9 Dec 1999 : Column 1419
Limited Liability Partnerships Bill [H.L.]
Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, I beg to move that this Bill be
now read a second time.
The concept of a Limited Liability Partnership Bill has received a great deal of close attention
before being put to the House today. The measure was proposed by the previous administration,
who set out the principles of a limited liability partnership in a consultation document at the end of
their term in office. There was an overwhelming response to that document in favour of the
introduction of limited liability partnerships in Britain.
This Government agreed with the inherent merit of the proposal, and
in September 1998 a Limited
Liability Partnerships Bill was published in draft for the first time. It received careful scrutiny from
consultees, particularly professionals such as lawyers, accountants, architects, actuaries and
surveyors, and also academics, trade associations and those representing the interests of potential
investors, customers and suppliers.
The process was further refined in the new pre-legislative scrutiny
process, which was undertaken
by a committee of the other House. This proved to be a valuable contribution to the evolution of
the Bill. A revised draft was published for information in July, and this is the version before the
House today. There is little doubt from the consultations that this measure is something which
would be warmly welcomed by the business community, but I also want to emphasise that we
believe we have struck an appropriate balance between their interests and those of customers and
suppliers who are potential creditors.
Perhaps it would be helpful to understand the evolution of the Bill
if I briefly touch on the context
in which it originally arose. In 1996 the Department of Trade and Industry published for
consultation an authoritative investigation by the common law team of the Law Commission into
the law of joint and several liability, a particularly complex area of common law. The report looked
at the problems joint and several liability causes for professional defendants and in particular the
fact that a particular defendant may be held liable for the whole amount of any damage suffered by
the plaintiff, notwithstanding that other wrongdoers were also involved.
Overall the report concluded strongly against reform, the main reason
being--I recognise that this
is a very simplified summary of the report's detailed conclusions--that change towards a system of
proportional liability would favour the wrongdoer at the expense of the plaintiff. Although the
remit of that investigation did not extend to the joint and several responsibility within partnerships,
the DTI took the opportunity to consult on the distinct but related question of whether to amend
the law in Britain to allow limited liability partnerships.
The concept of limited liability partnerships was already well known
in the United States of
America and, closer to home, Jersey was working on the
9 Dec 1999 : Column 1420
implementation of its own legislation. As a result of the consultation
we concluded in 1998 against
reform of the law of joint and several liability, but restated our commitment to introducing limited
More generally, it is perhaps surprising to note that there has been
no fundamental change to
business entities in Great Britain since 1907, when the Limited Partnerships Act was introduced.
And, of all the different forms of entity available, it is only the company which offers limited
liability for all its members. Many people have remarked on the oddity that the only way to obtain
limited liability is by organisation as a company. There is no doubt that limited liability is a
privilege, but if appropriate safeguards are in place why should a business have to organise itself
as a company?
I turn now to some of the detail of the Bill, and that will allow me
to set out more of the detailed
thinking behind it. The limited liability partnership would be a new corporate vehicle to which large
portions of the Companies Act will apply, but it would retain certain aspects of a partnership. The
LLP would be a separate legal entity from its members and ownership would rest with the
members. Members would be free to agree between themselves their relationship with each other
and they would be treated as agents of the firm.
However, unlike a partnership, the liability of individual members would
be limited. Clearly that
limitation of liability brings with it certain responsibilities: a need to ensure that the client is fully
aware of the nature of the organisation with which they are dealing, and a need to ensure against
abuse. As a result, although the LLP offers limited liability to its members, each member will owe
a duty of care to his or her clients and, in the event that they are negligent, they will be fully liable
to the extent of their personal assets, although fellow "innocent" members would have limited
liability. Since members would be agents of the limited liability partnership, that partnership itself
would also be liable for the actions of its members. Claims could be made against a limited liability
partnership to the full extent of its assets.
The Bill also requires that the name of an LLP be followed by the words
partnership" or the acronym "LLP", so as to advertise its status. Also the Bill requires that the
LLP be registered at Companies House, along with a list of its members, and that these records be
kept up to date. The intention is to apply a further tier of creditor protection by means of
secondary legislation. We plan to require financial disclosure equivalent to that required of
companies and also to provide that members of a limited liability partnership could be sued for
wrongful and fraudulent trading. We also plan to ensure that members could be disqualified from
being members of an LLP and directors of a company.
Regulations would also provide for dealing with insolvency and the winding
up of the entity, and
would include provision to deter the siphoning off of funds by members, to the detriment of
creditors. These proposed regulations have been published in draft for consultation twice, most
recently in July this year.
9 Dec 1999 : Column 1421
I recognise that a considerable weight of material will be left to regulations,
but I am pleased that
the Delegated Powers Committee has concluded that the provision for parliamentary control in the
Bill is appropriate. It has, however, suggested that if the intention is to provide only for summary
trial and a fine, such a limitation should appear in the Bill. But it is our intention to apply to LLPs
the same offences as apply to companies under the Companies and Insolvency Acts, so as to
ensure parity of treatment. It is important that members of an LLP are not treated more favourably
than directors of a company. In some cases these offences are triable on indictment and
punishable with imprisonment. For example, Section 458 of the Companies Act1985 makes it an
indictable offence to carry on the firm's business with the intent to defraud creditors.
The application of these offences in the first set of regulations will
be subject to affirmative
resolution. Were we at any stage to create new offences, these would also be subject to
An LLP will be treated for tax purposes as a partnership. This is because
although it will be a
body corporate, unlike a company where broadly, shareholders receive a dividend and directors
receive a salary, the members of an LLP will receive a profit share. Partnerships have been
exploited in the past for purposes of tax avoidance. We intend to amend the Bill to ensure that
limited liability partnerships cannot be used for tax avoidance.
When we published the revised Bill in July, there were a number of comments
from consultees, as
a result of which we are considering some further minor amendments to the Bill. These would be
intended to ensure that the legislation more effectively achieves the policy intentions. In particular,
again in the context of taxation, we will be bringing forward amendments on the tax treatment to
ensure that the transfer of a business between a partnership and an LLP is genuinely tax neutral.
I should like to turn to a couple of areas where no statutory provision
is proposed, and to explain
the reasons for this. First, as regards the regulation of professionals, as I have said, the possibility
of a limited liability partnership arose in the context of reviewing the law of joint and several
liability and its particular effect on professionals. It is fair to say that the main interest in LLPs has
come from the professional business community. We considered carefully, therefore, during the
consultation process whether the LLP should be restricted to professionals and whether
professionals in a limited liability partnership should be subject to particular regulation. We
concluded against both these points.
Most professionals, for example, accountants, architects, surveyors
and even solicitors, now have
the option to incorporate, and the principle that they may operate with limited liability has been
accepted for some years. However, few have chosen to become companies. That may be because
it is considered that the structure of a company does not lend itself to successful
professional/client relationships, because
9 Dec 1999 : Column 1422
there may be a conflict between the need to act in the interests of
shareholders and the need to act
in the interests of a client. It may also be because the particular advantages of the partnerships
structure have made firms reluctant to reorganise as a company. These are generally cited as being
the benefits to be gained from common ownership and management together with the sense of
fraternity that can exist between partners and the flexibility to determine the content of the
agreement between partners.
In considering whether the Bill should provide for professional regulation
of a limited liability
partnership, we concluded that any regulation of the entity would be likely to add a new and
additional layer of regulation over and above what was already being required. Why should, say,
an auditor in an LLP be subject to a greater degree of regulation than an auditor in a partnership?
Both would be fully liable for their own negligence and clients of an LLP would have the benefit of
financial disclosure--a requirement not made of partnerships. Professional organisations such as
the Law Society and the Institute of Chartered Accountants clearly will continue to regulate their
members, regardless of whether business is being carried on through a partnership, a company or
a limited liability partnership. We should be surprised and concerned if the introduction of LLPs
were to cause any reduction in the regulation of the activity. The consultation process has not led
us to believe that that will happen.
Secondly, it has been argued that the Bill should include added protection
for creditors, perhaps
through a statutory requirement for capital main- tenance or a guarantee from members. We have
considered that point carefully and have decided not to include such a provision. An immediate
reaction might be to think that that is rash. In particular, that might be felt by those who are familiar
with the provisions of the Companies Act 1985 which regulate capital maintenance in companies. I
do not want to go over the arguments now, but I note that an LLP will have no shareholders and
we doubt very much whether a realistic level of capital maintenance exists to provide reasonable
protection for creditors without there being a detrimental impact on the firm's ability to set up in
and carry on business.
I hope it is clear from what I have said that the Bill has received
much thought and attention from
all-comers, including free advice from many highly paid professionals. Some of the issues are
complex but I believe that the extensive consultation and, not least, the attention from Members of
the other House have produced a balance which is practical and appropriate, taking account not
only of the needs of business but also of its customers.
As I said at the start, the Bill represents one step, albeit an important
one, in our commitment to a
modern legal framework. The LLP Bill is being taken forward at the same time as the review of
company law. While the Bill is important enough to merit action now, we intend that amendments
to company law ultimately arising from the review will be applied as appropriate to LLPs. We shall
ensure that limited
9 Dec 1999 : Column 1423
liability partnerships are not left behind as the legal framework for
business is further refined. I
commend the Bill to your Lordships.
Moved, That the Bill be now read a second time.--(Lord McIntosh of Haringey.)
Baroness Buscombe: My Lords, it gives me pleasure to respond to the
Minister by saying that
we are, in large part, very supportive of the Bill. It is clear from our consultations with numerous
outside professional bodies that the Government have been very willing to work with them in
developing this proposal to introduce LLPs, following on from the previous administration.
In essence, the Bill seeks to provide particularly the large professional
partnerships with the ability
to take greater control over the potential liabilities arising from the provision of services in the
litigious environment of the present day, while at the same time protecting the interests of clients
and predators. However, there are a number of remaining issues which concern us and which have
been raised during the consultation period. I shall endeavour to refer to them in some semblance
of order. I express it in that way as something of a protest, given that I feel the proposed
legislation has been drafted in an unnecessarily complex manner. My heart already goes out to
anyone who might wish to form an LLP without the benefit of extensive advice.
I turn, first, to Clause 1. Although we are pleased that LLP status
will be available to all businesses
and not just to professional firms, we are concerned to the extent that Clause 1(4) disapplies the
existing the law relating to partnerships, principally the Partnership Act 1890, from limited liability
partnerships, except as otherwise provided by the Bill or any other enactment. That creates
difficulties in so far as the Bill is silent on the issues which are central to partnership law, most
notably the rights and duties of the members of a limited liability partnership and, equally
important, the relations between the partners.
Flowing from that, a number of issues will need to be addressed: for
example, the right to share in
capital and profits; the right of a member to be indemnified by the LLP in respect of payments
made by him or liabilities incurred by him on behalf of the LLP; the right to take part in the
business of the LLP; the right of members to have access to the books and records of the LLP;
the right or absence of right to receive payment for services rendered by a member to the LLP; the
procedure for calling and holding meetings, including any rights to appoint proxies and corporate
representatives to attend meetings of members; the right to vote at meetings on the basis of
one-member one-vote; the expulsion of a member; and the right of a member to retire as a
member of the LLP by giving notice. All those issues contribute collectively to the partnership
ethos and should therefore, we believe, be clarified. We suggest that that is done in the regulations
under Clause 14 of the Bill.
9 Dec 1999 : Column 1424
I move on to Clause 4, which deals with membership. The Bill does not
provide for a member
who wishes to retire from the partnership. As currently drafted, a member can cease to be so only
upon death, dissolution of the LLP or by agreement with the other members. We wonder whether
that is an oversight and suggest that, in the event of a member wishing to retire, notice should be
given to the LLP rather than to the other members of the LLP.
Clause 5 deals with the relationship of members. With the Bill as currently
worded, the members
of an LLP would be subject to company law or employment law if there were no specific
provision to the contrary. We believe that that would alter radically the nature of the partnership in
an unacceptable way.
Under Clause 6, in relation to members as agents, we believe that the
Bill should make clear that a
member of an LLP will not be an employee of the LLP unless there is express agreement to that
effect between the member and the LLP. Further, we believe that it is regrettable that Clause
6(1)(c) as drafted in the September 1998 version of the Bill was removed, since no agreement
between members can be entirely comprehensive. The absence of statutory guidance will create
considerable uncertainty as to the relationship between members and between members of the
LLP itself, especially where the members of an LLP have no members' agreement or the members'
agreement fails to deal with the key issues, some of which I have already outlined with reference to
Clause 1 of the Bill.
With regard to Clause 8, we question the provisions for service as a
designated member of the
partnership, given, we believe, that the provisions, as drafted, could be open to abuse; for
example, as we understand it, an LLP could assume as partners one or more offshore companies
and register them as designated members, thus making it difficult for the regulatory authorities in
the UK to ensure compliance or impose penalties. We suggest that the concept of designated
members be removed from the Bill, making all the partners equally responsible for the LLP's
conduct, including compliance with the registers.
With reference to Clause 10 regarding taxation, I am pleased that this
evening the Minister has
referred to tax neutrality as that is a matter about which we are concerned. We understand that the
proposed objective is that tax neutrality should be achieved. We should certainly seek reassurance
that if, for example, a partnership wishes to convert to an LLP, that will be treated for tax
purposes as a continuation of the old partnership and not the discontinuance of the old
partnership and the commencement of a new LLP, provided that the necessary conditions are
With regard to Clause 12, we believe that there should be changes to
the stamp duty and stamp
duty reserve tax exemptions on the transfer of property from an existing partnership to an LLP.
The present exemption assumes that the transferors will be all the existing partners and that the
partners will have the same proportionate interest in the property transferred to the LLP. We
believe that that is too restrictive as it may dissuade the conversion of a
9 Dec 1999 : Column 1425
partnership to an LLP in a situation where, for example, only a majority
of partners are the same
before and after the transfer.
Further, I shall refer briefly to issues concerning insolvency and return
to them in Committee. In
particular, Clause 13, which deals with the insolvency and winding-up of limited liability
partnerships, provides for regulations which will apply or incorporate parts of the Insolvency Act
1986, including a proposed new Section 214A. Section 214A of the Insolvency Act would take
effect when a partner knew or had reasonable grounds to believe that the LLP was insolvent. That
is a more onerous test than the comparable existing Section 214. We believe that Section 214A is
likely to lead to unnecessary business closures and job losses. Therefore, in our view it should be
dropped from the Bill.
With reference to merger and acquisition accounting, the regulations
would apply the requirements
of the Companies Act 1985. The merger accounting provisions set out in paragraphs 10 and 12 of
Schedule 4A of the Companies Act 1985 deal with equity shares being purchased for equity
consideration. A share-for-share exchange cannot exist in a partnership--as the Minister has
already said this evening, there will be, we assume, no shareholders--and, therefore, we believe
that the provisions are meaningless.
However, having said that, mergers of partnerships do take place and
therefore merger accounting
provisions for LLPs will be necessary. We suggest that the regulations should be framed to allow
special provisions in respect of merger accounting of LLPs.
Finally, I turn to the matter of disclosure. Under the proposed regulations,
requirements relating to the emoluments of directors translate into equivalent disclosure
requirements for members of LLPs. In addition to the aggregate of members' emoluments and the
numbers of members falling within bands, the chairman or equivalent and the highest paid member
of the LLP must be disclosed with their emoluments. Small LLPs are exempted from that
For the remaining LLPs, we feel that that disclosure requirement serves
no useful purpose, is likely
to deter overseas partnerships from taking LLP status in the UK, and should be dropped. We
believe that the regulations should be amended accordingly.
In conclusion, we support the Bill in principle and look forward to
the opportunity to return in
Committee to the issues that I have outlined this evening.
Lord Sharman: My Lords, it is with some trepidation that I address your
Lordships for the first
time. I begin by placing on record both my thanks and appreciation for the very many kindnesses
and help extended to me by the staff, officials and Members of your Lordships' House.
9 Dec 1999 : Column 1426
I must first declare an interest. For 33 years, until relatively recently,
I was a partner without
limitation of liability. I served in what is loosely called one of the big five. For the last six years of
that time, I was its chairman. I was an active participant in lobbying both the previous
administration and this Government for legislation of this nature. So it is clear that I have a
considerable interest to declare.
Having declared that interest, it is little wonder that I welcome the
Bill. In my view, it is sorely
needed. As the Minister said, it updates some very aged legislation. Importantly, it provides an
extremely appropriate form of corporation for certain types of business for which incorporation
as a company may neither be desirable nor feasible in fiscal terms. It goes some way to providing
a partial answer to the huge incidence of litigation within professional firms today. It only goes a
partial way and I think that that is right. It reflects also the increasing specialisation that one sees in
that type of organisation and the assembly of different professions within a single partnership.
Finally, it puts the UK on an equal footing with many of our competitor
nations, most notably the
United States and many areas of continental Europe. As such, it will help us to avoid the drift
towards overseas registration in limited liability partnerships. We already see limited liability
partnerships operating in the UK today.
I am very much aware that maiden speeches are supposed to be non-controversial,
but I want to
compliment this Government and the previous administration on the process of consultation
which this Bill has undergone. The DTI in particular has been extremely assiduous in canvassing
views from a wide range of interested parties and it has dealt with them openly and logically. While
some of the features of the draft Bill and the consultative documents have changed, by no means
all of the wishes of those consulted have been accommodated; and nor should they have been.
It is useful to reflect for a moment on how we reached the point at
which we are today. The
original form of partnership was based on the concept of up to 20 people sitting around a table,
making decisions jointly, and jointly and severally benefiting from the results of that by way of
profits or the risks that were carried. For many, many years, until 1967, many professions were
held to a 20 partner limit. As a result there were chains of partnerships which were inter linked.
The Companies Act 1967 took away that level for certain professions, but for certain professions
Since that time, there has been a growth of business, with increasing
internationalisation and now
globalisation. Therefore, there is a need for scale to respond to service business which itself is on
an increased scale. Those enterprises have become extremely large. While a typical "Big 5", which
I know about, in 1967 might have had three or four linked partnerships of 20 partners, today it
would have over 600 and would employ something like 10,000 people in the UK. Its gross annual
revenues might be something in the order of £1 billion.
9 Dec 1999 : Column 1427
So it is clear that the old business form of partnership, with the partners
sitting around a table
jointly agreeing, jointly benefiting and carrying the risk, is no longer appropriate. While the
Companies Act 1989 allowed for incorporation of certain functions, that came really when the
enterprises were already too large and it was a little late. The fiscal cost was just not affordable.
We can argue also that the cultural cost of changing a partnership into a corporation might not be
desirable for many of those professions.
There is a lesson to be learned here which we should bear in mind, and
that is, that business
moves so rapidly these days that legislation must keep up. We must be very nimble on our feet in
relation to such legislation. When the e-commerce Bill comes before this House, we shall do well
to bear that in mind.
So in welcoming the Bill, I do not see it as a let-off or a let-out
in any way. As the Minister said,
nothing that is contained within the Bill will relieve the individual from his personal responsibility
for his actions to the full extent of his wealth. Nor should it.
In conclusion, I wish to make a comment on an issue which I regard as
central to the limitation of
liability; that is, disclosure of full financial information. I can speak with some experience in that
regard because some five years ago, the firm of which I was a chairman went through that process
voluntarily. I believe that it is absolutely fundamental that the price for limitation of liability is
disclosure of financial affairs. It is not fair for customers to have to deal with a company or entity
with limited liability about which they are unable to ascertain its financial wherewithal. Our
disclosure included full details of my income. All that really happened was that we attracted a few
extra column inches and I had to buy a few more drinks in the pub. And so I commend the Bill to
Lord Haskel: My Lords, it is my pleasure and privilege to congratulate
the noble Lord, Lord
Sharman, on a wonderful maiden speech and to thank him very much on behalf of the whole
House. I have come across the noble Lord on one or two occasions and I know of his important
work on and commitment to the introduction of best practice in the management of British
companies. He has played an extremely important role in that and it has been an important factor
in increasing the competitiveness of British industry. I congratulate him on that too. He has great
experience of British industry. I hope that we shall hear from him often in the future so that we can
have the benefit of that experience in your Lordships' House.
Turning to the Bill, I confess that my initial reaction was fairly hostile:
mobile capital seeking more
user-friendly jurisdictions and large partnerships threatening to move their legal base out of British
jurisdiction to reduce the risk to the partners. I had always assumed that limited liability was
invented so that people could take business risks. Without limited liability people would be less
willing to take those risks and so the economy would suffer.
9 Dec 1999 : Column 1428
What risks do professional people take? As long as they meet the demands
of their professional
standards, the advice and service that they provide is surely without the same kind of risk that
people take in the course of normal business. Professional people are obliged to take out
professional indemnity insurance.
In recent years most professions have allowed their members to incorporate.
I have often thought
that that would take care of some of those anxieties. Professionals from different professions can
in- corporate together. Frankly, I have never understood why large accountancy firms, and other
professional firms do not incorporate instead of threatening to move their legal base offshore to a
more welcoming jurisdiction. Perhaps they like the partnership ethos, but do not want the worry of
However, on further thought, and with the benefit of the explanation
of the noble Lord, Lord
Sharman, I accept that my view is somewhat old-fashioned. In modern business, professional
services are delivered on a kind of production line basis. Different specialists from different
professions work together and are involved with each other. Accountants and engineers work in
teams. Doctors and lawyers work together. They depend on each other. In large firms partners
may not even know each other as they can work in different offices, in different professions or
even in different countries. So there is a concern in regard to this matter and there is a point. Quite
rightly the Government are listening to the concern--a listening government.
Recently we have heard another voice. Last week in Seattle we heard
it quite loudly. Some citizens
complain hat the real beneficiaries of globalised big business are the big firms and their senior
managers, while the consumer is left to carry the cost and to take the risk. As the noble Lord,
Lord Sharman, has explained to us, the big accountancy and professional services firms are
among the biggest globalised businesses. I ask the Minister to listen to their voice too.
Nobody wants the Bill to become a symbol of that growing dissatisfaction
with big business. As
the Minister said, and as the noble Lord, Lord Sharman, implied, our task is to see that there are
adequate safeguards for the consumer and that the Bill does not become a means whereby wealthy
professionals can avoid financial penalties for negligence. To that end the Bill must encourage an
ethos of probity as well as an ethos of partnership as mentioned by the noble Baroness, Lady
Ethos is important. It will ensure that the public will perceive the
professional services companies
as having an ethical and vocational drive that will lead to confidence and respect. Otherwise, the
limited liability partnerships will be seen as a dodge. The regulations and the professional partners
need to bear that in mind. For reasons of probity, openness and transparency are important
elements in the Bill.
For that reason I agree with the Trade and Industry Committee in another
place, when it said that
limited liability partnerships and their members should be
9 Dec 1999 : Column 1429
required to disclose all the relevant financial information. I welcome
the statement from the
Minister that limited liability partnerships will be regulated similarly to companies. I also welcome
the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Sharman, in this regard.
Of course, I understand that partnerships use their own money and not
However, in many companies the shareholders and the directors are one and the same, so
disclosure should be equivalent to that demanded by law from limited liability companies. I do not
agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Buscombe, on her point about disclosure of partners'
drawings. For the sake of openness, I believe that the disclosure of partners' drawings should also
be made in the same way as those of company directors.
Perhaps I may say a word about management. The days when a director's
duty of care was solely
to the shareholders have passed. Directors now have a duty to inform themselves about all their
company's activities. They have a duty of care to all the stakeholders. I hope that the regulations
will oblige partners in limited liability partnerships to have the same broad duty to keep themselves
informed, not only about their own professional activities, but also about the activities of the
partnership as a whole and all the other stakeholders.
There is a strong "best practice" business case for that. Integrity
and reputation are important. To
that end, the duty of care in law that partners owe to third parties for acts of their colleagues or
employees must be clear and not open to judicial review as claims arise. In the same way as
directors can be banned for ignoring their duties of care, will partners be banned from entering
into limited liability partnerships if they do likewise? How will the DTI monitor that? Perhaps it will
be left to the professions to discipline their members.
The noble Baroness, Lady Buscombe, spoke of the complications. I do
not believe that that is a
big worry. The Bill will probably apply only to large partnerships. The disadvantage for small
businesses being limited liability partnerships, compared with being limited liability companies, is
that a limited liability partnership is a narrower form of limited liability. I presume that there will be
a degree of personal liability to third parties for negligence which, in the main, does not apply to
company directors. There is certainly more liability on insolvency resulting from the claw-back
provisions mentioned by the Minister under which limited liability partnership members will be
ordered to contribute to the assets on insolvency.
The Minister spoke of the major review of company law in the DTI. I
suppose it is a pity that,
owing to pressure from major partnerships, this legislation has come before the House before the
review of company law has been carried out. I expect that that review will simplify greatly the
regulations affecting businesses, especially small businesses.
I believe that the Minister indicated that the Bill is in keeping with
the changes which are expected
to emerge from the review, so that there will be little need for
9 Dec 1999 : Column 1430
further changes in partnership law. I understand, for example, that
the Law Commission is talking
about the introduction of proportionate liability, instead of joint and several liability, where
partnerships are concerned. I presume that that is the direction that the review will take.
I have stated my concerns about the Bill, but in spite of that I welcome
the Bill because, as my
noble friend said, it achieves an appropriate balance. I also believe it is important because it sets
out to modernise business practice, which is the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Sharman.
With the proviso that I have mentioned, it should contribute to the encouragement of best practice
and high standards in the delivery of professional services. It will put us on an even footing with
our competitors. Our economy can only benefit from that.
Lord Lucas: My Lords, I, too, welcome the Bill, as I welcome the noble
Lord, Lord Sharman, to
our company. It is always good to have another accountant in the House. As a rather less
distinguished accountant myself, I agree that the Bill is thoroughly deserved by the accountancy
profession. It will greatly benefit the profession and, therefore, the country.
In Committee, I shall pursue some of the more detailed aspects of the
Bill. Much is to be left to
regulation. The noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, has already given us some comfort about the way in
which regulation will be applied to disqualification of directors, the necessity of keeping accounts
on file and other such matters.
We shall also need to look at the way in which these regulations are
to be promulgated. They will
be an equivalent of company law, but all that is provided for in the Bill is that they should be
subject to affirmative resolution. At least for the first set of regulations, there should be a
requirement that they are consulted upon before they are subjected to the affirmative resolution
procedure. It is difficult, if not impossible, to amend regulations. These will be extensive and
detailed and we should not allow them simply to appear for a one-and-a-half-hour debate in this
House, and then "whoosh". I am sure the Government intend to consult anyway, but it ought to
be on the face of the Bill.
Changes to the regulations will have equivalent status to changes in
company law and therefore a
reasonable amount of notice and publicity should be given to them. Perhaps a prior period of
consultation, if it appears appropriate tothe Minister, could be given. And there should be a
requirement on the face of the Bill that the Minister considers the need for consultation. We will
not then get into the pattern that the regulations can be amended in the same way as food safety
regulations--at the last minute whenever something new appears. We are dealing with a rather more
serious entity affecting (quite quickly I imagine), a large number of people who will come to live
and work under the regulations that will be promulgated under the Bill.
9 Dec 1999 : Column 1431
We also need to look at the consequences for the Companies Act of having
this structure in place.
Clearly, some companies will have subsidiaries. If we are restricted in naming a limited liability
partnership if there is a company of the same name, then there needs to be a mirror restriction
running the other way. I may have missed it in the Bill, but I did not see it. We need also to
consider the way in which the insolvency legislation will impact on the funding of limited liability
partnerships. I imagine they will often be funded by way of loans and guarantees from partners.
They ought not to be allowed to rank alongside ordinary creditors. I do not believe there is any
provision in companies legislation to say that directors' loans rank behind creditors, but directors'
loans are rarely the principal source of funding of Companies Act companies.
We will take part in some interesting discussions on the detail of the
Bill and how it works as it
goes through Committee. But my principal interest will be the other uses to which this structure
will be put. It will not just affect the major accountancy firms. There are already considerable uses
of limited liability partnerships in this country, often overseas--Denver, Luxembourg and other
jurisdictions--by the venture capital industry and the property industry. This Bill meets, in
principle, the very real needs in structuring the relationships between the people participating in
venture capital funding and in the funding of major buildings or major property portfolios where
there can be real difficulties. At the moment they lack either limited liability or tax transparency.
The Bill will provide a great deal of potential, but in its present
form there are some insuperable
obstacles to it being used efficiently. In particular, Clause 6 does not allow for flexibility in the
status of individual partners in any obvious way. Clearly, if one is running a venture capital fund
the people taking the decisions are the fund managers, and the individuals participating are doing
so more or less as sleeping partners. There has to be a mechanism acknowledged under Clause 6
whereby someone dealing with a sleeping partner in such a venture cannotthink that they are
dealing with somebody who is authorised to deal on behalf of the partnership.
Also, if we are looking at that sort of use of the structure, we shall
need to consider the way in
which the Financial Services Act and restrictions on marketing and dealing in securities will impact
on the way in which people are encouraged to take up or dispose of participations in limited
partnerships. That is not an aspect I found to be covered in the Bill, though it could easily be
added by giving the Government power to make regulations under the Financial Services Act in
the same way as they will have power in this Bill to make regulations under the Companies Act.
I look forward to the Committee stage. I hope the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh,
will grant me
audience before then so that I might see him, perhaps in the company of one or two people from
the industries concerned, to see if we might question him and his
9 Dec 1999 : Column 1432
officials on various aspects of the Bill. It may shorten the time we
have to spend on these matters
at Committee stage and, with luck, we will arrive at a Bill which is not only good for a profession
to which I have the pride and privilege to pay £150 a year to keep the letters after my name, but
also for the venture capital andproperty industries. They will benefit greatly in terms of their ability
to do business and fund their activities if the Bill can be made just a little more flexible.
Lord Phillips of Sudbury: My Lords, it is a particular pleasure to be
the first from these Benches
to speak after the maiden speech of my noble friend Lord Sharman. Those of us who were aware
of his coming here were knowledgeable of the fact that he has immense experience and authority
within the accountancy profession. What he said today is but a harbinger, I am sure, of the
contributions he will make to the deliberations of this House in years to come.
As my noble friend made clear, he spoke from his vantage point and I
shall speak from mine. I am
a practising solicitor of 36 years' continuance, every hour of that time having been spent in private
practice. I am happy to remain a practitioner in a 40-solicitor firm, which is a tiny outfit compared
to the one from which my noble friend comes. I also have a certain diffidence in speaking against
the line of the Law Society, which has been one of the major proponents of this measure, and
indeed against the line of my noble friend. But so be it. I am unconvinced of the need and sense of
Since no one has mentioned it and it has some philosophical reference
to what is an important Bill,
perhaps I may be allowed the liberty of taking a few seconds to look at the history of this matter.
The bubble Act of 1719 was the start of this long march to limited liability. It was not until 1855
that limited liability was granted to companies other than those incorporated by Royal Charter.
The reason for that was simple: the bestowal of limited liability upon those seeking to trade for
profit is an immense public privilege, not a minor one.
In 1890 we had the Partnership Act--according to many solicitors, one
of the most lucid, brief and
effective measures ever passed in this House. If we go back to the record of the time, we may be
more amazed to see how brief was the discussion upon it in this House. The great Law Lords of
the day carved it up between them and it got the nod in the other place. There were 46 short
sections, no schedules, and certainly no subsidiary legislation dependent upon it. If I may say so,
with due deference to the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, the balance that has been struck between
matters contained in the main Bill and matters left for subsidiary legislation is a particularly
unhappy one. But that is now water under the bridge.
I referred to the great privilege of limited liability. Today it is
looked upon almost as a right. Yet if
one can step back from the overwhelming commercialism of today's culture, why in principle
9 Dec 1999 : Column 1433
pursuing a trade for gain expect to be protected from loss and damage
they inflict on third parties?
Why should they not bear the consequences of their incompetence, greed or negligence--I say
nothing of fraud? We all know the conventional answer, but in my view it badly needs to be
re-examined in the light of the steady undermining of public trust and probity, quite apart from the
encouragement that the present law gives to ill-prepared and ill-executed speculation.
If I am playing devil's advocate in a somewhat provocative way, it is
not merely to provide a
counterpoint to the majority of the speakers in this debate, who will give, and have given, the Bill a
loud "Hurrah!". There is need for cool reassessment as to what limited liability generally has done
and is doing. Certain it is--and here I speak with only too much hands-on experience--that the
protections for the public against unscrupulous corporate behaviour are, in reality, largely
The theoretical remedies against wrongful trading, or even fraud--I
note that "wrongful trading" is
likely to be incorporated into this measure--are very rarely accessible to those who are left holding
the losses when a company founders. It is too easy for those of us in this House, enjoying, as we
mostly do, a fairly elevated lifestyle, to underestimate the degree of public anger and almost
disbelief at the incompetence of the law in protecting against serious fraud.
The Bill allows solicitors to use its limitation provisions alongside
the traditional benefits of
partnership. As the Explanatory Notes say, the limited liability partnership enjoys,
"the organisational flexibility and tax status of a partnership with [nonetheless] limited liability for its members".
I shall refer in later stages of the Bill to what I believe are serious particular shortcomings.
As a practising solicitor for all this time, I must confess that I have
sometimes wished for limited
liability; but never for long. On really careful reflection, I have to say that I think it is right that
solicitors have to practise without personal limited liability. In the first place, being jointly and
severally liable is the very best incentive to exercise careful selection of one's partners; careful
oversight of staff; extreme care with clients' funds, large quantities of which are regularly entrusted
to us; a prudential approach to management of the practice and its resources, whether one is a
junior or a senior partner, and whether or not many of those functions--as they are these
days--have been delegated to committees; and an interest which extends across the whole of the
partnership's affairs in an age where solicitors, and other professionals, are retreating into ever
narrower and deeper ruts of specialism.
In terms of deserving and maintaining public trust, which I would maintain
is a principle of
overriding importance, the unlimited responsibility of all partners for the debts of their partnership
is the most striking and effective manifestation and guarantor of that virtue. Of course, even with
unlimited liability, terrible things happen. But nothing will achieve perfection.
9 Dec 1999 : Column 1434
Certainly not--experience now tells us--an ever-burgeoning external
regulation, which can even end
up compounding the very problems it seeks to address. No, the one unavoidable, ever-present
organic pressure for solicitors, and other professionals, to be virtuous is that if they fail the
consequences will end up at their door, literally.
The big firms are driving this Bill. Although there has been consultation,
and although the Law
Commission did a good job, I have to say that very few of them have given considered response
from the point of view of the consumer. The overwhelming advice tendered has come from those
who have an interest in this Bill being passed. I should like to suggest that the big firms, earning as
they do--no doubt fairly--big fees for their work, which can lead to large claims for negligence,
have thriven in that environment. Where is the evidence to show that any of them needs the
protection of this Bill in order for them to do their work effectively, competitively and profitably?
There is no evidence. When did we ever hear of one of the big City solicitors losing his trousers?
I have never heard of it, and I should like to hear from any noble Lord who has.
The classic justification of limited liability is that it strikes a
fair balance as regards those who put
at risk their capital for a venture which, through no fault of their own, then fails. To encourage that
risk it is reasonable to afford a limit against further losses. But solicitors are not capitalists; we
venture very little in the way of capital. We are supposed to be professionals. Even in the present
age where commercialism has bit deep into the ethos of many firms, gravely to their and the
public's disadvantage, we are still professionals.
I believe that the Bill is wholly unnecessary. All firms take out insurance.
Those who find that
inadequate are at liberty--and many of them exercise that liberty--to agree an upper limit on liability
with the clients for whom they do the work.
Finally, I have to say that to extend the unique public privilege of
limited personal liability primarily
for the benefit of the largest, most lucrative and successful partnerships, which, in turn, act for the
largest and most lucrative companies, strikes me as perverse, verging on the bizarre. Of course it
will also protect smaller firms, but my impression and experience is that that is not a major issue
for them. On no account, in any event, should we substitute limited liability for adequate
insurance. Although the Government may say that measures will be incorporated in the Bill to
prevent this, I have to tell them that I do not believe it. I think that one could, and will, end up with
an extremely complex, clever piece of legislation that will in the event prove to be too clever by
half. Therefore, while I would much prefer to agree with other noble Lords, I have to disagree with
Lord Goldsmith: My Lords, while I admire, as always, the passion of
the noble Lord in
9 Dec 1999 : Column 1435
reservations and the reasons for them, I, for my part, will join those
who have expressed a loud
"Hurrah!" for this Bill. However, I have only two cheers at this stage. The first because, in my
view, the Government are demonstrating a concern about the opportunities for enterprise. There is
no doubt at all that the professionals in this country are extremely important earners of foreign
currency and, most important, in the engine of the growth of wealth. The second cheer is because
they are also dealing with a real problem. Here I speak as a barrister who has spent a substantial
part--sometimes too much--of my professional life acting for or against professional firms that are
accused of professional negligence.
My noble friend Lord Haskel said that he had come across the noble Lord,
Lord Sharman, in the
past. So have I: sometimes, though he may not have known it, he has been my client. However,
more frequently, he has been the defendant I have been suing on someone else's behalf. I should
say here that I pay tribute to the noble Lord's maiden speech. I suppose, therefore, that I am a
paid-up member of the litigious environment to which the noble Baroness, Lady Buscombe,
I can tell your Lordships what has happened over the past few years.
Because of the growth of
big money claims, because of the principle of joint and several liability--about which I shall say a
few words in a moment--and because of the need to find a deep pocket, professionals, especially
architects and accountants, have faced ever-larger claims. Why does joint and several liability
achieve that? It does so because the law says that if you are in part responsible for damage you
can be sued for all the damage. Never mind the fact that as between you and an evil director he
bears 90 per cent of the moral blame; you, as the deep pocket, can be held liable for 100 per cent
of the damages. That is what has been happening. That is the way that litigation has been
Although I wholeheartedly agree with the noble Lord, Lord Phillips of
Sudbury, about the
importance of the professionalism of someone who recognises that his own assets are at stake,
the fact is that some of these claims really put at risk not merely the personal wealth of partners
but also that of their families.
There have been attempts to review the law of joint and several liability.
The United States found a
way of dealing with the problem by effecting a law. The Common Law Team of the Law
Commission in this country found that that was not a way of dealing with the matter. This seems
to me to be an appropriate way of providing an opportunity to limit their liability for those who
want it. However, as my noble friend the Minister has said, it is important to ensure that the
safeguards are in place. I refer to the safeguards for the public. There are measures which might
have been taken from the Jersey equivalent of this law. There is, for example, a provision, relating
to a certain amount of money, that requires a bond to be deposited as a condition of liability. I can
well understand why that is not necessarily the right way to deal with issues.
9 Dec 1999 : Column 1436
However, it is important that the public are safeguarded. That is the
reason that I reserve one cheer
for the time being.
It is necessary also to sound a warning. The reason that under the present
law partners are liable
down to their shirt buttons is because each is agent for the other. Each is agent for the other
because that is what partnership is. The Partnership Act, to which reference has already been
made, defines partnership as people who are carrying on a business in common. This Bill does
not state that everyone who is a member of a limited liability partnership shall not have liability.
What it states, and what it will enact in Clause 1(4), is that the law relating to partnerships does not
apply to a limited liability partnership.
If people choose to incorporate as a limited liability partnership,
but carry on business as if they
were still a partnership of the kind that people are used to--a partnership where the assets and
integrity of the individuals are at stake--I predict that they will find that the courts may say,
"Though you have incorporated a body, you are carrying on business in common together". I
suggest that the courts need to be vigilant to make sure that the great privilege of limited
liability--which is what this Bill will give--continues to carry with it the great responsibility, which
includes the provision that members of the public know with whom they are dealing. They should
have--I was glad to hear the noble Lord, Lord Sharman, make this point--full financial disclosure.
They should have the full safeguards which the regulations are intended to provide.
I believe that some points in the Bill would benefit from further consideration
in Committee--I shall
not mention them at this stage--and there could be some fine tuning of the balance. But for my
part I reserve my final cheer for that moment when I see that not only will the courts be vigilant, as
I suggest, but that the Government are vigilant in making sure that the Bill goes no further than is
necessary to maintain the proper balance between the interests of the public and the interests of
professionals to which I have referred. In those terms I support this Bill.
Lord Phillips of Sudbury: My Lords, before the noble Lord sits down,
with his great experience
of litigation in this field, has he come across many cases of solicitors actually, as he put it, losing
their shirt buttons, because I do not know of any?
Lord Goldsmith: My Lords, not solicitors, but I know of accountants
who have come close to
that. Outside the Chamber I could tell the noble Lord of one such case where the people
concerned came close to having to hand in their shirts.
Lord Goodhart: My Lords, I start by asking the Minister whether there
is any truth in the rumour
that the reason the Government have brought this Bill forward is that they are so concerned about
the future of their public private partnership that they wish to incorporate it as a partnership of
limited liability. But,
9 Dec 1999 : Column 1437
more seriously, I congratulate my noble friend Lord Sharman on a maiden
speech which was not
only remarkably well delivered but based on an enormous depth of experience. It makes it easy to
see why he rose to the very top of his profession.
As we have been told, work on this Bill started at the end of 1996 under
the previous government
and has been taken forward by the present Government. On behalf of my party I am happy to give
this Bill tripartisan support--with the exception, of course, of my noble friend Lord Phillips of
I should perhaps begin with a declaration of a lack of interest. I am
a member of the Bar.
Barristers, of course, do not form partnerships. We cannot be liable for the negligence of other
barristers, even if they are members of the same chambers. Therefore, I, like the noble Lord, Lord
Goldsmith, am not affected by the Bill.
Looking at the matter from this semi-independent position we certainly
accept the need for a Bill
of this kind. There has been an enormous increase in litigation over allegations of professional
negligence. That is not in itself a bad thing. People who suffer loss as a result of professional
negligence are in principle as entitled to compensation as anyone who has been physically injured
by a negligent driver. But the consequences can, and are now threatening to, get out of hand. We
are now in a situation where the partners in a large international accountants firm can be made
personally bankrupt because of the negligence of a colleague many of them may never have met.
The people who are at risk are--I say this with all respect to my noble friend--not necessarily either
incompetent, greedy or negligent.
This is not a hypothetical issue. In the ADT case--this is a matter
of public knowledge--damages
of £65 million were awarded against a leading firm of accountants for the negligence of one
partner. That was well above the indemnity insurance cover of that firm, and the individual
partners were threatened very actively with personal bankruptcy. An appeal was in the end settled
for a smaller, but still large, sum.
The risk of bankruptcy has seriously damaging effects. People will not
join partnerships, or
partnerships will go offshore to places where they can limit their liability. Many other jurisdictions
do now allow partnerships to convert into corporate bodies. Limited liability has for 150 years
been an essential cornerstone of commerce and industry throughout the world. The reasons why
we now have limited liability for business organisations apply equally to professional ones.
Limited liability is not just a privilege; it is now an essential tool in the whole organisation of
I wish to discuss the genesis and content of this Bill in a little more
detail. I recognise that the
Government have consulted widely on the terms of the Bill. We have had an excellent report from
the Select Committee on Trade and Industry in another place. The Government originally
proposed that the Bill should apply only to members of regulated professions such as solicitors
and chartered accountants. That limitation was
9 Dec 1999 : Column 1438
criticised in the course of the consultation. The Government accepted
that criticism and I believe
that they were right to do so. There is now no limitation on the type of business that can be
carried on by an LLP.
However, it seems to me that some issues of importance remain. I agree
very much with the points
made by the noble Lord, Lord Goldsmith, in that regard. It seems to me that the first issue here is
whether too much of the Bill has been left to regulations. Much of the meat of the Bill, particularly
in the accounting requirements and the insolvency provisions, is to be contained in regulations.
The Trade and Industry Committee said that it would prefer these provisions to be in schedules to
the Bill rather than in regulations. The Delegated Powers and Deregulation Committee in your
Lordships' House, of which I am a member, accepted the Government's proposals to put these
provisions in regulations. But it seems to me that this comes close to the borderline and the more I
look at some aspects of this Bill the more doubtful I am whether the Delegated Powers Committee
was not rather too lenient.
Most of the regulations will simply apply to LLPs the existing statutory
rules which apply to
companies incorporated under the Companies Act, but there will be power to modify that
application. One particular modification contained in the draft regulations has been the subject of
considerable debate in the course of discussions. The noble Baroness, Lady Buscombe, has
already touched on this. Regulations will apply to LLPs Section 214 of the Insolvency Act 1986.
That section makes company directors liable for wrongful trading; that is, the carrying on of
business by people who know that the company is hopelessly insolvent. So far so good.
But Section 214 will be extended by the new Section 214A which will
be created by the
regulations and will apply only to LLPs. The result of that will be that members of LLPs will be
liable for the debts of the LLP in circumstances where directors of an ordinary limited company
would not be liable for the debts of that company. That may or may not be right. The Trade and
Industry Committee agreed with that proposal; the Institute of Chartered Accountants strongly
objects to it. Speaking for myself, I have not yet reached a final view on the issue.
But it is clearly an important issue which requires a proper debate
in your Lordships' House.
Regulations cannot be amended and therefore are not suitable for debate on detailed provisions
such as Section 214A. I therefore ask the Government whether they are prepared to put the
proposed Section 214A on to the face of the Bill. We could introduce an amendment to do
that--we will do so if necessary--but it would be much better if the Government were prepared to
The next issue--again this has been touched on by the noble Baroness--concerns
of existing partnership law. The title of the Bill is misleading. The Bill does not allow partnerships
to limit liability while continuing as partnerships. The Bill creates a new kind of corporate body
into which some existing partnerships will convert.
9 Dec 1999 : Column 1439
Partnership law--on this point I very much agree with my noble friend
Lord Phillips of
Sudbury--has proved a flexible and effective way of carrying on certain kinds of business,
particularly in the professions. It has two defects which will be cured by the Bill: one is unlimited
liability and the other, which applies in England but not in Scotland, is the lack of separate legal
The earlier draft of the Bill contained a provision that the neutral
rights and duties of the members
of an LLP should be governed, subject to the provisions of any agreement between the members,
by the rules and principles which would apply if the law relating to partnerships applied to them.
No such provision appears in the present Bill. I ask the Minister, why not?
Partnership law provides a useful and necessary default code on many
matters not covered by an
agreement. The noble Baroness gave a list of the issues which are covered by partnership law and
would need to be covered in the case of LLPs. I would add the principle of the duty of partners
to act with good faith towards each other, which is perhaps the central principle of the whole of
partnership law. I very much hope that will continue to apply to LLPs. It seems to me that the
relevant provisions in partnership law are much more appropriate for LLPs than the equivalent
provisions in company law.
The Law Society and the Institute of Chartered Accountants are both
concerned about the
removal from the draft Bill of the provision to which I earlier referred. Unless the Government can
produce a convincing reason to the contrary, I believe that the provision of the previous draft
should be brought back.
I have two final points, both relating to the consequences of insolvency.
The first concerns the
importance of professional indemnity insurance, which provides an indemnity against liability for
professional negligence. This means that the firm and its partners--other than the one or ones
guilty of negligence--are not at risk of insolvency for liability within the cover provided by the
insurance. A number of professions, including solicitors and chartered accountants, require
indemnity insurance under their professional rules. But not all LLPs providing services will be
covered by the rules. Of course, professional indemnity insurance can be very expensive and there
may be a temptation to say, "Now that we have limited liability, let us save money by cutting back
on insurance". That would be extremely unfortunate.
Self-regulation is best, but the Government should give themselves a
reserve power to impose a
professional indemnity insurance requirement on classes of LLPs which are not required to do so
by a professional body or where the professional body's requirements are insufficient.
There is another problem. Professional indemnity insurance does not
help the ordinary creditors
9 Dec 1999 : Column 1440
LLP or the partnership. At paragraph 45, the Trade and Industry Committee
"We are none the less uneasy at the prospect of introduction
of this new vehicle destitute of either minimum capital
requirements or guarantees from members, and dependent on the perceived likelihood--or hope--that there will be
some LLP assets available to creditors".
I share the unease of the committee, particularly because insolvent
LLPs will have, in most cases,
very few realisable assets. As usual, the banks will be okay because they will insist on secured
personal guarantees from the members of the LLP. But, again as usual, unsecured creditors will
get little or nothing.
I am particularly concerned about the position of employees of LLPs.
It is more difficult to state
the problem than to provide the answer. I wonder whether, for example, the Government have
considered the possibility that if the assets of an LLP are insufficient to meet in full debts due to
or in respect of employees--which are preferential debts in insolvency law, and that includes four
months' salary or wages--the members of the LLP should continue to be personally liable for that
balance, even though their liability for other debts is limited. That is put forward merely as a
suggestion, not as a firm proposal. The Government should look at such issues during the course
of the Bill.
Having said that, I am happy to conclude by repeating our general welcome
for this Bill in
Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, I am grateful to all noble Lords
who have taken part in
the debate. I am particularly happy to join in the congratulations given to the noble Lord, Lord
Sharman, for an excellent maiden speech. It was not only well informed but delivered with almost
no notes. That is the true test of a maiden speech. His speech was very largely in support of the
Government. All maiden speeches should follow that rule.
I was slightly taken aback by the noble Lord, Lord Goodhart, saying
that the title of the Bill was
misleading. It depends on how one reads it. He read it as being a "Limited Liability for
Partnerships Bill", whereas we read it as being a "Limited Liability Partnerships Bill"--in other
words, a description of an entity which will be created as a result of the Bill. If we take our
interpretation, on the whole it would be agreed that the short title of the Bill properly describes that
new entity and, therefore, is not misleading.
The noble Baroness, Lady Buscombe, started by describing the Bill as
She then went on to list a whole range of things which she thought ought to be in the Bill because
they were included in partnership law and appeared to be being dropped from partnership law.
The noble Lord, Lord Goodhart, made the same point with a rather different emphasis.
There is no diminution of the responsibilities of partners in partnerships.
We are attempting to
create a new business entity which, in effect, combines the best of both worlds. It gives what
everyone has acknowledged is the enormous privilege of limited
9 Dec 1999 : Column 1441
liability, but it demands in return many of the obligations--indeed
almost all of the
obligations--required of companies. It does so in such a way that everyone who has been
consulted--and they have been not only professional firms and still less only large ones--believes it
appropriate. If we were to include all the obligations of partnership as the noble Baroness, Lady
Buscombe, would wish us to do, the Bill would be very much longer and more complex than it is
now. I am not sure that we would achieve her objective--
Lord Goodhart: My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord for giving
way. Could not that result
be achieved by reinserting the one short subsection that appears in Clause 6 of the previous draft?
Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, we could certainly consider that
matter. As regards the
drafting of the Bill and the fact that in my opening speech I referred to a number of government
amendments, as it is known, and as I said, we have carried out intensive consultation and taken the
views of the Trade and Industry Committee in another place. We published in July a draft Bill and
regulations. We thought that the right thing to do, even though our thinking had moved on to a
certain extent, was to bring before your Lordships the draft Bill on which consultation had taken
place so that people were not looking for differences between the July 1999 version and anything
which might subsequently come to mind. That means that we have had further thoughts to which I
have referred. It also means that we are open to discussion about other matters which noble Lords
may wish to raise.
Baroness Buscombe: My Lords, I thank the Minister for giving way. Perhaps
I did not make
myself clear. I was referring to understanding what the Bill meant. So much of the material is not
on the face of the Bill but in the regulations. To understand them one has to refer to the
Companies Act and the Insolvency Act. So understanding the Bill has become rather complex.
Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, I cannot accept that criticism
for two reasons. The
first, simple reason is that the Delegated Powers and Deregulation Committee has accepted that
the balance between secondary and primary legislation is appropriate. That has always been a
matter of prime importance in this House. Basically, if it does not like it, the Government will not
get away with it. The second reason is that the regulations are intended to do something rather
different from most regulations. They apply, where appropriate and with appropriate modification,
the Companies Act and the Insolvency Act to this new business entitity. It is right that they should
refer to that legislation. It is right that the provisions should be subject to regulation because the
Companies Act and the Insolvency Act are themselves subject to change. If we were to bring all
these matters onto the face of the Bill, in the context of the review of company law which is taking
place and of the insolvency Bill, which is to
9 Dec 1999 : Column 1442
come before Parliament this Session, we would risk enacting legislation
which would have to be
amended very rapidly. That is not a good idea.
Lord Phillips of Sudbury: My Lords, does not the Minister agree that
the Title of this Bill is
Limited Liability Partnerships. It does not contain a definition of limited liability, which misses the
heart of the matter.
Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, I do not agree. Limited liability
is defined by analogy
with the limited liability available to directors and shareholders of a company.
Lord Phillips of Sudbury: My Lords, but where is that in the Bill?
Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, the noble Lord is a brave and solitary
voice on these
matters. I respect and admire him for it. Clause 1(3) of the Bill states,
"with such liability on the part of its members to
contribute to its assets in the event of its being wound up as is
provided for by virtue of this Act".
It has always been our intention that if a member of a limited liability
negligent--rather like a professional person who gives negligent advice to his client--then both the
limited liability partnership and the member who gives negligent advice would be liable. That is the
restriction on limited liability that is at the heart of this Bill.
Lord Phillips of Sudbury: My Lords, once again I am grateful to the
Minister for giving way.
The noble Lord said,
"by virtue of this Act".
That is in subsidiary legislation and not on the face of the Bill.
Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, that is because the subsidiary
legislation is the
adaptation of company and insolvency legislation to this new business entity. That is why it is in
the form of regulation.
I was asked by other noble Lords whether the changes in regulations
would be subject to
consultation. As it is known, we had very full consultation on the regulations which were finally
published in July. We shall be consulting on any changes to that legislation and, as always, they
will be subject to parliamentary approval. There is no attempt to sneak anything past Parliament or
the business community. That is the last accusation that can be made to this Government.
The noble Baroness, Lady Buscombe, suggested, as did some of the consultees,
that we should
require an agreement between members before registration or provide a default agreement. We are
sympathetic to the idea of a safety net by way of short provisions such as Section 24 of the
Partnership Act 1890. With the representatives of those who have been consulted, we have been
looking at how that can be achieved through
9 Dec 1999 : Column 1443
secondary legislation. The power in Clause 14 would be wide enough.
That would deal with all the
areas that the noble Baroness mentioned such as share capital, profits, access to the books and so
She said that Clause 4 does not deal with the retirement of members.
Indeed not. It is important
that members should not be able to walk out on a partnership which they suspect may be in
difficulties. They may be part of those difficulties. It would not be an attractive proposition if they
were able to walk out without the agreement of other members.
The noble Baroness was concerned that Clause 6 should not mean that
members are treated as
employees. She is quite right. It is our intention to make sure that members should not be regarded
as employees because they are members. We shall look to see whether it is necessary to amend
the Bill in that way. Broadly, the noble Baroness approved of the provisions in Clause 10 as
regards tax neutrality. I am grateful for that.
As regards Clause 8, the noble Baroness was afraid of the role of the
designated member. That is
very specific and similar to the role of the company secretary. It includes a number of the powers
placed on a company secretary under the 1985 Act such as the signing and filing of the annual
return, the approval and signing of the annual accounts and filing them with Companies House
besides other accountancy and audit functions. It is desirable to keep the concept of a designated
member for those purposes so that the authorities know who to approach. There are also
provisions in the Companies Act 1985 concerning what happens if there is a breach of
Both the noble Baroness and the noble Lord, Lord Goodhart, referred
to Section 214A of the
Insolvency Act. The noble Baroness thought that it was onerous and should be removed, but the
noble Lord, Lord Goodhart, believed that it should be on the face of the Bill. I do not know that I
can reconcile those two positions. There has been a great deal of controversy about the claw back
provision if members leave within two years of the winding up or if they siphon off funds within
that time. Again, we shall consider the results of the consultation. We are certainly not going to be
able to satisfy both the noble Lord and the noble Baroness--probably neither of them.
Disagreement was expressed by the noble Baroness, Lady Buscombe, about
disclosure of the
remuneration of the members. However, the noble Lord, Lord Sharman, and other noble Lords
expressed their welcome for that. I shall take the consensus of the House that our provisions are
appropriate. The noble Baroness also asked for provision for merger accounting to be made in the
regulations. However, the Government and the consultees felt that the Bill adequately achieves that
I was interested to hear the views of the noble Lord, Lord Sharman,
on joint and several liability.
However, as he knows, the view of the Law Commission was against a fundamental review of
joint and several liability, mainly on the basis that if any change were
9 Dec 1999 : Column 1444
made it would be bound to benefit the potential wrongdoer rather than
the punters--asI always call
them. For that reason, we turned against such a solution.
My noble friend Lord Haskel queried the issue of the liability of members.
A member of an LLP
who is a professional will owe a duty of care to his clients. If he gives bad advice to his clients he
will be potentially liable for the whole extent of his assets. I believe that there is some confusion
about the degree of protection that exists even for directors of limited companies. Any limited
company that requires working capital of any size has to go to the bank for finance. The bank will
not provide loans, overdraft facilities or any service of that kind without personal guarantees from
the directors who are seeking it. I know this from personal experience because on many occasions
I have had my house in hock to the bank--potentially in hock: I have never actually lost it--simply
as a director of a limited company. I do not believe that members of limited liability partnerships
will be any better off.
Perhaps I may summarise my response to the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, by
saying that we would
of course be delighted to meet him to address his concerns. I tried to address a number of
them--as I understood them--earlier today in a letter. However, we shall certainly wish to talk to
thenoble Lord about the important issues he has raised on the applicability of this entity to venture
capital and to property. Those are the other uses of the LLP structure which is being created by
the Bill. I believe that I have dealt as best I can with the issues of primary and secondary
legislation, with consultation on the revised regulations, and with the reasons why so much of the
Bill must be implemented by regulation.
As I said earlier, the noble Lord, Lord Phillips, was a brave and lone
voice and I respect him for
that. However, I shall be interested to see in what way he intends to express his point of view by
amendment to the Bill. I suspect that if he really wanted to pursue the matter, he should have put
down an amendment that the Bill be given its Second Reading in six months' time. I think that the
noble Lord has such a fundamental objection that there is little I can do to reassure him. However,
I can say--from a personal point of view--that when I first saw the Bill and read the arguments for
it, my immediate reaction was to say that this is an enormous privilege. It is the punters--the
potential creditors; that is, the suppliers and customers--who must be protected. All my questions
to officials on the meaning of the Bill were directed to that end rather than in thinkingthat the
professions and their members were likely to suffer in any way from the provisions of the Bill.
My noble friend Lord Goldsmith also raised the wider issue of joint
and several liability. I believe
that I have already explained why the Government will not pursue that more general point.
However, I very much agree with him that we shall need the vigilance of the courts in order to
ensure that the public know with whom they are dealing. I very much welcome the support given
by my noble friend to financial disclosure, not only of remuneration, but much more
9 Dec 1999 : Column 1445
importantly, the publication of the accounts of the LLP. That is a fundamental
issue. I agree with
my noble friend and all noble Lords who spoke on this matter that nothing in the Bill must be
interpreted as being tolerant of reduced professional obligations by any of the professions who
choose to take up this new entity.
Many noble Lords have pointed out--as have I ad nauseam--that the Bill
provides an enormous
privilege and it must be used responsibly. The Bill has been drafted to ensure that it can only be
used responsibly and not for tax avoidance purposes or to avoid transparency in business
relationships. However, if there is any way that noble Lords can show us that the measure has
been framed wrongly forthat purpose, then we shall be sympathetic to appropriate amendments at
The Government's intentions in putting the Bill forward are entirely
transparent. I believe that we
have achieved the right balance, but we shall be happy to listen to the kind of informed comment
and criticism that we have heard today as the Bill proceeds through the House. I commend the Bill
to your Lordships.
On Question, Bill read a second time, and committed to a Committee of
the Whole House.