§ 4.—(1) The Speaker shall put forthwith the Question on any Motion made by a Minister of the Crown—
- (a) for the appointment and quorum of a Committee to draw up Reasons; or
- (b) for the consideration forthwith of any further Message from the Lords on the Bill.
§ (2) A Committee appointed to draw up Reasons shall report before the conclusion of the sitting at which it is appointed.
§ 5. —(1) In this paragraph "the proceedings" means proceedings on Consideration of Lords Amendments, on any further Message from the Lords on the Bill, on the appointment and quorum of a Committee to draw up Reasons and the Report of such a Committee.
§ (2) Paragraph (1) of Standing Order No. 14 (Exempted business) shall apply to the proceedings.
§ (3) No dilatory Motion with respect to, or in the course of, the proceedings shall be made except by a Minister of the Crown, and the Question on any such Motion shall be put forthwith.
§ (4) If the House is adjourned, or the sitting is suspended, before the expiry of the period at the end of which any proceedings are to be brought to a conclusion under this Order, no notice shall be required of a Motion made at the next sitting by a Minister of the Crown for varying or supplementing the provisions of this Order.
§ (5) If the proceedings on any further Message from the Lords on the Bill are interrupted by a Motion for the Adjournment of the House under Standing Order No. 20 (Adjournment on specific and important matter that should have urgent consideration) a period equal to the duration of the proceedings on the Motion shall be added to the period at the end of which the proceedings are to be brought to a conclusion.
§ The case for the motion can be put simply and briefly. There are four good reasons.
First, the Bill has had ample time for debate—about 185 hours before yesterday's proceedings—when all the issues have been exhaustively discussed. That is a great deal of time for every issue to be tackled, so no one can argue that both Houses have had insufficient time to consider the Bill. Quite the reverse: a huge amount of parliamentary time has been devoted to it.
Secondly, all but two of the Lords amendments are either in response to commitments given to hon. Members on both sides of the House and in another place, or they are technical. Indeed, some 75 per cent. of the amendments are technical and do not introduce any real policy issues, or they are consequential. A very large number simply flow from the commitments that have been made.
It is noteworthy that only a small proportion of the time spent on the Bill in another place was spent on the Government amendments that we are considering today. They were all passed in another place without a Division. They were unopposed by the Opposition in another place, with one exception.
The vast majority—indeed, all but two—of the amendments that we are considering in these two days are in response to commitments or are technical. They took very little time in the House of Lords and were not opposed there.
Thirdly, we are fundamentally concerned with two issues, as my hon. Friend the Member for Lewes (Mr. 158 Rathbone) said last night. One concerns pensions—the exception to which I referred—and the other British Rail being allowed to bid for franchises. We had provided the House with generous time—two whole days—to consider those issues and the other technical amendments that took so little time in the other place. It should have been perfectly possible to deal with those issues as fully as was required—as, indeed, is still possible under this motion.
It is interesting to note that the other place took about three and a half hours on the two issues; we still have five hours ahead of us to debate them, and we could have spent a great deal of time on them yesterday. In addition, the House had already debated them fully before the Bill left here to go to the other place. We are talking about two amendments that have been very fully and widely debated in the other place in less time than we are now making available at this stage of our proceedings. It is quite clear that we have already provided generous time.
§ Mrs. Gwyneth Dunwoody (Crewe and Nantwich)
Can the Minister tell us of any other Bill of which a very substantial part of the provisions were introduced by a Minister saying, "Although the wording is not clear, it is obvious that it will be tested in the courts"?
§ Mr. MacGregor
There are many cases where Acts of Parliament involve interpretation by the courts. It happens frequently. I note that the hon. Lady has not challenged any of the three points that I have made so far, yet those are important points in the context of the debate.
My fourth point is that the fact that we have provided plenty of time was acknowledged when no hon. Member questioned the time allocation announced by my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House during the business statement last week. That is a crucial point, because it is quite clear that the House understood all the points that I have just made and decided that the time provided for our debate this week was sufficient to deal with all the issues.
§ Dr. John Marek (Wrexham)
I want to make two points to the right hon. Gentleman. First, the Bill has been substantially rewritten. His argument is that, although it has been modified, the principle is not different. That may be so, but the House examines Bills line by line and goes into the detail. Therefore, the argument that the Bill is not substantially different in principle, apart from two issues that have been well debated in the other place, does not carry much water.
Secondly, the other place has sent back those two issues to the House of Commons and is telling us to think again, so they should be fully debated. I am afraid that I cannot agree with what the right hon. Gentleman has said.
§ Mr. MacGregor
We have provided plenty of time for those two issues to be debated—indeed, more time than we provided when we considered them on Report on 25 May. We did not have a guillotine on 25 May, but the House decided that two and a half hours of debate was sufficient time, and then took a vote. The hon. Gentleman's point fails on that fact alone. If his view is really as he stated, I am surprised that he did not communicate it to his right hon. and hon. Friends last Thursday or raise the matter in the House. The truth is that, last Thursday, my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House said that two full days had been allocated to debate these issues, and the House thought that that was ample.
§ Mr. Dennis Skinner (Bolsover)
Is the right hon. Gentleman saying that when two days are allocated to debate a Bill that has been to the other place and where new material is involved—and although the measure is controversial and the job of the Opposition is to oppose and to use all the techniques available to do so—it is wrong of the Opposition to assume that the debate will continue beyond 10 o'clock so that the Opposition can harry the Government? Surely that is the role of the Opposition.
The Government know that 80 per cent. of the British public do not want the Bill—[Interruption.] That is true. Our assumption was that two days meant many more hours of debate than being obliged to finish at 10 o'clock on two successive days. I was under the impression that we would spend all night opposing the Bill line by line, clause by clause, to try to prevent it being passed—in line with the wishes of millions of people.
§ Mr. MacGregor
The hon. Gentleman has given the game away. He said that the Opposition would use every technique available to make sure that the Bill never reached the statute book. That is not the stage that we are at—
§ Mr. MacGregor
Exactly, but if the hon. Gentleman believes that the Opposition can use every technique without being challenged, he must understand that the Government have the legitimate role of ensuring that amendments are properly considered and that the Bill reaches the statute book. The hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) has blown the gaff. He has told us exactly what the Opposition are about.
Until yesterday, we had every reason to believe that we could deal with all the issues in an orderly and reasonable manner. We saw what happened, and the hon. Gentleman explained the thinking behind it. There was an attempt to use the techniques of the House to prevent the Bill from going through. I hope that all my right hon. and hon. Friends now understand exactly what was happening.
§ Mr. MacGregor
As I am not too naive in these matters, I will spell it out to the hon. Member for Bolsover, but I will allow him to make another point first.
§ Mr. Skinner
Every text book on parliamentary government and the role of the Opposition indicates that the only power held by the Opposition to stop a ruthless and arrogant Government from enacting measures that the majority of the population do not want is to use the availability of parliamentary time. The Secretary of State is saying that, for the past 14 years, the Government have been so contemptuous of the people and of arguments that, every time that there is opposition, they introduce a guillotine to have their way and to get their legislation through. That says more about this Government than about Oppositions generally in the past.
§ Mr. MacGregor
I recall, when I was fairly new to the House, having to suffer five guillotines in one day from the hon. Gentleman's party when it was in government. The amount of time allowed must be reasonable; it cannot be unlimited. We have already spent more than 185 hours examining the Bill in great detail.
160 Yesterday, we saw a classic filibuster. Anyone who has been a Member of Parliament for even a short time could spot what the Opposition were up to a mile away. We had nearly five hours—
§ Mr. Skinner
On a point of order, Madam Speaker. The Secretary of State says that the House was subjected to a filibuster by my right hon. and hon. Friends. Did you, Madam Speaker, have to prevent any right hon. or hon. Member speaking because he or she was filibustering? You should put him in his place.
§ Madam Speaker
Order. That matter is for debate and argument, not for the Chair. I know well what took place yesterday. Any right hon. or hon. Member who wants to do so can check the time taken by any speaker.
§ Mr. MacGregor
What we are doing now is also in order. I will take the House through it. Yesterday, nearly five hours were spent debating two amendments—
§ Mr. MacGregor
No, I will not give way for the moment. Nearly five hours were spent debating two groups of amendments.
§ Mr. Heppell
On a point of order, Madam Speaker. The fact is that the House dealt with 128 amendments yesterday. The right hon. Gentleman is misleading the House—
§ Madam Speaker
Order. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman knows that no right hon. or hon. Member misleads the House. That is not a point of order for the Chair but a matter of argument. I understand the hon. Gentleman's frustration, because he has not been allowed to intervene—but if he will be a little patient, perhaps the Secretary of State will allow him to do so later.
§ Mr. MacGregor
We want to get on to the points of substance, but it is obvious what the Opposition are up to. They are not allowing me to get on with the argument and are clearly keen to filibuster this debate as well.
I acknowledge that we debated two groups of amendments yesterday. It is typical of the hon. Member for Nottingham, East (Mr. Heppell) that he picks up on points of trivia and delivers great tirades on them, but he never addresses the major issues.
§ Mr. David Nicholson (Taunton)
My right hon. Friend will know of my interest in and concern about the more controversial Lords amendments. Does he agree that it would not have made sense to debate, for example, the so-called Peyton amendment on BR bids at 3 or 4 o'clock in the morning, and that it was far better to debate those matters in prime time, which we would have hoped the Opposition would allow? Is not the real reason the fact that the Opposition were denied the possibility of a Conservative rebellion by the skill of the Secretary of State and of some of my hon. Friends and the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, East (Mr. Prescott) wanted an opportunity to prove his virility to the left of the Labour party, having possibly sacrificed it at the Labour party conference?
§ Mr. MacGregor
From a sedentary position, the hon. Gentleman says, "Look at what the pensioners are going to lose." He repeats that allegation around the country, but it is not true, as I shall make clear in a moment. It is time that he stopped repeating that accusation, because it is not true.
§ Mr. Brian Wilson (Cunninghame, North)
The Secretary of State pays lip service to the desire to get on with the debate, but we are anxious to get on to its substance and, above all, to the issue of pensioners. Instead of taking part in a cheapskate exercise, let the Secretary of State address himself to the views of the chairman of the British Rail pension fund. Before the summer recess, he said that he was satisfied with assurances that he had been given, but he is now calling on the Government in specific terms to stop reneging on their assurances. He has accused them of reneging on assurances given in another place and coming back to the House with amendments to reverse the Lords amendments.
Let the Secretary of State address himself to those views and to the genuine concerns of hundreds of thousands of British Rail pensioners rather than getting involved in this game of farce and semantics. The Government are interested only in curtailing debate, because they know that the more debate there is, the more they lose the argument.
§ Mr. MacGregor
The hon. Gentleman is not right. I shall return to pensions, which I regard as a serious issue. I wish that we could have spent time on it yesteday, but I shall say something about it in a moment. I need to make the argument for the motion. Instead of interrupting all the time and accusing me of not getting on with the debate, the hon. Gentleman might allow me to do so.
I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Taunton (Mr. Nicholson), who said—
§ Mr. MacGregor
That type of comment gets us nowhere, and it is typical of the hon. Gentleman.
I remember the debates of the Select Committee on the Sittings of the House, which was chaired by my right hon. Friend the Member for Westmorland and Lonsdale: (Mr. Jopling). It was responding to public concern about the way in which we sometimes debate matters at 3 am. My right hon. Friend the Leader of the House has provided ample time to debate the two key issues at appropriate times during the parliamentary day.
I noticed that the Opposition got very shirty and wanted to interrupt to stop me making my argument on how the filibustering occurred. Nearly five hours were spent on the two groups of amendments—much longer than the Lords took on those two issues. The delays occurred because we were treated to a series of Second Reading speeches and constant repetition of arguments that had been made ad nauseam in earlier debates.
§ Mrs. Dunwoody
On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I detect in the Secretary of State's remarks clear criticism of the Chair's handling of amendments yesterday. I am sure that, had any hon. Member contravened the rules of order, the occupant of the Chair would have called the Member to order. Should it not be made clear to the 162 Secretary of State that the constant use of the word "filibuster" is not only inaccurate but unbecoming in a senior Minister?
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Geoffrey Lofthouse)
I did not notice any criticism of the Chair. I am sure that the hon. Lady is right and that the occupant of the Chair would have acted in accordance with the Standing Orders of the House and carried out his or her duty.
§ Mr. Bob Cryer (Bradford, South)
On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Is it not the case that the Standing Orders of the House prevent tedious repetition? The Secretary of State has just accused the Opposition of numerous repetitions, but that cannot be true because it would be in breach of the Standing Orders.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
The hon. Gentleman is right, but it is for the Chair to decide what is tedious repetition, and the Chair has not yet so decided.
§ Mr. MacGregor
We can see how sensitive the Opposition are to the point that I am making. I am not directing any accusations at the Chair; I am saying that the Opposition spokesman had his team lined up—the tactics were all too obvious—to use every argument they could think of to delay debate on the amendments. That is why so many points made in earlier debates were repeated yesterday.
Let us listen to some of the arguments to which we were treated—
§ Mr. MacGregor
No, I shall not give way; I must get on.
Despite the fact that everyone was anxious to move on to the key debates and that the House of Lords had spent very little time on the two groups of amendments that we debated yesterday, we were treated to speeches about the sale of drinks at Birmingham New Street station, the opening hours of toilets at Birmingham New Street station, and all stations to Dundee, Broughty Ferry, Monifieth, Carnoustie and Arbroath. I am not saying that such issues, as well as the Eastleigh works, are not important, but they were not relevant to the amendments being considered yesterday. We heard about the nicknames of pre-grouping railway counties, the sale of knickers on stations and various other issues which were included to prolong the debate. That was not an orderly way in which to conduct the debate.
The game was given away when we completed the vote on the second group of amendments at about 9.30 pm. We were deciding how to handle the obvious filibuster, but the game was given away when the Opposition spent hardly any time on the next group of amendments. We all understood what was happening. The Opposition dug a hole for themselves and they were rumbled. Last night we saw blatantly obvious spoiling tactics.
When he made the business statement, my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House pointed out that, at yesterday's rate of progress, we should have needed a further four weeks to complete consideration of the amendments. That is the reason we had to ensure an orderly debate. If we had not, we would have ended up with a further four weeks of debate—or, as the hon. Member for Bolsover rightly said, a debate long enough to ensure that the Bill did not reach the statute book.
163 Last night, the Opposition employed deliberate spoiling tactics and displayed spurious, wholly synthetic rage. My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister made that clear during Prime Minister's Question Time. I watched him doing so on television, and he was absolutely right.
§ Mr. Peter Snape (West Bromwich, East)
I am a former railwayman; indeed, I suspect that I am the only hon. Member who hopes to live long enough to draw a railway pension. However, will the Secretary of State accept that many of my colleagues also feel strongly about these matters—so much so that we were considerably annoyed yesterday by the indifference of Conservative Back Benchers, the vast majority of whom, in spite of their support for the Government today, were not in the Chamber for any part of yesterday's debate? Will he accept that those of us who feel strongly about the future of the railway industry have a right to raise the issues that he mentioned so scornfully and that we shall continue to do so today, as long as the Chair rules that we are in order?
§ Mr. MacGregor
My hon. Friends believed that the two groups of amendments were right, and they did not want to hold up the discussion. That was a perfectly sensible way to proceed.
§ Mr. Matthew Banks
Does my right hon. Friend agree that what confirms more than anything else the synthetic nature of the Opposition's outrage is the fact that, with the honourable exception of the hon. Member for Wrexham (Dr. Marek)—I see that he is in his place—none of the Opposition Members who both yesterday and today have expressed mock outrage about the guillotine were present in the Chamber for the debates on any of the amendments?
§ Mr. George Stevenson (Stoke-on-Trent, South)
On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I seek your guidance, because what has just been said is not correct. I was in the Chamber throughout the debates but I did not contribute to them, and that is what is misleading the House. [Interruption.]
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
Order. I am sure that, if the hon. Member for Southport (Mr. Banks) is wrong, he will want to withdraw what he has said. [HoN. MEMBERS: "Withdraw."] Order. It is time that the House settled down to a serious debate.
§ Mr. MacGregor
I hope that I have made the case. Indeed, the case for ensuring that there is an orderly debate on the issues of most concern to people outside the House is being made for me by the minute.
As a result of all that I have explained, and especially as a result of what we observed yesterday, the Government believe that a timetable motion is necessary to ensure orderly debate for the remainder of our time on the Bill. I am sure that we can achieve that.
I shall now deal with the two key issues. The first is the question of British Rail bidding for the franchises, and the hon. Member for Wrexham told us last night—his words are recorded at column 123 of the Official Report—that the Opposition were prepared to accept formally the amendments that we were debating at 10 o'clock. That means that we can go straight into the debate on the group including amendment No. 31, which is about British Rail bidding.
164 I can therefore give my hon. Friend the Member for Lewes (Mr. Rathbone) the assurance that he sought last night, that there will be ample time to debate that issue. Indeed, there will be more than ample time. On Report on 25 May, a two-and-a-half hour debate on that issue, when the Opposition amendment was defeated, was considered long enough. The House of Lords, too, took two and a half hours on the issue. So we have plenty of time today.
I know that Opposition Members and some of my hon. Friends wish to discuss pensions—briefly, in the case of my hon. Friends, because more than 30 hours have already been devoted to the subject, and we have now come down to a fairly narrow issue. The background to the debate is the fact that we have always made clear our belief that it is important that the position of existing pensioners—that is what we are to discuss today—should be fully taken into account and dealt with satisfactorily.
I have said that throughout our proceedings. My right hon. Friend the Minister of State and I have engaged in lengthy discussions with pensioners and pension fund trustees, because I fully understand, accept and sympathise with the pensioners' views, and I was determined to ensure' that they had a good deal. They can now be assured that they have a very good deal indeed.
It is outrageous that the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, East (Mr. Prescott) has misrepresented the position of pensioners and of the pension fund so outrageously. He knows that there is no ground whatever for saying that the Treasury is out to purloin the existing pension funds. For him to suggest that is not only outrageous but frightening an awful lot of pensioners unnecessarily. Let me spell the position out.
§ Mr. MacGregor
No, I want to spell the position out.
For existing and deferred pensioners, we are setting up a closed scheme with its own fund within the joint industry scheme. The assets going from the existing British Rail scheme to that fund will be actuarially determined. The fund will, as now, be under the control of the trustees, who will have the same fiduciary duties to members as they have now.
We have added the protection of a guarantee, fully underwritten by the Government, that the fund will remain solvent. That means that pensions paid are certain to keep pace with inflation. That is an absolute guarantee, which pensioners do not at present enjoy. In addition, the trustees will be able to use up to 40 per cent. of any surplus in the fund—the likelihood of such surpluses occurring is real rather than theoretical—to enhance benefits above the level of inflation. Incidentally, 40 per cent. is broadly the figure that pensioners have been getting on actuarial surpluses up until now.
Three things have been guaranteed to the pensioners —the solvency of the fund, the index-linking of pensions, and 40 per cent. of any surpluses—which they will be able to have for as long as they have pensions. That is an extremely favourable deal. It is a fairly good deal by the standards of any pension scheme. It is a copper-bottomed guarantee of inflation-proofing, plus the ability to share in the surpluses. It is a more certain deal than pensioners have now.
§ Mr. Heppell
The Secretary of State says that there will be a guarantee of about 40 per cent. of the surpluses in my pension scheme. Can he tell us what will happen to the other 60 per cent. of the surpluses in my pension scheme?
§ Mr. MacGregor
Those surpluses will stay in the fund, because there will be a continuing commitment to inflation-proofing and the payment of surpluses in the future. If the surpluses are insufficient, and if the fund is unable to make the payments, clearly the Government's commitment comes in and the taxpayer assists.
§ Mr. Heppell
To clear up that point, the Secretary of State says that 60 per cent. will stay in the fund. I understand that it will stay with the Government and they will give it to the fund when necessary. Can the Secretary of State give a commitment now that the payments that will be made to pensioners—the Government's contributions —will continue without any conditions?
§ Mr. MacGregor
I repeat what I said: the 60 per cent. stays in the fund, without any conditions. The issue is when the extra funding from the taxpayer comes in. That is the issue which I want to spell out now. [Interruption.] The answer is yes: the 60 per cent. stays in the fund.
§ Mr. Prescott
The Secretary of State admitted that 60 per cent. will be kept in a reserve fund and 40 per cent. will be distributed to pensioners in the normal manner. I understand that 60 per cent. will remain in the fund but not for distribution, as it is now. At present, any surpluses made from the investments are distributed on the decision of the trustees. The Secretary of State is now saying that that will apply to only 40 per cent. of the surpluses, and 60 per cent. will be put into a reserve fund. Perhaps he could tell us why he is appointing a special Government trustee who will have some special responsibilities to the fund.
§ Mr. MacGregor
Let me deal with the two points. What I said is absolutely clear and in accordance with what has been happening up until now in the British Rail fund and, indeed, any other funds. There is a clear reason why the surpluses stay in the fund. [Interruption.] Putting the surpluses into reserve for the fund is the same thing as the surpluses staying in the fund. Perhaps the hon. Gentleman misunderstood that. I have made it clear that the surpluses stay in the fund.
Until now, about 40 per cent. has been paid out in most cases in the British Rail fund. Clearly, when the trustees face their future commitments, and when they know that there are liabilities for the employer, the 60 per cent. is dealt with in that way. What we will have is a closed fund. Therefore, we have said that 40 per cent. can be distributed in the way that the trustees see fit. That is a very good deal, because it is in accordance with the way in which pension funds operate.
The taxpayer, rather than future employees or employers, is underwriting the fund, because we want to give the pensioners a fair deal. If we suppose that the fund does not perform very well at some stage in the future, if the 60 per cent. is absorbed in paying out index-linked pensions and the 40 per cent. commitment, and if the fund 166 runs into deficit, the taxpayer will step in and meet its commitment at that point. It must be clear to the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, East now.
There is no question whatever of the Treasury or the Government purloining pensioners' funds, and I hope that the hon. Gentleman will stop saying that.
§ Mr. Andrew Smith (Oxford, East)
The Secretary of State says that the 60 per cent. will remain in the fund. In the memorandum that his Minister signed, it says that the Government director will decide on the investment of the special reserve. If the 60 per cent. stays in the fund in the normal way, as it has in the past, surely the fund trustees will decide on the investments of the fund. Will the Minister guarantee that it will be the pension fund trustees and not the Government commissar who will control the 60 per cent. special reserve?
§ Mr. MacGregor
Will the hon. Gentleman put himself in the place of the taxpayer? We have a commitment to the taxpayer, and if the taxpayer is underwriting the solvency of the fund and, effectively, the index-linking, there must be some assurance that it is the 40 per cent. and not the 60 per cent. that is distributed in pension benefits of one form or another. That is why there must be some special reserve power to protect the taxpayer, who will be putting in further funding. There is no queston of siphoning off those funds for the other purposes that the hon. Gentleman keeps talking about.
The issue before the House today is the context in which it should address the question of Government payments to the scheme under the Transport Act 1980. At present, such payments are made each year to fund liabilities which would otherwise be unfunded. In a closed fund, with an absolute solvency guarantee from the Government, the situation is different. The trustees acknowledged this when their chairman signed the memorandum of understanding in the summer, which explicitly recognised the need to look again at the timing of those payments and totake account on the absolute guarantee now being provided".The absolute guarantee is a very significant change. The Government's proposal will ensure that the full value of the payments and the interest on them become assets of the pensioners' closed fund and will be counted in the overall calculation of the balance in the fund.
Let me make it clear beyond doubt that they will count as assets, and the fund will get the full value of the contributions. If there is a surplus to be distributed, counting in those assets, pensioners get that value in real money.
§ Mr. MacGregor
I have already said that there will be rolled-up interest on the payments which will be included in the value.
Under the changed arrangements and the Government guarantee, the point at which a cash injection of Government money into the fund is needed will not necessarily be every year, as it is now. That is why we want to discuss the timing of payments with the trustees. They implicitly recognised the reasonableness of that proposal when they signed the memorandum.
It remains the Government's firm intention to honour the memorandum of understanding and to reach an agreement with the trustees, as I am confident we can. We are in detailed discussions with them, but these are very technical matters and will take some time to resolve. We 167 have made it clear that eventually an order will come before both Houses and be subjected to full consideration. Ministers will be answerable to Parliament for the way in which they exercise and use that order-making power.
The amendment passed in the other place requires the trustees' agreement on the face of the Bill. That is quite unacceptable. It would give the trustees—a third party that is not answerable to either House—an effective veto over public spending and subordinate legislation, areas that are clear provinces of Parliament. If a future board of trustees withheld their agreement, however vexatiously, payments of money under the 1980 Act, scoring fully against public expenditure, would have to continue as now, regardless of the need for them. The trustees would be able to prevent the Government from bringing forward secondary legislation for consideration by both Houses.
That would mean that an outside body would have a veto over what comes before the House and the timings of payments of public expenditure. That is unacceptable, and that is why we have tabled the amendment.
§ Mr. Skinner
On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. We have had many guillotine motions over the past 14 years, and it has always been the job of the Chair to draw to the attention of speakers the fact that it is a narrow motion, and that they should refer only to the reasons for the guillotine. My hon. Friends want to debate pensions —that is why we did not want the guillotine motion in the first place—but the Secretary of State is proving the very point that was made last night. He himself is using a guillotine motion to talk about the pension scheme. That is exactly what we were protesting about in the first place. I do not want to stop the right hon. Gentleman, but he is out of order.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
The Secretary of State was going rather wide of the motion, but I considered it in the interests of the debate that he be allowed to do so.
§ Mr. MacGregor
I am grateful to you, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I should have liked to discuss the issues without a guillotine; indeed, I should have been able to do so had we not encountered yesterday's problems, which I have already described in detail.
I hope that what I have said has given my hon. Friends the reassurance that I know they were seeking. We shall shortly be able to turn to the other main issue that is before us as a result of the Lords amendments. For all the reasons that I have given, I believe that the attack on our guillotine motion is spurious, and not prompted by a real rage. The Opposition knew exactly what they were up to: they were out to destroy any opportunity of completing the full discussion within the two days so generously allowed by my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House. I commend the motion to the House.
§ Mr. John Prescott (Kingston upon Hull, East)
The Secretary of State has taken 35 minutes to introduce a guillotine motion. That is twice as long as any speech made during the debate in which the right hon. Gentleman has accused us of filibustering. I do not deny that what he has said is important; indeed, this is the first occasion on which such a statement about pensions has been made to the House. That, however, is what half our grievance is about. 168 The Secretary of State appears to doubt that, but he knows that the amendments were tabled in the other place, not here. The pensions provisions were changed two or three times in Committee, quite apart from the substantial changes imposed in the House of Lords. Issues of real substance are involved here, rather than merely technical matters.
The case presented by the Secretary of State and the manner of its presentation remind me of the quotation that we heard yesterday from my hon. Friend the Member for Cunninghame, North (Mr. Wilson)—Mrs. Thatcher's observation about the right hon. Gentleman. [Interruption.] The quotation reflects the view of the Secretary of State that was taken by the Prime Minister of the day.
In the section of her book entitled "Men in Lifeboats", Lady Thatcher wrote:But I still wanted a new face at Education where John MacGregor's limitations as a public spokesman were costing us dear in an area of great importance."—[Official Report, 1 November 1993; Vol. 231, c. 46.]I consider that a very apt comment on what the right hon. Gentleman has said today, especially what he has said about the important issue of pensions.
The Opposition have been accused of wasting time. I deny that, and I resented the charge when it was made by the Leader of the House. To be fair, he said that long debates took place on only two amendments; the Secretary of State has now changed that to two groups of amendments, comprising about 100. I believe that he was wrongly advised while I was shouting at him in the heat of the moment. Now we have witnessed the unusual procedure of a Secretary of State, rather than the Leader of the House, moving a guillotine motion—perhaps because, like us, the Leader of the House is not convinced by the Secretary of State's arguments.
Let me deal with the central charge, that we have been wasting time. Of course, that is in the nature of guillotine motions. I am not arguing against the guillotine; all Governments have used guillotine motions, and we all know the reasons why. I do not wish to enter into such an argument, or even to exchange facts and statistics about which party has introduced more guillotine motions. Such arguments often characterise debates of this kind, but I do not want to engage in one today; I want to refute the charge that the Opposition were wasting time, and to put the facts on the record.
It was said on television that we spent four hours on two amendments. It was suggested that they were technical amendments which did not deal with matters of substance. That is not so.
The Bill with which we dealt in Committee was a Bill of considerable proportions. It had 158 pages, 132 clauses and 11 schedules. That is large by any measure. During the debates in Committee it increased by 28 pages, eight clauses and two schedules. In the House of Lords major changes were made, increasing the Bill by 50 pages, 14 clauses and a further schedule. We have before us 470 amendments that came from the House of Lords, a greater proportion of which were Government amendments.
No one approached Opposition Members to discuss any type of guillotine discussion about timetables. The Bill has gone through the process in the House of Commons Committee, where there was agreement. There was not even one all-night sitting. There was an agreement with the Government about the process of debate. The Government 169 allowed us to choose the debate period of time and also the matters that we wished to debate and we worked on that through the normal channels and accepted that.
There has been much argument about how many hours of discussion took place in Committee and in the House —109 hours, 20 days, 35 sittings, although some sittings were not completed. The Minister of State will agree that we suspended some of the sittings because the amendments that the Government wished to make to their Bill were not ready. They asked that the House or the Committee finish early because they were discussing pensions with the unions and the trustee boards. I know that the Minister of State does not deny that, because one can read what happened from the record.
Whole schedules about pensions were taken out because discussions had to take place and we had to agree to suspend some of the sittings. Major amendments were made and we co-operated. Indeed, everyone knows that if one does not co-operate the Government immediately go for a guillotine. There is much evidence of that. We know now that, after a certain number of sittings, the Government automatically move to the guillotine. They never had to do that as a result of that delay.
We never had a guillotine then, or on the two days on Report, when we went through the whole Bill in two days with agreements about debate times, and no guillotine. There is no evidence, therefore, of our filibustering. One can consider the records and the comments that were made by Ministers at that time.
We had no desire to filibuster. There were many substantial issues in the Bill that we wanted to debate. We did not go through however many hours on sittings motions; we agreed quickly and got into the debate. There is no evidence that the members of the Committee wished to delay it. They wanted to debate the arguments substantially, for a good reason.
The only reason that we wanted to debate the Bill through was that pensions was a highly controversial issue and pensions are at the very end of the Bill. That is the problem with the timetable that now confronts us.
§ Mr. Prescott
I shall give way soon to the hon. Member, who has shown more than a passing interest in the pensions issue.
We wanted to allow sufficient time to discuss pensions. When we considered the motion before us for this sitting we assumed that the Government, in putting down the 10 o'clock motion, were prepared to go through the night and not cut off at 10 o'clock. Otherwise, why put it down? Therefore we could reasonably assume that it would go into the early hours of the morning. We can have debates among ourselves about how long, but it certainly suggested that the Government did not want to put it down by 10 o'clock.
We also thought that, if there were not an agreement and they went for a guillotine, we would be denied the opportunity—there are 28 debates—to get to the end of the Bill, which was where pensions were.
The Minister for Public Transport was good enough to send me a copy of the amendments and their order, and we did not protest. We took the debates as they were in subject form and said that, if they were making the case to the Table Office, we had no argument with it. When the 10 o'clock motion went down we assumed that we had some 170 considerable time—20 hours if we wished—to go through the process. We could have sat through the night, although we did not much want to. We have gone through the period when we went through the night simply to make ourselves look good. I do not think that it is good for the House or the Members discussing legislation.
The argument was not that there should be only two days for discussion. It was not the Opposition who decided that the House should be prorogued on Friday—it was the Government. Never has there been such a long period as 14 days between prorogation and the Queen's Speech. There was ample time, if the Government wanted it because they had got into difficulties with their legislation, to go into next week. Why not? No argument has been made as to why we should not have another week.
We have just come back from 10 or 11 weeks when Parliament has been closed. Why did the Government not find time? We assumed that they wanted to go through the two days for the amendments to go to the Lords and then, by going to the Lords, they would allow us at least to go through the night and debate the issues. The argument is whether those amendments—
§ Mr. Milligan
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman. He is accurate about the Committee stage, where the discussion was fair and balanced. Does he agree, however, that, in the debate last night, the speech made by his hon. Friend the Member for Southampton, Itchen (Mr. Denham) was entirely devoted to events in my constituency, and to an issue that was not being debated? Does he not agree that that was a clear example of time wasting?
§ Mr. Prescott
The hon. Gentleman was not here during the debate, although I appreciate that we all have different reasons for not being in the Chamber. The Chair ruled that the speech by my hon. Friend the Member for Southampton, Itchen (Mr. Denham) was in order, so let there be no mistake about that. If it is in order, it is right and proper for any Opposition Member to raise anything to do with the Bill. My hon. Friend's speech was about the important maintenance work that takes place in the hon. Gentleman's constituency. There is nothing to prevent any hon. Member from mentioning any issue affected by the Bill.
§ Mr. Prescott
I shall not give way again. If the hon. Gentleman had been here for the debate he would have understood, but he was not. The hon. Member for Eastleigh (Mr. Milligan) did, however, make an important point at the beginning of his intervention, when he asked why we wasted time last night.
Let us look at the timetable. The Prime Minister's statement took an hour, which was very proper and we do not dispute that, although it took some of the time that we could have devoted to the Bill. Hon. Members have conceded that we managed to discuss not merely two amendments but two groups containing about 100 amendments—we could have voted on every one of them, had we wanted to filibuster or delay, because there was no guillotine: that would have taken weeks of parliamentary time. If we had wanted to filibuster, we could have done so from the beginning, but we chose not to.
The first debate yesterday concerned management buy-outs. One cannot possibly say that that was a simple, technical amendment—it was an important change in the 171 Government's position. [Interruption.] If the Secretary of State listens, he will understand the matter a little better. Why was it important? Because the House of Lords had passed an amendment to say that British Rail should have the right to bid for a franchise. The Government dispute that, and they intended to take it out of the Bill. No doubt we shall come to the right to be able to bid for a franchise in the debate after the guillotine.
The amendment concerned the Government's alternatives, and the right of management to bid is involved. The Lords amendment imposed on the franchise director a new duty, under which he must give preference to management buy-outs. That is not technical: it is a substantial amendment, which was not tabled in Committee. It was a change introduced in another place and a matter for substantial debate.
The fact that we spent two hours discussing the amendment cannot be described as wasting time, because spokesmen from both sides of the House took exactly the same amount of time.
§ Mr. Prescott
I shall come to that. I am trying to establish that we were discussing matters of substance. There may be some debate about how qualified hon. Members are to contribute to such debates, but I shall leave that subject aside. I am bound to say, however, that a matter of some substance was involved, which was relevant to a later amendment and to the Government's intention to take away what are known as the Peyton amendments, so we certainly were not wasting time.
The Minister of State, replying to the debate, said:I will seek to answer as concisely as I can some of the points that have been raised in this important debate. It has taken two hours, but it has covered very important issues, and they need to be addressed".—[Official Report, 1 November 1993; Vol. 231, c. 72.]The Minister of State's assessment was fair and is not evidence that anyone was filibustering or taking time. If the Opposition are filibustering, the Government are the first to point it out. There can be no doubt about that. We do not doubt the integrity of the Minister of State when he made those remarks, so it is fair to say that we were not wasting time.
On the second group of amendments, the Opposition Front Bench did not speak during the third debate and did not seek to divide the House after the third or fourth debates, although those debates concerned issues of some substance. We did not do so, because we wanted to move on to the debate on Lords amendment No. 31, about the right to be able to bid, which we knew to be important. It 172 was then after 9.30 pm—approaching 10 pm. I had already told the Minister of State that we would not press the matter to a Division. When the Minister was winding up the previous debate on the closure motion, I turned to the Whip and said that we would not be voting on it, so he should tell the Minister to shut up. The Whip sent the Minister a letter—I do not know whether it said "Shut up"—
§ The Minister for Transport in London (Mr. Steve Norris)
§ Mr. Prescott
The Minister is readily agreeing that he shut up. The Opposition spokesman told the Minister to sit down because the Opposition were not going to press for a Division: they wanted to get on with the business. That is hardly an example of the Opposition wasting time—the Minister was speaking and wasting time, and the Opposition told him that he should sit down so that we could discuss the amendment.
I disagree with the comments by the Leader of the House on the subject. We are not trying to waste time. We were clearly trying to have a debate in proper order on the mistaken assumption that the debate was to continue after 10 pm—I agree that we made a mistake there. The Government did not try to have discussions about a timetable; they simply tabled the 10 o'clock motion. I assumed that we would have discussions through the usual channels about what time we might pull up stumps, but that did not happen.
Therefore, I believe that the Government's strategy was clearly to try to guillotine proceedings as quickly as possible, and to try to argue that the Opposition had wasted time. We had agreed that we could have taken weeks simply voting on the hundreds of amendments. It had dawned on the Opposition that, if we wanted to waste time, we could do that. We did not do so, because we wanted to proceed from debate to debate, and it can be shown that we have done that.
The time allowed for the debates—two parliamentary days—was not enough. I argued that there would be sufficient time for the debates if the prorogation of Parliament was delayed. The Government could have done that. I do not know whether the Secretary of State even argued for that—I suspect that he did not. Perhaps he will tell us whether he said that he thought that the House should discuss those important matters and should have more than two days in which to do so.
He must have assumed that there would not be sufficient time to debate the issues properly before 10 pm—otherwise, the Government would not have tabled the 10 o'clock motion. The Government tabled that motion because they believed that the two days that they were offering were probably insufficient, so they wanted to introduce a timetable.
§ Mr. Prescott
We must assume that the Government wanted to guillotine debate. They wanted to avoid debate on essential matters. The guillotine has many disadvantages, but one advantage of yesterday's guillotine was that the Secretary of State gave us his view on the pension funds—a matter for debate on which discussion has already started.
173 Some guillotine motions include a timetable listing clauses and amendments so that it is possible to debate various subjects. The Secretary of State has said that he thinks pensions are important—we all agree on that—so I find it astonishing that he did not allocate a specific time to discuss that subject. The subject of pensions forms the 24th debate—according to the Minister's timetable, there are still 20 debates to be held in the House before that one. Therefore, it will be impossible to reach that debate unless we rush through the previous ones.
If the Minister thought that pensions and Lords amendments relating to pensions were important, why did he not table a timetable motion with specific cut-off times? That is quite normal. The fact that he did not do so is another sign of the fact that he had no intention of allowing a proper and honest debate on pensions, whatever he might say. It was entirely in the Government's hands to do so. It was not a matter for discussion with us. The Secretary of State could have advised the Leader of the House what should be done. Therefore, I assume that the Secretary of State advised the Leader of the House to do otherwise.
Why do the Government want to rush the debate and avoid discussion? They want to avoid debate on the most controversial subjects, where Government actions have provoked contention. It was interesting to hear the Secretary of State talk about the two important issues we should debate, which is obviously a reflection of how important he believes those matters are. The Minister of State has spelt out many more important subjects in the document which has been given to us.
Of the "crucial" debates, one was the right to be able to bid for franchises and the other involved pensions. What about TUPE—the Transfer of Undertakings (Protection of Employment) Regulations 1981—involving employees' rights? Is that not important? Were we not told in Committee that we would not have to rely on existing employment legislation because the Minister of State thought it important to write the protections into new legislation? The Minister of State thought that that was important, but he changed his mind—in fact, the Government had to change their mind when the Bill reached the House of Lords. The Government have now introduced provisions that will make it much worse for British Rail employees.
The Secretary of State did not think that that subject was important enough for a debate. I shall come to that in a second or two. Therefore, we think that those issues are important. The right to bid is important, but I will not take up any time on that matter, because it is almost the first debate to which we shall come after the guillotine. I am more concerned about whether a debate on subsequent amendments can be guaranteed.
On clause 82, which deals with TUPE, the Minister made it clear that the transfer schemes made as a result of the Government's privatisation proposals will be subject to the provisions of the Transfer of Undertakings (Protection of Employment) Regulations 1981, thereby extending the application of TUPE to transfers other than purely commercial undertakings. That meant that the Government intended to write into the Bill that all employees of British Rail would be guaranteed that right. But what happened was that they then went to the House of Lords and made it absolutely clear that they intend to rely simply on the Act itself. That was a change of mind.
It is right for us to have a proper debate about that matter, but the guillotine will not allow it. Those 174 employees in the railway industry, who already face uncertainty as a result of the massive reorganisation that has gone on in the railways, and the wholesale reorganisation that will come out of the Government's privatisation schemes, now face the possibility of reorganisations once they are put into a private company.
The idea behind TUPE was to guarantee the right of workers—a right that came from Europe and had to be written into our legislation and enforced by the courts on the Government, who rushed the measure through on Third Reading in another place. That said that, if a person transfers from one employer to another, that person's rights transfer with them. We thought that that was right and proper, and we were assured by the Minister that that was the case.
Not to put that into the Bill, which is what the amendments seek to do, will mean that a British Rail employee could go to a private company, when the normal law might apply. That will mean that workers may have to go through a process of adjustment and change of rights under the present British Rail organisation. They can lose their employment rights, be made redundant and lose all the protections that are guaranteed. There is nothing to prevent them. Such workers are not transferring; they are only being reorganised at present under the same employer, British Rail.
When all that reorganisation has been completed, it is passed over to private companies. No doubt the private companies have made that a condition, saying that they do not want to pay for the conditions that are given to railway workers; that they do not want full-time workers; they want part-time workers. They might say that they do not want to be responsible for the employees' redundancy and employment rights. That is why there should be a debate. Yet the guillotine is designed to prevent that kind of debate. That is what makes us angry.
The guillotine is designed to prevent Parliament from debating a matter which we were assured in the House of Commons was one thing, but which was changed in the House of Lords. We are now prevented from having a debate on that. That is a matter of some substance. It affects every one of our constituencies. It is not a technical matter: it is a matter of considerable importance to hundreds of thousands of employees in those circumstances. The Government are relying on the guillotine to do their dirty work for them.
On pensions, the Secretary of State has constantly said, as he does in his document, that he will always guarantee that employees will be no worse off as a result of whatever pension changes the Government undertake. We are talking about a pension fund with assets of £8 billion. That is of some relevance to the coal industry and the post office, which together have about £20 billion of assets in their pension funds. All are candidates for the process of privatisation. They will not generate income for the Treasury. In the main, revenue will come from pinching the assets from the pension funds.
The Secretary of State has been good enough to point out that he believes that everything will be all right. I say that he is intending on a design to take the assets of the funds out of the pension fund. As that is my charge against the Government, let me make clear a number of things.
The unfunded pension schemes that used to apply to British Rail before 1979–80 were schemes where the Government simply paid the pensions and received the contributions. There was no fund. The Government then 175 —I believe that it was 1975, and it was confirmed in 1979 legislation—put that on to a proper footing. Indeed, the present Chancellor was Under-Secretary of State for Transport at that time and I was the Shadow Minister, so I well remember the changes that were taking place. The Chancellor then said that he intended to make the pension fund self-funding, so that the Government would be free from it and there would be no claim on the Government's resources.
The Government's one obligation was to consider what their capital obligations were to the fund and assess them on a yearly basis. That amount was considered to be about £70 million per year. That money was the Government's obligation to pay to the pensioners. There is no doubt about whose money it was. It belonged to the pensioners. Those are the kind of moneys the Secretary of State is talking about when he talks about IOUs, but I will come to that.
There is no doubt that the Government had an obligation to pay that yearly amount. On that point alone, as the Secretary of State well knows, the Government intended originally to wipe out that amount. They said that they wanted to cancel that amount. There was a wholesale protest from the pensioners and the trustees, and eventually in Committee the Government agreed that the money would continue to be paid. On that matter alone, the Government offered the House of Lords an IOU. The Government said that they would not make the yearly payment. They said that they would give an IOU, which could not be cashed, was non-marketable and would not be in gilts.
It fills me with great joy to believe that I could receive an IOU from the Government. I do not know what it would be worth today, but it is suggested that it could be cashed only in the year 2000. It could not be used to buy any assets. It could not be invested to make money. It is simply an agreement by the Government not to pay now, which presumably was helped by the generosity of the pensioners, who do not agree with it, to help deal with the public sector borrowing requirement that the Treasury wants to reduce. The £80 million that belongs to the pensioners in the first place is to be put on to an IOU. That is what is happening, and the Treasury saves £80 million each year. That £80 million belongs to the pensioners and its repayment is to be delayed until some time in the future.
I was thinking only the other day, when we talk about compensation for nationalised industries or private industries that are renationalised, what an interesting formula that is for compensation. If we were using the same formula for compensation for capital, Conservative Members would be screaming that it was robbery. The fact that the Government can do that for the pensioners and get away with it without any word of disagreement from Conservative Members is quite deplorable.
§ Mr. Milligan
Is the hon. Gentleman aware that the trustees of the scheme agreed to the principle of going ahead in that fashion? What they are concerned about is the way that the measures are implemented, the rate of interest that is paid, the maturity, but they have accepted the principle that the hon. Gentleman is saying is such a fraud.
§ Mr. Prescott
I will come to that point. It is a good point and I am glad that the hon. Gentleman has given me a chance to come to it. As he knows, the trustees were 176 concerned that they would not have any control over those matters. The House of Lords was concerned about the solvency matter, to which the Secretary of State referred. That was the argument of Lord Peyton. It was said that the Government would give a promise. The other place did not feel that that was enough—an interesting point—and did not like the idea of an IOU. That came from a Conservative ex-Secretary of State for Transport.
The Government, in the debate in June or July, said that they would talk to the trustees about that matter and come to some agreement. They did. There was an agreement between the Government, the board and the trustees. It was entitled:Memorandum of Understanding between the Department of Transport, the British Rail Pension Trustee Company and the British Railways Board",and it spelled out some of the issues to which the Secretary of State has referred. But the issue was whether, in the making of orders relating to any changes affecting the fund, there would be an agreement with the trustees, or simply consultation. First, it was said that it was not possible to write that into the Bill. They came up with a formula, which was rushed through because the debate was to be the next day.
The chairman of the trustees fund, Mr. Derek Fowler, was sent for, along with James Jerome. They concocted the memorandum of understanding. It deals with the point made by the hon. Member for Eastleigh by saying:the Government remains committed to support payments to certain BR pension funds. The timing of such payments will be agreed with the Trustees and will take account of the absolute guarantee now being provided.They went to the House of Lords saying, "Pensions in our time," but like the other document, "Peace in our time," it was not worth the paper it was written on. The first thing that the lawyers of the trustees fund said was that it did not mean anything because it does not refer to anything in the Bill. Therefore, it is just a statement. It does not mean anything.
The chairman of the trustees made it clear that he thought that he had been kidded by the Government, by which he means the people who signed the document, acting on behalf of the Government: the Minister for Public Transport—the fact that the Secretary of State did not sign suggests that the matter was a difficult one; he always keeps out of trouble, this guy. Derek Fowler, chairman of the British Rail pension fund and James Jerome, the British Rail board member responsible for finance signed, but they felt that they had been duped. They were told that the word "agreed" would be used, but when the Government came forward with their amended version, it contained the word "consultation".
All hon. Members know that there is a heck of a difference between having to have an "agreement" about what is done with £80 million and "consultation". One does not need to be a lawyer to know the difference between those two words. Hon. Members can well understand then why the chairman of the British Rail pension fund, having agreed this without the agreement of the other 11 trustees, was disowned by them. He had thought that the word "agreed" gave him a kind of veto. If the Government's position is that the use of the word "agreed" creates problems, did they not know that when they wrote the document, or did the Government put it in knowing that people could be bought off, that they would 177 not be able to do anything about it, that perhaps they would not check, and they might even believe the Government? Well, they did. What fools.
The document is not worth the paper that it is written on. The Government do not offer agreement, they offer consultation. I have some time and respect for the Minister for Public Transport, who deals with many difficult issues, but I am bound to ask: does no one resign any more?
What is the Secretary of State's responsibility? If the document does not mean what it is said to mean, if the words do not mean anything and were simply used to buy votes in the other place by suggesting that there was agreement, that sounds like a Government who cannot be trusted—a Government with whom one cannot afford to have an agreement. They sign documents to convince the other place that everything is all right and then they have the audacity to come back here and tell us that everything is all right with the pension fund. Did the Secretary of State not read the document? Did he agree it or will he now blame the Minister for Public Transport? Will the Secretary of State say whether he read and agreed the document?
§ Mr. MacGregor
I have already made my position absolutely clear. We shall reach agreement with the trustees. We have made it clear that if there are differences and we cannot reach agreement, those points will come to the House and it will be for the House to decide because we are talking about public expenditure. An outside body cannot have a veto over decisions on public expenditure which are for the House. We are having good discussions with the trustees. We will do everything that we can and we believe that we shall be able to reach agreement, but we cannot pre-empt the right of the House to decide on public expenditure matters or the right of the Government to bring proposals before the House.
§ Mr. Prescott
So the Secretary of State signed a document saying that there would be agreement with the trustees. The chairman of the trustees, who did not have time to consult his board, signed the document telling his trustees, "I had to do it last night, but don't worry—the Government can't do anything unless they agree it with us." The other place was informed of that acceptance but the Government had no intention of using the word "agreed", for the reasons that have been given. That is misleading, to say the least. I do not know what parliamentary language could be used to describe such actions, but they are not honourable ones.
Hon. Members need not open their mouths to show shock and disbelief. If the Secretary of State is telling me that he does not understand the words and their meaning, he should not be in the job. I believe that he did understand the meaning of the words and he dealt with the matter in that way so as to kid the other place that the Government had an agreement with the trustees, despite the fact that only the chairman of the trustees had been involved. The chairman was then left to hang and dry and neither has had the decency to resign over the matter.
§ Mr. MacGregor
I have made the position clear throughout. It is outrageous for the hon. Gentleman still to be going around the country saying that the Government 178 intend to take pension fund money from the pensioners, which is what he has been saying time and again. That is not the case and it is time that the hon. Gentleman stopped saying it.
§ Mr. Prescott
The House will recognise that the Secretary of State knows that he is in difficulty and wants to move the debate on. This is a matter of importance to a man of great integrity who put his name to a document because he believed the Government. I have a copy of a letter dated 26 October, which I understand was sent to the Secretary of State, saying:What I had not foreseen when I signed the memorandum was the Secretary of State would be given powers to virtually take over the fund if the solvency guarantee was to be invoked. In my letter dated 15 October I expressed my concern about the implications for future real pension increases of your proposals to cease making cash payments in respect of the Government's statutory obligations in the 1980 Act. I restated that concern at the meeting with Mr. Roger Freeman.The letter continues.
That man, a public servant, was misled by the Secretary of State and the Minister of State. That is a serious matter. It seems that we are not to have a proper response from the Secretary of State or the Minister of State. At least the Secretary of State has now admitted that he did read it, so he cannot put the matter entirely on the Minister of State's shoulders. We will leave the people to judge for themselves, having heard the debate or read it in Hansard, what they think of the Secretary of State's competence, and to remind themselves what the Prime Minister of the time thought of the Secretary of State.
I come now to another issue which exercises the mind of the Secretary of State. He now apparently disputes my accusation that the Government intend to obtain access to the pension fund and to use its assets. First, I make it clear that the £80 million will not go to the pensioners at the moment and that the Secretary of State is retaining rights over that. Therefore, we can reasonably agree that the Government have taken £80 million on an IOU which, on the word of the Secretary of State, is to be repaid in the year 2000. The word of the Secretary of State did not last three months in the other place, so I do not attach much importance to it. The Secretary of State will have to admit that that £80 million is now being kept by the Treasury to help with the public sector borrowing requirement.
It is concern for the public sector borrowing requirement that has largely motivated the privatisation of British Rail. Not much income will be generated from the sale. The Secretary of State has already admitted that the taxpayer will have to pay twice as much—£2 billion—to run it. The Department of Transport has been making an assessment. The Secretary of State has already admitted that it will cost more, so the taxpayer and the fare passenger will pay more for fewer services. The argument has been well made. The Treasury's concern is how it can get at the pension fund assets.
Having established the facts about the £80 million, I now put a matter of record to the Department of Transport.
It will be recalled that the National Bus Company, with assets of about £190 million, was sold for £45 million. The Public Accounts Committee was astounded at such a sale, although I am bound to say that it is quite usual for the Department of Transport. Because it got some money, it thought that it was making money. The Public Accounts Committee investigated. When asked what price had been obtained for the National Bus Company, the Department of 179 Transport said £200 million, £150 million of which came from the busmen's pension fund, which was broken up in the same way as is now being suggested, and the money went to the Treasury. Does the Secretary of State deny that? Apparently not, even if he knows about it. However, that is true and he can check for himself.
I have now established that pinching from a pension fund is not new. The Government have already done it with National Bus and they are starting to do it with British Rail. Now it is a matter of judgment whether one can believe the Secretary of State when he says that the Government do not intend to do that. We already know that the trustees could protect pensioners if the trustee's agreement was required, but the Secretary of State is offering only consultation.
The Government can restructure the fund. The rights and powers that Mr. Fowler talks about relate to the fund being made insolvent. The Secretary of State is already beginning to take money out of it with his 60 per cent. and 40 per cent. formula on surpluses. Fewer resources will be in it—yet, for technical reasons that I shall not go into here, the demands of the 1975 pensioners are growing. This is a fund that has no extra income going into it because it is a closed fund, so in reality it is likely to move towards insolvency.
Let me tell the Secretary of State what will happen then. He might not be here—he probably will not—but the good old Treasury civil servants will always be here whatever Government are in power, and they will restructure the fund. It is agreed that the surpluses and the distribution of assets in that closed fund will be about £2 billion. The Government will then say to the pensioners, "Look, why don't we go back to the old times? Why don't we agree to pay you your pensions and we will take the assets for now? We will pay you over a period, and we will take your £2 billion to help us with the public sector debt." That is not unique for the Treasury. It is possible, and the changes in the rules which are contained in the amendments which we are not allowed to debate will allow that to happen. That is why we make the charge against the Secretary of State.
The guillotine is not about time, but about the essential issues that were still to come. I understand now—I am sure that the House will understand also—why the subject of pensions was to be left until the end of the debate. The guillotine has enabled us to discuss pensions. If the debate had continued, we would have raised those points when the subject was to be discussed. However, the guillotine has allowed us to do that now.
The Secretary of State made no mention of disagreements over memoranda of understanding. He has tried to cover his tracks. Therefore our charge is that the guillotine is not about wasting time during debates on technical issues. The issues affect a quarter of a million pensioners and railway workers. The guillotine is about the money that is in the fund that the Government have no right to claim, and which they are to attempt to claim on what I notice is the second anniversary of the Maxwell swindle of pension funds.
The issue is one of the Government breaking their word. It is an issue of deliberate deceit. The guillotine is designed to prevent debate, and cover up the actions of a dishonest Government. They are a Government of incompetence, a Government of duplicity and a Government of disrepute.
180 Above all, they are a Government who are attempting to rob railway employees and railway pensioners of their rights and pensions—and they are attempting to do that with a guillotine which damages the process of democracy itself.
§ 5.1 pm
§ Mr. Stephen Milligan (Eastleigh)
The hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, East (Mr. Prescott) began by attacking the Secretary of State for speaking for 35 minutes. The hon. Gentleman spoke for exactly 40 minutes, and took fewer interventions than my right hon. Friend. That suggests that the hon. Gentleman is less than aware of his own verbosity.
The hon. Gentleman was accurate when he said that there was agreement between both sides on Committee. There was a fair debate, with no attempts to filibuster, and the issues were discussed fairly. However, yesterday afternoon something went badly wrong, and there was an outbreak of verbal diarrhoea among Opposition Members. [HON. MEMBERS: "You were not here."] I was not here for a good reason. [Laughter.] Hon. Members have not heard the reason. I wished to wait for the debate on the main amendment, and I did not want to waste time as Opposition Members did.
There are two possible explanations for the outbreak of verbal diarrhoea.
§ Mr. Milligan
I will not give way at the moment.
There are two possible explanations. The first is that the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, East has been unable to spend a great deal of time on railway matters. He was unable to attend the majority of Committee sittings, and we know that he has an eye on the deputy leadership of the Labour party and may be moving to another job. The hon. Gentleman obviously hoped that some of his colleagues who assiduously attended the Committee would help him by making lengthy speeches. That would obviate the need for him to go through a complicated set of amendments. What possibly happened—as happened with the assassins of Thomas à Becket—was that the followers followed the master's instructions rather too assiduously. That is perhaps an uncharitable explanation.
§ Mr. Wilson
I am sure that the pensioners of Eastleigh will note that, following the analytical account of their prospects made by my hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull, East (Mr. Prescott), all that their Member of Parliament could do was engage in a juvenile assault on my hon. Friend.
The hon. Gentleman's analysis concerns the only debate at which he was present, which was the first debate yesterday. Will he tell the House whether he specifically disagrees with the Minister who wound up the debate? The Minister said that it had been a full and important debate, and that many points had been raised by the speakers, who spoke alternatively from both sides of the Chamber? Is the hon. Gentleman dissenting from the Minister of State's view of the debate? Will the hon. Gentleman perhaps turn his attention to the issue of pensions, and in particular the letter from the chairman of the British Rail pension fund?
§ Mr. Milligan
My hon. Friend the Minister is polite, and he was certainly right to say that the debate had been 181 full. I might have chosen a slightly different adjective. My hon. Friend was also right in saying that the debate was important, because it drew the real objectives of the Labour party to the attention of the House. The intention was not to have full debate on pensions—an important issue, I entirely agree—but to force the Government to a guillotine. The objective of the Labour party was to embarrass the Government, rather than to have a proper debate. That is the second possible explanation for the verbal diarrhoea from Labour Members.
I wish to cite in evidence an interesting speech made by the hon. Member for Southampton, Itchen (Mr. Denham). I know the hon. Gentleman well, because he is my pair. He is assiduous in the House, and he speaks on a wide range of subjects including housing, overseas aid and the railways. The hon. Gentleman always makes relevant points, is an extremely competent hon. Member and does not waste the time of the House.
The hon. Gentleman spoke last night—unfortunately, I was not here—and he has gracefully apologised for not giving me warning that he intended to devote the whole of his speech to events in my constituency. Those events related to the future of British Rail Maintenance Limited, which is very important. The hon. Gentleman and I have discussed the subject with my hon. Friend the Minister, who has made a series of helpful suggestions of which, unfortunately, the hon. Gentleman did not seem to be aware.
The hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, East said that the speech had been entirely in order. I do not know whether he was here last night, but it is clear in Hansard that, on two occasions during the speech by the hon. Member for Itchen, Mr. Morris interrupted to point out that the speech was out of order. The speech was clearly not relevant to the debate.
It is perfectly clear that Opposition Members tried last night to force the Government to impose a guillotine. That is what happened. It is important that the Bill is passed, and I will be supporting the Government tonight.
One of the unfortunate aspects of the discussions is that we have not had the proper time to debate two crucial issues. The first of those is the right that is now being given to British Rail's bid for franchises, which I welcome. I want the process to move forward gradually, and I want the private sector to compete on a level playing field with the public sector. That is called market testing in other areas of Government. BR should have the right to bid, provided that the bid is not unfair vis-a-vis those management buy-outs that have extremely optimistic prospects. I welcome the revised guidelines to the franchising director that will make it clear that a private operation will not be able to take over a franchise unless it provides a better service than the existing BR service.
§ Mr. David Nicholson
I wish to make a point that I did not make because the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, East (Mr. Prescott) refused to give way to me. The hon. Gentleman made it clear that he was prepared to go through the night on the matters, and he also made it clear that the important debate on British Rail bids—my hon. Friend is addressing the subject now—probably would be reached at 2 or 3 o'clock in the morning. There are hon. Members who want to listen carefully to what my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State may have to say—and 182 also question him—on that delicate matter. Is it sensible for hon. Members to do that at 2 or 3 o'clock in the morning?
§ Mr. Milligan
My hon. Friend makes an intelligent point, and it is unfortunate that there will not be a proper debate as a result of the antics of the Opposition yesterday.
The new guidelines to the franchising director make it clear that private operators must provide better services than the existing BR service if they get a franchise. If BR retains a franchise, I hope that it will do so for a significant period. It is not specified in the Bill what that period might be, but I hope that it would be about six or seven years. That would give BR a real chance to make the service work, and would provide genuine competition between the public and private sectors with the simple aim giving the best possible service to the passenger.
I welcome the fact that the Liberal Democratic party has made an important contribution to the debate. The hon. Member for Devon, North (Mr. Harvey) appears surprised; perhaps he did not read his party's manifesto at the general election, which clearly favoured privatisation and the franchising process. On 2 March, the hon. Gentleman made a most interesting speech to the Committee, during which he explained that his party would not support the Bill for one reason. The reason was that BR would not be allowed to bid for franchises. The hon. Gentleman made it clear to the Committee that if the Government were to have a change of heart to allow BR to bid for franchises on fair terms, the Government could count on his party to support them in the Lobby.
§ Mr. Nick Harvey (North Devon)
The hon. Member for Eastleigh (Mr. Milligan) said a moment or two ago that he was keen to see market testing of the services. The difference between what the Government's proposals and market testing is that there will be no competition on a level playing field of the sort that I said on 2 March that I wanted. If that were to happen, my party still would be perfectly willing to support the measure. British Rail is being allowed to bid, but in every imaginable circumstance the bid is to be disregarded. That is not a market test; nor is it competition on a level playing field. It is a complete and utter fix.
Some Conservative Members have been saber-rattling over the past few weeks, trying to convince their constituents that they are rebels. It is a poor do if those hon. Members can be convinced as easily as that. If the Government give us competition on a level playing field, they will get support from the Liberal Democratic party. However, what stands before us as a Government amendment does nothing of the kind.
§ Mr. Milligan
That comes as no great surprise to us, because the Liberal party twists and turns on every issue. The hon. Gentleman says that BR will not be able to compete on a level playing field. If he believes in privatisation and franchising—perhaps he no longer does—he must accept that it is extremely important to give management buy-outs, which are a difficult and fragile operation, a genuine chance to succeed. To force the same BR managers to make a choice between bidding as a management buy-out and bidding as BR will not work. So the compromise that the Government have come up with is a good one.
The hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, East talked at some length about pensions. That is a critical issue for 183 my constituency, where there are 2,000 railway pensioners, and for the hundreds of thousands of railway pensioners across the country. I agree with the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, East that pensions are one of the most important issues in the Bill.
I must say in all honesty that the Government's original proposals were not satisfactory. The Opposition Front-Bench spokesmen were justified in criticising those proposals. They would have left pensioners in a worse position than before. The railways pension fund has been extremely well run. It has yielded real increases in pensions. People who have given a lifetime's service to the railways are entitled to a decent pension. There is no reason why privatisation should in any way materially affect them unfavourably.
Ministers rapidly recognised that the original proposals were not satisfactory. It was regrettable that it took so long to reach a proper agreement. However, the memorandum of understanding signed at the end of July was, indeed, such an agreement. It provided guaranteed indexation and it provided that pensioners could continue to share in the surplus. Most important, it gave the fund a Government guarantee against insolvency. Those three measures taken together put the pensioners in a better position than they are in now.
It would be graceful of Opposition Front-Bench spokesmen to recognise the achievement by my right hon. and hon. Friends and by the railway trustees. I pay tribute to the way in which the trustees stuck at their task through a long and difficult negotiation and relentlessly pursued the interests of the people whom them represent.
One important issue is outstanding, but it should not obscure the overall settlement. The issue is payment under the Transport Act 1980 to people who served before 1975—not only those who retired in 1975. It was agreed between the trustees and the Government that, in return for the solvency guarantee, those payments, which currently run at about £50 million a year would be rescheduled to take account of when the liabilities came due. The matters that have not been agreed include the maturity, the valuation of that capitalised gilt-edged stock and the rate of interest. Those are vital matters, on which pensioners must be given answers if they are to be reassured.
§ Mr. John Heppell
Does the hon. Gentleman agree that the trustees have agreed to deferment of payment only on the basis that no scheme would be introduced without the agreement of the trustees? Does he agree that the position changed when the Government sought to change the memorandum of understanding? Originally it required the agreement of the trustees. The Government sought to make it only consultation of the trustees.
§ Mr. Milligan
The hon. Gentleman is right to draw attention to that point. There is a legitimate and genuine issue here. Parliament has to be sovereign on matters of public spending. No outside body can have a veto over parliamentary decisions. Although it is most unlikely that the trustees would behave irresponsibly, they might renege on the agreement and demand both the solvency guarantee and continuation of the present payments. The interests of Parliament and of the taxpayer—who is not often represented by Opposition Members—have to be considered.
184 I have talked to the chairman of the trustees. Although he shares the view of the hon. Member for Nottingham, East (Mr. Heppell), he does not share the view of the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, East that he was duped. He believes that the Government have behaved honourably.
§ Mr. Milligan
He does not say that he was duped. He says that the trustees need guarantees.
There is a genuine legal problem. We cannot give an outside body a veto over decisions about public spending. However, I ask my right hon. and hon. Friends on the Front Bench to give some additional guarantees to ensure that the matter is settled to the satisfaction of the pensioners, the trustees and all involved.
First, can the negotiations on the matter resume as soon as possible? Secondly, can the negotiations resume on the basis that the new arrangements for the present net value are the same as the old arrangements? Although the payments may be rescheduled, there should be no effective monetary loss at today's value. Thirdly, if, by any chance, agreement is not reached, will the Minister come to the House, explain why and set out the views of the trustees before any further legislation to implement the agreement is brought before the House? If the Minister does all three of those things, it will be possible for him to satisfy the interests of the pensioners.
§ Mr. Stevenson
Can the hon. Gentleman help me, please? I am listening to the debate carefully, as I did throughout last night, which is more than he did. Is the hon. Gentleman calling on his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State to conduct the negotiations on the basis of the memorandum, which referred to "agreement", or on the basis of consultation of the trustees? I am sure that he would agree that consultation and agreement are entirely different. The word "consultation" is contained in the amendments before the House.
§ Mr. Milligan
I am asking my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State to seek to achieve agreement. I accept my right hon. Friend's argument that it is not possible to write into primary legislation an argument which gives an outside body a veto over parliamentary sovereignty. That would be wrong. However, it is vital to seek the agreement of the trustees. If that cannot be achieved, the Minister should come to the House and explain why. The House will judge whether it is a proper explanation. If it is not, it will not pass the necessary secondary legislation. That is a reasonable way to proceed.
§ Mr. Milligan
I will not give way. I have given way many times. Everyone is complaining that more time is needed to discuss other issues. I support the motion. I support the Bill. I believe that if privatisation proceeds gradually, is tested at each stage and is undertaken on the basis of improving freight and passenger services rather than on the basis of dogma, it will be greatly in the interests of the country. I will support the Government tonight.
§ Dr. John Marek (Wrexham)
The hon. Member for Eastleigh (Mr. Milligan) never ceases to amaze me. The hon. Gentleman could have asked for guarantees from the Minister when I first tabled an amendment on pensions in Committee. With the Conservative majority of one, something might have been done about the problem. Did the hon. Gentleman say anything? Not a bit of it. He slavishly followed exactly what the Minister said, with the result that the opportunity for changing the pensions legislation was lost. So it is a bit rich for the hon. Gentleman to come along here now and say, "I want some guarantees, Minister; please will you help me?" The hon. Member for Eastleigh made one of the longest speeches that has been made in the past two days, apart from the Front-Bench speeches, which were worth every minute. We learned a lot from them and I would not have missed either of them. The hon. Member for Eastleigh made one of the longest speeches of yesterday or today, yet he complains that Opposition Members filibustered. He showed himself up. He was not here yesterday except during the first part of the debate.
The only helpful comment that the Minister made about British Rail Maintenance Ltd. was in essence to say that there would be redundancies. [Interruption.] The hon. Gentleman need not shake his head. He can read Hansard.
§ Mr. Milligan
I think that my speech was about 17 minutes on the clock and half of that was interventions. I read carefully the words of my hon. Friend the Minister about BRML in Hansard. It is a matter of great importance to my constituents. There is a threat of redundancies because the modernisation of trains means that they need less maintenance. About half the jobs are under threat. That is why, when we had a meeting last week, my hon. Friend the Minister made the helpful suggestion of creating the Eastleigh liaison group. He has promised to attend every meeting to find other ways of retaining the jobs by bringing extra work to Eastleigh. I greatly welcomed that suggestion.
§ Dr. Marek
If the hon. Gentleman had been here during the debate yesterday, he would know that the Minister said precisely the same thing as he has just said. There was a debate on the special function of Eastleigh. It maintains carriages which are run on the third rail. But the hon. Gentleman was not here for that debate. He should read Hansard. The Minister did not give much hope. I suspect that BRML will be in great difficulties as a result of the Bill when it reaches the statute book. The hon. Member for Eastleigh has the chance to make amends to his constituents by voting against the Bill or voting against the guillotine motion. Whether he will take that chance is another matter.
The Bill has been largely rewritten. There are pages and pages, looking through the Lords amendments as any hon. Member knows, and the Government have sought to argue that most of the changes are technical and do not need a lot of debate and that there are only two issues that require debate—the question of pensions and whether British Rail could have the right to bid. Since the hon. Member for Eastleigh is in favour of BR having the right to bid, are there any of my hon. Friends who were in Committee who heard that from the hon. Gentleman at the time? Another 186 amendment in my name was defeated by one vote. If the hon. Gentleman had faced up to that issue a little earlier, we might have had a different result.
I do not accept that, because the pages and pages of new amendments and proposed legislation are technical, we should not have time to discuss them. We had only a weekend to consider them. I took the precaution of asking the Vote Office to post them to me and I received them on Friday. I did not receive the Government amendments to the Lords amendments until later.
It is not my job to accept the Minister's word that 50 pages are technical and we therefore should have gone home to bed at 10 o'clock yesterday and should go home at 11.30 tonight. I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull, East (Mr. Prescott): there is no reason to sit all night tonight, but last night we should have sat all night and done our duty to the country, the travelling public and the railway employees and considered all the technical amendments and changes that have been suggested by the Lords. Not a bit of it. We cannot do it.
The debate yesterday was not filibustered in any way. People made normal speeches. If the time is totted up, the chances are that it was the Minister who spoke more than anybody else, by a substantial margin. I do not say that to embarrass the Minister. It is right that the public and hon. Members deserve an explanation of all the amendments. On the fourth set of amendments, which would have been passed on the nod, the Minister said that they were important. I agree that they were important amendments—not necessarily so important to deserve half an hour or an hour's debate, but certainly deserving of four or five minutes of ministerial explanation followed by a chance for any other hon. Member to ask questions. Unfortunately, nothing like that will be possible tonight, as we are having a setpiece debate.
I shall not speak for long because I know that many hon. Members wish to speak, but we will not do the duty, as is normal, of examining the Bill line by line. The Bill will go through the House without that being possible. Yet the Government need not have got themselves into such a position. They could have allowed a third or a fourth day, and if they had allowed us to debate overnight, I doubt whether a third day would have been needed.
Contrary to my hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham, East (Mr. Heppell), I did not count 128 amendments that had been discussed, but 99, which, out of 470, is more than 20 per cent., so I do not understand why the Secretary of State for Transport said that we would be here until Christmas if we were to discuss all the amendments. I admit that that is a somewhat selective statistic, but it is not as selective as that chosen by the Leader of the House yesterday.
It is a great pity that the media seemed to swallow that statistic hook, line and sinker without being present and checking the facts so that they could give the public an independent and objective view. However, 99 amendments from 470 are about to be disposed of, and would have been disposed of on the nod if the Minister had not said that the fourth group was important and that it was necessary to spend three or four minutes explaining them. At that rate, if we had carried on yesterday, we would have been finished by now.
I utterly reject the view of the Leader of the House and the Secretary of State, who has not said much in Committee, on Report, or during Lords amendments—I am not denigrating him for that, but it is shown by the 187 record—that we have been filibustering. We have not. We have been trying to get into shape a stupid Bill, which most of the country does not want and which now cannot be put into reasonable shape or made operable. Nevertheless, we have tried.
Clearly, there are two important issues that we must discuss. The first is the right of British Rail to be able to bid for franchises. When a proposal is sent back from the House of Lords—the revising Chamber—because it wants the House to think again, there is no reason for the Government to say, as they did earlier, that we have discussed that matter ad nauseam, and therefore do not need to do so again. There have been new developments and we owe it to the country, if the revising Chamber asks us to think again, at least to discuss it again and see whether to change our minds.
Secondly, the issue of pensions has developed a great deal and we should be able to talk about such important matters that may vitally affect the pensions and livelihoods of British Rail employees in the present climate, as outlined by my hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull, East. I agree with the Secretary of State that, to the extent that public money is involved, the Government should be accountable and should have a final say in what happens to that money, but most of the money in the pension fund is not the Government's—at the moment, none of it belongs to the Government.
My fundamental argument is that the money in that pension fund is for the benefit of pensioners and should never, ever come under the control of the Government. It is a great pity that, as a result of the guillotine, we will not be able to develop those arguments any further.
I consider it an outrage that the Government allowed this second-rate, botched-up Bill to be introduced, will allow it to be passed—unless Conservative Members come to their senses—and have succeeded in forcing through a guillotine to stop discussion on vital matters.
§ Mr. John Biffen (Shropshire, North)
One of the charming characteristics of guillotine debates is that they transform themselves so that they are rarely about guillotines, but rather an opportunity to discuss the Bill about to be guillotined, as so eloquently shown by the hon. Member for Wrexham (Dr. Marek) and my hon. Friend the Member for Eastleigh (Mr. Milligan).
I shall reflect on the thoroughly unsatisfactory situation in which the House now finds itself. Once one discards the pyrotechnics and rhetoric that customarily grace such occasions and are cheerfully exchanged from one side of the Chamber to the other, the truth is that no House of Commons having even a modest regard for the self-respect of legislators would be presenting them with such an extensive and conscientious Bill to be dispatched in two days. For it to be against the expected proroguing of Parliament makes the imperative even more incredible.
I was not in the least surprised that my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House announced the guillotine. Had I been sat on the Conservative side, I would have shouted whatever improving and encouraging remarks, if I felt them necessary in these dark days, and if I been on the Opposition Benches, I would have shouted with all the contrived venom that was manageable.
188 The truth is that we are here because, as a House of Commons, we are allowing the Executive, whether it be Conservative or Labour, to determine the passage of business by such means. That is not what the House is for. Originally, a guillotine was a very unusual development, so the cry of constitutional outrage had just a touch of truth about it. One had to be at least a mild thespian to give the impression that one was deeply concerned. Now, a guillotine is an integral part of the passage of a Bill. Nobody supposes for one moment that it could be otherwise, and I do not.
However, with the present arrangements and with the control so heavily weighted in the hands of the Executive, we find ourselves in a different position. The guillotine is perfectly understandable, but nonetheless is set out in terms that I do not believe to be helpful to the House, not least because the House will be debating a number of matters, whether the franchises or the pensions, in which the disputes do not run along the fault line of party politics. All the more reason for the Executive to get the matter dispatched as soon as possible.
We do not have to endure such a procedure as part of the humiliation of the Back Benches. A report of the Procedure Committee sets out the virtues of automatic timetabling for a whole range of legislation. It still awaits the determination and judgment of the House. The House sleeps in the prospect of that. It passes measures undebated and practically unnoted and, to some extent, is gradually being forgotten. That is how the House reacts to its circumstances, and as long as it is complacent and compliant, it will be neglected.
§ Mr. John Heppell (Nottingham, East)
I start by declaring an interest. My hon. Friend the Member for West Bromwich, East (Mr. Snape) said that he was the only Member who hoped to live long enough to draw a British Rail pension. I hope that he does not know something about my health that I do not know, but I also hope to draw a BR pension. I hope that it will still be there after the Government have finished their machinations.
One of the surprising results of serving on the Standing Committee was the affection that I began to feel for the Minister for Public Transport. Some feel that he behaved badly in Committee, but I thought that he performed marvellously, given that the Bill was so ridiculous. At times he made it seem almost believable, and that earned him the affectionate title of "Roger the Dodger" as he moved his way through the pitfalls that the Government had set into the Bill.
A more fitting nickname for the Minister, and for the Secretary of State, would be "The Exterminator". I say that not because they have managed to do their best to get rid of the railways as we know them now and to cut away the constitutional right of Members of Parliament to debate the issues, but because, during the passage of the Bill, I have seen more ratting than a local government employee working in pest control. The Government have ratted on almost everyone—British Rail employees, the passengers, the passenger transport executives and the pensioners. If the latest information is true, they have ratted on the trustees of the pension fund as well.
I had meant to speak on a number of issues but, in showing why the guillotine is wrong, I feel it important to speak on pensions in particular. My hon. Friend the 189 Member for Wrexham (Dr. Marek) was wrong. We dealt not with 99 amendments last night but with 127, although we did not get to the vote on the last 28. I am realistic. I recognise that, with 470 different amendments, after 730 in Committee and 250 on Report, there was not a cat's chance in hell that we would get through the business in two days. I knew, and I think that most hon. Members knew, that we would have a guillotine at some stage. But I did not expect the guillotine to come at 10 o'clock.
What would have been wrong with the Government allowing us to go on until 12, 1 or 2 o'clock? Why was it that, when hon. Members were present in the Chamber wishing to debate issues—employment rights, British Rail's right to bid, and pensions—we were not allowed even those few hours? The Government took the decision to curtail the debate, using the reason that hon. Members were filibustering, before the reality of 128 different amendments being dealt with was known to the Leader of the House.
My main concern about pensions is the Government's contribution to the scheme. I had my first assurance on that from the Government in July 1992, when they said that they would take measures to safeguard my pension. That did not happen. On 20 January, they changed the wording and said that they would ensure that the terms of my pension were no less favourable. They then came up with two options, effectively a Hobson's choice. Neither of them made my pension terms more favourable, as I have said before.
The Government then went to the chairman of the trustees and persuaded him to sign a memorandum of understanding that guaranteed the solvency of the pension fund while in return the Government were allowed to borrow some money in the short term. I would not have agreed to that, but I can understand the pressures that the trustees were under. They were given a Hobson's choice because, if they refused that option, they might get nothing from the Government and the funds would be taken under Government control. Therefore, after the chairman, the other trustees signed the memorandum of understanding.
The Government have since ratted on that memorandum. Originally, they said that the timetable for paying the money back would be through an agreement with the trustees; now they are saying that they will work it out themselves. The arrangement that the Government want is to borrow the money but repay it when the pension fund needs it. I wish that I could tell my bank manager that I would like to borrow £5,000 and pay it back when I thought that the bank needed it. I know what my bank manager would say to that. I know what I would say to the Government as a member of the British Rail pension scheme: it is not on.
§ Dr. Liam Fox (Woodspring)
Surely what matters, what is important, is what happens to the pensions. The Secretary of State spoke about guaranteed payments, inflation-proofing and a share in the surplus. Is the hon. Gentleman suggesting that the Secretary of State was misleading the House?
§ Mr. Heppell
The hon. Gentleman will know that it would be unparliamentary of me to suggest such a thing. I will let the facts speak for themselves.
On 22 April the Minister made a statement—[Interruption.] I hope that the Secretary of State will listen. He might then understand what is happening with the 190 pension fund; when he made his statement, he clearly did not. Let me go back even further. In 1980, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, who was then Under-Secretary of State for Transport, decided that he wanted to rid himself of the railway pension fund. At that time, it was a non-funded fund and the Government had complete responsibility for it. The then Minister decided that the Government would wash their hands of their commitment.
It was not what the trustees or pensioners wanted but what the Government wanted. He said, "Okay, we owe you a lot of money, so we'll give you these payments, but it's a once-and-for-all settlement. There will be no negotiating afterwards. If the fund goes bust, your pension has had it. We've washed our hands of the issue."
What good is the word of the Chancellor of the Exchequer when the Treasury is now trying to claw the funds back? The Government now say that they will no longer pay those funds, but will keep them separately and look after them. When the trustees ask when they will get them back, the Government say that they cannot give a date. When the trustees ask how much they will get back, the Government say that they cannot give an amount. When the trustees ask when they will get it, the Government say, "You'll get it when you need it." When the trustees ask whether they can decide when they need it, the Government say, "Oh no, the Government will decide when you need it."
It is a deceitful mechanism to try to ensure that the Government transfer the money from the pension fund to the Treasury, just as they would have done with the options which they originally gave the pensioners last July. The Government have always had their eyes on the pension fund, and they are determined to do that.
Another reason why the guillotine motion should not go through is because of the Transfer of Undertakings (Protection of Employment) Regulations 1981, the employment rights enjoyed by people in this country. Article 8 of the directive on acquired rights says that, on transferring from one undertaking to another, people's employment contracts—length of service, pay and conditions—go with them. The Government have never liked legislation that protects ordinary workers but, because it was a European directive, the article had to be made law and that was done by TUPE.
TUPE effectively rewrote those articles and said that, in future, when people changed from one undertaking to another their employment rights went with them. In Committee, the Minister made it clear that he had included a special provision that TUPE would apply in all cases. That satisfied Opposition Members, and the debate about employment rights disappeared at a stroke. We said, "Fair enough, if TUPE is to apply, we have no worries whatever." It is annoying to find that, now that the Bill has been through the Lords, the Minister's undertaking has been taken out.
The Government have gone further and introduced a new clause trying to evade TUPE. They have invented a mechanism to try to avoid a law of their own making. What message does that send out to, as my hon. Friend the Member for Wrexham would say, their "cronies in the City" and those who have their eyes on our pension funds? What message does it send out about respect for the law when the Government are trying to devise mechanisms to get round their laws?
The Government are saying that, before people transfer to a different undertaking, their pay can be reduced, their 191 hours can be increased and their employment rights can be changed. It is clearly a mechanism to evade the law and the Government should be ashamed of themselves not only for doing that but for offering compensation to employees. They are paying out compensation from taxpayers' money to make it easier for private companies to employ people on starvation wages and for unworkable hours.
The Government resisted one Lords amendment to stop a 72-hour limit being placed on railwaymen's hours of work. Legislation exists to limit the number of hours worked by people who drive on the roads and of airline pilots, so why do we not have legislation to limit the hours worked on the railways? I shall not feel safe to know that an employee of one of those new companies can drive for more than 72 hours a week. How can he be expected to be alert under those conditions?
For all those reasons, the guillotine motion is wrong, and I hope that the hon. Members will vote against it.
§ Mr. Tim Rathbone (Lewes)
I shall not detain the House for long, because we wish to move from this debate to discuss the fundamental Bill and the Lords amendments as quickly as possible.
My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State brought up the subject of pensions, and it has been well developed on both sides of the House. I was entirely reassured by statements by my right hon. Friends in the Chamber and in written form in recent months. To the best of my knowledge, all the pensioners who have been in touch with me on that matter—there have been quite a number—have also been reassured.
However, some people outside the House are not yet reassured—not through any fault of the Government, but because the matter has been stirred up so despicably by Opposition Members, whether they are pensioners of British Rail or are doing it just for political reasons. That has caused sufficient worry that reassurance is still necessary. I hope that my right hon. Friends will reassure the House that they will do everything in their power to provide that reassurance to people outside the House who are genuinely worried about their future pensions.
I thoroughly endorse the points made by my right hon. Friend the Member for Shropshire, North (Mr. Biffen). We could organise our business better so that we can at least spend some time on everything, even if we are not satisfied with the amount of time that we spend on some things. I hope that the Government and the Whip will take that message back to the Leader of the House, so that we can consider as soon as possible the Select Committee on Procedure report, the age of which I cannot remember.
I expressed my discontent with the sudden arrival of the guillotine motion yesterday evening and had an opportunity to discuss it with my right hon. and hon. Friends and other luminaries of the party organisation in the House after the statement had been made. I was not entirely convinced by the rationale, but now I am completely convinced, because I fear that Ministers have been bested by the hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) who made it absolutely clear that, as a destructive Opposition, he intended to make the Government go right to the line, which would mean risking the loss of the Bill.
§ Mr. Rathbone
I shall do so in the hope that the hon. Gentleman is brief, which is what I intend to be.
§ Mr. Rathbone
I shall not contradict the hon. Member for West Bromwich, East (Mr. Snape), because I know that he intends to pursue his own way towards his pension to the bitter end. I wish him well in that endeavour, and I hope that the Secretary of State's remarks have reassured him.
The intention of the hon. Member for Bolsover to go right to the line shows the divergence of opinion in the Opposition parties. There was a difference between the statements made from the Opposition Front Bench about good intentions and statements by other Opposition Members. Therefore, the Government were, sadly, right to introduce a sudden guillotine. If we have to vote upon it, I hope that we shall do so swiftly, so that we can deal with the amendments as quickly as possible.
§ Mr. Nick Harvey (North Devon)
The Secretary of State has told us, as did the Prime Minister earlier today and the Leader of the House last night, that 185 hours or more have already been given to the Bill. We have heard about new clauses, and about 2,000 amendments have been tabled. One is entitled to ask at the end of all that why there are still more than 400 amendments. Those are not wrecking amendments tabled by Back Benchers or by the hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner), who seems now to be regarded by some Conservative Members as the official Opposition: they are Government amendments.
I have here the Bill that went to the Lords and the document containing the amendments that came back, and one is twice as thick as the other. We are virtually being asked to consider a new Bill. What sort of Government are they who, two days before the end of the Session, are still presenting to the House such a mammoth amount of material for consideration?
It is right that, in the earlier part of yesterday's debate, progress was somewhat slow, but that was the first opportunity for some months that the House has had to debate the Bill. We were guided by Mr. Deputy Speaker to the effect that, as the clauses being amended were general, it was in order to have a general debate. As a result, the debate on the first group of amendments was of the nature of a fourth Reading.
It is completely untrue for Ministers to say that we have considered only two groups of amendments. We were on the fifth group yesterday and had reached the stage at which no hon. Member was attempting to speak. To all intents and purposes, we had disposed of 99 amendments, and were therefore some 20 per cent. of the way through consideration of this mammoth document. When stumps were drawn at 10 o'clock last night, we were within seconds of starting the debate on the all-important amendment about British Rail's right to bid.
All sorts of assertions have been made by Conservative Members about the tactics of the Labour Opposition. I am not conversant with what those tactics might have been, but at 10 o'clock we were about to begin that debate, and 193 I had every indication that we would vote on the matter at 11.30 pm. It is untrue to say that unsatisfactory progress was being made.
Three important debates were scheduled for yesterday. The first was on management buy-outs and the second was on assets, and we were about to debate BR's right to bid. That would have left three more significant groups of amendments to deal with today, on discount fares, employment rights and pensions. I can vouch for the fact that the official Opposition were encouraging me to do everything possible to reach a point at which enough time would be left for an adequate debate on pensions. Any suggestion of an attempt to delay matters is not borne out by the facts.
Just as we were about to start the debate on what the Government say is the all-important topic, it was decided that three hours of Parliament's time should be allotted to discussing the guillotine motion. If we had gone on for less than three hours last night, we would have made more progress that we are making now.
The reason for that state of affairs is that the Government's handling of the legislation has been shambolic. Those who served on the Standing Committee will know that, time after time, the Government were only a day ahead of the Committee in tabling amendments. They were tabled at the last possible moment, and all too often they were starred. The Government were reprimanded by the Chairman of the Committee for their discourtesy to him and to the members of the Committee.
On one memorable occasion the Minister of State, in his normal steady manner, presented amendments on which the ink was hardly dry. By the time that the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, East (Mr. Prescott) had made a good breakfast of them, the Minister had to admit that they were technically incompetent and would be withdrawn and replaced.
That is the story of the Government's handling of the Bill, time and again. A minute or two before the guillotine announcement last night, the Minister of State declined the offer by his hon. Friend the Minister for Transport in London to move it formally. The Minister insisted that he needed to speak to the amendment at hand because it replaced another Government amendment which, he admitted, had been incompetent. Too much of the Government's material on the Bill has been incompetent.
Yesterday, we had the spectre of primary legislation being made deliberately vague so that the courts could later clear it up. There is considerable Government precedent for that. The poll tax cost this country about £14 billion, and two or three years later the Government had to put the entire subject of local government finance to the test again with more legislation. The same happened over criminal justice.
If the Government did not railroad legislation through so arrogantly, they would not have to return to put right their own mistakes. It is little wonder that we already hear rumours that, even at this late stage, the Government realise that the Bill is technically incompetent and that another Bill may have to be introduced in the next Session to clear up loose ends.
The Government seem to be applying the principle of market testing to their legislation. They introduce legislation, see how it works, and a couple of years later return with more. The hon. Member for Eastleigh (Mr. Milligan) spoke about market testing, but this is not market 194 testing. In its current form, the Bill allows BR to bid, but in every imaginable circumstance the bid will be disregarded.
The Government do not give the franchising director one shot at this: they give him four. On the first shot, he has to skew the bidding to featherbed a management buy-out; on the second, he has to skew it to featherbed the efforts of a new entrant to the sector; and on the third, he has to do it in the name of competition. If, after all that, he has not managed to disregard a BR bid, he is required to prevent anyone from being over-dominant in the market.
When we start from a market in which one supplier has 100 per cent., one can scarcely in any circumstance not meet the Monopolies and Mergers Commission's definition of a monopoly. That covers every conceivable bid. It is the "I don't like your face, so you can't bid" rule.
Hon. Members who during the summer and the autumn have attempted to flex their muscles by telling the Government that they will hang out for BR bidding, have secured nothing. The concessions that I wrung out of Ministers in Committee and on Report were—
§ Mr. Nick Harvey
I shall name them directly. One was that BR would be able to submit not only historic costs but a business plan at which the franchising director would be obliged to look and also to examine the bottom line figure and the projected balance of the plan. That would have meant that, in every circumstance, a private bidder or a management buy-out bid would have had to beat that figure. It is not even achieving that. British Rail's figure could be disregarded, at least in the plan that I characterised as a ghost Bill, although the Government never recognised the term.
At least, under that scheme, the passenger could be guaranteed that the bidder would have to do better than British Rail and the taxpayer could be guaranteed a better price. The Bill is much worse. It is not competition or market testing; it is market rigging. It is not about trying to secure the best possible deal for the passenger; it is about Conservative party philosophy. It is because the Government want to put the industry into the private sector.
The hon. Member for Eastleigh said that, if the Liberal Democrats were in favour of privatisation, we would be in favour of the measure. We are not in favour of privatisation, but we are in favour of the best possible service for the passengers. There is no philosophical problem with the private sector competing. In Sweden, when the national carrier was exposed to competition from the private sector, it improved productivity, reliability and everything else. That option was available to the Government, and we said earlier that, had they taken that path, they could have looked forward to some support.
The Bill is nothing of the kind; it is not market testing. It is small wonder that recently the author of a book was able to say after the Conservative party conference that Thatcherism was alive and well. She need do no more than look at the Bill to be totally convinced that Thatcherism is indeed alive and well.
§ 6.1 pm
§ Mr. Matthew Banks (Southport)
I am most grateful to you for allowing me to catch your eye, Madam Deputy Speaker. I hope that, when right hon. and hon. Members 195 have the opportunity of reading the Official Report tomorrow, at least on this occasion they will see that I was in the Chamber.
I listened with great interest to my right hon. Friend the Member for Shropshire, North (Mr. Biffen). As all hon. Members are aware, my right hon. Friend is a wise counsellor. I agree with my right hon. Friend and my hon. Friend the Member for Lewes (Mr. Rathbone) about the importance of bringing forward the Jopling proposals as quickly as possible. I hope that my right hon. and hon. Friends on the Front Bench will take note of what my elders have said.
I took the advice of my right hon. Friend the Member for Shropshire, North in 1989. I knew that his counsel was wise then. I followed it, and that is why the hon. Member for Southport sits on this side of the House. However, I hope that my right hon. Friend will not mind me pointing out that not all that long ago he was Leader of the House, and the Executive were still fairly powerful then.
It is important that we look carefully at how we timetable our debates. I listened to the hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner), who yet again is not in the Chamber. He spent most of our debate yesterday outside the Chamber.
§ Mr. Banks
I hear what the hon. Member for West Bromwich, East (Mr. Snape) says, but the hon. Gentleman knows perfectly well that, apart from a very short time when I took refreshment, I was here in the Chamber. That is why I can recognise and record which Opposition Members were present for that debate; I shall come back to that in a moment.
I should mention the hon. Member for Nottingham, East (Mr. Heppell) just before he leaves the Chamber. He said that he thought fairly early on that the Government had decided to introduce a guillotine. If the hon. Gentleman will forgive me, I beg to differ. After I had spent most of the debate in the Chamber and listened carefully to hon. Members on all sides of the House, it was clear to me that it was very late in the day that right hon. Friend decided to table a guillotine motion.
There is no doubt whatsoever that the amendments under discussion yesterday afternoon were widely drawn indeed. As you know, Madam Deputy Speaker, no hon. or right hon. Member really fell foul of your ruling. In spite of those amendments being widely drawn, there was no doubt that the speeches of Opposition Members were rarely succinct and not always relevant to the amendments under discussion.
Had Opposition Members been a little more concerned about making a team effort and acting like a proper official Opposition—they were shown up by the hon. Members for Bradford, South (Mr. Cryer) and for Bolsover, who were here earlier for only a few minutes—and had made a better stab at things, it would have been possible for us to get on and talk about the particularly important amendments on pensions and the so-called Peyton amendment. I hope we will be able to get on with those debates at the conclusion of this guillotine debate.
I did not have to be convinced by the words of the hon. Member for Bolsover, because it soon became apparent precisely what the official Opposition were doing. I 196 thought that they were shooting themselves in the foot at 10 o'clock, when my hon. Friend the Leader of the House moved the guillotine motion and a number of Opposition Members made various points. None of those hon. Members is in the Chamber now; nor were they here throughout the debate. I look around the Chamber to see if they are here now.
§ Mr. Banks
The hon. Member for Swansea, East (Mr. Anderson), the right hon. Member for Manchester, Wythenshawe (Mr. Morris) and the hon. Members for Bolsover and for Bradford, South, to name but four, all stood up after 10 o'clock with what my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State described as synthetic anger. That describes the whole charade fairly well.
Of course, it is not just the official Opposition who wasted time yesterday, knowing full well that we had a relatively limited amount of time to debate these important amendments. I see that the hon. Member for Argyll and Bute (Mrs. Michie) has just arrived. I do not think that she was here yesterday.
§ Mr. Banks
I know the hon. Lady is in the Official Report as having voted, but having sat through most of the debates, she was not here regularly. Only the hon. Member for North Devon (Mr. Harvey) was here throughout most of the debates yesterday afternoon and evening. Yet the hon. Member for Roxburgh and Berwickshire (Mr. Kirkwood) and the hon. and learned Member for Montgomery (Mr. Carlile) came to the House at 10 o'clock to stand up with what my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State described as their own synthetic nonsense. They did not even enter the Chamber throughout the afternoon, so far as I am aware, to take part in the debate.
My hon. Friend the Member for Lewes (Mr. Rathbone) was very kind to say that he saw the way the debate was flowing, and that the hon. Member for Bolsover had convinced him of the filibuster that was taking place. Some Conservative Members are slightly less charitable than my right hon. Friend. We were very much aware of what was happening by about 7 or 8 o'clock in the evening. Opposition Members really have to decide.
I see that the hon. Members for Kingston upon Hull, East (Mr. Prescott) and for Cunninghame, North (Mr. Wilson) are not here. Perhaps, as my hon. Friend the Member for Eastleigh mentioned earlier, they are hatching a plot to depose the leader of the Labour party. One really has to set an example.
I am not about to criticise Opposition Members for filibustering and talking on matters other than the guillotine if I do not follow an appropriate course myself. My hon. Friend for Shropshire, North made that point. He has briefly left the Chamber, but he was right to come to the House and make it clear that it is about time that the Jopling proposals saw the light of day. Many Opposition Members, including the only member of the Labour Front Bench who is present, have been in the House longer than me and know how debates proceed. They should have been able to make a far better fist of tackling my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and my hon. Friend the Minister for Public Transport than they did.
§ Mr. Hugh Bayley (York)
I would like the House to stop playing I spy and to debate the guillotine motion. The right hon. Member for Shropshire, North (Mr. Biffen) was right when he said that in introducing the motion at such an early stage, the Government showed contempt for the House. They brought 470 Lords amendments before the House and we dealt with 100 last night. Still the Government want to stifle debate.
For more than a year, the Government have been desperately trying to make their case for rail privatisation, but they have lost the argument. The Secretary of State is left like the emperor with no clothes and he shuts down debate to hide his nakedness. That is what happened today. We oppose that, believing that the 470 amendments that have come from another place should be properly debated. The Government's straitjacket on debate will prevent the House from considering many important Lords amendments that it has a right to discuss.
I will put a number of points to Ministers now, because the House will not otherwise have a proper opportunity to debate them. The question of the national railway museum and the national heritage is one that affects my constituency. In another place, Lord Caithness, Minister for Aviation and Shipping, said that the Minister for Public Transport would write to the museum anddo all that we can to make provision which is as favourable as possible to the museum".—[Official Report, House of Lords, 19 July 1993; Vol. 548, c. 563.]That related to the museum's right to claim redundant documents and artifacts. The Minister wrote to the museum in July, stating:Noble Lords also stressed the importance of retaining the broad rights of first claim which the museum presently enjoys. I am happy to accept these proposals, and to introduce provisions in the Bill which will give a right of claim to artifacts in both the public and private sectors.We argued long and hard about that in Committee and in July, at the last moment, the Minister gave an undertaking to introduce amendments to permit the museum to remain the national centre of rail heritage in this country. Did he do as he promised and make sure that appropriate amendments were tabled in another place before it finished its consideration of the Bill? No, he did not. He made a promise, but he failed to make good that promise. Why?
What measures does the Minister propose to ensure that the national railway museum continues in the future, as in the past, to have a right of first claim on redundant railway equipment and records, at no cost? No material cost will be imposed on either a public or private sector rail operator, because the equipment in question will be redundant. Why did the Minister fail to honour his promise, and what will he do to put that right?
I seek an assurance that investment levels will not decline. In British Rail's 1992–93 annual report—
§ Madam Deputy Speaker (Dame Janet Fookes)
Order. The hon. Gentleman's remarks seem to be wide of the debate. Some latitude has been allowed by the Chair, but I am not sure that the hon. Gentleman's comments relate to the guillotine motion or to the amendments to which it refers.
§ Mr. Bayley
If the House had been given time properly to consider all the amendments, it would have had an opportunity to debate future investment levels. There will 198 be no such debate, so I want the Minister to say how investment levels for rolling stock, signalling, track and infrastructure will be maintained at historic levels. If that is not done, there will be huge redundancies in the rail manufacturing industry. The arguments were explored on previous occasions, but I want that answer from the Minister.
As to the amendments on clause 105, the Bill makes provision for the Government to write off British Rail's historic debt, which the annual report puts at almost £2 billion. If that sum is to be written off, it will have to be written off by taxpayers to make privatisation more financially attractive to private sector operators. Why should taxpayers in my constituency foot the bill for privatisation? Why should retired railway men and women on low pensions who pay income tax also have to meet a £2 billion cost after spending their lives building up a rail system that is now to fall into the hands of private operators?
§ Ms Glenda Jackson (Hampstead and Highgate)
In common with my hon. Friends, I was exceedingly surprised when the guillotine motion was imposed on almost 500 amendments from another place. As other right hon. and hon. Members pointed out, we have been denied the opportunity to debate what is virtually a new, alternative Bill.
Conservative Members, including the Minister for Public Transport, were highly critical of the Opposition for wanting to debate what were described as purely technical amendments. The possibility that many of my constituents, particularly those who are disabled, may never again be able to use a train because stations on the north London line are unmanned and will remain unmanned is by no means a technicality. Many women are afraid to travel after dark because it is frightening to find oneself on an otherwise deserted station with no one to give assistance in either earshot or eyesight.
My constituents want to use the railways and to see the British Rail network expand. That was their understanding and mine of this whole farrago of a Bill. However, debate on extremely important issues is being curtailed because, according to the Minister, the amendments are purely a technicality.
The hon. Member for Lewes (Mr. Rathbone), who I regret is not in his place, repeated an allegation that was made by Conservative members of the Committee—that the concern expressed by British Rail pensioners at what they viewed as threats to their pension fund by the Government and the Bill was motivated by the Opposition. I would like to be able to tell the hon. Member for Lewes that those of my constituents who are BR pensioners take that presumption of lack of character on their part very hard. I am pleased to note that the hon. Member for Lewes has now returned to his place.
My constituents who are members of the BR pension fund have dedicated their lives to the railways, are extremely hard-working and are immensely responsible and sensible people. Their concern about the attack on their pension funds stems not from what the Opposition have said, but from what the Government have done and are continuing to do. That is one reason why I am so concerned about the guillotine motion that is being imposed upon us today.
199 The Secretary of State said that pensions had been fully debated. He neglected to point out that changes in the pension arrangements certainly have not been debated in this place. Confirmation that he is attempting to make changes without any debate comes from the chairman of the BR pension board. On 20 July, the memorandum of understanding mentioned earlier in the debate was agreed between the Department of Transport, the trustees and the British Railways Board. It was supposedly binding on all parties. In a letter dated 26 October, Derek Fowler—the chairman of the BR trustees—wrote to the Minister saying:I certainly did not envisage the cash payments would cease indefinitely when I signed the Memorandum.In fewer than three months, the agreement that the signatories to it thought was binding on all parties was in the process of being changed by the Government.
A particular issue of concern to the trustees is that in the initial wording of the memorandum agreement was reached that changes to the method of payments under the 1980 Act would be made only with the agreement of the trustees. The memorandum stated:The Government's obligations will be reflected as an asset of the Pension Fund and will be taken into account in determining any surplus available for pensioners. We intend to agree the details of such an arrangement with the Trustees, and we will lay before Parliament, in due course, Orders which will give effect to such agreement.Now, the Government are changing the wording of the memorandum to replace "agreement" with "consultation", which will allow them to override the wishes of the fund's trustees.
As Derek Fowler said in a further letter to the Secretary of State dated 6 October:It is proposed to change the wording of the Memorandum of Understanding to provide that payments under the 1980 Act may be changed after consultation with the Trustees and not, as previously provided, by agreement with the Trustees. Such fundamental change is unacceptable to the Trustees.The Government are attempting to railroad the changes through the House without proper debate. British Rail pensioners are effectively being penalised for the success of their own pension fund. Is not it deeply ironic that the Government should be doing so at the same time as they are attempting to entice people away from dependence on state pensions? They are using the pension surplus to reduce the public sector borrowing requirement, effectively forcing pensioners to pay for the Government's mistakes and broken pledges.
The Government have proven themselves to be completely untrustworthy on the pensions issue, as was proved by the correspondence from Derek Fowler. What other guarantees given during the course of the Bill and in today's debate can be believed by the pensioners? The lack of guarantees and the lack of time being provided by the Government to debate almost 500 Lords amendments makes me understand why so many BR pensioners now say that the initials "BR", as they relate to the pension fund, no longer stand for "British Rail", but for "bank raid".
§ Mr. Brian Wilson (Cunninghame, North)
It is a shame that we have had a three-hour debate on a guillotine motion when instead we could have continued with our consideration of the substantive issues in the Bill. The move certainly does not appear to have done the 200 Government a great deal of good. Last night they gained themselves the opprobrium of cutting short the debate. Today, they have provided a platform from which to say a great deal about the pensions issue. In addition, they have moved the debate on the right to bid from late last night to a relatively prominent time today. That does not strike me as a tactical masterstroke.
It is important to set the record straight on some of the factual reasons why the guillotine motion is a disreputable exercise. First, it is essential that the House understands that no approach was made to the Opposition to arrange a timetable for our proceedings on Lords amendments, despite the fact that a timetable had been agreed and observed throughout the Committee and Report stages. It is clear that, if the Government had wanted a timetable, they would have asked for one. It is equally clear that they knew last Friday that they would do exactly what they did last night and when they would do it.
Secondly, the statements made last night by the Leader of the House were inaccurate, as has been shown today. He made those statements in the Chamber and also in notices given to the press—for example, he said that only two amendments had been dealt with in five hours. That was fallacious nonsense. I think that the right hon. Gentleman was deeply uncomfortable with the task allotted to him last night, so it is significant that he has distanced himself from today's proceedings.
Thirdly, the debates last night were legitimate and were recognised as such by the Minister of State. It is interesting to note that, in addition to nine ministerial speeches, there were three extensive speeches from Tory Back Benchers —as was perfectly legitimate—and nine interventions from other Conservative Members. The idea that there was an Opposition monopoly on speeches is simple fabrication.
Fourthly, if the debate had proceeded last night, we would have reached the amendment on the right to bid not in the middle of the night, as some Conservative Members have suggested, but at 10 pm. There was absolutely no need to curtail our proceedings at 10pm. The Government did that for their own reasons—their desire to limit debate in and scrutiny by this House. They did so in the full knowledge that the more scrutiny there is by this House and by the wider audience outside, the more their proposals are discredited.
Another point worth putting on the record is that the fact that the Government now have such a tight timetable for getting the Bill passed is entirely their own responsibility. The fact that they are counting the hours before Parliament is prorogued is entirely their responsibility. They have only themselves to blame for the way in which they have handled the Bill from start to finish—introducing amendments at every stage and virtually rewriting the Bill, culminating in 470 amendments being made in the other place.
It has been a farcical procedure, as it had to be because the Bill is inherently so deeply flawed. One consolation for the Opposition is the knowledge that, no matter how often the Government rewrite it, how extensively they change it or how they try to patch it up in response to objections, it will still be deeply flawed when it is enacted and the chickens will then come home to roost. There will be big political trouble for them, not for us.
As has been said by several of my hon. Friends, it was farcical to say last night and today that the proceedings must be rushed through and that we can speak for only an hour or two on pensions and an hour or two on the right to 201 bid, with great swathes of amendments not even being considered—yet on Thursday the Government are sending us away for another fortnight's recess. They do not want Members of Parliament in the House. Indeed, it has now become the general rule that they want the House to sit for as little time as possible, because when it is sitting the political focus is on this place and that it is not in the Government's interests.
For all those reasons, what we witnessed last night and today is a charade. There was no need to curtail the debate at 10 pm last night. We knew that at some stage the Government would rescue their Bill. We knew their timetable and we knew that they were expecting more trouble in the other place. I am sure that the Minister of State listened to the "Today" programme this morning, when Lord Peyton had certain things to say about the amendments. I was delighted to hear that he was less easily impressed by bogus compromises than were the hon. Member for Lewes (Mr. Rathbone) and one or two others who paraded their consciences during the summer, but who now apparently feel able to give the Secretary of State everything that he wants. So we hope that the principles and concerns of those in the other place will be more consistent than those of hon. Members. It would be wrong to comment on what will happen in the other place, but as it voted for the amendments in the first place it is not certain that it will be bought off as easily as some hon. Members.
The issues have been well covered by my hon. Friends. We shall debate some of them, but as I shall not speak much later I should like to express my deep distaste for the performance of Ministers in the debate on pensions. I still have not decided whether the Government first thought, "We are going to get our hands on pension fund surpluses, so we have to privatise the railways," or whether rail privatisation came first and, as a byproduct of that, they realised the phenomenal implications for the Treasury.
§ Mr. Wilson
The Secretary of State feigns disgust. Will he have the decency to inform the House of the potential implications for the public sector borrowing requirement of the action that the Government are taking on the railway pension fund? We shall then see whether the sums involved and the political implications are consistent with this shrug of the shoulders and his comment that it is ridiculous to say that those implications entered the Government's mind.
If the Government had introduced the Bill without assessing the political implications of what it would allow them to get away with, from their point of view it would have almost been a dereliction of duty. If those implications did not occur to the Secretary of State—given Baroness Thatcher's comments about him, that is conceivable—we can bet our bottom dollar that they occurred to the Treasury.
My comments on pensions are a lot less important than those of the chairman of the British Rail Pension Trustee Company. The Minister for Public Transport is pointing at the clock: he does not want to be guillotined when he speaks later. Before the summer recess, that chairman had been prepared to take the word of Ministers that everything was going to be all right. As my hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull, East (Mr. Prescott) said, in his superb analysis of the matter, the chairman did not manage 202 to persuade other trustees to take the word of Ministers. However, this man, who was taken in by the Government, wrote to the Secretary of State on 26 October 1993, saying:I very much regret the need to have written to you three times in less than three weeks on fundamental differences of view between the Government and the BR Trustees…The steady erosion of what I thought had been agreed seems to justify the sceptical approach taken by many of my colleagues and others to that Memorandum.What an indictment of Ministers, of the Government and of their integrity.
We shall continue the fight on behalf of pensioners. We shall alert them and ensure that the future not only of the railway pension fund but of every pension fund in the country which is at risk from the Bill will be as major a political issue as rail privatisation. If Ministers are unable to rebut those words of the chairman, they should not be sitting on the Front Bench.
§ The Minister for Public Transport (Mr. Roger Freeman)
The hon. Member for Cunninghame, North (Mr. Wilson) has many endearing qualities, but careful attention to the clock to allow sufficient time to respond to a debate is not one of them.
Before I deal with the extremely important issue of pensions, may I say to the hon. Member for Hugh Bayley—[Laughter.] I meant the hon. Member for York (Mr. Bayley). [Laughter.] As I wanted to make a serious point, I shall come back to it.
Let me deal with the issue of pensioners. I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Lewes (Mr. Rathbone), who put his finger on the point. This issue has been stirred up deliberately by the Labour party to create quite unnecessary fear, and the Liberal Democrats are not absolved of that charge.
My hon. Friend the Member for Eastleigh (Mr. Milligan) was absolutely right and I pay tribute to his constructive contributions. I ask Opposition Front-Bench spokesmen whether they challenge what my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport said on four issues.
First, there is no dispute that pensioners will have their own independent pension fund—their own assets, with trustees responsible for managing the fund. There has never been a suggestion that the Government would take those assets and it is disgraceful of the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, East (Mr. Prescott) to go round talking about those assets being pinched and in the same breath asserting that the Government are as guilty as Mr. Maxwell. That is a calumny, and it causes unnecessary fear in the minds of pensioners.
Secondly, I ask the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, East, is there any question about the solvency guarantee provided by the Government and the index-linking of railwaymen's pensions for inflation? Of course there is no doubt.
§ Mr. Freeman
Of course there is no doubt about that, because it is on the face of the Bill. The hon. Gentleman knows that.
That represents a major change since 1980. When my right hon. and learned Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer, who was then a Transport Minister, promised continuing payments during proceedings on the Transport 203 Act 1980, he did not do so in the context of a Government guarantee on railwaymen's pensions. The scene has changed completely—at the request of trustees.
Thirdly, there is no doubt that railwaymen will have a 40 per cent. share in any surplus created by the good management of the pension fund. That 40 per cent. is the same percentage as pensioners have enjoyed since the pension fund was created. In the past, 60 per cent. of the pension fund surplus has been distributed to employers and to the current employees of the pension fund. Therefore, we are proposing no change.
Opposition Front-Bench spokesmen cannot challenge the fact that, in addition to an index-linked fund, 40 per cent. of the surplus will go to pensioners. That is an excellent deal. I know of no other pension fund in the public or private sector that can guarantee such an excellent opportunity.
Do Opposition Front-Bench spokesmen challenge the fact that continued accrued liabilities under the 1980 Act will not continue to benefit the pension fund? There is no doubt about that. Those are accrued liabilities. The payment of cash under that accrued liability depends on the need of the pension fund to pay out index-linked pension payments.
I give my hon. Friend the Member for Eastleigh the assurances that he asked for—that discussions with trustees will continue, that the memorandum of understanding will be honoured, that we will seek an agreement with the trustees and that we will seek parliamentary approval of the schedule of payments under the 1980 Act. Indeed, as my hon. Friend the Member for Eastleigh knows, the Bill obliges us to lay before the House the comments of the trustees on the conclusions that we reach. There can be no question but that we have dealt honourably, correctly, fairly and well with the pensioners. The Opposition are stirring up trouble unnecessarily.
Finally, in the few remaining minutes, I shall spell out the reason why we have a timetable motion. Yesterday we spent five hours on two groups of amendments. I acknowledge that we were discussing important issues. The first group dealt with management-employee buy-out bids. That is, of course, important, but it was not a new principle, as it is already contained in parts II and III of the Bill. I took seven minutes to respond to that debate whereas the Opposition spent two and a half hours debating what is a narrow issue.
The second group of amendments covered the powers of the franchising director to include in franchises the ability of the train operating companies to access stations. A further two and a half hours were spent on that—if that is not wasting time and filisbustering, I do not know what is.
The truth was revealed this afternoon—the hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) let it out of the bag. He asked whether we realised that we could be here all night, every night this week, debating all the amendments. That was not the agreement with the Opposition; the agreement was to allow two days.
I understand that this evening the hon. Member for York (Mr. Bayley) released to the press a private record of conversations between me and the chief executive of British Rail. That is disgraceful, because the effect of releasing such a document, which was written not by the 204 Department of Transport but by someone presumably present at that meeting, can only embarrass the chief executive. It is disgraceful—
§ Mr. Bayley
I do not think that any embarrassment caused by the release of that document will land on the shoulders of the chief executive of British Rail; it will land on those of the Minister, who was told by the chief executive that, in relation to the rail privatisation proposals, he wasin a hole and still digging".He told the Minister for Public Transport at that meeting that he would have nothing left buta car boot sale. I am not joking.They were his words.
§ Mr. Freeman
It is typical of the Labour party to conduct debate by releasing such a document.
I commend the motion to the House.
§ Question put:—
§ The House divided: Ayes 314, Noes 286.208
|Division No. 380]||[6.42|
|Ainsworth, Peter (East Surrey)||Carlisle, Kenneth (Lincoln)|
|Aitken, Jonathan||Carrington, Matthew|
|Alexander, Richard||Carttiss, Michael|
|Alison, Rt Hon Michael (Selby)||Cash, William|
|Allason, Rupert (Torbay)||Channon, Rt Hon Paul|
|Amess, David||Churchill, Mr|
|Ancram, Michael||Clappison, James|
|Arbuthnot, James||Clarke, Rt Hon Kenneth (Ruclif)|
|Arnold, Jacques (Gravesham)||Clifton-Brown, Geoffrey|
|Arnold, Sir Thomas (Hazel Grv)||Coe, Sebastian|
|Ashby, David||Colvin, Michael|
|Aspinwall, Jack||Congdon, David|
|Atkins, Robert||Coombs, Anthony (Wyre For'st)|
|Atkinson, David (Bour'mouth E)||Coombs, Simon (Swindon)|
|Atkinson, Peter (Hexham)||Cope, Rt Hon Sir John|
|Baker, Rt Hon K. (Mole Valley)||Cormack, Patrick|
|Baker, Nicholas (Dorset North)||Couchman, James|
|Baldry, Tony||Cran, James|
|Banks, Matthew (Southport)||Currie, Mrs Edwina (S D'by'ire)|
|Banks, Robert (Harrogate)||Curry, David (Skipton & Ripon)|
|Bates, Michael||Davies, Quentin (Stamford)|
|Batiste, Spencer||Davis, David (Boothferry)|
|Bellingham, Henry||Day, Stephen|
|Bendall, Vivian||Deva, Nirj Joseph|
|Beresford, Sir Paul||Devlin, Tim|
|Biffen, Rt Hon John||Dicks, Terry|
|Blackburn, Dr John G.||Dorrell, Stephen|
|Body, Sir Richard||Douglas-Hamilton, Lord James|
|Bonsor, Sir Nicholas||Dover, Den|
|Booth, Hartley||Duncan, Alan|
|Boswell, Tim||Duncan-Smith, Iain|
|Bottomley, Peter (Eltham)||Dunn, Bob|
|Bottomley, Rt Hon Virginia||Durant, Sir Anthony|
|Bowden, Andrew||Dykes, Hugh|
|Bowis, John||Elletson, Harold|
|Boyson, Rt Hon Sir Rhodes||Evans, David (Welwyn Hatfield)|
|Brandreth, Gyles||Evans, Jonathan (Brecon)|
|Brazier, Julian||Evans, Nigel (Ribble Valley)|
|Bright, Graham||Evans, Roger (Monmouth)|
|Brooke, Rt Hon Peter||Evennett, David|
|Brown, M. (Brigg & Cl'thorpes)||Faber, David|
|Browning, Mrs. Angela||Fabricant, Michael|
|Bruce, Ian (S Dorset)||Fairbairn, Sir Nicholas|
|Budgen, Nicholas||Fenner, Dame Peggy|
|Burns, Simon||Field, Barry (Isle of Wight)|
|Burt, Alistair||Fishburn, Dudley|
|Butler, Peter||Forman, Nigel|
|Carlisle, John (Luton North)||Forsyth, Michael (Stirling)|
|Forth, Eric||Lester, Jim (Broxtowe)|
|Fowler, Rt Hon Sir Norman||Lidington, David|
|Fox, Dr Liam (Woodspring)||Lightbown, David|
|Fox, Sir Marcus (Shipley)||Lilley, Rt Hon Peter|
|Freeman, Rt Hon Roger||Lloyd, Peter (Fareham)|
|French, Douglas||Lord, Michael|
|Fry, Peter||Luff, Peter|
|Gale, Roger||Lyell, Rt Hon Sir Nicholas|
|Gallie, Phil||MacGregor, Rt Hon John|
|Gardiner, Sir George||MacKay, Andrew|
|Garel-Jones, Rt Hon Tristan||Maclean, David|
|Garnier, Edward||McLoughlin, Patrick|
|Gill, Christopher||McNair-Wilson, Sir Patrick|
|Gillan, Cheryl||Madel, David|
|Goodlad, Rt Hon Alastair||Maitland, Lady Olga|
|Goodson-Wickes, Dr Charles||Malone, Gerald|
|Gorman, Mrs Teresa||Mans, Keith|
|Gorst, John||Marland, Paul|
|Grant, Sir A. (Cambs SW)||Marlow, Tony|
|Greenway, Harry (Ealing N)||Marshall, John (Hendon S)|
|Greenway, John (Ryedale)||Marshall, Sir Michael (Arundel)|
|Griffiths, Peter (Portsmouth, N)||Martin, David (Portsmouth S)|
|Grylls, Sir Michael||Mates, Michael|
|Gummer, Rt Hon John Selwyn||Mawhinney, Dr Brian|
|Hague, William||Mayhew, Rt Hon Sir Patrick|
|Hamilton, Rt Hon Archie (Epsom)||Mellor, Rt Hon David|
|Hamilton, Neil (Tatton)||Merchant, Piers|
|Hanley, Jeremy||Milligan, Stephen|
|Hannam, Sir John||Mills, Iain|
|Hargreaves, Andrew||Mitchell, Andrew (Gedling)|
|Harris, David||Mitchell, Sir David (Hants NW)|
|Haselhurst, Alan||Moate, Sir Roger|
|Hawkins, Nick||Monro, Sir Hector|
|Hawksley, Warren||Montgomery, Sir Fergus|
|Hayes, Jerry||Moss, Malcolm|
|Heald, Oliver||Needham, Richard|
|Heathcoat-Amory, David||Nelson, Anthony|
|Hendry, Charles||Neubert, Sir Michael|
|Heseltine, Rt Hon Michael||Newton, Rt Hon Tony|
|Hicks, Robert||Nicholls, Patrick|
|Higgins, Rt Hon Sir Terence L.||Nicholson, David (Taunton)|
|Hill, James (Southampton Test)||Nicholson, Emma (Devon West)|
|Hogg, Rt Hon Douglas (G'tham)||Norris, Steve|
|Horam, John||Onslow, Rt Hon Sir Cranley|
|Hordern, Rt Hon Sir Peter||Oppenheim, Phillip|
|Howard, Rt Hon Michael||Ottaway, Richard|
|Howarth, Alan (Strat'rd-on-A)||Page, Richard|
|Howell, Rt Hon David (G'dford)||Paice, James|
|Howell, Sir Ralph (N Norfolk)||Patnick, Irvine|
|Hughes Robert G. (Harrow W)||Patten, Rt Hon John|
|Hunt, Rt Hon David (Wirral W)||Pattie, Rt Hon Sir Geoffrey|
|Hunt, Sir John (Ravensbourne)||Pawsey, James|
|Hunter, Andrew||Peacock, Mrs Elizabeth|
|Hurd, Rt Hon Douglas||Pickles, Eric|
|Jack, Michael||Porter, David (Waveney)|
|Jackson, Robert (Wantage)||Portillo, Rt Hon Michael|
|Jenkin, Bernard||Powell, William (Corby)|
|Jessel, Toby||Rathbone, Tim|
|Johnson Smith, Sir Geoffrey||Redwood, Rt Hon John|
|Jones, Gwilym (Cardiff N)||Renton, Rt Hon Tim|
|Jones, Robert B. (W Hertfdshr)||Richards, Rod|
|Jopling, Rt Hon Michael||Riddick, Graham|
|Kellett-Bowman, Dame Elaine||Rifkind, Rt Hon. Malcolm|
|Key, Robert||Robathan, Andrew|
|Kilfedder, Sir James||Roberts, Rt Hon Sir Wyn|
|King, Rt Hon Tom||Robertson, Raymond (Ab'd'n S)|
|Kirkhope, Timothy||Robinson, Mark (Somerton)|
|Knapman, Roger||Roe, Mrs Marion (Broxbourne)|
|Knight, Mrs Angela (Erewash)||Rowe, Andrew (Mid Kent)|
|Knight, Greg (Derby N)||Rumbold, Rt Hon Dame Angela|
|Knight, Dame Jill (Bir'm E'st'n)||Ryder, Rt Hon Richard|
|Knox, Sir David||Sackville, Tom|
|Kynoch, George (Kincardine)||Sainsbury, Rt Hon Tim|
|Lait, Mrs Jacqui||Scott, Rt Hon Nicholas|
|Lamont, Rt Hon Norman||Shaw, David (Dover)|
|Lang, Rt Hon lan||Shaw, Sir Giles (Pudsey)|
|Lawrence, Sir Ivan||Shephard, Rt Hon Gillian|
|Legg, Barry||Shepherd, Colin (Hereford)|
|Leigh, Edward||Shersby, Michael|
|Lennox-Boyd, Mark||Sims, Roger|
|Skeet, Sir Trevor||Townsend, Cyril D. (Bexl'yh'th)|
|Smith, Sir Dudley (Warwick)||Tracey, Richard|
|Smith, Tim (Beaconsfield)||Tredinnick, David|
|Soames, Nicholas||Trend, Michael|
|Spencer, Sir Derek||Trotter, Neville|
|Spicer, Sir James (W Dorset)||Twinn, Dr lan|
|Spicer, Michael (S Worcs)||Vaughan, Sir Gerard|
|Spink, Dr Robert||Viggers, Peter|
|Spring, Richard||Waldegrave, Rt Hon William|
|Sproat, Iain||Walker, Bill (N Tayside)|
|Squire, Robin (Hornchurch)||Waller, Gary|
|Stanley, Rt Hon Sir John||Ward, John|
|Steen, Anthony||Wardle, Charles (Bexhill)|
|Stephen, Michael||Waterson, Nigel|
|Stern, Michael||Watts, John|
|Stewart, Allan||Wells, Bowen|
|Streeter, Gary||Whitney, Ray|
|Sumberg, David||Whittingdale, John|
|Sweeney, Walter||Widdecombe, Ann|
|Sykes, John||Wiggin, Sir Jerry|
|Tapsell, Sir Peter||Wilkinson, John|
|Taylor, Ian (Esher)||Willetts, David|
|Taylor, John M. (Solihull)||Wilshire, David|
|Taylor, Sir Teddy (Southend, E)||Wolfson, Mark|
|Temple-Morris, Peter||Wood, Timothy|
|Thomason, Roy||Yeo, Tim|
|Thompson, Sir Donald (C'er V)||Young, Rt Hon Sir George|
|Thompson, Patrick (Norwich N)|
|Thornton, Sir Malcolm||Tellers for the Ayes:|
|Thurnham, Peter||Mr. Sydney Chapman and|
|Townend, John (Bridlington)||Mr. Derek Conway.|
|Abbott, Ms Diane||Clarke, Tom (Monklands W)|
|Adams, Mrs Irene||Clelland, David|
|Ainger, Nick||Clwyd, Mrs Ann|
|Ainsworth, Robert (Cov'try NE)||Coffey, Ann|
|Allen, Graham||Cohen, Harry|
|Alton, David||Cook, Frank (Stockton N)|
|Anderson, Donald (Swansea E)||Cook, Robin (Livingston)|
|Anderson, Ms Janet (Ros'dale)||Corbett, Robin|
|Armstrong, Hilary||Corbyn, Jeremy|
|Ashton, Joe||Corston, Ms Jean|
|Austin-Walker, John||Cousins, Jim|
|Banks, Tony (Newham NW)||Cox, Tom|
|Barnes, Harry||Cryer, Bob|
|Barron, Kevin||Cummings, John|
|Battle, John||Cunliffe, Lawrence|
|Bayley, Hugh||Cunningham, Jim (Covy SE)|
|Beckett, Rt Hon Margaret||Cunningham, Rt Hon Dr John|
|Beith, Rt Hon A. J.||Dafis, Cynog|
|Bell, Stuart||Darling, Alistair|
|Benn, Rt Hon Tony||Davidson, Ian|
|Bennett, Andrew F.||Davies, Rt Hon Denzil (Llanelli)|
|Benton, Joe||Davies, Ron (Caerphilly)|
|Bermingham, Gerald||Davis, Terry (B'ham, H'dge H'I)|
|Berry, Dr. Roger||Denham, John|
|Betts, Clive||Dewar, Donald|
|Blair, Tony||Dixon, Don|
|Blunkett, David||Dobson, Frank|
|Boateng, Paul||Donohoe, Brian H.|
|Boyce, Jimmy||Dowd, Jim|
|Boyes, Roland||Dunnachie, Jimmy|
|Bradley, Keith||Dunwoody, Mrs Gwyneth|
|Bray, Dr Jeremy||Eagle, Ms Angela|
|Brown, Gordon (Dunfermline E)||Eastham, Ken|
|Brown, N. (N'c'tle upon Tyne E)||Enright, Derek|
|Burden, Richard||Etherington, Bill|
|Byers, Stephen||Evans, John (St Helens N)|
|Callaghan, Jim||Ewing, Mrs Margaret|
|Campbell, Mrs Anne (C'bridge)||Fatchett, Derek|
|Campbell, Menzies (Fife NE)||Faulds, Andrew|
|Campbell, Ronnie (Blyth V)||Field, Frank (Birkenhead)|
|Campbell-Savours, D. N.||Fisher, Mark|
|Canavan, Dennis||Flynn, Paul|
|Cann, Jamie||Foster, Rt Hon Derek|
|Carlile, Alexander (Montgomry)||Foster, Don (Bath)|
|Chisholm, Malcolm||Foulkes, George|
|Clark, Dr David (South Shields)||Fraser, John|
|Clarke, Eric (Midlothian)||Fyfe, Maria|
|Galloway, George||McWilliam, John|
|Gapes, Mike||Madden, Max|
|Garrett, John||Maddock, Mrs Diana|
|George, Bruce||Mahon, Alice|
|Gerrard, Neil||Mandelson, Peter|
|Gilbert, Rt Hon Dr John||Marek, Dr John|
|Godman, Dr Norman A.||Marshall, David (Shettleston)|
|Godsiff, Roger||Marshall, Jim (Leicester, S)|
|Golding, Mrs Llin||Martin, Michael J. (Springburn)|
|Gordon, Mildred||Martlew, Eric|
|Gould, Bryan||Maxton, John|
|Graham, Thomas||Meacher, Michael|
|Grant, Bernie (Tottenham)||Meale, Alan|
|Griffiths, Nigel (Edinburgh S)||Michael, Alun|
|Griffiths, Win (Bridgend)||Michie, Bill (Sheffield Heeley)|
|Grocott, Bruce||Michie, Mrs Ray (Argyll Bute)|
|Gunnell, John||Milburn, Alan|
|Hain, Peter||Miller, Andrew|
|Hall, Mike||Mitchell, Austin (Gt Grimsby)|
|Hanson, David||Molyneaux, Rt Hon James|
|Hardy, Peter||Moonie, Dr Lewis|
|Harman, Ms Harriet||Morgan, Rhodri|
|Harvey, Nick||Morley, Elliot|
|Hattersley, Rt Hon Roy||Morris, Rt Hon A. (Wy'nshawe)|
|Henderson, Doug||Morris, Estelle (B'ham Yardley)|
|Heppell, John||Morris, Rt Hon J. (Aberavon)|
|Hill, Keith (Streatham)||Mowlam, Marjorie|
|Hinchliffe, David||Mudie, George|
|Hoey, Kate||Mullin, Chris|
|Hogg, Norman (Cumbernauld)||Murphy, Paul|
|Home Robertson, John||Oakes, Rt Hon Gordon|
|Hood, Jimmy||O'Brien, Michael (N W'kshire)|
|Hoon, Geoffrey||O'Brien, William (Normanton)|
|Howarth, George (Knowsley N)||O'Hara, Edward|
|Howells, Dr. Kim (Pontypridd)||Olner, William|
|Hoyle, Doug||O'Neill, Martin|
|Hughes, Kevin (Doncaster N)||Orme, Rt Hon Stanley|
|Hughes, Robert (Aberdeen N)||Parry, Robert|
|Hughes, Roy (Newport E)||Patchett, Terry|
|Hughes, Simon (Southwark)||Pendry, Tom|
|Hutton, John||Pickthall, Colin|
|Illsley, Eric||Pike, Peter L.|
|Jackson, Glenda (H'stead)||Pope, Greg|
|Jackson, Helen (Shef'ld, H)||Powell, Ray (Ogmore)|
|Jamieson, David||Prentice, Ms Bridget (Lew'm E)|
|Janner, Greville||Prentice, Gordon (Pendle)|
|Johnston, Sir Russell||Prescott, John|
|Jones, Barry (Alvn and D'side)||Primarolo, Dawn|
|Jones, Ieuan Wyn (Ynys Mön)||Purchase, Ken|
|Jones, Jon Owen (Cardiff C)||Quin, Ms Joyce|
|Jones, Lynne (B'ham S O)||Radice, Giles|
|Jones, Martyn (Clwyd, SW)||Randall, Stuart|
|Jones, Nigel (Cheltenham)||Raynsford, Nick|
|Jowell, Tessa||Redmond, Martin|
|Kaufman, Rt Hon Gerald||Reid, Dr John|
|Keen, Alan||Rendel, David|
|Kennedy, Charles (Ross,C&S)||Robertson, George (Hamilton)|
|Kennedy, Jane (Lpool Brdgn)||Robinson, Geoffrey (Co'try NW)|
|Khabra, Piara S.||Roche, Mrs. Barbara|
|Kinnock, Rt Hon Neil (Islwyn)||Rogers, Allan|
|Kirkwood, Archy||Rooker, Jeff|
|Leighton, Ron||Rooney, Terry|
|Lestor, Joan (Eccles)||Ross, Ernie (Dundee W)|
|Lewis, Terry||Rowlands, Ted|
|Livingstone, Ken||Ruddock, Joan|
|Lloyd, Tony (Stretford)||Salmond, Alex|
|Llwyd, Elfyn||Sedgemore, Brian|
|Loyden, Eddie||Sheerman, Barry|
|Lynne, Ms Liz||Sheldon, Rt Hon Robert|
|McAllion, John||Shore, Rt Hon Peter|
|McAvoy, Thomas||Short, Clare|
|McCartney, Ian||Simpson, Alan|
|Macdonald, Calum||Skinner, Dennis|
|McFall, John||Smith, Andrew (Oxford E)|
|McKelvey, William||Smith, C. (Isl'ton S & F'sbury)|
|Mackinlay, Andrew||Smith, Rt Hon John (M'kl'ds E)|
|McLeish, Henry||Smith, Llew (Blaenau Gwent)|
|MacIennan, Robert||Snape, Peter|
|McMaster, Gordon||Soley, Clive|
|McNamara, Kevin||Spearing, Nigel|
|Spellar, John||Wareing, Robert N|
|Squire, Rachel (Dunfermline W)||Watson, Mike|
|Steinberg, Gerry||Welsh, Andrew|
|Stevenson, George||Wicks, Malcolm|
|Stott, Roger||Wigley, Dafydd|
|Strang, Dr. Gavin||Williams, Rt Hon Alan (Sw'n W)|
|Straw, Jack||Williams, Alan W(Carmarthen)|
|Taylor, Mrs Ann (Dewsbury)||Wilson, Brian|
|Taylor, Rt Hon John D. (Strgfd)||Winnick, David|
|Taylor, Matthew (Truro)||Wise, Audrey|
|Thompson, Jack (Wansbeck)||Worthington, Tony|
|Tipping, Paddy||Wray, Jimmy|
|Trimble, David||Wright, Dr Tony|
|Tyler, Paul||Young, David (Bolton SE)|
|Walker, Rt Hon Sir Harold|
|Wallace, James||Tellers for the Noes:|
|Walley, Joan||Mr. Peter Kilfoyle and|
|Wardell, Gareth (Gower)||Mr. Dennis Turner.|
§ Question accordingly agreed to.