Companies (Fees) (Amendment No. 2) Regulations 2002

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Miss Johnson: I am glad to see that hon. Members are interested in this important subject. I can tell the hon. Member for Blaby that large amounts of material can be provided online. All pre-1995 documentation is on either microfiche or paper, but it can be scanned into the system. There is a two-hour target turnaround for putting large volumes of old documents online on demand as a scan. That is not unreasonable—indeed, it is pretty fast. The system's resilience has been significantly improved. Companies House is keen to meet the public targets that we have set in readiness for the cessation of microfiche, and the system is working well.

Fees have been calculated on a cost recovery basis. The principal reason why the annual rate of return is 9 per cent. rather than 6 per cent. is a high level of incorporations bringing in extra income. In response to the question about the adjustment of fees, a provision contained in a document such as the one before the Committee—a statutory instrument approved by Parliament—would require a further statutory instrument if it were to be amended.

Mr. Mitchell: Is the Minister really telling the Committee that if Companies House wanted to raise the price of a document from £3 to, say, £3.50, it would have to come back to Parliament to secure such an increase? If so, does she believe that that is a suitable modernising measure, given the background of the statutory instrument?

Miss Johnson: The powers are conferred under sections 708(1) and (2) of the Companies Act 1985 and, no doubt, it would be possible to amend that Act. However, those are the powers under which the

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regulations are brought before the Committee. I shall seek your guidance, Mr. Conway, if I am incorrect.

Parliament sets the arrangements by which such matters are decided. We propose to change the provisions in a future companies Bill, so it might become possible to set fees administratively, but, as I was explaining to the hon. Member for Sutton Coldfield (Mr. Mitchell), that would require primary legislation to change the arrangements that Parliament has set. I am sure that all hon. Members support that approach, because we would not want what we had done to be overturned unless we were involved in the decision to make the change. The safeguard is important.

In different times—but later than the quill pen—the House took the view that it was important that such matters be decided as they are decided now. However, we are reconsidering the matter and hope to be able to set fees administratively in future.

Mr. Mitchell: I re-emphasise to the Minister that I do not think that the registrar should have to return to the House to make a 50p change. Equally, if she were to make the changes that she mentioned, which I think we all agree would be sensible, I would ask what I originally asked her: what safeguards can she offer the business community that the registrar will not

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massively increase the fees should the freedom to do so become available? For obvious reasons, some of those affected will be the least well-off in the business community. However, I do not want to press the Minister on that point now.

Miss Johnson: That is a matter for another day. I am grateful for the hon. Gentleman's comments.

I am delighted to hear that my hon. Friend the Member for Vale of Glamorgan (Mr. Smith) acquired the material he sought. I have a great deal of confidence that had he gone to Companies House for the information, he would have secured it readily, or, if had it not been available on the system, in a short time.

I believe that we have had a useful debate. The Committee will recall that there have been a number of debates on Companies House and the price of microfiche. I hope that we can look forward to an increasingly electronic era in which Companies House will satisfy customer needs with a wide range of high quality, accessible and convenient electronic services.

Question put and agreed to.

Resolved,

    That the Committee has considered the Companies (Fees) (Amendment No. 2) Regulations 2002 (S.I., 2002, No. 2894).

Committee rose at fourteen minutes to Five o'clock.

The following Members attended the Committee:
Conway, Derek (Chairman)
Havard, Mr.
Johnson, Miss Melanie
Lazarowicz, Mr.
Mitchell, Mr. Andrew
Munn, Ms
Murphy, Mr. Jim
Robathan, Mr.
Simpson, Alan
Smith, Mr. John
Stewart, Mr. David
Todd, Mr.

 
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