My Lords, I shall speak to Amendment 16 and I thoroughly support its intent. I have been chair of the Enforcement Law Reform Group for more years than I care to remember, and for all that time I have been aware that every side of the industry wants statutory regulation. It is not a suitable case for voluntary regulation. You need the powers that go with being set up by statute to deal with all the difficulties and conflicts that are inherent in the business of getting money out of people who do not want to give it to you.
I fully understand the Government’s caution about the drafting of the amendment, but I very much hope that everyone involved in it will hold their feet to the fire to get a suitable alternative through as soon as possible. I have one piece of advice for the Government on the amendment as drafted. It is important that whatever we create can bite on creditors. A lot of the problems in this industry have their roots in the delinquency and bad behaviour of creditors and in the disorganisation of the systems that they operate. The privilege of being able to use a bailiff should be granted only to creditors who are well set up, who have done their preparatory work, who know who is vulnerable, who have found out the right addresses, who have properly offered payment holidays or plans before involving the very expensive, onerous and sometimes distressing option of a bailiff.
When we come to have this in statute, we need some way in which a local authority, for instance, which is trying to recover debt due on council tax must demonstrate that it has done what it should in order to be allowed to use the bailiff system. There may be some other way of doing it—but not to have that connection through to creditors and think that you can regulate just by putting pressure on bailiffs would be a considerable mistake and would, in the end, result in the system not working.