HC Deb 21 May 1973 vol 857 cc18-20
20. Dame Patricia Hornsby-Smith

asked the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry if he will hold an inquiry into the chain of circumstances leading to the appointment of a receiver and the subsequent liquidation of Multiplex Designs Limited, following an industrial dispute and complaint to the industrial wages board, which was later dismissed, and into the speed of the sale of this company and into the sum for which it was sold.

Sir G. Howe

Complaints about the appointment or conduct of the receiver or about the liquidation fall to be resolved in the liquidation. I have received no evidence that would justify any other form of inquiry into these matters.

Dame Patricia Hornsby-Smith

Is my right hon. and learned Friend aware that that is quite the most unsatisfactory answer I have ever had from him? Is he further aware that in the course of an industrial dispute, subsequently decided in favour of the company, his right hon. Friend, in answer to a supplementary question, by a slip of the tongue used the word "orders" when he meant "contracts"? Is my right hon. and learned Friend aware that that one word put Multiplex out of business?

My right hon. Friend most honourably wrote correcting his slip some days later, but immediately following that HANSARD reply staff of the Service Departments and Barclays Bank read it, all orders were stopped, and Barclays slammed in a receiver, who has since sold a company worth £105,000 for £20,000. This is an intolerable injustice to my constituents who, having been found to be acting honourably in regard to industrial wage affairs, and found solvent, have now lost their entire life's work and company? Will my right hon. and learned Friend, under the Companies Act, examine this matter and see whether something can be done?

Sir G. Howe

I am sorry that my right hon. Friend should direct so much of her anxiety at me. I know, from the correspondence we have had and from what I have read in a number of other places, of the extent to which she has striven to bring the difficulties of those connected with the company to the attention of the Departments concerned.

The difficulties originated, I think, with the application under the Fair Wages Resolution which was subsequently determined by the Industrial Arbitration Board. As far as my responsibility is concerned, the position is that the debenture holders exercised their right to appoint a receiver after several meetings with the company to discuss it, and my function does not permit me to intervene in relation to the activities of the receiver.

If the activities of the receiver are to be questioned, they may be questioned by the liquidator, who has also now been appointed. It is in that context that I said that any complaints fall to be resolved in the liquidation.

I appreciate the extent to which my right hon. Friend has raised this matter in a number of ways, but the position remains as I have stated. I have seen no evidence in relation to the conduct of the receivership and of the liquidation that could justify any form of inquiry into these matters that I could establish.

Dame Patricia Hornsby-Smith

Has not my right hon. and learned Friend a responsibility under the Companies Acts and, through that, a receiver responsibility, not only to pay creditors but to husband the assets and see that a proper return is provided for those who, having paid all their dues to creditors, are entitled to their savings and investments in their company? Can he not investigate the ridiculously low sum which has been provided for this company without the issue going to tender?

Sir G. Howe

As I have indicated, I have certain responsibilities under the Companies Acts. I have looked at those and at their scope, in the light of all the facts that my right hon. Friend has drawn to my attention and in the light of the point that she has just mentioned. Having done so, however, I find that there is no evidence that would justify any form of inquiry in respect of which I have a responsibility.

This is something which can be raised—and, no doubt, is being raised—by the liquidator on behalf of the other creditors and people interested in the company. That is the way in which the matter remains to be resolved in the context of the liquidation.

I have studied my right hon. Friend's correspondence and the background of this case as closely as her anxiety would justify.