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Procurement Bill [HL]

Volume 826: debated on Tuesday 13 December 2022

Third Reading


Moved by

My Lords, before the Procurement Bill is read a third time, I will deal with the legislative consent aspects. Most of the provisions apply to England, Wales and Northern Ireland only, and a few also apply to Scotland. Throughout the preparation and passage of the Bill, we have been working closely with each of the devolved Administrations. As noble Lords will know, there are provisions in the Bill which engage the legislative consent process in the Scottish Parliament, Senedd Cymru and the Northern Ireland Assembly. Currently, the devolved Administrations have not granted a legislative consent Motion; however, we are engaging constructively with officials and Ministers on addressing outstanding points, and I reassure noble Lords that the Government will continue with this engagement as the Bill is introduced into the House of Commons. I beg to move.

Bill read a third time.

Clause 110: Definitions relating to procurement arrangements


Moved by

Clause 110, page 72, line 35, leave out “11([subsection removed])” and insert “1(4)”

Member’s explanatory statement

This amendment would correct the cross-reference so it refers to the definition of “centralised procurement authority”.

My Lords, I will move a minor technical amendment to Clause 110 in my name. I know how keenly noble Lords have scrutinised the Bill, and I am therefore confident that they will have noticed that, in the definition of “equivalent body” in Clause 110(6), the very incongruous words, “[subsection removed]”, appear in square brackets. I am informed that this cannot be amended administratively to make the appropriate cross-reference. Therefore, in the interests of sending the Bill to the other place in a form which can be understood, I have tabled an amendment to insert the missing cross-reference, which is to Clause 1(4). I beg to move.

I thank the Minister because I have been worrying myself to death about this issue and clearly welcome her amendment.

Amendment agreed.

A privilege amendment was made.


Moved by

My Lords, having taken over this crucial Bill from the now Leader of the House, I have had the pleasure of hearing a range of informed contributions from across the House on it. Noble Lords have offered a rich and stimulating debate in Committee and on Report, and I thank them for engaging constructively with what has at times been a challenging piece of legislation. As ever, I thank noble Lords for their forbearance with what I fear may be a record number of government amendments tabled in the Lords to help the Bill function optimally.

My objective in leading this Bill has been to ensure that it encourages a more open, effective and transparent public procurement while encouraging economic growth. One in every £3 of public money—some £300 billion a year—is spent on public procurement, yet at present we must wrestle with over 350 different procurement regulations across four different regimes. Noble Lords know my passion for paring back needless bureaucracy, in particular removing barriers for SMEs, and I know they have welcomed the new provisions I instigated to require contracting authorities to think about SMEs routinely. We have also put provisions in the Bill for the new single central online platform, which will underpin the new system and achieve a real step change in transparency.

This simplification of regulations is not at the expense of stringent, well-thought-out measures ensuring that procurement is done safely and appropriately in the relevant sector. Noble Lords will be aware of the national procurement policy statement, the procurement review unit and the debarment list. All these measures will make public procurement safe and ethical and take into account wider factors that I know many noble Lords right across the House care deeply about. These reforms are intended to provide a shift towards a modern and flexible procurement regime and deliver better outcomes for taxpayers, service users and the businesses and social enterprises involved.

Before I conclude, I would like to make noble Lords aware of an error on my part during the second day of Report, which I must correct. Amid the highly technical debate, I wrongly said that the national security exclusion ground was mandatory. In fact, it is discretionary. This is because it is desirable to have flexibility for contracting authorities considering exclusion on this ground, depending on the specific circumstances involved—for example, the nature of the threat to national security and/or the risk to the contract being tendered.

In concluding, I thank my noble friends Lady Bloomfield and Lady Goldie for their support on this Bill. I also extend particular thanks to my noble friends on the Back Benches for their contributions, challenge and support. I am very grateful to noble Lords on the Front Benches opposite and on the Cross Benches for their time and constructive engagement from the day I took the Bill over from my noble friend the Leader of the House. Finally, I thank the officials who have worked on the Bill, particularly Sam Rowbury, Ed Green, the previous Bill manager Phillip Dunkley and the current Bill manager Katrina Gajewska, as well as the wider official team, others supporting noble Lords across the House and my private office. I wish the Bill a safe passage through the other place.

My Lords, as the Minister pointed out, this is a really important Bill. It will guide an estimated £300 billion of public procurement, hopefully making it safe while driving some of the things we want to happen. I thank the Minister. She had an interesting start on this Bill; she too was a Back-Bencher and tabled several critical amendments early on, and was then suddenly propelled to the Front Bench. I think we benefited from that change of perspective—that is not to criticise her predecessor.

It is appropriate that we should bookend this Bill with another amendment, because it has been a story of amendments. We should thank the Bill team, who worked through the night at the start of this in Committee in July, explaining and setting out what the hundreds of amendments were there to do. But because there were so many amendments and clearly there was so much work to do, the Bill leaves us with still more work and scrutiny required, if it is going to achieve the things that we all want it to achieve—that is, to have a transparent process that helps our small, medium and social enterprises to flourish in the public procurement system. When it goes to the other place, I hope that those further changes can be made to make sure that it delivers that, and in an ethical way.

I thank the Minister, her predecessor and her Whips in this. I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, and the noble Lord, Lord Coaker, for what has been a very constructive and co-operative process. I also thank my colleagues. I will name them, because they have worked very hard: my noble friends Lady Brinton, Lady Humphreys, Lady Northover, Lady Parminter, Lord Purvis, Lord Scriven, Lady Smith, Lord Clement-Jones and Lord Wallace. That list reflects the fact that the Bill touches so much of public life. Finally, I thank Elizabeth Plummer in our Whips’ office, without whom life would have been extraordinarily confusing for us on these Benches. That said, we wish the Bill well and beg that the MPs continue to work on it on our behalf.

My Lords, I have something to add before the thanks are completed. The Minister was good enough to express her thanks to the Cross Benches, and I draw the attention of the House to the all-party amendments which were included in the Bill. I begin by thanking her. As the noble Lord, Lord Fox, just said, it was unusual for a poacher to be turned gamekeeper in the course of the proceedings of the Bill and she did it with great aplomb and showed all the characteristics that we have come to associate with her, in the way that she dealt with constructive attempts to improve the Bill as it proceeded through Committee and Report.

As the noble Lord, Lord Fox, said, the Bill has enjoyed support from around the entire House and, of course, whatever form a Bill is in, we will all always want to try to add to it, if we are able to do so. I was therefore very grateful to the House for including the cross-party amendment I moved on the removal of surveillance equipment. I also supported the all-party amendment in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Hunt of Kings Heath, who is here, on the use of forced organ harvesting. Those two amendments are now in the Bill as it goes to another place. Unlike on ping-pong, this is a pristine Bill going to the other place. I hope that Ministers will engage with those amendments and not simply try to remove them.

There were two other amendments. The Minister will recall that the noble Baroness, Lady Stroud, moved an all-party amendment which was not taken to a vote. We had a discussion during Report about how that could be taken to the Minister who might deal with the Bill when it reached the House of Commons. I hope that the noble Baroness, Lady Neville-Rolfe, will be able to draw that to the attention of the House of Commons Minister and suggest that such a meeting should now take place.

With those remarks, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Fox, and his noble friends, but also the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, and her noble friends—the noble Lord, Lord Coaker, in particular—and those on the Cross Benches who supported the amendments that we brought forward.

My Lords, I think I am the sole surviving Member of the Committee here today who contributed. I congratulate my noble friend the Minister and the Bill team on getting the Bill thus far. I am obviously immensely disappointed not to have succeeded in my attempt to source more local food in our procurement contracts, but I hope that this can be redressed in the other place.

My noble friend alluded to something that is a source of great concern to me. I have in my possession the memorandum from the Scottish Government, which expressed their concern and inability to add their consent to the Bill. Does she not share my concern that it would be very regrettable if the Scottish Government felt obliged to carry out their own Bill in this area, because of their concern about the continued ability to carry out cross-border procurement? Could this still be addressed in the other place before the Bill reaches Royal Assent?

My Lords, I am sure that noble Lords will be very surprised to know that I thank my noble friend Lord Coaker for supporting me and sticking with the Bill all the way through. It has been a long haul, and I think we are all pleased we are at Third Reading.

I thank the noble Lord, Lord True. At the beginning of the Bill, he gave me an awful lot of time, as did his officials, when we had some serious concerns. As the noble Lord, Lord Fox, mentioned, we had a bit of a sticky start. The officials worked incredibly hard to get us to a position where we could properly debate the issues in Committee; at the beginning, we were not in that position, unfortunately. We all congratulated the noble Lord, Lord True, on his promotion, but we were also delighted as a Committee when the noble Baroness took over this Bill, because she was genuinely interested in what we were debating and genuinely understood what we were trying to achieve. I think she worked very hard and brought in some important improvements to the Bill, having listened to Committee. I thank her for her time, efforts and energy in helping us all to come out with a Bill that was better than what we had at the start.

I also thank the noble Lord, Lord Fox, and other Members who took part for the constructive work we did going forward on the Bill. It is much appreciated. I think all Members of the Committee would agree that the Bill we have sent to the other place is in a much better state than it was when we received it. I thank everybody very much for their hard work. I hope the other place considers our amendments seriously—I think they make the Bill better—and perhaps brings some further improvements that we can look at when it arrives back. It has been a pleasure to work on the Bill, but I am pleased we are now moving on.

I would like to briefly thank all those who have spoken. I agree with them on almost everything, and I also agree that we should commend my noble friend Lord True, now the Leader of the House, perhaps partly because of his achievements in this area. It has been a great pleasure to become a gamekeeper for the Government rather than be a poacher for the Back Benches. My noble friend Lady McIntosh of Pickering raised the devolved issues; of course, we hope that these things can be amicably resolved in the other place. Procurement is a devolved issue—the Scottish Government have not joined the UK Government’s Bill and will be maintaining their own legislation. Contracting authorities in Scotland will therefore not be bound by the Bill other than to enable their use of frameworks, dynamic markets and joint procurement. They are operating their own regulations, having transposed the EU directives into their own statute book. There are some outstanding issues, particularly with the Scottish Government. We are pursuing those, and I hope they will be resolved before we see the Bill again.

Bill passed and sent to the Commons.