Procurement Bill [HL]

Baroness Smith of Newnham Excerpts
Baroness Smith of Newnham Portrait Baroness Smith of Newnham (LD)
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My Lords, speaking on defence matters, I am not used to having detailed legislative scrutiny. We rarely have legislation, and when it comes forward it is often like the Armed Forces Act (Continuation) Order, which is on half a side of A4, and the Explanatory Notes are equally short and, in most cases, rather unnecessary. The message is essentially: “We need this legislation in order to carry on having the Armed Forces”.

On this occasion, I rise to speak with some trepidation on the Procurement Bill, because as the noble Lord, Lord True, pointed out in his opening remarks, it is a very detailed Bill and not one to which I would normally put my name. On this occasion, therefore, I am extremely grateful for the Explanatory Notes. I will speak to the core part of the Bill that I welcome: the fact that if we are to have a single procurement regime, it should include defence. However much we might endorse Her Majesty’s Armed Forces and welcome what they do, it is very rare for anybody to stand up and say that the defence procurement regime works incredibly well and cannot be improved. So in that sense, this is a welcome Bill.

By way of preamble, I would very much like to welcome the comments of the noble Lord, Lord True, in introducing the Bill and in his response to a previous question from the noble Baroness, Lady Sugg—that this Bill could have relevance to genocide and modern slavery. I assume that my noble friend Lord Alton will raise this issue in his contribution. The opportunity for us to raise questions about values in procurement is hugely welcome. That the Government were willing to make some amendments to the then Health and Care Bill was also very welcome in this regard. If a single procurement regime were to lead to best practice, ensuring that contracts which could be seen as corrupt were not let, or that people’s What’s App groups were not relevant to procurement, this would all be very welcome.

The noble Lord, Lord Mendelsohn, has just pointed out that procurement is sometimes about trying to change the spec—maybe mending or meddling. In defence procurement, contracts regularly run over length and over budget. Many civilians, many of whom are not interested in defence, may not have noticed, for example, questions about the A400M or Ajax armoured vehicles. It is a bit similar to Crossrail, now welcomed as the Elizabeth line, being four years over time and over budget. In a whole series of reports, most recently in November 2021, the House of Commons Public Accounts Committee has pointed out some of the problems with defence procurement. Cumulatively, various pieces of defence equipment are running 21 years behind schedule—although one assumes that no single item is 21 years overdue.

The noble Lord, Lord West of Spithead—he is not in his place today, although he may appear at some later point in proceedings on the Bill—has on many occasions asked questions of the noble Baroness, Lady Goldie, about the number of ships and the procurement process, including when a certain class of ship will come on stream. We keep being told that this may be in the mid or late-2020s. Delay is a perennial problem in defence procurement. If this legislation is to offer a single approach to procurement, of which defence is part, that sounds very welcome.

As my noble friend Lord Fox pointed out, there are a number of exemptions in the legislation. A whole clause lists various exemptions, chief among them being those relating to defence. I would be grateful if the Minister, either today or in writing, or the noble Baroness, Lady Goldie, when preparing for the Bill Committee, could indicate to your Lordships the Government’s thinking on exemptions, particularly those linked to defence. Some would appear straightforward. If a tank or armoured vehicle is in another country, it would not necessarily be brought back to the United Kingdom to be repaired. If there are larger procurement issues to do with repairs, maybe we need to think about not exempting these provisions. What is Her Majesty’s Government’s thinking on exemptions?

As is so often the case, there are some weasel words in the schedules about national security, which is mentioned twice as an exclusion and as an exemption. Procurement might be exempted from this regime if there are national security reasons to do so. Who determines whether something is a matter of national security? Is it the National Security Council? Is it the Home Office if it is a domestic matter? Will it be the organisation seeking to procure—whether that be the MoD, the Home Office or some other body—who say: “This is a matter of national security, and therefore it should be exempt”? Is the legislation sufficiently clear on that? If not, then that is an area where perhaps we need to bring some amendments to tighten the legislation. Those who advocated Brexit would say that this new approach to procurement legislation gives us more control over procurement and allows this House and the other place to scrutinise legislation so we should be doing it properly. Exemptions in terms of national security are a concern.

There will also be exclusions on the basis of national security. That clearly sounds very sensible on the face of it. You would not seek to procure equipment—particularly defence equipment—from a provider which might jeopardise British security. That seems a no-brainer. But again, who is making that decision about providers potentially jeopardising national security? Will there be a register? Will companies be on a list of providers that cannot be used because they jeopardise national security? That might be an area where there could be some probing amendments.

In terms of defence, having some improved procurement mechanisms might be very welcome. In its November report, the Public Accounts Committee argued that:

“To meet the aspirations of the Integrated Review, the Department’s—


that is, the MoD’s—

“broken system for acquiring military equipment needs an urgent rethink, led by HM Treasury and the Cabinet Office.”

Is this Bill the Cabinet Office’s response to the need for the MoD to improve its behaviour and its procurement provisions? Personally, I think it would be quite good to keep Her Majesty’s Treasury out of these things because, while we might want value for money in defence procurement, we also need to ensure that we are procuring the right things, and the Treasury’s approach to the bottom line might not be the right way forward.

In defence procurement in particular, having the right legislation will matter, but so will scrutiny of the actual contracts that are being let. It will be vital not just to get this legislation right but to ensure that, in major complex procurements in the future, we do not allow the politicisation of procurement to allow Ministers and officials to keep going back asking, “Could we just amend this contract? Could we add a few more bells and whistles?” Every time that happens, the cost of a contract goes up and the overruns go on longer.

This legislation offers some opportunities, but it will still be incumbent on your Lordships’ House and the other place to ensure that, in defence procurement, we really scrutinise everything that the MoD is doing.

Global Positioning System

Baroness Smith of Newnham Excerpts
Tuesday 26th April 2022

(2 months, 1 week ago)

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Lord True Portrait Lord True (Con)
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My Lords, we have always been clear that the possible provisioning of PNT services was not actually the rationale for our investment in OneWeb. The spaced-based positioning, navigation and timing programme analysed a number of ideas for concepts in low-earth orbit, and OneWeb was one of the many companies contributing to that. It is primarily a telecoms operation and that is where its primary focus is. However, we are not ruling out that low orbit and so on may play a role in future services.

Baroness Smith of Newnham Portrait Baroness Smith of Newnham (LD)
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My Lords, the United States’ space-based PNT policy suggests that:

“GPS users must plan for potential signal loss and take reasonable steps to verify or authenticate the integrity of the received GPS data and ranging signal, especially in applications where even small degradations can result in loss of life.”


What advice do Her Majesty’s Government give to GPS users in this country?

Lord True Portrait Lord True (Con)
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My Lords, users in this country certainly need to be aware of the potential difficulties, including space weather. The year 2025 is expected to have quite a high level of solar activity. Overall responsibility for providing facilities and back-up falls on the Government, which is why we conducted the review and are taking some of the measures that I have intimated to the House.

Retained EU Law

Baroness Smith of Newnham Excerpts
Thursday 18th November 2021

(7 months, 3 weeks ago)

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Lord Frost Portrait Lord Frost (Con)
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My Lords, I indeed met a wide range of people in Northern Ireland yesterday, as I always try to. It is fair to say that I heard a lot of concerns about the way the protocol is being implemented. I heard some concerns about the democratic legitimacy of laws being imposed without consent and a great wish to do something about the current situation, which is what we are trying to do.

Baroness Smith of Newnham Portrait Baroness Smith of Newnham (LD)
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My Lords, in answering my noble friend Lady Ludford, I am not sure that the Minister actually dealt with the question of whether any changes to retained law would be dealt with through primary legislation. Could he possibly try again? He suggested that the retained law had not necessarily been scrutinised by Parliament before and that any changes needed to reflect that reality. But surely, if we are taking back control, this House and the other place should be able to decide any changes to retained law. If so, how are the Government Whips going to find parliamentary time to do so?

Lord Frost Portrait Lord Frost (Con)
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My Lords, the best way I can answer the question is to refer back to what I said on 16 September, when I referred to the democratic deficit issue of such law, and note that

“we will look at developing a tailored mechanism for accelerating the repeal or amendment of this retained EU law in a way which reflects the fact that, as I have made clear, laws agreed elsewhere have intrinsically less democratic legitimacy than laws initiated by the Government of this country.”—[Official Report, 16/9/21; col. 1533.]

There are various ways of achieving that end, and that is what we are working on.

House of Lords: Appointments Process

Baroness Smith of Newnham Excerpts
Thursday 18th November 2021

(7 months, 3 weeks ago)

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Baroness Smith of Newnham Portrait Baroness Smith of Newnham (LD)
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My Lords, I think I heard the noble Lord, Lord Cormack, from a sedentary position, say, “Follow that”. I shall do my best.

We have already heard from the noble Lord, Lord Balfe, that he won the raffle for a debate which Her Majesty’s Government may choose to ignore. As he pointed out, if we are a self-governing House, we ought to be able to set up a committee for ourselves. We also ought to be able to have debates on Questions worded as we choose. I decided that the wording today debate probably allowed us to be a bit flexible.

The Question is about the process for appointing Members of the House of Lords, but the size of this House is a prior question—and one where we did have a committee. When the noble Lord, Lord Fowler, was Lord Speaker, he commissioned a committee, run by the noble Lord, Lord Burns, and there was a commitment to a cap of 600. Now it may be that, if we take away the 200 Peers who, according to the noble Lord, Lord Balfe, do not really do very much, and we take away those on permanent leave of absence, we are below 600.

But there is a real difference between the former Prime Minister, Theresa May, and the current one— she responded to your Lordships’ committee and said that she would exercise restraint. The Conservative Government under her did so, but the current Government have not. In recent months and the last two years, we have had many new appointments. Will the Minister take back to the Prime Minister this House’s objection to the way that patronage is being used? The role of the House of Lords in the 21st century is not and should not be about patronage; it should be about a working legislature.

Imports from EU to GB: Business Preparation

Baroness Smith of Newnham Excerpts
Thursday 16th September 2021

(9 months, 3 weeks ago)

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Lord Frost Portrait Lord Frost (Con)
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My Lords, I agree of course with my noble friend that an aspiration for a world-class border is very important; that is where we intend to go. Indeed, we hope that the so-called single trade window —a single portal—will be a very significant part of that, as we take this forward. As regards HGV drivers, my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Transport has, on a couple of occasions, set out our plans to make it easier to increase the supply of drivers, and I am sure that that will bear fruit very soon.

Baroness Smith of Newnham Portrait Baroness Smith of Newnham (LD)
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Last weekend, I left the United Kingdom for the first time since the end of transition period. I went to France, and I got in very easily: I showed my passport and my vaccine pass, and that was it. When I came back, it looked like a world-class border when I got to Stansted, where I just showed my electronic passport, but, to get there, I had to fill in numerous forms that the airline was expected to verify. Are the Government proposing to keep that sort of regulation going? Surely that is a deterrent to tourism and other people coming to the United Kingdom, which surely a world-class country would be wanting, not trying to discourage?

Lord Frost Portrait Lord Frost (Con)
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I am sure that we all share the aspiration for borders that are as freely flowing as possible. Obviously, we are dealing with the consequences of a pandemic, and that requires controls and processes that, in an ideal world, we would not want to be in place. This matter is very much debated elsewhere. I repeat my point that we wish to see goods and people flow as freely as possible, consistent with maintaining responsible border controls of all kinds. That is what we intend to put in place.

G7 Summit

Baroness Smith of Newnham Excerpts
Thursday 26th November 2020

(1 year, 7 months ago)

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Lord True Portrait Lord True (Con)
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My Lords, the Chancellor set out very clearly yesterday that our intention is to return to 0.7% when the fiscal situation allows. According to the latest OECD data, the UK will remain the second-highest aid donor in the G7.

Baroness Smith of Newnham Portrait Baroness Smith of Newnham (LD)
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My Lords, in his initial Answer the Minister talked about “our people”. Can he reassure the House and, indeed, any current recipient of overseas development aid, that “our people” means everyone, and that the United Kingdom, with the presidency of the G7, will be outward looking and supportive, not introspective, inward looking and narrow minded?

Lord True Portrait Lord True (Con)
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Absolutely, my Lords.

Office for Veterans’ Affairs

Baroness Smith of Newnham Excerpts
Wednesday 9th September 2020

(1 year, 10 months ago)

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Lord True Portrait Lord True (Con)
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My Lords, I wholly endorse my noble friend’s opening sentiments. I understand and share the frustrations he espouses. We will implement the Stormont House agreement in such a way as to provide certainty for veterans and justice for victims, to focus on reconciliation and to end the cycle of reinvestigations into the Troubles in Northern Ireland that has failed victims and veterans alike. This is an ongoing matter.

Baroness Smith of Newnham Portrait Baroness Smith of Newnham (LD)
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My Lords, when the Government launched the Office of Veterans Affairs, they said that the United Kingdom would lead the world in the care of Armed Forces veterans. That is obviously welcome, but could the Minister enlighten the House as to whether that is intended to include all veterans of the British services, including those Commonwealth citizens who have served us, particularly the Fijians, who occasionally have difficulties with their residency and immigration status?

Lord True Portrait Lord True (Con)
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My Lords, the position of Commonwealth veterans is of great importance. The Government highly value the service of all our veterans, including Commonwealth nationals and non-UK personnel. For example, Ministers are continuing to discuss visa fees with the Home Office, and I am confident we will find a positive outcome.

House of Lords and Machinery of Government: Consultation on Changes

Baroness Smith of Newnham Excerpts
Wednesday 15th July 2020

(1 year, 11 months ago)

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Lord True Portrait Lord True
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My Lords, I do not believe the Government are acting ultra vires in any way. It is important that all of us—in this House, in the other place and in the political world generally—reflect on how we may restore respect in the political process and bring that closer to the people. That does not change the fundamental constitutional point which the noble Lord has cited.

Baroness Smith of Newnham Portrait Baroness Smith of Newnham (LD) [V]
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My Lords, one reason why the European Parliament is subject to criticism is that it sits in two places: Brussels and Strasbourg. The moves to Strasbourg diminish accountability and create problems. Does the Minister agree that, if our bicameral Parliament were separated, it would be much harder to hold Ministers to account and would undermine the British Parliament?

UK-EU Negotiations

Baroness Smith of Newnham Excerpts
Thursday 18th June 2020

(2 years ago)

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Lord True Portrait Lord True
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My Lords, as he often does, the noble Lord has made a cogent and powerful point. The United Kingdom Government are obviously negotiating in good faith for a free trade agreement across the board on merit because we believe that free trade is of the greatest possible benefit in improving conditions for people across the world. Of course, if the different parties with whom we are negotiating wish to make cross-calculations, that is entirely a matter for them. However, I can certainly assure the noble Lord—the Prime Minister has been absolutely explicit on this—that our commitment to environmental standards and to standards generally will not be weakened by any of the negotiations that we are undertaking.

Baroness Smith of Newnham Portrait Baroness Smith of Newnham (LD) [V]
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My Lords, in his Statement, the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster indicated that we all need to be both clear-eyed and constructive in our negotiations on the future relationship. He also indicated that the Government would manage the adjustment after the transition period in a flexible way. Could the Minister give the House one example of how the Government propose to be constructive and where he envisages that they may be flexible?

Lord True Portrait Lord True
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On implementation, the announcement we have made about the phasing in of import controls and border arrangements is, I would say, profoundly pragmatic. The very fact that we are intensifying the pace of the negotiation, which has faced serious obstacles so far—and those obstacles remain—is an indication of our good intentions. As to how the negotiations might proceed, it is above my pay grade to be a prophet on those matters.

Northern Ireland Protocol

Baroness Smith of Newnham Excerpts
Thursday 21st May 2020

(2 years, 1 month ago)

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Lord True Portrait Lord True
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My Lords, I must tell the noble Lord, as I have told others, that this Government’s view is that there is no need to implement the protocol for there to be an office of this character in Belfast. I know of the statement by an official to which he may have been referring, but the position of the UK Government is as I have described it.

Baroness Smith of Newnham Portrait Baroness Smith of Newnham (LD)
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My Lords, the noble Earl, Lord Kinnoull, made it clear that the Command Paper highlights a lot of work that needs to be done between now and the end of the transition period. If Her Majesty’s Government are so determined to leave on 31 December with or without an agreement, what contingency planning are they doing if we leave without an agreement and the necessary works outlined in the Command Paper have not been delivered?

Lord True Portrait Lord True
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My Lords, first, the Government hope that we will conclude a free trade agreement; that is our policy and our objective. I am not sorry to say—but from the noble Baroness’s point of view, I would be sorry to say—that it is our intention to end the transition period. Of course, the Government are planning for all eventualities and possibilities, but I assure the House that our objective is to reach a free trade agreement and to have a practical way forward on the protocol, on the basis of the Command Paper.