Letter to the Parliamentary Commissioner
from Sir Michael Scholar KCB, Permanent
Secretary, Department of Trade and Industry
Thank you for your letter of 21 March.
I said to you on the telephone when we spoke about
this subject on 21 March that I thought that there would be legal
problems about our disclosing information secured under Section
447 of the Companies Act 1985. I have, on receipt of your letter,
had this carefully checked, and I am now in a position to answer
your question authoritatively, as follows.
The fruits of a section 447 investigation include
information obtained by the use of compulsory powers; information
volunteered to the investigator; and thirdly the hypotheses, opinions
and judgements of the investigator; including his judgements as
to the facts. In addition to the statutory prohibition in section
449 of the Companies Act 1985, there are legal constraints on
the disclosure of material volunteered in confidence; and on the
publication of the opinions of investigators.
I am advised that as the law and facts stand there
is no gateway allowing me to disclose to you information or documents
obtained under section 447 of the Companies Act 1985. These statutory
constraints would equally prevent me from disclosing information
obtained under section 447 in the event of a formal request or
requirement from the Standards and Privileges Committee.
I want, however, to do all I can to assist you and
the Committee in your inquiries. It seems to me that it would
be helpful for us to suggest people, companies, or institutions
who may well be able to help you, whom the Standards and Privileges
Committee could send for or whose papers and records they could
request. These would include Arthur Andersen, the administrators
of Hollis Industries plc, Mr Kevin Maxwell, and Mr Michael Stoney.
There may be other sources or avenues we could suggest,
and there may be other papers held by the Department (although
I am not at present aware of any) which would be relevant to the
very broad lines of enquiry implied by your second paragraph.
Perhaps the best way forward would be to arrange, as you suggest
, a discussion. Would your staff contact our Inspector of Companies,
Grahame Harp on ***, so that we can identify as precisely as possible
the information you require?
27 March 2001