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Personal Insolvency Bill 2012: From the Seanad (Continued)

Wednesday, 19 December 2012

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 787 No. 4

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(Speaker Continuing)

[Deputy Alan Shatter: Information on Alan Shatter Zoom on Alan Shatter]   A total of 245 amendments were proposed and approved on Committee and Report Stages of the Bill in the Seanad. These were all Government amendments and were, for the most part, technical changes or text corrections.

   The Long Title of the Bill was amended to take account of the insertion of new provisions in Part 5 concerning the regulation of personal insolvency practitioners and the insertion of a new Part 6 concerning the appointment of specialist judges of the Circuit Court to deal with personal insolvency.

   I should also mention that among the amendments approved by the Seanad were those in regard to the exemption of one item of personal jewellery to the value of €750 and an increase in the value of an exempted motor vehicle from €1,200 to €2,000 in the debt relief notice process. Changes along these lines had been advocated by Senators Byrne and Cullinane, in particular, during the Second Stage debate in the Seanad.

  A new section concerning the development by the insolvency service of guidelines on a reasonable standard of living and reasonable living expenses for debtors was also influenced by the contributions to the debate made by Senators and in particular by Senator Zappone. I am very pleased to report that progress. I was also pleased to make amendments to the text on Committee Stage in regard to the treatment of goods on hire purchase in the debt relief notice process. These were on foot of comments made by Senator Norris on Second Stage.

  For ease of reference and to facilitate the debate, I am proposing to group the amendments thematically. This is because a number of amendments are necessarily repeated throughout the Bill to ensure a consistency of approach in relation to each of the new debt resolution processes, and in some cases are also replicated in the part dealing with bankruptcy.

   The Acting Chairman has already read out the various amendments we are taking together. I will deal specifically with those amendments. The purpose of these amendments is either to improve the presentation of the Bill for greater clarity or to correct drafting errors in the text.

   Amendments Nos. 173 to 175, inclusive, are drafting amendments designed to allow for service of notices by ordinary pre-paid letter, rather than by registered pre-paid letter as currently required by section 129. This change has been suggested by legal practitioners to address difficulties in using registered post effectively. It is the experience of many solicitors that up to 50% of this post is not delivered. The single largest reason is, and I quote, "Not called for", which is written on the envelope. Other reasons include "refused" or "gone away". On occasions, I think they include certain obscenities, to which I have no intention of giving voice in this House. Not everyone is enthusiastic when they receive something by way of registered post.

    Ex parte applications, which would otherwise have to take place, are expensive and time consuming to follow up on. In Northern Ireland the service of documents is now conducted via first class post. We think it is appropriate that the amendments be made with regard to dealing with ordinary post.

Deputy Niall Collins: Information on Niall Collins Zoom on Niall Collins I wish to comment on some of the items the Minister mentioned. I take on board what he has done concerning jewellery and that issue was well aired on previous Stages in the House. The amendment dealing with the value of motor vehicles is also welcome. At the time, we said that people should be allowed to retain a motor vehicle which is appropriate to the needs of the family or the individual. Increasing the value from €1,200 to €2,000 will go a long way towards addressing that issue. So many people rely on vehicular transport and for most of them it is a necessity rather than a luxury. That the Minister has increased the ceiling by a significant amount will go a long way towards meeting the concerns.

The Minister referred to the appointment of specialist judges. Is that matter being taken as part of this group of amendments or is it in the next grouping?

Deputy Alan Shatter: Information on Alan Shatter Zoom on Alan Shatter It is in the seventh grouping.

Deputy Pádraig Mac Lochlainn: Information on Pádraig MacLochlainn Zoom on Pádraig MacLochlainn On a point of clarification, the grouping to which the Minister is referring does not deal with that.

Deputy Alan Shatter: Information on Alan Shatter Zoom on Alan Shatter No, it is not included in these amendments. I was just making some opening comments. When we come to the seventh group of amendments, we will deal specifically with specialist judges. I was just making an opening comment on it.

Deputy Niall Collins: Information on Niall Collins Zoom on Niall Collins All right. I will confine it to that.

  Seanad amendment agreed to.

Acting Chairman (Deputy Tom Hayes): Information on Tom Hayes Zoom on Tom Hayes Seanad amendments Nos. 2, 12 to 22, inclusive, and 24 are related and may be discussed together.

  Seanad amendment No. 2:

Section 2: In page 11, subsection (1), between lines 6 and 7, to insert the following:
“ “electronic means” includes electrical, digital, magnetic, optical, electromagnetic, biometric and photonic means of transmission of data and other forms of related technology by means of which data is transmitted;”.

Deputy Alan Shatter: Information on Alan Shatter Zoom on Alan Shatter These amendments relate to the organisation, functions and governance of the insolvency service itself. In operating the new debt relief notice, debt settlement arrangement and the personal insolvency arrangement, the insolvency service will, for maximum effectiveness and efficiency, operate on a paperless basis to the greatest extent possible with electronic completion and transmission of documents. The court involved will also receive and issue documents by electronic means in order to facilitate the efficient deployment of staff in court time.

  Amendment No. 2 inserts a definition of electronic means. The definition is required as a result of the proposed new section 23 at amendment No. 24, which provides for the insolvency service to communicate by electronic means. It is designed to facilitate the processing of documents by the insolvency service and the courts service in regard to applications for the various debt resolution arrangements provided for in the Bill.

  Amendment No. 12 deletes section 8(2)(b) and (c), as they are not necessary for the purpose of the operation of the insolvency service as it will not be owning or holding property in its own name. The OPW will be effectively making the necessary office accommodation arrangements for the service. Amendment No. 13 is intended to make it clear that it should be the director of the service, rather than the insolvency service itself, who authorises a person to enter into contracts on behalf of the insolvency service.

  Amendment No. 14 improves and extends the functions of the insolvency service by now including a reference to use of the reasonable expenses guidelines and to education and training. Amendment No. 15 provides for the term of office of the director of the insolvency service. Amendment No. 16 addresses the current wording of section 11(3), which may not fully reflect the reporting relationship within the insolvency service in regard to who will make the policies and decisions of the service the director will implement. I am advised that subsection (3)(a) is not required in the context of the insolvency service and accordingly should be deleted.

  Amendment No. 17 amends the text of subsection (11)(a) to delete the reference to disqualification, which is not appropriate in this particular context. Amendment No.18 makes it clear that the five-year tenure of the first director of the insolvency service, where he was previously appointed as director designate, commences on the date of his initial appointment to the director designate post and not on the establishment date of the service. The Bill, as passed by the Dáil, does not adequately deal with this particular matter.

  Amendment No. 19 seeks to replace the existing section 15 of the Bill relating to a business plan, with new text. The proposed new text retains the requirement for the service to submit its business plans to the Minister for approval every year. However, it removes the current requirement in the Bill for the business plans to be laid before the Houses of the Oireachtas. Having reviewed the matter, I believe this latter onerous requirement is not particularly necessary. The proposed amendment brings the insolvency service more in line with governance provisions of other similar entities.

  It is important to note, however, that the proposed amendment does not in any way diminish the accountability provisions of the service to the Oireachtas. These are contained in the provisions of the Bill regarding strategic planning which is in section 14, reporting in section 16, accounts and auditing in section 17, and appearances before Oireachtas committees in sections 18 and 19. In practice, for example, the Joint Committee on Justice, Defence and Equality would be entitled to invite the director of the service to appear before it to discuss any issue that fell within the ambit of the insolvency service. That obviously would be done in a general way, if it saw fit - not about a particular individual's personal insolvency which clearly would not be appropriate as a focus for an Oireachtas committee's discussion. I can envisage a range of issues which could arise on general policy as well as the agency's capacity to undertake its tasks.

  Amendment No. 20 is a technical drafting amendment. It makes clear that the report referred to in subsection (6) is the annual report of the insolvency service which is to be laid before both Houses of the Oireachtas.   Amendment No. 21 proposes the insertion of a new subsection (8) and is linked to the previous amendment to subsection (6). The purpose of section 16 is to make provision for the preparation of reports by the insolvency service to the Minister.

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