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

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

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Photo of Gareth Davies Gareth Davies Conservative, Grantham and Stamford 11:21 am, 11th September 2020

I am grateful again for the intervention. I am not sure how the hon. Lady can make the comment, “Does he understand the definition of sustainability?” and then go on to say, “Obviously, we need to define what sustainability means.” That is exactly my point. The Bill is well-intentioned but not clear enough in its definition of sustainability—[Interruption.] She can protest all she likes but it is there in black and white, and I urge every colleague in this place to read the text.

The second issue I have is that the Bill allows green shares to be issued to external investors but not to co-operative members, as I mentioned in an earlier intervention. By limiting the issuance of green shares to non-members, it would limit the co-operative’s ability to raise capital for green causes. If green causes are so important, why not make the ability to buy green shares available to all members? The hon. Lady intervened earlier to say that members could do so, but that is not true. She says that because when an external investor buys a green share, they become a member. That is the only way in which members can buy a green share.

Thirdly, the new powers for co-operatives apply only if they issue green shares. If the new powers are so beneficial, why not provide them for all co-operatives without the requirement to issue green shares? The Bill says, if a co-operative issues a green share, it will get additional powers essentially to prevent it from becoming a company. If that is such a good idea, why limit it to green shares?

Fourthly, the power permanently to prevent a co-operative from becoming a business is against members’ interests. Currently, the decision to become a company is left with members. Why take that power away from them? Whether a firm is better run as a company or as a co-operative is beside the point. We should let members decide. It is unclear who in the co-operative gets to decide on such matters. Perhaps she will clarify that in her closing remarks. The real purpose of the Bill would be to sustain the co-operative model at the expense of members’ and workers’ interests.

Finally, the Bill lacks sufficient detail, as I have outlined before. The framework for deciding whether shares are green is vague and requires the Treasury to fill in the detail. Likewise, rules to ensure that the shares are not abused for tax avoidance are left out of the Bill again for the Treasury to decide the detail. I am getting déjà vu from Wednesday, when the Opposition called for an extension to the furlough but could not say what was to be extended, for how long, or how much it would cost.

I can only conclude that this idea is nice in principle and right in spirit, but it is merely an idea and not a substantive, workable piece of legislation. For that reason, I cannot support it.