Post Office (Horizon System) Offences Bill

Debate between Lord Watts and Lord Offord of Garvel
Lord Offord of Garvel Portrait Lord Offord of Garvel (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My understanding is that, obviously, the first port of call will be the Post Office, as it administers these matters. However, I can confirm that we are in the process of appointing an independent forensic investigator to look into the Capture software and how the Post Office addressed concerns about it—that will be an independent review. I am happy to reassure the noble Baroness that, once the investigator has reported, the Government will seek to return to this House to set out our plans.

Lord Watts Portrait Lord Watts (Lab)
- Hansard - -

On the issue of credibility, the people who have been affected by the scandal will want the Post Office to have no connection whatever with any investigation. Does the Minister think it would be a good idea to ignore the fact that the Post Office needs to be involved and do this completely independently, to give credibility to the findings that are put forward?

Lord Offord of Garvel Portrait Lord Offord of Garvel (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I thank the noble Lord for that. That is exactly the intention of the independent investigator.

I turn to the amendment on Post Office governance. Amendment 19 is in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Holmes of Richmond, and I thank him again for his engagement on the Bill. Post Office governance is a priority for the Government. However, it is not the subject of this Bill, which has a clear scope to quash the wrongful convictions of the postmasters affected by the Horizon scandal. Therefore, we do not see the Bill as the place to address governance issues. Furthermore, we do not support a review of the kind suggested by this amendment, due to other work that is progressing. Phases 5 and 6 of the Post Office Horizon IT inquiry are looking at past governance issues and could make recommendations for specific changes that the Government will consider carefully and respond to in due course.

Nigel Railton has been appointed as interim chair of the Post Office, and will be invited to give Ministers his views on the future direction of the Post Office, which could include proposals for change that the Government will consider. We of course keep governance models under review, but we do not support another review of governance issues while the activities I have outlined are under way. I hope the noble Lord will be happy to withdraw his amendment.

In conclusion, I thank the Committee for its attention to the Bill. I commend to the Committee the government amendments in my name.

National Minimum Wage Legislation

Debate between Lord Watts and Lord Offord of Garvel
Thursday 21st March 2024

(4 months ago)

Lords Chamber
Read Full debate Read Hansard Text Read Debate Ministerial Extracts
Lord Offord of Garvel Portrait Lord Offord of Garvel (Con)
- View Speech - Hansard - - - Excerpts

Since the introduction of the national minimum wage in 1999, the Government have ordered employers to repay over £173 million to 1.4 million workers. It is far more effective that the employers are made to pay the workers than be dragged through courts, which delays payments to workers and does not provide any respite. I am interested in the fact that this is the 25th anniversary of the national minimum wage. When this Government came to power in 2010, the number of employees on low hourly pay was 21% of the workforce; today, that is 8.9%. I also point out that, when this Government took over from Labour in 2010, benefits were the largest source of income for the poorest working-age households, but under the Conservatives it is now their wages.

Lord Watts Portrait Lord Watts (Lab)
- View Speech - Hansard - -

Is it not the case that far too many employers still find it to their own advantage to pay below the living wage and below the basic wage? Is it not time that we made this a criminal act, so that we can hold the directors of those companies accountable for their actions?

Lord Offord of Garvel Portrait Lord Offord of Garvel (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

As we have said before, our labour market in the UK is one of the most sophisticated and best-working in the world. Out of a population of 66 million people, 33 million are working, and only 5% of that workforce is on the minimum wage. In the meantime, 30% of the population do not pay any tax and the 1% highest earners pay 30% income tax. I think noble Lords would agree that our workforce is in good shape. Instead of criminalising employers, we need to spread the education required to make sure that everyone has higher wages.

UK-EU Trade: Small and Medium-sized Enterprises

Debate between Lord Watts and Lord Offord of Garvel
Wednesday 31st January 2024

(5 months, 3 weeks ago)

Lords Chamber
Read Full debate Read Hansard Text Read Debate Ministerial Extracts
Lord Offord of Garvel Portrait Lord Offord of Garvel (Con)
- View Speech - Hansard - - - Excerpts

I thank my noble friend. Seed potatoes are a specialised area so I will need to write to her on that.

Lord Watts Portrait Lord Watts (Lab)
- View Speech - Hansard - -

My Lords, the Minister says that trade with Europe is as important today as it was three years ago, and it is. However, the Government’s refusal to negotiate positively with the European Union is causing major problems for many industries. Is that not what we are hearing from every source other than the Government?

Lord Offord of Garvel Portrait Lord Offord of Garvel (Con)
- View Speech - Hansard - - - Excerpts

The reality, as we said yesterday, is that our economy is 80% services and 20% goods, but our exports are 50/50, because our goods are good. We make things that people, especially in Europe, want to buy. European countries are coming to us and saying that they want to get rid of these barriers because they want our goods imported. We are working on a country-by-country basis and it is improving all the time.

Post Office Ltd

Debate between Lord Watts and Lord Offord of Garvel
Tuesday 30th January 2024

(5 months, 3 weeks ago)

Lords Chamber
Read Full debate Read Hansard Text Read Debate Ministerial Extracts
Lord Offord of Garvel Portrait Lord Offord of Garvel (Con)
- View Speech - Hansard - - - Excerpts

I thank the noble Lord for his question. I know that he is well versed in these matters. As we have discussed in the House before, there will be many ramifications from this case when the facts come out, one of which, as the noble Lord highlighted, is this presumption that the computer is always right, which clearly was not the case. I would have to refer to MoJ colleagues to find out exactly what happened in that case. The judgment was given in the Appeal Court in 2019 and the inquiry was set up in 2020. In 2021, when the convictions were overturned, the inquiry became a statutory inquiry. Under a statutory inquiry, we will get to the bottom of those questions.

Lord Watts Portrait Lord Watts (Lab)
- View Speech - Hansard - -

My Lords, the chairman oversaw this scandal. Can the Minister assure us that he will not be given a compensation package that demonstrates that, if you fail, you get paid?

Lord Offord of Garvel Portrait Lord Offord of Garvel (Con)
- View Speech - Hansard - - - Excerpts

The chairman who is just leaving was not the chairman pre-2015 and he is not receiving any compensation.

Conduct of Employment Agencies and Employment Businesses (Amendment) Regulations 2022

Debate between Lord Watts and Lord Offord of Garvel
Tuesday 19th December 2023

(7 months ago)

Lords Chamber
Read Full debate Read Hansard Text Read Debate Ministerial Extracts
Lord Offord of Garvel Portrait Lord Offord of Garvel (Con)
- View Speech - Hansard - - - Excerpts

To be very clear, the appeal was put forward on two bases: the first was on the lack of consultation and the second was on the merits of Article 11. The court did not find on the second, only on the first. Therefore, the consultation is being done between now and mid-January, with a view to collecting views from all registered parties so that a decision can be made in the future or not.

Lord Watts Portrait Lord Watts (Lab)
- View Speech - Hansard - -

My Lords, given that nobody wants this—the employers and the trade unions do not want it—what is motivating the Government to bring forward legislation that nobody wants?

Lord Offord of Garvel Portrait Lord Offord of Garvel (Con)
- View Speech - Hansard - - - Excerpts

As I said before, a decision has not been made on this—a consultation is going on. Regulation 7 is in some ways interference with the operation of private companies and other employers, and sometimes prevents work-seekers being offered employment in legitimate circumstances. We are trying to get the balance right here between maintaining the right to strike and providing companies with the ability to service their clients and fulfil their revenue.

Construction Sector: Cash Retentions

Debate between Lord Watts and Lord Offord of Garvel
Monday 11th December 2023

(7 months, 1 week ago)

Lords Chamber
Read Full debate Read Hansard Text Read Debate Ministerial Extracts
Lord Offord of Garvel Portrait Lord Offord of Garvel (Con)
- View Speech - Hansard - - - Excerpts

I thank the noble Lord for that question. As I indicated, the direction of travel has improved considerably, with the construction sector working positively to reduce the amount of late payments. Working with the contractors’ umbrella body, Actuate UK, and the new Get it Right initiative, I think we will see some improvements. We are trying to get defects and collection and completion certificates using processes developed by the Get it Right initiative, which are going to be data-based, to try to get a metric system which is more objective and less subjective and which can measure performance and indicate at an early stage whether it has been to the right standard. That will go a long way towards allowing earlier payment on retentions.

Lord Watts Portrait Lord Watts (Lab)
- View Speech - Hansard - -

My Lords, could not the Government introduce legislation that separates any money that is being held and pay the interest to the contractors, rather than the person who is benefiting now?

Lord Offord of Garvel Portrait Lord Offord of Garvel (Con)
- View Speech - Hansard - - - Excerpts

As the noble Lord from the Cross Benches said, there are many suggestions as to how we go about doing this, and this is another one. On statutory bans on cash retentions, my department is fixated on trying to remove regulation from business, not increase it. We are looking to the industry to come forward with viable plans on how to make this work. Progress is being made and more can be done, but there is still not complete consensus on how to move this forward.

Employers: Fire and Rehire Tactics

Debate between Lord Watts and Lord Offord of Garvel
Thursday 14th September 2023

(10 months, 1 week ago)

Lords Chamber
Read Full debate Read Hansard Text Read Debate Ministerial Extracts
Lord Offord of Garvel Portrait Lord Offord of Garvel (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I thank the noble Lord for his follow-up question. The UK labour market is strong by historical and international standards. In fact, in all employment law we are trying to get the balance right between workers’ protection and employers’ flexibility. The employment rate is at 75% right now, and wages have gone up by just short of 8% in the last year, so we think we have the balance right. The Government are taking action to ensure that this practice is a last resort. We are not banning it outright. In the code, we have measures whereby employees’ compensation in certain circumstances, as the noble Lord alluded to, can be increased by 25% if the employer has unreasonably failed to comply with the code, which is quite a big disincentive for the employer. But we believe that there are certain circumstances in which flexibility is required, so we are seeking to get the balance right.

Lord Watts Portrait Lord Watts (Lab)
- Hansard - -

My Lords, when we left the European Union, the Government said that they would introduce legislation to protect workers and that it would be better than in the European Union. Can he name countries in Europe where this could happen?

Lord Offord of Garvel Portrait Lord Offord of Garvel (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

As I said, when we look at the standards of employment law against our competitors in Europe, we have a strong labour market, a strong rate of employment and a long-established suite of protections for all our workers, employees and self-employed people.

Scottish Government: Ultra Vires Expenditure

Debate between Lord Watts and Lord Offord of Garvel
Thursday 9th March 2023

(1 year, 4 months ago)

Lords Chamber
Read Full debate Read Hansard Text Read Debate Ministerial Extracts
Lord Offord of Garvel Portrait Lord Offord of Garvel (Con)
- View Speech - Hansard - - - Excerpts

Yes, foreign affairs are a reserved matter under Schedule 5 to the Scotland Act 1998 and are therefore the sole responsibility of the UK Government and UK Parliament. However, the Scottish Government and other devolved Administrations are entitled to conduct some international activity in support of their own devolved responsibilities, such as promotion of cultural exchanges and events, which they often do within the embassy network we have throughout the world. The Scotland Act is clear that foreign affairs are outside the competence of the Scottish Government and therefore they cannot and should not encroach into matters such as separatism or the constitution. We are aware that they have been doing that in recent times. As I just reported to the noble Lord, Lord Foulkes, the Secretary of State for Scotland has met with the Foreign Secretary and that will be very closely monitored in future.

Lord Watts Portrait Lord Watts (Lab)
- View Speech - Hansard - -

My Lords, the Scottish Government are obsessed with a referendum because they do not want to fight an election on their past record in public service.

Lord Offord of Garvel Portrait Lord Offord of Garvel (Con)
- View Speech - Hansard - - - Excerpts

What is emerging from this very interesting leadership debate—what the newspapers are now calling civil war in the Scottish National Party—is that the obsession with independence has got in the way of their running a competent government to focus on the priorities of the people of Scotland. It might be worth noting that they have been in power for 15 years and during the first seven, First Minister Alex Salmond did manage to move the vote from 30% to 45%, but the second First Minister has actually gone backwards. What is now being debated in this leadership campaign is the need to focus on the priorities of the people of Scotland and get away from this independence obsession.