ANOTHER VIEW; Fair share options for all

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The Independent Online
There were suggestions yesterday that the Chancellor was retreating from his ill-judged decision to tax share options. But it seems most likely that he will defer making a decision until the Budget. That is not good enough: half a million people will be left in miserable suspense until October or November - a point I shall be making when I meet Mr Clarke today to explain why he must reverse this tax change now.

Work patterns have changed significantly in the past 10 years. Many people do not work in the traditional large companies but in smaller and medium- sized companies - perhaps four or more over their lifetimes. The pace of change in business is very considerable and increases the risks that employees have to face. Share options provide an opportunity for many to mitigate the associated personal financial risks and provide for their family's future.

Hardly any of these people are wealthy and few, if any, were born with wealth. None of them has the luxury of a civil service pension, most of which would cost between pounds 250,000 and pounds 1m if they had been purchased in the private sector.

They are hard-working people who have taken risks which they hope will pay off. Sadly, for some, they won't and their share options will be worthless. However even those with worthless options will at least have had the satisfaction of knowing that their employer, encouraged by the Government, had given them the chance to gain capital and increase their ownership of the nation's wealth. For those employees whose share options do become valuable, there is the satisfaction of knowing they have achieved financial security for themselves and their families.

This widening of ownership forms a significant theme in all the Prime Minister's philosophical speeches - I cannot find one that does not mention it.

Indeed, the concept of further widening ownership was forcefully pressed upon the nation in the last Conservative manifesto, which specifically mentioned how in 1992 we had improved executive share-option schemes as well as encouraging the less-popular SAYE share-option schemes. That manifesto was supported by 14m voters - the highest vote for a political party in the history of the UK.

These share-option schemes have become a great success - more than 6,000 companies have one. They carry no certainty of profit: not only must the beneficiary work hard to succeed but so must everyone in the company. Share options also have the advantage of developing a mutuality of interest between shareholders and employees, which certainly does no harm to the UK's business environment.

So why change all this? And who determines Conservative Party policies? Is it the Inland Revenue or is it ministers, MPs and our manifesto commitments to the electorate? These are the questions I am hoping Mr Clarke can answer today.

The writer is Conservative MP for Dover.

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