Committed to Committee
That (a) the following provisions of the Financial Services Bill be committed to a Committee of the Whole House—
(i) Clauses 1 to 4 (the Bank of England);
(ii) Clause 5 (the new regulators);
(iii) Schedules 1 to 3 (Schedules relating to the Bank of England and the new regulators); and
(b) the remainder of the bill be committed to a Grand Committee.
My Lords, on behalf of my noble friend I rise, unusually, to move this Motion. Perhaps I may give the House some explanation of the Motion.
As the House will know, last Monday night my noble friend Lord Sassoon invited the House to commit the Financial Services Bill to Grand Committee for its Committee stage. A group of Peers, some of whom had played no part in Second Reading, that night raised objections. In the face of those concerns my noble friend Lord Sassoon rightly withdrew his Motion even though it had the support of both the Government and the Opposition. In discussions in the usual channels preceding the Second Reading debate the Government had suggested that it would be appropriate to send the Financial Services Bill to Grand Committee for its Committee stage, building on the success of the Grand Committee that considered the Budget Responsibility and National Audit Bill in Committee last Session. Unlike that Bill, the Financial Services Bill has received pre-legislative scrutiny. It has also been through all its Commons stages, including a Committee stage off the Floor of the House.
The proposal to commit the Bill to Grand Committee was put to the Opposition and secured their full support. In the usual way, dates had been fixed for each day of Committee in the Moses Room, with the agreement of the noble Lord, Lord Eatwell, the opposition shadow Treasury Minister. On Tuesday we resumed discussions in the usual channels to see if we could reach an agreement, and the Motion today reflects a compromise which was put forward.
We propose to commit the clauses in the Bill relating to the Bank of England and the new regulators to a Committee of the whole House for three days and the remainder of the Bill to the Grand Committee for perhaps a further seven sessions, as previously agreed. The Motion for split commitment is a compromise that seeks to dispel the unease which was expressed last Monday by taking the most high-profile parts of the Bill on the Floor of the House. However, it also reflects representations from other Peers around the House who over the course of last week expressed their wish to see the whole Bill continue to be committed to Grand Committee.
It was the Opposition who suggested that we explore split commitment, and on that basis we put this proposal to them last Tuesday. Last Wednesday morning I myself put it to the noble Baroness the Leader of the Opposition. Late on Wednesday, however, we learnt not only that our original usual-channels agreement had been revoked but that the Opposition had also chosen to reject the compromise without explanation. This morning the Opposition found an explanation—that a report from the Treasury Select Committee of the House of Commons had changed its view. It is unfortunate that they did not choose to reveal that view either in the course of the Second Reading debate last week or in the course of the usual-channels discussions that followed. In any event, it is a curious argument given that the Treasury Select Committee’s core recommendations concern Bank of England governance and the objectives and powers of the new regulators—both of which are covered by the very clauses that we propose in the Motion before the House today to commit to the Floor of the House.
In these unfortunate circumstances, and where usual-channels agreement has not been forthcoming, I believe that it is right for the House itself to decide the fate of the Motion before us today. However, we need to take the decision with some perspective. Three Parliaments ago, on the initiative of my great predecessor from the Benches opposite, the late Lord Williams of Mostyn, we agreed to make more use of Grand Committee in return for introducing rising times at 10 pm, with the aim of reducing the need to scrutinise legislation long into the night. If the House does not support the Motion we will have more Bills competing for time on the Floor and there will inevitably be repercussions. We would need to sit later into the night to conduct our scrutiny after 10 o’clock and we may need to return even earlier from our Summer Recess.
I know that noble Lords opposite are quite keen on that. Reversing the decade-long practice of sending a reasonable proportion of Bills to Grand Committee is not compatible with retaining our current sitting patterns.
Curiously, I have heard it said that the objections raised to the commitment of the Bill have nothing to do with financial services regulation and everything to do with proposals for reform of this House. I have heard it said that the reason for committing the Bill to Grand Committee is to allow the Government to clear the decks for House of Lords reform. Let me speak plainly. To date, the Government have not introduced a reform Bill. Ministers are doing exactly what this House asked them to do: we are reflecting on the report of the Joint Committee, the alternative report and the debates that we had at the end of the previous Session and the start of this one. This House has an enviable reputation for rolling up its sleeves and getting on with the job of scrutinising legislation—we trade on it. It would be both wrong, and even counterproductive, to put that reputation at risk at just the moment when we are under intense scrutiny, when the House should be showing off its work and expertise at its best.
Furthermore, where we choose to commit this Bill has no impact whatever on whether the Government bring forward a Bill to reform this House. Nor would it affect the passage of such a Bill through Parliament. If a Bill were introduced in the House of Commons in the next few weeks, it would not reach this House for many months. Failing to commit at least part of this Bill to Grand Committee would serve only to delay Royal Assent to a piece of legislation that is of great significance to the financial services industry and our economy as a whole. Disrupting our normal sitting patterns would inconvenience not only us but, importantly, the staff who support us in our work. That is the crossroads at which we have arrived.
I hope that I have set out the options clearly and fairly and trust that the House will weigh the arguments carefully. I invite the House to support the Motion to commit part of the Financial Services Bill to a Committee of the whole House and part to Grand Committee. In concluding, I very much hope that the noble Baroness, Lady Royall of Blaisdon, will consider the position that she has got us into with great care.
My Lords, I have been on a pretty steep learning curve about the procedures of the House since last Monday. When the Motion to put the whole Committee stage of the Financial Services Bill into Grand Committee was withdrawn I imagined that the will of the House would be respected, that that would be the last we heard of it and that there would be no question of our now having to talk about some compromise on all this—namely that the Bill should be split, with some of it debated in Grand Committee and some on the Floor of the House.
Therefore, I talked to the Clerk of the Parliaments about it, realising that perhaps I did not totally understand. He explained that when the Government withdrew the Motion, it did not mean that they could not bring back another. I said, “What should I have done about the Motion that was put down originally?”. The Clerk said that that Motion should have been amended; it could have been amended at the last minute by a manuscript amendment, but he said that that was not much approved of in this House. However, I am afraid that that is what I have been forced to do today for the simple reason that the Motion was tabled on Friday, when the House was not even sitting. There has been no opportunity to table a proper amendment to it; it has to be a manuscript amendment. I apologise to the House for that but I did not see that I had an alternative.
I reiterate: we are talking about the Financial Services Bill. It is a major piece of legislation which has been drafted to reorganise our financial institutions completely and regulate them properly. I do not think that the people of this country would understand it if we were to put any part of this Bill in Grand Committee. This extremely important legislation needs very serious consideration by your Lordships. As well as that, this Bill brings out the best of your Lordships’ House. There is a tremendous amount of expertise here which needs to be brought to the fore. That can be done much better if the whole of Committee stage is debated on the Floor of the House.
I ask the House to consider seriously whether any of this Bill should be committed to a Grand Committee. As a noble friend said to me earlier, if we do not discuss the Committee stage of the Bill on the Floor of the House, which other Bills will we consider on the Floor of the House? It seems that the Government have a desire to put everything into Grand Committee. It is for us to stand up against that and say, “No, we want the whole of this very important Bill to be considered on the Floor of the House”. I hope that the House will support my amendment.
My Lords, we have before us a very important matter. As the noble Lord, Lord Hamilton, has said, how we regulate our financial services and the financial services sector is vital to economic and financial stability. What our banks do and how they do it is important for the prospects for growth and employment in this country.
We on these Benches had not seen the terms of these Motions before today and we certainly had not agreed to them in the usual channels. I had a private meeting with the Leader of the House on Wednesday morning at which we discussed this matter and I told him in all honesty that I could not agree to the terms of the Motion, that I needed to have further consultations and discussions with my colleagues and that I would come back to him and the usual channels in due course. That I did first thing on Thursday morning, since when we have heard nothing about the Motion before us today. As for the Opposition’s role on this Bill within the usual channels, I wrote to the Leader of the House this morning, once we had seen the terms of the Motion before us. I would be happy to provide noble Lords with a copy of that letter.
My concern, much more than accusations from the Leader and the ins-and-outs of the usual channels, is what Members of this House want. When the Government tried to put the whole of the Bill in Grand Committee a week ago today I thought that the statements made by Members from across the whole of this House made clear what the majority of them wanted. At a very late hour, during that debate on the Floor of this Chamber, Members made it abundantly clear that they wanted the whole of the Bill to be considered by a Committee of the whole House. What Members of the House were telling the Government was clear.
Last Tuesday I had discussions with the Government about splitting the Bill and taking some parts on the Floor of the House and some in Grand Committee. I could see some merit in that approach, which is why we were prepared to consider it constructively in discussions within the usual channels. Yes we discussed it, but no we did not agree on it—precisely because I had to have discussions with my colleagues on the Benches behind me, which is the right and proper thing to do. In any case, we would not have agreed to the split that the Government now propose. Neither would we have agreed to only three days in a Committee of the whole House. We do not think that that split works. We also think that it was wrong not to include Part 4, on the mechanisms to deal with current issues, for consideration by a Committee of the whole House.
This House is self-regulating and on matters such as this it is for this House, and this House alone, to decide what it wishes to do. From our soundings, most Members on the Benches behind me want the Bill to be considered by a Committee of the whole House, which is what I believe many Members from all across the House want to see. That is precisely what the amendment in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Hamilton of Epsom, proposes.
I therefore look forward to this House, not the Government, deciding what it wants to do. From these Benches, we do not believe that the Government’s proposal is the right approach. We believe that the House should reject it and accept the amendment proposed by the noble Lord, Lord Hamilton. I hope that the Government will listen to the House when it makes its decision today.
My Lords, in the light of the assurances made by the Leader of the House on the Motion, I am genuinely puzzled as to why it is being brought forward. He has told us that it has nothing whatever to do with the decks being cleared for a House of Lords Bill. If that is the case, I simply do not know why the Government are so anxious to put preferably the whole of the Bill and at worst a significant part of the Bill into Grand Committee. I remind the Leader and the House that it is a pretty rare procedure in this House—less so in the other House—to split Bills between Grand Committee and the Floor of the House. Frankly, it is done for the best reasons, as I have said on occasions in the past, when the Government are under tremendous pressure of time.
Believe it or not, I have some sympathy with the Government when they claim that they are under tremendous time constraints. However, this simply will not wash in the current Session, when we have the smallest number of Bills and the lightest legislative programme of any Session in recent political history—certainly lighter than at any stage for the last 20 years; I have not gone back any further. There are, I believe, some 15 Bills this Session compared with an average of 30 Bills in a normal 12-month Session, so I cannot accept that there is any tremendous pressure on time for the Government, particularly when we finished a day or two early before the Spring Jubilee Recess, which was announced at the last minute. We even finished rather early before Prorogation of the last Session of Parliament, so the Government have cried wolf somewhat on the matter of time and without real justification.
As for the Leader of the House persuading his Back-Benchers, I imagine by saying, “Gosh, if we do not get this Motion through, it will be late night after late night”, I can only say that life gets tough at times. However, I cannot accept that argument, given that the Government are making all sorts of random decisions about having longer recesses than normal and not sitting when the House of Commons is sitting, which again is not normally the case. My argument is therefore really one of bafflement about the pressure on the Government’s time and, frankly, the Government not being able to accept that it means endless late-night sittings.
Lastly, I hope that the Leader of the House will at least acknowledge that it is not a very satisfactory way to treat the House to introduce this Motion on Friday night. I knew absolutely nothing about this Motion going down on the Order Paper until 10 o’clock this morning, like everyone else in the House—perhaps apart from some on the government Benches, I dare say. Anyone who wanted to put down an amendment had no option other than to put down a manuscript amendment, as the noble Lord, Lord Hamilton, did—and I am very pleased that he did. Are we going to have to face this sort of government management of business in the future? Not knowing even a day before what could be a very important decision for the House to make really is a very unsatisfactory way to manage government business.
I appeal to the Leader of the House to listen to what I believe is a very strong view in the House. If he was desperate to put this Motion down, can he please explain the time pressures on him and why it had to go down today? What was wrong with tomorrow? I do not want to sound Machiavellian and suspicious, but the slight feeling is that perhaps the Motion went down on Friday and various people were telephoned over the weekend to the effect, “Please come along and support the Government so that you do not have to sit late at night, night after night”. I do not think that is a very credible argument, so I hope that the Leader of the House will give a satisfactory answer to those questions. If he cannot, he really should withdraw this Motion.
My Lords, I speak as someone who is going to be going through this Bill in great detail. I assure the noble Lord, Lord Grocott, that I had no idea that this Motion was going down until today, so I am not part of any great conspiracy that he might imply. I looked at this legislation with the understanding that Grand Committee was not meant to be a second-rate or second citizen process but was one for dealing with highly technical Bills. Having tried to do an interview with the BBC on the latter parts of the Bill, I know that it is extremely technical. I assure the noble Lord that it passes the “eyes glazing over in agony” test. I have seen Grand Committee, thanks to the consumer insurance Bill, and seen how effective it is in being able to get and exchange a great deal of information very quickly on highly technical issues, so I would have supported the whole Bill being in Grand Committee.
I can understand the desire for some of the most prominent parts of the Bill to be debated in the Chamber as recognition of the level of concern following the financial and banking crisis of 2008 and the need to look again at the architecture of regulation—for some of those key issues to be addressed here. However, it is more in order to satisfy that kind of recognition of the level of concern rather than to give us almost the best practice for going through the Bill in detail, so splitting the Bill strikes me, as someone without much of an axe to grind in this matter, as a very appropriate mechanism and a sensible and practical one. That is how I have always viewed this House—as sensible and practical and willing to take on the issues simply as they are and to come to a solution. I spent time in the other place, where one might say that the principles are not the same—and I know that this House dislikes the kind of principles that the other place operates on.
My Lords, I can remember when the whole Grand Committee thing started, and the first assurance was that only non-controversial Bills would go to Grand Committee. The whole point was that in the old days—not that they are so very long ago—we used to divide on matters of principle in Committee, which meant that we tidied up on Report, and that was much more efficient. The challenge with Grand Committee is that it delays everything, and then we have a huge argument on Report that goes on interminably.
Then we have the problem with the limited rules on amending at Third Reading. Before, we would divide on principle in Committee and tidy up on Report, with half the length of debate. Then at Third Reading we would discuss things only when there had to be a final little adjustment because a mistake had been made. It was very unusual to put forward amendments at Third Reading, which is why they were so restricted. With the new procedure of going to Grand Committee, you can have wonderful debates but then you have to do it all over again on Report, which causes problems at Third Reading. We must either have yet another reading to tidy up before Third Reading or go back to dividing in Committee. We should remember that not only the person putting forward the amendment in Committee has the option to divide; anyone in the House can call a Division on an amendment that is proposed. So if noble Lords think that someone is wasting time by withdrawing an amendment in Committee to bring the whole thing back on Report, I suggest that someone stands up and calls for a Division.
My Lords, having sat next to my much missed friend Lord Williams of Mostyn, I wish to set the record straight. I am sure that the Leader of the House did not wish in any way to mislead the House, but having sat next to Lord Williams of Mostyn through all the discussions on the introduction of Grand Committee procedure, I fear that he would be appalled that there was Division in the House over the issue. He was a man committed to sensing the House’s mood, reaching a compromise and avoiding this sort of unseemly debate in your Lordships’ House.
Secondly, it is my understanding—this is not my area of expertise—that the noble Earl, Lord Erroll, is absolutely right about what happens at the different stages. It is confusing for everyone if some parts of the Bill can be voted on in Committee and others cannot and if rules apply to certain parts of the Bill at Third Reading but not to others. I think that will lead to confusion. It is also my understanding that the Bill tackles a serious problem; if sizeable numbers of people in your Lordships’ House—I am not talking about majorities—feel unable to support the compromise, to use the Leader’s words, surely it would be better to accept the proposals of the noble Lord, Lord Hamilton of Epsom, and work in the way that I know Lord Williams of Mostyn would have wanted.
My Lords, at Second Reading last week nearly 40 Peers spoke. It was an excellent debate that was very skilfully handled by the Minister, notwithstanding the fact that the Whips endeavoured to cut some speakers short, even though that is clearly not accepted at Second Reading. I think that that tells us something about the Government’s attitude to trying to rush this process.
This is not a controversial Bill in a party political sense. However, it is controversial in the detail, not just in the first five clauses but throughout the Bill. It would be wrong to believe that Clause 6 and later clauses do not themselves deserve very close scrutiny, handling, as they do, matters such as consumer affairs and protection and banking resolution. The noble Earl was correct to point out that the procedures in Grand Committee are very different from those in a Committee of the Whole House. As a Minister, I took legislation through Grand Committees and through Committees of the Whole House. The argument that officials in Grand Committee are seated in the Box behind the Minister and are therefore immediately available to provide assistance is much overstated. This is a very important Bill. It creates, in the office of the Governor of the Bank of England, the most powerful unelected person in the country and deals with a problem that has beset the economy for four years. The nation would expect the Bill to be publicly debated on the Floor of the House. For that reason, I support the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Hamilton.
My Lords, I do not want to talk about the other parts of the short debate that we have had but rather about where the Bill should go and where it would be best scrutinised. I know that the noble Lord, with whom I normally disagree, is very keen to see the Lords Reform Bill go through. He has always made that clear, but it is irrelevant to what we are discussing.
I am bound to say that the Government’s management of the lengths of recesses and the business of the House has not been of the best. My noble friend Lord Grocott was right to deal with those issues. The important issue for me, as it was when I spoke in the relevant debate, is where the Bill will best be scrutinised. I have a little experience of taking two Finance Bills a year through the Commons over five years, and did so with great difficulty. A major part of the scrutiny of those Bills was taken upstairs in Committee in those days. Now Governments of all parties are very keen to guillotine Bills in the Commons, and they are rarely properly debated. In fact, when we get Bills here, especially large ones, they have rarely been properly scrutinised at all. Therefore, the really important issue for me is not all the other stuff that we have talked about briefly today but where the Bill will best be scrutinised. The Bill is important; I do not deny that.
As I have said before, giving a huge amount of powers to the Bank of England is not unimportant. However, for me the question is: where will the Bill be best scrutinised? I have no doubt whatever that that will be in Grand Committee. If any Member of your Lordships’ House has great expertise and wants to speak, there will be no difficulty in them doing so in Grand Committee.
One has to understand that in Committee this House does not normally vote on the Floor of the House or in Grand Committee. On top of that, the Bill will come back to the House for Report, when votes can and do take place, and again for Third Reading. As I said, personally I prefer a Bill to be properly scrutinised in Grand Committee, and this is a rare occasion when I feel bound to speak in support of the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde.
My Lords, I do not often intervene in these matters, and no one could expect me not to understand the position of the usual channels, but I have listened to this debate with some horror. In my view, these matters should have been resolved by the usual channels and it is very disappointing that the Front Benches are unable to find a sensible and satisfactory agreement. Often, finding such an agreement means persuading their Back-Benchers to do something that initially they may not want to do. If I may say so, the job of the Front Benches is not to be the cheerleader for the Back Benches; it is to find the best solution for the House. When there is no agreement between the Back Benches, the question arises of what the House should do. In my view, the responsibility then falls on the Leader of the House to do what he thinks is best for the whole House. Without going into the details, where there is a disagreement between the usual channels, the House would be right to support the Leader of the House in what he proposes.
My Lords, I just make an observation as a former Chairman of Ways and Means and as someone who was responsible for the Finance Bill for five years in another place. In my experience, each Bill was very different. Sometimes the usual channels, and indeed individual Members, chose to make representations that certain clauses should be taken on the Floor of the House, with others—often the majority—being taken in Committee. I remember one occasion when a great deal of a Bill was taken on the Floor of the House, mainly due to representations from the minority parties that went against the proposals from the usual channels. Nevertheless, I reflect that last Monday night the key issue to come out was unanimity across the House that this was the most important financial Bill that this House had seen in probably the living memory of anyone here. The second thing that came out was that it was not a partisan Bill—there was no inter-party challenge—and that this House, with its width of experience, was best able to debate the Bill in depth.
I deeply regret that now, on the first Monday since then, what I thought had been settled by the usual channels in the normal way is not settled. That is a very unsatisfactory situation, and maybe my noble friend, as the Leader, will either follow what my noble friend Lord Wakeham said or recognise that the House as a whole may need 24 hours to quieten down a little. Looking at the noble Baroness, Lady Boothroyd, on the Cross Benches, I am reminded that she once said to me, “You didn’t give them long enough to settle it, Michael”.
My Lords, the reason we have the usual channels is precisely to avoid the sort of debate that we have had this afternoon. It is a personal sadness to me that the usual channels broke down, which means that the House must make a decision.
The other reason to have usual channels is that we can have these debates behind closed doors where no one sees them. When the public look at this debate and listen to it on the radio and television, what will they see? They will see that the question is a very simple one: either we should have the debate on the Floor of this House or the very same people debating the very same issues should take their debate about 25 yards down that Corridor. That is all this debate is fundamentally about. This is against a background where, until a week ago, the Opposition and the Government were totally unified, as the noble Lord, Lord Barnett, said so well, on the basis that scrutiny would be better placed in Grand Committee rather than here on the Floor of the House.
Before the House is drawn into the seductive speech of the noble Lord, Lord Grocott, noble Lords should recall that only last week he said that this House should always sit when the House of Commons is sitting. I took a view earlier this year, having taken soundings around the House, that the overwhelming view of your Lordships was not to sit in September. I do not mind sitting in September—I have done it in the past and I shall be here—but noble Lords must recognise that if we do not send Bills to Grand Committee and have them on the Floor of the House, we will need more sitting days of the House in order to complete our business. It is a very simple proposition. No one is suggesting sending another major Bill to the Grand Committee.
Will the Leader of the House clarify that? I have to confess my ignorance on this matter, but I understand that the Grand Committee sits for much shorter sessions in Committee than when a Bill is on the Floor of the House. Therefore, I am not entirely sure why he is suggesting that it will take fewer days to get this Bill through in Grand Committee than on the Floor of the House.
My Lords, let us assume that it would take exactly the same hours on the Floor of the House and in Grand Committee. The fact that it was on the Floor of the House would mean that we would be unable to progress on other Bills, which would have to wait their turn. We would therefore need to find other days in which to complete our business.
Like the noble Earl, Lord Erroll, I remember when we used to sit until 1 or 2 am. We got a lot of business done in the early hours of the morning. Before I get another lecture from the noble Baroness, Lady Farrington of Ribbleton, I had endless discussions with Lord Williams of Mostyn about this. He would get quite heated on the subject. He said that it was wrong for legislation to take place late at night or in the small hours, and it was on that basis that we had a Grand Committee. The reason why the House now needs to take a view is that if we are going to go against the practice of the past 10 years and not send complex Bills to Grand Committee, which we have done many times before, we will have to revisit this subject in the Procedure Committee.
Finally, Labour's legislation on the Financial Services and Markets Bill, which was a substantial and weighty piece of legislation of two volumes, was passed through this House in Grand Committee.
My Lords, before the Leader of the House sits down, Lord Williams of Mostyn was absolutely clear that Grand Committee procedure was for non-contentious Bills. His view was that the House should be able to make that judgment. The Leader of the House has failed to tell the House which major pieces of legislation are waiting in the wings that will now not be able to be debated, because we are not aware of them.
I urge the noble Baroness to read the record of the debates that we had at the time. If she can find the evidence for that, of course I will withdraw everything that I have said about Grand Committees. I assure her that when I was Leader of the Opposition, we understood perfectly well that Grand Committees were for all or any Bills, and that only constitutional Bills would sit on the Floor of the House.
My Lords, I share the concern of many Members of this House about all these massive Bills that will come through in the future to be debated on the Floor of the House. I am not at all sure what they are, but I know that one of them will not be the Civil Aviation Bill because that will be going into Grand Committee when this business has been dealt with.
I very much take the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Grocott, that this is a thin parliamentary Session and that for a Bill of this importance to be shoved into the Grand Committee Room would be absolutely wrong. It will not be understood by the people of this country. It is a major Bill of great significance. I do not accept the view of the noble Lord, Lord Barnett, that somehow these issues are better debated in the Grand Committee Room. I think that the place to debate them is on the Floor of the House. I suspect that the debate would go on much longer on the Floor of the House, but that would improve the Bill at the end of the day and would be for the good all round. It is critical that the Financial Services Bill is got right by your Lordships’ House, and I therefore wish to test the opinion of the House on my amendment.
Motion, as amended, agreed.