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Lord Rooker: My Lords, the licences were only ever available at Crown offices. The sub-post offices did not deal with this. The Post Office in England and Wales has no provision for game licences. It does not
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Lord Forsyth of Drumlean: My Lords, would the Minister continue with his successful run in abolishing licences that are ridiculously expensive to collect and extend his activity to getting rid of fishing licences in England? In Scotland, there is no requirement for such licences.
Lord Rooker: My Lords, funnily enough, I asked officials at the wildlife unit in Bristol yesterday why the licences were issued in the first place, as their abolition had had no effect on all these issues of food safety and gun safety. I was told that back in the 19th centuryI have to be careful with this in your Lordships House, where I speak as a peasantthe original import of the licence, in 1831, was to stop the peasants shooting pheasants. Six pounds was a lot of moneyabout £1,600 at 2005 prices. So the licences were issued to stop the working class having a decent day out.
The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Lord Malloch-Brown): My Lords, protecting civilians in Darfur is the core of UNAMIDs mandate. We are working to make UNAMID effective by providing practical assistance to troop contributors and by lobbying to fill gaps. We are also pressing the Sudanese Government to co-operate fully on UNAMIDs deployment, most recently in my own talks with President al-Bashir during my visit to Sudan and the AU summit in January. Through the EU the UK supports EUFOR to protect civilians in Chad.
Baroness Williams of Crosby: My Lords, I appreciate the Ministers very welcome efforts in this field. However, is he aware that earlier this week the displaced persons camp at Aro Sharow was bombed; that a United Nations convoy carrying humanitarian aid was bombed, certainly with the knowledge and possibly the connivance
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Lord Malloch-Brown: My Lords, I had the opportunity to meet the UN Secretary-General, Ban Ki-Moon, last Friday in New York to discuss that very point. There has been a dangerous flare-up in violence in western Chad as a result of the incursions against Chadwhich do show all evidence of having been supported by the Government of Sudan. That in turn has prompted the fighting in western Darfur to which the noble Baroness refers. We are watching the situation closely. It is a setback for our objectives in Darfur.
Lord Howell of Guildford: My Lords, will the Minister comment on the position of the Chinese in the Darfur tragedy, given that Darfur refugees and others are being bombed by aircraft from Khartoum? Although I am totally against the idea of linking politics to the Beijing Olympic Games, or anything like that, is it not a fact that China has now invested about $18 billion in developments in support of the Khartoum Government, and is expecting to get 6 billion barrels of oil reserves out of Sudan? It has a major interest in this area. Could we not urge it, not simply by rhetoric but by really forceful suggestions and proposals, to take a more responsible role in trying to halt the actions of the Khartoum Government in their persistent persecution and bombing of refugees and villages in Darfur?
Lord Malloch-Brown: My Lords, I completely agree with the noble Lord. Because of its economic influence in Khartoum, China is an indispensable political player in finding a solution. I am pleased to be able to inform him that I am hosting a working dinner tonight with Chinas special representative for Africa and for Darfur. He has come to London at our invitation, as a follow-up to the Prime Minister making a proposal like the one I had made earlier to the Chinese leadership when both of us in turn were in Beijing. The whole objective tonight is to try to concert policy around exactly the kind of objectives that the noble Lord has in mind.
Lord Avebury: My Lords, when the Minister met President al-Bashir, did the President give any reasons for the repeated and deliberate obstruction of UNAMIDs operations, including not only the fresh, large-scale attacks in west Darfur, but the prohibition of landing rights for heavy aircraft, the prohibition of the construction of a helicopter base and the use of helicopters, and the blocking of UNAMIDs acquisition of land for its headquarters at El Fasher? There is a whole long list of deliberate and repeated acts of obstruction of UNAMID which I hope the Minister was able to discuss with President al-Bashir. Did he get to the bottom of the reasons why they are being so obstructive?
Lord Malloch-Brown: My Lords, the noble Lord raises enormously important issues. I did indeed raise the issue of these delays with President al-Bashir, as I did with a number of other Sudanese officials in Khartoum. Behind each of the specific issues lies the broader issue of Sudanese distrust of UNAMIDs real purpose, around which they entertain some very disconcerting and inaccurate conspiracy theories. We seek to disabuse them of these through intense diplomatic engagement, and if it is of any comfort to the noble Lord, I should say that at the same time as I met with President al-Bashir, the President agreed in parallel meetings with the UN Secretary-General and the head of peacekeeping to the status of force agreement with the UN; to the deployment of various non-African troopsan agreement that had previously been resisted; and to other steps that suggest that this is a little like a snakes and ladders board: we keep having setbacks, but we also make some progress up some ladders.
Lord Steel of Aikwood: My Lords, can the Minister tell the House whether the UN force is still short of some 18 helicopters, as the UN Secretary-General suggested? Are efforts still being made to get these to the force? Secondly, when I was in Darfur two months ago, one of the senior African officers said that they were gravely hampered by the no-fly requirement after 6 oclock at night. If they are to protect the population, they need to be able to operate in the evenings.
Lord Malloch-Brown: My Lords, I think that all of us in this House share the noble Lords frustration about the helicopters, and the pressure that has come from this House has been enormously helpful in maintaining our own intense lobbying effort as a Government on this point. There have been some modest but important results. There is now a small group of Ethiopian helicopters, which have been committed and meet UN standards. The UN has extensively recruited and leased commercial helicopters, and we now have some reasonable prospect of two other countries adding their helicopters to the force; so we are moving ahead. There are still constraints on flying, from the Sudanese but also from the helicopter owners for insurance purposes. We continue to work our way through this. We have jointly with the Department of Peacekeeping Operations in New York called two meetings in recent weeks to try to solve these problems.
Baroness Royall of Blaisdon: My Lords, the next item of business will be the Committee stage of the Banking (Special Provisions) Bill. After completion of that stage, my noble friend Lord Malloch-Brown will repeat a Statement on Terrorist Suspects (Renditions). If necessary, the House will then adjourn during pleasure, and we will then come on to the Report stage of the banking Bill. If time allows,
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The noble Lord said: This amendment sums up many of my concerns with this Bill and at the approach that the Government have taken to the nationalisation of Northern Rock. The Government have indicated that it is their intention to nationalise Northern Rock as soon as may be possible. To that end, they have limited debate on this Bill to three days across both Houses of Parliament and have already drafted the order under Clause 3 that will kick-start the proceedings. It is, therefore, inconceivable that anything the expiry of the sunset clause would prevent occurring could not be completed in a matter of days after this Bill receives Royal Assent.
I have tabled this amendment to reduce the limit of the sunset clause from one year to one month. With the best will in the world, I can imagine no possible scenario where the order to nationalise Northern Rock, made under Clause 3 would take more than a month to be made. There is also no possibility that my amendment would make it possible for the Bill to trigger hybrid procedures, and so slow the proceedings down unacceptably. My amendment would prevent the future nationalisation of any other bank or building society under this legislation. This should not be a difficult limitation for the Government to accept, as they have repeatedly stated that they have no intention of nationalising any other financial institution, and have deliberately drafted the requirements in Clause 2(2) to be so high that it is apparently inconceivable that another financial institution will trigger them.
If that is the case, there is no benefit to be gained by keeping these extra 11 months. There are, however, clear costs. As your Lordships made it so clear yesterday, this Bill does great harm to the reputation abroad of the United Kingdoms financial systems. For the Government to maintain a long-standing power to step in and nationalise any financial institution is an enormously destabilising situation. What sort of confidence does it show in the robustness of our financial systems if the Government cannot restrain themselves from holding these enormous powers over the heads of banks and building societies for a whole year? Added to that, we have identified a very real threat from hedge funds and large global speculative investors who will be able to sell a bank or building society short, deliberately take action to destabilise it sufficiently to worry the Treasury and then sit back and watch their profits come rolling in as the Government move in to nationalise.
The Bill would cause exactly the sort of instability that the Government seek to avoid. I urge the Minister to resist the temptation to keep these powers for such a dangerously long time, as the Government propose. Even in the worst possible scenario imaginablethat of another financial institution needing to be nationalisedthe proceedings for this Bill have shown just how necessary the role of Parliament is and how speedily such a role can be played. It is not only possible, it is desirable, that Parliament be given its chance to assess the need for every single nationalisation that the Government might wish to carry out.
Lord Eatwell: I am following the noble Lord with interest. Could he explain why the nationalisation of Johnson Matthey bank in 1984 by his noble friend Lord Lawson did not lead to the calamitous circumstances subsequently that he is describing in this case?
As with Amendment No. 1, Amendment No. 2 seeks better answers than we have had so far on why the Government have drawn this Bill so widely. I understand that this Bill cannot be targeted solely at Northern Rock in order to avoid a hybrid procedure but surely the scope does not need to be extended this widely.
In the debates in another place on this amendment, the Liberal Democrats took the view that building societies should be included on the grounds that they should be on an equal footing with banks. I remind them that this Bill is not the banking reform Bill we expect to receive following the conclusion of the Governments current consultation. This is an emergency Bill to address the crisis surrounding Northern Rock. The merits of putting banks and building societies on an equal footing should be given a proper time for consultation and parliamentary scrutiny, and changes should be made via normal legislation. Proposals such as these should not be rushed through on the back of exceptional circumstances.
The debate in another place was also unusual for the Exchequer Secretary to the Treasurys response She, unusually among her colleaguesalthough the Minister made moves to join her in his winding-up speech last nightmade it clear that these provisions were a precautionary measure; that they were not included to avoid hybridity; that they were instead powers that she could contemplate using. To that I can respond only with what I said to my previous amendment: I find it deeply disturbing that the Government can conceive of another crisis occurring within the financial system of a sufficient magnitude to trigger the provisions that allow another nationalisation, without considering it desirable for Parliaments approval to be sought for that step to be taken. I most sincerely hope that the Minister will think again about the wisdom of awarding the Government such extensive powers. I beg to move.
Lord Forsyth of Drumlean: I very much support my noble friend in this amendment. I was extremely disappointed by the Ministers response at Second Reading yesterday. Before he sat down, I was almost tempted to ask him if he would answer all the questions raised in the debate. Not a single question put in the debate by Members of this House was answered. A key question was asked repeatedly by a number of noble Lords: what was the reason for the urgency for rushing this legislation through the House? We have had no explanation, and it stands in stark contrast: if the powers are needed urgently, and if we can have only three days to debate this very comprehensive and extensive Bill, why do the Government need a year to use the powers being granted in such haste?
We need some clarity. A certain unsettling is occurring because of the lack of clarity on the part of Ministers. Do they expect another crisis somewhere else in the banking system? Do they know something that we do not? Some people might imply that that is behind the answers that we received from the Minister yesterday, when he implied that there might be some requirement to do it for another institution. That is deeply destabilising. I see nothing on the horizon to that effect. If Ministers think that they should come clean with the House and tell us so. Or do the Government need 12 months because the Prime Minister cannot make up his mind about anything and it might take him another five months to work out how the provisions should be implemented?
These are extensive powers. They give the Government the ability to set aside the tax law and the rule of law in respect of particular institutions that they may or may not wish to take into public ownership. My noble friend is right: if we are to have such draconian powers whisked through without any proper and detailed scrutiny and without the Executive having the decency to respond to the legitimate questions that are raised in this House, it is essential that they are contained within a short window of time.
I note from the charade that we saw yesterday over the position of Granite and the coverage in the press this morning that both the Minister in this Chamber and the Minister in the other place clearly did not know what were the circumstances surrounding these special-purpose vehicles. I have the gravest concern that we may be embarking on the process and that the Government may want 12 months because, despite having had five months and spending more than £100 million on advice, they have not carried out the necessary due diligence. I find it scandalous. Anyone buying any organisation or company would know the price, would have carried out the due diligence, would have a business plan and a plan for the future. I hope that a year is not required for the Government to do their homework which they should have done before they embarked on the process.
If the Government are organised, if they have done their homework, if they know what they are doing, if they are ready to act and if they require urgent legislation and an immediate response, there is no case whateverother than believing that some other institution is at riskfor having those powers beyond the month that my noble friend suggested in his excellent amendment.
Lord Newby: Among many other things, the Northern Rock debacle has demonstrated that there are gaps in the regulatory framework. That is why we have this Bill, but also why we are expecting a permanent Bill from the Government to amend the way in which the tripartite arrangement works and new powers to deal with situations such as we have seen with Northern Rock. We understand that that Bill will be introduced in May, which means that it will be through Parliament and on the statute book by the middle of the autumn, probably in October.
The noble Lord, Lord Forsyth, asked the Government to say which institutions they feared might require to be brought under public ownership for the same reasons as Northern Rock in the interim period between today and the new Bill being on the statute book. That question does not need a specific answer. However, this is a time of financial instability when some serious commentators have clear worries about stability here and elsewhere. The Government have been forced to bring in a piece of legislation and to say that they did so to deal with Northern Rock alone. The legislation goes off the statute book in a month and if in six months another bank or building society finds itself in difficulties, we will have to start all over again, possibly in the middle of a Recess, trying to deal with the issue in the absence of any legislative cover. That is not a responsible attitude. It is not to say that we think a bank or building society will go bust, but that there is a reserve power if a problem arises.
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