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House of Commons

Friday 14 April 1989

The House met at half-past Nine o'clock


[Mr. Speaker-- in the Chair ]


Chiswick (Road Proposals)

9.34 am

Sir Barney Hayhoe (Brentford and Isleworth) : I beg leave to present a petition signed by 11,793 people living, working and visiting in and around the Chiswick area of my constituency who are vehemently and determinedly opposed to the damaging, new major road proposals for this lovely part of west London.

I pay tribute to the dedicated work of Michael Robinson, Nigel Birch, Steve Brook and others, who have gathered these many signatures from those stating :

That we are opposed to any new proposals which include major road building in Chiswick and in particular to the new major roads proposed in options 3, 4 and 7 of Stage 2a of the West London Assessment Study.

Wherefore your petitioners pray that your honourable House urges the Right Honourable Paul Channon MP, the Secretary of State for Transport to dismiss from further consideration all proposals for major road building through Chiswick in the light of the destruction of homes and major damage to the environment and local community life these new roads would cause.

And your petitioners, as in duty bound, will ever pray.

I hope that the House will note, and the Secretary of State will act in accordance with, the petition.

To lie upon the Table.

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Orders of the Day

Control of Smoke Pollution Bill

Order for Third Reading read.

Mr. Speaker : I have selected the two verbal amendments in the name of the hon Member for Basingstoke (Mr. Hunter), and it will be convenient to discuss them together.

Mr. Ivor Stanbrook (Orpington) : On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. It is unusual for the Third Reading of a Bill, for which amendments are printed, to appear on the Order Paper. For the enlightenment of those of us who are not well acquainted with such matters, will you explain this?

Mr. Speaker : These are verbal amendments--of words. If the hon. Gentleman looks at the amendment paper he will see that they are small amendments to the words in the Bill and do not affect the sense of the Bill. This is unusual, but not unprecedented.

Mr. Ray Powell (Ogmore) : Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. Will we be allowed to speak on the verbal amendments when they are announced--which will, I assume, be at the start of the speech of the hon. Member for Basingstoke?

Mr. Speaker : Yes, of course there will be a debate on the amendments. However, the hon. Gentleman will see from the Order Paper and the amendment paper that it will be a narrow debate.

Mr. Dennis Skinner (Bolsover) : Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. You said that these amendments involve changes of words, but I thought that all amendments were changes of words. I took it for granted that if someone put down an amendment to a motion, it would change a word or delete some words. Do I take it that, in future, if someone wants to amend Bills on Third Reading--this is purely for the benefit of future exercises--they will be able to amend them on the basis that they are merely changing a few odd words here and there? Is that in order?

Mr. Speaker : Of course, I look at any amendments on the amendment paper carefully and it is not unprecedented to have verbal amendments. The hon. Member for Orpington (Mr. Stanbrook) asked for an explanation. I used the word "verbal" meaning "of a word" rather than "by the mouth". Is that clear?

Mr. Skinner : Yes, right.

Mr. Ray Powell : Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. This is important--you mentioned that this would be a narrow debate. In fact, it will embrace the Clean Air Acts, and, therefore, could be a wide-ranging debate. My hon. Friend the Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) asked about submitting amendments--we are on Third Reading and I assume that we shall discuss the debates which have taken place prior to this.

Mr. Speaker : The hon. Member may have a somewhat wider debate when we come to Third Reading, but the first debate is on the Question, That the amendment be made. I think that we should now move to that.

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9.39 am

Mr. Andrew Hunter (Basingstoke) : I beg to move, amendment No. 1, in title, leave out repeal' and insert amend'.

I understand that I may also speak to amendment No. 2, in title, leave out to amend'.

Perhaps I should explain that the only controversy about a vote on the Bill has been whether its modest objectives constitute the repealing of the Clean Air Acts or their amendment.

The debate has swayed backwards and forwards. When the Bill was drafted I was advised that it was a repealing measure. Subsequently, informed opinion decided that the modest contents of the Bill amounted to an amending of the Clean Air Acts. No matter of substance arises from the amendments and I commend them to the House.

Ms. Joan Walley (Stoke-on-Trent, North) : As my hon. Friend the Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) has said, it is extraordinary that we should have reached this stage of a Bill with so little debate. It is a small Bill but it is an important amendment to existing legislation. There has been no discussion of the Bill until this stage, and it is only now that it has come to light that the amendments are necessary. That is because the Bill, as it has been compiled by the parliamentary draftsman, or whoever, overlooks the fact that it deals with the amendment rather than with the repeal of legislation.

I look forward to the Third Reading debate because the Bill is important in the context of air pollution. Until now, we have had only a few words of discussion about the Bill in the House. It is extraordinary that the Bill has got so far without the House examining it in more detail. Hansard deals with the Bill in seven lines :

" CONTROL OF SMOKE POLLUTION BILL Bill read a Second time. Bill committed to a Committee of the whole House.-- [Mr. Hunter.] Bill immediately considered in Committee ; reported, without amendment.

To be read the Third time on Friday 14 April."-- [ Official Report, 3 March 1989 ; Vol. 148, c. 571.]

It may well be that all legislation is important in terms of the speed and urgency with which it comes to the House. However, I wish that the Secretary of State had the same sense of urgency about bringing forward the green Bill and dealing with the many very important related issues of air pollution. I may not be here at the end of the debate because I have other urgent engagements. However, I have brought these matters to the attention of the House. In case I am not here when the Bill is passed, I should now like to congratulate its promoter on having introduced it. I regret that such an important, albeit minor, change to existing legislation should have got so far without debate. I urge the Government to treat the whole matter of environmental protection with much greater urgency. 9.45 am

Mr. Stanbrook : I am grateful to you, Mr. Speaker, for your assurance that the amendment is in order. However, I am still somewhat mystified about how on Third Reading we can get such a drastic change in the wording of the Bill. The purpose of the Bill is :

"To repeal section 16(1)(a) of the Clean Air Act 1956 and to amend section 1 of the Clean Air Act 1968."

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The amendment seeks to amend section 16(1)(a) of the 1956 Act and to repeal section 1 of the 1968 Act. The original intention of the Bill was to delete section 16(1)(a) of the 1956 Act and to leave something in section 1 of the 1968 Act after the legislative process. We are now told that that was not the intention, but that it was to leave something of the 1956 Act and to delete section 1 of the 1968 Act.

How on earth is it possible for a Bill to come before the House and go through all its legislative stages with such a decisive and fundamental flaw? Did no one discover that nothing would be left of section 1 of the 1968 Act? Has that only just been discovered? We ought to have some sort of explanation, if only for the satisfaction of the legal draftsman.

Mr. Ray Powell : I am still rather confused about how amendments could have been allowed to be tabled. I do not have the legal knowledge of the hon. Member for Orpington (Mr. Stanbrook) and I should like to be assured that the amendments are entirely in order. I have no doubt, Mr. Speaker, that you have examined them in detail. Amendment 1 seeks to leave out "repeal" and insert "amend". There is a profound difference in the meanings of the two words. If we repeal something, we take it away, but if we amend it we merely add to or subtract from what is already there. Those of us who have studied in great depth the Clean Air Acts and the repercussions of any repeal of their clauses or amendments to them, realise that that needs to be thoroughly examined. This morning we have been presented with two verbal amendments--a term that I have not heard before in the House. We have always had amendments that we can study in conjunction with the Acts to see their repercussions. It appals me to think that on a Friday we are discussing such far-reaching effects as are to be found in the Bill.

Smoke has always been prevalent in my area, because it was a mining area. In 1979 there were 7,000 to 8,000 miners in my constituency, all of whom were entitled to receive an allocation of free coal. That meant that coal was the fuel used throughout my constituency. When one stood on Bwlch mountain and looked down over the four valleys of my constituency, on a lovely morning such as this one could see smoke coming from practically every chimney. I arrived in London at the tender age of 17 and lived in Minet drive in Harlesden. I worked at Old Oak common in Acton and used to walk to work, because even in those days I could not afford to take the tube. No one was worried about riding in the tube in those days.

I am not all that old, Mr. Speaker, but perhaps I am a little older than you. In those days, many of us who had come to London used to tie a strip of gauze around the nose and mouth when we were going for a walk and when there was smoke or fog about in London. When I arrived in Acton, which was only about a 20 or 25-minute walk from Willesden and Harlesden, I would find a smear as black as coal on my mouth and on the gauze across my nostrils. That was caused by the pollution in London at that time.

We know, too, of the effect of pollution on this building. We cannot see a number of the statues at Westminster Hall because they were destroyed by pollution. It is therefore essential that at this stage we get right any measures that control air pollution. That is why

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I strongly object to amendments being thrown in on a Friday morning without Members who have taken an interest in the matter being able to look at them in detail.

Mr. Win Griffiths (Bridgend) : As my hon. Friend will know, I am a new Member of the House. I heard it said that this was an unusual procedure. Can my hon. Friend tell me how many times this procedure has been used and when was the last time that amendments have been presented in this way?

Mr. Powell : I cannot reply to that point, but I posed the same question in a point of order before I started my speech. I realise that my hon. Friend might have been delayed because he was seeking out the amendments to the Bill. I missed Prayers, in fact, because I was informed, as I was coming into the Chamber, that there were amendments to the Bill. I appreciate my hon. Friend's problem, and probably you, Mr. Speaker, can inform him of what has happened.

Mr. Skinner : My information is that the last time that this was done was 18 years ago, but it was done in completely different circumstances. As my hon. Friend the Member for Ogmore (Mr. Powell) has been explaining, we have before us today a Bill whose several stages were rushed through at the end of business one Friday. The Bill was probably planted on the hon. Member for Basingstoke (Mr. Hunter). I am not too sure about that, but all the signs are that a Government Whip went along and said, "Shove this forward for a particular Friday in order to block something else." That is what usually happens and, therefore, those very weird circumstances have taken place. It is conceivable that the hon. Gentleman himself was not sure what the issue was all about. It went through on the nod and the result is that we have a Bill that in many ways is so cock-eyed that it should have been taken back.

My hon. Friend the Member for Ogmore is on to a very good point. I am certain that the way in which the Government have pushed through the measure has been an embarrassment to the authorities of the House.

I think, too, that there is another reason for us having this mess, which is that the Prime Minister went green--or mouldy, as some would say--some time ago, and she had to prove that she meant business. So what better than to say, "Let's look as though we are going green on the Clean Air Act and beef it up a bit"? A Whip therefore looked for a participant on the Tory Benches and said to him, "Here you are, we can make it look as though the Tory party is carrying out its green proposals." However, because it is not really a party that is in favour of collective green action, the Government got the whole thing wrong.

Mr. Powell : I agree with my hon. Friend. I understand what he says about the progress of the Bill from stage one. However, I do not know whether I could go as far as to suggest that Whips on either side of the House would have been involved in such matters. I very much doubt whether they would have been involved in any sort of intrigue. You yourself, Mr. Speaker, will accept that Whips would not become involved in such actions.

I shall return to the first amendment, concerning the word "repeal", and what my hon. Friend the Member for Bolsover said about the Prime Minister. What appals me is the fact that my secretary and agent--who is a councillor of some 35 years' standing and a justice of the peace, who has received an MBE and is well-respected in my

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constituency--was appointed to the national Clean Air Council. She is a miner's widow. She had a great interest in pollution and she regularly attended the meetings. She reported to me regularly about the discussions at those meetings.

Then in 1979, there was an election and the green goddess got to number 10- -although she was not as green as she is now. She walked up the yellow brick road and she got to number 10 Downing street. Overnight, the right hon. Lady abolished the Clean Air Council. She dismissed the services of my secretary and agent, Councillor Mrs. Muriel Williams, MBE, JP, with her 35 years' experience in local government and in other areas.

Now, 10 years later, because a big conference was to be held in London, involving 124 representatives from all over the world, the right hon. Lady has become interested in the Clean Air Act 1968. It is a pity that she was not interested in 1979 or 1980 and she did not retain the services of my secretary-agent of 70 years of age to look after the interests of the people in my constituency and in Wales.

Mrs. Gwyneth Dunwoody (Crewe and Nantwich) : Is it not a fact that, because the Government--for example, under planning laws--have made it much easier for people to develop in areas where previously it was not acceptable, that there will be more pollution rather than less? This sort of amendment will have a direct effect on the quality of life of all our constituents.

Mr. Powell : My hon. Friend is right in saying that there are some considerable problems. I shall illustrate one planning problem and the difficulties caused to some Members of Parliament. We are looking-- especially in parts of Wales--for industrialists to come into our areas to invest, because we want industry and we want jobs. Whether they come from Japan or anywhere else, we seek them out to provide jobs in our areas. My hon. Friend the Member for Cynon Valley (Mrs. Clwyd), has a problem, because she has a phurnacite plant in Abercwmboi, which produces smokeless fuels. However, the production of those smokeless fuels, causes a tremendous amount of pollution.

Mr. Speaker : The amendment concerns the changing of two words. I believe that what the hon. Gentleman has said is more appropriate to the Third Reading of the Bill.

Mrs. Dunwoody : On a point of order, Mr. Speaker, which is related precisely to the wording. It appears that "to amend", which in this case is a verb without any qualifying wording, could create considerable difficulty for the House. I should have thought that the parliamentary draftsmen, who are so careful about the use of the English language, would have told us that such a verb, without any qualification, could create considerable difficulty. Is it not the case that "to amend" must by implication give some indication of the manner in which, how and to what extent it amends? A verbal amendment of this kind will lead my hon. Friend the Member for Ogmore, for example, who is developing specific points about smoke control, into considerable difficulty if he does not know in which way the Bill is to be amended and to what extent.

Mr. Speaker : The House sometimes finds itself in difficulties when a Bill goes through all its stages without any debate. The House will know that the Chair is in difficulty, and that it deprecates that practice. However,

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such a difficulty has arisen today and that is why, exceptionally, the House must consider amendments on Third Reading.

10 am

Mrs. Dunwoody : Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. I would never dream of arguing with you, as I know that you are only following precedent--that you will have been given advice and will be aware that such a precedent has been established. The difficulty lies in debating a narrowly drawn amendment that seeks to substitute only one word, but that will basically change the Bill without the House knowing in what manner the Bill is to be changed. While I have no desire to argue with the Chair, the amendment creates enormous problems. If the debate on the amendment is narrowly

confined--obviously the Chair will want the right hon. and hon. Members to keep well within the rules of order--the House will have to agree or disagree to the amendment without being perfectly clear as to its exact meaning. The problem is not the amendment itself but the enormous implications that it has for the Bill.

Mr. Speaker : I say again that we are in this difficulty because of what happened. However, the House must observe the rules of order. The debate on the amendment is narrow, but the Third Reading debate is much wider.

Ms. Walley : Further to that point of order, and to my introductory remarks, I believe that you, Mr. Speaker, have been placed in a very difficult situation. Obviously there is no way in which the situation can be redeemed in respect of the Bill and of the whole issue of smoke control and related matters of air pollution. However, I wonder whether you could discuss the situation with whoever has responsibility for such matters, to ensure that the House will face a similar situation again. Then at least something constructive would come out of the Government's clear attempt to ensure that the Prime Minister has some sound evidence to show the nation that she has gone green.

Mr. Speaker : It is not unprecedented for a Bill to go through all its stages on a Friday. However, I repeat that that practice is always deprecated by the Chair. Even small measures should never go through the House of Commons without debate.

Mr. Skinner : Further to that point or order, Mr. Speaker. Normally, it would be difficult for my hon. Friend the Member for Ogmore (Mr. Powell) to speak at range over the whole compass of the Bill. However, the Bill passed through all its previous stages in a shabby fashion several Fridays ago, because it was planted in the fist of the hon. Member for Basingstoke (Mr. Hunter) by the Whips, and he did not know what he had been given. That is the bottom line. That meant that the Bill could not be debated.

Mr. Speaker : That is in the hands of the House. As the hon. Gentleman well knows, it requires only one right hon. or hon. Member to object, and a Bill cannot immediately proceed.

Mr. Skinner : If I had been present, an objection would have been made. The fact that the hon. Member for Basingstoke has not spoken to the Bill at any length today creates another problem. He has given little or no

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indication of the Bill's purpose, which leaves the House in a predicament. On the first occasion that the hon. Gentleman is given an opportunity to speak to the Bill, he hardly opens his mouth. As a consequence, the House is left in a quandary.

In the absence of proper discussion, you, Mr. Speaker, would be correct to be more liberal in your interpretation of what can be said on this occasion, as compared with the situation in which full and frank discussion had earlier taken place. In the absence of full and frank discussion, my hon. Friend the Member for Ogmore must surely have the right to expand on his argument as to what effect the amendments would have in certain circumstances. In that context, my hon. Friend travelled down a reasonable path.

Mr. Speaker : We are all bound by Standing Orders. The hon. Gentleman in his other incarnation, when he has the difficult responsibility for chairing meetings, is bound by his standing orders.

Mr. Skinner : I get things through on the nod as well.

Mr. Speaker : That is not a very wise thing to do. I may point out that the hon. Member for Basingstoke (Mr. Hunter) has the right of reply.

Mr. Powell : On only one occasion, at midnight some years ago, have I ever failed to respond to your ruling from the Chair, Mr. Speaker. I well recall the incident, because within two minutes I was going through the front gates. I do not want to do that this morning. The first amendment seeks to leave out the word "repeal". The argument I was developing about the phurnacite plant at Abercwmboi is important in that respect, because if we repeal the Clean Air Acts of 1956 and 1968, that will have wide implications for the Cynon valley and for the plant. It will allow developers to take certain action which, if we amend the legislation rather than repeal it, they would not be allowed to take. Those are the reasons, Mr. Deputy Speaker, why points of order were earlier raised and developed.

The products of the phurnacite plant are designed to protect the environment, so any amendments to the Bill would directly affect that plant. I presume that you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, share the views expressed earlier as to how the House should deal with the two amendments, and as to whether right hon. and hon. Members are in order to develop further arguments about the Clean Air Acts and about the Bill itself. I appreciate that we are not having a Third Reading debate, so I shall not prolong the arguments. Nevertheless, because of the amendments' far-reaching effects, and until such time as the Chair brings me further to order, I shall cite one area of complication that affects my own constituency.

The Rockwool factory produces insulating fibre used in lofts and walls, which has a direct effect on energy conservation in the buildings in which that product is used. The factory produces a lot of smoke. In the Heol-y- Cyw and Pencoed areas, the community council, Ogwr borough council and the county council have been all involved in numerous objections about smoke emissions. That factory produces fibre that is used in energy conservation.

One of the dilemmas that face Members of Parliament, whatever their constituencies, is whether to join forces with the community and the borough or county council in objecting strongly to the pollution of an area or whether, in order to safeguard--in this instance--some 400 jobs, to

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try to pacify some of the objectors. Those of use who are concerned about clean air take care to ensure that industrialists who come into such areas at least receive guidance.

All possible precautions have been taken. My hon. Friend the Member for Bridgend (Mr. Griffiths) will have taken action at community level to try to stop the pollution in the area--

Mr. Skinner : My hon. Friend is developing a reasonable argument about smoke and pollution. He may not yet have made up his mind about whether he favours "repeal" or "amend", but if we get on to that ground we shall, I think, be able to discuss the matter at some length and try to ascertain the truth. The crucial issue is whether my hon. Friend is in favour of the amendment or against it. I should like to hear the answer from him, because I am still in some doubt. Once we have heard whether he considers this a good or a bad amendment, we shall be able to dig a few tons of coal.

Mrs. Dunwoody rose--

Mr. Deputy Speaker : Order. Has the hon. Member for Ogmore (Mr. Powell) finished his speech?

Mr. Powell : No, Mr. Deputy Speaker.

Mr. Deputy Speaker : I cannot take an intervention on an intervention.

Mr. Powell : I accept what has been said by my hon. Friend the Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner). This is an important point. I have considered the matter carefully. Having tried at the same time to arrive here, read the amendments, listen to the objectors from the league of representatives on the Conservative Benches and be guided by them, by Mr. Speaker and by the Clerk of the House, and having then participated in the debate, I have found it difficult to decide between "repeal" and "amend". You, Mr. Deputy Speaker, with all your experience in the Chair and on the Front Bench, will know the problems with which we are sometimes confronted at this time on a Friday morning. I have decided, however, that I do not want the Act repealed, so I shall support the amendment.

Mrs. Dunwoody : I am a little worried by what my hon. Friend has just said. I went out of the Chamber just now because I was concerned about the narrowness of the amendment. Having obtained a copy of the Oxford English dictionary and looked up the definition of "amend", I think that we are going to get into some difficulty.

The definition gives the French and Latin roots of the word, which I cannot use because, in using a foreign language, I should be out of order. It goes on, however, to explain the various meanings : "to free from faults, correct convert To rectify ... To emendate. 1483"--

I had not encountered that. The dictionary also defines "amend" as to make alterations in a Bill before Parliament, to repair, to restore, to heal the sick, to improve, to better and to make amends for an offence.

That seems clear enough, until we begin to consider exactly what is meant here by "amend". Are we to amend specific parts of the wording? Are we to change or make

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better, and if so in what manner? Before my hon. Friend accepts the amendment and its implications so readily, will he consider that?

Mr. Powell : My hon. Friend has made a valid point. She said that she could not give definitions in French or Latin because she would be out of order in doing so, but perhaps if she had given a Welsh definition that would have given me some guidance.

10.15 am

Mr. Skinner : I do not accept the point often made in the House that hon. Members cannot speak in other languages. The Prime Minister has several different languages of her own. She has changed her voice so many times that it is unbelievable. When Gordon Reece came along, he said to her, "You have got to lower your voice", so she came in here one day--not long after she had become Prime Minister--with a different voice. Then there is her stentorian-type voice. As for foreign languages--for I see that you are shuffling in the Chair, Mr. Deputy Speaker--lawyers often use Latin in here.

Mr. Harry Greenway (Ealing, North) : On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker--as this is an intervention on an intervention. Do not the rules of the House lay down that any language used here must be understood by other hon. Members? In that case, a foreign langage would not be ruled out. A language such as Welsh--

Mr. Deputy Speaker : Order. I think that the practices of the House are sufficiently well known for us not have a debate on them. We are in danger of having a debate about the use of language rather than about the amendments. Can we get back to them?

Mr. Greenway : I am asking for information.

Mr. Deputy Speaker : Order. I suggest that the hon. Gentleman consults "Erskine May". That is why we put copies out.

Mr. Skinner : My hon. Friend the Member for Ogmore (Mr. Powell) should use the phrase "ultra vires". The whole thing is ultra vires.

Mr. Powell : All this discussion has come about because something has happened that I understand has not happened for 18 years. I was not a Member 18 years ago, but I am sure that other hon. Members will recall the incident. In all probability, if we looked it up in the Official Report we should find that there was just as lengthy a debate then on the introduction of "verbal" amendments on the Floor of the House.

We have been placed in this position because someone thrust these amendments in front of us five minutes before we came into the Chamber, stopping us from attending Prayers. It makes me wonder whether the House should have been adjourned for 10 or 15 minutes for us to consider whether to insert "amend" or retain "repeal". My hon. Friend the Member for Crewe and Nantwich (Mrs. Dunwoody) had the chance to go out and seek advice, and then to pass on that advice to us, for which I am grateful. Having listened to her interpretation of "amend", I am in a dilemma as to whether to accept her advice.

Mr. Stanbrook : I think that the problem is even more difficult to solve than the hon. Gentleman supposes.

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