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Mr. Greenway : I am not-- Mr. Deputy Speaker : Order. If the hon. Gentleman wants to persuade the House of his argument he should try to catch my eye in the usual way instead of persisting with an intervention that I have said is not compatible with the rules of order.
Mr. Powell : The way in which the amendments have been moved this morning has aggravated hon. Members. We are all on tenterhooks because we do not know whether we are in order. We must therefore be guided by you, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I should like to get on and deal with the Sunday Trading (Reform) Bill.
Mr. Win Griffiths : Before the intervention of the hon. Member for Ealing, North (Mr. Greenway), my hon. Friend the Member for Ogmore (Mr. Powell) made an important point. If we pass the amendments, the Bill will become different. There is also the issue of the inspectorate. What is the point of passing the Bill in its amended form if we do not have the inspectors to ensure that the Bill is carried out? Even if the Bill is passed unamended, we shall need more inspectors. If the amendments are carried, there is an argument about whether we need more or fewer inspectors. My hon. Friend the Member for Ogmore (Mr. Powell) should give us some facts and figures about the inspectorate, so that we can determine the best way to proceed.
"The Bill has no financial effects or effects on public service manpower."
I have read and re-read the Bill and it is obvious that there must be more inspectors to draw to the attention of the people concerned the extension of the offence of emitting dark smoke from industrial and trade premises. In such circumstances, I assume that the people involved would be prosecuted. My hon. Friend has made a relevant point. If we do not have more inspectors, the inspectorate will not be able to carry out its obligations under the Clean Air Act 1968.
Mr. Bob Cryer (Bradford, South) : Would my hon. Friend care to speculate on the desirability of repealing section 16(1)(a) of the Clean Air Act 1956? If it was repealed rather than amended, we could produce
Column 1178amendments to incorporate the Ringelman scale which, as my hon. Friend knows, is the scale used to test whether an offence has been committed when smoke is emitted from steam locomotives. As my hon. Friend knows, I have some considerable experience in these matters. I hope that my hon Friend will dwell for a little while on the argument about whether repeal would be better. I have the Clean Air Act 1956 in front of me ; section 16 provides no definition of black, white or grey smoke. Some adequate definition should be inserted.
Mr. Powell : I am glad that my hon. Friend is here to give us that advice. If he had been here earlier, he might have been able to resolve our one-and-a-half-hour discussion. We could have listened to his advice and we could then have talked about amendment or repeal. He has convinced me that we were not clear about which it should be. I have had some experience of British Rail. I talked before about walking to Old Oak common railway depot in London, which serviced most of the western region of British Rail. Some hon. Members have said that I have always pushed a pen, but in fact I used to use a 2 ft shovel on British Rail to shovel coal into an engine from a tender which had a 28-ft firebox. The smoke that used to come out was black when we were at Paddington, but it would be white on the way down to Penzance and Plymouth. If we were to repeal section 16, we could table many amendments to provide a definition. That would please you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, because we would then clearly be in order in having a full debate on a proper definition of grey smoke, black smoke and white smoke.
Mr. Anderson : I want to bring my hon. Friend back to the amendments, which will please you, Mr. Deputy Speaker. He has done well to keep within their constraints. He pointed out that it is rather implausible to believe that the Bill will have no financial effects on public service manpower. That bald and implausible statement related to the Bill in its original form. We have not heard from the Government or any other source whether the amendments will, in themselves, have repercussions on the need for public service manpower.
If the Bill is a coherent whole, to alter one part may lead to the alteration of other parts, so the whole exercise this morning is misconceived. I ask my hon. Friend to consider the point about the implausibility of there being no financial effects on public service manpower and also the possible differences of amendment or appeal on the need for public service manpower.
Ms. Walley : I feel that somehow or other the House will have to find a solution to our present predicament. There is the question how, if there were to be a Division, we would explain to those Members who are either away from the Chamber or who have not taken part in the debate how they should vote on the two amendments. We have no way of knowing how the amendments will change the details of the Bill and we do not know the implications for
Column 1179manpower--or personpower, I should say. We have just had a sanitised annual report from the inspectorate of pollution- -and I hoped to refer to it on Third Reading--which gives details of the way in which the inspectorate is under-resourced, demoralised and unable to carry out its work on air pollution.
We are in a dilemma. How are we to tell other hon. Members what is happening? How will the general public know what is happening when they hear our arguments on "Today in Parliament"? Our confusion and dilemma are indicative of the Government's confusion on environmental issues. For that reason, I urge Opposition Members to do all that they can to establish a proper environmental protection agency--which a Labour Government will do-- and I urge the Minister or the hon. Member for Basingstoke (Mr. Hunter) to come forward with specific proposals.
Mr. Powell : My right hon. Friend--I should have said my hon. Friend, but she will be my right hon. Friend before long--has made a timely intervention, which is a request for some help from the Government to resolve our dilemma, if it is possible to obtain help from the Government when the House is placed in a dilemma on private Members' Bills. It was not only an intervention but a plea made in the hope that--
Mr. Cryer : On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I hope that there is no preferential treatment for Ministers. This is essentially a day for Back Benchers and I should not like to see any preference given to a Minister, as often happens.
Mr. Deputy Speaker : Order. The hon. Member for Ogmore (Mr. Powell) was expressing the hope that the Minister would give the House some guidance. In case the hon. Member for Bradford, South (Mr. Cryer) had not noticed, I was merely pointing out that the Minister was seeking to do exactly what the hon. Member for Ogmore wanted. Whether he terminates his speech to allow the Minister to intervene is a matter for him and the Chair.
Mr. Powell : I am glad that you said that, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Since I started my speech on the amendments, I have been trying to get the Minister to intervene. I do not wish to delay the House any longer. I hope that I will catch your eye later, Mr. Deputy Speaker, after the Minister has spoken so that I can give my speech on Third Reading.
Mr. Alan Meale (Mansfield) : I thank my hon. Friend for clarifying matters. He mentioned the report by Her Majesty's inspectorate of pollution. Perhaps he will comment on the points made by my hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent, North (Ms. Walley) and show that it is pointless for legislation of this kind to proceed while the Government are in such a mess over the air division. During the recent debate on the Consolidated Fund, the Minister admitted that there was disarray and that the chief inspector of air pollution and other senior
Column 1180inspectors had resigned. Reorganisation is proceeding in the air division and there is absolute turmoil. Perhaps my hon. Friend will refer in detail to the document which he mentioned earlier, thereby enlightening the House as to what needs to be done.
Mr. Powell : I notice that my hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on- Trent, North (Ms. Walley) has a copy of the report by Her Majesty's inspectorate of pollution, about which I could go into some detail. On reading the report last night I found that one senior inspector had resigned. Mr. Brian Ponsford was responsible for the report's preparation. Its implications for the Bill will be profound. Scales of promotion, remuneration and qualifications have been reported upon and a number of qualified inspectors will no longer enjoy their former conditions of service. I do not understand how they can monitor what is happening at present, let alone in future, if their work load is increased.
Ms. Walley : In view of the issue as to how smoke control can be monitored, I am happy to have an opportunity to show the crisis that exists within HMIP. On air pollution legislation, the sanitised version of the first annual report says :
"Inspectors made 9,134 visits to or in connection with scheduled works in 1987-88 (8,723 in 1987) compared with 9,391 in 1986." It is plain that there has been a substantial decline in the number of inspections. The report continues :
This is in line with the targeted figure of 9,000. In several districts shortage of Inspectors or the need for introductory training for new Inspectors meant that some works did not receive a visit during the year."
Mr. Powell : My hon. Friend's points were relevant, as is the unsanitised version, which she has passed to me, because it covers the whole inspectorate. I read that document last night because I thought that I might be lucky enough to catch your eye, Mr. Deputy Speaker, to speak not on the amendments but on the Bill in general. The document refers to the reorganisation of HMIP and new legislation which will increase the inspectors' workload. It states : "The proposed reorganisation provides only six middle management field posts to do the work which at present is being performed by sixteen people ; comparison with Scotland where there has been a staff inspection within the last two years shows that, even without the additional work resulting from the new legislation, eighteen middle management posts would be realistic."
That was only the second paragraph. The third states :
"The long term objective of having all inspectors working from three Regional offices in Industry Groups would result in inefficiency from excess travelling and give less inspection at a given cost, at the same time there would be less liaison with Local Authorities and a lack of the local knowledge which exists at present."
Column 1181Gentleman for the past hour and three quarters. It may help him to move towards the conclusion of his important remarks if I clarify the point that the Bill has no effects for HMIP ; it would be environmental health officers who would be involved. I hope that that helps the hon. Gentleman to move to a conclusion so that I have the opportunity later to catch your eye, Mr. Deputy Speaker.
Mr. Anderson : I should like to follow that point. Although there is a crisis in the national inspectorate, the amendments relate specifically to domestic smoke and domestic pollution. As the Under-Secretary of State has properly said, the people who, without any additional manpower or expenditure, will be reluctant in this context, are not the members of the hard-pressed national inspectorate but the environmental health officers at local government level. My hon. Friend has had extensive experience of local government and is more aware than all of us of the crisis among environmental health officers at local government level. We hope that the proposals will have no effects on manpower, yet the environmental health officers, who already have additional burdens placed on them by other Government measures--that is right--will be expected to do the work without additional remuneration.
Mr. Powell : I accept my hon. Friend's important point. If we were considering the third Bill on the Order Paper, the Sunday Trading (Reform) Bill, we would be considering a similar problem for environmental health officers--how to monitor if there were Sunday opening of shops. It is ridiculous to imply that extra staff will not be needed. We reject that idea.
Ms. Walley : I feel obliged to return to what the Under-Secretary of State said--that this matter has nothing to do with HMIP but is for environmental health officers at local level. For the Minister's information, I recently tabled a series of parliamentary questions asking about the cuts in training which are causing a national shortage of environmental health officers. The Minister is nodding because, no doubt she remembers those questions. It is clear that we have a national shortage of environmental health officers throughout the country and that this problem is exacerbated by the cuts being implemented by the Department of the Environment.
I also asked a series of questions of the Institution of Environmental Health Officers so that it could show me where there is a shortfall between the numbers of posts it has on the establishment and the number which it has employed to carry out this vital work. In many cases there is as much as a 30 per cent. shortage.
Not two miles from this place, in the London borough of Lambeth, there is a shortage of environmental health officers. How on earth will it be possible for each and every local authority throughout the country to take on board the implications of the Bill, which we do not even understand because of the way in which verbal
Column 1182amendments have been brought to the House this morning? That is beyond my comprehension and, I repeat, is indicative of the Government's misunderstanding of the environmental issue and the crisis facing the country today.
Mr. Powell : I have been interested to see in the House over the past few years the knowledge and extreme capability within the Opposition, particularly on our Front Bench. The short intervention of my hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent, North (Ms. Walley) shows the House and the country the knowledgeable people we have in the Opposition--especially the women. I am grateful for that intervention and for the knowledge that my hon. Friend expounded to the Minister.
I shall not excite your wrath further, Mr. Deputy Speaker, because I desperately need to powder my nose. Therefore, I shall give way so that the Minister may catch your eye and speak on the amendments. I hope that you will be kind enough to allow me to speak later on Third Reading.
Mrs. Virginia Bottomley : It is no doubt right that the House should have debated these amendments at such length. We all appreciate the possible sacrifice which has been made by the hon. Member for Ogmore (Mr. Powell) if it proves to be impossible for him to catch your eye later, Mr. Deputy Speaker, to discuss a subject which is obviously of great concern to him.
This is an unusual way to deal with amendments, and there is no doubt that it is right that the House should give proper scrutiny to these procedures. I was not going to address the substance of the Bill in these brief remarks --hoping that I might be able to catch your eye, Mr. Deputy Speaker, if we moved to Third Reading.
The Bill of my hon. Friend the Member for Basingstoke (Mr. Hunter) has the support not only of my Department but, on the basis of consultation held over some time, of virtually all the local authorities from which hon. Members present come, even if they do not all represent them. The Bill has a wide measure of support and there is no doubt, from this morning's debate on these amendments, that there is much interest in the subject. There is also some misunderstanding about the terms of the Bill. No doubt my hon. Friend, if his Bill reaches Third Reading, will explain precisely what his measures involve.
It is a source of great regret that, frankly, an error was made in the long title of the Bill. The amendments merely change the long title and do not change the substance of the Bill or its effects on section 16(1)(a) of the 1956 Act.
Mrs. Dunwoody : Is the Minister seriously suggesting that a Bill with a major defect in its title has been brought before the House in a suitable form? Is it not true that any legislation put before the House-- particularly such as this, which was rushed through on Friday with no debate--should be perfect and not warrant criticism of its wording? How could highly paid parliamentary draftsmen make such elementary mistakes?
Mrs. Bottomley : It is a source of considerable regret that this error occurred in the long title. However, it does not in any way change the content of clause 1. As it stands, there is a conflict between the substance of the long title and clause 1.
Column 1183Mr. Anderson rose--
Mrs. Bottomley : I shall finish answering the point made by the hon. Member for Crewe and Nantwich (Mrs. Dunwoody), who talked about the way in which my hon. Friend the Member for Basingstoke secured the earlier stages of the Bill, which was unusual. There is a general understanding that there will be an opportunity for full debate to discuss the detail of this important measure on Third Reading. If the House decides that the Bill should be given a Third Reading, it will be possible to give this important measure the full scrutiny it requires.
Mr. Anderson : The House is always charitable and understanding when a Minister or any hon. Member says that a fault or error has occurred, as on this occasion. I do not wish to carry out a witch hunt, but it would be helpful to know whether this was merely a technical error by a draftsman or whether the fault lies with the Department, so that we may better understand the source of the error. Who committed the error?
Mr. Dennis Skinner (Bolsover) : I wish to make it abundantly clear that the House would be remiss to allow this legislation to go through without a vote. If the amendments were accepted, some people would argue that the Bill was not a bad measure, despite the fact that there is no allocation for manpower, which means that this would have to come from somewhere else. Staff would have to be taken off other jobs to look after those affected by the Bill.
It is pretty clear that a few weeks ago the Government decided to get a small Bill on the statute book that could be described as green. The Prime Minister has made various speeches up and down the country and it was obviously decided to use Parliament and a private Members' day to pass a so -called green Bill. Little or no attention was paid to the content of the Bill--merely that it should be passed. Therefore, several Fridays ago, a Bill was taken off the shelf--it was not looked at properly, and was handed to a Back Bencher. It has reached Third Reading, and it is disgraceful that, having reached this stage, the Bill's proposer, in cahoots with the Government, had to table Third Reading verbal amendments to clean up the Bill. There is no question but that such proceedings should be totally refuted by hon. Members.
Mr. Anderson : In answering the question about whether the Bill's origin was in the Department of the Environment or with a private Member, are we not finding an answer to my question about who was at fault? If this were really a Bill conceived by a private Member, we would understand the error because we are not experts. However, the Bill was taken from the dusty shelves of the Department of the Environment, and the Minister should say, "I am at fault--please understand it is me." Is this a private Member's Bill or a Bill from the Department of the Environment?
Column 1184very little when he moved the amendments. In all the confusion, he threw no light at all on the matter. It is not the first time that that has happened. It happens quite often when Governments go to Back Benchers and say, "Do you want your name in the history books? Here is a chance. You can get this Bill through on a Friday. It is an innocuous measure and will not cause any trouble. Most Opposition Members will support it." If the Bill had been put in the proper form, that would have been the case.
The Government are now totally confused and are taking on the doctors, the Health Service, lawyers, dockers, almost every group of people in the country--and Parliament. The Prime Minister and her junior Ministers and others were not sure of what was taking place. They think that on a Friday not many people will be here and that they can get the Bill through because there will be no Opposition Members to examine it. My hon. Friend the Member for Ogmore (Mr. Powell) has done a good job this morning. After a long argument not only with the Government but with the authorities, including the Chair, we, and especially my hon. Friend, have been able to establish that this procedure should be stopped.
Mr. Cryer : Has my hon. Friend noted that there are no members of the Liberal, SDP or other cauliflower parties here exercising the parliamentary scrutiny that they often claim is their priority right? Does he agree that one of the reasons for the procedures of the House being abused on a Friday by this seedy little conspiracy, which tries to get some sort of "green" Bill through, is that the Government are stuffing Parliament to its gills with legislation, such as the Water Bill, which will reduce anti-pollution standards? That means that they have no time to allow proper consideration for minor legislation such as this Bill. If they had any decency, they would withdraw some of the nasty big Bills and give proper time to small Bills such as this.
Mr. Skinner : That would not be a bad idea. It could be quite properly argued that the Government have caused all this confusion and heaped it on one of their Back Benchers. I do not regard him as the guilty party. There is a good argument for saying that the Bill should proceed on Monday and that the Bill for the repeal of the dock labour scheme should be dropped. That is another Bill that has been devised in haste. Perhaps the dockers should receive the same treatment as the lawyers and judges. When they threaten action at the Royal Courts of Justice, the Government run a mile and say, "We shall have to find a way out for them."
It is correct for us to make a stand on this issue. It is clear that the House has been abused in a way that I have not witnessed in all the time that I have been here. The last time that a Bill was verbally amended on Third Reading was 18 years ago. According to the authorities of the House, that was a minor correction. These amendments seek to change the title of the Bill. The Bill brought before the House several Fridays ago was quite different from this one. It was not different in style or in a few words. The title was different.
The Bill that had its Second Reading and went through its Committee and Report stages was not this Bill. It was a Bill to repeal a section of the Clean Air Act 1956, whereas the Bill before the House today seeks to amend
Column 1185the Act to improve it. There is a mile of difference between a Bill that will repeal sections of an Act and one that seeks to amend Acts to make them better.
What would happen if I went to the Chair on Monday and said, "By the way, I have a verbal amendment that was not printed in Friday's Order Paper. I want to change the nature of Monday's debate about the dock labour scheme. Instead of repealing the scheme I want to amend it." Perhaps we should try that and seek to extend the scheme to the non-scheme ports. I wonder whether the Chair would accept that. Perhaps on Monday I can say, "Here I am, Mr. Speaker, with a couple of minor amendments. They change the title of the Dock Work Bill but they change only one word."
Mr. Skinner : It may not be in order to speak about that, but if I am to convince some of my hon. Friends to make a stand on this issue I have to draw analogies between what is happening today and what could happen on other days. To all intents and purposes, this is a Government-sponsored Bill on a private Members' day and that is an abuse of the procedures of the House. The Opposition came to that conclusion in the early part of the morning. We came here to talk about something else and suddenly discovered that the Bill placed before us was totally at variance with the one that had gone through three or four Fridays ago.
Mr. Harry Cohen (Leyton) : My hon. Friend has spoken about verbal amendments and their dangers. He has also spoken about how the procedure might be used on Monday for the Dock Work Bill. If the precedent is set here--
Mr. Cohen : Perhaps we could table a verbal amendment to this Bill to say that the Employment Bill which shackles trade unions that might have an interest in smoke pollution should not apply. Perhaps that could be a precedent for the Dock Work Bill.
Mr. Skinner : I agree with my hon. Friend. I know that Mr. Deputy Speaker is a bit concerned. I know that he has been placed in a serious dilemma this morning. I was here at 9.30 and saw him come in. I saw him shaking his head and I know why. He follows the constitution perhaps more keenly than some others. It looked to me as if the Speaker was saying, "They have got me in a fine mess this morning."
My hon. Friend the Member for Crewe and Nantwich (Mrs. Dunwoody) and I thought that we had come to debate a tiny straightforward Bill on smoke control, but discovered that it was completely different. Unusually, Mr. Speaker had to make a statement saying that this was almost a precedent. It has not happened for 18 years. He clearly seemed to have a problem. He said that he deprecated the use of this procedure. In response to my hon. Friend the Member for Crewe and Nantwich and I,
Column 1186he also said that he understood why my hon. Friend the Member for Ogmore might have to argue on a wider basis than on the narrow terms of the amendment. It is fairly easy to understand why that is so. If someone went to the Vote Office a few days ago and thought that the Bill there was the one going through and then found that it was not, it is clear that he would have a problem.
If on Second Reading, in Committee and on Report the promoter of the Bill had aroused a discussion and there had been a debate about the previous Bill, hon. Members and the Speaker could have argued for a narrow debate today. However, not a word has been spoken on the alternative Bill and it is obvious that the Speaker and the authorities realised that they had played a blinder.
Therefore, we must now seriously consider whether we can--I am speaking now to Opposition Members and any Conservative Members who are interested in the constitution and the House--support the amendments, albeit that the Bill in its entirety might be fine when produced properly. Should we allow, for purely constitutional purposes, the amendments to go through? Would it not be right and proper for somebody to make a stand and divide on the amendment so that we can demonstrate to those outside the House that we did not allow the Government-sponsored chicanery to pass without making a stand?
Mr. Cohen : I am still concerned, because, as my hon. Friend has rightly said, the Bill went through Second Reading and Committee without any word being spoken about it. That was presumably because, without the amendments, the House accepted that it was a good Bill. However, the amendments fundamentally alter the Bill, because, for example, section 16(1) (a) of the Clean Air Act 1956 exempted chimneys that produced smoke that was deemed to be a statutory nuisance. Under the unamended Bill owners of chimneys creating a nuisance would no longer be able to get away with it, but because of the words "to amend" they can continue to create a nuisance. The problem is that there has not been a statement about that during the debate and no one has explained why they should be allowed to continue to create a nuisance. Does my hon. Friend consider that that is a serious point?
Mr. Skinner: It is a serious point, because when the Bill was presented it was not debated, and when it was brought here today it was not explained. Now the Minister has been on her feet and, because she wants to be careful about her rising up the greasy pole on the ministerial Bench, she would not commit herself completely on the issue. Why? The watchword is : "When confusion reigns, keep your trap shut." That is why the hon. Lady did not explain--this is what my hon. Friend the Member for Leyton (Mr. Cohen) tried to explain--the difference between "amend" and "repeal". Because Opposition Members are concerned about the constitution, we want to know what the words would have meant and what they now mean in their new context.
Mr. Anderson : Is not another possible explanation for the Minister's reticence and surprising brevity that, if she had spoken longer, she might have revealed all? She would have revealed the fact that the Bill is in fact a Department of the Environment Bill and not a private Member's Bill. She was keen not to go beyond the strict confines of her brief so as to avoid revealing the Bill's true origin.
Mr. Skinner : I do not doubt that. Just imagine her going to see the Secretary of State for the Environment and saying, "I have had a tidy time in there today and I am afraid that I made a slight error." He says to her, "I have not been around. I have been in my own back yard. I am not sure what has been happening this week. I have been dealing with planning matters in the north and in Gloucestershire. I have been trying to ward off all those people who want to invade my privacy, even though I shall vote against those Bills next Friday." She then says, "I am afraid I went too far. We had a Bill off the Government shelf that dealt with the environment which we thought would please the Prime Minister who has this new green image." As I said earlier, some people in my area said it was a mouldy image, but that is another story. She says to the Secretary of State, "What happened was that we brought forward a Bill that was upside down and, rather than explain it to the House, I thought that I had better keep my mouth shut."
Mrs. Dunwoody rose --
Mrs. Dunwoody : Does not my hon. Friend understand that what happened was much simpler than that? The Minister is the only woman in the Department ; she is intelligent and she knows what she is doing. They have mucked the Bill up, and the Government have given it to her to straighten out.