Previous Section Index Home Page

Rob Marris: I am sure that my hon. Friend will move away from the Granite topic shortly because of the
21 Feb 2008 : Column 644
time constraint. I wonder whether he will let us know his opinion of the freedom of information aspect of all this. [Laughter.]

Mr. Deputy Speaker: Order.

Sir Stuart Bell: I am not an expert on witches’ brew. If I were an expert on witches’ brew, I would be an expert on the Freedom of Information Act.

The point is—and the Financial Secretary has already made it—that Northern Rock will not be a public body. Freedom of information legislation requires that sensitive information be defended. The Bank of England has an exemption from the Freedom of Information Act in regard to the provision of private banking and related services. There is no reason why Northern Rock should fall within the purview of the Freedom of Information Act.

Mr. Redwood: The hon. Gentleman is right to say that some securitisation schemes get the obligation off the balance sheet of the company engineering it and into other hands. His problem is that, in this case, that is not what Northern Rock happens to have done. Will he answer the question about the contractual relationship between Northern Rock and Granite which requires the supply of good-quality mortgages where others are paid off, or else become bad-quality mortgages?

Sir Stuart Bell: Again, the right hon. Gentleman does not understand what the Chief Secretary said. Of course there is a top-up principle in the securitisation, because the securitisation is backed by a bond, the bond is bought by the investor, and the bond has an interest—a coupon; of course, it has to be topped up. What the Chief Secretary clearly said is that there are other prime assets within Northern Rock that are not required to be used as that top-up.

I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton, South-West for his comments, because I shall now move on from the Freedom of Information Act 2000 to the question of competition. The Conservatives are not helped by the fact that they have an anti-European attitude and yet they have to fall back on the EU to defend the competition policies that will be enacted in respect of Northern Rock. The point has been made many times—

Mr. Cash: On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Does this debate not provide a good illustration of the fact that the entire Bill has been constructed in order to avoid hybrid instruments and the Hybrid Instruments Committee procedure, under which all these matters could be discussed in the proper manner? Is this not the true problem, and it will come out in the hybrid instruments—

Mr. Deputy Speaker: Order. That is not a matter for the Chair.

Sir Stuart Bell: A robust statutory framework is in place at European level to prevent the unfair distortion of competition through Government subsidies, and the Government support of Northern Rock will need to be fully consistent with those guidelines. That should be
21 Feb 2008 : Column 645
sufficient assurance for anyone in the City of London to understand that Northern Rock will not have a competitive advantage over other organisations in the banking sector.

Mr. Iain Duncan Smith (Chingford and Woodford Green) (Con): The hon. Gentleman has been a Member of this House for a long time and he has argued endlessly that there should be freedom of information and that we should be open. Does he not feel even the slightest bit ashamed of his Government, as they have driven through this Bill when it is clearly not an emergency? With all his Back-Bench experience and given all the Governments he has seen, does he not feel even a little bit ashamed? Can I tempt him to give his personal opinion of the procedures that his Government have embarked on? Are they not disgraceful?

Sir Stuart Bell: The right hon. Gentleman puts temptation in the way of an hon. Member. It is not for me to yield to the forbidden fruit of Parliament and to be contrary to my Whips Office and my business managers. I would like to say a few additional words, however.

Mr. Beith: Does not what the hon. Gentleman is doing run the risk of ensuring that a party that supports this Bill and that moved the amendment will not contribute to the debate?

Sir Stuart Bell: I have noticed over the years that interventions can take up an enormous amount of time and that many Members make their comments through interventions. As I have been interrupted and I shall continue to be so, I hope that I may make the points that I wish to make before the debate comes to an end.

Miss McIntosh: Perhaps I should draw the House’s attention to my diminishing interest in Northern Rock as a former shareholder. Will the hon. Gentleman answer one question? He is much better versed in the procedures of this House than many Members. Why on this occasion does he choose to rule out the use of a hybrid instrument, which I think would be particularly appropriate to apply?

Sir Stuart Bell: It is not for me to rule that in or out; that is a question for those on our Front Bench. I have, however, been quietly asked to allow the Liberal spokesman to make an intervention, and I will be happy to do so. Let me simply say that if the Lords spend so much time—two days—on producing amendments such as those we are discussing in this House now, then our having more time would have made very little difference.

Mr. Patrick McLoughlin (West Derbyshire) (Con): On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. The hon. Gentleman has just informed the House that he has been asked to allow the Liberal Democrats to intervene in this debate, which is very good of the Government. Bearing in mind that it was the Deputy Leader of the House who did that, can you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, enable us to have extra time so these matters can be discussed properly?

21 Feb 2008 : Column 646

Mr. Deputy Speaker: Unfortunately, the answer is no. I am bound by the rules of the House, and interventions such as this simply take up more time.

Mr. Jeremy Browne (Taunton) (LD): What a build up to what will be a great six-minute speech!

The Chief Secretary to the Treasury accused the Liberal Democrats of playing opportunistic games with this Bill. That was a mistake, because if anything we have given the Government guidance throughout on the course of action that they should take. If only they had listened to us a bit earlier, the public purse would be in a lot better condition. As for the hon. Member for Middlesbrough (Sir Stuart Bell), he will have to learn to stand on his own two feet without the guidance of my hon. Friend the Member for Twickenham (Dr. Cable).

Mr. Redwood: What is the Liberal Democrats’ forecast of the first year total cost to the taxpayer of the nationalisation that the hon. Member for Taunton (Mr. Browne) envisages?

Mr. Browne: Let me see whether I can get to that once I have concluded the two substantive points that I wish to discuss, the first of which is on the independent audit and the second of which is on freedom of information.

The Liberal Democrat position is that an independent audit is appropriate, and it is strengthened by the arguments that we have heard about Granite in this House and in the other place. There has been an extremely worrying development, because there still is no feasible alternative to nationalisation, but that does not mean that the Government can sweep the Granite issue under the carpet. Some £8 billion of unsecured loans are on Northern Rock’s balance sheet, but none is on Granite’s, so there is an imbalance that is potentially highly damaging to the taxpayer. We need a new valuation that gives taxpayers confidence that when we undertake to buy this company, we are buying a proposition that offers us a reasonable deal.

Commercial confidentiality is specifically excluded from the freedom of information provisions. The suspicion must be that the Government think that there is something to hide and that they would rather not be exposed by freedom of information. Northern Rock would have benefited from more rather than less scrutiny over the past few years. Some companies in the public sector that have commercial rivals are subject to freedom of information provisions. Royal Mail is a case in point—it competes with independent, private courier companies—and National Savings and Investments is another example of the phenomenon.

Northern Rock is looking to engage very expensive consultants and it might well pay bonuses to staff, so it seems only reasonable that we are in a position to know the scale of the undertaking being made by its management. The Minister says that the problem is that as this is only a transitory condition and the company will be sold back to the private sector—she was not specific on the precise time scale—it would not be appropriate to subject these measures to freedom of information. Of course there is nothing to prevent the Government from reintroducing provisions to exclude Northern Rock from freedom of information measures
21 Feb 2008 : Column 647
when it is sold back into the private sector. We have no assurance of when that will be, and it is surely much better to act on the precautionary principle and for the Government to support the relevant amendment.

In conclusion, the Government are taking an extremely high-handed approach on this matter. The Liberal Democrats have sought to be a wise counsel and good friend to the Government throughout their difficulties over the past five months. That is entirely the spirit in which, in the other place, we supported the amendments before us this evening. We are not seeking to play opportunistic games. We seek to make the legislation, which is being introduced in short order, better than it would otherwise be. Rather than setting their face against good advice from my party and the Conservative party, the Government would do well to be less stubborn and to heed the warnings that we have given them in the past and are putting before the House this evening.

Mr. Duncan Smith: Very little time is left, so I just want to make one particular point. We ought to put the amendments in context. They probe the reality of what the Government are doing. This is not aimed simply at safeguarding commercial interests or the interests of the taxpayer. The main priority of all this secrecy and all this rush is to safeguard the political interests of this Government. They know very well that if freedom of information was allowed, we would find out exactly what had gone on over the past few months. We would know how incompetent and disgraceful their behaviour has been. We would learn something else over the next few months. The Government have set this so that it will go—

It being one hour after the commencement of proceedings on the Lords amendments, Mr. Deputy Speaker put forthwith the Question, pursuant to Order [19 February].

The House divided: Ayes 277, Noes 167.
Division No. 091]
[8.45 pm


Abbott, Ms Diane
Ainsworth, rh Mr. Bob
Anderson, Mr. David
Anderson, Janet
Armstrong, rh Hilary
Atkins, Charlotte
Austin, John
Bailey, Mr. Adrian
Baird, Vera
Balls, rh Ed
Banks, Gordon
Barron, rh Mr. Kevin
Battle, rh John
Beckett, rh Margaret
Begg, Miss Anne
Bell, Sir Stuart
Benn, rh Hilary
Benton, Mr. Joe
Berry, Roger
Betts, Mr. Clive
Blackman-Woods, Dr. Roberta
Blizzard, Mr. Bob
Borrow, Mr. David S.
Bradshaw, Mr. Ben
Brennan, Kevin
Brown, Lyn
Brown, rh Mr. Nicholas
Brown, Mr. Russell
Bryant, Chris
Burden, Richard
Burgon, Colin
Burnham, rh Andy
Byrne, Mr. Liam
Caborn, rh Mr. Richard
Cairns, David
Campbell, Mr. Alan
Campbell, Mr. Ronnie
Caton, Mr. Martin
Cawsey, Mr. Ian
Challen, Colin
Chapman, Ben
Chaytor, Mr. David
Clapham, Mr. Michael
Clark, Ms Katy
Clark, Paul
Clarke, rh Mr. Charles
Clelland, Mr. David
Clwyd, rh Ann
Coaker, Mr. Vernon
Coffey, Ann

Cohen, Harry
Connarty, Michael
Cook, Frank
Cooper, Rosie
Cooper, rh Yvette
Corbyn, Jeremy
Cousins, Jim
Crausby, Mr. David
Cruddas, Jon
Cryer, Mrs. Ann
Cummings, John
Cunningham, Mr. Jim
Cunningham, Tony
Darling, rh Mr. Alistair
David, Mr. Wayne
Davidson, Mr. Ian
Davies, Mr. Dai
Davies, Mr. Quentin
Dean, Mrs. Janet
Denham, rh Mr. John
Devine, Mr. Jim
Dhanda, Mr. Parmjit
Dismore, Mr. Andrew
Dobbin, Jim
Dobson, rh Frank
Donohoe, Mr. Brian H.
Dowd, Jim
Drew, Mr. David
Eagle, Angela
Eagle, Maria
Efford, Clive
Ellman, Mrs. Louise
Ennis, Jeff
Field, rh Mr. Frank
Fisher, Mark
Fitzpatrick, Jim
Flello, Mr. Robert
Flint, rh Caroline
Flynn, Paul
Follett, Barbara
Foster, Mr. Michael (Worcester)
Foster, Michael Jabez (Hastings and Rye)
Francis, Dr. Hywel
Gapes, Mike
Gibson, Dr. Ian
Goggins, Paul
Goodman, Helen
Griffith, Nia
Grogan, Mr. John
Gwynne, Andrew
Hain, rh Mr. Peter
Hall, Mr. Mike
Hall, Patrick
Hamilton, Mr. David
Hamilton, Mr. Fabian
Hanson, rh Mr. David
Harman, rh Ms Harriet
Harris, Mr. Tom
Havard, Mr. Dai
Healey, John
Henderson, Mr. Doug
Hepburn, Mr. Stephen
Heppell, Mr. John
Hesford, Stephen
Hewitt, rh Ms Patricia
Heyes, David
Hillier, Meg
Hodge, rh Margaret
Hodgson, Mrs. Sharon
Hood, Mr. Jim
Hoon, rh Mr. Geoffrey
Hopkins, Kelvin
Howarth, rh Mr. George
Hoyle, Mr. Lindsay
Humble, Mrs. Joan
Hutton, rh Mr. John
Iddon, Dr. Brian
Illsley, Mr. Eric
Irranca-Davies, Huw
James, Mrs. Siân C.
Jenkins, Mr. Brian
Johnson, rh Alan
Jones, Helen
Jones, Mr. Kevan
Jowell, rh Tessa
Keeble, Ms Sally
Keeley, Barbara
Keen, Alan
Keen, Ann
Kemp, Mr. Fraser
Kennedy, rh Jane
Khan, Mr. Sadiq
Kidney, Mr. David
Kilfoyle, Mr. Peter
Knight, Jim
Kumar, Dr. Ashok
Ladyman, Dr. Stephen
Lammy, Mr. David
Laxton, Mr. Bob
Lazarowicz, Mark
Lepper, David
Levitt, Tom
Lewis, Mr. Ivan
Linton, Martin
Love, Mr. Andrew
Lucas, Ian
MacShane, rh Mr. Denis
Mactaggart, Fiona
Mahmood, Mr. Khalid
Mallaber, Judy
Mann, John
Marris, Rob
Marsden, Mr. Gordon
Martlew, Mr. Eric
McAvoy, rh Mr. Thomas
McCabe, Steve
McCafferty, Chris
McCarthy, Kerry
McCarthy-Fry, Sarah
McDonagh, Siobhain
McFadden, Mr. Pat
McFall, rh John
McGovern, Mr. Jim
McGuire, Mrs. Anne
McIsaac, Shona
McKechin, Ann
McKenna, Rosemary
McNulty, rh Mr. Tony
Meacher, rh Mr. Michael
Merron, Gillian
Michael, rh Alun
Miliband, rh Edward
Miller, Andrew
Mitchell, Mr. Austin
Moffat, Anne
Moffatt, Laura
Mole, Chris
Moon, Mrs. Madeleine
Moran, Margaret
Morden, Jessica
Morgan, Julie
Mudie, Mr. George

Mullin, Mr. Chris
Munn, Meg
Murphy, Mr. Denis
Murphy, Mr. Jim
Murphy, rh Mr. Paul
Naysmith, Dr. Doug
Norris, Dan
O'Hara, Mr. Edward
Olner, Mr. Bill
Owen, Albert
Palmer, Dr. Nick
Pearson, Ian
Plaskitt, Mr. James
Pope, Mr. Greg
Pound, Stephen
Prentice, Bridget
Prentice, Mr. Gordon
Prescott, rh Mr. John
Primarolo, rh Dawn
Prosser, Gwyn
Purchase, Mr. Ken
Purnell, rh James
Rammell, Bill
Raynsford, rh Mr. Nick
Reed, Mr. Andy
Reed, Mr. Jamie
Reid, rh John
Riordan, Mrs. Linda
Robertson, John
Robinson, Mr. Geoffrey
Rooney, Mr. Terry
Roy, Mr. Frank
Ruane, Chris
Russell, Christine
Ryan, rh Joan
Salter, Martin
Seabeck, Alison
Sharma, Mr. Virendra
Shaw, Jonathan
Sheridan, Jim
Simon, Mr. Siôn
Singh, Mr. Marsha
Skinner, Mr. Dennis
Slaughter, Mr. Andy
Smith, rh Mr. Andrew
Smith, Angela E. (Basildon)
Smith, Geraldine
Smith, John
Snelgrove, Anne
Soulsby, Sir Peter
Southworth, Helen
Spellar, rh Mr. John
Starkey, Dr. Phyllis
Stewart, Ian
Strang, rh Dr. Gavin
Straw, rh Mr. Jack
Stringer, Graham
Stuart, Ms Gisela
Sutcliffe, Mr. Gerry
Taylor, Ms Dari
Taylor, David
Thomas, Mr. Gareth
Timms, rh Mr. Stephen
Tipping, Paddy
Todd, Mr. Mark
Trickett, Jon
Turner, Dr. Desmond
Twigg, Derek
Vaz, rh Keith
Walley, Joan
Waltho, Lynda
Watson, Mr. Tom
Watts, Mr. Dave
Whitehead, Dr. Alan
Wicks, Malcolm
Williams, rh Mr. Alan
Williams, Mrs. Betty
Wilson, Phil
Winnick, Mr. David
Winterton, rh Ms Rosie
Wood, Mike
Wright, Mr. Anthony
Wright, David
Wright, Mr. Iain
Wyatt, Derek
Tellers for the Ayes:

Ms Diana R. Johnson and
Liz Blackman

Afriyie, Adam
Ainsworth, Mr. Peter
Amess, Mr. David
Arbuthnot, rh Mr. James
Atkinson, Mr. Peter
Bacon, Mr. Richard
Baker, Norman
Baldry, Tony
Baron, Mr. John
Beith, rh Mr. Alan
Bellingham, Mr. Henry
Beresford, Sir Paul
Binley, Mr. Brian
Bone, Mr. Peter
Boswell, Mr. Tim
Brazier, Mr. Julian
Brokenshire, James
Brooke, Annette
Browne, Mr. Jeremy
Browning, Angela
Burns, Mr. Simon
Burrowes, Mr. David
Burt, Alistair
Burt, Lorely
Butterfill, Sir John
Campbell, rh Sir Menzies
Carmichael, Mr. Alistair
Carswell, Mr. Douglas
Cash, Mr. William
Chope, Mr. Christopher
Clappison, Mr. James
Clark, Greg
Clarke, rh Mr. Kenneth
Clifton-Brown, Mr. Geoffrey
Cormack, Sir Patrick
Curry, rh Mr. David
Davey, Mr. Edward
Davies, David T.C. (Monmouth)
Davies, Philip
Djanogly, Mr. Jonathan
Duddridge, James
Duncan Smith, rh Mr. Iain
Dunne, Mr. Philip
Ellwood, Mr. Tobias
Evans, Mr. Nigel
Fabricant, Michael
Field, Mr. Mark

Fox, Dr. Liam
Francois, Mr. Mark
Fraser, Mr. Christopher
Gale, Mr. Roger
Garnier, Mr. Edward
Gauke, Mr. David
Gibb, Mr. Nick
Gidley, Sandra
Gillan, Mrs. Cheryl
Goldsworthy, Julia
Goodman, Mr. Paul
Gray, Mr. James
Green, Damian
Greening, Justine
Greenway, Mr. John
Grieve, Mr. Dominic
Hammond, Mr. Philip
Hammond, Stephen
Hands, Mr. Greg
Harper, Mr. Mark
Hayes, Mr. John
Heald, Mr. Oliver
Hendry, Charles
Herbert, Nick
Hoban, Mr. Mark
Hollobone, Mr. Philip
Holloway, Mr. Adam
Holmes, Paul
Horam, Mr. John
Howard, rh Mr. Michael
Howarth, Mr. Gerald
Hughes, Simon
Huhne, Chris
Hunt, Mr. Jeremy
Kawczynski, Daniel
Key, Robert
Kirkbride, Miss Julie
Knight, rh Mr. Greg
Laing, Mrs. Eleanor
Lait, Mrs. Jacqui
Lancaster, Mr. Mark
Lansley, Mr. Andrew
Laws, Mr. David
Leigh, Mr. Edward
Letwin, rh Mr. Oliver
Lewis, Dr. Julian
Liddell-Grainger, Mr. Ian
Lidington, Mr. David
Lilley, rh Mr. Peter
Llwyd, Mr. Elfyn
Loughton, Tim
Mackay, rh Mr. Andrew
MacNeil, Mr. Angus
Main, Anne
Malins, Mr. Humfrey
Maples, Mr. John
Maude, rh Mr. Francis
May, rh Mrs. Theresa
McIntosh, Miss Anne
McLoughlin, rh Mr. Patrick
Mercer, Patrick
Miller, Mrs. Maria
Milton, Anne
Moss, Mr. Malcolm
Mundell, David
Murrison, Dr. Andrew
Neill, Robert
Öpik, Lembit
Osborne, Mr. George
Penning, Mike
Penrose, John
Pickles, Mr. Eric
Price, Adam
Prisk, Mr. Mark
Pritchard, Mark
Randall, Mr. John
Redwood, rh Mr. John
Robertson, Angus
Robertson, Hugh
Robertson, Mr. Laurence
Ruffley, Mr. David
Scott, Mr. Lee
Selous, Andrew
Shapps, Grant
Shepherd, Mr. Richard
Simmonds, Mark
Simpson, Mr. Keith
Soames, Mr. Nicholas
Spicer, Sir Michael
Spink, Bob
Spring, Mr. Richard
Stanley, rh Sir John
Steen, Mr. Anthony
Streeter, Mr. Gary
Swayne, Mr. Desmond
Swinson, Jo
Swire, Mr. Hugo
Syms, Mr. Robert
Taylor, Mr. Ian
Thurso, John
Turner, Mr. Andrew
Vaizey, Mr. Edward
Vara, Mr. Shailesh
Villiers, Mrs. Theresa
Walker, Mr. Charles
Wallace, Mr. Ben
Waterson, Mr. Nigel
Watkinson, Angela
Weir, Mr. Mike
Whittingdale, Mr. John
Widdecombe, rh Miss Ann
Wiggin, Bill
Willetts, Mr. David
Willis, Mr. Phil
Willott, Jenny
Wilson, Mr. Rob
Wright, Jeremy
Yeo, Mr. Tim
Young, rh Sir George
Younger-Ross, Richard
Tellers for the Noes:

Mr. Brooks Newmark and
Mr. David Evennett
Question accordingly agreed to.
21 Feb 2008 : Column 648

21 Feb 2008 : Column 649

21 Feb 2008 : Column 650

Lords amendment disagreed to.

Mr. Deputy Speaker then proceeded to put forthwith the Questions necessary to bring proceedings on the Lords amendments to a conclusion .

21 Feb 2008 : Column 651

After Clause 10

Lords amendment: No. 2, insert the following new clause—

Next Section Index Home Page