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Lord Peston: My Lords, I hope that my noble friend is not taken in by all the flattering remarks that the Opposition are making about him. I certainly have no intention of associating myself with all those kind remarks. It seems to me that the Opposition are now learning that it is a tough job being in opposition. When they have spent as many years on the Opposition Benches as I did, they will realise how difficult it is to scrutinise technical Bills.
This is a difficult Bill. But, in a way, the Government cannot win. They are trying to improve it. We made the terrible error of having this Committee stage in the Chamber of the House rather than proceeding with it in the Moses Room, which is much more suitable for such technical matters. But, as I understand it, the Opposition did not want us to deal with it in a much more professional way in the Moses Room.
I have seen the difficult amendments to which reference has been made. They are technical; indeed, I have yet to see anything from the Government's side that suggests a fundamental change in policy. It was not clear from the remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Saatchi, whether he feels that there has been a change of policy at some point. I have seen no evidence to support that view. I have seen adjustments because, quite rightly, the Government are thinking matters through. The alternative--this shows that they can never win--would be for the Government to decide not to think it all through in order to get it right. However, they would then be told off for that reason.
Having thoroughly enjoyed the debate of the past quarter of an hour--indeed, it is rather more interesting that the Bill itself--I feel that we ought to get down to business and actually look at some of the incredibly boring material that is set out on the Marshalled List for today.
Lord Harris of Greenwich: My Lords, I hope that I may say a few words on this matter. I can recall, as I think the noble Lord, Lord Peston, can, precisely the same kind of complaint being made when the Labour Party was in opposition as is now being made by the noble Lord, Lord Saatchi, and his noble friends. That is to some extent inevitable although I think that the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, should take the complaints seriously, as I hope that he will. However, the thing which worries me--which was referred to by my noble friend Lord Newby--is the number of starred amendments. This really is highly objectionable; it means that they were tabled on Friday. Many Members of the House looked at both Government and Opposition amendments for the first time this morning. That is most unsatisfactory.
Lord Barnett: My Lords, I shall try to be as civil and courteous as the noble Lord, Lord Peyton, and my noble friend always are. I read in the press this morning--I do not know whether this is true--that the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, the Leader of the Opposition, now has it in mind to make matters extremely difficult for the Government in your Lordships' House. The noble Lord is shaking his head; I am delighted that the report is untrue. However, I am not sure whether he nodded or shook his head; he did both!
However, as has been said, the Bill is complex. It is non-party political in any sense. Indeed, the Official Opposition have made it clear that they support the Bill. However, when a Bill is as complex as the one before us it is not too surprising that the Government should table amendments to it. Indeed, if they had not tabled amendments, I should have thought that the Opposition would be rather annoyed about that. But to take to a vote an amendment with which they broadly agree as a form of protest is rather silly. I would not have expected the noble Lord, Lord Saatchi, to associate himself with that kind of nonsense.
My noble friend Lord Peston was absolutely right to say that a Bill as complex as the one before us should be discussed in Committee off the Floor of the House, as in another place, and then returned to the Floor of the House on Report. To discuss these kind of technical matters at Committee stage on the Floor of the House seems to me to be quite wrong.
Lord Lyell: My Lords, will the noble Lord who is to reply on behalf of the Government cast his mind back 23 years? He need look only at the noble Lord, Lord Strabolgi, who is seated one row behind him. The noble Lord, Lord Harris of Greenwich, may also remember that in 1977 I had the honour of attempting to work out, with the valuable help of the government Front Bench of that time and of my noble friend Lord Belstead, the then Patents Bill. There were 650 government amendments for amateurs such as myself and my noble friend Lord Belstead to consider between Second Reading and Committee stages. I tactfully remind the noble Lord, Lord Peston, that the then government successfully got their business through. The noble Lord, Lord Barnett, will remember those days well. Those were technical and professional amendments. The House discussed them until late at night but the then government got their business through. If the noble Lord, Lord Peston, wants to go over the ball, he will find someone here who can do it too.
Lord Clinton-Davis: My Lords, I was the Minister in charge of the then Patents Bill. There were so many amendments because representations were specifically made by people who were technically expert in the patents profession. That is the reason for the number of amendments that were tabled. I cannot remember whether there were 550 or 650, but certainly there was a large number. They were tabled because technical experts made representations to the then government which received a positive response.
Lord Lipsey: My Lords, unlike the noble Lord, Lord Peston, I have not had the experience of 17 years in opposition. Therefore I perhaps have more sympathy with the Opposition than he does. I would have much more sympathy if they had not decided on the stunt of pressing the amendment to a vote. The Government's dilemma is absolute. Every day that we do not have this Bill, the present, rather ramshackle system--I speak as a board member of one of the SROs--has to trundle on. The sooner we get the Bill, the better. We could have the amendments in better shape in two or three months' time, but the ramshackle system would have to continue for another two to three months. It is sad but inevitable that we have ended up as we have.
Lord Hunt of Wirral: My Lords, in agreeing with my noble friend Lord Saatchi, I respond to a number of points that have been made by the noble Lords, Lord Barnett and Lord Peston. First, it is not the fact that the Government seek to improve the Bill that is at fault, but that they should try to do that while at the same time debating parts of the Bill that they already admit need further amendment. The answer surely therefore is to allow more time for the Committee stage. That is, of course, an option very much up to the Government.
Secondly, I say to the noble Lord who spoke from the Liberal Democrat Benches that the first amendment concerns Clause 129. It is apposite to oppose any amendment to Clause 129. Here I pay tribute to the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh. When I raised the need for further amendment to Clause 129, the noble Lord conceded that there might be a case for doing so and invited me to a meeting to discuss it. This morning staff from his office contacted me and sought to arrange that meeting. I believe that Clause 129 needs further amendment. It is a good moment to reflect on whether we should seek to amend it further before it is in its final form.
Rather than seek to point up the historical significance of opposition and government performance in the past, will the Minister continue with his positive and constructive attitude of inviting noble Lords to discuss parts of the Bill, take his foot off the accelerator and give us time to ensure that we get the Bill right, as the noble Lord, Lord Barnett, said? It affects the competitiveness of one of our most important areas of the economy; namely, the City, the insurance market, banking and financial services. It is vital that we get it right; that is why I so strongly support my noble friend Lord Saatchi.
Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, I do not know how clear it will be to those who are relatively new to this House how familiar I am with the arguments that have been put forward from the Opposition Benches. I put them forward from the Opposition Benches over a period of 14 years before the previous general election. However, I must confess that before doing so I usually thought that it was proper to give the then government notice of that, which did not occur in this case. However, I say that with all the mildness at my command.
Of course the Bill is immensely complicated. It is inevitably immensely complicated because it deals with immensely complicated markets which change from day to day. It is for that reason that the Bill tries not to be unduly prescriptive about the coverage of the regulation system of financial markets. It seeks to provide the flexibility which protects not only the financial markets themselves but--this is equally, if not more, important--also the people who use those financial markets; the consumers of financial products and investments. That results, inevitably, in this being a complicated Bill. The procedure which was adopted in the months and years preceding the arrival of the Bill in your Lordships' House is unprecedented in being the subject of a report by the Treasury Select Committee in another place and in being scrutinised by a Joint Committee of both Houses. It is unprecedented in the sense that a draft Bill was produced following the Joint Committee and the Government's response to the Joint Committee--and yet the natural and inherent complexity of the subject has still made it necessary to have further amendments. That is inevitable.
If anything has changed during the past week or so, it has not been that the Government have tabled more amendments. On the contrary, the Government have managed to concentrate their amending obligations so that the number of amendments to be tabled is substantially fewer than the 500 or 600 of which I gave notice at Second Reading.
What has given rise to some of the indignation--which I do not deny is understandable--is that, in describing what the amendments would be about, I have given as much notice as I conceivably can in advance of the amendments, at the time of the amendments and subsequently. In other words, I have been flooding noble Lords opposite and my noble friends with explanatory material about the amendments. I hope that those who have received that material will recognise that we are improving the Bill but not fundamentally or significantly changing its policies; we are reflecting the inevitable complexity of the subject matter.
Of course I apologise to noble Lords for their difficulties in understanding the Bill and the changes being made. As my noble friends have pointed out, those difficulties are paralleled by the very late stage at which opposition amendments have been tabled. That has meant that some of us have had considerable difficulty in dealing with them over the past weekends. We are not used to dealing with
We have to do what we have to do in order to obtain the best Bill. Many of the government amendments are entirely positive in the sense that they reflect our reconsideration of points made by the Opposition and others during the passage of the Bill; they may be entirely neutral in the sense that they are purely drafting amendments which need not detain the House or the Committee; and some of them involve not a change of policy but a rethink of the way in which that policy may best be achieved.
We appreciate the difficulties involved. We do not believe this is unprecedented--and we certainly do not believe that it justifies the price to be exacted in the form of a vote in Committee today against the first amendment, which the Opposition may well support on its merits.
As my noble friend the Leader of the House is ready to repeat the Statement made in another place, it may be as well if I seek leave to withdraw the Motion that the House resolve itself into Committee on the basis that I shall reintroduce it after the debate on the Statement. I beg leave to withdraw the Motion standing in my name.