HL Deb 30 October 1985 vol 467 cc1558-60

11.22 a.m.

Lord Bruce of Donington

My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question standing in my name on the Order Paper.

The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government whether they will state what action is proposed under Section 15 of the Theft Act 1968 in respect of multiple share applications for shares in British Telecom plc on the occasion of the company's November 1984 offer.

The Lord Chancellor (Lord Hailsham of Saint Marylebone)

My Lords, the institution of criminal proceedings is a matter for the Law Officers in their capacity as such and not for Her Majesty's Government.

Lord Bruce of Donington

My Lords, is the noble and learned Lord aware that there have been allegations—I use the term "allegations" advisedly—that on the issue of shares in British Telecom to the public there were multiple applications? There are further allegations—I emphasise once again the term "allegations"—that some stockbroking firms, instead of allotting shares that they were supposed to allot to their smaller clients, in fact allotted them to their partners. In those circumstances, should not the Government take some action about the matter? Is it or is it not the case that these matters are within the purview of the Stock Exchange itself and that in these circumstances, and with these allegations remaining unresolved after 11 months, it hardly reflects a good backdrop against which Government legislation for deregulation of the Stock Exchange would be introduced in this House?

The Lord Chancellor

My Lords, I rather deprecate the use of tendentious language that might sully or pollute the fountain of justice when it begins to flow.

Lord Campbell of Alloway

My Lords, does not the form of this Question betray a total misconception of the constitutional role of Government?

The Lord Chancellor

My Lords, that is what I was trying delicately to imply.

Lord Elwyn-Jones

My Lords, I wonder whether the noble and learned Lord will elaborate that somewhat portentous intervention. Who is sullying what fountain and what justice?

The Lord Chancellor

My Lords, the fountain of justice is Her Majesty the Queen by her courts. If one makes tendentious remarks when proceedings may or may not be about to take place, one pollutes the fountain at its source.

Lord Wigoder

My Lords, on the practice alleged, is it not a very nice point whether it could amount to a breach of the criminal law?

The Lord Chancellor

My Lords, that is precisely no doubt what the Law Officers are considering.

Lord Bruce of Donington

My Lords, is the noble and learned Lord aware that I am not conscious of having made any tendentious remarks at all and that in fact these matters have been the subject of public discussion in all sections of the press over the last six months? All that I was doing was seeking to obtain further information. Will the noble and learned Lord bear in mind that the exercise of his judicial rebuke on such occasions as this may, on occasion, be excessive?

The Lord Chancellor

My Lords, I do not think that my judicial rebukes are ever other than extremely moderate.

Lord Taylor of Gryfe

My Lords, will the noble and learned Lord agree that, since the good name of the City of London is involved in these matters, it is of some importance, in view of the pending deregulation of the financial institutions, that this matter be clarified as early as possible?

The Lord Chancellor

My Lords, I understand that it is likely to be so.

Lord Jenkins of Putney

My Lords, is the noble and learned Lord in a position to say when it is likely to be so? Is it not the case that this matter has been hanging on for 11 months? Is that not far too long?

The Lord Chancellor

My Lords, a very large number of applications was received—several million. What had to be done was to inquire first of all of the banks as to the analysis of the applications that they had received, then for the banks to pool their information and then for those to whom the inquiry was delegated to see whether any of these bore any traces of impropriety. That has now been done and the Law Officers will no doubt come to their decision in due course.