HC Deb 11 January 1996 vol 269 cc323-4
6. Mr. Hain

To ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer what representations he has received on the Greenbury report. [7081]

Mr. Jack

Since the publication of the report my right hon. and learned Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer has received a number of representations, both written and oral.

Mr. Hain

Surely there is a strong case for legislation to implement the proposals of the Greenbury report, not least because more than half the electricity companies are being taken over and will therefore not be listed on the stock exchange in the near future. Are the Government selling out to private greed yet again?

Mr. Jack

I am surprised that the hon. Gentleman asks that question. It shows that there is a fundamental distrust among Opposition Members and doubt as to whether private industry can put its own House in order in relation to the matters discussed by Greenbury. The hon. Gentleman will know that, in his report, Sir Richard stated that he felt that legislation was an inappropriate way of dealing with the problem. The hon. Gentleman will also know that the stock exchange responded with commendable speed to change the listing arrangements on disclosure, particularly of salary. My right hon. Friend the President of the Board of Trade has said that a review will take place—when the pensions aspects of the Greenbury report have been studied—with a view to amending the Companies Act, where necessary, where it relates to disclosure.

Mr. Thomason

Does my hon. Friend welcome the extension of share ownership and responsible share option agreements? Does he agree that the Government should be proud of their record of extending share ownership from 3 million to 10 million people since 1979? Does he agree that that is the best way of ensuring that people have a stakeholding in this country?

Mr. Jack

My hon. Friend has put his finger on what real stakeholding is about: having a share of something of which one is a part. That achievement has been made possible in the face of fearsome opposition from the Opposition. The Greenbury report occasioned a thorough debate involving my right hon. and learned Friend the Chancellor, who was able to announce in the Budget the new company share option scheme and enhancement of the profit-sharing and save-as-you-earn schemes which currently benefit 2 million people. I have no doubt that there will be a wide uptake in British industry of further opportunities so that employees can have a stake in the companies for which they work.

Mr. Darling

The Financial Secretary seems to place a good deal of faith in the privatised utilities putting their own house in order. That faith is not shared by the majority of people. Is he aware that the abuses in the boardrooms of privatised utilities are continuing? Is he also aware that the chairman of the National Association of Pension Funds investment committee—who is himself a member of the Greenbury committee—has warned that powerful voices are trying to block and wreck the Greenbury proposals? Will he give a guarantee that the Government will introduce legislation at the earliest possible opportunity to ensure that the subject of contributions to the pension arrangements of people in boardrooms is brought forward without further delay? Will he also give a guarantee that he will not allow the thrust of the Greenbury report to be wrecked by vested interests in the privatised utilities?

Mr. Jack

Again, Opposition Front Benchers display a fundamental distrust of the idea of private companies being able to put matters right. The hon. Gentleman's attack on the privatised utilities is a typical smokescreen behind which the Opposition hide the many benefits that privatisation has brought to consumers. Many of the privatised companies have given clear public undertakings that they will accept the Greenbury recommendations and are moving towards them. If the hon. Gentleman considers the facts—clearly his boardroom lunches have not enabled him to do so—he will see that the Institute of Actuaries has been engaged by the stock exchange to work out, in consultation, how the issue of pensions and their benefit to directors should be properly valued. Once that exercise has been completed in June this year, the information will go to the revised listing arrangements and, as I said a moment ago, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry will look at ways of changing the Companies Act, if appropriate, to enable matters of disclosure to be dealt with properly.