All 5 Lord Callanan contributions to the Corporate Insolvency and Governance Act 2020

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Tue 9th Jun 2020
Corporate Insolvency and Governance Bill
Lords Chamber

2nd reading (Hansard) & 2nd reading (Hansard) & 2nd reading (Hansard): House of Lords & 2nd reading
Tue 16th Jun 2020
Corporate Insolvency and Governance Bill
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Committee stage:Committee: 1st sitting (Hansard) & Committee: 1st sitting (Hansard) & Committee: 1st sitting (Hansard): House of Lords & Committee stage
Wed 17th Jun 2020
Corporate Insolvency and Governance Bill
Lords Chamber

Committee stage:Committee: 2nd sitting (Hansard) & Committee: 2nd sitting (Hansard) & Committee: 2nd sitting (Hansard): House of Lords
Tue 23rd Jun 2020
Corporate Insolvency and Governance Bill
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Report stage (Hansard) & Report stage (Hansard) & Report stage (Hansard): House of Lords & Report stage
Tue 23rd Jun 2020
Corporate Insolvency and Governance Bill
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3rd reading (Hansard) & 3rd reading (Hansard) & 3rd reading (Hansard): House of Lords & 3rd reading

Corporate Insolvency and Governance Bill

Lord Callanan Excerpts
2nd reading & 2nd reading (Hansard) & 2nd reading (Hansard): House of Lords
Tuesday 9th June 2020

(3 years, 11 months ago)

Lords Chamber
Read Full debate Corporate Insolvency and Governance Act 2020 Read Hansard Text Read Debate Ministerial Extracts Amendment Paper: Committee of the whole House Amendments as at 3 June 2020 - (3 Jun 2020)
Moved by
Lord Callanan Portrait Lord Callanan
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That the Bill be now read a second time.

Lord Callanan Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (Lord Callanan) (Con)
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My Lords, we have faced, and continue to face, a global health emergency on an unprecedented scale. The Covid-19 pandemic has brought significant challenges to our country and our economy. The imposition of strict social distancing measures has meant that many businesses are facing significant short-term difficulties and, some, sadly, the threat of insolvency.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Corporate Insolvency and Governance Bill

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

(3 years, 11 months ago)

Lords Chamber
Read Full debate Corporate Insolvency and Governance Act 2020 Read Hansard Text Read Debate Ministerial Extracts 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)
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I thank the Minister for his reply. I had the pleasure of taking part in the legislation that set up the Pension Protection Fund in this House many years ago and I remember that we spent a considerable amount of time—much more than we have done today—looking at the issue of moral hazard and questions of timescale and decision-making. Whatever the Government come up with in the context of this Bill, people will be forced to make decisions that in ordinary circumstances they would take over several months in which they could weigh up competing claims for priority. They will have to do that very quickly.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Amendment 26 agreed.
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Moved by
34: Clause 1, page 30, line 21, at end insert—
“(4) Subsection (1) does not apply to a provision in an instrument creating a floating charge that is—(a) a collateral security (as defined by section A27);(b) a market charge (as defined by section A27);(c) a security financial collateral arrangement (within the meaning of regulation 3 of the Financial Collateral Arrangements (No. 2) Regulations 2003 (S.I. 2003/3226));(d) a system-charge (as defined by section A27).”Member’s explanatory statement
This amendment ensures that section A50 does not apply to a collateral security, market charge, security financial collateral arrangement or system-charge.
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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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Moved by
48: Clause 10, page 63, line 22, leave out “Act” and insert “section”
Member’s explanatory statement
This amendment changes the definition of the “relevant period” so that the term is defined by reference to the coming into force of the section rather than by reference to the coming into force of the Act as a whole.
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Moved by
50: Clause 11, page 64, line 47, leave out “Act” and insert “section”
Member’s explanatory statement
This amendment changes the definition of the “relevant period” so that the term is defined by reference to the coming into force of the section rather than by reference to the coming into force of the Act as a whole.

Corporate Insolvency and Governance Bill

Lord Callanan Excerpts
Committee stage & Committee: 2nd sitting (Hansard) & Committee: 2nd sitting (Hansard): House of Lords
Wednesday 17th June 2020

(3 years, 11 months ago)

Lords Chamber
Read Full debate Corporate Insolvency and Governance Act 2020 Read Hansard Text Read Debate Ministerial Extracts Amendment Paper: HL Bill 114(a) Amendments for Report - (17 Jun 2020)
Lord Stevenson of Balmacara Portrait Lord Stevenson of Balmacara (Lab) [V]
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My Lords, we have had a very good debate on this issue today. It is an accident of the way things went yesterday that we have been given this time, and I am grateful to the House authorities for allowing us to spend some time on this important topic.

The noble Lords, Lord Hodgson and Lord Vaux, gave brilliant exposés of why pre-packs are causing more harm than good, as they put it, although both were valiant in suggesting that it remained on the agenda or was a “valuable tool in the toolbox”, which was another phrase used, although the noble Lord, Lord Hodgson, said that it has been a very loose end recently. Increasingly, perhaps we need to think hard about how this should go forward.

Like my noble friend Lord Mendelsohn, I have had an interest in pre-packs since we were involved in the quite intensive discussions on the small business Act in 2015. Like him and many people, I regret that the power that was inserted into that Act has lapsed, because that seems a missed opportunity and we should be thinking hard about how that might go. Perhaps when the Minister responds he could explain again why he thinks that the amendment in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Neville-Rolfe, should not be brought forward again. It seems that it would give him the powers that he might need in the future to take action.

The key issue here is not whether the pre-packs will continue to cause trouble but the damage that they might do to the Bill. I hope that the Minister will recall that, when we had our first meeting on the Bill and we were going through some of the main issues, I raised the question of whether the Bill would have an impact on pre-packs and vice versa. The answer I got was that, in the view of the drafters of the Bill, it would not materially have an effect one way or another. However, the evidence we have heard today suggests that that is not the case. Although the Teresa Graham report of a few years ago and its suggestion of a pre-pack pool has been working reasonably well in practice, it is still a voluntary scheme, as was picked up, and if it is indeed rewarding the good guys but not catching the bad ones, the Government are on notice to do something about that. Additionally, if the Pre Pack Pool itself falls into desuetude, obviously a major issue is looming.

The amendments here are very much autonomous, and it has been a useful debate. Of course, if they were accepted, they would effectively be saving a bad system and not introducing good regulation. As the noble Baroness, Lady Altmann, said, we need to think about a mandatory approach here. When the Minister responds, we will be looking for guidance from him about whether this is the opportunity to do so. Would he be prepared to reconsider his initial view on the amendment proposed by the noble Baroness, Lady Neville-Rolfe, to give powers back to the Government to act if they are required, or will we have to seek another opportunity?

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 and pay tribute to my noble friend Lord Hodgson for ably introducing this grouping and speaking so powerfully on this subject. In fact, such is the power with which he speaks that when he spoke, claps of thunder echoed around the Chamber. We do not have any of our right reverend Prelates here to advise us, but perhaps my noble friend’s amendments have support from authorities even higher than those in this House. I am also grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Vaux, for speaking so eloquently on this topic, and grateful to him, my noble friend and the noble Lord, Lord Mendelsohn, for the time that they made available for us to discuss these issues in the last couple of weeks.

At the risk of further increasing my noble friend’s blood pressure, I say to him that the measures in the Bill are indeed intended to help companies to maximise their chances of survival during the Covid-19 emergency, to protect jobs and support the recovery of the economy. That is why other measures, which would not necessarily alleviate the impact of the current emergency, have not been included in the Bill.

I will reply also to the points from the noble Lords, Lord Adonis and Lord Mendelsohn. The Pre Pack Pool wrote to me on this subject a few weeks ago, and I responded on 29 May. I understand its concerns; officials will be meeting the pool and the Insolvency Service to take forward the discussions and the concerns that it has rightly raised.

I also see that the Small Business, Enterprise and Employment Act 2015 has provided some inspiration for these amendments, which would require mandatory reference to the aforementioned Pre Pack Pool. Aside from specific considerations as to whether a requirement for a positive opinion from the pool might conflict with the strategy duties of the administrator, I would be concerned that the amendment might impose an additional burden on businesses at this difficult time. Furthermore, as my noble friend Lord Hodgson reminded us, the Pre Pack Pool operates as a limited company, and I ask whether it is right to restrict the required opinions to one source of supply.

There are already legislative and professional regulatory requirements in respect of pre-pack sales. When deciding whether to go ahead with any sale in administration, the administrator is required to take into consideration the statutory objectives of administration, which include rescuing the company as a going concern and achieving a better result for creditors as a whole. The administrator must also send a detailed narrative explanation to creditors, justifying why a pre-pack sale was undertaken. That is sent to the administrators’ regulatory body, which monitors it to ensure that administrators comply with the spirit as well as the letter of this requirement. At Second Reading, I explained that we continue to work with regulators and industry stakeholders to discuss the options for strengthening the professional regulatory requirements. I can tell noble Lords that if that fails to give greater assurance to creditors, we will consider bringing forward further legislation.

For the reasons that I have set out, I am therefore unable to accept these amendments and I hope that my noble friend and the noble Lord, Lord Vaux, will therefore be able to withdraw and not press their amendments.

Lord Vaux of Harrowden Portrait Lord Vaux of Harrowden [V]
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In his response, the Minister did not answer the question of whether he believes that the Pre Pack Pool is useful, sustainable on a voluntary basis, and whether it matters if it ceases to exist. Could he answer that now?

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Lord Callanan Portrait Lord Callanan
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I do not want to go any further than what I said in my reply. I have been in correspondence with the Pre Pack Pool and we have arranged for officials from my department and from the Insolvency Service to meet with it further to discuss its concerns.

Lord Adonis Portrait Lord Adonis [V]
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Could Members of the Committee see before Report the letter of 29 May sent in reply to the pool, which the Minister mentioned?

Lord Callanan Portrait Lord Callanan
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In principle I have no objection to releasing that; obviously, I would need to speak to officials and to the recipients to check whether they are all happy with that. I do not know whether it was sent confidentially basis or whether it is available for publication, but I will certainly look at that.

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Moved by
89: Schedule 2, page 104, line 15, at end insert “, and
(b) a master agreement for securities financing transactions.”Member’s explanatory statement
This amendment provides for a master agreement for securities financing transactions to be a “contract or other instrument involving financial services” for the purposes of new section A18 of the Insolvency Act 1986.
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Moved by
97: Schedule 4, page 122, line 39, leave out “Act” and insert “Schedule”
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 Schedule rather than by reference to the coming into force of the Act as a whole.
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Moved by
101: Schedule 6, page 154, line 10, at end insert “, and
(b) a master agreement for securities financing transactions.”Member’s explanatory statement
This amendment provides for a master agreement for securities financing transactions to be a “contract or other instrument involving financial services” for the purposes of new Article 13D of the Insolvency (Northern Ireland) Order 1989.
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Moved by
106: Schedule 8, page 166, line 12, leave out “Act” and insert “Schedule”
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 Schedule rather than by reference to the coming into force of the Act as a whole.
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Moved by
123: Schedule 9, page 189, line 17, leave out “24(1) (insolvency)” and insert “24 (insolvency)—
(a) in sub-paragraph (1)”Member’s explanatory statement
This amendment makes a consequential drafting change as a result of the insertion of a second amendment to paragraph 24 of Schedule 17A to the Financial Services and Markets Act 2000.
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Moved by
133: Schedule 12, page 221, line 25, at end insert “and
(b) a master agreement for securities financing transactions”Member’s explanatory statement
This amendment provides for master agreements for securities financing transactions to be excluded from the operation of new section 233B of the Insolvency Act 1986.
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Moved by
138: Schedule 13, page 227, line 35, at end insert “and
(b) a master agreement for securities financing transactions.”Member’s explanatory statement
This amendment provides for master agreements for securities financing transactions to be excluded from the operation of new Article 197B of the Insolvency (Northern Ireland) Order 1989.

Corporate Insolvency and Governance Bill

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

(3 years, 11 months ago)

Lords Chamber
Read Full debate Corporate Insolvency and Governance Act 2020 Read Hansard Text Read Debate Ministerial Extracts Amendment Paper: HL Bill 114-I Marshalled list for Report - (18 Jun 2020)
Lord Stevenson of Balmacara Portrait Lord Stevenson of Balmacara (Lab) [V]
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My Lords, this has been a very good debate and I thank all those who have contributed. In a sense, the debate around this group of amendments reflects the problem that we have had with the Bill. The Government, rightly, want to progress and to press ahead, but the issues that we are covering are of such substance that they vastly outstrip the time that has been made available for us to do it—hence our needing the Minister to address at the Dispatch Box a wide range of points before many of us can decide how we will deal with our amendments.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lord Callanan Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (Lord Callanan) (Con)
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My Lords, I thank everyone who has contributed to this excellent debate. The noble Lord, Lord Stevenson, correctly characterised this as a number of different subjects loosely grouped together under the heading of moratorium provisions, and I gladly accept his challenge to try to satisfy the House and deal with all the points that have been raised.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Moved by
4: Clause 1, page 4, line 23, at end insert—
“(c) in a case where the company is or has been an employer in respect of an occupational pension scheme that is not a money purchase scheme, the Pensions Regulator, and(d) in a case where the company is an employer in respect of such a pension scheme that is an eligible scheme within the meaning given by section 126 of the Pensions Act 2004, the Board of the Pension Protection Fund.”Member’s explanatory statement
This amendment extends the monitor’s duty to give notice that a moratorium has come into force.
Baroness Henig Portrait The Deputy Speaker
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I remind noble Lords that Members other than the mover of an amendment and the Minister may speak only once and that short questions of elucidation are discouraged. Anyone wishing to press this or any other amendment in the group to a Division should make that clear in the debate.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lord Callanan Portrait Lord Callanan
- Hansard - -

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

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

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

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

Amendment 4 agreed.
Moved by
5: Clause 1, page 5, line 43, leave out from beginning to end of line 2 on page 6
Member’s explanatory statement
This amendment removes a Henry VIII power to change a list of documents.
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Moved by
8: Clause 1, page 6, leave out lines 29 to 32
Member’s explanatory statement
This amendment removes a Henry VIII power to change a list of documents.
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Moved by
11: Clause 1, page 8, leave out lines 8 to 11
Member’s explanatory statement
This amendment removes a Henry VIII power to change a list of documents.
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Moved by
18: Clause 1, page 22, line 35, at end insert—
“(c) in a case where the company is or has been an employer in respect of an occupational pension scheme that is not a money purchase scheme, the Pensions Regulator, and(d) in a case where the company is an employer in respect of such a pension scheme that is an eligible scheme within the meaning given by section 126 of the Pensions Act 2004, the Board of the Pension Protection Fund.”Member’s explanatory statement
This amendment extends the duty to give notice that the monitor has changed.
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Moved by
24: Clause 4, page 35, line 33, leave out “changing the definition of “the relevant documents”” and insert “adding to the list of documents”
Member’s explanatory statement
This amendment narrows the power to change a list of documents, so that it is confined to adding to the list. The power could subsequently be re-exercised so as to remove anything added.
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Moved by
37: After Clause 7, insert the following new Clause—
“Administration in Great Britain: revival of power about sales to connected persons
(1) Paragraph 60A of Schedule B1 to the Insolvency Act 1986 (which expired in May 2020) is revived.(2) For sub-paragraph (10) of that paragraph substitute—“(10) This paragraph expires at the end of June 2021 unless the power conferred by it is exercised before then.””Member’s explanatory statement
This amendment revives paragraph 60A of Schedule B1 to the Insolvency Act 1986, which expired in May 2020 by virtue of the sunset provision in sub-paragraph (10) of that paragraph.
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Lord McNicol of West Kilbride Portrait The Deputy Speaker (Lord McNicol of West Kilbride) (Lab)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

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

Lord Callanan Portrait Lord Callanan
- Hansard - -

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lord Callanan Portrait Lord Callanan
- Hansard - -

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Amendment 37 agreed.
Moved by
38: After Clause 7, insert the following new Clause—
“Administration in Northern Ireland: power about sales to connected persons
(1) The Insolvency (Northern Ireland) Order 1989 (S.I. 1989/ 2405 (N.I. 19)) is amended as follows.(2) Schedule B1 (administration) is amended in accordance with subsections (3) to (5).(3) Paragraph 61 (powers of administrator) becomes sub-paragraph (1) of that paragraph.(4) After that sub-paragraph insert—“(2) But the power to sell, hire out or otherwise dispose of property is subject to any regulations that may be made under paragraph 61A.”(5) After paragraph 61 insert—“61 Regulations may make provision for—(a) prohibiting, or(b) imposing requirements or conditions in relation to,the disposal, hiring out or sale of property of a company by the administrator to a connected person in circumstances specified in the regulations.(2) Regulations under this paragraph may in particular require the approval of, or provide for the imposition of requirements or conditions by—(a) creditors of the company,(b) the High Court, or(c) a person of a description specified in the regulations.(3) In sub-paragraph (1), “connected person”, in relation to a company, means—(a) a relevant person in relation to the company, or(b) a company connected with the company.(4) For the purposes of sub-paragraph (3)—(a) “relevant person”, in relation to a company, means—(i) a director or other officer, or shadow director, of the company;(ii) a non-employee associate of such a person;(iii) a non-employee associate of the company;(b) a company is connected with another if any relevant person of one is or has been a relevant person of the other.(5) In sub-paragraph (4), “non-employee associate” of a person means a person who is an associate of that person otherwise than by virtue of employing or being employed by that person.(6) Paragraph (11) of Article 4 (extended definition of company) applies for the purposes of sub-paragraphs (3) to (5) as it applies for the purposes of that Article.(7) Regulations under this paragraph may make incidental, consequential, supplemental and transitional provision. (8) Regulations may not be made under this paragraph unless a draft of the regulations has been laid before, and approved by a resolution of, the Assembly.(9) This paragraph expires at the end of June 2021 unless the power conferred by it is exercised before then.”(6) In Article 2(2), in the definition of “regulations”, after the words “and paragraph 16 of Schedule A1”(which are repealed by paragraph 3(b) of Schedule 7 to this Act) insert “and paragraph 61A of Schedule B1”.”Member’s explanatory statement
This amendment confers a power to make provision under the law of Northern Ireland about sales to connected persons in the context of an administration. It is similar to the corresponding power in Great Britain (which is revived by one of the Minister’s other amendments).
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Moved by
39: Clause 10, page 64, line 17, leave out from “30” to end of line 18 and insert “September 2020.”
Member’s explanatory statement
This amendment alters the definition of the “relevant period” that applies for the purposes of Clause 10 so that the period ends with 30 September 2020.
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Moved by
41: Clause 11, page 65, line 40, leave out from “30” to end of line 41 and insert “September 2020.”
Member’s explanatory statement
This amendment alters the definition of the “relevant period” that applies for the purposes of Clause 11 so that the period ends with 30 September 2020.
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Moved by
43: Clause 13, page 70, line 10, leave out from “30” to end of line 11 and insert “September 2020.”
Member’s explanatory statement
This amendment alters the definition of the “relevant period” that applies for the purposes of subsection (1)(a) of Clause 13 so that the period ends with 30 September 2020.
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Moved by
47: Clause 20, page 79, line 6, at end insert—
“( ) the need for the provision made by the regulations is urgent,”Member’s explanatory statement
This amendment makes urgency a condition of the exercise of the power in Clause 18.
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Moved by
49: Clause 22, page 80, line 14, leave out from “which is” to end of line 15 and insert—
“(i) after the period of one year beginning with the date for the time being specified in subsection (1), or(ii) after the period of two years beginning with the date on which this Act is passed, but”Member’s explanatory statement
This amendment prevents regulations under Clause 18 being made more than two years after Royal Assent.
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Moved by
51: Clause 24, page 80, line 29, after “applies,” insert “or
(b) regulations made under section 23 which make provision by amending an Act or an Act of the Scottish Parliament,”.Member’s explanatory statement
This amendment and the Minister’s final amendment to Clause 24 provide for regulations under Clause 23 (consequential provision etc) which amend an Act or an Act of the Scottish Parliament to be subject to the made affirmative procedure.
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Moved by
54: Clause 28, page 83, line 5, at end insert—
“( ) the need for the provision made by the regulations is urgent,”Member’s explanatory statement
This amendment makes urgency a condition of the exercise of the power in Clause 26.
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Moved by
55: Clause 30, page 84, line 11, leave out from “which is” to end of line 12 and insert—
“(i) after the period of one year beginning with the date for the time being specified in subsection (1), or(ii) after the period of two years beginning with the date on which this Act is passed, but”Member’s explanatory statement
This amendment prevents regulations under Clause 26 being made more than two years after Royal Assent.
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Moved by
56: Clause 32, page 84, line 28, after “applies,” insert “and regulations made under section 31 by the Department which make provision by amending an Act or Northern Ireland legislation,”
Member’s explanatory statement
This amendment and the Minister’s final amendment to Clause 32 provide for regulations made by the Department for the Economy under Clause 31 (consequential provision etc) which amend an Act or Northern Ireland primary legislation to be subject to the made affirmative procedure in the Northern Ireland Assembly.
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Moved by
59: Clause 33, page 85, line 22, after “applies,” insert “or
(b) regulations made under section 31 by the Secretary of State which make provision by amending an Act,”Member’s explanatory statement
This amendment and the Minister’s final amendment to Clause 33 provide for regulations made by the Secretary of State under Clause 31 (consequential provision etc) which amend an Act to be subject to the made affirmative procedure.
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Moved by
62: Clause 39, page 88, line 43, at end insert “if the Secretary of State considers it reasonable to do so to mitigate an effect of coronavirus.”
Member’s explanatory statement
This amendment would mean that the power to make regulations under clause 39(1)(b) could be exercised only if the Secretary of State considered it reasonable to exercise the power to mitigate an effect of coronavirus.
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Moved by
64: Clause 40, page 89, line 34, at end insert “if the Department considers it reasonable to do so to mitigate an effect of coronavirus.”
Member’s explanatory statement
This amendment would mean that the power to make regulations under Clause 40(1)(b) could be exercised only if the Department for the Economy in Northern Ireland considered it reasonable to exercise the power to mitigate an effect of coronavirus.
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Moved by
66: Clause 41, page 90, line 39, leave out “negative resolution” and insert “made affirmative”
Member’s explanatory statement
This amendment changes Clause 41 so that provision that could formerly have been made by the negative resolution procedure now has to be made by the made affirmative procedure (or the affirmative procedure).
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Moved by
69: Clause 42, page 91, line 35, leave out “negative resolution” and insert “made affirmative”
Member’s explanatory statement
This amendment changes Clause 42 so that provision that could formerly have been made by the negative resolution procedure now has to be made by the made affirmative procedure (or the affirmative procedure).
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Moved by
71: Clause 43, page 92, line 12, after “procedure” insert “(see section 29 of the Interpretation and Legislative Reform (Scotland) Act 2010 (asp 10))”
Member’s explanatory statement
This amendment is needed in light of the Minister’s other amendment to Clause 43(1).
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Moved by
74: After Clause 43, insert the following new Clause—
“Modified procedure for regulations of Northern Ireland departments
(1) During the period of six months beginning with the day on which this section comes into force, any relevant provision that may be made by a Northern Ireland department by regulations that are subject to the affirmative resolution procedure may be made by regulations that are subject to the made affirmative procedure.(2) In subsection (1)“relevant provision” means—(a) provision under Article 13HA(1) of the Insolvency (Northern Ireland) Order 1989 (power to modify moratorium provisions in relation to certain companies);(b) provision under Article 13HAA(1) of that Order (moratorium: power to make provision in connection with pension schemes).(3) For the purposes of this section—(a) “regulations that are subject to the affirmative resolution procedure” means regulations that may not be made unless a draft of the regulations has been laid before, and approved by a resolution of, the Assembly; (b) “regulations that are subject to the made affirmative procedure” means regulations that—(i) must be laid before the Assembly as soon as reasonably practicable after being made, and(ii) cease to have effect at the end of the period of 40 days beginning with the day on which the regulations are made, unless during that period the regulations are approved by a resolution of the Assembly.(4) In calculating the period of 40 days mentioned in subsection (3)(b)(ii), no account is to be taken of any time during which the Assembly is—(a) dissolved,(b) in recess for more than 4 days, or(c) adjourned for more than 6 days.(5) Where by virtue of this section a Northern Ireland department makes regulations that are subject to the made affirmative procedure and the regulations cease to have effect because they are not approved within the period mentioned in subsection (3)(b)(ii), the fact that the regulations cease to have effect does not—(a) affect anything previously done under or by virtue of the regulations, or(b) prevent the making of new regulations.(5) In this section “the Assembly” means the Northern Ireland Assembly.”Member’s explanatory statement
This amendment modifies the regulation-making procedure for certain regulations for the first six months.
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Moved by
76: Schedule 1, page 103, line 2, after “Schedule” insert “, apart from paragraph 2,”
Member’s explanatory statement
This amendment limits the Secretary of State’s power to amend new Schedule ZA1 so that it cannot be used to amend paragraph 2 (exclusion from eligibility for companies subject to moratorium or insolvency procedure etc).
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Moved by
77: Schedule 3, page 107, line 24, leave out from “debts” to end of line 27 and insert “(within the meaning given by section 174A);
(b) priority pre-moratorium debts (within the meaning given by section 174A).” Member’s explanatory statement
This amendment reflects the changes made by the Minister’s amendments to new section 174A of the Insolvency Act 1986 (on page 109 of the Bill).
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Moved by
85: Schedule 4, page 124, line 26, leave out from “30” to end of line 27 and insert “September 2020.”
Member’s explanatory statement
This amendment alters the definition of the “relevant period” that applies for the purposes of Schedule 4 so that the period ends with 30 September 2020.
--- Later in debate ---
Moved by
86: Schedule 5, page 154, line 7, after “Schedule” insert “, apart from paragraph 2,”
Member’s explanatory statement
This amendment limits the Department’s power to amend new Schedule ZA1 so that it cannot be used to amend paragraph 2 (exclusion from eligibility for companies subject to moratorium or insolvency procedure etc).
--- Later in debate ---
Moved by
87: Schedule 7, page 158, line 17, after ““Part 1A,”” insert “Article 148A(3A),”
Member’s explanatory statement
This amendment paves the way for the Minister’s amendments to new Article 148A of the Insolvency (Northern Ireland) Order 1989 (on page 160 of the Bill).
--- Later in debate ---
Moved by
96: Schedule 8, page 168, line 11, leave out from “30” to end of line 12 and insert “September 2020.”
Member’s explanatory statement
This amendment alters the definition of the “relevant period” that applies for the purposes of Schedule 8 so that the period ends with 30 September 2020.
--- Later in debate ---
Moved by
97: Schedule 9, page 186, line 24, leave out from second “a” to end of line 28 and insert “priority pre-moratorium debt.”
Member’s explanatory statement
See the explanatory statement for the Minister’s second amendment on page 186 of the Bill.
--- Later in debate ---
Moved by
102: Schedule 10, page 205, line 30, leave out from “30” to end of line 31 and insert “September 2020.”
Member’s explanatory statement
This amendment alters the definition of the “relevant period” that applies for the purposes of Part 1 of Schedule 10 so that the period ends with 30 September 2020.
--- Later in debate ---
Moved by
104: Schedule 10, page 212, line 6, leave out from “30” to end of line 7 and insert “September 2020.”
Member’s explanatory statement
This amendment alters the definition of the “relevant period” that applies for the purposes of Part 2 of Schedule 10 so that the period ends with 30 September 2020.
--- Later in debate ---
Moved by
105: Schedule 11, page 213, line 16, leave out from “30” to end of line 17 and insert “September 2020.”
Member’s explanatory statement
This amendment alters the definition of the “relevant period” that applies for the purposes of Part 1 of Schedule 11 so that the period ends with 30 September 2020.
--- Later in debate ---
Moved by
107: Schedule 11, page 218, line 41, leave out from “30” to end of line 42 and insert “September 2020.”
Member’s explanatory statement
This amendment alters the definition of the “relevant period” that applies for the purposes of Part 2 of Schedule 11 so that the period ends with 30 September 2020.
--- Later in debate ---
Moved by
108: Schedule 14, page 236, line 5, leave out “or the Treasury under” and insert “under paragraph 2(2)(a) of”
Member’s explanatory statement
This amendment is consequential on the Minister’s other amendment to Schedule 14

Corporate Insolvency and Governance Bill

Lord Callanan Excerpts
3rd reading & 3rd reading (Hansard) & 3rd reading (Hansard): House of Lords
Tuesday 23rd June 2020

(3 years, 11 months ago)

Lords Chamber
Read Full debate Corporate Insolvency and Governance Act 2020 Read Hansard Text Read Debate Ministerial Extracts Amendment Paper: HL Bill 114-I Marshalled list for Report - (18 Jun 2020)
Moved by
Lord Callanan Portrait Lord Callanan
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That the Bill do now pass.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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