HC Deb 15 December 1975 vol 902 cc958-60
21. Mr. Gow

asked the Secretary of State for Trade whether he is having discussions with the liquidator of Nation Life to see whether his charges can be reduced.

Mr. Clinton Davis

No, Sir. The liquidator's remuneration is primarily a matter for the creditors and the committee of inspection representing them. My Department would not intervene unless it became apparent that the amount ultimately fixed was, in the circumstances, unnecessarily large.

Mr. Gow

What is the Minister's estimate of the present charges that will be made by the liquidator in this case?

Mr. Davis

It is not possible for me to answer that, because the answer depends upon the amount of the assets that are realised. As the hon. Gentleman will know from his professional experience, the fee is on an ad valorem basis, on the realisation of assets.

Mr. Skinner

Will my hon. Friend give no aid or comfort to the idea, put forward by the accountant acting on behalf of the William Stern Group, of operating not under the bankruptcy procedure but under the Deeds of Arrangement Act 1914, which would have meant that the proposition would have allowed William Stern to have £20,000 a year to live on and to pay only two-thirds of any money over and above that which he earned in any one year? Will he also take into account the fact that if we reduce the liabilities we shall reduce the amount of money that could be obtained by the Crown Agents and other Government Departments, which are attempting to get back £400 million worth of taxpayers' money, which was lent wrongly in the first place?

Mr. Davis

I am sure that the liquidator will take into account what my hon. Friend said.

Sir John Hall

Will the Minister say what is likely to be the fee charged by his Department and what relation that has to the actual costs borne by his Department?

Mr. Davis

I have already indicated the basis upon which the Department's fees are charged. If the hon. Gentleman wishes me to go into the details, which he obviously does, no doubt he will table a Question to that effect.

Mr. Higgins

Is the Minister aware that there is grave concern in the House about the basis on which the fees are charged and that a pro rata basis may be appropriate for a medium-sized company but is inappropriate for a small company, and amounts to very large sums when a company the size of Nation Life is involved? We have now been waiting for some weeks for a satisfactory response in answers to Written Questions. Will the hon. Gentleman give the House an assurance that he will examine this matter and review carefully the extremely heavy burden that the total of charges being made imposes on Nation Life policyholders?

Mr. Davis

As in the debate on this matter, the hon. Gentleman avoids the main functions of the Department as a whole in this area. They are designed for the protection of creditors at large, not simply in one case but in a large number of cases. They cover the receipt of investments, payment out of funds, and supervisory and advisory functions, and they deal with the statutory audit and the statutory duties of the Official Receiver. All these matters have to be covered. It is no use the hon. Gentleman using, as he did on the previous occasion, the word "distasteful" when he ignores the essential nature of the functions that have to be undertaken.