Amendment 19

UK Infrastructure Bank Bill [HL] - Report – in the House of Lords at 6:00 pm on 4th July 2022.

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Lord Tunnicliffe:

Moved by Lord Tunnicliffe

19: Clause 7, page 3, line 17, at end insert—“(ba) at any time, the Bank has at least one non-executive director who is a representative of workers;”Member's explanatory statementThis amendment ensures that the Bank’s board would have at least one workers’ representative at any time.

Photo of Lord Tunnicliffe Lord Tunnicliffe Shadow Spokesperson (Defence), Shadow Spokesperson (Treasury), Shadow Minister (Transport)

My Lords, in Committee we had a wide-ranging debate about the bank’s board and whether the Bill should include requirements about its composition, expertise, and so on. Responding, the Minister said that she could understand my temptation to have a workers’ representative on the board but asserted that it was not necessary for several reasons.

During our very helpful follow-up discussions, we have discussed the various processes being followed by the bank as it constitutes its board. I have been assured that my concerns will be dealt with in due course, though it is not clear exactly how and when. I have therefore re-tabled the amendment that I tabled in Committee to give the Treasury another opportunity to explain the position. If it were the Labour Party setting up this institution, we would ensure that the board contained at least one non-executive director responsible for representing the views of workers. Having those views aired would improve the quality of jobs created through the bank’s investments.

I will not pre-empt the noble and learned Lord, Lord Thomas, in relation to his Amendment 20, but it is fair to say that there is genuine concern across Your Lordships’ House when it comes to the effectiveness of this board. I hope that the Minister can offer a degree of reassurance today and perhaps commit to providing updates on the bank’s appointments, as and when they are confirmed. I beg to move.

Photo of Lord Thomas of Cwmgiedd Lord Thomas of Cwmgiedd Chair, Consolidation, &c., Bills (Joint Committee), Chair, Consolidation, &c., Bills (Joint Committee) 6:15 pm, 4th July 2022

My Lords, I will speak briefly to Amendment 20. I traversed the reasons for this amendment at Second Reading. I traversed them again in Committee. I need not weary your Lordships by traversing them a third time. The points are obvious.

Enlightened departments have now agreed to put into Bills qualifications for the boards of important institutions. One sees that in the Climate Change Act and the Environment Act. It is a great pity that the Treasury is not an enlightened department. It should have a little more humility and appreciate that if you are to run something as important and, ideally, successful as an infrastructure bank, you ought to tick off the qualifications of the board as a whole. I have listed what they should be; they are drawn very carefully from the Climate Change Act and the Environment Act and adapted to ensure what I spoke about earlier; namely, that you have people who come from the devolved nations or who have a knowledge of the devolved nations. This is another way of dealing with the point.

However, having made those arguments, which are obvious and ought to be accepted, I fear that the Treasury is obdurate on this point. I just hope that in due course there will be a more humble and less entrenched view than its omniscient view about its capacity to do everything without some statutory guidance.

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

My Lords, briefly, I support Amendment 20 in the name of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Thomas. It is self-evident that the bank’s board should have the experience and skills that the noble and learned Lord proposes in his amendment, rather than just being Treasury placemen. The success or failure of the bank in achieving its objectives will depend entirely on the experience of the people running it, so I urge the Minister to accept this very common-sense amendment.

Photo of Baroness Bennett of Manor Castle Baroness Bennett of Manor Castle Green

My Lords, I offer Green group support for Amendment 20, to which we would have attached our name had there been space.

In Committee, I suggested that the bank should not be in the hands of the Treasury at all. I got some expressions of interest but not enough support to bring it back on Report. However, it is clear that we need systems thinking, as I often say in your Lordships’ House. We need an approach that looks beyond the narrow growth in GDP to something broader and more holistic. This amendment is a step towards achieving that.

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

My Lords, I speak on this group with some trepidation; I hope I do not show the lack of humility that the noble and learned Lord, Lord Thomas, has accused my department of. I will stand up for the Treasury: in my dealings with this group of public servants, they have been bright and suitably humble, trying to work in the best interests of the country.

I will take the amendments in reverse order. The amendment tabled by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Thomas, as he explained, seeks to ensure that the bank’s board has the necessary expertise to deliver on its objectives. He is right to focus on the importance of the bank’s board in steering this nascent institution to deliver on its two wide-ranging objectives across the whole of the UK.

I reassure noble Lords that the bank’s board already contains a wealth of experience in infrastructure finance, policy-making, economics and green investments, across the public and private sectors. Collectively, its members have worked at similar national organisations, such as the Canada Infrastructure Bank, the UK Green Investment Bank and UK Export Finance, as well as leading financial services firms and central government departments. John Flint, the bank’s CEO, was chief executive of HSBC, and Annie Ropar was the CFO at the Canada Infrastructure Bank. So, in its infant form, it has already attracted some high-quality individuals to work there.

The bank’s non-executive directors were recruited in line with the guidelines set out by the Office of the Commissioner for Public Appointments, and were selected based on the skills they could bring to the board to deliver on the bank’s mandate. These appointments could be audited by OCPA in due course. OCPA’s guidelines include a principle of merit, which means

“providing Ministers with a choice of high quality candidates, drawn from a strong, diverse field, whose skills, experiences and qualities have been judged to meet the needs of the public body or statutory office in question.”

As I have said in previous groups, in drafting this Bill, we are seeking to create a high-level framework within which the bank can operate, while providing for the longevity of its objectives. Therefore, given that appointments are already recruited in line with OCPA’s guidelines, which we expect OCPA to review and which include a principle of merit, I do not think it is necessary to add greater specificity to the Bill on this point. Including these provisions could be overburdensome and prevent the bank and Treasury hiring the most appropriate people for the roles.

I spoke about the recent appointments in Committee, so do not propose to do so in detail again, but I would be very surprised if the noble and learned Lord, Lord Thomas, could find much fault with the appointees. He has also expressed an interest in the representation of the devolved Administrations and, as he spoke about on the previous group, in making sure that the board and the bank command the confidence of all four nations in the UK. As I said to him before and will happily say again, commanding that confidence is central to how the bank has gone about its business. The skills of the board will adequately represent the needs of all four nations, although, as I said on the previous group, specifics in that area are not necessarily a discussion for now, as they are part of the process of legislative consent. I therefore hope that the noble and learned Lord does not move his amendment when it is reached.

The amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Tunnicliffe, seeks to ensure that the bank always has a representative of the workers on its board. The UK Corporate Governance Code already states that a company should have one or a combination of a director appointed from the workforce, a formal workforce advisory panel or a designated non-executive director to facilitate engagement with the workforce. It also states that, if the board has not chosen one or more of these methods, it should explain what alternative arrangements are in place and why.

I give the noble Lord my absolute reassurance that the bank will comply with the UK Corporate Governance Code; however, as I have said, it is a nascent institution, with its board appointments made and the non-executive directors joining only recently. The bank has not yet had the opportunity to determine how it will meet this specific provision. It is currently establishing its governance and will report on its progress in its annual report and accounts. The noble Lord can expect an update there.

Photo of Lord Tunnicliffe Lord Tunnicliffe Shadow Spokesperson (Defence), Shadow Spokesperson (Treasury), Shadow Minister (Transport)

Before the noble Baroness sits down, could she find a device—a statement or something—to advise us on when that process has been completed and in what form that requirement has been met?

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

I am happy to write to the noble Lord to set out those anticipated timelines. The annual report and accounts are published and laid before Parliament so, between those two pieces of information, I will endeavour to cover this for the noble Lord. If we reach the annual report and accounts and are not in a position to do so, I will pick this up again then and ensure that I get back in touch.

Photo of Lord Tunnicliffe Lord Tunnicliffe Shadow Spokesperson (Defence), Shadow Spokesperson (Treasury), Shadow Minister (Transport)

My Lords, I thank all noble Lords who have participated in this debate, and I thank the noble Baroness for her assurances on my specific point. I hope that it is seen through and that the result is not that the bank explains that it is not following the code, for some reason. This is an alternative, but one that I would deeply regret if it were chosen. With that, I beg leave to withdraw my amendment.

Amendment 19 withdrawn.

Amendment 20 not moved.