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

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 12:13 pm on 11th September 2020.

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Photo of Chris Green Chris Green Conservative, Bolton West 12:13 pm, 11th September 2020

It is an absolute pleasure to follow my hon. Friend Ruth Edwards, who made the important point that we need to have more than just good intentions in what we are doing. I think that Anna McMorrin, who secured this debate on this Co-operative and Community Benefit Societies (Environmentally Sustainable Investment) Bill, is going way beyond good intentions. However, I also reflect on the words of my hon. Friend Sir Christopher Chope, who is still in the Chamber. I think there is significant scope for a coalition, or for work to be taken forward, to bring this back in another form. Much that has been said, by so many colleagues, captures the spirit, intent, ideas and values of the co-operative and community benefit societies. These are values that I think we all share right across the House.

There is a significant focus in the Bill on dealing with the global warming and climate change agenda, which is incredibly important. We only have to see the protests outside to realise how many people are engaged in that, both here in London and across the country. This is therefore an important area that we need to look at, to see how we can support funding and investment in the sector, as well as supporting societies and co-operatives.

One of my concerns with the Bill at present is how we define and understand environmentally sustainable investment. No doubt guidance will be provided at the beginning, but many organisations around the country will draw their own conclusions, think their own way and draw up their own plans. In many ways that is what we would want to happen, because that is the nature of those organisations, but an incredibly broad range of organisations could be included or excluded. For example, I would generally expect many environmental organisations to be 100% against the nuclear industry. However, nuclear is a zero-carbon source of energy, so excluding this important sector from such investment would be problematic.

Let me touch on a couple of other issues. One of the things we want in these mutual organisations—these societies—is cohesion. They ought to be able to work together. What divisions will we create if we bring too many difficult and contentious issues into them?

I reflect on an issue from the United States of America. The US has seen a significant reduction in its carbon emissions. At the same time, because of the reduction in the cost of energy, we have seen significant reshoring of industry from countries around the world to the United States, creating manufacturing jobs there. We would all want more of that here in the United Kingdom, but that was achieved in the US in part because of the fracking industry.

Fracking is a very controversial technology—a very controversial source of energy—in the United Kingdom. In fact, it is very controversial in the United States of America, where it is happening and it has achieved those results. We ought to be very careful about that, or we could see arguments in mutual societies, with some saying, “We ought to be investing in hydraulic fracturing,” and others making robust arguments against it. We must be very careful about how we define and understand the motivation in this area and on this agenda.

Let me take another example. I quote from the Bill itself:

“The environmental sustainability goals are—

(a) to create an innovative, productive and low carbon society which recognises the limits of the global environment and therefore uses resources efficiently and proportionately (including acting on climate change);

(b) to maintain and enhance a biodiverse natural environment with healthy functioning ecosystems that support social, economic and ecological resilience and the capacity to adapt to change”.

I think that we can all agree with the values behind that. There is so much agreement in society and industry more broadly; we have only to look at BP, or pretty much any corporate organisation with a corporate responsibility statement. I have here one such statement from BP. No doubt, there are many other things that BP would say, but it states:

“Our purpose is reimagining energy for people and our planet. We want to help the world reach net zero and improve people’s lives.

We will aim to dramatically reduce carbon in our operations and in our production, and grow new low carbon businesses, products and services.

We will advocate for fundamental and rapid progress towards Paris and strive to be a leader in transparency.

We know we don’t have all the answers and will listen and work with others.

We want to be an energy company with purpose;
one that is trusted by society, valued by shareholders and motivating for everyone who works at bp.

We believe we have the experience and expertise, the relationships and the reach, the skill and the will, to do this.”

On my reading of what is in the Bill and of where BP and many other organisations stand, I see significant compatibility between the two. I therefore look for clarification on whether the nuclear industry, the fracking industry and big oil ought to be included in the scope of the mutual organisations and societies covered by the Bill. At the moment, on my reading, all those organisations would be included, but I feel that that is not the intention.