I move: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."
The Migration of Participating Securities Bill comprises 17 sections and provides a legislative mechanism to facilitate the migration of Irish securities from their current central securities depository, CSD, Euroclear UK, to another European Union based CSD. On behalf of the Minister for Finance, I would like to provide Deputies with some background information on the CSD migration project and the reasons for bringing the legislation forward. Central securities depositories are specialist financial institutions that hold securities and facilitate trading between market operators. CSDs are a vital and systemic part of financial market infrastructure that enables the efficient trading of financial instruments such as shares by allowing ownership to be easily transferred between parties.
Most countries have a domestic CSD traditionally associated with their stock exchange. However, due to the close historic links between the Dublin and London stock exchanges, the Irish market relies upon a CSD based in the United Kingdom called Euroclear UK, which operates the CREST settlement system. Once the United Kingdom becomes a third country, under the relevant European legislation, the Central Securities Depository Regulation, Euroclear UK will no longer be able to passport its services from the UK into Ireland. In December 2018, as part of its Brexit contingency measures, the European Commission adopted a decision granting equivalence to UK CSDs until March 2021 in the event of a hard Brexit. As a result, Euronext Dublin, formerly the Irish Stock Exchange, announced in October 2018 that it would transfer the settlement of trades in Irish equities and other exchange-traded instruments to Euroclear Bank Belgium, a CSD based in the Eurozone. Most European CSDs operate what is known as an intermediated holding model. In order for Irish issuers to migrate to one of these alternative CSDs, the title of the participating securities must be transferred from the current holder to the designated CSD or its nominee. It is important to note that while the title will be held by the CSD's nominee, the ultimate investor who remains the owner of those shares will continue to be able to exercise voting rights and participate in corporate actions through the intermediated chain of holding.
Since the beginning of the migration project, officials from the Department of Finance, the Department of Business, Enterprise and Innovation and the Central Bank of Ireland have been engaging intensively with stakeholders across the Irish market. One outcome of that engagement was a request from issuers and the Irish legal community for a legislative mechanism to facilitate migration by providing for the transfer of title to the migrating securities by operation of law. In the absence of an alternative legislative mechanism, issuers would instead have to rely upon a scheme of arrangement under Part 9 of the Companies Act 2014. To effect transmission of legal title to securities to a CSD in this manner would involve all of the relevant issuers having to pursue individual schemes of arrangement through the High Court. This would be a time-consuming, expensive and uncertain option for issuers. On 17 July 2019, the Government approved the drafting of the general scheme of the Migration of Participating Securities Bill to facilitate the migration of Irish issuers.
Since that time, the Departments of Finance and Business, Enterprise and Innovation have been working with all interested stakeholders, and the Office of the Attorney General and the Office of the Parliamentary Counsel, on the proposed legislation.
The legislative mechanism, as provided for in the Migration of Participating Securities Bill 2019, will allow for a more orderly migration of the market from Euroclear UK ahead of the March 2021 deadline. An early enactment of this Bill will also facilitate the holding of the necessary shareholder votes during the upcoming 2020 annual general meeting season, avoiding the need for separate extraordinary general meetings to be called. It is important to note that the availability of the legislative mechanism does not preclude issuers from deciding to use an individual scheme of arrangement to migrate, but it does address a number of the identified risks, provides certainty and reassurance to the market and increases the likelihood of a successful migration for each issuer. In addition, it would also give the market confidence that an orderly migration can be completed by the deadline.
I will now turn to the Bill and some of its key provisions. Section 3 provides for a definition of "migration" and that a reference to "migration" is to be interpreted as the title to those migrating securities becoming and being vested in the nominated central securities depository, or a body nominated by that central securities depository with respect to its operation, as a central securities depository for the purpose of recording those securities in book-entry form and the settlement of trades in those securities. This section also provides clarification that the provisions of the Companies Act 2014 will continue to apply to those issuers that have migrated, and nothing in the Act shall operate to divest security holders of their relevant rights and interests in the participating securities.
Section 4 sets out the conditions that an issuer must satisfy in order to consent to migration of its securities and that migration as provided for in this section will have effect notwithstanding the Companies Act of 2014 or any provisions in the participating issuer's constitution.
Section 5 sets out the conditions that must be complied with in order for an issuer to consent to migration including: passing a special resolution specifying the CSD to which the securities will migrate; the name of the member state in which the designated CSD is authorised; if applicable, the nominated body to which the title to the securities will transfer; confirmation that the CSD is authorised in a particular member state; and certain conditions that must be met in order to name a CSD in the special resolution, including that the issuer has notified that depository in writing of its intent to migrate to it, that the depository has provided a written statement to the issuer with regard to its obligations under Article 23 of the CSD-R, that the securities have been accepted for admittance by the depository and that, if not already in place, the CSD will have obtained authorisation to passport its services into Ireland on and from the date migration will take effect.
Section 6 sets out further conditions that an issuer must comply with in order to consent to migration, in particular the content of the circular that must be issued to the issuer's members with the notice of the meeting to vote on the special resolution, including: an explanation of the proposed migration and its impact on the members; an explanation of the options available to those members that do not wish to have their shares subject to the migration; an explanation of the options available to those members that currently hold their shares in certificated form that wish to have their shares included in the migration; a summary of the relevant laws in the member state in which the CSD is authorised; a list of the documents related to the migration and where they can be accessed or otherwise inspected; and a recommendation from the directors of the issuer on the merits of the proposed migration, including a timetable of key dates in the process and any other information considered relevant to migration.
Section 7 provides that an issuer or its officer that defaults in complying with the provisions of sections 5 and 6 shall be guilty of an offence. Section 10 provides for the necessary filings to be made by an issuer in order to confirm that it has complied with the requirements of the legislation and is ready to migrate, including a filing with the listing authority and a statement provided by the directors of compliance with the legislation in the form of a sworn affidavit. The listing authority must maintain a list of issuers that have completed their filings and publish the list on its website. An issuer or its officers that default in complying with these provisions shall be guilty of an offence.
Section 11 provides for the disapplication of certain provisions of the Companies Act 2014 that are not relevant to a CSD in the conduct of its function. For the purposes of migration, section 94(4) of the Companies Act 2014, requiring a written instrument of transfer, and section 99(2) of the Companies Act 2014, requiring an issuer to issue share certificates to the CSD, shall also not apply. This section further disapplies section 18 of the Competition Act 2002 and section 8(3) of the Irish Takeover Panel Act 1997 so that the transfer of title to the CSD for the purposes of migration does not trigger statutory change of control provisions in those pieces of legislation.
Section 12 provides the listing authority with the relevant powers to set, by order, the live date on which the title to those participating securities will transfer. The listing authority may also set dates past which it will no longer accept further filings and it may vary the dates set in the relevant orders, if necessary.
Section 14 provides the Minister with the necessary powers to make regulations prescribing anything required by the Bill to be prescribed, which includes a prescribed form for the purposes of section 10, and requires that such regulations be laid before the Oireachtas, whereupon they may be annulled by resolution within 21 days.
Section 15 provides that no liability will attach to the listing authority in fulfilling its obligations under section 12 or any other function it may carry out under this Act.
Section 16 repeals section 4 of the legislation on 30 March 2021, which is the date set down in the European Commission's equivalence decision for UK-based central securities depositories in the event of a hard Brexit. This will mean that the other provisions of the legislation will remain in effect after 30 March 2021 but it will not be possible for an issuer to avail of this migration mechanism after the cessation date as it would not be able to consent to migration without the provisions of section 4 being in effect. The Minister may extend this date if the Commission extends its equivalence decision to a later date, subject to the approval of the Oireachtas.
The Leas-Cheann Comhairle will forgive me if I am not able to answer table quiz questions on what I have just read into the record of the Dáil, but I commend the Bill to the House.