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

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 11:04 am on 11th September 2020.

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Photo of Simon Baynes Simon Baynes Conservative, Clwyd South 11:04 am, 11th September 2020

I thank the hon. Lady for her comments. I cannot claim to be an expert on the legislation in all the different countries around the world, but I would assume that it operates in different contexts. I am just trying to make a general point, from my own experience of investment options, that they can sometimes be a very complicated way of putting money into the green environment. That is the simple point I make.

The other point I would like to touch on is the exit from the co-operatives. To go back to the precise wording of the Bill, it is also

“to make associated provisions about restricting conversion to company status and the distribution of capital on winding-up”.

I totally understand where the hon. Member for Cardiff North is coming from on demutualisation, and we have all seen examples of demutualisation in the past that have perhaps not turned out as well as everybody expected, but one of the problems in the financial world—at the end of the day, if people are to invest in green shares, it is in a sense a financial investment—is that we have to leave an escape route for people. If something goes wrong—as we saw in the Co-op itself when it had huge financial problems in its lending arm which, I believe, has now been hived off—removing the ability to exit those problems is a very big ask. While the intentions are very admirable, that is not necessarily wise for the long-term health of the co-operative institution.

In the 2020 Budget, the Chancellor announced that the Government would bring forward legislation to allow credit unions—obviously, a form of financial mutual—to offer a wider range of products and services. That will support credit unions to continue to grow sustainably over the longer term and will allow them to continue to play a pivotal role in financial inclusion. This also needs to be taken into consideration in the preparation of this Bill.

I agree with the hon. Member for Cardiff North that locally based financial support is crucial. I became increasingly frustrated during the covid-19 crisis by the performance of the high street banks and the fact that they have vacated the local market for the provision of finance. I am sure that many Members on both sides of the House felt the same way. We have built up a series of contacts in those banks so that we can take our constituents’ concerns to them and say, “Please can you unblock this problem?” The fact that the big high street banks no longer know their customers on the ground in the regions is a major issue. The intention behind the Bill, and indeed behind the credit union proposals, is to fill the gap in the market for locally based co-operative vehicles—rather like those in Germany—that provide finance to local businesses.

I strongly commend the hon. Member for Cardiff North for her excellent speech and for introducing this Bill, but I hope that I have highlighted effectively some of the difficulties that it presents, despite the fact that it was created with the very best of intentions.