HC Deb 01 June 1998 vol 313 cc127-9
Mrs. Roche

I beg to move amendment No. 8, in page 5, line 37, leave out from beginning of line to end of line 43 and insert— '.—(1) A qualifying debt created by virtue of an obligation to make an advance payment shall be treated for the purposes of this Act as if it was created on the day mentioned in subsection (3), (4) or (5) (as the case may be). (2) In this section "advance payment" means a payment falling due before the obligation of the supplier to which the whole contract price relates ("the supplier's obligation") is performed, other than a payment of a part of the contract price that is due in respect of any part performance of that obligation and payable on or after the day on which that part performance is completed.'.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

With this, it will be convenient to discuss Government amendment No. 9.

Mrs. Roche

Following the Committee, we reviewed the Bill to ensure that none of the amendments agreed to had inadvertently caused things to fall outside the Bill that we would wish to be covered. Amendment No. 8 picks up the one issue we have identified. Its purpose is to ensure that the Bill operates on stage payments—that is, interim payments in respect of work actually done.

During discussions in the other place, the Government tabled an amendment to clarify the operation of clause 4 on the period for which statutory interest runs. Inadvertently, however, that amendment has put stage payments into a state of limbo as they are caught by the definition of an advance payment in clause 11, although the clause does not stipulate from when interest will run.


Rather than invent a rule in clause 11 for genuine stage payments, we think the best approach is to take them out of clause 11 altogether. That is achieved through amendment No. 8. The effect of the amendment is that stage payments, where the payments are for work already done, are dealt with under clause 4(3) and (5) as appropriate.

Amendment No. 9 is consequential on amendment No. 8. The new wording requires a change in the word structure in clause 11(4). It also serves to remove an element of ambiguity, as the obligation to pay the price is, in one sense, always present in a supply contract. These are technical amendments which improve the scope of the Bill and I commend them to the House.

Mrs. Gillan

I do not know how long the Minister has been working on the Bill, but she has had at least a year in government. At this late stage, she is still proposing changes under the guise of technical amendments.

In the other place, the Government tabled no fewer than 52 amendments. In Committee, another five were tabled by the Minister. Tonight, we have two further amendments, making a grand total of 59 amendments to what she claims is a well-researched Bill. What is she up to? How can anyone have confidence in a measure that still requires modifications at this stage? I am sick to death of hearing from the Government that everything is under review. Surely by the time they propose legislation, the Government should have made up their mind about what they want to do without having to introduce remedial drafting at every stage in both Houses.

I understand what the Minister wishes to achieve with the amendments, but what guarantees do we have that she will not find further flaws after the Bill has received Royal Assent? Nothing would surprise me. This is amateurish behaviour. In Committee, I had the impression that the Minister had finished hacking the Bill around. Tonight's performance indicates that, once again, she has decided to move the goalposts, a situation that is much to be regretted and which places another burden on businesses, which are trying to follow the passage of a Bill that has changed almost daily.

The Minister has said that businesses need a stable environment and a degree of certainty in which to operate. She has made a real pig's ear of the Bill, while failing to listen to any constructive suggestions from the Opposition. I hope that she can tell the House whether, finally, she is satisfied with the Bill or whether there are more surprises in store.

Mrs. Roche

Oh dear, oh dear! In Committee, I suddenly felt overwhelming sympathy for the hon. Member for Chesham and Amersham (Mrs. Gillan)—for whom I have a great deal of time—because she suddenly seemed to suffer a severe memory lapse about what happened under the previous Government, of which she was a member.

The hon. Lady rightly wants to ensure that we get the Bill right. We believe that small businesses deserve nothing but the best, which is why we listen and consider. I remind her of what happened during consideration of the Gas Act 1995; on Report, the then Minister for Energy tabled 20 amendments.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

I understood that the hon. Member for Chesham and Amersham (Mrs. Gillan) was making a preliminary remark before coming to the point. However, now that she has finished her preliminary remarks, which were not particularly pertinent to the amendment, we do not need to have another debate outside the scope of the amendment.

Mrs. Roche

I absolutely agree with you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, which is why I did not mention in my opening remarks the fact that, during consideration of the Education Act 1997, the hon. Lady, as a Minister, tabled on Report the widely criticised amendment No. 65—I knew that you would reproach me if I did.

I have tabled Government amendment No. 8 to improve the Bill and I commend it to the House.

Amendment agreed to.

Amendment made: No. 9, in page 6, line 9, leave out 'the obligation to pay it arises' and insert 'is payable'.—[Mrs. Roche.]

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