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Lord Borrie: My Lords, does my noble friend agree that the phrase "shareholder involvement" can have a number of different meanings? It may mean the influence of major institutional shareholders, who, I should have thought, have a lot of "clout" already with the board of the company concerned. Alternatively, it may mean the mass of ordinary shareholders who might number tens of thousands or hundreds of thousands and whose views are difficult to ascertain. It may also mean--this may be the meaning of the phrase in the Question of the noble Lord, Lord Smith--shareholders at general meetings who comprise a self-selecting group who may be there for the refreshments.
Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, one of the considerations that has been put forward in all seriousness is that if you have a shareholders' vote on directors' remuneration more shareholders will come to meetings and refreshment costs will rise. I do not think that is a very serious consideration. My noble friend is right, there are a number of ways in which accountability of directors to shareholders could be improved. It could be by a shareholders' vote; it could be by new disclosure requirements on remuneration; it could be in the way the listing rules are framed; it could be in the role of independent non-executive directors; or it could be in a strengthening of the combined code. These are all matters that the Secretary of State can address in his Statement.
Lord Marlesford: My Lords, does the Minister agree with the advice of the late J. Peter Grace, who used to tell his most highly paid executives, "I do not have a problem paying you that sort of money; you just have a problem earning it"?
Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, that sounds like very good advice. Of course there are exceptional people for whom exceptional earnings are appropriate. But far too often we see exceptional earnings being given to mediocre people.
Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: My Lords, as we have time, perhaps I may come back on this. I thank the Minister for his answer, with which I absolutely agree. Do I therefore take it that if people do a good job they deserve their high salaries and their share options? I am not quite so sure about the golden handshakes.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions (Lord Whitty): My Lords, I beg to move that the House do now resolve itself into Committee on this Bill.
The noble Lord said: In moving the amendment standing in my name, I should like to begin with a heart-felt tribute to the party opposite. I do not think that, as yet, the party I support has acquired the great skills which the party now in government had when it was in opposition and which it so frequently displayed. It was really very good, if I may so, at mustering indignation when a measure which it regarded as being incompetent and inadequate was put before it by the government of the day.
Today I am left wondering what on earth that party would have said if it had been confronted with this Bill. I believe this Bill is a rotten one. It is an example to any government and to any student of government of how a government ought not to proceed.
I begin by referring the Committee to the Second and Third Reports of the Delegated Powers and Deregulation Committee. We are all indebted to that committee for its singularly valuable work. It states in paragraph 2 of the Second Report of 15th December that,
In the following Third Report of the same committee, we are informed that the Government have to date tabled 140 amendments. Perhaps there are more, I do not know. My noble friend on the Front Bench is indicating that there are many more. Some 140 amendments are enough to start with, and quite enough for the Government to be thoroughly ashamed of. I am waiting until I have the Minister's attention. I am much obliged. There were 140 amendments at the time of the Third Report of the Select Committee. I do not know how many there are now. Perhaps my noble friend on the Front Bench knows.
Lord Peyton of Yeovil: I apologise to the Committee for being so out of date. I had obviously underrated hopelessly the Government's incompetence, their disregard of Parliament and their generally sloppy ways of handling legislation. There are some 285 amendments so far to this already bad Bill. It would be exceeding all the bounds of optimism if one were to suppose that even a very small proportion of those amendments would result in any acceptable improvement. I hope that when the Minister replies we will hear him speak on the subject of the number of amendments that are now before us and about whether he expects to table a lot more before the end of the Committee stage.
I have always found this kind of proposal very objectionable, from whichever side of the House or from whichever party it may come. I hope that the Government will be minded to accept this very modest, small amendment.
Amendment No. 16, which is grouped with Amendment No. 1, has exactly the same purpose. It seems to me not in any way injurious to the purpose that the Government have in mind or to the sense of the Bill.
This habit of taking more than is necessary in legislation is totally unacceptable. For that reason, at this early point in the Committee stage, I very much hope the Minister will consider that he would not be ill-advised to make a modest concession. It will cost the Government nothing. It will make no difference to the sense of what has been provided for in the Bill. The amendment will introduce a sensible limit to the
I hope that the Minister will not respond by saying that this is the kind of objection he always hears from the Opposition. In the past I made speeches of this kind when I sat on the Government side of the House. If necessary, I shall do so again. My future speeches will be conditioned by the reply that I receive from the Minister today. If he cannot give me the impression that he takes the matter seriously, I shall take the opportunity again and again to raise this and other similar points throughout the Bill. I beg to move.
Lord Elton: I rise briefly to draw the attention of noble Lords to the back of the Bill where it says that the legislation was introduced by the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, as the Local Government Bill, "House of Lords". When the noble Lord comes to reply to this interesting debate, I hope that he shall be able to explain how such an astonishing number of amendments have arisen in the department without the aid of any debate in the other place? Normally when one receives an enormous raft of amendments, it is as a result of debates in another place where the Government have had matters drawn to their attention which, sensibly, they then seek to put right. However, in the case of this Bill, who convinced the Government that what they have drafted is wrong or inadequate? Furthermore, why were these amendments not suggested before the Bill was printed and put before your Lordships' House?
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