HC Deb 15 December 1971 vol 828 cc460-2

The following Questions stood upon the Order Paper:

126 and 127. Mr. CANT: To ask the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry (1) on what date his Department discovered that reports under Section 109 of the Companies Act, 1967, had fallen into the hands of unauthorised persons; what action has been taken in each case; and with what results;

(2) on what date his Department discovered that recommendations for action under Section 109 of the Companies Act, 1967, had fallen into the hands of unauthorised persons; what action has been taken in each case; and with what results.

The Secretary of State for Trade and Industry and President of the Board of Trade (Mr. John Davies)

With permission. I will now answer Questions 126 and 127.

My Department discovered on 15th October that, two days previously, a document recording the result of an examination under Section 109 of the books and documents of a company, together with suggestions for further investigation, had been sent in error to the company concerned. An immediate inquiry was instituted and it was established that this had been done by a junior member of the staff of the Department who misunderstood the instructions given to her. Appropriate action has been taken both in respect of the officer concerned and to prevent any similar mistake being made again. As regards the document, the managing director of the company acknowledges having received it and says that he sent it to his legal adviser who has, however, informed the Department that it did not reach him—[HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."]—I do not regard its recovery as sufficiently important to justify the expenditure that would be involved in further steps to trace it.

Mr. Cant

Does the right hon. Gentleman accept that, despite the hilarity with which his statement was greeted, some of us are extremely concerned by revelations of this kind? Does he also accept that there are rumours afoot that this particular company or other companies controlled by organised crime syndicates have been operating in this particular sphere and using a certain amount of influence? Will he set up a tribunal of inquiry into this area of operation in his Department to prevent leaks like this and the Vehicle and General leak, or any others of that kind?

Does the right hon. Gentleman share my feelings of irony that, at the very time when he asked whether he could make this statement to the House on the basis of my Written Questions, I have been barred by the Principal Clerk of the Table Office from presenting any further Questions on companies or company law on various grounds which I need not put before the House?

Finally, may I have his assurance that no pressure was brought to bear—I am excluding his charming and friendly Minister for Industry—by the civil servants in his Department or the Table Office to prevent me carrying out what I regard as my duties in this House in future?

Mr. Davies

I should make it very clear that this was not a leak in the sense that the hon. Gentleman inferred it might have been. It was a clear clerical error, no more than that. It should be registered clearly that that is so.

Regarding the carrying out of a major inquiry, this is already within the framework of a Section 109 inquiry, which is currently in course. The hon. Gentleman knows very well that I cannot reveal the details of that inquiry.

I am sorry that the hon. Gentleman feels that he is being debarred in some way from putting Questions which he would wish to put. I assure him that that is no part of my act. It is a question which I am not in a position to answer. It clearly is not specifically for me, though I do feel strongly about it in view of the hon. Gentleman's courtesy in being prepared to take these Questions today.