Co-operative and Community Benefit Societies (Environmentally Sustainable Investment) Bill

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 10:21 am on 11th September 2020.

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Photo of Andrew Lewer Andrew Lewer Conservative, Northampton South 10:21 am, 11th September 2020

I am glad to have the opportunity to contribute to the debate on this private Member’s Bill and, indeed, to follow its promoter, whom I congratulate on a carefully crafted speech, with much passion in it. There are obviously some things one could take issue with, too, not least the Government’s record on carbon in the economy. Indeed, concerns about the feasibility of current targets and their cost—especially for those on lower incomes—in an already coronavirus-battered economy are well worth raising.

As we have heard, the Bill in essence seeks to enable co-operative and community benefit societies to raise external investment capital for environmental and sustainable purposes. On the surface, that is a sensible suggestion, and in general terms I—and I am sure many colleagues—support some of the objectives that aims to achieve. I am sure that several of my colleagues will make further good and detailed points on the purpose and key provisions of the Bill, but I will give some thoughts as a starter.

I am standing in an unusual place for me, away from the customary 2017-2019 naughty corner, and speaking on this topic is out of my comfort zone as well, but, having looked into it, it is well worth unpacking in debate. Indeed, some interventions have already revealed that to be the case. Co-operatives and community benefit societies are great means of facilitating business with a mutual and social purpose, democratic ownership and governance. The Government have always been supportive of that ethos, changing the law in the Co-operative and Community Benefit Societies Act 2014 to reduce some of the legal complexities and cut red tape on how co-operatives operate. It is encouraging that, since then, the co-operative movement has continued to be successful, generating more than £130 billion of income each year for the UK economy and employing more than 230,000 individuals. I have a personal connection: my dad worked for the Co-op in Manchester and the family is a chapel and Methodist family.

It is important to point out that from day one the Government have had a major focus on climate change and encouraged support for many green industries and green initiatives. In fact, as many colleagues regularly mention, the UK was the first major economy to enshrine into law a commitment to hit net zero by 2050 and to introduce a landmark Environment Bill, which places environmental ambition and accountability at the heart of all Government policy and holds subsequent Governments to account if they fail to uphold their environmental duties. Just last year, the Government published a green finance strategy detailing how they intend to support green financial services, accelerate investments into the UK’s clean growth and encourage a clean global finance market.

A 42% reduction in carbon emissions has been achieved while simultaneously growing the economy by two thirds to the end of 2019, which is the strongest record in that regard among the G7. That trend has the potential to continue, with recent announcements from the Chancellor that the Government intend their rebuilding of the economy after coronavirus to include releasing £3 billion into green investment programmes and to jointly fund a £40 million venture capital fund for green start-up companies, to encourage a new generation of a clean and low-carbon technologies.