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Lord Sainsbury of Turville moved Amendments Nos. 29 and 30.

("( ) The Secretary of State shall consult the First Minister and the deputy First Minister in Northern Ireland before exercising his power to make an order under this paragraph in respect of land which--
(a) is the property of any public body which has power under any enactment to acquire land compulsorily, or
(b) is declared by or under any enactment to be inalienable,
where representations objecting to the proposal for making the order have been duly made by the owner of the land and not withdrawn.").

    Page 90, line 13, at end insert (", and

    "public body" means a body established by or under any enactment.").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, Amendment No. 29 relates to the compulsory acquisition provisions in Schedule 5 to the Bill. It inserts into the Bill a requirement requested by the First Minister and Deputy First Minister in Northern Ireland for the Secretary of State to consult them when a universal service provider, in connection with the provision of the universal postal service, wishes compulsorily to

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acquire land in Northern Ireland that is owned by a public body which also has the power to acquire land compulsorily.

In Northern Ireland there is no corresponding legislation to the Acquisition of Land Act 1981 which protects land acquired by statutory undertakers for the purposes of their undertaking. A different approach is taken in Northern Ireland legislation and, where this legislation provides for the establishment of a statutory body with powers of compulsory acquisition, it generally includes a provision requiring a vesting order to be approved by the Assembly where objections have been made by the owner of the land. Recent examples of such orders are Schedule 3 to the Electricity (Northern Ireland) Order 1992 and Schedule 2 to the Gas (Northern Ireland) Act 1996.

The Government consider that the amendment is appropriate as it would ensure that the protections that currently exist for land owned by certain public bodies in Northern Ireland are reflected in the Bill.

Amendment No. 30, which is consequential to Amendment No. 29, defines "public body" as a body established by or under any enactment. I beg to move.

On Question, amendments agreed to.

6.45 p.m.

Lord Sainsbury of Turville: My Lords, I beg to move that the Bill do now pass.

Moved, That the Bill do now pass.--(Lord Sainsbury of Turville.)

Baroness Miller of Hendon: My Lords, the Government have given way on certain matters. I should like the Minister to know that we are most grateful to him. We had hoped that the Government might have given way on more. Despite misgivings on certain matters we were unable to persuade them. We wish the new Post Office company, and indeed all the other postal services providers which will be allowed to compete in the market, every possible success. I thank all my noble friends and all noble Lords who have supported our amendments. I feel sure that all noble Lords will join me in hoping that the new regime provides a good service to the public and to business. Perhaps a more prosperous and efficient postal service will add to the prosperity of Great Britain plc.

Lord Clarke of Hampstead: My Lords, as one who during the passage of the Bill has spoken in critical terms of the Government's proposals to turn the Post Office into a plc, I want to say that I am still of that opinion. I think that the Government have got it wrong. The purpose of taking up noble Lords' time today is to say that, as a relatively new boy in your Lordships' House, I have been impressed with the way the various stages of the passage of the Bill have taken place and the courtesy which has been shown. It also gives me the opportunity to thank noble Lords who have spoken so highly of Post Office workers.

Many noble Lords know of my interest in this matter. It is gratifying to know that this House is alive and well in tackling the future of the Post Office. Like

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other noble Lords, I wish it well in whatever form it ends up, but I hope that it maintains its traditions as it has done for centuries. I should like to place on record my thanks to the Minister for his courtesy in dealing with some of my barbed comments over the past few months. I wish the Bill well. I hope that it has a clear passage now and that the Post Office and its staff can carry on doing the job they do so well.

Lord Sainsbury of Turville: My Lords, perhaps I may say how grateful I am to the noble Baroness and other noble Lords who have contributed to the debates on the Bill and who have contributed to what I believe is an effective scrutiny of the Bill. I thank them for that contribution. The debates have shown the strong feelings the British public have for the Post Office, its role and the major contribution it makes to our public life. I believe that the Bill will make a major contribution to the continuing life of this country and also to great commercial success in the future.

On Question, Bill passed, and returned to the Commons with amendments.

Insolvency Bill [H.L.]

6.47 p.m.

Report received.

Clause 4 [Qualification or authorisation of nominees and supervisors]:

Baroness Buscombe moved Amendment No. 1:

    Page 2, line 17, leave out subsection (3).

The noble Baroness said: My Lords, in moving Amendment No. 1, I should like to speak also to Amendments Nos. 2, 13, 14, 17, 23, 25, 26, 29, 30, 32, 34, 34A and 37. In proposing these amendments in Committee we made the point that an authorised person created by subsections (3) and (4) of Clause 4 should not be a licensed insolvency practitioner and should be able to act only as a nominee or supervisor. He would be likely, therefore, to recommend a voluntary arrangement rather than some other insolvency procedure. The Minister attempted to answer that point, but, with great respect, I fear that he missed our point. A debtor, be it a company or an individual, in financial difficulties, will usually seek the advice of some professional person.

In many instances he will seek the advice of a mere authorised person. That advice will probably be given free, just as at the moment similar advice is given free by licensed insolvency practitioners. That advice is given free in the hope and expectation that the person giving that advice will be appointed as nominee, supervisor, administrator or liquidator in due course and will be remunerated for doing so. That remuneration will more than make up for the free advice given earlier. That is how the system works today with licensed insolvency practitioners and we can think of no reason why that will not be how the system works with authorised persons in the future if these provisions are enacted.

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A number of these authorised persons will be tempted by the hope and expectation of earning remuneration as nominee or supervisor in due course. We believe that they will want to recommend a moratorium and a voluntary arrangement because they will then get paid. If they recommend some other insolvency procedure, such as bankruptcy, administration or liquidation, they will probably not be paid. The temptation is therefore very great.

Some of these authorised persons will succumb to that temptation. That is an inevitable consequence of human nature. We believe that in a considerable number of cases an authorised person will wrongly advise the debtor to propose a voluntary arrangement because that is the only way the authorised person will be paid. Indeed, it happens now with licensed insolvency practitioners, who may recommend one insolvency procedure instead of another because they are more likely to be paid in due course. It is more likely to happen with authorised practitioners, who will certainly not be paid at all if they recommend insolvency procedures for which they are not qualified.

I am not saying that this will happen in every case. Indeed, it may happen in only a few cases. But we must stop even that, because debtors are particularly vulnerable. These are people or companies who are in financial difficulties and are clutching at any straws. We must therefore ensure that the risk of that happening is minimised. The amendments will do that. If the professional who can act as nominee and supervisor is also able to act in other insolvency procedures, he is less likely to advise a voluntary arrangement where other insolvency procedures are more appropriate. I beg to move.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, we have listened carefully to what has been said in debate about Clause 4 of the Bill. We have listened at Second Reading, in Committee and again today. We have struggled--we still do struggle--to understand why there is such strong opposition to the proposals in the clause.

There seems to be a suggestion behind all this opposition that there is a hidden agenda. There is no hidden agenda. Clause 4 introduces new Section 389A in the Insolvency Act. It enables the Secretary of State, if certain conditions are met, to recognise bodies whose members will be able to act as nominees or supervisors in relation to voluntary arrangements under the Insolvency Act. I realise that my comments during the Committee stage on that point were not as clear as they might have been. As a result, I wrote on 21st June to the noble Baroness, Lady Buscombe, to make it plain that nominees and supervisors authorised under new Section 389A will be able to act in relation to voluntary arrangements generally and not just in moratorium cases.

The conditions under which a body can be recognised are that it,

    "it maintains and enforces rules for securing that its members--

    (a) are fit and proper persons to act as nominees or supervisors, and

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    (b) meet acceptable requirements as to education and practical training and experience".

Those are important conditions. It would be strange to suggest that the Secretary of State would regard this measure as a means of "dumbing down" on standards. If an authorised body does not perform to acceptable standards, the Secretary of State can revoke its recognition.

The noble Baroness, Lady Buscombe, has today taken a slightly different tack. She has suggested that persons authorised pursuant to the power in new Section 389A would be likely to advise a voluntary arrangement as the most appropriate course because they could act only in that area. I hope I have made it abundantly clear that a nominee or supervisor does not have an advisory role. If I have not made it clear, I do so now. The nominee's and supervisor's duties are set out in the legislation and it is those duties--and only those duties--that they are authorised to perform.

The proposition that only a licensed insolvency practitioner will ever have the skills necessary to act as a nominee or supervisor is untenable. There are areas of, say, a supervisor's role, such as collecting in regular payments and distributing them in accordance with the terms of an agreed voluntary arrangement, where it would be rather absurd to claim that the particular skills of an insolvency practitioner are always needed. As I have said before, membership of the insolvency profession's trade association--formerly the Society of Practitioners of Insolvency and now the Association of Business Recovery Professionals: is there not here a message for those who oppose Clause 4?--is now open to those with expertise in financial rescues who are not licensed insolvency practitioners.

The skills--we are in no doubt that they are substantial skills--those people have may prove very useful in achieving rescues by way of voluntary arrangements under the Insolvency Act. So, if an organisation exists, or comes into being, which satisfies the requirements of the new Section 389A, we see no good reason why its members should be prevented from playing a part in the rescue process by effectively maintaining an unjustifiable monopoly.

The Government are in the business of promoting rescues--not protecting vested interests. But I cannot overemphasise that the only reason for taking this power is to ensure that we can harness skills--regulated and professional skills--which, but for Clause 4, would not be available to those attempting a rescue.

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