All 7 contributions to the Subsidy Control Act 2022 (Ministerial Extracts Only)

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Wednesday 22nd September 2021

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This text is a record of ministerial contributions to a debate held as part of the Subsidy Control Act 2022 passage through Parliament.

In 1993, the House of Lords Pepper vs. Hart decision provided that statements made by Government Ministers may be taken as illustrative of legislative intent as to the interpretation of law.

This extract highlights statements made by Government Ministers along with contextual remarks by other members. The full debate can be read here

This information is provided by Parallel Parliament and does not comprise part of the offical record

Kwasi Kwarteng Portrait The Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (Kwasi Kwarteng)
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I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.

The Government are determined to seize the opportunities arising from Brexit. Now that the UK has left the European Union and we are no longer bound by the EU’s regime, we have the freedom to develop a new, bespoke system of subsidy control for the UK that delivers on our national priorities. Before the UK joined the European economic community, as it was then called, there was no framework at all. That absence contributed, I think, to Governments pursuing a failed economic approach with Whitehall trying to run the economy. They distorted competition, often by bailing out unsustainable industries and attempting to pick winners. The regime that the Government have set out in the Bill will help public authorities to deliver subsidies where they are needed, without facing excessive bureaucracy or lengthy pre-approval processes.

Miriam Cates Portrait Miriam Cates (Penistone and Stocksbridge) (Con)
- Parliament Live - Hansard - - - Excerpts

One of the industries that I hope will benefit from the Bill is the steel industry. As my right hon. Friend will know from frequent and very welcome engagements with me on the issue, Liberty Speciality Steels in Stocksbridge is a key employer in my constituency. While we were in the EU, the industry had access to the EU’s research fund for coal and steel. Now that we have left, £182 million is due to be returned to the UK. Will my right hon. Friend look into the possibility of ringfencing that money, given that it has been raised from levies on the steel industry rather than through general taxation, so that we can have a UK fund for innovation in UK steel?

Kwasi Kwarteng Portrait Kwasi Kwarteng
- Parliament Live - Hansard - - - Excerpts

In her brief time in the House, my hon. Friend has been an impressive and focused campaigner on behalf of her constituents and the wider industry. As she knows, I am a particular fan of the steel industry, and want to seek a sustainable future for it here in the UK. I cannot give any budgetary guarantees, as she will appreciate, but this system does give us much more flexibility than was the case previously.

Kwasi Kwarteng Portrait Kwasi Kwarteng
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May I make a little more progress? Many other colleagues want to speak.

This is a Bill that promotes autonomy, transparency and accountability. It will empower hundreds of local authorities, as well as the devolved Administrations and other public authorities, to take control, allowing them to design subsidies to meet local needs while also meeting national policy objectives.

Liz Saville Roberts Portrait Liz Saville Roberts
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I am grateful to the Secretary of State for giving way to me now. I wanted to pursue his earlier comment. The Conservatives appear to be perpetuating a gift for blaming the EU for everything, to all intents and purposes, and it is no surprise that we have heard a little more of that today. We must bear it in mind that the UK was known for underutilising EU state rules—we were ranked 22nd out of 28 member states in 2018—and it could be suggested that that was due to Conservative ideology rather than to any intrinsic problem.

This Bill will steamroll devolved competence. Does the Secretary of State agree that it reflects a new Conservative ideology, which is deliberately dismantling the powers of devolved Governments and their accountability as elected Governments per se?

Kwasi Kwarteng Portrait Kwasi Kwarteng
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That was a rather lengthy intervention, if I may say so, although I do not want to entrench on the Chair’s prerogative. As the right hon. Lady will appreciate, the Bill is a function of our leaving the EU. We are not trying to rehearse the arguments of Brexit; we were doing that long before she was elected to the House. I was certainly involved in those debates.

The Bill sets out a regime founded on seven clear and transparent principles. According to those principles, the subsidy must be designed to remedy a market failure. It must be designed to bring about a change in behaviour. It cannot normally cover costs that would have been funded in any case. It must be appropriate, proportionate, and designed to minimise any distortions to competition and investment in the United Kingdom. Finally, the public authority giving a subsidy must carry out a balancing test, and proceed only if the benefits of the subsidy outweigh any distortions to UK competition and investment, and to international trade.

Those principles will be supported by guidance for all to see. That will ensure that public authorities fully understand their legal obligations, and will make clear which subsidies are permitted and prohibited and under what circumstances.

Jonathan Edwards Portrait Jonathan Edwards (Carmarthen East and Dinefwr) (Ind)
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As I understand it, the Bill also gets rid of assisted area status, which in the Welsh context includes my county of Carmarthenshire. Can the Secretary of State explain why the British Government are making it more difficult for the Welsh Government to help businesses in Carmarthenshire?

Kwasi Kwarteng Portrait Kwasi Kwarteng
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I do not agree with the hon. Gentleman’s description of what the Bill does. If he listens to the rest of my remarks, he may well hear further clarification. Of course, as is always the case, many of these issues will be discussed in Committee if the Bill’s Second Reading receives the assent of the House.

Public authorities will be empowered to make their own assessment of whether a new subsidy meets the requirements of the regime and, in the vast majority of cases, to proceed directly to granting that subsidy. For the first time, the decision on whether to grant a subsidy will always fall to the granting authority itself. For the largest subsidies, or those that present the highest risk of distorting competition, it is worth recalling that the default process under the EU state aid regime could last between nine and 12 months, and that that often determined whether a project could happen or not. Under the new regime, a new body, the UK subsidy advice unit, must publish its report within 30 working days. That is in huge contrast to the nine-to-12 month period under the EU.

Kevin Hollinrake Portrait Kevin Hollinrake (Thirsk and Malton) (Con)
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The right hon. Member for Dwyfor Meirionnydd (Liz Saville Roberts) mentioned ideology. One ideology that I hope will always hold firm on this side of the House is that of not wasting taxpayers’ cash. Is the Minister comfortable with the situation in which local authorities and devolved Administrations could grant subsidies of hundreds of thousands of pounds without having to publicly declare them? Would we not be better with a much lower threshold, so that public scrutiny could always be in place?

Kwasi Kwarteng Portrait Kwasi Kwarteng
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Local authorities have to declare spending at much lower levels than the figure that my hon. Friend has just put forward. Clearly, transparency is at the centre of what we are trying to achieve. Instead of a year, the whole process will take only a few weeks. It will be a much quicker process and it will allow public authorities to act with far greater agility than before. However, I do not believe that the transparency will be in any way compromised. This is an area that will give more flexibility while not diminishing accountability. In fact, it will enhance accountability because, under the EU state aid regime, there was no way we could change the rules in any way.

At the same time, this is a regime that will provide certainty and confidence to businesses within the UK, and also to those among the foreign investment community who are keen to invest in the UK, by protecting against subsidies that risk distorting competition or causing harmful economic impacts. And of course, the regime will operate alongside our usual, traditional stringent spending controls to ensure the best use of public money.

Sammy Wilson Portrait Sammy Wilson (East Antrim) (DUP)
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Does the Minister not see the inherent flaw in his argument about levelling up and treating the whole of the United Kingdom as one, in so far as Northern Ireland will be subject to a dual subsidy regime: the state aid rules imposed by article 10 of the protocol and the Bill that is going through today? So any subsidy that a public authority Northern Ireland wishes to give will be subject to the very one-year scrutiny that he is talking about, whereas a public authority in the rest of the United Kingdom will have it cleared within 20 days, thereby placing any attempt to attract business to Northern Ireland at a disadvantage.

Kwasi Kwarteng Portrait Kwasi Kwarteng
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That is precisely why I am addressing this precise point in my speech, if the right hon. Gentleman will allow me. We are setting out the detail of a UK regime that is far from simply adhering to the EU, and it will clearly no longer be necessary for Northern Ireland to be subject to the EU state aid regime. That is precisely why we have proposed the change to the Northern Ireland protocol to bring all subsidies within scope of the domestic regime.

The Bill, as hon. and right hon. Members should know, has been informed by a public consultation, which showed broad support for the Government’s proposals. The Government also held a second consultation with the devolved Administrations as we reached the end of the policy work and the considerable time that we spent trying to get the Bill shipshape. That second consultation showed clearly that the UK Government and the devolved Administrations agreed on the fundamentals of the regime, including the seven principles, the objectives for the regime, and the need to respect the devolution settlements and support levelling up.

Liz Saville Roberts Portrait Liz Saville Roberts
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If the devolved Governments are as content as the Secretary of State is saying, why are the Welsh Government making a legal challenge to this Bill?

Kwasi Kwarteng Portrait Kwasi Kwarteng
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As I said, there is agreement on the fundamentals of the regime. The seven principles are not contested; they are agreed across the devolved Administrations and the UK Government. I am not privy to the exact motivation of the devolved Administration in this case but, as far as the general principles are concerned, there is a wide measure of consensus.

It is worth reminding the House that the devolved Governments will have more control over subsidies than they have ever had before. Previously, it was Brussels that made the decisions about which subsidies could be granted to support viable businesses. Now, with this Bill, it will be for the elected Governments in Edinburgh, Cardiff and Belfast to make those decisions.

During the trade and co-operation agreement negotiations and the creation of this new regime, ministerial colleagues, officials and I have worked closely with the devolved Administrations, and I thank those Administrations and the officials and Ministers here in Westminster for their considered and constructive input to the development of this policy.

Daniel Kawczynski Portrait Daniel Kawczynski (Shrewsbury and Atcham) (Con)
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As somebody who has represented a border constituency for the past 16 years, I have become increasingly concerned about the additional levels of subsidy that the Welsh Government can give to businesses on the border, putting our Shropshire businesses at a disadvantage. Will the Secretary of State address that point, please?

Kwasi Kwarteng Portrait Kwasi Kwarteng
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As I have stressed, this regime has been discussed extensively with the devolved Administrations. Clearly we have conflicting views, but I believe the Government have worked constructively with the devolved Administrations and we feel that, along with our localism agenda, this is a step in the right direction. Compared with where we were for nearly 50 years in the EU state aid regime, this Bill is a significant improvement and enhancement that represents much greater devolution in this area than we have ever seen before.

Andrea Leadsom Portrait Dame Andrea Leadsom (South Northamptonshire) (Con)
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Is my right hon. Friend as afraid as I am that the nationalists in Scotland will use any opportunity to be different and will impose big, generous subsidies to artificially support their own businesses simply to try to ensure that the English feel hard done by because it suits their agenda of separatism? That is not, in any sense, in the interest of the taxpayer.

Kwasi Kwarteng Portrait Kwasi Kwarteng
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My right hon. Friend makes a legitimate and correct observation about the general obstructionism we sometimes see. There are seven principles outlined in the Bill, however, and one of them is not to distort the UK internal market, so what she says would clearly raise issues.

Our emphasis in this regime is on transparency, accountability and, of course, agility. This all means that we will not simply be replicating the European Commission’s role in the process, requiring a central body in Brussels to sign off on specific subsidies. In other words, the UK Government did not go to great lengths to secure autonomy from the European Union on subsidy control only to reimpose the same old EU rules months later. That is not what this is about. I hope hon. Members will agree that outside the EU we will have the opportunity to do things differently. We did not leave the EU simply to settle back into the old ways of thinking and into the way things were done before. Those days are over.

I strongly believe that making the most of this new regime will need a culture change, not just in public bodies, devolved Administrations and local authorities but in central Government. It will be a culture change to take more responsibility for our own decisions, not simply outsourcing difficult decisions to the European Commission as we did for nearly 50 years. It will mean that we can be more accountable to the electorate for when and how taxpayers’ money is spent, and that we will be more agile in distributing public resources.

The Bill will ensure that our new subsidy system will maintain a competitive, free-market economy that has been central to the UK’s economic prosperity and success for decades. In that spirit, I commend the Bill to the House.

--- Later in debate ---
Seema Malhotra Portrait Seema Malhotra
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I have given way to the right hon. Lady already and I hope she will not mind if I continue my remarks.

Will the Secretary of State clarify whether it is the Government’s intention that First Ministers, or public interest groups, be considered interested parties for the purposes of being able to bring forward a challenge to a subsidy decision—if so, why will the Government not put that in the Bill?—or will a challenge have to be made via the Secretary of State?

This is not where the devolution challenges end. Perhaps the Secretary of State could clarify his remarks on Northern Ireland, because, as I understand it, under article 10 of the Northern Ireland protocol, EU state aid rules must apply to subsidies that affect trade between Northern Ireland and the EU. This affects not only subsidies granted in Northern Ireland but subsidies granted throughout the UK. There is a risk—unless the Secretary of State wants to correct me—that article 10, taken alongside the new subsidy regime, could cause legal or practical difficulties, particularly if the UK and EU disagree on what affects EU-Northern Ireland trade.

Kwasi Kwarteng Portrait Kwasi Kwarteng
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I thought that I could not have been clearer on this precise point in my opening speech. I repeat: it is clearly no longer necessary for Northern Ireland to be subject to the EU state aid regime, and that is precisely why we proposed a change to the Northern Ireland protocol in order to bring all subsidies within scope of the domestic regime.

Seema Malhotra Portrait Seema Malhotra
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I thank the Secretary of State. Indeed, I did hear those comments in his opening remarks. I was seeking to clarify the issue because I do not think it is clear across the House, and it is important that it is tested and made clear in the course of the passage of the Bill.

Crucially, what is the Government’s intention if the Bill does not receive legislative consent from Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, as has been requested?

--- Later in debate ---
Paul Scully Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (Paul Scully)
- Parliament Live - Hansard - - - Excerpts

It is a pleasure to respond to the hon. Member for Feltham and Heston (Seema Malhotra) and to follow the hon. Member for Newcastle upon Tyne Central (Chi Onwurah). I thank all hon. Members who have spoken in this important debate. I aim to respond to as many of their points as possible in the time available—I know that we have further business—but I would like to begin by quickly reminding the House of what the Bill signifies and what it will achieve.

The Bill is the very first subsidy control framework designed by the UK for the UK. It will be flexible and agile, allowing all public authorities to design subsidies that deliver strong benefits across the whole UK. For the first time, in all instances, public authorities will decide whether to grant a subsidy. The Bill will provide certainty and confidence to businesses investing in the UK. It will enable public authorities to deliver strategic interventions that will support our economic recovery and deliver on the priorities of the British people, such as levelling up.

We have talked a little about scrutiny; the hon. Member for Newcastle upon Tyne Central spoke about scrutiny of secondary legislation and guidance. I am glad that my hon. Friend the Member for Clwyd South (Simon Baynes) raised the issue of the lack of scrutiny in this debate. It is nice that the Opposition have found a couple of Back Benchers to come and join the debate, but it is outrageous that we have had so little input from Opposition Members.

This Bill will strengthen our Union by protecting our internal market through a single coherent framework that fully complies with our international obligations. On that note, I thank the hon. Members for Feltham and Heston, for Aberdeen South (Stephen Flynn) and for Aberdeen North (Kirsty Blackman) for their points. To ensure that the new regime works for all parts of the UK, we look forward to continuing to work closely with the devolved Administrations, as we have throughout its development, as the Bill passes through Parliament. We hope that the devolved Administrations can understand and support the approach that we have taken, and will give their legislative consent. I can say to the SNP Members who spoke earlier that to date we have had 30 meetings with the devolved Administrations on an official-to-official basis to discuss the Bill, and 10 at ministerial level.

We also heard a bit about the devolved Administrations’ input into guidance. Obviously an agreed framework is needed before there is something to give guidance for, and we have made that clear in discussions with our devolved Administration colleagues. We will continue to work with them as we work through that guidance.

Deidre Brock Portrait Deidre Brock (Edinburgh North and Leith) (SNP)
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The Minister will have noted the concern of the Welsh Government about the fact that the agriculture and fisheries subsidies will be within the scope of the UK subsidy regime as a result of the Bill. We have already heard today a member of the Minister’s party express concern about his local farmers being undercut by devolved Governments’ support for their farmers. Can the Minister assure us that this Bill and the United Kingdom Internal Market Act 2020 will not be used to interfere with decisions by the devolved Governments on devolved matters such as agriculture?

Paul Scully Portrait Paul Scully
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We have consulted on agriculture, fisheries, and sanitary and phytosanitary measures. There was no particular agreement among the devolved Administrations, but some people raised those issues.

The Bill introduces a permissive framework. It is totally different from the EU state aid regime, which is the only regime of its kind in the world. No other country, no other trading bloc, has such a restrictive regime, whereby authorities must ask permission and then wait for months to receive it. The Bill flips that on its head. A public authority can give support where it feels the need for it, and only the most distortive levels of support will then be challenged and go through the courts.

Let me turn to some of the issues raised by the hon. Members for Feltham and Heston and for Aberdeen North, and by the right hon. Member for East Antrim (Sammy Wilson) in relation to how this interacts with the Northern Ireland protocol. I reiterate that the UK will continue to be a responsible trade partner that respects our international obligations. However, as the Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy said in his opening speech, the robust subsidy regime that the Government propose makes it clear that there is no need for EU state aid rules to continue to apply in Northern Ireland, and that all subsidies will be within the scope of the domestic regime. This framework has to work with whatever is involved in our international obligations. However, as the right hon. Member for East Antrim will know, the Command Paper gives the details of that, and I should love nothing more than to hear of rejoicing in his constituency.

Sammy Wilson Portrait Sammy Wilson
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The Minister argues that the robust regime should mean that there is no need for EU state aid to apply because there is already sufficient scrutiny of any subsidy regime. Does he not accept that the fact remains, as far as the EU is concerned and as far as the law states at present, that the EU state aid rules still have to apply in Northern Ireland?

Paul Scully Portrait Paul Scully
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I refer the right hon. Gentleman to the Command Paper, and assure him that those negotiations will continue.

The hon. Members for Feltham and Heston and for Aberdeen South raised the important question of how the Bill helps deliver on our priorities to level up opportunity in this country, ensuring that every region and nation benefits from growth. I can reassure Members throughout the House that our new regime will give authorities the flexibility to deliver subsidies where and when they are needed to support economic growth, without facing excessive bureaucracy or the same lengthy pre-approval processes that they faced while we were members of the EU. In response to points raised by the hon. Members for Feltham and Heston and for Aberdeen South, I would highlight that assisted area maps are not the only way of addressing inequalities. A map can be a blunt instrument, making it difficult to address inequality and disadvantage within regions.

I also want to respond to concerns raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Weston-super-Mare (John Penrose) on whether the domestic regime would allow Ministers to resist the siren call of ever greater intervention in the market, and whether it would be sufficiently rigorous compared with the EU’s prescriptive and prohibitive rules. I want to reassure the House that the regime in this Bill is indeed robust. It operates alongside the UK’s existing spending controls—the Treasury controls—which are subject to significant parliamentary control. The Government have no intention of propping up unsustainable or failing businesses, nor will future Governments be able to do so.

The hon. Member for Feltham and Heston was right to say that it is vital that there is independent oversight of the UK’s domestic subsidy control regime. The subsidy advice unit will provide advice that is genuinely useful to public authorities in designing their subsidies and assessing them against the regime’s requirements.

My hon. Friend the Member for Amber Valley (Nigel Mills) talked about advance approval. As I say, this is a permissive regime, so this is not about advance approval; it is about advice that public authorities will be able to take. On the Secretary of State’s referral powers in relation to the subsidy advice unit, he will not be able to overturn decisions unless they relate to security issues or international obligations. The regulation of harmful and distortive subsidies is reserved to the UK Parliament. The Secretary of State therefore has a responsibility to ensure that the new regime is enforced consistently across the UK.

The hon. Member for Feltham and Heston and my hon. Friends the Members for Weston-super-Mare and for Thirsk and Malton (Kevin Hollinrake) raised points on the importance of transparency in the regime. Our regime strikes a proportionate balance between minimising the administrative burden for public authorities and gathering more data. I think this is more about an issue with the interoperability of databases themselves, rather than about legislation. The guidance that we will work on will help public authorities and recipients to understand the practical application of the regime and what they will need to do to comply with it.

To conclude, I want to thank right hon. and hon. Members for their contributions to an excellent and informative debate today. I strongly believe that the new UK subsidy control regime that the Bill sets out will help us to deliver key Government objectives, protect jobs and make the UK the best possible place to start and grow a business. I look forward to discussing the Bill further in Committee, but for now I commend it to the House.

Question put, That the Bill be now read a Second time.

18:02

Division 83

Ayes: 287


Conservative: 285
Independent: 1

Noes: 50


Scottish National Party: 33
Liberal Democrat: 8
Plaid Cymru: 3
Independent: 2
Democratic Unionist Party: 2
Social Democratic & Labour Party: 1
Green Party: 1

Bill read a Second time.

Subsidy Control Bill

(Limited Text - Ministerial Extracts only)

Read Full debate

This text is a record of ministerial contributions to a debate held as part of the Subsidy Control Act 2022 passage through Parliament.

In 1993, the House of Lords Pepper vs. Hart decision provided that statements made by Government Ministers may be taken as illustrative of legislative intent as to the interpretation of law.

This extract highlights statements made by Government Ministers along with contextual remarks by other members. The full debate can be read here

This information is provided by Parallel Parliament and does not comprise part of the offical record

We in the Labour party have taken a constructive approach to scrutinising the Bill. Subsidies are a critical tool to supporting our vital interests, but we need a clearer plan for the use of subsidies and much stronger transparency and accountability on spending public money. If public authorities, our four nations’ businesses and the public are to have confidence in the new system of subsidy control and in the new regime to deliver the outcomes for our economy and society, the Bill requires significant improvement. I hope that the Minister will respond favourably on the points that we have raised today.
Paul Scully Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (Paul Scully)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I thank hon. Members across the House for the informed debate on the Bill and will try my best to respond to their comments in the few moments that I have.

A number of amendments have been tabled on the topic of transparency, which I take really seriously. My Department is working on a programme of improvements for the subsidy database. To name just two examples, we are resolving the technical glitch that meant that subsidies were uploaded with a zero value. Additionally, we are developing an update to add the data for upload to the information published on the database. Officials will actively look at further improvements over the coming months and in advance of the new regime coming in.

The Government intend to review again the evidence collected as part of the consultation alongside that provided by witnesses to the Committee about the transparency provisions. We will reflect carefully on the points raised so far and engage further on our findings with parliamentarians in both Houses as the Bill progresses. I know the strength of feeling in the House on this matter, and we will consider carefully what further action we could take to address those concerns if they come back in the Lords.

I start with the amendments that would reduce the threshold at which subsidies are uploaded. The transparency provisions seek to minimise the administrative burdens and costs to public authorities while ensuring that information is available on subsidies that must meet the substantive subsidy control requirements. That is an important tool to aid interested parties to challenge potentially harmful subsidies. However, the amendments would create an additional administrative burden for public authorities, including small local authorities. Paradoxically, they could make it harder to identify in the database the most potentially harmful subsidies that are eligible to be challenged in the Competition Appeal Tribunal. Many small subsidies will also be publicly available via other transparency tools. Such data may not be perfectly formatted, but it does go far wider than subsidies.

In relation to services of public economic interest, there was broad support from consultation respondents for the application of different transparency measures. The contracts must meet the specific requirements set out in clause 29. That is why the database requirements are different for those subsidies.

John Penrose Portrait John Penrose
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May I just caution my hon. Friend? I think the paraphrase of his argument about the size of the subsidy database is that big databases are less transparent than small ones. That is clearly bonkers and not right, and I do not think it stands up to any scrutiny. He may be arguing that that is okay because other databases will have the information and that it can all be compared and contrasted, but that works only if the data is in a common format that allows for mutual searching, and there is no such plan for that. May I gently caution him about pushing that argument too far? I do not think it will stand much strain in the Lords.

Paul Scully Portrait Paul Scully
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

All I would say is that it is easy to hide something in plain sight, but the subsidy transparency database is being developed under the Cabinet Office’s standard system for all Government databases. I have talked before about interoperability, and we would expect to be able to link those databases and to scrape them in the future.

Dan Poulter Portrait Dr Poulter
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I echo the transparency concerns raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Weston-super-Mare (John Penrose). I welcome the Minister’s commitment to allowing the other place to look at this area, but, to reassure some of us, will he please outline the transparency tools that already exist?

Paul Scully Portrait Paul Scully
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I am not sure in terms of transparency tools. What I am saying is that we will ensure that the database is eventually interoperable with other databases. We clearly want the subsidy database to have enough easily accessible, searchable fields to allow people to make meaningful use of the data.

I turn to the amendments that seek to reduce the time period to upload subsidies to the database for both tax and non-tax subsidies to one month. The risk of a deadline as short as a month is that public authorities are more likely to make mistakes. Although it is possible to correct data, that creates an additional administrative burden for public authorities. Inaccurate or otherwise poor data would also undermine public confidence in the database.

A short deadline is particularly challenging for tax subsidies, which are often calculated from the information provided in a tax declaration, which the beneficiary is entitled to change within the 12 months following its due date. That is true, for example, of the Government’s research and development subsidy scheme for small and medium-sized enterprises, where quarterly uploads to the database are planned for the hundreds of subsidies above £500,000 that are awarded every year. Significantly more resource would be required to upload to the database more frequently and to make corrections to previous uploads as required. I note the proposal to require an initial upload of a tax subsidy as an estimate. However, I believe that more changes and revisions to the database would cause confusion.

On auditing the database, I share hon. Members’ desire to make the database as accurate as possible, and my Department is already taking steps to improve data quality. However, a new obligation to subject the database to a routine audit is unnecessary because the system already incentivises accurate entries. Public authorities may not have fulfilled their obligation to make an entry on the database if that entry is not accurate, so the limitation period for a challenge would not start until a correct entry was made. Public authorities must therefore take responsibility for their own data. Ultimately, it would not be a good use of taxpayers’ money to have central Government officials independently verifying every piece of information provided by public authorities. As for the requirement to include the subsidy upload date in the list of requirements for the database that may be included in regulations, I entirely agree that that is useful data. As I have said, we are currently developing an update so that that is part of the publicly available information on the database.

Let me now deal with amendments that raise important points about the nature of the subsidy control regime, and especially about the role of the subsidy advice unit. The SAU’s job is to be an impartial adviser in respect of the most potentially harmful subsidies and schemes. The regime places clear duties on public authorities that are awarding subsidies. It will be for those authorities to assess whether they are compliant with the regime. That is not the SAU’s job. It will only review public authorities’ assessments in a relatively small number of cases that have the potential to be the most distortive. New clause 3 would require the SAU to monitor and investigate subsidy activity, and amendment 9 would require it to list all subsidies annually, whatever their size, along with an assessment of their compliance. Both would involve a fundamental shift in the unit’s role, to an intrusive, investigatory one.

I fully expect that there will be high levels of compliance with the regime, and that public authorities will take their statutory duties seriously. Of course, failure to fulfil these duties would expose public authorities to legal challenge, and would create unnecessary uncertainty for beneficiaries. Members will appreciate the resource burden that monitoring and assessing all subsidies would involve, and will recognise that not only is it entirely disproportionate to the risks that the amendments seek to address, but it would distract from the SAU’s proper focus.

Amendment 26 would allow the CMA chair to make appointments to the subsidy advice unit to bring greater experience in relation to Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. The CMA’s staffing is an internal matter, but I note that job vacancies for the new unit are currently being advertised in all four capitals of the UK.

Amendment 8 proposes that subsidies granted under schemes should be open to challenge in the Competition Appeal Tribunal. Schemes represent an important efficiency for public authorities. They allow similar or identical subsidies to be given on the basis of a single, comprehensive assessment against the principles. A scheme should not be made unless the public authority believes that the subsidies given under it will be consistent with the principles. It would therefore be unnecessary for subsidies granted under schemes to be eligible for review by the tribunal. However, if there were a question as to whether a subsidy given under a scheme really met the terms of the scheme, that subsidy could be challenged in the tribunal on the basis that it should be treated as a stand-alone subsidy.

Let me deal next with the amendments relating to the role of the devolved administrations. The UK Government have engaged regularly with the DAs on the design of a UK-wide subsidy control regime, and we will continue to listen carefully to their views. None the less, it is important to reiterate that subsidy control is a matter reserved to this Parliament. That is because we need a UK-wide regime to prevent distortions harmful to competition, and to facilitate compliance with our international obligations. I fundamentally believe that the amendments are inappropriate for a reserved policy matter. The Secretary of State will act in the interests of all parts of the UK.

Amendment 12 concerns who can challenge a subsidy decision. I can clarify that: the devolved administrations, or local authorities, would generally be able to apply for the review of a subsidy when people in the areas for which they are responsible might be adversely affected by it, but there is no reason for the DAs to be able to challenge subsidies that have only a tenuous connection with the interests of people in those areas.

Amendment 10 would allow the devolved administrations to create streamlined subsidy schemes. All public authorities in the UK will be able to use such schemes, but they will function best when they apply throughout the UK. In any case, all public authorities will be free to create subsidy schemes for their own purposes, and primary public authorities, such as the DAs, will be able to create schemes for the use of local authorities and other public bodies within their remit. As for amendment 27, the Bill already requires the Secretary of State to consult such persons as they consider appropriate before issuing any guidance. Attaching a formal consent mechanism to this clause risks delaying the issuing and updating of guidance.

New clause 1 would exempt agricultural subsidies and schemes within the scope of the World Trade Organisation agreement on agriculture from the requirements of the new domestic regime. Having agriculture covered by the same single, coherent framework as other sectors will protect competition and investment within agriculture, while securing consistency for public authorities and subsidy recipients. The Bill’s design ensures that public authorities are empowered to give subsidies that best fit their local needs, whether that means supporting innovation in pharmaceuticals or innovation in farming. I therefore do not agree that agriculture should be exempt from the regime.

Let me now turn to the amendments dealing with net zero.

New clause 2 would require the Secretary of State to report annually on the impact of all subsidies granted in the previous year on the environment and climate change. This would represent a significant administrative burden, not least on smaller public authorities, and would discourage them from granting subsidies in the first place. There are also long-standing existing obligations on public authorities to collect this information in specific circumstances, and therefore this amendment is unnecessary.

Amendment 11 would add another principle to schedule 1 centred on net zero, but net zero is not inherent to all subsidies. A great number of subsidies will not have a meaningful impact on the UK’s emissions. A requirement for public authorities to assess all subsidies against net zero is therefore disproportionate.

Amendment 16 would add an explicit net zero test to the balancing test principle in schedule 1. The terms of the balancing test are not limited to negative effects on trade or investment within the UK, or to international trade and investment, so this amendment is also unnecessary.

Finally, on levelling up, amendment 18 would establish that streamlined subsidy schemes can be made for the purpose of supporting areas of deprivation. The Bill allows the Government to create streamlined subsidies for any purpose, not least for levelling up, so this amendment is unnecessary, but I certainly commit to ensuring that streamlined subsidy schemes collectively support public authorities in delivering levelling-up objectives.

The first subsidy control principle specifies that subsidies should pursue a policy objective that either remedies a market failure or addresses an equity rationale. Clearly, relative economic deprivation would fall into that category, so these amendments are unnecessary.

I am grateful for the constructive engagement of hon. Members on both sides of the House, but I cannot accept the amendments tabled for this debate. Consequently, I ask hon. Members not to press them.

Finally, I thank the team that prepared the Bill: Jamie Lucas, Jess Blakely, Carmen Suarez, Jane Woolley, George Kokkinos, Hannah Swindell, Sam Naylor, Joe Smith, Matilda Curtis, Dharmesh Jadavji, Steve Huntington, Kerry Mattingly, Anthony McDonough, Tim Beaver, Christian Garrard and Josephine Sherwood.

Question put, That the clause be read a Second time.

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20:16

Division 146

Ayes: 31


Scottish National Party: 13
Liberal Democrat: 9
Plaid Cymru: 3
Democratic Unionist Party: 2
Independent: 2
Social Democratic & Labour Party: 1
Alba Party: 1

Noes: 292


Conservative: 291

Clause 11
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20:30

Division 147

Ayes: 180


Labour: 146
Scottish National Party: 15
Liberal Democrat: 9
Plaid Cymru: 3
Democratic Unionist Party: 2
Independent: 2
Alba Party: 1

Noes: 292


Conservative: 291

Schedule 1
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20:42

Division 148

Ayes: 178


Labour: 144
Scottish National Party: 15
Liberal Democrat: 8
Plaid Cymru: 3
Democratic Unionist Party: 2
Independent: 2
Social Democratic & Labour Party: 1
Alba Party: 1

Noes: 292


Conservative: 292

Third Reading
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Kwasi Kwarteng Portrait The Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (Kwasi Kwarteng)
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I beg to move, That the Bill be now read the Third time.

I pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Minister for his leadership and diligence in steering the Bill through this House. I recognise the contribution of all the officials in my Department whose outstanding work has advanced us to this point. I thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker, and your colleagues for all the work you have done. I extend my thanks to all the House staff who have made sure that everything has gone as one might expect.

This Bill is a hugely important piece of legislation. It establishes a subsidy control system that has been designed by and for the UK. It demonstrates the Government’s clear commitment to seize the opportunities arising from Brexit. For the first time, the decision on whether to grant a subsidy will fall to the granting authority itself. At the heart of the regime is a set of clear and proportionate principles that will be underpinned by guidance.

Local authorities, public bodies and the devolved Administrations in Edinburgh, Cardiff and Belfast will be empowered to decide if they can issue taxpayer-funded subsidies by acting consistently with the principles outlined in the legislation. That includes a principle specifically designed to minimise distortions to UK competition and investment. The new regime will help to unlock potential so that all areas of the UK feel the benefits of targeted subsidies. That includes investment in skills, infrastructure, new technologies, and research and development.

With agreement, in Committee, the Government made some technical changes to the provisions to provide clarity in certain areas. Those included ensuring that the transparency requirements apply to subsidies under legacy schemes subject to certain exemptions and that the content of the CMA’s post-award report is consistent with that of its pre-award report.

There has been a thorough debate, including today, about specific elements of the regime. I welcome the recognition on both sides of the House of the need for the Bill. The new subsidy control regime will ensure that the UK maintains a competitive free market economy, which is fundamental to our national prosperity, while protecting the interests of the British taxpayer. The debate will continue through the remaining stages of the Bill as it passes to the other place and we will of course be mindful and attentive to that continuing debate. On that basis, I commend the Bill to the House.

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Kwasi Kwarteng Portrait Kwasi Kwarteng
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I am very pleased that there have been as many contributions as there have been. I look forward to taking the Bill forward, as does my hon. Friend the Minister.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read the Third time and passed.

Subsidy Control Bill

(Limited Text - Ministerial Extracts only)

Read Full debate

This text is a record of ministerial contributions to a debate held as part of the Subsidy Control Act 2022 passage through Parliament.

In 1993, the House of Lords Pepper vs. Hart decision provided that statements made by Government Ministers may be taken as illustrative of legislative intent as to the interpretation of law.

This extract highlights statements made by Government Ministers along with contextual remarks by other members. The full debate can be read here

This information is provided by Parallel Parliament and does not comprise part of the offical record

Lord Fox Portrait Lord Fox (LD)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, as we have heard, this set of amendments seeks to create some foundation for a future subsidy regime, whether that is geographical or socially minded or in terms of activity.

In introducing the Bill, and at other times, the Minister has sought to use phrases such as “flexible” and “light touch” to describe the Government’s plans. We do not have to rely on our own experience: we can read what the noble Lord, Lord Agnew, wrote in the newspapers over the weekend about how he saw a light touch rooted in ad hoc decision-making that created a soft touch for light-fingered individuals. We do not want to enshrine that in an Act of Parliament.

To guide where we are going, it is useful to look at where we have been. That is not nostalgia; it is common sense. As my noble friend Lady Sheehan said, about 10 months ago, the Government abandoned any pretence that they were seeking to deliver a modern industrial strategy and withdrew their promise to set out a long-term plan to boost the UK’s productivity. This interrupted what had been something of a consensus. From Heseltine to Mandelson to Cable to Clark, all of them worked within the same tramlines to a lesser or greater extent. This is characteristic of a Government who constantly seem to want to chip away at things that are multilateral and consensual, and to introduce their own stand-alone version.

As I am sure the Minister remembers, the strategic intensions for the industrial strategy were artificial intelligence and data, clean growth, the future of mobility and supporting an ageing society, alongside the important need to improve the UK’s declining productivity. As we know, the political U-turn was executed by the Business Secretary, the right honourable Kwasi Kwarteng, who at the same time disbanded the Industrial Strategy Council, which was due to oversee this whole process. Meanwhile, I understand that, in BEIS, the associated industrial strategy team was also broken up.

What we got instead was the Build Back Better brochure: a glossy, colour catalogue composed half of launches—usually ones that had already happened—backed up by page after page of colour library photos. The Minister may note that the picture illustrating the infrastructure page is of a Victorian viaduct, which perhaps rather indicates the direction in which the Government might be going. In other words, there is nothing now to guide where we might focus subsidy investment. I understand the Minister’s allergy to central micromanagement but what we have been left with will be chaotic and, I am sure, wasteful and unfair.

On the issue of focusing on regions or areas, there is an example we could look at. It is called the European Regional Development Fund—the ERDF. It aims to strengthen economic, social and territorial cohesion in the European Union by correcting imbalances between its regions. It is what you might call levelling up. It states:

“The ERDF finances programmes in shared responsibility between the European Commission and national and regional authorities in Member States.”


I think that reflects some of the words we have heard already. It goes on:

“The Member States’ administrations choose which projects to finance and take responsibility for day-to-day management … In 2021-2027 it will enable investments in a smarter, greener, more connected and more social Europe that is closer to its citizens.”


The aim is to create businesses that are

“more competitive and smarter … greener … more connected”,

supporting the social life of the areas in which they operate—this very much speaks to the point of the noble Baroness, Lady Jones, about improving the lives of the people who live in the country, which is something we should all be seeking every time we debate an issue—and are

“closer to citizens, supporting locally-led development and sustainable urban development.”

I am not proposing that the Minister leads us bravely back into the European Union. What I am proposing is that the Minister learns from the experience of others and applies that learning in a sensible way. This is an opportunity to do such learning.

Lord Callanan Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (Lord Callanan) (Con)
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Apologies; I thought that the noble Lord, Lord McNicol, was going to speak there. I thank the noble Lords, Lord Ravensdale and Lord McNicol, the noble Baronesses, Lady Blake and Lady Randerson, and the noble and learned Lord, Lord Thomas, for tabling Amendments 4, 4A, 5, 5A, 6 and 25.

Let me go back to first principles. The Bill establishes a clear, flexible set of rules for granting subsidies for all public authorities in the United Kingdom. Its central function and purpose is to reduce harmful distortions to domestic competition and investment—as well as to trade and investment between the UK and other countries, of course—which can arise from the giving of subsidies. The new domestic regime will not, however, instruct public authorities on which policy objectives they should direct subsidies towards, so long as they remedy a market failure or address the much-discussed equity concerns.

We are not in the business of interfering with the policy decisions of democratically elected public bodies in Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland or elsewhere in the United Kingdom. In keeping with this, the new subsidy control regime will empower public authorities to design subsidies in a way that is tailored and bespoke for their local needs, without facing excessive bureaucracy in order to do so. That is why we have provided clear guidance that supports public authorities, and which they must consider, to support them in choosing the appropriate indicators because we believe that they are the ones who are best placed to make those final decisions.

Turning first to Amendments 4 and 25, I thank the noble Lord, Lord McNicol, for his amendments; the noble Baroness, Lady Sheehan, put her name to Amendment 4. However, it is my view that Amendments 4 and 25 go against the grain of the Bill. Taken together, they would provide for the Secretary of State to make, by regulations, a strategy that sets out how subsidies should be used by all public authorities to support the delivery of various other strategies. They would then require public authorities to consider the subsidy strategy before awarding a subsidy or making a subsidy scheme. The UK Government have developed various strategies for specific policy issues and will continue to do so. This is where and how the Government will articulate and develop a coherent approach to issues such as net zero and levelling up.

To take an example, in March last year, the Government published a policy paper on how they will build back better, setting out plans to support growth through significant investment in infrastructure, skills and innovation. The Government will also soon publish a levelling-up White Paper—eagerly awaited by the noble Baroness, Lady Blake, no doubt—articulating how bold new policy interventions will improve opportunity and boost livelihoods across the country as we recover from the pandemic. On the points made by the noble Baronesses, Lady Blake and Lady Sheehan, the shared prosperity fund will ramp up to £1.5 billion per year in 2024-25 and total funding will, at a minimum, match the size of EU funds in all nations each year. The Government will publish further details of the fund in due course.

The Committee should bear in mind that subsidies are but one possible tool in the toolbox for supporting strategic public priorities. It is not necessary for the UK as a whole, or even the UK Government, to have an overarching strategy for the provision of subsidies, much in the same way as there is no need for a broad strategy on the use of regulatory levers. Strategies should focus on how to tackle the major issues, rather than the specific tools through which we may address them. A subsidy strategy could well risk steering public authorities towards using subsidies inappropriately or indiscriminately.

It is imperative that public authorities give proper consideration, on a case-by-case basis, to whether the subsidy they propose is the appropriate instrument for achieving any given policy objective. In many cases, there may be more appropriate measures which a public authority can deploy. To take an example dear to the heart of the noble Baroness, Lady Jones, meeting our net-zero targets will involve leveraging a mixture of public interventions, including but not limited to regulation, the emissions trading scheme and public procurement, as well as appropriate and carefully targeted subsidies.

I will now address Amendment 5, tabled by the noble Lord, Lord McNicol. Subsidy control principle A allows public authorities to address inequality and disadvantage through the use of subsidies. It states:

“Subsidies should pursue a … policy objective”


that either remedies a market failure or addresses

“an equity rationale (such as social difficulties or distributional concerns).”

Amendment 5 seeks to include areas of relative economic deprivation as an example of an equity rationale that may be addressed through subsidies. I welcome the noble Lord’s support for levelling up and his interest in ensuring that the subsidy control regime provides for this. I can assure him, however, that the Bill already facilitates the use of subsidies to support areas of relative economic deprivation.

The concept of equity rationale set out in principle A unquestionably covers investment in areas of relative economic deprivation. It is my view that guidance is the best place to provide further examples of legitimate policy objectives for subsidies and, more broadly, to address the practical application of those principles. The Government recently published illustrative guidance on the application of the subsidy control principles. This elaborated on the meaning of an equity objective:

“Equity objectives seek to reduce these disparities between different groups in society or geographic areas.”


It further states that subsidies targeted at

“Levelling up a deprived or disadvantaged area”

would be an example of an equity objective. I would be very happy to discuss this further ahead of Report with the noble Lord, Lord McNicol, and my noble friend Lord Lamont as I am keen to ensure that the intention here—that regional disadvantage is an example of equity rationale—is clear.

The amendments tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Ravensdale, raise a number of similar issues. I am glad of the opportunity to address those as well. A Bill for regulating the granting of subsidies for all purposes, in all policy areas, is not the place to articulate a levelling-up strategy. There will be plenty of time to debate that when the White Paper is published. The purpose of his amendment is to ensure that subsidies to remedy regional disadvantage are permitted under this regime, and on that point I hope I can give him complete reassurance.

As I have mentioned, this is an inherently permissive regime; there is no default prohibition on subsidies. I confirm again that addressing regional disadvantage is an equity rationale for the purposes of principle A, and one that would therefore justify the giving of a subsidy. In contrast to the EU state aid regime, there is no need for central government to set out maps or other metrics of deprivation in the Bill to permit levelling-up subsidies. By empowering public authorities at all levels of government to give subsidies that are designed by them to meet the needs of the places for which they are responsible, the Bill will undoubtedly be an important enabler of the Government’s levelling-up agenda.

However, the subsidy control regime is distinct from it. It is not directly through this Bill or regulations made under it that the Government will pursue their programme to level up the UK. It is perhaps also worth noting that, just like the EU state aid regime, the Bill is concerned with regulation; it is not a source of funding. No doubt there will be lots of debates at other times and in other places about the appropriate level of funding, but I submit that Committee on the Bill is not the place to have those debates. Everything is in its place. This is a flexible and permissive subsidy control regime. Although it facilitates levelling up, it is not the place to define it and it should not be seen as the main vehicle for pursuing it.

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Lord Purvis of Tweed Portrait Lord Purvis of Tweed (LD)
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As I understand it, the guidance states that every authority now needs to define for itself what a social equity is as far as deprivation is concerned, even taking into consideration what relative that would be. It says:

“Public authorities must use supporting evidence which … should include measures or statistical indicators set against appropriate comparators”.


That suggests that every public authority defining its own scheme will have to provide its own statistical basis and definitions. How will the CMA judge those against others? Given that there will be no commonly agreed areas of social deprivation, is it not likely to create even more bureaucracy and confusion if every public authority has to make its own definitions and provide its own necessary material and statistical basis?

Lord Callanan Portrait Lord Callanan (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

It is for the CMA to provide guidance on those matters but for the authorities themselves to determine whether the subsidy in question is justified. Then, but only if it is challenged against the principles in the Act, will the CAT be empowered to make a judgment on whether it is in compliance with the specific provisions in the Act.

Baroness Blake of Leeds Portrait Baroness Blake of Leeds (Lab)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, I express my gratitude for all the contributions to this increasingly important debate. Judging by the response from the Minister, there are still many areas that I am sure we will want to pursue and explore and to which we will come back at later stages of our proceedings. I echo the comment by the noble Lord, Lord Ravensdale, that there is a clear question here: is there a clear strategy? That is something that we can all question as we go forward.

Many of us in the Room today have been involved with the vexed issue of distributing regional funding, which is extraordinarily complex. I come back to the very clear comments by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Thomas, about the nature of the political decision in this. I have enormous concerns about how the whole process will be taken forward if it is allowed to stay in its current form, and real concern about the lack of focus on what it is going to mean in terms of benefit for communities and for people. As the noble Baroness, Lady Sheehan, emphasised, a lack of clarity, very little in the way of guidance and too many gaps have been the theme that has run through this debate.

I have to pick up one of the comments that the noble Baroness, Lady Jones, made concerning tension within the Government. I think that helps to explain where the lack of clarity has come from.

I think we would all welcome improvements. No one is trying to suggest that what we had before was perfect. I myself go back to the time of SRB funding, for example, when local authorities were put by a national directive in the position where communities were split down the middle, with funding going into an area on one side of a street but not the other. We do not want to move away from local determination, and that is very much the spirit in which we are taking this up.

With those comments, and with a clear understanding that we will be coming back to discuss these important matters, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

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Lord Callanan Portrait Lord Callanan (Con)
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I am grateful to all noble Lords who took part in this debate. The noble Baronesses, Lady Sheehan, Lady Hayman and Lady Jones, raising their favourite subject brought me a great sense of déjà vu—the feeling that I have been here before and will no doubt be here on many occasions in future. Nevertheless, it is important to highlight the crucial issues of our net-zero commitments, climate change and environmental protection.

Before I address the individual amendments, I will explain further the approach that we have taken in this Bill towards the vital subject of energy and environmental protections. As noble Lords are aware, the Subsidy Control Bill sets out a new approach that is tailored to the needs of the UK. Broadly, it addresses two objectives: first, to facilitate compliance with our international commitments, including the subsidy control provisions in the EU–UK Trade and Cooperation Agreement; and, secondly and perhaps more importantly, to ensure that markets in the UK function effectively and that we minimise the domestic distortive effects of subsidies.

However, in respect of energy and environmental objectives, it would be fair to say that our approach is slightly different. In this area, the UK’s existing commitments, regulations and practices are extensive and world-leading, from the Environment Act principles to support for Sizewell C and the clean heat grant. Given all this, I believe that we already have the right framework in place.

As a result, our primary objective in respect of the energy and environment principles is to fulfil our international obligations—specifically, to implement the provisions in the TCA. These are good, common-sense principles; it will not be a challenge for UK public authorities to comply with them. I am not trying to suggest that they have been included reluctantly or that they do not have this Government’s full endorsement, but, equally, we have not sought to introduce further requirements or extend the scope more widely than required because we believe that energy and environment rules in general should apply to all kinds of policy-making, regulation and funding, rather than having specific provisions just for one tool in the toolbox. This brings me to the question asked by the noble Baroness, Lady Jones, on why nuclear has been excluded from the principles set out in Schedule 2; I will come on to that in more detail.

I will start with Amendments 7 to 10, all of which would amend Schedule 1. I thank the noble Lords, Lord McNicol and Lord Whitty, and the noble Baronesses, Lady Sheehan, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb, Lady Bennett of Manor Castle—I see that she is not with us—and Lady Boycott, for tabling and putting their names to the respective amendments.

Schedule 1 sets out the subsidy control principles that public authorities must consider for any subsidies that they award or subsidy schemes that they make. These common-sense principles will ensure that subsidies and schemes offer value for money while addressing important public policy objectives in the United Kingdom. Public authorities will need to consider the effects of subsidies in the round before awarding them. The areas currently listed under principle G are those that subsidies inherently affect: competition, investment and trade. Other negative effects should be considered for the purposes of principle G only in so far as they are relevant.

Net-zero and climate change considerations are not inherent to all subsidies. Placing additional emphasis on climate change in principle G, or adding an additional principle H, could lead to public authorities having to do bespoke, possibly onerous, assessments for every single subsidy awarded or subsidy scheme made, even when it has no meaningful impact on net-zero targets.

I turn now to Amendment 11 to Schedule 2. Schedule 2 sets out that energy and environment subsidies must aim at one of two objectives: first, delivering a secure, affordable and sustainable energy system and a well-functioning and competitive energy market; or, secondly, increasing the level of environmental protection compared with the level that would be achieved in the absence of that subsidy. I would have thought that the noble Baroness, Lady Jones, would support that. This amendment would add a third aim, specifying that subsidies in relation to energy and environment should incentivise the beneficiary to help to deliver the UK’s net-zero target.

As I have said—there is no disagreement among us here—I and the Government entirely agree that net zero is of critical importance. Indeed, the Government published their Net Zero Strategy last year. The Government have already announced new subsidy schemes that promote net-zero objectives, are compliant with the interim subsidy control regime and, of course, ensure good taxpayer value at the same time. These include schemes such as the clean heat grant, which will help consumers to overcome the high up-front costs of low-carbon heat and will build supply chains for low-carbon heat ahead of the introduction of regulations for existing buildings off the gas grid, which we will come to later in the decade.

However, I do not believe that it is necessary to add an additional aim in Schedule 2, principle A. Sustainability and environmental protection are explicitly mentioned in the principle already, and it is clear that progressing our net-zero priorities would fall into these categories. Adding a further requirement on all subsidies and schemes, on top of those existing principles and regardless of whether the subsidy or scheme has a specific net-zero aim or impact, is not necessary given the existing comprehensive set of regulatory requirements on public authorities. I have mentioned several of these already but they include the legally binding environmental targets in the Environment Act, for example. It could even disincentivise other valuable subsidies that improve environmental protections but would not have a direct net-zero component.

Lord Purvis of Tweed Portrait Lord Purvis of Tweed (LD)
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The Minister and the Government have been consistent in saying that moves are unnecessary, specifically because of principle G, but principle G says that

“beneficial effects (in terms of achieving their specific policy objective) should outweigh any negative effects”.

The “beneficial effects” are the achieving of the “policy objective”, so if the policy objective has nothing whatever to do with sustainability—it could well be market support in one area—then only beneficial effects with regard to that “specific policy objective” will be taken into consideration. There will not necessarily be beneficial impacts on sustainability, net zero or climate because the beneficial effects are very narrowly defined under principle G. So the necessary element still stands because the Government have restricted beneficial effects only to those linked with the original policy objective.

Lord Callanan Portrait Lord Callanan (Con)
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I think we discussed this earlier. I am really not sure of the point the noble Lord is trying to make.

Amendments 12 and 29, tabled by the noble Baronesses, Lady Boycott and Lady Sheehan, and the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, would prevent subsidies that would relieve their beneficiaries from their liabilities as a polluter. Provision already exists in the Bill to protect the “polluter pays” principle for any subsidy in relation to energy and environment. Principle B in Schedule 2 sets this out explicitly:

“Subsidies in relation to energy and environment shall not relieve the beneficiary from liabilities arising from its responsibilities as a polluter under the law of England and Wales, Scotland or Northern Ireland.”


Clause 13(3)(b) ensures that a public authority

“must not make the scheme unless it is of the view that the subsidies provided for by the scheme will be consistent with those principles.”

As I have previously set out, it is right that the provisions in the “polluter pays” principle apply only where they are relevant. That principle has long-standing foundations in UK law—including, most recently, in the provisions of the Environment Act 2021, which I also covered earlier.

Amendment 33 would prohibit subsidies for fossil fuels, including those subsidies that fall within the definition used by the IMF for fossil fuel subsidies. This would include subsidies for fossil fuel development and for the construction of new unmitigated fossil fuel-powered electricity generation, either in the UK or abroad. The principles in Schedule 2 to the Bill will help ensure that energy and environment subsidies contribute to optimal outcomes for UK citizens, recognising the importance of a secure, affordable and sustainable energy system and increasing levels of environmental protection.

I am fully in agreement with the noble Baroness, Lady Sheehan, that inefficient fossil fuel subsidies encourage wasteful consumption, reduce our energy security, impede investment in clean energy sources and undermine efforts to deal with the threat of climate change. However, I cannot accept this amendment because unabated gas-fired generation currently plays a critical role in keeping Great Britain’s electricity system secure and stable. New-build gas generation capacity will continue to be needed to ensure security of supply until clean alternatives are deployable at scale.

Baroness Sheehan Portrait Baroness Sheehan (LD)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I have a question for the Minister. We have a real problem with fuel poverty and the energy cost of living—indeed, the cost of living everywhere. Energy costs are so high, and they are going to get even higher come April. Does it not worry the Minister—and, through him, the Government —that Shell paid $1.8 billion in tax to Norway in 2020 but, over the same period, it received $99.1 million from our Government in the UK? In that year, the UK was the only country where Shell operates in which it did not pay tax, according to the company’s own annual report on payments to Governments. There is something very wrong here.

Lord Callanan Portrait Lord Callanan (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

That is not a subject for today’s debate. I have no idea whether the figures produced by the noble Baroness are accurate, but we have had this debate many times. We are phasing out fossil fuel-required generation. We have one of the fastest deployable rates of renewables in the world. We have the largest offshore wind capacity in the world. I appreciate that the noble Baroness wants to go even faster but, unless she is standing here saying that we should turn the lights out tomorrow, even the Climate Change Committee accepts that we will need gas-fired generation in the years to come. This is a transition, not a revolution, so we will scale down our use of fossil fuels gradually but, in the short term, we will continue to need them.

Baroness Sheehan Portrait Baroness Sheehan (LD)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I really must challenge the Minister on this. He knows that this is not a question of switching off the lights overnight. The Climate Change Committee has a well-worked-out plan for scaling down our use of fossil fuels. In that plan, we start to reduce our reliance on oil and gas to a point where the only oil and gas we have is mitigated by some form of abatement, in whatever form that may take, by 2050. The plan is not that we continue to use gas unabated until 2050—that just is not the case. It is very misleading to say that.

Lord Callanan Portrait Lord Callanan (Con)
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Indeed—[Interruption.] I will let the noble Baroness, Lady Jones, come in as well.

Baroness Jones of Moulsecoomb Portrait Baroness Jones of Moulsecoomb (GP)
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We may have had this debate many times but the fact is that the Government do not listen. For example, the Government could have already reduced by a huge margin our reliance on fossil fuels and gas by helping people insulate their homes. They have given little bits here and little bits there, but they have not invested heavily. They could do more but they refuse to do so. I do not understand why. So, we are going to continue having these debates until the Government actually fulfil some of the promises they have made.

Lord Callanan Portrait Lord Callanan (Con)
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We will continue to have these debates: I just point the noble Baroness to the fact that we are spending £3.4 billion over the next few years on precisely the schemes that she mentions. By all means, argue that we should be spending even more, but it is just not true to say that we are not spending anything at all. We will continue to have these debates.

Going back to the points by the noble Baroness, Lady Sheehan, I think we are in danger of violently agreeing here. Of course, there has to be a transition and we have to reduce our reliance over time, but my point is and will remain that in the meantime, we still require unabated gas-fired generation unless she is proposing to turn the lights out, which I know she is not. Therefore, we are effectively agreeing. We could have a long and detailed debate about the scale of the transition and how we should progress the transition, but in essence we are saying the same things.

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Lord Purvis of Tweed Portrait Lord Purvis of Tweed (LD)
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Will the Minister address the points about how the regulated asset base will be considered—I understand his comments about that—and specifically about support for the small reactor scheme for Rolls-Royce?

Lord Callanan Portrait Lord Callanan (Con)
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The noble Lord makes some valid points on the RAB mechanism, which will be debated in full on the upcoming nuclear Bill, but I will write to him on the specific points, particularly about support for the SMR reactors he talked about. I point out that existing subsidy schemes are of course excluded from the Bill. No doubt he will want to ask what happens if we want to award a similar subsidy in the future.

In my view, the energy and environment principles provide helpful support to our energy, environmental and climate change ambitions, but they are not the main engine of those ambitions. Finally, to answer the other questions of the noble Baroness, Lady Jones, on community energy—not really a matter for the Bill—and the Government’s approach to net zero, I am very happy to follow that up and write to her with the details. We are fully in favour of community energy projects, but of course they have to pay their share of the costs towards the network, as all other projects do if they wish to be connected to the national grid. I will write to her with the details and follow up with the noble Lord, Lord Purvis, on SMRs and the basis of nuclear subsidies.

Lord Fox Portrait Lord Fox (LD)
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My Lords—

Lord Callanan Portrait Lord Callanan (Con)
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I have not satisfied them all yet.

Lord Fox Portrait Lord Fox (LD)
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There may be something to add to the letter. My noble friend Lord Purvis made a valid point about paragraph G of Schedule 1, to which the Minister feigned non comprendi. The point my noble friend was making is that the Minister had said there was no need to have an explicit environmental or energy benefit in the Bill because that was implicitly within everything. However, paragraph G absolutely says that unless something is a specific policy objective, it is not considered to be a beneficial effect, so that paragraph cancels out what the Minister said to the Committee. Some sense of resolving that tension would be helpful. That is something we can come back to because, if indeed paragraph G overrides other benefits, which it seems to do, it is even more important that environmental and energy issues are placed at the heart of the Bill.

Lord Callanan Portrait Lord Callanan (Con)
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I think if the objective is set then it is an overarching benefit, but I will be happy to confirm that to the noble Lord, Lord Purvis, and will copy the letter to the noble Lord, Lord Fox, as well. Once again, I will be very busy in my letter-writing activities for the next few days. With that, I hope noble Lords are satisfied—or, if not satisfied, content—with the answers that I have given and therefore, in compliance with that, that the noble Lord will feel able to withdraw the amendment at this stage.

Lord McNicol of West Kilbride Portrait Lord McNicol of West Kilbride (Lab)
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I thank the Minister for his response, and I thank the noble Baronesses, Lady Jones, Lady Sheehan and Lady Hayman, for their comments. I am not quite sure how many of the four questions asked by the noble Baroness, Lady Jones, we got through; we might be coming back to some of them.

As expected, to be fair, the Minister said that he believes we have the right framework in place and there is no need to extend it. I had a different take on the discussions with the noble Lords, Lord Purvis and Lord Fox, about paragraph G. The Minister said that not all subsidies will be relevant to net zero. As the noble Lord, Lord Fox, pointed out earlier, many subsidies fit around the issue of energy and climate but, if we take the Minister at his word on that and a particular subsidy has no meaningful impact on climate or net zero, his argument was that it could cause an extra administrative burden on the authorities if they have to show that it is not relevant. However, if the subsidy had no relevance to the environment or to climate. it would be relatively straightforward for them to say so. My feeling was that that negated the argument that the Minister was making for not including Amendments 7 or 11 in the Bill.

I am still genuinely struggling to understand why it would be so difficult to include that commitment, because those are guiding principles. If we all agree that we need to move towards net zero, protecting the environment and delivering on the climate emergency, then this is an opportunity to put that language in the Bill—especially a Bill that is so relevant to the fact that historically either state aid or government decisions, which we have argued for many times, have supported industries that harm the environment, albeit for very good reasons.

I am sure we will come back to this issue but, with that I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Subsidy Control Bill

(Limited Text - Ministerial Extracts only)

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This text is a record of ministerial contributions to a debate held as part of the Subsidy Control Act 2022 passage through Parliament.

In 1993, the House of Lords Pepper vs. Hart decision provided that statements made by Government Ministers may be taken as illustrative of legislative intent as to the interpretation of law.

This extract highlights statements made by Government Ministers along with contextual remarks by other members. The full debate can be read here

This information is provided by Parallel Parliament and does not comprise part of the offical record

Baroness Blake of Leeds Portrait Baroness Blake of Leeds (Lab)
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My Lords, I declare an interest as a vice-president of the LGA. I also express—I like the term—a personal “modicum of delight” at having been released from the Covid nightmare and enforced isolation which has unfortunately hit too many of us in this group.

I sincerely recognise the movement from the Government in the amendments tabled. I thank the Minister for taking our comments on board. We have all expressed our reservations and commented from wide experience and knowledge from the front line of how significant these subsidies are—particularly, as has been said, in the context of driving investment, regeneration and putting some substance behind the rhetoric around levelling up. We have given examples of discrepancies in investment and funding, and the real disadvantage that that has caused too many communities across the United Kingdom.

I express my gratitude for the quality of the discussion on the amendments in this group, particularly for several conversations my noble friend Lord McNicol and I have had with the noble Lord, Lord Ravensdale, about what it is like being part of a body with the responsibility for delivering on the ground. The issue here is bridging that gap between the words in the Bill and the reality of how you make this happen on the ground.

My noble friend Lord Chandos has, as ever, expressed his views eloquently. I cannot add to what he has said, other than to thank him for his reasonable and measured approach, which highlights the significance of his comments around the investment in equity securities and how we must ensure that the discrepancies between the contents and the supporting documentation are resolved. We hope that the Minister can offer helpful clarifications on this subject.

Like other noble Lords, we on these Benches are very pleased that the Government have been persuaded of the case for strengthening the Bill’s focus on local and regional economic disadvantage. These points have been raised consistently both in another place and in your Lordships’ House. Without wishing to sound churlish, we feel it is a case of “better late than never”. It seems obvious to use whatever instruments are to hand to bring advantage to all parts of the country.

It may be that the Bill never prevented subsidies from being used to level up deprived areas, but the clarification in Amendment 2 will be helpful for public authorities at all levels. The exemption for relocation subsidies, introduced via Amendment 14, is also a hugely significant step. As we will all recall, we had a very interesting debate on relocation in Grand Committee and how, perversely, not addressing this matter could have caused real damage, inadvertently perhaps. I am glad that we have some movement and some common sense in this area.

I understand the intention behind Amendment 9, in the name of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Thomas of Cwmgiedd. In an ideal world, the Bill would indeed contain further detail on how the equity rationale will work in practice. As has been said several times, the amendment is looking for that clarification—the standards and principles—for how we can ensure that there are no grounds for misinterpretation and confusion. I am fairly confident that the Minister will say that this is exactly the kind of information that will be contained in future guidance, but, again, we must bear in mind the recipients of that guidance and how it will be interpreted. The subsidies must be a force for good. They must clearly demonstrate purpose and benefit to the communities where they are applied. I emphasise the clarity that will be needed around this. Talking to various stakeholders in the field, it is about the level of advice and clarification, and about ensuring that everyone feels that there is a level playing field and that interpretation in different areas is not bringing disadvantage as a knock-on effect.

It is fair to say that the Welsh Government have consistently voiced concerns that the original Bill treated Mayfair and Merthyr in the same manner, and with these changes we are definitely making progress. However, as regards other elements of the Bill and the changes that have been made, we must emphasise the significance and importance of the review process, making sure that that is done in a transparent way at every stage of the game. We are talking about value for money, delivery, the spend of the public pound, making sure that all the concerns around the decisions that have led to investment decisions—which have been fairly, from our point of view, criticised—must be addressed. This is a powerful opportunity and I hope that through the changes that we are seeing, the opportunities are not missed.

As we speak, there is discussion about the spend of the shared prosperity fund, the delay in the skills element of that and the fact that ESIF will fall out next year, and there will be a gap if we do not pick up these issues. All those matters need to be brought together so that the spirit behind the gain-share agreements with all the devolved areas can be delivered with local determination, bringing benefit to all. This is a current and very important debate and I look forward with interest to the Minister’s response.

Lord Callanan Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (Lord Callanan) (Con)
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I start by welcoming the noble Baroness back to her rightful place on the Front Bench, fully recovered. In fact, I say that with more than a modicum of delight—to use my favourite phrase of the week so far. For the noble Lord, Lord Fox, that is the equivalent of being damned with faint praise. So as not to be sexist about this, it is good to see the noble Lord, Lord McNicol, back as well.

The interaction of the subsidy control regime with the Government’s levelling-up agenda has rightly occupied many noble Lords during their consideration of the Bill, both in Committee and on Report. I hope that so far I have been able to provide sufficient reassurance that public authorities are no less able to give subsidies to address regional disadvantage under the Bill than they were under the previous EU state aid regime. Indeed, moving away from the EU’s default prohibition on subsidies and the resulting exemption for certain categories of subsidy in specified areas will allow public authorities greater ability to design measures that address not only regional disadvantage but the stark differences in social and economic opportunity that exist at a much more granular local level.

It is important that public authorities understand the way that they are empowered by this regime to give levelling-up subsidies, so I recognise the value of noble Lords’ suggestions that this would benefit from being made clear in the subsidy control principles. Amendment 2 to Schedule 1 therefore makes it clear that addressing local or regional disadvantage is considered to be an equity rationale for the purpose of assessing compliance with principle A. That was urged on me by many noble Lords in Committee and I am delighted to be able to put that forward—with more than a modicum of delight —on behalf of the Government. This puts it beyond any doubt or confusion that a subsidy to address local or regional disadvantage can be given, provided, of course, that the other principles and requirements of the regime are met.

I am grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Blake, and the noble Lord, Lord Ravensdale, for supporting this amendment—I am not sure that there are many occasions when people put their name to my amendments but I am more than delighted when they do so. I am also happy to reassure noble Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Ravensdale, in particular, that beyond this change to the Bill, the Government will be exploring the creation of streamlined routes to support levelling up. I reassure the noble Lord that these streamlined routes may have deprivation-related eligibility criteria, although it is important to note that levelling up is about improving opportunities in the whole of the UK.

A streamlined route could therefore facilitate interventions—high street regeneration is one example—that could be used by a range of public authorities, but particularly those who wish to address deprived areas. Although streamlined routes will be produced by the Secretary of State, none of this prevents local authorities or other public authorities making subsidy schemes that have deprivation-related eligibility criteria.

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Moved by
2: Schedule 1, page 52, line 7, after “as” insert “local or regional disadvantage,”
Member’s explanatory statement
This amendment clarifies that Principle A of the subsidy control principles covers subsidies aimed at addressing local or regional disadvantage.
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Baroness Blake of Leeds Portrait Baroness Blake of Leeds (Lab)
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My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Boycott, for tabling her amendments and sorry that she cannot be here to move them today; I am grateful that my noble friend Lord Whitty stepped into the breach much more than adequately. I want also to recognise the contribution of the debate and the importance of getting on to the front foot with its urgency on such a range of different issues. Obviously we have the climate emergency, but we have to mention Russia’s illegal invasion of Ukraine and the West’s urgent discussions about how to lower its dependence on Russian oil and gas.

These discussions are happening at the highest possible level. For some, I fear that they will give a convenient excuse to promote activities that will cause significant environmental damage if unchecked, whether that is firing up coal-fired power stations, resuming fracking, or indeed Shell’s announcement just this morning that it will look again at the Cambo field. For many, the focus is on the acuteness of the energy security issues that we are facing, which have come to the forefront, and the ever greater need to develop energy self-sufficiency; that means focusing on the climate imperative together with security issues, regeneration and the new green jobs that will come along.

Following COP 26, the UK remains a key player in driving implementation of the various agreements reached. What hope do we have of ensuring that other countries follow through on their commitments if we do not play our leading role in this global fight? Another aspect is that we know the Government want a degree of flexibility for public authorities at every level, but we do not see anything in Amendment 3 that takes that flexibility away. The Minister has been keen to use the example of Welsh steel during our discussions on this matter. If, when conducting the so-called balance test, the Welsh Government decide that the short-term economic benefits outweigh the costs of emissions, they will be able to award the subsidy. However, as a general principle, public money should be used for public good, and what greater public good can there be than preserving our planet for future generations?

Now is the time for us to double down on our commitments to renewables and nuclear rather than being swayed by those who are seeking to turn back the clock. I finish by picking up on the comments of my noble friend Lord Whitty about pressing Amendment 3 to a vote. If he does indeed decide to do so, we will support him.

Lord Callanan Portrait Lord Callanan (Con)
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My Lords, first, I thank all noble Lords who have spoken on these amendments, which were introduced so ably, as always, by the noble Lord, Lord Whitty. I will respond to them all together since they all relate to climate change and energy matters.

Amendment 3, tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Boycott, and the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, seeks to include specific mention of our “net zero emissions target” and “environmental targets”. It would require public authorities to consider the negative impacts, with respect to our Climate Change Act and Environment Act targets, when making a balancing test under principle G of Schedule 1. Amendment 61 would allow the Secretary of State to issue guidance to support public authorities with this assessment.

I understand noble Lords’ keen interest in ensuring that subsidies and schemes granted within the UK further our climate change and environmental targets, wherever practical, and that public authorities should be supported by the Government in making robust assessments of the impacts that their subsidies or schemes may have on these targets. The Government share this objective, and our record in office demonstrates that. I make it clear that this applies to some of the other amendments to which I will be coming later: the UK’s net zero target is, and remains, the law of the land. Nothing in this Bill changes or undermines that fact. The Government remain resolutely committed to net zero by 2050. At this point, I welcome the addition of the noble Lord, Lord Fox, to my speechwriting team. However, it is right and proper, particularly in the current crisis, that we keep in mind that our energy transition to net zero is an issue not only of decarbonisation but of national security and—especially at the moment—national importance.

In response to the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, I make it clear that the balancing test in principle G already requires public authorities to take into account all relevant “negative effects”, which would include negative effects in relation to climate change and the environment. Similarly, subsidies that support our net zero and environmental targets should also take those positive impacts into account in the balancing tests. Principle G emphasises particularly “competition”, “trade” and “investment” effects because minimising harmful distortions in these areas is the primary purpose of a system of subsidy control. However, it is not intended to suggest that these factors should override all other policy-making considerations. There is no implication that public authorities should set their climate and environmental obligations—or, indeed, any other duties or objectives—to one side.

I reassure the noble Baronesses, Lady Sheehan and Lady Hayman, and others, that the Secretary of State will issue guidance on the practical application of the subsidy control principles, and regarding the energy and environment principles. This guidance will include instructions on how to take into account, where relevant, any impacts the subsidy or scheme may have on targets under the Climate Change Act or the Environment Act—or, indeed, signpost the public authority to existing guidance to this effect.

It is also worth pointing out that environmental policy is a devolved matter. This regime is designed to empower public authorities with democratic mandates to use subsidies in pursuit of their own policy objectives—within certain bounds which merely protect UK competition and investment—and safeguard our international obligations. It is not seeking to direct the devolved Administrations, or any other public authority, to spend on one specific policy objective, however important and worthwhile that policy objective may be. For that reason, I am highly reluctant to impose any additional constraints on other public authorities which are fundamental neither to subsidy control policy nor to implementing our international obligations. There are later amendments in which noble Lords will seek to persuade me to do the opposite in respect of the devolved Administrations, so I hope that noble Lords will not be so hypocritical as to repeat those arguments back to me then. I believe that these amendments are therefore unnecessary, and I ask the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, to withdraw Amendment 3.

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19:10

Division 5

Ayes: 133

Noes: 139

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19:46

Division 6

Ayes: 110

Noes: 125

Schedule 2: The energy and environment principles

Subsidy Control Bill

(Limited Text - Ministerial Extracts only)

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This text is a record of ministerial contributions to a debate held as part of the Subsidy Control Act 2022 passage through Parliament.

In 1993, the House of Lords Pepper vs. Hart decision provided that statements made by Government Ministers may be taken as illustrative of legislative intent as to the interpretation of law.

This extract highlights statements made by Government Ministers along with contextual remarks by other members. The full debate can be read here

This information is provided by Parallel Parliament and does not comprise part of the offical record

Lord Callanan Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (Lord Callanan) (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, I will not detain the House too long. Before Committee, I talked all those who were interested through the work we have done to engage with the devolved Administrations and the commitment we gave to take on board many of their suggestions. I know that some Members have had sight of the draft memorandum of understanding that we are trying to agree with the devolved Administrations. There is a commitment from the Government to engage with them. I accept that they have a principled objection to the fact that subsidy control is a reserved matter, so of course they are not willing to provide LCMs on that basis. Having said that, and accepting that reservation, we are still talking to each other, officials are still liaising and we will still attempt to reach agreement with them on the MoU. We have taken and will take into consideration many of the suggestions they have made.

Amendment 64 from the noble and learned Lord, Lord Thomas of Cwmgiedd, would require the Secretary of State to seek the consent of the devolved Administrations before issuing guidance under Clause 79 or making regulations under Clauses 11, 33, 34 and 59. It would require the Secretary of State to wait for up to a month before issuing guidance or making regulations to obtain the consent of the DAs. Where the consent is not given, the Secretary of State will still be able to make the regulations or issue the guidance, but will have to publish a statement explaining the reasons for making the regulations or guidance without DA consent.

I realise that this is a contentious area but, as stated earlier, it is the settled will of Parliament that subsidy control is a reserved matter. In our view, it would not be appropriate for the UK Government to be required by legislation to undertake selective consultations with the DAs on guidance and regulations regarding reserved policy matters, which will affect all UK public authorities, before laying them in the UK Parliament.

Furthermore, as I stated in Committee, a formal consent mechanism would delay the issuing and updating of statutory guidance and regulations. It is important that the Government are able to update guidance quickly should circumstances change, for instance due to the development of new UK case law. Delaying changes would be unhelpful for public authorities and subsidy recipients alike. There is already a requirement in the Bill for the Secretary of State to consult such persons as they consider appropriate before issuing any further guidance—the DAs, of course, being appropriate in this case.

I hope noble Lords are reassured by these commitments. I have already set out that we will continue the extensive engagement we have had with the devolved Administrations in developing the policy for the new regime, including by sharing draft consultation documents on the definitions of subsidies and schemes of interest and of particular interest. It is right that the UK Government are not slowed down by the need to seek the formal consent of the devolved Administrations before issuing guidance.

Amendment 6 in the name of the noble and learned Lords, Lord Thomas and Lord Hope, the noble Lord, Lord Wigley, and the noble Baroness, Lady Randerson, would in effect allow the devolved Administrations to create streamlined subsidy schemes under Clause 10 by making a request of a UK government Minister. To respond directly to the description of this as “modest” by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Thomas, I am concerned that it would significantly affect the Government’s discretion to set out a wider strategy for developing streamlined routes, given the impossibility of refusing “a reasonable request”.

Streamlined subsidy schemes have an important role to play in supporting public authorities to deliver well-designed subsidies that address market failures and UK strategic priorities, while minimising risks of excessive distortion to competition, investment and trade. They are not subject to mandatory or voluntary referral to the subsidy advice unit under the provisions of Chapter 1 of Part 4 of the Bill.

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Lord Fox Portrait Lord Fox (LD)
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I apologise to the Minister and thank him for giving way. I am struggling a little with why the Government want to hoard the right to create streamlined subsidies to central government. I can assume only that it is because it gives the Government the ability to parachute schemes into Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland—which might not be seen by those devolved Administrations as something they would have—and, because they are streamlined schemes, they cannot be challenged. Is that the reason the Government are not prepared to let devolved authorities have streamlined subsidy schemes for themselves?

Lord Callanan Portrait Lord Callanan (Con)
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No, I think the noble Lord is being unfair; the operation of these schemes is entirely optional. We will consult the devolved Administrations closely before making any such schemes. I only just said that we will seek to involve DA officials and others in expert working groups for each of the routes we are developing.

Lord Fox Portrait Lord Fox (LD)
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I am sorry to prolong this, but is the Minister now saying that, for a streamlined scheme that is presented by central government and could be taken up by, for example, organisations and companies in Scotland, the Scottish Government have the option of not allowing that to happen? That, I think, is what the Minister just said.

Lord Callanan Portrait Lord Callanan (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

They could choose not to use the scheme if they wished, but it would be a UK-wide scheme. They would be consulted on the development and involved in the expert groups that put them together.

I will move on to Amendment 58, also tabled by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Thomas. This amendment sets out a new route for subsidies given in devolved primary legislation to be considered by the courts, by allowing the relevant law officer to refer the question of whether a Bill is compatible with the principles in Chapter 1 of Part 2 to the Supreme Court. It also removes the requirement for the promoter of the legislation to consider the subsidy control principles and other requirements, and the ability of the courts to consider whether the provisions of Parts 1 and 2 of Chapter 2 have been properly applied, thereby removing the ability of an interested party to challenge the subsidy in the general courts on that basis.

I am of course very grateful for the interest taken by the noble and learned Lord in this clause and for his engagement on it with me and my officials. I believe that both he and I share an objective to ensure that these provisions reflect our constitutional and legal institutions, as well as our obligations under international law. Schedule 3, as it stands in the Bill, accomplishes those objectives.

It is important that the subsidy control requirements apply to subsidies in devolved primary legislation, and that these subsidies are not immune from challenge by interested parties. This is both for consistency with other subsidies and to ensure compliance with our international obligations, particularly under the trade and co-operation agreement with the EU. However, it is also important that the unique constitutional status of the devolved legislatures is respected. That is why we have tailored the provisions in Schedule 3 specifically, and there is no mandatory referral to the subsidy advice unit for these subsidies.

I must therefore reject the amendment tabled by the noble and learned Lord for two reasons. First, it would not meet our international obligations under the TCA, which requires us to make available a route to challenge in a court or tribunal for interested parties, on grounds of compliance with the substantive subsidy control requirements. This amendment would, effectively, remove that route.

In response to the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope, on the intention of paragraphs 6 and 7, it is those interested parties that may challenge, for example, another public authority or another business, as long as they meet the test set out in Clause 70. The promoter would normally be the government Minister, or the person making an amendment to the Bill, and this is defined in paragraph 2 of Schedule 3.

The second problem with the amendment is that it would have the effect of asking the Supreme Court to consider questions of fact. It is my understanding that the High Court or Court of Session is the appropriate forum to consider these questions in the first instance, followed by the relevant appeals court, and, as relevant, the Supreme Court as the ultimate arbiter for questions of law. Creating a route for the law officers to refer a question to the Supreme Court implies that any challenge to a subsidy in devolved primary legislation would be a constitutional question, as it is comparable to the route for referring devolution issues under the devolution settlements. While the Bill affects the exercise of responsibilities of all public authorities in the UK, I do not consider that this is a constitutional question.

Lord Purvis of Tweed Portrait Lord Purvis of Tweed (LD)
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I have a point of clarification, because this aspect draws two areas together. Given that agriculture and fisheries are part of this legislation, and because agriculture and fisheries are unquestionably devolved competences, there will be subsidy schemes—let us say for Scotland, an agriculture or fisheries subsidies scheme. The Minister has indicated that there can be a UK-wide streamlined scheme which will cover agriculture and fisheries, so for the first time in the devolution period, there would theoretically be two parallel support schemes for agriculture and fisheries. But there is no capacity for the devolved Administration to challenge the UK-wide scheme, because the Government are indicating that this is a reserved area, even though support for agriculture and fisheries is fully devolved. Furthermore, there is not even a direct route to ask the Supreme Court to consider the competences on the division of this. How does the Minister see the benefit of two parallel schemes: one streamlined and unchallengeable, and another a devolved one on agriculture and fisheries?

Lord Callanan Portrait Lord Callanan (Con)
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I understand the point that the noble Lord is making, but the idea that the UK Government are going to want to set up a streamlined scheme covering agriculture and fisheries in Scotland, in parallel to an existing subsidy scheme that the Scottish Government are already pursuing, is extremely unlikely. A streamlined route can indeed be challenged in the Competition Appeal Tribunal, and we would not introduce such a scheme without consulting closely with the devolved Administrations in the first place. I understand the constitutional question that the noble Lord is positing, but I think this is very unlikely. As the noble Lord well knows, all existing schemes are automatically out of scope of this Bill anyway, so the existing subsidy regimes that the Scottish and Welsh Governments have can continue as they are.

Lord Purvis of Tweed Portrait Lord Purvis of Tweed (LD)
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I do not think I said that there would be a streamlined scheme from the UK that would be uniquely for Scotland. I indicated that there would be a UK-wide streamlined scheme that would be for agriculture and fisheries within Scotland. As the Minister said, it would apply in England and in Northern Ireland as well. However, there would be, for the first time since devolution, two parallel subsidy schemes operating. While the Government can indicate that there would be consultation, there is no mechanism in this Bill for that dispute to be resolved, because the Secretary of State retains the decision-making power. That is why the support for these two schemes running in parallel is not equitable.

Lord Callanan Portrait Lord Callanan (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

There is a difference in principle here. Subsidy control is a reserved matter. Under the memorandum of understanding, we have said that we will set up a mechanism that the Scottish Government can use to challenge schemes. Of course, any streamlined scheme would be approved by this Parliament anyway. In any practical political environment, there is no way that the UK Government will want to set up a parallel scheme to subsidise agriculture and fisheries, which are devolved competences, when the Scottish Government already have similar schemes in the same area.

As I have said, the devolved Administrations will of course continue, as they have always done, to make subsidies and subsidy schemes using the resources that they have. It is important to note that this Bill does not provide any resources for any schemes, and the court would need to look at the facts of the case on legality grounds in the light of the requirements of Schedule 3 to the Bill. This is, in my view, comparable to other circumstances in which devolved primary legislation is reviewed on legality grounds, such as the Human Rights Act or the United Kingdom Internal Market Act. Importantly, and in contrast to the review of the Competition Appeal Tribunal for other subsidies, the court could not consider common-law public law grounds alongside the requirements of the subsidy control grounds.

For all the reasons I have set out, I hope that the noble and Lord will not press his amendments.

Lord Thomas of Cwmgiedd Portrait Lord Thomas of Cwmgiedd (CB)
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I am grateful to all noble Lords who have spoken in this debate and for the various points that have been made; I hope it is not discourteous if I try to summarise them without individual attribution.

Fundamentally, this union is not going to hold together unless there is an acceptance of equality of treatment, and this Bill drives a coach and horses through that. One illustration suffices: if this Parliament, for England, makes a subsidy scheme that infringes the subsidy control principles, then those overseas cannot challenge it, but they can challenge what is done in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland. That is not equality. A second, more vivid example of equality is the ability to make streamlined subsidy schemes. Part of the difficulty we face is that all of this is for future legislation, but we are now trespassing into the constitution.

What has emerged from the questions that the Minister has tried to answer is this: where are we going in areas of devolved competence? He says that no Government would want to do it, but we are a country governed by the rule of law, and the law ought to be clear as to the constitutional responsibilities of the Government of the United Kingdom and of England and the constitutional responsibilities and powers of the devolved nations. This has not been thought through, as is evident from the Minister’s reply. I do not criticise him, because we do not have the detail of the streamlined subsidy schemes so that we could see how this would work.

Thirdly, we are trespassing into dangerous constitutional areas. I am sure that many lawyers will not accept that, if the Government tried to make a streamlined subsidy scheme that infringed on devolved competence, it would be challenged, because that would be made under subordinate legislation and would not have the equivalent status of an Act of this Parliament. It is a great misfortune that we have not thought all of this through.

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Moved by
8: Clause 11, page 7, line 8, after “reference” insert “(among other things)”
Member’s explanatory statement
This amendment clarifies that the list in subsection (2) of what may be covered in regulations is intended to be non-exhaustive.
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Moved by
10: Clause 16, page 9, line 22, leave out from “if” to end of line 23 and insert “regulations made by the Secretary of State provide for the marketable risk country to be so treated.”
Member’s explanatory statement
This amendment provides that the power to provide that a country is not to be treated as a marketable risk country is exercised by making regulations, rather than by giving a direction.
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Moved by
14: Clause 18, page 10, line 24, at end insert—
“(4) The prohibition in subsection (1) does not apply if the public authority giving the subsidy is satisfied that the conditions in subsections (5) to (7) are met.(5) The condition in this subsection is that the effect of the subsidy is to reduce the social or economic disadvantages of the area that would benefit from the giving of the subsidy.(6) The condition in this subsection is that the giving of the subsidy results in an overall reduction in the social or economic disadvantages within the United Kingdom generally.(7) The condition in this subsection is that the subsidy is designed to bring about a change in the size, scope or nature of the existing economic activities referred to in subsection (1)(a).”Member’s explanatory statement
This amendment provides an exemption to the prohibition on relocation of activities by allowing subsidies that meet conditions on reducing social or economic disadvantage.
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Moved by
15: Clause 25, page 13, line 32, leave out subsections (4) to (6)
Member’s explanatory statement
This amendment removes the Treasury power to make regulations to alter the meaning of “deposit taker”.
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Moved by
16: Clause 26, page 14, line 14, leave out subsections (4) to (6)
Member’s explanatory statement
This amendment removes the Treasury power to make regulations to alter the meaning of “insurance company”.
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Moved by
17: Clause 27, page 14, line 40, leave out subsections (3) to (5)
Member’s explanatory statement
This amendment removes the Treasury power to make regulations to alter the meaning of “insurer”.
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Moved by
18: Clause 32, page 17, line 17, at end insert “, and
(c) the subsidy database is kept under review in such manner and at such intervals as the Secretary of State considers appropriate.”Member’s explanatory statement
This amendment adds a duty on the Secretary of State to keep the subsidy database under review.
Lord Callanan Portrait Lord Callanan (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, I rise to move the government amendments in my name, with more than a modicum of delight, on the transparency of the new subsidy control regime. I have listened carefully to the arguments made for lowering thresholds and shortening the upload deadlines and, of course, I recognise the strength of feeling in the House on this matter. As a result, and as we said we would, the Government have gone back to first principles and reviewed the evidence base, ensuring the correct balance between administrative burdens on the one hand and transparency on the other.

As I set out in my letter to your Lordships on 15 March, the Government have published an updated impact assessment on the Bill which, using newly available data, assesses exactly that balance and has informed our approach to these amendments.

I will summarise the effects of this group of amendments. First, we have introduced a single threshold of £100,000, which applies across the vast majority of subsidy types. This is a substantial reduction of 80% from the original threshold of £500,000. Secondly, we have dramatically shortened the upload deadlines, reducing this by half for non-tax subsidy awards, so that subsidies will be visible on the database far sooner. We have retained the deadline for individual subsidy awards given as tax measures at one year. This is because a tax declaration, which is necessary to calculate the subsidy award, can be amended for up to a year after the tax return is submitted. Reducing the deadline here would make the cost of uploading tax subsidy awards disproportionate to the value of transparency for them. Noble Lords have recognised in previous debates that tax subsidies are in a unique position. I hope the House also recognises that, where it has been possible to reduce upload deadlines, we have done so.

In addition, the Government have introduced powers to be able to further amend the thresholds and the upload deadlines. The Secretary of State can review the levels in due course and make further changes as suggested by the available evidence at the time. Such new evidence will come about through the subsidy advice unit’s experience of how the regime is operating and the reports that it makes. I commit that these levels will be reviewed following the publication of the first subsidy advice unit report on the operation of the regime. Importantly, these regulations are made by the affirmative procedure, so Parliament will have maximum opportunity to scrutinise any changes. I know that noble Lords will do so.

The third change is that we have introduced new obligations to require the upload of permitted modifications of a subsidy or scheme. Public authorities will now face the same obligations to upload even minor changes, with the same upload deadlines as for the original subsidy.

Fourthly, we have placed a duty on the Secretary of State to review the transparency database as he or she considers appropriate, thereby ensuring additional quality control. As I stated in Committee, the Government are now carrying out additional checks on the database and following up with public authorities where we find mistakes. This will of course continue. As public authorities become accustomed to the regime they will, naturally, become better at uploading accurate information first time.

Finally, we have introduced an amendment specifying that the Secretary of State may provide statutory guidance to public authorities on pre-action information requests; that is, the provision of information following a request about a subsidy decision to an interested party that is considering whether to ask the Competition Appeal Tribunal to review the subsidy.

It is expected that any such guidance will encourage public authorities to discuss potential disclosure requirements with the beneficiary before the subsidy is given. This will help concerns about the confidentiality or commercial sensitivity of information disclosed in response to a pre-action information request to be addressed without unduly delaying or preventing the provision of sufficient information to potential challengers.

The overall effect of Amendments 18, 19, 21 to 44, 59, 60 and 62 in my name, taken together, will mean that we have a highly transparent subsidy control regime—far more so than existed under the EU state aid rules. Interested parties will be able to see subsidies they can challenge as well as numerous subsidies which are not challengeable under subsidy control requirements but whose publication is nevertheless in the public interest.

The new impact assessment reflects that the cost of lowering the threshold across the different subsidy types to £100,000 would have an administrative cost of £1.6 million over 10 years. This is not negligible, but the administrative costs of lowering the threshold further would be even greater. For example, a threshold of £25,000 per award would lead to a cost of just under £8 million, and a threshold as low as £500 per award—as was suggested by previous amendments—would be almost double that figure at just over £14 million. This has informed the Government’s decision on where to draw the most appropriate balance.

On the effects of shortening the upload deadlines, the impact assessment highlighted how there are unlikely to be significant cost burdens in reducing the upload deadline for non-tax subsidies from six to three months. However, lowering it below three months would have associated costs, as public authorities need to prioritise the gathering, checking and uploading of necessary information over other tasks they have. These costs will vary between public authorities.

The impact assessment also indicates that there would be disproportionate costs in relation to the uploading of tax subsidies to a shorter timeframe because of their unique nature, so the upload limits for tax subsidies in the Bill remain at 12 months, as I outlined earlier.

Before I conclude, I will address Amendment 20 from the noble Lord, Lord McNicol, which seeks to require the cumulation of subsidy awards within a scheme for the purposes of transparency. I recognise that this amendment would not represent a major change and I hope I can take from that that he is supportive of the package of changes the Government have made on transparency. None the less, my view is that it is seeking to solve a problem that does not really exist, creating an unnecessary administrative burden for public authorities.

I would first like to be very clear that the transparency obligation thresholds apply to subsidies, not payments. If a single subsidy to one enterprise for one purpose has been divided into multiple instalments, it remains as one subsidy and would need to be uploaded to the database if its total value was over £100,000. Any public authority trying to avoid the transparency requirements in this way would already be in breach of its obligations regardless of this amendment. I will ensure that this is reflected in the guidance so that public authorities are absolutely clear on this point.

I can see three possibilities for an enterprise to receive multiple awards under £100,000 for the same scheme, and none of them would justify the amendment. The first is entirely legitimate and they are simply separate subsidies. Perhaps different branches of the same business receive high-street regeneration subsidies for different towns in the same local authority. It is worth noting that some schemes will be made by a different public authority from the one giving the subsidy. For example, streamlined subsidy schemes are made by the UK Government but will be used by other public authorities, so the same enterprise could receive a subsidy under one scheme but from two different public authorities. I cannot see that this is a particular problem. In any case, the scheme itself will be on the database and subject to challenge in the CAT as provided for in the Bill.

The second possibility is that the public authority is trying to circumvent the transparency requirements simply to avoid the burden of having to upload its entirely legitimate subsidies, and is giving two separate subsidies under the scheme when it might have otherwise just given one. We can probably rule that out. There is no incentive for a public authority to do that: uploading an award on the transparency database will be a far more straightforward task than trying to parcel out a single subsidy into two different subsidies of £99,000 or less.

The third possibility is that the public authority is trying to game the transparency requirements to evade scrutiny because it believes that the subsidy is not compliant with the terms of the scheme and would be challenged if it came to light. Again, I find it hard to imagine that this is a tactic that any public authority in the UK would be so blatant as to deploy, and it would not be in compliance with the Bill requirements in any event. Should the subsidy lead to significant harms, it is highly likely to become apparent through other means, whether that is the recipient’s accounts, a press release, or other transparency mechanisms such as the local government transparency guidelines. A series of £99,000 awards would perhaps start to look suspicious when they came to light, which they inevitably would.

Overall, the requirement to cumulate awards within schemes for the purposes of transparency is a disproportionate response to a problem that I do not believe will arise in practice. It would add an unnecessary administrative burden to legitimate subsidies in the first category, and I cannot see that it would make much difference to the hypothetical nefarious public authority in the third category, since its attempts to game the system would probably breach the subsidy control requirements.

Therefore, I hope the noble Lord will not move his Amendment 20 and will agree to support, along with the rest of your Lordships’ House, my extensive package of transparency amendments. I beg to move.

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Lord McNicol of West Kilbride Portrait Lord McNicol of West Kilbride (Lab)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, this group of concessions, as the Minister has outlined, is significant because of both the number of amendments and, more importantly, their text and practical effect. We are grateful to the Minister and the Bill team for their engagement on these issues over many weeks now; our discussions have been very useful, and although we have not achieved everything we wanted, as the noble Lord, Lord Fox, said, the new subsidy control scheme will be far more transparent than the Bill initially proposed. There are 31 amendments in this large group, 30 from the Government and one from me. I still think mine is a good amendment but I understand the Minister’s points, which we will come on to in a second.

The main issue is that we remain somewhat unconvinced of the Government’s argument in relation to the £100,0000 threshold. Given that many public authorities already have to publish details of spending at much lower levels—in many cases, it is £500 for local authorities—the £14 million cost quoted by the Minister to take the transparency threshold down from £100,000 to £500 would be well spent because that transparency would then sit across the whole of the subsidy controls and subsidies issued. However, an 80% reduction, coupled with the universal requirements across different subsidy types, is a clear step in the right direction.

To be fair, the noble Lord, Lord Fox, has already stolen a lot of my thunder in relation to Amendment 20. The points he made were absolutely spot on so I will not repeat them; I look forward to the Minister’s response. I tabled Amendment 20 in an attempt to deal with the potential for public authorities to award multiple payments that fall under the £100,000 disclosure threshold. As the Minister outlined in his opening remarks, there are a number of possible reasons why a subsidy may be given at that level. The noble Lord, Lord Fox, is right: it is the final one of those three points, about a nefarious reason why an individual in a local authority would encourage a local authority to give multiple awards under the reporting threshold. A fundamental question still sits there: how will we and, more importantly, businesses and organisations that are or could be affected by a subsidy, challenge it if we have no sight of it?

We would be delighted if the Minister accepted this amendment but he explained in his opening remarks why he will not. If the Government are not willing to accept it, can the Minister outline any other safeguards that could be brought in to check this possible kind of behaviour? He did not touch on safeguards in outlining the three points; his response was that the Government do not expect this to happen or do not believe that it could happen. I hope that the Minister can also confirm, because this is important, that the ministerial delegated powers to amend the transparency thresholds will not be used before—I would prefer that they were not used at all, but especially before—the CMA and other interested parties are able to see the new system in operation. We appreciate that any future increases are subject to a cap but it would make a mockery of the process and the concession package if any of the thresholds were increased before the new system was up and running and had been tested and checked by the CMA.

One area not subject to amendments today but which we see as incredibly important is the process around MFA subsidies. At present, beneficiaries in receipt of MFA subsidies must maintain paper records, which not only increases the bureaucracy involved but goes against the grain of the general transition to paperless record-keeping. We do not believe that moving this system to a digital process would require any amendments to primary legislation, so can the Minister commit today to looking at the available options for digitising the MFA process, either as part of the department’s existing subsidy database workstream or as a stand-alone project?

I will touch on one final point about the move on upload from six months to three months. Again, I fully support this. The sooner this information is uploaded on to the database, the better for all, but we still have concerns about the right to appeal against a subsidy that a business or an organisation could be affected by. That is limited to one month; the Minister and the department have not moved that to six weeks or two months. I have some concern that we could have gone a bit further. With the reduction from six months to three months, we could have increased the ability for someone—or an organisation—adversely affected by a subsidy awarded to a competitor to challenge this by giving them a little more time. I understand the Minister’s argument about wanting the subsidy to be in place, agreed and unchallengeable, before the business will spend it, because it then has certainty. None the less, we could have given a bit more time to those who could possibly be adversely affected by it to make a challenge. With that, I again thank the Minister for the 30 amendments—it is just a shame that he could not go one more and make it 31.

Lord Callanan Portrait Lord Callanan (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I thank the noble Lords, Lord Fox and Lord McNicol, for their relatively supportive comments. I can provide much of the reassurance for which both noble Lords are looking.

I can certainly reassure the noble Lord, Lord Fox, that the Government will continue to keep both the thresholds and the upload deadlines under review. We will carefully consider new evidence as it arises, most notably from the CMA’s regular reporting on the operation of the regime. As part of this package of transparency measures, the Government have taken the power to be able to amend these limits, as I said, via affirmative regulations. We will certainly want to see how the new regime beds in and operates in practice before we look at any changes. Of course, they are by affirmative resolutions, so I have no doubt that the noble Lord would take me to task if we did this too early.

I can also confirm to the noble Lord, Lord Fox, that subsidies given under subsidy schemes of more than £100,000 must be uploaded on to the database within three months for non-taxed subsidies, and within 12 months for taxed subsidies.

I turn to the point of the noble Lord, Lord McNicol, about how these nefarious subsidies would be discovered. If this nefarious activity is going on, it is clearly already not in compliance with the Bill and can be challenged—so there is no need to add more rules with which the public authority is then not going to comply. We believe that these subsidies will become apparent because they will lead to distortion and harms on the market.

I turn now to the question of safeguards raised by the noble Lord, Lord McNicol. The key safeguards for the regime as a whole are the existence of the Competition Appeal Tribunal enforcement process, the CMA’s regular monitoring reports and the ongoing responsibilities of my department for the successful operation of the scheme. We will carefully see how the system operates in practice and, as I said, keep the levels under review.

I turn now to the noble Lord’s point about cumulation. Cumulation is essential for the minimum financial assistance to ensure compliance with our international obligations. The Bill sets out a straightforward way for public authorities and enterprises to clarify whether the cumulative threshold has been reached. However, this process is not necessary for in-scheme subsidies. The MFA process set out in Clause 37 can be done simply and easily as part of the normal communications between a public authority and a recipient before any subsidy is given—for example, through forms, emails and tick boxes. We are committed to making this regime as straightforward as possible to ensure that funding reaches beneficiaries as smoothly as possibly, while balancing the need for transparency. Preventing misused cumulation of awards within a scheme for transparency is disproportionate, but we will also keep the operation of that under review and will seek to make it as unburdensome as possible for the various public authorities.

With that, I commend my amendments and ask that they be supported by the House.

Amendment 18 agreed.
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Moved by
19: Clause 33, page 17, line 28, leave out “£500,000” and insert “£100,000”
Member’s explanatory statement
This amendment reduces the threshold for the exemption from the requirement to upload to the subsidy database from £500,000 to £100,000.
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Moved by
21: Clause 33, page 17, line 31, after “given” insert “as a subsidy”
Member’s explanatory statement
This amendment ensures that the one year deadline for uploading to the subsidy database only applies to tax subsidies.
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Moved by
31: Clause 36, page 19, line 28, at end insert—
“(3A) In subsection (1), the reference to the subsidy control requirements does not include the requirements as to transparency in Chapter 3 of Part 2 except in relation to the giving of a subsidy as minimal financial assistance if the amount of the subsidy is no more than £100,000.”Member’s explanatory statement
This amendment removes the exemption from the transparency requirements in relation to minimal financial assistance, in respect of each individual subsidy which exceeds £100,000.
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Moved by
32: Clause 38, page 21, line 8, at end insert—
“(3A) In subsection (1), the reference to the subsidy control requirements does not include the requirements as to transparency in Chapter 3 of Part 2 except in relation to the giving of a subsidy as SPEI assistance if the amount of the subsidy is no more than £100,000.”Member’s explanatory statement
This amendment removes the exemption from the transparency requirements in relation to services of public economic interest assistance, in respect of each individual subsidy which exceeds £100,000.
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Moved by
33: Clause 41, page 23, line 13, leave out from “requirements” to end of line 30 and insert “as to transparency in Chapter 3 of Part 2 do not apply to a subsidy given to a SPEI enterprise for the purpose of the provision of SPEI services, where the subsidy is no more than £100,000.”
Member’s explanatory statement
This amendment removes the exemptions from the transparency requirements for SPEI subsidies over £100,000.
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Moved by
35: Clause 42, page 23, line 39, leave out “(a)”
Member’s explanatory statement
This amendment is consequential on the amendment in the Minister's name at page 23, line 13.
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Moved by
45: Clause 47, page 26, line 26, at end insert “, and
(b) be laid before Parliament.”Member’s explanatory statement
This amendment provides that a financial stability direction is to be laid before Parliament.
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Lord McNicol of West Kilbride Portrait Lord McNicol of West Kilbride (Lab)
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My Lords, as we move to the final group it seems that Covid has claimed yet another victim in the noble Lord, Lord Lamont, who is unable to move his amendment. It is a shame that we get to this important group so late in the evening. If we had been here earlier, I am sure that the will of the House on Amendment 55 in the name of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Thomas of Cwmgiedd, would have been tested. At this late hour, I guess that is not going to happen. It is a shame because this group of amendments tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Lamont, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Thomas, and me are important in how the subsidy control scheme and processes will work. I am sure that those amendments would have brought more sense to the Bill, as did the amendments on transparency. I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Fox, for speaking to Amendments 47 and 50 on behalf of the noble Lord, Lord Lamont, and to the noble and learned Lord, Lord Thomas of Cwmgiedd, for speaking so ably to his Amendment 55.

I have tabled two amendments in this group. They both bring us back to earlier debates on the functioning of the challenge process. We continue to be concerned by the prohibition on challenges to individual subsidies made under a scheme. The threshold for successfully challenging a scheme is likely to be substantially higher than that attached to the challenge of an individual subsidy, and the Government’s refusal to move on this area suggests a determination to close the door, or at least to push it back a bit, on the ability legitimately to challenge any subsidies. I apologise for bringing up these issues on the previous group. I was getting a bit ahead of myself there.

We also do not understand why the Government have refused to move on the CAT application deadline. As I said earlier, many organisations will lack the capacity to constantly check the subsidy database to monitor the subsidies received by their competitors. This is a particular challenge for SMEs, which are unlikely to have in-house expertise on these matters but are arguably most susceptible to the impact of any economic distortions caused by a subsidy award.

The Government continue to insist that a six- or eight-week application window to bring a challenge under CAT would be an unacceptable length. From our Benches, we fundamentally disagree. An extended period would give those businesses and organisations possibly affected adversely by a subsidy more time to understand and analyse what was happening. However, with the disclosure deadline for non-tax incentives having been halved from six months to three, doubling the time for submitting a challenge to the CAT would not take us further than what was in the original wording of the Bill.

Having promised businesses, particularly SMEs, time and again that Brexit would mean the slashing of red tape, the Government continue to subject businesses to unacceptable burdens. The new subsidy control system may cut red tape in some respects, but it also imposes unacceptably high barriers in cases where a party feels wronged. We know from discussions between Committee and Report that the Government believe that affected enterprises would have alternative means of legal redress and I look forward to the Minister outlining them in his response to this group of amendments.

However, the fact remains that the entire enforcement side of this new regime does not seem up to scratch. We await the CMA’s initial report and I very much hope I will be proven wrong, but the Government will need to be prepared to revisit some of these matters if it transpires that their chosen approach is failing to ensure fairness, transparency and access to justice.

To finish on this, and to use the words that have come through on this debate, I have a modicum of comfort and delight that we are now completing the Report stage of this Bill.

Lord Callanan Portrait Lord Callanan (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I thank all those who have contributed to the debate. It has been a good discussion, both tonight and in the previous discussions we have had on the regime as a whole and the subsidy advice unit. I particularly enjoyed the contribution from the spokesman for my noble friend Lord Lamont. This is a trend that should perhaps continue on other subjects on which my noble friend feels strongly.

Lord Fox Portrait Lord Fox (LD)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Have I been fired as the Minister’s speechwriter?

Lord Callanan Portrait Lord Callanan (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

If the noble Lord is going to write my speeches, he might as well write them for my noble friend Lord Lamont, as well. The answer to the question of my noble friend Lord Lamont, through his spokesman, is the Green Book and Managing Public Money guidelines; I suspect as an ex-Chancellor he knows that very well indeed—probably better than we do.

Government Amendments 52 and 53 to Clause 65 have been tabled to address your Lordships’ concerns regarding the frequency of the CMA’s monitoring reports under Clause 65. Instead of mandating a report within five years of the implementation of the regime, the amendments require an initial report after only three years, subsequently followed up by a further report after another three years. Subsequent reporting will then revert to a five-year cycle.

I hope noble Lords will agree that the publication of these two initial reports will be sufficient to keep Parliament and the public informed of how the new subsidy control regime is functioning, and to assist in setting best practice going forward. As a result of these changes, I have also tabled two consequential amendments to clarify how these new initial reports will interact with other provisions in the Bill. These are Amendments 54 and 63.

Subsidy Control Bill

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3rd reading
Monday 28th March 2022

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3rd reading Page Read Hansard Text Amendment Paper: HL Bill 113-I Marshalled list for Report - (18 Mar 2022)

This text is a record of ministerial contributions to a debate held as part of the Subsidy Control Act 2022 passage through Parliament.

In 1993, the House of Lords Pepper vs. Hart decision provided that statements made by Government Ministers may be taken as illustrative of legislative intent as to the interpretation of law.

This extract highlights statements made by Government Ministers along with contextual remarks by other members. The full debate can be read here

This information is provided by Parallel Parliament and does not comprise part of the offical record

Lord Ashton of Hyde Portrait Lord Ashton of Hyde (Con)
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My Lords, I have it in command from Her Majesty the Queen to acquaint the House that Her Majesty, having been informed of the purport of the Subsidy Control Bill, has consented to place her interest, so far as it is affected by the Bill, at the disposal of Parliament for the purposes of the Bill.

Lord Callanan Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (Lord Callanan) (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

For the benefit of noble Lords, I will first make a statement on legislative consent. As promised to the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope, on Report and as I have sought to do throughout passage, I would like to update your Lordships’ House on the legislative consent process.

Your Lordships will understand that there remain differences of opinion between the devolved Administrations and the Government. This includes the Scottish and Welsh Governments’ retained in-principle objection to subsidy control being a reserved matter, and their objection to the inclusion of agriculture in the scope of the Bill. It is therefore with regret that I inform your Lordships that we have not been able to convince the devolved Administrations of the need for the UK Government to act in this key area. This is, of course, not the end of our engagement with the devolved Administrations. It is our intention to continue to work closely with them on the future regime, and accordingly our next steps will focus on agreements at working level to support the operation of the Act, including a memorandum of understanding in two parts.

I want to reassure noble Lords that it has never been our intention to proceed without consent in place. Our preferred approach throughout has always been to secure legislative consent Motions. I want to reassure the House that the Government remain fully committed to the Sewel convention and the associated practices for seeking consent. We will of course continue to seek legislative consent from the devolved legislatures when applicable.

Lord Hope of Craighead Portrait Lord Hope of Craighead (CB)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I am grateful to the Minister for fulfilling his commitment and producing the report for which I asked. It is disappointing, but I am reassured by the latter part of his statement—that engagement with the devolved Administrations will continue. I very much hope that that will produce a more fruitful result than has been achieved so far.

Lord Dodds of Duncairn Portrait Lord Dodds of Duncairn (DUP)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, could the Minister outline the position as far as the devolved Administration in Northern Ireland is concerned? He mentioned Scotland and Wales, but perhaps he could touch on what the situation is as far as any legislative consent from the Northern Ireland Assembly—before it was dissolved at the start of this week for the Assembly elections. He is aware—this was raised in Committee—of the grave concerns that there is there now a dual subsidy control system: the EU system in Northern Ireland and the GB system now applying to England, Scotland and Wales. This could, as he said in his own letter to the chair of the Protocol on Ireland/Northern Ireland Sub-Committee on 22 March, cause real problems and confusion for Northern Ireland.

Lord Callanan Portrait Lord Callanan (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I thank noble Lords for their contributions. In response to concerns of the noble Lord, Lord Dodds, of course I understand the points he is making. He will be aware that negotiations continue on the operation of the Northern Ireland protocol. The noble Lord and I have discussed this a number of times. The Northern Ireland Executive have not been able to respond formally to our request for a legislative consent Motion, given their current status. We will, of course, continue to work closely, as far as possible, with the Executive and with the officials. I will be certain to update the noble Lord when I am able to do so.

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Moved by
Lord Callanan Portrait Lord Callanan
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That the Bill do now pass.

Lord Callanan Portrait Lord Callanan (Con)
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I am delighted to open the debate. I am grateful to all noble Lords who have participated in the many debates that we have had across Your Lordships’ House, to create a new domestic regime that will deliver on our international obligations but, crucially, will enable central government, the devolved Administrations and public authorities the length and breadth of the United Kingdom to deliver for their people and their communities.

It is my great pleasure to thank all those who have supported the progress of this Bill. First, I thank my noble friend Lady Bloomfield; it is always a great pleasure to work alongside her. I express my thanks for the considerable contributions that have been made on the Floor of this House in relation to this Bill. I thank, particularly, the Opposition—the noble Lord, Lord McNicol, and the noble Baroness, Lady Blake—for their constructive challenge and the discussions we have had on the Bill, most notably on the issue of transparency, where we have been able to move a lot in response to the concerns raised in particular by the Opposition. It is also worth paying tribute to noble Lord, Lord Fox, for his engagement, and to his Liberal Democrat colleagues for their role in improving this legislation, particularly with regard to devolved powers—and for his personal forbearance with me in my illness during the latter stages of Report. I thank the noble Lord, in particular, for bearing with me.

Subsidy Control Bill

(Limited Text - Ministerial Extracts only)

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This text is a record of ministerial contributions to a debate held as part of the Subsidy Control Act 2022 passage through Parliament.

In 1993, the House of Lords Pepper vs. Hart decision provided that statements made by Government Ministers may be taken as illustrative of legislative intent as to the interpretation of law.

This extract highlights statements made by Government Ministers along with contextual remarks by other members. The full debate can be read here

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Lindsay Hoyle Portrait Mr Speaker
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With this it will be convenient to discuss the following:

Lords amendments 2 to 12.

Lords amendment 13, and amendment (a) thereto.

Lords amendments 14 to 51.

Paul Scully Portrait Paul Scully
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Let me begin by expressing my appreciation for the shared ambition, across both Houses, to create a domestic subsidy control regime that will work for people and communities throughout the United Kingdom. The rigorous debate in both Houses has resulted in the improved Bill that is before us today, and I hope that the Government amendments passed by the House of Lords will in turn be accepted by this House.

  I shall start with Lords amendments 13 to 38, 44 to 47 and 51, relating to the topic of transparency. This topic has been well championed in this House by my hon. Friend the Member for Weston-super-Mare (John Penrose), who is no longer in his place. First, in place of the higher transparency thresholds that applied to subsidies given under a published scheme, and given as minimal financial assistance or services of public economic interest assistance, we have introduced a single upload threshold of £100,000, which now applies to all subsidies that are subject to the transparency requirements. Of course, there has never been a threshold for regular stand-alone subsidies, which all need to be published. This represents a substantial 80% reduction from the original threshold of £500,000 for subsidies given under the schemes.

Secondly, we have significantly shortened the upload deadlines; for non-tax subsidy awards, we have halved them from six to three months, so that subsidies will be visible on the database far sooner. The third change is that we have introduced new obligations to upload certain permitted modifications of a subsidy or scheme to the database. Public authorities will now be subject to the same obligations to upload even minor changes, with the same upload deadlines as for the original subsidy. This will ensure that the database continues to provide up-to-date information about subsidies or schemes that are modified after they have been granted. Fourthly, we have placed a duty on the Secretary of State to review the transparency database at such intervals as they consider appropriate, thereby ensuring additional quality control.

Jim Shannon Portrait Jim Shannon (Strangford) (DUP)
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I thank the Minister for what he is saying. He referred to the fact that there had been thorough discussions in this House and in the other place. I am wondering whether those thorough discussions involved the devolved Administrations, particularly the Northern Ireland Assembly, but also the Scottish Parliament and the Welsh Assembly. If there is disagreement, how do the Minister and the Government intend to deal with it?

Paul Scully Portrait Paul Scully
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The hon. Gentleman makes a really good point. We tried to work with all the devolved Administrations right the way through the process from beginning to end, and we have continued conversations with each of them over this period. Clearly there are, and will be, differences in the process. This needs to work for the whole of the United Kingdom, so I am keen that we continue the dialogue, whether it is with Scotland, Wales or Northern Ireland, to ensure that we can do as much as we can to reach agreement, though clearly that will not always be possible; that is the nature of dialogue.

Deidre Brock Portrait Deidre Brock (Edinburgh North and Leith) (SNP)
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Is the Minister not saying that ultimately, on these devolved matters, the English Government, as represented down here in Westminster, will have a power of veto over the decisions of the Scottish, Welsh and Northern Ireland Governments?

Paul Scully Portrait Paul Scully
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No. However, the UK Government have a reserved power over subsidy control, so it is the UK Government who act on that reserved power.

Finally, we have introduced an amendment specifying that the Secretary of State may provide statutory guidance to public authorities on pre-action information requests—that is, the provision of information following a request about a subsidy decision to an interested party that is considering whether to ask the Competition Appeal Tribunal to review the subsidy.

I shall now move on to two amendments related to levelling up. Lords amendment 50 makes it clear that addressing local or regional disadvantage is considered to be an equity rationale for the purpose of assessing compliance with principle A. This puts beyond any doubt that a subsidy to address local or regional disadvantage can be given, provided that the other principles and requirements of the regime are met. Lords amendment 9 exempts from the prohibition on relocation those relocation subsidies that have the effect of reducing social or economic disadvantage. The subsidy must, of course, also comply with the principles and other requirements.

Jim Shannon Portrait Jim Shannon
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On the issue of levelling up, I know that the Government and the Prime Minister have given a commitment to levelling up all the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, but I am always conscious that we want to see that actually happen, not just words. Can the Minister give me some assurance that Northern Ireland—where the cost of living is higher, wages are lower and products and consumer goods are higher in price—will, through the Northern Ireland Assembly, receive the levelling up that we should?

Paul Scully Portrait Paul Scully
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Indeed, yes. Levelling up does not exclude any one area of the United Kingdom. It also does not exclude levelling up within regions; that is really important. This legislation only provides the framework; the levelling-up fund, the shared prosperity fund and other measures that can use the framework will, I am sure, benefit the hon. Gentleman’s constituency and Northern Ireland as a whole. It is really important that we get this right.

I am happy to report that we produced Lords amendments 1, 5 to 8, 10 to 12, 39 and 40 to respond to concerns about the Bill in the 17th report of this Session by the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee. Lords amendment 1 addresses a concern with clause 10. Parliamentary scrutiny of streamlined subsidy schemes made under clause 10 has been strengthened by giving either House the ability to annul any streamlined schemes after they have been made, by applying the negative procedure.

Lords amendments 5 to 8 replace the direction-making power in clause 16 relating to the designation of marketable risk countries with a power to make regulations for the same purpose. Lords amendments 10 to 12 relate to the powers in clauses 25 to 27 to change definitions in secondary legislation. Those powers will be removed. Finally in this group, Lords amendments 39 and 40 address concerns raised by the DPRRC about secrecy regarding the financial stability direction-making power in clause 47. These amendments make it clear that such directions will need to be published in due course. In addition, the Economic Secretary to the Treasury has written to the Public Accounts Committee and the Treasury Committee to commit to notifying the Chairs of those Committees confidentially about the use of a financial stability direction.

I turn to Lords amendments 41 to 43 and 49, relating to the Competition and Markets Authority and the Subsidy Advice Unit. Although the Secretary of State could already direct the SAU to complete a monitoring report for a specified time period under clause 65(4), these amendments make specific provision in the Bill for more frequent scrutiny in the early years of the new regime. Instead of mandating a report within five years of the implementation of the regime, the tabled amendments require an initial report after only three years, to be followed up with a further report after another three years. After that, reporting will revert to a five-year cycle. The Secretary of State will retain the ability to direct that a report be made at a specified period after the publication of the second three-year report. The sunsetting provisions in clause 87(6) have been extended so that they take effect after the second three-year report. Lords amendments 2 to 4 and 48 are minor and technical in nature. They clarify definitions under clauses 11 and 82.

In summary, this substantial package of amendments represents an improved set of measures that will strengthen the new domestic subsidy control regime and make it more transparent and accountable. There will now be greater transparency of subsidies awarded, and improved oversight and monitoring of the regime by Parliament and the CMA. I am grateful to colleagues in both Houses for their hard work on, and attention to, this important Bill. They have helped to bring about these improvements, which I hope will be endorsed by Members from across this House.

Seema Malhotra Portrait Seema Malhotra (Feltham and Heston) (Lab/Co-op)
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It is a pleasure to speak in the debate. I start by acknowledging all the efforts in the other place, and thank the peers, staff and civil servants who have helped to move the Bill along to this stage. I also thank colleagues on both sides of this House, including all the Opposition parties.

As Labour has outlined throughout the Bill’s progress, we support the principle of a quicker, easier subsidy regime now that we have left the EU. However, we recognise that any subsidy regime must provide sufficient transparency and accountability for the spending of billions of pounds of public money each year. We have also repeatedly raised our concerns that this regime has failed to match up to the Government’s levelling-up rhetoric. We are pleased to see that many of the Lords amendments, including our amendment to Lords amendment 13, will improve the Bill in some of those areas.

I turn briefly to areas in which we would have liked the Government go further, and I would be grateful for the Minister’s comments on these issues. The first is net zero. Labour has been clear that while this is framework legislation, it should not be an empty vessel. The Government should have used the opportunity of an independent subsidy policy to design a regime that supported their wider industrial policy and our national priorities. We were also disappointed that the Subsidy Control Bill was not published alongside a subsidy strategy. Net zero is a good example of this. The climate crisis is the greatest long-term threat facing our country and the world, and we need urgent action to drive down emissions. That is why, in Committee, we called on the Government to support our amendment to hardwire net zero into the principles that public authorities have to consider when awarding any subsidy or designing any scheme. There was cross-party and cross-Bench support in the other place for a similar amendment.

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Kirsty Blackman Portrait Kirsty Blackman
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I absolutely do. The Government cannot hide behind agricultural being in the trade and co-operation agreement, because the TCA specifically says that agricultural subsidies can and should be excluded from subsidy control regimes. The Government still have not given a good reason for including agriculture in the subsidy control regime. It works in the EU and in the state aid regime, so it is perfectly workable to exclude agriculture from the subsidy control regime. Including such subsidies will cause problems. The fact that NFUs across these islands have raised concerns shows that it is incredibly serious. I urge the Minister to think again about how the issue of agriculture is treated by the Bill.

The shadow Minister extensively addressed net zero. Granting authorities are required to consider the environmental and net zero impacts of energy-related subsidies, but that is not what net zero is about. This is not the only time we will be thinking about how to reduce our impact on climate change. If a granting authority decides to give a significant amount of money to a bus company, for example, it does not have to consider the climate impact. If it decides to scrap all the buses and replace them with diesel taxis, it does not have to consider the net zero impact, because it is not an energy-related subsidy. I am massively concerned that net zero is included only in schedule 2 and not in schedule 1. If the Government are serious about tackling climate change, they need to be looking at every piece of legislation that comes through this place and ensuring that it does not have a negative impact on our ability to meet net zero; and if it does, they should be ensuring that that is then balanced by further, more dramatic actions in order that we can meet net zero.

In summation, the Bill is better than it was, but it still falls far short. I am still concerned about transparency and massively concerned about agriculture. I am hugely concerned about the lack of importance this Government are giving to net zero—that should go through everything we do.

Paul Scully Portrait Paul Scully
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I thank all hon. Members for their engagement throughout the passage of this Bill and for their contributions this afternoon. I am glad that there has been broad consensus, albeit with some questions, which I will try briefly to address. The importance of that new independent subsidy control regime has been clear throughout the passage of the Bill and it was evident again today, so I thank hon. Members for their broad support.

Let me respond to the question from the hon. Member for Feltham and Heston (Seema Malhotra) about P&O and that kind of example. Clearly, we are shocked by the action of P&O Ferries and angered by the lack of empathy and consideration it has demonstrated towards its employees. The Government are continuing to work to establish whether P&O Ferries or DP World are in breach of any requirements of them as partners in the Thames and Solent freeports. Speaking more generally, I can confirm that the Bill ensures that public authorities can recover a subsidy where it has been misused, but it is important to note that the purpose of a subsidy is to achieve specific change in behaviour to facilitate a specific policy objective; it is not to give the Government ongoing leverage over how a company conducts its affairs. It is for other areas of law to set out the limits of what is acceptable corporate behaviour. None the less, because the subsidy is there to have that specific policy objective, we will make sure that that policy objective is met as best we can. However, it is difficult to enforce—

Seema Malhotra Portrait Seema Malhotra
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I am grateful to the Minister for his consideration of this point, but will he clarify whether a company that breaks the law and does not meet minimum standards on employment law, on environmental law or in other areas could still be in receipt of public subsidies through the subsidy control regime?

Paul Scully Portrait Paul Scully
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It is difficult to come up with the examples, but in essence a subsidy is there to determine a particular policy objective. We would want to partner with businesses and companies that are most likely to deliver those policy objectives: reliable partners. Clearly, ones that are in breach of the kind of examples that the hon. Lady mentions are less likely to be those reliable partners. Technically, she is correct, but this is about how we enforce something, probably after the event; similarly, had we given P&O Ferries a subsidy last year, we probably would not have been able to get that subsidy back. That is the difficulty with enforcement after the event. None the less, the sentiment is absolutely there: we do not want to be partnering with unreliable companies to achieve our policy objectives.

Kirsty Blackman Portrait Kirsty Blackman
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The issue with that is that if a company is given money to run a freeport and it runs a freeport with that money, it can sack all the staff it likes at P&O and still be eligible for the subsidy. The issue is that there is a gap, which has been well highlighted by the shadow Minister.

Paul Scully Portrait Paul Scully
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We will work out how the subsidy control regime is working; it is part of what I will come back to in a moment about the CMA’s approach to reporting back how the regime is working. We have to make sure that this is watertight—excuse the pun—if we are going to go down the road of making sure that we can recover any subsidies. I suspect that other areas of law will be better suited to approaching that, rather than specifically dealing with it within this framework Bill.

Seema Malhotra Portrait Seema Malhotra
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I am conscious of time, but let me make this brief point, for clarity. There is an important distinction between companies or businesses with which the Government may be working to achieve policy objectives, and their eligibility still to receive public subsidies, potentially to the tune of hundreds of thousands of pounds or millions, where they have explicitly even admitted to this House that they have broken employment law. There is an important distinction here about how public money could be spent and about rewarding those who have behaved badly.

Paul Scully Portrait Paul Scully
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I thank the hon. Lady for her intervention. This is what I mean about using other areas of law; other areas testing the value of the use of public money will be better suited for addressing exactly those points, but I very much take the one she makes.

John Redwood Portrait John Redwood (Wokingham) (Con)
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Would it not in future be possible for the Government, when offering a subsidy to companies, to specify that they need to meet certain labour standards so that the subsidies regime would apply?

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Paul Scully Portrait Paul Scully
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Again, that is up to the public authorities. The whole point about this regime is that it is a loose, permissive framework, rather than something more onerous which adds layer upon layer to recreate the EU state aid system. None the less, I would expect that, again, because of value for money and good governance, any public authority, whether national Government, local government or another public body, would expect to have exactly that kind of criteria—

Kirsty Blackman Portrait Kirsty Blackman
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The Scottish Government asked that the freeports that were going to be in Scotland had green stuff in them and fair work rules, but the UK Government said no. Now the Minister is saying, “Yes, we can totally do that. That definitely should be in it.” The UK Government refused to let us have that in the freeports planned for Scotland.

Paul Scully Portrait Paul Scully
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I am not going to get involved in a wider discussion about freeports; I am talking about a framework Bill, which is exactly why I said that other areas of legislation and of governance will better frame this area, as opposed to having it within this framework Bill. I am going well over time on this issue, because I wanted to cover some of the other areas.

Net zero has been mentioned. Schedule 2 contains a lot of common-sense principles already, which support the UK’s priorities on net zero and protecting the environment. They require subsidies in relation to energy and the environment to meet one of the specified aims, such as increasing the level of environmental protection, and to ensure that subsidies do not undermine the polluter pays principle. We talked about the tax subsidies and the timings. Clearly, within the timings of the tax subsidies a longer period is still necessitated, because of the fact that tax returns and such things take longer to go through the process—as opposed to having the immediacy of sponsorship through a subsidy or more immediate cash assistance.

The hon. Member for Feltham and Heston talked about CMA thresholds and limitations, but ultimately that is what the CMA will be looking at in any case as part of its reporting back on the regime and its overall effectiveness. So we will always be able to look at how those thresholds and limitations are working in practice; we want to make sure that that can be put in place.

I wish to conclude by reaffirming what I set out in my opening remarks: this Bill creates a domestic subsidy control regime that will work for people and communities across the UK, creating a robust yet agile system that allows public authorities to provide subsidies where they are needed most. The rigorous debates in both Houses have resulted in the improved Bill we have before us, so I commend it to the House.

Lords amendment 1 agreed to.

Lords amendments 2 to 51 agreed to.

Building Safety Bill (Programme) (No. 3)

Motion made, and Question put forthwith (Standing Order No. 83A(7)),

That the following provisions shall apply to the Building Safety Bill for the purpose of supplementing the Order of 21 July 2021 (Building Safety Bill (Programme)), as varied by the Order of 19 January 2022 (Building Safety Bill (Programme) (No. 2)):

Consideration of Lords Amendments

(1) Proceedings on consideration of Lords Amendments shall (so far as not previously concluded) be brought to a conclusion three hours after their commencement.

(2) The Lords Amendments shall be considered in the following order, namely: 93, 94, 98, 107 to 109, 145, 184, 6, 1 to 5, 7 to 92, 95 to 97, 99 to 106, 110 to 144, 146 to 183, 185 to 191.

Subsequent stages

(3) Any further Message from the Lords may be considered forthwith without any Question being put.

(4) The proceedings on any further Message from the Lords shall (so far as not previously concluded) be brought to a conclusion one hour after their commencement.—(Alan Mak.)

Question agreed to.