Debates between Baroness Noakes and Baroness Scott of Bybrook during the 2019 Parliament

Mon 11th Jul 2022

Procurement Bill [HL]

Debate between Baroness Noakes and Baroness Scott of Bybrook
Baroness Scott of Bybrook Portrait Baroness Scott of Bybrook (Con)
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My Lords, it is up to the organisation that is procuring. That is exactly what we are saying; we are freeing up that procurement process.

Baroness Noakes Portrait Baroness Noakes (Con)
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My Lords, I am not sure that we have advanced very much on either of the clauses. I thank all noble Lords who have taken part in the debate, particularly the noble Baroness, Lady Brinton, who raised a number of good points about the interaction with NHS contracts, which I had simply not appreciated, not having followed the most recent NHS legislation. I agree with her that the interaction of the two codes is likely to be confusing to all those who come across it and, with respect, I do not think that my noble friend made that any clearer in her answer. Nevertheless, we will come to that later on in the Bill and I am sure that it will be teased out again.

On Clause 8, the main thrust of my amendments was to try to find out what was likely to be covered under light-touch contracts. I am still no clearer at all. I have heard that the “have regards” in subsection (4) are appropriate as drafted but have not heard any argumentation as to why. I have heard quite a lot about how it is really up to the contracting authority to decide what it wants to take account of, and that whether it is good or bad to have overseas suppliers is up to the contracting authority.

I am quite unclear what the Government are intending by this light-touch contract regime. I have no idea at all what they are going to allow to be specified under the regulations, which is what I was trying to tease out by saying that it should be confined to health and social care. That was a placeholder to say, “Tell me what you’re going to put in them”—but I am afraid my noble friend did not tell me what she is going to put in them.

So I am left probably slightly less satisfied with Clause 8 than I was when I tabled my amendments to probe what was in it. I will of course consider very carefully what the Minister has said between now and Report, and we may have further conversations about it, but I politely suggest to her that the Government appear to be in a bit of muddle about what they are expecting from light-touch contracts. Are they simply saying, “We’ll create this power and let contracting authorities tell us what they want to do, and then we’ll have some regulations and do what we like with it”—because that is what the clause allows—or are they intending to restrict the scope in some way and, if so, in what way? That is all still waiting to be teased out, in addition to the issues raised about interaction with the NHS.

I turn to my Amendment 207, which is in connection with Clause 33. I think I heard the Minister say that the Government’s intention was to prevent repeated contracts. That is not necessarily what this measure achieves, except that it tends to prevent a repeated contract if it is of shorter duration. If the initial contract is for three years, they almost certainly do not have a time window to be involved in tendering for a repeat of three years, because of the three-year prohibition—whereas, if they take a contract for five years, that three-year prohibition on retendering will have expired before the retendering comes up again. My noble friend simply did not answer that question, so again I am no clearer about what the Government are really trying to do. Are they trying to stop repeated contracts or allow them? They are allowing them for longer contracts but not for others, which does not seem to make sense.

We have all summer and quite possibly a lot of the autumn between Committee and Report to consider what we need to probe further on Report, but I hope the Minister will be taking back the Hansard of this discussion to her officials and looking at the points that have been raised but not dealt with in her response. However, this is Committee, so I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.