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

(Report stage)
Peter Grant Excerpts
Thursday 9th September 2021

(1 month, 2 weeks ago)

Commons Chamber

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Department for Levelling Up, Housing & Communities

Finally, we support the Government’s technical amendments to allow the measures to apply to Wales as well as England. We note that they are at the request of the Welsh Government and we welcome them.

Peter Grant Portrait Peter Grant
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I beg your pardon, Mr Deputy Speaker. I am standing to speak to the wrong provision.

Luke Hall Portrait The Minister for Regional Growth and Local Government (Luke Hall)
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I welcome the contribution from the hon. Member for Manchester, Withington (Jeff Smith). I shall start by responding to new clause 1, tabled by the hon. Member for Feltham and Heston (Seema Malhotra) and the hon. Gentleman. I am grateful to him for his constructive words and the way in which he has approached the debate.

The new clause would require the Secretary of State to report to Parliament on the number of directors investigated and disqualified under the new provisions in the Bill every three months from the date that the Act is passed. I am grateful to hon. Members for the opportunity to confirm to the House that statistical reporting is routinely undertaken by the Insolvency Service. Regular three-monthly releases cover company insolvencies across the whole UK as well as individual insolvencies in England and Wales. The releases also contain underlying data and are published and available online to everybody.

As well as that, since the start of the pandemic, the Insolvency Service has been publishing experimental monthly releases of data concerning insolvency numbers. This was so that the statistics could act as an indicator of the impact of the pandemic on insolvencies. It may be of particular interest to hon. Members that the Insolvency Service also releases monthly updates about its enforcement activities. This information includes not only the number of companies wound up in the public interest, but the number of disqualification orders and undertakings broken down by the relevant section of the Company Directors Disqualification Act 1986, under which they were sought. Going forward, these numbers will include any orders or undertakings obtained as a result of this new provision. The reports also include information on lengths of periods of disqualification. Furthermore, there is an annual report on the nature of the misconduct being alleged.

I hope that the hon. Gentleman is reassured that a large amount of information is already provided that can be accessed easily through a quick online search and that future reports of enforcement outcomes will include any disqualifications made against former directors of dissolved companies. I would be grateful to him for withdrawing his new clause.

Let me just add one last point. The hon. Gentleman also mentioned the new burdens on councils. I somewhat couched my answer the last time we spoke about it, so I just want to put on record that we will absolutely be meeting the new burdens cost, including the associated administrative and IT costs.

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Jeff Smith Portrait Jeff Smith
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I will again be brief, because we set out our concerns on Second Reading and in Committee, I am aware that this might not be seen as the highlight of the parliamentary week by Members, and there is an important debate to follow.

As we said, we have always supported the Bill’s broad aims. We want to see support administered quickly for businesses that have been affected by covid and have missed out on business rates relief. We accept that ruling out material change of circumstances claims, but instead administering the bespoke £1.5 billion fund, will probably be the best way of doing so in the current circumstances. We also support the aims of clauses 2 and 3, which would close the legal loophole and give the Government the power to investigate and disqualify unscrupulous or unfit company directors.

I welcome the Government’s decision to extend the provisions of clause 1 to apply in Wales, which has been welcomed by colleagues in the Senedd. I also welcome the Government’s decision to ask local authorities, when it comes to administering the fund, to award relief against the liabilities of ratepayers for the current financial year—2021-22—as a way of getting around the restrictions on the business rates legislation so that they can effectively award it against the previous year. It is a technical solution to a technical problem caused by the timing of the funding, when it is eventually released. Local government colleagues assure me that they are happy with this.

Again, I emphasise the fact that we need to get this relief out to businesses as quickly as possible. The rates relief was announced in March and not a penny has yet been paid out. I do not think we need to wait for the end of the Bill proceedings to get indicative guidance to local authorities to design their schemes.

There are still concerns about the resourcing of the Valuation Office Agency and the Insolvency Service and how funds will be recouped and actions taken against unfit company directors. I hope that the Minister will take those concerns into further consideration.

Finally, I thank the Minister for his engagement with me and my hon. Friend the Member for Feltham and Heston (Seema Malhotra) on the Bill’s finer points. I thank his officials and the many, many representatives of the business community and local authority officers who have also engaged with us during the passage of the Bill.

Peter Grant Portrait Peter Grant
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I am pleased to make a brief contribution to the debate. As I did at earlier stages, I will restrict my comments to the disqualification of directors, which is the only aspect of the Bill that extends directly to Scotland.

The SNP supports the Bill. Our concerns are the same as those of the official Opposition: that much, much more is needed than is included. We need a much more comprehensive set of regulations, not so much to protect shareholders and directors as to protect customers, members of the public and investors from the scams that have all too often been committed by companies whose shareholders are the directors. A lot of company legislation was designed to protect investors against misaction or misconduct by company directors who are different people, but we are now looking at companies whose directors are the shareholders. They are not going to defraud themselves, but sometimes they may be willing to defraud others.

At earlier stages, I have repeatedly mentioned the conduct of a group of companies called Blackmore Bond and its directors Phillip Nunn and Patrick McCreesh. I will not go over even a fraction of their history, but why they were not at least investigated for disqualification long, long ago is beyond me. The Bill will not make it easier for such directors to be called to order, so we need legislation that fills in the gaps that are left.

As an indication of just how current such behaviour is, the BBC reported as recently as Monday that DialADeal Scotland Ltd has been fined £150,000 by the Information Commissioner’s Office for making more than half a million illegal marketing calls, many to numbers that had explicitly opted out of such calls. DialADeal Scotland Ltd used false business names in its marketing, which is illegal. It disguised the number that it was calling from so that people could not phone back to complain, which is also illegal. The calls were about non-existent green deal energy savings schemes. That is not a telecoms offence; it is fraud or attempted fraud, and very probably conspiracy to defraud.

The fine was decided in September 2021, but clearly the action by the Information Commissioner’s Office started before then. In May 2021, the directors of the company, Calum Mckay Kirkpatrick and Yvonne Mccuaig, applied to Companies House to place the company in voluntary liquidation—almost certainly with the sole purpose of avoiding the financial penalty that they knew was coming their way, because if the company were dissolved before the order was made, its directors would get off scot-free. Fortunately, the Information Commissioner’s Office was able to lodge an objection with Companies House and the voluntary strike-off action has been suspended.

The same two individuals, Kirkpatrick and Mccuaig, were also directors of DialADealUK Ltd, which was voluntarily dissolved in September 2018, immediately before DialADeal Scotland Ltd was created. Coincidentally, shortly after they had started the process of winding up DialADeal Scotland Ltd, they set up another company called Simple Lead Ltd. Not one of those companies has ever filed a set of accounts with Companies House; DialADeal Scotland’s accounts are now over a year out of date.

Why is it that company directors can repeatedly avoid any kind of scrutiny? As I have mentioned in relation to Nunn and McCreesh’s companies, they can go for years and years without filing the very limited information that they have to file at Companies House, which just does not seem able to keep up.

Alison Thewliss Portrait Alison Thewliss (Glasgow Central) (SNP)
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My hon. Friend makes a very good point about Companies House and its limitations. Does he share my concern that the UK Government just do not care enough about Companies House and the massive loopholes that they are leaving for people to be defrauded and company directors to get away scot-free with the wrong things that they are up to?

Peter Grant Portrait Peter Grant
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That would certainly be many people’s interpretation of how long it has taken the Government to take any firm action. We keep being promised a comprehensive review of company legislation; it cannot come quickly enough. I hope that we will finally see an end to the scandal of the creatures called Scottish limited partnerships, which are too often set up purely as a means to fund organised crime.

Companies House needs to be reformed and probably better resourced. As the Opposition spokesperson—the hon. Member for Manchester, Withington (Jeff Smith)—mentioned, the Bill may place additional demands on the resources of the Insolvency Service. We know that the Financial Conduct Authority needs another complete sorting out. Either it is not doing its job or it has not been asked to do the right job; it probably does not have the resources to deal with fraud on the scale that is now going on right under our nose.

Although I welcome the Bill and we will certainly not oppose it—we have supported it all the way through—we look for assurances from the Government that it is not the end of the road. It can only be allowed to be one tiny step towards finally stopping these people. I remember one of the witnesses who gave evidence to the Bill Committee describing the United Kingdom as becoming one of the go-to places of choice for international fraudsters. That is not a badge that any of us should bear with honour. If that badge is applied to the financial services industry, and to the business community in the United Kingdom generally, it will take years—decades—to get rid of and honest businesses will suffer desperately.

The Government have to start to act now. I do not know whether the Minister is in a position to tell us today when the comprehensive review of company regulation will come forward, but I certainly hope that we will see it very soon. As DialADeal’s example makes clear, even since we started our consideration of the Bill, further scams have been inflicted on innocent people throughout these islands.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read the Third time and passed.

Nigel Evans Portrait Mr Deputy Speaker (Mr Nigel Evans)
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Dame Rosie Winterton will now take the Chair for our important debate on the legacy of Jo Cox.

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

(2nd reading)
Peter Grant Excerpts
Kevin Hollinrake Portrait Kevin Hollinrake (Thirsk and Malton) (Con)
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It is a pleasure to be called so early in a debate, Madam Deputy Speaker; I am not used to that happening frequently. I draw the House’s attention to my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests.

I have been involved in business rates as a businessperson for a long time, and I greatly sympathise with businesses that have been hit by coronavirus. We know there is a disproportionate impact on some sectors as compared with others, but I support the Government’s measures here and I will explain why. The Government have put a lot of support in—I think the Minister said it was £16 billion in business rates relief to certain sectors and at least another £10 billion in grants above that. There is £1.5 billion in the Bill for businesses that were not included in those schemes.

The amendment tabled by the hon. Member for Richmond Park (Sarah Olney), who I think will speak next, is flawed. It shows a deep misunderstanding of how the business rates system works. Business rates are not about a business; they are about a property. All business rates are based on a property value. What she is trying to argue is that a business of a different business type, such as a nightclub, should be treated differently in terms of business rates from, for example, a retailer or a bank that might have traded successfully. Asking the Valuation Office Agency to value something on the basis of how a certain business has been hit by coronavirus would turn the business rates system completely upside down, at a time when that would not be particularly helpful.

I understand that more than 300,000 businesses potentially would have taken this route, some of which had not been hit by coronavirus. The amendment would create a huge opportunity—a bonanza—for the legal sector to look at this area and take these things to court. That would ultimately cost the taxpayer a lot of money on many occasions where the businesses concerned had not suffered from coronavirus.

The point is about the material change of circumstance. It is about a permanent change. That is what the measure is there for: a permanent change, as the Minister said, such as a demolition or something that affected all the premises in a locality. This is not about general market conditions. Hopefully, coronavirus will be a temporary thing and the restrictions caused by it will in two or three weeks’ time be long gone. For that reason, I do not support the hon. Lady’s amendment, and I support the Government’s action in terms of a material change of circumstance and restricting the right to take an appeal forward.

Clause 2 concerns former directors of dissolved companies. I absolutely support closing that loophole, too. As the Minister said, often, one sees business owners who will use subterfuge to avoid, for example, the repayment of bounce back loans or the payment of suppliers. That is inappropriate. If there is a direct route to that through going straight to being a dissolved entity, it is absolutely right that we close that loophole.

I listened to the shadow Minister, the hon. Member for Manchester, Withington (Jeff Smith), and he made some very good points about resources for the Insolvency Service. I have worked with it quite a lot on various matters while I have been in this House and it is not the most proactive organisation around. It may be a lack of resources, but certainly there is no point having the regulations if we do not regulate such businesses, and we have to make sure that, if these measures are introduced, the Insolvency Services does hunt down the people who try to avoid their debts, including fraudulently. As I said in my intervention on the Minister, if these debts have been avoided fraudulently, those people should be prosecuted for fraud. As I said in my intervention on the Minister, if these debts have been avoided fraudulently, those people should be prosecuted for fraud. That is another area where we lack resources. The UK has a very poor record on hunting down fraud and financial crime. That is an area where we need to beef up our resources, which would have a huge payback, of course. Consider the relative amounts charged in financial sanctions in the US versus the UK: even accounting for the size of its economy, five to six times more money comes back into the US Treasury through its prosecution of fraud. There would be a big payback for our Treasury if we beefed up resources.

Let me touch briefly on one issue with the Insolvency Service that is not directly related to the Bill but reflects on certain points made by the shadow Minister. I have been trying to get the Insolvency Service to take action against a rogue set of business rates consultants called RVA, who go into unsuspecting small businesses that do not understand that small business rate relief, for example, is freely available; they just need to contact the council and it becomes applicable to their premises and business. They do not understand that, and RVA signs them up to a contract that basically takes 50% of the relief for up to 12 years, for writing one letter to the local authority. That is absolutely wrong. We should close that organisation down now. The Insolvency Service has promised to look at it, but not as proactively as it might.

I will make a wider point on the general issue of insolvency. As many people in this place know, I am co-chair of the all-party parliamentary group on fair business banking. For some time we have had real concerns about the insolvency profession generally, and its probably unhealthy links with some of the people it gets its work from, not least the high street banks. We are doing an inquiry into that alongside the legal firm Humphries Kerstetter. We are taking evidence now and will produce a report in early September on those conflicts of interest. We have seen lots of cases, including one quite recently with KPMG and HIG where both have been fined a significant amount in a draft judgment.

There are some unhealthy alliances here. We need to remove those conflicts of interest and, as the Government have said they will consider doing at some point, move towards an independent, ombudsman-style regulator for the insolvency profession. That does not exist now; it is pretty much self-regulation, which has been proven time and again not to work. I know that is not particularly a matter for today, but this was a good opportunity to get it on the record.

Peter Grant Portrait Peter Grant (Glenrothes) (SNP)
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I am pleased to contribute to this debate. I will confine my remarks to clauses 2 and 3, which are the ones that apply in the whole of the UK. The Minister pointed out that clause 1 does not apply directly to Scotland.

The SNP welcomes the provisions to close the loopholes that have been identified, although they do not go nearly far enough. I am a bit concerned that this is the second or third time recently that a Bill has been brought forward to tighten up on director and company misconduct and company fraud, but it is framed so narrowly that it is almost impossible to amend it to widen its scope or improve it further. Although we will not oppose Second Reading tonight, I hope that we are not too far away from a more comprehensive review of companies legislation with a wider scope so that Members with particular changes they want to see are able to put them forward to be debated by the House.

In effect, the proposals make a slight change to the way in which the directors of a company are allowed to be completely separate from the company itself when things go wrong. The concept of creating a separate legal entity when a limited company is formed is perfectly sound. There were valid reasons for introducing it 150 or 200 years ago, when companies legislation was in its infancy. Many of those reasons are valid today, and we should retain the protection for directors, senior managers and, indeed, shareholders of companies that go to the wall through no fault of their own, through bad luck or misjudgment. But the reasons for protecting company directors do not extend to making it harder to deal with con men, and the occasional con woman, who set out to become millionaires at the cost of other people’s pensions, savings and hard-earned cash.

When there are reasonable grounds to believe that the directors of a company have been guilty of serious misconduct—including criminal misconduct, in some cases—we cannot allow them to delay, reduce or in any way frustrate the result of punitive action just by dissolving the company. That would be like saying that somebody who faces charges under the Road Traffic Acts can get away with it just by scrapping the car. It is not the vehicle that is at fault but the people who were driving the vehicle at the time.

The Government have rightly pointed out that some of the abuses in respect of which they want to tighten up are those carried out by what are called phoenix companies: the directors shut down one company and in essence resurrect the same company, but because they give it a different name, rank and serial number it is legally a different company and all the sins of the previous company are forgotten about.

Directors do not even need to close down the guilty company first: the same abuses can equally well be perpetrated by running two or three—or, in a case I will come to in a moment, 23—parallel companies with exactly the same couple of shareholders and exactly the same couple of directors, and very often no other employees at all. Through a process that is sometimes lengthy, sometimes short, they dump all the liabilities and debts on to one company and shut that one down, while the assets and benefits are hidden away in a separate company, to be shared only by the directors. In those circumstances, surely it is right that the Insolvency Service and other regulators have the unrestricted right to pursue the individual directors, regardless of which company name they hide behind at the time.

It has to be said that if the Government are serious about imposing improved standards of integrity in the City of London, it is unfortunate that they have chosen to present the Bill on the day when one of their own Ministers told the BBC that the standard of integrity in Government conduct by which they want to be judged is what they can get away with electorally. There is a double standard there that is perhaps not directly relevant to this debate, but the Government cannot afford to ignore it.

Let me mention one example of what can go wrong when directors appear to run a company for their own benefit and not for the benefit of those whose money they are supposed to look after. The Nunn McCreesh limited liability partnership was incorporated in August 2012 and dissolved by voluntary strike-off in October 2015. It had only three officers: Phillip Nunn, Patrick McCreesh and a company that they jointly owned called It’s Your Pension Ltd, incorporated in 2013 and dissolved by voluntary strike-off in 2016.

Coincidentally, at the same time that Mr Nunn and Mr McCreesh took the decision to dissolve the limited liability partnership, the Insolvency Service was finding that the LLP had been paid nearly £900,000 for identifying investors for Capita Oak—a name with which Members will be familiar as it was a pension fund that collapsed, taking £120 million of other people’s pensions with it. Capita Oak remains under investigation by the Serious Fraud Office; we do not know whether the part played in the Capita Oak story by Nunn McCreesh and numerous other companies is part of that investigation.

Mr Nunn and Mr McCreesh moved on quickly from their dissolved LLP and set up a whole web of companies —23 at the last count—under the Blackmore brand. Between 2016 and 2019, one of these companies, Blackmore Bond plc, raised £46 million by selling high-risk mini bonds to investors that they knew were completely unsuitable for that type of investment. Blackmore Bond plc went into administration in 2020 and the investors have almost certainly lost all of their £46 million.

Kevin Hollinrake Portrait Kevin Hollinrake
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The hon. Gentleman has raised a very interesting case. I am sure he will be aware that the Financial Conduct Authority was warned on numerous occasions about the activities of Blackmore Bond but apparently did nothing about it until it was far too late.

Peter Grant Portrait Peter Grant
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I do not know whether the hon. Gentleman was reading through the back of my notes, but he is only about five or six lines ahead of what I was going to say.

I do not know whether Mr Nunn and Mr McCreesh were ever placed under formal investigation, or whether they might still be under investigation, for their part in the Capita Oak story—for obvious reasons, that kind of information is not shared—but surely the fact that they were able to dissolve their company should not make any difference to the investigations to which they can be subjected and the sanctions they should face if they are found guilty of misconduct in their management of Nunn McCreesh LLP or, indeed, any of the umpteen other companies they have run.

Perhaps if, as the hon. Member for Thirsk and Malton (Kevin Hollinrake) indicated a moment ago, the various regulators had communicated with each other more effectively, the Financial Conduct Authority would have heard loud alarm bells ringing when in 2017 it was alerted to the highly questionable sales techniques that Blackmore Bond was using; perhaps if the FCA had made the link to the dodgy practices in relation to Capita Oak that were carried out by a different company under the same ownership and direction, it would have moved faster than it appeared to do; and perhaps, at least, the investors who ploughed £26 million into Blackmore Bond after the FCA was warned about it would have had some warning that the Blackmore Group might have been better named the Black Hole Group, because that is exactly what it became for £46 million of other people’s money.

I described that one scandal out of the many I could have described to remind the House that we are not just looking at a theoretical loophole here; we are looking at regulatory weaknesses that have allowed chancers and charlatans to make well over £1 billion of other people’s pensions and life savings disappear, and that is before we start to look at the business-to-business frauds that have forced small businesses into liquidation, often at massive financial cost to the entrepreneurs who have set them up.

The provisions in clauses 2 and 3 address just one of those weaknesses, and much more is needed. We need a complete reform of Companies House so that, for example, details of the beneficial ownership of Scottish limited partnerships and other secretive company structures have to be published. We have known for years that SLPs have been used to launder millions of pounds of dirty money created by illicit business activities, usually related to organised crime. We need to see action soon to put a stop to that. We need to reinstate the principle of the reverse burden of proof on senior bank managers, for example. When something goes wrong on their watch, rather than it being up to the authorities to prove that they were negligent, can we go back to requiring the bank manager to prove that they were doing the right thing? This reverse burden of proof often applies in other cases of professional misconduct or questions about professional conduct. All our regulators, including the Insolvency Service and the Financial Conduct Authority, need to be adequately resourced to keep up with the almost limitless ingenuity of the criminals they are trying to keep tabs on. That is about not just the amount of money they have, but the degree of training and experience that their people have, so that the person asked to take a decision as to whether somebody is fit to be registered with the FCA has the experience to know what kinds of warning signs to look out for.

Finally, we need legislation that allows us not just to disqualify directors who are guilty of wrongdoing; it should allow the authorities to order them to pay compensation to the victims. In some cases, I will support that on the basis of a civil balance of proof, which is on the balance of probabilities, rather than the much higher bar of proof beyond reasonable doubt, which is why so many cases that the Serious Fraud Office takes to court never get as far as a conviction. We welcome the provisions in clauses 2 and 3. If the long title and the scope of this legislation had allowed it, we would have been submitting a significant number of amendments to improve it on Report. I hope the time is not too far away when legislation on the wider issue comes before the House so that directors cannot simply avoid disqualification by scrapping their vehicles.

Duncan Baker Portrait Duncan Baker (North Norfolk) (Con)
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A snappy title it is not, but a very important Bill it is, for two very good reasons. I wish to recap by saying that this Government have supported the jobs and livelihoods of the people of this country to the tune of some £400 billion—£300 billion in the past year alone; the last time we exceeded 10% of GDP was in the financial crisis, and before then world war two, and we are still supporting businesses, as we are doing with this Bill. When we are trying to protect the jobs and livelihoods of so many people, there will inevitably be areas of difficulty, yet the Government have always tried to support as many people as possible. The £16 billion-worth of rates relief has been an absolute lifeline for countless businesses, including those that get in touch with me in my constituency and others all around the country. The Government are to be commended for that. Even when businesses are more difficult to support, the discretionary funds for local authorities to be able to target those businesses are also a lifeline, and therefore the £1.5 billon of additional support for businesses whose circumstances have perhaps changed during the pandemic is incredibly important and welcome.

I want to touch on an equally serious matter: we read that potentially 60% of the £46.5 billion that has been lent out through various Government schemes—lent, I might add—might be defaulted on and not repaid. When the Government are the guarantor, I certainly welcome the Treasury taking the necessary steps to mitigate that risk and the retrospective powers to curb that significant problem, putting the parameters in place to deal with directors who might dissolve a company, walk away from their responsibilities and then not just have an effect on many people, such as creditors who are equally trying to get back on their feet, but cheat the taxpayers, who must also get back on their feet. That money is so important for the re-emergence of our economy, and we absolutely have to ensure that our public services can get up again, so any power through legislation, with the legal process in there to mitigate that, is very welcome.

It is worth pointing out that we have to be mindful slightly of not being out of this pandemic, and therefore, in going after directors who default on their responsibilities —I was a director once, and I would never dream of defaulting—we need to be careful to enable businesses to resurge again. We have to make sure that approaches to recoup the money are done in the right way. I am happy that the Exchequer is being protected in this way. I think it is very sensible legislation. We know that when we create something retrospectively it is often because we have moved at speed to protect taxpayers in the first place. This is very welcome legislation, and I back it 100%.

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Paul Scully Portrait Paul Scully
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I will not give way, but I will happily come back to the hon. Lady if I have not answered her question. I do want to get through a few areas.

Let me quickly turn to the disqualification of directors of dissolved companies. The issue of insolvency funding came up a few times. Clearly, we will be working with the Insolvency Service to ensure that it has the resources to do its job. It employs its finite resources to the maximum effect by prioritising cases in which there has been most harm to the public and the wider marketplace. Clearly, its resources are not limitless.

The hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon) asked about insolvencies. Actually, the number of insolvencies has been at a 40-year low over the past few months because, effectively, in many areas, the economy has been held in stasis. That is why it is so important that, having put £352 billion-worth of support into the economy, we now have 352 billion reasons why we have to get the next bit right—why we have to help shape the recovery through these mitigations. We need to make sure that we continue to flex and continue to extend the support. That is why furlough carries on until September and why we have ensured that the winding-up proceedings have been extended for another nine months as well, so that we can get conversations going with landlords and tenants. It is so, so important to continue these measures.

I am glad that we have had broad support for the measures. In terms of compensation, directors can obviously be held personally liable for debt, and where there are breaches, there is disqualification.

Peter Grant Portrait Peter Grant
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I note the Minister’s comments that directors can be held personally liable, but does he accept that allowing an individual investor or creditor to sue a director at their own risk is very different from a scheme through which the Government or some other body effectively take that legal action on behalf of a group of aggrieved individuals, who individually cannot afford the risk of taking that action?

Paul Scully Portrait Paul Scully
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I take the hon. Gentleman’s point. Let me just answer a couple of his points. He talked about corporate governance and audit reform. That is something that we will legislate on as soon as parliamentary time allows. He referenced a Minister saying that we would adhere to standards that we thought that we could get away with. No, that is absolutely not the case. I did not hear that comment, but I suspect what the Minister said and meant was that we are accountable to the electorate. When I heard about that comment, I thought about my own constituency where I know at least one High Court judge, an insolvency practitioner, lawyers, forensic accountants, civil servants—I have them in my own Department never mind my constituency—and journalists and, boy, will they hold me to account at the ballot box, in my local media and in the national media should it be appropriate to do so. That is that standard to which we expect to work as a Government. I am glad that he also mentioned phoenixing, because this will strengthen the phoenixing legislation as well.

I have noted the helpful contributions made by Members across the House, and I am looking forward to working with colleagues in Committee to make sure that we can get this really important legislation for both of these measures through. The scrutiny that has been provided today is, as always, greatly appreciated. I look forward to discussing this Bill with Members throughout its passage, and I commend it to the House.