HC Deb 19 November 1973 vol 864 cc939-42
18. Mr. Fowler

asked the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry what representations he has received concerning the plan to transfer Companies House from London to Cardiff; and whether he will make a statement.

37. Mr. Norman Lamont

asked the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry whether he will make a statement on his plans to move part of Companies House out of London.

Sir G. Howe

I have received representations from a number of financial and other institutions, and I am meeting a group of users under the aegis of the Bank of England to discuss these representations.

The decision to move some of the work of Companies House out of London was taken because unless this were done it would not be possible to continue to provide a satisfactory service beyond the next two years.

Extensive facilities for searches will be maintained in London and the final result will be an improvement in efficiency for almost all users.

Mr. Fowler

In view of the heavy opposition to the move of Companies House, as reported in the Sunday Times, will my right hon. and learned Friend say exactly what kind of consultations took place with its regular users before the transfer was made?

Sir G. Howe

Extensive consultations and trials of the equipment in question have been held with a wide range of the principal users of research facilities for some time.

Mr. George Cunningham

Will the right hon. and learned Gentleman agree that because Companies House is in the nature of a shop or library, its whole raison d'être being that the public should have access to it, it should have been the last kind of Government Department to be dispersed? Will he make publicly available or at least available to hon. Members, the management study conducted in 1971? Will he say upon what basis the Government believe that staff will be available in Cardiff who are not available in London to fill the vacancies?

Sir G. Howe

I shall deal first with the hon. Gentleman's last point. It is likely that staff will be available in Cardiff upon the basis of the figures disclosed in the Hardman Report and upon the basis of an objective comparison of the likely availability of labour in South Wales and Central England. I am aware of the importance that hon. Members and people outside the House attach to the continued efficiency of a search service of this kind in London. The steps which are being taken and the decisions which have been made have been announced with that fully in mind.

I ask hon. Members and those outside the House to take close account of the extent to which information will be available. I have made available a consultative document describing this in some detail. Information will continue to be available in London. Indeed, more information will be available, with more copies for more people to use. We have not taken this decision simply by brushing aside the points raised by the hon. Gentleman. On the contrary, we are determined to improve the service which will eventually be available.

Mr. Lamont

Does my right hon. and learned Friend agree that the difficulties concerning Companies House reflect the fact that we have a fiscal system which gives too much incentive to incorporation? Does my right hon. and learned Friend agree that there are too many companies being formed unnecessarily by too many people? Will he bear in mind the possibility of making a distinction between the arrangements for quoted and unquoted companies and keep the arrangements for the latter in London?

Sir G. Howe

I take note of both my hon. Friend's points. I will bear both in mind.

Mr. Frank Allaun

Is the right hon. and learned Gentleman aware that many research organisations which naturally have their headquarters in London, such as the Labour Research Department, depend on regular visits to Companies House? Perhaps the Minister thinks that it is only companies which are interested in Companies House. That is not so. The Opposition are interested, too. It would be difficult for such organisations to send representatives regularly to Cardiff.

Sir G. Howe

I bear in mind that the hon. Gentleman and some of his hon. Friends are amongst the first, and rightly so, to press upon the Government the need to decentralise such Government functions as can properly be decentralised. I bear in mind what he says about the importance of information which is available at Companies House continuing to be available in London for all inquiries.

I ask the hon. Gentleman and the House to take account of the extent to which all new information coming in will be available on film, together with much existing information, including annual returns, annual accounts, lists of directors and of shareholders for the last three years, particulars of directors for the last seven years and basic documents relating to the company as a legal entity with its memorandum and articles, share and loan particulars, mortgages and charges. There will be an extensive availability of basic information which will be required by the hon. Gentleman and his hon. Friends as well as by other inquirers.

Mr. Millan

Is it not a fact that the trouble is that many companies do not fulfil their obligations under the Companies Act? While I fully agree with my hon. Friend that there must be facilities available in London for research and other purposes, will the right hon. and learned Gentleman not give too much attention to special pleading which is often based on the proposition that nothing should be moved out of London? Will he bear in mind that any dispersal of civil servants from London is bound to attract special pleading and that he should not pay too much attention to it?

Sir G. Howe

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for putting that part of the argument into perspective. I acknowledge the force of his point. Much of the trouble springs from non-compliance by companies with the existing provisions of the law. That is one of the matters to which we are giving our close attention and to which we shall give attention in the Companies Bill.

Mr. Cunningham

On a point of order. In view of the unsatisfactory nature—

Mr. Hugh Jenkins


Mr. Cunningham

—of the replies from both Front Benches, I give notice that I shall raise the matter on the Adjournment.

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