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Baroness Hooper: My Lords, I thank everybody who has participated in the debate. It has been most useful and has covered a diverse number of subjects. In spite of everything, I feel optimistic about the future, not only of Latin America, but of our relations with Latin America. That is due in no small part to the Minister's positive and thorough response. I thank him for that and beg leave to withdraw the Motion.
The noble Lord said: My Lords, all the orders are fairly small, but I will not say that they are not of substance, because they are. This order would introduce provisions broadly in line with those dealing with insolvency already in force in Great Britain by the enactment of the Enterprise Act 2002. I shall comment briefly on the order.
The main purpose of the order is to modernise personal and corporate insolvency law in Northern Ireland thereby providing a stimulus to enterprise and encouraging entrepreneurship. The main changes brought about by the order are to give bankrupts their discharge after one year instead of three years; to remove the right of creditors with security in the form of a floating charge over a company property; to appoint an administrative receiver except in certain specialised cases and to introduce instead a new improved company administration procedure.
The order is alleged to be non-controversial but I am about to find out about that. A small number of replies were received following the consultation in Northern Ireland; the majority were favourable. I beg to move.
Lord Glentoran: My Lords, this is the first opportunity that I have had to congratulate the Minister on his appointment both as Deputy Leader of your Lordships' House and a full-time Minister of State for Northern Ireland. I welcome him into the latter role in particular. He will have a full and difficult period, I am sure. He can look forward to support from this side of the House as long as he goes down the roads that we think are approximately right. When Her Majesty's Government cease to do that, I shall point it out strongly to him, as I am sure he will understand. Having said all that, I look forward to working with the Minister very much. I welcome the order.
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Baroness Harris of Richmond: My Lords, I, too, welcome the Minister to his post, but I shall reserve a little more to say about him when we debate Northern Ireland on 9 June. We look forward very much to a good working relationship and I am sure that we will move forward in that spirit.
We also welcome the order and the consultation process that resulted in the change to Article 17(6) so that it defines a pre-commencement bankrupt in terms of bankruptcy rather than the presentation of a bankruptcy petition, having occurred before the coming into operation of paragraph (1) of that article. There is also a change to paragraph 8 of Schedule 5, which has been amended to refer to interim bankruptcy restrictions orders.
Although it is helpful to bring Northern Ireland into line with the rest of the UK, we must continue to take into account the different experiences in different parts of the United Kingdom and make changes where appropriate.
Lord Brooke of Sutton Mandeville: My Lords, as we are only two or three gathered together, all with some familiarity with this subject, it would be churlish of me not to join in welcoming the Minister.
I recall that in one of the crime Bills for which the Minister was responsible in a previous capacity, I made suggestions arising out of a Select Committee report in the other place about the manner in which the proceeds of those engaged in the drug trade might be clawed back. He responded in Committee that he was not wholly familiar with Northern Irelandhe has been frank throughoutbut he very graciously ensured that my suggestions were incorporated into the Bill on Report. So he starts, in personal terms also, with an enormous fund of goodwill in this place.
As I have been engaged in both debates today, I have not picked up a copy of the order and therefore have not looked at an explanatory document. Is it the case that the order would have come through even if Stormont had not been suspended, or is it an action that the Government are introducing in their capacity as being responsible for the Province while suspension is in place?
Lord Rooker: My Lords, I thank noble Lords for their kind words of welcome. I am very grateful and have been touched by supportive comments all around the House and on my four quick visits so farthey will always be quickto Northern Ireland. I will do my best. I have made clear that it is not an area that I know in detail. If I get things wrong, people will point it out to me. I do not carry much baggage with me but I will bring to bear what experience and goodwill I can in the issues that I have to deal with. I very much look forward to the debate of substance on 9 June. Obviously, that would be the better time.
The noble Lord said: My Lords, the order introduces a specific measure that is broadly in line with one already in force in Great Britain by the enactment of the Enterprise Act 2002. I will comment briefly and say a few words about the order.
The main purpose of the order is to protect consumers by providing a deterrent to company directors engaging in price fixing or other abuses of competition law. The order makes it possible for a director of a company that is in breach of competition law to be disqualified for up to 15 years. The order is considered to be non-controversial. Consultation was carried out in Northern Ireland. A small number of replies were received, the majority of which were favourable. I beg to move.
Lord Glentoran: My Lords, I welcome the order. I am delighted that it has come in. Price fixing and unfair trading has been around for far too long in Northern Ireland. Strengthening the penalties has to be right.
Baroness Harris of Richmond: My Lords, we too support the order. Following consultation in Northern Ireland, no changes were proposed to the draft order. The change seems sensible. However, I just ask the Minister what other body or organisation could be specified as a regulator under the order, other than the OFT.
Lord Rooker: My Lords, I will endeavour to obtain an answer for the noble Baroness. Departments change titles and organisations change their functions, and it may be that if, for example, the OFT was replaced by another department or renamed, we would have the legislative framework to deal with that, which I think is normal in other legislation.
The noble Lord said: My Lords, the order deals with a number of different matters that have been grouped as miscellaneous items. The items are discrete and stand alone: I shall speak briefly on each of them.
The first items, in Part II of the order, are changes in the law relating to deeds and other instruments. Apparently, it is current practice for certain transactions to be executed by way of a deed. Existing law dictates that a deed must be signed, sealed and delivered, which is an expression that is well known in many forms. However, the practice of sealing a deed is somewhat anachronistic in 2005. Some of the rules relating to deeds have come under scrutiny in recent times by the Law Reform Advisory Committee for Northern Ireland.
The order contains provisions that remove the requirement for the sealing of deeds by individuals. It also contains related provisions that will improve the law in that area and will bring a more modernised approach to such transactions. It is a small but important piece of law reform.
Similarly, that part of the order also abolishes two common law rules that the advisory committee considered were anomalous and required repeal; namely, the rule in Pigot's casefor further particulars I draw attention to Article 8 of the order and paragraph 5 of the Explanatory Memorandumand the rule in Bain v Fothergillagain, for further particulars, I draw attention to Article 9 of the order and paragraph 6 of the Explanatory Memorandum.
Part III contains important amendments to existing domestic violence law in Northern Ireland. It contains reforms that will strengthen civil protections for victims of domestic violence and is in line with the Government's commitment to enhance the law in that area and to tackle the problem of domestic violence in a structured and coherent way. Those civil protections will operate in tandem with other initiatives that the Government are taking to address the issue, which centre on the strategy in Northern Ireland called Tackling Violence at Home.
Part IV contains provisions necessary for Northern Ireland to comply with Protocol 7 to Article 5 of the European Convention on Human Rights. The convention requires the law to treat a husband and wife equally. The current common law rules that are addressed in the order do not match that requirement.
The final part of the order contains various repeals and amendments of existing legislation. I draw particular attention to the repeal of trading stamps legislation. As I said, this is a miscellaneous rag-bag, which moves from deeds to domestic violence and trading stamps. None of those would have been justified on their own, but they are all necessary changes. That is why an opportunity has been found to do them. The change in trading stamps legislation is a parallel repeal that is being considered in relation to the rest of the United Kingdom by the House. It will be a useful deregulatory measure for business.
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In summary, the order is quite technical, but I think that it will be welcomed by those who are affected by it. Clearly, it touches the footprints of people's lives in many ways. I am happy to commend it to the House, and I beg to move.
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