HL Deb 15 September 2003 vol 652 cc735-6

8.9 p.m.

Lord Williams of Mostyn

rose to move, That the draft order laid before the House on 7th July be approved.

The noble and learned Lord said: My Lords, I beg to move that this House approve the Partnerships etc. (Removal of Twenty Member Limit) (Northern Ireland) Order 2003, a draft of which was laid before this House on 7th July 2003.

The purpose of the order is to amend the Northern Ireland law and to bring in provisions in line with those already in force in Great Britain through, as your Lordships will remember, the Regulatory Reform (Removal of 20 Member Limit in Partnerships etc.) Order 2002.

The 20-member partnerships are a historical relic. They interfere with the proper conduct of efficient business in Northern Ireland. They are a historical relic because in the 19th century, in particular, certain companies made a point of having a very large number of memberships so that it was virtually impossible for someone who was aggrieved to sue because there were so many potential defendants. To sue a deed of settlement company under common law, the aggrieved party had to be able to name all the shareholders. That was simply exploited, which was the historical origin of the 20-member limit. It is not appropriate any more. The size restriction was introduced as long ago as the Joint Stock Companies Act 1844.

The DTI has consulted extensively. It had overwhelming support. The restriction imposes burdens. It prevents the expansion of business through the introduction of new partnerships, restricts the development of multi-disciplinary and international partnerships and is quite inappropriate in a society which, in Northern Ireland, is becoming much more dynamic and innovative. I hope your Lordships will agree not only the detail, but the principle behind this order. I commend the order to the House.

Moved, That the draft order laid before the House on 7th July be approved.—(Lord Williams of Mostyn.)

Viscount Bridgeman

My Lords, I am most grateful to the Lord President for giving us the historical context to this issue. It is clearly right that Northern Ireland should be brought into line with United Kingdom law on this subject. We have no objection.

Baroness Harris of Richmond

My Lords, the noble and learned Lord has amply outlined the reasons why the order has been deemed necessary. It is right that we should encourage enterprise and remove restrictive barriers to business in Northern Ireland—barriers that have been in place, as the noble and learned Lord has very helpfully told us, since the 18th and 19th centuries in order to restrict the extent to which partnerships were open to abuse.

There has been wide consultation on the order with no apparent dissent. Therefore, it must be absolutely right to give Northern Ireland partnerships the same regulatory framework as those which operate throughout the rest of Great Britain. We, too, support the order.

Lord Williams of Mostyn

My Lords, I am grateful.