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Lord Judd: I always find the Minister personally irresistible. If irresistible charm were the basis of good government, we should have a very strong Government. Unfortunately, there is much more to the issues that are before us than the personality, and indeed the integrity, of the Minister, which we all greatly admire on this side of the Chamber.
That is the problem with this Bill. We have a skeleton Bill, an enabling Bill, which spells out absolutely nothing about what will happen. It invites us to buy a pig in a poke. And we have a lot of very well-intended and convincing argumentsindeed some on paperand background briefings from a Minister whom we all love and admire. The problem is that the Minister may not always be there. Some of us who have worked for much of our lives in the realm of third world issues and development might sometimes wish in some ways that, if only she could somehow free herself of political allegiances, she could always be there in one sense, and that would be a wonderful element of continuity in government. But that is not, I think, likely to happen. The noble Baroness will forgive my saying that I sometimes wonder whether she does not toy with the idea herself. I cannot believe that, in the environment in which she lives, she does not. But I do not believe that it is likely to happen. Our function therefore, as responsible parliamentarians, is to ensure that whatever is being done is done in the interests of the nation as a whole, that it is preserving the assets of the nation, and that the dedicated work and effectiveness of the Crown Agents and their staff, to whom the Minister paid such fulsome tribute in the Second Reading debate, is not lightly thrown away or sold down the river.
It is for those reasons that some of us on this side of the Committee are a little perplexed. There is absolutely nothing in any of our amendments that does anything but write into the Bill all that the Minister said in her background briefings. We are trying to strengthen her position and want to reassure everyone that what she says is her objective and what she wants to see done can be properly done.
Let me deal very briefly with one or two of the points that she made. She said that CDC is different because it is a catalyst for development. I am sure she will agree that, as she herself emphasisedshe has been at pains to underline the pointthe Crown Agents' role is about supporting economic and social development. So that is a complementary function. It does not seem to me so self-evident as she seems to want to persuade herself that it is that they are in two completely different categories. It does not seem so at all. If the one is right in the public sector, the other sits naturally alongside it in the public sector.
The Minister has also emphasised that the main work of the Crown Agents is with foreign governments. That is obviously the case. I have not seen any evidence at all that foreign governments favour that change. All the indications are that foreign governments would rather things were left exactly as they are. She also made some play about her watchful eye. I repeat that if I were to have any watchful eye upon me, I cannot think of any other that I would prefer to have. The implication in saying that there is a watchful eye which provides
I noted the comments of the noble Baroness, Lady Elles, about her impression of Second Reading. That is her impression. My own antennae do not suggest to me that there is a militant feeling of commitment among her noble friends that this is a Bill that must happen at all costs. At best there is passive acquiescence in what is proposed. Certainly, it may be my own failing in this respect, but quite frankly I am mystified by the intervention of the noble Lord, Lord Elton. I do not see how the transfer of ownership is an issue of less importance than the structure of the company. It seems to me that the ownership is crucial to the future.
Lord Elton: I rise merely to point out that they were of equal importance. The noble Lord relied on the advice of the Committee, and the advice of the Committee was to have the negative procedure. He had proposed the affirmative procedure.
Lord Judd: On that point I did as the noble Lord said. I was grateful to the Committee for having alerted me. The more I looked at the issue, the Committee having alerted me, the more I felt that it was in the spirit of parliamentary control that the proper discharging of parliamentary responsibility to this fine and proven asset was to take the affirmative road.
No, I am afraid that I am as convinced as ever that the Bill has more to do with political manoeuvrings within the Government. It was some kind of ideological sop to the Right wing of the party opposite because they were denied seeing the Post Office moving into private hands. I do not believe that there is any pressure for this Bill within the Crown Agents or any pressure within the Government in terms of the Overseas Development Administration. It would be irresponsible of this House to pursue it. If we do so, we shall do our utmost in subsequent amendments to make the best of a bad job. The Minister says that the amendments that we are now debating are pointed at the heart of the Bill. It is a charge that I willingly accept. I am afraid that we must push this matter to a Division.
Resolved in the negative, and amendment disagreed to accordingly.