HC Deb 02 July 1986 vol 100 cc1102-3

Lords amendment: No.1, after clause 9 insert the following new clause: .—(1) This section shall apply where

  1. (a) an offer for sale to the public of any securities of the successor company is made by or on behalf of the Crown;
  2. (b) any invitation or advertisement is issued (whether or not in documentary form) by or on behalf of the Crown in connection with the offer; and
  3. (c) that invitation or advertisement does not contain all the listing particulars.
None of the persons mentioned in subsection (3) shall incur any civil liability by reason of the invitation or advertisement, or any omission from it, if—
  1. (a) the contents of the invitation or advertisement were submitted to the Council of The Stock Exchange;
  2. (b) the Council did not object to the contents of the invitation or advertisement; and
  3. (c) the invitation or advertisement and the listing particulars, taken together, would not be likely to mislead persons of the kind likely to consider the offer.
(3) The persons referred to in subsection (2) are—
  1. (a) the Crown;
  2. (b) any person acting on behalf of the Crown in connection with the offer;
  3. (c) the maker of any statement contained in the invitation or advertisement;
  4. (d) any person responsible for the preparation of, or of any part of, the listing particulars.
(4) The reference in subsection (2) to a person mentioned in subsection (3) incurring civil liability shall include a reference to any other person being entitled as against the person so mentioned to be granted any civil remedy or to rescind or repudiate any agreement. (5) In this section "the listing particulars", in relation to the offer, means such particulars as, by virtue of any provision of any enactment other than this section or of any subordinate legislation, have been approved by the Council of The Stock Exchange for the purposes of the admission of the securities to which the offer relates to the Official List of The Stock Exchange.

9.57 pm
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Transport (Mr. Michael Spicer)

I beg to move, That this House doth agree with the Lords in the said amendment.

Mr. Speaker

With this it will be convenient to consider Lords amendments Nos. 78 and 83.

Mr. Spicer

The new clause contained in Lords amendment No. 1 relates to the use of a mini-prospectus in relation to the flotation of the BAA's successor company. Although it is not certain that we will wish to issue such a document, we may decide that it would be valuable as part of our compaign to widen the ownership of shares. The new clause provides exemption from civil liability resulting from a mini-prospectus where the document, when read together with the full prospectus, would not be misleading for potential investors.

This is a very limited exemption that ensures that liability does not arise simply as a result of abridging the prospectus. A similar provision has been included in the Gas Bill, and hon. Members will note that the Financial Services Bill will confer a similar exemption in respect of flotations in general. The principle is a sound one, and I hope that the House will approve it.

Mr. Robert Hughes (Aberdeen, North)

The Minister said that this deals with a mini-prospectus, and I have no doubt that that is so. But it is clear from the way in which the amendment is drafted that it is an all-purpose escape clause that absolves from civil liability anyone connected with the issuing of this prospectus if someone challenges the facts during flotation.

We know that we cannot hold the new Secretary of State responsible for that, although I am sorry that he has taken on the bad habits of his predecessor with these catch-all clauses that are widely drawn and include belts and braces, buttons and every other kind of safety device that one could think of.

The Minister said that the amendment is necessary, although I am not quite sure why. He has not explained the need for this all-embracing escape clause. Why was it not on the face of the Bill when it was first published? Has he simply decided that the Government might use a mini-prospectus, or does the reason go wider than that? The Minister confirned that there is a provision similar to this in the Gas Bill, and it would appear that it will be a feature of all privatisation bills.

I am especially worried about the blanket immunity for omission from the invitations or advertisements. I am primarily worried about staff conditions and the possible position with regard to the undertakings given over pensions for existing staff. As I understand it, the position is—as the chairman of the British Airports Authority has stated clearly and specifically in writing—that the pensions of those people already in employment will not be changed.

It being Ten o'clock, the debate stood adjourned.