HL Deb 27 July 1967 vol 285 cc1195-7

[No. 51]

Clause 19, page 19, line 41, at end insert— ("(4) The foregoing provisions of this section shall not require the disclosure of information in the director's report of a company if the directors thereof satisfy the Board of Trade that it is in the national interest that the information should not be disclosed.")


My Lords, the purpose of this Amendment is to permit the directors of a company not to give information about exports in their report, if they satisfy the Board of Trade that it is in the national interest that the information should not be disclosed. The Government consider that cases where disclosure of a company's exports would be injurious to the national interest would be rare, but since it is clearly difficult to prove that those cases can never occur they have decided to provide an exemption. The exemption will be given only very sparingly when there is the strongest evidence that disclosure would prejudice the national interest. I beg to move.

Moved, That this House doth agree with the Commons in the said Amendment.—(Lord Brown.)


This, of course, is a concession, but again we are not quite certain that it goes far enough. The type of case about which we spoke when the Bill was last before the House was that of a relatively small company with, perhaps, one export market where disclosure would give a great deal of information about the activities of that company. I should not have thought that this was a particularly rare circumstance. The object must be not to give away to international competition information which is of advantage from the point of view of our balance of payments. That being so, I doubt whether the noble Lord was right in saying that applications would be particularly rare, and I should have thought that, so long as the applications are justified and can show that disclosure would adversely affect the balance of payments, it was in the national interest to grant those applications. Therefore, I hope that when he says that the power will be used sparingly, he does not mean to contradict that proposition, which I think would commend itself to the whole House.


My Lords, I would only add to the excellent point of view put forward by my noble friend, that we deplore that although the Government have given a concession, it is only in respect of the national interest. We should have liked it to go far enough to cover damage to the interests of the company—not just damage to the national interest. It does not seem to matter whether the company's interests are damaged; that appears to be of small account, compared with the importance of disclosure of a figure for which we find it very hard to see the justification. Have the Government no concern for the well-being of the individual companies whose interests may be adversely affected by the publication of this information?


My Lords, the Government feel that the interests of companies in this country which are trading overseas are identical with the national interest. Therefore, the noble Lord should be reassured that if a company can prove that its export interests will be damaged by disclosure, it will be construed as being in the national interest also.

On the point raised by the noble Lord, Lord Drumalbyn, let me assure him that what I have said in explanation of this clause is in no way an attempt to give a concession and then to take it back again. If it can reasonably be shown that the interests of the company will be damaged by the disclosure of this information, then it will be granted exemption. But the purport of my remarks was to convey the fact that we have had a number of cases presented to us as samples, and the reasonableness of the case has not by a very long way always been proven. I shall be very interested to see whether there really are cogent cases, where it can be proved that there would be damage to their interests. But we shall see.

On Question, Motion agreed to.