Amendment 13

UK Infrastructure Bank Bill [HL] - Report – in the House of Lords at 5:25 pm on 4 July 2022.

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Lord Sharkey:

Moved by Lord Sharkey

13: Clause 2, page 2, line 9, leave out subsection (7) and insert—“(7) Regulations made under the powers set out in subsection (6) are subject to the “super affirmative procedure” as set out in subsections (8) to (15).(8) The Secretary of State must lay before Parliament—(a) a draft of the regulations, and(b) a document which explains the draft regulations.(9) Where a draft of the regulations is laid before Parliament under subsection (8), no statutory instrument containing the regulations may be laid before Parliament until after the expiry of the 30-day period.(10) The Secretary of State must request a committee of either House of Parliament whose remit includes infrastructure, economic growth, finance or climate change to report on the draft regulations within the 30-day period.(11) In preparing a draft statutory instrument containing the regulations, the Secretary of State must take account of—(a) any representations,(b) any resolution of either House of Parliament, and(c) any recommendations of a committee under subsection (10) made within the 30-day period with regard to the draft regulations.(12) If, after the 30-day period, the Secretary of State wishes to make regulations in the terms of the draft or a revised draft, he or she must lay before Parliament a statement—(a) stating whether any representations, resolutions or recommendations were made under subsection (11); (b) giving details of any representations, resolutions or recommendations so made; and(c) explaining any changes made in any revised draft of the regulations.(13) The Secretary of State may make a statutory instrument containing the regulations (whether or not revised) if, after the laying of the statement required under subsection (12), a draft of the instrument has been laid before and approved by a resolution of each House of Parliament.(14) In this section, references to “the 30-day period” in relation to any draft regulations is to the period of 30 days beginning with the day on which the original draft regulations were laid before Parliament.(15) For the purposes of subsection (14) no account is to be taken of any time during which Parliament is dissolved or prorogued or during which either House is adjourned for more than four days.”Member's explanatory statementThis amendment seeks to provide Parliament with the opportunity for enhanced scrutiny of the regulations made under this section.

Photo of Lord Sharkey Lord Sharkey Liberal Democrat

My Lords, I shall speak also to Amendment 18. I am very grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Vaux, and my noble friend Lady Kramer for adding their names to both amendments and to the noble Lord, Lord Tunnicliffe, for adding his name to Amendment 18.

The Bill contains Henry VIII powers in Clause 2(6)(a) and (b). These powers would enable the Treasury to amend the activities of the bank and change the definition of infrastructure by regulations subject to the affirmative procedure. There is no constraint, the Treasury has carte blanche: it can add to, subtract from or modify any or all of the bank’s listed activities; it can change what counts as infrastructure by adding, subtracting or modifying. This would enable fundamental changes to be made to the bank’s operations without any meaningful parliamentary scrutiny. The Government have previously asserted, and may do so again today, that the affirmative procedure for SIs constitutes meaningful parliamentary scrutiny, but this is obviously not the case.

In its 2018 report, the Constitution Committee noted:

“Without a genuine risk of defeat, and no amendment possible, Parliament is doing little more than rubber-stamping the Government’s secondary legislation. This is constitutionally unacceptable.”

But there is a way of enhancing scrutiny of secondary legislation. This is the super-affirmative procedure, and our Amendment 13 would replace the affirmative procedure with this super-affirmative procedure. Erskine May, in Part 4, chapter 31.14, characterises this procedure as follows:

“The super-affirmative procedure provides both Houses with opportunities to comment on proposals for secondary legislation and to recommend amendments before orders for affirmative approval are brought forward in their final form … the power to amend the proposed instrument remains with the Minister: the two Houses and their committees can only recommend changes, not make them.”

During the passage of the recent Medicines and Medical Devices Act, the Minister, the noble Baroness, Lady Penn, very helpfully summarised the super-affirmative procedure as follows, saying

“that procedure would require an initial draft of the regulations to be laid before Parliament alongside an explanatory statement and that a committee must be convened to report on those draft GC 376.]">Official Report, 19/10/20; col. GC 376.]

It was in that Bill that the House last voted to insert the super-affirmative procedure. There was widespread support from across the House—from Labour, from these Benches, from the Cross Benches and even from two extremely distinguished Conservative Peers. Prior to that, according to the Library, the last recorded insertion was by the Government themselves in October 2017 in what became the Financial Guidance and Claims Act.

When they are not doing it themselves, the Government traditionally put forward any or all of three routine objections to the use of the super-affirmative procedure. The first is that it is unnecessary because the use of the affirmative procedure provides sufficient parliamentary scrutiny. This is obviously untrue. The second routine objection is that the super-affirmative procedure is cumbersome. I take this to mean only that this procedure is more elaborate than the affirmative procedure; which is, of course, the whole point. It is necessarily more elaborate because it provides for actual scrutiny where the affirmative procedure does not. The third routine objection is that it all takes too long. This has force only if there is some imminent deadline, and there is none in this case.

In Committee, the noble Viscount, Lord Younger of Leckie, argued in favour of retaining the Henry VIII powers in Clause 2:

“There may, however, be instances where we need to update the definition of infrastructure or the bank’s functions to ensure that the bank can continue to fulfil its objectives as a long-lasting institution.”

He went on to give an example:

“New green infrastructure technologies may emerge in the future which we would want … to include in the bank’s definition of infrastructure, to signal to the bank and the market that the bank can invest in these technologies.”—[Official Report, 14/6/22; col. 1541.]

I am afraid that this is a very weak argument. The definitions of “infrastructure” in the Bill are not exhaustive, as the Minister has again said this afternoon. The bank could simply decide that it wanted to include new green technology and say so in an official press release. In any case, the Treasury could always direct the bank to include these new technologies and any such direction would be published. As things stand, the Henry VIII powers would enable the Minister to change both the bank’s activities and the definitions of infrastructure without constraint or meaningful parliamentary scrutiny. Our Amendment 13 would restore an element of parliamentary scrutiny; Parliament should not be bypassed.

Amendment 18 addresses the issue of transparency over aspects of the Treasury’s relationship with the bank, including operational independence. The relationship between the Treasury and the bank is in large measure set out in the framework document. It is not entirely clear what the legal status of this document is, and there are inconsistencies between it and the Bill. We will discuss those later when we talk about the need to revisit the framework document and align it with the Bill, but I will examine just one section of the document.

Section 15 is entitled:

“Resolution of disputes between the Company and the Shareholder”.

The company is the bank and the shareholder is the Treasury. Paragraph 15.2 sets out a fairly standard procedure for trying to arrive at an agreed resolution of a dispute. Paragraphs 15.3 and 15.4 set out what happens if the resolution process is unsuccessful. Under the terms of these paragraphs, the Treasury may give the board of the bank directions of a specific or general nature.

If the board and the accounting officer reasonably believe that a given direction would conflict with a set of prescribed items, the board may issue a reservation notice in writing to the Treasury in respect of a direction that in its opinion would:

“infringe the requirements of propriety or regularity … not represent good value for money for the Exchequer as a whole … be of questionable feasibility or … unethical … be contrary to the Strategic Objectives ... result in the directors of the Company being in breach of their legal duties … and/or … not be in the best interests of the Company for any other material and demonstrable reason.”

The Treasury may nevertheless instruct the bank to comply with the direction. If that happens, the bank must seek a written instruction to undertake the actions set out in the direction. This written instruction is called a written direction; there is an oral equivalent, called an oral direction. The bank then has to follow the written direction. It is also required to tell a list of people what has happened and to arrange for the existence of the written and oral directions to be published. However, there is a caveat. The existence of the written or oral direction may not be published if the Treasury has directed the board in writing not to do so.

There are several things wrong with all this. First, there is no mention of publishing the reservation notice in the framework document at all. In her letter to us of 25 June, the Minister said:

“we have committed to update the Framework Document to clarify this position to reflect that the Bank may publish its Reservation Notice.”

Why “may” and not “must”? After all, the Bill specifies that the Treasury must publish any direction.

The second thing wrong is that the framework document explicitly requires the bank to

“arrange for the existence of the Written Direction or any Oral Direction … to be published”.

That is, unless the Treasury tells it not to. Why the odd language about publishing the “existence” of the written or oral directives? In plain English, that is not a requirement to publish the contents, but only the existence of the written or oral directives. That clearly cannot be right.

The third thing wrong is the Treasury’s power, set out clearly in the framework document, to gag the bank by directing it not to reveal the existence of a written or oral directive. The whole chain of events must be transparent at every point. If operational independence is to have any real meaning, the bank and the Treasury must publish not only the original directive but also any reservation notice and any written or oral direction.

That is what Amendment 18 would do. It simply amends Clause 4(3)(b) to read that the Treasury must publish a direction and

“any subsequent, consequential or relevant correspondence between the Treasury and the Bank.”

That means it must publish the content of such correspondence, not just the fact of its existence. I beg to move Amendment 13.

Photo of Lord Thomas of Cwmgiedd Lord Thomas of Cwmgiedd Chair, Consolidation, &c., Bills (Joint Committee), Chair, Consolidation, &c., Bills (Joint Committee) 5:30, 4 July 2022

My Lords, I will speak to two sets of amendments. Before doing so, I thank the noble Lords, Lord Vaux and Lord Wigley, and the noble Baroness, Lady Kramer, for their support in the drafting of the amendments and for co-signing them. They fall into two distinct categories.

The first group, Amendments 14 to 17, relates to Clause 3. They are intended solely to deal with the framework document, about which we have had many discussions today and on various occasions. There is one in existence, but it is now more than a year old. That document needs to be brought in line with the other governing documents of the bank. It seems clear that, if you are to govern a bank properly, effectively and efficiently, its governing documents must be got right.

One of the problems with the framework document is that it is not clear what it is. Is it a very mundane document—I hate to use the word, but I think it is right—that deals with ordinary day-to-day activities or a much more important document, as the Minister suggested earlier in the debate, which might be used to fine-tune the way the bank will work or the objectives it is to be set?

Is it legally binding? Without seeing the document that will operate in the course of the bank’s governance, it is quite impossible to say, unless there is a clause which says that it is not legally binding. If it is not legally binding, unless it deals with day-to-day matters such as meetings, there may be no problem, but which is it?

Is it consistent with the Bill and the clauses that will be inserted into the strategic priorities? The present document is quite clear; it contains provisions that are redundant, such as those relating to the objectives and the appointment of directors, because they have been overtaken. The purpose of this amendment is to press the Government to be clear about what may or may not be an important part of the governance of the bank. I intend to say no more about that group of amendments.

Amendment 21 is a much more important amendment and goes to a constitutional point. Economic development is a devolved issue. It is not a straightforward one, because the government Acts of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland contain extensive reservations on aspects of economic development, as one would expect. One would expect that, ordinarily, the Governments of the devolved constituent parts of the United Kingdom and the Government of the United Kingdom would work closely together on so important an institution as the UK Infrastructure Bank. The Bill ought to reflect a properly organised structure, so that there is consultation and the views expressed by the devolved Governments are taken into account on consultation.

It is useful to look to Germany. KfW has one of the most successful track records in the world on the operation of an investment bank; 80% of it is owned by the federal Government and 20% by the Länder. It therefore has an institutional structure.

In the UK—I do not make any point about what has been decided—this is 100% owned by HM Treasury. Given the need for co-operation, particularly with the Welsh development bank and the equivalent development bank in Scotland, we ought to be clearer in the Bill that there should be appropriate consultation on its key features. I accept that the strategic plan put forward by the bank makes some mention of working in co-operation. Indeed, it mentions Wales or the Welsh six times, and Scotland gets a bit more as it is mentioned eight times, but Northern Ireland gets a bit less as it is mentioned only twice. But when one looks at the analysis of what is there, there is nothing of any real substance on which the Governments of the devolved constituent parts of the United Kingdom can get any comfort.

The Bill needs a legislative consent Motion. Another important feature is that we ought to recall the Sewel convention; we ought to be concerned at the number of instances where there is no consent. We are gradually moving away from the concept of “not normally” legislating the areas of devolved matters without the consent of the devolved legislatures. In this area, that is a very important point. Therefore, this amendment is put forward to provide a mechanism for consultation on three critical areas, and this inclusion should check and institutionalise in the Bill a structure for proper consultation in relation to the three most important functions of the Government on it: the ability to amend by regulation; the ability to appoint directors; and the creation of the statement of strategic priorities.

Given the current circumstances—and the real need to hold the union together—I hope that this amendment could be one which the Government would readily accept. Consultation is not going very far. One could put forward a clause which went much further, and I very much hope that the Government will look favourably on this proposed new clause, but I shall listen carefully to what the Minister has to say and, in light of that, consider whether I would seek to test the opinion of the House on this provision.

Photo of Lord Sentamu Lord Sentamu Crossbench

My Lords, I have been in your Lordships’ House since 2005 and one of the things that has always surprised me, having come from another part of the Commonwealth, is the way in which secondary legislation—statutory instruments and regulations—has grown like Topsy. Secretary of States are always accountable to Parliament and, if you give power away, some people never want it to be brought back. The Bill is an innovation. The noble Baroness, Lady Kramer, was right that we do not want to simply put things back into the systems of other banks, and this is a risky bank. It will go into areas where hitherto nobody has gone.

I speak only to Amendment 13, which seeks to provide Parliament with the opportunity for enhanced scrutiny of the regulations made under this section. That is all it is doing: Parliament must not just pass a law and allow the Secretary of State the power to make regulations and statutory instruments which then cannot be clearly watched. I have always believed that good law is good law—no one should be frightened of any good law. Therefore, the Secretary of State must not see this affirmative action as a hindrance of their function and their work. No, it is simply enhancing the scrutiny of regulations made under this section. I urge those who tabled this wonderful amendment to stick with it and not just give it away.

Photo of Lord Vaux of Harrowden Lord Vaux of Harrowden Chair, Finance Committee (Lords), Chair, Finance Committee (Lords) 5:45, 4 July 2022

My Lords, I have added my name to all the amendments in this group, which cover four separate topics, and I will touch on each of them briefly. First, Amendment 13, which the noble Lord, Lord Sharkey, eloquently explained, aims to introduce a greater level of scrutiny to the use of the Henry VIII power that is included in the Bill. The activities and, in particular, the definition of infrastructure are fundamental to what the bank can do and how it will be measured. It must be right that changes to this are subject to a meaningful level of parliamentary scrutiny and, as the noble Lord clearly explained, the affirmative procedure has sadly become a bit of a sham. Amendment 13 seeks to find an interesting balance between the rubber-stamping of a statutory instrument and full use of primary legislation. I urge the Government to support this, and I would be quite supportive generally of seeing more of this process in Bills more often: we have seen far too many of these Henry VIII clauses, as we have just heard.

Amendments 14, 15, 16 and 17 in the name of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Thomas of Cwmgiedd, to which I have also added my name, are aimed at trying to resolve issues around the framework document that we discussed at length in Committee. As we heard, the framework document is a slightly peculiar animal: it seems to have no real legal status, but it is an important document in how the bank will behave. The consensus around the Chamber in Committee was, I think, that the balance within that is too far towards including elements of principle rather than the day-to-day running of the bank. These amendments do not really address that. All they ask is for the framework document to be updated, and that it should be consistent with the statement of strategic priorities. That seems pretty straightforward and simple.

There are a number of areas where the more recent statement of strategic priorities is inconsistent with the framework document. One example—it is relevant to the discussion we had on the previous group about additionality—is that the strategic priorities expressly do not require local authority investments to achieve additionality, but the framework document does. Perhaps the Minister could explain why. I doubt that she will accept the amendments, but could she at least confirm that the framework document will be updated and that it will be brought into line with the statement of strategic priorities?

Amendment 18 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Sharkey, addresses the extremely important point raised in Committee, I think by the noble Baroness, Lady Kramer, that as drafted the Bill—in conjunction with all these other governing documents, including the framework document—would require directions given by the Treasury to be published, but would not require situations where the board disagrees with that direction to be published or explained. Indeed, it effectively applies a gagging order, and that cannot be right. This important amendment brings in some essential transparency to that and I wholeheartedly support it.

I agree with the noble and learned Lord, Lord Thomas of Cwmgiedd, that the final amendment in the group is the most important. It introduces a simple requirement to consult the devolved Governments in various situations, and in preparing or changing the statement of strategic priorities. The bank’s activities will cover the whole UK, which I think is a good thing. The Minister has indicated, as does the statement of strategic priorities, that the bank is establishing a good relationship with the devolved Governments, and with the bank’s counterparts in the devolved nations. However, the Bill does not mention this. As someone who lives in Scotland and is a passionate unionist, I am consistently surprised by the fact that legislation that covers the whole UK rarely includes proper consultation requirements. That seems really counterproductive—even dangerous—as not taking proper account of the reasonable views and concerns of the devolved nations further undermines the strength of our union.

It gives ammunition to the nationalists that the Government do not take the devolved Governments seriously. We are heading rapidly towards a break-up of the union if we behave like this. This amendment does not create any veto powers or anything of that nature, which I would strongly disagree with that as you cannot work something if one party has a veto. It just requires consultation and that the reasonable views of the devolved nations be taken into account when setting the strategy or appointing directors.

I urge the Government to accept this. More widely, I urge them to start to be more consultative and include clauses of this nature more generally in Bills that cover the whole of the UK. That will strengthen, not weaken, the union and will ensure that the bank takes actions genuinely in the interests of all parts of the UK. If the noble and learned Lord decides to divide the House on this matter, I certainly will support him.

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

My Lords, I have added my name to all the amendments in this group but I will try to be brief. I want to pick up on the point just made by the noble Lord, Lord Vaux. Amendment 21 in the name of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Thomas, deals with consulting devolved Administrations. It ought to be a matter of course that in every Bill where consultation is important, it is in the Bill. It then underscores the constitutional relationship between central government and the devolved Governments. The expectation that it is to be dealt with either in other documents or just off the cuff is, I suspect, one of the reasons we see so much stress and pressure on the union today. It embodies a lack of respect, to be quite frank, and it ought to be a matter of course that we see these arrangements in a Bill.

I will look at the other amendments tabled and so well drafted by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Thomas. On updating the framework document, we have heard of nothing but the importance of that document. On almost every issue we raise, we are told that it does not need to be in the Bill because it is in this absolutely critical document—the framework document—which is actually a document agreed between the Treasury and the bank; it is not even necessarily in the public arena. Yet we can see that it is inconsistent with the Bill as it stands, never mind with the issues that have surfaced in the course of this very complex debate. It is a document that desperately needs to be updated. I know there is a plan to update it by the end of this year but that is completely out of touch with making sure that we have proper, consistent and meaningful arrangements in place for a bank that is already functioning as we stand here today. I very much support those amendments.

I now look at the two amendments from the noble Lord, Lord Sharkey. Amendment 13, so eloquently supported by the noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Sentamu, addresses another fundamental problem that we see in one piece of legislation after another: the wide use of Henry VIII powers to allow secondary legislation—which cannot be amended and, in effect, cannot be rejected—to change primary legislation fundamentally. It almost makes a joke of primary legislation. I know the Government would say that they would not exercise the power widely and it is just a marginal change here or there, but the Bill is already written to allow for marginal changes. The only time when that clause would be relevant would be if fundamental changes were to be made. I would argue that those should come back to Parliament, at least for the level of engagement of a super-affirmative.

I want to speak most to Amendment 18 because I am truly exercised on the issue of transparency. As others have said, the Bill requires the publication of a direction when the Treasury basically decides it is going to tell the bank what it can do. It can give it instructions that are either general or specific. It could say, “Make this loan and do it this way.” That is entirely allowed and there has to be a publication. But what is not that established is that when the bank says no and then is overridden, that information comes into the public arena. When it says no, it says so in a letter of reservation and the kind of issues it can raise are fundamental, such as issues of propriety, issues of ethical behaviour and issues of departing from the fundamental purpose of the bank.

I think we must have an absolute assurance that those will be published so that they are in the public arena. Let me give an example. The Minister has often drawn parallels between this bank and the British Business Bank, which allows me to draw a parallel with the British Business Bank’s decision to accredit Greensill to provide a Covid-related loan. We know, because it is now in the public arena, that when Greensill applied to the British Business Bank for accreditation, various parts of the Government fairly bombarded the British Business Bank with emails. They did not say “accredit it” but kept saying how important it was that they knew the result, asking whether it was done yet and saying that this would be fundamental to the future of steel in the UK and so on. Anyway, as we all know, the British Business Bank did accredit Greensill and, I suspect, regrets the very moment that it did so.

If a direction from the Treasury had been published on that issue, I am sure it would have said: “This direction is intended to make sure that our very important steel industry survives. It is to support jobs. It is to support communities related to the steel industry.” The reservation would have said something very different. I suspect it would have said: “We do not believe that the entity, Greensill, meets our ethical standards. We believe that it is basically an organisation that has got itself into some very unfortunate and potentially unethical arrangements and is on the verge of bankruptcy.” That is why it is important that the reservation notice is published and the conversation does not exist only in the context of the direction. That is why I say to the Minister that we cannot have an arrangement where the bank could, if it wished, publish its reservation notice; it is crucial that it publishes its reservation notice. I argue that on the grounds of the propriety that should surely lie at the heart of all the legislation that we provide in this House.

Photo of Lord Morgan Lord Morgan Labour

My Lords, I rise very briefly to say why—my Whip may not be too happy to hear this—I wish to vote for the amendment from the noble and learned Lord, Lord Thomas of Cwmgiedd, which I know is not the view of my party at present.

I think the distance between central institutions in London, such as the Bank of England, is far too great. We have not really taken account of the mechanics of devolution in our constitutional and legal arrangements. This was shown—very dangerously so—in the Brexit negotiations, when important features of the Welsh economy, notably in agriculture, were not attended to by the Westminster Government. Wales and, I suppose, Scotland were treated in a somewhat colonial fashion and the consequence was that a great deal of ill will was needlessly caused. The noble Lord across the House mentioned difficulties that have arisen in the case of Scotland.

I hope we would accept an amendment that thinks in terms of harmonising the economic strategies in London and the devolved authorities. I speak as one who believes strongly in the union but also in devolution for Wales. I hope very much that the amendment from the noble and learned Lord, Lord Thomas, who is deeply learned in these matters, will be accepted.

Photo of Lord Tunnicliffe Lord Tunnicliffe Shadow Spokesperson (Defence), Shadow Spokesperson (Treasury), Shadow Minister (Transport) 6:00, 4 July 2022

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Sharkey, and the noble and learned Lord, Lord Thomas, for tabling the various amendments in this group. I was pleased to sign Amendment 18, which would increase transparency relating to Treasury directions. The Minister and her officials have offered several helpful assurances on this subject during discussions between Committee and Report. I am grateful for those assurances, but I am not convinced that they go far enough. As with the earlier group on job creation and levelling up, this may be another area where the Treasury leans on the framework document as the preferred way forward. If that is where we end up after the Bill has been considered in another place, so be it, but there is merit in this House taking a view on transparency safeguards today.

Sadly, we have become all too familiar with non-legislative commitments or safeguards being flouted. By strengthening Clause 4, we can at least ensure that the bank will have a voice if there are concerns around the Treasury’s use of its powers. Accordingly, if the noble Lord, Lord Sharkey, divides the House on this issue, he will have our support.

Elsewhere, I appreciate the wish of the noble Lord, Lord Sharkey, to see the regulations under Clause 2 subject to a form of super-affirmative procedure. However, this concern was not raised by your Lordships’ Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee, and we will of course debate relevant regulations if and when they are brought forward in the future. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Thomas, has tabled a number of amendments in this group, and I hope that the Minister will be able to provide a comprehensive reply.

As with so many other pieces of Whitehall legislation, there is a clear overlap with devolved competence, and the Government will therefore have to seek consent Motions. I have huge sympathy for Amendment 21, which seeks to ensure formal consultation with the devolved authorities in certain circumstances. While the Government will dispute this, they have a poor and arguably worsening record in engaging with colleagues in the devolved nations. However, I am not convinced that an amendment to the Bill would change that, or that Conservative MPs will defy the Whip when the Bill is considered in the Commons. I hope this is an area where the Minister can provide strong, non-legislative commitments. Crucially, the Government must then follow through on them.

The union is at least fragile, and the way these relationships are conducted can add to that fragility. It is crucial on this occasion that the Government do everything they can to overcome the present concerns on this matter.

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

My Lords, Amendment 13 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Sharkey, seeks to make the bank’s delegated powers subject to the super-affirmative procedure. As indicated in Erskine May, the super-affirmative procedure has been deployed for secondary legislation where an exceptionally high degree of scrutiny is thought appropriate. This procedure has rarely been considered the appropriate one to prescribe in primary legislation; where it has, the relevant instances have tended to be of a particularly substantive and wide-ranging sort. The noble Lord, Lord Sharkey, gave us an example but I had another: the Legislative and Regulatory Reform Act 2006, where the super-affirmative procedure was used to regulate significant powers under which Ministers could amend legislation to remove regulatory burdens. It cannot be said that amending the bank’s activities or the definition of infrastructure reaches the threshold of requiring the super-affirmative procedure. I have noted comments from noble Lords, but I also draw to their attention the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee’s response to the Bill, which stated:

“There is nothing in this Bill which we would wish to draw to the attention of the House.”

On the other amendment from the noble Lord, Lord Sharkey, in this group, Amendment 18 on the power of direction, I recognise that there has been some concern about the wording in the framework document in relation to the issuing of directions. In particular, there were concerns that the Treasury would be able to “gag” the bank. That is clearly not the intention, and I have taken away the wording in section 15 of the framework document to make it clear that Her Majesty’s Treasury is not able to prevent publication of a written direction or any reservation notice in respect of that direction.

It is incumbent on the Treasury to meet its obligation to publish the direction and any associated reservation notice as soon as appropriate. Of course, there can be circumstances in which the publication of a written direction or any associated reservation notice needs to be delayed for reasons of national security or commercial sensitivity. An example of this occurred, in relation to a similar power in a different circumstance, during the sale of British Steel Ltd, where the Secretary of State directed the Permanent Secretary to continue an indemnity with the official receiver but delayed publication during negotiations with Jingye, despite value-for-money uncertainties, as to publish at the time would likely have undermined the rescue deal due to commercial sensitivity concerns. However, I will be clear with the House that if publication of a written direction were to be delayed for reasons of commercial sensitivity or national security, we would ensure that it was sent to the chair of the Public Accounts Committee immediately and on a confidential basis.

I hope that I have addressed the points made by the noble Lord, Lord Sharkey. However, to be absolutely clear, and maybe to go further than I did in our previous discussions, we will amend the framework document to be clear that where a direction is issued, an accompanying reservation notice “must” be published—rather than “may”—and, to further clarify, the content of the direction and reservations must be published rather than the fact of their existence. I hope that that provides further reassurance to noble Lords on that matter.

The amendments to Clause 3 in the name of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Thomas, seek to ensure that the bank’s framework document is updated to reflect any strategic steer, and that any revised framework document will be laid in Parliament. In maintaining the bank’s framework document, the Treasury will follow the guidance set out in Managing Public Money. This guidance states that framework documents should

“be kept up to date as the partnership”— between a department and its arm’s-length body—


The Treasury will update the bank’s framework document as needed to follow this guidance. As has already been noted, the Treasury is currently reviewing the framework document and will publish a new version once the Bill has passed, which will include changes brought about by this House; for example, the clarification which I mentioned earlier in relation to the bank’s ability to publish a reservation notice if the Treasury subsequently issues the bank with a direction, and, in reference to an earlier debate, the clarification of the second objective in local and regional growth relating to levelling up and regional inequalities.

On the publication of framework documents, Managing Public Money is clear. Any revised framework documents should be published and laid in Parliament. Further, the Chief Secretary to the Treasury laid a Written Ministerial Statement today where he set out that all departments should lay their framework documents in Parliament. This has put the question of publication beyond doubt.

On whether the bank’s framework document should be updated to reflect the content of the strategic steer, I think that in that respect I differ in opinion from the noble and learned Lord, Lord Thomas. Managing Public Money sets out that framework documents should contain information on purpose, governance and accountability, decision-making, and financial management. It does not specify that they should contain information on current policy steers or priorities.

The bank’s framework document and strategic steers fulfil very different purposes; the framework document providing an agreement to govern the relationship between the bank and the Treasury, and the strategic steer providing an opportunity for the Government of the day to provide steers on current priorities and policy emphases. That does not mean that there will never be circumstances in which the framework document is updated. I have already told the House that we will reflect on the wording in the framework document on the regional and local economic growth objective. However, I do not think that the framework document needs updating every time a strategic steer is issued. It should be updated only when necessary, to provide for continuity and to avoid creating unnecessary resource burdens. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Thomas, would be inventing a new process for the framework document, when there is already a process set out in Annex 7.2 of Managing Public Money.

On this, I also refer noble Lords to the strategic steer issued by the Chancellor in March. This provided a steer on priorities for the bank in light of the situation in Ukraine, and the recently concluded environment review, as well as other priorities for the bank to reflect in its first strategic plan. None of this information impacted the high-level framework under which the bank operates, as set out in the framework document, and therefore a mandatory update to the framework document would have been unnecessary. However, the strategic steer must be reflected in the bank’s strategic plans. This is provided for in the Bill.

Amendment 21 seeks to bring a consultation process on the use of some of the powers in the Bill with the devolved Administrations. I appreciate the intent, but this will cut directly across the negotiations that we are having with the devolved Administrations on the legislative consent process. This was brought up in Committee and I explained then that the normal practice is to bring forward any amendments required for a legislative consent Motion in the second House, which for this Bill would be the Commons. It would not be appropriate to accept this amendment until we have begun those negotiations with the devolved Administrations in earnest.

I hope that I can reassure noble Lords by saying that we have begun those discussions with the devolved Administrations in a positive fashion. Engagement with the devolved Administrations on the set-up of the bank was also positive. They all support the establishment of a national infrastructure bank. The bank has also been developing its own relationships with the devolved Administrations and their respective institutions, such as the Scottish National Investment Bank. The bank has now also completed deals in all four nations.

The tone and tenor of the bank’s relationships with the devolved Administrations and their respective institutions, and the way that the bank has gone about its business so far, give noble Lords in this House quite a bit of reassurance, I hope, about the collaborative approach that the bank has taken so far and intends to take in future. Therefore, I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Sharkey, feels able to withdraw Amendment 13.

Photo of Lord Sharkey Lord Sharkey Liberal Democrat

I thank the Minister for her response and thank all other noble Lords who spoke to Amendment 13. I detect a chillier wind from my right than I would have liked. Under those circumstances I can only repeat that the House will not have a substantive opportunity to scrutinise these important things. I regret that. The loss of both parliamentary authority and the ability to scrutinise what comes before us is a critical issue, which I have no doubt we will come back to in future Bills. In the meantime, I beg leave to withdraw Amendment 13.

Amendment 13 withdrawn.

Clause 3: Strategic priorities and plans

Amendments 14 to 17 not moved.

Clause 4: Directions

Amendment 18 not moved.

Clause 7: Directors: appointment and tenure