Mr. Waterson: I am grateful to the Under-Secretary, who kindly reiterated the two restrictions to which the NACAB briefing referred. Although it is beyond the scope of the Bill, and certainly that of her speech, I wonder whether there is merit in reconsidering the £5,000 limit. As time goes on, it will be less and less useful and assist fewer and fewer people.
Miss Johnson: I would like to reflect on the hon. Gentleman's point and perhaps return to it on Report.
The growing numbers of individuals with debt problems seek advice and assistance from organisations in the voluntary sector, such as the Consumer Credit Counselling Service and Paylink. Those organisations will administer debt repayment plans on behalf of debtors at no cost to the debtor.
The new clause proposes a reduction in fees for joint bankruptcies, but it is right that individual affairs should be examined independently as they relate to separate legal entities. That not only ensures privacy for each individual, but assists in establishing whether either case warrants further investigation. The court's discretion to waive the court fee will apply to both applicants. Merely because a couple have one or more common debts does not mean that any less resource is necessarily required to deal with their bankruptcies than would be to deal with two completely separate cases.
The new clause would apply to more than the court fee on entering bankruptcy, as it would apply to all fees payable to the official receiver or the Secretary of State to cover the cost of administering the bankruptcy. There is already a de facto abatement for the other fees in cases in which there is little, if any, money. Because the fees are paid from the bankrupt's estate, in cases in which there are insufficient assets in the estate any fees beyond the level of the deposit remain unpaid.
I am grateful to Opposition Members and to my hon. Friend the Member for North-East Derbyshire for the opportunity to debate the issue and to respond to NACAB's concerns. I hope that I have persuaded the hon. Gentleman to withdraw the amendment.
Mr. Waterson: I am not minded to press the matter to a vote, but we shall want to return to it on Report.
Column Number: 695Although the Under-Secretary has made a couple of interesting suggestions and concessions, and I should like her to look at the administration order limit—that is a way in to dealing with another part of the same problem—it is still a major problem, and a growing one, as has been brought to our attention by NACAB. I hope that the Under-Secretary will come up with something much closer to what is set out in new clause 9 by the time we discuss this on Report. There is plenty of time in which to consider it; it is a campaign that NACAB has run for some time and we shall press it hard on Report unless the Government come up with
Column Number: 696something a lot better. For now, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Clause 258, as amended, ordered to stand part of the Bill.
Clause 259 ordered to stand part of the Bill.
Clause 260 ordered to stand part of the Bill.
Further consideration adjourned—[Mr. Pearson.]
Adjourned accordingly at four minutes to Seven o'clock till Thursday 16 May at half-past Nine o'clock.
The following Members attended the Committee:
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