Back-Benchers who are not satisfied with the answers that they get from the hon. Member for Honiton may request a vote.
Sir Peter Emery : In an intervention, not a speech, may I point out that the words "having regard to" could be taken to mean that the directors would not take account of all the laws of the countries in which accounts were held. The authorities in those countries might think that that was not fair. The bank wishes to abide by the laws of all the countries in which accounts are held, which is why "by reason of" is to be inserted. The provision
"in the opinion of the directors of the Bank"
is to be inserted so that the vesting day can be varied if certain of the countries in which the accounts are held wish to do so, for reasons of their own. That provision has been made in the Hambros legislation and in another Bill, so it is not that unusual. I hope that my comment helps the hon. Gentleman.
Mr. Cryer : The hon. Member for Honiton (Sir P. Emery) said that the amendment moves the bank closer to the law. In effect, the Bill provides for a fusion of two banks. One amendment makes it clear that the vesting-- which is required by the law which the hon. Member for Honiton claims the bank wishes to recognise--can take place, in the opinion of the directors, on a date later than the vesting day required by law. One amendment says that the directors must abide by the law and another says that the director will have the discretion to avoid it.
Mr. Welsh : I am grateful to my hon. Friend. The banks want to operate within the law, but I am worried about a different issue--whether the directors want to operate within the law. I have been told to limit my remarks to the amendments, which concern the directors. No one can say that directors keep within the law. If they did, there would not have been that raid this morning. Sometimes the banks need to be protected from their directors.
Sir Peter Emery : No directors of NatWest or the International Westminster bank have been affected in any way by today's events. Knowing the hon. Gentleman's desire to be fair, I think that he would not want the statement that he has just made to stand on the record.
Mr. Welsh : I am saying only that the fraud squad has called on some houses, as has happened in other undertakings in the City. I should like to think that all directors had clean hands, but they are raided every other day. If they were all as innocent as the men who drink in workings men's clubs, everything in the City would be lovely. As it is, the banks themselves--never mind the people--may have to be protected against their own directors.
Mr. Cryer : My hon. Friend may recall that when Lloyds promoted a private Bill in 1981 which gave the accounts of Lloyds almost complete immunity from any legal process, we received assurance after assurance that those promoting the Bill were as white as the driven snow and completely without stain on their honour. Yet shortly after the Bill was passed, scandal after scandal piled up in Lloyds. Does my hon. Friend agree that we should look at assurances with a critical eye?
Mr. Deputy Speaker : Order. I remind the House once more that we are dealing with Lords amendments and that the debate must be restricted to them. It is not in order to broaden it into a wide debate on banking practice.
Mr. Skinner : On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. You are right to say that we must find ways and means of sticking to this group of amendments. In this case, my hon. Friend the Member for Doncaster, North (Mr. Welsh) is speaking primarily about the two amendments to clause 4. I am sure that you are aware of those important amendments.
The point of order on which I seek clarification is whether my hon. Friend is allowed to speak broadly on the issue. As the hon. Member for Honiton (Sir P. Emery) said, the amendments change the relationship of the directors to the country. They cannot just have "regard to" the laws of any country, but must stick to the laws of the country because the amendment seeks to insert "by reason of". The provision becomes binding and it is a wide amendment. My hon. Friend can properly say that the directors must bear in mind the law of the country totally and utterly, as the Prime Minister might say, on a regular basis instead of having a passive affinity with it.
The amendment was tabled as a second thought and it may be dangerous-- [Interruption.]
Mr. Welsh : The amendment is important with regard to the directors because it is about international deals, not about deals in this country. Every hon. Member has had complaints about an overseas investment that went wrong in Gibraltar, including the hon. Member for Honiton himself. The hon. Member for Honiton may think that I am wrong, but I do not think that we should allow the chance of such events happening again. When we move to a vote later, if you will allow it, Mr. Deputy Speaker, I want my head to be counted. The International Westminster bank will deal with pension funds and it may even deal with miners' pension funds. Things may go wrong and the directors may get into trouble. I am sure that most of the directors are honest, straightforward chaps, but there are always some bad apples in the barrel. If things go wrong, nobody can say that the hon. Member for Doncaster, North did not vote against the amendments. It may not mean a great deal to most hon. Members, but it means a great deal in constituencies like mine, where people are predominantly working class and honest. They like to think that their Members of Parliament try their best to protect everyone. The only way to protect their interests in this House is by a count of heads in a vote.
Mr. Skinner : Before my hon. Friend leaves the amendment dealing with the power of directors, I want to point out that directors, as my hon. Friend knows only too well, have tremendous power. They have more power than
Column 1234trade union leaders, for example. They do not have to go on strike and they do not bother about ballots when they are asset-stripping or when they have a leveraged buy-out. I want my hon. Friend to turn his attention to the question of directors having that power, which is raised by this amendment rather than later ones, and whether the power should go to the people who work in the banks by means of a ballot. We hear much about ballots.
We should oppose this amendment. Perhaps my hon. Friend has a different view, but I believe that it should be opposed on the ground that it does not compel directors to concede a ballot to the people who work in the bank. If we developed that argument, we might be able to see a bit more light at the end of the National Westminster tunnel.
Mr. Welsh : My hon. Friend is right ; he has made a vital point. However, as you drew to my attention, Mr. Deputy Speaker, we must confine our remarks to the Bill and the amendments. There are many other matters that I should like to mention, and many other hon. Members would like to deal with shortcomings in undertakings outside the City, but we must stick to the amendments.
I have a question about another amendment that may be important and the hon. Member for Honiton may be able to explain how it will protect people. The amendment applies to clause 5 and seeks to leave out
"whether made before, on or after"
and insert "made before." Perhaps I should not be, but I am suspicious by nature and I cannot help it. I am suspicious when I see an amendment that means that if anyone signs something on that day or after that day, it is not covered by the Bill.
Mr. Welsh : The amendment applies to line 42 of clause 5. I suspect that it seeks to give the directors powers that they do not deserve to have. The clause was written by the parliamentary draftsmen and did not come off the top of someone's head. The draftsmen must have phrased the clause in that way for good reasons. It may have been to protect investors on the day of vestment or after. Perhaps the hon. Member for Honiton can explain why the promoters came to the conclusion that the clause should be amended. Will anybody suffer from that amendment, or are people being protected? My innocence in these matters can easily be seen. All I want is an explanation of the amendment so that we can study it in some depth.
I want to deal next with some other serious amendments that seek to remove words from the Bill. One amendment that applies to line 10 of clause 6 seeks to leave out "omitted" and insert "not to be done". There must be a good reason for that. An identical amendment applies to line 14. Perhaps the original words were not parliamentary language. If they were not parliamentary language, they should not have been included in the Bill in the first place because the parliamentary agents drew it up. If the amendments could cause damage or hurt people, we are obliged to vote on them. Perhaps the hon. Member for Honiton can give me a reasonable answer that might increase my knowledge of international banking.
I am also concerned about the amendment to clause 11 :
page 6, leave out from ("1963") in line 26 to ("as") in line 27.' There must be a reason for this amendment. Why were those words included in the Bill originally, if they must be withdrawn now? The important point relates to the Stock Transfer Act 1963. The Bill refers to the Stock Exchange
Column 1235(Completion of Bargains) Act 1976. That has been removed by the amendment. The words were included in good faith.
Another of the Lords amendments relates to clause 15, page 7--
Mr. Skinner : The amendment to clause 11 leaves out the words from "1963". That was a pretty good year. It was Profumo year. That was when Macmillan got prostate trouble. He had a diplomatic illness and a new Prime Minister was needed. I can see 1989 or 1990 being a replica of 1963. The Prime Minister will get a diplomatic illness and some grey-suited men will come along and say, "Enough's enough. You had better get off." The Prime Minister will be able to travel round the world and deposit her money in the International Westminster bank in all the countries to which the Bill refers--
Mr. Deputy Speaker : Order. The hon. Member for Doncaster, North is perfectly in order. He is developing his arguments which are in order. The only thing that worries me is that every time he is interrupted, he is invited to go out of order.
Another of the Lords amendments amends clause 15. It states : Clause 15, page 8 leave out from ("(b)") in line 33 to ("and") in line 38 and insert ("the reference in subsection (3) of Section 11 (Evidence of Vesting) of this Act to the Stock Transfer Act 1963 shall include a reference to the Stock Transfer Act (Northern Ireland) 1963 ;")'
The Bill as it stands reads very differently. Why should the Stock Exchange (Completion of Bargains) Act 1976 be excluded? Will somebody tell me why?
Mr. Skinner : I will tell my hon. Friend why. The National Westminster bank is experiencing serious trouble at the moment and many of its leading lights have been caught by the fraud squad. Some of them have been handcuffed and put inside. However, very few are actually done. The law in this country is supposed to be straight and above board for everyone. Most of the people who get done here are those who get a couple of bob out of the Department of Social Security. The directors and the people in the City usually get away with it.
Why is the reference to the Stock Exchange (Completion of Bargains) Act 1976 left out of the Bill? It is excluded because it refers to the amount of money being made by the people who run the bank. The last thing that they want people to know is that the Bill contains an opportunity for completion of bargains on the stock exchange. That does not apply to many people who invest in the National Westminster bank ; it is all about the directors making a small fortune--
Mr. Welsh : The amendment to page 8 of clause 15 is narrow, but very important. I am speaking to the amendments, but I understand the feeling of many hon. Members on both sides of the House who may be involved
Column 1236in these matters. I am not used to dealing with finance. I still give my wife £25 a week and spoil her like most men spoil their wives. That is as far as I go in finance.
Perhaps the reason for the amendment is that the parliamentary agents are correcting an error. The boys in the City may think that the parliamentary agents are all right, but they are tying their hands.
Why must we drag Northern Ireland into this? The Bill refers to the Stock Exchange (Completion of Bargains) (Northern Ireland) Order 1977. That is removed from the Bill and substituted with the Stock Transfer Act (Northern Ireland) 1963. What is so sacrosanct about the 1963 Act? No one seems to want the other Acts. There must be an answer for this.
Mr. Skinner : There might be a clue here. Although I might never be in the position of introducing a Bill on behalf of a bank,--I am playing the devil's advocate here--I would want to consider what happened in Northern Ireland a few years ago. I would remember De Lorean, the money, corruption and fiddling. Two Governments allowed large sums of taxpayers' money to be salted away. We had better make sure--
Mr. Deputy Speaker : Order. The hon. Member for Doncaster, North is being as good as gold. He is speaking to the amendments. Unfortunately, he continues to be corrupted by interventions that have nothing to do with the amendments. I hope that all hon. Members, particularly the hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner), will allow the hon. Member for Doncaster, North, who is perfectly in order, to develop his arguments.
Why is the 1963 Act sacrosanct? Why is nothing else allowed? Why has it been taken out? There may be good reasons for that, but as a layman I can see no good reason for its removal other than for ulterior motives. No other Act is entertained even though there may be other reasonable Acts.
Sir Peter Emery : It really is quite simple. The Stock Exchange (Completion of Bargains) Act 1976 is material only insofar as it amends the Stock Transfer Act 1963. Accordingly, it would be best to omit altogether the reference to that Act because the 1963 Act applies. The amendment to clause 15 is tabled for the same reason. It refers to the 1976 Act and, therefore, to the Stock Exchange (Completion of Bargains) (Northern Ireland) Order 1977. The words are to be omitted because they are unnecessary and for no other reason.
Mr. Welsh : I cannot say that the parliamentary agents are incompetent. I do not know any of those gentlemen, but I know that they are well-trained and reasonably efficient. Many of the amendments drafted by civil servants are foolish, but that is not the case with parliamentary agents. They are well paid and efficient. They may have included the amendments as a long-stop.
Mr. Skinner : My hon. Friend seems to accept that parliamentary agents cannot do anything wrong. I cannot accept that. As my hon. Friend knows, people make mistakes. On the Associated British Ports (No. 2) Bill, which we are not discussing now, the parliamentary agents
Column 1237did a far from splendid job, and we tried to amend that Bill. I wonder whether my hon. Friend will rephrase what he said about parliamentary agents. They can do only what they are instructed to do and they were instructed by people whom the hon. Member for Honiton knows very well.
My hon. Friend should not think of the parliamentary agents as golden angels. He must think about the City of London asking how it can make more money. That is the principle behind this and it is why the amendments have been tabled. Somebody along the way has said, "We had better amend the Bill in the House of Lords where they are all dropping off to sleep. Do not do it in the House of Commons because somebody might spot it. If we do that we can make a bit on the side." Money is the reason. The parliamentary agents are not acting alone. Their mentors have said, "Get that changed and sharp".
Mr. Welsh : My hon. Friend may have a good point. That is a possibility, but we cannot say that it happens for sure. However, I have some sympathy with the comments of my hon. Friend the Member for Bolsover.
There is an amendment to an amendment--I thought that that was impossible. Therefore, no one is too sure about this. I do not know too much about finance but I have my suspicions.
Mr. Skinner : It is obvious that my hon. Friend is rightly concerned about the amendments. I have already suggested one possible reason for the amendments, but there is another. My hon. Friend says that he does not know about finance but he is not kidding me. He is the treasurer of the all- party group of non-profit-making clubs. Therefore, he is in charge of about threepence ha'penny a week. Suppose that my first fear--that they are doing it because the bosses are telling them--is not correct. Let us suppose that the parliamentary agents are making money on commission and on the basis of work done in the same way as lawyers--which is really what they are. Somebody may say, "If we can slip in a dozen amendments in the Lords, it will increase our commission". This is the lesser of my two proposals. However, a Machiavellian parliamentary agent may have said, "The longer it goes, the more money I make." Therefore, they might not be too keen on the Bill receiving a speedy passage. My hon. Friend likes the parliamentary agents, but I wonder whether he would favour my second proposition.
Mr. Welsh : My hon. Friend may have a point. I do not know how parliamentary agents are paid, but their job is to work on private Bills. The sooner such Bills are abolished the better. Perhaps, as my hon. Friend said, they include things knowing they will have to amend them later. That happens with many legal people. My hon. Friend the Member for Bolsover may have a point, but we do not know. On the removal of the references to the Stock Exchange (Completion of Bargains) Act 1976 and the Stock Exchange (Completion of Bargains) (Northern Ireland) Order 1977 the parliamentary agents may be creating a loophole that we have not spotted. Those references should remain in the Bill.
Mr. Skinner : That is too Machiavellian. I do not believe that parliamentary agents would do that. They are into money, and there is also the second proposition that I have described. There is a third possible explanation but it is the least favoured of my ideas. A Left-wing parliamentary agent may have been listening to the debates on the Associated British Ports (No. 2) Bill. He may think that he can help by trying to stop the Bill which will create a massive balance of payments problem for Britain because of the imported coal. He may say, "I will draft some esoteric amendments so that the Bill can be dragged out." That may be going too far, but it is more plausible than my hon. Friend's argument.
Mr. Welsh : My hon. Friend may have a valid point, but I am describing what has happened. We have been told by the sponsors of the Bill that the words to be omitted are not necessary and do not do anything. If that is the case, why did the parliamentary agents include them?
Mr. Andrew F. Bennett : My hon. Friend must be careful. I do not think that the agents wanted to include the amendments. We have been given a document that tells us why the Bill's promoter wants us to continue with the Bill. If my hon. Friend looks at that, he will see that the recommendation for the change came about as a result of consultation with Counsel to the Chairman of Committees of the House of Lords and includes alterations agreed with Counsel to Mr. Speaker. I am puzzled. I understand the role that those two people perform in the House, but why were the recommendations suggested to the Counsel to Mr. Speaker not put forward in this place before the Bill went to the House of Lords?
Those individuals must have recommended alterations for good reasons. Can my hon. Friend explain what those reasons were and the implications of forcing them on the parliamentary agents who may not have wanted to take up more time by bringing the Bill back? They must be important because I am sure that officers of the House would not want to delay the Bill without good reason.
Mr. Welsh : If that is correct and the bank sponsors have no desire for the amendments, it is all the more reason why the Bill should be left as it is. If someone else wants the Bill amended, we should vote for the Bill as it is written. There might be good reason to leave the Bill as it is to protect people when others may not want them to be protected.
Mr. Skinner : There may be a simple answer. We have a Bill that is not well written. It has been produced by lawyers who earn £100,000 a year. We know what it is like as they want 20 quid to write a letter for our constituents. The Bill is drafted and it is a bit cock-eyed, so someone comes along and says that it must be altered. My hon. Friend the Member for Denton and Reddish (Mr. Bennett) asked why those alterations were not made in the House of Commons. As I said earlier, the answer is that they can slip such changes through in the House of Lords because no one can be bothered. People up there fall asleep and it is conceivable that that is why those changes were made in the House of Lords late on. I have put forward all sorts of propositions to my hon. Friend the Member for Doncaster, North, but perhaps it is just a simple matter of neglect. The i's must be dotted and the t's crossed somewhere, so the Bill is taken to the House of Lords.
Mr. Welsh : My hon. Friend may have a point. If that has happened, it is all the more reason why we should vote against the amendments. It means that someone has been conniving, for want of a better word. We are not here to do such things. We are here to be honest and to protect people, even investors.
I do not believe that the amendments should be accepted by the House. The hon. Member for Honiton may say that they have the same purpose. If that is true, why cannot we have two Acts? There would be nothing wrong with double protection.
I have spoken on some of the amendments which I consider important. When the time comes, I should like to think that we could vote separately on the amendment relating to clause 4, page 3, line 14, "in the opinion of the directors of the Bank"
I would also like to think that votes on amendments to clause 11, page 6, and clause 15, page 8, could be taken together.
Sir Peter Emery : I congratulate the hon. Member for Doncaster, North (Mr. Welsh) on speaking for nearly an hour about fairly precise amendments. I shall try to answer his questions clearly in the hope that that will assist the House to obtain answers about the amendments, which are fairly narrow.
The purpose of the amendments is to improve the clarity of the Bill. The hon. Gentleman and other hon. Members have suggested that something is wrong because parliamentary agents could not get the Bill 100 per cent. right when it was produced for First Reading and Committee. Few Bills produced by Governments of either party do not require some amendment or correction. There are few parliamentary agents who get everything right the first time. I believe that it is correct--I have spent some time in the Procedure Committee to try to ensure this--that we should spend the right amount of time to make legislation as clear and as simple as humanly possible.
"And whereas the objects of this Act cannot be attained without the authority of Parliament"..
The first amendment refers to things that go on in other countries. Why do we have to have the authority of this House to do something that affects other countries? Does the hon. Gentleman agree that we have had many problems with private legislation? I believe that there is a strong case to take such legislation away from the House. I wonder whether the International Westminster Bank Bill should be considered at all. Why is it absolutely essential--the preamble to the Bill says that it is--for the little section that relates to having regard to the laws of other countries to be included in the Bill?
The Bill amalgamates, for the convenience of the bank and of this country in its financial dealings, the International Westminster bank, which is operating outside this country, and the National Westminster bank,
Column 1240which operates in this country. The purpose is to bring the two organisations together. The laws of the overseas country in which the bank is operating will be abided by. There is no suggestion in the Bill that those laws should be overridden and there is no desire on the part of the National Westminster bank to do that.
Mr. Michael Welsh : Some countries are known as "bank havens" and there is little control, if any, over their financial transactions. If the International Westminster bank operated in such countries, it would have to be subject to our laws or investors might lose their money--as happened in Gibraltar. Has that been taken into account when discussing the operations of National Westminster and International Westminster?
Sir Peter Emery : The bank has taken that into consideration. Obviously, it wants the most stringent regulations to apply overseas as would apply here. That does not mean that the bank would seek to override the laws of another nation. It is to make that absolutely clear that the amendments have been tabled. The directors of the bank have sought the amendments to ensure that if, when dealing with its banking operations in another country, it was decided that the vesting date in that country should not be the same as for the whole of the Bill, it could be delayed. There is nothing new about that and I have already told the House that that happened with two previous banking Bills.
Questions have also been asked about the amendment relating to clause 5, page 3, line 34. The words in the brackets are unnecessary and slightly misleading. They highlight the probate of a will without referring to the alternative possibility of letters of
administration. Such letters of administration may be annexed to a will or issued when the deceased has omitted to appoint any executors of his will. Therefore, those letters ensure that the matter is dealt with.
I come to clause 11, page 6, lines 26 and 27 and clause 15, page 8, lines 33 and 38. I have already said that the Stock Exchange (Completion of Bargains) Act 1976 is material only in that it amends the Stock Transfer Act 1963.
Mr. Cryer : On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. My attention has been drawn to the fact that the Serjeant at Arms is not in his place. I have never known this in my several years as a Member here and I wondered whether it was right for the House to continue when the Serjeant at Arms had been drawn away to some important matter. If any hon. Member were to become terribly unruly--not I, of course--there would be a problem and I thought that you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, might like to consider this.
Sir Peter Emery : As the amendments to the 1963 Act become part of the Act there is no need for reference to be made to the 1976 Act and it would be misleading to include it. The hon. Member for Doncaster, North has already explained why it is unnecessary. Therefore, it has been deleted and that applies equally to the Stock Transfer (Northern Ireland) Act 1963.
The group of amendments attempts to clarify the Bill, make it more easily understood and allow the National Westminster bank to operate as efficiently as humanly
Column 1241possible after the amalgamation of its two organisations. That will benefit the country. An extensive amount of work is carried out by this company internationally, and the Bill will help this nation's economy. I should have thought that the House would want to hasten the Bill through. Most organisations would not have to come to the House if they want to bring together their overseas and domestic sections. The Bill is necessary because we are dealing with a bank which is structured under the Banking Act 1987.
The House will divide if necessary, but I hope that it will give a fair wind to the National Westminster bank in trying to do what it can financially for this country's benefit.
Mr. Roger Knapman (Stroud) rose in his place and claimed to move, That the Question be now put.
Question put, That the Question be now put :--
The House divided : Ayes 111, Noes 36.
Division No. 388] [8.42 pm
Arnold, Jacques (Gravesham)
Baker, Rt Hon K. (Mole Valley)
Baker, Nicholas (Dorset N)
Bevan, David Gilroy
Blackburn, Dr John G.
Braine, Rt Hon Sir Bernard
Bruce, Ian (Dorset South)
Buck, Sir Antony
Carlisle, John, (Luton N)
Carlisle, Kenneth (Lincoln)
Clark, Hon Alan (Plym'th S'n)
Clarke, Rt Hon K. (Rushcliffe)
Coombs, Anthony (Wyre F'rest)
Coombs, Simon (Swindon)
Davis, David (Boothferry)
Emery, Sir Peter
Fenner, Dame Peggy
Field, Barry (Isle of Wight)
Finsberg, Sir Geoffrey
Fishburn, John Dudley
Fookes, Dame Janet
Glyn, Dr Alan
Greenway, John (Ryedale)
Griffiths, Peter (Portsmouth N)
Gummer, Rt Hon John Selwyn
Hampson, Dr Keith
Hayhoe, Rt Hon Sir Barney
Heseltine, Rt Hon Michael
Hordern, Sir Peter
Howarth, G. (Cannock & B'wd)
Howe, Rt Hon Sir Geoffrey
Hughes, Robert G. (Harrow W)
Hunt, David (Wirral W)
Kellett-Bowman, Dame Elaine
Knight, Greg (Derby North)
Lloyd, Peter (Fareham)
Lyell, Sir Nicholas
McNair-Wilson, Sir Michael
Martin, David (Portsmouth S)
Miller, Sir Hal
Mitchell, Andrew (Gedling)
Monro, Sir Hector
Nicholson, David (Taunton)
Pattie, Rt Hon Sir Geoffrey
Porter, David (Waveney)
Raison, Rt Hon Timothy
Rhodes James, Robert
Sackville, Hon Tom
Shepherd, Colin (Hereford)
Stewart, Allan (Eastwood)