Dr. Michael Clark (Rochford) : I want to begin by referring to a comment made by the right hon. Member for Salford, East (Mr. Orme) who asked whether it was usual for Committee Members to speak in a Third Reading debate. I inquired into that and was advised that as a general rule Committee Members did not speak in Third Reading debates. I discovered that it was a general convention, not a rule, that all Committee Members decided jointly that they would abstain from speaking in debates following Committee meetings. We agreed in Committee that we would not speak during the carry-over motion for this Bill, but when we discussed what should happen on Third Reading Labour members of the Committee decided that they wanted to speak because they were, rightly, the most informed people in the House with regard to the Bill.
I am sure that the hon. Member for Bradford, North (Mr. Wall) and his colleagues will confirm that they wanted to speak. As the convention was not a strict convention, but could be modified according to the wishes of the Committee, we agreed that we would, if called, put our points of view on Third Reading. At the request of Labour members of the Committee, we agreed that each of us would speak if called.
Column 871the Committee, but why was he so tolerant on that occasion? Why did he not use his casting vote to rule that they could not speak?
Dr. Clark : I want to consider another point made by the right hon. Member for Salford, East with regard to influence that might have been brought to bear on to Members on the Committee, particularly Conservative Members.
Mr. Eadie : Since the hon. Gentleman has decided to take part in the debate, he must take part in what I would call the rough and tumble of debate. My hon. Friend the Member for Don Valley (Mr. Redmond) asked him a fair question. The hon. Gentleman said that the Labour members of the Committee were the best informed about the Bill. If he concedes that they are the best informed, why did he vote against them in Committee?
Dr. Clark : I said that the Labour Members said that Committee members were the most informed Members of the House in respect of this Bill. It would be wrong to deny the most informed Members of the House the opportunity to speak and to present their views. I will present my views very briefly and I imagine that the hon. Member for Bradford, North will try to present his views. It would be wrong for the hon. Member for Bradford, North to keep quiet when he has heard 26 days of evidence on the Bill. He must wish to present some of his views and findings to the House. I conceded that he had a good point and we agreed jointly that we would speak. I believe that I have answered the point.
Mr. Martin M. Brandon-Bravo (Nottingham, South) : I am grateful that my hon. Friend has decided to speak tonight. The House will be aware that on an earlier occasion and again tonight, often from sedentary positions, my hon. Friend's honour has been called into question. There have been comments that he has an interest. I know that the vast majority of hon. Members know my hon. Friend to be honourable. In his best interests, perhaps he should try to show in his speech before he considers the Bill just what is this rather strange and tenuous interest of which he has been accused.
Dr. Clark : If the hon. Member for Rother Valley (Mr. Barron) listens, he will discover that I do not have much of an interest to declare. The Associated British Ports (No. 2) Bill and the North Killingholme Cargo Terminal Bill were taken at the same time. An hon. Member said that I had an interest which I should declare because one of the two joint sponsors of the North Killingholme Cargo Terminal Bill was a subsidiary of a company called Simon Engineering. Another subsidiary of Simon Engineering was a member of a trade association to which I am parliamentary adviser. It so happens that we are not today discussing the North Killingholme Cargo Terminal Bill but the Associated British Ports (No. 2) Bill. I have no
Column 872connection, however tenuous or contrived, with any interests in that Bill. It might also interest hon. Members to know that I voted against the North Killingholme Cargo Terminal Bill going through unamended, so I do not know how they can accuse me of having a biased interest. I am grateful to my hon. Friend for asking about my interest in this matter.
I declare two other interests. I declare an interest in that I was born, brought up and went to school in Nottinghamshire, and I went to school with many coal miners' sons. Some of my own family worked in the pits in Manton and Bevercotes, so I declare an interest in the coal mining industry and in making sure that it thrives in my home county. I also declare an interest in Lincolnshire, where other members of my family live. My grandfather came from there and all my cousins live there. I therefore declare an interest in wanting Lincolnshire to be prosperous, and the Bill will help to achieve that.
Mr. Hardy : I agree with the hon. Gentleman in one respect at least. As Chairman of the Committee, it may be unusual for him to speak, but it may be appropriate in this debate, as he will recall that his Committee struck a serious note about the consequences for the British mining industry of the imports that we are debating in the special report provided by the Committee. I expected the hon. Member for Briggs and Cleethorpes, (Mr. Brown) to comment in his speech on the serious note that that Committee struck, but all we had was sniggering, brief, arrogant introduction, without a word of justification and without a word of observation on that serious report. I am pleased that the hon. Member for Rochford (Dr. Clark) has this chance to comment on that report in view of the negligence or hypocrisy of the hon. Member for Brigg and Cleethorpes, who failed to do so.
The right hon. Member for Salford, East said that this was a political Bill, probably sponsored or influenced by the Government or the Conservative party. I wish to state categorically that before sitting on the Committee I had no contact with my party Whips. No approach was made to me during that Committee, which sat from October to February, and there has been no contact since. [Interruption.] I say in all seriousness and on my honour that there was no approach by my party Whips before, during or after the sittings of the Committee. Lest there be any confusion, I also state that there was no approach by Ministers or any office of the Conservative party or the Government before, during or after the Committee sittings. It is generally accepted on both sides of the House that when a promoter, in this case my hon. Friend the Member for Brigg and Cleethorpes (Mr. Brown), is anxious to get his Bill through the House, it is usual for him to circulate his hon. Friends to see whether they will support the Bill on Third Reading. Whether or not my hon. Friend has done that--I suspect that he has--I have had no request from him to vote for the Bill today and I suspect that he has not sent any such request to other members of the Committee.
Column 873Opposition Members that the hon. Gentleman protests too much. The hon. Gentleman's party is determined to get the Bill through and its promoter makes a habit of going to South Africa and, disgracefully, does not speak properly.
The hon. Member for Rochford (Dr. Clark), despite all his piousness, tells us that he had something to do with the North Killingholme Cargo Terminal Bill, which my hon. Friends--many of whom have long experience--feel should have led him to say that he would not chair the Committee due to his deep interest in the Bill. I am at a loss to understand how an hon. Member so deeply embedded in a cause could have chaired the Committee. Two Bills have been divided and there is something sick and wrong going on here tonight. Many of us believe that it should be looked into before the Bill proceeds any further.
Dr. Clark : I thought that it would be a mistake to give way to the hon. Gentleman. I did not say that I had an interest in the North Killingholme Cargo Terminal Bill. I explained the accusations that were made against me. I did not declare an interest.
Mr. Skinner : The hon. Gentleman should really come clean and explain to the House that he is a paid parliamentary adviser to the British Chemical Engineering Contractors Association, a subsidiary of which in Hull is one of the promoters of the Bill. If the hon. Gentleman had any decency he would not be taking any part in the proceedings on the Bill.
On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker, in view of what the hon. Gentleman has had to say and what he has left out, I believe that proceedings should be brought to a halt.
Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Paul Dean) : Order. I hope that the House will not impugn the motives of members of the Committee who sat for many hours and produced a special report which is before the House. The House would be well advised to discuss the merits of the Bill and the special report which came from the Committee.
Dr. Clark : It has nothing whatever to do with Simon Engineering or Simon Carves. As usual, the hon. Gentleman is getting it all backwards and has not the integrity to try to speak the truth when accusing other hon. Members of impropriety.
Column 874It was generally agreed in Committee that, had it not been for the coal issue, the Bill, promoted by Associated British Ports, would probably have gone through Committee and the House largely unopposed. Associated British Ports wanted facilities to import iron ore, other chemicals and raw materials necessary for industry in Lincolnshire and the north of England, and to export steel, cereals and finished products.
It was also clearly stated that Associated British Ports needed a larger facility on the Humber if it was to compete with Amsterdam, Rotterdam and Antwerp. If it did not have larger facilities it was feared that our port industry would decline even further than it has done so far. The Committee was sympathetic to extending Britain's ports to make sure that we were not dependent on continental ports and break cargoes from the continent to Britain. It is therefore fair to say that had it not been for the coal issue there would have been little opposition in Committee and perhaps in the House.
British Coal was one of the petitioners against the Bill. There were many others--local authorities, the National Union of Mineworkers and the National Union of Railwaymen, but all of those wanted to reject the Bill in total. British Coal wished to make an amendment to the effect that no coal should be brought in through the port until 1996, by which time British Coal would have managed to increase its productivity still further, reduced its production costs and generally got its cost of coal down closer to the price of cheap coal on the world market. British Coal said, in effect, "Give us six or seven years, through an amendment to the Bill, and at the end of that time we shall no longer need to be protected because we shall have made fantastic strides in bringing down the price of British coal." British Coal therefore said, "Protect us for those years and we will be content--we shall require no protection after 1996."
The question then arose of how much coal was likely to come in through the dock if it were constructed, and the promoter said 2.5 million tonnes. The Committee in general--Labour Members in particular but Conservative Members, too--thought that that perhaps was a modest amount-- [Interruption.] The NUM said that it would be 7 million tonnes, but some said that even that was on the low side and that it could be more. In Committee we did a quick calculation which showed that with a change of cranes and dockside procedures, it was possible that as much as 10 million or even 12 million tonnes could come in. That gave us cause for concern.
Dr. Clark : Yes, the NUM's figure of 7 million tonnes was in respect of full production, but some of us felt that the NUM had understated the position. We thought that, in fairness, it could be more than the NUM figure. We feared that it could be as much as 10 million tonnes. We on the Committee tried to do our job diligently, considering what the figure could be and examining the consequences. Many Opposition Members are from coal mining constituencies. In Committee, we totally sympathised with the effects that could come from the massive importation of coal through the facilities of the port, first if it were to be built and secondly if it were to be used for importing
Column 875coal in massive quantities. As the hon. Member for Don Valley (Mr. Redmond) said, as many as 15 pits could be shut if the dock facility were used exclusively for bringing in cheap Colombian, Polish, South African and Australian coal. Those 15 pits, with an average of 1,000 miners per pit, would mean the loss of 15,000 jobs, with a knock- on effect for the local coalfield communities. We appreciate, too--as the hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) said, who is no longer in his place- -that that energy would be sterilised for ever and would not be available at a future time when coal prices on the world market might be more expensive and we would wish to use indigenous coal.
Mr. George J. Buckley (Hemsworth) : The hon. Gentleman has made much of the Committee's concern about the import of large quantities of coal. He said that all the figures given to the Committee were under-estimates of the tonnages that the Committee considered might be brought in through the port. In view of that, and in view of the consequences of the closure of 15 pits, why did he not support the amendment that British Coal wished to make to the Bill?
Mr. Geoffrey Lofthouse (Pontefract and Castleford) : The hon. Gentleman and his colleagues on the Committee asked in the recommendations for certain assurances from the Government. So far as I know, no such assurances have been given. In view of that, does the hon. Gentleman believe that the Bill should proceed any further?
Before the voting, the Committee discussed what would be the consequences of building the dock facility if it were used entirely for coal, and we did not like the consequences that were revealed. But we also had to consider what would be the consequences for trade in general in the north Midlands, Lincolnshire, Yorkshire and Nottinghamshire if there were not more port facilities to allow general cargo trade on the Humber. We came to the conclusion--although it was contested in the vote, and that was when I used my casting vote--that we wanted to ensure that facilities were built so that they could be used for general trade. We also wanted to be sure that there was not a flood of cheap imported foreign coal, with all the horrendous consequences about which we had heard from the petitioners.
It seemed to us far more appropriate to build something so that it could be used for general trade, but to bring to the attention of the Government-- here I answer the intervention of the hon. Member for Pontefract and Castleford (Mr. Lofthouse)--the danger of the port facility being used exclusively, largely or damagingly for coal, and asking the Government to be aware of the danger. So that the Government would know the size of the danger, we put a condition on ABP--which it later granted us--to report quarterly the amount of coal brought in so that the figures could be in the Library for hon. Members, and be available to the Department of
Column 876Energy. By that means, hon. Members interested in coal, as well as the Department, would be aware of what was happening on the Humber.
"The conditions imposed by the Committee are as follows. They were agreed to unanimously."
In bold print at the bottom of the page we read :
"In our view it is the Government's duty to take whatever steps are necessary, in the overall national interest, to protect the indigenous coal -mining industry."
Has the hon. Gentleman received an assurance from the Government that the conditions imposed by his Committee will be fulfilled by the Government? If not, does he believe that the Bill should proceed any further?
Dr. Clark : I have not received any assurances from the Government on that point. [Interruption.] I have tried to play this straight. I have not spoken to Ministers on the matter, and I do not intend to do so until after the Third Reading.
Several Hon. Members rose --
As for conditions, the two referred to in paragraph 24 are conditions of the special report and of ABP reporting on coal imports. They are not conditions on Government, but the hon. Gentleman is right to point out that we have included in heavy type the sentence that he quoted.
Mr. Allen McKay : The argument seems to centre on the Committee's findings and the details for which it asked. The hon. Gentleman is aware that there could be a loss of 30,000 or 40,000 jobs and that great damage could be done to Britain's economy. The Minister will shortly reply to the debate. If the Minister does not give the assurances about which we have heard--remembering that we are on Third Reading and that this is our last chance to debate the matter--will the hon. Gentleman join us voting against the Bill and advise his hon. Friends to do the same?
Dr. Clark : I hope that when my hon. Friend the Minister winds up he will refer to our special report and will consider the reason behind it, which is to support the domestic coal mining industry. I shall be disappointed if my hon. Friend does not say that the Government will take note of the special report's contents. At this stage, I shall not go so far as to reveal my voting intentions, but I shall share the hon. Gentleman's disappointment if my hon. Friend the Minister does not refer to the report.
Mr. McCartney : I listened to the hon. Gentleman's explanation as to why he acted as he did, in his capacity as Chairman of the Committee, on the issue of guarantees. Does he agree that the guarantee given by Hitler to Neville Chamberlain had more substance than the guarantee that the hon. Gentleman has been given about miners' jobs?
Dr. Clark : The difference is that at the moment umbrellas are being used to keep the sun away, not the rain. In this case, we seek understandings with our own Government about our own people. We are not debating a guarantee by a foreign Government to protect our nation, so the hon. Gentleman's analogy is not worth pursuing.
Column 877wool ought to have been represented on my hon. Friend's Committee to secure a guarantee that those products would not be imported. It seems amazing that we should be seeking to limit coal imports by restricting their passage through a particular port.
Dr. Clark : My hon. Friend makes an important point. If we try to restrict imports by failing to provide dock facilities, we shall destroy all free trade in and out of this country just to protect one commodity. Even though my hon. Friend has been in the Chamber only briefly, he hits the nail on the head. We must provide adequate facilities for imports and exports, but if a part of our economy comes under serious attack or is in danger as a consequence of excessive imports, the Government of the day-- whatever their political complexion--must take whatever action is necessary to protect the home industry from dumping. But to fail to construct port facilities in the first place is no way to control imports.
Mr. Barron : Will the hon. Gentleman answer a question that was asked earlier? Why did he not support the amendment that would restrict only imports of steam coal? He could then have got on with promoting general trade, which we also want to do.
Dr. Clark : I did not support that amendment because I felt that the special report was a better way of achieving the desired effect. I have described that report in some detail and I have given way to several interventions. The debate--
Mr. Redmond : On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. The hon. Gentleman appears to be having great difficulty in answering a direct question. Will you use your good offices to get the Minister off his backside to answer the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Rother Valley (Mr. Barron)?
Dr. Clark : The House must not assume that if and when the port is built it will be used exclusively, or even mainly, for coal imports. It will provide jobs and business opportunities in the Humber area, and will have its own knock-on effects in Humberside, north Yorkshire, Nottinghamshire and Lincolnshire. We should not forget that the Bill covers also King's Lynn and Port Talbot, but that aspect is not contentious.
The special report, which was the Committee's idea, and the quarterly reports sought from ABP are intended to alert the Government to the dangers of importing massive amounts of cheap foreign coal and to give them an opportunity to take whatever action is necessary to protect both national and local interests. I am surprised that the special report has been criticised to the extent that it has because it was prepared only to protect and assist the domestic coal industry. Some Opposition Members could be a little more sympathetic to a report that is intended precisely and specifically to draw to the Government's attention the dangers that might arise in many of the constituencies served by Opposition Members. I suggest that the House should think carefully about the Bill. As to the port facility, I hope that right hon. and hon. Members will not throw out the baby with the bath water.
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Mr. Terry Patchett (Barnsley, East) : It is becoming apparent that there is more to the Bill than meets the eye. At first glance it seems harmless, having the purpose only of providing competition with European ports and creating direct access to the United Kingdom rather than through Rotterdam or Amsterdam. The Bill would also provide jobs on the east coast that are badly needed. All that seems reasonable, until one starts delving further. From the debate so far, it is obvious that there is a sinister move afoot and that the Bill goes much deeper than merely creating a port facility that may handle a small volume of coal imports.
ve some Conservative Members who support the Bill been to South Africa? Who paid their expenses, and why did they visit South Africacoal mines? Mr. Hardy : I take this opportunity to withdraw an implication that I made in a recent debate when I suggested that Associated British Ports was responsible for sending Conservative Members to South Africa. I informed ABP that I unreservedly withdraw any imputation of that kind. However, having done so, I may say that the House is entitled to ask Conservative Members who went to South Africa, who paid their expenses, because none of my right hon. and hon. Friends believe that they provide that money from their own resources.
Mr. Patchett : My hon. Friend takes an honourable course of action in withdrawing his earlier comment, and I hope that his request for information will be honoured by Conservative Members. I am happy to give way if any Conservative Member wishes to respond, but I see no movement on the Government Benches.
I would like to know also why the Government have so much enthusiasm for the Bill. Why have there been unofficial whippings? If one is unaware of the answers, one has only to read the special report to find them. It states in paragraph 21 :
"The petitioners' arguments put the Committee in a position of great difficulty. In effect we were invited to make a strategic decision affecting United Kingdom energy policy, and one which affects also Britain's general policy on trade, because it relates to whether protectionist measures are justifiable to safeguard the interests of an important sector of British industry. We do not consider that this is an appropriate decision to be taken by a small committee consisting of four backbench MPs, three of whom are serving in their first Parliament. It is a great burden of responsibility to place upon a private Bill committee. There has been no technical breach of private Bill procedure, but we do consider that that procedure has been stretched to its limits by the various arguments advanced before the Committee. 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 pay tribute to the Committee for its honest assessment of the position. That is what has been said time and again in the House about the same old gambit. The Government are presenting part of their energy policy in the guise of a private Bill : we need only observe the payroll vote and, indeed, the Prime Minister herself, going through the Lobby to support it to see that that is so.
Column 879paid, but does the hon. Gentleman concede that four PPSs voted against the Bill on Second Reading? If so, I trust that he will withdraw what he has said.
Mr. Patchett : I find the hon. Gentleman's intervention rather confusing, as I did not think that I had used an unusual term. I hope, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that you will correct me if I have stepped out of line, but I thought that it was a term used quite commonly in the House.
Mr. Patchett : I hope that the hon. Gentleman will agree that the vast majority of the payroll vote have been through the Lobby to support the Bill. I do not understand why the hon. Gentleman has picked on that point. If this is education so be it, but it seems to me that those who are supposed to live by the rule of free market forces are encouraging the import of cheap foreign coal because it will spur on people interested in buying our electricity industry. The Bill's supporters show a callous indifference to both the evil of apartheid and the future of our own coal industry. I have said that jobs will be created at the ports ; I believe, however, that for every hundred created a thousand will be lost in the rest of the country--in constituencies such as mine, where unemployment is running at 20 per cent. and is even higher among the young.
The Coal Board is in a dilemma, and I understand the confusion caused by the Government's lack of a coherent energy policy. Despite our high unemployment, according to the Coal Board review a colliery in my area is likely to lose nearly 800 jobs. So dishonest is the board, and so lacking in confidence in its own arguments, that it has used deceitful tactics and threatened workers with the loss of some of their redundancy money--a rather dubious threat, we suspect. That Barnburgh colliery was supposed to have obtained 2.5 million tonnes of coal from another colliery that had closed--for the benefit of my hon. Friend the Member for Rother Valley (Mr. Barron), I am referring to Cadeby. The confusion resulted from the fact that the Coal Board does not know where it is going.
Those who voted for the Bill--the greedy ones, the "I'm all right Jacks"-- are doing long-term harm to the country. While they profit, the Government pay out more and more unemployment benefit, lose income through not receiving tax and face the ever-growing problem of its balance of payments. When they have decimated our own coal industry we will run the risk of a rise in world coal prices when cheap foreign coal has served its purpose.
Already a section of our electricity generating industry panics if a tanker goes aground or an oil well goes out of commission, and world oil prices start to rocket. That is the stupidity of the Government's energy policy. The debate is about energy. This is much more serious than what will happen to one or two ports. The Government have been responsible for a disgraceful misuse of Private Bill procedure. The payroll vote, along with the proximity of the ports to coal-fired power stations which the Government intend to privatise, proves that the Bill is an expression of Government policy and should have been dealt with in Government time.
Column 880I ask all hon. Members who respect the House to vote to keep the Bill out, on that basis alone, and to let the Government put the subject forward for more open and honest debate, with all hon. Members understanding their true purpose. If we allow the Bill to be passed, we shall damage parliamentary procedures and make a laughing stock of Mr. Speaker's office. Even if some hon. Members are in favour of the Bill, I ask them not to favour deceit.
Mr. Andy Stewart (Sherwood) : The infamous Associated British Ports (No. 2) Bill, if enacted, would strike at the very heart of Britain's coal industry. When it received its Second Reading 11 months ago with a majority of 47--110 were for and 63 against--there were serious recriminations. Who was responsible for allowing this to happen? Was it the fair weather synthetic supporters of the coal industry who had skived off home early at 7.20 pm, or the many uninformed hon. Members who happened to be still around at 8.20 pm when the Division was called, and who drifted into the wrong Lobby? I cannot speak for the former category ; they will have to live with their consciences.
Let me direct my efforts tonight towards persuading my hon. Friends who, when the coal industry was equally threatened in 1984-85, packed the Conservative Benches in support of the Nottinghamshire miners and their families, to do the same tonight.
The Nottinghamshire coalfield is particularly threatened by proposals to build coal handling cargo facilities on the Humber estuary which will be capable of handling 10 million tonnes of imported coal. An increase in the amount of artificially cheap coal imported to the British market will imperil a significant amount of investment already made by British Coal, leading to further colliery closures. Up to 80 per cent. of Nottinghamshire's deep-mined coal is burned in power stations in the Trent valley. The loss of that market, even in the short term, will lead to the closures of several pits in the county.
Mr. Lofthouse : The hon. Gentleman has mentioned the threat to jobs in his constituency and others. Will he make it clear to the Nottinghamshire miners that it is his own party that is to bring about those job losses by voting for the Bill?
It is estimated that up to 11 collieries in Nottinghamshire could be at risk, directly or indirectly, as a result of large-scale coal imports. Today the coal industry makes a major contribution to Nottinghamshire's economy. As well as being the largest industrial employer, paying wages in excess of £300 million in 1988, the industry and its employees generate further employment as consumers of services and manufactured goods. Putting it another way, for every job in the mining industry it supports up to two jobs in other sectors.
Although regarded as one of the most prosperous in the country, the Nottinghamshire coalfield has lost more than 13,000 jobs since 1984 in a drive towards greater productivity and competitiveness. Having completed this painful exercise in human terms and the latest financial
Column 881figures showing an operating profit of £65 million, it would be unthinkable to put at risk a further 11,000 jobs, as would happen if this ports Bill were approved.
Approaching half of British Coal sales to power stations are within about 60 miles of the Humber ports and the central coal fields send over 80 per cent. of their output to power stations with the lowest transport costs from the Humber--West Burton, Cottam, Thorpe Marsh and High Marnham. Last year these stations took over 60 million tonnes of British coal and over 11 million tonnes from Nottinghamshire. This represents 45 per cent. of the total supplied to those stations. Moreover, 40 per cent. of the total sales of the Nottinghamshire area went to those four stations, which clearly shows that the dependence of Nottinghamshire on this market can hardly be exaggerated. The Union of Democratic Mineworkers, in its submission to the Committee, emphasised that its opposition to the proposed facilities in the Associated British Ports (No. 2) Bill does not arise from a wish to prevent legitimate competition ; it arises from a desire to allow the industry's present policy of restructuring to be brought to a successful conclusion without short-term disruption of the markets by imports sold at prices unlikely to be sustainable in the medium and long term. Failure by my hon. Friends to recognise this would prejudice economic fuel supplies to the privatised electricity industry in the longer term.
By comparison the United Kingdom enjoys lower domestic and industrial tariffs for its electricity supply than our major competitors. In fact, at 3.8p per kilowatt they are 50 per cent. lower than those of Japan, Germany and the United States. Our price is in keeping with the prices of the major coal-exporting countries, such as Australia and Poland. How can the international coal producers capture a market share in the United Kingdom other than by loss leader prices, which raises a fundamental question--do we really want electricity supplies to be in the hands of foreigners?
Mr. Barron : Can the hon. Gentleman explain to us, since we are a bit puzzled about his defence of the coal mining industry, why he did not join us in the Lobby against the Electricity Bill which privatises the electricity industry and will kill the Nottinghamshire coalfield along with others?
Mr. Patrick McLoughlin (Derbyshire, West) : Before my hon. Friend addresses himself to that point, will he address himself to why, when this Bill was being read a Second time, the Opposition attendance was so dismal? Far from complaining today, if they had attended on that occasion instead of sloping off home, the Bill would never have proceeded to a Third Reading. He should accept no strictures from the Opposition when his position on this matter has always been consistent.