HL Deb 18 April 1983 vol 441 cc403-13

3.1 p.m.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of Health and Social Security (Lord Trefgarne)

My Lords, I beg to move that the Telecommunications Bill be now read a second time.

This Bill is a major part of the Government's legislative programme. It concerns a sector in which growth has been maintained throughout the world recession. Telecommunication offers enormous opportunities for expansion by United Kingdom companies in the provision of services and the supply of apparatus, both in this country and overseas. We believe that the Bill will provide the right climate to nurture growth. We believe that the Bill will provide benefits for those who work in the telecommunications industry as well as for those who use telecommunications services and equipment. New jobs will be created to provide the new services which the public demands and which this Bill authorises.

At the centre of the Government's proposals is the intention to convert British Telecom from a nationalised corporation into a Companies Act company with shareholders like any other company. I believe that this change will receive a wide welcome from the public, who are well aware of the drawbacks of state monopolies. Everyone has his own story to tell of dealings with the nationalised industries. A state monopoly is unsatisfactory under any conditions. But it is especially unsatisfactory in telecommunications where a rapid and flexible response to increasing demand—and to increasing sophistication of demand—is needed.

The Government will not start the privatisation of BT until after the election. This will give a full opportunity for the electorate to put forward its views; I am sure that our proposals will be given a firm and enthusiastic mandate. When shares are subsequently sold, I am sure that a number of BT's subscribers will want to buy them. I am also confident that they will be joined by BT's employees and by the major City institutions, acting on behalf of the many millions with savings or pension contributions. BT will then truly be owned by the public.

The conversion of BT to a private sector company will do more than just encourage greater response through the introduction of market disciplines. It will give BT the freedom which it needs if it is to play a full part in the provision of new and better services which advances in technology make possible and the people of this country want. At present BT's capital for investment can only come from the customer in higher charges or from strictly controlled borrowing within the public sector borrowing requirement. This at times places artificial limits on the expansion which BT can achieve except at the cost of excessive price increases. The Government must always keep an eye on the total PSBR when it considers what limit should be placed on finance for BT. I well remember that when this House gave the British Telecommunications Act 1981 a Second Reading the noble Lord, Lord Byers, and several othér noble Lords, argued forcefully that telecommunications investment should not be subject to PSBR constraints. I am glad to be able to assure the noble Lords that our plans will release BT from this restriction, as well as from the other Government controls to which it is subject as part of the public sector. BT will be given the financial and commercial freedom to invest and to compete.

In 1981 the British Telecommunications Act separated BT from the Post Office and paved the way for competition in telecommunications. The impact of the Government's policy set out in the 1981 Act on the liberalisation of the supply of apparatus and on the creation of alternative networks is already being felt. The Mercury network is already supplying services to its first customers. The Government have announced their intention to license two competing radiotelephone networks. A number of items of telecommunications apparatus can now be bought from British suppliers other than BT. British Telecom itself has responded well to the spur of competition. It has reduced certain prices and has improved the quality of service. For example, the waiting list for connection to the network has been cut dramatically.

However, the 1981 Act does not treat all telecommunications operators equally. For instance, BT alone has the exclusive privilege to run telecommunication systems without requiring a licence. BT alone among operators has powers to license others who wish to run telecommunication systems. BT alone has the statutory powers conferred in the Telegraph Act to place plant in private land, in streets, over railways, docks and canals, and in tidal waters. BT alone has such privileges, as powers of compulsory purchase of land and powers of entry onto land, for the purposes of survey.

The special privileges which BT possesses were appropriate perhaps when BT was essentially the only telecommunications operator outside the Hull area to provide services for the public. They are no longer appropriate in the new structure of telecommunications. The Bill therefore makes provision for all those who run systems to be licensed, and for BT's powers to license others to be repealed. A new class of public telecommunication operators is created. The members of this class will all be placed on an equal footing. They will all have access to the privileges I have described which are currently held by BT. But a licensee will be subject to certain duties before he can be designated as a public telecommunications operator. Under Clause 8 of the Bill his licence must contain conditions obliging him to provide specified services; obliging him to permit the connection to his system of specified apparatus, and of other people's systems; obliging him to publish tariffs; obliging him not to show undue preference towards any person or to practise undue discrimination against any person.

I turn now to the question of who is to issue the licences which the Bill requires all telecommunications operators to have, and who is to ensure that the terms and conditions of these licences are upheld. No person in this country is unaffected by telecommunications. The Government therefore decided that the issue of major licences is of such importance that it should not be delegated. The Secretary of State will issue the licence to BT as well as to other major networks which provide services to the public. However, we do not consider that the long- term stability which is necessary for the predicted expansion of telecommunications can be maintained if the Secretary of State were able to annul or to amend licences including the control of tariffs and investment. This would be a recipe for intervention on the grounds of short-term political expediency.

The Government's solution is therefore to create a new regulatory authority, the Office of Telecommunications, or Oftel. The Director General of Telecommunications, as he will be called, will be responsible for the monitoring of licences issued by the Secretary of State, and he will also be able to issue licences where he is empowered to do so by the Secretary of State. Licences, whether issued by the Secretary of State or the director, will be open to public inspection.

The Bill empowers the new director to amend conditions attached to licences. Where the licensee agrees with the director his licence should be amended, the director can make the change. He is, however, obliged to give others an opportunity to comment through the publication of a notice and he is under a duty to take into account any representations made to him.

In cases where the licensee does not agree with the director's proposal to amend the licence, or where the director wants a second opinion, a different mechanism is provided in Clauses 11 to 13. The director has the power to make a licence amendment reference to the Monopolies and Mergers Commission. The MMC is well qualified to judge such issues by its activities under previous legislation, notably the Fair Trading Act 1973 and the Competition Act 1980. If the MMC recommends that the amendment be made, the director must go ahead. The Secretary of State cannot himself amend licences, nor can he make licence amendment references to the MMC. However, he can require the director general not to make an amendment without first seeking the agreement of the MMC. This allows for the possibility—which I am certain is wholly remote—that the director would seek to amend a licence in a way which is against the public interest. The Secretary of State can veto licence amendments only on grounds of national security or relations with overseas Governments, or where he believes it necessary to protect the environment. I think I should emphasise that the Government do not wish or intend Oftel to restrict the operations of any licensee unreasonably, or to make heavy and unreasonable demands for information without good cause. Regulation will be carried out with a light rein so that companies can flourish in response to the market, as long as they compete fairly with one another.

The Secretary of State and the director cannot act in an arbitrary way in performing their functions. In issuing amending and monitoring licences, each is subject to certain duties which are clearly specified in Clause 3. This is probably the most important single clause in the Bill. When the Bill was first introduced in another place, the Secretary of State and the director were required to have regard to certain guidelines. Fears were expressed that not enough attention would be paid by them to the provision of services in rural areas which were alleged to be loss-making. The Government have now amended the Bill to place the Secretary of State and the director under a firm duty to ensure that telecommunication services to meet all reasonable demands are provided throughout the country. This is doubtless a matter to which your Lordships will give particular attention.

In particular, the duty makes specific mention of public call box services, emergency services and services in rural aeas. This makes it very clear that the Government are fully committed to the retention of a universal network of public kiosks, to the 999 service and to the full provision of services to those living in remote areas. Appropriate conditions will be included in BT's licence, as indicated in the preliminary licence document, copies of which were placed in your Lordships' Library before Easter. Recent publicity by the British Telecommunications Union Committee that 17,000 kiosks would be removed within two years of privatisation takes no account of the duties imposed in the Bill, nor of the powers which the director will have to ensure compliance with licence conditions. Nor does it take account of the funding of loss-making but socially necessary services by the payment of access fees when calls are switched into BT's local area networks. The BTUC claims are, therefore, simply without foundation, and I hope will be disregarded.

When the Secretary of State announced the Government's proposal last July he gave a firm assurance that any person who has access to telecommunications under the present arrangements will have access under the future arrangements. This is the practical effect of the new duty to ensure a universal service which will be imposed on the Secretary of State and the director. I believe that the continuing provision of service is now largely accepted, although concern is still expressed that BT will increase prices to an unreasonable extent and so deny telecommunication services through its pricing policy. This fear, too, is groundless. The Government made this clear during their acceptance of the broad principles of the Littlechild Report in a Statement repeated by my noble friend Lord Glenarthur on 7th February. The licence issued to BT will include a condition requiring it initially for a period of five years to keep price increases in the monopoly areas of its business below the rate of inflation. This will ensure that the costs of telephone rentals and of local calls fall in real terms, to the benefit of all consumers, including those in remote or rural areas.

The director general will also take over the activities of the Post Office Users' National Council in monitoring complaints about the service provided by BT. POUNC has done a good job, and I should like to pay tribute to the dedication of members of the national and county councils. However, the councils have had no powers of enforcement; they have had to rely solely on publicity and persuasion. In future, the director will have substantial powers to ensure that complaints are dealt with, and that any underlying practices which operate against the consumer are corrected. Consistent with the new structure of telecommunications, the director's duties in this respect will cover all those who provide telecommunication services and supply telecommunication apparatus—Mercury, Hull and the two radio-telephone companies, for example, as well as BT.

Clauses 17 to 22 of the Bill provide for the setting of standards for, and the approval of, apparatus which is to be connected to telecommunications systems, and meters used to determine the value of services provided over telecommunications systems. Approval of apparatus is vital to protect those working on telecommunication systems from harm as well as preventing damage to the systems themselves. Approval of meters will provide reassurance for the consumer that the account presented to him for services supplied is correct. Finally, this part of the Bill also permits the Secretary of State or the director to approve maintenance contractors for the installation and maintenance of systems such as PABX systems connected to the BT or Mercury systems.

In carrying out his consumer protection functions under Clause 49, the director will be assisted by the advisory bodies for England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland which he is under a duty to establish under Clause 50. Both the director and public telecommunication operators will also get valuable information and advice from the grass roots through the Post and Telecoms Advisory Committees. The Bill empowers the Secretary of State to recognise these bodies as assisting public telecommunication operators to ascertain the opinion of consumers, and obliges the director to consider representations made by the advisory committees. A major advance for consumers and other users of telecommunication services is that the Bill brings to an end the ability of BT to provide services under schemes. In future, BT will have to have contracts with its customers just like any other company. This means that if a customer considers that BT had broken the terms of a contract, he will be able to seek legal redress if he cannot get satisfaction otherwise.

The Bill provides for the reform of the Telegraph Acts, which control the way in which telecommunication apparatus is placed and the consents that are required. These Acts have been described as a "blot on the statute book" by the chairman of the Law Commission. Many of the provisions are spent, and others are difficult to understand or to put into effect. Schedule 2 to the Bill provides a modern, uniform code—the Telecommunications Code—which was drafted following the circulation of a consultative paper last summer. Certain classes of telecommunication operators can be authorised by the Secretary of State under Clause 9 of the Bill to apply the code.

Part IV of the Bill contains the necessary powers to enable British Telecom to be transferred to the private sector. Clause 57 provides for all British Telecom's properties, rights and liabilities to be transferred to a successor company, British Telecom PLC, on a day to be chosen by the Secretary of State for the purpose. I should like to emphasise that this means that all British Telecom's obligations will be taken on by the successor company, including—as paragraph 18 of Schedule 5 declares for the avoidance of doubt—its obligations in respect of pensions and employment. There is really no credence in scare stories which have been promulgated about the effects of the Bill on pension rights. The pension entitlements of BT's pensioners and current employees are safeguarded by the trust arrangements underlying the BT pension fund, and by the obligations laid on British Telecom by the trust deed. These safeguards will be preserved in full when BT is turned into a public limited company. It will be necessary to get BT PLC's capital structure right before flotation, so that, in particular, there is a correct balance between equity and loan capital. Clauses 58 to 61 of the Bill give the necessary powers to achieve this.

Part V of the Bill contains measures to amend the Wireless Telegraphy Acts 1949–1967. Their main purpose is to strengthen the enforcement provisions for dealing with radio interference and illegal use of radio equipment. The need for such measures has been highlighted in recent years by the steep rise in the illicit use of Citizens' Band radio transmitters. Complaints of interference to TV and radio from illegal CB are running at just under a thousand a week and are very costly and troublesome to investigate. This part of the Bill therefore enables the police and the Radio Interference Service to seize apparatus and other property used in committing certain wireless telegraphy offences. It provides the police with a limited power of arrest without warrant in cases involving the illicit installation or use of radio transmitters. Tighter controls are also required on the availability of radio equipment liable to cause interference to authorised radio services. Therefore the Bill extends the powers my right honourable friend the Home Secretary already has for controlling the manufacture and importation of specified apparatus to cover its sale and possession. As an alternative to prosecution, it also permits apparatus the possession of which is illegal to be forfeited by order of a magistrates' court. This would avoid criminal proceedings in cases where nothing useful would be achieved by a conviction.

The Bill has already been discussed at length in another place and the Government have amended it so as to increase the safeguards in the Bill and to provide further measures of consumer protection. I am convinced that this major measure can only bring benefits to this country, and it is in this belief that I commend the Telecommunications Bill to the House. I beg to move.

Moved, That the Bill be now read a second time.—(Lord Trefgarne.)

3.22 p.m.

Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede

My Lords, I should like first to thank the noble Lord, Lord Trefgarne, for explaining the purposes of this Bill and for outlining its provisions. As your Lordships will readily recognise, this Bill is yet another of the Government's unwelcome privatisation measures—one which will not get on to the Statute Book if there is to be a general election in June and one which will not be implemented until after a general election and a Government victory in that election. Indeed, that event looks more and more unlikely the longer the election is postponed. My hunch is that the Government will play safe and go for a June election and a lot of your Lordships' work will have been in vain.

The Government have no electoral mandate for this Bill, as the noble Lord, Lord Trefgarne, admitted in his speech. It is irrelevant to the problems facing British industry and, if implemented, could have a devastating effect upon one of our most modern services and industries. It will create uncertainty where there should be certainty and a clear basis for planning and expansion. It will take from the British people a national asset that they themselves have owned and built up over many years. We shall see 51 per cent. of this asset transferred to a body of shareholders whose criterion will inevitably be profit and not service. That is a retrograde step.

The Bill before your Lordships' House is a long and complicated one. It was substantially changed in a number of ways in another place, although whole sections of the Bill were inadequately debated and many clauses were not discussed at all. I know that my noble friends wish that we did not have this Bill at all, but we have a duty to improve it and to meet the many anxieties which have been expressed and I should like to outline some of those anxieties.

A major provision in the Bill, as explained by the noble Lord, Lord Trefgarne, is the setting up of the Office of Telecommunications, Oftel. It is indeed odd that, on the one hand, the Government wish that BT should be freed from existing Government controls while, on the other hand, they are reimposing them through Oftel. Ironically, a strong Oftel could disadvantage BT against its competitors; yet we believe that Oftel must be sufficiently strong to ensure that there is no run-down in the universality of the service provided by BT.

A further difficulty will arise in the relationship between the Office of Telecommunications, the new company and the investing public. While accepting that all investment, especially equity investment, carries a substantial element of risk attached to it, what assurances will be given by the Office of Telecommunications that it will not fundamentally undermine the financial position of BT plc? This might happen both as a result of the Office of Telecommunications trying to ensure that BT provides services at less than optimum price levels and as a result of stimulating competition in BT's more profitable areas. In either case—or, more likely, a combination of the two—BT's profitability could be seriously affected, putting investors' money at risk.

Another complication of greater interest to the investors will be in the residual powers retained by the Government and in particular the power to grant licences to BT and its competitors under the 1981 Act. In effect, the power to grant licences and the conditions attached to them is, and will remain, one of the more important aspects of telecommunications policy.

On of the side-effects of the establishment of Oftel will be a considerable weakening of consumers' rights. It is proposed—and indeed the noble Lord, Lord Trefgarne, referred to this—to abolish the Post Office Users' National Council (POUNC) and to put advisory bodies under the Director of Oftel into the POUNC role. POUNC has often been seen to be strong of voice as a watchdog over BT, especially as regards pricing policies and BT's attitude towards its customers. That independent voice is to be lost.

One of the reasons given by the Government for the need to privatise BT concerns the absurd restrictions placed on BT's ability to raise capital for its investment needs, At present BT has to find at least 85 per cent. of its annual capital needs out of its own resources. It needs an annual investment programme of £2 billion to catch up with the legacy of its past under-investment. This money has had to come from its subscribers. The Secretary of State, on 29th November last in another place, described this as an absurd way to finance a business of this sort. I agree; but the remedy lies in the Government's own hands. The PSBR situation could be reviewed by the Government and the Government could solve the problems in this way. It is to be noted that BT has never been a drain on the Government's resources. I would add that the same problems have applied for some time to the British Airports Authority, where again a situation arises in which current users are being ask to subsidise future users of a service.

My noble friend Lord Bruce of Donington will be dealing more fully with the financial aspects of this Bill, but I should like to deal with some of the effects of the introduction of private capital. Inevitably it will encourage BT to eliminate the less profitable services and to run down those services which have achieved a less than average profit performance. This will be necessary in order to keep up the share price and to make BT attractive to investors.

Concentration on the most lucrative parts of the telecommunications business, for the sake of the private shareholder, has already been clearly demonstrated in the proposed operational network of Project Mercury and is the logic of investment decisions being based on market forces. The services most under threat are those in the rural areas, public call boxes, the extension of the telephone into the homes of those who currently do not have a connection and residential call charges outside peak hours. It is unlikely that the benefits of new technology will be extended to those areas of the United Kingdom which are not heavy users of telecommunications services.

A degree of cross-subsidisation of residential customers by business customers is desirable if we are to promote the maximum penetration of the telephone service throughout the nation. However, the detrimental effect of competition on the residential customer has already been seen, with recent tariff increases being twice the level of those for business customers. Privatisation will accentuate this rebalancing process. In addition, important statutory rights for consumers will be taken away following privatisation. Privatisation will prolong and accentuate the existence of two nations—those with and those without a telephone connection. This is socially divisive in the age of information technology.

Several noble Lords have over the years pointed to what they believe to be the greater cheapness and efficiency of the telephone system elsewhere, and particularly in the USA. But what are the facts? In the Sunday Times of 1st August last year, a letter was published from Mr. John Harper, managing director of BT Inland Division, which showed that, comparing telephone charges in leading industrial nations and taking the United Kingdom charge as 100, the typical charge for a customer bill in June, 1982, would have been: West Germany, 160; France, 148; Italy, 134; Japan, 108; New York, 108; and Netherlands, 88. As can be seen from that, the typical residential customer in the United Kingdom pays less than in five other leading nations.

In the USA, the example of New York was taken as comparing reasonably well with the United Kingdom situation. It has one of the largest and best telephone companies. So the typical residential customer in New York pays more, not less, than the typical customer pays in, say, London. It should also be pointed out that the flat-rate charge for local calls in the USA—12 dollars a month, and as many local calls as you like, which is often quoted approvingly in this country—is now being phased out. It does not meet the new criterion of prices matching costs, which is another way of saying "No cross-subsidisation".

Other evidence of the fact that BT compares favourably by international standards was given in the Observer of 6th February this year. A survey there showed that Britain is by far the cheapest provider of telex services and is the bargain basement for international telephone calls. Local calls are, however, far more pricey in Britain than in other countries. The article pointed out that this is partly explained by the change in British Telecom's pricing policy recently, which has loaded more on to the residential customer and less on to the business user, who uses trunk calls more frequently.

The Bill's proposals will inevitably intensify the pressures on BT to make services pay, and thus put more and more pressure on the residential bill and on marginal services. The effect of this competition could well be to set up local call charges, rather than a uniform national tariff system. BT's local call areas are generally larger by international standards. In London, in particular, the local call area is extremely large, both geographically and in the number of telephone subscribers within it. Reducing the area, on the grounds of rebalancing the tariffs, would be very profitable for a privatised BT. As the Lex column in the Financial Times of 8th February, 1983, put it with respect to BT's new management: Its immediate imperative will be to complete the matching of prices to costs—with perhaps a shock to Londoners who presently enjoy local tariffs over an enormous area". My Lords, consumers have been warned.

A second effect of privatisation and competition is the way BT will approach the provision of services which take into account the special needs of certain types of users. The recent reduction in the bills of those telephone customers who do not use the phone very often is benefiting about 2 million subscribers, many of them elderly. It is anticipated that this will save some of them £1.50 a quarter on their bill. However, BT is still currently a nationalised industry. It is highly questionable whether as a private company BT would adopt such a socially responsible view.

According to the Economist of 22nd January, 1983, Can anybody imagine a truly commercial company offering, as British Telecom did last week, a discount for low users of its services? Every additional low-usage subscriber actually loses BT money. Those who seriously imagine that a privatised BT will maintain its socially conscious attitude to the provision of telecommunications services could hardly have had the warning spelled out more clearly.

It is not just subscribers who are likely to suffer; employment in related industries is threatened. As a public corporation, the Government have rightly put constraints on BT as to where it should purchase its equipment and services. Currently, over 95 per cent. of BT's equipment comes from United Kingdom-based companies. Most of the 70,000 jobs in the British telecommunications manufacturing industry are dependent on BT's orders. This is sensible and essential, if the United Kingdom manufacturing industry is to be provided with the means of gearing itself up for international competition. A firm home market has been shown, time and time again, to be vital for export success. However, BT is likely to move more and more towards looking for its equipment on a worldwide basis, as the pressure of privatisation forces it to act entirely within its own commercial interests, and not within the interests of the community as a whole.

BT's competitors have naturally stressed their commitment to buy British when looking for a licence. Yet Mercury has stated that only half of its original investment spending will be in the United Kingdom. Moreover, the vast majority of that will be, ironically, on optical fibres, which BT has done so much to develop. The remaining equipment will be imported. This contrasts strongly with BT's record of buying British. One wonders what hope there will be for British information technology companies against operators of the size of AT and T and Western Union. The evidence of the British penetration of the US market, with or without reciprocity, is hardly encouraging.

This situation of rising imports will not be to the benefit of United Kingdom jobs; in fact, it will lead to lost jobs in the United Kingdom. It is difficult to see why any United Kingdom Government would seek to put United Kingdom jobs at risk in this way at this moment. My noble friend Lord McIntosh of Haringey will deal more fully with some of these problems.

Concern about the effects of this Bill is not limited to the trade unions involved in the industry. The Consumers' Association is worried about the abolition of POUNC, and my noble friend Lord Oram will be dealing with that aspect of it. The Telecommunications Users' Association is worried about the safeguards for BT customers and feels that the Bill needs to be clarified in a number of different ways. The National Farmers' Union has voiced concern about the Bill, in particular the connection charges in remote rural areas.

I know they want assurances from the Government that BT will continue to make the same connection charges for all new consumers, wherever they may live, apart from the labour charges for connections which take more than 100 man hours to perform. If installation costs in the future reflected the actual cost of supply, new applicants for telecommunication services in remote rural areas might find that they could only obtain those services at an inordinately high price, a price too high to pay. Yet it is precisely those areas which are in need of this form of communication.

The Royal National Institute for the Blind is concerned about the implications of the Bill. There are currently between 1,000 and 1,200 visually handicapped people who are in employment within the industry. Traditionally, visually handicapped people have in the main operated the smaller range of switchboards. The goodwill which has existed between the RNIB and BT has led to their undertaking development work to ensure that most of the smaller boards that are marketed can be adapted for use by blind operators. The RNIB are most concerned that privatisation of BT will mean that the interests of blind telephonists will not be safeguarded. They are therefore seeking a requirement that all switchboards marketed in the United Kingdom should be capable of adaptation for use by blind operators. Their fear is that without adequate safeguards the privatisation of BT will lead to a massive increase of switchboards being marketed in the United Kingdom which cannot be adapted for use by blind users and that therefore this major area of employment for them will be greatly harmed. The Mobile Radio Users, Association are sceptical about the value of privatisation. They see it as leading to a duplication of national resources.

Finally, I should like to raise some other matters of particular concern to those who work in the industry. The Bill continues the strange legal anomaly which puts Telecom and Post Office workers in the same category as the police and the armed services, making it an offence for them to take industrial action. No other group of public service workers are in this position, yet the Government are deliberately seeking to continue the anomaly. These sections are the only sections of the 19th century Telegraph Acts which are not repealed by the Bill. This anomaly should be removed from the Bill. An appropriate amendment will be tabled. Those who work in the industry are also concerned that there should be an obligation on the successor company to consult with the unions, as happens now and as was required by the 1981 Act.

Then those who work in the industry are very concerned about their pension situation. Workers' pension rights, for which they have worked for many years and to which they have contributed, are threatened. Despite the conclusion of the Government-backed Scott inquiry that inflation proofed pensions are highly desirable, the private sector is strongly opposed to them. Consequently, after privatisation index linked pensions will be under severe threat, even if related only to past service. Arrangements for future pensions would almost certainly be less favourable than those currently applied to BT employees. Furthermore, based on bitter past experience, the Government are most unlikely to fund BT's existing large pension scheme deficit and their obligations to the Post Office, which will threaten pensions still further.

I know that your Lordships will, in accordance with normal practice and tradition, give this Bill a Second Reading today, but that will not stop it being a bad and unnecessary Bill: a Bill not welcomed by the general public, a Bill brought about solely by the ideological views of the present Government.