HC Deb 18 July 1985 vol 83 cc617-22

Amendments made:

No. 239, in page 218, line 5, column 3, at beginning insert—

"In Section 302(1), the words "or liquidator". '

No. 240, in page 218, line 16, at end insert—

'37&38 Vict. C. 42. The Building Societies Act 1874. In section 32, the words "under the supervision of the court".
6&7 Eliz. 2 c. 45 The Prevention of Fraud (Investments) Act 1958. In section 4, in subsections (2)(b) and (4)(a), the words "or under the supervision of".
1975 c.75. The Policyholders Protection Act 1975. In section 5(2), the words "or subject to the supervision of'.'.

No. 241, in page 218, line 16, at end insert—

'1982 c.50. The Insurance Companies Act 1982. In section 57(1), the words "or under the supervision of'.'.

No. 242, in page 219, line 40, column 3, leave out `Sections 611 to 618' and insert—

'Sections 611 to 615. Sections 616 to 618.'

No. 243, in page 219, line 44, column 3, at end insert— 'In section 625(1), the words "with intent to defraud creditors of the company" and the words "with that intent.".'.

No. 244, in page 220, line 21, column 3, leave out 'and "or 609"' and insert 'the words "or 609" and the words from "or appointing" onwards'.

No. 245, in page 221, line 2, column 3, at end insert— 'except sections 121 to 123'.

No. 246, in page 222, line 12, column 3, at end insert—

'Section 13A(2)(b).'

No. 247, in page 222, line 35, at end insert—

'1983 c.19. The Matrimonial Homes Act 1983. Section 2(7).'

No. 248, in page 222, line 39, at end insert—

'1985 c.00. The Housing Act 1985. Section 121 to 123.'

No. 249, in page 222, line 39, at end insert—

'1985 c.00. The Administration of Justice Act 1985. In section 16(1)(f), the words "or while a receiving order is in force against him".
Section 17(2)(b).'.

No. 250, in page 223, line 3, at end insert—

'4&5 Geo.c.59. The Bankruptcy Act 1914. Sections 121 to 123.'

No. 251, in page 223, line 25, at end insert—

'1977 c. 45. The Criminal Law Act 1977. Section 38(5).'.

No. 252, in page 223, line 38 at end insert—

'1982 c. 27 The Civil Jurisdiction and Judgements Act 1982 In section 18(3)(c), sub-paragraphs (i) and(ii).'.

No. 253, in page 223, line 44, column 3 at beginning insert—

'Section 570.'.

No. 254, in page 223, line 47, column 3 at end insert—

'Section 666(7)".

No. 255, in page 223, line 52, column 3 leave out 'and'.

No. 256, in page 223, line 54, column 3 at end insert 'and to sections 18 and 19(8) (a) of the Banking Act 1979'.—[Mr. Fletcher.]

Order for Third Reading read.—[Queen' s Consent, on behalf of the Crown, and Prince of Wales's Consent, signified.]

11.15 pm
Mr. Fletcher

I beg to move, That the Bill be now read the Third time.

We have made a contribution to the many problems raised during the debates in this House and the other place. I am satisfied that the Committee in particular contributed substantially to the quality of the legislation. As I do not wish to embarrass Labour Members, may I say quietly that I am grateful for their constructive approach. I hope that that augurs well for the legislation on financial services, which the Government hope to introduce next Session. I am also extremely grateful to my hon. Friends who were equally objective and constructive in proceeding with the legislation.

The Government set out with many objectives, which have been debated. However, I am happy to say that we still have licensed insolvency practitioners. We have fresh powers to disqualify unfit directors, powers to reduce limited liability through wrongful trading, and a new, helpful and constructive administration procedure. I hope that insolvency practitioners and the commercial world generally will find the Bill greatly advantageous to them. I hope that the poor bankrupts who find themselves in trouble over a relatively small sum will find the new simplified procedures helpful.

11.19 pm
Mr. Gould

The Minister's generous remarks are typical of the good humour with which both the Committee and the House have dealt with the Bill. Just as he thanked his hon. Friends, I should like to thank mine, particularly my hon. Friend the Member for St. Helens, South (Mr. Bermingham) for the great support and work that he has done in Committee and throughout the Bill's passage.

None of those agreeable aspects of the Bill's proceedings will deter me from making one final point that I am sure the Minister would expect me to make. We have had to deal with the Bill in the most difficult of circumstances. Some of his hon. Friends totalled up the number of amendments made throughout the proceedings., and came to the grand total of 1,000. I confess that I did. not do that sum, but it is true that we had over 400 Government amendments in Committee and another 200 on Report. That is virtually unprecedented, and even more remarkable when one considers that we are dealing with a Bill on a subject that has been under consideration since 1977. One cannot help but think that something went wrong somewhere and that the consultation procedures were inadequate for presenting a Bill of this complexity. The consequence was that the parliamentary procedures for scrutinising this important and complex measure were stretched virtually to breaking point. At times some of us felt almost overwhelmed by the volume of amendments and new clauses. I am sure that even the Minister found it difficult at times to keep pace with what was happening.

The consequence of that is that, while the Minister is right in saying that the Committee can take credit for having improved the Bill, the Bill is still not—and I am sure that my hon. Friends agree with me in this respect—in as good shape as it should have been. We have done what we can in the time available and with the resources available to us, but in the end the Bill still needs considerable amendment. It is unfortunate that we may yet again have to rely on another place to achieve that further refinement of the Bill. If that is so, I fear that the Government have no one but themselves to blame. On the other hand, the Minister is both generous and correct when he says that the Committee has done a good job. I hope that in that respect at any rate we have made it a better Bill than it was when it came to us.

11.22 pm
Mr. Hanley

I must crave the indulgence of the House while I make a few remarks on Third Reading.

I do not apologise for doing so, because I believe that there should be on the record certain matters that have not been discussed tonight. My hon. Friend the Minister has listened hard, often and widely. I know that we are all grateful for that. We are grateful for the careful consideration that he has given to our pleas and the careful consultation that he has gone into, particularly with his officials. If only that consultation had happened before report or even Third Reading, perhaps 1,000 Government amendments would not have been necessary. Maybe there would have been 1,000 paragraphs in a working party report. On this Bill, the case for a draft Bill on a technical matter has been proved.

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for the progress that we have made on preferential creditors. He is right in saying that the Government should be congratulated on trying to help small unsecured creditors. It was the Government's initiative that helped in removing corporation tax, and particularly the pernicious charge of local authority rates. Indeed, tonight the Government could have reversed the progress that we had all made on VAT being brought down from 12 to six months. The Government deserve some credit for accepting the Committee's view. In doing so, the Government will greatly help small firms that are creditors of those who go into liquidation.

Therefore, we should be grateful for many small mercies in the Bill. However, on the record should be certain matters on which my hon. Friend the Minister and the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, my hon. Friend the Member for Rossendale and Darwen (Mr. Trippier), agreed to come back to the Committee, having considered them. If the Bill is going to another place, we should put those matters to it.

First, on clause 7 the Minister undertook to consider whether provision with regard to the frequency of misconduct should be incorporated in a practice direction or in the rules. If the Government have dealt with any of those matters, I am sure that they will understand that it is difficult to find them in the vast volume of amendments.

Secondly, my hon. Friend the Minister said that he would consider provisions to enable a disqualified director who had been rehabilitated to apply to have the disqualification terminated. That is in clause 13. In clause 34 the Minister said he would consider making it a requirement for information to be given to the workforce. That has been mentioned tonight. but there was no progress. In clause 68, the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Trade and Industry, my hon. Friend the Member for Rossendale and Darwen (Mr. Trippier), agreed to reconsider whether early dissolution should occur where an administrative procedure is in place. In clause 70 the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State—my hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh, Central (Mr. Fletcher)—said that he would investigate the concern of the hon. Member for Dagenham (Mr. Gould) about there being no provision to deal with the possible lack of a quorum at the final meeting.

In clause 81, the hon. Member said that he would consider the suggestion by the hon. Member for St. Helens, South (Mr. Bermingham) that deposit payments should have preferential status. That was discussed tonight, but it is still a matter of major concern. In clause 97, my hon. Friend the Minister agreed to consider from my hon. Friend the Member for Tynemouth (Mr. Trotter) that the appointment of an administrative receiver should be recognised with regard to floating charges. In clause 105, he agreed to consider the suggestion by the hon. Member for St. Helens, South that the court should have power to give a direction about dealings with assets during the period of an interim order.

You will be pleased to hear, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that there are not many more, but I want them on the record. In clause 108 the Minister agreed to think about the suggestion by the hon. Member for Tynemouth that courts should have power to make a bankruptcy order immediately if attempts to have a voluntary agreement fall with regard to the decision of creditors meetings.

Mr. Fletcher

Where we were able to table an amendment in accordance with commitments, we did so. Where we could not, we wrote. I certainly wrote to hon. Members explaining why we could not follow up commitments that I had given in Committee.

Mr. Hanley

Many of these matters raised in Committee were of interest to more than the hon. Member who raised them. Having heard that assurance from the Minister, I should be very grateful if I could have sight of some of the letters, and I will undertake to the Minister to write to the hon. Gentleman concerned and ask for such information. I am merely trying to put these on the record so that the other place may consider them. I am about two thirds of the way through my list, and if their lordships are sitting on the edges of their red lined benches dying to know the other items, I will in turn write to them and give them the other seven items about which I have had no response.

Mr. Bermingham

For the last time in this Bill, I will come to the aid of the Minister and reassure the House that I received a letter in respect of each and every one of the matters I raised, and the letters were both helpful and explanatory. I am sure that my hon. Friend the Member for Dagenham (Mr. Gould) will join with me when I say how grateful I am to the Minister for the way he replied in these matters.

We leave this Bill as we began it. It has taken 100-plus years to get this far in improving insolvency law, but perhaps we have laid a few markers on the road. I hope it will not be another 100 years before we begin to develop the ideas in the Bill, many of which were canvassed in Committee. Parliamentary draftsmen often say, "It cannot be done," but where there is a will there is a way. The markers are on the road and many of us who took part in the debate on the Committee stage of this Bill know well where we want those markers to take us.

We say gently to this Government and to successive Governments that once this Bill goes into operation and flaws are found, those of us who are interested in the subject will bring those flaws back for correction. We all want to have a civilised insolvency law to remove the cruelty of the Riley case. We want to be able to catch and stop the war referred to tonight. or stone the gnome as I kept referring to it in Committee. If we are going to do that, we have to accept that insolvency law must develop with changing times, with the changing concepts in industry, and with changing methods in the service industry. It cannot be allowed to stay the same from 1880 until 1980 or from 1914 until 1985. We have to update the law, and we have to take on board the new ideas, commercial and otherwise, that exist.

For all those who served on the Standing Committee, the Bill has been an interesting exercise. I hope that for those who have had to listen to us it has not been too boring an exercise. To those who helped members of the Committee from without this place and in the various professional bodies we all owe a deep debt of thanks. Much of what we portrayed in the Committee came from their advice and guidance, and it is right that we should place on the record our gratitude for the great help that we get, which is voluntarily and freely given to us.

Perhaps the House of Lords can push the Bill just a little further down the tram tracks, and perhaps the gremlins will not get in the way too much.

Question put and agreed to

Bill read the Third time and passed, with amendments