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

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

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Photo of Christopher Chope Christopher Chope Conservative, Christchurch 11:36 am, 11th September 2020

It is a pleasure to follow my hon. Friend Gareth Davies. I lack his knowledge about capital markets as indeed I lack the knowledge exemplified by my hon. Friend Simon Baynes on financial instruments, of which this might be one. I will nevertheless try to contribute to the debate by encouraging Anna McMorrin to have another go next Session. The Bill has a lot in it that is worthwhile, but, as many of my hon. Friends have pointed out, it is not there quite yet.

I have been a regular attender on Fridays for many years and participated in the debates around the 2014 Act, steered through with a lot of skill by Gareth Thomas. My recollection is that that Bill was an iterative process: it did not get through in the first Session in which it was put forward because there were difficulties in definition and all the rest of it. The hon. Member for Cardiff North should recognise that, for example, one the most famous private Members’ Bills ever, the Abortion Act 1967, was on its fifth or sixth iteration before it actually got on to the statute book because it was gradually amended and lobbied about so that, when it came to a final decision, everybody felt confident that they were doing the right thing. I congratulate the hon. Lady on bringing forward the Bill and on the way in which she opened the debate.

One of the things I looked up in preparation was what James Wright, the policy officer at Co-operatives UK, said in a press release—I think in February—soon after the hon. Lady announced her intention of bringing forward a private Member’s Bill with this subject matter. Speaking for the co-operatives, he said:

“When it comes to legal reform, our top priority is for co-operative societies to have the option of legally guaranteeing that their ‘common capital’
will remain ‘indivisible’, over the life of the business and after. Right now, they can’t do this and it’s becoming a problem.”

He goes on to say that

“having some kind of statutory ‘asset lock’
which commits capital surplus to mutual and social purpose is increasingly a must in many parts of our social economy. So it’s a damaging anomaly that co-operative societies can’t give their common capital statutory status.”

Nowhere in those remarks did Mr Wright say anything about limiting this problem to environmentally sustainable investment issues. I suspect that the hon. Lady, because of her passion for environmental issues, has decided that it would be better to work the two ideas together. I suggest to her that the case put at that early stage by the Co-operatives UK policy officer was obviously a very strong case for one thing—she referred earlier to the limit on being able to raise capital of more than £100,000 and the way this was inhibiting the expansion of the co-operative movement—but if the main aim of the Bill is to remedy the problem identified by Mr Wright in the quote I have just used, there is no need for the Bill to go into issues of environmentally sustainable investment.

I would ask the hon. Lady to think about why she has narrowed the Bill in such a way. She said in answer to an intervention that the Bill was wide enough to cover the whole co-operative movement, but that is not what it says in the long title of the Bill, which, to remind her, says:

“A Bill to enable co-operative and community benefit societies to raise external share capital for the purpose of making environmentally sustainable investment”.