide a carbon reduction confirming their commitment to achieving net zero in the UK by 2050. It is there in that procurement policy note.
Amendment 71 tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Aberdare, would require contracting authorities to have regard to the NPPS in respect of contracts awarded from the framework and/or a dynamic market on every occasion. The NPPS applies to both the setting up of a dynamic market and the awarding of a framework agreement. Contracting authorities will therefore need to apply it when establishing conditions of membership that suppliers need to satisfy in order to participate in a dynamic market; when undertaking a competitive tendering procedure to award a framework; and in setting the contract terms and conditions that apply to the framework. We believe that this is sufficient for the purposes of ensuring that the policy priorities are fully reflected in government contracts, but I will look carefully at the noble Lord’s remarks.
I thank the Minister for that answer and for getting to it at the third time of asking, by which point I was almost bursting with excitement as to what he was going to say. I am not entirely clear why the Bill seems to take frameworks and dynamic markets out altogether but I will study what the Minister has said and endeavour to understand. I thank him for getting there in the end.
Well, I did try to get there but I had an intervention, then another intervention. It would be discourteous not to respond to—or be provoked by, as some may feel—the odd intervention. Is that not the give and take of debate, which is what our blessed Parliament is all about? If I have given the noble Lord incorrect advice, I will correct it, but what I have read out is the legal advice that I have been given.
Amendment 78A tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Wigley, provides that a Minister of the Crown may not introduce a Bill in either House of Parliament to amend or omit Clause 13, which relates to the Wales procurement policy statement, unless, as the noble Lord explained, Senedd Cymru has resolved by a majority of those present in voting to approve it. This is an uncongenial part for the noble Lord: the effect of this amendment would be to fetter the power of this and any future Parliament. The Government therefore cannot accept this amendment. However, as I mentioned earlier—he was kind enough to allude to this—we respect the devolution settlement and the competence of Wales on this matter. I have placed that and the degree of co-operation we have with the Welsh Government on the record in Hansard. That due respect for the devolution settlement is something that the Government aspire to see continue in this case, but we cannot accept the lock that he requests in the amendment.
I am grateful for and accept the integrity with which the Minister is putting that forward and the spirit in which he stated the difficulty that there would be with my amendment. None the less, he will be well aware that there are other forms of amendments that could be put forward, possibly on Report, to ensure that there is the necessary consultation and discussion before any changes in legislation take place. That form of words has appeared in other legislation. Could I invite him to consider that between now and Report? I think that that would be a good indication for those in Cardiff.
My Lords, obviously my right honourable friend will consider everything in his engagement with the Welsh Government. If the noble Lord wishes to bring forward an amendment, I will also consider and respond to it. By the way, I was not waving at my officials or my absolutely brilliant colleague; one of those wretched moths was just about to fly into my ear and prevent me hearing the noble Lord’s charming and persuasive words.
Further amendments cover compliance, reporting requirements and review. I know that this is an area that the Committee is interested in and will probe as the Bill goes forward. Amendment 75, tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Wallace, provides for a compliance review within three years, with a particular focus on small businesses and social enterprises. I fully understand the importance of social enterprise. The noble Lord is not in his place any more but I myself created social enterprises when I was the leader of a local authority; I think that their contribution to our national life is immense.
I assure noble Lords that the Government are committed to breaking down barriers for small businesses and new entrants in supply chains. We had a good debate on that on Monday; my noble friend, among others, made very strong points. Our position is that, although we agree that compliance in this respect is important, it would not be appropriate to legislate and place additional burdens on contracting authorities for this. Small businesses and other suppliers will continue to have access to the Public Procurement Review Service, which will form part of the procurement review unit, to raise any concerns that they have in respect of contracting authorities’ compliance with the Bill, including the duty to have regard to the NPPS. The Bill also provides the Minister with the power to investigate these cases. I am sure that this will provide small businesses with good recourse to challenge non-compliance with the NPPS but we have undertaken to give further consideration to and engagement on the interests of that group in relation to small businesses; I will add the noble Lord’s suggestion to that engagement.
Finally, we return to the question of social value, which was addressed in the previous group. Amendment 75A would require the Secretary of State to provide guidance to contracting authorities on how to implement social value in line with the NPPS. Again, the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, was kind enough to read out the current draft document, where social value is fully represented. As I argued in the debate on the previous group, we believe that this amendment is not necessary. The Government and the Government for Wales will publish procurement policy statements containing their priorities, which all contracting authorities must have regard to when carrying out a procurement or exercising functions related to it. As these priorities may change from one NPPS to another, we do not believe that it would be appropriate to specify on the face of the Bill that guidance on a given issue must always be produced.
Amendment 80, tabled by the noble Baronesses, Lady Hayman of Ullock and Lady Bennett, and the noble Lord, Lord Coaker, concerns the inclusion of a new clause for requiring carbon reduction plans from suppliers for contracts above £5 million. I have already referred to a procurement note but, as I have mentioned, we do not see this type of criterion being suitable for inclusion in the Bill. While central government has policies for this on complex procurements, the amendment would be a burdensome addition to the workloads of contracting authorities across the UK and could potentially inhibit new entrants.
Excuse me for interrupting the Minister but I do not understand what he just said. Amendment 80 would make mandatory what the Government have already said procurement is required to do. Procurement Policy Note 06/21, which the Government have published on their website, is titled:
“Taking account of Carbon Reduction Plans in the procurement of major government contracts”.
All the amendment does is clarify the legal status of 06/21, which is the Government’s own policy. Given the line the Minister has taken, I would be parading 06/21 as a good example of what the Government are doing. That is all this amendment seeks to change in the Procurement Bill. The Minister may need a note on this—I appreciate that—but that was the purpose of this amendment. I wonder whether the Minister could clarify what he has just said in reference to Procurement Policy Note 06/21, which we have included in the explanatory statement as the purpose of Amendment 80.
I deliberately referred to Procurement Policy Note 06/21. It is something that the Government have done; however, the line I am taking and the position of the Government is that we do not wish to encrust the Bill with statutory requirements. I am glad that the noble Lord opposite follows the policy—I reminded him of it as I was going through my speech—but, if I yield one, I will yield 125. It was kind of the noble Lord to say that he was pleased that the Government published Procurement Policy Note 06/21 but I wish he would be satisfied.
I recognise that Amendment 80 replicates the £5-million threshold but we think that taking this policy forward would potentially be a burdensome addition for SMEs, which are required to produce and maintain such documents—not only if they are small SMEs but if they want to be part of a consortium for a larger government procurement project. Despite what the noble Lord said, I do not believe that this changes the overall position of the Government that we should not add to the Bill, to primary legislation, the encrustations that he requests.
I am sorry to pursue this. Procurement Policy Note 06/21 helpfully has some frequently asked questions at the end. One asks when it should be applied. It says that the note
“applies to all Central Government Departments”.
What does that mean? Does it apply or not? Is the Minister saying that it applies to them but the Government do not really mean it and departments can choose whether to do it? What is its status? Is it worth the Government putting in their own documents that it
“applies to all Central Government Departments”?
They might as well just say, “Do it if you want”. What is the purpose of publishing it if it is very loose and can apply only if the departments want? I do not know.
That is the point. Currently, 06/21 refers to “Central Government”, as the noble Lord said, but his amendment applies to “all contracting authorities”, as I read it. If that is not the case, I will stand corrected and we will write a letter to explain that it applies to everybody, as he proposes. I am advised that his amendment goes further than the current procurement arrangements but, if that is incorrect, I will write a note.
I thank the Minister for that. It is helpful. If I get a letter back saying that the amendment goes further than 06/21, with that information, I can change the amendment before Report or be satisfied and not need to. It would be very helpful of the Minister to clarify that in a letter; I wonder whether he might think of sharing that with other Members of the Committee.
Yes, I hope that letters that are sent out are shared with other Members of the Committee and, if not, I will make sure that they are. I would not want to encourage the noble Lord too much in the hope, because the Government’s position is that we do not think it is advantageous to encrust the primary legislation with the range of aspirations that we have heard from many sides in this Committee. The noble Lord can have another try, but I cannot promise that it will be different. But I will write to him and circulate the letter anyway.
I respectfully request that these amendments be withdrawn or not moved.
My Lords, we have had a very wide-ranging, and rather long, debate on this group of amendments. I will start with my noble friend Lord Lansley’s Amendment 61, on the list of strategic priorities. As I predicted, the Minister heard various lists of different kinds of things that noble Lords wanted in the Bill. Let me say that I was wholly convinced by my noble friend’s explanation of why they should be encrusted—as he put it—in the Bill, but I suspect that I am not representative of the Committee in that regard.
In respect of Amendments 63 and 64, my noble friend helpfully said that the Government would share the draft of a national policy statement as part of the consultation process, which I think clarifies that aspect.
I turn to the lead amendment in this group, Amendment 60—the may/must amendment. My noble friend the Minister argued for flexibility for the longer term; other Governments may not want to issue such statements, and I completely accept that. What I did not hear from my noble friend was that this Government commit to publishing a statement under this clause. I would have hoped that, at least from the Dispatch Box, the Minister would commit to publishing the statement, having included Clause 12 in the Bill. He talked about the timetable for the introduction of the Bill and the six months of learning process, but I did not hear what happens to the policy statement. I hope that he might reflect and perhaps give clarity on that in writing or at a later stage.
With that, I beg leave to withdraw.
Amendment 60 withdrawn.
Amendments 61 to 73 not moved.
Clause 12 agreed.
Amendments 74 to 75B not moved.
Clause 13: The Wales procurement policy statement
Amendments 76 to 78A not moved.
Clause 13 agreed.
Amendments 79 and 80 not moved.
Amendment 81 not moved.
Clause 14: Planned procurement notices
Amendment 82 not moved.
Clause 14 agreed.
Clause 15: Preliminary market engagement
83: Clause 15, page 11, line 9, leave out “specifications” and insert “requirements”
My Lords, the Government have the lead amendment in this group, and I look forward to hearing the comments of fellow members of the Committee. Although there is a large number of government amendments in this group, most of them are consequential, so there are actually seven points in the government amendments, which I will express as briefly as I can.
Amendment 83 to Clause 15 is a consequence of Amendment 93. It clarifies in Clause 18 that the authority’s requirements and award criteria are two separate concepts. The amendments make it clear that, to be awarded a contract, the supplier’s tender must satisfy the contracting authority’s requirements and be the most advantageous in terms of award criteria.
Amendment 94 to Clause 18 is technically a consequence of Amendment 126. Amendment 126 amends Clause 22 to make it clear that the contracting authority may set a number of award criteria against which it will evaluate tenders or may set only one criterion. That has led to consequential Amendment 113 to Clause 19.
Amendments 111 and 114 clarify the drafting to confirm that Clause 19(6) is talking about exclusion by reference to intermediate assessment of tenders in Clause 19(5)(b) and that the timing of assessment may vary.
Amendment 134 confirms that Clause 24 applies to the process to become a member of a dynamic market and a process for the award of a contract under a framework, as well as competitive tendering procedures under Clause 19. This has meant moving the clause to later in the Bill, and it will be under Chapter 6, “General Provision about Award and Procedures”. Amendments 137, 140 and 145A are all consequential.
Amendment 135 simply amends the term “terms of a procurement” to “procurement documents”. I know that noble Lords are rightly concerned about definitions. This is to ensure the clause operates effectively for the award of contracts under frameworks and for applications for membership of a dynamic market. Amendments 136, 138, 139, 142 and 143 are all consequential.
Amendment 145 expands the definition of “procurement documents” in this clause to cover documents used for frameworks and dynamic markets. I beg to move.
My Lords, I start with my usual apology that the rules for remote contributors mean that I will be commenting on amendments that have not yet been spoken to by their authors. I have one amendment in this group, Amendment 528C, which has been signed by my noble friend Lord Scriven, to which I will return.
I support Amendments 101A, 528A and 528B which set out the arrangements for procurement, taking into consideration low-income countries and ask that particularly during a public health emergency, not only a pandemic, they should meet certain criteria that are higher than usual.
The World Health Organization’s report, The COVID-19 Pandemic: Lessons Learned for the WHO European Region, recommends as its fifth area for action:
“Strengthening procurement systems, supply chains, operational support and logistics”.
The reason why that it is one of the key recommendations is, I am afraid, the chaos that happened in the early months of the pandemic and the frankly shameful behaviour of some of the wealthy countries which disregarded the fact that Covid was a worldwide virus and that all countries needed access to key goods and services to deal with it—whether PPE, kit for testing, or vaccines as they came on stream.
This Committee is not the place to go into the detail of that; I suspect that most Members of your Lordships’ House will have it fresh in their memories from the last two years. However, I hope that the UK pandemic inquiry will look at our Government’s behaviour, including the taking of vaccines from the vaccine fund COVAX, which was designed specifically to support countries that could not afford either the development or the cost of vaccines in those early days, and, in particular, the blocking of a TRIPS waiver for intellectual property, which prevented low-income countries manufacturing their own vaccines. These amendments would ensure that any future Government must reflect carefully on their role in helping low-income countries have fair access to the tools that they need to manage any major future health emergency.
Amendment 528C is a probing amendment that seeks to remove the provisions in Sections 79 and 80 of the Health and Care Act for NHS England to have its procurement rules set by the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care using a statutory instrument. On earlier occasions in Committee, I asked Ministers a series of questions to which I really hope we will receive answers today. Prior to this, each response from the Dispatch Box, in essence, laid out the differences between the arrangements under the Bill and those in Sections 79 and 80 of the Health and Care Act, which we know already. I will not repeat the details of the likely problems that this will cause in the complex interface of what is and is not covered by the Health and Care Act; it certainly is not as clear-cut as the sections would imply. Much more fundamentally, the reason I have tabled this amendment is to try to elicit answers to the two following questions.
First, why should a body such as NHS England, which procures contracts for £70 billion a year of taxpayers’ money, have procurement rules that are not consulted on widely or taken through the same scrutiny available under the legislation process that this Bill—for all its failings and problems—must continue to go through? During the passage of the Health and Care Bill, no Minister seemed to be able to explain why, and the same is true for this Bill. The £70 billion was specifically for NHS England. The total NHS departmental spend on health in 2019-20 was in excess of £160 billion, so I suspect that the real clinical and associated spending is significantly higher than the £70 billion I quoted. It is the Government’s largest budget after social protection—that is, benefits and pensions—yet the Health and Care Act sets out a procurement regime that is much less visible and accountable than that proposed by the Government in this Bill.
Secondly, is it appropriate that procurement arrangement processes for such a large amount of taxpayers’ money should be determined by a Secretary of State using Henry VIII powers? Not only is this process much less transparent, and it cannot hold Ministers to account, but the capacity is there for a future Secretary of State to change the procurement process much more quickly than under the processes of this Bill. It was helpful during the passage of the Health and Care Bill that the Government bowed to the strong report of the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee, which said that at the very least it must be upgraded to be subject to an affirmative procedure. But frankly, Members’ suspicions were aroused by the original proposals that it should be subject to a negative procedure.
During the passage of the Health and Care Bill, the noble Earl, Lord Howe, said:
“We are grateful for the input of the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee in advising us on this. In summary, these regulations will allow the NHS to procure healthcare services in a way that reflects the reality of those services without unnecessary bureaucracy and with the ultimate goal of providing value for patients, taxpayers and the population in the vital health services they need.”—[Official Report, 3/3/22; col.1028.]
For the last three and a half days, we have been debating in detail unnecessary bureaucracy and the ultimate goal of providing value for taxpayers, clients and the population in the vital public services they need. I am still struggling to understand why the second-largest public spender in this country is able to use this unaccountable and untransparent procedure. I hope that the Minister will specifically explain to the Grand Committee why this route was chosen for the NHS. If the Minister cannot answer this, will he meet those of us who are interested— I have already asked him twice for meetings—so that we can discuss this prior to Report?
My Lords, I have Amendments 120 and 129A in this group. I will also speak to Amendment 119 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Mendelsohn, and my noble friend Lord Best’s Amendment 131. Perhaps Amendments 119 and 120 should have come up on Monday, when we were discussing SMEs.
Amendment 120 seeks to address the barriers faced by smaller providers and charities through specifications that disqualify or discourage them from bidding. These typically stem from process taking precedent over purpose, or from narrow or mistaken interpretations of procurement rules. Lloyds Bank Foundation research has found numerous examples of disproportionate thresholds being imposed—some of which we heard about on Monday—including requiring suppliers to demonstrate income unrelated to the size of the contract being tendered for, requiring evidence of having previously delivered contracts much larger than the one tendered for, or unreasonable insurance requirements.
Excessive requirements at the pre-qualification questionnaire—PQQ—and invitation to tender—ITT—stages can also act as significant barriers. To cite one example: a youth association applying to be added to a framework of suppliers linked to the troubled families initiative had to complete a 49-page PQQ and 99-page full tender. Greater clarity is needed about what a proportionate approach looks like.
My Amendment 120, which the noble Lord, Lord Mendelsohn, has also signed, seeks to add a requirement for contracting authorities to include consideration of the impact of conditions on the ability of a broad range of suppliers, including smaller businesses and charities, to access public contracts as part of their assessment of proportionality. Without this, there is a danger that smaller providers will continue to be disqualified on technicalities or by arbitrary barriers, even where they are well placed to deliver the service or are already doing so.
I have also added my name to Amendment 119 from the noble Lord, Lord Mendelsohn, which would allow for conditions requiring suppliers who seek to participate in a contract to be
“signatories of good standing on the Prompt Payment Code”.
All too often, we hear from small businesses of the Prompt Payment Code being honoured more in the breach than the observance, even by businesses that have signed up to it. Making adherence to the code allowable as a condition of participation seems an eminently sensible way of giving it stronger teeth and I hope that the Minister, who has been so responsive in his willingness to look seriously at many of the good ideas proposed by members of this Committee, will look at this one as well.
Amendment 129A to Clause 22, which is in my name, seeks to ensure that the advantages of flexibility in setting award criteria are not undermined by post-award negotiations or other price and cost uncertainties which could affect, or even invalidate, value-for-money considerations used in awarding contracts. To avoid this, the amendment requires the contract to include
“an objective mechanism for determining price and cost after contract award and before the goods, services or works are supplied.”
Only through such a mechanism for confirming value for money being put in place at the time of a contract’s award is it possible to secure maximum supplier contributions to improving value and reducing risks, including through the early appointment of specialists. This is an aspect of early supply chain involvement and having an objective post-award process to achieve the benefits associated with it.
To give an example, those benefits were illustrated by the innovations, cost savings, reduced carbon emissions and local business opportunities agreed by the Ministry of Justice with the supplier and specialists engaged on its Five Wells prison construction project after their appointment and before commencement of work on site; this project featured as a case study in the Construction Playbook. So I hope that the Minister will consider this amendment carefully as a way of ensuring that value for money commitments are met in the procurement of any goods, services or works.
With the leave of the Committee, I should also like to speak to Amendment 131 in the name of my noble friend Lord Best, who sends his apologies; he is speaking in the restoration and renewal debate as the Lords spokesperson on the R&R board. This amendment suggests a rather different approach to ensuring that the outcome of the procurement process will be public contracts that achieve quality and long-term value, rather than simply being cheaper than competing bids. I hope that the Committee will forgive me for explaining this in a little detail.
Each year, the UK housing sector spends more than £18 billion on procuring outsourced works, goods and services. Councils and public authority housing providers have discretion in their choice of a model for determining which tender to accept; it is of considerable significance which evaluation model they select. In her report following the Grenfell Tower fire, Dame Judith Hackitt recognised that procurement sets the tone and direction of the relationship between the client, the designer, the contractor and their subcontractors; a focus on low cost at this stage can make it difficult and most likely more expensive to produce a safe building.
Amendment 131 attempts to stop the continued awarding of public contracts on a basis that gives priority to lowest price, not quality and long-term value. The relative price evaluation model, which has been chosen by many public authorities and was used for the Grenfell Tower renewal, downplays the importance of quality, not least in respect of safety. Adopting this model encourages poor behaviour by those bidding, asking them to provide a price that they guess will be low enough to win the contract rather than a price that is realistic for the contract to be performed. This amendment would prohibit the use of such models.
Their unfortunate consequences are particularly significant for industries such as construction, where margins are low and competition is fierce. Because of the lack of “fat” in the prices bid, successful bidders often need to make up the money they have forgone to win the contract by either cutting corners or submitting multiple variations and claims. This in turn means that cost overruns and public contracts frequently turn out much more expensive than originally envisaged. Because the relationship has been established on a fictional price, the result of the procurement process is mistrust and frustration between the parties. This can lead to substitution of materials specified for ones of lesser quality, as was the case with Grenfell Tower, with resulting disastrous safety outcomes. Other results of this race to the bottom include poor payment practices down the supply chain, numerous disputes and claims, and lack of investment in employee well-being, training and safety provision, as seen in the case of Carillion.
Amendment 131 would mean that, in future, the other factors that generate value in a bid would receive a balanced evaluation, with the price being related directly to the quality of the individual bid. This would create the situation already envisaged in the Government’s playbooks and bid evaluation guidance but currently mostly ignored; it would be interesting to hear from the Minister how he expects that guidance and those playbooks to be better followed. By banning the use of relative price evaluation models, the amendment would transform the currently broken system that so unhelpfully leads to a bidding war based on price, not value. As the old adage goes, “Buy cheap, buy twice”. I hope that the Minister will take serious note of my noble friend’s amendment.
I have three sentences on my very tiny Amendment 122A. It asks the Minister to explain to the Committee why, on this important clause on award criteria, there is nothing to commit the Government to create additional public value, in line with their specific priorities—whether on P&O or school meals. It genuinely asks the Minister to explain that to the Committee.
My Lords, my noble friend Lord Lansley has three amendments in this rather diverse group. The first is Amendment 118, which adds another requirement for tender notices under Clause 20. It would require the tender notice to provide a period during which potential suppliers can ask questions and get answers, which would then be shared with all potential suppliers. This procedure is often used in practice and it has advantages for both contracting authorities and potential tenderers, in clearing up any misunderstandings. For potential suppliers, it can clarify whether it is worth the time and effort of tendering. It allows suppliers that are not already familiar with a contracting authority to get up to speed. This would be particularly helpful for SMEs, as it would provide a relatively low-cost way to establish whether bidding for a contract is right for their business.
I have a slight concern that the amendment’s requirement to share answers with “all potential suppliers” might be onerous, but this is a probing amendment and I hope that the Minister responds positively to the idea behind it.
My noble friend’s second amendment is Amendment 123, which amends the provisions of award criteria in Clause 22. Under this amendment, the award criteria must enable innovative solutions to be offered in meeting the purposes of the tender. This returns us to one of my noble friend’s themes for this Bill—namely, that public procurement must foster innovation. It is much easier for a public procurement to specify the detail of what is to be delivered than the objectives or purpose of a contract, but good procurement would positively encourage innovative solutions, because innovation is the key to unlocking value for money for the public sector. I hope the Minister agrees with the aims of this amendment, as well.
Lastly, my noble friend Lord Lansley’s Amendment 149 seeks to amend Clause 26 by creating another reason for excluding suppliers, where no good reason is offered for a low tender price. The “most advantageous tender” rule in Clause 18 does not require the acceptance of the lowest-priced tender, but that will often be the outcome. This amendment is designed to provide encouragement to contracting authorities to understand why a tender price is abnormally low and to eliminate those that are lowballing on the basis that they gain a contract and then, later, find some way to negotiate up the price. This unfortunately happens in real life, sometimes.
My Lords, I rise to speak to two amendments in my name. I am grateful for the support of the noble Baronesses, Lady Verma, Lady Boycott and Lady Parminter. At this stage in Committee, we have had the debate about why we feel this Bill is lacking specificity, does not provide sufficient guidance and is a missed opportunity, so I do not propose to rehearse those arguments. I think that, if the Bill were different, we would not be seeking to amend Clause 22 on award criteria in this way. It is evident that we are trying to convey our concern that we need more guidance on these important long-term targets that need to be embedded in the procurement process.
I ask the Minister whether, under his interpretation of
“the subject-matter of the contract”
in Clause 22(2)(a), a contracting authority can set criteria that specifically relate to the public good that derives from environmental benefits that relate to the things we have put into our amendment. If that is the case, we have a workable solution. If it is not, we need something else in the Bill. To be clear, my question is: in setting award criteria under Clause 22, can a contracting authority put in specific, measurable criteria that relate to the wider public, environmental and social good?
My Lords, I will speak to Amendment 124A, which stands in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh, who is involved in other parliamentary duties at this point. She asked whether I would speak to it on her behalf, and I am pleased to do so.
The amendment specifically relates to the need for all contracting authorities to be required to ensure that the award criteria include environmental impact considerations. This, of course, is a provision which stands in its own right in the general context but also specifically relating to Scotland. It is worth noting that the genesis of this amendment comes from the Law Society of Scotland and, as such, we should take very good note of it. The society emphasises that for Scotland, procurement legislation is devolved, as we know, and that the regulations applicable to Scotland—those which have been transferred into Scots law from EU directives—include the Public Contracts (Scotland) Regulations 2015, the Utilities Contracts (Scotland) Regulations 2016 and the Concessions Contracts (Scotland) Regulations 2016.
In fact, the Scottish devolution settlement specifies that all procurement matters that are not specifically reserved under Schedule 5 to the Scotland Act 1998 are devolved unless, as always, the UK Parliament tries to modify them, subject to the Sewel convention. As we all know, use of the Sewel powers can be extremely controversial at times. The Scottish Government have flagged up their opposition to such intervention by the UK Government in the context of the Bill.
As noble Lords will be aware, the Green Party is a partner in the Scottish Government, procurement regulations in Scotland have a number of environmental considerations built into them and the EU principles largely remain in force. It is not the case that UK contracting authorities with reserved functions will be subject to UK rules. For example, the Defence and Security Public Contracts Regulations 2011 are UK-wide, as I understand it, and that has a significance in this context.
This amendment seeks to make it a statutory responsibility for contracting authorities, in setting award criteria, to
“take account of the environmental impact of the award”.
This would place a parallel emphasis on environmental impact in the context of English or UK contracts, as is the case in Scotland. As the Law Society of Scotland has stated:
“It is important that the Bill does not lead to confusion in the UK for parties, given that different rules will apply in the UK market”.
Inevitably, given the devolution settlement, there will be occasions when legislation in Scotland and England differs for a variety of reasons relating to different values, circumstances or aspirations, but where there is largely agreement on public policy, as there surely is on the environmental impacts to be taken into account, common sense would dictate that words along the lines of Amendment 124A should be built into the Bill.
My Lords, I support Amendments 124 and 127 in the name of the my noble friend Lady Worthington. As always, I return to the issue of food: the Committee on Climate Change reported last week that the public sector serves 1.9 billion meals a year. That is an unbelievably big responsibility and impacts on the environment, our health, how people co-operate socially, what we grow and agriculture. If we cannot have principles about the environment, public good and public health within this public procurement then it is really not fit for purpose because this is, I think, a massive area of concern to everyone in this Room.
My Lords, I have added my name to Amendment 528C, which my noble friend Lady Brinton has already spoken to. Like her, I am a little perplexed about the Government’s view, according to the Minister, that public sector procurement should be based on value for money and that there should be a co-ordinated approach to public sector procurement so that businesses understand the rules in which they are working but also have flexibility, yet the health service seems to be excluded from that.
For the convenience and understanding of the Committee, we need to look particularly at Section 79 of the Health and Care Act 2022, which says:
“Regulations may make provision in relation to the processes to be followed and objectives to be pursued by relevant authorities in the procurement of”
services. Relevant authorities in this legislation are: NHS England; NHS England foundation trusts; an NHS trust established under Section 25; interestingly, a combined authority, which is a combination of local authorities; and a local authority in England. A relevant authority is not just an NHS body; it is a relevant authority if it is purchasing or procuring
“(a) health care services for the purposes of the health service in England, and (b) other goods or services that are procured together with those health care services.”
Ministers have said previously from the Dispatch Box that all that the provision applies to is the provision of healthcare services in England. They have not spelt out that it also applies to other goods or services that are procured together with those for healthcare services. If, for example, a care village was being procured where there was predominantly a capital spend on housing and where services for healthcare were to be procured at the same time, which set of procurement rules would apply? Would it be the rules within this Bill, those within the Health and Care Act, or a combination of both?
It is important that Section 79 of the Health and Care Act says that
“Regulations under subsection (1) must, in relation to the procurement of all health care services to which they apply, make provision”
for the following:
“(a) ensuring transparency; (b) ensuring fairness; (c) ensuring that compliance can be verified; (d) managing conflicts of interest.”
There is nothing about value for money, yet the Minister has said repeatedly at the Dispatch Box in this Committee that the Government’s view is that public procurement should be based on value for money. If that is the view of the Government—not of the Cabinet Office, but of the Government—why is value for money not in the Health and Care Act as a factor for public procurement of healthcare provision in England and other goods or services that are procured together?
There is a gaping hole which is not clear. It is so deep that I do not think the Minister can explain the contradiction between this Bill and the Health and Care Act in terms of procurement provision. So, particularly on joint procurement in something like a care village, which provision would apply? If the Minister cannot answer that very clearly from the Dispatch Box, I feel that this is going to come back on Report. Clearly, there is confusion not just in terms of legislation but for those businesses which wish to be part of a contract for a joint provision between health and other services.
My final question is this: why is it that combined authorities in a local authority in England are in the Health and Care Act but it says here that local authorities will be driven by the provisions in this Bill? Which one would a local authority have to adhere to in terms of the confusion that is around it?
My Lords, I want to make a point about proportionality. It arises under the amendment in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Aberdare, and runs through much of the Bill. In a sense, I am asking a general question but hanging it on the hook of Amendment 120. It is a point of some concern to small organisations; we are talking here about small charities and local voluntary organisations. In much of the debate, people have referred to businesses and enterprises, but this will also apply to local voluntary organisations and charities, which clearly do not have the resources or staffing to deal with the scale in the way that an organisation such as Oxfam, for example, could. They have their local job to do; to a certain extent, spending a lot of time drawing up a bid to provide a service will be a diversion from their work. Proportionality must have a role in assessing a contract. I am intrigued and ask the Minister to give some indication of an overall perspective on proportionality as it affects local organisations, charities and voluntary organisations.
My Lords, with apologies for missing some of this debate, I will speak briefly to my Amendment 129, which relates to Clause 22 and the incompatibility of subsections (2) and (5). Clause 22(2) states:
“In setting award criteria, a contracting authority must be satisfied that they … are sufficiently clear, measurable and specific”.
Clause 22(5) then sets out those “clear, measurable and specific” elements. In paragraphs (a), (b) and (c), it is indeed specific: they deal with
“the qualifications, experience, ability, management or organisation of staff”
et cetera. However, over the page, Clause 22(5)(d) sounds as if the drafter was late, tired, exhausted and gave up. It refers to
“price, other costs or value for money in all the circumstances.”
I am sorry that the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope, is not here to tell us how one might legally interpret “in all the circumstances”.
What we have drafted as an amendment is one that is as specific as paragraphs (a), (b) and (c) on what those circumstances might be. It sets out the standard phrases that have been used in the Government’s previous documents and draft statement. I merely suggest to the Minister and those behind him that paragraph (d) simply is not fit for purpose as it stands. The phrase “in all the circumstances” should not be in a Bill of this sort. It either needs to be cut or to be expanded to the sort of specificity that (a), (b) and (c) include. My amendment suggests what that might be.
My Lords—oh, I have just thrown all my papers on the ground. Actually, I do not need them. I am holding my list of government amendments, which I used to follow the Minister carefully as he went through them all so that I did not miss anything he said.
I sincerely thank the officials, who have spent a long time bearing with me and my noble friend Lord Coaker, going through the government amendments carefully so that we properly understood the implications and which ones were tied together, if you like. Many of the amendments provide helpful clarification, so I put on record my sincere thanks for the officials’ time and patience. It has been very important.
I have a few amendments in this group. The first, Amendment 101A, looks to ensure that contracting authorities consider potential health contractors’ records of ensuring
“affordable access to their products in low and middle-income countries and to the NHS”.
Of course, this is in the light of the pandemic, because it covers consideration being taken in public health emergencies of the international concern around this and the impact on countries that are less well off than us. With these amendments, we want to increase access to vaccines, medicines and diagnostics by attaching conditions to health products and research and development contracts in order to facilitate global manufacturing, because that was clearly a problem recently during the Covid pandemic.
It is also about having assurances that taxpayers’ money is being spent according to socially responsible principles in circumstances like that. If you can attach conditions to public spending on health procurement and R&D to have greater access to health technologies globally, this can help to bring the health crisis to an end sooner. We know that many of the Covid variants came about in countries that have very low vaccination rates. So it is about looking out and upwards for the future.
There is already some precedent for attaching conditions to pandemic tools to improve access. Paragraph 84 of the Government’s 100 Days Mission report says:
“We recommend that governments should build in conditions into their DTV funding arrangements to ensure … access to DTVs at not for profit and scale, which is to be enacted if a PHEIC is declared.”
So we can do this if we want to. The pricing and timing of delivery are important for gaining more equitable distribution.
Many low-income and middle-income countries have been calling for more meaningful control over their pandemic responses. Of course, they cannot really do that if they do not have access and are not then able to manufacture their own vaccines, which is what many of them were calling for. Again, if you remove intellectual property barriers, you can do this, but we need to look carefully at how we would manage that. Perhaps the Procurement Bill is not the right place for this, but it is certainly the right place to have a discussion and debate about it and to look at how we can move things forward.
My other amendments are Amendments 528A and 528B. I am slightly confused about why we are debating these and Amendment 528C of the noble Baroness, Lady Brinton, at this stage, when the government Amendment 528, to which they relate, does not come up for debate until group 14. It strikes me that we are likely to end up having exactly the same debate all over again. The Minister may not have an explanation for that, but I apologise in advance that we will revisit this.
I will be brief because we will come back to this. As I say, Amendment 528A is again about affordable access for middle-income and low-income countries, and Amendment 528B is about requiring contracting authorities to consider a potential health contractor’s record of ensuring affordable access to its products. I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Brinton, and the noble Lord, Lord Scriven, for supporting our amendments. We support Amendment 528C of the noble Baroness, Lady Brinton, but I am sure that we will have another debate on group 14, as I said.
Briefly, on the other amendments, I support my noble friend Lady Thornton on her Amendment 122A. She suggested that there needs to be an explanation around what her amendment is trying to achieve; I will be interested to hear the Minister’s thoughts on that. The noble Baroness, Lady Worthington, was supported by the noble Baroness, Lady Boycott, on the absolute importance of environment and net-zero targets and how they must be interwoven in the Procurement Bill. I am sure that the Minister has got the message that many people in the Committee think that this is pretty important and must be engaged with.
The noble Lord, Lord Wigley, spoke to Amendment 124A, tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh. It is important because it refers to the devolved settlement and the implications on that. I thank the Law Society of Scotland for its briefing on this, which was extremely helpful. The noble Lord made the points absolutely crystal clear so I will not go into any further detail.
I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Noakes, for her sterling work in introducing all the amendments tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Lansley. I am sure that he will be extremely pleased when he reads Hansard, though perhaps not about one of the amendments in the former group.
The noble Lord, Lord Aberdare, made some really important points when talking to his amendments about the need to support small suppliers and the issues that many have with prompt payment. I know that the Bill is looking hard at doing something around late payment and prompt payment; I hope that we can achieve this positively through what we are doing today. I fully support the noble Lord in his efforts to improve this situation.
My Lords, I thank noble Lords for another interesting debate that I have enjoyed listening to. Some thoughtful points have been made. I must say at the outset that Ministers are responsible for many things but we are not responsible for groupings. We just get told what we must do. It would have been quite possible, through the usual channels, to agree to de-group those amendments and put them separately but, as we say, “Them’s the breaks”.
Notwithstanding the illogicality that has been pointed out, I will address what is before us. By the way, I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman of Ullock, for what she said about the official Bill team, who support us all in Committee on the Bill. I fully endorse what she said. Many of them are here to hear it; if they are doing their job, they will probably notice it in Hansard but, none the less, I will make sure that they do.
Amendment 101A, 528A and 528B, tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman of Ullock, and the noble Lord, Lord Coaker, and Amendment 528C, tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Brinton, and the noble Lord, Lord Scriven, cover health and procurement, as we just discussed. I candidly acknowledge that, sometimes in life, there are minor frustrations. I know that the Committee is understandably wrestling with the issue. My noble friend Lady Scott—I am sorry, I always call her Jane—tried to answer the question asked by the noble Baroness on two occasions but I will come on to say what we have tried to do about this; indeed, I will now read out the answer that I have been given.
These amendments would significantly extend the rules in Clause 18 by imposing additional requirements on authorities to have regard to a range of health sector-specific issues when awarding contracts for the research, development or supply of health services or health products. As we have already touched on at various points in the debate, contracting authorities need to make procurement decisions on a case-by-case basis. It would not be appropriate to include wider policy objectives, such as those suggested, in primary legislation. This could jeopardise the achievement of value for money and make it harder for small businesses to bid for these health services and health products contracts.
Amendment 528C would override the healthcare procurement regulation-making powers set out in the Health and Care Act and make the Bill apply instead to all healthcare purchasing—the challenge set out by the noble Baroness, Lady Brinton. The position is that the Department of Health and Social Care is currently preparing regulations, following public consultation, which will implement a new provider selection regime specifically designed for the procurement of healthcare services delivered to individual patients and service users. Obviously, noble Lords will have the proper opportunity to scrutinise and debate the implementation of these powers when they are laid in Parliament, through the affirmative procedure.
On the question raised by the noble Lord, Lord Scriven, the recent DHSC consultation on proposals for its new provider selection regime acknowledges the need for integrated procurement for health and social care services. Existing procurement legislation recognises and provides for mixed procurement approaches, and relevant details will be included in the DHSC’s forthcoming regulations and guidance. Parliament will have the opportunity to scrutinise these under the affirmative procedure.
I know that noble Lords have said that they not entirely satisfied with this. It is the situation that clinical services for individual patients are with the health service. My noble friend highlighted—as I said on day three in Committee—that we would write to the noble Baroness, Lady Brinton, on how the interface between the Procurement Bill and the health Act will work in practice, I reassure noble Lords that that is being prepared. We will seek to pick up many of the questions that noble Lords have asked on each day of the debate so far, in this area. That will be put before your Lordships before we get to group 14—I hope it is not group 13—or whenever we get to it. It is being done, but I have heard what noble Lords have said. I can tell the Committee that I am also writing personally to the Secretary of State for Health to seek further clarity on when the regulations will be available for scrutiny. I have heard the requests from your Lordships in this area.
I turn now to Amendment 118 tabled by my noble friend Lord Lansley, whose appearance varies today—I will not hurt him by saying it is improved today. This amendment would modify Clause 20 to require the tender notice to provide a period during which “suppliers may ask questions” and have the answer provided “to all potential suppliers”. Under the Bill regime, there is nothing preventing potential bidders asking for further information or clarification of matters within the tender notice or associated tender notice documents; in fact, this is standard practice in procurement procedures. There is a risk that including a specific provision to this effect might suggest that questions cannot be asked outside that window. We would not want to suggest that there comes a point at which interested suppliers can no longer ask questions of contracting authorities. With that in mind, I hope I have reassured my noble friend—when he comes to read this section—that the Bill already allows for the circumstances he wishes to see.
Amendment 119 and others relate to the Prompt Payment Code. Amendment 119 seeks to require being a signatory to the Prompt Payment Code to be used as a condition of participation in the award of a public contract. We are committed to ensuring prompt payment to suppliers. However, requiring that every potential bidder becomes a signatory to the Prompt Payment Code to participate in the procurement would be too onerous a requirement. Therefore, while we encourage suppliers to sign up to a Prompt Payment Code, we do not consider it proportionate for us to legislate for it in this Bill.
Amendment 120, tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Aberdare, would extend the consideration of whether conditions are proportionate for the purposes of subsection (1) to include the accessibility of the contract to as broad a range of suppliers as possible. This is an abiding theme in your Lordships’ Committee. The primary purpose of Clause 21 is to ensure that the suppliers that participate in the procurement are capable of delivering the contract, but also that these conditions are restricted to only those which are needed to deliver the contract.
The noble Lord asked what we are doing to stop unreasonable requirements of SMEs and others, and I include in this broad range social enterprises and charities. As I say, the intention of Clause 21 on conditions of participation is to prohibit disproportionate or unreasonable requirements being put on contracts that would end up excluding SMEs. The authority must be satisfied that conditions of participation consider only the legal and financial capacity and technical ability of the supplier to perform the contract in question, and that there are proportionate means of doing so. We will look carefully at the noble Lord’s words. That is the intention behind Clause 21, but we will bear in mind what he said.
On the previous day of Committee, we discussed the importance of creating opportunity for SMEs and others. There was a broad ask from your Lordships. We think the clause as drafted helps with that, as conditions are pared back to focus on delivery. I have already committed to holding an engagement during the Recess about what more we can do to support SMEs. In the meantime, we consider that this amendment is not required, but we will give it some reflection. Is “reflection” a parliamentary word? It sounds like a word that one of the right reverend Prelates might use.
Yes, my Lords, I believe I did say that. In parliamentary terms, I am reiterating what I said. SMEs cover, for the purpose of this, voluntary organisations, social enterprises and charities. I think I have made clear my profound personal belief that these are part of the vital warp and woof of our society.
Amendment 121, proposed by noble Lord, Lord Wallace of Saltaire, aims to ensure contracting authorities take reasonable steps to verify that the supplier and any subcontractors are able to deliver the contract. Although we absolutely agree that contracting authorities need to do this in practice, we do not think it is necessary to add this provision into legislation, as the very operation of procurement is geared to this—the setting of conditions of participation, award criteria and evaluation processes, to name a few. While, as part of the Bill, we are improving supply chain visibility, we do not want to overengineer—noble Lords must have heard me say this too many times—legislative requirements for contracting authorities to investigate these matters in every procurement process as a box-ticking exercise.
Amendment 122A, which was proposed by the noble Baronesses, Lady Thornton and Lady Bennett of Manor Castle, and supported by others, would give the Minister the ability to exempt contracting authorities from the tests that must be satisfied when setting award criteria in order to allow policy priorities to take precedence to create additional public value. The Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee might have something to say about such an amendment if it were put forward by a Minister. It sounds very much as if certain rules need not apply in this particular place or contract. It certainly has a whiff of the dispensing power that the Glorious Revolution was designed to do away with, although I know noble Lords will say there is too much Henry VIII in too much legislation. So, in a technical sense it would be a difficult thing to do, but we think it would be undesirable.
We want all award criteria to be clear, measurable, relevant, non-discriminatory and proportionate to avoid unnecessary burdens on suppliers. We believe that this, together with our plans to publish a national procurement policy statement, which we debated earlier, and the requirement for authorities to maximise public benefit, will be sufficient. I have heard scepticism, but we believe that is the case.
Amendment 123 from my noble friend Lord Lansley would require that when contracting authorities are setting award criteria for the purposes of awarding a public contract, they always ensure that those criteria allow for innovative solutions. Amen to that; we want innovation. That is another thing that we have been asking for on all sides of your Lordships’ Committee. In the Bill we want to give contracting authorities the maximum flexibility to select the most appropriate award criteria needed given the nature of the procurement, as long, as I have just explained, as they meet the requirements of Clause 22—for example, they are relevant to the subject of the contract, non-discriminatory and proportionate. The Bill already allows award criteria to be selected in respect of innovative solutions where they meet these tests, and we are already taking a number of major steps to drive innovation in the Bill. For example, the new competitive flexible procedure, which we will debate in another group, gives contracting authorities the ability to design and run a procedure that suits the market in which they are operating.
On Amendments 124, 127 and 124A from the noble Baroness, Lady Worthington, and my noble friend Lady McIntosh of Pickering, Amendments 124 and 124A would make it mandatory that award criteria always align with a very specific list of matters relating to environmental and climate change objectives. Amendment 127 would ensure that the social and environmental impact of a contract can always be considered to be relevant to its subject matter. Amendment 125 from the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, is similar and would require all award criteria to have regard to social value.
The noble Baroness, Lady Worthington, was kind—or cynical—enough to recognise that we had debated this and imagined what my answer might be. We are resistant to adding further conditions. We believe that delivering value for taxpayers should be a key driver behind any decision to award contracts, and as I have said in previous debates, we do not think it is appropriate to include wider policy objectives, such as those suggested, in primary legislation. Policy priorities should be included in award criteria only where they are demonstrably relevant to the subject matter of the contract. It is essential for value for money reasons that that is done. It avoids procurements becoming unduly complex through the inclusion of extraneous and unnecessary requirements. Perhaps we have a disagreement on that, but that is the Government’s position. We do not want to increase costs and make it harder for small businesses to bid for public contracts.
I cannot specifically answer the question from the Law Society of Scotland—I had divined that it might be the originator of the questions that were asked. As the noble Lord knows, the Scottish Government have chosen not to participate in this procurement process, and in those circumstances I am disinclined to have them say what should go in legislation for England, Wales and Northern Ireland, which are co-operating together so well. However, I will look at the specific point raised by the amendment.
Amendment 129, proposed by the noble Lord, Lord Wallace, would include a list of very specific factors to be considered in determining value for money. It is an important question. However, this amendment would place limits on what can be taken into account when assessing the subject matter of the contract, rather than allowing authorities to consider “all the circumstances”, as currently provided in the Bill—perhaps by, as the noble Lord suggested, a sleepy draftsman or draftswoman. We believe that if we made it too precise, we would force contracting authorities to design their procurements around, in some cases, irrelevant factors and potentially not allow them to consider other, relevant factors, all of which could increase cost. I will take advice on “all the circumstances”, given the challenge that the noble Lord put to your Lordships’ Committee.
Sorry to interrupt, but just to clarify, it seems to me that the reference to “maximising public benefit” in the Bill is completely and utterly superfluous and has no meaning. The Minister’s response has further confirmed that the only criteria that can really be taken into account are value for money and cost. We will need to return to this at Report, because it now seems very clear that this is not an accident or some kind of desire for flexibility; it is really saying that there is only one thing that counts, and that is cost—and in the short term.
I respectfully disagree with the noble Baroness. It is acknowledged from the other side that value for money is an extremely important criterion. It is one of the things in Clause 11. We have discussed mechanisms and we have had discussions about the national procurement policy statement, wherein, in the draft on the table, lie large numbers of things which the noble Baroness is seeking. It is frankly not the case to say that there is nothing in here other than value for money—that is not the Government’s submission to your Lordships. The Bill takes forward the change from the use of the term “most economically advantageous tender”, MEAT, to “most advantageous tender”, MAT. That is to reinforce the precise message that procurers can take a broader view of value for money than simply lowest price. We believe that the amendment tabled by the noble Baroness is not necessary.
Amendment 129A, in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Aberdare, would make it explicit in the Bill that contracting authorities must always include an objective mechanism for determining price or cost after contract award where and to the extent that value for money, but not price or cost, is evaluated when assessing which tender is the most advantageous. We believe that commercial practice and other provisions in the Bill mean that this amendment is unnecessary. It would be highly unusual for contracting authorities not to include an evaluation of price or cost when assessing value for money in their procurements. This is good commercial sense.
Further, contracting authorities are not free to act unbounded. The procurement objectives, including those in Clause 11, will apply. I do not think it is necessary to expressly legislate for it. We will, however, publish guidance to contracting authorities on evaluation. The noble Lord may well ask me when the guidance is to be published. He also asked how we can be sure that that guidance will bite further. It may be that I can come forward with further information after Committee.
I am sorry, I have been given a long speech—
My Lords, Amendment 131, tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Best, would prohibit contracting authorities applying relative assessment methodologies for price, costs or value-for-money award criteria, with the aim of preventing “race to the bottom” behaviour by suppliers and helping contracting authorities achieve safe, quality and value-for-money outcomes.
The objective of the Bill is to make public procurement more flexible for contracting authorities and suppliers, not less. In deciding how to assess tenders, contracting authorities must be able to determine what is important to them and the best means of assessing this. In some cases, price may be more important than others and, in particular, price assessment methodologies may be more appropriate in certain circumstances. I must also stress that contracting authorities will be very aware of the need for safe outcomes and that those cannot be compromised. To reiterate, we will publish guidance on assessment to help contracting authorities decide how best to assess tenders.
Amendment 147, tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, would require a Minister, within three years of the Bill being enacted, to undertake a review of the impact of the rules on how contracts subject to a competitive procedure must be awarded. In particular, the review must assess the impact of the change from “most economically advantageous tender”, commonly referred to as MEAT, to “most advantageous tender”, commonly referred to as MAT. On the delivery of social value, and whether the needs of service recipients have been met under contracts, the change from MEAT to MAT sends a much clearer message to contract authorities that the contracts do not have to be awarded on the basis of the lowest price. I can assure the noble Lord that the matters he refers to are within the scope of MAT, where they are relevant to the contract being procured.
Amendment 149, tabled by my noble friend Lord Lansley, would make explicit that contracting authorities may exclude a supplier where it has failed to explain satisfactorily why the price or cost proposed in its tender appear to be abnormally low. We discussed this point during a recent SI debate, and I welcome his contribution. I appreciate that tenders may appear abnormally low for a variety of reasons, some of which ought to concern contracting authorities. The Bill’s silence on this point is not intended to discourage authorities seeking to understand the proposed price and cost or interrogating suppliers where they appear to be abnormally low. Authorities are already under an overarching duty to award contracts to the most advantageous tender. This should be sufficient to allow for questions to be asked of suppliers about proposed price and costs, and authorities can structure their evaluation to ensure that tenders can be rejected where the authority has reason to believe a tender is abnormally low.
In summary, this Bill aims to deliver a simpler regulatory framework. It therefore does not include every possible action a contracting authority might wish to take in assessing the validity of tenders or awarding contracts. This approach is better than the existing EU approach, as it offers increased flexibility to design efficient, commercial and market-focused competitions, while reducing burdens for smaller firms. Therefore, I respectfully request that these amendments are not moved.
Amendment 83 agreed.
Amendments 84 and 85 not moved.
Committee adjourned at 8.44 pm.