HC Deb 19 July 1967 vol 750 cc2426-31
Mr. Jay

I beg to move Amendment No. 303, in page 123, column 3, Schedule 6, to leave out line 28 and to insert: In section 3, in subsection (1), the words Subject to the provisions of this Act'; in subsection (2), the words 'Subject as aforesaid'; and subsections (3) and (4). The effect of this Amendment is to delete the opening words Subject to the provisions of this Act and "Subject as aforesaid" of Section 3(1 and 2) respectively of the Insurance Companies Act, 1958. Those words would only be appropriate so long as Section 3 (3 and 4) of, and paragraph 3 of the Second Schedule to, the 1958 Act are in existence. Since those three provisions are being repealed in Schedules 6 and 7 to the Bill the words in question would become meaningless, and are, therefore, being repealed. I am sure that none of us would wish to leave in the Bill meaningless words.

Amendment agreed to.

6.10 a.m.

Mr. Darling

I beg to move, That the Bill be now read the Third time.

I must start with an apology which everyone who has served on the Bill must have from the Government. It is for the way in which the proceedings have been rushed to some extent so that Parts II, III and V could go on the Statute Book as quickly as possible for reasons which all hon. Members fully understand. If we did not have the powers which Parts II and III give us and a new scandal blew up during the summer, we would have great difficulty defending any delaying action to the public who might be affected. It is also essential that Part V, which deals with moneylenders and contains retrospective provisions, should be on the Statute Book.

During the course of the Bill, we have had co-operation and helpfulness from everybody concerned, particularly from hon. Members opposite who are still with us at this late stage and who have worked extremely hard and who have helped us to make this a very good Bill. The hon. Member for Gloucestershire, South (Mr. Corfield) has repeatedly said that it is a slipshod and badly drafted Bill, and so on, but that is all part of the operation and we all quite understand it.

However, in the long course of the Committee stage and again on Report hon. Members have helped us enormously to make sure that it is not a slipshod Bill. It is a very carefully drafted Bill and we can send it back to the House of Lords confidently knowing that it is. We shall have to apologise to another place for all the massive changes which we have made in the Bill, which was sent to us what seems to me to be many, many months ago.

I have found this to be a most useful exercise. I cannot say that I am now an expert on company law, but I know much more about it than when I first started. The only trouble has been that I have had to learn the hard way, and I can think of easier ways of learning company law than going through all the proceedings which I went through. However, I should like sincerely to thank all the hon. Members who have helped us, particularly those on the Opposition Front Bench and the hon. Member for the City of Chester (Mr. Temple) for the hard work which they have put in in a sincere desire on their part as on ours to make the Bill worthy of the labours which we have put into it.

6.15 a.m.

Mr. Michael Shaw

I should like to congratulate both right hon. Gentlemen on having got their Bill to Third Reading and I should like to say a special word of congratulation to the right hon. Gentleman the Minister of State, who has battled throughout, often single-handed. At times, with our assiduous assistance, he has even made progress.

May I say a word about the Bill? It came from another place with 96 Clauses and seven Schedules, or, in other words, 77 pages of Clauses and 35 pages of Schedules. It is reported back with 123 Clauses and seven Schedules, or with 91 pages of Clauses and 37 pages of Schedules. We came to it with no fewer than 175 Government Amendments on report, and some Amendments were put down between the various report sittings.

Clearly, a lot of work has been done on this Bill during its progress through the House, and with all sincerity—for nobody wants acrimony at this hour of the morning—I say that this is a Bill based on the Jenkins Report presented as long ago as 1962, and, having had a dummy run in the last Parliament, it has now to go forward to the other place with dramatic changes made to it.

I believe that much of the Bill is required, and I am confident that the work we have put into it has been of benefit to the Bill. We on this side are still not satisfied with its terms about quoted and non-quoted disclosures, but experience in the field, so to speak, will prove who is right in that respect. Certainly, the insurance provisions are essential, and we welcome the anti-fraud provisions, as well as what has been done in respect of the moneylender Clauses.

Yet all the work we have done has served as much as anything to highlight a consideration for the future. Like a gleam in this Bill, there is the promise of another Bill yet to come, and in the work done in bringing this Bill to this stage, I hope that the President of the Board of Trade has learned from an error made at the very outset. I am surprised that the Government had not learned from a recollection of company law that it is always unwise to start such Bills in another place. Much of the trouble tonight, and earlier, has come from that very fact that the Bill started its long journey in another place.

Moving the Companies Bill of 1862—the first we had ever had—the then Lord Chancellor said on Second Reading that similar Measures had been introduced previously, but that, for various reasons, they bad never passed the Commons. Those words might well have been said only tonight. It was thought more desirable to start the Bill in the Commons in 1862, and at the time it was stated that that Bill was there "maturely considered". Surely it would have been better to have followed the lesson learned so long ago and, while nobody would wish for a Liberal Government to be in power as it was in 1862, let us hope that when the next Companies Bill arrives, the Liberal Party will play a part in our deliberations.

This has been a long, hard course—27 sittings in Committee, and now, on the second day of the Report stage, an all-night sitting. We have seen much of each other throughout these long hours. It says much for our tolerance that we can still face each other in reasonable amity across the Floor of the House.

We congratulate both right hon. Gentlemen on the Government Front Bench, particularly the Minister of State, and wish the Bill well.

6.21 a.m.

Mr. Scholefield Allen (Crewe)

I should like to say just one sentence. I speak on behalf of a large number of back benchers when I say that they also serve who only stand and wait.

6.22 a.m.

Mr. Temple

It is entirely fitting that the last stages of the Bill in this House should end on a note of harmony. I congratulate the Minister of State on the very charming way in which he has conducted our proceedings. It is amazing what a little charm will do.

I congratulate, too, very sincerely my hon. Friend the Member for Gloucestershire, South (Mr. Corfield) and our Front Bench team, who have put in magnificent work. I know that the members of the Government Front Bench have congratulated them, but I feel that we should congratulate them from these benches.

I echo the sentiment of the Minister of State that it is extraordinarily important that the insurance provisions of the Bill get into statutory form as soon as possible. The Bill will. I suppose, go very rapidly to another place. No doubt we shall have Amendments sent back from another place. I should like an undertaking that when those Amendments come back they will be taken at a reasonable hour and not at six o'clock in the morning.

It has been a great pleasure to take part in the most interesting deliberations on the Bill.

6.24 a.m.

Mr. J. Bruce-Gardyne (South Angus)

I am sure that at this stage we all wish the Bill well on its way to another place. The Minister of State set the tone for the Third Reading debate with his typically attractive and courteous remarks.

I do not wish to strike a discordant note, but it seems to me somewhat disturbing that we should be completing the Bill's passage through the Commons in a sitting lasting about 15 hours. I wonder whether we have been able to give the Bill the proper consideration which it should have had. I know that that is not the fault of either the right hon. Gentlemen at present on the Government Front Bench. Perhaps we should go into the responsibilities for that again. They have been pointed out, and I hope that they will have been noticed where they should be noticed.

I have found the consideration of the Bill intensely interesting and worth while. I join in the remarks made about the Minister of State, who has given a model performance in presenting the Bill.

I remember saying on Second Reading that the Bill was something of a curate's egg, with a difference, and it still is, although it is a very much bigger egg than we first had. Parts of it are good—and I am thinking particularly of the parts dealing with provision for wider disclosure in the case of public companies. I am not sure that the Bill, in this particular, goes far enough. We have to recognise that we cannot protect all the interests and rights of shareholders through company legislation in this way.

The Stock Exchange Council has a very important part to play too. It is vital that we should see the Council playing its part because if it does not, one must think carefully about the possible case for something along the lines of the Securities of Exchange Commission. One or two recent events, which will be in hon. Members' minds, have raised certain suspicions about the adequacy of the Stock Exchange Council's ability to police the activities of companies operating on the Stock Exchange. This is a matter which will have to be watched before we come to this famous second Bill.

I do not know how long it will be before the second Bill comes before us. I know that the Minister of State has assured me that I have been wrong to express doubts as I have done about this. We shall see. By the time the second Bill comes before us, we shall have had an opportunity to see how this Bill has worked. I believe that we may well find that there are gaps in the Bill which will leave us an opportunity to act, so long as the Government brings it before us.

To conclude on a harmonious note, we can only hope that, if the Bill does come before us, the Minister of State will be there to give us his gentle guidance through another Committee.

Mr. Graham Page

On the other side of the House.

6.26 p.m.

Mr. Corfield

I have to disappoint the Minister of State, because I do find this a disappointing Bill. It could have been so much better. I want to thank my hon. Friends for all the hard work that they have put in. My complaint against the right hon. Gentleman is that, however angry I get against the Government, he always manages to melt my anger with his charm and courtesy, even at 6.30 in the morning, and that is a great achievement.

I have to strike one discordant note. The House ought not to be treated like this. We have put in a lot of work on the Bill and we ought not to have had to consider the last stages for 14 solid hours.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read the Third time and passed, with Amendments.