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Directors scheme backed at HSBC

Shareholders in banking group HSBC voted through a controversial share scheme for directors yesterday though the company's annual meeting was disrupted by student protesters and other demonstrators who called the directors "liars" from the floor.

However, it was disclosed at the meeting that HSBC has adopted more stringent guidelines for its share scheme after intense pressure from City institutions such as Pirc, the Pension and Investment Research Consultancy.

Under the terms of the original scheme, directors stood to receive shares up to four times the value of their salaries for achieving certain performance criteria. It is now likely that the company will award a lower number of shares.

Pirc complained that shareholders had been given insufficient information about the scheme, though in a vote of proxies 17 per cent of shareholders voted against it.

Pirc's Stuart Bell said: "The relatively high number of shareholders voting against the resolution demonstrates the growing level of director incentive plans."

Pirc is expected to mount a concerted attack on similar schemes that will be put before the shareholders of several of the privatised water and electricity companies due to hold meetings in July.

During a typically boisterous meeting which lasted for three hours, HSBC chairman Sir William Purves faced allegations regarding the funding of arms deals and environmental destruction.

Some of the protesters also demanded to know why the majority of the board members were "male and white". Four demonstrators were removed by security staff. One shouted and kicked the guards as he was carried out.

Lamb, the Lloyds and Midland boycott scheme which is protesting about the bank's treatment of third world debt, also made a protest which HSBC described as "very unstructured".

Other shareholders became impatient during the lengthy disruption and began to boo and jeer. They clapped when Sir William ordered the protesters to be removed.

The protest, which focused on Midland Bank's alleged financing of arms sales to Iraq, was organised by 20 universities. Outside the meeting they handed out leaflets with the slogans: "Midland - Banking on Bombs". During question time they complained that they were being ignored. Sir William retorted: "I am not ignoring you. But if you continue like this I will."

Later he said that perhaps "one day, before I retire, I can chair a meeting in London in a civilised atmosphere".