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Insolvency (Amendment) (EU Exit) Regulations 2018 - Motion to Approve

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 7:33 pm on 15th January 2019.

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Photo of Lord Henley Lord Henley Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy) 7:33 pm, 15th January 2019

My Lords, it is my intention so to do, and I was coming to address the points made by the JCSI. This is a perfectly regular procedure. The noble Lord is very experienced in dealing with statutory instruments and with reports from the JCSI. It often happens that a report will come with criticism from the JCSI. The department then issues its response, and that should deal with the matter. I was going to come to this in my opening remarks and it is right that I should do so. The noble Lord will be able to listen to my explanation and I hope will accept that I, and the Government, have dealt satisfactorily with the concerns that the JCSI put to us. We greatly respect the JCSI. It does a very good job and we are very grateful for that. Back in the long-distant past, the noble Lord—like most of us—probably served on the JCSI and, if he had that honour, I am sure that he did a very good job in so doing.

This instrument recognises that, as we leave the EU, our European Union (Withdrawal) Act will automatically retain a version of EU regulation in UK law. However, the safeguards that the regulation provides can no longer be relied upon as the remaining member states will no longer be bound by them in respect of the UK. Many in the professional insolvency sector have argued that reciprocity is an essential part of continuing with this legislation. In the absence of a deal, it is vital that we do not indefinitely continue to apply EU rules that could override our own law and prevent us from dealing effectively with insolvencies in the UK.

The instrument therefore repeals the majority of the EU insolvency regulation, retaining only the small part necessary to keep the right to open proceedings in the UK. It provides for an orderly wind-down of the arrangements by continuing to apply the current EU rules to existing cases where main insolvency proceedings are already open on exit day. But, as a safeguard, the courts may disapply the EU rules where they will lead to a different outcome from that which would have been the case before we left.

I come now to the JCSI report, which the noble Lord, Lord Foulkes, has kindly brought to the attention of the House. I assure the noble Lord that I had every intention of raising this subject. The report refers to a lack of clarity—the noble Lord no doubt has it before him—and an unexpected use of the withdrawal Act power. I am confident that the provisions are an appropriate use of the power in the withdrawal Act. The provisions will give the court the necessary discretion to respond to unexpected outcomes from the interaction between our law and that of EU member states. There are precedents in existing insolvency legislation providing the court with the broad discretion to make orders in insolvency proceedings.

If, following EU exit, UK creditors or others with an interest in the insolvency are being treated unfavourably, it is only right that the court is allowed to apply the powers in our own cross-border insolvency regulations—which are used for non-EU insolvency proceedings—or make some other appropriate order to resolve the situation. The detailed examples that we provided to the JCSI demonstrated just some of the situations in which this might arise, and these examples were included within the JCSI’s report.

The instrument also amends certain employment legislation which ensures that protection for employees is retained following the insolvency of their employer. This ensures that the current financial support given to UK-based employees when their employer in the EU becomes insolvent will continue after exit day. In the absence of a Northern Ireland Executive, the instrument updates and makes similar changes to the law on insolvency and employment rights in Northern Ireland, on behalf of the Northern Ireland Government. I commend the regulations to the House.