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

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 10:36 am on 11th September 2020.

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Photo of John Lamont John Lamont Conservative, Berwickshire, Roxburgh and Selkirk 10:36 am, 11th September 2020

I am grateful for that point, but the fact that the hon. Lady had to make it suggests that it is not entirely clear in the Bill. Hopefully, during the Bill’s progress, we can get clarity on the face of the Bill about how that will work in practice.

It is argued that these redeemable shares are important on two levels. The first is the important benefits of environmentally sustainable investment—for example, in the retrofitting of existing housing association homes or the expansion of renewable energy co-operatives. The second is the benefits to co-operatives themselves. Co-operatives UK is just one advocate of such redeemable shares, noting that they could be

“particularly useful for larger societies raising significant equity investment from individual and institutional non-user investor members.”

It notes that redeemable shares

“provide a straightforward and clear exit route for shareholders, just as withdrawal does, but would be fully under the control of the society.”

This Bill will not only allow co-ops and community associations to raise private investment capital for environmentally sustainable purposes, but it also has profound wider benefits. Locally, our communities and economies would benefit from the development of green jobs and skills, and the Bill might be part of that. In my constituency, there is clear evidence that that is happening already, but we need to do more to facilitate it. More widely, we could see benefits in the form of cheaper, greener energy; warmer, more energy-efficient homes; and cheaper, more sustainably and locally sourced food. For my constituents and the rural economy in the Scottish borders, the Bill could encourage such initiatives.

Equally important are the safeguards in the Bill. Such protections prevent the undermining of the co-ops’ or societies’ ethos or their conversion into commercial companies through the issuing of green shares. Upholding the ethos of co-operatives and community benefit societies is crucial to the success of the Bill and the aims behind it and to sustain the longevity of these societies. I am confident that those objectives can be achieved through the provisions in the Bill, which include limiting voting rights to one vote, regardless of the value or number of shares held, limiting the rights of investors to the assets of the society in the event of its liquidation, limiting the ability of investors to de-mutualise and, lastly, enabling societies to remove the right to vote for their conversion into a company.