HC Deb 29 March 1983 vol 40 cc242-81

Order for Third Reading read.[Queen's Consent, on behalf of the Crown, and Prince of Wales' Consent, signified.]

7.10 pm
Mr. Kenneth Baker

I beg to move, That the Bill be now read the Third time.

I should like to thank the various people who have been involved in the preparation of this immensely important Bill. I should like to thank the officials in my Department who have worked on it, my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary for helping me take the Bill through Committee, the Whips who helped us in Committee, and all my hon. Friends who served in Committee—at least, those who supported us.

I commend the Bill to the House, because it is the most important Bill that we are introducing in this Session. I believe that it will be seen by historians as probably the most important industrial Bill introduced during this Parliament's lifetime.

The Bill completes the revolution in telecommunications which was started in July 1980 by my right hon. Friend the present Secretary of State for Education and Science. The revolution was to liberate the British telecommunications market and to free it from British Telecom's monopoly control and exclusive privilege which it had operated and maintained for nearly 70 years. We embarked upon this policy because the era of exclusive privilege ended long ago in many things and there can be no justification for retaining it in telecommunications.

It is not fair to exclude market entry by other workers, unions and enterprises, all of whom are capible of exploiting the new technology to serve the community better. Those who want to retain British Telecom's monopoly must persuade the House and country that it is better that BT's exclusive privilege should be retained and the exclusive privilege of the Post Office Engineering Union, principally, and also the Union of Communication Workers should be retained so that they should be the only workers privileged to provide telecommunications services.

The arguments put forward by the Opposition are a defence of vested interests. A monopoly control of the market means a shut-out, and that shut-out has damaged the national interest. It has blocked innovation and growth by British apparatus and service providers. Great Britain had about 25 per cent. of the world's markets for telecommunications apparatus 25 years ago. We have now about 5 per cent. One must ask oneself how that came about and why we have declined. Part of the answer undoubtedly lies in the fact that we had a monopoly in the home market that did not stimulate and encourage British Telecom's suppliers to develop new products. Their range of products was limited. The state of technology was often ignored.

The third reason why we are ending the monopoly is that the new technology mircroelectronic revolution has made nonsense of the traditional institutional boundaries. Even Americans have made radical changes in the institutional framework to keep up with the opportunities created by the new technologies.

The second revolution is that we are liberating British Telecom from Government control. BT management and workers want BT to become the flagship of the information technology era. To do so it must become market responsive and commercially astute. It must behave like a business. A monopoly is the greatest discouragement to acting like a business. British Telecom has not acted strongly commercially in many respects over the past few years. Since it has been subjected to competition over the past three years its service has improved. That will be the experience of every hon. Member. Waiting lists have been reduced from 120,000 to about 5,000 or 6,000 and trunk line costs have been cut over the past two years. I do not believe that trunk line costs to the ordinary consumer would have been cut if we had not issued a licence to Mercury. It was a great goad to competition for BT. BT has been aroused from its rather sleepy and dozy attitude.

The advantages of freeing BT from Government control and of liberalisation are plain. The customer is given a choice. We have liberalised a huge range of telephone equipment and telecommunications apparatus. Over 40 hand instruments have now been liberalised. The Bill ends the prime instrument monopoly. We have liberalised whole areas of activity, such as telex equipment. Later this year we shall liberalise private branch exchanges and small systems called key systems.

It has all led to an enormous amount of activity among telecommunications suppliers. We are being pressed by companies to liberalise more quickly and to allow equipment to be sold more easily because they are coming forward with their equipment, which is being designed and manufactured in the United Kingdom. It would not have happened if we had not pursued this policy since 1980.

By accepting the recommendations of Littlechild, we are saying that for the next five years the price of telephone rentals and calls to residential subscribers will not increase more than the rate of inflation.

There has been a considerable amount of scaremongering during the Bill's passage. Much of it has been designed to create anxieties. It was said that the Bill would result in services to rural areas ceasing immediately as Keats' nightingale would cease upon the midnight with no pain". Rural services would he cut off because we were to liberalise and privatise BT. In Committee we showed that those anxieties are utterly unfounded.

For the first time in any statute we have placed an obligation upon the Secretary of State and the Director General of Oftel to take account of the needs of specific interests—the disabled, rural and remote areas, the provision of telephone kiosks and the emergency 999 services. That has not been part of legislation before. Under existing legislation, how and where it provided services was up to BT's judgment alone. We have placed obligations and duties upon the Secretary of State and the Director General which they are both obliged to fulfil.

We have said also that any place or people who have a telephone service now will continue to have one, provided, of course, that they pay for it. We have extended that to cover a whole range of telecommunications services. We have given clear reassurances that the network of telephone kiosks will be retained. That network is vital to many rural and remote areas. It is essential for some of the remoter areas of our country and also for towns and cities, as my hon. Friend the Member for Northampton, North (Mr. Marlow) reminded us consistently in Committee. We have also said that the 999 emergency service will be continued as a free service.

There had been scaremongering about pensions until we gave clear assurances on Second Reading. We have repeated those assurances. I am glad to say that that scaremongering has now come to an end. There has been scaremongering about the number of jobs that might be lost in British Telecom. Telecommunications and information technology is a the most rapidly growing area of industrial activity in the world. In America, which is among the most liberalised and competitive markets, the numbers employed by "Ma Bell" and American Telephone and Telegraph, the big national network, have grown over the past few years, as have the numbers employed by their competitors and the American supply industry.

Consumer interests have been greatly enhanced by the Bill. Under present arrangements, the Post Office Users' National Council has frequently been described by Members of Parliament as a body without teeth. I think that it does a very good job. It handles tens of thousands of small complaints a year, but at the end of the day it does not have enforcement powers. It can take up complaints with BT and persuade it to try to deal with those complaints, but it does not have clout. Under the Bill the Director General of Oftel will have that clout. Oftel will have powers to examine complaints. If a complaint is founded, it will have powers to give directions for the abuse to be corrected. That is a substantial extension of consumer interests.

Hon. Members who served on the Committee will know that in Committee I agreed to set up a national advisory body for England. As one exists at the moment for Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, my country should not be excluded. Again, that is an extension of consumer interests.

In the Bill we have also removed the right not to be sued that British Telecom has had because it has been a Crown authority. In future, customers and subscribers will be able to sue BT for the non-performance of service. Again, that is a substantial improvement in the rights of consumers. We have also approved clauses to allow new meters to be approved that will give a greater guarantee on bills. The most frequent complaints when telephone bills are 'wrong or too high is that the expense of someone else frequently telephoning to America always seems to be added to the wrong bill. We have also encouraged the introduction of trial systems to allow detailed telephone bills to be supplied.

The Bill is a great liberalisation measure. It is also a great measure of denationalisation. It is the biggest measure of denationalisation that has ever been brought before the House or any western country. It is often referred to as privatisation but that is a misnomer for the returning to the people of proper ownership. When the Labour party speaks of state control and nationalisation, it must realise that state control is by a bureaucratic elite. It is not control by the people. The right hon. Member for Salford, West (Mr. Orme) will know that because he has held high office, and any Minister will know that the control of a nationalised industry is essentially by bureaucrats. State capitalism is the worst and basest form of capitalism.

Mr. Richard Shepherd (Aldridge—Brownhills)

Is my hon. Friend suggesting that ICI is controlled by the people?

Mr. Baker

I am suggesting that ICI is controlled by its managers—the senior team of managers. It is controlled by the market in that it has to exist in the market and go to the market for its survival. I am surprised that my hon. Friend, of all people, should make that point. He has been one of the greatest enemies of monopoly and state control. He should seek every opportunity to forward the argument to defeat the forces of state capitalism, from which part of our economy still suffers.

The sale of shares gives an opportunity for all workers in and subscribers to BT to take a share in the business. Already that is common practice in many parts of the world. AT and T, the largest telecommunications operation in the world, has 3 million shareholders. Nippon Telephone and Telegraph in Japan has many millions of bond holders. There are 18 million telephone subscribers in the United Kingdom. Many of them will want to become shareholders when the opportunity comes after the next election. Many members of the public will want to be shareholders. Institutions will want to be shareholders. I suspect that employees will want to be shareholders. We are in favour of the employees of BT becoming shareholders.

We had evasive answers from the Labour party when we asked it whether it approved of the employees of BT being allowed to become shareholders. The right hon. Member for Salford, West said that for his part he would not want to be a shareholder. However, we were asking him not for his opinion but to give some advice to the employees of BT. What is his advice? Will he encourage them to buy shares in their business? Will they, will they not? Will they join the sale? There are signs that many of them would like to have the opportunity to do so. There have been requests from pensioner groups of BT for a special position, if special positions exist for employees as well. I should like to know whether the right hon. Gentleman wants us to include in the memorandum and articles of association special provisions to allow employee shareholdings.

Mr. Dafydd Wigley (Caernarvon)

I have been listening to the Minister's recommendation of employee shareholdings. Will he go as far as to say that he would welcome a majority shareholding by employees so that they would be the controllers of the new corporation?

Mr. Baker

We intend to sell 51 per cent. of BT. We have said that that would be offered on a wide scale. If all the employees of BT wanted to club together, they would have to provide a considerable sum of money to buy that amount, but we are the encouragers of wider share ownership.

Another advantage of the privatisation of BT is that it will not be bound by the state. It will be much freer. One of the largest telecommunications operators in the world is the Japanese system, NTT, which is the equivalent of BT. At the moment the workers are asking for their organisation to be privatised. They look upon that as a way of being most effectively able to compete with American competition.

The advantages of privatisation for BT management are manifest. It will have the freedom to manage without constant interference from the Government. It will have the freedom to diversify, to make commercial acquisitions, to operate abroad, to raise finance if and when it wants and in whatever form it wants, to structure tariffs in response to market needs and perceptions and to determine pay. The advantages to BT workers of privatisation are that they will have the freedom and opportunity to own shares, to move into new areas of activity, both at home and abroad, to participate in the key decisions of the enterprise, if they want to exercise that freedom, and to negotiate pay and conditions without Government interference.

Mr. Tony Marlow (Northampton, North)

Will my hon. Friend say—he has said it before—to what extent BT would have the freedom to go into manufacturing, and how we could prevent a monopoly arising whereby there would be unfair competition with competitors?

Mr. Baker

My hon. Friend will know that one of the draft articles of association says that BT should be allowed to manufacture if it wants to do so. I do not expect that BT will want to extend dramatically into manufacturing. If it does, it will have to be bound by the provisions of the telecommunications competition code of the draft licence.

There are advantages in privatisation to BT management and BT workers, but there are also advantages for BT consumers. They, too, will have the opportunity to own a share of the telecommunications system. They will, if they wish, have a greater say in the management of that enterprise.

There are also advantages for the nation at large. The revolution that we have initiated will mean a massive redistribution of opportunities for the provision of telecommunications apparatus and services.

During the course of the Bill we have tried to elicit the views of the various parties on this matter. The SDP has been particularly evasive. We have not been able to discover during the proceedings on the Bill exactly what is the SDP policy on telecommunications.

Dr. John Cunningham

The SDP did not say anything about its policy in Darlington either.

Mr. Baker

The hon. Member for Whitehaven (Dr. Cunningham) says that the SDP did not divulge that important information to the electors of Darlington. The SDP did not divulge the information because it does not have it. At the very centre of SDP policy is a hollowness and a complete vacuity. I do not know whether the hon. Member for Islington, Central (Mr. Grant) will attempt to fill that, but if he is trying to present a national policy to the country it is important that he should have policies on the new technologies and on telecommunications, which are the fastest growing areas of economic activity. If the SDP is trying to solicit votes, it owes it to the country to spell out its policies.

The Liberals did not seek to put a member of their party on to the Committee. I found that extraordinary as this is the most important Bill of the Session. I should have thought that they would give it higher priority. Once again, we have not heard the Liberal policy on liberalisation or privatisation.

Mr. Penhaligon

Will the Minister give the House some idea of how many Committees it is practicable for a Member to serve on at any one time?

Mr. Baker

One must have a sense of priorities. A sense of priority would have been to ask one of the Members of the Liberal party to serve on the most important Bill of the Session. Anyway, we did not miss the Liberals very much. None the less, the one Liberal policy over the years That I seem to have latched on to is the belief in wider share ownership. That is one of the issues that the Liberal party has preached around the country. Liberals say, "We want wider share ownership so that people can be involved in our society." The Liberals have held conferences about it and issued pamphlets. They are being given an opportunity tonight to vote for it. The Bill, when it becomes law, will provide a great opportunity for wider share ownership—the greatest before the House of Commons since the war—but will they vote for it? When the Liberals are faced with the red meat of a real decision they are a little too fastidious. They say, "Do not thrust that decision upon us." They believe in the principle but when offered a chance to fulfil something they walk away from it. That has been the essence of Liberalism over the past few years.

I turn now to the Labour party's attitude. In Committee we have had a delightful tug of war between the hon. Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme (Mr. Golding) and the Labour Front Bench. It was a tug-of-war between the Post Office Engineering Union and official Labour party policy. We heard lectures from the hon. Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme, and we are about to have another one.

Mr. Golding

Where was the tug-of-war? I had assumed that the two views were synonymous. Will the Minister tell us where they differed?

Mr. Baker

The hon. Gentleman may recall several occasions in Committee when he gave clear guidance to his colleagues on the Front Bench. That guidance was not entirely followed.

Mr. Golding


Mr. Baker

I do not object to that, but there have been such occasions, as the hon. Gentleman knows. The Committee stage was subject to a great deal of abuse. There were about 160 hours of debate. Labour Members who spoke at great length will have to answer certain questions about that. How, as a result of their filibustering, did they improve the Bill? They did not. When closely examined, the record shows that they had little effect in making significant changes in the Bill. The views that were put forward by several of my right hon. Friends stiffened the anti-competitive measures in the Bill. If the Opposition had been cleverer tactically, they could have gained quite a few victories, but in 160 hours of debate they achieved virtually nothing.

The policy that has been enunciated by the Labour party today is clear. Labour wants to restore the monopoly of British Telecom, as set out in paragraph 41 of the Labour party document. It also wants to sweep the Mercury network into that monopoly and take it into public ownership. That is a clear statement. The document also gives the Labour party policy on the electronics industry. Earlier in the debate, I was intrigued when the hon. Member for Whitehaven quoted in support of his argument the views of Lord Weinstock on cable. The hon. Gentleman said that this is not an area for the quick buck merchant. I am surprised therefore to find a euphemism for Lord Weinstock in the Labour party document. The Labour party says in that document that it wants to return to public ownership without compensation the public assets and rights hived off by the Tories. It says: We will establish a significant public stake in electronics. That is a euphemism for Lord Weinstock. The Labour party wishes to take into public ownership a large part of the major electronics companies—Plessey, GEC, Ferranti and others. We now know where the Labour party stands.

I can think of no policy that would be more damaging to our country. One has only to consider what has been happening in France since such a policy was adopted two years ago. The massive nationalisation programmes of the French Government are running the country into near-bankruptcy. The losses of the nationalised industries in France are increasing and the enterprising and Lively French electronics industry is going through a difficult phase. The same thing would happen if the Labour party were to gain power and introduced such policies.

I have looked through the document today and it does not look to the future. It looks backwards all the time. It restates the policies and the attitudes which the Labour party has tried to follow and has instituted since the war, which have manifestly failed the country. The Labour party is marching shoulder to shoulder, but is marching backwards into the past.

The Bill is legislation for the future. The whole of Government communication policy is aimed at giving Britain the most advanced infrastructure and base from which to gain a pre-eminent place in the telecommunications era before us. We believe that this can be done only if the market is driven forward by competition and not dominated, corrupted and destroyed by monopoly.

7.38 pm
Mr. Orme

In the past 10 minutes we have had a political knockabout from the Minister.

Mr. Peter Temple-Morris (Leominster)

A political knockout.

Mr. Orme

I shall have something to say about the political situation and the attitude that we shall take to the Bill.

The Bill has had a long road, from last November until April 1983. We are nowhere near the end of that road, only part of the way down it. As the Minister knows, this will be a major issue at the general election. We shall want to debate this issue with the British people with all the facts on the table. We shall not be ashamed to put forward the policy that we have advocated throughout the Committee stage.

I wish to take this opportunity to thank all those who have opposed the Bill, especially my right hon. and hon. Friends who served on the Committee. I also thank all those who intend to vote against the Bill tonight. I wish to pay tribute to the experts who provided help and advice, not least the trade unions, the communication workers and the POEU. We are not hiding behind any organisation. We have debated the issue in the open. But we are pleased to pay tribute to those who gave us help and advice. We have been dealing with a highly technical and difficult Bill. I have not previously dealt with a Bill including so many technicalities. Although three of my hon. Friends have great expertise within the industry, most of us have had to deal with the Bill as it has progressed.

Despite the Government's appalling record in selling publicly owned industry, they will not swerve from their intention to conduct what has become known as the sale of the century—the sale of British Telecommunications in the market place. The Government cannot pretend that such major legislation, which has taken so much of the time of the House, will benefit the nation.

I agree with the Minister that the Bill is the most important legislation this session. It is a major piece of denationalisation—it will denationalise a national asset that belongs to the British people. The majority of the control of BT will be handed over to a minority in our society.

British industry is in a critical state, with millions of workers in the dole queue. Yet the Government chose to spend their time, money and resources on producing such a terrible Bill. That gives some idea of the Government's priorities. How dare the Minister criticise the French when British manufacturing industry is collapsing around him? It is in a parlous state. Its decline has accelerated during the past four years of Conservative Government. He has no need to go to France to find something to criticise—he has only to look to his own back door.

Mr. Marlow

I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for giving way. He is courteous, as he has been throughout the whole process of the Bill. I am grateful to him now, as I have been on previous occasions. He made a point about dole queues and jobs. Is he telling the House that for the same level of provision of telecommunications service, if BT were left as it is it would employ more people than it will under the Bill? If so, it is purely a recipe for inefficiency and for bleeding the public.

Mr. Orme

I shall say something about manning levels later. The Minister referred to scare stories. The staff of BT could be maintained at its present level, or even increased if that is done on a planned basis, if investment is made and if it is allowed to borrow money in the market. BT has made a profit for the past seven years. It has not taken any taxpayers' money during that time. Unfortunately, it must live on its profits and has not had sufficient to invest. If BT were left as a publicly owned monopoly, it would expand. As the Minister said, we are in an expanding market. Rather than take the gamble presented by the Bill, and rather than face a two-headed monster that will be half public and half private, with the uncertainty which that will create, BT should remain in public hands.

On Second Reading and during the 168 hours of debate in Committee, the Opposition made clear their opposition to the Bill. I make no apology for the amount of time taken. We were using parliamentary means to oppose the Bill. Because of the philosophical difference between the Opposition and the Government, there was no way that an accommodation could be reached. The gulf between us is as wide as this Table. The Government may have given a little here and a little there, but the Opposition are wholly opposed to the principles enshrined in the Bill.

During the past few days we have shown that we are opposed to any attempt to privatise BT. It is unnecessary, divisive and against the interests of the community. Because BT is a publicly owned corporation, it is fully accountable to the community for what it does and the way that it does it. The public have statutory rights to consumer watchdogs. There is direct control by Government. We want that control to be strengthened and BT made more accountable. Whatever organisation the Minister intends to set up, it will not be as strong or as effective as POUNC. BT's plans are monitored and important matters that are not concerned only with profit maximisation are built into BT's operation. As a publicly owned corporation, it has essential social and community obligations that are directly linked with the quality of community life.

Underlying all BT's current operations is the belief in providing a national service—one integrated telecommunications network that is publicly owned and operated. All citizens should be entitled to a high standard of telephone service, irrespective of geographical location, social circumstances or whether they are business or residential customers. The philosophy of a national service for all will be severely restricted if BT is privatised.

During the debate on the original clause 3, and the new clause now in the Bill, the Minister went to great lengths to argue that rural services and emergency call services would not be damaged, that the cost of the service would not rise and so on. He went to tremendous lengths to try to prove those points, but he has not proved them to the satisfaction of the House or the country. BT will be in an entirely different ball game. The anxieties that have been expressed by hon. Members on both sides of the House about the rights of consumers, about the rural telephone service and about telephone kiosks in built-up areas such as my constituency in Salford and in London, will be proved well founded. Those services will come under tremendous pressure. Privatisation will lead to the diminution of those services at the expense of the community.

The shareholders will have to be satisfied by the production of a maximum return on their investment. The provision of loss-making services will come under real attack if we are not careful. We shall monitor that carefully if, by some ill fate, the Bill becomes an Act of Parliament and the Government are able to implement it.

The Minister referred to the participation of BT employees as shareholders. Thousands of workers depend on BT for their jobs and futures. About 250,000 workers work directly for BT and tens of thousands more work for equipment suppliers. How many of them can be sure that their jobs are safe? Private forecasts which became public showed that between 35,000 and 40,000 jobs were threatened. It was against that background that we told the Government that jobs were in jeopardy.

The Minister said that we should let employees buy shares. As he knows, there is not a closed shop in BT, but about six trade unions represent about 97 per cent. of its employees. There are management unions and the Union of Communication Workers and the Post Office Engineering Union, which are affiliated to the TUC. All of them oppose what the Government are doing. Our advice to the employees of BT is, "Do not buy shares." Buying shares will not be in their long-term interests. Someone asked whether they could get a majority shareholding. That idea might be attractive to some of the minority parties in the House.

We should consider some of the major industries that the Government have denationalised. What percentage of British Aerospace do the workers there own? The answer is about 3 or 4 per cent. It is impossible for workers in BT to have anything like a controlling shareholding as the floatation will be about £3 billion to £4 billion.

Mr. Temple-Morris

Will the right hon. Gentleman reconcile what he is saying with a question that I put to one of his hon. Friends in Committee with regard to the first so-called privatisation—of the National Freight Company? After last year's results were announced, the argument and trouble was not about workers who had bought shares but about those who had not bought shares and felt that, because of the great profit, they should have been allowed to buy them in the first place and should be able to buy them on the same terms now.

Mr. Orme

The National Freight Corporation would make an ideal co-operative. It is impossible to make BT into a co-operative.

It is clear from what the Secretary of State and the chairman of BT, Sir George Jefferson, have said that the possibility of redundancies exists. British Airways, the National Freight Company and the British Transport Docks Board have been privatised by the Government. All suffered reductions in their work forces either immediately before or after they were sold.

Mr. Marlow

Will the right hon. Gentleman remind the House what has happened in terms of jobs to those nationalised industries that have not been privatised?

Mr. Orme

Under public ownership and planning, an endeavour has been made to maintain employment and extend markets for the product. Unfortunately, we have been faced by a Government policy during a depression and a time of lack of demand which means that jobs in both the public and private sectors have gone.

Workers in equipment manufacturing companies are not complacent either. Before liberalisation in 1981, BT bought more than 95 per cent. of its equipment from United Kingdom based companies. According to The Sunday Times of 20 March, Sir George Jefferson is determined to transform the relationship with BT's traditional suppliers". He is aided and abetted by Mr. May of Martlesham. Indeed, Sir George Jefferson has started to place small orders overseas. Privatisation will increase the trend to import equipment. I hope that Conservative Members will bear in mind the fact that we are dealing with thousands of jobs in the private sector which are dependent on BT. They represent some of our major manufacturing industries. If we allow imports which are of a lower safety standard to flood in, the consequences will be disastrous both for BT and for employees in equipment manufacturing companies.

Mr. Henderson


Mr. Orme

I hope that the hon. Gentleman will forgive me if I do not give way.

Employment prospects for the visually handicapped are also at risk. We welcome what the Minister included in clause 3 about handicapped people. However, BT has undertaken development work to ensure that most of the smaller boards that it markets can be adapted for use by blind operators. As an increasing amount of equipment is imported, there is a tremendous fear that boards that are not adapted for use by blind operators will flood the market. Therefore, their employment opportunities will be drastically reduced. Anyone who has seen blind people use telecommunications equipment as well as and, sometimes, better than many other people will agree that they are entitled to such opportunities. It would be extremely serious if their opportunities were jeopardised.

The recently published report of the Institute of Fiscal Studies shows the dramatic extent to which the Government have divided the nation and how they have taken from the worst off and given to the better off. This Bill is another example of the Government's lack of social conscience. Another two nations will emerge—people with and people without telephones and telephone services.

The Government have failed to serve the nation as a whole. They have put more wealth and power into the hands of the already wealthy and powerful, and they continue to do so. This Bill will serve only to deepen that divide. Consumers, employees of BT and workers throughout the telecommunications industry are more likely to suffer than to benefit from privatisation. The beneficiaries will be the speculators, the overseas equipment manufacturers and the importers.

That is the sorry tale of the Bill so far. We know that it will be a general election issue and we shall debate it throughout the country. We shall continue to oppose it. We repeat to those people who try to make a profit from public assets that the next Labour Government will restore the public telecommunications monopoly to BT. As the Minister said when he read from our policy statement, that will include project Mercury. We shall put the Bill on the shelf and invest in the future of telecommunications in Britain. We believe that telecommunications has a great future for Britain and that it should be owned by Britain.

7.59 pm
Mr. Peter Temple-Morris (Leominster)

I am pleased to follow the right hon. Member for Salford, West (Mr. Orme) because it gives me the chance, as the first Back-Bench Member to address the House on Third Reading, to pay a few compliments. I reiterate what my hon. Friend the Member for Northampton, North (Mr. Marlow) said in an intervention. We are grateful to the Opposition for their ever-courteous and able conduct during such a controversial Bill. Our system may not be perfect, but it would not work were it not for the way in which both sides of the Committee conducted matters. They made their differences plain, but always in such a way that we could go through the night together, week by week, without coming to physical exchanges.

The right hon. Member for Salford, West was ably aided by his deputy, the hon. Member for Whitehaven (Dr. Cunningham). We reached a stage where, in the middle of the night, all-party deputations were sent to the Tea Room to interview the hon. Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme (Mr. Golding) to ask him to desist, which he invariably did, albeit after four, five or even 11½ hours. I am pleased that he has now retreated as far as he can, although he remains within the Chamber and, therefore, must be treated with the necessary respect.

Back-Bench Members and Opposition Front-Bench Members are grateful for the aid they received from outside bodies. The National Farmers Union and British Telecom were a great help to me. We must remember those who sat with us during our long nocturnal sessions, whether from British Telecom or the unions. A gentleman from Cable and Wireless was about to lay a cable in the south Pacific, and was obviously dreaming of doing his first hula-hula, but was dramatically reassigned to observe the Committee by day and by night. I hope that his employers will take note of my words and let him lay his cable somewhere more congenial than the Committee Room.

Although my words may be slightly flippant, they have a serious purpose. Although our system is remarkable in that the camaraderie allows it to survive, it is, as my hon. Friend the Minister said, not healthy. We must find a way of devising an automatically agreed timetable, and there is much agreement on this on both sides of the House. The matter arose many times during the debate on the guillotine motion, but I want it to be placed firmly on the record because it will be most important in the future.

Mr. Robert Hughes (Aberdeen, North)

Many of us are opposed to agreed timetables, because the Government would have no opposition and could carry on as they wished. The Opposition have a duty and a responsibility to harry the Government for as long and as hard as they can.

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Ernest Armstrong)

Order. As the hon. Member for Leominster (Mr. Temple-Morris) had raised the matter, I allowed the intervention, but he must not pursue it. We must return to the Third Reading of the Bill.

Mr. Temple-Morris

Of course, Mr. Deputy Speaker, but perhaps I may answer the intervention. As the right hon. Member for Salford, West said, where there are ideological differences, one must resist the Bill. That was implicit in the hon. Gentleman's intervention, but to oppose it in that way amounts to no more and no less than machismo. As my hon. Friend the Minister said, the achievement is minimal. If we had a more effective system, where by an Opposition could agree to time and to a system that resembles the thorough examination of a Select Committee, the Opposition might achieve something. They might, through their arguments, attract a Government Back-Bench Member like me to help them to improve or alter a measure. This is a classic example of a Bill that could have been examined in that way.

The Bill has been hurried, and the amendments to our beloved old clause 3—as it came to be called yesterday evening—might have been refreshing for democracy, but were not ideal for legislative principle. I wish to help my hon. Friends the Ministers, but it is clear that too much happened outside the Committee for comfort, especially the discussions on the licence which took place and continue to take place. Neither we nor the Minister knows when British Telecom will agree the licence. However, when the Bill is enacted and we lose our authority over it, we must rely upon Ministers to secure from British Telecom the terms of the licence set out in "Ringing the Changes". This becomes increasingly important as the Bill leaves the House and goes to another place. I hope that my hon. Friends appreciate my point. If I were British Telecom, I should delay negotiation on this matter until the Bill had cleared the House, because then I could negotiate much harder.

In many respects "Ringing the Changes" is an admirable document. Although I and many others have criticised it, it contains only a submission of what the Department would wish to see in the licence. Part 3 of the document contains many good provisions for rural areas. We shall expect my hon. Friends to live up to those terms during negotiations on the licence.

Another outside factor was the Littlechild report, which was a further sign of the way in which the matter was rushed. Policy matters regarding the implementation of the Bill were being decided outside the Committee room while we soldiered through our 161½-hour nocturnal venture. I regret that some hon. Members wish to continue that, because I have sat through such sittings while in opposition, as have most hon. Members who have been Members of the House for more than one Parliament.

Despite the definitive answer of my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State last night about duty being written into clause 3, or appearing in the margin, the new clause will be debated in another place. I do not expect my hon. Friend to comment at length on this matter, but perhaps he will consider writing the word "duty" into the clause, bearing in mind that it is already in a subsequent clause. I cannot understand why it is not in the clause, and I feel that it should be there. I take the point that "shall" equals a clear duty in this and other clauses, but when the Bill goes to the other place, will those responsible note that "duty" should go into the clause? I hope that their Lordships will table an appropriate amendment.

I shall repeat a question that I have asked the Minister twice, but to which I have still not had a reply. Perhaps I might have a letter on the subject. It is something that tends to drift by, probably because one is raising more serious matters that require more of a ministerial answer, and concerns paragraph 19(c) of "Ringing the Changes". I put it in Committee, I put it last night, and I put it again now. If one wanted to be argumentative, one could make more of it. Paragraph 19(c) of "Ringing the Changes" says that the service does not have to be connected, and it is not reasonable to connect, if the person concerned will not pay BT the costs attributable to the supply to that person of the service". That appears to be intended to meet the circumstances that happen every day where BT has to charge for the connection of the supply if it is not otherwise economic to instal it. It is meant to cover the provisions that have always been there. However, as it reads now, it is still not finally negotiated. This is a potential threat to all the rather good things in the rest of "Ringing the Changes" that affect rural areas.

We need at least a recognition of the problem of public call boxes during the transition. If there is to be a longish transition, BT, flexing its capitalist and privatised free enterprise muscles, may be tempted to get rid of more public call boxes than would otherwise be necessary. Some recognition of that would be a help, whether it comes in a letter to me or in the winding-up speech.

This is a good Bill. I have tried to do my best for the interests that I represent. The Bill can do nothing but good, and can improve BT. The problem is that it might even make BT too good, and we shall have to spend too much time trying to control the private monopoly that we have created.

The Bill is good for the brave new world of technology. It gives formidable powers to the Secretary of State and to my hon. Friends the Ministers who serve under him, who are to use those powers in the public interest. It is perhaps as a word of caution as well as congratulation that I say that we depend on them to use those powers well.

8.13 pm
Mr. Gordon Oakes (Widnes)

The hon. Member for Leominster (Mr. Temple-Morris) has rightly entered a number of caveats from the Conservative Benches about various aspects of the Bill. There is an ideological divide between the hon. Gentleman and me, but I agree that this has been a hurried and sloppy Bill. The Minister for Industry and Information Technology said that this would be the most important Bill of this Session of Parliament. If that is so, it is a disgrace that so many important matters that affect ordinary people and local authorities have been completely ignored and, because of the guillotine, have not been discussed by the Committee or the House.

The Bill literally affects the man and woman in the street, especially clause 9 and schedule 2. Quite apart from the ideological divide between both sides of the House, such a sloppy Bill should not have received a Third Reading. I am speaking from the Back Benches, not as a shadow spokesman for the environment but as the vice-president of the Association of County Councils, which Conservative Members will realise is by no means a Labour body. It is dominated by Conservative shire councils in England and Wales. It has written to me as its vice-president asking me to raise on Third Reading its sincere and acute concern at some of the provisions of the Bill as they affect local authorities.

County councils are responsible for 96 per cent. of the road network, and the Department of Transport is responsible for only 4 per cent. One of the principal concerns of highway authorities is the effect of digging up roads. Holes in the road are dug by statutory undertakers, under the powers given to them by various Acts to install communication systems, electricity systems and gas systems, and for all sorts of other reasons.

The Association of County Councils points out that even with the best possible reinstatement, simply digging up a highway involves destruction of its integrity, with eventual road maintenance implications for local authorities. Only last week, on 23 March, evidence was given to the Select Committee on Transport that showed that there were approximately 1.8 million highway openings in England and Wales in 1982. Evidence was also given to the Committee that the severe weather that we had last winter did great damage to our road system, 30 per cent. of which was directly the result of trench reinstatement.

One would have thought that at least a Conservative Government would have had some discussion with county councils on the Bill and would have done something about those discussions. However, they have done nothing. Clause 9 ignores the representations of local authorities that are acutely concerned that the number of people digging up roads will multiply as a result of the Bill. Not only that, but whereas the statutory undertakers who now dig up the roads—the water, electricity and gas boards and BT—are responsible public bodies, with a responsibility to the public and not only to their own pockets, the people who will have power under schedule 2 and section 9 to dig up the roads will be people whose thoughts are dominated not by the public interest but by private profit and cheeseparing on behalf of their shareholders.

So what about local authorities? This Government have so severely restrained their direct labour departments as a deliberate act of policy that those departments are no longer there to do the necessary reinstatement work. They have so toned down the number of administrators and inspectors of local authorities in their financial restrictions on county councils that local authorities can no longer provide the necessary supervision of roads that are broken open by statutory undertakers. Local authorities can place only a certain amount of reliance on nationalised bodies such as the electricity and gas boards and so on, when they dig up roads. They have little faith in private bodies whose main concern is not the public interest, but private profit, when they do reinstatement work after installing a system or repairing a system that is already installed.

This is a serious matter to which the Government should have paid much greater attention. I do not say that they should have listened to the voices of those who are dogmatically opposed to the Bill—that is certainly not true of the Association of County Councils, which is not opposed to the principles of the Bill, but to the sloppiness of clause 9 and schedule 2—but they should have paid attention to the interests that clearly affect every roan and woman in the street.

That is the problem when private undertakers dig up roads. There is another problem. What if the bodies created by the Bill go into liquidation? Public authorities do not go into liquidation; private authorities can do so. Who picks up the tab? Who has to pay? The ratepayers, about whom Conservative Members are so concerned, have to come in when a firm goes bankrupt and reinstate the road that has been damaged by the private operator. No doubt the Minister will say in reply that amendment No. 105, rushed through the House earlier under the guillotine, adequately deals with that consideration. It does not. It far from satisfies the Association of County Councils, and it should far from satisfy this House in deciding whether to give the Bill a Third Reading.

The association and all local authorities would like licensed operators to be subject to section 181 of the Highways Act 1980. That section allows the highway authority to decide to license the breaking of the highway and imposes its conditions on people who break into the highway, because it, as the highway authority, has the responsibility of putting matters right. The Bill as drafted does not have that effect, and the association is concerned about the wide drafting of clause 9(2), which seems to provide the Secretary of State with a wide discretion to apply the telecommunications code—and with it, in effect, the rights of the statutory undertaker—without any consultation with either local authorities in general or with the particular county council that is responsible for the roads in the area.

The association did not just raise the matter now, on Third Reading. It took the matter up with the Minister before Christmas. It has had discussions with the Minister before Christmas, but those discussions have still not been resolved. The Minister could have tabled amendments to the Bill on Report to put the matter right. The association is worried and alarmed that the Minister did not do so. I only hope that the Under-Secretary, in winding up, will at least assure local authorities that the matters that I have mentioned in opposing the Third Reading will be put right in another place.

8.22 pm
Mr. Richard Shepherd (Aldridge-Brownhills)

One cannot doubt that the right hon. Member for Widnes (Mr. Oakes) is a Front-Bench spokesman. It is curious to note the way in which we already rewrite the history of our Committee proceedings. It is true that much of the Bill was not discussed, and that important concepts have gone by the by. Last night, the Opposition spokesman, the hon. Member for Whitehaven (Dr. Cunningham), tried to give himself and his colleagues a more heroic role than they in fact played in our proceedings. I would not have mentioned that, but the hon. Gentleman made a gratuitous reference to my hon. Friend the Member for Leominster (Mr. Temple-Morris) and me in connection with the role that we could have played in Committee, had we been more assiduous—or something along those lines.

Dr. John Cunningham


Mr. Shepherd

I shall not give way, because the hon. Gentleman did not give way to me last night, and I do not propose to give way to him tonight. I made the observation because we believe that this is a highly important Bill. The fight that was undertaken on behalf of rural constituencies by my hon. Friend—

Dr. Cunningham

Will the hon. Gentleman give way now?

Mr. Shepherd

I shall do so on this occasion.

Dr. Cunningham

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving way. I have not checked Hansard to see what I said last night, but I said then, and I repeat now, that Conservative Back Benchers had missed an opportunity, with the honourable exception of the hon. Members for Leominster (Mr. Temple-Morris) and AldridgeBrownhills (Mr. Shepherd). I was not criticising the hon. Gentleman. I was paying him and his hon. Friend a compliment. I think that he has completely misunderstood what I said.

Mr. Shepherd

I look forward to rereading the hon. Gentleman's comments.

I commented on the rewriting of history because if one looks at the amendments moved in Committee and the Front-Bench speeches that were made in Committee, one sees that the hon. Member for Whitehaven was conspicuous, almost, by his absence. I understand that. I regret saying so, but he was conspicuous by his absence from our debates on clause 1 having decided to be elsewhere during our discussion of such an important issue.

I am conscious, too, that the steps taken to improve the standards and quality of the Bill by the hon. Member for Caernarvon (Mr. Wigley) played an important role in strengthening some of our attitudes towards the protection of rural services.

Ministers know that I had grave doubts about transferring a monopoly from public to private ownership. I could not see why one should consign to limited private interests the ability to extract from the community profits higher than would accrue in a competitive arrangement, and to provide a service that would be subject only to a limited check. I argued that in any transfer it was important to ensure that there was a clear and strong regulatory function laying identifiable duties upon the Director General of the Office of Telecommunications. My first reading of the Bill suggested to me that the defences and protection for the consumer were inadequate, and I am not entirely satisfied that we have arrived at the most adequate arrangements to protect us during the transitional period.

Ministers argue that regulation inhibits the development of an industry and that therefore we should take the important stride of moving from a non-competitive monopoly to an open and competitive position. I support that attitude, and during our discussions on the Bill I have argued that the transfer should be made as rapidly as possible, but in reality it will not happen for many years. Even Ministers have argued that a dominant monopoly will persist for many years to come. I want the Bill to be an engine for competition, but on that level the Bill is rather weak. The Minister of State has said that I misunderstood the extent to which he has liberalised the service, but words are not sufficient in themselves. The Minister of State said yesterday: At present the public telecommunications operators that we envisage licensing under the legislation will be BT, Mercury and Hull, and two radio-telephone networks. He continued: It is not our intention in the foreseeable future to go beyond that."—[0fficial Report, 28 March 1983; Vol. 40, c. 51.] Where is the engine of competition there? We had already announced, in the absence of privatisation, that Mercury should come into existence, and Hull has been in existence for many years. The great step forward, therefore, is reduced to two radio-telephone networks. That is hardly a great engine for competition, yet that is what we pin so much of our faith on.

I am anxious about this matter. I therefore urge my noble Friends to consider carefully what we mean by an engine for competition. I argued yesterday that perhaps we should have added a clause to insist that licences should be granted in the absence of compelling reasons why the granting of a licence would be damaging to the overall system. I argued also that if a licence is refused, the reasons for refusal should be published, and possibly even that one should have access to the courts to challenge the reasons given either by the Director General of the Office of Telecommunications or by the Secretary of State.

One must look at actions as well as words. I accept the observations of Opposition Front and Back Bench Members that the Bill was hastily constructed and ill thought out in many regards. The little niggles that suggested to me that the intentions of the Bill as originally framed were not as generous as the words resided in such pointers as the Government's initial reluctance to accept the non-discrimination principle, which is of the essence of the protection of our freedom and choice in the market place. If a private monopoly were able to discriminate against one class of customer or one business as opposed to another, our commercial freedoms and independence would be at risk.

Ministers referred to the Bill as an engine for liberalisation and change in our telecommunications system, but what did the change amount to? The first instrument monopoly was to remain, but it would no longer be a public service monopoly. It would be a private monopoly, consigned to private hands. Private individuals would thus be able to seek whatever return they wished for the use of their services.

As the Opposition know, I greatly resent monopolies, duopolies and oligopolies. I could not understand how Conservative Ministers could argue that British Telecom as a private company should retain the right to insist on people buying the instrument of its choice, presumably at the price of its choice. That was clearly wrong. Yet my approaches to Ministers on the subject were rejected. One of the lessons of serving on a Bill of this kind is the appreciation that our own influence with our colleagues is perhaps less than that of outsiders. It took Professor Littlechild to concentrate my hon. Friend the Minister's mind on this. Conservative Members had argued last year and in 1981 for the removal of the prime instrument monopoly, but our case was rejected until Professor Littlechild argued that the monopoly was unacceptable. He said that it ought to go, so go it did.

In attempting to read the Government's mind on these matters, a little incident yesterday shocked me profoundly. It may not have shocked other hon. Members, as I could not find a colleague to join me as a teller in a Division. I refer to new clause 5. My interpretation of that proposal was not rejected by the Under-Secretary of State. As I understand it, if a licensee—possibly a mighty monopoly such as British Telecom—acted in breach of its licence or its obligations under the Bill in such a way as to damage the commercial viability of or cause losses to another company or individual it would not be open to the aggrieved party to sue for damages in court.

In my view, it is a fundamental principle of Conservative philosophy that if one is damaged by the actions of another party in default of a statutory duty laid down by way of a licence one should have a claim against that party. In such circumstances I could be put out of business, or my constituents' prospects could be destroyed. Whether that is done casually or deliberately, we should surely be able to ask a court to judge whether the action was fair and whether compensation or damages should result.

Having read the reply of my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State to that case, I can only say that I shall not look to him in the future for the defence of my freedom, prosperity and commercial success. I was deeply despondent at the way in which he rejected the seriousness of the argument. He could have agreed to give the matter further consideration, but it seemed that whatever the risk or damage to a company or individual the overriding consideration was that there should be no inhibition to the introduction of new technology and new processes and the advancement of the telecommunications industry.

Whatever else Members of Parliament may be, we are surely defenders of the rights and protection of smaller businesses and individuals. I respected those who fought hard and long to protect the interests of rural residents and the services necessary to make their lives tolerable and acceptable. That is a first condition of the Bill and I am glad that in new clause 1 the Government made it a matter of paramount importance.

One or two other very important issues have not been dealt with so far.

The purpose of transferring a monopoly and introducing competition with a regulatory authority was to ensure that no dominant supplier could abuse its position in the market place. That abuse would lead to a fundamental misallocation of resources. The reason for having a market place is to determine where the best utilisation of resources can be obtained in everybody's interest. By and large, that is how we benefit.

I have argued that a monopoly as dominant as British Telecom should be broken down into regional companies. There was virtually no discussion of that in Committee. It is a respectable argument and should be given some credence or airing in this House. When such a considerable monopoly exists, the fear is that it may use its dominant market position to act covertly, or not so covertly, against the general good. I do not think that Oftel is as powerful as Ministers would argue. The powers of the dominant supplier may be used to undermine and distort the market, or lead to the misallocation of resources. Why have hon. Members not examined more closely in open debate the question of breaking down the monopoly into operating companies and releasing shares in those companies? I have considered that. In conversations with my ministerial friends and in interventions in Committee, Ministers have responded, "Do you not realise that the accounting systems currently in operation in British Telecom are inadequate and it cannot do that?" Therefore, the opportunity to break down the monopoly into regional companies is restricted. If it is imperative to sell BT quickly, we lose the opportunity to break it down into operating companies. But if the argument to sell as a whole is examined, is it as convincing as it sounds? The Government are delaying the sale of British Telecom until after the next election. That has been implicit in everything they have done and has been openly stated. The electorate will, rightly, have an opportunity to make a judgment.

As to the accounting procedures, is it not a remarkable indictment that all Governments have tolerated an accounting procedure or system that cannot identify whether or not the operation loses money in clearly defined areas, whether a customer or a consumer is paying a fair or reasonable price, or whether the company is allocating its resources in a responsible and reasonable way? Apparently, none of those things could be carried out. The Government have injected an accounting procedure and are now injecting accountants. The Government will be able to break down the monopoly into various operating companies which will not of themselves have a dominant market position and will not easily frustrate the introduction of new licensees and their success in the market.

It is important to realise that once British Telecom has been sold off after the Conservative party's success at the next election, the Government will be virtually denying themselves the opportunity of subsequently breaking it down.

The United States has been referred to frequently in discussions on the Bill. The Bell Telephone Corporation was the dominant market company in the United States, and it was found necessary to break it down into operating companies. In that way, it was deemed that the market and the interests of the consumer would best be served. Britain has virtually rejected that course of action because the imperative to sell as fast as possible is more important than the shape of our telecommunications industry in the future.

Yesterday, the Minister said that it was not the Government's intention in the forseeable future to license anything more in this field than the additional radiotelephone networks. Does that not diminish the very argument that has been advanced that liberalisation is going apace and that the consumer and the potential operator will be protected by competitive market forces? As it stands, that is not a reality either now or in the foreseeable future. Competition means that there is choice, and access to different competing operating companies. We shall not have that choice. Yesterday, the Minister said that he did not foresee introducing competition. Therefore, are we not falling into the very trap that I feared from the beginning, of falling between two stools? We shall have a dominant force in the market that is able covertly, or otherwise, to distort the market place to ensure that competition is controlled, regulated or under its surveillance.

In addition, we are doing something I believe to be terribly un-Conservative in that we are husbanding into life a competitor— Mercury — and ensuring in turn that it will not be subject to additional competition. That is a not very Conservative philosophy and gives me cause for great anxiety. It is important that we should move towards competition. I want the Department to push on that front and to follow through. I do not want competition to be limited in the way that my hon. Friend the Minister has said. The Minister then turned on me and said that I did not realise how much he had done. It is extraordinarily contradictory to argue that we are forcibly liberalising and then to say, in response to the hon. Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme (Mr. Golding) that we shall not license anything more than BT, Mercury, Hull and two radio telephone networks in the foreseeable future and that the hon. Gentleman should not worry about it. It is contradictory to say that we should first ensure that they survive and that hon. Members should remember that BT is in difficulty and earns only £1 billion per annum at present on revenues of about £5 billion. That is a return on sales of about 20 per cent. and is no small sum. BT is a tremendously dominant monopoly. It is the nearest thing that we have to a dominant monopoly that can be transferred to private interests. If we do that, it is important that it should either be strenuously regulated in the interim or that competition should be grasped as quickly as possible. The Government are in danger of falling between two stools. It is not sufficient to tell the House that there will be only one competitor, meaning Mercury, and a couple of radio telephone companies. That is not competition and does not represent any great move towards it.

It is not sufficient to say, "Do not visit upon me the sins of the inadequacies of all our past accounting systems." It is insufficient to say that in two years we have moved forward faster than in the previous 50 years. That is no great thing. The lessons of competition and of free enterprise and of their implications for the allocation of resources and the generation of wealth are well understood by most hon. Members, even, I hope, by the hon. Member for Preston, South (Mr. Thorne), who has spoken so trenchantly on behalf of Socialism in the past century. Even he has grasped some of the concepts involved. That is why I witnessed a great affront last night when the Under-Secretary of State, my hon. Friend the Member for Coventry, South-West (Mr. Butcher) discounted the implications of a dominant monopoly not performing on its licence, and so doing great commercial damage to small or large interests while being unable to be sued in the courts for redress.

I urge that principle on the House and on the other place for consideration. I have tried to outline the reasons for my anxieties and the central weakness in the strategy of the present ministerial team. During consideration of the Bill I have urged amendments on the Government. The spirit of some of them have been taken, and I am grateful for that. Some have been rejected, perhaps rightly so. However, I am not sure that the importance of moving towards genuine competition has been understood. I reiterate that when the Minister limits competition, arguing that that in itself is a force for change, it is not a happy state of affairs. I hope that my ministerial colleagues will give that point consideration between now and when the Bill returns to the House. However, in the absence of those changes I shall bide my time and, for the moment, abstain.

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Paul Dean)

Before I call the next hon. Member it might be helpful if I informed the House that the Front Bench speeches are expected to begin at about 9.30 pm. A number of Members still wish to speak, so short speeches would be helpful.

8.45 pm
Mr. Dafydd Wigley (Caernarvon)

I shall be brief. The contribution of the hon. Member for Aldridge-Brownhills (Mr. Shepherd) has revealed the effect of rushing legislation like this through the House. Members on the Government Benches now realise that there is an essential dichotomy in what we are discussing and that it has not been properly resolved. The hon. Member and several other hon. Members on the Government side contributed to the argument in Committee on several aspects of this, no one more forcefully than he. Nevertheless, we have a Bill which provides for changing from a public to a private monopoly—or possibly a private duopoly, with one and a half companies or whatever.

The benefits that are supposed to come from competition are unlikely to come for most areas. Certainly they will not come for areas such as mine. We shall lose the element of service which has been so essential in the telecommunications network in rural areas such as the one I represent and we certainly will not get any benefit that may come from the concept of competition, because there will not be competition in an area like mine. It is an area that probably will put cost rather than profit on to the network.

There are serious misgivings even at this stage among those who are close to this industry, both those who are working in it and those who represent in local authorities and other bodies the opinions of the consumers and the community. There is a feeling that rural areas—and possibly inner city areas where there may be serious oncosts because of vandalism to telephone kiosks, and of digging up the roads—will not be so attractive with the cut-throat competition which may result from this Bill. We may find that the service that has been built up over the years will be eroded. I do not think that the points put forward on this have been satisfactorily answered even by the introduction of new clause 1 yesterday.

I say in passing that it is unsatisfactory that a new clause such as this should come forward without an opportunity properly to debate the amendments to it because of the stage at which it was introduced. Having had many hours in Committee upstairs, we would have hoped that at the very least we could have had an opportunity to go into this properly and coherently on Report.

Responding to the point made by the hon. Member for Leominster (Mr. Temple-Morris) a moment ago, I too believe that there are lessons to be learnt from the Committee stage of this Bill. Although having structured debates in Committee may restrict some of the freedom of opposition, it may be in the interest of getting better legislation overall that we should look at the way in which we handle this sort of Bill in Committee. Provided there is flexibility to take up new points not previously raised in Committee in any structured timetable, there are strong arguments in favour of having a more rational approach to the Committee stage than we have seen in the past.

The lesson that I have learnt is that I should never, on introducing an amendment, allow another hon. Member to move it, particularly if he intends to take 11½ hours. However eloquent the moving of the amendment may have been, I found it something of a chore to sit for 111/2 hours listening to the moving of my own amendment. I learnt a lesson the hard way.

Mr. Golding

Will the hon. Gentleman accept that I moved the amendment as a probing amendment so that the hon. Gentleman might have his composure restored?

Mr. Wigley

Yes. I was grateful to the hon. Member at the time, but in accepting his kind invitation to move the amendment I did not appreciate everything that it entailed.

The Minister, in opening the debate earlier this evening, said that this was not a privatisation measure but was giving greater public involvement in the telecommunications industry. No stretch of the imagination can lead us to accept that as a basic assumption behind the Bill. A very small part will be played by the employees in controlling the company even if they take up shares. I intervened earlier to underline the reality that employees will not be in anything like a dominant position as shareholders. If I thought that the employees could practically get to a position of holding a majority of the shares, I would think twice about that because I believe that there are certain attractions in going in that direction. In this sort of industry, however, with the sort of share capital we are talking about and with the practicalities of employees taking up any significant shareholding, all the Minister is doing is painting a picture that appears superficially attractive but in practical terms will have very little impact. The reality is that those who control the new companies will be the managers. As the Minister said, the Bill gives greater freedom to managers and makes them less answerable. No doubt the managers will enjoy that, but whether that will give the service that we as a community expect has certainly not been proven either in Committee or on Report.

Finance is another unsatisfactory aspect. In Committee we discussed the fact that there is no mechanism for ensuring that there is an independant means to finance a service, if that is required. New clause 1 creates a greater obligation, in that, for example, the community council could take the telecommunications companies to court as was suggested yesterday. However, in practice we know that it cannot afford to do so.

It is no use saying that only 30 or 40 telephone kiosks have been removed in rural areas in the past couple of years. Two years ago there was a massive list of suggested closures. That those kiosks were not removed was no doubt because of the public uproar at the time. Many suspected that there was a holding back and that after the enactment of this Bill there would be proposals for closures. The Director General and the Minister will have to keep a close eye on how that develops in practice. We fear that there will be massive closures of telephone kiosks in rural areas.

Another fear that was not resolved in Committee is whether there will be discrimination between the charges that are made in practice to certain categories of consumers. We have fears that the cost of installing telephones for some consumers in rural areas will be high and will be another charge on the rural community. Nothing has put our mind at rest on that.

The Bill will go forward from the House to another place. We have seen from other Bills in this Parliament that the other place plays a greater role in reforming legislation than does this House. There are many parts of the Bill that the other place should consider in detail. It should scrutinise what has been said here and look particularly at the new clauses with a view to strengthening the Bill. I hope that when the Bill returns to this House it will be a much better Bill than that which is leaving us now, despite the fact that no Bill along these lines will be a service to the people I represent.

8.52 pm
Mr. Penhaligon

We are in the midst of a remarkable parliamentary occasion. In one hour and eight minutes one suspects that the Bill will obtain a clear majority on its Third Reading. I recognise, as the Minister said earlier, that this is a massive and important Bill and is probably the biggest denationalisation or privatisation measure—call it what one will—in the annals of Parliament

The Bill was guillotined in Committee after 168 hours of debate. Significant portions of the Bill have not been discussed anywhere. I suppose that I have had as many letters about citizens band radio provisions as about anything else yet I could discover only a few column inches in the Official Report on that subject.

We are one hour and seven minutes from the Bill becoming an Act and we have the best attended House that we have had all day, with approximately 20 hon. Members present. It is a most peculiar way to draw up good legislation. So much time is spent in Committee on so little and yet a lot of time is given on the Floor of the House when, in general, hon. Members—I am not having a go at anybody—do not feel that there is any useful contribution that they can make.

My party supported the British Telecommunications Act 1981—or the Mercury Bill, as it has been called often during tonight's debate. That decision has been justified by events. There has been an improvement because of competition. We thought that Act would lead to real competition in specific areas of this complex industry. I am pleased that we supported that Act and I am even more pleased at the undoubted effects it has had. The prime reason why my party supported that Act was that we saw it as a practical way to reduce a monopoly. Monopolies are one of the root causes of some of our economic difficulties and are a general enemy of the people.

I listened carefully to the Minister's reasons for supporting the Bill. Most of them were reasons for supporting the previous legislation rather than this Bill. The new corporation that we are on the verge of setting up will be, to all intents and purposes, indistinguishable, for most of my constituents, from the monopoly they now have to deal with. I do not see that there is any substantial difference or advantage in a monopoly operated by private shareholders as opposed to one run by the State. In the former case one could make a complaint in the House and in the latter case one may get the Director General to overcome an unacceptable practice, but the differences between the two are only marginal.

The hon. Member for Caernarvon (Mr. Wigley) has done great battle for rural areas in Committee; he has been assisted by Conservative Members, whom I thank. They made some progress. It is easy to get carried away with the progress that has been made. I suspect that Members spent so much time in Committee that, having made a little progress on one thing, they convinced themselves that they had made much progress to justify their great labour.

I read part of the proceedings, and saw the constant claim by British Telecom that kiosks cost £2,000 a year to maintain. That may be a national average figure, but to argue that kiosks in remote parts of my constituency cost £2,000 a year to maintain is a fantasy of the first order. They are painted about once a decade and the money is taken out of them once a quarter. That accounts for almost the total expenditure on them — rightly so. They are remote and people do not destroy them or break them up. Some kiosks in my constituency are regarded by local people as their responsibility. They sweep them out in the morning and remove the cobwebs, the snails and the other things that find such kiosks attractive. It is preposterous that the figure of £2,000 a year for maintenance should be trotted out constantly for these kiosks.

In my reading of the Committee proceedings I could not discover the answer to a question which I put on Second Reading: if a telephone installation is destroyed in a storm, who will pay for it to be repaired? It was a simple question to ask on Second Reading, yet with just about an hour to go on Third Reading I still have not got a clear answer as to whether it will be the general responsibility of the new company or whether the company may send the bill to one of my remote farmers for the repair of his one-off installation.

The Bill has been introduced more because of party dogma than advantage for the people. It is yet another saga in the pathetic parliamentary nationalisation and denationalisation roundabout to which we are all subjected. Already the Conservative and Labour parties have reduced the British Steel Corporation to its present sorry state. Sadly we may here be witnessing the first round of reducing British Telecom to the same condition. If the Bill heralds two decades of nationalising and denationalising this great industry, which is vital and important to everyone in the nation, hon. Members will have spent many hours working against the interests of their constituencies.

My party will vote against Third Reading because we are in favour of reducing monopoly but we do not see that this Bill makes any useful contribution to that worthy cause.

8.59 pm
Mr. Marlow

Mr. Deputy Speaker, I shall be brief, I trust. I have supported the Bill. The one thing that I believe has helped the Bill to reach the stage that it has tonight with as much good will as it has had, and with such little truculence and bad-tempered opposition, has been the way that my hon. Friend the Minister has brought the Bill before the House, has dealt with the Bill and dealt with queries and his constant courtesy to everyone in Committee and within the House as the Bill has proceeded. [Interruption.] It may well be his job. Other people had had similar jobs but they have done it with nothing like the same degree of effect, restraint, compassion, thought and courtesy that my hon. Friend has put into the Bill.

We have just heard the Liberal party spokesman, the hon. Member for Truro (Mr. Penhaligon) talking about the Bill. He does not want British Telecom to be denationalised. No doubt when it is denationalised he will not want to nationalise it again. He does not seem to have any proposal to do anything about anything, just to criticise the objectives, procedures and activities of everyone else. He has nothing positive to put forward himself, purely criticism of others.

My hon. Friend made a point about the Liberals when he opened the debate. The problem with the Liberal party is this great paradox—why was not the Liberal party on the Bill? I will tell the House why not—because it knew that it was going to be hard work and it knew that it would be a long Bill. The paradox of the Liberal party is that it spends all its time getting here, rushing around looking for by-elections to fight, but when members of the Liberal party get here they are not the slightest bit interested in being here. That is why they did not want to participate in this Bill.

I am a supporter of the Bill. I appreciate the difficulties that my hon. Friend has had. We are breaking new ground and we are moving forward with speed. We are going into new and uncharted territory. It is a very difficult thing for a Government to do. I think that the Government have done the best they can in very difficult circumstances. The reason that the Bill is important—as my hon. Friend says it is the most important bit of legislation in this session—is that since 1945 large chunks of British life and industry have been taken away from the private sector and the people and put under public bureaucracy.

Much of our industry and many of our people now work within the public sector. Other people work within the private sector. One part of our commercial and industrial life is responsive to the needs of the public and the market and is efficient, profitable and flexible, whereas a whole raft of other activities suffers from bureaucracy, lack of competition and lack of commercial discipline. One of the saddest effects of this is that for those who work in the public sector, although they may be forced to work in a relatively inefficient way and although at the moment there may be more people actually doing work than need be there to do the work, it is a very unsatisfactory working environment in which people have committed their lives.

The right hon. Member for Salford, West (Mr. Orme) has said that his fear is that if the Bill becomes law, which it will I can assure him, it will have a devastating effect upon jobs. I think that the opposite is the case. In fact, I am sure that the opposite is the case. As the right hon. Member for Salford, West knows, we are moving into new frontiers of technology. There will be many new opportunities within telecommunications, many new products and many new areas of activity which can benefit the whole nation and everyone that lives in it.

We had a structure. I think that it was the wrong structure. Even if it were the right structure, as we move forward we shall have new structure. That is what the Government and my hon. Friend are putting before the nation. If we have, as we are to, the right new structure by and large, I appreciate that some things will not be right the first time and there will have to be modifications. If, by and large, we are to have the right structure then within that right structure, the market and activity will develop, new jobs will come into being, new companies will come into being, new products will come into being and new companies will manufacture and build those new products. I am afraid that the right hon. Member for Salford, West is being pessimistic. He is wrong. By following the Bill through, we shall not destroy jobs, but in the event we shall create jobs, not hundreds of jobs, not thousands of jobs but tens and perhaps hundreds of thousands of jobs.

Mr. Penhaligon

Hundreds of thousands of jobs?

Mr. Marlow

Yes. Hundreds of thousands of jobs.

The right hon. Member for Salford, West was crying about the effects on the manufacturers and the suppliers of the industry. Recently Conservative Members and an Opposition Member spoke to the suppliers of the industry. They want the Bill to go forward. They want this liberalisation to come into being because they believe that that way there will be more opportunities for the industry and for the manufacturers. What they are concerned about is other countries, where they do not have this liberalisation. They would like to see that liberalisation go forward there. If we go forward in this direction, we shall have the power and the ability to force our competing countries, particularly within the Common Market, to move in the same direction. We shall be in the forefront. We shall be there first. Our manufacturers will have a large, satisfactory and successful home market. Having got that, they will be the first and foremost to break into the market of our competitors. That is what they want. That is what we want. It is one of the most important things behind the Bill. That is why I support it.

9.6 pm

Mr. Stan Thorne

I am sorry that the hon. Member for Leominster (Mr. Temple-Morris) is not with us. He probably needs some refreshment. He referred to making British Telecom better. He did not discuss—in Committee there was little discussion of this—the real quality of service provided by British Telecom. There were no major criticisms and few minor ones by the Government of BT as it stands. They did not show that there was anything wrong with BT. Some of the arguments by my right hon. and hon. Friends showed that a great deal was right with BT. What perturbed us on Second Reading and disturbs us now is whether, by creating the new organisation that will emerge if the Bill becomes an Act, we shall be able to say in ten years, for example, that we have a service that is as valuable as the present service. I fear that we shall be unable to report the same quality of service as is apparent from a close examination of BT.

The major discussions in Committee and during our debates yesterday and today, particularly by Conservative Members, have been about competition, the holy cow of the Tory party. There is nothing new about that. "Profitable enterprise" is a phrase commonly used by Conservative Members. Surplus value in manufacturing industry is produced by the workers and it is taken over by private shareholders. That is how they obtain their profits.

I was intrigued by the arguments in Committee by the hon. Member for Aldridge-Brownhills (Mr. Shepherd). During his 22-minute contribution on Third Reading, he talked about abusing the position in the market place, implying that at present BT was abusing its position in telecommunications. At no time did he reveal that it is the multinational corporations, not public enterprise, that abuse their position in the market place today.

As a matter of fact the hon. Gentleman avoided a question that I and other hon. Members have asked. His argument tonight shows why he failed to reply to it. He chastised his own Minister for ensuring in the Bill that, in the short run, there will be only one major competitor to British Telecom. Clearly, the hon. Gentleman is dissatisfied with that. He wants a few more competitors in the industry, but he failed to tell us how many more. What would he consider an ideal number to achieve the so-called fair competition to which Conservative Members referred ad nauseam in Committee?

Mr. Frank Hooley (Sheffield, Heeley)

In how many countries in Western Europe does the type of competition in telecommunications, about which the hon. Member for Aldridge-Brownhills (Mr. Shepherd) babbles, exist?

Mr. Thorne

I am glad that my hon. Friend has made that point. The hon. Member for Aldridge-Brownhills has an attractive personality but he is politically naive. It has been my experience, and I am sure that of other Labour Members, that what we have seen and will continue to see in Britain, Germany, France, the United States, and in most major capitalist countries is a continuous process of capital moving into fewer and fewer hands. In some ways the hon. Member for Aldridge-Brownhills wishes to turn the clock back. He wants to do away with this concentration of capital and see companies springing up in the industry. But the telecommunications business needs not £200,000 or £300,000, but £200 million or £300 million even to make an impact. The hon. Gentleman's argument is absurd. The notion of private profit is alien to the objects of the Labour party.

I do not suggest that profit is not necessary. Obviously, manufacturing industry needs to make a profit to pay for health services, housing, education and so on, but we do not need private profit, which will simply create more investment abroad in pursuit of further profits, speculation, larger mansions for the wealthy and more purchases of Rolls-Royces. The Labour party is not in that business. We are not interested in the development of privilege at the expense of a well-organised, efficient and progressive telecommunications service. For that reason, Opposition Members will vote against Third Reading.

9.13 pm
Mr. Gerry Neale (Cornwall, North)

I congratulate the hon. Member for Preston, South (Mr. Thorne) on his assiduous attention to the Bill in Committee. He advertised his political leanings, if in no other way, by the colour of his shirt which he displayed in Committee. As the hon. Gentleman has referred often enough to competition, it is interesting that competition in the shirt market was discussed in Committee. I see that the hon. Member for Darlington (Mr. O'Brien) is in the Chamber. I hope that he will not take offence at the comment that it causes great disappointment on the Conservative Benches to see him here. We would have much preferred to see someone sitting on the Conservative Benches. Nevertheless, we welcome the hon. Gentleman's presence.

I wish to be associated with remarks made by various Conservative Members about the Opposition Front Bench spokesmen. The right hon. Member for Salford, West (Mr. Orme) conducted their case clearly and with considerable courtesy. He allowed a number of interventions from Conservative Members. I understand that one of my hon. Friends earlier suggested that the right hon. Gentleman was not often present in Committee. I know that for a great deal of time he was a member of another Committee. Despite that, he showed a rather daunting grasp of the Bill which Conservative Members had to counter.

Comments have been made about the limited awareness of the need for competition in BT's activities. It has been said that a certain lack of awareness has been displayed by my hon. Friends the Minister and the Under-Secretary. I have been involved in the industry for some time. I have discussed the implications of the legislation with my hon. Friends, who have displayed considerable will about increasing the amount of competition.

My hon. Friends have introduced a whole range of proposals which some have sought to suggest do not amount to much. However, in time they will mean that a great deal of competition will be brought into the market place. My hon. Friend the Member for Aldridge-Brownhills (Mr. Shepherd) deployed extremely well his argument on the philosophy of competition, as he always does. However, he must consider the criticism that, while he may be strong and lucid about philosophical matters, there is a need to pay considerable attention to the practicalities involved. Such is the magnitude of BT, we cannot simply clear the slate and start all over again. That is impossible. Considerable problems are involved in transition in trying to arrive at a statutory framework that will make greater competition possible.

The right hon. Member for Salford, West mentioned accountability. It was obvious in Committee that we stood little chance of convincing him that his argument was wrong. Nevertheless, he should seek to understand our case, although whether he accepts it is for him to decide. The belief that drives us towards producing more competition is that the majority of people in Britain do not feel that they have a share in such organisations as BT. They do not look at their telephone instrument or the switchboard in an office and feel that they have a share in BT. Customers do not feel that BT is accountable to them, and nor do the taxpayers. The hon. Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme (Mr. Golding) may dispute this, but there is evidence among BT's employees that they do not think that BT is accountable to them either.

What drives Conservative Members on to introducing greater competition is the belief that if we make such organisations accountable to the customer, who will make a decision as a result of good sense, wisdom and in terms of his pocket, we will have a much more responsive organisation. Moreover, the employees will be much more aware of that necessary accountability. That is why my hon. Friends the Ministers and my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State have introduced the Bill and taken it through its various stages and changed it in the light of additional evidence. They have been willing to be flexible. Although I have some apprehensions about the Bill, I give it my full support. It will bring far greater choice to the market place for the consumer.

9.20 pm
Mr. John Grant

I preface my speech by agreeing with the hon. Member for Leominster (Mr. Temple-Morris), not for the first time, about the urgent need for a proper timetabling procedure on major Bills such as this.

Despite the long hours that have been spent in Committee and the many columns of Hansard that have been filled, I am unable to move on Third Reading from the stance that I adopted on Second Reading. The Government made some concessions at the margins in Committee, not least because they had one or two troublesome Back Benchers. We all look forward to hearing the Minister's reply to the scathing attack made by the hon. Member for Aldridge-Brownhills (Mr. Shepherd). His speech was a strong indictment, although I do not share his approach.

There have been some minor improvements. Clause 3 is an example. I am not sure that those improvements were cosmetic, as the hon. Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme (Mr. Golding) suggested, but they were not much more than marginal.

Two major criticisms remain. The first is the uncertainty and continuing confusion that the Bill will needlessly cause in advance of a general election. The Government have admitted that they do not have a mandate for this sweeping ideologically-based measure. The Minister has taken every opportunity to deride the Social Democratic-Liberal alliance. I am both amused and flattered by his constant attention. Perhaps it shows that he recognises that there are no safe Conservative seats, especially in inner London. Perhaps even Conservative seats in the stockbroker belt, to which I understand he has now departed, are not safe.

The second major criticism is the haste with which the Bill was forced upon us and the consequent extraordinary muddle which dogged us in Committee. There is also the broken promise about the introduction of the licence and the problem about the mid-term intervention of the Littlechild report. There have been many problems of that type. That is not the proper way in which to introduce major legislation of this type. The Minister said that it is the most important legislation in this Session. What has happened is not the way in which to introduce such legislation, nor is it the right way in which to treat the House.

Everything that has happened since Second Reading serves only to underline the anxieties that I and other hon. Members have expressed. Everyone agrees that the licence was all-important. I shall quote from the latest BT report on the Bill. It says: although the main points of the BT licence have been published, it is clear that it will take some time and considerable discussion between BT and DoI to fill out the provisions within this, the first licence of its kind and a document that will last 25 years". The licence is central to the Bill, crucial to the future of British Telecom and, consequently, to the future of the entire telecommunications industry, about which the Minister tells us he is so concerned, and crucial to the granting of subsequent licences arising from the Bill. Yet the House is denied the details of the licence. The hon. Member for Leominster suggested that the reason may be that British Telecom used delaying tactics. If that is true, where is the clout—the Minister likes that word and has used it many times—that one would expect from Ministers in his position? Why has he not sorted out the licence, and why has the House not had the details that he promised us?

Many other matters, including price restraint, access charges and cross-subsidisation, remain vague. Despite the price restraint formula, residential customers will probably find that their bills increase more rapidly than those of business customers. It seems that the Government still intend to get the regulatory body in place before the next general election—that will depend on the timing of the election, and, as the Minister has now sorted out his seat, there is no need to delay further. If it is delayed, it would be reasonable to put the Bill on ice pending the outcome of the election. It would not be right to introduce Oftel now, because it is intended to operate in the competitive environment that the Government, at least in theory, expect to create. As full privatisation will occur only if the Government are returned, it would be sensible and proper that no part of the Bill be implemented ahead of that time.

The Bill was born out of an ideological insistence that privatisation is desirable in itself. The legislation was the showpiece. Ministers in the Department of Industry have told us that they propose to privatise the steel industry if they have the opportunity. With Mr. MacGregor at the National Coal Board, what is left of that industry may be turned over to private enterprise. The Minister is thinking hard, and I am sure that he will reach that conclusion. Under this dogma-ridden Government, anything is possible. The Bill, at such a volatile and uncertain political period, is a grave mistake. It can only add to industrial uncertainty at a time when British Telecom is, on its own admission, having to adapt at an unprecedented rate to changes, and needs, as the document states, a sensible period of time to digest these massive changes affecting its organisation and its staff. The document refers to changes already in the pipeline and not to those to come.

The Government have said too little throughout the proceedings to allay the anxieties of British Telecom staff. The Minister described this as a liberating Bill and he no doubt sees himself as a great liberator, although most Ministers at the Department of Industry would qualify more as great liquidators, because that is what they have done for the past three and a half years.

The Bill is ill-constructed and ill-conceived. The practicalities, if not the principles, have certainly earned the severe criticism of Government Back Benchers, but the Social Democratic party believes that the principle is wrong. There is no convincing economic and industrial case for privatisation. I made it clear that if, after the general election, the Bill is to be fully implemented, it must be on the basis of the Conservative party's vote alone. My right hon. and hon. Friends and I will vote against Third Reading tonight.

9.30 pm
Mr. Henderson

I have decided in the past few minutes to telescope my remarks considerably.

The Bill started as a good one, and has become a better one. As a charter for consumers it is a model for possible future measures. Not least important in the liberalisation measures—in addition to the reduction in waiting lists, which has happened in my constituency since the introduction of the British Telecommunications Act—is the scope for innovation and the opportunity for new jobs in new kinds of industry and exports.

The other important aspect of the Bill is the opportunity presented by the denationalisation provisions to free BT from public sector borrowing requirement restraints and to ensure that in future it will have enough capital to develop its projects in the interest of consumers without loading up the telephone accounts to pay for future investments.

The Bill will give an assurance of fair play through the mechanism of the Director General of Oftel. For these brief reasons, I hope that we shall move the Bill on to the other place, and that a general election will soon follow.

9.31 pm
Mr. Tom Clarke (Coatbridge and Airdrie)

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. May I draw your attention to the views of a large number of people in Scotland who voted for the Labour party in the general election, whose representatives had a good attendance record throughout the Committee, but, unfortunately, whose views have not been expressed in the debate tonight? I ask the Front Bench speakers to pay due regard to those views during the winding-up speeches.

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Paul Dean)

I understand the hon. Member's disappointment and admire the way in which he has given a hint to his own Front Bench.

9.32 pm
Dr. John Cunningham

My hon. Friend the Member for Coatbridge and Airdrie (Mr. Clarke) was an assiduous and effective member of the Committee. Like him, I regret that he has not been able to intervene in the Third Reading debate.

We have had a long and thorough consideration of a major Bill. About the only thing I agreed with the Minister about was that this is the most important Bill of the Session. That at least we can agree about, but the rest of his remarks fell on rather stony ground.

I thank the hon. Members for Leominster (Mr. Temple-Morris) and for Cornwall, North (Mr. Neale) for their kind references to my right hon. Friend the Member for Salford, West (Mr. Orme) and myself. Having listened to those comments, I was somewhat taken aback by the hon. Member for Aldridge-Brownhills (Mr. Shepherd), who perhaps overlooked the fact that I was also a member of the shipbuilding privatisation Committee and spent a little time helping my hon. Friend the Member for Darlington (Mr. O'Brien), whom I am delighted to see in the Chamber, successfully contest a by-election. I can tell the hon. Member for Aldridge-Brownhills and the House that I make no apology to the Labour party or the trade unions for being absent for that purpose. I look forward to the effective contributions that my hon. Friend the Member for Darlington will be making as the representative of that town.

It is rather sad that, after 70 years of public telephone operation, the Bill will proceed through Third Reading. The monopoly is coming to an end, and that is not only unnecessary but is likely to damage the community interest and individual interests. The record shows that it is unnecessary. What the Minister and some hon. Members have said about the record of public telephone operation is not borne out by a close examination.

The Bill is sad also because it poses a threat to services and jobs. It is damaging because its result will be the creation of a private monopoly. As the hon. Member for Aldridge-Brownhills said, all that is happening is that a public monopoly is becoming, in effect, a private monopoly. It is regrettable, too, because it will result in unplanned, unco-ordinated investment and it will put an end to any overall national strategy for telecommunications, because there will be no guarantee on prices, as the last two price reviews, which penalised domestic consumers, showed. There will be no guarantee of choice; most people will have no choice. There will be no guarantee of improved or better services. There will he no guarantee of real or effective competition.

If we compare the Government's assertions with what has happened in the United States of America following liberalisation, we see that 80 per cent. of the telephone network is still owned and controlled by AT and T, the trunk lines are all controlled by AT and T, and all the local networks have one operator, with no competition and no choice. That is the reality of liberalisation in the United States, and that is likely to be the outcome in the United Kingdom also, following the passage of this Bill.

Against that background, I was somewhat surprised to hear the hon. Member for Truro (Mr. Penhaligon) say that his party had supported earlier measures introduced by the Government, because their direct results were to increase costs to subscribers and the threat to services in rural areas. That is what is happening, and that is likely to continue to happen. It ill behoves the Liberal party, which professes support for rural areas, to say anything in support of this Government's telecommunications measures.

British Telecom and its predecessors have a good record. As a publicly owned corporation, BT has not only improved services, operated profitably and increased the available services, but it has done so with little increase in the number of employees. It was the hon. Member for Northampton, North (Mr. Marlow), I think, who complained about productivity. The productivity record of British Telecom compares favourably with that of any private sector organisation. As a publicly owned corporation, it has been fully accountable to the community for its activities. The public have statutory rights through consumer watchdogs. I am not at all convinced that the Office of Telecommunications, which is almost certainly to be based in London, will be of any comfort to my constituents in Whitehaven, or to people in Scotland or south Wales, as a defender of their rights and of consumer choice.

At present the corporation is in the middle of a massive investment programme to expand and modernise the telecommunications network. That will be jeopardised, if not thrown into confusion. BT and its work force have accepted the need for change so as to provide the benefits of the latest services to their consumers and customers as a whole, not just—as is likely to be the case, because of the pressure of market forces and profits—to a select few.

When the Minister of State talked about real public ownership, I assume that he used the word "public" in the same context as Tories use it in terms of public schools. The public ownership that he has in mind is not evidenced by what has happened in the sale of other state assets under this Government. The emergence of private shareholders will almost certainly ensure that the corporation concentrates more and more on the profitable parts of its business, to the exclusion of real public interest.

The ending of BT's exclusive privilege will bring with it an end to the corporation's duty to provide a national service. The main adverse effects of privatisation will fall directly on residential consumers. There is already evidence in the pricing restructuring to support that argument. We face a threat to public accountability and almost certainly to the availability of information to the public.

Mr. Kenneth Baker

indicated dissent.

Dr. Cunningham

The Minister of State contests that assertion. Let us examine the Government's record during the passage of the Bill. The Minister promised the House a model licence. He failed to produce it. Littlechild was produced at short notice during the passage of the Bill. The Government have produced no articles of association or access fee details. Promises were made to the Committee and the House, but the Government failed to deliver. The Government also promised, but failed to deliver, a White Paper on cable.

Even during the passage of the Bill, the Minister's record in obtaining information for hon. Members has been abysmal. If that is the prospect we face when BT is in private control, it does not augur well for scrutiny, accountability and public control. We regard that prospect with some foreboding.

As for the arguments for competition, Mercury states publicly that it intends to cream the market. We all know that Mercury will not offer services in the remote rural areas and those inner city areas which are unlikely to produce much revenue or much chance of a quick profit. There will be very little real competition for most consumers. BT's finances will be placed in jeopardy. It will be left with the loss-making areas to support, and the old Tory approach to public services will be apparent. BT will be left with all the unattractive aspects of the business, and the private sector will move into those areas where money can be made, to the detriment of the national network of telecommunications and the public interest.

The Government's policy of selling off or privatisation has not even been a success. It has been a complete failure. Public assets have been ripped off not by the City of London but by the Government. In the 1960s and early 1970s, we used to complain about the unacceptable face of capitalism. This Government now represent the unacceptable face of capitalism. The Minister of State laughs, but the Government are interested in quick speculative gains. In the case of British Aerospace, the gain on the shares was 56.7 per cent. In the case of Cable and Wireless the gain was 150 per cent. The gain on Amersham International shares was 78.9 per cent., and on the shares of Associated British Ports 37.5 per cent. The sale of Britoil was a calamity. Britoil was a dead loss for the British taxpayer. The hon. Member for Hertfordshire, South-West (Mr. Page) laughs—

Mr. Kenneth Baker

The hon. Member for Whitehaven (Dr. Cunningham) cannot have it both ways.

Dr. Cunningham

Of course I can. Both ways, the taxpayer has lost. Offers have been either hopelessly oversubscribed or hopelessly undersubscribed. How can the taxpayer possibly gain from that? The speculative buyers of shares, not the taxpayer, have gained. That is also the likely outcome of the sale of British Telecom—a bigger sale than any yet proposed.

The Government have shied away from all the arguments about the threat to jobs. Despite their blandishments, however, behind their privatisation schemes—those that have already taken place as well as this one—there has been a substantial, continuing and in some cases massive programme of job losses. It has happened in British Aerospace and it is now happening in British Shipbuilders, another organisation being prepared for privatisation.

The Government have made no secret of their aim to reduce public sector jobs. The work force of British Airways has been reduced by 23,000, that of the National Freight Company by almost 10,000, that of Rolls-Royce by 12,000 and there has been a fall of 8 per cent. at Cable and Wireless. The record shows that jobs will be lost in telecommunications as a result of the Bill. That was certainly the result of liberalisation in the United States.

We do not believe that the Government's dogma, their theories about market forces or the practice of this measure will benefit anyone. The effect will be the reverse. The telephone-using public will not benefit, nor will any national strategy for telecommunications emerge. The Bill will not only lead to higher prices: it will favour big business rather than the individual. The Government had no mandate to introduce the Bill or to carry through such a policy, and we do not believe that they will ever be given such a mandate.

9.46 pm
Mr. Butcher

Thanks have been expressed to various members of the Standing Committee which dealt with the Bill. Although my hon. Friend the Member for Plymouth, Drake (Miss Fookes) is not present, I record my thanks and, no doubt, the thanks of all members of the Committee for the great patience and stamina and the occasional sense of humour with which she chaired our proceedings. She certainly needed all those qualities. She needed stamina and patience because our proceedings contained every ingredient normally found in controversial memoirs. There was a clash of philosophy between the two major parties and there were clashes about the practicalities of the Bill. The views of the right hon. Member for Salford, West (Mr. Orme)—a root and branch Socialist and, as he reminded us, a clause 4 man—were tempered by those to the Left and to the Right of him. Occasionally, he was led by one to the right of him, but at all times he expressed his views with tenacity and occasional good humour.

The right hon. Member for Salford, West berated us today with the accusation that somehow we are moving away from the social and community obligations that existed when BT retained its exclusive privilege and that the Bill will weaken the rights of people in rural areas and the financial support of the 999 service and the emergency services generally. We did our best to reject and, I believe, succeeded in rejecting those accusations. In response to the comments of the right hon. Gentleman and other hon. Members, and especially those of my hon. Friend the Member for Leominster (Mr. Temple-Morris), we brought forward an amendment to clause 3 in the form of new clause 1.

We believe that that synthesised new clause defines the public interest. It defines the priorities that the Secretary of State and the Director General must bear in mind when exercising their various powers. The right hon. Member for Salford, West said that he believed in a national service for all. The Government also believe in a national service for all. The Government believe that during the Committee stage they had finely tuned and trailed before Members the mechanism by which those loss-making services can receive cross-subsidy.

Although the Government and my hon. Friend the Member for Aldridge—Brownhills (Mr. Shepherd) have differed tactically, there is no difference in our objectives. As to the loss-making services, the Government should place the onus of proof on BT to show that it makes a loss in those areas and to show how that loss can be coupled with requirements for cross-revenues via the access charge.

The right hon. Member for Salford, West gave clear advice by saying that he did not recommend that the employees of BT should purchase shares. That was rather a dog-in-the-manger attitude. My belief is that the membership of the POEU will buy shares and will take advantage of this offer, which will be a good bargain. The shares will be in one of the most dynamic sectors of the economy and will be valued by those who work: in the industry. Underlying the remarks of the right hon. Gentleman was a lack of faith. He expressed great fears as to the future of the suppliers of telecommunications equipment, those who may supply core equipment and apparatus. He also expressed fears as to the generality of this service and fears for employees and consumers. His observations concerned the equipment suppliers and their future. I say with some pride that Plessey has expanded into the United States of America and introduced new technology in the space section, that Ferranti has diversified into telecommunications with GTE, that RACAL has moved into cellular radio systems, that BT, Plessey and GEC have signed important agreements with Mitel to exploit CMOS technology, that Mitel has opened a new factory in Newport and that there are smaller companies, whose entry into this market the Government welcome, which are developing or have developed products to take advantage of the liberalised market.

This would not have happened without the radical change in the market structure brought about by the original British Telecommunications Act 1981 and reinforced by new clause 1.

My respect for my hon. Friend the Member for Aldridge-Brownhills is not diminished by his remarks this evening. I appreciate that he considers this matter as serious. The Government have tried to respond seriously to his observations in Committee. I bow to no one in my defence of basic freedoms in this country and the defence of those freedoms in commercial law. Having heard my hon. Friend speak on previous occasions may I say that I too am a fan of Thomas Hobbes. I have heard him quote "Leviathan" in the original language. I suspect that he would agree with me that, after Committee stage, the condition of man is a condition of war, of everyone against everyone. There have been times in Committee when that condition of war of everyone against everyone has not just been across the parties but between them.

The Government believe they have emerged with a better Bill. There has been reference to Professor Littlechild. Professor Littlechild was asked by the Department of Industry to make a report. His report: did not just float in during Committee stage. It was a deliberate act by Ministers in the Department of Industry who decided that they should put forward proposals for a regulatory mechanism by which the Government could check whether BT was earning super-normal profits, a mechanism by which its rate of return could be examined and by which the Government could temper the pattern of regulations through the introduction of competition.

I place on record my agreement with Littlechild's basic tenet that there is no substitute for competition. That is the most effective form of regulation. A strong statement has already been made on such basic matters as policy on the first instrument, resale, further liberalisation of maintenance and on the retail price index minus X formula. That is the way to proceed.

The hon. Member for Caernarvon (Mr. Wigley) has fought his corner and has become the blood brother of the hon. Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme (Mr. Golding). They even moved each other's amendments. However, I must refer him to new clause 1, which surely meets many of the reservations expressed by both the hon. Gentlemen and my hon. Friends in Committee. The hon. Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme has brought new meaning to the expression "at the 11th hour". It used to denote a form of tension, but it now denotes a form of the most excruciating tedium. However, he stuck to his guns and paraded his 20th century mercantilism before the Committee and the House.

My hon. Friend the Member for Leominster deserves particular mention. I shall write to him on the point that he has raised and about the interim protection on call boxes. He, more than any other hon. Member, as our unofficial legal adviser in Committee, has done much to preserve rural interests. My hon. Friend the Member for Fife, East (Mr. Henderson) has looked after the Scottish aspect, even taking us into the fine detail of Scots, rather than Scottish, law. My hon. Friend the Member for Cornwall, North (Mr. Neale), who moves a pretty deft amendment himself, has also helped us considerably in our deliberations.

The hon. Member for Whitehaven (Dr. Cunningham) looked back over 70 years and indeed that phenomenon has characterised many of the contributions made by him and his hon. Friends. When the Bill is enacted, it will take us through the 1980s and into the 21st century. We believe that it will do so in the interests of BT, of consumers, of those who work for BT, and in the interests of those who will create additional jobs in the new markets that are now coming to the fore. However, it was essential that we should end that exclusive privilege. That was not the way to move into new trends and into the internationally competitive world of telecommunications.

I await with interest the casting of votes by SDP and Liberal Members in the Division. Hon. Members should note that in the Division at 5.30 pm on cable policy, 11 Liberal Members voted with the Government, while five Social Democrat Members conspicuously abstained. However, one Social Democrat, the right hon. Member for Greenock and Port Glasgow (Dr. Mabon) apparently found his way by mistake into the Opposition Lobby.

The right hon. Member for Salford, West was absolutely right. This subject will be an election issue. It will divide the House—such issues always have. However, I suspect that it will not divide the country in equal proportion and that the vast majority of our people will support the measure. They will look forward to price increases at less than the rate of inflation for the next five years. They will look forward to receiving the protection of the Director General of Fair Trading. They will have their protection with teeth. They will look forward to the new developments in telecommunications and to the new job opportunities that will be made possible by the Bill.

The Bill takes us into the year 2000. It will be good for jobs, good for the equipment suppliers, and will, above all, be good for the consumers of telecommunication services in the United Kingdom.

9.59 pm
Mr. Golding

That was one of the worst speeches that we have ever heard. The incompetence of the Under-Secretary of State in sitting down early has been equaled only by the incompetence of the Minister and the Under-Secretary of State in Committee. This Bill is bad for the consumer, is disastrous for British manufacturing industry and—

It being Ten o'clock, MR. DEPUTY SPEAKER proceeded, pursuant to the Order [16 February] and the Resolution yesterday, to put forthwith the Question already proposed from the Chair.

Question put, That the Bill be now read the Third time:—

Mr. Michael Cocks (Bristol, South)

(seated and covered): On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. The Opposition are not responsible for the incompetence of the Government Whips. My hon. Friend the Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme (Mr. Golding) was still speaking when the clock reached 10 o'clock. I therefore submit that the Bill has been talked out.

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Paul Dean)

The right hon. Gentleman is not correct. I am required by the terms of the guillotine motion to put the Question at 10 o'clock, and that is what I have done.

The House divided: Ayes 286, Noes 241.

Division No. 107] [10 pm
Aitken, Jonathan Clark, Hon A. (Plym'th, S'n)
Alexander, Richard Clark, Sir W. (Croydon S)
Alison, Rt Hon Michael Clarke, Kenneth (Rushcliffe)
Ancram, Michael Clegg, Sir Walter
Arnold, Tom Cockeram, Eric
Aspinwall, Jack Colvin, Michael
Atkins, Rt Hon H.(S'thorne) Cope, John
Atkinson, David (B'm'th.E) Cormack, Patrick
Baker, Kenneth(St.M'bone) Corrie, John
Baker, Nicholas (N Dorset) Costain, Sir Albert
Banks, Robert Critchley, Julian
Beaumont-Dark, Anthony Crouch, David
Bendall, Vivian Dickens, Geoffrey
Benyon, Thomas (A'don) Dorrell, Stephen
Benyon, W. (Buckingham) Douglas-Hamilton, Lord J.
Berry, Hon Anthony Dover, Denshore
Best, Keith du Cann, Rt Hon Edward
Bevan, David Gilroy Dunn, Robert (Dartford)
Biffen, Rt Hon John Durant, Tony
Biggs-Davison, Sir John Dykes, Hugh
Blackburn, John Edwards, Rt Hon N. (P'broke)
Blaker, Peter Emery, Sir Peter
Body, Richard Eyre, Reginald
Bonsor, Sir Nicholas Fairbairn, Nicholas
Bottomley, Peter (W'wich W) Fairgrieve, Sir Russell
Bowden, Andrew Faith, Mrs Sheila
Boyson, Dr Rhodes Farr, John
Braine, Sir Bernard Fell, Sir Anthony
Bright, Graham Fenner, Mrs Peggy
Brinton, Tim Finsberg, Geoffrey
Brittan, Rt. Hon. Leon Fisher, Sir Nigel
Brooke, Hon Peter Fletcher, A. (Ed'nb'gh N)
Brotherton, Michael Fletcher-Cooke, Sir Charles
Brown, Michael(Bhgg & Sc'n) Forman, Nigel
Browne, John (Winchester) Fox, Marcus
Bruce-Gardyne, John Fraser, Rt Hon Sir Hugh
Bryan, Sir Paul Fraser, Peter (South Angus)
Buchanan-Smith, Rt. Hon. A. Fry, Peter
Buck, Antony Gardiner, George (Reigate)
Budgen, Nick Gardner, Sir Edward
Burden, Sir Frederick Garel-Jones, Tristan
Butcher, John Gilmour, Rt Hon Sir Ian
Carlisle, John (Luton West) Glyn, Dr Alan
Carlisle, Kenneth (Lincoln) Goodhart, Sir Philip
Carlisle, Rt Hon M. (R'c'n) Goodhew, Sir Victor
Chalker, Mrs. Lynda Goodlad, Alastair
Channon, Rt. Hon. Paul Gorst, John
Chapman, Sydney Gow, Ian
Churchill, W. S. Gower, Sir Raymond
Grant, Sir Anthony Mills, Sir Peter (West Devon)
Gray, Rt Hon Hamish Miscampbell, Norman
Greenway, Harry Mitchell, David (Basingstoke)
Grieve, Percy Moate, Roger
Griffiths, E.(B'y St. Edm'ds) Monro, Sir Hector
Griffiths, Peter (Portsm'th N) Montgomery, Fergus
Grist, Ian Moore, John
Grylls, Michael Morris, M. (N'hampton S)
Gummer, John Selwyn Morrison, Hon C. (Devizes)
Hamilton, Hon A. Morrison, Hon P. (Chester)
Hamilton, Michael (Salisbury) Mudd, David
Hampson, Dr Keith Murphy, Christopher
Hannam,John Myles, David
Haselhurst, Alan Neale, Gerrard
Havers, Rt Hon Sir Michael Needham, Richard
Hawkins, Sir Paul Nelson, Anthony
Hawksley, Warren Neubert, Michael
Hayhoe, Barney Newton, Tony
Henderson, Barry Normanton, Tom
Heseltine, Rt Hon Michael Onslow, Cranley
Higgins, Rt Hon Terence L. Oppenheim, Rt Hon Mrs S.
Hill, James Osborn, John
Hogg, Hon Douglas (Gr'th'm) Page, John (Harrow, West)
Holland, Philip (Carlton) Page, Richard (SW Herts)
Hooson, Tom Parkinson, Rt Hon Cecil
Hordern, Peter Patten, Christopher (Bath)
Howe, Rt Hon Sir Geoffrey Patten, John (Oxford)
Howell, Rt Hon D. (G'ldf'd) Pattie, Geoffrey
Howell, Ralph (N Norfolk) Pawsey, James
Hunt, David (Wirral) Percival, Sir Ian
Hunt, John (Ravensbourne) Peyton, Rt Hon John
Irvine, RtHon Bryant Godman Pink, R. Bonner
Irving, Charles (Cheltenham) Pollock, Alexander
Jenkin, Rt Hon Patrick Porter, Barry
Jessel, Toby Prentice, Rt Hon Reg
Jopling, Rt Hon Michael Price, Sir David (Eastleigh)
Joseph, Rt Hon Sir Keith Proctor, K. Harvey
Kaberry, Sir Donald Raison, Rt Hon Timothy
Kellett-Bowman, Mrs Elaine Rathbone, Tim
Kershaw, Sir Anthony Rees-Davies, W. R.
Kimball, Sir Marcus Renton, Tim
King, Rt Hon Tom Rhodes James, Robert
Kitson, Sir Timothy Rhys Williams, Sir Brandon
Knight, Mrs Jill Ridley, Hon Nicholas
Knox, David Ridsdale, Sir Julian
Lang, Ian Rippon, Rt Hon Geoffrey
Langford-Holt, Sir John Roberts, Wyn (Conway)
Latham, Michael Rossi, Hugh
Lee, John Rost, Peter
Le Marchant, Spencer Royle, Sir Anthony
Lennox-Boyd, Hon Mark Sainsbury, Hon Timothy
Lester, Jim (Beeston) St. John-Stevas, Rt Hon N.
Lloyd, Ian (Havant & W loo) Shaw, Giles (Pudsey)
Lloyd, Peter (Fareham) Shaw, Sir Michael (Scarb')
Loveridge, John Shelton, William (Streatham)
Luce, Richard Shepherd, Colin (Hereford)
Lyell, Nicholas Silvester, Fred
Macfarlane, Neil Sims, Roger
MacGregor, John Skeet, T. H. H.
MacKay, John (Argyll) Smith, Tim (Beaconsfield)
Macmillan, Rt Hon M. Speed, Keith
McNair-Wilson, M. (N'bury) Speller, Tony
McNair-Wilson, P. (New F'st) Spence, John
McQuarrie, Albert Spicer, Jim (West Dorset)
Madel, David Spicer, Michael (S Worcs)
Major, John Sproat, Iain
Marland, Paul Squire, Robin
Marlow, Antony Stainton, Keith
Marshall, Michael (Arundel) Stanbrook, Ivor
Marten, Rt Hon Neil Stanley, John
Mates, Michael Steen, Anthony
Maude, Rt Hon Sir Angus Stevens, Martin
Mawby, Ray Stewart, A.(E Renfrewshire)
Mawhinney, Dr Brian Stewart, Ian (Hitchin)
Maxwell-Hyslop, Robin Stokes, John
Mayhew, Patrick Stradling Thomas, J.
Mellor, David Tapsell, Peter
Meyer, Sir Anthony Taylor, Teddy (S'end E)
Miller, Hal (B'grove) Tebbit, Rt Hon Norman
Mills, Iain (Meriden) Temple-Morris, Peter
Thomas, Rt Hon Peter Walters, Dennis
Thompson, Donald Ward, John
Thome, Neil (Ilford South) Watson, John
Thornton, Malcolm Wells, Bowen
Townend, John (Bridlington) Wells, John (Maidstone)
Townsend, Cyril D, (B'heath) Wheeler, John
van Straubenzee, Sir W. Whitney, Raymond
Vaughan, Dr Gerard Wickenden, Keith
Viggers, Peter Williams, D.(Montgomery)
Waddington, David Winterton, Nicholas
Waldegrave, Hon William Young, Sir George (Acton)
Walker, Rt Hon P.(W'cester) Younger, Rt Hon George
Walker, B. (Perth)
Walker-Smith, Rt Hon Sir D. Tellers for the Ayes:
Wall, Sir Patrick Mr. Carol Mather and
Waller, Gary Mr. Robert Boscawen.
Abse, Leo Dunwoody, Hon Mrs G.
Adams, Allen Eadie, Alex
Allaun, Frank Eastham, Ken
Alton, David Ellis, R. (NE D'bysh're)
Anderson, Donald Ellis, Tom (Wrexham)
Archer, Rt Hon Peter English, Michael
Ashley, Rt Hon Jack Evans, loan (Aberdare)
Atkinson, U.(H'gey,) Evans, John (Newton)
Bagier, Gordon A.T. Faulds, Andrew
Barnett, Guy (Greenwich) Field, Frank
Barnett, Rt Hon Joel (H'wd) Foot, Rt Hon Michael
Beith, A. J. Ford, Ben
Benn, Rt Hon Tony Forrester, John
Bennett, Andrew(St'kp't N) Foster, Derek
Bidwell, Sydney Foulkes, George
Booth, Rt Hon Albert Fraser, J. (Lamb'th, N'w'd)
Boothroyd, Miss Betty Freeson, Rt Hon Reginald
Bottomley, Rt Hon A.(M'b'ro) Garrett, John (Norwich S)
Bradley, Tom Garrett, W. E. (Wallsend)
Bray, Dr Jeremy George, Bruce
Brocklebank-Fowler, C. Gilbert, Rt Hon Dr John
Brown, Hugh D. (Provan) Ginsburg, David
Brown, R. C. (N"castle W) Golding, John
Brown, Ronald W. (H'ckn'y S) Gourlay, Harry
Brown, Ron (E'burgh, Leith) Graham, Ted
Buchan, Norman Grant, John (Islington C)
Callaghan, Rt Hon J. Grimond, Rt Hon J.
Callaghan, Jim (Midd't'n & P) Hamilton, James (Bothwell)
Campbell, Ian Hamilton, W. W. (C'tral Fife)
Campbell-Savours, Dale Hardy, Peter
Canavan, Dennis Harrison, Rt Hon Walter
Cant, R. B. Hart, Rt Hon Dame Judith
Carmichael, Neil Hattersley, Rt Hon Roy
Carter-Jones, Lewis Haynes, Frank
Cartwright, John Healey, Rt Hon Denis
Clark, Dr David (S Shields) Heffer, Eric S.
Clarke.Thomas(C'b'dgre, A'rie) Hogg, N. (E Dunb't'nshire)
Cocks, Rt Hon M. (B'stol S) Holland, S. (L'b'th, Vauxh'll)
Coleman, Donald Home Robertson, John
Conlan, Bernard Homewood, William
Cook, Robin F. Hooley, Frank
Cowans, Harry Horam, John
Craigen, J. M. (G'gow, M'hill) Howell, Rt Hon D.
Crawshaw, Richard Howells, Geraint
Crowther, Stan Hoyle, Douglas
Cryer, Bob Huckfield, Les
Cunningham, G. (Islington S) Hudson Davies, Gwilym E.
Cunningham, Dr J. (W'h'n) Hughes, Mark (Durham)
Dalyell, Tarn Hughes, Robert (Aberdeen N)
Davidson, Arthur Hughes, Roy (Newport)
Davies, Rt Hon Denzil (L'lli) Hughes, Simon (Bermondsey)
Davis, Terry (B'ham, Stechf'd) Jay, Rt Hon Douglas
Deakins, Eric John, Brynmor
Dean, Joseph (Leeds West) Johnson, James (Hull West)
Dewar, Donald Johnson, Walter (Derby S)
Dixon, Donald Johnston, Russell (Inverness)
Dobson, Frank Jones, Barry (East Flint)
Dormand, Jack Kaufman, Rt Hon Gerald
Douglas, Dick Kerr, Russell
Dubs, Alfred Kilfedder, James A.
Duffy, A. E. P. Kilroy-Silk, Robert
Dunnett, Jack Lambie, David
Lamond, James Rooker, J. W.
Leadbitter, Ted Roper, John
Leighton, Ronald Ross, Ernest (Dundee West)
Lestor, Miss Joan Ross, Stephen (Isle of Wight)
Litherland, Robert Rowlands, Ted
Lofthouse, Geoffrey Sandelson, Neville
Lyon, Alexander (York) Sever, John
Lyons, Edward (Bradf'd W) Sheerman, Barry
Mabon, Rt Hon Dr J. Dickson Shore, Rt Hon Peter
McCartney, Hugh Silkin, Rt Hon J. (Deptford)
McDonald, Dr Oonagh Silkin, Rt Hon S. C. (Dulwich)
McElhone, Mrs Helen Silverman, Julius
McGuire, Michael (Ince) Skinner, Dennis
McKay, Allen (Penistone) Smith, Cyril (Rochdale)
McKelvey, William Smith, Rt Hon J. (N Lanark)
MacKenzie, Rt Hon Gregor Snape, Peter
McNamara, Kevin Soley, Clive
McTaggart, Robert Spearing, Nigel
McWilliam, John Spellar, John Francis (B'ham)
Magee, Bryan Spriggs, Leslie
Marks, Kenneth Stallard, A. W.
Marshall, D(G'gow S'ton) Steel, Rt Hon David
Marshall, Dr Edmund (Goole) Stewart, Rt Hon D. (W Isles)
Martin, M(G'gow S'burn) Stoddart, David
Mason, Rt Hon Roy Stott, Roger
Maynard, Miss Joan Strang, Gavin
Meacher, Michael Straw, Jack
Mikardo, Ian Summerskill, Hon Dr Shirley
Millan, Rt Hon Bruce Thomas, Dafydd (Merioneth)
Mitchell, R. C. (Soton Itchen) Thomas, Jeffrey (Abertillery)
Morris, Rt Hon A. (W'shawe) Thomas, Mike (Newcastle E)
Morris, Rt Hon C. (O'shaw) Thomas, Dr R.(Carmarthen)
Morris, Rt Hon J. (Aberavon) Thome, Stan (Preston South)
Morton, George Tinn, James
Mulley, Rt Hon Frederick Torney, Tom
Newens, Stanley Varley, Rt Hon Eric G.
Oakes, Rt Hon Gordon Wainwrlght, E.(Dearne V)
O'Brien, Oswald (Darlington) Wainwright, R.(Colne V)
O'Halloran, Michael Warden, Gareth
O'Neill, Martin Weetch, Ken
Orme, Rt Hon Stanley Wellbeloved, James
Owen, Rt Hon Dr David Welsh, Michael
Paisley, Rev Ian White, Frank R.
Palmer, Arthur White, J. (G'gow Pollok)
Park, George Whitlock, William
Parker, John Wigley, Dafydd
Parry, Robert Willey, Rt Hon Frederick
Pavitt, Laurie Williams, Rt Hon A.(S'sea W)
Pendry, Tom Williams, Rt Hon Mrs(Crosby)
Penhaligon, David Wilson, Gordon (Dundee E)
Pitt, William Henry Wilson, Rt Hon Sir H.(H'ton)
Powell, Raymond (Ogmore) Wilson, William (C'try SE)
Prescott, John Winnick, David
Price, C. (Lewisham W) Woodall, Alec
Race, Reg Woolmer, Kenneth
Rees, Rt Hon M (Leeds S) Wrigglesworth, Ian
Richardson, Jo Young, David (Bolton E)
Roberts, Albert (Normanton)
Roberts, Ernest (Hackney N) Tellers for the Noes:
Roberts, Gwilym (Cannock) Mr. Lawrence Cunliffe and
Robinson, G. (Coventry NW) Mr. Austin Mitchell.

Question accordingly agreed to.

Bill read the Third time and passed.

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