The London and Frankfurt Stock Exchanges

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 5:51 pm on 24th May 2000.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Lord Lamont of Lerwick Lord Lamont of Lerwick Conservative 5:51 pm, 24th May 2000

My Lords, I do not intend to detain the House for long. However, I should like to thank noble Lords who have spoken in this debate, which I believe has been helpful.

I believe that I should accept the rebuke of the noble Lord, Lord Barnett, who said that there was a remarkable resemblance between an article that appeared in the Financial Times and the speech that I made in this debate. I had been feeling rather guilty about that and I had thought of apologising for it at the beginning of the debate. However, the truth is that I have become so used to bad behaviour on the part of the Government on matters such as this that my own standards have slipped and I have adopted those of the spin meisters who govern us these days.

I join with everyone who has congratulated the noble Lord, Lord Layard, on his remarkable maiden speech, which we all enjoyed. Unlike almost everyone who has spoken in this debate, I have not been a pupil of the noble Lord and have not heard any lectures by him. However, almost as good, I have read a number of his works and, indeed, (dare I tell him) one of the measures in one of my Budgets was based closely on an idea about which he had written. I very much enjoyed what he said about Canada, although I believe that the logic of the argument about comparing the geography of different Canadian states to the neighbouring American states and comparing distances eventually would be limited by the theory of optimal currency areas. However, perhaps we could debate that further on another occasion. We look forward very much to hearing the noble Lord speak again in future.

I thank the Minister for his detailed replies, which I am sure will be studied carefully, certainly by me and, I am sure, by others. I was very interested in the speech made by the noble Lord, Lord Desai, and in his scepticism about mergers in general and not only about this merger. On the whole, he believed that this merger might bring some benefits. It always surprises me that generally people are not more sceptical about mergers. Indeed, I believe that a great weakness is that we do not, post hoc, go back and examine mergers to find out what happened. That is a matter on which I have always intended to question the noble Lord, Lord Borrie, but have never had the opportunity to do so.

A number of speeches, such as those of my noble friends Lord Northbrook, Lord Blackwell and Lord Chandos, were based on their own detailed knowledge of the City, and we are much indebted to them. I particularly enjoyed what my noble friend Lord Chandos said with regard to the conservatism of the City of London and of the financial services industry in the past and about his memories of bankers who did not want to reveal their true reserves. Of course, he might have added that it was a Conservative government who introduced Big Bang. I believe that my noble friends Lady Thatcher and Lord Parkinson deserve enormous thanks for their far-sighted decision in taking on the very conservatism that my noble friend Lord Chandos rightly criticised.

My noble friend Lord Blackwell said that there had been a great and surprising outbreak of unanimity in this debate, and the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, referred to the absence of ideology--which made me feel profoundly uncomfortable. None the less, I was delighted to find myself in agreement with much that was said by the noble Lords, Lord Lea, Lord Haskel and Lord Newby. My very good friend, the noble Lord, Lord Barnett, as always made an extremist speech at the centre of extreme moderation. As ever, he could not resist lashing out about xenophobia and Euro-scepticism, although for once I was exempted from that. If he is looking for xenophobia and Euro-scepticism, perhaps he should read the joint letter of Giscard D'Estaing and Helmut Schmidt, published a few days ago. What it said about Turkey and the United States vis-a-vis Europe is almost unrepeatable and would deeply shock your Lordships.

The noble Lord, Lord Barnett, and, I believe, the noble Lord, Lord Newby, tried to suggest that some principle was being betrayed by the fact that a number of noble Lords on this side of the House favoured the abolition of stamp duty on shares in order that it should be brought in line with Germany, were we not supporting harmonisation. We believe in harmonisation by the market. We believe that it is good that taxes should converge in response to competitive pressures. However, we are against political decisions taken at the centre to bring about an unnecessary bureaucratic harmonisation.

I should like to reply to one point made by the noble Lord, Lord Barnett. He said that he was rather puzzled by the wording of the Motion. We are saying that everyone is agreed that it is a matter for the markets to decide whether shares are quoted in euros. Of course it is, and we all agree about that. However, it seemed to have escaped the noble Lord's notice that at the beginning it appeared very definitely that it was being proposed that all shares would be quoted in euros. As a number of newspapers pointed out, that was stated quite explicitly and it caused much anxiety. However, the London Stock Exchange and Mr Seifert have withdrawn very clearly from that position.

I also very much enjoyed the description by my noble friend Lord Saatchi of a conversation on the 167th floor of an American corporation. I believed that he was going to say that it was Saatchi & Saatchi, perhaps waiting to take over a clearing bank! When I travelled back on the train from Brussels today, I heard a speech that was absolutely identical to the fictitious one that he thought was being invented. It came from Americans, who were complaining about the national susceptibilities in Europe of dividing up the single market. However, as my noble friend said, the issue of the single currency continues to produce a big divide in British politics. The debate will continue. But I am pleased that on this subject today we have achieved much consensus. Therefore, I beg leave to withdraw the Motion standing in my name.