HC Deb 14 February 1977 vol 926 cc5-7
2. Sir B. Rhys Williams

asked the Secretary of State for Trade if it is his intention to include provision for the appointment of audit committees in large companies as an element of the proposed Bill implementing the recommendations of the Bullock Committee; if the subject will be dealt with in the forthcoming White Paper; and if his Department favours the appointment of audit committees in advance of legislation.

The Under-Secretary of State for Trade (Mr. Clinton Davis)

We are examining proposals for audit committees alongside the more fundamental reappraisal of the structure of companies, including the composition and function of the board of directors, following publication of the Bullock Report. I cannot anticipate the outcome of this.

Sir B. Rhys Williams

Would not the hon. Gentleman agree that the question of the management audit is completely separate from the issues raised by the Bullock Report? Is he aware that in North America the practice of appointing audit committees is becoming almost automatic? Does he not think that legislation without delay in this country would be highly beneficial?

Mr. Davis

I am aware of the experience in the United States and Canada, and we are considering it. I cannot agree that the two matters are as separate as the hon. Gentleman suggests. When we are looking at legislation in the post-Bullock situation, it is right that we consider the suggestions that the hon. Gentleman has been putting forward challengingly for some little time, and that we undertake to do.

Mr. Baker

Will the Minister give us some idea of the timing of the whole of the Bullock programme? Is there likely to be a debate in the House in the near future? I know that the hon. Gentleman will say that that is a matter for the Leader of the House. Is there to be a White Paper? What is the likely timing of the White Paper? Surely the hon. Gentleman owes it to both sides of industry to give them some indication of the Government's time scale for the negotiations and decisionmaking process following the Bullock Report.

Mr. Davis

As for the debate, the hon. Gentleman has guessed absolutely correctly. That is a matter for my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House. The other matters that the hon. Gentleman raised were dealt with by my right hon. Friend when he made his statement. The most immediate matter of concern is that consultation will be going ahead to see whether it is possible to arrive at a reasonable consensus.