[1st Allocated Day]
Consideration of Bill, as amended in the Public Bill Committee
As I informed the House on Monday 26 October, before a Report stage begins on a Bill, I will seek to identify in advance those changes made in Committee that I would expect to certify, together with any Government amendments tabled on Report that, if passed, would be likely to lead me to issue a certificate. My provisional certificate, based on those changes and expected amendments, is available in the Vote Office and on the “Bills before Parliament” website. At the end of the Report stage on a Bill, I am required to consider the Bill as amended on Report for certification. At that point—tomorrow, in this case—I will issue my final certificate. As I informed the House on 26 October, I have accepted the advice of the Procedure Committee not, as a rule, to give reasons for decisions on certification during this experimental phase of the new regime. Anybody wishing to make representations to me prior to any decision should send them to the Clerk of Legislation.
New Clause 4
Objectives of UK Green Investment Bank
‘(1) Prior to a sale of shares of a UK Green Investment Bank Company (as defined in section 30(2)) the Secretary of State shall—
(a) ensure that the objects of the UK Green Investment Bank Company contained in its articles of association (“the Objectives”) shall be—
(i) the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions;
(ii) the advancement of efficiency in the use of natural resources;
(iii) the protection or enhancement of the natural environment;
(iv) the protection or enhancement of biodiversity;
(v) the promotion of environmental sustainability;
(b) ensure the articles of association of the UK Green Investment Bank Company require its directors to act and review their actions against the Objectives;
(c) create a special share; and
(d) establish a company limited by guarantee registered with the Charity Commission (“the Charitable Company”) that will own the special share.
(2) Any amendment to the Objectives shall require the consent of the Charitable Company, as holder of the special share.
(3) The special share shall—
(a) have no income or capital rights;
(b) have no voting rights except on a vote to amend the Objectives and on a vote to alter the rights of the special share.
(4) The rights of the special share shall be deemed altered by the issue of any other special share of the same class.
(5) The Charitable Company that will own the special share shall—
(a) have three members, none of which shall be public bodies;
(b) have as initial members legal persons appointed by the Committee on Climate Change established under the Climate Change Act 2008;
(c) provide that if any member ceases to be a member the remaining members shall nominate the replacement member;
(d) provide that the members will be required to act unanimously in exercising the rights attached to the special share.
(6) For the avoidance of doubt, the Committee on Climate Change shall play no role in the conduct of the Charitable Company or its members following the initial appointment of those members prior to the sale of UK Green Investment Bank company shares by the Secretary of State.”—(Kevin Brennan.)
Brought up, and read the First time.
With this it will be convenient to discuss the following:
New clause 8—Disposal of Crown’s shares in UK Green Investment Bank Company: purchaser’s obligations—
‘Before any sale of the Crown’s shares in the UK Green Investment Bank Company takes place each prospective purchaser must enter an enforceable undertaking to fully fund the Bank’s current five year business plan.”
This new clause would ensure that the Green Investment Bank is maintained as a single, functioning institution and can continue to invest in the UK’s low carbon economy at the same level as was planned prior to privatisation.
Amendment 17, in clause 37, page 54, line 44, at end insert—
“6B Report on remuneration of chair, non-executive directors and executive team
(1) For each year following a disposal of shares held by the Crown in a UK Green Investment Bank company the Secretary of State must lay before Parliament a report on the remuneration of the company’s chair, non-executive directors and executive team by the company.
(2) The report shall include a statement of the framework or broad policy for the remuneration of the above individuals.
(3) The report shall include the value of the following, where applicable, in respect of each individual—
(a) salary or fee,
(c) other cash or non-cash benefits, including bonus or performance-related payments, and
(d) shareholdings in a UK Green Investment Bank company.”
This amendment would require, following a disposal of shares in a UK Green Investment Bank company, that the Secretary of State to report annually on the remuneration of the Chair, non-executive directors and Executive Team of the company.
New clause 4 might be referred to as the “hokey-cokey clause” because it has been in, out, and shaken all about during the passage of the Bill. I am not exaggerating when I say that, because this new clause should still be in the Bill. You may not be aware of this, Mr Speaker, so I will read briefly from the record about what happened with this clause in Committee.
In Committee the Chair put the question that clause 32 stand part of the Bill, and hon. Members responded “Aye”. The Chair asked for votes to the contrary, and said, “I think the Ayes have it.” The Minister then moved that the clause should not stand part of the Bill, and I raised a point of order to the Chair to point out that the Committee had just voted that the clause should stand part of the Bill, and that the Minister could not then move that it should not. The Chair then said:
“For clarity, I will put the question again.”––[Official Report, Enterprise Public Bill Committee, 23 February 2016; c. 201.]
The clause was accepted in Committee, but the vote was taken a second time because the Chair, in a spirit of extraordinary generosity and to save the Minister’s blushes, allowed a second vote. First the clause was in, then it was out, and today we are suggesting that new clause 4 should again be included in the Bill. It is not really a new clause; it was clause 32 when we considered the Bill in Committee.
The Government are wary of new clause 4, or old clause 32, because they fear that the Green Investment Bank’s borrowing would, because of the position taken by the Office for National Statistics, remain on the Government’s books and be classed as public sector debt after privatisation. If there were any suggestion of statutory control of the Green Investment Bank’s purpose, the ONS would insist that it stayed on the books.
There is currently statutory control of the Green Investment Bank’s purpose, to ensure that it is green and not just like any other investment bank. The Green Investment Bank is supposed to be a different kind of entity; it is not supposed to be like the bank that the Secretary of State worked for when he earned £3 million a year, and which was fined £600,000 by the European Union for fiddling interest rates. It is not supposed to be that kind of institution; it is supposed to be completely different and focused on sustainable investment in green projects, not based on the unsustainable culture of greed that brought the world economy to its knees in 2008, with millions of hard-working families still suffering the consequences of that. If the Green Investment Bank is meant to be a new kind of institution, how do we ensure that it remains so if the Government strip it of its statutory purpose, which is to invest in green projects?
In Committee we asked whether the Government should allow that potential ruling by the ONS to drive completely in this important area of sustainable public policy, but the ONS point is a technical matter. If the Green Investment Bank remains on the books after privatisation, that does not reflect any problematic public debt. It may cosmetically spoil the look of the Chancellor’s forecasts on public debt, but it would not change the fundamental underlying substance of public finances. In other words, statutory protection for the Green Investment Bank’s purposes is to be removed by the Government because of an accounting convention that is inconvenient to their political narrative. It is spin over substance on stilts.
As we discussed in Committee, the Green Investment Bank is not getting the same treatment as the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank. The Treasury is all too ready to allow UK borrowing to be part of financing that bank, and it was not worried at all that public debt will be part of its financing. However, it is extremely reluctant to allow the same treatment for the Green Investment Bank.
You will not be surprised to hear, Mr Speaker, that I praised the former coalition Government for introducing the Green Investment Bank. Policy in that area can be difficult to implement, because by its very nature it is new and innovative—in Committee I quoted the wise words, as ever, of Kermit the Frog who said, or sang or croaked, “It’s not easy being green”. That is true. It is not easy, and this is an innovative and effective piece of public policy, and I praise the former coalition Government for introducing it.
Is one benefit of the Green Investment Bank that in large part it addressed some of the market failure that had gone before? We risk losing some of the benefits that it brought in terms of securing green investment. All that will happen—an unforeseen consequence, perhaps—is that taxpayers will have to pay more through a larger subsidy.
I believe that the proposals on privatisation that the Government quickly brought forward following the election were seriously undercooked, if I can put it that way. The Green Investment Bank has only just started to turn a profit. We are glad that it is doing that, but it is a very small amount. When the Government said that they intended to privatise the bank, they prayed in aid the statutory obligation to invest in green projects that they now wish to remove from statute, because of what the ONS said about public debt and the Green Investment Bank being on the books. That proposal has been in trouble all along, and the way that the Government are scrabbling around for a solution shows that the original proposal was undercooked.
I praise my hon. Friend for tabling this new clause, and for the way that he scrutinised the Bill in Committee. Does he agree that things have moved on substantially since we met in Committee, with the Government’s publication last Thursday of the prospectus and the announcement that the sale was to proceed and will be a two-stage auction? It certainly looks as though the bank will be fully privatised, so all the debate and discussion that we had in Committee about whether the Government would keep a minority share in the bank, as recommended by the Environmental Audit Committee, seems to have been pretty much for the birds. The Minister probably knew that in Committee.
I congratulate my hon. Friend on her election to the Chair of the Environmental Audit Committee. I am sure she will be as assiduous in scrutinising this proposal and other areas of Government policy as she was in Committee and on the Back Benches, along with my other hon. Friends. She is right to say that the publication of the Government’s intentions last week was interesting, and I hope that the Minister will answer her point about the Government’s intentions, and clarify whether they intend to maintain a stake in the Green Investment Bank after privatisation. When we probed the Minister on that in Committee, answer came there none. From the way that the proposals have been published, it would appear that the Government intend to fully privatise the bank, even though—as we discussed in Committee—it must be the worst possible time, given the current state of the market, to consider privatising this important public asset, if part of the purpose is to get good value for the taxpayer.
I will develop this point in my speech, but in Committee two weeks ago I mentioned the bear market, the slide in value of all bank shares since Christmas, and the softening of growth in China. Only this morning, Mark Carney and the Bank of England revealed the large amounts of liquidity that they are preparing to inject into the UK banking economy in the event of an exit from the European Union after the referendum, to avoid a complete meltdown and financial crisis such as the one that took place in 2007-08.
My hon. Friend is right to point that out, and, by implication, to point out that the privatisation would of course occur after the referendum in the summer. The implications of a leave vote on the attempt to privatise the UK Green Investment Bank would be highly significant, as she points out.
I wholly support my hon. Friend’s remarks. What impact does he think it might have on the prospects for full privatisation of the Green Investment Bank were the official Opposition to indicate that they were minded to purchase back the bank into the public sector?
My hon. Friend will understand that I am not going to speculate on that, given that it is not current party policy or under discussion. What I will say is that the Government have a duty, if they go ahead with a privatisation that we do not support, to be absolutely sure they get value for money for the taxpayer, as well as to give an absolute guarantee that they will protect the bank’s green purpose.
I have praised the Government for the introduction of the Green Investment Bank, but why would they do anything to place its central green mission in grave doubt? I remind the House that the bank was first proposed under the previous Labour Government. It was first mentioned as a proposal for development by the former Chancellor of the Exchequer, Alistair Darling, in one of his Budgets. It was developed in the Cabinet Office and the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills when I was a Minister in those Departments. It was introduced under the coalition Government, and it has made a good start. It has been able to participate in the financing of projects that would otherwise not have taken place and that make a real contribution to meeting our commitments under the Climate Change Act 2008.
I think we all agree, throughout the House, that the creation of the bank is a good news story. I do not see any dissent from that proposition from anyone in the Chamber. We have therefore come to a strange pass when even something we all agree is a good thing—good borrowing for sustainable purposes—is classified as bad for no other reason than that it appears on the Government’s books.
During the difficult years following the banking crash, in which we were sometimes in recession, a significant part of the UK economy’s growth came from the green economy. By some estimates, it accounts for 1 million jobs in the low-carbon sector and is worth more than £100 billion. It is disappointing that the Government are in danger, if they are not careful, of undermining one of the key drivers of that sector. If we could tap into our country’s wind, wave and tidal power, we could create thousands more high-quality, sustainable jobs for our economy as well as doing the right thing for the environment.
When the Government announced their privatisation plans last June, the Secretary of State assured the House in a written statement:
“This should bring a number of important benefits, giving GIB greater freedom to operate across a wider range of green sectors in accordance with its green purposes, which are enshrined in legislation.”—[Official Report, 25 June 2015; Vol. 597, c. 27WS.]
He emphasised that the green purposes of the GIB were protected by the legislation in which its duty to pursue them are enshrined. After that, something obviously went wrong with the Government’s proposals. They received advice from the ONS that led them to say instead that they intended to repeal the very legislative protection that the Secretary of State had prayed in aid on 25 June 2015 when he announced the decision to privatise the bank. By October, they were effectively saying that it did not really matter whether they repealed the statutory protection, as long as they made sure the bank did not appear on their books. In his letter of 15 October, when he announced his intention to repeal the relevant measures in the Enterprise and Regulatory Reform Act 2013, the Secretary of State offered no assurance that the bank’s green purposes would definitely be maintained.
We have been demanding assurances on how we can ensure that the bank maintains its green purpose when it is privatised and does not simply become yet another bank—albeit a very small bank, but one that could easily be gobbled up by somebody else in the marketplace. That is why Labour and other parties defeated the Government on this issue in the other place and introduced the special share that we are trying to reintroduce in new clause 4.
The Government say that the GIB can create the special share itself. In Committee, the Minister quoted a letter from the chairman of the bank, Lord Smith, to Lord Mandelson and Lord Teverson. She may well quote it again today; we will find out in a moment. In Committee, she said that she was confident that that approach would satisfy the ONS, but could not give us a guarantee. As I said then, we need an absolute assurance on that before we relinquish the legislative opportunity to future-proof the purposes of the GIB.
Since Committee stage, the bank has written to hon. Members, as is its right, outlining its plan to issue the special share envisaged in new clause 4 itself, rather than through the Bill, which is what we are proposing. Its reason for doing that is its belief that the ONS will then allow it to be classified as off the Government’s books. I asked the GIB whether it could guarantee that. Colin Faulkner, its director of government affairs, responded to me by email, writing:
“You’ll likely be aware that ONS doesn’t engage directly with arms length bodies like GIB. At the same time, however, we have been engaging closely with the Government over all matters relating to the sales process, and this is an issue where we’ve been as close as we can to Government throughout. We understand that Government has been engaging closely with ONS on this whole issue, including the special share structure which GIB is putting in place, and we understand that on the basis of those discussions the Government were sufficiently satisfied to allow the sales process to proceed.”
On that basis, if the Government say they are satisfied, they should be able to guarantee categorically, here on the Floor of the House, that their special share proposal will definitely be acceptable to the ONS. I hope the Minister will say that. If she wants to intervene and say that now, she can, but I hope she will at least be able to say it in her response. She is not indicating that she wishes to intervene.
I wonder whether my hon. Friend has had the chance to look at annex C, which was presented to Parliament last Thursday, on the proposed disposal of shares in the bank. It states:
“As a key part of any sale discussions, potential investors will be asked to confirm their commitment to these values”—
that is, green values—
“and to set out how they propose to protect them. Bidders’ stated intentions will be taken into account in the overall assessment of bids.”
I wonder whether we will hear what percentage will be allocated to that in the bidding process. All bids will be marked against a schema. I, for one, would be curious to know what weight and relevance will be given to the protection of green purposes when the Government decide to sell.
I think we would all be interested to know that. Perhaps the Minister will be as informative as she possibly can and tell the House about that in her response. We have a legislative opportunity here, because after privatisation anything could happen. What guarantee do we have that the bank will not simply be swallowed up by somebody else, and that all the guarantees given by the original investors will not evaporate?
Does my hon. Friend share my disappointment that, although the Government have bent over backwards with the ONS to create a special purpose vehicle—a special charity—with independently appointed people to protect the green purposes, they have refused to make any such moves on another matter we debated in Committee, which is the transparency of executive pay, on which the bank is a rare exemplar in the banking sector? I hope to speak about that shortly.
I agree. My hon. Friend has been dogged in her pursuit of that both in Committee and in tabling her amendments on Report, and I look forward to her contribution on that subject.
Will the Minister guarantee that privatisation will not dilute the bank’s green purposes, or must we just keep our fingers crossed? The Government still need to adequately answer questions that were not answered properly in Committee. Am I right that the legislative lock on the green purposes is being repealed purely to get the bank off the Government’s books? If that is the principal reason, is it a good enough reason to give up the statutory guarantee, given what I said about the technical nature of the accounting issue that the ONS raised?
Will the Minister indicate the Government’s view of the stake they expect to retain in the bank, if any, following privatisation? I understand that it is a market transaction, but we need an idea of the kind of return they expect from the sale. As was mentioned earlier, market conditions are so poor that the Chancellor had to abandon the sell-off of Lloyds shares, but we need to know whether they really expect a significant return from the privatisation, given all the pain associated with the process and the record of poor value for money for the taxpayer in previous privatisations. I do not expect her to be able to be precise, but she will want to avoid the criticism the Government encountered over the lack of value achieved previously, so will she gives us an idea of what she expects the Government to get from privatisation?
Is the Minister concerned that these matters will provide further uncertainty for low-carbon investors, at a time of real concern about the Government’s retreat from investment in wind power? We have learned over many years that making policy in haste is not wise—it is certainly not wise to privatise in haste—and we might well repent at leisure if this innovative and effective piece of public policy is lost as a result of a lack of care and a rush to privatise. That is no way to make sustainable policy, particularly in an area where we are trying to create a sustainable future for the country, which is why we have tabled new clause 4.
I am happy to be able to speak to my new clause 8, which I would like to press to a vote, but first I wish to associate myself with the shadow Minister’s case in favour of new clause 4, to which I have also put my name.
Essentially, the context of new clause 8 is my dismay at the Government’s determination to push through privatisation of the Green Investment Bank despite concerns expressed by the House of Lords, Members of this House, the Environmental Audit Committee and civil society. Through this and other actions, I fear that the Government have demonstrated that their desire to get the bank off their balance sheet is taking massive precedence over their interest in whether the bank is genuinely contributing to the green economy to the fullest extent possible.
The EAC, on which I am proud to serve, noted in its report on the future of the bank back in December:
“Whilst we recognise there are potential benefits resulting from an injection of capital, we found that the Government has taken the decision to privatise GIB without due transparency, publication of relevant evidence, consultation, or proper consideration of alternatives. The absence of these steps is likely to lead to the suspicion that the move and its timing are not evidence-based policy.”
Nothing has changed my view since December. The Government are again acting without looking at the evidence. My new clause is therefore intended to ensure that the bank is maintained as a single functioning institution that can continue to invest in the UK’s low-carbon economy at the level planned prior to this deeply regrettable privatisation.
As well as being regrettable, the privatisation will not be easy. The Government say they aim to sell 75% of the bank, which equates to roughly £1.5 billion up front, which is a considerable sum. Indeed, it is huge, even by the standards of the behemoth investment funds. According to Bloomberg New Energy Finance, one of the largest successful green energy sales in 2015 was worth just $688 million. Given that few notable deals even touched the £1 billion mark in 2015, how can the Government be sure of making a sale of £1.5 billion in one round? There is a risk that it will turn out to be fanciful.
In addition, investor confidence in the UK’s green economy is at an all-time low. One need only look at last week’s Energy and Climate Change Committee investor confidence report to see that. In that context, it is even more unlikely that the Government will sell a majority stake in the bank in one round or that the taxpayer will get value for money on any sale. Furthermore, any equity stake bought would require the buyer to follow through on their equity annually—in other words, to bankroll the bank’s annual business plan—which would mean another £500 million to £600 million a year.
The huge sums involved make it highly likely that come October, the desired 75% will not have been sold. Given the Government’s determination to hold on to only a 25% stake, if that, there is a good chance of the Government saying that they have done what they can but not been able to make the sale, and therefore proceeding to dismantle the bank and sell off its assets. In other words, we could essentially face a fire sale. That is even more likely given that the most attractive parts of the bank are ripe for asset sell-off, particularly the £1 billion offshore wind fund and the £500 million waste to energy fund.
Furthermore, there is a risk of the bank’s owners—the new ones and the Government—not committing to fully funding the bank’s business plan for new investments in the UK’s green economy. It would then become little more than a fund manager, as opposed to a bank driving additional investment in the UK’s green economy. It is really important that the Government do not just sell to any investor. New investors must be committed to maintaining the bank as a going concern, fully funding its business plan, driving the expansion of the UK’s low-carbon economy, addressing market failure to crowd in additional private investment, implementing best-in-class governance, transparency and public accountability standards and facilitating and scaling up citizen investment in the UK’s low-carbon economy.
Quite simply, my new clause is intended to inoculate the bank against the risks that I have described by committing the Government to maintaining its integrity as a single functioning institution with a fully funded business plan, not simply selling off its assets.
Unfortunately, the special share has no legal underpinning, so we cannot have reassurance about that. In addition, the Government’s overestimation of the ease with which they will sell the bank is a real problem, as I am demonstrating. They have massively overestimated the speed at which they can sell, which I fear will lead to a temptation to asset-strip. My new clause is a simple way of ensuring that that does not happen. I suggest we ensure that anyone buying the bank commits to the full five-year life of round one.
The hon. Lady is a credit to our Committee, and I am grateful for the many points she is making on this issue. Does she share my concern that the proposed special share might not be carried forward in any future sale of assets? Will she join me in asking the Minister to clarify that in her response? The bank may be sold once, but the danger is that the next time it is sold, it may well be a case of, “We want to get rid of all this stuff about the green part of what the bank does.”
I am grateful to the hon. Lady for her intervention and kind words, and I congratulate her on her chairmanship of the Environmental Audit Committee. I do indeed share her concern that we have no real legal guarantee that this special share mechanism will be safe over time. We need a guarantee that it will protect not just the bank’s green purposes but the focus on complex and novel investments that a public green investment bank is uniquely fitted to be able to fulfil.
I fear that this privatisation is being done in haste. It has not been properly thought through, and the guarantees that we are being offered are not watertight. I therefore commend my simple new clause 8, which would provide at least some reassurance that the Green Investment Bank will be maintained as a single functioning institution that can continue to invest in the UK’s low-carbon economy at the same level as was planned prior to privatisation. If the Government are so sure that that is possible, I hope they will accept the new clause.
I shall speak to amendment 17, which stands in my name and that of my right hon. Friend the Member for Don Valley (Caroline Flint). Before I come on to the substance, I would like to congratulate previous speakers in the debate. The fact that the Government have moved substantially on some of these issues is a testament to the scrutiny provided by the Environmental Audit Committee and the Labour party as the Bill has passed through the House. I put on record my anxiety about the fact that this asset sale was rushed out last Thursday, before the Bill had had a chance to pass through the House, which suggests that we are moving on the basis of a timetable not dictated by the Minister or the market conditions that would achieve the best possible value for a Government asset of this kind, but driven by the Chancellor, who is going to have to make some difficult announcements in his Budget on 16 March.
To meet the climate change targets that were agreed at Paris, we will need billions of pounds of green investment to upgrade the energy and transport infrastructure of the UK. So far, the Green Investment Bank has done a really sterling job in attracting capital to low-carbon infrastructure projects in the UK that might otherwise have struggled to find funding. The Bill allows the Government to sell off the bank. I stress that I am pretty certain that this bank is going to be sold in one piece at one time, with the risk that it will not achieve best value for the taxpayer. I am not opposed to privatisation, if it can be shown that it is the right policy tool to get the job done, but this decision seems to have been rushed through just to get the bank off the Government’s balance sheet.
The Environmental Audit Committee, on which the hon. Member for Brighton, Pavilion (Caroline Lucas) and I both sit, produced a report before Christmas that concluded that the Government took
“the decision to privatise GIB without due transparency …consultation, or proper consideration of alternatives.”
Ministers have simply not yet proven to Parliament that the bank will achieve its aims better in the private sector. The Government have relied heavily on assurances from potential shareholders and executives who stand to benefit personally from the sale.
Amendment 17 would ensure that, if the sale goes ahead, the Green Investment Bank would remain accountable to Parliament and taxpayers by reporting annually on the pay of its top team. The Environmental Audit Committee recommended that the Government undertake proper consultation and evidence gathering before any sale and that protecting the GIB’s green identity should be paramount. While I welcome the Secretary of State’s pledge to protect the bank’s green status with a special share, as the Committee recommended, I am concerned that without locking that in legislation, it may not be secure. I am concerned that the special share will not be worth the paper it is written on in any future sale of the bank and that it will be forgotten because, of course, the bank’s onward sale value is depressed if we are limiting the nature of the activities in which it can invest.
When the bank was established, it was intended by the Government to be an exemplar of transparency in the financial services sector in reporting executive pay. That particularly important point was accepted on a cross-party basis, given the recent banking scandal and the low levels of public trust in bankers and their bonus culture, which rewarded recklessness and persists to this day. It is therefore disappointing that that welcome clarity will not continue under the Minister’s proposals to privatise the bank. Ministers are happy for the bank and its executives to revert to the status of any other bank or fund with minimal reporting of remuneration that is limited to the highest paid member of staff and the chairman of the board. My amendment would commit the Government to providing full disclosure to Parliament of the remuneration of the Green Investment Bank’s senior management and board after privatisation.
This point was hotly disputed and argued by the Minister in Committee, but it is fair to say that the Committee saw a certain irony in her stout defence of allowing Green Investment Bank executives to have the freedoms to increase their pay under the Bill and privatisation, although the Bill simultaneously caps the pay of people working in private sector companies such as Magnox with salaries of around £25,000. That stands in sharp contrast to the salaries of the executive team at the Green Investment Bank, which range—we know this because of the transparency—from £125,000 to £325,000, plus bonuses and benefits.
The bank began in 2012 to invest in green infrastructure projects. It has invested in 58 projects with a total value of more than £10 billion. Last June, as my hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff West (Kevin Brennan) said, the Government announced their decision to privatise the Green Investment Bank. The Bill provides the means to do so by reclassifying it as a private sector organisation so that its finance will not contribute to public sector net debt, and by removing reference to the GIB’s green purposes and identity from the Enterprise and Regulatory Reform Act 2013.
That has indeed been the argument from Ministers. We want the bank to be able to fund more projects, and the hon. Gentleman might say that the Government have called this privatisation a “natural next step”. However, who else supports the move? The Green Investment Bank certainly supports it, and the Government have drawn on that support as a primary motivation for their plans to proceed, but we have not had the same transparency and consultation that accompanied the bank’s establishment.
The Environmental Audit Committee heard in evidence to our inquiry that the Government’s decision was taken
“without due transparency, publication of relevant evidence, consultation, and proper consideration of alternatives.”
The hon. Gentleman will be aware that there are many different ways to raise money. When the GIB was established in 2013, the idea of privatisation so soon after its creation was not discussed. Our Committee also heard that the Government have not presented enough evidence for privatisation, or considered a wide enough range of alternatives to a sell-off.
In their response to the EAC report, the Government claimed that they had undertaken unpublished market testing over the course of two years. In Committee, I asked the Minister for Small Business, Industry and Enterprise whether she would be willing to publish that market testing. She declined, and said that she would not publish the impact assessment either, because there were no regulatory or significant cost impacts of the GIB sale or changes to its pre-existing policy goals. Our Committee disputes that because of the risk to the green purposes of the bank.
What concerns us is that a bank that was set up to invest in green projects is being privatised without consultation or transparency, and that, although it might have more money, it may not retain its laser focus on green purposes following any future sale. We know that when assets are sold—transport assets, for instance—they tend to be sold on by the pension fund or the other establishment that ends up holding them, hence my question to the Minister.
I hope that the hon. Lady will forgive me for intervening, given that I was not a member of the Committee. It seems to me that the special purpose of the Green Investment Bank will be maintained through the special share and the special share ownership. Any change to the bank’s original purposes will have to come back to Parliament one way or another.
The Minister has said that a report will be presented to Parliament before the bank is finally sold. In Committee, I asked her how the report would be considered by Parliament. I asked if it would be considered on the Committee corridor as part of statutory instrument proceedings and if it would be subject to the affirmative or negative procedure. Will we have a chance to vote on this issue again? The Minister is nodding, so I am sure that she will clarify the position when she responds to the debate.
The Committee had a series of concerns, and I still worry that the bank might be sold on at some future stage as the Bank of America Merrill Lynch Investment Bank. Investment banks are going through a very tricky time, and things are not at all well in their sector. Any purchaser of the GIB will be looking for maximum freedoms so that potential future sale capital receipts can be maximised.
The only robust consultation that the Government can point to, given that they will not publish the market testing and have not carried out an impact assessment, is consultation with the bank itself. They relied heavily on the bank and its executives in evidence and their response in Committee and, of course, those executives stand to benefit from the sale.
Amendment 17 invites the Government to commit themselves to providing Parliament with information on the remuneration of the bank’s senior management and board after privatisation. That information is currently provided in the bank’s annual report. For instance, how much will the executive team who are in charge of the bank stand to gain personally from the privatisation? How objective can their views be if they are to gain personally from the bank’s privatisation?
Are not private sector companies and their directors already under disclosure obligations in relation to executive compensation for directors? What would be the rationale for going further and making the requirements of the Green Investment Bank over and above those of any other company in the economy?
This company has been financed by more than £3 billion of taxpayers’ money at a time when my constituents have had the third lowest pay increase in any part of the country since the financial crisis of 2008. The pay of my constituents and those of the hon. Gentleman has been eroded and depressed over the past year as a direct result of the actions of reckless bankers. Given that, and given the journey on which we have travelled in the past 10 years, it would be negligent of us to privatise a fully owned state bank without introducing protections to prevent the huge increase in remuneration that tends to take place when state assets are privatised.
The hon. Lady’s arguments are, of course, very persuasive while the bank is in public ownership and in receipt of public finance, which justifies the current disclosure regime, but surely, once the bank is in private hands and financed principally—75% or more, I believe—by private money, they will no longer apply.
The bank will not be financed principally by private money. We do not know how much it will be sold for, but at present it is financed 100% by public money. I do not know whether whoever takes it over will put in the £3 billion match funding that the Government have put in, but they will certainly not be putting in that money on day one.
This bank was set up to be an exemplar to the banking and financial industry. It was not set up to be just another bank; it was set up to do something special, and to be something special. The Minister has reassured us—we hope it is the case—that the special share will protect the specialness of its green purposes, although I think there is a question mark over how long that will last. What I want to know, given that the bank was also set up to be an exemplar in respect of executive pay, is why that part of it should be lost.
May I develop my arguments? I shall be happy to take further questions a little later.
Following a discussion with my colleagues in the Environmental Audit Committee last week, I wrote to Lord Smith of Kelvin, the chair of the Green Investment Bank, asking for clarification of the proposed remuneration for the bank’s senior executives. Our shareholders—taxpayers—could potentially remain as minority shareholders in the enterprise. I think that as long as the UK taxpayer has even a 1% shareholding in the bank, that should be carried forward. Taxpayers have committed £3.8 billion to the bank, and rather than talking about what a future owner will put into it, let us wait until we see the colour of that future owner’s money.
In that letter, I made it clear that the Environmental Audit Committee could see no reason for increasing remuneration as a result of a change in the bank’s status. We were particularly interested to know the proposed structure both of the management fee that the privatised bank would charge investors, and of any form of profit share or participation rights for management proposed in the offering to new shareholders. We wanted to know the board’s view regarding the quantum and structure of executive profit share incentives. We also sought an assurance from the board and management of their commitment to maintaining the staffing levels that the public purse has funded, to ensure that the bank continues fully and effectively to serve the UK’s needs for investment in green infrastructure.
Lord Smith’s reply to me reassured the Committee that the proposed business plan
“will require the current staff complement with possibly a small number of additions.”
That was reassuring, but less welcome was his response that the information memorandum for investors, which includes projected revenues and costs, including staff costs—this therefore has already been decided and written at board level, and had probably been decided and written when the Minister was in Committee with us—is commercially confidential and cannot be shared.
The hon. Lady has special knowledge in this regard, so may I tease out some information from her? She mentioned the £3.8 billion of public money that had been invested at a time of public expenditure reductions in certain areas. What consideration did her Committee give to what valuation would be appropriate when the Government sold the bank? She rightly said that it had constituted an inspiring start by the coalition Government, and that she wanted it to be an exemplar. Do the Government not have a special responsibility to ensure that they let it go into the private sector at the right time?
The Committee’s remit was not to second-guess what the Government could or could not get for the bank. I am sure that there are people in the City who are much better able to do that than I am, and I am sure that some Members, certainly Conservative Members, could make a good stab at it.
When I worked with small businesses, it was possible to get multiples of income, but that depends on what is being bought. In this case, what is being bought is an asset book with, it is to be hoped, future revenues from the investments that have been made—as well as what might be described as senior bank management intellectual capital—but what is also being bought is £3.8 billion of Government investment in green projects from which the purchaser will hope to gain revenue and capital streams as, at some point, they are sold off. The situation will also depend on what the purchaser will put into capital projects.
The hon. Lady rightly says that there has been a series of investments in the bank, but it would be possible to calculate the net present value of those assets, given certain assumptions. Has her Committee attempted to do that? Such a calculation could provide an evidential base that would enable us to understand whether, if the bank is sold in future, it has been sold on a fair basis.
We have not calculated the net present value, but I am sure that it would be quite a simple process and that there will be a number of attempts to calculate it as the sale proceeds. No doubt the Government will wish to let us know whether they think that that has been achieved.
May I make a point about the issue of longevity? There is plainly a public interest in the bank’s remaining a green investment bank because of the amount of public money that has already been invested, and because of public interest in the development of green fuels and energy. That, together with the work that the Committee will do in scrutinising the bank’s future, surely provides enough protection to ensure that it will indeed remain a green investment bank.
Once the bank is sold, my Committee will have no locus in scrutinising what it does. We could look into it only as a matter of interest. This is the final legislative opportunity that we have collectively as parliamentarians to say what we want to happen to the bank. We might have a chance to discuss it further if the matter is debated upstairs in Committee, but the process is now at its penultimate stage. The starting gun has been fired; the first round of the bidding process has already started. If the Government decide that they want to sell 100% of the bank by, say, September or Christmas, the Environmental Audit Committee could look into whether best value had been achieved, but only as a matter of interest. However, we want to test the proposals on the special share today to ensure that the public interest is protected, as the hon. Gentleman says, and that the green vehicle can continue to move forward. The Green Investment Bank is a really important financial institution for enabling us to meet our climate change targets.
The Chancellor said in January that the sale of shares in Lloyds would be postponed because of market turbulence. The sell-off was scheduled for the spring, but he has now said that it will come after Easter. We shall wait and see when that happens. Since the start of the year, we have seen a bear market, great turbulence in the financial markets, panic selling of crude oil, and oil prices at a 13-year low. These are worrying times for the global economy and the market is hugely volatile. All bank shares are currently falling in price, whether they are UK bank shares, European bank shares or US bank shares. Just this morning, we have heard that the Bank of England has announced it will give commercial banks three exceptional opportunities just before and after the EU referendum to borrow as much as they like to offset any threat of a run on banks and to prevent a repeat of the chaos of the financial crisis in 2007 and 2008. In the light of that bleak, turbulent and choppy financial picture, we have to ask whether the Government’s decision to launch the sale of the bank last Thursday was the right one. Whatever one’s views on privatisation, this hardly seems to be the most auspicious time to sell off a state asset, let alone a state-owned bank.
I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Wakefield (Mary Creagh), who chairs the Environmental Audit Committee, on her speech. I wholly agree with what she has said. I also congratulate her and her Committee on all the work that they have done to tease out the details of this sale.
In 2012, the Green Investment Bank was set up for a purpose. It was stated quite clearly that its purpose was to address specific market failures and investment barriers in a way that would achieve emission reductions at the lowest cost to taxpayers and consumers. It was going to achieve that by working within the framework of the Climate Change Act 2008 and by risk-sharing between the public and private sectors, identifying and addressing market failures and limiting private investment in low carbon infrastructure, thereby accelerating and delivering green investment on a large scale and with significantly lower capital costs. That was the whole point. The bank was set up precisely because there was a market failure. The private sector was not able to achieve this. It is not just me, an Opposition Member of Parliament, who is saying that. Labour supported the bank. Indeed, it was our idea in the first place when we were in government, and we were delighted when the coalition put it into place.
The coalition Government also set up the Green Investment Bank commission. It was an independent, non-partisan advisory group brought together by the Chancellor himself. It took three years and two official rounds of rigorous market testing and evidence gathering to establish that a green investment bank was needed. The commission collected evidence to inform the bank’s aims, its design and the operating model under which it would function. Let us compare the three years and two official rounds of market testing it took to set the bank up with the sudden shock decision to sell it off, which was taken with a complete lack of consultation.
What did the commission find? It found that without a way of directly addressing market failure and risk-sharing between the public and private sectors through a green investment bank, higher levels of direct subsidy would be required to facilitate low-carbon investment. That would mean higher costs to the consumer and the taxpayer. That is what the Chancellor’s own commission, with the hand-picked people he put on it, agreed. That rationale is now being undermined by this sale. Let us be absolutely clear that, according to the Government’s own commission, this sale will result in an increased cost to the consumer and the taxpayer.
The Chancellor has given himself something of a problem. By committing to achieve a public finance surplus every year in normal economic times, the Government have ruled out borrowing to fund public infrastructure. The exception is investments through the private finance initiative, which do not affect the headline public finance numbers. Since the financial crisis, there has been less private finance available to invest in either public-private or private infrastructure projects. At the same time, direct public investment has also decreased.
One of the concerns expressed by investors relates to the political risks that have manifested themselves as a result of potential changes in Government policies. Those changes have already been criticised and I will not go into them again today. However, the way in which the Government have chopped and changed the regulatory framework for low-carbon investment has resulted in a decline in the UK’s attractiveness for investment, as the hon. Member for Brighton, Pavilion (Caroline Lucas) has commented from the Green Benches. According to the Ernst and Young rubric, we fell out of the top 10 best places for investment for the first time last year.
The way in which this issue has been tackled by the Chancellor has been twofold. The Pensions Infrastructure Platform has sourced less than £1 billion in total over its first four years of operation, despite its aim being £20 billion. Furthermore, instead of the projected £40 billion from the UK guarantees scheme, only £1.7 billion in guarantees was actually issued in the first two years. Let us contrast that dire financial performance with the performance of the Green Investment Bank. Having been set up with just £2.3 billion of public money, it has mobilised more than £10 billion of investment in British infrastructure in the past three years.
Actually, I wish the bank had had a few more failures. It adopted a very specific policy at the beginning, which was to go for safe projects. It went for those projects because it wanted to build up a track record of successful investment so that, at about this point, it could attract much more private sector capital and take on riskier projects. That is the point of a green investment bank. The point is not to do what the market is going to do anyway by investing in areas that will obviously attract a return on capital. The whole point of the Green Investment Bank was to take on those much more difficult technical projects that the market would not finance.
Three years in, we have reached precisely the point at which we should be thinking, “Great! The bank has a successful track record behind it. Now it needs to move into slightly riskier projects.” Some of those projects might have failed—that is the nature of banking and investment—but the overall balance of investment flowing into UK infrastructure would have been hugely enhanced. So what do the Government decide to do just at the point of lift-off of the Chancellor’s only successful lever to get money into infrastructure projects in this country, the performance of the other two having been quite dismal? They pull the plug. They throw it away—send it off into the private sector, the very place that could not manage this market failure in the first place.
The hon. Member for Beckenham (Bob Stewart) said earlier that the bank is a success so why can it not go on being a success in the private sector? That was the question that had to be posed by the Green Investment Bank commission in the first place and the question that the bank was set up to answer. The former chair of the bank, Bob Wigley, pithily provided the best response to the hon. Gentleman’s question when he said that there was an “inherent tension” between the GIB’s continuing to invest in novel, more complex projects that are profitable over the long term and shareholder pressure to maximise short-term returns on high-value investments, given the focus on quarterly performance.
There you have it. There is a tension in the private sector. It is one that we all recognise. It is well known. It is one that the Governor of the Bank of England has spoken about at great length over the past year. He called it the “tragedy of the horizon.” The investment horizon is so short that investors cannot see the payback in these sorts of projects. It is tragic that Government are privatising—neutering—one of the best things that they have established.
My hon. Friend is making a persuasive argument. Does he agree that if we are to be a country represented by, as the Chancellor said, a “march of the makers”, part of that is being at the front of the queue when it comes to leadership and supporting innovation in the green energy and green environmental products marketplace? Does my hon. Friend feel that privatising the Green Investment Bank will just create yet another bank—one that will not do the job for which it was intended?
My right hon. Friend has enormous knowledge in this area and I absolutely agree with her. The most successful instrument that the Government have created for energising and putting investment into infrastructure projects in this country is now being neutered. That is a tragedy, which these amendments seek to address.
It has been an interesting debate, but I must confess that I do not agree with many of the arguments advanced by the Opposition, so I hope that hon. Members will not support any of the new clauses.
If I may deal with things in reverse order, I will first address new clause 8, tabled by the hon. Member for Brighton, Pavilion (Caroline Lucas), which seeks to ensure that the Green Investment Bank continues its green investments plans post-privatisation. We agree on what we want the bank to continue to do. We are seeking bidders who can fund the GIB’s legally binding commitments and who have the deep pockets to fund its ambitious green business plan. The bank’s management is clear that it needs access to private capital to fund its green business plan. That could be equity capital raised as part of the sale process, debt capital, which the GIB can raise when it is in the private sector, or private capital raised as part of a fund structure.
Business plans change and evolve as new opportunities arise, and we will not bind new owners into the current plan, so I cannot accept the hon. Lady’s new clause. The new owners of the GIB will have views on the future strategy and business plan. They will assess it as part of their due diligence and make it a part of their offers. Whoever the new owner or owners are, the special share ensures that the business plan, like the GIB, will continue to be green.
It must be said in response to many of the points and arguments that it is almost impossible to understand why anybody would want to buy the Green Investment Bank—the clue is in the name—unless they wanted to ensure that it continued to invest in green projects.
We welcome the general direction of travel, given the special share. The Government will have a clear say during the privatisation process in the selection of the new owners, so will the Minister expand on how they will ensure that appropriate owners, who will respect not only the special share but the green agenda, are put in place?
Everyone will, of course, have to comply with the due diligence. I welcome the hon. Gentleman’s comments and will dwell on that topic in a moment. I want to make it absolutely clear that it is difficult to believe that anybody would buy the Green Investment Bank unless they absolutely wanted to continue its great work, for which I pay tribute to the bank.
I have two points. First, this is not just about green purposes. We should remember that the Green Investment Bank has particularly focused on complex and novel innovations, which take longer. It is not such a quick win, which is precisely why a private investor might not want to do the same and why public money is needed. Secondly, the special share is not legally underpinned, which gives us no long-term reassurance.
I disagree with the hon. Lady, because the privatisation and sale of the Green Investment Bank is about ensuring that more money is available from the private sector to carry out that particular sort of investment. Forgive me, but it really is not the role of Government to gamble and make investments with taxpayers’ money. That was right in 2012 when, as mentioned by the hon. Member for Brent North (Barry Gardiner), the Green Investment Bank was set up because of an accepted market failure. However, the idea that the Government are throwing it away, as he put it, could not be further from the truth. The Green Investment Bank is a real success story. No one is seeking to pretend that it is anything else. We want its success to continue, but in the private sector.
Does the Minister actually believe that there is no longer any market failure that needs to be addressed? The figures on infrastructure suggest quite the opposite. The point made by the hon. Member for Brighton, Pavilion (Caroline Lucas) about the innovative and novel projects that the Green Investment Bank was set up to support is that they pay much less return into the private sector, which is precisely why risk-sharing between the Government and the private sector was necessary to launch the bank in the first place.
Members on the Opposition Benches seem to be saying two things. The first is that the private sector does not do long-term projects. Well, Shell, BP and others do many projects over decades. They also say that the private sector does not do innovative projects well. Those suggestions are just nonsense.
I thank my hon. Friend for his excellent intervention, which I wholeheartedly endorse. We have always said the Green Investment Bank would stay green after privatisation. Green investment is what it does, as its management have made clear. We have explained that the only reason we are repealing the green protections from legislation is to allow the GIB to move to the private sector, by removing state control over the bank. However, we understand the concerns raised by hon Members and noble Lords, and we have found a device to protect the GIB’s green purposes without legislation.
I am very grateful to Lord Smith of Kelvin, who, as has been mentioned, has written to Opposition Members in the other place explaining the view of those currently in charge—I shall put it in that way—of the GIB about this special measure and why they absolutely have all confidence in it actually achieving what we all want to achieve. This is the device that cures the mischief.
I am not going to give way because I just want to put on the record my thanks to Lord Smith for his letter, which was sent out by my excellent Parliamentary Private Secretary, my hon. Friend the Member for Rugby (Mark Pawsey), to all Members of this House. I hope all hon. Members, on both sides, have had the opportunity to read it, because it could not be clearer about why what the Government have proposed will ensure and protect those green purposes, and why legislation in this area is absolutely not necessary. One reason why we do not want the Opposition’s new clause 4 to be successful and to put this provision into legislation is that we feel the Office for National Statistics will take the view that what we seek to do will not be achieved in this way—the bank will not be off the books—and that is why it is so important that this is done in the way we propose.
In support of what my right hon. Friend says, let me read from Lord Smith’s letter. He says:
“We are 100% committed to delivering the full intent of the amendment passed in the Lords. I hope that by committing to implement this plan, and doing so transparently, we can secure the necessary confidence of shareholders, and members of Parliament that a special share solution can be delivered without the need for it to be mandated in legislation.”
I am very grateful to my hon. Friend for reading from the letter. Obviously, I am not going to read it out. You will be pleased to hear that, Madam Deputy Speaker, as we would be here for half the afternoon if I did so. I have, however, placed a copy of it in the Library, as it best explains why this new clause is no longer required and why it is so incredibly important that we get the right device to ensure we keep the green principles of the bank.
This is a short answer—yes. The hon. Lady will have seen this letter and I hope she will have read it—upside down, inside out, backwards and everything else. It is well over two pages long and it could not be clearer as to the way the special share is going to be set up. I shall rely on the fact that it talks about the special shareholder and how difficult it would be to undo this device. That could be done only with the permission, in effect, of the special shareholder. This House can therefore be sure that this is the right way to achieve what we all want to achieve.
That is why it is important to pay tribute—some may say that this is a first, and indeed it may not be the last—to the Scottish Government and to the Scottish National party. I have seen the letter John Swinney has written on behalf of the Scottish Government, quite properly as he is the Deputy First Minister and has responsibility in Scotland for finance, the constitution and the economy. He, too, rightly and understandably, has raised his concerns about how we best protect the green credentials of the GIB. As a result, he, too, has contacted Lord Smith, and letters have been sent back and forth. In short, to the credit of the SNP, it takes the view—I will be corrected if I am wrong—that this device, which is up and running, with the work already having been started by the GIB to secure this special shareholding, means that everybody can be confident that this is the way to secure what we all want, but without the need for legislation, which could completely scupper this privatisation and selling off of the GIB.
The Minister has said on many occasions that she is confident that introducing the special share in this way will work. Our case all along has been that we would like to hear her say to the House that she can guarantee, rather than just be “confident”, that the ONS will approve this approach. Can she now say, in terms, on the Floor of the House and on the record, that she can guarantee that?
I hope I am being parliamentary when I say that the hon. Gentleman is being a bit of a minx—I mean that in the nicest way. [Interruption.] He quite likes that, which is good, although I do not think he will like the next bit. I have already explained in Committee that we cannot give that guarantee, and he was a bit naughty, calling the ONS a bunch of boffins. I think he rather regretted it because the people in the ONS are not that; they are absolutely independent of government and will rightly come to their own conclusions. We are confident that if the measure goes into legislation, the ONS will not take this bank off the books, because it will not be properly in the private sector. If, however, we do it in the way that we are all suggesting—I include the chairman of the GIB in that—there is every chance in the world that this will then become a successful privatisation. It is confusing to work out what people’s real views are; the hon. Member for Wakefield (Mary Creagh) says that she does not object to the GIB being sold off, although she has raised her concerns. She is in favour of it in principle, but it is not certain whether others are.
Let me now deal with amendment 17, which was tabled by the hon. Member for Wakefield and the right hon. Member for Don Valley (Caroline Flint). Again, we firmly believe it is not required. The GIB is currently required to report to higher standards—the standards for quoted companies—which include the level of detail required by this amendment. That is appropriate because it is currently entirely publicly owned. Post-privatisation, there is no reason why the GIB should be singled out to report on its remuneration to Parliament, especially if it is not spending any public money. It is a matter for the board of a company and its shareholders to agree remuneration policy. I note that there was an exchange of letters between the hon. Lady and the GIB’s chair, Lord Smith, where she asked about future remuneration policy, and I am sure her Committee will publish the letter in full. If the Government retain a minority stake in the GIB—we have made it clear that our intention is to sell a majority of it—we could express views on this and other aspects of corporate policy. We could agree with other shareholders what level of reporting might be appropriate on this and other matters, but we do not consider that this matter should reside within legislation.
As I said, the GIB has been a terrifically successful venture. It is important to understand that it was set up in 2012 because of a market failure. Opposition Members certainly do not like to reminded of the perilous financial situation our country faced in 2010, and it certainly was not all the fault of the banks—it was also a pitiful failing of Government policy at the time. What the GIB has done is help investors in the market to better understand the risks of green investment, and this comes back to the point being advanced by the hon. Member for Brent North. We know that, since 2012, long-term debt markets have significantly improved, which suggests an improvement in market conditions. Frankly, we would not set up the Green Investment Bank today, because those market failures no longer exist. The Green Investment Bank has proved that an organisation can be green and profitable, and its success demonstrates that the market can deliver green, which must be a good thing.
I have dealt with the point about the Office for National Statistics, so I will not repeat myself. The hon. Members for Cardiff West (Kevin Brennan) and for Wakefield asked whether the Government will retain a minority stake in the Green Investment Bank. I have to say that our position has not changed since the Committee stage. I explained then that we intend to sell a majority of the Green Investment Bank. We may retain a minority, but we cannot commit to that. Our report to Parliament makes it clear that decisions on the size of stake in the Green Investment Bank to be sold will depend on the outcome of confidential commercial discussions with investors.
I pay tribute to the Secretary of State for his announcement last week that the Green Investment Bank is now available to be sold. Unfortunately, I can say no more than that, other than that we are confident that this sale will be successful and will be done at the time when the market is in the right place. Having said that, we will not sell the bank unless of course we know that we will get the right price. For some time now, we have had strong market interest in the Green Investment Bank, which has strong underlying assets that are less exposed to market volatility. The large infrastructure sales that have recently been made, such as that of City airport, have also been very successful, and that gives us confidence in this part of the markets.
Nobody—not even Scottish National party Members—has asked this question, but if they were to, it would be a good question, so I will pre-empt it and say that one reason why the Green Investment Bank has been so successful is that it has been primarily based in Edinburgh, which is an excellent place in which to do business, especially as it is still within a United Kingdom. I can see no good reason—again, this is something that we explored in Committee—why the Green Investment Bank would want to move away from Edinburgh. Why on earth would it? [Interruption.] If the hon. Member for Aberdeen South (Callum McCaig) wants to intervene, I am happy to give way. [Interruption.] No, he has changed his mind. That is probably because I reminded him about the price of oil, so we will move swiftly on.
The hon. Member for Cardiff West asked me whether the Government can guarantee that the Green Investment Bank will be off the balance sheet. I think that I have dealt with that. I said that we cannot give a cast iron guarantee about the ONS, but we have confidence, and I hope that that confidence will be shared by the whole House.
We do not need this new clause, because of the assurances that have been given by the noble Lord Smith in his extensive letter to all Members of the House. In that letter, he goes into quite considerable detail about the mechanisms that he is already putting in place to ensure the future green credentials of the Green Investment Bank. That is why we say that this new clause, which will be tested, should be resisted.
The hon. Member for Wakefield and the right hon. Member for Don Valley have quite rightly raised their concerns about the Green Investment Bank and tabled amendment 17. When the bank is sold, it will be a private sector company—this is an important point to put on the record—and, as such, it will be subject to normal company law. For a company the size of the Green Investment Bank, which is unquoted—that means that it is not listed on the stock exchange—the minimum requirement will be to report aggregate information in relation to total remuneration and specific information relating to the highest paid director. As I have said, it is currently required to report to higher standards—the standards for quoted companies—which include the level of detail required by this amendment. That is appropriate because it is currently entirely publicly owned.
I have given considerable praise to the Green Investment Bank—[Interruption.] I have just been handed a note, which will doubtless be a blessing to everybody who, in due course, has the great good fortune either to read this in Hansard or to be following these proceedings. I will, if I may, pay tribute again to the bank and to all those who work for it, especially the chairman, the noble Lord Smith.
In conclusion—[Interruption.] Cut it out. I certainly shall not forget the heckling of the hon. Member for Nottingham East (Chris Leslie).
The Government have listened—that is the most important point—to the concerns of hon. Members and noble Lords of all parties. We have been open and transparent about our intentions for the Green Investment Bank not only since June of this year, but as far back as the autumn statement in 2013 when we made our position clear. We want what is best for the Green Investment Bank, which is to increase its green impact with greater access to private sector capital. As Lord Smith said in his letter, he wants us to do it our way, and not the Opposition’s way, so that it has the access to equity that it so badly needs. We need to give it the freedom to continue doing what it does best, so I hope that all hon. Members will join me in the No Lobby to resist the new clause.
The Minister criticised me in Committee for referring to people who work in the Office for National Statistics as boffins. May I remind her that a boffin, according to Wikipedia and the Oxford English Dictionary, is a person engaged in technical research? In fact, the term originates from the war-winning researchers of world war two, so I do not think that I have anything to apologise for in describing them as boffins.
We have been looking for a guarantee that the mechanism that the Government are proposing would indeed satisfy the ONS. The Minister has confirmed on the Floor of the House today that she cannot offer that guarantee to us. We do not want to let this legislative opportunity pass by to ensure the green purposes of the Green Investment Bank. On that basis, I will be asking my right hon. and hon. Friends to join me in the Lobby as I seek to divide the House on new clause 4.
Question put, That the clause be read a Second time.
New Schedule 1
Bodies excluded from the restrictions on public sector exit payments
“Payments made by the following bodies are excluded from the restrictions on public sector exit payments—
(a) Sellafield Ltd,
(b) Westinghouse Springfields Fuels Ltd,
(c) Magnox Ltd,
(d) National Nuclear Laboratory,
(e) International Nuclear Services,
(f) Atomic Weapons Establishment Ltd,
(g) Low Level Waste Repository Ltd,
(h) Dounreay Site Restoration Ltd,
(i) RSRL Winfrith and
(j) RSRL Harwell.”—(Kevin Brennan.)
This new schedule would exclude employees of the listed companies operated by the private sector from the scope of the proposed cap on exit payments.
Brought up, and read the First time.
With this it will be convenient to discuss the following:
Amendment 18, in clause 41, page 56, line 18, at end insert—
“(1A) The restriction placed on public sector exit payments must be reviewed at regular intervals and, where necessary, be adjusted in line with inflation and earnings growth.”.
This amendment would ensure that the level that the restriction on public sector exit payments is set will be linked to inflation and earnings growth.
Amendment 15, page 57, line 10, at end insert
“, including payments relating to employees earning less than £27,000 per year”.
This amendment would provide that regulations may exempt from the public sector exit payment cap those earning less than £27,000.
Amendment 16, page 57, line 27, at end insert—
“(10A) Nothing in this section applies in relation to payments made by the bodies listed in NS1.”.
This amendment would exclude employees of companies listed in NS1 operated by the private sector from the scope of the proposed cap on exit payments.
Government amendments 3 to 9.
I am happy to confirm that the Opposition will be supporting amendment 18, tabled by the Scottish National party, which we discussed in Committee.
This is the bit of the Enterprise Bill that has nothing to do with enterprise; it is largely about spin, to be perfectly honest. Let me make it clear, as I did in Committee, that Her Majesty’s official Opposition agree that excessive exit payments in the public sector should not be paid, and that any abuses in that regard should be ended. The problem with the Government’s approach is that they are attempting to govern by headline in a very complex area, and in so doing they are creating the sorts of anomalies and unfairnesses that I am sure we will hear about during this debate. Including a headline-grabbing figure—in this case £95,000—on the face of the Bill is, frankly, the worst kind of utterly vacuous government, and it is exactly the sort of rigid legislating that good civil servants advise against, and that bad Ministers promote.
The inclusion of that figure in the Bill is really about allowing the Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills to have his tabloid headline about fat cats, which was one of the odious remarks he made on Second Reading. That was an insult to thousands of decent, hard-working people across this country, many of whom have never been paid anywhere near £30,000 a year, let alone the £3 million a year that the Secretary of State used to get when he worked for an investment bank. [Interruption.] That has a lot to do with it, because of the language he used.
If I was to accuse the Secretary of State of being a fat cat—I am not going to do that, Madam Deputy Speaker—the Minister would be huffing and puffing in her usual way, muttering “Outrageous” and “Disgraceful” from a sedentary position. She and the Secretary of State like to dish it out, but they do not like to take it when it comes back their way. She was quite content to sit there on Second Reading and cheer the Secretary of State on as he traduced public servants, including long-serving local librarians and even privatised nuclear decommissioning workers, and described them as fat cats. I wonder how they felt about the Secretary of State using that language. Actually, I know exactly how they felt, because they wrote to us in their droves to express their anger at his insulting rhetoric, and that evidence—there was a lot of it—was officially submitted to the Committee.
Amendment 15, tabled by the Opposition, seeks to protect those workers who earn less than £27,000 a year from the proposed exit payments cap—yes, those who earn less than £27,000 a year are the Secretary of State’s so-called fat cats.
I was present on Second Reading when the Secretary of State described long-serving public servants on low and average pay as fat cats. At the end of that debate, the Minister said at the Dispatch Box that the exit payments cap would not apply to civil servants earning less than £27,000. I hope that she will forgive us if we do not take her word for it, and that she will therefore accept our amendment today to ensure that the promise is in law.
There was a time when what Ministers said on the Floor of the House could be accepted, and I am prepared to accept that the Minister is sincere in what she has said. In fact, I am not sure that she said quite what my hon. Friend says she said. I think that she actually said that it could affect a small number of people on £25,000. However, I think that my hon. Friend is echoing what one of the Minister’s Treasury colleagues had said earlier. If I am not mistaken, the current Minister for Employment, the right hon. Member for Witham (Priti Patel), when referring to what would be in the Conservative party’s manifesto, said that the proposal would not affect anybody earning less than £27,000 a year. We have therefore taken her words, given as a promise from a Minister of the Crown, and put them into an amendment in order to hold the Government to their word. The fact that this Minister was not prepared to repeat that in those terms when she spoke on Second Reading can perhaps be explained by the Government’s refusal to support our very reasonable amendment.
Following the hon. Gentleman’s deliberations in Committee, and from his own analysis—obviously we are looking in the round at public expenditure on exit payments—can he advise the House on what proportion of that expenditure in, say, the last five years was for people earning less than £27,000, and what proportion was for people earning over £100,000?
I do not have that figure to hand, but we did probe the Government to try to get some idea of what calculations they had made of the impact on people earning less than £27,000 a year. I am afraid we have not been able to elicit a great deal of information from them on that subject, other than that they think it would be rare for those people to be affected. If it is that rare—I will come to this in a moment—why do the Government not accept our amendment, because it will not actually cost them much?
The hon. Gentleman makes a fair point. In the absence of data, he has his good judgment and his reasonableness, following his many years in government before 2010. Do his instincts not say that the majority of people will be earning in excess of £100,000? That really is the target of what the Government propose, is it not?
That is what the Government say the target is. As the hon. Gentleman knows, I respect him greatly for his independence of mind and thought, and for his intellect on these matters. As I said at the outset, if abuses are going on in relation to public sector exit payments, we are perfectly willing to say they should be stopped, but we need to look at what the clause actually does. It picks the figure of £95,000 to generate a headline saying that the Bill will stop fat-cat public sector exit payments of more than £100,000. However, what it does not elucidate very well is that that £95,000 is not just a cash lump sum, but includes the so-called strain payments that are paid into workers’ pension funds when they are forced into redundancy before retirement age. That is money they will never get in their pockets—they are not walking away with £95,000. They are not fat cats earning more than £100,000, and some are on relatively modest incomes. The Bill will also capture many people in the private sector, which the Government were also not keen to elucidate on.
The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right. Clearly, large numbers of public sector workers, who have often given long service, might have to take redundancy—not surprisingly at a time of severe cuts in, for example, local government. The provisions in the local government pension fund require those strain payments to be made, and those will count towards the £95,000 exit payment.
My intervention very much complements that of the hon. Member for Glasgow South West (Chris Stephens). One of the big concerns about the change, which I am sure my hon. Friend shares, is that the consultation was so inadequate. The Government have also failed to undertake any public sector equality duty review, as required under the Equality Act 2010. The changes could therefore have many unintended consequences, but the Government are not taking the time to explore them.
Yes. I will briefly touch on the inadequacy of the consultation later.
Amendment 15 is about workers earning less than £27,000 a year. As I mentioned, it was the right hon. Member for Witham (Priti Patel), when she was at the Treasury, who said a year ago:
“those earning less than £27,000 will be exempted to protect the very small number of low earning, long-serving public servants.”
She was commenting on the Government’s plans to create the public sector exit payment cap.
Did the Minister for Small Business, Industry and Enterprise not take the Committee through a number of worked examples demonstrating that the Bill would not have the adverse effect on pensions that is suggested? For example, a prison officer earning £28,000 a year with 34 years’ experience could still retire at as young as 52 without being affected. Does that not illustrate that the hon. Gentleman’s concerns are not terribly well founded?
I recommend that the hon. Gentleman read more deeply into the report of the Committee stage. I commend to him the worked example I gave of somebody on a salary of £25,000 who had given long service in local government and who would be affected.
Obviously, the right hon. Member for Witham did not think at the time that these people were fat cats; she thought they should be protected, and we need to understand why that is not happening in the Bill. Why was a lower earnings floor not included, given that the Conservatives promised they would pursue only—again, I quote from their manifesto—the “best paid” workers? Of course, once the election was over, the Government ignored that.
Problems emerged because the consultation was so poorly conducted, as my hon. Friend the Member for Newcastle upon Tyne North (Catherine McKinnell) said. Usually, a full consultation takes 12 weeks; the Government did this consultation over four weeks in the summer—it began on 31 July 2015 and concluded on 27 August. If the Government were serious in their rhetoric that the Bill would affect only the best paid, it would be very straightforward to include a provision to exclude those on £27,000 or less. In fact, what the Minister for Small Business, Industry and Enterprise said on Second Reading, which was alluded to earlier, was:
“What we do know is that there is a very small number of workers”—
that is the figure she gave—
“in the public sector on about £25,000 who could be caught by this…But those are extremely rare conditions.”—[Official Report, 2 February 2016; Vol. 605, c. 886.]
What we want to know, therefore—I think this is what the hon. Member for Bedford (Richard Fuller) wanted to know—is how rare those conditions are. If they are that rare, why not exempt the lower paid?
My hon. Friend briefly mentioned the dates of the consultation—between July and August. Does it not occur to him that if the Government were genuinely keen to hear back from people potentially affected by, or interested in, this change, they would not have introduced the consultation for such a short time over the summer holidays?
My only assumption is that they think fat cats should not have holidays. That is probably why they thought it did not matter that there was only a four-week consultation. That is what they think of the people they were supposed to be consulting. The rhetoric used by the Government is shameful; the contemptuous, short nature of the consultation is shameful; and the way in which the policy has been introduced overall can only be described as shameful.
We are concerned about the Government’s reluctance to make the necessary exemptions to ensure that the unfortunate few—that is what the Government tell us they are: a few—are not disproportionately affected. If the low paid and average paid are affected only in rare circumstances, excluding them from the cap will not result in the Government losing a great deal of money, so what is the problem in exempting them?
I am listening intently to the hon. Gentleman. I was in the Committee, and I am wondering whether there may be a flaw in his argument—no pun intended. If we put the floor in at £27,000, what about the person at £28,000? How would we distinguish between the different groups? Is it not better to set a limit to the payment that is made and to be blind on the income that someone gets up to that limit?
I understand the point the hon. Gentleman is making. That would be all right if it was truly a payment that people were going to get in their pocket. The reason these people are captured, however, is that the figure includes the so-called strain payments that are made into the pension fund if they are made redundant before their normal retirement age. That is the unfairness, and that is the reason why, I presume, that the former Treasury Minister said that no one on under £27,000 should be affected. The Opposition have simply taken what the Government originally said their intention was, as elucidated by a Minister of Her Majesty’s Treasury, and put it in our amendment to test why the Government are not acting on what was said.
On Report in the Lords, Baroness Neville-Rolfe indicated that a drop of £500 would not be disproportionate for someone previously entitled to a pension of £12,500—the implication is that there could be a fall in the pension paid ultimately. All I would say is that a 4% drop in income for somebody on a relatively small income—it is lower, after all, than what one would receive on the minimum wage—would be highly significant on that low income. To say that a 4% cut is not significant is hugely out of touch with the reality of many people’s lives.
The Government’s case is that a leaving payment of £95,000 or above is a large amount for any employee, but they are perpetrating the myth that people will actually receive that money. Employees on low to average incomes will never see a large amount, because the payment includes compensation paid to the pension scheme. In fact, some of them will never even receive their pension, so they will never see that money in any way, shape or form.
The cap includes strain payments, and the pension shortfall is adjusted at the time of redundancy. Strain payments could make up a considerable amount of the £95,000. If so, long-serving, loyal workers could finish work with a significant shortfall in the amount that should have been allocated to them to deal with redundancy, unemployment and uncertainty. They will be left with little in their redundancy payment to pay for annuities to provide long-term security. I do not think that was the Government’s original intention, but the fact that they have refused to respond to the concern makes me wonder whether I am right about that.
We have been told that the Chancellor has withdrawn his pensions proposals, which would have raised £10 billion to pay down the deficit. In other words, he has moved swiftly so as not to offend better-off pensioners who might have been hit by the proposals. Why, then, will the Government not turn their hand to those who earn less than £27,000 a year, whose redundancy and access to a pension are threatened by the exit payment cap? The Chancellor has famously said that we are all in this together and that those with the broadest shoulders should bear the biggest burden, so the Government have a chance to prove that by supporting our amendment 15, which is, after all, based on their own words.
Amendment 16 would exclude from the provision employees of the companies listed in new schedule 1, which are operated by the private sector. Those who would be affected are principally employees of companies across the nuclear estate and elsewhere in the private sector, such as Magnox. Why are they affected by a measure that the Secretary of State told us on Second Reading is designed to hit “public sector fat cats”? According to the Secretary of State, Magnox workers who work in the private sector are “public sector fat cats”.
When companies such as Magnox were privatised, workers such as those at Trawsfynydd in Dwyfor Meirionnydd lost access to their public sector pension scheme, but they are now going to be included in a cap on public sector redundancy payments. Does the shadow Secretary of State agree that the Treasury is trying to have its cake and eat it at the expense of those workers?
I thank the hon. Lady for promoting me temporarily. I agree with her, and I know that she has been campaigning on that issue, as has my hon. Friend the Member for Ynys Môn (Albert Owen), who we may hear from later. She is absolutely right. The employees of these companies would never have imagined for one second that they would be hit by the Government’s proposals and the Conservative manifesto commitment to cap public sector exit payments. We raised the issue in Committee, but the Minister refused to guarantee that they would be excluded from the exit payment cap.
The companies listed are in a unique position. They are mostly engaged in managing the safe closure of nuclear facilities, which is a task of huge national importance. By its very nature, it involves working towards a specific end date, at which point the employees will effectively make themselves redundant, provided that they have done a good job. That is what they are doing: they are working to make themselves redundant.
Does my hon. Friend agree that it is completely inconsistent to include employees of companies operated by the private sector? My constituents who work at Sellafield are very worried about the proposed redundancy cap. I am concerned that it will lead to highly skilled, experienced workers leaving the industry, which would undermine our ability to deliver the safe decommissioning of our nuclear facilities.
I agree. My hon. Friend will have noticed that Sellafield Ltd is included in new schedule 1, for the very reason she has highlighted.
As I said, the workers in question are working towards making themselves redundant. They accept that their work is a task and finish activity of national importance. In order to get somebody with the necessary skills to commit to that kind of proposition in their early or mid-30s, we need to ensure that they know that they will be provided for if they successfully complete their task by the time they reach their mid to late 50s, when they might find it extremely difficult to find re-employment, given their very specific skills.
If the companies listed cannot afford the packages necessary to compensate someone for the loss of their role when their task has been completed, they will find it extremely difficult to prevent highly skilled workers, who are mobile in the earlier parts of their careers, from leaving. That in itself will drive up costs for the nuclear decommissioning industry and exacerbate an already difficult skills shortage in the sector.
Legislating now to override the long-standing arrangements in the nuclear industry, as the Government are doing, when employers have kept their end of the bargain faithfully, is, to be frank, unconscionable. How can it be right that workers who have stayed with a company to deliver successfully the safe decommissioning of a site see the Government renege on their promised redundancy compensation when it is due to be paid?
My hon. Friend’s argument is powerful, and I am genuinely at a loss as to why the Government do not take heed of it. The proposal will not only cost individuals in the long term; it is also a betrayal of trust and will only benefit, to a small degree, the company involved. It will not actually benefit the Government, so I do not understand why they do not take action to right what is clearly a wrong.
Exactly. The Treasury’s justification is that, even though the companies have been privatised, the workers are still deemed by the Office for National Statistics to be on the Treasury books, because of the nature of their work. It is understandable that their work needs to be underwritten by Government, because they are decommissioning nuclear sites and no one can get an insurance policy for that.
That technical, statistical designation, however, does not mean that applying the cap to those workers is fair or that it necessarily represents value for money for taxpayers in the long term. There is no proof that taxpayers will receive any benefit, as the private operators of the companies often receive higher incentive payments in their contracts as a result of this kind of change. Unless the Government decide to act, employees in the sector will note that the Treasury has excluded them from the public sector when it comes to pension provision and other issues, but considers them within the scope of the capped exit payments.
The shadow Minister well knows that the Government have capped the pension contributions of higher earners at £44,000 a year, and that those on the highest incomes of more than £200,000 have had their contributions capped at £10,000 a year. The Government have taken a lot of action in this area, as the shadow Minister well knows.
What the hon. Gentleman may not realise is that the workers of the banks that have been taken into public ownership will be specifically excluded from the exit payments cap under the Government’s plans. That might change his mind, so he might like to join us in the Lobby later. Yet again, it seems to be “Up with the bankers and down with the workers.” What a shocking value-free zone this policy is, if the Government stick to it.
We have received strong representations on the matter from Magnox workers, from trade unions including Unite and Prospect, and directly from the workers. The bodies that we have included in new schedule 1, which are affected by the “public sector fat cat” policy, are Sellafield Ltd, Westinghouse Springfields Fuels Ltd, Magnox Ltd, the National Nuclear Laboratory, International Nuclear Services, Atomic Weapons Establishment Ltd, Low Level Waste Repository Ltd, Dounreay Site Restoration Ltd, RSRL Winfrith and RSRL Harwell. I note that none of the companies in that list is called “Fat Cats Ltd”, but they are all included on the list of companies with workers that the Government are, by their own admission, treating as fat cats.
The Public Bill Committee received dozens of letters from Magnox workers, and I congratulate them on the quality of the representations that they made. I quoted in Committee from a letter from one of the workers, and I will quote it briefly again. Ian Milligan, who works at Bradwell as a waste engineer, said:
“I should like to start with a definition quoted from the Oxford English Dictionary, the dictionary that has sat on my desk for the duration of my career within the Nuclear Industry which has spanned over 20 years. The question I had was, what does the term a fat cat infer? The answer: A Fat Cat—a wealthy person, a highly paid executive or official.”
He goes on to say:
“I, and many of my work colleagues employed by Magnox Ltd, are likely to be ‘caught’ in the proposed Exit Payment Cap of the Enterprise Bill, to which I, and my work mates across the board were shocked to discover, as we are ordinary working class people and do not consider ourselves to be Fat Cats by any stretch of the imagination.”
Will the shadow Minister confirm that on Second Reading, the Secretary of State used the term “public sector fat cats” in his closing remarks in support of the Bill? Is that not in contrast to the workers whom the shadow Minister is talking about, who work in a physically taxing environment for many years?
The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right. I know that it is difficult to believe—presumably, that is why the hon. Gentleman had to check before making his intervention—but the Secretary of State actually said that the measure was intended to hit fat cats in the public sector, which therefore includes everybody affected by it.
This confirms the understandable anger that is out there. My hon. Friend the Member for Ynys Môn might add examples of workers from his constituency. Agreements have been made and guarantees have been given. We were told that the provision was to hit public sector fat cats, not employees in the private sector. We have tabled the new schedule, which would exempt the companies listed from the Bill. If the Minister has another way of doing it, as I said to her in Committee, I would be interested to hear it. In Committee she was not able to offer any comfort whatever to the workers of the companies listed in new schedule 1. Her response was disappointing, given the weight of evidence submitted to the Committee and the strength of feeling among hon. Members and their constituents. Workers have made their plans and taken life decisions on the basis of promises that were made to them. As far as we can surmise from the limited information that the Minister is prepared to provide about the Government’s intentions, the Government are going to take action that will affect those workers.
In Committee, the Minister rehearsed arguments about all sorts of scares that may have been put about by mythical people whom she was not prepared to name, but going by the evidence submitted to us, the workers in question will be affected to quite a large extent. We represented the workers’ arguments in Committee and made their case on their behalf, but all we got from the Minister was a response to issues that had not been raised in the workers’ letters or, indeed, by us, and a vague reference to secondary legislation at some later date that will name some as yet unknown entities that may be excluded from the cap. In other words, all we got was an empty sheet of paper. I am afraid that that is not good enough.
We in the House need to know what the Government’s intentions are, and we need to be able to tell constituents who have written to us, and who are directly affected, whether they will be hit by the exit payment cap. Those hard-working people are the definition of strivers. They are the beating heart of this country. Their letters reveal that they are not swivel-eyed lefty loonies or fat cats but ordinary working people, many whom live in the constituencies of Conservative Members.
Ministers have put things in the Bill that are meant to get them a headline in the Daily Mail and The Sun. That is fundamentally why the proposal is so flawed. The reality, when we lift the stone and look underneath, is that it will affect all sorts of people whom the Government did not indicate that they intended to hit. Hard-working people are being betrayed by their Government. They would have made very different assumptions about what this policy meant when they read the Daily Mail headline or even the Conservative party manifesto. That is why, if the Government will not stand up for those workers, we will.
I am pleased to follow the shadow Minister, the hon. Member for Cardiff West (Kevin Brennan). I have constituents who work at the Atomic Weapons Establishment in Aldermaston, at the Defence Science Technology Laboratories in Porton Down and elsewhere, so I have an enormously high regard for those extraordinary public servants who contribute so much to the security of our country. I therefore have some sympathy with new schedule 1.
It is easy for the newspapers to produce graphic headlines such as “Civil service pen-pushers get massive pay-offs”, but I am talking about slightly different people. They are not ordinary people in the sense the shadow Minister was talking about; they are really rather special. They work at the forefront of technology to ensure that the nation remains safe and that our realm remains secure. I know from talking to my constituents that people at the AWE, which has been privatised, are very unhappy indeed. The AWE is a unique and important facility. It is the only place capable of designing and producing the successor to our Trident nuclear missile system, and indeed of maintaining Trident until its successor comes into force. I am told that morale at the AWE is at rock bottom. To remove the last major benefit of working there—pay has been historically low because of the decent benefits—risks the nuclear deterrent, in some people’s opinion.
These people are not the only ones to be affected. A constituent of mine who works at DSTL came to see me at my surgery on Saturday. He is a leading scientist, and he brought with him examples of ceramic armour that he had personally developed for the protection of our troops. I do not know how many Members in the Chamber have been to see any of our defence science laboratories. I represent Farnborough, the home of the former Royal Aircraft Establishment, which is now the headquarters of QinetiQ. I have met some of its employees, who used to work in some pretty shabby conditions—no wall-to-wall carpeting, rubber plants or anything of the sort—although they have rather fine offices now in Farnborough, and I have been struck by the fact that they could get a lot more money in the private sector. When I asked them, “Why do you work here?” they replied, “Because we want to give something back to our country.” Those scientists show an extraordinary sense of patriotism, dedication and loyal commitment to our country; in my view, they contribute disproportionately to the defence of the realm.
My constituent told me on Saturday that for decades he had been
“Paying my taxes…Saving hard…Avoiding debt…Obeying the law”
and, of course, “Working hard” to develop these life-saving technologies for members of our armed forces. He went on to say:
“in spite of this…I have received below inflation pay rises since 2004…My pension contributions have doubled…My retirement age has increased from 60 to 67...My redundancy terms & conditions have been degraded significantly…My pay is now 20% lower than MOD colleagues outside of Dstl”.
He drew my attention to the 2015 review of the MOD’s science and technology capability by Sir Mark Walport, the Government’s chief scientific adviser, who said:
“We understand that staff retention is difficult in the mid-career stage. We were surprised that Dstl are able to retain staff (let alone good staff) given the comparative low-pay offered.”
Conditions have not improved owing to the austerity measures that we have had to take, which I understand, but that did not stop the chief executive of DSTL receiving a 30% remuneration increase. In those circumstances, it is understandable that these people do not feel that they have been treated as well as they should have been. The other point about them is that, as Crown servants and the kind of people they are, they do not go around protesting; they come to our surgeries or write us a private letter. They will not write to the national newspapers or stand outside with a placard, because they just want to get on with their jobs. I say to my right hon. Friend the Minister that there is a risk that we may be taking for granted people whose contribution to our national security is, as I said, rather significant.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. Instinctively, I am entirely sympathetic to his argument, which applies to not just Crown employees, but those in the security services. However, could not his argument about such concerns easily be made about everyone working in the public sector? That is why the Government’s instinctive view is against drawing the distinction that he would like to make.
I have enormous respect for my right hon. Friend and I understand his point, but the place I represent is the home of the British Army, as well as the birthplace of British aviation, and it is steeped in technology. I know these people—I did so when I was a Defence Minister, as I have throughout my constituency experience in Aldershot—and I value them. I am afraid that I think they are rather special and that they have been neglected. I have specifically pointed out that their grades have not been made up to MOD grades, because they are busy in their laboratories doing what they like doing—inventing and helping to protect us all—so I will not resile from singling them out. My hon. Friend is entirely right to say that I am doing so, but I hope he will accept my apology for that.
The point about the entire public sector is a reasonable one, but it would be stronger if the Government had not specifically exempted parts of the public sector, namely those in the City of London, such as the privatised banks, and particularly the compensation schemes in what are public sector bodies, such as the Financial Conduct Authority.
My hon. Friend the Member for Warrington South (David Mowat) will appreciate that the intention is that many of the parts of the City of London that are currently in the public sector will not be there for very long. The idea is to get them out of the public sector in double-quick time. I should say to my hon. Friend the Member for Aldershot (Sir Gerald Howarth) that I am the son of Army soldier. In my younger life, I lived in Aldershot, as well as in Fleet, which used to be in his constituency, and I have a lot of sympathy with what he says. I am not in any way trying to fob him off. I totally agree about those in military service and our intelligence services, many of whom could get multiples of what they earn if they left GCHQ, for instance, to work in the private sector. None the less, if we are to draw a line, perhaps we should draw it in a sensible place; otherwise, we should not draw it at all.
Earlier today, I had a meeting with officials from Prospect. They acknowledge that one of our manifesto commitments was to
“end taxpayer-funded six-figure payoffs for the best paid public sector workers.”
They accept that the Government have a mandate for that, but it is worth putting what they say on record—forgive me for doing so, Mr Deputy Speaker—because they feel that the Government did backtrack on the agreement signed in 2010. They use the word “renege”, but let me say “backtrack”. They say:
“The current civil service redundancy terms were agreed by Prospect and other civil service unions and the last Minister for the Cabinet Office”—
our noble Friend Lord Maude—
“just four years before the Conservative party’s announcement that it would seek to renege on that agreement. The minister stated at the time: ‘what the new scheme shows is that constructive negotiations with the unions can work and the result is a package that is fair for civil servants and fair for other taxpayers’. He also said: ‘I believe we now have a scheme which is fair, protects those who need the most support, addresses the inequities in the current system and is right for the long term.”
I put it to my right hon. Friend the Minister that, despite the use of the phrase
“right for the long term”,
the scheme has not lasted more than six years. I will not vote against the Government today, but I urge her to have a discussion with the Treasury to determine whether this matter can be looked at again, because it is not fair on some of our most dedicated scientists who, as I say, are working to keep us secure.
I rise to speak to amendment 18, which is in my name and that of my hon. Friend the Member for Livingston (Hannah Bardell). The amendment perfectly complements amendment 15, which would add specific protections to part 9. As the hon. Member for Cardiff West (Kevin Brennan) said, as it stands, and given the rhetoric accompanying it, part 9 is a classic populist move by the Tory Government. They are playing up to the perception of fat cats, saying that people get huge pay-outs that are not comparable with private industry pay-outs, but they are not taking account of long-serving, lower-paid workers.
As I have implied, there is a lot of smoke and mirrors behind this scheme. The £95,000 cap includes pension payments that go not to the workers, but to the pension funds, including in the form of strain contributions for those on ill-health retirement. It is absolutely amoral that somebody who has to retire on the grounds of ill health, having worked hard, perhaps in a manual job, will have their pension capped because of this scheme.
I really do not understand how the Government cannot recognise the impact of the scheme. It was interesting that the House of Lords asked for an impact assessment, but it was not forthcoming. Back Benchers have asked the shadow Minister about the impact, but it is not for Opposition Members to provide that; it is the Government’s responsibility to do so at the outset.
The Government have admitted that this provision could affect workers who earn less than £25,000, which includes librarians, midwives, NHS workers and other long-serving employees. Those people are worlds away from the horror stories that we sometimes read about failed chief executives who walk away with massive lump sums. I understand a curb on pay-outs for those people. Even worse, some people receive a massive pay-out and then pop up in another council as a highly paid consultant. Again, I agree that there should be cap on that. I also suggest that the situation I have outlined is more of a problem in England, given that Scotland has only 32 local authorities, but I understand the concept of trying to control that.
The sum of £95,000 is a lot of money but, to put it in perspective, it is only three and a half years of an average salary, and a pay-out potentially puts someone out of the marketplace for good. We already know that many women who have previously taken early retirement are now suffering financially because they were not informed about the increase in the state pension age. Those women are now being forced into work programmes, but they are struggling to get back into work, which illustrates how difficult it can be to get back into work at a certain age. We should not be imposing exit caps that affect life choices for lower-paid workers who are trying to weigh up their options, given their realisation that they will have to work much longer than they had planned or been notified about by the DWP.
This provision will also hit middle-income earners, who are not meant to be the target. The local authority that I belonged to periodically operated a teacher refresh scheme to allow older, more experienced teachers to be considered for early retirement and replaced by younger teachers. That represents a virtuous circle of creating vacancies for young teachers, protecting the pensions of retiring teachers, and saving the taxpayer money overall due to the lower wages that are paid to new starts. Good governance is needed, not an exit cap that, in its current format, is too much of a blunt instrument.
Given the forced austerity that has been imposed on us, the Scottish Government have implemented a policy of no compulsory redundancies. In Scotland there have been zero compulsory redundancies in the NHS, but in England there have been more than 17,000 since 2010. If the Government really want to play the popularity game, as the hon. Member for Cardiff West said, they should extend this measure to other publicly supported companies, such as those banks with public money behind them. It beggars belief that we have a Chancellor who will stick up for annual bankers’ bonuses against the rest of Europe, but is happy to stand back on important matters such as exit payments and to let lower-paid workers suffer.
My hon. Friend mentioned the Scottish Government’s record on avoiding compulsory redundancies. In my previous experience as the leader of one of Scotland’s biggest councils, we could not have managed the substantial reduction in our workforce without compulsory redundancies if we had not had the flexibility to offer severance packages that were proportionate to the service that people had delivered. Without that ability, councils in Scotland would have faced large numbers of compulsory redundancies that would have been inhumane in our workforce.
I agree with that fine point completely. I went through the same experience as a local councillor on East Ayrshire Council. Although some of the payments made would be caught up by this payment cap, they were demonstrated to be value for money because of the payback period of two years. We were able to show good value for the taxpayer.
The Minister for Employment originally pledged to protect workers earning less than £27,000. Amendment 15 would allow that protection to be put in place, while amendment 18 would allow the cap to reviewed and increased in line with inflation. As the Bill stands, that cap is another part of the ongoing erosion of terms and conditions, given that inflation levels and the cost of living is clearly going to rise. The measures allow the Government to maintain a charade of being a party for workers. That is why we will push amendment 18 to a vote, and hopefully the party of workers on the Government Benches will support us.
I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff West (Kevin Brennan) and the hon. Member for Aldershot (Sir Gerald Howarth) on the eloquent way in which they spoke to new schedule 1. I will not repeat what I said on Second Reading, except to reiterate the point that the people and companies listed in that new schedule are in no way fat cats. I think we need an apology from the Government about that because these are hard-working, ordinary people who have worked in difficult circumstances for many years, and signed up to agreements in good faith with the Government of the day.
I want the Government to honour their promise to safeguard the conditions of service that were agreed between companies and employees over many years, and I will touch on the definition of public sector workers. In no way are the people listed in the schedule public sector workers. Many of them work for private companies. If this cap is imposed on them, it will not benefit the Treasury at all; it will benefit the private companies that have taken on the contract. There will be no great saving, but there will be a breach of trust, and a considerable loss to those individuals who have been given protection.
I know that this Minister listens to reason and I am sure she agrees that many people will be caught unintentionally under the Bill. The protected status goes back to the privatisation of the electricity industry in the 1980s, and regulations were introduced in 1990 to protect many of the categories listed. More than 120 Magnox workers have written to me. As the hon. Member for Aldershot said, they were given protection, with other nuclear industry employees, under schedule 8 to the Energy Act 2004. When the recent pensions Bill was going through Parliament and their conditions were threatened when a vote in the House of Commons took away their protected rights, an amendment in the House of Lords restored that protection. Those protections were given to the workers by Mrs Thatcher and Cecil Parkinson in the 1980s, and they were honoured by other Conservative Ministers.
There is huge inconsistency because the workers I am referring to were protected in 2004. They were given that protection in statute. The Government are using a crude analysis by the ONS that these are public sector workers and fat cats, and that they should be treated all the same, but they are breaking their own promises. That is the strong feeling I got in the letters I received from the employees. The safeguards given by previous Governments during privatisation are now being taken away on a whim. I say to Conservative Members that taking away the protected status of these people was not in the Conservative party manifesto. The opposite is the case: it talked about city hall fat cats. Many of us agreed that people should not be rewarded for failure, but the people we are talking about are doing dangerous work now. The measure is due to come in in October, and many private companies are refusing to put through redundancies now. They are holding them back until October so that the workers receive reduced conditions of service. That is wrong.
Surely the biggest safeguard of all is that an occupational pension scheme is deferred pay. The hon. Gentleman’s constituents could have made more money working for other companies, but they chose to stay where they were because they were going to get a good occupational pension scheme.
I am listening carefully to what the hon. Gentleman says and I have a lot of sympathy with it, but I do not follow one point he made regarding private companies versus public companies. If they really are private companies, how can the Bill apply to them? Am I missing something?
It is very confusing. This has not been made clear, but my understanding is that if these people were to leave today, they would be given the full package, yet the companies have been told that the measure will apply from October and those very companies are now saying that people cannot go until then. That is what is being said by the hon. Gentleman’s constituents and my constituents who have been writing in.
The Minister could end the confusion today. She could say that she will honour, as Mrs Thatcher and other Tory Ministers did, the protected rights and status of these individuals, and we could have a vote. Lawyers will argue about whether people can be protected, but we should not leave it to the lawyers—the House of Commons has the opportunity to act today. I hope that Members across the House will support new schedule 1.
Government amendments 3 to 9 will enable Welsh Ministers to make regulations on exit payments that they feel are suitable and devolved to them through the Government of Wales Act 2006. That has been agreed with Welsh Ministers through the Welsh Assembly, and I am grateful for that.
The Conservative manifesto was very clear that we would introduce the cap and that we would set it at £95,000. It is extremely important to remember that this relates to redundancy pay. The cap will curb only the top end of exit payments—just the top 5% in value of all exit packages across the public sector. Amendment 15 is merely a device based on an article in The Daily Telegraph written by my right hon. Friend the Member for Witham (Priti Patel) back in January 2015. It was not part of the manifesto promise that was made. There is no honour, if I may say, in putting that forward as anything other than a junior Treasury Minister praying it in aid in an article she wrote in The Daily Telegraph.
I want to make it absolutely clear that the cap will not affect a classroom teacher earning the maximum of the upper pay range of £38,000 with a normal pension age of 60. It will not affect anyone working in the NHS earning below £47,500 or firefighters. I am told that police officers cannot be made redundant, and in any event no police officer earning below £54,000 would be caught by the cap. The Cabinet Office has confirmed that no civil servant earning below £25,000 will be captured. Some earning around £25,000 may be captured, but we can find no such example. A librarian earning £25,000 with 34 years’ experience could still retire on an unreduced pension at the age of 55.
We also think it unlikely that anyone earning less than £27,000 would be hit by the cap. It is important that we remember that it is extremely rare in the private sector for anyone on a wage of £25,000 to expect, on redundancy, a payment of £95,000—nearly four times their annual earnings. Having said all that, my hon. Friend the Member for Bedford (Richard Fuller), who is no longer in his place, made one of the most important points: it is right that we look at the value of the cap, as opposed to the salary or income someone is earning when they leave.
Finally, I want to address the important points about new schedule 1 and ask hon. Members not to support it. I listened with great care to the excellent points made by my hon. Friend the Member for Aldershot (Sir Gerald Howarth)—I pay tribute to the workers he mentioned—and the hon. Member for Ynys Môn (Albert Owen). I must make it absolutely clear, however, that we oppose the new schedule because we think it wrong to put the exemptions in the Bill. The relaxation provisions allow for special circumstances but only after proper ministerial scrutiny. I can assure them that I will continue to speak to right hon. and hon. Friends in the Treasury.
I agree with the helpful and wise interventions from my right hon. Friend the Member for Cities of London and Westminster (Mark Field), and I hear the points hon. Members are making. I will continue to speak to them, but now is not—
No, there may be reasons. There is no need to interrupt.
Now is not the time to do what some hon. Members propose. There are other ways of doing it, if it is the right thing to do. It is right, however, that we be true to our clear manifesto commitment to set the cap at £95,000.
I was bobbing up and down like a November the fifth apple, Mr Deputy Speaker. In any event, I do not know what all the fuss is about, because I am concluding my comments.
I believe that all points have been made, and based on everything I have said, I urge hon. Members to support the Government’s new clauses and to reject all the other amendments; they are not necessary.
Thank you, Mr Deputy Speaker. I simply note that the Minister was unwilling to give way because of time.
On the comments by the former Treasury Minister, now the Minister for Employment, the right hon. Member for Witham (Priti Patel), I thank the Minister today for confirming to the House that we cannot believe a word Ministers say. I thank her for putting that officially on the record.
It was not in a newspaper that the policy was announced. As I said, we cannot believe a word Ministers say.
Let me say simply that, as in Committee, the Minister has confirmed nothing at all that will give any comfort to these workers. I am therefore going to ask my hon. Friends, and other hon. Members if they support these workers, to support us in the Division on new schedule 1.
Question put, That the schedule be read a Second time.
More than three hours having elapsed since the commencement of proceedings on the programme motion, the proceedings were interrupted (Programme Order, this day).
The Deputy Speaker put forthwith the Questions necessary for the disposal of the business to be concluded at that time (Standing Order No. 83E).
Restriction on public sector exit payments
Amendment proposed: 18, page 56, line 18, at end insert—
‘(1A) The restriction placed on public sector exit payments must be reviewed at regular intervals and, where necessary, be adjusted in line with inflation and earnings growth.’.—(Alan Brown.)
This amendment would ensure that the level that the restriction on public sector exit payments is set will be linked to inflation and earnings growth.
Question put, That the amendment be made.
Amendments made: 3, page 58, line 7, at end insert—
“() by the Welsh Ministers, in relation to relevant Welsh exit payments;”
This amendment confers power on the Welsh Ministers (instead of the Treasury) to make regulations under new section 153A of the Small Business, Enterprise and Employment Act 2015 restricting the total amount of exit payments made to the holder of an office in Wales mentioned in amendment 5.
Amendment 4, page 58, line 27, at end insert—
“() if made by the Welsh Ministers, may not be made unless a draft of the statutory instrument containing them has been laid before, and approved by a resolution of, the National Assembly for Wales.”
This amendment provides for the procedure in the National Assembly for Wales in relation to regulations under new section 153A made by the Welsh Ministers (see explanatory statement for amendment 3).
Amendment 5, page 58, line 32, at end insert—
“( ) In this section “relevant Welsh exit payments” means exit payments made to holders of the following offices—
(a) member of the National Assembly for Wales;
(b) the First Minister for Wales;
(c) Welsh Minister appointed under section 48 of the Government of Wales Act 2006;
(d) Counsel General to the Welsh Government;
(e) Deputy Welsh Minister;
(f) member of a county council or a county borough council in Wales;
(g) member of a National Park Authority in Wales;
(h) member of a Fire and Rescue Authority in Wales.”
This amendment specifies the offices in Wales in relation to which the Welsh Ministers can make regulations under new section 153A (see explanatory statement for amendment 3).
Amendment 6, page 58, line 37, at end insert—
“(2A) The Welsh Ministers may relax any restriction imposed by regulations made by the Welsh Ministers under section 153A.”
This amendment ensures that the Welsh Ministers have power to relax restrictions imposed by them under new section 153A (see explanatory statement for amendment 3).
Amendment 7, page 59, line 1, at beginning insert—
“except in relation to exit payments made by a relevant Welsh authority,”
This amendment ensures that the Treasury are not able to impose limitations on the power of the Welsh Ministers to relax certain restrictions imposed by Treasury regulations (see explanatory statement for amendment 8).
Amendment 8, page 59, leave out lines 18 to 24 and insert—
“(6) Regulations under section 153A made by the Welsh Ministers may—
(a) make provision for the power under subsection (2A) to be exercisable on behalf of the Welsh Ministers by a person specified in the regulations;
(b) where provision is made by virtue of paragraph (a), make provision for a requirement to be relaxed only—
(i) with the consent of the Welsh Ministers, or
(ii) following compliance with any directions given by the Welsh Ministers;
(c) make provision as to the publication of information about any relaxation of a requirement granted.
(6A) Regulations made by the Treasury under section 153A(1)—
(a) must, if they make provision in relation to exit payments made by a relevant Welsh authority, provide for the power conferred on a Minister of the Crown by subsection (1) to be exercised instead by the Welsh Ministers in relation to those exit payments;
(b) may provide for the power conferred on a Minister of the Crown by subsection (1) to be exercised instead by the Welsh Ministers in relation to exit payments made by any other authority who is not a relevant Welsh authority but who wholly or mainly exercises functions in relation to Wales (but this does not limit the provision that may be made under subsection (4)(a)).”
This amendment allows the Welsh Ministers to provide for another person to relax on their behalf restrictions imposed by them under new section 153A (see explanatory statement for amendment 6). It also requires the Treasury to provide for the Welsh Ministers to be able to relax certain restrictions imposed by Treasury regulations, and gives the Treasury power so to provide in relation to other such restrictions.
Amendment 9, page 59, line 26, at end insert—
“relevant Welsh authority” means an authority who wholly or mainly exercises functions which could be conferred by provision falling within the legislative competence of the National Assembly for Wales (as defined in section 108 of the Government of Wales Act 2006).”—(Anna Soubry.)
This amendment defines “relevant Welsh authority” for the purposes of the provisions inserted by amendments 7 and 8.
Ordered, That further consideration be now adjourned. —(Julian Smith.)
Bill to be further considered tomorrow.