Clause 2 - Objectives and activities

UK Infrastructure Bank Bill [Lords] – in a Public Bill Committee at 9:25 am on 22nd November 2022.

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Photo of Richard Fuller Richard Fuller Conservative, North East Bedfordshire 9:25 am, 22nd November 2022

I beg to move amendment 10, in clause 2, page 1, line 14, at end insert

“, and

‘(c) to create long term financial returns to its shareholder(s).”

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Davies, and to be the first Member, other than the Minister, to speak. As hon. Members look down the amendment paper, they will see that I have tabled a number of amendments. It is such a pity that so few Labour Members have bothered to show up to the Committee on such an important issue. I always thought that the Labour party thought that it was important to invest in green technologies and to level up. Clearly, the absence of Labour Members shows that that is just a paper commitment, not a real one.

This is an important Bill. Of course, in a certain regard it formalises what is already extant; however, it is important that we, as Members of Parliament, ensure that we provide the right objectives and activities to which the board and directors of the UK Infrastructure Bank should subsequently pay attention. In that regard, I have tabled two amendments to clause 2: amendments 10 and 11. If it is convenient with you, Mr Davies, I shall also speak to amendment 11.

Photo of Richard Fuller Richard Fuller Conservative, North East Bedfordshire

Amendment 10 would add paragraph (c) to subsection (3), with a requirement that bank objectives should include long-term return to shareholders. To be clear, the shareholders are UK taxpayers.

Amendment 11 would add paragraph (c) to subsection (6) on the importance of the bank having regard to its role in additionality. That refers to the role of the bank in using taxpayers’ money or the power of the UK Government’s balance sheet in attracting private capital.

Why are those two amendments so important? Let us be honest. Parliament passed the Climate Change Act 2019, containing the net-zero policy, which has the potential to waste billions of taxpayers’ money. It is a policy objective with no price tag attached. It is also the case that technologies are evolving, and economies of scale can be elusive.

The UK Infrastructure Bank mentioned three things in its strategic plan that it was interested in pursuing for investment. The first was the roll-out of electric vehicle charging points. Does any hon. Member, or the Minister, know how that can be done today economically? The second was the retrofit of buildings. Does any hon. Member know how that can be done, what the right technology would be and how it should be funded? Does the Minister know? The third was the scaling of storage technologies. Does anyone know the right technology to choose for that?

The answers to those questions are crucial, because we are going to devolve the decision making about how that taxpayers’ money is spent to the UK Infrastructure Bank. There are significant risks with those technologies, and the consequences for taxpayers’ money.

The bank talks a lot about its potential for crowding in money and private capital, but there is also great potential for crowding out private capital. It is very simple. We already have a significant amount of investor appetite in environmentally sound investments. The Minister has been very successful recently in his efforts with Solvency II to release potentially additional long-term, patient capital that can invest in the sorts of projects that the UK Infrastructure Bank seeks to invest in. What reassurance can we have that the UK Infrastructure Bank is doing the right thing by crowding in private capital, rather than by crowding out?

We also need to see a little more clarity from the bank about where it is going to sit on the spectrum of risk. I draw Committee members’ attention to page 26 in the UK Infrastructure Bank’s strategic plan. Under the heading “Barriers to private infrastructure investment”, it lists four segments for investing: R&D, emerging, high-growth and maturity. It then splatters itself over three of those four segments. What sort of focus for investing is that?

What does that tell us about how we should assess the way in which capital has been allocated according to risk? Should the bank be investing more in late-stage opportunities? Is the real risk that it should be investing at an earlier stage, to stimulate the growth of technologies after they have come out of research and development? It is not at all clear what the focus should be. That gets to the root of the question that I want to press the Minister on. How comfortable is he that we and the Government have control over how the bank will invest taxpayers’ money? Is he comfortable that there are sufficient constraints on the bank to prevent it from wandering off with its own sense of purpose? Should there be provisions in this Bill to tighten it a little further?

Finally, the reason for us to focus on this is the UK Infrastructure Bank itself says that it has a “triple bottom line”. Well amen to a Government body actually having a bottom line because too often public bodies do not even worry about the bottom line, but it has three: achieving policy objectives; crowding-in private capital; and generating a positive return. It is because they have stated three bottom lines, one of which was to generate a positive return, that I sought, under amendment 10, to add that to clause 2(3).

I finally make some reference to Government amendment 1, which relates to deleting references to

“the circular economy, and nature-based solutions”.

I am interested to hear what the Minister’s rationale for this is; maybe I can see a rationale but I want to hear if that is actually the Minister’s rationale. The principles of the circular economy and the principles of nature-based solutions have the merit of being quite specific in what is otherwise quite a general set of remits for the UK Infrastructure Bank. I guess that the Minister will say, “Well yes, that is right. However, there are lots of other things that it needs to focus on. If we pick those two, we should not pick others.” But I would be very interested to know the particular reasons why the Minister does not feel that those two should be included.

Finally, I note that Government amendment 2, which relates to everything I have said about the objectives around additionality and long-term returns for shareholders, would delete clause 2(6) completely. If so, I will obviously withdraw my amendment.

Photo of Abena Oppong-Asare Abena Oppong-Asare Shadow Exchequer Secretary (Treasury)

Good morning, Mr Davies. It is a pleasure to serve under your chairship. Good morning to the rest of the Committee. I look forward to our debate today. I think that this will be a productive conversation. I also use this opportunity to formally congratulate the new Minister.

Before I turn to clause 2, I want to say in my opening remarks that Britain has so much potential, but right now we are facing—and I want to put this on record—a Tory economic crisis that is holding us back. To get our economy growing again, we will need to see investment in infrastructure projects and create highly-skilled, well-paid jobs and tackle climate change in a modern industrial strategy, working hand in hand with businesses.

I also want to put on record my reassurance to the hon. Member for North East Bedfordshire that Labour is well represented on these issues. Members will see that through our ideas and what we are proposing today, which will strengthen this Bill. Also, it is really important that we recognise that there has been a lost decade of broken Tory promises that have left much of the UK with second-rate infrastructure. That is why Labour supports strengthening the Bill, but much of the Bill as it stands relies on out-of-date thinking. That is why we are proposing amendments today.

Photo of Alec Shelbrooke Alec Shelbrooke Conservative, Elmet and Rothwell

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Davies. In terms of investment in infrastructure, the last Labour Government did invest in hospitals and schools and, through the private finance initiative, left the country with bills that were 10 times the cost of building the hospitals. On reflection, does the hon. Lady believe that was a mistake?

Photo of Geraint Davies Geraint Davies Labour, Swansea West

Order. We are in danger of drifting outside the scope of the amendment. Please do respond, but let us not have a general debate on this.

Photo of Abena Oppong-Asare Abena Oppong-Asare Shadow Exchequer Secretary (Treasury)

I thank the right hon. Member for Elmet and Rothwell for his comments. However, we have had a Tory Government for 12 years. We are in the middle of an economic crisis.

Photo of Abena Oppong-Asare Abena Oppong-Asare Shadow Exchequer Secretary (Treasury)

Inflation is at its highest point, but I do not want to be drawn into a discussion about that. I want to focus on the Bill and I want us all to have a mature conversation about it.

Clause 2 sets out the objectives and activities of the UK Infrastructure Bank. This is probably the meatiest part of the Bill, and I can see that we have several amendments to get through, so I want to make a start on that. Subsection (3) lays out the bank’s two objectives, which are to

“tackle climate change, including by supporting efforts to meet the target for 2050 set out in section 1 of the Climate Change Act 2008” and

“to support regional and local economic growth.”

I welcome the bank’s first objective. With COP27, a climate conference that the Prime Minister had to be shamed into attending, ending just days ago, it is clear that there is still a way to go to ensure that our country’s emissions reach the targets enshrined in international law. I have to be honest: the Prime Minister does not get it. He is a fossil-fuel Prime Minister in a renewable age. His is a record of tax breaks for oil and gas giants and blocks on wind and solar power. It has left our energy bills higher and our country less secure. The UK Infrastructure Bank sets out to invest in projects that lower emissions, while the Government undermine those ambitions. It will be unsurprising to the Committee that Labour has no confidence that the Government will deliver the long-term investment that the country needs.

I also welcome the bank’s second objective. Labour wants to see prosperity shared and spread across the country, with the Government working in lockstep with businesses to produce the high-skilled jobs of the future—something that I will come to later. Amendment 10 would add a third objective for the bank:

“to create long term financial returns to its shareholder(s).”

Labour wants to see the bank succeed. There is a global race for the jobs and industries of the future that, under the Tories, we will not win. We know that investment in green jobs, improved rail and other transport and modern infrastructure, such as broadband, have the potential for large returns and will boost our economy. We want the bank to crowd in private sector investment and help to provide confidence for investors and businesses innovating in new technologies. We also want the bank to have the freedom to invest in projects based on their ability to tackle climate change and grow our economy.

Photo of Katherine Fletcher Katherine Fletcher Conservative, South Ribble

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Davies. I am grateful for the opportunity to intervene. As recent data shows, the UK has decarbonised fastest in the whole of the G20 since 2010. Does the hon. Lady agree that a huge amount of that has been done with the investment of both public and private capital in the mechanisms to achieve it? And there is our world-leading legislation for net zero and even our commitment to reduce fossil-fuel cars. The idea that we are behind in the race on this is really for the birds.

Photo of Geraint Davies Geraint Davies Labour, Swansea West

Order. Before the shadow Minister responds, let me just say that we do need to keep within the scope of this amendment, about creating long-term financial returns to the shareholder. I appreciate that I have allowed a certain amount of flexibility, and I respect what you are saying, but could we try to focus on the amendment rather than clause 2 stand part, which we will come to?

Photo of Abena Oppong-Asare Abena Oppong-Asare Shadow Exchequer Secretary (Treasury)

I thank the hon. Member for South Ribble for her comments, but I do not fully agree with her, because I feel that the Government have not done enough. There has also been a cancellation of Northern Powerhouse Rail and a dismal failure to invest properly in renewable energy and to take decisions on nuclear; there has been a lack of strategy and planning. That has happened under this Tory Government in the last 12 years.

The Government’s track record does not provide much confidence. The Government set up the Green Investment Bank 10 years ago and sold it to a private equity group five years ago, with the Public Accounts Committee concluding that the Government had focused on

“how much money could be gained from the sale over the continued delivery of GIB’s green objective.”

We would not want to encourage a similar short-lived path—

Photo of Geraint Davies Geraint Davies Labour, Swansea West

Order. Shadow Minister, I think you are straying off the point of the amendment, if I may say so.

Photo of Abena Oppong-Asare Abena Oppong-Asare Shadow Exchequer Secretary (Treasury)

I do not believe I am, Mr Davies. This is very relevant to the clause.

Photo of Abena Oppong-Asare Abena Oppong-Asare Shadow Exchequer Secretary (Treasury)

Yes. I am just going to wrap up, Mr Davies; thank you. We would not want to encourage a similar short-lived path for the UK Infrastructure Bank. To achieve its objectives, it needs to be a long-lasting institution that supports businesses and improves investor confidence. We have a different third objective in mind for the bank, and I will explain that in Committee later today.

Photo of Andrew Griffith Andrew Griffith The Economic Secretary to the Treasury

I thank all those who have contributed to this grouping. If I may, I will speak to clause 2, the Government amendments, and then the amendments in the name of—

Photo of Geraint Davies Geraint Davies Labour, Swansea West

Order. You cannot do that. You must speak to amendment 10, and we will come to clause 2.

Photo of Andrew Griffith Andrew Griffith The Economic Secretary to the Treasury 9:45 am, 22nd November 2022

Perfect, Mr Davies. My hon. Friend the Member for North East Bedfordshire is not only a distinguished predecessor of mine, but is a doughty champion for the interests of the taxpayer, and we commend him for that.

We have set out in the framework that the bank must already generate a financial return as part of the company’s operating principles. As set out in the UK Infrastructure Bank’s strategic plan, that has been set at an admirable 2.5% to 4% by the end of 2025-26. The bank, as my hon. Friend said, has a triple bottom line, including a positive financial return as a requirement across its investments.

Putting that target into law—I cannot believe that my hon. Friend is an advocate of writing everything into statute; the statute is often large enough as it is without embellishing it with additional Christmas trees of prescription—could create legal problems for the bank and undermine its core purpose, given that there might from time to time be reasons outside of its control why it cannot meet the target in relation to every investment.

Photo of Richard Fuller Richard Fuller Conservative, North East Bedfordshire

My hon. Friend is right: not everything should be written into statute, but there ought to be more clarity. Can he provide a couple of points of clarity so that I may withdraw my amendment? On the bank’s target of 2.5% to 4% return, is that a real rate of return, and above what cost of capital? And if the chief executive and the directors do not achieve that rate of return, what will be the consequences for them?

Photo of Andrew Griffith Andrew Griffith The Economic Secretary to the Treasury

I will write to my hon. Friend on the calculation of that return. The UK Infrastructure Bank is subject to the full panoply of disclosures, sanctions and accountability, not just to this place, as is appropriate, but under the Companies Act 2006 under which it is constituted. I do not believe, therefore, that there is a deficiency in that. For that reason, notwithstanding the very understandable spirit with which my hon. Friend advocates his amendment, I hope he will consider withdrawing it.

Photo of Geraint Davies Geraint Davies Labour, Swansea West

Mr Fuller, do you want to withdraw the amendment?

Photo of Richard Fuller Richard Fuller Conservative, North East Bedfordshire

Yes. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Photo of Abena Oppong-Asare Abena Oppong-Asare Shadow Exchequer Secretary (Treasury)

I beg to move amendment 17, in clause 2, page 1, line 14, at end insert—

“(c) to reduce economic inequalities within and between regions of the United Kingdom, and

(d) to improve productivity, pay, jobs, and living standards.”

This amendment clarifies 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.

Photo of Geraint Davies Geraint Davies Labour, Swansea West

With this it will be convenient to discuss amendment 18, in clause 2, page 1, line 14, at end insert

“, and

“(c) to support supply chain resilience and the United Kingdom’s industrial strategy”.

This amendment creates a third objective for the Bank to support UK supply chain resilience and industrial strategy.

Photo of Abena Oppong-Asare Abena Oppong-Asare Shadow Exchequer Secretary (Treasury)

As I have hinted, Labour Members believe that the bank’s objectives need expanding. My hon. Friend the Member for Ealing North will speak later about the bank’s climate objective and the ways in which it might achieve it. I will talk about the economic objective of the bank, which is to support regional and local economic growth. After a mini-Budget that crashed our economy and an autumn statement last week that papers over the cracks, the importance of that objective is as clear as day; but we believe in growth not for growth’s sake, but because it creates jobs and improves living standards. As a result of fairer choices, we could see our economy growing again, powered by the talent and effort of millions of working people and thousands of businesses.

Our amendment 17 would make it clear that the bank should support regional and local economic growth, both to reduce economic inequalities within and between the regions of the UK, and to improve productivity, pay, jobs, and living standards. In our constituencies we see the disparities between the regions. As it stands, the bank does not have to focus its investment on disadvantaged areas of the country that would most benefit from its support. The Prime Minister has boasted about moving money away from disadvantaged areas, and so-called levelling-up funds have so far funnelled money into Conservative constituencies, rather than focusing on areas that most need the support. On its own, therefore, clause 2(3)(b) is not a sufficient objective for the bank. It relies on the tired Conservative assumption that growth and prosperity will trickle down and be spread evenly, which we know is not true.

Amendment 17 is crucial to targeting the bank’s investments and ensuring that it creates lasting change. The Prime Minister, then Chancellor, argued in his strategic steer to the bank in March that it should support the Government’s ambition of addressing

“the deep spatial disparities across and within UK regions”.

Those are his words. I find it strange that when he outlined the bank’s objectives in the strategic steer, his description of the climate objective matched that in the Bill, but his description of the economic objective did not. He said that the bank’s objectives are to

“help tackle climate change, particularly meeting the government’s net zero emissions target by 2050”.

That all seems correct, and we can see it repeated near verbatim in clause 2(3)(a). However, in describing the second objective, the then Chancellor said that the bank should

“support regional and local economic growth through better connectedness, opportunities for new jobs and higher levels of productivity.”

That wording is not in the Bill. Will the Minister tell us whether the Government have abandoned those commitments? Why does the Bill include a watered-down version of that objective?

I note that in his letter yesterday, the Minister’s justification for Government amendment 2 was that

“with regards to the economic disparities component of” clause 2(6),

“it could be overly restrictive where the Bank looks to invest in a deprived part of a relatively affluent region for example, as there are difficulties in drawing distinct boundaries on this issue.”

Before the Minister uses that as a reason to vote against our amendment 17, I hope that he will notice that the amendment has been worded specifically to avoid such restrictions: by addressing

“economic inequalities within and between regions of the United Kingdom”,

the bank will retain the freedom to target at any level. If their commitment still stands, I am sure that Conservatives will not oppose Labour’s efforts to put that in the Bill. The amendment would bring the Bill back into alignment with their stated objectives.

Amendment 18 would add a third objective for the bank:

“to support supply chain resilience and the United Kingdom’s industrial strategy”.

That seems reasonable. The Office for Budget Responsibility has said that the bank will have no effect on growth. With assets of 0.1% of GDP a year, the bank is dwarfed by its French and German counterparts, and the £12 billion of funding allocated over five years falls short of the £20 billion recommended by the National Infrastructure Commission. With their cancellation of Northern Powerhouse Rail and failed record on nuclear energy, the Government’s record on infrastructure is abysmal.

Labour has called for a strategic approach to infrastructure, and presented an industrial strategy that is based on evidence from around the world. Supported by the creation of a publicly owned Great British energy company, we would deliver self-sufficient renewable energy by doubling onshore wind, trebling solar and quadrupling offshore wind. We would create half a million jobs in renewable energy, and an additional half a million jobs by insulating 19 million homes over 10 years.

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 through the war in Ukraine. We are all concerned about it. We have an industrial strategy, and want the UK infrastructure bank to support and champion it. Our amendments 17 and 18 would clarify the objectives of the bank, and focus them on the challenges of the future.

Photo of David Linden David Linden Scottish National Party, Glasgow East

Bore da, Mr Davies. It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship. Aside from one issue that I would split hairs about on amendment 17 —Scotland is not a region, but a nation, so the amendment should read “regions and nations of the United Kingdom”—I have another point to object to. The bank’s strategic objectives include tackling climate change, and it is vital that the Scottish Government’s climate change targets be reflected in the Bill, so I take a wee bit of issue with points made by the hon. Member for South Ribble about the UK’s “world-leading” climate change legislation; it legislates for net zero by 2050, whereas in Scotland it is 2045. I wanted to make that point on the record.

Given the significant overlap between the strategic objectives of the UK Infrastructure Bank and those of the Scottish National Investment Bank, a mechanism must be in place to ensure alignment on how the objectives are reached. I would be grateful if the Minister provided a little more clarity on that when he sums up. However, if His Majesty’s loyal Opposition intend to press the amendment to a vote, they can be assured of the support of the Scottish National party.

Photo of Alec Shelbrooke Alec Shelbrooke Conservative, Elmet and Rothwell

On reducing economic and other inequalities between regions of the United Kingdom, I first make the point that if the bank is to be located in my home city of Leeds, in Yorkshire, and is to invest in the region, it follows that Northern Powerhouse Rail has not been cancelled.

I have risen to speak simply because an intervention on the Minister would have been too long. The Opposition parties almost seem to be tabling amendments for amendments’ sake. To state the obvious about the whole point of this policy, I do not, to use a phrase, need a weatherman to tell me when it is raining. The Infrastructure Bank will already do exactly what is in the amendments.

On the green industrial strategy, the reality is that a multi-billion-pound industry, with hundreds of thousands of jobs in the offshore wind industry, has been created since we came to power in 2010. It is simply mistaken to suggest otherwise. When we look at the track record of this Government over the past 12 years, there is much that I am exceptionally proud of. We have changed the energy strategy of this country. Sometimes, we produce well over 50% of our electricity through renewable means. All that has come about through investment in infrastructure.

I believe that amendments 17 and 18 were tabled simply to develop an argument with a weak foundation that does not stand up when we look at the physical outcomes from the past 12 years. I will finish with that—

Photo of Alec Shelbrooke Alec Shelbrooke Conservative, Elmet and Rothwell

I will, because I like the hon. Member for Glasgow East, but I had wrapped up my comments.

Photo of David Linden David Linden Scottish National Party, Glasgow East

My stock in the SNP has just fallen through the floor. The hon. Gentleman said that we do not need a weatherman to tell us what the weather is outside, but over the past seven or eight weeks, the UK Government have flip-flopped on their policy on energy, and specifically on their fracking policy, in a major departure from the 2019 manifesto. Given the instability of the UK Government and the changes in various weather people, it might not be a bad thing to put something about this in the Bill.

Photo of Alec Shelbrooke Alec Shelbrooke Conservative, Elmet and Rothwell

I am always grateful for the hon. Gentleman’s input. Personally, I believe we should get on with fracking, and I have licences in my constituency, but that is a decision for the local authority. Often with such plans, local authorities are far better placed to understand the needs and issues than people down in Westminster.

On the green industrial strategy and the increase in fossil fuels—I know we are straying slightly from the subject—the investment in the green strategy that is being made by this Government is clear to see, but we cannot let our fossil fuel supply fall off a cliff and disappear overnight, and send people’s bills through the roof. That strategy and this policy are a key plank in ensuring that we move towards where we all want to be, while ensuring that we have the investments and structures in place and are clear about the target we are aiming for. Fundamentally, this Government have a proud track record on this matter, and amendments 17 and 18 are surplus to requirements.

Photo of Andrew Griffith Andrew Griffith The Economic Secretary to the Treasury 10:00 am, 22nd November 2022

The hon. Member for Erith and Thamesmead and the Opposition are as sincere in pursuing this amendment as they are wrong. They are adventurous in terms of scope, because they are trying to crowbar an entire—

Photo of David Linden David Linden Scottish National Party, Glasgow East

On a point of order, Mr Davies. I am sure the Minister is not at all suggesting that you have selected amendments that are out of scope for the Committee to vote on.

Photo of Andrew Griffith Andrew Griffith The Economic Secretary to the Treasury

My reference to “scope” related to the broad set of industrial policies laid out by the hon. Member for Erith and Thamesmead, not to the wording of the amendments.

Photo of Geraint Davies Geraint Davies Labour, Swansea West

My comments were about the previous discussion. The shadow Minister was in scope on her amendments. I call the shadow Minister.

Photo of Abena Oppong-Asare Abena Oppong-Asare Shadow Exchequer Secretary (Treasury)

Thank you, Mr Davies, for allowing me to speak on this matter. I fundamentally disagree with the Minister’s comments. The amendments that Labour put forward are reasonable. In this climate, given the situation with covid and Russia, we know that things are different, particularly in terms of regional inequalities. The Prime Minister also talked about regional inequalities. We have all seen the speech he gave in Tunbridge Wells.

Photo of Geraint Davies Geraint Davies Labour, Swansea West

Order. The hon. Lady will have the final word, but the issue is whether these amendments are in order. Obviously, they were selected for debate, and the Minister was speaking to them. I know his comments were about whether comments made were in order, but if he could make his speech, I will then call the hon. Lady to respond, and she can make similar points. I call the Minister.

Photo of Andrew Griffith Andrew Griffith The Economic Secretary to the Treasury

Thank you, Mr Davies. The Government think that the aim of reducing regional inequality is already implicit in the bank’s current objective. As my right hon. Friend the Member for Elmet and Rothwell reminded me, the bank was constituted in Leeds, rightly outside of the overheated south-east. A number of its early investments have already seen their capital deployed to some of the most left-behind parts of the United Kingdom. Our belief is that the objective of supporting regional and local growth provides a clear direction for the bank without being overly prescriptive, which I am sure nobody would want. The strategic steer by the Chancellor in March makes clear that the bank must focus on geographical inequality, with reference to the levelling-up White Paper, which the House will debate tomorrow. That is the right place to set out the Government’s strategic approach to levelling up, but that is best done on a portfolio basis rather than investment by investment, which is what the amendment implies.

Turning to the second part of the amendment, the bank’s framework document already includes, under its regional and local economy growth objective, achieving higher levels of productivity and providing opportunities for new jobs—something the hon. Member for Erith and Thamesmead talked about as an important output. We think it is more appropriate to have this requirement in the framework document rather than in legislation to minimise the legal risk across investments. I am sure that we can all agree that no one wants to create more work for lawyers.

Photo of Andrew Griffith Andrew Griffith The Economic Secretary to the Treasury

The right hon. Lady will have to talk to her Front Bench if that is the official policy, but I assure the Committee that it is not the policy of the Government.

Photo of Geraint Davies Geraint Davies Labour, Swansea West

It is certainly not my policy, but I call Valerie Vaz.

Photo of Valerie Vaz Valerie Vaz Labour, Walsall South

The point is that this is public money. The bank has to be accountable for it. Lawyers are the guardians of justice. It is not about making more money for lawyers. It is about interpreting legislation that is put through very quickly and not thought through. That is the basis of it.

Photo of Andrew Griffith Andrew Griffith The Economic Secretary to the Treasury

The hon. Lady makes a very fair point on the valiant role of lawyers in keeping us all to account. The alternative, of course, is legislation that is clear and allows the appropriate degree of discretion. The Government contend that that is what this is.

The amendments by the hon. Member for Erith and Thamesmead would include in the bank’s objectives the improvement of pay and living standards. Economic growth in the long run is closely linked to supporting productivity, income and employment and living standards. It is implicit in the bank’s objectives. Including the amendments would make the objectives too wide-ranging for an infrastructure bank, as it could focus on anything relating to pay or standards, for example training programmes or household appliances, which do not come under economic infrastructure. For these reasons, we consider it preferable to keep the statutory objectives as they are—a balance between clarity and flexibility—while instead providing further recommendations as to the bank’s targets and areas of focus via more flexible mechanisms such as the strategic steer, which can be updated from time to time.

Photo of Abena Oppong-Asare Abena Oppong-Asare Shadow Exchequer Secretary (Treasury)

I thank the Minister for his comments. We agree that the legislation needs to be clear, but I think our approach is very different. I do not want to repeat what I have already said, but I want to highlight that addressing economic inequalities, particularly between regions, is really important,. We think the amendments would help the bank retain its freedom while reaching targets at any level. For this reason, we will push the amendments to a vote.

Question put, That the amendment be made.

Division number 1 UK Infrastructure Bank Bill [Lords] — Clause 2 - Objectives and activities

Aye: 6 MPs

No: 10 MPs

Ayes: A-Z by last name

Nos: A-Z by last name

The Committee divided: Ayes 6, Noes 10.

Question accordingly negatived.

Amendment proposed: 18, in clause 2, page 1, line 14, at end insert

“, and

“(c) to support supply chain resilience and the United Kingdom’s industrial strategy”.—

This amendment creates a third objective for the Bank to support UK supply chain resilience and industrial strategy.

Question put, That the amendment be made.

Division number 2 UK Infrastructure Bank Bill [Lords] — Clause 2 - Objectives and activities

Aye: 6 MPs

No: 10 MPs

Ayes: A-Z by last name

Nos: A-Z by last name

The Committee divided: Ayes 6, Noes 10.

Question accordingly negatived.

Photo of Andrew Griffith Andrew Griffith The Economic Secretary to the Treasury

I beg to move amendment 8, in clause 2, page 1, line 18, leave out “relevant”.

This amendment, and Amendment 9, would clarify that the Bank can provide loans to public authorities other than local authorities and Northern Ireland Departments (as well as to persons other than public authorities).

Photo of Geraint Davies Geraint Davies Labour, Swansea West

With this it will be convenient to discuss Government amendment 9.

Photo of Andrew Griffith Andrew Griffith The Economic Secretary to the Treasury

The amendments broaden the definition of “public authority” used in relation to the bank’s capacity to lend. The drafting as is broadly meets the policy aims and would allow the bank to lend to local authorities and to the Northern Ireland Executive. However, given that primary legislation can be a blunt instrument, we do not want inadvertently and by implication to preclude the bank from investing in other public authorities. I hope that all members of Committee can agree on that.

Other public authorities could include existing public bodies, as well as new public bodies created in the future by local authorities or Government Departments.

Photo of Abena Oppong-Asare Abena Oppong-Asare Shadow Exchequer Secretary (Treasury)

I thank the Minister for his explanation of the amendments.

Clause 2(4) describes the activities of the bank, as the Minister explained, and sets out that in addition to funding private infrastructure projects, it can provide financial support to local government. Government amendment 8 seeks to clarify that the bank can provide loans to public authorities other than local authorities and Northern Ireland Departments. Amendment 9 to clause 10 would achieve the same purpose. It would clarify that the Bill considers public authorities to be local authorities, Northern Ireland Departments and any other person exercising functions of a public nature.

I am grateful to the Minister for his letter of yesterday that set out the reasons for the Government amendments, which we will not oppose.

Amendment 8 agreed to.

Photo of Andrew Griffith Andrew Griffith The Economic Secretary to the Treasury

I beg to move amendment 1, in clause 2, page 1, line 23, leave out from “includes” to “technologies” on line 24.

This amendment would remove the reference to “structures underpinning the circular economy, and nature-based solutions,” from the definition of “infrastructure”.

Photo of Geraint Davies Geraint Davies Labour, Swansea West

With this it will be convenient to discuss Government amendment 2.

Photo of Andrew Griffith Andrew Griffith The Economic Secretary to the Treasury

The amendments would remove both the Lords amendments. Government amendment 1 would remove the addition of “nature-based solutions” and

“structures underpinning the circular economy” from the definition of infrastructure. The bank has a broad mandate with flexibility to support a wide range of projects to help to tackle climate change and to support regional and local economic growth.

On nature-based solutions, earlier this year the Government conducted a review to consider the potential of broadening the bank’s objectives to include other areas such as improving UK natural capital. The review recognised the significant potential for increased use of nature-based and hybrid infrastructure solutions, including for the water sector, greenhouse gas removal and opportunities for the growth of ecosystems services markets. Those opportunities will be important to meet our objective to leverage private finance for nature recovery.

The outcome of the review was formally made clear to the bank and to the market through the Chancellor’s non-statutory strategic steer. As we discussed earlier, that is an alternative to writing everything in statute and is more flexible. That steer clearly laid out that nature-based solutions are in scope and are something that the bank should pursue. However, given that they are already part of the remit and are clearly covered within the non-exhaustive definition of infrastructure, we do not believe this language should be retained in the Bill.

Moving on to amendment 2, clause 2(6) focuses on improving

“productivity, pay, jobs and living standards” and reducing geographic inequality. The effect of this subsection is to put a statutory duty on the bank to have regard to these two areas in relation to every potential investment that it considers, which would have significant impacts on the bank. On improving jobs specifically, we understand the intention of the provision and do not disagree with it as a general principle, but that is quite different from the individual investment evaluation.

Photo of Valerie Vaz Valerie Vaz Labour, Walsall South 10:15 am, 22nd November 2022

Those objectives are not set out in the Bill. Are they going to be in secondary legislation?

Photo of Andrew Griffith Andrew Griffith The Economic Secretary to the Treasury

As I have laid out, the Government’s position is that the steer to the bank, which is flexible and can be updated from time to time, rather than requiring primary legislation—it may be something the Labour party wishes to take advantage of in future—is a more agile and flexible way of guiding the bank as it seeks to achieve its objectives.

Photo of David Linden David Linden Scottish National Party, Glasgow East

Is the Minister therefore suggesting that that would only be within a policy framework rather than in the issuing of secondary legislation?

Photo of Geraint Davies Geraint Davies Labour, Swansea West

I think it was just a heckle, Minister.

Photo of Andrew Griffith Andrew Griffith The Economic Secretary to the Treasury

The steer provided from time to time in the context of the wider oversight of the investment bank, under its statutory objectives—effectively, the interpretation layer—is the right place. We do not disagree with the principle, but we could sit here all day and think of various admirable principles that we would like to put into statute. It is the Government’s contention that the provision would over-fetter the discretion of the bank and that it is not the appropriate vehicle. I understand that we will debate this point a number of times as we go through the Bill. The Government want the bank to get on with its job. We want to give it the statutory clarity it needs and to allow Parliament and Government, from time to time, if they wish, to give the steer required.

Photo of James Murray James Murray Shadow Financial Secretary (Treasury)

It is a pleasure to serve on the Committee with you as Chair today, Mr Davies. As we know, clause 2 concerns the objectives and activities of the UK Infrastructure Bank. Subsection (5) seeks to define the infrastructure and makes reference to the

“structures underpinning the circular economy, and nature-based solutions”,

which reflects an amendment made in the Lords that Government amendment 1 seeks to remove. The Government’s opposition to this measure seems to run counter to subsection (3)(a), which defines tackling climate change as an objective of the bank. I note that the Government do not oppose this objective of the bank, but they do seem to reject its delivery. We naturally oppose the amendment, which highlights how the Government seem to be all talk but unwilling to follow through on solutions to the climate emergency.

The truth is that the Government and the newly appointed Prime Minister have a record of failure on investing in green infrastructure for our country and our economy. While we welcome the bank’s focus on tackling climate change, no matter how well it plays its part, the British people need a Government with an effective plan to make the investments in the jobs, homes and energy supplies of the future a reality.

Photo of Richard Fuller Richard Fuller Conservative, North East Bedfordshire

The hon. Gentleman may point to conflict between taking out from subsection (5) the words

“structures underpinning the circular economy, and nature-based solutions”,

and the objective in subsection (3) about tackling climate change, but if he looks at subsection (5)(c), he will see that

“climate change (including the removal of greenhouse gases from the atmosphere)” is retained. The amendment does not affect the Government’s commitments on climate change at all.

Photo of James Murray James Murray Shadow Financial Secretary (Treasury)

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his intervention—it is a pleasure to speak with him once again following his brief tenure on the Government Front Bench. I am not quite sure from that intervention whether he supports our opposition to Government amendment 1. Perhaps we will see when we push it to a vote shortly.

Let me move on to Government amendment 2. It seeks to remove from the clause subsection (6), which was introduced by Labour in the Lords. Subsection (6) requires the bank to have regard to public interest when targeting investment that improves productivity, pay, jobs and living standards and reduces the economic disparities between the nations and regions of the United Kingdom. Sadly, it comes as no surprise to us that the Government wish to remove commitments to better pay and the reduction of economic disparities. My hon. Friend the Member for Erith and Thamesmead already set out clearly the importance of prioritising job creation and putting it in the Bill. We want all parts of the country to benefit from investment in green jobs for the future, along with improved rail and other transport services and other essential modern infrastructure, including broadband.

When it comes to supporting economic growth across the country—or levelling up, as the Government used to call it—words ring hollow unless people see change. That is why clause 2(6) is so important, as it seeks to ensure that the bank has regard to the first mission of the Government’s levelling-up White Paper when exercising its functions under the Bill. We oppose the amendment because we seek to hold the Government to account on their commitment to level up our country.

Question put, That the amendment be made.

Division number 3 UK Infrastructure Bank Bill [Lords] — Clause 2 - Objectives and activities

Aye: 10 MPs

No: 6 MPs

Ayes: A-Z by last name

Nos: A-Z by last name

The Committee divided: Ayes 10, Noes 6.

Question accordingly agreed to.

Amendment 1 agreed to.

Amendment proposed: 2, in clause 2, page 2, line 8, leave out subsection (6).—(Andrew Griffith.)

This amendment would remove subsection (6), which was inserted by the House of Lords.

Division number 4 UK Infrastructure Bank Bill [Lords] — Clause 2 - Objectives and activities

Aye: 10 MPs

No: 6 MPs

Ayes: A-Z by last name

Nos: A-Z by last name

The Committee divided: Ayes 10, Noes 6.

Question accordingly agreed to.

Amendment 2 agreed to.

Photo of Richard Fuller Richard Fuller Conservative, North East Bedfordshire

I no longer wish to move amendment 11, because clause 2(6) has been removed.

Photo of Andrew Griffith Andrew Griffith The Economic Secretary to the Treasury

I beg to move amendment 3, in clause 2, page 2, line 16, at end insert—

“(7A) The Treasury must consult the appropriate national authority before making provision in regulations under subsection (7) that would be within the legislative competence of—

(a) the Scottish Parliament, if contained in an Act of that Parliament,

(b) Senedd Cymru, if contained in an Act of the Senedd, or

(c) the Northern Ireland Assembly, if contained in an Act of that Assembly made without the Secretary of State’s consent, apart from provision that is merely incidental to, or consequential on, provision which would be outside that competence.”

This amendment would require the Treasury to consult the relevant devolved authority before making regulations under clause 2(7) that would contain provision within the legislative competence of the authority in question.

Photo of Geraint Davies Geraint Davies Labour, Swansea West

With this it will be convenient to discuss Government amendments 4 and 6.

Photo of Andrew Griffith Andrew Griffith The Economic Secretary to the Treasury

This group concerns provisions that will, I hope, gladden the heart of the hon. Member for Glasgow East, because they add a duty to consult the devolved Administrations on the use of delegated legislative powers in the Bill, including the power to amend the bank’s activities or the definition of infrastructure, and to issue the strategic steer. The amendments come as a direct result of the positive engagement we have had with the DAs to date. They specifically address a concern raised that the Government would be legislating or acting in areas of devolved competence without an appropriate mechanism to engage with the DAs.

Photo of Stephen Flynn Stephen Flynn Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy)

I do not think we have any concerns about the UK Government consulting the Scottish Government in respect of their intended actions, but I think the key question is will they listen, and if the Scottish Government have any concerns, will they have a veto?

Photo of Andrew Griffith Andrew Griffith The Economic Secretary to the Treasury

These amendments are a proof positive of the Government having listened. If the hon. Member is so crushingly sceptical, perhaps he will oppose the amendments, which have been proffered following consultation with the DAs. It was never our intention to pursue these measures without an appropriate mechanism to engage with the DAs. That is why we are happy to bring forward these amendments today.

I would like to put on the record my gratitude to officials in Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales for engaging so positively to date on the Bill. I think we all support the Bill’s ultimate objectives, and I am hopeful that it will secure a legislative consent motion from each of the devolved legislatures. I hope that hon. Members will support the amendments.

Photo of James Murray James Murray Shadow Financial Secretary (Treasury)

Government amendment 3 concerns the consultation of appropriate national authorities when using statutory instruments to change regulations pertaining to the definition of infrastructure and the bank’s activities, as outlined in clause 2(7). If changing regulations under subsection (7) fell within the legislative competence of the Scottish Parliament, Senedd Cymru or the Northern Irish Assembly, the amendment would require the Treasury to consult the relevant devolved authority.

Similarly, Government amendment 4 would require the Treasury to consult the relevant devolved authority before including in a statement of strategic priorities for the bank matters within the legislative competence of the devolved authority.

Government amendment 6 simply defines “appropriate national authority” to mean the Scottish Ministers, the Welsh Ministers, or the Department for Infrastructure in Northern Ireland.

We are supportive of these amendments, as we are supportive of the Union. Labour recognises the very real importance of working closely with devolved Administrations, and we recognise the great work of Welsh Labour. Indeed, the Government could learn a thing or two from Welsh Labour, given its record for infrastructure investment. The Welsh infrastructure investment plan has already allocated more than £12 billion for key capital projects to transform and maintain the NHS estate, deliver 20,000 affordable homes and deliver rail infrastructure improvements.

Amendment 3 agreed to.

Question proposed, That the clause, as amended, stand part of the Bill.

Photo of Andrew Griffith Andrew Griffith The Economic Secretary to the Treasury

Clause 2 is of central importance to the policy remit in which the bank will operate. I think that is why we have heard so many different—sometimes contrasting—views about how prescriptive that remit should be. The clause sets out the bank’s objectives and activities, as well as an inclusive definition of infrastructure, which is central to its scope—it is the UK infrastructure bank, after all. The clause also creates delegated powers to enable the Treasury to change the bank’s activities or the definition of infrastructure using secondary legislation under the affirmative procedure, so Parliament will have its say. The bank’s objectives to help the Government meet their climate change ambitions and to support levelling up across the UK are currently set out in the framework document. Clause 2(3) puts those on a statutory footing, which we hope sends a signal to the market about the Government’s commitment to these policy aims and the bank’s central role in helping deliver them.

Clause 2(4) sets out the bank’s activities, which are to provide financial assistance to projects wholly or mainly related to infrastructure, to provide loans to relevant public authorities, and to act in an advisory capacity. Most importantly, the subsection makes it clear that the bank is permitted to lend directly to local authorities, something it is unable to do currently.

Photo of Katherine Fletcher Katherine Fletcher Conservative, South Ribble 10:30 am, 22nd November 2022

Studying Parliament as he does, the Minister will have paid attention to my campaign to be Transport Committee Chair, which was unfortunately unsuccessful last week. One point that I made repeatedly as part of that campaign was about the projects that are slightly too big for local authorities and slightly too small for the Department for Transport. The objectives, while hotly debated here, must be so prescriptive as to not allow the UK Infrastructure Bank to lend to local authorities for smaller but none the less important projects in local communities. Is that fair?

Photo of Andrew Griffith Andrew Griffith The Economic Secretary to the Treasury

My hon. Friend makes a very fair point. I will be happy to facilitate meetings between her— expert in transport as she is—and the infrastructure bank to get into some of those potential projects in more detail. She made a significant contribution as roads Minister.

Clause 2(5) sets out the definition of infrastructure. We have taken a power to amend the bank’s activities and the definition of infrastructure, using the affirmative procedure in both Houses. Across these different areas, clause 2 is the bedrock on which the bank will operate, and I commend it to the Committee.

Photo of James Murray James Murray Shadow Financial Secretary (Treasury)

We know that after 12 years of low growth from the Conservatives there is a vital need to invest in the infrastructure of the future. Across the country, we need to invest in new transport, new digital infrastructure, new sources of energy that are sustainable and secure, and new high-quality jobs with decent pay. That is why we support the establishment of the UK Infrastructure Bank, and the Bill’s aim of putting it on a statutory footing.

We wanted the bank to address the deep economic inequalities across the country, which is why we sought to amend clause 2(3). My hon. Friend the Member for Erith and Thamesmead emphasised that, in supporting regional and local economic growth, the bank should reduce economic inequalities within and between regions of the United Kingdom to improve productivity, pay, jobs and living standards. In the same subsection, we wanted to add a third objective: for the bank to support supply chain resilience and the UK’s industrial strategy.

We wanted to retain two Lords amendments that strengthened the Bill: one that included the circular economy and nature-based solutions in the Bill’s definition of infrastructure, and one that Labour introduced to ensure that the Bill would focus on creating jobs and reducing economic inequalities. It is deeply disappointing that the Government have blocked those measures to make the UK Infrastructure Bank succeed and be fit for a modern, prosperous Britain. A Labour Government would deliver investment and loans in a way that supports the entire country, to meet the challenge of regional inequality and the commitments of our climate ambitions.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 2, as amended, accordingly ordered to stand part of the Bill.