10 Baroness Parminter debates involving the Cabinet Office

Mon 15th May 2023
Mon 28th Nov 2022
Wed 13th Jul 2022
Mon 11th Jul 2022
Wed 6th Jul 2022
Wed 25th May 2022
Procurement Bill [HL]
Lords Chamber

2nd reading & 2nd reading
Wed 8th Feb 2017
Neighbourhood Planning Bill
Grand Committee

Committee: 4th sitting (Hansard): House of Lords
Lord Lucas Portrait Lord Lucas (Con)
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My Lords, I am very uncertain how the wording of this amendment works. Is a regulation the whole package of regulations that is submitted to this House or each individual regulation? If a regulation makes changes so that an old provision is swept away and the new one replaces it, that sweeping away of an old provision is a diminution, but there does not appear to be a mechanism for balancing it with the better regulation that follows. If a regulation benefits one species but hurts another, how is that dealt with here? If we protect badgers more so that there are fewer hedgehogs, I do not see how the wording works. Most of all, it seems that if the Government want to keep Clause 16(5) they must want this too, so I shall support the noble Lord, Lord Krebs.

Baroness Parminter Portrait Baroness Parminter (LD)
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It is a great pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, because that is exactly the point I was going to begin on. If you are to keep Clause 16(5), you absolutely need to have this. As my noble friend Lord Fox says, the importance of this amendment is that it takes the sting out of Clause 16. If we want to protect the environment for the future, and our food standards, as was so well articulated by the noble Lord, Lord Krebs, this amendment is absolutely fundamental.

I do not want to add much more to what the noble Lord said, because he introduced it so expertly, but we on these Benches would add one other reason why we support it. It is critical that the public have confidence in environmental legislation, particularly at a time like now. If they see the Government not prepared to sign up to a non-regression clause—which is, as has been said, what the Minister says they want—they will be left with questions. We need them to be reassured that our environment is in the best possible hands, and the only way the Government can prove that in the Bill is to allow this non-regression clause.

Procurement Bill [HL]

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Baroness Worthington Portrait Baroness Worthington (CB)
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My Lords, I must make this point. Had we taken climate change and biodiversity loss seriously 30 years ago, we would not be in the situation we are in today. We are not seeing the investments we need into clean alternatives; nor have we developed the technologies from which other countries could benefit, and which would benefit our companies through their exportation around the world in order to solve this problem.

Climate change is not going anywhere: we will be debating it for the rest of this century. It seems absolutely incredible that we will not be considering it in 30 years’ time. It will be far more urgent then than it is now. We are already 30 years too late.

Baroness Parminter Portrait Baroness Parminter (LD)
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My Lords, I add my support to the noble Baroness, Lady Worthington. There is disunity in Horsham tonight: I disagree strongly with the noble Lord, Lord Maude of Horsham. I went to school in Horsham and was on the council there. However, I take a different view from the noble Lord about the role of procurement.

He talks about procurement’s sole purpose being good value. He went on to say that it is “motherhood and apple pie” to have value-driven public procurement policy, but I argue that it is not. That is the point of procurement: to marry good value with being value-led. Why be in government if you are not using all the levers at your disposal—regulation, fiscal incentives and disincentives, and procurement, with its massive spend—to deliver the values your Government want to deliver?

Baroness Bloomfield of Hinton Waldrist Portrait Baroness Bloomfield of Hinton Waldrist (Con)
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I remind the House that noble Lords may speak only once on Report.

Baroness Parminter Portrait Baroness Parminter (LD)
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I will be very brief, as I do not want to prolong the discussion. In Committee, the Government made it clear that they would seriously consider the use of the national procurement policy statement as a vehicle to deliver the value-driven approach and support environmental and climate goals. The noble Lord, Lord True, said that they would reflect on that. Well, there has been no reflection. That is why it is so important—vital—that both the Labour Front Bench and the noble Baroness, Lady Worthington, have come forward with two amendments today that will raise the importance and central role of the environment and climate change in the national procurement policy statement. I hope they test the opinion of the House on that, given that there is clearly a disagreement.

I support the point from the noble Lord, Lord Lansley, about Parliament having a say on this and a draft procurement policy statement being put forward. If the Government will not accept that, they need to explain to the House tonight why, if it was good enough for the Environment Act and the environmental principles policy statement, it is not good enough on this occasion.

I strongly believe that we should support the amendments, which make sure that procurement delivers values as well as good value.

Baroness Finn Portrait Baroness Finn (Con)
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My Lords, much has been made of the importance of social and environmental goals in public procurement. Of course, as many noble Lords have said, these goals have their place—but they should not be the driving force behind a procurement system, forcing it to run slowly and inefficiently and increasing cost to the public purse while disincentivising innovation and the participation of small businesses.

The Bill is a once-in-a-generation opportunity to put in place a robust procurement system that encourages procurers to focus on outcomes that deliver productivity improvements and innovation, reduce the cost to the public purse, and drive efficiency. It should do away with unnecessary and excessive procedural requirements that make it much more difficult for smaller businesses to compete and grow.

We should not lose sight of the fact that there is already much flexibility in the Bill, which is good news for delivery on social and environmental principles. This flexibility is evident in the Bill from the very outset, with the objective to maximise the public benefit and to allow economic, social and environmental matters to be considered. When it comes to awarding contracts, Clause 22 allows for a broad range of award criteria to be included in procurements where they are relevant, including those relating to social and environmental aims.

The Bill also includes a facility for a specific expression of government policy in the form of the national procurement policy statement and the Wales procurement policy statement. These can be used to create obligations to consider social and environmental goals of the day, such as net zero, without compromising the importance of maintaining an efficient and workable procurement regime. That is why I agree with my noble friend the Minister that we must avoid at all costs the inclusion of broad and unfocused obligations in relation to social and environmental matters.

Amendments to the Bill that would place requirements on contracting authorities always to have to include social and environmental benefits when awarding their contracts would slow down the procurement regime and increase risk. They would also significantly disincentivise small and medium-sized enterprises, which do not have the back-office capability to maintain huge reams of social and environmental policies and practices.

In summary, I am heartened that the approach the Government are already taking in the Bill will allow contracting authorities the flexibility to deliver procurement outcomes that address these important social and environmental objectives on a case-by-case basis while retaining value for money at the forefront. With this Bill, we are leaving behind a slow and bureaucratic procurement system that is unnecessarily restrictive in nature. Let us not change one set of restrictive procurement practices for another.

Net-zero Emissions: Behaviour Change

Baroness Parminter Excerpts
Thursday 20th October 2022

(1 year, 8 months ago)

Lords Chamber
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Baroness Parminter Portrait Baroness Parminter (LD)
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My Lords, it is always a pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Lilley. We have listened carefully to him throughout our proceedings. I find that, in politics, it is not worth always talking to people you agree with. In our committee, we listened carefully and based our conclusions on the evidence. That is the role of a Select Committee in the House of Lords. The evidence is clear. The noble Lord was in a minority: he was the only member of the committee who disagreed with it. We stand by it.

I thank the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Oxford for calling this important debate on a day when, sadly, the focus will be much more on the evidence of an incompetent Government. In the area of behaviour change, it is quite clear what a competent Government would be doing. First, they would be setting targets for net zero and willing the policies to deliver that. This Government have rightly set targets for net zero, but the evidence is that they will not be reached without members of the public changing their behaviour, both in adopting new technologies and in reducing their carbon consumption. Our report clearly showed that the Government have failed in that second task of willing policies.

Secondly, if they wanted to address behaviour change, a competent Government would be leading. They would be helping the public to make the choices they want. Now, she is not going to be doing any leading any more but, at her conference only last week, the then Prime Minister said:

“I’m not going to tell you what to do or what to think or how to live your life.”


She is not going to be doing that any more, but that is entirely consistent with the mantra of the Government’s net-zero strategy, where they say that they will go only

“with the grain of consumer choice.”

That is not leadership.

Leadership is about understanding that the public care passionately about climate change and want help to get to net zero. Leadership is about giving them the information to enable them to make the choices they need to make and providing the policies to help them get there. As the noble Lord, Lord Browne of Ladyton, said, what we need are policies that do not stop people getting to net zero. We are still getting far too many policies that are high-carbon, low-nature. So those are the three things that a competent Government would be doing on behaviour change.

We are about to get a new Government under a new Prime Minister. What do we want them to do? First, there is the opportunity to refresh the net-zero strategy. Chris Skidmore’s review of the strategy is welcome. It means that the Government will not respond to the Climate Change Committee’s recommendations on getting to net zero until next March. This is good. Let us hope that the new Government take the opportunity to refresh the net-zero strategy and put behaviour change at its heart—because they will not get to net zero unless they refresh their strategy.

Secondly, the Government need to bring forward a public engagement campaign. All the evidence shows that public engagement is needed on this issue. I share the regret of the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, that the BEIS department was unable to persuade No. 10 of the need to spend £15 million or £17 million on a public information campaign to help people reduce their energy bills this winter. It would have done the job of both helping people get to net zero and lowering their energy bills. It is very depressing that the Government were not prepared to make that step. It suggests that a broader campaign on net zero and behaviour change is not going to be forthcoming—but that does not mean it should not be there.

Thirdly, the Government need to be refreshing their policies. We know that you cannot get people to change their behaviour by information alone. All the evidence that we on the committee received showed very clearly that you need the policies to will the means. The Government should use all the tools at their disposal—regulations, fiscal incentives and disincentives—and should address three key areas: how people heat their homes, what people eat and buy and how they travel.

If anything, our committee was perhaps a bit too ambitious in all our recommendations. I have heard both the noble Baroness, Lady Sheehan, and the noble Lord, Lord Grantchester, today prioritising a national drive for home insulation. This has to be the priority to help people change their behaviours and tackle what is a massive part of the greenhouse gas emissions that we face.

Those are the three priorities—reviewing the net-zero strategy, committing to a public engagement campaign and willing all the means available through the policy levers at the disposal of the Government. This is what good government looks like, not relying on the ideology we have heard spoken by the noble Lord, Lord Frost, and others.

Procurement Bill [HL]

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Baroness Hayman of Ullock Portrait Baroness Hayman of Ullock (Lab)
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My Lords, I will just wind up the debate we had on Monday. In this group, I have Amendment 52, which is about adding the improvement of

“economic, social and environmental well-being”

to the procurement objectives. I also put my name to a similar amendment, Amendment 48 in the name of my noble friend Lord Hunt of Kings Heath. I completely support everything that he said in his introduction; it covered what I would have said in support of my amendment, so there is no point in going over all that again. In fact, we discussed a number of amendments in this group that looked at the economic, social, environmental and cultural benefit and value of the Bill and considered what we mean by “public benefit”. It was a useful debate to explore those potential objectives and what the definition of “public benefit” is. It will be interesting to hear the Minister’s response to those discussions.

I also supported the amendments laid by my noble friend Lady Thornton, Amendments 47A and 52A. As my noble friend said, we believe that maximising social value is something that contracting authorities should have regard to. This is in line with the social value Act and the national procurement policy strategy, so this should all be put in line together. We also know that the Government are committed to expanding the use of social value within procurement to maximise these areas. The noble Baroness, Lady Parminter, who is not in her place today—

Baroness Parminter Portrait Baroness Parminter (LD)
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I am in my place.

Baroness Hayman of Ullock Portrait Baroness Hayman of Ullock (Lab)
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Oh, the noble Baroness is there; I was looking for her in the place in which she sat on Monday. She moved, just to confuse me. This is the trouble with picking things up later.

The noble Baroness rightly said that meeting net zero is a government-stated objective and we believe, as she does, that this should also be an objective within the Procurement Bill. It could make a genuine difference, should that be something that needs to be taken account of. We also support those noble Lords who said in the debate that this helps to meet the levelling-up agenda as well as achieving net zero.

We know that social value is included in the NPPS—the national procurement policy statement—so I ask the Minister: if it is in the policy statement, why is it not referenced in the Bill? It concerns me that the policy statement can be changed at any point, so not having it in the Bill and just having it in the statement means that it is not absolutely embedded within the legislation. I will briefly mention that, between 2012 and 2020, there was no statutory guidance on social value. This inhibits its development, so we need to ensure that this does not happen in future.

I express strong support for Amendments 49 and 58 in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Worthington, which are about climate and environmental matters and the importance of having these based within the Bill. She also said that “public benefit” needs further clarity, so I must ask again: does “public benefit” include environmental outcomes? It would be helpful to have further information on this. The noble Baroness, Lady Parminter, spoke importantly about the fact that using procurement in this way is an opportunity to drive behaviour change, because we are not going to achieve the Government’s net-zero objectives without behaviour change.

Amendment 45 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Wallace of Saltaire, specifies a number of overarching requirements that a contracting authority must take due regard of when carrying out procurement. We support the main points that he made—particularly, as well as the carbon account, the ethical and human rights record of the supplier, as he said. I know that we will talk about this in a later debate, but that is important.

Amendment 53 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Lansley, which the noble Baroness, Lady Noakes, introduced, again talked about defining “public benefit”. I think that the Minister can see that this is not party political: right across the Committee there is concern about what “public benefit” means and what it is going to deliver as part of the Procurement Bill. The noble Lords, Lord Wallace of Saltaire and Lord Purvis, also tabled amendments on this issue.

I finish by briefly mentioning an interesting briefing that I had from UKCloud. I do not know if other noble Lords have received it, but it is about the importance of maximising social value through procurement in the world that UKCloud works in—the cloud providers—and how doing so would be consistent with wider net-zero policy aspirations. UKCloud feels that it is important to support businesses in this country that are providing those kinds of platforms and support and that the sector can lead in the provision of clean, green technologies, which can help to digitise and decarbonise users of its services. It also believes that, if the sector got that kind of support from government, UK businesses would have the opportunity to really innovate and become leaders in this field. I found that an interesting briefing. If the Minister has not seen it, I would be happy to share it with him, because it had some interesting thoughts in it. The briefing also said that UKCloud feels that weighting should be given to make sure that cloud providers for the UK Government are paying their taxes in full on all earned income in the UK—that is an important point—and that they should have a clear and measurable track record of investing in local jobs and skills. The briefing has some interesting points about how procurement could help its particular type of business. I finish there and I look forward to the Minister’s response.

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Baroness Noakes Portrait Baroness Noakes (Con)
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My Lords, with the leave of the Committee, I will move Amendment 60 in the name of my noble friend Lord Lansley and speak to Amendments 61, 63 and 64 in his name. As on our previous Committee day, at his request I am handling his amendments this week.

Amendment 60 is one of those favourite Committee amendments that changes “may” to “must”. No Committee can ever get through without at least one of them; there will be some others, I think. The amendment would change “may” to “must” in Clause 12(1) so that it would require the Government to produce a national procurement policy statement. Although it is clearly the Government’s intention to publish a statement, the current wording of Clause 12 leaves it open to them not to do so. That is a serious omission, especially given the introduction of covered procurement, which we will debate on Report. The NPPS will be the only way to ensure that all public procurement is conducted in accordance with the principles and objectives set out in it.

Amendments 63 and 64 would require that the consultation is based on a draft statement. The present drafting would allow a consultation without the benefit of seeing what the Government intended the statement to say. I do not think this is an acceptable or effective consultation process. It makes something of a mockery of consultation, particularly for the first NPPS. I note that Amendment 74 in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Parminter, also includes proper consultation on a draft.

The other amendment in my noble friend’s name is Amendment 61. The noble Baroness, Lady Bennett of Manor Castle, has added her name to it, and I understand that she will also speak to it. That is probably just as well, because I am not much in favour of lists such as the one here, even when they are non-inclusive. The various other amendments in this group show that noble Lords are attracted to attaching other pet causes to the list. I should say, though, that my noble friend Lord Lansley believes that we must ensure that the existing statutory obligations on the environment and social value are included in the priorities in order to reaffirm Parliament’s will, and he has added innovation and competitiveness in UK industry because they are stated Treasury priorities, as set out in the Spring Statement. Lastly, he included

“the minimisation of fraud, corruption, waste or the abuse of public money”,

which should be underlying values in relation to public procurement. He believes that these items should be specifically referenced in the Bill.

I beg to move.

Baroness Parminter Portrait Baroness Parminter (LD)
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My Lords, I have two amendments in this group. In the absence of the noble Baroness, Lady Worthington, I rise to introduce Amendments 65 and 546.

This is an important group of amendments. Although contracting authorities may never bother to read a Bill that we have debated for hours, all of them must have regard to the NPPS, so what is in that document is really important. The amendments in this group look at two particular areas. One is what is put in the Bill about the strategic priorities. The second is the process for parliamentary scrutiny to bring that into being.

Amendments 65 and 546, in my name and the names of the noble Baronesses, Lady Worthington, Lady Verma and Lady Young of Old Scone, so they are cross-party amendments, are intended to tease out the strategic priorities that the Government allude to in the opening sentence of the NPPS, as stated in the Bill, because it does not put anything in the Bill.

Procurement Bill [HL]

Baroness Parminter Excerpts
At the end of the day, it is a question of balance. On one hand, leaving abstract phrases undefined gives you the most flexibility for the long term in order to live as things change, but on the other hand I firmly believe that professional procurement officials today need guidance on what is expected of them when they come to apply this legislation. My noble friend’s amendment asks for a bit more guidance in the Bill, and I hope the Minister will see the sense in giving just a bit more help.
Baroness Parminter Portrait Baroness Parminter (LD)
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My Lords, I have added my name to the two amendments tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Worthington, which she so ably introduced. I am also speaking to Amendment 59A by my noble friend Lord Purvis of Tweed, who, because of the scheduling announced today, cannot be here.

I support all the amendments in this group, which takes us on to the issue of whether the Bill should bring forward public benefit. If we are to be put into camps then I am certainly in the camp that wants public procurement to be developing social values. Clearly the Minister will argue with us on that, but what I do not think he can argue with is that on some of the issues that we have been talking about in relation to public benefit—I cite specifically net zero and biodiversity loss, which the amendments refer to—are not just issues of social value; they are the Government’s stated objectives. They have legislative targets to meet for both net zero and biodiversity. So the Minister can argue with us if he does not want to use public procurement to deliver social value, which I firmly believe it should, but he cannot argue with the fact that, if his Government have targets, they need to deliver, and they should use every means at their disposal to do so.

I shall give an example of why I say that. The Environment and Climate Change Committee has been holding evidence sessions over the last three months on mobilising behaviour change. We have received evidence from academics, companies, schoolchildren and indeed everyone about how to change behaviour. The Climate Change Committee has said that about 60% of his Government’s targets are going to need people to change their behaviour. We have learned that you can make people change by giving them a bit more money through fiscal incentives or disincentives, and you can change regulations so that companies can or cannot produce certain products, but a critical factor is that we are social animals that want to see what the social norms are. We do not just live our lives in our own little house; we live our lives in schools and hospitals, and if we see menus in those places that may not reflect net-zero values, or we go into council buildings and see that they are not dealing with energy efficiency, that encourages us to think: “Why should I bother changing my lifestyle?”

Unless the Government use every opportunity at their disposal, one of which is procurement, they are not going to meet their own targets. So I argue that even if the Minister differs—as I think he would—from those of us who believe that procurement should deliver social values, it is still the case that the Government cannot meet their own targets unless they use the Bill to maximum effect, and that means putting in it the commitments referred to in this group of amendments. As the noble Baroness, Lady Worthington, said, no one is precious about the wording; it is about the intent.

I was asked by the noble Baroness, Lady Verma, who had to leave early, to express her support for these amendments and to remind the Minister that he mentioned that there would be an opportunity for discussions with colleagues on these matters before Report.

As I said, I will introduce on his behalf—although nowhere near as ably as he would—my noble friend Lord Purvis’s probing amendment to pick up the issue of the use of Fairtrade products in procurement contracts. Here, to be fair, there has been progress in recent years: many central government departments use Fairtrade products, we see many local authorities using Fairtrade products, especially in catering, and indeed even here on the parliamentary estate we use Fairtrade products. So I am not saying there has not been progress in the absence of Bills such as this, but there is much more that can be done. My noble friend’s probing amendment aims to highlight the importance of fair trade in this arena and make sure that the Bill does all that it can to further that important agenda.

Baroness Bennett of Manor Castle Portrait Baroness Bennett of Manor Castle (GP)
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My Lords, I rise in a very pleasing position for a Green: in a group of amendments addressing climate, biodiversity, social justice and indeed fair trade, to say that almost everything has been said, just not by me.

I am acutely aware of the hour so I am going to be very brief; I seek to add only a couple of points. Amendment 49 in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Worthington, and addressed by the noble Baroness, Lady Parminter, has full cross-party support; I would have attached my name to it had there been space. It is clearly a crucial amendment.

We have to contrast this Bill with the UK Infrastructure Bank Bill, which I was recently in, half of which is entirely directed at something that is missing in this Bill. I was thinking of the tireless work of the other noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, the one who is not in the Room today, who has worked so hard. I can go back to my first ever time in Committee in this Room almost three years ago now, when we were fighting to get a climate provision into the Pensions Bill. We thought, “One day we’ll get to the stage where we won’t have to fight to get these into every Bill when they should clearly be there.” Sadly, it is clear that, despite the UK Infrastructure Bank Bill, we are not there yet.

The points made by the noble Lord, Lord Hunt of Kings Heath, about the most recent report from the Climate Change Committee were hugely powerful. We have targets but not policies. How are we going to get those policies unless we have them written explicitly into Bills such as this? I commend the noble Lord’s Amendment 48, which I would have signed had I not missed it, which contains important wording about “cultural well-being”, something that is far too often missed out. The noble Baroness, Lady Parminter, made a point about culture in the broadest sense. We need to give people a rich life, one that may have less physical stuff in it but is of far better quality. The cultural point really starts to address that, as well as addressing public health and consumption issues.

I am aware of the time so I am going to be really restrained, and I hope I get some brownie points for that. I shall sit down.

Procurement Bill [HL]

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Lord Wigley Portrait Lord Wigley (PC)
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My Lords, I am delighted to follow the noble Baroness. This group of amendments brings together three different but equally important threads that are material to this Bill, each of which deserves a place in these debates on the Bill in its own right.

First, there are the environmental points, which were mentioned a moment ago by the noble Baroness, Lady Worthington, and noble Lords subsequently added to them. They are fundamental. If it is government policy to aim at challenging targets to save our environment, that must be written into every aspect of public policy. It must be written into this aspect of public policy and others. We should not leave any opportunity going begging. This is an opportunity to have that in a Bill and to make sure that it is clearly understood by all those involved in the various diverse aspects of the procurement system.

Equally important is the question of how we regenerate the economy. Central to that must be the role of SMEs. They are a vital cog in the economy. They are the acorns from which the future will grow. They can also be very compatible with the environmental arguments to which we have referred. The points made by the noble Lord, Lord Lansley, the noble Baroness, Lady Verma, and my noble friend Lord Aberdare are important. I know that we will return to them on subsequent amendments, but we must not lose sight of them because these elements are vital to regenerating the economy in a sustainable way.

The third aspect, which I want to concentrate on for a moment, is disability. That agenda has been close to my heart for the past 40 or 50 years. The speech made by the noble Baroness, Lady Brinton, brought it home to us. As long ago as 1981, I had brought to my attention the social definition of disability: that a handicap is a relationship between a disabled person and his or her environment, be that the social environment, the physical environment or the psychological environment, and that we may or may not be able to do anything about the basic disability but we can almost always do something about the environment, be that the physical environment, the social environment or the psychological environment. Therefore, the extent to which a disability leads to a handicap rests with us in society in controlling those three elements. Clearly, that responsibility must run into all aspects of economic life and is therefore relevant to the Procurement Bill before us.

I very much hope that the amendments we have heard about—in particular, Amendment 141 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, but others as well—are passed to ensure that this matter is written into the Bill and that we have no misunderstanding. These three elements—the environmental element, the small business and economic regeneration element and the disability element—are central to the procurement system.

Baroness Parminter Portrait Baroness Parminter (LD)
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My Lords, it is a great privilege to follow the noble Lord, Lord Wigley. I echo all the comments he made. I want to make a brief remark in support of Amendments 85 and 87 in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Worthington, which I and my colleagues have co-signed, and in support of the point made so powerfully by the noble Lord, Lord Wigley, about ensuring that there a commitment in the Bill to deliver the net-zero and environmental goals through a commitment to ensuring that “public goods” includes sustainability goals. That is fundamental.

I will add only one point that has not been covered by colleagues. It is that this is not happening at the moment. The National Audit Office and the Environmental Audit Committee in the House of Commons have looked into public procurement by government departments and found there to be a woeful lack of connection with consideration of net zero and our environmental goals, and that is when government departments already have a statement from the Cabinet Office that is meant to guide them towards it. It is not happening, but that is completely separate from the far wider issue of where it is absolutely not happening, which is in public services procurement, where there is no guidance. If we do not have a national public policy statement on that, it will not happen, so it is absolutely fundamental that we get this in the Bill.

Procurement Bill [HL]

Baroness Parminter Excerpts
2nd reading
Wednesday 25th May 2022

(2 years ago)

Lords Chamber
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Baroness Parminter Portrait Baroness Parminter (LD)
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My Lords, I will speak briefly. I associate myself entirely with the remarks of my noble friend Lady Young. I welcome the fact that the Government have set very clear net-zero targets. I hope that they will do similarly for nature targets in the near future, as the Environment Act requires. As my noble friend said, it would be an own goal if the Government were not to take the opportunities in this Bill to create market incentives to ensure that businesses move their supply chains to a more sustainable model. The Government can spend all they want on putting money into green energy and stopping harmful subsidies going into agriculture, but they will be missing a major opportunity if they do not address the opportunities in procurement.

Colleagues around the House have talked about the huge sums of money and the opportunities to do this. The noble Lord, Lord Stevens, talked about the money spent in the NHS and the opportunities, highlighted in the Health and Care Act, to decarbonise procurement. My noble friend Lady Smith of Newnham talked about the massive sums of money in defence. In recent weeks, our own Environment and Climate Change Committee has been looking at the opportunities in the area of food procurement to deliver many benefits by reducing greenhouse gas emissions, at the same time as tackling the growing obesity crisis among our children.

So there are massive opportunities, and when I looked at this Bill I was concerned. The words “net zero”, “nature”, “biodiversity”, “weight loss” and “waste reduction” are not in the Bill, the Explanatory Notes or the impact assessment—and indeed, in his opening remarks, the noble Lord, Lord True, did not mention net zero or the environment at all.

I will be brief. I add my weight to the calls already made by the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, the noble Lord, Lord Stevens, and others for there to be a mechanism to put our concern for net zero and environmental goals in the Bill. The obvious way is to put it into Clause 11 under the procurement objectives; that would be the clearest way. Otherwise, there is a danger, as the noble Lord, Lord Maude, memorably said, that it will always be just about the money.

Equally, it could be that the Government choose to define in the Bill what they mean by public benefit. The Green Paper is very clear what public benefit means. As the noble Lord, Lord Lansley, who is not in his place, said, the Green Paper explicitly includes the environmental and net-zero goals. If that were in the Bill, that would be another way to do it. Or, as the noble Lord, Lord Stevens, suggested, another way would be to transpose some of the mechanisms put into the Health and Care Act by the Government. So there are plenty of suggestions from around this House, but there is a growing consensus that the Government have to do it.

Secondly, we need to make sure that the national procurement policy statement is as robust as it can be. Clearly, it will help if we get the objectives for the procurements correct. From looking at what was printed in the Cabinet Office procurement notes produced last year, there has been concern that, yes, it talks about meeting net-zero goals, addressing circular waste, reducing the amount of waste and tackling nature, but the carbon reduction plans apply only to central government, as the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, rightly said. Why? Why are we asking only people who are taking services from central government to produce carbon reduction plans to 2050? Why not all public authorities? We need to make sure that future public procurement statements are as strong as they need to be.

For me, that issue is strongly allied to scrutiny by this House of what that national procurement policy statement would be. The noble Baroness, Lady Young, raised a point about procedure in the House: it looks to be almost equivalent to a negative instrument. It may be that the Delegated Powers Committee has said that, because this policy statement does not have the ability to insist that someone does something and can only guide, it has to be a negative instrument. I find that quite amazing, given how powerful this statement could be, and I am sure that we as a House would want to be clear on the reasons for the proposed scrutiny.

Even if it is to be a negative instrument, we in this House have the power to change the period of time we have to scrutinise it. It says here that it is 40 days, but I worked out that, if you take out Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays, it is effectively about three weeks. The reason I feel really quite strongly on this—I think we all feel strongly about parliamentary scrutiny—is that this will be the first document that will control so much of public procurement post Brexit and post the rules we had before.

We have just had a parallel policy statement, the environmental principles policy statement, which was meant to drive environmental protection across the heart of all government, and we in this House were given 21 days to scrutinise it. That is what we allowed for in the Environment Act. I sat through the passage of the Environment Act and I missed it. It is an own goal, and I am refusing to allow us to make the same mistake. I say this as a committee chair—the noble Baroness, Lady Andrews, is also in the Chamber—because, given the difficulty of getting some Ministers to come before us so that we can scrutinise issues, and the need to then bring it back to the House and table a regret Motion or a take-note Motion, 21 days is not enough. This is a really important policy statement, so if the Government do come back and say, “Yes, it’s got to be a negative instrument”, we would of course accept it if that was legally what we had to accept—but I serve notice now that we will not accept 40-day scrutiny by this House of the national procurement policy statement.

Neighbourhood Planning Bill

Baroness Parminter Excerpts
Moved by
104: Clause 24, page 20, line 29, at end insert—
“(2A) No regulations may be made under subsection (1) which have the effect of modifying any procedures that apply specifically to the acquisition of land belonging to the National Trust and held by the Trust inalienably.(2B) In subsection (2A), “held inalienably”, in relation to land belonging to the National Trust, means that the land is inalienable under section 21 of the National Trust Act 1907 or section 8 of the National Trust Act 1939.”
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Baroness Parminter Portrait Baroness Parminter (LD)
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My Lords, Amendment 104 stands in my name and that of the noble Baroness, Lady Andrews, who is no longer able to be in her place. It aims to preserve Parliament’s current role as the ultimate decision-maker on whether it is appropriate for National Trust inalienable land to be compulsorily purchased for a temporary period against the judgment of the trust.

As currently drafted, Clause 24 is sufficiently broad to allow, in the case of temporary compulsory possession, for the modification of current procedures regarding National Trust inalienable land.

The Government have shown already that they recognise the need for special provisions to retain protection for National Trust land. Following the Bill’s publication, the Government’s policy paper issued in December proposed that such land could be temporarily possessed under the new power only if the confirming authority considered that there would not be serious detriment to the inalienable land in question. However, the Government’s proposals would not provide an equivalent level of protection for National Trust inalienable land as is currently the case and subsequent regulations may further reduce the protection of inalienable land held for the benefit of the nation.

Because National Trust land has been declared inalienable, it is very likely to have heritage interest or natural beauty in its own right. As noble Lords might be interested to note given earlier discussion, it might also be ancient woodland or a significant habitat. The land might contribute to or enhance neighbouring land of historic interest or natural beauty—for example, preserving the setting of a historic property and its parkland.

The trust does not obstruct development by unreasonably opposing appropriate acquisition, but clearly seems to be looking to work proactively in partnership with scheme promoters to find solutions which enable schemes to go ahead as sympathetically as possible. I am well aware of that because I live very close to the Hindhead tunnel scheme, where just that process of consultation and working constructively with developers worked incredibly well. Indeed, there has only been one occasion when the National Trust has referred compulsory purchase matters to special parliamentary procedures in the past.

Undoubtedly, there should be continuing recognition of the special nature of National Trust inalienable land held for the benefit of the nation in the Bill. I accept that there is a clear case for improving procedures for the temporary compulsory possession of land, but I believe that the National Trust is not the problem that the Government are trying to address with this legislation, but has been swept up in the wider issue. At least, I hope that may be the case and look forward to the Minister’s response. I beg to move.

Lord Beecham Portrait Lord Beecham
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My Lords, I support the amendment in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Parminter, and speak to Amendment 104A which requires the Secretary of State and Welsh Ministers to make provision for the reinstatement of land at the end of a period of temporary possession. This is not drafted particularly for the benefit of the residents of Aberystwyth or places in the vicinity; it stems from the report of the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee which draws attention to a number of issues, only some of which are embodied in this amendment.

In dealing with the issue mentioned in Amendment 104A, the committee regarded it as inappropriate to leave the discussion of whether or not to include provisions about reinstatement in the regulations to the Secretary of State and Welsh Ministers. Hence, it recommended that the clause should be amended to impose the duty referred to in the amendment. However, that was not the end of the committee’s concerns. In particular, it also took issue with Clause 24(2)(a), which it regarded as,

“inappropriately wide and should be redrafted to reflect the narrow policy intention referred to in the DCLG document which explained the power to modify provisions”.

In particular, the committee felt that the power goes much further than the declared objective in the policy document and,

“it would enable the regulations to make substantial changes to Clauses 14 to 26 in a wide range of cases, for example, by excluding the provisions about compensation”.

I confess that the document, only having reached us at the end of January, shortly before the amendments were drafted, ought to have been subject to an amendment specifically dealing with that issue. I do not expect the Minister to respond immediately, but I hope that, before Report, he will indicate whether the Government would be minded to accept the redrafting recommendation referred to by the Delegated Powers Committee. If not, I give notice that we will remedy the omission this evening and table an appropriate amendment.

The committee was clear about the issue that I have raised, but it also makes a more general point about the Secretary of State and Welsh Ministers exercising this novel power, which could potentially have far-reaching consequences without first being required to consult interested parties. It therefore considered a consultation duty even more important, in view of the provision dispensing with the House’s hybrid instruments procedure. That raises issues about secondary legislation that have so often been raised. As I say, I would not expect the Minister to respond to something of which he did not have notice by way of an amendment tonight. I hope that the matter can be resolved en route to Report, but reserve the right to table amendments if it cannot be.

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I hope that with the reassurances I have given and the commitment to consider these matters further, the noble Baroness, Lady Parminter, will agree to withdraw the amendment.
Baroness Parminter Portrait Baroness Parminter
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I thank the Minister very much for his consideration of my comments and his commitment to engage in careful consideration of those points between now and Report. I think that was the phrase he used. I hope that that will result in the Government tabling an amendment on Report as I strongly believe that Parliament should remain the final arbiter on issues around temporary compulsory purchase orders concerning the National Trust’s inalienable land. On that basis, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment 104 withdrawn.

Housing and Planning Bill

Baroness Parminter Excerpts
Wednesday 23rd March 2016

(8 years, 3 months ago)

Lords Chamber
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Moved by
103C: Clause 179, page 93, line 21, at end insert—
“( ) a right, easement, restrictive covenant, covenant, liberty or privilege in respect of land belonging to the National Trust for Places of Historic Interest or Natural Beauty (“the Trust”) which is held inalienably, within the meaning of section 18(3) of the Acquisition of Land Act 1981 (National Trust land held inalienably), or( ) a restrictive covenant held by the Trust, within the meaning of section 8 of the National Trust Act 1937 (power to enter into agreements restricting use of land).”
Baroness Parminter Portrait Baroness Parminter (LD)
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My Lords, in the absence of the noble Baroness, Lady Andrews, who has a long-standing engagement in Cardiff, I rise briefly to move this amendment. The Government have said that the clauses are intended to aid regeneration projects on brownfield sites through allowing covenants, easements and other rights to be overridden more easily by public bodies. However, the clause would also affect covenants and rights held by the National Trust to conserve some of our most special and valued places for everyone to enjoy. I declare an interest as a member of that august organisation, as I am sure are many Members around this House.

Typically, these covenants and rights apply to land surrounding National Trust-owned land, to buildings or land not owned by the trust but which have historical significance, or to beautiful or wildlife-rich landscape worthy of protection. Crucially, the rights held by statutory undertakers such as utility companies and Network Rail are already sensibly protected from the scope of the clause, because of the important public benefit that these rights give. I contend that National Trust covenants and other rights give comparable public benefits, and this should be recognised in a similar way. I hope this is an unintentional oversight by the Government and that they will see it as a helpful amendment and will accept it. I beg to move.

Baroness Williams of Trafford Portrait Baroness Williams of Trafford
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My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Parminter, for raising this very important issue in the context of Clause 179. As the noble Baroness set out, Amendment 103C would reflect the special protection accorded to land held inalienably by the National Trust in compulsory purchase legislation. The Government are sympathetic to the thrust of the argument that the power in Clause 179 to override easements and restrictive covenants when carrying out works on, or using land acquired by, a body with compulsory purchase powers could have an adverse effect on rights benefiting the trust’s inalienable land. The Government have also noted the concern that it may impact on other land over which the trust has covenants under Section 8 of the National Trust Act 1937. As the noble Baroness has pointed out, to avoid such a possibility, consideration should be given to the trust being accorded a similar exemption to that in Clause 179(8) for the rights of statutory undertakers. Doing so would safeguard the trust’s covenants, easements and other ancillary rights so that the trust’s management and our enjoyment of the trust’s land and properties were not compromised. The Government will therefore consider this matter very carefully. With that in mind, perhaps the noble Baroness will be content to withdraw the amendment.

Baroness Parminter Portrait Baroness Parminter
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I thank the Minister most warmly for those very encouraging words. I shall obviously discuss the matter with the noble Baroness, Lady Andrews, over the recess, but, being mindful of the time, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment 103C withdrawn.
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Moved by
119: Clause 192, page 100, line 34, at end insert “, subject to subsection (3A).
(3A) The Secretary of State may not make regulations appointing the days on which any provision of Part 1 or Part 6 of this Act comes into force unless he or she has first made provision bringing into force section 32 of the Flood and Water Management Act 2010 (sustainable drainage).”
Baroness Parminter Portrait Baroness Parminter (LD)
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My Lords, I am grateful that we have the opportunity to discuss these amendments this evening. While my name is to both of them, I shall speak only to Amendment 119.

The Government have rightly launched a national flood resilience review, which is due to report in the summer, but that review will come too late if the Bill paves the way for 1 million new homes without due regard for their flood resilience. New homes increase flood risks for developments and for surrounding communities. Concreting over a catchment speeds up run-off, increasing the likelihood of flooding. After the 2007 floods, the flooding review by Sir Michael Pitt recommended sustainable drainage as a way forward, which moved the Government to bring forward the Flood and Water Management Act. It was suggested in the Act that there should be further use of SuDS, with soakaways such as swales, ponds and other natural means to ensure that sewer networks were not overwhelmed during periods of heavy rainfall. We all know that well-designed SuDS can contribute to water quality, to coping with overheating and to biodiversity. But this Government delayed implementation and then abandoned that approach altogether, in favour of an “expectation” that major planning applications would include SuDS.

This was not because of the costs. Defra recognised, in its own consultation document, that,

“sustainable drainage systems are generally cheaper to build; and maintaining them will be cheaper (or need be no more expensive), than the … cost … required”,

in conventional drainage. The result of this expectation that the SuDS approach would work is that last year Barratt Homes, the UK’s leading housebuilder, included no provision whatever for sustainable drainage in a third of its developments. The Committee on Climate Change has analysed 100 planning applications in areas of flood risks and found that fewer than 15% proposed SuDS. If the Government wish to challenge that evidence, what monitoring are they doing at a national level of the uptake of SuDS?

The National Policy for the Built Environment Committee of the House of Lords, on which I and other noble Lords sat, has looked at this issue. In its report last month, it argued that the Government should take a more proactive approach to the provision of SuDS. In legislating to provide for new homes, we must seek to contain the time to plan for them—absolutely. But we need a process ensuring that new homes are built to a standard that will protect them from flood risks and not exacerbate risks for established communities. I shall not list the many organisations which have written to the Minister in support of this amendment, because we do not have time. I will merely beg to move and hope that other Members might pick up some of the points that I know need to be raised.

Lord Krebs Portrait Lord Krebs (CB)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, I shall speak briefly to this because the noble Baroness, Lady Parminter, has made most of the points that I would want to make. My name is also on Amendment 119 and I would like to go on to refer to Amendment 120, on which my name comes first. But to add briefly to what the noble Baroness has said, the real problem is that developers still have the automatic right to connect to the existing sewerage system. We know from estimates that more than half the existing sewers are already overloaded. While developers have the automatic right to connect, they are not incentivised to look at other ways of managing surface water flooding. Furthermore, when SuDS are installed, there is no clarity in the current regime about who should pay for the maintenance once they have been built. In any case, the current guidance applies only to developments of 10 homes or more, so small urban infill developments which could be creating some of the biggest long-term problems are not covered. Around 100,000 minor planning applications are approved each year which are not subject to the new safeguards.

So the aim of this amendment is to ensure that SuDS are the default option in new developments and to help achieve this by removing the automatic right to connect to existing sewerage systems. Connecting new developments to existing sewers should be the absolute exception, once other options have been exhausted.

I turn to Amendment 120 on developer liability. This amendment focuses on the long-term costs for society arising from continuing development in the flood plain and presents a simple, workable proposal to address the current lack of incentive for developers to make new properties safe and resilient to flooding. We know that, at the moment, more than 100,000 homes have been built in the flood plain since 2008—28,000 of these in areas at a greater than one-in-100 annual chance of flooding, taking into account the protection provided by any flood defences. The consequences are that, in the long run, owners of new homes are being exposed to unnecessary flooding risk.

A one-in-100-year chance sounds very small. We have to remember that this is the chance of flooding in a particular place. If there are 100 such places, then there is the likelihood that someone will get flooded every single year. In fact, in this century, we have already had 12 significant flood events in 15 years. If we carry on as at present, we can more or less guarantee that someone, somewhere, is going to suffer the trauma of flood damage each year.

Data are not collected on whether or not new homes that are built in flood plains are made resilient. I declare an interest as the chairman of the adaptation sub-committee of the Committee on Climate Change As has already been mentioned by the noble Baroness, Lady Parminter, our data suggest that fewer than 15% of new homes have been built with sustainable urban drainage systems.

Are we putting too much faith in flood defences to protect new developments, when they are typically built to a one-in-100-year standard? There is evidence that developers and planners are taking what might be called a compliance approach to flood risk— following the process but putting too much faith in limited protection from flood defences and not taking into account the uncertainty in even the best flood models.

A recent example, of which I am sure noble Lords are well aware, is Bridge End Court, a residential care home and sheltered development in Cockermouth. It was built in the meander of the River Derwent, on land that had flooded badly in 2009, on the very edge of a flood zone 3, where it would not have been deemed appropriate development. After the 2009 flood, the local authority had the chance to require the development to go elsewhere but it allowed it to go ahead in the same place. In spite of the ground floor supposedly being set above the height of even a one-in-1,000-year flood, the care home was flooded in December and the residents had to be rescued.

What constitutes a one-in-1,000 standard is highly uncertain. This is where developers come in. Developers are required to produce a flood risk assessment for a site, but they bear no liability if they take risks or simply get it wrong. The assumptions in the flood models that underpin a flood risk assessment can be selected either to increase the assessment of flood risk or to make it appear lower than reality. I should emphasise that I have seen no evidence that developers are manipulating flood risk assessments but, in principle, they could.

It is worth noting some Environment Agency figures. The Environment Agency has to be consulted on developments and it objects to about 3,000 applications per year on grounds of flood risk. In a sample of nearly 1,700 objections between 2009 and 2013, 20% of those objections were because the developer had produced no flood risk assessment whatever and 54% of them were objected to because the flood risk assessment was unsatisfactory. Among the reasons they were unsatisfactory were that they did not take into account future sea level rise, future increases in river flows or future increases in surface water flooding.

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Baroness Williams of Trafford Portrait Baroness Williams of Trafford
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I do not think I can give that assurance, but I shall certainly try to put a timescale on it before Report, if that suits the noble Lord.

I hope that the noble Baroness will feel able to withdraw her amendment, but I also hope that the Committee will indulge me; I know everyone is anxious to get away. We have spoken about how planning applications for housing can often take an extraordinary time to complete. After some very long nights in this Chamber, I believe people are beginning to say the same thing about planning Bills. I pay tribute to everyone who has spoken in debates today and through the whole course of the Bill so far. The expertise which noble Lords have displayed has greatly enhanced consideration of the Bill, as well as my thinking about how we can improve its implementation.

I know that many noble Lords will not believe me when I say this, but I look forward to continuing the debate on Report. Although we will continue to disagree on some issues, we will, I hope, move closer to agreement on others. Over the Recess, therefore, I shall be tabling a number of government amendments which will take into account some of the points that noble Lords have raised. Given the hour, I will write to noble Lords with further details shortly—and I mean shortly.

I am sorry that the noble Lord, Lord Foster, is not here—oh no, there he is in the corner. I have also written to the DPRRC, responding to its 20th and 21st reports and have placed a copy of that letter in the Printed Paper Office, as noble Lords requested. I am happy to be making a number of positive changes. I will not detail every point here now, because I fear that noble Lords have heard enough from me, but I hope that my response will be helpful.

One final Easter present to you, my Lords, before we rise: within the past couple of hours, we have launched our consultation on starter homes. During Committee, noble Lords from across the House raised a number of questions about the implementation of the starter homes programme. I heard their concerns, and in response we have decided to consult on a number of proposals. We will spend the next eight weeks actively engaging with the housing industry and local government, and I am happy to ask my officials to brief any noble Lord who wants to know more. I have written to noble Lords with further detail and, again, asked my officials to place the consultation in the Printed Paper Office and the House of Lords Library.

That is it for now. I thank your Lordships again for the depth in which we have scrutinised the Bill and wish you a very happy Easter.

Baroness Parminter Portrait Baroness Parminter
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Briefly, I thank the Minister for her recognition that the issue of sustainable homes is serious. I have two quick points. The Government’s defence for not accepting the amendments seems to be that they want to ensure that the new arrangements have time to bed in. I am grateful that they are offering us more information about the stakeholder meetings. I am sure the Committee will agree that stakeholder meetings bear no comparison to national monitoring of the situation, both of the number and quality of SuDS. The evidence we have seen from major housebuilders and the adaptation sub-committee shows that this is not working.

Secondly, I am grateful to the Government for confirming that costs are not stopping them moving on this issue, it is the issue, as they put it, of undue delay. My argument would be that one extra stage in the process of planning is worth the price that will be accruing to the benefit of home owners, the wider community and the environment from the introduction of SuDS. On that basis, I will go away with colleagues and consider the response. I thank colleagues around the Committee who have joined in promoting this cause. We may well wish to return to it on Report.

Amendment 119 withdrawn.

European Union Committee Report

Baroness Parminter Excerpts
Monday 26th November 2012

(11 years, 6 months ago)

Grand Committee
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Baroness Parminter Portrait Baroness Parminter
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My Lords, I speak today on behalf of the noble Lord, Lord Carter of Coles, who is unable to be here. Sub-Committee D, which he so ably chairs and of which I am a very happy member, was responsible for agriculture, fisheries and environment during the 2010-12 Session; since then, energy policy has been added to our portfolio of competences. In terms of our scrutiny load, it was a Session that saw two major packages of legislative proposals; the first of those was the common fisheries policy. Back in 2008, when things were in an initial phase, the sub-committee published a report on the progress of the reform and looking forward to new proposals. Many of the core messages in that report appeared in the Commission legal proposals in July 2011. Upon publication of those proposals, we reasserted our messages to the Government, the Commission and the European Parliament. After the Minister, Richard Benyon MP, managed to secure an interim deal in June 2012, we held an evidence session with him. Regrettably, we also had to haul him over the coals for over-riding parliamentary scrutiny. Otherwise, the scrutiny performance of Defra has been of a high quality in recent times, and I was pleased to be able to reinforce that message and explain a scrutiny committee’s needs to Defra staff at an internal staff training event this June.

The second major package of documents is related to reform of the common agricultural policy. In preparing for the work on the CAP reform, the committee identified an aspect that did not receive significant public policy debate but merited closer examination. This issue was innovation in EU agriculture and an inquiry was duly launched in July 2010, reporting 12 months later. It was encouraging that a number of our recommendations were reflected in the CAP legislative proposals, published in 2011, and the proposals for a new research funding instrument, known as Horizon 2020. In the UK specifically, we were pleased to note progress on farm advice, with the creation of a new Farming Advice Service, providing advice on competitiveness, nutrient management, climate change adaptation and mitigation as well as cost compliance.

The noble Lord, Lord Boswell, referred to the seminars and stakeholder events held by some of the sub-committees. On publication of the CAP and Horizon 2020 proposals, we convened an informal seminar with ministerial and senior Commission officials as well as key stakeholders. The thrust of our report was welcomed, particularly in its recognition of the need to promote the concept of innovation networks, bringing together industry researchers, administrators and the food sector.

On the broader CAP reform package, we continue to scrutinise the Government closely. As your Lordships may be aware, the Cypriot presidency hoped to achieve a partial deal later this week, although how that will work after this weekend’s failed budget negotiations is far from clear. Before the summer, we held a mini-inquiry into the sugar regime aspects of the reform, and took evidence from the then Agriculture Minister, Jim Paice. The new Defra Secretary of State has agreed to meet us soon, and we have engaged with other national Parliaments, most recently at a conference in Cyprus.

Our second major inquiry of the last Session was into the EU freshwater policy. We were aiming to make a contribution to the European Commission’s preparation of its publication 10 days ago of a blueprint for the future EU water policy. Some of our recommendations were reflected in a text, notably on an integrated local approach to water management, and on the use of European Investment Bank loans to support investment. I am delighted that we have secured a slot in the Chamber next Wednesday evening to debate our report so soon after the publication of the blueprint.

We were also pleased to secure a session devoted to our report at the European Commission green week in May. Around 60 people from around the Union came to debate our report and were extremely positive; the head of water policy in the German Administration, who gave evidence to our inquiry, reiterated her support for the report and noted that she had referred to it regularly in her work internally in Germany as well as internationally. Our thanks must go to the excellent work of the EU liaison officer in helping to secure the session at green week. On behalf of Sub-Committee D members, I take the opportunity to thank our staff for their diligence, professionalism and good humour during this Session.

In conclusion, I wish to make a few brief personal remarks. As a fairly new girl to the committee systems, it seems to me that the committee has three roles, two of which it has down to a fine art. The first is that of scrutiny, where we can look to the noble Lord, Lord Boswell, to continue the eminent traditions which have been put in place by my noble friend Lord Roper. The second is that of influencing the policy debate in the Westminster and Brussels villages. I cite the recent report on women on boards as the most recent of an excellent number of reports doing just that. Where there may be some room for further improvement—this has been referred to by a number of noble Lords—is in informing the public debate on the value, or otherwise, of the EU to the lives of British citizens.

Like the noble Lord, Lord Marlesford, I accept that there is much to challenge in Europe but, at heart, I think that I am probably closer to the positions adopted by the noble Lords, Lord Jay and Lord Maclennan. I add to the list of reasons to be cheerful about Europe cited by the noble Lord, Lord Foulkes, that of progress on the environment. We may not be there yet but, let us be clear, we would be nowhere on this if it were not for the phenomenal contribution of the European Union to pushing forward environmental issues over the past 20 years.

I hope that of all the stakeholders we think about—national Parliaments, Ministers, civil servants—we do not forget the general public in the United Kingdom who are one of the key stakeholders. Yes, our committees must be non-party political, but that should not stop us, particularly our chairs, being hard hitting and prepared to say things simply and boldly so that the public can hear.