Monday, 3 December 2012.
Enterprise and Regulatory Reform Bill
Committee (1st Day)
1: Clause 1, page 1, line 6, leave out paragraph (b) and insert—
“(b) the advancement of initiatives with the purpose of facilitating significant improvements in natural resource efficiency and energy savings;”
My Lords, we should remind ourselves why these green purposes are so important. This bank has been set up in order to facilitate investment into green projects and to help the UK to move to a low carbon economy. The definitions set out in the Bill will be the guiding principles by which the bank operates. The bank could definitely be sold off in the future; there are provisions in the Bill to enable this to happen, so these governing principles are very important and must pass the test of time.
The amendment would introduce two changes to the Government’s proposed wording in Clause 1(1)(b). First, a test of significance would ensure that projects showed a significant advancement in resource efficiency or energy saving. We believe that this is important not because we do not trust the bank but, as I say, because of how it may change and develop in the future. The test of significance would prevent projects qualifying legally for support from the bank which deliver only a very marginal improvement in any project. It is not beyond the imagination to see that under these definitions of purpose you could secure support and funding for a very marginal improvement in the efficiency of a coal-fired boiler, for example. That is not the sort of investment I think the Government are seeking; therefore, this part of the Bill needs tightening for the avoidance of doubt.
It might be argued that this is illogical and that we will not see a bank that is called the Green Investment Bank investing in coal-fired projects. I have an example of how things can go quite illogically wrong when dealing with climate change and greenhouse gases. The global carbon market has an investment facility called the clean development mechanism, under which it is perfectly legal and possible to invest in slightly more efficient coal-fired power stations in India to allow for European coal-fired power stations to carry on emitting. When we get into the world of sustainability, climate change and emissions reduction, things can get a bit illogical. It is important that a lot of attention is paid to these definitions and that we get them right.
The second change proposed in the amendment is to add a specific reference to energy savings. A very strict interpretation of natural resource efficiency might preclude energy efficiency from electricity. Electricity is not a natural resource, it is manmade. Again, we want to make sure, for the avoidance of doubt, that the bank is set up to focus on electricity and energy saving. We know that this is true because, of the five areas identified in the bank’s objects, two are about energy efficiency—one for commercial entities and one to support the Green Deal. They are very important for electricity efficiency, and we are not convinced that the provision fits well with this definition. So we encourage the Government to reconsider the wording of subsection (1)(b) on natural resource efficiency, because we do not think that it does what the Government want it to do.
Finally, I have two questions for the Minister: what is his definition of,
“efficiency in the use of natural resources”?
Secondly, will he undertake to amend the wording to make sure that energy saving, in particular electricity savings, are included under these purposes?
My Lords, here we go. We have nine days in Committee— I work it out at 36 hours—and what a way to start. What a pleasant surprise it is for me that the noble Baroness, Lady Worthington, is dealing with this amendment. I moved department to get away from her incisive grilling, but it has come back to haunt me. Nevertheless, I welcome very much seeing her opposite me as she is much better looking than the noble Lord, Lord Adonis.
As always, this Bill will leave this House much better for the great interrogation that this House will give it, and I want to say in advance how grateful I am to all noble Lords for the time that they are about to dedicate to this. I also thank the Opposition for their co-operation throughout this process, the officials who are in serried ranks behind me and of course my noble friend Lord Attlee and others who will be in his place and will have to listen to this response.
The noble Baroness poses an extremely reasonable question and I compliment her on her great knowledge in this field, almost unrivalled in many ways. We have obviously had discussions on this issue with the chairman, the noble Lord, Lord Smith of Kelvin, and I would like to read out his views on it from the Second Reading debate because I think that it sets a framework for what we are going to talk about today. He said:
“We know that we are going to be held to very high standards on green issues in both the investments and our own operations. We welcome the requirement to report on carbon emissions and the positive impact that our investments should have on reducing UK emissions. We will go further than the requirements of quoted companies by reporting in detail on our portfolio. We will also take the long-term view and have regard to the work of the Committee on Climate Change. I ask noble Lords for support for the Government's broad definition of ‘green purposes’. Waste and recycling—for example, anaerobic digestion—can have a positive impact, and it would make the Green Investment Bank’s task more difficult if there were changes in our mandate by a narrowing of the green definition”.—[Official Report, 14/11/12; cols. 1528-29.]
I think that I could stand here all night and make a case for this, but I could not do it better than the chairman himself, who has been appointed to run this independent bank. On that basis, I ask the noble Baroness to withdraw her amendment because I think the noble Lord has said everything that needs to be said.
I thank the Minister for his response. I am slightly perplexed as I do not think that the quote from the noble Lord, Lord Smith, really address the questions that I have raised. We would agree with his point about not wanting to narrow the definition. It is important that we give ourselves flexibility, not least because we hope that this bank will be around for a long time. Things will change during the time that it is around and we do not want to overly constrain it. We are suggesting not to narrow the definition but to make it slightly more specific in its wording. I hope that that can be taken on board. If it is narrowing, it is only to add a test of significance, which, I think, is a legally important word that we should not dismiss lightly. So I am happy to withdraw the amendment, but on the basis that perhaps we could think about these two questions a bit more carefully. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 1 withdrawn.
2: Clause 1, page 1, line 11, at end insert—
“(3) In undertaking investments in accordance with the green purposes outlined in subsection (1), the UK Green Investment Bank will identify opportunities in which small and medium-sized enterprises may be awarded contracts.”
My Lords, I stand here in some trepidation, having heard the comments that the noble Lord, Lord Marland, made to my noble friend. I dread to think what he will say about me. Even before I had the position of shadow Business Minister, I have spoken consistently on the subject of SMEs, on how important they are to this country and on how they require certainty, clarity and consistency. That is very important as regards their ability, in the future, to make a contribution to the growth of this country.
By way of a statistic, the UK has slipped from third position to seventh in world green technologies and I hope, with the introduction of the Green Investment Bank, if it is properly constructed, that we will be able to do better in this vital industry. The Green Investment Bank should be an opportunity to help SMEs explicitly. I shall come back to that a little later but it is really important that SMEs—not just large companies—are helped in this. In addition to its green obligations, it is important that there are investment obligations that are vital to its work. A key part of its remit is boosting growth and creating jobs in the UK economy. Time will rightly be spent talking about the policy and the fact that large companies need to make investments in our transition to a large green economy.
That was evidenced by the letter from seven of the world’s largest energy and engineering firms to the Prime Minister, the Chancellor and the Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change, a couple of months ago—companies such as Siemens, Alstom UK, Mitsubishi Power Systems, Areva, Doosan, Gamesa and Vestas. However, the importance of SMEs to economic growth cannot be underestimated. According to the European Commission, 85% of net new jobs in the EU, for example, between 2002 and 2010, were created by SMEs, with 23 million SMEs accounting for 75 million jobs in the EU. The Bank of England has recently released figures on funding for lending and today there are a few quotes in the Financial Times, one of which came from Mark Swift who is a spokesman for EEF, the manufacturer's trade body. He said,
“The challenge remains for UK lenders to re-engage with SMEs and support them with their investment plans in challenging economic times”.
John Walker, chairman of the Federation of Small Businesses has said,
“What is needed is more competition and choice for small businesses to access finance”.
Time and time again, it is made clear that support for SMEs is key. We would like to see the Green Investment Bank have SMEs in forefront all the way through.
More investment in SMEs could lead to a significant saving in capital investment costs. In the case of offshore wind, recent research suggests that capital expenditure costs could fall by more than a third during the course of the next decade if more of the components were made in the UK. SMEs face considerable start-up costs, but an active Government, working with the private sector, could remedy that. The Green Investment Bank has the potential to enhance green supply chain possibilities, opportunities and capabilities. As we have discussed many times, SMEs are struggling for investment in the current climate, with negative net lending to such companies since the second quarter of 2011. While demand is down due to the depressed economy, there is clearly a problem with SMEs not getting access to credit. A particular bugbear of mine is that perhaps the Green Investment Bank could insist that everyone it deals with and everyone it invests with has a clear mandate for prompt payment of invoices. Nothing is better for an SME than knowing that it will get its money.
Last year’s Lords Science and Technology Committee report on public procurement as a tool to stimulate innovation also made it clear that SMEs still face difficulties when government contracts are put out to tender. We should ensure from the outset that the GIB has a responsibility to help SMEs be part of the new green economy. This amendment encourages the Green Investment Bank to support investments that offer clear opportunities for British SMEs to be awarded contracts. Does the Minister share our support for the promotion of SMEs? I beg to move.
My Lords, I support what my noble friend has just said in relation to Amendment 2. It is often contended that I do not care about SMEs and that I care only about employment rights. That is not true. From the standpoint of the provision of employment, it is important that SMEs are protected. The Government ought to support this amendment as it offers SMEs protection and support. One of the reasons why they are not always able to offer employment is because they do not get the money—they do not get the contracts. This provision seeks to ensure that everything possible is done to make sure that SMEs get the money and the opportunity to play the part that many of them want to play in the provision of employment. They can do that only if they have the necessary contracts and support indicated in Amendment 2. I hope that the Government will accept the amendment.
My Lords, I also support the thrust of the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Mitchell, particularly as regards SMEs. I welcome his comments regarding SMEs’ concerns around the payment of debts. The Minister will know that I and others have often raised this issue. It is important for SMEs to be directly involved but, where contracts are awarded to large contractors, small businesses have an important role in supplying those large contractors. To follow on from the point the noble Lord made about late payment, will the Minister once again renew efforts to ensure that main contractors pay their bills to SMEs on time and in due order?
I, too, welcome this amendment but I have some questions about it on which I would like to put down some markers to which I hope the noble Lord, Lord Mitchell, and the Minister will respond. My questions concern the use of the term “SME” and how we define a small and medium-sized enterprise. That definition differs in different parts of the world. For example, the European definition of a small enterprise is one comprising between10 and 50 employees and a medium enterprise is one comprising between 50 and 250 employees. It would be useful to know what definition the noble Lord is using to define small and medium-sized enterprises, particularly when we discuss clauses further down the track. The businesses that I call micro-enterprises, which are defined in European terms as having below 10 employees, are the ones that really need help in accessing finance and are struggling at present. Therefore, it would be helpful if the noble Lord told us the parameters and the definition of enterprise that he is using when he is talking about SMEs.
Secondly, I wonder whether the amendment achieves the ends that the noble Lord, Lord Mitchell, seeks. We are talking here about incredibly capital-intensive investments. I know from one of the first of these businesses that was established in my home area in the north-east of England—an anaerobic digestion plant—that you are talking about a capital investment of £100 million. These are huge sums which would be outside the reach of most businesses. Yet, as a result of the investment through the Green Investment Bank announced just a couple of weeks ago, the project will go ahead and there will be many jobs for micro-enterprises and SMEs in the supply chain, particularly in the construction and operation of that plant.
Those are two questions that I hope that the noble Lord will take as being not at all critical of his amendment, which seeks to help SMEs and have correct in asking for a definition of who it is that we want to help.
My Lords, of course the Government are very committed to SMEs, and I know that the noble Lord, Lord Mitchell, who I can say lots of nice things about, is a committed and good advocate for their cause. The noble Lord, Lord Bates, put his finger on the pulse—it is about definition. However, I do not want to get too deep into definition, thereby tying the hands of the bank too early on in its endeavours.
It is clear that the great challenge for any Government at the moment is to get the SMEs going. I know this first hand, given that I am not only the Prime Minister’s trade envoy but chairman of UKTI’s Business Ambassadors Group. This is our challenge—the beating heart of Britain—getting the SMEs going. Therefore, in the context of SMEs, we have to look at what the Government are doing as a wider initiative, rather than be tied down. That is why we have established the Funding for Lending scheme, Capital for Enterprise, the Business Growth Fund, the Regional Growth Fund, and the Enterprise Finance Guarantee fund, which has already helped 18,000 SMEs. To a certain extent, it is working, because we have had the highest amount of new businesses established since records began. Some 460,000 start-up businesses have registered at Companies House in the past 12 months.
However, I completely agree that this issue is an enormous challenge. In fact, my noble friend is committed to this cause, as he is on late payments—an issue that is fundamental to SMEs. He tells me that his maiden speech was about late payments and commercial debt. He has a record of support for that case.
The noble Lord, Lord Cotter, has raised this subject a number of times in the Chamber. Therefore, do not get me wrong. The Government are completely committed to helping SMEs. That is why, for example, in procurement—one of the issues that I am involved with in government—we have insisted that 25% of government contracts should go to SMEs. An awful lot of work is going on. I do not want to be too prescriptive in this area of the Green Investment Bank, but it is totally focused on this issue and looks at each opportunity on its merits. Already, the bank’s smaller-scale funds for waste and non-domestic energy efficiency are already delivering investment for SMEs, such as the £8 million announced last week alongside a Teeside-based SME. Work is already going on to support SMEs.
With that in mind, I hope that the noble Lord will agree to withdraw his amendment.
I thank the noble Lord for his statement and, indeed, I thank all noble Lords for their contributions to this debate. I take it as being broadly supportive of what we are trying to do. That will come out in further stages of the Bill, but I take great heart from what is being said.
I want to make two quick points. First, I cannot emphasise enough the importance of certainty, not just for SMEs but in the whole business environment. Certainty must be there. People are making decisions and, in the green area, these decisions are for longer periods than normal, particularly as regards the payback period and the intensity of those decisions. We must be clear on this, and I will address that issue later when I talk about borrowing powers for the bank. Secondly, of course we cannot tie the Government’s hands too much, but a definitive statement in the Bill on the need to invest in SMEs is important. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 2 withdrawn.
3: Clause 1, page 1, line 11, at end insert—
“(3) The Bank shall set out annual targets for the reduction in greenhouse gas emissions achieved by its investments.”
My Lords, I am afraid that I am going to continue the theme that I started with the first amendment. These amendments are designed to make the purpose of the bank unequivocal. The amendments create a duty to assess the impact of the Green Investment Bank’s decisions on the Climate Change Act 2008.
The rationale for this is that, as we just discussed, the stated purposes under Clause 1 can be widely interpreted. That is not to say that they will be, but they can be. We are writing law and we ought to try to make it as future-proof as possible. We believe that, given that at the moment the scope includes a provision that the bank can fund increased efficiency of natural resources, we need something that is much more specific about the impact of the bank as a whole on our climate change targets. It would still be possible for the bank to go down an investment path, which would be taking us out of line with the trajectory of emissions reductions required under the Climate Change Act. That is the purpose for tabling the amendments.
Specifically, Amendment 4 makes an explicit link between the bank and provisions under the Climate Change Act. It sets out the context within which the bank operates. Yes, the Bill already states that one of the purposes is to reduce emissions, but it then goes on to water that down by talking about investment in natural resource efficiency. So for the avoidance of any doubt, we want a link created that makes it absolutely clear that the bank and our climate budgets are linked.
It is very important that we have that wider context because, if you look at this very narrowly, emissions reductions at the scale of a project or single investment are one thing, but then when you look at the totality of what the bank is doing, there ought to be an explicit link to the broader context. That broader context is the need to reduce our emissions, our legally binding targets and carbon budgets.
These are challenging targets and they require government as a whole and all government instruments to work in tandem to deliver them on time. Making this link with the bank helps fully to align the bank’s purposes with the meeting of those legal objectives.
The specific reference in the amendments requires a link to be taken into account of the advice from the Committee on Climate Change. This is important. Greenhouse gas reduction is a complicated business. It is very technical and we do not want the bank to have to reinvent wheels. There is a body of experts there and it would be wise to create a link between the two. For example, the bank may be thinking of setting itself greenhouse gas reduction targets, as was mentioned in a Guardian article recently. The CEO of the bank, Shaun Kingsbury, was quoted as saying he was going to introduce “transparent” measures for measuring CO2 and the impact that the bank is having on CO2. This is an area which will require quite a lot of technical understanding of various aspects of how you account for greenhouse gas emissions. The Committee on Climate Change is the leading source of advice on this and it would strengthen the bank’s position if it had an explicit link to that committee and had a duty to consider the advice created by the committee.
A specific example might be where we are trying to untangle whether investments are generating emission reductions that are additional or not under the terms of how you account for greenhouse gas reductions. Many of our sectors in the UK are covered by existing caps and existing regulations. Counting of those is not straightforward and we believe that there would be a great deal of merit in the advice that the Committee on Climate Change provides to the Government on these technical and quite complicated issues being made available to the Green Investment Bank and its board. I know that one of the concerns that the Government may have in accepting these amendments is that it might increase the likelihood of judicial review, but we do not believe that it is a genuine concern. Obviously, judicial review on procedural issues can be taken irrespective of these links here, and introducing the requirement for the bank to co-ordinate itself with the Climate Change Act would reduce the risk of JR. It would give the bank a clear procedure that it can follow and should give it good comfort that it is on the right track if it follows this procedure. So we hope that the risk of JR will not be the primary reason why the Government might seek to oppose the amendment. If the Minister does not believe that the amendments are needed, would it not be good to align the Green Investment Bank with the Climate Change Act? Perhaps he could say a bit more about that, because it is at the heart of the matter to align our legislation so that ultimately we achieve our objectives.
My Lords, before I speak to Amendment 4, I should say that it is a great pleasure to deal with a Minister who understands the area of energy and climate change, which part of this Bill deals with. He knows the area well, so I am sure that our debates this afternoon will be extremely productive. I also welcome the fact that the Green Investment Bank comes at the beginning of the Bill, because it is an important part of making growth really happen in this country.
I also commend the list of green purposes; individually, they are excellent in terms of greenhouse gas emission reductions, natural resources and natural environment, biodiversity and environmental stability. I could not write a better list myself. However, what we are trying to do here is to get absolute clarity over whether this is a list that includes them all or whether you can pick one off for investment, and ignore the rest. I very much interpret this—and I presume that this is how the Bill was drafted by the Government—as a way of ensuring that at least one is met, but not necessarily all the others. To have the whole list as obligatory would be unrealistic.
What I and the other co-sponsors of the amendment are trying to do is to tie it into the climate change elements—the carbon and other greenhouse gas reductions—as being a necessary part of the investment programme. I refer not to individual investments, but to the investment strategy and programme of the bank as a whole. That is why the amendment places a legal duty on the board to assess the impact of the bank’s investment strategy on the Climate Change Act, which is an absolute anchor point for all this work, and a mission of this Government and the previous Government in terms of that global challenge. It is also to ensure that there is a duty on the board to have regard to the advice and reports of the Committee on Climate Change. My noble friend Lord Deben is not here today, but I am sure that he would like the fact that we wish to pay particular attention to this independent body that was set up specifically to advise government in this key area. Furthermore, it is to prevent the board from adopting or amending an investment strategy unless it is satisfied that the implementation of the proposed investment portfolio will increase the likelihood of UK carbon budgets and targets being met.
I apologise to the Minister for the fact that the proposed new clause has so many subsections and is so long, but it anchors the bank and legislation not just to the advice of the Committee on Climate Change and its work but to the real area of greenhouse gas emissions and the Climate Change Act, which has broad consensus of all parties—as it did in the last Parliament and does in this one. I hope that in that way we can ensure that this legislation is absolutely fit for purpose.
My noble friend the Minister mentioned the remarks made by the noble Lord, Lord Smith of Kelvin, at Second Reading. I have huge respect for the noble Lord, Lord Smith, and I commend and congratulate the Government on his appointment; he is exactly the right person to do this. I would just suggest that perhaps post-appointment he might be rather keener to make sure that his board is not inhibited in any way in the decisions that it would like to make. I think that one looks at this in a slightly different way post-appointment, as chair of an organisation, from pre-appointment and as a member of the legislature. It is beholden on us to look independently, from a bird’s-eye view, to make sure that we have our purpose right. I am sure that the noble Lord, Lord Smith of Kelvin, is right in the vast majority of his remarks, but I think that here there is a need for a little more future-proofing of how operations might work, as I am sure that at some point in the long and glorious career of this bank there will be chairmen other than the noble Lord.
My Lords, I have a sense of deja vu, thinking that I am still in the Department for Energy and Climate Change—where, of course, the Green Investment Bank was largely initiated, so I am extremely keen that it gets off on the right footing for that reason alone. I believe that my noble friend Lord Teverson, who always speaks so eloquently on the subject, actually answered the question that he posed himself. We could not have written a better list if we had tried. My concern is that we would get into definition overkill as we take this Bill through the House.
My noble friend mentioned that the reduction of carbon is not relevant on the individual investments, but it is at the top line. I would respectfully—I emphasise that word for the noble Lord—point out that it is the fundamental investments that will reduce carbon emissions. It is only at the top level—I see the noble Lord, Lord Oxburgh, sagely nodding his head—that you will achieve the carbon reduction. The Government are very heavily committed to this. It is no accident that the noble Lord, Lord Stern, was on the advisory board that set up the bank and that was advising at all levels. As a result of that, the noble Lord, Lord Smith, has made it clear that the bank will have a very high regard—as it should—for the Energy and Climate Change Committee because it is fundamental for the Government and for the future of the business. However, I exercise a word of caution, because there are important activities that are clearly green but do not necessarily reduce greenhouse gas emissions—for example, recycling and improvements in water quality. We would want this bank to invest in such activities, I am sure, but that would not necessarily reduce carbon emissions.
I have not mentioned a judicial review in my line of inquiry because I think it is far more important that this Committee gets this into the right shape rather than for it to be directed by a judicial review. However, the bank’s board has agreed—across the board—that the bank will voluntarily report on greenhouse gas impacts on its investments. This is in addition to the requirement for the bank to report on the greenhouse gas emissions associated with its own activities. So it comes as no surprise to all of us, after discussions with the noble Lords, Lord Adonis and Lord Smith of Kelvin, that it is absolutely at the heart of what the bank is doing. I hope that that gives confidence to noble Lords and I therefore respectfully ask them to withdraw their amendment.
My Lords, I thank the Minister for his response. We do not doubt that many parts of government are fully on board with the need for investments to deliver low carbon economy to meet our Climate Change Act 2008 targets. However, it will not have gone unnoticed that this certainty is not shared by everyone in the Government. Unfortunately, there is an atmosphere of uncertainty about policy and direction of travel. There is a great deal of difference between taking strategy A or strategy B to meet our targets. We could go through a whole host of investments and incremental technologies or incremental shifts in fuels that we use, or we could go down a different path and take a far more innovative and cleaner route. The trajectory of emissions would be very different as a result.
Choices are available and the body that we have created to advise us on that is the Committee on Climate Change. We believe that there will be a great deal of benefit in having closer ties between the Green Investment Bank, which I hope will be a delivery agent and will start to get pounds spent and concrete poured, and the legal structures that we have in place that help us to determine the path that we shall take. That is the purpose of the amendment and I am happy to withdraw it.
Amendment 3 withdrawn.
Clause 1 agreed.
Amendment 4 not moved.
Clause 2 : Designation of the UK Green Investment Bank
5: Clause 2, page 2, line 1, after “State” insert “has laid before Parliament a copy of the Bank’s articles of association and a statement confirming that she”
My Lords, Amendment 5 stands in the name of my noble friend Lord Adonis who is unable to be present this afternoon for personal reasons. He will return for later stages of the Bill.
This is a probing amendment and it is one of a number of amendments in which we seek to engage the Committee in thoughts about how the public-facing aspects of the new bank can be best discharged, particularly in relation to Parliament. The aim of this amendment is to argue that, prior to designation, Parliament should have an appropriate opportunity to scrutinise the articles of association of the bank. It further makes the point that the scrutiny that needs to be done should be done by Parliament, and not simply by the Secretary of State, who is identified in the Bill as having responsibility. After all, we are talking about the document which sets out the various contentious issues in the management of the company, vis-à-vis the interests of the shareholders.
The main purpose of the clause that we seek to amend is to ensure that two key governance constraints are imposed on the bank in a way that is consistent with its status, which, as we know, is that of a Companies Act 2006 company, albeit one whose shareholding is currently owned 100% by the Government. Once those two conditions have been met, the Secretary of State may designate the bank by order. Designation will trigger the application of Clauses 3 to 6, including the power in Clause 4, for the Government to then fund the bank over the long term.
The first condition required for designation is that the Secretary of State should be satisfied that the bank’s statement of objects in its articles of association is drafted in terms that will ensure that the bank engages only in activities that contribute to the statutory green purposes that we examined when debating Clause 1. As is usually the case with a Companies Act company, the bank’s statement of objects frames the duties of the bank’s directors. The specific issue raised in this amendment is that as well as making a statement that the Secretary of State is content that the bank’s green objectives are being met in full, the articles themselves are laid so that Parliament can see them and discuss them.
I accept that the Companies Act structure is flexible and indeed it has allowed the Bank to be established even though the enabling legislation is far from complete. The chair, the noble Lord, Lord Smith, spoke about the bank and his role during the Second Reading debate in your Lordships’ House so we are aware that he is in place, and the bank was launched recently in Edinburgh.
So we have a rather complicated piece of constitutional positioning to get right. On the one hand, the operations of the bank have to be done under the Companies Act, and the institution will have a well understood operational framework to guide it. On the other hand, the body could not exist without government support and government funding, and with that surely comes accountability to Parliament. In effect, our amendment provides a constitutional limitation on the purposes and the range of the company’s activities, which allows Parliament its say, so that directors are directly aware of what the shareholders think. However, I have a few questions for the Minister on the implications that this amendment has for the rest of this clause.
Subsection (2) requires that the Secretary of State, and we think Parliament, must be satisfied that the Green Investment Bank's articles of association will ensure that it engages only in activities that achieve one or more of the green purposes set out in Clause 1. Subsection (3) sets out the important second condition that the Secretary of State must give the Green Investment Bank an undertaking that it will operate independently—the so-called “operational independence undertaking”—to allow the directors to carry out work and make investments without interference from the Government. Subsection (4) states that such an order may not be made unless the Green Investment Bank is wholly owned by the Crown.
The Government's helpful document, Update on the Design of the Green Investment Bank, states:
“The Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, via the Shareholder Executive (ShEx) will be the GIB’s sole shareholder”.
On page 21, the Government state:
“The GIB will initially be owned by the Government and will operate as a separate institutional unit at arm’s length and with full operational independence”.
I want to focus on the word “initially”. In the context of that document, and given subsection (4), is it the Government's express intention to sell shares in the Green Investment Bank, at any time? Can the Minister give us an idea about the sort of circumstances under which Crown ownership of the bank could be diluted? How does Clause 2(4) reconcile with Clause 4(1)? It might be helpful to the Committee if I explain that this latter provision states:
“the Secretary of State may, with the consent of the Treasury, give the UK Green Investment Bank financial assistance at any time when the Crown’s shareholding in it is more than half of its issued share capital”.
In addition Clause 4(3)(d) states that financial assistance is possible for,
“the purchase of share capital of the Bank”.
Will the Minister, therefore, say a little more about that, and explain the circumstances under which the Government would want to purchase shares in a bank which, according to legislation, they already own?
It may well be that the Government have no plans to sell the Green Investment Bank, but as was accepted in the other place, this Government cannot tie the hands of future Governments or Parliaments. So, again, it would be helpful if the Minister would confirm that there are, as far as he is concerned, no circumstances in which the Government would envisage such a sale.
Finally, I wonder if we can just get some words of comfort from the Minister on the question of getting long-term private investment into the green sector. It was openly admitted in the other place that enabling private capital to acquire shareholdings of the company would be a measure of the success of the bank. I assume, therefore, that that is why the legislation contains powers to enable the opportunity for the injection of private capital directly into the bank. But how does that give the market the confidence that the UK Green Investment Bank, currently “wholly owned by the Crown” will be an enduring institution? It was clear that one of the main determinants of success in this area will be convincing people in the financial and environment markets about the sincerity of the Government’s intention that the Green Investment Bank is here for the long term.
In trying both to eliminate the possibility that private sector organisations could by taking a stake jeopardise the designation of the bank, while leaving themselves some wriggle room so that some time down the track part-ownership of the bank could be sold, the Government may inadvertently have given the impression that the bank is not there for the long term. It would be helpful if the Minister could reaffirm the position as he sees it. I beg to move.
My Lords, I have a short technical question for the Minister and, conceivably, for the noble Lord, Lord Stevenson. It is concerned with the final word in Amendment 5: “she”. My recollection is that when we moved to having Secretaries of State as the title of those people who headed departments, it was so that “Secretary of State” in legislation could be interchangeable between departments. My interest is whether if you use the word “she” you run the risk of fracturing that particular arrangement or whether there is a convention contained in the use of the words “Secretary of State” that allows the gender to be circumscribed in that way.
I thank noble Lords, especially the noble Lord, Lord Stevenson of Balmacara, for their words. The Government agree that there must be parliamentary scrutiny of the bank’s statement of objects and particularly in terms of its green purposes as part of the process of designation of the bank. That is why in another place we tabled an amendment to that effect. However, we do not believe that there is a need to separate out the statement by the Secretary of State. I will try to respond to the question asked by my noble friend Lord Brooke on the Secretary of State in a minute because with his years of experience in government—I am playing for time now—he knows far more about this particular thing than I would ever dream of knowing, but I will come to that in a minute.
The Secretary of State is satisfied that the bank’s objectives are consistent with the green purposes because Clause 2(2) already provides that he cannot lay a draft order before Parliament unless he is so satisfied. I am also happy to give noble Lords the commitment that the Government will make available to Peers and to Members of the other House a copy of the bank’s articles of association when the draft order is laid so that all can be made transparent.
The noble Lord, Lord Stevenson, asked about the sale of shares. This Government are committed to not selling the relevant shares but, unfortunately, this Government cannot legislate for a Labour Government, for example, if they wished to sell the shares. I am sure the noble Lord knows that better than I do. It would therefore be wrong to try to impose things on future Governments. We will be in power for a very long time, but just in case we are not, the Opposition may choose to change the law if they come to power.
As a general point on outside investment, one of the things I have noticed as I have travelled the world is the clear desire of international companies to come in alongside the Green Investment Bank as co-investors because the integrity of the board that has been set up, its skills and knowledge and the leadership Britain has shown under this Government and the previous one in terms of green credentials and green expertise has meant that we are seen as a centre of excellence. If the noble Lord, Lord Smith of Kelvin, were standing here, I know he would say that there is huge scope for involving international companies to invest in the bank. I really do not think that that is a problem.
I have no idea what the response to the noble Lord, Lord Brooke, is, so, if I may, for once, I shall request the pleasure of writing to him about something which is not to do with cricket. I hope that with that explanation—
Before the noble Lord sits down, I should make it clear that I was agreeing with him, as he has played it back to us, that the present Government cannot tie the hands of future Governments. However, my question was deeper than that. It was: why is there so much in this designation clause about the way in which the shareholding is to be managed going forward? The noble Lord has not dealt with that particular point. That was the purpose of my remarks on this section. We have a situation where currently this is a 100% owned company. The Government have made a great virtue of the fact that that is the case and, indeed, we welcome that. In his latest remarks, the Minister has alluded to the fact that the reason that investment may flow into the bank is precisely because it is owned by the Government and the investor community, for whatever reasons, is supportive of the view that it is the Government leading this that gives them the security and the risk reduction that they are looking for. We may come back to this on a later amendment. So why all this stuff about what happens below a shareholding of 50%? We are told in a later clause that the Government are not able to fund the bank if their own shareholding drops below 50%. Does that imply that there is a plan that we have not been told about, or is it just a precautionary measure in the event that terrible things might happen and other decisions are taken?
I can deal with that immediately. It is a very good point. We have no current intentions to sell this—I absolutely underline that fact. We have no current intentions to do so during this Parliament as long as we are in power. I hope that that very clear statement satisfies the noble Lord. I readily understand that that has to be clear.
I thank the noble Lord for those additional remarks and for saying earlier in his response that he would lay copies of the articles of association in both Houses when it comes to reviewing the designation process. We look forward to seeing them because they will help considerably.
I am afraid that I cannot respond very positively to the former Secretary of State, the noble Lord, Lord Brooke. I did not pick up this point when I was reading, but I am so completely gender-blind in these matters that I simply read the word as one that described, in a personal way, the Secretary of State for the time being. However, he will have noticed, as we all did, that throughout his response the Minister referred to the Secretary of State as “he”. Perhaps we have a problem that we should all reflect on.
Perhaps I can help with this question. Since the 1880s, it has been a matter of interpretation of statutes, and I was certainly taught at law school that the male embraces the female. It has therefore always been said that you used the term “he”, which meant, in the appropriate context, “he or she”. The result is that statutes and, presumably, amendments do not need to use the words “he or she” each time. My noble friend will find when he takes advice on this later that it is a well established principle of statutory interpretation, if I may repeat it, that the male embraces the female.
I am grateful to my noble friend Lord Jenkin of Roding for explaining that. In fact, it coincides with a note that has just been passed to me affirming it. There are two issues, of course. First, our current Secretary of State is a he, and, secondly, we refer to each other as, “My Lords”. I hope that that means I do not have to write to the noble Lord, Lord Brooke, on the subject—although I am always delighted to do so.
My Lords, I am most grateful to my noble friend Lord Jenkin of Roding. I was, in fact, previously aware of that. I was raising the question of why the word “she” had suddenly appeared. I did not wish to embarrass the Official Opposition by directing the question at them, so I directed it at my noble friend.
Amendment 5 withdrawn.
Clause 2 agreed.
Clause 3 agreed.
Clause 4 : The UK Green Investment Bank: financial assistance
6: Clause 4, page 3, line 10, at end insert—
“(f) a proportion of proceeds due to the UK Government as a result of the auctioning of emission permits under the European Union Emissions Trading Scheme.”
My Lords, I shall speak also to Amendment 11. Here, I am trying to be as helpful as I can be to the Minister in trying to find ways in which we can make this investment bank even more effective in finding ways of providing finance. We will come later to the arguments about lending.
There are two obvious areas where we could assist the Government and the board of the Green Investment Bank, when appropriate. I absolutely agree that the worst thing that we could do is try to shovel out through this bank too much money too quickly and allow it to lose its reputation in terms of investment appraisal and doing the right thing. It should build up that reputation over a sensible period. However, given the need in the United Kingdom for investment in green matters and energy, we know that £3 billion, although it is a lot of money to all of us, will not last indefinitely. We therefore need to start thinking ahead now. Two areas should be considered.
My first amendment refers to the European Emissions Trading Scheme. I remind the Grand Committee that there is a list in subsection (3), which states:
“It may in particular be given by way of …”.
We are not therefore talking about hypothecation of the ETS revenues. We are saying that this is one of the areas where the bank and the Government may look to facilitate funding of this bank. It is an extra piece of the armoury for the bank and the Government that could be, but not necessarily has to be, used—although I think it would be a very good idea. I remind noble Lords that the EU-ETS is coming to the end of its second phase. In fact, at the end of this month that phase will end and we will move into phase three. In phase two, the Government have already raised some £1.3 billion-worth in sales of so-called EUAs, or units of European Union—forgive me, I have forgotten what the A stands for.
Thank you very much indeed. In fact, last month the Government already had their first auction of phase three allowances. They made £34 million and sold 6.5 million EUAs at €6.62 per unit—a terrible price in terms of carbon pricing but not a bad price, given some of the other prices that have been found. Unfortunately and regrettably, since then the price has fallen below €6. The German Government have sold some as well more recently and that price fell. There is an intention to auction in excess of 50% of these allowances in phase three and once auctioning starts, it seems that will be one of the ways in which the price will go up because the free issue has ended.
I would also hope that the Government’s intention to raise the bar on 2020 carbon reductions to 30% will be successful. That would also mean that the number of these allowances would decrease in the market. This seems to be an obvious revenue stream, some of which could be used towards reinvestment— I am not saying that it must be—of those carbon reduction revenues into green growth and into making sure that that whole process is reinforced.
I must apologise to the Grand Committee in that Amendment 11, on a second area, has a mistake in it. In subsection (3), at the very end, it should say Clause 1 instead of “section 1” and I apologise to noble Lords for that. I have been looking for a way in which, when the time is right, we could lever extra money into the Green Investment Bank without having all the effects of increased public debt, which is why the current £3 billion comes from asset sales. It means that there have to be other ways of finding that money, with all the borrowings, but the debt is not changed. As I understand it, it would be absolutely the same as for the Nuclear Liabilities Fund, which is currently worth some £8.6 billion. Again, this is a way in which the firepower of this bank could be increased quite substantially without the effect on public debt that other forms of fundraising might have. It would not require outside borrowing by the bank and would take over the trustees’ functions.
I do not know how many of your Lordships have read the excellent report by Professor Gordon MacKerron, Evaluation of Nuclear Decommissioning and Waste Management, which came out earlier in the year. I am sure that my noble friend the Minister was closely associated with it, given his responsibilities in that area. Very importantly, it makes the point that at the moment the vast majority of that £8.6 billion has to be invested in the National Loans Fund for a very low return. I would be interested to learn from the Minister whether he or his officials know what that current rate of interest is. Professor MacKerron was clearly particularly concerned at the low rate of return. On understanding the net present value of the fund’s existing liabilities, he said,
“though its current rate of accumulation is significantly less than the discount rate applied”,
which was 3% . He went on:
“Whether the fund will be able to meet all the … liabilities will depend on a range of factors (in addition to whether the current approach to its investment regime are maintained)”.
He questioned whether putting that cash into the National Loans Fund would maintain a sufficient value for the decommissioning costs of the existing nuclear fleet. There is a simple solution to that as well: the purpose of the Green Investment Bank is not only to invest in green infrastructure but to create a proper commercial return from its investments, so we have a double-win situation here. We increase the firepower of the Green Investment Bank quite substantially and also make it far more certain that the NLF will be able to meet its liabilities and not put the liability back on taxpayers, as would happen otherwise in future. So we have a double success. I beg to move.
My Lords, I have some doubt about the proposed new clause of which my noble friend has just spoken. The Nuclear Liabilities Fund very properly seeks to avoid the situation that the country got into over many years when large numbers of nuclear installations of one sort of another were left to be decommissioned and their radioactive materials dealt with, and there were no funds available. One is always astonished at the huge amounts of money that have to be set aside to satisfy the obligations that are now being discharged to decommission these nuclear plants safely and effectively. My noble friend Lord Teverson may contradict me on this, but I believe that it is intended entirely to be confined to that purpose; it is intended to be there when it is needed and nuclear establishments come to be decommissioned. When my noble friend says that this increases the firepower of the Green Investment Bank, what does he mean? Is it intended that the fund should be invested in other green projects, which may or may not achieve the return expected when the fund was invested? I would have thought that that would risk defeating the purpose of the Nuclear Liabilities Fund.
The question of the rate of interest that should be earned on that fund is something that the Minister may wish to look at. I had not refreshed my memory of Professor MacKerron’s report, and I was grateful to my noble friend for reminding me what was in it. Of course, it is a very low rate of interest, as he has rightly said. But the fact of the matter is that this is a hypothecated fund; it is there for a particular purpose, and the idea that it could be used by the Green Investment Bank to invest in something else that might produce a higher return risks prejudicing the absolute and essential purpose for which it has been set up—namely, to meet the costs of decommissioning nuclear plants when they are available. I hope that the Minister will give some indication that he will look at this proposal in the proposed new clause with some suspicion, because I believe that it might be misconceived. I apologise to my noble friend Lord Teverson for putting it in that form, but I feel very strongly about this.
One of the best things that the previous Government and this Government have done is to make sure that future nuclear liabilities will not fall on the taxpayer but are regarded as a proper cost of those who invest in nuclear installations, power plants and so on. That is what it is intended to do. It is a very wise thing to do, and I hope that it will not be prejudiced by diverting it to some of the other purposes of the Green Investment Bank that noble Lords have talked about this afternoon.
My Lords, I apologise for coming in rather late, but I am in good time for the amendment that I wanted to catch up with, Amendment 11, and to follow on from the question regarding nuclear decommissioning. I live in a part of north-west Wales where there are two nuclear power stations. Trawsfynydd nuclear power station stopped generating two decades ago. It now employs some 600 people on decommissioning, more than it ever employed when it was generating electricity. The message that comes home from that is the uncertainty with regard to the cost of decommissioning and the length of time, and the need, therefore, to have financial cover for that.
This becomes particularly relevant with regard to the new reactor that is likely to be forthcoming with Hitachi at Wylfa in Anglesey. There is considerable support in Anglesey for the renewal of the nuclear power station. But the one reservation that people would have is if there were uncertainty as to the eventual decommissioning and the resultant costs arising from that station, particularly if in the private sector the company running it were to go out of existence. There needs to be a cast-iron guarantee with regard to funding for that purpose in order to maintain the good will towards the building of that new reactor at Wylfa. It is needed in energy terms and in terms of investment in the local economy in north-west Wales.
Therefore, the amendment goes to the heart of some very important aspects of nuclear power. Whereas I have a considerable amount of sympathy with the amendment in terms of the green bank and developing green alternative sources of electricity, that has to go on side by side with the nuclear dimension. Whatever settlement is finally reached it has to encompass both sides of that equation.
My Lords, I welcome the amendments tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, if for no other reason than that they encourage us to have a wider debate about how this bank can operate and gain access to finance. This is important in the context that we need to see a huge upscaling of investment into the UK’s low-carbon infrastructure. It is estimated that between £220 billion and £330 billion is needed over the next decade, and historic levels of investment have been very low at only £6 billion to £8 billion. We need to be thinking creatively about how we can massively increase the available revenues for the bank. It is unfortunate in that context that the Government have set out on this path with at least one arm tied behind their back by preventing borrowing. We will come on to talk about that as we move through the amendments.
In the context of having set up a bank and putting a relatively low amount of money in to start, then putting in a hurdle against borrowing further, it is important for us to think creatively. In fact, it forces us to think creatively so I very much welcome the amendments of the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, which raise two very interesting ideas.
The EU ETS is a complex piece of legislation, but it creates a new asset class in that it creates allowances that have a financial value. I am not sure how they are managed because maybe that falls between DECC and the Treasury, but I suspect that we are not managing them as well as we could be. In addition to thinking about the revenues that we have gained directly from the auctions, how about thinking about the allowances themselves as assets that can be used to secure loans? They clearly have a financial value but as the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, suggested, sadly their value at the moment is low because we simply have an overabundance of these allowances.
I welcome the creation of the Green Investment Bank if for no other reason than it now means that we have a smart set of individuals drawn largely from the private sector—from banks and financial institutions—who I am sure can, if they put their minds to it, come up with various clever mechanisms for raising finance. I urge the Minister and his department to say to the noble Lord, Lord Smith, and his board, “Let’s think creatively and open up this debate. We have an emissions trading scheme that creates this asset class. How could we use it to increase the level of investment into the things that we want to see built?”.
On the second suggestion regarding the Nuclear Liabilities Fund, I share some of the concerns of the noble Lords, Lord Jenkin of Roding and Lord Wigley. But again, it shows we are thinking creatively. I understand that a financial fund needs to be available for the time of decommissioning, but the nuclear profile of our stations is fairly clear. We may have life extensions and we all know in advance when that money is needed. I do not see any danger therefore in using some of that to raise more finance and create wealth in the interim as long as we are managing it correctly. So I welcome the amendment; it opens up an interesting debate about how we currently manage money in government. Now that we have created essentially a Government-owned bank, I hope that over time and, as the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, was very keen to stress, when the right moment occurs, we will see this bank stepping into much more interesting territory. We look forward to the Minister’s comments on that point.
My Lords, as we are in Committee, perhaps I could come back on my noble friend Lord Jenkin’s important areas. I can reassure him on both those items that we would be better off if this amendment was passed. First, the MacKerron report is quite clear that the current rate of investment going into the National Loans Fund almost certainly will mean that its liabilities cannot be met, so we have to find another way to do this. The Green Investment Bank is not a fund to give away money; it is there to commercially invest, alongside other commercial investors. It could be perceived as being a greater risk perhaps—I will come on to why it is also a lesser risk—but also as providing a sensible return with a very sound government-backed institution to do the investment, and I think that is good. Furthermore, this fund has to invest its money in the National Loans Fund. That is a euphemism; what it actually means is that it has to give it all to the Treasury. So the Nuclear Liabilities Fund at the moment is similar to unfunded state pensions. It goes in there, but to take the money out will have the same impact as paying pensions into the future. While it is a discrete amount that is accounted for, it just reduces the national debt. That is all that it does on the current terms.
In fact, how secure is that? Yes, there is an accounting mechanism, and my noble friend is absolutely right that the sins of the past are huge in terms of those funds having been lost during the process of changes in the nuclear industry and its ownership over the past couple of decades. First, this amendment would make it far more certain that this fund will be able to meet its liabilities in the future. Secondly, we, as taxpayers and as citizens, would know that that money is in a place where we can actually see it, see its value, see that it is different and separate out of the Treasury from the national debt and, as the noble Baroness, Lady Worthington, said, we can predict decommissioning of nuclear plants far enough in advance to craft the investment and our exit strategies around those financial needs.
As we are in Committee, I hope that I can say a couple of words about this. The nuclear industry is, of course, building up this fund as part of the Government’s policy to make sure that the liability for decommissioning does not again fall on the taxpayer. It has recognised this, and it follows the same pattern as one has seen increasingly in the offshore oil and gas industry, where funds now have to be put aside so that when the oil rigs are decommissioned, again that does not fall on the taxpayer but is part of the cost that has to be built into the supply of the oil or gas and therefore met by the investor. I think that my noble friend Lord Teverson may be confusing two matters. I use the phrase again: this is a hypothecated fund. It is not like the pension fund. There never was a separate fund for that. It is simply that the pension contributions from, for instance, the teachers’ pension fund have been paid to the Government, and the obligations are met, of course, by the taxpayer out of the fund. There has never been any question of trying to balance the one against the other. This is quite different. This is a fund that is being set up and funded by the industry. It has to be built up while plants are operating—not just when they are commissioned—so that, at the end, when they come to be decommissioned, which may be 50 or 60 years ahead, the fund is there. They have invested in it so the cost will not fall on the taxpayers. It is a separate, hypothecated fund. It may make the green bank look bigger because it will have more money but it cannot do anything with it other than get a rate of interest. My noble friend shakes his head, but if they are going to start investing in green industrial ventures and so on, it seems to me that that would be a breach of trust to those who have built up the fund. It may be that they can hold it and, as it were, guarantee the payment, but the minute that they start investing it themselves, it seems to me that that is risking the whole purpose for which the fund has been set up.
A separate issue is whether there is an alternative method of investing in the Nuclear Liabilities Fund that might get a slightly more realistic rate of interest. That is a separate matter, but it seems to me that to make it part of the loan capital of the UK Green Investment Bank would be a breach of trust, as I suggested, against the firms that are building this up perfectly properly. They agree, they recognise it, and they know that they do not want to go back to the previous position, but they want the fund to be available to finance the decommissioning of the plants when the time comes.
My Lords, perhaps I can deal with this quite swiftly. Both the ETS and the NLF, the Nuclear Liabilities Fund, reported to me in my previous department so I have a rough idea of what is going on. Let us deal with the EUAs and the ETSs first. I also sit on the government assets committee and we looked at selling some of our EUAs. We drew the conclusion that the price was not right, the market was not big enough and we would not be able to get a substantial figure into the market. However, as the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, rightly says, an opportunity may come along later.
Clause 4 permits financial assistance to be provided in any form,
“as the Secretary of State, with the consent of the Treasury, considers appropriate”.
If we were able to do it and if—that is a big “if”—the Treasury agrees, the Secretary of State could divert funds into it. Amendment 6 permits the Government to use a proportion of revenues from auctioning emission permits to fund the bank. There is already provision within that.
This is creative thinking and I am very grateful to my noble friend for that because he is a great creative thinker. I turn to the Nuclear Liabilities Fund. Clearly, as the noble Lord, Lord Jenkin, quite rightly said, two things are going on here. One is that this is a fund that is committed to nuclear liabilities; it is committed to the nuclear industry and, therefore, it has a range of opportunities in the nuclear industry in which it could invest. The noble Lord, Lord Wigley, referred to Wylfa and other investments in new nuclear. I had discussions with the chairman of the NLF about developing the fund into nuclear investments, including, for example, a MOX plant, which is something that we were committed to when I was in the department and, indeed, new nuclear. That is entirely for the NLF to decide for itself.
The problem I have with the NLF diverting funds here is that this is an investment bank and it is what it says. There is no such thing as a guaranteed investment. Some investments go up and some investments go down and if the NLF lost money, co-venturing with the Green Investment Bank on things that it did not understand, of course the liabilities would not be met. Despite the fact that we may consider it a very boring return on the investment at the moment, it is planned to match some of the liabilities. But I do not want the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, to go away thinking that actually the NLF is enhancing its investments, but think that it has enough on its plate with the nuclear industry.
Therefore, given the commitments that I have made on Clauses 4 and 6, I hope that, despite the fact that two very important points have been raised—and I am grateful to my noble friend Lord Jenkin of Roding, who has expertise in this field—the noble Lord will withdraw the amendment.
I thank my noble friend the Minister for his response. I fully accept that the EU ETS money route is not precluded by the Bill as it is, and I suppose that it would be nice to have it on the list as a nudge or a reminder to the Treasury that it was a possible flow. That was all that the amendment did, but it would tie in well with the philosophy of the carbon market and trying to recycle money into helping the greening of the European economy and the UK even more.
It struck me that the revenues from the EU ETS auctions would be considerable, even at this depressed carbon price. How much money will the auctions raise in the next few years, and how does that compare to the £3 billion that has been put up as a stake for the bank?
Perhaps I can help. It depends on the market, which is not there at the moment to buy it. We investigated and got a lot lower offer than £6.62 for the price. That is six months ago, and I cannot remember what figures were involved. I am sure that we could invite the Department of Energy and Climate Change to provide some information in the normal course. It depends on a willing buyer and the price at which they are sold.
I have done some back of the envelope calculations, and at about 100 million tonnes it will be in the region of £1 billion or £1.5 billion. That is not an insubstantial amount of money, and it will rise in time, which would mean that the bank’s initial deposit was paid back by those auctions in less than three years. That is an important context for the discussion.
I thank the noble Baroness for her comments. It is certainly an area that I would like to come back to. I agree with my noble friend that putting all the Nuclear Liabilities Fund into the Green Investment Bank might not be the best way in which to spread the portfolio, although it would be even worse to put it back into the nuclear industry itself. That would be a bit like the Mirror Group reinvesting the pensions funds in itself, or whatever it did. The area needs looking at, and a broader investment strategy for the NLF that included a sensible investment in a bank like this would be a good way forward.
I will continue to look for opportunities to help the Government and hope that we can have further conversations about this—but I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 6 withdrawn.
7: Clause 4, page 3, line 10, at end insert—
“(3A) The Secretary of State shall consult on additional forms in which the Bank may raise investment funding, including the issuance of bonds.
(3B) The Secretary of State shall consult the Bank of England granting the Bank access to the Quantitative Easing programme.
(3C) The Secretary of State shall report to Parliament on the results of a consultation under subsections (3A) and (3B) no later than 12 months following enactment.”
This, as noble Lords can see, is a probing amendment but continues on the theme. We are trying to address a market failure in the creation of this bank. There has been a financial crisis and, as we emerge from it, it is clear that commercial bank lending is going to be further constrained. The Basel III requirements will mean that the recapitalisation of banks will discourage them from holding longer-term loans on their balance sheets, which will potentially increase costs. That means a reduction in loans, just at the time when we need to see more money flowing into these solutions. Things are getting much more difficult.
In that context, it is important that we have a bank that can help to compensate for the increased constraints coming in the private sector. Yet, as I have mentioned, we have created a bank that, sadly, is constrained because it has a relatively small amount of starting capital. I am not saying that it is easy to spend money, and we should not just be seeking to spend it rapidly and not wisely. However, we must weigh up the scale of the challenge with what we are creating. It also forces us to think about how we are going to increase the leverage of that finance and ensure that it is seen to grow to the kind of levels that we need.
Our amendment is along similar lines to the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, and talks about two other ways in which finance could potentially be raised. We would encourage the Government to consult on these. We are not saying that we have a final, detailed position on this, but these are fertile areas for exploration. The bond market is huge, as I am sure that noble Lords are aware. As yet, the bond market is largely untapped for low carbon investment because, by its nature, it is fairly conservative and seeks out asset classes with a long track record of delivery. Time is needed to develop new assets, and that requires expertise.
This is exactly what we hope is being created in the Green Investment Bank—a new set of experts who could help to create the sorts of asset classes that enable private-sector bond market participants to come in behind and start to invest in them. That is why we have tabled the amendment. There is no shortage of private sector investment looking for safe and credible investment vehicles. The fact that the bank is, under this legislation, a wholly owned non-departmental body is attractive, so this is an important area for it. There is a good fit here as regards bond issues; they tend to have a long lifespan, which is exactly what some of these infrastructure projects will have. By their very nature, it is infrastructure that will be here for a long time.
We therefore encourage the Minister to think about bonds as a mechanism for raising finance. In particular, I have learnt a reasonable amount today about covered bonds. This is an interesting mechanism that could help to raise finance without adding to the public debt. In effect, we would create a new class of covered bond, which would give comfort to investors by providing a double security on the loans. The UK’s covered bond legislation could be examined to see how it could be adapted to encourage investment in green and low carbon technologies.
The other matter on which we would like to consult is quantitative easing. That is also an obvious way in which we potentially could create mechanisms for a greater flow of finance into this bank. We understand that it is not the Government but the Bank of England that controls it, but we also know that there are close ties between them, and this area could also be very fertile and is definitely worthy of consultation. This is why we have tabled amendments on these important issues. I beg to move.
“Page 3, line 10, at end insert”,
the words as printed—but not quite as printed, because there is a typo in the fourth line. After:
“The Secretary of State shall consult the Bank of England”,
we need to insert the word “on” before,
“granting the Bank access to the Quantitative Easing programme”.
I had not noted that. Perhaps I should change my whole speech because of it.
The whole area of bonds issuance is important. In fact, it was looked at in some depth by the Environmental Audit Committee in the other place, together with green ISAs. It is a method, which I know the Government and the Treasury are very keen on, to use money from pension schemes in particular to invest in the UK and in areas of quick growth. Although I am sure that my noble friend the Minister will go through the whole question of whether these would be government-guaranteed bonds and the effect that would have on the public accounts, I believe that this is an important area of fundraising. It is one that could, with the length of investment in these sorts of projects, appeal very much to the pension industry and pension funds, which have large amounts of money, as we know, to invest successfully. This would be a good way of moving forward and I am sure that the Government have considered it a great deal.
I would like to ask the Minister whether the Government have thought further about the area of green ISAs and about involving not just fund managers and corporates, as one would do with bonds, but ordinary people to support the purposes of this bank. I note that some 18 million people have ISAs at the moment. That is one in three adults. Some £220 billion is invested by individuals in ISAs, which clearly have all sorts of tax breaks that are attractive to individual savers. Both these financial instruments could really make a difference in terms of the Green Investment Bank and green ISAs. You could get a public and personal commitment to this cause and create extra employment and growth in the UK.
My Lords, I have a small technical question. The Official Opposition indicated, in the noble Baroness, Lady Worthington, a clear understanding that it was the Bank of England that was consulted on quantitative easing, but I have a question for my noble friend. If he were so minded as to grant this amendment, would we need a consequential amendment in the context of the reference to the consent of the Treasury in subsection (4)?
I am very grateful for this probing amendment, which goes back to the creative thinking on how we can get more money into the Green Investment Bank. The point is that we have committed to invest £3 billion up to 2015. That is a set figure and we have set out our stall. It has been agreed by the Commission and any change would require state aid, which is a pretty significant process and which would take time. So the allowance of bonds or ISAs, which are incredibly valuable things, will not, I am afraid, be achievable within the timetable up to 2015. For the purposes of clarity, however, we are interested in exploring this—and why would we not be? We will be looking at this and debating it further. Clearly, we are not going to get investment into this bank unless it starts to get a track record, which most bond and ISA investors would want to see. When the bank has its track record up and running, we will carry on with this.
Of course, we would need another amendment in terms of Bank of England quantitative easing and so forth. We would need an awful lot more than that, let us be fair, because it is way beyond my pay grade to start discussing such figures and such immense subjects of finance. I am grateful for the suggestions. We recognise that they are constructive and we would like to carry on the dialogue over time. With that, I hope that the noble Baroness will withdraw her amendment.
I thank the Minister for his response. A consultation would certainly help to flesh out some of these ideas and may bring forward even more. I would encourage the department to really think about how we can start a creative dialogue about such mechanisms. We have had four in front of us today, which are worthy of discussion. They are big topics in themselves, so a formal process would help us to understand some of the issues.
It slightly worries me when I hear that quantitative easing is above the Minister’s pay grade. We are not doing a marginal thing here; we are talking about investment in UK infrastructure. We have seen government announcements about a £40 billion stimulus of investment into infrastructure. If it is £40 billion, why can only £3 billion of that be put into the Green Investment Bank? We should not treat this as marginal. It should be centre stage in our stimulus package and in getting our economy back on track. That is why £3 billion is not enough and why we need to think about ways of getting it to be a much larger sum. A consultation would be very welcome, thank you. I beg leave to withdraw.
Amendment 7 withdrawn.
8: Clause 4, page 3, line 21, at end insert—
“(7) It is the duty of the Secretary of State to provide the European Commission with State aid notification concerning the intention to allow the Bank to borrow, including borrowing from the capital markets.
(8) The duty in subsection (7) must be fulfilled no later than 31 December 2013.
(9) In the event the European Commission approves the State aid notification concerning borrowing, it is the duty of the Treasury and of the Secretary of State to permit the Green Investment Bank to begin borrowing from the capital markets no later than 30 June 2015, or, if State aid approval has not been received by that date, no later than one month from the date of approval.”
My Lords, now we get on to one of the core issues around the Green Investment Bank, which is its ability not just to lend its own capital or funds but to be able to multiply them up, perhaps in different ways, and to use that as leverage to enable it to be a bigger investor than it would be from its own resources. Of course, this rather comes back to that cliché of whether the Green Investment Bank is actually a bank or a fund. We know that any corporate plc can borrow money—that is its function—but what it cannot do without going through a further procedure is to borrow it and then lend it out as well, because that gets it into the area of financial services and the Financial Services Authority’s authorisation there.
This amendment seeks to recognise that there is a period during which this bank has £3 billion and has to earn respect through having a track record and credibility in its functions. My noble friend the Minister was absolutely correct on this. That is enough for it to get on with in the first couple of years. Yet we know, through the amount of time that it has taken to get to where we are on the Green Investment Bank, that decisions take a long time. To get state aid takes a long time. To get authorisation under the Financial Services Authority and its successors as they will then be—that may be the Prudential Regulation Authority for a bank—takes a number of years, so we have to prepare by thinking about those issues now. We cannot do that once we get to 2015. In this amendment, we are saying that by 2015 we need to start going through those procedures, many of which will not be in the Bill. Lots of other preparations will need doing as well, apart from state aid, to make sure that by 2015 the bank can take on extra firepower—I apologise to my noble friend Lord Jenkin if he does not like my using that word.
This is about the bank’s ability to invest and to change the economy; to get this green growth that we want and know to be available; and to deliver jobs, growth and carbon reductions. It will be able to do this only by being able to leverage extra investment, apart from the investment it will have from its co-investors of £3 billion in the first three years. I do not see how it will be able to fulfil its mission and proper function without being able to increase its ability to lend beyond the likely Treasury resources.
I realise and understand entirely the Government’s concern about the public balance sheet and public debt. The Chancellor has said that this borrowing cannot take place until the proportion of debt to GDP has started to decline. It is a fundamental mission of the coalition to do that. However, getting to the fundamental question, I would ask this particularly. When the Green Investment Bank was launched on 28 November, which was last week, I received a statement saying that it will make £3 billion available for green technology and become a valued and integral part of the UK’s financial infrastructure—absolutely. It goes on to say that it is similar to Germany’s own development KfW Bank. We hope so, although the KfW Bank has a €400 billion asset value. The big difference between the two is that the borrowing of the KfW does not appear on the public balance sheets, whereas it is envisaged that the borrowing of the Green Investment Bank, as it is currently structured, will.
It is important that we explore how we might find our way around this public expenditure constraint and manage it, so that we can move ahead despite that constraint. I would ask my noble friend the Minister what the current advice of the Office for National Statistics is in this area as to whether the activities of the Green Investment Bank will be part of the public balance sheet and what conversations have taken place there. All similar banks and institutions have to perform to European accounting standards—rule 95, I think it is. That is true of KfW and other investment banks, as well as the Green Investment Bank, so I do not understand why we are so constrained in the UK whereas with other European investment banks that is not the case. Why can we not apply standards that others do to that accounting standard? I am not asking for regulatory evasion but for regulatory avoidance in this area as it seems to be completely in the national interest, which is something that we like to defend, particularly within the European Union.
The fundamental part of this amendment asks how we can increase this bank’s investment ability for it to be successful and get the sort of growth that the CBI says is available through the green sector. A key way in which to do that is by borrowing on markets. We cannot wait beyond 2015 to do that. Unless we have an immovable public expenditure constraint—although I would argue that there might be another way of balancing that in other areas, and we have talked about some alternatives—surely we can find a way to get this bank correctly off the balance sheet as our European competitors are doing. I beg to move.
I support the amendment proposed by the noble Lord, Lord Teverson. I would have put my name down on it if I had had the upfront certainty that I would be able to be here. The noble Lord has hit the nail on the head; the bank will not be allowed to borrow until the national debt is a declining proportion of national income. The Government’s debt reduction target is already three years off, so on current plans the earliest date at which the bank would be allowed to borrow would be not 2015 but 2018—and it may not be 2018 either. We are faced with the prospect of a bank that will not be allowed to borrow in any foreseeable future, and that borrowing restriction will undermine the bank’s ability to support the targets for reducing greenhouse emissions as stated in the Climate Change Act 2008.
We are setting up a public bank uniquely without the ability to borrow, and the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, is right in saying that that is not the model for KfW. According to the Deputy Prime Minister, it should be able to attract about £15 billion of co-investment. In other words, the bank would pay 20% of a project and the co-investors stake the remainder without the bank itself having to borrow. That would be a way round the borrowing restriction.
If the Green Investment Bank were allowed to borrow now at a conservative leverage, it would be able to leverage its £3 billion up to £18 billion. If the Deputy Prime Minister is right, that £18 billion would in turn be able to attract up to £90 billion in private sector co-investment, so these are the possibilities that would be opened up by easing that borrowing requirement. There is a huge difference between an investment of £18 billion over five years and an investment of £90 billion.
The problem this amendment is designed to address is that the debt may not fall for a long time, so the Green Investment Bank may not be allowed to borrow. It is not just a question of the problems of start-up, to which the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, rightly alluded; the problem is that the Government’s policy is not well designed to reduce the national debt. I have argued this point for a number of years because a policy of deficit reduction is not the same as a policy of debt reduction.
To conclude, the amendment would enable the Green Investment Bank to borrow by 2015, irrespective of what is happening to the national debt, and potentially earlier if there were a need to boost growth. This means starting the EU state approval process as soon as possible. For that reason I give my enthusiastic support to the approach of the noble Lord, Lord Teverson.
This is a really interesting amendment, which also touches on the previous amendment. I am not sure that I support the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, but not because I do not support its intent. I think it is hugely important that the Green Investment Bank, if it is to have any attraction, is better capitalised than the Government are proposing. However, allowing the bank to borrow is one thing, but you have to ask, who would lend to it?
Before I came into your Lordships’ House, I spent many years in the capital markets. The capital markets will not lend to this bank unless one of two things happens: either it is guaranteed by government—plainly, that is behind the Government saying that they have to wait for a certain period—or it has a strong balance sheet of its own. No one will lend to it just on the basis of thinking that it is a great idea in the same way that no one will buy a bond unless it is backed by a cash flow. That is what the bond market buys; it buys cash flows. It does not invest in speculative infrastructure, however worthy. Therefore, it is really important that we do not get carried away by just wishing that things were different, and that we push the Government to come forward with practical propositions about increasing the funding available to this bank. Until there is a track record there and until there are infrastructure projects that are capable of securing a rating from the rating agencies, there will be no bond issuance, and until it has a very strong balance sheet or the Government give a guarantee to underpin that balance sheet, there will be no lending from the capital markets either. I hate to pour cold water on this but we have to connect with reality here.
I thank the noble Baroness very much for that contribution. I should point out that the borrowings of KfW, which is owned by the German länder and the federal Government, are guaranteed by that Government and still manage to escape public sector classification. I thank the noble Baroness very much for bringing up that point, which I forgot to mention.
My Lords, I, too, support the amendment. I shall not detain the Committee by repeating the points that have been excellently made by previous speakers. It is simply worth pointing out that, because we are signatories to a variety of European constraints on emissions reduction and because we have our own Climate Change Act, inevitably there has to be massive investment in green infrastructure in this country over the coming decade. We managed to lose out almost completely, if you like, in the previous phase, when we saw significant investment in, for example, onshore wind in this country, where virtually all the high-end technology came from abroad. We really have to be ready to cope with this requirement for capital internally and in time.
I am sure that by the Minister’s bed he has a copy of the current, recently introduced Chinese five-year plan, in which he will remember that no less than a third of the objectives relate to energy management, energy efficiency, investment in renewables and low emissions technology. There will be a massive world market here, and we can drag our feet again or we can participate in it. I see this amendment, taking on board entirely the point made by the noble Baroness, Lady Ford, as simply facilitating and making sure that we are there in time. Brussels has many virtues, but speedy reaction is not one of them. Getting on with this now will not only begin to manage that problem but will indicate again to the capital markets that the Government are serious.
Can I dissent from the amendment? I think that it goes against the whole point of the legislation. Indeed, it goes against the whole point of the Green Investment Bank, which is to stand in the gap of market failure within the capital markets in order to get projects up and running and off the ground. Where that is not possible, it provides a bridge or an intervention, but only so that private sector capital can come in. As an example of that, I mentioned earlier the first investment that had come in to Earthly Energy, the anaerobic digestion plant in Teesside. As I recall, the Green Investment Bank invested £8 million there. Immediately that attracted matched private sector investment of £8 million. The total value of the project is £100 million. That seems to be a classic example. To go from zero to £100 million, clearly they would not have been able to get the project off the ground, but that measured intervention of £8 million unlocked a project worth £100 million, which is exactly what the amendment proposed by the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, is trying to achieve. I am simply saying that it is already happening under the present regime.
My Lords, we have had some very good contributions. In fact, my Amendment 9 just leads on from what the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, said, and we have a few additional points to make about it. First, I refer to what my noble friend Lady Ford has said on this subject; she has a lot of experience in this area and we should listen to her. We should also listen to the noble Lord, Lord Oxburgh. He has shown a lot of passion for green technology in this country and has said how important it is that we stop sitting around and get on with it. I hope that that is taken on board by this Government.
I suppose that what we are saying more particularly is that this Green Investment Bank has to be a real bank and not a sham. I do not think that it is going to be a sham, but it has to be a real bank with all the attributes of a real bank. Probably the most important issue before this Committee today is its borrowing powers. Without the capacity to borrow from the capital markets for investment, the bank is no more than a government fund. In fact, Transform UK has said:
“A bank that is not allowed to borrow cannot be described as a Bank, and investors will notice this”.
However, the amendment represents a compromise and takes into account the strain on public sector funding, and we would not therefore support reckless and irresponsible levels of borrowing.
The Bill has no provision for borrowing powers to be introduced and the Government have failed to provide the certainty that is required to encourage private investment. I return to the letter sent to the Government by Southern Energy and engineering firms, to which I referred earlier. They said that this matter is,
“critically dependent on a long-term stable policy framework”.
The managing director of General Electric has said:
“Our investment is on hold until we have certainty and clarity regarding the policy environment that we are in. One of the most important things for us is political certainty, so we can justify the business and investment case for a facility in the UK. But we think there are some [political] headwinds which do not help, especially in terms of … subsidies”.
I have already mentioned how important certainty is to investment.
The chief executive officer of Vestas, which is the world’s largest maker of wind turbines said:
“The most important issue that our customers have is a long-term policy framework—that is required to put in these investments, which are huge … [But] we have not had reassurance from the government”.
A firm commitment to borrowing powers is lacking and without it private investors will not be convinced by the Government’s rhetoric. This will remain the case, especially as the Government’s commitment to the green economy appears to be diminishing as this Parliament progresses. Seven energy firms have said that recent noises coming from the Government have caused them to reassess the level of political risk in the UK. Borrowing powers are therefore essential. Other amendments, such as that of the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, also recognise this.
It is worth emphasising why we are offering an alternative. The Minister in the other place has made it clear that the borrowing will be scored against national debt totals, and it is therefore reasonable to take this into account, although the aim is, of course, to get the bank borrowing as soon as possible. Should the bank feel that the state of public finances in April 2015 is likely to be such that it would not be suitable for the bank to begin borrowing, it could present Parliament with a report containing alternative dates and its reasoning behind it.
I think that this is a sensible compromise that will reassure investors, which is what we all want to do, and reassure the private sector, while recognising the need for fiscal prudence.
My Lords, I say to the noble Lord, Lord Mitchell, that handwritten notes such as those that we old fogies use would be useful instead of modern technology. I am grateful to noble Lords for exploring this area. Clearly, those who have been in government and those who have read the papers know that we are in very deep financial straits. This Government have decided to start a bank against all odds, investing £3 billion in it in the next period, which is a tremendous achievement. We have been told to get on with it. We have done so and it is here before you now, with a chairman and chief executive in place who are getting on with it. On that point, I would like to quote what the noble Lord, Lord Smith of Kelvin, has said about the state of affairs. I am very grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Ford, for her very constructive and practical comments. The noble Lord said:
“We need to show government and private capital markets that we are a well run organisation with a good track record worthy of the injection of more capital or, indeed, borrowing money in capital markets”.—[Official Report, 14/11/12; col. 1529.].
That is absolutely fundamental. No one is going to lend to this bank or provide borrowing unless it can show a track record of prosperity. I can promise noble Lords that if we feel the need to borrow, we will approach the stakeholder well before 2015.
On that point, the Government have given a commitment that we will seek state aid approval from the European Commission in respect of borrowing before the end of this Parliament. The noble Lord, Lord Skidelsky, very appropriately raised this. We have only just got this thing going but already we are starting to move forward. As the noble Lord, Lord Oxburgh, rightly says, it takes a long time to achieve these things in Europe but we are playing that game; indeed, we are ahead of it.
However, I mention a word of caution, as, indeed, did the noble Lord, Lord Smith. I think that the original budget of investing the first £775 million over the next five months will be difficult to achieve. However, I am confident that we can do it. It is not as if there is a whole load of stuff piling up to be invested in at the moment. Of course, we know there are investments out there, but the budget will be difficult to achieve in the first period. That shows that these things take time; it takes time to build up a track record; it takes time to build up confidence in the markets; and it takes time to build up co-investors, which will be the initial endeavour of the bank.
The noble Lord, Lord Teverson, asked about KfW. Rules are rules and the noble Baroness, Lady Ford, mentioned that we cannot do it in this country. I thank her for that. The UK’s boundary for public finance covers the whole of the public sector, including central and local government and public corporations. That reflects the approach of this Government and that of previous Governments. It is not something that we can suddenly do and in this piece of legislation we are not going to change the rules of engagement.
This is covered in European accounting standard 95. I do not see why we should put ourselves at a disadvantage in that interpretation compared with other nations within the European Union who are competing for the same capital. That seems to me to be tying our hands behind our back. We could use the example of changing the rules in terms of Lloyds and RBS as regards public balance sheets and how, with those banks, we made exceptions. I accept that this is rather different, but we have a track record that says that we can change things. I do not understand why it is possible for our competitors to be unchallenged by the European Court of Justice or the Commission in terms of state aid where we risk being seen as being subservient rather than proactive. I would not accuse the Minister of this—quite the opposite—but we do ourselves down by appearing to be supine in this area.
I do not think that it is a question of being supine. This is a government decision that has been made by the coalition of which the noble Lord is a member. There are many things that people do not understand. The noble Lord, Lord Skidelsky, does not understand or agree with some of the policies of this Government, but that is government policy.
I apologise. It is good that my noble friend understands it, because then he will not disagree with it. That is the way that the Government have set out their stall. We have inherited a very substantial national debt, but not in the same way in which the Germans have inherited the same problems. We have inherited a grave financial situation and, quite rightly, the Treasury decided that it will not enhance that by further borrowing against our balance sheet. The evidence produced by the noble Lord, Lord Smith of Kelvin, would suggest that he does not feel under any pressure in terms of funds at this point. Of course, we must set out our stall, as I have said. We intend to seek European Commission approval for borrowing and we intend to follow that process as soon as possible. I think that is a very good sign and I am delighted that there is some agreement in the room that we are doing that. I invite the noble Lord to withdraw his amendment.
We have made it very clear that it will not come to pass before the end of this Parliament. That is what prudent people do. They say, “I am going to buy something and I am going to spend this amount of money”. We have said that we will spend only that amount of money, but we have said that we will spend $3 billion on this project, which three years ago did not exist.
My Lords, I thank my noble friend for going through this. Can I just say what I am not saying? I am not for a minute saying that we should immediately rush into this. I said in my opening address that the bank needed to have a track record and credibility. It needed to prove that it was good at what it does. However, one thing that we all know, whether you have been in business or, as the noble Lord, Lord Oxburgh, said, you are involved in the EU, you have to plan well ahead and start making provisions for the longer term. There is no better time to do that than when you lay down legislation.
I was being very understanding in terms of the debt problem. I am not talking about changing policy: I am talking about testing rules. All Governments try to get around rules, whether you call it PFI, PPP or whatever to get round public sector borrowing ceilings. I accept that. That is one of the reasons that we went into the coalition and I am delighted to have done so. However, that does not mean that we then accept everything that we are told to accept, although I know that that is not in my noble friend’s nature either.
This is fundamental to making this bank work. My noble friend mentioned matched funding. Yes it is true that there is already a considerable leverage, but that is a fund; the Regional Growth Fund does exactly that. That is why this would then be a green growth fund. However, it is not that: it is a Green Investment Bank. That is why, to get to our goal, we all need to find a way around this. This will be a really important area to explore constructively between now and Report. In the mean time, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 8 withdrawn.
Amendment 9 not moved.
10: Clause 4, page 3, line 21, at end insert—
“(7) The Bank shall set out as part of its investment strategy a target for the leveraging of additional private sector investment by 31 March 2015 and annually thereafter.”
My Lords, we have just heard an interesting discussion about what the overall financing arrangements for the bank will be. I was struck by the comments made by the noble Lord, Lord Skidelsky, who is not in his place, that effectively the leverage on acquiring some form of loan finance will be about six times and the subsequent leverage by bringing in third-party investment would be a further five times. We are talking about a gap between the funds available within the bank of £3 billion, which is a huge sum, and we are grateful to the Government for finding that cash, but at a cost of £90 billion in terms of growth, jobs and SME support, which one has to bear in mind. So the amendment focuses on what seems to be the only possible way that we will fund support for the bank in terms of its investment by getting co-investment from third parties who might wish to join the bank, having signalled that these were investments that they wished to make.
Our attention was drawn to comments that were made when the bank was opened in Edinburgh the other day, which has also been referred to by other speakers in this debate. Speaking at the opening of the bank’s headquarters in Edinburgh, the Business Secretary said that the Green Investment Bank,
“will leverage private sector capital to fund projects in priority sectors from offshore wind to waste and non domestic energy efficiency, helping to deliver our commitment to create jobs and growth right across the UK”.
The Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change, Edward Davey said that:
“The Green Investment Bank will help attract the capital required to allow the green economy to blossom, encouraging investors to market and kick-starting low-carbon and energy efficiency projects”.
So the aspirations are certainly there for this to be a very successful operation.
In the wake of the global financial crisis, it is obviously right that any financial institution now has the highest possible levels of transparency, accountability, scrutiny and banking ethics, so this amendment also aims to encourage the bank to publish a strategy in this area and hence to encourage others to add their investments with the bank.
I shall draw on a recently issued report by the IPPR on the Green Investment Bank, Do It Now, Make It Big. The authors argue:
“We are leaving a period of market fundamentalism during which it was assumed that markets would always work to allocate resources in the best way possible. There was no case for collective action … unless a specific market failure could be identified. Such failures were supposed to be exceptional … Even if a market failure was identified, it was best handled by attempting minimal interventions to regulate prices. Government failure was assumed to be more pervasive and deadly than market failure, so setting-up state institutions was”,
a definite no-no. However, we are where we are and clearly the Government see no problem in setting up an independent institution in this case, which must mean that they believe that the Green Investment Bank can achieve more than the Government themselves could do.
The case for green investment rests on the assumption that unless there is a collective decision to reduce national dependence on imported and increasingly expensive energy sources and to develop alternatives that emit less carbon, it is more than probable that investment on the requisite scale will simply not occur. Certainly, it is not occurring at present. Yet forecasting technologies and prices far into the future is extremely hazardous and so, in the current climate, private companies will hesitate unless there is clear policy leadership that is backed up by the commitment of state funds.
Policies that are not supported by cash and contracts are all too susceptible to change, leaving investors high and dry, so there is a bit of a quandary. It may well be true that there is no better time to undertake such investment than at a time of idle manpower when companies want to invest rather than to produce, because demand is so low, and when the cost of borrowing is very low by historic standards. Yet without government taking the lead, where is the policy certainty and the risk reduction that can come from such direct action? These are the points that I think my noble friend Lady Ford was alluding to.
On the plus side, the green bank is at arm’s length from the Government, which is essential if the bank is to take technical and commercial risks, something that is hard for the Civil Service to do. It can foster a necessary degree of pluralism in tackling the issues, as it can be agnostic on whether there is a right approach and it can support any well thought-out and prepared subproject that meets its investment criteria. It can thereby catalyse and harness the variety and ingenuity of the private sector. Yet on the negative side, the UK Government are committing only a small proportion of the estimated £200 billion needed in this sector— I think that is the largest figure I have heard—and have said that the bank cannot borrow for several years because they are giving top priority to reducing the deficit. As it affects co-investors, the risk reduction strategy cannot then be effective so will the private sector come in to fill the gap? If it does not, what is the Government’s plan B for this bank?
Clearly, the question of who will invest with the bank and how much is crucial. In the absence of government permission to borrow, this form of private sector investment in projects will be the only source of leveraged funding for the green bank going forward, so it is absolutely vital to know what is happening. Hence the need for the bank to,
“set out as part of its investment strategy a target for the leveraging of additional private sector investment by 31 March 2015 and annually thereafter”.
I beg to move.
I am grateful for that landscape of the new bank and the large elements of agreement from the noble Lord in drawing his conclusion. To cut to the quick, this is obviously about how we are going to attract co-investment. In meetings with the noble Lord, Lord Smith—and with the noble Lord, Lord Adonis, who sadly is not with us but we have discussed this—he was very clear that this will not be a problem, as indeed I am because of a number of countries that I visited. There is a huge market out there. We had the Kuwait Investment Authority over last week, which was celebrating being in the UK for 60 years. It readily indicated that it would like to invest alongside us in the future.
On the timetable, I refer to the noble Baroness, Lady Ford, who indicated that she would agree that this is very much a matter of track record. No fund can set up shop and on day one expect to be deluged with investment, even if the board and chief executive are very well recognised.
There are two concepts here and it is important to get clarity. Track record is important for co-investing. The noble Lord, Lord Teverson, is absolutely right. At the moment, we have a green investment fund. The way to get additional leverage from that fund is by co-investing, and there have been lots of good examples in the past 25 years of different types of bodies doing that in the United Kingdom. However, track record is important for co-investing. However good your track record, unless you have established cash flows to sell in terms of a bond or balance sheet with government underpinning, you will not get borrowing. There are two slightly different concepts.
I could not have put it better myself. In fact, I could not have attempted to put it as well as the noble Baroness did. It is absolutely clear, and it sets a clear mandate. We have already discussed this issue, and it will come up again, but I am confident that there will be co-investment. At this point, I see this as an enabler for co-investment. There are plenty of opportunities for green investment. I therefore invite the noble Lord, Lord Stevenson, to withdraw the amendment.
I thank the Minister for his comments and I share the support shown for the success of the bank. However, I remain puzzled as to how it will make the transformation from the little duckling that is alone to the wonderful swan that I am sure the Minister has in his mind as sailing calmly across the seas of international finance, sucking up investment from wherever it goes, flying off into the sunset with a raft of projects carefully tucked under its wings, and therefore being successful. I do not see that, and we will return to this matter.
Perhaps I may ask the noble Baroness about one matter. One of the things that I understand investment banks often do is raise bonds against projects. It is not a question of the recourse of liabilities to them; they raise bonds on the asset value of the project. There are ways of doing it in that way.
There are ways of doing it. I do not wish to detain the Committee and perhaps I should have a cup of coffee with the noble Lord to explain; I mean that in a helpful way. Bonds are raised against the cash flows from projects. They are raised against an infrastructure project only if the Government underpin it—hence, PFI.
Perhaps the noble Lord, Lord Stevenson, would agree with me that given that this is one of the last chances we will have to discuss Clause 4, in the range of investment criteria or investment classes that can be made through the bank, whether they be grants or loans, if the objective is to achieve leverage, it would seem sensible for more emphasis to be placed on lending money at a given rate, rather than giving it away in the form of grants. Again, a preference should be given to equity finance because it would also be of potential benefit to funds in the long run as those investments come to fruition.
My Lords, the noble Lord makes a very good point and, in an early start-up arrangement, the last thing you want to be doing is dissipating your hard-earned capital. You should be using it to recycle. However, that relates to the point we have been making, which is that leverage of about 30 times the investment is achievable, but we do not seem to have the support of the Government in that. However, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 10 withdrawn.
Clause 4 agreed.
Amendment 11 not moved.
Clause 5 : The UK Green Investment Bank: accounts and reports
12: Clause 5, page 3, line 27, at end insert—
“(2) The UK Green Investment Bank must ensure that—
(a) all studies or assessments conducted in the preparation of a business plan, and their accompanying terms of reference,(b) all written correspondence exchanged between the Government Shareholder and the Board, and(c) all key operational documents, including internal working documents of the Bank relating to investment decisions,are made available on a website maintained in accordance with the requirements of this section, subject to the exemptions specified in subsection (3).(3) Information contained in documents required to be disclosed by subsection (2) may be withheld or redacted by the Bank where in the reasonable opinion of a qualified person—
(a) its disclosure would prejudice the commercial interests of any person (including the Bank),(b) its disclosure would, or would be likely to, inhibit—(i) the free and frank provision of advice to or within the Bank,(ii) the free and frank exchange of views within the Bank for the purposes of deliberation,(c) its disclosure would otherwise prejudice, or would be likely otherwise to prejudice, the effective conduct of the Bank’s business,(d) a claim to legal professional privilege or, in Scotland, to confidentiality of communications could be maintained in relation to it in legal proceedings, or(e) its disclosure—(i) is prohibited by or under any enactment, or(ii) would constitute or be punishable as a contempt of court, and in all the circumstances of the case, the public interest in maintaining the exemption outweighs the public interest in disclosing the information.(4) The documents specified in subsection (2) must be made available on the Bank’s website or a website that is maintained by or on behalf of the Bank.
(5) Access to the documents specified in subsection (2) on the website must not be—
(a) conditional on the payment of a fee, or(b) otherwise restricted, except so far as necessary to comply with any enactment or regulatory requirement (in the United Kingdom or elsewhere).”
My Lords, the purpose of the amendment is quite straightforward. I spoke under the last amendment about the need for transparency, accountability, scrutiny and banking ethics, and the importance that these now have, particularly after the last crisis. This is something that should apply to the green bank. It is the first public bank to be created in modern times, but it may not be alone, because we are aware that a British Investment Bank, or whatever it is to be called, is starting up. Therefore, we should be setting precedents for how it should operate as we go forward.
We suggest that the Green Investment Bank has the highest standards of transparency both for the shareholders and the general public, which means that we can have meaningful debate; assessment and scrutiny as to how the bank is being managed; its success in achieving its green purposes; the manner in which it arrives at investment decisions—and all subject to the important point of commercial sensitivities and considerations.
The amendment would ensure that all working papers and studies undertaken in the preparation of the bank’s business plan, as well as all written correspondence exchanged between the Government and the board, were made available on a website that was freely accessible by the public. We do not want to do anything that compromises the bank’s ability to make investments and consider matters of a sensitive and commercial nature; that is why the amendment is couched in those terms, to make sure that a full and frank discussion of views can still take place between the Government and the board, and that the bank can fully undertake its activities. I stress that we want the Green Investment Bank to have the highest possible standards of transparency, accountability and scrutiny to the public and other stakeholders.
It is true that the bank falls under the Companies Act 2006, and is registered at Companies House as a company with proper articles of association and so on, but our concern is not so much with historic reporting, because often these reports can be delayed for six to nine months, but with allowing debate and discussion. A good example of this would be the rules that the Government are putting in place to ensure that inappropriate bonuses and executive pay will be restricted. As the Committee will be aware, this Bill will change the powers of shareholders in deliberations on executive remuneration, although we do not think that it goes far enough, as we will come to later. This amendment will ensure that the bank will be different from other Companies Act companies in the sense that debate about appropriate pay and the Government’s role in that would be flagged up on the website, and there permit a wider debate before the mechanisms proposed in this Bill kick in. I beg to move.
My Lords, this is an interesting amendment, but of course it goes way beyond the Freedom of Information Act 2000, which permits a great level of self-disclosure and obligations that the bank must apply to because it is wholly owned by the Government. So the information will be readily accessible as to bonuses and all the other things that the noble Lord reasonably requests. It is important that there is transparency in our current world of bonuses and directors’ pay, but we do not want to put an extra burden on an organisation that is already within the Freedom of Information Act. I hope that the noble Lord understands that and will perhaps withdraw his amendment.
My Lords, I do understand that and thank the Minister for pointing out how the Government are approaching this issue. I still regret that in some senses we are not taking advantage of how one could use a more engaged discussion with those who have responsibilities in this area, notably Parliament. Having said that, I will read carefully what the Minister has said. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 12 withdrawn.
Amendment 13 had been withdrawn from the Marshalled List.
13A: Clause 5, page 3, line 27, at end insert—
“( ) The Bank shall publish in its annual report what proportion of investments made in accordance with the green purposes outlined in section 1(1) shall be allocated to proven technologies, and what proportion shall be allocated to innovative technologies; and shall make a proposal for these proportions over its forward plan for the next three years.”
My Lords, this amendment is designed to try to elicit a few more comments from the Government on where this investment will be targeted—perhaps on the spectrum of entirely safe commercially proven technologies towards the more innovative end of the spectrum. It is prompted by a report about the launch of the bank from the CEO, Shaun Kingsbury, who, I suspect, in an effort to try to begin the process of creating a track record for being a sensible investor, said that only safe and proven technologies would be invested in.
We are not critical of that as it makes sense, but in much of the literature about the setting up of the bank there is a discussion of the desirability of investing in late-stage innovation. We think that is important because it is about ensuring that this bank is doing something that is not currently done in the market: it is addressing a market failure. The balance between investing in already proven technologies and more innovative solutions is crucial to the bank’s identity and to its success. Obviously it should not operate in the realms of risky investment and venture capital investment but it ought to operate in a space that has perhaps been overlooked by traditional investors. In that way, it would be adding value to the existing market.
We have tabled an amendment which is designed to try to tease out this area of the bank’s operations to make the policy much clearer so that there is more transparency. It is worth saying a few words about where late-stage innovation might occur. It is clear that the Government are seeking to create a crowding-in effect rather than a crowding out effect. That is an interesting phrase and one that we should definitely seek to achieve. We do not want to be competing with existing private investments, but beating a path down which other investors can follow. That crowding in is linked with the concept of what is a late-stage innovation. The current list of technologies that the bank will be investing in is broad. There will be room for innovation among those categories that have already been selected, but there are other technologies that are perhaps not on the list, which is slightly regrettable. I mention wave and tidal technologies because that is an area where the UK could have a great potential to lead globally. We have exactly the right geography for these very important technologies, which are not yet commercially viable. We know that the policy is coming and we look forward to contracts for different mechanisms that might bring these technologies on. It would seem a shame to preclude those sorts of technologies from the list that the bank is looking at.
The amendment is asking for further clarity about where the bank will position itself compared with tried and tested technologies and more innovative aspects, which might play more to the UK’s strengths. We would welcome the Minister saying a few words about the bank’s attitude to that. Perhaps he could also talk about wave and tidal technologies as I think those are hugely important for the UK. I beg to move.
I assume that the noble Baroness’s proposal is born of previous literature. Could she tell the Grand Committee what proportion has been given to innovative technologies as against existing ones? We are an inventive nation. In other words, what kind of percentage does she envisage will emerge out of this plan?
I do not have a number in mind. This is a newly created facility, which we have to explore. As there has not been a previous example of a bank like this being created in the UK, there is no precedent on which to draw. Perhaps we could look overseas. We have had examples cited from Germany; there are similar banks in Portugal, Spain and Holland; and the Australians are in the process of setting up their own investment vehicle. I do not have an answer, but I am sure that, with some study, the department could provide us with some guidelines or some examples from overseas.
I am sure that the noble Baroness would agree that 20% would be a reasonable part of the bank’s investment. That is the right number because, as part of this agreement, the bank is permitted to make 20% of its investment in other sectors, a key one being marine energy, which I know is of great interest to the chairman. It was also of great interest to me in my previous department and is of great interest to the noble Baroness. It uses our great attributes of tides and waves. There is a lot of activity going on there. We have created marine parks, and I see this as a key future. As I said, the bank has 20% of its funds allocated to this area.
This is an interesting probing amendment. But where I would resist movement in this direction, other than giving confidence to the noble Baroness, is that if we start using words like proven technologies, I am not sure that we can create the right definition. We all understand what the noble Baroness means. Going back to the core of what the bank is set up to do, it is to demonstrate the ability to make both a positive return and a green impact. All those areas that the noble Baroness and I know well would certainly fit into this exciting new development. With that, I hope that she will withdraw her amendment.
I thank the Minister for his comments, which were reassuring. I think that 20% sounds about right, but who knows? The most important factor, which should not be overlooked in our desire to create this pedigree and track record is that there will be times when we need to cut a path through otherwise unexplored territory. There is a market failure out there that this bank can address. By having a targeted, focused remit, I hope that it will find investment opportunities that others have overlooked. I welcome the comments from the Minister and I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 13A withdrawn.
Clause 5 agreed.
Clause 6 : The UK Green Investment Bank: documents to be laid before Parliament
14: Clause 6, page 3, line 35, leave out subsection (2) and insert—
“(2) The Secretary of State must prepare and lay before both Houses of Parliament a report on the activities and investments of the UK Green Investment Bank.
(2A) The Secretary of State must lay a report before Parliament as provided for under subsection (2) within 12 months of the coming into force of this Act, and annually thereafter.
(2B) The report under subsection (2) must, in particular, include or contain information about—
(a) the investments undertaken by the UK Green Investment Bank during this period,(b) how the UK Green Investment Bank is achieving its green purposes as set out in section 1,(c) a value-for-money and efficiency statement,(d) the identification and management of risk in respect of UK Green Investment Bank objects and investments,(e) how the UK Green Investment Bank is not duplicating investments made in the markets, and(f) how the UK Green Investment Bank has applied the Main Principles as set out in the UK Corporate Governance Code.”
My Lords, the main aim of this amendment is to firm up how and in what form the Secretary of State must prepare and lay before both Houses of Parliament a report on the activities and investments of the UK Green Investment Bank. The amendment is largely self-explanatory, but it may be for the benefit of the Committee if I raise one general and a couple of specific points.
As I mentioned before, relying on the reports generated under the Companies Act 2006 introduces significant timing problems, as these reports will be generally arranged for an AGM often some months after the year end. A report for Parliament, if it were different, can be much more up to date and therefore more relevant to those who have to discuss it. The focus of Companies Act reports are the stakeholders, mainly in conventional companies. These would be the dispersed institutional and private shareholders and not the public interest represented by Parliament. It is therefore sensible to recognise that, although initially the Crown interest will be the only shareholding interest, that will not be identical with the public interest, and different reporting might therefore be required.
Proposed new paragraphs (a) and (b) in the amendment would give Parliament a feel for the activity that the bank has been undertaking on the ground, and bring the reality of the bank's operations to life. It would be unusual for Companies Act reports to deal with specific investments in this way.
Paragraph (c) would assess the way in which the bank is achieving value for money for its investments, and draw parliamentary attention to value for money and efficiency—again an approach that would not commonly be found in company reports.
Unusually for institutions in the public sector, the bank will have to be familiar with risk in all its forms and across its investments, and the wider economic climate will also need to be referred to as well as the appetite that individual investors will have for risk. This is an important area that we think the report should deal with.
It would be of considerable concern if the Green Investment Bank were to displace investment already available in the market, which we have already touched on in our debate this afternoon. So a specific report in that area would be helpful in understanding how the bank was progressing, and in assessing how successful it was in the marketplace.
The final point brings us back to corporate behaviours, and assisting Parliament to judge whether the bank was addressing concerns on such matters as pay and bonuses and ethical behaviours more generally.
I hope that the Minister will accept that with this amendment we are trying to be helpful. We have some common ground in assisting Parliament in getting material which is better suited to its particular role. I do not think that that will necessarily come out of the companies’ reports and I hope that the amendment will stimulate those who have to prepare them to come up with more appropriate solutions for the reporting that is necessary. I beg to move.
The noble Lord, Lord Stevenson, probes again—quite reasonably, if I may say so. I just want to make it clear that the Government, as the main shareholder—indeed, the only shareholder—will be holding it to account at every angle. Also, Clause 5 treats the bank as if it were a quoted company. Therefore it is subject to the Companies Act, which imposes three quite important criteria. First it will be required to produce a directors’ remuneration report, about which there will be more later in this Bill. It will be required to publish its annual accounts and reports on a website. It will be required to produce an enhanced business review, under which the directors must report on matters such as main trends and factors likely to affect the company’s business and environmental matters. We believe that that has enhanced transparency, public transparency, in addition to the watchful eye of government in terms of getting return on our investment. I hope that satisfies the noble Lord on what I consider a very important probing amendment.
I thank the Minister for his comments. It is nice to see that my rating has risen from being interesting to being quite reasonable in what I am suggesting. I will look for an A probably in sitting seven or eight, and perhaps even get an A+ at the end. I look forward to that. In the interim, I withdraw this amendment.
Amendment 14 withdrawn.
15: Clause 6, page 4, line 9, at end insert—
“(5) The Secretary of State must make provision for an independent expert review of the performance of the UK Green Investment Bank.
(6) A review under subsection (5) must be prepared every five years following the commencement of this Act.
(7) An interim review shall be prepared no less frequently than every two and a half years.
(8) A review under subsection (5) must, in particular, include or contain information relating to—
(a) an assessment of the UK Green Investment Bank’s environmental performance in fulfilling the green purposes as set out in section 1,(b) an analysis of the main trends and factors likely to affect the future development, performance and investments of the UK Green Investment Bank,(c) macro-economic analysis, including assessments of demand in the UK economy and international factors likely to affect green investment and skills within the relevant industries,(d) assessment of the competitiveness of the UK Green Investment Bank in securing competitive advantage for the UK in green and low carbon economies relative to other countries, and(e) recommendations to improve the UK Green Investment Bank’s impact in fulfilling its green purposes in section 1.(9) A review conducted under subsection (5) must consult—
(a) The Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change,(b) The Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs,(c) The Committee on Climate Change,(d) Ministers from the devolved administrations,(e) investors and interested parties, and(f) members of the public.(10) The Secretary of State, in the capacity of shareholder, must provide such information as they consider reasonable to enable the person or body undertaking the review to fulfil the requirements of this subsection.
(11) A review under subsection (5) must be published and laid before both Houses of Parliament.”
My Lords, Amendment 15 brings to the attention of the Committee the suggestion that if the reports that are being received by Parliament are those which are mainly being generated within the Companies Act register of reporting requirements, there may be some gaps in terms of independent review. So the main purpose is to require such a review every five years following enactment, and also to have an interim report.
I am sure that the Minister will again argue that the bank will have sufficient to do under the Companies Act, and that, as a public company falling within the Freedom of Information Act, there is already a sufficiency of reporting requirements for the bank. He may argue that requiring any more might be regarded as otiose, but there are some reasons why I think the export report would be of value.
The rationale for setting up the bank is to bridge a gap in understanding between the investor community and those who wish to manufacture, develop and trade in the green technologies. Surely a periodic report of what the bank has been doing and how successful it has been in fulfilling its purposes, a check on its competitiveness and a review of the main trends and factors likely to affect its future performance would help bridge that gap and help improve the sector as a whole, leading to greater investment.
In a similar way the preparation of an external expert report would surely help the bank sharpen its performance and help improve its knowledge and understanding of the sector. It may well be that it has collected the best and the brightest to work within the bank, but, even so, whenever there is an external report, there always is more that is achieved because of the preparation for that reporting requirement than there is perhaps by actually going through the process. So in that sense it would be an assistance to the company itself.
Thirdly, the existence of such a report would surely assist those who would otherwise only be able to rely on the standard output of the bank under the Companies Act. With that, I beg to move.
My Lords, this is an A+ amendment, without any doubt at all, something that I have never achieved myself. So much was I taken with this amendment that I invited my officials to contact the noble Lord, Lord Smith of Kelvin, as chairman, to consider this because I felt that it was such an A+ amendment, from an A+ man and an A+ male, that it was worthy of consideration. I hope it will satisfy the noble Lord that the noble Lord, Lord Smith of Kelvin, has made it clear that the board will undertake an independent review of its own performance each year from the end of its first full financial year in 2014. I hope that that satisfies what I thought was an excellent amendment, and I encourage the noble Lord to withdraw it.
I shall play my cards slowly and see how we get on. The simple point that I was going to make was that the answer is exactly as I would like, and this will satisfy us in that respect. It is just a question of what will happen to the report in terms of public arrangements. Perhaps the Minister could reflect on having a further exchange with the chair of the bank to see whether it would be something that could be laid before Parliament. I do not think that it would need a formal discussion or debate, but it would be useful to have it in the Library at least, so that it is available. If he could confirm that at some point, we would be grateful. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 15 withdrawn.
Clause 6 agreed.
16: After Clause 6, insert the following new Clause—
“General disclosure requirements
(1) The Freedom of Information Act 2000 is amended as follows.
(2) In Part VI of Schedule 1, after “The Great Britain China Centre”, insert “The UK Green Investment Bank”.”
This is my last appearance in the Committee on this occasion. I have risked the Minister’s wrath by suggesting that we need to think further about reporting, but I do not think that this one will be as well received—but I will have another go.
The Green Investment Bank is already covered by the Freedom of Information Act, and I accept that. It was discussed in another place, and I have read that discussion. But it stuck in my mind that there were two reasons why we need to revisit it. In the discussion in the other place, the Government said that they believed that the Freedom of Information Act, together with Clauses 5 and 6, ensure that the bank will be subject to appropriate, extensive obligations to disclose information and to report on its activities, which will ensure full transparency and accountability. I accept that, because the bank already qualifies as a publicly owned company under Section 6 of the Freedom of Information Act, which means that it is subject to the disclosure obligations that apply to public authorities. We also accept that, unlike most public authorities, not only is the bank subject to the Freedom of Information Act but it has additional, proactive reporting obligations under the Companies Act 2006, which will be enhanced by Clause 5. However, things may change. We had a discussion earlier on in Committee today at which the remote prospect of changes of ownership in the bank were raised. If those changes of ownership were such that the proportion of the bank owned by a future Government dropped below 50%, I doubt that FOI legislation would still apply. So this is to future-proof something for which there is a particular responsibility. At the moment, it is going to be wholly owned by the Crown, and the sole shareholder is the Government, so it is appropriate that the questions that may be put in terms of FOI will be answered.
This bank is being set up in the wake of the biggest financial crisis the world has seen in modern times. That should, even if for no other reason, mean that we should try to ensure that the new bank should have the highest possible standards of accountability and reporting. I remind the Committee that the Secretary of State, in his examination before the Environmental Audit Committee on 2 February 2011, said:
“As Secretary of State in BIS, my ambition is to … develop and deliver a GIB that is effective and transparent and affordable—those are our key criteria”.
Love or hate the FOI Act, it is here to stay, and is proving very effective in ensuring that the Government respond to legitimate requests for information from citizens of the UK. We should do what we can to promote that view, and we should do nothing which sets up barriers or creates uncertainty about whether information is retrievable or not. In our view, therefore, there should be no objection to recording in the primary legislation that it is quite clear that, as well as the class of institution it is, the bank itself, as long as it is retained, will be subject to FOI. I beg to move.
My Lords, we have trodden this ground quite a lot so far. I think that the FOI is a very significant and far-reaching incumbence on a company, and on individuals in a country, as we have found out. There will be more later, but as I have said in the past under previous amendments the FOI Act is a very strong regulatory thing. I am not going to play “what if” scenarios, such as what if the bank is sold by a Labour Government in 10 years’ time, or another coalition in five years’ time, because it is our task to operate within the current government schemes and not to tie the hands of future Governments if they wish to carry on with other things. But I totally accept the sentiment and look forward to further debates on the subject. In the light of that, I hope that the noble Lord will withdraw his amendment.
Amendment 16 withdrawn.
Committee adjourned at 6.20 pm.