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Lord McIntosh of Haringey: I was going to come to the third point made by the noble and learned Lord. I was only dealing with his concern that the court and the committee would have nothing to do if it was only a question of ensuring that information was available.

His more fundamental point, which I recognise, goes to the heart of the relationship between the Monetary Policy Committee and the court--the distinction we have made--and the responsibility for monetary policy, which lies with the Monetary Policy Committee. If he cares to read the record of the debate yesterday, he will see that, although noble Lords disagreed with me, I was very insistent that there should be no greater complication in the statement of objectives of the Bank other than that it should primarily be price stability and, subject to that, the economic policies of the Government. I resisted all attempts to extend that definition, and I would have resisted any attempt to add to it so that it should have regard to any other particular factors, on the grounds that I stated then, that you must have one proximate target rather than having a whole range of targets with the potential for conflict between them.

On the question of devolution, which both the noble Lord, Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish, and the noble and learned Lord mentioned, political consideration will have to be given to this, as to all other matters, when the Scottish parliament is formed. I shall be interested to see how concerned the noble Lord and his party are about the effective pursuit of devolution.

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Clause 16 agreed to.

Clause 17 [Power to obtain information]:

The Earl of Home moved Amendment No. 36:


Page 7, line 25, after ("undertaking") insert (", such information being solely that").

The noble Earl said: In moving Amendment No. 36, I shall speak also to Amendment No. 37. These amendments largely concern costs and I make no apology for continuing to emphasise the need that we all look for, which is that costs are kept to a minimum. There is in this clause a danger that the institutions will incur extra costs over and above what might be necessary.

Both the Bank and the authority will naturally want to have their own ideas about the form and the manner in which they collect the information anticipated in subsection (2)(a). In addition, it is quite possible that either of them might want the same information but in a rather different form. The Bank has, for a considerable length of time, been receiving information and it is only human nature that they have developed a good system which works for them and with which they are comfortable, and they will not necessarily want to change it. The requirements of the authority may need the information to be in a different form.

I entirely accept that the Bank and the authority will do their best not to duplicate, and indeed their intention not to do so is enshrined in paragraphs 5 and 6 of the MOU between the Treasury, the Bank and the authority. Those paragraphs refer to the desire to minimise the burden on companies. Amendment No. 36, however, seeks to concentrate the minds of those in the Bank to ask only for information which they really need. Ideally, I should like the words "or expedient" to be deleted from that paragraph, and indeed my colleagues in another place asked for that, but their request was rejected by the Economic Secretary. My thesaurus gives "helpful" as a synonym for "expedient", and on that basis one can think of much information which the Bank might find helpful to have but which is not strictly necessary.

Amendment No. 37 covers the eventuality whereby the Bank asks for information which may be expensive for an institution to provide without apparent good reason. The Bank must be seen to have a good reason for requesting information but it should tell the institution why it wants it. In addition, the Bank should have some idea about what the costs are of producing that information.

Institutions take any request from the Bank very seriously indeed, and I know from my own experience that, if anything, banks go overboard and provide more information than the Bank in the past technically needed. Although the Bank might imply in a notice that it only wants a back-of-an-envelope calculation, unless told otherwise institutions will provide a lot of information and at considerable expense. This amendment would ensure that there are fewer misunderstandings on that topic.

It is everybody's intention that the City of London and other financial centres in the UK must be kept as competitive as possible and minimise costs. I fear that

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over-enthusiasm in fact-gathering, while understandable and indeed laudable, could impose extra costs on institutions and reduce our competitiveness overall. I beg to move.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My answer to Amendment No. 36 is very simple. My answer to Amendment No. 37, however, is rather more complicated, so the Committee will have to forgive me. Amendment No. 36 is strictly unnecessary. The effect of Clause 17 is that the Bank can only request the relevant financial information which it considers necessary or expedient for the purposes of its monetary policy functions and the amendment adds nothing to that.

The noble Earl referred to his disquiet about the word "expedient", and he talked as if "helpful" was a thesaurus synonym. I do not believe a thesaurus has synonyms; it has related words, and if we started to use a thesaurus to interpret the wording in legislation we would rapidly find ourselves in considerable difficulty. I hope the noble Earl is persuaded that Amendment No. 36 would not help his cause.

Amendment No. 37 is more complicated because it refers both to reasons for the need for such information and to an estimation of costs, and these arguments are very different. First, let me make it clear that there is no change here proposed in existing legislation. The review of statistics which was carried out in 1997, and I believe was instigated under the previous government, came to the conclusion that no change was necessary and no change is therefore proposed. Indeed, Clause 17(6) provides that if any change were proposed in the future there would be consultation on such a change before it was imposed, so I can give the noble Lord that assurance.

As to giving reasons why the information is needed, it will be clear why the Bank will need the information, because the Bank will make it clear on the statistical form which is used under which power it is seeking the information. That will give the supplier of information the undertaking, the reasons which are necessary and which are called for in the amendment.

The issue of estimating the cost is much more difficult. Frankly, the amendment is unworkable. It is unreasonable to expect the Bank to estimate for every individual institution--which is what is called for--the costs of providing additional information. How do we know what are the costs of an individual institution, as the amendment would require us to provide?

Behind these amendments, however, is the fundamental concern which the noble Earl has expressed throughout this Committee stage that somehow the costs will increase. We are fully aware of the need to keep the cost of supplying information to the minimum consistent with meeting the information needs of the Bank. The Bank's code of practice for statistics commits the Bank

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to place the minimum load on data suppliers and to keep data suppliers' costs to a minimum. I hope that gives the noble Earl the reassurance that he seeks.

Lord Stewartby: May I just ask the noble Lord one question? Will the Bank be in a position to require this information before the Treasury has made the order referred to in subsection (4)?

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: We have to make the order first, before the Bank can require the information.

The Earl of Home: I thank the noble Lord for his reply to my two amendments. I accept the rather sloppy use of the word "synonym". Even so I retain some residual concerns that overenthusiasm in asking for information could be difficult. In accepting that the Bank will make clear on its statistical form why it is needed without seeing exactly what is the shape of these statistical forms, it is a bit difficult to be able to tell exactly what that is.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: I can answer that readily. I have already said that there was a review of statistics. No material change was recommended and no change is taking place. The statistical forms will be as they are now.

The Earl of Home: I thank the Minister for that indication. Moving on, I accept the fact that the Bank cannot know what the entire costs of each individual institution producing information such as it might ask for. However, there is a difference between the Bank saying, "Please give us some information but don't take long doing it; it really can be on the back of an envelope", and saying, "We really need a full-blown, totally documented answer to this request". I would hope that the Bank at any stage would have some idea of the importance, and therefore the amount of time and therefore cost, that the institution might be expected to spend on producing any particular piece of information for it. However, on the assurances given on that by the noble Lord, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendment No. 37 not moved.]

Clause 17 agreed to.

Clause 18 [Reports]:

5.30 p.m.

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish moved Amendment No. 38:


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