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Third Parties (Rights against Insurers) Regulations 2016

Volume 769: debated on Tuesday 22 March 2016

Motion to Consider

Moved by

That the Grand Committee do consider the Third Parties (Rights against Insurers) Regulations 2016.

My Lords, the draft regulations extend the range of people who are potentially within the scope of the Third Parties (Rights against Insurers) Act 2010. Subject to the prior approval of both Houses of Parliament, the draft regulations are to be made by the Secretary of State under the power in Section 19 of the 2010 Act. Section 19, in its present form, was inserted into the 2010 Act by Section 19 of the Insurance Act 2015. The purpose of the power is to make provision for adding or removing circumstances in which a person is potentially within the scope of the 2010 Act. The present circumstances within that scope are currently set out in Sections 4 to 7 of and paragraph 1A of Schedule 3 to the 2010 Act.

The draft regulations make a series of textual amendments to the 2010 Act, as amended by the Insurance Act 2015. The effect of the amendments in general terms will be to include corporate and other bodies that are subject to certain sectoral insolvency regimes or, within limited exceptions, have been dissolved within the scope of the 2010 Act. The purpose of making these amendments is to correct omissions from the 2010 Act so that it can be brought into force without adversely affecting people who are currently within the scope of the 1930s legislation that is to be replaced by the 2010 Act.

It may be helpful at this point if I explain the principles that underlie the third parties legislation in a little more detail. It has existed since the 1930s and is so called because the claimant is a third party in relation to the contract of insurance. The current legislation is the 1930 Act, which applies to England, Wales and Scotland, and the Third Parties (Rights against Insurers) Act (Northern Ireland) 1930. The purpose of the 1930 Acts, and indeed of the 2010 Act, is to protect the interests of claimants against insured persons who have a liability to the claimant but who no longer have effective control of their assets, typically because they are insolvent. The basic effect of the third parties legislation is to transfer to a third party to whom the insured has incurred a liability the contractual rights of the insured against the insurer as regards that liability. This means that the proceeds of the insurance policy are paid to the claimant, not to the creditors of the insolvent insured generally.

The 2010 Act is intended to extend and improve the protection conferred by the 1930 Acts. To trigger the application of the 2010 Act, an insured must both incur a liability to a third party against which it is insured and undergo an insolvency or analogous event specified in the 2010 Act. Unfortunately, following the enactment of the 2010 Act it was found, in some respects, to have a narrower scope than the 1930s Acts. This was partly as a result of the terms used in the drafting of the 2010 Act and partly because of developments in insolvency law following the financial crisis in 2008.

Had the 2010 Act been commenced immediately after its enactment, the effect would have been to deny insurance proceeds to claimants and to pass them to be shared out among the insured’s creditors. This would have frustrated the very purpose of the 2010 Act and had the effect of undermining the purpose of compulsory insurance, such as that which employers are required to maintain. The operative provisions of the 2010 Act have therefore not yet been brought into force and will not be so until these defects have been remedied. The remedial process is therefore essential to realising the benefits of the 2010 Act. Part of the remedial process was effected by the amendments to the 2010 Act made by the Insurance Act 2015. The draft regulations will complete the process.

I will now describe the working of the amendments to be effected by those draft regulations. First, they would extend the list of such insolvency or analogous events by adding the sectoral insolvency or administration procedures listed or referred to in the provisions to be inserted in the 2010 Act by Regulation 3 of the draft regulations. These additions cover the possibility of insolvency or administration under special legislative regimes that generally follow, but are distinct from, the Insolvency Act 1986 in a wide range of important business sectors where company failure has the potential to damage public interest or cause market contagion—for example, financial services and postal or energy companies.

Secondly, Regulation 4 of the draft regulations extends the scope of the 2010 Act to dissolved bodies, other than unincorporated partnerships and bodies that are no longer treated as dissolved by reason of subsequent events. The 2010 Act currently applies to dissolutions under Sections 1001, 1002 or 1003 of the Companies Act 2006 but not to other dissolutions, even though dissolution, after which a body will certainly not have effective control over its rights and assets, would appear to be the paradigm case in which a transfer of rights should occur. Regulation 4 therefore broadens the scope of the application of the 2010 Act to these other dissolutions.

The one exception to the proposed coverage of dissolutions generally is the dissolution of unincorporated partnerships. This exception is sensible, as technically a partnership dissolves each time a new partner leaves or is added. This would extend the scope of the legislation too widely, as many such partnerships would be going concerns. In the case of a partnership which is no longer trading, the insured would need to proceed against the individual partners.

The remainder of the draft regulations deal with ancillary matters. Regulations 5 and 6 amend Section 9 and paragraph 3 of Schedule 1 to the 2010 Act respectively. Section 9(3) and (7) of the 2010 Act provide that a third-party claimant does not have to satisfy a condition of the insurance policy regarding provision of information or assistance to the insurer by the insured if it cannot be fulfilled because the insured has died or is a body corporate which has been dissolved. Paragraph 3 of Schedule 1 to the 2010 Act gives a claimant the right to request information from officers, employees, insolvency practitioners or official receivers of a defunct body corporate, other than when the dissolved body has been restored or ordered to be restored to the register of companies. The draft regulations extend these two provisions to all dissolutions, other than those of unincorporated partnerships, irrespective of whether subsequent events result in the body in question being treated as if it is no longer dissolved or as if it had never been dissolved.

The reason for the wider application of these provisions as against the provisions relating to dissolved bodies inserted into the 2010 Act by Regulation 4 is that most such situations reversing a dissolution—for example, restoration to the register of companies—are temporary and unlikely to result in there being a person who is responsible and able, on behalf of the body in question, to assist the claimant by being able to fulfil the condition or to supply the information in relation to the liability.

Before I conclude, I should like to express my department’s thanks to all those who have contributed to the preparation of the draft regulations. It is not a simple matter, as I suspect noble Lords will concede. Insolvency law is fast moving and complicated. The Insolvency Service, the Accountant in Bankruptcy in Scotland and the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Investment in Northern Ireland have all made significant contributions to what has been a very difficult technical exercise. I am very grateful to them. I am also very grateful to the Commercial and Common Law Team at the Law Commission, which for most of the period in question was led by David Hertzell and Tammy Goriely, without whose expert knowledge and legal skills the draft regulations could not easily have been prepared. Finally, in a more general sense, I thank the Law Commission and the Scottish Law Commission for their continuing support for the reform of third parties legislation generally. I hope that in the not too distant future we shall be able to make that reform a reality.

In conclusion, the reforms to be introduced by the 2010 Act are supported by insurers and claimants alike. They apply to insurance of all kinds and will be particularly beneficial in cases of long-tail industrial diseases, such as mesothelioma. The approval of the draft regulations by your Lordships’ House will be widely welcomed and will be a key step on the way to the commencement of the 2010 Act.

I am afraid that I am not yet in a position to state when the Act will be brought fully into force, as the draft regulations remain subject to your Lordships’ approval and to approval in the other place. Nevertheless, I can say that, subject to allowing all parties affected no less than three months from the making of the regulations in which to prepare for commencement, the Government’s intention is to bring the 2010 Act, as amended by the 2015 Act and by what will then be the Third Parties (Rights against Insurers) Regulations 2016, into force as soon as reasonably practicable. I beg to move.

I am grateful to the Minister for his explanation and also for bringing this set of regulations forward for our consideration and for the House’s approval in due course. It is an extremely important area which I think anybody practising in the common-law field values very much. I have only one question and that is to ask for reassurance in relation to part of Regulation 3, which deals with the relevant bodies in insolvency or administration under sectoral legislation. This is an extremely sophisticated area of law and I join in the Minister’s congratulations to all those who have played a part in putting all this together.

A feature of the list of enactments set out in Schedule A1 is that all except the last deal with areas of regulation which are common to the United Kingdom, with the special provisions made in the case of Northern Ireland which are set out in the schedule. Aviation, energy, financial services, postal services and railways apply equally to Scotland as they do to England and Wales. But the question of water and sewerage has occurred to me, because Scotland, I believe, has its own legislation relating to sewers and water: there is the Water (Scotland) Act, the date of which escapes me, and I believe that there is a sewerage Act for Scotland as well.

I fear that without detailed research, which is beyond my resources at the moment, I am not sure whether the Scottish legislation provides for administration under a legislative scheme. I am fairly confident that the Water Industry Act 1991, referred to here, does not extend to Scotland. It may well be that those who have been looking at this in detail have reassured themselves that there is no need for a mention of the Scottish legislation, perhaps because it does not actually provide for this kind of administration. If that is right, of course I understand why there is no mention of those statutes, but it might be as well to be absolutely sure that there is not a gap here that ought to be plugged before the regulations are brought into force.

That aside, I regard this as a very fine piece of fine-tuning which I am sure will be greatly welcomed in order to avoid any further gaps in the valuable legislation.

My Lords, I, too, thank the Minister for his explanation of this statutory instrument. I confirm that it is not controversial in the slightest. We are happy to support it, as we supported, of course, the 2010 Bill as it went through Parliament. Indeed, I hope I may be forgiven for reminding the Grand Committee—it was some time ago now—that I was the Minister who took that Law Commission Bill through this House, using the special procedure. I was assisted then by an excellent team from the Ministry of Justice and I suspect—indeed, I am sure—that the Minister has been so assisted today.

The Minister will know that we on this side have many criticisms of much that the Ministry of Justice does these days, but in this area of complex but important law-making and law revision, we have nothing but praise. I have a couple of questions and comments for the Minister’s consideration, but they are brief.

The first point is about paragraph 8 of the Explanatory Memorandum, which deals with the consultation outcome. It says that the APIL and the ABI—the Association of Personal Injury Lawyers and the Association of British Insurers—have been consulted and are broadly content. The memorandum states:

“Both organisations expressed general approval of the Regulations”.

Is there a particular meaning to the word “general” in that particular context? I am pretty reassured that there is not, because I have a letter here from APIL itself, which suggests that it is happy with the regulations, but I wonder what the expression means in that context—probably nothing.

Secondly, we are very pleased that the charitable sector is content, which is an important point. It is very important that charities are happy with this, as they often have to deal with complex legal situations without necessarily having the resources that are available to government.

The final point is on paragraph 10, which is about the impact of this measure. It is argued that the amount of money or funding that is relevant here is too low for the threshold for there to be an impact assessment. Paragraph 10.4 deals with a number of uncertainties about what is likely to happen and with the Government’s estimates. Would the Minister be able to tell the Grand Committee what the threshold is? Might this not be an example of where an impact assessment would be of some value by the time the matter comes to the other place in April?

I do not claim that any of the points I have made so far are very important, but I would be grateful if the Minister would deal with them. I end by welcoming this statutory instrument and by thanking the noble Lord and his team for presenting it so clearly to the Grand Committee this afternoon.

I am very grateful for those observations and for the support for the regulations which was expressed by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope, and by the noble Lord, Lord Bach. As I am sure many in the Committee well remember from what became the 2010 Act, the noble Lord has been involved in this for some time and is familiar with this complex area of law.

The noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope, with his customary forensic skill, identified the absence of a specific reference to water and sewerage in Scotland. The question is whether the Scottish legislation needs to be mentioned. The UK Government have consulted the Scottish Government and the Accountant in Bankruptcy about the water legislation, and are content that no special mention is necessary. I am none the less extremely grateful to the noble and learned Lord for having mentioned it. This is such a complex area that it is not impossible to omit something, although I glad that in this instance it had been specifically considered.

The noble Lord, Lord Bach, made a number of comments, and I very much echo what he said in tribute to those who work in this area in the Ministry of Justice, and the extreme skill and dedication that they have to it. I am grateful for this comments in that respect. As to his specific questions, the use of the word “general” was not, as I understand it, in any sense supposed to imply that while they generally approved of it, they did not approve of specific aspects of it. As he may remember, the 2010 Act represents a compromise between insurers and claimants, designed by the Law Commission after extensive consultation.

The changes made in the Insurance Act 2015, and to be made in these draft regulations, are supported both by the ABI and APIL, as the noble Lord said. Both have expressed the clear view that they would like these regulations to be brought into force as soon as possible—there is no reservation about it. Therefore, the use of “general” in the Explanatory Notes is supposed to convey that. I accept that there could conceivably be considered to be some ambiguity, but I assure noble Lords that there is not.

I can confirm that the charitable sector, along with all stakeholders, is content with the change in the law which this will bring into effect.

Finally, the noble Lord asked about the impact assessment and, in particular, paragraph 10 of the Explanatory Memorandum. The point made in paragraph 10.4 is that the costs are,

“not easy to quantify … The Ministry … expects that when 2010 Act, as amended by the Insurance Act 2015 and the Regulations is commenced, it will generate a small net benefit to business”—

mainly insurers and claimants because of the ease with which the process should now be able to be undertaken—

“but that any aggregate impacts will be significantly less than £1 million per annum”.

The Explanatory Memorandum goes on to explain that,

“the circumstances added by the Regulations will probably only account for a fraction of this. However, we do not know how often these circumstances will apply; how many people will be affected”.

However, it seems that it comes well within the range of those regulations that do not require a specific impact assessment.

Our submission is that these regulations are very much to be welcomed. I am grateful for all the hard work that has gone into providing their final realisation during what has been quite a long process to get here. They will extend the scope of the 2010 Act to include the specific sectoral insolvency and administration regimes and most dissolved bodies, and the benefits of the 2010 Act will now be delivered without exposing some claimants who are protected by third-party legislation to a worse situation than they currently are in because of the omissions in the original Act. In those circumstances, I commend the draft regulations to the House.

Motion agreed.