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Lord Simon of Glaisdale: Is not the noble Baroness being rather cavalier in referring to tidying up primary legislation when one considers the role of Parliament?

Baroness Chalker of Wallasey: I hesitate to differ from the noble and learned Lord, as he well knows, but in this case we are talking about the residual matters from other statutory instruments which would no longer have any force because the Crown Agents would not be there as such. That is why, worthy as the intention is

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that we have proper debate—with that I firmly agree—I do not think that debating all over again the issue of whether there should be a statutory corporation Crown Agents in the public sector, which is all I can see would be discussed if such an order came forward, would be appropriate. The decision would already have taken place by the passing of the Bill. We might have a lot of long silences.

Lord Judd: I am grateful to the noble Baroness for giving way. Perhaps I may probe two of the observations which she has made in her contribution. She earlier indicated that this is an enabling Bill. The Crown Agents are not any organisation. What we are saying is that before the final consequences of the Bill are clinched it is important that there should be proper parliamentary scrutiny and debate.

The second matter is related to what the noble Baroness has just said. I shall be fascinated to hear more from her about it. I could hardly believe it when she argued that it was because of the pressure on parliamentary business and the possibility that we might have to meet on a Friday that we could not take a particular course. Surely, it is the significance of the issue and not the convenience of the House which is important.

Baroness Chalker of Wallasey: I am very happy to meet on a Friday. I spent 18 happy years meeting on Fridays in another place. Therefore, while I know it will not please some Members of the Committee, I am very happy to meet on a Friday. That is not the reason I would give against this particular amendment.

The third report of the Delegated Powers Scrutiny Committee makes clear that Clause 13(3), with which Amendment No. 12 deals, allows the Secretary of State to make such amendments or revocations of any subordinate legislation as appear to him to be necessary or expedient in consequence of the Bill. That of itself may seem to be a subject for further investigation in the mind of the noble Lord, Lord Judd, as regards what is happening to the Bill. But that is not the procedure. This matter relates to subordinate legislation related to the Crown Agents Act 1979; it is not dealing with the transfer of the Crown Agents to a foundation. If the noble Lord were making the case on that I would understand him better. I do not believe that that is the point.

I return to what I was saying earlier in trying to address the proposal of the scrutiny committee. It suggests that affirmative procedures may be appropriate to the order-making power. That suggestion is based on the proposition that the instruments being amended may have been subject to the affirmative procedure themselves. Indeed they may have been. At least one, but I believe not many, of the orders which we shall need to amend was subject to the affirmative procedure. It was the second banking co-ordination directive, as I am sure the noble Lord, Lord Judd, will probably remember from his own personal experience.

The reference to the Crown Agents was included in that directive expressly as a minor or consequential amendment. It was hardly the reason why the order was

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subject to affirmative procedure. In short, I believe it is fair to say that the fact that the order to be amended was subject to a particular procedure does not mean that an amending order should be subject to precisely the same procedure. We should be looking at what procedure is appropriate for the amending order.

Let us suppose that the order we make under Clause 13 would give us something to debate on a Friday or on any other day, although I find it hard to think of an example—

Lord Judd: I am grateful to the Minister for giving way. I am certain that she is one of those in the Government most in favour of transparent and open government. I ask her to read very carefully in the Official Report the past three or four minutes of her contribution. Having read it, I ask her to persuade herself that that is a contribution which the wider public, of whose assets we are the trustees, would see as a good example of open and clear government as regards what is being done.

Lord Elton: Perhaps I may helpfully extend the interruption to give a personal view on Clause 13. The Select Committee's recommendation, as my noble friend said, was that where an affirmative order was about to be rescinded the House would wish to consider whether that order was appropriate for that procedure. The House has considered it. My noble friend has been extraordinarily helpful and has made the question transparent by indicating the solitary order which has been through the affirmative process and which would be swept up in the future procedure. That seems to answer a good deal of the Committee's concerns, but I can only speak for myself. I am a great deal happier to take part in this debate in the light of my noble friend's assurance than I was earlier. I find what she said very reassuring.

Baroness Chalker of Wallasey: I am delighted that I have satisfied one out of three customers on this matter. Although I do not know, I suspect that I may not yet have satisfied the noble and learned Lord, Lord Simon of Glaisdale.

Perhaps I may make one further point about Clause 13(3). It provides only that the Secretary of State, as I said just now, has power by order to amend or revoke subordinate legislation if it appears to him to be necessary or expedient in consequence of the Bill. I am sure that the noble and learned Lord, Lord Simon of Glaisdale, knows far better than I that the subordinate legislation has the meaning given in Section 21 of the Interpretation Act 1978 which is,


    "Orders in council, orders, rules, regulations, schemes, warrants, byelaws and other instruments made or to be made under any Act".

So the Bill we are debating today in Committee includes already provisions to deal with consequential modifications of statute law where these have been identified as necessary. But, following precedent in other legislation, this provision provides the necessary safeguard which will allow the Secretary of State to amend or revoke the subordinate legislation where that might be necessary as a consequence of this Bill.

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Therefore, any order made under this subsection by the Secretary of State would be subject anyway to the negative resolution procedure. As I have managed to identify for my noble friend Lord Elton the one piece of secondary legislation that could be covered by this matter, I hope that I may have satisfied the Committee that Amendments Nos. 4 and 12 are really not necessary and that they should be rejected.

4.45 p.m.

Lord Redesdale: I thank the Minister for her reply. Considering the complex nature of the argument and also the clear recommendations from the scrutiny committee, I hope that the noble Baroness understands that we may come back to this matter at Report stage. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 1 agreed to.

Lord Rea moved Amendment No. 5:


After Clause 1, insert the following new clause:

("Transfer of ownership of the successor company

.—(1) The Secretary of State may by order transfer ownership of the successor company only to a foundation, which shall be constituted as a company limited by guarantee.
(2) The Memorandum and Articles of Association of a foundation formed under subsection (1) above shall be contained in any order which may be issued under that subsection, and Schedule (Memorandum and Articles of Association) has effect for the purpose of supplementing the provisions of this section.
(3) Shares in the foundation formed under subsection (1) above shall be issued only to members of the said foundation, who shall be appointed by order by the Secretary of State.
(4) No order shall be made under this section unless a draft of the statutory instrument containing the order has been laid before Parliament and approved by a resolution of each House.").

The noble Lord said: In moving this amendment I should also like to speak to Amendment No. 13 which is consequential. I shall also speak to Amendments Nos. 10 and 11 which refer to the title of the Crown Agents and are dependent in part on Amendments Nos. 5 and 13.

Amendments Nos. 5 and 13 have three effects. The first is to seek to encapsulate the type of non-profit, development-oriented foundation which the Minister has described as the Government's own preferred option and to write the intended new owner of the Crown Agents, which is the foundation, on to the face of the Bill. In other words, it is to put heart into the legislation. The amendments also have the effect of subjecting the process of transfer to such new owners to further parliamentary scrutiny so that both Houses shall be satisfied that the terms of the transfer protect the public interest and the work of the Crown Agents. They also have the effect of insisting that the initial members of the foundation should be appointed by Ministers accountable to Parliament rather than by the present Crown Agents who hold their posts only by courtesy of ministerial appointment.

As regards the first of those effects, we who are moving the amendment are seeking to do only what we feel should properly have been done by Ministers themselves. As I said on Second Reading—and a number of noble Lords said the same—I still do not

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fully understand why that has not been done. There are different views in the House about whether the privatisation of the Crown Agents is necessary or appropriate—we have had that debate—but I believe that noble Lords will have given a widespread welcome to the Minister's categorical assurance on Second Reading that the Government have rejected the option of a trade sale of the Crown Agents. There will also be general agreement that, if the Crown Agents are to be privatised, the new owners should be the type of the foundation which the Minister has described.

However, we do not believe that it is enough for the Minister simply to indicate her intentions in such a general way. There appears to be no good reason why the Government should not spell out their intentions in detail and include some definition of the proposed foundation on the face of the Bill. They have not done so. We have not attempted to do so in full in the amendments, but they lay down some minimum requirements which we believe should be included in the Bill at this stage. I hope that if the amendments are passed, the Minister will come back to the House with further amendments that will put meat on the bones which the amendments offer.

The Bill as it stands at present takes a public sector corporation, which is accountable to Ministers and to Parliament, and replaces it with a company wholly owned by the Crown and entirely at the disposal of the Foreign Secretary and the Chancellor of the Exchequer. The Bill also provides the means for Ministers to dispose of the successor company without further reference to Parliament. If the Government should have a change of heart about their preferred option after the passage of the Bill but before the appointed day, as the Bill stands at the moment, there is nothing that Parliament can do to hold the Government to the preference which the Minister stated on Second Reading.

If the Bill is to be passed, it should cover not only the initial transfer from the existing corporation to the Foreign Secretary, but also the next stage of the transfer from the Foreign Secretary to the new owners in the private sector. It should spell out that the new owners should be a foundation and committed to developmental objectives. It should require the constitution and membership of the foundation to be approved by Parliament before the transfer takes place. We have already discussed that point to some extent and I am sure that we shall continue to do so.

We are also concerned that the new foundation should continue to operate on the terms, and with the purposes, set for it at the outset. The Minister has spoken of the Foreign Secretary retaining reserve powers for an initial five-year period to ensure that the principles and purposes of the foundation are not changed within that time. That implies some degree of continuing accountability to a Minister who is accountable to Parliament, and is therefore welcome. But we should go further and insist that the assets acquired by the foundation should not then be disposed of to another body without explicit parliamentary consent.

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Likewise, the amendments seek to clarify the position as regards the appointment of members of the foundation. It appears at present that the Government's intention is that the initial members should include the current Crown Agents. That is right because they have done a good job, and should continue to do so with our support. However, it also appears that other members are to be appointed by the Crown Agents, who are ministerial appointees, rather than by Ministers themselves which, to say the least, is an odd way of doing things.

We therefore propose that the appointments should be the clear responsibility of Ministers, who are accountable to Parliament. If the Minister is prepared to take responsibility for appointing the present Crown Agents to the new foundation, there is no good reason why the Government should not equally be responsible for the other members also. The Government's proposals appear to create two classes of foundation member: the first to be appointed by Ministers, with the second group being appointed by the first group. That is illogical, inconsistent and, we feel, unwise. It would be much simpler and clearer if all members of the new foundation were appointed in the same way and by the same people. The amendments will give effect to the Government's preferred option while improving accountability.

Amendments Nos. 10 and 11 refer to the name "Crown Agents". As it stands, the Bill offers any potential purchaser of the Crown Agents not only the property, rights and assets of the existing public sector corporation, but also its name and everything that goes with it. Of course, plenty of private sector companies use the word "Crown" or something of the sort in their name. There are some excellent establishments which I and, I am sure, other Members of the Committee visit on occasion which boast titles which include the word "Crown" or something of that sort, such as "The Rose and Crown" or "The King's Head". Perhaps noble Lords on this side of the Committee should be the ones to use "The Rose and Crown". We know the Conservative Party to be deeply in debt to the Royal Bank of Scotland, its major creditor, but we know—at least we hope—that the Royal Bank of Scotland does not claim other than a commercial relationship with Her Majesty's Government.

The Government are right to recognise that the name "Crown Agents" falls into a different category. The good name and reputation of the Crown Agents are universally agreed to be their major assets, and the fact that their good name specifically asserts a close connection with Her Majesty's Government is of vital importance.

The very fact that provision for the transfer of the name is spelled out in the Bill, when provision for the transfer of everything else is not, affirms the Government's recognition of that reality. Ministers know as well as anyone else that the Crown is seen as the ultimate guarantor of the integrity and financial security of the corporation, and that that is part of the

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reason why so many overseas governments and aid agencies trust the Crown Agents to look after their precious funds.

The Crown Agents should keep their name, even if they go into the private sector, as long as there remains a real connection with the Crown. That is why we want to make the continued use of the name conditional on a continued link with Her Majesty's Government, as spelled out in our new clause and schedule, through the requirement to adhere to the purpose and principles approved by Parliament and the requirement to seek parliamentary approval for any further transfer of ownership.

We do not want to see the good name of the Crown of the United Kingdom put up for sale to the highest bidder. We do not want to see that good name become a tradable commodity. Furthermore, we do not believe that it would be right for the Crown Agents to continue to call themselves such if they were to desert the developmental objectives and the non-profit constitution to which they are now dedicated in order to go into the private sector.

We therefore propose in the amendments that the name "Crown Agents" should be available to the successor company as long as it remains wholly owned by the Crown. It should be available to the foundation which we and the Minister have described, and to any subsidiary company, but it should not be available to any other buyer in the event that the foundation proposal does not come to fruition. It should not be available to any multinational conglomerate which might obtain the assets of the foundation at any future stage. It should continue in use only so long as the successor company and the foundation adhere to the purpose and principles which govern the work of the Crown Agents. I beg to move.


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