§ (1) Every firm or person required under this Act to be registered shall furnish by sending by post or delivering to the registrar at the register office in that part of the United Kingdom in which the principal place of business of the firm or person is situated a statement in writing in the prescribed form containing the following particulars:
- (a) The business name;
- (b) The general nature of the business;
- (c) The principal place of the business;
- (d) Where the registration to be effected is that of a firm, the present Christian name and surname, any former Christian name or surname, the nationality, and if that nationality is not the nationality of origin, the nationality of origin, the usual residence, and the other business occupation (if any) of each of the individuals who are partners, and the corporate name and registered or principal office of every corporation which is a partner;
- (e) Where the registration to be effected is that of an individual, the present Christian name and surname, any former Christian name or surname, the nationality, and if that nationality is not the nationality of origin, the nationality of origin, the usual residence, and the other business occupation (if any) of such individual;
- (f) Where the registration to be effected is that of a corporation, its corporate name and registered or principal office;
- (g) If the busines is commenced after the passing of this Act, the date of the commencement of the business.
§ (2) Where a business is carried on under two or more business names, each of those business names must be stated.
§ Captain BARNETT
I move to leave out "(c) The principal place of the business," and to insert instead thereof "(c) All the places in the United Kingdom where the business is carried on."
This Amendment is not only one of substance, but even, I venture to think, one that is vital to the efficiency of this Bill. It seems to be assumed that the registration of the principal place of business is a sufficient protection. Only last Wednesday my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary to the Board of Trade, in dealing with an Amendment moved by my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Oldham (Mr. Denniss), used the words:I quite sympathise with the object of the Amendment, but it would be impossible to carry it out within the principle of this Bill. The matter has been very carefully considered whether it is to be a local or central Register. We cannot really have both. for the very obvious reason that all that has to be registered is the principal place of business.When the hon. Gentleman said that, it struck me that it was not a very good argument against a local Register, but that it was a powerful argument in favour of 214 registering all the places where a business is carried on. Let us test the efficiency of the Bill as it stands to-day. One can always test these things better by taking a concrete case. Let us imagine the case of two gentlemen with foreign names and of unimpeachable British nationality. Let us say they are called Messrs. Potzdammer and Dachshund, and that they wish to trade in names that do not appear to suggest a German origin. Those gentlemen are to carry on business all over the country, let us say as tea merchants. What is their obligation under this Bill? Their obligation is to register either at London or in Edinburgh, or in Dublin, or wherever their principal place of business is. I suggest that that is not sufficient protection. It is only necessary for these two gentlemen to take a thoroughly British or Welsh cognomen. Let them call themselves Jones Bros. I am taking Jones Bros. because there are eighteen Jones Bros. in the London Directory, and none of them happen to be in the tea trade. Suppose, then, these gentlemen with the foreign names call themselves Jones Bros., and make their principal place of business in Scotland or Ireland. They can be registered in Edinburgh or Dublin. Imagine that they have shops all over Great Britain—all through England and Wales. A consumer who goes to deal with these people is, when he buys tea, dealing with Jones Bros. There is nothing whatever to show him that this firm has got other surnames. There is nothing whatever to put him on his guard. The probability is that if he began to inquire he would find that the firm of Jones Bros. was registered in London, that another firm of Jones Bros. was registered in Edinburgh, and that a third firm of Jones Bros. was registered in Dublin. What on earth is there to connect the firm of Jones Bros. with whom my hypothetical purchaser is dealing at Leicester or Bristol with these firms who are registered at Edinburgh or at Dublin? There is nothing whatever, and I do suggest to the hon. Gentleman that at this point any intelligent person could drive the proverbial coach and four through this Bill.
It is absolutely essential that not only the principal place of business but all the places of business in the United Kingdom where the firm operates should be registered. What are the practical difficulties? There is no difficulty of public expense 215 here. There is a little extra difficulty-thrown upon the firms who carry on business in a great number of places. The vast majority of firms, I believe, carry on business in one place, but suppose that a certain amount of extra work is thrown upon a limited number of firms. You get an enormous extra publicity owing to the fact that on the Register is every place in the United Kingdom where the business is being carried on. Someone has said that the power to make a good index is the root of all organisation. You cannot have a good index unless all the essential facts are at your hand to make the index. I suggest that these places of business all over the country are essential facts which ought to be registered, and I hope the hon. Gentleman will see his way to accept this Amendment.
I beg to second the Amendment. I do so principally because it removes the objection to an Amendment I moved in Committee. I asked that copies of the Register should be filed at the offices of the county councils. I was told that that could not be done because the Register that we propose to make will only contain the address of the principal place of business, and that therefore you could not have a local Register, you could only have a central Register, with one place of business only mentioned in that Register I will not repeat the arguments which have been so ably put before the House by my hon. Friend. It is quite clear that it would be an advantage to know that Jones Bros. had these different places of business in Edinburgh and elsewhere, and also that Jones Bros. was Bernstein and someone else, who were carrying on business at York, Manchester, and all over the country as Jones Brothers. Unless that is to be disclosed the persons dealing with them at Ealing or elsewhere will have no idea that they are dealing with a firm which is not registered under its true name.
I shall move an Amendment to that presently. That which would put people on to making an inquiry is not in the Bill yet. It may never get in. Clause 17 does not help the least bit in the world, because you have only to put the name on business letters. As the Clause stands at present you have not to put the name on invoices, which are not business letters. We have been told by the Secretary to the 216 Board of Trade that it does not apply to billheads and invoices and things of that kind, but only to letters. There is an Amendment in the name of the Secretary to the Board of Trade which would enlarge it to a certain extent, and there is an Amendment of mine which would bring about a totally different state of things, namely, it would put the word "registered" on to the name as the word "limited" is put on to "limited liability company." But these things are not in the Bill yet. I should like to have a local register. Some day, perhaps not now, I should like to have a local register in every county council office or every County-Court office, to which people can go and see with whom they are dealing.
§ Mr. SPEAKER
That is not the Amendment before us. The Amendment before us is that all the places in the United Kingdom where the business is carried on should be registered.
I was urging that one of the objects of that was in order that local registers might be formed. I think I have made that clear. I think it would improve the Bill very much, and it will not do much to increase the size of the Register. I hope that my hon. Friend will accept the Amendment.
§ Mr. PRETYMAN
I have great sympathy with the object of this Amendment, but it means that we come back to the old question whether we are going to do more to effect the main object of the Bill or to damage and cause trouble and difficulty to the trade of this country in regard to this Register. I do not know whether the hon. and gallant Gentleman who moved this Amendment really appreciated the effect his words would have. If you had to register every place in the United Kingdom where the business was carried on you would clearly have to register every place where a temporary business was carried on. There is no possibility that I can see of correctly drawing a line between temporary and permanent businesses. It is obviously impossible to register the place of business of every traveller who, on behalf of his firm, is carrying on business from the hotel at which he happens to be staying. There is one firm which I take it will have to be registered, Messrs. W. H. Smith and Sons-I take it they will have to be registered.
§ Mr. PRETYMAN
Ninety-nine per cent. of the firms that will have to be registered under this Bill will be purely British firms.
§ Mr. PRETYMAN
They are not a limited company, but I have information about this case, and it is one of the very points which is material to this Amendment. Messrs. W. H. Smith and Sons would have to register under this Amendment every bookstall in the United Kingdom and every bookstall at every underground station in London. The thing is not practicable. I believe my right hon. and learned Friend (Sir G. Cave) will support me when I say that one of the questions which troubles the Law Courts of this country is the definition of what is a place. One Law Court decided that a lady's lap was a public place. I recollect that case. We have in the Bill the principal place of business. That is pretty clear. The moment we leave the term "principal place of business" and get into the general region of every place where businesses are carried on we get into a difficulty. I have every sympathy with the object of this Amendment, and I quite understand it, but I think it would be well not to accept it. If we could find words which would carry out exactly what we all want, well and good, but I submit to the Committee that we should really go too far if we accepted this Amendment. The firm of Jones mentioned by the hon. and gallant Member really does not exist. If we register the principal place of business people will be able to get the information they want through the particulars we propose to put in the Register.
§ Mr. PENNEFATHER
I agree with a great deal of what has been said by the Parliamentary Secretary to the Board of Trade. There is a difficulty about the question of place, and for that reason I have put in a manuscript Amendment, in which I suggest that, after the word "business" we should add the words "and any branches thereof." That is perhaps the sort of Amendment that the hon. Gentleman (Mr. Pretyman) is looking for. It is quite true that when you use the term "any place" that would include the place where a commercial traveller may he doing business or the place where some 218 temporary business was going on. If we use the term "branch" and the firm has a branch, everybody knows what the branch is. A branch means a permanent establishment, a shop, an office, or something of that kind. My Amendment would entail a little extra trouble on the firm, particularly such a firm as W. H. Smith. But we all know that hard cases make bad laws, and if we consider the question of the convenience of one particular firm and out of consideration for that we avoid doing the right thing in the great majority of cases, we shall be legislating badly. The thing to do is to do what is right for the generality of businesses, and I maintain that for the generality of businesses the right thing to do is to provide that when they register the particulars of registration should convey a true picture of the scope and extent of the firm and show where the firm has its branches. I beg to move that.
I think this Amendment is utterly impracticable. There are a number of firms in the country with large numbers of branches, firms such as the International Tea Company, the Maypole Dairy Company, the Home and Colonial Stores, and others, and if they have to put all these particulars on every piece of stationery and every circular sent out—
If they had to put this information on every piece of stationery and to state every place where they carry on business they would find it impossible.
§ Mr. PENNEFATHER
The hon. Member has misunderstood what I said. I never suggested that these particulars should be put on every piece of paper, but that it should be done in one registration when the registration is made.
§ Captain BARNETT
With the permission of the House I will withdraw my Amendment and support the Amendment of the hon. Member for Kirkdale (Mr. Pennefather).
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.219
§ Mr. PENNEFATHER
I beg to move in paragraph (c) after the word "business," to insert the words "and any branches thereof."
After what I have said, I will simply move my Amendment with the addendum that it does not apply to notepaper or anything of that kind. It applies merely to the one registration.
What I was trying to say on the previous Amendment applies exactly to this Amendment unless it does not come under Clause 17. Under Clause 17 all this registration information has to be circulated with a memorandum sent out by the firm, and I assume that means every advertising medium. [HON. MEMBERS: "No, no!"] If it does not mean that, I should like to have an explanation. If it does apply, then it means that all this information is to be put upon trade circulars and trade catalogues, which I presume would include advertising circulars and business letters. If you had to put the whole of this information on trade circulars you would have no room for anything else, and it would be quite impossible to carry on the large amount of advertising that is done by these firms who have branches in different parts of the country. Many of them only want to advertise in one particular town at a time.
I hope my hon. Friend will not accept this Amendment. This is an irksome and troublesome Bill in all conscience, and it is absurd to make a man register in every town where he has a branch.
§ Mr. SPEAKER
The Amendment does not suggest that. All it suggests is that in the town where the principal place of business is situated when the Register is made, the firm or individual shall register the principal place of business and any branches thereof.
§ Mr. PRETYMAN
I think this Amendment is very much preferable to the other one, but it will involve the registration at every place of business of W. H. Smith and Son. I am afraid it would further involve temporary businesses. It often 220 happens that there is a great deal of temporary business done where some show or other is being held and people set up a temporary business. Is that a branch or not? W. H. Smith and Sons may set up a bookstall at a particular station for some special circumstances and then it may be withdrawn. [An HON. MEMBER: "That would not be permanent!"] What is permanent? have been considering the question of a permanent branch, but how can you define a permanent branch-legally? I feel some hesitation about this Amendment. I have great sympathy with the Amendment, but, on the whole, I think it is more desirable to leave it out. I think the balance of advantage is to-adhere to the Bill.
§ Mr. RENDALL
It is forgotten by many hon. Members that this Bill is going to-apply to 99 per cent. of English firms, consequently all these extremely irksome Amendments will be a very serious burden upon English traders. Having regard to the fact that we are now at war, and are likely to be at war for some time, and that every business firm has enough to do to carry on its business, I think it would be a great mistake to put these extra duties upon these firms. I am glad to know that this Amendment is not to be accepted, and I hope we shall try to curtail other-Amendments which are made by people who are quite friendly to the Bill, but who are trying to bury it under a mass of details which are unworkable and unnecessary.
§ Mr. CURRIE
I sympathise with what has been said that we should not penalise and worry 99 per cent. of our own firms, but it is just because I am anxious to secure protection against a certain class of firm that I think if the Board of Trade would really pin their faith to a thorough process of registration in the first place, a great many of the difficulties and hardships would be overcome. As to the distinction between a temporary and a permanent branch, I cannot conceive that there will be any trifling prosecutions allowed. If it came to a question of compelling a firm like W. H. Smith and Son to register branches by the hundred once a year, I do not think that is such a great hardship that it should be held out as a reason for rejecting this Amendment. I think the risk of its not being possible to identify certain firms is rather serious. I admit there will be some inconvenience in dealing with this Amendment, but I think 221 if we had an Amendment which would define what is meant by permanent, it would meet the case.
§ Mr. JOYNSON-HICKS
I realise the difficulties regarding this Amendment. One does not desire to make the Bill irksome to English traders, and, having regard to the fact that the Government have met very frankly those who have tried to improve the Bill from our point of view, I would appeal to my hon. Friend to withdraw this Amendment. Perhaps the Government may consider the matter, and if it is found to be necessary another Amendment can be brought in.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.