New Clause 1 — Payment practices: retention of monies

Part of Oral Answers to Questions — Attorney-General – in the House of Commons at 4:45 pm on 18th November 2014.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Gordon Banks Gordon Banks Shadow Minister (Scotland) 4:45 pm, 18th November 2014

It is a pleasure to follow Caroline Lucas, and I should like to speak to new clauses 3 and 4. Before I so do, I should like to draw the House’s attention to my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests.

New clause 3 is designed to flush out late payers. It seeks to press, or perhaps encourage, FTSE 350 businesses that have not signed up to the prompt payment code to do so. It would also empower the Secretary of State to publish a list of such companies on the Government website, thereby highlighting those that had not committed to the code. I support those ambitions. The new clause sets out to do what the Government said they would do—namely, name and shame large companies that did not commit to prompt payment practices. However, they have now reneged on that promise. New clause 4 proposes that the Government conduct a review into how the payment publishing regime could be adapted to ensure that late payments would be automatically accompanied by a compensation payment, and how the onus of reporting late payment could be moved away from the customer waiting to be paid.

Why are the new clauses so important? Any small business owner will know that a late payment can often mean the difference between continuing to trade and business failure. Insolvency specialists have estimated that one in five business failures are down to bills not being paid on time; they are nothing to do with a failed business model and purely down to cash being withheld from the business by its customers. The Scottish Building Federation has highlighted the fact that four out of five building firms have reported instances of late payment in the past year. I can assure the House that the overwhelming majority of those businesses will not have considered seeking redress through interest payments.

The problem that the Bill will not solve is that it will still be up to the supplier—usually a smaller business—to pursue its customer for prompt payment. The supplier will either lose the argument, and lose the prompt payment, or win the argument and put at risk its relationship with that larger customer.