Amendment 13

Part of UK Infrastructure Bank Bill [HL] - Report – in the House of Lords at 5:45 pm on 4th July 2022.

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Photo of Lord Vaux of Harrowden Lord Vaux of Harrowden Chair, Finance Committee (Lords), Chair, Finance Committee (Lords) 5:45 pm, 4th 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.