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In those circumstances, we believe that the fear expressed by the hon. Member for Huntingdon
19 Oct 2006 : Column 1035
(Mr. Djanogly)—simply having the reserve power will result in fewer institutions moving towards voluntary disclosure—is misplaced. We believe that as long as the industry is reassured by the Government, preferably by the amendment being accepted, although the Minister could attempt it in other ways, further progress towards voluntary disclosure will continue.

The question laid down by the hon. Member for Huntingdon is, why have the reserve powers in the first place? The answer is that it is perfectly legitimate for the Government to take the view that there will be institutions and institutional investors that follow practices that are not as transparent as others, and that there might come a time when, to provide a level playing field for the whole industry, some regulation is necessary.

I hope that that time does not come and that the Government will use the powers that the Bill will grant them in a way that helps the industry to move further, although we recognise that there is a legitimate case for those powers as they stand.

Mr. Mike Weir (Angus) (SNP): I am interested in what the hon. Gentleman is saying. Does he envisage the majority of institutions following a voluntary procedure and it then becoming necessary to force a minority to come on board with disclosure, or does he think that perhaps two or three large institutions will continue to refuse to disclose when the rest are disclosing? Would that be acceptable to him?

David Howarth: To make things clear, I should say that I envisage there perhaps being some recalcitrant institutions, which it would then be necessary to coerce. I was about to say that the exact shape of the regulations needs to take into account industry practice, so even if it is proposed, at some stage, to coerce the final few, it will be much better if the Government draw on the experience of the industry as it has developed in the intervening period.

I hope that the Government do not evince an intention to use the regulations early. They need to consider the practice of the industry and to use that practice as a way to shape any regulations that they are thinking of introducing.

Margaret Hodge: I must say first to the hon. Member for Huntingdon (Mr. Djanogly) that this is not a last-minute idea. These provisions were in the Bill when they were introduced, but were overturned in the House of Lords. We reinstated them in Committee. They have been part of the Bill from the start.

I have to say further, to all hon. Members, that a theme running through the Bill is our attempt to ensure better shareholder engagement. We think that this is part of it. The hon. Gentleman, in a very lengthy contribution, quoted every business organisation he could—the CBI, the ABI et al—and I found it extremely difficult to work out whether he was working in the spirit of what his leader said. Whether the hon. Gentleman was standing up for business or was willing to stand up to it in the interest of shareholders; I could not get it at all.

On the other hand, the contribution made by the hon. Member for Cambridge (David Howarth) was perfectly valid, and I hope to give him the undertaking
19 Oct 2006 : Column 1036
that he wants. We want a practical scheme and we want to ensure that we do not have a one-size-fits-all approach. We also want a proper cost-benefit analysis and consultation, although not in the terms of the amendment. This is a good move—a reserve power that will not allow again, in the words of the hon. Member for Huntingdon, an institution that wants to maintain secrecy to do so. We do not think that is appropriate. We would rather back shareholders in this instance.

There are people who appear to oppose transparency of voting on principle. That seems to me pretty fundamental, so it was good that Lord Hodgson said in Committee in the Lords that

I could not agree more. They are entitled, which means that the entitlement goes to the shareholders, not the companies. Nor is that an isolated view. The hon. Member for Huntingdon talked about a number of business interests, but John Bogle, the founder of the $500 billion Vanguard funds group, has said:

Mr. Djanogly: The two examples given by the Minister relate to the relationship between the institution and the people investing in it, but the concerns relate more to the third parties who want to see the institution’s policies.

Margaret Hodge: I do not follow that argument. Those third parties who act on behalf of shareholders in relation to institutions have such a right. Is the hon. Gentleman willing to rephrase his point?

Mr. Djanogly: My point is that there is a difference between information that an institution gives to people who invest in it, and information that an institution puts on its website for third parties.

Margaret Hodge: I do not follow that that has an impact.

Mr. Djanogly: To elaborate further for the Minister’s benefit, the problem that many institutions have is not with disclosing information to people who invest in it but with having to disclose information to third parties.

Margaret Hodge: I find that rather a tenuous point— [Laughter.] The hon. Gentleman laughs, but if institutions have chosen to vote in a particular way on a particular issue, I can see nothing wrong with that being open. I will deal with some of the concerns that he expressed about how openness on voting intentions or voting record, which are among the practical issues that we need to address, might lead institutions to choosing not to vote or making secret deals, which appears to be his line of argument.

Mr. Weir: Is not another argument that many institutions, such as pension funds, are very big, and it would be much cheaper for them to put the
19 Oct 2006 : Column 1037
information on their website for those who are interested, rather than having to go back to all the investors in that institution?

Margaret Hodge: Indeed. In discussions that we had about information being given by companies to indirect shareholders, the companies made it clear that they preferred to use e-information channels. I suppose that the hon. Member for Huntingdon would make a distinction between reports and accounts and, for instance, information on voting on particular resolutions. I cannot, however, follow the qualitative difference between the two that would lead to secrecy on one and openness on the other. I therefore agree completely with the intervention of the hon. Member for Angus (Mr. Weir).

The important principle of openness must be underpinned by clear benefits. What are the benefits? First, it can only increase the confidence of savers in the governance being exercised on their behalf by institutional investors, that they are engaging with companies and that they are doing that well.

Secondly, greater transparency makes institutional investors more accountable for the governance decisions that they make on behalf of savers, providing stronger incentives to cast votes and to do so thoughtfully. It will put more pressure on institutional investors to explain their decisions. That cannot be a bad thing. The hon. Member for Huntingdon used the argument—I cannot remember whether it was from the ABI—that this would encourage uninformed voting decisions. How can that be right? An institution that chose to vote unthinkingly would be exposed to ridicule. Why would it choose to do that, when delegating decisions to a fund manager or using a voting advisory service are simple options to ensure considered voting?

12.45 pm

Thirdly, greater transparency will help institutional investors manage potential conflicts of interest arising from voting decisions, thus deterring decisions that might benefit the institutional investor rather than savers. Such conflicts can influence behaviour. Research by the university of Michigan using data acquired under the American disclosure rules found that business ties between the institutional investor and a company made it more likely that the investor would vote with the company’s management. That is natural, but not right, and transparency would reduce that risk.

Fourthly, greater transparency enhances shareholder engagement between institutions and investee companies, which is one of the key objectives of the Bill. Again, it has been argued that that will harm behind-the-scenes engagement. Of course, some discussions are more effective behind closed doors. But if a company knows beforehand why an institution is not supporting a resolution, how does disclosure after the fact of the vote cause damage? And if it did so, why are a dozen major UK institutional investors, including institutions such as the Pru and Standard Life, making voluntary disclosures of their voting records?

19 Oct 2006 : Column 1038

Of course, there are important issues to deal with in designing the disclosure regime. I accept that it must be cost-effective, and we are confident that it will be. The disclosure data in question are already available, as required by the industry’s own best practice guidelines. Institutions that already publish voting records, such as Co-operative Insurance Services, confirm that the costs are not excessive, and John Bogle said that they were a “drop in the bucket”. That might be why there is a strong existing trend towards voluntary disclosure, which the hon. Member for Huntingdon accepted. In the UK, of 35 major fund managers, the number making voluntary disclosures has increased from two in 2003 to 10 in 2005, and two more have now joined them. Alternatively, the reason might be pressure from clients. A recent survey among pension fund trustees found nine out of 10 agreeing that fund managers should publicly disclose their votes.

I am also encouraged by the growing number of international precedents. The US in 2003, followed by Canada, have mandated voting disclosure. In the US, that covers 3,700 mutual funds with approximately $2 trillion of investments, and it has been implemented without the dire consequences that the hon. Member for Huntingdon predicts for the UK. Action is also being contemplated in South Africa and France.

During the passage of the Bill, it has been interesting to note that fewer people are saying that disclosure is wrong in principle. I do not think that the hon. Member for Huntingdon is saying that. Increasingly, people are saying, “It’s a good thing, but you don’t need the power, it’s going to happen anyway”. Even the industry may be moving that way, if the vigorous debate on a voluntary disclosure regime is anything to go by. But the argument goes the other way. If it is going to happen anyway, why is there all this angst about taking a power? The positions adopted by the Opposition and others are inconsistent.

In the Government’s view, taking the power is still necessary. While we are keen to see how market practice evolves before considering a mandatory regime, we need back-up if the voluntary movement does not deliver. Of course, there will be a full consultation and cost-benefit analysis, and parliamentary approval through the affirmative procedure, to ensure that any mandatory regime is proportionate. The case for disclosure of voting is clear. We want to work with all stakeholders to make sure that we achieve that sensibly and practically, at least cost. This power lets us do that, and I ask the hon. Member for Huntingdon to withdraw his amendment.

Amendment No. 435, to which the hon. Member for Cambridge referred, would require the Government to consult and undertake cost-benefit analysis on regulations. I have already made clear that we will do that. Do we need a provision in the Bill that tells us to do that? Our view is that we do not. Consultation on such proposals is in line with normal practice and Government guidance. We have made a formal commitment—I have done so today two or three times—to full public consultation. In the circumstances, we think it unnecessary to introduce such a requirement in the Bill. I note that an amendment in the other place that would have had a similar effect was withdrawn after the Government gave their assurance.

19 Oct 2006 : Column 1039

New clause 15 would require the institutions to which the disclosure applies to disclose on a website whether they had exercised voting rights attaching to shares. They would have to make the disclosure in respect of each opportunity to exercise such rights. The new clause suggests that we share common ground on the principle of introducing provisions governing institutional investor voting, and we welcome that acknowledgment. We also agree with the logic behind the requirement for website disclosure. As was suggested by the hon. Member for Angus, that may be the best way of ensuring that disclosure is cost-effective. However, the new clause interacts with clauses 1241 to 1244, and two problems may arise.

First, the new clause makes compulsory the disclosure of certain information on the exercise of voting rights. That means that the Government would not have flexibility to adjust the requirement—as suggested by the hon. Member for Cambridge—even if that was supported by the results of consultation and analysis. Secondly, in the absence of clause 1244, the new clause would limit disclosure to whether or not voting rights had been exercised. The Government would not be able to require the disclosure of information about how the votes had been cast. That would prematurely restrict the scope of the Government’s flexible enabling power before we had consulted on the best way in which to achieve a proportionate disclosure regime.

I believe that the knowledge of how votes were intended to be cast is important to understanding how the institutional investor is exercising ownership responsibilities. However, I do not want to prejudge the outcome of the consultation to which I have committed us.

I do not consider the new clause, as drafted, to be appropriate. I hope that the hon. Member for Huntingdon will not press it or his amendments to a Division, and that he will support the more flexible and principled route that the Government have taken.

Mr. Djanogly: The Minister’s final comments suggested that she accepts the principle behind new clause 15 as long as there can be consultation beforehand. Perhaps she will come up with some suggestions to be dealt with in the other place.

Of course we in the Conservative party wish to encourage transparency. I said that quite clearly, and I think the Minister acknowledged it. I also think we have both acknowledged that the industry is moving in the right direction without the need for a Bill. Although I disagree with none of the Minister’s reasons for saying that institutions should be open, we do not feel that they should be forced to accept the provisions of clause 1241. The Minister mentioned shareholder engagement, and I tried to explain earlier why we think the clause could damage that. Institutions that must say how they voted and do not wish to do so will simply not vote. The impact of the clause could be purely counter-productive.

We note that the Liberal Democrats have become a little less forthright in their opposition to the clause than they were in the other place or in Committee. Having said that, I note their support for amendment No. 435, which I wish to press to a Division.

19 Oct 2006 : Column 1040

I beg to ask leave to withdraw the motion.

Motion and clause, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 1241

Power to require information about exercise of voting rights

Amendment proposed: No. 435, page 604, line 4, at end insert—

‘(7) Regulations under this section shall be subject to public consultation prior to publication, and shall be the subject of a cost benefit analysis.’.— [Mr. Djanogly.]

Question put, That the amendment be made:—

The House divided: Ayes 147, Noes 253.
Division No. 316]
[12.55 pm


Afriyie, Adam
Ainsworth, Mr. Peter
Alexander, Danny
Amess, Mr. David
Atkinson, Mr. Peter
Barker, Gregory
Baron, Mr. John
Barrett, John
Beith, rh Mr. Alan
Bellingham, Mr. Henry
Blunt, Mr. Crispin
Bone, Mr. Peter
Boswell, Mr. Tim
Brady, Mr. Graham
Brazier, Mr. Julian
Brokenshire, James
Brooke, Annette
Browne, Mr. Jeremy
Bruce, rh Malcolm
Burt, Alistair
Butterfill, Sir John
Cable, Dr. Vincent
Cameron, rh Mr. David
Campbell, rh Sir Menzies
Carswell, Mr. Douglas
Clark, Greg
Curry, rh Mr. David
Davey, Mr. Edward
Davies, David T.C. (Monmouth)
Davies, Philip
Davis, rh David (Haltemprice and Howden)
Djanogly, Mr. Jonathan
Dorries, Mrs. Nadine
Duddridge, James
Duncan, Alan
Dunne, Mr. Philip
Ellwood, Mr. Tobias
Evans, Mr. Nigel
Evennett, Mr. David
Fabricant, Michael
Fallon, Mr. Michael
Featherstone, Lynne
Foster, Mr. Don
Francois, Mr. Mark
Gale, Mr. Roger
Garnier, Mr. Edward
Gauke, Mr. David
Gibb, Mr. Nick
Goodman, Mr. Paul
Goodwill, Mr. Robert
Gray, Mr. James
Greening, Justine
Grieve, Mr. Dominic
Gummer, rh Mr. John
Hands, Mr. Greg
Harris, Dr. Evan
Harvey, Nick
Hayes, Mr. John
Heald, Mr. Oliver
Heath, Mr. David
Hemming, John
Hendry, Charles
Herbert, Nick
Hoban, Mr. Mark
Hogg, rh Mr. Douglas
Hollobone, Mr. Philip
Holloway, Mr. Adam
Horam, Mr. John
Howarth, David
Hughes, Simon
Hunt, Mr. Jeremy
Hurd, Mr. Nick
Jack, rh Mr. Michael
Jackson, Mr. Stewart
Jenkin, Mr. Bernard
Jones, Mr. David
Key, Robert
Knight, rh Mr. Greg
Laing, Mrs. Eleanor
Lamb, Norman
Lancaster, Mr. Mark
Leigh, Mr. Edward
Letwin, rh Mr. Oliver
Lewis, Dr. Julian
Loughton, Tim
Luff, Peter
Main, Anne
Malins, Mr. Humfrey
Maples, Mr. John
Mates, rh Mr. Michael
Maude, rh Mr. Francis
May, rh Mrs. Theresa
McIntosh, Miss Anne
McLoughlin, rh Mr. Patrick
Mercer, Patrick
Miller, Mrs. Maria
Milton, Anne
Moss, Mr. Malcolm
Murrison, Dr. Andrew
Newmark, Mr. Brooks

O'Brien, Mr. Stephen
Osborne, Mr. George
Ottaway, Richard
Paice, Mr. James
Paterson, Mr. Owen
Pelling, Mr. Andrew
Penrose, John
Pickles, Mr. Eric
Pugh, Dr. John
Randall, Mr. John
Redwood, rh Mr. John
Robertson, Hugh
Rogerson, Mr. Dan
Rowen, Paul
Ruffley, Mr. David
Russell, Bob
Scott, Mr. Lee
Shapps, Grant
Simmonds, Mark
Simpson, Mr. Keith
Smith, Sir Robert
Spicer, Sir Michael
Spring, Mr. Richard
Steen, Mr. Anthony
Stuart, Mr. Graham
Stunell, Andrew
Swayne, Mr. Desmond
Swinson, Jo
Syms, Mr. Robert
Teather, Sarah
Turner, Mr. Andrew
Tyrie, Mr. Andrew
Vaizey, Mr. Edward
Vara, Mr. Shailesh
Viggers, Peter
Villiers, Mrs. Theresa
Walker, Mr. Charles
Wallace, Mr. Ben
Watkinson, Angela
Whittingdale, Mr. John
Wiggin, Bill
Willis, Mr. Phil
Willott, Jenny
Wilson, Mr. Rob
Yeo, Mr. Tim
Young, rh Sir George
Younger-Ross, Richard
Tellers for the Ayes:

Andrew Selous and
Mr. Simon Burns

Ainger, Nick
Ainsworth, rh Mr. Bob
Allen, Mr. Graham
Armstrong, rh Hilary
Atkins, Charlotte
Austin, Mr. Ian
Bailey, Mr. Adrian
Baird, Vera
Balls, Ed
Banks, Gordon
Barlow, Ms Celia
Barron, rh Mr. Kevin
Battle, rh John
Bayley, Hugh
Begg, Miss Anne
Bell, Sir Stuart
Benn, rh Hilary
Benton, Mr. Joe
Berry, Roger
Betts, Mr. Clive
Blackman, Liz
Blackman-Woods, Dr. Roberta
Blizzard, Mr. Bob
Borrow, Mr. David S.
Bradshaw, Mr. Ben
Brown, Lyn
Brown, rh Mr. Nicholas
Brown, Mr. Russell
Browne, rh Des
Bryant, Chris
Buck, Ms Karen
Burden, Richard
Burgon, Colin
Butler, Ms Dawn
Byrne, Mr. Liam
Cairns, David
Campbell, Mr. Alan
Campbell, Mr. Ronnie
Caton, Mr. Martin
Chapman, Ben
Chaytor, Mr. David
Clark, Paul
Clarke, rh Mr. Charles
Clarke, rh Mr. Tom
Clelland, Mr. David
Coffey, Ann
Connarty, Michael
Cooper, Yvette
Corbyn, Jeremy
Cousins, Jim
Crausby, Mr. David
Creagh, Mary
Cruddas, Jon
Cummings, John
Cunningham, Mr. Jim
Cunningham, Tony
David, Mr. Wayne
Davidson, Mr. Ian
Dean, Mrs. Janet
Devine, Mr. Jim
Dhanda, Mr. Parmjit
Dismore, Mr. Andrew
Dobbin, Jim
Donohoe, Mr. Brian H.
Doran, Mr. Frank
Dowd, Jim
Drew, Mr. David
Eagle, Angela
Efford, Clive
Ellman, Mrs. Louise
Engel, Natascha
Ennis, Jeff
Farrelly, Paul
Fisher, Mark
Fitzpatrick, Jim
Flello, Mr. Robert
Flint, Caroline
Flynn, Paul
Follett, Barbara
Foster, Mr. Michael (Worcester)
Foster, Michael Jabez (Hastings and Rye)
Francis, Dr. Hywel
Gapes, Mike
Gardiner, Barry
George, rh Mr. Bruce
Gerrard, Mr. Neil

Goggins, Paul
Goodman, Helen
Griffith, Nia
Griffiths, Nigel
Grogan, Mr. John
Gwynne, Andrew
Hall, Mr. Mike
Hall, Patrick
Hamilton, Mr. David
Harman, rh Ms Harriet
Healey, John
Hendrick, Mr. Mark
Heppell, Mr. John
Hesford, Stephen
Hewitt, rh Ms Patricia
Heyes, David
Hill, rh Keith
Hillier, Meg
Hodge, rh Margaret
Hodgson, Mrs. Sharon
Hoey, Kate
Hood, Mr. Jimmy
Hope, Phil
Hopkins, Kelvin
Hosie, Stewart
Howarth, rh Mr. George
Hoyle, Mr. Lindsay
Hughes, rh Beverley
Humble, Mrs. Joan
Iddon, Dr. Brian
Ingram, rh Mr. Adam
Irranca-Davies, Huw
Jackson, Glenda
Jenkins, Mr. Brian
Johnson, rh Alan
Johnson, Ms Diana R.
Jones, Lynne
Jones, Mr. Martyn
Keeble, Ms Sally
Keeley, Barbara
Keen, Alan
Keen, Ann
Kelly, rh Ruth
Kemp, Mr. Fraser
Khabra, Mr. Piara S.
Khan, Mr. Sadiq
Kidney, Mr. David
Knight, Jim
Kumar, Dr. Ashok
Lammy, Mr. David
Laxton, Mr. Bob
Lazarowicz, Mark
Lepper, David
Levitt, Tom
Linton, Martin
Lloyd, Tony
Llwyd, Mr. Elfyn
Love, Mr. Andrew
Lucas, Ian
Mackinlay, Andrew
MacNeil, Mr. Angus
MacShane, rh Mr. Denis
Mahmood, Mr. Khalid
Malik, Mr. Shahid
Mallaber, Judy
Mann, John
Marris, Rob
Marshall, Mr. David
Marshall-Andrews, Mr. Robert
McAvoy, rh Mr. Thomas
McCabe, Steve
McCarthy, Kerry
McCarthy-Fry, Sarah
McDonagh, Siobhain
McGovern, Mr. Jim
McGuire, Mrs. Anne
McIsaac, Shona
McKechin, Ann
McKenna, Rosemary
Meacher, rh Mr. Michael
Merron, Gillian
Miliband, Edward
Miller, Andrew
Mitchell, Mr. Austin
Moffatt, Laura
Mole, Chris
Moon, Mrs. Madeleine
Moran, Margaret
Morden, Jessica
Morgan, Julie
Morley, Mr. Elliot
Mountford, Kali
Mudie, Mr. George
Mullin, Mr. Chris
Munn, Meg
Murphy, Mr. Jim
Naysmith, Dr. Doug
O'Brien, Mr. Mike
O'Hara, Mr. Edward
Olner, Mr. Bill
Osborne, Sandra
Palmer, Dr. Nick
Pearson, Ian
Plaskitt, Mr. James
Pope, Mr. Greg
Prentice, Bridget
Prentice, Mr. Gordon
Price, Adam
Prosser, Gwyn
Purchase, Mr. Ken
Purnell, James
Raynsford, rh Mr. Nick
Reid, rh John
Riordan, Mrs. Linda
Robertson, John
Rooney, Mr. Terry
Roy, Mr. Frank
Ruddock, Joan
Russell, Christine
Salter, Martin
Sheridan, Jim
Simon, Mr. Siôn
Slaughter, Mr. Andrew
Smith, rh Mr. Andrew
Smith, Geraldine
Smith, rh Jacqui
Smith, John
Southworth, Helen
Starkey, Dr. Phyllis
Stewart, Ian
Strang, rh Dr. Gavin
Straw, rh Mr. Jack
Stringer, Graham
Sutcliffe, Mr. Gerry
Tami, Mark
Taylor, Ms Dari
Taylor, David
Thomas, Mr. Gareth
Timms, rh Mr. Stephen
Tipping, Paddy
Todd, Mr. Mark
Touhig, rh Mr. Don
Trickett, Jon
Truswell, Mr. Paul

Turner, Dr. Desmond
Turner, Mr. Neil
Ussher, Kitty
Vis, Dr. Rudi
Walley, Joan
Waltho, Lynda
Ward, Claire
Wareing, Mr. Robert N.
Watson, Mr. Tom
Watts, Mr. Dave
Weir, Mr. Mike
Whitehead, Dr. Alan
Wicks, Malcolm
Williams, Mrs. Betty
Williams, Hywel
Wills, Mr. Michael
Winnick, Mr. David
Wood, Mike
Wright, Mr. Anthony
Wright, David
Wright, Mr. Iain
Wright, Dr. Tony
Wyatt, Derek
Tellers for the Noes:

Mr. Ian Cawsey and
Jonathan Shaw
Question accordingly negatived.
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