Financial Services (Banking Reform) Bill — Report (1st Day) (Continued)

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 8:45 pm on 26th November 2013.

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Photo of Lord Phillips of Sudbury Lord Phillips of Sudbury Liberal Democrat 8:45 pm, 26th November 2013

My Lords, my name is on the 18 amendments in this group and I am the sole signatory on eight of them. I endorse entirely what the noble Lord, Lord Brennan, said. He speaks from great experience, which is of great help to the House.

One of the scandals—I think one can fairly use that word—of the past five years in terms of financial failings has been the extreme paucity of prosecutions for some of the greatest criminal failings, to use a neutral word, in the history of our or any country. It is rather staggering to think that over the past five years you can count on the fingers of your two hands the number of City malefactors who have been prosecuted, when during that time probably 20,000 or 30,000 people have been prosecuted for shoplifting at an average of £25 a time.

I tabled these amendments not in any spirit of vindictiveness—one can also say that, I am sure, of the noble Lord, Lord Brennan, and the other signatories—but to try to give real teeth to a very important clause, Clause 27, which is designed and put forward on the basis that it will be a significant deterrent to conduct arising in the future which is comparable to the conduct that has occurred in the past five or six years. The wording of Clause 27(1) in particular seems to those of us who have tabled these amendments to be so narrow—to cite the word used by the noble Lord, Lord Brennan—that the prospects of getting a conviction before a jury, or, indeed, starting to prosecute at all, will be remote. To give a simple, direct example of that point, Clause 27(1)(b) makes plain that a conviction can be secured only if the implementation of a single decision—“the decision”—causes,

“the failure of the group bank”.

When, except in the rarest of circumstances, did a single decision cause the failure of a bank? Life is much more complicated. Very often a series of decisions is involved and even then you cannot say that the decision or decisions cause the failure but rather that they,

“contribute directly and significantly to”,

the failure of a group bank, as I have put it in my amendment.

We have tabled these amendments to give practical effect to Clause 27 and other clauses. They are important clauses and we must not shackle them with such a narrow set of requirements that they will not serve their purpose. We should never forget that British criminal law is rightly strictly construed, and construed against the prosecution. If you think of that and you think of the wording in the clause, you will realise that it is not fit for purpose. I hope that if my noble friend the Minister does not accept the wording of these amendments—they could be drafted differently—he will at least undertake to come back at Third Reading with wording that the Government find acceptable which will serve the purpose that we seek to serve in putting these amendments forward.