HL Deb 21 June 1968 vol 293 cc1056-71

12.59 p.m.


My Lords, I beg to move that this Bill be now read a second time. The title does not suggest a glamorous subject, but the Bill is concerned with organisations which for the past century have played a significant part in the life of the British people and made a considerable contribution to the welfare of the community. In normal circumstances I would have moved this Second Reading almost formally, but I am aware of the fact that Members of this House have received communications from interested parties and that the Press has created undue interest in this Bill. It is unnecessary for me to proceed in detail through every clause because the Explanatory Memorandum deals with them with extraordinary clarity. But to my mind the circumstances justify me giving the background of the Bill and its scope and purpose.

Under the Bill, societies covered by the Friendly Societies Act and the Industrial and Provident Societies Act are involved. There are five classes of friendly societies registered under the Friendly Societies Act 1896, and of these the societies normally described as "Friendly Societies" are most important. The principal business is that of insuring the members on a mutual basis for sickness, death and endowment benefits. They include such well-known national organisations as the National Deposit Friendly Society and the Hearts of Oak Benefit Society. In addition, there are many small local societies, which have changed very little in character from the sick and burial clubs of the last century. But to-day their combined membership amounts to some 5½ million persons and their funds to some £300 million. In addition to these, there are 81 collecting societies, which are friendly societies undertaking industrial Assurance business. They are subject to the Industrial Assurance Acts as well as the Friendly Societies Act. To give some idea of the size and scope of these organisations, at the end of 1966 they had over 21 million paying policies and funds totalling over £400 million.

The other societies registered under the Friendly Societies Act are workmen's clubs, of which there are some 2,500, with over 1½ million members. In addition, there are specially authorised societies, benevolent societies and, so I am informed, cattle insurance societies. That is the range covered by the Friendly Societies Act. Then there are the societies registered under the Industrial and Provident Societies Act 1965, which was a consolidating Act. It is necessary for a society to be registered if it is, for example, a bona fide co-operative society or an organisation which is conducted for the benefit of the community and for which there are special reasons why it should be registered under this Act rather than under the Companies Act 1948.

The activities of the societies registered under the Industrial and Provident Societies Act are very varied. First of all, there is the great co-operative movement, which undertakes a tremendous trade, exceeding £1,000 million a year. In addition to the Co-operative Wholesale Society, the Scottish Co-operative Wholesale Society and all the local co-operative societies, there are also registered under this Act clubs, housing societies, agricultural societies and a few insurance societies. The largest volume of business is done by the co-operative movement, but at the end of 1966 there were in all 8,145 societies registered under the Industrial and Provident Societies Act, which had a total membership of 15½ million, with funds of over £928 million and assets whose book value was £1,500 million.

The main concern of this Bill is to modernise the law governing the auditing and accounts of friendly societies and industrial and provident societies, the range of which I have attempted to describe. The present provisions on these matters are substantially the same as those which were enacted towards the end of last century. It is true that there have been amending Acts over the course of years, but these have merely tinkered with the provisions and now they are out of line with modern accountancy practice and with the corresponding law for companies and building societies. The Bill also brings valuation requirements for friendly societies into line with modern practice and makes some minor administrative improvements in friendly society law.

In the matter of audit and accounts, the changes proposed fall under two heads: the changes in accounting requirements for societies and the changes in the qualifications, rights and duties of auditors. Under the first head, the substance of the change is that accounts and balance sheets in future will be required to give a "true and fair view" of matters with which they deal and auditors are required to report accordingly. The "true and fair view", as it is described, is now the accepted criterion for accounts and balance sheets and is written into the Companies Act and Building Societies Act. Under present law, auditors of friendly, industrial and provident societies have to report whether accounts are "correct, duly vouched and in accordance with law", and modern accountants regard a report in these terms as too restrictive in scope. Therefore the appropriate accounts of friendly societies and cooperative societies should be brought into line with new accountancy concepts.

I would point out to your Lordships that save in one instance the Bill will not oblige any society to publish accounts additional to those required by the present law. The exception is in Clause 13, which provides for an industrial and provident society which has a subsidiary to produce group accounts covering the affairs of the group as a whole. Clause 14(2) provides that group accounts need not deal with a subsidiary if, in the opinion of the parent organisation, and this is approved by the registrar, the inclusion of the subsidiary's accounts would be impracticable or misleading, or the two businesses could not reasonably be treated as a single undertaking.

Clause 15(5) defines a subsidiary of an industrial and provident society. It states: For the purposes of this Act, an industrial and provident society shall be deemed to be a subsidiary of another such society if, but only if, that other society either—

  1. (a) is a member of the first mentioned society and controls the composition of its committee;…"
That is a most important matter which I would ask your Lordships to bear in mind. Under the second head, qualifications of auditors, the Bill discards the obsolete system of approved auditors who are specially appointed by the Treasury. This system also is a relic of the 19th century. Instead, it provides for the audits (all save those of the smallest societies) to be conducted by accountants with recognised professional qualifications. It is true that under the Bill the smallest societies will be allowed to have the option to appoint lay auditors, and as a transitional measure existing approved auditors will be allowed to continue with the audits which they already perform. But, apart from these exceptions, the sole qualification for a society's auditor will be in future recognised as professional qualifications as set out in Clause 7.

I would point out in passing that the Bill protects professional auditors from summary dismissal, and they can be removed only by resolutions at general meetings. In this as in other matters, the Bill is adopting the standards already accepted by the Companies Acts and the Building Societies' Act. I would at this point take the opportunity of laying special emphasis on one extremely important point: it must be made clear that the proposals in this Bill have not been prompted by the need to check abuses made possible by existing law. The law certainly needs to be modernised, but there is not the slightest evidence that these defects have led to misconduct of the affairs of societies. Indeed, the conduct of these societies, so numerous in terms of numbers of societies and so powerful in terms of the support they receive from the general public, has been of the highest order. I made reference in opening this speech to the tremendous contribution they have made to social welfare. Indeed, because that fact is recognised the penalties imposed for the contravention of the provisions of this Bill are the standard penalties for offences under the Acts of 1896 and 1965.

I should also bring to the notice of your Lordships, particularly in view of the recent Press comment, the fact that the proposals embodied in this Bill have been fully discussed over the past three years, not only with accountancy bodies but with the principal organisations representing both friendly societies and industrial and provident societies. I would also take this opportunity of emphasising that nothing in this Bill affects the nature or constitution of societies or alters the general framework of the law under which they conduct their business; nor does it add to, or alter, the existing relationships between societies. That I think is of tremendous importance. What the Bill does, both by implication and in fact, is to acknowledge the continuing importance of the role of these voluntary organisations in the community. The principle of the Bill, therefore, is, quite simply, that their accounting standards should correspond to the importance of their role in the community. I commend the Bill to your Lordships.

Moved, That the Bill be now read 2a. (Lord Peddie.)

1.14 p.m.


My Lords, we are extremely grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Peddie, for the way in which he has dealt with the provisions of this Bill in introducing it to your Lordships' House. The Bill seems to be fated to have a rather peculiar history. It was debated, more by chance than intention, on Second Reading in another place. Indeed, so unexpected was the debate that the sponsor of the Bill had not taken the precaution to be present; he thought, I imagine, that it would go on the nod. However, he made up for it in Committee by getting 38 Amendments through in 24 minutes, which is not bad going.

It is impossible to disagree with the purposes of the Bill. The noble Lord, Lord Peddie, has made these very clear. He has made clear, also—and I entirely agree with him—that there is no evidence that this Bill is required by reason of any abuses. The purpose of the Bill is not to prevent abuses but merely, as the noble Lord says, to modernise the accounting systems and to bring some uniformity into them, which is clearly desirable.

I have only one point to raise, and it is a difficult one. It comes to me from a letter, accompanied by a memorandum, which was sent to my noble friend Lord Erroll of Hale, and I believe has been sent to other Members of your Lordship's House, by the Co-operative Insurance Society Limited, asking for an Amendment to be made to the Bill. My noble friend passed this on to me as he was unable to be present to-day, and, having read it, I asked the officers or the Society to meet me, which they did yesterday. The memorandum deals with the effect on their interests of that part of the Bill which deals with the group accounts of industrial and provident societies.

I think I should tell your Lordships what is contained in the memorandum. If I may summarise it as briefly as I can, the society says that its assets amount to over £450 million. Its paid up share capital, however, is only £52,500, which is owned as to four-fifths by the Co-operative Wholesale Society and one-fifth by the Scottish Co-operative Wholesale Society, and on which a maximum dividend of 7 per cent. a year is paid. The remainder of the assets are, in effect, held in trust for the policyholders, and the whole of the profits, now amounting to over £16½ million a year, must, the memorandum says, be used for their benefit. In short, if I may put it in this way, while the Co-operative Wholesale Society and the Scottish Cooperative Wholesale Society jointly own the business, they do not own the assets, in the sense that the assets are not in any way at the disposal of the Cooperative Wholesale Society or the Scottish Co-operative Wholesale Society to meet their liabilities.

The memorandum argues, therefore, that it would be quite wrong if the accounts of the Co-operative Insurance Society were to be consolidated with those of the Co-operative Wholesale Society or, indeed, included in the group accounts, even although it is a fact that the directors are all appointed by these two Societies. There are ten directors, and eight are appointed by the Wholesale Co-operative Society and two by the Scottish Wholesale Co-operative Society. This, I believe, is common ground between the Co-operative Wholesale Society and (if I may now abbreviate) the C.I.S. In terms of the Bill, it seems probable that the Co-operative Wholesale Society would avail itself of Clause 14(2) and apply to the Chief Registrar for authority, or for his agreement, at any rate, not to deal with the Co-operative Insurance Society in its group accounts. But this, it is thought by the C.I.S., would involve referring to the C.I.S. as a subsidiary and giving an explanation in the group accounts as to why the accounts are not included.

In fact, I understand that the C.W.S. take some pride in the fact that last year they brought the presentation of their group accounts into line with the provisions of the Bill in advance of legislation. The noble Lord mentioned that the provisions of this Bill had been discussed for some three years past, and I think it is much to the credit of the C.W.S. that they have done so. I understand also that they referred to the C.I.S. in their group accounts for the year—that is, the year before this current year. The C.I.S. say that this has already caused them some embarrassment and they fear that the interests of their policyholders and of their business might be ad tersely affected by this Bill, because of the impression that might be created—quite wrongly, of course, but impressions are impressions—that the assets of the C.I.S. are available to the C.W.S. I thing there may be other reasons which one need not, obviously, go into.

This seems to me to be a matter which could be very easily put right by a small Amendment to Clause 15(5), which deals with the circumstances in which an industrial and provident society is to be deemed to be a subsidiary of another society. It would be quite easy, I should have thought, to exclude the C.I.S., either by name or as a member of a class—a class in which it might well be that it is the only member; I do not know. I hope that the noble Lord will be able to say that he will certainly consider such an Amendment, since the object is to safeguard the interests of the policyholders and to ensure that such a wrong impression is not conveyed about the position of the assets and profits of the society in relation to the C.W.S.

This was the view expressed in the letter and the memorandum sent to Members of your Lordships' House, and matters would have been quite easy had they been allowed to rest here. Unfortunately, that is not so, and to-day an article appears in the Business News section of The Times, which I must read to your Lordships. The article is headed, "Chairman Goes in Co-op Row", and it says: The battle for control of the £477 m. Cooperative Insurance Society has led to the withdrawal from the board of the chairman, Mr. A. E. F. Lovick, and three other directors. An announcement of a boardroom reshuffle is expected in the next few days. These changes follow a last-minute bid by the traditionally independent 100-year-old insurance organisation to alter Government-backed legislation establishing full control by the £500 m. Co-op Wholesale Society. I may interpose here to say that I take note of what the noble Lord, Lord Peddie, said, that this does not alter in my way the constitution of any of the industrial and provident societies covered by the Bill.

I continue the quotation: Trouble has flared because the C.W.S. opposes the attempt to break away from the proposed subsidiary status. The complex row between the two sister Co-ops involves the insurance board's determined stand that its first responsibility is to the millions of policyholders paying about £90 million a year in premiums. There are fears that the C.W.S.—principal shareholder which waives any claim to the £15 m. profits (all returned to policyholders)—may interfere with the investment of £400 m. worth of funds to help the general Co-op modernization drive. And then these are the words which are important, I think, to your Lordships: Departure of the chairman and three colleagues—they are all full-time C.W.S. directors—follows the circulation to all members of the House of Lords of a memorandum setting out the insurance board's objections to part of the Industrial and Provident Societies Bill now going through Parliament. A majority of the C.W.S. board, which nominates eight of the insurance society's board from its own ranks, claims this move was in defiance of the wishes of the principal shareholders. As a result, the resignation of the chairman and three others has been demanded and the C.W.S. board is nominating replacements, including its own chairman, Harry Jennings, drawn from the ranks of part-time wholesale directors. My Lords, the approach to Members of this House with a view to securing an Amendment to the Bill may not have been, of course, the full cause of this dismissal; it may be only an approximate cause. Nevertheless, I am concerned that the right of an insurance board representing so substantial a business, and therefore presumably an experienced and responsible body, to approach your Lordships on what it conceives to be the interests of its policyholders should have been interfered with in this way and punitive action taken by the owners of the share capital, whoever they may be. At the least, I feel that it is necessary that the action taken should be investigated by your Lordships, and I am accordingly putting down this afternoon a Motion to refer this matter to the Committee for Privileges.

1.27 p.m.


My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Drumalbyn, has referred to an article in the Press this morning. I will refer at the outset of what I am going to say to a broadcast last night by the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, who leads the Benches opposite. I understand that in that broadcast he said that some Life Peers speak too often, and for too long, and on subjects outside their experience. If that represents the noble Lord's view, might I emphasise for his reflection, and for others who think as he does, that some Peers of other rank or kind who seldom appear in your Lordships' House tend to crowd in at the wrong times, and vote without sufficient self-discipline and thought when they do, and, as we can see, delay the Business of Government and the country much more than do some Life Peers who occasionally, but with sincerity, speak for some minutes longer than they need?

But if in the minds of the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, and some of his friends I am among the offenders who are Life Peers, let me say with all the emphasis at my command that I came to your Lordships' House to do a job, and I intend to do it. Moreover, I happen to be an accountant and compared with, say, lawyers and teachers, we are perhaps all too few in your Lordships' House and the other place. But there is the point that accountants are often accused of interfering too much in too many things. That, I suppose, flows from the fact of the training and experience they have. History indicates that accountants in fact play a vital role in industry and in economic affairs.

Possibly in this short Second Reading debate on the Friendly and Industrial and Provident Societies Bill I am the only approved auditor present, and possibly the only approved auditor in your Lordships' House altogether. I am about to lose my job in consequence of this Bill, but fortunately I shall still qualify under the other headings of the Bill to continue. But, beyond that, I think I also happen to be the person who audits the annual accounts of Britain's largest friendly society. I would not have mentioned its name, but as other names were mentioned by my noble friend Lord Peddie I will tell your Lordships that that society is the Industrial Orthopaedic Society which governs the Manor House Hospital. So for many years I have been connected with the accounts of societies for which this Bill caters, and it would hardly be correct for me to stay completely silent, in spite of the fact that I occupied some of your Lordships' time earlier this week.

Substantially, I believe this Bill emanated from the representations initiated by my professional institute and, according to my information, at a later stage there were talks between the Registrar of Friendly Societies and members of the Accountants' Joint Parliamentary Committee. Points were put, they were discussed and were answered by the Registrar and his colleagues, and the Bill now before your Lordships' House is said to be widely supported—and is indeed supported—by the professional accounting bodies. It is a much overdue piece of legislation which ought to be generally welcomed. For some time I have believed that some of the accounting and auditing requirements pertaining to these societies have been quite archaic, and even the printed form prescribed by the Registrar, which is the annual return and statement of accounts to be filed by these societies, has needed modernisation, in line with new thinking and techniques. One form I saw recently had a new space upon it worded to indicate the amount of capital losses. However, there was no space for capital profits. I hope that my efforts in the area of investment will see a rapid change from what somebody seems to think must be the inevitable result of all society investment policy.

I have a few other personal observations to make on this Bill. In one respect there is an improvement even upon the provisions applicable to companies. In Clause 1(1)(b) every society is required to maintain—and I emphasise this—a satisfactory system of control over its books of account, its cash holdings and all its receipts and remittances; and in Clause 9(4)(b) the auditors are required to satisfy themselves about this and to report if it is not complied with. So here we have this new area covering these societies on the subject of control, which is not so far covered even in the company legislation.

It seems to me the sequence in Clause 3 is not quite as I would have expected to see it. For example, subsection (1) of that clause says: Every revenue account of a society shall give a true and fair view…for the period to which the account relates. Then in subsection (2) it says: Every society shall, in respect of each year of account, cause to be prepared either— a revenue account or two or more revenue accounts. Obviously one must prepare a revenue account first before one comes to the notion of whether or not it gives a true and fair view. I hope that in the later stages of the Bill we shall see the order of these two subsections reversed.

In Clauses 7 and 8 reference is made to the qualification of auditors. I wonder why, for example, in Clause 7 it is not provided that a firm may be appointed auditors provided that none of its partners is ineligible? Apparently this can be done under Clause 8 in the case of a Scottish firm, and whether this is the result of drafting by a Scottish lawyer, or an overdose of Scottish nationalism, I cannot say. I urge the powers that be to look at that particular part again, for I know from personal experience how important it is that a firm should be able to certify, provided all the partners in the firm are eligible. If this can be done in Scotland, surely it can also be done in England and Wales.

Clause 9 refers to the auditor's report, and that prompts me to raise this point. Should not the auditors be required also to satisfy themselves that the accounts are in conformity with the rules of the particular society as well as with the books and accounts? The same clause gives auditors access to books, and clearly includes minute books, so would it not be helpful to include a specific reference to minute books, because there are many cases where auditors have considerable difficulty in obtaining access to minute books. The auditor can certainly verify entries in the books of account by seeing their authorisation in the minutes; but he should also be able to check that transactions authorised by the minutes have in fact been carried out. This ties in with what I have said about conformity with the rule book. Any authorised transaction not carried out could then be reported on by the auditor.

Clause 1(1)(b) requires a society to maintain a satisfactory system of control of its books of account, its cash holdings and all its receipts and remittances. But what about its other assets? After all, we are talking here about large societies as well as small ones. What about its investments, properties, stores, debts and so on? I can tell your Lordships from experience, that in many cases these are material, and here we are only talking about a satisfactory system of control of books of account, its cash holdings and all its receipts and remittances. The other assets are not referred to.

I notice that there seems to be no requirement for the annual accounts to be laid before, or accepted by, the members at an annual meeting. The only right of a member is to demand a copy of the last annual return, which must incorporate a copy of the accounts. This, in practice, may be dealt with in a particular society's rules, but certainly so far as industrial and provident societies are concerned it is not one of the matters which must be provided for in the society's rules. I understand this was a specific point taken up with the Registrar, and his Department indicated that the reason for this omission was on grounds of cost. There were so many small societies round the country that to call meetings with the cost of paper, postage and the reproduction of the accounts would be too burdensome for them. If that is the explanation I can understand it, and I will accept the wording as it stands.


My Lords, before the noble Lord sits down may I make this point. He referred to the broadcast made by my noble friend Lord Carrington, when he was asked what he thought about Life Peers. I will not use my noble friend's own words because I cannot remember them accurately, but he welcomed Life Peers most strongly and considered that their introduction had brought about a great improvement in this House.

1.40 p.m.


My Lords, this Bill has a very simple aim. It sets out to modernise the law governing accounts and audit of friendly societies and industrial and provident societies, and to bring it into line with modern accountancy practice. The Bill also revises the law governing friendly society valuations—again an exercise in modernisation. The present law on all these matters is of late nineteenth century vintage. It has its origin in an age when the great majority of these societies were small local concerns, lacking officers with any special experience of accounts, and accustomed in many cases to have their audits conducted (as the law then allowed) by laymen with no professional training for the job. Amending Acts passed in this century have obliged industrial and provident societies and the larger friendly societies to employ professional auditors chosen from a list of auditors specially approved by the Treasury; but apart from this change—which is itself now outmoded—there has been no general overhaul of the nineteenth century provisions governing accounts and audit. This overhaul is what the present Bill sets out to do.

As my noble friend Lord Peddie and others who have spoken before me have covered a good deal, if not all, of the provisions of the Bill, I can reduce to some extent what I was going to say. This Bill has the Government's full support. Its provisions have evolved from a series of discussions held over the last three years between the Chief Registrar of Friendly Societies, the professional accountancy bodies, and all the leading organisations representing the societies. We believe that there is general acceptance by all concerned of the principles of the Bill, and that it contains nothing to which any of them could reasonably take exception.

I would stress the consensus of opinion behind this Bill. It is in no sense a restrictive or punitive measure, designed to check abuses or bring recalcitrants to heel as my noble friend said. It does not interefere with the way in which these societies conduct their business, still less with their internal structure or with their relationships with their members or with each other. It provides simply for that business to be accounted for and audited, and in the case of friendly societies to be valued, in accordance with standards appropriate to the present day. Legislation for these societies has become a comparatively rare event in this century. If one looks through the Statute Books of the last century one finds that some Act relating to friendly societies or co-operative societies passed through Parliament, on an average, every three or four years. No doubt the main reason for the change is the growth and complexity of other Parliamentary business; but some credit for it may fairly be given to the ability the societies have shown to conduct their affairs within the framework of the law and without the need for frequent reviews by Parliament. In recognising the need for this Bill we are also recognising that the part played by these voluntary associations in our community remains of sufficient importance to call for the highest accounting standards. With those words, my Lords, I would say that the Government gives its blessing to this Bill.

1.43 p.m.


My Lords, I thank noble Lords for their contributions to this debate and their support for the Bill, which in the opinion of all who have spoken makes its contribution towards the modernisation of the law relating to the accounting and auditing of these Societies. I was sorry that the noble Lord, Lord Drumalbyn, gave additional publicity to statements which have appeared in the Press but which he himself indicated to the House he did not accept. We all, during the course of our time in this House get used to misinterpretation, if not misrepresentation.

I made it quite clear—and the noble Lord, Lord Drumalbyn, accepted my assurance—that this Bill does not in any way affect the nature or constitution of societies; nor does it alter the general framework of the law under which they conduct their business. So it involves no change at all in the relationship between the C.W.S. and the Co-operative Insurance Society. Under the terms of this Bill, which Lord Drumalbyn accepts, it is clear that because the C.W.S. have the right to determine the composit.on of a committee of the C.I.S. then under the terms of this Bill the C.I.S. is a subsidiary. But there is no intention, there never has been and never will be, on the part of the C.W.S., even if they had such power, to effect any control ever the funds of the C.I.S. Therefore it is indeed most unfortunate, when we consider the long record of public service of the C.I.S. and the C.W.S., to hear further publicity given to inaccurate statements indicated in the Press to-day that it is feared that the C.W.S. may interfere with the investment of 400 million of funds to help the general Co-operative modernisation drive. The noble Lord, Lord Drumalbyn said he does not accept those statements, and, as I say, I regret that the matter has been given this prominence, and furthermore that it will be "blown up" in such a manner, by a Motion in this House, as to make it a matter of privilege. I have the greatest possible respect—and I say this most sincerely—for the standing, integrity and judgment of the noble Lord, Lord Drumalbyn, and therefore I am sorry he has misguidedly felt this matter is of such importance.

It has been made quite clear that the assets and funds of the C.I.S. will be used solely and wholly in the future, as in the past, for the benefit of the policy holders; and that remains as it ever was. There is nothing in this Bill, there is nothing in the aspirations of the C.W.S. in any way to affect that. And I take this opportunity of making quite clear that there is no intention whatsoever of interfering with the C.I.S. to the detriment of the policy holders. But the fact remains that, by the very constitution of the and the relationship between the and the C.W.S. the Board of the C.W.S. has the right of appointment of the directors of the C.I.S.


My Lords, I hesitate to interrupt the noble Lord—he is very good to give way. As I have said, this matter is going to be referred to by the putting down of a Motion. I am in the hands of your Lordships, but I should have thought it undesirable that we should debate the particular issue here. So far the noble Lord has not entrenched on the issue at all, and I hope he will not do so. But I thought it best to rise and suggest that it would be undesirable to debate the actual issue of the reference.


My Lords, I accept that. I have no such intention. My comments to-day are upon the relationship of the C.W.S. and the C.I.S. I feel justified in referring to this matter because it has a bearing upon what we are discussing on this Second Reading; and it further reinforces the point I made about the fact that there has been no change in the character of the Societies under this Bill. I make no further comment on that except once again to give a complete assurance that there is nothing in the Bill, nothing in the intentions of the C.W.S., to get any undue control of the C.I.S. funds.

That is all I need to say, except once again to thank the noble Lord, Lord Drumalbyn, for his support of the general principle of the Bill. I also thank my noble friend Lord Hirshfield, who has considerable experience in this field and has himself functioned as an approved auditor. I am sorry he is going to lose his job, though he did not seem to have any regret about that. The various points that he made were very largely drafting points, and I have taken note of them. I thought at first that he had picked up my copy of the Bill, which made it difficult to follow but I was not justified in that criticism. His comments will be noted. I also thank my noble friend Lord Bowles for his support.

My Lords, may I say, in conclusion, that I am sorry this debate has given rise to comments of such a nature. I regret that certain unfortunate aspects have been introduced. Nevertheless, I appreciate the obvious welcome which this House has given to the Bill itself, and I sincerely hope that it will have a swift and easy passage through this House.

On Question, Bill read 2a, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.