Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page

11 Feb 2009 : Column 1118

Lord Avebury: My Lords, it will indeed be a momentous day for Zimbabwe but do the Government have confidence in the ability of the MDC Ministers to act independently of Mugabe—for example, if Mr Tendai Biti, who has been appointed Minister of Finance, should want to dismiss Gideon Gono, the egregious governor of the central bank? Will we also press for the indictment and prosecution of those who have perpetrated the most inhumane tortures on 30 of the detainees, including 72 year-old Mr Fidelis Chiramba, who had scalding water poured on his genitals?

Lord Davies of Oldham: On the second point, my Lords, I should have thought the Government were right to put our emphasis more on the immediate release of political prisoners and the restoration of human rights in Zimbabwe rather than to emphasise those who might be subject to some legal sanction. We must work constructively at this stage and support the development of normality in Zimbabwe. The noble Lord himself indicated that there is a considerably rocky road to traverse, and the Government cannot pretend at this stage that they have total confidence in every step of the way.

Heritage: Minton Archive


3.25 pm

Asked By Lord Howarth of Newport

Lord Davies of Oldham: My Lords, the Government recognise the importance of this unique archive and are supportive of efforts to see it maintained and displayed in its complete form, preferably in that part of the country with which it has such a close association.

Lord Howarth of Newport: My Lords, does my noble friend agree that the Minton archive is outstandingly important culturally and in terms of our industrial history? Will the Government make clear to Deloitte, the administrator of Waterford Wedgwood, their view that it will be fulfilling its responsibilities appropriately and in the national interest if it ensures that the archive is not dispersed through piecemeal sales, and if it facilitates the archive’s purchase at fair market value by a consortium that intends that it should be kept at the Wedgwood museum, in the Potteries, in expert care and in state-of-the-art conditions alongside the Wedgwood archive?

Lord Davies of Oldham: My Lords, with his customary insight, my noble friend has identified the most desirable development for the archive. There are attendant difficulties, as the administrator has to get the best price possible for the creditors of the company. However, it has already agreed that there should be a market for the archive and that it should be in the care of Bonhams, which is putting a price on it. We must hope that there is a successful bid for the archive that meets exactly the

11 Feb 2009 : Column 1119

considerations my noble friend has identified, particularly that it should remain intact and, if at all possible, remain in the Potteries.

Baroness Trumpington: My Lords—

Lord Redesdale: My Lords—

Baroness Trumpington: My Lords, I am standing my ground. In supporting the questioner, I ask the Minister whether he has visited the very excellent pottery museum in Staffordshire. Surely a section of it could fulfil the job of looking after a representative collection of Minton. If he has not visited that museum, will he jolly well go and look at it, because it is wonderful?

Lord Davies of Oldham: My Lords, the advantage of that testimony is that it has been heard by the whole House, and I think many noble Lords will take that opportunity. The archive is unique; it relates to a company that is at the heart not just of the creation of pottery in Staffordshire but of the very beginnings of the industrial revolution and the pride that we take in Britain having played such a crucial role at that time. It combines successful industry with very high levels of art, and who could ask for more than that?

Lord Redesdale: My Lords, I think it is my turn. The Minister has said that it might have a value, but the value of these archives might well be based upon moneys coming from the Heritage Lottery Fund. This is not going to be the first archive that will have to be bought by that fund. Is the Minister happy that the fund will have enough money to meet this cost? Are we not, through administrators, creating a market that will cause problems for the fund, especially as the fund is under such pressure from the Olympics?

Lord Davies of Oldham: My Lords, I discount the noble Lord’s last point, because the market is pretty wide. He will probably know that some resources in the United States can bid up prices as well as the National Lottery fund and the limited resources that go to the Heritage Lottery Fund. However, we are of course looking at whether a contribution can be made from the National Heritage Memorial Fund. The difficulty is that in the past year it has been under pressure to devote its resources to saving the Titians, which were a substantial cost. There are challenges in providing support in those terms, but the Government are fully seized of the importance of the archive and we want to see it intact and, preferably, in the Potteries.

Lord Low of Dalston: My Lords—

Lord Glentoran: My Lords—

The Minister of State, Department of Energy and Climate Change & Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Lord Hunt of Kings Heath): My Lords, I wonder whether we could let in the noble Lord, Lord Low.

11 Feb 2009 : Column 1120

Lord Low of Dalston: My Lords, does the Minister agree that there is a considerable problem of valuable archives and sets of papers, often of considerable academic value to scholars, being sold and going overseas, which constitutes a considerable loss to the academic profession in this country, and that the Government ought to formulate some rules to restrict the possibility of it happening?

Lord Davies of Oldham: My Lords, that is quite a challenge. The noble Lord will appreciate that the people of this country support the successful defence of significant works of art when there is a danger of their being exported. That happened with the Titians and with the “Madonna of the Pinks”. On the issue in question, a private sale is to be effected with regard to the bankrupt company. The archive is a separate issue. We shall give every support we can to ensuring that the archive stays intact and, as far as possible, is located in the Wedgwood Museum in Barlaston, Stoke.

House of Lords: Conduct of Members


3.33 pm

The Lord President of the Council (Baroness Royall of Blaisdon): My Lords, on 29 January, I made an announcement to the House informing Members of a number of issues in relation to allegations originally made earlier that week by the media about certain Members of this House. I undertook then to keep the House informed of any developments in relation to the allegations. I am now in a position to do so.

It may be helpful to update the House on developments on the referrals which have been made to the police in relation to these and other allegations. I informed the House in my earlier Statement that the Metropolitan Police Service had received a request to consider investigating whether an offence had been committed by certain Members of this House. I told the House that police had considered this request and had decided to review the relevant material to assist them in deciding whether it would be appropriate to carry out an investigation. The police subsequently received a second and similar request from the same source, a Member of the other place, in respect of certain other Members of this House. I have met the Metropolitan Police further on this matter and they have now informed me of their decision not to take their inquiries further. The police will therefore not mount an investigation into these issues or into any Members of this House in relation to the allegations originally made by the Sunday Times newspaper. The police have also considered the issues in relation to other Members of this House which were referred to them by the original complainant. They have decided not to take further any inquiries in relation to the second referral. In both cases, however, the police are making clear that should any further evidence or information become known, they will of course have a duty to review their decision.

I take this opportunity to pay tribute to the Members of this House for the way they have continued with the work of this House during what has unquestionably

11 Feb 2009 : Column 1121

been a very difficult period. Throughout the past few weeks, the work of the House has continued, scrutinising legislation, debating key issues, questioning Ministers and holding the Government to account. For us on all sides of the House, these are our tasks—that is our function and that is our job. I am proud to say of the House that we have continued to do our job and that we will continue to do our job.

I shall of course continue to keep the House informed of developments in relation to these allegations, but I am sure that the House will appreciate that at this point there is nothing further that I can add to this Statement.

Arrangement of Business


3.35 pm

Lord Bassam of Brighton: My Lords, there are 32 speakers in today’s Second Reading of the Borders, Citizenship and Immigration Bill. To allow sufficient time for debate on the Northern Ireland arms decommission order as last business and the Commons amendment to the Banking Bill, I should advise the House that if Back-Bench contributions are kept to eight minutes, we should be able to rise tonight around the target rising time of 10 pm.

Banking Bill

Bill Main Page
Explanatory Notes
Lords Amendments to the Bill

Commons Amendment

3.36 pm

Motion A

Moved by Lord Myners

83A: Page 111, line 25, at end insert the following new Clause-


(1) The Treasury shall prepare reports about any arrangements entered into which involve or may require reliance on section 225(1).

(2) A report must be prepared in respect of-

(a) the period beginning with 1st April 2009 and ending with 30th September 2009, and

(b) each successive period of 6 months;

but no report is required for a period in respect of which there is nothing to record.

(3) The Treasury shall lay each report before the House of Commons as soon as is reasonably practicable.

(4) A report must not-

(a) specify individual arrangements, or

(b) identify, or enable the identification of, individual beneficiaries.

(5) The Treasury must aim to give as much information as possible in a report, subject to subsection (4) and other considerations of public interest.”

11 Feb 2009 : Column 1122

The Financial Services Secretary to the Treasury (Lord Myners): My Lords, we have already debated this subject extensively on Report, so I shall be brief and concentrate on the amendment made in the other place in lieu of the amendment that this House agreed to on Report.

That amendment inserted a new clause to provide for greater transparency in relation to the giving of financial assistance. The clause provided for more rapid detailed reporting of financial assistance to be given to banks, financial institutions and their customers. It also provided for quarterly reporting of expenditure, and of guarantees and similar commitments that might result in expenditure, met with money provided in estimates under the authority of the Consolidated Fund clause in the Bill. The clause also provided for the same reporting arrangements for loans made from the National Loans Fund.

The Government have always been very appreciative of the concerns many people have about transparency and reporting. These are important issues for the whole Bill, not just in relation to public expenditure.

However, it is necessary to balance the desirable objective of transparency against the need for confidentiality in a number of contexts. There will be cases where actions to tackle a financial crisis, taken under the Bill or otherwise, can only be effective if it can be kept confidential.

These were precisely the concerns when the news about Northern Rock first broke. If the recipient firm were a listed company, would the provision of financial assistance by the Bank of England have to be disclosed under the FSA rules? Was it possible to work out that support had been given using the weekly Bank of England return? The clause that removes the obligation on the Bank of England to produce a weekly return was included precisely because of those concerns.

Therefore, the Government have always considered that there had to be a balance between the need for transparency and the need to protect confidentiality where it is clearly in the public interest to do so. We were concerned that the amendment made in this House did not quite get the balance right. We felt that there was too big a risk that it could be possible to identify the beneficiaries of financial assistance under some schemes, or speculate on the amounts that they could receive, and that there were risks of damaging speculation about the identity of the institutions concerned, which could be bad for confidence and even lead to the kind of situation we are all trying hard to avoid. I recognise, of course, that many noble Lords were also concerned about this issue, and that was reflected in the amendment which was approved at Report. The new clause allowed the Treasury some leeway to delay the disclosure when it is in the public interest to do so, for as long as that remains the case. However, the Government foresaw a risk that we might have to rely on that provision too often, which is potentially not only bad for transparency but could itself be a cause of the destabilising and damaging speculation of the kind we want to avoid. The Government were very aware of the strength of feeling in this

11 Feb 2009 : Column 1123

House on the subject of transparency. We looked very hard at how we could provide more transparency and better reporting while minimising the risks to financial stability and market confidence.

As a result, my honourable friend the Economic Secretary tabled an amendment in lieu in the other place which was agreed to there yesterday and is now before us today. This amendment is different in some respects from the amendment made here at Report but I believe that it respects the spirit of this House’s amendment and meets the concerns I have explained. First, the amendment provides that the reports should be half-yearly rather than quarterly. In itself, this should significantly reduce the risk of identification since expenditure incurred or guarantees given over a longer period will be covered in only one report.

Secondly, the amendment will require the Treasury to ensure that individual recipients, and the amounts they had been paid or guaranteed, cannot be identified. This will usually mean aggregation. We expect that, in practice, each scheme would be reported on separately, but that, if necessary, data on schemes could be aggregated up to the level of the sponsoring department. We believe that this is line with the intention of the amendment made here but makes improvements in clarity and technical effect.

There are also some smaller points. The amendment also provides that the reports should not include the loans made from the National Loans Fund. Your Lordships will recall that the government amendment made here at Report provided for loans from the National Loans Fund, which can only be made when needed urgently to protect financial stability, subject to an ad hoc reporting procedure similar to that provided when money is taken directly from the Consolidated Fund in urgent cases. But there is no mechanism analogous to Estimates for approving loans from the National Loans Fund so there is no need to include them in any regular reports. Of course, these loans will be included in the annual accounts of the National Loans Fund in the normal way.

Finally, the amendment provides for reports to be laid only before the House of Commons. When these reports are published, copies will be available to your Lordships in the normal way. I hope your Lordships will agree that this amendment strikes the right balance between the objective of transparency and the need for the appropriate level of confidentiality. Accordingly, I beg to move that this House do agree with the amendment made in the other place.

Baroness Noakes: My Lords, I thank the Minister for introducing the amendment in lieu of Lords Amendment 83. The Minister referred to the strength of opinion in the House, which was demonstrated when we divided on the issue. I am glad that the Government have again listened and that they have taken the principle of transparency to heart. A six-monthly report which omits all information in respect of expenditure prior to 1 April this year, and does not produce its first report until after 30 September this year, is disappointing. We have become accustomed to receiving half loaves as we have completed this Bill, and I am afraid that at best we again get a half loaf.

11 Feb 2009 : Column 1124

I hope that the Treasury will surprise us when it produces its first report by being so open and transparent that what I have just referred to will not be missed. On that basis, we welcome the amendment in lieu.

Lord Oakeshott of Seagrove Bay: My Lords, this is a broadly sensible compromise in our view. The Member for Fareham put it very well yesterday from the Opposition Front Bench. He said:

“When Lords amendment 83 was debated in the Lords, there was significant support from the Liberal Democrats, the Conservatives and a number of Cross Benchers. The majority of 35 in the vote on it demonstrated the strength of feeling about the welcome move to increase transparency”.—[Official Report, Commons, 10/2/08; col. 1286.]

I echo those words. I have two questions. In reply, the Minister referred to the consultation which the noble Lord, Lord Myners, is taking on and which will replace weekly reporting from the Bank of England. Can the noble Lord tell us any more about when he expects that consultation to be concluded?

Secondly, I notice that our amendment asked for the reports to be laid before both Houses of Parliament, whereas the amendment we are now being asked to support proposes that the Treasury,

What is the reason for that change?

We are always up for a vigorous game of ping-pong when the time is right, but this is not the time or the issue.

3.45 pm

Lord Forsyth of Drumlean: My Lords, I wonder whether the Minister recognises just how slightly comical he looks making the argument for confidentiality in respect of this kind of information. As I understand it, an inquiry into how the information regarding Northern Rock, the Royal Bank of Scotland and the other banks which were in discussions with the Treasury got into the hands of Robert Peston and was broadcast on the BBC has still not been instituted by the Government. Nor has there been any response to the complaints from directors of financial institutions that they find out more about what is going on in respect of their institutions by reading Robert Peston’s blog on the BBC website than by entering into a dialogue with the Treasury. Given that in the other place the Government have chosen to resist my noble friend’s very sensible amendment and have come back with what she has generously described as half a loaf, it really is quite extraordinary that if the Government are standing on this principle of the importance, which I accept, of maintaining confidentiality in these matters, they have done so little to deal with the breaches of confidentiality that have occurred in the Treasury or within the government service as a whole and which did enormous damage.

Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page