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Executive Pay

Volume 539: debated on Thursday 2 February 2012

Last week I announced a comprehensive package of measures to tackle the disconnect between executive pay and company performance. These proposals will increase simplicity and clarity, give shareholders more effective power through binding votes, increase the diversity of boards and remuneration committees, and encourage employees to be more engaged.

In the last few weeks the chief executive of Lloyds TSB, then the chairman of the Royal Bank of Scotland, and then its chief executive appear to have got the message that huge bonuses are not acceptable in this time of austerity. Given that this month we expect both banks to announce significant losses amounting to millions of pounds, how can Government, Parliament and constituents such as mine in Southwark convey the message to the rest of the directors and investment bankers in the publicly owned banks that they too should not have huge bonuses in times of austerity?

Those two individuals are symbolically very important, but what is much more important is that we have a proper system governing executive pay over the long term, and that is what my proposals were designed to achieve. Bonuses in the banking sector as a whole are now running at roughly a third of the level at which they operated at the peak of the boom when Labour was in power. As for the state-owned banks, my right hon. Friend will know that a set of disciplines is being introduced through United Kingdom Financial Investments Ltd.

Does the Secretary of State agree with Will Hutton, the chair of his High Pay Commission, that there should be a definite risk to the basic pay of executives who fail to meet their targets?

Yes. I have talked extensively to Will Hutton about that. In the proposals that I will bring forward next week, we will introduce the principle of a clawback; that clawback can operate in different ways, and we are certainly looking seriously at one of the ways that Will Hutton has recommended.

To get to the dizzy heights of executive pay, one must first get a job. What are Ministers doing to reduce the red tape and bureaucracy relating to apprenticeship schemes for small and medium-sized businesses?

That question is fascinating, but sadly it bears absolutely no relation to the question on the Order Paper, so the hon. Gentleman should keep it for the spring, or some other suitable time.

In view of the Secretary of State’s answers, will he assure the House that he has made representations to the Chancellor and United Kingdom Financial Investments Ltd to make sure that in the RBS last year’s practice of giving 323 bankers bonuses in excess of £1 million is not repeated, and that the anticipated payment of £4.5 million to John Hourican, a senior banker in RBS, does not go ahead?

Of course there is a continuing issue with the scale of bonuses in RBS, but they are vastly reduced from their former level. We are conscious of the issues involved. Many of those people are American traders operating in the United States, but we are conscious that every amount that goes out in bonuses is money that could otherwise have gone to small businesses.