HC Deb 11 May 1988 vol 133 cc378-411

Order for Second Reading read.

7.35 pm
Mr. Michael Welsh (Doncaster, North)

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Hon. Members know that I am not familiar with all the procedures of the House, and on this occasion I seem to have let myself down. The Order Paper reads: On Second Reading of the Associated British Ports (No. 2) Bill, to move, That the Bill be read a second time upon this day six months.

As a mere Back Bencher, I thought that six months meant six months. As there was an objection on 28 January, six months from 28 January would be 28 July, not 11 May. If the six months are to run from the day of the Bill's deposit, which was 27 November, that will not be until 28 May, which is a Saturday. I do not suppose that any hon. Member wants to come here on a Saturday to deal with this important business. When a period of six months is given, is it really six months, or can the Government, at their whim, set down business for consideration on any day that they desire?

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Harold Walker)

The setting down of private business is the responsibility of the Chairman of Ways and Means. It is not a Government responsibility. The hon. Gentleman is drawing attention to a motion on the Order Paper, not to a decision. A motion is used as a device to prevent a Bill from being given its Second Reading without debate. The fact that we are having a debate now makes that motion entirely nugatory.

Mr. Martin Redmond (Don Valley)

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. The Bill in its present form does not seem to me to be acceptable, and I ask for your guidance and advice. The Government are supporting the Bill. I had been led to understand that Governments do not involve themselves with private business. A large number of people in Nottinghamshire, Yorkshire and Lancashire will be affected by the Bill. The EEC turned down an application for grant-aid because the proposal would have an adverse effect on other similar installations. As the Government and many other people are involved, I suggest that this is a hybrid Bill and that it is unacceptable in its present form.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Of course, the Bill has been, as it must, before the Examiners to ensure that Standing Orders have been complied with. The Examiners reported the Bill to the House on 18 December and were satisfied that Standing Orders had been complied with. The Bill may have effects on a wide section of the community, but that is a matter for debate and a matter to be taken into account by the House when it reaches its conclusion.

Mr. Peter Hardy (Wentworth)

On an entirely different point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. In fact, I have two points of order, the second having developed from the first. This morning in the post I received a statement from the promoters of the Bill. This seemed to be an act of slovenliness, giving hon. Members grossly inadequate notice. I looked at the copy of "Erskine May" in the Aye Lobby, where I found a relevant paragraph on page 890. I then consulted the appropriate officer. I also consulted the copy of "Erskine May" in the Chamber. The same paragraph appears in the edition of "Erskine May" in the Chamber, not on page 890, but on page 969. I also discovered that there was no copy of "Erskine May" in the No Lobby. That is one point of order.

The second point of order arises from the paragraph in "Erskine May" which says: If any stage of a bill is proceeded with when the notice has not been duly given, or the proper interval allowed,"— I ask you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, to pay particular attention to the next words— or if notice is taken of any other formality, the proceeding will be null and void, and the stage must be repeated. I accept that custom and practice weigh heavily in determining the decisions of the House, but I suggest that the custom and practice of promoters of private Bills in not giving Members adequate time to study their statement justifies our suggesting to the Government that they ought not to proceed with the Bill, particularly as hon. Members received the statement from the promoters only this morning.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

I understand that the statement which is often sent by promoters and their agents is purely a courtesy matter. There is no obligation in Standing Orders for them to do so.

As to the difference in various editions of "Erskine May", the hon. Gentleman is a sophisticated and, if I may say so without seeming to flatter him, learned Member. I am sure that he will make the appropriate moves to ensure that in future the "Erskine May" editions are consistent wherever they are available to hon. Members.

Mr. Andrew F. Bennett (Denton and Reddish)

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. You will recall that some two years ago the House ran into considerable difficulty with a private Bill dealing with the Felixstowe Dock and Harbour Board. That Bill divided the House on party political lines. Because of difficulties when the Bill went into Committee, a special Committee was set up to examine the procedure on private Bills.

Would it not be more appropriate for the Associated British Ports (No. 2) Bill to be delayed until that Committee has completed its deliberations? There is a grave danger that we are starting on another Bill which will involve almost all the same problems as the Felixstowe Dock and Railway Bill. The Government seem to be sympathetic to this Bill because they have sandwiched it between two pieces of business on which there is a three-line Whip. The Government seem to be treating it as another Government Bill in the guise of private business.

We will have difficulty when we look for four hon. Members to sit in Committee in a semi-judicial role. The whole private Bill procedure is being brought into disrepute. The matter was rehearsed on the Felixstowe Dock and Railway Bill. There was a consensus in the House that a special Committee should be set up to examine the procedure. Therefore, it would be better to delay further consideration of this Bill until the report of the Committee is received and acted on, or we may have a rerun of the procedural difficulties on the earlier legislation.

I should have thought that even the promoters would want to avoid the difficulties and the expense that might be incurred. My hon. Friends would no doubt prefer to debate the merits of the Bill as a Government measure, going through the public Bill procedure, rather than using the difficult and arcane procedure for a private Bill.

Mr. Frank Dobson (Holborn and St. Pancras)

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

I am not disregarding the point of order raised by the hon. Member for Denton and Reddish (Mr. Bennett), but the point of order which the hon. Member for Holborn and St. Pancras (Mr. Dobson) wishes to raise may also be relevant.

Mr. Dobson

Indeed, Mr. Deputy Speaker, it is closely related to the point raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Denton and Reddish (Mr. Bennett). The House, together with the House of Lords, established a Joint Committee on Private Bill Procedure because of dissatisfaction with various aspects of the existing procedure, but in particular with Bills such as the Associated British Ports (No. 2) Bill which seek to obtain planning permission from Parliament rather than follow the usual procedure which more humble citizens have to follow of seeking consent from the local planning authority.

I understand that the Joint Committee has completed, or is about to complete, the taking of evidence and will report shortly. In the circumstances, Mr. Deputy Speaker, you might be prepared to postpone consideration of Bills through which promoters seek planning permission from us rather than from a local authority. To allow such Bills, including this one, to proceed is likely to bring the House into even more disrepute than the disrepute which rightly poured in on us because of the general conduct and the proceedings on the infamous Felixstowe Dock and Railway Bill, which led to the setting up of the Joint Committee.

The evidence that has been presented to the Joint Committee in this parliamentary Session is not available to hon. Members, but the 1986–87 Joint Committee, which unanimously recommended that in this Session of Parliament we should establish a new Joint Committee to consider the matter further, received evidence from such organisations as the Ramblers Association, the Countryside Commission, the Nature Conservancy Council, the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds and the Open Spaces Society, all of whom argued that promoters of private Bills should in future be required to obtain planning permission from their local authority before coming to the House—

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. With respect, the hon. Gentleman knows that we cannot now go over all the matters which we hope the Joint Committee will examine. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will address himself to a point of order with which I can deal.

Mr. Dobson

Even at this late stage, although the Bill is set down for consideration now, as it raises all the issues which caused so much concern before and which seem likely—so I am told—to result in a unanimous recommendation from the Joint Committee that planning permissions by Parliament shall not be permitted in future by way of private Bills, and as there is an abundance of other private Bills which do not seek planning permission, I ask whether you would be prepared to abandon the business tonight. It is premature for us to consider it, and it would be ridiculous and damaging for us to go through with it.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

I must tell the hon. Gentleman and the hon. Member for Denton and Reddish (Mr. Bennett) that I have neither the authority nor the power to do what they propose. The matters which they have raised can be taken into account in debate. Both hon. Gentlemen seem to be anticipating a debate upon which we have not yet embarked, and equally anticipating its outcome. It might be sensible to await the outcome.

I am grateful to the hon. Member for Holborn and St. Pancras (Mr. Dobson) for drawing attention to the fact that the Joint Committee has been sitting and has, I understand, been doing excellent work. I hope that it will soon be in a position to make recommendations. In the meantime, any right hon. or hon. Member who has proposals to make to the Joint Committee should do so before it completes its deliberations.

Mr. Dennis Skinner (Bolsover)

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Because of your special position in this matter, would it be true to say that the Committee will change this archaic procedure if representations are made privately—that is right and proper, as you say—and if, at times such as these, representations are seen to be made by hon. Members on both sides of the House? The Government have been able to use this system of private Bills for what could be public Bills in a fashion—

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. I alone accept responsibility for the setting down of private business. It is entirely my responsibility. The other business set down for the same day is a matter for the other authorities of the House. I must remind the hon. Gentleman that the previous debate was on an Opposition day. The business was set down by the Opposition. We cannot now seek to replicate matters that have been considered by the Joint Committee.

Mr. Frank Haynes (Ashfield)

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I do not want to draw you into my point of order, but I recognise that you, as Chairman of Ways and Means, are responsible for putting the Bill on the agenda and having it considered tonight. However, putting that aside, I smell a rat. You must hear my point of order.

The Secretary of State for Energy, that silver-haired and silver-tongued gentleman who stands at the Dispatch Box when we debate energy matters, is knocking around in the precincts of the House. I know what he is here for. We have been set up. I know what the Bill means and you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, as a Yorkshire man, know what it means. There is something going on here, and I do not like what I smell.

The Government Chief Whip is present. He does not often attend debates on private Bills. The Government are on the move and backing this Bill to push it through. They have a payroll vote tonight. They have done that before, and they are doing it again tonight—make no mistake about it.

I do not want to fall out with you, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I simply want to say that there is a rat running in this Chamber. That is what it is all about. So far as the Government are concerned, the Bill is—

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. I have given the hon. Gentleman a good run, but he has not come to a point of order for me. All this business of rats and smells is not the responsibility of the Chair.

Mrs. Ann Clwyd (Cynon Valley)

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I have some knowledge of the matters under discussion, although not of the substance of the Bill. My hon. Friends are right to smell a rat. They also smelt a rat in connection with the Felixstowe Dock and Railway Bill, and they were right to do so. With that Bill, the company was eventually forced to offer a champagne party in the House.

I was a member of the Committee that considered that Bill, Mr. Deputy Speaker, and you were most helpful and gave us a great deal of advice. I remember that well because I was profoundly worried about the pressure that was being put on hon. Members considering the Bill. There was no doubt that the Felixstowe Dock and Railway Company, which I believe was at that time paying about £60,000 a year towards—

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. The hon. Lady knows that we cannot keep running back to that Bill. She need:lot remind me about it. I shall never forget it. However, we should now be dealing with the Associated British Ports (No. 2) Bill.

Mrs. Clwyd

I am a member of the Joint Committee that is considering the reform of the procedure. By the summer we will have produced a report suggesting various reforms. It would, of course, be improper for me to reveal the contents of that report, and I am sure that the House would not expect me to do so. However, I do not think that I shall be stepping out of line if I say that we have taken a great deal of evidence from those who profit from the procedure and from those who are concerned about the abuse of the procedure and believe that it should more properly be the substance of a planning inquiry and not be brought in through the back door, as so often happens.

You will remember that Disraeli perhaps I should say that you will not remember—

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. With respect, I do not see how Disraeli can be brought into a point of order.

Mr. Barry Porter (Wirral, South)


Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. Perhaps we should let the hon. Lady conclude her point of order.

Mrs. Clwyd

As I said, Mr. Deputy Speaker, I would not want to reveal the contents of the report to Parliament, but there is no doubt that many people are worried about the misuse of the present procedure. In 1841 Disraeli said that the procedure should be reformed. It has taken almost 150 years.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. The hon. Lady knows better than anyone in the House that we have set up machinery to do precisely what she is urging should be done. Perhaps we should now allow another hon. Member to speak.

Mr. Barry Porter

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. We have all had a little fun, but Opposition Member's tactics are clear. Is it not time to ensure that we proceed with this important debate, as it is in your power to do? Although I am always willing to listen to the hon. Member for Cynon Valley (Mrs. Clwyd), I should much prefer to hear her views on this matter in private. Although this is amusing, there are people in the Gallery listening to the debate who wish to hear the essence of the debate and the detailed arguments, rather than the comic procedure that we have had to put up with so far.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

The hon. Gentleman is right.

Mr. Michael Brown (Brigg and Cleethorpes)

Under the Transport Act 1981, the former British Transport Docks Board, which is a nationalised undertaking—

Mr. Dobson

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. This is a genuine point of order on which I seek your ruling. It is related to Member's interests.

Under Standing Order No. 120, which governs the conduct of private business, hon. Members serving in Committee on an opposed private Bill must sign a declaration that they have no personal or constituency interest in the matter. The Bill is asking us to take over in part the functions of the local planning authority.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. The hon. Gentleman must know that the Second Reading motion has not even been moved yet, let alone decided upon. These are matters of which the House is well aware. I think the House will ensure that the Standing Orders are complied with when, if the Bill receives a Second Reading, a Committee is set up. Perhaps the hon. Gentleman ought to defer such a point of order until it becomes relevant.

Mr. Dobson

I was referring to the procedure governing the Committee, because it is an indication that Parliament, in its wisdom, is concerned about the declaration of interests generally. We do not need a Second Reading debate to tell us—it is spelt out on the face of the Bill—that we are being asked to give planning permission. What I am asking you to do, Mr. Deputy Speaker, is to rule that, as Parliament requires that hon. Members must, when they talk on these matters, declare their interests publicly, in these peculiar circumstances—

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. We cannot precede every debate in the House with a rehearsal of the relevant Standing Orders and the expression of the hope that hon. Members who take part will comply with the Standing Orders. We assume that hon. Members, being honourable and intelligent, will comply with the Standing Order. Points of order become relevant when there is a breach of those Standing Orders.

Mr. Michael Brown

Although Associated British Ports is owned by a holding company—

Mr. Gerald Bermingham (St. Helens, South)


Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. I think that we have heard sufficient points of order. We have had 30 minutes of points of order and I am not prepared to take any more at this stage.

Mr. Brown

Associated British Ports has, since its privatisation, established for itself—

Mr. Bermingham


Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. The hon. Gentleman was called at the very beginning of the time spent on points of order. I am not prepared at this stage to take any further points of order. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will not persist in challenging my ruling.

8.3 pm

Mr. Brown

I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.

Since its privatisation, Associated British Ports has established an excellent record of profitability, growth and well-planned investment. I served with the hon. Member for Holborn and St. Pancras (Mr. Dobson) on the Standing Committee which considered the Transport Bill in 1981. The 1981 Act brought Associated British Ports into existence. I remember the hon. Gentleman rightly making a lot of play of his opposition to the transfer of the old British Transport Docks Board into a private company because he felt that the change would starve ABP of investment.

I am delighted to be able to advise the hon. Gentleman that the ports of Immingham and Grimsby, which I have the pleasure to represent—in conjunction with the hon. Member for Great Grimsby (Mr. Mitchell)—have, since being in the hands of ABP, gone from strength to strength. In 1987–88, about 30.9 million tonnes of cargo passed through Immingham. The hon. Gentleman, and his colleagues who represent the Opposition on transport matters, will recall that section 9 of the Transport Act 1981 requires ABP to provide such port facilities as it thinks necessary.

Mr. Redmond

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Brown

I shall not give way at this stage as it is only right that I should put the arguments in favour of the Bill on the record.

Part I is formal and is in well-precedented terms. It deals with definitions and incorporates, with modifications to suit local conditions, provisions found in public Acts which are usually applied by private Acts.

Part II would empower ABP to acquire compulsorily land or rights inland to construct the proposed works, which are in part III.

Part III seeks the authority of Parliament to construct marine works. This is the central purpose of the Bill. ABP wants to construct port facilities which are perceived to be needed to cater for the continuing trend towards larger and more cost-effective vessels.

Mr. Redmond

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Brown

Perhaps I may set out the main purpose of part III first, as I suspect that it is on that that the hon. Gentleman will want to express a view.

Associated British Ports must provide for the new larger vessels if it is to remain competitive. Because the works are to be constructed in tidal water, Parliament's consent, as opposed to the local authority's consent, is required. Clause 8 sets out the proposed works, and clause 16 describes the proposed extension of the harbour limits at Port Talbot.

Works 1, 2, and 3 are intended to create a new facility for dry bulk cargo in the river Humber near Immingham, which is in my constituency. Work I comprises a jetty and jetty head. Work 2 is a secondary jetty designed to give additional access to the jetty head. Work 3 consists of reclamation landwards of the jetty head to provide additional back-up land in line with the anticipated increase in use of the jetty complex.

The port of Immingham is one of the busiest and most successful in the country. It currently handles some 30.9 million tonnes of traffic each year. That very success sometimes leads to congestion in our enclosed dock system. Many of the cargoes that are presently handled in the enclosed dock could be handled more efficiently if the proposed jetty were built.

Mr. Hardy

The hon. Gentleman says that there is congestion in the port and I would not dispute that. Will he confirm, however, that the Humberside Port Owners Association is not in favour of the Bill?

Mr. Brown

I am not able to confirm or deny that. The point of the work, however, is to overcome the problem of the constraint of lock gates. The purpose of the Bill is to enable larger ships which carry dry bulk cargoes to be handled without the constraints of the enclosed dock. The congestion that sometimes arises is caused by the dock gates, and a jetty would get over the problem.

The cargo that ABP anticipates could be handled are pyrites, ferrous sulphate, clay, iron ore, sand, rutile, illmenite, soda ash, petroleum coke, coal, titanium slag, grain and ferro alloys. I am aware that some hon. Members on both sides of the House are worried about the Bill, but I shall try first to express my views and those of the promoters on the technical aspects of the Bill. Some hon. Members may not have had an opportunity to consider them.

Mr. Eddie Loyden (Liverpool, Garston)

Do I take it that the hon. Gentleman is talking about a jetty which will be subjected to the full range of tidal movements?

Mr. Brown

Yes. That is one of the good things about the Bill. With dock gates, the tides sometimes constrain orderly working of the port. A tremendous project is proposed.

The work would provide room in the enclosed dock for a greater volume of cargoes which can be handled suitably only in dock. It would also provide a unique dry bulk facility out in the river for larger vessels. ABP advises me that it is confident that the new facilities would enable expensive trans-shipment to continental ports to be dispensed with as larger vessels could sail from foreign destinations direct to the new jetty terminal in the Humber.

Opposition Members may feel that the work might help foreign imports of which they do not approve. If the Bill is defeated, however, large bulk vessels will have to go, as they increasingly have to already, to the port of Rotterdam and break down their cargoes into much smaller boats, which would come to wharves outside the national dock labour scheme. Opposition Members know what problems that would present for traffic and villages.

Given the nature of the debate that we had earlier on the ten-minute Bill, it must surely be agreed that if there is to be investment in ports such as Hull, Grimsby and Immingham and large ports such as Liverpool, we must encourage port facilities to be concentrated where we have put the infrastructure. We do not want large cargoes going to Rotterdam, being broken down and sent to small wharfs.

Mr. David Hinchliffe (Wakefield)

I should like to clarify the hon. Gentleman's position on the Bill. According to the January-February edition of Anti-Apartheid News, the hon. Gentleman has connections with an organisation called he Office of the South African Coal Industry, which promotes imports of South African coal. According to The Times of 5 April 1988, the hon. Gentleman was part of a recent Conservative party delegation to South Africa which called for the ending of sanctions against imports of South African coal. Are those reports true? If so, who paid for the trip to South Africa? Is the hon. Gentleman actively involved in promoting the importation of South African coal? Does he get paid for so doing?

Mr. Brown

The hon. Gentleman asks a perfectly proper question, but he should have done his homework and referred to the Register of Members' Interests. If he had done so, he would have seen that I have a nil declaration. I have no financial interests, apart from a small income from Yorkshire Television and The Guardian. I have no financial connection with any other business whatsoever.

I freely and proudly confirm that I have had the opportunity to see many bulk terminals around the world, as one would expect of the hon. Member for Brigg and Cleethorpes. I have seen the Richards Bay terminal near Durban, and I freely confirm that I was a guest of the Chamber of Mines in South Africa. If the hon. Gentleman looks at the Register of Members' Interests, he will see that those matters are declared.

Mr. Kevin Barron (Rother Valley)

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Brown

No. I shall not give way, because I must make progress.

Work No. 4 describes a proposed quay that is intended to provide berths in the Great Ouse river at King's Lynn. This is building on success, for, although King's Lynn port is small, it is very busy and primarily handles grain, agricultural exports and timber and steel imports. It handles other traffic, including containers, cars, scrap metal, coal and coke. The new berths would enable larger ships to call at the port. At present, all the available facilities for cargo handling are located inside the enclosed docks and the size of vessel is limited by the entrance lock. It is envisaged that traffic such as grain exports and animal feed imports will use the new berth.

Mr. Henry Bellingham (Norfolk, North-West)

My hon. Friend is aware that last year was the best ever for the port of King's Lynn. It is a thriving, thrusting, go-ahead port. The main problem is that there are two enclosed docks, which greatly restrict the length and width of vessels that are able to enter it. The riverside quay is essential for the expansion of the port to attract the larger, wider and longer vessels. Is my hon. Friend aware that the overwhelming majority of the people who work in King's Lynn dock and the Transport and General Workers Union, which represents most of the dockers who work there, are completely behind the Bill? Is my hon. Friend aware that if some Opposition Members succeed in sabotaging the Bill, my constituents, whose jobs depend on this measure, would regard their behaviour with dismay? Does he agree that those Opposition Members' attempts at sabotage are hypocritical and that they do not care about jobs in East Anglia and in constituencies such as mine?

Mr. Brown

I confirm that the Transport and General Workers Union has been solidly behind these proposals, which will be of much benefit to my hon. Friend's constituency. It is estimated that the proposed works will cost about £4 million and, as my hon. Friend rightly said, the additional provision is essential to the success of the King's Lynn port. I hope that Opposition hon. Gentlemen will listen to the debate and be convinced of the reasons why they should vote for the Bill. Thus far, I do not think that anything out of order has taken place.

Mrs. Llin Golding (Newcastle-under-Lyme)

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I have listened to the hon. Gentleman. Silverdale quarry in my constituency will be gravely affected by the Bill. The hon. Gentleman persists in addressing his remarks to hon. Gentlemen. He has not once directed his remarks to me.

Mr. Brown

I apologise profusely to the hon. Lady.

As hon. Ladies and Gentlemen will be aware, part IV of the Bill—this might have been of interest to the hon. Member for Cynon Valley (Mrs. Clwyd) had she been present—relates to provisions for Port Talbot. Clause 15 sets out the various provisions relating to Port Talbot and clause 16 extends the geographical limits of the harbour. This provision is required so that the dredged approach channel may be extended, lighted, buoyed and subject to the harbour master's jurisdiction. It is intended to ensure the safety of shipping in the area.

Port Talbot tidal harbour is a specialised facility which was constructed to allow the British Steel Corporation to bring in essential raw materials at a suitable deep-water harbour, conveniently placed for the steel works at Margam and Llanwern. The intention is to deepen and lengthen the dredged channel forming the approach to the tidal harbour so that the BSC may use larger vessels, thereby leading to economies of scale to make it more competitive against foreign manufacturers. I am sure that every hon. Gentleman and hon. Lady who represents a steel-producing constituency in south Wales will join me in the Aye Lobby. This is a major beneficial provision for the steel industry in south Wales.

At present, the annual tonnage of raw materials handled at Port Talbot is 7.5 million, of which iron ore amounts to 5.6 million. The largest vessel used at present has a capacity of only 100,000 tonnes, and it is expected that the improved channel will enable the use of vessels that carry up to 150,000 tonnes.

Part V contains a standard protective provision for the Crown, which is normal in Bills of this kind. Part VI deals with all the works and, in clause 18, places a time limit of 10 years on the proposed development for the purposes of class XII of the Town and Country Planning General Development Order 1977.

Mr. Bob Cryer (Bradford, South)

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. The hon. Gentleman is gabbling through a prepared brief. "Erskine May" says that printed notes are available by way of guidance for a speaker, but reading straight from notes is not permitted.

I hope that the hon. Gentleman will adjust his speaking rate and debate the matter rather than gabble a prepared brief at us.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

In the hallowed phrase, hon. Members are allowed to refer to copious notes.

Mr. Brown

I am anxious to make progress, because I am aware that the Bill evokes a certain amount of passion among Opposition Members. I am acutely aware of the fact that many hon. Members wish to catch your eye, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I have a responsibility on behalf of the promoters—and as the hon. Member whose constituency will benefit from the provisions of the Bill—to set out the technical matters that the Bill raises, as well as other matters that may touch on the constituencies of other hon. Members.

Clause 19 requires Associated British Ports to pay all the expenses of the promotion of the Bill and enables it to do so out of revenue. These clauses are standard provisions that are normal in a private Bill.

Mr. Redmond


Mr. Brown

I should like to press on because I have a duty to the House to make some progress.

I shall refer to those who rightly petitioned against the Bill—it was within their rights. Eleven petitions against the Bill were deposited, and they fall into two groups. The first group, which numbers five petitions, consists of companies or bodies making specific points aimed at the protection of their interests in the locality of the Immingham and King's Lynn works. Those petitioners are the Anglian Water Authority, Calor Gas Limited, Conoco Limited, Humber Oil Terminals Trustee Limited jointly with Associated Petroleum Terminals (Immingham) Limited and, finally, the British Coal Corporation. All those bodies have legal interests in installations at close proximity to the proposed works, for example, sea defence works, jetties, conveyor systems and so on. Consultations and negotiations with the petitioners are well advanced and a great deal of progress has been made with ABP. As ABP readily acknowledges that it must indemnify legitimate interests that may be adversely affected, for example, if the approach to a neighbouring berth were to suffer additional siltation, it is fully expected that, with one exception, settlement will have been reached with the petitioners by the time the Bill is considered by a Committee in the House.

Mr. Graham Allen (Nottingham, North)

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Brown

No, because there is one petitioner that I think the hon. Gentleman would wish me to deal with, which may affect his constituency and several others in Nottinghamshire.

Protection will be given by the ABP to the Department of Energy, which owns a jetty upstream of the proposed works at Immingham. Consultations have taken place with the Health and Safety Executive to make certain that the proposed works fully meet all safety regulations that are relevant to the busy industrial area of Immingham and to the river Humber, which is Britain's busiest waterway.

I mentioned one exception to the hope of a settlement with the petitioners that I named. It concerns British Coal, which petitioned seeking protection for its neighbouring port installations and with which it is expected full agreement will be reached for those installations. However, British Coal's petition contains, in paragraph 21, a more fundamental objection to the Bill, which is in line with the objections being made by the other group of petitioners to which I shall now refer.

I shall refer to those petitioners, if you will forgive me, Mr. Deputy Speaker, as political petitioners because their petitions are purely political and have nothing to do with the technical aspects of the works that I have described. [Interruption.] I do not say that in any derogatory sense. I make it clear that I fully accept that the petitioners are perfectly entitled to petition, and they have exercised their right. Those petitioners are the National Union of Mineworkers, the Union of Democratic Mineworkers—

Mr. Eric Illsley (Barnsley, Central)

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Is it correct for the hon. Gentleman to refer to those petitioners as political, by which he means the Coalfield Communities Campaign and the National Union of Mineworkers, but to refer to the Transport and General Workers Union as supporting the Bill? Surely that is unfair.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

That is a legitimate point for debate, but it is not a point of order for the Chair.

Mr. Brown

I should like to make it absolutely clear that, when I use the word "political", I use the word with a small "p" and in no sense in a derogatory way.

Mr. Allen

If the hon. Gentleman is expressing concern about petitioners and the views of those who may object to the Bill, why has he chosen to pilot it through the House rather than go through the normal planning permission process with a full public local inquiry, so that all those whom he calls political could put a full case in public and perhaps have their view heard by a judge? A decision could be made at a proper public inquiry after all the issues had been discussed rather than the hon. Gentleman trying to sneak the matter through in this way.

Mr. Brown

I should have thought that if we were to rely on the other method by which planning permission can be given, there would be far less opportunity than there is under the private Bill procedure for Opposition Members and petitioners to make their case.

On occasions, I have objected to private Bills and I have served on a private Bill committee, and I have followed private business from the point of view of promoters and petitioners, so if the hon. Gentleman has been in the House for as long as me—I have been here for nine years now—he will realise that under that procedure there is a tremendous scope to ensure that petitions are fully heard and adjudicated on in a much fairer way, from the point of view of the petitioners, than under normal planning procedures, which might involve a local borough council or a county council. I should have thought that this was a much better way to ensure that those who object to the Bill have the opportunity to have their say.

Those are the petitions that it is difficult for Associated British Ports to meet. Hon. Members who have blocked the Second Reading of the Bill are doing so on the same ground as that stated in the second group of petitions that I listed. That is that the proposed works at Immingham and King's Lynn and, indeed, the proposed improvements to the harbour at Port Talbot, are intended for or at any rate could be used for the importation of foreign coal. The NUM petition states flatly that, for that reason, the Bill should not be allowed to proceed.

The other political petitioners say that the Bill should not be allowed to proceed unless safeguards are inserted to prevent the consequences that they foresee. The only way in which ABP could go ahead and construct the works, and yet satisfy those petitioners, would be by binding itself never to accept any imported coal through the new works. Of course, that is not possible for any commercial body. ABP's perceived function is to provide and operate modern efficient port facilities to meet market demands and to be free to compete for all traffic, whether inward or outward bound, including coal, or any other commodity.

I stress that the proposed port facilities at Immingham are not simply for imports. Ports and port industries have two purposes: they are for exports as much as for imports. Hon. Ladies and hon. Gentlemen would do well to remember that it was only a short time ago, just before the mining dispute in 1984, that some 5 million tonnes of British coal were exported from the port of Immingham, perhaps from the mines in constituencies represented by Opposition Members. I remind hon. Ladies and hon. Gentlemen that from the 'British Coal press release just two days ago—they can take heart from it—it is clear that the present collapse in the price of world coal is unsustainable. The world price of coal is likely to rise. As a consequence of the efficiency of our mining industry, and probably in the mid-1990s, when the jetty facilities at Immingham are completed, it is likely that British Coal will be in the market for exporting, and it will need port facilities to do so. The Bill provides for those facilities.

I stress to hon. Ladies and hon. Gentlemen that the purpose of the Bill is to recognise that there are times when British Coal as well as British Steel has required port facilities to export its commodities. It was only a few years ago, when I represented. the steel constituency of Scunthorpe, that the BSC was concerned about imports taking away its home market. Now it is in the export business and it needs export outlets and growing port facilities.

Mr. Michael Welsh

I thank the hon. Gentleman for giving way on an important issue. He said that the facilities would be for all sorts of imports, and he was grateful for that. If all sorts of imports can come in, is the hon. Gentleman saying that it is possible for nuclear waste to be imported, and to be dumped in our constituencies? If he is saying that, does he agree with it? I do not. I ask the hon. Gentleman: does he?

Mr. Brown

The hon. Gentleman raises a point that is of great concern to me. But I cannot imagine that many people in the United Kingdom will import nuclear waste. It is highly unlikely that many people will require the port facilities for that, but, theoretically, if someone wanted to import vast quantities of nuclear waste, he could use Immingham docks. He could use the docks without the Bill, but he might not be able to bring so much in, so I suppose that theoretically what the hon. Gentleman says is possible.

The opposition by the coal interests to the proposals contained in the Bill amounts to an attack on free trade. The coal interests are using a private Bill legitimately, but they are using it to make a political point. The conception and execution of an energy policy for the United Kingdom is a Government matter, and Opposition Members should not use opposition to a private Bill—

Mr. Ted Leadbitter (Hartlepool)

As I understand it—this is an opportunity for the hon. Gentleman to correct me and to enlighten the House—he travelled to South Africa with his expenses paid, hospitality given, and took part in discussions. Did he at any time discuss with the mining interests in South Africa the possibility of their exporting coal to this country? Did South Africa demonstrate that because of the changing situation regarding energy policies in this country there is a market for its coal? If the hon. Gentleman did take part in such a discussion, will he be precise about it? If he did not do so, will he make that clear to us?

Mr. Brown

The hon. Gentleman is an assiduous and senior Member of the House. I thought that he would have done his homework, examined the Register of Members' Interests and seen my declaration that I visited South Africa as a guest of the Chamber of Mines, and that my accommodation and travel expenses were provided. There is no secret about that.

Mr. Leadbitter


Mr. Brown

I now come to the other points that the hon. Member for Hartlepool (Mr. Leadbitter) referred to. I raised the issue while I was in South Africa and he will be interested in the answer. There is a punitive export rate on the South African rand. It is not practical, across the exchanges, for the South African coal industry to export coal to this country. The hon. Gentleman should be aware also that Britain is a member of the European Community, which has imposed sanctions on South African coal. I should have thought that he would recognise the safeguards that exist. He should know, as an hon. Member with great experience of the coal industry, that the South African coal industry is flat broke. It has no investment possibilities for exporting its product.

Mr. Leadbitter

Why did the hon. Gentleman go there?

Mr. Brown

I went there because I wanted to see the export coal terminal at Richards Bay in Durban, and on behalf of those hon. Members who may one day see the coal that is produced in the mines in their constituencies being afforded the same sort of exporting coal facility at the port of Immingham. I should dearly like to see a Richards Bay at Immingham, and not one in South Africa. That is why I invite Opposition Members to consider the points that I make. [Interruption.] It is sad that instead of greeting better port facilities as an opportunity to export coal mined in the United Kingdom, the petitioners, not only shrink from this opportunity but actively and by political means, seek a protectionist policy. It is as though they have neither the will nor the ability to compete with foreign coal producers.

I voted against joining the Common Market in 1975, but I realise that in 1992, for better or worse, we shall be a member of the single European market. Products will go to the port of Rotterdam and be broken down and sent to—

Mr. Illsley

Will the hon. Gentleman explain why he visited a coal export terminal at Richards Bay? How does he square that with his latest statement that the South African coal industry is flat broke and cannot export that coal? If that is the case, why does it have this export terminal?

Mr. Brown

Because it has been there for many years. Of course, their export markets are not Europe; they are the Pacific rim. I thought that the hon. Gentleman, with whom I serve on the Select Committee on Energy, would know that.

Mr. Allen


Mr. Brown

I give way for the last time.

Mr. Allen

When South Africa exports coal to nations other than Europe, is there a prohibition on that coal being traded on the spot market in Rotterdam or anywhere else and thus finding its way into British ports? If the hon. Gentleman did visit Richards Bay, why did he do so when it is an old, out-of-date, unused facility? I assumed that he would want to see a modern facility.

Mr. Brown

I visited the Richards Bay facility because it is one of the largest facilities in the world. If one represents the port of Immingham and wants to see that port thrive, one would go to that sort of facility. Whether one likes it or not, South Africa is in the coal business. South Africa is supplied by the same coal technology which supplies the mines which are represented by Opposition Members.

Mr. Allen


Mr. Brown

No, I am not going to give way any more. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will catch your eye, Mr. Deputy Speaker, and be able to make his own speech.

We have to accept that Britain will be part of a wider Europe in 1992, whether we like it or not. If we are to take advantage of that opportunity—as France will do under the Socialist President Mitterrand—we have to be better than other countries. We must ensure that there are port facilities. We must ensure that the dockers in my constituency play their part in sending British goods across to the continent and to other parts of the world. As I have explained, the powers sought by ABP are designed to meet the needs of its markets and the many customers who will use the new facilities.

If the exporters and importers of a nation which is proud of its free trade tradition are denied the use of facilities that they need because of the opposition of one vested interest, that will be a grave injustice. That is why I invite the House to give the Bill a Second Reading.

8.36 pm
Mr. Kevin Barron (Rother Valley)

I offer my condolences to the hon. Member for Brigg and Cleethorpes (Mr. Brown). On 5 May he wrote a letter to his hon. Friends asking them to support the private Bill tonight. When he moved the Bill, there were 10 of his colleagues on the Government Benches. The number reduced to seven at one stage. The number is now up to eight, if one includes the Minister. It seems that his letter did not carry a lot of weight. I wonder what it will be like in the Lobby at 10 o'clock, if there is a Division. Will his hon. Friends respond to his three-line Whip? Below the request in his letter for supporters to attend at 10 o'clock there are three lines.

There are one or two other points in the letter that I should mention. The hon. Gentleman has been more honest with the House than he was in his letter. He said that the major part of the Bill relating to Immingham is about coal and very little else. in the letter which he sent to his right hon. and hon. Friends he said that the port could be used for the importation of coal. Of course, he knows that it will be used for coal imports. That is why British Coal is one of the 11 petitioners against the Bill. It is interesting that the hon. Gentleman has not put British Coal in his list of political petitioners.

Mr. Michael Brown

That is because British Coal is petitioning to protect its port interests at the terminals.

Mr. Barron

I shall be mentioning some of British Coal's interests as contained in the literature that it has been sending to hon. Members. Its interests go further than the Immingham terminal that it is using. Its interests lie in my constituency as well as in other hon. Members' constituencies. In the letter of the hon. Member for Brigg and Cleethorpes there is the sentence: In both cases, an essentially private enterprise development faces opposition from public sector vested interests. The hon. Gentleman is saying that the Bill of the newly privatised Associated British Ports should be defended because it is a privatised port rather than for any other reason.

The hon. Member for Brigg and Cleethorpes referred to the petition from the National Union of Mineworkers containing the name of the president, Arthur Scargill. It is a great pity that the hon. Gentleman did not refer to the other political petitioners such as Calor Gas and Conoco Ltd. The hon. Gentleman mentioned his visit to South Africa. He should recall that it is recorded in the Register of Members' Interests that he visited America not too long ago as a guest of Conoco. Twice during his speech the hon. Gentleman said that with regard to his visit to South Africa we should look at the Register of Members' Interests—[Interruption.]

I consulted the Register of Members' Interests this afternoon. Four Conservative Members went on that delegation to South Africa and two of them registered that fact in the Register of Members' Interests. The hon. Member for Brigg and Cleethorpes did not.

Mr. Michael Brown

It is registered there.

Mr. Barron

I have looked at the register twice and the hon. Gentleman's visit is not registered there.

Mr. Brown

If the hon. Gentleman telephones the office which compiles the Register of Members' Interests, he will learn that my visit is registered. I have a copy of the entry. I do not know when the volume which the hon. Gentleman examined was published. If he telephones—and I am surprised that he did not do that this afternoon because that is what I would have done—he will receive the full details.

Mr. Barron

It is very strange that I looked in the updated version kept in the Library, not in the Vote Office, and I saw that two of his hon. Friends who accompanied him on the visit registered in time for that fact to be entered in the updated copy in the Library. The hon. Member for Brigg and Cleethorpes invited Opposition Members to look in the Register of Members' Interests. The hon. Gentleman is not registered in the register as having visited South Africa with that delegation.

It is true, as the hon. Member for Brigg and Cleethorpes rightly explained, that the South African Government discriminate against their own coal industry. On 5 April 1988 The Times carried an article which examined in some detail the visit made by the hon. Member for Brigg and Cleethorpes and his three colleagues to South Africa as the guests of the South African coal mining industry. The article states, referring to the delegation: They also feel it should be supported in its opposition to the discriminatory legislation enforced by the South African government. The hon. Gentleman is arguing for the South African Government to remove that discrimination which he claims prevents them from exporting coal to Britain. He went to South Africa to argue that and he came back here and argued that the South African Government should stop doing that presumably to open the gates for South African coal, without South African Government discrimination, to come into Britain.

If we pass the Bill, the consequences will be very grave for the regional and national interests. It has become obvious since the publication of the White Paper on privatising electricity that the only competition will exist through the price of coal for the generators. While the nuclear industry is cushioned, the coal industry will be challenged. The Bill is the first—unfortunately, it will riot be the last—challenge to the British coal industry in current legislation.

It is obvious that the facilities will be used for importing coal and that the effects of such imports on the demand for and supply of indigenous coal products must be heeded. It is a well-known fact that present international coal prices are well below sustainable levels in the medium to long term. Although prices have increased recently, that has been offset by the increase in sterling against the dollar. In view of that, substantial coal imports through the Humber could close a minimum of 10 million tonnes of capacity in the midlands and Yorkshire coalfields which would in future prove economic against world prices. Imports would also interfere with British Coal's current cost reduction and restructuring and that is compounded by the uncertainties arising from the Government's privatisation. There is no certainty about the terms and conditions under which British Coal will supply the newly privati;ed electricity supply industry.

It is worth noting at this stage that no industry of that scale can sustain a coherent investment programme of future market projections during all that uncertainty. Because of that, importing coal at an unsustainably low price would not only reduce British Coal's sales and output, but would permanently damage areas that have already borne the brunt of a contracting industry.

Mr. Allan McKay (Barnsley, West and Penistone)

Has my hon. Friend seen the report in the Sheffield and Barnsley Star which contains a report from the Financial Times business section stating that 40 potentially profitable pits will be axed by 1990 if the Government encourage coal imports?

Mr. Barron

That is right. I hope that the hon. Member for Brigg and Cleethorpes will listen to these implications and will stop talking to his friends.

The report to which my hon. Friend the Member for Barnsley, West and Penistone (Mr. McKay) has referred is titled Coal on the Market: Can British Coal Survive Privatisation? and was produced by the Financial Times business information service last Monday. It states: 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 savings 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. That is exactly what is happening with the Bill tonight.

Mr. Geoffrey Lofthouse (Pontefract and Castleford)

Does my hon. Friend realise that the hon. Member for Brigg and Cleethorpes (Mr. Brown) is fully aware of the facts that he has given? Like me, the hon. Member for Brigg and Cleethorpes has the privilege of being a member of the Select Committee on Energy and he heard expert witnesses expressing concern about the effects on the British coal mining industry arising from the privatisation of electricity and the threat of major imports of up to 30 million tonnes. That coal could not be imported without these new ports.

Mr. Barron

That is right. My hon. Friend has struck a true note. We all know what is behind the Bill.

I want to refer to the Bill's history. The Bill's promoters applied for EEC assistance under the integrated development operation programme for the region covering some of south Yorkshire and Humberside. That application was rejected because it was argued that to fund a project in one part of an area that damaged another was not within its scope and that refusal was perfectly correct as the coal mining areas of Nottinghamshire and Yorkshire will be dramatically affected by the Bill if it is carried through all its stages.

There are five coal mines in my constituency which supply between 80 per cent. and 95 per cent. of their production to one of four power stations—

Mr. Redmond

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Is it correct and in order for a Conservative Member to consult with members of the public who may have a vested interest in this discussion?

Mr. Deputy Speaker

I am concerned only with what happens in the Chamber, and that is a difficult enough job without the hon. Gentleman inviting me to deal with something outside the Chamber.

Mr. Barron

The coal mines in my constituency supply coal to two generators in Yorkshire and two in Nottinghamshire. The terminal referred to in the Bill will threaten those collieries.

We are effectively being asked to add to the 19 per cent. unemployment level in the Rotherham and Mexborough travel-to-work area. We are being asked to threaten jobs in an area where 51.3 per cent. of the male unemployed have been claiming benefit for more than a year. In March, 4,310 young people were on Government schemes or seeking work through the Rotherham careers office. Between November 1987 and February 1988, only 55 full-time and three part-time vacancies were notified for the 4,310 young people seeking work in the area. In March, there were 499 unfilled vacancies at the jobcentre in the area which I represent and the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Rotherham (Mr. Crowther). In other words, there was one vacancy for every 40 unemployed people.

The Bill would make matters worse in the interests of profit for a newly privatised electricity supply industry. It would not act in the national interest. In the past decade British Coal has reduced its work force by 60 per cent., and the work force has been reduced by over half in the past three years. More than 125,000 job losses have been the direct and miserable cost of the coal industry's restructuring. The price has been paid by the mining communities. What more can these communities realistically be expected to give if there are to be further cuts in their areas?

What is to be done for the thousands of young people who have no opportunity to work? Some of them have been unemployed for four, five or six years. Many have never had a job, and they would love to take one if the opportunity came their way. The hon. Member for Brigg and Cleethorpes is giving us the opportunity to cause further job destruction by expanding the port at Immingham.

Mr. Michael Welsh

I agree with my hon. Friend's arguments on unemployment. Does he agree that it would be foolish to embark on an undertaking to bring minerals into this country when we have a 300-year supply of coal? Surely such importation would increase unemployment and ruin the balance of payments. Would it not be foolish to pay for imports when we can produce what is needed? Does my hon. Friend agree that the Bill should be rejected?

Mr. Barron

I concur with my hon. Friend's remarks. He will be aware of the damage that was caused to the balance of payments following the increase in oil prices in the early 1970s. That was a classic example. It seemed that we were prepared to cut off our noses to spite our faces. Warnings were issued by the British mining industry for many years that importing energy at such a high level was wrong. It was seen to be wrong when the price of oil on the world market increased fourfold in a short period.

I know that a three-line Whip has been sent to Conservative Members. They have been asked to support the Bill's Second Reading. Although there have never been more than 10 Conservative Members in the Chamber since the debate began, I suspect that we shall see more than 10 of them when the Question is put.

There is a strong rumour that the chairman of Associated British Ports has met the Minister to ensure that the Bill enjoys prime parliamentary time, that there will be a healthy vote in its favour, and that it will have some chance of success. It is a disgrace that it has been introduced in such a manner. It has been rushed through, and accompanying it is a flimsy letter from the hon. Member for Brigg and Cleethorpes that fails to deal with the problems that will arise in many areas. I note that the hon. Gentleman smiles. I am talking about Rother Valley, which is Labour controlled, and other areas that some of his hon. Friends represent. These areas will be under attack if the Bill is enacted and implemented.

Mr. Redmond

My hon. Friend has made a serious allegation. I hope that he will ask the Minister to give a categoric denial that the chairman of Associated British Ports has met the Minister or any departmental officials with a view to pushing the Bill through the House.

Mr. Barron

If the Minister intervenes in the debate, I hope that he will tell us whether the rumour to which I have referred is true. As I have said, it is strongly rumoured that there has been a direct approach to someone within the Department by the chairman of Associated British Ports.

I shall bring my remarks to a close as I am aware that others wish to participate in the debate. It may be that we shall not have sufficient time to complete our consideration of the Bill on Second Reading this evening because of the number of hon. Members who wish to speak. It may be necessary for the debate to be continued at a later date.

The communities that I represent, along with many that are represented by others in this place, have paid the price of restructuring, and it will be paid by future generations. These communities should be allowed to reap some of the benefits that should accompany increases in productivity. We are all aware of the increases in productivity that have been achieved in the coal industry over the past three years, and I want to ensure that the communities that I represent benefit accordingly. One way of ensuring that they do so would be to reject the Bill. Let us ensure that if there is a Division on Second Reading this evening there will be a majority against it.

If the Bill is given a Second Reading tonight and later is enacted, its effect will be to exploit our people and the peoples of other countries. The hon. Member for Brigg and Cleethorpes has visited South Africa and he has seen the exploitation in that country's coal mines. I urge him to change his mind and to join us in rejecting the Bill's Second Reading.

8.56 pm
The Minister for Public Transport (Mr. David Mitchell)

My intervention will be brief and will follow entirely traditional lines. The normal advice that is given to the House by all Governments, regardless of party, is that a private Bill should be allowed a Second Reading. That does not imply that the Government support it. It means that the Bill should be allowed to be considered in Committee so that it can be examined in detail on its merits. The promoter and sponsors can advance the case for it, and the petitioners can argue for amendment or rejection.

The hon. Member for Rother Valley (Mr. Barron) referred to what he described as a strong rumour that I had met the chairman of Associated British Ports to have my arm twisted or my ear bent in receiving his views on why the Bill should proceed. I have not met the chairman of Associated British Ports in respect of the Bill. I have no knowledge of whether any other Minister or officials in the Department of Transport have done so. That has no bearing on what I have to say this evening.

I shall not comment on the Bill. All the arguments have been advanced for and against it.

Mr. Barron

If the Bill proceeds after its Second Reading tonight, will the Minister ensure that nobody else from his Department—perhaps even the Secretary of State himself—has met the promoters of the Bill, and will he make that information available at the Committee stage or at another opportunity?

Mr. Mitchell

Had I or my colleagues been persuaded by the chairman of Associated British Ports, we might have been expected to express a view that was favourable to the details of the Bill. I have been carefully telling the House that I am adopting the traditional stance of not commenting on the Bill or on the arguments that have been made for or against it. I merely urge the House to give the Bill a Second Reading, so that the case can be properly heard. The House owes that much to the promoters. My action is not meant to show support for the Bill, but reflects the Government's purely conventional and neutral position. It is on that basis that I hope the House will allow the Bill to make progress, so that it may be considered in greater depth at the Committee stage.

9 pm

Mr. Tony Lloyd (Stretford)

The Minister tells the House that the Government, with their usual neutrality, have nothing to do with the Bill. I remind Conservative Members who have not turned up for this debate, important though it is, and also my hon. Friends, that the same Minister, during the progress of the Felixstowe Dock and Railway Bill, assured the House that the Government were strictly neutral. Yet during the course of the long evening when that Bill was debated the Prime Minister herself voted on it on at least seven occasions, thereby demonstrating that the Government's neutrality was as bogus on that occasion as is the Minister's pretence that the Government have no interest in this Bill.

I say to the hon. Member for Brigg and Cleethorpes (Mr. Brown) that he would do himself a considerable favour if he would be less assiduous in trying to persuade the powers that be in the Government to arrange matters nicely for him. Conservative Members were in the House for a Whipped vote at 7 o'clock, and we know that they will be present again later tonight for another Whipped vote. We know that the sponsor of the Bill has written to his hon. Friends in such a way that it was described as a private three-line whip. That does not lead us to believe that there has been no jiggery-pokery with the Government's business managers.

Mr. Michael Brown

The hon. Member for Stretford (Mr. Lloyd) should be aware that the time allocated for today's private business is not a matter for the Government, or for the Opposition, but is arranged on the instructions of the Chairman of Ways and Means. I make no secret of the fact that I have invited my hon. Friends by letter to consider the points that I have made, and I believe that my hon. Friend the Member for Sherwood (Mr. Stewart) has written to every Conservative Member asking them to join the Opposition Lobby.

Mr. Lloyd

The hon. Gentleman surprises me, either with his innocence or his naivety. I agree that the allocation of private business is a matter for the Chairman of Ways and Means. However, if the hon. Gentleman is trying to persuade me that it was other than the Government's business managers who allocated the debate that is to take place after this Second Reading, he is out of his head. He knows as well as I do that it is the Leader of the House, in conjunction with the Chief Whip and the business managers of his party, who make sure that at the end of the day the Government govern. It is the Government's business managers who decide what business is transacted. Those same Government business managers ensured that Whipped business would be taking place after this private business, thereby guaranteeing that many of the hon. Gentleman's hon. Friends—and friends of apartheid—would be present to vote for the Bill.

Mr. Patrick McLoughlin (Derbyshire, West)

So far the hon. Gentleman has made no real argument against the Bill. It is not our fault that the Opposition changed the subject of today's debate and introduced contention after today's business was announced last week. The fact that Conservative Members are present to vote on certain issues should not surprise him. He should address himself more to the arguments relating to the Bill than to the business of the day.

Mr. Lloyd

The hon. Member for Derbyshire, West (Mr. McLoughlin) will forgive me if I do not always accept his advice on the content of my speeches or how I should present them. Having listened to the hon. Gentleman on many occasions, I find that I generally do better without his assistance. I shall not labour the point, but the hon. Gentleman is a little newer to the House than is his hon. Friend, and is a little duller. I shall try to explain again to him that it was the Government's business managers who allocated the business after this Second Reading, so guaranteeing that Conservative Members would be present in force tonight.

The Government, far from being neutral, are showing all the signs that they have shown in the past of wanting to support the Bill. The reason for doing so is simple, and it is the one given by my hon. Friend the Member for Rother Valley (Mr. Barron). The Bill is all part of the process of fattening up the CEGB for privatisation—fattening up revenues for the Government's coffers. It does not take an economic or mathematical genius to know that if the CEGB can operate with imported coal bought on the stock market—as it wants to—where prices, for this brief moment of history, are well below those of British Coal, it will be in a position to lower its costs and increase its prices. And the Government will be able to maximise their profits when privatisation of the CEGB takes place.

I am sure that many of my hon. Friends from the coal mining communities will make their points about the coal industry. They are better informed about it than I am. However, I shall make a few before moving on—

Mr. Harry Barnes (Derbyshire, North-East)

Although it is a fiction that the Government maintain neutrality, there is a case for them not to operate that fiction and to ask us to move against the measure. The preamble to the Bill states: The purposes of this Act cannot be effected without the authority of Parliament". That shows that the Bill is claiming that these things can be done only by means of a Bill of this kind. However, we know that planning permission being sought through the normal procedures from authorities in different parts of the country would be another way of achieving the Bill's aims. So the Bill is a fraud and the Government should take that into account when considering their attitude to it.

Mr. Lloyd

My hon. Friend raises an important point, which the hon. Member for Brigg and Cleethorpes might want to consider. He told the House—surprisingly—that he thought this procedure was a better one for prosecuting a matter such as this. I have stated before that it would be far better if Parliament had nothing to do with these private Bills, which tend to be squalid little affairs. Accusations are often made—and justified—that Conservative Members are acting in the interests of some rather dubious groups, in this country or further afield.

The hon. Member for Brigg and Cleethorpes has already been questioned about his links with the South African coal industry. If he would like to tell us how far his negotiations with that industry extend, he would do the House a favour. We would then be able to put his claims of disinterestedness to the test. At the moment they do not look good, in view of the accusations about his links with the South African coal industry.

Such issues, which may be hidden in this sort of procedure, would not be hidden if the suggestion of my hon. Friend the Member for Derbyshire, North-East (Mr. Barnes) of having proper planning mechanisms and local public inquiries were followed. In that way, local interest groups and people who would be affected could make clear their objections, which could be properly examined. That would be a more acceptable way of handling this.

We know that more than 100 Conservative Members who will be needed for the closure are secreted around the House, but the problem is that fewer than a dozen of them are present to hear the reasons that would justify, or not, their decision to vote for the Bill. That is why this procedure is objectionable to us. It fails to deal with the needs of those who petitioned against the Bill and, more generally, the needs of the nation. That is why the Government cannot escape their responsibility for such Bills. The Minister may tell the House that the Government's traditional posture on these issues is one of neutrality, but the Government do not always maintain such neutrality. The Minister, on many occasions, far from saying that the House should give a Bill a Second Reading so that the Standing Committee can get on with its examination of it, has made it clear, for instance, that the Government support the promoters of British Rail Bills.

It simply is not good enough for the Minister to pretend that the Government have no interest. Nor is it acceptable for the Minister to tell the House that the Government have no views on whether this development, which will have a major impact on British ports policy, is in the interests of the nation's ports or is an acceptable scheme and to say that the Government are neutral. It is not even acceptable for the Minister not to have a view on whether the petitioners' arguments are relevant. Several petitioners have raised substantive points and the hon. Member for Brigg and Cleethorpes has failed to answer the criticisms that have been made.

In fairness, I should say that the hon. Gentleman has approached me on one issue, and I want to raise that with him now. One of the petitioners is Calor Gas, which has a storage facility which contains some 300 tonnes of liquid petroleum gas. I think that all hon. Members will accept that that is a considerable quantity of such potential danger—

Mr. Hardy


Mr. Lloyd

For such a store to be put in jeopardy would be unacceptable to all hon. Members. Calor Gas has petitioned against the Bill because it is worried about the safety of its facility. When neither the hon. Member for Brigg and Cleethorpes, the sponsor of the Bill, nor the Minister addresses that issue, but simply says that it can be dealt with at another stage when the petitioners can have their say is not good enough. The House would be negligent if it did not take such real anxieties into account on Second Reading.

Mr. Michael Brown

I am aware of the hon. Gentleman's anxieties and I have consulted the promoters about them. I have been advised by them that they have met the Health and Safety Executive and the Glanford borough council, which is the planning authority, and a representative of Calor. They are 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.

Having advertised the Bill, ABP has had no adverse comments from the Health and Safety Executive and, until receiving the Calor petition, did not appreciate how anxious the company was. Calor and Coneco are customers of ABP, and it will want to do everything to reassure them because they are major customers and users of the facilities. I hope the hon. Gentleman will accept that, if the Bill receives its Second Reading and goes to a Private Bill Committee, such legitimate issues can be considered, with Calor as petitioners.

Mr. Lloyd

I do not find it reassuring that a company with such high credentials as we are told ABP has should sponsor a Bill for which it seeks a Second Reading in the House of Commons without having addressed fundamental safety issues. The hon. Gentleman can correct me if I am wrong, but my information is that ABP did not approach the Health and Safety Executive in an attempt to discover the position.

The hon. Gentleman's explanation is inadequate in another respect. It is not satisfactory if ABP's only reason for wanting to have the matter resolved is simply that it values two large commercial supporters with whom it has substantial dealings. Once again, the actions of the promoters of the Bill and the Government leave a lot to be desired.

The issue of that installation is fundamental, because Calor Gas says that its store will be within 50m of vessels that will be moored on the new jetty if it is built. That is sufficient to make it extremely worried about whether it would be allowed to continue operating at that jetty under existing regulations—the Health and Safety Executive guidance note GS40 on the loading and unloading of bulk flammable liquids and gases, and the API standard 2510 on design and construction of liquid petroleum gas installations. My hon. Friends and I would be the first to argue that if Calor Gas can no longer operate the installation in a manner compatible with safety, the facility must be closed down. If the building of the new jetty will make the liquid petroleum gas installation unsafe, it would be negligent of the House to fail to have the facility closed down.

Mr. David Mitchell

Perhaps it might help the hon. Gentleman and reassure the House to know that the Conoco and Calor Gas operation is a notified installation under the Notification of Installations Handling Hazardous Substances Regulations 1982, so the Health and Safety Executive will certainly be considering the matter if the Bill proceeds.

Mr. Lloyd

That is exactly the point. The House will, indeed, be considering the matter if the Bill proceeds. However, it is a fact of life that the HSE should have been approached by Associated British Ports before the Bill came before the House. It is certainly my clear understanding—the HSE can speak for itself—that the HSE feels considerable unease, to say the least, about the way in which the matter has been handled and the fact that it was not consulted by ABP before this stage. That should give us no cause to he happy about the way in which the Bill has been handled.

The installation is the single most important matter that has been raised because of the clear implications of 300 tonnes of liquid petroleum gas going up in flames, but there are other—

Mr. Mitchell

I want to reassure the hon. Gentleman—

Mr. Barron

The Minister is defending the Bill.

Mr. Mitchell

No. I am simply trying to put it on record that if the Bill proceeds and the Health and Safety Executive feels that there is a risk, that body will be able to deal, not with this proposal, but with the risk item, which is the liquid gas installation and storage facility. The HSE has power to deal with that matter at its discretion.

Mr. Hardy

Will my hon. Friend comment on, and seek the Minister's further comments on, the fact that when we debated the Hampshire (Lyndhurst) Bypass Bill the Government were able to confirm to the House that the two public agencies responsible for advising them on that Bill—the Nature Conservancy Council and the Countryside Commission—had given advice, even though they had then ignored it? In this case, at the same stage of the Bill's consideration, the Government cannot give us the advice of the public agency that should be responsible for giving advice. As the explosive capacity of liquid petroleum gas is horrific in its proportion and volume, it is remiss of the Government not to make available the sort of advice that was made available on previous Bills. As the Government have not provided that advice, will my hon. Friend suggest to the Minister, not only that he should abstain on Second Reading, but that he should ensure that his ministerial colleagues do the same?

Mr. Lloyd

My hon. Friend gives the Minister some sensible advice. Clearly, the statutory body responsible, the HSE, has not been in a position to comment. It is amazing that the Government can remain neutral when they should have taken expert advice from the HSE. The Minister could then properly have informed hon. Members about whether the proposed development was inherently unsafe or whether it was acceptable and posed no threat to the gas storage installation.

Mr. Mitchell

With great respect, the hon. Gentleman has got it wrong. The Health and Safety Executive is not involved in the matters that are proposed in the Bill. That is not its responsibility. Its responsibility is to decide whether the gas installation should be allowed to continue if the Bill became law and the jetty was used. I make it absolutely clear that the Health and Safety Executive does not have a responsibility for the jetty that is proposed in the Bill. It does have a responsibility for the gas installation nearby. If it took the view that the gas installation was not acceptable in that close proximity, it would have powers to deal with the gas installation, but not with the jetty.

Mr. Lloyd

I am grateful to the Minister for his explanation of the technical process, and I agree with him that that is the formal logic. Nevertheless, that situation serves merely to highlight my anxieties. If the Minister is telling the House that the Government, in their neutral attitude to the Bill, are so laid back that they will not take seriously a threat to 300 tonnes of liquid petroleum gas until such time as the HSE has had the opportunity to find out whether vessels will ram the storage terminals, I must tell him that he should not be doing the job that he is doing tonight in the House.

Mr. Barron

Is my hon. Friend aware that Ian Greer Associates wrote to me this morning about the effect on the gas installation? The Minister seems to be defending the Bill. The letter says: The promoters have met Calor Gas but as of yet they have offered no amendment to the Bill or given an explanation which is satisfactory to Calor. Indeed, it is believed that the results of the Bill will be the closure of the gas installation and will cost the jobs that the hon. Member for Brigg and Cleethorpes (Mr. Brown) says he wants to encourage in his constituency.

Mr. Lloyd

My hon. Friend was kind enough to give me a copy of that letter. On this occasion Calor Gas has behaved in a completely reputable way. Obviously it has a commercial interest to defend, but it is also determined to defend its reputation as an operator that does not want to endanger the lives of hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of people.

The Minister should have been able to tell the promoters of the Bill and Opposition Members that the Government can say definitively that the development does not jeopardise that installation, or alternatively that the Government cannot support the Bill tonight because the threat to the installation is so great that it risks devastation and loss of human life on a massive scale.

I shall now turn to another significant item raised by a petitioner against the Bill. The Anglian water authority, which is responsible for land drainage, water courses and effectively for the whole water system in the area of this development, has expressed grave doubts which could not be considered to be motivated by private gain or personal profit. Its doubts stem from the floods on the east coast in 1953. Although I am rather too young to remember that time, I am aware that there was considerable loss of life. As a result, at considerable expense, the Anglian water authority and its predecessor bodies managed to erect a system of sea defences which have protected that coast for all those years.

The Anglian water authority has expressed grave anxiety about the proposed developments by Associated British Ports. It believes that the developments will jeopardise the sea defences that it has provided. It believes that during the construction phase of the jetty, and later when the jetty has been established, it will so fundamentally alter the manner in which the water system works that it will threaten the sea defences and expose the constituency of the hon. Member for Brigg and Cleethorpes and others to the devastating flooding that occurred on that coast 35 years ago.

Associated British Ports has completed a model of the development. Such a model should have existed long before now. Expert information in the form of mathematical and physical models should have been made available to all those concerned. The Minister of State ought to have been able to allay the fears of hon. Members by saying that there is no threat to the sea defences, as suggested by the Anglian water authority. The Minister has told us that he is neutral. He has also told the House that he is unable to provide expert information about liquid petroleum gas. Furthermore, the hon. Member for Brigg and Cleethorpes is unable to say whether there is a real threat to the sea defences in that area. This is a matter of such fundamental importance that one can say that the promoters have been negligent in promoting a Bill for which they have been unable to provide the appropriate information.

Mr. Allen

Will my hon. Friend comment on the fact that 70 per cent. of the deep mine coal capacity in Nottinghamshire goes to power stations in the Trent valley? If a port with a capacity of 5 million tonnes is created, it will have a tremendously detrimental effect on the mining industry in Nottinghamshire and throughout the east midlands.

Mr. Lloyd

I have already made that point. One of the reasons for the Bill is that it provides the Government with a means of fattening up the CEGB for privatisation. An inevitable part of that process is the importation of cheap coal that can be bought at Rotterdam and elsewhere. It allows the CEGB to reduce its costs and increase its profits. It also allows this bankrupt Chancellor of the Exchequer to prop up Government expenditure, as he has done every year since he became Chancellor, with the proceeds of the privatisation that has ripped off the British public. In this case he will be ripping off the jobs of miners in the midlands and elsewhere, including those of miners in the constituencies of Conservative Members. I know that that worries at least one Conservative Member, and perhaps that is to his credit.

Miners' jobs are of critical importance. My hon. Friend the Member for Caerphilly (Mr. Davies) has this evening handed me a letter from people in his area. They are anxious about the knock-on effect in the diminished south Wales coalfields if they come under pressure from the midlands coalfields because their coal is displaced by imported coal.

The problem over the 300 tonnes of liquid petroleum gas is of such devastating importance, if this development gets it wrong, that the House would be failing in its duty if it did not take the matter on board. The undermining of the sea defences on the east coast is another matter of such importance that the House would be failing in its duty if it adopted a position of benign neutrality, as urged by the Minister of State. I urge my hon. Friends and also the hon. Member for Brigg and Cleethorpes to follow the advice of my hon. Friend the Member for Rother Valley and reject the Bill. The hon. Member for Brigg and Cleethorpes should consider whether he ought to say to the promoters that, as that information is not available, he is not prepared to vote for the Bill.

9.29 pm
Mr. Andy Stewart (Sherwood)

The Associated British Ports (No. 2) Bill is an innocent title for a Bill which would more honestly reflect its aims if it were called the Destruction of the British Coal Industry Bill. As with most cover titles, nothing is revealed until we turn the pages and find the hallmark of the international coal producers whose covetous eyes are on the British coal market. Their initial aim is to kill off the indigenous supply and reap their reward by blackmailing their customers into paying their inflated price on a take-it-or-freeze option.

However, one of the limitless virtues of the Government is not leaving the country open to internal or external blackmail. We well remember the hike in energy prices in 1973 as a result of another international cartel operation. The resulting largesse stimulated a flood of development, led by the oil companies, of opencast coal mines in the lowest-cost reserves anywhere, however remote, in the world, the favourite countries being Australia, South Africa and Colombia. Their plan was to meet the extra demand for coal worldwide, but the optimistic forecast did not materialise because of the industrial recession and the completion of nuclear power stations ordered in the 1970s. That left the speculating producers with a huge surplus of unwanted coal, their predicament being heightened by the collapse of oil prices 18 months ago. Solutions had to be found to salvage their investments.

The first solution was to mothball mines where possible. The second was to use the supermarket technique of loss leaders to attract customers. Alas, from which countries would they come? The United States of America? No. United States power stations are persuaded not to buy foreign coal. In 1986, out of a total market of 630 million tonnes, only 1 million tonnes were imported into the United States. France has protection, but needs very little coal since 78 per cent, of its energy requirements come from non-coal power stations. West Germany, the most successful country in Europe, has a fully protected coal industry. Britain, with its 100 million-tonne market, has no legal protection and is an obvious choice for coal dumping. Ports capable of handling super coal tankers are needed; hence our debate.

The supporters of the Bill have told the House of its virtues in job creation, cheaper coal and cheaper electricity but have glossed over its real intention—the destruction of Britain's successful and profitable coalfield in Nottinghamshire by offering coal at prices below the cost of production to Nottinghamshire's existing five 2,000 MW power stations, with a further new one to be built alongside an existing station at West Burton. The present international coal prices, valued in sterling, are substantially below the levels sustainable in the medium to long term. The position is endorsed in the document published recently by Coopers and Lybrand called "Coal in Crisis". If, during the period of unsustainably low prices, substantial coal imports were to come into the Humber, they could threaten with irreversible closure a minimum of 10 million tonnes of capacity in the midlands coalfields.

Mr. McLoughlin

Does my hon. Friend agree that this will also threaten the great investment which has been put into British Coal by the Government? Rather than wanting to see an end to British Coal, the Government have shown overwhelming commitment in the amount of investment in particular in the areas where the miners stood strong and steadfast behing their right to work during the inflicted 12-month coal strike.

Mr. Stewart

My hon. Friend has put the point well. I agree that the Government have honoured their commitment to the coal industry.

Recent prices are not sufficient to earn profits for the main coal exporting mines. A return on capital has been put off by the biggest of the new mines in an effort to drive out the competition. The Bill reminds me of the Trojan horse—innocent looking but devastating in its effect. The aim is to kill British Coal's goose, the Nottinghamshire coalfields, where 50 per cent. of British Coal's profits are generated, and the remaining coalfields will die by themselves. How else can the international coal producers capture a market other than by loss leader prices? This raises a fundamental question, do we really want electricity supplies to be in the hands of foreigners, or do we support British Coal and the miners who have brought about such a radical transformation to their industry in the three years since the strike?

The wages and productivity deals freely negotiated by the Union of Democratic Mineworkers and subsequently imposed on members of the National Union of Mineworkers have been the basis for productivity in British Coal rising by 60 per cent. and coal prices at power stations being reduced by 22 per cent. in real terms. Collieries are continuing to improve their performances. At present rates of improvement, they will be highly competitive by 1992. However, there is a period before then when many will be vulnerable to subsidised coal imports. It would be tragic to threaten the progress that British collieries are making for the very short-term gains from imported coal.

Mr. Allen

Will the hon. Gentleman apply his remarks to collieries in his constituency where a number of my constituents worked, notably Linby colliery, which was closed recently, Babbington colliery, which was closed two years ago, and Hucknall colliery, which was closed a year ago? All those collieries are either within or on the borders of the hon. Gentleman's constituency. Surely that is a product not of any ports Bill, but of the whole economic philosophy of the Government, as directed towards the mining industry? Where was the hon. Gentleman when those closures occurred?

Mr. Stewart

The hon. Gentleman should do his homework better. Hucknall colliery had £100 million of taxpayers' money expended on it and, when the twelfth seam of coal, which was expected to contain 25 million tonnes, was reached, there was nothing but sandstone. How does he expect to keep a business open with no coal? That is why it closed. It was closed with the agreement of the people concerned.

Mr. Speaker

Order. We are digressing from the subject of the debate.

Mr. Stewart

The threat to the progress made by British collieries has been endorsed in "Coal on the Market" by Michael Prior and Gerard McCloskey, which states: 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. The UDM has always accepted fair and unfettered competition, but this potential threat to Nottinghamshire would be catastrophic. Already, restructuring has seen 15,000 men leave the industry with six pit closures. Today British Coal in Nottinghamshire employs 27,000 people, generating over £320 million to the local economy. It pays £5.6 million in rates and spends £130 million on goods and services, as well as being the largest industrial employer in the country.

The coal industry and its employees also generate further employment in the service sector and manufacturing industry. When the country faced a shutdown of the coal industry in 1984, it was the Nottinghamshire miners and their families who put their industry and country first. Since then, they have led the industry into a new era of successful industrial relations and productivity with one objective in mind—to stay in business. If the House rejects the Bill, they will do just that and the country's dividends will be tenfold.

9.39 pm
Mr. Alexander Eadie (Midlothian)

One of the most significant points to emerge from the debate is that the Bill may be defective because the proposed site will be very close to the Calor Gas undertaking. It is unfortunate that, when trying to give the House information in response to a legitimate inquiry, the Minister appeared to say, "If there is a difficulty, Calor Gas will have to move to allow the port to proceed." We have probably identified why the Bill should not have been presented to the House. It is certainly defective in regard to Immingham.

The hon. Member for Brigg and Cleethorpes (Mr. Brown) put me in mind of the presidential election campaign fought by Barry Goldwater, the Republican candidate, whose friends thought up a phrase to help him which ran, "In your heart you know he's right." The hon. Gentleman tried to tell us that, in our hearts, we know he is right. The Democrats thought of another phrase, however. They came up with, "In your guts, you know he's nuts." We have an absurd proposition before us.

The Bill involves substantial sums of money—£34.5 million has been mentioned. I suppose that this is not the time to ask where the money is coming from, but it is fair to ask whether it is a wise investment. Some of us are worried about the impact of the proposed works on employment in other industries such as coal and railways.

I must protest at the limitation on the time available to debate this important issue. Many of my hon. Friends want to speak, but will be unable to do so. This is not a local issue, but a national one. We have to ask why the Bill exists. We have also to ask about the background to our debating it here.

The Bill covers quite a bit of country. It goes from Immingham in Humberside to King's Lynn in Norfolk and Port Talbot in West Glamorgan. It is estimated that the works at Immingham will cost £13.5 million and that those at King's Lynn will cost £4 million. I do not know whether it is a defect in the Bill or an attempt to keep us in sublime ignorance, but, although Port Talbot is mentioned, there is no estimate of what the works there will cost. The money involved in the Bill will be far more substantial than the figures that we have been given.

Some of my right hon. and hon. Friends have little doubt that the Bill has been sprung as a result of the Government's proposal to privatise the electricity supply industry. No doubt to get backing for his privatisation proposals, the Secretary of State for Energy announced that he would present no opposition to the purchase of foreign coal in preference to British coal. The Secretary of State calls that choice and working for the market. Coal importers all over the world cannot believe their luck to have such a push-over as the Secretary of State and this Government. We are aware of the history of the Department of Energy. Its terms of reference are to liquidate the nation's assets.

Substantial sums of money are involved in the Bill, so it is only right and proper to ask whether the proposed investment is worthwhile. It is geared, as the sponsor of the Bill confessed, to provide a facility for importing foreign coal. Millions of pounds worth of foreign investment is identified in the Bill, but does it make economic sense to accept that investment when by doing so we shall liquidate billions of pounds that have already been invested in the British coal industry, plant manufacturing industry and jobs? I shall explain what I mean when I talk about liquidating billions of pounds worth of investment. The hon. Member for Sherwood (Mr. Stewart) came close to answering the question when he said that it is nonsense to liquidate the billions of pounds that have been invested in the mining industry.

We recently had a debate on the coal industry and were able to identify what has happened to it. We were able to say that at the end of the miners' strike 169 pits had been closed and that by the end of March 1988 only 96 were likely to be left, even after three new pits had been opened at the Selby complex. Total manpower has fallen from 220,000 to 127,000—a reduction of 93,000, of whom 78,000 were mineworkers. Those are only figures and do not tell of the misery and pain that that caused mining communities. It went under the name of restructuring, and it was a contraction of manpower and job loss without parallel in recent times in any industry.

As to the market for British coal, there is little doubt that the industry's future is tied up with that of the electricity industry. Over 75 per cent. of British Coal's sales are made to the Central Electricity Generating Board and the South of Scotland Electricity Board. Since 1982–83, 70 per cent. of its total output has gone to those sources.

It is a matter of record—my hon. Friend the Member for Rother Valley (Mr. Barron) referred to this matter in his speech—that the CEGB told the Energy Select Committee in 1986 that it could import 30 million tonnes of coal within three years. Since that time, the Secretary of State seems to have been helping that process. He has given permission for the 8 million tonnes a year deep water port at Fawley near Southampton. The Bill is one of two that seeks approval for two ports on the Humber capable of handling 5 million tonnes a year. The SSEB has facilities to import 1 million tonnes.

Mr. Alan Meale (Mansfield)

I am pleased that my hon. Friend is saying that foreign coal that comes into the dock, if it is approved, will go directly to the power stations. Is he aware that in the central area coalfields of Nottinghamshire, Yorkshire and the midlands, 65 million tonnes is produced and supplied to local markets, and 50 million tonnes of that goes directly to power stations? Is he further aware that in Nottinghamshire, at Blidworth, 51 per cent. of the coal goes directly to power stations? I can also give the following figures: 80 per cent. at Calverton, 87 per cent. at Ollerton, 93 per cent. at Thoresby, 95 per cent. at Creswell, 97 per cent. at Harworth, 98 per cent. at Bilsthorpe, and 98 per cent. at Silverhill. At Bevercotes, Cotgrave, Sherwood, Welbeck and Clipston, 100 per cent. goes to power stations. Was my hon. Friend aware of that?

Mr Eadie

My hon. Friend has given accurate figures in his intervention. If I have time, I shall identify all the pits that are involved when we discuss importing foreign coal.

The Government seem to encourage those initiatives and act as if they were blind to the consequences for British Coal and its long-standing arrangements with the electricity industry. The free market is the optimum mechanism of planning the production of coal and electricity, despite the fact that Sir Robert Haslam, among others, has warned that the international coal market is not and is unlikely to become a free market.

We must bear in mind that the displacement of 30 million tonnes of coal could mean the closure of about 50 collieries and the loss of nearly 47.000 jobs. On the basis of the CEGB's schedule, the link between certain pits and power stations, and the cost structure of collieries, one can construct an impact table in which collieries are ranked from high cost to low cost.

I should like to confirm what has been said about the effect of the proposed works at Immingham on Yorkshire and Nottinghamshire. We are talking about eight pit closures involving 9,000 jobs. Mining communities can no longer afford such job losses.

In considering the proposals, I want to look at every area in the United Kingdom against the background of 30 million tonnes of coal imports—incidentally, the figure has been increased to 50 million tonnes.

At present there are four pits in Scotland. There will be none left. In the north-east there are seven pits, and one will be left. In north Yorkshire there are now 14 pits and six will be left. In south Yorkshire there are 19 pits and 11 will be left. In Nottinghamshire there are 19 pits and 10 will be left. In the central area—the midlands and north Derbyshire—there are nine pits and four will be left. In the western area there are 11 pits and six will be left. In south Wales there are 14 pits and five will be left. There will be a slaughter.

Mr. Lofthouse

Does my hon. Friend agree that, apart from the 50,000 men in the mining industry to whom he referred, another 30,000 in supporting industries will be made redundant?

Mr. Eadie

I was coming to that point, but I gather that I must leave time for the hon. Member for Brigg and Cleethorpes, who is sponsoring the Bill, to speak. [HON. MEMBERS: "No."] That is fair enough. I shall go on because I have a great deal more to say.

I want to protest on behalf of my hon. Friends in the only way that is possible now. We are not debating the issue adequately. It is a national issue. The average age of the men in the mining industry is 34 and they are being thrown on to the scrap heap. That is a scandal.

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

Will the hon. Gentleman watch the clock so that one more speaker from the Conservative Benches may speak? He may find that there is support from these Benches for his arguments.

Mr. Eadie

If I allow time for one more speaker, it has to be for an hon. Member who has been here during the debate. If the hon. Gentleman wants to take part in the debate, he should attend throughout.

I wish to develop some of the important arguments. We must look at the point raised by the hon. Member for Sherwood, my hon. Friend the Member for Rother Valley and to some extent by my hon. Friend the Member for Stretford (Mr. Lloyd). What about the cost of this proposal? I have said already that it is stupid to talk about an investment of millions of pounds to liquidate an investment of billions of pounds. We can look at the cost of the kind of proposal in the Bill.

British Coal figures that were prepared for the Manvers colliery independent review body hearing show that the average cost of making a Manvers miner redundant under the existing scheme is £24,700 by way of lump sum payments. If those payments were made to 47,000 more miners, the cost would be £1.16 billion—not millions. The Government have already paid out in excess of £2 billion in redundancy payments to miners. There must be added to those figures the annual cost of unemployment in lost taxes and national insurance contributions, and in unemployment payments. The total cost of redundancies in the coal or related industries is likely to be around £7,000 million. Although I talked about 47,000 miners becoming redundant, there could be 78.000 or 79,000 jobs lost altogether. The sponsor of the Bill has told us about jobs involved in his proposition. Any fair-minded person seeing his proposition, which put thousands of jobs in danger, will realise that it is the economics of bedlam and lunacy.

Mr. Michael Brown

rose in his place and claimed to move, That the Question be now put, but MR. SPEAKER withheld his assent, and declined then to put that Question.

Mr. Brown

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Of course, I respect your judgment in these matters. I am not seeking in any way to challenge it, but I would draw your attention to your own comments last Friday 6 May, in column 1147 of Hansard.

You kindly undertook that you would have regard to points of order being taken out of time in a debate. I realise that was on an amendment and that we are now talking about a Second Reading. However, when the Chairman of Ways and Means was in the Chair, I sought to move the Second Reading of the Bill at 7.35 pm and for half an hour of my speech there were a number of points of order. I would have thought, Mr. Speaker, that you might have borne that fact in mind when considering my request for a motion to put the Question.

Several Hon. Members


Mr. Speaker

Order. All those factors are borne in mind, but I have also to bear in mind the fact that many hon. Members on both sides of the House still wish to take part in the debate.

Mr. Eadie

I want to begin to conclude my remarks. We have learned tonight that a Department of Energy Minister has stated that the Government intend to privatise the coal industry in the next Parliament. I believe that the Bill is related to that. We will be talking about more and more job losses in mining.

The Government tell us that they are very cost conscious. They are not. This is probably one of the most extravagant Governments in living memory. I could go on to identify—

It being Ten o'clock, the debate stood adjourned.

Debate to be resumed tomorrow.