HC Deb 15 January 1990 vol 165 c17
55. Mr. Skinner

To ask the Lord President of the Council whether he is ready to announce what changes he proposes to the private Bill procedure; and if he will make a Statement.

Sir Geoffrey Howe

No, Sir, but I hope that it will be possible to announce before too long how we intend to take this matter forward.

Mr. Skinner

I hope that the Leader of the House will make a better fist of this than he did last week. When he introduces any alterations, will he bear in mind last week's unseemly behaviour when the Associated British Ports (No. 2) Bill received its Third Reading? During those proceedings there were never fewer than 50 hon. Members opposed to the Bill present in the House. Yet at 10 o'clock there was a sudden traffic jam outside when Ministerial cars packed to the roof with Ministers came rolling in to secure the Aye vote. They argued that they were not on a three-line Whip, but they were led by the Prime Minister. Is it not a scandal that the Government promoters and, in this case, the South African authorities which wish to bring coal into Britain, are abusing so-called private Bills?

Sir Geoffrey Howe

I am astonished that the hon. Gentleman is such a bad loser in that and many other matters. The Bill commanded substantial attention from both sides of the House for a long time. It is not surprising, therefore, that it received a substantial vote in its favour last week and was safely enacted by the House.

Mr. Barry Field

Will my right hon. and learned Friend consider the simplest reform of the private Bill procedure advocated by the Procedure Committee which relates to the means of objection and which is supported by both sides of the House? The mumbling behind hands and behind Order Papers in order to object to a Bill is unseemly and does the House no good.

Sir Geoffrey Howe

I shall certainly take account of that point among the many recommendations of the Joint Committee on Private Bill Procedure. It is clear that the House wants the private Bill procedure to remain an effective force, but it is equally clear that significant changes must be made to it. I shall consider them all.