HC Deb 23 June 1988 vol 135 cc1330-47

Order read for resuming adjourned debate on Question [11 May], That the Bill be now read a Second time.

Question again proposed.

7.20 pm
Mr. Alexander Eadie (Midlothian)

I was coming near the end of my remarks when the debate was adjourned. The House will recall that the hon. Member for Sherwood (Mr. Stewart) described the Bill as the destruction of the coal industry. There was a great deal of support on both sides of the House for that view.

The Financial Times international coal report spells out what should be the obituary of the Bill, which should not get a Second Reading. The Bill is a bad buy. I do not want to go into great detail on the Financial Times report but I wish to make one quotation which is relevant to the debate: Much British deep-mined coal can compete well with imports in 1990—but by 1995 the mines should be competing so well as to restrict imports to the periphery of the power station market… By 1995 any saving made by an all-out import policy in 1990 would have disappeared and the electricity supply industry would be paying millions of pounds more for imported coal than by buying British… There is a severe risk that many deep mines which could compete with imported coal in 1995 will be closed by 1990 if the Government encourage an early free-for-all on imports. Of course the Bill is about imports. That quotation from the Financial Times coal report should be the obituary of the Bill.

Earlier in my speech I said that the Bill was defective. The information which we have got since I said that to some extent makes a mockery of the private Bill procedure. I doubt whether any planning authority would have allowed the application to go ahead. I am not privy to the information, but I understand that Calor Gas has provided information which was not available to the House last time, or was perhaps misunderstood. One important point it makes is that we are talking not about 300 tonnes of liquefied petroleum gas but about 100,000 tonnes.

Mr. Tony Lloyd (Stretford)

It was my comments which led to the erroneous information. I am not an expert on LPG. The possibility of 300 tonnes going up in flames alarms me, but if 100,000 tonnes were to go up in flames it would devastate the whole of Humberside and the surrounding area. I put the point to my hon. Friend so that he may press the sponsor of the Bill. The Health and Safety Executive has let it be known that it is unhappy about the development, as is Calor Gas. In the weeks that have gone by since the last debate, has the hon. Member for Brigg and Cleethorpes (Mr. Brown) been in touch with the Health and Safety Executive? Can he reassure the House or has the debate moved no further? We should reject the Bill simply because of the danger inherent in the storage of that amount of gas.

Mr. Dennis Skinner (Bolt over)

On a point of order. Mr. Deputy Speaker. I suppose you have heard the exchanges in the last few minutes. It appears that we spent a couple of hours a few weeks ago debating a Bill which involved the storage of 300 tonnes of Calor gas. My hon. Friend the Member for Midlothian (Mr. Eadie) has just revealed that 100,000 tonnes are involved. I want to know whether the Examiners or anyone else——

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Paul Dean)

Order. The hon. Gentleman may make the point in his speech if he is called.

Mr. Skinner

My point of order is that the Bill should be withdrawn. It is not the Bill which was brought before us.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. The Bill is in order; otherwise we would not be discussing it. The hon. Member may make his point if he is called.

Mr. Eadie

I am grateful for the intervention of my hon. Friend the Member for Stretford (Mr. Lloyd). I am also grateful for the point of order raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner). The point is material to the discussion on the Bill. I endorse everything that my hon. Friends have said. I note that there is no response from the hon. Member for Brigg and Cleethorpes (Mr. Brown).

Mr. Bob Cryer (Bradford, South)

Does my hon. Friend accept that this is even more serious because one of the largest chemical explosions that ever occurred in the United Kingdom was at Flixborough in the constituency of the hon. Member for Brigg and Cleethorpes (Mr. Brown)? The hon. Member"s predecessor repeatedly raised in the House the danger of vapour explosions such as the one that ripped through Flixborough, causing loss of life, injury and damage for miles around. Will my hon. Friend comment on the fact that the hon. Member for the self-same area is promoting a Bill which could have similar consequences to, if not greater consequences than, those of Flixborough?

Mr. Eadie

My hon. Friend may recall that I have already said that I know of no planning authority— Conservative, Labour or Liberal—which would have allowed this defective Bill to go forward. It is an abuse of our procedures that the Bill should be before us. I do not want to make a long speech, although I am tempted to do so.

Mr. Michael Brown (Brigg and Cleethorpes)

The hon. Gentleman doubts whether any planning authority would give permission for such a development. He may be reassured to know that the Labour-controlled county council of Humberside raises no objection to the proposal of the promoters, nor does the borough council in which the development is to take place.

Mr. Eadie

The hon. Member for Brigg and Cleethorpes is playing the role of the Artful Dodger. The detailed proposals are not with the authority. It would be different if the detailed proposals, as spelt out in the Bill, were before the authority. I know from 20 years of local government experience that no planning authority——

Mr. Eric Illsley (Barnsley, Central)

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Is it in order for the sponsor of the Bill suddenly to rise from his seat and leave the Chamber when my hon. Friend the Member for Midlothian (Mr. Eadie) is answering a point that he made?

Mr. Deputy Speaker

The House would be best advised to get on with the debate.

Mr. Eadie

The hon. Gentleman may have a good reason for leaving the Chamber. It may appear to be discourteous but I do not feel offended in any way.

As I said, I want to make a brief speech——

Mr. Jimmy Hood (Clydesdale)

Are not the individuals who have promoted the Bill in consultation with the local authorities? Are not they discussing it in detail? It is not that the authorities have not objected. They have agreed to consult on the issue.

Mr. Eadie

I want to place on record the objections raised by Calor Gas. I referred in a previous speech to the liquidation of capital already invested. I related my remarks mainly to the mining, railway and power plant manufacturing industries. According to my figures, the cavern cost £25 million to build. I find it difficult to think in terms of writing off that amount of capital.

The main concern of Calor is that it stores vast quantities of liquid petroleum gas and, as a result, the site has to be notified to the Health and Safety Executive in accordance with the provisions of the Notification of Installations Handling Hazardous Substances Regulations 1982.As the development falls within a distance of 400m of the site boundary, Calor is concerned about the lack of consultation. That may in part answer the point raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Clydesdale (Mr. Hood).

In quoting Calor"s objections, I must identify the hon. Member who is the sponsor of the Bill: Despite the assurances by Michael Brown MP that they are pressing the Health and Safety Executive for a definite statement to reassure Calor that it will not lose its consent as a result of the ABP"s activities, after repeated reminders by Calor no guidance has yet been given by the Health and Safety Executive. Calor are very concerned that the advice likely to come from the Health and Safety Executive may have a serious detrimental effect upon the future operation and development of the facilities. Secondly, Calor is worried about the presence of other ships docking, loading and unloading at the proposed new jetty as they will be in close proximity to the existing liquid petroleum gas jetty. The stern bow of an LPG tanker could be as little as 50m away from the proposed jetty head. The Bill is defective in that respect. It may affect shipping programmes and place restrictions on Calor"s operations For example, the HSE may prohibit a ship from using the LPG jetty while another ship is loading at the proposed new jetty.

Thirdly, the Bill does not give Calor any ability to use larger tankers and limits them to only one berth. The Bill would effectively limit any future expansion plans. It is absurd to write off £25 million of capital—quite apart from the dangers that we have already discussed.

Fourthly, the existence of another jetty would increase the number of vessels in the vicinity of the liquid petroleum gas jetty. However, there is no provision in the Bill to install harbour surveillance radar.

Finally, if the Bill is passed and the result is that Calor"s facilities are closed down, it would not be possible to find an alternative cavern storage facility in the United Kingdom with the right quality of chalk, in the right location and at the right depth.

As I said, I know of no planning authority that would have approved such a proposition.

Mr. Kevin Barron (Rother Valley)

My hon. Friend"s remarks will clearly be of great concern not only to people who live in close proximity to the site but to those in several areas. Does my hon. Friend agree that the way in which the Bill is being dealt with denies the residents of the area and the constituents of the hon. Member for Brigg and Cleethorpes (Mr. Brown) the right to go to a public inquiry and express in person their fears about the Bill?

Mr. Eadie

I fully endorse that. I think that it is absolutely monstrous that the mother of Parliaments should do that. That is why I have suggested that the Bill is defective.

Mr. Allen McKay (Barnsley, West and Penistone)

Would my hon. Friend agree that we are not qualified to reach a decision on the Bill? Only the local authority is qualified to consider representations from Calor and from all those affected in the area. This is especially important as the development would affect tides and the ecology of the whole area.

Mr. Eadie

I take my hon. Friend"s point. However, many of us are very well qualified to discuss what would happen if there were an explosion. I worked in the mining industry for 30 years. I have some technical engineering qualifications and I know the danger of having a bomb a few metres away. I am qualified to say that that is a hazard. I very much regret that people will not have an opportunity to examine the matter in detail.

Mr. Cryer

There is a potentially sinister aspect to the Bill. In the Health and Safety Executive there are qualified people who could examine the proposals and those people ought to provide a report to the House before we embark upon the Bill. As my hon. Friend knows, however, the HSE is short staffed because of the Government"s refusal to provide additional funds. We know that these so-called private Bills are actually hybrid Bills; they represent Government policy, and the Government are abusing the procedures of the House by giving them organised support. The Government may well be saying with a nod and a wink to the HSE, "Say nothing and do nothing until the Bill gets through."

Mr. Tony Lloyd

My hon. Friend makes an interesting point. In our first debate, the Minister told the House that the HSE would not be involved until after the installation came into operation. He said that the HSE had no locus standi. He said that the Bill was not of interest to the HSE. However, the HSE will have the problem of deciding whether the Calor installation should be allowed to continue once the new installation is built. That is why the Health and Safety Executive is not involved. Whether there have been nods and winks, I do not know. I know that it has not so far said publicly whether it accepts the Bill. Perhaps the hon. Member for Brigg and Cleethorpes will tell us.

Mr. Eadie

I shall bring my remarks to a close. I was prepared to make a very long speech but as it is my birthday, I shall not.

Mr. Andy Stewart (Sherwood)

I wish the hon. Member for Midlothian (Mr. Eadie) many happy returns of the day. On his birthday, it may comfort him to learn that my brother is the deputy leader of the Conservative council on Humberside. I have told him that I shall oppose the Bill until the end.

Mr. Eadie

The House respects the hon. Gentleman"s integrity. Anybody who doubts the stand that the hon. Gentleman is taking should read the speech that he made on 11 May.

I think that I have advanced all the arguments that can be made against the Bill receiving a Second Reading. I have shown we shall be liquidating not millions but billions of pounds of capital if the Bill is passed. I have mentioned the safety hazards and shown how the private Bill procedures of the House are faulty. I have expressed concern that the Minister should recommend that such a defective Bill should be given a Second Reading.

Mr. Skinner

My hon. Friend has touched on a number of matters. History will probably record that if this time bomb goes up many people on Humberside will not see any more birthdays. Many people will weep crocodile tears and talk about the need for inquiries. They will ask, "Why was the Bill passed with a provision for a 100,000 tonnes capacity of Calor gas? What happened in Parliament? What were that lot doing down there?" There was an inquiry for Sizewell and we did not complain about that, but this site is being developed without a public inquiry. Post-Flixborough, we are talking about major industrial hazards, but Parliament is allowing this corrupt and bent procedure to continue on a Conservative two or three-line Whip——

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. That is enough for an intervention.

Mr. Eadie

My hon. Friend has made the final point that I was about to make. Bearing in mind all the points that have been made, the House would be foolish and, to some extent, irresponsible to give the Bill a Second Reading. I hope that the House will reject the Bill.

7.42 pm
Mr. Henry Bellingham (Norfolk, North-West)

I wish the hon. Member for Midlothian (Mr. Eadie) a happy birthday. The points that he made about hazards and safety were dealt with at length by my hon. Friend the Member for Brigg and Cleethorpes (Mr. Brown).

I do not want the hon. Member for Midlothian to labour under a misapprehension. He thinks that there should have been a public inquiry, but if anyone decides to construct works in tidal waters he must obtain the authority of Parliament.

The one part of the Bill to which the hon. Member for Midlothian did not address himself was that which relates to my constituency. Many people forget that there are three parts to the Bill. The work to be undertaken at King"s Lynn comprises a quay of solid construction, which will cost roughly £1 million, "work on a wall—continuous sheet piling with anchors—costing £3 million and dredging. The total amount to be spent at King"s Lynn is £4 million. Many hon. Members have ignored that part of the Bill, but I shall explain why they should pass it.

Mr. Illsley

Has it occurred to the hon. Gentleman that the reason why Labour Members have not mentioned King"s Lynn is that there is less objection to the proposals for the hon. Gentleman"s constituency? Does he think that it would have been better if the promoters of the Bill had brought forward a separate Bill dealing only with King"s Lynn rather than tagging it on to the end of a Bill dealing with Immingham terminal?

Mr. Bellingham

I do not think that the objections that have been made to the part of the Bill relating to Immingham are sustainable. Why not allow the Bill to be dealt with in Committee and give petitioners a chance to put their case to the Committee? Surely that would be a democratic way of proceeding. We are talking as though this is the first Bill of its kind to have arisen for many years, but dozens of such Bills have been considered in Committee and petitioners have had their democratic right to put their objections.

Mr. Barron

Does the hon. Gentleman realise that we have little objection to the King"s Lynn proposals or to those for Port Talbot because of the improvements that they will make and their job-creation opportunities? The hon. Gentleman must realise that the King"s Lynn and Port Talbot provisions have been included in the Bill so that there can be a payroll vote to get what is not a private Bill passed. The hon. Gentleman is being used to push through a Bill to which there is a major objection.

Mr. Bellingham

I do not accept what the hon. Gentleman says about a payroll vote. Every Conservative Member has the option of voting; there is a free vote on the Bill.

My hon. Friend the Member for Brigg and Cleethorpes dealt effectively and comprehensively with the part of the Bill relating to Immingham, and I support all that he said on 11 May.

The port of King"s Lynn has grown considerably over the past few years. Last year its cargo throughput was 1.2 million tonnes, which was a record. Since the construction of the enclosed docks in the last century, there has been a restriction on the type and size of vessel that can enter the port. It is a tidal port and, given the restrictions imposed by the enclosed docks, the longest vessel that can enter it is 120 m, the maximum beam is 13.8 m and the draft maximum is 5.5 m.

There has been tremendous growth in the local economy because of the improvement in communications to East Anglia. We are pressing for better roads, more dual carriageways into this part of Norfolk and for railway electrification. The Minister knows well that we have been pressing for improved roads and he has been extremely helpful. About a year ago, his Department gave the go-ahead for a major new £7.5 million scheme for a flyover and dual carriageway into King"s Lynn on the A10.That will cause more growth and development in King"s Lynn, and the growth in port traffic will continue to increase. The restriction on the size of vessel is curbing that growth. If these works go ahead, the size of vessel able to enter the port will increase considerably from the present limit of 3,000 tonnes. The river can accommodate vessels of at least 140m in length.

Mr. Rhodri Morgan (Cardiff, West)

The third part of the Bill relates to the extension of the dredging works to the entrance to Port Talbot harbour. All those who have the best interests of the steel industry in south Wales at heart very much want that to go ahead. Does the hon. Gentleman agree that it would have been more sensible for Associated British Ports to link the King"s Lynn and Port Talbot provisions with the Associated British Ports (Barrow) Bill and not with a controversial Bill? Does he not think that there is something extremely mysterious in the fact that the Associated British Ports (Barrow) Bill, which is non-controversial, is standing alone, while the Port Talbot and King"s Lynn provisions, which are non-controversial, are linked with the Immingham terminal provisions, which could not be more controversial?

Mr. Bellingham

The hon. Gentleman has made a forceful point. If I accepted his criticism and his fears about the Immingham part of the Bill, I should agree, but I do not. I support the case made so forcefully by my hon. Friend the Member for Brigg and Cleethorpes and supported by many Conservative Members.

Mr. Martin M. Brandon-Bravo (Nottingham, South)

There are many who do not.

Mr. Bellingham

I accept that there are some who do not support the Bill, and they have the right to vote against it.

The port in my constituency has been expanding quickly. Various types of cargo go through the port—vehicles, containers, timber, steel, fertilisers, animal feed and solid fuels. Some coal is imported through King"s Lynn, but it is only a small part of the cargo.

Just as there will be more facilities for importing coal, there will be facilities for exporting it. I hope that hon. Members do not forget that not long ago a great deal of British coal was exported. I look forward, as does my hon. Friend the Member for Brigg and Cleethorpes, to the day when more coal is exported.

Mr. Hood

How can we export coal when the Government are effectively closing down the British coal industry? The Bill provides a way to bring in blood coal from South Africa, Colombia and elsewhere. The mainland industry is being destroyed, so we shall not be able to export coal.

Mr. Bellingham

Labour Members feel passionately about this subject because they represent constituencies that have many mining jobs and where mining is the life blood of those areas. I do not, however, accept their pessimism that Britain will never again be a coal exporter. The world coal market can change quickly. I remain fairly optimistic that there will come a day when we shall need facilities to export coal.

The Bill enlarges the capacity of the port of King"s Lynn by bringing in a new dimension—the riverside quay —which will mean that larger vessels can come into the port. That will sustain the growth of King"s Lynn. The number of jobs will increase. There will be jobs in constructing the quay.

Mr. Terry Patchett (Barnsley, East)

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Bellingham

I shall press on—[HON. MEMBERS: "Give way."] The hon. Member for Barnsley, East (Mr. Patchett) will have a chance to address the House later, so I shall not give way.

The local area"s prosperity will increase. I estimate that, in five years, at least another 100 jobs will be directly created in the King"s Lynn docks and perhaps another 100 or 200 jobs will be indirectly created by the increased growth and prosperity.

Mr. Patchett


Mr. Bellingham

I shall give way on that point.

Mr. Patchett

The hon. Gentleman has gone on at great length about the size and capacity of vessels. In a speech to the Institution of Mining Engineers, the Secretary of State for Energy declared that only the limitation of handling facilities cut imports. Is not that the real reason for the cry about "crocodile tears"?

Mr. Bellingham

I do not accept the hon. Gentleman"s point. I am addressing my remarks to that part of the Bill that affects my constituency. My hon. Friend the Member for Brigg and Cleethorpes has made a powerful case for the part of the Bill that affects his constituency. If the Bill is not passed, the Opposition will effectively play a part in destroying jobs in my constituency. Norfolk is regarded as part of the prosperous south-east. I remind the Opposition that just recently unemployment in King"s Lynn had increased to nearly 18 per cent., but it is now under 9 per cent. We are pushing ahead and creating more jobs. This development in the Bill is part and parcel of the growing local economy. The key to the Bill is the creation of new jobs and of prosperity.

The Bill is wholeheartedly supported by the local branch of the Transport and General Workers Union, which has told me that it will create jobs locally. Those workers greatly resent Opposition efforts to stop the Bill going into Committee, where petitioners and other objectors would have ample opportunity to put their objections. Surely the way forward is to give the Bill a Second Reading, let it go into Committee and let people with valid and, arguably, sustainable objections to put them, rather than for the Opposition to try to sabotage the Bill by voting against it, thereby destroying jobs in my constituency and others.

7.55 pm
Mr. Geoffrey Lofthouse (Pontefract and Castleford)

I am worried about the threat to the coal mining industry. I should like first, however, to comment on Calor Gas, to which my hon. Friend the Member for Clydesdale (Mr. Hood) referred. In the 11 May debate, the concerns of Calor Gas were acknowledged by hon. Members, including the Minister. Assurances were given by the hon. Member for Brigg and Cleethorpes (Mr. Brown)—they were cited today by my hon. Friend the Member for Midlothian (Mr. Eadie) but he had no response from the hon. Gentleman—who said that the promoters were pressing the Health and Safety Executive for a definitive statement to reassure Calor that it will not lose its consent as a result of ABP"s activities."—[Official Report, 11 May 1988; Vol. 133, c. 400.] Why, after nearly six weeks and despite reminders to the Bill"s promoters, has no advice been given by the HSE? Is it because the advice may have a detrimental effect on the operations and future development of Calor"s facilities? The hon. Member for Brigg and Cleethorpes seems to be well informed and involved with the company, so surely he is able to give some answers, or at least can nip out and get them.

If the Bill"s promoters were truly concerned about safety, especially in relation to Calor"s LPG jetty, surely surveillance radar should be installed before building commences. Calor is worried, rightly, about the presence of other ships docking, loading and unloading at the proposed new jetty, as those vessels will be very close. Is the hon. Member for Brigg and Cleethorpes aware that the stern or bow of a vessel docking at the proposed new jetty could be as little as 50m from the Calor LPG jetty and/or a gas tanker discharging? Does he realise what could happen? There could be a worse disaster than Flixborough. The hon. Gentleman is the Bill"s sponsor and he should have some answers.

Mr. Hood

Does my hon. Friend, like me, find it strange that the hon. Member for Brigg and Cleethorpes (Mr. Brown) threatened to resign his seat only a few years ago, when objecting to Nirex storing nuclear waste, and was worried about the safety of his constituents, yet he now promotes a Bill that could result in hundreds, if not thousands, of his constituents being blown up? Does not my hon. Friend think that the free trip to South Africa for the hon. Member for Brigg and Cleethorpes has influenced his enthusiasm for this measure?

Mr. Lofthouse

I fully agree with my hon. Friend.

On 11 May, the Minister said that the HSE was not able to deal with the proposals in the Bill, but could deal only with the risk item, which is Calor"s LPG storage facility. The HSE would only be able to pass judgment once the Bill became law. If that does not sound like shutting the barn door after the horse has bolted, I do not know what does. It is not on. If the Bill receives a Second Reading, I hope that the genuine concern that has been expressed tonight will be given serious consideration by the Committee.

Mr. Michael Welsh (Doncaster, North)

The Bill states that the duty of Associated British Ports is to pay due regard to efficiency, economy and safety. Does my hon. Friend consider that ABP has paid due regard to safety?

Mr. David Hinchliffe (Wakefield)

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Is it in order for hon. Members to be taking briefings from people in the Strangers Gallery?

Hon. Members


Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. The Chair has quite a job keeping in order those who are in the Chamber. Those who are outside the Chamber have nothing to do with me, thank goodness.

Mr. Lofthouse

If I may reply to the question put to me by my hon. Friend the Member for Doncaster, North (Mr. Welsh), the promoters should be concerned about safety and the Bill should contain a provision to that effect. If large vessels are turning within 50m of a plant of this nature, that must be dangerous. That is why I should have thought that the Health and Safety Executive——

Mr. Skinner

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. My hon. Friend the Member for Wakefield (Mr. Hinchliffe) has just raised a point of order regarding the people who are sitting in the box under the Strangers" Gallery—people whom you do not recognize—passing material to hon. Members who are connected with the sponsorship of the Bill. Let us get it straight. There have been occasions when it has, been made clear by the occupant of the Chair that those people whom you cannot see in the box should not write notes during the proceedings. They are prohibited from taking part in the proceedings at all times. They are not to be confused with those people who sit in another box and provide the Government with information. It may be that those outside the House will think that that is a bit cockeyed, but that is what this place is like. The Government can be given information but the Opposition cannot be given any information. I suggest that what is good enough for the Opposition should apply at all times, particularly if it happens to be Tories who are working for South Africa.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

I have already said that I am responsible for what happens in the Chamber. Any hon. Member is entitled to take advice, but if that advice comes from somebody who is outside the Chamber it should be as unobtrusive as possible.

Mr. Cryer

Further to that point of order,Mr. Deputy Speaker——

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. These are not genuine points of order. A number of hon. Members on both sides of the House wish to take part in the debate. Points of order merely delay the proceedings and make it almost impossible for me to call every hon. Member who wishes to speak.

Mr. Cryer

But there is a rule. The box under the Strangers Gallery is part of the public access to the Strangers Gallery. That is to make everybody feel at home when they reach that place. There is a rule that people in the Strangers Gallery, whether upstairs or in the box under the Gallery, are not allowed to write notes about the proceedings, or anything else. If people are seen to be writing in the box, the rule is that they should be seized by the attendants and removed. This is a genuine point of order. You implied that people could write notes and pass advice to hon. Members, but that is not the case. I asked Mr. Speaker a question about this matter. It was on the Order Paper. He made it clear to me that the rule still applies and that there has been no change.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

I take the hon. Gentleman"s point. That is why I said that any advice that is received by hon. Members on both sides of the House—it happens at regular intervals—should be unobtrusive. I should feel more at home now if we continued with the debate.

Mr. Lofthouse

I was saying that I was greatly surprised, bearing in mind the safety hazard, that after six weeks the Health and Safety Executive had not yet investigated this matter.

Mr. Michael Brown

The hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) rightly suggested that it is important that the House should be fully acquainted with as many facts as possible. I want to give him some information. He rightly said that Calor is a petitioner. It is also a major customer of Associated British Ports. I assure him that Associated British Ports does not want to upset one of its best customers. The hon. Member for Pontefract and Castleford (Mr. Lofthouse) was correct to draw attention to the fact that there are concerns. That is precisely what the Committee stage would deal with. I assure him that Associated British Ports does not want to upset some of its best customers, Calor and Conoco.

Mr. Lofthouse

I am grateful for that information, but it does not take us very far. I should be grateful if the hon. Gentleman could tell us why the Health and Safety Executive has not yet been involved. The danger is real, and that question ought to be answered. We are debating the Bill without being given information about that matter. One wonders whether there is an ulterior motive for not providing that information to us.

Mr. Martin Flannery (Sheffield, Hillsborough)

The hon. Member for Brigg and Cleethorpes (Mr. Brown) has a sublime belief in the importance of Standing Committees. I sat on the Standing Committee of a Bill for three months, as did many other hon. Members who are in the Chamber. The hon. Member for Brigg and Cleethorpes said that we ought to allow the Bill to proceed to its Committee stage. In heaven"s name, hardly a comma is altered in Committee under this Government. They rush everything through. This is clearly a Government-backed Bill and we shall not have a chance to change anything. The Government"s majority is always used against us.

I do not know who the people who are sitting in the box under the Gallery represent, but we are trying to get rid of a Bill which is vicious, which favours Botha in South Africa and is trying to smash the mining industry in this country by elevating Botha and South Africa to a position that we know they should never occupy. I do not believe that the Standing Committee will be able to rectify anything in the Bill. It should be thrown out.

Mr. Lofthouse

I agree with my hon. Friend.

There will be devastating effects on the coal mining industry if ports are built to import foreign coal, to the disadvantage of our mining industry. The sponsor of the Bill is a member of the Select Committee on Energy which is investigating the privatisation of the electricity industry and its probable effect on the coal industry. The hon. Gentleman ought to tell the House whether he discussed the Bill with private coal mine owners, both in this country and South Africa. The hon. Gentleman is not listening to what I am saying and does not appear to be concerned about answering this question. I must inform the House —I am not giving any secrets away or betraying the confidence of the Select Committee, because the information has been widely published—that when the Select Committee first considered what subjects it should investigate, the hon. Member for Brigg and Cleethorpes bitterly opposed an investigation by the Select Committee of the privatisation of electricity. He did that after receiving strong representations to do so from the Secretary of State for Energy. That is what I understand. However, unfortunately on that particular morning one of his hon. Friends forgot to come to the Committee and Opposition Members were in the majority. Therefore, we took evidence and investigated the privatisation of the electricity supply industry and its effect on the coal industry.

Like several of his hon. Friends, the hon. Member for Brigg and Cleethorpes is familiar with South Africa"s ability to export coal. As has been said many times, he went on an all-expenses-paid trip to South Africa earlier this year. However, the hon. Gentleman"s time there would have been better served in putting pressure on the South African authorities to improve their safety standards. Is the hon. Gentleman aware that in one mining incident alone, at Kinross, 177 people died? The number of lives lost in that single accident exceeds the combined fatal accidents reported in British mines in the past five years.

The Secretary of State acknowledged the lack of port handling facilities in a speech on 13 May. In his evidence to the Select Committee on Energy on 9 March 1988, he gave as a defence the view that British Coal would not be affected by imports. In response to the questions put to him, he replied: we do not have the facilities in this country, they have never been developed, for handling large quantities of coal. They could not be developed quickly. The word "quickly" was omitted from a statement I made the other day. Of course they could be developed, but they could not be developed quickly. Therefore even if we could buy on the spot market the sort of quantities that are needed at the marginal price, and I doubt that, we could not actually get it into this country. The Bill is an attempt to establish facilities quickly so that we can import coal at the expense of our mining industry.

Mr. Skinner

Before my hon. Friend leaves that point, I draw his attention to another important matter. We are running a balance of payments deficit this year of about £10,000 million. There is a real crisis because invisibles have been run down from £700 million per month to £400 million per month, which will add to the problem. There will be a balance of payments crisis, but we have a Government whose supporters promote Bills such as this with a view to importing South African coal from Rotterdam which will have Dutch labels stuck on it. We are going to have a balance of payments problem and every tonne that is imported will increase the problem. Every barrel of oil that is lost in the ensuing years will make the problem worse, yet we have a Prime Minister who talks about economic boom times being ahead. The Bill must be stopped because it will add to the problems that we already have.

Mr. Lofthouse

I could not agree more with my hon. Friend.

I understand that the proposed support will be capable of handling 100,000-tonne coal carriers or 30 million tonnes of new capacity. That 30 million tonne figure is a magic figure which has been talked about for a long time. It should solve the Secretary of State for Energy"s problem and inject the so-called competition to which he referred in the Select Committee. If the Secretary of State"s plans for the privatisation of the electricity supply industry are to succeed, he needs that. However, it is worth reminding the House that Britain and the European Community have rightly approved limited sanctions against the South African coal industry. Despite behind-the-scenes lobbying by those hon. Members who visited South Africa, they have not managed to persuade the Government to withdraw those sanctions.

Mr. Jim Lester (Broxtowe)

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Lofthouse

In a moment.

Despite those limited sanctions, Britain imports 200,000 tonnes of South African coal each year from Rotterdam. It is disguised as Dutch coal. Does the sponsor of the Bill, if he is listening—he is again treating the House with total disregard—deny that? If not, I hope that he will join me in condemning the breaking of sanctions through the back door. Does he agree with breaking sanctions and importing South African coal? Did he have discussions about that when he went to South Africa? I have now asked him that three times. I shall give way to him if he would like me to.

Mr. Michael Brown

My position is quite straightforward. I am against sanctions.

Mr. Lester


Mr. Lofthouse

I shall give way in a second.

The more answers we receive like that, the more we are led to suspect that, whatever the hon. Member for Brigg and Cleethorpes has stated in the Register of Members" Interests, he might have an interest in South Africa at some time in the future. I give way now to the hon. Member for Broxtowe (Mr. Lester).

Mr. Lester

The only reason I ask the hon. Gentleman to give way is that, although South Africa and sanctions are important issues, surely he agrees that the principal problem—the low price of international coal—is caused by Australian and Chinese coal? Although the question of South Africa is raised constantly—I support sanctions and want to see them work--there is also the problem of Chinese, Colombian and Australian coal being dumped on the market at far less than cost.

Mr. Lofthouse

I very much appreciate and understand that point and will come to it later. Wherever coal is imported from, it is a threat to the British coal industry.

There has been widespread speculation in the press that the City is preparing itself for a South African input into the sale of the electricity supply industry. We should treat South African investment in United Kingdom power stations with the contempt that it deserves. Again, did the hon. Member for Brigg and Cleethorpes and his colleagues have discussions, either in this country or on their visit to South Africa, about the interests, if any, of South African coal companies in purchasing shares in the privatisation of the electricity supply industry?

Mr. Tony Lloyd

As my hon. Friend knows, the hon. Member for Brigg and Cleethorpes (Mr. Brown) was invited to make his position clear last night about an article in the Daily Mail in which that paper"s industrial correspondent had stated that the hon. Gentleman was one of the hon. Members who were encouraging the South African coal industry to purchase shares in the privatised Central Electricity Generating Board. I invited the hon. Gentleman to make his position clear last night and to deny that allegation if necessary, or the House would draw its own conclusions. The hon. Gentleman let the House draw its own conclusions.

Mr. Lofthouse

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for making that point.

If the Bill became law, the House would effectively have signed the British coal industry"s death warrant. I wish to have no part in that. I beg for and rely on support from many distinguished people with great experience of the industry, and on in-depth research. Recently, the Institute for Fiscal Studies produced a report which no one could say was deliberately produced on behalf of those with mining interests. I do not want to bore the House too much, but the report outlines the problems that could face British Coal if imports amounted to the magic figure of 30 million tonnes that is talked about so often. Indeed, it is now considered that the figure could be in excess of that. Page 93 of the report states: The most important consequence of privatisation, outside the electricity supply industry is likely to be its effect on coal… The interdependence of electricity and coal is likely to survive privatisation, but the present price structure may not. The question is whether market forces will continue to point to a reduction in the share of the ESI"s fuel input that comes from British Coal and, if so, whether the response of a privatised industry to market signals will differ from that of the nationalised ESI. That report expresses the same worries as those expressed by people with mining interests, who have suffered in the past four years as mining communities have been completely wiped out and no alternative employment put in place.

The report continues: The major exporters are all looking to expand output. New producers, notably Indonesia and Venezuela, will have entered the market. And overshadowing everything is the prospect of a major expansion of US supply stimulated by the super-competitive dollar.

Mr. Alan Meale (Mansfield)

Is my hon. Friend aware that of the 18 pits that have survived in Nottinghamshire, 13 would be at risk if the Bill and other associated Bills go through? That would mean a loss of 12,000 jobs directly to the industry and a loss of between 30,000 and 40,000 indirectly.

Mr. Lofthouse

Recently the Coalfields Communities Campaign published a report. It is a non-political organisation—its title may not suggest that, but I assure the House that it is. In its report it said that if 30 million tonnes of coal were imported it would result in 50,000 jobs being lost in the industry. The report also states that, by 1992, we would have only 48 collieries and 45,000 men in the mining industry who would be producing between 73 million and 80 million tonnes. If that happens, we will be faced with a completely different situation from that in 1984.Since 1984, a total of 80,000 men have been lost to the industry and the mining communities have suffered hardship, but that is not as bad as what we are facing now.

One must concede that, after the strike, a reasonable redundancy repayment scheme was made available. Most of those who took advantage of it were aged 50 and over. Today, the average age of the work force is 34.If 50,000 of that work force go, there will be no weekly pension payment to cushion the blow as there was under the old redundancy payments scheme. Surely no Government can allow that to happen without providing alternative employment.

Although Sir Robert Haslam did not agree with everything in the Coalfields Communities Campaign report, he said that it was a good report and that he agreed with a large part of it. He did not accept the figures that it had produced, but he has publicly expressed the need for some protection for British Coal. He said that if British Coal was not allowed to negotiate contracts with the CEGB prior to privatisation and it was thrown out to rely on market forces, there would be a free for all. Figures have been published in a British Coal press release to support that argument.

If the intention is short-term economic gains and if we leave ourselves open to foreign competitors simply because, in the short term, cheaper coal is available from overseas—much of that coal is subsidised by foreign Governments and mined by slave labour—our pits will close rapidly. It does not need an economist to tell us—a primary school kid could do so—that once we cannot meet national demand from our collieries, international competitors will not keep coal at its present price. We all know what will happen then.

At a recent sitting of the Select Committee on Energy, Lord Marshall was pressed about the consequences of electricity privatisation on coal. Although he would not commit himself fully, he said that 99 per cent.—I believe that was the figure—of the CEGB fuel requirements are met by British Coal. He did not believe that that would continue to be the percentage unless there was some form of protection for British Coal supplies. That was the evidence from an expert witness.

It is appropriate to refer the House to the Energy Select Committee report on the coal industry, which was published last year. I am pleased that the Chairman is present to listen to what that Committee said.

Mr. John Cummings (Easington)

Is my hon. Friend aware that should the Bill be successful, the developments contained in it, along with similar developments for Liverpool and Southampton, will lead to the demise of five of the remaining six colleries in the north-east coal board area? We are seeing a manifestation of greed, the like of which I have never witnessed. It is greed to maximise profit at the expense of an industry that is producing more than it has ever done before. Does my hon. Friend agree that it is an absolute scandal that we have had to endure the hypocrisy that we have heard from the sponsors of the Bill?

Mr. Meale

Considering the chest beating that took place on the Conservative Benches during the miners strike, and considering the evidence that my hon. Friend has provided, does he agree that if any Conservative Member walks through the Lobby in support of the Bill, it will be a slap in the face for every miner in Nottinghamshire?

Mr. Lofthouse

Yes indeed.

I am a strong supporter of the Select Committee procedures. I have long complained that the Government do not take enough notice of those Committees or of the action that they recommend. I sometimes wonder whether a lot of our work is not in vain. The information received in the reports is always handy because a Select Committee has the opportunity to take evidence from witnesses with first-hand knowledge of a subject.

The report of the Select Committee on Energy published last year was not unanimous—part of it was a minority report. However, the Committee had reached a unanimous decision on——

Mr. Michael Brown

rose in his place, and claimed to move, That the Question be now put.

The House proceeded to a Division——

Question put, That the Question be now put:—

Mr. Allen McKay (seated and covered)

On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. While we spin backwards across the whole of the privatisation of the electricity industry, the mining industry and the nuclear industry—all of which should be given more time—I wonder whether, on a private Bill such as this, those who have a particular interest in it and would have voted for or against it will be debarred from sitting on any Committee that will judge it, should the House agree that the Bill should be committed to a Committee. I would like your ruling on that, Madam Deputy Speaker, before making any decision on which way to vote.

Madam Deputy Speaker (Miss Betty Boothroyd)

I am sure that the hon. Gentleman must have raised this point of order, as other hon. Members have, on numerous occasions. All those who have any interest in a Bill must, of course, always declare their interest. We are now in the middle of a Division. If there are any other points of order, it would be better for the Chair to hear them after the Divisions.

Mr. Brandon-Bravo (seated and covered)

Further to that point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. Is it not the case that during such a short debate, with so few speakers, not one Conservative Member who wished to speak against the Bill has been given the opportunity to do so? It is quite wrong and most undemocratic that a closure should be granted at this time.

Madam Deputy Speaker

Order. I have been very sensitive to this debate and to the entire passage of the legislation through the House.

The House having divided: Ayes 115, Noes 65.

Division No. 377] [8.29 pm
Allason, Rupert Hordern, Sir Peter
Amos, Alan Howard, Michael
Arnold, Jacques (Gravesham) Howarth, Alan (Strat'd-on-A)
Arnold, Tom (Hazel Grove) Howells, Geraint
Atkinson, David Hunt, David (Wirral W)
Baldry, Tony Hunter, Andrew
Banks, Robert (Harrogate) Irvine, Michael
Bellingham, Henry Janman, Tim
Bennett, Nicholas (Pembroke) Jones, Robert B (Herts W)
Biggs-Davison, Sir John Kilfedder, James
Body, Sir Richard King, Roger (B'ham N'thfield)
Boscawen, Hon Robert Knapman, Roger
Boswell, Tim Knight, Greg (Derby North)
Bottomley, Peter Knowles, Michael
Bowis, John Lawrence, Ivan
Braine, Rt Hon Sir Bernard Lennox-Boyd, Hon Mark
Brown, Michael (Brigg & Cl't's) Lightbown, David
Butler, Chris Lilley, Peter
Butterfill, John Lloyd, Sir Ian (Havant)
Carlisle, John, (Luton N) Lloyd, Peter (Fareham)
Carlisle, Kenneth (Lincoln) McCrindle, Robert
Carrington, Matthew Maclean, David
Chapman, Sydney Major, Rt Hon John
Clark, Sir W.(Croydon S) Martin, David (Portsmouth S)
Cope, Rt Hon John Miller, Sir Hal
Durant, Tony Monro, Sir Hector
Eggar, Tim Morrison, Sir Charles
Favell, Tony Moss, Malcolm
Fenner, Dame Peggy Nelson, Anthony
Forman, Nigel Neubert, Michael
Forsyth, Michael (Stirling) Newton, Rt Hon Tony
Forth, Eric Nicholls, Patrick
Fox, Sir Marcus Onslow, Rt Hon Cranley
Franks, Cecil Paice, James
French, Douglas Porter, David (Waveney)
Garel-Jones, Tristan Portillo, Michael
Glyn, Dr Alan Rhodes James, Robert
Goodhart, Sir Philip Ridley, Rt Hon Nicholas
Grant, Sir Anthony (CambsSW) Ridsdale, Sir Julian
Griffiths, Peter (Portsmouth N) Roberts, Wyn (Conwy)
Grist, Ian Roe, Mrs Marion
Ground, Patrick Ryder, Richard
Grylls, Michael Sainsbury, Hon Tim
Hamilton, Hon Archie (Epsom) Shaw, Sir Michael (Scarb')
Hamilton, Neil (Tatton) Spicer, Sir Jim (Dorset W)
Hampson, Dr Keith Stewart, Allan (Eastwood)
Hargreaves, A.(B'ham H'll Gr') Stradling Thomas, Sir John
Harris, David Summerson, Hugo
Hayward, Robert Taylor, Teddy (S'end E)
Hicks, Robert (Cornwall SE) Temple-Morris, Peter
Hind, Kenneth Thompson, Patrick (Norwich N)
Holt, Richard Thorne, Neil
Waddington, Rt Hon David Wilkinson, John
Waller, Gary Wolfson, Mark
Ward, John Wood, Timothy
Warren, Kenneth
Wells, Bowen Tellers for the Ayes:
Wheeler, John Mr. James Hill and Mr. David Davis.
Widdecombe, Ann
Wiggin, Jerry
Alexander, Richard Leighton, Ron
Ashton, Joe Lester, Jim (Broxtowe)
Banks, Tony (Newham NW) Livsey, Richard
Barnes, Harry (Derbyshire NE) Lloyd, Tony (Stretford)
Benn, Rt Hon Tony Lofthouse, Geoffrey
Bermingham, Gerald McLoughlin, Patrick
Bidwell, Sydney Madden, Max
Brandon-Bravo, Martin Mahon, Mrs Alice
Brown, Ron (Edinburgh Leith) Marek, Dr John
Buchan, Norman Meale, Alan
Buckley, George J. Michael, Alun
Clay, Bob Mitchell, Andrew (Gedling)
Cook, Frank (Stockton N) Morris, M (N'hampton S)
Cook, Robin (Livingston) Mullin, Chris
Cryer, Bob Nellist, Dave
Cummings, John Patchett, Terry
Davis, Terry (B'ham Hodge H'l) Pendry, Tom
Dixon, Don Quin, Ms Joyce
Dunwoody, Hon Mrs Gwyneth Redmond, Martin
Eadie, Alexander Robinson, Geoffrey
Faulds, Andrew Skinner, Dennis
Flannery, Martin Spearing, Nigel
Flynn, Paul Stevens, Lewis
Foster, Derek Stewart, Andy (Sherwood)
George, Bruce Strang, Gavin
Golding, Mrs Llin Wall, Pat
Griffiths, Win (Bridgend) Welsh, Michael (Doncaster N)
Haynes, Frank Williams, Rt Hon Alan
Hinchliffe, David Wise, Mrs Audrey
Home Robertson, John Wray, Jimmy
Hood, Jimmy
Hoyle, Doug Tellers for the Noes:
Hughes, John (Coventry NE) Mr. Allen McKay and Mr. Kevin Barron.
Illsley, Eric
Lamond, James

Question accordingly agreed to.

Question put accordingly, That the Bill be now read a Second time:—

The House divided: Ayes 110, Noes 63.

Division No. 378] [8.41 pm
Allason, Rupert Fenner, Dame Peggy
Arnold, Jacques (Gravesham) Forman, Nigel
Arnold, Tom (Hazel Grove) Forsyth, Michael (Stirling)
Atkinson, David Forth, Eric
Baldry, Tony Fox, Sir Marcus
Banks, Robert (Harrogate) Franks, Cecil
Bellingham, Henry French, Douglas
Bennett, Nicholas (Pembroke) Garel-Jones, Tristan
Biggs-Davison, Sir John Glyn, Dr Alan
Blaker, Rt Hon Sir Peter Goodhart, Sir Philip
Body, Sir Richard Grant, Sir Anthony (CambsSW)
Boscawen, Hon Robert Griffiths, Peter (Portsmouth N)
Boswell, Tim Grist, Ian
Bottomley, Peter Ground, Patrick
Bowis, John Grylls, Michael
Braine, Rt Hon Sir Bernard Hamilton, Hon Archie (Epsom)
Brown, Michael (Brigg & Cl't's) Hamilton, Neil (Tatton)
Butler, Chris Hargreaves, A.(B'ham H'll Gr')
Butterfill, John Harris, David
Carlisle, John, (Luton N) Hayward, Robert
Carlisle, Kenneth (Lincoln) Hicks, Robert (Cornwall SE)
Carrington, Matthew Hind, Kenneth
Chapman, Sydney Holt, Richard
Clark, Sir W.(Croydon S) Howard, Michael
Cope, Rt Hon John Howarth, Alan (Strat'd-on-A)
Durant, Tony Howells, Geraint
Favell, Tony Hunt, David (Wirral W)
Hunter, Andrew Portillo, Michael
Irvine, Michael Rhodes James, Robert
Janman, Tim Ridley, Rt Hon Nicholas
Jones, Robert B (Herts W) Ridsdale, Sir Julian
Kilfedder, James Roe, Mrs Marion
King, Roger (B'ham N'thfield) Ryder, Richard
Knapman, Roger Shaw, Sir Michael (Scarb')
Knight, Greg (Derby North) Spicer, Sir Jim (Dorset W)
Lamont, Rt Hon Norman Stewart, Allan (Eastwood)
Lennox-Boyd, Hon Mark Stradling Thomas, Sir John
Lightbown, David Summerson, Hugo
Lilley, Peter Taylor, Teddy (S'end E)
Lloyd, Sir Ian (Havant) Temple-Morris, Peter
Lloyd, Peter (Fareham) Thompson, Patrick (Norwich N)
McCrindle, Robert Thorne, Neil
Maclean, David Waddington, Rt Hon David
Major, Rt Hon John Waller, Gary
Martin, David (Portsmouth S) Ward, John
Miller, Sir Hal Warren, Kenneth
Monro, Sir Hector Wells, Bowen
Morris, Rt Hon J. (Aberavon) Wheeler, John
Morrison, Sir Charles Widdecombe, Ann
Moss, Malcolm Wiggin, Jerry
Nelson, Anthony Wilkinson, John
Neubert, Michael Wolfson, Mark
Newton, Rt Hon Tony Wood, Timothy
Nicholls, Patrick
Onslow, Rt Hon Cranley Tellers for the Ayes:
Paice, James Mr. James Hill and Mr. David Davis.
Porter, David (Waveney)
Alexander, Richard Lawrence, Ivan
Ashton, Joe Leighton, Ron
Banks, Tony (Newham NW) Lester, Jim (Broxtowe)
Barnes, Harry (Derbyshire NE) Lloyd, Tony (Stretford)
Benn, Rt Hon Tony Lofthouse, Geoffrey
Bermingham, Gerald McLoughlin, Patrick
Brandon-Bravo, Martin Madden, Max
Brown, Ron (Edinburgh Leith) Mahon, Mrs Alice
Buchan, Norman Marek, Dr John
Buckley, George J. Meale, Alan
Clay, Bob Mitchell, Andrew (Gedling)
Cook, Frank (Stockton N) Morris, M (N'hampton S)
Cook, Robin (Livingston) Mullin, Chris
Cousins, Jim Nellist, Dave
Cryer, Bob Patchett, Terry
Cummings, John Pendry, Tom
Davis, Terry (B'ham Hodge H'l) Quin, Ms Joyce
Dixon, Don Redmond, Martin
Eadie, Alexander Robinson, Geoffrey
Faulds, Andrew Skinner, Dennis
Flannery, Martin Smith, C.(Isl'ton & F'bury)
Flynn, Paul Spearing, Nigel
Foster, Derek Stevens, Lewis
George, Bruce Stewart, Andy (Sherwood)
Golding, Mrs Llin Strang, Gavin
Haynes, Frank Wall, Pat
Hinchliffe, David Welsh, Michael (Doncaster N)
Home Robertson, John Wise, Mrs Audrey
Hood, Jimmy Wray, Jimmy
Hoyle, Doug
Hughes, John (Coventry NE) Tellers for the Noes:
Illsley, Eric Mr. Allen McKay and Mr. Kevin Barron.
Knowles, Michael
Lamond, James

Question agreed to.

Bill accordingly read a Second time and committed.