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Baroness Hamwee: My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for explaining various of the order's provisions. I should like to ask just a few questions which I am sure I could have answered for myself had I devoted more attention to the fine print of the order. I am afraid that there has been a little laziness on my part.

Article 9, to which the Minister referred, relates to the number printed on the back of the ballot paper and counterfoil. Can the Minister confirm that the same provisions with regard to official marks will apply to both the ballot for the referendum and that for the local elections? I am not seeking to make particular comments about perforations, but I am anxious to be assured that voters will not be required to check for different things when they enter a polling station. We know what happened at Winchester and on other occasions. My concern is merely that there are not different procedures.

I have some minor questions relating to Schedule 2. The back of the ballot paper is to carry a reference to the name of the electoral ward in the borough. I understand that it is intended to announce the count for each borough at that borough--in other words, the public will know how each borough has voted in the referendum. What is the purpose of having the name of the ward on the ballot paper? Is it intended that the count shall be detailed on a ward-by-ward basis?

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Why is it intended that the same ballot box should be used, given that that will mean that counting officers have the job of separating the ballot papers? I am sure that the matter has been discussed with returning officers, but simply as a matter of procedure I am interested in understanding why it is thought that that is more satisfactory than attempting to have separate ballot boxes. I recognise the problems that are likely to arise if even one or two ballot papers are placed in the wrong box. Inevitably, the whole lot has to be emptied.

My final comment relates to Part I(7) of Schedule 2 and to applications for postal and proxy votes. I rather laboured the point during our debates on the Bill, and I am grateful to note that I need not have done so because the provision is here. Indeed, the Minister gave assurances to that effect during the passage of the Bill. I am glad that only one application will be required.

Baroness Seccombe: My Lords, perhaps I may add the thanks of these Benches to the Minister for her explanation and presentation of the order. Our only comment is to express our sadness that there are not to be two questions. However, we debated that at earlier stages. We wish the referendum well and we shall watch with the greatest of interest to see what the people of London decide.

Baroness Hayman: My Lords, I am grateful to both noble Baronesses for their comments and for their welcome for the procedures that we have established.

The noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, asked about the numbers on the back of the ballot papers. I can confirm that the provisions for official marks will be the same for both polls, so there will not be the problem to which she alluded. As I understand it, the inclusion of the name of the ward on the backs of individual ballot papers is at the request of the returning officers and is for their own administrative reasons. I confirm that the count will be on a borough, not on a ward-by-ward, basis. That will be the way in which the results are announced. There was considerable concern that it should be possible for borough results to be seen. There is no intention of sub-dividing the results to ward level.

On the issue of the two ballot boxes, the noble Baroness is absolutely right. Returning officers expressed the view, from their experience, that the likelihood--indeed, the certainty--that some ballot papers would be put in the wrong box was such that having two boxes would not simplify matters, but would complicate them. It was felt that a full separation would be needed anyway. As I understand it, when two polls have been held on the same day in the past, it has been found to be more efficient to have one ballot box and to carry out the separation afterwards.

I was grateful for the remarks of the noble Baroness about the provisions for applying for absent votes. As I have said many times in the House, the Government hope that the campaign on absent votes will be successful and will filter through to other elections.

On Question, Motion agreed to.

        House adjourned at twenty-one minutes before nine o'clock.

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Official Report of the Grand Committee on the Bank of England Bill

Tuesday, 3rd March 1998.

The Committee met at half-past three of the clock.

[The Deputy Chairman of Committees (Lord Ampthill) in the Chair.]

The Deputy Chairman of Committees (Lord Ampthill): Before I put the Question that the Title be postponed, it may be helpful to remind your Lordships of the procedure for today's Committee stage. Except in one important respect, our proceedings will be exactly as in a normal Committee of the Whole House. We shall go through the Bill clause by clause; noble Lords will speak standing; all noble Lords are free to attend and participate; and the proceedings will be recorded in Hansard. The one difference is that the House has agreed that there shall be no Divisions in a Grand Committee. Any issue on which agreement cannot be reached should be considered again at the Report stage when, if necessary, a Division will be called. Unless, therefore, an amendment is likely to be agreed to, it should be withdrawn.

If there is a Division in the Chamber while we are sitting, the Committee will adjourn as soon as the Division bells are rung and then resume after 10 minutes.

Title postponed.

Clause 1 [Court of directors]:

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish moved Amendment No. 1:


Page 1, line 8, at beginning insert--
("( ) The Bank of England shall henceforth be known as the Central Bank of the United Kingdom ("the Bank").").

The noble Lord said: In moving Amendment No. 1, I shall also speak to Amendments Nos. 74, and 75 and to Clause 41 stand part of the Bill. I am deeply disappointed to hear that I cannot carry on my roller-coaster of victories on behalf of Scotland that I started yesterday evening, but I shall have to have some forbearance in this Committee stage.

I have put down this series of amendments for two reasons. One is that the name of the central bank of this country--of Great Britain and Northern Ireland--being the Bank of England does seem a little unusual in the newly devolved geography of our constitution. Secondly, it allows me to ask what, if any, parts of this Bill will fall to be devolved to the Scottish parliament. I shall start with the second point.

As far as I can see, none of its parts will fall to be devolved--they are all reserved--but I asked the question at Second Reading. I rather hoped that the noble Lord and his officials have been able to look through the Bill and decide whether, indeed, any parts

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are to be devolved. The Scottish parliament will, of course, have considerably more powers than the Welsh assembly or than any potential Northern Irish assembly which may be introduced. My question is therefore directed largely at the Scottish parliament, but it would also be helpful if the Minister would indicate whether any parts of this Bill will be devolved responsibilities of the Welsh assembly.

The Scottish parliament will have considerable economic powers, and I shall come to those issues later in the Bill. It seems to me that, in every piece of legislation that we now pass, we ought to have a clear statement from the Government as to what, in any Bill we are discussing, will be devolved in the future so that we know whether this is the last time your Lordships' House and the other place will have the chance to address the issue.

If all the matters in this Bill are reserved, as I suspect they are, I wonder, as a second question, whether any of those matters will be the subject of the various concordats which I understand are to be drawn up between the United Kingdom Government in Westminster and the Scottish government in Edinburgh. I am not entirely sure whether the Scottish parliament will meet in a brewery or in the former headquarters of Strathclyde Regional Council. That seems to be the subject of considerable debate in Scotland at the moment, as indeed does the question of a knighthood for Mr. Sean Connery. Those are, however, side issues, and I am sure I would be out of order if I developed them any further. We ought to have a straightforward answer, and it should be quite easy for the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, to give a fairly straightforward answer about the position of this Bill following devolution.

The first reason I raise this matter is the reason I mentioned as to why the central bank of England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland--collectively known as the United Kingdom--is not known as the central bank of the United Kingdom. Every Scottish schoolboy knows, but I am not entirely sure whether every English schoolboy knows, that the Bank of England was founded by a Scot. But then anybody who goes into the Square Mile of the City today will find that the place is, by and large, run by Scots. However, that is a different issue.

It is interesting that of all the European Union states, the United Kingdom is the only one whose central bank does not carry a clear identification of the state for which it is the central bank. The Bank of England has fulfilled the role of the central bank of the United Kingdom since the Bank Charter Act 1883. In 1832 a so-called secret committee on the Bank Charter focused on the desirability of one bank of issue for Great Britain and whether that should be the Bank of England. The committee report resulted in the Bank Charter Act 1833. The Bank Charter Act 1844 prohibited new banks of issue in the UK and that piece of legislation has been revised many times, most recently in the 1987 Banking Act.

The Bill before us today introduces some further statutory provisions for the Bank of England. It contains reform of its constitution, of the duties of the court of

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directors and makes new provisions relating to funding, the accounts and profits of the Bank. Most importantly, it sets up a Monetary Policy Committee within the Bank. That Monetary Policy Committee is given a statutory basis for the operational responsibility in relation to monetary policy: the setting of interest rates, in fact, as far as most ordinary people and most business people will be concerned. The Bill sets out the framework in accordance with which the Bank's monetary policy functions are to be exercised. I suspect that that is what will probably take us most of today to discuss.

It seems to me, as I said on Second Reading, that what we are looking at today is the first step in the process towards the independence of the Bank of England consistent with being a member of the single currency. As I believe I said on Second Reading--if I can remember the phrase--if the Prime Minister ever plucks up the courage of the Chancellor of the Exchequer to join the single currency, quite clearly we shall have to have a second Bill to make the Bank totally independent and not just of operational independence.

It has been suggested to me by, among other bodies, the Law Society of Scotland that in this new circumstance where the Bank will have a much greater role as the central bank of the United Kingdom within the European monetary system and where that role will be played out in the new geography of the constitution of the United Kingdom, we should perhaps ask ourselves whether it is not time that the central bank of the United Kingdom should be called just that.

After all, we are to have a government in Scotland--with perhaps limited powers but nonetheless with powers. I am not sure whether I can call it a government, but we are to have an organisation in Wales which will take many of the decisions regarding Wales--and not here at Westminster. It does seem to me that many people in Europe might find it rather odd, especially when they find that in Brussels they are dealing with a government of Wales and a government of Scotland, that the central bank covering those two countries is not called the central bank of the United Kingdom but is called the Bank of England.

I know the historical precedents are all there and everybody is probably well aware of what the Bank of England does at present. However, in the new geography of the constitution of our country, the central bank will hold a new position, initially through its Monetary Policy Committee in deciding monetary policy and eventually--and I suspect eventually will not be too long delayed--in being an independent central bank according to the Maastricht Treaty, in order to allow us to take part in the euro. I make no observations about whether we should or not. I just see that as being the direction of government policy. The Minister really ought to address the question of whether we should take this opportunity to call our central bank what indeed it is--the central bank of the United Kingdom. I beg to move.


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