(6 months ago)Lords Chamber
My Lords, here we are again. We return once more to parliamentary scrutiny of the National Security and Investment Bill. It is of course always a pleasure for me to be in your Lordships’ company, so to be here twice in one day on this legislation and once on a Statement repeat is obviously a treat of the highest order.
Noble Lords will have seen that the other place once again rejected the amendments put forward by the noble Lord, Lord West, by a further significant margin. Let there be no doubt that I welcome and value the considerable expertise that noble Lords have put into their amendments and proposals. In addition to their expertise, I now have the opportunity to further compliment their stamina and resolve.
However, as I said earlier today in this House, in our view the BEIS Select Committee remains the most appropriate committee for scrutinising the operation of this regime by the Secretary of State for BEIS. I have already put forward the Government’s arguments in this regard on a number of occasions, so I will not try your Lordships’ patience much further. Assurances have now been provided, both in this House and the other place, that there will be no barriers to effective scrutiny by the BEIS Select Committee. In particular, its handling of material, be it confidential or classified, will be appropriately dealt with.
I know your Lordships have some scepticism on this claim. I am not sure what else I can say to reassure noble Lords, other than that my department will work closely with the BEIS Select Committee and its chairman to ensure that effective scrutiny can and will take place. Of course, there will be times when further scrutiny by other committees is appropriate—for example, the Science and Technology Committee or even the Intelligence and Security Committee. As this House has heard in previous debates, there is also nothing stopping these committees carrying out the important work that falls within their respective remits.
I now look to this House to respect the clear wishes of the other place and to acknowledge our rapidly dwindling time to pass this essential Bill. I therefore hope that this House will now support the Government’s Motion and allow the Bill to pass. I beg to move.
(9 months, 2 weeks ago)Lords Chamber
A lot of discussions are taking place between the Government, the Construction Leadership Council and different parts of the industry; we are actively exploring possible solutions and are committed to improving payment practices and working with the construction industry to take this forward. Of course, any solution has to work for the industry and its clients, and it has to be sustainable, addressing all of the issues: the need for surety and fair, prompt payment. As I said earlier, several policy options are being considered, including a possible retention deposit scheme and, of course, phasing out retentions completely. During the current pandemic, the Government, in conjunction with the Construction Leadership Council, have provided guidance to the industry on responsible and fair contractual behaviour, which, of course, includes retentions.
(9 months, 2 weeks ago)Lords Chamber
The Treasury’s net zero review, to which the noble Lord referred, is considering how the transition to net zero will be funded. Alongside this we are publishing a call for evidence by April to begin a strategic dialogue between government, consumers and industry on affordability and fairness. We have also expanded government support schemes, which I referred to earlier, to those on low incomes, who are likely to benefit from them or to be at risk of fuel poverty. We will respond to our consultation on fuel poverty in due course.
(11 months, 1 week ago)Lords Chamber
My noble friend is right to highlight the problem of recycling batteries. We are investigating the environmental opportunities of a transition to zero-emission vehicles, and are keen to encourage a circular economy in these vehicles, particularly for batteries. We are supporting the innovation infra- structure and regulatory environment required to create a proper battery recycling scheme.
(11 months, 4 weeks ago)Lords Chamber
I thank all noble Lords who have spoken in the debate so far. At the risk of agreeing with the noble Baroness, Lady Hayter, I can say I have been listening very carefully to what everyone has had to say in this debate. We take these matters extremely seriously.
Let me respond directly to the question from the noble Lord, Lord Purvis. No: the CMA did not respond formally to the consultation when we issued it, but as you would expect, there has been extensive, official-level discussion on the design and development of the OIM proposal with the CMA.
Before addressing the individual amendments, I shall set out why Clause 30 and Schedule 3 should stand part of the Bill. I have set out the purpose of the office in previous groupings, and noble Lords will be delighted to hear I will not repeat that here.
The purpose of Clause 30 is to introduce the office for the internal market panel and task groups and allow those task groups to carry out all the functions set out in Part 4 of the Bill on behalf of the Competition and Markets Authority. This will ensure that the CMA, through the OIM, can carry out a set of independent, advisory, monitoring and reporting functions to support the development and effective operation of the UK internal market on an ongoing basis. Building on existing governance arrangements, it allows the CMA to authorise the task groups to do anything that the CMA can do under Part 4. This would include delivering specific pieces of reporting, such as annual health of the market reviews or requested monitoring on the intra-UK trade impacts of specific regulations.
To fulfil those independent functions, Schedule 3 sets out the constitution of OIM task groups, to which functions of the CMA may be delegated by virtue of Clause 30. Schedule 3 also provides for the establishment of a panel from whose members such groups may be selected. In performing its role, the OIM will have the ability to gather market intelligence from UK businesses, professionals and consumers to develop its evidence base. The effect of removing Schedule 3 would be that no public body undertook those independent advisory, monitoring, and reporting functions to support the smooth running of the UK internal market. The Government believe that this outcome would be detrimental to the future health of the internal market and to the benefit of every region and nation of the UK. Thus, it is crucial both Clause 30 and Schedule 3 stand part of this Bill.
Amendment 116 would insert a new clause seeking to ensure that the creation of the OIM was subject to a memorandum of understanding being agreed between the Secretary of State and Ministers in the devolved Administrations. It also seeks to set out how the OIM should handle and use information that it requires to fulfil its functions. It proposes that the office for the internal market panel and task group members should include nominees from the English regions and devolved Administrations. It also proposes who should be members of any internal market work undertaken by the CMA if it undertakes such work separately from the OIM. I will respond to these latter points later, as they are referenced within other amendments.
The Government have considered a wide range of delivery options for the advisory, monitoring and reporting functions for the UK internal market as set out in the Bill. We have concluded that the CMA is best suited to house the OIM to perform these functions. This option was strongly supported by a wide range of stakeholders during the White Paper consultation earlier this year.
The Government have sought to work closely with the devolved Administrations. For example, I would like to say how much the engagement with the Welsh Government to date on this Bill has been appreciated. I believe these conversations have helped enormously to ensure that the purpose and effect of the OIM is understood. The Government are committed to continuing to engage constructively with the devolved Administrations on the establishment of the OIM and how it operates in future in fulfilling its functions as set out. In recognition of the keen interest of the devolved Administrations in the operation of the UK internal market, these appointments will be made following consultation with Ministers from all three devolved Administrations. This will ensure that the panel comprises members who all represent the interests of stakeholders in all parts of the UK. For the reasons I have set out, I am not able to accept the amendment by the noble Baroness, Lady Bowles.
I turn to Amendments 117, 121, 122, 123 and 124. Amendment 117 would allow each devolved Administration to appoint a CMA board member, with Amendments 121 through to 124 setting the terms and conditions of those appointments. The CMA is an independent non-ministerial department with a global reputation for promoting competition for the benefit of consumers and ensuring that markets work for consumers, businesses and the economy. Ministers have no day-to-day involvement in its operations. It is for these reasons that the CMA is a natural choice to take on the functions of the OIM.
The noble Baroness, Lady Randerson, asked how it is that the CMA deals with reserved matters but the OIM can address devolved issues. The statutory objective of the OIM in Clause 29 is designed precisely to draw a distinction with the current CMA objective and functions. This is wholly compatible with operating effectively and independently in relation to devolved matters, with a difference in focus on devolved and reserved matters respectively.
So that the advice and outcomes of the CMA’s work and the members undertaking such work are trusted and continue to be seen as impartial, it is clearly important that board members and the appointments process are seen to be trusted. As my noble friend Lady Noakes said, board members must be seen as capable of overseeing the promotion of competition throughout the entire United Kingdom, rather than as a representative of any one individual nation. It would therefore be inappropriate to risk politicising the CMA’s board by accepting this amendment.
Having different routes to the appointment, resignation and removal of CMA board members would be at odds with the UK-wide remit of the CMA and would have the effect of creating two categories of member. I recognise the keen interest of the devolved Administrations in the appointment process for the CMA board given that the proposed OIM panel chair will, by extension, become a CMA board member. We have stressed during engagement and written into the Bill that devolved Administration Ministers will be consulted on appointments ahead of the OIM becoming operational.
Amendments 118, 119 and 120 propose devolved Administration consent mechanisms for appointing the chair and panel members of the OIM. The first two of these amendments would require the Secretary of State to seek the consent of the devolved Administrations before appointing the OIM’s chair and panel members. As it stands, the Secretary of State appoints the CMA board chair and will appoint the OIM panel members and chair with full and mandatory consultation of the devolved Administrations. The priority will be ensuring that each appointment is on the basis of the relevant range of expertise and, crucially, is someone who can serve the interests of the whole of the United Kingdom.
During this consultation and the appointment process, the Secretary of State will aim to work closely with the devolved Administrations to ensure that their interests and comments are taken fully into account before decisions are made on who should be appointed. These amendments, on the other hand, would encourage a narrowing of expertise and risk the effective establishment of the panel. Consent would give each Administration a veto, which could delay and politicise appointments, which would undermine the OIM from the outset. For those reasons, I cannot accept these amendments.
Amendment 125 would require CMA’s proposed and finalised annual plan and annual report to be laid before each Parliament of the devolved Administrations. I assure noble Lords that the Government share the concern of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Thomas, that adequate opportunities for debate and scrutiny of the CMA’s annual report and other documents exist for the devolved legislatures. The Enterprise and Regulatory Reform Act 2013 requires arrangements to be made to lay the annual plan and report to Parliament; in practice, they are also laid before each devolved legislature. I assure noble Lords that this will continue in future. Should this reassurance be insufficient, the CMA’s annual plan and report are made public, allowing each legislature to scrutinise and debate them if it sees fit. In the light of those reassurances and reasons, I hope that noble Lords will not move their amendments.
Amendments 126, 128 and 129, and subsections (2)(b) and (4) of the new clause proposed by Amendment 116, would require either the OIM panel or task groups to have representatives from each of the four nations of the United Kingdom. This amendment could lead to members of the relevant task groups placing regional or political interests ahead of the CMA’s UK-wide mandate. This would harm the OIM’s ability to monitor the internal market effectively. All panel members chosen to be on each task group should represent the UK as a whole when undertaking reporting for the OIM. For that reason, I am unable to accept these amendments.
Amendment 127 would increase the mandated size of an OIM panel group from three members to five. Having consulted the CMA carefully on this and other points, the Government are confident that three members are sufficient to provide the range of expertise necessary to undertake the work of a task group. Since the panel may need to be able to form multiple task groups at a given time, increasing above this number would reduce the resilience of the panel as a whole and create additional unnecessary expense. For this reason, I hope the noble Lord will not press his amendment.
(1 year, 4 months ago)Lords Chamber
Well, characteristically the noble Lord has a great grasp of hyperbole, but I do not think that he is fairly characterising the situation here. It is a complicated area of detailed policy. We have an excellent competition regime in this country, the CMA is a highly regarded regulator and, as I said, we will consider giving it additional powers to protect consumer and business interests if that is required.
The noble Baroness makes my point very well. The reason why I did not was because there had been no further negotiations since that legislation was passed. There was nothing to update the House on. It illustrates the point that it is bad legislation, and bad to set out these precise timetables in legislation. There needs to be flexibility on behalf of the Government and of course on behalf of Parliament. Of course, the changes to domestic law required by the future relationship treaty will require legislation for their implementation. This will mean, of course, that Parliament will have its say, just as it is having its say on this Bill and on the amendments. It should be noted that the key powers provided by these clauses would be given to the House of Commons. Last Wednesday, MPs rejected a similar power in an amendment in Committee by 344 votes to 255. Noble Lords are welcome to ask the other place to think again about what powers it should have, but I am confident of what its response will be.
I did not cover that specifically. The noble Lord quoted the document—I have it in front of me—and it refers to the Commission providing early and clear information to Parliament. It is not specific on what information exactly should be provided and at what stages; its very nature is that of an interinstitutional agreement attempting to cover a whole range of different scenarios. My point is valid: the Commission controls what information is provided and when. With regard to his other point, the pledge still holds, essentially. The Government are committed—the Prime Minister said it—to provide as much information as is possible to Parliament to enable it to provide its proper scrutiny, without conflicting with the necessity to conduct a lot of these negotiations in confidence as we do not wish to prejudice our negotiating position.
I know the noble Lord, Lord Wigley, will be very keen to hear my point about the devolved Administrations. We are firmly of the view that it is the responsibility of the UK Government to negotiate on behalf of the United Kingdom. Nevertheless, we recognise the specific interests of the devolved Administrations in our negotiations with the EU and their responsibilities for implementing that legislation in devolved areas. We have been clear that the devolved Administrations should be closely involved in preparations for the negotiations, and will continue to engage with them extensively. Indeed, only last Thursday I attended the 21st meeting of the Joint Ministerial Committee on EU Negotiations, where we had a constructive—as they say, full and frank—exchange of views with the Scottish and Welsh Governments and, at the time, the Northern Ireland Civil Service. Now that we have an Assembly up and running in Northern Ireland, I am sure it will want to contribute to these negotiations as well.
I chair one of the joint ministerial committees; I have been up to Scotland many times to take part in these sessions and my noble friend Lady Williams has also attended them. A number of UK Ministers go and there is regular dialogue with all the devolved Administrations, both on the negotiations and, up until now, on ongoing EU business. That will continue and we are looking at how that should develop and be taken forward when we are no longer an EU member state and we move on to the implementation phase. We are committed to ensuring that we have the best deal for all parts of the United Kingdom. The devolved Administrations are, of course, free to engage with their own respective devolved legislatures as part of this process, but the delay that would be caused by creating unnecessary powers of veto could, in our view, frustrate our ability to finish negotiations by the end of the year.
We believe that the Government have a mandate to begin the negotiations and there is no need to introduce additional hurdles or delays before those negotiations can begin. I hope the noble Baroness and the noble Lord, Lord Wigley, will therefore feel able not to press their amendments.