HC Deb 19 December 1944 vol 406 cc1610-2
39. Mr. Manningham-Buller

asked the President of the Board of Trade whether he is aware that the announcement of the British Celanese dividend was not accompanied by a statement of profits, with the result that a false market in the shares was created to the detriment of the general public; and if he will ask the Cohen Committee to consider this subject with a view to the amendment of the law.

41. Mr. Stourton

asked the President of the Board of Trade if his attention has been drawn to the declaration of a dividend of 15 per cent. on the ordinary shares, the first in 25 years, by the board of the British Celanese Company 10 days in advance of publication of particulars of profits earned with the explanation that the rate of dividend could only be paid on account of a rebate of excess profits tax, thereby causing wide fluctuations in the share quotations; and if, to prevent a repetition of the occurrence, he will implement the recommendations of the Stock Exchange Committee made in 1938 by enforcing the simultaneous publication of profit figures with a declaration of dividends by all public companies.

Mr. Dalton

My attention has been drawn to this matter. I regard it as most unfortunate and regrettable that this company failed to comply with the recommendations of the Stock Exchange Committee. Action of this kind, which misleads the public, or withholds information which the public have a right to expect, cannot be justified. It is not, however, an offence against the law as it now stands. But I have asked Mr. Justice Cohen's Committee to take account of this incident in framing their report.

Mr. Manningham-Buller

While thanking the right hon. Gentleman for his reply, may I ask if he will request the appropriate authorities to investigate, and to ascertain whether this was a deliberate attempt to deceive and deprive the public of their money; and, if it was, will he give consideration to the question of a prosecution for conspiracy?

Mr. Dalton

I have expressed my view on the matter clearly, I hope, and I have also asked Mr. Justice Cohen's Committee to look into it. I will consider my hon. Friend's suggestion, but I am doubtful whether we shall get much further by pursuing the line suggested.

Mr. Stourton

Is the Minister aware that this is a classic example of an opportunity for manipulation of share markets, to their own advantage, by a board of directors at the expense of the public?

Mr. Shinwell

Will my right hon. Friend say whether he is really concerned about the public interest in this matter? Was not a very limited public affected—people who speculate on the Stock Exchange and who have been caught napping on this occasion—and why should he express undue sympathy with such people?

Mr. Dalton

Because, on the whole, straight dealing is better than crooked dealing.

Mr. Levy

May I ask the Minister whether he is aware that no directors on the board of British Celanese during this period either bought or sold any shares whatever?

Mr. Dalton

Of course I have no knowledge of any transactions of the directors of this company.