Miss Johnson: It is not for me to comment on voting in Committee. As the hon. Gentleman knows well, my hon. Friend the Member for Dudley, South (Mr. Pearson), who has remained silent, is the person to whom the question might be addressed outside the Committee.
In his reply to the request from my right hon. Friend the President of the Council, the Chairman of the Standards and Privileges Committee, the right hon. Member for North-West Hampshire (Sir George Young), confirmed that in the context of the Government's objective of reducing the stigma of bankruptcy, it would no longer be appropriate for a Member who becomes bankrupt to be disqualified from sitting or voting, nor would it be fair to their constituents. The Standards and Privileges Committee also felt that when a Member becomes subject to a bankruptcy restrictions order or an interim order, their seat should be vacated along the lines of the points made by my hon. Friends. By the same token, only bankrupts subject to a bankruptcy restrictions order or an interim order should be disqualified from election to the House.
As I said when discussing justices of the peace in response to earlier remarks, that picks up on the pattern and philosophy that we are advocating in other areas of the Bill, as argued for by my hon. Friends. The Government are grateful for the Committee's consideration and have accepted its advice, which is reflected in this clause and in clause 256.
Mr. Barnes: I accept very much that the provision on bankruptcy restrictions orders goes a long way to meeting the points that I have been making. If they are dealt with in the way that my hon. Friend the Member for Hemel Hempstead has suggested, the provision will go a considerable way towards meeting my concerns. I welcome the fact that the provision is a change from the previous position.
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Miss Johnson: I am grateful for my hon. Friend's remarks and for his support and clarification on how the provision connects with what he feels should be included in the Bill.
The clause disqualifies peers who are subject to a bankruptcy restrictions or interim order from sitting and voting. Initially, the proposals will apply only to those persons made bankrupt in England and Wales. That is because Scotland and Northern Ireland have their own devolved, individual, insolvency regimes. Until such times as those are amended, Members sequestrated in Scotland or made bankrupt in Northern Ireland will continue to be subject to the current arrangements. However, we have consulted colleagues in the devolved Administrations and, as with the current arrangements, the new provisions will apply in the same way to Westminster and the devolved Assemblies. For example, Members of this House, the Scottish Parliament, the Northern Ireland Assembly or the Welsh Assembly who are made bankrupt in England or Wales will be able to carry on sitting and voting unless a bankruptcy restrictions or interim order is made against them, at which point their seats will become vacant.
We also propose that Greater London Assembly Members and the Mayor of London should be treated on an equivalent basis to Members of Parliament and members of local authorities. We intend to use the order-making powers in the Bill to give effect to that intention.
We have not sufficiently considered the question raised by my hon. Friend the Member for North-East Derbyshire on whether there is a need for a further, consequential amendment to deal with the election of Members of Parliament. That is not covered in the way that it might be. I advise my hon. Friend that I will consider his particularly useful points and see whether a consequential amendment is necessary. Under proposed new section 426A, only a person subject to a bankruptcy restrictions order will be disqualified from membership of the House of Commons. It is our intention that people subject to a bankruptcy order will be able to stand for election and to sit in the House—but the standing part needs to be considered further.
Mr. Field: There are of course already some anomalies as a result of which people are entitled to stand for Parliament even if they are not entitled to take their seat and represent their constituents. Someone between the ages of 18 and 21 can stand for Parliament, but would not be able to take a seat if elected. As the Under-Secretary will recall, when Viscount Stansgate—as he briefly was—stood for the Bristol South-East by-election in 1961, he was re-elected, but his Conservative opponent was declared the winner even though he had come second in the poll.
Miss Johnson: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for that. Obviously, we are specifically considering the context of insolvency and bankruptcy, and it is to that context that we have confined our consideration. I am sure that the Committees of the House take an active
Column Number: 685interest in many of those issues and there are appropriate forums for discussion of other aspects of legislation as it affects the House or other related bodies.
I agree that we cannot—indeed, should not—tell people that there will be no stigma and cannot legislate to enshrine a stigma. One important thing that we have heard in this afternoon's debate is that whatever happens on the provision concerning bankruptcy and MPs, at the end of the day the electorate will decide, as they always do, whether or not it is appropriate to support someone's candidature and make them a Member of Parliament. Nothing that we do in Committee will interfere with that. The changes that we are making reflect both what the Joint Committee felt was necessary and the new regime. It will not place undue demands on Members of Parliament, but they will not be treated differently from—to use the words of the hon. Member for Eastbourne—any other ordinary member of the public. That is right because we are here as ordinary members of the public representing ordinary members of the public.
Mr. Waterson: We have discussed the whole gamut from bad-luck bankrupts to benign bankrupts, which I hope do not become terms of art in the insolvency practitioners' world. We are a long way away from enterprise. What changing the rules for Members of Parliament has to do with encouraging enterprise and risk taking in this country completely eludes me, but I dare say that one of these days wisdom will descend on me and I will work it out.
Question put and agreed to.
Clause 254, as amended, ordered to stand part of the Bill.
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