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On amendment No. 15, I am not sure why the hon. Member for Braintree and others consider it necessary to include a specific provision for dealing with premises where the occupant is known to be a single woman, in
27 Jun 2007 : Column 414
the sense of a woman alone. What about protecting women who are not known to be on their own? The distinction is arbitrary. The process is not intrusive in the way that searches by police officers are. We are talking about a bailiff knocking on the door and presumably, as a rule, seeking walking possession. That is not about personal searches or anything that requires gender-specific treatment, so we think there is no need for the amendment. The training requirements will include training in how to identify and deal with vulnerable and potentially vulnerable debtors.

5.15 pm

After consultation, and if it is considered appropriate, regulations made under paragraph 24 of schedule 12 will reflect those parts of the national standards that state that, on discovering that the only person on the premises is a child, the enforcement agent should withdraw immediately, without making further inquiries. If those regulations were breached, remedies would be available under paragraph 66 of the schedule. That would put that part of the national standards into a higher, more immediate category, and a separate code of conduct and separate responsibilities to comply with the code would therefore become unnecessary.

Our proposals go beyond what amendment No. 41 is designed to achieve. In particular, the status of the guidance issued by the Lord Chancellor and the sanctions that would be available if an enforcement agent chose to ignore it are not clear. Concepts such as “vulnerability” are difficult to put in statutory terms, and generic definitions would make it difficult to predict who would fall into the vulnerable category. What is important is good character, accredited training and getting people who do not behave properly or understand their responsibilities out of the business entirely.

Amendments Nos. 1, 2, 12, 19 and 36 are about exempt goods and are similar to amendments that were debated in Committee. Our intention is that both the general definition of exempt goods and the specific list of goods themselves will be clearly set out in regulations. The hon. Member for Braintree will remember that during the Committee debate, hon. Members suggested a number of goods that, thanks to technical innovation, are now considered to be essential to a debtor’s livelihood. That made the point that any list put into statute could never be exhaustive because circumstances change.

Furthermore, to change a statute takes a lot of parliamentary time. A regulation made under a statute carries just as much statutory authority: it is the law—not in exactly the same way, but just as patently as if it were statute—yet it can be refined, tidied up, added to and taken away from far more easily than amending a statute, which would occupy parliamentary time which, to be frank, ought to be occupied by much more high-level matters. Appropriate scrutiny is available for the list, but as I understand it, the hon. Gentleman’s concern is not about the contents of the list, but about where the list is put—into which document. Our clear view is that regulation is the right place for it.

The hon. Gentleman will also remember that when an amendment suggesting a list of goods was debated in Committee, we looked at the list in the policy
27 Jun 2007 : Column 415
statement that we issued some time ago stating how we would use the powers in the Bill and found some differences between the two lists. That made the point that if we make a list, someone will have a bright idea about an item that should be added to it. What is proposed in the amendment is far too rigid— [ Interruption. ] The hon. Gentleman says, “Okay.”

I understand that hon. Members have concerns about debating the provisions in advance of seeing the regulations, but the policy statement fills that gap. In paragraphs 133 to 136 of that statement we set out the goods that we currently think should be exempted, and they include tools of the trade.

Under amendment No. 25, a debtor would have to sign a form stating that notice had been received before goods could be taken away. I understand the concern, but it would enable people to thwart efforts to take control of goods by declining to sign the form. That would undermine the remedy, which is quite a good one.

Mr. Austin Mitchell: Of course, the signing could be for the recorded delivery of the letters—an acknowledgement that they have been received.

Vera Baird: My hon. Friend says that, but my response to his amendment No. 69, which would oblige post to be sent by recorded delivery, is that a person could easily thwart the whole process by refusing to sign the receipt for the recorded delivery. Other court notices are not sent by recorded delivery. Ours, at least, will by sent by first-class post, but many such notices are sent by second-class post. On amendments Nos. 16 to 20, a controlled goods agreement can be signed by a person other than the debtor; I think that that is clear.

Mr. Mitchell: I am sorry, but the Minister has given a trivial defence. The letter sent by recorded delivery could contain a large sum of money. No one would know what was is in it until they opened it.

Vera Baird: I did not really want to quibble on this subject, but the fact is that if recipients are knowing debtors, as we envisage they will be, if a recorded delivery letter came along, they would probably be very suspicious of it. The point is that we cannot say whether Mrs. X in Great Grimsby knew what the contents of the recorded delivery letter were, but we can say that refusing to sign for the letter is a sure way of thwarting the whole process. It would not allow us to go ahead with the seizure of goods or walking possession, although I thought that everyone in the Chamber, no matter what their party, thought that that was a desirable remedy that should be used—albeit with great care, as we have been at pains to set out.

I have dealt with a great many of the other amendments. On amendment No. 26, it is suggested that we should limit the value of the goods to be seized to the value of the debt owed, but that is a difficult line to draw finely. We have said in paragraph 12(1) of schedule 12 that an enforcement agent will take control only of goods that are proportionate to the value of the debt owed, plus any future costs. That seems to us to be the right way forward.

27 Jun 2007 : Column 416

Amendment No. 27 would make a distinction between goods seized on the highway and goods seized in other ways. I have already addressed the principle: we think that the measure would just add confusion and would not improve matters. On the issue of abandoned goods—again, this is a concern raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Great Grimsby—the goods have to be sold for the best price. If goods that have been in a legally conducted sale are left unsold, they will be deemed abandoned. That is intended to protect the debtor from an enforcement agent keeping the debtor’s goods indefinitely until they are eventually sold, possibly after many attempts.

Amendment No. 3 on information sheets is a Liberal Democrat amendment. We will provide a large amount of information, and the information on the sheet proposed by the hon. Member for North Southwark and Bermondsey (Simon Hughes) is just a very small part of what we will make available. His amendment is, I fear, unclear, but he can rest assured that his aim, which is to ensure that people are entitled to know their rights, will be met. An enforcement agent has to provide a notice before action commences and after entering premises, as the hon. Gentleman knows. That is expressed in schedule 12.

Amendment No. 7, which is about legal aid, would insert a requirement that regulations must

in all actions that are to be brought in the High Court, irrespective of the merits of the application. We just could not tolerate that; as the hon. Gentleman knows, there are merits and means tests for all legal aid applications, so that would be a great crashing change.

I hope that I have reassured hon. Members. We will protect the public and we will ensure that there is good information available to them, so that they know their rights. Part of that process will take place through legislation. I have dealt in detail with most of the amendments in the group, and I hope that hon. Members now feel that they can withdraw them.

Mr. Bellingham: I am grateful to the Minister for her response. She has put my mind at rest on some points, and certainly on exempt goods, tools for trade, and the code of conduct for the vulnerable. I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Braintree (Mr. Newmark) for his excellent contribution on the subject of protection of the under-16s and children. The Minister answered many of his points. I should be grateful if she would write to me at some stage about the power to withdraw bailiffs who have been unleashed in cases in which the debtor wants to seek relief from a disproportionate fine at a magistrates court. I do not expect a reply now, as we want to get on, but I would be grateful if she wrote to me in due course.

I am concerned that the Minister has not given us a favourable or satisfactory response to amendment No. 10, which we have discussed at great length. I believe that we have won the argument, so it is my wish to press the amendment to a vote.

Question put, That the amendment be made:—

The House divided: Ayes 220, Noes 278.
Division No. 161]
[5.25 pm


Afriyie, Adam
Ainsworth, Mr. Peter
Alexander, Danny
Amess, Mr. David
Ancram, rh Mr. Michael
Arbuthnot, rh Mr. James
Atkinson, Mr. Peter
Bacon, Mr. Richard
Baldry, Tony
Barker, Gregory
Baron, Mr. John
Barrett, John
Beith, rh Mr. Alan
Bellingham, Mr. Henry
Benyon, Mr. Richard
Beresford, Sir Paul
Binley, Mr. Brian
Bone, Mr. Peter
Brady, Mr. Graham
Brake, Tom
Brazier, Mr. Julian
Breed, Mr. Colin
Brokenshire, James
Brooke, Annette
Browne, Mr. Jeremy
Burns, Mr. Simon
Burrowes, Mr. David
Burstow, Mr. Paul
Burt, Lorely
Butterfill, Sir John
Cable, Dr. Vincent
Cameron, rh Mr. David
Campbell, rh Sir Menzies
Carmichael, Mr. Alistair
Carswell, Mr. Douglas
Cash, Mr. William
Clark, Greg
Clarke, rh Mr. Kenneth
Clifton-Brown, Mr. Geoffrey
Conway, Derek
Crabb, Mr. Stephen
Curry, rh Mr. David
Davey, Mr. Edward
Davies, David T.C. (Monmouth)
Davies, Philip
Davis, rh David (Haltemprice and Howden)
Djanogly, Mr. Jonathan
Dorrell, rh Mr. Stephen
Dorries, Mrs. Nadine
Duncan, Alan
Duncan Smith, rh Mr. Iain
Dunne, Mr. Philip
Ellwood, Mr. Tobias
Evans, Mr. Nigel
Evennett, Mr. David
Fabricant, Michael
Fallon, Mr. Michael
Farron, Tim
Featherstone, Lynne
Field, Mr. Mark
Foster, Mr. Don
Fox, Dr. Liam
Francois, Mr. Mark
Fraser, Mr. Christopher
Gale, Mr. Roger
Garnier, Mr. Edward
Gauke, Mr. David
Gibb, Mr. Nick
Gidley, Sandra
Goldsworthy, Julia
Goodman, Mr. Paul
Goodwill, Mr. Robert
Gove, Michael
Gray, Mr. James
Grayling, Chris
Green, Damian
Grieve, Mr. Dominic
Gummer, rh Mr. John
Hague, rh Mr. William
Hammond, Stephen
Hands, Mr. Greg
Harper, Mr. Mark
Harris, Dr. Evan
Harvey, Nick
Hayes, Mr. John
Heald, Mr. Oliver
Heath, Mr. David
Heathcoat-Amory, rh Mr. David
Hemming, John
Hendry, Charles
Herbert, Nick
Hollobone, Mr. Philip
Holloway, Mr. Adam
Holmes, Paul
Horam, Mr. John
Horwood, Martin
Howard, rh Mr. Michael
Howarth, David
Howarth, Mr. Gerald
Hughes, Simon
Huhne, Chris
Hunt, Mr. Jeremy
Hunter, Mark
Hurd, Mr. Nick
Jack, rh Mr. Michael
Jackson, Mr. Stewart
Jenkin, Mr. Bernard
Johnson, Mr. Boris
Jones, Mr. David
Kawczynski, Daniel
Keetch, Mr. Paul
Kennedy, rh Mr. Charles
Kirkbride, Miss Julie
Knight, rh Mr. Greg
Kramer, Susan
Lait, Mrs. Jacqui
Lamb, Norman
Laws, Mr. David
Leech, Mr. John
Leigh, Mr. Edward
Letwin, rh Mr. Oliver
Lewis, Dr. Julian
Liddell-Grainger, Mr. Ian
Lilley, rh Mr. Peter
Llwyd, Mr. Elfyn
Loughton, Tim
Luff, Peter
Mackay, rh Mr. Andrew
Maples, Mr. John
May, rh Mrs. Theresa
McCrea, Dr. William
McIntosh, Miss Anne
McLoughlin, rh Mr. Patrick
Mercer, Patrick
Miller, Mrs. Maria

Milton, Anne
Mitchell, Mr. Andrew
Moore, Mr. Michael
Moss, Mr. Malcolm
Mulholland, Greg
Murrison, Dr. Andrew
Neill, Robert
Newmark, Mr. Brooks
O'Brien, Mr. Stephen
Oaten, Mr. Mark
Öpik, Lembit
Osborne, Mr. George
Ottaway, Richard
Paice, Mr. James
Paterson, Mr. Owen
Pelling, Mr. Andrew
Penning, Mike
Penrose, John
Pickles, Mr. Eric
Price, Adam
Prisk, Mr. Mark
Pritchard, Mark
Pugh, Dr. John
Randall, Mr. John
Redwood, rh Mr. John
Reid, Mr. Alan
Rennie, Willie
Rifkind, rh Sir Malcolm
Robathan, Mr. Andrew
Robertson, Hugh
Robertson, Mr. Laurence
Rogerson, Dan
Rowen, Paul
Ruffley, Mr. David
Russell, Bob
Sanders, Mr. Adrian
Selous, Andrew
Shapps, Grant
Shepherd, Mr. Richard
Simmonds, Mark
Soames, Mr. Nicholas
Spelman, Mrs. Caroline
Spicer, Sir Michael
Spink, Bob
Spring, Mr. Richard
Stanley, rh Sir John
Steen, Mr. Anthony
Stunell, Andrew
Swayne, Mr. Desmond
Swinson, Jo
Swire, Mr. Hugo
Syms, Mr. Robert
Taylor, Mr. Ian
Taylor, Matthew
Taylor, Dr. Richard
Teather, Sarah
Thurso, John
Turner, Mr. Andrew
Tyrie, Mr. Andrew
Vaizey, Mr. Edward
Vara, Mr. Shailesh
Viggers, Peter
Villiers, Mrs. Theresa
Walker, Mr. Charles
Wallace, Mr. Ben
Waterson, Mr. Nigel
Watkinson, Angela
Webb, Steve
Whittingdale, Mr. John
Widdecombe, rh Miss Ann
Wiggin, Bill
Willetts, Mr. David
Williams, Hywel
Williams, Mark
Williams, Mr. Roger
Williams, Stephen
Willis, Mr. Phil
Willott, Jenny
Wilson, Mr. Rob
Wilson, Sammy
Winterton, Ann
Winterton, Sir Nicholas
Yeo, Mr. Tim
Young, rh Sir George
Younger-Ross, Richard
Tellers for the Ayes:

Mr. Crispin Blunt and
Andrew Rosindell

Ainger, Nick
Ainsworth, rh Mr. Bob
Allen, Mr. Graham
Anderson, Mr. David
Atkins, Charlotte
Bailey, Mr. Adrian
Baird, Vera
Balls, Ed
Banks, Gordon
Barlow, Ms Celia
Barron, rh Mr. Kevin
Begg, Miss Anne
Benn, rh Hilary
Benton, Mr. Joe
Berry, Roger
Blackman, Liz
Blackman-Woods, Dr. Roberta
Blears, rh Hazel
Blizzard, Mr. Bob
Borrow, Mr. David S.
Bradshaw, Mr. Ben
Brennan, Kevin
Brown, Lyn
Brown, Mr. Russell
Bryant, Chris
Buck, Ms Karen
Burden, Richard
Burgon, Colin
Butler, Ms Dawn
Byrne, Mr. Liam
Caborn, rh Mr. Richard
Campbell, Mr. Ronnie
Caton, Mr. Martin
Challen, Colin
Chaytor, Mr. David
Clapham, Mr. Michael
Clark, Ms Katy
Clarke, rh Mr. Charles
Clarke, rh Mr. Tom
Clwyd, rh Ann
Coaker, Mr. Vernon
Coffey, Ann
Cohen, Harry
Connarty, Michael
Cooper, Rosie
Cooper, Yvette
Corbyn, Jeremy
Cousins, Jim

Crausby, Mr. David
Creagh, Mary
Cruddas, Jon
Cryer, Mrs. Ann
Cummings, John
Cunningham, Mr. Jim
Cunningham, Tony
Curtis-Thomas, Mrs. Claire
Darling, rh Mr. Alistair
David, Mr. Wayne
Davidson, Mr. Ian
Davies, Mr. Dai
Dean, Mrs. Janet
Devine, Mr. Jim
Dismore, Mr. Andrew
Dobbin, Jim
Dobson, rh Frank
Donohoe, Mr. Brian H.
Doran, Mr. Frank
Dowd, Jim
Drew, Mr. David
Durkan, Mark
Eagle, Angela
Eagle, Maria
Efford, Clive
Ellman, Mrs. Louise
Ennis, Jeff
Farrelly, Paul
Fisher, Mark
Fitzpatrick, Jim
Flello, Mr. Robert
Flint, Caroline
Follett, Barbara
Foster, Mr. Michael (Worcester)
Foster, Michael Jabez (Hastings and Rye)
Francis, Dr. Hywel
Gapes, Mike
Gardiner, Barry
George, rh Mr. Bruce
Gerrard, Mr. Neil
Gibson, Dr. Ian
Gilroy, Linda
Godsiff, Mr. Roger
Goggins, Paul
Goodman, Helen
Griffith, Nia
Griffiths, Nigel
Grogan, Mr. John
Gwynne, Andrew
Hain, rh Mr. Peter
Hall, Mr. Mike
Hall, Patrick
Hamilton, Mr. David
Hamilton, Mr. Fabian
Hanson, rh Mr. David
Harman, rh Ms Harriet
Harris, Mr. Tom
Havard, Mr. Dai
Healey, John
Hendrick, Mr. Mark
Hepburn, Mr. Stephen
Heppell, Mr. John
Hesford, Stephen
Heyes, David
Hill, rh Keith
Hillier, Meg
Hodge, rh Margaret
Hoey, Kate
Hood, Mr. Jim
Hope, Phil
Hopkins, Kelvin
Howarth, rh Mr. George
Howells, Dr. Kim
Hoyle, Mr. Lindsay
Illsley, Mr. Eric
Ingram, rh Mr. Adam
Irranca-Davies, Huw
Jackson, Glenda
James, Mrs. Siân C.
Jenkins, Mr. Brian
Johnson, Ms Diana R.
Jones, Helen
Jones, Mr. Kevan
Jones, Mr. Martyn
Jowell, rh Tessa
Joyce, Mr. Eric
Keeble, Ms Sally
Keeley, Barbara
Keen, Alan
Kelly, rh Ruth
Kemp, Mr. Fraser
Kennedy, rh Jane
Khan, Mr. Sadiq
Kidney, Mr. David
Kilfoyle, Mr. Peter
Knight, Jim
Kumar, Dr. Ashok
Ladyman, Dr. Stephen
Lammy, Mr. David
Lazarowicz, Mark
Lepper, David
Levitt, Tom
Lewis, Mr. Ivan
Linton, Martin
Love, Mr. Andrew
Lucas, Ian
Mackinlay, Andrew
Mactaggart, Fiona
Mahmood, Mr. Khalid
Malik, Mr. Shahid
Mallaber, Judy
Mann, John
Marris, Rob
Marshall-Andrews, Mr. Robert
Martlew, Mr. Eric
McAvoy, rh Mr. Thomas
McCabe, Steve
McCarthy, Kerry
McCarthy-Fry, Sarah
McDonagh, Siobhain
McDonnell, John
McFadden, Mr. Pat
McFall, rh John
McGovern, Mr. Jim
McGuire, Mrs. Anne
McIsaac, Shona
McKenna, Rosemary
McNulty, Mr. Tony
Meacher, rh Mr. Michael
Merron, Gillian
Michael, rh Alun
Milburn, rh Mr. Alan
Miliband, rh David
Miller, Andrew
Moffatt, Laura
Mole, Chris
Moon, Mrs. Madeleine
Moran, Margaret
Morden, Jessica
Morgan, Julie
Morley, rh Mr. Elliot
Mountford, Kali

Mudie, Mr. George
Mullin, Mr. Chris
Munn, Meg
Murphy, Mr. Denis
Murphy, Mr. Jim
Murphy, rh Mr. Paul
Naysmith, Dr. Doug
Norris, Dan
O'Brien, Mr. Mike
Osborne, Sandra
Owen, Albert
Palmer, Dr. Nick
Pearson, Ian
Plaskitt, Mr. James
Pope, Mr. Greg
Pound, Stephen
Prentice, Bridget
Prentice, Mr. Gordon
Primarolo, rh Dawn
Prosser, Gwyn
Purchase, Mr. Ken
Purnell, James
Rammell, Bill
Raynsford, rh Mr. Nick
Reed, Mr. Andy
Reed, Mr. Jamie
Reid, rh John
Robertson, John
Rooney, Mr. Terry
Roy, Mr. Frank
Ruane, Chris
Ruddock, Joan
Russell, Christine
Ryan, Joan
Salter, Martin
Seabeck, Alison
Shaw, Jonathan
Sheerman, Mr. Barry
Sheridan, Jim
Simon, Mr. Siôn
Simpson, Alan
Skinner, Mr. Dennis
Smith, rh Mr. Andrew
Smith, Angela E. (Basildon)
Smith, rh Jacqui
Smith, John
Snelgrove, Anne
Soulsby, Sir Peter
Southworth, Helen
Spellar, rh Mr. John
Starkey, Dr. Phyllis
Stoate, Dr. Howard
Strang, rh Dr. Gavin
Straw, rh Mr. Jack
Stringer, Graham
Stuart, Ms Gisela
Sutcliffe, Mr. Gerry
Tami, Mark
Taylor, Ms Dari
Taylor, David
Thomas, Mr. Gareth
Thornberry, Emily
Timms, rh Mr. Stephen
Tipping, Paddy
Todd, Mr. Mark
Touhig, rh Mr. Don
Trickett, Jon
Turner, Dr. Desmond
Turner, Mr. Neil
Ussher, Kitty
Vaz, rh Keith
Walley, Joan
Ward, Claire
Wareing, Mr. Robert N.
Watts, Mr. Dave
Whitehead, Dr. Alan
Wicks, Malcolm
Williams, rh Mr. Alan
Wills, Mr. Michael
Winnick, Mr. David
Winterton, rh Ms Rosie
Wood, Mike
Woodward, Mr. Shaun
Woolas, Mr. Phil
Wright, David
Wright, Mr. Iain
Wright, Dr. Tony
Wyatt, Derek
Tellers for the Noes:

Mr. Alan Campbell and
Mr. Ian Cawsey
Question accordingly negatived.
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Clause 129

Protected objects

Mark Fisher (Stoke-on-Trent, Central) (Lab): I beg to move amendment No. 83, page 99, line 18, after ‘with’, insert

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Michael Lord): With this it will be convenient to discuss the following amendments: No. 84, page 99, line 20, at end insert

No. 85, page 100, line 10, at end insert—

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