HL Deb 12 February 1987 vol 484 cc743-4

3.26 p.m.

Lord Williams of Elvel

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 what is their attitude to foreign takeovers of British-owned banks.

Lord Beaverbrook

My Lords, I refer the noble Lord to the reply of my honourable friend the Economic Secretary to the Treasury to the debate on Clause 22 of the Banking Bill on 15th January during Committee proceedings in another place.

Lord Williams of Elvel

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord for his reply. Is he aware that there is serious disquiet in the British banking community, which is shared by the Bank of England, that major British banks may now be open to takeover from foreign institutions without proper control? Is he aware that there is nothing in the Banking Bill so far which prevents this? Are the Government flexible on this issue or is their mind closed?

Lord Beaverbrook

My Lords, noble Lords will be aware that the Banking Bill is presently in another place. It would be inappropriate and premature for me to comment on it now. There will be ample opportunity for noble Lords to discuss and fully debate the Bill when it comes to your Lordships' House. However, I understand the concern of the noble Lord. It may be of some comfort that in the one case where an attempt was made to acquire a UK clearing bank the matter was referred to the Monopolies and Mergers Commission and the acquisition was stopped.

Lord Grimond

My Lords, while we understand his reluctance to go too far in this matter before the Bill appears, can the Minister assure the House that the Government are aware of the peculiar importance of Scotland in this area? Will he give some assurance that if a Scottish bank is threatened with takeover not only will its importance in the British banking system be adequately safeguarded but also its importance for Scotland? At present under takeover laws this does not appear to be a factor which is taken into account.

Lord Beaverbrook

My Lords, I shall of course bring the comments of the noble Lord to the attention of my honourable friend in another place.

Lord Taylor of Gryfe

My Lords, while I share the concern of the noble Lord who has raised this Question, is the Minister aware that the British banks referred to have been actively engaged in the past five years in acquiring US banks? Is there any danger of retaliation in the event of any prohibition being established? Does the Minister not feel that there is adequate provision in the consideration of the Monopolies and Mergers Commission of public interest in dealing with this matter?

Lord Beaverbrook

My Lords, we are not aware of any reciprocal attempt by American banks simply because our banking institutions have purchased companies in the United States. We are not aware of any particular move in the other direction.

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