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Enterprise Act 2002

Section 266: Disqualification from office: Parliament

769.Section 427 of the Insolvency Act 1986 imposes a number of restrictions on a member of either House at Westminster if he or she is adjudged bankrupt (or sequestrated in Scotland). In the House of Lords, a member is not allowed to sit or vote in either the House or Committee. In the Commons, a member cannot be elected to, sit or vote in the House (or the devolved equivalent) or on Committee. The restrictions on being elected to and sitting and voting in the devolved assemblies on the ground of bankruptcy feed through from section 427 by virtue of the Government of Wales Act 1998, the Scotland Act 1998 and the Northern Ireland Act 1998.

770.With the exception of a peer in Westminster, in all legislatures a bankrupt is given six months in order to have their bankruptcy order annulled or their bankruptcy discharged. If this has not happened by the end of that period, then their seat is vacated.

771.Section 266 inserts new sections into the Insolvency Act 1986 to deal with disqualification from Parliament, the Scottish Parliament, the Northern Ireland Assembly or the National Assembly for Wales where a BRO is made against a member of any of those Assemblies. It also amends section 427 Insolvency Act 1986 to remove references to England and Wales from that section and to change its title.

England and Wales

772.The new section 426A disqualifies an MP against whom a BRO is made from membership of the House of Commons. On disqualification under this section, an MP must immediately vacate his or her seat. This differs from the current position under section 427 Insolvency Act 1986, which disqualifies a person on the making of a bankruptcy order but then gives a period of six months for an MP to have the bankruptcy order annulled. Under the new section, an MP is no longer automatically disqualified on the making of a bankruptcy order. Those MPs where some form of culpability can be shown through the making of a BRO will be disqualified automatically and there will be no six months grace period.

773.A member of the House of Lords subject to a BRO will be disqualified from sitting or voting in the House of Lords or from sitting or voting in a committee of the House of Lords or a joint committee of both Houses. No writ of summons can be issued to a lord of Parliament who is subject to a BRO. These are the same restrictions as are currently in place for a bankruptcy order but, again, by replacing bankruptcy with BRO as the trigger to disqualification, only culpable peers will be disqualified.

The Devolved Assemblies

774.The new section 426A will feed through to the devolved Assemblies by virtue of the devolution legislation. A member of the Scottish Parliament against whom a BRO is made will be disqualified from the Scottish Parliament by virtue of section 15(1)(b) Scotland Act 1998 and will have to vacate his or her seat under sections 17(1) and (2) of that Act.

775.The position is the same for a member of the National Assembly for Wales by virtue of sections 12(2) and 14(1) and (2) Government of Wales Act 1998 and for a member of the Northern Ireland Assembly by virtue of sections 36(4) and 37(1) Northern Ireland Act 1998 and Article 370 of the Insolvency (Northern Ireland) Order 1989.

MPs, Peers and Members of the Devolved Assemblies made bankrupt in Northern Ireland or sequestrated in Scotland

776.There is no equivalent regime to BROs in either Scotland or Northern Ireland. Insolvency law in Wales is the same as in England and will be modified by this Act.

777.Therefore, the existing regime for disqualification where an MP, peer or a member of a devolved Assembly is made bankrupt in Northern Ireland or sequestrated in Scotland is being retained. However, section 427 is being amended by section 266(1) and (2) so that it will then only cover those made bankrupt in Northern Ireland or sequestrated in Scotland.

778.For example, an MSP who is sequestrated in Scotland will be disqualified and will have six months to have that order annulled before having to vacate his or her seat.

Two regimes

779.Therefore, two different regimes will be in operation at the same time in Parliament and all the devolved Assemblies, depending on the jurisdiction in which the bankruptcy occurs:

  • where a member of Parliament or a member of the devolved Assemblies is made bankrupt in England and Wales, these persons will not be automatically disqualified. Disqualification will be triggered if a BRO is made against him or her and he or she will have to vacate their seat immediately. A peer will be disqualified on the making of a BRO order from sitting and voting in the House of Lords or in Committee;

  • where a member of Parliament or a member of the devolved Assemblies is made bankrupt in Northern Ireland or sequestrated in Scotland, they will be automatically disqualified on being made bankrupt or sequestrated and will have six months to have the order annulled. A peer who is a member of a devolved Assembly would be disqualified from the devolved Assembly and have six months to have the order annulled or his or her bankruptcy discharged and would be disqualified in Westminster from sitting and voting in the House of Lords or in Committee.

The order-making power

780.Section 266 provides for an order-making power to amend sections 426A and 426B, should equivalent regimes be introduced in Northern Ireland and Scotland. The order-making power would be subject to affirmative resolution.

781.Section 265 will remove the automatic disqualification on a bankrupt acting as a justice of the peace. The removal of bankrupt justices of the peace will be left to the Lord Chancellor's general power to appoint and remove justices of the peace where it is thought appropriate.

782.Section 267 will replace the automatic restriction on bankrupts serving as a member of a Local Authority with one disqualifying those subject to a BRO.

783.Section 268 will provide a wide order-making power for any Secretary of State or the National Assembly for Wales, to review legislation under his or her policy control and to maintain, repeal, amend or abolish such restrictions on bankrupts as they deem appropriate. Amendments can include reducing the class of bankrupts to whom a disqualification applies, applying the restrictions to those people who are subject to BROs or undertakings as well as bankrupts or providing that the disqualification is subject to the discretion of a specified person, body or group. Such orders will be subject to affirmative resolution.

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