I beg to ask the President of the Board of Trade whether he has received from the shareholders' committee of the four Motor Bus Companies, Limited, promoted by the British Motor Bus Trust, any request that the affairs of these companies should be reported on by the Board of Trade; if he is aware that 8,000 shareholders, most of whom were clerks and working men, subscribed the capital of the four companies; and whether, seeing the difficulties of this class of small shareholders combining to take action, he will accede to the request of the shareholders' committee to hold this investigation.
Yes, Sir, I have received a request from the chairman of the shareholders' committee of the four Motor Bus Companies asking the Board of Trade to order an investigation into the doings of the directors in these companies. The Board of Trade have no such general powers of investigation and their powers are limited to the express powers conferred by Statute. Under Section 56 of the Companies Act, 1862, the Board of Trade have, under the circumstances there set out, power to appoint an inspector, and an investigation is made by the Official Receiver in the case of all companies ordered by the Court to be wound-up. I am not aware that most of the shareholders were as stated in the question clerks and working men.
I beg to ask the President of the Board of Trade whether his attention has been called to a letter, dated 12th June, from Messrs. Wood-thorpe, Bevan, and Company, auditors of the Motor Bus Company, Limited, addressed to the secretary of this company, stating that as their name appeared on the prospectus issued to the public, they had the strongest possible objection to the company passing into liquidation until its accounts had been audited in compliance with the provisions designed by the Legislature; and if he will at once call the attention of the company to this evasion of the Act, and, failing a satisactory reply, will he direct proceedings to be taken against the directors under the power contained in the Companies Act.
My attention has been called to two letters dated the 8th May and 12th June respectively addressed by Messrs Woodthorpe, Bevan and Company to the secretary of the Motos Bus Company, Limited, and published in the Press. In this case again the powers of the Board of Trade are strictly limited by Statute, the only power vested in the Board of Trade being that in Section 21 of the Companies Act, 1900, under which, if an appointment of an auditor is not made at an annual general meeting, the Board of Trade may on the application of any member of the company appoint an auditor of the company for the current year.
I beg to ask the President of the Board of Trade whether he is aware that on 21st December, 1906, a meeting of 700 to 800 shareholders in the London Motor Omnibus Company, Limited, of which A. T. Salisbury Jones, is chairman, was held at the King's Hall, Holborn; that the meeting, with a few dissentients, opposed an amalgamation scheme proposed by the chairman on the ground that he refused to give the shareholders any accounts of the company's trading or of another of his motor companies with which he proposed to amalgamate this company; and whether, seeing the directors outvoted the shareholders with promoter shares, he will say whether he will bring in an Amendment to the Companies Act of 1900 to compel directors to give every information to shareholders who find money to carry on public companies.
I am not aware of what took place at the meeting held on the 21st December, 1906, apart from the information which is contained in the letter addressed to me by the chairman of the shareholders committee of the four Motor Bus Companies. As to the second part of the Question, one of the principal objects aimed at by the Companies Bill now before the House is to secure the fullest information to shareholders.
I beg to ask the President of the Board of Trade whether, seeing that the directors of the Motor Bus Company, Limited, have refused to allow the auditors, Messrs. Woodthorpe, Bevan and Company, despite their protests and those of the shareholders, to audit the accounts and wind up the company, he proposes, under Section 21 of the Companies Act of 1900, to appoint an auditor to deal with the accounts of this company.
An application has been made to the Board of Trade to appoint an auditor in the case of the London Motor Omnibus Company, Limited, and an inquiry has been addressed to the applicant in order to ascertain whether the powers of the Board of Trade to appoint an auditor have yet arisen.