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Mr. Flight: I am pleased to assure the hon. Member that capitalism is about a lot more than profit. As I see it, capitalism is about building wealth, and short-term profit often needs to be sacrificed. Building wealth is about many things, but the idea that capitalism is solely about profit is mistaken.
Mr. Luke: Perhaps we might describe the hon. Gentleman as the more acceptable face of capitalism in Parliament. Although some of the hon. Members who sit behind him might be less acceptable in that respect, I accept the tenor of his comments.
I am sure that this process will conclude successfully, with the Bill taking its rightful place on the statute book. It will extend the benefits, and encourage the spread, of employee share ownership to a much wider range of businesses. We must work to ensure that its provisions are well publicised and that there is greater take-up in the years ahead, building on the encouraging start since the improved concept was announced in the 2000 Budget. The useful and beneficial improvement to the SIP schemes introduced by the Government in that Budget has gone some way to encourage employees to hold shares in the company or group for which they work, and to use them for the collective benefit of all concerned.
The furtherance of the aims of the Bill has, I am glad to say, gained wide support that crosses the business and political divide, which fits well with the highly commendable aims of the Co-operative party and movement whose goals and activities acted as a catalyst for the Bill. The Bill is firmly anchored in the belief that it will help co-operative and mutual forms of economic organisation based on the principles of mutual ownership and democratic control. It represents another small step in the work of that excellent collaborative movement, which was formed as a party in 1917 to promote a stakeholder economy, a one-nation Britain, and to protect the rights of citizens as both consumers and employees.
The movement has a long history of consumer- employee involvement. Its example of co-operative effort here in the UK has been taken up by some 800 million co-operators worldwide. In a 1995 report, the UN estimated that the number of livelihoods throughout the world made secure by co-operative effort was approaching 3 billionclose to half the world's population.
The Bill fits well into the co-operative movement's work by promoting provisions that create fairer and more equal opportunities in the workplace for all employees. In a small but important way, it also supports a national economic strategy aimed at promoting worker co-operative action, and creates the potential for successful employee share ownership plans in future. That will, I hope, result in greater employee involvement in the running of the companies and businesses that employ them and provide them with the moneythe wageson which they and their families depend for a living.
The Bill would make it easier for employee trustees to gain a direct voice in the ownership and management of the business at which they work by facilitating the transfer of shares and allowing tax incentives for employee trusts set up by companies that want to take a significant step towards employee ownership. The new clause agreed this morning will help that process on its way to a significant extent.
Mr. Love: Does my hon. Friend agree that an important facet of the Bill is that the transfer of share ownership will be significant? Whereas under the ordinary SIP scheme the transfer can consist of any numbersmall or largeof shares, the Bill will facilitate the transfer of a significant number of shares to employees. I hope that all hon. Members support that aim.
Without being coercive, the Bill as amended will provide companies that set up SIPs with more coherent guidance that elected employees may become trustees. It will also encourage employees and their representatives, giving them confidence to request representation on the trust body without fear of legislative uncertainty. That is without doubt the way to give employees a stronger sense of ownership, which will lead to better productivity and employee-employer relationships. Benefits will accrue to both shop floor and boardroom in companies that take up that positive and progressive type of organisational structure. Ultimately, that will bring them far closer together than they have ever been in the past.
As well as small and medium-sized companies, we must look for ways to extend share ownership schemes through the whole range of companies. I believe that once a company gets involved in that way, the decisions made within it will become more collective in character, and the community of workers will have a bigger say. It will become less likely that a company will move out of a town, or even the country, to reduce costs; instead, decisions will be made according to what best suits the workers and efforts will be made to continue production at the company's existing location.
We have been talking about participation in management and a collaborative mode of running business concerns. I hope that they will be extended far more meaningfully to other organisations, such as football clubs. The Bill offers the model of employee representation on a SIP trust, and I hope that that model will be extended to groups of football supporters who, through trusts and co-operative action, seek greater influence on the way in which their local football team is run both as a business and as a sporting concern.
The work of supporter directors should be encouraged. Supporters Direct was the result of a Government initiative. The hon. Member for Arundel and South Downs mentioned his efforts to create different forms of mutualisation. When launching the Supporters Direct initiative in September 2000, when he was the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport, my right hon. Friend the Member for Islington, South and Finsbury (Mr. Smith), said:
I hope that the House will forgive me for digressing into the sporting aspect of mutualisation. With the recent saturation coverage of football on the television, it is difficult to avoid the subject. I urged my fellow Scots to support England, in the hope that we would end up with an extra bank holidaybut without success.
I am happy to have made a modest contribution to the Bill's progress. My hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh, North and Leith set out its aims clearly in January and said that he wanted to widen the application of tax relief on employee shareholdings in a greater range of companies. He said that he hoped to enable employee shareholders to play a greater role collectively in the management of the shares, and to make it easier for companies to transfer to employee share ownership schemes. Those are laudable aims and I believe that the Bill has gone a long way towards promoting them.
Ministers, the Treasury and the Inland Revenue have given a great deal of help, and it is clear that the Government are happy to support these efforts to give employees a greater stake in both their working lives and the way in which their workplace interacts with the community.
Although the provisions relate to the private sector, I believe that the Government can also do more to give a share to those in state employment in the running and management of the services that they deliver, as the hon. Member for Arundel and South Downs said.
The concept is not new. On leaving school, I was employed as a civil servant in the Inland Revenue. I was a tax collector in London for some time. As a union rep, I was involved in the Whitley councils, which I believe have now disappeared. The principle was to bring workers face to face with management. If the better productivity and employment relations that we have talked about in the private sector could be brought into the public sector, that would be a positive benefit. However, one step at a time is a good motto in this context.
I am sure that my hon. Friend the promoter will be glad, at the end of this debate, to know that his Bill has become an Act. I would gladly join the Co-op party if a member of it would give me a membership formand slip me the fee. Despite my non-membership, I can safely say, as a long-term trade union member, that there has been a spiritual home for me and many like me. I follow the Co-operative party in believing that people will achieve more by working together than they can by working alone. By increasing co-operation, we will achieve a sustainable future for our economy and the businesses in it. I support the Co-operative party's efforts and those of my hon. Friend the promoter to bring about the empowerment of individuals and communities through this move towards more co-operative self-help economic initiatives.
The Bill rests on three major foundations. The first is enterprise, ensuring that we can continue to build a sustainable economy. The second is that we continue to promote empowerment, with a culture of citizenship and involvement in business decision making. The third is accountability, ensuring that we create a society in which business acts in a socially responsible way. There has been a lot of talk about corporate responsibility in this Parliament. I believe that the Bill will promote that concept, and I commend it to the House.