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Jaguar PLC

Mr. Speaker : I call Mr. Ridley.

Mr. Joseph Ashton (Bassetlaw) : On a point of order, Mr. Speaker.

Mr. Speaker : I will take points of order after the statement.

Mr. Ashton : It is on this matter, Mr. Speaker.

3.30 pm

The Secretary of State for Trade and Industry (Mr. Nicholas Ridley) : With permission, Mr. Speaker, I wish to make a statement on JaguarPLC.

Jaguar's articles of association contain clauses preventing any individual or concert party from holding an interest in more than 15 per cent. of the company's shares. This is backed by the Government's special share which requires my written consent for changes in certain parts of the articles until they lapse on 31 December 1990 when the special share itself is due to be redeemed. Any such change in the articles would, besides my consent, also require the passing of a special resolution by shareholders in general meeting. These provisions of the company's articles were put into place to preserve Jaguar's independence in its formative years as a free-standing company and so allow its management to concentrate on developing the business without the constant distraction of unwelcome takeover bids. In recent months, however, I understand that the chairman of Jaguar has been talking to a number of companies that are interested in forming links with Jaguar. There is a widespread perception that the company's financial and technological base needs strengthening in this way.

The restrictions on shareholdings entrenched by the Government's special share are now clearly causing uncertainties about the company's future by prompting speculation over how my powers may be exercised, so distorting the basis on which all parties involved have to reach their decisions. I have accordingly told the Jaguar management that, if shareholders pass a special resolution by the requisite 75 per cent. majority amending the ownership provisions of the articles, I shall be ready also to give my consent.

I am clear that it is in the best interests of Jaguar's management, shareholders and work force for the company's future to be assured and the present climate of uncertainty resolved as quickly as possible. I have no doubt that the Jaguar board will continue to pursue its discussions with interested parties, and assess proposals, with the aim of recommending to the shareholders the solution that it believes to be in the best interests of the company as a whole. This statement paves the way for shareholders, with the advice of the board, to reach their own view on the options which may be available. The Government's role will henceforth be confined to consideration in the normal way of the competition policy aspects of any change in Jaguar's ownership.

Mr. Bryan Gould (Dagenham) : I begin by welcoming the Secretary of State to the Dispatch Box and to his new responsibilities, but may I link that welcome with an expression of concern that, at his first appearance, he may

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well have lent himself to what looks suspiciously like a tactical device designed to delay the beginning of the important debate which is about to start? I commiserate with him that his first task is to announce the dispatch of yet another major British company --another victim of the Government's destructive policy towards manufacturing. His task is also to signal the disappearance of the last vestige of what had remained of the independent British car industry. Does the Secretary of State agree that Jaguar remains and must remain a vital centre of engineering excellence of huge importance to the west midlands and that it is essential that it should remain a west midlands-based car manufacturing company with as much operational independence as possible?

Why, then, has the right hon. Gentleman so evidently abdicated his responsibilities in making this statement today? Who asked him to give up the golden share? What does it mean for other golden shares in other privatised companies? Is there now to be an open season on all golden shares? Does he not recognise that the end result of the market free-for- all which, in effect, he has announced will be that the Jaguar badge will be placed on cars designed and engineered elsewhere and that Jaguar will simply be swallowed up by one or other multinational with no guarantees or assurances whatsoever? Why did the Secretary of State not use his golden share to negotiate proper assurances from General Motors, Ford, Daimler or whomever else may be bidding while he still had a negotiating card in his hand? What is the point of putting a golden share into place if he dispenses with it as soon as it might serve a useful purpose?

Does the Secretary of State accept that his statement offers the clearest possible contrast between the irresponsibility of his Government and the proper concern that the next Labour Government will show for Britain's manufacturing base? Does he accept that his statement is a signal that, once again, market forces, for ideological reasons, will be allowed to deliver an important British enterprise to foreign predators? Does he further accept that the golden share is a charade, and that this is a black day for the west midlands and for the British car industry?

Mr. Ridley : I am surprised at the hon. Gentleman's opening remarks. He wrote to me on 20 September, stating :

"If Jaguar do indeed need the financial and investment assistance to be obtained from becoming part of a larger group, does the Government have any other (and better) solution to offer? If not, may it not be better to help to bring the matter to a conclusion as soon as is reasonably possible, rather than insisting on prolonging the uncertainty until the expiry of the golden share?"

Even when I try to respond to the hon. Gentleman's request to bring the uncertainty to an end, he is grudging in his acceptance. The hon. Gentleman also seemed to say that he understands the need for a strong group to go into some form of partnership with Jaguar, which is what I said in my statement. All that I am doing now is to clear the way so that the playing field is level betweeen all contestants and so that there is no doubt or confusion about what the Government might do in the event of a takeover bid or of other proposals being put to the shareholders.

I agree that Jaguar has done remarkably well and that it is a vital centre of engineering in the west midlands. However, I believe that it will continue to do much better

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still if it is allowed to find its future with a strong partner, which is what the board is now discussing with various people. I believe that that is therefore in the interests of the company. No one has asked me to make this statement. I have made it because I want to make it quite clear what the ground rules are as the board begins to discuss the options before it. It would not be either right or possible for me to use the golden share to negotiate assurances of the sort that the hon. Gentleman has suggested--[ Hon. Members-- : "Why not?"] First, because it is for the board to decide the best way to safeguard the interests of the company and to recommend that to shareholders ; secondly, because the golden share comes to an end at the end of next year and I would then be in no position whatsoever if a bid developed in a year or even two months from now.

Sir Dudley Smith (Warwick and Leamington) : As one who has a fair number of Jaguar workers in his constituency, may I welcome my right hon. Friend's statement? However, although the company needs extra finance--and this is a realistic approach--will my right hon. Friend always bear in mind the need to maintain the integrity of a major name in the British car industry?

Mr. Ridley : I very much agree with what my hon. Friend says. The statement will clear the way for the management to advise its shareholders on the best long-term future for the continued expansion and prosperity of this excellent company.

Mr. Peter Snape (West Bromwich, East) : Does the Secretary of State remember, at an earlier stage in his successful career, when it was said at the time of the privatisation of Jaguar that such a course was necessary to free the company from the embrace of a large conglomerate? In the light of today's announcement, how can such an objective be met? Will anyone other than Sir John Egan and his board benefit from this latest betrayal of British manufacturing industry?

Mr. Ridley : I have no memory of what I said then. I would have thought that the large conglomerate to which the hon. Gentleman referred was the highly unsuccessful and bankrupt British Leyland that the Government inherited. Perhaps to fall into partnership with a strong and prosperous company might be much more helpful for the company than its association with its previous partners.

Mr. Iain Mills (Meriden) : Does my right hon. Friend genuinely believe--I seek his reassurance--that this co-operation with another company will lead to more jobs both at Jaguar and, with the knock-on effect, at components manufacturers?

Mr. Ridley : I would be guided by the board in that matter, but I think that the board is talking with several people, all of whom would wish to expand and to improve the company, and to make sure that the company has in future the stability that the board evidently thinks it does not have, and will not have unless some solution is found.

Mr. Robin Corbett (Birmingham, Erdington) : Does the Secretary of State not understand that, by abandoning the independence of Jaguar, he is putting at risk jobs in the car body plant in my constituency, as well as up to 50,000 jobs among the 2,000 local suppliers to the Castle Bromwich

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plant? Does he not understand that, unless this country retains a strong, large and independent car sector, our economy, long term, cannot prosper?

Mr. Ridley : First, nothing that I have said means that the company will not remain independent if that is what the board and the shareholders decide. It is up to them. They have perfectly respectable options that will leave them independent, but it is for them to decide, not me. Secondly I do not agree that this statement does anything to put jobs at risk, as the hon. Gentleman suggests. The statement safeguards existing jobs, and gives the possibility that there will be many more jobs if a successful agreement is reached.

Sir Hal Miller (Bromsgrove) : Are not the Opposition ignoring the facts that the Jaguar board was engaged in negotiation with other companies, and that it could not possibly be in the interests of any purchaser to do other than keep Jaguar as a separate marque and to expand its production to compete with BMW and Mercedes?

Mr. Ridley : My hon. Friend is right. I quote again from the second letter from the hon. Member for Dagenham, of 18 October, when he said :

"The worst thing that could happen would be to create the maximum uncertainty through a Government refusal to express a view, with the result that the situation was put on ice until the end of 1990, but was then followed by a free-for-all in which the outcome would be uncertain and no assurances would be obtained."

That seems to me to be exactly what we are doing and exactly what my hon. Friend asked us to do.

Mr. Dave Nellist (Coventry, South-East) : Is the Secretary of State not aware of the heightened insecurity among many of thousands of my constituents who work for Jaguar and associated component suppliers, that will result from his announcement? Does he not realise the danger of the starting pistol that he has just fired for an auction among Ford, General Motors, Daimler-Benz and possibly other companies, which means that the higher the share price to the eventual victor, the higher the rate of return that it will want to squeeze out of the Jaguar work force, in order to make a profit? If the Secretary of State does not want the golden share, why does he not give it to the work force so that the workers can decide if, with whom or when they want a merger to take place?

Mr. Ridley : The hon. Gentleman is misinformed. The Jaguar trade unions came to see my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary and pressed on him the importance of clearing up the uncertainty so that they could see the company's future.

Mr. Nellist : They wanted the extension of the golden share.

Mr. Ridley : No, they said the uncertainty was what was worrying them. Today I have removed that uncertainty, so the matter can now be resolved.

Mr. John Butcher (Coventry, South-West) : Does my right hon. Friend accept that the period of uncertainty has been unsettling for my constituents, and that they will support his intention to reduce it or eliminate it? Is he aware also that, far from this being a black day, it is a day on which we know that each of the two bidders is prepared to put hundreds of millions of pounds of new investment into Coventry? Is he further aware that each has given

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commitments that research and development, part development and corporate control will remain in Coventry? Will he play his hand to reassure my constituents that the company management's objectives are also his objectives?

Mr. Ridley : When we had a Labour Government, the then Secretary of State for Trade and Industry had to come to the House to announce closures, cuts and major setbacks in our industrial life. The House should be pleased that I am able to report that a highly successful privatised company is making arrangements to provide extra investment and extra jobs for the benefit of the west midlands and the country as a whole. I believe that to be the position, and I am sure that the Jaguar board does too.

Mr. Matthew Taylor (Truro) : Will the Secretary of State elaborate on his lack of consultation with the board? Did he consult the board and management of Jaguar before taking this decision? He must be aware that they have been attempting to preserve the independence of the Jaguar car company, and that the signal that he will give to the market today will be a go-ahead for a full attempt to achieve a takeover? Does he not recognise the difference between being the best man at a wedding and throwing a car company to the jackals on the stock market?

Mr. Ridley : No, Sir, it would have been wrong for the Government to consult the management. The ultimate decision is for the shareholders. I informed the management so that the statement did not take it by surprise. It is for the Government to decide what it should do in relation to the golden share and to make it clear to all who might be interested in Jaguar what the rules of the game are. I was asked to clear up the uncertainty, and that is what I have done. I do not believe that what I have announced precludes a solution which leaves Jaguar in the hands of its present shareholders. If that is the solution which the board recommends, and the shareholders accept it, it should be adopted.

Mr. Roger King (Birmingham, Northfield) : Is my right hon. Friend aware that General Motors has been in this country for nigh on 65 years, that Ford has been here for over 75 years, and that both companies are excellent United Kingdom citizens that have maintained a steady rate of investment in the United Kingdom? Is he further aware that Ford owns Aston Martin and that General Motors owns Lotus? Both British companies have retained their independence, and Lotus has a brand new sports car that is attracting orders from throughout the world, thus ensuring increased output at its factory in Norfolk. Is this not the way forward in an increasingly world-dominated motor industry? The only way in which Jaguar can gain the resources that are necessary to double and treble production is to work in partnership with some of the large companies.

Mr. Ridley : I believe that my hon. Friend has the spirit of the next decade absolutely right. I do not believe that a narrow xenophobic attitude is the way for the United Kingdom to prosper, especially when it is entering the single market of Europe, when competitiveness will be the key to success. I agree that both Ford and General Motors have had an excellent investment record in Britain over

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many years. Indeed, they kept many jobs going during the difficult years when we had a Labour Government, who brought the country to the brink of bankruptcy.

Mr. Terry Davis (Birmingham, Hodge Hill) : Given that a few years ago the Prime Minister was trying to take the credit for the success of Jaguar, does the Secretary of State accept now that the Prime Minister's economic policies are responsible for the company's difficulties?

Mr. Ridley : No, Sir, I do not. I am glad that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister is in the Chamber to take the credit for the next stage in the success of Jaguar.

Mr. Anthony Beaumont-Dark (Birmingham, Selly Oak) : Does my right hon. Friend accept that most of us realise that Jaguar need many hundreds of millions of pounds for the next generation of cars? Does he accept also that Jaguar is one of those names that is tremendously important to the United Kingdom, as Rolls-Royce was, which had to be helped at one time? Will he assure the House that, when a bid is made, which seems highly likely, by one of three people, he will consider when he calls it in what is for the long-term benefit of manufacturing capacity and not only investment in this country?

Mr. Ridley : I am grateful for what my hon. Friend says, but I do not think that I am in a position to call in any bid, let alone all the bids. It will be for the majority of shareholders--75 per cent.--to make any final decision. However, I assure my hon. Friend that I agree entirely with what he said about the importance of the Jaguar badge. Anybody who seeks to buy or to make a partnership with that company will want to preserve that unique asset and to make the most of it and its reputation as a major midlands engineering company.

Mr. Jeff Rooker (Birmingham, Perry Barr) : Does the right hon. Gentleman think that it is proper for him as Secretary of State to express any views at all on the matter as requested by my hon. Friend the Member for Dagenham (Mr. Gould)? For example, would he express the view that the integrity of Jaguar cannot be maintained if ultimate corporate ownership disappears 3,000 to 5,000 miles away? Now that Jaguar is into play and up for sale, is it right, when he is writing the rules of the game--"the game", as he said--that he should express a view that Jaquar should maintain all its current purchases within the United Kingdom as a percentage, with no further imports from any multinational being brought in to put British workers out of a job?

On a technical point, bearing in mind the fact that the right hon. Gentleman was not asked to make the statement, and so that we know to whom to direct our complaints about what has happened in the past half hour, who gave him permission to take up Opposition day time for the statement?

Mr. Ridley : I am happy to venture a view, as I was asked to do by the hon. Member for Dagenham (Mr. Gould), and my view is that I do not agree. I do not agree that control of the company will necessarily go overseas and, if control of the company does go overseas, it is in the best interests of those who control it to expand and to improve its performance here in Britain.

Mr. Michael Grylls (Surrey, North-West) : Does my right hon. Friend agree that enormous credit should go to the management and work force of Jaguar for the great

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progress that they have made since the company was privatised? A company only wants to co-operate with a successful firm, not an unsuccessful one, and the fact that Jaguar is now being courted by two big groups is good for its future. My right hon. Friend is right to remove the uncertainty and let them know what their future is, and I am sure that it will be more secure within a big firm.

Mr. Ridley : I entirely join with my hon. Friend in paying credit to the management and work force for a magnificent revival since they were freed from the shackles of public ownership by privatisation. It is perfectly possible that in the near future some company could make a bid for Jaguar. If that went to general meeting, as it would have to do, and 75 per cent. of the shareholders voted in favour of that bid, the question whether we would waive the golden share would arise in an acute form at that moment. I am sure that my hon. Friend will agree that it is better to make the announcement now, before that happens, rather than to leave everybody in a state of uncertainty, even up to the last minute when the company meets in general meeting.

Mr. Doug Hoyle (Warrington, North) : Does the Secretary of State appreciate that all those who said at the time that Jaguar was privatised that it was too small to stand on its own have been proved right? Does he also understand that today he has shown loyalty to market forces rather than to the British motor industry and its employees? Having taken away the golden share, he now has no control over whether research and development stay in Britain, and the employees have no voice. Is he not giving a disgraceful first performance at the Dispatch Box?

Mr. Ridley : The golden share never gave any Government control over matters such as the location of plants, research and development and the development of new models, and it would have been quite wrong to use the golden share, as the hon. Gentleman suggests, to try to achieve such a result. That is not at all the case. In any event, the golden share would have expired in a year's time. As the hon. Member for Dagenham (Mr. Gould) suggested, it was pointless to let that year go on with uncertainty and confusion reigning until the Government showed their hand. I am sure that I have done a service in doing that now.

Mr. Robin Maxwell-Hyslop (Tiverton) : May a Back Bencher who was once an engineer ask the Secretary of State who is an experienced qualified engineer whether the truth of the matter is not that the Japanese have moved into the market that Jaguar once shared with Porsche and BMW and that it needs the capital which only an enormous American firm can supply if it is not only to hold its position for a few years but to dominate the market that it created by the development of new engines and new models year after year?

Mr. Ridley : As one engineer to another, I strongly agree with my hon. Friend that in this highly competitive world it is necessary to make massive investments to stay ahead of the game. If Jaguar finds a solution which does that, it will be to its advantage.

Several Hon. Members rose--

Mr. Speaker : Order. I have to have regard to the business on the Order Paper, which, as the House knows,

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is an Opposition day debate. I shall call two more hon. Members from each side before the Front Bench spokesman, but then we must move on.

Mr. Bob Cryer (Bradford, South) : Does not potential foreign ownership inevitably raise the possibility that manufacturing will move away from the United Kingdom, whether from Coventry or elsewhere? What safeguards have been provided or obtained for components suppliers, such as Hepworth and Grandage in Bradford, which is a major piston supplier to Jaguar? Do not all such questions arise from the ownership of the golden share? Is not to abandon the golden share to abandon all safeguards on investment, employment, model development and the retention of jobs in the United Kingdom? Does not the Secretary of State at the Dispatch Box today represent the funeral directors of motor manufacturing in Britain?

Mr. Ridley : No, the golden share does not allow any Government to take account of the matters that the hon. Gentleman has raised. I am convinced that the best prospect for the many components suppliers, including the one he mentioned, will be to have a strong, prosperous and expanding Jaguar. To allow Jaguar to find a solution is the best way of helping it.

Mr. Graham Bright (Luton, South) : Although I accept that the decision can be made only in the free market by shareholders, will my right hon. Friend actively consider encouraging shareholders and other people involved in the decision to take into account the components market--many components are supplied to Jaguar by General Motors--and the prospect of General Motors bringing a brand new engine plant to this country which would work with Jaguar and Vauxhall in Luton?

Mr. Ridley : I share my hon. Friend's anxiety that suppliers to Jaguar everywhere should expand and have opportunities to increase sales. That is far more likely to be assured by allowing Jaguar to strengthen itself, if it can find a way of doing so, than by pursuing a narrow, restrictive policy which could not help the company in future.

Mr. Stan Crowther (Rotherham) : Despite his insulting remarks about British Leyland, does the Secretary of State recall that, in June 1984, the Trade and Industry Select Committee unanimously recommended against hiving off Jaguar? In the light of all that has happened since then, does he think that the decision to push that small company into the hard competitive world without the resources of a large organisation behind it, has proved to be in the best long-term interests either of Jaguar or of Britain?

Mr. Ridley : Perhaps the hon. Gentleman preferred the position in the 1970s, when British Leyland owned Jaguar in the public sector. If his memory stretches that far, does he remember the gloom and demoralisation then, compared with the good news brought to the House today?

Mr. Jonathan Sayeed (Bristol, East) : Will my right hon Friend compare the Jaguar company of today with the moribund organisation that existed 10 years ago and tell us what lessons he draws from the comparison?

Mr. Ridley : I am certain that the disciplines of the private sector are the disciplines in which Jaguar has thriven. It has benefited from separation from a parent

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that, far from putting money into investment and research, was dragging it down through debts and burdens that resulted from its other activities.

Mr. Gould : I am sure that the Secretary of State would not wish to mislead the House. Will he therefore confirm that in my correspondence with him I urged him to use the golden share--indeed, possibly extend it--in order to negotiate with it, not to dispense with it without obtaining any guarantees or assurances? Will he also tell the House what is the point of a golden share if it is to be abandoned just when it is most needed?

Mr. Ridley : I quoted the entire sentence in order not to traduce the hon. Gentleman, but I shall quote it again. It reads : "If Jaguar do indeed need the financial and investment assistance to be obtained from becoming part of a larger group, does the Government have any other (and better) solution to offer?" It is probably not possible to extend the golden share. That would require a 75 per cent. vote by the shareholders, which might or might not be obtained ; it would probably also require clearance from the European Commission, which is by no means a certainty, and from the stock exchange. Grave risks would be involved in any attempt to surmount all those hurdles, and it would be unlikely to succeed. Moreover, I see no point in pretending that a golden share that expires in just over a year could be used to impose conditions on any purchaser. The purchaser would have the simple alternative of waiting until the golden share had expired before doing what he considered to be in his own interests.

Mr. Speaker : I call the Leader of the House to move the motion on the statutory instrument.

Mr. Rooker : On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I distinctly heard, and hope that the rest of the House did as well, the Secretary of State openly admit that no one had asked him to make his statement today. We may have a new Government Chief Whip and Leader of the House, but the same sneaky tactics are still being used.

In future, Mr. Speaker, when a Minister asks your permission to make a statement on an Opposition day, can we have a debate and a vote on whether the House should give such permission? It is our time that is being taken, and nothing in today's statement could not have been said yesterday, or be said tomorrow. The statement has been made today for one simple reason--the debate that is to follow.

Mr. Maxwell-Hyslop : Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker.

Mr. Eric S. Heffer (Liverpool, Walton) : Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker.

Mr. Speaker : Order. I am on my feet.

Let me draw the attention of the hon. Member for Birmingham, Perry Barr (Mr. Rooker) and the House to the new 21st edition of "Erskine May", on page 297 of which can be found the sentence that the question whether a statement is made is not a matter for the Chair. It is

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merely a tradition that the Minister who makes the statement begins it with the words "With permission" ; Government statements are not made with my permission.

Mr. Joseph Ashton (Bassetlaw) : Is it not a fact that, when the House is televised, there will be nothing to prevent the Government from issuing two or three statements every day to hog the 6 o'clock news broadcasts and to delay the Opposition's time with any propaganda material that the Government are prepared to give out? Surely either you, Mr. Speaker, should make a ruling, or the Procedure Committee should examine what is plainly a deliberate and gross abuse of Opposition time. We look to you, Mr. Speaker, to protect our interests by preventing Ministers from standing up and saying, "With permission" when clearly no permission is necessary, and the statement has been designed and organised solely by Mr. Bernard Ingham to run as a spoiler. You really should put a stop to it, Mr. Speaker.

Mr. John Maxton (Glasgow, Cathcart) : Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker.

Mr. Speaker : Is it on the same matter? I have already said, and the House knows, that today is an Opposition day, and all this takes time.

Mr. Maxton : Further to the point of order raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Perry Barr (Mr. Rooker), Mr. Speaker. May I draw your attention to the Questions for Written Answer on today's Order Paper? Question No. 89, from the hon. Member for Birmingham, Northfield (Mr. King), reads :

"To ask the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry, whether he will make a statement on Jaguar plc."

It is not obvious that, until he realised that he could make the statement in the House, the Secretary of State intended to make a written statement?

Mr. Heffer : On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I personally have no objecion to the Secretary of State making statements, but he should make honest statements. The fact of the matter is that the private enterprise system has failed. The Labour Government had to take over from a private enterprise system ; we had to take Jaguar into public ownership to defend the jobs of those people. When the Secretary of State makes statements--

Mr. Speaker : Order. This is really a matter for debate, not a point of order for me.

May I say to the House again that it is not a matter for the Chair whether statements are made, but it is very much a matter for the usual channels to ensure that this sort of thing is treated with some consideration.

Mr. Maxwell-Hyslop : Further to what you accepted as three points of order running from the Opposition Benches, Mr. Speaker. Since it was claimed that the Secretary of State's statement had nothing to do with the debate coming today-- [Interruption.] Yes, it was. May I put it to you, Mr. Speaker, that the Secretary of State's statement about a very important company in the engineering industry today is indeed appropriate and that the whole of his answer was appropriate to the economy of this country, which we are about to debate?

Mr. Speaker : I say again that statements are not made with my permission. I have already drawn the attention of the House to that point.

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Several Hon. Members rose--

Mr. Speaker : Order. I am not going to take any more points of order.



That the draft Industrial Training Levy (Hotel and Catering) Order 1989 be referred to a Standing Committee on Statutory Instruments, &c.-- [Mr. Dorrell.]

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Fuel and Energy Provision

4.6 pm

Mr. John Hughes (Coventry, North-East) : I beg to move, That leave be given to bring in a Bill to require the provision of essential fuel and energy to each home, to guarantee appliances, to prevent the entry to premises without prior recorded legally authorised notice ; to prevent the unauthorised removal of a fuel measuring device ; to abolish standing charges ; to establish local authority monitoring committees ; and for connected purposes. After disasters such as Lockerbie, Piper Alpha and King's Cross, hon. Members from all parties demanded inquiries and measures that would prevent further unnecessary loss of life. My Fuel and Energy Provision Bill incorporates the values that those hon. Members profess. it sets out to save lives by providing a number of statutory rights. It would spread a safety net for the disadvantaged members of the community--the 39,000 elderly citizens who die annually from hypothermia or diseases of the respiratory system, which will be the major killers in the cold winter months ahead.

On the occasion when I have brought the Fuel and Energy Provision Bill before the House I have wondered why those who sit on the Government Benches so resolutely oppose its progress through the House. Is there some strange logic or formula, of which I am not aware, which determines that the lives of the Hillsborough tragedy victims, or those who are dropped from hijacked airliners, are more precious than those of elderly citizens whose ignominious deaths rate merely a statistical reference or classification as "poor old souls"?

Having assessed the reaction of the House, I have to come to that conclusion, as the unnecessarily astronomical death toll of elderly citizens--39,000 each year--has failed to concern the Government or and the Prime Minister. The right hon. Lady has not been induced to dash with alacrity to the bedsides of the elderly that she has made to the hospital bedsides of tragedy victims. Yet the loss of life among the elderly is a national disaster. It is, however, one which fails to move the Government. Their indifference was demonstrated last week when the Secretary of State for Social Security refused to restore pensions immediately to their index- linked value, which would have given an increase of £12 to a single pensioner and £20 to a couple. Pensioners would not then have had to worry about the

never-attainable severe weather payment in the cold winter months ahead.

The elderly are not the only people to suffer. The disabled, single mothers, young children and the unemployed also suffer from fuel poverty which an uncaring Government, the unconcerned British Gas and the uncaring electricity industry fail to address. I received a letter from the managing director, finance, at British Gas, Mr. A. Sutcliffe, who attempted to convey the company's concern for the welfare of the customer. The letter concluded :

"I believe our record demonstrates that we are fully committed to excellent service and this includes operating in an open and fair manner."

That statement is in stark contrast with the reality suffered by Mrs. O'Hanlon of 17 Coronation road, Coventry, who, having arranged for British Gas to visit her home to install a token meter, was forced to visit her doctor because her 18-month-old child was ill. When she returned home, she found that in her absence a British Gas

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