Banking Bill — Committee (4th Day)

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 7:00 pm on 20th January 2009.

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Photo of Lord Davies of Oldham Lord Davies of Oldham Deputy Chief Whip (House of Lords), HM Household, Captain of the Queen's Bodyguard of the Yeomen of the Guard (HM Household) (Deputy Chief Whip, House of Lords) 7:00 pm, 20th January 2009

I am grateful to the noble Lord for elucidating that position. Far from us looking towards the powers of a medieval monarch, we are seeking to act in carefully prescribed circumstances of very considerable concern to the public interest. It is quite clear that the legislation defines the narrow terms within which the authorities can act. Are the authorities intending to act in defiance of the will of Parliament? No—what they are doing is exactly the opposite. They are saying that, if we act in this area, they will present before Parliament within 28 days the opportunity to make the judgment on whether that action was justified. It is not like a normal order, which could be laid a considerable time afterwards, but one which will be presented within 28 days.

Anxiety has been expressed about two things. Why is that not absolutely prescribed as the only period? Because it might be that Parliament is in recess. It might be a judgment that Parliament should be recalled for reconsidering the order, but it might be a judgment of the vast majority of the nation, of all Benches in this House and all sides of the House of Commons, that to recall Parliament in those circumstances would be to exacerbate the loss of confidence in the financial system rather than increase it. That is something for which the Government would be responsible.

If Parliament denied the validity of the order after 28 days of it being repeated, is it conceivable that a Government, having taken action in those circumstances, with the order having been rejected by Parliament, would reintroduce the same order? To what purpose would they do that, when the whole action of the Government is directed towards seeking to establish confidence in the nation? By carrying out such an arbitrary action, they would render the circumstances far worse.

I am prepared to accept that we must look again at this clause. I accept the seriousness of the debate, but I hasten to mention another point. Noble Lords have suggested that it is not an important factor that the banking industry did not react to this clause and the other provisions of the Bill in quite the way that noble Lords have done—but nor did the Delegated Powers Committee. The noble Lord, Lord Northbrook, is right; he has quoted the committee accurately. It did not call attention to Henry VIII powers or the powers of a medieval monarch—or those of Alice in Wonderland. Did the committee suggest that? No, it did not.

The Government should respond to this debate and look at the issue further. However, it may just be that noble Lords have slightly exaggerated the nature of the threat to our democracy represented by a Bill that seeks to deal with an emergency situation in carefully defined, narrow and prescriptive terms.