|Previous Section||Back to Table of Contents||Lords Hansard Home Page|
My mind may be playing tricks on me, but I seem to recall that the run on the bank of Northern Rock occurred after the BBC reported that it was in discussions with the Government about obtaining finance. I also seem to recall that many pensioners and savers saw their shares in the Royal Bank of Scotland fall by more than 40 per cent in the course of a few days because the BBC reported that the clearing banks
11 Feb 2009 : Column 1125
At previous stages of our consideration of this financial crisis, I have raised this matter and been told that it was a matter for the FSA. But given the Governments clear policy about the importance of confidentiality, can the Minister tell us why there is no inquiry, what has happened, and, if there is an inquiry that has not been announced, when we can expect to have an explanation?
Lord Turnbull: My Lords, as a co-sponsor of the original amendment, I naturally welcome the fact that the other place, in its wisdom, has decided to work with the spirit of the amendment rather than resist it and leave us all hunting through myriad documents for the information to which we are entitled. Nevertheless, there are still some things that puzzle me. As the noble Lord, Lord Oakeshott, said, the amendment proposes that the report is laid only before the House of Commons. I accept that privilege in money matters is relevant where approval is required, but I do not see why this has to be claimed in relation to the provision of information.
Secondly, on the face of it, there seems to be something bizarre about the provision that the report must not identify, ever, the individual beneficiaries. Does that mean that these reports will never mention that we rescued and nationalised Northern Rock or put £20 million into the Royal Bank of Scotland? It seems rather strange. I thought that the original wording was superior to that of the Commons amendment, which says that,
I remember that the Minister was asked at an earlier stageI think it was by the noble Lord, Lord Blackwellwhether companies accepting help under various schemes were required under listing rules and so on to make that information public. I wonder whether he is able to update us on that.
In my original remarks in Committee, I argued that the report required by the clause should be a vehicle for a wider report on all the measures that the Government are taking, and have already taken, to bring together those things, whether under the powers of this Bill or the powers of other Acts. Will the Minister say what consideration is being given to this, which is all the more necessary given the constraints that have been placed on the clause?
Lord Neill of Bladen: My Lords, when the Minister replies, would he be good enough to direct his attention to proposed new subsection (3), which has already been referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Oakeshott, and just now in the previous contribution? The Commons amendment says expressly:
That is a deliberate change from the amendment that came from this House as Amendment 83, in which the report was to be laid before both Houses. It sounds like a deliberate decision in the Commons to exclude the provision that we in this House get the report at the same time as the Commons. If that is deliberate, what are the reasons underlying it?
Lord Myners: My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Oakeshott of Seagrove Bay, asked about the consultation process in connection with the publication of data by the Bank of England. That consultation will not be carried out by me or by the Treasury. It will be carried out by the Bank of England. I have taken the precaution of drawing to the attention of the governor the comments that I have made in respect of that consultation. I am sure that in due course he will initiate an open process.
The noble Lords, Lord Oakeshott, Lord Turnbull and Lord Neill, have all raised questions about proposed new subsection (3) relating to reporting to the House of Commonsthe other place. I am sure that others in this House are much more familiar with the protocol here than I am, but I understand that this is a matter on which there is an established procedure. It is entirely normal and respects the long-established constitutional convention that it is the Crown that requests supply and the other place which grants supply, while the role of this House is to assent to such financial provisions of the House of Commons as require statutory authorisation. Supply estimates are laid only before the other place, and it is therefore right that reports on expenditure, which could be granted through
Lord Forsyth of Drumlean: My Lords, I think that the Minister may have been misinformed. As the noble Lord, Lord Turnbull, who was the Cabinet Secretary and is in quite a good position to remember these things, has pointed out, there is no consent required, and therefore there is no convention that would restrict us. Presumably the amendment, had it required something that was against privilege, would have been ruled out of order by the Clerk, so this is nonsense.
Lord Myners: My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Forsyth of Drumlean, for his intervention. Of course, I respect the experience of the noble Lord, Lord Turnbull, in this respect. I understand that my noble friend the Leader of the House recently placed in the Library of the House a paper on Commons financial privilege, which she asked to be prepared by the Clerk of the Parliaments, and which deals with this issue. Importantly, the fact that the report is not laid before this House does not mean that there would be a delay in this House being informed of the report. It would be placed in the Library and Members of this House would be able to ask questions in connection with that report.
The noble Lord, Lord Forsyth, asked about confidentiality. I can only repeat the line that it is the FSAs responsibility to initiate inquiries into any situation in which it believes there has been market abuse. The FSA is no doubt aware of the movements in a number of shares before announcements. I cannot comment on whether it has carried out or is carrying out an
11 Feb 2009 : Column 1127
Lord Forsyth of Drumlean: My Lords, I apologise for interrupting the Minister again. I entirely accept that this is a matter for the FSA, although I remain bewildered as to why it has not instituted an inquiry. However, it is the Governments responsibility to consider leaks from their departments, and there is nothing to prevent the Government carrying out a leak inquiry to find out how the information, which it seems could have been known only to the Treasury, was leaked from the Treasury. Why has there been no internal leak inquiry? Leak inquiries into quite ridiculous things have been instituted by the Prime Minister; why, on a matter as serious as this, have Ministers not exercised their responsibility to ensure confidentiality in their own departments by instituting a leak inquiry?
Lord Myners: My Lords, I am sure that the FSA is the appropriate agency to carry out an inquiry. It has the necessary powers, skills and competencies to do so, and it would be wrong to prejudge where any leak emerged from, if, indeed, there was a leak.
Perhaps I may answer a question of the noble Baroness, Lady Noakes, in respect of the long delay before a report could first be produced to the other place in connection with this amendment. I will look into that and try to find a way of bringing forward an earlier disclosure of pre-April spending and commitments, because that is clearly the intention of the other place and, I deduce, the wish of this House.
Lord Oakeshott of Seagrove Bay: My Lords, the Minister mentioned the Leader of the Houses memorandum on Commons financial privilege in answer to my point about why it was not also being laid in the House of Lords. Has the noble Lord actually read the document? I happened to pick it up now as I came in; it has only six pages, I have given it a speed read, and I am bound to say that I cannot see anything in it that would mean that there could not be a report. If the Minister has not read it, perhaps, when he has read it, he will write to me and let me know why he thinks that.
Lord Myners: My Lords, I have not yet read the memorandum; I had intended to pick up a copy after I left the House. Now I absolutely will do that; I will not delay, certainly not for six months, before replying to the noble Lord.
Before we reach a decision on the Motion, I should express my appreciation to Members of the House who have worked so hard on the Bill, which is in far better shape than when it first arrived. For that we owe a debt to several Members of the House. I shall not embarrass them by naming them other than to say that the noble Baroness, Lady Noakes, and the noble
11 Feb 2009 : Column 1128
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Home Office (Lord West of Spithead): My Lords, the Government have talked regularly about the biggest shake-up of our border control and immigration system for a generation. The familiarity of the description should not disguise its truth. The Government are making fundamental changes throughout the systemto key policies, to organisations and to the information and technological support that underpins it. The points-based system, e-Borders and the introduction of ID cards for foreign nationals are just some of the headline changes.
We have recognised that we must, as an integral part of these changes, reform the legal framework that underpins the UK Border Agencys work. Last July, we started that process by publishing for scrutiny a draft partial Bill, which will replace all the current layers of primary immigration law with a single new Act. We intend to publish that Billa completed and revised draft immigration simplification Billbefore the end of this parliamentary Session. We remain committed to that programme of legal reform. We want to ensure that we engage fully with our stakeholders and produce as comprehensive and polished a new Bill as possible.
Meanwhile, the Borders, Citizenship and Immigration Bill will make a number of priority changes to the law. The Bill makes changes necessary to border functions and on the journey to citizenship. The Government believe that the security of this countrys borders is best served by a UK Border Agency that can give both customs and immigration powers to its front-line staff. The UK Border Agency, like the Home Office of which it is part, has an overriding objective, which is to protect the public. The agency works on a daily basis to secure our border and to control travel and migration for the benefit of our country.
As a result of this Governments creation of the UK Border Agency in April 2008, there have already been real successes: the prevention of more than 21,000 individual clandestine attempts to cross the channel illegally; the screening, using the e-Borders system, of more than 75 million passengers travelling to and
11 Feb 2009 : Column 1129
Significantly, many peopleincluding the noble Baroness, Lady OCathain, who mentioned this in Questions on Monday 27 October last yearhave noted that the UK Border Agencys staff provide not only security but a professional, welcoming and now uniformed presence across the UKs ports. Indeed, a new uniform is coming in from April. I had it modelled for me this morning, prior to London Fashion Week in about 10 days time.
Many of the proposals in this Bill, which I look forward to discussing with the House, stem from the Prime Ministers announcement in July 2007 of the creation of the new agency. They build on the recommendations in the Cabinet Secretarys report Security in a Global Hub, which looked at this further.
The measures in Part 1 of the Bill will address the reports clear recommendation for the implementation of a unified passport and customs checkpoint. They will allow the formal transfer of customs functions and staff integrating customs frontier work. There has been debateI do not doubt that it will continueon whether this goes far enough and on whether the police should form an integral part of a much bigger unified border police force. This proposal has superficial attractions but, when we looked at it in detail, as in government we must, it is not so attractive. There are some very real operational downsides, not least in managing the potential dislocation from local policing that might result from the creation of a new national entity. Moreover, I am sure that now is not the time to contemplate the costs and risks involved in and the organisational upheaval entailed by such a fundamental further change to the way in which we control our border.
Of course, let us not forget that the police are already very close partners of the UK Border Agency, and this seamless co-ordination works well. In addition, the UK Border Agency has a new Memorandum of Understanding with ACPO, a police chief constable has joined its board and ACPO is considering whether there might be further options for the active enhancement of existing collaborative arrangements.
The Bill makes the functional and management changes necessary for customs and immigration to work together at the border. It will allow us to complete a process which is already under way and proving its worth. From April until the end of December 2008, our officers seized in excess of 800 million cigarettes, representing a potential loss of £150 million in tax revenue. They seized £260 million-worth of illegal drugs and have taken more than 5,000 dangerous weapons off the streets.
The Bill will allow the formal transfer of up to 4,500 officers, currently with Her Majestys Revenue and Customs, to the border force, augmenting that force with officers trained and designated with the
11 Feb 2009 : Column 1130
I move on to the citizenship part of the Bill. This Government believe that migration brings benefits to our nation but we understand that the British public rightly demand that we have robust systems in place to control those coming here. We will ensure that those who want to stay earn the right to do so, learn to speak English and play by the rules. Those who do not do so will not be allowed to become citizens.
The provisions in the Bill on citizenship follow the Green Paper, The Path to Citizenship: Next Steps in Reforming the Immigration System, published last February. Our migration policy must strike the correct balance between the economic benefits that inward migration undoubtedly brings and the impact that it has on those already here. Our proposals in the Bill on earned citizenship are part of making that balance work. We want to integrate migrant workers into the country in a way that benefits both the migrants and the communities that they join.
The public have responded very positively to our initiatives to encourage newcomers to complete the journey to citizenship. We want to encourage those with the right values to become citizens. With rights come responsibilities, and those responsibilities must first be demonstrated, ensuring that the benefits of British citizenship are earned. This is at the heart of the Governments firm-but-fair system.
I note the contribution that my noble and learned friend Lord Goldsmith has made to the wider debate on citizenship. I see that he is in his place today and I look forward to his remarks. His report was wide-ranging, informing a significant and wider debate of what it should mean to be a citizen of this country and going beyond the more specific question of how newcomers should acquire British citizenship. I hope he will agree that the approach of earned citizenship which we have developed, and which this Bill supports, goes with the grain of his thinking. The wider debate will of course continue and I hope that he and the House will accept the Bill as the Home Offices initial contribution to that debate.
I now turn in more detail to the structure and contents of the Bill. Part 1 deals with border functions and will enable the concurrent exercise of certain functions of Her Majestys Revenue and Customs by the Secretary of State, her officials and a newly created post, the Director of Border Revenue. General customs functionsfor example, the prevention of drug smugglingwill be vested directly in the Secretary of State. The border revenue functions of the agency will be vested in the Director of Border Revenue. Such functions will include the prevention of revenue smuggling and the collection of duties and taxes from passengers and on international postal packets.
Officials at the border will all be UK Border Agency staff. We intend to ensure that there is a clear, single management line by allowing the chief executive of the UK Border Agency and the Director of Border Revenue to be the same individual. We are proposing a strict confidentiality regime in relation to personal customs information gathered and retained by the UK Border Agency. A person who unlawfully discloses such information may be subject to criminal prosecution. This reflects the protections afforded under the Commissioners for Revenue and Customs Act 2005.
Much of the provision in Part 1 is technicalconsequential to the mechanics of the conferral of customs functions to the UK Border Agency. HM Revenue and Customs will remain in the lead on internal collection issues and on policy for maintaining the overall customs regime. The UK Border Agency will take responsibility for matters at the border.
Part 2 makes necessary changes to nationality law to allow the introduction of earned citizenship. The Bill sets out requirements that must be met for naturalisation as a British citizen. Migrants will, as now, need to demonstrate sufficient knowledge of the English language and of life in the United Kingdom. There will be minimum time periods during which those who are here as economic migrants will need to continue working and those here as family members will need to remain in a subsisting relationship. Those who have demonstrated active citizenshipengagement in the wider communitywill be able to speed up their path to citizenship. This is complex, and a design group involving contributions from across the third sector has been established to agree how this will operate in practice.
We expect those applying for citizenship to have obeyed the law and played by the rules. Criminality will be a consideration through the whole journey to earned citizenship. Migrants will, as now, need to be of good character and we will normally refuse those who have unspent convictions. We will refuse applications from those who persistently and repeatedly commit minor offences. We will normally refuse applications from those given custodial sentences and seek to deport those convicted of serious offences.
Part 2 also makes clear the esteem in which this country holds members of the Armed Forces who are not British citizens but who serve this country. Foreign or Commonwealth citizens serve with distinction and in some numbers, with more than 7,000 Commonwealth nationals and more than 3,500 Ghurkhas in the Regular Forces as part of the British Armed Forces.
The Bill proposes a new route of registration for children born outside the United Kingdom to a Foreign or Commonwealth parent serving in the Armed Forces and ensures that those born in the UK to a serving parent will continue to be British from birth. Furthermore, the Bill removes a historic cut-off date in nationality legislation to enable British mothers to pass their citizenship to children born to them before 1961, in the same way as British fathers have always been able to do. I trust that the House will welcome these changes.
|Next Section||Back to Table of Contents||Lords Hansard Home Page|