House of Lords
Wednesday 30 November 2022
Prayers—read by the Lord Bishop of Gloucester.
UEFA Euro 2020 Final
To ask His Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of the conclusions of the report by Baroness Casey of Blackstock An independent Review of events surrounding the UEFA Euro 2020 Final ‘Euro Sunday’ at Wembley, published on 3 December 2021; and what plans they have to publish a full response to that report.
My Lords, the safety of spectators at sporting events is of the highest importance to His Majesty’s Government. We continue to work closely with all relevant authorities to ensure that football fans can continue to enjoy the sport while attending matches safely. This review was commissioned by and reported to the Football Association, and the Government were referred to in four of its recommendations. Our approach with respect to those recommendations is outlined in our evidence to the DCMS Committee inquiry into safety at major sporting events, a copy of which I have placed in the Library.
My Lords, I had to introduce the current football banning order system as emergency legislation some 22 years ago. It works well to punish offenders identified by the police and football clubs, and they work well with the CPS. Stake- holders believe that a refresh is needed. They want us to intervene early. They want to better educate fans, improve advice for stewards and create a new offence tackling turnstile tailgating. Do the Government have a plan to bring forward these revisions to tackle increases in football-related disorder, or is this another issue that will be put on the back burner?
My Lords, the Home Office has already implemented a series of changes in relation to the existing football banning order legislation, building on the work that the noble Lord took when in government. This includes adding football-related online hate crime to the list of offences for which a banning order can be imposed on conviction, amending the threshold for the imposition of a banning order, extending the legislation to the women’s domestic game, and adding football-related class A drugs crimes to the list of offences, but we continue to keep all this under review.
My Lords, can the Minister give us a little more advice about what this reaction will mean? Have the Government identified when the next football match of national significance will be? That should have happened with the Euro finals. Have we got an intelligence profile in place to give us a better chance of spotting this in future?
The match at the centre of the noble Baroness’s report was clearly of national significance and an unparalleled situation. The current system for designating risk levels for football matches is determined by the police, so the Government believe that this is rightly an operational matter. It is not for us to create a separate system for classifying those matches and going over the heads of the police. However, we continue to ensure that appropriate resources are available to the police and others to ensure the safe delivery of major sporting events.
My Lords, there was a highly aggressive crowd on that night back in July. Two thousand people gained access without tickets; there were 17 mass breaking-of-security incidents. Can the Minister explain exactly what lessons can be learned by the police and what will be done in future to prevent this sort of incident?
There were lessons for a number of parties in the noble Baroness’s report. The action taken by the Government includes extending football banning orders in the way that I have described and commissioning the Sports Grounds Safety Authority to conduct and act on research about stewarding capacity throughout the live events sector. We have led the relevant authorities in considering the recommendations that the noble Baroness made on “Zone Ex” and designations.
My Lords, one of the conclusions of the independent review was the over-reliance on inexperienced and poorly paid stewards. What is the Government’s response to this now that the UK and Ireland are pitching for the Euro 2028 tournament, which requires safety and security for 10 stadiums across five countries?
The Sports Grounds Safety Authority commissioned on behalf of DCMS research on the sustainability of stewarding—not just in relation to football matches but live events more generally—looking at challenges such as recruitment and retention as well as training and experience, as the noble Lord mentioned. The authority is now working with football’s governing bodies and others to address the challenges identified in the research, and the Government continue to review challenges in the stewarding sector in light of the successful summer of sport that we have just enjoyed.
My Lords, what assessment have the Government made of their own activities in respect of that particular football match—for example, the very late decision, pressed on everybody by the Government, to increase the numbers who could attend?
On the points which the noble Baroness, Lady Casey, raised in relation to the Government and the four recommendations which had action for us, we have outlined our response in our evidence to the Select Committee inquiry, which I have placed in the Library. The noble Baroness’s report was not a report to the Government but to the Football Association, but we have carefully considered the recommendations for us and acted on them in consultation with interested parties.
My Lords, about 30 years ago, I was a volunteer steward. The deal was that you were not paid, but you got to see some of the good gigs and games in return for also stewarding some of the bad or less interesting games. You took that as a deal. But when it came to it, there was very little training, following the noble Lord’s question earlier. Is my noble friend the Minister aware of what training stewards are provided with, whether they are volunteers or paid?
This falls into the work that the Sports Grounds Safety Authority has conducted in light of the noble Baroness’ review. My noble friend makes important points: I think that a lot has been done since the days he worked as a steward, but there is a lot more still to be done.
Does the Minister agree that one of the major problems last summer at the final was alcohol? Does he further agree that although there are many reasons for criticising the Qataris in relation to the World Cup, they may have discovered that to exclude alcohol from the vicinity of the ground—apart, of course, from executive boxes—helps to ensure a tolerable atmosphere for those who want to watch the football in a family-friendly environment?
Certainly, as I have done when we have previously discussed this, I condemn the actions of a minority of people—in lots of instances, fuelled by alcohol—which spoiled the day for the law-abiding majority who wanted to go and enjoy the match. Of course, alcohol consumption at football matches has been considered by Tracey Crouch and the fan-led review, which also made the point that allowing clubs in the lower leagues to sell alcohol might give them an important sustainable income stream. We are considering the recommendations that she has made, and will bring forward views in due course.
My Lords, it is a pleasure to follow the noble Lord. Has the Minister considered ensuring that we share some intelligence and data from the games that have been played in Qatar, from their impactful management of fans, and apply that to lessons for our application for 2028? Can I also take the opportunity to congratulate England on a wonderful win last night?
I certainly echo the noble Baroness’s final comments—I see that she is sitting next to a noble Lord who might take a different view; diplomatically, I shall not intrude on that. She will be pleased to know that we continue to work with our international partners to ensure that we share the expertise that the police and other operational partners have in delivering major events. We had a good record of doing that this summer.
My Lords, as a Scot, I had no dog in the fight last night, but I none the less congratulate England on qualifying. Further to the point about alcohol at that final in July last year, a big issue also was supporters using cocaine, of which there was photographic evidence. Has the Minister had any discussions with the Football Association about ensuring that the use of such drugs is at the very least limited among those entering the stadium?
As I said, the Government have taken action to extend football banning orders to cover offences including the selling and taking of class A drugs at football games, which certainly had an effect on some of the disorder that we saw. We are taking forward action both as a Government and with policing partners.
The noble Baroness makes an important point. Consumption of alcohol in a responsible manner is an important part of an enjoyable day out for many people. For other sports and lower down the leagues, it can be an important source of income for clubs. That is why we want to encourage the responsible consumption of alcohol and adherence to the law, so that everybody can enjoy a safe day out when going to a sporting match.
Financial Inclusion in England
The Government want to ensure that people, regardless of their background or income, have access to useful and affordable financial products and services. To increase financial inclusion, the Government work closely with regulators, industry and consumer groups. Since 2019, we have allocated £100 million of funding from dormant assets towards this. The Government are also promoting financial inclusion through the Financial Services and Markets Bill, for example by introducing legislation to protect access to cash.
My Lords, when it comes to financial inclusion, cash still matters materially to millions. Would my noble friend agree that it is not just about access to cash? Acceptance of cash is equally important. Further, as we move increasingly towards digital, would she agree that it is time for the Government to undertake an access to digital payments review to ensure financial inclusion for all?
My Lords, our approach is that accepting cash is a decision for the firms involved. We have taken action to ensure that people can access cash through ATMs and elsewhere. My noble friend also makes an important point about digital inclusion and digital payments. We are looking at how we can promote that alongside financial inclusion in our work through the Financial Inclusion Policy Forum and other avenues.
Will the Minister say which Minister has formal lead responsibility for financial inclusion now? Under the previous arrangements, it was not one but two Ministers: one in Treasury and one in DWP. It is not clear to me who is currently leading. The Minister just referred to the Financial Inclusion Policy Forum. What is going to happen moving forward and how frequently will it meet?
The noble Baroness asks a very good question, and I am afraid I will have to double-check and get back to her. The reason that it has traditionally been a DWP and a Treasury Minister is their joint role on that policy forum. It is not me in the Treasury, but I will find out who it is. The Government and others have found it a useful forum to drive forward action in this area and I am sure they will want it to continue with its good work.
My Lords, will the Minister say what the Government are doing to tackle poverty premium issues in financial services? We know that people on the lowest incomes pay more for credit and insurance, for instance, but issues such as this seem to be kicked between the Treasury, which says it needs more data in order to take action, and the regulator, which says that it is not within its remit to collect that data. How does the Minister expect that the new FCA consumer duty and consumer vulnerability guidance will help tackle the poverty premium, given that they deal primarily with existing customers and do not address the needs of those consumers whom the market finds more expensive and therefore less profitable to serve?
The Government are conscious of the poverty premium. We have used the Financial Inclusion Policy Forum as somewhere that we can bring together different actors on this. I will give some examples of action that we have taken in this area. The FCA, the regulator, has taken action on motor and home insurance to stop customers who are renewing being charged more than new customers. We have also seen the age agreement put in place for older customers to be able to access travel and motor insurance, and some work has been done with the Association of British Insurers looking at the poverty premium, specifically in the rented sector, and it has provided some recommendations to the Government that we are considering how best to take forward.
My Lords, I applaud my noble friend Lord Holmes’s campaign to ensure that physical currency is available and valid, but what are the Government doing to ensure that the currency is fit for purpose? Many noble Lords may recall the farthing. The farthing was withdrawn in 1960 because it was redundant. The 1960 farthing is worth 2.8p today, but the halfpenny was withdrawn in 1984 for the same reason. So what is the life expectancy for the 1p coin languishing in saucers up and down the country?
I am afraid to say to my noble friend that I do not recall the farthing myself. The Government had a consultation on cash and digital payments in 2018 and the responses strongly supported not changing the denominational mix of coinage at that time. However, as with all areas of policy, we keep this under review.
My Lords, I have met many people who are visiting pawnbrokers, putting down their everyday things just to get a few pounds to enable them to survive. They are paying interest rates of 160% upwards. Does the Minister consider that to be affordable? If not, what is she proposing in order to help these people?
I do not consider that to be affordable at all. We are taking a number of actions in this area. We work closely with Fair4All Finance, the organisation set up to distribute funding from dormant assets. One of its projects is working on the no-interest loans pilot scheme to try to provide a different route and access to credit for those who need it. At the Autumn Statement, we heard from my right honourable friend the Chancellor the action we are taking to direct our support this winter and next year to the most vulnerable households.
My Lords, the Money and Pensions Service has highlighted that children’s attitudes to money are well developed by the age of seven. According to the CBI, prioritising financial education could add nearly £7 billion to the UK economy each year. Does the Minister agree that the Government should consider making financial education a statutory part of the primary school curriculum?
My Lords, financial education in England is covered within both the citizenship and mathematics curricula. The Money and Pensions Service has also published financial education guidance for both primary and secondary schools in England to support school leaders and education decision-makers to enhance the financial education currently delivered in their schools. More broadly, after Covid and other disruptions there has been a commitment by this Government not to make any changes to the national curriculum for the remainder of the Parliament.
My Lords, access to bank accounts and other financial services is vital, but so is better protecting people from financial scams and fraud. The Government currently have the economic crime Bill, the Financial Services and Markets Bill and the Online Safety Bill before Parliament; we will shortly see a data Bill too. Can the Minister assure us, perhaps in writing, that the final versions of these Bills will include clear and consistent measures to tackle the scams and other forms of fraud that blight so many people’s lives?
The noble Lord is right to point to the range of Bills before Parliament that will address this issue. We will not be able to address fraud and scams through financial services regulation alone. For example, many fraudsters access people through online platforms, so we need to look at that approach too. Those Bills will contain measures to tackle this, and the Government are also committed to bringing forward a fraud strategy that will bring together work from regulators, government and law enforcement to get a grip on this issue.
My Lords, financial involvement is important because it represents people being willing to invest in British businesses and help them to grow. Unfortunately, the volume of direct citizen investment has fallen rather than increased in recent years. I am afraid that the increase in dividend tax and other investment expenses will also discourage this. Can the Government think about methods of encouraging people to invest in this country?
We absolutely want citizens to invest more and we have products, for example to help those on lower incomes form saving habits. We also want institutional investors to invest more in this country, which is why we are taking action on things such as Solvency II.
My Lords, as I said earlier, in the Autumn Statement we set out the significant support that this Government are providing to the most vulnerable households. In fact, in the analysis of that Autumn Statement, it was those in the lowest income deciles who stood to gain the most from the policies we announced.
My Lords, our reforms over the last 12 years are reflected in our highest ever scores in international tests in primary maths and reading, which are the building blocks for attainment. We have set out our ambitious plans for reform of education in the schools White Paper, the Skills for Jobs White Paper and the Skills and Post-16 Education Act, and we will publish a full response to the SEND and AP Green Paper early in the new year.
My Lords, I remind noble Lords of the important report published by the Times Education Commission in June, which has attracted widespread support—not least in this House, as a debate last month showed. Should we not continue to bear in mind the powerful case the commission makes for the introduction of a British baccalaureate offering broader vocational and academic qualifications at the age of 18, with parity of funding for both routes? Will the Government now put such bold educational reform at the centre of their strategy, drawing on the ideas in this landmark report?
The Government very much welcomed the report. Our strategy is ambitious in all these areas. My noble friend will be aware that my right honourable friend the Prime Minister has challenged the department to consider how we can go further to ensure that every young person receives the benefits of a broad and ambitious education, so that every child has
“the best chance in life”
and can prepare
“to enter … a rapidly changing world.”
My Lords, the decision announced this week to reclassify further education for borrowing and investment purposes into the public sector has caused real concern. The £150 million allocated by the Government for capital spending on the back of that is very welcome, but perhaps the Minister can tell us whether that is new money, and was it not extraordinary that two weeks ago the Chancellor allocated no new money to learning and skills?
The department is working very closely with the further education sector to manage the transition that the noble Lord refers to. In terms of funding for skills, we are investing £3.8 billion more in further education and skills over the Parliament as a whole.
My Lords, does the Minister agree that without both a supportive system, as the noble Lord, Lord Lexden, has mentioned, and proper funding we are in grave danger of losing those practical subjects—not just art and design, music and drama but science subjects, including chemistry—which require designated spaces and equipment but are nevertheless an essential aspect of a child’s educational experience?
My Lords, the Minister will be aware that for every child to have the opportunities that she talks about it is important that we identify those children with special educational needs at an early age. She will also recall the Children and Families Act 2014, which we thought was going to be ground-breaking. Yet in terms of special educational needs we see long delays, tribunals or appeals systems costing millions, and Health not engaging. Can the Minister tell us why a comprehensive post-legislative review of the Act was eight years after it received Royal Assent?
I am not aware of the details of the timing of the post-legislative review but I point the noble Lord to the special educational needs and disabilities and alternative provision Green Paper, which the Government published and have consulted on, in which we really strive to address many of the issues that the noble Lord has raised; namely, that we should have a trusted, non-antagonistic system that is fair and transparent that parents feel confidence in and children can flourish in.
My Lords, I am most grateful. Can I ask the Minister whether the Government are impressed by the ideas and achievements of Katharine Birbalsingh? If so, what are they doing to see that her methods are more widely followed in our state education system?
Obviously, the Government appointed Katharine Birbalsingh as the social mobility tsar, so I think that perhaps answers the noble Lord’s question. More broadly, the principles she espouses of aspiration for every child are upheld by the Government and delivered in many of our schools and trusts.
Does the Minister recall that in the two debates we had recently on education and the curriculum in schools, every Peer who spoke said there should be more technical and cultural subjects in the curriculum next year? The Minister did not accept that at the time but now that she has had time to reflect on it and to discuss it with her colleagues, is she prepared to say that at the beginning of the school year next September all children in all schools will be taught lessons in computing, data skills, coding, cybersecurity and artificial intelligence? That is where all the jobs are and this is a programme that would help to fill job vacancies, which the Government are not doing anything about.
I really cannot accept what my noble friend has said about the Government not doing anything about it. As I pointed out in the recent debate, computing is part of the national curriculum. I have already alluded to the rapid growth in the adoption at A-level of computer science. My noble friend is aware of the pioneering work that we are doing in relation to T-levels, which are equipping children for the future.
My Lords, all children need to be taught in a building that is safe, warm and dry, but in May this year leaked documents revealed that £13 billion of repairs to the school estate were needed to rectify the deteriorating condition of some sites, which present “a risk to life”. Does the Minister recognise reports that the Treasury’s failure to invest in school repairs is putting children’s lives at risk?
The department continues to work extremely closely with the Treasury on these matters. We have a substantial school rebuilding programme and funding for capital and condition. Any school that has urgent capital requirements can approach the department, and we are very active in supporting them.
My Lords, the Schools Bill was partly intended to remove barriers to enable church schools to fully embrace the journey towards academisation. Given that there has been no further progress on that Bill, what plan do the Government have for introducing the legislative parts of that Bill that were broadly agreed and are needed to secure the development of all schools?
I will be able to update the House on the progress of the Schools Bill in due course, but I agree with the right reverend Prelate. The Government are very supportive of the faith sector, the schools within it and their wish to academise in the most constructive way possible.
My Lords, is the Minister aware of the Law Society report calling for a greater uptake of mathematics teaching to over-16s, only 15% of whom take mathematics? The same applies to science subjects, where there is poor education for over-16s. If this country has ambitions to be a science superpower, the teaching of these subjects to over-16s is important.
The Government are aware of the report and are committed to developing all aspects of the STEM subjects. We are doing that particularly in areas where recruitment is difficult, through the provision of significant, £27,000 tax-free bursaries and levelling-up premiums for staff working in those areas.
I thank the noble Baroness for that invitation. I endorse everything that the noble Lord said in the previous question. My question is: can the Minister explain to the House how the Government justify a continuing policy of charitable status for private schools, when the effect of that policy is to deny the public purse much-needed money for all the points made by my noble friend on the Front Bench?
I repeat what my right honourable friend the Prime Minister said earlier today when asked about this point. The Government have just put an additional £4 billion into the core schools budget over the next two years. We are absolutely focused on school standards, and that is seen through the percentage of schools that are good or outstanding, which now stands at 87%. We remain committed to opportunity, not resentment.
Care Homes: Severely Disabled People
The disruption of care where it negatively impacts vulnerable service users is unacceptable. Under the Care Act, local authorities have a duty to shape their markets and provide services to those with eligible needs. The Government are providing up to £7.5 billion over the next two years to support adult social care and discharge. This historic funding boost will help local authorities to start addressing waiting lists, low fee rates and work- force pressures in the sector.
I thank the Minister for that Answer, but I cannot say that any of it was a surprise to me. Will he acknowledge that this is just the latest manifestation of a long-standing problem? For years, the social care system for adults with complex disabilities has been held together by charities and not-for-profits that have poured literally millions from their reserves into subsidising the services they provide for the NHS and local authorities. Now these organisations are in financial trouble and can no longer afford to do so. Those who are suffering are those in greatest need. Does the Minister agree that the whole system of funding for social care is broken and that the only solution is complete root-and-branch reform, not the piecemeal solutions offered by the Government?
I thank the noble Baroness and echo the sentiment of thanks to the charitable sector for the work it is doing in this vital space. We have shown that we have listened in this area through the £7.5 billion—a 22% increase over two years, which I think everyone would agree is substantial. At the same time, we are in touch with these bodies; we reached out to the charity Leonard Cheshire, which is involved in this, to try to understand the issues. If there are ways in which we can directly help, we will do so.
My Lords, does the Minister agree that there was a time when, if the local authority asked to see the parents, they assumed that this was for a review of what progress had been made by their offspring in residential care? More recently, parents are saying that they fear any approach by a local authority, because it may say that it will have to move their child to a different arrangement because it cannot afford to pay the fees now being set.
As I say, we are working on this. The CQC has a vital role to play and we had a discussion recently with the Association of Directors of Adult Social Services, which welcomed the relief the Autumn Statement brings in this area. I can only reiterate that we have listened and acted.
My Lords, I draw attention to my registered interests. Do not these cases underline the need to ensure that the additional costs of severe disability, whether incurred in charitable establishments, commercially run accommodation or at home with families, should be met consistently from central sources rather than falling on local authorities, which may have neither the expertise in the degree of disability nor the resources to meet them?
As ever in these areas, there is a debate to be had on centralism versus localism. I happen to believe that local authorities and healthcare systems are best placed to understand the needs of the people in their area, and I will continue to support that. Clearly, where help is needed, we are there. I reiterate that we have funds to support them from the centre, including a £2.3 billion increase for mental health, to give one example. Generally, I would keep to the principle that it is best that local people and authorities identify and meet local needs.
My Lords, the Minister just referred to mental health funding and referred earlier to the increased funding to cover delayed discharges and get more people coming out of hospital into social care. Neither of those affects severely disabled adults; funding for them from central government to local government has not been increased. I repeat the question of the noble Baroness, Lady Pitkeathley: does the Minister think that the provision and arrangements for this particular group of people are broken?
No—it is for local authorities to decide how best to use the funding we have put in place, as I said. That means looking at the needs of local people and how best they will put this in place. The 22% increase in funding can be channelled to exactly these types of places and people if a local authority believes that that is in the best interest.
Does my noble friend accept that many disabled people in residential and nursing care are of an age such that there are no parents or close relatives left and there is no one with a lasting power of attorney? How can that vulnerability be coped with by the state in a way we would all approve of?
My noble friend identifies an ageing demographic, the challenges that brings to all of us and the pressure on adult social care and the centres. As I have said, this is a challenge, but there are high levels of satisfaction in the sector: 89% of people are satisfied and 64% are very satisfied. So, although we have not got this right in every case, we are broadly on the right track and getting good results.
My Lords, eight out of 10 of the largest providers of care for the disabled and children are at least in part private equity owned and, in many cases, wholly so. Their interest rates are already their major concern, and these are going up. Is the Minister concerned that these private equity-owned homes will be forced either to cut what they do and serve their customers less well, or close? If he is concerned, what is he doing about it?
The financial health of this sector is an area of interest; we all of course recall some of the problems and failures about 10 years ago. I had a meeting on this subject just this week, identifying the health of the providers to see if that is of concern. The margins made in this space are fairly typical of other industries, so they are not indicative of an area under particular stress. But I have my mind on this issue and will keep an eye on it.
My Lords, ADASS reports that in the past four months,
“64% of councils … reported that providers in their area had closed, ceased trading or handed back council contracts”
either through an inability to recruit staff or escalating care home running costs. We all know that the extra funding to councils, which the Minister repeats in almost every response, just about props up existing services and does not provide the sustainable and long-term funding that was promised to commence with the again delayed social care cap. When will the Government fulfil their pledge to fix social care?
My Lords, the 200,000 extra care places that this funding provides is a solid example of an expansion of supply, and I hope all noble Lords agree that that is a substantial number. I hope they also agree with the work we are doing to recruit from overseas to increase the workforce in this sector, which is indeed increasing. Areas such as these show that we are committed to expanding the supply, and we are seeing that rewarded in the increase in the last few months.
My Lords, has my noble friend yet had an opportunity to read the Economic Affairs Committee report on social care, a “national scandal”, which points out that in care homes in both the private and the charity sectors, people who pay their own costs subsidise others to the tune of 40%? The local authority rates are simply unsustainable, and this issue is therefore urgent and needs to be addressed. Simply talking about inputs all of the time is no good; we need to see what is happening to the outputs, which is a tragedy.
Funnily enough, the meeting on the sector’s financial health that I mentioned was precisely in response to the Question last week, so that I can make sure that proper work is being done in this space. I will not pretend to have the answers to that yet because, as my noble friend mentioned, a long-term review needs to be done. But rest assured that I am working on this.
Bank Holidays (Wales) Bill [HL]
A Bill to amend the Government of Wales Act 2006 and to devolve powers to set bank holidays.
The Bill was introduced by Baroness Humphreys, read a first time and ordered to be printed.
Northern Ireland (Executive Formation etc) Bill
The Bill was brought from the Commons, read a first time and ordered to be printed.
Arrangement of Business
My Lords, following the introduction of the Northern Ireland (Executive Formation etc) Bill, I wonder if I could update noble Lords on the arrangements for this House to consider the Bill. Second Reading and all remaining stages will take place next Monday, 5 December. The speakers’ list for Second Reading is already open and will close at 6 pm tomorrow. Noble Lords will be able to table amendments for Committee once the Bill is printed later today. The deadline for doing so will be an hour after Second Reading. To assist noble Lords in preparation for Committee, the Public Bill Office will publish an interim Marshalled List on Friday. Any amendments tabled before 4 pm this Friday will be included on that list. The final Marshalled List will be published after Second Reading, once the tabling deadline has passed. Report and Third Reading will also take place on Monday. Arrangements for those stages will be announced throughout the day.
Higher Education (Freedom of Speech) Bill
Order of Consideration Motion
Telecommunications Infrastructure (Leasehold Property) (Terms of Agreement) Regulations 2022
Electronic Trade Documents Bill [HL]
My Lords, a Second Reading Committee considered the Bill in the Moses Room on 7 November.
Bill read a second time and committed to a Special Public Bill Committee.
Ballot Secrecy Bill [HL]
Bill passed and sent to the Commons.
Covid-19: PPE Procurement
Commons Urgent Question
The following Answer to an Urgent Question was given in the House of Commons on Thursday 24 November.
“Sourcing, producing and distributing PPE is, even in normal times, a uniquely complex challenge. However, the efforts to do so during a pandemic, at a time when global demand was never higher, were truly extraordinary. Early on in that pandemic, our priority was clear: to get PPE to the frontline as quickly as possible. All of us in this House will remember that moment, and how desperate we all were to see PPE delivered to the frontline.
During the course of the pandemic—nearly at its peak—400 staff were working on sourcing protective equipment, and tens of billions of items were sourced. We worked at pace to source new deals from around the globe, and we always buy PPE of the highest standard and quality, and at the best value for money. Over the course of the programme, due diligence was done for over 19,000 companies, and over 2,600 companies made it through that initial due diligence process.
With huge demand for PPE all across the world, and with many countries introducing export bans, our risk appetite had to change. We had to throw everything behind our effort to protect those who protect us and those who needed it most. We had to balance the risk of contracts not performing and supplies being priced at a premium against the crucial risk to the health of frontline care workers, the NHS and the public if we failed to get the PPE that we so desperately needed.
As well as due diligence checks, there was systematic price benchmarking. Prices were evaluated against the need for a product, the quantity available, how soon it was available and the specification. Many deals were rejected or renegotiated because the prices initially offered were not acceptable.
There are always lessons that we can learn from any crisis, but we must not lose sight of the huge national effort that took place—I thank the officials who worked on it—to protect the most vulnerable while we tackled one of the greatest threats to our public health that this nation has ever seen.”
My Lords, I have raised the issue of fraud in PPE contracts previously. Apparently, PPE Medpro was awarded contracts via the VIP lane amounting to £200 million, despite it not even existing when Ministers were first contacted. Then, just over a year ago, the noble Lord, Lord Bethell, then the Health Minister, admitted that the department was engaged in ongoing
“discussions (potentially leading to litigation) in respect to 40 PPE contracts with a combined value of £1.2 billion covering 1.7 billion items of PPE.”
The following January, the noble Lord, Lord Agnew, resigned, criticising the Government’s track record in countering fraud across government. In relation to the PPE contracts of £1.2 billion, will the Minister update the House on how much of that money has now been returned to the taxpayer? Can he say what amount is outstanding, either where negotiations continue or where legal action is now being taken or is pending? If he does not have that information immediately to hand, will he commit to write to me and place his letter in the Library?
I thank the noble Baroness, and I commit to write with the precise figures. To put it into context, we should remember that this was at a time when unprecedented action was required. Of the 38 billion PPE items ordered, 98% were delivered and just 3% were unfit for purpose. Within that, clearly there is action that needs to be worked on and action is being taken to pursue those damages. I will put those in writing, so that the noble Baroness can understand them all. As I say, it is good if noble Lords recall that the priority at the time was clearly getting equipment to help protect and save lives, and that was what was done. Were mistakes made? Of course. Are we seeking to address those now by going back to take action against those people? Yes, of course we are, but we need to keep it in the context that the undoubted priority was to buy PPE and protect lives.
My Lords, from these Benches we echo the questions that the noble Baroness the Leader of the Opposition has asked. We note that at least 71 PPE deals were awarded to firms, of which at least 46 were put into the VIP lanes by Conservative Ministers and officials during the Covid pandemic, as well as by some MPs and Peers, before a formal eight- stage due diligence and checking process was put in place. There were also deals made not for PPE during that period, including for testing and some non-health ones.
I think we all agree that the wastage and profiteering should never happen again, but we warned from these Benches, as did other Members across the House, in the early stages of the pandemic that all the right contracting arrangements, protocols and scrutiny needed to continue. The Minister has said that the pandemic posed problems, so will he push for a separate, independent-led inquiry able to examine the whole procurement process, including the VIP lanes, and analyse forensically the bids, profits, wastage and catalogue of links to Ministers, MPs, Peers and others who had influence on them?
I thank the noble Baroness. My understanding is that there have already been three NAO reports and three PAC reports on this, so it has been covered in depth. I think people have accepted that mistakes were made and that the high-priority lane, so to speak, should not have been on the basis of referrals but more burden of proof should have been put on the applicants, so we could get more information and sift it that way. Again, to put it all into context, there were 19,000 applicants at the time. This was led by officials, and they put the high-priority lane in place to try to sift those. Also, of the 430 that went into the high-priority lane, only 13% actually ended up in contracts. Are there lessons to learn from this? Of course, but the NAO and PAC reports have outlined those lessons.
My Lords, experience tells us that the best deterrence against fraud and corruption are the twins of transparency and accountability; in the absence of such transparency and accountability, the reporting of the saga of PPE Medpro risks tainting others by association. So, for transparency if nothing else, will the Minister agree that relevant correspondence between PPE Medpro or its representatives, and Ministers or their officials, should be published and placed in the House of Lords Library, perhaps soon after the current investigations are concluded? Also for transparency, surely the public are entitled to understand what due diligence was conducted on this company and other similar ventures that emerged, apparently from nowhere, during the initial stages of the pandemic?
I thank the noble Lord. As I am sure we are all aware, this is subject to a criminal investigation at the moment, so in terms of paperwork we need to let that take its due course. What I can talk about is what we are doing as a department on that, particularly in terms of the contracts for gowns which were defective, and it is in that area that we are in dispute with them. We have made a claim and put in place a process so that we will take it to court, and we will pursue that if we do not come to a negotiated settlement which is satisfactory.
Can I take the Minister to the present rather than the past, and to two Written Answers which he gave to me yesterday on the 120 million items of PPE which are currently still stored in the People’s Republic of China and costing taxpayers £770,000 every single day—three-quarters of a million pounds, daily? I asked the Minister how much this has cost to date, but in telling me that the cost has been £16.3 million, he simply took the period of April to September. I would be grateful if he could produce a more complete set of figures and say how much longer we are going to go on paying £770,000 every day to companies linked to the People’s Republic of China, to the Chinese Communist Party, and to goods that have been made by slave labour in the Xinjiang region.
I will happily provide those updated figures in writing; I thank the noble Lord for his question because it sparked a number of inquiries on my front. As he will be aware, I am only two months into this job. But one of those very questions—a hard question for us to think about—is the cost of storage versus, dare I say, scrapping it, because we have tried to donate all we can from it, and, God forbid, having to buy it again if there is another pandemic. In many cases it is cheaper right now to scrap it and buy it again at current prices. Of course, you cannot be certain whether prices could then get inflated again, but I hope your Lordships can tell from this answer that I am very much looking into the cost-benefit of the best approach.
My Lords, will my noble friend pay tribute to Industrial Textiles & Plastics of Easingwold which, together with Barbour and Burberry, submitted an application to the Cabinet Office for a number of gowns, and are still waiting for a reply? They donated these gowns free at the point of use to local hospitals. I believe that they should have had a contract from the Government and am at a loss to understand why they did not. Is there any reason that the Cabinet Office failed to reply to them?
I do not know why they did not reply. What I do know is that there were many companies like the ones mentioned who wanted to do their bit. They stepped up to the mark and provided all sorts of goods and services, sometimes at no cost and for no profit, because they all wanted to be part of the wartime effort. I will find out why they did not get a response.
My Lords, there is considerable public interest in understanding whether businesses were stepping forward at a time of crisis, sourcing PPE helpfully and passing it on to the NHS, with a minimum mark-up to cover their costs, or rather seeking to maximise profit. Will the Minister agree to publish sufficient information about the distribution of profit margins made across the community of suppliers for us to make that determination?
I do not believe we could possibly have that information; obviously, we would need to know the cost base of these companies to supply it. I am afraid that I do not believe we can do that. Further to my last reply, some companies supplied things at a very reasonable margin and did a great job, but unfortunately, as we have seen in some of the examples, others were not so publicly spirited—let me put it that way.
Independent Adviser on Ministerial Interests
Commons Urgent Question
My Lords, I shall now repeat in the form of a Statement the Answer given by my honourable friend to an Urgent Question in another place. The Statement is as follows:
“Mr Speaker, the Government welcome the opportunity to stress again the importance of the role of the independent adviser and this Government’s commitment to it. The Prime Minister has been very clear that the appointment of a new independent adviser is a priority and that the appointment process is under way. Honourable Members will understand that an appointment of this nature is significant and has to be done well. Much as honourable Members might wish me to, it would not be appropriate for me to comment further on the specifics of what is an ongoing appointments process. Let me assure honourable Members: the adjudication of issues of ministerial conduct does not stop because the independent adviser is not yet in post. Conduct matters and conduct issues will be dealt with quickly and appropriately, irrespective of that appointment process.
That is what honourable Members will have seen with regard to the complaints made against the Deputy Prime Minister. On receipt of formal complaints by the Cabinet Office, the Prime Minister requested that an independent investigation be conducted by an individual from outside government, and Adam Tolley KC has been appointed to conduct the investigation. The terms of reference have now been published. The process is under way, and Mr Tolley will provide his report to the PM in due course. It is right that these matters are investigated fully, but it would not be right to comment further on them with that process ongoing.
I would also like to reassure honourable Members that the process of managing the interests of Ministers continues in the absence of an independent adviser. The Permanent Secretary, as the policy expert on each department’s remit, leads the process in their department in the absence of an independent adviser. The Cabinet Office is able to provide advice in line with precedent. All relevant interests are declared by Ministers upon taking office and are kept up to date at all times. The publication of the list of Ministers’ interests is the end point of the ministerial interests process, and it takes place at regular intervals to make the public aware of the relevant interests of Ministers.
I end by reiterating that as soon as there is an update on the process to appoint an independent adviser on Ministers’ interests, the Government will update the House.”
My Lords, I do wonder how many times Ministers can tell us that this is such an important issue and that it is a priority without appointing anyone. There is a queue of outstanding, incomplete investigations at present, and the Government have already had to draft someone in to investigate the alleged behaviour of the Deputy Prime Minister in a separate process. What are the estimated costs of this delay? King’s Counsels will not come cheap for such an investigation. Why does the Minister think candidates are refusing even to consider taking this appointment up? I understand that several have been approached. Could there be a problem with the Government’s definition of independence, which appears different from that of the rest of us?
The noble Baroness refers to the cost of the King’s Counsel hired to help on the Raab inquiry; it is obviously the usual process that costs will be accounted for in the Cabinet Office annual report and accounts. However, I understand that in the other place my honourable friend Minister Burghart has committed to write on the issue and I will ensure that this letter is shared with the noble Baroness. Could she remind me of her second point?
It is an important role, so we need to take time. The new Prime Minister has been with us for only 31 days—I hope he will be there for many years. The post needs to be filled by a person of integrity and credibility with the experience and judgment to win the confidence of Ministers, Members of Parliament and the public. I believe that this is right in order to find the right person; we are determined that the appointments process being conducted should do that. I would not want to comment on speculation or specifics—noble Lords are always trying to encourage me to do this. They should be assured that it is a priority. An independent adviser will be appointed and we are getting on with it.
My Lords, is the problem not that the title “independent adviser” is an oxymoron? It is very clear from the experience of the last two advisers that the role is that of a “dependent adviser”—dependent on the Prime Minister taking any notice of what they recommend. Does the Minister recognise that the key element of the Ministerial Code here is the chapter on relations between Ministers and civil servants, and that the current problem we have in Whitehall is partly that a large number of senior civil servants are beginning to lose confidence in the Ministers with whom they work? That is partly because the turnover is far too fast; there have been five Ministers in various posts in the last year—the Secretary of State for Education, for example. If Ministers lose the confidence of their civil servants, the quality of government will go down further. What are the Government going to do to reassure Whitehall that Ministers will continue to treat civil servants with respect, listen to reasoned arguments and evidence, and on that basis, take decisions that can carry their civil servants with them?
I have two points. First, it is right that, under the British system, the Prime Minister appoints the independent ethics adviser. He is accountable to Parliament for that appointment. If parliamentarians do not like the appointment, they can raise it in Parliament. I used to be a civil servant, as the noble Lord knows. I think the Civil Service has worked magnificently to deal with the changes of ministerial office that we have seen in recent months. Those of us who are now fortunate enough to be Ministers are working hard and respectfully with the Civil Service.
My Lords, I declare an interest as chair of the Committee on Standards in Public Life. The Minister may recall that 12 months ago, we issued a report, Upholding Standards in Public Life, which made a number of recommendations for improving and reinforcing the role of the independent adviser. We have not yet had a full response from the Government on that report. Does the Minister agree that it might be easier to find strong candidates if there had been agreement from the Government that the independent adviser should be able to initiate their own investigations, and that that would be reassuring to the public?
I thank the noble Lord for his work in this important area. I remind the House that in May 2022, partly as a result of this report, changes to the role of the independent adviser were announced. The current terms of reference for the independent adviser, which I am happy to share if need be, allow them to initiate an investigation following consultation with the Prime Minister. The consultation process ensures that any public interest reasons not to proceed are raised, should they occur. In such an event, the independent adviser may require the reasoning for that to be made public, unless doing so would undermine the grounds that led to the investigation not proceeding. Other points were made in May and there was also a statement in July. Noble Lords will understand that there have been changes of Government and therefore some things have gone a little slower than they perhaps might in the future.
I can only repeat the point that the Prime Minister has been in office for only 31 days; he has had a hugely demanding agenda to deal with, not least on the economic side. He has made clear that he is appointing an independent adviser. That process is in hand; noble Lords need to give us some rope.
My Lords, the Minister has told the House that the delay in appointing an independent adviser has not interfered with the existing ongoing investigations. Nevertheless, do the Government not understand the damage being done to the credibility of government and the democratic process by not having an independent adviser?
My Lords, the machinery of government goes on. As I explained in my Statement, managing ministerial interests, including the management of those on the appointment of new Ministers, is continuing with the Permanent Secretaries in the Cabinet Office and with the head of the Civil Service. I do not think there is a lot more that we can do than appoint an independent adviser of the right kind. As somebody who has worked in many different parts of the British state and business, I know that it is important to take time to make appointments of this sort. We need somebody experienced and credible who wins the trust of the Prime Minister, who is ultimately responsible.
My Lords, can the Minister throw a little light on what seems to me, at any rate, a pretty opaque process? Is there a job description for this new job and is it publicly available? Was the post advertised so that people could apply for it? What is the salary or payment attached to it? All these things would be normal for making the most junior of appointments in the Civil Service or relating to the Civil Service. For this very senior post, therefore, perhaps we could be told whether people have been independently applying for the job. How many people have been considered by the Government but turned the job down? I am sure that all these points would be of great interest to us all to understand precisely how the Government go about this business.
It is a prime ministerial appointment. The postholder is required to observe the seven principles of public life and helps the Prime Minister on Ministers’ interests and on investigations of alleged breaches of the Ministerial Code. It would be unusual for the details of a confidential appointment process to be published, but I can assure the noble Lord that work is in hand and I look forward to announcing the name of the new independent adviser once appointed.
May I suggest to the Minister that her inability to answer any of the questions asked by the noble Lord does not encourage confidence in this process? More excellent candidates would be likely to come forward and confidence in the process would be enhanced if the Government would commit to accepting the advice of the independent adviser when it is given on these important matters of integrity. Will the Government do that?
The noble Lord is trying to push me into a different direction but, like my noble friend Lord Howard of Lympne, I am keeping to the same answer. That is because I completely believe that this independent ethics adviser has to be appointed by the Prime Minister and has to be accountable to Parliament. It is important that we stick to that principle. People who are going to take up this important post will understand that, but they will also want to ensure that they have the confidence and trust of our Prime Minister.
Procurement Bill [HL]
Report (2nd Day)
Clause 40: Direct award to protect life, etc
72: Clause 40, page 26, line 22, at end insert—
“(3A) Provision under subsection (1) must not confer any preferential treatment on suppliers connected to or recommended by members of the House of Commons or members of the House of Lords.”Member’s explanatory statement
This amendment is intended to prevent the future use of “VIP lanes” for public contracts.
My Lords, I will also support Amendment 113 in this group in the name of my noble friend Lord Fox, which I have put my name to.
Imagine this House’s response to a public sector procurement Bill or statutory instrument that came before your Lordships’ House with the following provisions. The Government could, without reference to anyone, set up a new procurement channel that was mainly for people who knew Members of the Houses of Parliament, and particularly government Ministers. The companies offering the items would not have to be trading, or could just have a few weeks’ incorporation, and would still be included in the special channel. Normal scrutiny and due diligence would not be required of such contacts. These contacts would have preferential treatment over existing and trusted suppliers. They would be 10 times more likely to get a contract, many running into multi-millions of pounds, than other companies not in that special channel, many of which would have had a trading history of years of supplying relevant, safe and reliable goods and services. In addition, those on the special channel would be able to make three times the normal profit margin before the usual and rigorous value-for-money checks were carried out.
Quite rightly, we would be outraged and would see that as unethical and an unacceptable way to spend billions of pounds of taxpayers’ money. I hope that a fatal Motion would be put so that such provisions were stopped in their tracks. However, that is exactly what happened with the VIP channel set up for PPE in 2020. The findings of the National Audit Office and other reports that have been investigating the VIP channel paint a picture that is not acceptable and should never be part of an ethical public sector procurement process. The National Audit Office reported that companies referred to the VIP channel lane by Ministers, senior MPs and Peers had a success rate for gaining PPE contracts 10 times greater than other companies, many of which had a history of supplying reliable PPE in the other procurement routes. Parliamentary Questions show that 41 out of 111 contracts awarded through the high-priority lane by May 2020 had not gone through the formal eight-stage due diligence process.
If speed is required in public sector procurement, the normal rules of probity and ethical standards cannot and must not be ditched. We know that it leads to some with access to government Ministers’ personal WhatsApp contacts, telephone numbers or email addresses ending up making many billions of pounds for nothing more than having those contacts, and the door is open to the public sector market with the ability to supply goods and services. It is reported that some individuals have made over £29 million in personal gain from a company that was not even incorporated when they were lobbying government Ministers to get in the VIP lane, and indeed, when they eventually landed a multi-million-pound contract, they provided some goods and services that were not fit for purpose and could have put our NHS staff at risk had they been used.
Amendment 72 prevents another VIP lane from being set up that creates special and lucrative routes to market for those with privileged access to Members of the Houses of Parliament, and particularly to those in the Government. It will still allow the Government to procure in an emergency but would ensure that one route to getting to market exists—one doorway, with the same due diligence and rules applied regardless of who made the recommendation of the individual or company, rather than a fast-track and light-touch scheme for those who have a contact who is a senior politician or government Minister.
Without this simple amendment, there is nothing in the Bill to prevent another unethical procurement scandal that could set up a VIP lane and become another get-rich-quick scheme for some who have personal access to government Ministers and senior politicians. As the National Audit Office said, contracts awarded by the department through the parallel channel made up only 3.6% of all contracts awarded but accounted for 52% of expected contract value.
With this in mind, I ask the Minister: what in this Bill would prevent another VIP channel from being set up that is predominantly populated on contracts from senior politicians and government Ministers? I look forward, as I am sure many noble Lords do, to hearing what the Minister has to say to reassure the House that the Bill has provisions that will prevent the kind of scandal that the country saw with the VIP lane set up. It was mainly populated by those who had contact with senior politicians and government Ministers, who made millions of pounds in personal gain for those contracts while going through a regime of much lighter touch than that for those not in the VIP lane. If the Minister cannot convince the House that provisions in this Bill will prevent this from happening again, I am minded to test the opinion of the House.
As a matter of objective, Clause 11 is meant to ensure that, in carrying out public sector procurement, bodies are
“acting, and being seen to act, with integrity”.
Amendment 72 will do exactly that, and ensure probity and integrity, so that never again will taxpayers see their money used in such a cavalier and unethical way as they did with the PPE VIP channel. I beg to move.
My Lords, I have tabled Amendment 97 for two reasons. First, it is to ask for an assurance from the Minister that the procurement review unit will be set up, and secondly, it is to put down a strong marker on the reasons that the Minister’s department presented for attempting to exclude my amendment as constitutionally improper.
The Minister will recall that, in the responses to the Green Paper, there was a warm and widespread welcome to the proposal that an autonomous unit should be set up within the Cabinet Office to oversee contracting authority compliance with the new procurement rules and so help to realise the benefits intended from the transformation of public procurement legislation. In turn, the Government’s response gave a clear commitment to set up what it now labelled the procurement review unit. This is not in the Bill, however. Therefore, will the Minister Pepper v Hart that commitment, so to speak, by stating in the House that this remains the Government’s clear intention, and that during the passage of the Bill an effective PRU will be established, along the lines indicated by the Government’s response to the consultation?
On the second issue, the slide presentation to the briefing given to Peers on the PRU between Committee and Report, which I was unfortunately unable to attend, stated that the principle of indivisibility of the Crown means providing statutory powers to Ministers whereby they can direct action to be taken by central government departments—in other words, another part of the Crown—and is not usually provided for in legislation. To do so also risks fettering the non-statutory powers Ministers already hold.
I had not previously heard the principle of the indivisibility of the Crown, nor that this principle inhibited Parliament from including specific instructions to Ministers in legislation. It is, after all, an assertion of prerogative—executive sovereignty against parliamentary sovereignty—although oddly qualified by including the adjective “usually” in its attempted exclusion of legislation.
Under Boris Johnson as Prime Minister, we suffered a number of attempts to assert executive authority against parliamentary sovereignty, but I and others had hoped that, under Prime Minister Sunak, we might return to a better observance of our constitution’s constraints and conventions. I therefore consulted a number of experts and the Lords Library. I was struck by the puzzlement on the face of a senior clerk when I asked how familiar he was with this principle—a puzzlement that increased when he was unable to find any reference to it in the volume on public law that he then consulted. The noble Lord, Lord Lisvane, told me that this is a doctrine “of some antiquity” and that he had not previously come across any occasion when it had been cited as a reason for resisting an amendment. He referred me to an article in the Cambridge Law Journal of 2018 which firmly states:
“The … doctrine … must be abandoned—the Crown is plural and divisible”.
The Library pointed me to a government paper, presented to a Commons Select Committee in 2003, which stated:
“It is long established law that Parliament can override and displace the prerogative by statute.”
The Minister’s written reply to my questioning of the relevance of this principle nevertheless stated that
“Ministers hold non-statutory powers of authority derived from common ways of working and according to the hierarchy of government … The award of powers in legislation for oversight purposes could challenge that common authority.”
I will not detain the House with further references to treatment of this issue in Supreme Court and Law Lords cases, beyond adding that the noble and learned Lords, Lord Mance and Lord Scott, once disagreed in a case on whether this principle was still applicable, and that the court’s conclusions in Miller 1 in 2017 seemed to be definitive. It therefore seems appropriate for me to bring this to the attention of the House’s Constitution Committee for further consideration.
I remind the Minister that page 48 of the Conservative manifesto in the last election pledged to set up a constitution, democracy and rights commission and specified:
“After Brexit we also need to look at the broader aspects of our constitution: the relationship between the Government, Parliament and the courts
“the functioning of the Royal Prerogative”.
That is only one of the many pledges that have now been broken.
I do not expect the Minister to accept my dismissal of the relevance of this arcane, antiquated constitutional doctrine, but I hope that the House and outside constitutional experts, on further consideration, will unite in rejecting this attempt to limit parliamentary sovereignty over the Executive.
My Lords, I shall speak briefly on Amendment 97, which the noble Lord, Lord Wallace of Saltaire, has just introduced, concerning the procurement review unit. I am grateful to the Minister for organising a very helpful meeting recently outlining the Government’s thinking on the role of the PRU. This is not envisaged as a statutory body, so does not currently feature in the Bill, but it will have some important functions relating to SME engagement in public procurement, such as fostering much-needed culture change in the construction sector and promoting SME access through means such as training, transparency and, above all, better payment practices for public contracts.
These include making 30-day payment terms apply throughout the public sector supply chain, with the 30-day period measured from when an invoice is first received rather than when it is deemed valid. Contracting authorities will be required to publish their payment performance every six months. The payment performance review scheme, PPRS, run by the Cabinet Office, which has been underresourced in the past, will be given extra capacity, staffing and weight. The current system, based on reporting the volume of invoices paid within 30 days, can allow late payment of large sums to be drowned out by a high volume of lower-value instant payments. To give a truer picture, I hope the Minister might consider requiring the value of payments made within 30 days to be reported, as well as the volume.
The PRU will also carry out proactive spot checks to assess compliance with payment terms throughout the supply chain. The Minister might explore the possibility of using technology to track payment times, which might ultimately lead to more real-time transparency of payment performance. I understand that many construction firms already use technology to produce their payment reports.
These are all very welcome aspects of the Government’s plans for the procurement review unit. I hope the Minister will put them formally on record in her response, thereby averting, or at least reducing, the need for Amendment 97 to include the PRU in the Bill.
I end by congratulating the Minister on her piece in the Times on Monday confirming her commitment to making it easier for small firms to compete for and win public sector contracts. I hope the Times readership will actively support us in holding her and the Government to that commitment.
My Lords, I can be brief. I thoroughly support everything that the noble Lord, Lord Scriven, said to us in moving his amendment. I do not need to repeat arguments that I placed before your Lordships earlier this week on Monday, in December last year, and then again in January and March this year, and even in the Question that we had just before our proceedings on PPE, which continues to be stored in the People’s Republic of China at a cost to us of some £770,000 every day.
I am extremely grateful that the Minister responded so quickly after our debate on Monday with a letter that I received this morning. For the purposes of the record, I will read out one paragraph. She wrote:
“You made a number of points about PPE contracts which have been found to have underperformed. I also understand you have asked written questions … on these matters. I appreciate your desire for more information on this and I will be writing to the Secretary of State highlighting both your views and those expressed by others in the House.”
That is a very welcome response and I am grateful to the noble Baroness for going to that trouble.
I have sent a copy of our Hansard from Monday to my noble and learned friend Lady Hallett, who is chairing the public inquiry to which the Minister referred during our debate on Monday. The Minister said that lessons would be learned, and that the Covid inquiry would
“cover procurement and the distribution of key equipment and supplies, including PPE”.—[Official Report, 28/11/22; col. 1593.]
I am grateful to her for that.
I have only one other point. On Monday, I raised the issue of repayments. That is not something that can wait for the several years it might take the public inquiry to make its recommendations. I refer the Minister to my two questions about defaulting PPE suppliers and the actions that will be taken through the faulty contract PPE recovery unit. I also asked about individual settlements, which, as she said, are protected by commercial secrecy. I asked
“how will Parliament and the public be notified about money returned to public funds by defaulting PPE suppliers through the actions of the faulty contract PPE recovery unit?”—[Official Report, 28/11/22; col. 1581.]
How will that work? Can the Minister illuminate us a little further? If she cannot, would she be prepared to put pen to paper in a follow-up letter to me as a result of today’s debate? I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Scriven, for giving us the opportunity to explore this issue further.
My Lords, it is a great pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Alton, and indeed the noble Lord, Lord Aberdare, who raised such important points about payment terms for small and medium-sized enterprises. That is a long- term issue that has not been addressed. There is a real opportunity here, as the noble Lord outlined.
I will speak briefly to Amendment 72, in the names of the noble Lord, Lord Scriven, who so comprehensively introduced it, and the noble Baroness, Lady Brinton. I confess that I attached my name to it at the absolute last minute because I expected a rush of Members from around your Lordships’ House doing so. I thought it was important to demonstrate that there was a breadth of support.
I should perhaps warn the Minister that that support appeared to come from the Government Front Bench earlier, when the noble Lord, Lord Markham, responding to the PPE Urgent Question repeat from the other place, said that the earlier procurement
“should not have been on the basis of referrals”.
It would appear that this amendment delivers exactly what the noble Lord said should happen in future. That is a very interesting reflection of what is happening in your Lordships’ House.
Briefly, we know that the Government would like to treat all this as ancient history, but I and, I am sure, other Members of your Lordships’ House have seen that for members of the public this is still a source of very deep anger and concern. This morning I was on Radio 5 Live’s politicians’ panel and a caller raised this issue, albeit in the context of Matt Hancock’s appearance on “I’m a Celebrity”.
There were a couple of powerful letters in the Guardian this week. I do not know either of the correspondents. Dr Tristram Wyatt noted that in 1919, after the First World War, the President of the Board of Trade introduced a profiteering Bill to ensure that profiteering by suppliers would never happen again. In the same paper Dr Jeremy Oliver questioned why all these PPE contracts were not let on a full cost plus margin basis. This is of great concern to the public. I am hearing from all quarters again and again that people are simply saying, “Never again.” What happened in the Covid-19 pandemic with the VIP channel must not be allowed to happen again. This clear, simple amendment delivers just that.
I will also briefly express concern about government Amendment 116. We had an extensive discussion about this in Committee, which I will not revisit, but this appears to be a significant weakening of the protection of public concern about potential conflicts of interest. I look forward to the Minister’s explanation of that.
My Lords, I rise briefly to strongly support Amendment 72. There is absolutely no need for a VIP channel or similar. Surely, it just encouraged opportunistic entrepreneurs—to be charitable —rather than genuine experienced manufacturers. Will the Government publish a list of all MPs and Peers who used the VIP channel and on whose behalf they were lobbied?
My Lords, I rise to strike a jarring note, although I do not intend to wander into the potentially treacherous waters of the divisibility or otherwise of the Crown. I think the Government have rather got it right on these amendments and noble Lords are barking up the wrong tree.
As I said in Committee and at Second Reading, noble Lords in some cases appeared to have misconceived this Bill throughout as if it were an enforcement measure against criminal or quasi-criminal activity, but it is not and it has never been intended as such; nor does it have that effect.
We come to an amendment that says explicitly that no preferential treatment may be conferred on
“suppliers connected to or recommended by members of the House of Commons or members of the House of Lords”.
To the extent that that is already a criminal act, and corruption is involved, criminal proceedings would be the right thing to undertake and not proceedings under this Bill, which is essentially administrative in character and carries no punitive clauses. The remedy for breaches under this Bill in most cases is for a supplier to sue for damages and the fact that they have been treated badly or unfairly. This is not a Bill intended to combat corruption.
If noble Lords feel it is required to explicitly exclude Members of this House and of another place, why is it not required to explicitly exclude giving preferential treatment to your first cousins, or your family in a broader sense, or your best friends, or people you were at school with, or all sorts of other persons who perhaps should be listed on the face of the Bill?
I briefly come to the procurement review unit—
I think it has been agreed by all Members of the House that in certain emergency circumstances the Government need to be able to take action outside the normal procurement channels. If Clause 40 has that effect, that is fine, but Clause 40 also allows channels to be set up that include someone with whom you were at school, with whom you are best friends, who was your best man, who attended your wedding or whatever. How would we know? These things cannot be set out comprehensively in the Bill. This is a classic case of shutting a stable door after the horse has bolted.
There seems to be a notion that the procurement review unit needs to be on a statutory basis because it will have some enforcement capacity. I doubt the need for a procurement review unit at all, but if the Government choose—among their many, multifarious activities—to ask a number of civil servants to monitor the way in which the Bill, if it becomes an Act, is being implemented, that is a perfectly legitimate thing for the Government to do. But it is a decision by the Government to ask their own civil servants to do something that appears relevant and important to them at the time, and the circumstances may change.
For example, the noble Lord, Lord Aberdare, mentioned that the unit could monitor late payment. That would be a perfectly worthy thing to do, because late payment of invoices is currently an important matter. It might not be an important matter in future. It would be very strange to have this set in statute in this way. This is just a civil servant department; it does not require this statutory basis, because it will not have the enforcement powers that noble Lords seem to suggest.
Similarly, on Amendment 113, the desire to spell out an ever-longer list of persons covered by conflicts of interest has the same tendency, as I mentioned in relation to Amendment 72, to exclude—and, so to speak, exonerate—those not specified in the list. It is a potentially endless list by the time you have thought of everybody you might want to include.
I have spent more than 30 years in public life in one capacity or another; I do not boast about it, because many noble Lords have spent as long or longer. Throughout all that, I have understood that conflicts of interest will arise in the course of one’s activities. The key question is how one manages them in a way that requires sensitivity, flexibility and responsibility in each case. If I had intended to enter public life and conduct myself dishonestly—I assure noble Lords that I have endeavoured not to do so—I would have managed to achieve a degree of dishonest advantage, whether or not this had been spelled out in this essentially procedural Bill. If I had done so in a way that was clearly a breach of the criminal law, I hope I would have been prosecuted under the criminal law, under a wide range of offences available to prosecutors relating to corruption in public life. I would not look to this Bill, which would not be used in my case. I have made this point on several occasions: I think noble Lords are misconceiving the purpose and nature of the Bill as, in essence, a large enforcement framework.
I will make one final point before I sit down. A sense of proportionality is required as well. One has to remember that the Bill is intended to apply not only to multi-billion contracts let by central government departments but to modest contracts let by local authorities and other, smaller public bodies that are caught within its net. One has to bear that degree of proportionality in mind at every stage.
I very much hope that these amendments are not pressed to a Division and that my noble friend will stand firm and not allow the Bill to be further distorted in this way.
My Lords, this has been an interesting debate that covered a wide range of interests. It is always a pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Moylan, and the case he made in favour of Amendment 72 was strong and subtle because by acknowledging the role that Clause 40 plays in this Bill, he also acknowledges the need for Amendment 72.
The noble Lord mentioned Amendment 113. The purpose of having the list in it is to make it clear that in the past, NHS staff have not been included and there are very real examples of problems in this area. Its purpose was to draw your Lordships’ attention to the need to include that cadre of people, who are making very large public procurements, in the realm of this Bill. He will be no doubt delighted to know that it is unlikely that I will press the amendment to a vote.
The noble Lord, Lord Scriven, ably and clearly laid out why he has tabled his amendment and the concerns in this area. They partly remain from the debate we had in Committee, but they have also been raised on a number of further occasions, including earlier today. We have heard why people are concerned and why they think this amendment is needed. There are concerns around the VIP lanes and the way that different contracts were awarded during the Covid pandemic.
Listening to the debate today, earlier debates and other discussions, including in the media, as the noble Baroness said, it is clear that we have a real problem with a loss of trust in the procurement system, particularly government contracts. For me, this Bill is an opportunity to restore that trust. The Minister will no doubt say that the Government have listened and heard what was said, and the VIP lanes will not happen again. I trust what the Minister says, and we know that other people have said the same, but my concern is that if you do not close loopholes in legislation, they are still there for others to exploit. In my opinion, this opens a loophole because it makes it possible to hand out contracts in the way it was done before.
It is incredibly important that we retain the ability to procure when the usual channels need to be speeded up, for example, or if there is a need to do things in a slightly different way. Importantly, this clause allows that, but at the same time we must not allow this loophole to exist going forward. That is why we support this amendment and if the noble Lord wishes to press it to a Division, he will have our full support.
The noble Lord, Lord Aberdare, who has been extremely clear in putting across the concerns all the way through the progress of this Bill, made some really important points about late payments. Again, I know the Minister is keen to do what she can to resolve that problem, so I look forward to her response.
My Lords, I thank noble Lords for their contributions to this debate and thank my noble friend Lord Moylan for his general point about the purpose and effect of the Bill; it was a point well made. I also agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman of Ullock, that we need to restore trust in procurement. I will come on in a minute to explain what we are doing to avoid a repetition of the VIP lane problems.
I shall speak first to the government amendments. The Bill strengthens existing obligations on conflicts of interest, and I think everyone will agree that it is crucial that the requirements are clear. I am therefore tabling Amendment 116 to Clause 78(4), which will avoid a contracting authority being required to address all circumstances that a reasonable person “might” consider a conflict, a potentially impossible feat. Instead, the Bill will require the authority to address those circumstances the authority believes “likely” to cause a reasonable person to consider there to be a conflict.
I do not accept that this is a problem. The noble Baroness, Lady Bennett, spoke on this issue, and it is always good to have her challenge. This amendment narrows the scope of the obligation, but in a way that makes it deliverable. Sensible, practical ways of doing things are an issue that I have been concerned about, and when I get feedback on these points, we try to make changes.
Part 10 of the Bill allows Ministers to undertake investigations of contracting authorities’ compliance with the Act and issue recommendations that contracting authorities must have regard to when considering how to comply. Without government Amendment 139, Ministers could investigate the House of Commons, the House of Lords and the devolved Administration equivalents, which we believe would create a constitutional impropriety.
Government Amendment 153 ensures that a Minister of the Crown may issue statutory guidance, as a result of a procurement investigation, to Northern Ireland departments only with the consent of a Northern Ireland department, in order to be consistent with the requirement for consent from Welsh Ministers.
The Bill has improved obligations regarding conflicts of interest that apply to all procurement procedures, including direct award. I accept that concern remains over conflicts of interest in Covid procurement, partly because of the history we have all been debating, and these are being addressed by the Government. The concerns expressed from a public procurement perspective are around failings in due diligence and contract management. The noble Lord, Lord Alton, eloquently raised some of these issues on Monday, and I am very glad he found our letter useful. That letter is of course in the Lords Library.
I reassure noble Lords that the Department of Health and Social Care is continuing to investigate contracts and to work through resolution processes with companies that provided PPE which cannot be used. There is a confidentiality issue, as we have heard several times, but I appreciate that there is a desire for more specific information on this. That is why I will be raising it with Health Ministers, as the noble Lord has mentioned. However, I hope I can also reassure the Committee in relation to this group of amendments.
Amendment 72, a key amendment in this group, has been tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Scriven, to help prevent the future use of parliamentary VIP lanes for public contracts. I do not believe the amendment is right or necessary, as I will explain. The Bill contains safeguards ensuring that if a conflict of interest puts a supplier at an unfair advantage, and if steps to mitigate cannot avoid that advantage, the supplier must be excluded. That is laid out clearly in Clause 77(3). Noble Lords should note that this is not at the contracting authority’s discretion; it “must” exclude in those circumstances.
The noble Lord asked what we are doing to prevent VIP lanes in future. Perhaps it is worth reiterating two or three points for the convenience of the Committee. Yes, we will be preventing VIP lanes in future. Our direct award provisions have clear and narrow parameters for use. They include new transparency obligations, requiring contracting authorities to publish a notice before making a direct award, and retain obligations to publish contract details once awarded. So we are getting sunlight and transparency.
Conflicts provisions also make a clear requirement in relation to conflicts assessments which are applicable to direct award. If a situation like Covid-19 were to occur again—I heartily hope it will not—pursuant to Clause 40, the Government could set out in advance what types of direct awards were required to address the situation, meaning advance transparency to the market and suppliers. Finally, the equal treatment obligation in Clauses 2 and 3 will ensure that VIP lanes cannot happen again.
The conflicts of interest provisions in the Bill are intentionally broad to capture any person who influences a decision made by or on behalf of a contracting authority, and cover direct and indirect interests. Furthermore, outside the Procurement Bill, the ministerial and Civil Service codes provide that conflicts of interest must be avoided in the exercise of official duties. Elected officials in local government also need to adhere to the rules around keeping a register of interests—as the noble Lord, Lord Moylan, said, this is also in relation to such things as corruption. As we know, parliamentarians also have to register all their interests.
We take all this very seriously. In July 2022, the Cabinet Office published further guidance to Ministers on participation in commercial activity. It is very important to ensure a level playing field for suppliers, to ensure fair and open competition and protect against corruption. That is what the Bill and the associated transformation and training programme will do. The wider publication of notices for all direct awards to be made, including in emergencies, will bring further transparency into the system. I repeat the point only because it is important.
This demonstrates that highlighting this particular potential of parliamentarians, as Amendment 72 does, is not required. It might even be counterproductive, because it suggests that other potential conflicts such as connection with procurement officers, who may know unpublished details of contracts or contract prospects, are less significant to good governance or should be less of a focus, which is just not the case. Parliamentarians can bring helpful commercial insights, expertise and experience of innovative business practices. It is important that we retain this while implementing a robust procurement framework to ensure that outside interests do not lead to suppliers receiving preferential treatment. I believe our Bill achieves this.
Amendment 113, tabled by the noble Lords, Lord Fox and Lord Scriven, seeks to broaden the range of people in respect of whom conflicts of interest should be identified and to prescribe further actions on suppliers in this area. The provisions in the Bill that specify the people in respect of whom conflicts of interest should be identified are broad. Clause 76 includes anyone acting for or on behalf of the contracting authority in relation to a procurement, including those who influence a decision made by a contracting authority related to the procurement. Therefore, all the persons listed in proposed new paragraphs (a) to (g) of this amendment who have influence in respect of the relevant procurement decision will already be caught by the current provision.
Nobody has raised this, so I will not go into detail, but we had two reports from Nigel Boardman into the circumstances around Covid and VIP lanes. We have accepted those recommendations and made changes, including in Procurement Policy Note 04/21. One point worth making is that a key theme in Boardman and the NAO reports mentioned was the lack of record-keeping and audit around decision-making. The Procurement Bill strengthens the requirements on conflicts of interest compared with the current law. A new duty has been introduced in Clause 78(5) to require contracting authorities to confirm that a “conflicts assessment” has been prepared and then reviewed and revised as necessary when publishing a procurement note. I remember speaking against this at an earlier juncture, but I now draw it to the attention of noble Lords.
As I said on Monday, the Covid inquiry will cover procurement, as the noble Lord, Lord Alton, mentioned, and the distribution of key equipment and supplies such as PPE. It will identify the lessons to be learned and inform future pandemics across the UK, reminding us all of the often tragic events of that period in our lives.
Amendment 97, tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Wallace, refers to the procurement review unit. We all agree that the oversight regime that will be provided by the unit is a critical aspect of the new procurement rules and will be critical to its success. Noble Lords should be assured—I think this is the assurance the noble Lord is seeking—that the Cabinet Office is committed to establishing an effective procurement review unit for this purpose and an advisory panel of sector experts to assist it. I previously gave this assurance in Committee and in the constructive meeting I chaired with noble Lords from across the House with Cabinet Office experts on 15 November.
The key objective of the PRU will be to oversee contracting authorities’ compliance with the new procurement Act. It will also investigate suppliers who may need to be added to the statutory debarment list. We will continue the work of the Public Procurement Review Service in investigating individual complaints.
The noble Lord, Lord Wallace, returned to the argument about the indivisibility of the Crown and why that means that powers are not needed to investigate government departments. This long-held legal principle provides that the Crown is one legal entity, and it still applies. I have a long note, which I have already communicated to the noble Lord, Lord Wallace. Unless he feels that he will press his amendment, he may prefer that we continue the debate over a cup of tea, given his constitutional expertise—I very much look forward to that.
I have a little time to answer the noble Lord, Lord Aberdare, who has almost become a friend—
I meant a noble friend. We intend to issue guidance recommending that contracting authorities include provisions allowing spot checks on the payment performance of supply chain members through their terms and conditions. This does not need to be done in legislation; we are currently exploring options to include it in the model government contract and terms and conditions. As I have made clear throughout, digital tech is integral to these reforms, as the noble Lord said, and we will use it.
I apologise for speaking like this, but I feel passionately that we have learned from the past and that it is important not to overreact to past problems. I have felt this in many areas that I have dealt with in my long life. I respectfully request that the noble Lord withdraws his amendment and the other noble Lords do not move theirs.
My Lords, I thank all noble Lords who have taken part in this debate, which is a continuation of what we have spoken about in Committee and on Report. It is about ensuring that, if the Bill—which concerns spending billions of pounds of taxpayers’ money—is to go through, trust, fairness and integrity are central to everything that happens and every penny of taxpayers’ money spent. Every amendment in this group is about that.
I have listened intently and diligently to what the Minister said on my Amendment 72, but the noble Lord, Lord Moylan, made a very important point. In answer to my noble friend Lord Fox, Clause 40 gives exactly the same powers that previous Ministers have had through statutory instruments, and this will get us to the same potential mess that the VIP lanes got us to with PPE. I note everything that the Minister said, but Clause 40 could do away with nearly everything in the Bill because it gives the Government unfettered discretion to set up a fast-track lane, as we have seen before. Giving that amount of power to a Minister in a time of crisis, when all power reverts to the Minister and those who are close can have privileged access to contracts, as we have seen, means that I wish to test the opinion of the House on this occasion.
Amendment 73 not moved.
Clause 43: Frameworks
Amendments 74 and 75
74: Clause 43, page 27, line 40, at end insert—
“(5A) A condition set under subsection (4)(a) may not—(a) require the submission of audited annual accounts, except from suppliers who are, or were, required to have the accounts audited in accordance with Part 16 of the Companies Act 2006 or an overseas equivalent; (b) require insurance relating to the performance of the contract to be in place before the award of the contract.”Member’s explanatory statement
This amendment would prevent contracting authorities from requiring audited accounts from suppliers that do not otherwise prepare audited accounts (for example, small companies), or insurance to be in place before award.
75: Clause 43, page 28, line 18, at end insert—
“(11A) In this section, a “competitive selection process” means a competitive selection process for the award of a public contract in accordance with a framework.(11B) This section does not apply to a framework that is a light touch contract.”Member’s explanatory statement
This amendment would add a definition and exception as a preliminary step to dividing Clause 43.
Amendments 74 and 75 agreed.
76: After Clause 43, divide Clause 43 into two Clauses, the first (Frameworks) to consist of subsections (1) to (3) and (12) to (17) and the second (Frameworks: competitive selection process) consisting of subsections (4) to (11B).
Member’s explanatory statement
This is a motion to divide Clause 43 into two Clauses and make it easier to follow.
Amendment 76 agreed.
Clause 48: Standstill periods on the award of contracts
77: Clause 48, page 31, line 40, at end insert—
“(ba) awarded under section 39 or 41 (direct award and switching to direct award) by a private utility;”Member’s explanatory statement
This amendment would mean that a private utility would not have to wait until the expiry of a mandatory standstill period before directly awarding a contract.
Amendment 77 agreed.
Clause 49: Key performance indicators
78: Clause 49, page 32, line 7, leave out “£2” and insert “£5”
Member’s explanatory statement
This amendment would mean that a contracting authority is only required to set key performance indicators for a public contract if the contract’s value is more than £5 million.
My Lords, forgive me; I thought I could move this amendment formally too. I try to find a sensible and reliable pathway through, as your Lordships know. I look forward to debating this group, which discusses the single digital platform and transparency.
Transparency has been central to the development of this Bill, and it should be noted that there is a significant extension to transparency under the regime. The publication of documents and notices that follow the award stage will allow interested parties to see how contracts are being implemented. While we have stated publicly that it was always the Government’s intention to create a central digital platform to host this data, we acknowledge the concerns raised by noble Lords during Committee around the importance of the online platform. Amendment 129 therefore creates a new duty requiring a Minister of the Crown to provide an online system for the purpose of publishing notices, documents and other information under this Act.
In addition, the duty requires that the platform has to be accessible to people with disabilities—a point we were debating on Monday—and provide access to procurement information that is published under the Act, free of charge. This means everyone will have access to public procurement data and can track contracts as they progress through the commercial lifecycle from tender to award and delivery. Citizens will be able to scrutinise contracting authority decisions; suppliers will be able to identify new opportunities to bid and collaborate; and buyers will be able to analyse the market and benchmark their performance against others, for example on their spend with SMEs.
In addition to the principal amendment, Amendment 132 is a technical amendment which removes an existing statutory power as this platform is expected to be delivered through common law powers. Since becoming the Minister responsible for this Bill, I have been keen to ensure that it strikes the right balance between transparency and not imposing undue burdens on contracting authorities. Contracting authorities will continue to be bound by the obligation to publish opportunities for all advertised procurements that are above a threshold of £12,000 for central government authorities or £30,000 for others. This will ensure that there is a high degree of transparency for SMEs, so that they can bid.
However, at the other end of the commercial process, the Bill introduces additional transparency requirements after the award of the contract. I have reflected on these, and Amendments 78, 80 and 104 all seek to raise the original threshold for the publication of contract key performance indicators, public contracts and modifications to a public contract from £2 million to £5 million. This will reduce the administrative requirements for contracting authorities while ensuring transparency of the public sector’s larger contracts. I am pleased to say that these amendments have been welcomed by the Local Government Association in the briefing note it published on 25 November.
I will turn to the other amendments tabled in this group in closing, having heard the points raised by noble Lords. Meanwhile, I beg to move Amendment 78.
My Lords, I rise to speak to Amendment 130 to government Amendment 129. Many of us will be pleased that the Minister has decided to put the new online system for procurement information on the face of the Bill. At the same time, however, we need some assurance that it will be fit for purpose and achieve the objectives set for it, otherwise the Government seem to have carte blanche to construct whatever system they see fit to inflict on the vendor community, without any required standards or reporting duty. Let us face it: even the modest database under the Subsidy Control Act is subject to a form of reporting duty, and this system will be of far greater significance.
The amendment in my name and that of my noble friend Lord Fox is designed to provide assurance but in very simple terms. There would be the requirement for a report, first, on the performance standards expected and, secondly, on the standards achieved in the relevant period, including metrics on satisfaction and the accessibility experience of stakeholders. This is a modest proposal; how can the Minister possibly argue against it?
My Lords, I support the single digital platform which is now covered by government Amendment 129 in this group, but I have one caveat. The benefits of the platform, in terms of efficiency—having all the procurement details in one place—will be undermined if contracting authorities are required also to publish tender information in other ways. That is what lies behind my Amendments 166 and 168 in this group. Like some of the amendments I spoke to on our first day in Committee, these have been suggested by the Local Government Association. I am grateful to my noble friend Lord Moylan for adding his name to them.
These amendments propose two additional repeals within Schedule 11, the repeal schedule. Subsections (4)(b) and (5) of Section 89 of the Transport Act 1985 require local authorities to issue notices of tender individually to anyone who has given written notice that they wish to be notified. Amendment 166 would repeal that, because it should no longer be necessary. Amendment 168 would repeal Regulations 4 and 5 of the Service Subsidy Agreements (Tendering) (England) Regulations 2002 so that information on tenders will no longer be required, for example, to be published locally, including in local newspapers.
I hope my noble friend will see these two amendments as supporting the importance of the digital platform. I also hope that she will be able to assure the House that the Government will ensure that later legislation will not be allowed to undermine the platform by adding new and additional requirements, once it is up and running.
My Lords, I suggested earlier that the Government might explore the greater use of technology to track payment times. I also very much support the proposals in government Amendment 129 regarding a single digital platform for publishing notices, documents and other information, and I wonder if it might in due course be extended to provide a mechanism for monitoring and tracking payment performance.
While I am on my feet, I thank my new noble friend the Minister for her kind words earlier. I also point out to the noble Lord, Lord Moylan, that I was not earlier proposing an amendment to the Bill for improving payment practice, but merely speaking in support of the Government’s plans for the procurement review unit and seeking confirmation of those plans on the record. I am sorry that he is unfortunately not in his place here for me to draw that to his attention.
My Lords, I have some amendments following on from the government amendments. They are simple probing amendments on the figure that the Government have come up with in their amendments. Amendment 79 seeks to delete from Clause 49 the figure of “£2” and insert “£3”. All I am doing here and in my further two amendments is trying to probe where the figure that the Government put into their amendments came from. I appreciate that in her introduction the Minister said that a lot of this was based on reducing admin requirements and addressing concerns raised by the Local Government Association, for example, but it seems quite a big jump. We are seeking to understand why the threshold has jumped from £2 million to £5 million. If the Minister could give some explanation as to where the figure came from, we would be very grateful.
I welcome government Amendment 129 on setting up the online system. That was raised by a number of noble Lords and discussed at length in Committee, so it is good that the Government have acted and produced this amendment. The noble Lord, Lord Clement-Jones, raised the important point that anything that is introduced has to be seen to be fit for purpose, so again it would be very helpful if the Minister could provide noble Lords with assurance as to how the system will work. If there is no annual report on the operation of the system, what is the overview process? How is it being assessed and monitored to ensure that it is fit for purpose?
I shall comment very briefly on the two amendments in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Noakes. She introduced them clearly and succinctly, as she always does, for which I am very grateful. I am aware that the LGA had concerns about these areas, as it raised them with us, so I thank her for tabling the amendments. They address a very legitimate concern, so I hope the Minister has listened and will revisit this area of the Bill.
My Lords, Amendments 79, 81 and 105 have been tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, and the noble Lord, Lord Coaker, to amend to £3 million the financial threshold above which contracting authorities would be required to publish contracts and contract modifications, and set and publish KPIs. The government amendments raise these thresholds to £5 million. The intention of this is to reduce the administrative burden on contracting authorities, while still providing increased transparency on larger contracts. Redacting contracts for publication where they contain commercially sensitive information is particularly burdensome for smaller contracting authorities, requiring detailed and costly checking by legal teams that they may not have or expensive legal advisers.
Where does the figure come from? I do not know exactly; that is the honest answer. I was offered options of £50 million, £10 million and £5 million. I chose £5 million because that is quoted in the Sourcing Playbook, which seemed a reasonable point. I believe that a threshold of £5 million balances the benefits of transparency with the costs and burdens of implementation.
The higher threshold in the government amendment has been welcomed by the Local Government Association. We want the arrangements to work, so we will monitor them carefully. We have powers to change the thresholds if we need to do so—for example, to bring in extra contracts as the system grows and matures—and if analysis of the new data gathered allows us to better understand how to ensure that the obligations are effective and proportionate; or, to go the other way, if we end up with a lot of difficulties. It seems a reasonable approach.
Amendment 130 tabled by the noble Lords, Lord Clement Jones and Lord Fox, seeks to require the Minister of the Crown to report annually on performance standards and feedback on the online system, including stakeholder satisfaction and accessibility. The data on the platform will be available in real time, and interested parties—of which there will be many—will be able to access information by using the tools available on the platform and by downloading the data for external analysis, such as statistics on the publication of notices and the progress of contracts. The platform will be accessible, as I have said, and will comply with the relevant legislation, including the Public Sector Bodies (Websites and Mobile Applications) (No. 2) Accessibility Regulations 2018, on which I am not, I fear, an expert. The Government are continuously monitoring the existing online platform that supports noticing under the current regulations and will continue to do so under the new regime and make changes as they are needed, so we are not inclined, on this occasion, to write in a review clause.
We have talked several times about the PRU and the role it will have in looking systematically at things. It seems to me that one of the main sources of information for it will be this online system. It has the merit of largely being an all-singing and all-dancing system. I will come on to my noble friend Lady Noakes’s amendment in a minute. I think, therefore, that this is going to work well, but if the noble Lord discovers in the fullness of time that it is not doing so, I am sure he will come back and ask the Cabinet Office what it is up to.
Amendments 166 and 168 in the names of my noble friends Lady Noakes and Lord Moylan have been tabled to remove provisions in two pieces of transport legislation, both relating to contracts for subsidised public passenger transport services. The first repeals two subsections from Section 89 of the Transport Act 1985—that is a long time ago—dealing with the obligation to invite tenders for such contracts. This change would remove the requirement to issue invitations to tender individually to anyone who has given a written notice requesting this. The second amendment revokes two regulations from the Service Subsidy Agreements (Tendering) (England) Regulations 2002, dealing with information to be published regarding accepted tenders and where no tenders are accepted. These amendments were raised in Committee and, while both rightly seek to reduce the burden on contracting authorities, there are further considerations for the Department for Transport.
Not all transport is covered by the Bill, and we have carved out certain public passenger transport services under Schedule 2. The Department for Transport is reviewing procurements that fall under this separate regime as part of its review of retained EU law and its legislation more widely. It is important that what we do in our schedules does not impinge on that review. We are therefore unable to accept my noble friend Lady Noakes’s repeals today, but I have asked my officials to work with the Department for Transport to see whether it is possible to sort this out and bring forward a government amendment in the Commons to address her concerns. In the light of those various assurances, I respectfully request that noble Lords do not press their amendments.
Amendment 78 agreed.
Amendment 79 not moved.
Clause 50: Contract details notices and publication of contracts
80: Clause 50, page 32, line 36, leave out “£2” and insert “£5”
Member’s explanatory statement
This amendment would mean that a contracting authority is only required to publish a public contract if the contract’s value is more than £5 million.
Amendment 80 agreed.
Amendment 81 not moved.
Clause 53: Technical specifications
Amendment 82 not moved.
Amendment 83 not moved.
Clause 54: Meaning of excluded and excludable supplier
84: Clause 54, page 36, line 19, after first “a” insert “covered”
Member’s explanatory statement
This amendment is consequential on the change in terminology in new clause before clause 1.
Amendment 84 agreed.
Schedule 6: Mandatory exclusion grounds
Amendments 85 to 88
85: Schedule 6, page 95, line 38, after “steal,” insert “uttering, embezzlement,”
Member’s explanatory statement
This amendment would ensure that additional relevant Scots common law offences are contained in the mandatory exclusion ground in paragraph 4.
86: Schedule 6, page 96, line 2, leave out “7” and insert “1”
Member’s explanatory statement
This amendment would clarify that the offence of theft is covered under the mandatory exclusion ground in paragraph 6.
87: Schedule 6, page 96, line 9, leave out “7” and insert “1”
Member’s explanatory statement
This amendment would clarify that the offence of theft is covered under the mandatory exclusion ground in paragraph 7.
88: Schedule 6, page 101, line 21, after “4,” insert “5,”
Member’s explanatory statement
This amendment would ensure that the new mandatory exclusion ground inserted in Committee (conspiracy to defraud) is reflected in paragraph 43(3).
Amendments 85 to 88 agreed.
Schedule 7: Discretionary exclusion grounds
Amendment 89 not moved.
90: Schedule 7, page 104, line 14, leave out paragraph 6
Member’s explanatory statement
This amendment would remove the discretionary exclusion ground relating to a supplier being unable to pay their debts.
Amendment 90 agreed.
91: Schedule 7, page 106, line 41, at end insert—
“Involvement in forced organ harvesting
15A (1) A discretionary exclusion ground applies to a supplier if a decision-maker determines that the supplier or a connected person has been, or is, involved in—(a) forced organ harvesting,(b) unethical activities relating to human tissue, including anything which involves the commission of an offence under sections 32 (prohibition of commercial dealings in human material for transplantation), 32A (offences under section 32 committed outside UK) or 33 (restriction on transplants involving a live donor) of the Human Tissue Act 2004, or under sections 20 (prohibition of commercial dealings in parts of a human body for transplantation) or 20A (offences under section 20 committed outside UK) of the Human Tissue (Scotland) Act 2006, or(c) dealing in any device or equipment or services relating to conduct mentioned in paragraphs (a) or (b).(2) “Forced organ harvesting” means killing a person without their consent so that their organs may be removed and transplanted into another person.”Member’s explanatory statement
This amendment is designed to give a discretionary power to exclude suppliers from being awarded a public contract who have participated in forced organ harvesting or unethical activities relating to human tissue, including where they are involved in providing a service or goods relating to such activities.
My Lords, in moving Amendment 91 I will support all the other amendments in this group.
In the Prime Minister’s speech to the Lord Mayor’s Banquet two days ago, he said that China posed a
“systemic challenge to our values and interests … a challenge that grows more acute as it moves towards even greater authoritarianism.”
I want briefly to draw the House’s attention to one aspect of that country’s behaviour in relation to the appalling forced organ harvesting from prisoners of conscience and to ask the Government to accept my very modest amendment as a small but important measure towards, I hope, ending this practice. This would give a discretionary power to exclude suppliers from being awarded a public contract who have participated in forced organ harvesting or unethical activities relating to human tissue, including where they are involved in providing a service or goods relating to such activities.
Forced organ harvesting in China is the removal of organs from a living prisoner of conscience for the purpose of transplantation, killing the victim in the process. It is state-sanctioned and widespread throughout China, with the Chinese Communist Party targeting individuals because of their religion, spiritual beliefs or ethnicity. The victims are known to be primarily Falun Gong practitioners and Uighur Muslims. There are also several lines of evidence to show that Tibetans and house Christians are likely victims of forced organ harvesting.
With regard to the Uighurs and other minorities in Xinjiang, the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights published its report into Xinjiang in August this year, which stated:
“Allegations of patterns of torture or ill-treatment, including forced medical treatment and adverse conditions of detention, are credible, as are allegations of individual incidents of sexual and gender-based violence.”
Both Uighurs and Falun Gong practitioners are arbitrarily arrested, detained in camps, tortured, face sexual violence, disappear while in detention and are murdered on a vast scale for their organs.
The evidence is now explicit. In April this year, a paper by Matthew Robertson and Dr Jacob Lavee was published in the American Journal of Transplantation titled “Execution by Organ Procurement: Breaching the Dead Donor Rule in China”, which was cited in the US Congressional-Executive Commission on China Annual Report 2022. Their paper found that, in 71 different Chinese medical studies published between 1980 and 2015 and sourced to 56 hospitals in 33 cities, brain death could not have properly been declared, and therefore the removal of the heart during organ procurement must have been the cause of the donor’s death. The authors state in a recent article in the Tablet that
“the act of execution was joined with the act of heart removal, and was carried out by surgeons on the operating table.”
In Committee, the Minister resisted my amendment, although she appreciated the seriousness of the issue that I raised. She said that the Bill is clear that any serious breach of ethical or professional standards applicable to the supplier would meet the discretionary exclusion ground for professional misconduct. But she also argued that while the exclusion ground of professional misconduct is intended precisely to cover all the ethical issues arising in different industries and sectors, the grounds for exclusion cannot and should not list every issue within a particular industry.
I understand the argument about lists in legislation, but sometimes there is a strong reason to list a particular practice. This practice is so appalling that there is a strong case for listing it. It is a discretionary ground. It is not mandatory. I have made my amendment as mild as possible, to encourage the Government to accept it. If the Minister continues to say that it is not necessary to list organ harvesting, I would point her to Schedule 7, which specifies a number of grounds for discretionary exclusion, including labour market conduct and environmental misconduct. The organ harvesting that I am talking about fits that strength of criteria.
I return to the Prime Minister’s very important speech on Monday night about our relationship with China. It was nuanced, of course, and it recognised some of the economic realities of that relationship, of which the Minister will be well aware. However, he affirmed that the media and parliamentarians must be able to highlight issues in China without sanction, including calling out abuses in Xinjiang and the curtailment of freedom in Hong Kong.
Last year, the House agreed an amendment to the Medicines and Medical Devices Bill to include consent provisions for imported human tissue for use in medicines. Earlier this year, we amended the Health and Care Bill to prohibit the commercialism of organ tourism. They may be small steps, but internationally they were regarded as a visible sign of this country’s concern and as significant. I hope that tonight the House will go one step further. A discretionary power is a modest ask of the Minister. I really hope that we can take one small step towards ending these abhorrent practices. I beg to move.
My Lords, as in Committee, the noble Lord, Lord Hunt of Kings Heath, has made a very eloquent, powerful and compelling case for supporting this modest Amendment 91. I am happy to be a signatory to this amendment again.
In Committee, the noble Lord and I, with the noble Baroness, Lady Northover, asked the Government about a hospital being built in China in connection with a British company. I thank the Minister for the parliamentary reply about that hospital, which she gave me on 29 November. But I am concerned to learn that the company involved, International Hospitals Group, has a continuing hospital partnership in the People’s Republic of China.
I draw the House’s attention to the words of the British Medical Association, which describes China as a country where there is
“evidence of medical involvement in the Chinese state’s genocide against Uyghur people”,
and the statement of the China Tribunal, chaired by Sir Geoffrey Nice KC, which describes the “significant scale” of enforced organ harvesting throughout China, all of which should surely encourage us to think very seriously about what more we can do, as we did on the Health and Care Bill, as the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, said. All of us who heard the arguments then went into the Lobbies to support him, and I hope that if it becomes necessary—which I hope it will not—we will do the same tonight.
I am also a signatory to Amendment 141, tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Stroud. This is an argument, again, that we have had in previous legislation—again in the health Bill—about the use of slave labour in Xinjiang. I draw attention to my being vice-chairman of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Uyghurs. It is an issue that I have raised again and again, and mentioned here again during debates on this Bill on Monday last. I will not try to curtain-raise for the noble Baroness—she is more than capable of doing that for herself.
My purpose, therefore, in rising, is to specifically draw attention to and speak to the cross-party Amendment 94, which is in my name and, not for the first time, in the name of my noble friend Lord Blencathra —to use a phrase the Minister used earlier on. I do so because the noble Lord, Lord Blencathra, is my noble friend in so many respects, and we have joined common forces. Old Chief Whips should stand together on such matters, and I am always pleased to be in the same Lobby as the noble Lord. I am pleased that the noble Lord, Lord Coaker, who has been so formidable, and the noble Lord, Lord Fox, who again has been formidable on these issues throughout, are also signatories to this amendment.
The amendment would require the Government to set out a timetable. In a way, we have already been given half a cake, and I want again to be grateful to the noble Baroness. She was able to say to me that she accepts the substance of our case, but what she has not been able to accept—I hope we will convince her to do so this evening—is that there should be a timetable determining when we will prevent further surveillance cameras entering the United Kingdom and being placed often in very sensitive positions, as I will describe. This amendment would remove them from the Government’s procurement supply chain where there is established evidence that the supplier has been involved in modern slavery, genocide or crimes against humanity.
It is particularly topical, as we read reports today of the use of surveillance technology in arresting, imprisoning and re-educating protesters caught up in the wave of unrest in China. There are reports in British and American newspapers today about how surveillance technology—some of the very things we are debating in this amendment—has been used to arrest young people, who then have the whole of their personal histories seen through the devices that they own. Some of their friends have been arrested as a result of access to that information and been arraigned in police stations.
As a result of the hangover from the Government’s so-called “golden era” of relations with the PRC, which the Prime Minister said in his Mansion House speech on Monday was over, we have allowed our surveillance and technology supply chain to be dominated by Chinese surveillance companies with credible links to the genocide taking place in the Uighur region. I am not using that word in a rhetorical way. It was a word used by the former Foreign Secretary and Prime Minister, Liz Truss; it was her word that “genocide” was under way in Xinjiang. It is a word that Secretary of State Blinken has used in describing events there, and many others have, too.
Both Hikvision and Dahua Technology, two of the companies in question, have been blacklisted in the USA for their links to the internment camps in Xinjiang and their role working hand-in-glove with the CCP to construct the largest authoritarian surveillance state, which has surpassed even George Orwell’s wildest dreams. There is little distinction between these Chinese technology companies and the state that they serve. They not only work on behalf of the PRC but receive generous state subsidies to do so, which allows them to undercut their rivals and dominate the domestic UK market.
It is therefore little surprise that the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs has attacked any notion of the United Kingdom Government banning the use of Hikvision and Dahua cameras as “unreasonable suppression” of Chinese companies. I appreciate the engagement from Ministers on this topic, from the noble Baroness but also the noble Lord, Lord True, who met with me privately on this matter on a couple of occasions. During one of those meetings, we were told that there are now 1 million—I repeat, 1 million—Hikvision cameras in the United Kingdom alone.
The announcement last week, then, by the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster that the Government are following the example of the Department of Health and Social Care in banning Hikvision cameras from sensitive areas and removing existing cameras from the network, which mirrors the action from the US that I have just referred to, and has just finalised a permanent ban on the sale and import of Hikvision and Dahua Technology cameras, is a welcome one. This is an issue which the noble Lord, Lord Clement-Jones, and I have raised on the Floor of the House in regret Motions, in months gone by and in previous debates.
Now that the Government have finally recognised the security and human rights concerns of having Hikvision and Dahua cameras in government departments, the question arises: will they commit to a plan for their removal from the public sector supply chain in its entirety? That is what the amendment is about. As the Government will note, successive freedom of information requests from IPVM, Big Brother Watch and Free Tibet, and Parliamentary Questions, have revealed that Hikvision and Dahua are deeply entrenched in our public sector supply chain. Local councils, NHS trusts, schools, prisons, jobcentres and our railway network all have Hikvision and Dahua cameras in their supply chain and their physical infrastructure.
Do we really want the prying eyes of an authoritarian state that has been accused of genocide, and which, as the Prime Minister, Rishi Sunak, said just last month, is the
“biggest state based threat to our economic security”,
in our schools, hospitals, and local council buildings? Similarly, how can the Government justify public contracts and taxpayers’ money going into companies where there are credible links of complicity in genocide and the internment camps in Xinjiang? This requires more than “robust pragmatism”, whatever that may mean.
The Government urgently need to come forward with a strategy to remove Hikvision and Dahua Technology cameras from the whole of the procurement supply chain. In the words of the Biometrics and Surveillance Camera Commissioner, Fraser Sampson, whom I met last month, these cameras are built on “digital asbestos”. We need a serious government-led plan for their removal. That might take several years. It is the same issue that we had to face with Huawei. We should also develop technology to mitigate the risks these cameras pose in the meantime. We can do that by looking at issues such as connectivity through software, which Canadians are developing at the present time, which might not require the physical removal of all cameras.
Such a plan could emulate a similar timetable that Ministers set out in the then Telecoms (Security) Bill—to which I moved amendments—for the removal of Huawei from the UK’s 5G network. This would include setting a hard date to phase out and remove Hikvision and Dahua technology and hardware from the procurement supply chain; looking at provision and support that can be offered to cash-strapped local authorities to help with the removal; and considering following the USA in banning the sale and import of these cameras in the United Kingdom.
I welcome the leadership that Ministers have shown recently in banning the use of Hikvision and Dahua cameras in government departments, but I urge them to consider applying that same leadership to the rest of the procurement supply chain. The Government are no longer saying that they are unaware of the security and ethical concerns of using these cameras and they cannot wish away the existence of these cameras in the wider procurement supply chain. We need an urgent timetable and a plan to remove Hikvision and Dahua from the UK supply chain in its entirety. I hope the Minister will further consider accepting the entirety of this amendment so that such a timetable and plan will be put in place.
My Lords, I will speak to Amendment 141, which is in my name and those of the noble Lords, Lord Alton and Lord Coaker, and of the noble Baroness, Lady Smith, demonstrating cross-party support for it. I add my support to the other amendments in this group.
I also underline my gratitude to the Government and my noble friend the Minister for seriously engaging with the amendment over the summer. I know that we share a desire to mitigate the two key risk areas in public procurement that the amendment covers: first, the possible UK dependency on authoritarian states; and, secondly, the risk of modern slavery in government supply chains. I covered these areas in Committee, so I will keep my comments brief and seek to address any concerns that my noble friend might have raised.
To recap, proposed new subsection (1) would place a burden on the Secretary of State to create regulations that reduce public bodies’ dependency on authoritarian states. As we know, there is no agreed definition of what constitutes an “authoritarian state” in UK law or regulation. Therefore, proposed new subsection (2) would adopt the categorisation contained in the integrated review of security, defence, development and foreign policy, allowing the legislation to adapt to contemporary geopolitical developments in line with the latest iteration of the review. The countries the amendment would currently apply to as “threats” are Iran, Russia and North Korea, and, as a “systemic competitor”, China. As we have heard, this perspective on China was reiterated by the Prime Minister only this week.
Proposed new subsection (3) sets out what must be included in the regulations. Questions raised by my noble friend the Minister in Committee and now included concern about whether this amendment would place an obligation on the Government not to procure from these nations. The answer is no. The amendment enables the Government first to identify where we are dependent on authoritarian regimes for key supplies; then to define acceptable levels of dependency across industries; and then to publish an annual review of dependency. It does not prohibit procurement from these nations.
The real question we should be asking is why, given all that we have experienced with Covid and Ukraine, we would not want to do this. With this information, the Government are then in a position to manage down risk to the British people in key sectors. Had Germany undertaken such an approach to its dependencies, it would never have allowed itself to develop such a dependency on Russia for energy. The entire amendment has been framed to give the Government regulation-making powers, meaning that they have the ability to ensure that there are no unintended consequences and to draft the regulations in line with the wider strategy for public procurement.
Another question raised by my noble friend the Minister was whether this would impact on our procurement flexibility. There is no evidence for this; rather there is clear international precedent for this proposed new clause. For example, the EU Commission staff working document Strategic Dependencies and Capacities provides mapping of EU dependencies in the most sensitive ecosystems and provides a range of policies that could be taken to address these issues. The United States also publishes a similar regular review.
The risks of economic dependency, however, are not the only relevant matters here. The second part of the amendment proposes new subsections (4) and (5), which address a separate issue: modern slavery in the supply chains of publicly procured goods. The presence of modern slavery in supply chains is clearly unacceptable. This has rightly been acknowledged by the Department of Health and Social Care, which has already taken steps in the Health and Care Act to eradicate from its supply chains goods “tainted”—a Department of Health word—by slavery.
Proposed new subsection (4) in this amendment adopts substantially the same language as Section 81 of the Health and Care Act, passed earlier this year. The requirement to bring regulations to, in the words of the Department of Health and Social Care, eradicate
“from all public contracts goods or services that are tainted by slavery”
now stands as part of that Act.
As things stand, when the Health and Care Act regulations are drawn up and passed, those procuring health equipment will have to apply different human rights standards from those procuring goods and services on behalf of other government departments. The main intention of this amendment is to align procurement standards across government so that the UK Government speak with one voice. It seems odd for us to be unwilling to procure goods from Xinjiang for the NHS but comfortable doing so for the Home Office. This is about correcting a loophole in the law and seems a matter of simple common sense.
From my conversation with the Minister, it would seem that Department of Health officials are already in conversation with Cabinet Office officials about how to draft these regulations to implement them for the Department of Health. This enables those same officials to work to draft regulations that would work for the whole of government.
I know the Minister has some concerns about aspects of this amendment and its potential chilling effect on business, but where this has been operationalised in, say, the US, it has not had such an impact. I will address the Minister’s potential concerns, the thrust of which, if I understand them correctly, is that the amendment could increase the compliance burden on small and medium-sized businesses. We are not seeking to create extra burdens above and beyond what is necessary, but this amendment is about fine-tuning our existing system to bring it in line with best practice.
As I have stated, proposed new subsection (5)(a) to (c) focuses on ensuring that there is one consistent standard of regulation for modern slavery across government. Rationalising the standard so that the Department of Health and Social Care is not an outlier seems sound. The regulation-making powers lie in the hands of the Government to ensure that small businesses do not suffer.
Proposed new subsection (5)(d) requires businesses to know the sources of their products. Businesses that do not know the origins of the products they are selling, or their constituent parts, are unable to offer assurances about labour standards in their supply chain, but they also face major business barriers to guaranteeing supply and implementing product control and recall. This means that most businesses can map out their supply chain. Calling for transparency to ensure that we do not have modern slavery in supply chains is relatively uncontroversial.
Ultimately, the two risk areas of dependency and modern slavery cut to the heart of our character as a nation. We want to stand as a beacon for liberal democratic values around the world. To do this we need to ensure we retain the autonomy to act in line with our values by reducing our dependency on authoritarian states. We also need to ensure that we are living consistently within our values by ensuring that there is no modern slavery in our supply chains. The Department of Health and Social Care has shown the way. This amendment enables the rest of government to come into line.
My Lords, I rise to speak to the cross-party amendment in my name, alongside those of the noble Lords, Lord Alton, Lord Coaker and Lord Fox. I fully support the strong case that my noble friend Lord Alton has made regarding the links between Chinese surveillance camera suppliers Hikvision and Dahua Technology and the gross human rights violations taking place in Xinjiang. I congratulate my noble friend Lady Stroud on an excellent speech setting out all the answers to the questions the Government have posed as to why our amendment would not be acceptable. She made a compelling case.
I also congratulate my friend the noble Lord, Lord Alton, who, for the last few years, has been nibbling at the heels of government Ministers in every department and moving these similar amendments dealing with genocide in Xinjiang province. We did it on the Trade Bill, the NHS procurement Bill, an education Bill and others. Of course, in some cases there had to be a compromise amendment in the Commons. Eventually, a few months later, the Government would then announce their own initiative going partly along the road the noble Lord suggested. I care to bet that even if we lose the vote in this House tonight, or if we win tonight but it is removed in the Commons, in six months the Government will come along and suggest something partly along the lines of his amendment.
Rather than go over his arguments again, I will use my remarks to discuss the security concerns regarding the prolific use of Hikvision and Dahua cameras in the UK procurement supply chain. Those concerns are not isolated. Our closest partners—real strategic partners, including the USA, Australia and the EU—have expressed their own worries about the use of Chinese technology suppliers, particularly in sensitive areas such as government buildings and the European Parliament.
The USA has taken swift and strict action to blacklist the sale and import of Hikvision and Dahua cameras, has ordered their removal from government buildings and is actively considering placing them on a sanctions list, which would have a substantial impact on the ability of the companies to operate worldwide. The US Department of Homeland Security warned as early as 2017 about the potential for a back door into Hikvision camera software that it deemed “remotely exploitable”—a view subsequently backed up by security researchers, who warned in September 2021 that Hikvision cameras have the
“highest level of critical vulnerability”.
As the noble Lord, Lord Alton, mentioned, the Government’s own Biometrics and Surveillance Camera Commissioner, Professor Fraser Sampson, has repeatedly warned us that Hikvision and Dahua cannot be trusted as procurement suppliers. Not only have they refused his requests to publish further information about legitimate human rights and security concerns, but Professor Sampson rightly points out that we require considerable caution when it comes to involving foreign suppliers of surveillance technology.
After all, Hikvision and Dahua cannot be considered to be anything like normal private business companies operating in a free-market economy. Both not only receive generous subsidies from the Chinese state but under Article 7 of China’s national intelligence law they are expected to work hand in glove with the state. This law requires that:
“Any organisation and citizen shall, in accordance with the law, support, provide assistance, and cooperate in national intelligence work, and guard the secrecy of any national intelligence work that they are aware of.”
That is the obligation on Hikvision and Dahua. In effect, these companies are not only required by China’s national intelligence law to help assist with national intelligence work, but they are bound to secrecy not to reveal the extent of their collaboration with Chinese intelligence services.
I fully welcome the announcement last week by the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster that he has instructed government departments to remove Hikvision and Dahua technology cameras from sensitive areas
“in the light of the threat to the UK”.
Now that the Government have admitted the security threat posed by these companies’ cameras in government departments, I hope that Ministers will be honest about the threat they pose to our procurement supply chain generally.
After all, how can it be consistent for the Government to direct departments to remove these cameras on security grounds but not offer similar guidance and a timetable for local authorities, NHS trusts, schools, our transport network and all other vital infrastructure to follow suit? Surely, the threat of authoritarian state-sponsored snooping from a Government many consider to be a systemic threat, alongside Russia, requires swift action.
The cross-party amendment in my name and that of other noble Lords would give Ministers a mandate to publish a timetable for the removal of Hikvision and Dahua cameras and technology from the whole procurement supply chain. It would allow the Government to consider a timetable similar to the one we currently have in place for the removal of Huawei from our 5G telecommunications network, and it would signal to the public at large that the Government take the security threat posed by Chinese technology companies very seriously indeed.
I fully support what the Prime Minister said in his speech on Monday evening. He said that the
“so-called golden era is over”
with the PRC and that the UK must focus on dramatically improving our national resilience and economic security. In my opinion, there never was a golden era, at least, not for the UK. But, of course, China had one—a massive trade surplus, infiltration and theft of our commercial secrets on a massive scale, our political and business elites kowtowing to any Chinese demands and our universities grubbing for Chinese money at the expense of freedom for their students.
In January 2021, the Foreign Office in a Written Answer to me called China a “strategic partner”. Can you believe it: China called a strategic partner by the Foreign Office, in the same category as the US and our loyal NATO allies? Perhaps that is all I have come to expect of the Foreign Office. While I acknowledge the speech of my right honourable friend the Prime Minister in part, perhaps the Foreign Office has struck again and inserted those words—that China will be treated with “robust pragmatism”. What on earth does that weaselly phrase mean? My noble friend the Minister—the Lady in red—with her tremendous intellect will no doubt be able to give us a definition. In fact, I reckon she could probably give us 10 different definitions of “robust pragmatism”. But let me give you mine. The pragmatic part is that we will continue buying billions of pounds-worth of goods from China because it is cheaper, more convenient and easier than starting to onshore them. The robust bit is that we will criticise them a bit when we hand over the cheque: “Naughty, naughty Communist Party of China. We deplore some of the things you are doing in parts of China.” Of course, we will not mention what is really happening—slavery and genocide—because that would be too robust.
In conclusion, let us implement the Government’s new policy on China tonight. Let us be robust and pragmatic, pass this new clause and start with a commitment from the Government to remove Hikvision and Dahua cameras from the whole of the UK procurement supply chain. It is the only way to give credibility to the Prime Minister’s speech on Monday night.
My Lords, as other speakers have alluded to, we have been in this place before, but the things we hear are no less shocking or important for us to debate. I am speaking to Amendments 91, 95 and 141 and, as stated, my name is on Amendment 94.
It is worth thinking about how we got to where we are, as alluded to by the noble Lord, Lord Blencathra, in his stirring speech: we bought on price. We ended up with Huawei because we bought on price and eroded our own switchgear industry. On the point made by the noble Baroness, Lady Stroud, about resilience in our supply chain, we narrowed our options by simply buying on price.
The point of the amendments, whether together, separately or blended, is to put values into the purchasing process as well as price. All the way through the debate, in different ways, the purpose of what we have heard from colleagues is to put values into what we do. Public purchasing is not just about price; it is about extending the values of this country across what we do. Unless we are doing that, we are spending the money badly. We may be spending it cheaply in the short term but it becomes very expensive in the long term, not necessarily for the citizens of this country but for those of the country from which we purchase. That is why I am supporting the amendments.
I have some technical observations. We have talked about potential back doors in technology. During the early days when the Government were trying to make Huawei work, there was a group of people—in Banbury, I think—who spent their time looking closely at Huawei’s technology in order to determine how dangerous or otherwise it was to the UK. If they are not still there, we need that group of people doing that not just with surveillance cameras but with network routers and all the other technology that supports networks in everyone’s homes in this country. We need to have a strong feeling of the security danger right across our information networks. The people who were doing that originally should be reformed. I understand that they are not the Minister’s group and that they probably come under the Home Office or indeed DCMS, but I hope she can carry that message from here.
To respond to the first part of the amendment by the noble Baroness, Lady Stroud, on supply chain resilience, the Bill will provide a very good database from which to do the sort of analysis she is talking about, so that we can determine just how resilient the supply chain is. How dependent are we on two or three suppliers? I hope, whether or not the noble Baroness’s amendment is accepted or voted through, that that is what the Government are doing. Are the Government going to use that sort of information, which will be much more readily available from the digital platform, to understand our resilience or otherwise? If they are, where in government will that be done and by whom, and who will be accountable for doing it? We will have the means to do it, whereas before it was almost impossible without a tremendous amount of work to establish who was buying what from where. Now we will have that information to hand.
These are three really important amendments. If their proposers choose to move them, we on these Benches will certainly support them.
My Lords, often in this House there are important occasions when there are really good debates. On this set of amendments, we have heard some brilliant speeches from all who have spoken: the noble Baroness, Lady Stroud, the noble Lords, Lord Blencathra, Lord Alton and Lord Fox, and my noble friend Lord Hunt. Why have these speeches been so good? Because, as the noble Lords, Lord Fox and Lord Blencathra, have just said, this is the chance for this Chamber to put in the Bill the procurement policies we want this country and this Government to pursue. It is a chance, through those policies, to stand up for what we regard as the international values that are important to us. That is why it is important that it goes into the Bill.
We have had this debate all the way through considering the Bill—at Second Reading, in Committee and now on Report. Time and again, we have said it is important that this country stands up and says, “This is what we think the £300 billion or so we spend on procurement should do to bring about the sort of community we want”, not only domestically but internationally. That is why it is so important. Each noble Lord who has spoken has been so inspiring, because they are speaking from the heart.
The Minister will not disagree with many of the values that have been stated. The disagreement comes in our wanting to see them in the Bill, so that it makes a statement of intent for our country. The noble Baroness, Lady Stroud, said of her Amendment 141, to which I am pleased to have put my name, that the Government are concerned about it having a chilling effect. I hope it does have a chilling effect on those who seek to use procurement to deliver policies and values that we do not support, as it is quite astonishing.
I will spend a couple of minutes on my noble friend Lord Hunt’s Amendment 91. I know we want to get to a vote, but sometimes it is worth stating what is important in this great democratic Chamber. Let me read out what he wants to be in the Bill through his proposed new sub-paragraph (2), which I fully support. Why would we not state, regarding procurement, that forced organ harvesting—this is what we seek to oppose; the amendment also mentions human tissue—
“means killing a person without their consent so that their organs may be removed and transplanted into another person”?
I understand that thousands of occurrences of such organ harvesting are alleged to have taken place. Nobody in this House is in favour of that, but my noble friend Lord Hunt’s amendment says that that should be in the Bill as a statement of what we want our procurement to achieve. I fully support my noble friend, who deserves the thanks of the House for bringing forward that amendment, which is supported by many others, including my noble friend Lady Hayman and the noble Baroness, Lady Northover.
The same is true of the amendment from the noble Baroness, Lady Stroud, against modern slavery. Nobody here is in favour of modern slavery or human trafficking, but we know that procurement policy should seek that objective. It should be laid out and pursued as something we stand up for, as an international example to countries across the world. That is inspiring. It is worthwhile and important for us to do. The Government will say that it is unnecessary—“Of course we are against modern slavery and human trafficking”—but I say we should put it in the Bill as this amendment, along with others, would do.
The noble Lord, Lord Blencathra, gave a fantastic speech. He got excited and emotional; sometimes we should do that—with logic, which is extremely important—and wake up to these things. Sometimes we need to get emotional. The sorts of policies and decisions that we debate in this Chamber affect millions of people in our country but hundreds of millions across the world. They are worth getting emotional and upset about, because they make a difference. It is not playing tennis on a Sunday; it is about international law and what makes a difference to huge numbers of people’s lives.
As the noble Lord, Lord Blencathra, said, the Government themselves have said that there is concern about the security of the country in relation to the use of these surveillance cameras, which the noble Lord, Lord Alton, mentioned. The Government say that government departments should not use Hikvision or Dahua cameras and take them out, so they admit that there is a security risk and say that something should be done about it. But, as the noble Lord, Lord Blencathra, said, what about all the other cameras within local authorities, such as street cameras and cameras in hospitals? Do they not pose a security risk? If they do in a government department, I cannot see why they do not when they are outside one but happen to be run by Westminster council. This is ludicrous and illogical, and the Government need to take account of it.
That is why Amendment 94 of the noble Lord, Lord Alton, is so important. It says that we need a timeline to ensure
“the removal of physical technology … from the Government’s procurement supply chain”
because this will tackle modern slavery, genocide and crimes against humanity. Everybody in your Lordships’ House agrees with that; no one is opposed it. The Government will say that it is unnecessary and we do not have to do this because they will, of course, have no procurement policy that does not take all these things into account.
We will certainly support my noble friend Lord Hunt, should he push his amendment to a vote, as well as the noble Lord, Lord Alton—we will see where we get to with others. But the difference between us and the Government is that sometimes you need to say what you mean. Legislatively, we should say that we, as a UK Government and Parliament, believe these things are so important that they should be put in the Bill, that we hold to these international values, and that we will set an example for other countries to do the same and that our procurement policy will reflect this. That is our opportunity in these votes.
My Lords, I am grateful for the debate on this issue, and I hope that the House will forgive me if I take a little time to address the important matters that have been raised. As always, there has been much emotion, and there have been some strong speeches, for which I am grateful. However, I need to take the House back to the Bill.
On Amendment 91, tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, and the noble Baroness, Lady Northover, on forced organ harvesting, I pay tribute, as I have done before, to the tenacity with which the noble Lord has pursued this important issue. It is right that this abhorrent practice is exposed and confronted. The Government have taken action, both at home and abroad, to make clear that complicity in the abuses associated with the overseas organ trade will not be tolerated. As the noble Lord said, the Health and Care Act made it an offence to travel outside the UK to purchase an organ, and the Government have urged the World Health Organization to consider the findings of the China Tribunal on organ harvesting. I confirm to the noble Lord, Lord Alton, that the hospital he referred to in China will not carry out organ transplants. Moreover, it did not receive any government funding.
However, I am afraid it remains the case that the Procurement Bill is not the right place to take action on this issue. Every exclusion ground, whether mandatory or discretionary, must be considered for every supplier on every procurement—that is thousands of contracts every year. Each additional ground will add a burden for contracting authorities that, however marginal, will add up to a significant amount of time and money overall. I am reminded of my noble friend Lord Maude’s comments on Monday about the risk of trying to include too many wider public policy objectives in the Bill. If we add this, what else do we need to add? This is why I have sought to limit the grounds, particularly those that, like this one, require an assessment of factual circumstances, to those where there is a major and particular risk to public procurement. I am not aware of any evidence that any supplier to the UK public sector has been involved in forced organ harvesting.
Moreover, the scope of the proposed exclusion ground is very broad, covering not just organ harvesting but also any
“unethical activities relating to human tissue”.
The third limb of the amendment permits exclusion simply for
“dealing in any device or equipment or services relating to conduct”
covered by the first two limbs. This would seem to extend so broadly as to cover even the use of ordinary surgical equipment, where the supplier might have had no prior knowledge that it was previously used for the prohibited purposes. For these reasons, I am concerned that this ground would be extremely difficult for contracting authorities to apply in practice. While I sympathise with the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, I cannot see a way of including organ harvesting in the Bill, although I am glad that we have focused on it this evening.
I turn now to Amendments 94 and 95 tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Alton. In response to his comments on the situation in Xinjiang, I say that of course the Government are concerned about the widespread use of invasive and systematic surveillance there that disproportionately targets Uighurs and other minorities. In line with the Prime Minister’s speech on Monday, which has been much referenced, the UK has led international efforts to hold China to account for its human rights violations in Xinjiang. We have imposed sanctions, provided guidance to businesses, announced measures to tackle forced labour, and led statements at the United Nations. The Government have spoken out publicly, and will continue to do so.
I am glad there has been a warm welcome for last week’s announcement in relation to the use of Chinese surveillance equipment on the government estate. This is a significant step; all government departments will be expected to remove such equipment from sensitive sites, and to avoid procuring it in future. I confirm that this applies to both Hikvision and Dahua. This is a clear demonstration that the Government are prepared to act to protect the integrity of our security arrangements. We recognise that action taken should be proportionate to the risk. We encourage all organisations to follow national cybersecurity guidance when selecting a technology supplier, and this guidance clearly sets the security standards that suppliers should meet and the considerations that organisations should be making during the procurement process. We will continue to keep this risk under review and will take further steps if they become necessary.
In addition, we have taken action in the Bill to introduce an exclusion ground for suppliers that are considered to pose a threat to the national security of the UK. Combined with the new powers for a centralised debarment list, this will mean that where the risk is sufficiently serious, Ministers can act quickly to ensure that suppliers who threaten national security face exclusion from all contracts across the public sector. We have shown our determination only last week, as I said, and the Bill strengthens our powers in this space.
I turn now to what Amendment 94 actually does. In mandating a timeline for the removal of existing physical technology or surveillance equipment from the Government’s supply chain, the amendment seeks to interfere directly with security arrangements on the government estate. I am afraid this is out of step with the Bill, which is principally about setting rules for the fair and open procurement of contracts by the entire public sector. The Bill is not concerned with existing equipment or kit which has already been installed, or with the termination of existing contracts by central government. On that basis, while I sympathise with the points made by noble Lords, and will ensure they are shared more broadly, I believe that we are taking the right approach in the Bill and I am very uneasy about this amendment.
I turn now to Amendment 95 on product labelling; there has not been much discussion of it.
My Lords, if it is helpful to the noble Baroness, I say that, because of the time and because we did have a preliminary debate about this in Committee, it would not be my intention to test the opinion of the House on Amendment 95. I am quite happy for her to write to me with any remarks that she might have liked to have made.
I think that would be extremely helpful. I am grateful to the noble Lord.
I turn finally to Amendment 141 tabled by my noble friend Lady Stroud and others. I am grateful to her for tabling it and for the debate today. The amendment covers two distinct issues: supply chain resilience and modern slavery. I congratulate her and others on all they have done in recent years to promote awareness and encourage change on these important issues—a great deal has changed in the last 15 years. I am also grateful to her for a very useful meeting on the amendment, to help me understand how it might work in practice. While I admire her campaigning on modern slavery, discussion revealed the impracticality of some of the details of her amendment, as I shall try to explain.
The Government have publicly stated the importance of strong and resilient supply chains to our economic and national security. The Ukraine war and the shortages and economic challenges it has precipitated have really brought that home, and the decision announced last week in relation to ownership of the Newport microchip plant demonstrates how seriously these issues are being taken. As the noble Lord, Lord Fox, said, our plan for transparency and the new online platform will help us to assess the risk. Through our trade agreements and market access work, we support British businesses and contracting authorities to build more diverse and resilient supply chains.
Supply chain resilience considerations are now embedded in the work of every government department. A global supply chains directorate has also been established in the Department for International Trade to strengthen the supply of critical goods to the UK. I will be happy to facilitate a meeting with the Minister responsible, so that my noble friend can bring her knowledge and challenge to that important work: I believe that would be helpful in progressing matters, having spoken to her about these issues. Strong and resilient supply chains have a diverse base, which relies on an effective trading system. I know this from my own practical experience of diversifying retail supply from China to Vietnam, Bangladesh and Ethiopia. As far as possible, this means promoting a market-led approach to supply chain resilience and encouraging a range of import sources.
From time to time, there can be a crisis or an issue, such as modern slavery, in any market and with almost any supplier, so we need options. The appropriate proportion of supply from an overseas market can go up or down, but the proposal in the amendment to set dependency thresholds across all categories of public procurement would be a major exercise and a market-distorting measure.
While I welcome recent trends towards western manufacturing in certain strategic industries, such as battery technology, the UK continues to trade with China to support British jobs and growth in non-strategic areas and keep inflation down—which noble Lords do not seem to be worrying about—but I emphasise that we will uphold our values and ensure that our national security, freedom and democracy are protected as we work with allies to hold China to its international commitments.
Before the noble Baroness leaves that point, it is important to put on the record that we currently have a trade deficit with the People’s Republic of China of £40 billion. Dependency, resilience, and the destruction of our own manufacturing base because we are outcompeted through the use of slave labour and goods that are priced much more cheaply than people on a living wage can produce in the United Kingdom—these are issues that the Government need to take rather more seriously than she has just done.
I do take these issues seriously and I commented on diversification, which I have personally been involved in. It is because there is a large amount of trade with China that this cannot be changed overnight—and there might not be a case to do so in non-strategic areas. Inflation is very important and the opening up of Asia has historically been helpful in this country. The Prime Minister said in his speech that we must be realistic and clear about China, but that obviously does not mean we should abandon our values.
It goes without saying that practices such as slavery and human trafficking have no place in government supply chains. We have shown our determination to address modern slavery in many ways, including in the Bill. I draw my noble friend’s attention to the fact that under Clause 27, contracting authorities must ask suppliers to provide details of their intended supply chain for the contract. Authorities can consider whether a subcontractor is subject to a ground for exclusion such as modern slavery. If they conclude that this is the case and that it has failed to self-clean, the lead supplier itself is liable to be excluded from the procurement if it does not take the opportunity to remove the subcontractor from its supply chain. However, we must recognise the complexity of the issue.
My noble friend’s amendment says that
“The Secretary of State must … make provision”
in procurements and contracts to eradicate slavery and human trafficking, and that this is to be done by secondary legislation, but I fear that the amendment fails to reflect the sheer complexity of the matter. Regulations cannot specify precisely which award criteria might be appropriate to address the risk of slavery and human trafficking in every different procurement: this depends on the nature of the particular contract being tendered, including what is being purchased and the likely nature and location of supply chains. The right vehicle to help contracting authorities address slavery and human trafficking risks is in guidance, and there is already comprehensive guidance setting out the action that departments must take. This is 46 pages long and includes sections on managing risks in new procurements, assessing existing contracts, taking action when victims of modern slavery are identified, supply chain mapping, useful tools, training and questions to ask.
My noble friend will know that I have committed to put the matters addressed in the guidance on a statutory footing as part of the national procurement policy statement, provided for under Clause 12 of the Bill. This would mean that all contracted authorities would have to have regard to that guidance, which I think the noble Baroness can see is a significant step forward.
Finally, I note that the draft provisions in the amendment go significantly beyond the language in the Health and Care Act with which it was my noble friend’s stated intention to bring the Bill into alignment. Amendment 141 also creates a strong expectation that the Minister will make regulations, and that they will cover the matters referred to in the amendment, so it is effectively a must.
I know that people are looking forward to getting to the end of this debate, so I will not go through the problems with proposed new subsection (5)(d) to (f), but I will ask noble Lords to note that this will be burdensome to contracting authorities as well as small businesses. I know that my noble friend does not much care about the latter, but there might be wider concern about the gumming-up of contracting authorities in this matter when we have already made arrangements in the Bill to give modern slavery much more focus, and have added that to the relevant schedules.
We believe that proposed new subsection (5)(f), for example, is disproportionate and contrary to the open principles of our procurement regime, as well as to the interests of efficiency, value for money and common sense. Moreover, countries and regions that pose risks change over time, and that is another reason to use guidance, and not this Bill, on this matter.
Finally, I say to my noble friend Lord Blencathra that we should remember that the new regime will give broader exclusion powers to contracting authorities—he referenced Huawei—which will have primary responsibility for applying the exclusions regime.
In closing, I respectfully ask the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, to withdraw his amendment, but I emphasise the progress that this Bill has made, and I therefore find some of the comments on this group a little disappointing.
Just before the Minister sits down, so we understand, because some may want to press this to a Division, I ask: what would the Government’s intent be if this Bill was to pass with a debarment list, particularly with regard to companies that the Government no longer wish to deploy their surveillance equipment in the UK? Would such companies go on the debarment list, or would it just be down to guidance to determine whether such equipment is purchased by non-central government bodies?
They are mandatory grounds for exclusion, so if you find that you have a security issue—as we obviously found in relation to Hikvision—those become mandatory exclusions. On modern slavery, again, they are mandatory exclusions. Clearly, if a company is able to self-clean and has shown that it has changed the arrangements, it will not necessarily stay on the debarment list. I do not want to mislead the noble Lord.
My Lords, this excellent debate has been both moving and profound, because it has dealt with horrific human rights abuses in China but has also attempted to develop an argument about our strategic relationship with that nation.
The Minister said that she was disappointed by some of the remarks. She gave us a full reply, which I am very grateful for, but I too was rather disappointed by her response. Essentially, she said that our concerns are legitimate but that this Bill is not the right place for them to be expressed. But, as the noble Lord, Lord Fox, and my noble friend Lord Coaker both suggested, this is a Procurement Bill, setting the regime for government procurement for a number of years ahead. Where better to place values—not just the issue of the lowest common denominator price—than in this Bill, which sets the parameters under which billions of pounds are going to be spent by government and government agencies over the next decade?
The arguments that the Minister put forward were technical, and the Government could have come back and tabled their own amendments, which might have met the technical issues she faces. However, ultimately, the Government have set their face against expressing some profound values in this legislation, but I think that we should do so. I would like to test the opinion of the House on Amendment 91.
Amendment 91A not moved.
Amendments 92 and 93
92: Schedule 7, page 107, line 20, at end insert—
“(da) paragraph 13(4) (adverse information about supplier published by contracting authority), where the information is published in relation to a breach of contract;”Member’s explanatory statement
This amendment would ensure that the discretionary exclusion ground in paragraph 13(4) (publishing of adverse information) is reflected in paragraph 16(3), so far as that ground is triggered by the publishing of information in relation to a breach of contract by a supplier.
93: Schedule 7, page 107, line 28, at end insert—
“(ca) paragraph 13(4) (adverse information about supplier published by contracting authority), where the information is not published in relation to a breach of contract;”Member’s explanatory statement
This amendment would ensure that the discretionary exclusion ground in paragraph 13(4) (publishing of adverse information) is reflected in paragraph 16(4), so far as that ground is not triggered by the publishing of information in relation to a breach of contract by a supplier.
Amendments 92 and 93 agreed.
94: After Clause 61, insert the following new Clause—
“Timeline for removal of suppliers
(1) Within 6 months of the passing of this Act, the Secretary of State must publish a timeline for the removal of physical technology or surveillance equipment from the Government’s procurement supply chain where the Secretary of State is satisfied there is established evidence that a provider has been involved in—(a) modern slavery,(b) genocide, or(c) crimes against humanity.(2) The Secretary of State must lay the timeline before Parliament.”
Amendments 95 to 97 not moved.
Clause 63: Implied payment terms in public contracts
Amendments 98 and 99
98: Clause 63, page 42, line 27, leave out from “by” to end of line 28 and insert “a school”
Member’s explanatory statement
This amendment is consequential on the new definition of “school” inserted by the Government amendment to clause 114.