Cautious M&S refuses to put Taurus to the vote

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MARKS & SPENCER has refused to sanction Taurus, the Stock Exchange's proposed electronic share certificate system, declining to put the necessary resolution to shareholders at its annual meeting yesterday.

Sir Richard Greenbury, chairman of M&S, said Taurus, which aims to do away with share certificates, had been 'plagued by delays' and was 'untested'.

It would be prudent to see how Taurus coped with smaller share registers before committing M&S's 300,000-shareholder register, he said. Therefore, no resolution was being put to shareholders authorising the switch to Taurus.

Earlier this week shareholders of Argyll, the Safeway supermarkets group, voted to switch to Taurus. Other companies, including British Telecom and Blue Circle, the cement company, have also passed the necessary resolutions.

A Stock Exchange spokeswoman played down the snub. The exchange would continue to press companies to implement the necessary resolutions.

Sir Richard said trading at M&S had remained very difficult in the first three months of the new financial year. But the first-half performance should still beat last time's, he said, a statement whch reassured the stock market: the shares fell only 1p to 306p in a collapsing market.

Sir Richard put his characteristically robust stamp on the meeting, one moment threatening to throw out a shareholder who would not sit down, the next lambasting some M&S products (ladies' dresses) and stores (Wembley in north London).

Justifying M&S's donations to the Conservative and Liberal Democrat parties, he said he had invited Labour's Neil Kinnock and John Smith to come in and explain their policies to M&S, but they had refused.

He defended the company's decision not to follow other retailers and open on Sundays: 'We're not so greedy for an extra pounds 1m or two of profit that we would be prepared to break the law for it.'

However, M&S did want to see clarification of the Sunday trading law. It also wanted a relaxation of rules preventing it opening later than 8pm.

His decision to sell half his own M&S holding last year was to raise cash he needed urgently to help one of his children, he told one curious shareholder.

He paid tribute to suppliers and their successful control of costs. The vast majority of prices in the stores this autumn would be the same or lower than last year, he said.

(Photograph omitted)