Rating (Coronavirus) and Directors Disqualification (Dissolved Companies) Bill Debate

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Department: Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy

Rating (Coronavirus) and Directors Disqualification (Dissolved Companies) Bill

Baroness Blake of Leeds Excerpts
Wednesday 10th November 2021

(7 months, 3 weeks ago)

Grand Committee
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Baroness Pinnock Portrait Baroness Pinnock (LD)
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My Lords, I draw attention to my relevant interests as set out in the register, as a vice-president of the Local Government Association and a member of Kirklees Council.

My noble friend Lady Garden is not able to be here today, due to another commitment over the way, but she asked me to speak briefly on her behalf. My noble friend is especially concerned about the impact on English language schools. It is a significant issue that these and other businesses may not even qualify for the relief or the grants set out by the Government during the pandemic. The criteria for the qualification of grant funding are desperately needed—the noble Lord, Lord Cormack, has just expanded to that effect. This is a concern that I intend to raise when I speak on the second group in more detail, with its amendments in my name and that of my noble friend Lord Fox.

The noble Lord, Lord Hunt, and the noble Earl, Lord Lytton, have made a compelling case for the Government to move—to quote their favourite phrase—“with pace” to respond to the significant concerns raised. The failure of the Government to act swiftly since the announcement of this potential grant funding in May, and then its confirmation a couple of weeks ago, is putting businesses in jeopardy through no fault of their own. I do not think any Member across the House would do other than condemn that situation. These businesses need to be able to apply for the grants, and for rate relief, to enable their businesses to stay afloat. That is the bottom line for all.

I support what has been said regarding Clause 1 standing part, although I also agree with the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, that we want the Bill to succeed and are using this opportunity to raise these serious points. Those are the words that my noble friend Lady Garden would have said.

Baroness Blake of Leeds Portrait Baroness Blake of Leeds (Lab)
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My Lords, I thank noble Lords for drawing attention to the inadequacies of the situation that we are in. Until February this year, I was leader of Leeds City Council and we had the difficult job of working with businesses, when the complexity of the welcome resource that was available was challenging, to decide who was worthy of getting the relief and who was not. The comments made today just highlight the difficulties that local authorities are still having to face. I speak now as a vice-president of the LGA and am mindful of its input to this debate.

I thank my noble friend Lord Hunt for focusing on one specific sector and area, because that helps us to understand just what particular sectors are going through. We know that language schools are not the only area having problems but the noble Earl, Lord Lytton, referred to the loss of expertise, knowledge and experience. All those things add up to what we hope will be viable businesses as we emerge from this. In line with the comments they made, and continued by the noble Lord, Lord Cormack, we are faced with a situation across business and local authorities where there is now a lack of confidence, and concern at the lack of consistency and certainty. I hope that the Minister will be able to put our minds at rest on this.

We have had a good discussion regarding our concerns about how the figure of £1.5 billion was achieved. My concern here is that while we talk in terms of billions, we actually need to drill it down to the cost for businesses. I think what we are looking for collectively in the answers is a recognition of the urgency and the detail, and to hear when and how this is to be brought forward.

Lord Greenhalgh Portrait The Minister of State, Home Office and Department for Levelling Up, Housing & Communities (Lord Greenhalgh) (Con)
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My Lords, I am grateful to noble Lords for the opportunity to speak to the benefits of Clause 1 of the Bill, which has received broad support throughout its passage. I will shortly come to the particular concerns of the noble Lord, Lord Hunt of Kings Heath, and the noble Earl, Lord Lytton, as well as those of the noble Baroness, Lady Garden of Frognal, so ably put by the noble Baroness, Lady Pinnock. They eloquently set out their objections, wanting to promote a wider debate about the need for clarity around guidance and the urgency of this measure. I will endeavour to respond to those concerns.

Clause 1 provides that coronavirus and the Government’s response to it should not be considered a legitimate basis for a successful material change of circumstance appeal. There are many thousands of these appeals currently in the system; the passage of the Bill will ensure that they do not stand. It is important that we clarify through this legislative measure that the impact of coronavirus will be accounted for at the next revaluation, rather than becoming a legitimate ground for appeal between revaluations. Failing to do so would clog up the courts, undermine local government finances and cause the MCC legislation to be used in a way that was not intended when it was passed. As noble Lords will recall, the provision for MCCs was not intended to reflect market-wide economic effects, which are rightly considered at general revaluations, the next of which will be in 2023.

The Government have received widespread support from parliamentarians in both Houses for this measure. There has been general approval of Clause 1 as a necessary measure to remove a significant source of financial uncertainty from local government, as well as to ensure that the law relating to business rates appeals operates as intended. The noble Lords who tabled this amendment provided by way of explanation that they wish to prompt a wider discussion of the Government’s plans relating to the £1.5 billion of business rates relief that we have promised, on top of the £16 billion of relief already provided to businesses throughout the pandemic.

As the Government have made clear, the £1.5 billion is intended to enable local authorities to provide targeted support to the sectors most affected by the pandemic but which have not benefited from support linked to business rates. Within those sectors, the relief will enable councils to award relief to businesses that they consider the most affected by the pandemic, using their local knowledge and, obviously, having regard to the government guidance. I am confident that it will prove to be a far more effective and faster way of directing support to businesses impacted by the pandemic than the MCC challenge process. That is in part because councils use their local knowledge of their area and ratepayers will ultimately be responsible for decisions on the award of relief. It would not be right for Ministers here to say whether particular ratepayers or types of ratepayers will benefit from the £1.5 billion scheme.

Work is ongoing between my department, the Treasury, the Valuation Office Agency and local authorities to prepare guidance to support the relief process. The shape of the final guidance, and how in practice we will smoothly pass decisions on this relief scheme to local authorities, will need to reflect various factors, including the existing framework of government support, information held by local authorities and their capacity to administer schemes quickly. We will continue to work on the relief fund and prepare the guidance for publication as soon as the Bill receives Royal Assent. We are of course mindful of local authorities’ need for an effective set of parameters within which they can design their local schemes. Local authorities should stand ready to develop and deliver their schemes as soon as they are able.

The noble Earl, Lord Lytton, wanted to know where the £1.5 billion figure came from. It is quite clear that local government made provision, as reported, of almost £1 billion for Covid MCC challenges for 2020-21. That was, in effect, being held in reserve rather than being spent on local public services. This measure enables that £1 billion that is currently provisioned to deal with challenges to go towards the effective delivery of local public services. Of course, it is a matter for local authorities themselves to determine. That certainly gives them the freedom to release that money that is currently tied up if we do not proceed with this piece of legislation.

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Earl of Lytton Portrait The Earl of Lytton (CB)
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My Lords, it might be of assistance to the Committee if I offer a few words of clarification, because the noble Baroness, Lady Pinnock, has given us some extremely perceptive insights into the whole issue.

With regard to Amendment 1, the issue here is that the Government have chosen to replace what would have been the objectively and judicially managed process of appeals against the assessment of the value of the real estate with what is, in fact, a wholly discretionary sum, with all that that entails, which will, as we heard from the noble Lord, Lord Cormack, be spread thinly across a huge number of non-domestic ratepayers, who will presumably plead some sort of hardship. That seems to transfer a load of administrative activity on to local government and away from what one would normally expect to be the longer-term process.

The Minister made a comment about the pandemic never having been in focus in terms of dealing with material change of circumstances. I am not sure he is entirely right in that interpretation. The acid test is fundamentally one of the perceptions of the longevity of the problem. It is quite clear that this will be a multi- year factor.

The noble Baroness’s second amendment points to the lumpily uneven nature of what has now become the business rates system. She referred to the online retailers, many of which operate out of enormous distribution sheds. Their shop window is a website with a virtual walkaround operation, their stockroom is somewhere between a number of vans on the road and their fulfilment centres, as I believe they are called, and the till is PayPal or the equivalent.

The situation regarding the principle of business rates is that it was always supposed to be the benefit derived from the occupation of those premises. Over the years this has morphed into being, “You’re the owner so you pay up.” That is the principle behind the invidious situation we have now to do with empty rates. I add those who have high street premises that they cannot let; they cannot find an exempt or partially exempt occupier such as a charity to come and occupy it for them. They are stuck with this situation. There is no relief for them. Not surprisingly, they get boarded up and, in street frontage speak, they become a missing tooth in the jaws of a pretty girl, as it was once put to me. That needs to be sorted out.

The fundamental review I referred to earlier is, I think, trying to do the least it possibly can. When I said that I thought we were getting—or had got to—the point of no return, I meant it, because if this is not taken seriously and is not taken in hand, the only show in town will be what I understand is a bit of Labour Party policy, which is to abolish business rates and have some sort of sales tax instead. We know what has happened in the past—I cannot remember if it was the first or the subsequent Government under Mrs Thatcher that was elected partly on the premise that they were going to abolish the unfair ratings system.

If we are not careful, this simply becomes another mantra where, historically, a perfectly good, cheap to run system gets trashed. The Government will rue the day that they allowed this process to continue and allowed the forces within the revenue department to erode the system of fairness and confidence—this will be the net result. It affects everybody—businesses and local authorities—and prospects all round, because doubt, uncertainty and risk are corrosive of the entire process.

I very much take the point that the noble Baroness made in moving this amendment, and I hope that the Minister is taking this on board, because we are pretty much at a tipping point and many people have said to me that it cannot go on like this. I just felt compelled to make that intervention at this stage.

Baroness Blake of Leeds Portrait Baroness Blake of Leeds (Lab)
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Thank you for those contributions. There is no doubt among any of us about the real sense of urgency and the importance of the amendments that we are discussing in this group. Again, it is inevitable that the question of the £1.5 billion comes up, but we also need to keep a very close eye on the economic prospects as we go forward. I have to say, the confidence around that is not as great as perhaps we are being led to believe.

Again, I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Pinnock, for putting her name to Amendments 1 and 2, and for the comments of the noble Earl, Lord Lytton; he really got across that sense of urgency. I can confirm that Labour has called for the longer-term abolition of the current system of business rates, to be replaced by a new system that is better balanced between high-street businesses and the out-of-town online giants, as we have been hearing.

On Amendment 2, does the Minister agree with the assessment that we are in a very lumpy situation, and will he be looking at how the playing field can be levelled out? That is a really important question that we need some certainty on. Again, Labour has called for an increase in small business rate relief next year from the current threshold of £15,000 to £25,000. Does the Minister accept that we need an increase in relief to help small businesses cope?

I turn to the amendment in my name. It is important, at every opportunity that we have in this House, to really spell out the dire situation facing local authorities, particularly regarding the financial position that they are in. This is one reason local authorities are asking for clarity and a sense of urgency. They are also asking that, once the criteria are established, the way that this unfolds is kept under review, and for local authority guidance to be published as soon as possible. We made a very strong case for that at Second Reading.

We know that Covid-19 has had a devastating impact on local authority finances, with a combination of income falling and costs rising. The income element for local authorities, I am afraid, is one which the former Secretary of State would not take into account in terms of the losses that local authorities have been facing. This is on top of the fact that Conservative Governments since 2010 have cut £15 billion from central government funding to local authorities.

We are looking at a situation, according to the LGA, where councils in England will face a funding gap of more than £5 billion by 2024 just to maintain services at current levels. It estimates that the Government will need to find an extra £10.1 billion per year in core funding to local authorities by 2023-24 just to plug the existing funding gap. New research by the BBC, I understand, has shown that UK councils have found a £3 billion black hole in their budgets as they emerge from the pandemic. Put in that context, I think we can all understand why there is so much concern from local authorities about how much is going to be available to them to distribute, to enable businesses in their areas to survive and to continue to pay the rates due to them. Again, I ask whether the guidance can be issued to local authorities as a matter of haste and whether it is possible for us to have an understanding of when that will be.

I was actually in the room when the former Secretary of State told local authority leaders that the Government would provide

“whatever funding is needed for councils to get through this and come out the other side”.

Again, I ask: does the Minister believe that this promise has been kept? I do not think we need a list of all the different resources that have been given to local authorities, welcome though they have been. Unfortunately, they do not match the need and we know from the impact of the pandemic that need in our communities, through a whole raft of measures, is really going through the roof.

In that context, I hope that everyone will recognise the urgency required to resolve these matters but also the enormous challenges facing local authorities in the years ahead.

Lord Greenhalgh Portrait Lord Greenhalgh (Con)
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I will start with the new clause proposed by the noble Baroness, Lady Pinnock, and the noble Lord, Lord Fox. This would require the Government to carry out an assessment of whether the business rates measure in the Bill improves the wider system of business rates.

I remind noble Lords that Clause 1 is limited in scope. The Government are making a targeted intervention through the Bill to ensure that the law concerning material changes of circumstances operates as it should do as regards the impact of coronavirus on rateable values. The Government are not, by contrast, offering the Bill as a means of introducing significant reform to the business rates system. Indeed, it would be wrong to do so. The Bill is narrow in its focus precisely so that Parliament can deliver certainty on this issue, with minimal delay, to those that need it, particularly local authorities.

I appreciate that many noble Lords wish to see more substantial changes to the business rates system, as pointed out eloquently by the noble Baroness, Lady Pinnock, and I can provide good news in that regard. Noble Lords will have seen the Chancellor’s Budget Statement and may have read the final report of the Government’s business rates review, published alongside the Budget. The Government have committed to changes to improve the business rates system through delivering more frequent revaluations, starting from the next revaluation in 2023. This answers widespread calls from stakeholders and will help deliver a more timely, and hence fairer, distribution of business rates.

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Lord Fox Portrait Lord Fox (LD)
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My Lords, for the avoidance of doubt, and for the Government Whip, just as the Government have changed Ministers, so we have changed Front-Benchers. I put that on the record. The noble Lord, Lord Cormack, who is no longer in his place, called this a hybrid Bill. Internally, I have called it the “kippers and custard Bill”, because it contains two completely different things, perhaps creating an unpalatable whole.

I also apologise for not being able to speak at Second Reading, for the same reason as most speakers: it was a moving target and most of us were involved in legislation elsewhere. That said, I was grateful to my noble friend Lady Pinnock, who represented my views on the director disqualification part of this Bill very well. I thank her. Noble Lords will be pleased to know that, despite the fact I was not here for Second Reading, I will not do a quasi-Second Reading speech at this point, but I will take a couple of minutes to set out my frame of reference for this group and the next so that it makes more sense.

I read the Hansard report of the Second Reading. As usual, I was struck by the great wisdom shown by your Lordships, but I was a little surprised to see one speech that characterised the whole insolvency and restructuring profession in a universally negative way. Although I am sure there are always examples of bad behaviour, I put on record that that is not my experience. By way of disclosure, I point out that R3, the organisation that represents the profession, has been very helpful in providing technical briefing to me on the Bill.

Businesses, especially smaller ones, rely on these services to get back as much of the money that they are owed as possible. That can be an existential issue for them. As things stand, some creditors are more equal than others. HMRC has always sought priority access to a failed company’s assets. We debated this long and hard during the passage of the Corporate Governance and Insolvency Bill—it seems a lifetime ago—where the Government promoted the interests of the tax authority a little higher. This Bill seeks to introduce powers to enable the Insolvency Service to investigate directors of companies that have been dissolved. Currently, the Insolvency Service can investigate directors of insolvent companies only. We should ask whether it seeks to achieve that on behalf of HMRC at the expense of other creditors. Will the Minister give us a specific assessment of how this new process will affect non-HMRC creditors?

There are accusations that the Government are in danger of not dealing with the loophole to deter fraudulent behaviour because this legislation is so tightly focused on bounce-back loan fraud. While the Government are likely to be a significant creditor in those cases, using this legislation in such a limited way would represent a missed opportunity to tackle the abuse of the company dissolution process more widely. I think that was what the noble Lord, Lord Lea, alluded to. Dissolving a company is a legitimate way of shutting a business down but it is often used to avoid scrutiny, as dissolution does not currently involve examination of the dissolved company’s finances by an external party, such as an insolvency practitioner. The Bill should be a chance to open this issue up.

We broadly support Amendment 3, in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Lea, and Amendment 7, in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Blake. They both essentially probe when a company moves into dissolution. The noble Lord, Lord Lea, seeks to expose a possible pattern of director behaviour and the noble Baroness, Lady Blake, seeks to gain more data on the possible extent of such abuse through a duty of reporting for the Secretary of State. I do not think any of us would maintain that these amendments on their own would stamp out abuses, but at the very least they would cause a strong light to be shone on them.

I have a couple of other questions for the Minister. What steps will the Government take to ensure that investigations into directors of dissolved companies do not come at the expense of investigations into directors of insolvent companies? How will the Government determine which cases are in the public interest? The Bill’s impact assessment focuses on bounce-back fraud, but there are many other creditors in fraud cases. There is a huge public interest in helping ensure that all creditors are repaid. They are the businesses that contribute to the nation’s economy and without repayment they may become insolvent. This Bill risks becoming a missed opportunity to help this wider body of individuals and business if it is used to recoup government money only. Ensuring that creditors receive their fair share of any assets vested in a company requires the use of the insolvency framework to identify and distribute those assets. At the very least, will the Minister confirm that, where a company’s directors are found to be culpable, dissolved companies will be put through an insolvency process to ensure that returns to creditors can be made?

Baroness Blake of Leeds Portrait Baroness Blake of Leeds (Lab)
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I start by thanking my noble friend Lord Lea for moving his Amendment 3. I know that we will have further discussions on the issues relating to it.

Like the noble Lord, Lord Fox, I do not want to go over the extensive debate that both noble Lords missed at Second Reading. The points made were so pertinent; I think most of us will have received extensive correspondence around the circumstances in which different creditors, in particular, find themselves.

I will limit my comments on my amendment to drawing together all the expressions of concern from the previous discussions about the lack of scrutiny. There is a real sense about a course of action being followed that enables people who should not be practising an opportunity to continue doing so in other ways. Most of all, I ask the Minister to look at whether we could establish an inquiry into unlawful behaviours relating to dissolved companies.

The other question that has come out of these discussions concerns the capacity of the different organisations. Can the Minister confirm what assessment he has made of the Valuation Office Agency’s capacity to deal with non-Covid-related material changes in circumstances? Continuing on the issue of resource, there is real concern about BEIS and the Insolvency Service. We recognise and welcome the requirement for the Secretary of State to report on the resources and powers available to the Secretary of State, BEIS and the Insolvency Service in relation to this Bill.

I understand that support staff at BEIS, represented by the PCS union, recently announced the possibility of strike action. They called for improved working conditions and an end to low pay. Does the Minister expect that further support staff will be required by BEIS in order to undertake the fulfilment of the new responsibilities?

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 the speakers on this group. I will take the points made in turn, starting with Amendment 3 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Lea. I get the impression that his amendment intends to expand the information that the court can consider when it hears an application for the disqualification of a former director of a dissolved company to include that person’s conduct in all other insolvent or dissolved companies. If that is the case, I am happy to assure the noble Lord that the court is already able to consider such evidence, whether through the report supporting the disqualification application or through the evidence submitted either in defence of the application or in mitigation by the defendant. It is also possible for the Secretary of State to introduce information provided by third parties, such as regulators, in support of a disqualification application. I hope that the noble Lord will concede that his amendment is unnecessary.

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Moved by
4: After Clause 3, insert the following new Clause—
“Duty to report on directors of dissolved companies
(1) The Secretary of State must lay a report before each House of Parliament no later than three months after the day on which this Act is passed, and during each three month period thereafter. (2) Each report under subsection (1) must include the number of former directors of dissolved companies the Insolvency Service has—(a) investigated, and(b) disqualified both in the three-month period prior to the report being published, and in total since section 1 came into force.”Member’s explanatory statement
This new Clause would place an obligation on the Secretary of State to report the number of former directors of dissolved companies investigated and disqualified by the Insolvency Service.
Baroness Blake of Leeds Portrait Baroness Blake of Leeds (Lab)
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My Lords, in moving Amendment 4, I will also speak to Amendment 5 in my name. In doing so, I am conscious that I will be talking about some issues that we have already discussed as we have gone through the different stages of the Bill.

Amendment 4

“would place an obligation on the Secretary of State to report the number of former directors of dissolved companies investigated and disqualified by the Insolvency Service.”

The purpose of this is to collect data on whether the provisions in Clauses 2 and 3 would work as intended: to help to understand the sufficiency of the Insolvency Service’s funding and resourcing, as we have already highlighted. This relates to Amendment 5, which

“would place an obligation on the Secretary of State to make a statement on the impact of this Act on the financial situation of the Insolvency Service.”

I have tabled these amendments in the hope that the Government will give further information on their plans to fund the Insolvency Service properly and allay our ongoing concerns about its resourcing. At present, the Bill makes no mention of further funding for the Insolvency Service, despite creating new obligations to carry out investigations.

The provisions in the Bill to remove the restoration hurdle mean that the Insolvency Service will now be expected retrospectively to investigate the directors of dissolved companies and then apply to court for a disqualification order to be made against the said directors. Can the Minister estimate how many additional staff will be required to carry out just the retrospective investigations and, separately, how many to apply for the new disqualification orders? I am sure that the Minister would agree that an overstretched Insolvency Service would benefit no one, but there is real concern at the moment around the Government giving new powers to the service without the resources to back it up.

At Second Reading, the Minister responded to these concerns by saying:

“The Insolvency Service’s resources are not limitless.”—[Official Report, 19/10/21; col. GC 55.]

We would certainly not argue that they should be; we are simply asking for a guarantee that the service will be supported to fulfil its new responsibilities. I beg to move.

Lord Fox Portrait Lord Fox (LD)
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My Lords, I fully support the spirit of Amendments 4 and 5 and commend the noble Baroness, Lady Blake, on her presentation. I will speak primarily to Amendment 8, which is in my name and those of my noble friend Lady Pinnock and the noble Lord, Lord Leigh of Hurley, whom I thank. As the noble Baroness, Lady Blake, said, we discussed much of the driving rationale behind these amendments during the previous group. I am not going to repeat that, so the Committee will be relieved to know that my speech will be shorter.

The heart of Amendment 8 is simple. It is a reporting amendment, similar in a sense to those tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Blake, which is designed to help evaluate the usefulness of the approach as set out by the Government in their Bill. It is also designed to demonstrate whether there are adequate resources. I think the Minister is underplaying the concerns around resources, so I will approach it from the other end. If the Insolvency Service had, let us say, resources to investigate 12 cases and, because of the Covid crisis, 12 new and quite high-profile cases that were in the public interest arrive on the scene, then the 12 other cases that would have been examined would not be. That is the problem the Minister has failed to address. There need to be sufficient resources to cover not just the 12 currently top of the list, but the 12 that would have been had the Covid crisis not happened. The Minister needs to address that point. This amendment is designed to expose, or otherwise, the level of success we are having in that.

The success of this can also be judged by how effectively the tools that are available to recover money are working, so Amendment 8 also requires reporting on the appropriate mechanisms available to prosecute directors of dissolved companies. Finally, the proof of this pudding will be in how much money is recovered for HMRC and the other creditors—this is the important bit. That is why this amendment includes the requirement to report exactly how much money has been returned to creditors, which will demonstrate whether the current toolbox is adequate and whether the legislation is working.

It may also incentivise the Government to use the legislation to prosecute directors of dissolved companies and effectively deal with the firms themselves, so that returns can be made to the creditors. I refer the Minister to my previous point: this returned money is existential to a lot of companies. We see companies go down because their customers have done so. This amendment presents another way of shining light on the process and its effectiveness. The process is still unclear, so perhaps the Minister can take the opportunity of this amendment to set out exactly how the Government intend to prosecute culpable directors once they have been investigated. What existing measures will be employed and are new sanctions being considered?

While supporting the objectives of the Bill, I close where I started. There is evidence that the director disqualification regime will not be sufficient to recoup moneys. It will be too weak to deter rogue directors and compensation orders, in particular, will benefit only one creditor: HMRC. That is why we welcome further debate on this because it is important that the Government consider the impact of this fraudulent behaviour on all creditors, not just on themselves. I look forward to the Minister’s response with a view to pursuing this on Report.

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With that, I thank all noble Lords who have contributed to this debate for their interest in the Bill and their amendments. I hope I have been able to reassure them enough for them to feel able to withdraw or not press their amendments.
Baroness Blake of Leeds Portrait Baroness Blake of Leeds (Lab)
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My Lords, I have learned something this afternoon: if there is any doubt about access to the internet, bring along with you a bag of sweets for the army of people the Minister has behind him to assist him in that cause.

On a serious note, I am grateful for the contributions and insight. I thank the Minister for the answers he has given. However, great strength of feeling has been expressed on these issues—from all sides, to be fair. As I said, the continuing contact, particularly from smaller creditors, means that we will revisit this issue on Report.

Some specific questions have been asked today. I would be grateful if the resources available to the department and the answers on those specific issues could be made available to us in advance of Report, because all of us need the highest level of input possible so that we can have a full debate at that stage.

I thank everyone for their contributions. I recognise that, for many people, there is no clarity or certainty. There is a real sense of grievance that many people are losing, significantly, sometimes their entire wherewithal around employment for themselves and members of their companies. With those comments, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment 4 withdrawn.