HL Deb 24 July 1985 vol 466 cc1265-76

1 Clause 1, page 1, line 9, after ("banks") insert ("other than Trustee Savings Bank Scotland Limited which is hereby excluded from this Act")

The Commons disagreed to the above amendment but proposed the following amendments in lieu thereof

2 Page 2, line 11, leave out from ("and") to end of line 13 and insert ("eligible to succeed them")

3 Page 2, line 30, after ("business") insert ("and eligible to succeed it")

4 Page 2, line 35, at end insert— ("( ) For a company to be "eligible to succeed" an existing hank it must have been, immediately before the vesting day, a subsidiary of the Central Board or the existing holding company and it must

  1. (a) in the case of the company which is to succeed the existing bank for England and Wales, be registered (and accordingly have its registered office) in England and Wales;
  2. (b) in the case of the company which is to succeed the existing bank for Scotland, be registered (and accordingly have its registered office) in Scotland;
  3. (c) in the case of the company which is to succeed the existing bank for Northern Ireland, be registered (and accordingly have its registered office) in Northern Ireland; and
  4. (d) in the case of the company which is to succeed the existing bank for the Channel Islands, be incoroporated (and accordingly have its registered office) in any of the Channel Islands.")

The Earl of Gowrie

My Lords, I apologise to the House. I am caught at a disadvantage. It was my understanding that I was to reply to an amendment moved by the noble Lord, Lord Banks. Am I wrong about that?

Noble Lords


The Earl of Gowrie

I beg your Lordships' pardon. My Lords, after that not very auspicious beginning, may I now consider Commons Amendments Nos. 2 to 4 on Clause 1? I beg to move that this House do not insist on their Amendment No. 1 to which the Commons have disagreed, and do agree with the Commons in their Amendments Nos. 2 to 4 in lieu thereof.

These amendments reflect the agreement reached between the noble Lord, Lord Taylor of Gryfe, and the chairman of the Trustee Savings Bank Central Board. This House discussed this agreement at some length at Third Reading, and the Government undertook to bring forward these amendments in another place as the rules of procedure in your Lordships' House prevented us from moving them on Third Reading here. My Lords, I beg to move.

Moved, That this House do not insist on their Amendment No. 1 to which the Commons have disagreed and do agree to the Commons Amendments Nos. 2 to 4 in lieu thereof.—(The Earl of Gowrie.)

Lord Stoddart of Swindon

My Lords, it seems to me that the Commons amendments in fact take care of the agreement which was set out in the Written Answer to the noble Lord, Lord Taylor of Gryfe, on the 4th July, and I think we can be satisfied that the assurances that were given have in fact been met. But I am wondering whether it would be in order for me to raise with the noble Lord a new factor which seems to have arisen since the matter was discussed in your Lordships' House, and indeed was referred to during the Commons debate on the Lords amendments. It arises from a letter which I have received and which no doubt other noble Lords have received from Mr. Mungo Bovey. Perhaps I may quote some passages from his letter. He writes: I am writing to you as one of the counsel involved in the action in the Court of Session whereby a Depositor in the Trustee Savings Bank Scotland seeks a decision from the Court that the depositors are the owners of that Bank". He goes on to say: In 1979 the Central Board of the Trustee Savings Bank took the opinion of Mr. John Murray, QC … Mr. Murray advised in unequivocal terms that in Scots Law the Bank was a voluntary unincorporated association owned by its depositors". At that time, apparently, the advice was accepted by the bank but subsequently the bank took a different decision.

Noble Lords will recall that we had quite a debate on this issue during the Committee stage and many noble Lords took part. Indeed, many noble Lords, including the noble Lord, Lord Taylor of Gryfe, queried who it was who actually owned the bank, and the Minister seemed quite certain that the Bill was in order. This new element seems to raise other issues, and bearing in mind this letter and the contention that this Act could be a confiscatory Act, taking away from the depositors something which they own, I am wondering whether the noble Earl will give us the benefit of his opinion on the status of the Bill in the light of the action in the Scottish courts.

The Earl of Gowrie

My Lords, the Government are satisfied that the legal position is as stated in the White Paper; namely, that neither depositors, staff, trustees, nor the Government themselves own the Trustee Savings Banks. The Government were aware at all material times that a Scottish QC, the Mr. John Murray who has been referred to, had given advice to the contrary in 1979, and perhaps we should note that this was prior to the legislation in 1981 which now applies. Both the Government and the TSBs have received further advice which has disagreed with Mr. Murray's opinion. In my judgment it would be quite wrong to hold up Parliament's consideration of legislation because a court was considering a case which might have some bearing on the subject before Parliament. The proposals now embodied in this Bill were announced three years ago. The House can draw its own conclusions from the fact that the attempt to test ownership in the courts was started at the very last moment and at the end of the parliamentary Session.

If, contrary to the advice that the Government have received, the court finds against TSB Scotland, the Government will consider their action in the light of the court's judgment. It would therefore be quite wrong for me to commit the Government to any particular course of action in circumstances which are wholly hypothetical.

I understand that TSB Scotland has given an assurance that as the law stands it will not give its assets away. Clearly the trustees of TSB Scotland would not wish to do anything illegal and the Treasury would be the first to stop them doing so. The vesting operation when the time comes will involve a statutory transfer under this Bill.

Lord Stoddart of Swindon

My Lords, may I ask one further question? I should like to thank the noble Earl for that explanation, which was most useful. I know nothing at all about Scottish law. I do not know how long courts take to make decisions. Presumably no action would be taken to issue shares in advance of the court's decision.

The Earl of Gowrie

My Lords, I can only repeat that it is my view that it would be wrong to hold up Parliament's consideration of legislation or the consequences of that legislation.

Lord Grimond

My Lords, let us be quite clear about this. I understood from the noble Earl's first statement that no action would be taken until the courts had given their decision—that is to say, that the Bill would not become law until after the courts had given their decision. Is that the case? If so, does that mean that it will not become law until not only has the court of first instance given a decision but any appeals have been disposed of?

The Earl of Gowrie

My Lords, the Bill would of course become law, if it is passed, but my advice is that it would not be put into operation before the vesting day.

Lord Grimond

My Lords, if the Court of Session were to decide that ownership rested with the present depositors, we should then be left with a Bill floating about in mid-air and with a clear court ruling that certain people owned the shares. Surely that would be wholly unsatisfactory and from a parliamentary point of view something that at all costs should be avoided.

The Earl of Gowrie

My Lords, I think that I have answered the point about which the noble Lord is anxious. As this matter is a bit technical and I am not, alas, a Scottish lawyer, I shall repeat what I said. If, contrary to the advice that the Government have received—and I spelt out that advice earlier—the court finds against TSB Scotland, the Government will consider their action in the light of the court's judgment. I cannot commit the Government to any course of action in circumstances that are hypothetical and, based on all the advice that the Government have had, highly unlikely.

I understand, however, that TSB Scotland has given an assurance that as the law stands it will not give its assets away. The trustees of TSB Scotland would not of course wish to do anything illegal and the Treasury would be the first to stop them doing so. The vesting operation when the time comes will involve a statutory transfer under this Bill.

7.15 p.m.

Lord Bruce-Gardyne

My Lords, I apologise for interrupting during this argument, though what I want to say is germane to the subject. My reason for intervening at this stage is that I feel obliged to set the record straight in one particular which referred to myself in view of what was said last week in another place.

On Thursday last, I was rung up by the BBC and the Evening Standard, which asked for my comments on allegations which, they told me, had been carried in that morning's Guardian and Financial Times to the effect that I, as Economic Secretary to the Treasury between 1981 and 1983, had suppressed legal evidence that the Scottish TSBs belonged in whole or in part to Scottish depositors with the bank, and thus misled the House of Commons; furthermore, that my present position as a director of the Central TSB might have something to do with that suppression.

Naturally I studied the two newspapers in question. Both reported that Mr. Gordon Wilson, the Member for Dundee, East, had on July 15th raised a Point of Order about the consideration of your Lordships' amendments to this Bill, scheduled for discussion in the Commons later that evening, precisely on this point of the advice which had apparently been received from Mr. James Murray, QC. The Guardian reported Mr. Wilson as complaining: we have a situation where either the TSB senior trustees have sat on legal opinion and failed to inform the Government or the Government was informed of the legal opinion obtained in Scotland and chose to ignore the significance of it, and thus misled the House". Mr. Wilson, the Guardian reported, said that the affair was either a contempt of the House or a breach of privilege involving a conspiracy which might go even further than the 'Commons. I quote again from the Guardian: He noted that Lord Bruce-Gardyne, who was Economic Secretary to the Treasury between 1981 and 1983, was now a director of the Central TSB. He was then the Minister originally responsible for the TSB Bill and the original assertion that there were no technical owners of the bank". The Financial Times of the same day quoted Mr. Wilson as saying that I had told the House of Commons in my capacity as Economic Secretary that there was a "lack of ownership" of the TSBs. It went on to say: Mr. Wilson said that Lord Bruce-Gardyne was now a director of the Central TSB". I consulted Hansard. That showed that both newspaper reports, although mildly garbled, gave the gist of the intervention of the honourable Member of another place. I therefore wrote to Mr. Wilson to point out the highly defamatory, and, I hope That I need hardly add, wholly unfounded implication, of the juxtaposition of these two statements.

I told him that, had he consulted me in advance of raising his Point of Order, I should have explained to him that, while I had of course been aware as Economic Secretary to the Treasury that the ownership of the "produce" of the TSBs was a matter of controversy, I had been advised very much along the lines that my noble friend has just been explaining to the House, that in the judgment of Treasury counsel there were no legal owners of the TSBs; I had therefore supervised the preparation of the legislation on that basis. I should also have told him that any suggestion that I had, whether at the behest of the TSBs or for any other reason, suppressed evidence to the contrary—let alone the implication that my present position as a director of the Central TSB was in some sense a reward for such suppression—was wholly without foundation. I therefore asked him to put the record straight.

The honourable gentleman assures me that he accepts my assurance that the implication inescapably contained in the juxtaposition of his comments is wholly without foundation, but he declines to put the record straight, and so I wish to do so tonight.

The fact is simply as my noble friend said, and I cannot emphasise that too strongly. Like my noble friend, I am not a lawyer. One is bound in these matters by the legal advice that one receives. But the legal advice that I received and on which I was bound to act was right the way through that in the opinion of the Government's legal advisers there were no legal owners of "produce" in the TSBs. It would have been totally impossible for me to have supervised the preparation of this legislation on any other basis.

Personally I was always brought up to believe that one of the principles of the concept of parliamentary immunity was that it should be a deterrent to innuendo which could not be substantiated, and I believe that that rule should continue to be observed. It is for that reason that I felt that I should make the intervention at this point in the debate.

Lord Galpern

My Lords, the noble Earl has acknowledged that this very important matter is before the Scottish courts at the present time. He says that the question of what will be the decision is hypothetical. I accept that. It may be in favour of Mr. Bovey's submissions or it may be against them. If the court is in his favour, the noble Earl explains to the House that certain steps will have to be taken by the Treasury and other departments. What is the urgency that prevents us saying that we should delay the whole business until we have an opinion from the courts? After all, as the matter has been dragging on for quite a number of years, why can we not delay it a little further until the courts rule on the submission?

The Earl of Gowrie

My Lords, perhaps I may reply, with the leave of the House. It would be an astonishing action to delay parliamentary business because some matter was before the courts. Obviously, the Government have to take into account, to put it at its mildest, any findings of the courts. No legislation, or very little, would pass at any stage if it were simply to he delayed while court hearings, for which any citizen can apply, were taking place. However, what should give the noble Lord, and indeed the House, reassurance is that my advice is that any outcome, hypothetical as it is, in favour of the appeal would delay the consequences of vesting day. Therefore that is a separate issue. The assurances which have been given by the Trustee Savings Bank (Scotland) also bear that out.

Lord Mackie of Benshie

My Lords, may I ask the noble Earl, because I think it would be helpful to know, if the advice given by the Treasury counsel is fully cognizant of Scots law? Is there a Scottish lawyer who gives advice to the Treasury counsel as well as an English one?

The Earl of Gowrie

My Lords, remote and cut off as one sometimes suspects the Treasury may be, I do not think that they are wholly without recourse to Scottish law. I should point out to the noble Lord that my noble friend the former Economic Secretary to the Treasury, while he may not be a lawyer, is certainly a Scot, and it would not be beyond the wit of the Treasury to have access to Scots lawyers. There is a very distinguished Scots lawyer sitting beside me on the Front Bench at the moment.

Lord Ross of Marnock

My Lords, but surely one of the points is this. We know that contrary advice was given in 1979 by Mr. Murray; that his opinion, which was sought by the TSB at that time, was to the effect that the bank was owned by the depositors or members. Since that time, of course, he has been asked to put forward a case, and as an advocate he has put forward a case for the TSB and suggested that, if anybody, it might possibly be the central board who owned the bank.

However, it must strike the House as odd that, on the basis of not knowing whether there was any owner or who the owner was, the Government proceeded to allow this bank to be sold off. The Government are the agents here, whether they like it or not. May we he told who gave the contrary advice to Mr. Murray, and when? I think we are entitled to that piece of information.

As to further progress, once the Bill becomes an Act it does not come into force for two months after its passing into law. But, as I understand it from information we received on yet another Scottish Act fairly recently, although the Act has not come into force the Government can produce orders. The important order here rel4tes to the fact that vesting day is decided by the Treasury and they produce an order telling us what vesting day is.

Until that takes place there is no change in the status of the bank. Once it takes place one can argue as much as one likes about it: an Act of Parliament has made a change in the bank, which Parliament can do. But it does not end there because, as I understand it, those who are concerned that depositors are being deprived of a right can go to the European Court. If they do, bearing in mind that there will then be a new bank, who will be responsible for paying compensation if that comes about?—not the new bank, but the Government. So I think there is every reason why the Government should hesitate about this.

Remember, we have already been told, I think it was in the letter that passed between the Treasury and Sir John Read, that no action will be taken in relation to vesting day until those concerned are satisfied that certain assurances that were given have been met. So there is to be a delay. Would it not be wise for the Government themselves to institute some action to find out who owns the bank, rather than that we get into a mess very much later? I should apologise for having said before that a certain important amendment was initiated by a Mr. James Craigen in another place; it was not, it was initiated by Mr. Gordon Wilson, the Member of Parliament mentioned by the noble Earl. By the way, Mr. Gordon Wilson is a lawyer, and a Scots lawyer.

Lord Cameron of Lochbroom

My Lords, with the leave of the House, since there has been a suggestion that in this matter there is a peculiarity of Scots law, perhaps it would be only right at this stage to make quite clear that the existing banks are covered by legislation which applies throughout the United Kingdom. As my noble friend Lord Gowrie has already made clear, it is also an Act which was passed by Parliament in 1981. No doubt the force of that will not have escaped your Lordships—that the advice which is referred to by the Scots counsel, Mr. John Murray, was given in 1979.

I should simply reinforce what my noble friend has already said—that the Government received legal advice on this matter following the passing of the 1981 Act. The preponderance of that advice was to the effect which my noble friend has already submitted to your Lordships. I hasten to add that it was given in the full knowledge that contrary opinion had been expressed by Mr. John Murray in an opinion in 1979. I hope that that at least clarifies the matter. There is no peculiarity so far as statutory interpretation is concerned as regards a Scots law as against the law which applies south of the border.

Lord Ross of Marnock

My Lords, before the noble and learned Lord the Lord Advocate sits down, may I ask him this? He said "the preponderance" of the advice; so there was conflicting advice. Surely the only way to end the conflict was to ask the courts to decide. Why did not the Government proceed in that way, or invite the TSB to proceed in that way? All that we have heard about this preponderance of advice is that nobody owns the bank, which is an absurd position.

Lord Cameron of Lochbroom

My Lords, I had hoped to make it quite clear in what I had already said that the reason why I used the phrase "preponderance of" legal advice was that it was known, at the time when advice was taken, that contrary opinion already existed in the opinion given by Mr. Murray in 1979.

Lord Grimond

My Lords, I do not want to prolong this matter, but I understand it has been suggested that Mr. Murray withdrew his opinion on the grounds that the position had been altered by the 1981 Act. Do we understand that that is not so; that he maintained his opinion in spite of the 1981 Act, but the preponderance of the opinion of other lawyers was against him? Secondly, I should like to ask: is it alleged that the 1981 Act definitely altered the ownership of the savings bank?

Lord Cameron of Lochbroom

My Lords, what I am saying to your Lordships is this. First, I am not aware just now that more than one opinion was given by Mr. Murray in 1979. I can only say that he appeared very recently, as one of your Lordships has remarked, on behalf of the Trustee Savings Bank in the present action. The 1981 Act deals with the question of the assets of the trustee savings banks. That is of course the issue which is raised in the current action before the Court of Session. It proceeds upon the terms of the 1981 Act. The Government have taken legal advice on that matter. They have formed a view, already expressed by my noble friend, in the full knowledge that a contrary opinion had been given in 1979 by Mr. Murray. That is why I used the expression, "the preponderance of legal advice".

7.30 p.m.

Lord Galpern

My Lords, is it possible that the court may decide differently on the effect of the 1981 Act, and that this is what is subject to consideration by the courts?

The Earl of Gowrie

My Lords, with the leave of the House, I believe that we are getting very far from consideration of the Commons amendments. Because noble Lords are interested in this issue and because I am the last person to set myself up as an authority on the procedure of your Lordships, I have been listening as avidly as the rest of the House to the remarks and answers of my noble and learned friend the Lord Advocate. I think, however, that we should probably now complete this business in respect of the consideration of the Commons amendments.

Lord Taylor of Gryfe

My Lords, I would not wish to enter into the discussion on the proceedings before the Court of Session. It would be a very interesting and somewhat extraordinary constitutional position if the Court of Session, in due course, was to rule that Parliament was acting illegally. That is a very interesting constitutional point. I await the judgment with interest. If of course the matter is taken to the European Court of Human Rights, we can expect a delay in the Bill of at least four or five years. That is the kind of time that is taken to deal with these matters before the European courts. I make no comment on that position. All that I would say to your Lordships—I am not blaming anyone—is that the matter is a major plank in the activities of the declining fortunes of the Scottish nationalists. I think that it is largely a political stunt initiated by them and supported by them in order to keep alive their political credibility in Scotland.

My own interest in the matter is not derived from any particular Scottish nationalist affiliations. However, I should like to say a word or two about the amendments before the House. The amendments provide for the revision of the amendment carried by this House in my name. It is important to say that originally my amendment was moved in the House of Commons where it was defeated by 137 votes to 29. That was the House of Commons measure of support for my amendment. When it came to the Committee stage in the House of Lords, my amendment was defeated by 113 votes to 76. At Third Reading, I reintroduced the amendment, and it was carried by 67 votes to 54. While I was pleased to carry the amendment, I am not pretending for a moment that the voice of democracy was very strongly expressed in that decision.

It was for that reason and at the invitation of the Government that I entered into negotiations with Sir John Read to seek certain assurances knowing, at the same time, that in the last analysis—as has just been shown in the amendments before the House—the power of Parliament and the power of the House of Commons in the matter would be paramount. Therefore, I do not propose to re-introduce my amendment by moving rejection of the amendments before us. All that I would say to the Government is that the Trustee Savings Bank gave certain important assurances to the Chancellor. It has been said, in the much debated Scottish scene, that these assurances were negligible. Indeed, they were described, again by the Scottish nationalists and others, as being a spineless surrender. Just as the noble Lord, Lord Bruce-Gardyne, has to defend himself in this House tonight, I think that I should reiterate, for the sake of the record, one or two of the concessions that were made.

I regret that the amendment before us deals simply with the constitutional position of the TSB (Scotland) and that it has not been possible to write in some of the assurances into the statute that were given. That would have strengthened the statute. It would be more reassuring. They are certainly reprinted in Hansard, and the articles of association of the new company, when they emerge, will incorporate these assurances. I welcome that, but articles of association can be changed. It would have been better if some of the assurances had been incorporated in the statute.

There is a very interesting one. In regard to the TSB Charitable Foundations, Sir John Read, writing to the Chancellor, said: I confirmed in my letter of 6th December 1984 that the TSB Group intended to proceed with the endowment of certain charitable foundations. Sir John went on to say: We are pleased that, in the light of those debates, you have agreed that the Government will propose an amendment providing for the TSB Central Board to arrange the establishment of charitable foundations". That assurance was given, but I do not see the amendment in the Bill before us or in the statute at all. I would very much have welcomed that assurance in the Bill. The distribution of the charitable fund is being made not on turnover or on the number of shareholders but on the reserves contained in the separate banks. This means, in fact—since Scotland is a very healthy bank with substantial reserves—that the charitable foundation could be allocating probably 2 per cent. of its profits in a year to Scottish charitable purposes. That is substantial. It is important. While it is contained in the assurances that I have received, it would have been better if it had been incorporated in the statute.

I should like to reiterate that the amendment provides for the separate registration of the TSB (Scotland). That is welcome. We support it. However, the assurances went further and said that each banking company shall have its own board of directors and that the directors, after the transition period will be appointed from that country and will have a special responsibility for looking after the interests of the country or territory in which the bank is established. That is important. It was at the root of my objection originally to the proposals that the Scottish TSB would be submerged in the central organisation.

The arrangements for liaison between the separate banks and the central body must also be incorporated in the articles of association which provide for the chairman and managing director of each group to be on the central board and ensure that the interests of these separate countries will be fully expressed in the central board in its deliberations.

Lord Ross of Marnock

My Lords, if I heard the noble Lord correctly, he said that the boards of the new banks would be elected by the new company. As I read it, each banking company shall have its own board of directors drawn substantially from trustees of the present banks but thereafter each board will appoint its own members. It is a self-perpetuating oligarchy, and will be subject to the approval of the parent board. They are not elected so far as I can see.

Lord Taylor of Gryfe

My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Ross of Marnock, is quite right. The board will not be elected. The Scottish TSB will be a separate registered bank and, like any other plc the board will be appointed by the directors but will be subject to the approval of the shareholders. It is company law. It does not require to be incorporated in the Bill, as I understand it, but I may be corrected. It will be like any other public limited company; it will be a bank like any other bank. I see that the noble Lord, Lord Polwarth, is in the Chamber. It will be like the Bank of Scotland, Clydesdale or whatever, and it will have exactly the same status.

I should like to raise another matter, and I shall not dwell on it. In my view, the assurances which were given were the best which could be secured and they were helpful to Scotland's position. I do not regret the debate and the amendment which was carried because we established a respect for the Scottish position and we emphasised the Scottish dimension. We constantly made the TSB central board aware of the importance of TSB Scotland to the entire affair.

Having said that, I am not opposing these amendments at all; indeed, I wish the TSB well. It is a bank which has had strong roots in the community in Scotland and elsewhere. It should be in a very strong position. It has £700 million of reserves in the TSB. and added to that we have a flotation which might attract an even larger sum. It ought to attract an even larger sum than £700 million because that is what is being offered in the kitty. Therefore, it will be a very considerable force in banking and it will have a great deal of money to indulge in competitive lending as regards the other banks in this field. I wish it well. I wish its management well. I am quite sure that. as a result of the debates in this House, the substantial contribution of the Scottish TSB will be recognised.

Let me say that at the end of the day this House has performed its useful and sensible function. It received a bad Bill from the House of Commons. It looked at it; it examined it and sent it back. Through the process of negotiation we have reached some degree of consensus. I hope that the TSB will continue to enjoy esteem in the community and will prosper as a bank.

Lord Galpern

My Lords, I have listened carefully to the noble Lord's explanation regarding the satisfactory promises which he has received as a result of his amendment being rejected. However, since he received the assurances a new situation has developed because the whole matter is now before the courts in Scotland. I should like to ask the noble Lord a simple question. Is he against delaying this Bill until such time as the courts have ruled on the submissions which are now being made to them?

Lord Taylor of Gryfe

My Lords, that question has been asked on a number of more public occasions than this, including radio and television debates involving leading Scottish nationalists. I would not care to comment on the matter at all. I am content to await the judgment of the courts, and accept the assurances that, if the courts found that the Government or the TSB were disposing of assets to which they had no entitlement, then that would raise a very interesting constitutional situation.

7.45 p.m.

Lord Ross of Marnock

My Lords, I should like to say a few words on this matter. One of our mistakes in respect of the original amendment which was eventually passed was that we did not carry it through the Bill. As a result it made virtually nonsense of the Bill. The Government were not willing to go the whole way with us which would have meant dealing with the other aspects of the Bill which affected Scotland. They felt themselves tied by the fact that they had reached Third Reading and therefore the matter would probably have had to be recommitted, which of course they could have done in order to clear it up. However, they were not prepared to accept a completely independent Scottish bank. It would probably have meant that they would have done with this Bill what they did the other day with the Bill dealing with corporal punishment in schools—they would have forgotten about it and produced yet another one.

I regret in many ways that the Scottish TSB is becoming part of the group and will be subject to the group. Let us face it, a measure of its independence has gone. We were told about the benefits which were contained in the letter. I was glad to hear the noble Lord, Lord Taylor of Gryfe—and I hope that my pronunciation of his name is a little better than that of the Chancellor of the Duchy—

The Earl of Gowrie

My Lords, it was a Freudian slip.

Lord Ross of Marnock

I am sorry my Lords?

The Earl of Gowrie

My Lords, I inadvertently said "a Freudian slip".

Lord Ross of Marnock

My Lords, as a matter of fact I thought that it was a Gowrie slip. It is as tangled a skein as the Bill itself to whom the grief referred, whether it was the Government or whether it was the noble Lord. However, the noble Lord, Lord Taylor, pointed out, as we have pointed out more than once and as was pointed out in another place by no less a person than a former Solicitor-General for Scotland, Mr. Nicholas Fairbairn, that unless assurances are actually in the Bill they do not mean a thing. There is no guarantee that they can be changed. Other people can come along with other ideas. Once the Bill has passed through this House, once it is a statute, it is the statute which matters. Therefore, there is no guarantee regarding the assurances in relation to the registered office of the company being in Scotland and the company holding its annual meeting there. Someone will probably suggest that it should be during the Edinburgh Festival when it would suit them all to be there.

There are other pledges which are not worth very much from a long term point of view. I am not one who is easily satisfied with matters which are outside the statute. I regret the fact that we are not having an independent Scottish bank. We have improved the situation from the point of view of Scotland by what we have done here, but there might have been more interest shown in another place at an earlier stage. I do not think that it was altogether fair of the noble Lord, Lord Taylor of Gryfe, to say that this was a political stunt. He may remember the opposition to his amendment. The noble Baroness, Lady Carnegy, was one of those who said that his amendment was a political stunt. I do not think that it was a political stunt. In my view, it was an expression of the true feeling of Scotland in respect of the bank.

Lord Taylor of Gryfe

My Lords, I was referring to the continuing legal process as being a political stunt. That is what has been taken over as a political stunt in Scotland.

Lord Ross of Marnock

My Lords, if you know anything about the Scots you will know that there is no more litigious race than the Scots. That is why they are doing so well in the legal profession in Scotland. I have known matters to be prompted by individuals and to be carried on by individuals for years and years. I do not think that this can just be denigrated as a political stunt any more than the noble Lord's amendment should have been. The House did not accept it as a political stunt when that was suggested from the Front Bench opposite and elsewhere. However, we have improved the Bill. It will be interesting to see what kind of mess the Government get themselves into if the matter goes for decision by Scottish law.

I feel that they should have done it themselves before they started. Tell people that nobody owns the bank. A bank which has reserves of £710 million; assets of £637 million; a bank which has no debts. It has not been giving money away to South America, or buying banks in Chicago. It has been behaving itself. If this is to be sold off, it is an Aladdin's cave. I hope that noble Lords are listening. They can get a chance to buy themselves into this. Is it Aladdin who is going to get into this cave, or the wicked uncle? That is what matters.

On Question, Motion agreed to.