This is disappointing. It seems the National Association of Pension Funds, which had previously announced that it would commit as much as £10m to fighting Animal Rights Extremism, has had a change of heart.
The National Association of Pension Funds, which speaks for billions of pounds invested in the stock market, has backed down from a well-publicised plan to offer a £10m "bounty" to pursue animal rights extremists through the courts.
The news was greeted with dismay by the biotechnology industry because the NAPF had been talking up its role as a leader in the battle against the intimidation of companies which have links with animal testing companies. The U-turn was revealed in letters from Terry Faulkner, chairman of the NAPF, to Jonathan Djanogly, the Conservative MP who has Huntingdon Life Sciences, the leading animal testing business, in his constituency.
In the first letter, dated January 6, Mr Faulkner accepted that "the NAPF has raised awareness of `investment terrorism'", but he added that the NAPF "does not intend to lead developments on this particular issue for the foreseeable future".
In the second letter, dated January 26, Mr Faulkner added that while the NAPF "felt it right to raise the profile of the effect active single issue groups have on listed companies that are trading legally", the body "has never been in a position to address the issue single-handedly and a fund of many millions of pounds is well beyond our resources".
Mr Djanogly said the NAPF's decision was "indicative of the weakness in the City [in not being able] to stand up against economic terrorism". He added: "They have allowed 150 to 200 terrorists basically to dictate investment policy. The result has been quite straightforward for Huntingdon Life Sciences – they have been forced to re-list on Nasdaq. This is a harbinger of things to come unless the investment community wakes up."
Aisling Burnand, director general of the BioIndustry Association, said: "I am really disappointed about this. I hope that they can reconsider. They were very bold over last summer about what they thought they could do and it is disheartening that they have not followed through the public promises."
Brian Cass, managing director of Huntingdon Life Sciences, said the news was "rather disappointing". But he added: "Looked at from a distance it is easy to be brave but when you get closer in and think, 'That is my name on the website and my address. I am not sure that I want that'. That is the kind of tactic people rely on."
The NAPF became embroiled in the issue last year as animal rights campaigners switched their focus from the animal testing companies to investors. In July Montpelier pulled out of building a new laboratory after its shareholders were threatened, leading to falls in its share price.
The following month, the NAPF was reported to be ready to set up a task force with a five-strong board, possibly backed with a "bounty fund" to pursue civil actions against extremists.
A NAPF spokesman said the talks, which had only ever been "informal discussions", had been overtaken by the Government's plans for new legislation, announced this week. He asked: "Would the Government come up with the measures they have done if we had not made these noises in the first place?"
It's hard to know many negative implications attach to the NAPF's change of heart, and how serious they might be.
Now, it is true that the NAPF didn't actually commit funding to fight AR terrorism, but they certainly gave the impression they would. Either they were having second thoughts for some time (which is fine), and those second thoughts evolved into a decision that they would not commit substantial funds to fighting AR terrorism (which is equally fine), or they made a snap decision, reversing a trend that had been building over months (for example, link, link).
But if the NAPF were having second thoughts, they shouldn't have allowed public expectations to build as they were. There are ways to soften positions that aren't PR disasters, while keeping all options open. But NAPF didn't avail themselves of such niceties.
On the other hand, if they suddenly, like a thunderbolt from the sky, reversed a policy that they weren't having second thoughts about . . . what the hell is that all about?
Regardless, their decision clearly caught just about everyone by surprise, and added insult to the injury of those who are AR targets.
But that may not be the worst of it.
It's bad enough that the NAPF lurched backwards, whatever their reasons might be.
But to then suggest that they might deserve credit for the new laws enacted by the government strikes me — at best — as the hight of cynicism.
Worse than that, it raises the disturbing possibility that from the beginning it was NAPF's intention to deceive the world about its intentions in order to get the government to act.
One can only hope that NAPF officials are more professional, less erratic, less disingenuous and perhaps less deceptive in making decisions about the pension funds they control than they were in handling this little matter.
I'm not so sure I'd be comfortable trusting these people with my pension funds.