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Interpretation

Telecommunications Bill (Allocation of time) – in the House of Commons at 4:13 pm on 21st November 1983.

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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 Telecommunications 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.

It is not long since I proposed a similar motion, when what was broadly the same Bill was before the House during the last Parliament. Therefore, I believe that many right hon. and hon. Members are familiar with the issues at stake. Accordingly, I intend my remarks to be tolerably brief.

The Bill is essentially the one that left the House in March. However, certain changes have been made. It is therefore appropriate that I should describe the principles that lie behind it and summarise some of its more important provisions.

The main objectives of the Bill are to further the policy of liberalisation in telecommunications and to enable us to dispose of a controlling interest in British Telecom by offering shares for sale to the private sector. Thus the Bill ends the exclusive privilege of BT and introduces new arrangements for licensing all those who run telecommunications systems. A new regulatory structure will be established by the creation of the Office of Telecommunications under the Director General of Telecommunications. The Bill prepares the way for flotation. The licensing and regulatory functions of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry and the Director General of Telecommunications will be performed under the statutory duties set out in clause 3. That clause has been extended and redrafted since the Bill was last before the House.

The Bill also covers a number of other important areas. Schedule 2 replaces the Telegraph Acts 1863 to 1916 by a modern telecommunications code that will govern how telecommunications operators can place their apparatus in the streets and on private land. Clause 10 sets out how the code will be applied. It, too, has been modified since the Bill was last under construction. It extends the procedures for public consultation before the code powers are granted and refers specifically to conditions that may be attached to the granting of code powers to protect the environment. The Bill also amends the Wireless Telegraphy Acts 1949 to 1967 and makes further provision for their enforcement.

Part IV of the Bill is completely new, and updates and replaces the existing provisions in the Post Office Act 1969 governing the licensing of cable programme services. Those clauses represent an interim measure until the Cable and Broadcasting Bill reaches the statute book. The Government hope to introduce that Bill early next month in another place. I think that hon. Members will generally appreciate the objectives of the Telecommunications Bill.

Following the election, the Bill received a Second Reading on 18 July. The Committee stage began for the second time on 25 October. At this point it is appropriate to remind the House that last time the considerable total of no less than 161 hours 30 minutes was spent discussing the Bill in Committee, 110 hours before we introduced a timetable motion. This time the Bill has already been considered by Standing Committee A for nearly 80 hours. It is therefore impossible for anyone reasonably to argue that an adequate amount of time has not been provided for the Bill's discussion. Of course, there is new ground to be covered, particularly as the Government have now made available a draft of the licence that it is proposed to grant to BT when the Bill becomes law. However, that factor must be set alongside the experience of Standing Committee A during its 15 sittings since 25 October.

In view of the previous history of the Bill, my hon. Friends the Minister for Information Technology and the Under-Secretary of State for Trade and Industry, who are taking the Bill through Committee, began by proposing a sittings motion that could have enabled the Committee to sit mornings and afternoons on Tuesdays and Thursdays. The Opposition opposed that motion and spent no less than five hours debating the issue before getting down to the legislation. They then prolonged the debate on clause 1 and schedule 1, which simply provide for the establishment of Oftel and the appointment of the director General of Telecommunications in a way that almost exactly follows the precedent set by the Office of Fair Trading, through seven sittings of the Committee. The debate in clause 1 and schedule 1 took 32 hours 30 minutes. Therefore, altogether 37 hours 30 minutes passed before clause 2 was reached, compared with a mere 28 hours last time. Admittedly, clause 2 was agreed to more rapidly than last time. However, clause 3 has now been under discussion for over 36 hours, and we still have 91 clauses and six schedules to go.

The hon. Member for Falkirk, East (Mr. Ewing) will be immortalised, if not canonised, for his comment during the fourteenth sitting: We are going far too fast."—[Official Report, Standing Committee A, 17 November 1983; c. 682.]

It is clear that the Opposition are reluctant to subject the Bill to constructive debate. There is a premeditated campaign, co-ordinated with action outside Parliament, designed to frustrate the progress of a major part of the Government's legislative programme.

For their part, the Government have a responsibility to ensure that reasonable progress is made in securing the legislation to which they are committed. There are many important matters in the Bill that remain to be debated, and it is to provide a sensible amount of time for that that the Government have tabled a timetable motion.

I now request the House to agree that the Bill should be reported by 1 December, with subsequent Report and Third Reading to take place on two allotted days. Under the terms of the motion before the House, the Standing Committee can meet to consider the Bill for a further four days, allowing seven sittings if the Business Sub-Committee decides to continue morning and afternoon sittings as at present. Bearing in mind that the Bill and its predecessor have between them had more than 240 hours in Committee, I am sure that the House will agree that our proposal is not unreasonable.

In moving a guillotine at this time I am, as Leader of the House, conscious of the interest that the subject of timetabling, especially automatic timetabling, continues to arouse among the many right hon. and hon. Members who take a close interest in the procedures of the House. Discussions are taking place through the usual channels on the desirability of establishing a Select Committee on Procedure. Although it is not for me to anticipate what subjects any such Committee might consider, I think it is not beyond the bounds of possibility that this might be considered an appropriate area for examination. If so, I hope that all veterans of this campaign, whichever side they may have supported during the past few weeks, will make themselves available to give evidence and, perhaps, turn their sometimes frustrating experiences to good account.

Meanwhile, I remind the House that the Telecommunications Bill is an important part of the Government's economic strategy. I commend the motion to the House.

Photo of Mr Peter Shore Mr Peter Shore , Bethnal Green and Stepney 4:22 pm, 21st November 1983

We shall certainly study with interest what the Leader of the House said at the conclusion of his brief remarks about how to handle Bills. We knew from day one of the Bill—from its Second Reading debate on 18 July—that sooner or later the Government would present the House with a guillotine motion, and we have not been disappointed. We knew that, not only because the Bill's predecessor was guillotined on 16 February, but, more fundamentally, because the Opposition are wholly opposed to the principle and main provisions of the Bill.

The Opposition have the expertise, energy and will to oppose and resist the Bill in Committee until at least the next general election. That does not mean that we have wasted time in Committee—indeed, we used that time to educate Ministers, Government supporters and the public about the malign effects of the Bill. I do not claim that we have had much success in our efforts to educate Ministers and Conservative Members of the Committee, but we have had quite considerable impact on opinion in the country. It is good and encouraging and reflects well on the sheer common sense of the British people that the latest opinion polls have registered a clear majority against the fundamental principles of the Bill—the privatisation of British Telecom.

There is only one point on which the Opposition and the Government agree, and that is the importance of what is at stake—the deregulation and privatisation of the most successful and dynamic of our publicly owned industries. We are dealing with the future not only of a major and indispensable public service—the telephone system—but, as the Secretary of State's predecessor reminded the House during the Second Reading debate on 18 July, with a whole range of present and future services that involve the transmission of information. Computer and telephone technology are converging, assisted by digital techniques and broad band cable. As a result, telephone systems will change almost beyond recognition, as will business techniques, office equipment and the information services available to the home."—[Official Report, 18 July 1983; Vol. 46, c. 26.] Not only is there a vast existing market for modern telephone systems, but there is an even vaster market, both at home and abroad, for telecommunications products and services which, as that market develops, will change our way of life in almost incalculable ways. That market offers a glittering prospect of success for British Telecom and its major British suppliers, and also the opportunity to make a major contribution to the prosperity of our people in the decades ahead.

For the past 70 years, under public ownership and as a closely regulated monopoly, British Telecom and the Post Office before it have provided a unique combination of public service, profitability and technological advance. Under successive Conservative and Labour Governments the nation has invested in success. We wish to continue and sustain that in the national interest. Equally, the Government—because BT is both so successful and so important—are determined to hand it over to private profit-making and profit-motivated competition.

It is our strong conviction that the Bill is against the public interest, and I shall briefly explain why. First, the Bill will undermine and frustrate the development of the telephone service as a universal amenity for all our people. In Britain today more than 75 per cent. of households have their own telephone. As rapid development during the past 20 years has made plain, under public ownership the home telephone has become as universal as the supply of gas, water and electricity. In addition, the public are served by a nationwide network of more than 80,000 public call boxes. The full extension of telephone services, especially in rural areas and small towns, and the maintenance of a nationwide network of public call boxes have been made possible through cross-subsidisation, by using the surpluses generated on the more profitable routes, that is the trunk lines, and heavy business users, to that end. The inevitably non-profit-making and loss-making services will be put at risk and their further extension much reduced.

The Government have deliberately set out to enable new private competitors to provide alternative services in the profitable sectors of the industry. Mercury will compete on the main routes, but it will not provide the public services that are unprofitable.

Secondly, the Bill will push up domestic telephone tariffs. To meet the criticism that the public service element of the telephone service will be undermined, the Government have required the successor company—the privatised British Telecom—to provide a range of public services, call boxes and the like. It will be required to make "reasonable" provision, but, despite many hours of debate we have yet to find out what "reasonable" provision means.

We know two things for certain. First, as Mercury and other competitors increase their activities, BT profitability on main trunk routes is bound to decline. Secondly, as BT's successor company will be sold off—51 per cent. to private shareholders—the predominant ethos and ownership pressure on BT's policy will be for increased profitability and higher dividends.

Where public service obligations clash with shareholders' rewards, we know that profitability, not public service, will be the victor. The only way—and it is only a partial remedy—to square the circle is to raise domestic tariffs. The comment by Lord Weinstock earlier this summer was quoted in a previous debate, and it is worth quoting again. He said: I am not clear what point there is in privatising a company which is by its nature a monopoly. I don't see how you can have anything other than a monopoly running a national community service. Thirdly, we believe that privatisation and deregulation will not accelerate, but will impede, technological innovation and advance. This is a capital-intensive industry, requiring exceptionally heavy programmes of capital investment. This year the capital investment programme in running at £2,000 million. Research and development are also important. No one will deny that British Telecom's research and development laboratory at Mottlesham Heath has made an exceptional contribution to major new developments, especially in optical fibres, small digital exchanges, the use of microchip technology and in other areas. Lead time through research, development, manufacturing and installation is exceptionally long in this industry.

I see no reason to believe that private enterprise or a profit-based British Telecom successor company would be better equipped to carry out those vital tasks than the existing British Telecom. On the contrary, our experience of high technology and high investment industries suggests that, under private ownership, adequate long-term capital investment is not available and that the Exchequer must either massively support them from public funds—as was the case with the British computer and aerospace industries—or take them into full public ownership.

Privatisation and competition will undoubtedly lead to the abandonment of the long-established "Buy British" policies of British Telecom. At least 70,000 jobs in major British companies, such as Standard Telephone and Cables, Plessey and GEC are dependent upon the purchasing policies of BT. With reasonable security in the home market they can engage in research and development programmes and attack those export markets—there are not many of them—that are open to export competition.

For those and many other reasons the Opposition are convinced that the Bill will damage the public interest and Britain's prospects in the telecommunications industry. We are opposed to the principle of the Bill and to the major provisions for the future of telecommunications that are made under it.

Photo of Mr Kenneth Baker Mr Kenneth Baker , Mole Valley

The right hon. Gentleman has set out the reasons why he is opposed to the Bill and why he, as the shadow Secretary of State for Trade and Industry, finds it totally unacceptable. If he finds it so utterly repugnant, why is he not in Committee opposing it?

Photo of Mr Peter Shore Mr Peter Shore , Bethnal Green and Stepney

I am not in Committee opposing the Bill because I have admirable representatives in my team there and, as the hon. Gentleman well knows, the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry is not in the Committee either.

The Opposition expected that sooner or later a timetable motion would be introduced. However, we are surprised by its timing and shocked by the draconian terms in which it is drafted. It was only on Thursday that the Minister for Information Technology made his first and major statement in Standing Committee A on what the Government's competition policy aimed to achieve. That, together with the abolition of British Telecom's monopoly position in clause 2 and the wide-ranging powers and functions of the Director General of Telecommunications and the Secretary of State in clause 3, provides the framework for a large part of the subsequent clauses.

Last Thursday we learnt from the Minister that BT's monopoly of supply and maintenance of the prime telephone instrument connected to BT's systems was to end by the close of 1984. We also learnt that the maintenance of newly installed call-routing apparatus was to be fully open to competition by November 1986. We learnt, further, that services provided over the public telecommunications network, other than the basic telephone service, were to be freely licensed. Already 60 value-added network services have been registered for general licence, with proposals for about 200 different services.

We learnt—at last—what at least is the Government's short-term policy for competition in providing public networks. Having granted Mercury a licence in 1982, the Government decided that no further licence would be issued until at least 1990. We learnt what the Government's policy was on the licensing of radio telephone networks. BT and Mercury are to be faced with two licence competitors and the Government will soon license their first new broad band cable network. That is a complex and, on its face, inconsistent pattern of competition. It should be fully debated and explored.

Photo of Mr Kenneth Carlisle Mr Kenneth Carlisle , Lincoln

The right hon. Gentleman has twice said that he knew from the beginning that a timetable motion would arise. Would it not have been much more sensible for both sides of the Committee to get together and arrange a proper timetable at the beginning of our discussions on the Bill, so that the important matters that he described could be discussed in their right time? Both sides of the Committee could have agreed the correct length of time to be given to each clause.

Photo of Mr Peter Shore Mr Peter Shore , Bethnal Green and Stepney

The hon. Gentleman knows perfectly well that we could not know that in advance. There is far more to a guillotine motion than the guillotine itself. I was discussing the timing of the guillotine and the detailed conditions that it imposes. Throughout successive stages of the Committee, Ministers have announced major new pieces of information, the latest of which was announced by the Minister for Information Technology on Thursday. Although that statement should be fully debated and explored, it will not be.

The motion imposes a ridiculous and outrageous timetable upon the Committee and the House. The Committee is being instructed to complete its proceedings by 1 December, which is in 10 days' time. The motion allows a further three and a half days in Committee, which represents about 26½ hours. During that time the Committee is expected to discuss the remaining 91 clauses and six schedules, which fill 105 pages of this 188-page Bill. To keep pace with the Government's timetable the Committee will be forced to digest, on average, three and a half clauses and four pages of schedules during each hour that remains, and we shall then be allowed two days on Report. That is a ridiculous timetable. Major issues arise in those clauses, including the new licensing system, its regulation and enforcement, the designation of standards for new apparatus, compulsory purchase and powers of entry, the rights of consumers, workers' participation and industrial relations, the licensing of new cable programme services, and the method of privatisation of British Telecom.

If there were no Labour Members on the Committee—if it were manned entirely by dull-witted conformists of the majority party—it would still be impossible to scrutinise such a large measure in such a short time. The Government have more amendments on the Amendment Paper now than the Opposition, and they will be hard pressed even to read them out and pass them because of the timetable. As the Leader of the House will recall, the guillotine on the previous and different Telecommunications Bill on 16 February provided 22 days for the completion of that significantly smaller Bill. The 10 days that he is offering now are derisory. The House will be denied the opportunity of scrutinising large areas of the Bill, which will not only make a thoroughly bad Bill even worse, but will deservedly damage the reputation of the Government and, unhappily, that of the House of Commons.

For all those reasons, the Opposition will vote against the motion and against the Bill when the debate concludes.

Photo of Mr Philip Oppenheim Mr Philip Oppenheim , Amber Valley 4:38 pm, 21st November 1983

Having sat through more than 60 or 70 hours of the Committee proceedings on the Telecommunications Bill, I thought that nothing more terrible could happen to an hon. Member than having to listen for hour after hour to speeches by the hon. Members for Stoke-on-Trent, Central (Mr. Fisher) and Newcastle-under-Lyme (Mr. Golding). Of course, I was quite wrong. Even that experience pales alongside the trepidation that is now felt by this maiden speaker.

I am naturally anxious to observe the traditions of making a maiden speech in the House. The first tradition is, of course to be non-controversial. I shall do my best to remain non-controversial, although I ask hon. Members' indulgence if I occasionally stray from the high standards that are expected of me.

The second tradition, which I most willingly follow, involves my predecessor, Ray Fletcher. He will be known by many hon. Members on both sides. He was well liked and respected, and had a long and illustrious career in the House. He was also a prolific and talented contributor to The Times. I might add that he has been most kind and generous to me in Amber Valley since the general election.

However, the third convention, which is the one that gives me the most pleasure, is to refer to my constituency, the Derbyshire seat of Amber Valley, which I have the honour to represent. Amber valley lies between Belper and Nottingham to the east and west and Derby and Clay Cross to the north and south. The constituency used to be known as Ilkeston in the days when Ilkeston was one of the four main towns constituting the Ilkeston division. Now Ilkeston has become part of another division, and the three main towns of Ripley, Heanor and Alfreton, along with several other smaller towns and villages, make up the constituency of Amber Valley.

Amber Valley does not boast a fine cathedral or any architectural or engineering wonders. However, we have perhaps the next best thing, a company called Butterley Engineering, which was responsible for the steel structure of St. Pancras station. More important than any monuments—and, in my view, far more valuable—we have a great community spirit of kindness and warmth in Amber Valley, typical of an area with a great mining tradition.

Until recently, Amber Valley formed part of the great Derbyshire coalfield. After the war, Amber Valley had no fewer than 15 collieries, employing 14,000 men. The last colliery closed in 1969. Now only a handful of miners make their daily trek to the neighbouring coalfields of north Derbyshire and Nottinghamshire in the next-door constituencies of Bolsover and Ashfield. However, we are not short of many retired miners, who are more than happy to relate the rigours of life in the pits 20 or 30 years ago in the miners' welfare clubs. Those men retain no illusions about the good old days.

Hon. Members who have the honour to represent mining or exmining constituencies will be well aware of the special spirit that is manifest in those areas. That spirit is manifest especially in the great response that local causes always receive from the community.

As the mines closed in Amber Valley in the 1950s and 1960s, at the rate of approximately one a year, Amber Valley did not fall back into indolence and self-pity. New industries sprang up and new companies moved into the area—from light engineering to textiles and from furniture to computer software. Indeed, prefabricated buildings manufactured in Amber Valley are on their way to the Falklands to keep the troops warm.

I should also mention the small body of dairy farmers who have to use all their skill and farming knowledge to extract production from ground that all too often has been devastated by the opencast mining operations of the National Coal Board.

Amber Valley, in common with many areas, is suffering from the world recession. However, it is also hampered by what I consider to be unfair competition for jobs from assisted and development areas. I hope to speak on that subject in future debates.

I am particularly pleased to have caught your eye today, Mr. Deputy Speaker, because, having spent so much time listening to the orations of Opposition Members, I know at first hand that they have had plenty of time to debate the Bill. They took full advantage of that time, although I admit that there were times when their contributions caused the eyelids to grow a little heavy. Fortunately, the offerings of the hon. Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme made up with wit and great good humour what they lacked in plausibility and relevance.

As one who has been involved during the past three or four years in the telecommunications industry, I have seen at first hand the great improvements that have come about since the 1981 Act. It is worth remembering the parlous conditions in which the telecommunications industry found itself in the late 1970s. It is true that the British telecommunications system was one of the four largest systems in the world. It is also true that the research department at Martlesham was responsible for great and innovative technical advances, but customers all too often suffered from the worst excesses of a public sector monopoly.

At times the performance of the Post Office, which was then in control, would have been a joke, had it not been for the severe problems that its inefficiency caused. I am sure that all hon. Members have experienced a deafening silence after dialling a number and the eternal wait for operators or directory inquiries to answer. Waiting lists for equipment ran for months, even years, and contacting the telephone sales department was like trying to get a private audience with the Pope. In many cases, customers were so desperate that they resorted to bribery to get equipment installed, maintained and mended.

There have been great improvements since 1981, but improvement comes slowly. It took the United States 10 years, after its liberalisation in 1968, to reap the full benefits, and it will take this country many more years before our telecommunications network is totally changed. I believe that management is the key to such change, and the failure of management was partly responsible for the parlous condition in which our telecommunications industry found itself in the late 1970s.

Opposition Members accuse us of putting forward the interests of business in the Bill. I do not deny that. Business creates jobs and produces the products that we all buy. Anything that helps business must help us all. However, Conservative Members are equally concerned for the proverbial little old lady who might make only one or two calls a week. Therefore, we are desperate to see improvements in the British telecommunications system and network. That is why safeguards are built into the Bill—safeguards on public call boxes and in other respects—such as have never been enshrined in law before.

Opposition Members complain that profits will be made out of the service under privatisation and liberalisation. They say that private profit is incompatible with public service. However, they fail to grasp that, under monopoly, vast profits were made by the privileged few suppliers who were allowed to enter the charmed circle of telecommunications approved manufacturers. In the absence of competition, those companies grew fat and complacent during years of all but guaranteed public sector monopoly purchasing. Only since competition was introduced have users been able to buy and rent the products that they deserve—products that have been available overseas for many years.

I therefore give my full support to the Bill. Nevertheless, I have one worrying reservation. Competition is one thing, but when we play by the rules and others do not, our industry can suffer. I tabled an amendment on the question of reciprocity to ensure that, if we import products from overseas, we have equal and free access to export our products to those overseas markets. At present, the only market in the world that can be said to be truly liberal is the American market. We have already seen examples of the French trying to sell telephone exchanges to Hull. The first Teletex system to be approved in Great Britain this year was Swedish. No one pretends that we can sell our products in those markets. Worse still, products gain a name for being assembled in Britain because they have a plastic casing and, on some occasions, a "Made in Britain" sticker on them. That is not good enough.

With that reservation, I believe that the Bill will be greatly beneficial. I am, however, sad that the Opposition are trying to delay its implementation. I support the timetable motion because the sooner the Bill is on the statute book the sooner the benefits will accrue to my constituents, to the constituents of Labour Members and to all those who work in the telecommunications industry.

Photo of Mr John Golding Mr John Golding , Newcastle-under-Lyme 4:50 pm, 21st November 1983

It is my pleasure to congratulate the hon. Member for Amber Valley (Mr. Oppenheim) on his maiden speech. It was nice to see him awake; he will appreciate what I mean. It was also pleasant to hear him begin on a slightly rebellious note. His hon. Friend the Member for Aldridge-Brownhills (Mr. Shepherd) will tell him that that is the easiest way to avoid late-night sittings if one sits on the Conservative Benches. To rebel is to be able to live an idle life.

The Leader of the House will agree that the hon. Member for Amber Valley began well in Committee. On his very first morning the hon. Gentleman gave me a book—from which I could quote extensively, but will not—as a present. It was a nice present, especially as he had written it himself. I also thank him for his compliment to Ray Fletcher, who once tried to get me to go up in a hot air balloon, a pleasure that I felt obliged to decline—[Interruption.] Perhaps Ray was trying to get me to provide fuel for the balloon.

The hon. Member for Amber Valley made a controversial speech, especially when he made nasty remarks about my hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent, Central (Mr. Fisher), but we have come to expect that sort of thing. Although it was a controversial speech I shall not comment on it in view of the tradition of the House. Contrary to his views, I believe that the Government want to sell off BT to raise some quick cash. How can a business that has got itself into a financial mess make any money if the machinery that would achieve that is sold off? The Government's action on this is crackers. It is economic lunacy and it is called privatisation. Because what they are doing is patently wrong—half-baked and disreputable—they are trying to do it as far away as possible from the constant criticism of Parliament. Hence the guillotine motion today.

The Government are constantly embarrassed because they are losing the argument. I am told that the Bill is in the charge of the Minister for Information Technology. In Committee we can expect all technology and no information. Consider the sale of the shares. It is a sad and sorry tale. The Government bungled the sale of Cable and Wireless, Amersham International and Associated British Ports. Those episodes will appear as success stories compared with the sale of BT.

The Government decided to privatise the British Telecom—and I emphasise "British"—and what was their first step? They sent officials to Tokyo to discuss the sale of shares with the Japanese. Then they actually paid an American firm, Morgan Stanley, to study the sale of shares to the Americans. It is even rumoured that shares will be sold in the middle east. Conservative Ministers will look at home in the bazaars of the middle east. It will not surprise me, having listened to their arguments on this subject over the months, if they swap BT for half a dozen goats and a couple of camels. That is the sort of mentality they have.

Unless we kick up enough fuss, British Telecom will become the Nippon-Arab-Yankee telephone company. The POEU—I declare any interest as a POEU assistant secretary—does not want our public telecommunications system sold to the Yanks or anyone else abroad. We do not want it sold to anybody, but if it must be sold, at least let us keep it 100 per cent. British. One reason why the Government are in a financial mess is that they are keeping over 3 million people unemployed. This measure will put more people out of work.

It is interesting to note that after Department of Trade and Industry officials had asked the Japanese whether they were interested in buying shares, they went on to inquire whether they were interested in selling us telecommunications equipment. We can only guess that the inscrutable Japanese—already staggered by the offer of shares in BT—almost fell off their chairs laughing. It was like sending a deputation to Bill Sykes asking whether he would welcome the repeal of the Larceny Act. Fancy asking the Japanese whether they would like to sell us telecommunications equipment.

The situation would be laughable if it were not so tragic. On the Government Bench sits the Under-Secretary of State for Trade and Industry, a Minister who represents the west midlands. He has constituents who are unemployed and would like to work at GEC (Telecoms) in Coventry. Is it not incredible that, instead of supporting them and other telecommunication workers in the north and south, the Minister instead is prepared to be party to sending officials to Tokyo to ask the Japanese whether they would like some of our work? Rather than being a Minister with responsibility for the west midlands he is acting more like a Minister for Overseas Development. He should be fighting for work for Britain, not being a party to work going abroad.

The hon. Gentleman's partner in crime is Sir George Jefferson, who has made it clear that a privatised BT will abandon the policy of buying British. No wonder Lord Weinstock of GEC and Sir Kenneth Corfield of STC are fed up with the Government. There is no way that people overseas will be persuaded to buy British if we are installing foreign equipment in this country. We cannot revitalise GEC, STC or Plessey by shutting down their factories. Can we afford to lose more jobs? Should we scrap more valuable equipment or, as with other industries, sell it to be used abroad against us?

The Government despise the word "protection", but if they were poor, unemployed or managers facing the chop they would not be so willing, in the name of free trade, to export—no, give away—our jobs to the Japanese. They should be investing in a modern public British telecommunications system.

The biggest indictment of the creation of the Mercury system is that it is wasting Britain's investment. British Telecom has a cable radio system that links our cities and the countryside. It is underused and when it is fully modernised—as it must be, whether public or private—it will have even greater overcapacity. Alongside it, at enormous cost, is being built the Mercury system. If it ever gets off the ground—and I shall do everything possible within the law to stop it—it will also run at overcapacity. Have we so much spare capital that we can afford this wasteful duplication? What is the point of Mercury providing a service for big business at the expense of the ordinary residential subscriber and services in the countryside?

The Government have put up the smoke screen that the BT licence will protect the customer. They know that it will not. Their case is being put by BT management in newspaper advertisements that are a national disgrace. They are a disgrace because the Government's propaganda is being paid for not by Conservative Central Office but by the public. They are a disgrace because they are deliberately provocative to the staff, proving that the argument over privatisation is not only with the Government but with the BT board and its chairman. They are a disgrace because they do not make it clear that a BT board, appointed to run a public corporation, cannot speak or give guarantees on behalf of any future board responsible to private shareholders. They are a disgrace because they mislead. They describe, for example, the licence as a licence granted by Parliament when clearly it is not. They pretend that it gives protection when it contains so much small print, so many get-outs and so gives much discretion to the Director-General of Telecommunications that it clearly does not. The Post Office Users National Council has underlined the point that the Government keep dodging the issue of price-fixing and how to pay for uneconomic services. It is clear that the Government do so because they have not thought out properly the economics of what they are doing. They have certainly not given the guarantees on pensions.

The Bill should go no further until the Government are able to state precisely what they intend to do about prices, what they intend to do about access charges and what they intend to do about the funding of pensions. Whatever the Government's business managers say, it is not democratic to be putting a Bill through Parliament which the Government themselves do not know how they will implement. Until the Government know how they will use this legislation, the Bill should be halted. The Government, in trying to get a Bill through Parliament which they will decide later how to use, are acting undemocratically.

The Bill is damaging to the customer, the equipment manufacturing industry and the staff, whose livelihoods are at stake. I make no apology for opposing it so hard over the past few months. Many of the staff of BT have devoted their lives to building up this public service. They feel betrayed. They feel that their effort and dedication is now to be exploited in the pursuit of private profit. On their behalf, and on the behalf of customers, manufacturers, and Britain itself, I oppose the motion.

Photo of Mr Simon Coombs Mr Simon Coombs , Swindon 5:02 pm, 21st November 1983

The Bill has made spectacular progress in Committee—spectacularly bad progress. It can be no surprise to hon. Members in the Chamber this evening, or indeed to any hon. Member who has followed the progress of the Bill until now, that it has become necessary today to introduce a timetable motion. The Opposition have expected it—indeed, they have said in Committee on many occasions that it was only a matter of time before the guillotine would fall. The Government have expected it because they have seen hour after hour, day after day, and, indeed, night after night, the progress on the Bill being deliberately held back by the Opposition. The Government need the Bill, and they need it on the statute book in good time.

One of my hon. Friends calculated that, at the present rate of progress, the Bill would be in Committee for eight years. Frankly, that is a little too long even for the patience and tolerance of Conservative Members. There are limits, and the Opposition have comfortably and magnificently exceeded them in their opposition to the Bill so far.

Perhaps I should tell the House, or rather those hon. Members who are present but not involved in the Committee on the Bill—there are relatively few present—that we have reached page 3 of the Bill. Before hon. Members assume that page 3 represents the third page in the debate, I should tell them that page 1 is not part of the matter that we have been debating—we have reached only the second page. There are 188 pages in the Bill and it has taken lengthy debate to reach that limited stage. It took us five hours to decide that we would meet on Tuesdays and Thursdays in the mornings and afternoons—five hours to reach that important point in the proceedings.

We have had this time a record length of speech of a mere four hours and eight minutes. That may show that opposition to the Bill is less substantial than it was because the Bill has been tidied up and put into more sensible form than the Bill in the last Parliament, for which the record speech was 11 hours. We spent two and a half hours on the phrase, which was amendment No. 38, "as comprehensively as possible". That debate was brought to a halt only when my hon. Friend the Member for Hove (Mr. Sainsbury) moved the closure. I suspect that one Opposition Member misread the brief on which the Opposition have relied so extensively when he said, not debate "as comprehensively as possible" but debate for as long and as comprehensively as possible". And so they proceeded to do without ever defining what they meant by the word "possible". Some Conservative Members could take them to task for the slackness of the phraseology that they have used from time to time.

Photo of Mr Harry Ewing Mr Harry Ewing , Falkirk East

The hon. Gentleman is pointing out everyone else's sins. Will he point out that he was responsible for a serious loss of time when he misled his hon. Friend the Minister for Information Technology, in that, having just left the Post Office as a salesman, he did not even know what the connection charges were? That cost the Committee some time and the Minister of State some embarrassment in an effort to clear up the misunderstanding.

Photo of Mr Simon Coombs Mr Simon Coombs , Swindon

I hear my hon. Friend say "trouble maker". I thank the hon. Member for Falkirk, East (Mr. Ewing) for his intervention. That occurred during one of the dark hours of the Committee and it enabled him to drag out the proceedings for at least another 10 minutes in discussing the difference between £70 and £75. That is just an example of the way in which the Opposition carried out their business.

We dealt with amazing matters, such as allowances for civil servants working for the Office of Telecommunications in the future who might have occasion to pay visits to the Scottish islands. There were debates on whether some Scottish islands were nearer to or further from the mainland than other Scottish islands. We had round tours of the constituencies of most of the Members on the Committee, some of which were of outstanding beauty and others that needed to be built up to maintain their reputation. We dealt with the stamina of hon. Members on both sides of the Committee—their ability to survive late-night sittings and the chances of their family life being affected by late-night sittings. We dealt with Members' mode of dress—whether it was appropriate that Members should attend in their shirtsleeves, and whether those shirtsleeves should be rolled up or down. Each of those matters was dealt with thoroughly.

Photo of Mr Robert Hayward Mr Robert Hayward , Kingswood

I hope that before my hon. Friend moves on to other points he will tell the House that we discussed the civil war on at least three or four occasions. I refer not to a recent civil war, but to the English civil war of the 17th century.

Photo of Mr Simon Coombs Mr Simon Coombs , Swindon

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for drawing attention to one of the more exciting moments in Committee. The definition of at least one Opposition Member of whether a person might be a roundhead, a cavalier or a skinhead was dealt with fully and at length.

Photo of Mark Fisher Mark Fisher , Stoke-on-Trent Central

The person who was discussing the outcome of the civil war was a Conservative Member, the hon. Member for Northampton, North (Mr. Marlow). He laboured under the misapprehension that the Royalist cause won the civil war. Opposition Members have been attempting to put him right, but when he watches the last instalment of the television series "By the Sword Divided" he will know the true result. That shows the grasp of factual knowledge displayed by Conservative Members.

Photo of Mr Paul Dean Mr Paul Dean , Woodspring

Order. It would be helpful if we returned to the present.

Photo of Mr Simon Coombs Mr Simon Coombs , Swindon

I was about to do that, and I am grateful to you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, for your implied reprimand. I draw the attention of the House to the discussion in Committee on the meaning of the word "maritime". In attempting to improve the Bill, the Government on one occasion—all of the other proposed amendments to the clauses have come from the Opposition—suggested that the words "ship-to-shore" should be replaced by the word "maritime".

The Committee's proceedings illustrate the type of entertainment to which we were subjected. I quote the words of an Opposition Member who is not present and should perhaps remain anonymous, although the House may guess who he is. He stated: I opened the Oxford English Dictionary. Its first definition of 'maritime' is:'Of countries and peoples:Bordering on the sea; living near the sea-coast.' That has nowt to do with it.

Another definition is `Of animals, plants, etc.: Living or found near the sea.' Definition 3 in the Oxford English Dictionary is 'Of a fighting force: Intended for service at sea.' I hope that the amendment has nothing to do with a fighting force or anything so belligerent.

Definition 4, which is perhaps relevant—I do not know—states: 'Of, pertaining to, arising from, or existing in, the sea.'I think that we are bothered not about the sea but about ships, and so on. What about oil rigs? We are bothered about people, ships, perhaps oil rigs and other means of being at sea. The fifth definition in the Oxford English Dictionary is: `Characteristic of a seaman, nautical.' After reading that dictionary, we must surely question whether the Government are using the right word."—[Official Report, Standing Committee A, 15 November 1983, c. 588.]

Photo of Mr Kenneth Carlisle Mr Kenneth Carlisle , Lincoln

My hon. Friend's experience on the Committee seems very like that of the rest of us on other Committees that have been guillotined. Does he accept that, as he extends his parliamentary career, he will have the same sort of entertaining and educative discussion on many other Committees? If that is the case, will he be an early convert to the idea that all Standing Committees should have an arranged timetable from the beginning so that the expansive education through which we must go is curtailed and the relevant matters are given proper time for discussion?

Photo of Mr Simon Coombs Mr Simon Coombs , Swindon

I am grateful to my hon. Friend raising that issue. I shall return to it later in my remarks.

Amid the welter of verbiage from the Opposition, it has been clearly put across to us that an outworn knowledge of British Telecom is displayed by Opposition Members. They appear to be unaware of the changed attitude that pervades British Telecom as a result of its gradual progress towards competition. The basis of the Bill remains the same. We are attempting a steady move towards liberalisation and competition which was begun in the 1981 Act and brought forward in the sense that attachments to the network have been liberalised to a substantial extent. This liberalisation will be increased as a result of the statement on competition policy made last Thursday by my hon. Friend the Minister of State. We see the beginnings of competition within the network by the provision of an alternative network in Mercury communications. We envisage that the customers of British Telecom will be protected by the licence.

This measure was put before the Committee on the first day of the sequence of sittings on 25 October. It includes the rural and residential customers, users of call boxes, emergency, information and maritime services. A privatised British Telecom will thus not be able to ignore the interests of those users of services. Once we had a chance to read the licence it became clear that the wild campaign put across by the Opposition was nonsense. That is why we had to listen to the farrago of irrelevancies which I quoted.

The Bill and the licence allow for interconnection with other networks to guarantee that all consumers of telecommunications services have an opportunity to communicate with all other consumers. We propose to outlaw cross-subsidisation because that is a way in which British Telecom would be able to dodge its responsibilities. We have insisted that access charges are made available to fund any loss-making services. The Opposition could read the licence in black and white. I suspect that, having read it, they despaired of having anything with which to attack us.

In answer to a point made by the hon. Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme (Mr. Golding), I say that the whole of the process through which we are passing has nothing to do with the rights of pensioners of British Telecom. We have all received letters from pensioners of that organisation. The trust funds set up for those pensioners are unaffected by the legislation. This is one example of the kind of scare story that was thrown at us during those 70-plus hours of Committee discussion. It shows the panic that has been spread by the Opposition in Committee and outside.

We might be charitable to a degree and congratulate the Opposition when one opinion poll shows that some people are unhappy with what is happening. It is not surprising, in the light of the propaganda war that has been carried on, that some people are concerned. We recognise those worries. The legislation aims to ensure that those concerns are groundless. The future will demonstrate that those fears are groundless.

We have had an extensive debate on the wording of the Bill. Latterly we have debated the amendment that we should promote the interests of manufacturers of telecommunications apparatus. My hon. Friends who have sat with me during the debate will recognise those words from last Thursday's debate. Do the words to promote the interests of manufacturers of telecommunication apparatus include Japanese, American, French, Swiss and Swedish manufacturers? Nothing in the proposed amendment shows that we are talking solely about United Kingdom manufacturers. When I pointed that out to the Opposition, one hon. Member said that that was probably so, one said that it was probably not so and a third said that they would deal with it on Report. We wait with interest to see whether anything better will turn up next time. The woolliness of many of the amendments and the arguments in support of them has been painful to listen to at such length.

There is a danger in erecting trade barriers. That is what promoting the interests of manufacturers means. It means putting up barriers to prevent foreign competition. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."] I hear some Opposition Members saying, "Hear, hear." One hon. Member who is not in the Chamber said that that was not what he meant, but I believe that it is the general view of the Opposition. United Kingdom manufacturers must export to make a profit. They cannot rely on the home market. If they cannot export, they will lose the competitive edge on which they must rely to be successful. That is the danger of the Opposition's argument.

The Opposition's argument about loss of jobs and opportunities is utterly bogus. The telecommunications industry is growing so fast and so strongly that there will be jobs, profits and success for all who enter the industry, whether it be a privatised British Telecom or any of the firms with which it will compete in the future.

As a new Member of Parliament, I am fascinated to watch the performance and the contortions of the Opposition, but their behaviour makes a mockery of our procedures. Indeed, both sides indulge in a ritual dance in their approach to legislation. Whatever the legislation, we must surely all agree that only a certain amount of time can be devoted to it. The question is whether the whole of that time should be spent seriously and constructively debating the Bill, or whether, as at present, the first half or even three quarters of the time available should be spent in pointless time wasting and the last fraction in a mad scramble to sort out the remaining 100 or so clauses.

In reply to my hon. Friend the Member for Lincoln (Mr. Carlisle), I must therefore say that I am a convert to the proposal that the Procedure Committee should examine the whole basis on which Bills are considered in Committee, especially measures as important as the one now before us. Both sides know that there should be a proper chance to discuss matters of real importance. I do not believe that it is beyond the wit and wisdom of those who manage the affairs of the House to ensure that time is available for consideration—lengthy and even all-night consideration, if necessary, but sensible and constructive consideration—of the matters in hand.

So far, I have not talked to any hon. Member who opposes that principle. I therefore hope that every effort will be made by all of us to achieve the right result. In the meantime, I trust and I know that the Government will press on and get this legislation on to the statute book. I commit myself—I am sure that all my hon. Friends will do the same—to sensible and constructive discussion of the Bill in the remaining time available. Meanwhile, we must support the motion, as we cannot be sure whether any of us will be here in eight years' time if the present rate of progress is maintained.

Photo of Charles Kennedy Charles Kennedy , Ross and Cromarty and Skye 5:24 pm, 21st November 1983

Both before and since the general election, the Minister has repeatedly told the House and the country that the purpose of the Bill is innovation and liberalisation. There is no doubt that the Bill is innovative and that in a certain sense it will liberalise the telecommunications network in this country. In the light of the closing remarks of the hon. Member for Swindon (Mr. Coombs), however, the Minister must agree that such innovation and liberalisation is sadly treated when it has to be dealt with through archaic mechanisms and suffers from the cosy, two-party constraints of this and all British Parliaments.

When the Committee debated its sittings motion, the hon. Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme (Mr. Golding) had a great deal to say about my own and other constituencies and the need for members of the Committee to have time to deal with their constituency business as well as to contribute to the work of the Committee. The Minister assured us that there would be time to discuss the many issues in the Bill, which would affect my constituency and many others. There has been some discussion along those lines, but I am sure that there has not been so much as the Minister and members on both sides of the Committee would have wished.

The problem is not only party tactics, about which we hear so much from Labour and Conservative Members, but the whole system under which we work, which does not do justice to democracy or to the proper examination of the issues. The system lets down Members of Parliament and the people who voted for them, whatever their party affiliations.

The hon. Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme has achieved considerable fame—or infamy—in the tangled history of the privatisation of British Telecom. Nevertheless, he has consistently shown his willingness to debate the issues sincerely. Somewhere along the way, however, the Government have departed from their own original claims, on which the Opposition wished to argue the matter, and in the resulting vacuum there has been a complete loss of argument.

The Government talked about competition and liberalisation. Only last week, however, they informed us that competition and liberalisation would take the form of two major companies—Mercury and BT. That is scarcely a full-scale policy or programme for liberalisation and competitiveness, nor is it the rhetoric of the election campaign in June or the Minister's defence of the proposal in the Committee, the House and the country.

If the Bill is passed, it will institutionalise two giants—Mercury and BT—in the telecommunications industry. That will be as reprehensible, as unhealthy and as undemocratic as the instituionalisation of the two-party system in the work of the House and in the politics of the nation. It is regrettable that public debate on a major issue of this nature should be reduced to puerile denouncements by the two major parties. The SDP-Liberal alliance wishes to distance itself entirely from that process, which we find regrettable in the extreme.

The hon. Member for Swindon spoke of the ritual dance which the two main parties go through. That was an appropriate description. It is ritual in that, while it takes place, it has an almost tribal quality. It is not up to date or relevant to political reality. That ritual dance undermines the quality and content of our politics and the way in which they are carried out. That must be changed. The necessity for change is underlined by the situation in which we find ourselves today. It is extremely regrettable that we face such circumstances. The matter could be dealt with better. In his heart of hearts, the Minister, like almost every right hon. and hon. Member, will agree with that.

Instead of serious public debate and qualitative deliberation of the issues, we increasingly have

sportsmanship and duelling by the two old parties rather than an assertion of the realistic centre of the issue on privatisation. That has happened because the Government have deserted their claims and because the Opposition have used the only instrument that is open to them in the unhealthy workings of Parliament. I can do no better than quote a former Social Democratic Member of Parliemant who was involved in this issue. On 16 February this year he said: This House is rightly regarded throughout the free world as the mother of Parliaments. On occasions such as this, however, we set an example which, if more people read the background, would make us a public laughing stock. We criticise British management both in the public and in the private sector for incompetence, we rap the trade unions over the knuckles for using outdated and harmful practices, yet we participate in and run a system that is inefficient and archaic to the point of imbecility."—[Official Report, 16 February 1983; Vol 37, c. 325.] The Bill is profoundly important and raises wide issues concerning public and private participation in telecommunications. It also raises important ideological issues about how the representatives of the people view the economy and its development. Surely we have reached the point of imbecility when the arguments are deserted amid the and pros and cons of the old, failed and outdated two-party system.

My party hopes that, despite the excessive curtailment of the Bill which the Governent have imposed, there will be opportunities for more debate and discussion on it. However, neither the Social Democrats nor the Liberal party can support the timetable motion. We hope that, one day, timetable motions will not be necessary because, with the widespread reforms in Britain's politics which are so badly needed, there will be parliamentary reform, which will make the two party "in-House" game redundant and irrelevant. It is redundant and should be dispensed with.

Photo of Mr Robert Hayward Mr Robert Hayward , Kingswood 5:33 pm, 21st November 1983

I am grateful for the opportunity to speak after the hon. Member for Ross, Cromarty and Skye (Mr. Kennedy) as I have had few such opportunities to speak in Committee. The hon. Member criticised our system in Committee and complained that we have not had the opportunity to discuss some of the serious items in the Bill. However, the hon. Gentleman has not attended the Committee often. Out of the 37 Divisions that we had in Committee, he has been present for only 14. That compares poorly with the attendance of my hon. Friend the Member for Aberdeen, South (Mr. Malone) who has voted in 30. In other words, my hon. Friend has attended more than twice as often as the hon. Member for Ross, Cromarty and Skye.

The hon. Gentleman said that he wants to debate the issues, but he voted against the sittings motion, which took five hours to debate. We should have had far more opportunity to discuss the Bill, which he seems so enthusiastic to debate but never turned up to debate, had he voted for the sittings motion, and done so before it had been discussed for five hours. In other words, the hon. Gentleman wanted that debate to go on and on. We were merely discussing whether to sit on Tuesday and Thursday morning and afternoon. It is not constructive for the hon. Gentleman to say that he wishes that he could have had an opportunity to discuss the issues when he did not turn up to discuss them or to vote.

Photo of Mr John Golding Mr John Golding , Newcastle-under-Lyme

Will the hon. Gentleman tell us how many speeches he made in Committee as compared with the hon. Member for Ross, Cromarty and Skye (Mr. Kennedy) whom he has just attacked?

Photo of Mr Robert Hayward Mr Robert Hayward , Kingswood

I cannot remember precisely how many, but I know that I made several speeches. I also made several interventions in the speeches of the hon. Members for Newcastle-under-Lyme (Mr. Golding) and for Stoke-on-Trent, Central (Mr. Fisher). According to the records maintained by the Clerk to the Committee, I have voted in every division.

Photo of Mr John Golding Mr John Golding , Newcastle-under-Lyme

I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on saying "Aye" or "No" 37 times. Does he agree that when the hon. Member for Ross, Cromarty and Skye attended, he made a speech whereas Conservative Members sat like dumb mutes?

Photo of Mr Robert Hayward Mr Robert Hayward , Kingswood

No. I have made several interventions and speeches. I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on having said "Aye" or "No" 37 times, always in contradiction of me. In the light of that, I am sure that he will recognise that I have made several speeches at all hours. My first speech began at 3.50 am.

Photo of Charles Kennedy Charles Kennedy , Ross and Cromarty and Skye

I should like the hon. Gentleman to clarify his last reply to the hon. Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme (Mr. Golding). Does he not accept that when I have attended the Committee I have made a speech? Does he further agree that that is a considerably better performance than that of the vast majority of poodles on the Conservative Benches, who raised their hands in silent support of the Government?

Photo of Mr Robert Hayward Mr Robert Hayward , Kingswood

As I said at the most recent sitting of the Committee, the hon. Member for Ross, Cromarty and Skye raised points that had already been debated at length by the hon. Members for Newcastle-under-Lyme and for Stoke-on-Trent, Central on previous occasions.

It has been argued that the timetable motion is a matter of great import for the House. It is, and rightly so. The hon. Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme said that it is opposed throughout the British telecommonications industry and that there is much antipathy towards the Bill.

Photo of Mr John Golding Mr John Golding , Newcastle-under-Lyme

Can the hon. Gentleman tell me when I have ever used words such as "antipathy"? It is an outrage, certainly.

Photo of Mr Robert Hayward Mr Robert Hayward , Kingswood

I accept the hon. Gentleman's correction. Employees of BT are so outraged by the Bill that, after I refereed a rugby match in which BT employees were playing last Saturday, they bought me several beers.

Photo of Mr John Golding Mr John Golding , Newcastle-under-Lyme

That was because of the hon. Gentleman's decisions.

Photo of Mr Robert Hayward Mr Robert Hayward , Kingswood

Many hon. Members have complained about the number of guillotine motions and the archaic system from which we suffer in Committee. I should like to echo those comments by quoting from a previous debate. These comments were made by my hon. Friend the Member for Cornwall, North (Mr. Neale) in the debate on the previous timetable motion, and are worth reconsidering. He said: My research tells me that during the 1940s—admittedly they were war years—only three Bills were guillotined … In the 1950s, six Bills were guillotined. In the 1960s, 13 Bills were guillotined and in the 1970s, 21 Bills were guillotined. If we continue as we are … we are heading for the guillotining of a minimum of 30 Bills in the 1980s".—[Official Report, 16 February 1983, Vol. 37, c. 320–1.] Indeed, we may actually reach 40. My hon. Friend also said that the public feels that in Committee we give due consideration to Bills and that it is a display of manly competence to drive a Government to introduce a guillotine. That is not an acceptable method of considering whether to oppose a filibuster.

In opposition there is a responsibility to oppose reasonably and constructively. That is my understanding of the duty of any Opposition. I therefore suggest that any Opposition should consider two questions before embarking on a filibuster. First, will the Bill be better as a result and, secondly, will anything be achieved if a filibuster drives the Government to introduce a guillotine?

To the question, "Is this a better Bill as a result of the filibuster to which the Committee has been subjected over the past few weeks?", the answer must be no. Every clause and virtually every word that we have examined was considered at great length by the previous Committee in the previous Parliament. Therefore, it cannot be said that as a result of this filibuster we have a better Bill before us.

To the question, "Can we defeat the Bill by such a filibuster?", the answer was given in the opening remarks of the right hon. Member for Bethnal Green and Stepney (Mr. Shore). He said that the Opposition had known from day one that there would be a guillotine and that a filibuster would not defeat the Bill. Therefore, Labour Members have failed as an Opposition.

However, the right hon. Gentleman's comments are worth considering because it is in the long-term interests of Parliament to decide quickly about how an Opposition should work in their consideration of Bills. The hour-after-hour consideration of words and clauses, so ably described by my hon. Friend the Member for Swindon (Mr. Coombs), does nothing for Parliament or this Chamber.

Photo of Mr Harry Ewing Mr Harry Ewing , Falkirk East

Is the hon. Gentleman saying that the Government should determine the tactics of the Opposition?

Photo of Mr Robert Hayward Mr Robert Hayward , Kingswood

No. I was suggesting, I hope lucidly, that any Opposition should consider the purpose of a filibuster and ask a number of questions before embarking on one. I also wonder whether we should allow a filibuster to take the form that it does now or whether we should have an alternative Committee structure.

Photo of Mr Harry Ewing Mr Harry Ewing , Falkirk East

When the hon. Gentleman reads the Official Report tomorrow, he will see that his suggestion was that the Government should consider how Oppositions should conduct themselves when opposing Bills. That is a dangerous statement and I hope that he will reconsider it.

Photo of Mr Robert Hayward Mr Robert Hayward , Kingswood

I did not intend to make such a comment, and I thank the hon. Gentleman for that correction. I was trying to identify the responsibilities that lie on any Opposition of whatever persuasion. Those were the words I intended to use. I was not suggesting that a Government should dictate the route to be followed by an Opposition.

The rules of debate in Committee, and possibly within this Chamber, should allow Members the opportunity to oppose and make their points at reasonable length and in reasonable depth, but they should not be able to do so over many hours when it can be done in a shorter time.

For those reasons, we should vote for the timetable motion. I do not believe that continuing along the route that we have pursued over the last few weeks is a compliment to Parliament or the Committee on which we sit. In many ways, it is a comment on the members of that Committee. I support a reconsideration by the Select Committee on Procedure of the rules of Standing Committees so that we are not subjected to the filibusters that this and other Committees have faced. Tonight we should vote for the timetable motion and at a later stage give a considered judgment on changing the rules of Standing Committees.

Photo of Mark Fisher Mark Fisher , Stoke-on-Trent Central 5:45 pm, 21st November 1983

The Opposition are accused by the Leader of the House of delay and obstruction. We reject that charge. We have not delayed or obstructed, we have opposed with reason, intelligence and great determination. We shall continue to oppose the Bill.

Photo of Mr Kenneth Carlisle Mr Kenneth Carlisle , Lincoln

Does the hon. Gentleman believe that the Committee's long debate on the civil war contributed to the problems of British Telecom?

Photo of Mark Fisher Mark Fisher , Stoke-on-Trent Central

Had the hon. Gentleman been listening, he would have known that it was the hon. Member for Northampton, North (Mr. Marlow) who speculated on the civil war, not Labour Members.

Photo of Mr John Golding Mr John Golding , Newcastle-under-Lyme

Is it not surprising that the hon. Member for Northampton, North (Mr. Marlow), who has demanded this bulldozing from the Government, should be absent? Is my hon. Friend aware that the hon. Gentleman is now watching the television series on the civil war on Sunday night and that he will have a shock when he finds out who wins?

Photo of Mr Paul Dean Mr Paul Dean , Woodspring

Order. We need not debate the civil war again.

Photo of Mark Fisher Mark Fisher , Stoke-on-Trent Central

We have opposed, because this is a bad Bill—politically in what it seeks to do and technically in how it is drafted. If it is enacted, it will sell off £4,000 million of public assets to private speculators, many of whom will be foreign. It will mean higher charges and a worse service to all private telephone subscribers. In particular, it will harm the elderly, the disabled, those who live alone, those on low incomes and those who live in rural areas.

The Bill will sell out the idea and ideal of public service, which has dominated the industry for the past 70 years, and replace it with a scramble for private profits. It will mean the end of one scale of charges and one quality of service, whether one lives in the Shetlands or in Shepherds Bush. It will mean that the interests of private subscribers will be sacrificed to the demands of a handful of big businesses, particularly the 300 large public corporations that provide 30 per cent. of BT's revenue.

The Leader of the House said that we had delayed unnecessarily. He has either been misinformed or has not read his Hansard. Certainly he has not attended any of our sittings to check on the progress of the Committee. If he had done so, he might have appreciated that the first three clauses are the Bill's key clauses. They are the mechanics and driving force by which the industry is to be destroyed by the Government. In 75 hours of debate, 25 amendments have been completed—three hours of debate per amendment. The debates have considered matters such as the creation and financing of what is effectively a new Government Department or quango in the Office of Telecommunications. The Leader of the House said that that was a simple matter. Does he consider that the creation of an office with a staff of 50 and a budget of 1·5 million is a simple matter not worthy of consideration by hon. Members?

We have considered the abolition by the Government of the Post Office Users National Council—the means by which consumer interests are protected—the abolition of the protection of services in rural areas, the destruction of 20 per cent. to 25 per cent. of rural public call boxes, the future of operator services, the emergency services, the interests of the disabled, the handicapped and other vulnerable groups. We have also considered at length the conflict between business and residential subscribers, which is at the heart of the Bill.

My hon. Friend the Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme (Mr. Golding) has most effectively said that we have been considering the future of the telecommunications manufacturing industry. If the Bill is enacted, the industry's future will be bleak. Are such matters not worthy of consideration? When one listens to the scope and scale of the debates, one might ask how we have managed to debate each subject in a mere three hours. Perhaps we have been failing in our duty by not giving them more scrutiny.

Some of the 25 amendments that have been discussed were tabled by the Government. Of the 109 amendments table so far, no fewer than 59—more than half—were tabled by the Government. That is a reflection of the Bill's complexity or, more accurately, of the Government's recognition that they have not yet got the Bill right even by their own lights. That shows that further time is necessary for the House to consider such a monumental Bill.

All of the Opposition's amendments could be described as constructive. Not one of the amendments so far debated could possibly be described, even by Conservative Members, as a wrecking amendment. Given the enormity of the subject, the sums of public money involved and the Bill's technical complexity, surprising progress has been made. However, far more progress would have been made had the Government taken a more constructive and flexible approach.

The Minister and the Under-Secretary of State agreed, on their own admission, with the spirit of the Opposition's amendments but they opposed them because they said that the protection that we sought for the rural areas, the disabled and residential consumers was contained in the Government's draft licence. In their opinion, that was sufficient. We have disagreed with, and disproved, that assertion in Committee. Only by legislation can such interests be properly protected. If the Government were serious in wanting progress and if they really meant to protect subscribers, they would have lost nothing by accepting the Opposition's amendments, but they have not accepted any.

The Government then had the nerve to accuse the Opposition of delaying the Bill's progress when they could easily have facilitated it. The truth is that the Government are not taking the Committee stage seriously. Of the Conservative Back Benchers in the Committee five have made a total of seven speeches in 75 hours. What cynicism, or, perhaps, discipline by the Government Whip. What lack of interest they have shown in the telephone services that will in future be provided to their constituents. Those hon. Members have sat in total silence except to vote "No", against the interests of those in rural areas, against the disabled and against every other protection that the Opposition have sought to write into the Bill.

Photo of Mr Simon Coombs Mr Simon Coombs , Swindon

I seek clarification from the hon. Gentleman. He said that the Conservative members of the Committee made seven speeches and then said that the same hon. Members had sat in total silence. Is he suggesting that nothing was said in the speeches?

Photo of Mark Fisher Mark Fisher , Stoke-on-Trent Central

The hon. Gentleman has hit the nail on the head. Nothing whatever was said in those seven speeches. They were totally vacuous.

The Minister and the Under-Secretary have advanced the only arguments in their role as apologists for the Government's case. They are men of some goodwill. They know that they are acting against the public interest. Time and again they have conceded the argument and fallen back on the plea that the protection sought is covered by the licence. I admit that they are right in principle. Every condition in the licence covers some protection for the interests of groups that we seek to protect. The Minister of State and the Under-Secretary, in their innocence, or disingenuousness, ignore the fact that in practice the licence will not protect one person. It is not worth the paper on which it is written. Every condition in the licence is instantly qualified by phrases such, "so far as it is practicable", "if reasonable", or "where economic considerations permit". The sad truth is that the Government have lost the argument in Committee, and have lost confidence in their own case. They now know, as we have explained to them, the weaknesses at the heart of the Bill. They know that their claims made in fine words and fine rhetoric for free competition are bogus. There will be no free competition once the Bill is enacted. The 'Government are replacing a good public service monopoly with a thoroughly disreputable duopoly, which will give neither public competition nor service. They know that the fairness of the competition that they claim to seek will be non-existent after the Bill is enacted, as they are setting up by structure and legislation a position in which British Telecom, far from having to compete with Mercury, will have to assist Mercury to compete aginst it. British Telecom will have to operate against its own interests. So much for competition. The Government know that once private shareholders control the company, they will ditch all recommendations and assurances about the public service given by the Government.

A senior City stockbroker is reported to have said, "If there are difficulties after the Bill is enacted and the cost of rural services are found to be too expensive, don't worry, we will be able to go back to the Government and ask them to take this off our hands. We cannot run a profitable corporation like this." When that was mentioned in Committee the Government did not deny, refute or speak against it.

The Minister and the Under-Secretary appreciate that precedents in the United States warn us against the Bill. There are 200,000 pieces of evidence at present before the Senate complaining about the break-up of American Telephone and Telegraph's monopoly and public service in exactly the same way as we are breaking up the BT monopoly in this country. We have told the Government that the shares of AT and T have slumped by $5·5 per share because of the difficulties that it has experienced.

The sad truth is that the Government have conducted their case—as my hon. Friend the Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme said—not in Committee, but in the press. They have also conducted it indirectly through an advertising campaign, paid for out of the revenues received by BT from all telephone subscribers—[Interruption.] Some hon. Members may not think that that is important, but I believe that such a Bill should be debated before Members of Parliament, and that public money should not be used to defend something that the Government are incapable of defending in Committee.

The advertising campaign distorts, misleads and sloganises the issues. Newspaper readers are presented with what is called "the truth" and "the facts" from BT. However, it is a truth that bends on the page as it is read, and the facts are just not facts at all. As my hon. Friend the Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme said, in the advertisement the draft licence is referred to as being granted by Parliament, but on the licence it is said that it is granted by the Secretary of State. The Minister knows perfectly well that the Secretary of State is not Parliament. In Committee, the Minister cited those advertisements in defence of his case.

The Government's determination to succeed with the Bill is due partly to their blind dogma, which defies logic and education, by us, in Committee. The Leader of the House said that the Bill was "central to the Government's economic strategy". What does that mean? It means that the Government want £4,000 million from the sale of BT so that they can bolster their sagging and disastrous economic policy. It is interesting to note that by including a figure of only £1·9 billion for sales of public corporations in the autumn statement, the Chancellor of the Exchequer at least recognises the difficulties involved, just as the Government's advisers, Kleinwort, Benson, do.

Last Thursday a Conservative Member referred to that process as flogging the silver to pay the bills. The Government's economic policy is disgraceful and irresponsible, although perhaps that is not surprising after last Thursday's announcement that this country is to be taxed by means of gas and electricity price rises. To their discredit, the Government are determined, come what may, to sell off and destroy our national service. It is one of the best telecommunications services in the world. In pursuing that objective they misused the Committee stage, and, now that they have lost the argument in Committee, they want to end the debate. As the hon. Member for Swindon (Mr. Coombs) has said, this motion will lead to a mad scramble. It is quite ludicrous. If the Government say that it is our fault that we have only got so far, how can they then say that three and a half days is sufficient time in which to debate the rest of the Bill? That is an absolute disgrace.

We have opposed, and will continue to oppose, the Bill in the interests of those who work in the industry and of private telephone subscribers throughout the United Kingdom. There has never before been such an important and lengthy Bill, which seeks to sell off a great public asset and to abolish a public service that Governments of all parties have been proud to support for 70 years. For that reason, we believe that the House and the Committee need time, yet the Government have given us only three and a half days. In his heart the Minister knows that that is wrong, and that what is being done today is wrong. Accordingly, we totally oppose the motion, just as we shall continue utterly to oppose the Bill—and we shall be proved right.

Photo of Mr Timothy Wood Mr Timothy Wood , Stevenage 6:03 pm, 21st November 1983

I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Amber Valley (Mr. Oppenheim) on his excellent speech. It is particularly pleasant that, despite having listened to long and turgid speeches in Committee week after week, he was still able to present a concise and effective case for the Bill. Like him, I have been a member of the Committee that has considered the Bill during the past few weeks. I have listened to the Opposition's prolonged filibuster. The hon. Members for Newcastle-under-Lyme (Mr. Golding) and for Stoke-on-Trent, Central (Mr. Fisher) have excelled in their ability to use 100 words where one would do. They and other Opposition Members have ensured that the Committee has progressed only as far as clause 3.

I wondered why the Leader of the Labour party was apparently selected on the basis of his ability to use 10 words where one would do. However, I now realise that it is an important part of effective opposition to delay and frustrate and that a torrent of words can help to achieve that aim. In the past four weeks I have learned where the hon. Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme buys his suits, purchases his domestic appliances and does his other shopping.

Photo of Mr Stuart Randall Mr Stuart Randall , Kingston upon Hull West

I joined the Committee about two weeks ago, and when I entered the Committee room I heard the hon. Member for Northampton, North (Mr. Marlow) say: The hon. Gentleman should do up his jacket. The Chairman then said: Order. We cannot have these exchanges across the Committee Floor. My hon. Friend the Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme (Mr. Golding) then said: Surely I should be protected from the hon. Gentleman's sedentary remarks. The Chairman replied: Order. That is precisely what I am trying to do."—[Official Report, Standing Committee A, 8 November 1983; c. 356.] That is the sort of nonsense that we heard from Conservative Members, and it appears in Hansard for all to see.

Photo of Mr Timothy Wood Mr Timothy Wood , Stevenage

Of course, that intervention gave Opposition Members an opportunity to spend another quarter of an hour or so on the theme of dress and clothing.

We have also learnt that the hon. Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme is a gambling man who enjoys a spot of fishing. He can be extremely entertaining, but my understanding is that hon. Members on both sides of the Committee found some of his contributions more sleep-than thought-provoking. Indeed, the hon. Gentleman admitted that he had sent the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent, Central to sleep while driving him home by rehearsing one of his speeches. In that regard, I sympathise with the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent, Central.

From time to time the Opposition have resorted to what have been described as probing amendments. However, they have been enveloped by so many words that the point of the probe has been lost as effectively as a needle in a haystack. Those listening to an Opposition speech sometimes felt like travellers in a desert—the words were as plentiful as sand, while the search for a point to the argument was like looking for an oasis. The occasional vision of the point of the argument was a bit like a mirage that had been wafted up on the hot air produced by the hon. Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme.

It would, of course, be wholly wrong to say that Opposition Members have said nothing relevant to the Bill. Frequently they have gone into a wealth of detail which would have been much more appropriate to consideration of later clauses and amendments. Many of the arguments that are relevant to later parts of the Bill have already been presented to the Committee. Overall, the Opposition demonstrated that they were opposed to every aspect of the Bill, just as they have done again today.

Protection of the status quo and a fear of progress and change seem to dominate the thinking of a so-called radical party. Competition is regarded with dismay. Opposition Members have admitted that historically British Telecom's marketing has been weak, but that is to be expected with a captive market. Whatever the supporters of public service may say, there is no doubt that customers benefit from choice. A customer can place more pressure on a supplier to provide what he wants if the customer can go to someone else if he is dissatisfied.

I believe that the scope for advance in telecommunications is immense. There will be huge growth over the next decade, particularly in data traffic between computer networks. The freedoms given to telecommunications and related industries by the Bill will be of inestimable benefit. At the same time, the Bill and the licences go to considerable and effective lengths to protect the interests of the customers, those in rural areas, those using call boxes, maritime services and so on. It is not true to suggest that the Bill has ignored those matters.

In all their work in relation to this Bill and the previous Bill the Government have sought to protect the interests of various minority groups who might use the services.

Photo of Mark Fisher Mark Fisher , Stoke-on-Trent Central

The Government may have sought that protection, but they have not found it.

Photo of Mr Timothy Wood Mr Timothy Wood , Stevenage

The Bill and the licences amply demonstrate that that protection is afforded. The Bill will be a force for good and must be passed without further filibustering. All Opposition Members have been anxious to gain battle honours from the British Telecom unions. If delaying tactics can be regarded as an honour, the union leadership should shower the Opposition with honour. If there is genuine interest, I believe that the Opposition would have better served those working in telecommunications and the customers had they briskly debated the details of the Bill. Burying arguments in a mass of words serves not to further those arguments with the Government; it serves not to improve the Bill one iota. The Bill has not been improved during the four weeks that we have discussed it, except by one Government amendment.

That has been a disappointment to me, because I believe that there are many details in the Bill which could profitably and reasonably have been discussed. Instead, we have had a fatuous series of contributions from Opposition Members who profess a belief in public service but, at the same time, do not further the cause of the public who should be benefiting from their activities.

Photo of Mr Stuart Randall Mr Stuart Randall , Kingston upon Hull West 6:12 pm, 21st November 1983

I am taking part in the debate because I believe that through the Bill the Government are attempting to sell assets which are crucial not just strategically in terms of the future development of our industry, information technology and such matters, but in sheer value. This is a massive programme of privatisation. Many Conservative Members make the assumption that nothing will work unless it is privatised, particularly in telecommunications.

The telephone system in my constituency is not privatised; it is municipalised and successful. Anyone who doubts that should come to Kingston upon Hull. The subscribers and customers there will confirm that the system is good, that it responds to need, and that it has good tariff structures, all of which have manifested themselves in a ratio of telephone usage above the national average. That should help to destroy the argument by Conservative Members that things cannot work unless they are privatised.

There has not been a full debate on the Bill. A number of crucial questions remain unanswered and many issues need to be debated fully. I do not understand why the Government are attempting to rush through the Bill in the way that they are.

One of my hon. Friends mentioned that there is a large number of Government amendments, suggesting clearly that the Bill still needs a considerable amount of work, thought and debate. Important differences between the previous Bill and this one add to the argument for continuing the debate.

One important aspect of the Bill is the effect of the Government's proposals upon the manufacturing industry. If the Bill becomes law, the telecommunications supply industry will be devastated by the Government's proposals. That part of the industry is the cornerstone of the future information technology industry. We are talking about switching equipment, telephones, telegraph, exchanges, switchboards and so on. The number of people working in the industry is not trivial. In 1982 the industry had 61,000 jobs. Under the Bill those jobs are vulnerable. The industry has annual sales amounting to £1·3 billion, which is far from trivial, and a surplus on balance of payments. We shall inevitably have electronic mail, electronic shopping from home, the chequeless and cashless society and the electronic transfer of funds, but all that could well be impaired.

I am worried about the Government's lack of understanding and appreciation of the telecommunications market. There is a great deal of evidence that a number of substantial multinational companies, particularly American, are intent on coming into the market in this country and taking over. It is worth stressing that these corporations have enormous resources in term of people, skills and technology, and the will to succeed. They are ruthless and will use whatever means are available to win.

The Bill mentions a free market in telecommunications. That is what the Bill is all about. If multinational companies take over, how will we cope with competition from overseas suppliers whose products are subsidised by Government grants so that they can be imported at below cost? Will the Minister answer that question? Will the Government intervene in the market, or will we lose the order? People working in the telecommunications industry are interested in the answers to those questions.

Lord Weinstock, the head of GEC, does not want the Bill to go through. Why not? I believe that he feels that the industry could well be lost.

The Government say that they want competition. There is a difference between fair competition and competition that is unfair because Governments provide subsidies and so on. Some people say that we do not need to worry about that, because BT will shovel the orders its way, and the industry will be nursed because it will receive orders from BT. Sir George Jefferson, the head of BT, said that he would have a procurement policy based on the long-term cost-effectiveness of the industry, irrespective of country of origin. He is saying, "I shall not be responsible. I shall not make a contribution to nursing British industry. I shall do what is best for me. If I can buy Japanese equipment at £100 a line, which is well below cost, I shall do so." That attitude is wrong. There are broader interests than BT's profit and loss statement. We must take into account the broader economic factors and the possible result of the devastation of the industry. What will the Government do? Will they intervene when other Governments give subsidies to support products that could be selected for import to this country?

The hon. Member for Stevenage (Mr. Wood) is a free market man. He believes that we must pull ourselves up by our boot straps. I am not saying that in this day and age we do not have to be competitive. The Opposition accept the notion of competition. It would be foolish and naive not to do so. I say that in all sincerity. However, what confuses me is that the Government say, "Let us allow a flood of imports from overseas to our home market and then let us compensate by increasing our exports." That is naive in the extreme. Only 9 per cent. of products manufactured in this country go overseas. Therefore, this country's telecommunications industry does not have the overseas base to counter the effect of the flood of imports that could take place if the Bill becomes law.

Photo of Mr Timothy Wood Mr Timothy Wood , Stevenage

There are two points on which I should like to intervene. First, the Government have not said, "Let us have free competition without any protection." They have set up a licensing arrangement that will offer protection until various companies get under way and become effective. Secondly, the telecommunications supply industries have not exported well. One of the reasons is that at home they have had a protected and safe market with a certain purchase so the stimulus for selling overseas has been limited.

Photo of Mr Stuart Randall Mr Stuart Randall , Kingston upon Hull West

I am interested to hear that the Government will intervene and provide the protection that the Opposition advocate. However, it is interesting that there is no mention of that in the Bill. That is a serious omission.

I take the hon. Gentleman's point about exports. One must take into account the history of BT. Until only a few years ago BT's main problem was providing a telephone for every house. It was short of investment and nearly all its resources were put into getting the line plant and the switching equipment in to provide everyone with the basic black telephone. Only in recent years has BT emerged from that situation. BT has not responded to the market in the way that it could have done, but there is a change now, which I welcome. However, I make it absolutely clear that BT was impeded through lack of investment over the years when it was attempting to make the basic telephone system operational.

The Government's strategy is dangerous for the telecommunications industry. We are opening up our home market. I do not believe that there is a serious prospect of our making substantial inroads into overseas markets. The Bill will result in the decline of British manufacturing industry, certainly in the short term, until we build up new product ranges and develop alliances 'with other manufacturers overseas. The consequence will be the slowing down of research and development in this country, the relabelling overseas of products, and so on. Therefore, the Government's strategy is weak. They have not thought through their proposals.

The Government do not understand the telecomrnunications market. They have not appreciated and fully understood the extent of the competition from overseas that will ensue if the Bill is passed. The Government do not fully understand the consequences of what they are embarking on. For that reason, I reject the motion.

Photo of Mr Kenneth Carlisle Mr Kenneth Carlisle , Lincoln 6:27 pm, 21st November 1983

I am the first Member to be called to speak who is not on the Committee considering the Telecommunications Bill. I am speaking because I want to talk about the general principle of timetable motions.

Unlike the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, West (Mr. Randall), I support the Bill. It is essential if British Telecom is to have a future in what has become not an isolated island business but one that embraces the world, and therefore one in which we must compete with all the other giant companies in this dynamic, fast developing industry. The Bill, by providing for competition, will nurture initiative and pride in that business, which will be able to take on the Japanese, Americans, Germans and others. If BT is to do that it must be free from the constraints of the public sector. It must be free if it wants to be able to go out into the private market to raise finance and invest in the way that it thinks is necessary. It cannot do that at present. I support the Bill also because I am convinced that the customer, who must come first, is protected.

I want to talk about the timetable motion, because I understand the problem. In the previous Parliament I was on the Committees on two Bills that were guillotined. Therefore, I have experienced endless hours of discussion through the night, when the debate meandered on. Some of the banter that was recounted today sounded familiar. We want through the dictionary. I understand that the Committee embraced the Oxford English Dictionary. Perhaps that was good in that it made hon. Members more articulate, but it would hardly enlighten them on this subject. I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Swindon (Mr. Coombs) for exposing that fact.

The Oil and Gas (Enterprise) Act 1982, which dealt with developments in the North sea, provided an opportunity to explore the oceans of the world with a fair degree of concentration. Of course, those oceans lapped the shores of many different continents, and it was not long before we strayed into the Brazilian jungle or the Indonesian archipelago. That Bill became the subject of a guillotine motion, and rightly so. It is because I realise the nonsense of endless debates that I shall support the timetable motion tonight.

I want to touch on a matter of general principle relating to timetable motions. Both sides of the House recognise that some Bills will be guillotined. Indeed, the right hon. Member for Bethnal Green and Stepney (Mr. Shore) said that he knew from the start of the discussions on the Bill that it would eventually be guillotined.

Photo of Mr Peter Thurnham Mr Peter Thurnham , Bolton North East

My hon. Friend said that everyone who had spoken in the debate was a member of Committee. We are sorry that the right hon. Member for Bethnal Green and Stepney (Mr. Shore) does not serve on the Committee.

Photo of Mr Kenneth Carlisle Mr Kenneth Carlisle , Lincoln

I thank my hon. Friend for making an interesting point. Despite the right hon. Gentleman's strong feelings about the Bill, he has been absent from the Committee——

Photo of Mr Kenneth Carlisle Mr Kenneth Carlisle , Lincoln

I am answering the point raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Bolton, North-East (Mr. Thurnham). If the hon. Gentleman will allow me to finish, I shall give way.

If the right hon. Member for Bethnal Green and Stepney had such strong feelings——

Photo of Mr Harry Ewing Mr Harry Ewing , Falkirk East

Why is the Secretary of State not on the Committee?

Photo of Mr John Golding Mr John Golding , Newcastle-under-Lyme

Will the hon. Member for Lincoln (Mr. Carlisle) answer that question? When the Secretary of State joins the Committee, no doubt my right hon. Friend will do so also.

Photo of Mr Kenneth Carlisle Mr Kenneth Carlisle , Lincoln

That is true.

Both sides of the House recognise that Bills will be guillotined quite simply because, first, many Bills are controversial and will meet endless opposition and, secondly, because those Bills are essential to the Government's programme. As a guillotine motion is inevitable in the long run, it should be recognised as being of general practice and application. If the House is to reform the procedure, its first step must be to accept that timetable motions are inevitable. A timetable motion usually comes after about 80 hours of filibustering and wide, irrelevant debate. We then have 80 hours, or less, of constructive argument. It is during that latter period that sensible amendments are made.

It is, therefore, fair to ask why we should not arrange a timetable at the beginning of Bills that everyone accepts will be guillotined eventually. Other hon. Members have already made that point today. It would be of benefit not only to the Government, but to the Opposition who would know that they had a certain time in which to put forward their arguments.

It is my experience in Standing Committee that relevant and good amendments are made if they are discussed properly. Governments are not blind to sensible arguments, but they are blind to filibustering and long hours of wasted effort that lead to no constructive solution and leave far too little time for the arguments about the real merits or mistakes of a Bill.

Hon. Members, especially old-timers, often say that timetables cannot be agreed because time is the only weapon available to the Opposition. That is nonsense. If we accept that a guillotine is inevitable, time is not a weapon but a ploy for a wasting half the time available contructively to debate the Bill. The House must recognise that for many Bills, if not all Bills, our procedure in Committee is not good enough. It is time that it was reformed.

I was delighted to hear my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House say today that he hopes the Select Committee on Procedure will sit before long, with a new programme before it. He said that he more than hoped it would discuss the procedure for Standing Committees. We will serve the public who send us here much better if, with measures such as the Telecommunications Bill, a timetable is agreed from the beginning so that serious matters can be given full and constructive debate. All hon. Members, on both sides of the Committee, will then know that they do not have to filibuster but, in a few words, can put their points constructively and effectively.

If we can achieve that reform, I am convinced that Parliament will serve the public better and will treat in a much more distinguished manner the many serious matters that come before it.

Photo of Mr Harry Ewing Mr Harry Ewing , Falkirk East 6:37 pm, 21st November 1983

It has been an interesting debate and, in many ways, not the traditional timetable motion debate. Much of it has been taken up with the contents and the general principles of the Bill. That is right and proper, because the principles of the Bill have led the House to debate a timetable motion.

I want to begin where the hon. Member for Lincoln (Mr. Carlisle) ended—the constant proposal throughout the debate that when the Select Committee on Procedure is established it should consider an arrangement whereby Oppositions and Governments agree a timetable motion, obviously on Second Reading.

Other procedures of the House should command the priority attention of such a Select Committee—for example, the scandal of our proceedings on Friday when private Members' time was usurped by Government Whips whipping Members through the Lobby to vote against an important private Member's Bill that would have benefited the disabled. If there are scandals in our procedures, surely the scandal of Friday is of greater priority than our discussion today.

I must tell the hon. Member for Lincoln that when the Labour party comes to power after the next general election it will restore BT to its rightful owner, the British public, and also restore the monopoly. I would find it astonishing if we could persuade a Conservative Opposition to agree a timetable that would allow a Labour Government to restore BT to its rightful owner. It is unrealistic to speak in the terms used by the hon. Gentleman in his brief speech.

A good example in this respect is the Aircraft and Shipbuilding Industries Bill of 1976, which the then Labour Government managed to get through all its stages without the need for a guillotine. Despite the fact that it was one of the most controversial measures of the 1970s, the Labour Government took the Bill through its 58 Committee sittings. That put it into the record books. Those Labour Ministers had the ingenuity, the guile, the intelligence and the persuasive powers to convince the Committee that it should go through without the need to resort to a guillotine.

The membership of that Committee was interesting. The Conservative party was represented by the present Secretary of State for Trade and Industry, the present Secretary of State for Defence and the present Secretary of State for Employment—none of whom would be regarded as a lightweight in debate. Yet the then Labour Ministers got the Bill through all its stages without a guillotine. That is the condemnation of the Government—that they were represented in Committee on this Bill by Ministers who did not have the guile, the ingenuity, the intelligence or the persuasive powers to get it through.

Allegations have been made of time-wasting. Had it not been for the Minister of State, the original sittings motion could have been passed in two or two and a half hours. My right hon. Friend the Member for Salford, East (Mr. Orme) who is no longer on the Committee, moved an amendment designed to accommodate the Government. It would have provided for open-ended sittings on Tuesday but only morning sittings on Thursday, instead of open-ended sittings on both days. That showed that we were prepared to compromise; nobody can accuse us of trying to obstruct the Minister.

However, the Minister was determined. I sympathise with him, because he is the poodle of Sir George Jefferson. The thrust behind the Bill comes not from the Leader of the House, not from the Minister of State, not even from the Prime Minister—it comes from Sir George Jefferson. The Minister of State was under instructions from Sir George Jefferson that we were to have open-ended sittings on Tuesdays and Thursdays. If it had been simply a matter of the Minister of State seeing the sense of my right hon. Friend's amendment to the sittings motion, he would have accepted it and we would now have been way beyond clause 3.

It comes ill from the Leader of the House or Conservative Back Benchers on the Committee to accuse the Labour party of obstructing the Bill. I know that the Leader of the House had a difficult job in introducing the timetable motion and as a result he set a new record in brevity—the shortest speech that I have heard in 12₽ years by a Leader of the House on a timetable motion. Some would say that brevity was an example to be followed. But I understand the reason—the right hon. Gentleman must have felt that, as with a visit to the dentist, the sooner it was over the better.

The Leader of the House must have been embarrassed by the motion that he had been instructed to move. It allows another 26½ hours in which to debate nearly 90 clauses and six schedules which raise important issues. The hon. Member for Swindon (Mr. Coombs) told us that the pension issue was not important. I am sorry that he is no longer here—I mean no criticism of him, because he has been with us all afternoon—because he should be reminded that the pre-1969 deficit in the pension fund is a crucial issue for those pensioners who are no longer employed by British Telecom.

Any hon. Member who believes that pensions are not important, with the pre-1969 deficit still looming large, does not understand the pension scheme. What will happen is that two separate pension schemes will run at the same time in the same company, because the only commitment that the Minister has made is that the pension rights of employees at the point of transfer will be protected. He has given no guarantees, because he cannot, about the pension rights of new employees.

There are a host of important matters that must be discussed, because there is much new material in the Bill. To hear Conservative Members speaking today, one would have thought that we had been presented with a Bill identical to the one presented in the previous Parliament. Nothing could be further from the truth. The new Bill has a large section on cable. Although the Government complain about the time that it is taking to debate the Bill, they were not too clever at getting it right, because, even after all the time that we spent debating the previous Bill, as my hon. Friend the Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme (Mr. Golding) said, 55 out of the 105 amendments are Government amendments. If the Government cannot get it right, with the full support of the Civil Service and of British Telecom, through its advertising campaign, the Opposition have a duty on behalf of the British people, through our expert contributions to the debates, to ensure that the Government have every opportunity to correct the glaring errors in the Bill.

During the debate on the Bill there has been a massive advertising campaign, using taxpayers' money, by British Telecom. My hon. Friend the Member for Wigan (Mr. Scott) put down a question about the cost of the campaign, and this afternoon he received a written reply from the Under-Secretary of State saying that the cost was a matter for British Telecom. That is in marked contrast to the Government's attitude to the advertising campaign waged by the British Gas Corporation when the Government threatened to sell off its gas showrooms. The corporation, under the chairmanship of sir Denis Rooke, tried to persuade the public, using State money, that it would be wrong to sell off showrooms. Every Minister, from the Prime Minister sideways, and every Conservative Back-Bench Member, strongly criticised the use of state money to run an advertising campaign. The difference is that that campaign opposed Government policy. It appears that it is wrong to use state money to oppose the Government, but it is right to do so if one supports the Government's intentions.

My hon. Friends the Members for Stoke-on-Trent, Central (Mr. Fisher), for Newcastle-under-Lyme and for Kingston upon Hull, West (Mr. Randall) said that the purpose of selling British Telecom is not to make it more efficient, because it is one of the most efficient telecommunications companies, private or public, in the world. We have drawn comparisons with AT and T in America and with many privately owned telecommunications companies in other countries, and the comparisons all favour British Telecom.

If it is not in the interests of efficiency; it is in the interests, as my hon. Friends and I maintain, of providing more financial resources for the Chancellor of the Exchequer. I caution Conservative Members. I accept that in Committee we have been singularly unsuccessful in persuading Conservative Members of the folly of the Government's action. However, if those Members think that by privatising BT and selling off £5 billion worth of its assets the Government will be in a position to reduce taxation, they should look at the Chancellor's autumn statement of last Thursday. Even better, they should look at the companies that have already been sold to reduce taxation. Amersham International was sold on the basis that it would reduce income tax. What happened? It was sold, and taxation is higher. The National Freight Corporation was sold on the basis that it would help the Government to reduce taxation. What happened? It was sold, and taxation is still higher. Britoil was formed on the basis that it would raise revenue to help the Government to reduce taxation. What happened? Taxation is still higher. That is the history of this Government's approach to privatisation.

If anyone thinks that the contribution from the sale of BT will reduce taxation, he need only look at the record of the past two or three years. The tragedy for the nation is that when the electors reject this Government at the next election, by then the Government will have sold all the nation's assets and taxation will be higher than it has ever been in our nation's history. We shall have no national assets left, and we may be the highest taxed industrial nation in the world.

We do not apologise for the length of time that we have taken to debate the Bill. We on these Benches have sought to give the Government the benefit of our expert advice and knowledge. The Government have not so far taken it—I emphasise "so far", because there is always joy in the sinner that repenteth, and I hope that the Minister of State is about to become one of those sinners that repenteth—but we still hope that we can persuade them that it is not too late. I am not talking about amending the Bill. It is a bad Bill, and in my view it is not possible to amend it and make it a good Bill.

We believe that the Bill should be withdrawn. We say that because of the public opinion polls. We have been told time and again by Conservative Members during the past six to nine months that public opinion polls are all-important. Now we have the Gallup poll on whether people are in favour of the privatisation of British Telecom. The same company, Gallup, conducted similar polls, using the same question, on two separate occasions in a period of about a year. The first time it asked the question, the answer showed a substantial majority in favour of selling off BT. A year has passed, and we have had an opportunity to put our case to the nation. Gallup has now asked the same question. The question is the same, but the answers have changed. Now, 46 per cent. of the people say that they oppose the privatisation of BT.

Hon. Members who represent rural constituencies should look at the breakdown of the results. There are more who oppose privatisation in rural areas, in the south-west of England, and in many of the areas that are represented by Conservative Members. They feel that way because they live in areas where the telephone is not a luxury. Of course it is not a luxury, but in some areas it is more of a necessity than in other areas. There is now widespread fear that the privatisation of BT, combined with the fact that the only motive of those buying it will be to make profit, will lead to an ending of the rural services, telephone kiosks and other services on which rural communities depend.

The House need not take my word for that. One has only to read the Bill. Clause 82 provides that if a local authority decides that a service should be kept in its area it can contribute to the maintenance of that service. That is where the game is given away. We have said throughout that the responsibility for providing those essential services in far-flung and widespread communities will be transferred from the Government. They will not take the financial responsibility for maintaining their services. The responsibility for providing and maintaining the services will be transferred to the already hard-hit local authorities. That is what clause 82 provides.

We have 26 ½ short hours left to debate this important Bill. It is a disgraceful allocation of time. I stick to my principal point—I do not apologise for doing so, although some hon. Members may think it strange—that 126½ hours or 226½ hours would not make the Bill acceptable to the Labour party and the Labour Opposition. I give notice that at the first opportunity a new Labour Government will restore BT to its rightful owner, the people of this country, and make absolutely certain that the hyper-efficient industry that has been built up in public ownership will continue.

I had hoped that the hon. Member for Amber Valley (Mr. Oppenheim), who made his maiden speech, would return to the Chamber. Unfortunately, my hopes have not been realised. It would be unfair of me not to congratulate him on his speech. I was particularly glad that he referred to Ray Fletcher. He was a Member with whom one looked forward to having dinner or a cup of tea in the Tea Room. He was always interesting, and such a gentleman. May I say, in the absence of the hon. Member for Amber Valley, that if he confines his speeches to guillotine motions he will be the most prolific speaker in the House of Commons. There is a great deal of legislation going through the House at present that will be opposed root and branch by the Labour Opposition. I have a feeling that the Leader of the House will be accused of tedious repetition if he comes back time and again to introduce guillotine motions. This guillotine motion is a scandal and a disgrace to democracy, and I invite my right hon. and hon. Friends to vote against it in the Lobby tonight.

Photo of Mr Kenneth Baker Mr Kenneth Baker , Mole Valley 6:57 pm, 21st November 1983

We have had an interesting debate. The House has not simply referred to the guillotine motion, but at times touched in considerable detail on the principles of the Bill.

I echo the con gratulations of the hon. Member for Falkirk, East (Mr. Ewing) to my hon. Friend the Member for Amber Valley (Mr. Oppenheim) on his speech. My hon. Friend spoke warmly of his constituency and of Ray Fletcher, an amusing and civilised Member who was well liked on both sides of the House. My hon. Friend is an expert on high technology. He has written a book, and, I believe, runs a magazine about it. No doubt, he must be writing for it now. Certainly he stood up for British technology. My hon. Friend will be able to read in Hansard tomorrow the encomium that I paid him.

The history of the Bill is remarkable. It was introduced just 12 months ago. I shall come to the points raised by the hon. Member for Falkirk, East about it now being a slightly different Bill. In the last Parliament it was debated for 161 hours in Committee. In this Parliament so far it has been debated for 79 hours plus a further proposed 32, making a total in Committee of 272 hours, plus two Second Readings and two Report stages of two days each, plus two guillotines, making in all about 310 hours of parliamentary debate, all within 12 months. Perhaps that deserves to be in the "Guinness Book of Records."

If it had been taken on the Floor of the House for eight hours a day—our usual sitting time for debates—it would have taken 40 sitting days, or 10 weeks, Monday to Thursday—10 solid weeks of debate on one issue. What a parliamentary feast. The diet would have been so rich and heavy that the usual sounds that accompany indigestion would have been heard. The House simply would not have taken it. That is the size and scale of the filibuster to which we have been subjected.

We have sought to make progress on the Bill. We moved the closure 14 times. We wanted to speed the debate. Last Thursday the hon. Member for Falkirk, East chided us for rushing through it and used the memorable phrase, "We are going too fast." His right hon. Friend the Member for Bethnal Green and Stepney (Mr. Shore) said that the Government were to blame for the guillotine, but it is clear that the blame lies with Opposition Members because of the tactics that they have deployed. No Government could possibly have gone on withstanding such a filibuster.

The hon. Member for Falkirk, East suggested that later I may be able to accept some amendments. He spoke of the sinner that repenteth, but in moving the guillotine motion I am like King Lear—more sinned against than sinning. It is not because we want to move the guillotine motion but because we must. As my hon. Friend the Member for Swindon (Mr. Coombs) said, we have been subjected to a farrago of irrelevancies.

The sartorial habits of the hon. Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme (Mr. Golding) took up a large part of the debate in Committee, as did those of my hon. Friend the Member for Northampton, North (Mr. Marlow). There were several long debates on the English civil war during the proceedings. I cannot accuse the Opposition of deception in their use of tactics, because it was clear from the start that they were fundamentally opposed to the Bill. Indeed. the hon. Member for Falkirk, East pointed out a few moments ago that if we debated the matter for 126 or even 226 hours, we would not make progress. So much for tempting me to agree with his suggestion that we should sit on Tuesday and only on Thursday morning. The last part contradicted the first part of his speech.

It is clear that Labour Members oppose the Bill because they believe in state ownership. On Second Reading the hon. Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme made that clear, and he has been determining the tactics of the Opposition on the Bill. Indeed, on Second Reading he advised members of the Standing Committee to kiss their wives goodbye now. As they lie in their beds unloved during the autumn, the winter and the spring … "—[Official Report, 18 July 1983; Vol. 46, c. 54.] That was the regime that the Savonarola of Committee Room 11 imposed on us. But whereas on 25 October he told the Committee that the Opposition did not want to make any progress on the Bill, later he said that he would not have the Committee meet at all. Clearly, Mrs. Golding had been having a word with him. I pay tribute to the hon. Gentleman because his speeches have been remarkable parliamentary performances by any standards. In the last Parliament he spoke for 11 hours on one occasion and in this Parliament he spoke once for four hours, twice for three hours and made a couple of interjections of an hour each.

What endeared the hon. Gentleman to my hon. Friends on the Committee were the occasions when he told us of the homely, sensible advice that he used to receive from his mother when he was a child. Clearly Mrs. Golding senior was a kind, warm, sensible woman—she has a lot to answer for—and, while she was dandling the infant John upon her knee, perhaps she recited to him Kipling's poem "If', which ends: If you can fill the unforgiving minuteWith sixty seconds' worth of distance run,Yours is the earth and everything that's in it.And—which is more—you'll one day be a member of the POEU.

Several hon. Members, including my hon. Friends the Members for Kingswood (Mr. Hayward), for Lincoln (Mr. Carlisle)—who did not serve on the Committee and whose views on procedure were therefore interesting—and for Swindon, and the hon. Member for Ross, Cromarty and Skye (Mr. Kennedy) raised the question of the Standing Committee procedures that have been abused. As my hon. Friend the Member for Kingswood said in an intervention, the attendance of the hon. Member for Ross, Cromarty and Skye was not regular. Of the 37 votes, he attended only 14. Yet he comes forward now with proposals to reform the whole procedures of the House of Commons. With such a casual and dilettante approach, he will have to learn that he cannot reform this House by dropping in occasionally.

The question nevertheless has been raised about the best way of handling a long, complicated and controversial Bill in Committee. Having had to handle the Bill in two Parliaments, I cannot believe that we have struck on the best way. The job of the House is to scrutinise the legislative proposals of the Executive, to subject them to detailed probing and to represent the views of outside parties through the briefs that one receives as a member of the Standing Committee and the pressure groups as they build up outside on all sides of an issue. That is the proper way to do it.

What has been happening in Committee Room 11 has had little to do with that. After 80 hours of debate, we are on page 3 of a 188-page Bill. Schedule 2, for example, which updates the 100-year-old legislation on way leaves, has hardly been debated—either in the last Parliament or, except briefly, in this—because it is not considered to be political. It is important, however, because it will have an effect on how cables and systems are developed at a local level—on controls, digging up the roads and matters of that sort.

It is time that the House, through the Procedure Committee, looked at the whole question of Standing Committee procedure and the central question of whether major Bills should be timetabled from the outset—and I have not advocated that simply when I have been on the Treasury Front Bench.

The Opposition tend to say, as the hon. Member for Falkirk, East said, "Delay is our principal weapon," but is that really so?

Photo of Mr Harry Ewing Mr Harry Ewing , Falkirk East

I said that delay was one weapon, especially in the face of obstinate Ministers.

Photo of Mr Kenneth Baker Mr Kenneth Baker , Mole Valley

I accept what the hon. Gentleman says—that it is an important weapon, perhaps almost the principal weapon—but my experience is that delay by itself does not cause Governments to change their proposals. It is a combination of pressure groups outside, debates in the House and the views and opinions of hon. Members—speaking here and making their views known to the Administration—that has an effect. To say that delay is the only weapon is to devalue this debating Chamber, to devalue debate and to dismiss the power of rational argument.

A complicated procedural point has been raised. I hope that, when it is established, the Procedure Committee will look into it. I refer to a loophole that was discovered by the hon. Member for Newcastle under-Lyme, who said: I discovered a loophole in the procedure and was able to exploit it. I do not want to defend the loophole. I seriously believe that it should be removed."—[Official Report. Standing Committee A, 15 November 1983; c. 604.] The loophole is that when an amendment is called an hon. Member can speak to it without actually moving it. That meant that the hon. Gentleman's speech could not be interrupted, and until he gave way nobody could move the Adjournment of the Committee. Now he realises that the loophole should not be defended. The Chairman in Committee that day, the hon. Member for West Bromwich, West (Miss Boothroyd), gave a ruling of some significance when she closed the loophole. That matter must be considered by the Select Committee on Procedure. The Chairman ruled: The Chair may deem the hon. Member to have, moved the amendment and proceed after the hon. Member has sat down to propose the question on it."—[Official Report, Standing Committee A, 15 November 1983; c. 605.] That clearly requires further examination by the Select Committee on Procedure.

Photo of Mr John Golding Mr John Golding , Newcastle-under-Lyme

Standing Orders provide for the Chairman's Panel to report this matter to the House. The Minister has taken note of the fact that I objected to it being dealt with without reference to the House.

Photo of Mr Kenneth Baker Mr Kenneth Baker , Mole Valley

That is the classic poacher turned gamekeeper. I hope that either the Chairman's Panel or the Select Committee on Procedure will look at the matter. I cannot believe that that was intended by those who drew up the rules for Standing Committee procedure.

The Opposition's campaign against the Bill has been three-pronged. It has been a co-ordinated campaign, As my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House pointed out, they tried to stop Mercury, they threatened BT's own customers by industrial action and they have delayed proceedings in Parliament. Any general should know that fighting on three fronts is a certain recipe for defeat. The collective leadership of the POEU is seen to be failing in all three ways. Their action against Mercury has been stopped by the courts. As a full trial is due next year, I shall make no comment on that as the matter is sub judice. I hope that the POEU action, which is aimed at BT's customers, will stop. This is a self-inflicted wound. It is out of character for the POEU, and I believe that there is much unease among the union membership about the campaign.

I believe the parliamentary delay to be profoundly misconceived. I have been keen during the proceedings in Committee to remind Members of the great strength that we have built into the two Bills to protect the telephone customer after privatisation. For the first time on the statute book and reinforced by the licence, we give specific obligations—for example, for rural and remote services after privatisation. That is the first time that that has ever appeared in statute law. At the moment, BT does not have a statutory obligation to provide those services. We have given statutory protection to the network of telephone kiosks under clause 3 of the Bill and under condition 11 of the licence. We have given statutory protection to the continuation of free 999 services. We have given extra protection to the disabled. There has been concern, for example, that blind telephone operators would not be able to be employed as a result of the new electronic exchanges. We have provided a clause in the Bill to allow the Government to give grants for the adaptation of certain exchanges so that the employment of blind telephonists is continued. In addition, we have introduced proposals in the measure to ensure that telephone kiosks have special telephones for the hard of hearing. We have established a committee to work with groups of the disabled to try to find better ways to ensure that their interests are protected after privatisation.

This Bill ends the monopoly of British Telecom. It ends its monopoly on equipment, on services and on maintenance. It ends British Telecom's right to be the sole determinant of who should interconnect to its system. It ends BT's right to license its competitors and thereby know all their plans. It ends the exclusive privilege of the Post Office Engineering Union to be the only workers allowed to provide telephone services in our country.

We have a clear mandate to introduce the Bill and to carry it through. The Committee will report by I December. There will be two days on Report. I hope that we will have Third Reading before Christmas and that it will then pass to the House of Lords. We hope that the Bill will receive Royal Assent by late spring or early summer. The Director General of Oftel will assume his responsibility on the appointed day, which will be some weeks after Royal Assent. Then shares in BT will be offered for sale in the autumn of next year——

And it being three hours after the commencement of proceedings on the Motion, Mr. Speaker put the Question necessary to disposal of them, pursuant to Standing Order No. 46 (Allocation of time to Bills).

Question put:

The House divided: Ayes 330, Noes 200.

Division No. 73][7.15 pm
AYES
Adley, RobertBevan, David Gilroy
Aitken, JonathanBiffen, Rt Hon John
Alexander, RichardBlaker, Rt Hon Sir Peter
Amery, Rt Hon JulianBonsor, Sir Nicholas
Amess, DavidBottomley, Peter
Ancram, MichaelBowden, A. (Brighton K'to'n)
Arnold, TomBowden, Gerald (Dulwich)
Ashby, DavidBoyson, Dr Rhodes
Aspinwall, JackBraine, Sir Bernard
Atkins, Rt Hon Sir H.Brandon-Bravo, Martin
Atkins, Robert (South Ribble)Bright, Graham
Atkinson, David (B'm'th E)Brinton, Tim
Baker, Kenneth (Mole Valley)Brittan, Rt Hon Leon
Baker, Nicholas (N Dorset)Brooke, Hon Peter
Baldry, AnthonyBrown, M. (Brigg & Cl'thpes)
Banks, Robert (Harrogate)Browne, John
Batiste, SpencerBruinvels, Peter
Beaumont-Dark, AnthonyBuchanan-Smith, Rt Hon A.
Bendall, VivianBudgen, Nick
Benyon, WilliamBulmer, Esmond
Berry, Sir AnthonyBurt, Alistair
Best, KeithButcher, John
Butterfill, JohnHayes, J.
Carlisle, John (N Luton)Hayhoe, Barney
Carlisle, Kenneth (Lincoln)Hayward, Robert
Carttiss, MichaelHeath, Rt Hon Edward
Chalker, Mrs LyndaHeathcoat-Amory, David
Channon, Rt Hon PaulHeddle, John
Chapman, SydneyHenderson, Barry
Chope, ChristopherHeseltine, Rt Hon Michael
Clark, Dr Michael (Rochford)Hickmet, Richard
Clark, Sir W. (Croydon S)Hicks, Robert
Clarke Kenneth (Rushcliffe)Higgins, Rt Hon Terence L.
Clegg, Sir WalterHirst, Michael
Cockeram, EricHogg, Hon Douglas (Gr'th'm)
Colvin, MichaelHolland, Sir Philip (Gedling)
Conway, DerekHolt, Richard
Coombs, SimonHooson, Tom
Cope, JohnHordern, Peter
Cormack, PatrickHoward, Michael
Couchman, JamesHowarth, Alan (Stratf'd-on-A)
Critchley, JulianHowarth, Gerald (Cannock)
Crouch, DavidHowell, Rt Hon D. (G'ldford)
Currie, Mrs EdwinaHowell, Ralph (N Norfolk)
Dickens, GeoffreyHubbard-Miles, Peter
Dicks, T.Hunt, David (Wirral)
Dorrell, StephenHunter, Andrew
Douglas-Hamilton, Lord J.Hurd, Rt Hon Douglas
Dover, DenshoreIrving, Charles
du Cann, Rt Hon EdwardJackson, Robert
Dunn, RobertJenkin, Rt Hon Patrick
Durant, TonyJessel, Toby
Dykes, HughJones, Gwilym (Cardiff N)
Edwards, Rt Hon N. (P'broke)Jones, Robert (W Herts)
Eggar, TimJopling, Rt Hon Michael
Emery, Sir PeterJoseph, Rt Hon Sir Keith
Evennett, DavidKershaw, Sir Anthony
Eyre, ReginaldKey, Robert
Fallon, MichaelKing, Roger (B'ham N'field)
Favell, AnthonyKing, Rt Hon Tom
Fenner, Mrs PeggyKnight, Gregory (Derby N)
Finsberg, GeoffreyKnowles, Michael
Fletcher, AlexanderKnox, David
Forman, NigelLamont, Norman
Forth, EricLang, Ian
Fowler, Rt Hon NormanLatham, Michael
Fox, MarcusLawler, Geoffrey
Franks, CecilLawrence, Ivan
Fraser, Rt Hon Sir HughLawson, Rt Hon Nigel
Fraser, Peter (Angus East)Leigh, Edward (Gainsbor'gh)
Freeman, RogerLennox-Boyd, Hon Mark
Fry, PeterLester, Jim
Gale, RogerLewis, Sir Kenneth (Stamf'd)
Gardiner, George (Reigate)Lightbown, David
Gardner, Sir Edward (Fylde)Lilley, Peter
Garel-Jones, TristanLloyd, Ian (Havant)
Gilmour, Rt Hon Sir IanLloyd, Peter, (Fareham)
Glyn, Dr AlanLord, Michael
Goodhart, Sir PhilipLuce, Richard
Goodlad, AlastairLyell, Nicholas
Gorst, JohnMcCrindle, Robert
Gow, IanMcCurley, Mrs Anna
Gower, Sir RaymondMacfarlane, Neil
Grant, Sir AnthonyMacKay, Andrew (Berkshire)
Greenway, HarryMacKay, John (Argyll & Bute)
Griffiths, Peter (Portsm'th N)Maclean, David John.
Grist, IanMacmillan, Rt Hon M.
Ground, PatrickMcNair-Wilson, M. (N'bury)
Grylls, MichaelMcNair-Wilson, P. (New F'st)
Gummer, John SelwynMcQuarrie, Albert
Hamilton, Hon A. (Epsom)Madel, David
Hamilton, Neil (Tatton)Major, John
Hampson, Dr KeithMalins, Humfrey
Hanley, JeremyMaples, John
Hannam, JohnMarland, Paul
Hargreaves, KennethMarlow, Antony
Harris, DavidMarshall, Michael (Arundel)
Harvey, RobertMates, Michael
Haselhurst, AlanMaude, Francis
Havers, Rt Hon Sir MichaelMaxwell-Hyslop, Robin
Hawkins, Sir Paul (SW N'folk)Mayhew, Sir Patrick
Hawksley, WarrenMellor, David
Merchant, PiersShaw, Giles (Pudsey)
Meyer, Sir AnthonyShaw, Sir Michael (Scarb')
Miller, Hal (B'grove)Shelton, William (Streatham)
Mills, Iain (Meriden)Shepherd, Colin (Hereford)
Mills, Sir Peter (West Devon)Silvester, Fred
Miscampbell, NormanSims, Roger
Moate, RogerSkeet, T. H. H.
Monro, Sir HectorSmith, Tim (Beaconsfield)
Montgomery, FergusSoames, Hon Nicholas
Moore, JohnSpeed, Keith
Morris, M. (N'hampton, S)Speller, Tony
Morrison, Hon C. (Devizes)Spence, John
Moynihan, Hon C.Spencer, D.
Mudd, DavidSpicer, Jim (W Dorset)
Murphy, ChristopherSquire, Robin
Neale, GerrardStanbrook, Ivor
Needham, RichardStern, Michael
Nelson, AnthonyStevens, Martin (Fulham)
Neubert, MichaelStewart, Allan (Eastwood)
Newton, TonyStewart, Andrew (Sherwood)
Nicholls, PatrickStokes, John
Norris, StevenStradling Thomas, J.
Onslow, CranleySumberg, David
Oppenheim, PhilipTapsell, Peter
Oppenheim, Rt Hon Mrs S.Tebbit, Rt Hon Norman
Osborn, Sir JohnTemple-Morris, Peter
Ottaway, RichardTerlezki, Stefan
Page, John (Harrow W)Thomas, Rt Hon Peter
Page, Richard (Herts SW)Thompson, Donald (Calder V)
Parkinson, Rt Hon CecilThompson, Patrick (N'ich N)
Parris, MatthewThornton, Malcolm
Patten, John (Oxford)Thurnham, Peter
Pattie, GeoffreyTownend, John (Bridlington)
Pawsey, JamesTownsend, Cyril D. (B'heath)
Peacock, Mrs ElizabethTracey, Richard
Percival, Rt Hon Sir IanTrippier, David
Pollock, AlexanderTrotter, Neville
Porter, BarryTwinn, Dr Ian
Powell, William (Corby)Vaughan, Dr Gerard
Powley, JohnViggers, Peter
Prentice, Rt Hon RegWaddington, David
Price, Sir DavidWakeham, Rt Hon John
Proctor, K. HarveyWalden, George
Pym, Rt Hon FrancisWalker, Rt Hon P. (W'cester)
Raffan, KeithWall, Sir Patrick
Raison, Rt Hon TimothyWaller, Gary
Rathbone, TimWalters, Dennis
Rees, Rt Hon Peter (Dover)Wardle, C. (Bexhill)
Renton, TimWarren, Kenneth
Ridley, Rt Hon NicholasWatson, John
Ridsdale, Sir JulianWatts, John
Rifkind, MalcolmWells, Bowen (Hertford)
Rippon, Rt Hon GeoffreyWells, John (Maidstone)
Roberts, Wyn (Conwy)Whitfield, John
Robinson, Mark (N'port W)Whitney, Raymond
Roe, Mrs MarionWiggin, Jerry
Rossi, Sir HughWinterton, Mrs Ann
Rost, PeterWood, Timothy
Rowe, AndrewWoodcock, Michael
Rumbold, Mrs AngelaYeo, Tim
Ryder, RichardYounger, Rt Hon George
Sackville, Hon Thomas
Sainsbury, Hon TimothyTellers for the Ayes:
St. John-Stevas, Rt Hon N.Mr. Carol Mather and Mr. Robert Boscawen
Sayeed, Jonathan
NOES
Abse, LeoBeggs, Roy
Adams, Allen (Paisley N)Beith, A. J.
Alton, DavidBell, Stuart
Anderson, DonaldBennett, A. (Dent'n & Red'sh)
Archer, Rt Hon PeterBermingham, Gerald
Ashley, Rt Hon JackBidwell, Sydney
Ashton, JoeBlair, Anthony
Atkinson, N. (Tottenham)Boyes, Roland
Bagier, Gordon A. T.Brown, Gordon (D'f'mline E)
Banks, Tony (Newham NW)Brown, Hugh D. (Provan)
Barnett, GuyBrown, N. (N'c'tle-u-Tyne E)
Barron, KevinBrown, R. (N'c'tle-u-Tyne N)
Beckett, Mrs MargaretBrown, Ron (E'burgh, Leith)
Bruce, MalcolmKinnock, Rt Hon Neil
Caborn, RichardLeighton, Ronald
Callaghan, Rt Hon J.Lewis, Ron (Carlisle)
Campbell, IanLewis, Terence (Worsley)
Canavan, DennisLitherland, Robert
Carter-Jones, LewisLloyd, Tony (Stretford)
Cartwright, JohnLofthouse, Geoffrey
Clark, Dr David (S Shields)Loyden, Edward
Clay, RobertMcCartney, Hugh
Cocks, Rt Hon M. (Bristol S.)McCusker, Harold
Cohen, HarryMcDonald, Dr Oonagh
Coleman, DonaldMcGuire, Michael
Concannon, Rt Hon J. D,McKay, Allen (Penistone)
Cook, Frank (Stockton North)McKelvey, William
Cook, Robin F. (Livingston)Mackenzie, Rt Hon Gregor
Corbett, RobinMcTaggart, Robert
Corbyn, JeremyMadden, Max
Cowans, HarryMarek, Dr John
Craigen, J. M.Marshall, David (Shettleston)
Crowther, StanMartin, Michael
Cunliffe, LawrenceMason, Rt Hon Roy
Cunningham, Dr JohnMaxton, John
Davies, Ronald (Caerphilly)Maynard, Miss Joan
Davis, Terry (B'ham, H'ge H'l)Meacher, Michael
Deakins, EricMeadowcroft, Michael
Dixon, DonaldMichie, William
Dobson, FrankMikardo, Ian
Dormand, JackMillan, Rt Hon Bruce
Douglas, DickMiller, Dr M. S. (E Kilbride)
Dubs, AlfredMolyneaux, Rt Hon James
Duffy, A. E. P.Morris, Rt Hon A. (W'shawe)
Dunwoody, Hon Mrs G.Nellist, David
Eadie, AlexOakes, Rt Hon Gordon
Eastham, KenO'Brien, William
Edwards, R. (W'hampt'n SE)O'Neill, Martin
Evans, Ioan (Cynon Valley)Orme, Rt Hon Stanley
Evans, John (St. Helens N)Park, George
Ewing, HarryParry, Robert
Fatchett, DerekPatchett, Terry
Faulds, AndrewPendry, Tom
Field, Frank (Birkenhead)Pike, Peter
Fields, T. (L'pool Broad Gn)Powell, Rt Hon J. E. (S Down)
Fisher, MarkPowell, Raymond (Ogmore)
Flannery, MartinPrescott, John
Foot, Rt Hon MichaelRadice, Giles
Forrester, JohnRandall, Stuart
Forsythe, Clifford (S Antrim)Redmond, M.
Foster, DerekRees, Rt Hon M. (Leeds S)
Fraser, J. (Norwood)Richardson, Ms Jo
Freeson, Rt Hon ReginaldRoberts, Ernest (Hackney N)
Freud, ClementRobertson, George
Garrett, W. E.Robinson, G. (Coventry NW)
Gilbert, Rt Hon Dr JohnRogers, Allan
Godman, Dr NormanRooker, J. W.
Golding, JohnRoss, Ernest (Dundee W)
Gould, BryanRoss, Stephen (Isle of Wight)
Hamilton, W. W. (Central Fife)Rowlands, Ted
Harman, Ms HarrietRyman, John
Harrison, Rt Hon WalterSedgemore, Brian
Hattersley, Rt Hon RoySheerman, Barry
Haynes, FrankSheldon, Rt Hon R.
Healey, Rt Hon DenisShore, Rt Hon Peter
Heffer, Eric S.Short, Ms Clare (Ladywood)
Hogg, N. (C'nauld & Kilsyth)Short, Mrs R.(W'hampt'n NE)
Holland, Stuart (Vauxhall)Silkin, Rt Hon J.
Home Robertson, JohnSkinner, Dennis
Howell, Rt Hon D. (S'heath)Smith, C,(Isl'ton S & F'bury)
Howells, GeraintSnape, Peter
Hoyle, DouglasSoley, Clive
Hughes, Mark (Durham)Spearing, Nigel
Hughes, Robert (Aberdeen N)Steel, Rt Hon David
Hughes, Roy (Newport East)Stewart, Rt Hon D. (W Isles)
Hughes, Sean (Knowsley S)Stott, Roger
Hughes, Simon (Southwark)Strang, Gavin
Janner, Hon GrevilleStraw, Jack
John, BrynmorTaylor, Rt Hon John David
Jones, Barry (Alyn & Deeside)Thomas, Dafydd (Merioneth)
Kaufman, Rt Hon GeraldThomas, Dr R. (Carmarthen)
Kennedy, CharlesThompson, J. (Wansbeck)
Kilroy-Silk, RobertThorne, Stan (Preston)
Tinn, JamesWigley, Dafydd
Torney, TomWilliams, Rt Hon A.
Varley, Rt Hon Eric G.Winnick, David
Wainwright, R.Woodall, Alec
Walker, Cecil (Belfast N)Wrigglesworth, Ian
Wardell, Gareth (Gower)Young, David (Bolton SE)
Wareing, Robert
Weetch, KenTellers for the Noes:
Welsh, MichaelMr. James Hamilton and Mr. Austin Mitchell
White, James

Question accordingly agreed to.

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