HC Deb 15 December 1982 vol 34 cc454-5 3.58 am
The Minister for Consumer Affairs (Dr. Gerard Vaughan)

I beg to move, That the Company and Business Names (Amendment) Regulations 1982 (S.I., 1982, No. 1653), a copy of which was laid before this House on 24th November, be approved. The regulations make only quite minor amendments to the Company and Business Names Regulations 1981, which came into operation on 26 February 1982. They have nothing to do with the wider issues of company registration. The Companies Act 1981 included powers to prescribe by regulation a list of sensitive words and expressions which it would be undesirable to have used in the name of a company without the Secretary of State's approval. The regulations before the House add "chemist" and "chemistry" to the list. They were omitted from the original regulations because it was believed that their use was controlled by the Medicines Act.

However, in another place representations were made by Lord Hanworth and Lord Halsbury, which showed that the Act related to the use of the words in a pharmaceutical sense, but not necessarily when they were used in a scientific or industrial context. We agree with the noble Lords, and that is why the words are being added to the list.

The regulations also add to the list the words "university" and "polytechnic". This is at the request of the Secretary of State for Education and Science and will enable control to be exercised where the use of these words might imply association with a recognised university or a designated polytechnic. However, there may be cases where the use of these words in a company or business name would not be objectionable, for example in "University Hotel" or something of that kind.

Finally, there is a further minor amendment which corrects an error in the wording of the original regulations. The relevant body whose opinion is to be sought by persons intending to use the word "apothecary" was given as "Worshipful Company of Apothecaries", whereas this should have read Worshipful Society of Apothecaries of London". The regulation will correct the error.

These are only minor amendments and I hope that the House will accept them.

4.2 am

Mr. John Fraser (Norwood)

I have no objection to the regulations, but I have two comments to make. First, it seems to me that since the abolition of general control on similar names by the Companies Act 1981, one now has one rule for the Government and the Establishment, and another for the rest of those who want to form companies. In short, if one is part of the Establishment, a university, a polytechnic or one of the learned or professional societies, one has one's name protected. One has to get the approval of the Secretary of State for the use of the name if the word is "chemist" or involves other such matters. The Government similarly protect many interests by ensuring that prior approval is given to the name before it is used by a company.

There may be others who properly wish to see their commercial interests protected, but cannot afford the now blossoming services of company search agents, who run a regular search through the Register of Companies to see whether other companies are using the proposed name. That strikes me as being unfair between one and another, and I should be grateful if the Minister would tell the House whether any difficulty has emerged from the abolition of the general control which the registrar used to exercise over similar names.

Dr. Vaughan

Perhaps it will help the hon. Gentleman if I tell him that no problems on this have been brought to my attention.

Mr. Fraser

Secondly, what sort of reaction has the Minister had on the abolition of the Register of Business Names? I appreciate that this is a slightly different point, but the indications that I have had are of a grave disappintment on the part of financial journalists, company registration agents, and many others, particularly some consumer groups, at the loss of protection that has resulted. What information is the Minister receiving?

4.4 am

Dr. Vaughan

Subject to your advice, Mr. Deputy Speaker, I should have thought that that last point was probably out of order. However, I should be pleased to write to the hon. Member about it, and we can discuss it on another occasion.

Question put and agreed to.