HC Deb 21 July 1959 vol 609 cc1070-1
60. Mr. Frank Allaun

asked the President of the Board of Trade if he will introduce legislation requiring public limited companies to state separately in their published accounts all expenditure of a political character.

The Parliamentary Secretary to the Board of Trade (Mr. John Rodgers)

No, Sir. As my right hon. Friend said in answer to a Question from the hon. Member on 13th November, 1958, this is not a type of information that the Companies Act envisages as necessary for the protection of shareholders.

Mr. Allaun

I am not particularly concerned with shareholders. Is it not undermining democracy if, under the general description of advertising, large and increasing sums which are devoted by a handful of directors to political campaigns are concealed from the general public? Are not the dice already sufficiently loaded against the working classes?

Mr. Rodgers

A question about payment for alleged political campaigns would be better addressed to my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer.

Mr. H. Morrison

If out of corporate funds within their trust companies are spending moneys for political purposes, is it not a matter of elementary public policy that they should be declared? Is it not the case that this happens with the trade unions and the Co-operative movement? Why, because limited liability companies are spending money mostly in the interests of the Conservative Party, should the Government go out of their way to say that, because they are doing this, the Government are going to cover it up?

Mr. Rodgers

The Income Tax Act, 1952, provides that no sum is to be deducted unless it is wholly and exclusively laid out or expended for the purposes of the trade. The board of directors has a duty to protect its particular interests.

Mr. Gower

Is not some distinction to be drawn between money paid to a particular political party and money devoted to fighting policies which threaten the very existence of companies?

Mr. Gordon Walker

Would it not be in the interests of the shareholders to know this? There may be shareholders in the new shareholding democracy who do not approve of this expenditure. Have not they a right to know how their money is being expended so that they can protest if they desire to do so?

Mr. Rodgers

Shareholders have a right to ask questions at the annual general meeting.