Amendment 81

Part of Trade Bill - Committee (6th Day) – in the House of Lords at 3:15 pm on 15th October 2020.

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Photo of Lord Stevenson of Balmacara Lord Stevenson of Balmacara Opposition Whip (Lords), Shadow Spokesperson (Digital, Culture, Media and Sport) 3:15 pm, 15th October 2020

My Lords, I thank all noble Lords for their contribution to this debate. I especially thank those who supported the amendments in either my name or that of my noble friend Lord Bassam, particularly my noble friends Lord Rooker and Lord Judd.

My noble friend Lord Rooker made a very good point about the additional legitimacy which stems from public hearings, and he was picked up on this by the noble Lord, Lord Lansley, and the noble Baroness, Lady Kramer. Their points were strong enough to be convincing, although I am sorry that the Minister did not give a very explicit reason why he was not prepared to accept the amendment as it stood.

I am reminded that when we discussed this issue last time around, we had a slight advantage: we knew that the then Minister, the noble Baroness, Lady Fairhead, had actually been through that process of hearings as she had been the prospective chair of the BBC. Unfortunately, she was not terribly enthusiastic about the process itself, but I think she agreed with the points made today about the additional support it gives to those who have been through the process, and the general sense in which these appointments are, on one level at least, open for wider consideration and discussion.

In thinking through some of the issues raised later in the debate on the particularities of how organisations appoint, recruit and sustain their organisational structures, we need to have regard to the long-running debate—which I precipitated with some of the amendments that we tabled—about whether these people are to be seen as representatives or whether their background, having been gained in particular areas, would be of value to the organisation concerned. Perhaps I am not as naive as the noble Baronesses, Lady Bowles and Lady Noakes, alleged in suggesting that we needed to have a firm representative structure in place for the TRA; that would be ridiculous.

Taking a step back to look at some of the outcomes of processes to try to have a representative group on boards to help with better decision-making, legitimacy, transparency and all the other issues we are concerned about, it is quite interesting that we do not always get in place the sort of backgrounds reflected by the amendments in front of the Committee. I simply point that out. If the Minister is saying that the advisory committee may be the route here, that the words mentioned in this debate will be reflected on by the TRA, and that he will make sure that this is the case, I think we can feel we have made that point and do not need to continue discussing it.

I have two final points. First, to reassure the noble Viscount, Lord Trenchard, I did not mention any names when talking about appointments to the Board of Trade. Indeed, my amendment was specifically about the absurdity, or the Gilbertian situation we seem to be in, that there is one member and loads of advisers. This is more like a court than an advisory group; I wonder why we go through this charade.

If it is limited to privy counsellors that is one way of doing it, I suppose; it is probably better than some other routes we can think about. However, there are hundreds of privy counsellors. There are probably 100 engaged in this process at the moment—not including myself, of course, but others have been honoured by that. I would not have thought there would be difficulty in finding a privy counsellor if we wanted to make it two instead of one member of the Board of Trade. It really raises the question of why we have a Board of Trade with only one member if it needs advisers to advise it, but does not seem to produce anything one way or the other, yet we have thousands of other people sitting in trade advisory groups and other groups yet to be appointed. I leave that on the table.

My last point is that the Minister was intriguing when he said that the department hoped to deepen its engagement with the trade unions. I am pleased to hear that. I think I can speak for the trade unions to say that they are ready and willing to do what is required. I can only suggest that he gets ahead with his invitation, whatever it is he is going to do.

This is not an attempt to try to hijack things, but the feeling I am left with at the end of this debate, which has been a good, rich and important one, is that there is a bit of ground to make up. All that the Minister can do in using his experience of the processes needed to get fair appointments, the systems that need to be in place in the bodies once they are established, and the engagement with civic society and the wider group of people who are interested and want to support them, is important and will be the sustaining point as we go further down the track. With that, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment 81 withdrawn.

Amendments 82 to 83A not moved.