Debates between Baroness Bloomfield of Hinton Waldrist and Lord Fox during the 2019 Parliament

Thu 23rd Mar 2023
Thu 2nd Mar 2023
Thu 23rd Feb 2023
Tue 5th Apr 2022
Professional Qualifications Bill [HL]
Lords Chamber

Consideration of Commons amendments & Consideration of Commons amendments
Wed 23rd Mar 2022
Wed 9th Feb 2022
Mon 7th Feb 2022
Wed 2nd Feb 2022
Wed 17th Nov 2021
Mon 14th Jun 2021
Tue 2nd Mar 2021
National Security and Investment Bill
Grand Committee

Committee stage & Committee stage & Lords Hansard

Strikes (Minimum Service Levels) Bill

Debate between Baroness Bloomfield of Hinton Waldrist and Lord Fox
Baroness Bloomfield of Hinton Waldrist Portrait Baroness Bloomfield of Hinton Waldrist (Con)
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I hear and understand the noble Baroness’s concerns, but I default to the Government’s position: the Bill gives only a statutory discretion, not a statutory duty, to the employer on whether to issue a work notice.

Lord Fox Portrait Lord Fox (LD)
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I will pursue this “may/must” argument from a slightly different direction. One of the arguments made in the letter of the noble Lord, Lord Markham, is that the unsatisfactory nature of the current situation is that the Government were unable to secure a national agreement from the ambulance services on the level of cover. The Minister will be aware that we do not have a national ambulance service; we have a series of ambulance services across the country. Under the “may/must” doctrine that the Minister set out, it is perfectly possible that one ambulance service in one area “must”, while another one chooses not to; in other words, we would still have a patchy service across the United Kingdom and the Government would have failed to achieve the objective that the noble Lord, Lord Markham, set out in his letter. So, given the good faith that I put in the Minister’s comments, I do not understand what problem this solves, because the compulsion—or lack of it—within the Bill means that we still do not have a national agreement on service levels.

Baroness Bloomfield of Hinton Waldrist Portrait Baroness Bloomfield of Hinton Waldrist (Con)
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The Government’s position is that we would rather have a voluntary agreement than a compulsion to issue notices. Of course, we would hope that each employer would choose to accept minimum service levels, because the Government are here to protect the level of service available to all UK citizens, not just those in England.

Lord Fox Portrait Lord Fox (LD)
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The noble Baroness has set up a whole new stream of thought because now she is saying that there is an ability for government to compel the employer to give a notice. We all hope that there will be voluntary agreement—that is where we are now, and it is what the Bill seeks to undermine.

Baroness Bloomfield of Hinton Waldrist Portrait Baroness Bloomfield of Hinton Waldrist (Con)
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I do not accept the noble Lord’s points at all, but I will continue my answer to the noble Lord, Lord Collins. Of course, we would rather have a negotiated agreement on minimum service levels, but the Government resist these amendments. I hope that I have been able to reassure noble Lords—I feel I have not entirely—on “may” versus “must” and the compulsion, the statutory discretion or the statutory duty. With those comments, I ask the noble Baroness, Lady Randerson, to withdraw her amendment.

Retained EU Law (Revocation and Reform) Bill

Debate between Baroness Bloomfield of Hinton Waldrist and Lord Fox
Baroness Bloomfield of Hinton Waldrist Portrait Baroness Bloomfield of Hinton Waldrist (Con)
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I will have to send that sort of detail out in writing, along with the other letters we are going to be writing in response to other questions.

Lord Fox Portrait Lord Fox (LD)
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I apologise for intervening. I think what I heard is that Clause 2 gives the Government the power to do this; I did not hear from the noble Baroness that the Government have any inclination to actually use that power. Will she explain what criteria the Government would use to actually apply the power that she has just revealed to the Committee?

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Lord Fox Portrait Lord Fox (LD)
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It was my noble friend Lady Randerson.

Baroness Bloomfield of Hinton Waldrist Portrait Baroness Bloomfield of Hinton Waldrist (Con)
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I am sorry. I assure the noble Baroness, Lady Randerson, that there was no Machiavellian intent; rather, that date provides a ceiling for the presence of retained EU law on the UK’s statute book and gives adequate time to complete reform of the most ambitious nature in all areas. The 10th anniversary of the referendum vote served this purpose and offers a full-circle moment by which the UK can proudly proclaim that it has regained its sovereignty and has a fully independent domestic statute book—

Lord Fox Portrait Lord Fox (LD)
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My Lords, I am unfamiliar with modern parlance. Could the Minister please define a “full-circle moment”?

Baroness Bloomfield of Hinton Waldrist Portrait Baroness Bloomfield of Hinton Waldrist (Con)
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I think it is just a way of describing the 10-year anniversary of the referendum vote. It is just vernacular—

Retained EU Law (Revocation and Reform) Bill

Debate between Baroness Bloomfield of Hinton Waldrist and Lord Fox
Baroness Bloomfield of Hinton Waldrist Portrait Baroness Bloomfield of Hinton Waldrist (Con)
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I am afraid that I will have to write to the noble Baroness on that; we do not have an answer at this stage. The consultation is a new initiative and will be launched soon.

Amendment 25 tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Fox, relates to the control of asbestos regulations. The noble Lord has provided a good example of an area where we regained the ability to regulate autonomously upon leaving the EU. Both the post-implementation review 2022 and the Work and Pensions Select Committee evidence suggest that further clarity around the categorisation of asbestos works, particularly regarding non-notifiable licenced work, would be beneficial, and the Health and Safety Executive has committed to considering how this could be developed further. HSE will undertake research and engage with stakeholders to consider an evidence base for the introduction of mandatory accreditation for asbestos surveyors. If this is taken forward, it will be as a result of a change to the CAR. Indeed—

Lord Fox Portrait Lord Fox (LD)
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How does the Bill make that happen, when Clause 15 does not allow an increase in regulatory burden? The Bill does not facilitate what was just stated at the Dispatch Box: it cannot happen as a result of the Bill; indeed, the Bill stops it from happening.

Baroness Bloomfield of Hinton Waldrist Portrait Baroness Bloomfield of Hinton Waldrist (Con)
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I did not suggest that it was happening as a result of the Bill; it is happening anyway, and that will inform our decisions on further regulations.

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Baroness Bloomfield of Hinton Waldrist Portrait Baroness Bloomfield of Hinton Waldrist (Con)
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I am afraid that the Government’s position is that we simply do not accept that interpretation of the totality. Of the 4,000 pieces of retained EU law, we will be repealing a number of things. We are talking about not increasing the totality of the regulatory burden because some of that will be falling away and may just simply not be appropriate, not just on asbestos but on many other fronts as well.

Lord Fox Portrait Lord Fox (LD)
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My Lords, I think that we have just introduced a whole other confusion. Clause 15 talks about not increasing the regulatory burden. Is the Minister now proposing that it is the total across all 4,700, which is what she just said? She has an opportunity to correct that and explain what not increasing the regulatory burden really means.

Baroness Bloomfield of Hinton Waldrist Portrait Baroness Bloomfield of Hinton Waldrist (Con)
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I think the best thing I can do is commit to giving the noble Lord a definition of “regulatory burden” in writing in due course.

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Baroness Bloomfield of Hinton Waldrist Portrait Baroness Bloomfield of Hinton Waldrist (Con)
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I thank the noble Lord for his intervention. Of course it would make all our lives easier, and they will be published in due course. I am not going to go further than that.

Lord Fox Portrait Lord Fox (LD)
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This is new information. I have yet to hear from the Dispatch Box that this list will be published. I am delighted, but it would be very helpful if the noble Baroness could tell us when the list will be published.

Baroness Bloomfield of Hinton Waldrist Portrait Baroness Bloomfield of Hinton Waldrist (Con)
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As the noble Lord will appreciate, it will be published when the work is complete. The work is ongoing within all departments—the noble Baroness looks shocked.

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Baroness Young of Old Scone Portrait Baroness Young of Old Scone (Lab)
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It is good to hear that the dashboard is nearly finished; it has been interesting watching it emerge. Your Lordships will be glad to hear that I have read every single environmental provision in the original documentation that is on that list.

I wonder if the Minister could tell us about what happens when the buckets are published—not the list but the buckets we are sorting into. I do not know if your Lordships have ever watched that telly programme, “Snog Marry Avoid?”—that shows how intellectual I am on a Friday night—but I kind of typify the buckets like that. The “avoid” one is for the ones that we are going to get rid of because nobody really wants them; the “marry” one is for the ones that we all think are wonderful and we are going to just give a straight run through; and the “snog” one is for the ones that we have to spend a bit of time on to find out whether they are really up to it or not. The quicker we can get the buckets published, the better. Will the buckets come out early enough for this Parliament to play a proper role in coming to some conclusions and helping the Government decide whether they have everything in the right bucket? There might be a little desirable treasure tucked away at the bottom of one of the wrong buckets that we all cherish.

Lord Fox Portrait Lord Fox (LD)
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I am sorry to keep labouring this point, but the Minister keeps introducing new information. In referring to the dashboard, the Minister implied that the dashboard is the list. Nowhere in this legislation is the dashboard referred to. What is the legal status of the dashboard with respect to the sunset?

Baroness Bloomfield of Hinton Waldrist Portrait Baroness Bloomfield of Hinton Waldrist (Con)
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The dashboard has all the retained EU law which is subject to the provisions of the Bill; it is a working document.

Lord Fox Portrait Lord Fox (LD)
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It is not in the Bill.

Baroness Randerson Portrait Baroness Randerson (LD)
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I cannot resist, I am afraid, intervening on this. I was in a Common Frameworks Scrutiny Committee meeting this week when it was indicated that the dashboard was just a tool and, as far as I understood it, did not have a legal status. While I am on my feet, can I ask where and in which bucket the legislation passed by the devolved Administrations is—which are, I believe, at a very much earlier stage in identifying the numbers for the dashboard?

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Baroness Bloomfield of Hinton Waldrist Portrait Baroness Bloomfield of Hinton Waldrist (Con)
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The dashboard is ongoing work. It does not put things into buckets, but just includes all the EU laws that are subject to review. That will be published but it will certainly not have the buckets that I think the noble Baroness, Lady Young, is asking for.

Lord Fox Portrait Lord Fox (LD)
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There is an outstanding point here. How is the dashboard connected to the Bill? There is no legal connection between the two, so how will the Government connect them? Currently, there is nothing that joins the dashboard to this law.

Baroness Bloomfield of Hinton Waldrist Portrait Baroness Bloomfield of Hinton Waldrist (Con)
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I do not accept the noble Lord’s point. The dashboard is just a list of retained EU law that will be subject to the provisions of the Bill but will not be part of the Bill.

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Baroness Bloomfield of Hinton Waldrist Portrait Baroness Bloomfield of Hinton Waldrist (Con)
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Not in terms of regulatory review, but those decisions will be taken within departments, and they will be sunsetted.

Lord Fox Portrait Lord Fox (LD)
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My Lords, it seems that we will know at about one minute to midnight on 31 December, because it will not have been retained or amended; it will simply be revoked.

Baroness Bloomfield of Hinton Waldrist Portrait Baroness Bloomfield of Hinton Waldrist (Con)
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With respect, it will be updated.

Professional Qualifications Bill [HL]

Debate between Baroness Bloomfield of Hinton Waldrist and Lord Fox
Lord Fox Portrait Lord Fox (LD)
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To follow up on the points that the noble Lord, Lord Wigley, and I made about the relationship between Westminster and Cardiff, Edinburgh and Belfast, does the Minister agree with us that there is an issue and that relationships are breaking down? She said that she—and therefore I suppose the Government —hopes that things will improve. Perhaps she can give an undertaking to actually do things to improve the relationship rather than hope. Could she comment a little around that area?

Baroness Bloomfield of Hinton Waldrist Portrait Baroness Bloomfield of Hinton Waldrist (Con)
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Yes, I think I can agree that we can do things better, and that message will have been heard loud and clear in the departments with which I am involved. To be clear, the reason that we thought that the consent mechanism would not be appropriate for this Bill is that we thought that it would give rise to a risk that the UK Government would not be able to implement trade agreements promptly and consistently. The same happened with the trade and co-operation agreement in Europe; we could not get consent for professional qualifications to be added because the European Commission was not confident of individual countries’ ability to deliver on that commitment. The same could be true of the four nations within the UK. Entering into negotiations with a weak hand, we felt, was good enough a reason to legislate without consent from the four nations.

To sum up, it gives me great pleasure on behalf of my noble friend Lord Grimstone to thank all those who have ably worked to support the Bill’s progress. I commend the good work of noble Lords from all parts of the House, as well as those in the other place, who have brought their expertise and challenge to this Bill. I know that my noble friend would wish to pay tribute to his private office, his officials and, in particular, the Bill team for their work so, on his behalf, I thank Zack Campbell, Ben Kerindi, George Whelan, Jamie Wasley, Jen Pattison, James Banfield, Monique Sidhu, Hadeeka Taj, Jerome Healy, Nick French, Raegan Hiles, Tom Corker, Alpa Palmar, Hannah Marshall, Ben Clifford, Funmi Olasoju, Aneesa Ahmed and Tim Courtney. I also personally thank them for stepping into the breach to help me to prepare for today.

This Bill will go on the statute book to end unequal EU-based recognition arrangements, while giving regulators confidence in their own autonomy. It will help to deliver a global Britain and assist professionals to enter new markets through its information-sharing provisions. On that basis, I proudly commend the Bill to the House.

Sub-Postmasters: Compensation

Debate between Baroness Bloomfield of Hinton Waldrist and Lord Fox
Wednesday 23rd March 2022

(2 years ago)

Lords Chamber
Read Full debate Read Hansard Text
Baroness Bloomfield of Hinton Waldrist Portrait Baroness Bloomfield of Hinton Waldrist (Con)
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I thank the noble Lord for his Question. This is a historic injustice as we all know, going back many years. I know that my noble friend the Minister and my right honourable friend Minister Scully in the other place are grateful for the support given to the Government from all sides of both Houses in their efforts to resolve these issues. We must make public exactly what went wrong and ensure that something like this cannot happen again. We have established the Post Office Horizon IT inquiry, chaired by Sir Wyn Williams. As of 11 March, 45% in the historic shortfall scheme have already received initial offers of payment, and we hope to make 95% of initial offers by the end of the year.

Lord Fox Portrait Lord Fox (LD)
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My Lords, on the face of it, this is belated but good news. We should remind ourselves that this all started when a large international corporation, a huge public service and Government ganged up together to steamroller the lives of ordinary postmasters who were struggling with the Horizon scheme. I get no sense of the same vigour of their campaign on postmasters from that now on Fujitsu, whose product was the root cause of this problem, which went on for decades. Can the Minister please reassure your Lordships’ House that Fujitsu will be pursued with the same energy with which the postmasters and postmistresses of Britain were pursued?

Baroness Bloomfield of Hinton Waldrist Portrait Baroness Bloomfield of Hinton Waldrist (Con)
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I am sure that view will be expressed by a number of people around the House. The investigation led by Sir Wyn Williams will investigate all aspects of this scandal, including the role of Fujitsu. In the light of his report, we will have the information we need to shape our future relationship with Fujitsu and any future action we take against it for compensation. The UK taxpayer should not pick up the tab for problems caused by others.

P&O Ferries

Debate between Baroness Bloomfield of Hinton Waldrist and Lord Fox
Wednesday 23rd March 2022

(2 years ago)

Lords Chamber
Read Full debate Read Hansard Text Read Debate Ministerial Extracts
Baroness Bloomfield of Hinton Waldrist Portrait Baroness Bloomfield of Hinton Waldrist (Con)
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I thank the noble Lord for reminding the House of his career in P&O, which was one of my first clients in the 1980s, when I joined the shipping department of Bank of America, and I remember him well. The Government are absolutely shocked by the actions of P&O Ferries, and we must make the point here that there is no relationship between P&O Ferries and P&O Cruises, which are entirely separate organisations. We are shocked by its actions over the past week. We have been angered by the lack of empathy and consideration that P&O Ferries has demonstrated towards its employees. The way that these workers were informed was completely unacceptable, especially as P&O Ferries received millions of pounds of British taxpayers’ support through furlough.

Lord Fox Portrait Lord Fox (LD)
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My Lords, as the Minister knows, multi-divisional companies such as DP World use a legal corporate veil so that they can hide behind the deeds of those subsidiaries. However, there is no moral corporate veil and DP World is morally implicated in the activities of P&O Ferries. How can the Government continue to do business with DP World, how can they continue to give it £50 million in tax breaks and why are they not suspending immediately the involvement of DP World in the two freeports that it has been granted?

Baroness Bloomfield of Hinton Waldrist Portrait Baroness Bloomfield of Hinton Waldrist (Con)
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The noble Lord is right and, as Ministers stated in the other place, we are reviewing existing arrangements and working with all government departments to consider what relationships we have with DP World. This includes my honourable friend in another place, Minister Scully, saying that the company should be on notice that it had fundamentally changed the relationship with government, including a £25 million subsidy the company received to help develop London Gateway as a freeport. It needs to realise that the relationship between the companies and the Government has changed as a result of its absolutely callous conduct.

Subsidy Control Bill

Debate between Baroness Bloomfield of Hinton Waldrist and Lord Fox
Baroness Bloomfield of Hinton Waldrist Portrait Baroness Bloomfield of Hinton Waldrist (Con)
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On the noble Lord’s first point, it has been a year since the Bill was introduced and therefore things have moved on since the impact assessment was done. On his second point, we are looking for a broad range of expertise that will enable the CMA and the SAU to fulfil their functions.

Lord Fox Portrait Lord Fox (LD)
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Can I ask that in future, all impact assessments be given a time lapse, so we know how many weeks they last for, until such time as they cease to be? Seriously, if one year on the impact assessment for this means that the number of people triples, then it was not necessarily a very accurate impact assessment.

Lord German Portrait Lord German (LD)
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I wonder if, in concluding, the Minister could indicate the deadline for when the 50 extra advertised posts have to be filled? She may have to do so in writing, I understand that. Also, what is the difference between those who will be allocated to the traditional work of the CMA—competition, mergers and anti-trust—and those on the subsidy side of this split? They are distinct areas of work and quite distinct skills are needed. At some stage, could the Minister also tell me how many lawyers have been recruited so far, and how many they are short of. That would be very helpful.

Subsidy Control Bill

Debate between Baroness Bloomfield of Hinton Waldrist and Lord Fox
Baroness Bloomfield of Hinton Waldrist Portrait Baroness Bloomfield of Hinton Waldrist (Con)
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The public authorities can devise their own schemes according to their own policy priorities, as long as they comply with the principles of the Bill.

Lord Fox Portrait Lord Fox (LD)
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Let me give a specific example. Herefordshire County Council decides, within the seven principles of the Bill, to subsidise the production of beef in Herefordshire, brands it “Herefordshire beef from Hereford animals”, and then markets it in Aberdeenshire at a rate that undercuts Aberdeen Angus or whatever it is that my noble friend Lord Bruce is peddling in his area. It seems to me that this Bill puts in place a chaotic situation that cannot be managed. We do not know what an area is, we are allowing flexibility for any authority to take action as long as it sits within the seven principles, and then we are going to rely on the CAT to adjudicate. Is this really what the Government have in mind?

Baroness Bloomfield of Hinton Waldrist Portrait Baroness Bloomfield of Hinton Waldrist (Con)
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I think a lot of this overlaps with the internal market Act, which we will debate at length on a later group of amendments. All I can say is that the set of principles will cover the position of the Herefordshire farmer.

Subsidy Control Bill

Debate between Baroness Bloomfield of Hinton Waldrist and Lord Fox
Lord Fox Portrait Lord Fox (LD)
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My Lords, it is with great pleasure that I follow my noble friend Lady Sheehan and the noble Lord, Lord McNicol, in support of these amendments. Subsidy schemes seem to be designed as monoliths with no granularity at all. Why is that one of the central theses of this Bill? What possible advantage do the Government seek to gain, other than the ability to hide what money is going to whom? To those of us on this side of the Committee, that appears to be what is going on.

Amendment 21 would ensure that subsidy schemes cannot be used to hide subsidies that would, if they were stand-alone subsidies, be reported, as my noble friend set out. It is clear to all three of us that there is huge scope for significant and expensive subsidies to be hidden in these schemes. That seems to be the only reason why this is in the Bill. I am sure that the Minister will want to explain the reasons, because that must be the response to these amendments. I am sure that we will all be happy to throw our hands up if we are wrong and there is a hugely important reason why this is needed for the operation of the subsidies.

Amendment 24, co-signed by my noble friend, would require individual subsidies given under the subsidy scheme to be judged against the energy and environment principles. Once again, we are back to Monday evening, when my noble friend Lord Purvis posed a question regarding principle G in Schedule 1. The noble Lord, Lord Callanan, got to answer it; I suppose that this time it is the turn of the noble Baroness, Lady Bloomfield. During that debate, the Minister seemed to make it clear that sustainability considerations are indeed implicit in every aspect of the Bill. He suggested that, by implication, there must be some benefit for these things to be legal, but there is no explicit reference to that. I apologise if I am putting words in his mouth because principle G says the opposite. Therefore, rather than repeat what I have said, I have invented another one of my little examples, for which I apologise in advance.

Let us say that I have won a subsidy to expand my pottery business. As part of the submission, I cite increased employment and increased local sourcing of services as the beneficial effects that investment in my pottery business would bring. Nothing in the schedule or the rest of the Bill says that I have to benefit the environment by using less energy. If I am successful, I employ 30% more people and use 30% more local services, therefore achieving the scheme’s objectives, while also using 30% more energy to fire my products. That would appear to be how the Bill will work. Therefore, we need Amendment 24 to include consideration of the environmental impact that that subsidy would bring. It is very simple.

Amendment 68 would allow individual subsidies given under a subsidy scheme to be reviewed. Once again, it is cracking open the monolith and being able to look at the granularity within a scheme. Again, it follows my initial points: we need to be able to see inside these schemes for transparency to be available.

Baroness Bloomfield of Hinton Waldrist Portrait Baroness Bloomfield of Hinton Waldrist (Con)
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I thank the noble Lord, Lord McNicol, for tabling Amendments 21, 24 and 68. Perhaps it would be helpful if I started by explaining the status of subsidy schemes in the Bill and why the Government have taken this approach.

Public authorities that seek to give multiple subsidies have three options available to them. First, they can consider each subsidy separately and assess its compliance with the principles and the other requirements in the Bill. Secondly, they can set up a scheme—that is to say, they can identify a group of possible subsidies, with defined parameters, and ensure that any possible subsidy within that group complies with the subsidy control requirements. Thirdly, they can use a streamlined subsidy scheme or another scheme where a public authority—perhaps the UK Government or one of the devolved Administrations—has already assessed that defined group of possible subsidies as compliant with the requirements.

Clauses 12 and 13 place a duty on public authorities to consider the subsidy control principles and the energy and environmental principles respectively before deciding whether to give an individual subsidy or make a subsidy scheme. A public authority cannot go on to give the subsidy or make the scheme unless it is of the view that it is consistent with the principles, including the energy and environmental principles the noble Lord, Lord Fox, emphasised. Once created, public authorities can then award multiple subsidies under that scheme with the confidence that they comply with the subsidy control principles.

By making a scheme instead of assessing multiple individual subsidies against the principles, public authorities will save themselves the administrative time and effort—ultimately equating to taxpayers’ money—it takes to consider any assessment, even one that is light touch and common sense. Schemes also provide a way for public authorities to grant subsidies with greater confidence and security because anyone wishing to make a challenge in the Competition Appeal Tribunal must do so to the scheme itself within the limitation period of one month following publication of information about the scheme on the transparency database. That one month period can be extended by a pre-action information request. We believe that this strikes the right balance between facilitating proper scrutiny of the scheme and removing any perpetual threat of challenge, which can make public authorities more reluctant to give, and recipients more hesitant to accept, beneficial subsidies.

Noble Lords will be aware that this subsidy control regime presents a new approach tailored to the specific needs of the United Kingdom. I do not believe that it is generally useful to justify elements of the Bill on the grounds that they correspond to how things used to be done in the EU state aid system, but it is helpful to underline that public authorities have been making use of subsidy schemes for the purposes of administrative simplicity for a long time. Although the EU mechanisms for decision-making and challenge were quite different, public authorities that gave subsidies in compliance with pre-approved schemes generally did not need to obtain further approval for each individual subsidy under a scheme and could proceed to give those subsidies with confidence.

I also add, as the noble Lord, Lord McNicol, pointed out, that transparency is very important. Subsidies given under schemes over £500,000 must be uploaded on the transparency database under the Bill as it stands. We believe that the £500,000 threshold represents an appropriate balance between minimising the administrative burden and requiring subsidy transparency in the public interest.

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Baroness Bloomfield of Hinton Waldrist Portrait Baroness Bloomfield of Hinton Waldrist (Con)
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I take the noble Baroness’s point on that. I would like to discuss it with the team when I have had a chance to look into it more thoroughly.

As I have just set out, under the terms of Clause 70, an interested party may not submit an application for the Competition Appeal Tribunal to review a decision to give an individual subsidy under a scheme. This is to ensure that scrutiny and challenge occur at the scheme level. The noble Lord’s amendment would enable applications for review to be made to the Competition Appeal Tribunal for individual subsidies granted under a subsidy scheme without the requirement for the broader subsidy scheme also to be reviewed.

Lord Fox Portrait Lord Fox (LD)
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I am glad that the Minister has come to this point. Earlier on, I think I heard her say that transparency on a subsidy would raise the potential for a challenge to happen, but the whole system of policing this is through challenge, so how can challenge happen if invisibility is the result of this?

The Minister was suggesting that you can challenge only the overall scheme, not the individual granularity of a scheme within it, but that flies in the face of the central principle of the Bill which is that if I am a business and another local business gets a subsidy, I can challenge that through the CMA, assuming that there are grounds for it. If I do not know that my local competitor is getting that money because its subsidy is locked inside one of these schemes, I cannot challenge it. So the Minister is correct: transparency will lead to more challenge and that is the purpose of the systems put in place within the Bill. We need some working through of this from the Minister—it may not be now but perhaps in writing—because it seems that there are two things working in opposite directions.

Baroness Bloomfield of Hinton Waldrist Portrait Baroness Bloomfield of Hinton Waldrist (Con)
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Given that the whole structure of the subsidy regime is to have the overarching scheme, compliant with all the principles contained in the Bill, and then a series of other subsidies given within that, if you increase the likelihood of challenge and therefore reduce people’s confidence in it, why would a local authority or a government body give a subsidy? Why would there be any incentive for them to give a scheme? While we are wholly appreciative of the importance of transparency, there is a balance to be struck here. Perhaps we could make more progress and I can write to the noble Lord.

Lord Fox Portrait Lord Fox (LD)
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It was the Government who chose to put the principle of challenge on the face of the Bill. The noble Lord, Lord Lamont, and I are coming to the idea of creating a body that can police those things. Perhaps that would solve some of the problems that the Minister suggested—but those problems are central to the way in which the Government have decided that subsidies should be policed under the Bill.

Advanced Research and Invention Agency Bill

Debate between Baroness Bloomfield of Hinton Waldrist and Lord Fox
Lord Fox Portrait Lord Fox (LD)
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My Lords, this has been an interesting debate. I fully associate myself with the words of my noble friend Lady Randerson. To put it plainly, we have heard around the Committee a strong feeling that the nations of the United Kingdom have to be fully engaged in this agency in some way, although, to echo the last speaker, the way in which that can be worked through is something we can all be flexible about. I think we all look forward to the debate on Amendments 37 and 40 to hear what the Government's thinking is about those.

On Amendment 9, having some eyes and ears around the regions as well as the nations is essential. Regarding most of the amendments from the noble Baroness, Lady Chapman, she is right to stress that inequality is a central issue and it should be a focus of what we do. However, I would point out that while a lot of people have mentioned London in the context of being rich and well funded, it is not just a matter of region because within a region there can be huge variation. I shall use the example of the London Borough of Tower Hamlets, which I declare I have a home in. There we have some of the richest people and some of the most deprived living a few yards apart.

The noble Lord, Lord Ravensdale, raised the issue of HQ locations. Some noble Lords may know that the European Medicines Agency was due to go into Tower Hamlets but now, for reasons they will all know, it is not. So I will mention that I am supporting the campaign by my colleague in Tower Hamlets, councillor Rabina Khan, to locate ARIA in Tower Hamlets and take the place of the European Medicines Agency. It would be a good development around there and something that I think would be very constructive.

Although I do not fully agree with the wording of the amendments from the noble Baroness, Lady Chapman, I think there is a sense in there that we need to get a hold of. How does this agency engage? How does it not become isolated in the golden triangle or somewhere else? That is the question to which we seek some response from the Minister. That is the issue we will take to Report, whether in amendments such as this or in a new version that seeks to make sure we have engagement across the whole country, national or regional.

Baroness Bloomfield of Hinton Waldrist Portrait Baroness Bloomfield of Hinton Waldrist (Con)
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My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Randerson, for her remarks on these amendments. Many points were raised that I agree with, including a number from the noble Baroness, Lady Chapman. I will address the different elements of this group in turn.

First, I should be clear that it is absolutely the Government’s intention that ARIA increases prosperity across England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland. This is reflected in ARIA’s existing functions, which require it to have regard to contributing to economic growth or economic benefit in the UK or, for example, improving the quality of life. There is no need for specific additional powers to allow ARIA to operate regionally; the Bill as it stands already allows ARIA to do so. Addressing regional inequality is at the heart of our levelling-up agenda and innovation strategy, driving greater benefits from our R&D system to more places across the UK.

I will now address head-on the proposed location of ARIA, because there is none. No decision on the location of these offices has been taken. As a funder, the contribution the new agency makes will result from its project portfolio and funding decisions; it is not an infrastructure project. ARIA will have only a small physical presence at its headquarters, the location of which will probably not be agreed until the appointment of the chief executive officer. That may have some bearing on where it is to be located. I cannot make the commitment that it will not be based in the London-Cambridge-Oxford arc, but that is not our intention at this stage. We have a completely open mind as to its location.

Amendment 23 would impose a new duty and reporting obligations on ARIA in this regard. It is my view that these system-wide ambitions should not be the statutory responsibility of a small new agency that represents about 1% of UK R&D spending. As we have stated previously, UKRI is the public R&D funder with system-wide responsibilities. Tackling systemic issues, such as the overall regional distribution of R&D funding, falls firmly within the UKRI remit.

ARIA’s purpose is to pursue the most ambitious research and innovation projects, where the benefits are long-term and uncertain, wherever in the country they are located. ARIA should not be subject to the political priorities of the Government of the day, no matter how long-standing or important those priorities might be. I believe that seeking to quantify its economic impact in every region of the UK and submitting that for outside assessment, under the shadow of this statutory obligation, would incentivise exactly the same risk-intolerant approach that we are seeking to liberate ARIA from.

We are in danger of expecting ARIA to spread itself too thinly, against the recommendation of the Royal Society and the House of Commons Science and Technology Committee that it focus on a very limited number of programmes. ARIA cannot be expected to be active in all regions of the UK at once, so I suggest that Amendment 34 is not an appropriate obligation to place on the organisation.

We have spoken at length about the importance of providing ARIA with independence and equipping it to take risks and tolerate failure. A board appointed by the Secretary of State advising ARIA where to direct its funding represents an extraordinary level of political control over ARIA’s activities. It is completely inconsistent with the decisions on project-level spending being taken by technical experts based on a deep understanding of the relevant field and the scientific merits of the proposals.

In a similar vein, Amendment 4 looks to add a representative from each of the devolved Administrations to ARIA’s board. Ministers in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland are unanimous in their support for the important principle of ARIA’s independence. We have had close discussions with Ministers and officials at all levels in all three devolved Governments throughout the passage of the Bill.

We have agreed a mechanism for input with the devolved Governments which will be set out in an agreement between the four Administrations of the UK. The agreed text of this MoU will be shared before Report, but it is contingent on the government amendments we will come to discuss later. The final version signed by all parties will be published before Royal Assent. All four Administrations of the UK are committed to upholding the important principles of ARIA’s strategic autonomy, operational autonomy and minimal bureaucracy. Similarly, all are committed to facilitating ARIA’s seamless operation throughout the UK.

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Lord Fox Portrait Lord Fox (LD)
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On Second Reading, the noble Lord, Lord Callanan, said that “It”—ie ARIA—

“can fund the purchase of a piece of research equipment, which ARIA then owns, and it can loan it out on the condition that it is then returned within a specific timeframe.”—[Official Report, 2/11/21; col.1204.]

So essentially, it becomes an equipment lending library. That is not exactly what the Minister has just said. Are the two things both true, is only one of them true, or what?

Professional Qualifications Bill [HL]

Debate between Baroness Bloomfield of Hinton Waldrist and Lord Fox
Lord Fox Portrait Lord Fox (LD)
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I thank the Minister for her response. I am having trouble matching the words that she is using with the thing that she is describing. That is my problem. The words “a website run by two people” and “assistance centre” are not really the same, so are we talking about an assistance centre or a landing page? When I talked about a landing page the other Minister kind of nodded. It would help if the Government would clear up what this thing actually is and, in so doing, tell us how much they think it will cost.

The specific question I have is about data. The Minister seemed to suggest that in order for this centre/website to conform to existing data protection regulation it needed guidance in primary legislation. Is that because it will be asked to do more data protection, less data protection or the same amount? If it is the same amount of data protection, why does it need primary legislation to tell it what to do?

Baroness Bloomfield of Hinton Waldrist Portrait Baroness Bloomfield of Hinton Waldrist (Con)
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Providing a statutory basis for the continued existence of an assistance centre places a duty on competent authorities to co-operate with it. This is to ensure that the assistance centre has the necessary information to help support the delivery of its functions, rather than relying on voluntary information-sharing arrangements. In a practical sense, it provides a signposting system through its website. It also has a telephone answering service, which dealt with my question this morning about the need for English language skills for particular professions. It answered the question very carefully and properly by saying that that was not part of its remit and I needed to talk to the visa requirements section. The centre is at least directing you to where you need to go for your questions to be answered.

The legislation also requires that the assistance centre provides information to the Secretary of State when requested. As I said, this is not onerous information, but it is an important requirement, as the Secretary of State has a responsibility for the wider recognition of professional qualifications principles. Lastly, its existence in legislation helps validate the credibility of the assistance centre for engagement with its overseas counterparts.

National Security and Investment Bill

Debate between Baroness Bloomfield of Hinton Waldrist and Lord Fox
Baroness Bloomfield of Hinton Waldrist Portrait Baroness Bloomfield of Hinton Waldrist (Con)
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I reiterate that we will continue to consult widely on important changes that merit further scrutiny. The Government care deeply that we get these definitions accurately put into the Bill before it receives Royal Assent.

Lord Fox Portrait Lord Fox (LD)
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I anticipated the Minister’s answer on the subject of time, and 30 days is 30 days, but the Government have shown that they are relatively adept. If there really was a national security emergency requiring quick action using other means, a statutory instrument with a debate in Parliament would act as a plug. My noble friend Lord Clement-Jones made the point that there is such significance, particularly around this list but also around the other elements of Clause 6, so I hope that the Minister will read Hansard and at least find some way of moving towards the very valid arguments that she has heard today on both amendments.

Arcadia and Debenhams: Business Support and Job Retention

Debate between Baroness Bloomfield of Hinton Waldrist and Lord Fox
Thursday 3rd December 2020

(3 years, 4 months ago)

Lords Chamber
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Baroness Bloomfield of Hinton Waldrist Portrait Baroness Bloomfield of Hinton Waldrist (Con)
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My Lords, I remember the noble Lord’s amendments to the Corporate Insolvency and Governance Bill very well, but it was always a question of getting the balance right. Elevating the rights of pensioners would have negatively impacted suppliers and the unpaid wages of existing employees. The trade credit reinsurance scheme is designed to support small businesses coping with the economic impact of Covid-19, and I assure the noble Lord that we will take his views on new powers for the Small Business Commissioner into account.

Lord Fox Portrait Lord Fox (LD)
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In an answer yesterday, the Minister Paul Scully noted that

“The independent Pensions Regulator has a range of powers to protect pension schemes”.—[Official Report, Commons, 2/12/20; col. 314-15.]

Under the watch of that regulator, using those powers, Philip Green ran up a deficit of £350 million in the Arcadia pension fund, while paying his family three times that. Does the Minister agree that this is proof that the regulator has too little power over business owners like Mr Green, and what do the Government plan to do about it?

Baroness Bloomfield of Hinton Waldrist Portrait Baroness Bloomfield of Hinton Waldrist (Con)
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The noble Lord is right to point out that the Pensions Regulator has a range of powers, but the Government do not involve ourselves in the running of businesses. Where there is evidence of bad practice, it is taken up through the relevant authorities. At this stage, it is difficult to estimate the shortfall between the assets and liabilities of the fund. The Pensions Regulator is working closely with the company and scheme to ensure that prior commitments are fulfilled.

Nuclear Power Stations

Debate between Baroness Bloomfield of Hinton Waldrist and Lord Fox
Monday 24th February 2020

(4 years, 1 month ago)

Lords Chamber
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Baroness Bloomfield of Hinton Waldrist Portrait Baroness Bloomfield of Hinton Waldrist
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I assume by the question that the noble Lord means extension of those that currently have problems? They are obviously under investigation by the Office for Nuclear Regulation. Certainly, the ones at Hunterston in the north of Scotland are expected to be back online by the end of April.

Lord Fox Portrait Lord Fox (LD)
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My Lords, I welcome the Minister’s announcement that the White Paper is due because it is clear from your Lordships’ comments that an updating of the energy strategy is required. Can the Minister guarantee that it will include not just nuclear power but energy storage and the use of renewables to create a baseload so that we have a viable green strategy?

Baroness Bloomfield of Hinton Waldrist Portrait Baroness Bloomfield of Hinton Waldrist
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The noble Lord is quite right to introduce other forms of energy generation. The truth is that we need everything. If we are to reach zero carbon by 2050, we need a combination of renewables, energy conservation, carbon capture and storage, and battery technologies, as well as nuclear. As far as I know, the energy White Paper will address a number of these issues. Overall, the nuclear strategy will fall into three cross-cutting themes, as set out in the paper, that will result in greater economic opportunity: nations, regions and places; mobilising capital; and harnessing innovation.