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Lord Avebury: My Lords, I am very glad to hear that Answer. Does the Minister recall that in 1973 a partially democratic constitution was granted by the emir providing for two-thirds of the parliament to be democratically elected but that in 1975 the emir abrogated that constitution and has ruled by decree ever since? Will the Government seek to persuade the rulers of Bahrain, with the help, if possible, of their European Union partners and the United States, that the leaders of the opposition who are now detained without trial should be released and that they should enter into discussions with a view to reintroducing the 1973 constitution after a lapse of 22 years?
Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, I am afraid I have had a rather heady cocktail of vaccinations. I apologise to the House. The noble Lord, Lord Avebury, raises questions in relation to the role of the UK Government and the restoration of democratic government in Bahrain. We are discussing these matters. I do not think that any of my noble friends would dissent from the view that we should like to see the pursuit of democratic principles throughout the world, and that the same applies in Bahrain. However, we must show mutual respect for traditional forms of government. As the noble Lord will know, the shura, the consultative system, is long-established in the Arab world. It is not for us to dictate the form and time-frame for political change. However, the noble Lord may be assured that we will encourage the Bahraini Government to pursue wide-ranging consultation in determining Bahrain's political future.
Baroness Turner of Camden: I beg leave to ask the Question standing in my name on the Order Paper. In putting the Question, I declare my interests. My trade union has many members working in the financial services industry. In addition, I was until last month chairman of the PIA ombudsman council and am currently chairman of an organisation known as the Financial Services Forum, concerned with independent financial advisers.
Baroness Turner of Camden: My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for that response. Is he aware that many people working in financial services fully support the notion that there should be a thorough review of regulatory systems, many of which are fragmented, confusing and not consumer-friendly.
The industry is very complex. The unions involved came together in a body called the Alliance for Finance and would welcome the opportunity to have some input. Will there be a White Paper, with an opportunity for this House to have some input? I am well aware that there are a number of noble Lords on all sides of the House with experience and expertise in financial services.
Lord Haskel: My Lords, no decision has yet been taken regarding a White Paper. However, there will be plenty of opportunity for consultation. Indeed, the noble Baroness may have noticed that in today's Financial Times it is reported that my right honourable friend Mrs. Ann Taylor, the Leader of the Commons, says that she is keen to allow standing committees scrutinising legislation to receive submissions from outside bodies.
Lord Ezra: My Lords, will the noble Lord kindly indicate whether it will be the intention, following on from the supplementary question asked by his noble friend Lady Turner, to simplify the new regime? Does he agree that the existing regime is far too complex? Will the Government bear in mind that the simplest way of operating control of financial services is to make a distinction between wholesale operations, which are the work of professionals, and retail operations, which involve members of the public?
Lord Haskel: My Lords, it is the Government's intention to separate retail and wholesale regulation. The purpose of the reform is to simplify and streamline the whole system of regulation so that it can be more responsive and effective in the 21st century.
Lord Haskel: My Lords, the Government are committed to statutory regulation. They are keen that the City of London should retain its pre-eminence but that the public interest should be at the heart of regulation. Proper and clear accountability should be apparent. We do not suggest an overbearing bureaucracy but a more efficient and effective regulator to adapt for the modern financial world.
Lord Dean of Beswick: My Lords, is the Minister aware that when the Financial Services Bill passed through this House, Labour's Front Bench spokesman warned the Government that its provisions would not be sufficient to achieve the objective and that that comment, like others, was totally ignored?
Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: My Lords, it appears from the replies that a little more preparation should have been done before the Chancellor of the Exchequer made his premature announcement. Will the Minister confirm his statement that a draft Bill will be published early in 1998? Does that therefore mean that a full Bill will not be presented to Parliament until the 1998-99 Session and will therefore not appear on the statute book until 1999? Is not that length of time ridiculous? Will it not lead to the equivalent of planning blight in the regulators that already exist as their people move on to new pastures in the knowledge that, some time towards the end of the century, the shutters will come down on their current jobs?
Lord Haskel: My Lords, as I said, the banking regulation Bill will be presented to the House during this Session. The Government plan to publish the draft Bill on financial services regulation for consultation in the first half of 1998. There will be some delay in the financial services regulation. However, the Government are anxious to present their proposals. In their Plans for Business presented during the general election, their commitment to reorganising financial services
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