Lord Polak debates involving the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy

There have been 7 exchanges involving Lord Polak and the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy

Mon 19th October 2020 United Kingdom Internal Market Bill (Lords Chamber) 3 interactions (523 words)
Mon 7th September 2020 Post Office: Horizon Accounting System (Lords Chamber) 3 interactions (110 words)
Thu 18th June 2020 Post Office: Horizon Accounting System (Lords Chamber) 3 interactions (157 words)
Thu 5th March 2020 Sub-postmasters: Compensation (Lords Chamber) 3 interactions (70 words)
Tue 4th February 2020 Post Office: Prosecution Powers (Lords Chamber) 3 interactions (17 words)
Tue 17th April 2018 Energy Security: Gas Production (Lords Chamber) 3 interactions (48 words)
Tue 7th March 2017 Shale Gas (Lords Chamber) 3 interactions (749 words)

United Kingdom Internal Market Bill

(2nd reading (Hansard): House of Lords)
Lord Polak Excerpts
Lord Sarfraz Portrait Lord Sarfraz (Con) (Maiden Speech)
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My Lords, it is with great pleasure that I stand to give my first contribution in your Lordships’ House. I congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, on her very thoughtful maiden speech.

I have not been a Member long, but I have learned that this House is full of very kind and generous people who have been incredibly welcoming to me. I would like to thank the wonderful doorkeepers, Black Rod, the Clerk of the Parliaments and all the staff for their warm welcome. I am very grateful to them, as well as to my supporters, my noble friends Lord Goldsmith of Richmond Park and Lord Choudrey. I am particularly grateful to the Prime Minister for giving me an opportunity to be part of your Lordships’ House. I have learned about the procedures of this House from my Whip, my noble friend Lord Borwick, and my mentor, my noble friend, Lord Leigh of Hurley. There is a tremendous amount I hope to learn from Members of this House across all parties, who have had such distinguished and diverse careers.

I grew up in Pakistan in a family with a tradition of military service. Both my grandfathers were officers in the British Indian Army and my father was commissioned as a naval officer at the Britannia Royal Naval College. I could not serve in the military because I have asthma, but I now have the opportunity to serve in a different way from the floor of this House. I understand that maiden speeches are meant to be uncontroversial, so I will keep my contribution short and sweet.

In global Britain, entrepreneurs in the technology industry will play a huge role. I am a proud member of the ethnic-minority community of the United Kingdom and I would like to work with my own community so that we can continue to make important contributions in the global economy. For example, the CEOs of Google, Microsoft, IBM, Mastercard and Adobe—among many others—are all from ethnic minorities. I refer to my interest in technology venture capital as set out in the register. We in the United Kingdom have been at the forefront of innovation for centuries. Many people believe that venture capital was invented in Silicon Valley but it was actually invented in Birmingham. In the 18th century, members of the Lunar Society would meet monthly to discuss, demo and fund the greatest technology innovations of their time.

In my career, I had the privilege of observing that one of the determining factors of success and failure is entrepreneurs having access to a strong domestic market. As global as technology markets are, entrepreneurs who can quickly and easily build a foundation in domestic markets are often the ones who have the necessary platform to then scale internationally. The history of virtually every successful technology company started with early commercial wins in a sizeable domestic market. We are fortunate that the United Kingdom is a strong domestic market, especially for entrepreneurs. We must make sure that our start-ups—whether in space technology in Glasgow, cybersecurity in Belfast, digital health in Cardiff, artificial intelligence in Oxford, life sciences in Cambridge, the internet of things in Manchester or virtual reality in Liverpool—all have access to a strong, stable UK internal market with certainty of rules and regulations. I am therefore pleased to support this Bill in your Lordships’ House.

Finally, I would like to thank my family, my parents, my wife and my beautiful daughters for their long-standing love and support, and I thank noble Lords for giving me an opportunity to participate in this important Second Reading.

Lord Polak Portrait Lord Polak (Con)
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My Lords, I am delighted to follow my noble friend Lord Sarfraz and congratulate him on his excellent speech. I also congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman of Ullock.

As my noble friend rightly said, maiden speeches are meant to be uncontroversial. His contribution was in no way controversial; in fact, it was deeply encouraging and seriously important for the House as a whole. The Governor of Punjab, among many political and business leaders in Pakistan, paid tribute to my noble friend Lord Sarfraz on his elevation, saying that Aamer Sarfraz has helped to build a bright image of Pakistan in the international community. He said:

“You made Pakistan and British Pakistanis proud.”

At such a young age my noble friend Lord Sarfraz brings enormous experience as an entrepreneur and venture capital investor. He has also initiated many social projects, including training thousands of smallholder farmers in the Punjab, and has supported many charitable endeavours, including horse-riding therapy for children with special needs. I have no doubt that my noble friend will make many important contributions going forward. From a proud British Jew to a proud British Muslim, I say that I look forward to continuing to work closely with my noble friend for the benefit of British society from within our House of Lords.

My noble friend Lord Sarfraz made a strong point about the need to have access to a strong and stable internal market, with certainty of rules and regulations. I note that the Scottish Government called this Bill a “power grab”. On that point—that goods and services sold in part of the UK must be available for sale in the rest of the country—the Scottish government said it would,

“effectively be limiting standards across the country to the lowest of the four nations.”

I just cannot understand their pessimism. As for it being a power grab, it was no surprise that MSPs voted 90 to 28 to reject a legislative consent Motion. It is clear that the SNP would really like to hand back powers to the EU and/or keep most of them for themselves as an independent country. I joined the Conservative and Unionist Party, and I support this Bill’s intention to maintain high standards across the whole of the UK.

Like the noble Lord behind me, I am not a lawyer, nor are most of the people in our country. They want clarity. I was a reluctant remainer back in 2016 but I am not today: I am neither reluctant nor a remainer. Permit me to put these last few words simply—the sort of words that would be uttered in a pub, if we could get to one. We were a member of a club of 28, where, throughout, there was a rocky relationship. We voted to leave and tried to negotiate a mutual and sensible exit in good faith, but it seems that the good faith has not been reciprocated. There is still time for the EU to act in good faith, and there would be no need to break any laws at all. But, ultimately, we can create our own rules for our own club: the club of the United Kingdom.

Baroness Bryan of Partick Portrait Baroness Bryan of Partick (Lab) [V]
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My Lords, I congratulate my noble friend Lady Hayman of Ullock and the noble Lord, Lord Sarfraz, on their maiden speeches of excellent quality. It is really good to have two younger Members join us. I must also congratulate the Government on doing so much to bring about harmony. They have managed to unite so many speakers in this Chamber and all but one of the parties in the Scottish Parliament, to name just two groups.

One of the purposes of this Bill is to enact the political ideology of the ruling faction of the Conservative Party, which demands that unfettered access of business across the UK should be able to overrule any democratically decided public policy goals. BEIS’s own impact assessment makes it clear that market access principles will reduce the ability to pursue targeted social and environmental policy objectives. We were told that Brexit would result in the return of powers to the devolved Administrations, but instead significant powers have been retained by Westminster. This Bill goes even further, as it will take away existing powers.

The noble Lord, Lord Callanan, as I understood him, said that industry subsidies had never been devolved, but Part 7 of the Bill amends Schedule 5 of the Scotland Act 1998 to eliminate state aid from the devolved powers that have rested with the Scottish Parliament for over 20 years. This happened without negotiation and with only the most cursory consultation.

The so-called level playing field is far from fair. How can it be when the players on the field are of massively different size and strength? It would be the equivalent of a football match between Chelsea and Partick Thistle. The big firms in the large countries flourish; small firms in small countries struggle. The Bill does not establish independent arbitration or dispute resolution. Once again, the UK Government will act as both participant and final arbiter and will, as usual, find in their own favour.

This legislation confirms what many of us already know: the current system of joint working between the UK Government and devolved Administrations is not fit for purpose. It does nothing to guarantee high regulatory standards. Instead, it creates incentives to lower standards. It prioritises the removal of potential barriers to trade at the expense of other public policy goals, such as health or the environment, regardless of the democratic decisions of the electorate in the devolved Administrations.

Andrew Bowie, Conservative MP for West Aberdeenshire and Kincardine, gave a stark warning in a recent newspaper article. He said,

“this Internal Market Bill, is just the start. The UK Government is back in Scotland. Get used to it.”

If ever a wedge would serve to divide the United Kingdom, this is it. We cannot in all conscience allow this dreadful legislation to be rushed through Parliament. We must ask the Government to think again.

Post Office: Horizon Accounting System

Lord Polak Excerpts
Monday 7th September 2020

(7 months, 1 week ago)

Lords Chamber

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Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy
Lord Callanan Portrait Lord Callanan (Con)
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Of course, there was an agreed settlement for the sub-postmasters who took legal action. It would not be right for the Government to interfere in that settlement.

Lord Polak Portrait Lord Polak (Con)
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As is clear for the individuals and families caught up in the Horizon disaster, life continues to be unbearable. I ask my noble friend the Minister to help me answer my friend Rita Threlfall, the former sub-postmistress from Liverpool, whose story I highlighted in this House on 18 June. She said this weekend: “We seek reasonable justice, and it is still our aim to have a judicial inquiry, as we all feel it is the only way to uncover the truth behind the reason we have suffered financial loss through no fault of our own. But more importantly, it will help us in some way to mend our broken lives.”

Lord Callanan Portrait Lord Callanan (Con)
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The lady that my noble friend mentions is one of many tragic cases arising from this. It is indeed an appalling scandal. Of course, there has already been a judicial finding of faults in this, and the comments of Mr Justice Fraser are well worth reviewing. We want to go further than that: we want a proper review, and to be fully assured that through the review there is a public summary of the failings that occurred at the Post Office through this scandal—drawing on the judgments from the Horizon case and by listening to those most affected—without repeating the findings of Mr Justice Fraser.

Post Office: Horizon Accounting System

Lord Polak Excerpts
Lord Callanan Portrait Lord Callanan
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I do agree with the noble Baroness that they deserve justice. Nothing that we can do will be able to put back together some of the lives that have been shattered and broken by this terrible scandal but I honestly believe that the best way of securing justice is through the judicial process, which is ongoing and which I cannot pre-empt. That process will run its course but then there is additional work to do; we think the best, swiftest and fastest way of doing that is through an independent review.

Lord Polak Portrait Lord Polak (Con)
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Following on from the noble Baroness, Lady Burt, earlier this week I spoke to the lovely Rita Threlfall, who was a sub-postmistress in Liverpool from 1998 to 2010. One of six children, Rita told me how she was brought up with three guiding principles: education, hard work and honesty. Can your Lordships imagine the devastation following the Horizon-created £35,000 shortfall, when Rita was suspended and charged with theft and false accounting? She was left a mental and physical wreck. She said, “Since my dismissal, my health declined. I depend on a wheelchair, seldom leave the home, suffer with extreme anxiety. I lost my income, my health, my sanity and I am now bankrupt.” I plead with my noble friend the Minister, for the sake of Rita and so many others, to ensure that the Government set up a judge-led inquiry and remove the previous chief executive from her position as chairman of Imperial College Healthcare NHS Trust.

Lord Callanan Portrait Lord Callanan
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I thank my noble friend for drawing attention to one of the many tragic cases that have resulted from this; there are many others like it and I too have heard some terrible tales. We believe that an independent review is the best way of getting to the bottom of it. This will have essentially similar terms of reference to a judge-led public inquiry. With regard to the former chief executive, it would be very helpful if she would account much more fully in public for what she knew and for the actions that she took at the time. I have written to the Department of Health to make clear our position on her future. The Care Quality Commission is, I believe, looking at whether she is a fit and proper person for the role that she holds. I hope that it will conduct that review swiftly. Obviously, I cannot predict that, and it is not a matter directly for me, but I have written to the Department of Health to make my views clear.

Sub-postmasters: Compensation

Lord Polak Excerpts
Thursday 5th March 2020

(1 year, 1 month ago)

Lords Chamber

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Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy
Lord Callanan Portrait Lord Callanan
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I hope that we can get the matter resolved as quickly as possible. The work of the CCRC is important and the Government cannot interfere in it. I understand that decisions on this issue are expected fairly soon and will then have to go back to the Court of Appeal. I think we all wish that the judicial process could be speedier at times but we have to let these matters take their course. However, I take on board my noble friend’s concerns.

Lord Polak Portrait Lord Polak (Con)
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My Lords, in a previous discussion on this issue, I asked the Minister about the role of the Government’s non-executive director on the board of the Post Office. In reply, he said:

“His role has evolved from a perhaps more passive approach to a much more active one going forward.”—[Official Report, 4/2/20; col. 1711.]

Can my noble friend tell us what this new active approach of the Government’s non-executive director is?

Lord Callanan Portrait Lord Callanan
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My noble friend makes an important point. As I said in response to an earlier question, we are looking at the framework of the decisions. This is not just about the role of the non-executive director; it is about the whole oversight of the organisation by BEIS—how we improve the governance and monitoring of what is, in effect, an independent company. Operational decisions are a matter for the board of the Post Office, but clearly the fact that I am standing here in front of your Lordships answering questions now shows that it is a company owned 100% by the Government. Lessons need to be learned and we need to get to the bottom of this. I have spoken personally to the new chief executive of the Post Office, as have other ministerial colleagues, and we are satisfied that he now has a grip on the situation. The accounting system has been improved and the board is co-operating fully with the work of the Criminal Cases Review Commission, as indeed it should.

Post Office: Prosecution Powers

Lord Polak Excerpts
Tuesday 4th February 2020

(1 year, 2 months ago)

Lords Chamber

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Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy
Lord Duncan of Springbank Portrait Lord Duncan of Springbank
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There is a new chief executive and a new regime is in place. I cannot comment on the individuals who were in positions of power during that time because I simply do not have the answer. I recognise the anger the noble Lord brings to his question, and that it is shared by the House today.

Lord Polak Portrait Lord Polak (Con)
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My Lords, the department has a representative on the board of directors. What is his exact role?

Lord Duncan of Springbank Portrait Lord Duncan of Springbank
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We have a non-executive director who is responsible for representing the department and the Government. His role has evolved from a perhaps more passive approach to a much more active one going forward. We have to have a much stronger view about how we manage this area, through the chief executive, the chairman and the non-executive director with responsibility for governance and clear adherence to the responsibilities of the board itself.

Energy Security: Gas Production

Lord Polak Excerpts
Lord Henley Portrait Lord Henley
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I am in total agreement with the noble Lord and I am glad that he is in agreement with me and my noble friend Lord Lawson.

Lord Polak Portrait Lord Polak (Con)
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My Lords, the Institute of Directors says that shale gas could cut gas imports by half. National Grid says that shale gas could heat every home in the UK—notwithstanding that there could be 60,000 jobs with that. What are the Government doing to help the shale gas industry?

Lord Henley Portrait Lord Henley
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My Lords, I hope that we are giving every possible encouragement to the shale gas industry. We think that the economic impact of shale, both locally and nationally, could be very large indeed. There will be opportunities for jobs and energy security, and in a great many other areas, through supporting that industry.

Shale Gas

Lord Polak Excerpts
Tuesday 7th March 2017

(4 years, 1 month ago)

Lords Chamber

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Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy
Lord Mair Portrait Lord Mair
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I thank the noble Lord for that question. The answer is, yes, the Royal Society and the Royal Academy of Engineering would indeed say that we should proceed, provided that we do so exactly as I have said, with very careful and rigorous monitoring.

Lord Polak Portrait Lord Polak (Con)
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My Lords, I too thank the noble Lord, Lord Truscott, for securing this debate. I am not sure that he expected the consensus around the House when he put it down. UK energy policy should provide secure, affordable and climate-friendly energy with an emphasis on homegrown energy, primary fuels and innovation for the future. UK Onshore Oil and Gas is a representative body for the industry and has suggested that, to achieve the aims of secure, affordable and climate-friendly energy, the UK will need a balance of: natural gas, to provide heat, electricity and essential chemical feedstocks and to improve air quality; renewables and nuclear to generate electricity; and oil to power transportation and to provide essential chemical feedstocks. So gas is a vital source of energy for the UK and we have so much of it in our own country.

The IoD says that shale gas could cut our gas imports by half. The National Grid believes that British shale gas could heat every home in the UK, and shale gas, as we have heard, could create 60,000 jobs. How ironic that in September 2016 the first shipment of shale gas arrived in the United Kingdom from the US, at Grangemouth refinery in Scotland. How ridiculous that shale gas produced in the US arrives in Scotland when the Scottish Parliament has banned fracking. As Francis Egan of Cuadrilla so rightly said at the time:

“They are taking ethane, turning it into a liquid, transporting it across the sea in a container, turning it back into a gas and then pumping it into Grangemouth. Just beneath Grangemouth are deposits of shale gas the Scottish Government is saying you can’t touch”.

Today in the United States around 50% of oil production and two-thirds of gas production is from so-called non-conventional wells. Well over 300,000 such wells have been drilled. The fact that the oil and gas industry pumps chemicals into the ground in this process causes opposition from environmental groups. However, despite Hollywood dramatizing the dangers, there is no significant evidence of any environmental damage from fracking. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Young, that it has been suggested that test fracking in the north of England caused a minor earthquake, but I understand that the magnitude of the so-called tremor was no more likely to cause damage to property than the vibrations of a heavy truck passing a building. In reality, the opposition to fracking in the UK has more to do with the perceived blight on the surface environment and the volume of heavy industrial traffic than with the theoretical poisoning of aquifers, which some say is impossible as shale operations take place at a much deeper level than the water table which is cased from the well bore, as was explained by the noble Lord, Lord Mair. We have sensible regulations in this country which will help us to maintain the environment while being able to produce the gas that we need.

In the energy industry, three key issues are often cited: energy security now that our traditional fossil fuels are running out, the long-term affordability and financial security of energy, and climate change, environmental concerns and decarbonisation targets. Our North Sea oil and gas reserves are running low. Production, as we know, has fallen two-thirds in the last 15 years. But gas represents 35% of fuel consumption in the UK and we currently import more than half our gas from Norway, the rest of Europe—and, maybe, Russia—and Qatar. By 2035 we may well have to import 90% of our gas. From a security point of view that is alarming.

The British Geological Survey estimates that there is 1,300 trillion cubic feet of shale gas in the north of England. Even recovering just one-10th of those reserves will be enough to supply us for at least 40 years as we currently use just under 3 trillion cubic feet per annum. If it is accepted that we need gas and that it is more secure, better for domestic employment and for the development of a manufacturing industry—which is part of our industrial strategy—and that it would produce a potential bonanza in tax receipts, then the clear answer is to exploit these shale beds. Let us not turn our backs on a lower-carbon energy source, on maintaining our own energy security, and on growing a manufacturing industry with jobs and careers for a whole new generation. As the North Sea reserves run out let us be positive and create a shale revolution.

Lord Smith of Finsbury Portrait Lord Smith of Finsbury (Non-Afl)
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My Lords, in 2014 and 2015 I chaired the Task Force on Shale Gas; we concluded our work at the end of 2015. I should also mention that I was chairman of the Environment Agency until September 2014.

The task force looked very carefully at the economic and environmental implications of the development of a shale gas industry in the UK, and five especially important points arose from its work. First, we will need gas as part of our energy mix in this country for several decades to come. Yes, of course we must develop renewables and yes, we must build a new generation of nuclear power stations—though not necessarily on the model that the Government appear determined to take forward. But these cannot be deployed in a hurry. They will take time and we will need gas as an interim fuel to take us towards a lower-carbon future. Let us also not forget that this is not just about electricity generation: 80% of our households depend on gas for cooking and heating. That is not going to change overnight.

Secondly, gas is better than coal. The industrial emissions and greenhouse gas effects of burning it are something like half of those of burning unabated coal. In this country we are rightly running down our coal-burning capacity to generate electricity at the moment—and I trust that this will be one of the developments that does not fall foul of Brexit. Gas has to be part of the solution—along, I add, with carbon capture and storage, which will become increasingly important, especially for gas. I am dismayed at the Government’s decision to abandon the fund that had been specifically earmarked for the development of large-scale pilot projects of CCS. It was very short-sighted of them to do so and it denies us both an early environmental benefit and a first-mover economic advantage with carbon capture.

Thirdly, local environmental protection at a shale gas site is imperative. There are four things that are crucial for this. Rigorous regulation, monitoring and inspection are largely in place at the moment—but the noble Lord, Lord Mair, is absolutely right to point to the issue of ensuring that necessary resources are available if a shale gas industry develops at scale. There should be local community participation in this monitoring and inspecting process, as that will ultimately be the way to secure their agreement and acceptance. As the noble Lord said, the absolute integrity of wells, independently overseen, is crucial—it was failures of well integrity that caused problems in the early buccaneering days in the United States, which are long since over. Mandatory green completion to ensure that all gases, especially methane, are captured when they rise to the surface must be put in place. With these clear conditions in place, shale gas extraction can be done safely. Regulatory corners, however, cannot and must not be cut in the process.

Fourthly, it makes economic and environmental sense to produce gas domestically rather than ship it half way across the world. Taking gas out of the ground in Qatar, liquefying it, shipping it to the UK, de-liquefying it and then delivering it to power stations and households has a far higher carbon and climate change footprint than sourcing it here in the UK. The climate change impact of not having a domestic gas resource will be worse than that of having one.

Fifthly, the development of a shale gas industry in the UK, however, must not be allowed to have a chilling effect on the development of renewables and our preparation for a low-carbon future. Shale gas can and should be only an interim energy response. It is not a long-term answer. To ensure this, I propose that all government revenues coming specifically from a developed shale gas industry should be earmarked for investment in research and development and innovation in renewables, carbon capture and storage, and low-carbon energy generation, storage and distribution. In that way we will have an energy policy fit for the longer-term future.