“In section 1046 of the Companies Act 2006 (overseas companies: registration of particulars), after subsection (6) insert—
‘(6A) Where regulations under this section require an overseas company to deliver to the registrar for registration—
(a) a service address for an officer of the company, or
(b) the address of the principal office of an officer of the company,
the regulations may make provision corresponding or similar to any provision made by section 1097B or 1097C (rectification of register relating to service addresses or principal office addresses) or to provision that may be made by regulations made under that section.’”.—(
Where an overseas company is required to provide a service address or principal office address for a director or secretary, this new clause enables regulations to be made conferring power on the registrar to change the address if it does not meet the statutory requirements or is inaccurate.
It is always a pleasure to serve with you in the Chair, Ms Elliott. Government new clauses 1 to 4 will introduce delegated powers allowing for the application of the Companies House reform measures elsewhere in the Bill to overseas companies registered in the UK. In this context, an overseas company is one that is incorporated overseas but that has a physical establishment or branch in the UK. Under long-standing provisions in the Companies Act 2006, that presence brings with it certain obligations to register information with Companies House.
New clauses 1 to 3 allow for the making of regulations requiring overseas companies that have established a physical presence in the UK to provide an appropriate address for the overseas company, their directors or other officers, to the same standard required of domestic companies incorporated here in the UK. The aim is the same—to ensure that addresses and email addresses on the companies register are accurate and that documents sent to them will reach the companies concerned or their officers.
New clause 4 allows the application, through regulations, of identity verification requirements to directors of overseas companies operating in the UK. Through that, the Government seek to ensure that companies governed by the laws of other jurisdictions that operate in the UK are subject to identity verification requirements that are introduced by the Bill and will apply to UK companies. Regulations under the power will include requiring the delivery of statements or other information to the registrar. They will also include exemptions from identity verification on national security grounds.
The application of identity verification obligations through secondary legislation will allow the Government to adapt ID verification requirements at speed. Overseas companies who operate within the UK are only within limited control of UK law. UK legislation affecting them therefore needs to adapt more quickly to their changing circumstances than primary legislation would allow for.
It is a pleasure to speak to the new clauses. The Minister has outlined the rationale for them, which is to bring some of the rules around overseas companies more in line with some other changes being made in the Bill. We welcome that, but I have a few questions.
New clause 1 outlines that where an overseas company is required to provide a service address or principal office address for a director or secretary, regulations can be made conferring power on the registrar to change the address if it does not meet the statutory requirements or is inaccurate. Who might determine whether the address is inaccurate? Is the expectation that the registrar finds that out or is that just about if something happens to be found out by chance? Is there any more information on how the power might be used to determine that an address is inaccurate?
New clause 2 confers a regulation-making power to require overseas companies to register information. The new clause makes it clear that the regulations can provide for the information to be withheld from public inspection and can confer a discretion on the registrar. We have had similar debates in Committee already. We will keep coming back to the question of the use of powers and the reporting on the use of those powers, particularly where information may be withheld. Would this be an example of a new power on the withholding of information from public inspection where the number of times it is used ought to be reported on? That would not need to give away details about whom the power had applied to, but it would help give an overall view of how the powers in the Bill were being used.
Under new clause 3, new regulations would require overseas companies to provide and maintain an appropriate address and email address. Would those new regulations be subject to the affirmative procedure, assuming that they would be in secondary legislation rather than in the Bill? It was not fully clear to me whether some of these matters were included in the Bill or whether they were regulations to enable the measures to come in later. Will the Minister clarify that?
I am happy to, and I thank the hon. Lady for her points. As we have said during similar discussions, the registrar will have access to information; most of the queries that she will follow up will have come through information received during the course of her duties. It does not make sense for Companies House to physically validate all addresses, but nevertheless information may well come to light through the registrar’s work or the requirement for other bodies to share information with her if they feel that inaccurate information is on the register. That is how we anticipate that information will come forward.
I will not revisit the issue of national security other than to say that the power will be used sparingly and that we do not know what we do not know, so it is important that we have a provision that might be necessary in future.
Regulations under new clause 4 will correspond to regulations applying to UK companies made and debated by Parliament under the affirmative procedure. The extension to overseas companies would therefore not require additional scrutiny by Parliament and the regulations will be subject to the negative procedure.