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Company And Business Names (Amendment) Regulations 2001

Volume 622: debated on Monday 19 February 2001

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8.34 p.m.

rose to move, That the draft regulations laid before the House on 2nd February be approved [6th Report from the Joint Committee].

The noble Lord said: These regulations give full effect to the Company and Business Names (Chamber of Commerce, Etc) Act 1999, a Private Member's measure introduced in another place by Mr Andrew Lansley, the honourable Member for South Cambridgeshire.

The regulations amend the 1981 Company and Business Names Regulations. They specify a number of expressions, and their Welsh equivalents, that include the term "chamber", which cannot be used in a company or business name without permission from the Secretary of State. These expressions cover the range of activities that would be expected of a chamber. They include chamber of business, chamber of commerce, chamber of training and enterprise, and their Welsh equivalents—which I shall gladly read out if anyone wants to challenge my Welsh pronunciation. The regulations provide that companies and businesses whose names include these expressions prior to their entry into force on 10th May will not be affected.

To set the regulations in context and explain their purpose, I shall set out briefly the statutory regime governing the use of certain sensitive expressions in a business or company name and then say a little about the 1999 Act.

Under the existing 1981 regulations, provided for in the Companies Act 1985 and the Business Names Act 1985, companies or businesses must seek permission from the Secretary of State or other relevant body before they can register or use any one of a number of prescribed words or expressions in their name. These include, for example, words which imply business pre-eminence or representative status such as "association", or "authority"; or words which imply specific functions such as "charity", "insurance" or "co-operative". The purpose of these safeguards is to ensure that companies and businesses cannot use names which might give a misleading impression of the nature of their business or of their stature.

The British Chambers of Commerce (BCC) expressed concern that business could be misled by rogue companies or businesses which used the name chamber of commerce but did not perform the functions that are commonly understood by the term. In answer to these concerns, the Company and Business Names (Chamber of Commerce, Etc.) Bill was introduced and was fully supported by the Government in acknowledgement of the role of the British Chambers of Commerce and the Scottish chamber in promoting public recognition of the title "chambers" as one which is synonymous with quality and integrity.

The 1999 Act ensures that the Secretary of State consults at least one representative body in determining whether expressions such as "chamber of commerce", "chamber of trade" and similar expressions may be used as part of a registered company or business name; it names the BCC and SCC as such bodies for the purposes of the Act; and it provides that the Secretary of State may issue guidance on the factors to be taken into account in considering applications for the use of such expressions.

The regulations we are considering today have the support of both the BCC and the SCC, which have been fully consulted on them and on their impact on business. They believe that both the 1999 Act and these implementing regulations will protect business from those organisations which might seek to pass themselves off as bona fide Chambers but who not represent their interests.

To assist those companies that wish to use any of the expressions listed in the regulations, guidance has been prepared on the factors which the Secretary of State will take into account in considering applications for use in a name. These include the body's purpose and constitution, its independence, representative nature and geographical location. The Government undertook that the BCC and SCC would be fully consulted on the guidance and both have confirmed that they agree with what is proposed. A copy of the guidance has been placed in the Library.

The regulations will contribute to the BCC's and SCC's wider efforts to build confidence in and maintain the integrity of the chamber movement. I commend the regulations to the House. I beg to move.

Moved, That the draft regulations laid before the House on 2nd February be approved [ 6th Report from the Joint Committee].—( Lord McIntosh of Haringey.)

My Lords, we on this side of the House most certainly support these regulations. As the Minister pointed out, there was very broad agreement—indeed, I believe, total unanimity—in another place when the primary legislation went through. I believe that that was also the case with the regulations when they were debated in the other place—at least, that was virtually so. Everyone seemed to be on the same side, though, if that had really happened, there would not have been a debate. Nevertheless, the debate was helpful.

The proposals now before us are especially important to chambers of trade. I was rather glad to see that the scope of the wording includes chambers of trade and of commerce and industry, which are forms that many of these organisations adopt. I shall not provoke the noble Lord into pronouncing the various Welsh words. I never agreed with the remarks made by the late Lord Hill, who used to say of the Welsh and English traffic signs in Wales that they were in Welsh for national prestige and in English so that people knew where they were going. When I have had the pleasure of visiting Wales, I have been greatly impressed with the extent to which Welsh is a living language. However, I am a little doubtful about the proposals in this context as Wales has gained so much from inward investment—not least from Japanese electronic and other companies. I am not sure that having the chamber of trade named in Welsh, unless it were placed side by side with the English name, would be very helpful.

I have but one question for the Minister. These organisations are normally limited by guarantee; in other words, they are not profit-making organisations. It would seem that the intention is to protect the position of non-profit organisations. Can the noble Lord say whether any of these organisations will be profit making? Alternatively, will they all he limited by guarantee?

My Lords, I have nothing to add to what has been said both by the Minister and by the noble Lord, Lord Higgins. That is probably just as well because I rather take the view that, if I did have any comments to make, I ought to make them in English and Welsh. Unfortunately, I do not speak Welsh, so that is another reason for my saying nothing.

My Lords, the normal practice in Wales would be for such signs to be in both English and Welsh. I can tell the noble Lord, Lord Higgins, that none of the chambers about which we are talking is a for-profit organisation; we are talking about companies limited by guarantee. But the protection provided by the regulations also covers companies limited by shares; in other words, companies for profit. I commend the regulations to the House.

On Question, Motion agreed to.

House adjourned at eighteen minutes before nine o'clock.