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Business

3.9 p.m.

Lord Strathclyde: My Lords, at a convenient moment after 3.30 p.m., my noble and learned friend Lord Fraser of Carmyllie will, with the leave of the House, repeat a Statement that is to be made in another place on the Greenbury Report. This will be followed by my noble friend Lord Inglewood, who will, again with the leave of the House, repeat a Statement on privacy.

Business of the House: Consolidated Fund (Appropriation) Bill

The Lord Privy Seal (Viscount Cranborne): My Lords, I beg to move the Motion standing in my name on the Order Paper.

Moved, That, if the Consolidated Fund (Appropriation) Bill is brought from the Commons, Standing Order 44 (No two stages of a bill to be taken on one day) be dispensed with on Wednesday next to enable the Bill to be taken through its remaining stages that day.—(Viscount Cranborne.)

Lord Boyd-Carpenter: My Lords, may I ask my noble friend the Leader of the House whether the Government propose to drop the ban that they have so far imposed on the debating of this important Bill, on which the House could contribute so much?

Viscount Cranborne: My Lords, I say to my noble friend with, I hope, no risk of impertinence to him, that I would be deeply disappointed if this year had proved an exception and he did not rise to make the point which he has just made. I believe he knows the answer that I feel constrained to give him. The Companion is clear about what is the present convention of the House. Indeed, I believe I am right in saying that the

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Companion also quotes precedent in that the last time a Consolidated Fund Bill was discussed substantively was in 1907, four years before the 1911 Act.

My noble friend will also know that the matter has been referred to the Procedure Committee. I wonder whether he will be content for us to wait until that committee has deliberated on it before raising the issue again.

Lord Cockfield: My Lords, I am sorry not to have given my noble friend the Leader of the House notice of the question that I propose to ask. However, as he has been a Member of another place, the point will be familiar to him. As we now appear to be following the procedure in another place—willingly or unwillingly, and with my noble friend Lord Boyd-Carpenter and the noble and learned Lord, Lord Simon of Glaisdale dissenting—under which the Consolidated Fund Bill is taken on the nod, should we not follow the other part of the procedure in another place? Under it, the Leader of the House would rise and propose the adjournment of the House. That would then enable my noble friend Lord Boyd-Carpenter, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Simon, and anyone else so moved to debate any matter which took their fancy or convenience.

Viscount Cranborne: My Lords, one part of me is extremely tempted by my noble friend's suggestion. The whole House is used to listening to both my noble friend Lord Boyd-Carpenter and the noble and learned Lord, Lord Simon of Glaisdale, with keen interest and attention. It would be most agreeable if we were to create a new procedure which would enable us to listen further to both noble Lords.

However, I have to reiterate to my noble friend that however desirable the course of action which he proposes, there are two reasons why we should not accede to his request, at least before the Procedure Committee has had a chance to examine the situation. The first is that I am increasingly convinced that the procedures in your Lordships' House are often admirably suited to the way a second House of Parliament works. With the greatest respect to another place, we should only imitate it with some diffidence.

The second reason is that we are not known to be a revolutionary House as yet. If we were to accede to my noble friend's request, we would be overturning a habit which has lasted almost as long as a lifetime and returning to matters as they stood before 1907. I am not entirely against such an idea, as your Lordships will be aware. However, it would go against all precedent and certainly against the wishes of the late Lord Lloyd George.

Lord Bruce of Donington: My Lords, would it be possible for the noble Viscount to give further consideration to the sensible proposals that have emanated from his noble friend Lord Cockfield? Will he bear in mind that the procedures of the House are flexible? Is he aware that, for example, should the noble Lord seek to move the adjournment of the House before this Parliament ends in order to move that the report on the Barings Bank disaster be discussed, he would receive the approval of the whole House?

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Viscount Cranborne: My Lords, the Procedure Committee has been asked to look at the matter and I am sure that, as always, it will do as the House has requested. As regards the Barings Bank situation we await almost hourly the publication of the results of the inquiry. It will be interesting to see whether the prediction of the noble Lord, Lord Bruce, turns out to be true.

Lord Peyton of Yeovil: My Lords, perhaps I may return to the point made by my noble friend Lord Boyd-Carpenter. In answering it, my noble friend gave the impression—with the utmost courtesy—that he had heard the suggestion before. I put to him that repetition, very often necessary, does nothing to weaken a good argument. Had it not been for repetition, a warlike operation would still be going on around the city of Jericho!

Viscount Cranborne: My Lords, as always, the House is indebted to my noble friend. I do not know whether my noble friend Lord Boyd-Carpenter has as yet circled the walls seven times or more than seven times. I should be the last to suggest that a good argument is necessarily undermined by repetition.

Lord Simon of Glaisdale: My Lords, your Lordships' House has unexampled knowledge and experience to give counsel on financial and economic matters. There are three Consolidated Fund Bills a year generally and they give an opportunity for your Lordships to tender such counsel. When it has been suggested that they be used for that purpose, the suggestions have been brushed aside on the grounds that there are other opportunities. That may be roughly true on No. 1 and No. 3 Bills. No. 1 coincides roughly with the Budget Statement, the Finance Bill; No. 3 coincides roughly with the debate on the Queen's Speech. However, No. 2 is in quite a different category, and it is the one which we are discussing.

If we do not use the opportunity of the summer Bill to discuss financial matters, there is no such discussion between the spring and the late autumn when the Queen's Speech is debated. What is asked for is that the recommendation in the Companion should be altered to bring it into line with what is done in any case with the Northern Ireland Consolidated Fund (Appropriation) Bills, which are used for precisely the purpose we have been advocating.

I know that the matter is before the Procedure Committee. I also know that the discussion has been postponed and it is now too late to remedy that. However, noble Lords are entitled to ask that the point should be seriously considered in the light of the arguments that have been put forward and that something more than the objections which have so far been raised should be considered.

Viscount Cranborne: My Lords, I am conscious that I am perhaps not following the established procedures of your Lordships' House by treating this discussion as an additional Question Time. I hope that your Lordships will forgive me. I thought that I had looked round sufficiently to see whether anyone else wished to speak. However, with your Lordships' permission, I say to the

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noble and learned Lord, Lord Simon, that, of course, we have a number of opportunities for noble Lords to display their expertise in economic and financial matters and to give their counsel in matters appertaining to the economy. Nevertheless, I hope that the noble and learned Lord will feel able to wait for the opportunity, when it arises, for the Procedure Committee to examine the matter and make a report in due course to your Lordships' House.

On Question, Motion agreed to.

Atomic Energy Authority Bill

3.20 p.m.

Lord Fraser of Carmyllie: My Lords, I beg to move that the House do now resolve itself into Committee on this Bill.

Moved, That the House do now resolve itself into Committee.—(Lord Fraser of Carmyllie.)

On Question, Motion agreed to.

House in Committee accordingly.

[The CHAIRMAN OF COMMITTEES in the Chair.]

Clause 1 [Atomic Energy Authority to make schemes for transfer of property, rights and liabilities if so directed]:

Lord Haskel moved Amendment No. 1:


Page 1, line 8, leave out ("or schemes").

The noble Lord said: In moving this amendment, I shall also speak to Amendments Nos. 2, 7 and 8.

The purpose of these amendments is to ensure AEA Technology is sold as a single integrated business. On 14th March in another place, the Minister for Industry and Energy said:


    "The Government agree that AEA Technology should continue to be managed as a single integrated whole".—[Official Report, Commons, 14/3/95; col. 707.]

Since then, there have been signs of backsliding. On 23rd March in another place it was said that if AEA Technology can meet its ambitious targets, its sale as a single independent entity may be achievable. If not, another option will have to be considered.

At Second Reading in this House on 19th May, the noble Earl, Lord Ferrers, said that the form of privatisation must depend on the performance of AEA Technology over the next few months. He went on to say that the Government must satisfy themselves that the sale of the business as a single whole will best meet the needs and requirements of customers, particularly of government customers.

During the passage of this Bill many Members have spoken of the value of the synergy in this business. The more the business is fragmented, the more the synergy is lost. In this House at Second Reading, the noble Lord, Lord Sherfield, who has spent a lifetime in this industry, told us,


    "In many ways, the enterprise is unique because of the multiplicity and diversity of skills on which it can call, which enable it to deal successfully with complex contracts. ... The possibility of drawing on this resource of engineering and scientific skills gives it ... synergy of a high order, which enables it to land and execute complex international contracts".—[Official Report, 19/5/95; col. 741.]

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It was for that reason that the noble Lord asked that the enterprise should be sold as a whole and not be broken up. Indeed, this was the main point upon which he wished to concentrate.

In the same debate I spoke about how splitting up the business could be to the detriment of our science and technology base. I said that it would be contrary to the advice of the Office of Science and Technology in its Technology Foresight Report. That office is now combined with the noble and learned Lord's own department.

In reply, the Minister said that he wanted a test lasting a few months to see whether the business achieved its objectives. For such an important and complex business, can a test lasting a few months be a proper basis for this decision? AEA Technology announced on 14th June that it had met its sales and profit targets for 1994-95. But they included profits from disposals. Is that fact included in the Government's calculations?

The Government spoke of the importance of maintaining the support of the employees in this privatisation. There is no doubt that, if the company is to be privatised, the employees prefer unitary privatisation. As the noble Lord, Lord Sherfield, told us, customers prefer unitary privatisation, because they will benefit from the synergy. Perhaps the only people who will not benefit from this policy will be those who buy key parts of the business, possibly for short-term gain, and perhaps the financial institutions that handle a multiplicity of sales rather than one sale. At present it is unclear what is to be privatised. All there seems to be is the implication: "Leave it to us. Whitehall knows best". Unitary privatisation should be a matter of clarity, and should be made clear on the face of the Bill. For that purpose, I beg leave to move this amendment.


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