UK Infrastructure Bank Bill [Lords] – in the House of Commons at 2:29 pm on 1st February 2023.
“The Bank may not be sold until commitments to meet net zero by 2050 and duties set out in section 1 of the Climate Change Act 2008 and commitments and duties set out in section 1 of the Environment Act 2021 have been met.”—(Richard Foord.)
This new clause would ensure that the Investment Bank remains in operation until the Government’s net zero and environmental commitments have been met.
Brought up, and read the First time.
I beg to move, That the clause be read a Second time.
With this it will be convenient to discuss the following:
New clause 2—Businesses and bodies the Bank invests in—
“(1) The Bank must publish an annual report setting out—
(a) the geographical spread of businesses and bodies it invests in, and
(b) the ownership of the businesses and bodies it invests in.
(2) The Bank must prepare and publish a ‘Good Jobs’ plan for all businesses and bodies it invests in, which requires the business or body to improve productivity, pay, jobs and living standards.”
This new clause would ensure that the Bank considers the location and ownership of the businesses and bodies it invests in and only invests in businesses and bodies who create “Good Jobs” plans to improve productivity, pay, jobs and living standards.
Amendment 5, in clause 2, page 1, line 14, at end insert—
“(i) to reduce economic inequalities within and between regions of the United Kingdom, and
(ii) to improve productivity, pay, jobs and living standards.
(c) to support supply chain resilience and the United Kingdom’s industrial strategy.”
This amendment would ensure that the Bank’s objective to support regional and local economic growth includes reducing economic inequalities within and between regions and improving productivity, pay, jobs, and living standards. It would also create a third objective for the Bank to support supply chain resilience and the UK’s industrial strategy.
Amendment 3, page 1, line 14, at end insert, “, and
(c) to improve water quality in the UK.”
This amendment would add improving water quality in the UK to the Bank’s objectives.
Amendment 4, page 1, line 22, at end insert—
“(4A) The Bank may only provide any of the support listed in subsection (4) to water companies if they have produced a costed, time limited plan demonstrating they are committed to preventing discharge.”
This amendment would require water companies to have a costed, time limited plan, demonstrating they are committed to preventing discharges before they can receive investment from the UKIB.
Amendment 2, page 2, line 9, leave out “consult” and insert—
“gain the express consent of”.
This amendment would require the Treasury to gain the express consent of the appropriate national authority before making provision in regulations under subsection (6).
Government amendment 1.
I rise to speak to new clause 1 and amendments 3 and 4.
I welcome the UK Infrastructure Bank Bill. We previously had a Green Investment Bank, founded by the Liberal Democrats in government. It was short-sighted for the Government to sell it off, especially as it made £144 million in profit for its Australian owners last year. Nevertheless, the Liberal Democrats are glad to see steps finally being taken to put the replacement UK Infrastructure Bank on a statutory footing.
Liberal Democrat new clause 1, in the name of my hon. Friend Sarah Olney, seeks to ensure that this new UK Infrastructure Bank will remain in operation until the Government’s net zero and environmental commitments have been met.
I hope to see this new bank change investment in green infrastructure for the better, and this brings me to the two amendments—amendments 3 and 4—tabled in my name and those of Liberal Democrat colleagues. They seek to ensure that water companies set out costed, time-limited plans to deal with discharges before they can get funding through the bank. This is important because communities across the UK are currently being impacted by the actions of some negligent and wayward water companies. For years, we have seen these firms failing to invest in our vital infrastructure, but instead prioritising shareholder payouts and bumper bonuses for chief executive officers. It is shocking that this practice has been allowed to continue, and that the Government have resisted several attempts by the Liberal Democrats to clamp down on these sewage spills.
South West Water, which covers my patch in Devon, was awarded a one-star rating by the Environment Agency after having been found to have discharged sewage into rivers and lakes and on to our beaches over 42,000 times. This represents more than 350,000 hours of dumping, including at our prestigious blue flag beaches. Three of the 10 most affected beaches are in Devon. And what was the reaction at South West Water? It gave the chief executive a bonus of more than £1 million.
We on the Government Benches are aware of some of the comments—if I may say so, the somewhat misleading comments—in Liberal Democrat propaganda about this issue. The hon. Gentleman is obviously familiar with the situation at South West Water. Could he tell me what the cost is to South West Water of eliminating sewage overflow, and what are the implications for water bills for residents in the south-west, because that is what the literature from his party has been saying needs to be done?
The amendment that we are considering is about loans from the UK Infrastructure Bank. Whatever figure is required, the bank should not be permitted to release funds for the purpose of improving our sewerage system until there are plans by water companies for the system’s complete restoration.
South West Water is not an isolated case. Last year alone, water companies paid out dividends to the tune of almost £1 billion, with water company executives pocketing £16.5 million in bonuses. Why should those people profit from others’ misery? Why should they be allowed to cut corners and get away with it? The situation is the same across the country.
Southern Water polluted our rivers and waterways more than 38,000 times in the past two years, with over 358,000 hours of spills, while their top executives raked in more than £2.3 million in bonuses, benefits and incentives. Thames Water discharged sewage into rivers and lakes 33,156 times in the past two years, lasting 378,977 hours in total, and their bosses took home more than £2.9 million on top of their already generous salaries.
It is clear that those water companies are not being run for the benefit of the British people. Instead, firms are content to sit back and watch profits pour in while communities across the country suffer. Their failure to redirect profits to patch up our ageing infrastructure and build capacity means not only sewage dumping on an industrial scale, but losing millions of tonnes of water due to leaking pipes. That amounts to a scale of negligence unparalleled by anything we have seen in recent years.
The scandal must be addressed, which is why the Liberal Democrats have tabled these amendments. It would be a scandal if taxpayers’ money were given to the same firms that continue to poison our rivers and coastlines. If we do not add strict sewerage conditions to the Bill, we will give a blank cheque using taxpayers’ money to fund those polluting, profiteering firms.
Those are the very same water companies that line their executives’ pockets with bonuses worth millions of pounds. Now they expect public money to bail them out and line the leaking pipes that they have long neglected. If they want public money to help bail them out, they must show that they have a serious plan, which is both costed and time limited, to clean up their act and end the flow of sewage gushing on to our beaches and into our rivers.
I urge colleagues from all parties to back the amendments and show that we are serious about ending the sewage scandal once and for all.
I shall go through the amendments thoroughly and therefore I shall not detain the House long.
New clause 1 on the future of the UK Infrastructure Bank would have the effect of not permitting a sale of the bank until the duty set out in the Climate Change Act 2008 and the targets of the net zero commitment by 2050 had been met. That puts significant strictures on the maintenance of one bank and its objectives. I think Richard Foord probably acknowledges that. He wants us to reflect on the sale of the green bank that was set up under the coalition Government. He talked about the profits that it made last year—about £180 million, perhaps a little less. However, I hope that he recognises a couple of things.
First, when the sale was made, the taxpayer benefited to the tune of £2.3 billion. That included a surplus of £186 million on taxpayer-invested funds and a commitment from the successful acquirer, Macquarie bank, to invest a further £3 billion. In the round, I do not think that was a bad transaction to make, because it enabled the attraction of more third-party capital—private capital—to try to achieve some of the objectives of that green bank under its new owners, and indeed that has taken place. Part of the balance with this Infrastructure Bank is: how are we going to evaluate its abilities and success in attracting third-party capital? If the hon. Member for Tiverton and Honiton reflects, he will see that his broad point in new clause 1 is a fair one, but I hope that he will not press it to a vote, because there are strong arguments on the other side and I would not support the points that he would be trying to make.
Again, I can understand some of the import of Labour’s new clause 2 and amendment 5. Labour is saying, “Here is an opportunity, with a major institution, with which we are going to look at and try to expand the infrastructure of the country, to make sure it has a full focus on the round of public interest in the things it is doing in our name.” That is a good intention but, as Abena Oppong-Asare knows—we have talked about this in Committee—there are trade-offs to be made within those sets of objectives. As we add objectives to our institutions, those trade-offs make it more obscure to parliamentarians and to the public what the intention of the bank will be.
The objectives that the Government have set out in the Bill are already clear. They have the benefit of clarity, as we know what they are. They also cover a wide range of sectors and intentions, but with the underlying core objective of helping us to meet our green net zero and climate change objectives.
So if the Opposition wish us to support their amendments, where do they see the trade-offs being made between achieving those objectives and having the duties to reduce economic inequalities between regions, to improve productivity, pay, jobs and living standards, and to support supply chain resilience? Very few of us would disagree with some of those objectives—indeed, the Government are making great strides on some of them with their levelling-up initiatives—but we have to accept that as we give directions to some of these institutions with a broad range of objectives, we are, as democrats, losing some control over how public money can be directed; we are giving more discretion to the chief executives of those organisations to do as they see fit and not perhaps to do as we were laying down in statute. I encourage the Opposition to think again, and to consider that perhaps having the clarity and precision of objectives set out in the Bill is precisely what will enable this and future Parliaments to exercise control over the Infrastructure Bank.
The hon. Member for Tiverton and Honiton, who is speaking for all the Liberal Democrats today, as he has graced us with his presence in a number of the debates, talked a little about the water companies again. I hope that he will have been listening today and will be reflecting back to his party’s leadership that some of the publicity the Liberal Democrats have put out has been substantially misleading about the intentions and actions of this Government. Obviously, parties make political statements all the time, this way and that. However, particularly as he has now followed up with his proposal for how water company discharge can be managed, I hope he will see that it is a serious issue and therefore we should treat it seriously.
Amendment 4 seeks to provide that the support the bank can give can happen only after the water companies have produced a “costed, time limited plan”. I think the water companies would say, “We have already done that.” They have a plan, but not one that can be implemented just like that, in the flash of an eye—I mix my metaphors there. I am not sure that the amendment will have the intention that the hon. Member for Tiverton and Honiton wishes it to have, given what the water companies are already doing and what the Government are already doing with the monitoring and the objectives being set to reduce sewage discharge.
I will step over what the SNP spokesperson, Stewart Hosie, put forward, because I am sure he will be able to elucidate that point clearly—I believe we have heard it here a number of times, although we are never bored by the repetition. Finally, I thank the Minister for listening to the points that were made in Committee and coming forward with the Government’s amendment.
Finally, I thank the Minister for listening to the points that were made in Committee and coming forward with the Government’s amendment. I can see that the Opposition have not put down a further amendment on that matter, which is a sign that he has got that judgment call right.
I will speak to amendment 2 in my name, but before I address that fully, I will say a little about the other Opposition amendments and new clauses.
New clause 1 seeks to stop the bank being sold prior to net zero targets being met, which is sensible in principle, given the fate of the old green investment bank, as I described on Second Reading. New clause 2 seeks a report on the geographical spread of investments, which, again, is sensible given the Government’s recent track record on allocating money from the levelling-up fund. It still strikes me as rather absurd that the Prime Minister’s wealthy Richmond constituency should have been allocated £90 million, while the entire city of Glasgow received nothing in the second round of funding. I think we would all want to ensure that the UK Infrastructure Bank was far more equitable in its disbursements.
Amendment 5 seeks to reduce inequality and improve productivity. Amendments 3 and 4 seek to ensure that investment in water supply quality is permitted, but with conditions on the private companies receiving it. Each of these amendments and new clauses have merit, and we will be happy to support any if they are pressed to a Division.
Government amendment 1 seeks to reduce the gap between reporting from a maximum of seven to a maximum of five years. That is progress of a sort, but five years is still too long. I would be looking for a commitment from the Dispatch Box that the Government anticipate the review and reporting frequency to be within the proposed five-year maximum.
Let me briefly reprise what I said about my own amendment on Second Reading, when I gave the UK Infrastructure Bank and the Bill a broad welcome. Taking it at face value, there was nothing to criticise in its objectives of helping to tackle climate change and supporting the efforts to meet the UK Government’s 2050 target. Nor was there anything to criticise in the objective to support regional or local economic growth.
What I pointed out, though, is that—the Minister on Second Reading alluded to this in his speech—the delivery of support to facilitate local and regional growth in Scotland is provided by the Scottish Government, local government and other agencies, and that the green targets in Scotland, such as the earlier net zero target, are also set independently. It is therefore important that the UK Infrastructure Bank actually supports the devolved Governments’ objectives and does not, even inadvertently, end up working against them. That remains important because we have our own infrastructure investment plan, our own global capital investment plan and our own national strategy for economic transformation that provides the framework for the Scottish Government’s policy priorities.
In giving the Bill a broad welcome, I also made the point that while there is clearly an overlap between the strategic objectives of the UK Infrastructure Bank and the Scottish National Investment Bank—the wording of the aims of both the UKIB and the Scottish National Investment Bank are broadly similar—it is vital to ensure that both banks meet their goals and deliver the maximum impact for the people of Scotland. In line with the objectives set in the Bill, it is essential that the two banks are able to work together to identify and support appropriate infrastructure projects in Scotland. It is also vital that Scottish interests are appropriately represented and that there is an awareness of the Scottish economic context and the Scottish Government’s policy goals.
To ensure that there is alignment between both banks’ aims, I have argued that there should be an administrative mechanism, such as a memorandum of understanding, between the UKIB and the Scottish National Investment Bank to ensure that policy alignment is maintained. I fear that unless we have a firm mechanism, the UKIB’s aims might also be undermined, and there will ultimately be a risk that it will not deliver fully on its objectives. However, the Bill merely suggests in line 9 of clause 2(7) that the Treasury must only
“consult the appropriate national authority before making provision in regulations…that would be within the legislative competence of” one of the devolved Administrations.
The problem we face is that recent evidence suggests that a consultation is insufficient protection against the UK Government making inappropriate regulation. For example, the United Kingdom Internal Market Act 2020 completely undermined devolution by handing decisions on animal welfare and environmental and food standards to an unelected quango. The same Act stripped Scotland of high standards by forcing all the nations of the UK to adhere to the lowest common denominator. We have seen multiple examples of the Sewel convention being breached: since Brexit alone, we have seen the refusal of legislative consent by the Scottish Parliament overruled during passage of the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018, the United Kingdom Internal Market Act 2020, the European Union (Future Relationship) Act 2020, and the Elections Act 2021.
Most recently and most egregiously, we saw section 35 of the Scotland Act 1998 used to stop a Bill from proceeding to Royal Assent. That was an outrageous decision—a completely unjustified, full-frontal attack on the democratically elected Scottish Parliament. Therefore, our amendment 2 seeks to replace the UK Government’s requirement merely to “consult” with a harder requirement to
“gain the express consent of” a devolved Parliament before embarking on regulatory change. I commend the amendment to the House.
I was going to make my points through interventions, but as so few Members want to speak, I thought I would take the opportunity to make a speech. I will speak very briefly to new clause 2 and amendment 5—which stand in the name of the official Opposition, and deal with the need to ensure that the geographical investment is spread across the UK, which is of course is something we all support—and amendment 2, tabled by Stewart Hosie, which deals with the constitutional challenges created by these post-Brexit agencies and frameworks. The right hon. Gentleman made his points very eloquently, and I fully support what he said.
In my speech on Second Reading, I highlighted how I thought some of the challenges outlined in these amendments could be dealt with. In my view, that is primarily by ensuring that post-Brexit frameworks and agencies such as the UK Infrastructure Bank have a formal role for the Welsh, Scottish and Northern Ireland Governments within their constitutions and their administration. When I made that speech on Second Reading, the Welsh Government were withholding consent; they have now decided to offer consent because the UK Government have given an element of a concession by outlining that a director of the UK Infrastructure Bank will be responsible for liaising with the Welsh Government—I suppose the same will be true for the Scottish and Northern Irish Governments. That does not go quite as far as I was calling for on Second Reading, when I made the case for the Welsh, Scottish and Northern Irish Governments to be able to appoint their own individual directors.
That concession is a step forward, which I of course welcome. However, the Minister might be aware that the Climate Change, Environment, and Infrastructure Committee in the Senedd, which was responsible for scrutinising the legislative consent mechanism, advised the Welsh Government against awarding legislative consent because of that lack of a formal role—indeed, there was no role whatsoever for the Senedd. I would be grateful if the Minister reflected on my Second Reading speech, where I made the case that it would be very helpful if the UK Infrastructure Bank had to be scrutinised by the relevant Senedd committee, as well as by the Welsh Government.
In conclusion, this really comes down to the Labour party. We expect that it will form the next UK Government; how is it going to Brexit retrofit the UK constitution in light of all these frameworks and agencies that have had to be created since the Brexit referendum, and since we left the European Union and the single market in particular? In Labour’s response to this debate, I very much hope to hear that it is looking at a radical realignment of the British state when it forms the next UK Government, giving the Administrations in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland, where appropriate, a formal role in these post-Brexit agencies and frameworks.
A lost decade of broken Tory promises has left much of the UK with second-rate infrastructure, which is why we support the establishment and the strengthening of the UK Infrastructure Bank and will not be opposing the Bill. The bank is much needed. It will invest in projects that support our net zero targets and contribute to local and regional economic growth. However, we will go further than the Government and harness the full potential of the bank to provide good jobs and opportunities across the country. I will speak to our amendments a little later.
I wish to start by saying how much I welcome the Government’s U-turn in relation to their amendment 1. I see Ministers on the Front Bench who were with us when the Bill was debated in Committee. I am sure that they notice how similar their amendment is to the one that Labour tabled at that stage. Indeed, it is identical to our amendment—an amendment that they voted against. As Labour has repeatedly emphasised, reviews of the bank’s performance will be essential to ensuring that it meets its objectives to invest in the industries of the future. It was shocking that the Government wanted an initial review in 10 years with subsequent reviews every five years. The bank needs momentum and drive behind it, and I am glad to see that the Government have now realised the error of their thinking and committed to reviews of the bank every five years.
I commend the hon. Lady for holding the Government to account on this particular issue of the review period. This is where we are setting the bank free to go on its mission. As she and I agree—I think we agree—the initial few years are really very important. I notice that the Minister has restricted to five years subsequent assessments, as both the hon. Lady and I thought would be wise, but there is still that initial seven years. She did not table an amendment on that, so I wondered what the Opposition’s thinking was on that initial period?
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his comments. He might remember that we tabled amendments in Committee and again on Report on that issue, but because the Government announced a U-turn, we decided to withdraw our amendment.
Yesterday’s dreadful IMF forecast makes it very clear that Britain has so much potential but that the Conservative Government are holding us back. The UK is the only G7 country forecast to see negative economic growth. Let us look at the Government’s record on infrastructure: a green homes scheme closed just six months after its introduction, with a £1 billion cut from its budget; an energy system that sees fossil fuel companies making record profits while hard-working people’s bills soar; and just a fortnight ago, a crucial gigafactory, Britishvolt, went into administration, leaving the future of the British electric vehicle market in jeopardy. According to the Government, the purpose of the UK Infrastructure Bank is to provide access to money, particularly where there is an undersupply of private financing. Britishvolt, a UK battery start-up, was expected to support new jobs and green technology with a factory in Blyth. Now it is being sold by administrators, with the Government seemingly abandoning their promises of levelling up and supporting a green economy.
Just this week, the British electric van start-up “Arrival” announced that it is cutting 800 jobs, as it moves for extra funding and green subsidies in the US. Hon. Members will not be surprised to hear that Labour has no faith in the Government harnessing the potential of the UK Infrastructure Bank to invest in the high-skilled jobs of the future. A Labour Government will use our green prosperity fund to invest in wind, solar and nuclear energy; insulate 19 million homes; grow our economy; and get Britain winning the race to net zero. We have tabled new clause 2 and amendment 5 to ensure that the UK Infrastructure Bank can play its role in this mission. New clause 2 would require the bank to publish an annual report setting out the geographical spread and the ownership of businesses and bodies that it invests in. It would also require the bank to publish a good jobs plan for every project it invests in, to ensure that the project will improve productivity, pay, jobs and living standards.
Does my hon. Friend agree that by failing to commit to Northern Powerhouse Rail, the Government have failed on their levelling-up promises to the north? Would she, along with me and other Members who have expressed opinions earlier in the debate, suggest that the Minister needs to offer the House some assurances that the UK Infrastructure Bank will distribute its benefit to every part of the country, with the geographical spread she just mentioned?
My hon. Friend makes strong points about what the Government should be doing, and I hope the Minister takes them on board. We have all seen the allegations of favouritism that have beset the Government’s levelling-up funding, with nothing in the Bill to guarantee that the bank will distribute its funds to the areas that need them the most. Our new clause would ensure scrutiny and transparency over bank investments. Given the Prime Minister’s now famous boast—I quote it in case Members have forgotten—about reversing Treasury formulas that
“shoved all the funding into deprived…areas”,
I hope the Minister can see why we think transparency is necessary. His party, after all, is the party responsible for the loss of £6.7 billion to fraud and mismanagement.
I hope, too, that the Minister is paying attention right now and agrees that we want the UK Infrastructure Bank to create high-skilled, well-paid jobs. With a good jobs plan for every project that it invests in, we can ensure value for taxpayers’ money. That approach has been taken with previous significant infrastructure projects in the UK. For example, the Olympic Delivery Authority worked with trade unions and others to ensure that the project delivered good quality local jobs, and a similar approach was taken with High Speed 2. If the Government are as committed to their levelling-up agenda as they claim to be, I am sure that they will vote for our new clause today.
Amendment 5 would strengthen the bank’s objectives. It would make it clear that the bank’s target of boosting regional and local economic growth includes reducing economic inequalities within and between regions in the UK. Despite the Government’s assurances to the contrary, the Bill contains only a watered-down commitment that could result in the bank’s resources being poorly targeted and ineffective.
We want a further objective for the bank to contribute to the UK’s supply chain resilience and industrial strategy. I have mentioned the collapse of Britishvolt and the warnings of green investment moving abroad. Those are serious concerns. The importance of supply chain resilience has become particularly clear in the wake of the pandemic and as concerns over energy security have come to the fore with the war in Ukraine. We want the benefits of the UK Infrastructure Bank to be seen here in the UK, with home-grown renewables such as offshore wind, solar, nuclear, hydrogen and tidal power.
The hon. Lady is being generous in giving way, and I am grateful to her. I want to probe her thoughts a little further on amendment 5. The Bill, as I have said, has the benefit of being quite precise in its current objectives. As parliamentarians, we know that when we take something from statute and leave it to regulators, the House’s ability to hold them to account in the public interest is somewhat weakened. Does she accept that additional objectives would give an Executive a lot more discretion to say, “I didn’t achieve that because I was focusing on this objective”? We have created some primary objectives about climate change and so on. Adding others would leave us somehow disempowered, because those Executives could move and shake around where they said their priorities were. As I said earlier, I am concerned about the balance between laudable objectives and ensuring that, when we have put the Bill into statute, we parliamentarians retain the ability to control what is actually happening on the ground in one, two, three, four and five years from now.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his comments—as I say, I always like to take them on board—but I fundamentally disagree with him, because our amendment would ensure that we take the Bill further. As he once said, the best way to promote UK manufacturing jobs and production is to
“shape regulation to support enterprise.”—[Official Report,
That is exactly what Labour seeks to do with our amendments, so I really hope he will support them. I understand where he is coming from, but our amendments would make sure that we deliver the projects that we need in the UK.
We know that the UK Infrastructure Bank could be a national enterprise. We have a world-leading offshore wind industry in Scotland and on the east coast, hydrogen in the north-west and on Teesside, nuclear power in the south-east, and solar power in the south and the midlands, but the potential of these industries can be realised only if investment stays in the UK. The amendments we have tabled would allow that to happen. The lack of domestic champions has compromised our security and stalled progress, and our amendments would enable the UK Infrastructure Bank to help reverse the trend.
I will speak briefly to the other amendments we are considering today. Labour strongly supported the circular economy and nature-based solutions being on the face of the Bill, and we were disappointed to see the Government remove them, but we are clear that amendment 4 has not been properly thought through. Nothing in it would do anything to improve water company performance or reduce sewage dumping; on the contrary, it would give water companies an excuse to not undertake the necessary improvement works. We will therefore not support it. Labour has set out a clear plan to end the Tory sewage scandal by introducing mandatory monitoring with automatic fines, ensuring that regulators properly enforce the rules, and holding water bosses personally accountable for sewage pollution.
Does the hon. Lady not agree, having been in the Chamber earlier today, that the Government are already monitoring storm overflows across the country? One of the reasons why we are aware of the size of the problem that we are trying to tackle is because we have increased the monitoring from only 6% a few years ago to nearly 100% now.
I am not going to take any advice from the Government. They have been in government for 13 years, and what have they delivered so far? I suggest that the hon. Lady support our amendment, which would ensure that things go through properly.
The devolved Administrations must be included in the development of the UK Infrastructure Bank. I have already mentioned the fantastic wind energy sector that we have in Scotland, and I was excited to read about the opportunities that the bank has identified in Northern Ireland. We do not believe that amendment 2 is necessary to ensure that all regions and nations of the UK benefit from the Bill, so we will not support it.
As we enter another year of low growth and failed Conservative government, we know there is a vital need to invest in the infrastructure of the future. We support the establishment of the UK Infrastructure Bank and have sought to improve the Bill throughout. We want to see stronger objectives and reporting for the bank, so that it can play a role in meeting our net zero targets while creating good jobs across the country and supporting the UK supply chain’s resilience, but what the bank needs most of all from the Government is an ambitious plan. Once again, the Government are on the back foot and U-turning at the last minute with amendment 1, on the bank’s reviews. It is yet another sign that Labour is the party with a plan for government—a party that will grow the economy and create jobs for the future.
It is always a pleasure to follow Abena Oppong-Asare. I thank all hon. Members who have tabled amendments and contributed to today’s debate, as well as those who made valued contributions in Committee. Notwithstanding a certain number of amendments, I feel that generally there is good consensus across the House about the core purpose and objective of an important institution.
If we are fully to meet our responsibilities to spread opportunity to all parts of the United Kingdom and support the all-important transition to the clean energy economy, it is right that we take bold action now with institutions such as the UK Infrastructure Bank. We have therefore introduced the Bill to make explicit—with a legislative lock, if you like—the scope of the bank’s objectives
“to support regional and local economic growth” and
“to help tackle climate change”.
Enshrining the bank in legislation will help to establish it as a long-lasting institution. That is important to colleagues across the House, as we have heard, who agree that it is a welcome initiative. I am glad that there has been general consensus today about the importance of the Bill.
I turn to Government amendment 1, which stands in my name. In Committee, I committed to looking again at the frequency of statutory reviews into the UK Infrastructure Bank and undertook potentially to propose a different frequency at a later stage of the Bill’s passage. It would be a gross mischaracterisation to call the amendment a U-turn; it is simply an example of a listening Minister in a listening Government trying to do what is best to get the institution on the right footing. I thank hon. Members who brought the matter to my attention and shared their views, particularly my predecessor, my hon. Friend Richard Fuller, who raised the point in Committee.
It is, I hope, a sign of strength that I considered afresh what was appropriate for the first review period. However, given the pre-existing reviews to which the Cabinet Office and HM Treasury have already committed, and the need to allow a nascent institution time to embed itself, I remain of the view—having taken the question away and looked at it again—that it is right for the first review period to be seven years. However, I recognise the strength of the arguments for, the appropriateness of and the desire for a shorter period between every subsequent review to ensure that this House applies the necessary accountability. My amendment 1 would therefore reduce the interval between each regular review after the first.
I hope the hon. Lady would never dream of trying to score cheap political points, as distinct from our good-natured and collaborative discussions in Committee. Rather than setting a new timeframe there and then, we looked at precedent in a quest for the optimal timeframe. I undertook to come back on Report and share a proposal with the House, precisely as I am doing today. Having listened and having made that determination, I can feel the warm radiation of support from the Opposition. I hope to see that good will extending to supporting the rest of the Bill without further amendment.
As it gets warm and huggy between the two Front Benchers, I would like to remind the Minister that I also tabled an amendment in Committee. I hope that he is feeling warm and huggy towards Government Back Benchers as well. He seems huggy, though I am not sure it is politically correct to say that any more. I want to emphasise that the Minister has been listening, which is why he has come back with the amendment. That is the right thing for him to do.
The serious part of my point is how the institutional culture of the bank is set. The Minister will know from his own experience that the first few years are very important. He says that the first review period will be seven years, and I understand that, but can he share with the House some of his thinking about how that responsibility will be balanced? I think Members on both sides of the House are concerned that we set the institutions and regulators out there a task, but then we do not have the time, the information or the control to hold them to the original principles that we have set. Does the Minister broadly agree with that? Is he comfortable with the way the legislation will now be framed?
Let me assure my hon. Friend and the whole House that this institution will not lack the proper scrutiny. In that initial set-up period it will be reviewed by both the Cabinet Office and His Majesty’s Treasury. It will not lack scrutiny. It has an obligation to report annually. On some of the amendments we have discussed today, I have already procured a commitment from the bank to put more information into the public domain about its investments and their location, which Opposition Members have rightly pressed us for.
Although the bank is yet to reach its full complement of staffing and run rate of operations, it has already benefited from a serious review by the Public Accounts Committee of this House. I think it would be worth trying to correct some misapprehensions, but I do not for one moment take away the importance of regular scrutiny. We are talking about public money, and it is of the utmost importance that we engender trust as well as good value for public money.
That Public Accounts Committee report is a good and important piece of work. I absolutely commend the work of the Committee, which does a sterling job to protect the interests of taxpayers. We should always remember our duty of care when we are spending other people’s money. It is a good piece of work, and I am grateful for it. We will respond to it in the usual way through the Treasury minute process to get that on the record.
However, I want to address one or two of the points raised. The report raised concerns about governance, but this is an institution that has benefited from strong financial governance from the get-go. All deals done to date have been reviewed by the full UK Infrastructure Bank board before being approved. Because of that, early deals were also approved by HM Treasury Ministers to ensure that we protected taxpayers’ money.
I am proud, as we all should be, of the bank’s work as it continues to engage with the market and across Government, building on its first 18 months in which it has done 10 deals worth more than £1 billion of additive, incremental investment across all parts of the United Kingdom.
My hon. Friend has just used the magic word “additive”. Would he care to explain further, in the context of these new clauses and amendments, that the issue of additive capital is a crucial part of the bank’s responsibility? This is not just about protecting taxpayers’ money, but about attracting third-party private capital. One of the points about the proposal to spread the objectives is that it becomes harder to attract that capital when the mission of the institution is more diffuse. The more focus it has, and the more focus my hon. Friend has, the more likely we are to achieve the objective of additive capital that he has outlined so clearly.
My hon. Friend is, once again, absolutely right. The principle of being additive is baked into the core charters and constitutions, as well as the steer that my colleagues and I will give.
New clause 1 would insert a provision to prevent the sale of the bank. I understand the concern that has been expressed by Members in the past, but I can reassure them that the bank is intended to be a long-lasting institution. I have detected a strong degree of consensus about the importance of this, both in Committee and here in the Chamber, just as our commitment to net zero is long-lasting and a subject of consensus. We intend the bank to be permanent; it is an essential part of the Government’s infrastructure strategy. Moreover, the new clause is simply not necessary. In the event that any future Government considered a sale of the bank—and that is not my expectation—it would require primary legislation at the time. The new clause cannot bind the House on a future occasion, and in any event it is not necessary, so I ask for it not to be pressed to a vote.
The hon. Member for Erith and Thamesmead has tabled a new clause and an amendment. New clause 2 would require the bank to publish an annual report addressing the geographical spread and ownership of bodies in which the bank invests. That is, of course, its core purpose, and I therefore do not think we need the new clause. We debated this proposal in Committee and, for the reasons that we set out then, we do not propose to accept it now.
The new clause is simply unnecessary, because the bank will already be reporting on its investments: it will publish a summary of them in its annual report and accounts. It captures data in all its deal assessments, and will be happy to make them publicly available. I have received a letter from the bank confirming that it will make publicly available the names of developers and/or sponsors of the projects it supports. It will also provide the geographical location of these projects. I feel pressed by colleagues on this matter. I have procured more information, as the hon. Lady has requested and, again, I ask for this new clause not to be pressed to a vote.
As for jobs, it is actions, not lines of statute, that count. We do not need to deliver an amendment to deliver good jobs; just ask the employees involved in the NextEnergy, Gigaclear and Fibrus investments which the bank has already supported. Every job is a good job. The bank is committed to pursuing the highest environmental, social, resilience and governance policy standards, and we do not feel that there is any added value in simply adding extra lines of statute or red tape for the sake of it, as the hon. Lady proposes. It is actions, not words, on which we are focused.
Amendment 5 asks for the bank’s objective to include reducing regional inequality and improving pay, productivity and living standards, as well as supporting supply chain resilience. However, those are already implicit in the bank’s current objective. That is the very purpose of setting up a UK infrastructure bank—the clue is in the name—and we now have a track record to show what the bank is doing to support regional and local growth.
I will give way one final time, but my hon. Friend will have to make it count.
I am not so sure about that, but I know that my hon. Friend has a lot of reading to get through. As he obviously knows, part of what is inherent in the net zero objectives is the fact that there will be an increase in supply chain resilience.
My hon. Friend did indeed make his intervention count, because that is a very pertinent point. Of course, the whole purpose of the bank is infrastructure and capability building, and the commitment to regions is at its heart. Regional and local growth are among its core objectives. The more diverse infrastructure we have in all parts of this great United Kingdom, the more we are naturally adding resilience and achieving our objective. Indeed, the strategic steer set by the then Chancellor in March last year makes it clear that the bank must focus on geographic inequalities by reference to the levelling-up White Paper, which includes a comprehensive set of levelling-up objectives and measures and supports the Government’s strategic approach to levelling up. We would rather do that on a portfolio basis than investment by investment, as proposed by the hon. Member for Erith and Thamesmead.
Amendments 3 and 4, tabled by Richard Foord, focus on the important issue of water quality. This is an area where the Government do not need any lessons. We are taking the lead in this matter, and are taking the action that the hon. Gentleman’s party and its leader failed to take in coalition. Sometimes one detects the fervour of a convert, or even the working-out of some past guilt about their failure to take action on water.
It is obviously delightful to have another Devon MP who cares passionately about the environment, as did his predecessor. I cannot help but wonder whether, if the Liberal Democrats were serious about this, the Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change from 2012 to 2015 might have implemented some of these things. Does my hon. Friend the Minister agree that there seems to be a trend of creating opportunities for dodgy graphics and social media content, rather than making serious changes to legislation?
My hon. Friend makes an important point. It ill behoves a party that aspires to be taken seriously as a force in British politics to be all about clickbait, misleading graphics and half-truths, rather than about, for example, the data, which show that monitoring has increased from just 5% in 2016—a level at which it would be wrong for anyone to characterise themselves as having their arms around this long-standing issue—to more than 90% today. I understand from my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs that it will be 100% by the end of this year. We are the party that is taking action. We are the party that is finding the data, exposing the conduct of the water companies and putting record investment into the sector to solve this long-standing problem. We are the party that provides the solution.
The hon. Member for Tiverton and Honiton needs to consider whether he wants to be part of the problem or, as we all are, part of the solution. One of his amendments is entirely superfluous, as such a measure is already underwritten by the objectives in the world-leading Environment Act 2021. Only yesterday, we announced ambitious interim targets to deliver those objectives in our environmental improvement plan. I believe that the hon. Gentleman was in the Chamber for the statement that preceded this debate. For that reason, we will accept his amendment, because it sits within the actions that we are taking and the commitments that we have made.
Finally, the amendment tabled by Stewart Hosie would require explicit consent from the devolved Administration before using powers under clause 2(6) that touch on devolved competence. However, I was pleased when his colleague, John Swinney, the acting Finance Secretary, wrote to me indicating that he was happy with the content of the Bill, and would recommend that the Bill receive a legislative consent motion. Last week, I was even more pleased—imagine my delight—when the Scottish Parliament gave the Bill an LCM. The right hon. Member for Dundee East will see that not just the Government but his colleagues suggest that his amendment is not required by the Government in Holyrood. As a result, I very much hope that he will not seek to push it to a vote.
This is an incredibly important milestone and moment in establishing a new national institution that will deliver real social purpose and make an enormous difference to the lives of our fellow citizens across the United Kingdom. Establishing it today in statute will give the market greater certainty and confidence, and encourage significant private sector investment in all of the bank’s priority sectors. By partnering with the private sector—by mobilising the life force of private capital, the ferocious, problem-solving power of business—in areas that might otherwise struggle to get the investment they require, we will help speed up the transition to net zero and level up the UK. With the exception of amendment 4, which I have indicated the Government will not oppose, I hope Members understand the reasoning—even if they do not agree—that I have set out as to why we cannot accept the amendments and new clauses and that they respect the time of the House and agree not to press them to a vote.
I beg to ask leave to withdraw the motion.
Clause, by leave, withdrawn.