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House of Lords Hansard
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Companies: Executive Remuneration
31 January 2012
Volume 734

Question

Asked By

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To ask Her Majesty’s Government how they will ensure that company boards take full account of the interests and views of employees and the wider public in the determination of executive board pay.

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My Lords, it is not for Government to micromanage how companies set board pay. Indeed, it is for shareholders to challenge where they believe pay is inappropriate. Last week, the Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills announced proposals to improve the information that shareholders have at their disposal, and this includes requiring companies to report on how they have taken account of the views and pay levels of employees, and company performance, when setting executive pay.

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I thank the Minister for that reply. Mr Cable’s statement undoubtedly contained some excellent analysis, but two questions arise. First, without implementing Ed Miliband’s proposal for worker representatives to be on remuneration committees but simply relying on corporate shareholders to stop the insane leapfrogging that goes on at present, what is there—except in the special case of RBS—that will bring about these overdue changes? Secondly, on information and consultation bodies in industry, Mr Cable’s wish for things to move faster than the present snail’s pace is welcome, but again it is not clear what the driver of faster change will be. Will the Secretary of State take an early opportunity to discuss his ideas on this with the TUC?

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Actually, shareholders are getting more engaged on the issue of pay. They have publicly stated their intention to get tougher, particularly with the large public companies, and we are giving them the tools to do this, which is what the Secretary of State, Vince Cable, said last week. As to the second half of the question—which the noble Lord is perfectly entitled to ask, as he reminded me before we came in here today—my ministerial colleagues Vince Cable and Ed Davey meet regularly with representatives of the TUC and will look to discuss this with them the next time they meet.

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My Lords, I declare an interest as a partner in a fund management firm. The Leader of the House in the other place said in answer to a question from my honourable friend Ms Angela Eagle before the recess that the Government were looking into the case for shareholders being represented on the nominations committees that appoint the independent directors to boards. Vince Cable said nothing on this subject. Can the Minister explain why he was silent on that, and can she assure us that the ministry will ask Professor John Kay to ensure that this is investigated in his review on governance?

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The noble Lord gave the answer in the question that he asked me. Professor Kay will be giving his interim review next month and I am absolutely sure he will be answering the question that the noble Lord has asked.

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My Lords, I am sure that the noble Baroness is aware that the Secretary of State’s statement endorsed 10 of the 12 recommendations of the High Pay Commission; the major one that was not endorsed was that there should be employee representatives on the remuneration committee. Is she prepared to expand a little on that and accept that there are a number of reasons for it, particularly the difficulty for companies that have the majority of their employees outside the United Kingdom? Will she also accept that one of the problems is weak trade union recognition among leading companies, and can she expand on what the Government propose to do to honour the Secretary of State’s undertaking to try to obtain the views of employees on these issues?

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The Secretary of State gave a very broad, sweeping statement last week, as my noble friend has already mentioned, which he will be speaking to more and more as the weeks go on. Putting employees on board committees is something that obviously everybody would like to see happen. The closed shop of boards and board committees needs to change and we are taking measures to promote diversity. However, as the Secretary of State made clear last week, bringing people on to board committees who are not also company directors, with the associate responsibilities, is not the way forward.

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My Lords, do the Government agree with the article in today’s Times by Sir Roger Carr, president of the CBI, that if the business climate is to thrive in the United Kingdom, both politicians and the public need to understand and respect the need for it to do so, and the wealth and the employment that it creates, and that unless we do, we are quite likely to be negative in that respect? Do the Government agree with the sentiments expressed by Sir Roger Carr?

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We want individuals who genuinely create jobs and wealth for the UK to be appropriately rewarded, but it is not right that people are rewarded for lacklustre performance. That is the area that we have to look at and the area that we are encouraging the shareholders, especially the big ones, to look at, too. If they can get the conditions in which deals are arranged, I am quite sure that everyone will be delighted to see one of the great men of the world who can run these companies actually run a British company and get whatever bonus he is entitled to.

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My Lords, in view of the Government’s confidence that shareholders will be able, under these new arrangements, to curb inflation in boardrooms, which has been rampant, are the Government prepared to revisit quickly the issue of representations on remuneration committees by outside interests, including employees, especially in the light of the successful experience of this in neighbouring countries across the North Sea?

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I have lived in the European Union and worked in companies there that have very different methods from ours. One of the things that I found difficult was that very often when one had a range of employees on the board, the board’s decisions would be taken outside the boardroom and what happened inside the boardroom was rubber-stamping. We certainly do not want to see that in this country. However, we are looking at whatever we can. I will reinforce the point, if I may, that UK employees in large companies already have the right to request that their employers consult them through information and consultation arrangements, and we would encourage them to use those arrangements. More than that, I would encourage the union leaders to encourage employee members to use them—they are available to them—rather than necessarily taking them down the path of a more extravagant gesture.