HC Deb 21 April 1978 vol 948 cc377-8W
Mr. Whitehead

asked the Secretary of State for Trade (1) what was the original estimate of the cost of moving the companies registration departments to Cardiff and of microfilming company files; and what is the most recent estimate of the final cost;

(2) what is the average waiting time at Companies House for the production of microfilm copies of company files;

(3) what proportion of microfilm copies of files retained by the Registrar of Companies contains pages labelled Indistinct Original; what proportion of pages in such copies as a whole is so marked; and what proposals he has for ensuring that all papers submitted for inclusion in the files are legible, and are microfilmed so as to maintain the legibility of the copies.

Mr. Clinton Davis

It was estimated in 1976 that the total cost of transferring the Companies Registration Office from London to Cardiff and of the initial microfilming of company files would be approximately £7.5 million, of which £6 million represented capital expenditure already incurred on buildings and equipment. The estimate of £1.5 million for other costs, relating to filming and additional staff required during the dispersal programme, has been exceeded by approximately £250,000, but this additional cost has been offset by a temporary reduction in staffing elsewhere in the office during the financial year 1977–78.

The average waiting time in the London search room of Companies Registration Office, for the production of microfilm copies of company files, is currently just over one hour. The actual times achieved on a recent day varied between 20 minutes and two hours, depending upon the volume of search requests being dealt with at the time. The average waiting period in the Cardiff search room, however, is 30 minutes, except when the master library record is being updated.

No records have been maintained to show the number of documents contained in the microfilm record which have been marked "indistinct original", and it would not be possible to obtain this information without inordinate cost. In general, however, experience has shown that such marking is necessary only in respect of accounts delivered to the Registrar by some companies in carbon copy form. The introduction later this year, subject to the approval of Parliament, regulations under Section 35 of the Companies Act 1976, which will have the effect of rendering such companies liable to a default penalty if the quality of the document is not improved, should reduce this problem. At the present time, however, the number of complaints of illegibility received from members of the public amounts to 0.05 per cent. of microfiche supplied or 0.22 per cent. of companies searched.

The initial filming programme which was necessary for the creation of a microfiche record of company files has now been completed, and from 8th May all searches will take place normally on microfiche. The Registrar will therefore now be able to devote increased resources to increasing the efficiency of the system.