I will be brief. Framing this debate has proved to be difficult because, quite rightly, the Government and the Opposition are focused on dealing with the pandemic, and therefore less attention has been paid to Britain’s post-Brexit trading arrangements. That said, the Government’s intentions are to achieve the best possible trading position and, as regards the amendment, the best possible public procurement arrangements. The intentions are clear and agreed. How to do so is not.
The Labour Party, along with many others, including the TUC and good, solid companies, are of the view that the Government must introduce measures that protect the best from being undercut by the less good. A race to the bottom should not be entertained. The Government have made several previous commitments: there was to be a Green Paper on this subject; there would be a review of the relevant EU law, post Brexit; we were told that there would not be any risk of a race to the bottom. However, that fear persists.
Can the Minister answer some questions, even at this late stage of the Bill’s passage? Will the Government seek to protect and enhance workers’ rights, living standards and our climate change position post Brexit? Will they implement International Labour Organization —ILO—standards as a form of protection, especially against modern slavery? What is the Government’s position regarding what was known as EU retained law in the area of public contracts? Do they intend to legislate to make good any shortcomings in this area? Unless the Government commit to those aims, it is hard to see how protection and standards will be maintained, let alone enhanced, in the years to come.
This amendment is therefore intended to keep the Government honest in their approach to the GPA by ensuring that each House has the opportunity to examine, debate and vote on measures proposed by the Government. An affirmative resolution of each House would be required before proceeding to introduce proposals to the GPA. This would allow each House to carry out its proper function. In the case of this House, that would be scrutiny of the proposals to consider whether, if taken to the GPA, they will fulfil the Government’s ambitions. I beg to move.
My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Lennie, for tabling Amendment 46, to which I was pleased to attach my name. I also thank the noble Lord for setting out some very clear and important questions that have not been answered, even at this very late stage of the debate on this Bill.
I note the thinness of this part of the debate. It is very clear that, despite the hard work of the Minister and noble Lords still engaged in this debate, at this late hour, the ability of this House to scrutinise the Bill line by line has been greatly damaged by the disjointed manner in which it has been progressed. We can only do our best.
The noble Lord, Lord Lennie, set it out clearly: we find ourselves saying essentially the same things, again and again. Members on all sides of your Lordships’ House want statutory protections for hard-won environmental standards, workers’ rights, food standards and public health standards. We keep hearing from the Government, again and again, “Oh yes, we want to keep these things”, but we encounter thumping resistance to any attempt to put that in writing so that they can be held to account in the courts for their promises—in the way in which the Government have so often been held to account in recent years. Empty words and hot air cannot be taken to court.
It is late, so I will be brief. I have three bullet points to conclude, outlining the reasons why this amendment should be included in the Bill: sovereignty, democracy and taking back control. For the benefit of Hansard, there is an implied question mark at the end of that last bullet point. It seems that, day by day, in your Lordships’ House, in Parliament and in the country, we are losing control, handing it over to executive authority and all too often to the vagaries of the market. We are seeing a society run for the benefit of the few, not the many.
My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Lennie, for allowing us to conclude at the place where we started: procurement. It is perhaps a sign—I agree with the noble Baroness—that there has been a creeping increase in executive power during this process. At least the scrutiny that this House has afforded the Bill has been thorough, even if the Government may think it has been too long. Nevertheless, we started discussions on this Bill with procurement. And then the United Kingdom Internal Market Bill was introduced, scrutinised and passed before we came to the conclusion of this.
Of interest, the question that I asked the Minister, the noble Lord, Lord Callanan, on the United Kingdom Internal Market Bill was how the regulations on procurement would interact with those that will come through our obligations under international procurement. Could the Minister give us a timeframe for when we expect to see the implementation of many of the Government’s policies on procurement that will now be authorised through our membership of the global arrangements? That interaction is going to be very important.
I have sympathy with the amendment on the basis that the extent of procurement goes far beyond what many people may think, which is simply about the Government purchasing goods. So much of our NHS, in both primary and mental health, is provided by contractors through procurement. The extent is really quite extensive—it is a considerable part of the UK economy—so this is not something that we should be shy about discussing in brief. It is of major importance to the UK economy, and indeed it will be a key part of our international relations.
So I ask the Minister to outline a little more detail. If he cannot give me that information today, I will be happy for him to write to me, because we will be needing to debate in full the Government’s procurement policies going forward, preferably through resolutions in both Houses. We wish to see the details of the Government’s intentions.
Perhaps understandably, because this is the last amendment that we will be addressing on Report, noble Lords wished to get certain matters off their chest at the commencement of debate on this amendment, so perhaps they will understand if I do not respond specifically to those points but restrict my comments to the amendment. I will of course commit to the noble Lord, Lord Purvis, that I will write to him with details of the exact timetable, which I do not have available to me at the moment.
Turning to this amendment and, as I say, restricting my comments to the amendment, given the late hour, I first remind noble Lords that the UK will accede to the GPA on the basis of continuity. This means that the “coverage schedules” referenced by noble Lords today and in Committee will remain broadly the same as those that the UK has had under EU membership. I know that noble Lords have suspicious minds and I say “broadly” because the UK’s independent GPA schedules incorporate technical changes to reflect the fact that the UK is no longer an EU member state, and there are now successor government entities other than those listed in Annexes 1 to 3. I have provided more details of these changes in a written response to a question asked on this issue in Committee by the noble Lord, Lord Fox, which I am happy to outline to the House.
The UK’s independent coverage schedules were shared with the International Trade Committee in 2018, along with the text of the GPA and the schedules of other GPA parties. They were then laid before Parliament for scrutiny, in line with the Constitutional Reform and Governance Act, and were concluded without objection in 2019. Since then, Switzerland has agreed to implement the GPA, as revised in 2012. As such, to ensure appropriate parliamentary scrutiny and transparency, the new Swiss schedules were laid before Parliament in October 2020. So I hope noble Lords will agree that there has been ample opportunity to scrutinise the terms of the UK’s GPA accession.
With regard to the scrutiny of our future participation in the GPA as an independent party, I again reassure noble Lords that provisions under Clause 1 are limited to a very specific set of scenarios in the GPA. I stress that this does not include any broader renegotiation of the GPA or of the UK’s market access offer to the GPA.
In the short term, the powers are required to implement an update to the list of central government entities in Annexe 1 of the UK’s GPA schedule. The update will reflect the fact that many entities have merged, moved or changed name since the list was originally written. Given the limited nature of such changes, I believe it is not appropriate to apply the affirmative procedure to Clause 1. Moreover, it is important that these necessary regulations be made swiftly because, as I often find myself saying, if there are delays, the UK could be in breach of its obligations under international law. I draw noble Lords’ attention to the fact that the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee of this House has twice considered the power in this clause and on neither occasion saw the need to comment on the use of the negative procedure.
As we are now reaching the end of Report, I will make some concluding remarks. I think that anybody who has witnessed the way our House has dealt with this Report stage can only admire the scrutiny noble Lords have given. That scrutiny has illustrated various aspects of the Bill which were not necessarily fully visible to people at the beginning, and it has drawn people’s attention to how important trade policy now is to the United Kingdom. The fact that the United Kingdom now has full control of its trade policy will lead in the years to come to some very positive developments, as we have already seen with the free trade agreements we are negotiating.
I very much thank noble Lords for the way they have approached Report stage. This is the first Bill that I have had the pleasure of taking through the House, other than our “son of Bill”, which we did before Christmas. I thank noble Lords for the way that they have assisted me and dealt with my inadequacies from time to time, no doubt, in the way that I have presented this Bill.
I thank your Lordships for the attention you have given to this Bill and I look forward to Third Reading. With that, I ask the noble Lord to withdraw his amendment.
I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett, and the noble Lord, Lord Purvis, for their support for this amendment. I also thank the Minister for his honesty in pointing out our shortcomings in failing to take up these issues when we previously had the opportunity to do so; but that is another matter. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 46 withdrawn.
Amendments 47 and 48 not moved.