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New Clause 16 — Names and addresses of members of companies: company application

Part of Orders of the Day – in the House of Commons at 3:30 pm on 18th October 2006.

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Photo of Jonathan Djanogly Jonathan Djanogly Shadow Minister (Business, Innovation and Skills), Shadow Solicitor General, Shadow Minister (Justice), Shadow Solicitor General 3:30 pm, 18th October 2006

I am pleased that the hon. Gentleman has given me the opportunity to put on record the fact that, although Huntingdon Life Sciences is in my constituency and I have been following its ongoing problems with animal rights terrorists, that introduction to the subject has probably given me an expertise that other hon. Members might not have, not least because I have seen at first hand what can happen and have spoken to the police and the companies affected—not only HLS, but dozens of its suppliers. I would say that my experience helps my cause, rather than gives me a problem. I appreciate that the hon. Gentleman was an investigative journalist in his previous career and some of his remarks might come from that perspective. However, I would not say that it is any worse to make them because of that. Perhaps that balances out the situation.

In any event, this is about more than protecting companies that practice animal testing, although that is the matter on which I have direct experience, as I explained to the hon. Gentleman. This is about the kind of environment that we offer for people who invest in business in this country. Just as the protection of the person must be a priority for the Government, the protection of companies and their shareholders must also be a priority. Without that protection, business will simply pick up and go.

I point out, with some irony, that several speakers in the Lords debate and several journalists have made out that the GSK letter incident was a new and dangerous development. That was not the case. Attacks on shareholders have become an established theme of anti-corporate activism. Although direct action, sometimes slipping into terrorist activity, is emanating from animal rights activists today, the same methods could be used tomorrow by other groups. If drug manufacturers, animal testing companies and furriers are affected now, meat importers, road builders, handbag manufacturers, furniture makers or mining companies could be affected tomorrow.

I emphasise the fact that countering criminal activity using shareholders' registers goes much further than dealing with extremists. Another significant example of such activity is the growth of foreign-based so-called boiler rooms. They harvest the personal details of individuals from members' registers and approach those shareholders to try to persuade them to buy investments that are often worthless, regularly by implying that there is a connection with the company concerned.

A court case recently revealed that fraudsters had been using registers to steal shares from overseas investors. The Financial Times reported in May that the company secretary of Balfour Beatty wrote to the company's 20,000 shareholders after receiving a significant number of complaints. I received a separate letter from Balfour Beatty that outlined the company's concerns about the situation. Diageo wrote to 110,000 shareholders after similar calls were made to its members.