I beg to move, That the Bill be now read the Third time.
I should like to thank Members on both sides of the House, as well as the minor parties, for their universal support for the Bill. My right hon. Friend Sir Tony Baldry has made it clear that we have seen Bills move more swiftly than this through their parliamentary stages, but I would not want anyone to think that this Bill has not received a significant amount of attention. It has had a gestation process of about three years, and support from Members on both sides has enabled the Government to bring forward a Bill that has universal support.
For more than 300 years, friendly societies and mutual companies have been an important part of the corporate landscape of our country. From the time of the industrial revolution, the needs of working people for greater security against unemployment, sickness and funeral costs have led to the creation of many such societies, all of which were committed to the principles of mutuality, customer focus and trust. Some, such as Royal London, the NFU Mutual—on whose board I served for a decade—and LV, have become major landmarks of the financial services industry.
I want to refer briefly to the Tredegar Medical Aid Society, which brought working miners together 120 years ago and mutually provided medical insurance care. The society was the first to make provision for its members to get two weeks of sickness benefit, when needed. In 1911, a parliamentary commission from this place visited Tredegar in the south Wales valleys—my home town—to examine the scheme, which led to the universal introduction of sickness benefit in the UK. In 1947, Aneurin Bevan, who served on the society’s board with my grandfather, a working coal miner, told Parliament that the Tredegar Medical Aid Society was the model for the NHS and therefore he was not nationalising health care but “Tredegar-ising” it.
The important contribution that mutuals have made over the years to innovation and corporate diversity has, as we have heard, been significantly undermined in recent decades by the inability of mutuals to raise regulatory capital, other than by retaining past profits—the danger was always losing their mutuality. I will not repeat the points made during the debate on the amendment tabled by my right hon. Friend Sir Tony Baldry, because we see the way in which the mutuals sector, through this difficulty, shrank to being a fraction of the size of the sector in Europe. I believe we are all agreed that that was undesirable. The problem led to all political parties recognising that something urgent needed to be done to allow mutuals to raise additional capital, if required, without losing their mutual status. That is what this Bill is all about.
Before closing, I wish, with your indulgence, Mr Speaker, to pay one or two tributes. Lord Naseby, a former Deputy Speaker of this House, has been part of the journey throughout the three-year period to which I referred. He and I have worked closely on this, as he is my vice-chairman on the all-party group on mutuals. I also wish to pay tribute to Peter Hunt and Mutuo for all the work they have done, and to mention some people within this House.
The Minister has consistently offered Government support for the Bill. Chris Leslie and I have discussed the position of mutuals and what we can collectively do to enhance their position within the corporate landscape of our country. Whatever political differences there may have been between us on a range of other things, it would be difficult to find much on this agenda on which he and I do not share either the same objective or the same means to get to that objective. I am very grateful to him for all the support he has given.
I wish to mention two other people, the first of whom is Mr Bailey, my predecessor as chairman of the all-party group. He worked consistently and hard to try to get Members on both sides of the House—the hon. Member for Nottingham East knows that each of us struggled with our own side—especially the Front-Bench teams, to understand what we understood needed to be done. There cannot be many people in this House who have worked as hard as the hon. Member for West Bromwich West in that regard.
Finally, I wish to thank my hon. Friend Mr Chope. He and I represent the two plane wings of the Conservative party. As long as each of our wings is intact, the Conservative party will fly with power, not least in the forthcoming election. He has proved to be of immense assistance to me, not only on my previous private Member’s Bill, the Off-patent Drugs Bill, which may return to the House in due course, but on the procedure in dealing with the measure before us. As we are drawing near to three weeks until the end of my service in the House, I want to thank him very much for the help he has given me.
I have one final comment to make. I first stood for Parliament more than 40 years ago, against Michael Foot, in my home town. At the beginning of that campaign, Michael Foot gave me a copy of his biography of Aneurin Bevan. I thought it immensely generous of somebody who was, in a sense, one of the iconic figures of British politics to give a gift such as that to somebody who was barely 22 years of age at the time. The reason he gave it to me was not just an act of generosity. He drew attention to page 63 of that biography, in which he talks about Bevan’s involvement with the Tredegar Medical Aid Society and the working miners who formed it, one of whom was my grandfather. There is no better way of drawing an end to my service in this House than by doing something to ensure that the mutual principle in our country to which my grandfather contributed in some way is carried forward through this Bill.