Corporate Insolvency and Governance Bill

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

(4 years, 1 month ago)

Lords Chamber
Corporate Insolvency and Governance Act 2020 View all Corporate Insolvency and Governance Act 2020 Debates Read Hansard Text Amendment Paper: HL Bill 113-I Marshalled list for Committee - (11 Jun 2020)
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.

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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)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

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
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

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]
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

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
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

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]
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

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]
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

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
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

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]
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

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)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

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.