Amendment 33

Procurement Bill [HL] - Report (1st Day) – in the House of Lords am 5:45 pm ar 28 Tachwedd 2022.

Danfonwch hysbysiad imi am ddadleuon fel hyn

Baroness Hayman of Ullock:

Moved by Baroness Hayman of Ullock

33: After Clause 10, insert the following new Clause—“Procurement principles(1) In carrying out a procurement, a contracting authority must pursue the following principles—(a) promoting the public good, by having regard to the delivery of strategic national priorities including economic, social, environmental and public safety priorities,(b) value for money, by having regard to the optimal whole-life blend of economy, efficiency and effectiveness that achieves the intended outcome of the business case, (c) transparency, by acting openly to underpin accountability for public money, anti-corruption and the effectiveness of procurements,(d) integrity, by providing good management, preventing misconduct, and control in order to prevent fraud and corruption,(e) fair treatment of suppliers, by ensuring that decision-making is impartial and without conflict of interest, and(f) non-discrimination, by ensuring that decision-making is not discriminatory.(2) If a contracting authority considers that it is unable to act in accordance with any of these principles in a particular case, it must—(a) take all reasonable steps to ensure it does not put a supplier at an unfair advantage or disadvantage, and(b) publish a report within 90 days setting out the principles with which it could not act in accordance and its reasons.”Member’s explanatory statementThis amendment would require contracting authorities to pursue a series of principles when carrying out procurements.

Photo of Baroness Hayman of Ullock Baroness Hayman of Ullock Opposition Whip (Lords), Shadow Spokesperson (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs), Shadow Spokesperson (Levelling Up, Housing, Communities and Local Government)

My Lords, I have a number of amendments in this group. First, Amendment 33 refers back to the principles that we debated at length in Committee; they were originally in the Government’s Green Paper and were consulted on. Our concern is that those principles were then left out of the Bill even though the objectives were included, so my amendment

“would require contracting authorities to pursue a series of principles when carrying out procurements.”

Amendments 35 and 36 in my name look to

“require social and public value to be considered in the procurement objectives.”

We believe that social and public value are important requirements for any contracting authority to consider, so I have asked for that to be put through to the procurement objectives. This would encourage anyone contracting, for example, to work with local suppliers; to encourage contractors to reduce their CO2 emissions; to encourage the hiring of more apprentices; and to encourage greater diversity. If you are going to deliver the levelling up that the Government are so keen on and achieve net zero, it is important to include these principles.

We know that social value is included in the national procurement policy statement but it is not referred to in the Bill itself. We also know that public benefit is mentioned in the Bill, but that is a pretty vague concept. It is not clear to us how social value would sit within that framework.

I also have Amendment 46. We debated at length in Committee the national procurement policy statement. Many concerns were raised about the Government expecting Members to take at face value the fact that certain things can be included in the NPPS, but, of course, we have absolutely no guarantees other than that the Government are saying that they will be. Clearly, once the Bill becomes an Act, we will need to see a new NPPS, so we believe that the Bill should include the set of principles that need to be within that NPPS so we can have confidence that it will deliver what it needs to do.

My Amendment 48 aims to subject the NPPS statement and amendments to the affirmative procedure so that the existing one will remain in force if, for any reason, a new statement is rejected. We think this is an important fallback position.

Finally, my Amendment 96 creates a process to ensure contracting authorities safeguard the public interest when considering whether to outsource or recontract services. This is something that has been raised with us by a number of different contracting authorities that want that flexibility.

There are a number of other amendments in this group which we support, and I will just draw attention to a few. My noble friend Lord Hunt has an amendment on adding accessibility to the objectives. The noble Baroness, Lady Worthington, has an important amendment on defining public benefit. We know how strongly she feels about the environment and, again, we have debated that at length. It is really important that we do not lose that in the further discussions. The noble Lord, Lord Lansley, has a number of amendments that we support, and we look forward to hearing his introduction to them.

Finally, it is really important there is clarity around principles and objectives as this Bill goes through the process of becoming an Act. Good sentiment from the Government and the Minister are not sufficient to ensure that we actually have good procurement at the end of the day. That is what we want to see. I beg to move.

Photo of Baroness Worthington Baroness Worthington Crossbench

My Lords, I will speak to Amendment 42 in my name in this group and in support of Amendments 46 and 47. I will keep my comments brief. We had a very good debate in Committee about what should go into the Bill in relation to the principles that will guide procurement. In my amendment, I sought to be as precise as possible and selected two specific issues relating to climate change and biodiversity loss. The reason for that is that it has been pointed out to me that society’s priorities shift over time and primary legislation should be regarded as very serious: you therefore should not put a long shopping list of things into it. However, on these two issues, I cannot imagine a time henceforth when we will not be concerned about the impacts of climate change or biodiversity loss. The Government have a huge lever for change to drive investments into solutions. It would be a great shame if we were not to make it very clear in the Bill that this lever is something that we are willing and want to use.

The more the public purse can create markets and drive investment, the more we can rely on the private sector to come forward with innovation. It will bring down the cost over time. If we do not use public procurement, we will be expecting more from our private sector, and it will debatable whether it will be able to enter into markets that are highly mature and overcapitalised. We are not talking about a level playing field here. If you want private solutions to come in, you have to support them either through government policy, through taxation or through procurement. This Bill is a huge lever that I hope we will pull.

Although I would be delighted to test the will of the House of Amendment 42, it is actually more important that we put these principles in on the operational aspects of this Bill, in which case Amendments 46 and 47, which relate to national policy planning guidance, are hugely important, and I support both of those amendments. I look forward to hearing those who speak to them and to the Government’s response.

Photo of Lord Lansley Lord Lansley Ceidwadwyr

My Lords, I am glad to follow the noble Baroness, Lady Worthington. I signed her Amendment 42 and I thoroughly agree with it. Indeed, I agree with all the points she made, including—I am grateful to her for saying it—the importance of focusing on the national procurement policy statement. In a sense, while it would be helpful for Clause 11 on procurement objectives to clarify what is meant by “public benefit”, there is always a risk that we either have a broad-ranging—no disrespect to it—but perfectly understandable series of statements, as in Amendment 33 moved by the noble Baroness opposite, or, as with Amendment 42, by narrowing it down, we somehow make people imagine that we have excluded these other terribly important objectives. My noble friend would doubtless say that the more we put into the procurement objectives, the more difficult it will be for contracting authorities to comply with competing considerations and so on. There is a lack of flexibility in that.

I thoroughly agree, therefore, with the proposition that we need to focus on the national procurement policy statement. The Government will publish that. As we know from other contexts, that is what the contracting authorities are going to look at. We know that the NPPS will include the Government’s strategic priorities, but we do not know what those are. The question then immediately emerges: is it proper for Parliament to have a view about that, or should we just say, “When the time comes, the Government will say what their strategic priorities are, and that’s good enough for us”?

Amendment 47 is limited in precisely the way the noble Baroness who signed the amendment said. It does not tell the Government to have a long list of strategic priorities. They may have their own strategic priorities but, during the Committee debates, noble Lords who were there will recall that there were some clear strategic priorities which the Committee wanted to see reflected in the Government’s statement. They included, perhaps most prominently, the environmental issues. One way of doing it which should cause the Government the least possible vexation is to do it by specific reference to the existing statutory targets set out in the Climate Change Act and the Environment Act—that is, to make it clear that they must ask contracting authorities to do the things that they are statutorily obliged to do in any case. They might say that that is unnecessary: actually it is not, because we all know that when these are reflected properly in the strategic priorities of the NPPS, the authorities will do it. If they are not reflected in the strategic priorities in the NPPS, they might be on statute but the authorities may well not do it. We have to make sure that they do it.

Turning to the second strategic priority in Amendment 47—requirements set out in the Public Services (Social Value) Act—I am glad that my noble friend Lord Maude of Horsham is in his place, because he will know that reflecting the strategic priority on that social value legislation is precisely one of the mechanisms for ensuring that social enterprises are given the priority they deserve. For example—I hesitate, in speaking to my noble friend, to cite this—but the European Commission document Buying for Social Impact, published in 2018, had a range of examples from across Europe, one of which was from Scotland. The Scottish example said that one of the implications of buying for social impact has been the use of not-for-profit and social enterprises in respect of public procurement. It is therefore a very effective way of bringing that to the forefront.

Thirdly, on promoting innovation among potential suppliers, I say that we have had that debate many times. The word “innovation” does not appear anywhere in the Bill. If we are to have, as I am sure we must, innovation as one of the clear central approaches to public procurement, for the benefit of public services and the economy, it must be reflected in the NPPS. I have altered the wording “among UK suppliers” because I do not wish it to be thought in any way discriminatory. It must be just “among suppliers”. When our current Prime Minister was Chancellor of the Exchequer, he put innovation at the forefront of his economic approach to improving productivity. Our present Chancellor of the Exchequer did the same in his Autumn Statement just the other week.

Finally, not least because I cannot imagine that a Government would not put it among their strategic priorities in public procurement, reducing fraud, eliminating waste and avoiding abuse of public money must be a strategic priority for every contracting authority. My point here is a bit like our earlier discussion. If not these, what will the Government put as strategic priorities? These must be among them. They are not limited to these, but it would be incredible if the Government did not include these as strategic priorities—and, from my point of view, if they are in the NPPS, they apply to all procurements. The Government can make it very clear in the statement how these are to be translated from priorities to actions by contracting authorities, but we must wait to see that.

I have other amendments which, unlike Amendment 47, I hope that it will not be necessary to press. Although changing “may” to “must” is a classic of its kind in this House, I am pretty sure that the Government have sufficient incentive to publish a statement that they are certain to do so. Amendment 44, about doing so within 12 months, is simply a probing amendment to see whether the Minister will say when the Government intend to publish such a statement—because, in the absence of it, it is very difficult to see how the overall reforms are to be given sufficient implementation.

My noble friend the Minister has listened very carefully and patiently. I have discussed with her how consultation should be on a draft of the statement. There is a risk that it would be consultation simply on a set of questions. When you get close to a statement of this kind, it is important for public bodies and contracting authorities and their representatives to see the terms in which the Government are proposing to lay a statement and to have an opportunity to comment on the terms of the statement. However, it is not necessary to press this into the statute. I just hope that it will be regarded as the best practice on the part of Ministers when the time comes.

I hope that my noble friend can respond positively to the strategic priorities in Amendment 47. I look forward to hearing what she has to say. However, if it is not sufficiently positive, I may need to test the opinion of the House on Amendment 47.

Photo of Lord Maude of Horsham Lord Maude of Horsham Ceidwadwyr 6:00, 28 Tachwedd 2022

My Lords, I draw attention to my interests as set out in the register. I am co-owner of a company that provides advice to Governments outside the UK on issues of public sector reform, including procurement—a subject that is not dear to very many people’s hearts but is to mine. I am delighted to have the chance to speak on this important group of amendments.

I assume that it is accepted everywhere that the primary purpose of good procurement law and practice is to ensure that the goods and services being procured provide excellent value and the best quality for the money. That trade-off between the two should always be primary. The various objectives and principles that are adumbrated in the amendments tabled by my noble friend Lord Lansley, and the noble Baronesses, Lady Hayman and Lady Worthington, are all excellent. I mean no offence when I say that they are motherhood and apple pie. No one would be against any of them, they are good things. The question is the extent to wish you should build into law the obligation for these to be taken into account in the ways laid out in the various amendments.

My noble friend Lord Lansley referred to the Public Services (Social Value) Act 2012, which I was very glad about as I was the Minister responsible for it. It was a Private Member’s Bill in the other place, but I was very happy that the Government supported it and saw it into law. It was very much a permissive Act. The objective was to make it clear that procurements were not to be just an arithmetic exercise looking at the pure financial value of bids but that you could look at wider social value.

However, when the coalition Government was formed in 2010 and we started to look at how procurement was being done, procurement policy was being used as a sort of Christmas tree on which many different policies were being hung. My recollection is that there were something like 11 different policies. All of them were very good. None of them was something we did not want to take seriously or thought did not matter. There were environmental and social policies, and others concerning training and apprenticeships; a whole range of interesting and good objectives. I have to say that we fairly ruthlessly stripped them out because, like now, the Government had a significant budget deficit and it is essential that primacy must be given to value for money. So we stripped them out, but that was not in any way to suggest that those factors could not be put into a request for proposal—RFP—or tender document, in the way that a number of your Lordships want to see happen on a routine basis.

The key to this is bespoking. There will be many cases where the inclusion of wider requirements makes sense and will not skew or bias a particular procurement in a way that damages its value for money—but there will be some where this is damaging, and this must be addressed close to the chalkface by those who are doing the procurement. As I said at Second Reading, the key is practices, and getting experts in procurement involved at an early stage so that the procurements can be devised in a way that supports the policy objective. Too often that does not happen. The problem with introducing broad, overarching requirements or even policy statements into the approach is that these get baked in at the policy development stage of a project, and that can then jeopardise and get in the way of the project’s effective implementation.

This leads to a broader point. It is essential that those charged with implementation of projects, programmes and policies—implementation professionals with the necessary expertise in procurement, project management, IT and digital, financial management and HR—are involved at the policy development stage. Far too often, that does not happen. That is the stage when advice can be taken and a procurement devised and formulated in such a way that these desirable other policy objectives can be addressed, but in a way that is proportionate and appropriate in the circumstances.

It seems to me that that is the reason for having that flexibility. The noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, said that the words of Ministers can be warm, encouraging and good, but there is nothing like having good, strong law to bake it in. The problem is that this can be counterproductive. We all know the reality, and it is clear from this debate that procurement is difficult, complex and technical. If it is so for those of us who are here making the law, then it is pretty difficult, complex and technical for those trying to bid for contracts from the public sector. The more complexity and legal rigidity we build in at this stage, the greater the ability of the established universe of vendors and suppliers to freeze out newer, smaller ventures from effectively bidding for and winning these important contracts.

When procurement law becomes too rigid and prescriptive, frankly, it can enable established vendors to present some of the characteristics of an oligopoly. We saw this 15 years ago, particularly in the world of public sector IT contracts. It is really important that we bear this in mind.

A little later, in group 6, we will debate the government amendment that rightly requires contracting authorities to take account of the needs of SMEs, which I wholly welcome. In an earlier debate, the noble Lord, Lord Wallace of Saltaire, mentioned the desirability of including the needs of social enterprise, to which I am very sympathetic, for all the reasons we discussed earlier.

However, the fact is that, the more prescription and rigidity in the law, the greater the scope for the big beasts in the supplier market to use their financial muscle and heft to squeeze out the smaller vendors through judicial review in the courts. Some of them are very trigger-happy in this respect. It is often the smaller, newer vendors who bring the most dynamism and innovation and are most able to bring quality and good value to the needs of delivering services and providing goods for citizens.

While recognising the good values and intentions that lie behind this desire to load all these additional factors on to procurement law and make them explicit, my counsel is that we should tread with very great caution. I do not find myself able to support these amendments.

Photo of Baroness Noakes Baroness Noakes Ceidwadwyr

My Lords, I will offer a few general observations. I do not have any amendments in this group, and I will echo some of what my noble friend Lord Maude has just said.

I will make four points. First, I see little point in duplicating in this Bill what is already on the statute book. We have already referred to the Public Services (Social Value) Act 2012. This deals with social value and does not need to be repeated in the Bill. That applies to other matters as well.

Secondly, lists of noble Lords’ favourite topics, such as climate change and innovation, run the risk of accelerating the Bill’s obsolescence. This is the case even if lists are drafted in a non-exhaustive form. The list itself provides context for interpreting the statute at a later stage. Those interpreting the legislation will look at what Parliament’s intention was when we passed it. The sorts of things we put in now will help determine the framework within which that judgment is made.

At the same time, fixing lists at one point in time creates the possibility of irrelevance over time, because things become more or less important. I submit that this is even the case in relation to today’s hot topics of climate change and biodiversity, which may well become less important over time. We only have to look at our own experiences over the last 30 years of how our priorities have changed. Most of us would not have included those items on our lists 30 years ago. In 30 years’ time, I suspect we will have different things we will need to focus on.

Thirdly, we must beware of unintended consequences, especially for SMEs. Amendment 42, in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Worthington, seeks to define “public benefit”. If certain elements of public benefit are made explicit, it will likely drive procurement officials into a check-box mentality. This could, in turn, conflict with common sense. Is it common sense that every procurement has to consider what every supplier is doing for climate change and biodiversity? Amendment 42 would drive in that direction. In turn, that would probably rule out a lot of small suppliers who do not have the bandwidth to articulate their environmental footprint to satisfy procurement bureaucracies—nor should they need to.

Finally, less is often more in legislation. Amendments 33 and 46 by the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman of Ullock, introduce procurement principles. She does not say how these principles interact with the procurement objectives in Clause 11, even though they cover some of the same ground, such as value for money. She attempts to clarify what each of the principles means by saying what has to be done to meet them, but it is not clear whether these descriptions are exhaustive or illustrative.

For example, take her principle of fair treatment of suppliers, which is to be achieved

“by ensuring that decision-making is impartial and without conflict of interest”.

Is that it? What about the role of hidden barriers to entry in contract specification? What about the impact of contract terms on different types of supplier, such as SMEs? It is very hard to be a legal draftsman in opposition, and indeed on the Back Benches. However, excessive specification is one certain route to legislative uncertainty, which your Lordships’ House must surely want to avoid. I hope noble Lords will reflect on these points in deciding whether it is necessary to test the opinion of the House.

Photo of Baroness Worthington Baroness Worthington Crossbench 6:15, 28 Tachwedd 2022

My Lords, I must make this point. Had we taken climate change and biodiversity loss seriously 30 years ago, we would not be in the situation we are in today. We are not seeing the investments we need into clean alternatives; nor have we developed the technologies from which other countries could benefit, and which would benefit our companies through their exportation around the world in order to solve this problem.

Climate change is not going anywhere: we will be debating it for the rest of this century. It seems absolutely incredible that we will not be considering it in 30 years’ time. It will be far more urgent then than it is now. We are already 30 years too late.

Photo of Baroness Parminter Baroness Parminter Chair, Environment and Climate Change Committee, Chair, Environment and Climate Change Committee

My Lords, I add my support to the noble Baroness, Lady Worthington. There is disunity in Horsham tonight: I disagree strongly with the noble Lord, Lord Maude of Horsham. I went to school in Horsham and was on the council there. However, I take a different view from the noble Lord about the role of procurement.

He talks about procurement’s sole purpose being good value. He went on to say that it is “motherhood and apple pie” to have value-driven public procurement policy, but I argue that it is not. That is the point of procurement: to marry good value with being value-led. Why be in government if you are not using all the levers at your disposal—regulation, fiscal incentives and disincentives, and procurement, with its massive spend—to deliver the values your Government want to deliver?

Photo of Baroness Bloomfield of Hinton Waldrist Baroness Bloomfield of Hinton Waldrist Baroness in Waiting (HM Household) (Whip)

I remind the House that noble Lords may speak only once on Report.

Photo of Baroness Parminter Baroness Parminter Chair, Environment and Climate Change Committee, Chair, Environment and Climate Change Committee

I will be very brief, as I do not want to prolong the discussion. In Committee, the Government made it clear that they would seriously consider the use of the national procurement policy statement as a vehicle to deliver the value-driven approach and support environmental and climate goals. The noble Lord, Lord True, said that they would reflect on that. Well, there has been no reflection. That is why it is so important—vital—that both the Labour Front Bench and the noble Baroness, Lady Worthington, have come forward with two amendments today that will raise the importance and central role of the environment and climate change in the national procurement policy statement. I hope they test the opinion of the House on that, given that there is clearly a disagreement.

I support the point from the noble Lord, Lord Lansley, about Parliament having a say on this and a draft procurement policy statement being put forward. If the Government will not accept that, they need to explain to the House tonight why, if it was good enough for the Environment Act and the environmental principles policy statement, it is not good enough on this occasion.

I strongly believe that we should support the amendments, which make sure that procurement delivers values as well as good value.

Photo of Baroness Finn Baroness Finn Ceidwadwyr

My Lords, much has been made of the importance of social and environmental goals in public procurement. Of course, as many noble Lords have said, these goals have their place—but they should not be the driving force behind a procurement system, forcing it to run slowly and inefficiently and increasing cost to the public purse while disincentivising innovation and the participation of small businesses.

The Bill is a once-in-a-generation opportunity to put in place a robust procurement system that encourages procurers to focus on outcomes that deliver productivity improvements and innovation, reduce the cost to the public purse, and drive efficiency. It should do away with unnecessary and excessive procedural requirements that make it much more difficult for smaller businesses to compete and grow.

We should not lose sight of the fact that there is already much flexibility in the Bill, which is good news for delivery on social and environmental principles. This flexibility is evident in the Bill from the very outset, with the objective to maximise the public benefit and to allow economic, social and environmental matters to be considered. When it comes to awarding contracts, Clause 22 allows for a broad range of award criteria to be included in procurements where they are relevant, including those relating to social and environmental aims.

The Bill also includes a facility for a specific expression of government policy in the form of the national procurement policy statement and the Wales procurement policy statement. These can be used to create obligations to consider social and environmental goals of the day, such as net zero, without compromising the importance of maintaining an efficient and workable procurement regime. That is why I agree with my noble friend the Minister that we must avoid at all costs the inclusion of broad and unfocused obligations in relation to social and environmental matters.

Amendments to the Bill that would place requirements on contracting authorities always to have to include social and environmental benefits when awarding their contracts would slow down the procurement regime and increase risk. They would also significantly disincentivise small and medium-sized enterprises, which do not have the back-office capability to maintain huge reams of social and environmental policies and practices.

In summary, I am heartened that the approach the Government are already taking in the Bill will allow contracting authorities the flexibility to deliver procurement outcomes that address these important social and environmental objectives on a case-by-case basis while retaining value for money at the forefront. With this Bill, we are leaving behind a slow and bureaucratic procurement system that is unnecessarily restrictive in nature. Let us not change one set of restrictive procurement practices for another.

Photo of The Earl of Lindsay The Earl of Lindsay Ceidwadwyr

My Lords, in speaking to Amendments 58 and 82 in my name, I reiterate my support for the opportunity that the Bill offers to reduce burdens on business, especially small businesses, by simplifying the UK regulation of public procurement. I also welcome the Bill’s objective of promoting an open and accessible business culture and practices.

That said, we must be careful that important safeguards currently in place in public procurement are not mistakenly, unwittingly or lightly discarded, hence these two simple and straightforward amendments, Amendments 58 and 82, which align with the Bill’s overall objective. In speaking to them, I declare an interest as chair of the United Kingdom Accreditation Service, UKAS. As the national accreditation body for the UK, appointed in statute, UKAS is the sole body recognised by government for the accreditation of organisations providing testing, inspection and certification services, collectively referred to as conformity assessment bodies. In short, we check the checkers, against internationally recognised standards.

The current procurement legislation, the Public Contracts Regulations 2015, stipulates that where conformity assessment is required by a contracting authority as part of a public procurement exercise, that conformity assessment must be accredited. This requirement for accreditation occurs either where the technical specification in the procurement mandates conformity assessment, such as testing or certification, or where an economic operator—a supplier—is required to hold certification as part of its proof of technical competence or management capacity.

The requirement for accreditation within current public procurement legislation is there for a purpose. It provides critical safeguards. It means that the competence, integrity and impartiality of a body delivering a test, inspection or certification must have been verified against international standards, on an ongoing basis, by an independent third party—in other words, by the nationally appointed accreditation body. The removal of these safeguards, which would disappear as the Bill is drafted, could have unintended and damaging consequences. For example, a contracting authority could require products to be tested to a specified standard but, without the safeguard of accreditation, any test certificate would have to be accepted. There would be no assurance of the quality or rigour of either the test or the tester. We saw what happened during the Covid pandemic with the profusion of substandard products that had false or inadequate certificates.

The NHS, when procuring PPE or anything else where it is critical that a product conforms with a specified standard, needs to be able to rely on a robust certification process. Likewise, a contracting authority could require a supplier to have a certificate for its management system, environmental management system, information security system or anti-bribery management system. If the certifier does not need to be accredited to perform that certification, the contracting authority cannot be certain that the relevant certificate is from a body whose technical competence, capabilities and impartiality have been verified by a third party against internationally recognised standards, but the contracting authority would none the less be obliged to accept the certificate.

Hence the serious concerns about the Bill that have been expressed to UKAS by public sector procurers such as the Ministry of Defence. Noble Lords will understand that the MoD—apart from being one of the United Kingdom’s largest public sector procurers—is uneasy at the prospect of purchasing goods and services from companies whose management system certificates have been issued by bodies that might not have been accredited to perform those assessments. In case anyone is wondering, several certification bodies in the market are not accredited to or compliant with international standards. It is important to guard against the unintended consequences of encouraging the proliferation of non-compliant conformity assessment and accreditation practice and all the risk that involves. It is equally important to avoid undermining certification bodies that operate as nationally accredited entities.

The safeguards proposed by these two straightforward amendments are rooted in the United Kingdom’s national quality infrastructure, which in turn reflects global best practice. They also align with the WTO’s Agreement on Technical Barriers to Trade and the Government’s commitment to international regulatory co-operation. Furthermore, they would bring the Bill into line with existing government policy on national accreditation.

In closing, I add that the drafting of these two amendments is also aimed at minimising trade barriers by recognising accreditation from any national accreditation body that is a signatory to the global mutual recognition agreements.

Photo of Lord Fox Lord Fox Liberal Democrat Lords Spokesperson (Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy) 6:30, 28 Tachwedd 2022

My Lords, this is a very important group of amendments. We have had many speakers, so I will be concise. My noble friend Lady Parminter has already made some important points on our part. I will not repeat her comments, but we regard the issue of economic, social and environmental benefits to be paramount and we do not subscribe to the idea that it should not be in some way guided by the legislation or the operational part of the legislation.

I have listened carefully to the other speeches. I am minded to side with the approach of the noble Lord, Lord Lansley, of using the NPPS as the vehicle through which this aim and principle is achieved. I hope that we shall be able to support both him and the noble Baroness in His Majesty’s Opposition if they decide to press their amendments. Amendments 35 and 46 bear my name; clearly, I stand by them and the speeches that others have made.

There are two other areas on which I want to speak very briefly. Not least, the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, was unable to be here, but I know that he and my noble friend Lady Brinton have tabled Amendments 38 and 83, which reflect on accessibility. The previous legislation had prior regulations about accessibility and the fact that public procurement should ensure accessibility to all people. It has been lost in the drafting of this Bill. It is not clear to me whether that is a deliberate or accidental dropping of something, so it will be very useful to hear from the Minister what the Government’s thinking was on this. If it was deliberate, I would urge them to think again; if it was accidental, there is time to put it right.

Finally, I would like to make a pitch to support the noble Earl, Lord Lindsay, who has unearthed something that must be another unintended consequence of this legislation. I cannot believe that this was deliberately put in place by the Government. His Amendments 58 and 82 are an important way of righting that situation. I hope, again, that the Minister will think again.

In conclusion, we on these Benches absolutely believe that there should be a public purpose to procurement. We feel that the legislators have a role, as well as the very important role outlined by the noble Lord, Lord Maude, for the professionals, when it comes to implementing that policy. It is really important that we seek to achieve public good through the £300 billion of procurement that this country makes.

Photo of Baroness Neville-Rolfe Baroness Neville-Rolfe Minister of State (Cabinet Office)

My Lords, we have had an extremely interesting debate—a shorter one than I was expecting—and I am grateful for all the contributions.

I will start by saying that, while I understand that noble Lords rightly wish to pursue their particular interests, many of which I agree with, we have to bear in mind that procurement is, above all, an economic activity. That does not mean that we cannot take other things into account, but no amount of environmental or social benefit could make a procurement satisfactory if it failed to deliver economically on its intended purpose. We need to avoid the Christmas tree that my noble friend Lord Maude referred to. Of course, the NPPS allows for the inclusion of these sorts of policies—including net zero, as the noble Baroness, Lady Parminter, said—but that does not mean to say that we want to put them on the face of the Bill.

In my view, value for money comes first, especially given the financial difficulties that we now face, but it is important to recognise that, as a result of Clause 18, contracting authorities will be working to a new definition, which nobody has mentioned, of “most advantageous tender” rather than “most economically advantageous tender”—that is, MAT not MEAT—so the days of focusing on price alone, not quality or wider matters such as generating UK employment opportunities, are over. Specific policies could also be put into bespoke tender documents, as my noble friend explained.

Secondly, my experience of many Bills is that it is unwise to attempt to define everything in detail at a particular point in time. As the years pass, relative priorities change. Who would have thought two years ago that inflation, the price of energy and the consequences of war would feature so highly on the national agenda? There will no doubt be other surprises—as, indeed, has been the scale of climate change; 20 or 30 years ago, most of us did not realise what would happen.

Thirdly, productivity growth is worryingly low in this country. It is essential that this Bill and the £300 billion of public procurement each year provides a boost and that small businesses are able to secure a share of that, as my noble friend Lord Lindsay’s comments implied. Innovation and competition have an important part to play here—I know that my noble friend Lord Lansley feels that strongly; they are two very important objectives. Procurement should be an enabler of innovation rather than increasing barriers to entry for competition, as my noble friend Lord Maude said.

Against this background, I come to Amendment 33, moved by the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman. This seeks to restate the six principles consulted on in the Green Paper. In addition to the 619 responses we received, we have carried out extensive consultation with interested groups, as the noble Baroness will know. As a result, our principles were refined and then translated into the objectives and specific obligations that now exist in the Bill. The language of a Green Paper is not the language of legislation, and we have reflected the principles in a way designed to help contracting authorities understand how they will implement them. That goes for value for money, public good, transparency and integrity.

The public consultation indicated that “fair treatment” was too subjective for contracting authorities to determine by objective standards, so we introduced the concept of “treating suppliers the same” in Clause 11(2); and “non-discrimination” has been converted from an objective to a hard-edged obligation in Clauses 83 to 85. We believe that the combination of the objectives and specific legal obligations in the Bill deals with procurement principles in a more effective and practical way.

Amendment 35 in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, changes the recognised concept of “value for money” in the procurement objectives into a more amorphous one, which includes the concepts of “social value” and “equity”. I have a number of concerns with what that amendment does. First, it moves contracting authorities away from the well-known concept of “value for money” and creates a new, and perhaps confusing, duty. Contracting authorities will not know this new duty and it will take time, resources and probably a number of costly legal challenges—a bugbear of procurement—to work that out. It is also an unfair burden to place on them in this new regime; we need to minimise legal doubt wherever we can.

It is also worth reminding noble Lords that the current national procurement policy statement already includes social value as one of its key themes. I am also concerned by the assumption that an obligation to have regard to some degree of social value must ensure some degree of equity in procurements. I do not think I am alone in being unclear on what “equity” is supposed to mean in this context, and doubtful that the simple existence of “social value” would deliver it.

Amendments 36 and 42, tabled by the noble Baronesses, Lady Worthington and Lady Hayman, and the noble Lord, Lord Coaker, seek to define “public benefit” to include various social and economic matters. The public benefit objective in Clause 11(1)(b) is deliberately undefined, so it is a flexible concept that gives contracting authorities a wide degree of discretion. These amendments seek to define “public benefit” in a much narrower way, limited only to economic, social and environmental benefits.

As I said at the beginning, we have lost sight of the need for our procurement spend also to be used to increase productivity, drive efficiency and stimulate growth. So let us keep the Bill as clear and simple as we can so that we do not swamp contractors and SMEs in paperwork. Let us instead ensure that we have an appropriate national procurement policy statement that can evolve as times change.

Amendments 38 and 83, tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, and the noble Baroness, Lady Brinton, but spoken to by the noble Lord, Lord Fox, require contracting authorities to have regard, when carrying out a procurement, to the accessibility of what is being procured for disabled people. I reassure noble Lords that we share the same intent. However, amendments to the Bill are not required: there is no need to change the Bill because, although disability accessibility is of great importance, it is already catered for in the public sector equality duty in the Equality Act 2010. It is appropriate that these matters are considered at the point that contracting authorities draw up technical specifications, and they must apply the requirements of existing law. My officials, however, would certainly welcome further engagement with bodies representing disabled people as the technical specifications and guidance are developed.

Photo of Lord Fox Lord Fox Liberal Democrat Lords Spokesperson (Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy)

The noble Baroness is right that the public sector equality duty is in the Equality Act, but the current system, which we will lose when the Bill comes into force, incorporates both the PSED and provisions under secondary legislation, such as the Public Contracts Regulations 2015. Therefore, when those regulations were laid, there was a tacit acceptance that the PSED alone was insufficient. If the Minister does not accept the amendments, will she bring forward other provisions in another way to backfill what is clearly being lost as we move from one set of rules to the other?

Photo of Baroness Neville-Rolfe Baroness Neville-Rolfe Minister of State (Cabinet Office)

My attitude to this is clear, and I have offered to engage on the subsidiary detail of the transformation that we are planning with the Bill.

I turn to the important matter of the national procurement policy statement, which sets out strategic priorities for procurement. Amendment 43—I hope noble Lords will forgive me if I do not mention their names in relation to every amendment they have tabled—would require the Government to publish a national procurement policy statement, rather than just allowing them to do so. This is the so-called move from “may” to “must”. Amendment 44 then requires a statement to be published within 12 months of the relevant section coming into force.

I think the clause is right as it is. Think of how much more important issues such as supply chain resilience have become since the outbreak of Covid and the conflict in Ukraine. The current approach enables the Government to react nimbly to changes in priority, which my noble friend Lady Noakes thought was important, and they can issue a new statement as appropriate. However, importantly, I can assure noble Lords that this Government will publish such a statement when the Bill takes effect; indeed, they have already done so in draft. The Bill will put the new statement on a statutory footing. Importantly, the clause provides that, once the statement is published, contracting authorities must have regard to it when carrying out their procurement activity. The amendment as drafted requires a Minister to publish a statement. However, a Minister would be unable to fulfil this requirement were Parliament to vote against it, perversely meaning that the amendment would potentially prevent a Minister discharging the statutory duty. I would therefore prefer to avoid the formula proposed in Amendment 43.

Amendment 46 proposes that, prior to publishing a statement, the Minister must give due regard to a number of specified principles, most of which represent elements core to the procurement regime. This is evident from the drafting of the Bill overall: for example, value for money, integrity and maximising public benefit are set out clearly, and transparency is a specific requirement running throughout the Bill. There is a lot in common here with what I said at the beginning so I will not repeat that.

Amendment 47, tabled by my noble friend Lord Lansley, the noble Baroness, Lady Worthington, and the noble Earl, Lord Devon, would require the inclusion of specific priorities in the national procurement policy statement relating to the achievement of targets and requirements set under the Climate Change Act and other legislation, as well as promoting innovation and minimising the incidence of fraud. As discussed in Committee, the range of topics suggested by noble Lords during the process demonstrates that stakeholders have different priorities for procurement. These matters are already well covered in our statute book. It is important that policy priorities are addressed in a targeted way and that our regime does not contribute to a deterioration in productivity. That said, noble Lords will be reassured to know that many of these themes—net zero, social value and innovation—feature in the current non-statutory statement that we have already published.

Noble Lords have also focused on the scope for increasing innovation and minimising fraud. I hope that, by taking a new approach to small business, we can create a procurement regime that will unleash innovation in the supply chain and build up innovation in this country. On fraud, I agree that recent instances have caused concern, which is why we have a goal to embed transparency throughout the procurement life cycle. I believe this will help to tackle fraud and it has been widely seen as a positive move. However, it would be wrong to tie ourselves down with the NPPS for all the reasons I have stated.

Amendment 45 proposes a public consultation on a draft of the NPPS. I agree that this is in many ways a good idea. We would like to explore what the statement should contain with a wider range of stakeholders across the public sector and elsewhere to ensure that it is as effective as possible. But I worry that consulting on a draft may come too late in the process. It may be best to carry out a consultation on topics to inform the drafting of the statement.

In a similar vein, Amendment 48 would require the publication of a draft statement and moving to an affirmative procedure. I assure the House that the Government are committed to ensuring that any published procurement policy statement is published with the scrutiny of Parliament. The Bill provides for the appropriate process in Clause 12(3) to (6), and noble Lords will be able to pray against the statement or request debates on the NPPS or the issues in it in the usual way. I do not see a strong case to change this procedure, and this was not raised by the DPRRC in its scrutiny of the Bill.

The slightly different Amendments 58 and 82, tabled by my noble friend Lord Lindsay, would stipulate that, where a contracting authority requires a conformity assessment or a certification from a conformity assessment body, this must be from a body accredited by a national accreditation body such as the United Kingdom Accreditation ServiceUKAS. I thank my noble friend Lord Lindsay for the work he has done as chair of UKAS and the motivations behind these amendments. However, certification can be costly for suppliers. At the heart of our Bill is a desire for contracting authorities to act commercially, innovate and support SMEs. We do not think we need legislation to dictate to contracting authorities what conformity assessments or certification standards should be acceptable. It is often important for the procurement that a conformity assessment is done by a certification body such as UKAS. Contracting authorities are able to set this as a condition of participation under Clause 21, so Amendment 58 is not required, and the same logic applies to Amendment 82.

Having said that, I understand that UKAS has helpfully engaged with my officials over concern that the existing text in Clause 53(5) risks suppliers removed from the competition for failure to meet a requisite standard being able to argue, even in the courts, that a lesser standard is an international equivalent and therefore challenge their removal. We are looking into this point and will revert to the matter if the need arises.

Amendment 96, in the names of the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, and the noble Lord, Lord Coaker, would require contracting authorities to undertake a public interest test when considering whether to outsource or continue to outsource a public sector service. I do not think that this was raised, but I am happy to write to the noble Lords who tabled the amendment to explain why we feel that the procedures that we are bringing in and our transformational plans should provide the necessary reassurance.

This has been a long debate. I believe that I have made a strong case for keeping the framework of the Bill as it is, but obviously it will also be important that the NPPS contains the right policy provisions. I respectfully request that these various amendments be withdrawn following the reassurances I have been able to give.

Photo of Baroness Hayman of Ullock Baroness Hayman of Ullock Opposition Whip (Lords), Shadow Spokesperson (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs), Shadow Spokesperson (Levelling Up, Housing, Communities and Local Government) 6:45, 28 Tachwedd 2022

My Lords, I must say that I am pretty disappointed with the Minister’s response to my amendments, particularly to those on the NPPS. I give notice that I intend to test the opinion of the House on Amendment 46, when we reach it. I also let the noble Lord, Lord Lansley, know that, if he chooses to test the opinion of the House on his Amendment 47, we will support him. In the meantime, I beg leave to withdraw Amendment 33.

Amendment 33 withdrawn.

Clause 11: Procurement objectives