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Company Meetings (Shareholders' Questions)

Volume 978: debated on Thursday 14 February 1980

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asked the Secretary of State for Trade if he will propose amendments to the Companies Acts to ensure that auditors are obliged to answer any question put to them by shareholders at an annual general meeting without requiring the permission of the chairman of the company and that their answers be safeguarded as privileged proceedings.

I have no present intention to change the present position whereby auditors are entitled to be heard at any general meeting which they attend on any part of the business of the meeting which concerns them as auditors. A company meeting is an occasion subject to qualified privilege because members and directors have a common interest and duty in respect of the business of the company. I am advised that there can be no real doubt that the same privilege applies to the auditor exercising the rights I have mentioned at such meetings. Fair and accurate reporting of any proceedings of general meetings of companies other than private companies is also subject to a special qualified privilege under the Defamation Act 1952.