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UK Infrastructure Bank Bill [HL]

Volume 828: debated on Tuesday 14 March 2023

Commons Amendments

Motion on Amendments 1 and 2

Moved by

My Lords, with the leave of the House, I shall speak also to the other amendments and that in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman.

I start with Commons Amendment 2. As was noted in the other place, the Government agree that the bank will make it a stipulation that any investment into the water sector must be in line with the company having an appropriate plan and making sufficient progress against that plan to deal with sewage discharges. However, I want to make it clear that in this circumstance the word “preventing” is aimed principally at preventing harmful discharges and does not mean eliminating all discharges. I want to make this distinction in the House because I do not want the bank to be prevented by fear of legal action from investing in water companies which have a plan in place to meet their obligations.

I reassure the House that the Government are already taking major steps to improve water quality. We have announced legally binding targets on water quality under the Environment Act and ambitious interim targets to deliver these in our environmental improvement plan.

This Government have also implemented the strictest ever targets to crack down on poor water company performance. On sewage spills, our storm overflows plan requires companies to deliver the largest ever environmental infrastructure investment—£56 billion over 25 years. Where water companies are found to have broken the law and face fines for this behaviour, this Government have committed to reinvest those fines directly back into schemes to improve our water environment.

Commons Amendment 3 removes the Lords amendment to include nature-based solutions and the circular economy in the definition of infrastructure. As noble Lords will recall, we debated this issue extensively in this House and it came up frequently in the Commons. At the time, I noted that nature-based solutions were already included under the inclusive definition of infrastructure and, as such, we did not think it necessary to add it explicitly in the Bill. The Government have reflected on the debate and recognise the strength of feeling on the matter and, as such, think the amendment from the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, strikes a careful balance of making it clear that nature-based solutions are within the bank’s remit without being overly prescriptive.

The Government agree with the removal of the circular economy from the definition. We do not think including the circular economy—which is an imprecise term—in the definition of infrastructure would be helpful for the bank. However, I thank all noble Lords, and in particular the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, for raising this issue during the passage of the Bill. We reassure them that the circular economy is an incredibly important principle and will be key as we transition to a more sustainable economy in a number of sectors. While we do not wish to expand the scope of the bank, I reassure the noble Lord that several of the areas highlighted in the debate on the circular economy are covered within its existing remit and objectives; for example, nature-based solutions, waste and energy efficiency, as was clarified in an earlier amendment to the Bill. I therefore anticipate that the bank will invest in and be a key proponent of a circular economy wherever it is in line with the overall objectives.

Commons Amendment 4 removes subsection (6) from Clause 2 of the Bill. The subsection included the wording “have regard to”, but this would still have had a significant impact on the bank. For example, on improving jobs, we understand the intention of the amendment and do not disagree with it as a general principle. However, we are concerned that there may be consequences if the principle were to be applied across the board as a statutory requirement in relation to every investment proposal. It could lead to the bank being overly cautious for fear of legal challenge.

The second part of this subsection, on reducing regional inequality, is also of concern. We do not want the bank to be under a statutory duty to consider regional disparities in the same way in relation to every investment proposal that comes before it. The strategic steer makes it clear that the bank must focus on geographic inequalities. However, this is best done on a portfolio basis rather than investment by investment, which would be required by the proposed amendment.

Although the Government agree with the Commons amendment, we recognise the concern of the House, and I pay tribute to the work of the noble Lord, Lord Tunnicliffe, on this matter. I recommit to this House that after the Bill achieves Royal Assent the Government will amend the bank’s framework document to provide clarity on the role on the bank in levelling up the United Kingdom. We will include under the operating principles the wording:

“The bank will also address the spatial disparities across and within UK regions.”

This is in addition to the wording already in the framework document under its second objective:

“to support regional and local economic growth through better connectedness, opportunities for new jobs and higher levels of productivity”.

Commons Amendments 5, 6, and 9 concern provisions to add a duty to consult relevant Ministers in the devolved Administrations on the use of delegated legislative powers in the Bill, including the power to amend the bank’s activities or the definition of “infrastructure”, and to issue the strategic steer. Commons Amendment 7 is related and sets out a requirement for UKIB’s board to appoint one or more directors to be responsible for ensuring that the interests of the devolved Administrations are considered in the board’s decision-making. These amendments have come as a direct result of positive engagement we have had with the devolved Administrations, and I am pleased to say we have received legislative consent Motions from the Welsh and Scottish legislatures. Unfortunately, given that the Executive have not formed, it was not possible to get a legislative consent Motion from the Northern Ireland Assembly.

Given we are on the subject of the board of directors, I know that the noble Lord, Lord Tunnicliffe, was interested in whether the bank would appoint a workers’ representative to the board. I reassure him that the bank is abiding with the requirements of the corporate governance code and has appointed a non-executive director, Marianne Økland, to facilitate engagement with the workforce.

Commons Amendment 8 reduces the time period for statutory reviews of the bank following the first such review from seven to five years. This balance reflects the fact that we need to allow a nascent institution time to embed and fully establish itself in the market, which is why the first review will take place after seven years. However, subsequent statutory reviews will take place every five years to ensure proper scrutiny of the bank’s performance.

Commons Amendments 1 and 10 are of a technical nature and broaden the definition of “public authority” in relation to the bank’s capacity to lend. The drafting as is broadly meets the policy aims and would allow the bank to lend to local authorities and the Northern Ireland Executive. However, given that primary legislation can be something of a blunt instrument, we do not want inadvertently and by implication to preclude the bank from lending to other public authorities, such as any public bodies created by local authorities or government departments in future.

Finally, as is standard for a Bill that starts in the Lords and concerns matters of public finance, a privilege amendment was passed. Commons Amendment 11 removed this.

The Government have listened to concerns in both Houses and have made changes to improve the Bill. I look forward to the debate and hope that noble Lords will accept these amendments. I beg to move.

I declare my interest as co-chair of Peers for the Planet and rise to speak to my Motion 3A, which as the Minister said would reintroduce nature-based solutions into the definition of infrastructure in which the UK Infrastructure Bank may invest.

We had some very helpful conversations after Report and the debates in the other place, and I think we have now reached a highly satisfactory position on this amendment, in no small part due to the Minister’s customary constructive approach to the debates that have taken place in this House, for which I am very grateful.

Of course, the original amendment included the “circular economy”, and I know that there will be some disappointment that that is not included now, but the bank’s strategy is reassuring on that issue. Anyone who listened to the item on the “Today” programme this morning about data centres using the heat they normally have to dispose of to heat up the water in local swimming pools will have heard a lovely example of how we need to put those sorts of issues together.

I thank all the Members of this House who have taken part in the debates, and in particular those who signed the various iterations of my amendment, including the noble Lord, Lord Bourne of Aberystwyth, the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Whitchurch, and the noble Lord, Lord Teverson. This amendment has had significant cross-party support because of the increased recognition that nature-based solutions have a critical role to play in the fulfilment of the bank’s objectives. The Chancellor’s strategic steer in 2022 encouraged the bank to

“explore early opportunities in nature-based solutions”

and aim to have

“a positive impact on the development of the market”.

The bank has since published a discussion paper setting out its initial thinking on how it can invest in and support the growth of natural capital markets, and I look forward to the results of this consultation.

The discussion paper clearly explains the importance of natural capital as a form of infrastructure and the vital contributions it makes to our society and economy, often in ways which are more cost-effective to the taxpayer. Carbon removals through creating and restoring woodlands, wetlands and peatlands, flood mitigation measures, providing “clean and reliable” water supplies, underpinning our food security and bolstering our resilience to climate change: these constitute numerous examples of how we can deploy nature-based solutions to support our infrastructure and provide social, economic and environmental benefits. There is also an ever-increasing recognition of the key role that nature can play in solving climate change, nature being our biggest asset with which to fight it. Nature-based solutions also provide significant co-benefits, such as jobs and good health and well-being outcomes, with considerable economic advantages.

I welcome that the UK is leading on the Taskforce on Nature-related Financial Disclosures, but there is an average $700 billion funding gap for protecting and restoring nature globally, and evidence that more needs to be done to help market participants mainstream and scale these products alongside growing investor demand. This simple addition to the definition of infrastructure in the Bill sends a strong signal to the markets that the UK recognises this and the Government are serious about taking action to help build and develop this nascent market. It also provides certainty to the bank, which recognises that it has a role in developing capacity towards a pipeline of investable projects and is poised to act. It will encourage others to do the same and further develop the UK finance sector’s position as a leader in this important emerging new market.

As I said, I am very grateful to the Minister and her officials for the support they have given and the resolution that I think we have reached.

I support the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, in her proposed amendment and congratulate her on her tenacity in pursuing this issue. She has achieved something notable, and I thank her very much indeed. Account being taken of nature-based solutions improves the Bill and, on that basis, I also congratulate the Minister. My noble friend has proved herself to be a listening Minister, and the Government have taken a very common-sense approach, which improves the Bill. It was previously a good Bill, and it is now a better Bill after changes made in this House and the approach of the Minister and the Government.

I do not propose to detain the House, except to say that I agree with much of what the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, said in Committee and at Second Reading. I regret that we have not gone a bit further, but at least we have an improvement in this legislation. On that basis, I once again congratulate the Government.

My Lords, I join in the congratulations to the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, who is both a force for nature and a force of nature in your Lordships’ House. I thank everyone else who has joined in getting this progress on nature-based solutions, although we should not look at those solutions as an alternative to cutting our carbon emissions. Both those things have to be done.

I was not going to speak but, given something the Minister said in her introduction, I feel forced to ask her a question. In justifying the exclusion of “circular economy” in the Commons amendment, she said that it was “not a precise term”. Does the Treasury understand the term “circular economy” and its essential nature in delivering the sustainable society we need? If the Minister wants a source for this, I point to a government paper entitled, Circular Economy Package policy statement, from 30 July 2020, which was put out jointly with Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland and which defined “circular economy” as

“keeping resources in use as long as possible, extracting maximum value from them, minimizing waste and promoting resource efficiency”.

Will the Minister confirm that the Treasury recognises that the circular economy is an acknowledged term and is urgently needed?

My Lords, I wanted to thank the Government and to associate myself with the words of the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman. I thank them for their constructive engagement, which has allowed us to reach a satisfactory conclusion.

However, I thank the Government for listening in relation to a couple of other places. First, during the progress of the Bill through this House we had a lot of discussions about the position of the devolved Administrations and how they should be involved. While they have not gone as far as I should have liked, I welcome the amendments that have now been included and the constructive engagement that has obviously taken place with the devolved Administrations. That is a nice change from some of the things that we have seen with other legislation in the past.

Secondly, Amendment 8 is identical to an amendment that I tabled on Report, which shortens the reporting cycle to five years. My amendment was not accepted by the Government at that time. When I tabled it, it led to what I think was a unique achievement of being co-signed by both the noble Baroness, Lady Noakes, and the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett of Manor Castle. That has not been achieved before or since. I said at the time that such a unique and powerful alliance should make the Government take that amendment seriously, so I am delighted and grateful that they have done so.

My Lords, I have to admit, although I should not, that when I saw the Bill appear on Forthcoming Business I thought that it had received Royal Assent about a year ago, that it had gone and that everyone was happy. Clearly, the other place was not quite happy, so we are debating the Bill today. I am delighted to see the noble Baroness, Lady Neville-Rolfe, here because this morning I was at a meeting of the Green Investment Group—the privatised Green Investment Bank—as a watchdog on its purposes after privatisation. I hope that this infrastructure bank will not also be privatised in the next couple of years and we have to do the same for it.

I welcome the House of Commons amendment around water companies, moved by my honourable friend Richard Foord MP. Although the noble Baroness the Minister has circumscribed the effect of that amendment, I am delighted that the Government have accepted it. We all understand that water companies are under extreme scrutiny, mainly for their lack of investment and focus on environmental concerns under their custody. Equally, I welcome the amendment of the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, and I too join the congratulations on her tenacity in getting it accepted by the Government.

However, I also thank the Minister for her persuasive powers. I have said to her in the past that I should prefer her to be in another portfolio that I deal with even more, on which this House seems to be less persuasive on occasions. Yet she manages to persuade the Treasury, which is probably an even harder task, that sometimes this House can make some useful changes to the legislation before it.

I will not detain the House further, except to welcome these amendments, and hope that we can put the Bill to bed and that the UK Infrastructure Bank can get on and do what we all want it to do—invest in the future infrastructure of this economy in the wider sense, including the circular economy. I am grateful for the mention from the noble Lord, Lord Bourne, and I understand from the Minister that most of the circular economy will indeed be accessible by the bank. I look forward to that as well.

My Lords, I thank the Minister, both for her introduction today and for a helpful briefing held last week. When your Lordships’ House considered the Bill in the first half of last year, we were told that passing it should be a mere formality. The UK Infrastructure Bank was already operating, having made its first handful of investment decisions. The Bill was therefore essentially a technical exercise to give the organisation statutory underpinning. The Government resisted several sensible amendments, including one on worker representation on the bank’s board, partly on the basis that this legislation needed to be on the statute book quickly. I pause to note that the inclusion of a non-executive director at least moves in that direction. I thank the Minister, as I do for everywhere in the Bill where she has persuaded the Government to seek compromise.

However, in reality, it took some time for the Bill to get through the other place. The legislation having been introduced last July, Second Reading did not take place until November and Report not until last month. The delay was presumably the result of the Conservative Party’s summer of chaos, with a succession of Prime Ministers and Chancellors of the Exchequer, and—if I remember correctly—a short period when the noble Baroness was not a Minister on this subject. We are back to our familiar form. The extra time has seemingly allowed Ministers to reflect, in some areas at least, as evidenced by the various Commons amendments that we are debating today.

We welcome the clarifications around the definition of “public authorities” and the importance of costed plans should UKIB funds be used to support the work of water companies. The devolved provisions, which have facilitated the passing of legislative consent Motions—something of a novelty in recent years—are also welcome. We are also glad that the Minister and the Bill team have been persuaded of the merits of including nature-based solutions in the definition of infrastructure.

The noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, made a persuasive argument but, as we have often seen, that does not always lead to the Government making a concession. I pause again, however, to note, as happens with so many Bills, the extent to which she and her supporters are making incremental progress in embracing the green thrust. Even now, I have a bit of optimism that we might move quickly enough to save at least some of the planet that we now enjoy. It is good to see that thrust building on both sides of the House. I hope that in a couple of years the sides will change but, if one has that general direction in the membership and on the Front Benches, it is possible that we will get there. In another two years we may be passing green amendments that will amaze us when we look back five years, at when some official or other said, “You can’t put green in there because it is nothing to do with the Bill”. We have put green in here and have persuaded people that it is something to do with the Bill.

I understand the disappointment of the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, with regard to the circular economy, but that concept will become ever more apparent and he will no doubt have other opportunities to promote it.

I regret that the Government have overturned my amendment. Colleagues may think, “You would say that, wouldn’t you?”, but I remain unconvinced of the Government’s reasoning for removing their own levelling- up mission from the Bill. I reluctantly accept the offer to make changes to the bank’s framework document and articles of association after the Bill receives Royal Assent. It is not exactly where we want to be but it is a small step in the right direction.

Finally, we gladly accept the reduction of the interval between reports on the bank’s effectiveness. I was somewhat amused by this, as we were previously told that an interval of five years was simply not practical and could even somehow undermine the bank’s work.

Overall, while the Bill is a short, technical piece of legislation, the UK Infrastructure Bank could make a significant contribution to some of the big challenges that we face. We fully support the bank and, while there may be cause to revisit its mandate in the future, we wish it well in its work. Again we thank the Minister for her co-operation in bringing us to this consensus position.

My Lords, the Bill is mercifully short, so I shall also keep my remarks brief. I thank all noble Lords who have spoken today and who contributed when we took the Bill through its substantive stages in this House a while back. I reassure them that the time it has taken for the Bill to progress is not unusual: I was working on the skills Bill in this House, went off on maternity leave and was back in time for ping-pong, so it is not necessarily an unusual passage for a Bill in Parliament.

I reassure the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett, that the Government are committed to moving towards a more circular economy which will see us keeping resources in use as long as possible, extracting maximum value from them, minimising waste and promoting resource efficiency. I hope I made that clear in my opening remarks. When it came to including a legal definition of “infrastructure” in the Bill, that is where my remarks about the potentially imprecise nature of the terms lay, but it does not reflect a broader lack of understanding or commitment by the Government to that agenda.

I also reassure the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, that His Majesty’s Treasury is very much committed to ensuring that nature and climate change are on the agenda for the Government and that we meet our global goals, committed to both in terms of Paris alignment and the new framework agreed at COP 15 in Montreal at the end of last year. He knows better than most that we published the Dasgupta review that looked at the role of nature in our economy. We have had an amendment to the Bill today, and that commitment will be ongoing.

Most noble Lords were very kind in not replaying my words on the review period for the bank. All I can say is that it is always a pleasure to listen to the contributions of noble Lords and be persuaded of the art of the possible. I am pleased with the changes that we have been able to make to the Bill; I think these have shown how effective Parliament can be in scrutinising our legislation. The UK Infrastructure Bank has transformative potential, which I know is recognised and supported on all sides of the House. I beg to move.

Motion on Amendments 1 and 2 agreed.

Motion on Amendment 3

Moved by

That this House do agree with the Commons in their Amendment 3.

Amendment to the Motion on Amendment 3

Moved by

Leave out from “House” to end and insert “do disagree with the Commons in their Amendment 3 and do propose Amendment 3B in lieu—

3B: Clause 2, page 1, line 23, leave out “structures underpinning the circular economy, and””

Amendment to the Motion on Amendment 3 agreed.

Motion on Amendments 4 to 11

Moved by

Motion on Amendments 4 to 11 agreed.

Bill returned to the Commons with an amendment.