Corporate Insolvency and Governance Act 2020 (Coronavirus) (Amendment of Certain Relevant Periods) (No. 2) Regulations (Northern Ireland) 2021

Executive Committee Business – in the Northern Ireland Assembly at 1:15 pm on 5th July 2021.

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Photo of Paul Frew Paul Frew DUP 1:15 pm, 5th July 2021

I beg to move

That the Corporate Insolvency and Governance Act 2020 (Coronavirus) (Amendment of Certain Relevant Periods) (No. 2) Regulations (Northern Ireland) 2021 be approved.

Photo of Christopher Stalford Christopher Stalford DUP

The Business Committee has agreed that there should be no time limit on the debate. I call the Minister to open the debate on the motion.

Photo of Paul Frew Paul Frew DUP

I seek the Assembly's approval of a statutory rule (SR) that has been made under powers contained in the Corporate Insolvency and Governance Act 2020. The Act came into law at Westminster on 25 June 2020 and includes permanent amendments and temporary modifications to insolvency legislation as it applies in Great Britain. Corresponding amendments and modifications to Northern Ireland's insolvency legislation were included in the Act under a legislative consent motion that was passed by the Assembly. The temporary modifications were made to assist companies that were adversely affected by the measures taken to prevent the spread of coronavirus. They were to be applied during what was termed "the relevant period". The Act originally provided for all those measures to expire on 30 September 2020. As we know, however, the pandemic and the restrictions imposed as a result have had a deeper and longer-lasting impact on society and the economy than was originally envisaged. That led to the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) making a series of extensions to the temporary modifications as they apply in Great Britain.

One of the key principles behind making the Act was that the modifications that it made to insolvency legislation should apply equally throughout the United Kingdom. That was done to ensure a level playing field so that companies in all parts of the United Kingdom would benefit from the same support and assistance and so that none would be at a disadvantage. In accordance with that principle, each time a measure was extended at Westminster, regulations to extend the corresponding temporary modifications for Northern Ireland were brought to the Assembly.

With the gradual opening up of the economy across the United Kingdom, the need for the temporary easements has reduced. The Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy has advised that just two of the temporary modifications to insolvency legislation that apply in Great Britain are to be further extended for what is expected to be a final time. The first is a prohibition on the presentation of petitions to have companies wound up where the statutory demand is served during the relevant period. The second is a prohibition on the presentation of winding-up petitions by creditors and the making of winding-up orders where coronavirus has had an effect on the company's finances. Those two measures, which were due to expire on 30 June 2021, are to be kept in place until 30 September 2021. That is being done with the aim of providing further support to companies in sectors such as hospitality and non-essential retail, which have been most severely impacted on by the restrictions imposed to curb the spread of coronavirus.

The aim is to prevent action being taken by creditors to wind up those companies before they have had a chance to regain their solvency by trading for a reasonable period. To ensure that Northern Ireland companies benefit from the same easements and are not at a disadvantage compared with their GB counterparts, the same modifications to Northern Ireland's insolvency legislation are being extended until 30 September 2021.

That is the purpose of the regulations, and I now ask the Assembly to approve them. The regulations have been agreed by the Economy Committee, and the Executive were advised prior to the debate.

I ask the Assembly to approve the regulations.

Photo of Caoimhe Archibald Caoimhe Archibald Sinn Féin 1:30 pm, 5th July 2021

As Chair of the Economy Committee, I support the motion on the Committee's behalf. As the Minister indicated, the amendment of the relevant periods in the regulations will assist companies affected by the coronavirus pandemic. The regulations extend the duration of temporary measures restricting the use of statutory demands and winding-up petitions, introduced by the Act, from 30 June to 30 September 2021. The Committee agreed the statutory rule (SR) at its meeting on 23 June, subject to the report of the Examiner of Statutory Rules, and the rule came into operation on 29 June. The Examiner of Statutory Rules has no issue with the rule, and, on the Committee's behalf, I support the motion to confirm it.

I will now speak briefly on behalf of Sinn Féin. As has been set out, the SR is one of a number tabled during the pandemic that are designed to provide some relaxations and assistance to businesses. As we know, the pandemic has continued for much longer than many expected or anticipated. It is therefore important that we continue to support businesses to enable them to recover. Sinn Féin therefore supports the SR.

Photo of Christopher Stalford Christopher Stalford DUP

No other Members have indicated that they wish to speak in the debate. I therefore call the Minister to make a winding-up speech.

Photo of Paul Frew Paul Frew DUP

Thank you very much, Mr Principal Deputy Speaker. I thank the House and the Economy Committee for their support for the statutory rule. Without further ado, I commend the motion to the House.

Question put and agreed to. Resolved:

That the Corporate Insolvency and Governance Act 2020 (Coronavirus) (Amendment of Certain Relevant Periods) (No. 2) Regulations (Northern Ireland) 2021 be approved.

Photo of Christopher Stalford Christopher Stalford DUP

I ask Members to take their ease for a few moments before we move on to the next item of business.