House of Lords
Monday 28 November 2022
Prayers—read by the Lord Bishop of Gloucester.
Introduction: Lord Roberts of Belgravia
Andrew Roberts, having been created Baron Roberts of Belgravia, of Belgravia in the City of Westminster, was introduced and took the oath, supported by Baroness Finn and Lord Godson, and signed an undertaking to abide by the Code of Conduct.
Introduction: Baroness Lawlor
Sheila Margaret Mary Lawlor, having been created Baroness Lawlor, of Midsummer Common in the City of Cambridge, was introduced and took the oath, supported by Lord Black of Brentwood and Lord Balfe, and signed an undertaking to abide by the Code of Conduct.
My Lords, the Lammy Review, which the Government warmly welcomed, made 35 recommendations and the Government undertook actions in respect of 33 of them; only two others relating to the judiciary were left on one side. We have now completed 29 out of the 33, and outstanding actions continue in respect of the remaining four. Since the Lammy Review in 2017, our work has evolved considerably and the Government’s Inclusive Britain strategy, published in March this year, is central to this work.
I thank the Minister for that Answer. Despite it being pledged in the Conservative manifesto, we have heard no more about the royal commission on the criminal justice system. Might the Minister be able to say, first, when we will hear more and, secondly, whether racial disparities will be prioritised by that commission?
My Lords, I am not in a position to help the right reverend Prelate on the question of the royal commission on the criminal justice system. However, I can say that we are making considerable progress in matters relating to racial discrimination, which is the subject of this Question.
My Lords, a key recommendation of the Lammy Review was to set a clear national target to achieve a representative judiciary by 2025. The review identified low recommendation rates for black and ethnic minority candidates as a challenge to judicial diversity, suggesting a skewed appointments system. We are now five years through the eight-year target period. The 2022 statistics, published in July, show slow progress for Asian candidates, but none at all for black and other ethnic minority candidates since 2014. Recommendation rates for black and ethnic minority candidates across the board remained far lower than for white candidates. What do the Government plan to do to address this striking lack of progress in a vital area?
My Lords, much effort is being devoted to this problem through the Judicial Diversity Forum. The judicial diversity and inclusion strategy for 2020 to 2025 aims to increase the pool of candidates and attract the best talent. Actions for 2022 include continued MoJ funding for the pre-application judicial educational—PAJE—programme to support lawyers from underrepresented groups to prepare themselves for the judicial application process. There is also a Judicial Appointments Commission—JAC—outreach programme to encourage and prepare applicants for more senior appointments, and a “becoming a judge” scheme especially for ethnic minority solicitors interested in the judiciary. A joint judicial and MoJ programme is in train to improve diversity among magistrates, with an applicant-tracking system to identify ethnic minority candidates. Other professional bodies are also pursuing complementary strategies. In that connection, I pay particular tribute to the Law Society, whose past president, Stephanie Boyce, and present president, Lubna Shuja, are both from ethnic minorities.
My Lords, the Prison Reform Trust also conducted research on black and Asian women and found that, although they faced similar experiences to white women in the criminal justice system, they are more likely to receive custodial sentences and more severe sentences for comparable crimes. The research also found that their offending is rooted in domestic abuse. What action are the Government taking to address the specific biases experienced by ethnic minority women; for example, are judges provided with bias and domestic abuse training, is it sufficient, and do they receive refresher courses?
My Lords, certainly, judges are provided with domestic abuse training. The Equal Treatment Bench Book places particular emphasis on avoiding bias in sentencing and related outcomes. The judiciary, whose task it is to ensure absolute absence of bias, is well appraised of this problem and working on it.
My Lords, I am currently serving on the Joint Committee scrutinising the draft Mental Health Bill. The Lammy Review made it clear that black and minority ethnic prisoners are more likely to have undiagnosed mental health issues, learning disabilities or autism. Will my noble friend the Minister confirm that the scheme of court liaison mental health practitioners being in all courts when people appear in front of them for the first time is going to be rolled out? Will priority be given to youth courts, as it is quite common for young offenders under 21 to have a patchy record in school, which is obviously one of the main places they would be diagnosed as having a learning disability or being autistic?
I can give my noble friend the assurance that she seeks. Through the community sentence treatment requirements programme we are working with health agencies to improve access to mental health services for those who need them. In particular, liaison and diversion services are funded by the NHS and should now be present in all police custody suites and magistrates’ courts to provide early intervention for vulnerable people, acting as a point of referral and providing a prompt response to concerns raised by police, probation or youth offending teams. I hope that has addressed the question asked.
My Lords, in answer to the right reverend Prelate, the Minister said that there had been progress regarding disproportionality. He went on to give the noble Lord, Lord Marks, an example of trying to get a better balance of judges and magistrates. I might characterise those as inputs, but what about the outputs? What about disproportionality in stop and search, in charging, and in ethnic minorities in prison places? What progress has been made on that front?
My Lords, stop and search is a matter primarily for the Home Office and the police, but I know that there is special training for police services in relation to this, including better use of body-worn cameras and other action taken to ensure that stop and search is less of a problem than it has been hitherto. In relation to charging, the Lammy report found no discrimination by the CPS in charging decisions, but there is ongoing academic work to establish exactly what the position is as far as the CPS is concerned.
As far as other matters are concerned, this is very much a matter of trust in the system between the ethnic minority and those who are dealing with that person. One of the things in train in the police station is a trial of an opt-in system when legal advice is available. As noble Lords know, free legal advice is available to everyone in the police station. The take-up by ethnic minorities is not very great, because it has to be asked for, but if it is given automatically and the person has to opt out of it, that could make quite a difference in building trust. That is an important initiative currently in train that I hope will bear fruit in due course.
My Lords, returning to the sensitive but vital subject of judicial diversity, it has long been understood that, in order to do its job, our highest court must have at least one senior justice from Northern Ireland and one from Scotland. Yet, to my understanding, not once have we ever had a black or brown senior justice as a Law Lord or, latterly, in our Supreme Court, notwithstanding the Privy Council, Commonwealth and Empire heritage. Is that really acceptable? Is it not time to experiment with time-limited affirmative action?
My Lords, one of the Lammy report’s recommendations was the development of performance indicators for the Prison Service. Have these been developed? If so, can they be made public so that we can see whether progress has been made against those indicators?
Performance indicators in the Prison Service are one of the recommendations that it has not been possible to take forward yet. It is quite difficult to do as it is difficult to devise these indicators. What I can say about the Prison Service is that we are making a strenuous effort to recruit more ethnic minority staff, who, in due course, will work their way up through the system and become more senior. On the latest figures, we are up to about 16%, which is a significant improvement on where we were.
Glasgow Leaders’ Declaration on Forests and Land Use
To ask His Majesty’s Government what steps they have taken since they committed to the Glasgow Leaders’ Declaration on Forests and Land Use on 2 November 2021; and what plans they have to increase investment internationally to support agroecological transitions in lower and middle-income countries.
My Lords, there is no solution to climate change without nature, which is why, as part of our COP 26 presidency, the UK moved nature from the margins of the debate to its centre. We secured commitments from 145 countries, representing 91% of the world’s forests, to end deforestation in this decade. Alongside that, we secured financial commitments worth around $20 billion to help those countries deliver, as well as pledges from the multilateral development banks, financial institutions and the world’s biggest commodity traders to align their businesses with that goal. Since then, the UK has created the Forests and Climate Leaders’ Partnership, which we launched at COP 27, to provide a long-term delivery mechanism for building momentum and holding all those parties to account.
My Lords, I am very encouraged that the Government have committed £3 billion for nature in their climate finance Bill but, another year on and with another COP over, we have no clearer understanding of where and how that money is to be spent. Can the Minister reassure us that land use for agroecology and other sustainable farming practices that have huge potential for biodiversity, climate mitigation and providing food security in low-income countries will receive some of this funding, and that it will not be focused just on forests? Can he also confirm that supporting those agroecological systems will be included as a key objective in the ongoing integrated review of foreign policy?
My Lords, I do not think anyone would pretend that we do not need more progress or do not need to accelerate efforts to reverse deforestation, but the pledges that were secured at COP are being delivered. Through the Global Forest Finance Pledge, which is the umbrella pledge for all this, the UK committed £1.5 billion over five years. So far, 22% of that pledge has been spent, so we are on track to meet that commitment. Specifically, we made commitments around the Congo basin; around $300 million of the $1.5 billion that was secured or promised at COP 26 has now been disbursed and spent in that region. Likewise, through our pledge to indigenous people in local communities, we secured a commitment of $1.7 billion from 22 different donors around the world. So far, nearly 20% of that money has already been invested, so we are on track to meet the commitments that we made. I should say, as I have not answered the noble Baroness directly, that a significant focus of UK funding has been on the promotion of agroecology.
My Lords, can the Minister say a little bit more about what is being done to stop the import of soya and palm oil into this country, which is fuelling the deforestation in so many of these developing nations? I know it is a pledge, but we want to see concrete action in the UK now, so perhaps the Minister could update us on the action on that.
With the noble Baroness’s help, we passed the Environment Bill into law. That made provision for a due-diligence law, requiring secondary legislation, that is working its way through the system. We needed to consult—and this has been done by Defra—on which commodities should be initially included in the first tranche of the due-diligence legislation. I have pushing for—and I think we will end up with—a very expansive approach, covering all the key commodities, and that will have a direct impact on our own supply chains. We are, however, doing much more than that. We co-chair, with Indonesia, the FACT dialogue, which brings together 28 countries representing the vast bulk of deforestation caused by agricultural commodities, as well as the main consumer markets. We are working together to try to agree a mechanism for breaking the link between commodity production and deforestation, the former being responsible for about 80% of the latter. We are making progress, but it requires us to talk to countries that do not necessarily agree with us on every issue, so we have to go as far as we are able to go while pushing all the time for greater ambition.
My Lords, women are disproportionately represented in the production of agricultural businesses, but they are massively underrepresented in their ownership. This is largely due to there being too many restrictive legal frameworks that reduce the ability of women to secure investment for ownership and for their own entrepreneurial liberties and freedoms. Will the Minister put forward the case for gender-lens investment through the City of London, British International Investment, and any UK support, because the most transformative thing that we could do for agriculture in developing countries would be to empower women for ownership?
I thank the noble Lord for making an important point. The main focus, when it comes to supporting a shift towards sustainable land use, at least from the point of view of the UK and ODA, is on supporting smallholders, who are disproportionately responsible by default for much of the deforestation that we see, for example, in the Congo Basin, Indonesia and elsewhere. Almost all the work that we are doing—whether it is the global agriculture and food security programme, or the agricultural breakthrough, which we launched at COP 26, to which 13 countries signed up—is about helping smallholders achieve climate-resilient, sustainable agriculture and ensuring that that model is the most attractive and widely adopted option for farmers everywhere. That, in turn, has a disproportionate impact on women, who tend to make up a disproportionate number of those who actually engage in smallholder farming.
My Lords, just picking up the theme here of how we transition countries, the Minister talks about the very good work that the Government have done on deforestation, but what is he doing to link with other government departments, particularly the BII, in order to ensure that what we are doing in one area is reflected in the other? If we are spending money investing in deforestation through the sorts of things raised by my noble friend, and then he is pumping money into stopping it, are we not defeating the whole objective?
The noble Lord is right. It would be wrong to pretend that all of our policies are lined up across the whole of government and are entirely consistent. What was said at COP 26, or more recently at COP 27, by us and by all the consumer countries is not reflected, for example, in our trade policies. That is just a statement of the obvious. There is much more work to be done to align the way we approach trade with one of the biggest consumer economies in the world. Countries want access to our markets, and we need to incentivise a move towards sustainability by removing barriers, for example, on commodities grown in Costa Rica, or tuna caught in the Maldives or timber produced and logged in Gabon. In each of those countries there are models of sustainability. We would be able to do much more that way than we could ever do through the use of aid. This is something that we are working on through government. The UK was responsible, at the last G7 last year, for persuading all the G7 countries to commit to aligning their entire ODA portfolios, including ancillary bodies such as BII, with our broader climate and nature agenda. There is a lot of work to be done to make that happen; the commitment is there, and we are making progress here in the UK. As I say, however, there is more work to be done.
My Lords, perhaps the Minister could say a little more about the original Question from my noble friend Lady Willis. Where can we find out about these success stories that he points to? If he does not know, can he write to us and leave a letter in the Library?
There are many success stories. They get overlooked when we have these huge COP 27-type summits, but there are countries around the world providing perfect examples of what can be done. I mentioned that Gabon had broken the link between logging and deforestation. Costa Rica has broken the link between agricultural commodities and deforestation. There are a few other countries as well. We do not need to invent anything new. We just must make those examples of best practice the norm. If we can do that through our ODA and other tools, such as trade policy, we will be making a very significant difference.
The agricultural breakthrough that I mentioned earlier, which was launched at COP 26 with 13 countries endorsing it, has identified agroecology as one of the first priority areas for the next three years, and the 13 countries have all signed up to ensure that agroecology receives the funding needed to give it the boost that we want it to have.
My Lords, after COP 27, the Alliance for Food Sovereignty in Africa said:
“It was very disturbing to see a large contingent of corporate lobbyists influencing the process while small-scale farmers have been shut out and drowned out”.
Does the Minister agree that this has been a problem through the COP process? Are the Government acting, ideally to exclude but at least to tone down, the impact of big food—the agrochemical companies, the seed companies, the commodity trading giants—which has such a loud voice in the COP process?
I half-agree with the noble Baroness. There is no doubt that the big vested interests have a disproportionate impact on all such international fora, and that is sometimes reflected in decisions that are made. However, we cannot hope to stop deforestation unless we have co-operation now from the 13 or 14 biggest agricultural trading companies. A few months ago, I co-chaired, with John Kerry, a meeting where we summoned the 12 biggest agricultural commodity traders, to try to pressure them to deliver progress by COP 27, and to show us the road map they intend to follow to break the link between their purchasing of commodities and deforestation. While they did produce that road map for COP 27, and while some of it was very good, particularly in relation to palm oil, it was disappointing in other areas. However, we must keep up the pressure and continue that discussion with those commodity traders.
Money Laundering Regulations: Politically Exposed Persons
My Lords, the recent review of the money laundering regulations concluded that there is still work to do to better understand the risk profile of domestic politically exposed persons—PEPs. It is crucial that the Government fully explore and understand any potential consequences of changing requirements on domestic PEPs before making any amendments to the UK’s anti-money laundering regime. This work is ongoing and part of the Government’s wider economic crime strategy.
I thank the Minister for that Answer, but I am afraid that I do not understand it. On 5 July, she said that the review had been concluded and that no change was needed, despite all the evidence that she has had from Members of your Lordships’ House. Unbeknown to us but very helpfully, after that, the Lord Speaker wrote to the FCA on 21 July. However, the FCA’s reply on 15 August simply repeated that firms should act proportionately in dealing with PEPs. Two hours ago, we all received a letter from the Minister which says: “It cannot be acceptable that Parliamentarians and their families are denied access to personal finance.” However, as we will hear from the noble Lords, Lord Vaizey and Lord Kirkhope, and others no doubt, banks are still refusing to handle accounts of their family members, and other colleagues of mine are finding that their accounts are being closed. The system is not working. Can the Minister agree to meet me and other concerned Members of your Lordships’ House, together with the FCA and HMT officials, so that we can make progress? Clearly, led by itself, HMT is unable to do so.
I would be very happy to meet with the noble Baroness and other interested Peers to see what more we can do. I will clarify one point. The review of the money laundering regulations concluded earlier this year. One of the outcomes was that there was more work to do to better understand the risk profile of domestic PEPs. That work is ongoing. When we have a better understanding of the risk profile and any potential consequences of changing the classification of domestic PEPs, we will take our work forward accordingly. In the meantime, it is important that people are treated fairly by the financial institutions that they work with. We have included a list of points of contact for some of the major banks so that people who are having problems can receive help where it is needed. If Members have issues, I encourage them to make use of the Financial Ombudsman Service, if they need to, as a route to address any problems.
My Lords, I thank my noble friend the Minister for her letter, which clarifies the current position to some extent. As one of those who was involved for a long time in drafting these regulations in Brussels, it was absolutely required that we should put “proportional” into them—unusually for regulations in Brussels. Can the Minister do more to force the FCA and the financial institutions to take some notice of that proportionality? Can we please make sure that this indiscriminate application to public servants—and their families, including my own—of draconian measures can be put aside, and that we can take a sensible and proper view towards anti-money laundering arrangements?
I absolutely agree with my noble friend on the importance of that word and of a proportionate approach being taken in the implementation of these regulations. I know that concerns have been raised in the past. We have convened previous meetings with the FCA and the banks to make this message known to them. Hopefully, the points of contact that we have provided will provide a further remedy to any noble Lords who are affected. We are also looking at the broader system to see whether we can change the designation of domestic PEPs. However, we need to look very carefully at this and take our time to make sure that we do that work properly.
My Lords, the FCA guidelines, which are five years old, make clear that Members of this House should be treated as low risk unless there are other factors at play. There is no point to these guidelines if they are not being enforced. What assessment have the Government made of the FCA’s record on enforcement of the guidelines? Have any sanctions ever been imposed on those who break them?
My Lords, as I have said, we have had an ongoing dialogue with the FCA around the guidelines. In turn, they have had engagement with those that they regulate. I do not have any statistics for the noble Lord on enforcement action. However, one area where we have some statistics is that, since 2018, the Financial Ombudsman Service has received fewer than 10 complaints in this area. That is not to say that people have not experienced problems, but I would encourage them to use the points of contact and, where they are experiencing problems, to advance those complaints, so that we can have better data with which to assess the impact of the issue.
My Lords, I have used my noble friend the Minister’s point of contact. My son was refused an account with Starling Bank. I got through to a senior executive there, who stated to me very clearly that: “It is our policy not to give accounts to the relatives of Members of the House of Lords.” That is about as clear a breach of the regulations as you could have. Will the Minister use her convening power to collect in one room the banks, the FCA and Treasury officials? Let us sort this out and introduce some common sense.
I cannot comment on an individual case, but I can be absolutely clear with my noble friend that the FCA has been clear that designation as a PEP should not be a reason to end a business relationship. I said to the noble Baroness, Lady Hayter, that I am very happy to have a meeting, and I will use all the efforts of my convening power to bring to the table those I cannot directly commit to attending the meeting today.
My Lords, the Minister has said on two or three occasions that great care is needed in any review of the regulations, despite the fact that it is quite clear that the FCA guidance is not being followed by a number of banks. What is this huge amount of work that still needs to be done before we see a change in the regulations?
My Lords, there is a difference between looking at the FCA guidance and whether it is being properly adhered to and whether that could help solve the problem that noble Lords are talking about. We have made continuous efforts to look at that but, given the wider sentiment we have heard in this House, we also want to look at whether we can make a more substantive change to how domestic PEPs are regulated. That is a wider piece of work that could have unintended consequences, so we need to look at that carefully.
My Lords, the standards for our anti-money laundering regulations come from the FATF, which defines an international approach. My noble friend is right that we have the opportunity, having left the EU, to adapt the anti-money laundering regulations to make them more proportionate and more effective. We have already done that in a number of areas, and the piece of work we are going to do, looking at the evidence around the risk of domestic PEPs, is a further area in which we can do some work.
My Lords, I declare an interest as chairman of Hoare’s bank. To pick up on the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Forsyth, it is now several years since we left the European Union. The Treasury has regulatory powers to change the relevant legislation, and the Government are determined to prove the benefits of Brexit. Surely it is time to use those powers to make progress on this issue.
I agree with the noble Lord that we should make use of the new powers we have. As I said to the House previously, we have already made a series of amendments to the money laundering regulations to reduce unnecessary burdens—for example, scrapping the requirement for the creation of a bank account portal, which was seen as disproportionate. There is more work to do in this area, and that work is under way. We published the review of our anti-money laundering regulations in June, and we are committed to consulting on broader changes to our approach. The main focus of that is on the supervisory bodies for anti-money laundering regulations, but this issue is also being looked at as part of that work.
Farmers and Landowners: Tax Consequences
To ask His Majesty’s Government what plans they have, if any, to ensure that farmers and landowners do not suffer any disadvantageous tax consequences if they change the use of their land away from agriculture to enter long-term arrangements that (1) deliver improvements in biodiversity, or (2) sequester carbon, under current government schemes.
In begging leave to ask the Question standing in my name on the Order Paper, I declare my interest as a farmer and landowner. I also take this opportunity to humbly apologise to the House for failing to declare these interests during a supplementary question I was scrambling to ask during last week’s Question on the private rented sector.
My Lords, farming is going through the biggest change in a generation. The Government are introducing policies in England that work for farm businesses, food production and the environment. Some stakeholders have raised concerns that tax rules, particularly inheritance tax rules, might be a barrier to land use change in certain situations. The Treasury, HMRC and Defra have been working closely to consider the potential need for changes to the tax system, including where rules may need to be clarified.
I thank the Minister for her kind words; however, we need a little more action. It would seem to be a platitude to say that the tax system should align with the Government’s climate change and environmental objectives but, over a year since the passing of the Environment Act, there is still no legislation looking at how the tax system effects the sequestration of carbon and biodiversity net gain. Can the Minister confirm that these activities will have the same tax status as traditional farming activities, and be considered as trading income rather than investment income? Secondly, can she confirm that these activities will attract the same inheritance tax reliefs currently available? Without such reliefs, higher agricultural land values as a result of carbon sequestration and biodiversity net gain will disincentivise the farmer from joining these schemes.
I am afraid that I cannot give the noble Lord the Answer he desires. I can confirm that HMRC is discussing the issues he has raised with Defra both to clarify how existing law applies, for example, to the production, sale and use of carbon units in different environmental schemes, and to look at the inheritance tax question he raised. The Government have shown that we will act to clarify the tax rules where appropriate for the farming programme. For example, legislation is being introduced to clarify that payments under the lump sum exit scheme for farmers are treated as capital receipts and, therefore, charged to capital gains tax or, for companies, to corporation tax as chargeable gains.
My Lords, I hear what the Minister says but the government paper of October 2021 said that the Government would
“review guidance on the tax treatment of trees and woodlands, to provide greater clarity to landowners on how new and existing trees on their land affect tax liabilities.”
Nothing has been forthcoming. Can the Minister update the House on the progress of the review? She mentioned HMRC but most people do not know what the guidance is.
My Lords, we are iterating our approach as we develop these schemes. Quite a lot of them are new, and many different aspects are being piloted or developed. It is important that, as development happens, we take into account the tax considerations and implications of the new schemes. I can reassure noble Lords that we are aware of some of these questions and issues. We are looking at them very closely and, as the policies are developed, we are taking that into account in the Treasury’s input into Defra schemes.
My Lords, does the Minister guarantee that her taxation policies will not bear down unjustly and negatively on the upland farming areas of England and Wales? I have in mind the Borders, Cumbria, the Pennines, Cefn Gwlad—the heartland landscape of Wales—and the moorland communities of the south-west. Does she acknowledge that, already, besides taxation, the big problems are elevation and climate, and that these historic communities do not need further problems arising from her department’s taxation policy?
I reassure the noble Lord that we are cognisant of the need to ensure that our tax policy and our environmental land management schemes are working with and not against each other. It is an area of some complexity. With respect to how different farmers are affected—the noble Lord mentioned upland farmers—we are trying to look at the whole system and its different levels of complexity to make sure that we get to the right approach.
My Lords, the current environmental land management schemes have three elements: the sustainable farming incentive, which is up and running, and the local nature recovery and landscape strands, which are still in pilot stage and will not be fully launched until 2024. Farming is a profession that requires very long-term planning. How do the Government expect farmers to engage fully with ELMS if they do not know what the impact on them will be, either financially or in expected tax commitments?
Part of what the noble Baroness alighted on reflects our approach: as we pilot and iterate these schemes, we will learn and look at their implications for taxes. How they are designed might have different impacts, so we cannot prejudge that. I reassure noble Lords that tax rules should not have a bearing on many environmental activities under the ELM schemes, such as improving soil health. Many farmers already undertake these activities or have changed their land use within the tax rules currently in place.
My Lords, I listened carefully to the Minister’s responses. There are a lot of doubts among farmers about what ELMS will actually mean, and there is too much uncertainty to allow them to plan properly for the future. Does the Minister properly understand why some parties are just not comfortable about entering into a scheme for which the tax implications are unclear, and which might not even exist in a few years’ time? Farmers need clear advice today, so when will the Government be able to provide that clarity?
As I said, many of the tax rules should not have a bearing on many of the environmental activities under ELMS. We already have several schemes under way, with a high take-up among farmers. But we understand that there could be broader implications, particularly for the landscape recovery scheme, and we are carefully looking at this. The 22 initial projects are receiving funding through that scheme, and people have felt able to sign up to them under the existing tax rules and systems. But we will look at those projects and implications as part of our design.
My Lords, I urge my noble friend to look urgently at this problem, which is very serious for farmers and landowners, who cannot make a decision with any certainty, given that the tax regime might change. What incentive is there for a farmer to do the good thing for biodiversity if they will be taxed badly for it?
As I said, the tax rules should not have a bearing on many environmental activities under the ELM schemes. We are cognisant, particularly where there may be a change of land use, that this could invoke questions of tax treatments—although, even if the land may not be used for agriculture any more, it may often still qualify for business property relief, for example, as an alternative inheritance tax relief.
As I understand it—I am working hard to make sure that I fully understand the tax implications of these schemes, but I am not yet as well versed in these things as my noble friend Lord Benyon—we are still designing the landscape recovery scheme and piloting different approaches. Those schemes are not expected to be rolled out in full until 2024, so that work is ongoing. On other schemes that are already in place, we do not expect the larger-scale schemes for farmers, such as the sustainable farming initiative, to have significant tax implications for farmers.
Energy Bill Relief Scheme Pass-through Requirement (Heat Suppliers) (Northern Ireland) Regulations 2022
Energy Bill Relief Scheme and Energy Price Guarantee Pass-through Requirement and Miscellaneous Amendments Regulations 2022
Motions to Approve
Investigatory Powers Commissioner (Oversight Functions) Regulations 2022
Investigatory Powers (Covert Human Intelligence Sources and Interception: Codes of Practice) Regulations 2022
Proceeds of Crime (Money Laundering) (Threshold Amount) Order 2022
Motions to Approve
Clean Air (Human Rights) Bill [HL]
Relevant documents: 4th and 7th Reports from the Delegated Powers Committee
Procurement Bill [HL]
Order of Consideration Motion
That the Bill be considered on Report in the following order: Clauses 1 and 2, Schedules 1 and 2, Clause 3, Schedule 3, Clauses 4 and 5, Schedule 4, Clauses 6 to 39, Schedule 5, Clauses 40 to 54, Schedules 6 and 7, Clauses 55 to 69, Schedule 8, Clauses 70 to 83, Schedule 9, Clauses 84 to 108, Schedule 10, Clauses 109 and 110, Schedule 11, Clauses 111 to 119, Title.
Procurement Bill [HL]
Report (1st Day)
1: Before Clause 1, insert the following new Clause—
“Procurement and covered procurement
(1) In this Act—(a) “procurement” means the award, entry into and management of a contract;(b) “covered procurement” means the award, entry into and management of a public contract.(2) In this Act, a reference to a procurement or covered procurement includes a reference to—(a) any step taken for the purpose of awarding, entering into or managing the contract;(b) a part of the procurement;(c) termination of the procurement before award.(3) In this Act, a reference to a contracting authority carrying out a procurement or covered procurement is a reference to a contracting authority carrying out a procurement or covered procurement—(a) on its own behalf, including where it acts jointly with or through another person other than a centralised procurement authority, and(b) if the contracting authority is a centralised procurement authority—(i) for or on behalf of another contracting authority, or(ii) for the purpose of the supply of goods, services or works to another contracting authority.(4) In this Act, “centralised procurement authority” means a contracting authority that is in the business of carrying out procurement for or on behalf of, or for the purpose of the supply of goods, services or works to, other contracting authorities.”Member’s explanatory statement
This new Clause would distinguish between “procurements” and “covered procurements”, the latter relating specifically to public contracts, so that provision in the Bill can be more clearly applied to one or the other, and consolidate certain definitions previously found elsewhere.
My Lords, as we begin Report, I start by thanking noble Lords for their contributions in Committee, and for the lively debate there. For those in the House coming to it fresh today, I say that this is an important Bill which follows two years of hard work and preparation, which I have the honour of taking over from my noble friend Lord True, who now leads this House.
Each year, £300 billion is spent on public procurement and we seek to make it quicker, simpler, more transparent and better able to meet the UK’s needs than the current patchwork of former EU rules, while remaining compliant with our international obligations. There will be a central Cabinet Office online platform to bring in new players, to improve value for money and to accelerate spending with SMEs. There will also be a comprehensive training programme for those involved in all the new rules and conventions—for example, on managing conflicts of interest. It is, however, a very technical Bill, and I am sorry that we had to withdraw a number of government amendments tabled in Committee to allow further discussion. This was largely successful, so we will come first to a number of amendments in my name, most of which were withdrawn on day one in Committee. As we go through, there will be further technical amendments and other amendments to respond to points made in Committee, notably to stimulate economic growth and to reduce burdens on SMEs. I thank noble Lords for their patience with the sheer number of amendments.
Amendment 1 and the amendments consequential on it introduce new technical definitions of “procurement” and “covered procurement”. I know these concepts caused some concern in Committee, so I will try to clarify matters. “Covered procurement” means those procurements that are covered by the vast majority of the provisions in the Bill. They are mostly procurements by contracting authorities, above the relevant thresholds for goods, services and works, which are not exempted from the Bill. These are the procurements which most of us will have had in mind during our deliberations in Committee.
However, the Bill also covers some aspects of procurements which go beyond this, which is why we have a wider definition of “procurement”, meaning any procurement. That allows the Bill to make some limited provision in relation to matters such as below-threshold procurements—for example, in Part 6—and notably to comply with international rules or certain treaties. I understand that the term “covered procurement” may seem unusual, but it is one included in our international procurement agreements, including the GPA—the WTO agreement on government procurement—and familiar to the procurement community.
Amendment 1, and a number of other government amendments, streamline fundamental concepts that are relied on throughout the Bill and will improve the readability and consistency of the legislation. Amendments 2, 5 and 6 recast the definition of “contracting authorities” to ensure that the right bodies are covered. We are committed to a definition that is broadly consistent in effect with both the existing regulatory scheme and with our international commitments under free trade agreements. Feedback from our ongoing dialogue with stakeholders has indicated that the effect of certain wording differences could lead to some bodies being incorrectly brought within, or excluded from, the scope of the rules. I am grateful for these views, particularly those from the Local Government Association, as they will help to ensure correct application. I am also grateful for its constructive approach to the Bill, which represents a big change for its members, and we appreciated its input.
The amended definition removes the reference to
“functions of a public nature”,
as this does not align with the existing definition. It makes clear that the notion of contracting authority oversight can include oversight by more than one authority. Lastly, it ensures that certain bodies that are publicly owned but operate commercially can operate outside the procurement regime.
Amendment 187 ensures that educational establishments are fully and appropriately excluded from the rules on below-threshold contracts, as well as those relating to implied payment terms in public contracts, payment compliance notices and reporting on payments made under public contracts. This mirrors the approach taken in the current procurement rules and ensures that burdens on low-value contracts in the education area are applied in a proportionate fashion. Amendments 98 to 102, 117, 119, 191, 193, 197, 201 and 202 are consequential.
Amendments 24, 25, 26, 27 and 28 provide direction to contracting authorities when a mixed contract involves two or more different elements which could each classify it as a “special regime” contract. We expect that such situations will be rare, but could arise occasionally. Our amendments clarify which regime will apply to their mixed contracts in such circumstances by discouraging unrelated requirements being combined in one procurement. I hope that sentence is clear. More importantly, we must also ensure that the rules concerning mixed contracts are compliant with our international trade agreement obligations.
This group also includes other minor changes, including Amendment 7, which ensures that thresholds are applied properly to frameworks, and Amendment 8, which ensures that frameworks for the future award of exempted contracts only are also exempt. Frameworks involving a mixture of elements covered by both the Bill and the forthcoming healthcare procurement regulations will be subject to the same basic tests as set out in Clauses 4 and 9 on mixed contracts, which determine which rules will apply. This is important to prevent abuse of the exemption provisions; it also includes Amendment 185, which corrects a mistaken reference to a power for Northern Ireland departments, which unfortunately does not exist.
Amendment 170 is a technical adjustment to Clause 111 to make it clear that any regulations made to disapply the Bill to procurements in scope of the forthcoming healthcare procurement regulations can be made whether or not the procurement regulations are yet in force. Finally, Amendments 194, 195 and 196 amend the index of defined expressions in Clause 115.
I thank noble Lords for their patience, and will turn to the amendments tabled by other noble Lords when I have heard from them. I beg to move.
My Lords, I shall speak to my Amendments 3 and 173. I thank the Minister and the noble Lord, Lord True, for responding to my questions, in private meetings but also at previous stages of the Bill, about why the NHS is treated differently from every other part of the public procurement sector covered by the Bill. The problem is that I have not yet heard a clear answer to that; nor, indeed, did those noble Lords who took part in the Health and Care Act during its time here get a clear answer from the Health Minister as to why this was proposed. More recently, in Committee, the Minister said that it was because only clinical services would be covered by these special arrangements for the NHS. I will come in a minute to the reasons for my concerns that that is not the case, but I start by saying very simply that Amendment 3 puts the NHS in the Bill, in the definition of a public body that has to observe the details of regulation under the Bill.
Moving on to the practical problems, the key issue is what is said in the National Health Service Act 2006 and the Health and Care Act 2022, which attempts to amend it. The specific amendment has not been enacted yet, but we can all assume, with the permission of the House, that it is this Bill that is holding that up. The Health and Care Act adds new Section 12ZB to the National Health Service Act, which says:
“Regulations may make provision in relation to the processes to be followed and objectives to be pursued … in the procurement of (a) health care services … and (b) other goods or services”.
The problem is that the new section goes on to say:
“Regulations under subsection (1) must, in relation to the procurement of all health care services … make provision for the purposes of ensuring transparency; ensuring fairness; ensuring that compliance can be verified; managing conflicts of interest”.
That is a very different bar of compliance than the Government want to see for every other part of the public sector covered by the Bill. At the strategic level, it will be enormously helpful to understand why the Government feel it is appropriate for the NHS not to be included, but my practical problem is that we have relied somewhat on the assurances of Ministers at the Dispatch Box that only clinical services would be caught by the new SIs under the Health and Care Act and the NHS Act 2006. I have just read out the parts that show that is absolutely not the case. In fact, there is a catch-all in “other goods or services”. So, while we spent a little time in Committee trying to discuss where the boundaries are, it seems to me that there are no such boundaries, and that leaves me very greatly concerned about how this will work in practice.
I have tabled Amendment 173 because if Amendment 3 is carried, Clause 111 is not needed. There is also an argument that if, for any reason, Amendment 3 is not carried, Amendment 173 will stand in its own right, but the two are inextricably linked. These two amendments are saying that the NHS should be covered in the Bill. I end by saying to the Minister that, despite the many amendments from noble Lords all around the House, I think everyone agrees that the Bill is better than the procurement arrangements we have had in the past, particularly in attempting to get transparency and accountability. The problem is that the arrangements for the NHS are not visible; they are SIs at the discretion of any Secretary of State for Health, and we have not even seen those in draft yet. I hope the Minister can give me some very clear reassurances or explanations, otherwise I may have to test the opinion of the House later.
My Lords, I rise to support Amendments 3 and 17 tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Brinton. In so doing, I echo what she said about how this Bill is better than the place we started from. Having spoken at Second Reading and in Committee and attended the meeting that the noble Baroness, Lady Neville-Rolfe, kindly organised so that we could learn more about the intricacies and granular detail of the Bill, I commend the Government for what they are trying to do. Although, I will give some painful examples to the House in support of what the noble Baroness, Lady Brinton, just said, I totally exempt the noble Baroness, Lady Neville-Rolfe, and the noble Lord, Lord True, with whom I had a number of meetings in the run-up to the presentation of this Bill in the House. They have both been exemplary as Ministers.
The noble Baroness and I have been in correspondence over the weekend about some of the points I am about to raise. The reforms outlined by the Government are based on what I think are laudable principles of public procurement set out in the Green Paper. They are value for money, public good, transparency, integrity, equal treatment and non-discrimination. I urge noble Lords to keep them in mind as I proceed through my remarks.
Ministers have told us that streamlined new procedures will mean better commercial outcomes that deliver more value for money for taxpayers. This amendment would ensure that those public interest principles also extend to the National Health Service, as I believe they should. The NHS should not be regarded as a side issue or of little consequence, as it were. It should be within the same remit. In the year before Covid—2018-19—the DHSC spent around £70 billion on procurement in England, up from £68.3 billion in the previous year. Spending on health is far and away the most significant area of government procurement spending. It is more than three times defence spending. Around £18 billion is spent on medicine and, coming to a point that the noble Baroness made in her remarks a few moments ago, nearly £6 billion per year is spent on hospital consumables, which include gloves and syringes.
During Covid, vast sums were spent on procuring PPE. I have made a point regularly in your Lordships’ House, as other noble Lords have done, particularly from the Opposition Front Bench, about the kind of PPE that we have been buying from overseas, especially from the People’s Republic of China. The House of Commons Library, in a note published earlier this year, said that current estimates of the total cost of Covid to the Government range from about £310 billion to £410 billion, the equivalent of about £4,600 to about £6,100 per person in the United Kingdom. The portion of this spent by the Department of Health was put at £75.3 billion. Gross spending on public sector procurement increased by £53 billion, or 17%, between 2019 and 2021. Most of this increase was due to a £43 billion increase in health spending—a rise of 44%—and it is estimated that contracts for £14.6 billion were awarded for PPE.
I understand the argument that the Government have made on a number of occasions about the urgency of the public health crisis and that many public procurement procedures were expedited. In some cases, those procedures resulted in suppliers being chosen without the contract being put out to tender or otherwise advertised. I hope that part of the purpose of the Bill is that we have better procedures in place should another pandemic occur. Concern about how this was done led to a debate in the Commons on 21 June 2021 on a petition calling for a public inquiry into government contracts granted during Covid-19. Since the Minister will have seen the outrage in the Commons last week about profiteering from unusable PPE and widespread concern about politically connected companies benefiting from government contracts, I hope she will feel able today to respond to specific questions, some of which I asked in your Lordships’ House in January and March this year, during Committee and Report on the Health and Care Bill, to which the noble Baroness, Lady Brinton referred. I refer the House to col. 635 on 1 January and col. 1032 on 3 March.
Even before that, on 13 December 2021, I asked
“whether any … person, or … organisation, will be censured for defaults involving the 47 VIP public contracts for facemasks and surgical gowns; and what steps they have taken in connection with defaults associated with their contract with PPE MedPro.”
I referred the House to a report in the Daily Telegraph which stated:
“Ministers handed almost £150m to Chinese firms with links to alleged human rights abuses in Xinjiang amid a race to PPE after Covid hit.
The Health Department paid £122m to Winner Medical, which uses cotton produced by a supplier that works in the controversial region”.
That is in Xinjiang, where it is said that a million Muslims are incarcerated and where the former Prime Minister, Liz Truss, said that a genocide is under way. It continued:
“Another £19m contract went to pharmaceutical firm China Meheco and £16.5m was paid to Sinopharm, both of which have been linked to labour programmes in the province.”
In Committee I specifically asked about a Guardian report concerning Medpro, and on 19 January I was repeatedly told that details about PPE contracts are “considered commercially sensitive”. I have never been able to understand—this goes right to the heart of the noble Baroness’s amendment—why the Treasury could account for the £4.3 billion lost in fraud under the Covid support scheme but was unable to justify or identify the loss on PPE.
Even worse, I was told, “we have no plans to censure a single individual or organisation”. In January I asked why not, and I ask the same question again today. In January I was told that the Government are seeking to recover moneys paid to PPE Medpro in relation to a contract for the provision of gowns. It would be helpful for the House to know more about the remit of the public inquiry into Covid 19, chaired by my noble and learned friend Lady Hallett, and whether it will deal in detail with procurement under the terms of reference, especially in the sections dedicated to preparedness and our economic response.
Perhaps the noble Baroness could establish whether it will examine the concerns raised by the National Audit Office: first, the potential unequal treatment of suppliers in procurement processes; secondly, poor procurement practice due to procuring at speed—for example, retrospective contract awards, a lack of documentation on key procurement decisions and a lack of documentation on the management of potential conflicts of interest; and thirdly, lack of transparency over what contracts were awarded and how. We must not allow the concerns raised by the National Audit Office to happen all over again, and these amendments help us to do that.
But there are continuing challenges which need a response too. I was shocked to learn that we bought £1 billion-worth of lateral flow tests from the People’s Republic of China and spent around £10 billion of taxpayers’ money in the PRC on over 20 million items of PPE. Some 24.1 billion items have a country of origin recorded as China, including 10.7 billion gloves. This raises a lot of questions about dependency—lessons which you might have thought we had learned after Germany’s experiences with Putin—but it also raises questions about national resilience. Why could things such as this not have been manufactured here? Indeed, companies in this country that tried to get contracts, and which are capable of manufacturing these things, have told me that they could not even get into the competitive system because we suspended it. If nothing else, this begs a lot of questions about why such things could not be made in the UK.
I was also shocked to learn—I repeat this because I thought it almost unbelievable until I saw it revealed in a parliamentary reply in another place—that we have a further 120 million items of PPE that are still in China, and which it is costing taxpayers some £770 million each and every single day to keep there. I repeat: £770,000 each and every day to keep them—
The millions and the thousands can multiply very rapidly in this debate. I apologise, but I think you get the point. It is over £20 million in the course of a year—£770,000 each and every single day.
I gave the noble Baroness notice of my intention to ask about this. Who authorised those acquisitions? Who decided that they should stay there? How much has it cost to date to store these items? How much has been budgeted to keep them in store at that cost of £770,000 every day, and for how long will they be stored? How much of the PPE that has been bought has proved to be defective and unusable? I would also like to know, first, how the Government intend to report the money returned to public funds by defaulting PPE suppliers through the actions of the faulty contract PPE recovery unit. Secondly, individual settlements are protected by commercial secrecy, so 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? Thirdly, how do the Government intend to provide transparency and accountability in relation to money returned to public funds by defaulting PPE suppliers through the actions of the faulty contract PPE recovery unit?
It is clear that the NHS should be subject to far greater scrutiny, transparency and accountability. For all those reasons, I support Amendments 3 and 173 spoken to by the noble Baroness, Lady Brinton, which include the NHS in the definitions of a public authority for the purposes of the Bill.
My Lords, it is a great pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Alton. When he speaks about the frailty of the NHS supply chain—I must declare my past presidency of the Health Care Supply Association—I am sure he is absolutely right to put these penetrating questions to the Minister.
I have two amendments in this group, Amendments 171 and 172, but I also want to speak to Amendments 3 and 173 in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Brinton. She has rightly pointed to the potential confusion between two pieces of legislation in relation to the National Health Service and the procurement regime that it is to adopt in the future. The difficulty is compounded because, of course, we have not seen the draft regulations in relation to Clause 111, nor have we seen the draft regulations in relation to the amendment made in the Health and Care Act 2022 to the National Health Service Act 2006, after Section 12ZA. The 2022 Act gave huge powers to Ministers to establish their own procurement regime through regulations.
Clearly, there is every potential for confusion as to how these two sets of legislation are to work together, particularly if only NHS clinical services are to be covered by the disapplication in the Bill. That leaves a lot of questions for those working in the health and social care sectors as to how they are to operate the new processes. Given the nature of NHS commissioning and services, there are big questions about what happens if a contract incorporates clinical and non-clinical services. Under which set of regulations is procurement to be undertaken? Large hospital contracts—PFI contracts—often contain a mixture of clinical and non-clinical services, and the terms of the contract can sometimes last for 20 or more years.
Indeed, the more fundamental question is how we define “clinical services”. Some hospitals contract with private sector operators to provide, say, laboratory services the staff of which are employed by the private sector contractor. I would have called those clinical services; they are clearly directly related to clinical outcomes for patients. I am not at all sure how that is going to be covered by the two separate pieces of legislation. Of course, the NHS Confederation, which represents the bodies that operate the health service at the moment, including integrated care systems and NHS trusts, is obviously concerned about the confusion and potential distinction between the two sets of legislation.
We are in a situation where the 2022 Act was bringing in, as I understand it, a new set of collaborative arrangements, following the legislation from the noble Lord, Lord Lansley, in 2012, which focused more, I believe, on a marketised approach to health. At the local level, integrated care systems are meant to draw together not just the NHS but local authorities to develop common services and to integrate services as much as possible. Again, it is perfectly possible that a service could be clinical, social care or a combination of both, and in many cases it would be desirable to speed up the flow of patients through hospital to give them better provision and support in the community. In my view, that would be a clinical service but some of those services would be applied to social care, and under this provision I assume that social care services are outwith the curtail of this legislation. What is an integrated care system to do if it is attempting to agree a contract which applies to both services? Listening to Health Ministers is exactly what integrated care systems are meant to do.
I do not know when Third Reading is but there needs to be an awful lot of information provided and work done between now and them so that we can fully understand the implications of what is contained in Clause 111. There has been no impact assessment, as I understand it, in relation to the interrelationship between these two pieces of legislation. At the very least, those people working in the health and social care sector need to have some assurance that before this Bill becomes an Act much more information and awareness are made known. In the meantime, the noble Baroness, Lady Brinton, is right to pursue what she is seeking to do in her amendment.
My Lords, I have Amendments 4 and 190 in this group. Some questions have been raised by the Benches opposite about whether I was here for the commencement of the debate. I assure the House that I heard every word of the Minister’s opening remarks from my place and I am not usually regarded as invisible in your Lordships’ House.
Before I get to my amendments, let me say that I have much sympathy with the amendments tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Brinton. I think we have to stop the culture of exceptionalism for the NHS and bring it within the ordinary rules; other noble Lords have said why that is. We should allow an exception only if there is a very good case for it so I will be listening very carefully to what my noble friend the Minister has to say about that when she concludes this debate.
My amendments each cover a distinct issue. I will start with Amendment 190 because that is the easier of them. Noble Lords may have noticed that my noble friend the Minister has added her name to Amendment 190 and I am grateful for the Government’s support in dealing with a technical issue that I raised in Committee following the eagle-eyed scrutiny of the Bill by Professor Sanchez-Graells of the Centre for Global Law and Innovation at the University of Bristol.
The Bill had defined how to value contracts including VAT when the contracting authority paid for the goods or services that it was procuring but failed to deal with the converse situation when it received money, which can arise under a concession contract. Amendment 190 puts this right and so sums receivable under contracts will be valued including the related value added tax. I look forward to moving this amendment formally in due course.
Amendment 4 is an amendment to government Amendment 2. Amendment 2 has virtually rewritten most of Clause 1 but my amendment would have also been proposed in relation to the text of the Bill as introduced. It is about control and how to define it, which I raised in a couple of amendments in Committee.
A public authority is defined in the amended Clause 1(2) proposed by Amendment 2 as including a person who is
“subject to public authority oversight”,
which is in turn defined in amended Clause 1(3) as being
“subject to the management or control of … one or more public authorities, or … a board more than half of the members of which are appointed by one or more public authorities.”
Thus, if a board is involved, control is determined by the fact of appointments rather than the capacity to appoint members of the board. That is an unusual concept for those of us steeped in company or tax law.
The Clause 1 approach to control is in contrast to its use in determining whether vertical arrangements exist in order to qualify as an exempted contract under Schedule 2. The Schedule 2 definition has its own problems, which I spoke about in Committee, but its core concept is to use the Companies Act 2006 definition of control, which is based on capacity to control. I believe that the issues with Clause 1 and Schedule 2 were not satisfactorily dealt with when I raised these points in Committee, so I have returned to them today, to highlight that the Bill is not internally coherent in its approach to determining whether organisation A controls organisation B.
My solution is to import the Schedule 2 definition into Clause 1, save for paragraph 2(3) of Schedule 2. I personally think that sub-paragraph (3) is very odd in the context of Schedule 2, but it certainly does not belong to the approach for control in Clause 1. I have no intention of dividing the House on this matter and I am by no means confident of my drafting, but I believe that the Government should look again at the robustness and coherence of the approaches they have taken in the Bill.
My Lords, I have no amendment in this group, but I want to refer to government Amendment 34. I entirely agree with the proposition that the Bill enables public procurement to be put on a better path than it has been in the past. Many of those working in procurement across the public services have welcomed the Bill. As it happens, they also welcome the scrutiny we are giving it, because it is leading to improvements to the Bill. I did not attempt to count the number of government amendments we dealt with in Committee, but they were in the hundreds. In addition to those, I calculate that we have 153 government amendments on Report, so if it takes us a while, it is not our fault. None the less, it is a good job and it is right that we should do it. That is why I raise the following question on government Amendment 34.
My noble friend will recall that these amendments were not moved in Committee because there was some difficulty about what “covered procurement” was relative to “procurement”. At the time, I supported the Government’s amendments, because it seemed right to ensure that the broader scope of the Bill and the regulatory requirements encompassed within it should be applied to larger procurements and not smaller ones. I now support the insertion of “covered” before “procurement” in all the government amendments—except Amendment 34. Why do I single it out? Including “covered” means that procurements which are above the threshold and not exempt are subject to the Bill and the full range of its requirements—see Schedule 1 for the thresholds and Schedule 2 for the exemptions. Clause 2 makes it clear that public contracts are those that are above the threshold and not exempt. Okay, fine: “covered procurement” makes a distinction between those that are exempt and of lesser value and those that are of a higher value and included.
Clause 11 relates to procurement objectives. Procurement objectives are statements, not least by Parliament as well as by the Government, about what those who are engaged in procurement should regard as their responsibility. The essence of Clause 11 is that:
“In carrying out a procurement, a contracting authority must have regard to … delivering value for money … maximising public benefit … sharing information”—
so that people can understand the authority’s procurement policies and decisions—and
“acting, and being seen to act, with integrity.”
In my submission, these are not regulatory requirements; they are the basis on which contracting authorities should be behaving. We will come on to debate Clause 11 and will deal with its proposals then. But it seems to me that, however we end up stating in Clause 11 that these are procurement objectives for contracting authorities, they should apply to all contracting authorities and to all their procurements.
Interestingly, the Government resist this on grounds of flexibility. I am not sure in this context what that means: flexibility not to have value for money; flexibility not to act with integrity? But the Government have not disapplied the operation of Clause 12 and the national procurement policy statement. The Government want to have the power to apply the statement to all procurements, so we do not get “covered” in front of procurement in Clause 12(1) but we do get “covered” in relation to procurement in Clause 11. This must be wrong. It must clearly be right that not only the procurement statement but the objectives on which it must be based must apply to all procurements.
So I put it to my noble friend that this is not a technical amendment. There may be many that are technical amendments, but this is a substantive amendment that has an unhappy consequence that it would disapply the procurement objectives to a significant number of the lower-value procurement activities in the public sector. So when we reach government Amendment 34, I invite my noble friend not to move it. I hope that she will at the very least do that on the grounds that this should be revisited before Third Reading.
My Lords, I rise briefly having attached my name to Amendment 173 in the names of the noble Baroness, Lady Brinton, and the noble Lord, Lord Scriven. I attempted to attach my name to Amendment 3, but somehow that transferred to government Amendment 2, which I am guessing everyone has already worked out was a mistake—part of the general confusion we have with this Bill. Perhaps it is just, as the noble Lord, Lord Lansley, outlined, that the flood of government amendments has overwhelmed the administration of Report.
The noble Baroness, Lady Brinton, and the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, have already set out the issues very clearly. The noble Lord, Lord Alton, gave us a masterclass, having made himself an absolute expert on the issues of procurement, particularly around Covid. I want to add one extra balancing thought to that. The issues of privatisation and contracts do not apply only to the procurement of materials; they apply to the procurement of services, including the clinical services to which the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, referred. It is important that this does not get lost.
I will refer to a study published in the Lancet public health journal by academics from the University of Oxford in June. It showed that outsourcing since 2012 had been associated with a drop in care quality and higher rates of treatable mortality. This is peer-reviewed research published in a very respected journal that shows that privatisation has had and is having a disastrous effect. To quote the authors of that study:
“Our findings suggest that further privatisation of the NHS might lead to worse population health outcomes.”
I think it would be unrealistic to expect the public to engage with the details of the kind of debate we are having this afternoon, but it is important, and I have no doubt at all that the public is gravely concerned to see that we have maximum transparency. Indeed, I think there is strong public support for reversing the privatisation of the NHS—but, wherever we are letting contracts for the NHS, we must have maximum transparency and clarity about the manner in which that is done.
My Lords, I have a very specific point to raise by way of reassurance. It is clear from the debate so far that these are complex areas that are particularly complicated because of the interaction between this Bill and the previous Health and Social Care Act; I wish my noble friend the Minister well in disentangling that and making it all clear to your Lordships.
My concern is around the provisions as they affect public service mutuals. This programme has always had cross-party support. It began under the Labour Government in the Tony Blair years, specifically in the NHS. It was then taken up enthusiastically by the coalition Government. I led the programme with the support of Liberal Democrat colleagues, in particular the noble Lord, Lord Wallace of Saltaire. This was a programme where, in particular services right across the public sector, groups of public sector workers were able to spin themselves out of the public sector and form themselves into employee-owned and employee-led entities. They then provided that service, whatever it was, to what was in effect the contracting authority under a negotiated contract.
Technically, this is procurement and, in good practice, should be subjected to a competitive tender. Indeed, we had some difficulty with the then EU public procurement regime that made it legally impossible to do this. I was able to negotiate with Commissioner Barnier a change to the EU procurement directives, which enabled a mutual to spin itself out without a competitive process for a relatively limited period before being subjected to a retendering process.
This was a very benign programme. Mutuals that spun themselves out demonstrated almost overnight a dramatic improvement in productivity—something close to 4% annually. More than 100 of them spun out. The largest number came from the health and social care sector. They did not have to do this but nearly all of them—certainly all the ones from the health and social care sector—chose to be a not-for-profit, social enterprise.
They brought together four powerful elements. The first was entrepreneurial leadership. The second was an empowered and liberated workforce. The third was commercial discipline, in the sense that they would all talk about themselves as a business even if they were a not-for-profit; that commercial discipline was crucial. The fourth element was the public service ethos. Bringing all that together created a powerful alchemy that delivered improvements in efficiency. Costs were able to be reduced, there was a reduced fee basis through the life of a contract and quality improved.
Staff satisfaction also improved enormously. Whenever I visited these mutuals, I always asked people whether they would go back and work for the NHS, the council, the Government or wherever they had come from. I never heard anyone say anything other than an immediate “No”. When asked why, they would all say something like, “Because now we can do things. We’re freed from bureaucracy. We’re freed from constraints. We can make things happen quickly”.
So my question for my noble friend the Minister, to be answered whenever she is able to do so, is whether she can provide some reassurance that the arrangements in the complex interaction between this excellent Procurement Bill and the Health and Social Care Act will, if the Government wish to accelerate this programme again, allow such arrangements to be negotiated directly between the contracting authority and the emerging spun-out entity without the need to go through a competitive process.
My Lords, we will return to the question of not-for-profits, mutuals and social enterprises in group 6, when we have Amendments 41 and 123 in my name and the name of my noble friend Lord Fox. I very much hope that we will have the support of the noble Lord, Lord Maude, on that. There was, in the Green Paper where we started this process, a very strong emphasis on the useful role that non-profits and social enterprises would have. That has disappeared from the face of the Bill. We wish to make sure that it reappears.
My Lords, I thank the Minister and her predecessor for their engagement with us and other noble Lords on this Bill as it made its progress through your Lordships’ House. I join with other noble Lords in saying to the Minister that we all believe, from where I am speaking, that this is a great improvement, and the Bill will make a big difference; we are generally very supportive of it. It is important, as other noble Lords have done, to start with those remarks to set the context for this discussion and those which will follow.
I do not want to speak for very long, but I will start with Amendment 3, in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Brinton. I very much support the amendment, which seeks to put on the face of the Bill—for the avoidance of doubt, for the avoidance of the sort of discussion that we are having here this evening and for the avoidance of the sort of discussions that will go on, as to which set of regulations procurement for the NHS comes under—that procurement includes the NHS in Clause 1. The important point, following the excellent speech by the noble Baroness, Lady Brinton, was set out in my noble friend Lord Hunt’s question to the Minister, which encapsulated the problem that we are going to have under two sets of regulations.
I thought that my noble friend put the argument very well in his question—and I am going to repeat it—about the sort of thing that will happen without clarification of where we are with respect to procurement. What happens if a procurement contains both clinical and non-clinical parts and services? Which Act and which regulations regime would apply? That encapsulates the problem in one, because the answer is that it will not be clear at all if we carry on with the current two-system regulatory regimes that will operate for the NHS. I am always very practical about these things and, of course, noble Lords will have seen as well that there is actually a clause—Clause 111—that makes it perfectly clear that there is a power for Ministers to disapply, through regulations, this Act in relation to procurement by the NHS in England. Therefore, on the one hand we have the health Act of 2022; on the other hand, we have a Bill going through that, in some sense, is supposed to include the NHS but, in other senses, is not supposed to do so. We do not know where the boundary is going to come between clinical services and goods and services, so there is a whole realm of difficulty and problems.
I said at the beginning of my speech that all of us are supportive of the Bill, but we need to resolve these difficulties. We cannot just say, “Well, the regulations will sort it out”, or “Good sense or common sense will deal with it.” There is a real legislative problem that we should try to resolve before we pass the legislation. The noble Baroness, Lady Noakes, pointed this out in a couple of important technical amendments. As always, we are thankful to the noble Baroness for trying to improve the Bill and to make suggestions, one of which, I understand, the Government have accepted. That is the sort of spirit in which we take the Bill forward.
Therefore, I hope that the Minister is listening carefully to what the noble Baroness, Lady Brinton, my noble friend Lord Hunt, and the noble Lord, Lord Alton, have said. We all noticed that the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett, was not a supporter of Amendment 2. We say that loudly and clearly so that her future in the Green Party is assured, but Amendment 3 is what the noble Baroness put in, and for some reason it appeared under Amendment 2. We are all very clear which amendment the noble Baroness supports.
The comments made in the short speech by the noble Lord, Lord Lansley, on government Amendment 34, are extremely important, showing how one word here or there can fundamentally change the Bill. He is quite right to point out that Clause 11 refers not to thresholds but to objectives. What is procurement trying to achieve? As the noble Lord outlined, by inserting “covered”, the Government imply that it is only covered procurement that takes account of the various points that are listed in the Bill. The noble Lord read out four, but I choose just one, to show how important it is that the Government listen to what he has said and think again about moving their Amendment 34. It is acting and being seen to act with integrity. The one thing that you would expect any procurement process to act under, whatever the threshold, whatever the regulations, whatever law it comes under, whether it is for £10 or £10 million, is integrity. Yet as it reads now, the only procurement that this clause will relate to as an objective, if the government amendment is agreed to, is covered procurement. That was the crucial point that the noble Lord made—as an objective. It is not an objective. It is closer to being law, that you are supposed to act openly, honestly and transparently. However, leaving that aside, it is an extremely important point that the noble Lord has made. In full support of what he has said, I hope that the Government have listened to his very well-made points, particularly when he went on to relate them to Clause 12, which seems to be the opposite of that. That point was well made.
The government amendments before us in many ways improve the Bill. I thank the Minister for listening to what was said to her and for trying extremely hard to table amendments that have improved many parts of the Bill. There are important tweaks that the noble Baroness, Lady Noakes, has pointed out. There is a fundamental point that was raised by the noble Lord, Lord Lansley. However, the points raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Brinton, and supported by many noble Lords, point to a fundamental choice for us. We must resolve this issue about procurement and the NHS. The noble Lord, Lord Alton, pointed out some of the difficulties that have arisen, but for all of us, clarity, certainty and clearness in legislation is crucial, particularly when it comes to procurement. We have the opportunity to sort this out. I hope that noble Lords will support the amendment tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Brinton, should she put it to the vote.
My Lords, Amendment 3, tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Brinton, of Kenardington, and the noble Lord, Lord Scriven, of Hunters Bar, would, as the noble Baroness said, explicitly name the NHS in the definition of a contracting authority. We are also debating Amendment 173, to which the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett of Manor Castle, added her name, and Amendments 171 and 172, to which the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, spoke so eloquently.
There is a concern, which I understand after several meetings with those involved, about the interplay in health between this Bill and the arrangements across the NHS in the light of the Health and Social Care Act. I very much enjoyed the meetings that I had with the noble Baroness, Lady Brinton, and thank her and the noble Lord, Lord Alton, for their kind comments on the Bill more generally, as well as my noble friends Lady Noakes and Lord Lansley. It has been a pleasure to work on this Bill across the House. I thank the noble Lord, Lord Coaker, for his comments, although we are no longer working together from the Back Benches.
Having looked at the matter carefully, I will make some general points before I reply on the individual amendments. Parliament debated the Health and Care Act only very recently. The passing of the regulation-making power in that Act showed that Parliament recognised that, in certain instances, the NHS is a special case. We ensure that it is off the table in trade agreements, and the will of Parliament was that certain healthcare services should not be subject to our regime because there is often no market and because it creates undue bureaucracy to require NHS bodies to contract with themselves. Some of the points made by the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett, may have also been in mind.
The Bill provides for new and separate rules for healthcare services to patients and service users, although not for goods except those that are an integral part of the delivery of a clinical care services contact. I made this point in Committee, as referenced by the noble Baroness, Lady Brinton. The new provider selection scheme regulations will establish the new NHS regime in the coming months, with a new emphasis on collaboration.
That is the background. I also assure noble Lords that the Cabinet Office procurement team will be involved in signing off the new arrangements; there will be guidance on important issues; and the regulations, which are under development, will be subject to the affirmative resolution procedure in both Houses. I am sorry that we do not have either set of draft regulations for noble Lords yet, but I hope that I can give some sense of the direction. Against this background, I will comment on the amendments.
Regarding Amendment 3, there is no doubt that NHS organisations are contracting authorities. In addition to applying to only a narrowly defined subset of healthcare services, the scope of the forthcoming healthcare procurement regulations will explicitly limit the field of authorities that can use these regulations to a defined list of bodies involved in health and social care. I reassure noble Lords that the central government authorities list, which includes the NHS and which is brought within scope of the current definition of “contracting authority”, will be replicated in the operation of the Act by naming central authorities in our regulations. There are a great many contracting authorities, which change frequently over the course of time. Our international commitments call for regular updating, and it makes sense to continue to identify central government authorities in regulations and not on the face of the Bill.
Amendments 171 and 172 would significantly extend the scope of Clause 111 so that the Bill could be disapplied for contracts for all kinds of goods and services which could be said to support the integration of health and social care services. This would weaken the regulation of non-healthcare procurement by enabling procurers to use the lighter DHSC rules when the full rules would be more appropriate, and would indeed present compliance risks with our international trade commitments.
The noble Baroness, Lady Brinton, made an important point about how the mixed contracts containing some elements of healthcare services and some of non-healthcare services need to be treated. The DHSC’s recent consultation on proposals for its new provider selection regime acknowledges the need for integrated procurement, such as combined health and social care services. Integrated procurement supports greater collaboration between the NHS and its partners, which in turn supports more joined-up care for people, including those with complex needs. I think we all agree that this is important.
Existing procurement legislation and the provisions in the Bill provide for mixed procurement approaches to ensure that there is clarity on which rules apply when contracts involve a mixture covered by different legal regimes. My officials have worked closely with the DHSC to ensure that the healthcare regulations address mixed procurement harmoniously with the provisions of the Bill.
We expect the wider Cabinet Office rules to apply to mixed contracts that involve a provider selection regime element and another healthcare or non-healthcare element if those elements could reasonably be supplied under separate contracts. If they could not be, the Cabinet Office rules will apply where the non-provider selection regime element has the higher value.
Amendment 173 comes from a different angle. It would delete the power at Clause 111 to disapply the provisions of the Bill to certain healthcare services that are in scope of the regulation-making powers in the Health and Care Act 2022, and make the Bill, when it is an Act, apply as well to all procurement by NHS England. I think this is a recipe for confusion.
The Procurement Act will apply to procurement by NHS England, whether it is buying goods, services or construction, but will not apply where NHS England is buying healthcare services that are to be purchased under the provider selection regime. For this flexibility to work, Clause 111 needs to disapply the Procurement Act in relation to the tightly defined subset of healthcare services to patients and service users that will be governed by the provider selection regime when procured by relevant authorities. I assure noble Lords that it will be used for this purpose only and that these limitations on usage will be set out in the forthcoming regulations.
Because of the importance of integrated care, on occasion there may be mixed contracts under the provider selection regime containing elements that, if procured separately, would have been procured under this Bill. I will work extremely closely with the DHSC to ensure that the provisions are not used to circumvent the more stringent procurement obligations in the Bill. Indeed, Clauses 4 and 9 are designed specifically to ensure that authorities are not able to design contracts to avoid the new rules. The Government will also be able to issue guidance—that is an important point—or change the regulations if the mixed contracts turn out to be a problem.
Like most noble Lords, probably, I have listened to what has just been said and am more confused now than when the Minister started. I ask a very simple question: if the Bill applied to NHS procurement, as it does to the rest of the public sector, would it not harmonise the procurement of NHS provision, whether clinical or non-clinical, including social care? That would make it simpler, not just for the procurement body but for organisations that might wish to tender for NHS clinical services.
That is a point, but I did try to explain in my introduction that there was concern during the passage of the Health and Care Act, to which I was not party, that the NHS arrangements—I see that the noble Baroness, Lady Brinton, is nodding her head. Perhaps she is nodding it negatively.
The important thing the House needs to hear is that during the passage of the Health and Care Act, Members from all sides of your Lordships’ House asked repeatedly why special arrangements were being made for NHS procurement when we knew that there was a Procurement Bill coming down the line and had not seen any detail of it. That is the question we are all waiting to hear the answer to.
I think I have been clear on the background to why it is different. I have also promised that regulations and guidance are being put together and will make very clear the differences: where the NHS rules need to apply and where the Procurement Bill needs to apply. That is the way in which these Bills have been constructed together. There are reasons. Especially on small NHS contracts involving social care, clinical services and so on, it clearly makes a great deal of sense to have a separate regime.
I am sure we will come back to that at the end, but out of courtesy I turn to the other amendments. Amendment 4, tabled by my noble friend Lady Noakes, proposes to rework the notion of control in the definition of a contracting authority in amended Clause 1(3)(b), to be consistent with the notion of a controlled person in Schedule 2. We have looked at this again in dialogue with the concerned stakeholders, notably the Local Government Association.
The meaning of control in Clause 1 is different from that in Schedule 2, and they need to be kept separate. The use of “control” in Clause 1, which sets out the contracting authority definition, is intended to ensure that contracting authorities that have a board where public authorities appoint more than half the members are themselves considered to be contracting authorities. This might include, for example, some centralised procurement authorities.
By contrast, the “controlled person” for the purposes of Schedule 2 is much narrower and intentionally very limited as it is intended to capture only a narrow group of entities, closely owned and controlled by contracting authorities. It requires that the controlling contracting authority is a “parent”, within the meaning of the Companies Act 2006. Although this might cover some of the same ground as majority board appointments, the concept used in Clause 1, it is not the same thing, and the text of the amendment can be satisfied in other ways. There is also a secondary activity threshold, which means that 80% of the activities carried out by the controlled person must be on behalf of its controlling authority. I am afraid that neither factor is appropriate to the contracting authority definition and their inclusion would have the effect of taking many organisations outside the scope of the contracting authority definition.
I recognise that, as my noble friend said, consistency is often desirable, but these terms achieve different aims. It is important that the Procurement Bill covers, as closely as possible, the same scope of bodies as in the existing procurement regulations, both for certainty and continuity for our authorities and to ensure compliance with the definition of a contracting authority in our free trade agreements.
I should, in passing, thank my noble friend Lady Noakes for her Amendment 190, which reflects discussion in Committee and which the Government are glad to support.
Moving on, I come to some of the very wide points made by the noble Lord, Lord Alton, although it is possible that some of these will come up again later on Report. It may be disappointing to the noble Lord, but we cannot go into the detail of individual contracts. Where a contract has been found to have underperformed or the PPE provided was not up to standard, the Department of Health and Social Care is working to reach a successful outcome—this includes mediation—for the taxpayer.
Offers for the supply of PPE came from a wide range of people from within government and outside. No matter where they came from, offers went through a robust process of checks and controls led by officials. This included price and quality checks as well as due diligence and credibility. As for Medpro, this is a live issue; we are currently engaged in a mediation process with PPE Medpro and I am therefore unable to comment on the specifics of this contract.
More positively, however, the Covid inquiry will cover procurement and the distribution of key equipment and supplies, including PPE and ventilators. In my view, that is quite right. It will also identify the lessons to be learned from all this and inform preparation for future pandemics across the UK.
I thank the Minister; that is a helpful reply and I am indebted to her. She has referred us to later amendments—I think she is referring to the amendment tabled by her noble friend Lady Stroud in the 10th group, on modern day slavery, which I am supporting—but a number of my questions go much wider than that. I would be appreciative if, between now and our discussion on Wednesday, she could give further consideration to what she can answer, some of which is not covered specifically by the point she has just made about confidentiality. Could she touch on what the noble Baroness, Lady Brinton, is saying now about how the NHS should be caught under the same terms as everything else that she has been arguing? Our failure to do this has been highlighted by the noble Lord, Lord Coaker, and others, and demonstrates an inconsistency in how we handle these things.
I understand. I have tried to answer, although I am obviously somewhat limited by confidentiality. I would also draw the noble Lord’s attention to the Boardman report, of which he is well aware. Nigel Boardman went through the Covid processes and his comments were, on the whole, accepted. As I said, I will look at what the noble Lord, Lord Alton, said and see whether there is anything useful to add before we meet again on Wednesday.
I turn to my Amendment 34 and the comments made by my noble friend Lord Lansley, of Orwell, with whom I have had useful meetings. He is concerned that the procurement objectives in Clause 11 should apply to all procurement, not just to covered procurement. I am afraid I do not agree, as he and I have discussed. This is too wide-ranging and the Clause 11 objectives will not be relevant to the award of all types of non-covered procurement. The concept of procurement is crafted very widely and captures all contracts. For example, it is difficult to see how a contracting authority would be able to apply principles such as having regard to the importance of transparency or the wider public benefit in relation to employment contracts or leasehold agreements exempted under Schedule 2 to the Bill. In addition, it is difficult to see how a contracting authority could have regard to the importance of transparency in a procurement exempted on national security grounds.
We have to be realistic about this. Of course contractors and suppliers must act with integrity—that point was made and I very much agree with it—but that is not a reason to change the whole shape of the Bill and put on contracting authorities new requirements that go very much wider than the sort of thing that we have debated. I hope the noble Lord can see the difficulties that the expansion of these obligations beyond covered procurement would create for contracting authorities, and I hope he will feel able not to press—
My noble friend used the important word “security” in relation to security contracts, but surely Clause 11 and the procurement objectives apply to security contracts that exceed the threshold set in Schedule 1. In what sense is it inappropriate for the objectives or principles set out in Clause 11 to be applied simply because those thresholds fall below about £5 million?
I should reflect further on this. Clearly, some parts of the Bill are carved out. We have discussed this in relation to the NHS and we will discuss it on Wednesday in relation to the Ministry of Defence. We have to be very careful about national security—there is agreement on that across the House. I have been advised that the sheer breadth of Clause 11 would have a damaging effect if we apply this right across the board on procurement, and I am disturbed about that. I am happy to look at that further and talk further to my noble friend Lord Lansley.
I turn finally to my noble friend Lord Maude, who brought in the importance of social enterprises in the health area, which I was extremely keen to hear about and would like to discuss with him further. It seemed to me, when reflecting on what he said, that the greater flexibility to award contracts—which was behind the Health and Social Care Act and the PSR regulations that were being brought forward—was an argument in favour of the approach that we have set out and for some different arrangements in the NHS. I find myself in the slightly awkward position of trying to defend these different arrangements for the NHS because I am worried about the implications for things similar to those that my noble friend raised.
I think that I have dealt with all these comments. I will reflect further on Amendment 34. It is a bit difficult not to move it—
I am a little rusty, so I was just trying to understand what the possibilities were. I thank noble Lords for clarifying that we have some time to reflect on this; it is extremely helpful. I respectfully ask noble Lords not to press their amendments. I will move the government amendments in my name when we reach them, other than Amendment 34.
Amendment 1 agreed.
Clause 1: Contracting authorities
2: Clause 1, page 1, line 5, leave out from first “authority” to end of line 10 on page 2 and insert “, or
(b) in the case of a utilities contract, a public authority, public undertaking or private utility,other than an excluded authority.(2) In this Act—“public authority” means a person that is—(a) wholly or mainly funded out of public funds, or(b) subject to public authority oversight,and does not operate on a commercial basis (but see subsection (8A));“public undertaking” means a person that—(a) is subject to public authority oversight, and(b) operates on a commercial basis;“private utility” means a person that—(a) is not a public authority or public undertaking, and(b) carries out a utility activity.(3) A person is subject to public authority oversight if the person is subject to the management or control of—(a) one or more public authorities, or(b) a board more than half of the members of which are appointed by one or more public authorities.(4) The following are examples of factors to be taken into account in determining whether a person operates on a commercial basis— (a) whether the person operates on the basis that its losses would be borne, or its continued operation secured, by a public authority (whether directly or indirectly);(b) whether the person contracts on terms more favourable than those that might reasonably have been available to it had it not been associated with a public authority;(c) whether the person operates on a market that is subject to fair and effective competition.(5) The following authorities are excluded authorities—(a) a devolved Scottish authority;(b) the Security Service, the Secret Intelligence Service and the Government Communications Headquarters;(c) the Advanced Research and Invention Agency;(d) any person that is subject to public authority oversight—(i) only by reference to a devolved Scottish authority, or(ii) by reference to an authority mentioned in paragraph (b) or (c).”Member’s explanatory statement
This amendment would change the definition of contracting authority to better deal with the difference between a public authority and public undertaking and to exclude certain bodies which, despite their relationship with public authorities, operate on a commercial basis.
3: Clause 1, in subsection (2), in the definition of “public authority”, in paragraph (a), after “funds” insert “including the NHS”
Member’s explanatory statement
This amendment includes the NHS in the definition of a public authority for the purposes of this Act.
My Lords, I am very grateful for the Minister’s response, and I thank my noble friend Lord Scriven for signing my amendment, and the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett, for intending to do so. I also thank the noble Lords, Lord Alton and Lord Coaker, the noble Baroness, Lady Noakes, and others who have spoken in support of it.
I am really grateful to the Minister for trying to explain why there would be less confusion if we had the arrangements currently being proposed under the Health and Care Act in relation to the National Health Service Act 2006 and those in the Procurement Bill. She said that Parliament had debated this only very recently, but I have covered that by saying that, when the then Health and Care Bill went through, we did not know what was being proposed in the Procurement Bill. The details of the Procurement Bill are so much more detailed than was intended or understood during the debate on the Health and Care Bill, so that is a problem.
I am astonished at the idea that accepting my Amendment 3 would create undue bureaucracy; the exact converse is true on all the points the Minister made. When you actually look at Section 12ZB, which will be inserted into the National Health Service Act 2006 after the passage of this Bill, you see that it does not make this clear in its reference to clinical services, which is not legally defined. It not only talks about “health care services” without defining what a healthcare service is, but goes on to say,
“and other goods or services that are procured together with”
them. The mini-debate we had a few minutes about how that would be decided and managed between the Cabinet Office and the Department of Health seems as though it would create a phenomenal amount of bureaucracy and the chance for people to abuse the system.
The Minister said that the arrangement would mean that the Department of Health could ensure that the provision in the Health and Care Act would not be used by the NHS to avoid the more stringent terms in this Bill. However, that seems to be exact reason why the NHS should abide by those stringent terms. For that reason, I would like to test the opinion of the House.
Amendment 4 (to Amendment 2) not moved.
Amendment 2, as amended, agreed.
Amendments 5 and 6
5: Clause 1, page 2, line 22, at end insert—
“(8A) For the purposes of this Act, a person that operates on a commercial basis but is, as a controlled person, awarded an exempted contract by a public authority in reliance on paragraph 2 of Schedule 2 (vertical arrangements) is to be treated as a public authority in relation to any relevant sub-contract.”Member’s explanatory statement
This amendment would ensure that bodies that are awarded contracts by virtue of being controlled by public authorities are treated as public authorities (and therefore as contracting authorities) in relation to contracts awarded for the purpose of performing that contract.
6: Clause 1, page 2, leave out line 25 and insert—
““relevant sub-contract” means a contract substantially for the purpose of performing (or contributing to the performance of) all or any part of the exempted contract;”Member’s explanatory statement
This amendment is connected to the Government amendment to add subsection (8A) and would define “relevant sub-contract”.
Amendments 5 and 6 agreed.
Schedule 1: Threshold Amounts
7: Schedule 1, page 79, line 46, at end insert—
“(2) In this Schedule—(a) a reference to a contract for the supply of goods, services or works to a particular kind of authority includes a reference to a framework for the future award of such contracts;(b) a reference to a works contract includes a reference to a framework for the future award of works contracts.”Member’s explanatory statement
This amendment would ensure that frameworks are properly taken into account in applying the thresholds in Schedule 1.
Amendment 7 agreed.
Schedule 2: Exempted Contracts
8: Schedule 2, page 80, line 5, at end insert “, or
(b) a framework for the future award of contracts only of a kind listed in this Schedule.”Member’s explanatory statement
This amendment would ensure that frameworks only for exempted contracts are exempted contracts.
Amendment 8 agreed.
9: Schedule 2, page 80, line 9, at end insert—
“(3) Sub-paragraph (2) does not apply to contracts of a kind described in paragraph 2 (vertical arrangements) or paragraph 3 (horizontal arrangements).”Member’s explanatory statement
This amendment disapplies the reasonableness test in sub-paragraph 2 to vertical and horizontal contracts so as to preserve the rules which currently apply to public service collaborations.
My Lords, Amendment 9 amends Schedule 2 in relation to exempted contracts. Specifically, it seeks to modify how vertical contracts and horizontal arrangements are allowed to qualify as exempt contracts. I thank my noble friend Lord Moylan for adding his name to the amendment. I should explain that this amendment is in splendid isolation in a group all of its own because I thought that the previous group, which took rather a long time, covered rather too many matters and that the issue I am going to raise would have got lost in it. I apologise for pulling it out separately.
I was prompted to table the amendment by a briefing from the Local Government Association. From our proceedings in Committee, I think that I am in the minority among those who have been following this Bill in that I do not have an association with the Local Government Association to declare because I am not a vice-president or one of those things. However, I did recognise that the point raised by the Local Government Association was important and valid, and that is why I have tabled this amendment, and indeed amendments in two other groups that we will consider on Report.
Before I started on this Procurement Bill, I had little technical knowledge of the vast edifice of EU procurement rules, and I had never heard of the Teckal exemption or, indeed, the Hamburg exemption, which deal with vertical and horizontal arrangements respectively. Those arrangements allow contracts within or between local authorities to be exempt from procurement rules. I now know that these exemptions from the need to engage in competitive procurement processes are important for well-established ways of delivering local authority services. I am generally a competition fanatic, but I can see eminent sense in allowing local authorities to organise themselves internally or in collaboration with other local authorities in a way that delivers services to their local communities without dragging in the full force public procurement rules.
The problem lies in sub-paragraph (2) of paragraph 1, which states that a contract cannot be exempt if the relevant goods or services
“could reasonably be supplied under a separate contract”.
I am advised that this test is not currently part of establishing whether the Teckal or Hamburg exemptions apply under the existing body of procurement law under the EU, so it appears that, in reformulating EU rules for the purposes of the UK in this Bill, we seem to have opened up a new source of challenge for local authorities that want to use the vertical or horizontal arrangements. I cannot see why the Government would want to create by this Bill new barriers for local authorities in areas where services have been delivered successfully over a long period. So my Amendment 9 seeks to exclude the application of sub-paragraph (2) to vertical contracts and horizontal arrangements under paragraphs 2 and 3 of the schedule. It would leave the reasonableness test in place for all the other contracts dealt with in Schedule 2 but would allow local authorities to continue with their internal structures and their cross-authority collaboration arrangements unhindered. I beg to move.
My Lords, I am pleased to have added my name to this amendment in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Noakes. I would like to start by thanking my noble friend the Minister for all the hard work she has done to bring us this far, and for her sympathetic approach to the House. I would also like to thank her for something that I had not expected to see on the part of the Government. The process of drafting legislation is normally arcane and obscure—it is carried out by civil servants and parliamentary draftsmen before anything ever reaches us. But in this case, in this rare Bill, we have actually seen the legislation being drafted, and redrafted, and redrafted further, time and time again, as it progresses with literally hundreds of government amendments. It has been very difficult to follow what is going on, but illuminating as to how laws are actually made—something which I think Bismarck said the public “should never see”, if that is helpful advice to my noble friend.
In Committee, I gave an example of how the Teckal exemption works and how I had experienced it myself during my many years in local government. The Teckal exemption is the EU legal name for the vertical exemption, where local authorities or public bodies come together in order to establish a subsidiary, controlled entity; and there are rules and limits as to what it can do outside—percentages of work and effort and so on—that show whether it qualifies for that exemption so that the local authorities in question do not have to tender it publicly.
There are further examples that I did not mention in relation to horizontal relations between public bodies and local authorities. I find myself, quite by chance, sitting within a foot or two of the noble Lord, Lord Greenhalgh, who had the privilege and honour of being the leader of Hammersmith and Fulham Council in the past, when I had a modest role to play at an adjacent local authority. One of the things we did was to come together to share many of our services, between ourselves and in some cases with a third local authority.
That was an example of horizontal collaboration so that, for example, highway services, library services and things of that sort became shared. I simply say to my noble friend that I think this collaboration would be ruled out under the reasonableness test. Let us say that you are a local authority wishing to share services—or contract services, in some cases—with the local authority to your west. It is, of course, reasonable that the local authority to your east—assuming that you are not entirely surrounded by one local authority—could equally well provide those services. This is not simply about the private sector being an alternative to collaboration; it would be reasonable for another local authority to provide those services rather than this one. If that was the case, you would be stymied; you would not be able to do it without having a tendering process.
The clause is so badly drafted that I think it completely puts an end to horizontal arrangements. My noble friend Lady Noakes has expressed this very well; it is a very simple matter to correct this. It is not the Government’s intention, I am sure, to tie everybody up in knots in this way. It would be very simple for my noble friend on the Front Bench simply to say that my noble friend Lady Noakes has got this absolutely right, and that she will bring forward an amendment in just those terms at Third Reading so that we can solve this and put it to bed.
My Lords, I will speak very briefly. I have just a couple of points to make before I speak to Amendment 9. First, I join the chorus of welcome for the collaborative spirit that the Minister has managed to engender among noble Lords working on the Bill. Secondly, the noble Lord, Lord Lansley—who I see has slipped out—and the noble Lord, Lord Moylan, both mentioned the fog of uncertainty created by the number of government amendments. I have a small mea culpa as to why some of those have been carried over on Report. Those of your Lordships who were in Grand Committee will remember the outrage caused by 340-odd government amendments landing without an explanation. That caused me to push them back, so I am afraid that I am responsible for their reappearance. However, that did what we wanted it to do: it gave us time to understand and follow those amendments. I think this amendment arises from the perspective we have had in that time.
Two things have happened which I never thought would: first, I find myself in almost complete agreement with the noble Lord, Lord Moylan; and, secondly, he appears to be calling for the emulation of the EU in British law. When we get to the retained EU law revocation Bill, I am sure he can join me to make similar entreaties from his position at the back of the Chamber. Joking aside, the point here is whether this was deliberate or an accident; we are waiting to hear from the Minister on that. This issue reflects a number of debates, certainly the one we have had on Amendment 34—which I trust will come back at Third Reading rather than being agreed here—and one that we will have in a later group in which the noble Earl, Lord Lindsay, has highlighted another issue.
More generally, whatever happens to the Bill on Report, there is a real need for people to sit down with cold towels on their heads and go through the Bill line by line one more time before we get to Third Reading. Because there have been so many amendments, it has been almost impossible to follow properly what is happening. We have all done our best, and the Minister has worked like a Trojan—as have your Lordships—but I think that there is a strong call for further work to be done once we get through Report stage on Wednesday evening.
With that, I support the attempts of the noble Baroness, Lady Noakes, in Amendment 9 to get some clarity on this, and I support the spirit of her speech.
My Lords, I rise because I was named by my noble friend Lord Moylan, and because this is a subject that I feel very passionately about, as someone who spent 16 years as a councillor and six years as a council leader. Indeed, I am very proud of the work we did to collaborate. It is something that came to me a little late in my local government career, because I used to believe in two things: competition and fear—that is, fear of failure—but collaboration is also important in local government.
My noble friend Lord Moylan pointed to the vision we had in west London to come together to collaborate to drive down costs. In fact, when it came to library services, it was very much in the back offices that we could make savings so that libraries could stay open and the public could be served by excellent libraries. We worked very carefully across a whole range of areas, such as highways and helping children across west London who needed safeguarding and support to find potential parents who could look after them, in a way that would not have been possible without collaboration.
I am also a huge fan of mutualisation. I know that is coming up in group 6, but I want to say that as someone who was a pathfinder of the work that my noble friend Lord Maude brought forward. The organisation that was spun out of the council to provide school support services exists today and is trading very well with officers I had as senior officers in Hammersmith and Fulham. They preferred a life outside the council. I pay tribute to that movement. It had real vision behind it. It did not involve competition and was really about empowering people to provide the services that they were already providing in a better and more comprehensive way. I think that was a tremendous pathfinder and I only wish that it could have been rolled out more widely across local government and the public sector.
I probably should have declared my business interests as set out in the register before starting to speak. However, I can honestly tell noble Lords that I have absolutely nothing to do with public procurement in my business life because today it takes a long time. It is really difficult and the barriers to entry are very great. I am sure the purpose of this Procurement Bill is to make sure that public procurement works for the benefit of those services and we can use competition in a sensible way and it can be streamlined. I think the purpose of the amendment from my noble friend Lady Noakes is to ensure that, where local trading companies exist, they will not fall foul of the reasonableness test and things have to be put out to competition. In fact, as a council leader I bought a communications service from the City of Westminster because of the expertise it had in comms. That was an expertise that existed only in Westminster City Council, and I did not think that that needed to go out to competition. So I think we need to be sensible.
As a true loyalist, I support the Government if they can point out how a reasonable test can work to ensure that there is not unnecessary tendering in this instance. Provided I get those reassurances, I am happy to support the Minister in her endeavours to ensure that we sort out these areas and preserve areas such as local authority trading companies that provide an important part of services in local government.
My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Noakes, for her introduction to her amendment which was very clearly laid out. Again, I would like to join with other noble Lords who talked about the number of government amendments, not just here but in Committee. People who were here on the first day will probably remember that I was a little bit cross about it. But in response, the Minister has really grappled with our concerns in the lead-up to Report and I appreciate the time that she has spent doing that.
I will be brief. I will just say that we strongly support the noble Baroness, Lady Noakes, with her amendment. She clearly laid out why this is important for local authorities and by including her amendment you increase the efficiency of the public sector when it is structuring the way it delivers its services, much of which do not need to include the procurement laws that we see before us. All I would say is that it is important that we can ensure that local authorities and other public sectors bodies within this area can continue to deliver better public services and make savings, as the noble Lord just mentioned, by collaboration, working together and sharing services. That makes eminent sense, and I would hope that the Minister will be able to reflect on that.
My Lords, Amendment 9 tabled by the noble friends Lady Noakes and Lord Moylan—whom I am very glad to see back in this place—seeks to preserve the rules which currently apply to public service collaborations at paragraph 2 and 3 of Schedule 2. It was also very good to hear from my noble friend Lord Greenhalgh with his extensive local government experience.
I agree that the Bill needs to preserve these rules but believe that we have already done so. Paragraph 1(2)—to which the noble Baroness referred—says that a contract is not exempted if the main purpose of the contract could reasonably be supplied under a different contract, and that contract would not itself be an exempted contract. This provision serves to close a loophole where contracts that are mixed—that is that they contain both exempted activities and not exempted activities—might be inappropriately exempted from the regime.
However, unlike the exemptions for specific activities, all types of goods, services and works contracts are capable of being exempted under the vertical and horizontal exemptions, so the second part of the test at Schedule 2(1)(2)(b) is not met. The contract would remain exempt.
While I believe that we have preserved the rules, the Bill needs to be better understood by users and stakeholders. My noble friend Lord Greenhalgh also made some good points about unnecessary tendering. I met the Local Government Association, as I was concerned about this provision, and my officials are engaging with it following its representations to reach a common understanding. They will come back to me with an amendment that could be put forward in the House of Commons to clarify this provision, should one prove necessary. It will take a bit of time. Accordingly, I ask my noble friend to withdraw the amendment.
My Lords, I thank all noble Lords who have taken part in this short debate and those noble Lords who supported this amendment. I was delighted to hear what the Minister had to say, which was in the spirit of the quest for a good procurement system for this country that has permeated the way we have operated on this Bill to date. I am sure that the discussions with the Local Government Association will prove fruitful. On that basis, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 9 withdrawn.
10: Schedule 2, page 84, line 2, leave out from “contract” to end of line 3 and insert “that is required to be awarded in accordance with the public service obligations regulations.
(2) In this paragraph, “the public service obligations regulations” has the meaning given by section 136(11) of the Railways Act 1993.”Member’s explanatory statement
This amendment would specify what public passenger transport services are within scope of this exemption.
My Lords, the next group covers a number of government amendments concerning our agreeing to implement the recommendations made by the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee in its report on the Bill, published on 14 June 2022. This report was gratefully received, and the Government wish to thank the committee for its contributions. The Government have also tabled amendments to implement other recommendations from the DPRRC, which we will discuss when we debate amendments relating to utilities.
There are a number of places in the Bill where we apply financial thresholds which trigger obligations on a contracting authority. Amendments 175 to 178, 181 and 182 relate to the publication of contracts, the publication of information about payments, the requirement for pipeline notices and obligations relating to notices to be published in relation to below-threshold contracts. As drafted, these thresholds are to be amended by way of secondary legislation subject to the negative procedure.
However, the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee recommended that where these thresholds are increased above inflation, they should be subject to the affirmative procedure. This is to ensure greater scrutiny where there is a change in transparency. This amendment actually goes further than the report’s recommendation. It ensures that where these thresholds need to be changed for any reason, the affirmative procedure should apply. We consider that the same rationale applies in relation to the threshold for publication of KPIs, which was not mentioned in the report, and will bring forward an amendment to achieve this as soon as parliamentary time allows.
The one exception is Clause 80, which, in relation to below-threshold contracts, prohibits the prior exclusion of suppliers on the basis of suitability. In this case, it is reasonable to maintain the use of the negative procedure, given that the thresholds applicable to this clause are aligned to the government procurement agreement thresholds which are also amended by the negative procedure.
Amendment 10 addresses the DPRRC’s concern that the power to define public passenger transport services as exempt under Schedule 2(17) gives a wide discretion to Ministers. This amendment removes the power entirely and defines the services to be exempt by reference to the “public service obligations regulations”, which are defined by reference to Section 136(11) of the Railways Act 1993.
Amendment 12 relates to Paragraph 34 in Schedule 2, which carries over an exemption for concession contracts for the operation of a public service obligation for air services contained in the existing regime. These are air services provided for public interest reasons, where availability of other modes of transport or other air services is insufficient to serve the transport needs of a UK region. They typically require a subsidy, as otherwise they would not be economical to run. Examples include Dundee to London City Airport and Newquay to London Gatwick. This exemption is necessary as public service obligations for air services are awarded under a separate regime.
As it stands, the Bill exempts these types of contracts by reference to air services provided by a qualifying air carrier as defined by secondary legislation. The Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee has expressed concerns that this regulation-making power is too broad. To address these concerns, this amendment replaces the regulation-making power with a provision which defines the contracts that are to be exempted on the face of the Bill. It does this by defining what the contract does, that is implement a public service obligation, rather than by who the air carrier is. This is a good solution to what has proved to be an intricate technical problem.
Amendment 165 responds to a recommendation of the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee. Paragraph 3(3) of Schedule 10 amends Section 15 of the Defence Reform Act 2014 to provide a power to specify an alternative method of determining the price payable under a qualifying defence contract and the circumstances under which that method is to be used. The committee’s view was that regulations brought forward under this power should follow an affirmative procedure. The Government accept the committee’s view, and hence this amendment. I hope noble Lords will therefore support these government amendments. I beg to move.
My Lords, we should all be grateful to the DPRRC for its vigilance and thoroughness in scrutinising legislation and this is no exception. A familiar sequence is nearly complete: first, the Government present a Bill threatening to take constitutional liberties to take on board powers for the Executive that should be with Parliament; next, the DPRRC highlights these grabs for power in a hard-hitting report; then one of us presents these issues in Committee via a series of amendments; and, we hope, finally, on Report, the Government accede to almost all the DPRRC’s concerns, although they often keep one or two extra powers in their back pocket, just in case they need them later.
And so it is today with the arrival of this sequence of amendments and we should note how many there are, which indicates how much the Government were planning to take on board. The music of this dance is beginning to fade and sufficient has been done by the Government for us to move on, but I feel sure that the yen for power snatching by the Executive continues and it is already focused on other Bills. I wish it was not.
My Lords, I agree with much of what the noble Lord, Lord Fox, has just said. The Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee’s report was particularly damning and some of the language that it used about the Procurement Bill was, frankly, very surprising. It would be churlish now not to thank the Government for listening to what that committee said and for bringing forward the amendments that the Minister outlined for us. We welcome the change of heart on the part of the Government and hope that they will learn from what has taken place and make sure that we do not have a blanket change, which was what happened here. Normally, there would be two or three arguments about negative to affirmative; this is like a blanket change of heart on the part of the Government, but it is very much to be welcomed.
I wish to highlight government Amendment 165. The Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee was particularly exercised by the fact that the Government were seeking to change primary legislation in the Defence Reform Act through the negative resolution procedure. It was particularly concerned that the Government were seeking to do that, notwithstanding its other concerns. The Government have re-established an important principle that primary legislation should be treated with the respect that it deserves. I am pleased that the Government have put forward Amendment 165 to ensure that, at the very least, primary legislation in that respect is changed through the affirmative resolution procedure. We welcome the changes the Government have made and think they will be helpful as we make progress, not only in this Chamber but in the other place.
It remains for me to thank both noble Lords for their support for these government amendments and their helpful comments. I take on board the comments of the noble Lord, Lord Coaker, about the Defence Reform Act and the comments of the DPRRC in that regard. We will, obviously, be saying more on defence procurement on Wednesday.
Amendment 10 agreed.
11: Schedule 2, page 86, line 35, at end insert—
“32A_ A contract for the supply of goods, services or works wholly or mainly for the purpose of an activity that would be a utility activity if it were not specified in Part 2 of Schedule 4.”Member’s explanatory statement
This amendment would ensure that exemptions to the scope of utilities contracts under Part 2 of Schedule 4 apply to exempt those contracts from the Bill where entered into by public authorities.
My Lords, this next group refers to utilities. Amendments 11, 13, 14, 17, 20, 21, 22, 169, 174, 180 and 184 relate to an exemption for utility activities exposed to competition. The amendments to Clause 5 and Schedule 4, and a consequential amendment to Schedule 2, are again in response to the concern of the DPRRC that the power to establish a procedure to exempt utilities subject to competition from the Bill amounted to a skeleton clause. The Government will replace this power with one that requires the exemptions to be made by secondary legislation under an affirmative procedure. This will afford Parliament greater scrutiny to review each exemption. The test to be satisfied for an exemption remains that there is fair and effective competition in the relevant utility market, and that entry to that market is unrestricted.
Noble Lords should note that Amendment 22 adds Part 2 to Schedule 4, which sets out the utility activities which are exempt from procurement regulations. These reflect exemptions that exist under the current regime, which are preserved by Amendment 169 in order that they are available under the Scottish procurement regulations.
Amendments 174, 180 and 184 ensure that the affirmative procedure applies to an exercise of the power.
Amendments 15 and 16 ensure that the definition of private utilities and contracting authority interact as intended and that a private utility is only a contracting authority in respect of the utility activities for which the utility has a special or exclusive right.
Amendments 18 and 19 revise the description of a utility activity in the transport sector in paragraph 4 of Schedule 4.
Amendments 56, 71 and 200 speed up procurements and reduce the burden for utilities using a utilities dynamic market—a UDM—by only requiring utilities to provide tender notices of upcoming procurements to suppliers on a UDM or appropriate part of a UDM, instead of having to publish notices. In practice, this means utilities can, for example, provide the tender notice to suppliers on the UDM as part of the associated tender documents as each procurement under the UDM is commenced.
In order to take advantage of this flexibility, the notice setting up the UDM must meet minimum information requirements, which will be set out in regulations under Clause 88. Utilities must specify in the UDM notice that only members of the UDM will be provided with tender notices. The notice setting up the UDM will be published continuously and will remain open so new members can join at any time. If accepted, they would then be entitled to receive tender notices.
Amendment 77 to Clause 48 will allow private utilities to adopt a voluntary standstill period to direct award contracts instead of a mandatory one. This means private utilities will take a risk-based decision on whether to apply a standstill period to a direct award procurement. It is in keeping with only regulating private utilities’ procurement to the extent necessary under our international obligations. I will turn to the amendment in the name of my noble friend Lord Lansley in my closing speech, having heard the points he raises. I beg to move.
My Lords, I am most grateful to my noble friend, not least because she referred to Amendment 169 in her helpful introduction to these amendments on utilities. Happily, we have reached the end of the Bill quite early on; that amendment relates to the very last page—page 118—where, in the present draft of the Bill, Commission decisions relating to public contract regulations, utilities and so on were to be repealed. Her explanation is interesting, in that it retains these European Commission decisions as retained EU law for the benefit of the Scottish regime. I am slightly perplexed as to why they were to be repealed in the first place since, presumably, the Scottish regime would have required them for this purpose regardless. However, that is just a question and it is only a matter of curiosity that I ask it.
My Amendment 23 is an amendment to government Amendment 22. As my noble friend made clear, the DPRRC said that this was a skeleton clause and was particularly unhelpful because it disguised the fact that policy had not been developed. I do not know whether that is the case or not; the point is that Ministers have come forward with a proposal for how these exemption decisions should work in relation to utility activities. I remind noble Lords that there are activities, and there are utility activities. The effect of Schedule 2 is to make it clear that certain activities should not be regarded as utility activities because they are in fair and effective competition and there are no restrictions on entry to that market. The decisions that were made were about electricity, gas and oil extraction, production and generation.
That being the case, the policy decisions in government Amendments 17 and 22, which my noble friend has explained, have the effect in Amendment 22 of saying, “These are the existing exemption decisions”. Government Amendment 17 says that, in future, Ministers can add to them or subtract from them by regulation. The point of my Amendment 23 is to ask, “When Ministers were reaching a view as to how these exemption decisions should be made in future, why did they not look at the Competition and Markets Authority, which we have as our own creature for the making of competition-related decisions, and put to it the job of determining whether a given activity in the utilities sector—actually, it would also be true in other sectors if exemption decisions were sought—is in fair and effective competition and there are no restrictions to the market?”
If my noble friend says, “Ah, but when Ministers make regulations, they will of course take advice from the Competition and Markets Authority”, I will be very happy. If she does not say that, however, I will be nervous, because what is the point of having the Competition and Markets Authority able to make such decisions in lieu of what used to be the European Commission’s responsibility if Ministers are going to pre-empt it themselves? I hope that she will be able to give me that reassurance about the use of the CMA for making competition-related decisions.
My Lords, I thank the Government for tabling a lot of the amendments, which have helped to bring clarification around utilities; quite a bit of confusion was expressed in Committee. I also remind the noble Baroness, Lady Neville-Rolfe, who is not currently in her place, that she did say that we should be extremely careful about regulating private utilities in Committee. These amendments seriously have her stamp on them; I thank her for that. The noble Lord, Lord Lansley, made some important points. I hope that the noble Baroness, Lady Bloomfield, listened carefully and can give the reassurances that he requested.
My Lords, I have indeed listened carefully throughout the passage of the Bill and in our discussions with many noble Lords, including my noble friend Lord Lansley—as has my noble friend Lady Neville-Rolfe.
Amendment 23 from my noble friend Lord Lansley has been tabled to reintroduce the test on whether a utility activity is operating under competitive conditions. I reassure Peers that this competition test has not been removed from the Bill but would be moved from Schedule 4 to the main body of the Bill by government Amendment 17. This amendment would insert after Clause 5(5) a provision that allows an appropriate authority to make changes to the list of exempted utilities by regulations, provided that it is satisfied that the activity is subject to fair and effective competition and entry to the relevant market is unrestricted. Any changes to the list in paragraph 2 of Schedule 4 will be brought about by this power; Amendment 23 is therefore not needed. Similarly, we have addressed the first part of my noble friend’s amendment with government Amendments 13 and 14 to Clause 5.
With regard to my noble friend’s point about the Competition and Markets Authority, we have engaged with the CMA in preparation for our provisions in this area; we will continue to engage with it and other relevant government and regulatory bodies. However, the important thing is that Parliament is able to scrutinise the exemptions. It is not necessary to prescribe the internal processes leading up to making an exemption. Parliament will have the opportunity to ask what process and engagement has taken place for each exemption when regulations are introduced; that is why we changed the nature of the power so that regulations under the affirmative procedure are required any time an appropriate authority wishes to make or amend an exemption.
I therefore hope that my noble friend Lord Lansley will feel able not to move his amendment and that noble Lords will support the government amendments.
Amendment 11 agreed.
12: Schedule 2, page 86, line 40, leave out from “contract” to end of line 45 and insert “that—
(a) confers an exclusive right to operate a relevant scheduled air service for a period of four years or a series of periods falling within a period of four years, and(b) imposes minimum service requirements in respect of that service during those periods.(2) In this paragraph—“air service” means a flight, or a series of flights, carrying passengers or cargo (including mail);“airport” means any area especially adapted for air services;“relevant scheduled air service” means an air service that—(a) operates between two airports within the United Kingdom or within the United Kingdom and Gibraltar, and(b) the Secretary of State considers to be necessary in order to maintain sufficient transport links between the areas served by the airports.”Member’s explanatory statement
This amendment would more precisely define the concession contracts subject to this exemption.
Amendment 12 agreed.
Clause 5: Utilities contracts
Amendments 13 to 17
13: Clause 5, page 4, line 2, leave out “of a kind specified in” and insert “specified in Part 1 of”
Member’s explanatory statement
This amendment is consequential on the Government amendment to paragraphs 7 and 8 of Schedule 4 and the insertion of a new Part of Schedule 4.
14: Clause 5, page 4, line 2, at end insert—
“(aa) is not specified in Part 2 of Schedule 4,”Member’s explanatory statement
This amendment is consequential on the Government amendments to paragraphs 7 and 8 of Schedule 4 and the insertion of a new Part of Schedule 4.
15: Clause 5, page 4, line 3, at end insert “, and
(c) in the case of an activity carried out by a person that is not a public authority or public undertaking, is carried out pursuant to a special or exclusive right.” Member’s explanatory statement
This amendment would ensure that a private utility is only a contracting authority in respect of the utility activities for which the utility has a special or exclusive right.
16: Clause 5, page 4, line 4, leave out subsection (3)
Member’s explanatory statement
This amendment is consequential on the Government amendment to subsection (2) inserting new paragraph (c).
17: Clause 5, page 4, line 21, at end insert—
“(5A) An appropriate authority may by regulations amend Part 2 of Schedule 4 for the purpose of—(a) specifying an activity, or(b) removing an activity.(5B) Regulations under subsection (5A) may not specify an activity unless the authority is satisfied that—(a) the activity is carried out on a market that is subject to fair and effective competition, and(b) entry to that market is unrestricted.”Member’s explanatory statement
This amendment would allow an appropriate authority to amend Part 2 of Schedule 4, which sets out activities which are not to fall within the definition of utility activity.
Amendments 13 to 17 agreed.
Schedule 4: Utility activities
Amendments 18 to 21
18: Schedule 4, page 90, line 24, after second “the” insert “general”
Member’s explanatory statement
This amendment would clarify that networks are to be available to the general public to fall within this utility activity.
19: Schedule 4, page 90, line 26, leave out sub-paragraph (2)
Member’s explanatory statement
This amendment would remove the definition of “network”.
20: Schedule 4, page 91, line 2, leave out paragraphs 7 and 8
Member’s explanatory statement
This amendment, and the Government amendments to Clause 5, would replace a process for exempting activities from being utility activities with those exempted activities being specified in a new Part 2 of Schedule 4.
21: Schedule 4, page 91, line 43, after “this” insert “Part of this”
Member’s explanatory statement
This amendment would be consequential on the division of Schedule 4 into two Parts.
Amendments 18 to 21 agreed.
22: Schedule 4, page 92, line 3, at end insert—
“PART 2ACTIVITIES THAT ARE NOT UTILITY ACTIVITIES10_ Generation of electricity in England, Scotland or Wales.11_ Production of electricity in England, Scotland or Wales.12_ Wholesale or retail sale of electricity in England, Scotland or Wales. 13_ Wholesale or retail sale of gas in England, Scotland or Wales.14_ Exploration for oil in England, Scotland or Wales.15_ Exploration for natural gas in England, Scotland or Wales.16_ Production of oil in England, Scotland or Wales.17_ Production of natural gas in England, Scotland or Wales.18_ Development of infrastructure for production of oil in England, Scotland or Wales.19_ Development of infrastructure for production of natural gas in England, Scotland or Wales.”Member’s explanatory statement
This amendment would expressly set out the activities that are not to be utility activities under the Bill.
Amendment 23 (to Amendment 22) not moved.
Amendment 22 agreed.
Clause 9: Mixed procurement: special regime contracts
Amendments 24 to 28
24: Clause 9, page 7, line 10, after “contract” insert “of the same kind (or at all)”
Member’s explanatory statement
This amendment and the other Government amendments to this clause would ensure that one contract cannot benefit from the exceptions applicable to more than one special regime in circumstances where the contract could reasonably be split into more than one contract falling within different regimes.
25: Clause 9, page 7, line 20, after “contract” insert “of the same kind (or at all)”
Member’s explanatory statement
This amendment would do the same as the Government amendment to subsection (1) of this Clause, but for frameworks.
26: Clause 9, page 7, line 25, leave out from “apply” to “the” in line 26 and insert “to prevent the contract from being treated as a defence and security contract if”
Member’s explanatory statement
This amendment is consequential on the Government amendments to subsections (1) and (2) of this clause, and ensures that a contract falling within more than one special regime but that is capable of being a defence and security contract would still be categorised as a defence and security contract.
27: Clause 9, page 7, line 36, at end insert—
“and a reference to a special regime contract of a particular kind is a reference to a special regime contract of a kind described in paragraph (a), (b), (c) or (d).”Member’s explanatory statement
This amendment would define concepts inserted by the Government amendments to subsections (1) and (2) of this clause.
28: Clause 9, page 7, line 37, leave out from “determining” to end of line 38 and insert “whether a contract is a public contract”
Member’s explanatory statement
This amendment is consequential on the other Government amendments to this clause and would ensure that the proposition in subsection (3) does not apply when determining whether a contract is a public contract under clause 2 and Schedule 1.
Amendments 24 to 28 agreed.
Clause 10: Procurement only in accordance with this Act
Amendments 29 to 32
29: Clause 10, page 8, line 4, after second “a” insert “covered”
Member’s explanatory statement
This amendment is consequential on the change in terminology in new clause before clause 1.
30: Clause 10, page 8, line 6, leave out subsection (2)
Member’s explanatory statement
This amendment is consequential on the change in terminology in new clause before clause 1.
31: Clause 10, page 8, line 13, leave out “only award a public contract” and insert “not enter into a public contract unless it is awarded”
Member’s explanatory statement
This amendment would clarify that a contracting authority may not enter into a public contract unless it is awarded in accordance with the procedures for awarding a public contract in the Bill.
32: Clause 10, page 8, line 19, leave out subsections (4) and (5)
Member’s explanatory statement
This amendment is consequential on the definitions contained in subsections (4) and (5) being moved to new clause before clause 1.
Amendments 29 to 32 agreed.
33: After Clause 10, insert the following new Clause—
(1) In carrying out a procurement, a contracting authority must pursue the following principles—(a) promoting the public good, by having regard to the delivery of strategic national priorities including economic, social, environmental and public safety priorities,(b) value for money, by having regard to the optimal whole-life blend of economy, efficiency and effectiveness that achieves the intended outcome of the business case, (c) transparency, by acting openly to underpin accountability for public money, anti-corruption and the effectiveness of procurements,(d) integrity, by providing good management, preventing misconduct, and control in order to prevent fraud and corruption,(e) fair treatment of suppliers, by ensuring that decision-making is impartial and without conflict of interest, and(f) non-discrimination, by ensuring that decision-making is not discriminatory.(2) If a contracting authority considers that it is unable to act in accordance with any of these principles in a particular case, it must—(a) take all reasonable steps to ensure it does not put a supplier at an unfair advantage or disadvantage, and(b) publish a report within 90 days setting out the principles with which it could not act in accordance and its reasons.”Member’s explanatory statement
This amendment would require contracting authorities to pursue a series of principles when carrying out procurements.
My Lords, I have a number of amendments in this group. First, Amendment 33 refers back to the principles that we debated at length in Committee; they were originally in the Government’s Green Paper and were consulted on. Our concern is that those principles were then left out of the Bill even though the objectives were included, so my amendment
“would require contracting authorities to pursue a series of principles when carrying out procurements.”
Amendments 35 and 36 in my name look to
“require social and public value to be considered in the procurement objectives.”
We believe that social and public value are important requirements for any contracting authority to consider, so I have asked for that to be put through to the procurement objectives. This would encourage anyone contracting, for example, to work with local suppliers; to encourage contractors to reduce their CO2 emissions; to encourage the hiring of more apprentices; and to encourage greater diversity. If you are going to deliver the levelling up that the Government are so keen on and achieve net zero, it is important to include these principles.
We know that social value is included in the national procurement policy statement but it is not referred to in the Bill itself. We also know that public benefit is mentioned in the Bill, but that is a pretty vague concept. It is not clear to us how social value would sit within that framework.
I also have Amendment 46. We debated at length in Committee the national procurement policy statement. Many concerns were raised about the Government expecting Members to take at face value the fact that certain things can be included in the NPPS, but, of course, we have absolutely no guarantees other than that the Government are saying that they will be. Clearly, once the Bill becomes an Act, we will need to see a new NPPS, so we believe that the Bill should include the set of principles that need to be within that NPPS so we can have confidence that it will deliver what it needs to do.
My Amendment 48 aims to subject the NPPS statement and amendments to the affirmative procedure so that the existing one will remain in force if, for any reason, a new statement is rejected. We think this is an important fallback position.
Finally, my Amendment 96 creates a process to ensure contracting authorities safeguard the public interest when considering whether to outsource or recontract services. This is something that has been raised with us by a number of different contracting authorities that want that flexibility.
There are a number of other amendments in this group which we support, and I will just draw attention to a few. My noble friend Lord Hunt has an amendment on adding accessibility to the objectives. The noble Baroness, Lady Worthington, has an important amendment on defining public benefit. We know how strongly she feels about the environment and, again, we have debated that at length. It is really important that we do not lose that in the further discussions. The noble Lord, Lord Lansley, has a number of amendments that we support, and we look forward to hearing his introduction to them.
Finally, it is really important there is clarity around principles and objectives as this Bill goes through the process of becoming an Act. Good sentiment from the Government and the Minister are not sufficient to ensure that we actually have good procurement at the end of the day. That is what we want to see. I beg to move.
My Lords, I will speak to Amendment 42 in my name in this group and in support of Amendments 46 and 47. I will keep my comments brief. We had a very good debate in Committee about what should go into the Bill in relation to the principles that will guide procurement. In my amendment, I sought to be as precise as possible and selected two specific issues relating to climate change and biodiversity loss. The reason for that is that it has been pointed out to me that society’s priorities shift over time and primary legislation should be regarded as very serious: you therefore should not put a long shopping list of things into it. However, on these two issues, I cannot imagine a time henceforth when we will not be concerned about the impacts of climate change or biodiversity loss. The Government have a huge lever for change to drive investments into solutions. It would be a great shame if we were not to make it very clear in the Bill that this lever is something that we are willing and want to use.
The more the public purse can create markets and drive investment, the more we can rely on the private sector to come forward with innovation. It will bring down the cost over time. If we do not use public procurement, we will be expecting more from our private sector, and it will debatable whether it will be able to enter into markets that are highly mature and overcapitalised. We are not talking about a level playing field here. If you want private solutions to come in, you have to support them either through government policy, through taxation or through procurement. This Bill is a huge lever that I hope we will pull.
Although I would be delighted to test the will of the House of Amendment 42, it is actually more important that we put these principles in on the operational aspects of this Bill, in which case Amendments 46 and 47, which relate to national policy planning guidance, are hugely important, and I support both of those amendments. I look forward to hearing those who speak to them and to the Government’s response.
My Lords, I am glad to follow the noble Baroness, Lady Worthington. I signed her Amendment 42 and I thoroughly agree with it. Indeed, I agree with all the points she made, including—I am grateful to her for saying it—the importance of focusing on the national procurement policy statement. In a sense, while it would be helpful for Clause 11 on procurement objectives to clarify what is meant by “public benefit”, there is always a risk that we either have a broad-ranging—no disrespect to it—but perfectly understandable series of statements, as in Amendment 33 moved by the noble Baroness opposite, or, as with Amendment 42, by narrowing it down, we somehow make people imagine that we have excluded these other terribly important objectives. My noble friend would doubtless say that the more we put into the procurement objectives, the more difficult it will be for contracting authorities to comply with competing considerations and so on. There is a lack of flexibility in that.
I thoroughly agree, therefore, with the proposition that we need to focus on the national procurement policy statement. The Government will publish that. As we know from other contexts, that is what the contracting authorities are going to look at. We know that the NPPS will include the Government’s strategic priorities, but we do not know what those are. The question then immediately emerges: is it proper for Parliament to have a view about that, or should we just say, “When the time comes, the Government will say what their strategic priorities are, and that’s good enough for us”?
Amendment 47 is limited in precisely the way the noble Baroness who signed the amendment said. It does not tell the Government to have a long list of strategic priorities. They may have their own strategic priorities but, during the Committee debates, noble Lords who were there will recall that there were some clear strategic priorities which the Committee wanted to see reflected in the Government’s statement. They included, perhaps most prominently, the environmental issues. One way of doing it which should cause the Government the least possible vexation is to do it by specific reference to the existing statutory targets set out in the Climate Change Act and the Environment Act—that is, to make it clear that they must ask contracting authorities to do the things that they are statutorily obliged to do in any case. They might say that that is unnecessary: actually it is not, because we all know that when these are reflected properly in the strategic priorities of the NPPS, the authorities will do it. If they are not reflected in the strategic priorities in the NPPS, they might be on statute but the authorities may well not do it. We have to make sure that they do it.
Turning to the second strategic priority in Amendment 47—requirements set out in the Public Services (Social Value) Act—I am glad that my noble friend Lord Maude of Horsham is in his place, because he will know that reflecting the strategic priority on that social value legislation is precisely one of the mechanisms for ensuring that social enterprises are given the priority they deserve. For example—I hesitate, in speaking to my noble friend, to cite this—but the European Commission document Buying for Social Impact, published in 2018, had a range of examples from across Europe, one of which was from Scotland. The Scottish example said that one of the implications of buying for social impact has been the use of not-for-profit and social enterprises in respect of public procurement. It is therefore a very effective way of bringing that to the forefront.
Thirdly, on promoting innovation among potential suppliers, I say that we have had that debate many times. The word “innovation” does not appear anywhere in the Bill. If we are to have, as I am sure we must, innovation as one of the clear central approaches to public procurement, for the benefit of public services and the economy, it must be reflected in the NPPS. I have altered the wording “among UK suppliers” because I do not wish it to be thought in any way discriminatory. It must be just “among suppliers”. When our current Prime Minister was Chancellor of the Exchequer, he put innovation at the forefront of his economic approach to improving productivity. Our present Chancellor of the Exchequer did the same in his Autumn Statement just the other week.
Finally, not least because I cannot imagine that a Government would not put it among their strategic priorities in public procurement, reducing fraud, eliminating waste and avoiding abuse of public money must be a strategic priority for every contracting authority. My point here is a bit like our earlier discussion. If not these, what will the Government put as strategic priorities? These must be among them. They are not limited to these, but it would be incredible if the Government did not include these as strategic priorities—and, from my point of view, if they are in the NPPS, they apply to all procurements. The Government can make it very clear in the statement how these are to be translated from priorities to actions by contracting authorities, but we must wait to see that.
I have other amendments which, unlike Amendment 47, I hope that it will not be necessary to press. Although changing “may” to “must” is a classic of its kind in this House, I am pretty sure that the Government have sufficient incentive to publish a statement that they are certain to do so. Amendment 44, about doing so within 12 months, is simply a probing amendment to see whether the Minister will say when the Government intend to publish such a statement—because, in the absence of it, it is very difficult to see how the overall reforms are to be given sufficient implementation.
My noble friend the Minister has listened very carefully and patiently. I have discussed with her how consultation should be on a draft of the statement. There is a risk that it would be consultation simply on a set of questions. When you get close to a statement of this kind, it is important for public bodies and contracting authorities and their representatives to see the terms in which the Government are proposing to lay a statement and to have an opportunity to comment on the terms of the statement. However, it is not necessary to press this into the statute. I just hope that it will be regarded as the best practice on the part of Ministers when the time comes.
I hope that my noble friend can respond positively to the strategic priorities in Amendment 47. I look forward to hearing what she has to say. However, if it is not sufficiently positive, I may need to test the opinion of the House on Amendment 47.
My Lords, I draw attention to my interests as set out in the register. I am co-owner of a company that provides advice to Governments outside the UK on issues of public sector reform, including procurement—a subject that is not dear to very many people’s hearts but is to mine. I am delighted to have the chance to speak on this important group of amendments.
I assume that it is accepted everywhere that the primary purpose of good procurement law and practice is to ensure that the goods and services being procured provide excellent value and the best quality for the money. That trade-off between the two should always be primary. The various objectives and principles that are adumbrated in the amendments tabled by my noble friend Lord Lansley, and the noble Baronesses, Lady Hayman and Lady Worthington, are all excellent. I mean no offence when I say that they are motherhood and apple pie. No one would be against any of them, they are good things. The question is the extent to wish you should build into law the obligation for these to be taken into account in the ways laid out in the various amendments.
My noble friend Lord Lansley referred to the Public Services (Social Value) Act 2012, which I was very glad about as I was the Minister responsible for it. It was a Private Member’s Bill in the other place, but I was very happy that the Government supported it and saw it into law. It was very much a permissive Act. The objective was to make it clear that procurements were not to be just an arithmetic exercise looking at the pure financial value of bids but that you could look at wider social value.
However, when the coalition Government was formed in 2010 and we started to look at how procurement was being done, procurement policy was being used as a sort of Christmas tree on which many different policies were being hung. My recollection is that there were something like 11 different policies. All of them were very good. None of them was something we did not want to take seriously or thought did not matter. There were environmental and social policies, and others concerning training and apprenticeships; a whole range of interesting and good objectives. I have to say that we fairly ruthlessly stripped them out because, like now, the Government had a significant budget deficit and it is essential that primacy must be given to value for money. So we stripped them out, but that was not in any way to suggest that those factors could not be put into a request for proposal—RFP—or tender document, in the way that a number of your Lordships want to see happen on a routine basis.
The key to this is bespoking. There will be many cases where the inclusion of wider requirements makes sense and will not skew or bias a particular procurement in a way that damages its value for money—but there will be some where this is damaging, and this must be addressed close to the chalkface by those who are doing the procurement. As I said at Second Reading, the key is practices, and getting experts in procurement involved at an early stage so that the procurements can be devised in a way that supports the policy objective. Too often that does not happen. The problem with introducing broad, overarching requirements or even policy statements into the approach is that these get baked in at the policy development stage of a project, and that can then jeopardise and get in the way of the project’s effective implementation.
This leads to a broader point. It is essential that those charged with implementation of projects, programmes and policies—implementation professionals with the necessary expertise in procurement, project management, IT and digital, financial management and HR—are involved at the policy development stage. Far too often, that does not happen. That is the stage when advice can be taken and a procurement devised and formulated in such a way that these desirable other policy objectives can be addressed, but in a way that is proportionate and appropriate in the circumstances.
It seems to me that that is the reason for having that flexibility. The noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, said that the words of Ministers can be warm, encouraging and good, but there is nothing like having good, strong law to bake it in. The problem is that this can be counterproductive. We all know the reality, and it is clear from this debate that procurement is difficult, complex and technical. If it is so for those of us who are here making the law, then it is pretty difficult, complex and technical for those trying to bid for contracts from the public sector. The more complexity and legal rigidity we build in at this stage, the greater the ability of the established universe of vendors and suppliers to freeze out newer, smaller ventures from effectively bidding for and winning these important contracts.
When procurement law becomes too rigid and prescriptive, frankly, it can enable established vendors to present some of the characteristics of an oligopoly. We saw this 15 years ago, particularly in the world of public sector IT contracts. It is really important that we bear this in mind.
A little later, in group 6, we will debate the government amendment that rightly requires contracting authorities to take account of the needs of SMEs, which I wholly welcome. In an earlier debate, the noble Lord, Lord Wallace of Saltaire, mentioned the desirability of including the needs of social enterprise, to which I am very sympathetic, for all the reasons we discussed earlier.
However, the fact is that, the more prescription and rigidity in the law, the greater the scope for the big beasts in the supplier market to use their financial muscle and heft to squeeze out the smaller vendors through judicial review in the courts. Some of them are very trigger-happy in this respect. It is often the smaller, newer vendors who bring the most dynamism and innovation and are most able to bring quality and good value to the needs of delivering services and providing goods for citizens.
While recognising the good values and intentions that lie behind this desire to load all these additional factors on to procurement law and make them explicit, my counsel is that we should tread with very great caution. I do not find myself able to support these amendments.
My Lords, I will offer a few general observations. I do not have any amendments in this group, and I will echo some of what my noble friend Lord Maude has just said.
I will make four points. First, I see little point in duplicating in this Bill what is already on the statute book. We have already referred to the Public Services (Social Value) Act 2012. This deals with social value and does not need to be repeated in the Bill. That applies to other matters as well.
Secondly, lists of noble Lords’ favourite topics, such as climate change and innovation, run the risk of accelerating the Bill’s obsolescence. This is the case even if lists are drafted in a non-exhaustive form. The list itself provides context for interpreting the statute at a later stage. Those interpreting the legislation will look at what Parliament’s intention was when we passed it. The sorts of things we put in now will help determine the framework within which that judgment is made.
At the same time, fixing lists at one point in time creates the possibility of irrelevance over time, because things become more or less important. I submit that this is even the case in relation to today’s hot topics of climate change and biodiversity, which may well become less important over time. We only have to look at our own experiences over the last 30 years of how our priorities have changed. Most of us would not have included those items on our lists 30 years ago. In 30 years’ time, I suspect we will have different things we will need to focus on.
Thirdly, we must beware of unintended consequences, especially for SMEs. Amendment 42, in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Worthington, seeks to define “public benefit”. If certain elements of public benefit are made explicit, it will likely drive procurement officials into a check-box mentality. This could, in turn, conflict with common sense. Is it common sense that every procurement has to consider what every supplier is doing for climate change and biodiversity? Amendment 42 would drive in that direction. In turn, that would probably rule out a lot of small suppliers who do not have the bandwidth to articulate their environmental footprint to satisfy procurement bureaucracies—nor should they need to.
Finally, less is often more in legislation. Amendments 33 and 46 by the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman of Ullock, introduce procurement principles. She does not say how these principles interact with the procurement objectives in Clause 11, even though they cover some of the same ground, such as value for money. She attempts to clarify what each of the principles means by saying what has to be done to meet them, but it is not clear whether these descriptions are exhaustive or illustrative.
For example, take her principle of fair treatment of suppliers, which is to be achieved
“by ensuring that decision-making is impartial and without conflict of interest”.
Is that it? What about the role of hidden barriers to entry in contract specification? What about the impact of contract terms on different types of supplier, such as SMEs? It is very hard to be a legal draftsman in opposition, and indeed on the Back Benches. However, excessive specification is one certain route to legislative uncertainty, which your Lordships’ House must surely want to avoid. I hope noble Lords will reflect on these points in deciding whether it is necessary to test the opinion of the House.
My Lords, I must make this point. Had we taken climate change and biodiversity loss seriously 30 years ago, we would not be in the situation we are in today. We are not seeing the investments we need into clean alternatives; nor have we developed the technologies from which other countries could benefit, and which would benefit our companies through their exportation around the world in order to solve this problem.
Climate change is not going anywhere: we will be debating it for the rest of this century. It seems absolutely incredible that we will not be considering it in 30 years’ time. It will be far more urgent then than it is now. We are already 30 years too late.
My Lords, I add my support to the noble Baroness, Lady Worthington. There is disunity in Horsham tonight: I disagree strongly with the noble Lord, Lord Maude of Horsham. I went to school in Horsham and was on the council there. However, I take a different view from the noble Lord about the role of procurement.
He talks about procurement’s sole purpose being good value. He went on to say that it is “motherhood and apple pie” to have value-driven public procurement policy, but I argue that it is not. That is the point of procurement: to marry good value with being value-led. Why be in government if you are not using all the levers at your disposal—regulation, fiscal incentives and disincentives, and procurement, with its massive spend—to deliver the values your Government want to deliver?
I will be very brief, as I do not want to prolong the discussion. In Committee, the Government made it clear that they would seriously consider the use of the national procurement policy statement as a vehicle to deliver the value-driven approach and support environmental and climate goals. The noble Lord, Lord True, said that they would reflect on that. Well, there has been no reflection. That is why it is so important—vital—that both the Labour Front Bench and the noble Baroness, Lady Worthington, have come forward with two amendments today that will raise the importance and central role of the environment and climate change in the national procurement policy statement. I hope they test the opinion of the House on that, given that there is clearly a disagreement.
I support the point from the noble Lord, Lord Lansley, about Parliament having a say on this and a draft procurement policy statement being put forward. If the Government will not accept that, they need to explain to the House tonight why, if it was good enough for the Environment Act and the environmental principles policy statement, it is not good enough on this occasion.
I strongly believe that we should support the amendments, which make sure that procurement delivers values as well as good value.
My Lords, much has been made of the importance of social and environmental goals in public procurement. Of course, as many noble Lords have said, these goals have their place—but they should not be the driving force behind a procurement system, forcing it to run slowly and inefficiently and increasing cost to the public purse while disincentivising innovation and the participation of small businesses.
The Bill is a once-in-a-generation opportunity to put in place a robust procurement system that encourages procurers to focus on outcomes that deliver productivity improvements and innovation, reduce the cost to the public purse, and drive efficiency. It should do away with unnecessary and excessive procedural requirements that make it much more difficult for smaller businesses to compete and grow.
We should not lose sight of the fact that there is already much flexibility in the Bill, which is good news for delivery on social and environmental principles. This flexibility is evident in the Bill from the very outset, with the objective to maximise the public benefit and to allow economic, social and environmental matters to be considered. When it comes to awarding contracts, Clause 22 allows for a broad range of award criteria to be included in procurements where they are relevant, including those relating to social and environmental aims.
The Bill also includes a facility for a specific expression of government policy in the form of the national procurement policy statement and the Wales procurement policy statement. These can be used to create obligations to consider social and environmental goals of the day, such as net zero, without compromising the importance of maintaining an efficient and workable procurement regime. That is why I agree with my noble friend the Minister that we must avoid at all costs the inclusion of broad and unfocused obligations in relation to social and environmental matters.
Amendments to the Bill that would place requirements on contracting authorities always to have to include social and environmental benefits when awarding their contracts would slow down the procurement regime and increase risk. They would also significantly disincentivise small and medium-sized enterprises, which do not have the back-office capability to maintain huge reams of social and environmental policies and practices.
In summary, I am heartened that the approach the Government are already taking in the Bill will allow contracting authorities the flexibility to deliver procurement outcomes that address these important social and environmental objectives on a case-by-case basis while retaining value for money at the forefront. With this Bill, we are leaving behind a slow and bureaucratic procurement system that is unnecessarily restrictive in nature. Let us not change one set of restrictive procurement practices for another.
My Lords, in speaking to Amendments 58 and 82 in my name, I reiterate my support for the opportunity that the Bill offers to reduce burdens on business, especially small businesses, by simplifying the UK regulation of public procurement. I also welcome the Bill’s objective of promoting an open and accessible business culture and practices.
That said, we must be careful that important safeguards currently in place in public procurement are not mistakenly, unwittingly or lightly discarded, hence these two simple and straightforward amendments, Amendments 58 and 82, which align with the Bill’s overall objective. In speaking to them, I declare an interest as chair of the United Kingdom Accreditation Service, UKAS. As the national accreditation body for the UK, appointed in statute, UKAS is the sole body recognised by government for the accreditation of organisations providing testing, inspection and certification services, collectively referred to as conformity assessment bodies. In short, we check the checkers, against internationally recognised standards.
The current procurement legislation, the Public Contracts Regulations 2015, stipulates that where conformity assessment is required by a contracting authority as part of a public procurement exercise, that conformity assessment must be accredited. This requirement for accreditation occurs either where the technical specification in the procurement mandates conformity assessment, such as testing or certification, or where an economic operator—a supplier—is required to hold certification as part of its proof of technical competence or management capacity.
The requirement for accreditation within current public procurement legislation is there for a purpose. It provides critical safeguards. It means that the competence, integrity and impartiality of a body delivering a test, inspection or certification must have been verified against international standards, on an ongoing basis, by an independent third party—in other words, by the nationally appointed accreditation body. The removal of these safeguards, which would disappear as the Bill is drafted, could have unintended and damaging consequences. For example, a contracting authority could require products to be tested to a specified standard but, without the safeguard of accreditation, any test certificate would have to be accepted. There would be no assurance of the quality or rigour of either the test or the tester. We saw what happened during the Covid pandemic with the profusion of substandard products that had false or inadequate certificates.
The NHS, when procuring PPE or anything else where it is critical that a product conforms with a specified standard, needs to be able to rely on a robust certification process. Likewise, a contracting authority could require a supplier to have a certificate for its management system, environmental management system, information security system or anti-bribery management system. If the certifier does not need to be accredited to perform that certification, the contracting authority cannot be certain that the relevant certificate is from a body whose technical competence, capabilities and impartiality have been verified by a third party against internationally recognised standards, but the contracting authority would none the less be obliged to accept the certificate.
Hence the serious concerns about the Bill that have been expressed to UKAS by public sector procurers such as the Ministry of Defence. Noble Lords will understand that the MoD—apart from being one of the United Kingdom’s largest public sector procurers—is uneasy at the prospect of purchasing goods and services from companies whose management system certificates have been issued by bodies that might not have been accredited to perform those assessments. In case anyone is wondering, several certification bodies in the market are not accredited to or compliant with international standards. It is important to guard against the unintended consequences of encouraging the proliferation of non-compliant conformity assessment and accreditation practice and all the risk that involves. It is equally important to avoid undermining certification bodies that operate as nationally accredited entities.
The safeguards proposed by these two straightforward amendments are rooted in the United Kingdom’s national quality infrastructure, which in turn reflects global best practice. They also align with the WTO’s Agreement on Technical Barriers to Trade and the Government’s commitment to international regulatory co-operation. Furthermore, they would bring the Bill into line with existing government policy on national accreditation.
In closing, I add that the drafting of these two amendments is also aimed at minimising trade barriers by recognising accreditation from any national accreditation body that is a signatory to the global mutual recognition agreements.
My Lords, this is a very important group of amendments. We have had many speakers, so I will be concise. My noble friend Lady Parminter has already made some important points on our part. I will not repeat her comments, but we regard the issue of economic, social and environmental benefits to be paramount and we do not subscribe to the idea that it should not be in some way guided by the legislation or the operational part of the legislation.
I have listened carefully to the other speeches. I am minded to side with the approach of the noble Lord, Lord Lansley, of using the NPPS as the vehicle through which this aim and principle is achieved. I hope that we shall be able to support both him and the noble Baroness in His Majesty’s Opposition if they decide to press their amendments. Amendments 35 and 46 bear my name; clearly, I stand by them and the speeches that others have made.
There are two other areas on which I want to speak very briefly. Not least, the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, was unable to be here, but I know that he and my noble friend Lady Brinton have tabled Amendments 38 and 83, which reflect on accessibility. The previous legislation had prior regulations about accessibility and the fact that public procurement should ensure accessibility to all people. It has been lost in the drafting of this Bill. It is not clear to me whether that is a deliberate or accidental dropping of something, so it will be very useful to hear from the Minister what the Government’s thinking was on this. If it was deliberate, I would urge them to think again; if it was accidental, there is time to put it right.
Finally, I would like to make a pitch to support the noble Earl, Lord Lindsay, who has unearthed something that must be another unintended consequence of this legislation. I cannot believe that this was deliberately put in place by the Government. His Amendments 58 and 82 are an important way of righting that situation. I hope, again, that the Minister will think again.
In conclusion, we on these Benches absolutely believe that there should be a public purpose to procurement. We feel that the legislators have a role, as well as the very important role outlined by the noble Lord, Lord Maude, for the professionals, when it comes to implementing that policy. It is really important that we seek to achieve public good through the £300 billion of procurement that this country makes.
My Lords, we have had an extremely interesting debate—a shorter one than I was expecting—and I am grateful for all the contributions.
I will start by saying that, while I understand that noble Lords rightly wish to pursue their particular interests, many of which I agree with, we have to bear in mind that procurement is, above all, an economic activity. That does not mean that we cannot take other things into account, but no amount of environmental or social benefit could make a procurement satisfactory if it failed to deliver economically on its intended purpose. We need to avoid the Christmas tree that my noble friend Lord Maude referred to. Of course, the NPPS allows for the inclusion of these sorts of policies—including net zero, as the noble Baroness, Lady Parminter, said—but that does not mean to say that we want to put them on the face of the Bill.
In my view, value for money comes first, especially given the financial difficulties that we now face, but it is important to recognise that, as a result of Clause 18, contracting authorities will be working to a new definition, which nobody has mentioned, of “most advantageous tender” rather than “most economically advantageous tender”—that is, MAT not MEAT—so the days of focusing on price alone, not quality or wider matters such as generating UK employment opportunities, are over. Specific policies could also be put into bespoke tender documents, as my noble friend explained.
Secondly, my experience of many Bills is that it is unwise to attempt to define everything in detail at a particular point in time. As the years pass, relative priorities change. Who would have thought two years ago that inflation, the price of energy and the consequences of war would feature so highly on the national agenda? There will no doubt be other surprises—as, indeed, has been the scale of climate change; 20 or 30 years ago, most of us did not realise what would happen.
Thirdly, productivity growth is worryingly low in this country. It is essential that this Bill and the £300 billion of public procurement each year provides a boost and that small businesses are able to secure a share of that, as my noble friend Lord Lindsay’s comments implied. Innovation and competition have an important part to play here—I know that my noble friend Lord Lansley feels that strongly; they are two very important objectives. Procurement should be an enabler of innovation rather than increasing barriers to entry for competition, as my noble friend Lord Maude said.
Against this background, I come to Amendment 33, moved by the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman. This seeks to restate the six principles consulted on in the Green Paper. In addition to the 619 responses we received, we have carried out extensive consultation with interested groups, as the noble Baroness will know. As a result, our principles were refined and then translated into the objectives and specific obligations that now exist in the Bill. The language of a Green Paper is not the language of legislation, and we have reflected the principles in a way designed to help contracting authorities understand how they will implement them. That goes for value for money, public good, transparency and integrity.
The public consultation indicated that “fair treatment” was too subjective for contracting authorities to determine by objective standards, so we introduced the concept of “treating suppliers the same” in Clause 11(2); and “non-discrimination” has been converted from an objective to a hard-edged obligation in Clauses 83 to 85. We believe that the combination of the objectives and specific legal obligations in the Bill deals with procurement principles in a more effective and practical way.
Amendment 35 in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, changes the recognised concept of “value for money” in the procurement objectives into a more amorphous one, which includes the concepts of “social value” and “equity”. I have a number of concerns with what that amendment does. First, it moves contracting authorities away from the well-known concept of “value for money” and creates a new, and perhaps confusing, duty. Contracting authorities will not know this new duty and it will take time, resources and probably a number of costly legal challenges—a bugbear of procurement—to work that out. It is also an unfair burden to place on them in this new regime; we need to minimise legal doubt wherever we can.
It is also worth reminding noble Lords that the current national procurement policy statement already includes social value as one of its key themes. I am also concerned by the assumption that an obligation to have regard to some degree of social value must ensure some degree of equity in procurements. I do not think I am alone in being unclear on what “equity” is supposed to mean in this context, and doubtful that the simple existence of “social value” would deliver it.
Amendments 36 and 42, tabled by the noble Baronesses, Lady Worthington and Lady Hayman, and the noble Lord, Lord Coaker, seek to define “public benefit” to include various social and economic matters. The public benefit objective in Clause 11(1)(b) is deliberately undefined, so it is a flexible concept that gives contracting authorities a wide degree of discretion. These amendments seek to define “public benefit” in a much narrower way, limited only to economic, social and environmental benefits.
As I said at the beginning, we have lost sight of the need for our procurement spend also to be used to increase productivity, drive efficiency and stimulate growth. So let us keep the Bill as clear and simple as we can so that we do not swamp contractors and SMEs in paperwork. Let us instead ensure that we have an appropriate national procurement policy statement that can evolve as times change.
Amendments 38 and 83, tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, and the noble Baroness, Lady Brinton, but spoken to by the noble Lord, Lord Fox, require contracting authorities to have regard, when carrying out a procurement, to the accessibility of what is being procured for disabled people. I reassure noble Lords that we share the same intent. However, amendments to the Bill are not required: there is no need to change the Bill because, although disability accessibility is of great importance, it is already catered for in the public sector equality duty in the Equality Act 2010. It is appropriate that these matters are considered at the point that contracting authorities draw up technical specifications, and they must apply the requirements of existing law. My officials, however, would certainly welcome further engagement with bodies representing disabled people as the technical specifications and guidance are developed.
The noble Baroness is right that the public sector equality duty is in the Equality Act, but the current system, which we will lose when the Bill comes into force, incorporates both the PSED and provisions under secondary legislation, such as the Public Contracts Regulations 2015. Therefore, when those regulations were laid, there was a tacit acceptance that the PSED alone was insufficient. If the Minister does not accept the amendments, will she bring forward other provisions in another way to backfill what is clearly being lost as we move from one set of rules to the other?
My attitude to this is clear, and I have offered to engage on the subsidiary detail of the transformation that we are planning with the Bill.
I turn to the important matter of the national procurement policy statement, which sets out strategic priorities for procurement. Amendment 43—I hope noble Lords will forgive me if I do not mention their names in relation to every amendment they have tabled—would require the Government to publish a national procurement policy statement, rather than just allowing them to do so. This is the so-called move from “may” to “must”. Amendment 44 then requires a statement to be published within 12 months of the relevant section coming into force.
I think the clause is right as it is. Think of how much more important issues such as supply chain resilience have become since the outbreak of Covid and the conflict in Ukraine. The current approach enables the Government to react nimbly to changes in priority, which my noble friend Lady Noakes thought was important, and they can issue a new statement as appropriate. However, importantly, I can assure noble Lords that this Government will publish such a statement when the Bill takes effect; indeed, they have already done so in draft. The Bill will put the new statement on a statutory footing. Importantly, the clause provides that, once the statement is published, contracting authorities must have regard to it when carrying out their procurement activity. The amendment as drafted requires a Minister to publish a statement. However, a Minister would be unable to fulfil this requirement were Parliament to vote against it, perversely meaning that the amendment would potentially prevent a Minister discharging the statutory duty. I would therefore prefer to avoid the formula proposed in Amendment 43.
Amendment 46 proposes that, prior to publishing a statement, the Minister must give due regard to a number of specified principles, most of which represent elements core to the procurement regime. This is evident from the drafting of the Bill overall: for example, value for money, integrity and maximising public benefit are set out clearly, and transparency is a specific requirement running throughout the Bill. There is a lot in common here with what I said at the beginning so I will not repeat that.
Amendment 47, tabled by my noble friend Lord Lansley, the noble Baroness, Lady Worthington, and the noble Earl, Lord Devon, would require the inclusion of specific priorities in the national procurement policy statement relating to the achievement of targets and requirements set under the Climate Change Act and other legislation, as well as promoting innovation and minimising the incidence of fraud. As discussed in Committee, the range of topics suggested by noble Lords during the process demonstrates that stakeholders have different priorities for procurement. These matters are already well covered in our statute book. It is important that policy priorities are addressed in a targeted way and that our regime does not contribute to a deterioration in productivity. That said, noble Lords will be reassured to know that many of these themes—net zero, social value and innovation—feature in the current non-statutory statement that we have already published.
Noble Lords have also focused on the scope for increasing innovation and minimising fraud. I hope that, by taking a new approach to small business, we can create a procurement regime that will unleash innovation in the supply chain and build up innovation in this country. On fraud, I agree that recent instances have caused concern, which is why we have a goal to embed transparency throughout the procurement life cycle. I believe this will help to tackle fraud and it has been widely seen as a positive move. However, it would be wrong to tie ourselves down with the NPPS for all the reasons I have stated.
Amendment 45 proposes a public consultation on a draft of the NPPS. I agree that this is in many ways a good idea. We would like to explore what the statement should contain with a wider range of stakeholders across the public sector and elsewhere to ensure that it is as effective as possible. But I worry that consulting on a draft may come too late in the process. It may be best to carry out a consultation on topics to inform the drafting of the statement.
In a similar vein, Amendment 48 would require the publication of a draft statement and moving to an affirmative procedure. I assure the House that the Government are committed to ensuring that any published procurement policy statement is published with the scrutiny of Parliament. The Bill provides for the appropriate process in Clause 12(3) to (6), and noble Lords will be able to pray against the statement or request debates on the NPPS or the issues in it in the usual way. I do not see a strong case to change this procedure, and this was not raised by the DPRRC in its scrutiny of the Bill.
The slightly different Amendments 58 and 82, tabled by my noble friend Lord Lindsay, would stipulate that, where a contracting authority requires a conformity assessment or a certification from a conformity assessment body, this must be from a body accredited by a national accreditation body such as the United Kingdom Accreditation Service—UKAS. I thank my noble friend Lord Lindsay for the work he has done as chair of UKAS and the motivations behind these amendments. However, certification can be costly for suppliers. At the heart of our Bill is a desire for contracting authorities to act commercially, innovate and support SMEs. We do not think we need legislation to dictate to contracting authorities what conformity assessments or certification standards should be acceptable. It is often important for the procurement that a conformity assessment is done by a certification body such as UKAS. Contracting authorities are able to set this as a condition of participation under Clause 21, so Amendment 58 is not required, and the same logic applies to Amendment 82.
Having said that, I understand that UKAS has helpfully engaged with my officials over concern that the existing text in Clause 53(5) risks suppliers removed from the competition for failure to meet a requisite standard being able to argue, even in the courts, that a lesser standard is an international equivalent and therefore challenge their removal. We are looking into this point and will revert to the matter if the need arises.
Amendment 96, in the names of the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, and the noble Lord, Lord Coaker, would require contracting authorities to undertake a public interest test when considering whether to outsource or continue to outsource a public sector service. I do not think that this was raised, but I am happy to write to the noble Lords who tabled the amendment to explain why we feel that the procedures that we are bringing in and our transformational plans should provide the necessary reassurance.
This has been a long debate. I believe that I have made a strong case for keeping the framework of the Bill as it is, but obviously it will also be important that the NPPS contains the right policy provisions. I respectfully request that these various amendments be withdrawn following the reassurances I have been able to give.
My Lords, I must say that I am pretty disappointed with the Minister’s response to my amendments, particularly to those on the NPPS. I give notice that I intend to test the opinion of the House on Amendment 46, when we reach it. I also let the noble Lord, Lord Lansley, know that, if he chooses to test the opinion of the House on his Amendment 47, we will support him. In the meantime, I beg leave to withdraw Amendment 33.
Amendment 33 withdrawn.
Clause 11: Procurement objectives
34: Clause 11, page 8, line 32, after first “a” insert “covered”
Member’s explanatory statement
This amendment is consequential on the change in terminology in new clause before clause 1.
My Lords, earlier today, we discussed government Amendment 34 on covered procurement, and, as promised, I have reflected on the contributions made by noble Lords. They will have noted that I left the Bill to my noble friend Lady Bloomfield for a while for this very purpose. I have looked at the implications of not proceeding with this amendment with my experts, and I still intend to move it. It is the Government’s view that, if it is not agreed, the objectives will still have to be considered for all procurements, including exempted procurements under Schedule 2, which would create the perverse situation I mentioned of needing to consider transparency in those exempted security contracts or—to give another example—contracts with law firms, which would include legally privileged information, and that would not be appropriate. It will also extend to small, low-value contracts, including those let by small authorities such as parish councils.
For these reasons, and those I set out earlier, I move Amendment 34. Should your Lordships disagree, the House can make its view known.
As we have discussed, the national procurement policy statement is wide-ranging. In the Bill, we have tried to set up a framework and lots of rules for contracting authorities to try to ensure that they are adopting procedures that will improve and simplify procurement, which, as we all agree in this House, is not in the state it needs to be in. We believe that not moving Amendment 34—that is, not restricting procurement in certain respects—will lead to a great deal more difficulty for contracting authorities, particularly in these exempt areas. We have looked at the exemptions carefully and, contrary to what I think my noble friend thinks, individual procurements would have to be considered in a much more detailed way as a result of the perverse effect without this amendment.
As I said, should your Lordships disagree, the House can make its view known, should it wish. I beg to move Amendment 34.
Amendment 34 agreed.
Amendments 35 and 36 not moved.
37: Clause 11, page 8, line 38, at end insert—
“(e) in relation to the procurement of food and drink, achieving a target of procuring 50% of products and ingredients locally.”
My Lords, it gives me pleasure to speak to Amendments 37 and 53 in this group. Before I address them, I associate myself with government Amendment 57, on the needs of SMEs. I am grateful to my noble friend the Minister for meeting me last week to discuss these issues. I am also grateful that she listened in Committee; that is why we see government Amendment 57 in this group.
Before I address Amendments 37 and 53, which raise farming issues, I pay tribute to the late Lord Plumb of Coleshill, whose memorial service was held today. He was a great British patriot and a lifelong European who lived all his life to promote farming at every level and in every position he held. He will be much missed.
Amendment 37 seeks to address an issue that a number of us tried to raise. I recall an amendment I tabled when the Trade Act was going through Parliament, both in Committee and on Report, in which I tried to write into the Bill that, now we had left the European Union, we were told that there would be a great Brexit dividend allowing us to open up public procurement—particularly at local authority level for our schools, hospitals, prisons and defence establishment—and allowing much more locally produced food to be taken at that level. So a number of us, myself in particular, were extremely disappointed to learn that, although we were leaving the European Union and the threshold of €136,000—up until which, I presume, locally produced food could be sourced for local authorities and local establishments—we were nevertheless still bound by the global procurement agreement, which, curiously, comes in at about the same level, $135,000. So in fact, there is no flexibility at all, and a number of us feel disappointed and that we were perhaps misled.
Amendment 37 seeks to add to Clause 11 the procurement objective of,
“in relation to the procurement of food and drink, achieving a target of procuring 50% of products and ingredients locally.”
Furthermore, Amendment 53 follows directly from the conversation I had with my noble friend last week. In it, I try to set down what locally sourced food would be:
“(1) Any public contracting authority catering services must take responsible steps to ensure that at least 50 per cent of food and drink is procured locally.
(2) For the purposes of this Part, “locally” refers to products that have been grown, raised or made within 30 miles of the point of provision, or in the same county.”
Noble Lords who followed the leadership contest closely may remember that we found a great advocate in none other than my right honourable friend the Prime Minister, Rishi Sunak, who committed to these two provisions and expressed the distinct desire that they be enshrined in law. I am very grateful to him that there is an opportunity in the Bill to have this written into legislation. I quote from the letter he wrote at the time, as a leadership candidate, to the NFU:
“As you know, I represent a large number of farmers in my own constituency. I know that times are tough at the moment; the rise in global gas prices has led to a dramatic increase in input costs including manufactured fertiliser, livestock feed, fuel and energy. I want to help; I hope that by bringing forward 50% of the BPS payment we have given farmers some confidence, but I am very willing to listen if there are other measures that we should be taking.”
He went on to say:
“I will also introduce a new target for public sector organisations to buy 50% of their food locally, to back British farmers and improve sustainability.”
In my right honourable friend’s constituency is probably the largest garrison in the country, at Catterick barracks. I had the good fortune to represent the neighbouring seat—originally, the Vale of York and then Thirsk and Malton. I can testify to the number of defence establishments there and the large number of rural schools in that constituency. There was a large prison in York, and other public procurement establishments that would benefit from this provision.
I imagine that, if we do not meet the €136,000 threshold, there must be some flexibility in smaller contracts so that local authorities and other providers that are sourcing their procurement will look to source it locally. Not only will that enable us to be more resilient and improve food security and self-sufficiency, but it will help famers, growers and producers of our food in the UK at what is a very difficult time for them.
I hope that my noble friend will look favourably on these two amendments in particular, Amendments 37 and 53. I beg to move.
My Lords, it may aid the House if I set out the government amendments in this group. I thank my noble friend Lady McIntosh of Pickering, and will respond to her when I have heard other contributions. I share her tribute to Lord Plumb, whom I dealt with in all the stages of my career—at Defra, in Europe and in this House—and I am only sorry that government business prevented me from celebrating with others his wonderful life and success today.
There are a number of amendments in my name relating to SMEs. They are important government amendments to help SMEs to win a bigger share of the £300 billion procurement pie. I know that this issue is close to the hearts of noble Lords from across the House. Throughout Committee, noble Lords questioned whether the Bill had gone far enough in removing barriers to SMEs accessing public procurement. It has certainly been a top priority for me since I was lucky enough to become a Cabinet Office Minister. It is right that we support this vital sector of our economy. At the start of 2022, there were 5.5 million small businesses, accounting for 99% of all businesses in the UK, with over 16 million employees and a turnover of over £2 trillion. We must do more to champion these entrepreneurs.
The new measures that I am announcing today complement the existing provisions in the Bill, which make it easier for businesses to enter public sector supply chains and benefit SMEs. They include greater visibility of upcoming public sector opportunities and preliminary market engagement; developing a supplier registration system, meaning that suppliers need to submit their credentials only once; improvements to commercial tools, such as the introduction of dynamic markets and open frameworks; and, crucially, requiring that 30-day payment terms will apply throughout the public sector supply chain.
I am glad to be moving amendments in three areas to add to this momentum. First, we have introduced a new duty for contracting authorities to have regard to the participation of SMEs. It sends a very clear signal that the Government are open for business to this sector. For the first time, SMEs will be on the face of the Bill, which means that authorities have a responsibility to consider them and the barriers they face. To put this in practical terms, contracting authorities will, for example, need to specifically consider through an SME lens whether the requirements they are asking for are proportionate to the contract. Are the bidding times realistic when some businesses do not have a dedicated bidding team? Have they provided clear pipelines of opportunity? Is there a diverse representation of businesses in pre-market engagement?
Secondly, we have further stripped out unnecessary barriers which SMEs face. I thank my noble friend Lady Noakes and the noble Lord, Lord Scriven, for highlighting ideas in Committee. I particularly appreciated the point that he raised, that we need to
“release some of the normal procedures and bureaucracy”.—[Official Report, 11/7/22; col. GC 385.]
As a result, we have banned authorities requiring the provision of audited accounts to test the financial standing of bidders to bid in procurements, to compete for contracts under frameworks and to join dynamic markets, except in so far as that is required under the Companies Act. This ensures that start-ups and SMEs which are not legally required to file audited accounts due to their size or age will not be shut out of procurements, provided that they can demonstrate their financial capacity by another reliable means.
Thirdly, we are going further to reduce unnecessary costs on businesses by preventing contracting authorities from requiring insurance relating to the performance of the contract, to be in place prior to the award. We know from feedback that this acts as an obstacle to participation.
Following Committee, I have reflected on the points raised by noble Lords during the debates and would like to thank many of them for follow-up discussions on this topic. I have also met trade associations such as the Federation of Small Businesses and the Business Services Association at a recent round table. We hope that the amendments will give SMEs a better chance of winning public sector contracts and allow the public sector wider access to the first-class skills, innovation and ideas that many agile, creative smaller firms offer. In turn, this will allow us to improve and enable the transformation of procurement services. These are all captured in Amendments 40, 122, 57, 70 and 74. Amendments 75, 76, 134, 140, 179, 183, 186, 188, 192 and 203 are consequential amendments, including splitting Clause 43 into two to avoid it becoming unwieldy.
I have also tabled Amendment 55, which requires a contracting authority to provide sufficient information in the tender notice or associated documents to enable suppliers to prepare tenders. It facilitates a clear trigger for the start of the tendering period identified in Clause 51. As the time available for bid preparation is so important, we consider that small suppliers will welcome this practical clarification. Amendments 40 and 122 in my name create new obligations on contracting authorities to consider the removal or reduction of barriers in procurement to small and medium-sized enterprises. We need to make sure that small and medium-sized companies do better in the procurement world.
I rise to speak to Amendments 41 and 123, which are amendments to government amendments. We welcome Amendment 40 but, as the noble Lords, Lord Maude and Lord Lansley, have said, we need in the Bill to make sure that, as well as SMEs, social enterprises, mutuals and non-profits are eased and get around some of the barriers otherwise placed in their way. I hope that the Minister will be able to give a sufficiently strong assurance that this is what is intended for it not to be necessary to divide the House on this issue, and perhaps even to come back at Third Reading with an adjustment to the current Amendment 40.
In the Green Paper that started this process, the importance of social enterprise, mutuals and non-profits was clearly marked; it has now disappeared altogether. Many of us are conscious that there are those on the libertarian right who think that every form of economic activity should be in the pursuit of profit and that the idea that you can do anything without wanting to make a profit is absurd and against free market principles. The libertarian right in the United States, which clings to such theological doctrines, has begun to infiltrate parts of the Conservative Party and, I am told, was a visible presence at the Conservative Party conference—but I am confident that real Conservatives do not share that absurd theological view. They recognise that there are many areas, particularly in personal services and care, where the different approach that comes from mutuals and non-profits makes a considerable amount of difference. There have been a number of scandals in care homes run for profit in recent years. I speak with passion on this subject because I have had a relative in a charitable care home who was wonderfully well treated in the last few years of her life.
I hope that the Minister will be prepared to recognise that the importance of social enterprise and non-profits needs to be here, and that she will give absolute assurance that this is what the Government intend, and that they do not intend to leave them with the barriers that the Government intend to remove for SMEs.
My Lords, my principal interest in the Bill has been whether it would achieve its stated objective of giving small and medium-sized enterprises a better chance to compete for and win public contracts, including SMEs providing specialist services in the construction sector, such as those represented by the Actuate UK engineering services alliance. So I very much support the government amendments in this group that seek to reinforce that objective, notably Amendment 40, explicitly requiring contracting authorities to take account of barriers faced by small firms and Amendments 57, 73 and 74, preventing unreasonable requirements for participation, such as providing audited annual accounts even for firms that do not otherwise need to produce them, or having insurance already in place before the award of a contract.
Other issues of importance to SMEs covered in Committee related to improving payment practices for public contracts and resolving payment disputes. However, since these are not specifically addressed in the amendments in this group, it might be more appropriate to raise them when we discuss the procurement review unit on Wednesday. However, I add my support to Amendment 41 in the names of the noble Lords, Lord Wallace and Lord Fox, adding social enterprises and not-for-profit companies to the beneficiaries of Amendment 40.
On that subject, I also thank the Minister for her recent letter confirming the Government’s commitment to resolving a concern I raised in Committee about whether the drafting of Clause 31, concerning reserved contracts to supported employment providers, actually delivers the Government’s intention to implement an approach fully equivalent to that currently in place. I know that community enterprises that use such reserved contracts are much reassured by the commitment given by the Minister and I look forward to the letter she has promised to confirm that the issue has been resolved, and how.
My Lords, I thank my noble friend for taking up the issue of SMEs, following not least the points she herself made in Committee. We thoroughly agreed with her and I think there was much consensus. I have two amendments in this group, which are by way of probing the issues a little. The first is Amendment 54. The two government amendments on SMEs relate, interestingly, to covered procurements in the first instance and then to below-threshold procurements separately. To that extent, putting it in the Bill and applying it to broader procurement seems to work in this case.
Amendment 54 would specifically include a reference to the capability of small and medium-sized enterprises in relation to preliminary market engagement, which may well be a place where SMEs in particular need to be supported, because they often do not necessarily have all the credentials and capabilities to hand. The second is an amendment to government Amendment 188, which defines “small and medium-sized enterprises” in thoroughly familiar terms to all of us who deal with these things. I tabled my amendment because the origin of the definition is essentially in European Commission regulations.
The reason that the Commission, in addition to the head-count calculation, adds turnover or revenue requirements is that SMEs have to be assessed by reference to that for the purposes of state aid and subsidy control. In this instance, subsidy control or state aid is not relevant, so, when it comes down to capability, the only issue that really matters is head count. Indeed, the Commission itself, in the regulation it put forward, makes it very clear that head count is the “main criterion”. I think it would be better to rest only on that, rather than to include the necessity for contracting authorities to look at turnover or revenue.
My Lords, I support government Amendment 40. This is very worthwhile. I am also very sympathetic to Amendment 41, tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Wallace of Saltaire. The reality is that not-for-profits, social enterprises and mutuals, when they come to retender or bid for different contracts, because a number of mutuals we supported have grown, both by expanding into different areas for the same group of clients but also by expanding into different geographical areas for different public authorities—and this is very worthwhile—but they are subject to very much the same kinds of constraints that the conventional procurement we inherited in 2010 imposed on SMEs.
I take slight issue with the noble Lord, Lord Wallace. I do not actually believe that there is a conflict between this approach—working to remove barriers to SMEs, social enterprises and so on participating in, bidding for and winning government and public sector contracts—and achieving better value and supporting the aims of the free market. When we went down the path, in the coalition Government, of setting an aspiration of 25% by value, at that stage, of public procurement going to SMEs, the immediate response from the conventional wisdom was, “Oh, that means you’re going to abandon best value; you’re going to have to effectively subsidise SMEs”. Precisely the reverse was the case. Opening up procurement got rid of some ridiculous requirements that were not necessary at all but were imposed by safety-first procurers: for example, that bidders should have to show three years’ audited accounts and that there should be turnover thresholds, performance bonds and requirements to show that they had in place the insurance to cover the contract value before they even bid.
The combination of all these things meant that many SMEs and start-ups and some of the most innovative, competitive and dynamic potential suppliers were simply not able to get into the marketplace at all. So there is no conflict between value for money and opening up to smaller businesses: the two objectives go absolutely hand in hand. So I strongly support the amendment the Minister has brought forward, but I urge her to look sympathetically at Amendment 41, because social enterprises, not-for-profits, mutuals and so on suffer from exactly the same disadvantages and obstacles as there were in old-fashioned procurement and it is important, I believe, that they should be included in the same bracket.
My Lords, I have Amendment 164 in this group, to which my noble friend Lord Moylan has added his name. Before turning to that, I echo what other noble Lords have said in thanking my noble friend the Minister for her amendments on SMEs. I am very glad that she has taken into the Cabinet Office the evident passion she demonstrated for the cause of SMEs when she took part in Committee on the Bill. Of course, there is no one silver bullet that is going to solve all the problems of SMEs engaging in public procurement, but I believe that most of the amendments before us here will contribute to an important advance in that area.
I have a concern about Amendment 134, which is one of my noble friend’s amendments. It keeps the new Clause 11 duty out of the enforcement clause, Clause 92. That is a pity, because it means that SMEs, which think that that duty is not being complied with, will have to fall back on judicial review—and, as we know, judicial review is not a practical remedy available to SMEs. I regret that. I similarly regret Amendment 140 in relation to procurement oversight recommendations, and I hope that the Government will have an opportunity to think again about both those areas when the Bill moves to the other place.
My Amendment 164 is aimed at the same target as Amendment 163 in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett of Manor Castle, who was not in her place when the debate started earlier this evening. I was expecting the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett of Manor Castle, to explain the amendment, and then I was going to come in behind it. They are both sourced from an amendment suggested by the Local Government Association. It concerns Section 17 of the Local Government Act 1988 and the exclusion of non-commercial interests that is required by that section. Clause 107 allows regulations under this Bill to disapply that duty for below-threshold contracts. The issue raised by the Local Government Association was that that should not be just permissive but should be an absolute requirement.
The noble Baroness, Lady Bennett of Manor Castle, tabled an amendment in the form originally suggested by the Local Government Association. I have been around a little longer than the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett of Manor Castle, and have debated may/must amendments in relation to whether regulations should be obligatory or permissive. It is a good technique for discussing issues in Committee, but when we get to the sharp end of the business of legislation, the Government always resist a regulation-making power being obligatory—and for good reason, because it ties the hands of today’s Government and any future Governments. I accept that, and I am sure that the Opposition Benches who may want one day to be making legislation of their own would accept that as well. So I retabled the concept of the amendment by inserting below-threshold contracts into the list of things that could be done with this power, in the hope not that my noble friend would accept the amendment but that she would give a clear commitment at the Dispatch Box today to use the regulation-making power at the appropriate time to ensure that below-threshold contracts are excluded from the ambit of Section 17, as I mentioned. I look forward to hearing what the Minister has to say.
My Lords, I rise to speak to Amendment 162A, which rather neatly follows the noble Baroness, Lady Noakes, because it deals with Section 17 of the Local Government Act 1988. Its intention is to remove the prohibition in that provision which prevents local authorities taking into account the terms and conditions of the staff of the supplier, or their legal status. The thought behind this is that public authorities should take into account the terms and conditions and the legal status of those who carry out the work under these public contracts. The restriction applies to local government only and not to other public authorities.
My Lords, I rise to speak on Amendment 73 as my noble friend Lord Clement-Jones is detained in Grand Committee. This amendment requires direct-award contracts included in a framework agreement to be retendered 18 months after the award. This amendment takes a different route from the one we discussed in Committee, but the aim is the same: to prevent direct contracts being used within framework agreements to restrict competition from British SMEs and reinforce the dominance of certain key foreign players in the market. The Minister will remember that we used cloud computing as a major example of where the system has gone off the rails. The SME share of the market has fallen from more than 50% to just 20% in the past five years. In this respect, there is little sign that the Procurement Bill is in reality designed to provide new opportunities to prevent this slide towards—shall we call it “oligopoly”, to coin a phrase that was used by the noble Lord, Lord Maude, in a different context?
Rather than preventing such awards, as we attempted last time, we have instead put down an amendment to time-limit the awards. This would introduce a duty to retender, after 18 months, direct contracts awarded as part of a framework agreement under Clauses 38 and 41. This would provide the opportunity to redress the balance and help support UK SMEs. In Grand Committee, the Minister said that my noble friend Lord Clement-Jones had made a lot of points that she was not aware of and promised to study in relation to the important areas of cloud computing and UK businesses. She also emphasised some of the advantages of framework agreements. We are not arguing with that, but that is not the point. This is about detriment to SMEs through the use of direct contracts which are hidden within framework agreements. The problem can be cured. The Minister also said in relation to these agreements that it makes sense for them to be time-limited. I hope she has studied the words of my noble friend and has something to offer that limits the duration of direct contracts that are made within framework agreements.
My Lords, I have just a few brief remarks on this group. Before I come on to the main point that I want to make, I shall say that I think Amendment 37, tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh, about local produce and the local procurement of foodstuffs is something that is growing in importance. All of us know in our own communities that people individually are doing that, as well as local businesses. I think that before long the 50% target she put in her amendment will grow. I think it is an important amendment. Given the other things being talked about, it should not be lost in the general debate.
I thank the Minister for government Amendment 40, which goes to the heart of the discussion in this group, which is about encouraging small and medium-sized enterprises in the procurement process to do better than they are present, and the responsibility of contracting authorities to achieve that. The real question for the Minister—and, frankly, if there are changes of Minister in future—is how we will ensure that that happens, because successive Governments have tried to encourage small and medium-sized enterprises, and it has not been as successful as we wanted. The question is about how we make this procurement system work in a way that benefits small and medium-sized businesses in the way that we would all want.
I am very supportive of Amendment 41, tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Wallace, which talks about the barriers faced by social enterprises and not-for-profit companies in competing for procurement. I think that is something that will become increasingly important.
I know my noble friend Lord Hendy will speak about his later amendment in more depth. His amendment in this group, Amendment 162A, allows procurement to take into account the terms and conditions of staff and the legal status of subcontractors. I think it is an extremely important area, and I thank my noble friend for raising it because all of us would wish to see that people are paid properly for the work they do and that nobody is undercut in the winning of various contracts.
The noble Baroness, Lady Noakes, pointed to Amendment 163 in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett, and her supportive Amendment 164, which she ably put forward. She made some important points which we can look at in due course and to which I hope the Minister will respond.
However, I go back to where I started: the key amendment in this group is government Amendment 40. We are grateful that it has been brought forward and hope that it will encourage greater success for small and medium-sized enterprises in the procurement business in this country. The key for us is to make sure that this time it works and that we do not have another government amendment in two years’ time trying to achieve the same.
My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Coaker, is right that the challenge is to make the shift to SMEs a reality. I will take that away as my homework. I thank all noble Lords who have spoken, especially the noble Lord, Lord Aberdare, who progressed matters with me and saved me from a further group of amendments.
I was also very interested in the real-life experience of my noble friend Lord Maude as to the difficulties of getting potential small suppliers to apply for government contracts, because in my experience SMEs can represent very good value for money. They do not have the same costs and scale of central services that some of the bigger operators have, and that can feed through into great prices and great service.
I turn first to Amendments 37 and 53, tabled by my noble friend Lady McIntosh. These both seek to ensure that, when food is procured, 50% of the purchases must be from the UK. The second amendment goes further and stipulates that the purchases must be locally from within the UK, with “locally” meaning within 30 miles of the contracting authority. Under the WTO’s government procurement agreement, and a number of international free trade agreements, the UK has legal obligations not to discriminate against suppliers from a country that is party to one of those agreements, for procurements over certain thresholds. So, requiring quotas for buying local UK food and drink produce at a national level would be a breach of those obligations.
There is, however, the potential for contracting authorities to develop local purchasing strategies. First, authorities may take advantage of the policy of December 2020, that below-threshold procurements may be reserved to UK suppliers only, or to UK SMEs, or VCSEs, in a particular region or county of the UK. While the Local Government Act 1988, Section 17, currently precludes local authorities from awarding public supply or works contracts by supplier location, we intend to use Clause 107 of this Bill, once enacted, to make secondary legislation to disapply that legislation in respect of this policy, so that local authorities, as well as government departments, can take advantage of this flexibility under the Bill for lower-value contracts; I hope this will be welcome.
Contracting authorities are also free to buy the food and drink that best meets their needs, meaning that they can specify foods that can be grown in the UK, rather than opting for produce that UK growers will be unable to produce. I think that we were all interested and amused to be taken back to the summer, and to hear of the letter written by the then Mr Rishi Sunak to the National Farmers Union. In line with our commitment in the food strategy published earlier this year, Defra has been carrying out a consultation on potential changes to public sector food and catering policy. That is now closed, and Defra will carefully consider the responses before setting out its next steps; I am not in a position to pre-empt the outcome of that process, but we continue to drive progress.
We remain fully committed to supporting our British food producers and farmers on food and, as the noble Lord, Lord Coaker, said, local sourcing is increasingly important—although I would say as a farmer’s daughter that food has to be grown where it makes sense from a weather point of view, so it is important to be able to move food around. I do not think that we can yet grow olives in the UK, but it will come with climate change.
Amendments 41 and 123, in the names of the noble Lords, Lord Fox and Lord Wallace, who introduced it, would extend the new obligations with regard to SMEs to cover social enterprises and not-for-profit companies, particularly in areas such as social care. I am glad to say that the duty I have included in the Bill will apply in respect of any small and medium-sized enterprises that meet the relevant definition, including any social enterprises, not-for-profit organisations and mutuals—to pick up a point made by my noble friend Lord Maude. I am glad to say that, in terms of numbers, the vast majority of organisations will meet the definition—but not, of course, the very biggest, and I think that it is right that they should be subject to normal procurement rules.
Amendment 54, from my noble friend Lord Lansley, would emphasise that contracting authorities should use preliminary market engagement to build capacity among SMEs. I fully agree with my noble friend that preliminary engagement should be used to help build SME capacity. However, the duty to have regard to SMEs contained in the procurement objectives will cover this, and much more. For example, not only do I want to see capacity building for SMEs in preliminary market engagement; I want public sector teams to learn via this engagement about new solutions and ways of working from SMEs, which are often, as we have heard, at the cutting edge of innovation. Further existing provisions in the Bill, such as pipeline notices, and separating contracts into lots, also help with SME capacity-building—and as such this amendment is not required.
As regards Amendment 73, the Bill allows for contracts to be awarded without competition in limited circumstances, and these were outlined in Clauses 39 and 41, with detail in Schedule 5. This is the route to making a direct award under the Bill; it is different from a so-called “direct award” under a framework. An award without a further competitive process may or may not be provided for under the terms of the framework and, as I explained in my letter to the noble Lord, the framework itself is openly competed for, and the framework terms may provide for further competition between suppliers when a contract and/or a permit is awarded without further competition.
Clause 43 is clear that award without further competition between suppliers is permissible only where this is set out in that original framework, and that an objective mechanism for supplier selection is provided. While I appreciate that the noble Lord is concerned with some examples of problematic operation and consequences in respect of certain frameworks, such issues will not be addressed via this amendment. Additionally, the amendment would have the effect of limiting contracts to 18 months. This is unlikely to meet operational requirements, or deliver value for money in most cases, given the short-term duration. Suppliers are always able to raise specific issues with frameworks via the Government’s existing Public Procurement Review Service, which can investigate individual cases such as this one, and in future by the PRU. I believe that the issue of placing contracts without further competition under frameworks is best addressed through our training and guidance, which we will do as part of preparing procurance for the new regime.
Amendment 163 from the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett, would commit English and Welsh Ministers, within six months of the Bill becoming an Act, to make regulations to remove all the obligations on local authorities set out in Section 17 of the Local Government Act in respect of below-threshold contracts. We do not believe that this amendment is desirable. It goes much wider than required, disapplying all of Section 17, not just those provisions which prevent local authorities reserving below-threshold contracts to suppliers, or SMEs, or VCSEs, in a UK region or county. However, detailed secondary legislation will be laid before the new regime comes into force, and disapplication of Section 17 in this regard can be considered as part of that process.
Amendment 164, proposed by my noble friends Lady Noakes and Lord Moylan, would ensure that regulations made under Clause 107 can exclude below-threshold contracts from the duty in Section 17, but I hope that they are reassured by the remarks that I have made in respect of the amendments in the names of my noble friend Lady McIntosh and the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett.
I was glad to hear from the noble Lord, Lord Hendy, and to see his Amendment 162A, which seeks to immediately disapply provisions within Section 17 that prevent local authorities, when carrying out certain procurement functions, considering the terms and conditions of a supplier’s contracted employees, or subcontractor terms. As I have explained, the Government are confident that it is more appropriate to include a power for the disapplication of Section 17 on a case-by-case basis, in order to ensure alignment with current and future procurement policy; it is not therefore necessary to do this as a separate amendment. It is an important topic, and I want to reassure the noble Lord, Lord Hendy, that there are other mechanisms to ensure that UK companies, and any company bidding for public sector work, are abiding by legal requirements in respect of employment conditions.
Finally, Amendment 189, tabled by my noble friend Lord Lansley, seeks to redefine “small and medium-sized enterprises” by considering only the business’s number of staff, not other factors such as turnover. UK government policy sometimes considers SMEs only in relation to staff numbers: for example, BEIS’s publication of business statistics. In other circumstances, for example in the Companies Act, alternative criteria are used; it depends on the purpose. However, we have substantially retained the current definition used for procurement, which is well recognised and established. If we lose the turnover and balance-sheet total criteria, we potentially include well-resourced businesses with significant capital that have acquired, or taken over, government contracts in their portfolio through acquisition, while playing a role in procurement. These are not the types of business we are looking to focus on in the duty to have regard to SMEs. We have, however, included an additional power, my noble friend will be glad to hear, in Clause 114 to ensure that we retain flexibility to amend this definition—for example, if we wish to align with other definitions in future.
Finally, my noble friend Lady Noakes asked why we had exempted the new duty from being enforceable in civil proceedings. We want to ensure that this new duty in the Bill drives cultural change in procurement and improves access for SMEs, as I have already said. However, we do not believe that it is appropriate to make this new duty subject to the remedies regime in Part 9. Any failure to comply will be better suited to a procurement review unit investigation under Part 10, or indeed to a judicial review. SMEs want the opportunity to win public contracts. We believe that this duty will achieve that, but the purpose of the new duty is to stimulate the market for SMEs, not facilitate a new avenue for creative court claims.
I am sorry to end on that slightly negative note; I feel that this has been a very useful debate. I look forward to the House’s support for the government amendments, and I respectfully suggest that noble Lords do not press their amendments.
I am extremely grateful, particularly to the noble Lord, Lord Coaker, for saying that the way forward is obviously to procure more food locally, and to my noble friend for pointing out that Section 17 of the Local Government Act will in fact be lifted. That is good news. It is pleasing to see that her work has formed a coalition of support for Amendment 40, and I congratulate her on that. I am not suggesting that olives should be grown in this country any time soon, but she will probably be aware that we are only 16% self-sufficient in fruit and vegetables in this country. It is wrong that we should be so dependent on foreign imports. It is a matter of personal regret to me that the scheme that was intended to bring Ukrainian women in to pick fruit and vegetables this year never appeared to come into force, so I hope we can look at that in future years. With those few remarks and the assurances she has given, I beg leave to withdraw Amendment 37.
Amendment 37 withdrawn.
Amendment 38 not moved.
39: Clause 11, page 8, line 39, 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 39 agreed.
40: Clause 11, page 8, line 43, at end insert—
“(4) In carrying out a covered procurement, a contracting authority must—(a) have regard to the fact that small and medium-sized enterprises may face particular barriers to participation, and(b) consider whether such barriers can be removed or reduced.”Member’s explanatory statement
This amendment would require a contracting authority, in carrying out a covered procurement, to have regard to the particular barriers to participation in public procurement that small and medium-sized enterprises may have, and whether they can be removed or reduced.
Amendment 41 (to Amendment 40) not moved.
Amendment 40 agreed.
Amendment 42 not moved.