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Building Societies (Joint Account Holders) Bill

7.52 p.m.

Report received.

Clause 1 [Rights of second-named joint shareholders]:

Lord Inglewood moved Amendment No. 1:

Page 2, line 13, at end insert—
("( ) If a person dies during the requisite period at a time when he is named in the records of the society as a joint holder of any shares jointly held, this section shall have effect in relation to any later time as if he had never been so named.")

The noble Lord said: My Lords, as my noble friend Lord Henley explained at Committee stage, the Bill has the full support of the Government. The Government proposed a number of amendments at that stage which were designed to ensure that the Bill achieved the stated aims of my noble friend Lord Hayhoe, and the honourable Member for Gloucester who launched the Bill in another place. The amendments, which were supported on all sides of your Lordships' House, would allow second-named or former second-named holders to benefit following the death of a first-named holder, on the creation of a joint account, the division of a joint account, or when there has been a change in the order of names within the account.

As my noble friend made clear at Committee stage, it is not the intention of the measures to enable individuals to claim two distributions by manipulating their accounts by, for example, splitting them up. The Government looked carefully at the wording of the Bill since Committee stage and considered whether further amendments could be made that would allow other categories of investor to benefit without jeopardising the subsequent passage of the Bill. In particular, we sought to take account of the views expressed by the noble Lord, Lord Eatwell.

I am pleased to say that the Government propose one further amendment to address the case for a multiple account with, for example, a mother, father and son where both parents die. We intend to insert a new subsection into the proposed new Section 102A of the Building Societies Act 1986, which was approved by your Lordships' House at Committee stage. It will be inserted after the current subsection (3). The amendment

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has the effect that, where an account holder dies, the subsequent account holder moves up the scale. The amendment does not deal with the position of third and subsequent named account holders in situations other than death as to do so would make the Bill much more complex, particularly the provisions in regard to priority. However, it would address the case that the noble Lord raised in Committee; that is, where both parents die it would allow the son to qualify for distribution. I beg to move.

Lord Eatwell: My Lords, I am delighted that the Government have been able to take account of one of the remaining anomalies which I detected at Committee stage. It would be churlish of me to ask about some of the other anomalies or spend time searching for others. I am therefore delighted to support the amendment.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Human Rights Bill [H.L.]

7.55 p.m.

Report received.

Clause 1 [Incorporation of European Convention on Human Rights into United Kingdom law]:

Lord Cocks of Hartcliffe moved Amendment No. 1:

Page 1, leave out lines 12 to 21 and insert:
("(2) The provisions set out in subsection (1) above shall—
(a) serve as an aid to the construction of primary and secondary legislation; and
(b) be taken into account in equity and at common law, so that effect may be given to them in any legal proceedings in the United Kingdom in accordance with the principles established by the jurisprudence of the European Court of Human Rights.
(3) For the purposes of this section the procedure at first instance and on appeal shall be governed by such Rules of Court or Practice Directions as may be made.").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, in moving Amendment No. 1, standing in my name on the Marshalled List, I shall speak also to Amendment No. 7, which is purely consequential. If your Lordships feel able to agree to Amendment No. 1, then Amendment No. 7 may be accepted by the House without a Division.

Although this amendment was discussed and voted on at Committee stage, I bring it forward for two reasons. First, the Division which took place on the amendment at Committee stage showed a difference of only one vote in the totals. I felt therefore that the House might have wished to reflect on the matter. Also, since the Committee stage debate, further examples have come to light which give grave cause for concern over the path down which the House is being asked to go.

During the Committee stage, I referred to a specific case which was well reported in the press. The Financial Times of 10th February this year said,

    "Ministers and Opposition leaders united in the Commons yesterday to condemn a decision of the European Court of human rights ordering the Government to pay nearly £14,000 to a convicted drug trafficker".

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I said at that time that if laws were to be respected and obeyed, they had to be understood by people and we had to carry people with us. That sort of decision was extremely undermining.

Since the Committee stage there have been further examples—I do not wish to detain or weary the House, and shall therefore limit myself to one example only—of which one occurred in the Daily Mail of Saturday 4th March. Under a heading,

    "Blasphemy shock over erotic video of Christ",

the report went on to say that,

    "Britain's blasphemy laws are under threat from Europe after a ruling that a film-maker can fight a ban on an erotic video about Jesus Christ. The Strasbourg-based European Commission of Human Rights announced last night that it believed Nigel Wingrove's right to freedom of expression had been breached"

It said it was referring the case to the European Court of Human Rights. If the court upholds the Commission's preliminary findings, as it does in the vast majority of cases, the Government may be forced to water down or scrap 400 year-old laws intended to protect religious beliefs. The article then goes on to give distasteful details of the film itself.

I am a son of the Manse. My father was a Congregational minister and instilled into me values which I have tried to maintain throughout my adult life and also in society wherever I had the opportunity to do so. I know that somewhere he is watching this debate and listening to me. I would be betraying him if I did not say that enough is enough; we cannot sacrifice totally the control and sovereignty which we have at the moment. We must retain some control otherwise all our efforts to keep and improve standards in society today would be undermined without any control at all.

I beg your Lordships to think again on the matter. We owe it to ourselves and to our children—and, indeed, to their children—to maintain standards in society. We should not allow that sort of thing. I beg to move.

8 p.m.

Earl Russell: My Lords, as always, the noble Lord, Lord Cocks of Hartcliffe, is most entertaining and capable of making his argument sound fresh. However, I am not quite so certain about his draftsmanship. As the noble Lord spoke to Amendment No. 7, I think that it might be in order to look at it now. The noble Lord proposes to add to the Long Title the words, "in the disposition of"; that is, to replace the words,

    "into the law of the United Kingdom",

with the words,

    "in the disposition of the law of the United Kingdom".

In the presence of noble and learned Lords, I would be extremely rash to develop any argument at length. But I shall listen with interest to see whether any of them thinks that those words have any precise legal meaning and whether, if they were to be before them, they would know what to do with them.

The noble Lord's attitude to the law occasionally reminds me of that of King James I who believed very firmly that, if only one supplied a sufficiently large dose

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of common sense, all that legal learning would be unnecessary. I believe that the drafting of the noble Lord's amendment illustrates perhaps why that approach to the law really left something to be desired.

The same points could be made about the construction of Amendment No. 1. In paragraph (a) the noble Lord wants the provisions in subsection (1) to,

    "serve as an aid to the construction of primary and secondary legislation".

Again, subject to correction, I wonder whether he has got that provision in the wrong category. There are rules which are aids to the construction of laws, such as that penal statutes are to be construed strictly. However, taking one law as an aid to the construction of another raises a certain number of technical problems. It does not lay down any primacy, provision or procedure for the interpretation of conflicts. In fact, I am not quite sure what it means. Putting law on the statute book which is drafted in such a way that one does not know what it means may tend to the enrichment of lawyers, but I doubt whether that was the noble Lord's motive.

I have the same reservations about the wording in paragraph (b) of Amendment No. 1. The amendment proposes that the subsection should,

    "be taken into account in equity and at common law".

Does that, or does it not, have the same meaning as the usual legal words "have regard to"? I can imagine a court spending a good deal of time discussing that point. Indeed, I remember that we once did so in this House and I believe that the noble Lord, Lord Renton, is remembering that occasion. At that time I believe that the noble and learned Lord, Lord Simon of Glaisdale, said that the phrase meant almost nothing at all.

The noble Lord said a great deal about the defence of law, sovereignty and so on. But it is also a principle in which this country has taken a certain amount of pride that it does keep its international obligations. When it signs a treaty, it means it. We are discussing a treaty that was signed by a government of the noble Lord's own party under the leadership of the late Lord Attlee, whose attachment to the traditions of this country and of this House is not likely to be called into question. Therefore, if the treaty was so very terrible, I wonder why that government agreed to it and whether it has since that time had quite such terrible effects as the noble Lord suggests.

We have lived with the European Convention since 1950. We are not dead yet. If we could have remedies under it in the courts of this country instead of having to travel for them, it might make litigation a good deal cheaper. I hope that that is an object which the noble Lord and I might possibly have in common.

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