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Associated British Ports (No. 2) Bill

[Queen's consent, on behalf of the Crown, signified.]

Order for Third Reading read.

Several Hon. Members rose --

Mr. Kevin Barron (Rother Valley) : On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. You may recall that this Bill is due to have its Third Reading tonight, but in Committee it was not discussed on its own. It went in with another Bill that had been given a Second Reading--the North Killingholme Cargo Terminal Bill. That Bill is missing from tonight's debate.

Is it in procedural order for this to happen, because it means that we cannot have a full debate on the Committee's proceedings?

Madam Deputy Speaker (Miss Betty Boothroyd) : I think that I can help the hon. Gentleman and the House on this matter. He is quite correct to say that the two Bills were committed to the same Private Bill Committee and that only one of them is now before the House ; but I cannot speculate on why the North Killingholme Cargo Terminal Bill has not yet been reported by the Committee. There is no procedural impediment to the House proceeding with the Associated British Ports (No. 2) Bill.

If the hon. Gentleman has arguments to deploy about why this Bill should not be read a Third time today, I am sure that he will advance them during the debate.

7.29 pm

Mr. Michael Brown (Brigg and Cleethorpes) : I beg to move, That the Bill be now read the Third time.

The Committee has considered the Bill and--

Mr. Martin Redmond (Don Valley) : On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. On a previous occasion when the Bill was being debated, I asked on a point of order whether it was hybrid, and Mr. Deputy Speaker made a ruling, with the aid of the Clerk, who had gone through the Bill and was convinced that it fell within the private Bill procedure. Both Mr. Deputy Speaker and the Chairman of Ways and Means accepted that it was in order because the Clerk was acting for and on behalf of the Speaker's Office. One man made that decision, a man who was not a Member of Parliament, and as far as I am aware, they crucified the only man who never made a mistake.

Even at this late stage I ask you to rule, Madam Deputy Speaker, that the Bill is a hybrid for the following reason. The Committee's report said :

"In effect, we have been invited to make a strategic decision affecting UK energy policy, and one which affects also Britain's general policy on trade The Committee does not consider that this is an appropriate decision to be taken by a small Committee". That point was agreed by both the promoters of the Bill and the people who were opposing it, Mr. Feickert, Mr. Morrison and Sir Frank Layfield. It concluded :

"The decisions on energy and trade policy we have been invited to take are, in our opinion, national decisions which are the ultimate responsibility of the national Government."

I draw your attention, Madam Deputy Speaker, to the fact that, if a Bill affects a national interest, it must be hybrid and a Bill that the Government should be introducing. Therefore, I ask you to rule at this late stage, in view of the conclusions made by the Committee, that the Bill is hybrid and therefore should not be debated.

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Madam Deputy Speaker : I can confirm that the Bill is not hybrid. Its provisions fall within our private Bill procedure. I have read carefully the report of the Committee and I am prepared to allow a wide debate on Third Reading so that hon. Members may refer to the report.

Mr. Stanley Orme (Salford, East) : Further to that point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. Will you explain why the amendments that have been tabled have not been selected? The House is entitled to such an explanation, because many of these amendments are important. I am aware that the Bill was not amended in Committee, but that should not preclude hon. Members from moving amendments on Third Reading. I would welcome an explanation.

Madam Deputy Speaker : I think I can clear this matter up. Had there been no points of order and had I been allowed to make a statement, I would have done so on behalf of Mr. Speaker, who has examined with great care the verbal amendments tabled to the Bill. He is satisfied that all of them either alter the effect of the Bill and are therefore out of order, or are not necessary for the correction of the Bill, which is the purpose of verbal amendments. Therefore, he has not selected them. Furthermore, in accordance with practice, Mr. Speaker has not selected the six-months amendment in the name of the hon. Member for Pontefract and Castleford (Mr. Lofthouse) and others.

Mr. Dennis Skinner (Bolsover) : Further to that point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. You will recall that, about three Fridays ago, there was an amendment to a Third Reading. It came about because the Government had passed on to a Back-Bench Tory Member a Bill that is called, in parliamentary terms, an "off-the-shelf" Bill. The hon. Gentleman did not know what was in it, and apologised for that. He was given the Bill, it was nodded through its Second Reading and not amended in Committee and then we came to Third Reading three Fridays ago. The Bill, the Control of Smoke Pollution Bill, was aimed at extending the areas where smoke control could be applied by local authorities and central Government, but it had the wrong long title, which was aimed at repealing all the Clean Air Acts.

The Government were very embarrased, as was the hon. Member who introduced the Bill. If only he had known what was in the Bill. As a result, at this embarrassing moment, the Clerks and Mr. Speaker together were able to find a way around the matter. Because it was not the Associated British Ports (No. 2) Bill, which will put tremendous pressure on the balance of trade, the Government went along--

Madam Deputy Speaker : Order.

Mr. Skinner : Just a minute. There is no need to start shuffling yet.

The Government went along and changed the title of the Bill on Third Reading, and they thought they could do this on the nod. However, one or two of us found out about it. This process had not been used for 19 years. The amendment did not result because somebody was earnestly trying, like my hon. Friend the Member for Pontefract and Castleford (Mr. Lofthouse), to amend a

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Bill. It was because the Government and the Back-Bench Member had presented the Bill without its proper title. The Government managed to find a way around that.

I find it odd in this place, where we are supposed to be looking after the interests of everybody, that when on Third Reading, we table 20-odd amendments that are sensible and will change the nature of the Bill, they are swept aside by some ruling or another. However, if the Government make a cock-up of it, they are able to get away with an amendment on Third Reading.

As it happens, the Bill will have to go to another place, which may amend it. However, I say that this Bill should go back. As to all the more than 20 amendments to the Bill that have been tabled, Mr. Speaker should be called upon to enact the ruling that he gave three Fridays ago.

While I am about it, I want to know whether all those 70 Tory Members of Parliament who have connections with firms that trade in South Africa, will declare their interest. I want to know whether they will stand up and tell us how many free trips to South Africa they have had, how many are members of the goose-stepping tendency, how many are representing Johannesburg. We should know, because the Bill will allow South African coal to come into this country, cause a massive burden on the balance of payments and line the pockets of Tory Members.

Madam Deputy Speaker : On the second point, I am sure that all hon. Members who have an interest will declare it. On the first point, I am certain that the hon. Member will understand that I have no authority to alter or vary Mr. Speaker's decision, which I am sure the House will uphold and respect.

Mr. Andrew F. Bennett (Denton and Reddish) : Further to that point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. As the occupier of the Chair, you have to ensure that justice is done. As I understand it, on a public Bill, if there is a tied vote in Committee and the Chair of the Committee has to give a casting vote, that more or less guarantees that the matter is considered again when it returns to the Floor of the House, because it would be wrong for the person occupying the Chair to decide the details of a Bill.

Throughout the Committee proceedings on this Bill, the votes were tied to two each way with one of those two people acting as Chair and giving a casting vote. As I understand it, in those circumstances it is reasonable for the issues then to be further considered by the House. None of the amendments has been selected, so the second casting vote of the Chair has deprived the House of the opportunity to debate all the issues that were decided in Committee by that vote.

I understand that the promoters of the Bill went so far as to plead with the Committee that there should be no amendments so as to avoid a Report stage, when the House would have the opportunity properly to scrutinise the issues on which he Committee decided. That is a misuse of parliamentary proceedings. One individual should not be able, by casting his vote in the Committee, to ensure that the House does not have an opportunity to debate amendments that would be in order had one amendment been accepted in Committee.

Therefore, I ask you, Madam Deputy Speaker, to rule on the way in which the casting vote was used in Committee, not only to avoid the issues being defeated in Committee, but to deprive the House of the opportunity of considering the Bill on Report, and therefore the

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opportunity to question the way in which that hon. Member cast his vote. That seems a very odd procedure. I realise that a special Committee is examining procedures on private Bills, but it seems unique for an hon. Member to use a second casting vote to deprive the entire House of the opportunity to debate any of the amendments. That raises serious issues about the sovereignty of this country and Parliament over whether the import of coal should be decided in that way. I ask you, Madam Deputy Speaker, to rule that an hon. Member cannot use a casting vote to deny the House the opportunity to debate certain issues.

Madam Deputy Speaker : We have to deal with the procedures of the House as they exist, and if we need to amend them, so be it. However, I cannot deal with hypothetical situations. Extremely valuable debating time is being used up. I know that many hon. Members, most of whom are in the Chamber now, wish to speak in the Third Reading debate. I hope that Members who raise points of order will bear that in mind.

Mr. Frank Dobson (Holborn and St. Pancras) : Further to that point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. We all recognise your difficulty, in that, Mr. Speaker having ruled, you cannot set aside that ruling, whatever new points have been raised by my hon. Friends the Members for Belper and for Denton and Reddish (Mr. Bennett). It is quite possible that, in reaching his conclusion not to select any of the amendments, Mr. Speaker did not have in mind the argument mounted by my hon. Friend the Member for Belper-- [Hon. Members :-- "Bolsover."] I seldom apologise at the Dispatch Box, but in this case I really should go down on my knees and apologise to my hon. Friend the Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner)--and my hon. Friend the Member for Denton and Reddish, because we all understand that the overriding requirement on anyone exercising a casting vote from the Chair is that he casts that vote in a way which enables the debate to continue and does not curtail it.

Since you are in no position to overrule Mr. Speaker's rulings, it might be helpful if you were to suspend the sitting and ask Mr. Speaker to consider the matters that have been raised and rule on whether the debate should go ahead.

Madam Deputy Speaker : Nothing has been said to make that necessary. The Bill is in very good order and the House would do well to begin the debate.

Several Hon. Members rose --

Madam Deputy Speaker : Order. I shall take a point of order from Dr. Clark, which I hope is a point of order and not a point that has developed in Committee.

Dr. Michael Clark (Rochford) : It most certainly is a point of order. I take great offence at the comments made by the hon. Member for Denton and Reddish (Mr. Bennett), who implied that I used a casting vote improperly in Committee. I would not have raised this point of order had you defended my use of the casting vote, Madam Deputy Speaker, but since you have not done so, it is essential that I defend myself. The hon. Member for Denton and Reddish, probably by mistake, said that I used two casting votes on the same issue--

Madam Deputy Speaker : Order. I hope all hon. Members will understand that the debate has nothing whatsoever to do with what occurred in Committee. We

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have a Third Reading debate before us this evening, and according to our Standing Orders that is the only thing that we can debate. Several Hon. Members rose --

Madam Deputy Speaker : Order. We would be wise if we now proceeded with that Third Reading debate. Mr. Hardy.

Dr. Michael Clark rose --

Madam Deputy Speaker : Order. I shall do my best to take all points of order in turn. I have called Mr. Hardy.

Mr. Peter Hardy (Wentworth) : Further to that point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. I have three points of order, but as one is of substantial length it might be better accommodated in my speech. As you have said, the House is eager to start this wretched debate. My first point of order is that I went to the Vote Office a few moments ago to obtain the Hansard for 23 June last year. As you will recall, the Second Reading debate on the Bill took place on 11 May and 23 June last year. I needed to look up something in regard to the report of the second day of the Second Reading on 23 June, only to find that that Hansard is out of print. It is hardly reasonable for the House to debate the Third Reading of the Bill when the Hansard for the Second Reading is not available.

My second point of order concerns amendments on Third Reading. When I looked into the matter, I discovered that oral amendments had to be presented some days in advance and had to appear on the Order Paper. I do not challenge that ancient and historic practice. However, I understand that sometimes in certain circumstances, verbal and oral amendments can be tabled. Outside the House, there may seem to be little difference between verbal and oral amendments, but there is a difference, and as none of our oral amendments has been accepted, can any verbal amendments be presented, considered or accepted on Third Reading? I hope that you can advise the House on both my points of order.

Madam Deputy Speaker : No manuscript amendments can be accepted and I am sure that the hon. Gentleman understands my point about Mr. Speaker looking very carefully at the verbal amendments which were tabled and ruling them out. On his first point of order, I am sure that the hon. Gentleman or any other hon. Members might have found the Hansard in the Library, but I am sure his point will be noted.

Dr. Michael Clark : Further to that point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. My point of order is very brief. When chairing that Committee, I acted within the powers that existed for the Committee to use. I took my responsibilities seriously. I greatly resent the comments made by Opposition Members and I would greatly appreciate it if you, Madam Deputy Speaker, will confirm that the casting vote was properly used.

Madam Deputy Speaker : There is no doubt whatsoever that the Chairman of that Committee acted properly and used his casting vote in a very proper manner.

Mr. Alexander Eadie (Midlothian) : Further to that point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. You have ruled

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that we should not discuss anything that took place in Committee but you are required to give us guidance before the debate proceeds, as a very unusual procedure took place. Although we have the Committee report, in its wisdom the Committee has presented a special report to Parliament. I believe that the House should know the standing of that special report to Parliament in our debate, as that report is unique. If I catch your eye later, I might make some comments on why it is unique.

Since the ruling was given that no amendments were to be considered--the House respects the fact that Mr. Speaker has given his guidance--a new light has been cast on the debate, which will proceed as a consequence of the special report. I want your guidance, Madam Deputy Speaker. What standing does the special report have? Without going into the merits of the special report--although we may do later on--to some extent it says to the House that we should not have been dealing with the matter in any case. That is a good reason why the amendments should have been allowed to be considered, why the debate should be suspended and why we should proceed no further.

Madam Deputy Speaker : The hon. Gentleman's point is a matter for debate. He may have missed hearing me say earlier that the special report produced for us by the Committee can form part of this debate.

Mr. Ian McCartney (Makerfield) : On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. Last year, when the Housing Bill was on Report, Mr. Speaker gave a ruling. When over 170 Government amendments were tabled, including new clauses and substantial amendments to change the Bill in relation to ballots on housing action trusts, Mr. Speaker gave a ruling, after considerable debate, points of order and interventions from both Front Benches, that he would accept such substantive amendments on Report, and the debate subsequently took place. That seems to run contrary to his decision on our amendments tonight, which has curtailed the ability of Back Benchers to consider primary legislation. That is an affront to the House and especially to hon. Members with constituencies that will be substantially affected by the Bill. Mr. Speaker should come back to the House and reconsider his previous ruling.

Madam Deputy Speaker : The hon. Gentleman has referred to a wholly different situation. Only in the rarest of circumstances are amendments taken on Third Reading, with which we are now dealing. I hope that the House will now proceed with Third Reading.

Mr. Michael Brown : I therefore commend the Bill to the House. 7.51 pm

Mr. Stanley Orme (Salford, East) : We have just heard a substantial discussion on the role of the Committee and the way in which decisions were taken in that Committee on the casting vote of the chairman. There is no doubt that that was a blatant political decision by the Conservative Members who served on the Committee. If the Government wanted the Bill, they should have introduced it themselves and should not have abused the private Bill procedure. When the Bill went into Committee, it was as clear as daylight what the result would be. The two key votes on the Bill were decided by the casting vote of the

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Chairman. I do not know what the Chairman's position is on a private Bill. Should he intervene in this debate? I would welcome your guidance, Madam Deputy Speaker, in that regard.

I speak in opposition to the Bill not as an hon. Member representing a mining constituency, but as representing taxpayers and an inner-city area, which will be affected directly by the Bill. My hon. Friend the Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) referred a few moments ago to the balance of payments deficit afflicting us at present. It is worth reminding the House that the deficit is running at about £14.4 billion. The Bill will add to the deficit. We shall have imports of coal from areas to which the Labour party is politically opposed, such as South Africa and parts of south America. Polish coal will be imported and we are opposed to that as a basis for breaking the British mining industry and contributing to the balance of payments deficit.

The Bill will also directly affect the electricity supply industry. We have been told clearly that with privatisation, the electricity industry's previous commitment to take virtually the whole of its coal from British coalfields will be dropped. We know that at present, the electricity supply industry takes between 75 per cent. and 80 per cent. of all coal produced in the United Kingdom. If that commitment is no longer there, what will be the effect on the British coal industry? What will be the effect on the areas that are supposed to be rich in coal and which have pits with a long life? I am thinking of vast areas of Nottinghamshire.

Mr. Joseph Ashton (Bassetlaw) : Even though we have excellent pits in my constituency in Nottinghamshire, we have almost 17 per cent. unemployment in the Worksop travel-to-work area. If the Bill is passed, that figure will double or treble. The Government have withheld permission for the West Burton power station until the Bill is passed. If the Government are to have power stations, they intend that they be run on the cheap coal about which my right hon. Friend is talking.

Mr. Orme : I thank my hon. Friend for his intervention because he represents an area such as I have described. There are Conservative Members who represent parts of Nottinghamshire who happen to be here at present. They were elected--for whatever wrong reasons--to represent their constituents. It cannot be denied that they represent constituents who will be directly affected by the Bill.

We are debating tonight not a narrow issue of people trying to protect jobs --valid as that is within their own community--but an issue that has a direct bearing on the economy of the United Kingdom. We are debating not a small development, but an aspect of the United Kingdom economy which will have lasting effects. I know from reports that the proposals strike at the heart of Britain's coal industry and coal-fired generating capacity. Seven major power stations lie within 50 miles of the mouth of the Humber. Those stations took almost 37 million tonnes of coal from British Coal in 1987- 88. Half the entire Central Electricity Generating Board coalburn is within 100 miles of the proposed development. The Nottingham power stations of Cotham and West Burton are the most vulnerable to imports through the Humber, but at import levels of 4 million to 5 million tonnes per annum, Eggborough, Ferrybridge, High Marnham and Thorpe Marsh will also be receiving foreign coal.

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What did we hear from the Government about the mining industry during the miners' strike? They said that they wanted an efficient industry and that, although the future would be painful and many pits would have to shut, the pits that were to remain open were promised that Eldorado was round the corner and that they would have a rosy future. However, now--only a short time after the Government made those pronouncements--we are seeing the very pits and the miners who were praised by the Government being thrown on the scrap heap by their policies. What sense is there in such a policy? What sense in a country that is self- sufficient in coal? What is the sense in turning our backs on an industry that we shall need in the latter part of this century and in the next?

My hon. Friends who come from the coal industry do not need me to tell them the answers because they are fully aware that once an area has had its coal production removed, and once pits have been closed, it is impossible to reopen them and that fresh proposals and fresh developments would be needed.

Mr. Redmond : I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for making that important point. Because of the problems of gas and water, the Coal Board still has to leave a significant safety margin before it can exploit any coal from exhausted pits in which all the seams have been worked, or rather from pits that deemed to have passed their useful life or which the Coal Board deem are not making sufficient profit. It is not just a question of reopening pits or of sinking new shafts in close proximity. The danger is that not only has the pit been stopped, but the coal around it has, in effect, been sterilised.

Mr. Orme : I thank my hon. Friend, with his background and expertise, for making clear exactly what would happen in such an area.

The proposals in the Bill would most directly threaten collieries in the east midlands, Yorkshire and County Durham. They go as wide as that, as I am sure that my hon. Friends who represent those areas will acknowledge. Those areas have already paid a heavy price for British Coal's rationalisation and restructuring programme. However, such communities now face the loss of their more efficient and more productive pits, many of which have received substantial investment in recent years.

Mr. Barron : From the examples that we have seen in the past, will my right hon. Friend confirm the multiplying effect? In the constituency of the hon. Member for Sherwood (Mr. Stewart), who is in his place, Blidworth colliery has recently closed although it still has 40 million tonnes of coal reserves. A £30 million investment programme has just been completed there under the "Plan for Coal", yet its shafts were filled in five weeks ago because British Coal said that it did not want it any more. Does my right hon. Friend agree that the multiplying effect will affect many other areas if these proposed ports go ahead?

Mr. Orme : I was just about to come to a point about the collieries and the effect that the Bill will have on them. Over 25 collieries in the central and north-eastern coalfields have been identified as at risk from the Humber ports. Up to 10 pits will be displaced by 4 million to 5 million tonners, and at least 15 pits will be closed by the 10-million tonners. Even allowing for the wave of redundancies that was announced recently by British Coal,

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24,000 miners' jobs are at risk. I advise those who are sponsoring the Bill that they are throwing skilled people on the scrap heap-- [Interruption.] Yes, some people may laugh about it, but Opposition Members are not laughing. We are talking about communities, and I shall deal later with one community that will be affected by the changes that will flow from the proposals.

The coalfield economies are highly dependent on the coal industry and it is realistic to use a multiplier of two to assess the knock-on effects. Every colliery job that is lost will lead to one more loss in other sectors. If 15 collieries close, the total impact will be more than 30,000 job losses. That is what I am saying to those from the east and west midlands, from Lancashire and from the north-east. Indeed, that effect will stretch as far as the Welsh and Scottish coalfields. The coal industry will be weakened.

Like many of my hon. Friends, I lived through the miners' strike. I was an energy spokesman and heard the Government's arguments, which were, "We have a prosperous industry and if we concentrate on the prosperous and long-life pits and if investment is given to those areas, we will see not only a prosperous industry, but jobs, good production and good wages." However, at the heart of the current argument is the fact that people are being threatened with pit closures because of cheap coal being brought into the United Kingdom.

That importation of cheap coal will have a special impact on the coal- producing regions of Yorkshire. If new coal import facilities are provided on the Humber, their natural catchment areas will be the power stations in the Aire valley and in the lower Trent valley, which are now served largely by collieries in the Nottingham and Yorkshire coalfields.

If my hon. Friends from the Doncaster area will allow me to trespass on their constituencies, I shall deal specifically with the Bill's impact on that area. As I am sure my hon. Friends will confirm, the six collieries operating in the Doncaster metropolitan borough area all produce coal for use by local power stations. Coal from Rossington colliery is used at the Drax power station ; coal from Brodsworth, Markham Main and Hatfield is used at Thorpe Marsh power station ; and coal from the Askern Main and Bentley collieries is used at Eggborough power station. All the pits in the Doncaster borough area could be at risk from the importation of cheap coal. As my hon. Friends can confirm, we are talking about prosperous pits. Reference to the Doncaster economy shows that the area already has severe economic problems which are the legacy of an association with the coal mining industry in the past century. Those problems include an unemployment rate which is nearly double the average for Great Britain as a whole.

Mr. Redmond : My hon. Friend has made a valid point because the Rossington pit has produced 1 million tonnes of coal so far this year and is turning in a hell of a profit. I wonder whether those who are sponsoring the Bill understand the poverty and despair of a pit village once the centre of its life has disappeared. Is their concept of poverty the same as that of the Secretary of State for Social Security? I cannot tell the House what constituency he represents. I do not think that he lives in a constituency in

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this country, as he has not yet met poverty. The sponsors of the Bill cannot have met poverty, or they would not have sponsored it.

Mr. Orme : I thank my hon. Friend for that intervention. I am referring to an area with which he is familiar to show the effects upon one area. We can talk globally, but sometimes it is difficult to grasp the full effect. The closure of any of the remaining collieries in the Doncaster borough will have a dramatic effect on the local community and will exacerbate an already serious problem. The Askern community is an example of an area that is dependent on one traditional industry and the problems that will arise if a colliery is closed down. Other mining communities are in a similar position. Askern is within the Doncaster area. The Doncaster metropolitan borough council wishes to make known the likely severe economic and social consequences that will arise if the Bill is passed, and it has petitioned hon. Members to that effect. The Doncaster metropolitan borough forms part of South Yorkshire. It has a population of 290,000 and an area of 225 square miles. The coal mining industry in that area includes the Bentley, Askern, Thorne, Armthorpe, Rossington and Mexborough collieries. Most of the area's economic problems stem from its narrow economic base. Its economic base is narrow because it was built on coal, and it still needs coal and depends on it. One cannot say that the collieries are not producing efficiently or have no life. In other parts of the world they would be regarded as prosperous. They are being sacrificed so that cheap coal can be imported into the United Kingdom.

Mr. Skinner : Cheap for how long?

Mr. Orme : My hon. Friend asks a good question.

Mr. Skinner : A good analogy is the 1960s, when we were told that there was a lot of cheap oil. People said, "We will replace the dear coal in Britain. We want to get miners out of the pits. We will shut the pits, as we have all that cheap oil in the middle east." After about 10 or 15 years, there was a change in the middle east, the price of oil quadrupled and miners were suddenly wanted again. All the talk about cheap imports should be regarded against that background. As soon as other countries get a grip on the energy industry in this country, they will do what was done with the oil industry.

Mr. Orme : My hon. Friend is absolutely right. When such people break the power of British industry, they will be in a position to extract from Britain what they want at the time, especially if we are dependent on coal imports. Would any other major industrialised nation, with the oil, gas and coal resources that we have, turn its back on its wealth and say, "We will leave it in the ground"? I have been endeavouring to illustrate the economic problems that face small areas such as Askern. It is worth noting that, in many areas, the mining industry employs a high proportion of the local work force. Although efforts have been made to broaden their industrial bases, the economic prosperity of such areas is still substantially tied to developments in the coal mining industry. In 1984, the latest year for which figures are available, the industry employed 16 per cent. of the work force in the Doncaster metropolitan borough area, compared with 1.1 per cent. throughout Great Britain.

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Mr. Michael Welsh (Doncaster, North) : Askern is a special case. It will be bumped if the Bill is passed. It is a special case for me also because I lived at Askern, and my father was killed in a pit there in 1935. Askern means a lot to me. Also, 73 per cent. of its male population works at Askern pit. There just ain't any more work. In the summer of 1987, 190- odd kiddies left school, and only 44 got jobs. Those people live in a beautiful area and they should be looked after. Any hon. Member who would introduce a Bill to close that quarry has no compassion. If hon. Members have no compassion, they should not sit in this Chamber and talk about politics.

Mr. Orme : I thank my hon. Friend for his intervention and for the knowledge that he brings to the House. I regret the tragedies that he has seen in that area. I referred to Askern as an example of what happens to a community when a major industry closes down. I live in and represent the Salford constituency in the Greater Manchester area in the north-west of England. We in that area have seen coal, steel and engineering virtually disappear. As I said only the other night in a debate on the manufacturing industry, our community was a major engineering area. It was almost within throwing distance of the start of the industrial revolution. Having seen those industries disappear, we have seen rising unemployment, despite the alleged improvement in unemployment figures. There is still large-scale male unemployment--never mind female unemployment--in inner-city wards in my constituency. If we proceed with the Bill tonight and it reaches the statute book, the effects which have been felt in Doncaster will be felt in Yorkshire and Nottinghamshire.

Mr. McCartney : My right hon. Friend has referred to colliery closures in Lancashire. The last colliery in my constituency since the miners' strike is now to be closed.

In addition, the support industries and mining technology industries, including the long-wall mining technology industry in my constituency-- which includes Gullick Dobson--have suffered hundreds of redundancies because the deep-mining industry in Britain has been run down. We risk losing that industry completely. At the moment there is an expansion in the world coal industry of which we cannot take advantage because this Government's policies have disrupted the home market.

Mr. Orme : My hon. Friend is aware that imported cheap coal will have the same effect in Lancashire as it will have in Nottinghamshire and elsewhere.

Mr. Allen McKay (Barnsley, West and Penistone) : My hon. Friend is talking about areas being run down. He should consider the Barnsley coalfield which used to be one of the most prosperous in the country. I had 13 collieries in my constituency ; I now have none. We must also consider the fact that we brought men down from Scotland and Durham to work in our collieries. The collieries which are now in danger, including Darfield, Houghton, Grimethorpe and Denby Grange are the only collieries left in the Barnsley coalfield in which hundreds of immigrant miners from other areas made their lives and married the girls. We have an obligation to them. Will my right hon. Friend consider the miners who might be made redundant?

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Mr. Orme : I acknowledge the wealth of experience which my hon. Friend brings to this debate. He is absolutely correct : what he describes will happen if cheap coal is imported.

I am advised that many of my colleagues want to take part in the debate, and I will therefore be brief.

Mr. Ashton : My right hon. Friend is chairman of the parliamentary Labour party. The Labour party is undergoing a review of its policies on which we will fight the next general election. I hope that the people listening and the sponsors of the Bill will understand the consequences. I hope that we will send a message loud and clear that when the Labour party wins the next general election, these ports will not see the light of day. They are wasting their time laying down the foundations and spending money even if the Bill receives its Third Reading.

Mr. Orme : There is no doubt about where the Labour party stands on this issue. We are completely opposed to the Bill. We will not see these proposals implemented.

Mr. Graham Riddick (Colne Valley) : Will the right hon. Gentleman clarify this point for me? If the ports have been constructed and are operating when the next general election is held, will a future incoming Labour Government shut them down?

Mr. Orme : We would not allow the cheap importation of coal through those ports. That is a categorical pledge to the House.

I could have quoted more instances of local areas which would be affected by the Bill. Hon. Members are aware that the Bill will not help British industry. It will be against the interests of the coal mining industry and of the economy as a whole. We should not proceed with the Bill, and I hope that the House will take that decision this evening.

8.24 pm

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