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Green Investment Bank

Volume 518: debated on Thursday 11 November 2010

13. What discussions he has had with the Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills on the lending practices to be adopted by the proposed green investment bank. (23157)

The Secretary of State and I are in regular and close contact with colleagues in the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills and other ministerial colleagues. Following the spending review announcement, the Government aim to complete the design and testing work for the function and form of the GIB by spring 2011.

How does the Minister intend to advise the bank on its functions when investing in essential green industry development? In particular, if we are looking for winners when investing in new innovation, we might miss the opportunity to provide seedcorn investment, which might then be taken up by other countries. It is essential that we look into investment in new technologies and that we do not miss these opportunities.

There are obviously other ways of investing in new technologies, including through the energy strategy board, and the coalition has made an absolute commitment to push forward a range of technologies. The GIB is about crowding in private sector investment into a viable green economy.

Does the Minister agree with me, with the chief executive of Greenpeace, John Sauven, and, for that matter, with Andy Atkins of Friends of the Earth, that if the GIB is to be truly successful it must be independent and operate as a proper bank? It must not be seen as a fund or a quango.

My hon. Friend makes a good point. It is vital that the new institution, which will be the first of its kind in a modern economy, has the maximum capacity to crowd in private sector capital. As a result, it will need to have many of the functions that he lists.

In Scotland, some of the money for lending by the GIB will have been accumulated through the fossil fuel levy. This is money that came from Scottish consumers, and which the Secretary of State’s party promised to release unconditionally to the Scottish Government. Will the Minister press for the immediate release of the money to enable investment in renewable energy now, rather than waiting perhaps years for the setting up of the GIB?

There already is dialogue with the Scottish Government on this important issue. The way in which we administer those funds must ensure that they are used to help to drive forward green growth and green jobs.

It is a shame that the Secretary of State cannot be here today, but I appreciate that his private office let me know in good time. I suspect that, even stuck in an airport in Hong Kong, he must be finding it a challenge not to gloat about the settlement that his Department received from the Treasury. We have heard the Prime Minister talk about the “greenest Government ever” and the Secretary of State talk about a “third industrial revolution”. The Minister today has talked about the private sector playing a key role, and yet, as we have just heard, we have no detail about the green investment bank. Is it just a crowd-pleasing gimmick, designed for the Secretary of State to please his friends in Birmingham next September, or is it going to be something real?

That is a bit rich coming from the party that produced a crowd-pleasing gimmick after we had published our proposals for the green investment bank last year. Unfortunately, absolutely no work was done in the Treasury before May on any such proposal, so we are starting with a clean sheet of paper. As I have said to the hon. Lady, and as the Chancellor has said, we are working hard on an ambitious proposal, and we hope to make our proposals before the spring. This is very real, and it will play a huge role in driving the green economy.

But we still have a distinct lack of detail. We are very aware that “spring” in civil service language can extend for a long period. While the Secretary of State and his team are polishing their green halos—indeed, the Minister is wearing his green tie today—will they tell us whether the green investment bank will have any capital? We are already seeing signs that capital that could have gone into it is going straight to the Treasury. Will the green investment bank be profit making? Will it invest in proven technology or safe bets? The simple question is: when will we know what the green investment bank will be capable of doing and whether it will fuel the private sector investment in green technologies that the Minister has talked about today?

If the hon. Lady had been at the comprehensive spending review, she would know that the Chancellor has already committed £1 billion as a backstop. Indeed, he told the Treasury Select Committee last Thursday that that would be just a backstop and that significant further funds would come from asset sales. I appreciate the hon. Lady’s eagerness to support a Conservative and Lib Dem proposal, but I have to say that we are going to get this right, and we will come forward with a robust proposal by next spring as a matter of urgency.