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"REMOVAL OF PROTECTED ADDRESS FROM THE REGISTER UNDER COURT ORDER
(1) The registrar shall remove from the register any material relating to a protected address that the court orders should be removed from the register.
(2) The court order must
(a) specify any unique identifier that has been allocated to the director,
(b) specify the protected address to be removed from the register,
(c) specify the service address to be included on the register, and
(d) indicate each instance the protected address appears on the register.
(3) The court must not make an order for the removal from the register of the protected address unless satisfied that the presence of the protected address on the register has caused, or may cause, damage to the director or would create, or be likely to create, a serious risk that the director or any other person would be subject to violence or intimidation.
(4) A copy of the court's order must be sent to the registrar for registration."
The noble Lord said: The noble Lord, Lord Hodgson, asked me to speak to this amendment. The Committee has already debated clauses in Chapter 8, in Part 10, in our sitting of 9 February, and I had not intended to return to this issue at this stage. The Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales has proposed that this amendment be tabled. Therefore it is a probing amendment. It is an opportunity to reflect on the experience that I and others, representing principally the Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry and the CBI, learnt from our very helpful visit to Companies House in Cardiff. I am grateful to the department for arranging that. Winston Churchill once said that it is important not to let facts get in the way of good political argument, but sometimes it is appropriate to reverse that procedure and understand the facts before pressing ahead.
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Noble Lords will remember that under the Bill individual directors can apply to the registrar to have their home addresses protected. That is a new, non-discretionary power, unlike the existing procedure, which has run now for three years or thereabouts, where individual directors could apply to the discretion of the registrar whether their home address in a new filing was protected. I understand that about 9,000 applications have been made, and about 8,500 addresses are protected.
I am not talking in the context of this amendment about anything on that scaleI wish to allay Ministers' fears. As I say, the Bill proposes a non-discretionary absolute right for directors to apply to the registrar to have their home address in a particular filing protected. The amendment seeks to protect the same addressthe current address of that directorwhen filed under other companies' filings. At present there is no provision in the Bill to protect that director's current address when it is filed under other companies' filings.
I hope that between now and Report Ministers will reflect on what I hope is a sensible compromise solution. I am addressing the particular concern that a director may be approached to serve on a sensitive company, which is perhaps targeted by certain groups, and that director already has his or her current address registered either electronically or on microfiche or, if one goes back sufficient time, on a paper record. The Bill does not provide for that director to have his or her past addresses expunged. I believe that for a limited number of cases there should be a mechanism for expunging those addresses. On my visit to Companies House I learnt that it is a costly exercise to expunge, but it is technically feasible. The Committee will remember that there are three locations for the recording of addresses. One is now entirely electronic. For about 20 years it was on microfiche and before that, certainly in the 1950s and the 1960s, when I was a young articled clerk being sent to Companies House in the City Road, I took out the file and read it on paper.
I am addressing the legitimate concerns of the Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industryconcerns which have already been expressed by Members of another place. I seek to pave the way for a sensible solution that will address the problem and not exacerbate it. I am talking about a limited number of casesdozens, not thousands. My proposal would be a feasible exercise. I propose not necessarily an application to the High Court or the County Court, and that the court should direct the registrar to expunge the relevant address, as in Amendment No. A196, but that the application should be made to the Secretary of State, who will then be able to consider the intelligence reports, bearing in mind that the home address of the director concerned is already in the public domain and could be accessedas we all recognisein a number of different ways. However, there may be a few cases where the Secretary of State, bearing in mind the possibility of alternative access to
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that address, could decideso long as the costs were recoveredthat he should give a direction to the registrar to remove the relevant address.
As I say, this is a probing amendment. I should be grateful if, between now and Report, Ministers would reflect on the matter as this is a legitimate, albeit narrow, concern that we should deal with. I beg to move.
Lord Clinton-Davis: I have a great deal of sympathy with the point that the noble Lord, Lord Freeman, has raised. I recall with pleasure my attendance at Companies House when I was an articled clerk long before the noble Lord, Lord Freeman. However, we ought to avoid giving the impressionif such an impression is giventhat any director or other person
What I really wanted to say was that we ought to avoid the impression that violence or intimidation exercised by somebody against a director or other person should be immune from punishment. That is not the impression that the proposers of this new clause would like to prevail. As presently drafted, there is a risk of that. Maybe my noble friend ought to take that into account inI hoperedrafting this amendment.
Lord McKenzie of Luton: I thank the noble Lord, Lord Freeman, for raising this matter again in the manner in which he did, and for feeding back on his visit to Companies House, and thank my noble friend Lord Clinton-Davis for his comments. We share an experience of, in our youth, being sent down to Companies House. In my case there was the conflicting pressure of a pub between the office and Companies House, which we always resisted, but it was not always easyI promise.
I regret that this amendment would benefit few directors. Once an address has been on the record at Companies House, it is readily available from many other sources, many free, whether over the internet or through directories available in reference libraries. I think that we touched on this when we debated the matter earlier in the Bill. Nevertheless, I agree that there may be circumstances in which it is useful for it to be possible for a director's address to be removed from the public record in the way that has been described, particularly in the circumstances that have been instanced here.
We need to think through how that might best be accomplished. Therefore, we agree to consider this amendment and possibly to bring something back in due course. Again, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Freeman, for raising it.
Lord Freeman: I am very grateful for that extremely helpful and courteous response. We look forward to Report stage. I should note that while many of us in this room have indeed trotted up to Companies House to look at the paper records, the only Members of the
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Committee present today who are far too young to have done that include my noble friend Lady Noakes. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
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