I am very glad to reach this Adjournment debate. The waiting period has had its moments of tension.
I am grateful to have this opportunity to raise a matter which in the first instance affects a small businessman who is a constituent of mine, but the principle behind which, I am convinced, affects a large number of people.
While industry is increasingly dominated by giant combines, we must recognise that there is still a place for the little man. Quite a number of small specialist firms play a vital part in assisting the operations of their larger brethren. The man setting up his little business in manufacturing today faces considerable obstacles, particularly in regulations to be observed. Capital is of vital importance to him, and any unnecessary use of capital involved in the observance of regulations or the law could frustrate what could be useful contribution to the country's economy, particularly in exports.
A short while ago, as my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary to the Board of Trade is only too well aware, I took up with her the case of a constituent, Mr. Payne of Norwich, now operating a company manufacturing data input and associated computer equipment. Originally he hit on the idea of calling his company Keytronics Ltd. He was advised by the Business Names Registry that the name was acceptable. Shortly afterwards, the Companies Registry said that the name was acceptable for registration, and later a search in the Trade Marks Registry revealed that the word "Keytronics" was not registered as a trade mark. Subsequently, however, it transpired that another firm was using the name "Keytronics", and, after negotiation, it was found that this other firm had registered the name with the Business Names Registry 12 months earlier. As a result, my constituent had to cease trading, at least temporarily, until a new company could be formed under the present name of F. S. Payne and Son (Norwich) Ltd.
The most important effect of this change and delay was that it cost my constituent £300 to £500 of his vital capital.
I wrote to my hon. Friend, and her reply of 11th February included the following passage—I should read it slowly because, quite frankly, it is worded in such a way that it needs to be—
The Registrar has power to refuse to register a name which in his opinion is undesirable, but he does not in general consider a name to be undesirable solely because it is the same as one already registered. Similarly, the Registrar of Companies, who regards as undesirable a proposed name for a company which is too like the name of a company already registered, does not in general regard the existence of a registered business name as a bar to his registering a company by a similar name.
After rereading that several times, I go round in ever-increasing circles.
The letter goes on:
For these reasons no objection was raised in February 1969 to the proposed registration by Mr. E. S. Payne of the business name 'Keytronics' or to the later registration by him of a company by the name Keytronics Ltd., despite the earlier registration as a business name of 'Keytronics' by another proprietor.
This is ridiculous. In the interests of the small businessman, the fact of an earlier registration should be revealed.
Later in her letter, my hon. Friend quoted from the Jenkins Committee on Company Law, referring in particular to paragraph 443 of its report, which implied that it was impossible to compare a list of 400,000 company names with a register of 800,000 business names, and stated for that reason that the Companies Registry and Registry of Business Names do not attempt to maintain the type of contact which would have avoided a lot of trouble to my constituent and saved him £300 to £500.
I find this almost incredible in this day and age. With modern filing methods, such an operation could be one of quick simplicity. In the Library of the House, we have some young and extremely attractive lady assistants—