Debates between Baroness Noakes and Lord Callanan during the 2019 Parliament

Tue 14th Dec 2021
Wed 17th Nov 2021
Thu 15th Apr 2021

Retained EU Law (Revocation and Reform) Bill

Debate between Baroness Noakes and Lord Callanan
Lord Callanan Portrait Lord Callanan (Con)
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Well, they will hold the Government to account. Of course, Parliament is able to hold the Government to account in many different ways, but particularly, with the reform programme, there would be an extensive programme of statutory instruments. Parliament would be able to debate and accept those instruments or not, as it usually does.

Baroness Noakes Portrait Baroness Noakes (Con)
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My Lords, I thank all noble Lords who have spoken in this debate. I thank my noble friend Lord Callanan in particular for answering the points raised on devolution. I do not think he answered the points raised by the noble Lord, Lord Pannick, on subsection (4), which is a useful addition because it means that if a report is not laid, we get another opportunity to be told that it has not been laid, and thereby to trigger any accountability mechanisms. I regard it as an important additional subsection, and I shall certainly be using it as a precedent in amendments to other Bills in future.

Advanced Research and Invention Agency Bill

Debate between Baroness Noakes and Lord Callanan
Lord Callanan Portrait Lord Callanan (Con)
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Once again, I thank my noble friend Lady Noakes for her thoughtful and constructive contributions throughout the progress of the Bill so far. However, she will be disappointed to know, I am sure, that on the substance of her Amendment 20, I am not convinced that adding a legislative requirement for the Secretary of State to approve how these supplementary powers are exercised would be beneficial to ARIA’s effective function or enhance its accountability measures that are already in place.

On ARIA’s ability to borrow money, I recognise that this has been consistently raised throughout the passage of the Bill by my noble friend. I thank her for her previous probing amendments on this matter, which prompted an important conversation on the balance between ARIA’s activities and the appropriate government oversight. As I outlined in correspondence with my noble friend, any borrowing would be contingent on ARIA complying with the rules of Managing Public Money and subject to approval by Her Majesty’s Treasury.

ARIA’s allocation and delegation letters, which the CEO of ARIA will be duty-bound to adhere to, will confirm that ARIA will be subject to, and comply with, all Managing Public Money rules that relate to borrowing. Managing Public Money sets robust conditions on borrowing, and states:

“Public sector organisations may borrow from private sector sources only if the transaction delivers better value for money for the Exchequer as a whole.”


Ensuring that ARIA’s expenditure is made in accordance with Managing Public Money guidance, except for in certain agreed circumstances, will be a condition of the budget ARIA receives from BEIS in its allocation and delegation letters from the BEIS Permanent Secretary to ARIA’s CEO.

There is an expectation of a level of faith between the Government and their arm’s-length bodies. This understanding of trust, and all of ARIA’s freedoms and powers, will be balanced with a number of core accountability principles. The CEO will be ARIA’s delegated accounting officer and will be personally accountable to Parliament for the stewardship of ARIA’s resources, decision-making and financial management. This includes the Public Accounts Select Committee, which will, I am sure, take an interest in such matters. The BEIS Permanent Secretary, as principal accounting officer, will retain an important oversight role, and has the power to make arrangements to ensure they are satisfied that ARIA’s systems are adequate and its finances soundly managed. The Permanent Secretary may intervene if ARIA is significantly off track, and in the unlikely scenario that serious concerns are raised, or there is financial mismanagement, the CEO’s delegated accounting officer authority can be revoked. I hope my noble friend is reassured that the mechanisms here are well established and robust and that they will be enforced.

Moving on to ARIA’s ability to form partnerships, I believe that adding a Secretary of State approval to ARIA’s activities in this area would significantly hinder its effective operations. In designing ARIA, we have put emphasis on the agency operating with significant autonomy from government, and with freedom from standard bureaucracy. Forming partnerships, such as providing grant funding to a project with a university or a business, will be an essential part of ARIA’s daily operations. We expect the agency to contract with, commission and collaborate with a range of different actors for each of its research projects—indeed, that will be one of its core functions.

We have designed this agency to be led and run by experts with technological vision. It is vital that these individuals are free from arduous processes so that they can act quickly, decisively, with autonomy and with clear authority. We should trust ARIA to have discretion over how it forms those partnerships, and I believe that requiring it to engage in a central government approval process for each partnership sits squarely contrary to its aims and purpose.

Moving to ARIA’s ability to form companies and to form and participate in joint ventures, my department is currently in negotiations with Her Majesty’s Treasury about the exact clearance processes ARIA will undertake for each of these transactions. The detail will be set out in ARIA’s allocation and delegation letters, the conditions of which the CEO, as accounting officer, will be duty-bound to comply with. However, I assure my noble friend that all iterations of this delegation letter will include sufficient assurances that ARIA’s internal assessment processes and capability are sufficiently robust. Given that these arrangements may need to evolve in the future, it would not be appropriate for this to be mandated at this stage in the Bill.

On ARIA’s ability to accept gifts, there are already stringent conditions on this in Her Majesty’s Treasury’s Managing Public Money that ARIA would need to comply with. ARIA would consult BEIS about gifts, and HMT’s approval is explicitly required for any gift over £300,000. Gifts made would be recorded in ARIA’s accounts and gifts received would be recorded in a register. These rules will also be confirmed in ARIA’s allocations and delegations letter from the BEIS Permanent Secretary.

ARIA’s power to acquire and sell land would be exercised only in compliance with the Managing Public Money guidance, which sets controls on the below-market sale of land, will compel ARIA to take professional advice when disposing of land and property assets, and will mandate ARIA to include land in its asset register.

Furthermore, introducing a blanket statutory requirement for Secretary of State approval would leave ARIA with less freedom than comparable arm’s-length bodies such as UKRI, which is able to exercise supplementary powers related to accepting gifts and the buying and selling of land without a legislated approval from the Secretary of State.

I appreciate that my noble friend has significant expertise and interest in the areas of financial management and propriety, and we welcome that. However, adding a statutory requirement here would not add value or challenge beyond what is already well established and enforced through Managing Public Money. Furthermore, as I have set out, adding the requirement to the forming of partnerships would, I believe, be genuinely detrimental to ARIA’s agile, autonomous operations, which I know my noble friend is keen not to prejudice.

Before I conclude on this final group of amendments, I once again thank all noble Lords who have taken an interest in this Bill for their excellent and constructive contributions throughout our scrutiny. ARIA provides us with enormous opportunities. I have been delighted to take the Bill through this House and engage with colleagues on all sides, who have focused on the task of providing appropriate scrutiny with enthusiasm, ability and great skill.

Baroness Noakes Portrait Baroness Noakes (Con)
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My Lords, I start by thanking again the noble Baroness, Lady Chapman of Darlington, for her support for my amendment. What the Minister has said in setting out in more detail how the various mechanisms work in the public sector to achieve de facto control over public bodies has been very useful. I hope he is right that this will work well in practice, and I completely accept his point that there has to be an element of trust and faith between BEIS and its public sector bodies. At the end of the day, this is a risk management decision on whether the balance has been set in the right place, given the particular circumstances of the public body.

I say to the Minister that I hope I shall never have to say, “I told you so”—I warn him that I have an elephantine memory. With that, it is late and time to withdraw my amendment.

Advanced Research and Invention Agency Bill

Debate between Baroness Noakes and Lord Callanan
Lord Callanan Portrait Lord Callanan (Con)
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I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Noakes, for her comments and for stepping so ably into the breach to represent my noble friend Lady Neville-Rolfe in her amendment. It is perfectly right that we have returned once again to the central issue of ARIA’s independence, because it is a core part of equipping it for its unique funding approach and for the distinct contribution that we expect it to make to the UK’s R&D landscape.

I support the ambition for the Secretary of State to be mindful of protecting ARIA’s independence in all its interactions with the organisations, where such interactions are required by the Secretary of State’s very limited functions. However, I differ with my noble friend on how we protect its independence in a practical way. I submit that it would be the accumulation of many small things—perhaps creeping influence over strategy, new mechanisms of oversight, or ever-increasing reporting demands on issues of political priority—that would be the arena in which ARIA’s independence would be compromised or lost.

My noble friend Lord Willetts, who is not in his place, spoke eloquently on Wednesday about the challenges he has experienced in trying to carve out space for new approaches in the current R&D system. At that stage, we also had a fairly extensive debate on the accumulated obligations placed on ARIA. We considered how those obligations might be balanced with this vital principle of independence, in the context of amendments which, I believe, would have diminished ARIA’s autonomy in a way that would have been entirely counterproductive. If we truly wish to safeguard ARIA’s independence, it is on those issues that we must look to do it, and there is no easy alternative.

I do not suggest that this is a moment to reopen that debate, but I submit that we cannot have this conversation on independence in an abstract way, divorced from consideration of the practical and operational ways in which it will or will not be given to ARIA. I am sure that there will be plentiful opportunities to discuss this important issue in future. I hope, on the basis of the reassurances I have been able to provide, that my noble friend will, on behalf of my noble friend Lady Neville-Rolfe, feel able to withdraw the amendment today.

Baroness Noakes Portrait Baroness Noakes (Con)
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My Lords, let me thank all noble Lords who have spoken. I agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Chapman, that independence is not incompatible with the Freedom of Information Act and other aspects that are included in the proposition for ARIA in this Bill. However, I do not think that independence is compatible with prescribing that it should focus only on climate change. We will have to agree to differ on that point.

The point of this amendment was that the Secretary of State had to respect the independence of ARIA, not that everybody else had to respect that independence, and I am not sure that I got the ringing endorsement of the Secretary of State not interfering in ARIA. However, we have had a good debate, and I am sure that my noble friend Lady Neville-Rolfe will enjoy reading it in Hansard. With that, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

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Baroness Noakes Portrait Baroness Noakes (Con)
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My noble friend also sent a letter to me following last week’s Committee; that was shared only with the noble Lord, Lord Browne of Ladyton. My noble friend’s department has form on not sharing widely with those in Committee when things are circulated. Can he go back to his department to ensure that all active members of the Committee get access to all the information circulated in response to its deliberations?

Lord Callanan Portrait Lord Callanan (Con)
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My apologies—we shared it with those who had contributed to the debate on the subject previously. In retrospect, we should perhaps have shared it more widely; we will now do so.

As my noble friend Lady Bloomfield set out last week, all four Administrations are equally committed to facilitating ARIA’s seamless operation throughout the UK. I hope that this will provide some comfort, in particular to the noble Baroness, Lady Randerson, who raised some important points on this issue at the time. My department will remain as ARIA’s sponsoring department to reflect the power of the UK Secretary of State, who alone has the power to fund ARIA through Clause 4 of the Bill. In our view, the accountability for that use of public money must therefore flow through the UK Government.

In addition to these protections for ARIA’s autonomy, the agreement provides an input mechanism from a new forum of science advisers to the four Administrations of the UK, directly to ARIA’s executive leadership. While there will be no obligation for ARIA specifically to respond to this input, the scientific challenges relevant to the policy priorities of all four Governments will be jointly communicated.

I appreciate that noble Lords have raised questions on how this will work in detail. At the moment this is necessarily a high-level document and clearly there is more work to do, at a working level, to flesh out this agreement between the UK Government and the devolved Administrations. This work is ongoing and will be the subject of further work in the months to come. However, as a result of it, Ministers in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland have all now given in-principle consent for the Bill on the basis of this approach. On that basis, I hope that noble Lords will similarly be able to support it. I beg to move.

Advanced Research and Invention Agency Bill

Debate between Baroness Noakes and Lord Callanan
Lord Callanan Portrait Lord Callanan (Con)
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I will write to the noble Lord with the legal details he requires.

Baroness Noakes Portrait Baroness Noakes (Con)
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My Lords, I can probably help the noble Lord, Lord Fox. In the case of public corporations created by statute, it is quite common that they are the members. It is not usually drafted as if the board is a separate legal entity.

National Security and Investment Bill

Debate between Baroness Noakes and Lord Callanan
Lord Callanan Portrait Lord Callanan (Con)
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My Lords, I rise to move Amendment 22 in my name, but with the permission of the House I will also speak to Amendments 23, 25, 27 and 32. I shall begin with Amendments 25, 27 and 32.

A strong theme of debate in Grand Committee, and in the other place, has been whether there is sufficient accountability in the regime—in particular, through the reporting requirements in the annual report. In general, as the House will be aware, the Government’s position has been that, as the Secretary of State may add anything judged appropriate to the annual report, there is no need to amend the Bill to include additional reporting requirements. The Government have, however, listened to proposals, including those made through amendments tabled in Grand Committee, and seek to add additional reporting requirements where it is judged that they would provide significant additional value for parliamentarians and the general public.

Amendment 32, in my name, will therefore increase the level of detail provided on final orders in the annual report, so that in addition to their total number being published, the number of orders varied and revoked will also be published. We recognise that final orders will be significant and reflective of government intervention following the call-in of an acquisition. There will already be a duty on the Secretary of State, in Clause 29, to publish notice of the fact that a final order has been made, varied or revoked. It is therefore appropriate that we provide information on the total number of orders varied and the total number of orders revoked. I thank, in particular, my noble friend Lord Lansley for this proposal, and for our discussions on how to improve this Bill prior to, during, and following Grand Committee. His counsel has been much appreciated.

Amendments 25 and 27 address the concern that the requirements on the Secretary of State to decide whether to accept or reject a mandatory notice or voluntary notice are insufficiently specific. As it stands, the Secretary of State must decide

“As soon as reasonably practicable”


after receiving a notification, and thereafter notify parties of his decision as soon as practicable. I set out during Grand Committee that the Secretary of State would strive to ensure that decisions to accept or reject notifications were made quickly. In many cases “as soon as reasonably practicable” is expected to be a very short period indeed, but we do not consider it appropriate to limit the period to a specific number of days, so as to provide scope for flexibility where required. In place of that, the Government propose reporting on the average number of days taken to respond to voluntary notices and mandatory notices. This additional detail will, we believe, ensure that parliamentarians and the wider public will be able to judge whether the Government’s expectation that this will be a matter of hours or days is proving correct year on year. Of course, these changes do not preclude the Secretary of State from going further by providing more information than required, where the information provides value to Parliament, and where, in particular, it provides reassurance where there is no time limit expressed in terms of a number of days.

Amendments 22 and 23 are minor amendments. Noble Lords will be aware that Clause 53 provides for regulations to be made setting out the procedure for service of documents under the Bill. These changes are intended to put the scope of the power beyond doubt. A change is proposed in subsection (2)(g), so that it is clear that the regulations may specify what must, or may, be done in relation to service of documents by senders outside the United Kingdom. A corresponding change is then made to paragraph (e), to avoid any doubt that the regulations will be able to set out what must, or may, be done where a sender is not an individual.

I hope that I have made clear the principles on which the Government are approaching the amendments in this group. I beg to move.

Baroness Noakes Portrait Baroness Noakes (Con)
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My Lords, I have a number of amendments in this group, all of which would amend the annual reporting requirements. Some of them overlap with amendments that my noble friend has just spoken to. In particular, my Amendments 26 and 28 are similar to his Amendments 25 and 27. The difference is that my noble friend’s amendments ask for the average time to be given, whereas I ask for both the average and the maximum, because averages can be very misleading. However, we shall have some data, and I am sure that those can be used as a springboard for further examination of BEIS Ministers and officials, if either House wished to do that, so I shall not pursue those amendments.

Of my other amendments, Amendment 29 asks for differentiation between call-in notices issued for mandatory and for voluntary notifications. That is not given, and it is quite an important bit of information, which would be useful to enable us to see how important that mandatory notification route turns out to be. The other thing I have asked for is a focus on timing—the time between issuing the call-in notice and getting to the end of the process and giving the final notifications and the final orders. I continue to believe that those areas would be important for keeping an eye on how well the process is operating, especially as there are very long times available once the call-in notice is issued. Again, I am sure that questions can be tabled and Ministers can be interrogated in the usual way, so I am not worried about that. I am glad that my noble friend has moved towards more transparency, although he has perhaps not gone quite as far as I would have preferred.

Although I have not added my name to the amendment in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Grantchester, I think it is important for annual reporting to keep a focus on the resources dedicated to this, because the timing performance will be in part a reflection of whether adequate resources have been dedicated. Of course, giving numbers never gives an idea of the quality of resources, so that can only ever be an imperfect picture, but it is important for Parliament to have an opportunity to review and keep in focus the resources dedicated to the ISU processes. That is where the biggest impact is likely to be felt by businesses as they come up against the system. Well done for bringing in some transparency; a bit more would have been better.

Audit and Corporate Governance

Debate between Baroness Noakes and Lord Callanan
Tuesday 23rd March 2021

(3 years, 2 months ago)

Lords Chamber
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Lord Callanan Portrait Lord Callanan (Con)
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These proposals are to provide information to expert users and many of the ordinary readers as well. Therefore, both markets are to be fulfilled.

Baroness Noakes Portrait Baroness Noakes (Con)
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My Lords, no self-respecting non-executive director would take on a directorship unless the company arranged adequate directors’ and officers’ insurance but the cost of cover has been increasing dramatically, alongside market capacity reductions. What assessment has BEIS made of the impact of its new proposals on the D&O market, with consequential impact on the willingness of good candidates to take on board appointments?

Lord Callanan Portrait Lord Callanan (Con)
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My noble friend makes a good point but the proposals will not provide a disincentive to people taking on new appointments. It is important to remember that the proposals for directors’ accountability apply only to the largest companies with revenues into the hundreds of millions of pounds and with hundreds, sometimes thousands, of employees. It is right that directors should take more responsibility.

EU Coronavirus Vaccine Programme

Debate between Baroness Noakes and Lord Callanan
Monday 13th July 2020

(3 years, 11 months ago)

Lords Chamber
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Lord Callanan Portrait Lord Callanan
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I did not catch all of that question; the audio was a bit poor. If the noble Baroness is saying that we should continue to co-operate on an international level, I would completely agree with her. I set out earlier the reasons why we did not think it was right to participate in this particular EU initiative, but we do not rule out participating in other EU procurement initiatives and we are in discussions on how we might do that.

Baroness Noakes Portrait Baroness Noakes (Con)
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My Lords, has my noble friend seen the comments of Oxford’s Regius Professor John Bell, who said that the Government’s decision was “sensible”, that the UK has

“a very, very coherent and good vaccine plan”

and that the UK is

“way ahead of Europe in the way we think about vaccines”?

Does he agree that if there is a loser from the UK opting out of the EU plan, it is the EU and not the UK?

Lord Callanan Portrait Lord Callanan
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I had not seen the comments that my noble friend refers to, but I agree with them. We do have a number of promising vaccine production methods going on. However, if there are future international collaborations, either with the EU or with other international partners, then we rule nothing out because we need to work together to find an appropriate vaccine.