Age Limit for Trustees

Orders of the Day — Trustee Savings Banks Bill [Lords] – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 8th March 1976.

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10.0 p.m.

Photo of Mr Geoffrey Finsberg Mr Geoffrey Finsberg , Camden Hampstead

I beg to move Amendment No. 1, in page 5, line 18, at end add— '(4) A person who has attained the age of 70 shall, despite subsections (1) and (2) above be eligible for appointment as a Trustee if a special resolution is placed before the appointing meeting detailing his age and which has received the prior approval of the Central Board'. I accept at once that the wording of an amendment moved by anyone who does not have the assistance of Treasury draftsmen is usually inaccurate and probably does not convey the meaning intended, but I think that the Financial Secretary understands what lies behind this amendment.

What worries me is that, under the Bill as it stands, we have to say "full-stop" to anyone at age 70, with the result that someone who has rendered distinguished service to the Trustee Savings Bank movement will find that he can no longer continue to serve as a trustee. Why should that be so? In the rest of the business world, in the joint stock banks and in limited companies, it is possible in the case of an exceptionally good director to obtain special exemption through a general meeting of shareholders to the effect that, in spite of the age of the director concerned, he may continue to serve if required.

I do not see why the Trustee Savings Banks should be put in a less favourable position. I acknowledge that without the safeguard which I have tried to draft in the amendment—the prior approval of the Central Board—there would be a danger that "old Joe" sitting at a meeting of his own bank could so put the "fluence" on his colleagues that they would not find it possible to say "He is a bit past it, and he ought not to carry on." The judgment of the Central Board would be brought to bear here, because the Board would have representation from the bank in question, and in these circumstances it would be possible to ensure that "old Joe" was not necessarily elected just because it was felt unfair that he should not be allowed to continue.

We all know that there are people who are too old at 50 and there are others too young at 70, yet the Bill would draw an arbitrary line according to the birth certificate of the person concerned. Anyone who knows the Trustee Savings Bank movement will know the name of Sir Kenneth Stewart, one of the great men of the movement, yet if this Bill had been an Act of Parliament at that time the Trustee Savings Bank movement would have lost a decade of Sir Kenneth's expert services and advice.

That is the reasoning behind the amendment. In Committee, the Minister made some sympathetic noises. I hope that those sympathetic noises will go a little further tonight, and that he will tell us that, although the amendment is badly worded, he nevertheless sees merit in it and will be prepared to consider inserting some such provision in another place. I leave it at that, in the hope that the Minister will express such sympathy.

Photo of Mr Ian Wrigglesworth Mr Ian Wrigglesworth , Teesside Thornaby

I wish to encourage my hon. Friend the Financial Secretary not to accept this amendment. Our discussions in Standing Committee made it quite clear that there was anxiety even about the clauses which allow people to stay on the boards of trustees until the age of 75. The Financial Secretary gave some interesting figures and said that over 10 per cent. of the people who are trustees are over 75 years of age and that another 15 per cent. are between 70 and 75, which means that a quarter of the trustees are over 70.

There may be exceptional cases, but those figures prove to me what I have believed to be the case, that trustees tend to be self-perpetuating bodies of people who are fairly narrowly based in their backgrounds, and that was born out by the remarks of the Financial Secretary. As I say, there may be exceptions to that rule, but my view on the amendment is that enough is enough. The Government have allowed people to stay on till 75 if they are already trustees, and I think that is a big enough concession. We should retire them at 70 and say that that is as long as they should be allowed to serve.

Photo of Mr Robert Sheldon Mr Robert Sheldon The Financial Secretary to the Treasury

The whole House, I am sure, will understand the problem that one has in fixing age limits—a problem which is not peculiar to the Trustee Savings Banks.

Any comments that I make on the amendment are related to the substance of it and not to the actual drafting, as the hon. Member for Hampstead (Mr Finsberg) urged me to do. I accept what he says, quite rightly, that there are special skills in drafting provisions in legislation which meet all the contingencies, which only parliamentary draftsmen are able to consider in full, but what we are concerned with here is the proposition about the age limit.

In Standing Committee I gave an undertaking that I would look at the situation—the fairly narrow situation—where in a community there existed a trustee with particular skills understood by those in that community, and as an exceptional measure I was asked to consider whether some provision could be made for such a person. Clearly, there may well be in fact, knowing the history of the Trustee Savings Banks, there is likely to be—from time to time a wholly exceptional situation of a kind which is not dissimilar from that which exists in public life and, indeed, in industrial and public companies. But what we have to do, as my hon. Friend the Member for Thornaby (Mr. Wrigglesworth) pointed out, is to consider the rare case for which some justification can be advanced—the hon. Member for Hampstead certainly advanced it—by comparison with the much larger number of cases.

My hon. Friend quoted the figure that I gave of 25 per cent. of such trustees over the age of 70 at the present time. The difficulty is that these trustees will be selected by very limited numbers of people, and it is not really possible to devise effective methods of meeting the exceptional case with which the whole House would have a great deal of sympathy. It is because of the need to consider the expanding work that trustees will have in the future and the much greater demands upon them, and consider also the comparison between the work that the trustees will be required to undertake and that which applies in other walks of life, that we felt that the age limits were necessary.

I feel—and this is probably the most important point—that we have allowed for a very considerable degree of continuity between the present practice and that which we expect to come into effect in the autumn and from then on. That degree of continuity meets most of the serious points. Although I have sympathy with the point about exceptional service which has been given voluntarily by so many people, I feel that we must put foremost the interests of the banks. I must reluctantly ask the hon. Member for Hampstead whether he will consider withdrawing the amendment.

Photo of Mr Geoffrey Finsberg Mr Geoffrey Finsberg , Camden Hampstead

It is always difficult to refuse requests made by the Financial Secretary in such beguiling tones. In those circumstances, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.