HC Deb 19 July 1967 vol 750 cc2357-9
Mr. Bruce-Gardyne

I beg to move Amendment No. 79, in page 33, line 18, after '27' to insert: 'or the next following section'. To some extent, this is a probing Amendment, although I always like to hope that some day I may persuade the Ministers to accept one of the offerings which I hold forward to them. I have held forth various offerings to the right hon. Gentleman at various times, both in Committee and on Report, and so far I have scored a duck. However, hope springs eternal, if I may coin such a cliché at this hour of the morning. At this stage we have moved on to the arrangements for the Board of Trade to appoint inspectors in cases where it feels that contraventions of the various Clauses dealing with disclosures of insider share dealings and options, and other matters may have occurred.

I move this Amendment because we have not had an explanation from the Government about why there is no provision for the appointment of inspectors in cases where the Board of Trade might feel that there was reason to have investigation under Clause 33, dealing with disclosure of major interests. At first sight it seems entirely illogical that there should be this provision for the appointment of inspectors in the first case, and not in the one that I have mentioned.

I am not believer in the virtues of Board of Trade inspections, and this is a classic example of shutting the stable door when the horse has bolted. Our experience of Board of Trade investigations in the past is that not only has the horse bolted, but by the time the investigation is completed the backers have probably been gathered to their fathers. It is a very slow process and the damage is invariably done before the inspection even begins, let alone before it is completed.

This Clause will not serve a particularly useful purpose. If we want to prevent or discourage contravention of these Clauses, we should go for greater and more rapid publication, at any rate in the case of public companies. But if we are to rely on inspectors we are entitled to have some explanation why the inspectors' scope is limited in the way that I have outlined.

Mr. Darling

It distresses me not to be able to accept so many of the offerings of the hon. Member for South Angus (Mr. Bruce-Gardyne), but in this case the offering is quite unnecessary. The Board of Trade already has power, under Section 172 of the 1948 Act, to appoint inspectors to investigate the true ownership of companies when it appears that there is good reason to do so. This would cover breaches of Clause 33.

The effect of the Amendment would be to give inspectors appointed by the Board of Trade power to make inquiries of stockbrokers and other dealers in securities, but this power would not be necessary in relation to breaches of Clause 33. I would not agree with the hon. Member that the Board of Trade's inspectors, because of the disabilities under which they have worked in the past—

Mr. Bruce-Gardyne

Just to get this point clear. Is the right hon. Gentleman satisfied that the power to investigate the true ownership of a company in terms of the principal Act does deal with the investigation of 10 per cent. beneficial ownership?

Mr. Darling

Yes. The purpose of the Amendment is to apply the provisions of inspection to Clause 33. That Amendment is unnecessary, because the Board already has the power to deal with Clause 33 under Section 172 of the 1948 Act. I would not agree with all the strictures of the hon. Member about Board of Trade inspectors always turning up after the horse has bolted. It is perfectly true they have worked under legal disabilities in the past, and I hope we are now beginning to get rid of these.

Amendment negatived.