HL Deb 04 April 1979 vol 399 cc1916-9

3.27 p.m.


My Lords, I understand that no Amendments have been set down to this Bill and that no noble Lord has indicated a wish to move a manuscript Amendment or to speak in Committee. Therefore, unless any noble Lord objects, I beg to move that the Order of Commitment be discharged.

Moved, That the Order of Commitment be discharged.—(Lord McCluskey.)

On Question, Motion agreed to.

Then, Standing Order No.43 having been suspended, pursuant to Resolution of 2nd April:


My Lords, I beg to move that this Bill be now read a third time. When we discussed this Bill at Second Reading yesterday, I undertook to reply to two specific points which were made by the noble Lord, Lord Drumalbyn, and the noble Lord, Lord Barnby, both of whom I am glad to see are in their places.

The noble Lord, Lord Drumalbyn, made the point that the Bill might have provided for two different Ministers to be responsible for the Board of Crown Agents on the one hand and the separate Holding and Realisation Board on the other. The noble Lord, Lord Drumalbyn, then asked whether or not it was the case that the investments undertaken by the unincorporated Crown Agents on their own account in the past had been, as he put it, related mainly to transactions in this country. Although the Crown Agents did have considerable investments in this country, most of these have now been sold, or the companies put into liquidation. By far the greater amount of the remaining investments now held or to be held by the Board, all of which were the result of own-account investments, are in Australia and not in this country.

The reason for leaving responsibility for the affairs of the Holding and Realisation Board with the Minister of Overseas Development is to maintain continuity. The Ministry has been closely involved in discussions about the process of realising the own-account investments in Australia and elsewhere over the past four years and has built up a good deal of knowledge about the complex problems involved. The Minister has naturally consulted her Treasury colleagues and others, when appropriate, and the Bill specifically provides for Treasury control and approval over certain key financial matters—for example, the application of surplus revenue, borrowing powers, guarantees, audit and accounts and instructions relating to financial matters. I hope that that explanation satisfies the noble Lord that this matter has been given proper consideration.

The other point to which I undertook to to reply was raised by the noble Lord, Lord Barnby, when he asked whether, in any part of the Bill, any guarantee of index protection has been given to any form of past or future depositor with the Crown Agents. The Bill does not provide protection for depositors of funds with the Crown Agents against a fall in the value of the currency in which the deposit is made by indexing it or in any other way. However, it should be noted that, under the provisions of the Bill, the Crown Agents may accept deposits only for short-term periods pending disbursement on behalf of principals either for goods or services, or for investment in principals' names in securities or financial institutions. I hope that explanation will answer the noble Lord's question. I beg to move.

Moved, That the Bill be now read 3a—.(Lord McCluskey.)


My Lords, it is to me a strange but happy coincidence that I have the opportunity to advise my noble friends on this side of the House to welcome the Third Reading of this Bill and to allow it to go through. I say that because some 15 years ago I held a position in the Government which I suppose would now be described as the Minister for Overseas Development, which was then called the Secretary for Technical Cooperation. In that capacity, in so far as any Minister had responsibility for the Crown Agents, I did. I am glad to say that it was in the days before the Crown Agents fell into their later great difficulties. I do not connect that with my wise stewardship, nor do I take credit for it; it was more my good fortune. But, even in those days, I was disturbed by the extraordinarily anomalous position of the Crown Agents whereby, although Ministers in some ways had responsibility, they had no clear responsibility. Therefore, I am glad to welcome their position being put right and glad, also, to welcome the fact that the supervision should continue to be in the hands of the ministerial successor to the position I then held. I sincerely wish that from now onwards the Crown Agents will resume their smooth course of great service to this country and to many other countries who trade with us.


My Lords, it would be churlish of me not to express my thanks to the noble and learned Lord for taking the trouble to reply to the points that I raised. It was extremely courteous of him and I am grateful for it.

On Question, Bill read 3a, and passed.