Performance of Companies and Government Departments (Reporting) Bill

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 1:52 pm on 30th January 2004.

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Photo of Mr Andy King Mr Andy King Labour, Rugby and Kenilworth 1:52 pm, 30th January 2004

I thank my hon. Friend for his welcome intervention and agree wholeheartedly with him.

Companies have effects that reach further than their shareholders. I believe that it is the role of Parliament to set laws that encourage and allow companies to appreciate fully the repercussions of their actions. There is an important point to make here. When failures in company law have affected the richest and most powerful in society, we have always acted. Post-Enron and post-BCCI, there was a clamour for rules and regulations to protect investors who lost out. I applaud such regulations and believe that they represent a correct use of the powers of Parliament, but we must act with equal determination on behalf of those who are less well off.

That is recognised by the many organisations that back the Bill—Amnesty International, Christian Aid, Friends of the Earth, Save the Children, and even the women's institute, to name just a few. Support is growing by the day. Major unions have come on board, including, I am pleased to say, my own union, Unison, in addition to the Transport and General Workers Union and Amicus. I was delighted to receive a letter today from Brendan Barber of the TUC, who wished the Bill well. More development agencies have added their support, such as CAFOD and the World Development Movement. The need for the debate is recognised by business, too. Traidcraft, B & Q and the Co-op bank have all joined in calls for the Bill to go to Committee so that the matters can be debated further.

It is against this background that I speak to the Bill. It would require large companies to report every year on their impacts on the environment and on the communities in which they operate. It would also place a duty on directors to minimise such impacts while continuing to ensure the success of the company. Because there has not been an adequate response from companies to the voluntary approach, I believe the time has come for that to become mandatory.

In October 2000 in his speech to the CBI, the Prime Minister challenged the top 350 companies to publish such reports by the end of 2001. Only about a quarter of those companies met his challenge. Although more companies have done so since, about half the companies still do not report on their social and environmental impacts.