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Lord Janner of Braunstone: My Lords, does my noble friend specifically share the concern expressed last week by President Clinton at the testing and development of long-range equipment for the delivery of ballistic missiles? Further, should we not welcome the increase in the ability of democratic Israel to defend itself, as opposed to Iran, which people have accused of many things but never of being a democracy?
Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, as I indicated, such problems exist in all the countries in a very volatile part of the Middle East. Any escalation in an arms race, whether we are talking about an escalation in conventional arms or in weapons of mass destruction, is an escalation which other countries like the United Kingdom and the US must keep under firm review. Of course I agree with my noble friend that at this difficult juncture in the Middle East peace process, which I believe all noble Lords acknowledge, anything that escalates the amount of available weaponry is a matter of concern to all.
Lord Wallace of Saltaire: My Lords, does the Minister recall the Foreign Secretary's visit to Israel some months ago and the clear demonstration that British and European policies in that region are not identical to those of the US? Further, does the Minister share the concern of some of us that American policy appears to have been captured by the Israeli lobby and that, therefore, it requires the British Government, in concert with their European partners, to begin to spell out rather more clearly how our interests across the Middle East, not only in regard to the Israeli/Arab conflict but also as far as concerns the Gulf, differ from those of the United States?
Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, of course I recall my right honourable friend's visit. I hope that the noble Lord also recalls that there was a full discussion of the Middle East peace process at the recent Cardiff Summit. EU partners shared the very brave concern of Her Majesty's Government at the continuing deadlock in the Middle East peace process and the threat that that poses to the stability of the region. However, we reiterated our strong support--as, indeed, did all EU countries--for the efforts of the US to gain the agreement of the parties to the package of proposals which, if accepted, would open the way to relaunching the final status talks. As I said, we have already welcomed the Palestinian acceptance of those proposals,
Lord Kennet: My Lords, does my noble friend agree that there is really no such thing as a conventional bomber aircraft? Indeed, bombers are bombers and may be conventional or nuclear, according to what is put in them.
Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, what may be a perfectly innocent vehicle in one respect can become a vehicle for a weapon of mass destruction in another. Indeed, I imagine that even a rucksack full of canisters of anthrax could be considered in some circumstances to be a highly lethal vehicle for delivering a weapon of mass destruction. I take my noble friend's point. However, in relation to the specific question that he raised, the aircraft under discussion that the US is committed to selling to Israel are conventional weapons.
Lord Dormand of Easington: My Lords, I thank my noble friend the Minister for that Answer. As there are now three reports on the matter and as the Prime Minister and the Chancellor of the Exchequer have recently made yet another strong criticism of what they call "boardroom greed", is not early action--indeed "early" as my noble friend just said--necessary? Does my noble friend agree that there are at least two aspects which cause concern? First, there is the understandable pressure that is now coming from workforces for higher than inflation wage increases, a pressure which, I suspect, will grow even more in coming weeks; and secondly, there is the serious danger to a Labour Government in allowing an ever-increasing gap to emerge between the richest and the poorest in society.
Lord Chalfont: My Lords, is the Minister aware that the recently issued Stock Exchange code of best practice brings together many of the points raised in the three reports to which reference has been made? Therefore, does he agree that, if the latter are properly followed and observed, many of the fears raised by the noble Lord will be removed?
Lord Simon of Highbury: My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for that observation. I absolutely agree with him. Indeed, I believe that the final Stock Exchange report included all of the many sensible and well-supported suggestions contained in the Cadbury Report, the Greenbury Report and the Hampel Report, whose author, I am glad to say, is now sitting in the Gallery listening to our debate. All those suggestions, if better applied, would cause companies, the workforce, the shareholders and other stakeholders to see better governance and better performance in our country.
Lord Ezra: My Lords, in view of the fact that, as the noble Lord, Lord Dormand, pointed out in his Question, there have now been three reports on the subject of corporate governance, and indeed the Stock Exchange has also produced reports on the subject, is it not appropriate that the Government should produce a consultative document on the issue to include the vexed and controversial issue of senior executive pay?
Lord Simon of Highbury: My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for the observation but that is precisely what the Government have done. On 4th March the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry announced that there would be a review of company law during the course of this Parliament in which we would review among other things the role of the shareholder and the relationship between shareholders and senior management on such issues as remuneration. I think our policy is well known. We want to see more openness, more accountability and more involvement of the shareholders, whose responsibility these issues are. I am quite certain that that will be considered as we go forward with the company law review.
Lord Barnett: My Lords, as my noble friend will know, some 70 per cent. of shares in the major companies are in the hands of institutions. Would he care to prepare any new papers--although we have had enough on this subject--showing how the Government measure productivity in the hands of major company directors?
Lord Simon of Highbury: My Lords, in a good company the relationship between directors and the company is a symbiotic one. The result in terms of the value that is created for all the stakeholders in the company is positive. I think there are many ways of measuring performance, but what we must do as a principle is to make sure that governance ensures that the performance of individuals and of the workforce in general are taken into account in relation to all the awards in the company.