Clause 225

Company Law Reform Bill [Lords] – in a Public Bill Committee at 9:15 am on 13th July 2006.

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Protected information: restriction on use or disclosure by registrar

Photo of Eric Illsley Eric Illsley Labour, Barnsley Central

With this it will be convenient to discuss amendment No. 279, in clause 225, page 103, line 8, at end insert

‘save as otherwise provided for in this Act or regulations made pursuant to this Act.’.

Photo of Jonathan Djanogly Jonathan Djanogly Shadow Minister (Business, Innovation and Skills), Shadow Solicitor General, Shadow Minister (Justice)

The clause is about restrictions on the use or disclosure of protected information by the registrar. We have previously debated access to directors’ home addresses, and we acknowledge that the overall proposed framework represents a step in the right direction. As I said in earlier debates, more needs to be done, and this clause is one of the mechanical follow-up provisions.

Clause 225(2)(b) states that the registrar is not obliged

“to omit from the material that is available for public inspection anything registered before this Chapter comes into force.”

The amendments are intended either to delete that provision, through amendment No. 258, or to add the words set out in amendment No. 279. The problem is that there are concerns that, without the amendments, the registrar will not need to remove directors’ home addresses already on the register once the law changes. That view is held by many outside interested parties.

Photo of Margaret Hodge Margaret Hodge Minister of State (Industry and the Regions)

We have had a long discussion on the protection of names and addresses on the public record. If I am honest with the hon. Gentleman, the amendments are difficult because of the practical constraints that we face. Once the information for a director is on the record, it could be embedded and appear on hundreds of documents filed over the years or decades. It would be an understatement to say that it would be difficult to remove snippets of information from old paper records and microfiche, and it is important to keep information for enforcement agencies.

Clause 741 contains the power to provide for historic records of addresses to be made unavailable for public inspection. We have discussed that clause, as the hon. Gentleman knows. We accept that there may be exceptional circumstances in which it is appropriate for an address to be taken off the public record. However, each case needs to be considered individually, taking  account of practical consideration, the director’s need for privacy and the implications of the loss of information. We do not expect there to be more than 10 or 20 such cases. We will consult on the regulations, but we do not think that the hon. Gentleman’s suggestion is desirable or practical.

I fully agree that, if a provision in the Bill or regulations under it required the Registrar of Companies to omit protected information from the material available for public inspection, the clause should not relieve her of that obligation. Amendment No. 279 is not necessary. Clause 741(1) provides:

“regulations requiring the registrar, on application, to make an address on the register unavailable for public inspection.”

We do not consider that clause 225(2), when read in the context of the other provisions of the clause, casts doubt on that. I therefore hope that the hon. Gentleman will withdraw his amendment.

Photo of Jonathan Djanogly Jonathan Djanogly Shadow Minister (Business, Innovation and Skills), Shadow Solicitor General, Shadow Minister (Justice)

For us, this involves a point of principle. We made that point earlier. On that basis, I ask for a Division on amendment No. 258.

Question put, That the amendment be made:—

The Committee divided: Ayes 9, Noes 10.

Question accordingly negatived.

Clause 225 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clauses 226 to 238 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Schedule 1 agreed to.

Clauses 239 to 242 ordered to stand part of the Bill.