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House of Lords

Tuesday, 5th May 1998.

The House met at half-past two of the clock: The LORD CHANCELLOR on the Woolsack.

Prayers--Read by the Lord Bishop of Exeter.

"Powerhouse::uk" Exhibition

Baroness Oppenheim-Barnes asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What are the costs for the erection and dismantling of the Powerhouse::uk exhibition; and how frequently the erection and dismantling of the exhibition will take place during the next 12 months.

Lord Haskel: My Lords, the total cost for the erection and dismantling was £150,000. Discussion on the future use of the building and the exhibition is currently taking place.

Baroness Oppenheim-Barnes: My Lords, I thank the Minister for that helpful Answer. Does he not agree that, to put the matter very kindly indeed, these edifices are at the very least hideous, impractical and expensive? Does he not further agree that, if they are supposed to be some representation of Cool Britannia, it is time to turn up the heat under the person whose idea it was?

Lord Haskel: My Lords, the visitors did not find it objectionable at all. A survey was conducted and the reaction of 87 per cent. of the visitors was that it was rather a good exhibition and certainly promoted British products.

Lord Strabolgi: My Lords, is my noble friend aware that recently it was agreed that the cars of all officials would be removed from Horse Guards Parade in order to preserve the beautiful vista over the Inigo Jones building? If we are to have these great balloons every few months, is that not going to be spoilt?

Lord Haskel: My Lords, we are not to have these balloons every few months. As my noble friend said, prior to the exhibition Horse Guards Parade was used as a car park. This Government believe that it is time to use it in a more inclusive manner. Certainly, car parks exclude, but exhibitions invite people to come.

Lord Campbell of Croy: My Lords, does the noble Lord recall that I tabled a Question five weeks ago when the drums were being inflated on Horse Guards Parade? The noble Lord himself suggested that I move that Question because the Prime Minister was about to make a statement on the subject that or the following day.

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Is the Minister aware that no such statement appears to have been made? Can the noble Lord throw any light on the case of the "phantom" statement? Clearly, the noble Lord acts in good faith and cannot be held responsible. Nonetheless, this looks like a muddle from which Parliament has been missed out.

Lord Haskel: My Lords, the noble Lord was kind enough to write to me about this and I responded by saying that there was a paragraph in the Prime Minister's speech about this matter, but for some reason he did not say it. I have never been able to discover why. However, officials are burrowing away and as soon as I have any further information I shall write to the noble Lord.

Baroness Miller of Hendon: My Lords, as regards the first Answer which the Minister gave to my noble friend Lady Oppenheim-Barnes, can he say, first, how many people attended this Cool Britannia exhibition so that we can work out the cost and, secondly, can he enlighten us about the cost of the survey that was carried out among those who attended and who said that they liked it?

Lord Haskel: My Lords, there were about 23,000 paying visitors and about 2,000 non-paying visitors. I must emphasise that the purpose was to provide an exhibition of British ingenuity and products for the ASEM conference in London. In addition, the CBI, the Design Council and one or two other organisations used it as a venue for hosting various exhibitions and meetings of their own.

Baroness Miller of Hendon: My Lords, what was the cost of the survey?

Lord Haskel: My Lords, I do not have the detail of that, but I shall write to the noble Baroness.

Lord Jenkins of Putney: My Lords, does my noble friend agree that there must be something that can be said for an exhibition which acquired that amount of attention?

Lord Haskel: My Lords, I quite agree. It was a very successful exhibition and showed off British ingenuity and industry very well indeed.

Baroness Carnegy of Lour: My Lords, does the Minister agree that the Government's noble aspirations in the purposes of the exhibition could have been housed in a more dignified way? Will the Minister be interested to know that a Scot who recently came to London asked me, "What are those bouncy castles they have put up where they usually Troop the Colour?"

Lord Haskel: My Lords, part of the purpose of the exhibition was in fact to show off the buildings, which are easily erected and taken down. The department is in an advanced state of negotiation with a number of organisations which wish to use the buildings for exhibitions and meetings of their own.

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Executive Pay

2.42 p.m.

Lord Dormand of Easington asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What action they are taking to have the recommendations of the Greenbury and Hampel reports on executive pay implemented.

Lord Haskel: My Lords, the President of the Board of Trade indicated in her speech on 4th March, responding to the Hampel report, that the Government preferred corporate governance issues, such as those relating to directors' remuneration, to be implemented either as best practice or by the listing rules of the London Stock Exchange rather than by legislation.

Lord Dormand of Easington: My Lords, I appreciate that Answer, but does my noble friend accept that many of the payments made recently to chairmen and directors have reached a degree of obscenity never seen before, particularly when some of the companies concerned have been losing money? Does he further accept that if a Labour Government stand for anything at all, they stand for fairness but that that will be eroded if the present situation continues? Lastly, have the Government considered what might happen if and when the trade unions and others quite understandably take the view that some of those payments are suitable for some people but not for the rest of us?

Lord Haskel: My Lords, the Government are certainly concerned about this. Obscene pay awards not only bring the whole system into disrepute but they also fail to have regard to the wider issues of morale and effectiveness in business. That is why the Government support the Greenbury and Hampel recommendation that reports of remuneration committees be voted on each year by shareholders. The Government consider that to be part of best practice. If there is no evidence that companies are adopting best practice, the Government have not ruled out legislative action. The Government's views on fairness will be published shortly in our paper on fairness at work.

Lord Avebury: My Lords, ought not the workers, as well as the shareholders, have some say about the remuneration of the bosses? Could not the vote be widened to include them?

Lord Haskel: My Lords, in many companies consultation involves everybody. I am sure that there is an element of worker participation in the good practice favoured by the Government.

Lord Marsh: My Lords, is not the best way of controlling such matters for the institutional shareholders in particular, when they conclude that a company is not providing the returns which they expect for their investment, to withdraw their support from that company, not for the Government to try to monitor all the wages and incomes in this country?

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Lord Haskel: My Lords, I am sure that the noble Lord is right in theory but, unfortunately, many institutional shareholders do not vote at annual general meetings so the companies do not know their views. On the point about institutional shareholders withdrawing their support by selling their shares, many institutional shareholders take the view that they should be changing the management of the company rather than selling their investment in the business.

Lord Razzall: My Lords, does the Minister agree that one of the fundamental problems is that there is a significant dichotomy between the answer that the Minister has just given and, indeed, the answers which the President of the Board of Trade gave when asked about these issues in other places and the position which the Labour Party took in its manifesto? There is clearly a distinction between whether--dare I say it--the more liberal approach of Greenbury and Hampel should be followed by the Government, as the Minister appears to be suggesting, or whether a far more interventionist approach, as heralded in the Labour Party's manifesto, should be taken. Confusion is arising because the Government cannot make up their minds which of the two approaches to take.

Lord Haskel: My Lords, the Government are waiting to see whether companies adopt the approach that I have just stated. If they do not adopt that approach, the Government will take a more interventionist approach, as laid down in the paper on competitiveness and company law which was recently published by my right honourable friend the President of the Board of Trade.

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