All 7 contributions to the Corporate Insolvency and Governance Act 2020 (Ministerial Extracts Only)

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Wed 3rd Jun 2020
Corporate Insolvency and Governance Bill
Commons Chamber

2nd reading & 2nd reading: House of Commons & 2nd reading
Wed 3rd Jun 2020
Corporate Insolvency and Governance Bill
Commons Chamber

3rd reading & 3rd reading: House of Commons & Committee: 1st sitting & Committee: 1st sitting: House of Commons & Committee stage & 3rd reading
Tue 9th Jun 2020
Corporate Insolvency and Governance Bill
Lords Chamber

2nd reading (Hansard) & 2nd reading (Hansard): House of Lords & 2nd reading
Tue 16th Jun 2020
Corporate Insolvency and Governance Bill
Lords Chamber

Committee: 1st sitting (Hansard) & Committee: 1st sitting (Hansard): House of Lords & Committee stage
Tue 23rd Jun 2020
Corporate Insolvency and Governance Bill
Lords Chamber

Report stage (Hansard) & Report stage (Hansard): House of Lords & Report stage
Tue 23rd Jun 2020
Corporate Insolvency and Governance Bill
Lords Chamber

3rd reading (Hansard) & 3rd reading (Hansard): House of Lords & 3rd reading
Thu 25th Jun 2020
Corporate Insolvency and Governance Bill
Commons Chamber

Consideration of Lords amendments & Ping Pong & Ping Pong: House of Commons

Corporate Insolvency and Governance Bill

(Limited Text - Ministerial Extracts only)

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2nd reading & 2nd reading: House of Commons
Wednesday 3rd June 2020

(2 years, 2 months ago)

Commons Chamber
2nd reading Page Read Hansard Text Amendment Paper: Committee of the whole House Amendments as at 3 June 2020 - (3 Jun 2020)

This text is a record of ministerial contributions to a debate held as part of the Corporate Insolvency and Governance Act 2020 passage through Parliament.

In 1993, the House of Lords Pepper vs. Hart decision provided that statements made by Government Ministers may be taken as illustrative of legislative intent as to the interpretation of law.

This extract highlights statements made by Government Ministers along with contextual remarks by other members. The full debate can be read here

This information is provided by Parallel Parliament and does not comprise part of the offical record

Alok Sharma Portrait The Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (Alok Sharma)
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I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.

On 23 March, the Government requested many businesses to close their doors to safeguard the nation’s health. We absolutely recognise the huge sacrifices that this entailed. My right hon. Friend the Chancellor, who has been at the Dispatch Box on a number of occasions, has outlined the unprecedented economic support for businesses and workers across the country.

Like the shadow Secretary of State, the right hon. Member for Doncaster North (Edward Miliband), I have regular conversations with businesses, business representative organisations and trade unions, and I know that the scale of what the Government have done has been appreciated across the board. We have supported millions of businesses and individuals through a range of support schemes. These have included grants to small businesses—over £10 billion out of the door now —loans, through the coronavirus business interruption loan scheme and coronavirus large business interruption loan scheme, and bounce-back loans, with more than £14 billion now paid out, as well as business rate holidays, tax deferrals, the job retention scheme and, of course, the self-employed scheme. By any international comparison, the effort that has been put into supporting businesses and individuals to safeguard lives and livelihoods is incredibly favourable.

Alongside those fiscal measures to support businesses and individuals and protect livelihoods, in this Bill we want to provide further support: non-fiscal measures to ensure that we can help businesses at a time of difficulty.

Ian Paisley Portrait Ian Paisley (North Antrim) (DUP)
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Is the Minister satisfied that the measures being proposed today could expire within 27 days? Is that sufficient time to address the problems that might be coming down the track?

Alok Sharma Portrait Alok Sharma
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As ever, the hon. Gentleman raises an incredibly important point. I will talk further about this, but that is precisely why we have ensured an opportunity to extend the temporary measures in the Bill, but by regulation, so statutory instruments will have to be laid before the House. However, I am sure that the sentiments he expresses are felt across the House. If we need to, I am sure that we will collectively look to extend some of the temporary measures to continue to help businesses.

The Bill will allow business owners time and space to explore rescue options. It will allow directors of companies that are technically insolvent, but simply because of a temporary drop in demand caused by the covid-19 crisis, to proceed with the business without the threat of personal liability. That has been incredibly warmly welcomed by businesses and business representative organisations.

Jacob Young Portrait Jacob Young (Redcar) (Con)
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Does my right hon. Friend agree that this Bill will give businesses in Redcar and Cleveland and across the country the much needed breathing space to get through this crisis?

Alok Sharma Portrait Alok Sharma
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My hon. Friend is already making a huge impact in supporting businesses in his constituency, and he is absolutely right. The whole point of these measures, both permanent and temporary, is precisely as he says: to give businesses the breathing space to allow them to see whether they can recover and ultimately bounce back. That is what we all want to see.

Gary Sambrook Portrait Gary Sambrook (Birmingham, Northfield) (Con)
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Unfortunately, some businesses fail. In my constituency, MG Rover collapsed 15 years ago, ripping a huge hole in the community in Northfield and Longbridge. Fifteen years on, over 6,000 people are owed money from the liquidation of MG Rover. Will my right hon. Friend look into ways in which we can speed up the process—15 years is too long and causes a lot of problems and anxiety for people—so that they can get closure and the money that they are owed.

Alok Sharma Portrait Alok Sharma
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Again, the manner in which the debate has begun demonstrates the consensus on supporting businesses, not just in our individual constituencies but across the country. I can give my hon. Friend a commitment that I am happy to meet him to discuss the case and see what more can be done. He is absolutely right—where we are able to, we must seek to speed up and provide that support to individuals who need it.

The Bill will provide extra flexibilities to hold AGMs online during the covid-19 pandemic and will also provide more time to file accounts and other filings with Companies House.

Paul Holmes Portrait Paul Holmes (Eastleigh) (Con)
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May I ask the Secretary of State whether companies have to apply for those extensions on filing, or will there be an automated aspect whereby Companies House will approach the companies affected?

Alok Sharma Portrait Alok Sharma
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Once the filing requirements are enacted, as my hon. Friend says, companies can make filings up to the extension dates. As was mentioned earlier, if there is a need to extend temporary provisions, we will look to see if that is required. While we recognise that these and other support measures will not, sadly, be able to save every business and every job, the Bill delivers commitments that will give businesses in difficulty due to the pandemic a fighting chance of eventually bouncing back.

Stephen Doughty Portrait Stephen Doughty (Cardiff South and Penarth) (Lab/Co-op)
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There are indeed some important measures in the Bill, and we will undoubtedly scrutinise them in more detail in due course. I thank the Secretary of State for the work of the officials in his Department to support a number of businesses in my constituency, and I thank the Welsh Government for the support that they have provided through the economic resilience fund.

We have not had enough support from the banks, some of which have not only struggled to make themselves available to businesses seeking support through the loan schemes that the Government have set up but seem to be trying to push off their books businesses that could make it through the crisis. What does the Secretary of State have to say to the banks?

Alok Sharma Portrait Alok Sharma
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When we first launched CBILS there were a lot of concerns about how quickly the process was moving. I have been talking to banks individually and to senior managers in the banks, and I think that we are beginning to see movement. CBILS has had over 40,000 loans out of the door, and over 450,000 bounce-back loans have been made. If there are specific banks about which the hon. Gentleman has concerns—he, like all colleagues, is concerned about retaining employment in his constituency—I would be happy to take up those issues with him individually.

Kevin Hollinrake Portrait Kevin Hollinrake (Thirsk and Malton) (Con)
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Because of the success of bounce-back loans—it is a much easier process to get a bounce-back loan than a CBILS loan—lots of businesses that need more than £50,000 have gone for a bounce-back loan as an interim step, but are restricted from taking a CBILS loan, as they can only have one or the other. Would my right hon. Friend consider allowing businesses to apply for a CBILS loan for a larger amount, subject to necessary lending criteria, then paying off the bounce-back loan so that they can get access to the finance that they need?

Alok Sharma Portrait Alok Sharma
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My hon. Friend makes an incredibly important point. I am sure that the Under-Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, my hon. Friend the Member for Sutton and Cheam (Paul Scully), will correct me if I am wrong, but my understanding is that it is possible to transfer loans between the bounce-back scheme and CBILS. I am happy to discuss that with my hon. Friend the Member for Thirsk and Malton (Kevin Hollinrake), who is absolutely right—people cannot have one of each, so to speak, but I think that it is possible to make a transfer.

The measures set out in the Bill have been welcomed across the board by business representatives’ organisations such as the Federation of Small Businesses, the Institute of Directors, the CBI, the British Chambers of Commerce, R3—the insolvency and restructuring professionals trade association—and the Trades Union Congress. Some of the measures will take retrospective effect to provide as much relief to businesses as possible. To ensure that is the case, we have announced the dates from which the measures will begin.



Let me turn to corporate restructurings, and the package of permanent corporate restructuring measures, which have previously been consulted on. As colleagues know, they were consulted on in 2016, and then formed part of a wider consultation on corporate governance and insolvency published in 2018, so they have been consulted on in some detail. They will have immediate effect in helping companies get through the covid-19 emergency.

A number of time-limited provisions are there to cater for the immediate economic impact of the covid-19 pandemic. They have been added to the package and will be in place for a month after Royal Assent.

Richard Fuller Portrait Richard Fuller (North East Bedfordshire) (Con)
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Playing a fundamental part in the Bill, we have a number of measures that have been consulted on for a long period; people have thought about them and, as my right hon. Friend said, there has been a large degree of consensus around them. Then we have some other measures that have been brought forward in response to the immediate crisis; the Department has worked incredibly quickly to come up with them. Is the Department satisfied that it has got the balance right between the two? Is there anything that we should look out for in the next few months about the permanence of some of those measures?

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Alok Sharma Portrait Alok Sharma
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My hon. Friend is of course right. By the way, I am delighted that he is back in the House, after a short absence. He brings a huge amount of experience in this area, as a result of his work in the private sector. The permanent measures have already been consulted upon, and they enjoy broad support. The temporary measures are of course temporary, and if we were to look to extend any of them, we would have to do so by way of regulation—we would have to come to the House with statutory instruments, and there would be an opportunity, if colleagues in the House felt it was not right to extend them, for them to voice their concerns. So I do think we have managed to get the balance right in this case. We want to ensure that the measures are put in place as quickly as possible, so that we are able to provide support to businesses in difficulty right now. In all the discussions that we have had with the right hon. Member for Doncaster North and his colleagues, we have always had a really constructive approach; I hope that is exactly what we will have today as well.

Kevin Hollinrake Portrait Kevin Hollinrake
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I speak as a co-chair of the all-party group on fair business banking, has dealt with a lot of problems in how banks treat SMEs, facilitated by insolvency practitioners. To eliminate those conflicts of interest, the Secretary of State’s Department has committed to bringing forward measures to provide that the conduct of insolvency practitioners is overseen by a single regulator, rather than by recognised professional bodies. Can he commit to bringing forward those measures in the not-too-distant future, so that we can try to eliminate those conflicts of interest?

Alok Sharma Portrait Alok Sharma
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My hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State will elaborate on some of the points that my hon. Friend raised. I would simply say that in July 2019, the Government issued a call for evidence on the insolvency regulatory framework, to determine whether any changes needed to be made. That included questions on whether there should be a single regulator. We expect to publish the Government response to the call for evidence later this year. Perhaps my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary will elaborate later.

Returning to the Bill, the package of measures has three elements. The first is a moratorium. That will give a company that is threatened with insolvency temporary respite from its creditors and a chance to arrange refinancing or a rescue. The moratorium will be for an initial period of 20 days, which can then be extended. There will be a time-limited easing of the eligibility criteria for a company to enter into a moratorium, to make it more accessible during the covid-19 response period.

Mike Wood Portrait Mike Wood (Dudley South) (Con)
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The temporary measures that my right hon. Friend has included in the Bill will provide great respite for many businesses, particularly in the hospitality sector, where businesses have been unable to trade throughout this outbreak but rents have remained very high; the measures will protect them from aggressive landlords. Those pressures will continue well past the end of June, so will he consider extending the protection for tenants from winding-up petitions?

Alok Sharma Portrait Alok Sharma
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Of course, that is part of the measures that we will bring in. I recognise why my hon. Friend wants to ensure that tenants have protection, and that is why we will introduce the temporary measures around this issue, but of course we also need to think about landlords. I will address that point as I go through my speech.

Returning to the moratorium, the time-limited easing of the eligibility criteria for a company to enter a moratorium, to make that more accessible during the covid-19 response period, will be in place for a month after Royal Assent. Of course, that can be extended if it is deemed necessary.

The second part of the new permanent restructuring measures will allow companies in financial difficulty to propose a rescue plan to restructure complex debt arrangements, and to bind creditors to it, as long as certain thresholds are met. That means that viable companies struggling with debt obligations will be able to restructure under the new procedure.

There are, however, significant safeguards and protections for creditors, which is right and proper. The plan must be sanctioned by the court and, indeed, any dissenting creditor class bound to a plan must not be made worse off than it would have been in the next most likely outcome. I know that a number of colleagues, both in the House and outside, have raised this issue. That is why we have ensured that this measure is in place.

The third part of the restructuring package will prohibit termination clauses. That will prevent suppliers from terminating contracts or raising prices just because a company has entered an insolvency procedure or a moratorium. Of course, we recognise that requiring companies to supply under those circumstances may cause them financial difficulties, so we have built in a number of protections for suppliers too.

If continuing supply would cause a supplier hardship, it can apply to the court for permission to terminate the contract. In addition, if goods or services supplied after the insolvency begins are not paid for, the supplier can terminate the contract. Further, the Government will temporarily exempt small suppliers from this requirement altogether during the covid-19 crisis, recognising the particular challenges that those firms face.

Mark Pawsey Portrait Mark Pawsey (Rugby) (Con)
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Small businesses often find themselves dictated to by larger organisations, and the last thing we want is for small businesses to be put at a disadvantage by being compelled to supply when they are not capable or it is not in their interest to do so. Will the Secretary State reassure us that small businesses in particular will be protected by these provisions?

Alok Sharma Portrait Alok Sharma
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My hon. Friend raises a really important point about protecting small suppliers. They will of course have this exemption. According to the definition in the Companies Act 2006, a small supplier is one that meets two of the following three criteria: having up to 50 employees, a turnover of up to £10.2 million, and gross assets of up to £5.1 million. I think that will cover a very large number of businesses in our country.

Richard Fuller Portrait Richard Fuller
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May I thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker, for permitting so many interventions? As we are rushing through the Bill relatively quickly, it is important that Members on both sides of the House have the opportunity to raise points directly with the Secretary of State, so thank you for permitting some latitude for interventions.

The small business commissioner appeared before the Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Committee a few weeks ago, and I posed some questions about whether he had the powers he needed. As my right hon. Friend looks at this period, with the particular pressure caused by covid-19, is he assured that the small business commissioner’s powers are as will be needed, or does he envisage wanting to look again at this in the future?

Alok Sharma Portrait Alok Sharma
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My hon. Friend raises an incredibly important point. I championed this issue—support for small businesses—when I was on the Back Benches. As he will know, the Government’s payment terms are favourable in setting a very time-limited period within which payments must be made to Government suppliers, and of course the Government also require that if a large organisation is being paid by the Government under a contract, they need to pass on that speed of payment to smaller subcontractors. He will also know that in the manifesto on which he and I stood we committed to looking further at the role of the small business commissioner and how it might be strengthened. We will bring forward a consultation on that in due course.

I move now to the temporary measures in the Bill. The first set provides for a suspension of the serving of statutory demands and a restriction on winding-up petitions. These measures will be retrospective from 1 March and 27 April respectively and will last until one month after Royal Assent, although they can be extended if that is deemed necessary. The Coronavirus Act 2020 temporarily suspended the right of commercial landlords to forfeit the tenancies of retail businesses in order to protect tenants unable to trade because of covid-19. While this temporary suspension has been in place, the majority of landlords and tenants have been working well together to reach agreements on debt obligations, but a small number of landlords have been using aggressive debt recovery tactics to put pressure on tenants, including through the use of statutory demands and threats of winding up. For this reason, the measures in the Bill to limit the use of statutory demands and winding-up petitions have been welcomed by many, especially in the hospitality sector.

Jonathan Djanogly Portrait Mr Jonathan Djanogly (Huntingdon) (Con)
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The Government have repeatedly spoken about this clause in the context of landlords, but can the Secretary of State confirm that it actually applies to all creditors?

Alok Sharma Portrait Alok Sharma
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It is intended to apply to all suppliers—I am sure I will be corrected if I am wrong on that. As my hon. Friend has also been keen to point out, although this measure is not restricted to commercial landlords, some landlords will have particular concerns, and I can reassure him that the Government will monitor the impact of the measure and are asking lenders and investors to consider how debt obligations can be met in a way that does not put unnecessary pressure on landlords.

Kevin Hollinrake Portrait Kevin Hollinrake
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In respect of commercial loans, currently the banks, when showing forbearance, are providing capital repayment holidays but only on the capital element of the repayment. In respect of residential mortgages and loans, they are giving complete repayment holidays. The monthly capital repayment is a small element of the overall payment. The banks could be much more helpful to landlords by giving a complete holiday across the whole repayment for a period of time while showing forbearance to their tenants.

Alok Sharma Portrait Alok Sharma
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Colleagues in the banking sector will I am sure be watching this debate and listening in, and they will have heard what my hon. Friend has said. I would be happy to have a discussion with him after this debate if there are particular points that he wants to raise or if he wants to talk about particular organisations.

The second temporary measure is the suspension of the wrongful trading provisions. This will be retrospective to 1 March and will be in place until one month after Royal Assent, and again it can be extended if that is deemed necessary. Hon. Members will know that wrongful trading is an important deterrent against company directors continuing to trade when the company is insolvent and when doing so increases the losses to creditors. Directors can be made personally liable as a result. However, during this difficult period, many otherwise viable companies may become technically insolvent, particularly if they have been severely affected by a drop in demand caused by covid-19. This measure gives company directors the confidence to use their best efforts to continue trading without the threat of personal liability, should the company ultimately go into insolvency. Since the measure was announced in March, we have received much support for it from stakeholders. The Institute of Directors has welcomed it, saying that it

“will help to avert entirely preventable corporate collapses.”

The Bill also contains the necessary time-limited powers to extend these temporary provisions, should that prove necessary.

The Bill will also allow the Government to make other temporary amendments to insolvency law or the new restructuring plan to deal with the effects of covid-19, where needed. The power to amend corporate insolvency or governance legislation will allow the insolvency and business rescue regime to react quickly to the challenges we face as a result of the impact of covid-19, and that power will expire on 30 April 2021. However, due to the potential unforeseen circumstances relating to covid-19, the expiry date of this power can be extended if it is deemed necessary. If an extension is sought, the House will of course have an opportunity to scrutinise it.

The next group of temporary measures deals with meetings and company filings. These measures enable companies and other bodies, including mutual societies and charitable incorporated organisations, to hold AGMs and other meetings in a safe way, while respecting social distancing rules.

Sarah Olney Portrait Sarah Olney (Richmond Park) (LD)
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On the point about AGMs, it is obviously good that the legislation makes provision for AGMs to be held digitally, but is it necessary for the legislation to restrict the participation of shareholders quite as much as it does? Surely, if a digital method enables shareholders to question directors, that should be encouraged if it can be facilitated.

Alok Sharma Portrait Alok Sharma
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There are, of course, other methods for shareholders to question directors of a company. There will be shareholders’ days, for example. The reality is that businesses will be reacting and doing their best to try to get information to their shareholders. I am sure that the hon. Lady’s point will be noted, but the intention of this Bill—and, I think, of the business community—is not in any way to use these measures to restrict shareholders’ access to information. This is actually about making sure that we can get past the pandemic and be in a position to bounce back.

The flexibility in terms of these meetings and filings will apply from 26 March—retrospectively, obviously—until 30 September. The measures also enable AGMs to be postponed until 30 September this year, where necessary.

Sara Britcliffe Portrait Sara Britcliffe (Hyndburn) (Con)
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I am encouraged that the measures for AGMs and other meetings are temporary. Does my right hon. Friend share my belief that in-person AGMs provide the best opportunities for shareholders to hold their directors to account?

Alok Sharma Portrait Alok Sharma
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My hon. Friend makes an important point. We would all like to get back to those face-to-face discussions, just as we are doing in the House today. These are temporary measures, and I hope that when we get through to the other side there will again be that opportunity for shareholders to meet and ask questions face to face, because that is right and appropriate.

Gareth Davies Portrait Gareth Davies (Grantham and Stamford) (Con)
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Can my right hon. Friend confirm that the Government are not mandating how companies and organisations are to hold an AGM, but rather giving them flexibility at this incredibly difficult time as to how best to engage with shareholders?

Alok Sharma Portrait Alok Sharma
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My hon. Friend makes an incredibly important point. This is not about mandating; this is about giving choice. I expect that many companies will take up the temporary support that is being made available through these measures.

Expanding on the announcement I made on 25 March that companies would have an extended period for filing accounts, the Bill will also give businesses more time to meet a range of filing requirements. The extensions to the various filing requirements will be set out in regulations to be laid once the Bill receives Royal Assent. We will be giving businesses the maximum period allowable under the powers in the Bill for filing their accounts, confirmation statements and event-driven updates. We will also extend the period within which charges should be registered with Companies House to 31 days, which I believe strikes the right balance between providing businesses with breathing space and ensuring that lenders are protected.

In conclusion, the package of measures that the Bill introduces will give businesses the best opportunity to survive the effects of the covid-19 crisis and lay the foundations for a bounce-back in the UK economy. This Government are committed to supporting businesses. We are listening, and we are putting in place meaningful and common-sense measures to provide that support. Let me end by again paying tribute to the millions of business owners up and down our country who are doing their bit to keep Britain moving. In bringing these measures forward, we demonstrate again that we stand with them. I commend the Bill to the House.

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Paul Scully Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (Paul Scully)
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May I first welcome the hon. Member for Manchester Central (Lucy Powell) to her place? I thank her and the shadow Secretary of State, the right hon. Member for Doncaster North (Edward Miliband), for the engaging way in which they have spoken to officials. That has expedited the passage of this legislation, and our discussions—including with the SNP spokesman, the hon. Member for Inverness, Nairn, Badenoch and Strathspey (Drew Hendry) —have been particularly fruitful.

Unfortunately, I cannot respond to every question in the short time available to me now, but I hope that we will pick up some of these discussions during the next stages of the Bill. I thank all right hon. and hon. Members who have spoken for their contributions to the debate, not least, as has been mentioned, the excellent maiden speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Heywood and Middleton (Chris Clarkson). May I add my happy birthday regards to Win Page? My hon. Friend talked about the fact that the general election seemed a long time ago, and made the point about the Olde Boar’s Head—and a haircut for me as well—so congratulations.

As was mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Rugby (Mark Pawsey), the Institute of Directors and the Federation of Small Businesses have been incredibly supportive of the measures in this Bill. We welcome that support. It will help businesses that are struggling with the effects of the covid-19 crisis and lay the foundations for economic recovery in the UK. The insolvency reforms in the Bill will provide vital and urgent support for businesses to help them through the period of instability and to help them recover from the impact of covid-19 as the economy fully emerges from this crisis.

Chris Bryant Portrait Chris Bryant (Rhondda) (Lab)
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On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker.

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Eleanor Laing Portrait Madam Deputy Speaker
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I am guessing that it could well be timely, but the Minister has a very limited time in which to speak, and he should finish his speech first. Then I will take the hon. Gentleman’s point of order.

Paul Scully Portrait Paul Scully
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Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker.

The corporate restructuring package in particular will be of immediate help to companies in financial distress, which need further regulatory tools to help them recover. This Bill provides that. It will enable UK companies undergoing a rescue or restructuring process to continue trading, giving them breathing space that could help them avoid insolvency. I want to reassure right hon. and hon. Members that the temporary changes to insolvency law that are necessary to help businesses get through this unprecedented period will consider very carefully any case for further extensions to these powers, and they will be subject to the full scrutiny of the House.

The temporary prohibition on creditors filing statutory demands and winding-up petitions for covid-19-related debts will support the Government’s programme to help companies survive the covid-19 emergency. It will temporarily remove the threat of statutory demands and winding-up petitions being issued against otherwise viable companies by creditors not following the Government’s advice to show forbearance at this time.

Furthermore, temporarily removing the threat of personal liability for wrongful trading from directors who tried to keep their companies afloat throughout this emergency will encourage directors to continue to use their best efforts to trade during this uncertain time. The governance measures will provide temporary flexibilities on meetings and filings at a time when businesses are coping with reduced resources and restrictions due to social distancing measures.

Let me quickly address a couple of points made by the right hon. Member for Doncaster North. First, he is completely correct to say that, although there will be a temporary suspension of wrongful trading liability, directors will still have legal duties under wider company law. Those duties will remain in place, as will measures under insolvency law to penalise directors who abuse their position. I understand the suggestion of the right hon. Gentleman and the hon. Member for Inverness, Nairn, Badenoch and Strathspey that the temporary insolvency measures should be extended to 30 September 2020. At present, all the temporary insolvency measures will automatically sunset a month after Royal Assent. I can reassure them, though, that the Bill contains provisions enabling those temporary measures to be extended by statutory instrument where appropriate. The Government have every intention of making use of those provisions if the protections are needed beyond their present expiry date. It is a truly fluid situation and we do not want provisions to be in place for longer than is necessary.

The temporary measures all have significant impacts on the normal working of the business community, and the case for extending the measures will need to be considered against those impacts. Any extension should rightly be scrutinised by Parliament, but the Government will not hesitate to extend if that is required.

The right hon. Member for Doncaster North also raised a fair point on the need for employees to be protected in regard to restructuring plans. That point was also raised by my hon. Friend the Member for North East Bedfordshire (Richard Fuller). The aim of these measures is to restore the viability of struggling companies, thereby boosting the economy, saving jobs and protecting long-term investment. Yes, employees could find themselves as creditors in a restructuring plan, but in those circumstances, they will benefit from the same protections that are in place for other creditors and members. This will include the provision that they must be no worse off through the plan than they would otherwise be in the next most likely plan, and it will, of course, take into account their entitlement under employment legislation.

Importantly, a court can refuse to sanction a plan if it is not fair and it is equitable to do so. When making this assessment, one would expect the court to be mindful of the interests of employees in any pension schemes affected by that plan. If a restructuring plan is not agreed, it is worth remembering that the company might enter an insolvency proceeding, which would almost certainly produce a worse outcome overall for all involved. The company might stop trading altogether, which would put all employees at risk of losing their jobs. The Government are in the business of protecting jobs.

The right hon. Member for Doncaster North also raised concerns about CBILS and CLBILS, as well as the bounce-back loans. The Government have listened to helpful feedback on the business interruption loan schemes in recent weeks. That feedback has also shown that the smallest SMEs, some of which have perhaps not used finance in the past, are struggling to get their finance applications approved as quickly as they need, as we heard earlier. That is why the bounce-back loan schemes, which are fast for lenders to process and for businesses to access, have been launched.

On 27 April, the Chancellor announced the new bounce-back loan scheme, which will ensure that the smallest businesses can access up to £50,000 of loans in a matter of days. The scheme went live on 4 May. Businesses can complete a short, simple online application in up to a few hours. Under the scheme, there is no need for lenders to ask for complicated cash-flow forecasts or ask difficult questions about the future, which means those applications can be submitted and processed rapidly. Almost 700,000 have been have already been approved.

I thank my hon. Friends the Members for Wimbledon (Stephen Hammond), for Rugby and for Huntingdon (Mr Djanogly) and the hon. Members for Inverness, Nairn, Badenoch and Strathspey, for Bristol North West (Darren Jones), for Aberavon (Stephen Kinnock) and for North Antrim (Ian Paisley) for their contributions. I should say to my hon. Friend the Member for Wimbledon that the Charity Commission has confirmed that it will look favourably on charities that have been unable to hold their AGMs in the normal way, but asks that they write down their decisions to prove that they have done due diligence in holding a virtual AGM or delaying their AGM.

I applaud the passion of my hon. Friend the Member for North East Bedfordshire in standing up for businesses being able to come out of the recovery, as we motor through, changing gears. We will not go back immediately to how things were in January; we have to work with business and listen to business. I am grateful to all other Members who have spoken today.

These new measures complement the Government’s existing far-reaching economic support package for businesses and workers through this emergency. Today’s debate on these measures reinforces the importance of responding to the concerns of UK businesses and providing them with much-needed support during this difficult time. We are in the midst of a global emergency, in which otherwise economically viable businesses are facing the risk of insolvency because of covid-19. We must protect them as best we can. It is imperative that we act now to support our businesses and do what we can to ensure that they survive, preserve jobs and support future growth. Clearly, our first priority is to protect lives, but restoring livelihoods, protecting businesses and getting the economy motoring is also essential. That is why it is imperative that we act now. The measures in the Bill will provide businesses with the flexibility and breathing space they need to continue trading during this difficult time and support the nation’s economic recovery.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read a Second time.

Chris Bryant Portrait Chris Bryant
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. I apologise to the Minister; it was not my intention to be rude to him by interrupting him earlier.

We have gone past seven o’clock, as you will have noticed, Madam Deputy Speaker, which means that the motion in the name of the Leader of the House that pertains to virtual participation in proceedings during the pandemic will—I think this is the Government’s intention—be a “nod or nothing” measure. There can be no debate, and if it is opposed, it therefore falls. I have tabled an amendment and I have no intention of withdrawing it. I would want to contest the motion, and I understand that the amendment would be selected by the Speaker if it were to proceed. It is my understanding that it cannot now proceed. Nobody needs to object; it simply cannot now proceed because it is opposed business. Is that your understanding as well?

Corporate Insolvency and Governance Bill

(Limited Text - Ministerial Extracts only)

Read Full debate
3rd reading & 3rd reading: House of Commons & Committee: 1st sitting & Committee: 1st sitting: House of Commons & Committee stage
Wednesday 3rd June 2020

(2 years, 2 months ago)

Commons Chamber
3rd reading Page Read Hansard Text Amendment Paper: Committee of the whole House Amendments as at 3 June 2020 - (3 Jun 2020)

This text is a record of ministerial contributions to a debate held as part of the Corporate Insolvency and Governance Act 2020 passage through Parliament.

In 1993, the House of Lords Pepper vs. Hart decision provided that statements made by Government Ministers may be taken as illustrative of legislative intent as to the interpretation of law.

This extract highlights statements made by Government Ministers along with contextual remarks by other members. The full debate can be read here

This information is provided by Parallel Parliament and does not comprise part of the offical record

Lucy Powell Portrait Lucy Powell
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

The hon. Member makes a good point. Businesses that are struggling to keep their heads above water need certainty, and they need to know that the lifeline measures in the Bill will not be pulled from under their feet before they even reach needing them.

The point of the suspension of the wrongful trading provisions is that lots of businesses are effectively trading technically insolvent already through no fault of their own. Just as we have seen Ministers rightly extend the furlough scheme, support for the self-employed and other measures, they should get ahead of this now. Rather than having to spend time on a statutory instrument in only two or three weeks’ time, Ministers could and should take the opportunity to get this done today by agreeing to our amendment.

Amendment 2 would extend the moratorium for small businesses from 20 days to 30 days for businesses facing insolvency. The Federation of Small Businesses has called on Government to extend the moratorium period for small businesses because it does not believe that the 20-day period in the Bill is sufficient. We support that call and ask Ministers to agree to that change.

New clause 2 has not been selected, and we will have a proper look at this in the other place, but we think that the powers of the Small Business Commissioner should be strengthened, as we discussed on Second Reading.

We have long argued for some of the permanent measures in the Bill, particularly in the wake of the Carillion collapse. However, we have some concerns about what has been left out, as I said on Second Reading. There could be unintended consequences in the restructuring proposals that are being put in place that could disadvantage small businesses, employees or other unsecured creditors, such as pension funds. The Minister and I have discussed the issue in private, and it was also raised by a number of Government Members earlier. Given the crisis and the numbers of businesses already struggling, we appreciate the haste in bringing forward the changes, but we are concerned that Members and outside bodies have not had a lot of time to scrutinise the Bill and its implications, so we think the Government could consider having a period for reflection and review.

We have included as amendments a number of omissions from the 2018 consultation. The collapse of Carillion and the consequences for workers, supply-chain businesses and the public were a national scandal and an abject failure of British corporate governance policies. There have been huge repercussions for taxpayers, with unfulfilled contracts, unfinished buildings and thousands of apprentices laid off—the taxpayer had to foot the bill for those failures of corporate governance. There is, rightfully, public anger at the failure to hold people to account for such things. As ever, it seems that in such instances the profits are taken by the private sector, but the public sector foots the bill when the risks have been taken by directors over whom they have no control. Given the economic crisis that we face and the likely recession, it is clear that in the next few months and years we will see more big corporate collapses and failures, so it really is remiss of the Government not to strengthen the corporate governance measures, as they said they would do in 2018. I wish to make it clear, especially because Members raised this earlier, that the measures in our amendment are lifted entirely from the Government’s own recommendations.

Alongside key omissions from the Bill, we have heard from academics, trade unions and other organisations about some of the sweeping powers in the legislation and the fact that there could be considerable scope for the misuse of some measures to disadvantage particular groups. The next set of amendments would seek to safeguard funds for unsecured creditors, protect pension schemes, and protect employees by giving trade unions a voice in any restructuring plans. I urge the Minister to have conversations with the trade unions and to look to add our provision—or a provision like it, as Members from both sides were calling for earlier—to the Bill as it progresses to the other place.

We have concerns about how the restructuring plan will hit employees: many more could be pushed to or around the national minimum wage and lose their rights and their wages, as we are currently seeing with what British Airways is doing. Pension scheme deficits will be left unaddressed and more workers could end up losing out from their pension schemes. If this was not an emergency Bill, we would have had a lot more time to probe Ministers on these issues in a full Committee and to discuss what could be done to strengthen the protections in the Bill.

New clause 1 would insert into section 176A of the Insolvency Act 1986 a requirement that at least 30% of the proceeds from the sale of assets of businesses in administration or liquidation should be ring-fenced for payments to unsecured creditors, who often end up losing out to larger creditors, such as banks. The new clause explores a way for unsecured creditors to be guaranteed some assets so that they do not miss out. The legislation assumes that all creditors are identical and take a hit, but we know that that is not borne out in reality. There is a case for protecting the debts of SMEs and other unsecured creditors up to a specified amount, and that should not be reduced. What assurances can the Minister give that unsecured creditors will not lose out as a result of the Bill—although I know that that is what it is designed to try to achieve—and what mitigation is in place to protect unsecured creditors, who are often in the SME sector?

The intention of new clause 4 is to make pension scheme deficits a priority creditor in the event of insolvency and therefore due to be paid before unsecured creditors. The new clause would require the Government to make pension scheme deficits a priority, meaning that they would be the first in the queue in the event of insolvency and paid before other creditors. That could make employees’ votes count and offer them some protection. It is worth remembering that pension schemes are unsecured creditors in normal circumstances. If the deficit is not addressed by companies, employees face an erosion of their pension rights and their pension value goes down. Our amendment would help them to become a separate class in their own right and not to be subsumed into the amorphous mass of unsecured creditors. Members would be able to vote on any restructuring plan. That way, there would be a clear message to past and present employees. Given the nature of this debate and the number of colleagues from both sides of the House who have raised this issue, I hope that Ministers will look at the matter.

The intention of new clause 5 is to require mandatory discussion with trade union representatives once a company has entered the restructuring process. I understand that US evidence shows that restructuring plans often hit employees hardest, and many of the provisions in the Bill are based on US-European models. Wages can be reduced and employment terms changed. Many employees end up on zero-hours contracts or, as we have seen recently with BA, are sacked and then offered worse terms and conditions when they are re-employed. Pension rights are also reduced, and that could happen in the UK. I am sure that Ministers do not wish that to be an unintended consequence of the legislation, so we hope that the Minister will look at our idea, or a similar idea, and see if it can be introduced in the other place. I hope he can provide reassurance on that, not least because my boss, the shadow Secretary of State, is particularly agitated—and rightly so—about this issue.

I hope that the Minister will consider the amendments in the constructive way in which they are tabled. A number of Government amendments have been tabled, and they seem reasonable. We have not had a lot of time to study them, but I am grateful to the Minister for arranging a briefing with his officials. I look forward to his providing us with a bit more detail and assurance as the Bill proceeds.

Paul Scully Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (Paul Scully)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

This Bill has been produced with ministerial colleagues, the Bill team, which has worked through weekends, representatives of businesses, consumers, workers, shareholders, investors, insolvency experts and, indeed, after really constructive conversations with Opposition Members from all parts of the House. For all those people, I want to put on the record thanks for the constructive way in which the measure has been introduced.

We have had a good debate and there are a number of issues that we need to explore. I am more than happy to cover as much ground as I can. An amendment on prompt payment was cited on Second Reading, but it was not selected. However, as the Secretary of State has said, we made a manifesto commitment to consult on extending a range of powers to the small business commissioner and to clamp down on late payment. We still plan to consult on doing so to allow the small business commissioner to advocate for and support small businesses. We are keen to capture as many views as possible to ensure that the policy response is the right one. In the light of businesses furloughing staff and of other priorities, we do not believe that consulting now is the right thing to do, but the Government remain committed to the prompt payment code.

Amendment 1 seeks to add a statement from a trade union on behalf of employees to the document that must be filed at court at the commencement of the moratorium. It is important to note that a successful rescue would be of direct benefit to employees, as it would result in jobs being saved. Requiring a statement from the trade union on their behalf alongside statements from the insolvency practitioner and directors would add little to the process. In fact, it might risk publicising the company’s financial problems before the protection from creditor action that a moratorium would bring, making rescue less likely.

Employees benefit from considerable protection in the moratorium, which will not be a bomb shelter for bad employers. As I have set out previously, wages and any redundancy payments relating to a period before as well as during the moratorium should be paid by the company. If it does not pay such amounts the monitor must bring the moratorium to an end. While legal process cannot be begun or continued against the company while it is in a moratorium without the leave of the court, an exception is made for employment tribunal claims and other proceedings between an employer and the worker. For those reasons I have set out, I am unable to accept this amendment and I hope it will not be pressed, but I do value the regular meetings I have with TUC members, a number of whom I will be speaking to tomorrow as part of my regular engagement. I value their input at every stage on employment rights and other issues that fall within my brief.

--- Later in debate ---
Kevin Hollinrake Portrait Kevin Hollinrake
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Matters are progressing quickly and it is important to bring forward these measures now, but they do not directly tackle the issues relating to conflict of interest. The Department’s proposal to look for a single regulator could well do that. Will the Minister be prepared to meet me to discuss those measures to see when they might be brought forward in future legislation?

Paul Scully Portrait Paul Scully
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I welcome my hon. Friend’s intervention. He has spoken at length on this and he has been a champion for that change, and I would be happy to meet him to discuss that further.

Amendments 18, 19, 21, 22, 23 and 25 deal with the Cape Town convention, which is an international treaty that seeks to lower the cost of finance for various high-value, mobile assets, including, importantly, aircraft. I know the sector has been particularly impacted by the unique situation posed by the coronavirus pandemic. The insolvency provisions in the Cape Town convention and the aircraft protocol, which we ratified in 2015, are some of the key provisions that give rise to low financing costs in the airline industry. They provide aircraft creditors with greater certainty that they will be able to take steps to enforce their security if an airline debtor defaults on payments or enters into insolvency. The effect of the provisions in the Bill that the Government are amending would have been to enhance the existing protections afforded to Cape Town creditors by extending those protections beyond what the convention and the aircraft protocol require. That was done to create even greater certainty for creditors and further reduce lending costs within the industry. However, in doing so, the new provisions would also have constrained the ability of a financially distressed airline to restructure without creditor consent, either using existing tools under the Companies Act 2006 or the new restructuring plan procedure that is being introduced by the Bill.

Since the publication of the Bill, we have listened closely to the views of many, including interested stakeholders in the airline sector and the restructuring profession. Both have expressed that these provisions could create a significant hurdle to successfully restructuring a struggling airline. The Government are absolutely aware of the very significant impact that this emergency is having on the airline sector. I am also clear that the overriding aim of the Bill is to make it as easy as possible for affected companies to get the breathing space that they need to weather the impact of covid-19, which clearly applies to the airline sector. Given the extraordinary challenge of the circumstances faced by the sector, the Government have decided to remove the relevant provisions from the Bill, which will retain the ability for an airline to use a scheme of arrangement and a restructuring plan to affect Cape Town creditors’ registered interests without the consent of every individual creditor, provided that the other safeguards of those procedures are satisfied. It is complex and we know that we need to work with the airlines on this and give struggling airlines the ability to successfully restructure.

I turn to amendment 15, which deals with the temporary changes to the moratorium that we are introducing in the Bill specifically for England, Wales and Scotland. I will shortly speak to a corresponding amendment for Northern Ireland. Members of this esteemed House will be aware that one of the things that the Bill is for is to create the moratorium, which is vital to give troubled companies the breathing space, but they face significant risks when seeking to restructure, and creditors can derail rescue plans and cause otherwise viable companies to fail unnecessarily. This adversely affects the interests of the company, its creditors and its employees, as well as the wider economy. Recognising the pressing need for companies to be able to access a moratorium in the face of the immediate impact of this emergency, in addition to the permanent measures, we have also introduced temporary measures to ensure that it is as easy as possible for businesses to access a moratorium in the short term. This is done in schedule 4 to the Bill.

While the schedule 4 temporary measures are in place, it is important that these can be applied consistently to each type of entity that can obtain a moratorium. If eligibility for the temporary measures changed depending on what sort of entity was seeking the moratorium, that would patently not be the case. As drafted, there are two entities for which schedule 4 would not otherwise apply: limited liability partnerships and co-operative and community benefit societies. This amendment would add a small fifth section to schedule 4, consisting of two paragraphs to make limited liability partnerships and co-operative and community benefit societies eligible for the temporary moratorium measures. That ensures that these entities can also be brought within the scope of the schedule and make best use of the breathing space that the measures offer. It ensures that both co-operative and community benefit societies and limited liability partnerships in England, Scotland and Wales will benefit from the temporary measures that we have set out in the schedule, as well as from the wider provisions on moratoriums. There is a corresponding amendment for Northern Ireland. These time-limited and temporary changes will make sure that we best address specific issues for companies during the covid-19 emergency and ensure that the relevant entities are all equally eligible for our temporary measures on moratoriums.

Amendment 17 is related and ensures that the temporary modifications that have been made to the moratorium process can be applied to limited liability partnerships and certain types of registered societies in Northern Ireland. It inserts two paragraphs to the temporary measures in Schedule 8, so it largely mirrors what we see in the previous amendment.

Amendments 20 and 24 are minor and technical amendments, intended merely to make a clarificatory point to ensure that it is crystal clear that at the point when a company proposes a restructuring plan coming out of a moratorium, the company should contact all creditors with an explanatory note of a proposed restructuring.

Similarly, amendment 16 deals with an erroneous repeal of the Northern Ireland provisions. The provision being repealed is still needed, so the amendment rectifies that and I therefore commend it to the House. I turn briefly to one amendment raised by the hon. Member for Manchester Central (Lucy Powell). It seeks to make any pension scheme deficits a priority creditor in the event of an insolvency. I have to say that I can understand where her intentions are coming from in this proposed amendment. I am sure that, in recent years, we can all remember one or two high-profile insolvency cases—we have heard of some today—which feature large deficits owing to the pension scheme, and we can appreciate the uncertainty that that brings.

However, as always, when insolvency occurs, there is a balance to be struck when considering the order in which those owed money are paid out of the available assets. There are seldom enough funds to pay all creditors in full in insolvency cases. To ensure fairness, the law requires that available funds be distributed in a certain order. Secured creditors are paid out first for the sale of any property to which their charges attach. Without that, securities, banks and others who funded business activity would be less likely to do so, or would charge more to cover the increased risks they bear. It is essential that the insolvency system helps to give investors, lenders and creditors confidence to take the commercial risks necessary to support economic growth. Unsecured creditors are paid once the secured creditors and preferential debts, which include employees’ remuneration, have been dealt with, and they share the funds that are left. For limited amounts of unpaid pension contributions, which are preferential, any deficit to a pension scheme ranks alongside all other unsecured creditors, which will inevitably include trade suppliers, some of which will be small and micro companies. Therefore, the level of debt owed to a pension company can be very large—we know that. To raise the priority of these creditors and pay them ahead of not only unsecured creditors, but also, as the new clause would seem to suggest, preferential creditors such as employees for unpaid wages and floating charge holders would really upset the balance that has existed for a long time.

New clause 5 seeks a future review of trade union involvement in company restructuring and to commit the Government to specific proposals in spite of what that review might show. It does not seek to amend or improve the debt finance restructuring provisions in the Bill being taken forward as those most needed at this moment in time. The permanent restructuring provisions introduced by the Bill have been the subject of a considerable period of consultation and engagement dating back to 2015. The process included the then Government’s review of the corporate insolvency framework public consultation in 2016 and extensive public engagements since then, with a wide range of stakeholders. There were no strong or widely made calls at that time for trade unions to be given a formal role in the new processes proposed. The design of the new restructuring provisions already includes strong protections for employees. For example, a company in a moratorium will be required to continue paying wages and salaries during the moratorium. If they are not paid, the moratorium will have to come to an end.

In addition, the measures allow employment tribunal proceedings to continue during the moratorium, despite the fact that other types of legal processes are to be prevented during the moratorium. In cases where employees are creditors of the company that they are employed by, and so a party to a new restructuring plan in that capacity, they will benefit from the comprehensive set of general creditor protections built into the new measure.

On corporate governance reform more widely, the Government are implementing a number of reforms already enacted that strengthen the voice and interests of employees in company decision making, be they members of a trade union or not.

The Government also intend to put forward a further consultation on audit and corporate governance reform, taking into account the recommendations of three independent reviews of audit, the views of the Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Committee and a recent industry development, so we do not believe that a separate review is necessary.

At this point, Madam Deputy Speaker, I am not able to accept any of the amendments, apart from the Government amendments that are in my name. I hope therefore that hon. Members will therefore withdraw their amendments.

Imran Ahmad Khan Portrait Imran Ahmad Khan (Wakefield) (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. It has come to my notice that certain Members of this House, including well-known Members such as the hon. Member for Brent North (Barry Gardiner), have flagrantly flouted the law and joined the protests outside, boasting that they have broken social distancing measures. I am not going to talk about the legality of this, because that, I presume—I may be mistaken about this—is a matter for the police. What I am discussing here, and what I wish to bring as a point of order, is my concern for the community that makes up this parliamentary estate: the hardworking and dedicated staff, and, indeed, as a subsequent thought, even my fellow Members. I feel that we are going to be placed at risk when there has been such advertised and self-publicised breaking of the law. Vectors of the disease we are fighting, and which the Government are fighting, will be, if he returns to this House, allowed access to spread among the hardworking staff here. Are there measures to prevent such Members, who have flouted the law and are now possibly more likely to be contagious or infected by the disease, re-joining this House until they have undergone a period of self-isolation to ensure that we do not suffer a threat because of their aberrant behaviour?

Corporate Insolvency and Governance Bill

(Limited Text - Ministerial Extracts only)

Read Full debate
2nd reading (Hansard) & 2nd reading (Hansard): House of Lords & 2nd reading
Tuesday 9th June 2020

(2 years, 2 months ago)

Lords Chamber
2nd reading (Hansard) Page Read Hansard Text Amendment Paper: Committee of the whole House Amendments as at 3 June 2020 - (3 Jun 2020)

This text is a record of ministerial contributions to a debate held as part of the Corporate Insolvency and Governance Act 2020 passage through Parliament.

In 1993, the House of Lords Pepper vs. Hart decision provided that statements made by Government Ministers may be taken as illustrative of legislative intent as to the interpretation of law.

This extract highlights statements made by Government Ministers along with contextual remarks by other members. The full debate can be read here

This information is provided by Parallel Parliament and does not comprise part of the offical record

Moved by
Lord Callanan Portrait Lord Callanan
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

That the Bill be now read a second time.

Lord Callanan Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (Lord Callanan) (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, we have faced, and continue to face, a global health emergency on an unprecedented scale. The Covid-19 pandemic has brought significant challenges to our country and our economy. The imposition of strict social distancing measures has meant that many businesses are facing significant short-term difficulties and, some, sadly, the threat of insolvency.

Providing support to UK businesses is at the heart of the Government’s economic response to Covid-19. The fiscal package introduced by the Government has provided billions to businesses through support schemes such as loans, grants and the job retention scheme. The Bill will provide additional support to businesses by giving them the flexibility and breathing space that they need to bounce back from the Covid-19 pandemic. To achieve that, the Bill will do the following.

First, it will introduce a package of permanent reforms to insolvency law to give businesses the space and tools required to maximise their chances of survival. Secondly, it will temporarily suspend parts of insolvency law to protect companies from aggressive creditor action and give company directors greater confidence to continue to trade through the pandemic. Thirdly, it will extend greater flexibilities to businesses, allowing them to hold their general meetings in a way which is consistent with social distancing measures, and providing more time for them to file the information they need to with Companies House. This package of measures will help give businesses the support they need to keep trading, preserving jobs and value, and laying the foundations for the UK’s economic recovery.

The first set of measures is a corporate restructuring package that will make permanent changes to the UK’s insolvency framework. The Government previously consulted extensively on these changes to the corporate insolvency regime and we announced plans in August 2018 to introduce new insolvency rescue and restructuring procedures. The Bill will implement those reforms. This package of reforms will have an immediate effect in helping companies get through the Covid-19 emergency by providing them with the breathing space that they require to help them avoid insolvency as they seek a rescue. The package contains three elements.

The first is a moratorium, which will give financially distressed companies breathing space from their creditors while they seek a rescue. It will last initially for 20 business days, and can be extended. During this time, legal action is restricted against a company without leave of the court. There are some time-limited relaxations of the eligibility criteria for the moratorium to make it easier for companies to enter a moratorium during the Covid-19 crisis.

The second element of the corporate restructuring package is the introduction of a new restructuring plan. This will allow companies to restructure complex debt arrangements and bind creditors to the plan as long as certain thresholds are met. As the House would expect with a proposal that has a binding effect on creditors, significant safeguards are in place for them. For example, the court must be satisfied that dissenting creditors will not be made worse off than they would have been under the next most likely outcome.

The third and final element of the corporate restructuring package is the prohibition of termination clauses. Such termination clauses are often found in supply contracts and are triggered on the commencement of an insolvency or rescue procedure. Their prohibition will mean that contracted suppliers cannot terminate contracts, or demand additional payments, just because the company has entered an insolvency procedure or moratorium. However, there are again safeguards in place for suppliers to protect them from financial hardship as a result of their being required to continue to supply. In addition, due to the impact of Covid-19 on small companies, small suppliers will be temporarily exempt from this requirement.

The Bill also introduces some time-limited measures to provide additional support for businesses during the crisis. The first of these is the temporary suspension of wrongful trading liability. Wrongful trading liability is a deterrent against company directors continuing to trade when their company is insolvent. This temporary suspension will encourage directors of companies that would be viable but for the impact of Covid-19 to continue trading without the threat of personal liability. Let me reassure noble Lords that, while we believe this suspension to be necessary at this time, directors will still be bound by the rest of their legal duties under wider company law. In addition, measures under insolvency law to penalise directors who abuse their position will of course remain in place.

The second temporary measure will help struggling businesses by removing the threat of statutory demands and winding-up petitions issued against companies during the emergency. The Government have already temporarily suspended the right of commercial landlords to forfeit the tenancies of retail businesses in order to protect tenants unable to trade because of Covid-19. The vast majority of landlords and tenants have been working together to reach agreements on their debt obligations. Unfortunately, however, there have been cases of landlords using aggressive debt recovery tactics, including the use of statutory demands and threats of winding-up petitions, to put undue pressure on tenants. This provision will give businesses the opportunity to reach realistic and fair agreements with all creditors.

All the temporary insolvency measures in this Bill will expire one month after Royal Assent. However, the Bill contains the required powers to extend the temporary provisions should it prove necessary to do so due to the ongoing crisis. Furthermore, the Bill contains the temporary power to make other amendments to insolvency or governance legislation. This will facilitate a rapid response to overcome the emerging challenges to businesses that result from the Covid-19 pandemic. As ever, the House will of course have the opportunity to scrutinise the use of these powers if they are needed.

The final set of temporary measures deals with meetings and company filings. The Bill makes it easier for companies, mutual societies and charitable incorporated organisations to comply with legal requirements on holding AGMs and other meetings while keeping their shareholders and members safe and respecting social distancing rules—as we are doing in this House. This flexibility applies retrospectively from 26 March, giving businesses the certainty that they will not be penalised for trying to do the right thing during the pandemic. The measures will also enable AGMs to be postponed until 30 September this year where necessary.

On filing requirements, we are giving hard-pressed companies more time to submit annual accounts, confirmation statements and various notices of relevant events, such as the appointment of a director, to Companies House. Lenders will also have more time to register a charge against a company’s assets. This follows the announcement made on 25 March that Companies House had extended the period for filing accounts. Over 100,000 companies have successfully applied for the three-month extension that is available. This measure will further ease the burdens on businesses at this difficult time while ensuring ultimately that information is still filed with Companies House within a reasonable time.

Overall, the package of measures in this Bill has been widely welcomed by businesses at this critical time. Following its passage through the House of Commons, the chair of R3 in Scotland, the trade association for the UK’s insolvency and restructuring professionals, stated that:

“The proposed legislation will give both solvent and insolvent businesses crucial breathing space and increased legislative flexibility to review options without being pushed prematurely into an insolvency procedure. This new approach could make a significant contribution to repairing the economic devastation caused by the current pandemic.”


The Government are committed to supporting UK businesses throughout the emergency. These measures are being implemented to alleviate some of the current challenges that businesses are facing, maximising their chances of survival and allowing them to continue trading and to help the UK economy bounce back from this crisis. I beg to move.

--- Later in debate ---
Lord Callanan Portrait Lord Callanan
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I start by thanking all noble Lords, both in person and virtually, for their insightful contributions to this debate, which has shown this House at its best, and for the co-operation of many and their engagement throughout the Bill. I thank particularly the Labour and Liberal Democrat Front Benches for the co-operative spirit that they have shown. I am grateful to all noble Lords who have contributed, and who are helping us scrutinise the Bill effectively.

The points raised have highlighted the importance of the measures in the Bill and the necessity of giving them effect without delay. The permanent package of insolvency reforms in the Bill—the moratorium, restructuring plan, prohibition of termination clauses, et cetera—will provide businesses with the space and tools they need to help them continue trading and avoid insolvency during this challenging time and beyond. It is vital that we introduce these measures immediately to help UK businesses weather this crisis and, I hope, thrive on the other side.

The temporary changes to insolvency law introduced are necessary to help businesses get through this unprecedented period. The temporary suspension of wrongful trading liability will encourage directors to use their best endeavours to keep trading through Covid-19 by removing the threat of personal liability. I again reiterate that directors will still be bound by their wider legal duties under company and insolvency law.

The Bill also temporarily prohibits creditors from issuing statutory demands and winding-up petitions against companies unable to pay their debts due to Covid-19. It will give businesses and creditors the opportunity to co-operate to reach a fair agreement and help companies survive. These temporary insolvency measures are retrospective in effect and have been widely welcomed by the business community. They will apply until one month after Royal Assent and can—and will—be extended should it prove necessary to do so. Of course, any case for further extensions will be carefully considered and subject to all the usual scrutiny that this House undertakes.

The temporary changes to corporate governance that the Bill introduces will provide companies and other bodies with much-needed temporary flexibilities on meetings and filings. This is of particular importance at this critical time, when businesses are struggling to cope with reduced resources and, like the rest of us, are abiding by social distancing rules. We have been careful, throughout this process, to take account of the interests of investors and others in devising these measures.

I will now respond to the many points that have been made. Many noble Lords, including the noble Lord, Lord Stevenson, and my noble friend Lord Balfe, raised the important issue of employees’ rights. I am in complete agreement with my noble friend Lord Dobbs, who summed it up extremely well—as he usually does—when he said that the greatest protection for employees is to see their company survive. Where employees are included in restructuring plan proposals, they will be treated in the same way as other creditors, including in relation to their right to information, participation in voting and ability to make representations to the court. I can confirm to my noble friend Lord Balfe that I fully support ministerial colleagues in the other place, who said that it is expected that the court would be mindful of the interests of employees affected by a restructuring plan when deciding if that plan is just and equitable.

The noble Lords, Lord Stevenson, Lord Mendelsohn and Lord Hain, my noble friend Lady Altmann and other noble Lords asked about the classification of pensions and defined benefit schemes. Similar issues were raised by the noble Baronesses, Lady Drake, Lady Warwick and Lady Blower. Employees will want the company pension scheme to be able to pay them when they retire. If an employee is not a creditor or shareholder of the company, they cannot be included in a restructuring proposal. The interaction between pensions legislation and insolvency legislation gives rise to some extremely complicated issues, and the Government are working closely with key stakeholders to determine any implications for the Pension Protection Fund, the Pensions Regulator and pension schemes more generally.

The noble Baroness, Lady Bowles, spoke about the prioritisation of debt in relation to moratoriums and termination clauses. If a moratorium ends and is followed within 12 weeks by administration or liquidation, any unpaid moratorium debts, including those to suppliers who were obliged to continue supply under the new termination clause provisions, will indeed receive super-priority. This means that they are paid above all expenses of that administration or liquidation, including the administrator’s or liquidator’s fees and payments to other creditors, other than fixed-charge creditors.

On super-priority, the noble Baroness, Lady Bowles, and the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope, both raised points on preventing banks profiting in moratorium. We are aware of the concerns that have been raised about the priority order of debts. We are also very conscious that attempts to game super-priority, by banks or anyone else, should be deterred. The Government are working with all the relevant stakeholders to ensure that creditors are not disadvantaged by these important measures, and we will continue to work to avoid this.

On the knotty subject of HMRC, many noble Lords, including the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope, the noble Lords, Lord Adonis, Lord Palmer and Lord Liddle, and my noble friend Lord Leigh, raised concerns about Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs climbing up the creditor ranking, not through this Bill but through other work that is being done. This House will of course agree—I hope—that it is important that taxes go to fund our valuable public services. This reform will ensure that when a business becomes insolvent, more of the taxes that have already been paid in good faith by its employees and customers, but which are held temporarily by the business, will go to fund public services, as intended, rather than being distributed to other creditors. This is money that has already been paid by employees but is held by the business. It is important to note that HMRC will remain an unsecured, non-preferential creditor for taxes levied directly on businesses, such as corporation tax and employer national insurance contributions.

I thank the noble Lord, Lord Stevenson, and my noble friends Lord Dobbs and Lady Neville-Rolfe for their important points on the need to extend the powers of the Small Business Commissioner. This Government intend to fulfil our manifesto commitment to consult on extending the powers of the Small Business Commissioner to advocate for and support small businesses as soon as we are able. We are keen to capture as many views as possible to ensure that the policy response is the right one. In light of businesses having furloughed staff and other priorities, we do not believe that consulting now would be the correct course of action.

The prompt payment code was raised by the noble Lord, Lord Stevenson, as well as the noble Baroness, Lady Kramer. The code now has more than 2,400 signatories. UK legislation already effectively establishes maximum 30-day payment terms for contracts for the supply of goods and services between businesses and public authorities. There are 60-day maximum payment terms between businesses, although longer payment terms may be agreed, provided that they are not grossly unfair to the supplier. To make the voluntary code mandatory without further appropriate modification would in effect set maximum payment terms for large companies when contracting with smaller suppliers.

I understand that it might seem desirable but, while setting limits on the maximum legal payment terms might address the problem of lengthy payment periods in some commercial contracts, we believe the disadvantages of a one-size-fits-all approach are of greater significance.

I thank the noble Lord, Lord Stevenson, my noble friend Lord Bourne and others for raising their concerns on the need for directors to continue to act in good faith when wrongful trading liability is suspended. Let me reassure them and other noble Lords who raised this point that directors will still be obliged to comply with their normal duties, as clearly set out in the Companies Act. Other remedies will remain available where directors do not meet acceptable standards of behaviour, such as fraudulent trading provisions. I therefore hope that noble Lords will agree that, with these provisions stated elsewhere, putting them in the Bill is unnecessary.

I pay tribute to the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope, for raising an important point on the role of the court, as mentioned in Clause 10, in relation to wrongful trading. Let me reassure him that the wording of the clause is sufficient to direct the court to make an assumption. It does not invite an argument to the contrary. The noble and learned Lord may be aware of similar provisions elsewhere in insolvency legislation which create the possibility of rebuttal. For example, where a preference payment is made by a company, which may be clawed back by a liquidator, and the recipient is a connected party, it is presumed to have been made with the intention of putting the recipient in a better position in the event of insolvency “unless the contrary is shown”. The last part of that provision creates the opportunity for rebuttal, and Clause 10 does not use such language.

The lack of transparency of pre-packs was raised as a concern by a number of noble Lords, including the noble Lords, Lord Vaux and Lord Mendelsohn, and my noble friends Lord Hodgson and Lady Neville-Rolfe. The Government recognise creditors’ concerns about pre-packs, particularly where the sale is to a connected party. If strengthening of professional standards and the existing regulation do not deliver increased creditor confidence in connected pre-pack sales, the Government will look to bring forward further legislation.

The noble Baroness, Lady Bowles, asked whether Companies House undertakes scrutiny of information submitted during this emergency. The register of companies is continuously under scrutiny. It was accessed more than 9.4 billion times in the financial year 2019-20. With so many eyes viewing the data, any errors, omissions or worse can be identified and reported. Companies House undertakes numerous checks on the validity of information, both at incorporation and throughout the life of the company as new information is submitted. Companies House will continue to be vigilant during the current period. Compliance with the extended deadlines is still expected, and the existing offences and penalties for late filings, as set out in the Companies Act 2006, will continue to apply.

In addition, my noble friend Lord Wei asked whether late filings should be reflected in the credit rating of a company. This is already the case. Extending the filing deadline will therefore ensure that filings are not classified as late. This will help directors to focus on managing their businesses without being diverted by credit rating changes based on temporary practical impediments to filing while the Covid-19 restrictions apply.

The noble Lord, Lord Vaux, the noble Baroness, Lady Burt, and my noble friend Lord Blencathra raised concerns regarding small suppliers once termination clauses are prohibited. We think it right to give a temporary exemption to small companies at a time when many are suffering due to the pandemic. I entirely understand and sympathise with noble Lords’ concerns and the desire to assist small companies; the intention is to do so for as long as necessary in the current economic climate. I assure them that if the protections are needed beyond their present expiry date, they can be extended by statutory instrument. In addition, we have built in numerous protections for suppliers who are required to continue supplying a company during a moratorium or other insolvency procedure, including allowing suppliers to apply to a court for permission to terminate a contract if continuing supply would cause them hardship.

My noble friend Lord Dobbs mentioned the need for the moratorium to run beyond 20 business days. The initial moratorium period of 20 business days can be extended by the company by a further 20 business days, and further extensions beyond that can also be made with creditor or court approval.

On timing, the noble Baroness, Lady Falkner, asked whether there was a limit to the number of times a moratorium could be extended. While creditors can agree to extend a moratorium a number of times, they cannot agree cumulatively to extend beyond one year. A court may extend beyond one year but, when doing so, it must consider the interests of pre-moratorium creditors and the likelihood that the extension will lead to a rescue of the company.

During the debate, we have heard several questions about moratoriums, including from my noble friends Lord Hunt, Lord Flight and Lady Altmann. I assure the House that the qualifying condition of entry into a moratorium is that it is likely that the moratorium will result in the rescue of the company. This will be assessed by the proposed monitor of the moratorium prior to their agreeing to take the appointment.

On the lack of a requirement to seek support from the secured creditors, the moratorium will enable companies to act early, which we hope will increase the chance of a successful rescue. For unsecured creditors, the new moratorium can be accessed only if the company is likely to be rescued as a going concern in the opinion of an insolvency practitioner. Where a rescue is achieved via the moratorium, all stakeholders of a business, including secured creditors, will benefit.

On her point about individual bankruptcy, I assure my noble friend Lady McIntosh that the Government recognise fully the impact of Covid-19 on individuals. We will continue to monitor the situation as a whole and consider whether further measures are needed. Credit card companies and other lenders have been required by the Financial Conduct Authority to offer payment holidays to people struggling to make repayments at this time, and it has issued guidance to lenders about offering mortgage payment holidays and halting repossession actions.

I appreciate the points made by the noble Lords, Lord Stevenson, Lord Mendelsohn, Lord Palmer of Childs Hill and Lord Mann, and my noble friends Lord Hunt, Lady Altmann and Lady McIntosh on insolvency practitioners acting as monitors. Insolvency is a highly regulated profession. Insolvency practitioners are qualified members of a recognised professional body who are required to abide by legislative, professional and ethical standards. There are strict educational and professional competence requirements for becoming a practitioner, and the vast majority are highly professional individuals with a great deal of expertise in insolvency and business rescue. Where an insolvency practitioner fails to comply with required standards, they can be subject to disciplinary sanctions by their authorising body, which, in the most serious cases, can involve them having their authorisation to practise withdrawn. I hope that this goes some way to alleviating noble Lords’ concerns.

As the noble Lord, Lord Blunkett, rightly said, the role of insolvency practitioners is positive rather than negative. They can offer professional advice to companies on the best options available and may help businesses to avoid insolvency where appropriate, as well as ease the process where it is inevitable.

The noble Baroness, Lady Jones, spoke about the green recovery. My department is committed to a recovery that is as green as possible, and it is of course responsible for energy and for COP 26.

I turn to the point raised by my noble friend Lady Anelay about charities and the impact that the Bill will have on that sector. As my noble friend said in her contribution, it is important to listen to those closest to the third sector. Colleagues at the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport have developed these measures alongside the Charity Commission. The commission has indicated that it will take a proportionate approach where members’ meetings need to be postponed or held virtually in order to comply with social distancing, even if that is contrary to the rules of the charity’s governing document. In such cases, the Charity Commission advises trustees to record their decisions, attendees and the time of the meeting in order to demonstrate good governance of the charity. I hope this will provide some reassurance to my noble friend and to those charities that the regulator will adopt a sensible and flexible approach in the current difficult circumstances.

We have heard a number of concerns about the limited time available to scrutinise the Bill, and I totally accept the points made by many noble Lords. These concerns were rightly highlighted and raised by my noble friends Lord Blencathra, Lord Flight, Lord Shrewsbury and Lord Trenchard. The Bill contains a series of familiar measures; in fact, many of these insolvency measures have been consulted on and refined over many months. Her Majesty’s Government were always seeking to bring forward reform to the insolvency regime that would bring our regime in line with those of other nations with similar economies. Covid-19 has, sadly, made the need for these measures more acute.

The other provisions in the Bill are all temporary. If the Government wish to extend their operation, both Houses will have the opportunity to scrutinise the relevant order. In addition, any regulations made after the Bill will of course be subject to the usual scrutiny.

The noble Lord, Lord Stevenson, asked whether there was no limit to the overall number of times that the temporary measure can be extended. At present, all the temporary insolvency measures will automatically sunset one month following Royal Assent. The Bill contains a provision enabling these temporary measures to be extended by statutory instrument where appropriate. The Government have every intention of making use of that provision if the protections are needed beyond their present expiry date. The maximum time period for which the temporary measures can be extended by statutory instrument is six months and the power to extend can be used more than once, so there is no absolute sunset.

The noble Baroness, Lady Kramer, asked for the Bill to sunset the permanent measures. The permanent provisions have not just been developed in the short time since Covid-19 first appeared; they have been the subject of a considerable period of consultation and engagement dating back to 2015. This process included the then Government’s review of the corporate insolvency framework, a public consultation in 2016 and an extensive period of engagement since then with a wide range of stakeholders. Additionally, the Bill includes regulation-making powers to enable changes to be made as and where necessary.

At present, all the temporary insolvency measures will automatically sunset the month after Royal Assent. These measures all have significant impacts on the normal working of various parts of insolvency legislation and the business community, and they will need to be considered and scrutinised by Parliament when determining when the temporary measures should be extended and for how long. The Government also have the power to bring any temporary measures to an early end if they are no longer required.

My noble friend Lord Trenchard also raised a point on the introduction of retrospective legislation. The decision to make certain aspects of the Bill retrospective has been taken for specific policy reasons. For example, in the case of the suspension of wrongful trading, retrospection takes effect at the time the Covid-19 emergency began, rather than when the Bill is enacted.

I thank the noble Lords who raised the use of Henry VIII powers. I thank the chair of the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee, my noble friend Lord Blencathra, for his comments on these powers. We all look forward to receiving the committee’s report on the Bill, which I think is due tomorrow. The Bill contains powers to enable its provisions to be adapted to different types of corporate body or bodies subject to special insolvency procedures, as well as to ensure that the detail of the procedures can be amended in the light of these reforms. Delegated powers are also included to extend the temporary provisions should it prove necessary and to make other temporary amendments to insolvency law to deal with the effects of Covid-19 where needed.

The noble Baroness, Lady Northover, raised a point about impact assessments on the Bill’s measures. The impact assessment estimates that the three permanent changes to the UK insolvency framework will result in net benefits totalling over £1.9 billion in today’s prices. The equivalent annual net direct cost to business of the three permanent changes to the UK insolvency framework is estimated to be minus £222.9 million. In other words, we estimate an overall £222.9 million annual net benefit.

I will respond to the point from the noble Lord, Lord Fox, about WUPs and the Covid test: how, in this climate, the creditor will be able to show that the test has been met, and whether it is to be fleshed out by the courts. Whenever legislation creates a new legal requirement, it will of course be for the courts to consider how the test should be applied in individual cases. Indeed, this measure is no different. The test of whether Covid-19 has caused the company’s difficulties is indeed intended to present a high bar. The measures in respect of statutory demands and winding up petitions are intended to temporarily enforce the forbearance from creditors that the Government have called for.

I will be happy to meet the noble Lord to discuss trade credit insurance. He also asked about what happens if directors do not co-operate with the monitor. The legislation enables the monitor to bring the moratorium to an end if the directors fail to comply with the rules. These include providing information requested by the monitor and paying certain debts due during the moratorium period.

In closing, since 23 March this country has faced unprecedented hardship as a result of the stringent social distancing measures necessitated by the Covid-19 pandemic. As noble Lords are all aware, UK businesses have been hit hard as a result, with many unable to trade or facing a significant reduction in demand for their goods and services. Consequently, many otherwise viable companies face the threat of insolvency.

The Government are committed to doing all we can to support businesses during this challenging time to ensure that they can bounce back once the pandemic is over. The measures introduced by the Bill offer vital support alongside the substantial fiscal support packages for businesses and workers already in place. It is crucial that these measures are brought forward as a matter of urgency to protect those businesses. They will provide the flexibility and breathing space needed by businesses large and small to ensure their survival now and as the country emerges and rebuilds from this crisis.

Lord Fox Portrait Lord Fox
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Could the Minister write to my noble friend Lady Barker on her question on mutuals?

Lord Callanan Portrait Lord Callanan
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Yes, of course. I would be very happy to do so.

Bill read a second time and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.

Corporate Insolvency and Governance Bill

(Limited Text - Ministerial Extracts only)

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Committee: 1st sitting (Hansard) & Committee: 1st sitting (Hansard): House of Lords & Committee stage
Tuesday 16th June 2020

(2 years, 2 months ago)

Lords Chamber
Committee: 1st sitting (Hansard) Page Read Hansard Text Amendment Paper: HL Bill 113-I Marshalled list for Committee - (11 Jun 2020)

This text is a record of ministerial contributions to a debate held as part of the Corporate Insolvency and Governance Act 2020 passage through Parliament.

In 1993, the House of Lords Pepper vs. Hart decision provided that statements made by Government Ministers may be taken as illustrative of legislative intent as to the interpretation of law.

This extract highlights statements made by Government Ministers along with contextual remarks by other members. The full debate can be read here

This information is provided by Parallel Parliament and does not comprise part of the offical record

Lord Fox Portrait Lord Fox (LD)
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My Lords, I draw noble Lords’ attention to my interests as set out in the register. The noble Lord, Lord Stevenson, in his understated way, called this a wide group of amendments and we have heard a wide and knowledgeable group of Peers speaking to it. I agree with the noble Viscount, Lord Trenchard, that we need proper scrutiny of this Bill. Whether we are here virtually or physically, cramming so many amendments into one group is symptomatic of trying to rush this Bill through. That will have unintended consequences, whether the noble Baroness, Lady Neville-Rolfe, believes it or otherwise. We are suffering from undue haste in trying to do in one day what should have been done over at least two or three days.

I will speak to a small number of amendments. On Amendment 10, the noble Lord, Lord Stevenson, queried 20 days and suggested 30 days. My question for the Minister is: why 20? What was the science and evidence that suggested that 20 was correct? The noble Lord, Lord Leigh, spoke about the courts being busy. Well, one way of relieving the courts of work would be to have a slightly longer period, because that would mean that the monitor would not have to go back to the courts so often to renew the process. Why 20 days and why not 30, or indeed some other number of days?

Amendment 2, to some extent Amendment 1 and certainly Amendment 28 ask the perfectly reasonable question of what the monitor’s role is. What is the correct qualification for the monitor? It is perfectly reasonable in a Bill such as this, with the role of monitor so central to this process, that we understand what that monitor is and who it might be. I look forward to the Minister’s comments on that.

This group, among others, contains a whole load of amendments that address what I call the creditor waterfall. Amendment 21 and, in different ways, Amendments 25 and 40, talk about the role of the banks and financial institutions and seek to restrain the advantage that those institutions can get from their special position within the creditor landscape. It is not in the Government’s interests to continue to allow these organisations the freedom of the remaining resources of a failing business. What was going through the mind of the Government when those decisions were made to set out this level of access and give financial institutions the run that they seem to get from the Bill?

My noble friends Lady Kramer and Lady Bowles and others talked about the role of small and medium-sized businesses, and Amendment 22 adds small entities to the list of those with preferential treatments. Amendments 37 and 40 call for a review after 18 months of how a moratorium is dealing with SMEs. This is an entirely different review from the other reviews that crop up on later groups. It is very much about how this is really affecting businesses. I am proud to put my name to Amendments 98 and 99, proposed by my colleague and noble friend Lady Bowles, which makes wages and salaries rank alongside continuing supplier and not below them. That seems entirely reasonable and I thought that she set that out very well.

All these issues set up the central point: the Bill is not a fully formed piece of legislation. The Government have recognised that, as my noble friend Lady Bowles pointed out, by granting themselves an almost unprecedented ability to rewrite it. They know that it is not the finished article. We will have an opportunity in later groups of amendments to discuss a better way of doing that and a way of giving Parliament the power to assess and possibly rewrite the rules, but I look forward to the Minister’s reply.

Lord Callanan Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (Lord Callanan) (Con)
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I thank all noble Lords who have spoken in this debate. Yet again, the contributions have demonstrated the breadth of expertise that exists in this House. I must say to my noble friend Lord Trenchard that I would never scowl at him. This is entirely the job of the Whips and not my fault. While there is of course no overall time limit on speeches at Second Reading, there is an overall time limit on the debate in Committee. With that, I will address as many of the points as possible. I apologise to noble Lords if there is not enough time to address all their points, but I am happy to have individual correspondence or a meeting with anyone who does not feel that their concerns have been addressed.

The moratorium was a subject raised by many noble Lords. It is built on two pillars: that the directors believe that the company is insolvent or likely to become so, and that an insolvency practitioner thinks that the company is liable to be rescued having been in a moratorium—finances on one hand and viability on the other. The intention of the moratorium is not to make the creditors’ position worse nor to allow a company to delay an inevitable administration or liquidation. On the contrary, the intention of the moratorium is to rescue the company, and a rescue of the company will be better for creditors, better for suppliers and of course better for employees.

I say in response to the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope, that, although I fully understand the intention behind his amendment, we are concerned that it would add another burden on to the directors of the company at a time when the company needs to enter into the procedure as quickly as possible. It has never been our intention that the moratorium should be used to “line up the ducks” for a pre-pack administration. Although they are subject to some criticism, we believe that pre-packs are a useful tool that allows businesses and jobs to be saved. However, as with all administrations, the likelihood of a substantial return to unsecured creditors is of course small.

The amendments tabled by noble Lords who seek to lower the barrier to entry into a moratorium to focus on the rescue of a company’s undertakings, rather than the company, could, in our view, lead to increased losses to creditors. The new moratorium provides protection for a company, perhaps further upstream than when administration is the only route open to it. If the company or corporate vehicle can be saved, the outcome for unsecured creditors will almost certainly be better than it would be through the form of insolvency that results in the sale of the company’s undertaking and its ultimate dissolution.

As has been said, the moratorium lasts for an initial period of 20 business days, although it can be extended relatively easily for a further 20 business days. In response to a point raised by the noble Lord, Lord Fox, and my noble friend Lord Leigh, we do not believe that it will lead to an increased burden on the courts. The moratorium is intended to be light touch as far as the court is concerned. Entry is by administrative filing, other than where overseas orders file a winding-up petition, rather than through judicial scrutiny. The courts get involved in longer moratoriums only if the monitor requires court direction or if there is a challenge to the monitor or to the directors’ actions. I hope that that resolves those issues.

Although, in my view, the amendment in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Stevenson, that seeks to permit small businesses an initial period of 30 business days is laudable, it does not appreciate the position that the company’s creditors are in. In our view, the moratorium balances creditor interests with those of the company.

The noble Lord, Lord Fox, asked why the period proposed is 20 days, and that of course is a good question. We consulted on what the period should be, and the clear view was that it should not be left for too long before creditors’ views are considered. The Government are confident that a moratorium with one extension lasting 40 business days is the right length. There is of course always a balance to be struck, and the company should seek the views of its pre-moratorium creditors on whether a moratorium should or should not continue.

A number of amendments have been tabled on the role and status of the monitor, including by my noble friend Lady Altmann, the noble Baroness, Lady Kramer, and my noble friend Lord Hodgson. It is important to say that only licensed insolvency practitioners—a highly regulated profession—are permitted to be monitors of company moratoriums. Practitioners are subject to very high ethical and professional standards. The insolvency code of ethics sets out five fundamental principles of ethics for insolvency practitioners. These include the need for objectivity and a duty not to compromise professional or business judgments because of bias or a conflict of interest. We believe that this strong regulatory framework underpins the independence of insolvency practitioners from those who appoint them.

Many of the amendments proposed by noble Lords, with good intention, seek to strengthen the independence of the monitor, but in our view they would in practice add nothing to the regulatory framework that monitors will already be subject to. Creditors benefit from strong protections. If they think that their interests have been unfairly harmed by the action, or indeed inaction, of the monitor or the directors during a moratorium, it is always open to them to challenge that behaviour in court. This specific right to challenge builds on the strong foundations of the regulatory framework.

In addition, employees are well protected. Requiring a statement from a trade union, alongside documents filed in court when a moratorium commences, as proposed by the noble Lord, Lord Lennie, would in our view add an unacceptable layer of bureaucracy. It might also risk a company’s financial problems being publicised before it is protected from creditor action, leading to unnecessary company failures. I repeat the Government’s view that the greatest support that we can give workers is to keep their businesses afloat, thereby saving their jobs.

--- Later in debate ---
Baroness Falkner of Margravine Portrait Baroness Falkner of Margravine (Non-Afl)
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My Lords, for clarity, I did not request to speak after the Minister; it was due to an inadvertent error that I ended up not being on the list to speak when I should have spoken. In fact, as I am speaking after the Minister, I will use the opportunity to make one or two general observations about this process that conform to what the noble Lord, Lord Hodgson of Astley Abbotts, and the noble Viscount, Lord Trenchard, have said.

This is the second Bill in which I am involved in legislative scrutiny. The first one was when we had a virtual House, and with this one we have a hybrid House. I can only concur with everything that has been said about how a hybrid House cannot work for any kind of complex or contentious piece of legislation.

These are pieces of legislation with implications that, as several noble Lords have said, go beyond the immediate health and economic emergencies. They should not be passed by this House unless and until we have the capacity to undertake proper scrutiny. Normally, my only excuse for speaking at this point would be if the Minister had said something on which I needed further clarification; I would then have spoken before he had sat down.

The idea that one is still continuing to speak to amendments in this manner is regrettable, but there is a broader point, also raised by the noble Lords, Lord Liddle and Lord Adonis: this is complex legislation, we do not know when we will revert to normal procedures, and a vaccine may not be found. I hope that this situation does not continue for very long, but it could continue for some time. In that case, do the usual channels deal with the legislation that is pertinent to the health and economic emergency that we face in this House through these proceedings, as a necessity, and therefore, park legislation that has very long-term implications for all kinds of governance in this country, until this is over? I do not blame the Government. They are trying their best to deal with an emergency facing the country. However, I wonder whether there is some level of complicity—I use that word with care—in the usual channels, that they so comfortably settle into these extraordinary arrangements. If people were truly aware of what was happening, of how we are passing legislation and how we are conducting scrutiny, even in terms of Oral Questions, they would be quite astonished.

Turning to the Bill, I am not going to use the notes that I would have used for this speech, but there are one or two things it is important to put on the record. I declare an interest as set out in the register, concerning the Bank of England, and that I am speaking in a personal capacity on this Bill. I have already spoken about the inappropriateness of doing this in this manner in Committee, but I also want to say a word or two about fast-track legislation. I sat on the Constitution Committee when it did a report on when and how Governments should use fast-track legislation. In all candour, and with the highest regard for the Minister, there are measures in this Bill that are simply inappropriate for fast-tracking through the Chamber in this way. These longer term and permanent changes should not be discussed today.

In light of that, I completely support Amendment 37 in the names of the noble Baronesses, Lady Bowles of Berkhamsted and Lady Altmann, for the Secretary of State to conduct a review of the provisions for a moratorium, and to lay a report before Parliament. They indicate that the review should be done in 18 months, which is a fair timescale.

I also support Amendments 2, 4, 8, 28 and 42, in the names of the noble Lords, Lord Stevenson, Lord Palmer, Lord Fox and Lord Hodgson, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope, the noble Baronesses, Lady Bowles and Lady Altmann, concerning all aspects of the independence of the monitor. The danger of the Bill not making clear the separation and independence of the monitor is a perception that there was a closeness between the directors of the company and a lack of transparency for creditors. I support those amendments essentially to assist the monitor, those insolvency practitioners. I hear what the Minister says about their own regulatory framework and the onus upon them to behave in an upright manner, but as he noted in his closing remarks, there are enough safeguards built into the regulation of insolvency practitioners whereby these amendments are otiose. I argue that by having them in this Bill—which is subject to review if Amendment 37 passes on Report—if they were entirely redundant, we could do away with them in 18 months. The Secretary of State could then lay before us the report that says that these amendments are redundant. I argue that this helps the monitor at this point, and on that basis, I intend to support them on Report.

Lord Callanan Portrait Lord Callanan
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I thank the noble Baroness. I am sure she understands that her comments about the hybrid House are not a matter for me. I have responsibilities in a number of areas, but the operation of this House is not one of them, so I will allow her to take those up with those Members who are responsible. I am merely a servant and am prepared to operate in whatever way the House sees fit.

Addressing the noble Baroness’s points about the Bill, it is important to recognise that permanent provisions have not been developed just in the short time since Covid-19. Some of the temporary provisions have, but the permanent provisions were the subject of a considerable period of consultation and engagement dating back to 2015. The process included the then Government’s review of the corporate insolvency framework, a public consultation in 2016 and an extensive period of engagement since then with a wide range of stakeholders. Additionally, the Bill includes regulation-making powers to enable changes to be made as and where necessary, so there has been extensive consultation. The intention to legislate in this area was announced in 2018, but this crisis has made it imperative. The Bill offers important new flexibilities and rescue opportunities that may help many businesses to continue trading during this crisis, which I hope the whole House would agree is the ultimate objective

Lord Stevenson of Balmacara Portrait Lord Stevenson of Balmacara [V]
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I thank all noble Lords for the huge range of points that have been brought to bear in this debate. It was inevitable, given the way that the amendments are grouped, that we would range far and wide over the Bill. It was not a repeat of the criticism at Second Reading, because we were drilling down into important areas which in other times might have been picked up for further consideration during the later stages of the Bill, but cannot be because of the short timescale we are talking about.

The Minister made only two substantial points in his response. He is going to bring forward amendments to protect the way that debts are accrued during the moratorium period. I very much look forward to seeing those—we welcome the news. There is a concern around the House about this particular area, where we step into uncharted territory with the idea of a moratorium, and we want to protect it as much as we can. More statutory-based procedures on this will be helpful.

I disagree with the Minister that workers and employees are well looked after in this Bill. The evidence does not support that. I leave it to others to judge from the contributions that were made by my noble friends Lord Hendy and Lord Hain; they made an unanswerable case for further consideration, but if it is not to be, it is not to be and we will just have to wait for another opportunity. However, the Government are well out of step here, and that is going to cause trouble further down the track.

My original amendment, which headed the group, was not the only point raised, as I made clear, but it was about an issue that picked up a lot of support. I am grateful to those who spoke in support of it, particularly those who also had amendments down which were spoken to during the debate. This is the question of how we are going to support the new position of monitor. During the debate I was alerted to the fact that the Government had published their draft guide for monitors. It is a pity that it was not available before this debate, but at least it is now. On a quick read-through, it is interesting that it is based very much on the current IP regulations, and goes so far as to suggest some formal amendments to those regulations, to allow for the role played by the monitor to be given a backing. However, it also makes it clear that these are very temporary statements by the Government, pending further work through statutory instruments, and I am sure that is right.

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Lord Stevenson of Balmacara Portrait Lord Stevenson of Balmacara [V]
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My Lords, I am grateful to all noble Lords who have spoken in this interesting and wide-ranging debate. In contrast to that on the first group, it was quite well focused. There are only a couple of things that escaped the broader consideration of the two advisory committees we have been hearing from: the DPRRC and the Constitution Committee. Amendment 62, in my name, is oddly grouped in this debate but was meant to be helpful. I hoped that the Minister could reassure the Committee that all that needed to be done was being done to make sure the courts played their part appropriately—it is nothing to do with Parliament and, as the noble and learned Lord, Lord Thomas, said, nothing to do with the Government either.

Nevertheless, the funding needs to be there and the resources need to be available to ensure that the work is done properly to support the legislative attempts that have been made within the Bill. If it is of any interest, we tried in our amendment to add not just the judiciary but the staff of the courts, because they too have a part to play, but we found that that was out of scope, so the amendment focuses purely on the judiciary. But it should be understood to be about the court system as a whole helping and supporting the legislation moving through.

The noble Baroness, Lady Anelay of St Johns—who should know a thing or two—said very clearly that only a brave Government would ignore the DPRRC or Constitution Committee reports, and I am sure that it is not in the mind of the Minister to take them on at this stage. Our amendments are largely an attempt—and I acknowledge considerable assistance from the Public Bill Office—to put the aspirations of the DPRRC into a form that could be considered as amendments. They are not meant to be a statement of where we want to get to. They are probing amendments to provoke a response from the Government. I also think that the recommendations of the Constitution Committee, as outlined by my noble friend Lady Taylor and her supporters in Amendments 66 and 70, are exemplary because they quickly get to the heart of what we are about. They contrast slightly with the approach taken by the noble Lord, Lord Blencathra, whose excellent speech belied the fact that his way was simply to delete the clause. That would not achieve very much except make this Committee very happy but it would obviously remove the impulse which has led to where we are.

We are obviously in a situation where we need clear agreement between the various interests displayed in this debate. It really is up to the Government to assure the Committee that, in the words of the noble Baroness, Lady Neville-Rolfe—and I agree with the line she is taking—the analysis has been done properly. We need to better understand the interaction between the lengths and temporary measures—how long the temporary parts of the Bill will last and under what arrangements they can be sunset. If they are not to be sunset, what assurances and safeguards are available to this House and to Parliament as a whole? We need a full and mature consideration, but all that has to be done in a matter of days because the date for the final submission of amendments for Report is looming fast. Indeed, it will have to be the end of this week so that we can debate them in the middle of next week.

We are in a quandary. The Government need to give us an assurance about that, but I make it clear that we are happy to discuss with the Government any way in which we can help, and I am sure that others who have contributed would also do that. We are clearly at a bit of an impasse if we do not find a way out of this, but there seem to be solutions on the ground. The amendments tabled by my noble friend Lady Taylor are attractive and the idea, as the noble Lord, Lord Blencathra, put it, of taking up sensible safeguards such as making the “made affirmative” procedure the default position on this is probably the right way to go. We will need assurances that the Government will not attempt to ride straight through the long and distinguished history of Parliament trying to make sure that abuses are not perpetrated within legislation which it then cannot involve itself with. I look forward to hearing from the Minister on this and hope that he is able to reassure us.

Lord Callanan Portrait Lord Callanan
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I thank all noble Lords for their contributions on this group. I will make a few general comments before I look at the detail of the amendments tabled.

I shall comment first on what I thought was the most important contribution to the proceedings, which of course was the noble Lord, Lord Mann, making a football analogy, which is more important than this legislation. I joke, of course, because it is not, but many of us are looking forward to the recommencement of the Premier League season tomorrow. I suspect that we support different clubs, but nevertheless I am sure that we will both welcome the resumption of football. The serious point is that many of these provisions will apply to football clubs. We hope, as is the purpose of this legislation, that it will enable any of them which are struggling to be saved. The Government have already announced a substantial package of aid and support for many businesses, including football clubs; I think that the Premier League has announced a package of £125 million that is to go to other clubs. We welcome that, and of course many clubs have taken advantage of our other business support measures.

The noble Lord, Lord Howarth, asked why there are so many delegated powers and Henry VIII provisions in the Bill. It is important to address this issue directly. We introduced new procedures to help companies in financial difficulties, in particular the moratorium which we debated earlier, and the new restructuring arrangements, and there are considerable powers to enable these provisions to be reviewed and adjusted if necessary. This point was recognised by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Thomas, and I am grateful for his support. Insolvency legislation is indeed very complex. The Bill has been drafted at pace to respond to the Covid-19 emergency and it contains powers to enable its provisions to be adapted to different types of corporate body or bodies which are subject to special insolvency procedures. It will also ensure that the detail of such procedures can be amended swiftly in the light of these reforms.

My noble friend Lord Blencathra opposed the Question that Clause 1 should stand part, in order to facilitate a wider debate on the Bill’s delegated powers. I know that he wishes to understand the Government’s position across the amendments related to delegated powers and I hope to be able to respond to his points throughout my response. I note that many of these amendments have been drawn from the report on the Bill by his committee. The Government are carefully considering that report, which we received following Second Reading. I have considered the report and I have listened carefully to the views of noble Lords throughout the debate.

My noble friend Lady Neville-Rolfe opposed the Question that Clause 39 should stand part of the Bill. I will explain. The clause enables the Secretary of State to make regulations either to extend or to curtail the periods during which the temporary provisions in the Bill operate. This is important to ensure that the temporary provisions are not in place for longer than necessary, but also that they do not expire at a time when they are still needed to protect the economy from the impact of the coronavirus emergency. Clause 40 makes similar provisions for Northern Ireland. Clause 41 ensures that where regulations are needed urgently as a result of the insolvency measures being introduced by this Bill, they can be made using the negative procedure for a six-month period after commencement. I therefore commend that these clauses stand part of the Bill.

I turn now to the amendments which seek to remove the powers to make secondary legislation conferred on the Secretary of State in relation to the moratorium. These powers enable the Secretary of State to amend, for example, definitions, defined lists and the circumstances in which the monitor can bring the moratorium to an end. In our view, these powers are required because in the future, it is possible that the Government may wish to address any unforeseen issues efficiently to ensure that the conditions for entry into a moratorium remain fit for purpose and to keep definitions up to date as new activities and entities come within the relevant regulated regimes.

Amendment 52, tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Stevenson, seeks to remove the power conferred on the Secretary of State to amend the list of exclusions set out in Schedule 4ZZA. The Government must retain this power in order to be able to react quickly to evolving situations in business and the financial world and to maintain legal certainty. Without the ability to do this, there is a risk that the Government would not be able to keep pace as new firms or types of contract emerge.

Amendment 62 would require the Government to review the impact of certain measures in the Bill on the High Court and to publish a plan to ensure that judges are appropriately trained in their implementation. I hope that it will reassure noble Lords if I confirm that we have engaged extensively with the judiciary in the course of developing these measures with the aim of ensuring that the impact on the courts is minimised. As always, the Government are extremely grateful to members of the judiciary for sharing their insights into these matters.

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Baroness Northover Portrait Baroness Northover
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My Lords, I thank the Minister for that reply. He is saying two things: one, that he will be listening to the Delegated Powers Committee and the Constitution Committee; and two, that he has rebutted the various amendments. So it would be very helpful if he would consider those reports and the various amendments in this group and come forward with his own proposals well before the deadline for amendments for Report, so that noble Lords can see the extent to which he has, as he has promised, taken into consideration what those two very significant reports say.

Lord Callanan Portrait Lord Callanan
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We will, of course, issue a formal response to the DPRRC report, hopefully by Friday—but, since Report is next Tuesday, we will need to act more swiftly than that in terms of considering amendments. However, as I have said, I have listened carefully to the points that have been made.

Lord Leigh of Hurley Portrait Lord Leigh of Hurley [V]
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My Lords, I thank the Minister for his remarks and all noble and noble and learned Lords from all sides of the House for a really interesting debate, agreeing on much. I think my noble friend did address the concerns raised. However, I do not feel that he addressed the concerns raised in respect of Amendment 7 at all, so I would be very grateful if, before Friday, he can communicate with me his remarks in respect of this important point. On the assumption that he will be able to do that, I beg leave to withdraw my amendment.

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Lord Lennie Portrait Lord Lennie (Lab) [V]
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My Lords, I had rather thought that the Minister would speak at the beginning of this debate, as that might have obviated some of the discussion that we have had to have; he has not yet fulfilled what the Report stage amendments will be, based on the letter that he produced last night. There seem to be shared concerns among all speakers about the relative position of debt—finance debt, pension debt—and the weakness of the PPF. Does it or does it not have a seat on the discussion body? Would that be at the beginning of the discussions or, as someone put it, just a cc or copying in of the PPF into the information? Will the risk of gaming through acceleration of a company into insolvency by those who seek to gain from that position be guarded against? And so on.

At this stage, we should at least thank the Minister for his reconsideration in advance of signalling that there will be moves at Report stage. Whether they will be sufficient moves we will have to wait and see. This may not be the last word on these matters, but it may go some way towards putting in place a sensible, if not ideal, position for the PPF and the defined benefit pension scheme trustees, in the event of insolvency moratorium or restructuring plans. It is not yet clear how far he is prepared to go and it is a complex issue, as we have heard from all the speakers.

Secondly, I want to express my huge appreciation and admiration for the noble Baronesses, Lady Drake and Lady Warwick, from the Labour Benches, assisted by the noble Baroness, Lady Altmann, and the noble Lord, Lord Balfe, from the Conservatives, in their pursuit of this matter. It is hugely important to everyone that we get this right. The 2004 protection fund legislation was profound, important and lasting. It should not be put at risk by what we are attempting to do in response to the Covid crisis, whether on a temporary or permanent basis. They deserve our thanks and praise for the thorough way in which they have conducted themselves. There is much more to come but, for now, we will have to await the amendments and judge on Report whether those intentions have been fulfilled.

Finally, I urge the Minister in the meantime to take up the offer of discussions made by the noble Baronesses, Lady Drake and Lady Warwick, in advance of Report stage, to see if they can iron out any creases that there may be in what he may propose.

Lord Callanan Portrait Lord Callanan
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I thank all noble Lords for tabling amendments on this important topic. I first clarify to the noble Lord, Lord Lennie, and others that I thought it would be helpful to email noble Lords last night to inform them of my intention to table an amendment on Report because, under the new procedures, I was not able to stand up at the start of this grouping to tell people in advance. I thought it would be helpful to give people advance notice of this to stop them asking for all the things that we were going to do anyway. I thought that it might have played some part in curtailing the debate on this.

I start by reminding the House that both the moratorium and the restructuring plan are not insolvency events—they are company rescue procedures. Where the company itself can be saved as a going concern, obviously, the returns to all creditors and stakeholders of the company will be better.

I turn specifically to Amendment 20 for Great Britain, tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Drake, and others, and Amendment 39 for Northern Ireland. I do understand the intentions behind these amendments. However, removing financial services contracts from the list of liabilities for which a company does not have a payment holiday when it enters a moratorium would mean that the company does not have to pay these liabilities during the moratorium.

The purpose of excluding these contracts from the payment holiday is to ensure that the moratorium does not affect existing financial services legislation or the operation of the financial markets, and that financial markets participants continue to have legal certainty to facilitate the efficient functioning of those markets. Not excluding them could have potentially severe consequences for the operation of the markets and, in turn, the stability of the financial system and the availability and cost of these products.

In addition, it is important to recognise that financial services firms are a key part of making the moratorium provisions work. Critically, they are not excluded from the moratorium, as I said on the last grouping, where they are a creditor to a company in distress so that they continue to support those companies. It is recognised that not excluding financial services contracts from the payment holiday definition could remove the incentive for these firms to continue to provide finance. That could leave companies in financial difficulty in a far worse-off position than they would otherwise be.

I understand the purpose of these amendments, and the concerns that many noble Lords raised during this debate and at Second Reading on the super-priority of financial services debts in the moratorium. In discussions with the various stakeholders, it has become clear that unpaid financial services debts that have been accelerated for payment during the moratorium receive this super-priority status. We would not want this to provide an incentive for financial services firms to jeopardise the rescue of businesses during a moratorium by accelerating financial services contracts for payment, so as to benefit from this super-priority of their debt in a subsequent insolvency. I will therefore table an amendment on Report to address this issue, and I thank noble Lords who have raised it with me.

I turn to Amendments 27, 63, 64 and 118. Again, I understand the intentions of these proposals. We can all agree that recent high-profile insolvency cases that featured large deficits owed to the defined benefit pension scheme were worrying. We all recognise the uncertainty that this brings for employees, both past and present, in such cases. Again, I assure the Committee that the Government recognise the need for safeguards around these pension schemes and have been working closely with key stakeholders over the last few weeks on these issues. We have reflected on the concerns raised, so I confirm that it is our intention to table amendments on Report to ensure a greater role for the Pension Protection Fund and that pension protection is made clear in the Bill. Again, I am grateful to noble Lords for their engagement on this issue. Both the amendments that I have mentioned will be tabled tomorrow to give noble Lords the opportunity to study them in advance of Report.

Let me address some of the points made. Initially, the noble Baroness, Lady Drake, and I think the noble Lord, Lord Fox, asked—he may not have done so—whether pension schemes can be crammed down. The protections that apply generally will cover a pension scheme included in a restructuring plan proposal. There are strong protections, including a high threshold for class support of 75%, and where cross-class cram down is requested and none of the members of a dissenting class are worse off than they would have been under the next most likely outcome. Importantly, even if all the statutory requirements are met, the court can refuse to sanction a restructuring plan if it is fair and equitable for it so to do.

My noble friend Lady Altmann and, on this occasion, the noble Lord, Lord Fox, asked about the debt priority of pensions and whether the current ranking is appropriate. When insolvency occurs, there is a balance to be struck in considering the order in which those owed money are paid out of the available assets. There are seldom enough funds to pay all creditors in full in an insolvency. To ensure fairness, the law requires that available funds be distributed in a certain order. Unsecured creditors are paid once the secured creditors and preferential debts, which of course include employees’ hard-earned wages and salary, have been dealt with; they share the funds that are then left over. Any deficit owed to a pension scheme ranks alongside all other unsecured creditors, which will inevitably include trade suppliers, some of which will be small and micro companies. I confirm to the noble Lord that this legislation has not changed the existing provision and that it carries on.

With those explanations, and with the notice I have given of the proposed government amendments on Report, I hope that I have provided sufficient justification for the noble Baroness to withdraw her amendment.

Baroness Barker Portrait Baroness Barker (LD)
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I thank the Minister for his reply. I had the pleasure of taking part in the legislation that set up the Pension Protection Fund in this House many years ago and I remember that we spent a considerable amount of time—much more than we have done today—looking at the issue of moral hazard and questions of timescale and decision-making. Whatever the Government come up with in the context of this Bill, people will be forced to make decisions that in ordinary circumstances they would take over several months in which they could weigh up competing claims for priority. They will have to do that very quickly.

I recognise that the Minister said that he intends to publish his amendments tomorrow, but will he undertake to have a virtual meeting with the many Members of your Lordships’ House who are clearly well versed in this subject, perhaps on Thursday, in order for there to be time for considered amendments from the Opposition on Report? The Minister is likely to find that there is not a great distance between his Benches and ours on this matter, but there may be some questions of nuance and technicality, and it would be good, for better legislation, if there could be a discussion on Thursday.

Lord Callanan Portrait Lord Callanan
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Without giving a specific commitment about Thursday, because I have a number of things in my diary, not least because I am answering further Questions in this House, I will attempt to ensure that the forum mentioned by the noble Baroness takes place before Report. Noble Lords who take an interest in this matter will get the opportunity to talk to me and the various Bill officials who are handling what is, I am sure she will accept, a complicated area of law.

Baroness Drake Portrait Baroness Drake [V]
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I thank the Minister for his reply and I am grateful for the advance notice from him yesterday evening, which I took in the spirit in which he gave it. It allowed us to make our contributions more relevant, so I thank him for that.

As my noble friend Lady Taylor of Bolton observed in the previous debate, the fast-tracking of emergency measures in the light of Covid is combined in the Bill with radical, permanent changes to the status and rights of creditors and stakeholders. This House and indeed Parliament have not had time to address the consequences of that and their significance, and we are beginning to see quite serious consequences—maybe unintended consequences—being revealed.

The moratorium is not an insolvency event, but it is the start of a process that moves towards insolvency or restructuring and it does trigger a change of creditor status. While I completely accept that a strong UK economy needs a strong, functioning financial market, there is also a question of balance. The definition of finance debt in the Bill, which is given superior status, is drafted very widely, way beyond being a simple issue of banks. On the arguments that noble Lords have put today, that balance between protecting the pensioners, on which the insolvency laws were changed back in 2004, as opposed to the interests of the financial markets, is tilted in the Bill against the pensioner and risks us going back to the position that existed in 2004 where pensioners were not protected sufficiently—or in that case, not at all—under UK insolvency laws.

I thank noble Lords who have spoken in this debate. Throughout Second Reading and Committee, we have put our concerns very clearly about how this Bill impacts the framework of protection for pensioners that has been finely crafted and built up over 60 years. I welcome the Minister’s statements because they are a recognition of the concerns that we have all been expressing.

I look forward to seeing the government amendments but hope that the Minister will reflect on the seriously held views expressed today across the House on protecting pension schemes, their members and the lifeboat scheme. If it is possible to have any discussion so that these could be considered further, that would be helpful. In view of the significance of this matter, I may wish to return to it on Report, but I beg leave to withdraw Amendment 20.

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Moved by
26: Clause 1, page 15, line 12, at end insert—
“(7) This section does not apply in relation to a floating charge that is—(a) a collateral security (as defined by section A27);(b) a market charge (as defined by section A27);(c) a security financial collateral arrangement (within the meaning of regulation 3 of the Financial Collateral Arrangements (No. 2) Regulations 2003 (S.I. 2003/3226));(d) a system-charge (as defined by section A27).”Member’s explanatory statement
This amendment ensures that section A22 does not apply to a collateral security, market charge, security financial collateral arrangement or system-charge.
Lord Callanan Portrait Lord Callanan
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My Lords, these are a number of technical amendments tabled by the Government in my name to ensure that financial collateral arrangements, charges and securities are carved out from the effects of the moratorium. This is part of the Government’s intention to exclude certain financial services contracts from the moratorium.

I am conscious that time is getting on. I have an extensive speaking note and I can go through it in great detail if noble Lords wish me to do so, but it probably best serves the interests of the Committee if I stop at this point and let noble Lords who wish to contribute on this matter come in. I can respond at the end, rather than go through a lot of technical detail that might not be of interest to those present. That might be to the benefit of the Committee, given the late hour and the fact that we are pressed for time.

Lord Mendelsohn Portrait Lord Mendelsohn [V]
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My Lords, I am encouraged by the Minister’s indication during the debate that the Government are open to amendments and it is useful to hear that they have published material relating to insolvency practitioners, even though I am yet to find out where we can get hold of it. However, I am not entirely satisfied by the Government’s assurance that they appreciate how to deal with some of the complexities that they have put forward. That is not least the case in this group of amendments. I would like to understand not the entire effect but the assumption of which particular cases and how many of them these amendments are likely to affect, and whether they are just technical or do in fact change some of the current core financing arrangements for larger companies.

While I welcome the progress towards a more flexible insolvency regime and appreciate the need for temporary arrangements to help to navigate the current emergency, this legislation, as necessary as it may be, ends up asking a lot more questions than it answers. The truncated process is of course, as many noble Lords have mentioned, wholly unsatisfactory not just for scrutiny but to allow the Government to consider these matters and others as they should. It defies logic that the process was done fully in one day in the other place.

It is not just that the impact assessment is based on out-of-date data and contradictory calculations; the permanent provisions were consulted on, although in their previous form they were never going to be implemented in such a piecemeal fashion. It appears to be widely accepted that it is not just the flaws but the time required to adjust this regime that will be complicated. The permanent measures will take longer to implement, and it will take time for people to get used to how they operate. The temporary measures are a bit too limited to operate in their own guise.

However, the Government cannot have it both ways. They cannot claim that these measures are to get things working in an emergency and at the same time widen the number of options, the required skills, the number of participants and the variety of arrangements required where practitioners or courts will need to be trained or practised in. And, of course, this omits some of the most significant elements that will still need to be addressed, such as whether HMRC will have a preference or take an active role in this, as well as the role of the pre-pack regime and others. It is not just a question of all the delegated powers that noble Lords have spoken so eloquently and raised such meaningful and compelling objections and warnings about. It is also that the regulatory regime is weak and unclear, and so much of this should be in the Bill.

However, we are where we are, and the Government are going to do this whatever we say. Bluntly, this is not this House’s first rodeo, but it is our job to be realistic. This legislation will require further regulation and change, and much work is already taking place in a number of the agencies or in other places that is likely to lead to measures being added to the legislation at a later date. Therefore, we should address how this will work best in the future.

The most important element here is to receive proper reassurance from the Minister of an enhanced process to deal with the implementation, review, secondary legislation and regulation of this legislation, so any clear statements and undertakings in this regard would be important, whether given here or on Report. Will the Government create a post-legislative scrutiny process or, for example, would they be keen for this House to establish a process or a committee that could provide a meaningful role? Will the provision of information be sufficient, and what sort of information will be provided to this House? What will be measured by government, so that we can properly evaluate the operation of the legislation?

What other reviews or agencies, from the professional bodies to the Insolvency Service or the courts, are currently being consulted? What part of these discussions can we be told now, and what will be made available in the future to help resolve concerns or help us to have a debate prior to legislation or regulation being brought forward? Can clearer statements be made by Ministers about how they expect it to work, so that the courts have a clear indication on what to make rulings on and how they should do so? I suspect that the courts will be slightly busier than the Minister anticipates, not least because financial indemnity insurance will provide a very adequate target for people to exercise some degree of accountability in the courts.

Of course, the affirmative procedure for regulation is all that we have, but will the Government look at how this process can be enhanced with a greater provision of information, and possibly consultation, prior to the regulations being tabled? Any such assurances on how we will deal with where we are, and how we might deal with what might evolve into a better and more robust system, would be gratefully received.

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Lord Stevenson of Balmacara Portrait Lord Stevenson of Balmacara [V]
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My Lords, I had the benefit of a brief discussion with the Minister yesterday on these amendments. If we can get a response to the points made by my noble friend Lord Mendelsohn and the questions asked by the noble Lord, Lord Fox, we will be well served.

Lord Callanan Portrait Lord Callanan
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I am grateful for the patience of noble Lords. I propose to deal with the points raised by the noble Lord, Lord Mendelsohn. As for the technical amendments talked about by the noble Lord, Lord Fox, and other noble Lords, if it is acceptable to them, I shall write to them with the details of what we are proposing and how we propose to do it—soon, as the noble Lord, Lord Fox, reminded me. I shall get an email out to them as quickly as possible which I hope will resolve their issues, but there are no issues of principle or policy involved, since these are simply technical amendments that I think reflect the reality that the Bill, and the many temporary provisions, were drafted at pace. It is a long and complicated Bill and these issues have arisen that we wish to correct.

The noble Lord, Lord Mendelsohn, asked about the reporting structures through which the effectiveness of the measures in the Bill can be monitored. I can tell him that the Insolvency Service has for many years published quarterly national statistics, covering both corporate and personal insolvency, approximately four weeks after the end of the quarter. In response to the pandemic, the Insolvency Service now additionally publishes monthly official statistics, covering corporate and personal insolvency, approximately two weeks after the end of the month. Data on the use of company moratoriums and flexible restructuring plans will be published regularly, either by the Insolvency Service or by Companies House through their existing schedules of national and official statistics. Under the Better Regulation framework, the Government are required to publish a post-implementation review of all these measures not more than five years after commencement and the Insolvency Service is currently considering its plans for monitoring and evaluation. We will, of course, publish further guidance as needed.

With that—and I am grateful for the patience of the Committee, I know that time is getting on—I beg to move.

Amendment 26 agreed.
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Moved by
34: Clause 1, page 30, line 21, at end insert—
“(4) Subsection (1) does not apply to a provision in an instrument creating a floating charge that is—(a) a collateral security (as defined by section A27);(b) a market charge (as defined by section A27);(c) a security financial collateral arrangement (within the meaning of regulation 3 of the Financial Collateral Arrangements (No. 2) Regulations 2003 (S.I. 2003/3226));(d) a system-charge (as defined by section A27).”Member’s explanatory statement
This amendment ensures that section A50 does not apply to a collateral security, market charge, security financial collateral arrangement or system-charge.
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Lord Stevenson of Balmacara Portrait Lord Stevenson of Balmacara [V]
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My Lords, the point raised by the noble Lord, Lord Fox, is self-evident. We have already covered much of its ground, so I do not think that anything else needs to be said. I believe that the best thing is for the Minister to respond directly to the debate.

Earl Howe Portrait Earl Howe (Con)
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My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Fox, for tabling these amendments. As he said, they seek on the one hand to time-limit the period within which the moratorium provisions are in force and require a review of the operation of the provisions to be carried out, and, on the other hand, to limit the ability to extend the sunset date of the powers to make temporary amendments to insolvency and related legislation in Clauses 18 and 26. Here, I am referring to Amendments 68, 69 and 74, which I will cover as they are in this group.

I shall start with the moratorium. As the noble Lord knows, the point of this measure is to give financially distressed companies breathing space from their creditors so as to pursue a rescue or restructure. It forms part of a package of rescue tools in the Bill that will help ensure that viable companies do not fail, thereby saving businesses and jobs. This new procedure will of course be useful during the Covid-19 pandemic but it will also have a longer-lasting benefit to the economy after this period. Therefore, making this measure temporary will serve little purpose. Doing so would, instead, create uncertainty. I ask the noble Lord how a financially distressed company could conduct its rescue planning without some assurance that the restructuring tools would still be available after a certain point in time.

All the permanent provisions contained in the Bill, including the moratorium, have not just been developed in the short time since Covid-19 first appeared; rather, they have been subject to a considerable period of consultation and engagement dating back to 2015. This process included the then Government’s review of the corporate insolvency framework public consultation in 2016 and, since then, there has been an extensive period of engagement with a wide range of stakeholders. The measures have been developed and refined over several years against a backdrop of strong calls to introduce them as early as possible to ensure that the UK keeps pace with restructuring reforms introduced in a number of other jurisdictions and to ensure that we remain one of the top restructuring hubs in the world.

Furthermore, I assure the noble Lord that the Government take their role in reviewing legislation very seriously. We will monitor information and feedback from stakeholders and the industry on the effectiveness of the new insolvency procedures generally. In due course, we are likely to want to commission a more formal evaluation of the impact, and a post-implementation review will be conducted in line with Better Regulation guidance. However, it will be important to ensure that the new measures have sufficient time to bed in before doing so.

Turning to Amendments 68, 69 and 74—which, I dare say, my noble friend Lady Neville-Rolfe would have introduced but the noble Lord, Lord Fox, has his name attached to them—I am grateful to both noble Lords for bringing up the matter of the sunsetting of the powers to make temporary changes to insolvency and related legislation in Clauses 18 and 26. As the Bill stands, those powers may not be used after 30 April 2021, but this expiry date may be extended. This would be for a period of no more than a year, although the power to extend can be used more than once. The amendments would either remove the powers to extend the expiry date, which would mean that the powers in Clauses 18 and 26 would sunset for ever on 30 April 2021, or would limit the power to extend so that it would expire two years after this Bill received Royal Assent at the latest.

I hope that it is helpful if I reassure the noble Lord and my noble friend in her absence that the purposes for which the Clause 18 and Clause 26 powers may be used are tightly circumscribed and very specifically set out in the Bill in the clauses that immediately follow in each case. These include helping to reduce the number of entities being forced to use corporate insolvency proceedings and mitigating the impact of Covid-19 on those proceedings, as well as the duties of persons with corporate responsibility.

The problem here is that we just do not know the long-term impact of this dreadful pandemic on business and insolvency, and we need to be able to move quickly to meet as yet unknown and unidentified challenges. Some of these may not become apparent for several months, so for the power to be most effective it must be capable of being extended.

Extension of the expiry date of 30 April 2021 may be made only after proper consideration and scrutiny by Parliament using the affirmative procedure. I hope that the noble Lord will agree that the existence of that parliamentary hurdle is not insignificant and will prevent the power continuing indefinitely if it is no longer needed.

So, for the reasons I have set out, I am not able to accept this group of amendments. I therefore hope that the noble Lord, Lord Fox, will agree to withdraw Amendment 38 and in due course will not press the other amendments in the group.

Lord Fox Portrait Lord Fox
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I thank the Minister for his response. I did not expect the Government to accept the amendments, but there is an element of cake-and-eat-it here. On the one hand, the Government are saying that there needs to be certainty within the restructuring industry to make this happen; on the other hand, they are taking upon themselves the ability to change everything. It is quite clear that the Government expect to make changes, but they then say, “Well, after two years, Parliament will have had time to produce a replacement piece of legislation, which will have built on the legislation that we are seeing in front of us.” I do not accept the idea that the amendment somehow creates uncertainty because there is enough uncertainty already; it does not make that much difference.

The Government are running this through emergency process. By definition, an emergency has an end. The process of forever renewing things, which is essentially what is there, leaves a bad taste in most people’s mouths. I shall read the debate in more detail in Hansard tomorrow. In the meantime, I beg leave to withdraw Amendment 38.

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Moved by
41: Clause 4, page 46, line 35, at end insert—
“(7) This Article does not apply in relation to a floating charge that is—(a) a collateral security (as defined by Article 13DI);(b) a market charge (as defined by Article 13DI);(c) a security financial collateral arrangement (within the meaning of regulation 3 of the Financial Collateral Arrangements (No. 2) Regulations 2003 (S.I. 2003/3226));(d) a system-charge (as defined by Article 13DI).”Member’s explanatory statement
This amendment ensures that Article 13DD does not apply to a collateral security, market charge, security financial collateral arrangement or system-charge.
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Moved by
43: Clause 4, page 60, line 38, at end insert—
“(4) Paragraph (1) does not apply to a provision in an instrument creating a floating charge that is—(a) a collateral security (as defined by Article 13DI);(b) a market charge (as defined by Article 13DI);(c) a security financial collateral arrangement (within the meaning of regulation 3 of the Financial Collateral Arrangements (No. 2) Regulations 2003 (S.I. 2003/3226));(d) a system-charge (as defined by Article 13DI).”Member’s explanatory statement
This amendment ensures that Article 13HB does not apply to a collateral security, market charge, security financial collateral arrangement or system-charge.
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Earl Howe Portrait Earl Howe
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, I am most grateful to noble Lords for these amendments, which seek to extend the period of time that the range of temporary measures contained in the Bill will continue to operate. The temporary measures contained in the Bill are all necessary to ensure that otherwise viable companies are given the space to recover, if that is possible. I entirely understand noble Lords’ desire to ensure that the measures continue for as long as they are needed. As I am sure they appreciate, the Bill contains provisions enabling these temporary measures to be extended, and I can reassure them that the Government have every intention of making use of this provision if the protections are needed beyond their present expiry date.

The temporary measures all have significant impacts on the normal working of various parts of insolvency legislation and the business community. The point that needs to be made here, though, is that the term of extension for one measure may not be desirable, or needed, for another. We therefore think it is right that any consideration of an extension, and for how long, should be done on an individual basis rather than in the round, taking into account all the circumstances and potential impacts.

My noble friend Lord Hodgson’s amendment is slightly different from the other amendments in this group, in that it would extend backwards the period to which restrictions on winding-up petitions and orders apply, to include circumstances where petitions were filed after 23 March 2020, when lockdown began. As currently drafted, the restriction on winding-up petitions applies retrospectively from when the Government announced their intention to legislate. It seeks to avoid unfairness by ensuring that the restriction on winding-up petitions applies only in cases where the person presenting the petition would have known of the Government’s intention to legislate in this area. I hope my noble friend will agree, on reflection, that it would not be appropriate to place such a requirement on anyone before they could have known about it. That is why we have chosen to apply the provisions in respect of windings up from 27 April 2020—the next working day following the Government’s announcement of the change in policy.

I will write to the noble and learned Lord, Lord Wallace of Tankerness, and the noble Lord, Lord Howarth, in answer to their questions on retrospection, but for the reasons I have set out, I am not able to accept these amendments. I therefore hope that the noble Baroness, Lady Barker, will feel able to withdraw her Amendment 47 and that, in due course, the other amendments in the group will not be moved.

Baroness Barker Portrait Baroness Barker
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, in view of the hour I will simply say that I am not surprised by the noble Earl’s answer. There is something to be said about the winding-up provision specifically running longer than 30 June, but at this hour I will withdraw my amendment.

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Moved by
48: Clause 10, page 63, line 22, leave out “Act” and insert “section”
Member’s explanatory statement
This amendment changes the definition of the “relevant period” so that the term is defined by reference to the coming into force of the section rather than by reference to the coming into force of the Act as a whole.
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Moved by
50: Clause 11, page 64, line 47, leave out “Act” and insert “section”
Member’s explanatory statement
This amendment changes the definition of the “relevant period” so that the term is defined by reference to the coming into force of the section rather than by reference to the coming into force of the Act as a whole.

Corporate Insolvency and Governance Bill

(Limited Text - Ministerial Extracts only)

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Report stage (Hansard) & Report stage (Hansard): House of Lords & Report stage
Tuesday 23rd June 2020

(2 years, 1 month ago)

Lords Chamber
Report stage (Hansard) Page Read Hansard Text Amendment Paper: HL Bill 114-I Marshalled list for Report - (18 Jun 2020)

This text is a record of ministerial contributions to a debate held as part of the Corporate Insolvency and Governance Act 2020 passage through Parliament.

In 1993, the House of Lords Pepper vs. Hart decision provided that statements made by Government Ministers may be taken as illustrative of legislative intent as to the interpretation of law.

This extract highlights statements made by Government Ministers along with contextual remarks by other members. The full debate can be read here

This information is provided by Parallel Parliament and does not comprise part of the offical record

Lord Stevenson of Balmacara Portrait Lord Stevenson of Balmacara (Lab) [V]
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, this has been a very good debate and I thank all those who have contributed. In a sense, the debate around this group of amendments reflects the problem that we have had with the Bill. The Government, rightly, want to progress and to press ahead, but the issues that we are covering are of such substance that they vastly outstrip the time that has been made available for us to do it—hence our needing the Minister to address at the Dispatch Box a wide range of points before many of us can decide how we will deal with our amendments.

The noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope, and the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh of Pickering, asked about the exchange of letters over the simple question about whether a list of creditors should be provided. The noble Lord, Lord Leigh, and the noble Viscount, Lord Trenchard, asked a justifiable question about whether rescuing a business is the same as rescuing the company, given that in many cases the business is the important issue, particularly when it is linked to the jobs that would be involved. Does the Bill adequately deal with that?

My noble friends Lady Drake and Lady Warwick want to know from the Minister directly at the Dispatch Box whether Amendment 80 goes far enough to recognise the gaming and perverse behaviours that will inevitably follow the moratorium arrangements. In addition to that, my noble friend Lady Warwick specifically asked about the issue of super-priority for financial funds in relation to defined-benefit pensions. Will the Government, with their power, stay alert to the dangers? We need to know.

The noble Baroness, Lady Bowles, made a persuasive case about the way in which the breathing space set up by the moratorium would effectively be destroyed by accelerated payments, and the following speaker, the noble Baroness, Lady Kramer, made that point exactly by explaining why gaming is natural, or even appropriate, behaviour for banks and other lenders, which of course have to maximise the return they are likely to get. If that is inevitable, are the measures in the Bill sufficient? Will the Minister do what he can to reassure us about that? And the noble Lord, Lord Hodgson, whose extensive experience and anecdotes flowed through his speech, rightly raised the Pepper v Hart concern and the issues that will come through in future legislation in relation to what has been said today.

I suppose what I am getting at is that it would have been better if we had had proper amendments and time to debate them in individual groups—not all clumped together in different areas—and did not have to rely on the Minister’s very difficult task of covering all the points raised in today’s hour and a quarter of debate and being convincing about how the words that appear in the Bill, and in the Act when it is published, will be sufficient. However, we are where we are and we need to make progress.

Amendment 75 may be a rather modest issue, as has been said, but it is important in itself as well as for what it might say about the future. I thank the noble Lords, Lord Kerslake and Lord Fox, and the noble Baroness, Lady Altmann, for supporting me in this amendment, and I thank my noble friends Lady Bryan of Partick, Lord Hendy, Lord Hain, Lord Adonis and others for speaking in support. At heart, the amendment seeks to recognise that workers in a company care about its future and, like all other stakeholders, should be informed about what is going on. It supports the view that in a crisis situation all those who work in a company are in it together, and employees may have as much at stake as others who have a financial stake in the company. It also makes the point that those who work in the company in the round, or in the business that the company is carrying out, can and should make a contribution to save it if it is in crisis. Only good can come from a proper process of engagement, information exchange and an exchange of ideas.

I recognise that in a moratorium situation speed may be of the essence. Any arrangements set up that would slow that down also carry the risk that information will be fed out into the public, and that may promote creditor action. We must guard against that but, on the other hand, we should also aim to bring everyone together, not to split off certain groups who, as I hope to argue, could contribute. However, and I wait to hear the Minister deal with this issue when he comes to the Dispatch Box, there may be other ways of dealing with this—measures that could perhaps take into account evidence gained as we go forward. As we discovered in Committee, there may indeed be other issues that need to be wrapped into this first step—the beginnings, perhaps, of a movement to rebalance the relationship between employers and employees and to promote collective bargaining. This may not have been the right amendment or even the right Bill for that approach, but maybe this can be the first step on that journey.

Lord Callanan Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (Lord Callanan) (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, I thank everyone who has contributed to this excellent debate. The noble Lord, Lord Stevenson, correctly characterised this as a number of different subjects loosely grouped together under the heading of moratorium provisions, and I gladly accept his challenge to try to satisfy the House and deal with all the points that have been raised.

First, to start at the beginning, Amendment 1 was moved by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope of Craighead. I thank him for his letter following Committee; as I conveyed in my response to him, I confirm that a copy of that has been placed in the House Library. I agree with him that the monitor needs the details of the company’s creditors at an early stage to enable the monitor to comply with their duty to notify the creditors. I also confirm to him that I agree with the explanation that he provided in his speech. We have recently published draft guidance for monitors that would include that the proposed monitor is expected to ascertain the assets, liabilities and ongoing financial commitments of the company when judging its likelihood of rescue, and that would of course include details of creditors.

I turn to the amendments tabled by my noble friends Lord Leigh of Hurley and Lord Trenchard. I thank them for raising these issues and tabling the amendments, which I know derive from their enormous experience in this area. I wrote to my noble friend Lord Leigh on 17 June. I hope he received a copy of that letter; if he did not, I apologise and will gladly give him another copy. The amendments seek to expand the focus of the moratorium from the rescue of the company to the rescue of the company’s businesses or parts of that business. I am grateful to them, particularly my noble friend Lord Leigh, for taking the time to meet me and officials to discuss that with his various restructuring experts and for them to highlight their concerns to us. In response to my noble friend Lord Trenchard, the moratorium is intended as a company rescue procedure upstream of a formal insolvency procedure. If a pre-pack is the settled intention of the company and its adviser, the moratorium is clearly not for them.

It has long been the Government’s policy that the new moratorium be built around a company in financial difficulty—that is, companies having access to a breathing space before such time as the company itself is beyond rescue. For that reason, the statements made by the monitor on entry to the moratorium and, similarly, the requirements at extension and termination of the moratorium are indeed focused on the rescue of the corporate vehicle. This policy was widely consulted on and received significant support. However, I recognise the point made by my noble friends that the amendment is supported by some rescue professionals working in that field. Still, I reassure them today by telling them that we will be monitoring the operation of the moratorium closely once the Bill comes into force, and we will not hesitate to take action if that is required.

I turn to Amendments 13 and 14, tabled by the noble Baronesses, Lady Drake and Lady Bowles, which seek to change how financial services debts are treated in a moratorium. This is a complicated area so I hope the House will bear with me. The Government want to avoid lenders exercising their rights to accelerate their pre-moratorium debt, thereby potentially gaming the system through a moratorium. That is why amendments have been tabled in my name, and I will talk more about them later, to exclude financial services’ pre-moratorium debts from super-priority or protection from compromise where the debt has been accelerated during the relevant period. The amendments in my name do not prevent a financial services creditor exercising a termination or acceleration clause; nor do they remove the requirement that if the accelerated debt is not paid then the monitor must bring the moratorium to an end. These are important provisions that will encourage lending to companies in difficulty and support the operation and stability of financial markets. The Government want to encourage financial services firms to keep lending to companies in distress. Including debts to these firms in the payment holiday concept could disincentivise them from doing so. That could leave some companies in a moratorium without the finance that they need to recover. In other words, it could jeopardise the very purpose of the moratorium in the first place.

In addition, we have excluded certain financial services contracts from the prohibition of termination clauses. This is vital to ensure that financial markets continue to operate as they do now. To not exclude these contracts could carry wide-reaching, systemic risks to market stability, as market participants could find their transactions suddenly terminated. Legal certainty over how transactions will be treated is vital to the operation of these markets. I appreciate that many noble Lords have raised concerns about this matter, but I hope that the amendments tabled in my name will allay at least some of their concerns. I will talk in a little more detail about those amendments shortly.

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Lord Fox Portrait Lord Fox
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

In reference to Amendment 75, the Minister talked about the danger of employees leaking the state of the business. In my experience of acquisitions and disposals in continental Europe, where the pre-briefing of employees is legally required, there has never been an issue with employees leaking the information. The leaks have only ever come from advisers, usually banks. What grounds does the Minister have for making that statement?

Lord Callanan Portrait Lord Callanan
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I do not think that I used the word “leaking”. We want the moratorium to be a light-touch procedure with the minimum level of bureaucracy. Of course, it goes without saying that any information being disclosed from whatever source of a company’s intention to go into this procedure could have serious adverse consequences if certain creditors seek to pre-empt the operation of the moratorium. However, we have built concessions into this part of the Bill. I hope noble Lords will be able to accept them. I take on board the noble Lord’s points, although I did not use those words.

Lord Hope of Craighead Portrait Lord Hope of Craighead [V]
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I am very grateful to those noble Lords who spoke in support of my Amendment 1. I am grateful to the Minister as well for giving me the two assurances which I sought when I introduced the amendment.

I feel that there was a note of some disappoint from some noble Lords that I would not press the amendment, so I will explain very shortly why I took that decision. The letter that was circulated—I am grateful to those responsible for doing that—sets out in some considerable detail the various points which one needs to bear in mind as background to the wording of the Bill. It does, of course, require one to give rather more weight to the guidance than what one finds in the Bill’s wording, which I said was somewhat weak, but I am prepared to accept that guidance and test the matter against the point which the Minister made in Committee that adding a burden on to the directors of the company when a company needs to enter into the procedure as quickly as possible would be undesirable if to do so would be unnecessary.

That really is the essence of the point I asked myself: am I satisfied, in view of what the Minister said in his letter, that the burden would indeed be unnecessary? In the end, the answer to that question was yes. For these reasons—and I express my gratitude again to the Minister for his helpful letter—I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

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Moved by
3: Clause 1, page 3, line 44, leave out “changing the definition of “the relevant documents”” and insert “adding to the list of documents”
Member’s explanatory statement
This amendment narrows the Secretary of State’s power to change a list of documents, so that it is confined to adding to the list. The power could subsequently be re-exercised so as to remove anything added.
Earl Howe Portrait Earl Howe (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, in moving Amendment 3 I will also speak to the other government amendments grouped with it. I begin by thanking my noble friend Lord Blencathra and the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee, including the ever- helpful clerk team, for their quick work in scrutinising the Bill. As always, they have made important recommendations and the Government have sought to accept as many of them as possible. In last week’s debate, my noble friend Lord Callanan stated that we would listen to the concerns expressed and consider them carefully. We have done so.

The amendments tabled by the Government have taken on board the concerns raised by the committee and by noble Lords on the number of Henry VIII powers in Clause 1 on moratoriums. As a result, we have tabled amendments that will remove three of the Henry VIII powers in Clause 1 from the Bill: those in new Sections A10(4), A11(5) and A13(9). We have also tabled amendments that will restrict the power in new Section A6(4) so that it can be used only to add to existing requirements, rather than to amend them.

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Lord Stevenson of Balmacara Portrait Lord Stevenson of Balmacara [V]
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, as has already been said, this has been a good debate. While we must await the individual amendments, I think the judgment of the House so far is that the Government have changed their original proposals sufficiently to satisfy the House and, more importantly, the specialist committees that have been looking at particular details; we picked up from my noble friend Lady Taylor the considerable concerns that were around at the time.

The noble Earl, who is also the Deputy Leader of the House, might wish to swap hats when he comes to respond to the debate, as there are perhaps points that need to be taken back and listened to within the usual channels in relation to the dangers of fast-tracking complex legislation of this nature and the need to make sure that we have sufficient time and learn the lessons, as my noble friend Lady Taylor said. It is not something that we often hear in this House, but we do need to listen: this whole process of fast-tracking and then trying to pick up on the run the difficulties that come up and is really not an adequate way of scrutinising, as she put it. We hope that that lesson will be learned in a way that will allow us more time and more consideration.

Finally, I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Anelay of St Johns, for picking up the point that we both shared in Committee in relation to charities. Like her, I am pleased that the point has been noted and a response issued. I still think that there are concerns around some of the other bodies with which we as a Parliament and as a society should be concerned: the good work of credit unions, friendly societies, social enterprise companies, community-interest companies and co-ops. These, of course, share the common thread that they are often set up outside the norms of company law, for the reason that they can operate better when they are not part of the overall character of the Companies Act. But, inevitably, there are intersection points and issues, which have been picked up. The point made by the noble Baroness, Lady Barker, that certain independent companies trading as museums might find that the collections on which they depend may be at risk is obviously a worry that the Government will want to take back. I think those are the important points.

Earl Howe Portrait Earl Howe
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, I thank my noble friend Lady Fookes and the noble Baroness, Lady Taylor, for the amendments which they have tabled, and I am grateful to all noble Lords who have spoken in this short debate. I will say at the outset that I understand and take on board the concerns expressed by the noble Baroness, Lady Taylor, and the noble Lord, Lord Stevenson, on the use of emergency legislation and the risk that amendments to such Bills will be necessary.

I can assure the House that the Government do our very best to draft legislation accurately and fully before bringing a Bill before the House. However, I feel sure that noble Lords will understand that there will always be a risk of amendments being required to the Bill as it progresses through Parliament, even with the best will in the world. To the extent that the Government have listened to concerns expressed during the course of the Bill, I am sure that noble Lords would not wish to criticise amendments that have come forward in response to such concerns.

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Moved by
4: Clause 1, page 4, line 23, at end insert—
“(c) in a case where the company is or has been an employer in respect of an occupational pension scheme that is not a money purchase scheme, the Pensions Regulator, and(d) in a case where the company is an employer in respect of such a pension scheme that is an eligible scheme within the meaning given by section 126 of the Pensions Act 2004, the Board of the Pension Protection Fund.”Member’s explanatory statement
This amendment extends the monitor’s duty to give notice that a moratorium has come into force.
Baroness Henig Portrait The Deputy Speaker
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I remind noble Lords that Members other than the mover of an amendment and the Minister may speak only once and that short questions of elucidation are discouraged. Anyone wishing to press this or any other amendment in the group to a Division should make that clear in the debate.

Lord Callanan Portrait Lord Callanan
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, the amendments in my name make provisions relating to pension schemes in the moratorium and the restructuring plan. Although the moratorium is not an opportunity for employers to walk away from their liabilities, it may become the point at which preparations for and discussions about a restructuring proposal begin. Where the pension scheme would be a large unsecured creditor in any insolvency, should the employer ultimately fail, restructurings can have a significant and immediate impact on the expected outcome of the scheme.

There is the possibility that the company may seek to reschedule payments to provide working capital to give time to shore up its operations. This might result in lower payments to the scheme for a period of time. A rescue may also involve certain other creditors, such as new lenders providing rescue finance, taking security over company assets. This would mean that there would be less available for other creditors, including the scheme, in the event that any such rescue ultimately failed.

Some insolvency procedures are designated as “insolvency events” under existing pensions legislation. One effect of such designation is that the Pension Protection Fund has a statutory role to play, acting as a creditor in place of the trustees of eligible schemes. However, the new procedures are different. They are not qualifying insolvency events, as they are focused entirely on giving the company every opportunity to achieve a rescue as a going concern. This would be the best outcome for a pension scheme: moving forward with the support of its newly rescued sponsoring employer.

Nevertheless, there is concern that these procedures could result in the pension scheme being disadvantaged as an unsecured creditor of the company. The PPF, as the provider of protection for members of eligible schemes in specified circumstances, could potentially face a greater loss. An example of this would be if the company subsequently fails and the scheme falls into the PPF with a larger deficit than it originally had.

Consequently, it is agreed that there is a need to build in specific protections. These focus on the interests of the scheme and its members, and the interests of the PPF and its levy payers. This would be by ensuring that the PPF has a seat at the table in any restructuring proposal and that its voice is heard. After all, it is the statutory compensation scheme for members of eligible defined benefit schemes, and ultimately bears the risk for the scheme should the company subsequently fail.

The challenge has therefore been to strike the right balance between the interests of the trustees, the board of the Pension Protection Fund, the company and its creditors. Taken together, these amendments achieve this balance. They provide for both the PPF and the Pensions Regulator to get appropriate information in the case of both a moratorium and a restructuring plan. The regulation-making power will allow the Secretary of State to provide for the board of the PPF to act in the place of the trustees of the scheme as a creditor in certain circumstances. The board of the PPF and the Pensions Regulator will have the right to the same information as creditors, concerning the start and end point of a moratorium and any change in the monitor, in specified circumstances. The board of the PPF will have the same rights as trustees to challenge in court the monitor’s or director’s actions in specified situations where the interests of the trustees as a creditor are considered to be unfairly harmed by those actions.

Where a restructuring plan is proposed and the company is a sponsoring employer, provision is made for the board of the PPF and the Pensions Regulator to receive the same information sent to creditors, in specified circumstances. This means that they are informed that a proposal has been made and they can then consider what action, if any, to take.

In respect of both the moratorium and the restructuring plan, where the trustees of a PPF-eligible scheme are a creditor of the company concerned, the proposed amendments provide a regulation-making power. This power will give the board of the PPF the ability to exercise the creditor rights of the trustees; again, in appropriate circumstances. These rights include attending the creditors’ meeting, voting on the restructuring plan and making representations to the court. The powers are drafted to allow an appropriate balance between the trustees and the Pension Protection Fund’s interests by allowing creditor rights to be exercised concurrently where appropriate. Conditions can also be placed on the exercise of any rights given to the board of the PPF.

Restructuring will always involve trade-offs. Employees will be concerned that the rescue ensures that their jobs are secure, but at the same time they will be interested in the impact on the company pension scheme if they are a member. The changes tabled in my name have balanced the interests of employees and scheme members with those of a company and its creditors, giving them all the best chance for survival, in our view. I beg to move.

Baroness Bowles of Berkhamsted Portrait Baroness Bowles of Berkhamsted [V]
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, I welcome the amendments tabled by the Government to address the position of the Pension Protection Fund and the Pensions Regulator where there is a relevant scheme. The amendments give them the right to be notified of moratorium events and give the Pension Protection Fund rights to challenge the monitor or directors, vote as a creditor and make representations to the court.

An amendment on the issue that remains unaddressed was originally tabled in Committee by the noble Baroness, Lady Altmann; we have tabled one on Report with her support. The noble Baroness, with her great experience in pensions, will speak next.

Amendment 15 concerns the status of pledged assets and whether the court can give permission for their disposal without the Pension Protection Fund’s permission. In the absence of an amendment, those assets are not protected, which unravels the basis on which settlements over funding and deficits are made with trustees.

The effect of that is twofold: the actual disposal of the assets, which may be unfavourable to the pension scheme; and, even without any of that happening, the fact that such a possibility exists raises doubts about the numerous pledges that underpin contribution agreements. It is far from desirable to have to revisit them but, without any assurance, it would seem necessary for trustees to think about that and seek more cash funding. That would be bad at any time, but when companies are facing more difficult times due to the pandemic and its after-effects, it would be particularly unwelcome. That is the reasoning behind the amendment, and I know that other noble Lords are well able to illustrate the problem further.

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Lord Lennie Portrait Lord Lennie (Lab) [V]
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, straight off the bat, I too welcome the Government’s movement on this specific part of this necessary Bill. There will be a sense of relief for direct benefit pension funds and their trustees, the Pension Protection Fund and the regulator. As has been said, all will now have rights of access to information about the intentions of companies and to voice their opinions about the decisions that are being contemplated; a seat at the table, access to court and so forth. This will be true throughout the UK.

When a company seeks a moratorium or when it considers other actions in a potential redundancy and insolvency circumstance, the monitor will be required to notify the pension scheme, the PPF and the regulator to have due consideration of their views about the proposed action. In the event that a moratorium comes to an end or if the monitor changes, the pension scheme trustees and the PPF must be informed. This will mean in effect that the debts owing to a direct benefit pension scheme do not rank below other finance debts. That would recognise the real status of a pension as deferred earnings and should not allow others to accelerate the debt position at the expense of pension provision, as was feared in the original text. These changes have come about due to the strength of the arguments put by my noble friends Lady Drake and Lady Warwick, the noble Baroness, Lady Bowles, on the Liberal Democrat Benches, and the noble Lord, Lord Balfe, and the noble Baroness, Lady Altmann, on the Conservative side. I congratulate them on achieving this much.

However, can the Minister provide the reassurance being sought about the value of direct benefit schemes being put at risk by the sale of assets, and ultimately the whole working of the PPF? Will he closely monitor and consult on any necessary remedial actions that may arise from his examination of this issue? The Minister can take the credit due to him for his part in bringing forward these amendments to the Bill, and they are welcome. But can he confirm that the Government will stay alert and ready to intervene on behalf of pensions and the PPF in the event that the measures in this legislation do not go far enough in protecting them?

Lord Callanan Portrait Lord Callanan
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, I take this opportunity to thank everyone who has spoken in this important debate, and I am grateful for Amendment 15 because it is a very important provision. I am also grateful to noble Lords for their continuing efforts to ensure that pensions are treated appropriately through this Bill. None the less, I hope that they will agree that we are now seeking to introduce specific and satisfactory provisions to deal with pensions’ interests.

I also take this opportunity to assure noble Lords that where charged property is disposed of, it can be done only with the permission of the court and where the court believes that it is necessary to support the rescue. Where the court is satisfied and gives its permission, the net proceeds must go towards satisfying the amounts secured by the charge before they can be used in any other way. From a practical perspective, this amendment is not necessary. If a company in a moratorium was going to court to seek permission to dispose of charged assets, it would at the least have had to have had a conversation with the person to whom those assets are charged. Well before giving clearance to the company to dispose of such assets, the court will of course take account of their views at the hearing.

In response to my noble friend Lady Altmann and the noble Lord, Lord Hain, we have been in detailed discussions with colleagues in the DWP, along with both the Pensions Regulator and the Pension Protection Fund, in the formulation of these amendments. We are seeking to ensure that the PPF is able to play a role in a company’s rescue plan where it is appropriate for it to do so. Let me also provide the assurance that the noble Lord, Lord Lennie, was looking for. Of course, we will continue to monitor these arrangements to ensure that they act in the fairest possible way for all the different stakeholders in the process that I referred to earlier.

On that basis, I hope that I have been able to provide sufficient reassurance to noble Lords and that they will feel able to not move their amendments when the time comes. I beg to move.

Amendment 4 agreed.
Moved by
5: Clause 1, page 5, line 43, leave out from beginning to end of line 2 on page 6
Member’s explanatory statement
This amendment removes a Henry VIII power to change a list of documents.
--- Later in debate ---
Moved by
8: Clause 1, page 6, leave out lines 29 to 32
Member’s explanatory statement
This amendment removes a Henry VIII power to change a list of documents.
--- Later in debate ---
Moved by
11: Clause 1, page 8, leave out lines 8 to 11
Member’s explanatory statement
This amendment removes a Henry VIII power to change a list of documents.
--- Later in debate ---
16:33

Division 1

Ayes: 160


Liberal Democrat: 81
Crossbench: 51
Labour: 9
Independent: 8
Conservative: 5
Green Party: 2
Democratic Unionist Party: 1
Ulster Unionist Party: 1

Noes: 241


Conservative: 203
Crossbench: 27
Independent: 7
Democratic Unionist Party: 3
Ulster Unionist Party: 1

--- Later in debate ---
17:03

Division 2

Ayes: 136


Liberal Democrat: 79
Crossbench: 40
Independent: 6
Labour: 5
Conservative: 3
Green Party: 2

Noes: 220


Conservative: 183
Crossbench: 24
Independent: 7
Democratic Unionist Party: 4
Ulster Unionist Party: 2

--- Later in debate ---
Moved by
18: Clause 1, page 22, line 35, at end insert—
“(c) in a case where the company is or has been an employer in respect of an occupational pension scheme that is not a money purchase scheme, the Pensions Regulator, and(d) in a case where the company is an employer in respect of such a pension scheme that is an eligible scheme within the meaning given by section 126 of the Pensions Act 2004, the Board of the Pension Protection Fund.”Member’s explanatory statement
This amendment extends the duty to give notice that the monitor has changed.
--- Later in debate ---
Moved by
24: Clause 4, page 35, line 33, leave out “changing the definition of “the relevant documents”” and insert “adding to the list of documents”
Member’s explanatory statement
This amendment narrows the power to change a list of documents, so that it is confined to adding to the list. The power could subsequently be re-exercised so as to remove anything added.
--- Later in debate ---
Moved by
37: After Clause 7, insert the following new Clause—
“Administration in Great Britain: revival of power about sales to connected persons
(1) Paragraph 60A of Schedule B1 to the Insolvency Act 1986 (which expired in May 2020) is revived.(2) For sub-paragraph (10) of that paragraph substitute—“(10) This paragraph expires at the end of June 2021 unless the power conferred by it is exercised before then.””Member’s explanatory statement
This amendment revives paragraph 60A of Schedule B1 to the Insolvency Act 1986, which expired in May 2020 by virtue of the sunset provision in sub-paragraph (10) of that paragraph.
--- Later in debate ---
Lord McNicol of West Kilbride Portrait The Deputy Speaker (Lord McNicol of West Kilbride) (Lab)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I remind noble Lords that Members other than the mover of an amendment and the Minister may speak only once and that short questions of elucidation are discouraged. Anyone wishing to press this or any other amendment in the group to a Division should make that clear in the debate.

Lord Callanan Portrait Lord Callanan
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, the Government have listened carefully to the concerns raised by noble Lords in Committee and elsewhere.

Where used appropriately, pre-pack sales can perform a useful rescue function. In some instances, sales to connected parties are beneficial. However, we accept that the nature of the transaction and the speed with which it is carried out might also provide some opportunities for mischief. This could particularly be the case during the current crisis. The Government acknowledge that there may be a risk of an increase in the use of pre-pack sales, which could adversely affect businesses already struggling as a result of Covid-19.

The Government therefore propose amendments to revive the power, which expired in May 2020, to regulate sales in administration to connected parties, and to introduce a similar power in Northern Ireland. These government amendments will revive paragraph 60A in Schedule B1 to the Insolvency Act 1986. This will enable the Secretary of State to make regulations to prohibit or impose requirements or conditions in relation to the sale of property of a company by the administrator to a connected person, in circumstances specified in the regulations. This power will expire at the end of June 2021, unless it is previously exercised.

The amendments will also insert a new power in Schedule B1 to the Insolvency (Northern Ireland) Order 1989 to enable similar regulation of sales to a connected person in Northern Ireland. This power will also be time limited until the end of June 2021, unless previously exercised. Regulations made under the power in Northern Ireland must be laid in draft and approved by a resolution of the Northern Ireland Assembly. And we are going further: ahead of using the power, we will publish the Government’s review of existing voluntary measures in respect of pre-pack sales this summer to help further inform the public debate on this issue. I beg to move.

Lord Hodgson of Astley Abbotts Portrait Lord Hodgson of Astley Abbotts
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, I have Amendment 45 in this group but, before I speak on it, perhaps I may say that I entirely support the Government’s Amendments 37 and 38. They are very sensible and have my unequivocal support.

I turn to Amendment 45, to which the noble Lord, Lord Vaux, the noble Baroness, Lady Bowles, and my noble friend Lady Altmann have added their names. I am most grateful to them and indeed to other noble Lords all across the House who have been in touch with me to say that it seems a sensible way of proceeding. We discussed this matter at length last Wednesday. I shall try to avoid repeating myself, although of course I need to fill in the story for those who have just joined in at this stage.

Like my noble friends Lord Callanan, Lord Leigh and Lord Holmes of Richmond, I recognise that pre-packs have their uses. As I said in the debate last week, they are a useful spanner in the toolbox of the insolvency practitioner. However, they are open to serious abuse, as my noble friend Lord Callanan admitted a moment ago. Let us quickly run through a real-life example, and here I will slightly repeat what I said last week.

I ask noble Lords to imagine the following. You are a director of a company that is struggling because of past operating losses, which have led to large debts being accumulated; or perhaps it is a very old, established engineering or industrial company that has a long tail of pension liabilities that get increasingly heavy. Insolvency and administration loom over you, but you and your fellow directors feel that somewhere in the business is a really profitable activity. However, the company is worth saving only if you can get rid of all your debts. Therefore, you, as a group of directors—maybe with some associates—find an administrator and say that you would like to make an offer for the bits that you want. That offer might be very substantial but, equally, it might be £1 or £1,000. That is the key to the problem that we are trying to tackle here. Nobody can say that anything is wrong where a fair-value, full-price offer is made.

You make a nominal offer on, say, a Friday, which means that the company is put into administration over the weekend. On Monday, you advertise it in the newspapers and after four days, if the administrator has had no competing offers, he or she can say that they have tested the market and have obtained a fair price. It is of course vanishingly unlikely, although possible, that within four days anybody will be able to come up with an offer de novo, from a standing start. Your group, having paid the money to the administrator, is now the proud owner of a company that is without all its liabilities to suppliers great and small, local and national, as well as to the Pension Protection Fund—but you might be the very people who led the company to the edge of disaster in the first place.

Many in your Lordships’ House would ask “How could this possibly be?” It has an awfully superficially attractive political ring to it. A Minister, a councillor or a Member of Parliament can get up and say, “Look, I’ve just saved 300 jobs.” That sounds awfully good, but nobody weighs on the scale what is happening elsewhere. For every debt that you have written off, another company loses money. It might be a small local supplier that might have to make redundancies of its own and might itself, in extremis, go into receivership. There is also the general damage to the local economy, as there is to the Pension Protection Fund. This has always seemed to me, at least, to be a very unfair way of proceeding unless it is properly supervised.

--- Later in debate ---
Lord Stevenson of Balmacara Portrait Lord Stevenson of Balmacara [V]
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, my name is on Amendment 46, as I strongly support the noble Baroness, Lady Neville-Rolfe, in her attempt to revive the powers taken in the small business Act 2015. We supported her in 2015 and pressed then for action to be taken against the abuses which were occurring in the pre-pack cases that came to light at the time.

However, as the noble Baroness said, thanks mainly to the rhetoric of the noble Lord, Lord Hodgson, and my noble friend Lord Mendelsohn, the Government have done a U-turn. Therefore, purely on consistency grounds, it is logical and right that we should support Amendments 37 and 38 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Callanan. When he responds, I hope that he will confirm that he intends to use these powers and to act urgently.

I have been in discussion during the past couple of weeks with the noble Lord, Lord Hodgson of Astley Abbotts, about his Amendment 45. In the absence of government Amendments 37 and 38, I would have backed his proposal. However, I have an old-fashioned view about statutory powers being operated by non-statutory bodies such as the pre-pack pool. Given that the powers sought by Amendment 45 are contained within those to be taken under Amendments 37 and 38 and that, as the noble Lord, Lord Hodgson, admitted, there are some problems with the existing arrangements —the noble Lord, Lord Vaux, called them “murky” and denigrated the standards being achieved—I am minded to support the Government on this issue.

Lord Callanan Portrait Lord Callanan
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I thank my noble friends Lord Hodgson, Lady Altmann and Lady Neville-Rolfe, as well as the noble Lords, Lord Vaux and Lord Stevenson, and the noble Baroness, Lady Bowles, for their amendments, which would regulate pre-pack sales in administration.

It goes without saying that pre-pack sales have been a contentious subject during debates on this Bill in both Houses and, as some Members have indicated, on previous Bills. There was an impassioned debate about pre-packs in Committee, and I am grateful for the helpful contributions made during that debate by many of the aforementioned noble Lords, as well as the noble Lord, Lord Mendelsohn. I have certainly benefited from speaking to many of them in separate meetings with officials in trying to plot a route forward on this issue.

During that debate, I briefly explained some of the reasons why I did not think that Amendment 45, now brought back on Report, would be suitable. These included that the need for a positive opinion from a member of the pre-pack pool might create a potential conflict with the statutory objective of the administrator, which is to achieve a better result for creditors as a whole than if the company were wound up. There would also be a problem in that the amendment would prevent a sale without an opinion from the pre-pack pool even where the creditors had agreed that it should go ahead.

Moreover, whether a sale went ahead would be entirely dependent on a member of the pool assessing that it was not “unreasonable”, but the amendment provides no guidance on what “unreasonable” means in this context. This is likely to create significant uncertainty for businesses as to what is allowed and, of course, a significant risk of legal challenge.

Amendment 45 would capture only pre-pack transactions that had been negotiated with an associate before a company entered administration. The definition of “connected person” in paragraph 60A of Schedule B1 is drawn more widely than the definition of “associate” in Amendment 45, so the scope of the government amendment is in this case broader.

I also mentioned in Committee that there could be a difficulty in restricting supply of opinion to the pre-pack pool. I know that my noble friend Lord Hodgson expressed scepticism about my reasoning, but it is a proper concern that this could raise issues regarding anti-competitiveness.

My noble friend also suggested that pension liability could be removed. I point out to him that the Pension Protection Fund has confirmed that it does not generally see any evidence that pre-pack sales are being used to abandon pensions liabilities. Further, it considers that the Pensions Regulator has sufficient anti-avoidance powers to act as a deterrent against the misuse of pre-pack sales for the purposes of dumping a pension scheme.

I can say in response to a number of noble Lords who asked me questions—for instance, my noble friend Lady Neville-Rolfe, the noble Baroness, Lady Bowles, and the noble Lord, Lord Stevenson—that, if the government amendment is passed, we will publish in the summer a review of the existing voluntary measures to reform pre-pack sales and will set out in that report proposals for when and how we will regulate.

The amendment in the names of my noble friend Lady Neville-Rolfe and the noble Lord, Lord Stevenson, took a different approach—it would partially resurrect a previously lapsed power to regulate sales to connected persons in administration. The amendment does not quite go far enough to be workable but, as I set out earlier, we now have government amendments in that space, which I hope will work well; we have decided to table our own amendments to regulate pre-pack sales.

Having said that, and with the reassurances that I have given to the House, I hope that noble Lords will accept the assurances and information that I have been able to provide and will therefore not move their amendments when the time comes.

Amendment 37 agreed.
Moved by
38: After Clause 7, insert the following new Clause—
“Administration in Northern Ireland: power about sales to connected persons
(1) The Insolvency (Northern Ireland) Order 1989 (S.I. 1989/ 2405 (N.I. 19)) is amended as follows.(2) Schedule B1 (administration) is amended in accordance with subsections (3) to (5).(3) Paragraph 61 (powers of administrator) becomes sub-paragraph (1) of that paragraph.(4) After that sub-paragraph insert—“(2) But the power to sell, hire out or otherwise dispose of property is subject to any regulations that may be made under paragraph 61A.”(5) After paragraph 61 insert—“61 Regulations may make provision for—(a) prohibiting, or(b) imposing requirements or conditions in relation to,the disposal, hiring out or sale of property of a company by the administrator to a connected person in circumstances specified in the regulations.(2) Regulations under this paragraph may in particular require the approval of, or provide for the imposition of requirements or conditions by—(a) creditors of the company,(b) the High Court, or(c) a person of a description specified in the regulations.(3) In sub-paragraph (1), “connected person”, in relation to a company, means—(a) a relevant person in relation to the company, or(b) a company connected with the company.(4) For the purposes of sub-paragraph (3)—(a) “relevant person”, in relation to a company, means—(i) a director or other officer, or shadow director, of the company;(ii) a non-employee associate of such a person;(iii) a non-employee associate of the company;(b) a company is connected with another if any relevant person of one is or has been a relevant person of the other.(5) In sub-paragraph (4), “non-employee associate” of a person means a person who is an associate of that person otherwise than by virtue of employing or being employed by that person.(6) Paragraph (11) of Article 4 (extended definition of company) applies for the purposes of sub-paragraphs (3) to (5) as it applies for the purposes of that Article.(7) Regulations under this paragraph may make incidental, consequential, supplemental and transitional provision. (8) Regulations may not be made under this paragraph unless a draft of the regulations has been laid before, and approved by a resolution of, the Assembly.(9) This paragraph expires at the end of June 2021 unless the power conferred by it is exercised before then.”(6) In Article 2(2), in the definition of “regulations”, after the words “and paragraph 16 of Schedule A1”(which are repealed by paragraph 3(b) of Schedule 7 to this Act) insert “and paragraph 61A of Schedule B1”.”Member’s explanatory statement
This amendment confers a power to make provision under the law of Northern Ireland about sales to connected persons in the context of an administration. It is similar to the corresponding power in Great Britain (which is revived by one of the Minister’s other amendments).
--- Later in debate ---
Moved by
39: Clause 10, page 64, line 17, leave out from “30” to end of line 18 and insert “September 2020.”
Member’s explanatory statement
This amendment alters the definition of the “relevant period” that applies for the purposes of Clause 10 so that the period ends with 30 September 2020.
--- Later in debate ---
Moved by
41: Clause 11, page 65, line 40, leave out from “30” to end of line 41 and insert “September 2020.”
Member’s explanatory statement
This amendment alters the definition of the “relevant period” that applies for the purposes of Clause 11 so that the period ends with 30 September 2020.
--- Later in debate ---
Moved by
43: Clause 13, page 70, line 10, leave out from “30” to end of line 11 and insert “September 2020.”
Member’s explanatory statement
This amendment alters the definition of the “relevant period” that applies for the purposes of subsection (1)(a) of Clause 13 so that the period ends with 30 September 2020.
--- Later in debate ---
18:29

Division 3

Ayes: 155


Liberal Democrat: 77
Crossbench: 49
Labour: 10
Conservative: 7
Independent: 7
Democratic Unionist Party: 3
Green Party: 1

Noes: 326


Conservative: 191
Labour: 104
Crossbench: 18
Independent: 9
Ulster Unionist Party: 2
Plaid Cymru: 1

--- Later in debate ---
Moved by
47: Clause 20, page 79, line 6, at end insert—
“( ) the need for the provision made by the regulations is urgent,”Member’s explanatory statement
This amendment makes urgency a condition of the exercise of the power in Clause 18.
--- Later in debate ---
Moved by
49: Clause 22, page 80, line 14, leave out from “which is” to end of line 15 and insert—
“(i) after the period of one year beginning with the date for the time being specified in subsection (1), or(ii) after the period of two years beginning with the date on which this Act is passed, but”Member’s explanatory statement
This amendment prevents regulations under Clause 18 being made more than two years after Royal Assent.
--- Later in debate ---
Moved by
51: Clause 24, page 80, line 29, after “applies,” insert “or
(b) regulations made under section 23 which make provision by amending an Act or an Act of the Scottish Parliament,”.Member’s explanatory statement
This amendment and the Minister’s final amendment to Clause 24 provide for regulations under Clause 23 (consequential provision etc) which amend an Act or an Act of the Scottish Parliament to be subject to the made affirmative procedure.
--- Later in debate ---
Moved by
54: Clause 28, page 83, line 5, at end insert—
“( ) the need for the provision made by the regulations is urgent,”Member’s explanatory statement
This amendment makes urgency a condition of the exercise of the power in Clause 26.
--- Later in debate ---
Moved by
55: Clause 30, page 84, line 11, leave out from “which is” to end of line 12 and insert—
“(i) after the period of one year beginning with the date for the time being specified in subsection (1), or(ii) after the period of two years beginning with the date on which this Act is passed, but”Member’s explanatory statement
This amendment prevents regulations under Clause 26 being made more than two years after Royal Assent.
--- Later in debate ---
Moved by
56: Clause 32, page 84, line 28, after “applies,” insert “and regulations made under section 31 by the Department which make provision by amending an Act or Northern Ireland legislation,”
Member’s explanatory statement
This amendment and the Minister’s final amendment to Clause 32 provide for regulations made by the Department for the Economy under Clause 31 (consequential provision etc) which amend an Act or Northern Ireland primary legislation to be subject to the made affirmative procedure in the Northern Ireland Assembly.
--- Later in debate ---
Moved by
59: Clause 33, page 85, line 22, after “applies,” insert “or
(b) regulations made under section 31 by the Secretary of State which make provision by amending an Act,”Member’s explanatory statement
This amendment and the Minister’s final amendment to Clause 33 provide for regulations made by the Secretary of State under Clause 31 (consequential provision etc) which amend an Act to be subject to the made affirmative procedure.
--- Later in debate ---
Moved by
62: Clause 39, page 88, line 43, at end insert “if the Secretary of State considers it reasonable to do so to mitigate an effect of coronavirus.”
Member’s explanatory statement
This amendment would mean that the power to make regulations under clause 39(1)(b) could be exercised only if the Secretary of State considered it reasonable to exercise the power to mitigate an effect of coronavirus.
--- Later in debate ---
Moved by
64: Clause 40, page 89, line 34, at end insert “if the Department considers it reasonable to do so to mitigate an effect of coronavirus.”
Member’s explanatory statement
This amendment would mean that the power to make regulations under Clause 40(1)(b) could be exercised only if the Department for the Economy in Northern Ireland considered it reasonable to exercise the power to mitigate an effect of coronavirus.
--- Later in debate ---
Moved by
66: Clause 41, page 90, line 39, leave out “negative resolution” and insert “made affirmative”
Member’s explanatory statement
This amendment changes Clause 41 so that provision that could formerly have been made by the negative resolution procedure now has to be made by the made affirmative procedure (or the affirmative procedure).
--- Later in debate ---
Moved by
69: Clause 42, page 91, line 35, leave out “negative resolution” and insert “made affirmative”
Member’s explanatory statement
This amendment changes Clause 42 so that provision that could formerly have been made by the negative resolution procedure now has to be made by the made affirmative procedure (or the affirmative procedure).
--- Later in debate ---
Moved by
71: Clause 43, page 92, line 12, after “procedure” insert “(see section 29 of the Interpretation and Legislative Reform (Scotland) Act 2010 (asp 10))”
Member’s explanatory statement
This amendment is needed in light of the Minister’s other amendment to Clause 43(1).
--- Later in debate ---
Moved by
74: After Clause 43, insert the following new Clause—
“Modified procedure for regulations of Northern Ireland departments
(1) During the period of six months beginning with the day on which this section comes into force, any relevant provision that may be made by a Northern Ireland department by regulations that are subject to the affirmative resolution procedure may be made by regulations that are subject to the made affirmative procedure.(2) In subsection (1)“relevant provision” means—(a) provision under Article 13HA(1) of the Insolvency (Northern Ireland) Order 1989 (power to modify moratorium provisions in relation to certain companies);(b) provision under Article 13HAA(1) of that Order (moratorium: power to make provision in connection with pension schemes).(3) For the purposes of this section—(a) “regulations that are subject to the affirmative resolution procedure” means regulations that may not be made unless a draft of the regulations has been laid before, and approved by a resolution of, the Assembly; (b) “regulations that are subject to the made affirmative procedure” means regulations that—(i) must be laid before the Assembly as soon as reasonably practicable after being made, and(ii) cease to have effect at the end of the period of 40 days beginning with the day on which the regulations are made, unless during that period the regulations are approved by a resolution of the Assembly.(4) In calculating the period of 40 days mentioned in subsection (3)(b)(ii), no account is to be taken of any time during which the Assembly is—(a) dissolved,(b) in recess for more than 4 days, or(c) adjourned for more than 6 days.(5) Where by virtue of this section a Northern Ireland department makes regulations that are subject to the made affirmative procedure and the regulations cease to have effect because they are not approved within the period mentioned in subsection (3)(b)(ii), the fact that the regulations cease to have effect does not—(a) affect anything previously done under or by virtue of the regulations, or(b) prevent the making of new regulations.(5) In this section “the Assembly” means the Northern Ireland Assembly.”Member’s explanatory statement
This amendment modifies the regulation-making procedure for certain regulations for the first six months.
--- Later in debate ---
Moved by
76: Schedule 1, page 103, line 2, after “Schedule” insert “, apart from paragraph 2,”
Member’s explanatory statement
This amendment limits the Secretary of State’s power to amend new Schedule ZA1 so that it cannot be used to amend paragraph 2 (exclusion from eligibility for companies subject to moratorium or insolvency procedure etc).
--- Later in debate ---
Moved by
77: Schedule 3, page 107, line 24, leave out from “debts” to end of line 27 and insert “(within the meaning given by section 174A);
(b) priority pre-moratorium debts (within the meaning given by section 174A).” Member’s explanatory statement
This amendment reflects the changes made by the Minister’s amendments to new section 174A of the Insolvency Act 1986 (on page 109 of the Bill).
--- Later in debate ---
Moved by
85: Schedule 4, page 124, line 26, leave out from “30” to end of line 27 and insert “September 2020.”
Member’s explanatory statement
This amendment alters the definition of the “relevant period” that applies for the purposes of Schedule 4 so that the period ends with 30 September 2020.
--- Later in debate ---
Moved by
86: Schedule 5, page 154, line 7, after “Schedule” insert “, apart from paragraph 2,”
Member’s explanatory statement
This amendment limits the Department’s power to amend new Schedule ZA1 so that it cannot be used to amend paragraph 2 (exclusion from eligibility for companies subject to moratorium or insolvency procedure etc).
--- Later in debate ---
Moved by
87: Schedule 7, page 158, line 17, after ““Part 1A,”” insert “Article 148A(3A),”
Member’s explanatory statement
This amendment paves the way for the Minister’s amendments to new Article 148A of the Insolvency (Northern Ireland) Order 1989 (on page 160 of the Bill).
--- Later in debate ---
Moved by
96: Schedule 8, page 168, line 11, leave out from “30” to end of line 12 and insert “September 2020.”
Member’s explanatory statement
This amendment alters the definition of the “relevant period” that applies for the purposes of Schedule 8 so that the period ends with 30 September 2020.
--- Later in debate ---
Moved by
97: Schedule 9, page 186, line 24, leave out from second “a” to end of line 28 and insert “priority pre-moratorium debt.”
Member’s explanatory statement
See the explanatory statement for the Minister’s second amendment on page 186 of the Bill.
--- Later in debate ---
Moved by
102: Schedule 10, page 205, line 30, leave out from “30” to end of line 31 and insert “September 2020.”
Member’s explanatory statement
This amendment alters the definition of the “relevant period” that applies for the purposes of Part 1 of Schedule 10 so that the period ends with 30 September 2020.
--- Later in debate ---
Moved by
104: Schedule 10, page 212, line 6, leave out from “30” to end of line 7 and insert “September 2020.”
Member’s explanatory statement
This amendment alters the definition of the “relevant period” that applies for the purposes of Part 2 of Schedule 10 so that the period ends with 30 September 2020.
--- Later in debate ---
Moved by
105: Schedule 11, page 213, line 16, leave out from “30” to end of line 17 and insert “September 2020.”
Member’s explanatory statement
This amendment alters the definition of the “relevant period” that applies for the purposes of Part 1 of Schedule 11 so that the period ends with 30 September 2020.
--- Later in debate ---
Moved by
107: Schedule 11, page 218, line 41, leave out from “30” to end of line 42 and insert “September 2020.”
Member’s explanatory statement
This amendment alters the definition of the “relevant period” that applies for the purposes of Part 2 of Schedule 11 so that the period ends with 30 September 2020.
--- Later in debate ---
Moved by
108: Schedule 14, page 236, line 5, leave out “or the Treasury under” and insert “under paragraph 2(2)(a) of”
Member’s explanatory statement
This amendment is consequential on the Minister’s other amendment to Schedule 14

Corporate Insolvency and Governance Bill

(Limited Text - Ministerial Extracts only)

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Tuesday 23rd June 2020

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This text is a record of ministerial contributions to a debate held as part of the Corporate Insolvency and Governance Act 2020 passage through Parliament.

In 1993, the House of Lords Pepper vs. Hart decision provided that statements made by Government Ministers may be taken as illustrative of legislative intent as to the interpretation of law.

This extract highlights statements made by Government Ministers along with contextual remarks by other members. The full debate can be read here

This information is provided by Parallel Parliament and does not comprise part of the offical record

Moved by
Lord Callanan Portrait Lord Callanan
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That the Bill do now pass.

Lord Callanan Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (Lord Callanan) (Con)
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My Lords, first, I thank the House of Lords Public Bill Office and the House clerks for their support and their extremely hard work in ensuring that this emergency Bill could be expedited through the House to support businesses as a matter of urgency in these unprecedented times.

Secondly, I place on record my thanks to the Bill team, Andy Ormerod-Cloke, Muneera Lula, Jess Bradbury and all the team, both in BEIS and in the Insolvency Service, who have worked so hard on the Bill. I am sure Members will appreciate the untold hours that went in on evenings and weekends to assist in the progress of this legislation and to provide help and guidance to me, my noble friends Lady Bloomfield and Lord Howe and many other noble Lords who we have spoken to and consulted over the last couple of weeks on all sides of the House. I am grateful to all Members for their contributions. The Bill team and the Insolvency Service did a splendid job operating in, let us not forget, extremely difficult circumstances. They can be proud of their work and they are a credit to the Civil Service.

I also thank my private office team, Marty and Jenny, for ably assisting me in co-ordinating the various bits of government to come together on the Bill. I pay tribute to the Opposition spokesmen: the noble Lords, Lord Stevenson and Lord Fox. This made a pleasant change from my previous job, piloting the Brexit legislation through, where, as Members can imagine, there was no common ground whatever. This has been an historic day: I have actually won three votes in the House, which is the quite amazing pinnacle of my ministerial career. It can only be downhill from here. I am grateful to them for their constructive engagement. They have acted responsibly, recognising that this is emergency legislation, and have worked with us to improve the legislation where that was required. On behalf of the Government, we have been pleased to accept the many constructive contributions. The Bill leaves this House in a much better and improved form than when it entered it. We have been responsible and have acted where necessary, and I hope Members will agree that the Government have responded to their concerns.

I mentioned them earlier but I the other members of the ministerial team—my noble friends Lady Bloomfield and Lord Howe—who have assisted me in pushing this measure through. As a result of this legislation, I hope that many otherwise viable companies will no longer face the threat of insolvency. The measures that the Bill introduces will give our businesses the vital support that they need to keep themselves afloat, thereby preserving jobs and maintaining productive capacity, enabling the foundations to be late for this country’s economic recovery.

Once again, I thank noble Lords for their scrutiny of the Bill. It has, as I said, been much improved thanks to the amendments that have been made during its passage. I hope Members will think that the Government played a constructive role in reacting to many of the concerns they have raised. I hope that the other place will promptly accept these amendments so that the Bill can come into force as a matter of urgency. I beg to move.

Lord Fox Portrait Lord Fox
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My Lords, the Minister was right that this is an important Bill because it is about people’s jobs, livelihoods and future prosperity. I think we all agreed from the outset that that was the objective here, and in many respects we have managed to fulfil it. I join the Minister in thanking the Public Bill Office, which as usual has been extremely helpful when it comes to marshalling our amendments.

I especially pick out the Bill team. Normally when I look at the Box over there, there is a team looking tired, wan and reasonably pleased that their job is reaching the end. They must have had some very long days. I assume that the Bill team are somewhere out there in the ether, so I thank them for their work.

I thank my own team: my colleagues who have sat through this process, on the Benches and virtually, and Sarah Pughe, who has kept us more or less on the straight and narrow. I thank my opposite number the noble Lord, Lord Stevenson, and the ministerial team—the noble Lord, Lord Callanan, the noble Earl, Lord Howe, and the noble Baroness, Lady Bloomfield—for their open and cheerful approach to the Bill. I think we got a glimpse of why the noble Lord was cheerful: this Bill is nowhere near as bad as what he has just been doing.

That is true, but it was still a difficult Bill. It is a big Bill of mixed intent, in that some of it is permanent and some of it is not, and it was an accelerated process. It has not been easy, and of course we leave here wishing that things were different from the way they are. This feels like the end of something but I suspect, given the powers and the intent that the Government have to trim, modify and improve the Bill, it may be a question not of “Farewell” but rather of “See you later”.

Corporate Insolvency and Governance Bill

(Limited Text - Ministerial Extracts only)

Read Full debate
Consideration of Lords amendments & Ping Pong & Ping Pong: House of Commons
Thursday 25th June 2020

(2 years, 1 month ago)

Commons Chamber
Consideration of Lords amendments Page Read Hansard Text Amendment Paper: HL Bill 114-I Marshalled list for Report - (18 Jun 2020)

This text is a record of ministerial contributions to a debate held as part of the Corporate Insolvency and Governance Act 2020 passage through Parliament.

In 1993, the House of Lords Pepper vs. Hart decision provided that statements made by Government Ministers may be taken as illustrative of legislative intent as to the interpretation of law.

This extract highlights statements made by Government Ministers along with contextual remarks by other members. The full debate can be read here

This information is provided by Parallel Parliament and does not comprise part of the offical record

Nigel Evans Portrait Mr Deputy Speaker (Mr Nigel Evans)
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With this we may take Lords amendments 2 to 116.

Paul Scully Portrait Paul Scully
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The Corporate Insolvency and Governance Bill has been a demonstration of what can be achieved in the best interests of businesses, jobs and the country’s economic future when there is collaborative work across both sides of the House. I am grateful to hon. and right hon. Members for the constructive way in which the Opposition have engaged with the Bill, both in this House and the other place.

Over the past three months, this country has faced the unprecedented hardship of needing to adhere to stringent social distancing measures due to the covid-19 pandemic, where Government had no choice but to order businesses to close their doors to safeguard the nation’s health. We recognise the huge sacrifices that has entailed, and my right hon. Friend the Chancellor has provided unprecedented economic support to businesses and workers across the country to help them make it through this challenging time.

Some UK businesses have been hit hard, with many unable to trade or facing a significant short-term reduction in demand for goods and services. As a result, many otherwise viable companies face the threat of insolvency.

Stephen Doughty Portrait Stephen Doughty (Cardiff South and Penarth) (Lab/Co-op)
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With regard to Lords amendment 75, which extends the temporary provisions to 30 September, the Minister is absolutely right that a lot of businesses can survive this crisis, but they need these measures in place. They also need the packages of support from the Treasury alongside the legislative changes. The clock is ticking for many, particularly in the theatre and entertainment industry, the steel industry and others affected in my constituency. Does he agree that we need to see financial packages too?

Paul Scully Portrait Paul Scully
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I agree with the hon. Gentleman that it is important that we remain flexible. We continue to work with businesses from all sectors to ensure that we can get to a point where we can work through the gears to get a full economic recovery over time. That will mean support from the Government in all manner of ways, which we are considering.

Edward Leigh Portrait Sir Edward Leigh (Gainsborough) (Con)
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We have no idea what will happen—there could be a second lockdown or other things; we do not know. Will the Minister comment on the necessity or value of including in the Bill a review procedure, which, if something changes, would allow the Government to be fleet of foot in aiding businesses? That particularly applies to those who lose their premises because of the difficult economic situation and who may find it very difficult to find new ones.

Paul Scully Portrait Paul Scully
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I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for that intervention. He will note that the Government have extended the moratorium on the forfeiture of leases due to covid-19 debts to 30 September, with which the amendments in the Bill have become aligned. In my conversations with retail and hospitality in particular, but not solely with them, I have been exercised by property and the balance between landlord and tenant. We must keep an eye on that.

Jim Shannon Portrait Jim Shannon (Strangford) (DUP)
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I recognise that what the Minister is bringing forward is important. We thank the Government and him for what they are doing. In relation to circumstances in the regional devolved Administrations—the Northern Ireland Assembly, the Scottish Parliament and the Welsh Assembly—there may be peculiarities in those systems that mean businesses are particularly under threat or having problems specific to those regions. Does the Minister feel that within the Bill we can get help through the devolved Administrations, and in Northern Ireland through the Assembly, to those businesses and, in particular, tourism?

Paul Scully Portrait Paul Scully
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I agree with the hon. Gentleman that it is so important that we work with all parts of the nation and all the devolved Administrations, which we do regularly. My colleague my hon. Friend the Member for Stratford-on-Avon (Nadhim Zahawi) has regular conversations from our Department, and other Departments liaise closely with the devolved Administrations to ensure that local economies are protected, as well as looking at the overall national picture.

The measures that the Bill introduces will give our businesses the vital support they need to keep afloat, preserving jobs, maintaining productive capacity and enabling the foundations to be laid for the country’s economic recovery. Saving lives and livelihoods is at the heart of what we are seeking to achieve. Measures such as the new moratorium and restructuring plan, together with a prohibition on contractual termination clauses, will help more businesses in future to survive rather than become insolvent. Many of the permanent measures have been improved through scrutiny in the other place, and I will set out some details of the amendments that the Government have brought forward to ensure that the measures work as intended.

I turn first to the financial services super priority amendments.  The Government want to prevent firms gaming the system through a moratorium. Our amendments seek to disincentivise financial services creditors from seeking to accelerate their pre-moratorium debt solely to benefit from super priority should the company fail, or to obtain protection from compromise if a restructuring proposal was put to them. The amendments exclude pre-moratorium financial services debts from having super priority status in a subsequent administration or liquidation where the financial services debt has been accelerated for payment during the moratorium. That ensures that the correct incentives are in place for the moratorium to work effectively and not be brought to an end prematurely.

On amendments relating to pensions, the aim of the measures in the Bill is to rescue a company, which is ultimately the best outcome for its pension scheme. Nevertheless, the Government have been alive to the concern that the new procedures could result in a pension scheme being disadvantaged as an unsecured creditor of the company. As a result, we agreed that there is a need to build in specific protections. Amendments made in the other place ensure that the pensions regulator and the Pension Protection Fund get appropriate information in the case of both a moratorium and a restructuring plan and that the PPF can challenge through the courts, the directors and the monitor of a company in a moratorium. There is also a regulation-making power, which will allow the PPF to be given creditor rights in both procedures in certain circumstances. I hope that hon. and right hon. Members will agree that these are important and fair amendments to the Bill.

We have also made amendments to the temporary measures in the Bill. These temporary measures allow businesses to focus on what is important for their survival through this extraordinary period, rather than having to respond to aggressive creditor actions, or struggle with statutory filing or meeting requirements during the disruption. The amendments to the temporary insolvency provisions in the Bill extend the life of those provisions beyond what was proposed when the Bill first came to the House. They will now expire, as I have said, on 30 September.

It is already clear that businesses will need these measures in place for longer than we first anticipated, and we brought forward amendments in the other place to take account of that. The provisions retain the capacity to be extended further through a regulation-making power should it be required, and the affirmative procedure will apply to such regulations.

Amendments have been made in the Bill in relation to pre-pack sales in administrations. Pre-packs are a valuable tool for saving businesses and jobs. However, concerns have been raised about the lack of scrutiny of them. The amendments reinstate a power that had elapsed earlier this year for the Government to regulate pre-pack sales in administrations to connected parties. The Government will look carefully at pre-packs and I can inform the House that a commitment was made by my ministerial colleague, Lord Callanan, to review current practices in the summer before making any decision on regulatory changes.

Finally, a number of technical amendments have been made to the Bill where it was judged necessary. These include changes that will restrict the period for which certain powers have been given in the Bill that will be available to Ministers, changes to clarify the intended effect of the legislation, and changes which place a condition on the use of some powers. We have ensured that there is appropriate parliamentary scrutiny of any regulation made under the Bill, as well as appropriate safeguards on these powers. Where they relate to powers for a Scottish or Welsh Minister or a Northern Ireland Department, the corresponding change has been made to ensure equal scrutiny for all the Parliaments of the UK.

This Bill has been improved by the scrutiny of the House of Lords Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee, as well as by the incredible work of the Government’s own parliamentary counsel and their legal advisers. I hope that the House will agree that making good, accurate, appropriately balanced and clear legislation is very much in the interests of all, not least of businesses that rely on this legal clarity. I am confident that we have now achieved that in this package, which we have, nevertheless, brought forward as quickly as possible to respond to the covid emergency. Taken together, these amendments improve this important and much-needed Bill. The debates and discussions in this House, as well as in the other place, have shown quite what this Parliament can achieve, even if socially distanced, when we share that common aim to save and support businesses in this emergency context. I therefore call on Members to support all the Lords amendments.

Chi Onwurah Portrait Chi Onwurah (Newcastle upon Tyne Central) (Lab)
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I want to start by echoing the constructive tone of the Minister and thanking everyone, both in this place and the other place, who has been involved in the scrutiny of the Bill. I also want to thank the Minister specifically for how he and his colleagues have engaged with us on this Bill and listened to the concerns we have had as it has progressed. We on the Labour Benches welcome the amendments that the Government have brought forward, which improve and strengthen the Bill in some important regards. As we have said previously, this is just one of the measures that we hope will safeguard businesses and livelihoods through this crisis. Our objective as the Opposition is to be constructive and to ensure that businesses get the support they need now and in the longer term, and that the number of insolvencies over coming weeks and months is as few as possible. We back this Bill, but we are clear that it is a last resort for many businesses and that there is much, much more for the Government to do now—now—to support businesses, safeguard our economy and protect jobs and livelihoods, so that the measures passed today only have to be used in a limited number of companies.

--- Later in debate ---
Paul Scully Portrait Paul Scully
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First, I thank for their contributions all right hon. and hon. Members who have spoken in this and previous debates on the Bill. Overall, it is reassuring to me, and I am sure to the country, to see that the House can come together to provide constructive and challenging scrutiny of important legislation while moving quickly towards agreement in the national interest. The amendments made to the Bill since we last saw it have strengthened its ability to deliver on its ultimate aim of supporting business and reducing the threat of insolvency faced by many during this challenging time.

I thank the hon. Member for Newcastle upon Tyne Central (Chi Onwurah) for her kind words about the engagement on the Bill. She highlighted the need to address sector-specific issues, including those faced by aerospace, the automotive sector and the steel industry. The measures in the Bill apply to companies across all sectors of the economy, including airlines and the automotive industry, provided they meet the relevant eligibility criteria, for example to enter into the moratorium. Ministers and officials are in regular contact with representatives of the steel industry and will continue to work closely with it to determine how steel companies can access the support required at this extremely challenging time.

We know that all sectors must get as much support as possible. As my hon. Friend the Member for North East Bedfordshire (Richard Fuller) said, we must also come back to a sense of business as normal, so that we can start to move through the gears to get the economic recovery that we all want to see, knowing that it will not happen overnight—there is no light-switch moment—but that we must all come together to make that happen.

The hon. Member for Newcastle upon Tyne Central made the point that the financial market is changing rapidly, which is why there remains a regulation-making power in the Bill to adapt as markets do. She also raised the role of employees. My ministerial colleague, Lord Callanan, committed in the other place to the Government’s plan to conduct a review of the permanent measures in the Bill within three years, with a focus on the impact on employees. We will not hesitate to make changes if that review suggests that there is a need to.

My hon. Friend the Member for North East Bedfordshire asked about pensions. He is correct that the interaction between certain measures in the Bill and the pensions legislation gives rise to a number of complex issues. Setting out the detail in regulations will help us to ensure that the balance between trustees’ rights as creditors and the Pension Protection Fund’s interests can be achieved and quickly amended as case law relating to part 26A develops. The pensions framework is, to a great extent, set out in regulations, which allows the law to develop and respond to changes in the market. It is right and proper that the Pension Protection Fund and the Pensions Regulator are able to play a role in the new procedures when it is appropriate for them to do, and that is what the Government amendments allow for.

The Pension Schemes Bill will be in the other place at the end of this month. That Bill builds on the Government’s commitment to tighten the rules on abuse of pension schemes by improving the Pensions Regulator’s power. My hon. Friend asked about the regulations that allow an extension of the temporary changes. Of course, where required, the Government will not hesitate to extend the measures, but we will not extend them indefinitely. We will consider the individual merits of each measure before any further blanket extensions. As he said, it is important that business gets back to usual, but it is also important that shareholders get their say fully at an annual general meeting, as well as at share- holder days. Although we allow directors the leniency to concentrate on their own business rather than their responsibilities to Companies House, there comes a time when we must get back to business as usual, so that Companies House can record companies’ measures.

Richard Fuller Portrait Richard Fuller
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I do not want to delay my hon. Friend’s speech, but the point I was trying to make is that clarity about a change of rules is very important for directors, and that also applies to a change in regulations. If there is an extension, it needs the same debate and airing that we have had at this stage, and when these regulations end, that also needs to be communicated as clearly as possible.

Paul Scully Portrait Paul Scully
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I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his intervention. The Department and the Government have been engaging with businesses to try to give that clarity. It has not always been possible, as we move in real time. Those of us who run businesses are used to making decisions in real time. What we are doing at the moment is about as close to real time as it gets for a Government. Normally, consultations can take months, and policy changes can take years. We have been working from day to day sometimes.

I congratulate the hon. Member for Inverness, Nairn, Badenoch and Strathspey (Drew Hendry) on his new grandson, Cameron—what a brilliant name. I do not know whether it was inspired by a former Prime Minister; maybe not. I hope that his joyous, optimistic and collaborative comments were not coloured by that fantastic news and that that relationship will carry on.

The hon. Gentleman raised the issue of HMRC’s status in the Finance Bill. This is something that came up clearly through the procedure. It is a matter for my colleagues in Her Majesty’s Treasury, but I can say that the role of HMRC is to ensure that tax paid by employees and customers rightly pays for public good. With regard to corporation taxes, HMRC’s status remains the same. I appreciate his input and I am grateful for the way that he has engaged with me and the team. I agree that it is very important that we protect as many jobs as possible. I will continue to work with my colleagues to ensure that we are doing as much as we possibly can to protect the jobs of the young, and the less young.

Drew Hendry Portrait Drew Hendry
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I am grateful to the Minister for his kind comments. I would say in passing that there has to be at least one good Cameron mentioned in this House.

I have asked about a range of things, in addition to the HMRC issue, that are not within the Minister’s direct power. One of them was supporting minor changes to borrowing powers to allow the Scottish Government to take decisions themselves to support economies locally. That is important, as he said. Will he take that forward with his colleagues in order to make sure that we can have those measures taken in Scotland?

Paul Scully Portrait Paul Scully
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I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman. Clearly, these are all things that we will continue to look at.

The hon. Gentleman talked about the hospitality sector. Let me reassure him that the Government recognise that this sector is particularly hard hit by closure. I have regular conversations with representatives of the hospitality sector, including, most recently, only yesterday. They were very pleased and optimistic about the fact that we have now been able to change the rules within England and start giving them the certainty that they need to reopen. I look forward to successful reopening in England and, in time, in Scotland as well. It is so important that we work with the hospitality sector. The three winters issue that he described has been raised with me and I do appreciate it.

This shows the interlinking of the economy. I also hold the position of Minister for London. The hon. Member for Richmond Park (Sarah Olney) talked about culture. With regard to the hotel sector in London, people do not tend to go to a hotel just to sleep in another bed—they come, they sleep and they go because of the theatres, the restaurants and the culture around the area. It is therefore important that we get each of these sectors up and running. That is why we have these frequent discussions and work as collaboratively as we can. That also gives us the understanding we need in order to inform our support. A range of hospitality bodies and companies were consulted on the safer workplaces guidance, for example.

The hon. Member for Richmond Park talked of striking a balance, which is what we have tried to do in this Bill. I am grateful to her colleagues for making the point so clearly that measures are needed for longer. I hope she will agree that the Government have taken on board those concerns. She also spoke about the theatre sector. I know the Orange Tree. I tend to know the Orange Tree pub next door a little bit better than I do the theatre, but I know the great work that it does in the community. I will take her concerns back to colleagues.

Let me take this opportunity to thank the House of Commons Public Bill Office and the House Clerks for ensuring that this vital piece of legislation could be expedited through the House and consequently come into force as a matter of urgency. The support they have provided has been invaluable. I thank the officials who have brought this legislation into existence: my Bill team of Andy Ormerod-Clarke, Muneera Lula, Jess Bradbury, James Roddy and Alice Roycroft. All those in the teams in BEIS and the Insolvency Service—there are too many mention—have worked tirelessly, across weekends and in the evenings, to make sure that we could bring this to bear as quickly as possible. I want to mention the lawyers who have worked day and night, some of them with very young children, to draft this legislation: in particular, Jo Ashida, Denise Fawcett, Samihah El-Gindy, David Anderson, and our lead parliamentary counsel, Diggory Bailey.

I pay tribute to the policy leads, some of whom have worked in this area for many years, and who have worked with outside experts to make sure that we had the measures right: Steve Chown, Simon Whiting, Laura Bardsley, Rob Mak and many, many more. Colleagues from HMT, the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government and the DWP have also been invaluable. I pay tribute to all the organisations and representatives of businesses, consumers, workers, shareholders, investors and insolvency experts who have engaged with us in developing these proposals.

I conclude by mentioning those for whom this Bill is intended: the millions of business owners up and down our country who are keeping Britain moving. I say to them: please keep it up. Let us keep moving and let us bounce back our economy as and when the limitations and the restrictions are lifted.

Lords amendment 1 agreed to.

Lords amendments 2 to 116 agreed to.

Nigel Evans Portrait Mr Deputy Speaker (Mr Nigel Evans)
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I am sure we all wish baby Cameron Hendry the very best of health and luck for the future.

I suspend the House for three minutes.