Monday 1 December 2008

UK: House of Commons Business and Enterprise Committee reports

The House of Commons Business and Enterprise Committee has recently published two interesting reports. In its thirteenth report for the 2007/08 session, the Committee examined the operation of Companies House. The Committee concluded that Companies House "appears to be fulfilling its core functions reasonably well" but recommended a review of its role in verifying the information supplied to it. The Committee was concerned that users of Companies House were unaware that Companies House could not guarantee the accuracy of the information it held. The Committee also noted that the Companies Act (2006) could have given greater rectification powers to the Registrar to remove incorrect from the register without recourse to the courts.

In its fourteenth report, the Committee considered the accountability of the Secretary of State for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform (Lord Mandelson), and the BERR ministerial team, to the House of Commons. The Committee was concerned that Members of the House of Commons were unable effectively to make their voices heard when a significant proportion of the BERR ministerial team was based in the House of Lords or shared with other departments. The Committee suggested:

The obvious solution, and the neatest, would be to the amend Standing Orders to allow the Secretary of State [Lord Mandelson] to answer questions at the Despatch Box [in the House of Commons]. But this may encourage governments to appoint more members of the House of Lords as heads of department, and that would be an unwelcome and significant constitutional change. Detailed discussion about a mechanism for parliamentary questions to the Secretary of  State for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform is best taken forward by the Procedure Committee. However, we are convinced such a mechanism is needed, particularly at a time of such economic turmoil. We call upon our colleagues to look at this matter urgently, and upon the Government to co-operate fully in such an inquiry, particularly given the concerns expressed by the Secretary of State himself".

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