HC Deb 16 February 1983 vol 37 cc301-43

13. In this Order—

May I open my contribution to this debate with a few remarks about the Telecommunications Bill.

When my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Industry announced the new policy for telecommunications in a statement to the House on 19 July, he made it clear that the Government intended a major change. The Telecommunications Bill sets out that change, and it is one of the main parts of the Government's legislative programme for this Session. I am sure that all hon. Members will agree that this is a major and important Bill. It will enable British Telecom to become a major force in the world telecommunications market. It will help to promote competition and, we hope, to improve efficiency. It will make possible an expansion through development of new and better services. This should bring benefits to all users of telecommunication services and apparatus, to the companies that supply them and to those who work in those companies.

Enterprises can best flourish and meet the requirements of their customers efficiently if they are generally outside the net of Government controls. Therefore, we intend after the next election to turn British Telecom into a public limited company and to seek the partnership of private capital. The plan is to offer 51 per cent. of its shares for sale to the private sector. That in itself will be a major event that requires much careful preparation in legislation, as is provided in part IV of the Bill.

The Bill provides for the ending of the exclusive privilege of British Telecom to run telcommunications systems, and ensures that in future all those who run telcommunications systems will require licences from my right hon. Friend. British Telecom's ability to license others to run systems is also removed. Those changes are accompanied by others that relate to duties imposed on public telecommunications operators or to privileges that they will receive. The Bill provides for those duties and privileges to apply to all public operators, in harmony with our objective of making those who run systems subject to the same law.

To ensure fair competition between those providing telecommunication services and apparatus, and to ensure that consumers and other users of such services and apparatus are given adequate protection, the Bill establishes a new regulatory body for telcommunications, the Office of Telcommunications, or Oftel.

Two other topics are covered in the Bill. First, the Telegraph Acts 1863 to 1916, which govern the way in which telecommunication operators can place their plant in streets and private land, are repealed and replaced in schedule 2 by a modern telecommunications code. The Telegraph Acts, notwithstanding their origins with the Government of Disraeli, have been criticised by many authorities for their obscurity and other deficiencies. The Government, therefore, welcome the opportunity to revise this area of the statute. That will undoubtedly be of greater importance in future with the expansion in telecommunications that is already predicted, and will be further nurtured by the changes that I am describing. Secondly, the Bill amends the Wireless Telegraphy Acts 1949 to 1967 and makes further provision for the enforcement of those Acts.

I have set out the main objectives of the Bill in some detail so that hon. Members will realise how just is my claim that this is a major Bill with far-reaching consequences.

The Bill received its Second Reading in the House on 29 November by a majority of 281 to 237, and began its Committee stage on 9 December. The British Telecommunications Act, which received Royal Assent in 1981, passed through the Committee stage in this place in 48 hours of debate.

My hon. Friends the Minister for Industry and Information Technology and the Under-Secretary of State for Industry, who are taking the Bill through Committee, hoped for the same positive and constructive approach from Opposition Members as they showed two years ago. I regret to report that their hopes have not been fulfilled. It is an understatement that progress has been slow.

Mr. Tony Marlow (Northampton, North)

My right hon. Friend said that he hoped that this matter would be treated seriously. When he made that statement, was he aware that the hon. Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme (Mr. Golding) was smirking all over his face, which reflects how he treated the Bill in Committee?

Mr. Biffen

It is my job to keep the temperature low in this debate. The hon. Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme (Mr. Golding), who made an evangelical trip to my constituency at the weekend—he is always a welcome visitor—has made a unique contribution to the debates hitherto, and nothing that I say is designed to provoke him into a repetition.

The Committee has spent a total of 110 hours in debate but has not progressed beyond clause 3. The Committee did not agree to let clause 1 stand part of the Bill until its eighth sitting, by which time the Committee had sat for 23 hours. Schedule 1 took a further five hours. Clause 2 did not begin until the ninth sitting and took more than 17 hours before it was agreed to. These are now part of the Bill, but a further 81 clauses and five schedules have still to be debated. The Committee has not reached the important clauses dealing with the issue and amendment of licences. It has not discussed the approval of telecommunications apparatus to designated standards, the common provisions for public telecommunication operators in clauses 22 to 33, or the offences provided in clauses 34 to 39. The Director General of Telecommunications' consumer protection functions have not been discussed, nor have clauses 55 to 63, which enable privatisation of British Telecom.

I could continue, but perhaps the less than satisfactory progress is best summed up by noting that, after over 100 hours of debate on the Telecommunications Bill, the Committee has not yet reached clause 4, where a telecommunications system is defined.

As I have mentioned, the Committee is now debating clause 3. This debate has lasted 65 hours. Clause 3 sets out guidelines for the Secretary of State and the director in performing their functions under the Bill. That makes it centrally important, but surely not to the extent implied by the figures that I have mentioned. Events in Committee have attracted some attention in the press, and there is discussion among those interested in mere statistics about records having been set. Those who have lived through the Committee can describe for the House far more poignantly than I the nature of the records. Indeed, the experience has generated a wider consideration of our Standing Committee procedures. Should I catch your eye, Mr. Deputy Speaker, which I fear I shall, I hope that I may touch upon that during the next debate.

Mr. Bob Cryer (Keighley)

Has not this criticism been made because the Government have deliberately not used the procedures available to them of asking the Chairman of the Committee to accept closures in order to build up the number of hours of debate in Committee to enable them to bring the guillotine procedure to the Floor of the House?

Mr. Biffen

The hon. Gentleman is an experienced parliamentarian who is rarely wrong, but he is monumentally wrong in these circumstances. My hon. Friend the Minister for Industry and Information Technology will explain the problems of moving a closure on a speech of a marathon quality. It is not true that every stratagem has been searched to enable the ton to be scored before I am empowered to come to the House to ask for a guillotine. It has not worked in those circumstances.

Some further examples of the calculated use of time are worth noting. The Opposition complained that they wished more time to debate the Bill. When my hon. Friend the Minister for Industry and Information Technology put down a motion for the Committee to meet on Tuesday and Thursday afternoons, there was spirited resistance from the Opposition and a valuable three hours were spent debating the very objective that the Opposition claimed they sought.

My hon. Friend has been pressed by the Opposition to release various pieces of information to the Committee, especially details of British Telecom's draft licence, which will be required once the Bill comes into force, and copies of the Littlechild report on which my hon. Friend spoke to the House on 7 February. When these papers were released, the immediate reaction of the Opposition in both cases was to move for an adjournment.

I must at this point emphasise that the Government's broad acceptance of the Littlechild report is a development of our policy, which is fully consistent with the Bill. If acceptance of the Littlechild report requires any amendments to the Bill, they will be modest and will in no way affect its structure. The Government will not be able to complete this major item of their programme this Session unless the Committee concludes its discussion of the Bill at a more expeditious pace. There is no sign that the Opposition have any intention of significantly moving forward. I must, therefore, now request the House to agree that the Bill should be reported by 10 March, with subsequent Report and Third Reading to take place on two allotted days.

The timetable motion that the Government have now put before the House would permit the Standing Committee to meet for a further seven days, giving another 13 sittings if the Business Sub-Committee decides to continue morning and afternoon sittings as at present. This will enable the Committee to go about its work in the constructive manner that is appropriate to the major legislative proposals contained in the Bill.

It is evident that there is no disposition on the part of those who oppose the Bill to allow it to make sufficient progress without the motion. It is the Government's responsibility to ensure that this major and important Bill reaches the statute book, so that the substantial and wide-ranging benefits that will flow from it can be effectively realised. Therefore, I commend the motion to the House.

4.5 pm

Mr. John Silkin (Deptford)

The Leader of the House referred to the Bill as being of major importance, occupying a large part of the Government's legislative time this Session. I have no quarrel with that. The right hon. Gentleman neglected to tell the House that the Bill has no mandate from the electorate. It did not appear in the Conservative manifesto and it cannot by any stretch of the imagination be called an essential Bill either for the economy or in any other way. The Bill gratifies some ideological ideas, theories and principles of the Conservative party. It should be resisted in a democratic way to the fullest possible extent.

What are the conditions for a guillotine? I have said on other timetable motions that one of the prerequisites of the Bill—unless it is a Bill that is brought in unexpectedly but is essential to the running of the country—is that it should be given maximum time. The Bill is not being given maximum time. Any Government are entitled to get a Bill through the House in a reasonable time. What is a reasonable time? In this case, a reasonable time is one that occupies the whole session. That would be right, as the Bill has no mandate from the electorate.

There is another right, as important if not more important to the Leader of the House, to the Government Chief Whip and to the Treasury Bench than any other, because the Opposition will take advantage of that right. It is the right to scrutinise, debate and change the legislation where they will. The House of Commons protects that right and has always done so.

Let the House consider the chronology of the weeks, days and hours of the Bill. The Leader of the House gave hon. Members a potted chronology. He wished that my right hon. and hon. Friends who are on that Committee had treated the Bill with the same speed as the British Telecommunications Bill in 1980. I spoke on Second Reading of that Bill. The then Secretary of State for Industry saw that Bill as something of a holy grail. He is now searching for another holy grail in the Department of Education. He does this in successive Departments, ruining them as he goes along. At that time, I questioned the right hon. Gentleman about what the licence meant and what powers he had. He did not know what powers he then had, but very soon after, fortunately, he moved.

That Bill was different from the Bill that has been presented to my right hon. and hon. Friends on this occasion, which is one that they need to oppose with every democratic right that they have. Hon. Members must consider the timing that the right hon. Gentleman has given to the House. The Second Reading took place on 2 November 1982, and the Standing Committee commenced on 9 December 1982.

I thought that the right hon. Gentleman was a little cavalier to Professor Littlechild. He said that one or two slight amendments might be necessary to the work of art produced by the good professor and commissioned by the Minister of State, Department of Industry, some months earlier. For reasons best known to the Minister of State, he kept the Littlechild report to himself until 7 February 1983, when he made his statement, and said, "Here it is."

The Minister for Industry and Information Technology (Mr. Kenneth Baker)

The right hon. Gentleman is implying that I was keeping this to myself. I made it clear to the Committee several times—he will see it if he has read the Hansard proceedings—that I did not receive Professor Littlechild's report until 17 January. I said that I first had to read it myself, and I made it available on 7 February. That is not undue delay.

Mr. Silkin

The delay is not undue, but it makes my point for me. The pressure from my hon. Friends on the Minister was based on the report's relevance to the Committee. The Minister finally accepted that, having first said that it was not really relevant. But it is absolutely interwoven into the Committee and the Bill, as is "Ringing the Changes"—the draft licence. My hon. Friends would have preferred a licence.

These are interwoven facts. The report was made available on 7 February and is of great importance to the Committee. Interesting and important things were said in it. For example, paragraph 9 of appendix 1 states: After some manipulation, the Euler optimality condition for the maximisation of (1) can be written (suppressing t for simplicity)"— because we need to suppress t for simplicity— "π'(X) +π/X . o(r - g)/h=0" That is an important equation on which, frankly, the whole basis of the Bill stands. It needs some examination. It is not given to all of us, poor lay minds that we have, to be able to tackle it on the spur of the moment, unlike the Minister, who is known locally as the Isaac Newton of St. Marylebone. For the rest of us, it takes time, energy and some discussion.

Indeed, there was some discussion— [Interruption.] I am sorry that the Government Chief Whip does not appear to understand it. It is bound up with what Isaac Newton used to call the theory of fluxions—differential calculus to the right hon. Gentleman.

I have considered and looked at the Committee proceedings in Hansard, and I see nothing but moderation throughout. In fact, I am astonished at the amount of moderation. There was, however, one serious breach. I read it with interest, and it took 11 hours. That was the amendment introduced by the hon. Member for Beaconsfield (Mr. Smith) which took 11 hours of debate.

Mr. Timothy Smith (Beaconsfield)

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that the entire debate on my amendment took 11 hours, whereas the hon. Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme (Mr. Golding) took 11 hours just to introduce his amendment?

Mr. Silkin

Having read every word that my hon. Friend said in his 11 hours, I was really sorry that it came to an end. As for the hon. Gentleman, I was extremely sad that his debate went on so long.

Mr. Timothy Smith

It was not my fault, was it?

Mr. Silkin

Certainly not, except that the hon. Gentleman introduced an amendment that he did not understand and ended by contradicting himself 11 hours later. Of course it was not his fault. He should have known something about what he was introducing.

I have said that, where there is no mandate, there should be no guillotine for a Bill such as this. That remains true. It is certain that this is a clash of two vital philosophies. The Opposition in the Committee have a duty to protect not only the British public but the 230,000 people who work in this industry. They need protection. It is extraordinary that what is happening here is a total disregard for the future of British industry and, indeed, the survival of many of our manufacturing industries.

It may be a curious thought with which to leave the House, but the Government who do everything they can to see that food remains expensive—the Prime Minister sent a message just today to a British food exhibition saying that we should buy British food—are at the same time willing to open a vast and important technological industry to the destruction that would be wreaked upon it from foreign competitors.

In one way I agree with the Leader of the House. In one sense all the hours of debate have been a waste of time, because within a few months from now a Labour Government will repeal the Bill anyway.

Several Hon. Members


Mr. Deputy Speaker Mr. Bernard Weatherill

Order. I understand from the exchanges that have taken place that some lengthy speeches were made in Committee. I remind the House that the debate lasts for only three hours, and I ask for short contributions.

4.15 pm
Mr. Barry Henderson (Fife, East)

The right hon. Member for Deptford (Mr. Silkin) scored a considerable achievement in a speech that was brief for reasons that we all understand. He thought of something to say about the Bill that the hon. Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme (Mr. Golding) has not said in Committee at least three or four times already. The right hon. Gentleman did so by taking us through that fascinating formula.

In pointing to the major difference between both sides of the House with regard to the Bill, the right hon. Gentleman fell into a fundamental error by assuming that the whole of the telecommunications industry is British Telecom. Certainly it is the largest part of the industry—a most important part—and I hope that all hon. Members will be concerned about the 250,000 people who now work for British Telecom. However, there are tens of thousands more people who can be brought into the telecommunications industry, not only by the passing of this Bill but by the previous 1981 Act. It is important to understand that British Telecom, hugely significant though it is in our economy and the international telecommunications industry, is not the whole of our industry.

The information given by the Leader of the House has identified the contrast between the way in which this Committee has operated and the way in which the Committee considering the 1981 Bill operated. The 1981 Act was far more fundamental because it introduced the possibility of competition and a modest measure of liberalisation in the British Telecom regime, quite apart from its significance of splitting the activities of the Post Office from British Telecom.

That was of much more fundamental importance than the Bill now before us, yet an extremely competent opposition to that Bill did not require a timetable. Had there been real intent among members of the Committee on this occasion to debate the legitimate and important issues outlined by the right hon. Member for Deptford, I do not believe that a guillotine would have been required.

I said that the Bill follows the modest measure of liberalisation in competition introduced by the 1981 Act. It proposes two main measures. The first is that it paves the way for the floating on the market of half the shares in British Telecom. It has been made clear that once the Bill becomes law the Government will move in that direction, but only after a general election has taken place.

One thing that has been of continual concern both on this Bill, and the previous one, is the whole question of funds by means of which we can stimulate the growth of the business of British Telecom and the extent to which we can expand the network and make it more efficient. This is the primary reason for my warmly welcoming this Bill. By simply freeing British Telecom from being a nationalised industry and turning it into a public limited liability company, one immediately releases it from the constraints of the public sector borrowing requirement. As a result, it can borrow as much as it pleases, consistent with commercial prudence. That is of tremendous importance for all who are concerned about the future of British Telecom, its management and its workpeople, as well as for the development of good telecommunications facilities in this country.

In addition to borrowing on a loan basis—this is of particular importance to the consumer—British Telecom will be able to go to the market to raise funds on a long-term risk basis. This will enable investment to continue and to be increased from the £1,500 million a year, roughly the present level, without loading subscribers' current telephone bills to pay for facilities on which the return will come only over many years and, in some cases, many decades.

These two factors are very important and constitute a real advantage. I hope that during this debate Opposition Members will, if nothing else, concede that this inflow of funds to power the growth and improvement in efficiency of British Telecom will be of genuine advantage, whatever they may feel about the principle of freedom from being a nationalised industry.

The other important element that has caused some difficulty to Labour Members is that they want to see the continuation of a monopoly while we want to see as free an environment as possible for the benefit of the consumers. This leads me to the second main proposition in this Bill, as I understand it, which is that we are creating a regime in which there can be licensing and policing of the whole telecommunications environment.

In introducing this Bill, my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House has struck a very good balance between the licensing duties of the Secretary of State for Industry on the one hand and the policing duties of the Director General of the new Office of Telecommunications—Oftel—on the other. Getting this balance right, introducing this new means whereby we can ensure the compliance of this great company, BT, with the will of Parliament, in terms of the facilities that it is to provide throughout the country, is of great importance to people such as my constituents in rural areas. Not only are the duties of British Telecom more clearly and precisely spelt out in this Bill and in the licensing proposals that will go with it than in any previous legislation, but the Bill also provides the means of making certain that British Telecom will comply with the obligations laid upon it.

Although it has taken a long time to get round to clause 3 in Committee, my hon. Friend the Minister has very helpfully spelt out the kind of amendments he is prepared to introduce on Report, not only to meet the legitimate concern of my hon. Friends but, to be fair to Opposition Members, to ensure that we have correctly defined the duties of the Secretary of State and the Director General of Oftel so that special interests, such as those of rural areas and of special services, will continue to be maintained equally throughout the United Kingdom.

4.24 pm
Mr. Charles R. Morris (Manchester, Openshaw)

My right hon. Friend the Member for Deptford (Mr. Silkin) was right to emphasise that the Government have no mandate for the Bill. It was not in the manifesto on which they fought and won the last general election. On occasion it has been described as a measure of privatisation. It is, in fact, a measure of piratisation of a national asset in the interests of those who are eager to make a quick buck. It puts at risk the job security of 235,000 staff of British Telecom. It equally puts at risk the jobs of 70,000 people employed in British telephone equipment manufacturing. It will open the floodgates to the importation of telecommunications equipment from Japan, Sweden and the United States with no reciprocal trading agreements.

Serving on the Standing Committee has been an unusual and a positively extraordinary experience. It was unusual because in a Bill that embraces 84 clauses, six schedules and 149 pages, its very centre is encapsulated in the first lines which seek powers for the Secretary of State to appoint a Director General of Telecommunications and establish an Office of Telecommunications. Everything else in the Bill flows from that. Every clause, schedule and page hinges on those first lines. The Leader of the House complained that we had spent eight sittings discussing clause 1. I submit that the Committee could have taken 20 sittings and not done full justice to the implications of the first line of clause 1, irrespective of its other features.

I said that serving on the Committee had been an extraordinary experience. It was a bit like riding a bicycle because the scene changed so constantly and dramatically as we went along. On Second Reading we were promised that we would see the licence that had been granted to Mercury and would be granted to other would-be licensees. That undertaking was never honoured. The Committee was in session for nearly a month and no licence appeared, despite the undertaking given by the Minister of State.

What we were given on 25 January was a document entitled "Ringing the Changes". The campanologists in the Department of Industry had been busy and had produced what they described as the Department of Industry's views on the licence. We never saw the licence, but we got a 16-page document describing the Department of Industry's views on it. Paragraph 21 of the document contained a proposal that appears nowhere in the Bill, that there should be the possibility of eliminating 30,000 British Telecom telephone operators. We had never seen that proposal in the Bill, but suddenly it appeared in the document. Is there any difficulty in understanding why the Committee wanted to examine in detail the implications of documents that were made available? We had the "Ringing the Changes" document and the draft licence and, as we progressed, we were bombarded with another 16 pages from the junior Minister, who outlined the guidelines for the Secretary of State and the Director General contained in clause 3. I accept that the Minister was seeking to be helpful. Then we had hurled at us Professor Littlechild's report encompassing another 42 pages of closely-reasoned argument which demonstrated that the Department of Industry had got the Bill all wrong. Is it really possible to criticise a Committee that was bombarded with documents at such a rate and on such a scale and to mount a guillotine on the basis of that experience?

My hon. Friend the Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme (Mr. Golding) made a less than brief speech on one occasion. I do not know how many people have read my hon. Friend's distinguished speech. It is a classic in itself. It deals with the whole of the Littlechild report. That was something that the Committee never had the opportunity to do. My hon. Friend's skilful analysis was a service not only to the Committee but to Ministers in helping them to understand the Littlechild report and to the nation as a whole.

Hon. Members serving on the Committee received a mountain of advice and representations from British Telecom, the Post Office Users National Council, the Consumer Council, the Association of District Councils, companies within the Telephone Equipment Manuacturers Association, the nation's farmers, individual constituents living in rural areas, the Post Office Engineering Union and the Union of Communication Workers, all opposed to the Bill. I am aware of no hon. Member serving on the Committee who received a letter in support of the Bill. I have received no letters supporting a Bill for which the Government have no mandate. The whole debate about a guillotine is bogus. The Government know that it is bogus. This is a wretched Bill that should be rejected.

4.32 pm
Mr. Peter Temple-Morris (Leominster)

It is a pleasure to follow the right hon. Member for Manchester, Openshaw (Mr. Morris). All hon. Members can, I think, agree that serving on the Bill in Committee has been an extraordinary experience. Back in the halcyon days before Christmas, when one was unencumbered by Standing Committee duties and observing one's usual philosophy of keeping a low profile in Second Reading debates, it was difficult to imagine that a foreign affairs hand like myself would be serving on the Telecommunications Bill Standing Committee. Who would have dreamt that, at four o'clock in the morning, one would be appointed, and remain, honorary legal adviser to the hon. Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme (Mr. Golding)?

I do not wish to make a constituency speech or even a speech about the Bill. I wish to make a speech about the system and what is wrong with it. I claim a certain enitlement to do so, in the sense that I associated myself with the remarks of the hon. Member for Islington, Central (Mr. Grant) when he first raised this issue in Committee. Anything that I say is not intended as an argument against the hallowed system that we follow. Sometimes, however, it may be too hallowed. One recalls the words of the then Leader of the Opposition and outgoing Prime Minister, the right hon. Member for Cardiff, South-East (Mr. Callaghan), who advised new hon. Members in the first Session of Parliament that the system might seem crazy but that it they stayed around they would find that it made a certain amount of sense. The only sense that I have been able to discover, following some years in the House, is that the system enables these debates to take place. It enables hon. Members, depending upon which side of the House they are sitting at the time, to make the appropriate speech. Above all, it enables the Government of the day to drive through their legislation without proper challenge.

Nothing that I say, however, derogates from the validity of the debates that have taken place in Standing Committee. In a crazy way, the debates have been remarkably valid. They have touched upon many issues. Hon. Members on both sides have brought about a virtual redrafting of clause 3. This shows that there has been some sense in our proceedings.

While the hon. Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme has been "going on a bit"—to coin a wise phrase, which I gather appeared in his local newspaper—it was a skilful exercise. Whenever the hon. Gentleman was out of order, he quickly came back into order. My criticism is that the skills and talents of the hon. Gentleman, which he exercised both in government and in opposition, should have had the effect, if not of exhausting hon. Members, of leaving the Committee still on clause 3 after 110 hours of debate. An hon. Gentleman with his skill and talent, under another system, would have been able to fight the Bill root and branch on the Floor of the House, with the chance for his remarks to be heard on radio and to attract public attention. Let us perform the party bit down here in the Chamber, but it is surely possible to concentrate our talents more effectively upstairs in Committee.

The Bill is extremely complicated. It raises a largely new concept. It creates a private monopoly out of a public one. However, the impression left, as the hours have unfolded, is that all hon. Members, including, if I dare say so, my hon. Friends on the Government Front Bench, have been wondering how that private monopoly should be controlled. Although dragged reluctantly to the Bill, I have, in a masochistic way, enjoyed it. To the innocent like myself, the Bill gives every impression of a rushed job. One is left with the impression that the Government of the day should give more preparation to major legislation.

In my Back Bench ignorance, I do not know the inner workings of Cabinet Committees, but they should perhaps devote more attention to these matters. One has the feeling that the very able team that has been trying to present the Bill, backed by the skills within the Department, have nevertheless had to bring it forward in a slightly speedier and more rushed fashion than it would have liked. Hon. Members should not find themselves facing a guillotine. Legislation should be presented in a more organised fashion.

At the same time as hon. Members have been discussing matters inextricably linked with the licence, negotiations on the licence have been going on with BT. Hon. Members do not know what the outcome will be. We have been given guidelines by the Department about the form of the licence. It is crucial to the control of the new private monopoly that we are creating that we know about the licence. It is also important to our constituents, urban and rural.

When one is locked in a party political battle in Committee, It is unfortunate when relevant things happen outside. The Littlechild report adds to the impression that the philosophy of the Bill was incomplete when it was drafted. The central question is how control should be exercised. It is clear that that was being decided as we were discussing the Bill in Committee. That is unsatisfactory.

I am not making party points, one way or the other. I am not trying to play to the Opposition or to this side of the House; I am just talking about the system. Witness to that is the fact the guideline clause, clause 3, which is recognised as vital, will be completely different by the time we have finished with it. I am grateful to my hon. Friends on the Front Bench for conceding various amendments, which will no doubt mean that it will be a better clause.

Mr. Marlow


Mr. Temple-Morris

I am not giving way. My hon. Friend had abundant chance to speak in Committee.

I want to address myself to the system to which the Bill is being submitted. I do not want to go on any longer than I have to, but it is important that these things should be put on the record. I have become a member of the Standing Committee on the Bill under a system which means that I had inadequate preparation, inadequate knowledge and inadequate opportunity to play a constructive part in considering one of the most important pieces of legislation before the House. It is confrontational.

I do not want to blame my hon. Friend the Member for Epsom and Ewell (Mr. Hamilton), but it is Whip control in the loosest possible way. No one could control my hon. Friend the Member for Aldridge-Brownhills (Mr. Shepherd). At the same time, he and the rest of us are put in the position of letting the side down if we do not agree with the Government. It is an invidious position if we wish not only to say critical words but to exercise critical votes. Also, we are put in the position of somewhat jeopardising our own future if we go fully into action against the Bill. My hon. Friend the Member for Aldridge-Brownhills has been fearless, and I respect his treatment of the Bill. He is the only member of the Committee who has repeatedly said that it is our duty as a collective Committee to consider the Bill.

The Opposition of the day, whoever they may be, are largely powerless. The Opposition could do much good by promoting discussion, but at the end of the day they are forced to use time as their only weapon. That is unhealthy. Regrettably, the system permits the Bill to be powered through the House. If the Bill were to be examined properly, it would take longer than this Session, or certainly longer than the Government are prepared to give it.

The guillotine is unsatisfactory. I am tempted to vote against it or to abstain, but the honourable course is not to sit back and rely on the votes of others if I am to get to bed at a proper time and not spend night after night in Committee. Although the system is wrong, I am prepared to accept it. There is great responsibility on the Opposition to ensure, once the guillotine is enforced, that many clauses of the Bill do not remain undiscussed. That would be the ultimate condemnation of the system which we are perpetuating.

I sound a precautionary note. The Government of the day, whoever they may be, lamentably have a vested interest in the system. The Bill is a good example of how a Government can bring in a piece of legislation quickly, discuss things outside and rely upon the good nature of hon. Members such as my hon. Friend the Member for Aldridge-Brownhills and myself to get it through. This will not last. More and more Back Benchers will say that enough is enough when it comes to Committee sittings going on after midnight. I hope that my client, as I sometimes call him, the hon. Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme will have a sneaking sympathy with what I am saying.

If the Standing Committee system is to continue, we must have a sensible timetable from the outset. The party political arguments should be dealt with on Second Reading, Report and Third Reading. Let the Opposition create as much fuss as they want then. No one knows that we are sitting in Committee all night. Nobody could care less about it. Our wives deserve to see us and the great world outside beckons us and should be enjoyed.

There is scope for examination of the system of Select Committees from the point of view of superintending Bills. It might go against the Government of the day and limit their power, but it would increase the power of Back Benchers. The Bill is a classic instance where I, for one, would have liked to have the opportunity to question Sir George Jefferson in a Select Committee atmosphere and to have asked Professor Littlechild why he did not agree with Professor Walters. Relying upon the pronounced view of academics, whether it is to the Right or the Left, is a dubious exercise on Government legislation. That is an aside.

I hope that I have said enough to show my deep dissatisfaction with the position in which I find myself. Dare I say humbly that it is a dissatisfaction that applies to the House as a whole? I have much sympathy with those who say that the Bill deserves more discussion. I am out of sympathy with the system, which has dictated the way in which the Bill has had to be discussed.

4.47 pm
Mr. David Penhaligon (Truro)

In the early part of December, within a few days two Bills were given Second Readings—the Energy Bill, on which I am officially the Liberal party's spokesman, and the Telecommunications Bill, on which I have the same job. I recall that at the time I decided that it would be sensible to be more interested in the Energy Bill than the Telecommunications Bill. Clearly, my decision was right as that Bill progressed satisfactorily.

I have been a Member of the House for eight and a half years. I do not know how many guillotine motions have been moved in that time. My one distinction in this debate is that I have always sat on the Opposition side of the House and have therefore tended to vote against guillotine motions.

The process is ridiculous. If the public realised how much complicated and important legislation is implemented and yet no time has been spent on major parts of it in the House of Commons, they would be appalled, especially when they are told how many hours have been spent on Bills. Some sort of pre-legislation hearing is required for such Bills so that hon. Members may question responsible persons. The time should be limited, but hon. Members should have the opportunity to pose questions, such as those mentioned by the hon. Member for Leominster (Mr. Temple-Morris). At the same time, there ought to be reasonable progress.

The tragedy with the guillotine system is that, as time has gone on, a belief has arisen that the Opposition have not done their job properly in opposing a Bill unless in the end they force the Government to move a guillotine motion. That is not unique to this Opposition. The same nonsense applies no matter which party is in power. I suspect that the hon. Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme (Mr. Golding), whom one admires for several achievements, is told by his friends within the Post Office Engineering Union that he must oppose the Bill, and that they judge the triumphs when the Government have to move a guillotine motion. In a way, I congratulate him on that.

However, as someone who has so far been perpetually in opposition, I am concerned about the quality of the legislation going through the House. I hope that, on the whole, hon. Members improve legislation by discussing it, but volumes of legislation are passed without any discussion.

We could try several things. For some time, one of my favourite solutions has been to limit the time a Committee member may speak, as that might help to speed up the proceedings. There is a limit to the number of hon. Members on either side of the Committee. If each hon. Member is allowed 15 minutes in which to speak, the time will come when every hon. Member has had his say.

There could also be a time limit on clauses. However, if we were to allow two, 10 or 20 hours per clause, we could run the risk that, if a forthcoming amendment was embarrassing to the Government, they—or at least their Back Benchers—might be tempted suddenly to make long speeches to stop the Opposition moving the said amendment. That happened during debate on the Scotland Bill, when we got near amendments that the Government did not want discussed. Suddenly one would find that the preceding amendment was being discussed at great length by Government Members.

The present arrangement is appalling and ridiculous. The House is failing in its duty to the nation to investigate, survey and question legislation. It has been said that the Government do not have a mandate for the Bill. I accept that mention of it was not included in their manifesto. However, the Government have not had a mandate for any of their actions since the election. They obtained only 44 per cent. of the vote, so 56 per cent. of the people voted against them. Since becoming a Member of Parliament, I have always sat on the side that most people supported at the general election. The odd thing is that those who gain 56 per cent. of the vote end up in opposition.

However, the Bill was not included in the Conservative party's manifesto. The importance of a manifesto commitment has been raised to such a level that if something is not covered in its 120 pages or so—which probably less than 0.25 per cent. of the electorate read before casting their vote — it is argued that the Government do not have a mandate. In this case, that is not a particularly good argument anyway, because the Government have said that the Bill will not be implemented until after the general election. In an odd way, that is a not unwelcome way of introducing controversial legislation, because the public can examine the final Bill and its proposals. I say that, having already told the Government that I am against the legislation, although the Liberal party supported the previous Bill.

I gather that the hon. Member for Aldridge-Brownhills (Mr. Shepherd) has been awkward in Committee and is likely to achieve the object of most Government Members, when they are awkward, of ensuring that he is never again put on a Standing Committee. It is nearly a standard practice of the House that if an hon. Member on the Government side does not want to do much Committee work, he should vote against the Government a few times in the first Committee with which he is lumbered and he will never again be asked to serve. I know of several hon. Members who in private boast that they succeeded in doing that and have had no further trouble. I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on having done that early in his career.

This is not one of Parliament's best days. There are times when I think that we should be extremely proud to be Members of Parliament. However, none of us can be proud of the procedure that has developed and is now part of our detailed consideration of legislation. It is time that we tried something else. I cannot guarantee that it will be better, but we must see whether we can improve the present appalling arrangement. We have reached the ludicrous state that Oppositions do not believe that they have done their job unless they have reduced the Government of the day to moving a guillotine motion. It is appalling and stupid that the House should have allowed itself to reach that stage.

4.53 pm
Mr. Tony Marlow (Northampton, North)

As my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House said when introducing the motion, we are talking about a major and important Bill.

As the whole House and the country realise, we are on the threshold of a telecommunications revolution. In future, people will not only have telephones in their houses, but will rightly have the opportunity to benefit from a whole range of equipment and apparatus. In addition to cable to homes, there will be other means by which messages can be communicated. With a new situation, we need new people, new ideas, new organisations and a new structure.

The Bill seeks to bring telecommunications into that new structure, so that if we get things right there will be a large and effective expansion of the facilities available to all our people, including ordinary working and professional people. We shall have more facilities and more choices will be available to consumers. If we are successful—and if the Bill goes through we shall be—there will be more jobs and employment in telecommunications.

If I have one complaint so far about the Opposition, it arises from the contemptible scare that they have been putting about that the Bill will cause a cut in jobs. The Bill will do no such thing, but instead will lead to an expansion of facilities and jobs within the telecommunications industry. That is one reason why I welcome it.

The second reason for my belief that this is a major and important Bill is that we are taking new strides towards public ownership. Some people would call it privatisation, but we are talking about real public ownership. The Bill is a forerunner and prototype of what the Government will do when they are re-elected. That is very important.

As the right hon. Member for Deptford (Mr. Silkin) said, the Bill involves a clash of rival philosophies. When Conservative Members talk about public ownership, we mean individuals and workers owning shares in enterprises, as has happened so successfully in the National Freight Corporation. When the Opposition talk about public ownership, they mean that when they are in government they will get their clammy hands on some of the major parts of our industry. They mean industry being run by bureaucracy and by the Civil Service. They call that public ownership, but it is really ownership and control by officials, vested interests and small cabals. It is manipulation by those with political interests closest to their hearts. Things are done in local constituencies because they believe that they will benefit in those constituencies at the next election.

Conservative Members are talking about public ownership by the people, so that the people have far greater control over their working lives and environment. That is why the Bill is fundamental and important. The Opposition know that their methods cannot and will not work. One of their reasons for opposing the Bill is that they are frightened, because they know that our way will work.

We have had more than 100 hours of debate in Committee. If there has been any serious discussion, it has been incidental. My hon. Friends on the Front Bench have, of course, been serious throughout, but the purpose of others has been different and otherwise. Time has been wasted. If there is any true debate, it will be after the guillotine motion and not before it. That has often been the case with important Bills. Time before the guillotine is time wasted. If we could have a timetable motion at the beginning of such important Bills, the total amount of time spent on the Bill would be time well spent and so much time would not be wasted.

Mr. John Grant (Islington, Central)

I wonder why the hon. Gentleman did not support that proposition when I made it at the outset.

Mr. Marlow

I listened with interest to what the hon. Gentleman said at the outset, but we are talking about something that is fundamental to parliamentary procedure. Now is the time to debate what to do in future, rather than when the Committee is under way. However, I sympathised with what the hon Gentleman said.

To an extent, the House suffers from the incubus of custom. Many of our traditions—as the hon. Member for Truro (Mr. Penhaligon) said—are fine, excellent and splendid. I agree with him. However, we are wrong now and it is time that something was done. Of course the Government have an honourable objective—to get their business through. They believe, and have believed on other such Bills, that to get their business through they must plough through a long series of nights and evenings, hour by hour, clocking up the time, until they feel that they can decently come to the House to ask for a timetable motion. Government have done it in the past. That is what we are borne down with. That is what we have been through on this Bill. Please God that we find a better system.

The Opposition have a different objective, which is to prove to their supporters that the dreadful measure that the Government are thrusting upon the country will be fought tooth and nail, line by line, in some valiant battle against the Government. They believe, and they tell their supporters, that they will obstruct the Government and stop the Government and that the legislation will never reach the statute book. But, strangely, it always does. Strangely, throughout the whole charade, the Opposition have known that it will reach the statute book. They know what will happen. they have been play-acting, just as the Government, when in opposition, were no doubt playacting also. I do not blame them, because that is the system—the incubus of custom from which we are suffering.

We have had time wasting—a printers benefit: firstly, the Government's motivation; secondly, the Opposition's; and, thirdly, the hon. Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme (Mr. Golding)—let us say the opposition within the Opposition, the O'Grady rather than the Tatchell tendency. The hon. Gentleman started a speech last week—I think that it was last week, but time passes fairly quickly on these matters, or slowly as the case may be—at 11.43 am on a Tuesday. He finished it at 5.13 am on the Wednesday, some 18 tong hours later. The hon. Gentleman will say that he was making a serious speech throughout and was addressing himself seriously to the amendment under discussion. But why, then, did the hon. Gentleman say regularly within his speech such words as: "I welcome his intervention. Never let it be said that I would not give way." The hon. Gentleman, throughout his speech, was fishing for interventions in such a way as to make the Danish fishing fleet look timorous and reluctant by comparison.

Look at the hon. Gentleman's speech in the Official report—120 columns, 9,000 lines of print and 81,000 words. The hon. Gentleman will say that he continued for so long, only because of massive interventions. He will not pick on me now, but in Committee he would say that the hon. Member for Northampton, North was always intervening and that he could not get on with his speech—that he could never make a paragraph without interruption. I have been through his speech with a fine-toothed comb. I have added it up line by line. I admit my guilt. I spoke for 255 lines out of 9,000 lines—less than 3 per cent.—and for less than 20 minutes of the 11½ hours. Who is the guilty man, the hon. Gentleman or I?

The hon. Gentleman will doubtless say that although I spoke within his speech for less than 3 per cent. of the time, he had to address himself to my interventions and answer my questions. Throughout that long marathon, I did not receive one answer. It was a daunting, interesting and amazing performance. I understand that in the cellars of the Post Office Engineering Union people are beavering away—perhaps a latter-day Benjamin Britten, or Schoenberg, as it is a little more discordant than that—drawing up a new ballad based on the ballad of Tom Bowley, of which right hon. and hon. Members may know something. I understand that it goes something like this:

  • "Here a sheer hulk, lies poor John Golding,
  • Darling of the POEU.
  • No more we'll hear his tempest howling,
  • 317
  • The guillotine has broach'd him too.
  • John never from his words departed,
  • His virtues were so rare;
  • His members were many, and true hearted,
  • His Poll was kind and fair"—
that is true—
  • "And then he'd speak so blithe and longly,
  • Ah! many's the time and oft;
  • But mirth is turned to melancholy,
  • For poor John's had the chop."
That is why I wish to support the guillotine motion. Interesting though that marathon may have been—I do not blame the hon. Gentleman for it—it really is an abuse of the procedures of the House. We must reform our Committee procedures. I agree virtually wholly with my hon. Friend the Member for Leominster (Mr. Temple-Morris). After the Bill is passed, after the debate, please may we look afresh at our proceedings?

5.5 pm

Mr. John Golding (Newcastle-under-Lyme)

I appear to have made my mark on the hon. Member for Northampton, North (Mr. Marlow). I make no apology for having opposed the Bill strongly. It is a tawdry and obnoxious Bill. Both its purposes—privatisation and creaming off—are to the disadvantage of the domestic customer and will bring higher rentals and charges.

The Bill will do irrevocable harm to the private British telecommunications manufacturing industry—losing jobs and profits to overseas countries. The Bill spells disaster for many thousands who work for British Telecommunications, bringing as it does a threat to job security, pensions, promotion and job satisfaction.

The Bill is opposed by a unique alliance that includes women's institutes, parish councils and large manufacturers, such as Corfield, as well as the Post Office Engineering Union, and other BT unions. I declare my interest, which has already been declared for me by other hon. Members, as a member of the POEU.

The Bill is supported by the greedy people, and very greedy they are. It is supported by the City, whose other policies are destroying Britain's industrial base. It is supported by the importers, who prefer to make a quick buck at the expense of British jobs than to take British interests into account. It is supported by those in the top management of British Telecommunications, who are playing a discreditable part in this episode—no doubt seeing rich pickings for themselves in running what could become the richest firm in Europe.

The Government say that they need the guillotine because of our opposition to the Bill. That is humbug. From the start, they have tried to push it through quickly. That is why it is in such a mess. The hon. Member for Leominster (Mr. Temple-Morris) made a powerful point against the Government when he referred to the muddle that the Bill is in because of the way in which the Government have tried to rush it through. The Bill has rush and muddle in its drafting and preparation. That is stamped all over it.

I have never seen a Bill handled so incompetently in all my time in the House. The Leader of the House reminded us that we passed the Act in 1981. He commended the short time that we spent on it. Does he know that clause 2 of the Bill repeals the 1981 Act? That Act has lasted for only a year. The moral is that we did not discuss it enough. What virtue is there in an Act passed so quickly when, within a year, the Government say that they intend to repeal it? It shows the muddle that the Government are in with their telecommunications policy.

The Bill was proposed in a flimsy White Paper in July 1982. Only six weeks were given for discussion and consultation, and that at the height of the holiday period. That is one reason why we are having to debate it in detail now. The Government did not give the time, before presenting the Bill, to remove inconsistencies from it.

The Bill was given a Second Reading on 29 November and put into Committee on 9 December. After only five hours' debate, in which no long speeches were made, notice was given of a new sittings motion. The Leader of the House must explain why that was. It was not because of any long speeches; it was because of the Government's wish to clear the decks for a general election. That is the reason for today's guillotine motion. The motion is also to prevent the exposure of the lack of detailed preparation by Ministers in Committee.

The Ministers have put up a poor performance in Committee. The Minister of State refused to let us see the BT memorandum and articles of association, although the Secretary of State claimed that they would prevent a change of control. That is an important point, although the Minister of State says that it was only marginal. However, it is crucial to those who have the interests of BT at heart.

The Minister of State has failed to let us see draft licences. I could give one quotation after another of solemn assurances by the Minister that we would see those licences. Now, after an intervention from BT, the Minister of State has got cold feet and, instead of letting us see the licences, has produced only the Department of Industry's draft proposals. As the Minister has acknowledged, we cannot have a real debate without seeing the draft licences.

As the hon. Member for Leominster pointed out, clause 3 is in an unholy mess. The incoherent and bungling efforts of the Under-Secretary one night to try to explain it were a disgrace and unworthy of detailed and long criticism by Labour Members. The failure of the Ministers to reply to the questions has been topped only by the Minister refusing even to get to his feet in one debate.

The practice of Ministers, after we have put detailed questions, of coming back two weeks later to reply is not conducive to efficient and effective debate. They should get more on top of their own legislation. No wonder Government supporters have been visibly embarrassed at the conduct of proceedings on the Bill.

I understand why the hon. Member for Leominster, out of party loyalty, has supported his Front Bench. His speech today illustrates the difficulty that he has been in because of the way that the legislation has been bungled. Worst of all is the way that the Minister introduced the Littlechild report and his response to that report on Monday 7 February, long after we had started debating a clause to which it related.

The report was commissioned on 28 October and received by the Government on 17 January. However, we were allowed to continue to sit in the evenings debating clause 3, even though the Minister knew that he would accept a large part of the report which changed the basis of Government policy. Those debates were a waste of time because the Government changed their policy in midstream. The Government have wasted parliamentary time. They have not played straight with either their own supporters or the Opposition in their conduct over this measure.

The following morning, in Committee, the Minister of State bitterly upset the Opposition by moving the closure motion after an hour on a motion that permitted reference to the difficulties created by the sudden emergence of the Littlechild report. It was against that background that I made my 11¼-hour attack on the Government. It would have been longer, but my right hon. Friend the Member for Salford, West (Mr. Orme) begged me to allow the hon. Member for Caernarvon (Mr. Wigley) to get into the debate. The argument was not exhausted.

I make no apology. The taking away of the exclusive privilege of prime instrument and the opening up of PABX maintenance is crucial to the livelihood of Post Office Engineering Union workers for whom I speak. Their livelihood is more important to me than whether Conservative Members go home to their beds and wives. They introduced this legislation and they are supporting a Government who are destroying the livelihood of the people I represent. That is the most important thing as far as the Opposition are concerned.

The other proposals in the Littlechild report suggest such creaming off measures as giving Mercury access to the international network and reducing restrictions on the resale of BT circuits. These, too, are detrimental to the interests of the workers in BT. When the interests of the POEU are so clearly damaged, it is my right and duty to protest as vigorously as I can.

The guillotine is about the lack of stamina of Conservative Members. On Second Reading I promised a fight in the trenches, but I did not realise that just two or three minor broadsides would put the Government into such rapid retreat. What is worse, I did not think that instead of blaming their own shell shock, they would blame their wives and would go to the Whips and the Leader of the House to complain.

The Whip is the first anarchist I have met. For an hon. Gentleman on the Government Benches to say that he spoke for 20 minutes in the speech of an Opposition Member shows that the hon. Member for Epsom and Ewell (Mr. Hamilton) is an anarchist. He sits there, not taking any notice of the way that his hon. Friends impede the business by impeding my speeches.

I have been astonished at the way that Conservative Members have blamed their wives for their lack of fortitude and fight. Of course they do not want to sit in Committee because it is a humiliating experience for the Government Front Bench and for them. They well understand that the Ministers do not know what they are introducing and cannot defend what they are proposing.

The hon. Gentleman who gains most by our dwelling on clause 3 is the Under-Secretary, who still does not know what clause 4 means. It will be a disaster for him when we come to debate it. I am faced with a group of whimpering schoolboys; and the only man among them seems to be the hon. Member for Mitcham and Morden (Mrs. Rumbold) who faces this experience with fortitude.

Mr. Marlow

The hon. Gentleman is trying to do the impossible—justify the absurd length of time that he spent on his speech. Will he tell the House why he took so much of the time of the Committee talking about the school mistress career of the Chairman of the Committee or about the sweet-eating habit of my hon. Friend the Minister of State and other such absurd items that took him on through the night and that were completely divorced from the subject that we were debating?

Mr. Golding

Miss—I nearly said Miss Fookes. If I were to answer that question, I would, in effect, be critical of the Chair. The Chair has conducted our proceedings extremely competently in Committee, and I would not subscribe to any criticism of it.

On 7 February the Minister, referring to the Littlechild report, said: there will be opportunities tomorrow and in the coming debate on the Bill to discuss these matters fully. I want them debated extensively. We should start tomorrow."—[Official Report, 7 February 1983; Vol. 36, c. 641.] Members of the POEU believed that statement as we believed the Minister when he promised us repeatedly that we should see the draft licence. The truth is now clear. The Government want this legislation to enable them to hand over BT to their greedy friends, and they do not mind how they get it. They will get it by passing a guillotine motion, but that does not mean that they have heard the last of us.

5.22 pm
Mr. Gerry Neale (Cornwall, North)

It is always a pleasure to be called immediately after the hon. Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme (Mr. Golding), if only because it carries with it a guarantee that he has finished his speech. The hon. Gentleman and his colleagues on the Government Front Bench have been consistent in their opposition to the Bill. That was made clear publicly on the presentation of the Bill and again on Second Reading. The hon. Gentleman has remained implacably opposed to it, but it is interesting that even he, with his vast knowledge of the subject, changed the degree of intensity of opposition and shortened the length of his contributions following the announcement that a guillotine motion would come before the House.

I must agree with the views of the hon. Member for Truro (Mr. Penhaligon)—my hon. Friends will understand how difficult it is to reach that agreement as the hon. Gentleman represents a Cornish constituency—about the consideration of Bills in Committee. I urge my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House to take into account the various comments that the hon. Gentleman made, to which I shall address most of my speech.

I agree with the basis of the Bill and with what my hon. Friends are attempting to do. In so doing I declare my interest in telecommunications. I believe sincerely that we cannot continue considering contentious Bills in the present manner. I hope that my right hon. Friend is aware of the widespread support for consideration to be changed in accordance with early-day motion 298, which has support across the parties.

I have no wish to curtail the time that is spent considering contentious Bills. I am more concerned with trying to structure the time to ensure that all parts of contentious Bills are given proper attention. We cannot ignore the trends of past decades. My research tells me that during the 1940s—admittedly they were war years—only three Bills were guillotined. I accept that there were special reasons for that. In the 1950s, six Bills were guillotined. In the 1960s, 13 Bills were guillotined and in the 1970s, 21 Bills were guillotined. If we continue as we are, and bearing in mind that two more Bills will be guillotined today, and if we remember that Governments of each of the two major parties were in power throughout the decades to which I have referred, we are heading for the guillotining of a minimum of 30 Bills in the 1980s. If the rate continues to increase, the total will be nearer 40.

During this Parliament—I confess that I have been a Member of this place for only this Parliament—the conventions of debate in Committee have clearly been stretched and further stretched. The hon. Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme has been more than honourable in debate in Committee. He has kept to the rules of debate. I do not believe that he is the sort of person who would ever go beyond the rules as they exist. However, it is clear that there is a great deal of public questioning of the wisdom of our system when it permits an hon. Gentleman to speak for so long. The public think less of right hon. and hon. Members, although we admire the hon. Gentleman for his remarkable efforts. Many of us admire him but that does not say much for our procedures.

The general trend is for more guillotining under Governments of both major parties, and even in this Parliament the conventions of debate have been stretched. The hon. Member for Truro said that it was becoming almost a symbol of the strength of opposition to a particularly contentious Bill to stretch the conventions, and I agree with him entirely.

It is said that time is an Opposition's only sanction. That is a questionable argument. It is rather like turning out to play for a football team, finding that the team is not winning and feeling it necessary to try to puncture the ball. We have had a number of examples over recent years of open-ended debates and successful attempts being made to limit them. Previous debates on guillotine motions were open-ended but they are now limited to three hours. Similarly, Standing Order No. 9 debates were open-ended but now they are restricted. The daily Adjournment debates came under the same limitation. Restrictions have been introduced for debates on Consolidated Fund Bills. Although it is only a short time since the Procedure Committee considered these issues, it is time that the usual channels of the Procedure Committee re-examined them. I await the contribution of my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House with interest.

It seems that the Procedure Committee adduced four reasons why the present procedure should not be altered. It was said that timetabling in advance would not necessarily produce a more balanced consideration of Bills, as it would not be possible to anticipate the points of difficulty that would arise during a Bill's progress. That is rather much to accept now. We have considered only three clauses of the Telecommunications Bill and more than 80 clauses remain to be considered. There is a guillotine motion before us and at any moment, through the usual channels, it will be announced exactly how the remaining clauses will be considered over the next seven days in Committee. If we can do it now, we can do it at the start of a Bill's consideration in Committee. Indeed, we can do it on Second Reading.

Secondly, it was said that when a Bill is timetabled there is less need for the Government to respond to argument because they are usually assured of their Bill after a certain time. The contrary is true. Successive Governments have known that they would guillotine to get their business. It has been suggested that with that knowledge they may have an incentive to indulge in delay as our procedures stand. If, by a guillotine at the start, Opposition parties are made to take part in a balanced debate, they and Government Members will have the opportunity to criticise all the clauses rather than some of them being allowed to go through by default.

Another argument is that the Opposition may at present legitimately use their power of time to force the Government to make concessions and that if timetabling were general, such powers would be lost. It has been said that that would amount to a significant constitutional development, to the detriment of all non-ministerial Members. That is no longer true. What is happening is that the guillotine is being used after both sides have played for time. No real concessions are being given on that count.

Mr. Henderson

I am following my hon. Friend's speech with great interest. Does he agree that if there were a voluntary understanding about time in the Committee, that would strengthen the Opposition's case when they were looking for concessions? Does he agree that such a short time scale would encourage a Government, who know that they will have to introduce a guillotine to get a Bill through, to believe that there was no point in making any concessions to anyone?

Mr. Neale

I entirely agree with my hon. Friend. The proof of what he says can be found in the fact that many Bills are agreed voluntarily anyway. Like the hon. Member for Truro (Mr. Penhaligon) and my hon. Friend the Member for Leominster (Mr. Temple-Morris), I am addressing myself principally to the existence of a purely philosophical demand.

The Procedure Committee said that there should be no change because there would then be no pressure on Government supporters to refrain from speaking in debates on guillotined Bills, because, the Committee said, that would eat into the Opposition's time. That gives rise to two points. Surely the House will not try to restrict an hon. Member in Standing Committee in making a speech. We all hope that such a speech would be concise, constructive and relevant. The most important fact is that if the Opposition wanted a guarantee, I do not believe that it is beyond the wit of our procedural management to find a way of allocating time among the parties represented in the Committee.

It is important that, when we consider these matters, we do not merely criticise. We should try to advance some suggestions that can be considered by those who discuss these issues. As I have already said, I am a sponsor of early-day motion 298. Perhaps that is not the right way to examine the problem, but I do not believe that we can go on hiding behind what we try to convince ourselves are the mysteries of this place. People are increasingly directing their attention to what is going on here. New television and radio stations are opening. We are increasingly under scrutiny. We cannot expect the public to understand what is going on here if we continue in this way.

If it is apparent—with respect to my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House, it almost always is apparent—that, on the presentation of a Bill, the Opposition are implacably opposed to it, and it is not possible to arrive at a programme for consideration of that Bill through the usual channels, a far better way to deal with it is to have a longer Second Reading, coupled with a timetable motion. There could be a two-day, Second Reading-cum-timetable motion debate. Alternatively, the first motion to be considered in Standing Committee could be a timetable motion which applied to the rest of the consideration of that Bill. It should be clear in that guillotine motion what days would be used for what parts of the Bill. That would enable hon. Members and interested parties outside to prepare their case.

I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Leominster that we should consider using the Select Committee procedure for contentious Bills. The hon. Member for Truro has suggested restricting the length of speeches. We could easily examine restricting the number of hours that each Committee day takes up. We could consider the minimum, not the maximum, number of days for contentious Bills to ensure that Opposition parties have a proper chance to debate the issues.

The dangers of change to this place are not higher than those of not changing. We must make the changes now and improve our debating procedures. If we do not, I am convinced that the level of disrespect that we attract to ourselves from the public will be such that we shall all suffer. What is more, the legislation that we try to enact will also suffer.

Several Hon. Members


Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Ernest Armstrong)

Order. I remind the House that the first of the Front Bench speakers hopes to catch my eye at 6.20 pm and that several hon. Members are waiting to speak.

5.36 pm
Mr. John Grant (Islington, Central)

The speech of the hon. Member for Leominster (Mr. Temple Morris) was one of the fairest and most reasonable non-party speeches that I have heard for a long time. It was underlined by the speeches by the hon. Member for Truro (Mr. Penhaligon) and the hon. Member for Cornwall, North (Mr. Neale). There is little in what they said from which I dissent. The hon. Member for Leominster trod with some delicacy on the two Front Benches. He may find as I continue that, by comparison, I am wearing hobnailed boots.

This motion and the one that we shall consider later symbolise much that is wrong with the House. They symbolise the unchanging, unbending, preconceived battle lines and an anachronistic inability to match up to the changing needs of the world around us. There is an introverted, perhaps even an arrogant, refusal to accept that the ordinary people who send us here do not expect us to indulge in our private political fantasies. We are sent here simply to do an effective job of work on their behalf. They do not expect us to demonstate a blinkered refusal to acknowledge that most people outside who are interested in what we do believe that we are crackers to carry on as we do. They are absolutely right to believe that we are crackers.

This House is rightly regarded throughout the free world as the mother of Parliaments. On occasions such as this, however, we set an example which, if more people read the background, would make us a public laughing stock. We criticise British management both in the public and the private sector for incompetence, we rap the trade unions over the knuckles for using outdated and harmful practices, yet we participate in and run a system that is inefficient and archaic to the point of imbecility.

There should be a timetable motion from the outset. I have said that it should be sensible and generous. The Minister of State said that he found that an attractive suggestion. The official Opposition pulled the bedclothes over their heads. Many hon. Members on both sides of the House have since told me privately that they agree in principle with what I said. A couple of Conservative Members who were on the Committee evaded the Whip for long enough to agree with me when I pressed that matter on the sittings motion. By then, the Minister of State's tentative vindication of his dangerous progressive tendencies had been noticed and he was soundly whipped back into line. He also pulled the bedclothes over his head. It is rapidly becoming clear that hon. Members on both sides of the House agree with what I have said, although I regret to say that that will not be reflected in the Division Lobbies tonight.

On Second Reading I warned that it would do the reputation of the House as a legislative workshop a great deal of damage if this massive and complex Bill found its way onto the statute book inadequately considered and ill-digested. I forecast then—it took no crystal ball to do so—that in common with other Bills of major weight and controversy, the early clauses would be discussed ad infinitum and the later clauses would be given no proper consideration. At the beginning of the Committee I suggested that the Whips had pencilled the guillotine date into their diaries. I suggested that we could put our finger on the end of February. I was not far out.

I also said that when the Government introduced the inevitable motion, they would accuse the Opposition of filibustering. They have done that. I said that they would trot out the number of times the Labour Government had used the guillotine, but they did not do so. I suppose that that was because if they had done so, they would have been obliged to mention all the occasions when they opposed guillotines when they were in opposition. I said that the Opposition would offer their simulated horror of what was going on and probably borrow the speech of the last Tory Shadow Minister to oppose a guillotine. There has not been much variation on that.

I refer to the behaviour of the official Opposition and the Government on the Bill. Of course the official Opposition filibustered. The hon. Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme (Mr. Golding) has been dominating, if not running, the Opposition's affairs on the Bill from the Back Benches. Perhaps he will make "The Guinness Book of Records"; I am not sure about that.

The hon. Gentleman said that he agreed with the spirit of what I had said and that he did not believe that British Telecom's staff would want a filibuster during the early stages of the Bill at the expense of the later clauses. I know him well enough to believe that he meant that. I am sure that he did, but if that is what has happened since, you could fool me. He said that he was provoked into a change of heart. There is something in that argument. I can offer him some comfort because, like other hon. Members, I admire his skill and stamina. I do not accuse him of misusing our existing procedures. The hon. Gentleman was entitled to his prolonged attack. My complaint, like that of other hon. Members who have spoken, is that our crazy procedures permit that to happen. It is an abuse of common sense, of effective government and of effective opposition that we continue in that way and have neither the guts not the gumption to put it right for ourselves.

Everyone knows that it is a phoney war. Everyone knew that the chopper would fall on the Bill. The Minister of State could chortle at the tailor-made excuse that he had for introducing the motion sooner rather than later. From the Opposition we have had the usual old bunk about an assault on democracy. They have been able to satisfy their gallery that they have been fighting tooth and nail against the Bill in what has really been a glorified public relations exercise. That is what it comes down to.

Let me come to a serious point about provocation and the Government's behaviour. This must be hammered home. I start from the basis that the Bill is a piece of thoroughly unjustified ideology. It is bringing needless uncertainty to a crucial industry to satisfy the public sector bloodlust of the Conservative party. What has become increasingly apparent during the Committee proceedings—I underline what the hon. Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme said—has been the gross insult to the House of bringing before it legislation in such a disgraceful state of muddle and unpreparedness. The hon. Member for Leominster (Mr. Temple-Morris) gave some support to that view. Ministers have to take the blame for their extraordinary inability to answer straightforward questions in Committee, even from their own unhappy Back Benchers, on many occasions.

However, we know who the real culprit is. It is the Prime Minister, who has been determined to steamroller the Bill through in time for the early election that she may decide is advantageous to her. She wants to clear the decks, as the hon. Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme said. This is her showpiece Bill.

If the incompetence shines out, there has been bad faith too. On Second Reading on 29 November I said that the Bill had been cobbled together in a panic and claimed that the draft licence—the key document—would not be available for at least two months. We are well beyond two months now. At the first sitting of the Committee on 9 December, the Minister of State said: I was asked when we would publish a draft licence. We intend to do so as soon after Christmas as possible—in other words, shortly after Christmas—because I am very conscious that the Committee will want to see the terms of that licence".—[Official Report, Standing Committee H, 9 December 1982; c. 9.] We still have not seen the draft licence. All we have had is the document giving the Department of Industry's views of what should be in it. The Minister of State was setting out to prove the old saying that a verbal contract is not worth the paper that it is written on.

We had trouble in Committee over inadequate guidance notes and the articles of association. We have now had the injection into the proceedings of the Littlechild report, which means substantial changes to the Bill. Everyone agrees that clause 3 is vital, the essence of the Bill. That is where we are now. However, the Minister of State told the Committee at the outset that he trusted that by the last sitting before Christmas we would be debating clauses 6, 7 and 8. That was wishful thinking. If we had reached clauses 6, 7 and 8, much of the extra work would have been wasted. Much of the work that has been done has been wasted. It would have been overtaken by the consequences of the Littlechild report. It is clear from the debates on clause 3 that the report is relevant to what has already gone through in Committee.

Therefore, the Government deserve to be clobbered hard. They have behaved disgracefully. The plain fact is that, whatever the Government's comedy of errors or lack of good faith, call it what one will, the guillotine was always a certainty. The two major parties, for separate reasons, have ensured that. It is not so much a clash of philosophies, as the right hon. Member for Deptford (Mr. Silkin) said—much more a clash of dinosaurs. Hon. Members allow the grisly charade of Government-imposed and Opposition-inspired timetables to continue in Parliament after Parliament against our interests and the wider public interest. We do not allow such things to go on at our respective party conferences. There, the major policy debates are carefully timetabled—some would say too carefully—or stage-managed. However, in the House we operate ridiculous procedures, which give rise to the motion that we are debating, which is largely a waste of valuable parliamentary time.

I mention time, but expense must also be considered. This place costs a packet to run. It is the taxpayers who foot the Bill for all our procedural extravagances and excesses. It is no wonder that so many people outside who bother to consider what we get up to think that we are the inmates of a peculiar asylum. They think that we live on cloud nine and that we are a bunch of self-centred, self-important nincompoops who cannot run our own affairs properly, let alone the affairs of the nation.

We need a major breakthrough. The hon. Member for Cornwall, North mentioned his motion, which more than 100 hon. Members have signed. It urges the Leader of the House to reconvene the Procedure Committee. Many more members of the official Opposition would have liked to sign the motion. As far as I can make out, they must have been warned off by the Whips. I know that many of them agree with it. I went along with the motion, but I am not sure whether it is the best way. There is a danger that it could be a recipe for the pigeonhole.

I was one of a group of junior Ministers in the Labour Government who wanted reforms, particularly on all-night sittings. There were implications for timetabling. That followed the death of Tony Crosland. Many of us believed that the working hours, particularly for Ministers and more so for Cabinet Ministers, were a killer, especially in that finely balanced hung Parliament. I acted at the time as a shop steward for that group of junior Ministers and wrote on their behalf to the then Leader of the House, now the Leader of the Opposition. We asked him to try to get all-party agreement to modest changes to take effect after the general election. From the right hon. Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Foot), typically woolly and indecisive, we received the response that it was a matter for the Procedure Committee. Nothing happened.

We should have assurances now that something will happen. It might be best if one or other party—perhaps the alliance would like to consider it—thought about putting something in its manifesto on that basis. It should not be primarily a matter of party concern in that narrow sense. This is primarily a House of Commons matter but it cannot be decided in practice without agreement between the parties. I hope that the parties will commit themselves to honour such an agreement after an election. With the best will in the world, the Procedure Committee could not reach such an understanding. My personal preference would be for an all-party round table conference to be set up urgently by the Leader of the House to try to hammer out an agreement on those lines. I hope that the Minister of State will convey that suggestion to the Leader of the House—perhaps he will refer to the point in his reply—and that the Leader of the House will respond positively to it. Such a move would be welcome on both sides of the House.

I cannot advise my right hon. and hon. Friends to support the Government. The Government have sorely mishandled the Bill, and so far they have not offered any initiative towards any of the desirable reforms which Members of both sides of the House want. On the narrow merits of the case, I am more tempted to vote with the Opposition. However, whatever the superficial short-term justification for it may be, their behaviour cannot be squared with progress towards a more rational and sensible conduct of our affairs. For that reason, and to show our distaste and our protest, my right hon. and hon. Friends and I will deliberately abstain on the guillotine motion.

I am sure that Conservative Members would be reluctant to embarrass the Government, but those who wish to bring the House into the modern world could now show that they mean business and do a job not so much for this Parliament as for Parliaments to come. They should seriously consider emphasising their concern and their protest by refusing to join in such a farcial vote.

Mr. Kenneth Baker

Do I understand that the hon. Gentleman is advising his hon. Friends to abstain on the timetable motion?

Mr. Grant


Mr. Baker

On Second Reading, the hon. Gentleman said that the one thing that we needed was a timetable motion. We are now bringing one forward. Is there no principle by which the hon. Gentleman's party is prepared to stand? He has advocated and urged this move from the beginning. His behaviour is typical of that of the SDP and the alliance on a whole range of policies.

Mr. Grant

I have rarely been subjected to such an extraordinary intervention. I noticed that the Minister of State was conferring with his hon. Friend during my speech. I can only conclude that he missed most of it. I explained clearly and categorically why I consider that the Government have behaved disgracefully over the Bill. I explained that, at the beginning, the Government had an opportunity to accept my proposition for an agreed timetable, not a timetable such as the Government have now introduced, condensing the latter part of the Bill in concertina form so that whereas the early clauses were discussed ad infinitum, the later clauses will not be discussed adequately.

No doubt the Minister of State intervened because he was getting worried. He has heard the views of some Conservative Back Benchers and he knows how worried they are about the practices and procedures of the House. Let me reassure those Back Benchers that the Government would suffer nothing worse than inconvenience if they lost the guillotine tonight—they would get their Bill in the end, albeit slightly delayed—but the shock would be severe. We should then be on the way to a long overdue change and to a reform which could only improve the reputation of this House in such matters, which has been thoroughly unsatisfactory for far too long. I hope that the House will grasp this opportunity.

5.54 pm
Mr. David Madel (Bedfordshire, South)

The hon. Member for Islington, Central (Mr. Grant) referred at the beginning of his speech to a structured timetable and to what happened when the Bill started in Committee. I agree that it is a pity that we could not vote there and then on a master plan to deal with the clauses of the Bill between December and March. We could not do that as there was no opportunity to vote on a plan to get the Bill through with reasonable consideration, but I am sure that if such a proposal had appeared on the amendment paper the hon. Gentleman would have had the support not only of many Conservative Members, but also of the hon. Member for Caernarvon (Mr. Wigley) who opposes the Bill as strongly as the hon. Member for Islington, Central and the official Opposition.

Very little progress has been made on the Bill, despite the three all-night sittings. Like my hon. Friend the Member for Leominster (Mr. Temple-Morris), I shall be brief, and I shall deal with the structures and systems rather than going into the business of the Bill yet again.

At the beginning of proceedings in Committee I said that it should be perfectly possible for an Opposition party vigorously to oppose a Bill and to take plenty of time about it, but not to run the Bill almost into the sand so that a guillotine became inevitable. I mentioned the Employment Protection Act 1975, the Dock Work Regulation Act 1976 and the present Opposition's opposition to the Employment Act 1980.

One short speech in the Committee on this Bill, had the example been followed by others, sums up the position. On 3 February, the hon. Member for Caernarvon introduced his amendment No. 52 to clause 3. It dealt with the provision of rural telephones. The hon. Gentleman began his speech at about 12.15 pm. He could have had an absolute field day, trawling through his constituency complaining about the dangers inherent in the possible lack of rural telephones. He could have gone up, down and round Snowdon, but he did not choose to do so. Instead, he made a very compact speech ending at about 12.57 pm. The proceedings then continued as follows:

"Mr. McWilliam

I shall not follow the hon. Member for Caernarvon— It being One o'clock THE CHAIRMAN adjourned the Committee".—[Official Report, Standing Committee H, 3 February, 1983; c. 724.] I am sorry that the hon. Member for Caernarvon is not present. He is a strong opponent of the Bill and he could have detained the Committee for hours, but he chose not to do so. If other opponents of the Bill had followed his example, they could have vigorously opposed the Bill and propounded their amendments without running on and on. In other words, what we need from now on are Caernarvon standards rather than endlessly running the Bill into the sand just because particular clauses are not liked.

The all-night sittings did Parliament and our reputation no good. Nor, I believe, did they greatly impress the many people who have expressed interest in the Bill, who have pressed papers into our hands and suggested meetings to discuss the way in which we should proceed.

The procedural reform that I wish to see is the following. I believe that the Select Committee on Industry and Trade should have started to consider the outlines of the Bill in October and produced an interim report on how the Bill might be improved, strengthened or altered. Other Select Committees, when they put their minds to it, can produce quick but thorough interim reports on Government legislation or action.

I am glad to see that the hon. Member for Blayden (Mr. McWilliam) is present, as he and I are members of the Select Committee on Education, Science and Arts which produced a quick but thorough interim report on biotechnology, which affects this country and has important implications for the Department piloting this Bill through the House. In my view, the Select Committee on Industry and Trade could have done the same. It would have benefited us. People who wished to make representations about the Bill would have had the opportunity to do so in the informal evidence sessions which I believe are a great strength and a great improvement in our procedures, rather than hurriedly pressing pieces of paper into our hands and asking for hurried discussions in the Corridor on or after the day's proceedings had been completed.

I believe that strengthening the Select Committee system would have been a better way to proceed. In an interesting article in today's Financial Times, headed British Parliamentary procedure of guillotines—and charades", the House of Commons is compared with Congress. When Congress begins to examine legislation it is much longer before Bills are actually considered. The article states: Proposals are, more often than not, substantially changed in the process, so that Congressmen have a creative role compared with the largely passive function of MPs. That sums it all up. We want a more creative role. We do not like the passive role that we have in considering Bills, and we want to change it. There is a great ripple of unease in the House about this and other Bills and the way in which we conduct our proceedings.

The way to do it is there. We spend enough time in the House talking about more consultation, communication, partnership and bringing people together in industry to widen discussion, yet the House of Commons waddles towards making procedural changes and improvements. It has the means in its hands: by strengthening the Select Committee system we would have avoided all the difficulties in the 115 rather non-productive hours that we have had on the Bill.

If that sort of behaviour continues, in my view the proper use of parliamentary time is ruined. The demands of constituents, Select Committees and other parliamentary activities are increasing year by year. It is utterly wrong that all our other activities should be thrown out of gear because of the time taken by the Bill. We must reform the system, as there are some Bills that should be born with guillotines round their necks. The Telecommunications Bill 1983 is one of them. It could have been different if the Select Committee on Industry and Trade had looked at it. Alas, it has not been so and that is why the timetable motion is essential and inevitable.

6.1 pm

Mr. Stan Thorne (Preston, South)

I do not want to go down the path taken by the hon. Member for Bedfordshire, South (Mr. Madel) about substituting stronger Select Committees to remedy the position in which we found ourselves on the Telecommunications Bill 1983. Much of what the hon. Member for Leominster (Mr. Temple-Morris) said, which was followed by other hon. Members, including the hon. Member for Cornwall, North (Mr. Neale), makes considerable sense on the subject of the procedure for considering Bills.

The hon. Member for Cornwall, North did not mention that the increase in the use of the guillotine has taken place over 30 years when there has been a tremendous increase in legislation. Unfortunately, during that time there has been no attempt by either Front Bench to address themselves to the problem of what increased legislation means in terms of Committee and House procedure. That is the problem that we face. In reality, no changes have taken place.

We are debating a guillotine. One welcomes the comments by the hon. Member for Northampton, North (Mr. Marlow), that apparently the next Conservative manifesto will address itself to supporting public ownership. That is novel. I await it with considerable interest.

The Leader of the House referred tonight to all those who will run British Telecom after the passing of the Bill. It implies, as does reference to "public operators" that there will be several companies involved in the industry after the passing of the Bill. We have already discussed them to some extent in Committee. I believe it is a major myth. I do not think it is an accident that the hon. Member for Leominster referred to a "private monopoly". To some extent that is what we shall have in the industry for some time to come. Even with the growth of Mercury there will still be a private monopoly for a considerable period. As I said in Committee, thereafter only a few firms will be involved in the industry.

I want to be as brief as I can because, unlike the hon. Member for Islington, Central (Mr. Grant) who has made the longest speech, I do not want to finish up by not voting; I want to vote against the guillotine and some of my colleagues are anxious to contribute to the debate. I am deliberately curtailing some of the remarks that I intended to make.

I subscribe fully to the view already expressed, that the Government Front Bench has absolutely no right to claim a mandate for its action. The Government did not just get 40 per cent. of the vote at the 1979 election; they received only approximately 33 per cent. of the support of the electorate. Some two thirds of the British people rejected them, either by vote or by abstention. In my view they have no moral right to rule, let alone to legislate.

By this Bill the Government are placing at risk an efficient service that most people in Great Britain recognise is making a social contribution of considerable value. They are doing it for one motive alone: to line the pockets of those who promote Tory rule in Great Britain today. It is probably done with the view that, following the period 1981–82, more firms such as Lucas Industries Ltd, Allied Breweries, Ltd. and Turner and Newall Ltd. will make substantial contributions to Tory party funds as a result of the profits they make in the British telecommunications industry in order to perpetuate Tory rule.

That will come as no surprise, because that is the nature of capitalism, of the private profit motive that Conservative Members displayed in Committee when they had the temerity to make speeches instead of simply intervening in the speech, about which they complain, of my hon Friend the Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme (Mr. Golding). They were foolish to intervene and protract his speech.

It is suggested that the Bill will create efficient competition. That is utterly absurd. Conservative Members have been in the business of creating efficient competition most of my life and today at least 4 million people are unemployed. When the Bill is passed, a further 40,000 to 50,000 telecommunications workers will be looking for alternative employment.

We shall also have the serious problem of deciding whether to continue to allow the export of capital which is at present flooding out of Great Britain, or whether we shall look at the import of capital into this industry. As far as I am aware, there are no guarantees in the Bill to prevent capital from entering Great Britain to invest in this industry. It is a blatant misuse of power by Conservative Members and it is therefore the duty of the Opposition to oppose that misuse of power as effectively as we can.

6.8 pm

Mr. Richard Shepherd (Aldridge-Brownhills)

It is always difficult to follow the hon. Member for Preston, South (Mr. Thorne) as he takes us into the black lands of Socialist lost theories. We find it extremely difficult to gather our thoughts and pursue the arguments. It was an extraordinary admission by the hon. Gentleman that he could not conceive that profits could be made if a service is provided, whereas most Conservative Members see service as a fundamental prerequisite of profit. We conducted much of the debate in Committee trying to educate Opposition Members in the fairly basic proposition of civility, service and profits and the general way in which they may advance the interests of ordinary consumers such as ourselves, our families and our constituents.

Before I surrender my place to the Front Bench spokesmen, I must say that I am a reluctant supporter of guillotines, if only because of the general proposition. It is the right of hon. Members who feel strongly about a measure to argue their corner as fiercely and determinedly as possible. I am a reluctant supporter of the guillotine, because if moderate and sympathetic consideration had been given, along the lines suggested by the hon. Member for Islington, Central (Mr. Grant), who has now deserted the Chamber, I am not sure that even by 10 March, which is the date when the Bill must return to the Floor of the House, adequate justice could have been done to the Bill.

The Bill is born of two concepts and, as I said in Committee, there are two Bills. The first proposition is that we should regulate a public monopoly. The second is that we should sell a public monopoly to those private interests that wish to own what will then be a private monopoly. As we have discussed only the first Bill, and not very much of that, many of the arguments adduced by the hon. Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme (Mr. Golding) are phoney. He said that the Bill had only two purposes: one was privatisation and the other was the creaming off of profits. However, each member of the Committee recognises that the Bill goes far beyond that. It talks about something that will be very important in the society that I and the Conservative party envisage. It will see us through the coming years more competitively and vigorously so that we can better protect and defend the interests of those whom we represent.

How does one curb the power and influence of an enormous monopoly? That is the essential and crucial question. Clearly, when the Government came to the House with the Bill they had only vague ideas about how one could regulate such a monopoly. They believed that it could be done partially through a licence, but they were not sure how the profits should be controlled. They commissioned a report from a distinguished professor from the west midlands. Professor Littlechild was asked to report by 17 December. Presumably he produced a report that was inadequate, and the Government were in a position to review his recommendations in the light of his further thoughts on the matter late in January. Essential parts of the Bill were not thought out in detail. For us to discuss it sensibly, to perform our duties to the House, to give it full consideration and to moderate and ameliorate the effects of its conditions, it is essential to know what the Government have in mind and where they are going.

There is no question but that the Government have moved a long way. They have recognised the inadequacies and imperfections of clause 3, which worried every member of the Committee, especially my hon. Friend the Member for Leominster (Mr. Temple-Morris). How can we protect and advance the interests of the consumer? How should functions and duties be laid upon the Director General of Telecommunications? What effect will the Bill have on future competition in this country? Will it stifle the ability of companies to compete against a monopoly? What is the experience of other countries? How are they moving from a highly regulated position to an unregulated position? Why is Britain, which started with the effect of an unregulated position, considering only moderate regulation? Why do the Government shy away so passionately from the control of prices?

Those are fundamental questions that need much discussion and legitimte examination. I am not convinced that even if the Committee had started on 9 December in a spirit of amity it could have discussed all the issues in the first proposition of the Bill, which is the regulatory authority. Not one hon. Member, including my hon. Friends on the Front Bench, is entirely sure about the form that that regulatory authority will take.

It has been difficult to discuss regulation because, as the hon. Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme said—no doubt the right hon. Member for Salford, West (Mr. Orme) agrees with him—the Opposition are fundamentally opposed to selling off monopolies to potential monopolists. They are so opposed to that proposition that they cannot consider the other important proposition of regulation. We have been in a terrible Scylla and Charybdis position, where there has been no responsible or reasonable discussion of a very important ingredient in the Bill. The opposition has been so total that it has even stifled Labour Members and prevented their putting down improving amendments. It is startling that there are few constructive amendments from the Opposition. Most of the amendments come from Conservative Members, who, with me, are worried about some issues.

There would be more justice in what the Opposition are doing and saying if they took a more structured and reasoned approach. I suspect that there is division among Opposition Members. Some are slightly uneasy about waving the banner solely for the Post Office Engineering Union. There are two representatives of that union on the Committee, who, line by line, have blankly refused to promote discussion of issues that could expand the regulatory control of a monopoly.

One detects in some Back-Bench Members and in the Front Bench spokesmen a sensitivity to the issues, especially about regulating great monopolies that are transferred from public to private ownership. Although the Opposition may maintain that a publicly owned monopoly works in the interests of the consumer or our constituents—few consumers and constituents believe that, and the evidence is against it—they must accommodate the idea that the monopoly will move from public to private ownership. Therefore, one is forced to address oneself to the basic question about the best way to resurrect or to create a structure to protect those interests.

The Opposition, through their extraordinary folly—I genuinely believe it to be that—have been prepared wilfully to discuss minutiae and to leave aside fundamental issues that will affect the nation for many years to come. They had a big role to play, but they funked it as usual. That excites and upsets me, because we had a common cause across the Floor of the House to make something of a regulatory authority that would protect consumers' interests. As it is, we are now subject to a guillotine and great issues and principles will go undiscussed in this place. They may be taken up by the other place, which I understand the Opposition are only too eager to see abolished.

There is now an almost irrefutable case for the House of Lords to remain and to protect us against our follies and failure to examine in detail essential parts of a Bill. It surprises me that the Opposition should have made such a compelling case for the retention of the House of Lords to take over where we leave off. No doubt the right hon. Member for Salford, West, when he ascends to the other place, will give the detailed scrutiny to Bills that he has so avowedly eschewed on this Bill. I do not say that with ill will, because at times the right hon. Gentleman rises to the challenge. The dead hand belongs to almost the greatest Stalinist of this House, the hon. Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme, who cannot look beyond one structure or organisation to try to encompass the movement forward of a flexible society. Perhaps he must bear all the pains and penalties in order to protect the interests of the broad sweep of his colleagues against the more predatory instincts of the monopolists and traders.

The hon. Member for Truro (Mr. Penhaligon) made some assumptions and assertions that were born out of the most casual understanding of the details of the Bill. He was wrong to say that Conservative Members tried to be persuasive in their arguments because they never wished to serve on a Bill again. That is a misunderstanding of what I and my hon. Friend the Member for Leominster have been trying to do. We are deeply anxious that the interests of consumers and, therefore, of our fellow citizens are protected. That caused argument. The Liberal representative, the hon. Member for Truro, has done the usual Liberal thing and is not present to hear that criticism of his speech. I wanted him to hear it.

Mr. John Grant

Having been on the Committee, I endorse what the hon. Gentleman has said. It was unfortunate that that remark was made, and I am certain that the hon. Gentleman and his hon. Friend moved their amendments and made their speeches with sincerity.

Mr. Shepherd

I am grateful for that remark. I do not wish to be seen as biting the hand that feeds me, but it is an extraordinary proposition. The hon. Gentleman originally put forward a sensible although flawed proposition that perhaps by agreement we could discuss the Bill sensibly. That proposition was flawed, because there could be no agreement when the Opposition were fundamentally opposed to the selling of a monopoly. There is no question but that there could have been agreement on that matter. Therefore, the Government have resorted to the guillotine.

If the hon. Gentleman examines his stance and that of his hon. Friends, he will find that they are inconsistent. Were he to win by voting with the Opposition and the guillotine was thrown out, he would be reduced to the worst of all worlds. Even clauses that the hon. Gentleman wishes to be discussed would not be discussed, and we could toil on through clauses 4 and 5.

6.22 pm
Mr. Stanley Orme (Salford, West)

This has been an interesting and important debate on procedure and on the Bill. The House has heard the hon. Member for Aldridge-Brownhills (Mr. Shepherd) give his usual dissertation. He is partly responsible for this guillotine, because the Government wish to see him in chains and silenced.

I think that I have a fellow spirit in the Leader of the House in regard to the way in which democracy operates within our society. Democracy cannot always be parcelled up in a tidy fashion. It is not always possible to proceed at a certain rate and level. Hon. Members cannot always be pleasant to one another, thereby allowing the Government successfully to get through their legislation irrespective of how strongly people feel about it. In a democracy, people have bad feelings, errors and faults exist, and hon. Members must face the reality that, if they are to work in a parliamentary democracy, procedures are exceedingly untidy. Long and protracted debates occur.

My hon. Friends and I make no apology for the action that we have taken against the Bill. When some hon. Members talk about democracy, there is an assumption that, irrespective of the legislation, they must accept that that legislation will go through. I agree that improvements can be made. It is easy to say that, but far more difficult to implement it and to protect the rights of the minority as well as the majority.

When Conservative Members were faced with the Bill to nationalise the aircraft and shipbuilding industries they fought for their philosophy, as they were entitled to do. How would the Conservative party react if a Labour Government were to bring forward a Bill to nationalise the banks? They would use every means at their disposal to oppose such a Bill. In a democracy, people stop short of taking violent action to prevent a legitimately elected Government from operating, but there are real procedural problems.

The Leader of the House said that the Bill was of major importance. The Labour party is politically opposed to it. It is not possible to see any meeting point. The Opposition are not in the business of trying to improve what they regard as bad legislation. We are in the business of trying to prevent the Government from getting their legislation through the House. The Government, in the knowledge that they were not going to make any progress, decided to take Committee members throught three all-night sittings because it was a means of going for a guillotine.

Mr. John Grant


Mr. Henderson


Mr. Orme

The hon. Member for Aldridge-Brownhills will have to face some of the things that he said about my hon. Friend the Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme (Mr. Golding) when we discuss this matter in Committee tomorrow morning.

This is an extraordinary Bill by any standards. There is nothing with which to compare it. It is a major piece of denationalisation that will have repercussions in both the private and public sectors.

The Bill has 84 clauses and six schedules. Since the Committee stage started, we have had introduced the regulation on telecommunications in the United States of America, a description of the views of the Department of Industry on the British Telecom licence—hon. Members have not yet seen the real licence that the Minister promised—guidance notes on clause 3, the Littlechild report and the Government's response to it.

I agree with the hon. Member for Leominster (Mr. Temple-Morris) that clause 3 will have to be completely rewritten because of the Government's introduction of fresh matter. The Minister said that drastic changes would have to take place because of the Littlechild report and what has come out during the debates on the Bill. The Committee spent 54½ hours discussing clause 3—during which some of its weaknesses have been established—which is central to the Bill.

The Government appear to have changed their tack. When they introduced the Bill, the intention was to free British Telecom from its restrictions as a public monopoly, so that it could borrow freely in the market place. Financial freedom was the Government's major argument, but the sale of shares in British Telecom has taken second place to the promotion of competition in the provision of services and the break-up of British Telecom as we understand it.

Yesterday, in Committee, a major debate took place on competition. Differences developed between the philosophy of the Government and that of the Opposition. Anyone who reads that debate, which was carried on at a very high level by both sides, will find a most fascinating exposition of the attitudes to competition of the Government and of the Opposition.

The Committee has also discussed the rural areas, the consumers in those areas, the pricing mechanism within those areas, and the cross-subsidisation that has created such a great deal of controversy.

We have discussed emergency calls and the 999 service. My right hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Openshaw (Mr. Morris) raised that point. Suddenly a proposal was introduced in Committee to abolish the emergency calls operator, but we have had no explanation from the Government of how that should operate or what sort of service would replace it. That raises fundamental issues. Therefore, the need to debate the Bill was evident.

The Government were not anxious to make progress. They wanted to ensure that the Littlechild report would be presented while the Committee was still discussing clause 3. Reference has already been made to the closure, but the Minister could not move the closure during the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme because our procedure is that no one can intervene in such a manner while the mover of an amendment is speaking. Many hon. Members have learnt a lot from that procedure. In the House of Commons, we learn something, if not every day, certainly frequently. There were other occasions when the Government were not anxious to make progress, because they were awaiting the presentation of reports to the House and to the Committee. In consequence, we were under no pressure to make progress.

After all, we are debating the largest sale of a state industry ever undertaken in the United Kingdom. The Union of Communication Workers has called it the sale of the century. It will certainly be a massive sale. We are talking about the flotation of assets worth about £5 billion or £6 billion; the effects on people working in the industry; new technology and developments that will take place. Yet the Government have still given no assurance to the staff about their superannuation, job security and future generally.

Littlechild will reduce further BT's ability to operate on the scale that it does at present. It will reduce that activity, for example, by allowing the private sector to impinge on it. Mercury was supposed to compete against BT in the domestic market, but we were suddenly told that Mercury could operate against BT on the international market. How soon before other areas are under threat and pressure? At present, this industry is under public control and it is expanding. In our opinion, it is in the interests of the British people that it should remain in public control.

We make no apologies for the actions that we have taken. We are using our democratic rights. We are opposed to the Bill. Obviously, the Government have their eyes on a June election and want to get this legislation on the statute book. We have a legitimate reason for saying that we do not want it on the statute book, and we shall oppose it by any means at our disposal.

If people take the trouble to read the debates, be they the knowledgeable speeches of my right hon. Friend the Member for Openshaw, my hon. Friend the Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme or my hon. Friend the Member for Blaydon (Mr. McWilliam), they will see that they contain matters of real interest and concern. The Government, without a mandate, are determined to press this measure through the House of Commons, and we are determined to prevent it, if possible.

We know that the Government are determined to make the Bill an Act of Parliament before the general election. We also know that we shall be unable to repurchase the shares when the Labour party returns to government. However, the Government will not float the shares until after the general election. Therefore, it will be a general election issue, and we are determined to make it such.

On behalf of the Opposition, I give the commitment that I gave previously—that an incoming Labour Government will repeal this measure in its entirety. We shall bring Mercury under public control within the BT monopoly. We shall make this a general election issue, and I am convinced that it can be a winning issue for the Labour party.

6.36 pm
The Minister for Industry and Information Technology (Mr. Kenneth Baker)

The right hon. Member for Deptford (Mr. Silkin), the hon. Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme (Mr. Golding) and the right hon. Member for Manchester, Openshaw (Mr. Morris), all said in their own way that the Government were rushing this legislation and thrusting it upon the House and an unsuspecting nation. I deny that completely.

The policy that the Bill implements was set out in the White Paper published as long ago as July last year. If hon. Members look at that White Paper they will see that we are implementing it line by line. After consultations during the autumn, the Bill was published on 17 November. Those hon. Members who have served on the Committee for the last few months will know that it is an exceptionally complicated Bill. We also took the trouble to produce a 12-page explanation of how the Secretary of State would relate to the Director General of the new Office of Telecommunications and how the licence would be monitored. That document shows how the regime will operate.

The Committee commenced on 9 December. I was asked constantly for various documents, which I have given to the Committee. I was asked for the proposed licence, and after Christmas I submitted draft proposals for a licence. On 7 February the Littlechild report was published.

During the Second Reading debate on 29 November my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Industry said that he had asked Professor Littlechild to produce a report on the financial regime that would operate after BT was privatised, which, as the right hon. Member for Salford, West (Mr. Orme) reminded us, would be after the next election in any event. Therefore, we are talking about a financial regime that will operate in six months, nine months or a year's time. Professor Littlechild reported on 17 January, and I reported to the House via a statement on 7 February.

Professor Littlechild's recommendations on price control rather than a profit ceiling are new, and I accept that, but the other half of his report, which rankles with Labour Members, particularly with the hon. Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme, dealing with the extension of competition, is not a new policy, but an extension of the policy announced by my right hon. Friend the former Secretary of State for Industry in July 1980 and extended by me in a statement in July 1981. I therefore disagree absolutely with the accusation that the Bill is being rushed through and has not been thought out.

Opposition Members have indulged in the practice of demanding papers. These I have provided in a probably unprecedently generous way, and as soon as they have had them they have moved the Adjournment of the Committee. That is not the action that one would expect. While I do not expect gratitude, I should have thought that Opposition Members would employ a little more guile in disguising their true intent—which is to delay the Bill in order to destroy it.

The delay has been on a mammoth scale. So far we have spent 110 hours in Committee. In the timetable motion that is before us there is provision for another 60 to 70 hours, so the Bill will have been subjected to 175 hours of debate by the time it is reported to the House. I think I am right in saying that this is the longest debate on any Bill in this Session of Parliament. We have had 64 hours of debate on clause 3, and that alone would justify a timetable motion.

Opposition Members have been frank from the beginning. I cannot say that they have not said openly that they want to delay the Bill. The hon. Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme told us on Second Reading that it would mean a winter in the trenches, and it is he who has been giving the marching orders to the Committee, not the Front Bench spokesmen. He is the one who has been determining the policy and the timetable. He knows about the Bill. He has at least read it through. He has said quite clearly that he wants to delay it.

Mr. John Silkin

The Minister is being very fair, and he says that Opposition Members have been quite frank about their intentions. Why have the Government not been equally frank? If this is so important, why was it not in the Tory manifesto at the last general election?

Mr. Baker

As I have said to the right hon. Gentleman, this is an extension of the policy announced in July 1980, but we are meeting his point and putting this to the country in the forthcoming general election. I am very happy for it to be an election issue.

The policy of delay has been expounded not only by the hon. Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme but by the hon. Member for Leigh (Mr. Cunliffe), who is the Whip on the Committee. The main virtue of a Whip is silence. Indeed, some would say that it is the only virtue. The only thing that makes a Whip acceptable is that he never speaks and only occasionally thinks. However, in the debate of December 9 the Whip on the Committee said: we begin the marathon that will last throughout this year"— he was right, it went throughout 1982— into next year"— he is right, it has come into 1983— and possibly until the following year."—[Official Report, Standing Committee H, 9 December 1982; c. 22.] That is ambition. I hope that his colleagues on the Front Bench recognise it and duly reward him.

It has been clear that delay was the purpose of the Labour party in Committee and we have been subjected to very long speeches indeed. The hon. Member for Blaydon (Mr. McWilliam), who is rather a quiet sort of chap normally, has spoken for 1 hour, 1 hour 30 minutes, 1 hour 45 minutes and 1 hour 55 minutes. All this has been surpassed, of course, by the hon. Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme. When he first spoke, for 4 hours 40 minutes, that was a gentle trot. The second time, it was a canter of 5 hours 45 minutes. Then there was the very long speech of 11 hours 15 minutes.

We in Committee Room 12 have been subjected to an orgy of verbosity and to a ritual of repetitive rambling. My hon. Friends have shown that they have wanted to debate these matters. The amendments in the names of my hon. Friends the Members for Aldridge-Brownhills (Mr. Shepherd) and for Leominster (Mr. Temple-Morris) have been constructive and have been the subject of infinitely more interesting debates than have the amendments put forward by Labour Members.

This has become something of a constitutional matter. Several people felt that, by speaking for 11 hours 15 minutes, the hon. Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme was not just spending a winter in the trenches, but going over the top. This is of concern to several of my hon. Friends who have spoken today, including my hon. Friends the Members for Leominster, for Fife, East (Mr.Henderson), for Northampton, North (Mr. Marlow) and for Cornwall, North (Mr. Neale), and the hon. Member for Islington, Central (Mr.Grant) who have expressed the view that this cannot be the best way to handle, debate and discuss a difficult and complicated piece of legislation.

It is for the House to decide how it should examine measures that are brought before it. Reforms normally come about when abuses become obvious and indefensible, and in my view the Standing Committee procedure has been abused. It is now up to the House and the Procedure Committee to see how things can be improved. Although it is probably too late to do anything about it in the last months of this Parliament, various suggestions have been made by my hon. Friends, such as having an earlier timetable and so on. These are views that can be put forward again.

I also believe that the attitude of Opposition Members and the way in which they have drafted and dealt with amendments need considerable explanation. Why have Opposition amendments throughout been so negative? Why have they so far achieved so little? Why was the deputy Leader of the Opposition absent when his colleagues voted against clause 1, which was supposed to be the crucial clause? Why, after this long debate and great speech of 11 hours 15 minutes, did the Opposition Members not vote against that amendment? Their supporters outside the House will need answers to all these questions, because Labour Members have achieved absolutely nothing by their attitude.

Mr. John Grant


Mr. Baker

I am afraid that I cannot give way. I have only a few minutes left.

As my hon. Friends have made very clear, Opposition Members want to delay because they want to destroy the Bill. As has been said, the division between the two sides became very clear in the debate yesterday. The Bill ends British Telecom's special position. It takes away its power to license its competitors and thereby to stifle competition against itself. The Bill ends British Telecom's exclusive privilege of being the sole provider of telecommunications services and apparatus. It ends what is called the monopoly of the prime instrument. It ends the monopoly of maintenance of private branch exhanges. It has a fundamental effect on the whole of the telecommunications operation in this country.

Opposition Members want to retain British Telecom's exclusive privilege. They wish to retain the special protected status of British Telecom. They wish to retain the special protected status of the employees of British Telecom. They wish to protect and maintain the special protected status of the Post Office Engineering Union. They have said this again and again in Committee and in the debate tonight.

The right hon. Member for Salford, West said only a few moments ago that if his party won the election it would nationalise Mercury and repeal this legislation; that it would restore the exclusive privilege to this selected group of workers. I suggest that this is the naked and unlovely defence of vested interests. Why should the opportunity to develop in the most rapidly expanding market in the Western world, telecommunications, not be opened up for others? Why should a state monopoly be not only the main but the exclusive provider of all these services?

The Labour party simply wants more state control and a return to public ownership. This is not a policy, but a reactive impulse. My hon. Friend the Member for Aldbridge-Brownhills was absolutely right when he said that no constructive ideas had been put forward by Opposition Members in all these 110 hours of debate. They have not been put forward because the Labour party has no policy for technology, no policy for the new industries and no policy for grasping the opportunities in the communications revolution. Instead, it is the same old jargon—state control and state ownership. There they are marching backwards into the future.

We believe that the exclusive monopoly of BT should end and that other companies should be allowed to provide new services and apparatus. It is only in that way that consumer choice can operate. It is only in that way that the consumer, following the passage of the Bill, will be able to decide for himself what services he wants and from whom he buys them, and what apparatus he wants and from whom he buys them. The choice of the consumer will drive this market forward.

We believe also that the employees and the telephone subscribers should be allowed, if they wish, to become shareholders in British Telecom. This is a part of the Bill that hon. Members have not yet touched upon. We believe that it is the market and not monopoly that should drive us forward. That is what the Bill enshrines. It has been clearly signalled to the country and the House from last July. It is an extension of our existing policy and the Bill should proceed to the statute book as soon as possible.

Question put:

The House divided: Ayes 306, Noes 227.

Division No. 69] [10 pm
Adley, Robert Brittan, Rt. Hon. Leon
Aitken, Jonathan Brooke, Hon Peter
Alexander, Richard Brotherton, Michael
Alison, Rt Hon Michael Brown, Michael (Brigg & Sc'n)
Ancram, Michael Browne, John (Winchester)
Arnold, Tom Bruce-Gardyne, John
Aspinwall, Jack Bryan, Sir Paul
Atkins, Rt Hon H. (S'thorne) Buchanan-Smith, Rt. Hon. A.
Atkins, Robert (Preston N) Buck, Antony
Atkinson, David (B'm'th,E) Budgen, Nick
Baker, Kenneth (St.M'bone) Burden, Sir Frederick
Banks, Robert Butcher, John
Beaumont-Dark, Anthony Carlisle, John (Luton West)
Bendall, Vivian Carlisle, Kenneth (Lincoln)
Bennett, Sir Frederic (T'bay) Carlisle, Rt Hon M. (R'c'n)
Benyon, Thomas (A'don) Chalker, Mrs. Lynda
Benyon, W. (Buckingham) Channon, Rt. Hon. Paul
Best, Keith Chapman, Sydney
Bevan, David Gilroy Churchill, W. S.
Biffen, Rt Hon John Clark, Hon A. (Plym'th, S'n)
Biggs-Davison, Sir John Clark, Sir W. (Croydon S)
Blackburn, John Clarke, Kenneth (Rushcliffe)
Blaker, Peter Clegg, Sir Walter
Body, Richard Cockeram, Eric
Bonsor, Sir Nicholas Colvin, Michael
Boscawen, Hon Robert Cope, John
Bottomley, Peter (W'wich W) Corrie, John
Bowden, Andrew Costain, Sir Albert
Boyson, Dr Rhodes Cranborne, Viscount
Braine, Sir Bernard Critchley, Julian
Bright, Graham Crouch, David
Brinton, Tim Dickens, Geoffrey
Dorrell, Stephen Kimball, Sir Marcus
Dover, Denshore King, Rt Hon Tom
du Cann, Rt Hon Edward Knight, Mrs Jill
Dunn, Robert (Dartford) Knox, David
Durant, Tony Lang, Ian
Dykes, Hugh Latham, Michael
Eden, Rt Hon Sir John Lawrence, Ivan
Edwards, Rt Hon N. (P'broke) Lawson, Rt Hon Nigel
Eggar, Tim Lee, John
Elliott, Sir William Lennox-Boyd, Hon Mark
Emery, Sir Peter Lester, Jim (Beeston)
Eyre, Reginald Lewis, Sir Kenneth (Rutland)
Fairbairn, Nicholas Lloyd, Ian (Havant & W'loo)
Fairgrieve, Sir Russell Lloyd, Peter (Fareham)
Faith, Mrs Sheila Loveridge, John
Farr, John Luce, Richard
Fell, Sir Anthony Lyell, Nicholas
Fenner, Mrs Peggy McCrindle, Robert
Finsberg, Geoffrey Macfarlane, Neil
Fisher, Sir Nigel MacGregor, John
Fletcher, A. (Ed'nb'gh N) MacKay, John (Argyll)
Fletcher-Cooke, Sir Charles Macmillan, Rt Hon M.
Fookes, Miss Janet McNair-Wilson, M. (N'bury)
Forman, Nigel McNair-Wilson, P. (New F'st)
Fowler, Rt Hon Norman McQuarrie, Albert
Fox, Marcus Madel, David
Fraser, Rt Hon Sir Hugh Major, John
Fry, Peter Marland, Paul
Gardiner, George (Reigate) Marlow, Antony
Gardner, Sir Edward Marten, Rt Hon Neil
Garel-Jones, Tristan Maude, Rt Hon Sir Angus
Gilmour, Rt Hon Sir Ian Mawby, Ray
Goodhart, Sir Philip Mawhinney, Dr Brian
Goodhew, Sir Victor Maxwell-Hyslop, Robin
Goodlad, Alastair Mayhew, Patrick
Gorst, John Mellor, David
Gow, Ian Meyer, Sir Anthony
Gower, Sir Raymond Miller, Hal (B'grove)
Grant, Sir Anthony Mills, Iain (Meriden)
Gray, Rt Hon Hamish Mills, Sir Peter (West Devon)
Greenway, Harry Miscampbell, Norman
Grieve, Percy Mitchell, David (Basingstoke)
Griffiths, E. (B'y St. Edm'ds) Moate, Roger
Griffiths, Peter (Portsm'th N) Monro, Sir Hector
Grist, Ian Montgomery, Fergus
Grylls, Michael Moore, John
Gummer, John Selwyn Morgan, Geraint
Hamilton, Hon A. Morris, M. (N'hampton S)
Hamilton, Michael (Salisbury) Morrison, Hon C. (Devizes)
Hampson, Dr Keith Mudd, David
Hannam, John Murphy, Christopher
Haselhurst, Alan Myles, David
Hastings, Stephen Neale, Gerrard
Hawkins, Sir Paul Needham, Richard
Hawksley, Warren Nelson, Anthony
Hayhoe, Barney Neubert, Michael
Heath, Rt Hon Edward Newton, Tony
Heddle, John Normanton, Tom
Henderson, Barry Nott, Rt Hon Sir John
Heseltine, Rt Hon Michael Onslow, Cranley
Higgins, Rt Hon Terence L. Oppenheim, Rt Hon Mrs S.
Hogg, Hon Douglas (Gr'th'm) Osborn, John
Holland, Philip (Carlton) Page, Richard (SW Herts)
Hooson, Tom Parris, Matthew
Hordern, Peter Patten, John (Oxford)
Howe, Rt Hon Sir Geoffrey Pattie, Geoffrey
Howell, Ralph (N Norfolk) Pawsey, James
Hunt, David (Wirral) Percival, Sir Ian
Hunt, John (Ravensbourne) Peyton, Rt Hon John
Hurd, Rt Hon Douglas Pink, R. Bonner
Irvine, RtHon Bryant Godman Pollock, Alexander
Irving, Charles (Cheltenham) Porter, Barry
Jenkin, Rt Hon Patrick Prentice, Rt Hon Reg
Jessel, Toby Price, Sir David (Eastleigh)
Johnson Smith, Sir Geoffrey Prior, Rt Hon James
Jopling, Rt Hon Michael Proctor, K. Harvey
Joseph, Rt Hon Sir Keith Raison, Rt Hon Timothy
Kaberry, Sir Donald Rathbone, Tim
Kellett-Bowman, Mrs Elaine Rees, Peter (Dover and Deal)
Kershaw, Sir Anthony Renton, Tim
Rhodes James, Robert Temple-Morris, Peter
Rhys Williams, Sir Brandon Thatcher, Rt Hon Mrs M.
Ridley, Hon Nicholas Thomas, Rt Hon Peter
Ridsdale, Sir Julian Thompson, Donald
Roberts, Wyn (Conway) Thorne, Neil (Ilford South)
Rossi, Hugh Thornton, Malcolm
Rost, Peter Townend, John (Bridlington)
Rumbold, Mrs A. C. R. Townsend, Cyril D, (B'heath)
Sainsbury, Hon Timothy Trippier, David
St. John-Stevas, Rt Hon N. Trotter, Neville
Shaw, Giles (Pudsey) van Straubenzee, Sir W.
Shaw, Sir Michael (Scarb') Viggers, Peter
Shelton, William (Streatham) Waddington, David
Shepherd, Colin (Hereford) Wakeham, John
Shepherd, Richard Waldegrave, Hon William
Shersby, Michael Walker, Rt Hon P. (W'cester)
Silvester, Fred Walker, B. (Perth)
Sims, Roger Walker-Smith, Rt Hon Sir D.
Skeet, T. H. H. Walters, Dennis
Smith, Sir Dudley Ward, John
Smith, Tim (Beaconsfield) Warren, Kenneth
Speller, Tony Watson, John
Spence, John Wells, Bowen
Spicer, Jim (West Dorset) Wheeler, John
Spicer, Michael (S Worcs) Whitelaw, Rt Hon William
Sproat, Iain Whitney, Raymond
Squire, Robin Wickenden, Keith
Stainton, Keith Wiggin, Jerry
Stanbrook, Ivor Wilkinson, John
Stanley, John Williams, D. (Montgomery)
Steen, Anthony Winterton, Nicholas
Stevens, Martin Wolfson, Mark
Stewart, A. (E Renfrewshire) Young, Sir George (Acton)
Stewart, Ian (Hitchin) Younger, Rt Hon George
Stokes, John
Stradling Thomas, J. Tellers for the Ayes:
Tapsell, Peter Mr. Anthony Berry and
Taylor, Teddy (S'end E) Mr. Carol Mather.
Abse, Leo Cryer, Bob
Allaun, Frank Cunliffe, Lawrence
Alton, David Dalyell, Tam
Anderson, Donald Davidson, Arthur
Archer, Rt Hon Peter Davies, Rt Hon Denzil (L'lli)
Ashley, Rt Hon Jack Davis, Clinton (Hackney C)
Ashton, Joe Davis, Terry (B'ham, Stechf'd)
Atkinson, N. (H'gey,) Deakins, Eric
Bagier, Gordon A.T. Dean, Joseph (Leeds West)
Barnett, Guy (Greenwich) Dixon, Donald
Barnett, Rt Hon Joel (H'wd) Dobson, Frank
Beith, A. J. Dormand, Jack
Bennett, Andrew (St'kp't N) Dubs, Alfred
Bidwell, Sydney Duffy, A. E. P.
Booth, Rt Hon Albert Dunwoody, Hon Mrs G.
Boothroyd, Miss Betty Eadie, Alex
Bottomley, Rt Hon A. (M'b'ro) Eastham, Ken
Bray, Dr Jeremy Edwards, R. (W'hampt'n S E)
Brown, Hugh D. (Provan) Ellis, R. (NE D'bysh're)
Brown, R. C. (N'castle W) English, Michael
Brown, Ron (E'burgh, Leith) Ennals, Rt Hon David
Callaghan, Jim (Midd't'n & P) Evans, loan (Aberdare)
Campbell, Ian Evans, John (Newton)
Campbell-Savours, Dale Ewing, Harry
Canavan, Dennis Faulds, Andrew
Cant, R. B. Field, Frank
Carmichael, Neil Fitch, Alan
Carter-Jones, Lewis Fitt, Gerard
Clark, Dr David (S Shields) Flannery, Martin
Clarke, Thomas (C'b'dge, A'rie) Ford, Ben
Cocks, Rt Hon M. (B'stol S) Foster, Derek
Cohen, Stanley Fraser, J. (Lamb'th, N'w'd)
Coleman, Donald Freeson, Rt Hon Reginald
Concannon, Rt Hon J. D. Freud, Clement
Conlan, Bernard Garrett, John (Norwich S)
Cook, Robin F. Garrett, W. E. (Wallsend)
Cowans, Harry Golding, John
Cox, T. (W'dsw'th, Toot'g) Gourlay, Harry
Craigen, J. M. (G'gow, M'hill) Graham, Ted
Crowther, Stan Hamilton, James (Bothwell)
Hamilton, W. W. (C'tral Fife) Prescott, John
Hardy, Peter Price, C. (Lewisham W)
Harrison, Rt Hon Walter Race, Reg
Hart, Rt Hon Dame Judith Radice, Giles
Hattersley, Rt Hon Roy Rees, Rt Hon M (Leeds S)
Haynes, Frank Richardson, Jo
Heffer, Eric S. Roberts, Albert (Normanton)
Hogg, N. (E Dunb't'nshire) Roberts, Allan (Bootle)
Home Robertson, John Roberts, Ernest (Hackney N)
Homewood, William Roberts, Gwilym (Cannock)
Hooley, Frank Robinson, G. (Coventry NW)
Howell, Rt Hon D. Rooker, J. W.
Howells, Geraint Ross, Ernest (Dundee West)
Hoyle, Douglas Ross, Stephen (Isle of Wight)
Huckfield, Les Ross, Wm. (Londonderry)
Hughes, Mark (Durham) Rowlands, Ted
Hughes, Robert (Aberdeen N) Ryman, John
Hughes, Roy (Newport) Sever, John
Janner, Hon Greville Sheerman, Barry
Jay, Rt Hon Douglas Sheldon, Rt Hon R.
John, Brynmor Shore, Rt Hon Peter
Johnson, James (Hull West) Short, Mrs Renée
Johnson, Walter (Derby S) Silkin, Rt Hon J. (Deptford)
Jones, Rt Hon Alec (Rh'dda) Silkin, Rt Hon S. C. (Dulwich)
Jones, Barry (East Flint) Silverman, Julius
Jones, Dan (Burnley) Skinner, Dennis
Kaufman, Rt Hon Gerald Smith, Rt Hon J. (N Lanark)
Kerr, Russell Smyth, Rev. W. M. (Belfast S)
Kilroy-Silk, Robert Snape, Peter
Lambie, David Soley, Clive
Lamond, James Spearing, Nigel
Leadbitter, Ted Spellar, John Francis (B'ham)
Lofthouse, Geoffrey Spriggs, Leslie
Lyon, Alexander (York) Stallard, A. W.
McCusker, H. Steel, Rt Hon David
McDonald, Dr Oonagh Stoddart, David
McElhone, Mrs Helen Stott, Roger
McGuire, Michael (Ince) Strang, Gavin
McKay, Allen (Penistone) Straw, Jack
McKelvey, William Summerskill, Hon Dr Shirley
MacKenzie, Rt Hon Gregor Taylor, Mrs Ann (Bolton W)
McNamara, Kevin Thomas, Dafydd (Merioneth)
McTaggart, Robert Thomas, Dr R. (Carmarthen)
McWilliam, John Thorne, Stan (Preston South)
Marshall, D (G'gow S'ton) Tilley, John
Marshall, Dr Edmund (Goole) Tinn, James
Marshall, Jim (Leicester S) Torney, Tom
Mason, Rt Hon Roy Varley, Rt Hon Eric G.
Maynard, Miss Joan Wainwright, E. (Dearne V)
Meacher, Michael Walker, Rt Hon H. (D'castar)
Mikardo, Ian Wardell, Gareth
Millan, Rt Hon Bruce Watkins, David
Miller, Dr M. S. (E Kilbride) Weetch, Ken
Molyneaux, James Welsh, Michael
Morris, Rt Hon A. (W'shawe) White, Frank R.
Morris, Rt Hon C. (O'shaw) Whitehead, Phillip
Morris, Rt Hon J. (Aberavon) Whitlock, William
Newens, Stanley Wigley, Dafydd
Oakes, Rt Hon Gordon Willey, Rt Hon Frederick
O'Halloran, Michael Williams, Rt Hon A. (S'sea W)
O'Neill, Martin Wilson, Rt Hon Sir H. (H'ton)
Orme, Rt Hon Stanley Wilson, William (C'try SE)
Palmer, Arthur Winnick, David
Park, George Woodall, Alec
Parker, John Woolmer, Kenneth
Parry, Robert Wright, Sheila
Pavitt, Laurie Young, David (Bolton E)
Pendry, Tom
Penhaligon, David Tellers for the Noes:
Powell, Rt Hon J.E. (S Down) Mr. George Morton and
Powell, Raymond (Ogmore) Mr. Ron Leighton.

Question accordingly agreed to.

Resolved, That the following provisions shall apply to the remaining proceedings on the Bill:

Forward to