All 7 Lord Callanan contributions to the Subsidy Control Act 2022

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Mon 31st Jan 2022
Subsidy Control Bill
Grand Committee

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Subsidy Control Bill
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Subsidy Control Bill
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Mon 28th Mar 2022
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3rd reading & 3rd reading
Lord Fox Portrait Lord Fox (LD)
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My Lords, as we have heard, this set of amendments seeks to create some foundation for a future subsidy regime, whether that is geographical or socially minded or in terms of activity.

In introducing the Bill, and at other times, the Minister has sought to use phrases such as “flexible” and “light touch” to describe the Government’s plans. We do not have to rely on our own experience: we can read what the noble Lord, Lord Agnew, wrote in the newspapers over the weekend about how he saw a light touch rooted in ad hoc decision-making that created a soft touch for light-fingered individuals. We do not want to enshrine that in an Act of Parliament.

To guide where we are going, it is useful to look at where we have been. That is not nostalgia; it is common sense. As my noble friend Lady Sheehan said, about 10 months ago, the Government abandoned any pretence that they were seeking to deliver a modern industrial strategy and withdrew their promise to set out a long-term plan to boost the UK’s productivity. This interrupted what had been something of a consensus. From Heseltine to Mandelson to Cable to Clark, all of them worked within the same tramlines to a lesser or greater extent. This is characteristic of a Government who constantly seem to want to chip away at things that are multilateral and consensual, and to introduce their own stand-alone version.

As I am sure the Minister remembers, the strategic intensions for the industrial strategy were artificial intelligence and data, clean growth, the future of mobility and supporting an ageing society, alongside the important need to improve the UK’s declining productivity. As we know, the political U-turn was executed by the Business Secretary, the right honourable Kwasi Kwarteng, who at the same time disbanded the Industrial Strategy Council, which was due to oversee this whole process. Meanwhile, I understand that, in BEIS, the associated industrial strategy team was also broken up.

What we got instead was the Build Back Better brochure: a glossy, colour catalogue composed half of launches—usually ones that had already happened—backed up by page after page of colour library photos. The Minister may note that the picture illustrating the infrastructure page is of a Victorian viaduct, which perhaps rather indicates the direction in which the Government might be going. In other words, there is nothing now to guide where we might focus subsidy investment. I understand the Minister’s allergy to central micromanagement but what we have been left with will be chaotic and, I am sure, wasteful and unfair.

On the issue of focusing on regions or areas, there is an example we could look at. It is called the European Regional Development Fund—the ERDF. It aims to strengthen economic, social and territorial cohesion in the European Union by correcting imbalances between its regions. It is what you might call levelling up. It states:

“The ERDF finances programmes in shared responsibility between the European Commission and national and regional authorities in Member States.”


I think that reflects some of the words we have heard already. It goes on:

“The Member States’ administrations choose which projects to finance and take responsibility for day-to-day management … In 2021-2027 it will enable investments in a smarter, greener, more connected and more social Europe that is closer to its citizens.”


The aim is to create businesses that are

“more competitive and smarter … greener … more connected”,

supporting the social life of the areas in which they operate—this very much speaks to the point of the noble Baroness, Lady Jones, about improving the lives of the people who live in the country, which is something we should all be seeking every time we debate an issue—and are

“closer to citizens, supporting locally-led development and sustainable urban development.”

I am not proposing that the Minister leads us bravely back into the European Union. What I am proposing is that the Minister learns from the experience of others and applies that learning in a sensible way. This is an opportunity to do such learning.

Lord Callanan Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (Lord Callanan) (Con)
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Apologies; I thought that the noble Lord, Lord McNicol, was going to speak there. I thank the noble Lords, Lord Ravensdale and Lord McNicol, the noble Baronesses, Lady Blake and Lady Randerson, and the noble and learned Lord, Lord Thomas, for tabling Amendments 4, 4A, 5, 5A, 6 and 25.

Let me go back to first principles. The Bill establishes a clear, flexible set of rules for granting subsidies for all public authorities in the United Kingdom. Its central function and purpose is to reduce harmful distortions to domestic competition and investment—as well as to trade and investment between the UK and other countries, of course—which can arise from the giving of subsidies. The new domestic regime will not, however, instruct public authorities on which policy objectives they should direct subsidies towards, so long as they remedy a market failure or address the much-discussed equity concerns.

We are not in the business of interfering with the policy decisions of democratically elected public bodies in Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland or elsewhere in the United Kingdom. In keeping with this, the new subsidy control regime will empower public authorities to design subsidies in a way that is tailored and bespoke for their local needs, without facing excessive bureaucracy in order to do so. That is why we have provided clear guidance that supports public authorities, and which they must consider, to support them in choosing the appropriate indicators because we believe that they are the ones who are best placed to make those final decisions.

Turning first to Amendments 4 and 25, I thank the noble Lord, Lord McNicol, for his amendments; the noble Baroness, Lady Sheehan, put her name to Amendment 4. However, it is my view that Amendments 4 and 25 go against the grain of the Bill. Taken together, they would provide for the Secretary of State to make, by regulations, a strategy that sets out how subsidies should be used by all public authorities to support the delivery of various other strategies. They would then require public authorities to consider the subsidy strategy before awarding a subsidy or making a subsidy scheme. The UK Government have developed various strategies for specific policy issues and will continue to do so. This is where and how the Government will articulate and develop a coherent approach to issues such as net zero and levelling up.

To take an example, in March last year, the Government published a policy paper on how they will build back better, setting out plans to support growth through significant investment in infrastructure, skills and innovation. The Government will also soon publish a levelling-up White Paper—eagerly awaited by the noble Baroness, Lady Blake, no doubt—articulating how bold new policy interventions will improve opportunity and boost livelihoods across the country as we recover from the pandemic. On the points made by the noble Baronesses, Lady Blake and Lady Sheehan, the shared prosperity fund will ramp up to £1.5 billion per year in 2024-25 and total funding will, at a minimum, match the size of EU funds in all nations each year. The Government will publish further details of the fund in due course.

The Committee should bear in mind that subsidies are but one possible tool in the toolbox for supporting strategic public priorities. It is not necessary for the UK as a whole, or even the UK Government, to have an overarching strategy for the provision of subsidies, much in the same way as there is no need for a broad strategy on the use of regulatory levers. Strategies should focus on how to tackle the major issues, rather than the specific tools through which we may address them. A subsidy strategy could well risk steering public authorities towards using subsidies inappropriately or indiscriminately.

It is imperative that public authorities give proper consideration, on a case-by-case basis, to whether the subsidy they propose is the appropriate instrument for achieving any given policy objective. In many cases, there may be more appropriate measures which a public authority can deploy. To take an example dear to the heart of the noble Baroness, Lady Jones, meeting our net-zero targets will involve leveraging a mixture of public interventions, including but not limited to regulation, the emissions trading scheme and public procurement, as well as appropriate and carefully targeted subsidies.

I will now address Amendment 5, tabled by the noble Lord, Lord McNicol. Subsidy control principle A allows public authorities to address inequality and disadvantage through the use of subsidies. It states:

“Subsidies should pursue a … policy objective”


that either remedies a market failure or addresses

“an equity rationale (such as social difficulties or distributional concerns).”

Amendment 5 seeks to include areas of relative economic deprivation as an example of an equity rationale that may be addressed through subsidies. I welcome the noble Lord’s support for levelling up and his interest in ensuring that the subsidy control regime provides for this. I can assure him, however, that the Bill already facilitates the use of subsidies to support areas of relative economic deprivation.

The concept of equity rationale set out in principle A unquestionably covers investment in areas of relative economic deprivation. It is my view that guidance is the best place to provide further examples of legitimate policy objectives for subsidies and, more broadly, to address the practical application of those principles. The Government recently published illustrative guidance on the application of the subsidy control principles. This elaborated on the meaning of an equity objective:

“Equity objectives seek to reduce these disparities between different groups in society or geographic areas.”


It further states that subsidies targeted at

“Levelling up a deprived or disadvantaged area”

would be an example of an equity objective. I would be very happy to discuss this further ahead of Report with the noble Lord, Lord McNicol, and my noble friend Lord Lamont as I am keen to ensure that the intention here—that regional disadvantage is an example of equity rationale—is clear.

The amendments tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Ravensdale, raise a number of similar issues. I am glad of the opportunity to address those as well. A Bill for regulating the granting of subsidies for all purposes, in all policy areas, is not the place to articulate a levelling-up strategy. There will be plenty of time to debate that when the White Paper is published. The purpose of his amendment is to ensure that subsidies to remedy regional disadvantage are permitted under this regime, and on that point I hope I can give him complete reassurance.

As I have mentioned, this is an inherently permissive regime; there is no default prohibition on subsidies. I confirm again that addressing regional disadvantage is an equity rationale for the purposes of principle A, and one that would therefore justify the giving of a subsidy. In contrast to the EU state aid regime, there is no need for central government to set out maps or other metrics of deprivation in the Bill to permit levelling-up subsidies. By empowering public authorities at all levels of government to give subsidies that are designed by them to meet the needs of the places for which they are responsible, the Bill will undoubtedly be an important enabler of the Government’s levelling-up agenda.

However, the subsidy control regime is distinct from it. It is not directly through this Bill or regulations made under it that the Government will pursue their programme to level up the UK. It is perhaps also worth noting that, just like the EU state aid regime, the Bill is concerned with regulation; it is not a source of funding. No doubt there will be lots of debates at other times and in other places about the appropriate level of funding, but I submit that Committee on the Bill is not the place to have those debates. Everything is in its place. This is a flexible and permissive subsidy control regime. Although it facilitates levelling up, it is not the place to define it and it should not be seen as the main vehicle for pursuing it.

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Lord Purvis of Tweed Portrait Lord Purvis of Tweed (LD)
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As I understand it, the guidance states that every authority now needs to define for itself what a social equity is as far as deprivation is concerned, even taking into consideration what relative that would be. It says:

“Public authorities must use supporting evidence which … should include measures or statistical indicators set against appropriate comparators”.


That suggests that every public authority defining its own scheme will have to provide its own statistical basis and definitions. How will the CMA judge those against others? Given that there will be no commonly agreed areas of social deprivation, is it not likely to create even more bureaucracy and confusion if every public authority has to make its own definitions and provide its own necessary material and statistical basis?

Lord Callanan Portrait Lord Callanan (Con)
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It is for the CMA to provide guidance on those matters but for the authorities themselves to determine whether the subsidy in question is justified. Then, but only if it is challenged against the principles in the Act, will the CAT be empowered to make a judgment on whether it is in compliance with the specific provisions in the Act.

Baroness Blake of Leeds Portrait Baroness Blake of Leeds (Lab)
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My Lords, I express my gratitude for all the contributions to this increasingly important debate. Judging by the response from the Minister, there are still many areas that I am sure we will want to pursue and explore and to which we will come back at later stages of our proceedings. I echo the comment by the noble Lord, Lord Ravensdale, that there is a clear question here: is there a clear strategy? That is something that we can all question as we go forward.

Many of us in the Room today have been involved with the vexed issue of distributing regional funding, which is extraordinarily complex. I come back to the very clear comments by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Thomas, about the nature of the political decision in this. I have enormous concerns about how the whole process will be taken forward if it is allowed to stay in its current form, and real concern about the lack of focus on what it is going to mean in terms of benefit for communities and for people. As the noble Baroness, Lady Sheehan, emphasised, a lack of clarity, very little in the way of guidance and too many gaps have been the theme that has run through this debate.

I have to pick up one of the comments that the noble Baroness, Lady Jones, made concerning tension within the Government. I think that helps to explain where the lack of clarity has come from.

I think we would all welcome improvements. No one is trying to suggest that what we had before was perfect. I myself go back to the time of SRB funding, for example, when local authorities were put by a national directive in the position where communities were split down the middle, with funding going into an area on one side of a street but not the other. We do not want to move away from local determination, and that is very much the spirit in which we are taking this up.

With those comments, and with a clear understanding that we will be coming back to discuss these important matters, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

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Lord Callanan Portrait Lord Callanan (Con)
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I am grateful to all noble Lords who took part in this debate. The noble Baronesses, Lady Sheehan, Lady Hayman and Lady Jones, raising their favourite subject brought me a great sense of déjà vu—the feeling that I have been here before and will no doubt be here on many occasions in future. Nevertheless, it is important to highlight the crucial issues of our net-zero commitments, climate change and environmental protection.

Before I address the individual amendments, I will explain further the approach that we have taken in this Bill towards the vital subject of energy and environmental protections. As noble Lords are aware, the Subsidy Control Bill sets out a new approach that is tailored to the needs of the UK. Broadly, it addresses two objectives: first, to facilitate compliance with our international commitments, including the subsidy control provisions in the EU–UK Trade and Cooperation Agreement; and, secondly and perhaps more importantly, to ensure that markets in the UK function effectively and that we minimise the domestic distortive effects of subsidies.

However, in respect of energy and environmental objectives, it would be fair to say that our approach is slightly different. In this area, the UK’s existing commitments, regulations and practices are extensive and world-leading, from the Environment Act principles to support for Sizewell C and the clean heat grant. Given all this, I believe that we already have the right framework in place.

As a result, our primary objective in respect of the energy and environment principles is to fulfil our international obligations—specifically, to implement the provisions in the TCA. These are good, common-sense principles; it will not be a challenge for UK public authorities to comply with them. I am not trying to suggest that they have been included reluctantly or that they do not have this Government’s full endorsement, but, equally, we have not sought to introduce further requirements or extend the scope more widely than required because we believe that energy and environment rules in general should apply to all kinds of policy-making, regulation and funding, rather than having specific provisions just for one tool in the toolbox. This brings me to the question asked by the noble Baroness, Lady Jones, on why nuclear has been excluded from the principles set out in Schedule 2; I will come on to that in more detail.

I will start with Amendments 7 to 10, all of which would amend Schedule 1. I thank the noble Lords, Lord McNicol and Lord Whitty, and the noble Baronesses, Lady Sheehan, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb, Lady Bennett of Manor Castle—I see that she is not with us—and Lady Boycott, for tabling and putting their names to the respective amendments.

Schedule 1 sets out the subsidy control principles that public authorities must consider for any subsidies that they award or subsidy schemes that they make. These common-sense principles will ensure that subsidies and schemes offer value for money while addressing important public policy objectives in the United Kingdom. Public authorities will need to consider the effects of subsidies in the round before awarding them. The areas currently listed under principle G are those that subsidies inherently affect: competition, investment and trade. Other negative effects should be considered for the purposes of principle G only in so far as they are relevant.

Net-zero and climate change considerations are not inherent to all subsidies. Placing additional emphasis on climate change in principle G, or adding an additional principle H, could lead to public authorities having to do bespoke, possibly onerous, assessments for every single subsidy awarded or subsidy scheme made, even when it has no meaningful impact on net-zero targets.

I turn now to Amendment 11 to Schedule 2. Schedule 2 sets out that energy and environment subsidies must aim at one of two objectives: first, delivering a secure, affordable and sustainable energy system and a well-functioning and competitive energy market; or, secondly, increasing the level of environmental protection compared with the level that would be achieved in the absence of that subsidy. I would have thought that the noble Baroness, Lady Jones, would support that. This amendment would add a third aim, specifying that subsidies in relation to energy and environment should incentivise the beneficiary to help to deliver the UK’s net-zero target.

As I have said—there is no disagreement among us here—I and the Government entirely agree that net zero is of critical importance. Indeed, the Government published their Net Zero Strategy last year. The Government have already announced new subsidy schemes that promote net-zero objectives, are compliant with the interim subsidy control regime and, of course, ensure good taxpayer value at the same time. These include schemes such as the clean heat grant, which will help consumers to overcome the high up-front costs of low-carbon heat and will build supply chains for low-carbon heat ahead of the introduction of regulations for existing buildings off the gas grid, which we will come to later in the decade.

However, I do not believe that it is necessary to add an additional aim in Schedule 2, principle A. Sustainability and environmental protection are explicitly mentioned in the principle already, and it is clear that progressing our net-zero priorities would fall into these categories. Adding a further requirement on all subsidies and schemes, on top of those existing principles and regardless of whether the subsidy or scheme has a specific net-zero aim or impact, is not necessary given the existing comprehensive set of regulatory requirements on public authorities. I have mentioned several of these already but they include the legally binding environmental targets in the Environment Act, for example. It could even disincentivise other valuable subsidies that improve environmental protections but would not have a direct net-zero component.

Lord Purvis of Tweed Portrait Lord Purvis of Tweed (LD)
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The Minister and the Government have been consistent in saying that moves are unnecessary, specifically because of principle G, but principle G says that

“beneficial effects (in terms of achieving their specific policy objective) should outweigh any negative effects”.

The “beneficial effects” are the achieving of the “policy objective”, so if the policy objective has nothing whatever to do with sustainability—it could well be market support in one area—then only beneficial effects with regard to that “specific policy objective” will be taken into consideration. There will not necessarily be beneficial impacts on sustainability, net zero or climate because the beneficial effects are very narrowly defined under principle G. So the necessary element still stands because the Government have restricted beneficial effects only to those linked with the original policy objective.

Lord Callanan Portrait Lord Callanan (Con)
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I think we discussed this earlier. I am really not sure of the point the noble Lord is trying to make.

Amendments 12 and 29, tabled by the noble Baronesses, Lady Boycott and Lady Sheehan, and the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, would prevent subsidies that would relieve their beneficiaries from their liabilities as a polluter. Provision already exists in the Bill to protect the “polluter pays” principle for any subsidy in relation to energy and environment. Principle B in Schedule 2 sets this out explicitly:

“Subsidies in relation to energy and environment shall not relieve the beneficiary from liabilities arising from its responsibilities as a polluter under the law of England and Wales, Scotland or Northern Ireland.”


Clause 13(3)(b) ensures that a public authority

“must not make the scheme unless it is of the view that the subsidies provided for by the scheme will be consistent with those principles.”

As I have previously set out, it is right that the provisions in the “polluter pays” principle apply only where they are relevant. That principle has long-standing foundations in UK law—including, most recently, in the provisions of the Environment Act 2021, which I also covered earlier.

Amendment 33 would prohibit subsidies for fossil fuels, including those subsidies that fall within the definition used by the IMF for fossil fuel subsidies. This would include subsidies for fossil fuel development and for the construction of new unmitigated fossil fuel-powered electricity generation, either in the UK or abroad. The principles in Schedule 2 to the Bill will help ensure that energy and environment subsidies contribute to optimal outcomes for UK citizens, recognising the importance of a secure, affordable and sustainable energy system and increasing levels of environmental protection.

I am fully in agreement with the noble Baroness, Lady Sheehan, that inefficient fossil fuel subsidies encourage wasteful consumption, reduce our energy security, impede investment in clean energy sources and undermine efforts to deal with the threat of climate change. However, I cannot accept this amendment because unabated gas-fired generation currently plays a critical role in keeping Great Britain’s electricity system secure and stable. New-build gas generation capacity will continue to be needed to ensure security of supply until clean alternatives are deployable at scale.

Baroness Sheehan Portrait Baroness Sheehan (LD)
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I have a question for the Minister. We have a real problem with fuel poverty and the energy cost of living—indeed, the cost of living everywhere. Energy costs are so high, and they are going to get even higher come April. Does it not worry the Minister—and, through him, the Government —that Shell paid $1.8 billion in tax to Norway in 2020 but, over the same period, it received $99.1 million from our Government in the UK? In that year, the UK was the only country where Shell operates in which it did not pay tax, according to the company’s own annual report on payments to Governments. There is something very wrong here.

Lord Callanan Portrait Lord Callanan (Con)
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That is not a subject for today’s debate. I have no idea whether the figures produced by the noble Baroness are accurate, but we have had this debate many times. We are phasing out fossil fuel-required generation. We have one of the fastest deployable rates of renewables in the world. We have the largest offshore wind capacity in the world. I appreciate that the noble Baroness wants to go even faster but, unless she is standing here saying that we should turn the lights out tomorrow, even the Climate Change Committee accepts that we will need gas-fired generation in the years to come. This is a transition, not a revolution, so we will scale down our use of fossil fuels gradually but, in the short term, we will continue to need them.

Baroness Sheehan Portrait Baroness Sheehan (LD)
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I really must challenge the Minister on this. He knows that this is not a question of switching off the lights overnight. The Climate Change Committee has a well-worked-out plan for scaling down our use of fossil fuels. In that plan, we start to reduce our reliance on oil and gas to a point where the only oil and gas we have is mitigated by some form of abatement, in whatever form that may take, by 2050. The plan is not that we continue to use gas unabated until 2050—that just is not the case. It is very misleading to say that.

Lord Callanan Portrait Lord Callanan (Con)
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Indeed—[Interruption.] I will let the noble Baroness, Lady Jones, come in as well.

Baroness Jones of Moulsecoomb Portrait Baroness Jones of Moulsecoomb (GP)
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We may have had this debate many times but the fact is that the Government do not listen. For example, the Government could have already reduced by a huge margin our reliance on fossil fuels and gas by helping people insulate their homes. They have given little bits here and little bits there, but they have not invested heavily. They could do more but they refuse to do so. I do not understand why. So, we are going to continue having these debates until the Government actually fulfil some of the promises they have made.

Lord Callanan Portrait Lord Callanan (Con)
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We will continue to have these debates: I just point the noble Baroness to the fact that we are spending £3.4 billion over the next few years on precisely the schemes that she mentions. By all means, argue that we should be spending even more, but it is just not true to say that we are not spending anything at all. We will continue to have these debates.

Going back to the points by the noble Baroness, Lady Sheehan, I think we are in danger of violently agreeing here. Of course, there has to be a transition and we have to reduce our reliance over time, but my point is and will remain that in the meantime, we still require unabated gas-fired generation unless she is proposing to turn the lights out, which I know she is not. Therefore, we are effectively agreeing. We could have a long and detailed debate about the scale of the transition and how we should progress the transition, but in essence we are saying the same things.

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Lord Purvis of Tweed Portrait Lord Purvis of Tweed (LD)
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Will the Minister address the points about how the regulated asset base will be considered—I understand his comments about that—and specifically about support for the small reactor scheme for Rolls-Royce?

Lord Callanan Portrait Lord Callanan (Con)
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The noble Lord makes some valid points on the RAB mechanism, which will be debated in full on the upcoming nuclear Bill, but I will write to him on the specific points, particularly about support for the SMR reactors he talked about. I point out that existing subsidy schemes are of course excluded from the Bill. No doubt he will want to ask what happens if we want to award a similar subsidy in the future.

In my view, the energy and environment principles provide helpful support to our energy, environmental and climate change ambitions, but they are not the main engine of those ambitions. Finally, to answer the other questions of the noble Baroness, Lady Jones, on community energy—not really a matter for the Bill—and the Government’s approach to net zero, I am very happy to follow that up and write to her with the details. We are fully in favour of community energy projects, but of course they have to pay their share of the costs towards the network, as all other projects do if they wish to be connected to the national grid. I will write to her with the details and follow up with the noble Lord, Lord Purvis, on SMRs and the basis of nuclear subsidies.

Lord Fox Portrait Lord Fox (LD)
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My Lords—

Lord Callanan Portrait Lord Callanan (Con)
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I have not satisfied them all yet.

Lord Fox Portrait Lord Fox (LD)
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There may be something to add to the letter. My noble friend Lord Purvis made a valid point about paragraph G of Schedule 1, to which the Minister feigned non comprendi. The point my noble friend was making is that the Minister had said there was no need to have an explicit environmental or energy benefit in the Bill because that was implicitly within everything. However, paragraph G absolutely says that unless something is a specific policy objective, it is not considered to be a beneficial effect, so that paragraph cancels out what the Minister said to the Committee. Some sense of resolving that tension would be helpful. That is something we can come back to because, if indeed paragraph G overrides other benefits, which it seems to do, it is even more important that environmental and energy issues are placed at the heart of the Bill.

Lord Callanan Portrait Lord Callanan (Con)
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I think if the objective is set then it is an overarching benefit, but I will be happy to confirm that to the noble Lord, Lord Purvis, and will copy the letter to the noble Lord, Lord Fox, as well. Once again, I will be very busy in my letter-writing activities for the next few days. With that, I hope noble Lords are satisfied—or, if not satisfied, content—with the answers that I have given and therefore, in compliance with that, that the noble Lord will feel able to withdraw the amendment at this stage.

Lord McNicol of West Kilbride Portrait Lord McNicol of West Kilbride (Lab)
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I thank the Minister for his response, and I thank the noble Baronesses, Lady Jones, Lady Sheehan and Lady Hayman, for their comments. I am not quite sure how many of the four questions asked by the noble Baroness, Lady Jones, we got through; we might be coming back to some of them.

As expected, to be fair, the Minister said that he believes we have the right framework in place and there is no need to extend it. I had a different take on the discussions with the noble Lords, Lord Purvis and Lord Fox, about paragraph G. The Minister said that not all subsidies will be relevant to net zero. As the noble Lord, Lord Fox, pointed out earlier, many subsidies fit around the issue of energy and climate but, if we take the Minister at his word on that and a particular subsidy has no meaningful impact on climate or net zero, his argument was that it could cause an extra administrative burden on the authorities if they have to show that it is not relevant. However, if the subsidy had no relevance to the environment or to climate. it would be relatively straightforward for them to say so. My feeling was that that negated the argument that the Minister was making for not including Amendments 7 or 11 in the Bill.

I am still genuinely struggling to understand why it would be so difficult to include that commitment, because those are guiding principles. If we all agree that we need to move towards net zero, protecting the environment and delivering on the climate emergency, then this is an opportunity to put that language in the Bill—especially a Bill that is so relevant to the fact that historically either state aid or government decisions, which we have argued for many times, have supported industries that harm the environment, albeit for very good reasons.

I am sure we will come back to this issue but, with that I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Lord Purvis of Tweed Portrait Lord Purvis of Tweed (LD)
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My Lords, it is a pleasure to follow the noble Lord to pick up, and indeed support, many of the points he made about geographical inequality, and to tease out a bit further from our debate on the first day of Committee the Government’s refusal to link any form of geographical basis to the proposal on deprivation, as with others.

As the noble Baroness, Lady Blake, indicated, we are now going through parts of the White Paper on levelling up, and I am sure that the struggling communities across many parts of England will be relieved to hear that they are going to get more politicians. It brought back some memories. When I was a youngster, there was the proposal for more politicians in the north-east of England but with no extra money—a proposal for what we might call a north-east assembly. There was a very outspoken MEP in that region at the time—one M Callanan, I think he was called. I remember reading him in the Chronicle and seeing him on Tyne Tees telly. He said—I paraphrase—that with more politicians without any budget, the Government were desperately seeking to shore up their flagging regional devolution campaign. How times have changed.

Lord Purvis of Tweed Portrait Lord Purvis of Tweed (LD)
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That is what I remember seeing on Tyne Tees telly.

Lord Callanan Portrait Lord Callanan (Con)
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It was the cheapest campaign I have ever been on.

Lord Purvis of Tweed Portrait Lord Purvis of Tweed (LD)
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Well, I think the proposals for the White Paper are cheaper, because there is no money attached to them at all.

The Government’s position is that, to maintain the level of EU structural support, £1.5 billion a year must be distributed. I will not quibble about some of the details, but let us take it as read that £1.5 billion a year must be distributed. The Government promised that there would be no shortfall. There were two references in the manifesto that stated so:

“a UK Shared Prosperity Fund to ensure that the people of the UK do not lose out from the withdrawal of EU funding”.

The Minister stated so when he led on the repeal of the structural fund SI, and he stated so again on Monday in Committee.

We, national devolved Governments and local authorities thought that this was a straightforward commitment to replace the previous funds without there being a loss of funds, but no. On page 74 of the spending review, the weasel words “rise to” were inserted. The Government stated that, to ensure that the people of the UK did not lose out from the withdrawal of EU funding, the investment would need to be £4.5 billion in this spending review period, but, as they stated on page 74 of the spending review, it is £2.6 billion over the next three years—a cut of £1.9 billion, cutting support in areas most in need. The cuts in the coming years are a staggering £1.1 billion.

As the noble Lord, Lord Wigley, said, nor has there been any commitment to replicating per-person investment support. Under the previous schemes, investment was £130 per person in England, £180 per person in Scotland, £280 per person in Northern Ireland and £780 per person in Wales, reflecting the areas identified for particular need. I would like the Minister to write to me about what the proposed per-person investment will be for 2022. That is when we will know whether indeed we are losing out from the withdrawal of EU funding.

I was genuinely interested in what the Minister said on Monday about the geographical delineations referenced in Amendment 14 with regard to areas of need. He said, and he was specific in his language, that there was a differing approach from that used by the levelling-up fund. I then looked at the levelling-up fund methodology, which states that the methodology used is

“to develop an index of priority places for the Levelling Up Fund.”

Furthermore,

“any comparison of need between places in different nations should be made using a consistent set of GB-wide metrics only.”

The levelling-up fund is using an index of priority places based on need. To be consistent, that is GB-wide, and all authorities, when they are putting forward their bids for the levelling-up fund, will be clear as to what status they are in with regard to the index of priority.

So far, that is clear. However, the Government have said that there is no link between the two. The conclusion might be that this Bill is not linked with the levelling-up approach, but that is not what the Minister said at Second Reading. He said:

“Under this regime, public authorities at all levels of government will be empowered to give subsidies to help address regional disadvantages, supporting our levelling-up aims.”—[Official Report, 19/1/22; col. 1712.]


So the aims are the same, but if there is no methodology to support a scheme’s aims of addressing regional disadvantage under this Bill—in other words, inequalities —how will levelling up actually be achieved? The CMA will only have the ability to review a scheme’s legality under this Bill; it will have no scope to help to address and support our levelling-up aims. Who will do that? Which body will consider whether this Bill is “supporting our levelling-up aims”, as the Minister said at Second Reading?

The Minister might say that they are completely distinct and that the fund will operate completely distinctly from the subsidy regime. I looked at the levelling up-fund prospectus, which states categorically at paragraph 6.9 that all applicants to the levelling-up fund

“must also consider how they will deliver in line with subsidy control (or State Aid in Northern Ireland) as per Government guidance … This will be tested as part of the appraisal process and monitored thereafter.”

How, and by whom? If every application to the levelling-up fund is to be considered in the context of this Bill, they are linked. If the Government are making the case for having a regional index for that fund, for which all applications have to satisfy this Bill, but this Bill says that there will be no index or any regional aspect, how on earth will this be monitored with regard to meeting the levelling-up aims?

My final point refers to further amendments to Clause 18 on markets. The Minister has been at pains to say that there will be no definition of “local market”. I question how all the Government’s different considerations will be satisfied if there is to be a review of the impact on local markets without there being an index such as the levelling-up fund. I simply do not know why the Government have made the clear distinction between this Bill and the levelling-up approach, which they say has to be consistent with the Bill. I hope the Minister will be able to clarify those points.

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Lord Thomas of Cwmgiedd Portrait Lord Thomas of Cwmgiedd (CB)
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My Lords, I have a few short points. First, I support the noble Lord, Lord Ravensdale, regarding Clause 18 not standing part of the Bill. It is always very unfortunate when we have in legislation something that says that a subsidy is prohibited by the sanction if it is given to an enterprise subject to a condition that the enterprise relocates. The Explanatory Notes make it very clear that, by “condition”, something explicit is meant. Does it mean therefore that something implicit is permissible? As the Bill aims to achieve transparency, should we not be open and clear, particularly regarding the enforcement by the CMA, about what precisely we will allow in respect of relocation? The noble Lord may be right about the principles governing it, but a provision that makes it dependent on whether it is explicit or implicit is of benefit only to the lawyers, and we do not need to go down that route.

The second issue goes to the question of how this is to work and be enforced, which is the interrelationship of subsidies, procurement and the levelling-up fund. It seems quite clear that procurement obviously can operate as a subsidy, although there is an exemption—the Minister explained it in answer to Amendment 3, tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Wigley—which might exempt certain schemes from it. How does the value-for-money concept in the procurement Bill relate to subsidies?

My last question goes to the levelling-up funds. I assume that something will be done to ensure that they will not be part of financial assistance but, even if they are not for the purposes of the Bill, no doubt the Competition and Markets Authority and the court will have to take into account, in looking at distortion, the cumulative effects of funds from the levelling-up fund and funds from the local authority, because they are both, in essence, forms of state aid. It may be difficult to do it today, but can we have a paper which explains interrelationship of subsidy by way of procurement and how the levelling-up funds relate to the Bill? They are all potentially forms of state aid.

Lord Callanan Portrait Lord Callanan (Con)
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My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord McNicol, for tabling the lead amendment in this group, and the noble Baroness, Lady Blake, who ably introduced it. It was great to be reminded by the noble Lord, Lord Purvis, of my previous existence in the campaign against the northern regional assembly—I dread to think how many years ago that was. I seem to remember that Mr Cummings was also involved in the campaign; the noble Lord missed his opportunity to have a go at poor Dominic for that. This is an interesting group of amendments which promotes some good questions. I will try to address the points from the noble Lord, Lord McNicol, and the noble Baroness, Lady Blake, and from the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, on Amendment 25A, as well as the points from the noble Lords, Lord Ravensdale and Lord Wigley, and the noble and learned Lord, Lord Thomas.

As the noble Baroness, Lady Blake, helpfully reminded us, the context for this is the publication of the levelling-up White Paper. In that, we have announced a comprehensive programme of policies that will put the UK on a path towards greater economic prosperity in every region and place—including, I hope, the north-east of Scotland. We will do this through significant targeted investment, such as the £4.8 billion levelling-up fund that has been referred to, which will invest in infrastructure that improves everyday life across the UK, including by regenerating town centres and high streets, upgrading local transport and investing in cultural and heritage assets.

It is not in question that any government subsidy scheme set up in the context of this levelling-up fund or otherwise should be in compliance with the provisions under this Bill, once it is in force. However, as we discussed on Monday and as raised by the noble Lord, Lord Purvis, again today, subsidies can of course be an important tool to achieve levelling up, but for reasons of time and efficiency I will focus today on the Bill itself and the amendments tabled. I am sure there will be plenty of opportunities to debate the levelling-up fund and its excellent proposals in this House in future.

Lord Wigley Portrait Lord Wigley (PC)
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Does the Minister accept that cultural levelling up is part of the Government’s aim, and that cultural facility away from London and the south-east is a very important part of life and the economic substructure? Therefore, is it in order for money to be used to attract cultural investment, whether in theatres, concert halls or other aspects, which may attract business away from London and might be caught under the provisions of the later clause which arises in this group? How is that going to work?

Lord Callanan Portrait Lord Callanan (Con)
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I agree. Personally, I am fully in favour of cultural institutions transferring out of London. I will address the relocation point in my later remarks.

This grouping spans several clauses of the Bill but, in responding to the amendments, I will keep coming back to the central refrain that I iterated on Monday as well. The Bill regulates the giving of subsidies where there is a market failure or an equity rationale, with the intention of minimising distortions to competition, investment and trade. It is intended to be a flexible and minimally burdensome regime that applies to subsidies of all types and in all policy areas. As such, my central contention that applies to a lot of these amendments is that there is no need to privilege or exempt certain sectors or highlight certain objectives. Nor is it for the Bill to dictate rigidly the purposes for which public authorities should use subsidies or how they should achieve their purposes.

Clause 10 concerns the creation of subsidy schemes and streamlined subsidy schemes. A streamlined subsidy scheme is made by a Minister of the Crown for the purposes set out in the Bill. Amendment 14 would clarify that the Government may create streamlined subsidy schemes for the purposes of supporting areas of relative economic deprivation. Specifying particular policy objectives at this stage on the face of the Bill may in fact lead to the power to create streamlined subsidy schemes being interpreted in an unduly narrow way in the future.

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Lord Purvis of Tweed Portrait Lord Purvis of Tweed (LD)
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If a public authority—let us say the Scottish Government—had a scheme and defined for the purposes of that scheme the entirety of Scotland, therefore allowing relocation anywhere within Scotland, is the Minister satisfied that this would come under the Bill?

Lord Callanan Portrait Lord Callanan (Con)
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If it was in compliance with the other principles in the regime, of course it would be in compliance. It would be for the Scottish Government to determine what they would consider—

Lord Purvis of Tweed Portrait Lord Purvis of Tweed (LD)
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If the Secretary of State decided that the geography was the whole of the United Kingdom, would that be acceptable under the Bill, too?

Lord Callanan Portrait Lord Callanan (Con)
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The noble Lord is dragging me into hypotheticals, but obviously the purpose of the Bill applies to the whole of the United Kingdom, so the principles would apply across the whole country, yes.

Lord German Portrait Lord German (LD)
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The Minister has mentioned the question of guidance twice. Guidance is not law, of course, unless it is. It exactly what it is meant to be: guidance. Given the importance of guidance to the question of what an area is, would it be possible for this guidance to be issued, even in draft form, before we conclude this Bill, so that we can at least know what is in the Government’s mind?

Lord McNicol of West Kilbride Portrait Lord McNicol of West Kilbride (Lab)
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Just to take both earlier points, if the Secretary of State defined an area as the whole of the United Kingdom, and that covers it, part of the subsidies could be used to move businesses inside the whole of that area. If that is the case, it defeats the whole purpose of it, does it not?

Lord Callanan Portrait Lord Callanan (Con)
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I do not want noble Lords getting mixed up. I was referring to the fact that schemes can be designed for the whole of the United Kingdom. The purpose of this clause is to prohibit direct subsidies where a business is paid a sum of money to move from area A to area B—let me finish this point—depending on the definition of the areas that we spoke about previously.

However, that is only for direct subsidies, of course. The attractiveness, training provisions et cetera that could exist or be subsidised in a different area might make it more attractive for that business elsewhere, but the idea is to avoid the situation in the US that I talked about, where they come along and give companies—I will not name them, but noble Lords know the examples I am talking about—huge amounts of money literally to get it to close down its operations in one state and move to another. That is what we are trying to avoid, but we fully accept that it is perfectly in order to increase the attractiveness of an area, show how wonderful it is and show what is available there, including trading provision, sites et cetera. However, we do not accept using direct financial assistance to move from one part to the next.

We have already published illustrative guidance. We will look at enhancing that further with more detail before we commence with the legislation. If it is drafted and ready in time, I will share it with the noble Lord, of course.

Lord Fox Portrait Lord Fox (LD)
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Without labouring the point, but labouring the point, I want to come back to the point made by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Thomas, about the grey areas that appear to be here. This is not a hypothetical example—it is a real one without names—but imagine that you have an inward investor, possibly doubling down on an investment that has already been made. As part of the process of negotiating with that investor, government, whether national or local, determines that it is important to have a technology park where the investor’s suppliers are aggregated and work together to support the investor.

The level of support needed to create the system of suppliers that supports the inward investment, which is clearly of benefit to the region, and therefore to the country, is clear. However, it is also clear that, if arms are not twisted, they are also being bribed or given money to create that park, that environment, to make sure that the inward investor gets what they want when it comes to the investment. Is the Minister saying that this sort of process will be entirely legal even if Clause 18 remains in the Bill?

Lord Callanan Portrait Lord Callanan (Con)
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Yes, if they are an inward investor coming into the country and they do not already have an operation in another part of the country.

Lord Fox Portrait Lord Fox (LD)
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But if they are relocating suppliers in order to support—

Lord Callanan Portrait Lord Callanan (Con)
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That is not the example the noble Lord quoted. My understanding is that, if they are just increasing the attractiveness of an area and there is no direct financial payment to the company to move from one area to the next, yes, that would be allowed. If that is not correct, I will write to the noble Lord, but that is certainly my understanding of how that would work.

As I explained, this prohibition puts down a marker that is intended to prevent the small class of disruptive but harmful subsidies, such as poaching and outright bidding wars. I suggest to the noble and learned Lord, Lord Thomas, that it would not be easy for such subsidies to circumvent this prohibition.

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Lord Purvis of Tweed Portrait Lord Purvis of Tweed (LD)
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I am grateful to the Minister; he is being very generous. This is just to confirm this point: if a public body is able to self-define an area under this clause, there would be nothing to prevent the Scottish Government from defining the area as Scotland. They could therefore offer relocation subsidies to businesses in England to relocate to Scotland, and vice versa; there would be nothing to stop the Secretary of State from defining the area as England, which would be more worrying, and therefore having subsidies that are specifically for those relocating from, say, Wales.

Lord Callanan Portrait Lord Callanan (Con)
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I think the noble Lord is confusing two different areas. There is the area that would define a particular scheme and the direct subsidies that we are talking about. Yes, clearly there would be a prohibition on the Scottish Government directly financing the relocation of a company from England to Scotland, or vice versa.

Lord Purvis of Tweed Portrait Lord Purvis of Tweed (LD)
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No, that is because the area is Scotland.

Lord Callanan Portrait Lord Callanan (Con)
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It does not matter, because anywhere within the United Kingdom is the area covered by this Bill.

Lord Purvis of Tweed Portrait Lord Purvis of Tweed (LD)
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Minister, Clause 18 could say the United Kingdom, but it does not. It says “area”. As the Minister has said on a number of occasions today, the public authority defines the area.

Lord Callanan Portrait Lord Callanan (Con)
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It would be the area of the particular authority that is offering the subsidy. Earlier, I offered a more precise definition of what the area would be, whether it is the Scottish Government for Scotland or the council area that the noble Lord, Lord Bruce, referred to in north-east Scotland. They would be the areas of the authority combined. If the Scottish Government, for instance, wanted to offer a direct subsidy for a company to move, or the British Government offered a subsidy for a company to relocate, even within their own area, it would not be permitted.

As I said, indirect attractiveness in enhancing training provisions, for example, would be permitted. This is to prohibit a particular small class of actions. The example that we used was in the United States. We have all seen examples of companies moving from one state to another. They literally close down one operation and move to another because of the enormous subsidies offered. That is what we want to prohibit. We certainly do not want to prohibit areas—indeed, it would be contrary to our policy aims—from making themselves more attractive by offering indirect subsidies, as this would help the levelling-up agenda. I hope I have clarified that.

Amendment 34 was tabled by the noble Lord, Lord McNicol. First, I will say a few words about the purpose and effect of Clause 29, which this amendment seeks to change. The clause sets out the specific provisions for giving subsidies for services of public economic interest, which are services provided to carry out particular tasks in the public interest. These are services where, without a public subsidy, a vital public service would not be supplied in an appropriate way by the market—or, in some cases, would not be supplied at all. These could include, for example, ferry links between Scottish islands—no doubt the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, would want to quote the example of the Scilly Isles—and a rural bus service.

The provisions in Clause 29 facilitate the subsidies being given while ensuring that this is done transparently, that they are reviewed regularly by the public authority, and that they avoid overcompensating the beneficiary. The Government’s aim in drafting Clause 29 was to provide a simple yet effective framework within which public authorities could confidently provide SPEI subsidies that would allow the continued provision of important services and, in doing so, ensure that the subsidy is limited to what is necessary to deliver that service.

In response to the question from the noble Lord, Lord German, about whether a leisure centre would be considered an SPEI, I do not want to comment on that specific scenario. There is no reason in principle why it should not be, but the Bill would absolutely allow a subsidy to a leisure centre, whether it is an SPEI or not—we could probably have lots of debates about the degree to which leisure centres are SPEIs—if the public authority was assured that there was a market failure or equity rationale and the other relevant requirements were met. I will purposefully not comment on his proposition that the residents of London should not benefit from public leisure centres. I am sure that is not what he was trying to imply.

The amendment tabled by the noble Lord, Lord McNicol, seeks to add a further requirement on public authorities when considering the cost of delivering the SPEI. They would need to consider the social and economic welfare of users of the service and of those engaged in its delivery. These will be important factors for many, if not all, SPEIs, and I expect that public authorities would regularly take account of these considerations when reviewing these types of services on a case-by-case basis. For example, service providers of rural transport services may be required, by the terms of their contract, to consult service users through annual customer surveys or regular engagement with local stakeholders to show that the service in fact meets local needs.

However, the inclusion of this amendment in the Bill would introduce additional complication and a degree of uncertainty for public authorities in how they undertake this assessment. The defining factor for SPEIs must be the type of service that is provided and the fact that it would not be adequately provided by the market. The provisions in Clause 29 are designed to ensure that those services are designed appropriately and with minimal market distortion. As important as the social and economic welfare of service users and providers is, I do not believe it is at the core of this assessment and of the subsidy control provisions.

More broadly, it is important to emphasise that the subsidy control regime does not sit in isolation, nor should it determine every element of spending decisions taken by public authorities in the UK. They must continue to take into account spending rules and to ensure value for taxpayers’ money. They must also make evidence-based, democratically accountable policy decisions about how and where to intervene, in a way that takes into account the specific characteristics and needs of the geographical area and the subject matter for which they are responsible. It may therefore be appropriate for public authorities to include reference to the social and economic welfare of service users and providers in their own guidance on specific SPEIs.

With respect to the social and economic welfare of those engaged in delivering the services, I remind the noble Lord that the UK has one of the best employment rights records in the world. We continue to build on this record, ensuring that our workers have access to the rights and protections they deserve. I therefore do not believe that it is desirable for the subsidy control regime that we are debating to prescribe how public authorities must account for the social and economic welfare of service users and those engaged in delivering the service.

Finally, I will comment on Amendment 36. I am also grateful to the noble Lord, Lord McNicol, for tabling this especially thought-provoking amendment. I understand that the noble Lord intends it to be a probing amendment and I will treat it as such. It raises some interesting questions about subsidies and the nature of the relationship they create between a public authority and a subsidy beneficiary.

The social value Act, from which I assume his amendment takes its inspiration, requires a public authority that is procuring the provision of services, goods or works to give weight to social value factors in what would otherwise have to be a strict value-for-money calculation. Authorities within the scope of that Act should consider whether it applies where a subsidised contract is awarded. In contrast, and perhaps paradoxically, the giving of public money in the form of a subsidy is not primarily a market-based or economic calculation. Of course there are economic duties, within this regime and in public spending controls, to ensure that a subsidy is efficient and effective.

However, the first requirement of this regime—the first condition that a public authority must satisfy before giving a subsidy—is, in essence, one of social value: what is the equity rationale? Is there a market failure and what is the benefit to wider society in providing this subsidy? I hope this answers the question of the noble Baroness, Lady Jones, on the same subject. Moreover, public authorities must conclude their assessment against the principles with the balancing test in principle G: that the beneficial effects of the subsidy should outweigh any negative effects. Of course, these duties fall on the public authority and not the beneficiary directly but, in considering the first and last principles, the public authority must consider the effect of the subsidy in the round.

If it were reasonably foreseeable that, in the actual purchasing of a good or service funded by subsidy, the beneficiary would be undermining the equity rationale for giving the subsidy or that it would somehow worsen another equity objective, then it is hard to see that the subsidy could satisfy either principle A or G. None of this is to say that a public authority cannot impose secondary requirements on a beneficiary, where the size and nature of a subsidy might lead it to do so. Many public authorities award subsidies through a written contractual arrangement that sets out the terms and conditions under which the financial assistance is given, and this would be the way to impose such conditions. But it would be disproportionate to require public authorities to impose social value conditions in all cases, particularly as the questions of equity are already built into the fabric of the regime.

As an aside, the noble Lord has also proposed that public authorities should be able to impose penalties if the use of the subsidy does not deliver the chosen social value purposes. As I have explained, it is not proportionate to require public authorities to impose these secondary requirements. However, let me reassure him that Clause 77 provides that if a subsidy is not used for its intended purpose, it can of course be recovered.

I am grateful to all noble Lords for putting forward their amendments and for the long subsequent discussion that has taken place, but I hope I have set out the reasons why I am unable to accept these amendments on behalf of the Government. In the light of the fulsome explanations I have provided, I hope that noble Lords will feel able to withdraw or not press their amendments.

Baroness Blake of Leeds Portrait Baroness Blake of Leeds (Lab)
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I thank everyone. Given the nature of the earlier discussion, particularly about the cultural venues, perhaps I should declare my interest as a vice-president of the LGA at this point, with apologies for not doing so earlier. I wonder if noble Lords are all sitting feeling relieved that they are not standing here trying to pull all this together. On behalf of the Committee, I thank everyone who has contributed; it has been a very helpful debate. I also thank the Minister for his fulsome response.

However, the nature of the amendments we are considering in this group and their probing nature is such that noble Lords have been seeking reassurance. Although the Minister has attempted to give us reassurance, without looking through the detailed responses that the Committee has given this afternoon I am not convinced that on the matters raised we can all put our hands up and say that that reassurance has been received on all points. I hope there will be opportunities to come back and look at the continuing areas of concern.

I am also struck by the fact that we have not had the opportunity to discuss in detail the evidence submitted by experts during the House of Commons proceedings, including the very serious arguments by Professor Fothergill and Dr Pazos-Vidal about the benefit of defining areas. I confess that I am at a loss as to how the Government can bring this down to the point where the interested parties can make sense of the opportunities available to them, and how we can move this forward in a simple way that would enable areas and businesses to benefit, without the excess bureaucracy that the Minister assured us would not get in the way. I remain to be convinced on some of these points.

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Lord Callanan Portrait Lord Callanan (Con)
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My Lords, this group of amendments contains a number of amendments tabled in relation to the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee’s report on the Bill, which I received and, like all noble Lords, read with great interest. I thank the noble Lords, Lord Fox and Lord McNicol, for their amendments. I was also going to thank the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett, but sadly she is unable to join us today, which of course is a real tragedy for us all. Nevertheless, we have the benefit of the noble Baroness, Lady Jones, in her stead, which is wonderful for us.

I wholly echo the sentiments expressed by the noble Lord, Lord Fox, and the noble and learned Lord, Lord Judge, on the vital role that the DPRRC plays in supporting the work of your Lordships’ House. I am grateful to my noble friend Lord McLoughlin and his committee for their scrutiny of the Bill.

As I stated at Second Reading, I am very well aware of the strength of feeling across the House on the provisions in the Bill highlighted today. I was expecting many of the speeches that were given. I am sure that noble Lords are aware that my right honourable friend the Lord President of the Council, Jacob Rees-Mogg, has also taken an interest. He recently wrote on this issue to my noble friend Lord McLoughlin and the previous chair of the committee, my noble friend Lord Blencathra, noting that the Government are taking its findings into consideration. While at this stage I cannot commit to changing anything in the Bill, I will take away the comments of noble Lords for due consideration. It is important that we get this legislation right and that the powers are proportionate and measured, as well as conducive to effective subsidy control.

Let me start with some thoughts on Amendment 15 to Clause 10. I previously noted that Clause 10 concerns the creation of subsidy schemes and streamlined subsidy schemes. A streamlined subsidy scheme must be laid before Parliament before it is made, or modified, by a Minister of the Crown. Streamlined subsidy schemes offer public authorities a swifter route to demonstrating compliance for categories of subsidies at especially low risk of causing market distortions, that promote UK strategic policy objectives and which the Government judge to be compliant with the subsidy control principles.

This amendment would require streamlined subsidy schemes to be made or modified by regulations subject to the negative procedure. Indeed, the noble Lord’s amendment is in line with the recommendation made by the DPRRC in its report. The Government believe that Clause 10 sets out a proportionate level of parliamentary scrutiny for streamlined subsidy schemes. The regulations will be laid before Parliament both when they are made and when they are amended. I also intend to engage with the devolved Administrations, other public authorities, and the experts in the subsidy advice unit on the development of these schemes.

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Lord Purvis of Tweed Portrait Lord Purvis of Tweed (LD)
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Is it the view of the Minister that the powers under subsection (6) allow for delayed disclosure?

Lord Callanan Portrait Lord Callanan (Con)
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Yes, that is the subsection which provides the ability to publicise that fact—it is in subsection (6).

Lord Purvis of Tweed Portrait Lord Purvis of Tweed (LD)
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So the point the Minister is making, which is to have the legal ability to delay disclosure, is afforded under subsection (6). The deletion of subsection (7) then does not affect that power. It would mean only the removal of the ability for there to be no disclosure at all, because the power to delay disclosure would be under Clause 47(6). Is that correct?

Lord Callanan Portrait Lord Callanan (Con)
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We think that subsection (7) is important for financial stability and legal certainty but, as I have said on the other amendments in this group, I am happy to take this away and look at the matter further.

This is the very effect that assistance, and the direction that facilitates that assistance, would be deployed to avoid. Northern Rock serves as a clear example, where the revelation that the firm was in receipt of emergency liquidity assistance led to a run on the bank. That exacerbated its problems and, in the end, hastened its failure. Consequently, if disclosure of financial stability directions cannot be deferred, it would effectively render them unusable in situations where it is necessary to provide lending on a covert basis. Making a direction unusable in this way would be especially problematic if the success of the financial assistance was dependent on the use of a financial stability direction to disapply any of the requirements.

In relation to the specific statement being referenced in paragraph 16 of the report, as mentioned by the noble Lords, Lord Purvis and Lord Fox, that statement makes it clear that the concern is not about the risk of parliamentary defeat. The concern surfaced in the statement is the perception of stakeholders of a risk that non-approval could result in the rejection or undermining of the proposed subsidy. In that circumstance, the primary concern would not be in relation to a defeat in Parliament but that, as a result of that risk perception among stakeholders, the subsidy would be ineffective in the short term or even rejected by the proposed recipient. This would mean that the use of the power would not even get to the point of a vote.

The current drafting of Clause 47(7) provides a clear mechanism in law for delaying publication and a basis on which the Treasury can make the decision that the publication would undermine the purposes for which the direction was given. When the Treasury considers that publication would no longer undermine the purpose of the direction, it would at that time—this comes to the point made by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope—be required to publish that direction in accordance with the duty in Clause 47(6). Therefore, subsection (7) simply makes explicit the ability to delay publication where that publication would undermine the purpose for which the direction was given. It does not provide a means for the Government to avoid scrutiny indefinitely.

Lord Judge Portrait Lord Judge (CB)
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What is the point of Clause 47(7) if the object is to allow, in appropriate circumstances, a deferral or a delay in the publication of the information?

Lord Hope of Craighead Portrait Lord Hope of Craighead (CB)
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Might I add to my noble and learned friend’s question? To whom is the information to be given? Who needs to know about this direction? It is rather important to understand how the scheme is supposed to work. Presumably, the publication is to serve a purpose; one needs to know to whom it will be disseminated.

Lord Callanan Portrait Lord Callanan (Con)
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Ultimately, the purpose is to provide transparency so that, after the fact, the public and Parliament are informed on the subsidy that has been given. However, we maintain that it is important to keep the subsidy under the radar unless it would undermine the purpose for which it was given in the first place if it were publicised. The example of Northern Rock is the one that we quote, as it would potentially cause a run. I recognise the strength of feeling from the DPRRC and among noble Lords on these clauses. As I have said, I will look at them further before we get to Report—[Interruption.] I am happy to have satisfied the noble Baroness, Lady Jones, for a change.

Turning to some of the comments on why Clause 11 should stand part of the Bill, this clause enables the Secretary of State to make secondary legislation to define subsidies or subsidy schemes of interest or of particular interest. Again, I recognise that the power set out was criticised in the DPRRC’s report, and that it recommended that these definitions be on the face of the Bill. If I may briefly summarise the purpose of this clause, Part 4 of the Bill establishes the mechanisms for the referral of these subsidies and schemes to the subsidy advice unit. Voluntary referral will be available for subsidies or schemes of interest, while subsidies that are classified as subsidies of particular interest will be subject to mandatory referral. After referral, the public authority’s assessment of compliance with the subsidy control requirements will be evaluated by the unit, and a report containing its findings will be published. This is a pragmatic way of ensuring that additional scrutiny is given to potentially distortive subsidies. The clause therefore allows the Government to define these types of subsidies and schemes.

The noble Lord sought clarity on why the Government intend to set relevant criteria and thresholds in regulations, rather than in the Bill. Let me point out the illustrative regulations that the Government published last week, as well as the accompanying policy statement. I welcome any comments that noble Lords may have on these documents, of course, and stress that the Government will take careful note of the views expressed when developing these draft regulations. I hope that this provides further clarity and assurance on how the Government intend to use these powers.

The reason why the Bill takes a power to define these categories is because it is important that the Government are able to modify the criteria over time in response to market conditions, or the periodic reviews that will be carried out by the subsidy advice unit, to ascertain how the domestic control regime is working in practice. Both Houses will of course have an opportunity to debate any regulations in draft to ensure that the criteria for what constitutes “of interest” or “of particular interest” are robust and capture the right subsidies and schemes for additional scrutiny.

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Moved by
18: Clause 10, page 6, line 35, at end insert—
“(7) A subsidy scheme or streamlined subsidy scheme may provide for the value of a subsidy to be determined by reference to its gross cash amount or the gross cash equivalent.”Member’s explanatory statement
This amendment ensures that subsidy schemes and streamlined subsidy schemes can refer to the gross cash amount or gross cash equivalent amount of the subsidy, as determined by regulations made under Clause 82.
Lord Callanan Portrait Lord Callanan (Con)
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My Lords, the amendments in this group are technical amendments that would update the Bill to permit regulations made on gross cash equivalent to apply to all parts of the Bill to which they are relevant. These amendments have the same basic purpose so I will take them together.

Subsidies can come in many different forms, from cash grants to discounted contributions in kind. It is important to establish a common methodology for calculating the value of the latter kind of subsidy as this will avoid public authorities taking different, and difficult to compare, approaches to this issue. Clause 82 enables the Secretary of State to make provisions by regulations, which will be subject to the negative procedure, for how the gross cash amount and the gross cash equivalent amount are to be determined for four different clauses that are listed in the Bill. These regulations will set out a methodology for calculating the value of any subsidy or scheme for use by public authorities. This will avoid public authorities using to calculate gross cash equivalent a range of methodologies that may not be wholly or easily comparable with each other.

Clauses 10 and 11 concern the creation of subsidy schemes and streamlined subsidy schemes, and enable the Secretary of State to make regulations defining the meaning of subsidies or subsidy schemes of interest or of particular interest. The amendment to Clause 82 would ensure that regulations made under it, which make provisions about how the gross cash amount and the gross cash equivalent are to be determined, are applicable to all regulations and schemes made under the terms of the Bill.

The other amendments to Clauses 10 and 11 would enable the values of subsidies of interest or of particular interest, subsidy schemes and streamlined subsidy schemes to be defined by reference to the gross cash amount or gross cash equivalent amount of the subsidy or scheme. I hope noble Lords will agree that these are minor and technical amendments that will avoid any need for complex cross-referencing in the regulations and reduce any confusion for public authorities; I therefore ask that they be accepted. I beg to move.

Baroness Jones of Moulsecoomb Portrait Baroness Jones of Moulsecoomb (GP)
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I would like to raise a small, technical point; I think that the Minister skimmed over it in the debate on Amendment 33 in my name, possibly because I did not explain it properly. Subsidies for fossil fuels should be calculated using the IMF definition of financial assistance for fuel consumption multiplied by the difference between existing and efficient prices. In his reply, the Minister explained that he would not want to ban subsidies for fossils fuels, but he did not say anything about the merits of the IMF definition of fossil fuel subsidies. This is an important issue because it factors in the negative impacts of environmental and social costs, which are otherwise ignored. When we look at fossil fuel subsidies holistically, we realise just how much more expensive fossil fuels are than renewables. I do not expect an answer today, but it would be good to have an answer in writing whenever possible because the Minister did not mention it.

Lord Callanan Portrait Lord Callanan (Con)
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That issue is not covered by these amendments, but I will come back to the noble Baroness in writing.

Lord Fox Portrait Lord Fox (LD)
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My Lords, those on this side welcome these three amendments. It is always hard to get those first government amendments out; after then, you can keep them coming, Minister. We have one or two suggestions about what you might like to put in them.

It is good to have a consistent approach; indeed, a consistent approach to how you value a subsidy is a good starting point. Perhaps we can then have a consistent approach to how local authorities evaluate the need for a subsidy, and to how they are regulated and managed within areas. Consistency is what we are calling for. This is clearly the first baby step towards having a control system operated from a level playing field.

Lord McNicol of West Kilbride Portrait Lord McNicol of West Kilbride (Lab)
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I echo the points of the noble Lord, Lord Fox: it is interesting to see government amendments at this early stage, even though none of these issues was raised at Second Reading. Likewise, we are not going to oppose any of these amendments.

Similarly, not just on consistency but on transparency, a good number of amendments were tabled in Committee on which we are more than happy to work with the department and the Minister to bring them back on Report. This will hopefully deal with a number of issues on which we have concerns, so that we do not object to them at that point.

Lord Callanan Portrait Lord Callanan (Con)
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I am happy to see that the Liberal Democrats believe in consistency and to work with the opposition parties when amendments are required, as appropriate.

Amendment 18 agreed.
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Moved by
19: Clause 11, page 7, line 7, at end insert—
“(2A) Provision under subsection (2)(a) may provide for the value of a subsidy to be determined by reference to its gross cash amount or the gross cash equivalent.”Member’s explanatory statement
This amendment ensures that subsidies of interest and subsidies of particular interest can be defined by reference to gross cash amount or gross cash equivalent amount, as determined by regulations made under Clause 82.
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Lord Fox Portrait Lord Fox (LD)
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My Lords, it is a great pleasure to follow that speech by the noble Baroness, Lady Blake. I was reassured by some of things she said about how the Nolan principles are being applied at the local level—that that is her experience is reassuring. Of course, it brings this Bill into focus again.

To some extent the amendment is idealistic, but look at it the other way round. What is the converse of this amendment? It is that we allow a Bill to go through that will be subjected to huge political manipulation and little transparency. We have already seen that the Government are not averse to using political direction to spend literally billions of pounds. I ask the Minister to put himself in the boots of the Opposition, because the Bill that he is creating is one that future Governments will have to use. If the Minister, if he were listening, were to put himself—

Lord Callanan Portrait Lord Callanan (Con)
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I am listening.

Lord Fox Portrait Lord Fox (LD)
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Sorry; I withdraw that. If the Minister were sitting in the opposition seat and opposing this Bill—or, indeed, opposing its use—he would, I am sure, find it very difficult. That is why it is to the enormous credit of Her Majesty’s loyal Opposition that they are standing hard against this Bill. I am sure that they harbour a view that, in time, they will find themselves in government and the temptation for them—indeed, for any Government—to use these powers would be quite high. It is therefore to the Opposition’s credit that, together, we are seeking to put some transparency into this.

At Second Reading, I said that the more flexibility and opacity there is in the subsidy system, the more opportunity there will be for subsidies to be directed for political purposes. I did not use the phrase “pork barrel” but I should have, because there is no other way of explaining how almost seven-eighths of the £1-billion English towns fund goes to Conservative-held seats. There is no way to explain how that money goes there other than political direction. I am sure that the Minister will tell me that there is a formula. There is a formula for almost anything; if you know what you want to create, you build the formula to achieve it. We are already seeing that. I assume that schemes like that will be rolled into a subsidy scheme so that we never see the granularity by seat. This is perhaps our last chance to point to that evidence before it all gets rolled up and aggregated so that we cannot disassemble it.

As we look at this Bill, we should look at the future of subsidies in this country, not the short-term gain for a political party. That is what we are seeing at the moment: a short-term gaming, or potential gaming, of the subsidy system. That is why this amendment was moved and why we have had an interesting short debate on it. I will be interested to see whether the Minister decides to engage at all, because sometimes he just does not. If he does decide to engage, I will be very interested to hear what he has to say.

Lord Callanan Portrait Lord Callanan (Con)
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It is very unfair of the noble Lord, Lord Fox, to suggest that I would not engage with his amendment. In this debate, I particularly enjoyed the noble Baroness, Lady Blake, using exactly the same argument that I will deploy against the amendment to argue somehow that she is in favour of it.

Anyway, let us explore the amendment as it was tabled, because I think we will all agree that it is a particularly ridiculous amendment. However, I thank the noble Lords, Lord Purvis and Lord Fox, for putting it forward. Essentially, the amendment seeks to prevent subsidies being given where there is a political motivation or influence. I will not engage with some of the broader points noble Lords made about transparency and things like that because we will come on to those points later in the debate, but I will take the amendment as it is printed. I suspect that what both noble Lords actually meant to say is that they seek to prevent improper political influence over subsidy decision-making. On that, we completely agree, of course. However, as I will argue, I do not believe that this amendment is necessary to achieve that.

First, there are already a number of safety nets in the Bill which will help to prevent improper political influence over subsidy decision-making. Any subsidy, unless exempted, must meet the subsidy control principles, including remedying an identified market failure or addressing an equity rationale. In addition, the subsidy must be limited to what is necessary to achieve it. A subsidy which had improper political influence would struggle to meet those principles.

Secondly, Clause 77 prevents the misuse of subsidies, and a public authority may recover a subsidy from the beneficiary where it has been used for a purpose other than the purpose for which it was given. Even outside the subsidy control requirements, a subsidy must meet value-for-money tests, which help to ensure that public spending is being made appropriately. For UK government spending, this is governed by the Treasury Green Book—all those in government who have to engage with the Treasury will know how rigorous it is in implementing that—and, of course, all the principles set out in Managing Public Money. They will be generally applicable to all public authorities in the UK, although the devolved Governments have their own detailed rulebooks, as is right. Finally, a subsidy granted for an improper purpose may give rise to judicial review on public law grounds.

More broadly—this comes back to the point that the noble Baroness, Lady Blake, made, even though, bizarrely, she was arguing in favour of the amendment—it is unclear how a public authority might avoid any political motivation whatever. I do not think that that would be desirable. When the noble Baroness, Lady Blake, was in a position of authority on Leeds City Council, her authority, or a devolved Government, for example, was or would have been democratically elected. I assume that when she stood for election with her party she set out her political priorities. She might have said that where a subsidy was appropriate she wanted to stand for election on that basis. It is right and proper that she should have been able to do that where the subsidy met the subsidy control principles. It would be almost impossible for any democratically elected local authority or a devolved Government to avoid any political influence. We are all politicians, some of whom were democratically elected. This applies to central and local government.

All subsidies have a degree of political motivation or influence because they are desired to achieve a public policy objective on which people stand for election and which will have been set by a public authority with democratic accountability. Let us pursue the example from the noble Baroness, Lady Blake. If she stood for election on Leeds City Council with a commitment to, for instance, provide subsidised transport in rural parts of Leeds—I think Leeds has some rural areas—it might have been appropriate to provide a subsidy to a bus operator. That commitment will have been made at a political level as the result of her manifesto in a political election. That would have been a politically motivated subsidy, but I think we would all agree that, in the circumstances, that would have been wholly appropriate and presumably useful for that particular area.

I hope that I have demonstrated that the amendment is unnecessary. The wording is clearly seriously flawed. I therefore hope the noble Lord will be able to withdraw it.

Lord Purvis of Tweed Portrait Lord Purvis of Tweed (LD)
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I am grateful to the Minister and to my noble friend Lord Fox and the noble Baroness, Lady Blake. This very short debate has been illustrative because, some of the flippancy aside, it addressed the vulnerabilities that could arise from a lack of transparency in certain areas of subsidy schemes. There is absolutely no intention to prevent anybody standing to represent people in their area and to argue the case for their area. That is absolutely fundamental and a positive. I did it. I fought hard to keep structural funds in the south of Scotland. I will fight the fact that that money is now being taken away by the Minister’s Bill. That is something I will fight for. I will be very passionate for it, and I will hold the Conservatives to account for taking those funds away from the Scottish borders.

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Lord Fox Portrait Lord Fox (LD)
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My Lords, I rise to speak to Amendments 44, 45 and 46, to all of which I have added my name. It is a pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord McNicol. Amendment 44 requires the date a subsidy scheme is entered into to be put into the database, Amendment 45 is about domestically sourced content and Amendment 46 is about other areas of specifying the date. All three of these amendments come together to play to the word that we have been using in these groups, which is “transparency”.

I shall briefly focus on Amendment 45 because it is an interesting point. The nature of what we are talking about hinges around Clause 17(1), which I assume is a WTO-driven point that we cannot favour domestic content over external content. I accept that we need to follow WTO rules. However, as the noble Lord, Lord McNicol, said, that does not stop us collecting the data. Why collect the data if you do not have an actionable need to use it? Therefore—never mind the subsidy that is running, for which we are collecting the data—if it turns out that all that subsidy leads to imports only rather than domestic benefit to the supply chain, when we come to extending or repeating that subsidy or using it in a similar way in another sector, I assume that it is perfectly legal within WTO for the Government to take the benefit and the learnings of that data, having of course given themselves the power to collect it through Amendment 45, to modify future schemes which would still be legal within WI and benefit the domestic supply chain. WI? Jam for all. I meant WTO.

It is a legal question. The Minister may not have the answer straightaway. That data having been collected, I assume, and I would like confirmation, that it is perfectly legal to use that data to design repeat or future schemes so that the UK economy benefits more from that subsidy. That is my main question on these amendments.

Lord Callanan Portrait Lord Callanan (Con)
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I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord McNicol, for these amendments. I think we have much more consensus on the principles. I shall start with Amendment 37. I think we agree that the database should be as accurate as possible. There was an extensive debate in the other place about the quality of the database and the requirements on public authorities when uploading to the database. As was set out there, the database is relatively new and, as the noble Lord acknowledged, it continues to be developed. My department has been working on a range of improvements and we continue to review how it operates. I genuinely welcome any feedback that noble Lords have now or in future on how it can be improved.

Since Report in the other place, our officials have launched an initiative to follow up with public authorities where the information on the database is vague or the links provided go to a landing page rather than providing the necessary detail about a subsidy. In addition, where the subsidy control team receives information about schemes that have been made, that information is now cross-referenced with what is on the database to ensure that it is correct. More broadly, the Government are committed to best practice when it comes to public data, and the subsidy database uses the service standards specified by the Government Digital Service.

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Lord Callanan Portrait Lord Callanan (Con)
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We are not necessarily against adding new data points, but it depends what they are. Of course, as I mentioned earlier, all subsidies will need to benefit the British public and be well delivered. But of course there is the WTO provision that we need to be careful about, particularly in the context of the TCA and the action that is being launched against us. I will not go any further into the prohibition because I see that the noble Lord is going to ask me about it.

Lord Purvis of Tweed Portrait Lord Purvis of Tweed (LD)
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I have a separate point, on the principle of adding on the issue of local content and domestic goods. I understand and entirely agree with what the Minister said about the WTO prohibition of subsidy schemes that are prejudiced against non-domestic or non-local content. But of course the recipients, if they are manufacturers and exporters, will also have to categorise their own goods under the rules of origin, under both the TCA and the WTO, for all our FTA agreements—so that data will be there. I think that there is a great benefit to having, across key sectors where the Government want to identify whether there is market failure, the knowledge base regarding the level of domestic production. It is not a case of directing the subsidy towards it, which would contravene WTO rules; it is building up that knowledge base that will help overall industrial policy, which would be a positive—especially when it comes to regional production and manufacturing in certain areas.

Secondly, while I agree with the Minister about the discrimination, we can of course use countervailing measures, as the Minister knows—so, in relation to that knowledge base for domestic products, the WTO allows us to particularly support domestic production when it comes to countervailing measures. So, again, that would be information that the Government would find useful to have.

Lord Callanan Portrait Lord Callanan (Con)
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I understand the noble Lord’s point, but I go back to the fact that this prohibition exists for a good reason. I accept his point about additional data points that could be incorporated at very little cost, but of course he is picking on particularly narrow subsidies that might be given to the manufacturing industry. His points about rules of origin are for separate schemes under the TCA. I will think about his points.

But the prohibition exists for a good reason and is reflected in Clause 17. Of course, if all countries were to subsidise local content, world trade would be unduly distorted, and UK firms would suffer as a result, so that is why we as a country have signed up to these agreements at both WTO and EU TCA level. It is essential that all members of the WTO play by the same rules, which include a prohibition of local content and export subsidies. The UK does not provide, and does not intend to provide, subsidies that are prohibited by the WTO or under the TCA. I make that point clear.

I believe in the advantage of global trade—not just the WTO rulebook, but the global connections and markets that promote prosperity and growth worldwide, and specifically in the UK. Global supply chains allow British businesses to use inputs that are the best and most cost-effective in the world. Certain companies and industries may in some cases have their own targets for local content or for something similar—that is indeed what we have done under the contracts for difference schemes, but others are watching these commitments closely—or there may be a commitment to use products from the local area. However, those commitments would not be tied to the giving of a subsidy in any way, and as a result should not be included in a subsidy database entry.

I think I have dealt with most of the points raised. I had some additional points I wanted to make to back up what I have said, but my Whip tells me we are on a hard stop for a couple of minutes’ time. Are there any particular points raised in the debate that I have not dealt with? I think I have dealt with them all and explained our position—so, as we have agreed with most of his points, I hope that the noble Lord, Lord McNicol, will feel able to withdraw his amendment.

Lord Purvis of Tweed Portrait Lord Purvis of Tweed (LD)
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My Lords, further to that point, I wish to ask a couple of questions. First, on a factual issue—I have been struggling to find this—what has the typical award been for relatively small schemes that will operate under the Bill? I am familiar with schemes in my former constituency, either under LEADER+ or a number of other schemes, where there was not a single award over £500,000 but there was transparency as to who received it, because that is basically along the principles on which local authorities operate. So my question, really, is: what piece of legislation will trump the duty that the noble Baroness, Lady Blake, referred to? If a local authority has a duty to publish, then ordinarily if it receives a grant through, for example, the levelling-up fund—on which the Minister wrote to me; I thank him for his letter and look forward to the answer to the question on a separate occasion, as I have replied to his office to highlight an omission from it—what will be the primary duty on the local authority as far as making that information public is concerned? Will it be under the duty on the local authority to publish subsidies greater than £500,000, or, if it is defined as a subsidy scheme, will it not be under such a duty?

However, my specific question is: how will this Bill interact with the Freedom of Information Act? The only way that any enterprise or anybody would be able to find out what the award is if it is under £500,000 would be to submit a freedom of information request. I have not seen anything in this legislation which excludes elements of the Freedom of Information Act, and I therefore assume that all elements of the Freedom of Information Act will apply. If that is the case, it is rather pointless having a £500,000 limit for publication if you can get all this information by issuing an FoI request. If the Minister’s response is, as I expect, that the whole thrust is to have less burden on our public bodies for the administration of this scheme, I wonder which is less burdensome: simply publishing what is already used under the e-claims scheme—I understand that most applicants under these schemes will be through the e-claims schemes, and therefore it is a press of a button to publish the information for an award—or responding to an FoI request. If I were a member of a public body, I know which one would be far less burdensome for me. I wonder whether the Minister agrees.

Lord Callanan Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (Lord Callanan) (Con)
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I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord McNicol, for his amendment, which was moved so ably by the noble Baroness, Lady Blake. I am delighted that the noble Lord, Lord Fox, received my letter before the Committee this time. I will have to learn the lesson that it prompts more questions from him during the debate. It is obviously better if the noble Lord receives the letter after the debate has taken place—I am joking, of course. We always endeavour to get him the information he has looked for as early as possible.

The amendments, taken together, seek to introduce a common threshold for transparency for subsides that are not challengeable on subsidy control grounds because they are not subject to the main requirements in the Bill. They include subsidies given under schemes, minimal financial assistance and subsidies for services of public economic interest.

I say at the start that I am well aware of the debates that occurred in the other place on this important issue, which were alluded to by a number of speakers, and I recognise the strength of feeling behind the calls for greater transparency. I am sure noble Lords are aware that my colleague Minister Paul Scully committed the Government to review the evidence collected as part of the consultation alongside that provided by witnesses to the Committee about the transparency provisions. Officials continue to review the available evidence base and I commit to updating the noble Lord, Lord Fox, and all other Members of the Committee before Report about where we have got to in that review, and I will update Members on the cost impact of the different options as soon as possible.

Transparency of subsidy awards is an important part of this control regime and is a key tool to support the enforcement provisions. It is essential that interested parties are able to see subsidies to determine whether they may be affected and whether they wish to challenge the subsidy award or subsidy scheme to which the noble Lord, Lord Purvis, referred. Of course, the database is a vital tool in providing this transparency. The aim of the database should always be to enable interested parties to see those subsidies that they may wish to challenge. However, it has not been, and should not be, designed to be a general database of public authority spending. Other tools for general public authority financial transparency exist elsewhere, and I think the noble Lord, Lord Purvis, would accept that uploading additional data represents a cost to public authorities, and of course that is ultimately borne by taxpayers.

It is important that the database requirements find the right balance to ensure that appropriate, accurate and timely information is available to the public on the database about subsidies that they may wish to challenge. To respond directly to the concerns of the noble Lord, Lord Fox, I am happy to clarify and confirm that the subsidies on the database are primarily those that are subject to challenge under this regime. I apologise if there was any ambiguity in my letter.

I turn to the amendments put forward by the noble Lord, Lord McNicol—

Lord McNicol of West Kilbride Portrait Lord McNicol of West Kilbride (Lab)
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I thank the Minister for giving way. Just on the point about challenge and that if a subsidy is below the £500,000 it will be part of a scheme, I think he said before that if it was given as part of the subsidy scheme, it would have to meet the seven principles; it would be good if that could be clarified. Probably more importantly, however, is whether a one-off subsidy that is less than the individual subsidy limit—the £315,000—has to meet the principles. My understanding from some of the earlier discussions in the other place is that that was not confirmed or clarified. Can the Minister clarify whether a subsidy that is less than £315,000 has to meet the seven principles or the other energy principles?

Lord Callanan Portrait Lord Callanan (Con)
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Yes, of course. All subsidies need to meet the principles—this discussion is about what parts of those are published. If a subsidy is awarded under the scheme, then the scheme principles would also need to comply with the subsidy control principles.

Lord McNicol of West Kilbride Portrait Lord McNicol of West Kilbride (Lab)
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So, just to be absolutely clear, if a subsidy is awarded that is less than £315,000 as an individual subsidy, it says in the Bill that it needs to meet the seven principles and possibly the energy principles.

Lord Callanan Portrait Lord Callanan (Con)
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My understanding is that, yes, that is the case. If that is not correct I will certainly clarify that to the noble Lord, but my understanding is that that would be the case.

Baroness Altmann Portrait Baroness Altmann (Con)
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I apologise to my noble friend, but may I ask for clarification from him as well? He mentioned a cost to implementing this; can he confirm that the Government’s estimate of the cost is £20,000 and that local authorities already have such databases right now?

Lord Callanan Portrait Lord Callanan (Con)
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Just to clarify the points from the noble Lord, Lord McNicol, yes, it would need to meet the scheme requirements if it was given under a scheme. If the subsidy is not minimal financial assistance —so it exceeds £315,000 accumulated over three years—it does have to meet the principles; if it is MFA, it does not need to meet the principles. Reviewing the cost as an impact assessment does not necessarily cover all those options.

Lord McNicol of West Kilbride Portrait Lord McNicol of West Kilbride (Lab)
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So, if it is under the £315,000—sorry, forget the scheme, I confused things by talking about the £500,000 for the scheme. If an individual subsidy is less than £315,000—this is quite important for transparency—it does not have to meet the principles that are laid out in the Bill?

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Lord Callanan Portrait Lord Callanan (Con)
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I will come back to the noble Lord in writing. It is a complicated area to clarify the exact legal position on that. Sorry, can my noble friend Lady Altmann remind me of her question?

Baroness Altmann Portrait Baroness Altmann (Con)
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Can my noble friend confirm that the Government’s estimate of the cost in relation to the subsidy scheme—which he referred to as a potential reason why the Government might not accept these amendments—is £20,000 and that local authorities do already have databases that could be used?

Lord Callanan Portrait Lord Callanan (Con)
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That returns to the point that I made earlier. The commitment given by Minister Scully in the other place is that we will review the costs; I committed to return to the Committee with the relevant cost provisions, which I will do before Report.

Amendment 38 would remove, for the purposes of transparency, the distinction between a subsidy awarded under a scheme and a stand-alone subsidy. The amendment seeks to have one, uniform threshold for all subsidies. Taken together with Amendment 39, this new uniform threshold would be just £500.

Subsidies given under a published scheme are currently required to be uploaded to the database if they are more than £500,000. This threshold is set at that level because the database will already include information about the scheme under which these subsidies are given. In our view, this information will be sufficient for others to understand whether their interests will be affected by any subsidy given under that scheme and whether they should therefore seek to challenge the scheme.

The Bill provides for various reasons why a subsidy or scheme cannot be challenged on subsidy control grounds. For example, a subsidy award given under a published scheme cannot be judicially reviewed in the Competition Appeal Tribunal on subsidy control grounds. This is because it is the scheme that is assessed against the principles and is challengeable, rather than the individual award made under that scheme. As such, this Bill does not provide for the possibility to challenge subsidies given under schemes in the Competition Appeal Tribunal. The scheme itself should be challenged, not the individual awards.

Additional information about small subsidies would therefore have very limited value for those concerned about potentially distortive subsidies and would detract from the core purposes of the database. These requirements would lead to additional red tape for public authorities—well beyond the requirements they had to fulfil under the EU state aid regime—and in a great many cases, as I said earlier, the information would simply duplicate what those authorities already publish in appropriate formats elsewhere.

Lord Purvis of Tweed Portrait Lord Purvis of Tweed (LD)
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I have been reviewing the code on the publications from local government; local authorities must publish on a quarterly basis any expenditure that exceeds £500, including grant payments, grants, grant-in-aid and credit notes over £500. Public bodies will publish this quarterly already, unless this Bill means they are excluded from doing so if the payment is through a subsidy scheme. If this completely takes away the duty to publish that the public body already has, it makes no sense whatever. I do not understand where the additional burden comes in, given that the local authority publication code is already there for quarterly publication.

Lord Callanan Portrait Lord Callanan (Con)
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Nothing in this Bill affects the existing duties of local authorities and others to publish any financial information that they already do. This Bill concerns the information that needs to be published on the subsidy database. The same point applies to the earlier question from the noble Lord, Lord Purvis, about freedom of information. I hesitate, given the trouble I got into last time, to return to the FoI principles, but nothing in this Bill affects the original FoI legislation or the principles contained in it.

I turn to Amendment 47, which seeks to introduce a transparency threshold of £500, above which subsidies granted as minimal financial assistance would need to be uploaded to the database. As noble Lords will be aware, the MFA exemption allows public authorities to award low-value subsidies of up to £315,000 per recipient over three years, with no requirement to consider the subsidy control principles or other requirements, and no need to upload on to the subsidy control database. I think that clarifies what the noble Lord, Lord McNicol, asked about—what I said earlier on this was probably incorrect, so my apologies for that. The Government have taken this approach to ensure that public authorities can deliver smaller subsidies quickly and easily without undue administrative burden, since they are very unlikely to have any appreciable distortive effects.

This amendment, by seeking to require the addition of low-cost subsidies to the subsidy control database, would certainly introduce an additional burden for public authorities. Introducing a low-value transparency threshold for such low-value subsidies would require additional staff time and costs as the volume of entries would be expected to increase significantly—for what gain, bearing in mind that these subsidies are those that, by their very nature, are unlikely to have any appreciable distortive effects?

On this basis, I do not believe that the amendment would introduce the appropriate balance between sufficient transparency to allow for meaningful scrutiny and an efficient allocation of resource to identify those subsidies that are most likely to harm our economy, either locally or nationally.

Turning to Amendments 48 and 49, as we have discussed before, the Committee will be aware that services of public economic interest—SPEI—are vital services that, without public subsidy, would not be supplied in the appropriate way by the market or, in some cases, would not be supplied at all. This clause exempts certain SPEI subsidies from the transparency requirement in Clause 33 to upload the subsidy on to the database. There are two categories of exemption: first, for subsidies of less than £14.5 million; and, secondly, subsidies for one of the activities listed in subsection (1)(b). In response to the question posed by the noble Baroness, Lady Blake, the reason for the difference is that, in our view, subsidies in the second group are even less likely to distort competition.

These amendments would mean that all SPEI subsidies of £500 or more would need to be uploaded on to the database. I submit that this would represent a significant burden on public authorities, yet it is generally agreed in the Committee, I think, that these subsidies, granted for public services, are unlikely to be unduly distortive.

The same arguments put forward for not setting a transparency threshold of £500 for MFA apply equally here, in that doing so would not represent a balanced or proportionate outcome for our domestic regime. Although noble Lords are right to challenge the Government on the issue of transparency, I would like to set out why reducing the exemption from transparency requirements for SPEI subsidies to £500 would not result in a stronger regime.

First, by its nature, granting subsidies for public services is unlikely to be unduly distortive. This is because the very reason they are needed is that other providers are unable or unwilling to provide the necessary service at a reasonable cost. This goes back to the example we discussed last time, when the noble Baroness, Lady Blake, referred to bus services in rural areas: granting a public subsidy there is unlikely to be distortive because the reason why the public authorities have to provide that service is because nobody else in the market does so. The lower risk of distortion therefore justifies a higher transparency threshold.

Secondly, Clause 29 sets out that the award of a SPEI subsidy must be given in a transparent manner, which means that the subsidy must be being given through a written contract or other written legally enforceable arrangement. As the noble Lord, Lord Purvis, noted, public authorities normally publish these contracts, and it is good practice to do so.

Thirdly, a public authority providing SPEI subsidies must be satisfied that the subsidies are limited to what is strictly necessary in providing that service, with regard to costs and reasonable profit, and must keep that under review. This means that the SPEI enterprise should not gain an unfair advantage over other enterprises; consequently, again, there is unlikely to be undue distortion to competition.

The Government do not share the view that requiring public authorities to upload SPEI subsidies with a value as low as £500 would contribute to a more robust regime. SPEI subsidies are, and will continue to be, subject to appropriate safeguards where public authorities actively ensure that this is the case so that contracts deliver value for money for the citizens in that particular area.

Although I understand the objectives of the noble Lord, for the reasons I have set out, I cannot accept this amendment. I hope, therefore, that he will feel able to withdraw it.

Lord Fox Portrait Lord Fox (LD)
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I have a brief question because £14.5 million is a curious number. There is no reason why it should be a round number in millions, but it is strange. Can the Minister explain the genesis of that particular number? Also, could I be cc’d into the Minister’s reply to the important question asked by the noble Lord, Lord McNicol, on the subject of what is in and what is out?

Lord Callanan Portrait Lord Callanan (Con)
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Indeed. The noble Lord, Lord Fox is clearly not tired of receiving letters from me, so I will happily copy him into the letter that I send to the noble Lord, Lord McNicol. I will have to come back to him on his question about the £14.5 million. I will include that in yet another letter—or maybe even the same one.

Baroness Blake of Leeds Portrait Baroness Blake of Leeds (Lab)
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I thank the Minister for his very full response, as always. The level of detail means that we will indeed require letters. Maybe the simplest way forward is for us all to receive the same response on the issues that we have all raised in Committee, so we are all on the same page.

I do not want to prolong this debate too much. I note that the Minister in the other place, Mr Scully, undertook to review the consultation, including the debates that we have had in this House. I go back to the spirit of hopefulness that I mentioned earlier—or maybe naivety perhaps, but we are all allowed to be naive for a little while, I hope—because this is a serious issue, and it is fairly unusual for such issues to get such cross-party and cross-sector support.

I have a question. When we talk about burdens and costs, I am always intrigued. Could the Minister perhaps write to us with an estimate of the costs if things go wrong—that is, when there is a challenge and it ends up in court in arbitration? That sort of thing happens regularly if you do not have a robust system that is clear and transparent. Burdens work both ways.

There is already a system in place that is tried and tested. Public authorities, whether local authorities, combined authorities, LEPs or devolved Governments, have been working on these matters for a long time, and there is established good practice out there. It troubles me that some of the provisions in the Bill could undermine an enormous amount of work.

Going back to the principles, we are talking about the need for consistency and clarity and, most of all, the fact that we should do everything we can to ensure that every pound of public money is accounted for and accountable and can be followed as it goes through.

Lord Callanan Portrait Lord Callanan (Con)
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If I may interrupt the noble Baroness, I am trying to save my letter writing to the noble Lord, Lord Fox, who was concerned that my workload would be unduly increased: for his information, apparently the £14.5 million figure comes from the TCA.

Baroness Blake of Leeds Portrait Baroness Blake of Leeds (Lab)
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It only remains for me to beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

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Lord Fox Portrait Lord Fox (LD)
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My Lords, during the debate on the previous group, the noble Baroness, Lady Altmann, asked, “How will they know?” This amendment seeks the answer to the question: how will they know in time? As the noble Lord, Lord McNicol, said, because of the limits of reporting, we are talking about very sizeable subsidies that could exist with a competitor company for up to a year before a person is able to find out what their company is competing against. I am sure that the Minister would understand that that is not a fair situation, and it is within the gift of the Government to make it fairer.

Both noble Lords spoke about the imbalance; that is, a long time to report it and a short time to appeal it. One would almost think that the Government were seeking to discourage the process of challenging subsidies. I am sure that that is not the Minister’s aim and therefore the best way of expressing that aim is to redress that balance.

Reflecting on the last debate and this one, I think that we are in a bit of a mess around reporting—or, indeed, we are not but the Government are. On the one hand, we have the database with the six-month time limit and a very high ceiling; on the other hand, we have local authority websites with a three-month time statute and a much lower ceiling, and potentially we have FoIs—although the problem is that you need to know something exists before you can FoI it. The Government have therefore knowingly or unknowingly set up a multiple market for information.

If I am a business and I need to know what is happening in my sector, the Minister will say that this information is freely available. It is freely available on a pull basis. I shall have to employ someone to go out there regularly to check whether the information exists, where it is and what is happening in my sector. If I am a small business in a market where the receipt of subsidy could affect my business, I shall have to employ an extra person or part of an extra person to do that. This does not seem a sensible way of dealing with the issue. A central database with a shorter time span and a lower value ceiling would be the best way to help businesses thrive.

Lord Callanan Portrait Lord Callanan (Con)
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I thank the noble Lord, Lord McNicol, and my noble friend Lord Lamont for these amendments, which seek to reduce the time available to public authorities to upload their subsidies to the database. I note the comments made by the noble Lord, Lord McNicol, on the limitation period, which I look forward to discussing in our next Committee session.

As is the case with the thresholds on transparency, our objective here in setting the upload deadlines has been guided by the fine balance between minimising bureaucratic burdens while ensuring that accurate information is available promptly for interested parties to enable them to consider whether to launch a challenge. We agree that subsidies should be available to be seen on the database as soon as is practical. However, there are good reasons why public authorities require longer than the one and three months put forward in these amendments.

First, let me note that public authorities have an incentive to upload subsidies as quickly as possible. The sooner a subsidy is uploaded to the database, the sooner the clock for the limitation period starts to run, and therefore the sooner the public authority and the beneficiary will gain certainty that the subsidy will not be challenged. Public authorities also have a strong incentive to upload subsidies accurately first time round to avoid the possibility of having to amend entries later on.

Upload deadlines as short as one and three months may result in more public authorities needing to amend their entries at a later date. Although this is of course possible on the database, it creates an unnecessary burden for those authorities. This means that the initial period where the subsidy has been uploaded is more likely to contain inaccuracies, which will not help an interested party to know whether they wish to challenge. Surely we agree that, although we all want prompt uploads to the database, upload speed should not come at the expense of accuracy.

Lord Purvis of Tweed Portrait Lord Purvis of Tweed (LD)
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Can the Minister confirm that, as we discussed in the debate on the previous group, if this scheme is run by a local authority in England, its duty to publish in three months still stands under the code? If so, this will have to be published within three months anyway, but that is just in a local authority area, not on the national database. So there is this rather ridiculous period of between three months and six months in which it would be uploaded on to the subsidy database. If the Minister’s argument is that doing this in three months will mean having a lot of mistakes in it, he needs to go back to the local authority code, not make assertions here in Committee.

Lord Callanan Portrait Lord Callanan (Con)
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As I said, none of the provisions in this Bill change any of the requirements on local authorities, but the transparency requirements are different in each case depending on what the award is and whether it is under a scheme. Sometimes, if it is a generally approved scheme, there are literally thousands of small grants, for instance. Sometimes the recipients are not identified under local authority transparency but may need to be identified under a particular scheme, depending on the size of the award. The noble Lord is correct that none of the requirements in the Bill change the requirements on local authorities; we are talking about different information for different purposes.

I understand the point made by noble Lords that, in most cases, one month should be sufficient to avoid excessive mistakes that could cause confusion for interested parties. None the less, I note that public authorities face a great many administrative obligations. Therefore, there would be an increased risk of error, or an increased cost in avoiding error, resulting from a deadline of one month—particularly for authorities that give a large number of subsidies in possibly quite complex formats.

Furthermore, the inaccuracies may not result from avoidable human error. To take another example, many subsidy schemes, particularly but not only those in the form of tax measures, are created with estimates for the value of the budget or the individual awards, but the final amounts may vary from that estimate. Sometimes the subsidy award is variable—it could be a performance-related grant—and if the beneficiary exceeds its estimates for the subsidy objective, it may be entitled to a proportionately larger subsidy. In other cases, such as subsidies in the form of tax measures, which I am sure my noble friend would never have been responsible for when he was Chancellor, the variation may be a result of higher or lower than expected expenditure—for example, on research and development—which will in turn affect how much tax subsidy that beneficiary would be entitled to.

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Lord McNicol of West Kilbride Portrait Lord McNicol of West Kilbride (Lab)
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Before the Minister sits down—I ask this as I genuinely do not know—he stated that 76%, or however much it was, of those who responded to the consultation supported the deadlines of six months and a year. Does he know what the consultation said about the other side of this, with regards to the timescales for challenge?

Lord Callanan Portrait Lord Callanan (Con)
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The figure I used was 74%, not 76%. I do not have that information, but I can certainly get it for the noble Lord—I will supply it in writing.

Lord Lamont of Lerwick Portrait Lord Lamont of Lerwick (Con)
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My Lords, the Minister was very persuasive about tax measures. I quite follow what he said about the uncertainties that would surround trying to calculate the cash value of tax subsidies, but he did not spend very much time talking about the one-month period, which is the one that seems a bit unreasonable. It seems as though they are paying more attention to the compliance costs of the public sector than to the costs of the challenger, which ought to be equally kept in mind. Surely one month is a very short period to challenge a subsidy which may have suddenly arrived out of the blue and may require a private sector company to take legal advice on whether it is challengeable. Four weeks to get legal advice, mount a challenge and go through all the formalities seems a very short period of time.

Lord Callanan Portrait Lord Callanan (Con)
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I understand the point that my noble friend is making. As I mentioned in my reply to the noble Lord, Lord McNicol, the limitation period is the subject of separate amendments, so we will have a further opportunity to discuss that in the next Committee session. Again, it is a balance between wanting to provide certainty so that the schemes can proceed and the beneficiary can proceed with some certainty, but I understand the point that my noble friend makes. The whole regime is designed to be as flexible as possible, and probably more permissive in many respects than the EU state aid regime. As I say, we will have a longer period to discuss the limitation period and the challenge on a future occasion.

Lord Purvis of Tweed Portrait Lord Purvis of Tweed (LD)
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With regard to companies or interested parties, Clause 76 allows an interested party to make a request to a public authority for information about a subsidy or a subsidy scheme that the authority has given or made, and there has to be a response within 28 days. Presumably, that covers all the subsidies that are then issued under that subsidy scheme by the public authority, in advance of them being uploaded on to the database. Is that correct?

Lord Callanan Portrait Lord Callanan (Con)
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If the information is available, perhaps in other formats, my understanding is that they can start the challenge immediately, but the formal period for challenge starts after the subsidy is uploaded to the database.

Lord Purvis of Tweed Portrait Lord Purvis of Tweed (LD)
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I am grateful, but that was not my question. Regardless of the period of challenge after the subsidy has been updated on the database, Clause 76 allows an interested party to make a request to a public authority for any information about a subsidy or a subsidy scheme that the authority has given or made. That does not state that it is uploaded on the database. It would basically require the interested party to make a request of the public authority for any subsidy issued under that scheme by that public body at any stage. They would have to do it blind, because it would not be on the database, but if they believe that there is a subsidy scheme that they have an interest in, within that certain local market, and they ask for information about that subsidy, that information would have to be provided by the public authority before it has been uploaded to the database. Any greater efficiency or lack of bureaucracy has completely gone if they are able to do that under Clause 76 anyway.

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Lord Callanan Portrait Lord Callanan (Con)
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The position in the clause is fairly transparent; they will be able to ask for information on the scheme and the authority would have a duty to provide it. That is separate from the provisions for uploading it to the database.

Lord McNicol of West Kilbride Portrait Lord McNicol of West Kilbride (Lab)
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My Lords, I thank the Minister for his response. As the noble Lord, Lord Lamont, picked up, he very much focused on Amendments 40 and 42, rather than Amendments 41 and 43. The Minister is absolutely right that there will need to be a balance between bureaucratic burden and proper transparency and oversight. As the Bill sits just now, I do not believe that the balance is in the right place. I am sure that we will come back to this—after the Division.

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Lord Lamont of Lerwick Portrait Lord Lamont of Lerwick (Con)
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My Lords, without endorsing what the noble Lord, Lord Purvis, said, I think this is a very important issue—without going into the wider Brexit questions to which he referred—and it is extremely worrying.

I would like the Minister to confirm whether the Government’s position as stated in this Bill, and which was reaffirmed by my noble friend last week when she replied to the debate, is the final interpretation or is an interpretation that is subject to change. As the noble Lord, Lord McNicol, said, there are different legal interpretations of the protocol, and there certainly seem to be different interpretations between the European Union and the UK Government. Does that not therefore affect the assurances that Ministers can give? What certainty can be attributed to the opinion of Ministers as to what is the meaning of subsidies under Article 10 or subsidies under Article 138, and which subsidies are subject to European Union law and which are not?

Last time, I raised with my noble friend Lady Bloomfield the question of reach-back and what would happen if a subsidy was being given to a company in the north of England that was exporting goods to Northern Ireland and whether that would come under the EU regime or the UK regime. She replied by saying:

“The Commission’s … declaration of December 2020 made it clear that Article 10 could affect a subsidy in GB only”—


I stress the word “only—

“if there was a genuine and direct link in Northern Ireland. This would be the case if, for example, the beneficiary had a subsidiary in Northern Ireland.”—[Official Report, 2/2/22; col. GC 244.]

Is that the only case? If there were no subsidiary, would that be a different outcome?

Lord Callanan Portrait Lord Callanan (Con)
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My Lords, let me first thank the noble Lord, Lord Dodds, and the noble Baroness, Lady Hoey, for this amendment. I know that the noble Lord has strong feelings on the protocol and he and I have discussed it many times before. I have also discussed it with the noble Lord, Lord Empey, throughout the progress of our various pieces of Brexit legislation. I know the issues that are involved, and I will hopefully be able to update the noble Lord on our interpretation of the provisions and where I think we have got to—although there is a limit, as I am sure the noble Lord will understand, on what I can say.

I start by emphasising that preventing undue distortion or economic disadvantage to any part of the United Kingdom is one fundamental objective of this regime. Subsidies are inherently distorting, but this Subsidy Control Bill exists to ensure that public authorities minimise those distortions and economic disadvantage, ensuring that the benefits of the subsidy outweigh any negative effects.

Public authorities will need to consider this in making their decisions about whether the subsidy should be given and how it should be designed. That particularly affects any negative effects in parts of the United Kingdom other than the target area of the subsidy, but it also includes the effects on international trade or investment where the public authority may have less incentive to take those disadvantages into account in its ordinary decision-making processes.

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Lord Empey Portrait Lord Empey (UUP)
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Before the noble Lord sits down, the noble Lord, Lord Dodds, said that this is a probing amendment, so we all may have issues with the phraseology but that is not the point. Never mind subsidiaries, which I can understand; if a product is supplied to a company in Northern Ireland as part of creating another product which would then be sold into the European Union, whether or not it is supplied from a subsidiary should not really be relevant. It does not matter where it comes from, if it is subsidised in Great Britain. Surely that is how the European Union will look at it, rather than simply saying that it must be a subsidiary. The Minister might be underestimating the potential for reach back or for the subsidy to be challenged by a competitor within the European Union. The Government are taking too narrow a definition of what may be at risk.

Lord Callanan Portrait Lord Callanan (Con)
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I understand the point the noble Lord is making but, to return to the words I used, there must be a genuine, direct link to Northern Ireland—it cannot be hypothetical or presumed. We have issued detailed guidance on the subject, but we accept that the current situation is not good enough, which is why we are attempting to renegotiate the terms of the protocol, particularly Article 10.

Lord Purvis of Tweed Portrait Lord Purvis of Tweed (LD)
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I have the text of the Command Paper in front of me. I heard the Minister say that the Government are negotiating for a single scheme to apply for all businesses across the UK. That is not what the Command Paper argues for in paragraphs 63 to 65. I have raised this before in the Chamber and in Committee. The Government are asking for a dual system, where there will be

“enhanced referral powers or consultation procedures for subsidies within scope, to enable EU concerns to be properly and swiftly addressed.”

The Government are not seeking a single system; they are seeking two systems with a streamlined approach for applicants to go to the EU system. Can the Minister clarify that?

Lord Callanan Portrait Lord Callanan (Con)
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We are seeking to have a single regime—the regime we are discussing now—that applies across the whole of the United Kingdom. As I said, this is the subject of negotiation. Intense discussions are going on. I and other Ministers will update the House as soon as we conclude those agreements.

Lord Dodds of Duncairn Portrait Lord Dodds of Duncairn (DUP)
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My Lords, I thank the Minister very much for his response to the debate and all noble Lords who have taken part in this short but important exploration of the issues surrounding subsidy control in Northern Ireland as a result of the application of Article 10 of the protocol. Sometimes people say that they are not being listened to, but I did not think that the technology would conspire to try to prevent us being heard. However, I am grateful for noble Lords’ consideration of these important matters.

The noble Lord, Lord Empey, was rightly pessimistic about the Minister’s ability to answer some of the questions raised, although he made a stab at it. However, while he was confident about the interpretation of Article 10—particularly in relation to the scope of its application, which remains to be seen—it will be tested in court. The trouble is that the uncertainty around all this will have a chilling effect. There is no doubt that reach back is a very important issue, but many businesses in Northern Ireland will say, “Yes, this is an important issue, but if you solve it, it will not particularly help us as Northern Ireland will still be subject to the EU regime. It may provide some help and certainty to companies in England, Scotland and Wales, but it does not resolve our difficulties.” There is a bit of danger in seeing reach back as the problem; it is a problem, but this does not resolve the issues in Northern Ireland. That is why I am grateful that the Minister has indicated that the Government’s purpose remains to negotiate changes.

The noble Lord, Lord Purvis, rightly pointed to the wording of the Command Paper. It merits very careful reading to compare what is stated to be the Government’s position and the actuality of the basis of the negotiations. It is something that I have pointed out on a number of occasions in Northern Ireland. I also agree with the noble Lord that, whatever the origins of how we got here, the problem remains to be sorted for Northern Ireland. This is a real predicament.

I therefore urge the Government to take this matter extremely seriously. I know that they do but this is a matter of urgency because, as was stated by the noble Lord, Lord Purvis, when he mentioned short, sharp negotiations—I recently reminded the Prime Minister of this fact—that this was supposed to be a three-week negotiation, beginning in September. Sadly, we have almost reached the middle of February and the inevitable crisis that some of us predicted has happened, in terms of the stability of the institutions in Northern Ireland. Time is in short supply.

I am grateful for this debate. It has been useful. With that, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

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Lord Wigley Portrait Lord Wigley (PC)
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My Lords, I cannot allow this debate to go without intervening very briefly. We have had arguments about the consultation with devolved authorities in previous deliberations of this Committee and I am not going to repeat those points. What I want to do, however, is to stress the need for equivalence, and for that equivalence to be perceived, between the role of the Secretary of State in the context of England and the devolved authorities in the context of Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland because if we do not have that, we are building up a formula that is bound to cause problems.

I cannot possibly allow the comment about my friends in the SNP to go unchallenged, because they, of course, work very hard indeed in the interests of Scotland, as has been recognised by such a large majority of Scottish voters. However, the debate here is not about the relative strengths of the parties; it is about getting a system in this legislation that works. In the absence of a federal or confederal approach—and that, ultimately, will have to be the context in which these things are addressed—in the meantime, for goodness’ sake, let us get a formula that at least appears to be fair and does not have built within it the contradictions which this Bill has at present.

Lord Callanan Portrait Lord Callanan (Con)
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I was expecting more interventions before my reply—I offer my apologies.

These amendments relate to Clause 55, which provides, as has been stated, that the Secretary of State can direct a public authority to request a report from the subsidy advice unit for a proposed subsidy or subsidy scheme. This so-called call-in power will be used as a safety net where the Secretary of State considers that a subsidy or scheme is at risk of not complying with the subsidy control requirements or that it poses a risk of negative effects on competition or investment in the UK and therefore warrants further scrutiny.

In the majority of cases, the most potentially harmful subsidies will be those that meet the criteria for subsidies of particular interest. The Government’s proposal for how these criteria should be defined has been set out in illustrative regulations that have been made available to this Committee. However, it is inevitable that there will be some subsidies or schemes that fall outside those boundaries but would still benefit from the additional scrutiny offered by the SAU. The call-in power is a safety net. It provides a mechanism to catch potentially concerning subsidies that are not caught within the “subsidies of particular interest” definition and have not otherwise been voluntarily referred to the subsidy advice unit. It is expected that such subsidies will be few and will reduce further as the regime settles in.

When the Secretary of State decides to exercise this call-in power, the direction must be published. In addition, the subsidy advice unit must provide annual reports on its caseload, including any subsidies or schemes called in by the Secretary of State. These annual reports will be laid before Parliament. This transparency will help to ensure that the power is being used appropriately and that Parliament has oversight of how and when the power is being used.

Amendments 54, 56, 58 and 60 would allow the devolved Administrations to refer a subsidy or subsidy scheme to the subsidy advice unit under the terms of Clause 55. Similarly, Amendments 55, 57 and 59 would extend the power to call in subsidies for review by the subsidy advice unit to all local authorities in the United Kingdom.

The Secretary of State’s responsibilities and interests in the subsidy control regime are UK-wide. The subsidy control regime is a reserved matter. The UK Government are responsible for the compliance of the UK subsidy control regime in all parts of the United Kingdom with our international obligations, including the trade and co-operation agreement with the European Union. It is therefore right that the UK Government have responsibility for the referral mechanism that deals with any subsidies that fall outside of the established criteria for further mandatory scrutiny. It is also right that the UK Government oversee the functioning of the regime as a whole, including the caseload of the subsidy advice unit.

In response to the specific concerns raised by the noble Lords, Lord Bruce and Lord Purvis, I believe it is important that the positions of the devolved Administrations and other public authorities are taken into account in the exercise of this function. I assure noble Lords that the Secretary of State would take it extremely seriously if he received a request from another public authority to call in a particular subsidy or scheme. Of course, he would engage with the substance of that request and consider it on its merits, but I hope it goes without saying that officials and Ministers in my department would discuss the matter appropriately with the public authority that raised the concern; this would apply even if it were a subsidy given by the UK Government.

Baroness Randerson Portrait Baroness Randerson (LD)
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If the Secretary of State has acted as Minister for England and a devolved Government want to get the Secretary of State to call something in on the grounds that they are not happy with it perhaps being uneven or giving an unfair advantage to a company operating in England, what Chinese walls—that is, what process—will the UK Government put in place to ensure that the Secretary of State, who has just made a decision on England’s behalf, will not then judge himself or herself when the issue is called into question by a devolved Government?

Lord Callanan Portrait Lord Callanan (Con)
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The noble Baroness is approaching this issue in completely the wrong way. First, this is a UK-wide regime, so the Secretary of State is acting in his capacity as UK-wide Minister responsible for it. We have said that we will take it extremely seriously if a devolved Administration request a referral to the subsidy advice unit. We are currently in discussions with the devolved Administrations on how such a system could be codified. However, the key point is that this is just a referral to the subsidy advice unit. It is not rendering a subsidy illegal; it is not challenging it.

Directly relating to the point made earlier by the noble Lord, Lord Bruce, a devolved Administration have exactly the same rights as the Secretary of State or a local authority or anybody else to challenge the decision. The right for the Secretary of State to call in a proposal is just to refer it for advice from the subsidy advice unit; it is not to challenge the decision. The challenging of a decision takes place in the Competition Appeal Tribunal.

Lord Purvis of Tweed Portrait Lord Purvis of Tweed (LD)
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The case that the Minister makes is a case against what he took through in the internal market Act. Under that Act, the Secretary of State is responsible for the economic impact on the whole of the United Kingdom, but a national authority can refer a regulation made by the Secretary of State to the CMA—in fact, one or more of them can refer. Why can they do that in the internal market Act but not in this Bill?

Lord Callanan Portrait Lord Callanan (Con)
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The internal market Act, which we debated at great length, reserved the application of a subsidy control regime to the UK Government. This is now the subsidy control regime that the United Kingdom Internal Market Act set up.

Lord Purvis of Tweed Portrait Lord Purvis of Tweed (LD)
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I do not think that is relevant, because no one had any doubt about the fact that the internal market is a reserved power. They are both reserved powers; in the internal market Act, the Secretary of State acts on a reserved basis for the whole of the internal market, but it allows a national authority to refer a decision of the Secretary of State to the CMA if it has doubts about that measure. Subsidy control is a reserved matter—there is no doubt about that—but the subsidy Bill prevents a national authority referring a decision by the Secretary of State to the CMA. Why?

Lord Callanan Portrait Lord Callanan (Con)
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I think the noble Lord is getting confused between the subsidy advice unit and the Competition Appeal Tribunal. Exactly the same right exists for devolved Administrations, the Secretary of State or a local authority to challenge a decision in the Competition Appeal Tribunal. This call-in power is related strictly to the ability to request an opinion from the subsidy advice unit. That is where I think the noble Lord’s confusion comes in. The same right exists for authorities to challenge a subsidy, but there is an overall policing function which belongs to the UK Government to look after the international obligations of the UK under agreements such as the TCA.

Lord Purvis of Tweed Portrait Lord Purvis of Tweed (LD)
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I am talking about a call-in that is exactly the same as in Section 36 of the internal market Act. I am not talking about tribunals; I am not talking about it being adjudicated. I am not confused; I am talking about referrals. The internal market Act allows referrals from a national authority; this Bill does not. All I am asking is why there is a difference between the two.

Lord Callanan Portrait Lord Callanan (Con)
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It is because the responsibilities are different. They might all rest within different parts of the CMA, but the responsibilities under the internal market Act are different to those under the Subsidy Control Bill that we are debating today. The policing of the Act is of course the responsibility of the UK Government; it is a reserved responsibility, but the same right to challenge a decision exists for the Secretary of State as it does for the devolved Administrations. Using the ability to refer a decision to the subsidy advice unit, we are saying that we will take a request from a public authority or devolved Administration very seriously under the Secretary of State’s call-in powers, but, in addition to that, we are currently in discussions with the devolved Administrations to see whether it is possible to reach an agreement on some sort of codifying mechanism to refer decisions to the subsidy advice unit.

We hope that no UK government subsidies would require referral, but I can tell the Committee that Ministers will be open-minded to calling in a UK government subsidy for SAU scrutiny where that is requested by another public authority or considered desirable for other reasons.

To respond to the concerns of the noble Baroness, Lady Blake, the Secretary of State would always take into account any urgent circumstances, whether in considering the use of the call-in powers or in the exemption from mandatory referral for subsidies of particular interest set out in Clause 64.

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Lord Bruce of Bennachie Portrait Lord Bruce of Bennachie (LD)
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I am glad that those conversations are taking place, but is not the danger that if the devolved Administrations do not have the opportunity to get that advice, they might as well move to a direct challenge? It makes the friction more extreme rather than less. I accept the point the Minister is making about not wanting lots of frivolous requests, but if the right to request at all is denied, the danger is that there will be more contentious challenges.

Lord Callanan Portrait Lord Callanan (Con)
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We are not denying the right to request, which is why we are currently in discussions with the devolved Administrations to try to codify the system, but we have to accept the reality that they have a fundamental objection to subsidy control being reserved to the UK Government. They do not believe that it should be a UK-wide function. While we can agree and discuss many of the details, it is a black or white situation whether it is reserved to the UK Government. We feel it should be. That was Parliament’s decision in the United Kingdom Internal Market Act. The devolved Administrations do not agree with that, but it is a fact, so while it is possible to agree with them on many of the details, and we have engaged extensively at ministerial and official levels, we cannot resolve the fundamental difference of opinion on the overall principle.

There is a risk that this amendment would overburden the subsidy advice unit with numerous and unnecessary directions for referrals. The noble Lord, Lord Bruce, talked about the ability of the current Scottish Administration to put friction in the relationship and to seek to cause division where there is perhaps no division at the moment, and that would require substantial and unpredictable additional resources. In contrast, given my department’s responsibility for and its relationship with the Competition and Markets Authority, the Secretary of State will be able to take referral decisions that factor in the overall workload and capacity of the subsidy advice unit and will work with others in government to ensure the unit is appropriately resourced to deliver its functions over the medium and long term.

We appreciate that the new regime represents a significant shift from the requirements of the previous EU state aid regime and that public authorities will need to familiarise themselves with the new requirements and processes. Public authorities will already be used to the interim arrangements under our international obligations, including in the trade and co-operation agreement, which require an assessment of a prospective subsidy or scheme against six principles. As always, my department stands ready to support further through guidance and advice to help to ensure that public authorities in all parts of the United Kingdom are prepared and feel comfortable making their own assessments and giving out subsidies, hopefully without the need to seek advice from the subsidy advice unit. Therefore, for the reasons I have stated, I am unable to accept the amendment and hope that, given the explanations I have provided, the noble Baroness will feel able to withdraw the amendment.

Baroness Blake of Leeds Portrait Baroness Blake of Leeds (Lab)
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I am sure that it does not fall to me to remind the Minister that the Secretary of State might be a woman as well as a man.

I would be grateful if the clarification that the Minister gave to the noble Lord, Lord Purvis, could be given to all of us in writing, as it would be really helpful in trying to move this forward. I am slightly concerned that there is a bit of a patronising element creeping into this, and I think that we need to be very careful about that in terms of how we build the relationships going forward.

It really remains to be said now that we perhaps need to reserve our position on this as we move to the next stage, in the light of ongoing discussions and consultation as the Minister has outlined. I think that we would all like the opportunity to go back to base and to understand how these discussions are continuing. I am sure that we will then come together to make decisions on how to move this forward at the next stage. With those comments, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

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Lord McNicol of West Kilbride Portrait Lord McNicol of West Kilbride (Lab)
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My Lords, I think we will have a hard stop at 7.45 pm, so I will try to be brief. Even then, though, I am not sure that we will get through everything. Obviously I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Lamont, for tabling his amendments in this group; they sit very nicely with my amendment.

There are some general concerns over whether the CMA is the appropriate body to undertake all this work but, putting that to one side just now, it seems counterintuitive not to give the responsible regulator the ability to initiate its own investigations—especially because, as the noble Lord, Lord Lamont, rightly said, this is a very permissive regime in terms of how it has been pulled together. It is fundamentally different from the European state aid regime and we expect it to be policed by competitors and citizens, and that is only if they have checked the database and if the subsidy has been of a high enough level to make it on to the database—more than £315,000, I think. Even then, they will be able to make those challenges only within a tight timeframe.

On the amendments, although my Amendment 61 is quite detailed, again, we really are not precious about the wording in it or who has oversight, whether it is someone from our own Benches or those of the noble Lord, Lord Lamont—or even if the Government themselves wish to bring an amendment to look to give the CMA, as an independent body, more powers to follow through and ensure that transparency is actually there. My amendment would give the CMA the power to conduct post-award investigations in cases where it believes, God forbid, that a public authority has failed to comply with the requirement. With that, I end my remarks and look forward to the Minister’s response.

Lord Callanan Portrait Lord Callanan (Con)
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I am grateful to noble Lords. I know that time is getting on; hopefully I will have a chance to get through my remarks in the time we have available. This is an important debate and I recognise that, if it were not for the time, other noble Lords might also have wanted to intervene on the role of the Competition and Markets Authority in this new subsidy control regime.

I listened with particular interest to my noble friend Lord Lamont’s reflections on subsidy. In response, I would say that it is important to emphasise that the Bill does not, of course, replace our gold-standard mechanisms—my noble friend may have been responsible for many of them—for managing public money and for the transparency and scrutiny accorded to the UK Government’s spending decisions. I also note that we addressed the concept of market failure in the illustrative guidance we sent round; we believe that it is a fundamental part of the guidance that will be published before the regime comes into force.

Before I address the amendments, let me take this opportunity to lay out why we have taken the approach we have in the Bill as it stands; I hope that this will address the concerns of the noble Lord, Lord Purvis. We start from the knowledge that public authorities, in my view, take their statutory obligations seriously. The subsidy control principles and other requirements are straightforward and sensible, and we expect the vast majority of public authorities to comply with these requirements in giving the overwhelming majority of their subsidies. This regime empowers public authorities to make subsidy control decisions without excessive bureaucracy or regulation of the kind that I think most people accept is found in the EU state aid system and nowhere else in the world.

With this in mind, we proposed the functions of the subsidy advice unit set out in the Bill for two closely related reasons: first, to support public authorities in giving the subsidies that are most likely to be distortive; and, secondly, to ensure that those subsidies are subject to additional scrutiny and transparency before they are given. As the noble and learned Lord, Lord Thomas, set out, we think that this is an extremely important role. Once a subsidy or scheme has been referred, the subsidy advice unit will not attempt to replicate the role of the public authority in giving that subsidy in the first place or deciding whether or not to give a subsidy. Of course, it will also not replicate the role of the Competition Appeal Tribunal in applying the law to every aspect of the case. The subsidy advice unit will not carry out its own independent evaluation of the impacts of the subsidy; nor will it come to a definitive judgment on the public authority’s legal assessment of whether the measure is a subsidy, to answer the question from the noble and learned Lord, Lord Thomas.

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Lord McNicol of West Kilbride Portrait Lord McNicol of West Kilbride (Lab)
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My Lords, rather than rush through, let us finish here. I am sure there are some issues that we would go into if there were not one minute remaining.

Lord Callanan Portrait Lord Callanan (Con)
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Do we have time to finish?

Lord Fox Portrait Lord Fox (LD)
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I think we are comfortable starting again on Wednesday and giving this proper time.

Lord McNicol of West Kilbride Portrait Lord McNicol of West Kilbride (Lab)
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The noble Lord, Lord Lamont, has yet to respond as well. It will not take long on Wednesday.

Lord Callanan Portrait Lord Callanan (Con)
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So shall we finish at this point and start again on Wednesday. Is my noble friend Lord Lamont available for the next Committee session on Wednesday afternoon? We are talking about suspending at this point, because we have run out of time, and returning to this group of amendments then.

Debate on Amendment 55A resumed.
Lord Callanan Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (Lord Callanan) (Con)
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My Lords, I trust that it will be acceptable to your Lordships for me to pick up exactly where we were cut off in our prime on Monday, which noble Lords will be gratified to know was where I began speaking to Amendments 55A, 57A, 57B, 60A and 61.

Collectively, these amendments would allow the call-in powers currently provided to the Secretary of State to be exercised by the subsidy advice unit as well. Amendment 61 would create a new concept of a post-award investigation, which would be an extensive review by the SAU of the public authority’s decision-making process before giving a subsidy or making a scheme. I recognise the concerns of noble Lords that this system perhaps gives too great a responsibility to the Secretary of State. However, as I set out in response to the preceding group of amendments on Monday, it is appropriate that the Secretary of State is responsible for making these judgments in the interests of the entirety of the United Kingdom. In that function, they are answerable to this Parliament and to the interests of every citizen in the UK, and ultimately, as I keep stressing, for ensuring that the UK is compliant with its international commitments.

However, I would submit that there is a fundamental difference between a power to be exercised by the Secretary of State as a safety net, and a power to be exercised by a body such as the Competition and Markets Authority. There is very little possibility for the latter to exercise discretion and act only in situations that otherwise come to its attention. To carry out the functions envisaged by these amendments, the SAU would therefore have to scale up considerably. It would need a full market monitoring function to remain apprised of any potential new subsidies, including a public-facing arm to gather information and complaints, and it would need to develop clear criteria and decision-making processes for using these call-in powers.

Of course, ministerial decision-making must also be even-handed and evidence-based, but Ministers can and should have more discretion to make case-by- case judgments and will naturally be more aware of forthcoming distortive subsidies and where our international obligations are more likely to be impacted. The amendments tabled would require a very significant shift in the role of the SAU and would move it far closer to being a regulator of subsidies, which, to address the point made by the noble Lord, Lord McNicol, is not the Government’s intention, for the reasons that I have set out. This would of course create costs to the taxpayer, both in setting up this expanded subsidy advice unit and in the legal uncertainty and delays for legitimate subsidies that are placed under review or investigation.

I would also like to address the specific point that a government Minister will be unlikely to call in a subsidy that the Government themselves are giving. As I said in the previous sitting, Ministers will remain open-minded to referring a UK government subsidy to the SAU where it would be beneficial to have additional scrutiny of their own assessment. As with the regulations for automatic mandatory referral, there is no exemption for government subsidies. It is important to recognise that the SAU referral is a mechanism for scrutiny, transparency and advice which will support but not directly form part of the enforcement process, so there is no concern that the Government will be launching a legal challenge against themselves.

In summary, creating a function for the SAU to refer subsidies to itself or to initiate investigations would fundamentally change its role from one of oversight and monitoring to regulation and enforcement—a change which would be welcomed by the noble Lord, Lord Fox, but not by the Government, noble Lords will be shocked to know. I therefore hope that the noble Lord will withdraw the amendment.

Lord Purvis of Tweed Portrait Lord Purvis of Tweed (LD)
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Before the Minister sits down, I have a question, which may pertain to debates on later groups of amendments. Do the Government consider a subsidy scheme to be a regulatory provision within the terms of the internal market Act?

Lord Callanan Portrait Lord Callanan (Con)
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The internal market Act is of course a separate piece of legislation from the Subsidy Control Bill. I will pass on the noble Lord’s question, think about it and respond later or in writing.

Lord Purvis of Tweed Portrait Lord Purvis of Tweed (LD)
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I thank the Minister. I ask because my understanding is that a regulatory provision can be a subsidy; it has nothing to do with there being two separate pieces of legislation. As the Minister knows, the internal market Act takes into account any regulatory provision that will have an impact on the operation of the internal market. As the Minister has previously said, subsidy schemes will be considered as part of the operation of the internal market. So, if such a scheme is a regulatory provision under the terms of the internal market Act, any national authority would be empowered under that Act to ask the CMA for its view on whether that provision will distort the internal market. Is my understanding of that correct?

Lord Callanan Portrait Lord Callanan (Con)
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No, my understanding, on advice, is that it does not form a provision under the internal market Act.

Lord Lamont of Lerwick Portrait Lord Lamont of Lerwick (Con)
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Again, before the Minister sits down, I have a couple of questions. I apologise to him for this, but we have had the benefit of actually seeing his words written down in Hansard. Some of the phrases he came out with were quite dense and intricate, and I was rather puzzled by two points. The first was when he talked about the functions of the SAU. He said that it was intended

“to support public authorities in giving the subsidies that are most likely to be distortive.”—[Official Report, 7/2/22; col. GC 383.]

I am puzzled by the word “support”, and puzzled that we would want to support the ones that are most distortive. I am sure I am misunderstanding it, but I would like the Minister to explain.

Lord Callanan Portrait Lord Callanan (Con)
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I will have to look back at those remarks myself. It is possible that I was misinterpreted at the time, but I will have a look and come back to the noble Lord.

Lord Lamont of Lerwick Portrait Lord Lamont of Lerwick (Con)
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Let me also read out a second bit that I felt was particularly incomprehensible. If anybody in the Committee can understand it, I will be very impressed. I will read it slowly. The Minister said:

“I do not believe there is a contradiction in saying that a full assessment of compliance is light-touch regulation for the public authority but could prove arduous to replicate for the subsidy advice unit.”—[Official Report, 7/2/22; col. GC 383.]

Lord Callanan Portrait Lord Callanan (Con)
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I think that speaks for itself. I stand by those words.

Lord Fox Portrait Lord Fox (LD)
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I thank the Minister for giving way. Perhaps that is why we asked him to stop—so that we could start again today. His answer to my noble friend Lord Purvis is intriguing. He seems to be saying that no matter how much a subsidy affects the UK internal market—I will wait for the Minister to finish his conversation—it can never be within the purview of the internal market Act. Is that what he just said?

Lord Callanan Portrait Lord Callanan (Con)
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Yes. Subsidy is not a regulated provision within the scope of the UK provisions. We are debating this in a future grouping, so we will no doubt be able to come back to it, but my advice is that it is not.

Lord Lamont of Lerwick Portrait Lord Lamont of Lerwick (Con)
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My Lords, I am very grateful to all those who spoke in the debate and supported my Amendments 55A, 57A and 57B. I am grateful in particular to the noble and learned Lord, Lord Thomas, who made a very powerful speech about the need for an independent evaluation of subsidies. The noble Lord, Lord Purvis, pointed out that, if we had an independent assessment, it would increase the possibility of consistency in the whole regime, which I thought was a very important point. The noble Lord, Lord McNicol, made the point that it was completely counterintuitive, after everything that had been said about the control of subsidies, not to have an independent evaluation. So I hope that there is quite a degree of support in the Committee for these amendments.

I do not think that the Minister today really explained why we could not have an independent regulator. He said that it would require a certain scaling up of resources. Well, obviously, it would. He said that it would become more like a regulator, rather than whatever else it is. Well, we want it to be a regulator—that is the whole point—with control of subsidies. But I really did not feel that he had made out a case against. He told us what the SAU does, but he did not explain why it would be wrong for it to do more things or to be scaled up and become a proper regulator.

The reason why I was particularly interested in the two passages that I put to the Minister—he is going to write to explain them to me—is that the more I listened to him, the more it became clear to me that the general line in this Bill is, “Public authorities know what they are doing, so let them, by and large, get on with it. Maybe somebody will object; they have 28 days. Don’t make it any longer because a lot of them might object; just give them 28 days. But by and large public authorities know what they are doing, so we want them just to get on with it”.

The Minister said that the SAU would not carry out its own assessment of compliance. Is that enough? It seems as though what it is going to do is extremely limited: it is just going to examine process. The Minister said:

“The SAU would be acting without the understanding and body of evidence that the public authority will have created in developing the subsidy”.


That is, the public authority will know more than the people who are checking the subsidy. Is that really the right way round? It seems to me a real Alice in Wonderland to call this control of subsidies, when those who have actually invented the subsidy and paid the money know more about it than the people who are regulating them—and this is admitted by the Minister at the same time. The Minister also said:

“There is no intention to build up an extensive monitoring function within my department or the CMA”.—[Official Report, 7/2/2022; cols. GC 383-4.]


Surely, that is exactly what we need. If we are talking about the control of subsidies, how can we have it without monitoring subsidies? That becomes even weaker when you consider what has been referred to again and again in Committee about the 28 days.

It seems to me that the SAU is far too weak for this really to be a Subsidy Control Bill; it ought to be renamed the “Support of Subsidies Bill”, because that is actually what it is. The reality of the Bill is that it is not attempting to control subsidies at all; it is just giving expression to the undertakings that the Government gave on Brexit in the TCA. I see the Minister smiling, although I shall not refer to that again. The Government gave assurances that were embodied in the TCA about not having subsidies that might distort competition with the European Union, so we have to have a control mechanism, and it is this Bill. But there is also a national interest in having proper competition and control of subsidies, and I do not think, frankly, that the Bill does that. It is far too weak. But having made my points and not persuaded the Minister, I look forward very much to the letter he is going to write to me explaining what he said. With that, I withdraw my amendment.

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Baroness Bloomfield of Hinton Waldrist Portrait Baroness Bloomfield of Hinton Waldrist (Con)
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On the specific point about agriculture, I do not know whether the letter addressing those points has been issued yet. I can say that 99.5% of subsidies given to the agriculture industry in the UK would not fall within the remit of the subsidy; they are lower. We do not have the data for Scotland or Wales, but it captures only the very largest subsidy given to the very largest farms. That may include some in Scotland with that sort of acreage—

Lord Callanan Portrait Lord Callanan (Con)
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Or Labour supporters.

Baroness Bloomfield of Hinton Waldrist Portrait Baroness Bloomfield of Hinton Waldrist (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I hope that that addresses the noble Lord’s concerns.

Baroness Bloomfield of Hinton Waldrist Portrait Baroness Bloomfield of Hinton Waldrist (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

One of the noble Baroness’s concerns was that there was no overarching principle for the Government’s drive towards net zero. I think that the Environment Act provides the overarching context for whatever we are doing. As I say, the Office for Environmental Protection will also scrutinise the Government’s progress towards targets annually. I do not know what further level of granularity the noble Baroness wishes to apply.

Lord Callanan Portrait Lord Callanan (Con)
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There is also the Climate Change Act.

Baroness Bloomfield of Hinton Waldrist Portrait Baroness Bloomfield of Hinton Waldrist (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

There is also the Climate Change Act, as my noble friend has just reminded me.

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Lord Fox Portrait Lord Fox (LD)
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My Lords, this is an interesting debate. I originally set out, as Committee stages are wont to do, to tease out some minor details and things from this legislation, but it is clear that there is a major philosophical point that needs to be established before the minor details can be filled in.

Perhaps the Minister can cast himself back to when he was at school. I am sure that he popped into the odd mathematics lesson. He may well have come across a thing called a Venn diagram. For those who missed that particular week, a Venn diagram is made up of a number of circles. The degree to which they intersect indicates the amount of common area that they have—and perhaps the Minister is beginning to understand the direction of travel.

The issue here is that the Minister is asserting that, when it comes to subsidies, essentially, the internal market Act and this Subsidy Control Bill are discrete circles—that is circles that barely intersect or do not do so at all. We have ministerial assertion, and then we have the words as written in Bills and Acts. My noble friend Lord Purvis carefully and usefully filleted the words from the internal market Act, which seem to indicate that there is a large element of common ground with respect to subsidies between these two circles—these two pieces of legislation. Therefore, it is not possible to unpick the words and aims of the internal market Act when talking about subsidies.

My noble friend set out some of the potential contradictions. I will be simpler, because I am a simpler person. Reading those two pieces of legislation, and looking at words rather than hearing the Minister’s assertions, it seems to me that the Scottish Government could design a subsidies scheme. The CMA and the SAU within it, using this Subsidy Control Bill as their guide, as my noble friend set out, would indicate that this scheme is allowable and that market distortions are only minimal, as the Bill allows. The scheme could therefore be launched. However, the OIM—the Office for the Internal Market—would then analyse that subsidies scheme and detect that there are indeed distortions, albeit minimal ones, in that market. This information would be passed to the Secretary of State, who could, quite properly, then withdraw that scheme or cause it to be withdrawn; that is what the words in that Act and this Bill say. So I am interested to understand from the Minister why this might not be the case.

A separate and slightly smaller issue is that, within the CMA, we have the OIM and the SAU. Will these two organisations be operated discretely? Will there be Chinese walls between them in that they will operate under different Acts? Will they operate off the same data, or will they have to get their data separately? Indeed, coming back to the question asked by the noble Lord, Lord German, will they share the same lawyers when push comes to shove?

We seem to have here two things that the Minister is trying to push apart but which the words bring closely together. The purpose of these amendments is to understand how the Minister can assert that these two worlds are separate when the words indicate quite the opposite.

Lord Callanan Portrait Lord Callanan (Con)
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First, I thank the noble Lords, Lord Purvis and Lord Fox, for their amendments. They seek to probe the interactions between the OIM and the Bill, as well as the functions of the CMA more generally; I will take them together. Seeing as we were all involved in the debate on the then internal market Bill, I am getting flashes of déjà vu with all the different acronyms, such as the OIM and the SAU. Perhaps it is a Venn diagram, as the noble Lord, Lord Fox, indicated, but I will set out the position and, hopefully, resolve it.

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Lord Purvis of Tweed Portrait Lord Purvis of Tweed (LD)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I have been following the Minister’s line of argument, but I do not think that it comes to the same conclusion. Under UKIM, a provision that is a subsidy scheme is not permitted under the non-discrimination principle, taking into account

“the circumstances or manner in which the goods are sold … by whom, to whom, or the price or other terms on which they may be sold”.

It is prohibited under the market access principles on non-discrimination. The Minister is saying that it is permitted under this Bill, because a measure would absolutely affect the price of the goods under the principles in the schedule. I am just wondering why a subsidy is not considered as a provision under the internal market Act, because they are prohibited under the non-discrimination principles.

Lord Callanan Portrait Lord Callanan (Con)
- Hansard - -

The United Kingdom Internal Market Act applies only to certain regulatory provisions, and a subsidy scheme would not meet the necessary conditions required. This is a complicated legal area, and I suspect that the best way in which to advise the noble Lord would be for me to write to him with appropriate details.

Lord Purvis of Tweed Portrait Lord Purvis of Tweed (LD)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

With respect, we are in Committee on a Bill and we are making law, and simply to say that this is a complex legal area is not correct. We are making law—and it is not convincing to say that these schemes would not be under the Act when there is nothing under the Act that says that they are not. You cannot just assert when we are making law, because we also want to make sure that these provisions are protected from challenge. As to anybody who thinks that this is not going to be open to challenge, because it provides assistance for the certain price of certain goods in one area, it will be challenged under the internal market Act, because it is discriminatory. Unless there is clear legislative protection that this is excluded from these measures, I am afraid that it comes back to the fact that this area is absolutely ripe for legal confusion.

Lord Callanan Portrait Lord Callanan (Con)
- Hansard - -

The reason why I made that point clear to the noble Lord—and I understand the point that he is making—is to explain to him the legal advice that I have received from the lawyers responsible for this Bill. Clearly, the noble Lord has a different interpretation, but I have set it out in great detail, and the advice that I have received is that UKIM applies only to certain regulatory provision and a subsidy control scheme would not meet those necessary conditions. Clearly, there are differing views, and there are lots of esteemed lawyers in this room; that is the advice that I have received, and I am happy to go away and speak to the lawyers to get the noble Lord more detailed advice, but I can go no further than to give him the advice that we have received on these provisions.

I turn to Amendment 72. I stress to noble Lords, particularly to address the concerns of the noble Lord, Lord Wigley, that the CMA was chosen as the home of the subsidy advice unit precisely because of both the former’s experience protecting UK competition and its credibility with domestic and international stakeholders. The CMA is independent in its function and will carry out its duties as such, with equal regard and even-handedness towards all four Governments of the United Kingdom. Earlier, my noble friend Lady Bloomfield went into more detail on the different territorial offices of the CMA that already exist and on the way it carries out its functions across all the parts of our nation.

While a similarly drafted clause is included in Section 31(4) of the UKIM Act, I question how appropriate it would be to replicate that provision here. The provision in Section 31(4) reflects the unique relationship between the UK Government and the devolved Governments in ensuring the proper functioning of the internal market and their responsibilities for delivering regulatory provisions for each part of the United Kingdom.

However, a great number of public authorities will be responsible for designing subsidies and schemes that are consistent with the subsidy control principles. Of course, the devolved Administrations have an important constitutional status and a unique role in working with the UK Government on ongoing policy development for subsidy control. But subsidy control is a reserved policy and is not an ongoing legislative architecture for co-ordination between the four parts of the UK. I appreciate the devolved Administrations do not agree with that fact, but it was legislated for under the UKIM Act. I therefore request that the noble Lord withdraws his amendment.

Lord Purvis of Tweed Portrait Lord Purvis of Tweed (LD)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I am grateful to the Minister for his reply, but I am also grateful to my noble friend Lord Fox, the noble Lord, Lord Wigley, and the noble Baroness, Lady Blake, for their contributions on this. I am quite happy that we have explored this further. The Minister took the point—I do not think this is legal pedantry—that when it comes to the reality of when subsidies start to be issued, for those seeking to challenge or those aggrieved, this must be watertight. Therefore, I am grateful to the Minister for offering further discussions on this. I understand that his office has been in touch in seeking to organise a meeting, and I am grateful for that. He fully knows now that he will need to be prepared and bring his lawyer along to that meeting to assuage some of the concerns.

I am not entirely convinced that the requirement to act even-handedly goes, because there will be more bodies to act even-handedly towards. I do not think acting even-handedly is a zero-sum thing, given that an even-handed nature is in the internal market Act but not in how it operates as a whole, because that Act and the subsidy control regime are both reserved issues. It jars that, when it comes to the CMA carrying out its functions, it has to act even-handedly in considering the operation of the internal market, but that requirement is absent when it is considering the distortion of competition.

In the meantime, and in looking forward to the meeting with the Minister to reflect on this further, I beg leave to withdraw Amendment 66.

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Lord McNicol of West Kilbride Portrait Lord McNicol of West Kilbride (Lab)
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We welcome the tabling of these two amendments, which move us on from the composition and core investigatory powers of the CMA towards enforcement or, to use the word of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope, “guidance” of subsidy decisions, via the Competition Appeal Tribunal. The two amendments in this group aim to achieve similar things but by different means.

In relation to Amendment 67 from the noble and learned Lord, Lord Thomas of Cwmgiedd, the CMA would have the option to refer matters to the CAT. That is a sensible proposition, and we are more than happy to support it. It seems counterintuitive to have a body tasked with investigating or looking at whether due process was followed when the subsidy was awarded, only for a separate person or entity to be left to initiate enforcement proceedings. Even if an interested party were to use the SAU’s output as a basis for referring the matter to the CAT, how much weight does the Minister think such a report would carry? As an entirely separate entity, would it be reasonable for the CAT to disregard or override any of the SAU’s findings?

Amendment 71 from the noble Lord, Lord Fox, takes a slightly different approach. It gives the CAT the powers to pre-emptively investigate subsidies if it believes that an award is not consistent with the principles of the Bill. I am more than happy to support this amendment. Whichever approach is taken, it is clear that all involved need greater clarity on how disputes will play out. I will not repeat the points made by the noble Lord, Lord Lamont, but independent enforcement will bring clearer and better oversight to the Bill.

Lord Callanan Portrait Lord Callanan (Con)
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I thank the noble and learned Lord, Lord Thomas, and my noble friend Lord Lamont for tabling Amendment 67. I also thank them and the noble Lord, Lord Fox, for Amendment 71. Before addressing the two amendments in turn, I will offer some context. We have discussed at length the conception of the new domestic control regime as envisaged by the Government. We have heard criticism to the effect that the regime is, in the view of the protagonists, lacking in robust enforcement.

Of course, international comparisons are somewhat beside the point for our UK-specific approach. It is worth while bearing in mind, though, that the mere fact of establishing a coherent regime for the purposes of subsidy control would place the UK somewhere near the top of the list of the most comprehensive subsidy control regimes. Outside the European Union, no other international partner or competitor will enjoy such a comprehensive and transparent approach to the regulation of subsidies.

Lord Lamont of Lerwick Portrait Lord Lamont of Lerwick (Con)
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Is the reason for that not that the EU insisted on it, and that is why the Bill is being brought forward—not to be effective but to strike agreement with the EU?

Lord Callanan Portrait Lord Callanan (Con)
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This legislation was predicated in the TCA, as my noble friend points out. We are of course meeting our obligations. One of the purposes of this legislation is to meet our international obligations, not just under the TCA but with other trade agreements that we might strike as well.

In our view, an interventionist regulatory role is not necessary for the effective scrutiny of subsidies and would be detrimental to the smooth development and deployment of subsidies where they are needed. I have confidence that public authorities will take their statutory obligations under this regime very seriously and, in fulfilling those obligations, public authorities will be supported by comprehensive guidance. As a result, I do not anticipate that breaches will be by any means a common occurrence. My noble friend referred to the EU state aid regime, which is a different system, but it is revealing of public authorities’ attitudes to their obligations that since 1999, the European Commission has ordered UK public authorities to recover aid on only four occasions.

Lord McNicol of West Kilbride Portrait Lord McNicol of West Kilbride (Lab)
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That is because those systems are fundamentally different. The EU state aid system was a pre-authorisation, not a post-investigation or oversight. It is not comparing apples with apples, because of how the systems operate.

Lord Callanan Portrait Lord Callanan (Con)
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I said that it was a different regime but was pointing out the number of times that subsidy has been recovered since 1999. My point is that it is not a frequent occurrence. I totally accept that it is a different system and that they are different regimes, but it served as an example of the behaviour of UK public authorities.

In the event of such breaches occurring, a private person asking the court to review the legality of a public authority’s action is a well-established route for ensuring that those authorities do not exceed their powers or act irrationally, and for preserving the rights of the individual against the state. Indeed, it is the normal way for challenging the actions of public authorities, and that is why we have broadly replicated the judicial review process in this Bill, with some subsidy-specific adjustments and additions. I know that noble Lords sitting at the back will be much more familiar with that regime than I am.

Today and in other Committee sessions, your Lordships have asked, in the absence of an enforcer—I will not attempt to repeat my noble friend Lord Lamont’s Latin experience—who will challenge subsidies and how a potential interested party will know about a subsidy that may affect their interests.

The subsidy control requirements are not a regulatory abstraction; they are there to prevent unnecessary distortions of competition. Where a public authority has failed to assess a subsidy against the principles, there is likely to be harm. Anyone whose interests may be affected by the subsidy, be they individuals, businesses or other public authorities, including the devolved Administrations, they have standing to challenge it. The people best placed to decide whether to bring a challenge are those who are actually operating in the relevant sector and area.

Transparency declarations will provide enough information for people to assess whether their interests may be affected by a subsidy. I once again underline that every subsidy or scheme that is in scope of the main subsidy control requirements and that may be challenged in the Competition Appeal Tribunal is also subject to the subsidy control transparency requirements, with the exception of certain SPEI subsidies, as we debated the other day. For those subsidies that present a greater risk to the market, or where the public authority is less sure of its assessment, the CMA reports will provide further information still.

On the point made by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Thomas, about the costs of pursuing a challenge, in practice an interested party is likely to take legal advice before deciding to ask for a review of a subsidy, and of course that will incur costs. However, as with other kinds of legal proceedings, the CAT can award costs to whichever party is successful. The pre-action information request process will be an important opportunity for a potential interested party to find out more about a subsidy and make a decision about whether to proceed with a challenge, and then to make a decision informed by the likelihood of success, most likely following advice.

I turn to Amendment 67 from the noble and learned Lord, Lord Thomas, and the noble Lord, Lord Lamont, and I return to some of the arguments that I made in respect of the grouping we finished at the beginning of this afternoon’s session. The subsidy advice unit is an advisory body; it is intended to advise public authorities on the most potentially distortive subsidies and, by doing so, to provide a measure of additional scrutiny and transparency to the benefit of interested parties and, ultimately, the public at large. Ultimately, the SAU will shine a light on the underlying assumptions that have led to the development of a subsidy or scheme. It is for the public authority to exercise its own judgment with respect to that information. I have confidence that public authorities will take their responsibilities under this regime seriously and, where the CMA has issued a report, the public authority will give appropriate weight to the CMA’s conclusions.

In response to the question from the noble Lord, Lord McNicol, about the purpose of SAU reports, they will provide a public indication of the quality of a public authority’s assessment. It is in a public authority’s best interests to demonstrate that they have properly considered the potential distortive impacts of a proposed subsidy or scheme, and that offering such a measure is justified and proportionate to the policy problem that they are trying to address. Should a public authority fail to take proper account of the CMA’s conclusions, the report means there will be a significant amount of information about the subsidy in the public domain, beyond what would already have been required by the transparency database. Interested parties will therefore be all the more able to assess whether the subsidy may affect their interests, and of course to mount a challenge if they so wish. There may be a difference of opinion on this, but I am afraid that I just do not agree that there should be a role for the CMA in this.

In response to the Latin question of the noble Lord, Lord Lamont, about who will guard the guards themselves, I repeat that, assisted by guidance, which will help public authorities to understand their obligation—I have cited the example of a number of repayments previously—I think we can expect a high level of compliance with the regime. As the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope, observed, the Competition Appeal Tribunal will build up a body of case law which will then be an important additional source of guidance for public authorities.

As I said to the Committee on Monday, of course I hope that no UK government subsidies would require referral, but Ministers intend to be open-minded to calling in a UK government subsidy for SAU scrutiny where that is requested by another public authority or considered desirable for other reasons. Furthermore, where necessary, the Secretary of State has the ability to refer subsidies to the Competition Appeal Tribunal. However, I would be surprised and disappointed if he or she had to challenge a subsidy made by a UK government department, but he or she could certainly do so if they felt that a subsidy risked competition and investment within the UK or compliance with the UK’s international obligations.

I turn now to Amendment 71, tabled by the noble Lords, Lord Fox and Lord Lamont, and the noble and learned Lord, Lord Thomas. This would have the Competition Appeal Tribunal refer specific subsidies to itself for decision. I would submit that that is highly unusual and would potentially compromise the CAT’s neutrality. Of course, there are practical objections to this amendment as well. As with all courts, the tribunal’s expertise, resourcing and premises are equipped for hearing cases, not for gumshoe investigatory work. I do not think that the noble Lords are really suggesting that this should be the case.

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Lord Thomas of Cwmgiedd Portrait Lord Thomas of Cwmgiedd (CB)
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I have one question for the Minister on the hard economics of recovery of damages. Will there be recovery of damages against authorities that give subsidies wrongly? Secondly, has any estimate been made about the likely recoveries?

Lord Callanan Portrait Lord Callanan (Con)
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Yes, of course, they would be able to recover damages if a party had suffered a loss. I do not think that we have any estimates of likely figures at this stage but, if we have them, I shall certainly share them with the noble and learned Lord.

Lord Thomas of Cwmgiedd Portrait Lord Thomas of Cwmgiedd (CB)
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My Lords, I thank all noble Lords who has taken part in this debate. If we are embarking on a new regime, we must make certain that it is effective—not because of whatever the EU says but for the good of our own nation and economy. Without an effective regime, this will not work.

We have taken different approaches—and I am extremely grateful to all who supported this amendment. The noble Lord, Lord Lamont, took the point of principle: who is going to look after those who make the decisions, particularly the Government? Who is going to refer them? Litigating against a Government, who have a bottomless pit, is very difficult—and, of course, there are political considerations against doing so.

The noble Lord, Lord Fox, asked what sort of regime this was, and whether there was a regulator. Whatever the Minister might say, the CMA is a kind of regulator in the market—unless the Minister is to say that there is no regulation at all. But this is law, so someone must have to enforce it.

Then there is the problem that I have referred to, of hard economic reality. Is it realistic to accept private enforcements? The benefits have been shown by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope: that we really need a body of case law to strengthen the regime, and the importance of that will become apparent later.

For all those reasons, I am afraid that I am one of those whom the Minister has not managed to persuade, but I do not think that he thought he had. But I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

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Lord McNicol of West Kilbride Portrait Lord McNicol of West Kilbride (Lab)
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I have very little to add; it has been covered comprehensively. I was happy and pleased to add my name to Amendment 69.

We have talked a lot about equity and balance, and the final group of amendments probably has even more of the issues raised in it so, rather than repeat everything that has been said, I am more than happy to endorse it. We will then pick up the final issues around engagement and involvement with the devolved authorities and central government in the final group.

Lord Callanan Portrait Lord Callanan (Con)
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My Lords, before I speak to the detail of these amendments, this is perhaps a good opportunity to update the Committee on our progress in seeking legislative consent for the Bill, as we promised in our first Committee session on 31 January.

These amendments, and a number of others we have debated, touch on the UK-wide and devolved aspects of the Bill. As we have discussed on numerous occasions, subsidy control is reserved, but there are clauses in the Bill that alter the executive competence of the devolved Administrations. From the very beginning, the UK Government, at both ministerial and official level, have worked closely and extensively with the devolved Administrations in designing the new subsidy control regime. We have worked to secure their support for LCMs for the Bill. I pay tribute to my officials and those in the devolved Administrations for their ongoing efforts in this space.

Our strong preference remains to secure legislative consent, and we will keep all avenues open to achieve this and to remedy the significant concerns of the devolved Administrations. Of course, we also want to ensure the operability of the new regime. Negotiations are still in progress, but I assure noble Lords that I will keep the House updated at the earliest opportunity, without prejudicing the content of those negotiations. I also assure the Committee that, should any amendments be necessary to reflect the outcome of those negotiations, we will table them as soon as possible prior to Report to enable your Lordships’ House to consider and scrutinise them with sufficient time.

Lord Purvis of Tweed Portrait Lord Purvis of Tweed (LD)
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I am grateful for that “no progress” update from the Minister. With regard to the current situation in Northern Ireland, including the suspension of the Assembly and the resignation of the FM/DFM, can the Minister state whether any of this legislation will be implemented in Northern Ireland during this suspension?

Lord Callanan Portrait Lord Callanan (Con)
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The legislation is UK-wide so it will apply in Northern Ireland but, clearly, the absence of the Assembly will make it extremely challenging to get the Executive’s consent. However, we certainly will continue to engage with officials.

I want to give some context on all the engagement we have done. Since July 2020, BEIS Ministers and officials have had 75 meetings in total with their counterparts in the devolved Administrations. These are not just talking shops, as has been implied, but sessions of meaningful engagement. For example, our engagement has included sharing draft objectives and building-blocks for the new subsidy control regime; sharing both the Government’s consultation and the consultation response ahead of publication; and sharing our illustrative guidance and regulations in advance of publication, as well as continued engagement as this Bill passes through Parliament. This engagement will need to continue as the regime is implemented. In fact, at this very moment, officials are working with their counterparts on a memorandum of understanding that formally sets out a mutually agreed process for engagement on the crucial next phase of policy development and implementation.

Moving back to the detail of the amendments before us, I will start with Amendment 69. Again, I thank the noble and learned Lord, Lord Thomas of Cwmgiedd, for moving the amendment, which is supported by a number of noble Lords. It would give the devolved Administrations the ability to challenge any subsidy in the Competition Appeal Tribunal, whether their interests have been affected or not. As was confirmed at the Dispatch Box in the other place, the devolved Administrations—or, indeed, any other public authority —will generally be able to apply to the CAT to review a subsidy decision where the interests of people in the areas in which they exercise their responsibilities may be affected by that subsidy. This would be a good opportunity to correct what I said on Monday: this is not exactly the same position as the Secretary of State.

The fact that the devolved Administrations are not named in this clause is by no means intended to exclude them or any other party whose interests may genuinely be affected by the granting of a subsidy. Clearly there will be limits, and the interests of the devolved Administration or local authority in a particular subsidy cannot be totally tenuous. However, the broad definition in the Bill gives the CAT maximum discretion so that, whatever the facts of the case might be, it can deem the right people as interested parties.

The reason why the Secretary of State has universal standing to challenge a subsidy, in contrast to the devolved Administrations and local authorities, is that he or she—whoever occupies that office—is responsible for the overall operation of the subsidy control regime and, as I keep saying, for the UK’s compliance with our international agreements in this reserved policy area. Neither of those reasons apply to the devolved Administrations or local authorities. It is wrong to suggest, as some noble Lords have suggested previously, that simply because the devolved Administrations exist, the Secretary of State’s horizons and duty of care are limited only to England.

It is also worth mentioning that the Government expect that the Secretary of State would use this ability only in exceptional circumstances where, in his or her view, a subsidy threatens the whole integrity of the subsidy control framework or our compliance with international agreements. It would be inappropriate to legislate that the devolved Administrations are an interested party in all cases, implying that the Secretary of State does not carry out his or her role as the responsible Minister for the subsidy control regime for everyone in all parts of the United Kingdom.

I turn now to Amendment 79, tabled by the noble Lords, Lord German and Lord Wigley. I am glad that the noble Lords referred to the recommendations of the Review of Intergovernmental Relations through the amendment. The UK Government take these co-operation mechanisms with the devolved Administrations, as set out under this review, very seriously, and we are always open to ways of strengthening these relationships. We are open to using the intergovernmental relations structures to resolve any disputes, in accordance with the IGR principles. That said, this amendment would in effect bypass a number of earlier stages in the dispute resolution process, which has already been agreed between the UK Government and all devolved Administrations. Escalation to the Council is the last resort. As I mentioned on Monday, we are also working closely with the DAs to establish a formal process for raising case-specific concerns with the department once the regime is up and running.

Let me also stress that there is no need to incorporate this provision into the Bill for disputes to be able to come under the IGR structures. Moreover, I do not anticipate that there will be any great need to refer matters of interpretation to those structures. It is important to bear in mind that there is of course a distinction between case-specific dispute, which is a matter of legality, and a public authority’s compliance with its legal obligations, for which the proper place to resolve such disputes is ultimately the CAT and a dispute or discussion between Governments on their roles and responsibilities.

There is little scope for that type of confusion over the roles and responsibilities of the UK Government on one hand and the devolved Administrations on the other in this regime. The Secretary of State for Business has responsibility for the overall operation of the regime and the UK’s compliance with its international agreements. The UK Government may also create streamlined routes to encourage subsidies that further their strategic priorities. In all other respects, UK government departments and the Secretary of State himself are in the same position as the devolved Administrations. They are public authorities within the scope of the Bill. UK government departments are treated in exactly the same way as any other public authority. All public authorities are similarly subject to the Bill and empowered by it.

As I said earlier, my officials continue to have a regular set of meetings with their DA counterparts on all subsidy control matters; these will continue, along with regular ministerial engagement. Where there is a need for dispute resolution, that dispute will come into the ambit of the agreed intergovernmental relations process.

I recognise the strength of feeling in relation to Amendment 69 in the name of the noble and learned, Lord Thomas, but I simply do not agree that either that amendment or the other would be a necessary or useful addition to the Bill. Therefore, with respect, I urge the noble and learned Lord to withdraw his amendment.

Lord Thomas of Cwmgiedd Portrait Lord Thomas of Cwmgiedd (CB)
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I thank all noble Lords who have spoken in this short debate; I do not want to lengthen it with a long reply. I will say only one thing. The Minister has not really answered my noble and learned friend Lord Hope’s question as to the meaning of “aggrieved”. It seems to me that one area in which the devolved Administration may wish to get involved is where a decision is made that does not directly affect their interests but they feel that the decision is wrong in principle and may set a bad precedent. It is that reason—their interest as Governments in upholding the rule of law and the operation of this—that I do not believe was answered by the Minister’s statement, but I will read it carefully. In the meantime, I beg leave to withdraw my amendment.

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Lord Berkeley Portrait Lord Berkeley (Lab)
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I intervene briefly to strongly support my noble friend’s amendment and other noble Lords’ comments. One solution that the Minister might be tempted to suggest is to allow them to get it in within a month but add more documentation later. That would be easy.

I refer the Committee to the proposed new rule 98A(7) of the Competition Appeal Tribunal Rules:

“The Tribunal may not extend the time limits provided for in this rule unless it is satisfied that the circumstances are exceptional.”


Probably none of the things that noble Lords mentioned would be classed as exceptional, which confirms that one month is hopelessly short. I very much support three months or even longer, if anyone has a better idea.

Lord Callanan Portrait Lord Callanan (Con)
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My Lords, I thank the noble lord, Lord McNicol for this amendment, and the noble Baroness, Lady Blake, for speaking to it. I also thank the contributions of other noble Lords—and the noble Lords, Lord Fox and Lord Lamont, reflected on this issue during the Monday’s session.

An interested party, which is anyone whose interests are affected by the subsidy, may apply to the Competition Appeal Tribunal for a review of the subsidy within one month of the subsidy’s upload to the transparency database, if there has been a post-award referral to the CMA within one month of that report, or if a pre-action information request has been made within one month of the response to this request. The limit has been set at one month so that we can give legal certainty to public authorities and subsidy beneficiaries as swiftly as possible. It is important to avoid creating such prolonged uncertainty that it acts as a brake on legitimate subsidies.

We must also ensure that interested parties have sufficient time to consider a subsidy before asking the CAT to review it. That is just what this Bill does. An interested party, perhaps a competitor who is thinking of approaching the CAT to review a subsidy, can make a pre-action information request to a public authority. The limitation period is then extended until one month after the public authority has responded. Since the pre-action information request gives the public authority up to 28 days to respond, in practice, the limitation period can run for two or three months after the publication of the subsidy or scheme on this database.

Lord McNicol of West Kilbride Portrait Lord McNicol of West Kilbride (Lab)
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If the argument is that we are only giving one month to raise a complaint or to look into this, why are the uploading timeframes six months and/or one year? If the Government want to create legal certainty for the organisation that is giving the subsidy, surely, as the noble Lord, Lord Lamont said on Monday, what is good for the goose is good for the gander. If they want that legal certainly, deliver that within the one month in terms of the upload to the database. Then there is parity and legal certainty.

Lord Callanan Portrait Lord Callanan (Con)
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As the noble Lord, Lord McNicol suggested, we explored this point fully last week. There are good reasons for it. If it is a tax subsidy, the full amount might not be clear. It might be variable, based on a number of different reasons, and the fact of giving a subsidy may well be published in other transparency obligations that local authorities or the devolved Administrations already have. However, I understand the noble Lord’s point.

In response to the noble Baroness, Lady Blake, Clause 71 also makes it clear that in exceptional circumstances, the tribunal may extend the time limits for bringing a challenge. This amendment would extend the general window for bringing a challenge from one month to three months, which is too long. It is longer than the challenge periods available in other areas where business decisions are dependent on the decisions of public bodies, such as procurement and planning decisions, where the limitation periods are 30 days and six weeks, respectively. In those areas, the harmful effects of prolonged uncertainty have been recognised through the shorter challenge periods available. The same reasoning applies in the subsidy control context. If the general limitation period for challenging subsidy decisions was extended to three months, as this amendment proposes, public authorities and subsidy beneficiaries could in practice have to wait as long as five months before having reasonable legal certainty about a subsidy that they have granted.

There is a risk that this could have a chilling effect, not only on the giving of subsidies but on the timely use of them by beneficiaries. For example, a subsidy could take the form of a loan guarantee for a capital investment, such as buying new machinery. Your Lordships will appreciate that some beneficiaries may be reluctant to go ahead with purchasing that machinery for as long as there is a possibility that the subsidy decision could be quashed and a recovery order made.

The noble Baroness, Lady Blake, and the noble Lord, Lord McNicol, asked how the Government can justify giving public authorities six months to fulfil their transparency obligations but providing interested parties only one month to challenge a subsidy. I recognise the strength of feeling on the length of time on the transparency deadline and how this compares with the limitation period. During Monday’s Committee, I set out the reasons why the deadline is set at six months: it allows for better-quality data where subsidies are based on an estimate, and it gives public authorities greater ability to upload their subsidies in bulk, and therefore to reduce administrative burden.

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Lord Fox Portrait Lord Fox (LD)
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I am interested in this concept of a chilling effect. What evidence is there for that, and what consultation has there been? There may or may not be a chilling effect. It seems like more of an idea than a practical reality. I have a suggestion that might help. The Bill could start out with a longer reporting time—perhaps 60 days, or something along those lines—and the evidence, or otherwise, of a chilling effect could be gathered. If necessary, and if the reality of a chilling effect actually emerges, the Government could come back and reduce that period by statutory instrument.

Lord Callanan Portrait Lord Callanan (Con)
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I think that is the first time the Liberal Democrats have proposed giving the Government more secondary legislation powers, but I understand the noble Lord’s point. As I said, I have heard the strength of opinion on both sides of the Committee and will reflect further on this matter.

Baroness Blake of Leeds Portrait Baroness Blake of Leeds (Lab)
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I thank the Minister for those final comments, which I think are a measure of the contributions we have heard tonight and the strength of feeling on this issue around the Room. My noble friend Lord Chandos really put his finger on it. He is absolutely right that the unreasonableness of this time limit will lead to people putting in appeals just in case more information comes to light. That is a very real proposition.

The case against the one-month limit has been very well made. I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Randerson, for her insight into rural areas and the aspect of holidays, and the noble Baroness, Lady Altmann, for highlighting the real aspect of it being challenging and unachievable. There are so many elements in this that need to be taken away. I thank noble Lords for listening to the arguments that have been made with this amendment today and over a period of time. With those comments, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

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Moved by
73: Clause 78, page 45, line 15, leave out from second “of” to end of line 16 and insert “financial assistance provided, or schemes for the provision of financial assistance made, by means of primary legislation.
(2) Nothing in this Act applies to the giving of any such assistance, or to the making of any such schemes, except so far as provided for by that Schedule.”Member’s explanatory statement
This amendment clarifies that the subsidy control requirements under the Bill apply in the case of financial assistance provided directly by primary legislation only so far as provided for by Schedule 3 to the Bill.
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Lord McNicol of West Kilbride Portrait Lord McNicol of West Kilbride (Lab)
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My Lords, I think we have a hard stop in 20 minutes, so I will be very brief. I am grateful to noble Lords who put down amendments in this group, including the Minister; I hope there will be lots more to come from the Minister. My Amendment 75 has been signed by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope of Craighead, and the noble Lords, Lord German and Lord Wigley, and I appreciate their support on this, as well as in the debates on many other devolution-focused amendments.

I was going to say, judging by the previous responses on the devolved authority amendments, that I did not think we would hear much change, but actually the Minister’s response to the last debate was heartening, so hopefully this amendment regarding the devolved authorities will receive the same response. I will leave it there. As we finish Committee, I note that the comments made in the DPRRC report were very telling, and I look forward to discussions with the Minister and officials between now and Report. I hope that we can address some of the DPRRC’s concerns.

Lord Callanan Portrait Lord Callanan (Con)
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My Lords, I am pleased to say that we are now on the final group of amendments. I have made it through thanks to the supply of copious quantities of cough lozenges, so I thank Ruth for those.

I first thank the noble Lord, Lord German, for tabling Amendment 74, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Thomas of Cwmgiedd—

None Portrait Noble Lords
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Hear, hear!

Lord Callanan Portrait Lord Callanan (Con)
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I have had some expert advice from the Whips here. I thank the noble Lords for Amendments 73A, 74A and 74B, the noble Lord, Lord McNicol, for Amendment 75, and the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, for his fascinating Amendment 80, which I will come to.

Amendment 73 is my amendment, the government amendment to Clause 78. This is a minor and technical amendment that will provide greater clarity in the Bill as drafted. It clarifies that the provisions in Schedule 3 to the Bill are to apply to subsidies in devolved primary legislation and primary legislation made by this Parliament. This is because the word “subsidy” is defined as something given by a public authority excluding a legislature. Nothing else is added into scope by this amendment; it simply makes absolutely clear how the provisions in Schedule 3 apply, for the avoidance of any doubt.

Secondly, the amendment makes it clear that it is only the provisions in Schedule 3 that apply to primary legislation made by this Parliament and devolved legislation, and not other provisions of the Bill. Again, this does not make any amendments to the substance of the Bill but just provides clarification.

Amendment 73A was tabled by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Thomas of Cwmgiedd, who wishes to probe the purposes of Schedule 3 with regard to the devolved Administrations. Clause 78 applies the provisions in the Bill to subsidies made by means of primary legislation, as set out in Schedule 3. Because of the specific nature of these subsidies, the obligations on those responsible for them need to be set out separately. To respond to the concerns of the noble and learned Lord, I will set out my belief that Schedule 3 as a whole ensures that the subsidy control regime will be comprehensive and robust, while at the same time taking into account the UK’s fairly unique constitutional make-up.

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Lord Purvis of Tweed Portrait Lord Purvis of Tweed (LD)
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Such as opening something?

Lord Callanan Portrait Lord Callanan (Con)
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It’s interesting stuff, this. I suspect that the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, is not going to get an invitation to an investiture.

Anyway, the ownership of the Duchy of Cornwall is a private matter. Where the Duchy operates on a commercial basis, depending on the specific facts at hand, it may meet the definition of an enterprise in Clause 7; lawyers have had fun drafting this. None the less, and importantly, the Duke’s relationship with the Duchy as its owner is not the exercise of functions of a public nature. It therefore falls outside the scope of the Bill.

To close, I hope that, with the explanations I have been able to provide, noble Lords will feel able not to move their amendments and to accept my Amendments 73 and 76. As we have now reached the end of the final grouping of amendments, marking the end of Committee, I express my sincere thanks to all noble Lords who have taken an interest for their thoughtful, insightful and probing discussions on this important Bill. Lastly, I thank the team of officials who have supported us in so doing. I can give an assurance that my department and I will of course reflect closely on all the points made by noble Lords, and I look forward to further engagement in advance of Report.

Amendment 73 agreed.
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Moved by
76: Clause 79, page 46, line 13, at end insert—
“(7) The requirement in subsection (5) may be met by consultation carried out before this section comes into force.”Member’s explanatory statement
This amendment ensures that the requirement in Clause 79(5) to consult on the guidance issued under Clause 79 may be met by consultation on the guidance carried out before the Act comes into force.
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Moved by
77: Clause 82, page 47, line 35, at end insert—
“(e) provision in regulations or schemes made under this Act.”Member’s explanatory statement
This amendment ensures that regulations made under Clause 82 may make provision about how the gross cash amount and the gross cash equivalent amount are to be determined for the purposes of regulations or schemes made under the Act.

Subsidy Control Bill

Lord Callanan Excerpts
Baroness Blake of Leeds Portrait Baroness Blake of Leeds (Lab)
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My Lords, I declare an interest as a vice-president of the LGA. I also express—I like the term—a personal “modicum of delight” at having been released from the Covid nightmare and enforced isolation which has unfortunately hit too many of us in this group.

I sincerely recognise the movement from the Government in the amendments tabled. I thank the Minister for taking our comments on board. We have all expressed our reservations and commented from wide experience and knowledge from the front line of how significant these subsidies are—particularly, as has been said, in the context of driving investment, regeneration and putting some substance behind the rhetoric around levelling up. We have given examples of discrepancies in investment and funding, and the real disadvantage that that has caused too many communities across the United Kingdom.

I express my gratitude for the quality of the discussion on the amendments in this group, particularly for several conversations my noble friend Lord McNicol and I have had with the noble Lord, Lord Ravensdale, about what it is like being part of a body with the responsibility for delivering on the ground. The issue here is bridging that gap between the words in the Bill and the reality of how you make this happen on the ground.

My noble friend Lord Chandos has, as ever, expressed his views eloquently. I cannot add to what he has said, other than to thank him for his reasonable and measured approach, which highlights the significance of his comments around the investment in equity securities and how we must ensure that the discrepancies between the contents and the supporting documentation are resolved. We hope that the Minister can offer helpful clarifications on this subject.

Like other noble Lords, we on these Benches are very pleased that the Government have been persuaded of the case for strengthening the Bill’s focus on local and regional economic disadvantage. These points have been raised consistently both in another place and in your Lordships’ House. Without wishing to sound churlish, we feel it is a case of “better late than never”. It seems obvious to use whatever instruments are to hand to bring advantage to all parts of the country.

It may be that the Bill never prevented subsidies from being used to level up deprived areas, but the clarification in Amendment 2 will be helpful for public authorities at all levels. The exemption for relocation subsidies, introduced via Amendment 14, is also a hugely significant step. As we will all recall, we had a very interesting debate on relocation in Grand Committee and how, perversely, not addressing this matter could have caused real damage, inadvertently perhaps. I am glad that we have some movement and some common sense in this area.

I understand the intention behind Amendment 9, in the name of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Thomas of Cwmgiedd. In an ideal world, the Bill would indeed contain further detail on how the equity rationale will work in practice. As has been said several times, the amendment is looking for that clarification—the standards and principles—for how we can ensure that there are no grounds for misinterpretation and confusion. I am fairly confident that the Minister will say that this is exactly the kind of information that will be contained in future guidance, but, again, we must bear in mind the recipients of that guidance and how it will be interpreted. The subsidies must be a force for good. They must clearly demonstrate purpose and benefit to the communities where they are applied. I emphasise the clarity that will be needed around this. Talking to various stakeholders in the field, it is about the level of advice and clarification, and about ensuring that everyone feels that there is a level playing field and that interpretation in different areas is not bringing disadvantage as a knock-on effect.

It is fair to say that the Welsh Government have consistently voiced concerns that the original Bill treated Mayfair and Merthyr in the same manner, and with these changes we are definitely making progress. However, as regards other elements of the Bill and the changes that have been made, we must emphasise the significance and importance of the review process, making sure that that is done in a transparent way at every stage of the game. We are talking about value for money, delivery, the spend of the public pound, making sure that all the concerns around the decisions that have led to investment decisions—which have been fairly, from our point of view, criticised—must be addressed. This is a powerful opportunity and I hope that through the changes that we are seeing, the opportunities are not missed.

As we speak, there is discussion about the spend of the shared prosperity fund, the delay in the skills element of that and the fact that ESIF will fall out next year, and there will be a gap if we do not pick up these issues. All those matters need to be brought together so that the spirit behind the gain-share agreements with all the devolved areas can be delivered with local determination, bringing benefit to all. This is a current and very important debate and I look forward with interest to the Minister’s response.

Lord Callanan Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (Lord Callanan) (Con)
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I start by welcoming the noble Baroness back to her rightful place on the Front Bench, fully recovered. In fact, I say that with more than a modicum of delight—to use my favourite phrase of the week so far. For the noble Lord, Lord Fox, that is the equivalent of being damned with faint praise. So as not to be sexist about this, it is good to see the noble Lord, Lord McNicol, back as well.

The interaction of the subsidy control regime with the Government’s levelling-up agenda has rightly occupied many noble Lords during their consideration of the Bill, both in Committee and on Report. I hope that so far I have been able to provide sufficient reassurance that public authorities are no less able to give subsidies to address regional disadvantage under the Bill than they were under the previous EU state aid regime. Indeed, moving away from the EU’s default prohibition on subsidies and the resulting exemption for certain categories of subsidy in specified areas will allow public authorities greater ability to design measures that address not only regional disadvantage but the stark differences in social and economic opportunity that exist at a much more granular local level.

It is important that public authorities understand the way that they are empowered by this regime to give levelling-up subsidies, so I recognise the value of noble Lords’ suggestions that this would benefit from being made clear in the subsidy control principles. Amendment 2 to Schedule 1 therefore makes it clear that addressing local or regional disadvantage is considered to be an equity rationale for the purpose of assessing compliance with principle A. That was urged on me by many noble Lords in Committee and I am delighted to be able to put that forward—with more than a modicum of delight —on behalf of the Government. This puts it beyond any doubt or confusion that a subsidy to address local or regional disadvantage can be given, provided, of course, that the other principles and requirements of the regime are met.

I am grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Blake, and the noble Lord, Lord Ravensdale, for supporting this amendment—I am not sure that there are many occasions when people put their name to my amendments but I am more than delighted when they do so. I am also happy to reassure noble Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Ravensdale, in particular, that beyond this change to the Bill, the Government will be exploring the creation of streamlined routes to support levelling up. I reassure the noble Lord that these streamlined routes may have deprivation-related eligibility criteria, although it is important to note that levelling up is about improving opportunities in the whole of the UK.

A streamlined route could therefore facilitate interventions—high street regeneration is one example—that could be used by a range of public authorities, but particularly those who wish to address deprived areas. Although streamlined routes will be produced by the Secretary of State, none of this prevents local authorities or other public authorities making subsidy schemes that have deprivation-related eligibility criteria.

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Moved by
2: Schedule 1, page 52, line 7, after “as” insert “local or regional disadvantage,”
Member’s explanatory statement
This amendment clarifies that Principle A of the subsidy control principles covers subsidies aimed at addressing local or regional disadvantage.
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Baroness Blake of Leeds Portrait Baroness Blake of Leeds (Lab)
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My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Boycott, for tabling her amendments and sorry that she cannot be here to move them today; I am grateful that my noble friend Lord Whitty stepped into the breach much more than adequately. I want also to recognise the contribution of the debate and the importance of getting on to the front foot with its urgency on such a range of different issues. Obviously we have the climate emergency, but we have to mention Russia’s illegal invasion of Ukraine and the West’s urgent discussions about how to lower its dependence on Russian oil and gas.

These discussions are happening at the highest possible level. For some, I fear that they will give a convenient excuse to promote activities that will cause significant environmental damage if unchecked, whether that is firing up coal-fired power stations, resuming fracking, or indeed Shell’s announcement just this morning that it will look again at the Cambo field. For many, the focus is on the acuteness of the energy security issues that we are facing, which have come to the forefront, and the ever greater need to develop energy self-sufficiency; that means focusing on the climate imperative together with security issues, regeneration and the new green jobs that will come along.

Following COP 26, the UK remains a key player in driving implementation of the various agreements reached. What hope do we have of ensuring that other countries follow through on their commitments if we do not play our leading role in this global fight? Another aspect is that we know the Government want a degree of flexibility for public authorities at every level, but we do not see anything in Amendment 3 that takes that flexibility away. The Minister has been keen to use the example of Welsh steel during our discussions on this matter. If, when conducting the so-called balance test, the Welsh Government decide that the short-term economic benefits outweigh the costs of emissions, they will be able to award the subsidy. However, as a general principle, public money should be used for public good, and what greater public good can there be than preserving our planet for future generations?

Now is the time for us to double down on our commitments to renewables and nuclear rather than being swayed by those who are seeking to turn back the clock. I finish by picking up on the comments of my noble friend Lord Whitty about pressing Amendment 3 to a vote. If he does indeed decide to do so, we will support him.

Lord Callanan Portrait Lord Callanan (Con)
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My Lords, first, I thank all noble Lords who have spoken on these amendments, which were introduced so ably, as always, by the noble Lord, Lord Whitty. I will respond to them all together since they all relate to climate change and energy matters.

Amendment 3, tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Boycott, and the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, seeks to include specific mention of our “net zero emissions target” and “environmental targets”. It would require public authorities to consider the negative impacts, with respect to our Climate Change Act and Environment Act targets, when making a balancing test under principle G of Schedule 1. Amendment 61 would allow the Secretary of State to issue guidance to support public authorities with this assessment.

I understand noble Lords’ keen interest in ensuring that subsidies and schemes granted within the UK further our climate change and environmental targets, wherever practical, and that public authorities should be supported by the Government in making robust assessments of the impacts that their subsidies or schemes may have on these targets. The Government share this objective, and our record in office demonstrates that. I make it clear that this applies to some of the other amendments to which I will be coming later: the UK’s net zero target is, and remains, the law of the land. Nothing in this Bill changes or undermines that fact. The Government remain resolutely committed to net zero by 2050. At this point, I welcome the addition of the noble Lord, Lord Fox, to my speechwriting team. However, it is right and proper, particularly in the current crisis, that we keep in mind that our energy transition to net zero is an issue not only of decarbonisation but of national security and—especially at the moment—national importance.

In response to the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, I make it clear that the balancing test in principle G already requires public authorities to take into account all relevant “negative effects”, which would include negative effects in relation to climate change and the environment. Similarly, subsidies that support our net zero and environmental targets should also take those positive impacts into account in the balancing tests. Principle G emphasises particularly “competition”, “trade” and “investment” effects because minimising harmful distortions in these areas is the primary purpose of a system of subsidy control. However, it is not intended to suggest that these factors should override all other policy-making considerations. There is no implication that public authorities should set their climate and environmental obligations—or, indeed, any other duties or objectives—to one side.

I reassure the noble Baronesses, Lady Sheehan and Lady Hayman, and others, that the Secretary of State will issue guidance on the practical application of the subsidy control principles, and regarding the energy and environment principles. This guidance will include instructions on how to take into account, where relevant, any impacts the subsidy or scheme may have on targets under the Climate Change Act or the Environment Act—or, indeed, signpost the public authority to existing guidance to this effect.

It is also worth pointing out that environmental policy is a devolved matter. This regime is designed to empower public authorities with democratic mandates to use subsidies in pursuit of their own policy objectives—within certain bounds which merely protect UK competition and investment—and safeguard our international obligations. It is not seeking to direct the devolved Administrations, or any other public authority, to spend on one specific policy objective, however important and worthwhile that policy objective may be. For that reason, I am highly reluctant to impose any additional constraints on other public authorities which are fundamental neither to subsidy control policy nor to implementing our international obligations. There are later amendments in which noble Lords will seek to persuade me to do the opposite in respect of the devolved Administrations, so I hope that noble Lords will not be so hypocritical as to repeat those arguments back to me then. I believe that these amendments are therefore unnecessary, and I ask the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, to withdraw Amendment 3.

Subsidy Control Bill

Lord Callanan Excerpts
Lord Callanan Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (Lord Callanan) (Con)
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My Lords, I will not detain the House too long. Before Committee, I talked all those who were interested through the work we have done to engage with the devolved Administrations and the commitment we gave to take on board many of their suggestions. I know that some Members have had sight of the draft memorandum of understanding that we are trying to agree with the devolved Administrations. There is a commitment from the Government to engage with them. I accept that they have a principled objection to the fact that subsidy control is a reserved matter, so of course they are not willing to provide LCMs on that basis. Having said that, and accepting that reservation, we are still talking to each other, officials are still liaising and we will still attempt to reach agreement with them on the MoU. We have taken and will take into consideration many of the suggestions they have made.

Amendment 64 from the noble and learned Lord, Lord Thomas of Cwmgiedd, would require the Secretary of State to seek the consent of the devolved Administrations before issuing guidance under Clause 79 or making regulations under Clauses 11, 33, 34 and 59. It would require the Secretary of State to wait for up to a month before issuing guidance or making regulations to obtain the consent of the DAs. Where the consent is not given, the Secretary of State will still be able to make the regulations or issue the guidance, but will have to publish a statement explaining the reasons for making the regulations or guidance without DA consent.

I realise that this is a contentious area but, as stated earlier, it is the settled will of Parliament that subsidy control is a reserved matter. In our view, it would not be appropriate for the UK Government to be required by legislation to undertake selective consultations with the DAs on guidance and regulations regarding reserved policy matters, which will affect all UK public authorities, before laying them in the UK Parliament.

Furthermore, as I stated in Committee, a formal consent mechanism would delay the issuing and updating of statutory guidance and regulations. It is important that the Government are able to update guidance quickly should circumstances change, for instance due to the development of new UK case law. Delaying changes would be unhelpful for public authorities and subsidy recipients alike. There is already a requirement in the Bill for the Secretary of State to consult such persons as they consider appropriate before issuing any further guidance—the DAs, of course, being appropriate in this case.

I hope noble Lords are reassured by these commitments. I have already set out that we will continue the extensive engagement we have had with the devolved Administrations in developing the policy for the new regime, including by sharing draft consultation documents on the definitions of subsidies and schemes of interest and of particular interest. It is right that the UK Government are not slowed down by the need to seek the formal consent of the devolved Administrations before issuing guidance.

Amendment 6 in the name of the noble and learned Lords, Lord Thomas and Lord Hope, the noble Lord, Lord Wigley, and the noble Baroness, Lady Randerson, would in effect allow the devolved Administrations to create streamlined subsidy schemes under Clause 10 by making a request of a UK government Minister. To respond directly to the description of this as “modest” by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Thomas, I am concerned that it would significantly affect the Government’s discretion to set out a wider strategy for developing streamlined routes, given the impossibility of refusing “a reasonable request”.

Streamlined subsidy schemes have an important role to play in supporting public authorities to deliver well-designed subsidies that address market failures and UK strategic priorities, while minimising risks of excessive distortion to competition, investment and trade. They are not subject to mandatory or voluntary referral to the subsidy advice unit under the provisions of Chapter 1 of Part 4 of the Bill.

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Lord Fox Portrait Lord Fox (LD)
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I apologise to the Minister and thank him for giving way. I am struggling a little with why the Government want to hoard the right to create streamlined subsidies to central government. I can assume only that it is because it gives the Government the ability to parachute schemes into Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland—which might not be seen by those devolved Administrations as something they would have—and, because they are streamlined schemes, they cannot be challenged. Is that the reason the Government are not prepared to let devolved authorities have streamlined subsidy schemes for themselves?

Lord Callanan Portrait Lord Callanan (Con)
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No, I think the noble Lord is being unfair; the operation of these schemes is entirely optional. We will consult the devolved Administrations closely before making any such schemes. I only just said that we will seek to involve DA officials and others in expert working groups for each of the routes we are developing.

Lord Fox Portrait Lord Fox (LD)
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I am sorry to prolong this, but is the Minister now saying that, for a streamlined scheme that is presented by central government and could be taken up by, for example, organisations and companies in Scotland, the Scottish Government have the option of not allowing that to happen? That, I think, is what the Minister just said.

Lord Callanan Portrait Lord Callanan (Con)
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They could choose not to use the scheme if they wished, but it would be a UK-wide scheme. They would be consulted on the development and involved in the expert groups that put them together.

I will move on to Amendment 58, also tabled by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Thomas. This amendment sets out a new route for subsidies given in devolved primary legislation to be considered by the courts, by allowing the relevant law officer to refer the question of whether a Bill is compatible with the principles in Chapter 1 of Part 2 to the Supreme Court. It also removes the requirement for the promoter of the legislation to consider the subsidy control principles and other requirements, and the ability of the courts to consider whether the provisions of Parts 1 and 2 of Chapter 2 have been properly applied, thereby removing the ability of an interested party to challenge the subsidy in the general courts on that basis.

I am of course very grateful for the interest taken by the noble and learned Lord in this clause and for his engagement on it with me and my officials. I believe that both he and I share an objective to ensure that these provisions reflect our constitutional and legal institutions, as well as our obligations under international law. Schedule 3, as it stands in the Bill, accomplishes those objectives.

It is important that the subsidy control requirements apply to subsidies in devolved primary legislation, and that these subsidies are not immune from challenge by interested parties. This is both for consistency with other subsidies and to ensure compliance with our international obligations, particularly under the trade and co-operation agreement with the EU. However, it is also important that the unique constitutional status of the devolved legislatures is respected. That is why we have tailored the provisions in Schedule 3 specifically, and there is no mandatory referral to the subsidy advice unit for these subsidies.

I must therefore reject the amendment tabled by the noble and learned Lord for two reasons. First, it would not meet our international obligations under the TCA, which requires us to make available a route to challenge in a court or tribunal for interested parties, on grounds of compliance with the substantive subsidy control requirements. This amendment would, effectively, remove that route.

In response to the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope, on the intention of paragraphs 6 and 7, it is those interested parties that may challenge, for example, another public authority or another business, as long as they meet the test set out in Clause 70. The promoter would normally be the government Minister, or the person making an amendment to the Bill, and this is defined in paragraph 2 of Schedule 3.

The second problem with the amendment is that it would have the effect of asking the Supreme Court to consider questions of fact. It is my understanding that the High Court or Court of Session is the appropriate forum to consider these questions in the first instance, followed by the relevant appeals court, and, as relevant, the Supreme Court as the ultimate arbiter for questions of law. Creating a route for the law officers to refer a question to the Supreme Court implies that any challenge to a subsidy in devolved primary legislation would be a constitutional question, as it is comparable to the route for referring devolution issues under the devolution settlements. While the Bill affects the exercise of responsibilities of all public authorities in the UK, I do not consider that this is a constitutional question.

Lord Purvis of Tweed Portrait Lord Purvis of Tweed (LD)
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I have a point of clarification, because this aspect draws two areas together. Given that agriculture and fisheries are part of this legislation, and because agriculture and fisheries are unquestionably devolved competences, there will be subsidy schemes—let us say for Scotland, an agriculture or fisheries subsidies scheme. The Minister has indicated that there can be a UK-wide streamlined scheme which will cover agriculture and fisheries, so for the first time in the devolution period, there would theoretically be two parallel support schemes for agriculture and fisheries. But there is no capacity for the devolved Administration to challenge the UK-wide scheme, because the Government are indicating that this is a reserved area, even though support for agriculture and fisheries is fully devolved. Furthermore, there is not even a direct route to ask the Supreme Court to consider the competences on the division of this. How does the Minister see the benefit of two parallel schemes: one streamlined and unchallengeable, and another a devolved one on agriculture and fisheries?

Lord Callanan Portrait Lord Callanan (Con)
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I understand the point that the noble Lord is making, but the idea that the UK Government are going to want to set up a streamlined scheme covering agriculture and fisheries in Scotland, in parallel to an existing subsidy scheme that the Scottish Government are already pursuing, is extremely unlikely. A streamlined route can indeed be challenged in the Competition Appeal Tribunal, and we would not introduce such a scheme without consulting closely with the devolved Administrations in the first place. I understand the constitutional question that the noble Lord is positing, but I think this is very unlikely. As the noble Lord well knows, all existing schemes are automatically out of scope of this Bill anyway, so the existing subsidy regimes that the Scottish and Welsh Governments have can continue as they are.

Lord Purvis of Tweed Portrait Lord Purvis of Tweed (LD)
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I do not think I said that there would be a streamlined scheme from the UK that would be uniquely for Scotland. I indicated that there would be a UK-wide streamlined scheme that would be for agriculture and fisheries within Scotland. As the Minister said, it would apply in England and in Northern Ireland as well. However, there would be, for the first time since devolution, two parallel subsidy schemes operating. While the Government can indicate that there would be consultation, there is no mechanism in this Bill for that dispute to be resolved, because the Secretary of State retains the decision-making power. That is why the support for these two schemes running in parallel is not equitable.

Lord Callanan Portrait Lord Callanan (Con)
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There is a difference in principle here. Subsidy control is a reserved matter. Under the memorandum of understanding, we have said that we will set up a mechanism that the Scottish Government can use to challenge schemes. Of course, any streamlined scheme would be approved by this Parliament anyway. In any practical political environment, there is no way that the UK Government will want to set up a parallel scheme to subsidise agriculture and fisheries, which are devolved competences, when the Scottish Government already have similar schemes in the same area.

As I have said, the devolved Administrations will of course continue, as they have always done, to make subsidies and subsidy schemes using the resources that they have. It is important to note that this Bill does not provide any resources for any schemes, and the court would need to look at the facts of the case on legality grounds in the light of the requirements of Schedule 3 to the Bill. This is, in my view, comparable to other circumstances in which devolved primary legislation is reviewed on legality grounds, such as the Human Rights Act or the United Kingdom Internal Market Act. Importantly, and in contrast to the review of the Competition Appeal Tribunal for other subsidies, the court could not consider common-law public law grounds alongside the requirements of the subsidy control grounds.

For all the reasons I have set out, I hope that the noble and Lord will not press his amendments.

Lord Thomas of Cwmgiedd Portrait Lord Thomas of Cwmgiedd (CB)
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I am grateful to all noble Lords who have spoken in this debate and for the various points that have been made; I hope it is not discourteous if I try to summarise them without individual attribution.

Fundamentally, this union is not going to hold together unless there is an acceptance of equality of treatment, and this Bill drives a coach and horses through that. One illustration suffices: if this Parliament, for England, makes a subsidy scheme that infringes the subsidy control principles, then those overseas cannot challenge it, but they can challenge what is d