HL Deb 26 January 1984 vol 447 cc340-2
Lord Cockfield

My Lords, I beg to move that this Bill be now read a third time.

Moved, That the Bill be now read a third time.—(Lord Cockfield.)

Lord Bruce of Donington

My Lords, before parting with this Bill I must point this out. The Bill was conceived in remarkable circumstances. Particularly in view of the publication of the Gower Report, to which the noble Lord, Lord Cockfield, referred several times on Second Reading and in Committee, it would have been preferable for the introduction of the Bill to have been postponed until after the House had had the opportunity to consider the far-reaching implications of the report. It is only a little Bill and is not of very wide significance to the population of our country as a whole. Indeed, it is mainly of significance to the City establishment and institutions.

However, it is important that we should realise just what has been done in the Bill. First of all, the voluntary agreements, which are in anticipation and to which the noble Lord referred, between the Stock Exchange and his department will contain terms that must put the proposal outside the law as laid down in the Restrictive Trade Practices Act and the fair trading legislation. The noble Lord and his department must have anticipated that, had the case before the Restrictive Practices Court gone to judgment, the judgment would have been far more restrictive on the Stock Exchange than any voluntary agreement which has been before him or which he may be in the process of negotiating.

The second point that has to be borne in mind—but it is not a matter of vast significance—is that the Bank of England is directly involved in the process of arriving at an agreement between the Secretary of State and the Stock Exchange. The third point is perhaps of greater importance. The terms of the Bill, particularly of Clause 2, provide a very important precedent. This is clearly a case where the Executive, acting through its parliamentary majority, has intervened in the course of a case that had not yet come to judgment. We regard that as a very unfortunate precedent indeed. If the noble Lord paid slightly more attention to the legal principles—in which I am sure he is well versed—as against his undoubted political dexterity, he would doubtless come to the same conclusion. We very much regret this. On the whole, we rather prefer the lucid explanation and opinion on the matter given by my noble and learned friend Lord Elwyn-Jones to those of the noble Lord, Lord Cockfield, if I may say so with respect.

This is a miserable little Bill. I very much doubt that it will be repealed by the next Labour Government, because there will be much more considerable and important priorities which affect the population as a whole. The matters of great damage which have been inflicted by the noble Lord's Administration will have to come first. It is a miserable little Bill. The quicker we forget about it, the better.

Lord Cockfield

My Lords, this is a very brief Bill. We have debated it at great length. All the points raised by the noble Lord were raised either on Second Reading or in Committee. On those occasions I replied in depth and in detail. I hardly think that your Lordships would wish me to repeat all the arguments once again. Having said that, I commend the Bill to the House.

On Question, Bill read a third time, and passed.