All 3 Lord Leigh of Hurley contributions to the Corporate Insolvency and Governance Act 2020

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Tue 9th Jun 2020
Corporate Insolvency and Governance Bill
Lords Chamber

2nd reading (Hansard) & 2nd reading (Hansard) & 2nd reading (Hansard): House of Lords & 2nd reading
Tue 16th Jun 2020
Corporate Insolvency and Governance Bill
Lords Chamber

Committee stage:Committee: 1st sitting (Hansard) & Committee: 1st sitting (Hansard) & Committee: 1st sitting (Hansard): House of Lords & Committee stage
Tue 23rd Jun 2020
Corporate Insolvency and Governance Bill
Lords Chamber

Report stage (Hansard) & Report stage (Hansard) & Report stage (Hansard): House of Lords & Report stage

Corporate Insolvency and Governance Bill

Lord Leigh of Hurley Excerpts
2nd reading & 2nd reading (Hansard) & 2nd reading (Hansard): House of Lords
Tuesday 9th June 2020

(4 years, 1 month ago)

Lords Chamber
Read Full debate Corporate Insolvency and Governance Act 2020 Read Hansard Text Read Debate Ministerial Extracts Amendment Paper: Committee of the whole House Amendments as at 3 June 2020 - (3 Jun 2020)
Lord Leigh of Hurley Portrait Lord Leigh of Hurley (Con) [V]
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My Lords, I refer to my registered interests. I welcome the Bill, which contains many measures I called for the Government to enact in our Budget debate in this House on 18 March, when it was becoming clear that urgent action was required on insolvency. I thank the Minister and his officials for taking time to meet me and Jon Moulton regarding this Bill, following my interventions on Part 10 of the then Small Business, Enterprise and Employment Bill in earlier years. Given the time restrictions, I will make a few overall comments which impact on the core of the Bill, which, although a very commendable piece of legislation, has for reasons we all understand had to be rushed through Parliament.

First, can we all agree that the prime objective is to save businesses and jobs? This is not the same as saving companies. The actual Ltd or plc companies which could get into trouble are not important here. If they go into the moratorium, most will certainly fail; the weak ones will not even be able to go into it because of the restrictions. However, the businesses of those companies and the jobs pertaining to them might well be saved, and the Bill as currently drafted does not really differentiate between the two. I am told that when the Enterprise Bill was being debated in 2002, many MPs—though I am sure not my noble friend Lord Hunt—could at times not really appreciate the difference between a company and an enterprise. Let us not make that mistake again, because it is crucial.

Secondly, there is no proper US Chapter 11-type proposal in this Bill. I appreciate that the Government are not yet ready to promote this route, but there has not been a proper, informed debate on whether it is a good idea. There are literally trillions of dollars globally looking for a place to invest right now. Perhaps we should allow debtor in possession-type financing so that rescue finance, of course under court approval, could provide an essential lifeline to viable businesses. It must rank at the top of the waterfall and be obtained very early, with some protection for people such as super-senior lenders and others. If there were ever a moment to promote a rescue financing scheme in the UK, this is it.

My last major issue concerns companies that have issued traded bonds of over £10 billion. Under the Bill, they are not eligible for the moratorium. It is important that large companies should be able to access the new proposals. Would my noble friend the Minister reconsider this point? The argument against advancing one of these in the past has been that they do not want to interfere with the proper functioning of the market—a very laudable reason—but when large companies restructure there is often a de facto moratorium. The current drafting catches companies with common security structures and makes them ineligible. This cannot have been the Government’s intention, which is for the moratorium to apply to all companies except financial ones, so let us have the drafting make sure that only financial companies are excluded.

Before I virtually sit down, I have two requests on matters not in the Bill. First, have the Government considered whether it is healthy that the same firm of accountants can be appointed by the bankers to determine the state of a company’s finances and then subsequently be appointed as the administrator or liquidator? I have raised this before; the phrase has been used that it is a bit like seeking medical advice from the undertaker. It is not right and should be stopped. Secondly, I add my voice for the Government to reconsider the Finance Bill’s provisions; making HMRC a preferential creditor right now could be a hammer-blow to businesses, rescue and lending across the UK.

Corporate Insolvency and Governance Bill

Lord Leigh of Hurley Excerpts
Committee stage & Committee: 1st sitting (Hansard) & Committee: 1st sitting (Hansard): House of Lords
Tuesday 16th June 2020

(4 years, 1 month ago)

Lords Chamber
Read Full debate Corporate Insolvency and Governance Act 2020 Read Hansard Text Read Debate Ministerial Extracts Amendment Paper: HL Bill 113-I Marshalled list for Committee - (11 Jun 2020)
Lord Monks Portrait Lord Monks (Lab) [V]
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My Lords, I do not wish to speak at this stage.

Lord Leigh of Hurley Portrait Lord Leigh of Hurley (Con) [V]
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I will speak to Amendments 12, 13, 17, 18, 30 and 31, all of which are mine. Essentially, they make the same point, but I had to table several amendments to the Bill to cover it. The point is to allow an extension of the moratorium where the rescue of the business, as opposed to the company, is likely. I draw the attention of your Lordship’s House to my register of interests, which includes being deputy chairman of finnCap, a stockbroker, and senior partner of Cavendish Corporate Finance, which specialises in selling businesses. Unusually, I am speaking to an area in which I have some limited expertise, particularly in selling businesses.

I add to the remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Hendy, that private equity firms, banks and others do spread their risk, and insolvency is a devastating experience for the owner of a business, who may have spent years building it up and invested all their family wealth into it. They too need as much protection as possible.

At the moment, there is constant reference throughout the Bill to “the company”, but frequently, if not in the vast majority of cases, the actual limited company, or plc company, will not survive—there is simply no possibility—and there will be no return to the shareholders or equity at all. However, the actual business itself might well survive. For example, in the retail sector, many businesses trade from shops. The companies that have the leases with the landlords will disappear, but the businesses trading in those shops will, hopefully, carry on. Typically, they may be sold to a third party but, to do that, the directors or monitor will need time to negotiate a transaction that preserves the business and the jobs. I thank the noble Lord, Lord Mendelsohn, for inviting me to amplify the amendments, but what they are saying is pretty simple. In many instances, the business that is owned by the company is viable and likely to carry on, but there is no chance of the company so doing. The amendments in my name seek to address this.

Amendments 12 and 13 refer to the situation where a director wants to extend the moratorium with creditor consent, and Amendments 17 and 18 to where the directors apply to the courts. I share the concern of other noble Lords that the courts are going to be very busy as a result of the Bill, and I hope that sufficient resources will be given to them. Again, where the directors apply to the courts, the courts will see that the business may well carry on, even if the company is not able so to do. This will then allow the courts to instruct the directors to carry on the moratorium.

Amendments 30 and 31 refer to the circumstances where the monitor is in charge. I will make a few comments about the monitor in a minute. The Bill states that

“the moratorium is no longer likely to result in the rescue of the company as a going concern”.

This ignores the possibility that the business might well be rescued as a going concern. It is particularly important that the monitor is a person who is able to see that viability and implement it. It would be tragic if the moratorium ends for all the wrong reasons.

I support the noble Lords, Lord Stevenson and Lord Hodgson of Astley Abbotts, in emphasising the importance of who the monitor is. The noble Lord, Lord Stevenson, quite rightly made the point that it need not necessarily be a chartered accountant or an insolvency practitioner. It would be great if the legislation allowed the flexibility for a turnaround professional to be appointed as a monitor, albeit with the appropriate protections, as they really do know what they are talking about in enabling a business to carry on afterwards. The story from the noble Lord, Lord Hodgson, about the investigating accountants telling the directors that they would be back on Monday to carry out receivership is chillingly true; I have seen it in practice. I have also seen much better examples, where the investigating accountants have been told by the bank that under no circumstances will they be appointed as the receiver, or in our case monitor. So they are truly independent and are working to try to ensure that the business carries on, as opposed investigative accountants being appointed, who know that they might be appointed as the receiver, with subsequent huge professional fees.

It is vital that we try to ensure that the monitor is independent not just at the time of appointment, as these amendments suggest, but subsequently, and is not appointed as a receiver without proper investigation that their actions have been in the interests of the business. I will not amplify this point any more but will simply quote from the Insolvency Practitioners Association, which has said:

“Expanding the definition”,

as I have suggested,

“will enable monitors to more broadly assist businesses, working with their owners, stakeholders and directors to give them a greater opportunity to survive the economic strictures of Covid-19 responses”—

which is the purpose of the Bill. Without the amendments I have tabled, the Bill will be heavily emasculated.

Baroness Meacher Portrait Baroness Meacher (CB) [V]
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My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Vaux, for his detailed amendment to Clause 12, and support it most strongly. I apologise to the Committee; I must be responsible for the fact that I am listed ahead of the noble Lord, Lord Vaux, who will move his amendment, but I hope that my brief comments will nevertheless make sense. As it stands, Clause 12 interferes in an unacceptable way in the commercial activities between companies. By restricting the ability of suppliers of goods and services to terminate contracts with a company that has entered a relevant insolvency procedure, the clause puts the viability of supplier companies in jeopardy, particularly if they are small, as other noble Lords have mentioned, or if their client company represents a substantial percentage of their sales.

Along with the noble Lord, Lord Vaux, I am particularly concerned about the provision in Clause 12 to allow the Secretary of State to remove exclusions in Schedule 4ZZA using subordinate legislation. As the Bill stands, small companies are excluded from the restrictions on supplier companies, so they can, at the moment, terminate their contract to supply goods and services to a client company when it enters relevant insolvency procedures. This is surely absolutely essential if we are to encourage new entrants to the supply sector and if we are not to threaten the future of small companies. As I understand it, the amendment in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Vaux, would permanently protect small companies from the effects of Clause 12.

Another control over supplier companies is the restriction preventing them from requiring payment of outstanding charges as a condition of continued supply. Such a restriction surely also risks the financial viability of the supplier. I question the morality of a Government interfering in the marketplace to protect one company, apparently at the expense of others. Will the Minister explain how the Government justify the different treatment of companies involved in insolvency proceedings and their suppliers? Why do the Government appear unconcerned about the future of supplier companies? I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Hodgson, that a major problem with the Bill is that it combines understandable emergency measures to deal with the Covid crisis with permanent Henry VIII powers. This has been the matter of most concern to the Delegated Powers Committee, of which I am a member.

In conclusion, I hope that the Minister will accept the amendment in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Vaux. If not, I hope that the noble Lord will bring it back on Report.

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Moved by
7: Clause 1, page 3, line 27, after “company” insert “or the company’s business”
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Lord Leigh of Hurley Portrait Lord Leigh of Hurley [V]
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My Lords, this amendment is broadly similar to my earlier amendments—I am not quite sure why it is in a different group, to be honest, but so be it. It applies to the circumstances not of an extension but of an appointment of a monitor, and requires the directors to get the proposed monitor to state that it is likely that the moratorium would result in the rescue of the company as a going concern. The word “would” has been helpfully and sensibly addressed by the noble Lord, Lord Stevenson—it should be “could”—and again, the word “company” should have after it, as my amendment proposes, “or the company’s business”. I would very much like the Minister to specifically address this issue of the difference between company and business; unless I missed it, I do not think it was. If it is not possible to do so in his closing remarks, perhaps he would oblige me with a letter.

I am sure that the Minister will not be able to resist Amendment 62, in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Stevenson, as he is so confident that the courts will be able to cope. I am sure that he will find it most helpful to have a clause that requires a review of how the courts have coped. I beg to move.

Baroness Northover Portrait Baroness Northover (LD)
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I will speak to Amendments 71, 76, and 145, which are in my name and that of my noble friend Lord Fox.

These amendments all derive from the conclusions of the Delegated Powers Committee and relate to the often-unchecked powers the Government are seeking to take in the Bill. I thank that committee for its careful scrutiny of this and other Bills. As the noble Lord, Lord Hodgson, said, its report is devastating. There is clearly huge concern about the powers that the Government are proposing to take in the Bill, and most of the amendments in this group address those points. For example, the noble Lord, Lord Stevenson, by seeking to amend numerous places where the Government are taking powers, is challenging the Minister in each instance to justify that, and we will have to see what case the Minister makes. I also look forward to hearing what the noble Lord, Lord Blencathra, who chairs the Delegated Powers Committee, says.

The Government have argued that they need to act with speed because of the urgency of the coronavirus pandemic. However, many measures here will persist indefinitely, as the noble Lord, Lord Hodgson, made clear. We are proposing three specific changes, recommended by the Delegated Powers Committee. As all noble Lords here will know, although it may be less well known should people outside be following these proceedings, the committee’s particular concern is with so-called Henry VIII powers, named for his supposed preference for legislating by proclamation rather than through Parliament. These powers enable Ministers to amend or repeal provisions in an Act of Parliament using secondary legislation, which is subject to very limited parliamentary scrutiny. These powers thus transfer power from Parliament to the Executive: the Government.

Thus, for example, the Delegated Powers Committee notes that Clause 23 confers extremely wide powers on the Secretary of State:

“The powers include the power to make provision amending, or modifying the effect of, any Act of Parliament ever passed—including the Bill itself.”

That is an astonishing statement. The committee describes this as something that

“might be called a ‘super-Henry VIII power’.”

We therefore propose in Amendment 71 the affirmative procedure, where regulations under Clause 23 amend primary legislation, as recommended by the committee.

Amendment 76 addresses Henry VIII powers in Clause 37. The Delegated Powers Committee does not accept the Government’s argument that they need to act with speed and recommends

“that the affirmative procedure should apply where regulations … amend primary legislation.”

It outlines ways in which speed can be delivered, for example through a “made affirmative” instrument, which could come into force pending approval by both Houses within a specified period of time. Our Amendment 76 delivers the affirmative procedure.

In relation to Amendment 145, the Delegated Powers Committee notes:

“Each of paragraphs 2, 4 and 6 of Schedule 14 confer Henry VIII powers.”

It emphasises that the “made affirmative” procedure could be used and points out that the Government acknowledge this in other instances elsewhere. It recommends

“that the affirmative procedure should apply.”

Our Amendment 145 delivers that.

I am sure that, as ever, the Government will pay close attention to what the Delegated Powers Committee said, especially since these powers cause such disquiet across the House. They are also an especial target of those three notable lawyers, the noble and learned Lords, Lord Hope and Lord Judge, and the noble Lord, Lord Pannick, whose names often seem to represent not the stages of grief but the stages through which Governments proceed when they defend, then amend, such powers. I am sure that the Government will pay close attention to the committee’s report; I trust, therefore, that they will find all three of the amendments I have outlined here acceptable.

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Lord Callanan Portrait Lord Callanan
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We will, of course, issue a formal response to the DPRRC report, hopefully by Friday—but, since Report is next Tuesday, we will need to act more swiftly than that in terms of considering amendments. However, as I have said, I have listened carefully to the points that have been made.

Lord Leigh of Hurley Portrait Lord Leigh of Hurley [V]
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My Lords, I thank the Minister for his remarks and all noble and noble and learned Lords from all sides of the House for a really interesting debate, agreeing on much. I think my noble friend did address the concerns raised. However, I do not feel that he addressed the concerns raised in respect of Amendment 7 at all, so I would be very grateful if, before Friday, he can communicate with me his remarks in respect of this important point. On the assumption that he will be able to do that, I beg leave to withdraw my amendment.

Amendment 7 withdrawn.

Corporate Insolvency and Governance Bill

Lord Leigh of Hurley Excerpts
Report stage & Report stage (Hansard) & Report stage (Hansard): House of Lords
Tuesday 23rd June 2020

(4 years, 1 month ago)

Lords Chamber
Read Full debate Corporate Insolvency and Governance Act 2020 Read Hansard Text Read Debate Ministerial Extracts Amendment Paper: HL Bill 114-I Marshalled list for Report - (18 Jun 2020)
Lord Hope of Craighead Portrait Lord Hope of Craighead (CB) [V]
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My Lords, Amendment 1 in my name is the first of 32 in this group, but it has no connection with the others. Fortunately, I need to speak to my amendment only briefly and do not intend to press it, for reasons I will explain.

The amendment, which is in the same terms as one I moved in Committee, proposes an addition to the list of relevant documents that must accompany the director’s application for a moratorium. My concern has been that the system that the Bill lays down for informing creditors that a moratorium is in force, and when it will come to an end, is too weak, because the monitor’s duty is to notify only those creditors of whose claims he is aware. There is no suggestion in the Bill that he is under a duty to make inquiries. I proposed that, at the outset, the directors should provide a list of all known creditors of the company when making the application.

When the Minister replied, he gave reasons for not accepting the amendment that suggested that he had not understood my point. He said that it had never been the Government’s intention that the moratorium should be used to

“‘line up the ducks’ for a pre-pack administration”.—[Official Report, 16/6/20; col. 2092.]

He added that, as with all administrations, the likelihood of a substantial return to unsecured creditors was small. I, however, had made no mention of going into administration.

The purpose of the moratorium, as I understand it, is to keep the company alive as a going concern. However, freezing the debts for the period of the moratorium is bound to have consequences for the creditors. They might have to take urgent steps to avoid financial embarrassment until their bills are paid, such as adjusting their cash flow or seeking to extend their overdraft. They need to know what is going on. That is especially the case for creditors—many of them SMEs—whose debts are not secured. Unlike the banks and HMRC, they are likely to have nothing to fall back on if the moratorium does not succeed in rescuing the company.

The issue was too important to be overlooked, so I decided to raise it again on Report, and I wrote to the Minister to explain why. Happily, I have received his reply, which is most useful, and for which I am very grateful. The essence of it, which I want to put on the record, is that the Minister agrees that

“the monitor needs to have contact details for the company’s creditors at a very early stage … to enable the monitor to comply with their duty to notify creditors … In order that the proposed monitor can make the statements … that it is likely that a moratorium would result in the rescue of the company as a going concern, they will need to undertake enquiries into the financial position … of the company. … It is envisaged that the proposed monitor would … obtain a list of the company’s creditors”

and their relevant details as part of these inquiries.

“Guidance to this effect will be provided to insolvency practitioners … the monitor … will have to evaluate whether the information provided is of a nature they can rely upon, or whether they need to undertake further enquiries … to ensure they have a list of all creditors.”

They can also take further measures during the moratorium to obtain any information they require, and this could include information about creditors. Information and feedback on the effectiveness of the measures in the Bill will be monitored, and use could be made, if necessary, of the power in Section A6(4) to add to the list of relevant documents.

In the light of the information that the Minister has given me, I am satisfied that it would place an unnecessary burden on the directors to submit a list of the creditors when applying for a moratorium, as I was proposing. I would, however, ask the Minister to confirm two things: first, that my understanding of the position, as I have narrated it, is correct; and, secondly, that a copy of his letter to me has been placed in the Library. I beg to move.

Lord Leigh of Hurley Portrait Lord Leigh of Hurley (Con)
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My Lords, there are seven amendments in my name and that of my noble friend Lord Trenchard: Amendments 2, 6, 7, 9, 10, 16 and 17. All seven, however, address pretty much the same point, which is to allow the directors of a company, or its monitors—both those in the UK and those overseas—to enter into a moratorium, extend its life or end it, if they believe that, even if there is no hope for the company itself, the business operating within that company is likely to be saved.

I appreciate that the Government have never seen the moratorium as part of the administration legislation —they argue that the rules on administration are adequately covered elsewhere—but it is the job of this House to help the Government by explaining how events actually evolve in the world of business and fervently hope that the Government listen to us.

I am very sorry that so many amendments from Committee did not make it to Report, in particular those from the noble Lord, Lord Stevenson of Balmacara, the noble Baroness, Lady Bowles, the noble Lord, Lord Hodgson, the noble Lord, Lord Palmer, and others. Wonderful real-world experiences were offered during Committee, primarily around the role, conduct and independence of the monitor, all of which have been lost, after being discussed in this House and the other place. That is a shame.

The issues raised in my amendment attracted quite some comment and, if I may so, approval from all sides of the Committee, I think I am right in saying. I remain very grateful to noble Lords from all sides of the House who spoke in support in the Chamber and to me directly subsequently. I am grateful to the Minister and his officials, with whom I have had some very open and helpful conversations in the past few days. I was not graced with a letter as the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope, was; none the less, we have had a discussion.

There seems to be a fixation with rescuing the company. The company is no more than a vehicle. I think all this stems from the Enterprise Act, where there was confusion in the debate, but I hope there is no confusion now and that we can all agree that we want to arrange matters as best we can so that businesses and jobs, not necessarily companies, survive a liquidity crisis and stay alive. It may well be that sometimes an administration is helpful and a sensible outcome, but the current drafting puts pressure on the monitor to try to save a company where, frankly, there may be no point.

Likewise, the desire to avoid pre-packs is misguided. Yes, there have been some abuses, which have been public and well-documented, but they are small and typically relate to small insolvencies, and the Small Business, Enterprise and Employment Act created the excellent pre-pack pool, which is now in real danger of collapse as a result of this Bill. I welcome Amendment 45, in a later group, which addresses this point.

There is concern that pre-packs favour one particular purchaser, the existing owners, as they have the advantages of knowing the business and speed, so a moratorium in those circumstances is perfect. The time extension allows the monitor to ensure fair play on information access and for new buyers to be sourced and approached. However, it will be very difficult for a monitor to tell the court that administration is not likely. In fact, it will be the reverse. I spoke to an insolvency practitioner only last week who is working on a particularly troubled business right now, with some 10,000 employees and more than 30 different companies. Not all of them will be saved; at least some will go. However, the rest could be saved and the entire business could be saved, but under these proposals he will not get a moratorium, despite being certain that a solution can be found. He cannot take a group approach because under English law each company is a separate entity. He is beside himself in despair at this proposed legislation. Very few real-world rescues are ever done with existing entities. It is not always a bad result that a business is bought through administrators. If creditors lose out, at least there is a chance to recoup some of those losses through future trade.

I am a little worried by the withdrawal of the Henry VIII powers in government Amendments 3, 8 and 11 in this group, as their removal may restrict the Government from making helpful changes. The Government are clearly more swayed by the appeal of the noble Lord, Lord Stevenson, than by mine. I ask the Minister to think again about whether those amendments achieve what he seeks. I hope he will listen to petitioners, some of whom he has now met with me, and commit at the Dispatch Box to consider a change, as sought in these amendments, if it is clear that business recovery will be impeded without the proposals that my noble friend Lord Trenchard and I seek. If the Bill does not give sufficient time for directors and monitors to find a sensible way out for businesses, there will simply be closures and asset realisations. I look forward to hearing what the Minister will say and very much hope that he will give me some assurances that the Government will find a way to keep an open mind, because I believe that if there were a Division, the House would support these amendments.

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Tabled by
2: Clause 1, page 3, line 31, after “company” insert “or the company’s business or part of that business”
Lord Leigh of Hurley Portrait Lord Leigh of Hurley
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My Lords, I take the assurances from the Perspex-covered Dispatch Box that the Minister will monitor the situation. I take this opportunity to apologise: I did not mean that I had not received a letter; I meant that it was not as satisfactory as the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope, found it. There were insufficient assurances. I also suggest that the noble Lord, Lord Fox, meant bankers and PR advisers. On the basis of the Minister’s categoric assurances that he will monitor the situation and take action as necessary if it is apparent that companies are not able to be saved but businesses can, I will not move the amendment.

Amendment 2 not moved.