Amendment 54

UK Infrastructure Bank Bill [HL] - Committee (Continued) – in the House of Lords at 9:45 pm on 14th June 2022.

Alert me about debates like this

Baroness Noakes:

Moved by Baroness Noakes

54: Clause 9, page 4, line 2, after “must” insert “appoint a person or persons to”

Photo of Baroness Noakes Baroness Noakes Conservative

My Lords, we are in the final lap of Committee. I shall speak also to the three other amendments in this group in my name. Amendments 54 and 58 deal with who should carry out the periodic review of the UK Infrastructure Bank under Clause 9. Clause 9 says that the Treasury must carry out the review, and my two amendments change this to “a person or persons” who are independent of both the Treasury and the bank. At Second Reading, I spoke about how the Treasury was intertwined with the UK Infrastructure Bank and in effect calls all the shots. We have covered that ground again today and I will not repeat any of that now, but all that adds up to a fact of life: that the Treasury is very closely involved in the bank and is not and cannot be a dispassionate observer when it comes to appraising how well the bank has done. The Treasury should not, as I think the noble Lord, Lord Vaux, said earlier, be marking its own homework.

In my view, it is only right that an independent person should be appointed to appraise the effectiveness and impact of the bank. Indeed, it may well be that the effectiveness or impact of the bank has been helped or hindered by the Treasury, and we certainly want to know about that. That would not emerge if the review were carried out by the Treasury. The noble Lord, Lord Teverson, has a more elaborate version of independent review in his Amendment 63, and I look forward to hearing what he has to say on it, but I wonder whether an annual report on performance is getting a bit too much like micro-oversight of the UK Infrastructure Bank.

Turning to Amendments 59 and 62, which address the timing of the Clause 9 reviews, I am grateful for the support of the noble Lord, Lord Vaux of Harrowden, and the noble Baroness, Lady Kramer, respectively, in respect of these amendments. Under Clause 9, the Treasury has up to 10 years to produce its first report and then has to produce reports at not more than seven-year intervals after that. My amendment calls for a first report within four years and Amendment 62 calls for subsequent reports at least every three years. I chose four years as the first period, rather than the three years called for by Amendment 60 in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Kramer, because I thought that a report after three years of operation would be sensible and would allow a bit of time beyond the three years to actually make the report. But there is no magic in either three or four years: the main point is that 10 years followed by seven years is far too long. I beg to move.

Photo of Lord Teverson Lord Teverson Liberal Democrat Lords Spokesperson (Energy and Climate Change), Chair, EU Environment Sub-Committee, Chair, EU Environment Sub-Committee

My Lords, when the Green Investment Bank was privatised and we dealt with legislation to do that, we in this House looked at ways in which we could be sure that, with that change of ownership, whatever it would be, it remained true to its constitution, its values and objectives in that private situation. It was subsequently bought by Macquarie, which still owns the Green Investment Bank, now called the Green Investment Group. The Government at the time—I remember going through this with the noble Baroness, Lady Neville-Rolfe—were enlightened enough to set up a green share held by a non-profit organisation called the Green Purposes Company, of which I am a trustee, and therefore I declare my interest in that.

I take the noble Baroness’s point that my amendment is slightly more complicated and maybe slightly more micro, but it is there for a different reason. That company was set up in a similar way to the way described in this amendment, and what we do in the Green Purposes Company is certainly not to act in any way prior to investment—we are not part of any investment committee; we do not get involved in that. What we do, at the end of a year, is to assess whether those investments that have been made by what is now the Green Investment Group comply with its green objectives and the mission of the bank.

With the co-operation of Macquarie, that process has worked very well. As I said, we assess performance against the bank’s objectives and have four meetings a year with senior management—they are optional; we just decided to do that operationally—and then publish a letter in the annual report of the bank, making that assessment of the investment in general. It is a fairly short letter, but it provides total transparency and a completely independent view of whether the bank has met those objectives through its investments during the year.

Having agreed to and implemented this model, we have talked to Treasury officials about it in the past—it has been considered and, I think, welcomed by the Environmental Audit Committee at the other end—and to the Finance Minister John Glen. It is a successful assessment method; it is transparent, tried and tested and is a model laid down by the Government themselves. This is a really good way forward and I would very much like the Minister to consider it as a way that we can make sure there is independent, regular assessment, post investment, of how the bank is performing without getting into too much of the micro area in the report. I agree that, if that was too much part of the reporting structure, it could be onerous and reduce transparency.

Photo of Lord Vaux of Harrowden Lord Vaux of Harrowden Chair, Finance Committee (Lords), Chair, Finance Committee (Lords)

My Lords, like I think almost every noble Lord who spoke at Second Reading, I agree that the reporting schedule set out in the Bill is completely unacceptable. In fact, I think it was possibly the only point in the entire Bill on which there was absolute unanimity. Ten years before the first report and then only every seven years thereafter is just too long. I wonder if even the Minister was surprised at the times when she saw the Bill.

I have added my name to Amendment 59, in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Noakes, which suggests four years before the first report. I understand her point about having three years plus time to get that first report out, and it therefore makes sense that the first one has a bit longer. Others have suggested three years. I cannot too excited about it, to be honest. Ten years and seven years are too long. We need to bring that down.

As I and the noble Baroness mentioned earlier, it is quite inappropriate that the Treasury should be marking its own homework in this respect, so I support her amendments ensuring that the effectiveness reporting is independent.

Photo of Baroness Kramer Baroness Kramer Liberal Democrat Lords Spokesperson (Treasury and Economy)

My Lords, I will speak very briefly. A couple of the amendments are in my name and I have signed others. I absolutely join the noble Baroness, Lady Noakes, and the noble Lord, Lord Vaux, on whether it is three years or four years. It seems to me that the proposal of the noble Baroness is rather sensible, as three years will have gone by, as she pointed out, before the first report. What are completely unacceptable are the 10-year and seven-year benchmarks. The Minister has heard the arguments over and over. I know she will say that there are many other ways in which we will know what is going on. We will partially, but not in a coherent or holistic way. That is why it is so important that these kinds of holistic reviews should be done properly, appropriately and in a timely fashion.

I stress my support for the points made by the noble Baroness, Lady Noakes, and my noble friend Lord Teverson on their somewhat different proposals for an independent reviewer. Otherwise, the Treasury will be marking its own homework. We have established throughout every part of today’s debate that it can change the objectives through secondary legislation and it sets the strategic priorities. It can provide detailed direction and appoints every member of the board. It is very hard to see any way in which the Treasury’s hand will not have imprinted every aspect of what this bank does.

I can tell noble Lords now that the Treasury will produce an absolutely glowing report after 10 years; we do not even have to wait for it. The Treasury will look at what it has done and praise itself. Frankly, it is not at all appropriate to call that a review. That is a self-reporting system; it is not an independent review. I believe that a review is what is required, and independence lies at the heart of that.

Photo of Lord Tunnicliffe Lord Tunnicliffe Opposition Deputy Chief Whip (Lords), Shadow Spokesperson (Defence), Shadow Spokesperson (Treasury), Shadow Minister (Transport) 10:00 pm, 14th June 2022

My Lords, yet again, I have to concede that I agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Noakes, on Amendments 54 and 58. I will not labour that further.

The bank could, in time, play a significant role in our fight against climate change, and we very much hope that it will. Given the urgency of the green transition and the Government’s stated commitment to levelling up, carrying out the first review of the bank after 10 years makes no sense. I was pleased to sign Amendment 60, which would bring this forward to three years. However, let me be clear that, like a number of other noble Lords, I am not wedded to any particular number. The noble Baroness, Lady Noakes, may win the day with four years, or we may settle for something else entirely. What has been clear from this short debate is that the current decade is simply not acceptable. There are also some differences of opinion on frequency. Once again, I do not think it matters exactly where it ends up, if, in the end, the result is that we see these documents more frequently than currently envisaged.

Photo of Lord Teverson Lord Teverson Liberal Democrat Lords Spokesperson (Energy and Climate Change), Chair, EU Environment Sub-Committee, Chair, EU Environment Sub-Committee

Could I just ask the Minister one thing before she replies? Ten years is just ridiculous, so is this the one thing where the Government will say, “Right, we’ve listened to the House and we’ll make it three years. Look, guys, we’ve done the deal”, and then the Bill goes down to the other end? Is that the plot?

Photo of Lord Tunnicliffe Lord Tunnicliffe Opposition Deputy Chief Whip (Lords), Shadow Spokesperson (Defence), Shadow Spokesperson (Treasury), Shadow Minister (Transport)

That is what my original notes envisaged, but I simply could not believe that they are that clever.

Photo of Baroness Penn Baroness Penn Baroness in Waiting (HM Household) (Whip)

My Lords, I hope noble Lords will forgive me if I do not give the game away too far ahead of Report in terms of our approach to listening to all the points raised in Committee.

As we have heard, these amendments all relate to the review clause in the Bill. I understand entirely the aim behind the amendments of ensuring that the bank is appropriately scrutinised and in a timely way, but I can hope valiantly that I can reassure noble Lords both that there will not be a 10-year period before the bank is given scrutiny and by perhaps explaining to them why the 10-year period was selected.

As I have mentioned previously, we have committed in the bank’s policy design document to review the bank’s progress and financial performance by spring 2024 to ensure that it has sufficient capital to deliver its ambitions and, as we noted earlier, also on our regulatory approach to the bank. On top of this, we have a Cabinet Office-led review in 2024-25 on the effectiveness of arm’s-length bodies generally, and as part of this process we will conduct a review of the bank, which will be repeated in 2027-28 and 2030-31.

Photo of Baroness Kramer Baroness Kramer Liberal Democrat Lords Spokesperson (Treasury and Economy)

Just for clarification, will the Treasury review the bank in that 2024 piece of work? Will it be reviewing itself?

Photo of Baroness Penn Baroness Penn Baroness in Waiting (HM Household) (Whip)

My notes say that it will be a Cabinet Office-led review, but as part of that process we—which I would take to mean the Treasury—will conduct the review. If that is incorrect, I will clarify that.

Taken together, this means that the bank will have been subject to four reviews by the time of our first statutory review. The review in statute is designed to encompass all the elements of the previous reviews and has been chosen to be 10 years after Royal Assent because it allows for a fuller analysis—

Photo of Baroness Penn Baroness Penn Baroness in Waiting (HM Household) (Whip)

I will be happy to go away and check on that point. I think that the intention is that they would be, but I will double-check.

The period of 10 years has been chosen to allow for a fuller analysis of the infrastructure funding that the bank has undertaken and to see the real impact of its investment in the context of delivering against the missions set out in the levelling-up White Paper and the progress towards the Government’s net-zero target.

I will note one further point. As I confirmed at Second Reading to my noble friend Lady Noakes, UKIB will be subject to external audit by the National Audit Office, including on an annual basis as part of the statutory powers of the Comptroller and Auditor-General.

Amendment 63, in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, seeks to mirror the arrangements of the Green Investment Bank by having a company shadow the bank to ensure that it is meeting its objectives. He is clearly knowledgeable on this subject as he sits on the board of the Green Purposes Company. However, he will note that the Green Investment Bank did not need this function when it was part of government because there were already other routes of accountability, including directly to Parliament in relation to the bank’s use of public money.

This legislation sets out quite clearly the objectives of the bank so, if there is any deviation from that, the Government can compel it to change its course or there will be a challenge in the courts. Further to this, Ministers are accountable to Parliament on the performance of the bank, so I dare say the noble Lord would provide adequate challenge should he think that the bank was not performing against its objectives.

To tidy things up, my noble friend Lady Noakes asked a question on the bank appearing before Lords committees. There is no barrier to that. Indeed, the CEO and the chair of the bank were before the Economic Affairs Committee on 17 May as part of an energy supply session.

I hope that, in laying out those reasonings from the Government at this stage, my noble friend will feel able to withdraw her amendment and that other noble Lords will not move theirs when they are reached.

Photo of Baroness Noakes Baroness Noakes Conservative

My Lords, I expect that my noble friend the Minister knows that she is batting on a rather sticky wicket. While she has valiantly sought to explain her reasonings, I think I can probably speak for the rest of the Committee when I say that we are not wholly convinced by them. I can see no particular point in detaining noble Lords in this Committee much longer other than to say that we have to record that clearly both the independence and the time period of the review are areas that we will need to return to on Report if we do not satisfactorily deal with them before we get to that stage. With that, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment 54 withdrawn.

Amendments 55 to 63 not moved.

Clause 9 agreed.

Amendments 64 to 68 not moved.

Clauses 10 and 11 agreed.

House resumed.

Bill reported without amendments.

House adjourned at 10.10 pm.