HC Deb 01 April 1981 vol 2 cc563-8

2 pm

Mr. Mikardo

I beg to move amendment No. 71, in page 66, line 4, after 'State', insert `and with the trade unions recognised as representing the employees of Cable and Wireless Limited'. The amendment concerns the affairs of Cable and Wireless Ltd. We had a long debate on the subject during proceedings in Standing Committee. I believe that it would be an abuse of the time of the House and of the patience of hon. Members—some of us have sat here for nearly 24 hours—if I were to attempt to go over anything like the whole of the ground that was covered when we debated the matter in Committee.

On that occasion we dealt broadly with the subject, notably because we voted against the motion that clause 76, as it then was, stand part of the Bill. We concerned ourselves broadly with the act of vandalism that is being committed on Cable and Wireless in the Bill, an act of vandalism spatchcocked into a Bill that has nothing to do with Cable and Wireless, an act of vandalism inappropriately and incongruously inserted into a Bill that is about British Telecommunications and the Post Office.

On that occasion I also moved a number of amendments that required that before selling off shares in Cable and Wireless the Government should have consultations, for example, with the chairman of that company. It seemed to me and to most members of the Committee absolutely idiotic that the Secretary of State, or the Treasury acting with and through him, should have powers to sell off shares in a publicly owned company without ever even telling the chairman or the board of the Government's intentions. Other amendments that were moved sought to limit the sale of the shares. I shall mention one, which was designed to secure that the control of Cable and Wireless Limited—a priceless British asset—should not fall into the hands of foreigners.

I repeat that to have attempted to table those amendments at this stage and to take a chance on whether you, Mr. Speaker, would select them, and to argue the case, would have been an abuse of the House's time. I therefore tabled this amendment, which we did not discuss in Standing Committee, which requires that before shares are sold the representatives of the company's employees shall be consulted.

There is a good reason for such consultation, namely, that the sale of those shares can affect the company's activities and, hence, its employment and employment prospects. As I shall seek to show, the announcement by the Minister, two or three weeks ago, of the projected sale, and the publication of the Bill before that, have already affected very adversely the activities, operations, value and profitability of the company. Those are all matters of great concern to the company's employees.

Although, for reasons that I still find inexplicable, the Minister would not accept an amendment that required that the chairman of the company should be consulted before any shares were sold, I hope—especially now that we are honoured by the presence of the boss man himself—that the Government, who are always paying lip service to the necessity for employers to consult their workers' representatives about matters affecting their livelihoods, will look more kindly upon this amendment.

The rape of Cable and Wireless is doctrinaire vandalism. Cable and Wireless is one of the greatest British success stories, public or private. If it had been privately owned Government Members would crow about it and say that it was a great example of British initiative. They do not do that, because of the accident that it is publicly owned.

Cable and Wireless is efficiently managed. Technologically, it is extremely advanced; it is rapidly expanding, commercially successful and highly profitable, and a high proportion of its earnings are made abroad. By every criterion that one might apply to judge whether a company is well run, well managed, advanced and successful, Cable and Wireless is one of the best.

Its standing overseas is great. It has licensing agreements with 31 Governments and overseas Administrations. Its standing abroad could not be higher. The company and the people who work for it and travel abroad on its behalf say that much of that standing arises from its connection with the British Government.

Conservative propaganda asserts that foreign Governments do not like to trade with nationalised industries. Cable and Wireless is a living, day-to-day example that the opposite is true. If it were true foreign Governments would not be queueing up to make licensing agreements with Cable and. Wireless in the face of stiff competition, notably from famous and efficient companies in the United States of America.

Some of the company's activities all over the world involve advanced technology. It takes part in the United States NASA space programme. It provides the electronics, guidance, navigation and direction-finding equipment for Amman and Bahrein airports. It provides the control systems for the Saudi Arabian national guard. It has a furious rate of expansion of business in the United States and in the European Community.

Everything in the garden was lovely until the Bill was published, when it became clear that lumps of Cable and Wireless would be sold. Chaps who thought that they might be buyers decided that it might be a good idea to act to reduce the value of the company's shares. They would then be able to buy them more cheaply. That is why, since the Bill's publication, there has been a frontal attack on Cable and Wireless by Hong Kong Telecom, which is first in the queue to buy Cable and Wireless shares now that it has succeeded in forcing its value down by reducing the value of the Hong Kong concession to Cable and Wireless.

Bahrein has already told Cable and Wireless that it wants a joint company, as have the Barbados and Bermudan Governments. They have limited agreements with Cable and Wireless until they can negotiate a new deal with a cable and wireless company that will be partially privately owned. That is scandalous. However, I shall not dwell on that longer, because we gave the issue a good airing in Committee. It is not at all that I renege on the statement that this is the worst piece of doctrinaire vandalism on a fine, successful company that I can ever recall in my political experience.

2.15 pm
Mr. Golding

Overseas, of course, ASTMS is much respected, but is seen as a managerial and London union. There are many other unions within the Postal, Telegraph and Telephone International that organise the indigenous rank and file workers. We have heard from them that those unions will be very upset by these proposals. They have not been consulted. They have been very satisfied with Cable and Wireless in recent years. There have been very good developments in industrial relations. They have been attempting to get uniform wages and conditions throughout the world and throughout the company, and the TTI hope that nothing will impede this, to which of course there is always a threat.

Mr. Orme

I endorse what both my hon. Friends have said, particularly the comments of my hon. Friend the Member for Bethnal Green and Bow (Mr. Mikardo) in moving the amendment.

I read with great interest the debate in Committee, and I agree with my hon. Friends that this is an act of vandalism on a company which is one of the most successful international companies in the world in high technology, which does most of its trade overseas and which helps the public sector borrowing requirement in a way that no other publicly-owned company does. If I get on to that tack I shall get into an argument, and we want to proceed to a Division. I therefore ask my hon. Friends to vote for the amendment.

Mr. Kenneth Baker

I shall not reply at length on this matter because we debated it at considerable length in Committee, and I have made a statement to the House.

I refute the suggestion that the sale of 49 per cent. of the shares in Cable and Wireless is an act of vandalism. This is releasing 49 per cent. of a State asset to the wider share ownership of the investing public of Britain. I believe that already the possibility of that privatisation is changing the attitude of the management of Cable and Wireless and that the future prospects of the company are infinitely better than what has been achieved in the past.

It would be impractical to adopt the proposals of the hon. Member for Bethnal Green and Bow (Mr. Mikardo) for consultation between the Government and the unions. This is the responsibility of the management or possibly, in certain circumstances, the shareholders, but certainly not of the Government.

The management of Cable and Wireless has discussed the arrangements for the sale of shares with offical staff representatives at the companies' regular meetings of the employee participation committee. There have been special meetings between the union chairmen and the group managing director and in addition between the Government's merchant bank advisers and the union chairmen. It would be impractical, indeed wrecking, to require them to consult the trade unions of all their employees, because 75 per cent. of the employees of Cable and Wireless live overseas.

I emphasise again that it is our intention, when we bring this company onto the market, to make provision for the employees to own shares. I am sure that that opportunity will be welcomed as warmly as it was in British Aerospace.

Question put, That the amendment be made:—

The House divided: Ayes 152, Noes 252.

Division No.145] [2.18 pm
Abse, Leo Heffer, Eric S.
Adams, Allen Hogg, N. (E Dunb't'nshire)
Anderson, Donald Holland, S. (L'b'th, Vauxh'll)
Archer, Rt Hon Peter Homewood, William
Ashton, Joe Horam, John
Benn, Rt Hon A. Wedgwood Huckfield, Les
Bennett, Andrew (St'kp't N) Hudson Davies, Gwilym E.
Booth, Rt Hon Albert Hughes, Mark (Durham)
Boothroyd, Miss Betty Janner, Hon Greville
Bray, Dr Jeremy Jay, Rt Hon Douglas
Brown, Hugh D. (Provan) John, Brynmor
Brown, Ron (E'burgh, Leith) Johnson, James (Hull West)
Brown, Ronald W. (H'ckn'y S) Jones, Barry (East Flint)
Callaghan, Rt Hon J. Kaufman, Rt Hon Gerald
Callaghan, Jim (Midd't'n & P) Kerr, Russell
Campbell, Ian Kilroy-Silk, Robert
Campbell-Savours, Dale Leighton, Ronald
Carmichael, Neil Lewis, Ron (Carlisle)
Carter-Jones, Lewis Litherland, Robert
Clark, Dr David (S Shields) Lofthouse, Geoffrey
Cocks, Rt Hon M. (B'stol S) Lyons, Edward (Bradf'd W)
Coleman, Donald McDonald, Dr Oonagh
Cook, Robin F. McElhone, Frank
Cowans, Harry McGuire, Michael (Ince)
Cox, T. (W'dsw'th, Toot'g) McKay, Allen (Penistone)
Crowther, J. S. McKelvey, William
Cryer, Bob MacKenzie, Rt Hon Gregor
Cunliffe, Lawrence Maclennan, Robert
Cunningham, G. (Islington S) McNally, Thomas
Dalyell, Tam McNamara, Kevin
Dean, Joseph (Leeds West) McTaggart, Robert
Dempsey, James McWilliam, John
Dewar, Donald Magee, Bryan
Dixon, Donald Marshall, Dr Edmund (Goole)
Dormand, Jack Martin, M (G'gow S'burn)
Douglas, Dick Maxton, John
Dubs, Alfred Mikardo, Ian
Duffy, A. E. P. Millan, Rt Hon Bruce
Dunwoody, Hon Mrs G. Mitchell, Austin (Grimsby)
Eadie, Alex Morton, George
Eastham, Ken Moyle, Rt Hon Roland
Edwards, R. (W'hampt'n S E) O'Halloran, Michael
Ellis, R. (NE D'bysh're) O'Neill, Martin
Ellis, Tom (Wrexham) Orme, Rt Hon Stanley
English, Michael Pavitt, Laurie
Ennals, Rt Hon David Pendry, Tom
Evans, Ioan (Aberdare) Powell, Raymond (Ogmore)
Evans, John (Newton) Price, C. (Lewisham W)
Fitt, Gerard Race, Reg
Flannery, Martin Roberts, Albert (Normanton)
Fletcher, Ted (Darlington) Roberts, Ernest (Hackney N)
Ford, Ben Robertson, George
Forrester, John Robinson, G. (Coventry NW)
Foster, Derek Rooker, J. W.
Foulkes, George Ross, Ernest (Dundee West)
Freud, Clement Sever, John
Garrett, John (Norwich S) Sheerman, Barry
Garrett, W. E. (Wallsend) Sheldon, Rt Hon R.
George, Bruce Short, Mrs Renée
Golding, John Silkin, Rt Hon J. (Deptford)
Hamilton, W. W. (C'tral Fife) Silverman, Julius
Hardy, Peter Skinner, Dennis
Harrison, Rt Hon Walter Soley, Clive
Hart, Rt Hon Dame Judith Spearing, Nigel
Haynes, Frank Stallard, A. W.
Stewart, Rt Hon D. (W Isles) White, J. (G'gow Pollok)
Stoddart, David Wigley, Dafydd
Stott, Roger Willey, Rt Hon Frederick
Strang, Gavin Williams, Rt Hon A. (S'sea W)
Summerskill, Hon Dr Shirley Wilson, Gordon (Dundee E)
Thorne, Stan (Preston South) Winnick, David
Tilley, John Woodall, Alec
Tinn, James Woolmer, Kenneth
Urwin, Rt Hon Tom Young, David (Bolton E)
Varley, Rt Hon Eric G.
Wainwright, E. (Dearne V) Tellers for the Ayes:
Walker, Rt Hon H. (D'caster) Mr. Frank R. White and Mr. Hugh McCartney
Watkins, David
Welsh, Michael
Adley, Robert Fenner, Mrs Peggy
Aitken, Jonathan Finsberg, Geoffrey
Alexander, Richard Fisher, Sir Nigel
Alison, Michael Fletcher, A. (Ed'nb'gh N)
Alton, David Fletcher-Cooke, Sir Charles
Ancram, Michael Fookes, Miss Janet
Arnold, Tom Fowler, Rt Hon Norman
Aspinwall, Jack Fox, Marcus
Atkins, Robert (Preston N) Fraser, Peter (South Angus)
Atkinson, David (B'm'th, E) Freud, Clement
Baker, Kenneth (St.M'bone) Fry, Peter
Baker, Nicholas (N Dorset) Garel-Jones, Tristan
Banks, Robert Glyn, Dr Alan
Beaumont-Dark, Anthony Goodlad, Alastair
Beith, A. J. Gorst, John
Bell, Sir Ronald Gow, Ian
Bendall, Vivian Gower, Sir Raymond
Benyon, Thomas (A'don) Grant, Anthony (Harrow C)
Bevan, David Gilroy Gray, Hamish
Biggs-Davison, John Greenway, Harry
Blackburn, John Griffiths, E. (B'y St. Edm'ds)
Bonsor, Sir Nicholas Griffiths, Peter Portsm'th N)
Boscawen, Hon Robert Grist, Ian
Bottomley, Peter (W'wich W) Grylls, Michael
Bowden, Andrew Gummer, John Selwyn
Boyson, Dr Rhodes Hamilton, Hon A.
Bright, Graham Hamilton, Michael (Salisbury)
Brinton, Tim Hampson, Dr Keith
Brittan, Leon Hannam, John
Brooke, Hon Peter Haselhurst, Alan
Brotherton, Michael Hastings, Stephen
Brown, Michael (Brigg & Sc'n) Hawkins, Paul
Browne, John (Winchester) Hawksley, Warren
Bryan, Sir Paul Heddle, John
Buck, Antony Henderson, Barry
Budgen, Nick Heseltine, Rt Hon Michael
Bulmer, Esmond Hicks, Robert
Burden, Sir Frederick Hill, James
Butcher, John Hogg, Hon Douglas (Gr'th'm)
Cadbury, Jocelyn Hooson, Tom
Carlisle, John (Luton West) Howe, Rt Hon Sir Geoffrey
Carlisle, Kenneth (Lincoln) Howell, Ralph (N Norfolk)
Churchill, W. S. Hunt, David (Wirral)
Clark, Hon A. (Plym'th, S'n) Jenkin, Rt Hon Patrick
Clark, Sir W. (Croydon S) Jopling, Rt Hon Michael
Cockeram, Eric Joseph, Rt Hon Sir Keith
Cope, John Kaberry, Sir Donald
Corrie, John Kellett-Bowman, Mrs Elaine
Costain, Sir Albert Kershaw, Anthony
Cranborne, Viscount Kilfedder, James A.
Crawshaw, Richard King, Rt Hon Tom
Critchley, Julian Knight, Mrs Jill
Crouch, David Knox, David
Dean, Paul (North Somerset) Lamont, Norman
Dorrell, Stephen Lang, Ian
Douglas-Hamilton, Lord J. Langford-Holt, Sir John
Dover, Denshore Latham, Michael
du Cann, Rt Hon Edward Lawrence, Ivan
Dunn, Robert (Dartford) Lawson, Rt Hon Nigel
Durant, Tony Lee, John
Eden, Rt Hon Sir John Lennox-Boyd, Hon Mark
Fairbairn, Nicholas Lester, Jim (Beeston)
Faith, Mrs Sheila Lewis, Kenneth (Rutland)
Farr, John Lloyd, Peter (Fareham)
Loveridge, John Sainsbury, Hon Timothy
Luce, Richard Scott, Nicholas
McCrindle, Robert Shaw, Giles (Pudsey)
MacGregor, John Shelton, William (Streatham)
MacKay, John (Argyll) Shepherd, Colin (Hereford)
Macmillan, Rt Hon M. Shepherd, Richard
McNair-Wilson, M. (N'bury) Shersby, Michael
McNair-Wilson, P. (New F'st) Silvester, Fred
McQuarrie, Albert Sims, Roger
Madel, David Smith, Dudley
Major, John Speed, Keith
Marlow, Tony Speller, Tony
Marshall, Michael (Arundel) Spicer, Jim (West Dorset)
Mates, Michael Spicer, Michael (S Worcs)
Maude, Rt Hon Sir Angus Sproat, Iain
Mawby, Ray Squire, Robin
Mawhinney, Dr Brian Stanbrook, Ivor
Mayhew, Patrick Stanley, John
Meyer, Sir Anthony Steen, Anthony
Miller, Hal (B'grove) Stevens, Martin
Mills, Iain (Meriden) Stewart, Ian (Hitchin)
Mills, Peter (West Devon) Stewart, A. (E Renfrewshire)
Miscampbell, Norman Stokes, John
Moate, Roger Stradling Thomas, J.
Monro, Hector Taylor, Teddy (S'end E)
Montgomery, Fergus Temple-Morris, Peter
Moore, John Thatcher, Rt Hon Mrs M.
Morgan, Geraint Thomas, Rt Hon Peter
Morris, M. (N'hampton S) Thompson, Donald
Morrison, Hon C. (Devizes) Thorne, Neil (Ilford South)
Mudd, David Thornton, Malcolm
Murphy, Christopher Townend, John (Bridlington)
Neale, Gerrard Townsend, Cyril D, (B'heath)
Needham, Richard Trippier, David
Nelson, Anthony Trotter, Neville
Neubert, Michael van Straubenzee, W. R.
Newton, Tony Vaughan, Dr Gerard
Onslow, Cranley Viggers, Peter
Oppenheim, Rt Hon Mrs S. Waddington, David
Osborn, John Wakeham,John
Page, Rt Hon Sir G. (Crosby) Waldegrave, Hon William
Page, Richard (SW Herts) Walker, B. (Perth)
Parris, Matthew Walker-Smith, Rt Hon Sir D.
Patten, Christopher (Bath) Waller, Gary
Pawsey, James Ward, John
Penhaligon, David Warren, Kenneth
Percival, Sir Ian Watson, John
Pink, R. Bonner Wells, John (Maidstone)
Pollock, Alexander Wells, Bowen
Porter, Barry Wheeler, John
Price, Sir David (Eastleigh) Whitelaw, Rt Hon William
Proctor, K. Harvey Whitney, Raymond
Pym, Rt Hon Francis Wickenden, Keith
Raison, Timothy Wiggin, Jerry
Rathbone, Tim Wilkinson, John
Rees-Davies, W. R. Williams, D.(Montgomery)
Rhodes James, Robert Winterton, Nicholas
Rhys Williams, Sir Brandon Wolfson, Mark
Ridley, Hon Nicholas Young, Sir George (Acton)
Rifkind, Malcolm Younger, Rt Hon George
Roberts, Wyn (Conway)
Ross, Stephen (Isle of Wight) Tellers for the Noes:
Rossi, Hugh Mr. Spencer Le Marchant and Mr. Carol Mather.
Rost, Peter

Question accordingly negatived.

Mr. Michael Marshall

Mr. Speaker, it may be convenient for the House to consider together amendment No. 73 and the remaining Government amendments. I assure the House that these are technical, drafting and clarificatory amendments. If any hon. Gentleman wishes me to explain any of them, I shall be willing and happy to do so.

Mr. Speaker

By leave of the House, I shall put together the Question on all the remaining Government amendments.

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