[Mr Joe Benton in the Chair]
I should like to draw hon. Members’ attention to the new clock displays in the Chamber. The top display is the current time, as before. When a speech is not being timed, the bottom display will show the time it started, also as before. If it becomes necessary to introduce a time limit, the bottom display will change to show the time remaining to the Member who currently has the Floor. As in the House, this display can award an extra minute for each of the first two interventions in a speech.
It is a privilege to speak under your chairmanship, Mr Benton, and in front of these magnificent new clock displays, as described.
I am interested in UK-listed mining companies—other hon. Members will be interested, because of the UK dimensions of these companies’ operations—primarily because I have spent a fair amount of time in developing countries and seen that the way mining companies operate can have a significant impact on all sorts of things locally.
I started going to the Democratic Republic of the Congo shortly after I was elected to the House a dozen years ago and I have been there a couple of dozen times. Each time I go to a country like that—particularly ones that are resource-rich and often without any meaningful extraction going on, although sometimes with some pretty good stuff going on—I am struck by how good companies, and countries, with proper governance can return substantial benefits, providing all the right environmental and social aspects are properly observed. Conversely, when that is not done, it can be disastrous.
People sometimes refer to the resource curse, meaning that a lot of countries have enormous potential wealth but no actual wealth, because they are not able to extract as their governance makes the country too much of a risk. The environment might be too physically risky, or, more to the point, the risk to reputation and capital—for example, if there were an expropriation of some sort—is too great. Shareholders will often not be prepared to put up with that. Back in the 1990s in Liberia, we saw the damage that was done with the diamonds to some companies that mined across Africa and which now, as a consequence of that shock, take great care to pay close attention not just to rules but to public perception. Some companies will not go near countries such as the DRC because of the risk to their capital, to some degree, but also to their reputation.
When looking at the mining industry as a whole, we begin to realise the importance of UK listing. Companies across the world with no particular links with the UK have mining operations in far-flung places such as Kazakhstan and Azerbaijan or, indeed, Australia, Canada and Brazil, but they choose to list in London for strong commercial reasons, partly to do with their reputation and partly because that is the best hub within which to get access to all the people they need to do business with, both in markets and banks and in all the other ways that benefit companies with a UK listing.
About 18 months or so ago—without mentioning particular companies; it is probably helpful if I do not now, although I did then—it became clear that some companies were coming to the UK and listing in London without wishing to accept the broader constraints and rules, which were often not written but were general understandings among the business community of things that people do and do not do when they have a listing.
A company can be listed, in some cases, with less than 25% of its total stock in the UK, which is normal, but it can be even less than that. That means that shareholders’ control over such a company can be quite limited and it can carry on as before, without changing its practice. I was worried about that. For a while last year, the Government mooted the possibility of relaxing the rules in respect of companies that were not really British, but eventually that was passed over and it did not happen, which was good news. There was a great deal of lobbying to that effect and the Government listened to it.
The principle is that a company listed in the UK is not an asset of that country, and that applies in the same way as it does to companies listed anywhere. Such a company has simply chosen to list in the UK. For example, we generally perceive BAE Systems—the best known of certain companies that tend to be known by acronyms—as a UK company, but that is no more a UK company in some respects than any other foreign-owned company. It is simply in the UK and has a British heritage, and that is about the size of it. It is important to see what is listed in the UK. We have some degree of control over companies that choose to list here through our voluntaristic methods and regulatory measures. It is important that they are all treated equally.
I noticed in the past year or so that some companies that were relatively new to the list had an ownership structure that was not what would normally be found in the UK, where one or two people own most of the shares. They have therefore had to take on shareholders, but they have perhaps felt that things do not need to change because they make such a lot of money that the shareholders will be happy. However, in a couple of cases they have taken an enormous hit—perhaps a 50% discount on shares—so now they are looking again at how they can work properly as a UK-listed company. That has to be good trend. That was essentially what drew me to this debate.
I have had some contact with companies that work and exploit in the UK and know that there are issues to do with planning presumptions for open cast, and so forth. Other hon. Members may wish to mention that. My primary message is about the impact of UK-listed companies on the developing world.
Public discourse in the UK on the subject has been dominated historically by industrial struggle, mainly to do with coal, the changing world, changing fuel and energy options, and changing working patterns and political assumptions. That has been the dominant theme in recent years and decades. If a Member of Parliament mentions mining to a constituent, that is what they are thinking. They are not thinking about this huge beast, which is the UK listed sector, or about the scale of the contribution that mining makes. Some of the largest companies in the FTSE 100 are miners and they are the ones that often move the figures across the board—just that one industry.
The companies from around the world that list in the UK are not British in the conventional sense. That is true of most commercial organisations across the world. These organisations transcend international borders, coming together to trade where it best suits them. London, of course, is pre-eminent in the world in respect of mining.
The UK is important in this regard and, on the whole, that is a good thing. We do not have a perfect system, but we subscribe to some important conventions. I will mention some important conventions in respect of other parts of the world—big parts, without naming names. Legislation will come into place shortly that enhances those conventions and takes them further, making them, to a large degree, legal requirements. London listing is therefore fundamentally a good thing.
London has justly developed a broadly good reputation, alongside the United States, for going some way to ensuring that corporate governance in the mining industry is respected. That is not to say that everything in the garden is rosy—often, it looks to be far from that—but the fact remains that if large international entities wish to trade in and from the UK, certain rules of decency apply. In the UK, the rules include the Bribery Act 2010 and a series of important regulator measures put in place by successive Governments. In the United States, the rules include the Cardin-Lugar amendment to the Dodd-Frank Act, which demands a considerable level of transparency from those doing business in the developing world.
In Europe, about which I will say more, legislation will be passed shortly. I will leave that to the Minister, because it is probably for her to speak about that, given her role. There will be some important legislation soon reflecting what has been going on in the US. The legislation in the US has been powerful, but not perfect. Interestingly, as I discovered from a position of some naivety a year or so ago, some of the entities that are most critical of the Dodd-Frank Act and the Cardin-Lugar amendment, which require that high degree of transparency, are highly commercial lenders or hedge funds. They are, however, critical in the opposite way to what we might expect: they are critical of the legislation for not driving enough transparency. We might think, “Well, that’s a surprise, I thought these guys would want less transparency”, but they want to know where the money is and where it is going—they want to chase the money up. The large hedge funds that are owed lots of money by countries and commercial entities want to drive greater transparency. That is an unusual but good alliance between, on the one hand, some good non-governmental organisations with their meagre resources, digging away and trying to root out graft in parts of the developing world, and, on the other hand, these guys with quite a lot of money who know their stuff and have good, strong commercial reasons for driving transparency and good governance. To some degree, that is what is happening in the US and with the European legislation to which the Minister will probably refer.
When it comes to the extractive industries and the developing world, it is essential for two things to happen. First, the activity must help to ensure that income generated by some of the world’s poorest states benefits their citizens, by reducing graft and helping difficult countries—if we can call them that—to reduce internal corruption. There is some corruption in many of those countries, although not in all of them and not even routinely in a lot of them, but there is a considerable amount and it is difficult to fix. Transparency can help the people running such countries to fix the considerable levels of graft that still exist.
Secondly, transparency helps UK-listed mining companies and companies in all sectors to do business in areas where they would otherwise be loth to risk their reputation and capital. Mining is affected more than most industries. Throughout the world, mining companies in geographically big, developed states such as Canada and Australia have been able to exploit their local geological assets. In recent years, people have become more aware of the environmental implications, but in those countries people have benefited from mining in a big way. The same is true in other parts of the world with huge natural resources and the industrial capacity to exploit it, such as Kazakhstan, South Africa and Brazil. As those companies have expanded and used up much of the stuff under their homelands, as it were, they have moved throughout the globe looking for new sources with which to satisfy the huge and growing demand for energy, for example.
We all know the debate about energy and our consumption of it, but as countries develop economically —China is the best example—they, too, demand more energy resources. That is simply an empirical fact. As the companies respond to that demand, they need to find another place to mine, and in many cases that other place—that other continent—is Africa. Those companies have also come together to trade in, and to the great benefit of, the City of London and its markets. The pattern, therefore, is one of productive exploitation of Africa’s geological riches and of greater transparency of the organisations doing the digging, through London and New York—London is significant, but not the only centre. Potentially, there is a neat symmetry about the whole process.
I have just noticed that I still have a lot of notes to get through, so although the structure of the debate has been perfect so far, I might extemporise a little to enable some other Members to speak.
In the meantime, in my experience—for a politician, I have had a fair amount recently—the great majority of operators are behind the symbiosis I outlined, which has historically been reflected in large listed companies that have been in the UK for years, or that have their origins here. It is also increasingly true of companies that want to trade out of the UK in spite of the fact that their ownership structures have traditionally led them into different practices before listing in the UK. They are learning as well, and to give them some credit—I have not always done so in the past—they are now beginning to learn that if they want to do business out of London, they have to change and, essentially, to modernise their practices and assumptions.
In the developing countries, the World Bank, the IMF and other bodies—organisations such as the Revenue Watch Institute or the Association for Geographic Information from the UK, or the worldwide George Soros Foundation and Open Society Foundations—have done a lot to get countries such as the DRC to move towards becoming a place where serious companies can operate. I mention the DRC because I am confident that governance is lacking there, but other places have no democratic elected Government at all, and in the west of Africa four or five countries currently have dictatorships and there is no governance. It is perhaps too easy to criticise only countries with flawed democracies when many in Africa are without any kind of democracy, so we need to keep such things in context.
About 18 months ago, as I mentioned, I got involved in a case in which an asset had been expropriated. The two companies eventually settled, but that took several years of no one being employed on the site. Some 5,000 people had been paying tax and the company had been the largest corporate taxpayer in the Congo, yet for that period, there was nothing at all. That was due to a wrangle that was not caused by corruption in the commercial sector, although perhaps it was because of a bit of nescience, in some respects; Government graft led to that terrible situation.
The companies have actually worked things out between themselves, and a large amount of money changed hands so, in a couple of years, that asset in the Congo might again start to produce some fruit with exports and—from my perspective—through earnings for the people on the ground, who were earning money there before. If that happens, it will be because one of the companies was listed in London; otherwise, it might simply have been cutting about the world and not necessarily paying heed to public opinion. The company was listed in London and wanted to be a proper, large, serious mining company based there, so it paid heed to the concerns of the international community, the NGOs and, of course, the other company, which was savvy about how to pursue its objectives. I am avoiding saying the names so as not to indentify the companies, which would not be fair at this point because they have behaved relatively well. My point is that the London listing made a profound difference to one important project. If that project gets off the ground again, which I think it will, it will show that even in a place such as the DRC, it is possible to get the standards right. I have some constructive scepticism about how long that might take to happen, but let us see.
Before I conclude, I will refer to a couple of important organisations. The International Council on Minerals and Metals, which has its origins in Canada, is now based in London. It has members from the industry, which funds it, and has a series of standards based on core principles and auditing—public reporting and assessment—to ensure that companies maintain certain standards for environmental imperatives and the local social imperatives of any particular operation, which is a new but important thing. There are 22 members and 34 national or regional mining associations and global commodity associations are affiliated.
I could mention other organisations, but I have been to visit the ICMM, and I am still learning about its regulation, which is voluntaristic and appears to have a correlation with strong, voluntaristic companies such as Rio Tinto, which has been based in the UK for a long time. That is not to say that there is not controversy about the mining industry and foreign operations, but some companies have been subjected to the rigours of the UK market for a long time, and that can have a considerable impact on the new ones.
I have noticed that NGOs, which are rightly looking for the best for the developing world, have deployed language that sometimes looks hostile to the principle of investment. That is not how they mean it, because they see the stuff that happens on the ground, but it is important to make it possible for companies to invest, providing that they come up to the standards expected of a London-listed company.
Despite that voluntaristic stuff, it remains true that international legislation is essential. I have mentioned the Dodd-Frank legislation and our Bribery Act, and I want to mention the efforts of organisations such as Publish What You Pay, the One campaign, the Open Society Foundation, which is funded by George Soros, Tearfund, and Global Witness. All are stressing the importance of legislation that is pending in Europe—the Minister may be able to say something about it—which the Prime Minister stressed last week in Brussels. There might be quibbles around the margins about exceptions, the definition of a project and so on. I am not an expert and I know that some people have raised what I consider to be finely tuned issues. However, the general principle of the legislation is certainly accepted by NGOs, and seems to be accepted by all the responsible operators.
The new accountancy and transparency directives will greatly enhance efforts to improve governance in developing nations. They will also make it easier for UK-listed companies to do business in such places. Big commercial companies are not altruistic organisations; they are there amorally, in the purest sense, to do business and to make money for their shareholders. We must appeal to that imperative in companies, rather than pretending that they simply want to be good guys. We must appeal to their ability to make money decently, subject to proper regulation, and in ways that return benefits to local communities in places such as the Congo and Guinea.
The extractive industries transparency initiative is led by Clare Short. The UK led the way with this worldwide initiative, and it has taken us several steps along the path to proper accountability. The initiative measures payments made to Governments by mining companies, for example, and the income declared by those Governments. It is not perfect, and it will not prevent graft elsewhere, so if there is expropriation, which is then passed on by a third party, and the money goes who knows where, it will not appear in the books. However, those are important steps down a path that is enhanced and augmented by legal measures such as those that will be forthcoming in the EU.
I apologise for only just arriving in the Chamber. I raised the extractive industries transparency agreement in the House last week. Is not one of the problems that the machinery of government in the DRC is so inefficient and ineffective, and there is so much corruption, that the effectiveness of the agreement is strictly limited, in that many of the mining companies can just ignore it?
My hon. Friend is absolutely correct. There is no argument—it is simply a fact that is part of the tragedy of the DRC. It has applied to join the extractive industries transparency initiative, but at this stage it could not possibly do so. There is eternal tension between wanting companies to come into something like the EITI, and saying that if it takes anyone, it will become a daft badge that means nothing.
Graft is widespread in the DRC. EITI reports show that pretty much all the income reported is accounted for, but that the level of income is tiny, so there is a neat diagram showing that 96% of the income is accounted for, yet the level of income is lower than it should be, so the question is what should be done about that great big chunk. However, I do not want to go into too many names or bang on about that kind of stuff at the moment.
There is an interesting situation in Guinea, which is not like the DRC. The President of Guinea is trying to do the right thing, but he is beset by all sorts of graft at a lower level. The context is difficult, and a large expropriation might be about to take place. I worry that that will make it impossible for other companies to go into Guinea.
I should also mention the all-party group on extractive industries, which was recently formed. That is good, and we have a website—“Investing in Development”. That reflects a growing awareness of the scale of the industry throughout the world and especially in London—among large companies at FTSE-100 level, as well as smaller companies. I could list them, as could many hon. Members with a background in the mining industry.
The trend in the House is that as some people have a background in the industry, we occasionally hear it mentioned, but this is never regarded as a huge issue that permeates other areas of debate, such as international development. I hope that this is a small gesture towards that and that, in time, the whole issue of extractive industries can be more fully developed in this place.
Mining is part of the north-east’s industrial heritage, and in my constituency alone there are more than 100 former mines. Lead, tin and coal mining shaped my local area. The hon. Member for Falkirk (Eric Joyce) made miners abroad the focus of his speech, and I should make it clear that I wholeheartedly back the extractive industries transparency initiative and the Financial Conduct Authority’s proposals. All efforts are being made to ensure that a vital trade is conducted ethically and transparently. It is entirely right to say that we have an obligation to support the poorest states in the world and to help countries in Africa, whether through our international aid commitment or by other means, and that effort should be supported. My focus, though, will be on the actions of UK mining companies in this country.
I want to focus on the more controversial issue of open-cast mining, which is relevant to my constituents for three reasons. I have three of the most significant open-cast sites in the country, including the huge site at Shotton, which is run by Banks. I should make two declarations. As a lawyer, I have previously represented individuals who have sued mining companies. I believe that I have some limited shares in BHP Billiton, a company that is obviously relevant to this debate.
From a constituency MP’s point of view, the way in which mining companies engage with the community is significant, whether they are local, national or international. We all know that people are inherently distrustful of significant change that they cannot control. For example, we resent all our decisions and power being taken away from us by large unitary authorities. Mine is based in Morpeth, which seems more interested in other parts of the county. The issue is particularly significant when we lack a local development plan or a local minerals plan to determine how our county is to approach mining development and management of the green belt.
UK Coal has proposed a significant, large open-cast site in Whittonstall. On Saturday I met the protest group who are campaigning vigorously against the proposal, which would blight their community tremendously. UK Coal has promised a £1.2 million sweetener for the local community if it gets planning permission. All well and good, one might think, but that money is not secured. As is well known, UK Coal, which is the largest miner in this country, had an emergency meeting just last week at which it voted through a range of measures in an attempt to rescue the company. It is already on the verge of closing mines such as Saw Mill and Maltby, and my constituents are worried that the £1.2 million sweetener will not be placed in a secure trust controlled by a third party, so that whatever happened to UK Coal that money would still be available to the community. The comparison between how international communities are treated and how local communities are treated is very relevant.
A development is proposed at Halton Lea Gate, a small village on the Cumbrian border. It has a tradition of mining, but my constituents face three and a half years of open-cast mining as HM Project Developments Ltd attempts to dig out 140,000 tonnes of coal. That open-casting will take place 57 metres from the nearest home. I have persistently campaigned against that, not least because the village is on the edge of the north Pennines area of outstanding natural beauty, and is within sight of the Pennine way.
We held a village hall meeting in August, when we were amazed that the decision of an inspector, who had decided that there was a national need for the mineral in question—coal—clashed with a decision at Bradley, a similar open-cast site in Durham. The latter decision was taken by a different inspector on 23 February 2012. Both decisions are being reviewed by a High Court judge, who must come to a view on the correct way ahead. That is particularly relevant in the context of our energy policy in this country, because we need to decide whether we are focused on gas, renewable, nuclear or shale gas and—with particular relevance to mining organisations—what role coal has in our future energy programme.
The third site that I am concerned about is the Shotton mine run by Banks, which is a traditional north-east company. I accept that companies wishing to get community support, whether internationally or locally, for mining projects must engage the local community. It can be done. By and large, Banks has been very successful with the significant mine at Shotton next to the A1. The company pays good wages; there are many local jobs, and the way in which it engages with the community is excellent. There is also a significant tourism benefit, which I recommend to all Members of the House and to the country, in the form of Northumberlandia, the largest earth sculpture in the country. It could well be the new Angel of the North, even if it is slightly more horizontal. However, Banks has chosen to diversify and move away from a traditional mining environment into property speculation, with proposals to build houses around the village of Ponteland. I cannot express enough my disappointment that a good mining company is attempting to form a cash cow of housing on the green belt. Frankly, it should be ashamed of itself.
Banks is not the only one. A company called Lugano is universally detested for the way that it is buying up huge swathes of land for green-belt development. Lugano is not registered in this country and appears to be owned by a private trust in Guernsey. I have no way of finding out who the real owners are, where the profits go or where it pays its taxes. Sources tell me that the beneficiary of the trust is a Jewish organisation based in Lugano, Switzerland, and clearly, as a result, it would not be liable for any taxation in this country. It certainly has no experience of the sort of development that it is proposing. Furthermore, Lugano seems to be employing former officers of the local county council. Those officers have failed to produce the mineral plans and local development plans that we all require under localism and, having been paid off £500,000 by the local authority, they are now being employed to advise developers how to get round the planning system that they so grievously failed to organise prior to their departure with the pay-off.
It sounds a bit unsavoury.
I would go much further than that, and within the bounds of libel, say that it is outrageous. It is totally wrong and it takes the local community for fools. It will be resisted, and I am assured that the provisions on the green belt—these proposals all concern the green belt, whether they are for open-cast mining or for housing—are greatly supported, for example, by the comments of the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government:
“The green belt is an important protection against urban sprawl, providing a green lung around towns and cities. The national planning policy framework delivers the coalition’s agreement to safeguard the green belt. Inappropriate development should not be approved in the green belt, and boundaries should be altered only in exceptional circumstances.”—[Official Report, 17 September 2012; Vol. 550, c. 619-620.]
I endorse that entirely.
I finish my brief contribution by assuring my constituents and colleagues that such actions are not what localism is about, nor is it what responsible mining companies are about. This kind of shady operator creates an atmosphere, frankly, of nimbyism, and I do not blame people in the slightest for being against such developments. I, for one, will be doing everything that I can to support them, as well as everything in my power to stop such companies.
I congratulate the hon. Member for Hexham (Guy Opperman) on his forthrightness in protecting his constituents, and my hon. Friend the hon. Member for Falkirk (Eric Joyce) on securing the debate. I want to return to the operation of London listed mining companies in the developing world. My hon. Friend has taken that matter up over the years and I congratulate him on that work.
Back in October, I launched a report with the London Mining Network and a number of non-governmental organisations. It was part of a campaign to try to persuade the Government at that stage, while the Financial Services Bill was going through the House, to ensure that a duty was placed on the Bank of England and the Financial Conduct Authority—the new architecture for regulation of the City—so that when companies were listed, there would be a commitment to monitoring their adherence to certain basic elements of corporate responsibility. That included ethical corporate responsibility, and in particular their operations in the developing world with regard to the protection of human rights, tackling climate change, and their adherence to international law and conventions—and, importantly, the convention on protecting indigenous peoples.
Unfortunately, we never secured those amendments to the legislation, but I hope that in dialogue with the FCA, we can move forward and at least ensure that there is not only openness and transparency but action by the FCA. Being listed on the London stock exchange is critical for such companies. It demonstrates—or should demonstrate—to the world that there is financial probity and good governance. It should also demonstrate a commitment to ethical corporate responsibility and behaviour standards, but at the moment I do not think that is the case.
I will name individual company names, because I think it is important that we know what has gone on, and part of our role in the House is to help people to bear witness to what has happened in recent years. When we launched the report, I said:
“We cannot stand by and witness these global mining companies brutally impoverishing and destroying the lives and environments of whole communities. We need not only to expose this exploitation but also to demand that a firm system of…regulation”—
both national and international—
“control and accountability is put in place that halts the destructive activities.”
Those activities are not just destructive in the developing world and of the long-term interests of those individual companies and their employees; they are destructive of London’s standing in international markets, because the reputational damage that such companies are doing to London will undermine the long-term future of our economy.
At the launch of the report, Peter Frankental from Amnesty International said:
“This report…presents a challenge to the Government to ensure that the proposed regulatory body has the powers to require mining companies to meet acceptable human rights and environmental standards as a condition for listing on the London Stock Exchange”.
That is exactly what we were arguing for. I pay tribute to people such as Richard Solly, who has co-ordinated the London Mining Network over the years, for the effective work that they have done.
Let us consider a few examples; I want to do a quick ABC of some companies and their impact. They have been outrageous in their behaviour—abroad and, in some instances, in this country.
I thank my hon. Friend for giving way. He and I have sat through a number of meetings with groups from the Congo, Colombia and a number of other countries, where the most appalling damage has been suffered because of the irresponsible behaviour of mining companies. Many of the mining companies claim in their defence that the actual mining work is done by some mysterious subsidiary—another supplier, another contractor—in order to evade their corporate responsibilities and the law of the country. Does he agree that we need to frame responsibility in law that guarantees the whole supply chain and not just the convenient end-part of it, where the large profits are made?
That is one of the important issues, and my hon. Friend has raised it before with regard to the extractive industries transparency initiative. It is important that we have full transparency, particularly with regard to subsidiaries.
Let me cite some examples that relate to my hon. Friend’s point. I shall start with Anglo American. At its AGM this year I met a number of people lobbying there. In particular, the company has come under fire for its involvement in the Cerrejon coal mine in northern Colombia. I met a number of local people who live near the mine and have been forced out of their communities. There has been forced relocation of farming communities, without any adequate compensation. It has taken years of campaigning just to get some dialogue going with the company. It was involved, with Rio Tinto, in the Pebble mine copper and gold project in Alaska, which has threatened vast swathes of the caribou calving grounds, the ecological integrity of Bristol bay, and the fisheries.
The company promised to create 100 jobs, but it has actually destroyed 600. Its Anglo American Platinum division continues to attract heavy criticism from farming communities in South Africa for its handling of community resettlement and for polluting water supplies. AngloGold Ashanti, which is also owned by Anglo American—as my hon. Friend the Member for Islington North (Jeremy Corbyn) said, these companies are subsidiaries—retains a standard listing on the London stock exchange, and it has been accused of profiteering from paramilitary intimidation of mining opponents in Colombia. De Beers, which Anglo American controls, has been criticised for potentially benefiting from the forced removal of indigenous bushmen from their ancestral territory in Botswana.
It goes on. BHP Billiton, in addition to its role in the Cerrejon mine, is in dispute with the Colombian Government over the derisory royalties it has paid at its Cerro Matoso nickel mine. It is under fire for toxic spills and health impacts at its Antamina copper, zinc and molybdenum mine in Peru. It is accused of providing poor conditions for workers at its Escondida mine in Chile, ignoring native American sacred sites at the Resolution Copper project in Arizona, and leaving a toxic legacy at the Ok Tedi mine in Papua New Guinea.
I will not go into Glencore, because my hon. Friend the Member for Falkirk has dealt with it in previous debates, but it is well known for its role, particularly in Africa. Let me come on instead to Global Coal Management Resources plc and its responsibility for the open-cast mine at Phulbari in Bangladesh. According to the Bank Information Centre in Washington, the project is acquiring almost 6,000 hectares of land and displacing anything between 50,000 and 200,000 people. It is destroying ponds, fruit and timber trees, businesses, homes, barns, boundary walls, schools, health facilities, mosques, temples, churches and archaeological sites. This displacement is taking place in one of the most densely populated countries in the world, and it is destroying a critical agricultural region, threatening Bangladesh’s food supply. More than 80% of the land that is being threatened is fertile agricultural land, which cannot be replaced. That leaves farmers and families with few options for employment, and it risks impoverishing a massive number of people, turning hundreds of thousands of farmers into landless wage earners who will be competing for jobs in entirely different sectors.
What is interesting is that the company is one of those that have been promoted by this Government, as it was by the previous Government. Despite receiving a series of freedom of information requests recently, the Government have refused to provide information about their relationship with the company and about the support they have given it and its operation in Bangladesh. In its response, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office explains it will not provide the information
“because we consider that the disclosure of this information would be likely to prejudice relations between the United Kingdom and Bangladesh”
and because it would
“prejudice the UK Government's internal relations with the Bangladesh Government”.
In other words, the Government would be ashamed of the support they have given this company if it came to light, and the Bangladeshi Government would be furious—understandably so, from the sound of the work that has been undertaken to promote the devastation of the region.
Monterrico Metals was originally linked to the Phulbari project through the company’s previous chairman. Monterrico has also received help from the British Government. In fact, the former British ambassador to Peru, Richard Ralph, spent part of his ambassadorial time talking up the advantages of Monterrico’s Rio Blanco copper project in the Andes. He tried to reassure local organic farmers, most of whom are vehemently opposed to the project, which threatens their livelihoods, that the production of large amounts of toxic waste and the pollution of local water supplies would be good for them. What an extraordinary coincidence it is that when the ambassador retired, he became chairman of Monterrico Metals. Later, he was prosecuted as a result of insider trading. Again, a huge majority of local people rejected the company’s proposals for the Rio Blanco mining project, and there were protests, during which people were killed.
Rio Tinto is also listed on the London stock exchange. It has been the subject of one of the longest running anti-corporate campaigns in the world by Partisans—People Against Rio Tinto and Subsidiaries. It is accused of anti-union activities and of ignoring aboriginal rights in Australia. Its nickel-copper mine on the Yellow Dog plains near Lake Superior has been criticised. I have met representatives from Mongolian organisations concerned about the Oyu Tolgoi copper and gold mine in the Gobi desert.
The hon. Gentleman mentioned the individual who was monitoring and then went to work as the chairman. I used the example of someone who worked for the local authority and turned from gamekeeper into poacher straightaway thereafter. Does the hon. Gentleman agree that, just as we require Members of the House not to do business connected to matters they have dealt with as a Minister, we should encourage companies set up in this country to ensure, through the shareholders’ action, that such persons, with whom the companies have dealt, are not then immediately hired on to their boards?
I fully agree, but it needs more than shareholder action. I think it is the responsibility of the Financial Conduct Authority, under the auspices of the Bank of England, to introduce specific regulation to prevent some of these things from taking place. That will give confidence to those who want to invest in these companies and who want to look on London as a place where companies operate properly, legally, with probity and with a commitment to ethical corporate behaviour.
Let me give two last examples. I protested at the Vedanta annual general meeting this year because I was so angry about the company’s behaviour. Vedanta has been criticised for its behaviour in Armenia and Zambia, but it is in India where it has come in for the heaviest criticism, for the manner in which it ignored environmental legislation and literally bulldozed its way into tribal land in Orissa, in the hope of constructing a huge bauxite mine on land sacred to the Dongria Kondh people to feed its illegally constructed alumina refinery.
I have also been dealing with the company in Goa. I met representatives of the Save Goa Campaign recently. I congratulate the Indian Government on setting up the Shah commission, which ruled in September that all the mines in Goa were operating illegally because they were not abiding by environmental standards. All the mines were shut overnight, and a court case is going on this week to see which ones can reopen if they have abided by basic environmental standards. Vedanta and others have undermined the agricultural base of the Goan economy, polluted the water and threatened the tourism industry. I commend the Save Goa Campaign: local people and the Goan diaspora have exposed what has gone on. I also commend the Indian Government for taking decisive action. However, Vedanta, as the main company involved, has made fortunes from exploiting the Indian subcontinent.
Finally, there is Xstrata. It is involved with the Cerrejon mine in Colombia; it is involved in the hugely controversial Tintaya mine in Peru, which has been a focus of fierce conflict over the years as a result of the pollution; and it is involved in the Philippines, where its Tampakan project is strongly opposed by indigenous people. The Argentine federal appeals court has also upheld criminal charges against Xstrata general managers in the past.
My view is straightforward. I have read out that list of examples because they are shocking. These companies are all listed on the London stock exchange. We need to take responsibility in this country, and I wish this had been more decisively dealt with when the Financial Services Act 2012 was before us. If these companies wish to be listed on the London stock exchange, they must first show complete openness and transparency; they must ensure that there is financial probity; and, above all else, they must be prevented from doing London reputational damage. We will achieve that by making sure that they abide by corporate ethical standards, and that means ensuring that the FCA and the Bank of England have a role, including in delisting companies, if necessary, because of their behaviour in the developing world.
One day we will depend on the developing world for a whole range of relationships and for the distribution of a whole range of raw materials and national assets, which will benefit the whole globe. We are alienating people now we will want to co-operate with in the future, because we are not controlling these mining companies, which are doing so much damage to our reputation abroad. In addition, we are doing long-term damage to our economy. That is why I urge the Government to act.
In conclusion, it should not take freedom of information requests to this Government or any Government to get real information about the relationship between the Government, their Departments and individual companies. Even when freedom of information requests come back, they are heavily redacted to keep secret the malevolent role that Governments have played over the years in supporting these companies.
It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Hayes and Harlington (John McDonnell), who raises some serious concerns about London-listed companies, and to speak in this debate. The hon. Member for Falkirk (Eric Joyce) gave an excellent introduction and spoke about the importance of overseas issues. Like my hon. Friend the Member for Hexham (Guy Opperman), I refer hon. Members to my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests, and in particular to the fact that before I came to this House, I advised a number of international mining companies on their financial communications. I no longer have any such financial relationship although, like my hon. Friend, I own a very small number of shares in the company BHP Billiton. I also want to mention a constituency interest: a mining supplies and parts business called Joy Mining Machinery, which employs a number of people and supplies mining companies around the world, including UK Coal. I appreciate the concerns about that that my hon. Friend raised, and I shall point them out to the company in my constituency.
The hon. Member for Falkirk is, like me, a member of the all-party trade out of poverty group, and he pointed out that the work of London-listed mining companies in developing countries can help with that, as long as governance is good and clear regimes are in place to ensure that royalties are paid. There are several countries where that has happened, such as Chile, Botswana and, from time to time, Zambia, and there have been substantial benefits. Good governance and transparency are vital. The hon. Gentleman also brought up two initiatives, which, I think, started in London: the extractive industries transparency initiative, and the International Council on Mining and Metals. Both were supported in their beginnings by the UK, and UK-listed companies have played an important part in setting them up. It is a great shame that although the EITI is embraced by countries around the world—even the likes of the Democratic Republic of the Congo are looking to sign up to it—this country is not yet a signatory. I encourage the Minister to consider whether the UK can become a signatory to the EITI, because that would encourage every listed UK company to maintain the degree of transparency that we would expect about where payments go in the countries where they operate. It would also send a powerful message to other countries that we might wish to encourage to join. They would include countries such as Brazil that have arrived on the international economic scene and consider themselves as no longer developing countries but developed countries, as well as other developed countries. Norway has signed up, as the UK should.
Most of the mining companies that I dealt with in my career understood that corporate social responsibility was crucial to their licence to operate, and most would embrace improved UK listing requirements. Indeed, in my previous career, I heard concerns that the listing requirements in Hong Kong are, in theory, tighter than those in the UK. For the sake of our international competitiveness, we should ensure that ours are just as strong.
We have heard much about the amount of tax paid by international companies. Of course it is right that companies operating elsewhere in the world and listed in the UK should pay most of their tax in the jurisdictions where they operate, especially when that can help a developing country. However, I will be interested to know whether the UK Government or the Treasury have ever carried out an analysis of the benefits to the UK economy and taxpayer of having so many international companies listed in London, and therefore employing people at headquarters for investor relations and as consultants in the London market. Such a piece of work would be interesting.
Wherever mining companies operate, they need to balance the environmental and social concerns that are rightly raised by many UK NGOs with the benefit that can be brought through employment and investment in infrastructure. One aspect of the debate that we should consider is the fact that it is not only UK-listed mining companies that carry out work in developing parts of the world—with the potential to do good or damage. We have enormous competition, not just from other areas of the world where companies are publicly listed, but from the likes of China, which are investing huge amounts in projects and may not necessarily hold businesses to account as we would like on the way in which they benefit the economies in question. We should champion greater transparency and more listing of international companies in London so that we can ensure that they are held to account. A challenge for this country is to ensure that the whole industry understands the importance of acting responsibly and the benefits of greater transparency, and for the UK to show that the EITI, which we helped to launch, is not just for developing economies, but something to be embraced across the board by all economies.
The hon. Member for Falkirk pointed out that, in the developing world, mining can encourage development. We should examine the UK’s position as a leading destination for listings and see how we can take the most advantage from that to encourage best practice in the industry and responsible development around the world.
It is always a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Benton. I still have fond memories of the Committee that considered the Bill that became the Housing and Regeneration Act 2008, which we endured together.
I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Falkirk (Eric Joyce) on securing the debate, and my hon. Friends the Members for Islington North (Jeremy Corbyn) and for Hayes and Harlington (John McDonnell), and the hon. Members for Hexham (Guy Opperman) and for Worcester (Mr Walker), on speaking so eloquently on such an important matter.
Hon. Members have spoken with one voice in the debate. The hon. Member for Hexham mentioned UK open-cast mining—I shall come on to that in a moment—and also talked about the importance of increased transparency and better corporate governance, because that improves accountability. There is a strong argument that if mining companies disclosed their payments to Governments on a country-by-country and project-by-project basis, it would be easier to see which companies were paying tax—and in which countries they pay it—who was paying bribes, the circumstances in which local officials or representatives were accepting bribes, and which projects were being waved through. That, in many respects, is the most striking example of what has in the past few years been called responsible capitalism—ensuring that big companies do not pillage and exploit the developing world’s natural resources, but provide mutually acceptable terms of trade, in the interests of all, that can benefit all the populations of mineral-rich nations, rather than just a narrow, privileged elite.
My hon. Friend must be aware that high-value rare earths and minerals—coltan, diamonds and so on—are often smuggled out of countries such as the Congo, which is possible because they are dealt with in relatively small volumes. Neighbouring countries re-export them and then they are bought by dealers around the world. We will find that the traceable line almost disappears unless we force the countries that host the headquarters of a number of the dealing companies, such as Switzerland, to be part of the transparency process.
I agree with my hon. Friend. A balance needs to be struck, with the UK being the centre of the world’s financial operations through the City of London, between moving unilaterally and providing for a multilateral approach to ensure that we can adopt my hon. Friend’s suggestion.
My hon. Friend the Member for Falkirk mentioned something in which I am particularly interested: ensuring that valuable resources such as rare earths, or minerals in general, are not sold for a fraction of their real market value. There is an argument, as we heard, that if developing nations received the fair market share for those important and valuable resources, the international aid budget could be reduced, because those mineral and resource-rich nations could develop their own economies and societies, and make progress along the value-added chain.
When dealing with reporting and regulatory requirements, critics often say that any additional requirements would be too onerous and would impose additional costs. It is often argued that it would be wrong to increase costs for mining companies at a time when the long-term global boom in commodities is coming to an end. However, an interesting article in The Economist earlier in the year stated that, in 2011, Angola awarded several new deep-water oil concessions to firms covered by the Dodd-Frank requirements with no apparent difficulty. It said that no oil company had cited increased openness as a material risk in its Securities and Exchange Commission filings.
My hon. Friend the Member for Falkirk talked about how hedge funds want improved transparency and reporting requirements because they want, to use his vivid phrase, to know where the money is going. Paul Bugala, a senior analyst for extractive industries at Calvert Instruments, which manages a $13 billion fund, states that such improved disclosure and reporting requirements would help him and the market better to assess political and regulatory risk, and would therefore allow for better investment and stock selection, improving share prices in the sector in the long term.
Companies already collect such data for internal use, so there is a strong argument that such a process would merely make the data public. The additional costs that are often cited would therefore be minimal, if not non-existent. If all companies had to fulfil this additional requirement, no competitive advantage would be lost. The article in The Economist concluded by saying:
“'The expense has been minimal for the few, such as America’s Newmont Mining, that already provide country-level reporting.”
In July 2011, in a speech in Nigeria, the Prime Minister said:
“It is not enough to import labour, extract Africa’s resources and move on. It’s vital that when foreign companies invest in a country, the benefits of that investment reach the African people, so they become less reliant on aid.”
The Prime Minister complimented the United States for introducing legally binding measures to require oil, gas and mining companies to publish key financial information for each country and project they work on. He said in the same speech:
“I'm calling on Europe to do the same. We want to disclose the payments our companies make to your Governments so you can hold your Governments to account for the money they receive.”
Although the Prime Minister made that speech and that pledge 16 months ago, there has been slow progress at a domestic or European level. One of the first replies that the Minister gave in her new job, with her shiny red box, was to state in mid-October that the Government are engaged in EU-level negotiations on transparency laws. She added that the European presidency would soon begin discussions with the European Parliament and the Commission to try to achieve some agreement on improved transparency in the payments that extractive industries make to foreign Governments. I will support her in that.
I appreciate that the Minister is relatively new to her post and her response was made only six weeks ago. However, there had been some movement in the month prior to her appointment. I am not suggesting for one moment that the Minister’s appointment has stalled progress—I hope she will not take offence; it genuinely was not intended—but a Committee of the European Parliament passed a vote in September requiring a European version of the US system through which oil, gas, mining and timber companies should publish their payments to foreign Governments. Will the Minister outline any progress that has been made in the six weeks or so since she answered that parliamentary question, together with any time scales that she is pressing on her European counterparts to reach European-wide agreement?
It seemed to me that the Prime Minister’s speech in Nigeria suggested that he wanted country-by-country reporting. The Minister’s parliamentary answer of six weeks ago seemed to confirm that stance. When the International Development Committee investigated tax in developing countries, it recommended:
“The Government should enact legislation requiring each UK-based multinational corporation to report its financial information on a country-by-country basis.”
In their response to that recommendation, the Government dismissed the idea of unilateral positioning on this matter, stating that they merely support mandatory reporting requirements at the EU level. I can understand that approach but, as I said in response to an intervention from my hon. Friend the Member for Islington North, what is the correct balance between moving in a unilateral fashion—given our financial importance in the world with the City of London—and moving at a European level? Is there anything that the UK and the Minister can do outside the EU? I would be interested to hear her opinion of the appropriate policy balance.
One of the areas of today’s debate has been the extractive industries transparency initiative, about which my hon. Friend the Member for Falkirk and the hon. Member for Worcester spoke particularly eloquently. As we have heard, the EITI was established a decade ago by the UK Government with the clear and specific aim of addressing corruption in the extractive industries. As the hon. Member for Worcester said, the UK has never signed up to EITI, despite being at the forefront of founding the organisation, so that seems to be a mismatch.
When the then Under-Secretary of State for International Development, the hon. Member for Eddisbury (Mr O'Brien), gave evidence to the International Development Committee investigation that I mentioned, he said that the UK’s reason for not signing up to the EITI was that we as a country are not “resource-rich”. I have looked at statistics from the Office for National Statistics, and disregarding the City of London’s position in terms of UK-listed mining companies, 16.4% of the UK total economic production constitutes mining and quarrying. That seems fairly resource-rich to me, given that we also have North sea oil. Will the Minister comment on that? Does she agree with the then DFID Minister? Does she not agree with the suggestion made today that the UK, as the founder of EITI, should lead by example? Does she agree that the UK’s joining would encourage other countries to join? Does she also agree that as this country is the world’s acknowledged centre for financial services and accountancy standards, and at the forefront of world-class corporate governance, and given that the City of London is the headquarters for so many multinational mining corporations, the UK should and could send out a powerful message by joining the EITI?
In response to the investigation, the Government said that they welcomed the strategy review of the EITI, which is looking at developing a broader standard for consideration by the EITI board, with a view to possible introduction in 2014. Has the Minister any thoughts on the criteria that would need to be met as part of the strategy review that would satisfy her enough to recommend to her DFID counterparts that EITI membership should be sought?
My hon. Friend the Member for Hayes and Harlington mentioned the London Mining Network. Has the Minister seen the network’s report on UK-listed mining companies and the case for stricter oversight? It is incredibly interesting reading. Will she comment on whether the Government would be amenable to the eight recommendations put forward in the report on such matters as the reporting of non-compliance with IFC and OECD standards, as well as ensuring—we have heard about this many times in the debate—that the FCA has powers to enforce section 172 of the Companies Act 2006 with regard to corporate reporting requirements relating to environmental and social impacts?
That report also raises interesting points about the reporting requirements of companies listed on the alternative investment market. I fully accept the differing reporting and regulatory requirements between AIM-listed companies and those listed on the FTSE 100, but it would be interesting to hear the Minister’s thoughts on the Government’s policy on whether AIM requirements for mining companies should be changed.
The hon. Member for Hexham talked about open-cast mining in his constituency and made the important point that the north-east was at the centre of mining. It has a rich heritage and helped the industrial revolution to come about. He mentioned two important points that I hope the Minister will address, including about individuals who want to sue mining companies because of what might be happening in their communities. Is the Minister concerned about the effect of the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012, which makes it virtually impossible for any UK citizen to seek redress in such a respect?
The hon. Gentleman also mentioned planning and, quite rightly, the importance of the green belt in the planning system, and he cited what the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government said in a speech in September. Will the Minister address the comments made by the Under-Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, the hon. Member for Grantham and Stamford (Nick Boles), in the past 24 hours, when he said—I paraphrase—“Let’s just build over the green belt”?
I assure the hon. Gentleman that the planning Minister did not say, “Let’s build over the green belt.” He specifically said that we should not build on the green belt, but look at other land, which is a perfectly reasonable proposal.
May I briefly ask about one of the hon. Gentleman’s points? The legal aid changes would not have affected the several cases that I brought as a lawyer against such planning applications. Such action would still be available and, because of what we did, there is now a protective costs order to protect litigants bringing such actions. Does the hon. Gentleman accept that successive Governments have allowed applications for developments to be made by companies that are UK-based, but ultimately hiding behind a parent company? That cannot be right.
The hon. Gentleman has brought to the debate his impressive forensic skills, which he has honed as a barrister. He is right that the planning Minister did not say, “Let’s build all over the green belt,” but, “Let’s build on green land.” I was a planning Minister, and green belt regulation is important. Brownfield development, as opposed to greenfield development, is always the most appropriate approach.
The hon. Gentleman gave us his experience of the importance of legal aid and asked an important question to which I hope the Minister will respond. In different areas of public policy in the past month, we have seen companies using their power and breadth of scope in a globalised world to make profits in the UK despite having no corporate responsibility whatsoever, particularly over paying tax. I am interested in the Minister’s comments on any proposals to make companies to pay tax where they earn their turnover, as opposed to allowing them to move their responsibilities elsewhere through transfer pricing.
This has been an important debate in which many serious points have been made. I am a big believer in the notion that improved transparency and reporting requirements, and better corporate governance, can benefit all society, and indeed the economy. I will be interested to hear the Minister’s response.
Thank you for chairing the debate, Mr Benton, and for drawing our attention to the new clock regime, which is a very good innovation, particularly the advent of seconds. We can feel the anticipation of the countdown in the closing seconds of our speeches. I congratulate the hon. Member for Falkirk (Eric Joyce) on securing the debate. It has been an important opportunity to highlight what we are doing to increase transparency. I pay tribute to his hard work, particularly in his role on the all-party group on the African great lakes region.
I would also like to thank the hon. Gentleman for his kindness and understanding. When the debate was initially scheduled for a few weeks ago, I was suffering from the cold that was going round and had entirely lost my voice. It would not have been a particularly instructive debate in which to hear the Government’s view, because I would have been very much in listening mode only. I am glad we were able to reschedule. In doing so, it has changed from a half-hour to a 90-minute debate. I do not know whether that is pure good luck in the ballot or karma from the powers-that-be for the hon. Gentleman’s understanding. I am sure that we all appreciate having this opportunity, because we have been able to hear not only his views but contributions from other hon. Members.
In my summation, I shall outline the Government’s position and our commitment to transparency, in particular. I shall go through the latest developments on the EU rules and talk about corporate governance, with particular reference to reporting requirements and the composition of boards. I will also talk about the extractive industries transparency initiative, which several hon. Members mentioned. I will then deal with the impact of mining on the UK economy.
For far too long, the world’s poorest people have struggled to benefit from the vast natural resources in their countries. Millions of people in developing countries languish in poverty while their corrupt Governments squander or hide large payments from foreign companies. Strong EU action to create a new global standard for transparency in the extractive industries is vital to help those citizens to hold their Governments to account. I am determined that the UK will play a leading role within the EU to make the most of opportunities.
The Government are keen that the mining industry, as well as other extractive industries, provides more information on the payments it makes. Countries rich in natural resources—the minerals that industrialised nations need—can use that wealth to boost economic growth and improve social conditions for some of the poorest people in the world, who badly need that. International mining developments have the potential to boost economic growth dramatically and provide a route out of poverty for resource-rich developing countries. All too often, however, such resources act as a curse, owing to the temptations of corruption that tend to go with them.
To provide some context, the value of exports of oil, gas and minerals from sub-Saharan Africa in 2009 was five times greater than the aid it received, and prices have risen since then. There is huge potential to unlock positive development. Botswana, Zambia and the Democratic Republic of the Congo top the global chart of mineral-dependent countries—those that depend on minerals for more than a quarter of their tangible exports. Well managed extractive resources can provide a big economic jolt, but citizens of such countries are too often unable to find out how much their Governments are paid for access to the resources or how the payments are reinvested, so there is no way to hold them to account.
The Prime Minister has expressed his strong support for the transparency agenda. When he spoke in Lagos in July 2011, he made clear his support for EU action to improve the information available at both country and project level. More recently, he reaffirmed his commitment to the UK leading efforts in the EU to require oil, gas and mining companies to publish details of the payments they make to Governments. The Deputy Prime Minister has also been active in this regard, and last month he and I met campaigners, including that rather well known supporter, Bono. The Deputy Prime Minister has been a strong advocate of transparency and in particular of ensuring that the agenda is driven forward at the centre of Government with the important support of the Prime Minister.
The hon. Member for Falkirk and others talked about the accountancy and transparency directives and where we are with them, and I hope to update the House today. The Government are keen that the EU agrees strong reporting requirements—rules that could improve the lives of millions of people around the world. For the first time, the extractive industries will have to report the payments that they make in all countries in which they operate. It is proposed that such companies, whether listed or not, publish details of what they pay to each level of government—nationally, regionally and locally. Crucially, they will also have to report payments to state-owned organisations, such as energy providers. That will give citizens the information that they need on, for example, the taxes, royalties and other payments made in host countries. If we get the measures right, it will have a huge impact in helping to combat corruption in developing countries and ensure that natural resources benefit all the citizens of the countries where they are mined.
The hon. Member for Falkirk mentioned the action in the United States, which has already agreed new rules, as we know. The US Dodd-Frank Act requires listed companies to report to the Securities and Exchange Commission each year. That means giving details of the payments, whether in money or in kind, that they make to Governments. The new legislation, published in August, raised the bar on global transparency standards, which I warmly welcome. US-listed companies will have to comply with a set of strict rules that will considerably increase the amount of information available to citizens. Although the EU has been discussing the issue for a long time—things tend to take a long time with the EU—the publication of the US rules has given us an opportunity to go further than we had thought possible in the EU, because, on exemptions, project-level reporting and the threshold for reporting, the rules are more ambitious than many had expected.
In response to that bold move by the US, the coalition Government are pushing for the EU to match the US approach, on, in particular, project-level reporting and setting a low threshold above which payments must be disclosed. The threshold is $100,000 under the US rules, and it would be helpful if the EU agreed to a similar amount in negotiations. It is worth mentioning in passing that if standards in the EU and US were, as far as possible, shared, it would help companies complying with the transparency rules, because it would mean one set of requirements to comply with, rather than extra complexity and therefore extra cost. In America, there will be no exemptions from reporting, which has been a real bone of contention.
Concerns have been raised with my predecessors and me that the disclosure of payments made to a Government might be prohibited by the criminal law in some countries. I have yet to see the titles of specific Acts of Parliament in specific countries that would prohibit that type of transparency. I encourage anyone reading the debate in Hansard who strongly believes that exemptions are absolutely necessary to furnish me with the titles of the Acts that people would be unable to comply with, in whatever foreign country. I will happily receive and respond to such information, if it exists, as I expect it does not. When mining companies based in the United States and Europe have to provide the information, that will cover a large proportion of the extractive industries operating in the developing world.
The hon. Member for Hartlepool (Mr Wright) raised the challenge of the EU process. I am glad that he did not say it was my fault that things were taking a while in Europe; I assure him that it is not. I may have been in this role for only two and a half months, but my predecessors were very active, as am I, on the issue. Since January, there have been 16 meetings of the Department, campaigners and the industry, five of which included Ministers. Since I took on this role, I met members of the Publish What You Pay coalition and representatives from the extractive industries on 12 September, and I again met members of Publish What You Pay on 25 October. We are therefore in close contact on the issues, because it is important to make progress. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills had an article in the weekend newspapers on this issue, and we are determined to keep up the pressure.
It is impressive that the Minister has met such a range of organisations. Is she now willing to meet the London Mining Network?
The hon. Gentleman encourages me to fill my diary with more meetings—I am sure that my private office will be delighted. I will certainly look at whether it is possible to undertake that commitment. If he writes to me with more details, I will see what can be done.
Will the Minister give way?
I will. If it is another request for a meeting, the hon. Gentleman should note that I may be less minded to give way on other occasions.
I, too, think it is impressive that, in such a short time, the Minister has met so many organisations, but the key point is action. What was the actual outcome of those 16 meetings?
The hon. Gentleman asks a genuinely interesting question. One thing that became clear to me at the first round table I held on this issue was that the industry and the campaigners started in quite contradictory positions. Getting people to a position where they have agreed to make progress has been a rather long and perhaps slightly tortuous process, which has required a great deal of engagement. Both sides have had concerns, but, to their credit, they have both recognised that tweaks to their proposals might be needed, and genuine points have been made that ultimately led to concessions. Certainly when I joined those discussions, we were getting to a much clearer position, particularly with the catalyst of the strong US rules, and that is very welcome. It is important to have strong rules on transparency, but the industry recognises that it must comply with the US rules, and it wants to make sure that it is not a bad neighbour, as it were, in the countries in which it operates. There is therefore a recognition that change is necessary.
The EU negotiations are in the trialogue process, the delights of which are not always as swift as we would like. We are keen to make sure that, if possible, that agreement is reached through the First Reading process, because that would allow us to implement the rules. I understand that there have been three sets of meetings so far. They are practically weekly at the moment, and I think the dates were 7, 9 and 14 November, but do not quote me on that. Things are prone to change in the EU—for example, there was due to be a meeting on Friday, but I heard it was off and then that it was possibly on again. None the less, whatever the specific dates, there are very regular meetings of COREPER—and other lovely EU acronyms—to ensure we get some progress.
On a range of issues, particularly the three I mentioned—exemptions, and threshold-level and project-level reporting—we are getting a greater degree of consensus. The European Parliament is still pushing some elements, in relation to the involvement of other parts of industry, on which it wants to go beyond what the US does. That runs the risk of just delaying or preventing the process, when there is a lot of consensus on extractives, so there will be further discussions.
As the hon. Member for Islington North (Jeremy Corbyn) explained, he has unfortunately had to leave for another engagement. He made a point about outsourcing parts of the mining industry to avoid transparency. It is worth putting it on the record that the project definition is likely to tie in contracts and licences in such a way that avoidance will not be straightforward and that subcontracting will still be captured. The hon. Member for Falkirk talked about how listing companies in London might be a positive step, even when they were not UK-based. The hon. Member for Hayes and Harlington (John McDonnell) was characteristically forthright and passionate about some of the failings that he has identified. I am sure that he appreciates why I cannot go into the individual cases that he mentioned.
On the overarching issue of corporate governance, it is important that investors have information to hold companies to account. The London stock exchange has four of the top five mining exploration and extraction companies by market capitalisation—BHP, Rio Tinto, Xstrata and Anglo American. There are 119 extractive and mining companies listed on the London exchanges, of which 12 are UK companies. We want to ensure that investors can hold boards to account and encourage responsible business behaviour. We have high standards of corporate governance, but it is important that we are not complacent. Further strengthening those standards will help London stock markets, because it will give major investors more confidence.
It is important that companies are held to account, and it is also important that Governments are held to account. Will the Minister personally examine the information that has flowed between the Government—that is, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office—and other Government agencies with regard to GCM and its operation at the Phulbari project in Bangladesh? A freedom of information request for the release of that information has been denied.
I will endeavour to look at the issue the hon. Gentleman raises, and write to him. I want to conclude my remarks, as there are a couple of points I want to pick up.
The tax issue is one for the Treasury, but it is important that companies pay the tax that they owe. If some of that needs discussion with other OECD countries, to make sure we have a regime that works, we should do that.
We have recently published draft regulations for narrative reporting. It is important that we make sure that it is explicit that relevant social and community issues in such reports should include a consideration of human rights. It is absolutely appropriate that investors should want to assess that in making their decisions.
Diversity on boards is also relevant to the extractive and mining industries. In the FTSE 100, there are currently 12 mining companies, half of which have no women on their boards. That means that, of the only eight companies in the FTSE 100 that have no women on their boards, three quarters are mining companies. I hope that those companies look at that in detail, because the rest of the FTSE 100 companies seem to be taking significant action, so they are lagging significantly behind. [Interruption.] The hon. Member for Hartlepool mentions Cynthia Carroll, whose departure shortly from Anglo American, will leave only two female bosses in the FTSE 100.
Various hon. Members, including my hon. Friend the Member for Worcester (Mr Walker), raised the issue of the extractive industries transparency initiative, although, as the hon. Member for Islington North pointed out, it has limited effectiveness. There are 16 compliant countries so far, and another 20 are in the process. The rules that we want to agree in the EU will go much further, so it is important to get them right. However, with my colleagues in the Department for International Development, I will look at that issue. We are trying to assess the impact of any such additional burden on small UK companies that operate exclusively in the UK. However, I hear the views expressed.
Mining is, of course, important to the UK economy. My hon. Friend the Member for Hexham (Guy Opperman) spoke as a passionate advocate for his constituency. Some of the issues he raised relate to other Departments, but it is the responsibility of local authorities to establish local development and local mineral plans so that it is clear how their areas will be developed. The Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government has made it clear that the green belt will be protected. He recently said in the House:
“Inappropriate development should not be approved in the green belt”.—[Official Report, 17 September 2012; Vol. 550, c. 619-20.]
That is clear. It is up to local authorities to implement conditions that are put in place, including those from the Planning Inspectorate.
In conclusion, the issue is important, and the Government are very committed to transparency. I thank all hon. Members for their contributions to the debate.