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30 Oct 2002 : Column 964—continued

Mr. Djanogly rose—

Mr. Redwood: I shall give way to my hon. Friend, but we are running out of time.

Mr. Djanogly: I note with interest the thought processes of my right hon. Friend in respect of changing

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the word Xspouse" to Xpartner". I should like to hear more of his views on that subject, because I am not sure that Xpartner" has the same meaning in law as Xspouse", or, indeed, any meaning.

Mr. Redwood: I ought not to be drawn too far down this interesting byway, as there are others better qualified to comment. My hon. Friend may well be right to say that the word Xpartner" has a legal imprecision. I simply raise the issue for the Minister because it is one of concern for a Government who pride themselves on being modern and inclusive. I am particularly worried about the issue of substance that I raised: are there other people in relationships with the bankrupt apart from a spouse or a former spouse—in the latter case, the relationship might be far from close or friendly—who should be included in, or excluded from, this very important provision?

The legislation is complicated and leaves considerable discretion in the hands of those dealing with the bankruptcy issue. In certain cases, the clause that we seek to amend leaves the timing imprecise. A three-year period is mentioned, but the trigger time varies, depending on what information has been revealed, and on the circumstances of the individual bankruptcy. Of course, those called to adjudicate these matters have considerable powers of discretion as to how the bankruptcy estate should be handled and added up, and what element should cease to form part of it.

Mr. Greg Knight: Does my right hon. Friend accept that the discretion to which he refers does not extend to allowing any adjudicator to substitute words that are not included in the amendment? That is its weakness: it does not refer to partners or to a dependent relative. There would be no discretion whatsoever, therefore, in terms of taking care of a dependent relative or a long-term partner, because the drafting does not include that description or category of person.

Mr. Redwood: That is right—that is part of the twin criticism that I am making. People are excluded who might be more deserving than those who are included, but there is also a fundamental ambiguity in the phrases Xspouse" and Xformer spouse". Moreover, there are other complications to which reference has been made at some length, and which I will not repeat. If the provision were to go through, it would not be good legislation. To be good legislation, it needs amending to make the intention absolutely clear. I join my right hon. Friend the Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Mr. Forth) in asking the Minister to think again about those who should be included.

This legislation is about people who have been through a miserable time. They may also have created misery for others—their creditors—who may not be satisfied. It is the job of good legislation to try to come up with a fair and judicious balance. Of course, we wish to be as generous as possible to the creditors, because they have been wronged. If we do not look after their interests, they, in turn, could get into financial difficulties, or their businesses could struggle. However, we also have a duty—as I hope my right hon. Friends the Members for Bromley and Chislehurst and for East

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Yorkshire agree—to think about the condition of the bankrupt. Some bankrupts have been through extremely difficult times; for example, they may have made a misjudgment, or simply been swallowed up by bad luck and unpredictable changes in the marketplace. They need to live and survive, and to have some reasonable basis on which to proceed with their own lives. I understand that this legislation is trying to strike some form of balance—

Mr. Deputy Speaker: Order. The right hon. Gentleman's remarks are becoming rather general. He ought to be a bit more precise.

Mr. Redwood: I quite agree, and I stand corrected, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I was trying to describe the context, but my crucial point is that the amendment has to get the right balance between the bankrupt and those dependent on him, and the creditors. My worry is that it does not. It does not answer the big issue as to why this limited group of people is included, but not others who may be in need. It is unclear whether subsection (a) applies with, or instead of, subsection (b), and it is also unclear how one would judge between subsections (b) and (c). A lot is therefore left to the courts, and it leaves open the question of how, ultimately, the balance is to be struck between the bankrupt's needs of his estate, and the creditor's obviously pressing needs. It is those points that I hope the Minister will clarify.

Miss Melanie Johnson: I am grateful to Opposition Members for their enormously discursive interest in this subject. I shall respond briefly to the points that have been made, because despite speaking at considerable length the right hon. and hon. Members have failed to convince me that the aspects that worried them are sufficiently worrying to require a detailed response. Indeed, it is not clear what some of those anxieties were, but I shall not take any interventions from Opposition Members during my remarks.

In relation to the comments by the right hon. Member for East Yorkshire (Mr. Knight), the Bill provides that the income payments agreements must be in writing and, therefore, we felt that it was appropriate to provide that a variation of that agreement should be in writing. The incomes payments agreement has the force of a court order and is not merely a contract, as he suggested; his points might have been relevant to a contract.

Lords amendment No. 167 attracted much heat but not much light. It provides valuable protection for a spouse or former spouse. The right hon. Member for Wokingham (Mr. Redwood) was right that it deals with a particular situation—if a bankrupt still has an interest in the property in which a spouse or former spouse resides, it provides protection against the threat of losing the home. Trustees will still be able to deal with the property. On unmarried partners, the amendment is

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consistent with the protection provided for parties other than the bankrupt in the individual insolvency provisions of the Insolvency Act 1986.

Mr. Redwood: Will the Minister give way?

Miss Johnson: No, I regret that I will not give way.

Mr. Redwood: It is an important point.

Miss Johnson: It may be so. The mechanics of how the new provisions will operate have been, and continue to be, the subject of consultation with stakeholders and will be dealt with in the rules.

As I have emphasised, the amendments are the results of the work done by the colleagues of Opposition Members in the other place. I am amazed by the suspicion with which the amendments have been greeted, but I hope that Opposition Members have been reassured on those points.

Lords amendment agreed to.

Lords amendments Nos. 167 to 175 agreed to.

Lords amendments Nos. 176 to 186 disagreed to.

Lords amendments Nos. 187 to 208 agreed to.

Lords amendment No. 209 disagreed to

Government amendment (a) in lieu of Lords amendment No. 209 agreed to.

Lords amendments Nos. 210 to 264 agreed to.

9.45 pm

Schedule 24

Transitional and Transitory Provisions and Savings

Lords amendment: No. 265, in page 322, line 23, at end insert—
X(2) The Secretary of State may treat any consultation carried out with the President of the Competition Commission Appeal Tribunals (before the appointment of the President of the Competition Appeal Tribunal) as being as effective for the purposes of section 15(1) as if it had been carried out with the President of the Competition Appeal Tribunal."

Miss Melanie Johnson: I beg to move, That this House agrees with the Lords in the said amendment.

Mr. Deputy Speaker: With this it will be convenient to take Lords amendments Nos. 266 to 366.

Miss Johnson: I hope that the House agrees to Lords amendment No. 265. The remaining amendments in the group, Nos. 266 to 326, are to the transitional, consequential and repeal schedules. The vast majority of them are consequential to various sectoral enactments such as the legislation covering gas, electricity and airports, and they follow the template of amendments made on Report to the legislation covering broadcasting and telecommunications. These sectoral enactments include a mechanism by which the licence modifications proposed by the relevant sectoral regulator but disputed by the licensee can be referred to the Competition Commission. Such references currently rely on

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procedural provisions in the Fair Trading Act 1973 and the Competition Act 1998 that are being modified or repealed by the Bill.

In addition, the amendments cover the merger and market transition provisions. I can give more detail on weights and measures if hon. Members so desire.

Mr. Forth: I hope this time that I can tease a little more information out of the Minister. It is not good enough that she should stand up and say that she is cross at being kept here so late, that she does not propose to take interventions or answer questions.

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