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

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 1:18 pm on 11th September 2020.

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Photo of Angela Richardson Angela Richardson Conservative, Guildford 1:18 pm, 11th September 2020

It is a privilege to follow so many amazing speeches and contributions today. It is also quite unusual to follow the Minister, so I shall get on with it.

I congratulate Anna McMorrin on introducing the Bill. It is clear that she has invested considerable work and time in the process. It is also clear from their contributions today that other colleagues across the House have invested much time in this, too. The importance of environmental considerations are becoming more widely acknowledged, which is welcome. There is no shortage of need—for example, refitting old housing stock and making for a greener future, as the hon. Lady mentioned in her opening speech.

There is also a growing interest in this area from investors, many of whom recognise that not everything that counts can be counted and that the environmental and social impact of their investments should also form part of the reckoning when assessing the returns they make. This creates an opportunity to bring the two together, but sustainable success will only happen if that is done responsibly, and I have reservations as to whether the Bill will do that.

The Bill raises more questions than it answers. The proposal suggests that these green shares are transferable, as is normally the case with shares, but how are they to be priced? How is a fair price to be determined in the absence of a deep and liquid market? What will shareholders have a share of exactly? What rights will these shares carry, and what governance structures will be in place to allow these shareholders to protect their rights? Who gets to govern the investment? The risk of the potential of this being a mini bond has been outlined. Calling something equity does not make it so. There are accounting regulations to be taken into consideration. If debt is bought back at less than its face value, as may happen here, a gain accrues to the issuer while the holder of the loan may nurse a loss that they can reclaim tax against—the Bill may open new ways for mutuals and co-operatives to recapitalise themselves at taxpayers’ expense.

Finally, say that the money is raised and spent. What does success look like? The challenge and opportunity that this form of finance is designed to deal with—the big environmental problems—also has externalities, which by definition cannot be quantified, so how can co-operatives evidence the extra-financial component of the return? There is a risk that capital raises over-promises, which have been described by other Members as greenwashing, which we have to be careful of. I admire the aims of the Bill, but I cannot support it as it currently stands.