Previous Section Home Page

Column 758

Mr. Parkinson : I do not understand the thought processes that conclude that what I have announced today is some sort of advertisement for nationalisation, under which these problems developed. It is privatisation that is making this Government the first Government to face up to the real costs and to make arrangements to meet them. It is nationalisation that enabled these stations to be developed and operated as they are. I cannot see anything in what the hon. Gentleman says that is an advertisement for nationalisation.

Mr. Paul Flynn (Newport, West) : In his panic statement, the Secretary of State said that Magnoxes would be part of our past. Does he agree that they will be very much present in our future? There are six Magnox stations within a 25-mile radius of my constituency, the two at Berkeley are being stripped down now, but it will take 12 years to remove the fiercely radioactive material, and the rest will stand there for at least a century. Does the Secretary of State agree that the cost and anxiety of nuclear power will be with us for many years and will be a burden on our grandchildren's grandchildren? Will he tell us today what that cost will be? In effect, the Secretary of State is making a gift to those who will buy the shares in the new industry but placing a burden on taxpayers that will be centuries long.

Mr. Parkinson : There is no source of energy that does not involve long-term clear-up costs. Is the hon. Gentleman prepared to estimate the cost of the damage to the climate, the contribution to the greenhouse effect, subsidence, lives lost and slag heaps that come from burning coal? Is he prepared to work out how many generations will pay those costs? Does he recognise that the cost of removing platforms from the North sea will be at least £10 billion and that that, too, will have to be paid for? To pretend that coal does not involve clear-up costs is to mislead oneself.

Mr. Donald Dewar (Glasgow, Garscadden) : Will the Secretary of State accept that today's announcement will be seen in Scotland as an astonishing story of confusion and muddle? Is it not now clear that the chairman of the South of Scotland electricity board was right to claim at Torness in December 1988 that his board, when privatised under the Government's plans, would be wholly unsellable? Both the Minister of State and the Secretary of State denied that, but we now know that the taxpayer will simply be asked to take over the costs of decommissioning Hunterston A, which may amount to £500 million, in order to float the privatisation programme, which would otherwise sink without trace.

I accept that the Secretary of State may not be able to give details of his scheme for the Magnox stations, but surely he could give us an outline of it. Will there be a separate state-owned generating company to see them through the remainder of their life? Will there be a separate company to decommission Hunterston A, or will it be handed over to a privatised generating company in England or to the successor board in Scotland?

Is not the clear implication of what the right hon. Gentleman is saying that the boards have failed until now to face up to the realities of BNFL reprocessing and decommissioning costs? If in future the privatised companies face up to the "real costs", the implication is that there will be a specific fund for that purpose financed by the consumer to meet those costs. Will that not mean

Column 759

significantly higher electricity costs? That is the inescapable conclusion of the Secretary of State's arguments.

Finally, does the right hon. Gentleman accept that he has admitted failure and, worse still, shown a wrong-headed determination to proceed with a discredited and unwarranted privatisation exercise, irrespective of the cost?

Mr. Parkinson : The hon. Gentleman's argument is not supported by his example of Hunterston A, which will never produce a single unit of electricity for a privatised company. It will be closed at least a year before the company is floated. He is saying that we should load a new company with costs from power stations that have never contributed a single unit of electricity to it. I hope that he is beginning to realise the scale of the problems with which we are dealing.

The hon. Gentleman asked about the successor vehicle for holding the Magnoxes. We are having discussions with the nuclear installations inspectorate because it is important that the inspectorate is prepared to license that vehicle. We shall come to the House with full details of our proposals, and we shall be happy to debate them then.

Our proposals are forcing costs out--[ Hon. Members :-- "Up."] No. They are forcing costs out. They will force people to recognise what the prices are and to realise that the costs can no longer be lost in the bulk supply tariff. I should have thought that the hon. Gentleman would welcome that transparency. The result of privatisation is that prices will be what they will be. [Laughter.]

Mr. Speaker : Order.

Mr. Parkinson : Privatisation does not create the costs ; it simply reveals them. To claim that, because we now know the costs, they have been caused by the action that makes us aware of them is extraordinary logic.

Mr. Speaker : Application under Standing Order No. 20.--Mr. Benn.

Mr. Harry Ewing (Falkirk, East) : On a point of order, Mr. Speaker.

Mr. Speaker : I shall take it later.

Mr. Ewing rose--

Mr. Speaker : No. The hon. Member knows that I will take it later.

Mr. Ewing : You would be better to take it now, Mr. Speaker.

Column 760

Industrial Situation

5.17 pm

Mr. Tony Benn (Chesterfield) : I beg to ask leave to move the Adjournment of the House, under Standing Order No. 20, for the purpose of discussing a specific and important matter that should have urgent consideration, namely

"the serious industrial situation directly created by Government policy, which has compelled large numbers of workers to withdraw their labour in order to maintain their living standards in the face of rising prices and higher mortgage interest charges ; and to protect essential services, public safety and civil liberties, which are threatened by other Government policies."

Hon. Members who support those who are now on strike have been unable to put their case before the House and the public, and Ministers have been protected from having to justify their actions, which have precipitated the problems now being experienced by the public.

The dockers have been denied the protection of their jobs, and their employers have been dismissing those who are taking action in order to intimidate the men to return to work on the old and brutal casual basis.

Town hall staffs are the direct victims of a persistent assault upon local services, which are understaffed and underfunded, at the expense of the communities that depend on them. All this is happening at a time when the Chancellor has announced a huge budget surplus. The basic rate for a railman is £103.60 a week, and average earnings last year were £196.80, based on overtime of 13 hours and an average 52-hour week. Contrast that with the astronomical salaries of chairmen of major companies, such as Lord King of British Airways, who has received an increase of 115 per cent. bringing his earnings to £7,423 per week. Sir Peter Walters of BP receives £9,000 a week, Mr. Rowland £19,000 a week and Lord Hanson £23,000 a week. During the winter of 1978-79, 48 applications were made for emergency debates on the industrial situation, and some of them were allowed by the then Speaker. I urgently request you, Mr. Speaker, to allow this application before the House rises, if only on the ground that the reputation of Parliament will be damaged if those who elected us to this place to protect their interests and concerns find that we in Parliament have no time to consider their demands for justice and fair play.

Mr. Speaker : The right hon. Gentleman seeks leave to move the Adjournment of the House for the purpose of discussing a specific and important matter that he thinks should have urgent consideration, namely,

"the serious industrial situation directly created by the Government's policy".

I have listened with care to what the right hon. Gentleman has said. As he knows, my sole duty in considering an application under Standing Order No. 20 is to decide whether it should be given priority over the business already set down for this evening or tomorrow. I regret that the matter which he has raised does not meet the requirements of the order and I cannot, therefore, submit his application to the House.

Column 761

Electricity Bill (Consideration)

5.22 pm

Mr. Tony Blair (Sedgefield) : On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. In the statement that we have just heard, the Secretary of State for Energy said, perhaps rightly, that no amendment to the Electricity Bill would be required to facilitate the process that he has described. But surely the proposals have very great consequences that would go to the heart of the privatisation provisions. There would be consequences concerning the structure of whatever company would hold the Magnox stations, for accounting procedures and for personnel and pensions matters. The curious thing about the statement is that the proposal will mean that whole chunks of our debates in Committee and on Report will be rendered otiose or will have taken place on a completely false basis.

May I ask you, Mr. Speaker, as a matter of urgency, to see whether, in accordance with the rules of the House, we can at least postpone consideration of the Bill until such time as arrangements can be made for a full and proper debate on the effects of the statement on the Electricity Bill?

Mr. Harry Ewing (Falkirk, East) : On a point of order, Mr. Speaker.

Mr. Speaker : Order. It may help the hon. Gentleman if I say that the only thing that he can do, from the procedural point of view, is to move a motion, which I should be prepared to put to the House.

Mr. Ewing : Further to the point of order, Mr. Speaker. I apologise to you ; we have got on fine during this Session and the last thing that I would want to do would be to upset you at this late stage. Nevertheless, I have a very important point of order. It concerns the effect of the statement by the Secretary of State, not on the Electricity Bill itself, although my hon. Friend the Member for Sedgefield (Mr. Blair) made an important point, but on the money resolution. The House has already passed a money resolution to the Bill. Whatever the cost of the proposal announced by the Secretary of State--we have had some to-ing and fro-ing across the House with figures of between £4.5 billion and £8 billion--that cost is clearly outside the terms of the money resolution.

Rather than allowing the House to get into difficulty by debating proposals that fall outside the terms of the money resolution, would it not be better to take the Electricity Bill off the list of business for today? I know that you do not have the power to do that--or perhaps you have. It is clear, however, that the proposals must contravene the money resolution and I ask you to look into this matter carefully before we start to debate the Bill.

Mr. Alan Williams (Swansea, West) : Further to the point of order, Mr. Speaker. I am grateful to you for the guidance that you have given my hon. Friend the Member for Sedgefield (Mr. Blair). Last week, you wisely intervened and agreed to the adjournment of questions on a statement to allow proper information to be made available, and I gather that your are willing to consider the possibility of adjourning the proceedings on the Electricity Bill. We seek your guidance, Mr. Speaker, because you will understand that, as the Secretary of State has said, there need be no further legislation. That means that this is the very last opportunity that we shall have for a debate.

Column 762

As my hon. Friend the Member for Sedgefield said, our debates over the past few months would undoubtedly have taken a very different form had the information that has been made available today been available before, not just to this House but to the other place, which will now have absolutely no opportunity to absorb the proposals. We would therefore wish to take advantage of the procedural opportunity that you have suggested. Will you please tell us when is precisely the right time to move that we suspend or adjourn further proceedings on the Lords amendments? We shall then do just that.

Mr. Speaker : The right time to move such a motion would be once the Orders of the Day have been read, and I would put the Question upon it forthwith.

Mr. Ian McCartney (Makerfield) : Further to the point of order, Mr. Speaker. The Secretary of State said that there would be no requirement to amend the Bill. He used as his excuse the provisions of paragraph (4) of schedule 12, which refers to his powers to specify by order that the sum may exceed £1,000 million. My hon. Friends and I then asked the Secretary of State specific questions about the setting up of a company, and he admitted that he was setting up a generating company.

Mr. Speaker : Order. None of this is a matter for me. The hon. Gentleman persists in referring to what the Minister said, and I am not responsible for that.

Mr. McCartney : I understand that, but I am trying to make a point of order regarding the business before us. In bringing this business before the House, the Secretary of State has told you, Mr. Speaker, that amendments to the Bill will not be required. Yet in his statement he said that he would be setting up a generating company to deal with Magnox--

Mr. Speaker : Order. No, the hon. Gentleman must pursue this matter under business relating to statutory instruments. It is not a matter for me.

Mr. McCartney : Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker.

Mr. Speaker : Order. It is not a matter for me.

Mr. Tony Benn (Chesterfield) : But has the Minister made a statement converting the Bill into a hybrid Bill, Mr. Speaker, in which case it is a matter for you? That is the point. The Minister has dropped the Bill today- - [Interruption.] Well, he has dropped the main provisions of the Bill. He has said that he proposes to introduce a new Bill involving a public and a private generating provision, as my hon. Friend the Member for Makerfield (Mr. McCartney) has said, and the electricity will therefore come from a hybrid system.

With respect, Mr. Speaker, you will recall the arguments over the Aircraft and Shipbuilding Industries Act in 1975, when hybridity became a very important question. I am asking you, Mr. Speaker, to consider whether it is in order for you to allow a Bill to proceed when a statement has been made that contains a clear indication that hybridity has been introduced and when we are considering the Lords amendments.

Mr. Speaker : At the moment, we are supposed to be discussing Lords amendments. No amendment is to be brought forward by the Minister today.

Column 763

Mr. Michael Foot (Blaenau Gwent) : Further to the point of order, Mr. Speaker. A few minutes ago, in your guidance to the House, you said that the matter would be put to the House and that you would be prepared to consider a motion proposing the adjournment of the debate, and--if I may say so respectfully--that is the very best advice that could be given to the House. I am sure that my hon. Friends on the Front Bench will take up that suggestion and move the adjournment, in which case it will be a debatable motion, will it not?

Mr. Speaker : We have had nearly an hour on this matter, and I would certainly be prepared--

Mr. McCartney : On a point of order, Mr. Speaker.

Mr. Speaker : No.

Mr. McCartney : On a point of order, Mr. Speaker.

Mr. Speaker : No!

Mr. McCartney : On a point of order, Mr. Speaker.

Mr. Speaker : No. I am on my feet, and the hon. Gentleman has been here long enough to know that he must not interrupt the occupant of the Chair.

Following what the right hon. Member for Blaenau Gwent (Mr. Foot) said, I shall put the dilatory motion to the House, if it is moved, for the reasons that we have heard over the past hour. The hon. Member for Makerfield (Mr. McCartney) must not persist in raising points of order with me that are not my responsibility.

Mr. Foot : May I confirm that the dilatory motion is debatable? I am sure that the House will understand that.

Mr. Speaker : I intend to put the motion forthwith, on the ground that we have had an hour of questions to the Minister.

Column 764

Mr. McCartney : On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Clause 63(1)(a) says that two companies

"shall be designated as generating companies".

Those words appear on the face of the Bill. The Secretary of State said today that there would be a third generating company, but there are no legislative powers in the Bill for that. That is the point that we have been trying to make. Schedule 12 provides the Secretary of State with the ability to make an order for costs. The Secretary of State does not have the power to amend the Bill today to set up a third generating company, which is precisely what he said in his statement. Clause 63 does not allow him to do that without amendment.

Mr. Speaker : That is as may be, but the Secretary of State has not brought forward an amendment.

NHS (Wales)

5.31 pm

Mr. Barry Jones (Alyn and Deeside) : On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Will you, Mr. Speaker, assist in obtaining from the Secretary of State for Wales a statement to the House on the National Health Service in Wales? We understand that a statement will be made, but outside the House. We have received no papers on the Health Service, but they were promised on 1 March. We have had no debate on the White Paper, but we were promised one on 1 March. Labour Members believe that the Secretary of State should make a statement before the House rises. We ask for your assistance as it appears to us that the Secretary of State for Wales is running away.

Mr. Speaker : I have no knowledge of such a statement being made outside the House, but I am sure that the hon. Gentleman's comments will have been heard by Ministers.

Column 765

Orders of the Day

Electricity Bill

Lords amendments further considered.

5.32 pm

Mr. Alan Williams (Swansea, West) : For the reasons put forward by my hon. Friend the Member for Sedgefield (Mr. Blair) and me already, I beg to move,

That further consideration of the Lords amendments be now adjourned.

Question put forthwith, pursuant to Standing Order No. 34 (Dilatory motion in abuse of rules of the House) :--

The House divided : Ayes 186, Noes 293.

Division No. 316] [5.31 pm


Abbott, Ms Diane

Adams, Allen (Paisley N)

Allen, Graham

Anderson, Donald

Archer, Rt Hon Peter

Armstrong, Hilary

Ashdown, Rt Hon Paddy

Ashley, Rt Hon Jack

Ashton, Joe

Barnes, Harry (Derbyshire NE)

Barnes, Mrs Rosie (Greenwich)

Barron, Kevin

Battle, John

Beith, A. J.

Benn, Rt Hon Tony

Bennett, A. F. (D'nt'n & R'dish)

Bermingham, Gerald

Bidwell, Sydney

Blair, Tony

Boateng, Paul

Boyes, Roland

Bradley, Keith

Bray, Dr Jeremy

Brown, Nicholas (Newcastle E)

Bruce, Malcolm (Gordon)

Buckley, George J.

Caborn, Richard

Callaghan, Jim

Campbell, Menzies (Fife NE)

Campbell, Ron (Blyth Valley)

Canavan, Dennis

Cartwright, John

Clark, Dr David (S Shields)

Clarke, Tom (Monklands W)

Clelland, David

Clwyd, Mrs Ann

Cohen, Harry

Coleman, Donald

Cook, Frank (Stockton N)

Cook, Robin (Livingston)

Corbett, Robin

Corbyn, Jeremy

Cousins, Jim

Cox, Tom

Crowther, Stan

Cryer, Bob

Cummings, John

Cunliffe, Lawrence

Darling, Alistair

Davies, Rt Hon Denzil (Llanelli)

Davies, Ron (Caerphilly)

Davis, Terry (B'ham Hodge H'l)

Dewar, Donald

Dixon, Don

Dobson, Frank

Doran, Frank

Duffy, A. E. P.

Dunnachie, Jimmy

Dunwoody, Hon Mrs Gwyneth

Eadie, Alexander

Eastham, Ken

Ewing, Harry (Falkirk E)

Ewing, Mrs Margaret (Moray)

Fatchett, Derek

Field, Frank (Birkenhead)

Fisher, Mark

Flannery, Martin

Flynn, Paul

Foot, Rt Hon Michael

Foster, Derek

Fraser, John

Galloway, George

Garrett, John (Norwich South)

Garrett, Ted (Wallsend)

Godman, Dr Norman A.

Golding, Mrs Llin

Gordon, Mildred

Gould, Bryan

Graham, Thomas

Grant, Bernie (Tottenham)

Griffiths, Nigel (Edinburgh S)

Griffiths, Win (Bridgend)

Grocott, Bruce

Hardy, Peter

Harman, Ms Harriet

Hattersley, Rt Hon Roy

Haynes, Frank

Healey, Rt Hon Denis

Heffer, Eric S.

Henderson, Doug

Hinchliffe, David

Hoey, Ms Kate (Vauxhall)

Hogg, N. (C'nauld & Kilsyth)

Howarth, George (Knowsley N)

Howell, Rt Hon D. (S'heath)

Hoyle, Doug

Hughes, John (Coventry NE)

Hughes, Robert (Aberdeen N)

Hughes, Roy (Newport E)

Hughes, Simon (Southwark)

Illsley, Eric

Ingram, Adam

Janner, Greville

Jones, Barry (Alyn & Deeside)

Jones, Martyn (Clwyd S W)

Kennedy, Charles

Kinnock, Rt Hon Neil

Lamond, James

Leighton, Ron

Litherland, Robert

Lloyd, Tony (Stretford)

Lofthouse, Geoffrey

McAllion, John

McAvoy, Thomas

Next Section

  Home Page