Clause 2 — Restriction on voting rights

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 10:00 am on 6th March 2015.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Chris Leslie Chris Leslie Shadow Chief Secretary to the Treasury 10:00 am, 6th March 2015

I think that, on this fine morning, I too should declare an interest, although there is no requirement for me to do so. I am a Labour and Co-operative Member, and have received support from the Co-operative party. More generally, the House is aware of my historical support for the mutual sector. Unlike other Members, I come to the Bill at a late stage in its progress, and I commend, in particular, Jonathan Evans and Lord Naseby for their diligence.

As the hon. Member for Cardiff North explained, after the global banking crisis had swept across the world like a tsunami and the tide had eventually ebbed, one of the critical risks that were revealed was the issue of the ability of organisations—in this instance, mutual insurers and friendly societies—to withstand, and have the capacity to absorb, difficult circumstances that might make a call on their capital. So the need to resolve this has been a priority for these institutions, although I feel that regulators and others have perhaps not put this as high up the agenda as it should have been, hence the point made by the hon. Member for Cardiff North about the building society sector getting its house in order in terms of the core capital deferred shares, but now we also require a similar set of instruments for the insurance sector.

It is important to put on the record the work done not just by the Building Societies Association but the Association of Financial Mutuals and many others who have helped create a potential solution here. It is not absolutely necessary for the sector, which is able to cope with the new regulatory requirements, but it would certainly make it easier and provide much more of a level playing field, given the ability of the PLC shareholder sector to obtain capital in a far simpler way.

I also want to commend Sir Tony Baldry for at least taking the opportunity to put the spotlight on clause 2 and the question about the number of votes. Having listened to his comments, however, I would not want to see that part of the Bill taken out. The hon. Member for Cardiff North was very persuasive in pointing out that the particular character of mutual insurers and friendly societies is that their members together have control and ownership of the organisation, and history shows, through demutualisation efforts in the past, that we need to safeguard the ownership and the integrity of those organisations in this way. Therefore, I am persuaded that the single vote, regardless of the amount of the investment, through the deferred shares is the right way to proceed.

This is a sensible set of measures. It is important that we have them on the statute book. However, we are at a late stage in this Parliament and I ask the Minister to clarify the Government’s intentions for bringing forward the regulations and making sure we can get these changes through, because this is a piece of primary legislation that then enables regulations to be made by affirmative order, hopefully in quick succession. I therefore ask the Minister to give us a sense of the time scale for when that may happen, because, with the level of scrutiny we have had on this, there is quite a lot of consensus on the matter and we need to ensure that the financial services and insurance sectors have this diversity. The gradual disappearance of mutuals in this area will be to the detriment not just of the sector and competition, but consumers as well. Therefore, we have to modernise and sustain the mutual sector. The Bill provides worthwhile provisions for doing that and has the support of the Opposition.