HC Deb 27 February 1991 vol 186 cc1032-68

Order for Second Reading read.

Mr. Menzies Campbell (Fife, North-East)

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Have you received a request from the Government Front Bench for a statement to be made about the current position in the Gulf? You may be aware that developments in the past few hours suggest—I use the word advisedly—that the ingredients for a ceasefire may now be available. This is clearly a matter of the greatest interest to the House, and the whole House would expect the Government to make a statement at the earliest opportunity about a development of such significance.

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Paul Dean)

I am not aware of any requests for a statement, but I am sure that what the hon. and learned Gentleman has said will have been heard by those on the Front Bench.

Mr. Martin Redmond (Don Valley)

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I want to know whether the Bill is valid. I do not wish to question the Chair, but you will recall the same question being asked in relation to the Associated British Ports (No. 2) Bill. Despite its lengthy consideration in Committee and the fact that no amendment was allowed to be made to it, when that Bill went to the other place it was found to be defective, and to contain an erroneous date. Can we have an assurance that this Bill is valid, has been vetted and is perfectly in order and that, if that is not the case, it will be slung out?

Mr. Deputy Speaker

I assure the hon. Gentleman that the Bill is in order. I hope that we can now get on with the Second Reading debate.

Mr. Jimmy Hood (Clydesdale)

Further to that point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I heard what you said, but may I refer you to what the hon. Member for Stroud (Mar. Knapman) said when he introduced the Bill on 14 January? He said: Those works will serve generating stations being built under powers already granted by the Secretary of State for Energy."—[Official Report, 14 January 1991; Vol. 183, c. 667.] It is widely reported that the Government are on a three-line Whip to support the Bill. How can it he described as a private Member's Bill when it is intended to give two power stations enabling powers that, according to the hon. Member for Stroud, have already been granted by the Secretary of State? Surely this is a Government Bill and, if there is a three-line Whip on it tonight, as there was on another Bill last week, it cannot qualify under the private procedure.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

The hon. Gentleman means, of course, a private Bill, not a private Member's Bill. His point would be entirely in order if made during the Second Reading debate.

7.18 pm
Mr. Roger Knapman (Stroud)

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

Despite what has just been said, the detail of the Bill was substantially discussed at the time of the revival motion on 14 January. If the hon. Member for Clydesdale (Mr. Hood) had quoted me a little more extensively, he would have come up with the answer to his question.

The Bill is extremely mundane, dull and technical, so it is entirely appropriate that the dullest grey Member, in the dullest grey suit should put across the message. Indeed, he is ideal. In the debate on the revival motion I said that National Power plc and PowerGen plc are already building the power stations that are the subject of tonight's debate. No matter what fuel is used, water will be required for cooling purposes.

Mr. Hood

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Has the building of the power stations gone ahead without approval for the measures in this Bill? Is that not a contempt of this House? If one of our constituents was to build an extension to his house without the proper approvals, I am sure civil servants would tell him to take it down.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

The hon. Gentleman can make his points in the debate. Perhaps this is a good opportunity for me to remind the House that the Bill does not deal with the building of generating stations. It deals with auxiliary works and, as a consequence, it is comparatively narrow.

Mr. Alexander Eadie (Midlothian)

Further to that point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. You have given a ruling which to some extent may circumscribe our debate. In the context of the proposition that the hon. Member for Stroud (Mr. Knapman) is about to advance, we shall consider the generation of power by gas. That has implications for this country and for the European Community. I hope that I have not misinterpreted you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, and that you will not circumscribe the debate. After all, we are discussing the implementation of our power generation.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

The Bill does not deal with power stations. It deals with auxiliary works. I do not want to restrict unduly the scope of the debate on a private Bill. Let us see how we get on.

Mr. Knapman

My hon. Friends and I had high hopes that Opposition Members would have read the Bill since we debated the revival motion.

Mr. Redmond

Before the hon. Member for Stroud (Mr. Knapman) was interrupted by those points of order, did he say that this simple and mundane Bill related to constructing lagoons? Does it deal with extracting water into lagoons?

Mr. Knapman

I am sorry, but I did not hear the hon. Gentleman's last sentence.

Mr. Redmond

I assume that the hon. Gentleman will read from a prepared speech. Perhaps he could go back a few sentences because I was distracted earlier and missed his opening comments. I think that he mentioned the word "lagoons".

Mr. Knapman

I may well have been ad libbing. That might surprise hon. Members. I described the Bill as mundane and technical. Opposition Members may disagree because they think that it deals with the building of power stations. It does not.

The Bill is required for the construction of the necessary cooling water works and, in that case, only to overcome certain prohibitions in the Humberside Conservancy Act 1905, which no doubt Opposition Members have read with care. The Bill does not seek to circumvent any planning permission procedures. The power station developments already have consent and deemed planning permission after full local consultation.

We look forward to hearing from the Under-Secretary of State for Energy, my hon. Friend the Member for Wells (Mr. Heathcoat-Amory).

Mr. James Pawsey (Rugby and Kenilworth)

We look forward to his words of wisdom.

Mr. Knapman

Indeed, and we appreciated his wisdom during the debate on the revival motion.

The objections to the Bill are rather sad.

Mr. Michael Brown (Brigg and Cleethorpes)

Would my hon. Friend care to rephrase that? There are no objections to the Bill because there were no petitions against it. There are no objections from my constituents in the area where the power station is to be built and there is no objection from the Labour-controlled Humberside county council.

Mr. Knapman

My hon. Friend has made a very good point and the way in which he has looked after the interests of his constituents contrasts starkly——

Mr. Redmond

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. There was one petition against the Bill, but it was withdrawn. Is the hon. Member for Brigg and Cleethorpes (Mr. Brown) suggesting that hon. Members cannot raise objections to private Bills?

Mr. Deputy Speaker

That is not a point of order. I suspect that the hon. Member for Don Valley (Mr. Redmond) will catch my eye later and it would be in order to make that point then.

Mr. Knapman

We fully understand, particularly at this time of political consensus, why Opposition Members have to say what they say, but we believe that it is a little sad that hon. Members have to act as delegates rather than representatives. We understand the reasons for the objections, but the Bill has nothing to do with coal. It deals simply with inlet and outlet pipes on the River Humber.

Mr. Hood

There was one objection. Who objected and why was the objection withdrawn?

Mr. Knapman

I understand that the Coalfield Communities Campaign objected on the general principle of how the proposal would affect coalfield communities, but it withdrew the objection. It realised, even if the hon. Gentleman does not, that the Bill has nothing to do with coal.

By using the blocking motion as a field on which to fight this mother of all legislative battles, the Opposition are on thin ground. Whenever an issue involves competition, privatisation or capitalism, the Opposition erect a mental Maginot line. The right hon. Member for Islwyn (Mr. Kinnock) recently said that the Labour party must learn to run capitalism better than the Conservatives. That news does not seem to have percolated through to the Opposition Members who are present tonight.

Mr. Kevin Barron (Rother Valley)

What my right hon. Friend the Member for Islwyn (Mr. Kinnock) advocated will not be too difficult in view of the state of the economy under this Government.

Mr. Knapman

The Leader of the Opposition will not have an opportunity to put his ideas into practice. If, however, the hon. Member for Rother Valley (Mr. Barron) wants to make a start in that direction, he should support the Bill.

The hon. Members for Wentworth (Mr. Hardy) and for Derbyshire, North-East (Mr. Barnes) objected to the Bill in the House. That did not do them credit, because they have caused much delay and a great deal of expense. What is the point of that?

Mr. Peter Hardy (Wentworth)

The hon. Member for Stroud (Mr. Knapman) is, like me, an official of the all-party conservation committee. The main reason for my view of the matter is that it is scandalously unwise to use our relatively limited reserves of gas for steam raising when, in only a few years or generations, we will bitterly regret that waste of a prime resource.

Mr. Knapman

I understand that the power stations use roughly 0.1 per cent. of our proven gas reserves annually.

I wonder why the hon. Member for Wentworth does not take account of the views of the Labour-controlled county council. There have been wide consultations on the Bill. Most recently, the Central Electricity Generating Board, acting on behalf of National Power and PowerGen, sent details of the Bill to 32 interested parties. One was Glanford borough council, which I should have thought might have known what was needed in the area. It replied to the Central Electricity Generating Board on 11 December 1988, saying: Further to my letter dated 16 November 1989 I am now able to inform you that on 7 December the Borough Council's Planning Committee resolved that Glanford wishes to raise no objections to the proposals contained in the Bill. Then there is the Humberside county council, which my hon. Friend the Member for Brigg and Cleethorpes (Mr. Brown) has already mentioned. It is Labour-controlled and it has no objection to the Bill. It does not seem to share the Opposition's views. At the time of the revival motion, the hon. Member for Don Valley (Mr. Redmond) said that people would not be aware of what is going on—unaware, presumably, that he was criticising the county council and the borough council, which, in any case, are Labour-controlled. I am sure that he would not wish to criticise his colleagues in such numbers.

Mr. Harry Barnes (Derbyshire, North-West)

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Knapman

Many hon. Members wish to speak. However, I shall give way once more.

Mr. Barnes

There is also the House of Commons. My hon. Friend the Member for Don Valley (Mr. Redmond) did a service in tabling a blocking motion because it enables the Bill to be discussed fully and properly. It provides an opportunity to present in great detail what the hon. Gentleman regards as the fantastic benefits of the Bill. I wait for that to be done so that my colleagues and I can begin to take on board the arguments for the Bill. We do not have to accept Bills on the nod. As has been said, specific arguments must be examined by the whole House. This Bill was never in front of any council.

Mr. Knapman

I am aware of the hon. Gentleman's keen interest in this matter. He was probably not present at the time of the revival motion.

Mr. Barnes

I was here then. I did not speak, but the same point was made against my tabling a blocking motion. I remember that.

Mr. Knapman

We would have greatly looked forward to the hon. Gentleman staying in the Chamber for longer during the debate on the revival motion. In view of all the interest that has been expressed, I wonder why local constituencies that are represented by the Labour party are not taking a more active interest in the matter. Where, for instance, is the hon. Member for Glanford and Scunthorpe (Mr. Morley)? Is he representing the views of his constituents? What are his views? Do some people believe that the hon. Member for Glanford and Scunthorpe agrees with the Humberside county council, which is controlled by Labour, or does he agree with his hon. Friends that the Bill should be defeated? We do not know because he is not here.

Mr. Hood

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I am asking you for some help. The hon. Member for Stroud (Mr. Knapman) is referring to Opposition Members having no interest in the matter and wanting to interfere in what he thinks is a local county council matter. Am I correct in asking him to provide the House with information about why he sponsors the Bill? Is he being paid for sponsoring it?

Mr. Deputy Speaker

It would not be right for me to ask the hon. Gentleman for information but, if he would like to provide it, it would be in order for him to do so.

Mr. Knapman

I have an apology to make. I should have disclosed an interest. The hon. Gentleman asked me about this matter during the debate on the revival motion. I purchased 150 shares in the London electricity distribution company. I might be due for a profit, if I sell them tomorrow, of about £100, but the expenses might outweigh the profit. I am trying not to let that prospect colour my judgment too strongly. What I said about the hon. Member for Glanford and Scunthorpe also applies to the hon. Member for Great Grimbsy (Mr. Mitchell), whose constituency can be only two or three miles away from that of the hon. Member for Glanford and Scunthorpe.

Mr. Michael Brown

I have nothing but the most superb relations with the—Labour—hon. Members for Great Grimsby (Mr. Mitchell) and for Glanford and Scunthorpe (Mr. Morley), both of whom are excellent constituency Members of Parliament. The fact that they are not here and have not signed the blocking motion demonstrates exactly what my hon. Friend has said. Indeed, it is interesting that the only Humberside Members of Parliament present are my hon. Friend the Member for Boothferry (Mr. Davis) and me.

Mr. Knapman

I assure my hon. Friend that I am not trying to do anything to upset the good relations between him and his Labour neighbours. However, the hon. Members for Glanford and Scunthorpe and for Great Grimsby have a constituency interest, because many of their constituents work in the power stations that are now being constructed or will have jobs when they are constructed. The hon. Member for Great Grimsby is not here. He is not usually short of words, but we realise that he may have other commitments.

The borough and county councils, negotiated with the parish councils, about 29 other bodies were consulted, and not one has any objection. It is true that, as a result of consultations, a number of amendments were made, but they were in the form of protective clauses for third parties.

The site was chosen for various reasons, including the fact that it had previously been shown to be suitable for power station development. That has been true since the Killingholme Generating Station (Ancillary Powers) Act 1972, not least because the site lies within an area designated in the Humberside structure plan as an estuary-related industrial area, but there are other obvious reasons why it should be a suitable site. It is an existing area of industrial development. The stations can be built without significant environmental effect. The area is obviously well located in relation to North sea gas. It is suitably located for connection to the national grid system. Above all—this is the crux of the matter—it is close to a source of cooling water. It is obvious that the resources of the River Humber estuary make it the most suitable, convenient and economic source of cooling water for the two power stations.

Hon. Members will know that the 1972 Act specified only one intake and only one outfall, but the number of conduits in each intake and each outfall were unspecified. If only one pipe had been constructed, the diameter of each would have been about 3 m or 4 m. Under this Bill, the pipes would have to be between only 0.6 m to 1 m in diameter.

In the 1972 Act, there was a direct cooled system. The heat was rejected directly to a body of water. In an indirect system, such as the one proposed in the Bill, heat is rejected to the atmosphere by evaporative cooling in the cooling towers, and that is required only to replace that which is lost by evaporation and to prevent the concentration of dissolved salts. It is obvious that a great deal less water is required. Under the Bill, the longest specified pipe is only 390 m, and the longest outfall is 290 m long. Those figures are little more than half the length of the pipes that were envisaged in the earlier Act. As a result, none of the proposed cooling water pipes will extend beyond the jetty line or into the main navigable channels.

In response to repeated requests from Opposition Members, I shall now give more detail about the number of works requested under the Killingholme Bill. The Bill provides for six sets of intakes and outfalls, although only two sets are presently required. Subsequent design alterations mean that PowerGen and National Power do not need all the sets at present, although the site is large enough to accommodate further developments. To develop the full potential of the site, both companies may require extra cooling water pipes. The Bill will enable that to be realised without wasting more valuable parliamentary time.

From the environmental point of view, which weighs heavily with my hon. Friends, the pipes will be buried in the bed of the River Humber so that the crown of the pipe is at least 2 m below the existing river bed level. Although the final construction details are to be confirmed by the companies' turnkey contractors, one possible method is to dredge a trench in the Humber, join the whole length of pipe on the land, and float it out into the river. An alternative method of installation would be to join several lengths of pipes on land and attach them to a frame. The Bill, the substance of which has already been before the House, merely seeks renewed approval for pipes to be laid in the Humber estuary.

I hope that the House will feel able to grant the Bill its Second Reading so that National Power and PowerGen can continue with their construction programme without any further unnecessary and costly delay.

7.39 pm
Mr. Geoffrey Lofthouse (Pontefract and Castleford)

I am privileged to have the opportunity of saying a few words in this debate. Although I recognise that it is a narrow debate and I shall try to respect that fact, I am sure that you will appreciate, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that when such a Bill will have a major effect on another industry and on thousands of jobs, debate on it should allow hon. Members to express their fears about the distress that it may cause to that other industry and to the many thousands of people who work in it.

Clause 29 refers to protection for the British Coal Corporation. That seems ironic, given the fact that the past few years—and even more recently—have seen the devastation of British Coal. It is worth noting that National Power and Associated British Ports, which are mentioned at length in the Bill, have recently become happy bedfellows.

It is right that the Bill should receive the strictest scrutiny, because the recent history of Associated British Ports leads one to demand such scrutiny. When the Associated British Ports Bill was going through the House, sponsored by the hon. Member for Brigg and Cleethorpes (Mr. Brown), who is now busy chatting to the Whip, both the Committee and the House were deliberately deceived. Indeed, without that deceit, the Bill would never have got through the House.

At the time, two Bills—those relating to the Immingham and the Killingholme ports—were being considered by opposed Private Bill Committees. The Committee requested that the Killingholme Bill should be amended to prevent the company from being sold in less than 10 years. Because that was not acceptable to the company, the Bill did not see the light of day again. However, during the debate on the Immingham Bill, no such assurance was given, and the Bill passed through the House. The Committee issued a special report, which hon. Members will no doubt remember, highlighting the fact that the Bill was acceptable to the Committee only if the Government took action to protect British Coal and the jobs there. The Government have never taken any such action.

Under this Bill, the two power stations will be run on gas. That is a further nail in the coffin of this country's coal industry. As a result of the Immingham Bill, Associated British Ports will now be the happy bedfellow of National Power and PowerGen, because they are to take over 80 per cent. of the company that has been set up to equip and run operations at the port. That fact was never mentioned during the Committee's deliberations.

Incidentally, it was never mentioned in the many debates on these matters in the House by the hon. Member for Brigg and Cleethorpes—[HON. MEMBERS: "Did he know?"] Of course he knew. I am not suggesting for one moment that, at any stage during the Committee's deliberations, National Power and PowerGen had any association with Associated British Ports. However, I am accusing Associated British Ports, the sponsor of the legislation and the hon. Member for Brigg and Cleethorpes, of a complete con and a deceit. I repeat that the House was deceived. Without such deceit, the Bill would never have seen the light of day.

During those deliberations, assurances were given by no less a person than Sir Frank Layfield that the major improvements to the port at Immingham were not designed specifically in any sense of the word for coal purposes. They depend mainly upon general industrial and other consumers' current needs and the need to eliminate present existing wasteful difficulties and practices. If passed it will have that effect in our submission. However, that is not the case now——

Mr. Allen McKay (Barnsley, West and Penistone)

It never was.

Mr. Lofthouse

As my hon. Friend says, it never was.

The port has been erected and extended purely and simply to allow foreign coal to be imported. That has been done on behalf of National Power, which, according to Mr. John Baker, is to import 50 per cent. of its coal after 1993. The Bill, however, will allow the building of two gas generating plants—[Interruption.] This is a serious matter, despite the smirks on the faces of some Conservative Members.

I am pleased that the Chairman of the Select Committee on Energy, the hon. Member for Rochford (Dr. Clark) is now in his place. In the past week, the Select Committee has taken evidence from expert witnesses, one of whom told us that National Power is negotiating not only to import foreign coal—we heard that evidence from Shell, with which National Power is already negotiating—but, if the witness is corrct, to purchase foreign coal mines.

What a ridiculous situation when there have been another four, five or six pit closures in recent weeks, including one at Allerton Bywater. About 500 of the 800 men who work there live in my constituency. I am surprised that the hon. Member for Elmet (Mr. Batiste) is not in his place, because Allerton Bywater is in his constituency, and I should have thought that he would be here to defend it.

Mr. Hardy

I am sure that my hon. Friend will recall that, during Energy questions on Monday, Conservative Members boasted about the enormous sums of money that had been invested in the coal industry during the lifetime of this Government. Have they no thought for the public money that they have invested when they encourage actions that render the investment useless?

Mr. Lofthouse

I share my hon. Friend's views.

The Bill must be scrutinised as thoroughly as possible, I do not trust anything that Associated British Ports has got its fingers in. As I have already said, National Power, PowerGen and Associated British Ports look as if they have a cosy little arrangement. It is not beyond the realms of possibility that National Power and PowerGen will welcome British Coal being run down to a size—which I have forecast in the past few months—of about 10,000 men and 10 to 12 pits by the mid-1990s. They will gladly get their greedy hands on those pits, if, God forbid, the Government get back into power and the coal mining industry is privatised.

Any Conservative Member who supports the Bill supports a measure which encourages the burning of gas at the expense of British coal and sterilises millions and millions of tonnes of coal in Britain—millions of tonnes of natural energy within our own shores. Yet they know full well that, in less than a decade, we shall not be able to meet the demands of power generators in Britain. They will allow us to become completely dependent on our foreign competitors to supply our main source of energy once the gas is no longer there and the oil is not always there any more. Yet hon. Members know that, once a mine is closed and the coal is sterilised, one can never return and mine the coal.

It is nothing short of criminal. The Bill will help to make us dependent for our energy supplies. In my view, National Power and PowerGen are making it clear that they have no great concern for the interests of Britain. All they are interested in is the commercial side of their operation, short-term fluctuations and a short-term buck at the expense of long-term supplies. The Bill goes some way towards helping them to do that.

It is fairly obvious that our pleadings and warnings over many years about the national supply of energy have fallen on deaf ears. How long can it go on before Conservative Members realise what is happening? There cannot be any other reason for running down the British coal industry than Tory dogma. There is no logic in the arguments. One cannot make an economic argument in the medium term, although it can be done for the short term. The only reason is that, throughout recent years and especially since 1984, the Government have been so blinded by political dogma that they cannot see anything beyond their blinkered desire to close down British mines.

Britain will eventually pay the penalty for the Government's stupid policies. I assume that the Bill will be accepted tonight. I hope that the Opposed Private Bill Committee will make sure, in view of the cosy arrangements between National Power and PowerGen and Associated British Ports, that guarantees are written into the Bill for British Coal, which is referred to in the Bill. I hope that the deceit which occurred after the Associated British Ports Bill passed through the House will not be repeated. So far, no one has denied or disproved that that deceit took place.

I do not want to embarrass the hon. Member for Rochford, the Chairman of the Energy Select Committee. or the Chairman of the Opposed Private Bill Committee on the Associated British Ports (No. 2) Bill. But the hon. Member for Rochford must think privately that he was in some way conned when he chaired that important Committee, in which he had to give the casting vote time and time again. Knowing the hon. Gentleman as I do, I believe that, when he considers the evidence given to him, he must think about the decisions that he made on the Associated British Ports (No. 2) Bill and that he was conned. I wonder what he would do now if he were chairing the Committee and had in his possession the information that we have now.

My view—I do not expect the hon. Member for Rochford to comment on it—is that the Associated British Ports (No. 2) Bill would not have passed through the House or even seen the light of day. I hope that the Bill before the House today will be scrutinised to the highest degree before the Committee and the House allows it to proceed.

7.55 pm
Mr. Geoffrey Dickens (Littleborough and Saddleworth)

The hon. Member for Pontefract and Castleford (Mr. Lofthouse) has sincere, deeply held views in support of the coal industry. He has done so for many years. He knows that I have always been most supportive of the coal industry in the Energy Select Committee, on which we both serve. I spent many of my early years in industry in an associated company within the coal-fired power station industry.

There is no doubt that since the miners' strike the coal industry has responded tremendously well, increasing its productivity by about 87 per cent. The future of that industry lies to a great extent within its own hands. The men on the coal face are responding well. They will always have a strong place in our nation and will always have my continued support. Having said that, we must think about continuity and security of supply. We must think about options.

Opposition Members who feel like voting against this Bill may not by so doing put first the interests of the north-east, and certainly those of the whole country, remembering the national grid. Indeed, they may not put first the interests of their own families and of industrial companies in their constituencies. Whatever else happens, we have a responsibility in Britain to keep the lights burning and the factories running. The only way in which we can be certain of doing that is by having a good mix of forms of power stations, so that we can always draw our power generation from sources which are not under threat.

Mr. Allen McKay

It appears that the difference between the hon. Gentleman's views and our views is narrow. He talks about a mix. The Opposition have always talked about a mix of energy supplies. But we have talked about a national mix—not a market mix, which is entirely different. There should be a national energy policy which takes into account the whole system of energy supplies in Britain and eliminates current waste.

Mr. Dickens

That is a different matter altogether. I am not a Minister, so I cannot deliver a national energy policy, but there is some merit in what the hon. Gentleman says.

We must remember that we generate power by natural gas and by coal. and perhaps later by coal gasification. We must consider oil and nuclear energy. Unfortunately, wind, wave and solar energy are not sufficiently advanced to make any great impact on our supply of power.

The Bill concentrates on putting water pipes for cooling purposes into the river Humber. The battle about whether there should be a power station is long past. Permission has been given. If Opposition Members seek to frustrate the Bill, they will simply deny the power stations the cooling water they need, and they will do so merely in an attempt to fight their corner for the coal industry. It is a bogus argument in that sense, because the battle has been won for two gas cycle turbine generators to be built, one for PowerGen and one for National Power. All that we are discussing is whether we should allow water pipes to pass into the River Humber to take a small amount of water for cooling purposes.

Mr. Jack Thompson (Wansbeck)

Is the hon. Gentleman aware of any studies on taking water out of the Humber, putting it through the generating plants as cooling water and returning it to the Humber? There are two power stations in my constituency, both coastal, one at the northern end and one at the southern. It is said that significant ecological changes are taking place in the North sea because of the discharge of water from those power stations. Because of the movement of water in an estuary, I imagine that the effect would be more significant in this instance than in the North sea.

Mr. Dickens

I am most grateful to the hon. Gentleman for raising that important point, and I will deal with it later.

As to the type of water extraction and discharges in the power stations to which I have referred, the extractions and discharges required for cooling would be on a significantly smaller scale than those already taking place at coastal and estuary major power station sites, such as those to which the hon. Member for Wansbeck (Mr. Thompson) has referred.

Cooling is required at power stations to condense steam which has been exhausted from steam turbines at low pressures. The cooling may be direct or indirect. For direct cooling, water is extracted from the source of cooling water, passed through condensers and returned to the source of the water. For indirect cooling, the water passing through the condensers is cooled by air, using cooling towers, and the same water is recirculated. Only the water which has evaporated in the cooling towers and the small quantity of purge water need to be replaced. Purge water is water taken from a recirculating cooling system and returned to the river in order to control the concentration of materials in the water. Normally, direct cooling would be used, but at Killingholme the distance from the water makes the capital cost of indirect cooling systems less than that of direct systems.

Combined cycle gas turbine power stations generate only one third of their electricity from the use of steam in steam turbines. The other two thirds is produced by generators driven directly from the gas turbines. In comparison, 100 per cent. of the electricity generation is from steam turbines in coal, oil or nuclear power stations.

The Killingholme development will use indirect cooling systems. The combination of indirect cooling and combined cycle gas turbine technology means that the requirements for cooling water are significantly reduced. In fact, it requires only 5 per cent. of that for direct cooling at existing power stations, like Fawley, Kingsnorth or Sizewell, per unit of electricity generated. That is important.

On the environmental aspects, the aspects of effluent discharges from power station cooling systems that require consideration are chlorine and temperature. There is no legislation relating to these two effluents since they are regulated by the National Rivers Authority in considering the term of the discharge licence.

Some form of biocide is usually necessary in cooling water circuits to deter the settlement and growth of organisms, such as barnacles and mussels, and to control algae, slimes and bacteria. At present, chlorine is used in one form or another.

Mr. Jimmy Hood (Clydesdale)

The hon. Gentleman is getting very technical. I would appreciate it if he could help the poor lay Opposition Members. Will he explain the process involved with biocides, what they do and how they work?

Mr. Dickens

I will indeed—I shall be coming to that soon.

Since chlorine has been used for many years, its use is very well understood, except on the Labour Benches. It has the best balance of advantages compared with disadvantages.

The main disadvantage of any biocide, including chlorine, is that it must be applied to the entire water volume. Biocide dosing is carefully controlled and minimised for both environmental and cost reasons. Power stations therefore operate with chlorine at the limits of detection in the water discharge. The chlorine reacts chemically with organic materials throughout the cooling system and its concentration reduces as it reacts. As stated previously, the dose level is regulated so that it has virtually completely reacted and is only just detectable at discharge. In addition, the purge water discharge will be very rapidly and significantly diluted by river water at the point of discharge. The combination of low concentration, further continuing reaction and major dilution virtually eliminates traces of free chlorine at a very short distance from the discharge point. I was pleased to have the opportunity to explain that.

Mr. Hood

I thank the hon. Gentleman very much for the explanation. I now understand a biocide and its use as clearly as mud.

Mr. Dickens

My hon. Friends understand it. That is why we are prepared to stay late to deal with the Bill when we could have rushed back to our constituencies.

Mr. Jack Thompson


Mr. Dickens

I want to make more progress before giving way to the hon. Gentleman.

The temperature of the water discharged will vary with ambient temperatures. The maximum temperature differential between the water discharge and the estuary will be 7 to 12 deg. C. That will be of interest to the hon. Member for Wansbeck, so I hope that he is listening carefully. The quantities of water discharged from the power stations will be very small compared with the flow of water in the estuary, and dilution effects very rapidly bring water temperatures down to background river levels. It has been found that the effects of heat gain from the sun can far exceed warming effects from cooling water discharges. That is exceptionally important.

Mr. Michael Brown

There is only one problem a bout that—in the Humber estuary, we are lucky if the sun ever shines.

Mr. Dickens

If we succeed with the Bill, I think that the sun will shine brightly.

At Fawley, where direct cooling is used with a traditional oil-fired power station in a particularly sensitive marine environment, there is no evidence that the discharge of chlorinated warm water has had any adverse effect on the European Community-designated shellfish waters surrounding the discharge outfall.

Mr. Eric Illsley (Barnsley, Central)

The hon. Gentleman is making a number of interesting points. I should like him to go back to the application of biocides. Can he tell us more about the biocides in chlorine, how temperature-sensitive they will be, what effect dosages of biocide would have on wildlife in the Humber estuary, and what measures will be taken to prevent any such discharges?

Mr. Dickens

I am pleased that that point has been raised. That very point has been of great concern to some of the interested parties. Most of them examined closely the point about leakage which my hon. Friend has raised. I mean the hon. Gentleman, of course—I nearly called him my hon. Friend because we went to Japan together.

The interested parties consulted included Glanford borough council, Humberside county council, North Killingholme parish council, Anglian Water plc, the Electricity Council, Lindsey oil refinery, Shell UK, British Telecom—I do not know why that is in the list—the Department of the Environment, the Duchy of Lancaster, the local Members of Parliament and the European Parliament, the National Rivers Authority, the North Eastern Sea Fisheries, the port manager of Associated British Ports at Grimsby and the harbour master of Associated British Ports at Hull, British Rail's eastern region, Trinity House, the Crown Estate commissioners, Immingham town council, British Coal Corporation, Simon Storage Company Ltd., Conoco Ltd. and so on. I shall not detain the House by listing the others.

That list of interested parties demonstrates the care and sensitivity of the promoters of the Bill, National Power and PowerGen—the successors to the Central Electricity Generating Board—who have ensured that everyone is in harmony and understands what is intended. We have no complaints.

Mr. Terry Patchett (Barnsley, East)

I am awfully impressed by the hon. Gentleman's knowledge of the Bill. In what part of the Humber would he discharge the water?

Mr. Dickens

I wonder whether the hon. Gentleman understands the pipework involved. If not, I will give him a talk on it.

Mr. Patchett

Right now?

Mr. Dickens

Yes, if the hon. Gentleman wants me to detain the House.

At the moment, entry into the Humber is being sought quite close inshore, just underneath the seabed. It is likely that each power station—hon. Members will be aware that we are talking about two power stations on adjacent sites—will use two pipes. That is what is required. The Bill, however, gives permission for 12 if others are required to deal with breakdowns.

The construction programme for the power stations is worthy of note as it reveals the rate of progress and when those power stations are expected to be operational. The power plant contract for the National Power station was placed on 6 July 1990. The preliminary work started on 2 January 1991 and the main site work is due to start on 1 August 1991. It is hoped that full commercial operation will commence on 31 July 1993, which will mean that much more electricity is produced for the lucky people of the north-east.

The preliminary works contract and power station turnkey contract for the PowerGen station was placed on 1 February 1990. The preliminary works were completed on 13 June 1990 and the main site work started in September. It is hoped that the first module will be fully commissioned and its acceptance tests completed on 1 October 1992. The second module should be fully commissioned and its acceptance tests completed by 1 February 1993.

Mr. Jack Thompson

Does the hon. Gentleman agree that there is something suspect about organisations which make an application and receive permission to build two power stations then having to come to the House for permission to put the pipes in? If the House turns down the application for those pipes, what will happen to the power stations?

Mr. Dickens

I am glad that the hon. Gentleman raised that point, because we are trying to replace an archaic permission that was given some time ago—a permission given in the event of an oil-fired power station on the same site. Tonight we are simply trying to ensure that those power stations have access to cooling water. It is a purely technical matter and no harm will be done to the Humber, the sea or local residents.

This Bill has been introduced because the promoters could not bring themselves to believe in a million years that some hon. Members would be so bigoted and entrenched for other reasons as to oppose the installation of the pipes. The promoters thought that their request was simple and straightforward. Hon. Members should please note that all we want is to give the people of the north-east and the rest of the country electricity. All we want is permission to put pipes into the Humber for cooling purposes. We shall achieve that today.

8.15 pm
Mr. Martin Redmond (Don Valley)

I listened with great interest to the hon. Member for Littleborough and Saddleworth (Mr. Dickens), and he certainly enlightened me on the technical aspects of the Bill. The sponsor, the hon. Member for Stroud (Mr. Knapman), failed to reach such technical heights.

The Opposition intend to oppose all private Bills that seek to facilitate the generation of power until we have a national energy policy, which we need for the benefit of the entire country. If we leave the production of power to market forces, consumers will be held to ransom by the high charges that the power companies will want to impose. Now that the CEGB has been broken and privatised, it is all the more important to ensure that prices to the consumer are reasonable.

I do not believe that the two proposed power stations will benefit the country. I am at a loss to understand why the hon. Member for Stroud has sponsored the Bill. I should have thought that it would be easier for that hon. Member whose constituency is adjacent to the site to act as the sponsor, as he has local knowledge. Perhaps the promoters' experience with the hon. Member for Brigg and Cleethorpes (Mr. Brown), however, made them a little reluctant to let him get his hands on another private Bill so soon.

We have been asked why we are seeking to go against local Labour-controlled authorities. I can understand why any local authority approached for planning permission for a power station grants such permission, given the number of jobs that that would create for local people. I can understand their keenness for those power stations. I cannot accept, however, that I have no right to express views contrary to those of my Labour colleagues, Conservative colleagues or anyone else. I have a right to my opinion and to express it, even if it is not accepted by others.

We are concerned about British Coal and the number of jobs left in that company. I have one pit left in my constituency—I believe that it is a long-lifer, if there is such a thing today. There are many jobs connected with the pit: likewise, the proposed power stations will generate ancillary jobs. I am not bothered about differences of opinion: all I believe is that there is a need for a national energy plan.

The Bill does not meet that need, so I cannot understand why companies should go to the great expense of building two power stations and then come to seek to promote a private Bill, which they should have done when they submitted the plans to the local authority and the Secretary of State. I can well understand the urgency of Conservative Members, the companies involved and the Private Bill Office in seeking to rush the Bill through to ensure that there is no hold-up in the erection of the power stations and the pipework that requires the water to ensure that both come on stream at the same time to start producing electricity.

As far as I am aware, there have not yet been any accurate forecasts of future energy demands. The forecasts always seem to go over the top. I remain to be convinced of the need for the additional generation.

Mr. Eric Illsley (Barnsley, Central)

Will my hon. Friend comment on the quality of management of the companies involved in promoting the Bill, bearing in mind the fact that they have commenced work on building power stations without having gained permission for the effluent pipes, so aply described by the hon. Member for Littleborough and Saddleworth (Mr. Dickens)? I also wonder about the quality of management of the companies that will import half their coal from foreign sources, when we have a record balance of payments deficit. Are not the Opposition right to question closely the Bill's merits?

Mr. Redmond

My hon. Friend is absolutely correct, and he has made his argument in such a fashion that I cannot enrich it.

There is a question mark over the judgment of the people involved, who seek to erect power stations which they might not be able to use because they failed to submit plans to enable them to receive the necessary water. There is a need for the Opposition to continue to examine the issue in great depth, both here on the Floor of the House and, in detail, in Committee. As a point of order, I wonder whether the Bill is correct. I remember the gerrymandering that went on over the Associated British Ports (No. 2) Bill, which the House approved only to find that it had a slight technical defect which went unnoticed until it reached the other place.

I listened carefully when the hon. Member for Stroud (Mr. Knapman) introduced the Bill. He mentioned that it was also designed to construct lagoons. I tabled a question on 25 January 1990 to ask the Secretary of State for Energy if he intended to give planning permission to PowerGen and National Power to construct a lagoon to provide cooling water for the proposed combined cycle gas turbine developments at Killingholme, and if he would make a statement. The reply was: If either company wishes to construct such a lagoon they will need to apply for the Secretary of State's consent under section 36 of the Electricity Act 1989. When granting such a consent he may also give a direction that planning permission be deemed to be granted under section 90(2) of the Town and Country Planning Act 1990. No application for consent under section 36 to construct such a lagoon has been received."—[Official Report, 25 January 1991; Vol. 184, c. 325.] I was a little at a loss, because the hon. Member for Stroud said that we were merely talking about pipes to take water from the Humber, circulate it around the cold water towers and pump it back out. I do not accept that. There are some signs that lagoons will be built.

Unless I misunderstood or misheard the hon. Member for Stroud, he mentioned lagoons, so I asked him to give way. I do not doubt that the Hansard reporters have picked up the word "lagoons" mentioned by the hon. Gentleman. If we are talking about lagoons, that subject should be within the Bill, which should include the words "pipes and/or lagoons". I should be grateful if the hon. Gentleman could clarify that point.

Mr. Knapman

I apologise to the hon. Gentleman. I think that I said that I did not quite catch the final sentence of his intervention. If he mentioned lagoons, I did not realise it until now.

The application is for the intake and outlet pipes only. That is the Bill's whole purpose. As far as I am aware, no one involved with the Bill dreamed that there would be objections to it, because it is designed purely to allow pipes to and from the power stations. However, private Bills sometimes have an unpredictable course, and there are a number of other options, but the one proposed in the Bill is by far the best environmentally, commercially and in every other way. The Bill does not refer to a lagoon as such.

Mr. Redmond

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for enlightening me, but I am sorry—once the Bill receives Royal Assent, the companies will not need to come back with another private Bill if they want to construct lagoons. They can simply go to the Secretary of State. If that is not the case, the hon. Gentleman can correct me, but I believe that the Bill authorises the Secretary of State to accept a further application from the companies without them having to resort to section 36 of the Electricity Act.

Mr. Knapman

The Bill is needed only because of the provisions of the Humber Conservancy Act 1905. If someone wanted to construct a 50-storey engineering block or a lagoon, he would have to go through the planning procedures in the normal way.

Mr. Redmond

I am extremely grateful to the hon. Gentleman, but if the Bill were to mention extraction from the Humber into lagoons or standby lagoons, that would be all right. However, the Bill is a cheat and is not truthful; hence my question to the Minister. I was not satisfied, because I knew that discussions had taken place between the Minister and National Power, and it seemed appropriate to try to get the position clarified.

I wrote to National Power and received a letter dated 12 February 1991, which stated: I refer to your letter to John Baker on the lagoon option at Killingholme Power Station. As he and a number of other Executive Directors are out of town at the moment, in connection with the flotation of National Power, he is unable to reply personally. Ever since the inception of our Killingholme project we have considered various ways of securing the necessary cooling water in the light of the 1905 Humber Conservancy Act. Naturally, we have discussed our ideas with a number of interested parties, including officials of the Department of Energy. We have concluded that the proposals put forward in the Killingholme Bill represent our preferred solution and we remain fully committed to … this. The hon. Member for Stroud says that the issue of lagoons never entered the argument. The Bill clears many of the obstacles and gives the Secretary of State carte blanche to grant all sorts of planning permission. There is no point in anyone trying to kid me. There is connivance between the two power companies and the Department of Energy. If everything is straight and above board, why can they not come forward and state their precise intentions?

It is right for the Opposition to look in great detail at proposed legislation and to lift stones, because we may find something nasty underneath. We have a right to examine the Bill in depth if we feel that that is necessary. The sponsor is being less than honest in not presenting all the facts about short and long-term plans. Because people are economical with the truth, we shall have to wait a long time for evidence to emerge. Of course, by then it will be too late; when the Bill becomes an Act, we will not be able to touch it, as it has received all sorts of approval. This is the only opportunity that we have to look in depth at the Bill.

Is there a plan to build lagoons? If so, why has that not been mentioned? I am sure that the hon. Member for Stroud will apologise for misleading the House when such lagoons are eventually built. The hon. Gentleman lectured us about pipes and pollution. It was far too much for me to take in, and I should be grateful for a repeat of his speech.

Mr. Malcolm Moss (Cambridgeshire, North-East)

The hon. Gentleman advances an interesting argument about lagoons. Where in the Bill is there mention of a lagoon? I have looked, and I cannot find one. He says that, although a lagoon is not mentioned in the Bill, one will be built, because the Bill gives permission for something.

Mr. Redmond

I said at the start of my speech that lagoons were not mentioned in the Bill. However, I know that they were discussed and will continue to be discussed for some time. Are the companies being deliberately misleading or deceitful about that matter, which obviously has implications for the environment and for the Humber Conservancy Act 1905? Perhaps, if lagoons had been mentioned in the Bill, the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds and other conservation bodies would have taken a greater interest, made objections and organised petitions. Lagoons have been mentioned in private. Any hon. Member seeking confirmation of that should ask the hon. Member for Stroud whether lagoons were discussed.

The letter that I read to the House shows that pipes are the preferred option, but it does not state categorically that there will be no lagoons. I am sorry to labour the point.

The Bill permits the abstraction of water from the Humber, and it will allow the Secretary of State to take decisions without having to come to the House. I am willing to allow the hon. Member for Stroud to give a categorical assurance that no lagoons will ever be constructed on that site. Obviously the hon. Gentleman cannot give that assurance. I shall move on.

Madam Deputy Speaker (Miss Betty Boothroyd)

That is a good idea.

Mr. Redmond

I did not intend to be at cross purposes with such a charming lady, Madam Deputy Speaker. You are extremely tolerant and understanding. However, because of the leeway extended to Conservative Members, I sought to develop the point and seek clarification. It is clear that I am right and that the Bill's promoter is wrong.

Pipes will take water from the Humber and that water will circulate in the system and then be pumped out. We are told by the experts on pipes, the hon. Member for Littleborough and Saddleworth, that that will cause very little pollution in the Humber. I do not know what pollutants the water will pick up on its travels round the cooling system. Will there be some mechanism to extract pollutants before the water is returned to the Humber?

Mr. Dickens

I am certainly not an expert on pipes. I asked for some briefing material before I came to the Chamber. From the briefing material that I have read and my study of the subject, I know that the issue of lagoons does not arise. Containers or catchment areas are not needed. In my speech, which the hon. Gentleman will be able to read and study tomorrow at length, I dealt with the imperfections and materials in the water. They are taken care of because there must be a clean system.

Mr. Redmond

The hon. Gentleman is too modest. His speech showed that he was articulate and had a good knowledge of the subject. What he said about pollution raised the question whether filters would remove pollutants before the water was discharged. It was said that there would be some pollution, but that, because of the controlled way in which the water was released, pollutants would be slowly dispersed in the Humber, and tidal waters would carry them far away.

There is bound to be pollution. A power station somewhere in the north causes pollution about which the Irish complain.

Mr. Dickens

Perhaps I can clarify this point. The water released into the Humber would be no more polluted than the bath water in which we immerse ourselves—warm, chlorinated water. Indeed, bath water is soapy, and that is dangerous.

Mr. Redmond

There would be pollution, and the effect would be long-term. Only after many years have we begun to understand the effects of pollution on the ecosystem. I assume that the water being discharged would be warm. No doubt my hon. Friend the Member for Wentworth (Mr. Hardy) will comment on the effects on mussels and other wildlife. It is necessary that the extent of the pollution be understood, but no one has asked any questions about its nature. Obviously it is necessary to be wary. If the Bill goes to Committee, the Committee members will want to examine this matter very closely.

Then there is the question of sludge. It is necessary that water discharged into the Humber be free of silt.

Mr. Jack Thompson

I have not heard any answers to the questions that my hon. Friend is asking. We have not heard whether the water would be discharged by gravity or by means of a pumping system. The discharge of water under pressure has significant safety implications. Eddies are created, and the estuary bed is disturbed.

Mr. Redmond

My hon. Friend makes a very important point. The promoters of the Bill have made no reference to this matter. I assume that water would be discharged under pressure. Of course, I cannot be sure about that.[Interruption.] Apparently it would be.

Mr. Michael Brown


Mr. Redmond

The hon. Member for Brigg and Cleethorpes wishes to intervene. On a number of occasions when I sought to intervene, he refused to give way. However, as I am a gentleman, I shall give way.

Mr. Michael Brown

Of course, I am only a secondary modern schoolboy and probably did not have as good an education as the hon. Gentleman. I shall have to be trained in these matters.

If the hon. Gentleman is concerned about pollution, let me tell him that this power station would emit virtually no sulphur dioxide and about half the carbon dioxide and one quarter of the nitrogen oxide emitted by the power stations that I drive past when I am going round the Ferrybridge area.

Mr. Redmond

Pollutants of that sort will be produced from South African coal. But I shall not be diverted by the hon. Gentleman.

We could argue about whether there are solutions. The Government ought to put their hands in their pocket and provide the necessary cash to help eliminate the problems. The technology needed for their elimination is there; what is needed is the cash. We can find billions of pounds to wage war overseas, but the war against pollution has to take a back seat. It is right that we should be concerned about pollution.

Clause 13(2)(a) says: the Secretary of State may by notice in writing require the appropriate company". It should be noted that the word is "may"; it ought to be "will". Because of such wording, one has grave reservations about whether the Bill should be given a Second Reading. I hope that, in spite of the three-line Whip, Conservative Members will see the need to reject it.

Clause 12(4) refers to "21 days' notice in writing". Throughout the Bill there are variations—seven days, 21 days, 28 days. There really ought to be some consistency. Perhaps the period provided throughout the Bill should be 28 days. I hope that the promoters will take note of that point.

I am also unhappy about clause 14, which is entitled "Provisions against danger to navigation". There have been difficulties, but I think that the situation is picking up, and I hope that it will go from strength to strength. The more ships that use the Humber, the greater will be the danger to navigation. One must take into consideration any additional obstacles created by this Bill. We know only too well how serious can be the pollution caused by damage to a ship.

Clause 16 says: The Secretary of State may at any time,"— again "may", where the word should be "will"— if he deems it expedient, order a survey … and any expenditure incurred by the Secretary of State in any such survey or examination shall be recoverable from the appropriate company. My understanding is that the Secretary of State would be able to say to a company, "The survey cost £5,000. I now require that amount from you." That is as it should be. It will enable the Secretary of State to monitor activities, and also to ensure that the companies are sticking to the terms of the Bill.

Clause 16(2) states: The rivers authority may at their own expense at any time carry out a survey". I should have thought that, if the companies were genuinely concerned about pollution, they would be only too pleased to pay the rivers authority any necessary costs to ensure that everything is above board and complies with pollution laws.

I am aware that other hon. Members wish to speak, but I felt that it was important to express my anxiety about the omissions from the Bill. I am also concerned about private Bills that give carte blanche authority to private companies compulsorily to purchase land. I do not believe that any private company should have that right, or the right to extinguish rights of way. People have enjoyed rights of way for many years, yet companies, in their pursuit of profit, want to take them away.

The Bill will go to Committee, where we hope that it will be considered in even greater depth, line by line. I hope that the Committee will check and double-check. Our experience of private Bills is that there is some kidology, some gerrymandering and some deliberate misleading of the House through the omission of the true intentions behind a Bill.

Mr. Hood

My hon. Friend's speech is informative. As he has reached only clause 16, I plead with him not to sit down and miss out the remaining 21 clauses. I would much appreciate it if he would continue with his speech and give us the benefit of his wisdom.

Mr. Redmond

I would do so, but I am gasping for a pint. I also have a dry throat.

Mr. Illsley

Perhaps I could give my hon. Friend the opportunity to catch his breath. Before he ends his excellent speech, will he elaborate on his point about the Bill being misleading? We owe a debt to the hon. Member for Littleborough and Saddleworth (Mr. Dickens) because he pointed out the companies' intentions about biocides, the injection of chlorine and so on. My efforts with the "Oxford English Dictionary" failed to reveal any such word as "biocide". Although we obviously 'Understand the meaning behind the hon. Gentleman's speech, we cannot find any definition of "biocide" or, indeed, any examples of "biocides" by their chemical names. Should not the promoters of the Bill come to the House with more detail of the chemicals that the companies intend to put through the pipes, the permission for which we are discussing tonight?

Mr. Redmond

I regret that I am not as conversant as the hon. Member for Littleborough and Saddleworth with all the technical details, so I am unable to answer my hon. Friend's questions. Perhaps the proceedings should be stopped to enable the sponsors of the Bill to clarify those points. My hon. Friend desperately wants to know the answers. If we can be given that information, it is possible that the Bill could then sweep through unopposed. I suspect that, because of the half-truths in the Bill, we will not know the whole truth for a number of years. If you, Madam Deputy Speaker, would like to stop the debate to allow clarification of those points, I should be only too happy to comply with your ruling.

Madam Deputy Speaker

That is an invitation that I must refuse to accept.

Mr. Redmond

I am sure that that is why my hon. Friend the Member for Barnsley, Central (Mr. Illsley) did not put it to you, Madam Deputy Speaker.

I could make many, many more points that would call into question the true intent of the Bill. The Committee must go through it line by line. It must cross-examine the companies' representatives who, I am sure, are listening to the debate. The Committee must ensure that the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth is presented to the House.

8.56 pm
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Energy (Mr. David Heathcoat-Amory)

When this matter was last debated on 14 January, I gave my view about the Bill, and nothing has happened since then to change it. However, for the sake of completeness, I shall summarise my position. In January and April last year, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State gave his consent and investment approvals for two power stations of the combined cycle gas turbine design. Having given those consents, after due consideration, it would be perverse if my right hon. Friend or I did not support a Bill seeking to provide the necessary ancillary works, which in this case are the cooling water works in the River Humber.

The projects have been exhaustively considered by my right hon. Friend and also by the planning authority, as we have heard. The thinking behind the Bill had been set out by my hon. Friend the Member for Stroud (Mr. Knapman), and we have had a most accomplished technical exposition from my hon. Friend the Member for Littleborough and Saddleworth (Mr. Dickens). In the light of all those considerations, I am happy to support the Bill in its present form.

8.57 pm
Mr. Kevin Barron (Rother Valley)

When we last debated the Bill, the Minister spoke from the Dispatch Box for only 10 minutes and failed to answer a number of questions that I and my hon. Friends asked. In view of his even briefer time it the Dispatch Box today, I invite him to intervene during my speech to answer my questions.

The Bill seeks planning permission to complete a multi-million pound project, much of which has already been built. If I had been spending such large amounts of money, I would have done my homework beforehand to ensure that the money was being spent wisely.

When the Bill was debated on Monday 14 January, I said that the Opposition were reluctant to give their approval to the Bill without the House having given due consideration to the implications of increasing the gas generation of electricity.

Contrary to the way in which some Tory Members misrepresented Opposition policy that night, our reluctance is based on Britain's need for a strategy for electricity generation rather than a hotch-potch of new power stations built to suit private generators or the two generating companies that we are told are now in fierce competition with each other.

Once again tonight, the private Bill procedure is being used to make major strategic energy decisions which should properly be made by Ministers of the Department of Energy—a criticism which the Government have again declined to answer tonight.

The hon. Member for Brigg and Cleethorpes (Mr. Brown) was the sponsor of the Associated British Ports (No. 2) Bill. We have never been told why he is not sponsoring this Bill. The Committee which considered the Associated British Ports (No. 2) Bill expressed its concern about being asked to make what were intrinsically policy decisions which should have been made by the Government. Its comments in its special report could equally be applied to this Bill. The Committee said that it was unanimous that the arguments raised complex matters of energy and trade policy for which the Government must take ultimate responsibility. The Government have still to explain their policy on electricity generation.

However, we have heard about some of the casualties. My hon. Friend the Member for Pontefract and Castleford (Mr. Lofthouse) spoke briefly but forcefully about the likely casualties of the change in electricity generation that has taken place during the past two years under the Government. The Bill may not be directly related to that issue, but no one who is listening to the debate or who reads it subsequently should be surprised at the attitudes of my hon. Friends to private Bills promoted by these two companies.

Like my hon. Friend, I believe that the Committee which considered the Associated British Ports (No. 2) Bill—and the House when the Bill was debated on the Floor of the House—were deceived. This Bill may not be directly related to the earlier one, but no one should be surprised at people's attitudes in relation to this Bill.

Mr. Michael Brown

Do the views expressed by the hon. Gentleman and the hon. Member for Pontefract and Castleford (Mr. Lofthouse) represent the views of the hon. Members for Glanford and Scunthorpe (Mr. Morley) and for Great Grimsby (Mr. Mitchell), who are directly affected by the Bill? It is interesting that they are not here.

Mr. Barron

Hon. Members can take part in debates in the House if they so wish. My hon. Friends the Members for Glanford and Scunthorpe (Mr. Morley) and for Great Grimsby (Mr. Mitchell) have not contacted me on the issues involved in the Bill but, like most hon. Members, they are against deception, and that is what I believe took place in the Associated British Ports (No. 2) Bill.

I accept that there is a case to be made for burning gas in certain circumstances, based on efficiency and cleanliness. The environment is important and it should not be ignored. Contrary to what some Tory Members suggest during debates on the coal industry, for example, the Opposition are concerned about the environment, but cleanliness and efficiency are not the only criteria, nor do they override other considerations that we as legislators should take into account.

Applications for the construction of gas generating stations should be based on a range of criteria, such as the efficiency of energy conservation, the use of power generated and the source of the gas.

There can be no question but that we would support the use of gas if it was for combined heat and power development, which would achieve the highest practical efficiency. The short-term advantages of using gas purely for electricity generation are outweighed by the long-term considerations.

Mr. Hood

Some take the view that gas provides a cheap form of electricity generation, and that if we go for gas turbines, everything will be hunky-dory. I remind my hon. Friend of the current situation in rural communities, which rely greatly on bottled gas—the price of which has increased by more than 35 per cent. since the invasion of Kuwait on 2 August. Suppliers of bottled gas have been able to rip off rural communities because of their market monopoly. What guarantee is there that gas turbine generators will not do the same?

Mr. Barron

The worldwide tie-in of gas prices to oil prices ought to bother all right hon. and hon. Members, and the consequences of events in the middle east should concern everyone in the country.

The Secretary of State seems to hand out permission for new gas power stations without giving any thought to their location. If they must be built, it would make more sense for them to be built in parts of the country where there is little or no power generation, rather than in areas that have a large share of power stations—some of which could be displaced.

Over the years, we have frequently argued about the building of power stations in south-east England, which has a major need for electricity. The Government have an involvement because of the need to extend planning permission through the private Bill procedure. Other areas are denied such permission, to right the imbalance in electricity generating capacity.

Mr. Knapman

Has the hon. Gentleman contacted the Labour-controlled Humberside county council to discover why it is in favour of the Bill?

Mr. Barron

I have not, nor has the council contacted me about my Second Reading speech or my actions in that connection. I should be more than happy, however, to receive representatives of that authority—as I did in respect of the legislation involving a new coal terminal that involved the hon. Member for Brigg and Cleethorpes.

Gas is a premium fuel, and to burn it to produce electricity is wasteful. The United Kingdom Offshore Operators Association's evidence to the Cullen inquiry estimated in mid-1988 that there were 25 gasfields in production or under development and that another 35 had been discovered but were not yet developed. The report stated: gas production which was currently about 4,500 million cubic feet per day, was projected to halve by the end of this century. A recent report from the stockbrokers Kleinwort Benson entitled "Natural Gas to set Europe alight" reported: substantial new gas will need to be contracted by British Gas from 1995 onwards—but even if gas from new fields in the North Sea is contracted by 1998–2000, there will still be a deficiency between supply and demand. That has major implications for electricity generation and for all the consumers who are supplied from British Gas mains. The unchecked development of gas generating stations will increase our dependence on imported fuel. Last year, we imported gas to the value of more than 40 million tonnes of coal equivalent. That is a massive fuel trade deficit for a country that is so energy-rich.

The Kleinwort Benson report predicted that increases in European demand will be met in the first instance by the European group of 10, which it describes as a secretive and anonymous group of gas producers who are top class, admittedly monopolistic bodies who efficiently control production, transmission, and distribution of natural gas. That is an obvious extension of the free market that the Conservatives have been forcing down our throats for the past 11 years. According to the report, after 1997, the percentage of imported gas from non-European countries will increase markedly. Surely it is the height of irresponsibility to encourage the dash for gas for electricity generation that we have seen in the past two years.

During our previous debate on the Bill, I mentioned press reports that the two new generating companies had gas contracts with the Caister field, which is scheduled to last for only another seven or eight years. I asked where the gas would come from to supply the turbines after that, but I received no answer—as we have received no answer from the Minister tonight. I ask the question again: will the gas come from the Gulf or the Soviet Union? They are hardly stable, secure sources of supply in current circumstances or, perhaps, for a long time to come.

Mr. Dickens

Perhaps I can assist the hon. Gentleman. The Select Committee on Energy conducted an extensive, in-depth study of gas depletion. I do not think that the hon. Gentleman is doing himself justice by arguing that gas supplies will not be sufficient. Let me set his mind at rest. If he gets a copy of our report from the Library, he will find that his argument is bogus.

Mr. Barron

I do not agree. If the hon. Gentleman himself gets a copy of the report from the Library, he will seee that my name is attached to the gas depletion policy contained in it, because I was a member of the Select Committee that drew it up. If he was present and listening to what was said then, he could be in no doubt that, by the turn of the century, Britain, and western Europe as we now know it, will be dependent on gas from eastern Europe as we now know it. That was one of our more simple findings. I need no lessons from the hon. Gentleman. He had better have another look at exactly what the report says.

Our competitors must think that the Government are crazy to squander our resources in this fashion. If honesty ever overcomes the Department of Energy arid its Minister, I believe that they will accept that. Britain should not depend on imported fuel—it should not depend on the undependable. The proper use of our own resources would prevent that.

I want to say something to the hon. Member for Littleborough and Saddleworth (Mr. Dickens), not about his lengthy discourse about the finer aspects of planning applications, but about his comments on security of supply. I agree with him. I think that security of supply is vital. Every electricity user will have put it at the top of his list. A couple of weeks ago, I visited a country that is experiencing an energy crisis. The electricity went off every four hours. The crisis has devastated the country's economy. It imports fuel, and until it can again establish its own source of supply, its economy will go from bad to worse.

Security of supply, however, does not necessarily mean diversity of supply. No-one has ever asked me whether the light bulb at home is lit by nuclear fuel, oil, coal or gas—perhaps methane from a land waste disposal site. People are much more concerned about security than about diversity, as they have every right to be. We, as legislators, should ensure that times of change do not interfere with our ability to keep the electricity burning.

I warn the House that, before we merrily give permission for new generating stations, we must have the opportunity to debate the Government's strategy for—or should I say their lack of interest in?—the careful management of the country's resources. We will not have to face the difficulties—nor will the Tories, because there will not be a Conservative Government in two years' time—but generations to come may have to pay for the decision to import energy.

9.14 pm
Mr. Michael Brown (Brigg and Cleethorpes)

This debate is very simple, and the issue is straightforward for my constituency. There is no reason why the House should not give the Bill an unopposed Second Reading.

The power stations are being constructed not as a result of powers required from the House, but as a result of powers that were granted, as my hon. Friend the Member for Stroud (Mr. Knapman) said, some time ago by the Labour-controlled Humberside county council and Glanford borough council.

As my hon. Friend the Member for Stroud said, it is significant that the hon. Members for Great Grimsby (Mr. Mitchell) and for Glanford and Scunthorpe (Mr. Morley), who are assiduous in representing constituency interests, are absent from the debate. If they were concerned about the Bill, they would have been present today. Their absence shows clearly that they will be hoping and praying for the Bill to make progress. They will be aware that the construction companies will create much employment in the area and many members of the work force will come from Grimsby, Scunthorpe and from my constituency. The fact that those two hon. Members are not present today shows that they do not share the view of the hon. Member for Rother Valley (Mr. Barron) or his hon. Friends. They will be concerned to learn that there is a difference of opinion between the hon. Member for Rother Valley and the Labour-controlled county council which they loyally support.

Mr. Hood

Why did the sponsors not have a local Member of Parliament to promote the Bill? Why did they go all the way to Gloucestershire?

Mr. Brown

The Bill's sponsors, National Power and PowerGen, are national companies. They may have decided that my hon. Friend the Member for Stroud is an excellent advocate—something that he has shown today. I cannot compete with him when it comes to advocacy and persuasion in this House. The sponsors choose wisely.

My hon. Friend the Member for Stroud will be the toast of the people of south Humberside for what he has done for my constituency today. I give him full marks for the superb way in which he introduced the Bill. He will be championed by my constituents as well as by the constituents of the hon. Members for Great Grimsby and for Glanford and Scunthorpe. I confidently predict that my hon. Friend will receive hundreds of letters from grateful constituents. On behalf of my constituents, I express my gratitude to my hon. Friend for the powerful case that he made today in favour of the Bill.

As I have said before, the Labour party has something against the people of Brigg and Cleethorpes. I do not know why that should be. The Labour party consistently opposes any form of industrial expansion, whether it be docks one year, power stations the next, or construction of pipes the following year. There is something about south Humberside that the Labour party does not like. The Labour party does not want the people of south Humberside to enjoy the benefits of industrial expansion.

Just before the Associated British Ports (No. 2) Bill reached the statute book, the hon. Member for Bassetlaw (Mr. Ashton) warned me in the House—this is in the official record—that if a Labour Government are re-elected——

Mr. Alan Meale (Mansfield)


Mr. Brown

All right—when a Labour Government are re-elected, said the hon. Member for Bassetlaw, if there is any construction with regard to the Associated British Ports development, the Labour Government will scrap it. Are the Opposition of that view? I want to know whether the Labour candidate who is to stand in my constituency in the next general election—councillor Ian Cawsey, a delightful young man—will have to say that a vote for the Labour party to sit on the Government side of the House will mean a Government who will knock down, destroy and vandalise the power stations in Luddite way, just as they are committed to knock down the dock development.

The hon. Member for Bassetlaw did the Labour party no service. The poor chap who is the Labour candidate, Councillor Ian Cawsey, has a millstone around his neck because the Labour party are saying that, if it is ever in government, it will knock down the dock development which it opposed when in opposition. If the Bill is passed into law before the next general election, will the hon. Member for Rother Valley as Energy Minister introduce legislation to knock down gas-fired power stations?

Mr. Barron

The hon. Gentleman mentioned Councillor Ian Cawsey when we debated the matter on 14 January. He says that Councillor Cawsey will have another millstone around his neck. He went on to say that the Labour party wants to kill jobs at Killingholme after the power stations are built. I invite him to withdraw that, because I did not say it then and I have not said it today—and nor have any of my hon. Friends.

Mr. Brown

Before I withdraw anything that I have said, perhaps we can get the matter straight. I will withdraw what I said if the hon. Gentleman will confirm that he is saying that, in the event of the Bill passing into law and the power stations coming on stream, a Labour Government would not knock down the power stations and abandon the principles in the Bill. If that is what he is saying and I have misinterpreted him, of course I will gladly withdraw.

But if the hon. Gentleman did not say that, why are we wasting our time today? The hon. Gentleman is implying that, if the Labour party was in power, it will accept the legislation that we have passed, acknowledge that the power stations were a reality, that the gas would be taken out of the North sea and the water out of the River Humber; but his hon. Friend the Member for Bassetlaw is recorded as saying in relation to the Associated British Ports Act 1990 that a Labour Government would stop construction and end the project.

Mr. Barron

When we debated the revival motion, and again today, I said that the Labour party was reluctant to approve the Bill without the House having considered the implications of increasing gas generation. If the hon. Gentleman does not understand that, I do not know what he does understand. I invite him to withdraw. In the previous debate, he said that we were out to kill the project.

Mr. Brown

So there we have it—fair enough. If the hon. Gentleman is saying that, if the Labour party wins the next general election, it will consider the legislation and all the arguments that we have deployed—[Interruption.] He added the qualification about being satisfied. However, as I said, if that is the case, I shall gladly withdraw. The hon. Member for Pontefract and Castleford (Mr. Lofthouse) and his hon. Friends do not want any gas-fired power stations on South Humberside in any circumstances.

Mr. Lofthouse

It is obvious that the hon. Gentleman was not listening to my speech. At no time have I said that. At no time would I agree that, when legislation has passed through the House, we would do anything to alter it, apart from through the normal democratic procedures of the House, or decide on the legislation for the period of the life of that Government. I ask the hon. Gentleman not to misquote me again. I ask him to withdraw and apologise. At no time did I even remotely suggest what Labour's policy would be on this issue. Perhaps the hon. Gentleman will withdraw what he said.

Mr. Brown

The hon. Gentleman has said that at no time in his speech did he suggest what Labour's policy would be. I do not know what he is saying—[HON. MEMBERS: "Withdraw."] I am simply saying that, if the hon. Gentleman is saying that there are no circumstances in which the Bill would be repealed once it is an Act—[Interruption.] Is that what he is saying? I thought that the whole purpose of an election was that one Government could repeal the legislation of the previous Government. If the Labour party has no intention of repealing any of the legislation passed by the Conservative party during this or the previous two Parliaments, I suppose that we can view the prospect of a Labour Government with some hope.

Mr. Jacques Arnold (Gravesham)

Steady on.

Mr. Brown


Opposition Members seem to be protesting tonight that they want to see the Bill on the statute book—[Interruption.] Well, I believe that that is what they are fumbling their way towards. They are trying to say, "Look, we have been making speeches in which we have pretended to be against the Bill, but underneath all our threadbare arguments—of course, we really have no arguments—we recognise that gas-fired power stations are the way of the future. We recognise the power of the argument deployed by the hon. Member for Stroud"——

Mr. Redmond

On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. Perhaps you could draw to the attention of the hon. Member for Brigg and Cleethorpes (Mr. Brown) the fact that he should not turn his back on the Chair, and especially not on a lady.

Madam Deputy Speaker

I can frequently see the pleasant face of the hon. Member for Brigg and Cleethorpes (Mr. Brown).

Mr. Brown

May I reassure you, Madam Deputy Speaker, that, even more frequently, I can see your pleasant face when you are in the Chair? Indeed, it is always a great privilege to face you when you are in the Chair.

Opposition Members seem to have been fumbling their way towards saying——

Mr. Illsley


Mr. Brown

I should like to develop this point, but I will consider giving way in a moment.

Opposition Members seem to have been belatedly fumbling their way to saying, "We have been making threadbare speeches this evening, but we realise that we have no argument whatsoever for opposing gas-fired power stations. We recognise that they are far cleaner than coal-fired power stations. We recognise that they emit only half the carbon dioxide of equivalent coal-fired power stations, virtually no sulphur dioxide, and only one quarter of the nitrogen oxide emissions of an equivalent coal-fired power station. Therefore, on environmental grounds, we recognise that there is no way in which we can stand in the way of such power station developments." If that is what Opposition Members are saying, I do not understand why they are likely to seek to divide the House at the end of the debate.

Mr. Meale


Mr. Malcolm Moss (Cambridgeshire, North-East)


Mr. Brown

I give way to my hon. Friend the Member for Cambridgeshire, North-East (Mr. Moss).

Mr. Moss

Does my hon. Friend think that Opposition Members might also take on board the fact that generating electricity from gas costs about 2.5p per kWh, compared with coal which costs between 3p and 3.5p per kWh?

Mr. Brown

It was clear from the Opposition's protestations earlier in my speech that, if the Bill is enacted, there is no way in which a Labour Government would seek to repeal it. Clearly, one reason for that is the one outlined by my hon. Friend. Gas is one of the cheapest ways of generating electricity. The hon. Member for Rother Valley has said that the general public do not concern themselves with the manner in which electricity is provided, but I know that, when they receive their electricity bills, the general public do concern themselves with the manner in which the electricity is passed through the electric lights in their houses. I have received many letters from constituents who are worried at their high electricity bills. Even Opposition Members know that there is the prospect of lower electricity bills with gas power generation.

Mr. Barron

The hon. Member for Stroud (Mr. Knapman), who is sitting next to the hon. Member for Brigg and Cleethorpes (Mr. Brown), has shares in one of the electricity companies. Will the hon. Member for Brigg and Cleethorpes join us in condemning the proposed 13 per cent. increase in electricity shares in the privatised companies in an attempt to protect his constituents, just as we wish to protect ours?

Mr. Brown

If the Bill becomes law as quickly as possible, it may be possible to reduce electricity charges more quickly. I hope that many private Bills of this nature will come before the House in the next Parliament, whether there is a Conservative or a Labour Government, because the way to bring down electricity costs is to ensure that we do not pay the unnecessarily high costs of electricity generation that we pay now. Gas-fired power stations are one of the most environmentally beneficial ways of producing electricity. They are also——

Mr. Illsley

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Brown

I will just finish this sentence and then I will give way to the hon. Gentleman—I am sorry that I forgot my promise to give way.

Gas-powered electricity generation will in the long run be extremely cost-effective for the consumer.

Mr. Illsley

The hon. Gentleman said a few moments ago that Opposition Members opposed jobs being created in South Humberside. Why did he oppose the Nirex depository being sited in his area? That would have brought jobs to his constituency. How can he accuse us of not wanting to bring jobs to the area?

Mr. Brown

The hon. Gentleman clearly did not attend any of the interminable debates between 1984 and 1987 when I was constantly in the House speaking on the nuclear waste issue. If he had been in the House and had listened to the reasons that I gave for opposing a nuclear waste site in my constituency, he would know that I said that no jobs would accrue to my constituents. I also drew attention to the fact that the site which Nirex, the subsidiary company of the Central Electricity Generating Board, wanted to use in 1986–87 had been intended for a power station ever since the end of the war in 1945.

During our battles against Nirex in 1985–86 and 1987, the fundamental basis of my argument was that the site had always been reserved for a power station. Indeed, in 1972, there was a proposal to build an oil-fired power station. In 1972, a Bill was brought before the House to provide the powers to build it. I opposed the use of the site as a dump for nuclear waste, because it was intended for a power station.

It is as a result of my winning the battle against the nuclear waste dump that this private Bill is before the House today. But for my victory on that issue in 1986, we should not have the Bill. The hon. Member for Barnsley, Central (Mr. Illsley) should refer to the Hansard reports of those debates and examine the arguments that I deployed.

Mr. Meale

Talking of consistency, perhaps the hon. Gentleman, who has just explained why people should support the construction of a gas-fired power station, will tell the House why he supported the construction of a private port in his constituency to import coal from abroad.

Mr. Brown

It just shows that I always put the consumer first. I am concerned ultimately about competition. My constituency will be available for people to bring their wares through the port of Immingham. My constituency has a wide variety of industry. We have an oil refinery and a large port and now we are to have two power stations. My constituency is in the vanguard of producing alternatives for the benefit of the consumer in the energy business. Customers can look to Brigg and Cleethorpes and see electricity, gas, power stations and the Conoco oil refinery. My constituency offers a choice to consumers of various ways of generating energy and power. I commend the Bill to the House. I believe that my hon. Friend the Member for Stroud will be the toast of my constituents for the way in which he presented it.

9.34 pm
Mr. Alexander Eadie (Midlothian)

The hon. Member for Brigg and Cleethorpes (Mr. Brown) reminds me of Dickens's Artful Dodger; every time he is asked a question, he dodges it. He always seems to be ungracious; when it is pointed out that he has referred to things that have not been said, he does not have the courtesy to withdraw. His speech was practically verbatim the speech he made last time. He will have to get a speech writer, because he has run out of ideas on what to say in debates.

In the preamble, the hon. Member for Littleborough and Saddleworth (Mr. Dickens) talked much sense. For example, he said that we should be concerned about security of supply. I think he also mentioned concern for our children and grandchildren. When he was giving his discourse on when a pipe is not a pipe, he reminded me of an experience I had when I was in Seattle to give a lecture on alternative sources of energy.

I cannot remember all the details, but before I gave my lecture, a young Congressman spoke to the packed audience. He said that he was very busy as a Congressman and that he had to have a speech writer, but that there were dangers in having a speech writer. He described to the audience what had happened to another Congressman.

As that Congressman went on to the platform to address a meeting, a speech was thrust into his hands. He proceeded to read it. It was an appeal to the electors which went something like this, "Vote for me and I will reduce taxation on motor cars and petrol; vote for me and education will be entirely free; vote for me and pensions will be doubled or trebled." He came to the end of the page and turned to the next page where it said, "Now let me explain how I am going to pay for it all." Underneath it said, "You sonofabitch, I found out that you have been seeing my wife. Explain it all yourself."

The hon. Member for Littleborough and Saddleworth delivered his speech with good humour. I tried to explain to him that there is always a danger when one is delivering a written speech.

Mr. Dickens

I should like to thank the hon. Gentleman for the kind things that he has said about my speech. I was careful to give credit to Labour Members for their deeply held views on and support for the coal industry. I think I also said that I stand square with them in their support of the coal industry. The promoters of the Bill are also very committed to the British coal industry. The hon. Gentleman must not lose sight of that.

Mr. Eadie

I am not trying to be critical of the hon. Gentleman in any way. He has made many comments in the House with which I disagree, but I know that he has been very supportive of many aspects of the coal industry. I hope that he will not take offence. I did not think that, particularly in his preamble, he was offensive to me or my hon. Friends or about the coal industry. It is important to examine the hon. Gentleman's preamble, because, when talking about security of supply, we must consider energy provision.

I know that the Bill will be debated at length in Committee, but when it first appeared, mistakes were made. I do not have the time to go into them now, and the House would not want to listen. Since the first appearance of the Bill, however, massive changes have occurred relating to energy provision. For example, the Gulf war—I do not want to go into that now—has made an impact on that provision.

The use of gas for electricity power generation is irresponsible—I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Pontefract and Castleford (Mr. Lofthouse) about that. We do not have enough indigenous gas to meet our needs; we must import it.

I know that the hon. Member for Littleborough and Saddleworth supports the coal industry. When we talk about energy provision a la security of supply, we are fortunate, because we have enormous supplies of indigenous coal. In that case, should we be considering security of supply? I agree with the hon. Gentleman that we have a responsibility to our children and grandchildren to ensure that we have safe, adequate supplies of energy. I have often addressed the House on the importance of having an indigenous provision of energy. That means everything to us, because, if we do not have energy provision, we shall die. It is of crucial importance.

We are entitled to scrutinise the Bill carefully. My only concern is that many of my hon. Friends who want to speak will not have the opportunity to do so before someone shouts for a vote at 10 o'clock. I do not believe that that does us damage, but, should it happen, it greatly damages Parliament, because one of the criticisms of this place is that we do not spend enough time debating legislation. I do not minimise the importance of this debate, as we are talking about something that sustains life.

When I was considering what to say in this debate, I recalled what Dr. Ernst Schumacher, the extremely talented German chief economic adviser to the National Coal Board from 1950 to 1970 said on pit closures. It is well worth remembering how he described the policy of closing mines that had not been exhausted—my hon. Friend the Member for Pontefract and Castleford has already described that policy as one of vandalism and irresponsibility. Dr. Schumacher said: It is a policy of doubtful wisdom and questionable morality for this generation to take all the best resources and leave for its children only the worst. But surely it is a criminal policy if, in addition, we wilfully sterilise, abandon, and thereby ruin such relatively inferior resources as we ourselves have opened up, but do not care to utilise. This is like the spiteful burglar who does not merely pinch the valuables but in addition, destroys everything he cannot take". My hon. Friend the Member for Pontefract and Castleford mentioned the tremendous amount of investment that the Government have made. No one can argue about that, but as quickly as they invest, they destroy. Nowadays, comparatively new pits are closed, which means that the investment is, to some extent, a fraud on the nation.

My hon. Friend the Member for Clydesdale (Mr. Hood) will know that, at present, I am battling for the reopening of Monktonhall colliery, which is mothballed, is not closed and contains millions of tonnes of coal. The local authorities have completed a study and produced an argument to show how it could be viable. I regret that they have had trouble meeting Ministers or the chairman of British Coal to discuss the plan, which was drawn up by independent consultants. I am sure that the House will agree that it would be difficult to make a more eloquent critique of the Government's present policy, not only on coal but on energy provision, than the words of Ernst Schumacher, whom I quoted earlier.

During the debate, figures have been bandied about on the provision of natural gas. It is generally conceded t hat its provision is limited. I hope, if I have time, to come to the issue of price, which was quoted by Conservative Members to further the Bill's Second Reading. I wish to introduce into the debate a western European, rather than merely a British, dimension, because that is relevant to us today.

The war we are waging in the Gulf involves a coalition of forces. One hopes that there will be a coalition of forces and forms of collective security to preserve the peace. But if we talk about collective security in relation to defence and war, we should talk about it in relation to energy provision. There is nothing inconsistent in that.

Western Europe has 31 years of proven natural gas reserves at the 1989 production rate, although half the reserves are held by non-EC countries such as Norway. Western Europe's proven oil reserves are much smaller—only 13 years at current production rates, with Norway holding half of them. The preliminary remarks of the hon. Member for Littleborough and Saddleworth were valuable, because he too has been thinking about that dimension. The world reserves of gas and oil are only 55 years and 44 years respectively. The House should use those figures when talking about security of supply and energy provision for our people. The EC probably has a minimum of 200 years coal reserves at current production rates. That is a viable insurance policy as oil and gas run out. In the EC, there are hundreds of years of technically recoverable reserves of coal.

Coal is probably the most complex of our hydrocarbon resources, it can be converted into many petroleum products and substitute natural gas. That will become necessary in the early part of the next century. When I was a Minister, I was proud to sign an agreement with Sir Derek Ezra, then the chairman of the National Coal Board, to set up three pilot plants to make oil from coal. Different systems were used, but I shall not bore the House with the details. We abuse our scientists far too much because Britain is good at technology. We are an inventive nation. We decided that the best of the three pilot projects would be examined to see if it was commercially viable.

I am sorry to say that the 1979 general election intervened. My successor said that that was the right way to deal with science and technology, but, despite a promise that the projects would carry on, I am afraid that they were buried, because the Government are anti-science and anti-technology. I am sorry to say that, because such an attitude affects the whole nation and in future may affect its wealth.

A rapidly declining coal industry cannot sustain the level of research and development that is needed to prove new technologies of coal liquefaction and gasification. The coal industry continues to decline, and we ruthlessly close pits. As my hon. Friend the Member for Pontefract and Castleford has said, when a pit is closed, there is no way of regaining access to that God-given wealth. How can we develop the new technologies when we are destroying our indigenous capacity to produce coal?

Mr. Jack Thompson

In areas such as mine, and on the eastern coast of Scotland where the mines extend under the North sea, closed mines are certainly written off, because there is no way in which one can gain access to them. That is because the North sea has flooded the workings and the cost of getting back at those reserves would be prohibitive.

Mr. Eadie

I am obliged to my hon. Friend. I know his area well. There was talk in his area about gas and oil. The coalfield in his constituency is very old, and I had a suspicion that all the coal had not been worked. I proposed a working party to examine my hon. Friend's coalfield, because we had discovered from examinations that in many areas there is sometimes more coal than was ever mined. It was possible to discover that because North sea oil exploration has introduced new seismic studies. I do not know whether that applies to my hon. Friend's area, but I had proposed that a working party carry out an examination of that area. I believe that that is the function of Government. After all, as I said earlier, we are talking about wealth.

In recent years, Britain has been the only net exporter of energy in the EC. In 1988, United Kingdom primary energy production accounted for 39 per cent. of all the primary energy produced in the EC. United Kingdom coal accounted for 10 per cent. of the total. This was one of the few secure long-term resources of the Community.

We must look at this matter in a European and global context. When I was gathering these figures, I was surprised to learn that the EC is now nearly 50 per cent. dependent on imported energy. That figure would increase to 55 per cent. if the United Kingdom were to abandon its deep-mine industry and instead import coal, gas and oil. If all EC hard coal production were to cease, and if current consumption rates were to continue, the level of dependency would rise to over 60 per cent.

Mr. Meale

I do not want to disturb the direction of my hon. Friend's speech, but may I ask him to dwell for a moment on the question of the people who work in coalfields throughout the world? I am thinking of the ages of workers, and so on.

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Paul Dean)

Order. I find it a little difficult to relate the remarks of the hon. Member for Midlothian (Mr. Eadie) to the contents of the Bill. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will take note of that.

Mr. Eadie

I understand the point that you are making, Mr. Deputy Speaker, and I appreciate your tolerance. However, I am dealing with points that have already been raised in the debate. As has been said, it will be a scandal if a vote is taken at 10 o'clock. Many of my hon. Friends want to speak.

There has been reference to gas imports, and some very optimistic scenarios have been put forward. It is only right that I should comment on some of them. In 1990, gas imports amounted to 81.4 million tonnes equivalent. Most scenarios anticipate that, by the year 2010, that figure will have doubled. At the end of 1990, the European authorities removed the restrictions on the use of gas in power generation. It is likely, therefore, that there will be many new gas-fired power stations, but where will the gas come from? That question is indeed relevant to this Bill.

We could also ask about the price. For some time, it has been assumed that, except in the case of Norway, the gas will come from the Soviet Union and, to a lesser extent, from Algeria. As the energy crisis in the Soviet Union deepens, this assumption becomes questionable. For that reason, as well as for others, we should question this whole proposition. In 1989, for the first time, Soviet gas production, at 796 billion cu m, failed to meet the planned target of 820 billion cu m. The increase of 26 billion cu m from 1988 did not make up for the drop in oil, gas and nuclear production.

The collapse of Soviet oil output from the record 624 million tonnes in 1990 is forcing the Soviet Union to use more of its own gas supplies. Falling production and the deep crisis in the nuclear industry places even more pressure on the gas industry. In the wake of a series of minor strikes, coal production fell by 32 tonnes to 740 million tonnes in 1989. It fell by a further 4.8 per cent. during the first seven months of 1990, compared with the equivalent period in 1989. There has also been the Chernobyl disaster.

We must appreciate the true position about gas. The EC—that includes us—has only 2.2 per cent. of the world's gas reserves. Western Europe as a whole, at 1989 production levels, has gas reserves of 31.3 years, which is the smallest amount per region, after north America. That shows that it would be a scandal if the Bill, which would mean the burning of gas, were to go through unchallenged.

I can give the figures for gas reserves region by region. North America has 12.6 years, which is a 6.5 per cent. share of the total. South America has 75 years, which represents 5.8 per cent.; western Europe has 31.3 years, which represents 4.9 per cent.; the USSR—on which people have pinned their faith—has 53.2 years, which represents 37.6 per cent.; eastern Europe has 14 years, which represents 0.7 per cent.; Africa has 110 years, which represents 6.7 per cent.; Algeria has 72.3 years, which represents 2.9 per cent.; Asia/Australasia has 55.3 years, which represents 7.1 per cent.; the middle east has 350 years, which represents 30.7 per cent. The source for those figures is British Petroleum.

The middle east has 350 years of reserves, of which Iran has the largest share, with 12.5 per cent. of the total, followed by Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Abu Dhabi, each with 4 per cent. of the total. Declining reserves and the growing import tendency are now being combined with uncertainty about prices. The belief that gas prices are being decoupled from oil prices is no longer sustainable because of the price increases following the third-world shock.

I was astonished that one Conservative Member, who argued in favour of the Bill, tried to promise that, if we allowed the Bill to go through, it would mean a decrease in electricity prices. An examination of the facts shows that to be a bogus claim. In 2010, we will be confronted with a 40 per cent. increase. Solid fuel is to some extent different.

Security of supply is a central issue. Oil reserves in western Europe have only about a 12.6-year life at current rates of gas production. Reserves stand at only 31.3 per cent., increasing the insecurity of supply.

Mr. Meale

Will my hon. Friend dwell a little more on the implications of the insecurity of the Gulf, the Soviet bloc and South America for maintaining supplies at gas stations such as the one in the Bill?

Mr. Eadie

For the convenience of the House, I skipped many of my figures, but I showed that, if gas is a diminishing supply—of all the fossil fuels, it contracts—the future of power stations is bound to be jeopardised.

Gas is a wonderful fuel. A lot can be done with it. We are fortunate to have the reserves we do. Unfortunately, we are consuming more than we are finding. The world is consuming more than it is finding. At one time, it was thought that the best way to use natural gas would be in developing the petrochemical industry—the by-products that could be obtained from it. However, we have changed our minds quite a bit on that.

Gas reserves were originally believed to be more limited than is now thought to be the case. It used to be thought that, come the late 1990s, gas reserves would be exhausted. There have been more finds, which we welcome, but there have been no really magnificent finds.

Those who are hell-bent on using gas as a means of generating electricity place much faith in the belief that, although they confess that we would not have enough indigenous gas, cheap gas would be available from the Soviet Union which could be transported by pipes running below the North sea. But that will not materialise. There is much instability in the world at the present. To some extent, the Gulf war is part of the energy production crisis.

Mr. Hugo Summerson (Walthamstow)

The hon. Gentleman is right to say that gas and coal reserves will eventually be exhausted. Does he not agree that the generation of electricity by nuclear power will become more important in future?

Mr. Eadie

I have taken part in many debates on the topic of nuclear power generation. The hon. Gentleman must face up to the problem that——

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. The real problem seems to be that the hon. Member for Midlothian (Mr. Eadie) is being led astray by that intervention.

Mr. Eadie

I understand why the hon. Member for Walthamstow (Mr. Summerson) asked that question, but the alternative of nuclear power is not the one before us. I was only going to remark that nuclear power is just too unforgiving at present, and I cannot see myself ever being able to forget that.

The security of supply argument was advanced at the start of this debate in support of the Bill. Western Europe's oil reserves have a life of only 12.6 years at current production rates, and gas reserves will last for only 31.3 years. The European scenario has been projected as far ahead as 2010. World oil and gas reserves will also be quickly depleted over the next 20 years. That inherent insecurity will add to the problem of external supply, and is a central issue in formulating not only a national energy policy but an EC-wide policy.

Apart from the moral question whether or not western Europe should continue to monopolise 31 per cent. of world oil imports, the central issue of security must also be considered.

Mr. Knapman

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

Question put, That the Question be now put:—

The House proceeded to a Division:

Mr. Hood

(seated and covered): On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

I will take the hon. Gentleman's point of order, but I suspect that it is more a point of frustration. It might be better if he put the point to me after the Division, when it will be easier both for the House and for me to hear.

Mr. Hood

I assure you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that it is certainly not a point of frustration. At the beginning of the debate, I raised a point about the credibility of the private Bill procedure. It seems strange that the three-hour debate that we were originally allowed should be cut short. The Bill has 37 clauses. Surely it is not in the interests of the House to allow such a short debate on Second Reading, and I ask you to extend it.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

I appreciate that the hon. Gentleman was not able to speak in the debate, and. I am sorry about that, but he did manage to make some interventions.

The hon. Gentleman's point is not a point of order for the Chair, but one that he could have made during the debate had he been called. I am sorry that he and a number of other hon. Members on both sides of the House could not be called before I accepted the closure motion.

The House having divided: Ayes 154, Noes 50.

Division No. 84] [10.13 pm
Arbuthnot, James Clarke, Rt Hon K. (Rushcliffe)
Arnold, Jacques (Gravesham) Coombs, Simon (Swindon)
Arnold, Sir Thomas Cope, Rt Hon John
Ashby, David Currie, Mrs Edwina
Baker, Rt Hon K. (Mole Valley) Curry, David
Baker, Nicholas (Dorset N) Davies, Q. (Stamf'd & Spald'g)
Beaumont-Dark, Anthony Davis, David (Boothferry)
Beggs, Roy Day, Stephen
Bellingham, Henry Devlin, Tim
Bellotti, David Dickens, Geoffrey
Bennett, Nicholas (Pembroke) Dorrell, Stephen
Benyon,W. Dunn, Bob
Bevan, David Gilroy Durant, Sir Anthony
Blaker, Rt Hon Sir Peter Dykes, Hugh
Boswell, Tim Emery, Sir Peter
Bottomley, Peter Fairbairn, Sir Nicholas
Bowden, Gerald (Dulwich) Fallon, Michael
Bowis, John Fenner, Dame Peggy
Brazier, Julian Fishburn, John Dudley
Bright, Graham Forman, Nigel
Browne, John (Winchester) Forsyth, Michael (Stirling)
Buchanan-Smith, Rt Hon Alick Forsythe, Clifford (Antrim S)
Butterfill, John Forth, Eric
Campbell, Menzies (Fife NE) Fox, Sir Marcus
Carlile, Alex (Mont'g) Freeman, Roger
Carlisle, John, (Luton N) Gale, Roger
Carlisle, Kenneth (Lincoln) Gardiner, Sir George
Carrington, Matthew Gill, Christopher
Cash, William Goodhart, Sir Philip
Chapman, Sydney Gorman, Mrs Teresa
Chope, Christopher Greenway, Harry (Ealing N)
Churchill, Mr Greenway, John (Ryedale)
Clark, Rt Hon Sir William Gregory, Conal
Griffiths, Peter (Portsmouth N) Nelson, Anthony
Grist, Ian Neubert, Sir Michael
Ground, Patrick Nicholls, Patrick
Hague, William Nicholson, David (Taunton)
Hamilton, Neil (Tatton) Nicholson, Emma (Devon West)
Hanley, Jeremy Norris, Steve
Hannam, John Onslow, Rt Hon Cranley
Hargreaves, A. (B'ham H'll Gr') Paice, James
Harris, David Patnick, Irvine
Haselhurst, Alan Pattie, Rt Hon Sir Geoffrey
Hayhoe, Rt Hon Sir Barney Pawsey, James
Hayward, Robert Peacock, Mrs Elizabeth
Heathcoat-Amory, David Porter, David (Waveney)
Heseltine, Rt Hon Michael Portillo, Michael
Hicks, Mrs Maureen (Wolv' NE) Rifkind, Rt Hon Malcolm
Hicks, Robert (Cornwall SE) Ryder, Rt Hon Richard
Hill, James Shaw, David (Dover)
Howarth, G. (Cannock & B'wd) Shaw, Sir Michael (Scarb')
Howell, Ralph (North Norfolk) Shephard, Mrs G. (Norfolk SW)
Hughes, Robert G. (Harrow W) Skeet, Sir Trevor
Hughes, Simon (Southwark) Squire, Robin
Hunter, Andrew Stevens, Lewis
Irvine, Michael Stewart, Rt Hon Ian (Herts N)
Jack, Michael Summerson, Hugo
Janman, Tim Taylor, Rt Hon J. D. (S'ford)
Jones, Gwilym (Cardiff N) Taylor, John M (Solihull)
Kilfedder, James Thompson, D. (Calder Valley)
King, Rt Hon Tom (Bridgwater) Thompson, Patrick (Norwich N)
Kirkhope, Timothy Thorne, Neil
Kirkwood, Archy Townend, John (Bridlington)
Knapman, Roger Townsend, Cyril D. (B'heath)
Knight, Greg (Derby North) Tredinnick, David
Knox, David Wakeham, Rt Hon John
Livsey, Richard Walker, Bill (T'side North)
Lloyd, Sir Ian (Havant) Wallace, James
MacKay, Andrew (E Berkshire) Wardle, Charles (Bexhill)
Madel, David Wheeler, Sir John
Mans, Keith Widdecombe, Ann
Mates, Michael Wiggin, Jerry
Meyer, Sir Anthony Winterton, Nicholas
Miller, Sir Hal Wood, Timothy
Miscampbell, Norman Young, Sir George (Acton)
Mitchell, Andrew (Gedling)
Montgomery, Sir Fergus Tellers for the Ayes:
Morrison, Sir Charles Mr. Malcolm Moss and.
Neale, Sir Gerrard Mr. Michael Brown.
Alton, David Lamond, James
Armstrong, Hilary Lewis, Terry
Barnes, Harry (Derbyshire NE) Lofthouse, Geoffrey
Barron, Kevin McKay, Allen (Barnsley West)
Benn, Rt Hon Tony Mahon, Mrs Alice
Campbell-Savours, D. N. Maxton, John
Clark, Dr David (S Shields) Meale, Alan
Cook, Robin (Livingston) Michael, Alun
Crowther, Stan Michie, Bill (Sheffield Heeley)
Cryer, Bob Morgan, Rhodri
Dalyell, Tam Nellist, Dave
Davies, Rt Hon Denzil (Llanelli) Patchett, Terry
Davis, Terry (B'ham Hodge H'l) Powell, Ray (Ogmore)
Dobson, Frank Rogers, Allan
Dunnachie, Jimmy Rowlands, Ted
Eadie, Alexander Skinner, Dennis
Evans, John (St Helens N) Taylor, Mrs Ann (Dewsbury)
Fatchett, Derek Thompson, Jack (Wansbeck)
Flynn, Paul Vaz, Keith
Foster, Derek Warden, Gareth (Gower)
Godman, Dr Norman A. Welsh, Andrew (Angus E)
Golding, Mrs Llin Welsh, Michael (Doncaster N)
Hardy, Peter Wise, Mrs Audrey
Home Robertson, John
Hood, Jimmy Tellers for the Noes:
Jones, Barry (Alyn & Deeside) Mr. Eric Illsley and
Jones, Martyn (Clwyd S W) Mr. Martin Redmond.

Question accordingly agreed to.

Bill read a Second time and referred to the Examiners of Petitions for Private Bills.