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Lord Barnett: My Lords, I find it not exceptionally surprising that this lengthy Motion should appear on the Order Paper on the last day of the Session. I do not suppose that there is anything exceptional about that. I have a few questions for my noble and learned friend.

First, on the additional amount of money—it is quite a substantial sum—how was the sum of 390,555 calculated? On what basis was it decided? It would be interesting to know how the money is planned to be spent by the official Opposition and the Convenor. We are given very broad terms in relation to the way in which they will spend it. It includes,


Can any of this substantial sum of money be paid to Members of your Lordships' House on the Opposition or Cross Benches?

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Secondly, there is the whole question of how an expenditure becomes valid. That is not entirely clear in the Resolution. The "Accounting Officer" will decide; I assume that that means the new chief executive, who is an excellent Clerk of the Parliaments. I am not sure whether he will be able to define what exactly valid expenditure is or, in the case of the Convenor, for example, whether expenditure dating from more than a year ago—1st April 2001—is valid expenditure. Perhaps the Convenor or an assistant will tell us how that money has been spent, which would establish whether it was valid expenditure.

Those are my modest few questions. I hope that my noble and learned friend will answer them in his usual manner.

Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, the modest answer to those modest questions is to be found in the Resolution. My noble friend Lord Barnett will notice in subparagraph (5) that:


    "Any claim for financial assistance by a party or the Convenor"—

called, amusingly, "the claimant"—


    "is to be made to the Accounting Officer of the House".

All of the detail is set out there. It is a matter for each claimant for this form of social security to make out the case to the accounting officer. There is nothing new about that. So far as I understand it, the system is exactly the same as that which presently obtains.

In respect of the figure of 390,555, the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, made a reasoned case in terms of research, secretarial assistance, IT and so on, which was carefully negotiated with the noble Lord, Lord Carter. Some pruning was done and a mutually agreeable and acceptable figure was arrived at. I stress that there is nothing new about this, apart from the extraordinary generosity of the Treasury and the Government on this occasion.

Lord Peyton of Yeovil: My Lords, as someone who has more usually been friendly towards the opposition than towards government, I want to express some measure of gratitude for the support given to my noble friends on my Front Bench, who are always very kind to me. I believe that they need some help in order to enable them to compete with the huge resources available to modern governments. That is the point.

I want to ask one question which relates to my anxiety about the future. I have always been able to keep my enthusiasm for political parties under very strict control. I have even come to believe—I have said this in your Lordships' House previously—that political parties are the only thoroughly nasty thing of which one needs to have more than one. Therefore, my fear on this occasion is that this munificence may now make life easier for the Government to promote some wider measure of help to all political parties, in which case, I should be very uncomfortable.

Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, I certainly agree with the noble Lord, Lord Peyton, when he says that the Conservatives need some help. But I can limit

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myself only to financial assistance. What we are trying to achieve at present is part of the wider context of making this House more effective. It is legitimate for the Cross-Bench Peers, the Liberal Democrats and the Conservatives to claim that they need to be adequately resourced. As to any further suspicions that the noble Lord has on a continuing basis, I must say that I am deeply shocked.

Viscount Tenby: My Lords, in the unavoidable absence on official business of my noble and gallant friend the Convenor, and in answer to what has been said this morning, perhaps I may say that it is nothing new. What is new is that we have any money at all on the Cross Benches. After battering at the gates of the Treasury for about five years, we have now been given a sum of money. I would not be as ungenerous as to say that it is a widow's mite because we are grateful for anything—any crumbs that fall from the table of the main parties in this House. Really we are scavengers, simply existing on what we can get and trying to do our best with it.

But we must have some money to enable us to function at all. We do not have, as do the other parties—I make no complaint about this—vast armies of researchers from the party organisation. Therefore, we have been very grateful to have a certain sum of money which enables us to employ an extremely able research assistant, who is able to inform us about matters under discussion in this House. I should like to record my thanks.

Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, at present the Cross-Benchers have about 21,000 a year. The proposal is that that should increase to 35,000 a year, backdated to 1st April 2001. I stand amazed at our generosity.

Lord Graham of Edmonton: My Lords, the Government and the Leader of the House should be congratulated on the proposal before us. When the governing party was in opposition, there was no such thing as Cranborne money. Cranborne is the son of Short. When Labour were in government in the other place, Ted Short—now the noble Lord, Lord Glenamara—initiated the Short money principle. That principle arose in response to the fact that the governing party had a wide range of support from Whitehall but the opposition parties had none. In opposition, Labour had to rely in the House of Lords on obtaining, and pleading for, a small amount of Short money from the other place.

It is to the everlasting credit of the noble Viscount, Lord Cranborne, that, within a year of what I assume he knew would be a change on the Benches, he proposed Cranborne money. The first amount to be allotted was 60,000 a year, and 30,000 was made available for one half-year. After five years, the case for a five-fold increase has been made by the Leader of the House and accepted by the Treasury. I do not consider that to be over-generous because the money needs to be spent and it needs to be validated. I do not

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want to feel that any shortcomings of the Opposition in this House are due to a shortage of cash; they are due to other reasons.

Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, yes.

On Question, Motion agreed to.

Copyright (Visually Impaired Persons) Bill

Lord Morris of Manchester: My Lords, I understand that no amendments have been set down to this Bill and that no noble Lord has indicated a wish to move a manuscript amendment or to speak in Committee. Therefore, unless any noble Lord objects, I beg to move that the order of commitment be discharged.

Moved, That the order of commitment be discharged.—(Lord Morris of Manchester.)

On Question, Motion agreed to.

Enterprise Bill

11.45 a.m.

Lord Sainsbury of Turville: My Lords, I beg to move that the House do now again resolve itself into Committee on this Bill.

Moved, That the House do now again resolve itself into Committee.—(Lord Sainsbury of Turville.)

On Question, Motion agreed to.

House in Committee accordingly.

[The CHAIRMAN OF COMMITTEES (Lord Tordoff) in the Chair.]

Clauses 249 and 250 agreed to.

Clause 251 [Application of law about company arrangement or administration to non-company]:

Lord McIntosh of Haringey moved Amendment No. 361:


    Page 177, line 26, at end insert—


"( ) An order under this section may not provide for a company arrangement or administration provision to apply in relation to a society which is registered as a social landlord under Part I of the Housing Act 1996 (c. 52) or under Part 3 of the Housing (Scotland) Act 2001 (asp 10)."

The noble Lord said: I have already spoken to this amendment. I beg to move.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Clause 251, as amended, agreed to.

Clause 252 [Duration of bankruptcy]:

The Chairman of Committees: I have to advise the Committee that there is a mistake in the printing of Amendment No. 362. It should read, "Page 178, line 3" and not "line 2". I should also point out that, were Amendment No. 364, which is grouped with Amendment No. 362, to be agreed to, I should not be able to call Amendment No. 365 because of pre-emption.

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Lord Kingsland moved Amendment No. 362:


    Page 178, line 2, leave out "one year" and insert—


"(a) one year in the case of a business bankrupt;
(b) two years where a certificate for the summary administration of the bankrupt's estate has been issued and is not revoked before the bankrupt's discharge; or
(c) three years in any other case"

The noble Lord said: As currently drafted, there would be an automatic right to discharge and release on or within 12 months, as compared with the current period of three years; that is, the period would be 12 months unless a notice was filed by the official receiver under this clause to discharge the bankrupt at an earlier date. Therefore, there is no minimum period. A bankrupt could be discharged within a few months or even a few weeks.

The reduced period is intended to make bankruptcy a more attractive option for entrepreneurs. But it will, of course, also make it a more attractive option for consumers. Yet it is hard to see how an increase in consumer bankruptcies can be good for business. Business will be damaged if more consumers fail to pay.

Evidence from other jurisdictions suggests that relaxing bankruptcy laws prompts a significant rise in the number of consumer bankrupts. For example, in the United States more than 97 per cent of the 1.5 million bankruptcies in 2001 were consumer bankruptcies. Also, in Hong Kong in 1997, the year before its insolvency law changed, there were 639 bankruptcy orders, 33 initiated by the debtor and 606 by the creditor. By contrast, in the year 2001 there were 9,151 orders, 7,389 being initiated by the debtor and 1,762 by the creditor. There are similar examples in Scotland.

As the numbers rise, so the pressure on the system rises. As demand outstrips resource, rubber-stamping creeps in and the system begins to spiral out of control. That is the risk that we face if the discharge period for consumers becomes so short that it loses all deterrent effect. And that is what lies behind the amendments that we have tabled in this group.

Amendment No. 362 confines the reduced bankruptcy period and the early discharge provision to business bankrupts alone. It does so by introducing a simple self-certification test for business bankrupts based on the following model. First, the debtor states on the bankruptcy application form whether he is in business; and making a false or misleading statement in that context would be an offence.

Secondly, creditors have a right to challenge the debtor's statement. Most would be able to do so on the basis of information on their own customer databases. Thirdly, if so challenged, the debtor must produce evidence that he was in business. Even those who have not kept formal accounts should be able to do so by producing, for example, an appointment book or purchase receipts or a tax return.

On that basis, there is no need to disentangle the individual debts. Anyone would benefit from the shorter discharge period whether or not they had consumer debts; but the credit industry would have the

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important safeguard of being able to challenge those applicants whom it believes are not genuinely running a business. In that way, those seeking to abuse the system to the detriment of industry and other consumers could be deterred. I beg to move.


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