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Economic Activity of Public Bodies (Overseas Matters) Bill

Volume 838: debated on Tuesday 14 May 2024

Committee (4th Day)

The Schedule: Exceptions

Amendment 27

Moved by

27: The Schedule, page 12, line 26, after “financial”, insert “risk, impact and”

Member’s explanatory statement

This amendment seeks to allow decision-makers in public bodies to consider the financial risk and impact associated with, for example, the delivery of contracted goods and services and the investments in the Local Government Pension Scheme, without falling foul of the prohibition.

My Lords, in moving Amendment 27, I shall speak in support of Amendments 45 and 46A in this group.

Part 2 of the Schedule allows exceptions for certain types of consideration from the prohibition in Clause 1. Amendment 27 seeks to expand on those exceptions by adding financial risk and impact alongside financial value and practical utility as considerations that decision-makers can have regard to without violating the prohibition. This would allow considerations of material financial risk and impact when making investment decisions in the local government pension scheme and public procurement decisions without falling foul of the prohibition.

The current wording of the Bill, which explicitly accepts consideration of financial value but not consideration of financial risk and impact, leaves investment decisions informed by such considerations exposed to legal challenges, alleging that they are influenced by political or moral disapproval. The LGPS has no trustees, but it does have decision-makers who carry judiciary-like duties requiring consideration of financial risk and impact, as recognised by the Law Commission; government legislation; statutory guidance from the Secretary of State; the Financial Markets Law Committee; and the expectations of the Pensions Regulator. All investments and divestments have territorial considerations and country-specific factors.

The Minister advises that the Government intend the word “value” to cover financial risk and impact, but relying on the exception of consideration of financial value does not suffice to address the problem of the potential for legal challenge. Financial risk and impact encompass wider consideration for informed decision-making, particularly long-term investments held by pension schemes. Financial value, financial impact and financial risk are referenced by financial services and government legislation; they are related, but separate. Financial value is narrower, often linked to the price of an investment or asset reflecting market view at a point in time.

Considering material financial risk an impact inherent in any investment is fundamental to making informed decisions on the likelihood of achieving financial goals. The chilling effect of a widely drawn prohibition, the very narrow wording of the exceptions for certain considerations and the fear of legal uncertainty and litigation risk undermining the effective fulfilment of judiciary and public duties. Banning public bodies from imposing their own direct or indirect boycotts, disinvestment or sanctions campaigns may be a manifesto commitment, but the manner of its implementation should not give rise to legal uncertainty or perverse consequences when considered through the lens of the public good. Unfortunately, this Bill has those consequences.

Litigation risk will come not only from traditional domestic organisations that lobby for particular social or non-financial considerations to be embedded into LGPS decision-making. The real concern emerging is that the Bill opens up the potential for legal challenge from proxies for Governments abroad or bodies corporate with particular commercial interests in areas where no formal sanctions or other restrictions are in place. Such challenges may be made not in good faith but, rather, from the sectoral, commercial or national interest of those raising the challenge. Anyone under this Bill with sufficient interest could seek judicial review as to whether an investment decision, influenced by consideration of financial risk or impact, was influenced by political or moral disapproval. Similar reasoning applies to those who make procurement decisions in the interests of the taxpayer.

Explicitly accepting financial risk and impact considerations from the prohibition is necessary if decision-makers are to meet their current statutory obligations or duties to illustrate. The DWP’s recent Occupational Pension Schemes (Funding and Investment Strategy and Amendment) Regulations 2024 made it clear that decision-makers should cover the level of risk in relation to the intended investment of the assets. They are obliged to consider the risk in the investments in addition to their value.

The local government pensions scheme is a statutory occupational pension scheme, subject to Secretary of State oversight and statutory guidance. The Local Government Pension Scheme (Management and Investment of Funds) Regulations, which cover investment strategy statements, refer to and set requirement for both value and risk. Investment strategy must include how risks are assessed and managed. Following the Law Commission report, Fiduciary Duties of Investment Intermediaries, the Government introduced statutory guidance to require the LGPS to publish its policy on how social, environmental and corporate governance considerations are taken into account in the selection, non-selection, retention and realisation of investments and to consider any factors that are financially material to investment performance—considerations which Amendment 46A, in the name of my noble friend Lord Collins, rightly seeks to protect.

Indeed, recent guidance published by the DWP on its website advises decision-makers to

“integrate financially material ESG factors into their decisions”

on investment and stewardship

“and seek the best possible risk-adjusted returns for the duration of their investments”.

Regulation again requires the LGPS to have a policy on how it exercises stewardship. The Bill, by not excepting financial risk and impact considerations from the prohibition, exposes the scheme to litigation in exercising those stewardship duties, as a result of any statements, views, conversations, votes cast, et cetera, during the engagement with the companies that it invests in. That undermines effective stewardship activities.

My noble friend Lady Blackstone’s Amendment 45 addresses the impediment that the Bill places on the Local Government Pension Scheme in fulfilling its stewardship duties, and she is absolutely right to do so, because this is one of the perverse consequences of the Bill as drafted. The failure to except considerations of financial risk and impact could also complicate repatriation of local government funding to the UK under the Mansion House proposals, opening up challenges that investment decisions are influenced by political or moral disapproval.

The Government, through the Bill, by focusing on a broad definition of “public bodies” and a very narrow definition of exceptions to the prohibition, in order to catch as many boycott or disinvestment campaigns as possible, have failed to see the potentially perverse impacts on the Local Government Pension Scheme investments and public procurement decision-making, increasing the risk of bodies or persons seeking, for self-interested reasons, to argue that LGPS decision-makers have been influenced by political or moral disapproval. What could it mean for passive funds, for example, which the LGPS invests in? ESG—environmental, social and governance—fund providers often use Global Compact-type screens, which may now mean that they sift out companies in a way that falls foul of the Bill, due to the narrow drafting of exceptions.

Some passive funds have climate transition benchmarks. A company failing to reach the benchmark will inevitably have a territorial link but, without this amendment, uncertainty arises as to whether the Local Government Pension Scheme could invest in such ESG funds and whether billions need to be invested. I have not just dreamed up these concerns: there are people who hold concerns that the Bill will have that effect.

The Bill is before us. If the Government’s argument is that they intend their reference to “financial value” to include financial risk and impact, why not put it on the face of the Bill? Lots of people involved feel that leaves legal uncertainty. It just does not feel like good government when the management of approximately £360 billion of Local Government Pension Scheme assets is left to rely on a ministerial statement to mitigate legal uncertainty. The Secretary of State, Michael Gove, asserted in the Commons that

“there is no damage to the fiduciary duty”.—[Official Report, Commons, 25/10/23; col. 917.]

in this Bill. There is increasing concern abroad that that is simply not correct.

My Lords, I rise briefly to support the points made by the noble Baroness, Lady Drake, and to explain why I have put my name to her amendment. She makes a powerful case, and what I hope sways the Minister is that her case rests very much on the policies enunciated by the DWP and the Chancellor, who are very keen to see pension funds take a broader view of their responsibilities and take account of impact and risk. Indeed, the noble Baroness has cited specific DWP regulations which make it clear that risk is something distinct that it wants pension fund trustees to take account of. What she is proposing here is consistent with the wider direction of government policy about how pension fund trustees, particularly local government pension trustees, should see their responsibilities.

My understanding of the Government’s position is that actually “financial value” already captures all that and that the noble Baroness’s amendment, which I support, is therefore unnecessary. However, I must say that I think it is unlikely, given that so much effort has taken place in the Treasury and the DWP to use some other expressions going beyond “financial value” to capture the responsibilities of trustees, that anyone would automatically accept that the formulation currently in the Bill covers this wider meaning. If the Minister is right that it is the Government’s intention and it should have this wider implication, I do not see any difficulty in making that absolutely clear by accepting this amendment. I very much hope that in the spirit of constructive review and revision of legislation, without in any way challenging the fundamental electoral mandate behind it, this amendment is a proposal that the Government can accept. It is, indeed, entirely consistent with the direction of the Government’s own policies.

My Lords, I support Amendment 27. The Bill has effects that were not thought of in advance. Local government pension schemes and their administrators have one thought in mind, which is to protect the financial interests of the pensioners and of the funds, and this amendment just clarifies the financial aspects of that. The administrators should not be involved in any international political situation, but be there to look after the funds of the pensioners. Amendment 27 does exactly that in clarifying, which is all it is doing, what this aspect of the Bill does. Therefore, I support it from these Benches.

My Lords, I rise briefly to congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Drake, on her amendment and the others in the group. I understand where they are coming from, but it seems to me that the Government’s argument that this issue is already encompassed in “financial impact” holds some sway. There are concerns that I understand, but I am not sure they are necessary. Indeed, sight should not be lost of the fact that all local government pension schemes are ultimately underwritten by the Government and taxpayers. If the stewardship of these assets were swayed by issues which the Government themselves might not be comfortable with, there are powerful reasons why that stewardship should not be swayed by the kind of considerations that the Bill seeks to ensure does not happen.

Political or moral disapproval is not the same as environmental, social and governance issues. If a board of trustees decided to boycott an investment because of the country in which it is located, based on judgments of that country which do not accord with the views of the elected Government, the duties incumbent on the Government in accordance with this Bill would be at risk. That someone might take legal action against trustees who decide that they do not wish to make certain investments because they make a political or moral judgment that is not in accordance with that of the elected Government could equally be argued the other way. Trustees, certainly local government trustees, should not be taking these decisions.

I believe that was the manifesto commitment. Private pension schemes are not part of government and therefore that is a different decision, but local authority pension assets are ultimately underwritten by government so, should there be concerns about material financial risk and impact, they ultimately rest on the Government’s underpinning them anyway. Given that, as my noble friend said, “financial value” already encompasses these issues, I am relaxed about the current wording of the Bill. I hope that noble Lords across the Committee, especially those who have worked so hard on pension issues and with whom I normally fully agree, will not be too uncomfortable with the explanations that I am trying to put forward for not using pension assets as a disguised tool for political or moral judgments in the way that could happen and which this Bill seeks to deter.

My Lords, I support the amendments in this group and will speak to Amendment 45, which I have signed. This amendment would remove “management” from the definition of a fund investment decision, allowing investors to carry out stewardship activities, including engagement and voting, without falling foul of the prohibition and enabling vexatious legal challenges.

Clause 12, on application of prohibitions, applies Clause 1 prohibitions to the LGPS. It includes acquisition, retention, management or disposal of assets in its definition of fund investment decision. However, advice from the LGPS identifies “management” as pension scheme stewardship—engagement with or seeking to influence the companies and sometimes Governments in which it invests and voting at annual general meetings. Without this amendment, local authorities would be open to legal challenge for statements made during engagement with the companies in which they invest or to votes against them at AGMs, should interested parties wish to argue that these were influenced by political or moral disapproval of a foreign state.

I hear the arguments put forward by the noble Baroness, Lady Altmann, but the breadth of the Bill means that there is an opportunity for interested parties to use the moral and political disapproval of a foreign state as a way of challenging decisions that they do not agree with. The concern is that many will choose to take that view—and the Bill allows them so to do—on risks, for example, connected with a company’s purchases from a certain market, such as the use of forced labour in China, or investment in fossil fuels, which are becoming more financially risky. These could all be interpreted as disapproval of a foreign state or moral or political disapproval and thereby attract interested parties to challenge via judicial review and the quasi-judicial review process introduced in Clause 5.

Furthermore, foreign Governments have large stakes in listed companies, so concerns about any aspects of those companies could be litigated on the basis that they were influenced by disapproval of a significant fellow investor. With such a threat of litigation, it is easy to see how advice and full and frank discussion of decisions could be severely restricted. Having been a member of a local government pension scheme, I understand the need for advisers to be able to give frank advice without fearing that their words may be used later in legal action.

The Government require pension schemes to carry out stewardship. Without a change in the drafting, they will contradict their own statutory guidance on stewardship and pension schemes will be severely inhibited from carrying out that role. As they have acknowledged, without good stewardship, the LGPS will fall short of the highest standards of corporate governance and responsibility among the companies in which it invests. As a result, shareholder value—and, in turn, member benefits—will suffer.

As my noble friend Lord Palmer said, we also support Amendment 27, which includes risk and impact as one of the excepted considerations to be included in “financial and practical matters”. We agree that, if this is not included as an exemption, every investment decision will be open to legal challenge because all investment decisions must include risk and impact evaluation. The fiduciary duty of the LGPS is also affected, as this includes taking account of material financial risk when dealing with investments on behalf of others and exercising due care, skill and diligence when taking decisions on investment with the funds of scheme members. It is easy to see how, if this exception is not included, legal challenges could be mounted by interested parties when pension fund trustees are carrying out their duty to manage environmental, social and governmental risks when an investment decision goes against them, using the broad terms of the “moral or political disapproval of a foreign state” prohibitions in Clause 1.

My Lords, I will make three brief points from the view of a lawyer. An awful lot has been said very ably by previous speakers about the reasons why, particularly in relation to Amendment 27, there seems to be no disagreement. This has nothing to do with the politics of the Bill; it is to do with making certain that we make the lives of those who become members of the pension fund board acceptable. I do not want to say too much about the burdens of being on a board or being a trustee of a pension fund—I do not want to put people off—but we ought to legislate to make their life easier in an age where litigation risk is growing. This Bill adds to that litigation risk, which is the second factor that we should take into account. I will not go into Clause 5 now because we will come to it later, but we must take into account the extraordinary encouragement it gives to litigation.

Everyone seems agreed on the objective, particularly in Amendment 27, that financial risk and impact should be taken into account. It is baffling; it is bad legislation to rely on the words rather than to take two minutes to amend the Bill. I am sure this debate has cost more than the cost of putting the Bill right. It cannot possibly be about the parliamentary draftsmen’s pride. It is incomprehensible to me why we cannot put forward a short amendment to reduce litigation risk, make it more attractive to be a pension fund trustee and enable us all to go home a bit earlier.

My Lords, the noble Baroness, Lady Drake, explained her Amendment 27 with great clarity, but I am afraid that I do not agree with her analysis of the problem, nor do I agree with the analysis of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Thomas of Cwmgiedd, for reasons which I will now explain.

Financial matters have been my stock in trade for well over half a century, since I left university. I have been trying to work out what these additional words, “risk” and “impact”, would add to the concept of financial value. The term financial value is not a term of art in my world, the accountancy world, but I think that it means something along the lines of the worth of something expressed in money terms. What something is worth can mean what it is realised for in a market transaction, or what it is worth in terms of the financial benefits it is evaluated to or expected to bring. I believe that neither “risk” nor “impact” add anything to the meaning of financial value.

I start with risk. Risk will affect value, so any determination of what something would fetch in a market or what benefits it would bring would of course take account of the risks when doing the calculations of financial value. This is just 101 of calculating things in financial terms. That is effectively why the DWP documents refer to risk. They do not refer to documents about risk as an adjunct to financial value; they are just encouraging the identification of risks, because that is a normal part of a balanced evaluation. While I do not think that the word risk does any particular harm to the concept of financial value, I do not think that the word is necessary.

I have struggled a bit more with working out what financial impact means. The only thing I could come up with was something like the evaluation of the net costs or benefits to be obtained from what is being acquired, but I cannot see what financial impact adds to the meaning of financial value. In this case, it would be positively confusing to add financial impact alongside financial value, because it might encourage somebody to litigate on the basis that there was a difference between financial value and impact, as Parliament clearly meant something other than financial value by the concept of financial impact. That would be a failure on our part to create certainty in our legislation.

I would also like to comment on Amendment 46A, from the noble Lord, Lord Collins, which is in this group. I expect he will be speaking to it a little later. I could not understand why the noble Lord has chosen UN-related documents to refer to when trying to put what he calls “established investment principles” into the Bill. The UK Government have already announced a series of actions that they have implemented in relation to the UN guiding principles on business and human rights, much of it already in legislation and unaffected by the Bill. In response to those principles, the relevant parts of our legal system are already in place, and we do not need to refer to a UN document to get any further on investment principles; they have already been interpreted by the UK Government.

Furthermore, we already have a perfectly good Stewardship Code in the UK, issued by the Financial Reporting Council, which deals with ESG matters. I do not believe the Bill alters that at all, so long as ESG principles do not acquire a territorial dimension.

There was a little throwaway remark there: that ESG principles will not involve territorial matters. There are many examples where it could be quite a big influence.

The noble Lord picks me up when I used a bit of shorthand. I really mean the contents of Clause 1 and the moral disapproval in relation to territorial consideration. I was just trying to say that ESG principles are unaffected; they are in the UK system of corporate governance and stewardship, and they are unchanged by this Bill, except where those principles are used in the way described in Clause 1.

The UN principles of responsible investment are not even issued by a UN body: it is a private body that issues them. Those principles have no standing whatever in the UK, except to the extent that UK-based signatories sign up to them. In my view, it is a rather odd thing to be putting into the Bill to define investment principles.

The UN Human Rights Council, which owns this territory, is, like most of the UN, including the General Assembly, pretty anti-Israel. I have an underlying concern that using these UN-affiliated principles—to use a shorthand—is just another way of allowing divestment decisions in relation to Israel by the back door. I am sure that the noble Lord, Lord Collins, does not intend for that to be the effect of his amendment, but I have a fear that it will be the outcome of it.

When I speak to my amendment, I will make the case for it. I would actually put the noble Baroness’s arguments on their head: if the purpose of the Bill was to stop BDS campaigns, it should have been about that. Our problem—and my noble friend’s problem—is that it is going to be much broader in scope, and will include things that this Government want to achieve. That is why these amendments are quite important.

I accept that this goes beyond the narrow BDS campaign that has been focused on Israel. Nevertheless, it is a concern for a number of us that the Bill will be effective as regards its impact on actions by UK public authorities towards dealings with Israel, which is why I raised it.

To finish, my concern on this score was underlined by the action of the UN human rights special rapporteur on the Occupied Palestinian Territories. This person wrote to the Local Government Pension Scheme in 2021 with a “request for action”, which included divestment from companies that are involved in the Occupied Territories. Here we have someone associated with the UN Human Rights Council telling our Local Government Pension Scheme to carry out divestment activities. That is why this whole area is so concerning.

How does the noble Baroness think that that advice—I have not seen it—compares with the advice of her own Government in relation to the Occupied Territories?

I think we discussed this briefly on the previous day of Committee. The Government highlight the risks associated with dealings in relation to the Occupied Territories but do not call for divestment. Very explicitly, that is not the case.

Is not the noble Baroness making my point? It is a risk which the Government have highlighted in their own policy on the Occupied Territories. They are illegal, and have no legal status, and that investment could be at risk. The noble Baroness should make up her mind about what she is arguing.

The issue of risk is a separate issue, dealt with in the amendment of the noble Baroness, Lady Drake. I was talking about later amendments which seek to apply UN principles to local government pension schemes. This is a fairly large group, and I think we have got a little cross-wired on which issues affect which part.

To conclude, I know that the noble Lord, Lord Davies of Brixton, has tabled a stand-part debate on Clause 12, which is in this group. I hope he is not serious about taking local government pension schemes out of the Bill. The actions of the special rapporteur in our domestic affairs are proof enough that we need local government pension schemes firmly within the Bill.

My Lords, I strongly support what my noble friend Lady Drake has put forward in her amendment and very much hope that the Government will respond positively to it and accept it.

I listened carefully to what the noble Baronesses, Lady Noakes and Lady Altmann, said. I know that their arguments were made sincerely, but I was surprised that they were somewhat complacent in brushing aside the arguments put by my noble friend. Amendment 45 in my name adds to the important points raised by my noble friend Lady Drake, the noble Lord, Lord Willetts, and other speakers on the fiduciary duties of local government pension funds and their ability to consider risk.

The noble Baroness, Lady Janke, has already made important points on Amendment 45, so I will be brief and not repeat everything she said; I just want to reinforce them. The amendment is simple: it seeks to

“remove management from the definition of a fund investment decision”.

The term “management” is not defined in the Bill, but when the Minister kindly agreed to meet some of us, she confirmed that it embraces stewardship. As my noble friend Lady Drake said, stewardship must be pursued by pension funds in their engagement with and monitoring of their assets once their investments have been made. After all, circumstances might change, leading to new risks to those investments, such as serious threats to the environment.

A local government pension fund must also engage with the companies in which it invests for long periods after the initial investment was made, including by attending, participating in and speaking at their AGMs. Moreover, regulations for local government pension schemes require them to have a policy on stewardship—a point that I think the noble Lord, Lord Willetts, made. Indeed, the Government have made it absolutely clear in statutory guidance that they expect them to carry out stewardship and to sign up to the stewardship code, which is voluntary for other pension schemes.

Incidentally, I cannot entirely agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Altmann, that private pension funds should be treated completely differently from local government pension funds. Local government pension funds look after the pensions of millions of workers, not just in local government but in many other sectors. I am perplexed that she thinks they should be treated so differently from private pension schemes.

Unfortunately, Clause 12, by including prohibitions on management decisions as well as being inconsistent with regulations and guidance, could open up funds to litigation, as the noble and learned Lord, Lord Thomas, so eloquently outlined. Companies with a vested interest may dislike statements made to them by pension fund committees or votes against them—statements and votes pursued as part of the fund’s stewardship. The companies concerned may well argue that the funds were influenced by political or moral disapproval of foreign state conduct, whether that is true or not. Does the Minister accept that there should not be a statutory mechanism offering recipients of capital, companies, the chance to litigate against the provider of capital, pension funds, as a result of investor conversations carried out in good faith in pursuit of stewardship?

It is also the case that many foreign Governments have big stakes in listed companies, so any express concerns about those companies could be litigated on the basis that they were influenced by the disapproval of a substantial fellow investor. If pension schemes became open to legal challenge in the way that I have described, it would have a chilling effect on the high standards of corporate governance and corporate responsibilities, which the Government claim to support. I hope the Minister will therefore accept this simple amendment to allow proper stewardship by local government pension funds without the threat of litigation hanging over them.

My Lords, I will speak in support of the noble Baroness who has just spoken on Amendment 45, as well as Amendment 27 in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Drake. As the noble Baroness, Lady Noakes, has eloquently drawn to the attention of the Committee, this is another of the points at which this legislation’s handling of Israel arises. The issue is the elision that has been made by the Government between the State of Israel and the Occupied Territories—the West Bank, the Golan Heights and east Jerusalem. Within the Occupied Territories there is a mass of illegal settlements, which the international community and the British Government regard as illegal. A whole rash of outposts have now been established from those settlements, which are also illegal. The elision between the State of Israel and the settlements is causing infinite trouble to this Bill, and I hope that the Minister will find some way to sort this out, because it really needs to be sorted out.

There is no disagreement, between the Government and those of us who wish to see this sorted out, about the settlements in the West Bank, Golan and east Jerusalem. We all agree that they are illegal under international law. I think we therefore agree—the Minister was very clear about this at Second Reading and when it came up in earlier amendments—that for British companies, pension funds or whatever else to invest in those illegal settlements, even unwittingly, would be to create an illegality. Presumably, the Government do not want a British company or a British pension fund to do that—and I hope that we would not want it either.

These amendments would make it somewhat easier for the bodies covered by the Bill to make sure that they were not being drawn into illegality in any way and thus acting in a way that would be contrary to government policy. I hope that the Minister will give careful consideration to the issue, because I am afraid that the elision between the State of Israel and the Occupied Territories is really damaging to the Bill’s prospects.

I have made no secret that this is a bad Bill that is badly drafted, and I spoke against it at Second Reading. In this debate, my suggestion that we should not agree Clause 12 is narrowly focused.

Local government pension schemes should be treated in exactly the same way as every other funded occupational pension scheme—the point made by my noble friend Lady Blackstone. I agree totally with the amendments tabled by my noble friends, and I certainly support their proposals, but my question is: do we need separate legislation to cover the local government pension schemes? My strong view is that we do not; the schemes should all be treated the same. They should come under the same rules as the fiduciary duties on trustees or committees —whoever is responsible for taking the decisions—and they should be the same across the board.

I tabled my clause stand part notice just to ask what the effect would be of not having this provision. Would it mean that I achieve my objective and that, should the provision be removed from the Bill, the local government pension schemes would be treated like other pension schemes? I suspect not. I suspect that I would need a more detailed amendment that would place local government pension schemes under the same responsibilities and law as occupational pension schemes more generally. That is my objective, and I hope that we can have this debate again on Report so that all pension schemes are treated the same.

I listened carefully to the remarks from the noble Baroness, Lady Altmann, but I think her argument fails. First, there are private employers whose employees are within the local government pension scheme. Equally, there are public bodies whose pension schemes are not covered by this legislation, most obviously the universities superannuation scheme. So the division between the sheep and the goats in this respect is arbitrary. There is no consistency about—

The noble Lord and I usually agree on so many pension issues—in fact, almost all of them. However, would he not agree that the fundamental difference between the local authority pension schemes and private schemes, or indeed the universities super- annuation scheme, is that the local authority pension schemes do not belong to the Pension Protection Fund and do not pay levies to it, and are therefore effectively underwritten by central government, not by local government? If a council goes bust, it is rather difficult to imagine that the burden of paying the pensions promised to local authority workers would not fall on government itself. That is indeed the reason why these schemes are not part of the Pension Protection Fund, and indeed do not pay any kind of levy. For me, that is a powerful reason—I would be grateful to hear the noble Lord’s view—why there should be a differentiation between those schemes and all other schemes. Typically, there is not, but that misses an important part of this debate.

I am afraid to say that it is not that simple. Technically, the history is that the funds established by local authorities to pay the pensions of their employees were there to protect the ratepayer rather than the members. That is the history of it, but I think we have moved on from that. Certainly, the members of these schemes believe that the money they have paid is there for their benefit. What would happen if a local government pension fund were unable to pay the benefits that were due is actually an open question. There is no explicit government guarantee for the local government pension scheme.

In addition, under the present provisions of the cost-sharing enforced by the Government on the Local Government Pension Scheme, it is the members who are the residual fund source of any shortfall in money. If there is a shortfall in the Local Government Pension Scheme, the contribution from the local authority is capped; it is the members who will lose out by having to pay higher contributions or seeing their benefits reduced. It is not a simple matter of “The Government will always make things good”. Initially, the members have to make things good. If the members cannot afford it, I suspect that it is right that the Government will step in—but that is not in the rules, so there is a contingent possibility there. So the situation is far less clear-cut than the sheep and goats I identified earlier.

Of course, this all comes about because technically, I think, under present law, the administration of the Local Government Pension Scheme comes under the aegis of a public body or public authority. I am not really sure what the difference is between the different terms under the Bill. But that is not how it is perceived by scheme members. They do not see their pension scheme as being a public authority, and we should respect that. As I say, my central thought is that local government pension schemes should be treated like all other occupational pension schemes.

I want to ask a simple question. At the moment, all pensions are in many ways looked at by the Pensions Regulator. Does that regulator distinguish between the local authority pension scheme and the pension scheme for me—for the Church of England —when, as you say, if there is not enough money within that pension fund, the members have to put it in? Is there a difference? Does the Pensions Regulator ever say, “Well, this is a local authority and I am going to look at them differently because the Government may put in money and I think your analysis is the right one?” If the regulator does not, why are we making a difference here?

I thank the noble and right reverend Lord for his question. This comes up under group 5, where I have a lot to say about the role of the Pensions Regulator, but that comes under the issue of enforcement. Here I am just talking about the principle of how we should think about local government pension schemes. Whatever the legal niceties, my view is that they should be treated exactly like every other pension scheme.

My amendment at this stage is simply to ask: if we do not have Clause 12, does that mean that the same rules will apply to all pension schemes, including the Local Government Pension Scheme, or do I have to move a more difficult, technical amendment on Report in order to achieve that objective?

We have to remember that all pension scheme trustees are subject to the fiduciary responsibilities. In the remaining 30 seconds of my time, I think it is worth highlighting what the pensions officer of the Local Government Association said in evidence to the Public Bill Committee in the House of Commons. He said the association’s prime concern was the impact of these provisions—the way they will interfere with its fiduciary duties. He also mentioned the additional administrative costs that would be involved and having to deal with the inevitable legal challenges. So the LGA has those practical concerns. My belief is that we should just treat all schemes the same and that the trustees should be left to get on with their job of looking after their members’ money.

My Lords, I intervene very briefly as a person who benefits very considerably from a local government pension scheme; indeed, pretty much my whole income comes from one. One thing that always concerned me and colleagues who were in these schemes was that they were well run, that their management was good, that they were reliable and that our deferred income—which is what a pension scheme is using—was being looked after well. What I hear from these amendments that are being spoken to in this group is that we need to strengthen the Bill if we are to continue with well-run pension schemes.

I also rather agree with the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Davies of Brixton, that it is very difficult to see what the case is for treating public authority schemes separately from private schemes—but that is a debate for another part of the Bill.

Here we should really be accepting technical amendments endorsed by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Thomas, the noble Lord, Lord Willetts, and in particular the noble Baroness, Lady Drake, which it seems to me would improve the confidence of beneficiaries of these schemes that the reliable management of the schemes would not be damaged.

My Lords, I should declare an interest as a beneficiary of the university superannuation scheme. Can the Minister remind us how many times any local government pension fund has taken decisions on political and ethical grounds towards investment in particular foreign countries? The Explanatory Notes to the Bill give us a very small number of examples of where local government pension funds have discussed whether they should. We will come later to the question of whether we should ban discussions of these sorts in a free country, but that is different. I worry about whether we are having an enormous debate about something which has not happened in this country and is unlikely to happen in this country. It happens in the United States, and the American debate filters into this country. Particularly on the right in British politics we have an awful tendency to pick up American partisan politics and try to apply them over here, which I am deeply unhappy about. Is this a real problem or a manufactured, confected problem? If so, could we possibly leave it aside until some future date when it perhaps becomes a problem?

My Lords, I also belatedly declare my interest as a beneficiary of the Local Government Pension Scheme.

My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Wallace, suggests that we are using the Bill to address a problem that has not happened, which prompts me to say that there are genuine concerns that it might happen. I come back to the point that I made in one of the interventions: the concern that we all have about this Bill is that its scope goes well beyond the concerns and the remedy in the manifesto. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Thomas, and my noble friend are quite right to point out the litigation risks.

My noble friend also raised what I have repeatedly said: that this legislation can have a chilling effect that we do not want. We have a Government making all kinds of guidance. On the local government pension funds, we have specific regulations. All pension funds have a fiduciary duty. Noble Lords have raised the point about the duties of people responsible for making these decisions. The Bill will make those duties even more complex. When things become even more complex, people avoid doing the right thing. That is one of the important considerations.

I want to repeat what my noble friend Lord Davies mentioned. Talking as an old-fashioned trade unionist, I say that members’ pensions and pension funds are their deferred wages, yet there is an idea that somehow those do not belong to them and are not their responsibility. Most of the members primarily want those funds protected for their future security. They do not want political and moral considerations to play a part. They want them to be covered by the points that my noble friend Lady Drake has mentioned. No matter what is said by the noble Baronesses, Lady Altmann and Lady Noakes, this could impact the ability of those responsible for managing these funds to make decisions that take into account risk and other considerations to protect those funds. That comes from the potential for them to be challenged.

I have read some of the briefings on this. The ESG point is quite an important one. Many funds and investment pools in local government pension schemes work individually and collectively to improve corporate behaviour and long-term value of the funds, including through engagement in shareholder action at their AGMs. This is reflected in the statutory guidance that my noble friends have been referring to about administrating authorities formulating a policy to deal with their stewardship responsibilities. It is likely that engagement of this type would be undermined by the Bill.

I again come back to the point made by the noble Baroness, Lady Noakes. When seeking to address behaviours by a company that involve significant financial, legal and reputational risk, there are many occasions when this will have geographical implications. We have seen, for example, the briefings on the use of tax havens by companies and the use of surveillance equipment. We have heard of the Uighur internment camps where bonded labour is encouraged by public authorities, particularly the kafala system. We will come on to another group on employment law, but the definition of the exceptions is very narrowly drawn in this Schedule. The Bill is unlikely to allow decision-makers to consider those behaviours.

It is unclear whether decision-makers in the LGPS could be accountable for screening selection decisions made by global equity funds where country-specific risks have been considered. That is an important point. My noble friend Lord Davies is absolutely right. As a trade unionist all my working life, I have seen the responsibilities of those who look after these pension funds. They should be common throughout. Why are we differentiating between local government workers and something beyond local government workers? Why should we have these different standards? It is really important that everyone who takes that responsibility of oversight, as a trustee or in management of the schemes, has those same principles of fiduciary duty and taking risks into account.

What is the noble Lord’s view, given this fundamental difference between local authority pension schemes and all other pension schemes except unfunded ones? They do not belong to the Pension Protection Fund, have no protection in that regard whatever and do not pay a levy to the Pension Protection Fund. Therefore, ultimately does he believe that these would not be and are not in any way underwritten by Government and Parliament? Why would they be excluded?

My noble friend Lord Davies responded to that point. The reality is that there is nothing explicitly guaranteeing them. The Pension Protection Fund is not that old. I remember companies going bust and shareholders and other people getting the money and workers losing their pensions. You have only to look at Mirror Group Newspapers to see what can happen there. We want a common duty and responsibility. This Bill undermines that. That is the point that my noble friend Lord Davies was making. It is also the point that my noble friend Lady Drake is making. There are common principles. We do not want the creation of uncertainty when trying to implement a manifesto decision. I have repeated my plea to the Minister to sit down with us and work out a better way of implementing this manifesto commitment. This Bill is not doing that job and I have yet to meet a member of the Conservative Party who believes that it does. We need to sort this out.

We have an opportunity with these amendments. I will address the issues raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Noakes. I specifically raised issues concerning the UN’s Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights partly because we had the Government’s response on this from their working party. As I have said before, the requirement to seek, prevent and mitigate adverse human rights impacts linked directly to their operation, products and services via the business relationships, should not have contributed to those impacts. This is what we are talking about in relation to impacts.

It is important to have a consistent approach to the advice we give. This comes back to a point that has been raised during consideration of a number of groups: we should not single out a country. That is why BDS is so wrong; we should not hold Israel to a different standard from other countries. But addressing that problem does not therefore mean that we can allow human rights and other abuses to be put lower down the agenda. That is what the Bill does and why we seek these changes.

I conclude by making a final plea to the noble Baroness: sit down with us and try to work out how we can address the manifesto commitment, without widening its scope and creating the legal uncertainty that inevitably leads to court cases. We do not know the outcome of those.

My Lords, I thank noble Lords for their thoughtful contributions today and for their engagement. I particularly thank the noble Baronesses, Lady Drake, Lady Janke and Lady Blackstone, and the noble Lords, Lord Shipley, Lord Willetts and Lord Hannay, who met me and officials to discuss the amendments a couple of weeks ago. During that meeting, noble Lords expressed their concerns regarding the financial and practical matters exception and the application of the Bill to the administering authorities of local government pension schemes. I sympathise with their ask for clarity in this area and I have taken some time to reflect on their comments. I will set out why, on balance, I think the Government’s drafting is sound on these points.

Before I address the amendments, I will set out why it is so important that the administering authorities of LGPSs are captured by the Bill. It is not a manufactured problem, as suggested by the noble Lord, Lord Wallace. Administering authorities come under frequent pressure from external pressure groups such as the Palestine Solidarity Campaign and the BDS movement to engage in BDS campaigns. We saw a notable example in 2021, when a UN special rapporteur wrote to the administering authorities of LGPSs demanding divestment from a number of Israeli companies. My noble friend Lady Noakes referred to this. The demands cited the LGPSs’ ability to play a transformational role.

We have also seen the BDS campaigners take credit for some decisions by administering authorities of LGPSs to divest from Israeli companies. For example, campaigners took credit for a decision by East Sussex Pension Fund to divest from an Israeli company.

Amendment 27, tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Drake, would ensure that the ban does not hinder the ability of public authorities to consider financial risk and impact in their investments in a way that is influenced by moral or political disapproval of foreign state conduct. The Government agree with the policy intention of the noble Baroness’s amendment, and I acknowledge her expertise in this area.

However, having looked into the matter, we remain of the view that the Bill as drafted does not prevent public authorities being able to assess the financial and political risk of investments. The exception for considerations reasonably relevant to financial value and practical utility ensures that public authorities, including the administering authorities of LGPSs, will be able to make commercially viable decisions. This includes decisions to exclude investments if an assessment of the political and economic risks of an investment’s location could reasonably have an impact on the financial return of the investment.

I am grateful for the contributions of my noble friends Lady Altmann and Lady Noakes, and I confirm to the noble Baroness, Lady Drake, that

“financial value or practical utility”

captures considerations relevant to an investment’s long-term value and financial risk, not just its current value. I hope that my clarifying this on the Floor of the House provides the noble Baroness with reassurance.

I want to clarify something that the Minister just said. Does this mean that, if my local authority pension scheme, from which I benefit, decided that an investment in Israel was risky and put the members’ money at risk, it could disinvest because it was risky, but not for any other moral grounds? Is that still permitted under this legislation?

I will cover that later in my response. There is a point about territoriality, which we will come on to address.

Additionally, the drafting of the guidance referenced in the speech from the noble Baroness, Lady Drake, does not change our view of the scope of this exception. I agree with my noble friend Lady Noakes’ assessment that the amendment could cause some confusion. If we were to accept it, it might raise questions about what considerations relevant to “financial value” and “practical utility” actually capture if they do not capture risk assessment.

I know that the noble Baroness will be disappointed that the Government are unable to accept her amendment, but we did not brush it aside and looked carefully at what she said at our helpful meeting. However, I hope that she is reassured by the Government’s position that the Bill’s current drafting adequately addresses her concerns, with that clarification.

Before I turn to other amendments, I will address the noble Baroness’s point about the impact of judicial review on LGPSs. I will provide a fuller response to the detail in the later group that was referred to in the debate. The Government believe that it is right that companies that have been the target of boycotts and divestment campaigns can challenge these decisions through the courts. There are safeguards in place to prevent undue or nuisance claims. None the less, the number of examples of administering authorities participating in BDS campaigns is relatively small; therefore, we do not anticipate a large burden on the courts.

Amendment 45, tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Blackstone, would remove management decisions from the Bill’s definition of “fund investment decision”, with a view to ensuring that the ban does not apply to the stewardship activities of administering authorities of LGPSs. I confirm, as we agreed at our meeting, that stewardship activity would be an example of a management decision.

It is right that the ban applies to stewardship. Otherwise, administering authorities could, as part of the stewardship of their investments, ask companies in which they have invested to engage in boycotts and divestment campaigns. If this was allowed, campaigners would be emboldened to lobby local government pension funds to ask companies in which they invest to boycott and divest. These campaigns distract local administering authorities from their core duties and could contribute to community tensions. We believe that allowing this kind of activity would undermine the ban.

The Bill contains an exception to the ban for considerations that a decision-maker considers relevant to the financial value or practical utility of an investment. Therefore, it would not prevent public authorities asking companies in which they invest to consider matters that they consider may affect the long-term value of their investments.

I understand that the noble Baronesses, Lady Blackstone and Lady Janke, are concerned that this position conflicts with the Government’s wider policy on stewardship. We do not consider this to be the case. This is an extremely narrow Bill that will place restrictions only on the ability of the LGPSs’ administering authorities to make territorial considerations in their investment decisions that are influenced by moral or political disapproval of foreign state conduct. LGPSs’ administering authorities will still be able, through effective stewardship, to exert a positive influence on investee companies to promote strong governance, manage risk, increase accountability and drive improvements in the management of environmental, social and corporate governance issues.

Administering authorities are ultimately responsible for setting the investment strategy of their funds, having taken proper advice. This includes setting their asset allocations to achieve a diversified portfolio of investments which overall is suitable to meet liabilities, as well as setting their approach to responsible investment, in line with statutory guidance. The Bill will support administering authorities to remain focused on their core duties, protecting the long-term financial interests of beneficiaries.

Amendment 46A, tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Collins, would provide that a pension fund in scope of the ban can make territorial considerations influenced by moral or political disapproval of foreign state conduct when making decisions in line with certain investment guidelines published by the UN. The Bill will apply only to campaigns that target countries and territories specifically, and therefore will not prevent the adoption of ESG requirements that are not specific to a country, such as modern slavery requirements. For example, to address the point made by the noble Baroness, Lady Janke, the Bill will in no way prevent the LGPS administering authorities divesting from fossil fuels, as long as this policy is applied to all countries and territories consistently. Similarly, the Bill will not prevent the administering authorities divesting from companies implicated in human rights abuses, provided the policy is applied to all countries, rather than identifying particular countries or territories.

The Bill will not prevent LGPS administering authorities making a decision in line with guidelines published by the UN, as long as this does not entail the public authority having regard to a territorial consideration in a way that indicates moral or political disapproval of foreign state conduct. For example, the Bill will not prevent public authorities having a policy to comply with all UN sanctions or UN Security Council resolutions, as that is not a territorial consideration. However, the policy must be genuinely non-country specific—

Can the Minister specifically address the contribution from the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, in relation to territorial extent? I have in mind, because it was raised in other groups and discussions, companies that attempted to have factories or investments in the Occupied Territories and might then have withdrawn from those investments. I want her to focus on that. If a company decides that it will open a plant in the Occupied Territories and will not have the benefit of legal protection under international law, and it would be contrary to the advice the Government have given, and if a local government pension scheme then said, “Well, that company is putting our investment at risk and therefore we will disinvest”, would that be legal under the Bill?

I can confirm that LGPSs will be allowed to divest from, say, the settlements or Israel if the sole reason is that the investment is financially risky. It is if it is caught by the flavour of the Bill that we run into a problem—

It is important for clarification because the Government’s own advice says “It’s risky because it’s not legal and therefore won’t have that international law protection”. So it is very good if the Minister is being absolutely clear in relation to the Occupied Territories.

Perhaps I could just finish on the other points. It makes perfect sense to ensure that, when having regard to ESG requirements, these are applied consistently by LGPS administering authorities and do not single out particular countries or territories—because it is the latter that will breach the ban, as I think we all now understand.

The Bill allows for a number of exceptions, including considerations relating to labour market misconduct, modern slavery and human trafficking. Therefore, the Bill will in no way prevent the administering authorities adhering to modern slavery guidance.

Finally, I turn to the proposition from the noble Lord, Lord Davies of Brixton, that Clause 12 should not stand part of the Bill—

I am slightly puzzled by the Minister’s statement that the Government wish to avoid any territorial connection, since the Government themselves have placed large chunks of territorial description in the Bill. Could the Minister enlighten us on that? After all, it is the Government who have put down a Bill that talks about Israel and elides Israel with the Occupied Territories, the Golan Heights, east Jerusalem and the West Bank. Although they have confirmed their view that the settlements in all those areas are illegal, and therefore that investment in those settlements would be illegal too, it is the Government who are specifying this matter territorially. By all means, take the whole lot out—that would be fine.

As I was trying to explain, the important point is that it depends on the motivation for the decision. The Bill would prohibit only investment and procurement decisions that would appear to a reasonable observer to be influenced by moral or political disapproval of foreign state conduct, and have a territorial element. It would not prevent public authorities making any other kind of territorial or practical business considerations. I have been trying to clarify this.

As I am conscious of time, perhaps we could turn finally to—

I am sorry, we are getting very confused, certainly at this end of the House, as to what is the issue of risk. If a country—let us forget the names of the countries in the Bill—has a reputation for unrest and uncertainty, the cautious trustees of a local government pension scheme are highly unlikely to want to put their members’ money at risk. Where we have a situation in, say, a number of Middle Eastern countries where that is the position, they would, quite reasonably, in pursuit of their fiduciary responsibilities, not invest in those countries. So they would presumably be documenting that the reason they were not investing in those countries was the risk at which it would put their members’ money. Is that the position? As long as they show that that the reason they have made investment decisions to disinvest from, let us say, Israel or the Occupied Territories, is because it puts at risk their members’ money, is that okay under this legislation?

To confirm, I think that is what I said a couple of minutes ago. The sole reason must be that it is financially risky—that it is business risk guidance, not boycotts. My own feeling is that that is a helpful clarification. I am sure that noble Lords will look in Hansard at what I have already said.

If I might now finish, I would very much like to—

Before the Minister sits down, which she has indicated she is very anxious to do, I would like to go back to the, in my view, very unfortunate discussion that we have had about the definition suggested in Amendment 27.

As I understand it, it is accepted that financial risk is included within the wording. What is unclear—no doubt in years to come people will pore over the Minister’s speech, so I want another little bit for them to pore over—is: what about financial impact? I think the Minister said that that gave rise to uncertainty, but it would be helpful to know whether, in looking at the way in which decisions can be made, the financial impact can be taken into account. It would be so much better, of course, if we put the words in the Bill and left it not to accountants but to lawyers to deal with in the future.

I can reassure the noble and learned Lord that lawyers have been involved in drafting the Bill, as he can probably imagine. I tried to set out quite clearly at the beginning why we felt that the wording we got was right; that included financial impact. I have subsequently clarified the point about motivation and financial risk.

In the excitement, I have lost my place. I was asked about the effect of removing Clause 12, and was hoping to be able to answer the noble Lord. Removing the clause would mean that the ban would not apply to the fund investment decisions of administering authorities of LGPS. The administering authorities are local authorities, which are clearly a core part of the state and are therefore public authorities for the purposes of Section 6 of the Human Rights Act. That is why they are the only pension funds captured by the Bill. We have seen clear examples of local authorities attempting to engage in BDS activity in the past. It would not be appropriate to apply the ban to funds administered by private entities, such as the Universities Superannuation Scheme.

As I have argued before, council tax payers should be able to expect their local councils to exert time and effort on solving local issues, rather than spending time thinking about boycotts of foreign states when, as the noble Lord has said, the beneficiaries expect the responsible authorities to concentrate on returns and the ongoing viability of their investments in the interests of the beneficiaries. If the Bill were to stand without Clause 12, councils coming under pressure to develop their own policies on divisive international issues would be pushed towards an LGPS loophole to implement BDS campaigns.

The priority for these funds should be to provide stability and good long-term returns for the hard-working local government officials who are their members. We now know that this includes the noble Lord, Lord Warner, the noble Baroness, Lady Janke, and others. The Bill helps the administering authorities not to be distracted from this important purpose, and to focus on returns in a responsible, long-term way. For these reasons, I ask noble Lords not to press their amendments and not to oppose the question that Clause 12 stand part of the Bill.

My Lords, I thank everyone for participating in this debate, particularly those who supported my amendment.

I should make it clear that I have not actually challenged the manifesto commitment; lots of others do, but I have not. I have challenged that the manner of its implementation introduces legal uncertainty and perverse consequences: inviting a wider range of legal challenges and judicial review. It would seem good business to address that.

The Minister says that she hopes I am assured by the Government’s assurances, but it is not me who needs the Government’s assurances; I am not a decision-maker in the Local Government Pension Scheme or in public procurement. Most people know that I am a trustee, but I am not in a local government pension scheme. It is those with the concerns—I know they have them—and the decision-making responsibility who are not reassured by these statements, and were not reassured by the statement of the Secretary of State.

We can stand on these Benches and argue between ourselves as to what “financial” does or does not embrace —I can bore you with 30 years of experience and what legal guidance I have had as a trustee—but that does not matter. We have an uncertainty; we are resting on a government statement that it is not uncertain, but we are already uncertain as to whether it includes impact. We could simply address the issue and put “financial risk” as one of the explicit considerations that need not necessarily fall foul of the Bill. I have not heard a single good reason today why such a simple tweak could not address this issue. I have had wider discussions on a whole range of things. It is not only me but people I have spoken to—who will be engaged in decision-making—who believe it opens up the range for judicial review and legal challenge, and feel it has legal uncertainty. It seems to be good sense, when you are looking at a fund of £360 billion, that when those concerns are expressed, you address them.

The Bill creates a whole new machinery that allows the checking of the integrity of local government pension scheme investment decisions against a new set of criteria. That has opened up new grounds for judicial review and given opportunities or succour to possibly bad-faith actors. Legal proceedings could demand to know all the details of exchanges and engagement in discharging stewardship duties, to see whether an investment decision fell within an accepted category. In a £360 billion local government pension scheme, I would want to nail that. If I was a government department and was going to introduce that machinery—which suddenly introduces a whole new set of criteria for investment decisions—I would want to nail down the range of areas under which local government pension scheme decision-makers could be attacked.

There is uncertainty. I quote from the Financial Markets Law Committee report, which the Government have endorsed and think is a good idea. It says that

“investment decisions have all become more challenging in the context of sustainability and the subject of climate change … Today it is sometimes easier to state the duties than it is to apply them”.

Well, the Bill makes it even more difficult to apply them. It brings a whole new range of criteria and invites legal uncertainty at the same time, because we cannot agree on the definition of “financial value”, but if we added a tweak, such as risk and impact, we could nail some of this. As has been said, why can we not just lock it down and get rid of some of this uncertainty?

We have some guidance on impact. I cannot bring every reference document that I would bring to the table if I was sitting in a negotiating room, but we have very new guidance from the DWP, on its website, on social factors and the impact. These are not the only factors, but it gives a meaning to “impact”:

“the impact of social factors on an investment”

or the “impacts of an investment”. It is a pretty wide range. In fact, on ESG, the statutory guidance to local government says that it can consider any factor that is financially material to investment principles. So we can track from the Government’s own publication what impact means. The Minister referred to having government lawyers; they will have drafted some of those documents.

The explanatory statement to Amendment 46A says that its intention is for there to be the ability to carry on applying ESG factors in the way they have traditionally been applied. We know what that means in local government, because it is set out very clearly in statutory guidance.

On the issue of territorial matters, I tried to give an extreme example—passive funds. Anybody who is a trustee knows what passive funds are. On the logic of this, unless we put “risk” in very clearly, if you have a passive fund that does climate transaction benchmarks, you might be liable to someone saying, “Well, there was a company or a country in there that was screened out; did you individually interrogate the way in which that passive fund that you invested in was screened out?”. I know that is extreme, but this is the situation we get into unless issues such as impact and risk—clearly legitimate factors to take into account, as set out in statutory guidance from the relevant department to LGPS—can unequivocally be taken into account.

The noble Baroness, Lady Altmann, spent a lot of time referring to the Local Government Pension Scheme as a statutory pension scheme; it is not a trust-based scheme. Absolutely—I mentioned that because I wanted to set out that I understood that distinction because it is not relevant to the point I am making. It is not relevant to the point that it is ambiguous and uncertain under the terms of this legislation.

The Government have accepted that the LGPS has fiduciary-like duties. The source of reference for that is their response to the Law Commission, which said that that was the case; their view on the Financial Markets Law Committee; and the fact that their own statutory guidance to the Local Government Pension Scheme on ESG and stewardship more or less mirrors what you would put to a trustee with fiduciary duties. We are in the ballpark where there is broad acceptance, even though it is a statutory-based scheme, that the standards under which it operates are fiduciary-like. That is the point: if they are fiduciary-like, the trustees have to exercise a certain discretion or consideration in relation to the decisions that they have to make. I am arguing that those who would be involved in decision-making need the security of knowing that there is no ambiguity around financial risk and impact being considered—

The rules say “normally brief” but I think the Committee would like to hear from my noble friend on this important issue.

I will accept the constraint.

Finally, I take the point about lawyers having been involved in drafting this. I do not mean to be rude but in the area of investment and pension decisions, the road is littered with government-cleared legislation and regulation that has ended up being problematic or challenged in the courts and having to be revisited. I do not think we can rely wholly on that argument.

I think my amendment is being overblown. It is very clear that there is a problem, and that those engaged in this decision-making feel that there is a problem. The Government are opening up areas of legal uncertainty. We can nail it with a couple of words. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment 27 withdrawn.

Amendments 28 and 29 not moved.

House resumed. Committee to begin again not before 8.15 pm.