Moratoriums in Great Britain

Corporate Insolvency and Governance Bill – in the House of Commons at 12:19 pm on 25th June 2020.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Nigel Evans Nigel Evans Deputy Speaker (Second Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means)

With this we may take Lords amendments 2 to 116.

Photo of Paul Scully Paul Scully Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy), Minister of State (London)

The Corporate Insolvency and Governance Bill has been a demonstration of what can be achieved in the best interests of businesses, jobs and the country’s economic future when there is collaborative work across both sides of the House. I am grateful to hon. and right hon. Members for the constructive way in which the Opposition have engaged with the Bill, both in this House and the other place.

Over the past three months, this country has faced the unprecedented hardship of needing to adhere to stringent social distancing measures due to the covid-19 pandemic, where Government had no choice but to order businesses to close their doors to safeguard the nation’s health. We recognise the huge sacrifices that has entailed, and my right hon. Friend the Chancellor has provided unprecedented economic support to businesses and workers across the country to help them make it through this challenging time.

Some UK businesses have been hit hard, with many unable to trade or facing a significant short-term reduction in demand for goods and services. As a result, many otherwise viable companies face the threat of insolvency.

Photo of Stephen Doughty Stephen Doughty Shadow Minister (Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs), Shadow Minister (International Development)

With regard to Lords amendment 75, which extends the temporary provisions to 30 September, the Minister is absolutely right that a lot of businesses can survive this crisis, but they need these measures in place. They also need the packages of support from the Treasury alongside the legislative changes. The clock is ticking for many, particularly in the theatre and entertainment industry, the steel industry and others affected in my constituency. Does he agree that we need to see financial packages too?

Photo of Paul Scully Paul Scully Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy), Minister of State (London)

I agree with the hon. Gentleman that it is important that we remain flexible. We continue to work with businesses from all sectors to ensure that we can get to a point where we can work through the gears to get a full economic recovery over time. That will mean support from the Government in all manner of ways, which we are considering.

Photo of Edward Leigh Edward Leigh Conservative, Gainsborough

We have no idea what will happen—there could be a second lockdown or other things; we do not know. Will the Minister comment on the necessity or value of including in the Bill a review procedure, which, if something changes, would allow the Government to be fleet of foot in aiding businesses? That particularly applies to those who lose their premises because of the difficult economic situation and who may find it very difficult to find new ones.

Photo of Paul Scully Paul Scully Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy), Minister of State (London)

I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for that intervention. He will note that the Government have extended the moratorium on the forfeiture of leases due to covid-19 debts to 30 September, with which the amendments in the Bill have become aligned. In my conversations with retail and hospitality in particular, but not solely with them, I have been exercised by property and the balance between landlord and tenant. We must keep an eye on that.

Photo of Jim Shannon Jim Shannon Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Human Rights), Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Health)

I recognise that what the Minister is bringing forward is important. We thank the Government and him for what they are doing. In relation to circumstances in the regional devolved Administrations—the Northern Ireland Assembly, the Scottish Parliament and the Welsh Assembly—there may be peculiarities in those systems that mean businesses are particularly under threat or having problems specific to those regions. Does the Minister feel that within the Bill we can get help through the devolved Administrations, and in Northern Ireland through the Assembly, to those businesses and, in particular, tourism?

Photo of Paul Scully Paul Scully Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy), Minister of State (London)

I agree with the hon. Gentleman that it is so important that we work with all parts of the nation and all the devolved Administrations, which we do regularly. My colleague my hon. Friend Nadhim Zahawi has regular conversations from our Department, and other Departments liaise closely with the devolved Administrations to ensure that local economies are protected, as well as looking at the overall national picture.

The measures that the Bill introduces will give our businesses the vital support they need to keep afloat, preserving jobs, maintaining productive capacity and enabling the foundations to be laid for the country’s economic recovery. Saving lives and livelihoods is at the heart of what we are seeking to achieve. Measures such as the new moratorium and restructuring plan, together with a prohibition on contractual termination clauses, will help more businesses in future to survive rather than become insolvent. Many of the permanent measures have been improved through scrutiny in the other place, and I will set out some details of the amendments that the Government have brought forward to ensure that the measures work as intended.

I turn first to the financial services super priority amendments.  The Government want to prevent firms gaming the system through a moratorium. Our amendments seek to disincentivise financial services creditors from seeking to accelerate their pre-moratorium debt solely to benefit from super priority should the company fail, or to obtain protection from compromise if a restructuring proposal was put to them. The amendments exclude pre-moratorium financial services debts from having super priority status in a subsequent administration or liquidation where the financial services debt has been accelerated for payment during the moratorium. That ensures that the correct incentives are in place for the moratorium to work effectively and not be brought to an end prematurely.

On amendments relating to pensions, the aim of the measures in the Bill is to rescue a company, which is ultimately the best outcome for its pension scheme. Nevertheless, the Government have been alive to the concern that the new procedures could result in a pension scheme being disadvantaged as an unsecured creditor of the company. As a result, we agreed that there is a need to build in specific protections. Amendments made in the other place ensure that the pensions regulator and the Pension Protection Fund get appropriate information in the case of both a moratorium and a restructuring plan and that the PPF can challenge through the courts, the directors and the monitor of a company in a moratorium. There is also a regulation-making power, which will allow the PPF to be given creditor rights in both procedures in certain circumstances. I hope that hon. and right hon. Members will agree that these are important and fair amendments to the Bill.

We have also made amendments to the temporary measures in the Bill. These temporary measures allow businesses to focus on what is important for their survival through this extraordinary period, rather than having to respond to aggressive creditor actions, or struggle with statutory filing or meeting requirements during the disruption. The amendments to the temporary insolvency provisions in the Bill extend the life of those provisions beyond what was proposed when the Bill first came to the House. They will now expire, as I have said, on 30 September.

It is already clear that businesses will need these measures in place for longer than we first anticipated, and we brought forward amendments in the other place to take account of that. The provisions retain the capacity to be extended further through a regulation-making power should it be required, and the affirmative procedure will apply to such regulations.

Amendments have been made in the Bill in relation to pre-pack sales in administrations. Pre-packs are a valuable tool for saving businesses and jobs. However, concerns have been raised about the lack of scrutiny of them. The amendments reinstate a power that had elapsed earlier this year for the Government to regulate pre-pack sales in administrations to connected parties. The Government will look carefully at pre-packs and I can inform the House that a commitment was made by my ministerial colleague, Lord Callanan, to review current practices in the summer before making any decision on regulatory changes.

Finally, a number of technical amendments have been made to the Bill where it was judged necessary. These include changes that will restrict the period for which certain powers have been given in the Bill that will be available to Ministers, changes to clarify the intended effect of the legislation, and changes which place a condition on the use of some powers. We have ensured that there is appropriate parliamentary scrutiny of any regulation made under the Bill, as well as appropriate safeguards on these powers. Where they relate to powers for a Scottish or Welsh Minister or a Northern Ireland Department, the corresponding change has been made to ensure equal scrutiny for all the Parliaments of the UK.

This Bill has been improved by the scrutiny of the House of Lords Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee, as well as by the incredible work of the Government’s own parliamentary counsel and their legal advisers. I hope that the House will agree that making good, accurate, appropriately balanced and clear legislation is very much in the interests of all, not least of businesses that rely on this legal clarity. I am confident that we have now achieved that in this package, which we have, nevertheless, brought forward as quickly as possible to respond to the covid emergency. Taken together, these amendments improve this important and much-needed Bill. The debates and discussions in this House, as well as in the other place, have shown quite what this Parliament can achieve, even if socially distanced, when we share that common aim to save and support businesses in this emergency context. I therefore call on Members to support all the Lords amendments.

Photo of Chi Onwurah Chi Onwurah Shadow Minister (Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy), Shadow Minister (Digital, Culture, Media and Sport)

I want to start by echoing the constructive tone of the Minister and thanking everyone, both in this place and the other place, who has been involved in the scrutiny of the Bill. I also want to thank the Minister specifically for how he and his colleagues have engaged with us on this Bill and listened to the concerns we have had as it has progressed. We on the Labour Benches welcome the amendments that the Government have brought forward, which improve and strengthen the Bill in some important regards. As we have said previously, this is just one of the measures that we hope will safeguard businesses and livelihoods through this crisis. Our objective as the Opposition is to be constructive and to ensure that businesses get the support they need now and in the longer term, and that the number of insolvencies over coming weeks and months is as few as possible. We back this Bill, but we are clear that it is a last resort for many businesses and that there is much, much more for the Government to do now—now—to support businesses, safeguard our economy and protect jobs and livelihoods, so that the measures passed today only have to be used in a limited number of companies.

As we have said at every stage of the debate on the Bill and through this crisis, every previously viable business that needs to call on these insolvency changes because of the crisis is a business that has been failed. Even with the limited unlocking of our economy that we have seen so far, some sectors will take longer than others to recover. That is why we have argued that the furlough scheme should be made more flexible and specific to sectors that are still struggling, and also why we have called for sector-specific support packages for those in particular difficulties, including hospitality, steel, aerospace and automotive manufacturing, to name but a few.

Turning to the Lords amendments, we are grateful that Ministers listened to our concerns about the impact of these changes on pension funds and the voice of workers, and have amended the Bill accordingly to provide extra safeguards. There are some lessons to be learned from the passage of the Bill, however, and for the Government to think about as they plan further changes in this area of insolvency and corporate governance.

Photo of Stephen Doughty Stephen Doughty Shadow Minister (Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs), Shadow Minister (International Development) 12:30 pm, 25th June 2020

I entirely endorse the point my hon. Friend is making, particularly with regard to pension schemes, because we have seen the tragedy of where this has gone wrong, such as the Allied Steel and Wire pensions scandal in my constituency, which is still affecting people today, years afterwards. Does she agree that we need to take some of the lessons from this process into protections for pension schemes and pensioners, who are expecting, having paid in, that they will get out in due course?

Photo of Chi Onwurah Chi Onwurah Shadow Minister (Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy), Shadow Minister (Digital, Culture, Media and Sport)

I thank my hon. Friend for that extremely constructive and to-the-point intervention. We absolutely need to learn from this process, and we also need to ensure that not only the mistakes but the injustices of the past are not repeated, particularly now, when the economy and so many workers and pensioners are so vulnerable.

First, I hope that Ministers will learn from the experience of passing this legislation in such a hurried manner, with a mixture of permanent and temporary measures. While we understand the need for speed with this Bill, it is clear that there have been problems in combining temporary changes with permanent reforms that have been a long time coming and the lack of time for proper scrutiny. That point has been strongly voiced in the other place, and we hope that Ministers will bear this in mind when introducing complex permanent changes along with temporary measures.

Secondly, the ranking of priority debts in insolvency cases has not been changed in a number of years and concerns have been raised that this is out of date. There is no mention of FinTech or some of the new complex ways in which firms finance themselves. If further insolvency changes are planned by Ministers, they must be relevant to where the world is now.

Thirdly, the interaction between pension funds and insolvencies is very complicated, particularly around defined pension schemes. That needs to be looked at afresh. Fourthly, the lack of mention of employees in the whole Bill is a complete oversight, which is why we argued for greater recognition of, and voice for, employees during the passage of the Bill. Any further changes to insolvency and corporate governance legislation must consider how workers can be better included. Finally, there are clearly issues, as the Minister has raised, around pre-pack. They will need to be resolved.

We are pleased that we have been able to work so constructively with the Government to pass this important legislation to support business through this crisis. We are grateful for the listening ear of Ministers. We hope that this legislation will save businesses threatened with becoming insolvent through this crisis. We will keep a close eye on how the measures are implemented, and we hope Ministers will do the same.

Photo of Richard Fuller Richard Fuller Conservative, North East Bedfordshire

I draw the House’s attention to my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests and in particular to my roles as a director of companies.

Like the Opposition, I welcome the changes that the Government are accepting in the Bill today. I have listened to a couple of interventions from the Opposition Benches, with their strong support for Government measures to support the economy, and that is emblematic of how successful they have been. However, I would just gently warn my hon. Friend the Minister that we have made great progress so far, but there are issues, as we emerge, about how those programmes are helping certain people, while other people are not receiving that support. We need to get the economy going back to normal business principles as quickly as possible, not seek to extend Government intervention unnecessarily or for too long.

This Bill is a very timely Bill and it is a good Bill. As the shadow Minister said, there is a mixture of short and long-term issues here, but getting this on the books is really rather important for the market. May I ask the Minister, building on some other comments about the changes in the role of the Pensions Regulator and the PPF, whether he sees this as part of a longer-term view of the Government about the role of pensions regulators in insolvency, and whether this is an indication of something that may outlast and be outwith any short-term changes? I would be interested in his perspectives on that.

I am not sure if the Bill continues to relate to the primacy of HMRC as a creditor in insolvencies, but I would be interested if the Minister has any observations on that. I know that, for many businesses when they are trying to seek resolution in insolvency, HMRC can prove to be one of the most difficult creditors to deal with—and that is putting it perhaps a little lightly. So do the Government have the intention of providing, or does the Treasury have any intention of providing, any guidance on how HMRC may be treating its obligations during this particular period? For many companies, that would be a welcome piece of information as they go through what may otherwise be very difficult periods.

May I ask the Minister about the extension to 30 September? That seems to be a very sensible change, but may I ask him about what happens in the event that there is a repeat lockdown that is a national lockdown? He has talked a bit about an affirmative decision here. That, it seems to me, is perhaps a bit more focused than that. Perhaps more tellingly, what happens in the instance where there is a localised lockdown in a particular county or a particular region that affects businesses there and they go insolvent? What happens to those particular businesses? I would be interested to see if the Minister has some thoughts on that.

My final observation, Mr Deputy Speaker—and you, with your great experience, may know this too—is that frequently measures that come into this House that are seen as short-term measures have a habit of sticking around on the statute book. So could I have, on the sunny-side view of the recovery of the economy, an absolute assurance from the Government that it is their intention, as these things sit, as the economy recovers, that they will implement the sunset clause, and they will come forward so that we can enable businesses to go back to the longer-term framework, some of which is in this Bill, for managing corporate insolvency?

Photo of Drew Hendry Drew Hendry Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy)

Can I also thank the Minister for the collaborative and refreshing way, given his Government’s record, of engaging across the Benches to take this legislation through? I will come to my constructive criticisms in due course.

The areas I want to expand on are, basically, that we accept the Lords amendments and, within that, seek assurances from the Minister, his Secretary of State and his Government that they will work with the trade unions to ensure that workers are adequately protected, acknowledging that, while the Bill is a welcome step, the help it will give firms to get through the covid-19 crisis is going to be a drop in the ocean of the challenges they face. If this Tory Government are serious about reducing insolvency, they need to do much more. They should then support the Scottish National party’s amendments to the Finance Bill to prevent HMRC’s vulture powers from taking effect.

We welcome the technical changes made through the Lords amendments, not least the fact that the Scottish Parliament can play its full role in matters relating to clause 43. That is extremely welcome. It is also welcome to see the Government make concessions to Lord Stephen to ensure that directors will have responsibility for informing employees about moratorium arrangements and reassuring them about their conditions in the future. The Minister and the Government must provide assurances that they will continue to engage with trade unions and give an unequivocal guarantee that workers’ rights will not diminish as a result of the Bill.

Chi Onwurah was very kind in her criticisms. I am going to be a bit more direct. The swathes of Government amendments required in the Lords are indicative of the Government’s ongoing failure to grasp the details of the measures they propose—that is notwithstanding the very good engagement I have already referred to by the Minister here today. It is not the way to take such important matters forward.

As I said earlier, we welcome the measures, especially the provision of a short business rescue moratorium to protect companies from creditor action while options are considered; the new court-based restructuring tool; and new rules to prevent suppliers from cancelling contracts with businesses in an insolvency procedure. They are all helpful to business, as is the temporary suspension of the wrongful trading provisions to give company directors greater confidence to use their best endeavours as they continue to trade during this pandemic emergency, without the threat of personal liability should the company ultimately fall into insolvency. Importantly, we are keeping the existing laws for fraudulent trading and potential director disqualification to deter director misconduct—so far, so good.

The main and most pressing issue, however, is that these measures do not address the mountain of corporate debt that will prevent firms from investing to rebuild the economy. With reports that less than half the bounce-back loans will not be repaid, it is high time that recipients of the bounce-back loan scheme and coronavirus business interruption loan scheme debt were offered the chance of that debt being turned into equity instead. It is simply unrealistic to expect economic growth while numbing investment, crushing productivity and adding to corporate debt.

To be serious about avoiding insolvency, much more attention will need to be paid to the breadth of effects. Even businesses that survive will face a much longer road to recovery, especially in sectors such as tourism, hospitality and the arts. Without meaningful action, jobs will be lost and communities scarred, probably for decades. The effect on those sectors and others means that the brunt will be borne by thousands of people in the gig economy and on zero-hours contracts—and disproportionately by young people.

The Minister said that he wanted to make a commitment to supporting local economies. It is important that he takes that message back to the Chancellor because, when redundancies come, businesses will focus on those who will cost them the least to release: the low paid; those with no contract; and, as I have said, younger people. I have to declare an interest here as a father who still has two teenagers in the house, and, of course, as a newly-surprised grandparent of my new grandson Cameron Hendry. I want to ensure that all young people have a future to look forward to that is not going to be hampered by decades of retrenchment. [Interruption.] Indeed, Cameron Hendry. It is a fine name, isn’t it?

To get back to the serious point, although the hospitality sector is hopeful of some meagre income in the dying embers of the season, it has effectively faced a three winter situation. It may get 15% to 20% of that which July would normally bring, and maybe a bit more in August, if it is lucky. I have been engaging with and listening to the industry’s concerns, which are similar in tourist areas across the nations of the UK.

Current hotel occupancy rates seem to be below 10%. In my own constituency, the owner of the Kingsmills Hotel Group, Tony Story, told me that his company will have to bear the cost of an additional 15% to 20% per room for electrostatic spraying and hospital-grade cleaning in his hotels. That experience has been reflected by other smaller hotel owners across the sector.

They need the Minister, his Secretary of State and his Government to implore the Chancellor to extend furlough support in the sector beyond this year. As it stands, because of the changes—because of the contribution they will have to pay towards furlough—they will lose more money opening their businesses than when they were closed. It makes no sense to punish them in that way. The furlough scheme has been of great help; we have mentioned that many times and supported it. That is why it is important that it continues in order to avoid insolvencies that may come out of this.

Tourism and hospitality also need a VAT cut. As Mr Story said, cutting VAT

“makes it much more attractive for us to the European market, even though” that cut would only level the playing field. He means a meaningful reduction, not tinkering about with 2% or 2.5%.

The Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee heard this morning that theatres will run out of cash by the end of this year. Culture and the arts face an absolute hammering. Those are the businesses facing the highest risk of insolvency. They, too, need special measures: extended furlough, investment through grants, and engagement to allow their unique skills to be put to use throughout our communities.

In the highlands, our big local theatre, Eden Court, led by James Mackenzie-Blackman and his wonderful staff, has for years done outreach in the community, helping build the fabric and the health of our communities across the highlands. That is replicated across the nations of the UK, and it must be protected. Communities have benefited from that work, but such theatres are starved of income due to this vicious virus. They need deeper and more meaningful help than we see in the Bill to avoid the prospect of a soulless environment if they collapse.

If the Government decide that those businesses are to go without specific support, will the Minister work with the Scottish Government and the Chancellor to make simple amendments to borrowing powers to allow the Scottish Government to invest £500 million in Scotland so that we can take further action for ourselves to support businesses, jobs and communities?

Finally, while the Secretary of State and the Minister should be working to champion these sectors, which are vital to so many, will the Minister also take the practical step of supporting the SNP amendment to the Finance Bill that would stop HMRC’s planned vulture powers? Two policies in part 4 of the Finance Bill could damage business lending even more. Preferential status represents a significant challenge to the UK’s business community and access to working capital finance. Preventing tax avoidance, evasion and phoenixism is vital, of course, but that measure is not the way to do it, so will the Minister indicate his support for our amendment to the Finance Bill?

Photo of Sarah Olney Sarah Olney Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (International Trade), Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy) 12:45 pm, 25th June 2020

It is pleasure to be here on behalf of the Liberal Democrats. Along with other Opposition parties, we support the Lords amendments.

I have taken the opportunity of the easing of some of the lockdown restrictions to get out and about in my constituency and speak to some of our local business owners who are beginning to reopen on the high street. It is quite a positive picture. Many of them have implemented diverse ways of selling to their customers and diversified their offering. They have got through the difficult stage of the lockdown and they are optimistic about the future, but I am conscious that that is not necessarily representative of all sectors and all parts of the country. The economic disaster that we are expecting as a result of the lockdown is really only just beginning to play out. In every news bulletin, we see more redundancies —Swissport yesterday, Royal Mail today—and we know that this is just the start. Therefore, it is incumbent on us all to be shrewd about the legislation that we need to pass to meet this challenge.

It is important that we strike a balance in the Bill between enabling the release of capital from companies that are going to fail, so that it can flow to new ventures with better prospects and secure future employment, and shoring up existing companies and jobs that will be viable once they can trade profitably again. For that reason, we welcome the moratorium provisions. We particularly welcome Lords amendments 67 to 71, which define the priority status of creditors and limit the powers of banks to take precedence in calling in their debt. That allows the moratorium to be more effective, as companies can then prioritise employees and other creditors.

I think that will be increasingly important not just once the immediate crisis has passed but in the coming years. TheCityUK estimates that there will be £100 billion of unsustainable lending in quarter 1 of 2021. That really does need to focus the mind, in respect of not only the Bill but future Government policy. The moratorium provisions will play a part in ensuring ongoing stability next year, but they would have been undermined if banks could not be restrained from taking their cut first, as Drew Hendry mentioned.

When businesses can function again after the crisis, it will be important above all to be able to protect jobs. We welcome the amendments that strengthen the protection of pension schemes in particular, but I echo what the shadow Minister, Chi Onwurah, said: it is disappointing that the Bill does not go further. We do, though, recognise the importance of speed. For that reason, we also welcome the amendments that extend the temporary provision to 30 September. We believe that to be a prudent decision.

I wish to take this opportunity to echo other Members’ calls for measures for the theatre industry in particular. I have three theatres in my constituency and the industry is an important part of Richmond Park’s society and culture. I emphasise the fact we are trying not only to meet the challenge of the coronavirus crisis but, for the first time in 40 years, to become an independent trading nation. We should focus on the fact that globally we have a massive competitive advantage with our theatrical industry. Our entire performing arts and cultural sector is something in which we are world beating. If we want to start to export the things that are greatest about Britain, we really must support the sector urgently.

As other Members have highlighted, our theatre sector is facing a crisis and needs an urgent bail-out. Not only it is so important for all the jobs and all the future income that it can bring—not just to individual communities but to the nation as a whole—but it is a seedbed for our film and TV industries, which are also world beating and will be looking to get back on their feet as soon as they are able. I particularly single out theatres for help because we have one in every community—even in the highlands of Scotland, as the hon. Member for Inverness, Nairn, Badenoch and Strathspey pointed out—and they have a critical role in the community at this time. Not only can they shore up employment in local areas, but they can play a vital role in helping children to reconnect with the education on which they have missed out over the past three months. I hope the Minister agrees that that is of absolutely first priority across Government at this time.

Our theatres have large spaces in which social distancing can be practised. They are experienced in education—the Orange Tree theatre in my constituency certainly has a very well-developed education programme—and can provide all kinds of programmes over the summer, particularly to help out young people who may have been unable to access online learning and perhaps do not engage well with traditional forms of learning. We have a fantastic opportunity to reconnect those young people with new ways of learning to stimulate their creativity.

Above all, when the lockdown is over—when we can communicate face to face with each other again—I want everybody to have the opportunity to experience a live performance, because we have all spent too long staring at our unresponsive laptop screens. We want live theatre, live music and visual arts. We want to reconnect face to face again. If we do not have a thriving theatre in every community, it will be much harder to deliver that. For the sake of the theatre industry and the benefits it can bring, not only in actual income but in projecting the United Kingdom to the world, which is more important now than it ever has been, I urge the Minister to make representations to the Government as a matter of absolute urgency to support the theatre industry.

Photo of Paul Scully Paul Scully Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy), Minister of State (London)

First, I thank for their contributions all right hon. and hon. Members who have spoken in this and previous debates on the Bill. Overall, it is reassuring to me, and I am sure to the country, to see that the House can come together to provide constructive and challenging scrutiny of important legislation while moving quickly towards agreement in the national interest. The amendments made to the Bill since we last saw it have strengthened its ability to deliver on its ultimate aim of supporting business and reducing the threat of insolvency faced by many during this challenging time.

I thank Chi Onwurah for her kind words about the engagement on the Bill. She highlighted the need to address sector-specific issues, including those faced by aerospace, the automotive sector and the steel industry. The measures in the Bill apply to companies across all sectors of the economy, including airlines and the automotive industry, provided they meet the relevant eligibility criteria, for example to enter into the moratorium. Ministers and officials are in regular contact with representatives of the steel industry and will continue to work closely with it to determine how steel companies can access the support required at this extremely challenging time.

We know that all sectors must get as much support as possible. As my hon. Friend Richard Fuller said, we must also come back to a sense of business as normal, so that we can start to move through the gears to get the economic recovery that we all want to see, knowing that it will not happen overnight—there is no light-switch moment—but that we must all come together to make that happen.

The hon. Member for Newcastle upon Tyne Central made the point that the financial market is changing rapidly, which is why there remains a regulation-making power in the Bill to adapt as markets do. She also raised the role of employees. My ministerial colleague, Lord Callanan, committed in the other place to the Government’s plan to conduct a review of the permanent measures in the Bill within three years, with a focus on the impact on employees. We will not hesitate to make changes if that review suggests that there is a need to.

My hon. Friend the Member for North East Bedfordshire asked about pensions. He is correct that the interaction between certain measures in the Bill and the pensions legislation gives rise to a number of complex issues. Setting out the detail in regulations will help us to ensure that the balance between trustees’ rights as creditors and the Pension Protection Fund’s interests can be achieved and quickly amended as case law relating to part 26A develops. The pensions framework is, to a great extent, set out in regulations, which allows the law to develop and respond to changes in the market. It is right and proper that the Pension Protection Fund and the Pensions Regulator are able to play a role in the new procedures when it is appropriate for them to do, and that is what the Government amendments allow for.

The Pension Schemes Bill will be in the other place at the end of this month. That Bill builds on the Government’s commitment to tighten the rules on abuse of pension schemes by improving the Pensions Regulator’s power. My hon. Friend asked about the regulations that allow an extension of the temporary changes. Of course, where required, the Government will not hesitate to extend the measures, but we will not extend them indefinitely. We will consider the individual merits of each measure before any further blanket extensions. As he said, it is important that business gets back to usual, but it is also important that shareholders get their say fully at an annual general meeting, as well as at share- holder days. Although we allow directors the leniency to concentrate on their own business rather than their responsibilities to Companies House, there comes a time when we must get back to business as usual, so that Companies House can record companies’ measures.

Photo of Richard Fuller Richard Fuller Conservative, North East Bedfordshire

I do not want to delay my hon. Friend’s speech, but the point I was trying to make is that clarity about a change of rules is very important for directors, and that also applies to a change in regulations. If there is an extension, it needs the same debate and airing that we have had at this stage, and when these regulations end, that also needs to be communicated as clearly as possible.

Photo of Paul Scully Paul Scully Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy), Minister of State (London)

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his intervention. The Department and the Government have been engaging with businesses to try to give that clarity. It has not always been possible, as we move in real time. Those of us who run businesses are used to making decisions in real time. What we are doing at the moment is about as close to real time as it gets for a Government. Normally, consultations can take months, and policy changes can take years. We have been working from day to day sometimes.

I congratulate Drew Hendry on his new grandson, Cameron—what a brilliant name. I do not know whether it was inspired by a former Prime Minister; maybe not. I hope that his joyous, optimistic and collaborative comments were not coloured by that fantastic news and that that relationship will carry on.

The hon. Gentleman raised the issue of HMRC’s status in the Finance Bill. This is something that came up clearly through the procedure. It is a matter for my colleagues in Her Majesty’s Treasury, but I can say that the role of HMRC is to ensure that tax paid by employees and customers rightly pays for public good. With regard to corporation taxes, HMRC’s status remains the same. I appreciate his input and I am grateful for the way that he has engaged with me and the team. I agree that it is very important that we protect as many jobs as possible. I will continue to work with my colleagues to ensure that we are doing as much as we possibly can to protect the jobs of the young, and the less young.

Photo of Drew Hendry Drew Hendry Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy) 1:00 pm, 25th June 2020

I am grateful to the Minister for his kind comments. I would say in passing that there has to be at least one good Cameron mentioned in this House.

I have asked about a range of things, in addition to the HMRC issue, that are not within the Minister’s direct power. One of them was supporting minor changes to borrowing powers to allow the Scottish Government to take decisions themselves to support economies locally. That is important, as he said. Will he take that forward with his colleagues in order to make sure that we can have those measures taken in Scotland?

Photo of Paul Scully Paul Scully Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy), Minister of State (London)

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman. Clearly, these are all things that we will continue to look at.

The hon. Gentleman talked about the hospitality sector. Let me reassure him that the Government recognise that this sector is particularly hard hit by closure. I have regular conversations with representatives of the hospitality sector, including, most recently, only yesterday. They were very pleased and optimistic about the fact that we have now been able to change the rules within England and start giving them the certainty that they need to reopen. I look forward to successful reopening in England and, in time, in Scotland as well. It is so important that we work with the hospitality sector. The three winters issue that he described has been raised with me and I do appreciate it.

This shows the interlinking of the economy. I also hold the position of Minister for London. Sarah Olney talked about culture. With regard to the hotel sector in London, people do not tend to go to a hotel just to sleep in another bed—they come, they sleep and they go because of the theatres, the restaurants and the culture around the area. It is therefore important that we get each of these sectors up and running. That is why we have these frequent discussions and work as collaboratively as we can. That also gives us the understanding we need in order to inform our support. A range of hospitality bodies and companies were consulted on the safer workplaces guidance, for example.

The hon. Member for Richmond Park talked of striking a balance, which is what we have tried to do in this Bill. I am grateful to her colleagues for making the point so clearly that measures are needed for longer. I hope she will agree that the Government have taken on board those concerns. She also spoke about the theatre sector. I know the Orange Tree. I tend to know the Orange Tree pub next door a little bit better than I do the theatre, but I know the great work that it does in the community. I will take her concerns back to colleagues.

Let me take this opportunity to thank the House of Commons Public Bill Office and the House Clerks for ensuring that this vital piece of legislation could be expedited through the House and consequently come into force as a matter of urgency. The support they have provided has been invaluable. I thank the officials who have brought this legislation into existence: my Bill team of Andy Ormerod-Clarke, Muneera Lula, Jess Bradbury, James Roddy and Alice Roycroft. All those in the teams in BEIS and the Insolvency Service—there are too many mention—have worked tirelessly, across weekends and in the evenings, to make sure that we could bring this to bear as quickly as possible. I want to mention the lawyers who have worked day and night, some of them with very young children, to draft this legislation: in particular, Jo Ashida, Denise Fawcett, Samihah El-Gindy, David Anderson, and our lead parliamentary counsel, Diggory Bailey.

I pay tribute to the policy leads, some of whom have worked in this area for many years, and who have worked with outside experts to make sure that we had the measures right: Steve Chown, Simon Whiting, Laura Bardsley, Rob Mak and many, many more. Colleagues from HMT, the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government and the DWP have also been invaluable. I pay tribute to all the organisations and representatives of businesses, consumers, workers, shareholders, investors and insolvency experts who have engaged with us in developing these proposals.

I conclude by mentioning those for whom this Bill is intended: the millions of business owners up and down our country who are keeping Britain moving. I say to them: please keep it up. Let us keep moving and let us bounce back our economy as and when the limitations and the restrictions are lifted.

Lords amendment 1 agreed to.

Lords amendments 2 to 116 agreed to.

Photo of Nigel Evans Nigel Evans Deputy Speaker (Second Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means)

I am sure we all wish baby Cameron Hendry the very best of health and luck for the future.

I suspend the House for three minutes.

Sitting suspended.