Bankruptcy (Scotland) Bill: Stage 3

Part of the debate – in the Scottish Parliament on 22nd March 2016.

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Photo of Fergus Ewing Fergus Ewing Scottish National Party

I thank Nigel Don for his comments, and I thank you, Presiding Officer, for allowing me to speak in support of the Bankruptcy (Scotland) Bill.

Almost 13 years ago to the day, the Parliament passed the previous consolidation bill, which became the Salmon and Freshwater Fisheries (Consolidation) (Scotland) Act 2003, as Nigel Don said. Consolidating legislation and tidying up the statute book is good practice, and I am delighted that the Bankruptcy (Scotland) Bill has progressed through stages 1 and 2. I hope that we will not have to wait for 13 years for the opportunity to arise again. If I have anything to do with it, that will not happen.

Malcolm Chisholm referred to Donald Dewar. Donald Dewar once remarked that Scotland was the only country in the world that had its own legal system but lacked a legislature. One of the functions of a legislature is to bring the law up to date. Although the Bankruptcy (Scotland) Bill will never be the talk of the steamies, it is nonetheless extremely important for many reasons, which I want briefly to canvass.

Over the years, bankruptcy legislation has been so heavily amended that it has lost its coherence and structure. The numbering of the sections in the Bankruptcy (Scotland) Act 1985 had become complex, unwieldy and inordinately long—I know that because I used to use that act as an insolvency practitioner in the legal profession many years ago. Now is the right time to update the statute book in the area.

The purpose is to bring Scottish bankruptcy legislation into one place and improve accessibility. That will make things incredibly easier and simpler for practitioners who use the legislation day and daily and for those who are affected by the law to understand what it is. Ignorance of the law is no excuse, so it is our duty to ensure that it is possible to acquire knowledge by reading one document rather than a plethora of documents.

We have worked closely with stakeholders, who have given valuable feedback on the proposals. That work went back to August 2011, when the Scottish Law Commission published its consultation paper on the consolidation of bankruptcy legislation in Scotland. It made a number of recommendations following responses to that consultation. Virtually all those recommendations were implemented by the Bankruptcy and Debt Advice (Scotland) Act 2014, which, as members know, is known on the streets as the BADAS act. That allowed for a straight consolidation of the existing law in this bill.

The evidence that was provided through the Delegated Powers and Law Reform Committee’s scrutiny highlighted widespread support for the bill. I thank that committee, its lawyers and it officials for their scrutiny and approach in communicating relevant issues with the drafter, the Scottish Government and all the individuals who submitted their views.

The exchanges between the committee and the Scottish Government have always been very positive and constructive. That approach improved the bill and enabled it to move smoothly and efficiently and to avoid stage 3 amendments, which I am sure is appreciated by many members.

I am also grateful for the Scottish Law Commission’s work. In particular, I am grateful to Gregor Clark, who led on drafting the bill. The task that has been involved in consolidating the legislation has been enormous—I mean that—so I very much appreciate the huge amount of time and effort that has culminated in that good work.

I look forward to the bill receiving royal assent if it is passed and to its commencement, which we plan for 30 November this year.

As well as extending my gratitude to Nigel Don for his great work as convener of a busy committee and given that it is possible that he may not be returned to the Parliament in the next session, I want to say a few words by way of tribute to him, in case that is the scenario.

Nigel Don’s very wide experience of life and work has informed his substantial contribution to the Parliament over two sessions and the past nine years. He is always rational and never personal, and he has always played the ball, never the man. Every contribution he has made has been well informed and closely argued, sometimes probing—gently, perhaps, but deftly and with great effect—the case that the Scottish Government has put on any particular occasion.

Much about politics is partisan—perhaps too partisan—but that has never been the case with Nigel Don. If I may say so, he is the least political politician that I have ever known in this place, and I am sure that all members present will join me in wishing him well—as I do forthwith. [Applause.]