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Lord Peyton of Yeovil: I hope my noble friend will forgive me for interrupting. I am sorry about that but I want to be careful on this point. I hope my noble friend will make it clear whether the information to which he is referring will be published, or whether it will be reported to Parliament. I do not put the two on the same level.
Lord Henley: I mentioned the detailed information that will be available in the department's annual report. That, as I understand it, is always published and made available to Parliament. Parliament has a chance to scrutinise that annual report and certainly can find time to do so. I am sure that my noble friend will be the first so to do if he thinks it is necessary.
I shall continue with what I was saying on the National Audit Office. I stress that it, too, will have a right of access to the private lenders' operation of subsidised private sector loans. I appreciate that that does not go quite as far as parliamentary involvement before the signing of contracts, which is what my noble friend seeks. However, I hope the assurance that there are considerable safeguards through parliamentary scrutiny will be sufficient to satisfy my noble friend that we are going far enough. If, of course, my noble friend would prefer to have further discussions between this and another stage, obviously my door is more than open. However, I do not think that it would be right for Parliament to be involved in quite the manner that he suggests before the contracts are signed.
Baroness Lockwood: I think the Committee is in rather a difficult situation following the Minister's reply. The noble Lord, Lord Peyton, and the noble Baroness, Lady Park of Monmouth, spoke to all three amendments. The Minister, in effect, has said that he is not going to accept the tradition of the Chamber in linking the three amendments together, should the noble Lord, Lord Peyton, wish to press his first amendment. If that is so, I would hope that the noble Lord, Lord Peyton, would insist upon dealing individually with the three amendments because I think all three amendments are important ones.
Lord Henley: On the second point the noble Baroness made about information being available outside the Chamber, I think Amendment No. 4 is directly related to parliamentary scrutiny. That is why I addressed my remarks to that subject. On the first point of the noble Baroness about my, in effect, ungrouping the three amendments, obviously if amendments which are grouped are consequential on the first amendment, it is the tradition that having accepted one in one form or another, one accepts the others. However, I think the noble Baroness will accept, if she looks at the three amendments, that they are contradictory. One amendment, for example, takes out the schedule; the next amends the schedule. So one cannot obviously accept all three at the same time. For that reason I was making it clear--I have every right to do so as the Minister responding--that I would obviously listen to the debate and would then make a decision on Amendment No. 4, but that does not bind me or the Chamber on the subsequent amendments which are not consequential on Amendment No. 4.
Lord Peyton of Yeovil: I really do complain when my noble friend says that the amendments are contradictory. They are nothing of the kind; they are just alternatives. The first suggestion I wanted to make was to bury the whole schedule. I did not expect the Government to accept that proposal with enthusiasm. Therefore I suggested as an alternative the very modest amendment about the methods of repayment. To say the amendments are contradictory is just nonsense and my noble friend should know that.
Lord Henley: If my noble friend says it is nonsense I take his point. But the noble Lord would accept that we cannot--as I think the noble Baroness seemed to be saying--accept the noble Lord's Amendment No. 4, and then take the other two. That would be a nonsense and everyone knows it. That is why I was making it clear that my position was that I did not feel bound by the decision of this Chamber on Amendment No. 4, nor should anyone else feel so bound. If the noble Baroness can find the usual paper that comes with the groupings, she will note that it states at the top,
Baroness Lockwood: I think it is in the interests of the Committee that important amendments such as these are discussed together if they are grouped. Clearly the Minister accepted the grouping in the first place, because I understand that the usual channels were involved.
Lord Henley: If the noble Baroness would give way, I accepted them at something like 1.20 p.m. so it was fairly late that they were put to me. I think in terms of the convenience of the House there is nothing wrong with discussing them together, but it was right that I made my position clear, and I suspect it is a position shared by the noble Baroness's friends on her Front Bench, that one cannot take all three together when it comes to making a decision.
Baroness Lockwood: I accept what the Minister is saying about these amendments. I reiterate that all three are very important amendments, but my main point is that the amendments have not been thoroughly aired individually and, therefore, I hope--and I expressed this hope in my earlier intervention--that the noble Lord, Lord Peyton, will exercise his right to bring them before the House again in due course as we reach them on the Marshalled List.
Lord Peyton of Yeovil: May I start on an agreeable note? First of all, I am very much obliged to my noble friend for his promise to make available in the next stage of the Bill a version of the schedule to the 1990 Act which will contain the amendments presently suggested by the Government, so that we will be able to understand with reasonable ease what the schedule was intended to mean in its new form. That would be helpful.
May I now address the points which were raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Lockwood? At the beginning of my remarks I did say, and I remind her now, that I thought it would be for the convenience of the Committee if I were to deal with all three amendments together. It would save me some breath and the Committee the weariness and tedium of listening to me repeating the same points three times, because, although they are clearly not intimately connected, at least they have some relationship to one another. Perhaps I may also make this clear. My present feeling, if my noble friend were to be gracious enough to go a bit further on Amendment No. 4, would be certainly not to move those amendments tonight. In fact, as they have come up at this hour I think it would be much more useful to move the subsequent amendments, or to put them down again for consideration on Report rather than now. My noble friend the Minister has said something about them and I would like to reflect upon them. I assure the noble Baroness that it is not my intention to drop them altogether.
Perhaps I may now return to the amendment to which I attached particular importance. I note all that my noble friend has said. There was a time when I began to be hopeful. But when he offered an alternative to a formal report to Parliament of the arrangements which they had made in pursuit of an authority conferred by Parliament, when he seemed to suggest that the information would
I do not want to use rough language to my noble friend, and I know the constrictions he is under from his advisers and his superiors. But let me beg him, because I do not wish to divide the House now, to say that between now and Report stage he will give this matter very serious consideration indeed and will ensure that those whose authority he is bound to acknowledge will lend an ear to what has been said; that they too will give some thought to this matter and will not go down the road that at least appears to suggest that they take the opinions of either House of Parliament lightly.