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Lord Eatwell: My Lords, I am most grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Henley, for introducing these regulations with such clarity. I wish to address myself to the two particular documents in order, and deal first with the Public Offers of Securities Regulations 1995, which in particular establishes the responsibilities of those who would offer unlisted securities to the public. As such, as the noble Lord pointed out, these regulations are designed to ensure that, among other things, a potential purchaser of unlisted securities, other than a number of specific exceptions, receives all the relevant commercial intelligence known to the issuer and required for the prospective purchaser to make an informed commercial judgment as to the value of the securities.
I should like to illustrate, if I may, the characteristics of the relevant commercial intelligence set out in the regulations, and then to reflect upon them. Consider, for example, Regulation 9. It says:
Regulation 11 says that there are some exceptions to this that the Treasury may authorise when the Treasury feels that the omission from the prospectus or a supplementary prospectus of some information is "contrary to the public interest".
Then we are told in Regulation 14 that if these regulations have not been followed and the prospectus does not contain the information which investors might reasonably be expected to be given, then the person or persons responsible for a prospectus or supplementary
This is entirely desirable. It is quite appropriate that those who issue prospectuses should be expected to issue all the information to prospective purchasers, and if extra information arises they should provide that too. But it is impossible to read these regulations without reflecting on the conduct of Her Majesty's Government in the sale of the remaining shares in National Power and PowerGen. While it would be inappropriate to debate that matter this evening, I believe it is incumbent upon the Minister to explain to the House why the Government believe that these regulations are appropriate and yet do not maintain such standards themselves. Or, if he believes that such standards are maintained by Her Majesty's Government, why in the case of the National Power and PowerGen issues do the Government claim Crown immunity with respect to compensation to those who have suffered major losses as a result of the failure of Her Majesty's Government disclose information to which they had prior access?
I turn now to the Financial Services Act 1986 (Investment Advertisements) (Exemptions) (No. 2) Order 1995. As the Minister pointed out, it is vital for the successful and honest operation of the securities market that advertisements relating to investments should comply with required standards. I am therefore particularly disturbed by some of the exemptions granted in this order. For example, would the Minister explain to the House why investment advertisements issued for the purpose of promoting or encouraging industrial or commercial activity or enterprise are exempt? While the order makes clear that the body corporate that issues such an advertisement should have no direct or indirect pecuniary interest, I can see no reason why such an advertisement should not be seriously misleading to the public and a proper subject for the Act. And I do not see that the attachment of a health warning to an advertisement is sufficient to protect the public. And of course this order does not apply to an advertisement that applies to the issuing of a prospectus, which brings us neatly in a circle to the questions I have already raised about prospectuses.
Finally, in my view the explanatory notes which are attached to these measures are entirely inadequate, and are designed to obscure rather than to inform. It is entirely wrong that Parliament should be asked to consider such important documents without proper explanation being offered by the Government of their full implications. I hope that the Minister can give the House an assurance that in future the Treasury will be less irresponsible.
Perhaps I may deal very briefly with some of the points made by the noble Lord about the regulations and particularly about his allegation that we did not comply with the regulations ourselves. I utterly reject the allegation that we did not operate appropriate standards when it came to the sale of shares in PowerGen and National Power. As the noble Lord will be aware, this was the subject of a Statement made by my right honourable friend the Financial Secretary to the Treasury only last Friday. As the noble Lord will also be aware, it is the subject of a Question which is to be asked by, I believe, his noble friend Lord Haskel on Thursday of this week. I will address that matter on that occasion.
As my right honourable friend the Financial Secretary made quite clear in his Statement, the Treasury will take the work forward and respond in substance to the Stock Exchange in due course. The Treasury will examine the allegations that have been made. He also went on to say that since the exchange of letters there has been a great deal of misinformed, inaccurate and hysterical comment. He then went on to clarify those particular issues. It would not be right, as I think the noble Lord made clear, for me on this occasion to elaborate or to respond in detail to these points, because they were all dealt with by my right honourable friend the Financial Secretary on that occasion.
As regards the noble Lord's queries about the list of specific exemptions in the second set of regulations, those relating to the Financial Services Act 1986 (Investment Advertisements) (Exemptions) (No. 2) Order 1995, if I may, I would prefer to respond to those in writing with appropriate speed. I hope that those explanations, brief though they are, are satisfactory to the noble Lord and I hope thatI did not hear him say sosince these regulations have been welcomed by practically everyone else and, so far as I know by the Party to which the noble Lord belongs, on this occasion he will welcome these particular regulations.
Lord Eatwell: My Lords, before the Minister sits down, perhaps I should clarify the point I made at the end of my remarks about the explanatory notes. I did not suggest that the Government had not consulted with relevant parties concerning these regulations. I suggested that the explanations which are attached to the measures are inadequate for Parliament to have the opportunity to consider their full import. I really believe that if we are to give proper consideration to complex financial regulations it is incumbent upon Her Majesty's Government, and particularly upon the Treasury, to offer clearer, more extensive and certainly more informative explanatory notes prior to their consideration. Having said that, I agree with the noble Lord that, broadly, these regulations are desirable, subject to the questions that I have asked. I am grateful that the noble Lord will write to me concerning the issue of exemptions. There, I rest my case.
Having said that in my view the explanatory notes are lengthy and quite detailedcompared with past regulations, as the noble Lord will see, at well over a page, they are quite longI will pass the comments on to those who are concerned with these matters. I am sure that they will take note of the noble Lord's point. However, I am sure that someone of the noble Lord's eminence will have had little problem in understanding them. I commend the regulations to the House.