HC Deb 17 February 1986 vol 92 cc42-170 4.30 pm
The Lord Privy Seal and Leader of the House of Commons (Mr. John Biffen)

I beg to move, That the following provisions shall apply to the remaining proceedings on the Bill:—


1.—(1) The Standing Committee to which the Bill is allocated shall report the Bill to the House on or before 6th March 1986.

(2) Proceedings on the Bill at a sitting of the Standing Committee on the said 6th March may continue until Ten o'clock, whether or not the House is adjourned before that time, and if the House is adjourned before those proceedings have been brought to a conclusion the Standing Committee shall report the Bill to the House on 7th March.

Report and Third Reading

2.—(1) The proceedings on Consideration and Third Reading of the Bill shall be completed in two allotted days and shall be brought to a conclusion at Seven o'clock on the second of those days; and for the purposes of Standing Order No. 45 (Business Committee) this Order shall be taken to allot to the proceedings on Consideration such part of those days as the Resolution of the Business Committee may determine.

(2) The Business Committee shall report to the House its Resolutions as to the proceedings on Consideration of the Bill, and as to the allocation of time between those proceedings and proceedings on Third Reading, not later than the fourth day on which the House sits after the day on which the Chairman of the Standing Committee reports the Bill to the House.

(3) The Resolutions in any Report made under Standing Order No. 45 may be varied by a further Report so made, whether or not within the time specified in sub-paragraph (2) above, and whether or not the Resolutions have been agreed to by the House.

(4) The Resolutions of the Business Committee may include alterations in the order in which proceedings on Consideration of the Bill are taken.

Procedure in Standing Committee

3.—(1) At a sitting of the Standing Committee at which any proceedings on the Bill are to be brought to a conclusion under a Resolution of the Business Sub-Committee the Chairman shall not adjourn the Committee under any Order relating to the sittings of the Committee until the proceedings have been brought to a conclusion.

(2) No Motion shall be moved in the Standing Committee relating to the sitting of the Committee except by a member of the Government, and the Chairman shall permit a brief explanatiory statement from the Member who makes, and from a Member who opposes, the Motion, and shall then put the Question thereon.

4. No Motion shall be moved to alter the order in which Clauses, Schedules, new Clauses and new Schedules are to be taken in the Standing Committee but the Resolutions of the Business Sub-Committee may include alterations in that order.

Conclusion of proceedings in Committee

5. On the conclusion of the proceedings in any Committee on the Bill the Chairman shall report the Bill to the House without putting any Question.

Dilatory Motions

6. No dilatory Motion with respect to, or in the course of, proceedings on the Bill shall be made in the Standing Committee or on an allotted day except by a member of the Government, and the Question on any such Motion shall be put forthwith.

Extra time on allotted days

7.—(1) On an allotted day paragraph (1) of Standing Order No. 3 (Exempted business) shall apply to the proceedings on the Bill for two hours after Ten o'clock.

(2) Any period during which proceedings on the Bill may be proceeded with after Ten o'clock under paragraph (7) of Standing Order No. 10 (Adjournment on specific and important matter that should have urgent consideration) shall be in addition to the said period of two hours.

(3) If the first allotted day is one to which a Motion for the adjournment of the House under Standing Order No. 10 stands over from an earlier day, a period of time equal to the duration of the proceedings upon that Motion shall be added to the said period of two hours.

Private business

8. Any private business which has been set down for consideration at Seven o'clock on an allotted day shall, instead of being considered as provided by Standing Orders, be considered at the conclusion of the proceedings on the Bill on that day, and paragraph (1) of Standing Order No. 3 (Exempted business) shall apply to the private business for a period of three hours from the conclusion of the proceedings on the Bill or, if those proceedings are concluded before Ten o'clock, for a period equal to the time elapsing between Seven o'clock and the conclusion of those proceedings.

Conclusion of proceedings

9.—(1) For the purpose of bringing to a conclusion any proceedings which are to be brought to a conclusion at a time appointed by this Order or a Resolution of the Business Committee or the Business Sub-Committee and which have not previously been brought to a conclusion, the Chairman or Mr. Speaker shall forthwith put the following Questions (but no others)—

  1. (a) any Question already proposed from the Chair;
  2. (b) any Question necessary to bring to a decision a Question so proposed (including, in the case of a new Clause or new Schedule which has been read a second time, the Question that the Clause or Schedule be added to the Bill);
  3. (c) the Question on any amendment or Motion standing on the Order Paper in the name of any Member, if that amendment or Motion is moved by a member of the Government;
  4. (d) any other Question necessary for the disposal of the business to be concluded;
and on a Motion so moved for a new Clause or a new Schedule, the Chairman or Mr. Speaker shall put only the Question that the Clause or Schedule be added to the Bill.

(2) Proceedings under sub-paragraph (1) above shall not be interrupted under any Standing Order relating to the sittings of the House.

(3) If an allotted day is one on which a Motion for the adjournment of the House under Standing Order No. 10 (Adjournment on specific and important matter that should have urgent consideration) would, apart from this Order, stand over to Seven o'clock—

  1. (a) that Motion shall stand over until the conclusion of any proceedings on the Bill which, under this Order or a Resolution of the Business Committee, are to be brought to a conclusion at or before that time;
  2. (b) the bringing to a conclusion of any proceedings on the Bill which, under this Order or a Resolution of the Business Committee, are to be brought to a conclusion after that time shall be postponed for a period equal to the duration of the proceedings on that Motion.

(4) If an allotted day is one to which a Motion for the adjournment of the House under Standing Order No. 10 stands over from an earlier day, the bringing to a conclusion of any proceedings on the Bill which, under this Order or a Resolution of the Business Committee, are to be brought to a conclusion on that day shall be postponed for a period equal to the duration of the proceedings on that Motion.

Supplemental orders

10.—(1) The proceedings on any Motion made in the House by a member of the Government for varying or supplementing the provisions of this Order (including anything which might have been the subject of a report of the Business Committee or Business Sub-Committee) shall, if not previously concluded, be brought to a conclusion one hour after they have been commenced, and paragraph (1) of Standing Order No. 3 (Exempted business) shall apply to the proceedings.

(2) If on an allotted day on which any proceedings on the Bill are to be brought to a conclusion at a time appointed by this Order or a Resolution of the Business Committee the House is adjourned, or the sitting is suspended, before that time no notice shall be required of a Motion made at the next sitting by a member of the Government for varying or supplementing the provisions of this Order.


11. Nothing in this Order or a Resolution of the Business Committee or Business Sub-Committee shall—

  1. (a) prevent any proceedings to which the Order or Resolution applies from being taken or completed earlier than is required by the Order or Resolution, or
  2. (b) prevent any business (whether on the Bill or not) from being proceeded with on any day after the completion of all such proceedings on the Bill as are to be taken on that day.


12.—(1) References in this Order to proceedings on Consideration or proceedings on Third Reading include references to proceedings, at those stages respectively, for, on or in consequence of recommittal.

(2) On an allotted day no debate shall be permitted on any Motion to recommit the Bill (whether as a whole or otherwise), and Mr. Speaker shall put forthwith any Question necessary to dispose of the Motion, including the Question on any amendment moved to the Question.


13. In this Order— allotted day" means any day (other than a Friday) on which the Bill is put down as first Government Order of the Day provided that a Motion for allotting time to the proceedings on the Bill to be taken on that day either has been agreed on a previous day or is set down for consideration on that day; the Bill" means the Gas Bill; Resolution of the Business Sub-Committee" means a Resolution of the Business Sub-Committee as agreed to by the Standing Committee; Resolution of the Business Committee" means a Resolution of the Business Committee as agreed to by the House.

The whole House will be aware of the importance of the Gas Bill to which this motion seeks to apply a timetable. The Bill seeks to benefit managers and employees in the industry, consumers, and all those who will have an opportunity to own a stake in the industry.

My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Energy will be able to explain the full merits of the measure more cogently than I could hope to do. I will, however, make this comment. I believe that the Bill typifies the Government's positive attitude to industry. Industry should be freed from the unnecessary constraints imposed upon it by politicians: and freed to enable people to participate directly in its success. It is, of course, a policy to which we are deeply committed. Thus, there is a general expectation that the Bill will complete its procedures in both Houses of Parliament and be enacted in the current Session. The Government must protect their business to ensure that this is so.

Even before the general election in June 1983 we had a clear outline of what we would do. Our 1983 manifesto states: In the next Parliament, we shall seek means of increasing … private capital into the gas and electricity industries".

This commitment was renewed in the Queen's Speech at the opening of Parliament with an explicit undertaking to introduce a measure to permit the transfer of the assets of the British Gas Corporation to the private sector.

Nor is the policy the product of commitment. It has been subject to close and continued examination. Just one month after the election my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Energy initiated a study by his Department into the feasibility and nature of the privatisation that should take place. In this way, the industry was examined for more than one and a half years before the options and arguments were put to the Cabinet. This measured and considered process resulted in the legislation which was introduced into the House on 28 November.

The proposals have in addition been subjected already to vigorous scrutiny inside Parliament. Consideration of the Bill so far in Standing Committee is evidence of that. More than 20 hours of debate have been devoted to clause 4 alone: while clause 7 was discussed for just over 30 hours. I do not deny that the Bill deserves careful attention, but on present form only 13 clauses in 85 hours have received this careful attention. I fear that we do not have available the 340 hours in Committee that it would take to consider just as thoroughly the remaining 53 clauses and five schedules to the Bill.

None the less, the timetable motion before us would allow the rest of the Bill to be discussed in Committee in a structured way. If the Committee continued to sit on the same basis as it does at present, there would be time for a further 12 sittings before it had to report to the House. In addition, there can he a debate until midnight on the Floor of the House for the Report stage, and a further three hours for the Third Reading debate.

More generally, I should point out that this is the first timetable motion before us since we have had the benefit of the report of the Select Committee on Procedure on public Bill procedure, which was produced in April last year. In no way do I wish to pre-empt what I know will be a constructive discussion when we debate that report. I hope to provide time for it to be debated in the very near future, but in these circumstances it behoves me to say a few words about the practice of timetabling, as well as about this motion.

One aspect of the present system about which the Committee was most critical was the many hours a Bill could spend in Standing Committee before a timetable motion was moved. It has been argued that this leads to such an uneven distribution of time spent on different provisions of a Bill that the later clauses may receive little or no consideration. I can see some force in this line, but I believe that a balance needs to be struck.

Against this argument there is the view of those, of whom I am one, who believe that we should proceed by informal agreement as far as we can. We should not rush to impose guillotines on Bills on which it is ultimately possible to reach agreement. The Police and Criminal Evidence Bill was controversial, but completed its passage without the need for a timetable motion, despite more than 145 hours in Committee. Similarly, in the last Session, there was the Water (Fluoridation) Bill. Nevertheless, I take note of the Committee's concern that there should be earlier timetable motions to ensure adequate consideration of the later parts of a Bill. In this spirit, I invite the House to take note that this motion is moved after fewer than 90 hours in Standing Committee. That makes it an earlier timetable motion than both of those passed last Session in respect of the Local Government Bill and the Transport Bill.

Measured consideration is not achieved by providing timetable motions which merely allow more hours for debate on the remainder of the Bill, or which are imposed after 50 or 60 hours in Committee instead of 80 or 90. This motion, like previous timetable motions, not only prescribes the date by which the Standing Committee must have reported to the House, but makes provision for the allocation of time in Standing Committee and on the Floor of the House for Report and Third Reading by reference to a Business Committee and a Business Sub-Committee.

The referral to a Business Committee and Sub-Committee is the key to the sensible consideration of the rest of the Bill. It provides an opportunity for those who

are experienced in these matters and, in the case of the Sub-Committee, those who are most closely acquainted with the Bill's provisions, to discuss the timing and divide the available hours appropriately between clauses.

When the idea of a Business Committee was put forward by the Labour Government on 4 November 1947, Mr. Chuter Ede, the then Home Secretary, said that the Government were desirous when a guillotine procedure had to be followed that both sides should have an opportunity of making an effective contribution towards setting, up the Guillotine which is to be operated".—[Official Report, 4 November 1947; Vol. 443, c. 1736.]

I assure the House that that is no less the case today. Although we may be sharply divided about the substance of a Bill, I hope we can still agree about the way in which that substance can be properly but expeditiously considered.

On that note, Mr. Speaker, I do not think I should detain the House further. I believe that the motion represents a realistic way for us to debate the Gas Bill in the context of the timing constraints which always exist within the parliamentary framework. Nor are those constraints necessarily unwelcome to those outside this Chamber. The gas industry, and a nation of potential shareholders, keenly await the passage of the Bill. I commend the motion to the House.

4.38 pm
Mr. Peter Shore (Bethnal Green and Stepney)

It is customary for the Leader of the House to open our all-too-frequent guillotine debates with a short speech stating in summary form the purpose of the Bill, often its principal provisions and why the debate that has already taken place in Committee should be curtailed. That familiar pattern was repeated this afternoon, with an interesting postscript about the report of the Select Committee on Procedure, which I hope will be debated by the House soon.

The shortest section of the right hon. Gentleman's exceptionally short speech was that devoted to the purposes of the Bill, and I understand why. Indeed, to be told that the Bill states the Government's positive attitude to industry is sufficient commentary on the lack of reasons contained in the speech of the Leader of the House.

It is no surprise to the Opposition that the Bill has nothing to do with the hallowed Tory objectives which normally accompany privatisation measures —the promotion of competition and efficiency. It has everything to do with the pressing requirements of this year's Budget. In short, the Bill is about rescuing the Chancellor of the Exchequer from making still more ferocious cuts in public expenditure or from increasing still further the weight of taxation on the economy.

In the autumn of this year the Government expect to raise between £6 billion and £8 billion from the sale of the British Gas Corporation—depending on the timing and the offered price. The sales of nationalised assets appear in the national accounts as negative public expenditure. The Government will thus be able to finance extra public expenditure—which they will not do—further to reduce the public sector borrowing requirement, to which they might wish to make a contribution or, best of all, to cut taxation and thus sweeten the increasingly sour electorate in the penultimate Budget of this Parliament.

Alas for the Chancellor of the Exchequer's political strategy, the collapse of North sea oil prices this year will result in a £5 billion drop in oil tax revenue. The greater part of the proceeds of the sale of the British Gas Corporation will be absorbed by making good the shortfall in North sea taxes. If that vast sum were not available, the Chancellor would have to contemplate either increasing taxation by up to 5p in the pound—a standard rate of 35p—or slashing public expenditure by another £5 billion.

The House should be aware of the magnitude of this sale. Government revenues, for some years, have been fortified by selling publicly owned assets. In the six years from 1979 to 1985, the Government raised £6,650 million by selling publicly owned industries. The sale of the British Gas Corporation will equal the total sum raised in the past six years. If previous sales can be described as selling the silver, then the sale of the British Gas Corporation is the rest of the contents of the house—the tapestries, the pictures, the furniture, the carpets, the chandeliers and a substantial mortgage on the house itself.

We have never had such a vivid demonstration of the subordination of long-term industrial policy to the short-term exigencies of financial and electoral pressures. It is no wonder that the Leader of the House hurriedly skated over this section of his speech and no wonder that he could not bring himself to admit that the Budget imperative and electoral calculations were the true reasons for the Bill.

The British Gas Corporation is one of the outstanding success stories of public ownership. It serves 16 million households and 35 million people. In the past 20 years it has switched its source of supply to the North sea and now provides a national piped gas supply from one end of the country to the other. It has captured the largest part of the rapidly growing domestic central heating market and it has a major share in the space heating market for industrial and commercial users. It is profitable and directly contributes to Government revenue from the taxation on its profits, through a negative external financing limit of £176 million and by the £500 million raised through the gas levy.

It is a nice paradox that the Government have made only three serious complaints against the industry in the past seven years. First, its showrooms were too successful, especially in the sale of gas appliances, in competition with other sellers. Secondly, its main product, gas, was too cheap and too competitive in relation to other energy suppliers. It had to be curbed by a Government imposed levy and raise its prices by 10 per cent. above inflation for three years running. Thirdly, it was too enterprising, having won for itself a substantial stake in North sea oil exploration and exploitation and having played a pioneering role in onshore oil development at Wytch farm. The British Gas Corporation has been forced to sell those profitable diversifications by Government decree. Therefore, there are no arguments on grounds of efficiency, enterprise, industrial relations, prices, profitability or productivity to be advanced in favour of the Bill. The Labour party is absolutely right to oppose it and to point out the muddle and damage that will follow the attempt to establish a giant private monopoly to take the place of the British Gas Corporation and then to attempt to regulate that monopoly for the benefit of consumers and the long-term national interest.

There are formidable problems involved. The transfer from public to private monopoly produces a radical change in the corporation's philosophy and in the dominant influences that will guide its future conduct. If the corporation's primary objective is no longer to serve the public interest, but instead to reward its shareholders, then we may ask: what are the implications for prices? What effect will it have on safety standards? How will short-term profit considerations be accommodated with long-term development needs? Who will decide depletion policy? What will be the strategy on imports and exports?

The Secretary of State for Energy would like to rid himself of his responsibilities, but he cannot. Thus, we have the complex new institutional set-up of the Director General of Gas Supply, Ofgas, the Gas Users' Council, the crucial guidelines on the licence — published a day before Second Reading —and the fallback of the Monopolies and Mergers Commission.

I am not surprised that my right hon. and hon. Friends have been wholly absorbed in Committee with the first part of part I. Within the timetable laid down in this guillotine motion, a further 52 or 53 clauses will fall to be considered, including the whole of the important and controversial part II, under which the corporation is turned into a public limited company and arrangements made for its disposal to private shareholders.

Among the matters that should be fully debated—not under the limitation of the guillotine —are the arrangements being made to sell great blocks of shares not to the public but to investors in New York, Germany and Japan. What limits will be placed on foreign ownership? Will there be a golden share for the Secretary of State? If so, in what areas of decision-making will he have override powers?

This is a totally unnecessary and destructive Bill. There are dangers in it for the consumer and for the national interest. It is merely adding insult to injury to deny the House and the country the advantage of a full and rigorous scrutiny of its provisions. We shall therefore vote against this guillotine.

4.47 pm
Dr. Michael Clark (Rochford)

I am pleased to be able to discuss the timetable motion, because it is an important measure which will ensure that the Bill gets through for the benefit of a variety of people, as my right hon. Friend the Lord Privy Seal said.

It is important for consumers that the Bill goes through, so that we can privatise a resource of great value to the country. If we compare it with previous privatisations, we can say that employees will want to have their shares in this company so that they can participate in the company's equity.

In Committee we have spent a long time talking about many issues and have reached only clause 13 out of 66 clauses. The hon. Member for Wentworth (Mr. Hardy) was kind enough to give us a dissertation on dog breeding.

Mr. Hardy


Dr. Clark

The hon. Gentleman intended to give a dissertation on dog breeding, but was called to order, which prevented us from enjoying his dissertation. We heard about the grubbing up of hedgerows, and we had an interesting lesson on the Inclosure Acts. I have enjoyed all of the hon. Gentleman's informative talks, but we must make progress.

Mr. Hardy

Does the hon. Gentleman accept that the reference to the Inclosure Acts concerned the possibility that private enterprise would have the power—without any consideration of the matter by the Government—to destroy boundary features which are required by law? I was seeking to ensure that the law was not brought into disrepute, and that was a perfectly logical and reasonable arrangement. I have certainly not tried to give a dissertation on dog breeding, though that would have been better than the Bill.

Dr. Clark

I concede that the hon. Gentleman referred to enclosures when we were talking about the compulsory purchase of land. We enjoyed his contribution, which delayed the Bill a little longer and contributed to the timetable motion. The Bill will be approved by the House in due course, and we should get it to the House rather than have it stuck in Committee night after night.

There are many clauses still to be discussed. I should like to discuss three important groups of clauses which will never be reached if we do not accept the timetable motion. They are all of great value to the consumer. We passed clauses 12 and 13, which deal with the calorific value of gas, rather quickly. We knew then that the timetable motion would be put before the House, and we were already speeding up in expectation of it.

We still have to discuss clauses 16 and 17, which refer to standards. They are vital to the consumer. Clause 16 relates to standard pressures of gas supply. Without these standard pressures, we could have pilot flames blowing out and dangers occurring in gas appliances. Consumers will be at risk if we do not have standard pressures.

We also need standards of purity, or gas may contain toxic chemicals and elements which when burnt could poison consumers. We also need, for fairness' sake, a standard calorific value. If gas is supplied below the expected calorific value the consumer pays more for his heat than he should, because gas is measured by volume rather than by calorific value. Clause 16 is vital to ensure that the consumer is protected by a set of standards and is buying a uniform product properly supplied.

Mr. Rowlands

The hon. Gentleman is talking about standard requirements, but the clauses are almost standard. They are substantially those included in the Gas Act 1972, which have been carried forward. They need less scrutiny because they are already substantially in place. He is making a bogus point.

Dr. Clark

I am grateful for that contribution. When we reach clauses 16 and 17 in two or three nights' time, I hope that they will go through extremely quickly, because they are standard clauses.

Clause 17 refers also to meter standards, to ensure that the consumers have meters that measure gas accurately, so that they pay for what they have received.

I come now to clause 18. In Committee, many hours were spent talking about the fact that we must have safety in the gas industry. Of course we must, but unless we reach clause 18 we shall miss an important safety aspect. The clause provides that part I of the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974 will be extended to include protection to the public from the dangers of transmitting gas through pipes —dangers from fire and explosion and the injuries that result. We must ensure that the clause receives fair and proper discussion.

I am sure that other hon. Members will wish to comment on other clauses, but I wish to deal with clauses 28, 29 and 30. They are important. They enable the Director General of Ofgas to investigate complaints and ensure that the Bill's provisions are properly administered. Clause 31 provides for how those complaints will be referred to the Director General and how the Gas Users Council will have an opportunity to pass complaints to him for his investigation.

Clause 36 is important. Consumers will be disappointed if delay in discussing the initial clauses means that we do not reach clause 36, which refers to the price that may be charged for reselling gas. This is of interest to tenants who are charged by their landlords for their gas. The clause ensures that those tenants, often elderly people or students in bedsitters, are not overcharged for the gas that their landlords supply.

In Committee we have had a number of discussions about the units by which gas is measured. We have talked about therms, BTUs, joules and gigajoules. Clause 47 tells us that a therm means 105.506 megajoules. The gigajoules about which we all liked talking must therefore be about 9.48 therms, as I worked out last night. We could use the round figure of 10 therms to a gigajoule. It may be of interest to hon. Members, in particular Opposition Members, to know something about where the word "joules" came from.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. This is very interesting, but I do not see that it has much relevance to the motion.

Dr. Clark

I am concluding my remarks, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Joule was a physicist from Salford. I am sure that the right hon. Member for Salford, East (Mr. Orme) would like to know that. He was instructed by a Professor Rowlands and I thought that the right hon. Gentleman might like to know that as well.

When Joule was experimenting to find a relationship between heat and energy, he realised that too much of the energy being put into the apparatus that he had devised was making sound. Energy was being dissipated as sound. If we are not careful, in Committee we shall also find too much energy being dissipated as sound.

4.57 pm
Mr. Malcolm Bruce (Gordon)

I do not suppose that any of us are surprised to be here, but the Government have brought in the guillotine motion with indecent haste. We have been told that we have reached the 14th clause out of 66. Despite what the hon. Member for Rockford (Dr. Clark) said, I do not think that anyone who reacts our proceedings in Committee will find anything said that was not relevant or urgent.

As the Leader of the House said, the Bill is important. It is the biggest act of privatisation that has ever been witnessed and yet we expect it to go through the House from just before Christmas to the beginning of March, when a great deal of the justification for it has not been provided by the Government.

There has been no statement on whether there will be an allowance for the import and export of gas. That forms a major part of the Bill's background. It is unreasonable for the Government to say that we should get the Bill through the House of Commons before they have deigned to make a policy statement on gas trading. That is one reason why we should not be expected to rush through the remaining clauses.

Those of us who have opposed the Bill haw been extremely worried at the way the Government have been treating the opposition —whether constructive or deliberate. They have not tried to justify their case. They have told us constantly that we have merely to trust that when the Bill goes through and the mechanisms are created everything will be all right. We are not getting the information, and it seems to me that we are entitled to press this case harder than passing the motion would allow. In spite of what the Secretary of State said at Question time today, I suspect that the Government know there is very strong opposition, not just to the privatisation of the BGC, but to the way the Government are doing it. The privatisation does not meet any of the criteria that even the Conservative philosophy would expect. It does not create wider competition. It does not stimulate any new areas of competition. On the contrary, it creates a vast blue chip private monopoly, which is neither adequately regulated nor exposed fully to the competition which could be available.

The one benefit that I hope we may get once the guillotine falls is that the hon. Member for Enfield, Southgate (Mr. Portillo) will feel slightly less inclined to stay in his self-imposed silence and will force the pace on these issues, about which I know he feels strongly, and about which the Conservative Members have been strangely silent. The Government have failed to satisfy me and the hon. Member for Dundee, East (Mr. Wilson) about gas supplies to towns in Scotland which are remotely supplied by tankers rather than connected to the pipeline network. In spite of statements from the Minister that the Bill covers that, he was unable to demonstrate that the Bill is satisfactory in that regard. An amendment is still required to the licence to cover that.

The Bill is being forced through. It has no ideological justification. The Government have accepted precisely one amendment so far, which is to change the proposed Gas Users Council back to the Gas Consumers Council, which is what it was before the Government changed the name. That is the sum of what has been achieved.

Mr. Michael Portillo (Enfield, Southgate)

Is the hon. Gentleman not forgetting the change to clause 4 which introduces a duty on the director general to promote competition in the industry? The hon. Gentleman was probably absent at the time.

Mr. Bruce

I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will be able to explain the great changes that he feels have been made.

The Government have told us that the Bill meets the criteria which they maintain they want it to meet. When pressed, they simply tell us that the Bill covers it. They do not explain how it will work. We know that the Government expect opposition to this Bill in another place, and they are anxious to force it through with their majority here. They know that they will have some difficulty there, where amendments will be proposed to introduce elements of competition to try to break up the centralised monolithic BGC. I diverge from the Labour party on that. It is anxious to retain a centralised monopoly, even if private, presumably because Labour would renationalise it. The Labour party will not be able to renationalise the company, so it is important that the privatised BGC is subjected to the maximum competition and broken up as far as possible so that it is much more transparent and accountable.

The regulatory authority should have real powers to control the private monopoly in the country's best interests. Any amendment which would impose an effective regulatory body is ruled out of order by the money resolution. That is regrettable. The Government cannot say that because the regulatory body cannot be amended here, a future Government could not introduce stronger regulations. I hope that the prospectus for the BGC is published —

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. The hon. Gentleman recognises that what he is saying is outside the motion. I hope that he will address himself to it.

Mr. Bruce

I am grateful, Mr. Deputy Speaker. The fact remains that we are being forced to accept a Bill which has been pushed through with indecent haste. That means that we cannot consider many factors properly, such as the need for a stronger regulatory body. That can be put into the Bill in another place. I hope that that will happen, and that the Government do not subsequently use their majority here to overturn any decision that the other place makes.

The Government are not justified in guillotining the Bill in view of the speed with which they are introducing this major privatisation. Nor have they at any stage attempted to argue their case through. It is an example of the Government forcing a Bill through because they are desperate to get their sticky hands on the money to bail themselves out before inevitable defeat at the next general election.

5.5 pm

Mr. Michael Portillo (Enfield, Southgate)

It often happens that different witnesses to a single event can give very different accounts of what occurred. Listening to the hon. Member for Gordon (Mr. Bruce), I did not recognise what has happened in Committee. I recall that an amendment has been passed which the hon. Member apparently does not remember. He described the Government's response as inadequate. I think that we have had very full replies from my right hon. and hon. Friends, some of which we want to consider further. The hon. Gentleman referred to me as being silent, but I feel guilty for wearying the Committee too frequently. I did not recognise the hon. Gentleman's description.

I am very pleased to support this timetable motion. It was clear on Second Reading that this is a Bill which the House very much wants to pass. It is therefore reasonable for the Government to be allowed to go ahead with their privatisation programme, provided that sufficient consideration is given to the Bill.

The timetable motion proposes another 12 sittings, which seems to be adequate and appropriate for the task. The Bill has, from the outset, been of sufficient complexity and controversy for the need for a timetable motion always to be on the cards. That might lead some Members who have not been involved in the discussions to imagine that the Bill fitted into a stereotype—the Opposition filibuster, Government Back Benchers saying nothing very much and the Government making no concessions. The discussions on this Bill do not fit that stereotype, although some Opposition Members have strayed a little from time to time. At least it will be difficult for the House to understand how dog breeding, hedgerows and dissertations on sexism fit into the Bill. Nevertheless, I pay tribute to Opposition Members for their fine speeches and contributions and for the high standard of research that has gone into them. There has been a great deal of unanimity in our wish to pursue topics such as the status of the consumer under the new arrangements. That has interested all hon. Members. The Committee has been helped considerably by the availability of the Energy Select Committee report, which was published early in our proceedings. That has put the Government in some difficulty, as they have had to respond ad hoc to certain of the Committee's recommendations before they were ready to reply to the report in detail, which, of course, they will do in due course.

There is another facet to the stereotype, which does not apply in this case. There have been many speeches from Conservative Members. Many of them have been directed at a common interest—how the customer will fare under the new arrangements when the BGC passes to the private sector.

It is not true that the Government have steadfastly refused to accept amendments. They have accepted two. They accepted one amendment from the Opposition. Although the Opposition do not appear to be very grateful to the Government for having accepted their amendment, it was substantial. I am only sorry that the right hon. and hon. Friends of the hon. Member for Cynon Valley (Mrs. Clwyd) seem now to deride her achievement. I thought that it was substantial.

The other amendment that was accepted by the Government stood in my name and in the names of several of my hon. Friends. It related to a new duty under clause 4. Again it was a very important amendment, which the Government accepted in a very generous spirit.

My right hon. and hon. Friends gave interesting explanations on a number of other proposed amendments that were withdrawn, voted down or not moved. A number of their replies have settled matters for me, but some of them have not gone so far as that. They have left me, and perhaps other members of the Standing Committee, with food for thought. I hope that the amendments have provided the Government with food for thought and that it will be possible to return to a number of them on Report. Some of the members of the Select Committee on Energy did not spend 85 hours in the Standing Committee, but they have a considerable interest in the Bill. I am sure that they will be anxious to make a contribution on Report and Third Reading.

My right hon. Friend the Leader of the House said that the Standing Committee spent a considerable time on clauses 4 and 7. It was appropriate to consider those clauses in great detail, but the debates were very wide-ranging and a number of general points were raised. They enabled virtually every point of principle to be debated to some extent. Therefore, we ought to have a slightly more disciplined discussion of later clauses because so many general points and points of principle have already been discussed.

A large number of important clauses have yet to be considered. My hon. Friend the Member for Rochford (Dr. Clark) gave his selection of clauses which he hopes will be discussed. Clauses 19 to 21, which govern the conditions for the competitive supply of gas by different gas producers to industrial consumers, are very important and the Committee will want to consider them. However, I accept that the hon. Member for Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney (Mr. Rowlands) may make the point that those clauses are borrowed from previous legislation. Clauses 31 to 40 contain very important provisions relating to the consumer which the Committee will want to study in detail.

The timetable motion will provide the Standing Committee with a suitable opportunity to discuss these important matters. However, there will be increased pressure upon all of us to confine our remarks to what is in the strictest sense relevant and to make them as terse and pithy as they can possibly be.

When I began my speech I said that I disagreed with the hon. Member for Gordon, but I agree with him about the difficulty of proceeding without knowing what the import-export regime will be. I made that point in Committee, but it arises with particular force as we think about the timetable motion.

It is difficult to judge the full effects of the Bill until there is a policy statement by the Government about the import and export of gas. We need to know what the market conditions will be at the point where the gas is produced: whether it will be sold to somebody who will supply the final customer or whether it will be sold directly to the final customer. We do not yet know whether there will be a free market for the import and export of gas, or whether an independent supplier will have the option of selling his gas to a body other than British Gas if he ins not interested in providing gas directly to the customer. Until we know the answer to that question, it is difficult to judge whether the proposed regulatory regime is appropriate.

During the proceedings in Standing Committee I referred to this as a bit of a jigsaw. I said that some of the pieces are missing and that it is difficult to gauge what the final picture will be. I appreciate that it is by no means easy for the Government to decide what kind of regime is appropriate. These are complicated matters, and I know that the Government would like to be able to make an enduring statement. There is no point in making a statement that will soon have to be reviewed. I realise that it takes time for these matters to be settled. Nevertheless, this matter is of crucial importance.

I pay tribute to my right hon. and hon. Friends for their co-operation in providing us at an early stage with the draft authorisation for British Gas. I pay tribute to them also for the excellent briefing that they supplied to all the members of the Standing Committee. Therefore, I believe that the Government will want to settle as soon as possible this very important question about the import-export regime. All hon. Members will want to be able to have information about it before Report and Third Reading.

With that proviso, I am happy to support the timetable motion. If we are to be deprived of potentially 300 hours of further debate in Standing Committee, that is a deprivation up with which I shall be most happy to put.

5.17 pm
Mr. Michael Cocks (Bristol, South)

The hon. Member for Enfield, Southgate (Mr. Portillo) referred to another piece of the jigsaw falling into place. That has happened for me this evening. I notice that one member of the Government team is missing from the Treasury Bench, the hon. Member for Wirral, West (Mr. Hunt), the Under-Secretary of State for Energy. Throughout the Standing Committee proceedings I have persistently suggested that, because of his comparative innocence and naivety, he has not been included in the discussions about the matters of a more shady character, such as timetable motions. I suspect that his absence from the Treasury Bench is probably because he has not been told about this debate. It will come as a surprise to him tomorrow when he finds the proceedings moving along a little more quickly than they have done so far.

It is most appropriate that I should speak in a debate on a guillotine motion. It is the first speech that I have made on the Floor of the House since I was guillotined by my constituency management committee. A majority of the management committee decided that I was no longer a fit and proper person to represent them in Parliament. I shall not dilate on that theme, or even mention the fact that the majority of those who thought that I was not a fit and proper person to be a Member of Parliament came into the constituency from another constituency after the redistribution of seats that took place before the last general election.

I have been a Government business manager and I therefore understand the need for Governments to move timetable motions from time to time. On one occasion my right hon. Friend the Member for Blaenau Gwent (Mr. Foot) and I had five timetable motions on the Thursday business statement. They were put through during the following week. You may recall, Mr. Deputy Speaker, the unfortunate circumstances that led to that build-up of pressure, but as soon as we had the results of the Thurrock and Rotherham by-elections we were able to proceed. This Government are under no such pressure. There was a need for timetable motions at that time. The five Bills that were under discussion on that occasion were most admirable measures. They were well thought out. It had taken a long time to polish and hone them. That does not apply to this Bill.

When the Leader of the House opened the debate, he referred to the report of the Select Committee on Procedure. Leaving aside our party political differences, I am full of goodwill towards the Leader of the House. However, it seemed to me that he was even more oblique than usual. A thick fog seemed to surround any effort to penetrate what he meant to say. On one occasion in the House he was quite flattered when I said he was like Prince K. S. Ranjisinhji in the way he gently dabbed the ball to off or glanced it to leg. In his reply the Leader of the House said he preferred to be likened to Jessup. I was too polite to point out that Jessup's nickname was "The Croucher". On this occasion the right hon. Gentleman crouched so low that he practically disappeared from sight. No doubt he will make himself plain in due course.

The Leader of the House spoke about measured considerations and quoted the right hon. Chuter Ede in the brief post-war Attlee Government. In Committee I have pressed on the Government the views of Lord Morrison of Lambeth about the gas nationalisation in that post-war period. Those views were endorsed during the passage of the 1972 Act by the right hon. Gentleman who is now the Secretary of State for Transport, so things have regressed since then. A timetable on this Bill is inappropriate, because as we unravel what I will politely call the Government's thinking behind the Bill, and as we try to tear away the successive veils and shrouds, it becomes quite clear that the Bill has not been thought out in the same way as the original nationalisation proposals were thought out.

When we ask the Government what estimates and extrapolations have been made by the Department, the answer that comes back, whether it is in 10 sentences or 10 paragraphs, boils down to "No." Beyond the doctrinaire decision to privatise this industry, there has been very little forward thinking about the effect it will have. Hon. Members will know that the nationalisation of the gas industry took place only after prolonged study, and the Heyworth report was the most substantial contribution to the thinking.

In Committee, we have not yet had any real information about the effects on safety, research and development, and the guarantees that will be given to people who are working in the industry. I hope that some information about those matters will be forthcoming when the Committee resumes.

I notice the appearance of the Under-Secretary, and I apologise for not giving him notice that I intended to mention him. It came as a complete surprise to me that he was absent from the Front Bench, and that was when the piece of the jigsaw mentioned by the hon. Member for Enfield, Southgate fell into place. I happily apologise, but I did not realise until I noted his absence that my worst fears were to be confirmed.

The Government have not properly thought out the effects on all the people I have mentioned. There has also been an effect on Opposition Members in the Standing Committee. When we were having a debate the other night, my hon. Friend the Member for Burnley (Mr. Pike) told the Committee that the showrooms in Padiham in his constituency had been closed. I asked him to give us more information, because it struck me that an unkind mind might interpret that punishing a Back-Bench Member of the Opposition for daring to raise something appertaining to his own constituency. My theory is burgeoning, because when I arrived in London this weekend I found a letter addressed to my wife. It was a disconnection notice from the North Thames gas board.

Mr. Gordon Wilson (Dundee, East)

Has the right hon. Gentleman paid the bill?

Mr. Cocks

The hon. Member for Dundee, East (Mr. Wilson) has a suspicious mind. The bill had already been paid, as I was able to establish on the blower this morning. I was told to disregard the disconnection notice. But imagine the effect on a housewife of opening a thing like that.

Hon. Members may think that is not an entirely serious point, but if evidence continues to build up, then it will be drawn formally to the attention of the Leader of the House. Although the Leader of the House is not present, I hope he will study the remarks that are made in his absence. [HON. MEMBERS: Where is he?] Hon. Members are asking where he is. I have to say to them that the only person who works harder in the House than the Leader of the House is the Patronage Secretary. I hope that nothing disparaging will be said about the Leader of the House, because he has multifarious duties. I hope he will study the remarks that have been made and that the Government will think about them and be much more forthcoming.

I hope also that when we resume in Committee the Government will be much more forthcoming about how they see the future of this industry. As my right hon. Friend the Member for Bethnal Green and Stepney (Mr. Shore) said, this industry is one of the great success stories. Through lack of foresight, the Government are in danger of spoiling it. I hope that at the end of this debate, when we get a reply from the Government, more information will be forthcoming about all the points raised time and again in Committee.

5.26 pm
Mr. John Watts (Slough)

I hope that the right hon. Member for Bristol, South (Mr. Cocks) will not find that British Gas plc will send him a disconnection notice for a bill that he has already paid.

As I listened to the speech of the right hon. Member for Bethnal Green and Stepney (Mr. Shore), I was pleasantly surprised to find that it contained few of the ritual protestations about the death of free speech in this House. In my two and a half years in the House, speeches like that have seemed to be part of the ritual of the opposition to timetable motions. Perhaps the right hon. Gentleman's speech was foreshadowed by the deafening silence that greeted the announcement of the timetable motion last Thursday.

This Standing Committee has been one of the most good natured that it has been my privilege to serve upon, and I join my hon. Friend the Member for Enfield, Southgate (Mr. Portillo), in paying tribute to the well-informed and interesting speeches from both sides on the Committee. I hesitate to suggest that the Opposition tactic was to filibuster. I was a member of the Standing Committee on the Finance Bill two years ago when it set a record of 150 hours, so perhaps I have a somewhat generous view of what constitutes filibustering.

I welcome the full consideration given in Standing Committee to certain clauses which have now, thankfully, been disposed of, not least those which refer to the duties of the Secretary of State and the proposed Director General, and the terms of the proposed licence to the British Gas Corporation.

The hon. Member for Gordon (Mr. Bruce), suggested there was indecent haste in coming forward with this timetable motion. I cannot agree with him, just as I cannot agree with his complaint that contributions from the Conservative side of the Committee were strangely absent.

My hon. Friend the Member for Southgate commented on the remarkable fact that two witnesses to the same event can see different things. To be a witness to an event, one must be present at the event. Rather than contributions from our side of the Committee being strangely absent, the hon. Member for Gordon was markedly absent from our proceedings on a number of occasions. I have no doubt that his failure to recollect the important amendment tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Southgate, with my support and that of my hon. Friends, and the generous and gracious way in which it was accepted by the Government can be accounted for by the fact that he was not present on that occasion.

Mr. Bruce

I certainly was.

Mr. Watts

If the hon. Gentleman was present, his lapse of memory is all the more regrettable.

My hon. Friend the Member for Derby, North (Mr. Knight) and I sought to make an important amendment to the Bill to impose a duty on the Director General to promote competition in the energy supply sector in general and not merely in the gas industry. I was disappointed that my proposals were greeted with derision by Labour Members, not least because the amendment was suggested to me by an important trade union in the energy supply sector. In view of the scathing criticism of my proposal, I concluded that no point would be served by pressing it to a vote, so I withdrew the amendment.

Those examples show that the allegation that there have been few contributions from Conservative Members does not bear examination.

I welcome the full consideration that the Committee has been giving to important clauses, but I feel that without the structure of a timetable there will be a tendency for the concern and commitment of hon. Members on both sides to lead them into being rather too thorough in their detailed consideration of the Bill.

The Committee has a clear duty to give the Bill close scrutiny, but it is important that it paces itself so that all the important parts of the Bill receive that scrutiny, and so that this important reform can be enacted at the earliest opportunity. It will bring many benefits to our national economy, to domestic and industrial gas consumers and to employees of the BGC, who will have an opportunity to participate in the ownership of this successful and important industry. There is a danger that the Committee could be so assiduous in the discharge of its duties that the reform will fall for lack of time. That would be a disaster. The timetable motion will ensure that the dual objectives of adequate consideration and the passage of the Bill in this Session are achieved.

The right hon. Member for Bethnal Green and Stepney advanced the interesting notion that the timetable motion was connected with the 1Budget, which is due to be presented on 18 March. The motion requires us to report the Bill by 6 March, and it must have two more days for Report and Third Reading. After that, it has to go to another place. Even with the great skills of our business managers, it is unlikely that this important measure will be enacted before 18 March.

Of the clauses which we have not yet reached, and which we might take some time to reach without a timetable motion, I am particularly interested in the common carrier provisions in the clauses after clause 19. This aspect of the legislation first excited my interest in gas matters.

Energy has not always been foremost in my interests in the House or outside, but about 18 months ago one of the major industrial firms in my constituency told me that it was having difficulty in securing a gas supply from the BGC or any other supplier.

In my naivety, I said, "This is simple. The Oil and Gas (Enterprise) Act gives you the right to purchase a supply from a gas producer and make use of the mains of the BGC to bring the supply to your premises. Why do you not make use of that Act?" I was told that the good intentions of existing legislation had become a dead letter because the British Gas Corporation refused to specify the terms on which it would make its pipeline network available to those seeking a private supply and because the BGC leaned on gas producers to dissuade them from entering into private supply contracts with industrial consumers.

I believe that the clauses after clause 19 will considerably strengthen provisions to stimulate competition in the supply of gas to industry. They represent a considerable advance on existing legislation. In Committee I shall seek to press Ministers for an assurance that my understanding of how the provisions will operate is correct and that the Bill opens up more competition in the commercial supply of gas. If it were not for the timetable motion, the time that is necessary to consider that part of the Bill might not be available to us.

Although my experience in the House is relatively short, I believe that the workings of the House, and particularly of its Standing Committees, would be better accomplished if all Bills were timetabled before being sent to Committee. That is the only way to ensure adequate consideration of important clauses in important legislation, and it would also benefit the Opposition parties. Without the restraints of a timetable, they may feel under an obligation to spin out the time. I do not suggest that that has happened on this Bill, but there is a tendency for Opposition parties to feel that they have to take all the time at their disposal. Otherwise, some in the House or outside —perhaps their general management committees —may feel that they had not been doing their duty by opposing Bills as vigorously as they should. However, the adoption of such tactics may lead to disproportionate consideration being given to early clauses which may not be the most important parts of the legislation, with the result that too little time is left for the later clauses. Therefore, I firmly favour the principle of timetabling and the motion before us.

5.38 pm
Mr. Peter Hardy (Wentworth)

I should start by responding to the hon. Member for Rochford (Dr. Clark), who referred to speeches that I had made about the Inclosure Acts, piracy and one or two other matters. The hon. Gentleman ought to recall that those speeches were made after the Government decided to introduce the guillotine.

The hon. Member for Slough (Mr. Watts) was the third of the 12 Conservative Back Benchers on the Standing Committee to speak in the debate, and it will be interesting to see where the other Conservative speakers come from. Nine of the Conservative Members on the Committee have not yet spoken, and the only one in the Chamber at present is the hon. Member for Salisbury (Mr. Key), who is given to reading improving works of literature. We are told that the debates in Committee have been interesting and good-humoured, and one would imagine that they would have been in the Chamber to justify the Government's decision.

The hon. Member for Slough spoke in favour of a timetable, and there is a powerful argument in its favour. Many concede that it is sensible, although it means that the Opposition have sacrificed their only weapon—time. Even so, the Opposition should always consider whether to agree to a timetable if the Government of the day are putting forward a measure that is both in the national interest and is democratically sound, having been included in a mandate. It must also be approached in a spirit of responsibility.

In his thin speech, the Leader of the House justified the guillotine by saying that the policy was in the Tory party mandate. It was in the mandate, but one would have imagined that as the idea had been so much in the Government's mind, by now they would have made clear all their intentions and provided all the relevant information. As my right hon. Friend the Member for Bethnal Green and Stepney (Mr. Shore) said, many questions remain unanswered, despite the Government's long commitment to the measure.

As we are still not adequately informed about the Government's proposals, and as there is a high-handed and arrogant approach that denies us basic information, the Government cannot complain that the Bill has been subjected to searching scrutiny. We have an obligation to the House to operate with searching diligence. I regret only that that diligence has not yet been adequately rewarded and recognised by the provision of vital items of information, a list of which I shall not repeat because my right hon. Friend the Member for Bethnal Green and Stepney spelt them out. We need to know the Government's intentions. We need the relevant estimates, and we need to know by how much the Treasury will benefit from this act of piracy—I make no apology for repeating the reference that I first made in Committee last Thursday.

The Minister should understand that we are concerned about the people who work in British Gas. It is true that from time to time quiet murmurs of appreciation have emanated from the Government Benches, but some profound anxieties remain in the industry. For example, the Minister made it clear that one third of gas supplies produced by British Gas are vulnerable to change. If British Gas were to lose anything like that proportion of its provision to the private sector, the implications for those who work in the gas industry would be substantial. We are right to reflect their anxieties, because, as the Minister has recognised, British Gas is probably the most successful large commercial undertaking in these islands. It is successful because of the efforts of those who work in the industry. They deserve rather better than to be subject to the greed being displayed by the Government, although it is being displayed in less than offensive tones.

I referred in Committee to an anxiety expressed by a constituent, an employee of the National Bus Company, who had given excellent service but who was left in uncertainty about his superannuation. I am afraid that the good services of employees in the gas industry could be treated in the same way. The most important aspects of our consideration must reflect the national interest. Over the past 10 years British Gas has had an operating profit of £11,791 million. That is a substantial sum and we need to know whether the Government's proceeds from the sale of British Gas will be anything like the yield that British Gas has provided to the Treasury over the past 10 years.

It would be remarkably stupid if the Government were to accept, as the proceeds from a sale, a sum that was less than could be yielded from the industry's annual harvest. That would show a fecklessness which no other Parliament would have tolerated. Before we decide to go blissfully ahead and co-operate with the Government in a measure such as this, we are entitled to ask whether it is in the national economic interest. Our suspicions do not give rise to any reassurance on that point.

There are two other aspects of this matter. In Committee there have been murmurings from Tory Back Benchers and from Ministers about the need to promote competition. I can understand people wanting some competition. I can understand the entrepreneur wanting a share of the gas market in the densely populated areas, where there is high gas consumption. I wonder how many Conservative Members would regard with respect an entrepreneur who wished to supply gas to Caithness and Sutherland, or to other less populated areas of Britain which Conservative Members represent and claim to be proud to serve. I am not sure that the competition argument will ever be as tenable as Conservative Members like to suggest.

Another aspect of the matter should give rise to serious concern, and the Minister has not satisfied us on that point yet. British Gas has a tremendously successful record in research and development.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. I have listened carefully to what the hon. Member has been saying but he has not been addressing himself carefully to the motion. I hope that he will consider the extent to which his remarks are relevant.

Mr. Hardy

I should have thought that my remarks were as relevant as, if not more relevant than, some of my speeches in Committee have been.

The House should not confer the power that a timetable motion provides and allow the Government to take dictatorial action that might threaten the research and development record of British Gas. There is a serious threat, because some of the profits from British Gas that have financed its superb record of research and development will be imperilled. We shall see yet another sector of British industry on the slippery slope to decline; a decline which has been very marked, and our progress down which has been accelerated in the past five years.

The House should always consider a timetable motion, but should do so recognising that the Government should never ask for a timetable motion until all the questions relevant to the Bill have been answered in Committee. As my right hon. Friend the Member for Bethnal Green and Stepney said, questions have remained unanswered, and until answers are given, and there can be an assurance that the national interest is not being betrayed, the Opposition are entitled to maintain their steady determination. Perhaps we should retain some obduracy before allowing the Government to exercise their will.

The Government have an enormous majority, which has allowed them to operate in an atmosphere of arrogance. That is demonstrated by the absence from this debate of the majority of Tory Members who serve on the Committee. No doubt they will cheer when the timetable motion is approved, but I hope that in the period remaining we shall have at least sufficient time to discuss the rest of the Bill. That would be helped by the pithy contributions asked for by the hon. Member for Enfield, Southgate (Mr. Portillo). If there are such pithy speeches from Conservative Members, I hope that none of them will speak at such a length that they will prevent proper consideration in Committee of the important clauses.

I do not know whether the Government will find it offensive if I say that they have exercised an arrogant and insensitive power, but that is the impression which I hope the country will feel has been created.

5.50 pm
Mr. Geoffrey Lofthouse (Pontefract and Castleford)

On Second Reading hon. Members referred to the indecent haste with which the Government have forced us to consider the Bill. We have had no chance to digest the contents of the licence. The Government continued that indecent haste in Committee. We were honoured in Committee by the presence of the Secretary of State. I regret that he is not here now. The right hon. Gentleman has been talking to his right hon. and hon. Friends. Perhaps he is trying to convince them of the Bill's value. Perhaps he is trying to convince them about something else. Perhaps the leadership is at stake.

The Standing Committee disregarded the Select Committee's work. The Select Committee spent time examining conditions in the industry in an attempt to guide the Standing Committee. There is no evidence that the Standing Committee considered the Select Committee's findings. I regret that some hon. Members who made recommendations in Select Committee failed to support them in the Standing Committee. That must have been embarrassing for them. The time spent by the Select Committee assisting the Standing Committee has been ignored. That brings the Select Committee system into disrepute. The Minister shakes his head. I hope that he will tell us later that he accepts our amendments, which are based upon the Select Committee's recommendations.

Dr. Michael Clark

In Committee, when similar comments were made by the hon. Member for Pontefract and Castleford (Mr. Lofthouse), I said that note had been taken of the Select Committee's recommendations by Government Members and had been listened to carefully by Ministers. I said that proposals in the Bill acknowledged the Select Committee's recommendations, although not in the precise way suggested by the Select Committee.

Mr. Lofthouse

The hon. Member is saying that words were used to get round the Select Committee's recommendations. That is what I said in Committee and he knows it to be right.

More time must be allowed for us to debate the Bill. The Bill proposes selling the nation's assets. II is an attempt by Government to increase the Treasury's wealth for a short-term political gain. Few people fail to see that. This is the economy of the pawnshop. The Government say that they must fulfil their manifesto commitment before the next election. But where will they get the money?

The Bill permits the largest denationalisation exercise ever witnessed. We are talking about £6 billion or £8 billion of income for the Treasury and about limiting the number of hours in which the Committee can digest the Bill.

Many members of the Standing Committee are not present today. But all Labour members of the Committee have been here because they are gravely concerned that the Committee has not been given sufficient time to consider fully major legislation.

Mr. Robert C. Brown (Newcastle upon Tyne, North)

Is my hon. Friend aware that the Tory Whips are touring the Corridors trying to drag in their hon. Friends? I understand that they have been able to drag in four of their hon. Friends, including the hon. Member for Northampton, North (Mr. Marlow). I overheard an hon. Lady tell a Tory Whip to something off. That shows the interest that Tory Members have in the Bill.

Mr. Lofthouse

I agree that it shows the disregard which Government Members have for the Bill.

We need more time because many Government Members have not had time to read the Bill or the Select Committee report. I challenged them about that in Committee. Obviously the Secretary of State has not had time to read the Bill. That is why we need more time. During questions to the Secretary of State for Industry I expressed concern about rights of entry and I was told that the only right of entry was for safety purposes.

Clause 16 is headed Entry for replacing, repairing or altering pipes and states: Any officer authorised by a public gas supplier, after seven clear days' notice to the occupier of any premises, or to the owner or lessee of any premises which are unoccupied, may at all reasonable times, on production of some duly authenticated document showing his authority, enter the premises for the purpose of—

  1. (a) placing a new pipe in the place of any existing pipe which has already been lawfully placed; or
  2. (b) repairing or altering any such existing pipe."

Clause 14 says that the officer may enter for the purpose of

  1. "(a) inspecting the meters, fittings and works for the supply of gas;
  2. (b) ascertaining the quantity of gas supplied;
  3. (c) performing the duty imposed on the supplier by paragraph 1 or 2 above;
  4. (d) exercising the power conferred on the supplier by paragraph 4(3) or 8(7) above; or
  5. (e) in the case of premises where the supplier has reason to believe that a compressor or compressed air or extraneous gas is being used, inspecting the premises and ascertaining whether the provisions of paragraph 8 above are being complied with."

At least there have been certain protections while gas has been a nationalised industry —for example, avenues to Parliament and to the Gas Consumers Council. Is anyone in the House confident that the private sector will give careful consideration to, and not abuse its rights of entry into people's homes? I raised that point in Committee, but received no response.

The Committee took a responsible attitude and very little time has been wasted. Reference has been made to the dog stories of my hon. Friend the Member for Wentworth (Mr. Hardy), but outside of that, little time was wasted. The timetable does not allow sufficient time to complete the Bill.

We all know what this motion is about—it is about grabbing and privatising everything possible during the few short months left to the Government so that they can assist their friends who, in return, will assist them with a contribution to the Tory party.

6.1 pm

Mr. Allan Rogers (Rhondda)

I agree with all that my right hon. and hon. Friends have said about the Government's motives. It is regrettable that they have brought forward a timetable motion on an issue of such significance. There is no doubt that it is based on the dogma and doctrinaire attitude of the Government. The Opposition are well aware that privatisation is nothing more than a rip-off of national assets.

We must put this legislation into the correct context so that people can understand the importance of what is happening. The gas industry has an annual turnover of £7,000 million, it has more than 16 million customers, more than 112,000 employees and superannuated pensioners, net assets of more than £16 million, and makes a profit of £930 million in one year. That is the scale of the industry, and therefore the scale of the rip-off.

The Opposition have nationalised unprofitable industries—those that have been clapped out by private enterprise and turned into loss-making organisations. There are few industries that we have nationalised through dogma—it has been in the national interest or because they have been clapped out by public enterprise.

However, the Conservative Government denationalises only profitable industries so that they can line the pockets of their friends in the City. I accept that they are not hypocritical about that. Perhaps we should learn a few lessons —they have been in power for centuries and learnt how to rip off the country. They desperately wanted to get back into power in 1979 so that they could carry on with the rip-off.

Mr. Tony Marlow (Northampton, North)


Mr. Rogers

If the hon. Gentleman wants to speak, he must try to catch your eye, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Many Opposition Members are waiting patiently to participate in the debate.

The Government have tabled this motion because time is tight for them, and they want to make their pay-offs quickly. They are rushing through the legislation so that their friends in the City and the capitalists in this country —and, indeed, in many overseas—can make a killing from this industry as they have from others.

The hon. Member for Slough (Mr. Watts) suggested that it was a good-natured Committee. I agree, although last Thursday was an exception. Hon. Members have enjoyed participating in the debates. However, the Government's responses to many of the issues raised have been wholly unsatisfactory, other than on the technical and legalistic points relating to the interpretation of the Bill. They have not compromised or accepted any reasonable amendment.

The hon. Member for Enfield, Southgate (Mr. Portillo) said that my hon. Friend the Member for Cynon Valley (Mrs. Clwyd) had managed to put through one amendment. That amendment simply changed the proposed title of Gas Users Council to Gas Consumers Council. As she said, who would want a body whose initials were GUC? That is about the measure of the Government's legislation.

The Government's responses have been poor and have disappointed the Committee. The civil servants provided excellent notes on clauses—which, indeed, were rather better than the Bill itself. Yet even with their help, we have had only doctrinaire answers. The Government continually say, "We are trying to increase competition." That is not the case—they are simply turning a profitable public monopoly into a profitable private monopoly to line the pockets of their friends rather than benefit the taxpayers.

The issues that we have already discussed in Committee have been complicated and range from the responsibilities of the new directorate and regulatory body to compulsory purchase —not only for access to pipelines but for land purchase to build pumping stations and ancillary works —the regulatory issues, the price formula and so on. The hon. Member for Southgate was right to say that many of those matters are nonsense until the Government adopt a proper import-export policy. The Committee also considered service to customers —some 27,000 people a year refer their complaints to the Gas Consumers Council and hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of people have service problems each year. We also discussed standing charges, disconnection, aspects of safety, resource development from the North sea, future investment and obligations to supply. All those technical points on the transfer of massive public assets into private pockets pale into insignificance compared with the fact that more than 100,000 people are being transferred. The hypocrisy of the Government has been shown —when it suited them on the Westland affair, their cry was, "That is what the workers want." Never at any stage in this massive transfer of public assets have the Government consulted the workers in the gas industry. They do not have the guts or the gumption to do that. The Government's hypocritical stance has manifested itself completely in the Bill.

There is no security in this transfer for the workers who have given a lifetime to the industry. As was said earlier, the industry is composed of not just structures, equipment, land or showrooms; people are involved. When the Bill has gone through Parliament, especially the other place, I hope that we shall have been able to secure some sort of future for those people beyond vesting day. I have no confidence that a private monopoly will look upon its staff and give them the facilities in the way that British Gas does.

I am fed up with the Government saying how well British Gas is doing. If British Gas is doing so well, why do not the Government leave it alone? Throughout the Committee stage we have attempted to find the answers to those problems. We have not done so, and after the motion is approved by the House today we shall have to crash through the remaining clauses — clauses of enormous importance. No Conservative Member can accuse us of not tackling the Bill in a responsible manner, apart from some vague criticism of my hon. Friend the Member for Wentworth (Mr. Hardy) after the guillotine motion was mentioned in Committee. We have searched and probed, trying to discover what the position will be.

Labour Members have acted responsibly. This massive transfer of public assets on a scale never before seen in Britain will require the most searching examination and that is why we deplore this timetable motion.

6.11 pm
Mr. Tony Marlow (Northampton, North)

I am pleased to follow the hon. Member for Rhondda (Mr. Rogers), who always makes eloquent and interesting contributions to our debates, although we do not always agree. The hon. Member for Newcastle upon Tyne, North (Mr. Brown) made some dreadful suggestion about the Whips dragging me in, but I came entirely of my own volition. This important matter needs proper debate. If the hon. Gentleman wants to intervene and apologise, I am happy for him to do so.

Mr. Robert C. Brown

I do not wish to apologise. I simply want to ask the hon. Gentleman if he would care to wait for a moment while I go to the Library and get a Bible for him to swear on.

Mr. Marlow

If the hon. Gentleman wants to get a Bible, I shall be quite happy to swear on it.

Mr. Eric Forth (Mid-Worcestershire)

Will my hon. Friend confirm that the Whips have never forced him to do anything?

Mr. Marlow

There is quite a lot of truth in what my hon. Friend says.

The Government have been accused of arrogance. The Opposition always accuse the Government of arrogance when we debate a timetable motion. The world record for the largest number of guillotine motions in any one Session or any one day belongs to the Labour party. It does not improve our deliberations on such issues if we accuse each other of arrogance.

I have spent quite a lot of time on various Committees. At the moment I am a member of the Committee which is examining the Housing and Planning Bill, on which there seems to be a certain amount of common ground, and we are having a great deal of sensible discussion. Previously I have been on Committees, such as that which discussed the Telecommunications Bill when we had hours of sterile discussion because the Opposition had been told by their paymasters, as they probably have in this case, that they must defeat, delay and hammer the Bill at all costs. I am not being critical, because that is true of Oppositions of whatever party.

The time seems to be coming when we shall have a more sensible way of dealing with such issues. Although I am not an expert on the Bill, I am pleased to see that the timetable motion—I call it that rather than a guillotine —is taking place after only 85 hours of debate and that procedures are being set out whereby time can be allocated sensibly for the future discussion of the Bill.

I am enthusiastic to get the Bill on the statute book because the whole country is enthusiastic to get the Bill on the statute book. If it is to be on the statute book, it must be properly debated, and I am sure that in the time remaining, in the procedures outlined by my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House, it will be properly debated.

I remember canvassing during the general election and every so often we would see a yellow van which belonged to British Telecom. Our manifesto committed us to privatising—or putting into proper public ownership—BT. There was some controversy about that, and, understandably, many workers in BT were worried. I can remember my helper, as helpers sometimes do, saying, "Look, there is one of those yellow vans. Let's move on quickly because we do not want to get bogged down." We did not do that. We stopped and discussed the matter. We answered queries and debated the issue with people from BT. But there is no doubt that at the time they were worried about the forthcoming privatisation.

The hon. Member for Rhondda said that we had not consulted the workers. Has he consulted the workers in BT since that company's privatisation? If he did, I think that he would find overwhelming support for the measure and overwhelming enthusiasm among the workers in that industry for what the Government have done. That is why, following the success of the privatisation of BT, we should move as rapidly, efficiently and effectively as we decently can to put this new and exciting measure on the statute book.

Dr. Michael Clark

The hon. Member for Rhondda (Mr. Rogers) said that there was no security in a privatised company, but does not the fact that 95 per cent. of BT employees have purchased shares in their company show that they feel that it is entirely secure, and is not exactly the same likely to happen with British Gas?

Mr. Marlow

It is generally agreed that the privatisation of BT was an overwhelming success. It is increasingly being seen as an overwhelming success for the taxpayer, the consumer and the work force. Workers were effectively encouraged to buy shares in their industry, and we are now reaping the benefits of that. During the election campaign BT was an issue. Subsequently, I had quite a lot of correspondence from workers in BT before privatisation. They were worried about what would happen. They felt uncertain about the future. Since privatisation there has been nothing but enthusiasm—nothing but a success story.

I am not inviting them, but I have not yet had one letter from anybody in the gas industry complaining or worrying about the Bill. They are only too happy to follow the example of BT. They are only too enthusiastic to get the measure under way so that they can share in the success that they have seen their friends and brothers in BT share.

The Bill has been described as an act of piracy, and the hon. Member for Rhondda asked why the Government privatise only profitable companies, not loss-makers. It would be extremely difficult to go to the market with something that has made a loss and to ask somebody to buy it. People might ask for some money to take it away. My hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton, South-West (Mr. Budgen) rightly said that if the price is low enough there will always be a buyer. But if one has the chance, it is far better to move a company into profit so that a better price can be obtained.

The hon. Member for Rhondda also said that the Government want to proceed with the Bill only because they want to line the pockets of their friends. No doubt, he is an avid reader of newspapers. He will have read in several newspapers today that National Freight Corporation workers who bought shares in their own business now find that their shares are worth 22 times more than when they bought them. If any people are lining their pockets, it is those who work in the businesses and industries, and that is how it should be.

I hope that British Gas workers, like British Telecom workers, will buy their full quota of shares when the issue comes on to the market, because that will do them nothing but good. If they make a gain, as I believe they will, I am sure that all Conservative Members—I cannot speak for the Opposition—will be happy.

Mr. Lofthouse

Is the hon. Gentleman aware that a short time ago the Prime Minister advised me not to believe everything I read in newspapers?

Mr. Marlow

I think that we can take that intervention as it comes and pass on without bothering to refer to it. Privatisation is one of the Government's great themes. It has been one of the great successes of this Parliament. We have had success with British Telecom. We are sbout to have success with British Gas. It is clear that the industries in the nationalised sector which have been privatised and given to the people have produced better results for the consumer, the taxpayer and, above all, for the people who work in them. I hope that, if we get this measure under way quickly and effectively, the lessons we have learnt from the nationalised industries will be applicable to the nationalised services, whether it be housing, schools or hospitals. That is why I wish this measure godspeed.

6.21 pm
Mr. Gordon Wilson (Dundee, East)

I am not sure that the hon. Member for Northampton, North (Mr. Marlow) has raised the tone of our proceedings, but he has been wrong in two respects about British Telecom. He said that the workers welcomed privatisation; but there have been redundancies in Dundee, where there is more than 17 per cent. unemployment, and British Telecom has not shown the slightest consideration. I am not sure whether that was caring capitalism. Domestic charges for telephone calls are some of the highest in Europe. I suspect that, in years to come, the constituents of the hon. Member for Northampton, North and many others will regret having to pay an excessive amount for gas compared with current charges.

The Secretary of State for Energy (Mr. Peter Walker)

As a matter of interest, will the hon. Gentleman confirm whether his party is in favour of renationalising British Telecom?

Mr. Wilson

We would certainly be in favour of British Telecom being in the public sector. It is daft to have a telecommunications system in the private sector. If the right hon. Gentleman thought that he would cause me embarrassment on that score, let me disabuse him. The main problem in taking British Telecom back into public ownership is, in a sense, financing it. I have no doubt that BT's domestic consumers would be better looked after than they are by the privatised company.

I have nothing against timetable motions per se. I suspect that hon. Members would say that they warmly favour the use of a timetable motion. When hon. Members move from Opposition to Government, they usually cast aside their arguments and deploy timetable motions. The timetable motion is good in principle, but because of the inertia that governs this place, we do not have adequate timetabling arrangements. We shall have to wait for the report by the Select Committee on Procedure.

The time taken to debate this legislation has not been excessive. This important measure should be given greater consideration. I do not think, even though I have suffered with other Committee members, that the consideration should be shortened by so much. Questions should be asked about the Standing Committee system rather than about timetabling. It is ludicrous that we can spend up to 150 hours in Standing Committee when more than half of the Committee's members, because of the Government's inbuilt majority, are constrained to be silent and not allowed to participate, with the honourable exception of the hon. Member for Enfield, Southgate (Mr. Portillo).

Mr. Portillo

The hon. Gentleman's statement is not correct. I am not the honourable exception. A fairly large number of Conservative Members have contributed to the debate.

Mr. Wilson

The hon. Gentleman should read the Committee's proceedings. The scales are not tipped too heavily by the contributions of Conservative Back Benchers. The hon. Gentleman might wish to say that the quality of the contributions has been high, but that would suggest that he was moving from his usual standards of humility, and I am sure that he would not wish to do that.

Conservative Members have contributed to the Committee's debates. The hon. Member for Enfield, Southgate was probably at his most efficient in that he tabled amendments and spoke to them. However, when it came to the vote, he back-tracked as fast as he could. My hon. Friend the Member for Gordon (Mr. Bruce) and I spoke in favour of an amendment that the hon. Member for Enfield, Southgate had tabled and commended to us, but, when the hon. Gentleman sought leave of the Committee to withdraw it, we had to force it to the vote. We had the strange circumstance of the Labour Opposition, with members of the Liberal and Scottish National parties, voting in favour of competition and the Government voting against. At least the hon. Member for Enfield, Southgate had the decency to abstain from the vote on his amendment.

If we are to change our timetabling procedures, we should look at Standing Committees. This morning, I glanced at a copy of the "Commonwealth Parliamentarian", a rather weighty magazine, which said that the Canadian Government are taking steps to relax the Whips' powers—no doubt that sent a shudder through the Government and Opposition—and that Government Members would be expected to increase their participation in debates. Because of the origins of the Canadian Parliament, Canadian procedures are akin to ours.

We have not had sufficient time to consider the Gas Bill. I shall vote against the guillotine motion. It is a matter of mobilising the big battalions. The Government have the right to shorten the debate, but the Bill is bad because it will lead to higher gas prices. It will be deeply damaging because it takes powers from the regional areas and gives them to London. We have not tackled the significant energy issues relating to gas supplies in the 1990s. The issues have not been resolved to my satisfaction. We have not dealt with import-export problems. I suspect that a statement will be made on that subject as soon as the Gas Bill is on its way to the other place.

6.27 pm
Mr. Peter Pike (Burnley)

The privatisation of British Gas is an important issue to the people. The hon. Member for Northampton, North (Mr. Marlow) said —he has now left the Chamber—that privatisation has been a success, but he failed to say for whom it has been a success. It certainly has not been a success for the nation as a whole. The hon. Gentleman failed also to say what will happen to the Government once they have no more assets to privatise and are faced with loss of income in each successive year.

Privatisation of British Gas, once the legislation is forced through, will mean that the nation will probably get only about half the corporation's value in real terms as income —£6 billion or £7 billion, which is only half what it is worth. The nation will lose also more than £1 billion year after year in profits which could have been used to its benefit.

The Opposition have tried to move constructive amendments in Committee. We have not attempted to delay proceedings. On many occasions, Ministers have to some extent agreed with our comments. I have asked them why, if they believe that British Gas is so successful, they need to privatise it. They have said that they need to remove the shackles of public ownership from British Gas. I have repeated, and I am sure my hon. Friends agree, that if they had proposed a Bill which removed shackles and gave the sort of freedom that should bear on that public asset I would be prepared to support it.

We have sought at all stages to move amendments that would protect this important national energy supply. It is an issue that we could debate for many hours and it is right that there should be sufficient time to debate it in Committee. We believe that the Government are failing to recognise the importance of gas for our essential overall energy requirements and the need to have a national energy policy. Gas should be publicly owned.

We have tried to protect the consumer. Time after time the Government have said that they wish to seek the protection of the consumer, but they have failed to accept a single amendment which would write such protection into the Bill. If they really believe that consumers are entitled to that protection they should be prepared to move in that direction. Of course, they are issues which we have to debate again, but the Government are now to curtail the time that is available. I believe that the protection of the consumer is an important aspect and that the Government should be moving in that direction. They are prepared to believe that market considerations will make privately owned British Gas take the consumer into account, but I would prefer to see them protected by legislation if the industry has to go into the private sector.

Another important aspect we have tried to protect is the interests of the staff and employees of British Gas. The Government express sympathy for them, but they are not prepared to accept a single amendment that would protect the rights of the employees in the industry. We recognise that the consultation procedure in British Gas at present is excellent and we have tried to move amendments that will build on that basis and improve employee participation in the industry. Surely, if they believe that employees should have shares at a discount and preference price—which I would not disagree with if the industry has to be privatised —why do they not also enable an employee of British Gas to be on the board of directors? It has to be said that the percentage of shares that will be owned by employees, even if every single employee bought a share, would be a small proportion.

We have also tried to move amendments for important protection for safety and again they keep referring to the Health and Safety Executive. I accept that it will be covered by the Health and Safety Executive, but once this vital and important industry is in the private sector we would like to see it have several of those important issues protected by legislation.

In Committee I referred briefly to the closure of showrooms. My right hon. Friend the Member for Bristol, South (Mr. Cocks) also referred to it. I said that I feared that privatisation would lead to closure and we moved an amendment to protect them. I have since received a letter dated 11 February 1986, to which I referred in the last Committee sitting, from Mr. B. Thompson, regional secretary of British Gas North Western which informs me that the Padiham showroom in my constituency is to be closed on 18 July 1986. We will obviously debate the issue further in Committee, but I believe that that showroom is being closed in preparation for privatisation. When privatisation takes place profit will be more important that service and the national interest will also be of second rate importance. We believe that the amendments we have debated in Committee have been constructive in the interests of the nation and the consumers.

6.34 pm
Mrs. Ann Clwyd (Cynon Valley)

As hon. Members will know, with great reluctance I left the Committee considering the Felixstowe Dock and Railway Bill to devote more time to the Gas Bill, because I believed that it was in the interests of my constituents to spend as much time as possible debating the privatisation of this important industry. Had I, or my constituents, realised that the debate would be curtailed, I would have reconsidered my decision, and perhaps the Felixstowe Dock and Railway Bill would have had the benefit of some Labour Members on the Committee. However, it is no use crying over spilt milk.

I merely want to reinforce what my hon. Friends have said during the debate. It is disgraceful that such an important debate should be curtailed in this way, particularly as there are many aspects which we have had to skim over because of the constraints of time during the past few weeks. It is appalling that such an important issue should be curtailed in this way.

Had I realised that Conservative Members were suffering from a lack of stamina, I might have had more sympathy for their point of view. It was evident during the only all-night session that they were flagging. They had to organise teams to go backwards and forwards for rest, and some hon. Members were observed sleeping in sleeping bags in the Corridor. It was obvious that they were not up to the task that they had set themselves. It is with considerable sympathy that I accept that argument.

The Minister of State was not able to go to Norway for an important meeting of Organisation of Petroleum Exporting Countries Ministers because of that all-night session, and again I sympathise with him on that. I am not encouraging all-night sessions, but there must be an opportunity to discuss issues of great importance when we are disposing of a national asset in this way. We should have proper debates on such issues, and I think that the Opposition have made that clear.

My hon. Friends have mentioned safety. I do not believe that we have had adequate answers from the Government on this issue. I accept that as the Bill runs its course, and as we move to other clauses, we will have some opportunity to discuss the matter, but there has been inadequate discussion of the earlier clauses dealing with health and safety.

My colleagues and I have expressed our anxiety about the additional strains that will be placed on the Health and Safety Executive after privatisation. Since 1979 its staff has decreased by 13 per cent., and that of the inspectorate by 15 per cent. As a result, visits to factories by the health and safety inspectors are down by almost 15 per cent.

The Government have said in Committee that the Health and Safety Executive has an important role to play in the future of the privatised gas industry. The Minister of State said that we were right to emphasise safety, but in answer to me he said: she cannot be allowed to get away with broad allegations about the resources of the Health and Safety Executive. Such scare stories are not true".—[Official Report, Standing Committee F, 11 February 1986; c. 704.] I believe that if we had more time to go into the rights and wrongs of the arrangements being made for health and safety it would be shown quite clearly that the protection that is being offered will not be sufficient.

I shall just touch on the existing regulations—the Gas Safety (Installation and Use) Regulations 1972, and the Gas Safety (Installation and Use) Regulations 1984. Until 1985 gas safety standards were the responsibility of the Department of Energy, which employed eight inspectors in its gas standards branch. Those eight inspectors were transferred to the Health and Safety Executive in 1985, immediately prior to the Health and Safety Executive assuming responsibility for the enforcement of both sets of regulations. Because of the lack of resources, the Chief Inspector of Factories has issued instructions to factory inspectors to enforce the gas safety regulations on a purely reactive basis rather than on a pre-emptive basis.

The effect of the inspector shortages can be seen from a comparison of the prosecution figures. This is tremendously important, because people are concerned about safety. Department of Energy prosecutions were 30 in 1981, 33 in 1982 and 23 in 1983. In 1984 there were only two prosecutions by the Health and Safety Executive. The Chief Inspector of Factories has issued guidance to the factory inspectors about prosecution policy on gas safety. Although not explicitly urging a low profile on prosecutions, the chief inspector's instructions have to be maintained to minimise the potentially heavy burden on the Health and Safety Executive's resources.

We briefly touched on this matter in our initial debates. Part of the difficulty faced by the Health and Safety Executive in mounting effective enforcement practices lies in the difficulty of discovering evidence. When the Department of Energy has responsibility, there were close working relationships with the gas board, and the Department of Employment relied heavily on British Gas's detailed, factual, expert evidence. Since the new Reporting of Injuries, Diseases and Dangerous Occurrences Regulations 1985, British Gas's reports on incidents and dangerous occurrences have not identified the installer. All this has led to increasing the Health and Safety Executive's difficulties in mounting prosecutions.

Because of the additional burdens being put on the Health and Safety Executive by the Bill, we should remember that there are only 520 factory inspectors operating in the field. That is only a couple of dozen more inspectors than in 1974, before the Health and Safety at Work, etc. Act added 8 million extra workers and hundreds of thousands of extra premises to the scope of protective legislation. The factory inspectorate is now 35 per cent. below the recommended staffing levels accepted by the Government in 1979.

As the Bill advocates a system of authorisation involving the Health and Safety Executive, it is relevant to note that when the licensing of asbestos contractors was introduced by the Asbestos (Licensing) Regulations, lack of resources meant that the executive was unable to vet any applicant. Licences under the Asbestos (Licensing) Regulations are issued without any checks on the contractor by the Health and Safety Executive. It does not have the staff to administer a different licensing system.

That is one of the important reasons why the Government should not be allowed to apply this limitation on discussions that involve such important aspects for the public as safety in the gas industry.

6.42 pm
Mr. Robert C. Brown (Newcastle upon Tyne, North)

I declare a dual interest in that I am a member of the General, Municipal, Boilermakers and Allied Trades Union, which organises the employees of British Gas, and I also worked for 30 years in the private and publicly owned British gas industry before I entered the House. Therefore, I am seriously concerned that this important Bill will not have the discussion that I feel it merits. I know that the Secretary of State will say, "But the Bill has already had 87 hours in Committee and we normally bring forward a guillotine motion after about 80 hours." This is an extremely important Bill. In fact, I go so far as to say that I doubt very much whether there has ever been a more important Bill before the House of Commons than this Bill. For that reason, if for no other, it needed far more than 87 hours in Committee before the guillotine was brought in.

I am shocked that, after 87 hours, tomorrow morning the Committee will already be discussing clause 14. That is one quarter of the way through the Bill. The major part of the Bill would be dealt with well if it were left in Committee for another 30 or 40 hours. That would not be an unreasonable thing for the Government to do. I am inclined to say: once a Chief Whip, always a Chief Whip. The former Labour Chief Whip took charge of the Bill last week when my hon. Friend the Member for Leigh (Mr. Cunliffe), the Committee Whip, was away on unavoidable duties outside the House. I understand that when my right hon. Friend the former Chief Whip was there, more progress was made in one sitting than in 10 or more when my hon. Friend the Member for Leigh was there. Former Chief Whips cannot help themselves.

To be more serious, I am concerned about the important parts of the Bill that will be unamended. We received blank assurances from the Government that everything will be lovely, and that the private shareholders will look after the industry, together with this guy, the Director General of Gas Supply. I ask the Treasury Bench: how will the shareholders look after the public interest? The only interest that the private shareholder will have in the industry, once it is privatised, will be in private profit. We cannot be as optimistic as the Secretary of State and his colleagues.

There is nothing specific in the Bill on health and safety, although there are many general assertions. The Government seem to resist attempts to tighten health and safety in the general sense. The latter parts of the Bill dealing specifically with safety will come under the guillotine, so that the rights of the workers in the industry —present and future —will be ignored in so far as they will not be debated. There will not be time to do so under the guillotine motion.

There is nothing specific about the rights of the consumer, although I understand that a cosmetic change has been introduced by an amendment tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Cynon Valley (Mrs. Clwyd). The latter parts of the Bill deal with the consumer and, again, that matter will not be discussed because of the guillotine.

All the financial aspects of the Bill are in part II, and, again, debate on them will be chopped. Why? What have the Government got to hide? Is it right that a £16 billion asset—an asset in which every household has an £800 stake—should be bartered away in some hurried whispers? Not only is the gas industry affected. Tens of thousands of other jobs in the support industries will be affected. I could not hazard a guess at how many countless thousands of jobs will he affected by the measure. There is nothing in the Bill about the future of people not directly employed by the gas industry.

The Government are crawling around dismantling British industry and they want to gag those who are alerting the public to the Government's activities. The British Gas Corporation is guilty of that, because it has told its workers—and this is scandalous—to say nothing that would be detrimental to privatisation.

For years I have praised. Sir Denis Rooke, the chairman of British Gas, as being probably the best chairman of a nationalised industry since nationalisation measures went on to the statute book. I am sorry now to have to say that the chairman of British Gas, since the proposition has come forward, has behaved rather like a neutered tom. I wonder why he has behaved like that. As I have said, it is intolerable that the gag should have been applied to British Gas employees. One wonders how such an outspoken man as Sir Denis Rooke could have suddenly become the proverbial neutered torn. He has lost his tongue—[Interruption.] I will not go into the details about the neutered chairman of a nationalised industry as against a neutered tom cat.

I am outraged about this matter. I wonder why there is such a rush to get the Bill on to the statute book. There can be only one answer: that the Government want to make tax cuts to fulfil one of their election pledges to make the rich richer, and to go forward in the hope that they will survive the next election.

6.53 pm
Mr. Stanley Orme (Salford, East)

We have had an important and interesting debate, not the least important part of which was the contribution of the Leader of the House, which was exceedingly short. We know the reason for that. After 87 hours of debate in Committee, the Opposition believe that the Bill will be a disaster for the 16 million consumers, the workers within the industry and the future energy needs of the United Kingdom.

Many of the vital questions which the Opposition have raised during the passage of the Bill remain to be answered. The Government are racing through the Bill with extraordinary pace when one considers that it is one of the major pieces of legislation for this Parliament to deal with.

The Bill paves the way for the largest transfer of national assets and the transfer of enormous powers to a huge private monopoly. However, it is nothing more than an enabling Bill. The majority of the issues and decisions arising from such transfers of assets and powers are left out of the Bill. The proposals for maintaining and improving industrial relations within the industry, to which my hon. Friend the Member for Newcastle upon Tyne, North (Mr. Brown) referred, and which the Opposition put forward, have been rejected in the Standing Committee.

We are also disturbed by the statements emanating from British Gas regarding the restrictions placed upon employees. I have a copy of the privatisation report of British Gas. It is extraordinary that even before the Bill has become an Act of Parliament, a publicly owned industry has put out privatisation reports advising employees that there are legal restrictions on what they can and cannot do. That is extraordinary when one considers the gag that the Government have put on municipal authorities. The privatisation report is the reverse of that point. I must tell Government and Sir Denis Rooke that that is not the way in which to ensure good industrial relations.

There is increasing disquiet among consumer and welfare organisations that all attempts that the Opposition have made to improve the legislation on their behalf have been resisted by the Government. In fact, any attempts to write into the Bill justifiable safeguards for consumers, particularly the poor, the sick, disabled and elderly, have been rejected by the Government.

The hon. Member for Enfield, Southgate (Mr. Portillo) referred to the amendment accepted from my hon. Friend, the Member for Cynon Valley (Mrs. Clwyd), about the change of name from user council to consumer council. That is the sole concession that the Government have made during 87 hours of debate. Not one concession other than that has been given or any attention paid to the Opposition's attempts to improve the Bill. I hope that the country will note the Government's attitude in that regard.

I would like to raise the question of safety with the Secretary of State, as we have debated this issue on a number of occasions in Committee. The Opposition have debated the issue in a responsible manner, because we are concerned about maintaining safety levels. I want to draw the Secretary of State's attention to a daily press summary released by British Gas on 11 February. It states: The Government is preparing a white paper on relaxing health and safety laws in industry, according to The Guardian. Lord Young, the Employment Secretary, said yesterday that the paper would identify difficulties caused to employers by the 'law on health and safety.' Can the Secretary of State say whether these considerations affect British Gas? Will there be any alterations in the standards that presently apply? We are entitled to know of any changes as the Bill goes through the House. That statement rather refutes the undertakings that the Minister of State has quite fairly given to the Standing Committee to reflect his concern about safety. Is that a contradiction in Government thinking and policy?

I want to refer now to crucial information that has still not been given to the Standing Committee. What will be the effects of imports and exports of gas on British Gas plc and the overall British energy policy? We are within three weeks of concluding consideration of the Committee stage of the Bill. It is outrageous that we have not been told the Government's policy in regard to imports and exports. That matter concerns both sides of the Committee, and it was raised by the hon. Member for Southgate. The Secretary of State ought to bring us up to date and give us some information on that this evening.

We have still not received information about the gas levy and the extent of future Government intervention. Nor have we been told about the part that the golden share will play in the operation of British Gas plc and its control over foreign investment. A Department of Energy press release of 14 January 1986, which deals with the appointment of overseas financial advisers on the privatisation of British Gas, states that such advisers will operate on behalf of British Gas in the United States, Canada, Japan and Europe. We know what happened with British Telecom. When its shares were floated, a killing of about £200 million was made in one day on the stock exchange. What control will be provided by the golden share? How will it protect British interests? How will it protect possible strategic and military interests? We are entitled to know those facts, and we believe that that information should be given to the Committee at the earliest opportunity.

Since the Bill is nothing more than an enabling Bill, our debates in Committee are the only opportunity for hon. Members to discuss the conditions attached to the 25-year monopoly licence to be granted to British Gas plc. I draw the attention of the Leader of the House specifically to this matter. The Government's draft licence was hastily published on the eve of our Second Reading debate. The Committee stage has been the first and only real opportunity to debate the licence. Indeed, in clause 7(13), the Government abolish any right to formal representation or the receiving of objections to the draft licence. Therefore, we have had to use our debates on clauses 4 and 7 to expose the pathetic protection given to consumers on standing and collection charges, the abolition of legislative safeguards for staff in the industry, the absence of defined levels of service by a privatised BGC and major issues of safety. We make no apologies for the time that we have spent debating clause 7.It was our only real opportunity to debate the licence, which, as the Leader of the House knows, is outside the Bill. Clause 7(13) restricts the rights of private citizens to intervene with regard to the licence.

The Government wish to curtail our debates on important issues such as the golden share and limitations on foreign ownership. I should have thought that the Leader of the House would be especially sensitive to those issues after Westland and British Leyland. I make a personal plea to him to ensure that, before the guillotine falls on the second part of the Bill, the Department of Energy produces a draft of the articles of association.

Our debates have had two purposes: to discuss the major issues that are not contained in the enabling Bill; and, secondly, to fulfil the traditional role of the Opposition of trying to improve a bad Bill. The Bill gives little or no protection to the consumer, abolishes all forms of regional consumer councils, undermines the rights and interests of 93,000 employees in the industry, creates a pathetic Director General of Ofgas—a pale imitation of Oftel —and above all does nothing more than pave the way for the sale, at knockdown prices, of vital national assets.

The parallel with British Telecom is plain for all to see. The conversion of a public monopoly into a private monopoly solely for the Government to use the money to give tax handouts at an appropriate time is the real purpose of the Bill, and that is why we oppose it.

7.5 pm

The Secretary of State for Energy (Mr. Peter Walker)

I cannot claim to be a connoisseur of guillotine debates, since this is only the second such debate that I have attended since I have been privileged to be a Member of the House. My views on guillotines are consistent: when in government I favour them and when in opposition I am against them. Several hon. Members share that view. However, the Liberal party has always remained solid, reliable and consistent about guillotine motions. Liberal Members, not having been in government for years, always oppose guillotine motions.

The other guillotine debate in which I participated was on the Transport Bill in 1968. I am delighted to see the right hon. Member for Blaenau Gwent (Mr. Foot) in his place, because I recall that in that debate he passionately argued his theoretical opposition to guillotine motions, but said that he would support it in that case. He put the position of the Liberal party more correctly and vividly than most, with the family interest that he has always had in both parties, when he said: It is easier for Liberals to speak on guillotine Motions than on some others. I say that as one who comes from a Liberal family. The Liberals have not had the duty or the opportunity of exercising powers of government for quite a long time now, and perhaps they find it easier than some others to be consistent on guillotine Motions. I would remind him, however, that it was the Liberal party which introduced the idea of guillotine Motions in the first place, and it was the party which introduced the most severe restrictions on the freedom of speech that this House has ever introduced. At the time of the operations of the Irish Parliamentary Party, the Liberals introduced the closure and many of the devices which we now find convenient. They did that when they exercised the powers of Government."—[Official Report, 14 March 1968; Vol. 760, c. 1701-2.]

I understand the hon. Member for Gordon (Mr. Bruce) is continuing that tradition. He also continues other traditions of the Liberal party on such measures. His speech, like his speeches in Committee, was based on the fact that he favours something else, but he never defined what the something else was. That has been a convenience for the Liberal party for a long time. Also in the best traditions of the Liberal party, he has one view about what should happen in the gas industry, and the Social Democratic party has another view.

A short time ago the leader of the SDP—presumably briefed by the great Liberal Social Democrat, Mr. Sam Brittan—said that the SDP favoured giving British Gas shares to everyone, that everyone should have an equal share and that there should be X million shareholders. When cross-examined on what that meant, we discovered that shareholders would not have votes, because that might be dangerous, and that they could not express their views on some issues, because that, too, might be dangerous. Nevertheless, the right hon. Gentleman believed that British Gas should be privatised in that way. We have heard no such proposals from the Liberal party. It believes that British Gas should be broken up, but it does not say into how many pieces and it does not say which pieces would be allowed to do what. It has not examined in any depth what that breaking up would do to the British Gas Corporation. It is just another nice, vague, flimsy idea. We admire the Liberal party for its consistently vague ideas about what should be done and also for being against all forms of guillotine.

The right hon. Member for Salford East (Mr. Orme) criticised my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House for making rather a short speech. I never criticise Members for that. [HON. MEMBERS: "Sit down".] I am quite happy to do that.

The shadow Leader of the House, the right hon. Member for Bethnal Green and Stepney (Mr. Shore), commented on how remarkably short my right hon. Friend's speech was. We therefore sat back, relaxing, expecting to hear a lengthy and devastating analysis of the Bill from the right hon. Gentleman. But what do we find? My right hon. Friend the Leader of the House spoke for eight minutes and the shadow Leader of the House for nine minutes. The right hon. Gentleman's speech, therefore, gave us a greater appreciation of the Bill. We also appreciated his great depth of analysis. I hope that my right hon. Friend will be chastised, and that in future he will speak for nine minutes instead of the dilatory eight minutes.

The function of the shadow Leader of the House is to attend this type of debate. The right hon. Gentleman had the appropriate brief. I do not know whether he takes briefs fom Transport House—half the Labour party does and half does not. The right hon. Gentleman's speech was good party line stuff—all the clichés, platitudes, fears and hostilities about gas privatisation were summarised in his speech. In fairness, the right hon. Gentleman did not argue enthusiastically that this was an unreasonable guillotine motion.

My one experience of the guillotine motion was when I led for the Opposition against the Transport Bill in 1968. It was not a major Bill. The hon. Member for Newcastle upon Tyne, North (Mr. Brown) suggested that the Gas Bill would be the most important Bill in his lifetime. He suggested that the Committee had done well to get through 13 clauses so quickly. The hon. Gentleman said it was outrageous, when everything was going so speedily, that the Government should be vicious and wicked enough to introduce a guillotine motion.

If the hon. Gentleman feels like that, imagine how I felt in 1968. After 91 hours we had got through not 13 clauses, but 37 clauses, six schedules and 488 amendments. Despite such vigorous progress, the right hon. Member for Blaenau Gwent was one of those who supported the imposition of the guillotine. What is more, the right hon. Gentleman criticised me, as Opposition spokesman, because I had obviously not done my job properly by allowing so much to get through so quickly. The hon. Member for Newcastle upon Tyne, North used the speedy progress that has been made on the Gas Bill as a basis for his argument. That is pretty nasty criticism of his right hon. Friends. In fairness to them, I hasten to add that the criticism is in no way justified.

The Opposition Front Bench spokesmen in Committee have shown diligence and great application. It is difficult to praise them because it will obviously do them great damage in future shadow Cabinet elections, and I have no desire to do that. I am aware, as one who opposed legislation in opposition, that facilites are somewhat limited, and the civil servants are not operating behind one. I admire the right hon. Member for Salford, East and the hon. Member for Methyr Tydfil and Rhymney (Mr. Rowlands) for the many hours they have spent in preparation for the Committee and for the many hours they have spent listening to the opponents of the Bill. Their difficulty has been the degree of repetition, because they have had to listen to the same voices repeating such opposition. Nevertheless, they have spent a great deal of time on the first 13 clauses.

The hon. Member for Cynon Valley (Mrs. Clwyd), who has played such an active part in Committee on the subject of safety, said how much we had skimped on a number of issues in Committee. The hon. Lady made two speeches of an hour each on one clause. If that is what she calls skimping, heaven knows what she is like when she decides to apply her mind further to such problems. The hon. Lady by "skimping'. on these matters gave us a. great deal of pleasure in the hours when she spoke. I shall not repeat one or two suggestions made by the Chairman of our Committee —that some of the matters the hon. Lady talked about were not quite in the context of the amendments we were discussing. However, the hon. Lady has rightly taken an interest in safety.

I defend the guillotine motion. This legislation was assiduously prepared, long before it came to the House. One of the interesting factors about legislation, from whichever party in government it might come, is that there are times when Governments, for perfectly reasonable and valid political reasons, decide speedily to bring forward a piece of legislation. If a Government do that, there tends to be a whole range of problems about drafting, the parliamentary counsel, and so on. Thus, a large number of Government as well as Opposition amendments have to be moved. The right hon. Member for Salford, East knows that this has been limited. Very few Government amendments have had to be moved due to incompetent drafting or failure to deal with the points concerned.

Before the Government decided to privatise the gas industry they carefully examined the way in which this legislation would deal with all aspects of the industry. We looked at the problems of safety in great depth. Obviously it would be totally detrimental to the interests of British Gas if there were any doubts about its safety policies. If they were put in doubt, it would be a matter of great joy to competitors.

I have a slight suspicion—perhaps based on the fact that I have been a Member of this House for 25 years—that the Opposition might endeavour to convey to the public that the safety of gas services would be put in jeopardy. Anybody who examines the Committee stage of the Bill in depth will find that no valid argument had been made at any time about the deterioration of safety standards. My hon. Friends have been able to argue with complete satisfaction that we have improved the safety provisions of British Gas. British Gas is in favour of these provisions. The future arrangements for the safety provision of British Gas will be better than they are now.

The hon. Member for Cynon Valley said that safety was at one time the responsibility of the Department of Energy. One could argue that there was a joint interest in safety. I think the move to the Health and Safety Executive was an improvement. The safety provisions were handled independently by people interested only in safety. There was no connection with commercial success or failure or the financial cost to British Gas. I rejoiced when the safety responsibility was moved to the Health and Safety Executive. It has recently announced that it intends to devote 60 per cent. of the inspectors' time to checking the safety requirements of British Gas. That is more than was previously done when the responsibility was that of the Department of Energy. Therefore, in terms of inspectors and the provision of safety there is an improvement. We welcomed the opportunity to point that out in Committee, and we shall continue to do so.

Mr. Michael Foot (Blaenau Gwent)

I am extremely gratified by the glowing tribute to the Health and Safety Executive, which I set up. What does the right hon. Gentleman say here or in the Cabinet about the cut in the inspectorate and the number of people who will be doing the job? Will he go back to the Cabinet and say that we need more money for more inspectors?

Mr. Walker

The Health and Safety Executive has recently announced that its inspectors will be able to devote 60 per cent. more time to the safety aspects of the gas industry than previously. It is a substantial improvement in which I rejoice.

Another aspect concerns consumer interests. When preparing the Bill, we were determined to see that the consumer was protected.

The hon. Member for Burnley (Mr. Pike) is building up a major cause over the closure of a showroon in his constituency. The right hon. Member for Bristol, South (Mr. Cocks) said that he would be guillotined in two places —by us here and by the management committee of his local Labour party. We take pleasure in the guillotine here, but regret the other one. He implied that the closures were all part of the preparation for privatisation, and directed against the hon. Member for Burnley because of his views.

There were showroom closures long before there was any talk of privatisation. Since 1983, the BGC has closed 50 showrooms a year in the normal course of its business. That has nothing to do with privatisation. If the hon. Gentleman argues that a showroom closure is to help privatisation, what will he say about the new showrooms that have been opened recently? Is the corporation pursuing an opposite policy? British Gas has reviewed its showrooms for some years. Where they have been unnecessary or have not given the service people require or the costs have outweighed the benefit, the BGC has moved and closed showrooms. No new policy has been pursued. By keeping the BGC in one piece, it will be able to decide on the service to its customers and to the public which best suits the industry's reputation and effectiveness.

Mr. Pike

I am not speaking about a particular showroom. If what the Secretary of State has said is correct, why did the Government not table an amendment in Committee that would guarantee a network of showrooms throughout the country?

Mr. Walker

It would have been absurd to table such an amendment. It would be absurd for a load of politicians to sit here and say what showrooms the BGC should have. Instead, the BGC may decide on a whole range of things, including those which may improve its connections with its customers.

The hon. Gentleman fails to realise, as does the Labour party, that one of the great advantages of giving British Gas freedom from political intervention is that, if it decides that it is in its interests substantially to increase the number of showrooms, it can do so. If it decides to go into partnership with private enterprise in showrooms, it can do so. It will decide the best policy to pursue to obtain happier and more contented customers supporting the industry.

Mr. Rogers

Is the Secretary of State saying that he oppressively controls the number of showrooms that the BGC has?

Mr. Walker

Over the years, chaps sitting in the Department of Energy—some representing the Labour party and some the Conservative party —have had all sorts of discussions about how the corporation should invest. There was the classic example of the Labour Government who were in trouble with the IMF. The IMF said, "You must find £200 million more." The Labour Government went along to the corporation and said, "Put up your gas prices, chaps, and we can meet the IMF's demands." Those people who argue that nationalised gas provides a great service for consumers have only to study the way in which a Labour Government put up gas prices against consumers' interests.

We have introduced a customer organisation in the Bill. We have studied what is required. I believe that it will be a more efficient consumer operation than anything we have seen in the past. In Committee, we have been able to defend the legislation because we know that it deals with safety and consumer needs effectively.

The Opposition are frustrated because they know that no valid argument against privatisation of the BGC has been put forward in Committee. The argument for privatisation is clear. The importance of research and development was mentioned in Committee. It is interesting to note how often the BGC's research programmes have been clawed over by the Treasury in the past. There have been limitations on the application of some of the research. Those limitations will not exist after privatisation. The BGC has undertaken a great deal of research, but under both Labour and Tory Governments the corporation has been allowed to benefit only to a small extent from that research.

Mr. Ken Eastham (Manchester, Blackley)

The BGC had the courage to spend money on the Wytch Farm project. Many private companies were not interested in it.

Mr. Walker

I have never said that the corporation has not had many fine and remarkable achievements. Given the freedom of its new role, and its skills and talents, the corporation will be able to continue with such projects. The Opposition are frustrated because they know that the employees have no passionate hostility to privatisation.

I have every confidence that we shall be able vigorously to defend the legislation in any future debates. I am also delighted to know that the Labour party, the Scottish National party, and the Liberal party are all against privatisation. By the time of the next election, when the employees, the consumers and the public have benefited from privatisation, I look forward to those three parties being in favour of renationalisation of the BGC.

Question put:

The House divided: Ayes 281, Noes 195.

Division No. 77] [7.26 pm
Adley, Robert Bruinvels, Peter
Alexander, Richard Bryan, Sir Paul
Alison, Rt Hon Michael Buchanan-Smith, Rt Hon A.
Amess, David Buck, Sir Antony
Ancram, Michael Budgen, Nick
Arnold, Tom Bulmer, Esmond
Ashby, David Burt, Alistair
Aspinwall, Jack Butcher, John
Atkins, Rt Hon Sir H. Butler, Rt Hon Sir Adam
Atkins, Robert (South Ribble) Butterfill, John
Atkinson, David (B'm'th E) Carlisle, John (Luton N)
Baker, Rt Hon K. (Mole Vall'y) Carlisle, Kenneth (Lincoln)
Baker, Nicholas (Dorset N) Carlisle, Rt Hon M. (W'ton S)
Baldry, Tony Cash, William
Banks, Robert (Harrogate) Chapman, Sydney
Batiste, Spencer Chope, Christopher
Beaumont-Dark, Anthony Churchill, W. S.
Bendall, Vivian Clark, Dr Michael (Rochford)
Bennett, Rt Hon Sir Frederic Clark, Sir W. (Croydon S)
Benyon, William Clegg, Sir Walter
Best, Keith Cockeram, Eric
Bevan, David Gilroy Colvin, Michael
Biffen, Rt Hon John Conway, Derek
Biggs-Davison, Sir John Coombs, Simon
Blackburn, John Cope, John
Blaker, Rt Hon Sir Peter Cormack, Patrick
Body, Sir Richard Corrie, John
Bonsor, Sir Nicholas Couchman, James
Boscawen, Hon Robert Critchley, Julian
Bottomley, Peter Crouch, David
Bottomley, Mrs Virginia Currie, Mrs Edwina
Bowden, A. (Brighton K'to'n) Dickens, Geoffrey
Bowden, Gerald (Dulwich) Dicks, Terry
Boyson, Dr Rhodes Dorrell, Stephen
Braine, Rt Hon Sir Bernard Dover, Den
Brandon-Bravo, Martin Dunn, Robert
Bright, Graham Durant, Tony
Brinton, Tim Dykes, Hugh
Brooke, Hon Peter Emery, Sir Peter
Brown, M. (Brigg & Cl'thpes) Evennett, David
Eyre, Sir Reginald Miller, Hal (B'grove)
Fairbairn, Nicholas Mills, Iain (Meriden)
Fallon, Michael Mills, Sir Peter (West Devon)
Farr, Sir John Mitchell, David (Hants NW)
Fenner, Mrs Peggy Moate, Roger
Fletcher, Alexander Monro, Sir Hector
Fookes, Miss Janet Montgomery, Sir Fergus
Forman, Nigel Morrison, Hon C. (Devizes)
Forth, Eric Morrison, Hon P. (Chester)
Fox, Marcus Moynihan, Hon C.
Fry, Peter Mudd, David
Gale, Roger Murphy, Christopher
Gardiner, George (Reigate) Neale, Gerrard
Gardner, Sir Edward (Fylde) Needham, Richard
Garel-Jones, Tristan Nelson, Anthony
Glyn, Dr Alan Neubert, Michael
Goodhart, Sir Philip Nicholls, Patrick
Gorst, John Normanton, Tom
Gower, Sir Raymond Norris, Steven
Grant, Sir Anthony Oppenheim, Phillip
Greenway, Harry Oppenheim, Rt Hon Mrs S.
Gregory, Conal Ottaway, Richard
Griffiths, Sir Eldon Page, Sir John (Harrow W)
Grist, Ian Page, Richard (Herts SW)
Hamilton, Hon A. (Epsom) Parkinson, Rt Hon Cecil
Hanley, Jeremy Patten, Christopher (Bath)
Hannam, John Patten, J. (Oxf W & Abgdn)
Hargreaves, Kenneth Pattie, Geoffrey
Harvey, Robert Pawsey, James
Hawkins, C. (High Peak) Percival, Rt Hon Sir Ian
Hawkins, Sir Paul (N'folk SW) Portillo, Michael
Hayhoe, Rt Hon Barney Powell, William (Corby)
Heddle, John Powley, John
Henderson, Barry Prentice, Rt Hon Reg
Heseltine, Rt Hon Michael Price, Sir David
Hickmet, Richard Proctor, K. Harvey
Hicks, Robert Raffan, Keith
Higgins, Rt Hon Terence L. Rathbone, Tim
Hind, Kenneth Rees, Rt Hon Peter (Dover)
Holland, Sir Philip (Gedling) Renton, Tim
Holt, Richard Rhodes James, Robert
Howell, Ralph (Norfolk, N) Rhys Williams, Sir Brandon
Hunt, David (Wirral W) Ridley, Rt Hon Nicholas
Hurd, Rt Hon Douglas Ridsdale, Sir Julian
Irving, Charles Roberts, Wyn (Conwy)
Jackson, Robert Roe, Mrs Marion
Jenkin, Rt Hon Patrick Rossi, Sir Hugh
Key, Robert Rost, Peter
Knox, David Rowe, Andrew
Lamont, Norman Ryder, Richard
Lang, Ian Sackville, Hon Thomas
Latham, Michael Sainsbury, Hon Timothy
Leigh, Edward (Gainsbor'gh) Sayeed, Jonathan
Lester, Jim Shaw, Giles (Pudsey)
Lightbown, David Shaw, Sir Michael (Scarb')
Lilley, Peter Shelton, William (Streatham)
Lloyd, Ian (Havant) Shepherd, Colin (Hereford)
Lord, Michael Shepherd, Richard (Aldridge)
Luce, Rt Hon Richard Silvester, Fred
Lyell, Nicholas Sims, Roger
McCurley, Mrs Anna Skeet, Sir Trevor
Macfarlane, Neil Smith, Sir Dudley (Warwick)
MacGregor, Rt Hon John Smith, Tim (Beaconsfield)
MacKay, Andrew (Berkshire) Soames, Hon Nicholas
Maclean, David John Speed, Keith
McNair-Wilson, M. (N'bury) Speller, Tony
McNair-Wilson, P. (New F'st) Spencer, Derek
McQuarrie, Albert Squire, Robin
Madel, David Stanbrook, Ivor
Maples, John Stern, Michael
Marland, Paul Stevens, Lewis (Nuneaton)
Marlow, Antony Stewart, Andrew (Sherwood)
Mates, Michael Stewart, Ian (Hertf'dshire N)
Mather, Carol Stokes, John
Maude, Hon Francis Stradling Thomas, Sir John
Maxwell-Hyslop, Robin Sumberg, David
Mayhew, Sir Patrick Taylor, John (Solihull)
Mellor, David Taylor, Teddy (S'end E)
Merchant, Piers Tebbit, Rt Hon Norman
Meyer, Sir Anthony Temple-Morris, Peter
Terlezki, Stefan Walters, Dennis
Thomas, Rt Hon Peter Ward, John
Thompson, Donald (Calder V) Warren, Kenneth
Thompson, Patrick (N'ich N) Watson, John
Thorne, Neil (Ilford S) Watts, John
Thornton, Malcolm Wells, Bowen (Hertford)
Thurnham, Peter Wheeler, John
Townend, John (Bridlington) Whitfield, John
Townsend, Cyril D. (B'heath) Whitney, Raymond
Tracey, Richard Wiggin, Jerry
Trippier, David Wilkinson, John
Trotter, Neville Winterton, Mrs Ann
Twinn, Dr Ian Winterton, Nicholas
van Straubenzee, Sir W. Wolfson, Mark
Vaughan, Sir Gerard Wood, Timothy
Viggers, Peter Woodcock, Michael
Waddington, David Yeo, Tim
Wakeham, Rt Hon John Young, Sir George (Acton)
Waldegrave, Hon William
Walker, Bill (T'side N) Tellers for the Ayes:
Walker, Rt Hon P. (W'cester) Mr. Peter Lloyd and
Wall, Sir Patrick Mr. Mark Lennox-Boyd.
Waller, Gary
Abse, Leo Dixon, Donald
Adams, Allen (Paisley N) Dobson, Frank
Alton, David Dormand, Jack
Archer, Rt Hon Peter Douglas, Dick
Ashdown, Paddy Dubs, Alfred
Ashley, Rt Hon Jack Duffy, A. E. P.
Ashton, Joe Dunwoody, Hon Mrs G.
Atkinson, N. (Tottenham) Eadie, Alex
Bagier, Gordon A. T. Eastham, Ken
Banks, Tony (Newham NW) Edwards, Bob (W'h'mpt'n SE)
Barron, Kevin Evans, John (St. Helens N)
Beckett, Mrs Margaret Ewing, Harry
Beith, A. J. Faulds, Andrew
Benn, Rt Hon Tony Field, Frank (Birkenhead)
Bennett, A. (Dent'n & Red'sh) Fields, T. (L'pool Broad Gn)
Bermingham, Gerald Fisher, Mark
Bidwell, Sydney Flannery, Martin
Blair, Anthony Foot, Rt Hon Michael
Boyes, Roland Forrester, John
Bray, Dr Jeremy Foster, Derek
Brown, Gordon (D'f'mline E) Fraser, J. (Norwood)
Brown, N. (N'c'tle-u-Tyne E) Freeson, Rt Hon Reginald
Brown, R. (N'c'tle-u-Tyne N) Garrett, W. E.
Brown, Ron (E'burgh, Leith) George, Bruce
Bruce, Malcolm Gilbert, Rt Hon Dr John
Buchan, Norman Golding, John
Caborn, Richard Gould, Bryan
Callaghan, Rt Hon J. Gourlay, Harry
Callaghan, Jim (Heyw'd & M) Hamilton, James (M'well N)
Campbell, Ian Hamilton, W. W. (Fife Central)
Campbell-Savours, Dale Hancock, Michael
Carlile, Alexander (Montg'y) Hardy, Peter
Carter-Jones, Lewis Harman, Ms Harriet
Cartwright, John Harrison, Rt Hon Walter
Clark, Dr David (S Shields) Hattersley, Rt Hon Roy
Clarke, Thomas Haynes, Frank
Clay, Robert Heffer, Eric S.
Clelland, David Gordon Hogg, N. (C'nauld & Kilsyth)
Clwyd, Mrs Ann Holland, Stuart (Vauxhall)
Cocks, Rt Hon M. (Bristol S) Howells, Geraint
Cohen, Harry Hughes, Dr Mark (Durham)
Coleman, Donald Hughes, Robert (Aberdeen N)
Conlan, Bernard Hughes, Roy (Newport East)
Cook, Frank (Stockton North) Hughes, Sean (Knowsley S)
Cook, Robin F. (Livingston) Hughes, Simon (Southwark)
Corbett, Robin Janner, Hon Greville
Corbyn, Jeremy Jones, Barry (Alyn & Deeside)
Cox, Thomas (Tooting) Kaufman, Rt Hon Gerald
Craigen, J. M. Kennedy, Charles
Crowther, Stan Kinnock, Rt Hon Neil
Cunliffe, Lawrence Kirkwood, Archy
Cunningham, Dr John Lambie, David
Dalyell, Tam Lamond, James
Davies, Rt Hon Denzil (L'lli) Leadbitter, Ted
Davis, Terry (B'ham, H'ge H'l) Leighton, Ronald
Lewis, Ron (Carlisle) Roberts, Allan (Bootle)
Lewis, Terence (Worsley) Roberts, Ernest (Hackney N)
Litherland, Robert Robertson, George
Lloyd, Tony (Stretford) Robinson, G. (Coventry NW)
Lofthouse, Geoffrey Rogers, Allan
Loyden, Edward Rooker, J. W.
McDonald, Dr Oonagh Rowlands, Ted
McGuire, Michael Ryman, John
McKay, Allen (Penistone) Sedgemore, Brian
McKelvey, William Sheerman, Barry
MacKenzie, Rt Hon Gregor Sheldon, Rt Hon R.
McTaggart, Robert Shore, Rt Hon Peter
McWilliam, John Short, Ms Clare (Ladywood)
Madden, Max Short, Mrs R. (W'hampt'n NE)
Marek, Dr John Skinner, Dennis
Marshall, David (Shettleston) Smith, C. (Isl'ton S & F'bury)
Martin, Michael Smith, Rt Hon J. (M'ds E)
Mason, Rt Hon Roy Snape, Peter
Maxton, John Soley, Clive
Maynard, Miss Joan Spearing, Nigel
Meacher, Michael Stott, Roger
Meadowcroft, Michael Strang, Gavin
Michie, William Straw, Jack
Mikardo, Ian Thomas, Dafydd (Merioneth)
Millan, Rt Hon Bruce Thomas, Dr R. (Carmarthen)
Miller, Dr M. S. (E Kilbride) Thompson, J. (Wansbeck)
Mitchell, Austin (G't Grimsby) Thorne, Stan (Preston)
Morris, Rt Hon A. (W'shawe) Tinn, James
Morris, Rt Hon J. (Aberavon) Torney, Tom
Nellist, David Wainwright, R.
Oakes, Rt Hon Gordon Wardell, Gareth (Gower)
O'Brien, William Wareing, Robert
O'Neill, Martin Weetch, Ken
Orme, Rt Hon Stanley Welsh, Michael
Owen, Rt Hon Dr David White, James
Park, George Williams, Rt Hon A.
Patchett, Terry Wilson, Gordon
Pavitt, Laurie Winnick, David
Pendry, Tom Woodall, Alec
Pike, Peter Wrigglesworth, Ian
Radice, Giles
Randall, Stuart Tellers for the Noes:
Redmond, Martin Mr. Ray Powell and
Rees, Rt Hon M. (Leeds S) Mr. Ron Davies.
Richardson, Ms Jo

Question accordingly agreed to.

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

  1. Committee 85 words
  2. cc84-5
  3. Report and Third Reading 204 words
  4. c85
  5. Procedure in Standing Committee 148 words
  6. c85
  7. Conclusion of proceedings in Committee 26 words
  8. c85
  9. Dilatory Motions 46 words
  10. c85
  11. Extra time on allotted days 127 words
  12. c85
  13. Private business 99 words
  14. cc85-6
  15. Conclusion of proceedings 423 words
  16. c86
  17. Supplemental orders 149 words
  18. c86
  19. Saving 79 words
  20. c86
  21. Recommittal 76 words
  22. c86
  23. Interpretation 106 words
  24. Orders of the Day
    1. cc87-118
    2. Animals (Scientific Procedures) Bill [Lords]: 17,604 words
    3. cc118-61
    4. BUSINESS OF THE HOUSE 25,034 words, 1 division
    5. c161
    7. c161
    9. c161
    10. STATUTORY INSTRUMENTS, &c. 18 words
    11. c161
    12. AGRICULTURE 35 words
    13. c161
    14. MEMBERS' INTERESTS 40 words
  25. Acklington and Castington Prisons 4,665 words
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