§ Order of the Day for Third Reading read.
§ VISCOUNT HAILSHAM
My Lords, I understand from those who know better than I do that any substantive remarks I make should be on the second Motion, That this Bill do now Pass, in so far as there is a substantive Amendment down on the Paper. Therefore, I beg to move that this Bill be now read a third time.
§ Moved, That the Bill be now read 3a.—(Viscount Hailsham.)
§ On Question, Bill read 3a.
§ LORD SHEPHERD moved, after Clause 70 to insert the following new clause:
§ Extension of powers of building societies to certain overseas territories
§ ".—(1) If it appears to Her Majesty that there exist in Canada, Australia, New Zealand, the Union of South Africa, India, Pakistan, Ceylon, the Federation of Rhodesia and Nyasaland, Ghana or the Federation of Malaya, or in any other sovereign state, laws for regulating building societies substantially similar to the Building Societies Acts, 1874 to 1960, then She may by Order in Council make provision—
- (a) for enabling building societies as defined in this Act to carry on business and
1096 make advances in any of those territories on the security of land in such territory, subject to any such law as aforesaid and to any conditions which may be specified in the Order;
- (b) for enabling, subject as aforesaid, such building societies to create, or assist in the creation of, building societies in any of those territories; and
- (c) for ancillary purposes.
§ Any such Order in Council may also provide that a building society whose seat is in any such territory may exercise similar powers in the United Kingdom, subject to such provisions of the Building Societies Acts, 1874 to 1960, as the Order may specify.
§ (2) Her Majesty may also by Order in Council direct that, for the purpose of enabling building societies as defined in this Act to carry on business and make advances in any colony, protectorate or United Kingdom trust territory upon the security of land in such colony, protectorate or territory, the provisions of the Building Societies Acts, 1874 to 1960, shall extend, with such exceptions, modifications and adaptations, if any, as may be specified in the Order, to such colony, protectorate or territory.
§ (3) Any Order in Council made under this section may be varied or revoked by a subsequent Order in Council so made, but no recommendation shall be made to Her Majesty in Council to make an Order under this section unless a draft thereof has been laid before, and approved by resolution of, each House of Parliament."
§ The noble Lord said: My Lords, with the permission of the House, I beg to move the Amendment that stands in the name of my noble friend Lord Milner of Leeds, who, unfortunately, through a previous engagement, is unable to be in his place this afternoon. The purpose of moving this Amendment at this stage is to give the noble Viscount, Lord Hailsham, the opportunity of making comments in reply to a plea that was made from this side in regard to an Amendment we moved on the Committee stage, which would make it possible for building societies, if they so wished, to have business operations in the Commonwealth. On behalf of the Government the noble Viscount raised some resistance to this Amendment, but I am sure that he will remember that the Amendment received, in principle, fairly wide support. I would therefore ask the noble Viscount whether he has had consultations with the Treasury; whether he has had an opportunity of discussions with the Commonwealth Relations Office and the Colonial Office; and whether it is still maintained that this clause should not appear in this Bill. I beg to move.1097
After Clause 70, insert the said new clause.—(Lord Shepherd.)
§ VISCOUNT HAILSHAM
My Lords, I do remember the debate, which was not very long ago, in which this subject was fairly widely canvassed, and when I promised to report back what had been said in your Lordships' House to my right honourable friend. In the result, there has been further consideration of the matter, but I am sorry to have to tell the noble Lord that we are still of the same opinion. We are also of the opinion that if we did, in fact, approve this particular provision, it would not be appropriate to include it in this particular piece of legislation. The noble Lord will not forget that this Bill, if it passes this afternoon, will go for consideration in another place. I know that there is a group of honourable Members of that place who are interested in the same sense as the noble Lord who put down this Amendment, and I think it is most unlikely that the Government would wish me to close the door before those honourable Members at least had had their say in the matter, both privately and publicly. Although I am bound to convey to the noble Lord the Government's view, which is that our opinion is unaltered by the debate here last week, I should not like to do more than say that that is our present opinion.
§ LORD SHEPHERD
My Lords, may I thank the noble Viscount for his courtesy in making these inquiries, and for his reply? I beg leave to withdraw the Amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ An Amendment (privilege) made.
§ VISCOUNT HAILSHAM
My Lords, I rise now to move that this Bill do now pass. Except for the Charities Bill, this is, I think, the first time for a little while that the House has had the opportunity to start a major Government Bill with 60 or 70 clauses in it. Some of us may think that perhaps we might do so more often with advantage. I think it can be said that we have improved the Bill during the course of its passage through the House; but, on the whole, I believe that it has survived the ordeal of Committee and Report fairly well. I should like to thank noble Lords on all sides of the House, both 1098 for their kindly interest in the Amendments which the Government proposed and for their thought and zeal in proposing Amendments of their own, some few of which were accepted and now find their place in the Bill.
The debates on the Second Reading and Committee stages are so fresh in your Lordships' minds that I do not think it would really be appropriate for me to speak at any length on this occasion. Clearly, as in all Bills, there are matters in this Bill which are open to difference of opinion. It would be surprising if this were not the case when we remember that in this matter the Government are legislating for societies of vastly different size, ranging from the smallest to those with hundreds of millions of pounds capital invested in them. We have tried to hold the true balance between the large and the small: between the large battalions, as I think somebody referred to them on Committee stage, and the small platoons. We have never forgotten that the real purpose of the Bill is to protect the investing public; and therefore we have tried to hold the balance between potential and actual investors and the interests of building societies' managements in general.
The history of the relationship between the Government and the societies has undergone a good deal of development, as I tried to explain on Second Reading. Our view is that it would probably be wrong to carry Government control any further in this field than it has now reached. We certainly should not wish to see the Government taking a direct part in running the societies—and that is why, although I quite understood the point that was made, I did not feel able to accept the suggestion of the noble Lord, Lord Milner of Leeds, that the Registrar should have power to control changes in building societies' rules.
Now that I am on that particular point, perhaps the House would desire me to refer to a cognate point that was raised—namely, that under the emergency legislation societies could change their rules during the war without securing the approval of their members in the normal way. We have made some enquiries about that practice since the point was drawn to our attention. All the changes had to be registered 1099 with the Registrar, and I am assured by the Chief Registrar that, generally speaking, these war-time changes were of a quite minor character, and that he knows of no case where a building society took advantage of the war-time arrangement to alter its rules on a substantial scale. And, of course, where the rules were changed during that arrangement, it is open for members of the society to move to change them back again to-day. I should think, therefore, that the Bill carries Government intervention and control about as far as is needed at present, without going so far as to break the fundamental principle that building societies are carried on for the benefit of and on behalf of, and ultimately under the control of, their members; and I should personally hope that this is a characteristic which they will always retain.
A number of points were raised on the Committee stage which I undertook would be considered in the appropriate quarters. I would say that the most important of these was the question of appeal from the Chief Registrar's decision to make an order under Clause 6 or 7 of the Bill. We are still examining this question, and I should like to repeat the assurance I gave on Committee stage as to our readiness to have further discussions upon it.
I suppose that the other question which exercised your Lordships' minds most was that of disqualification of directors from undertaking a valuation required under Clause 14 (1) (b). I cannot add anything more to what I said last week; but, as I have already pointed out, there will be further discussions in another place, and I know that everything that has been said in your Lordships' House will be taken fully into account. Indeed, speaking generally, I will bring to the attention of my right honourable friend all that has been said in this Chamber, so that it may be further studied.
There are also two points to which I said the Government wished to give further consideration, and on which I can now say the Government hope to move Amendments in another place. Those points are the transfer of engagements from a society in Northern Ireland to a society here (which also arose on an Amendment moved by the noble Lord, Lord Milner of Leeds) and the position of joint holders in relation to the register 1100 of members, a matter which was raised by my noble friend Lord Elton. I am sure the House will understand that both topics raise questions of considerable technical and legal difficulty, and it was therefore not possible to have Amendments ready for consideration in your Lordships' House. Indeed, it is only fair to warn the House that it might still prove impracticable, in the case of the Northern Ireland point, to deal with the problem of transfer of engagements because of difficulties arising from differences of law between the two countries, though we hope that this will not be the case. I should like again to thank your Lordships' House for its consideration of myself during the rather concentrated attention which we have had to give to this important Bill. With these words, I beg to move that the Bill do now pass.
Moved, That the Bill do now pass.—(Viscount Hailsham.)
§ 5.10 p.m.
§ LORD LATHAM
My Lords, first of all I should like to express the appreciation of Members on this side of the House for the very considerate way in which this complicated matter has been dealt with by the noble Viscount, Lord Hailsham. I am sure that the Building Societies' Association would wish me, in the absence of the noble Duke, the Duke of Devonshire, to express their appreciation to the Government and to those concerned for the ready way in which the submissions and suggestions of the Association have been considered and met. A number of Amendments suggested by the Building Societies' Association are now embodied in the Bill. I should like to say how much I have appreciated, if I may say so, the urbane way in which the noble Viscount has dealt with the matters in disputation.
I appreciate his remarks with regard to Clauses 6 and 7, and no doubt they will receive earnest and extended consideration in another place. I wonder whether he can say anything about the third Amendment which was discussed and which we regarded as being of some importance—namely, the Amendment to Clause 15 dealing with classes of additional security which might be taken into account—that is, the vexed question, about which it is suggested there is some doubt, of the joint guarantee of building society, local authority and the State.
§ VISCOUNT HAILSHAM
My Lords, I have a very truncated note of all the points which were raised, and if I have chosen the right one, I understand that this is a matter which has not yet been decided.
§ On Question, Bill passed, and sent to the Commons.