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Co-operatives, Mutuals and Friendly Societies Bill

Volume 830: debated on Friday 16 June 2023

Third Reading


Moved by

My Lords, in these few brief remarks, I pay tribute to the Bill’s sponsor in the other place, Sir Mark Hendrick, the Member for Preston. I also pay tribute to Peter Hunt, Mark Willetts and all the team at Mutuo, an organisation that has done fantastic work in the co-operative sector over recent years and had many bits of legislation passed. They have done a wonderful job, and we thank them very much for all their work.

The Bill is passive: it requires no co-op, mutual or friendly society to do anything whatever, but it enables them to take action, if they want, to protect their organisations and prevent unwanted attempts to demutualise. So it is a welcome piece of legislation. I thank the Government and the Opposition for their support, and the noble Lord, Lord Naseby, for his support on these matters over many years. I also thank the Treasury and Treasury officials for their support. I beg to move.

My Lords, this is a vital Bill for the mutual movement of the United Kingdom. It prevents any predator trying to take away the capital put in by individual members of the society, and it is absolutely vital that this goes through. I recognise that another element sitting on the statute book that complements the Bill is the Mutuals’ Deferred Shares Act 2015, which I had the honour of taking through this House some time ago. I say to my noble friend on the Front Bench that we in this country now have a huge opportunity to benefit in the same way that Canada and Holland have from the mutual movement. It is ready to move forward, and we now look to His Majesty’s Government to implement the Bill and take the mutual movement forward. I particularly thank the noble Lord on the Front Bench on the other side of the House for all that he has done to take it this far.

My Lords, briefly, it is a pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Naseby, whose speech I agree with completely. The noble Lord, Lord Kennedy, and his colleagues should be congratulated on bringing forward the Bill. It is a passive Bill, and it is no reflection on him but, sadly, it is too late: too many mutuals have been cashed in, with the current generation benefiting from the prudence of past generations. Anything that we can do to halt that decline is excellent. Turning to the Front Bench, I think that this is an important sector that has largely been undervalued over past decades. Taking the theme of the noble Lord, Lord Naseby, I think this is an opportunity to kick off with this sector of our economy and perhaps grow it and make it more valuable, which it undoubtedly has the potential to be.

My Lords, I congratulate my noble friend Lord Kennedy of Southwark on the success of his Bill. I also congratulate Sir Mark Hendrick MP for steering it through the other place. I know that my noble friend Lord Kennedy has supported co-operatives for over 40 years, and I note that some of the principles of them are democratic member control, autonomy and independence—perhaps not principles you might normally expect to be championed by a Chief Whip, but my noble friend does so with ease. The Bill will help UK mutuals preserve their legacy assets for the purpose for which they were intended, maintain and encourage greater corporate diversity and build a more resilient economy—objectives on which I am sure we can all agree.

My Lords, I add my thanks to the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy, for guiding the Bill through your Lordships’ House and for lending his wealth of knowledge and experience to our debates. I also congratulate Sir Mark Kendrick as his Bill reaches this milestone today. In particular, I recognise the close work between Sir Mark and my honourable friends the Economic Secretary to the Treasury and his predecessor, Richard Fuller, who supported the Bill through the House of Commons on behalf of the Government.

At their core, mutuals give people a stake in how businesses and organisations should be run. They make up a diverse sector of commonly owned and democratically controlled enterprises that provide vital services to their members across all industries. That is why creating the right legal apparatus in which mutuals can thrive and grow is so important. The Bill is a contribution towards that. As noble Lords said, it aims to provide the sector with options to safeguard its businesses, have more control over their funds and ensure that they are better equipped to avoid demutualisation.

Hearing support for the sector in this brief debate, I reassure noble Lords that government support for mutuals goes far beyond the Bill. The Financial Services and Markets Bill includes amendments to the Credit Unions Act to allow them to offer a wider range of products and services, and we intend to amend the Building Societies Act as part of the Edinburgh reforms package to modernise legislation for building societies. I am also happy to confirm that the Government will launch reviews of the Co-operative and Community Benefit Societies Act 2014 and the Friendly Societies Act 1992, conducted by the Law Commission, with the aim of identifying essential updates to the legislation, allowing for a more modern legal structure in which mutuals can be supported to capitalise on new opportunities to grow. So the Bill is the start of more work to come to support this important sector, and I am glad that the Government can support it.

Bill passed.