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Lord Hayhoe: On Second Reading of the Bill, I said that considerable redrafting would be required. That might well be considered as something of an understatement, although I do not believe that it is unprecedented for such redrafting to have to occur when laymen, or even distinguished lawyersI think they contributed towards the drafting of the Bill's original wordingare involved. I am grateful to my noble friend the Minister and to his advisers, particularly parliamentary counsel, who drafted the amendments to give legal clarity to the simple provisions and objectives of the Bill. I am grateful also to Geoffrey Fitchew, who is the chairman of the Building Societies Commission, for his helpful advice and support.
I readily endorse the amendments. Both the amendments and the original draftingthe noble Lord, Lord Eatwell, and I made the point about the extensive redrafting that has been requiredillustrate clearly the drafting problems that arise when preparing legislation, or amendments to complex legislation. Perhaps I may express my feelings, as I did in the debate we had some months ago about the clarity of legislation and its drafting: what a pity it is that the drafting of legislation has become so esoteric. I am not sure whether it is an art or a science, but at least it is beyond the capabilities of ordinary mortals. But enough of the wishful thinking that we would be able to achieve simplicity in the drafting of legislation!
I wonder whether the very fact of saying we should not widen the Bill's scope provides the answer to at least the first question asked by the noble Lord, Lord Eatwell. He talked about the case of a husband, wife and son, with the son being the third named on the joint account. If the husband and wife were to die, he asked whether the son would benefit. Again, as a layman, I notice that the Bill's Long Title states:
So it is difficult to see how someone who is a third-named or fourth-named holder could benefit. Again, that might be a layman's interpretation of the Bill. One relies upon my noble friend, who I hope will have received some expert advice on such questions, to be able to give an authoritative view to the Committee.
I am grateful to my noble friend and to his advisers for giving legislative precision to what the Bill's sponsor in another place, my honourable friend Douglas French, and the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, were seeking to do, although this Bill goes a little further than did the Bill introduced by the noble Lord. At any rate, it is something we all agree should be done, and done quickly. I hope that it will be achieved.
Lord Dubs: I listened with interest to the Minister's explanation. In fact, I listened with a great deal of relief because he clarified the complicated amendmentsso much so, that I am tempted to suggest that we might include his speech as a schedule to the Bill by way of explanation, because I suspect that in years to come people will look at the complexity of the amendments and wonder how we ever reached such drafting difficulties.
I support the amendment; it is most welcome. I have only the reservation that as a piece of drafting it appears to be most inelegant. However, I fully understand the difficulties of the parliamentary draftsmen in producing the amendment. I suspect that the difficulty lies in the original wording of the Building Societies Act. Perhaps, to coin an old phrase, if we want to go where we want to be we would not have started where we were forced to start. We face the present difficulties because of the complicated drafting of the original Act and I am delighted that we are making progress.
I have received many letters from people all over the country expressing the fervent wish that these proposals should become law as soon as possible. I am delighted that we are helping the legislation on its way.
Lord Henley: My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, for his praise of my speech, implying that it might become a schedule to the Bill and that it had a degree of elegance that some legislative drafting lacks. I am advised that the rule in Pepper v. Hart deals with that matter and that one can take note of considered statements of Ministers from the Dispatch Box. I hope that what I now say will also be considered as the considered statement of a Minister from the Dispatch Box.
I said on Second Reading that I should require considerable help from parliamentary counsel in order to get these clauses right. My noble friend Lord Hayhoe referred to that. I hope that all Members of the Committee will agree that I have received that considerable help. Certainly, I should not have been able to draft the clauses myself. I hope that all Members will accept that we have considered, and provided for, a reasonable range of possible situations within the scope of the Bill and that the position of key groupssuch as widows and the newly marriedwill be safeguarded. But, as I emphasised earlier, while the amendments cannot deal with every possible anomaly, they will cure the great majority of the inequities that have been identified.
Perhaps I may deal with the two points dreamt up by the noble Lord, Lord Eatwell. The first related to joint accounts of more than three peoplethat is, mother, father and son, but the mother and father then died. I am advised that we cannot extend to them in this case simply because the Long Title of the Bill deals only with second-named account holders. Dealing with third and subsequent account holders would lie outside that and would add complications which, for the reasons I gave earlier, would not be welcome in this small Bill.
The same is true in the case of the divorce settlement described by the noble Lord. The Bill does not address a series of different joint accounts and it would make it even more complex. Therefore, I hope that the noble Lord will accept that we cannot deal with that matter on this occasion.
Perhaps I may deal generally with the question of further anomalies raised by the noble Lords, Lord Eatwell and Lord Dubs, on Second Reading and today. On Second Reading the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, dealt with the difficulties faced by those who switch funds between, for example, share and deposit accounts. As I explained on Second Reading and today, that cannot be covered in this Bill because the Long Title deals only with the rights of second-named joint shareholders. Widening the Bill's scope would jeopardise its passage. I can tell both noble Lords that, as part of his wider review of the 1986 Act, my honourable friend the Minister of State at the Treasury has now proposed that in future all retail investors in building societies should be shareholding members. Legislation to bring this change about will be introduced as soon as an opportunity arises. Obviously, I can go no further than that. As regards other short Bills that may be introduced by noble Lords or Members of another place, I can say only that I am sure that my right honourable and honourable friends in Her Majesty's Treasury will give them the appropriate consideration.
I hope that, having given the assurance about the review to be carried out by my honourable friend the Minister of State at the Treasury and that legislation will be brought forward to bring about the change to which I have referred, some of the problems described by the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, will have been dealt with.
Lord Henley: Perhaps I may refer that matter to those who advise me. I shall write to the noble Lord before the Report stage. If something can be done without jeopardising the Bill, I am prepared to consider
Page 2, line 10, at end insert:
("( ) This Act shall apply in any case where the vesting date (within the meaning of section 100 of the Building Societies Act 1986) falls after the passing of this Act.").
House adjourned at thirteen minutes before eight o'clock.
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