HC Deb 26 October 1976 vol 918 cc298-302

'(1) Section 21 of the Administration of Justice Act 1965 and section 4(3) of the Attachment of Earnings Act 1971 (under which an application for an administration order and the making of an order requiring the debtor to furnish a list of creditors with a view to the making of an administration order constitute an act of bankruptcy) shall cease to have effect.

(2) In section 4(1)(a) of the said Act of 1971 (power to make administration order on application for attachment of earnings order) for the words "an order should be made for the administration of his estate" there shall be substituted the words "an administration order should be made".'.—[The Solicitor-General.]

Brought up, and read the First time.

The Solicitor-General (Mr. Peter Archer)

I beg to move, That the clause be read a Second time.

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Bryant Godman Irvine)

With this we may take Government Amendments Nos. 16, 18, 19, 43 and 44.

The Solicitor-General

I shall be dealing with some fairly technical matters, but that is my function. I begin by commenting that later on the Amendment Paper there is an amendment, No. 15, to delete Clause 10. That amendment stands in the names of Opposition Members. It may be that when the House debates that amendment I shall be able to say something that will evoke a welcome from the hon. and learned Member for Southport (Mr. Percival). The reason for that and the events leading up to that outcome are perhaps best reserved until later.

However, when these matters were discussed in Committee it was on the assumption that Clause 10 would remain part of the Bill. I listened to what was said in Committee by the hon. Member for Worthing (Mr. Higgins) and the hon. and learned Member for Southport. I hope that I listened sympathetically. I related what I heard to my noble Friend the Lord Chancellor.

These are technical matters. There was no point in making a party issue out of them. Where we could meet the objections pointed out, we endeavoured to do so. That was the purport of Amendments Nos. 16, 17 and 18. That no longer arises, so I do not propose to move Amendment No. 16 or Amendment No. 18 in this group, or, subsequently, Amendment No. 17. Having accepted the proposals to improve Clause 10, I propose in due course to accept an amendment to delete Clause 10 itself. But there is virtually no limit to the extent to which we are now seeking to accommodate Opposition Members. Because those discussions shed some light on provisions that were already on the statute book, it was thought that the same arguments ought to be applied.

I shall try briefly to explain the purpose of some of the other amendments in the group. Amendment No. 16 was tabled to meet a difficulty raised by the hon. and learned Member for Southport. He pointed to the expression in Clause 10 an order providing for the administration of his estate", which refers to an administration order. The hon. and learned Member said that that expression was misleading because it presents a picture of a court or of someone else realising the debtor's assets and, in a sense, distributing them. As he put it, it was, "We shall do this with that land; we shall do this with that bank account; we shall do this with that business", and so on. He pointed out, with some force, that that is not what happens in fact. The principal purpose in any event of an administration order is to order the debtor to pay by instalments and chiefly out of future income.

The hon. and learned Member for Southport said that those words were misleading and the proposal was simply to change them to the words "administration order". Those words were not unique to this Bill. They occur in Section 4(1)(a) of the Attachment of Earnings Act 1971, and the purpose of New Clause 2(2) is to make an identical amendment in relation to that provision.

Another matter which originally arose under Amendment No. 18—Clause 10(5) had it remained in the Bill—referred to the order by the court to furnish a list of creditors, that is prior to considering whether to make an administration order. It provided that this order should be an act of bankruptcy. The hon. Member for Worthing pointed out that this did not meet with universal satisfaction. The purpose had been to protect the creditor. Since an administration order might deprive a creditor of remedies which were otherwise available to him, it was felt that he ought to have an opportunity of presenting a bankruptcy petition between the making of the order for the list and the making of the administration order.

It was intended to give him that opportunity during the interval between the two orders. That might have been difficult, because there might have been no other act of bankruptcy by which he could proceed and, therefore, it was proposed to make the order for the making of the list itself an act of bankruptcy.

That was the reason for including the provision, but since our discussions in Committee my noble Friend and I have made some inquiries. It transpires that the similar provisions in the Acts of 1965 and 1971 are not frequently used and we concluded that on balance they brought very little benefit to creditors to offset the obvious burden on debtors. New Clause 2(1) repeals those provisions—Section 21 of the Administration of Justice Act 1965 and Section 4(3) of the Attachment of Earnings Act 1971. That is the purpose of New Clause 2 and I thought it right to explain it to the House.

Amendments Nos. 19, 43 and 44 are all consequential on New Clause 2 and I propose to move those formally when their turn is reached. There is also an amendment consequential on No. 15. It may be as well to give notice that I have prepared that in manuscript form. When we reach Clause 12, I shall seek to move it.

Mr. Higgins

I intervene only briefly. It may be that my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Southport (Mr. Percival) will also wish to say something about the new clause. The Solicitor-General has said that there is no limit to the extent to which the Government are prepared to go to meet the Opposition. I think there probably is a limit and I suspect that it has been reached. It appears to be 100 per cent. We are grateful to the Solicitor-General for that. I think it is the case, following the consultation, that we had not given careful thought to these highly technical matters. We are glad that the Government have seen fit on this occasion to meet the point we make.

4.45 p.m.

We are particularly glad to learn that when we come to Clause 10 the Government will accept our amendment to delete that clause. My hon. and learned Friend the Member for Southport has pointed out that it seems to be of no advantage and, indeed, of some considerable disadvantage. I am worried that the Solicitor-General discussed at length the amendments that he is not actually proposing to move. That will delay the proceedings unnecessarily. In all events, I understand that Amendments Nos. 16 and 18 will not be moved by the Government.

The Solicitor-General

There is no pleasing the hon. Gentleman. I was elaborating on those amendments because they shed light on the amendments I was proposing to move.

Mr. Higgins

The last thing I want to do is introduce an element of acrimony into these proceedings. We debated these matters in Committee—columns 67, 68 and 445 of Hansard—at great length. I do not want to go over it all now. The Government have effectively appreciated our arguments and we are grateful to them.

We are also grateful for the Solicitor-General's comments on whether an administration order should be regarded as an act of bankruptcy—a subject which we also discussed in some considerable detail. I personally had not appreciated the point he made about earlier legislation also requiring amendment. On reflection we think that right. We discussed administration orders at considerable length. We were a little worried that the Solicitor-General had not fully appreciated precisely what they did. However, I think that is now common ground between us.

I am grateful to the hon. and learned Gentleman for all that he has said and I hope that the House will agree to the new clause, subject to any technical points that my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Southport may wish to make.

Mr. Ian Percival (Southport)

I have no technical points to raise. I rise only to say that I am pleased and that I look forward to being further pleased as the evening wears on. Only a small point is being dealt with in Subsection (2) particularly. I am glad to have the chance to acknowledge that it is good and that the Government have recognised that even small things like this provision, where the wording is wrong, are worth putting right.

Anyone reading the words "administration of estate" would have thought they meant exactly that. But, in fact, they did not mean that. They were not introduced for any evil reasons. It was just that no one stopped to think that they might mislead. It is good that the Government have recognised the argument and have taken steps to put it right.

I acknowledge and recognise that the Government have done exactly what the Solicitor-General has said in respect of the new clause. Having accepted the arguments in relation to the provisions in the Bill, the Government asked themselves whether there was an other statutory provision to which that same argument applied. They have come forward with New Clause 2. It is an excellent way of dealing with the business of the House and I hope that it is a precedent that the Government will follow frequently.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause read a Second time, and added to the Bill.

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