Debates between Lord Bassam of Brighton and Lord Callanan during the 2019 Parliament

Horizon Europe: UK Participation

Debate between Lord Bassam of Brighton and Lord Callanan
Tuesday 31st January 2023

(1 year ago)

Lords Chamber
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Lord Callanan Portrait Lord Callanan (Con)
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I think the Commission has been very clear in intimating that the issue is linked to the Northern Ireland protocol, but, as I have said, this is a separate issue. They are separate legal agreements, and we stand ready to continue the discussions about association, which is part of an agreement we already have with the EU.

Lord Bassam of Brighton Portrait Lord Bassam of Brighton (Lab)
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My Lords, I think we would all, on our side, feel more convinced if it was not always the case that the Government think it is someone else’s fault. Surely this is the time to engage in more meaningful negotiations with our former EU partners because the time by which a decision has to be made on this is fast approaching. As I understand it, we need to agree a guarantee scheme by the end of March. That being the case, can the Minister confirm whether that is the cut-off date, and that the Government will bring forward a plan B to ensure that we have the right levels of international co-operation in research that this country urgently needs so that our businesses thrive in the future?

Lord Callanan Portrait Lord Callanan (Con)
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I always stand ready to receive advice from the noble Lord about how we can meaningfully enter into negotiations with someone who does not want to meaningfully enter into negotiations with us. Obviously, the Labour Opposition know better than we do on this.

Manufacturing Post Brexit

Debate between Lord Bassam of Brighton and Lord Callanan
Thursday 26th January 2023

(1 year ago)

Lords Chamber
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Lord Callanan Portrait Lord Callanan (Con)
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I completely agree with my noble friend. There is a great future ahead for small modular reactors. We want to support Rolls-Royce as much as we can in this area. We are rolling out support for Great British Nuclear and the SMR programme.

Lord Bassam of Brighton Portrait Lord Bassam of Brighton (Lab)
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My Lords, I declare an interest as director of Business in the Community, the UK’s biggest responsible business network. The fall in manufacturing in the UK since the 1970s has been quicker than almost any other developed country, despite jobs in the sector paying 12% more than equivalent sectors and being seen as key to growth and bringing pride back to Britain. As the noble Lord from the Lib Dem Benches pointed out, it is reported today that UK car production is at its lowest level since 1956. It seems to us that the Government have accepted the decline, so what plans do they have seriously to arrest it? We have not heard enough from the Minister today and we do not hear enough from the Government on this point. We want manufacturing to recover. “Made in Britain” should be a slogan we should all be proud of.

Lord Callanan Portrait Lord Callanan (Con)
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I certainly agree with the noble Lord’s last statement, if not many of his earlier ones. There is always more that we can do. We continue to support UK manufacturing, but the UK is one of the largest manufacturing nations in the world—it is the ninth globally by output. Manufacturing contributed £205 billion of gross value added to the UK economy and supports 2.5 million jobs, most of them outside London, which is a good thing. Of course we always need to look at new policies and regulations. I am sure the Opposition will support our new regulatory freedom to help make things easier for the manufacturing industry, but let us get behind British manufacturing and not be so gloomy.

Energy Bill Relief Scheme Pass-through Requirement (Heat Suppliers) (Amendment) Regulations 2022

Debate between Lord Bassam of Brighton and Lord Callanan
Tuesday 17th January 2023

(1 year, 1 month ago)

Grand Committee
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Lord Bassam of Brighton Portrait Lord Bassam of Brighton (Lab)
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My Lords, I do not have a great deal to add and obviously we do not oppose these regulations, but it seems that they have come forward urgently because the department appeared to forget, when making the original regulations, that—as the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, said—there is no complete register of heat suppliers in place that would enable the original legislation to be properly carried out. The original legislation went through without a word about why the department did not know who the energy suppliers were and how that made the legislation somewhat redundant and difficult to implement.

It seems that we have in front of us a rapid and somewhat scrambled fix to try to rectify that original problem. No doubt the Minister will tell me that I am wrong, but it seems to exist because the department forgot that a rather central part of the method of getting money to customers is through heat suppliers, which should be known to the department to make them pass the money through. Why is the scheme so last-minute and retrospective? Should it not have been up and running and operating earlier so that customers could benefit?

The Explanatory Memorandum for this SI says that this must happen in order to get money to customers over the winter period, so my question to the Minister is: how has this happened? Why have the regulations been introduced suddenly, and why now when this should have been done earlier? How much time has been lost in getting money to customers as a result of the scheme being incomplete when it was introduced? Finally, have customers lost out or been disadvantaged in any way? That is probably the key point, because people are getting much higher bills than they would have expected a year or 18 months ago. Judging from my experience, although I am not struggling to pay, people are being shocked and taken aback.

I looked at the Explanatory Memorandum and it seemed there were one or two errors. The instrument makes corrections to definitions of “end-user”, “intermediary” and “scheme benefit”. That seems glaring. The Explanatory Memorandum says that suppliers need

“more time to provide their customers with detailed calculations”.

I would have thought that that problem could have been anticipated and dealt with earlier. That is a concern. I also spotted, in the “policy background” section that

“The heat network sector is not currently comprehensively regulated and there exists no complete record of heat suppliers.”


This is quite revealing. I appreciate that the instrument attempts to address this, but it is something of a gap to have left in the first instance. Although I was sort of impressed by the consultation exercise, a workshop with 120 heat suppliers in October hardly seems a complete consultation to my way of thinking. In its section on impact, the Explanatory Memorandum also refers to “light-touch notification”, so that heat suppliers

“in effect are given an extension on the deadline for making the much more comprehensive notification under the”

billing regulations.

I may have misunderstood this, but I do not think I have. By my way of reading it, it is not an entirely happy story. I look forward to hearing the Minister’s explanation of why and how this came about.

Lord Callanan Portrait Lord Callanan (Con)
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I thank both noble Lords for their valuable contributions to this brief debate. The Government have put in place robust measures to support consumers in response to the energy crisis. For heat network consumers these measures include the EBRS—energy bill relief scheme—or alternative funding for those without a domestic electricity meter, and the energy price guarantee for electricity. These schemes are up and running, shielding heat network consumers and countless others from excessive energy bill increases this winter.

The measures in today’s SI continue this work by strengthening the legal framework for ensuring that cost reductions from the EBRS received by heat networks are passed on to heat network consumers, leading to immediate short-term benefits to consumers over this winter. This SI results from wide-ranging engagement with industry, including trade associations, heat suppliers and consumer groups in the sector, and ensures an approach which works for both consumers and businesses. The changes are based on practicalities, meaning consumers will be informed of key information without placing an undue burden on heat suppliers.

Turning to the specific points raised by the noble Lords, I start with the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, who asked the obvious question: great minds think alike, as it is the same one I asked when I was introduced to this statutory instrument. How do we know that we have received a good response, as the deadline has already passed, and that everyone has replied? The figures are that, as of last week, we have received notifications from over 2,800 heat suppliers. Previous data obtained from notifications collected under the Heat Network (Metering and Billing) Regulations indicated that there were approximately 2,600 heat suppliers in 2018. We therefore judge that heat supplier engagement with the EBRS pass-through notification form has been good.

Of course there are some enormous heat networks, which everybody knows about, but also some quite small heat networks. Many developers just develop a block of flats, install a heat network and then subcontract out its management to a secondary company—some with great success and others with not such great success. Many people do not realise that they are on a heat network until they have already moved into the property, because it has elements of monopoly about it. If the noble Lord had been present in the debates on the Energy Bill, he could have discussed the fact that we are introducing powers to regulate heat networks, which will be given to Ofgem. We have been having debates separately with the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, and others on that but at the moment the sector is essentially unregulated, which has caused problems in some areas. There are some very bad examples of networks, which we will attempt to rectify.

The noble Lord, Lord Teverson, also asked about the role of the OPSS in ensuring enforcement, which was similarly raised by the noble Lord, Lord Bassam. The OPSS already had a role to receive notifications from heat suppliers and is therefore a natural fit. Notifying is actually a simple process, which should take about five minutes to complete. We would press any heat network suppliers which have not already notified—from the figures, we think that the vast majority have—to do so as soon as possible to ensure the avoidance of enforcement action. Again, all the big ones were known anyway and have complied. It is possible that there might be an odd mansion block or small block of flats somewhere, or some remote properties, that have not yet notified but we think the vast majority have.

If the supplier has not submitted its notification by 6 January or within 30 days of beginning operations, or for any new heat suppliers that began operating after 7 December last year, the OPSS may issue a notice of intent which makes clear the required actions and gives the business the opportunity to become compliant with the regulations. Should the heat supplier then continue to fail to do so, the OPSS may issue a notice of compliance, which sets a final deadline for the supplier to submit its notification after which point, if it is still non-compliant, it may be issued with the penalty fines that I referred to earlier. If the heat supplier does not engage with the ombudsman, or the Consumer Council in Northern Ireland, customers can recover the benefit that they are owed as a civil debt.

In response to the questions asked by the noble Lord, Lord Bassam, about why we are having the debate only after the notification window has closed, these regulations came into effect the day after they were made, on 7 December. This debate has no real bearing on the notification window but is to give time for parliamentary scrutiny and to ensure that this affirmative SI, as it was, does not now fall. We thought the “made affirmative” procedure was appropriate, given the time-sensitive nature of this work. Customers need support as quickly as possible, so ensuring prompt EBRS pass-through is important to provide that support. That underlines the rationale of running the notification window from the earliest possible date after the regulations were made.

The noble Lord, Lord Bassam, also asked a very reasonable question about why we are amending relatively new SIs. The answer is that following the initial regulations, which were made very rapidly given the urgent nature of the problem, we have taken on board feedback from the sector to ensure that this final approach now works for both businesses and customers.

The noble Lord also asked why the definitions of intermediaries have been amended. The amendments distinguish obligations that do not apply to an intermediary who is also an end-user. That could be a landlord, for example. The requirement to join the redress scheme will not apply unless the intermediary is provided with a scheme benefit by way of a discount or reduction under the Energy Bill Relief Scheme Regulations, nor will it apply to a person who supplies heating to the final customer unless that person is provided with a scheme benefit by way of a pass-through under these regulations. A landlord provided with a pass-through amount under the pass-through regulations, which it in turn must pass on to its tenants, will not be required to join the redress scheme unless that landlord also supplies heating through a district or communal heat network. Similarly, an intermediary who is also an end- user will not be required to notify an authorised person of their name, business address and contact details.

The noble Lord also asked why heat network suppliers are being given an extension on the requirement to complete their heat network metering and billing notifications. The answer is that these regulations will introduce minimal costs on heat networks. The information required is information that heat suppliers will already have access to, and we are not requiring heat suppliers to provide information beyond that which they already provide to government under the Heat Network (Metering and Billing) Regulations. We consider that the benefit of heat network consumers receiving lower heat prices resulting from the EBRS pass-through will significantly outweigh these relatively minor administrative costs to heat suppliers. By completing the notification requirement under these regulations, a heat supplier gains an extension in complying with the Heat Network (Metering and Billing) Regulations until 31 March 2023, so this further reduces the burden on the business over what, I think we agree, will be a challenging winter period.

I hope I have successfully answered the questions from both noble Lords, and therefore I commend these regulations to the Committee.

Electricity: Decarbonisation

Debate between Lord Bassam of Brighton and Lord Callanan
Wednesday 21st December 2022

(1 year, 2 months ago)

Lords Chamber
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Lord Bassam of Brighton Portrait Lord Bassam of Brighton (Lab)
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My Lords, just to bring us back to the core issue, in its progress report in June the Climate Change Committee highlighted several risks that remain in meeting the emissions reductions required by 2035—particularly highlighting how supply-side focused the Government’s energy security strategy was. The Minister said earlier that plans would be brought forward in due course, but can he tell us when the Government will finally deliver the energy efficiency improvements necessary to reduce demand for fossil fuels to achieve net zero and to cut the energy bills that consumers are currently struggling with?

Lord Callanan Portrait Lord Callanan (Con)
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The noble Lord is right—energy efficiency is extremely important, which is why we are spending £6.6 billion this Parliament on various energy efficiency strategies. The Chancellor in his Budget announced another £6 billion from 2025 for energy efficiency projects. We have an ambitious target; a new task force is being set up to deliver a 15% reduction by 2030.

Four-Day Working Week

Debate between Lord Bassam of Brighton and Lord Callanan
Monday 5th September 2022

(1 year, 5 months ago)

Lords Chamber
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Lord Callanan Portrait Lord Callanan (Con)
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My noble friend makes a very good observation. Of course, there have been a number of bank holidays recently and we keep these things under review. I do not think there are any immediate plans to introduce any additional ones, but I am sure it is something that the new PM will want to look at.

Lord Bassam of Brighton Portrait Lord Bassam of Brighton (Lab)
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My Lords, the noble Lord of course will be aware that many four-day week working pilots are going on across the world, including one involving 3,500 workers here. The pandemic has proved, I think, that flexible working works and is an effective way of ensuring that we maintain levels of productivity, so will the Government commit not just to carrying out a review of the pilot but, when that pilot is complete, to publishing their own findings and then reviewing their policy? This is a very important policy direction for this country and it could unlock greater levels of productivity, which we are much in need of the moment.

Lord Callanan Portrait Lord Callanan (Con)
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Of course we will take any lessons that are learned through the different pilot studies that are taking place. I think I disagree with the noble Lord that the pandemic proved that flexible working is the norm: it worked in some areas and some industries, but of course the Government did pay huge numbers of people to stay at home during the furlough scheme, which is not something we could ever carry on doing. Of course, it can work in some industries: a number of private sector companies have adopted it and, great, if it works for their particular circumstances and their particular employees, good for them—but it does not work for every industry.

Exports: Support for Businesses

Debate between Lord Bassam of Brighton and Lord Callanan
Thursday 31st March 2022

(1 year, 10 months ago)

Lords Chamber
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Lord Callanan Portrait Lord Callanan (Con)
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We are continuing to provide service to a range of businesses, including small businesses, with the export support service. I outlined in the Answer to the noble Baroness the general satisfaction level of businesses with those services.

Lord Bassam of Brighton Portrait Lord Bassam of Brighton (Lab)
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My Lords, as ever the Minister tries to paint a rosy picture of how our exports are going but, as the noble Baroness, Lady Ritchie, said, UK exports are underperforming against the rest of the world. Exports across the world have bounced back strongly coming out of the pandemic, yet the UK is the only country tracked by the CPB where goods exports remain below the 2010 average. As a result, the UK has become a less trade-intensive economy. Those are the facts. With no evident plan—the Prime Minister’s comments yesterday rather suggested complacency—can the Minister tell the House what steps the Government are taking urgently to address this and other export-related issues?

Lord Callanan Portrait Lord Callanan (Con)
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We can trade statistics and I can give the noble Lord alternative statistics, but we are optimistic for our export service. We are providing good support to businesses. Businesses across the UK are continuing to export to EU member states and to non-EU member states. We continue to be optimistic for the service. We will provide support to businesses and I am confident that British business will bounce back.

Trade Union (Levy Payable to the Certification Officer) Regulations 2022

Debate between Lord Bassam of Brighton and Lord Callanan
Monday 7th March 2022

(1 year, 11 months ago)

Lords Chamber
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Lord Callanan Portrait Lord Callanan (Con)
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I thank all noble Lords for their valuable contributions to the debate. It is great to see the noble Lord, Lord Woodley, back with us in such hale and hearty form. I had the pleasure of replying to the debate when the noble Lord made his maiden speech, so I regard it as a particular honour that I get the chance to respond to him again tonight, albeit in slightly less harmonious circumstances.

Turning to the amendment put forward by the noble Lord, Lord Bassam, I thank him for raising his concerns, although, as will become clear, I do not agree with very much of what he said. However, I reiterate what I said at the start: unions play an important role in some aspects of industrial relations and have an important part to play in our economic recovery. It is therefore crucial that the public have confidence that they are regulated effectively and fairly.

These reforms will bring the Certification Officer in line with the powers and funding arrangements of other regulators. They will allow the Certification Officer to take robust enforcement action against an organisation that breaches its statutory obligations. The reforms will ensure that the taxpayer no longer has to pay in full for the regulation of trade unions and employers’ associations. The cost will be borne in part by the organisations that can afford it.

Despite many of the comments that were made, there are many precedents for this: a number of other regulators are funded by a levy. For example, the Groceries Code Adjudicator, the Office of Rail and Road, and the Pensions Regulator are all funded by a variety of levy schemes. The Pensions Regulator uses a banded scheme based on membership of pension funds. Companies House is partly funded by fees from company directors. The Financial Reporting Council is paid for in large part by the auditors that it regulates.

Other regulators also have a range of sanctions at their disposal. The Electoral Commission and the Information Commissioner’s Office, like the Certification Officer, can either take civil enforcement action or launch criminal prosecutions. The Electoral Commission’s compliance notices are similar to the Certification Officer’s enforcement orders. The Electoral Commission also has a range of financial penalties at its disposal, from £200 to £20,000, which mirrors those proposed for the trade union Certification Officer. Those instances are all slightly different, but it is not true that this is somehow something being imposed uniquely on trade unions.

In reply to the noble Lord, Lord Bassam, we have of course considered the affordability of the levy and how much it can grow in the future. As no organisation will pay more than 2.5% of its annual income, and lower-income organisations will be exempted from the levy entirely, I think his criticisms on that were unwarranted and have no validity. As the Certification Officer regulates both employers’ associations and unions, it is fair that employers’ associations also contribute in part towards the levy.

The Trade Union Act 2016 contains an important safeguard that requires the Certification Officer to aim to ensure that the total amount levied over a three-year period does not exceed the actual expenses she has incurred. We believe that this will ensure that the levy remains predictable and affordable. The Certification Officer has always gone about their duties in an independent and impartial way, and of course that will continue.

I will now answer some of the other points raised during the debate. The noble Lord, Lord Bassam, and my noble friends Lady Neville-Rolfe and Lord Balfe all raised the issue of electronic balloting. Indeed, the Trade Union Act included provisions to introduce electronic balloting for union elections. A review of electronic balloting was conducted by Sir Ken Knight, but before responding to the recommendations in his review, the Government were required by Section 4 of the Trade Union Act 2016 to consult relevant organisations, including professionals from expert associations, to seek their advice and recommendations. We have now done this, and we are finalising our consideration of Sir Ken’s recommendations before we issue our response in due course.

I have answered many of the points made by the noble Lord, Lord Razzall, about the comparison with other regulated bodies. I reiterate that the role of the Certification Officer is unique, as is the role of trade unions, and that comparisons with other sectors, while there are some parallels, are not totally relevant.

The noble Lord, Lord Woodley, and my noble friend Lord Balfe raised the possibility of vexatious complaints being made at a cost to unions. I must say, respectfully, that the Government disagree. When there are vexatious complaints, we do not expect that the Certification Officer will spend much time on them. The CO is a public authority, and she has to act reasonably. She cannot appoint an inspector unless a new, higher judicial test has been met that she has reasonable grounds to suspect that a breach of the regulations has occurred.

The noble Lord, Lord Bassam, raised the point about the significant limit on how much the levy could raise in similar years. The noble Lord, Lord Monks, also raised the point that the Certification Officer can somehow just do as she pleases. I responded to that in my previous comments, but we have removed most of the variable costs from the levy and, as I said, the Certification Officer, as a public authority, has to act reasonably, and that is a higher judicial test than in the current regulations.

Lastly, my noble friend Lady Neville-Rolfe asked me whether USDAW had responded to the consultation. I am afraid I do not have that information with me, but I will ask officials to look through the consultations and write to her accordingly.

In conclusion, this is not about constraining the ability of unions and employers’ associations to do their work. There is, unquestionably, a strong public interest in appropriately regulated trade unions. These reforms are about modernising the Certification Officer’s role to ensure that she can continue to deliver exactly on that. Therefore, I commend these draft regulations to the House.

Lord Bassam of Brighton Portrait Lord Bassam of Brighton (Lab)
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My Lords, I am very disappointed by what the Minister has had to say to the House this evening. I am not persuaded away from my view that this is a vindictive piece of secondary legislation. The Minister has not really adduced a strong case in his own defence, I fear. It was interesting to hear Back-Benchers on the Government Benches making the point that this could be seen as vindictive and as having a go at unions for the sake of it, and that there was a need in the Government to grow up and try to learn to live with the trade union movement even if they do not like what it seeks to do.

The Minister did not really fully answer my noble friend Lord Hendy’s point about for-profit and not-for-profit organisations and there being a distinction. Many of the organisations that the Minister referred to have resources far in excess of those that trade unions have and are much better placed to make a contribution towards the regulation that they currently enjoy. I think the closest comparator is the Charity Commission and it does not seek to impose levies on charities. That would be unthinkable. Trade unions operate as not-for-profit organisations. They are there entirely for the benefit of their members and their role is very narrowly circumscribed to that.

I accept that we are not going to agree across the Dispatch Box on this issue. I regret that the Government have this attitude towards the valued work that unions undertake. The Minister himself talked of that. Looking at the hour and at the Chamber, it is not my intention to press my amendment because I can see that Members probably wish to move on with the Health and Care Bill. I am grateful for the time that we have had to discuss and debate these issues. No doubt we will return to them in future. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Russian Oil and Gas Imports

Debate between Lord Bassam of Brighton and Lord Callanan
Monday 7th March 2022

(1 year, 11 months ago)

Lords Chamber
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Lord Callanan Portrait Lord Callanan (Con)
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Indeed. I agree very much with my noble friend, who makes some extremely good points. We need to bear in mind that a relatively small percentage of our supply is from Russia, of both oil and gas; it makes up less than 4%. I totally agree with him regarding nuclear. Indeed, for those noble Lords who are interested, the Nuclear Energy (Financing) Bill is in Grand Committee tomorrow.

Lord Bassam of Brighton Portrait Lord Bassam of Brighton (Lab)
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My Lords, I have heard the Minister’s response, taking on board in part the point from the noble Lord, Lord Forsyth, and recognise that we live in uncertain times. For clarity, can the Minister reconfirm the Government’s commitment to prioritising the development of renewables and that Ministers are looking to speed this programme up, and further commit to ensuring that the Government will renew measures to protect the poorest in our communities from the worsening impacts of rising energy prices?

Lord Callanan Portrait Lord Callanan (Con)
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I agree in large part with what the noble Lord said. Of course we need to expand our renewable capacity as quickly as possible. We already have record amounts and we need to pursue that. We are introducing contracts for difference rounds every year to maintain the ongoing flow of supply. As the noble Lord is aware, we introduced a £9.1 billion package of support for the poorest households.

Post Office: Horizon Compensation

Debate between Lord Bassam of Brighton and Lord Callanan
Monday 24th January 2022

(2 years, 1 month ago)

Lords Chamber
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Lord Callanan Portrait Lord Callanan (Con)
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I think the noble Lord is being a little unfair. He referred to a third, but it depends which of the cases he is talking about. There are a number of different aspects to this. There are those who had their convictions overturned, most of whom have already received £100,000 in interim compensation. On top of that there is the historical shortfall scheme, which is proceeding as fast as we can. The reason we set this up is to precisely avoid long delays through litigation, and obviously the process itself is managed through the Post Office and its advisers. But I will certainly take his message back. Nobody wants to see this drag on for too long.

Lord Bassam of Brighton Portrait Lord Bassam of Brighton (Lab)
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My Lords, I would like to return to the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Arbuthnot. It seems quite wrong that a company that knew what it was doing, knew that the kit was faulty, and knew that mistakes were being made has not been involved in this case. They should be making payments to the Government so that the Government can fully compensate all those who have being wrongfully imprisoned, charged within this scheme and have suffered years of life-destroying consequences. That company must be held responsible, and the Government should make sure that is the case.

Small Business Commissioner: Late Payments

Debate between Lord Bassam of Brighton and Lord Callanan
Tuesday 7th December 2021

(2 years, 2 months ago)

Lords Chamber
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Lord Callanan Portrait Lord Callanan (Con)
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I have had this discussion with the noble Lord before. The construction industry is different; there are adjudication processes already set up for it and we are also looking at the issue of payment retention, as the noble Lord knows well. It is a complicated issue. The legislation already precludes the application to the construction industry, because there is an adjudication code process already there.

Lord Bassam of Brighton Portrait Lord Bassam of Brighton (Lab)
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My Lords, I appreciate the Minister’s candour in this but remind him that, earlier in the year, he said:

“Late payments damage the cashflow of small businesses, which can hold back investment or job creation and, in the worst cases, lead to job losses and business closures. Action to stop the damaging practice of late payments remains a key priority for Government.”


But is it, given that it has taken the Government over a year to consider the consultation and we are yet to see any response? Will the Government now commit to providing SMEs with greater protections from insolvencies, including by giving statutory powers to the Small Business Commissioner to chase late payments? This is a very urgent issue.

Lord Callanan Portrait Lord Callanan (Con)
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This is a priority for the Government —there are lots of priorities for the Government at the moment. The new powers that we consulted on include compelling the disclosure of information, including in relation to payment terms and practices, and imposing financial penalties or binding payment terms on businesses. These are important issues that need to be considered properly. We need to go through the consultation responses properly, and we will respond as soon as we can.

Private Equity Takeovers

Debate between Lord Bassam of Brighton and Lord Callanan
Thursday 21st October 2021

(2 years, 4 months ago)

Lords Chamber
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Lord Callanan Portrait Lord Callanan (Con)
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As the noble Lord is aware, there are a multiplicity of different international standards, but we are of course introducing the transparency requirements on climate disclosures, as he knows. We have the audit reform proposals, which will extend the reporting requirements to many large private companies as well. We will publish our response to that consultation shortly.

Lord Bassam of Brighton Portrait Lord Bassam of Brighton (Lab)
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My Lords, according to the financial market data company Refinitiv, private equity firms have made over 345 bids for British companies this year—the highest number since records began back in 1984. We need to ensure that new owners act responsibly, so does the Minister have confidence that the regulatory bodies have sufficient oversight and powers to intervene when private equity owners of British companies fail that duty? How can we build national economic resilience at home to promote global Britain abroad if companies are being bought up so easily and cheaply?

UK Property Ownership: Overseas Jurisdictions

Debate between Lord Bassam of Brighton and Lord Callanan
Wednesday 13th October 2021

(2 years, 4 months ago)

Lords Chamber
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Lord Callanan Portrait Lord Callanan (Con)
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If the noble Baroness means shell companies in British Overseas Territories and others, they are also convinced of the need for transparency and we continue to press them to provide full ownership and transparency details on these companies.

Lord Bassam of Brighton Portrait Lord Bassam of Brighton (Lab)
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My Lords, it is hard to take seriously the Government’s claim that they aim to lead the global fight against illicit finance, or the register that the Minister has referred to. The Government claim they have impressive controls, but it is now three years since their consultation ended on the draft registration of overseas entities Bill, so can the Minister tell the House what plans they have to tackle our high-risk score, stop money laundering and protect the UK against terrorist financing?

Lord Callanan Portrait Lord Callanan (Con)
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As I said, the Financial Action Task Force that we established got the best rating of any country assessed so far in the round of evaluations in countering money laundering. We are opposed to it and we will do all we can to fight it, as noble Lords will want us to do. We intend to legislate on the registration of beneficial ownership and will do so as soon as parliamentary time allows.

Corporate Insolvency and Governance Act 2020 (Coronavirus) (Extension of the Relevant Period) (No. 2) Regulations 2021

Debate between Lord Bassam of Brighton and Lord Callanan
Monday 6th September 2021

(2 years, 5 months ago)

Grand Committee
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Lord Bassam of Brighton Portrait Lord Bassam of Brighton (Lab)
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My Lords, we are back again debating measures to extend the restrictions on the use of statutory demands and winding-up petitions. I think this is the third time we have debated them, and every time we welcome, as we would from our Benches, the Government extending the safety net for businesses in distress because of the pandemic.

Just as we supported the emergency legislation last year, we welcome any measures to support the businesses that closed to keep us safe. As the Minister knows well by now, we argued then that the protections in the Act should be extended over a long period. As the Government extend them again, we reiterate the point, as we have before, that these short extensions cause real uncertainty and worry for businesses in the run-up to each expiry date, concerned as those businesses are with the cliff edge.

As the economy opens and restrictions end, it is right that these measures are kept under review, but we must also remember how many people are still affected by insolvency. The Government’s recent statistics, from July 2021, showed that there were 1,094 registered insolvencies. This was 13% higher than the number registered in the same month in 2020. Does the Minister expect this yearly increase to continue for the rest of 2021? Before he gets into the stream of consciousness response which the noble Lord, Lord Hodgson, so eagerly anticipated, perhaps he could answer a few other questions as well.

Will this be the last extension of these measures, or will we be back in a couple of weeks, or a month or so, since the current extension is only to the end of September? What has changed since the last SI is that some support was not extended beyond the end of June. This includes the small supplier exemptions from the termination clause provisions and the suspension of viability for wrongful trading provisions. The Government have said that these measures were allowed to lapse to enable a gradual return of the insolvency framework to its normal operation. Can the Minister explain how this decision was made? What evidence was it based on? What impact has it had on businesses since June?

As we return fresh from recess, can we hear from the Minister about any new plans the Government have for wider reform of our insolvency laws, including providing some greater protection and support for key industries and their key workers? As Covid support continues to be pulled away, we must ensure that we do not see a whole wave of insolvencies during the latter end of this year, provoking rises in unemployment and making businesses less certain of the environment in which they will work. We need to get the right support to thrive in the post-pandemic period, whenever we feel that comes.

Having listened to noble Lords around the Committee, I think we are all in need of some reassurance. Some colleagues here want to see market forces let rip, but I do not think that doing so is necessarily the best option here, although of course we all want to return to normal. I look forward to the noble Lord’s reassurances and some answers to those key questions, as well as to those raised by the noble Lord, Lord Hodgson of Astley Abbotts.

Lord Callanan Portrait Lord Callanan (Con)
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First, I thank all noble Lords for their interesting and, as always, valuable contributions to this debate.

It is worth reiterating that, since the emergence of Covid-19, businesses have received billions in loans, tax deferrals, business rate relief and grants to support them and, vitally, to help them to preserve jobs. The Government’s road map for the staged lifting of restrictions has in my view been a success in protecting the UK from the spread of Covid-19 while the vaccine programme was rolled out, and we can all begin slowly to return to normality.

However, we must recognise that many businesses and others have suffered from the impact of the pandemic for over a year now, and in many cases it will take time to return to full pre-Covid financial health. The Government will continue to do what it takes to support businesses through this period of economic recovery.

The points raised have highlighted the importance of the measure being extended by these regulations and the necessity of extending it once more so that businesses can continue to benefit from it. These regulations will provide the much-needed continued support for businesses to concentrate their best efforts on continuing to trade, preserve jobs and build the foundations for our economic recovery. I sincerely hope that companies and their creditors will come together in good faith to maintain their future trading relationships and secure the benefits for both themselves and the economy as a whole.

I will answer some of the points that were quite fairly put to me in the debate. The noble Lord, Lord Sikka, and my noble friend Lord Leigh asked a very pertinent and relevant question about what will happen when these measures come to an end in a little over three weeks’ time. The Government recognise that there is potential for what I think both noble Lords referred to as a cliff-edge scenario involving the accumulation of unpaid debts becoming due when these restrictions and government fiscal support expire. I can tell noble Lords that work is ongoing with businesses and key stakeholders to develop solutions to enable a viable exit from these measures. All options are being considered, and I hope to make an announcement on this very shortly.

The noble Lord, Lord Sikka, asked what the Government are doing to support creditors who are unable to recover their debts and who are putting their own businesses at risk. To reiterate, this is a temporary measure that is intended to help struggling businesses during the continuation of the pandemic. It does not, as I said initially, permanently prevent the possibility of a creditor serving a statutory demand and/or presenting a winding-up petition. When the legislation expires, a creditor will be able to pursue their debt. We expect this to encourage businesses to continue, wherever possible, to meet their ongoing liabilities as far as they are able to do so.

There is a range of other legal options available to creditors seeking to recover debts which are unaffected by the changes being made here. If is, for example, possible to bring a civil claim to recover a debt. Also, where a company’s inability to pay is not related to Covid-19, it will still be possible to present a petition for winding it up, notwithstanding the points correctly raised by my noble friend Lord Hodgson. There is evidence to suggest that winding-up petitions are still being presented in appropriate cases.

Deep Seabed Mining

Debate between Lord Bassam of Brighton and Lord Callanan
Monday 6th September 2021

(2 years, 5 months ago)

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Lord Callanan Portrait Lord Callanan (Con)
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I know that the noble Baroness is a big supporter of our net-zero policy, but many of the critical minerals found on the deep seabed are important and often irreplaceable in electric vehicle batteries, offshore wind turbines and other technologies. But of course we need to pursue alternative research and development, and find alternative battery technology, and, as the noble Lord, Lord McNicol, said, reuse and recycling will also be very important.

Lord Bassam of Brighton Portrait Lord Bassam of Brighton (Lab)
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In the light of what the Minister just said, what metrics will the Government use to balance the need to reduce carbon emissions by encouraging the use of sustainable energy sources for the development of electric batteries against the potential for ecological damage caused by the extraction of seabed minerals used in battery production?

Lord Callanan Portrait Lord Callanan (Con)
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It is important to say that there are no mining projects ongoing at the moment; there is a discussion about possible mining projects in future. Our position is that we need to ensure that, before any projects take place, strong environmental regulations and controls are put in place, and we are playing a critical role in helping to ensure that.

Human Rights Due Diligence

Debate between Lord Bassam of Brighton and Lord Callanan
Tuesday 20th July 2021

(2 years, 7 months ago)

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Lord Callanan Portrait Lord Callanan (Con)
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My noble friend makes a very good point. The UK is working closely with the International Indigenous Peoples’ Forum on Climate Change and the UNFCCC Local Communities and Indigenous Peoples Platform to champion engagement and participation by indigenous groups in COP 26.

Lord Bassam of Brighton Portrait Lord Bassam of Brighton (Lab) [V]
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A recent G7 communiqué said that the G7 was

“concerned by the use of all forms of forced labour in global supply chains”,

and G7 Ministers have been tasked

“to identify areas for strengthened cooperation and collective efforts towards eradicating the use of all forms of forced labour in global supply chains”.

Can the Minister clearly outline how this engagement will work ahead of the G7 ministerial meeting in October, and what do the Government want to achieve through this process?

Lord Callanan Portrait Lord Callanan (Con)
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The UK was the first state to produce a national action plan to respond to the guiding principles. We have continued to develop our approach, particularly with the Modern Slavery Act. We are working across the UK Government on this, and involving the devolved Governments in proper enforcement of the provisions.

Industrial Strategy: Local Growth

Debate between Lord Bassam of Brighton and Lord Callanan
Monday 26th April 2021

(2 years, 10 months ago)

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Lord Callanan Portrait Lord Callanan (Con)
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The noble Lord is right that skills are one of our key priorities for investment, along with infrastructure and innovation. The Prime Minister and the Cabinet Secretary have asked Sir Michael Barber to conduct a rapid review of government delivery, including in the skills system, to ensure that it remains focused, effective and efficient and to suggest how it could be strengthened.

Lord Bassam of Brighton Portrait Lord Bassam of Brighton (Lab) [V]
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My Lords, the Industrial Strategy Council’s most recent annual report suggested that, for levelling up to succeed, it needed to include consideration of devolution. How much thought have the Government given to further devolution in their industrial strategy? Will the Minister tell the House what progress has been made in convening the build back better business council and who will lead its work? Is it always the case that pivotal councils, such as the Industrial Strategy Council, get abolished?

Lord Callanan Portrait Lord Callanan (Con)
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Of course it is not always the case. Many councils do good work. We think that the local Industrial Strategy Council did some good work, but we are building on that, extending and taking it forward. The Build Back Better Council, to which the noble Lord refers, will take forward that work.

Vauxhall at Ellesmere Port and Battery Manufacturing Strategy

Debate between Lord Bassam of Brighton and Lord Callanan
Tuesday 2nd March 2021

(2 years, 11 months ago)

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Lord Bassam of Brighton Portrait Lord Bassam of Brighton (Lab) [V]
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My Lords, the Ellesmere Port plant is a major employer, and letting it wind down would have devastating consequences, with 1,000 highly skilled jobs lost in the local community. The Government must do all they can to secure the future of the plant, and it is worth reminding ourselves that the automotive sector has had no sectoral support during the pandemic.

To achieve net zero and sustain our automotive industry, we need a plan and action and investment. As such, will the Government bring forward ambitious investment in electric vehicle technology, including the electric battery supply chain, in tomorrow’s Budget—so that manufacturers have the long-term confidence that they need to build new electric models in the UK and so that we can move forward and secure the future of Ellesmere Port as a major automotive producer?

Lord Callanan Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (Lord Callanan) (Con)
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I assure the noble Lord that we are doing all that we can to ensure that Ellesmere Port has a bright future. The automotive industry in general is an essential part of the Government’s plans for green growth, levelling up across our country and driving emissions to net zero. As the noble Lord will be aware, as part of the Prime Minister’s 10-point plan, the Government brought forward the phase-out date for new petrol and diesel cars and vans to 2030, and, by 2035, all new cars and vans must be fully zero-emission at the tailpipe.

Hospitality Sector Minister

Debate between Lord Bassam of Brighton and Lord Callanan
Wednesday 3rd February 2021

(3 years ago)

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Lord Callanan Portrait Lord Callanan (Con)
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We are keeping matters closely under review and if there are any extensions, the Government will want to announce them as quickly as possible. We are dealing with a fast-moving situation, but we recognise that the past few months have been very challenging for businesses in a wide variety of sectors and hospitality businesses in particular. We have provided an unprecedented package of support for businesses during this time of crisis.

Lord Bassam of Brighton Portrait Lord Bassam of Brighton (Lab) [V]
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My Lords, I think the Minister might acknowledge it has been rather more than challenging, because UKHospitality found that sales in the sector fell by 54% in 2020 and now 650,000 businesses fear collapse over the next three months. Will the Government bring forward a comprehensive national plan for the hospitality sector as a matter of urgency, so that the recovery is not choked off? Are the Government actively considering an extension of the VAT cut to 5% for a further month? If a recovery plan is generated by the Government, can they please consult extensively across all sectors and ensure that nations and regions are considered?

Covid-19: Impact of No-deal Brexit on Vaccine Supplies

Debate between Lord Bassam of Brighton and Lord Callanan
Wednesday 16th December 2020

(3 years, 2 months ago)

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Lord Bassam of Brighton Portrait Lord Bassam of Brighton (Lab) [V]
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My Lords, it is extremely concerning that the Government should contemplate no deal in two weeks’ time, in the middle of a pandemic, with the serious impact this could have on medical supplies and supplies of Covid-19 vaccines. How many Pfizer/BioNTech vaccines will be in the UK by 31 December? How many government ferries and RAF planes are on standby to bring Covid-19 vaccines into the UK in the event of no deal, and at what cost?

Lord Callanan Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (Lord Callanan) (Con)
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I think the noble Lord forgot to ask the main Question: I shall give him the Answer to that first and then go on to his supplementary. The UK has put in place a number of measures to facilitate trade with the EU beyond the end of the transition period and to avoid impact on vaccine supplies beyond 1 January. The Government have worked with Covid-19 vaccine suppliers to support them with robust contingency plans. If necessary, we will use alternative supply routes and Government-procured freight capacity in line with current government advice.

On his supplementary question, the noble Lord will understand that unfortunately I cannot set out details of commercial arrangements relating to vaccines at the present time, but I can reassure him that part of the commercial arrangements with vaccine developers is a requirement to ensure that vaccines are transported safely and securely to minimise the cost of damage.

Travel Agents

Debate between Lord Bassam of Brighton and Lord Callanan
Monday 23rd November 2020

(3 years, 3 months ago)

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Lord Callanan Portrait Lord Callanan (Con)
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I agree with my noble friend. She is absolutely right that there is a unique opportunity for our domestic travel industry and hospitality sector to flourish once they get through these extremely difficult and challenging few months. She will be aware that the furlough scheme extension and the tourism and hospitality VAT cut extension both run until March next year. We hope that they will help the industry.

Lord Bassam of Brighton Portrait Lord Bassam of Brighton (Lab) [V]
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My Lords, the Transport Salaried Staffs’ Association has said that the Government have “ignored calls for help” from our travel trade and that the buck

“has been passed from the Department of Business to the Department of Transport and back again.”

Can the Minister explain why that is the case and why the travel sector has slipped between departmental cracks during the pandemic? Can he explain what support the Government will give because of the existential threat to high streets and travel agencies in particular? What additional help could the Government consider giving to this sector so that good companies do not go out of business or have to make people redundant?

Lord Callanan Portrait Lord Callanan (Con)
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It is nice to see that the TSSA is well represented in today’s questions from noble Lords. As I said, there is a Minister for Tourism. A cross-departmental tourism task force has been set up and, as I said to the noble Lord, Lord Snape, there will be an announcement tomorrow.