Second Reading

Part of Companies' Remuneration Reports Bill [HL] – in the House of Lords at 1:22 pm on 24th April 2009.

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Photo of Lord Gavron Lord Gavron Labour 1:22 pm, 24th April 2009

My Lords, before I go any further, I offer an overall apology to everyone called Jones. I was brought up, like the Minister, in Wales, where we always used "Mr Jones", "Mrs Jones" or "Miss Jones" to indicate the person in the street—but always with great respect.

I thank everyone who has participated in this debate and all those who have attended. I have been astonished—although I suppose I should not have been—by the high quality of the contributions and by how much I have learnt today on a subject I thought I already knew everything about. I certainly did not know everything about it. There were many important contributions from the beginning. I know it is Friday, there is sunshine and the garden is beckoning, but I would like to try to acknowledge some of the penetrating points that were made.

I think the noble Lord, Lord Tugendhat, with his "Superman syndrome", has introduced a new phrase to management-speak. Very high earnings have led to that complex, and I am glad that he drew attention to it.

The noble Lord, Lord Taverne, spoke eloquently and movingly about the disadvantages of inequality. My noble friend Lord Joffe coined the myth of the market in directors. My noble friend Lord Puttnam talked about his dad's concept of fairness, which drew accord from all of us. The noble Lord, Lord Bradshaw, asked an extremely relevant question about subcontractors, which was referred to again by the Minister. Of course the Bill will not cover everything. The noble Lord's point about subcontractors is a potential weakness in the Bill, which could be put right if its provisions are put into legislation at that stage.

My noble friend Lord Giddens made a telling point when he said that there is no correlation between high rewards and high performance. The noble Lord, Lord Renton, who has become, in his maturity, an entrepreneur—much to my delight and admiration—talked about money not being everything. He also talked about the possibility of a special general meeting to consider any salary or earnings over 50 times more.

My noble friend Lord Haskel, who was assigned as my mentor when I first came here and has kept a benevolent eye on me ever since, raised the concept of the signpost and was also the first person to mention ethics. The noble Lord, Lord Goodhart, who talked about the wider concepts of corporate governance, mentioned the word "duty", which I think should be in capital letters in every company office.

The noble Lord, Lord Kalms, said that he did not agree with me totally, but actually, when I think about what he said, I believe that he did. He said that there are different sorts of businesses which cannot always be equally compared, and he is right. My noble friend Lord Wedderburn, who has already spoken eloquently on this subject, drove the nail a little further home.

My noble friend Lord Donoughue started his speech with a very significant phrase—"team spirit". I know that he has played in teams and possibly continues to do so. Team spirit is an extremely important factor in companies and should influence some people more than it does.

I have often admired the eloquence of the noble Lord, Lord De Mauley, even when he has a weak case. I find it difficult to disagree with anything he said. I agree totally that my proposed number should not be more prominent than the profits of the company. Having run a small plc, I do not agree that if my Bill became law, it would add any cost to small plcs, and having been a printer as well, I can tell the noble Lord that it is extremely cheap to operate.

My noble friend Lord Davies said that he had very little criticism of my proposal. I stand amazed and full of admiration at his accomplished speech, made so soon after he was introduced into this House—by me, in fact. He seems to be a total natural. I certainly have no wish that he or any of his colleagues should be distracted by the Bill from their main objectives. I do not think that they would be.

Finally, let me say, in all honesty, that nothing has been discussed in this debate of which I have not had some experience in one capacity or another. I am convinced that we have been debating aspects of our capitalist society which have gone wrong—badly wrong. If we do not right these wrongs, our society will suffer.

I am a capitalist; I have always been a capitalist. I know of no better system than capitalism. But uncontrolled capitalism is far from perfect. There can be injustices; there can be abuses, which could threaten our future stability and prosperity. We must put these things right, and I hope that in today's debate we have taken a small step towards a saner, healthier and more just society.

Bill read a second time and committed to a Committee of the whole House.