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Column 393are not anti-parliamentarian by any stretch of the imagination. If we destroy Parliament and the way that it works, we destroy the opportunity for putting the case of the people whom we represent. I make no apology for defending the House.
At the outset of my remarks I mentioned the great change that has taken place. I showed how, since July, the Government's energy policy had changed. I said that that policy is out of date, which itself is a good reason for the Bill to be referred back to the Committee. It is a good reason for the Government to reconsider it, and my hon. Friend the Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) knows that we have asked the Government to do that.
Mr. Eric Illsley (Barnsley, Central) : My hon. Friend said that the document on Government energy policy was out of date when it was forwarded to my hon. Friend in his capacity as secretary of the miners' group. That document was not only out of date but was compiled at the same time as the document that was leaked to the Financial Times publication "Power in Europe". It is contradictory to the information given in the letter from the Secretary of State for Energy. At about the same time as that letter, the Department of Energy gave evidence to the Select Committee about several matters, including redundancies in the coal industry. The information given to the Select Committee was contradictory to the information that we were given in the letter from the Secretary of State, and different from the information in the leaked document.
The Government's energy policy is upside down. It is absolutely futile for us to consider this Bill. Some 30,000 jobs in the coal industry are at stake because 15 million tonnes of coal will be imported through the Humber ports if the Bill is passed. Will my hon. Friend the Member for Midlothian (Mr. Eadie) reflect on that and on the fact that there is no representative from the Department of Energy on the Government Front Bench and nor is the Leader of the House there?
Mr. Eadie : That could be the subject of a speech which would probably last for all the time that we have available. My hon. Friend poses a pertinent question and if I have a chance to make this speech, that question will be the substance of my remarks, because he is correct.
I must plead guilty of inaccuracy because I said that the Government's statement was out of date. The words were out of date because, at that time, we did not have the knowledge that we now have. It is a damning indictment of the Government that they had the temerity to write that statement, knowing perfectly well that there was a Cabinet document that we knew nothing about, and which was subsequently leaked. That was clandestine and it must cause embarrassment to the Government to be found out issuing words that do not relate to reality.
Mr. Barron : Before my hon. Friend goes on to make his speech, does he agree that the most damning indictment of the Government in their involvement with Associated British Ports, is that, at the beginning of the Third Reading debate on the Bill, the Minister refused to get up and to offer answers about the special report or about the way the Bill had gone through the House? It will be interesting to see whether the Government have come, prepared with a statement, to pass comment on the implications of the Bill, as we proceed towards 10 o'clock.
Mr. Eadie : I am glad that I do not have to respond on behalf of the Government and that I am not responsible for what they do. I am not a supporter of the Government and I am always anxious to point that out in letters to my constituents. I do not know what the Minister will say, whether he will respond or try to defend the indefensible.
I shall list three aspects of how things have changed. I do not want to incur the wrath of some of my right hon. and hon. Friends, but I have to say that the nuclear power argument has changed dramatically even when one considers the words of the Secretary of State in the document. I shall not go through the papers and quote exactly, but they talked about security of supply, a price that the consumer could afford and a proper pricing policy. That is old hat. I do not know what the Government will do about an indigenous energy policy but it is well known--in fact it appeared in The Observer, at the weekend--that we will not be able to build any more pressurised water reactors after Sizewell B, because they are too expensive.
Mr. Barron : It should be on record when we are talking about building PWRs that the cost per KW hour could be somewhere between two and three times more than using British fossil fuels to generate electricity.
Mr. Eadie : If I had been able to proceed, I would have been able to produce ample documentation to substantiate the remarks made by my hon. Friend the Member for Rother Valley (Mr. Barron), but he was right to intervene. When one is speaking one can omit details. I am not chastising my hon. Friend, but pointing out that it was my intention to mention that issue.
I base my remarks about nuclear policy not on anything that I have calculated, but on a letter that we received from the Secretary of State for Energy about a country that was trying its best to have an indigenous energy supply, and that was trying to consider "security of supply". I was astonished to read that at the beginning of the week.
Many right hon. and hon. Members have made a meal of the fact that we are importing 1,500 to 2,000 MW of electricity from France. We did the best we could and we tried to find out the cost of that electricity coming across the Channel link. We know what it costs them in France but we can never find out what we have to pay. I listened to the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry at Question Time today. He was complaining about subsidisation within the Common Market.
The importation of cheap energy from France will probably have to cease, and the reason that has been given is the drought. At the moment, France is supposed to be madly importing coal to start up coal-fired power stations to sustain indigenous sources of energy. It has been said in many debates in the House that if one depends upon energy supplies from any area, whether it is politically unstable or not, one places British people in jeopardy.
Column 395--and it is a generally accepted view--it is an example of dumping. My hon. Friend may like to know that new initiatives are currently being pursued in Britain and elsewhere to ascertain that price. It might be useful, since it is relevant to this debate, if the Minister came clean rather than having to be dragged kicking and screaming to divulge that information.
Does my hon. Friend agree that another serious danger for energy in Britain is the policy which is now being pursued of importing coal at a lower price into Britain than into other European countries? This new port capacity will be used to do that--to smash the British coal industry. When they have succeeded, they will be able to put the price up. That is just as foolish as importing French nuclear power.
Mr. Eadie : My hon. Friend is spot on. The dream of many countries is to have a safe, secure indigenous source of energy. We in this country are fortunate in that we have an abundance of energy reserves. Some people used to say that we had sufficient coal for 600 years--when I was Minister, we probably had sufficient coal for 1,000 years.
We have been greatly helped by the exploration for North sea oil. When the seismic studies were perfected, we found that we were studying coal measures that we had not thought existed. The so-called exporters who want to destroy our capacity to produce our own energy have been terribly wrong. I have been a Member of Parliament long enough to remember what the experts said to us about North sea oil. They said that oil could never be produced from the North sea because of the hostile climate, with winds of more than 100 mph and waves of more than 100 ft. The Norwegians said the same thing but put it in another context. They said that we could drink the only oil we could ever get from the North sea, and, of course, they were wrong. The biggest blunder by the experts was on gas reserves. That is why we must consider the proposition lying behind the Bill. They said that North sea gas would be gobbled up by the year 2010. We know differently now. Norway and Britain probably have sufficient gas for more than 100 years.
My hon. Friend the Member for Wentworth (Mr. Hardy) has talked about the experts. They say, "You need only close the pits, wave a magic wand whenever you need it and you will be able to get the coal." It does not work like that. Miners these days must be highly skilled. They will not sit around on the dole waiting on their country to decide to open its pits again. It is also a physical impossibility to reopen all the pits. One can mothball, but only to a limited extent.
We have a new development in Midlothian, which is called Monktonhall colliery. The authorities spent £40 million or £50 million on its development. The work went on below the Firth of Forth. The men stopped drilling because it became too boring as they were finding more and more coal reserves. British Coal, aided and abetted by the Government, decided that Monktonhall had to close. The authorities thought about it again and said, "We have spent that £40 million or £50 million on developing some of these seams. We will mothball the development." It has been mothballed for about a year, in the hope that things will improve. If Monktonhall colliery is closed because of the water problem--thousands of gallons of water a day are pumped up--the coal measures in that vast area will probably be lost for ever.
That is not energy policy. It is sheer vandalism. Let us remember that the Government are destroying what is a priceless asset for generations yet unborn.
Mr. Jack Thompson : I wholly support my hon. Friend's point. Is he aware that the coal reserves in Scotland are echoed down the east coast? In my area in Northumberland, the mine in which I worked was so far out under the North sea that we always claimed that we were entitled to duty-free goods. We were 6 to 10 km out. One of the mines in Northumberland was closed in the 1960s because of bad management decisions. The management decided to use a technique that was not appropriate under the sea. Millions upon millions of tonnes of coal reserves in that area have been written off because the mine had to be flooded after a fire. That is the situation about which my hon. Friend is talking. Those coal reserves are to be found not only in Scotland but along the east coast of England.
Mr. Eadie : As a Minister with responsibility for coal, I was privileged to see the results of many of the examinations which were carried out. I had some in my house but was not able to lay my hands on them. My hon. Friend is talking about the Cannibie coalfield, which starts at Dumfries and goes on and on through Cumberland. It is probably the largest unexplored coalfield in Britain. Mining that coal is a matter of investment. If pits were opened, miners in Wansbeck, Cumberland and Dumfries would be employed.
People talk about limited coal reserves, but Britain is a rich nation in terms of its energy reserves of oil, gas and coal. We should be worried about silly propositions like the Bill and talk of importing coal, thereby putting our miners out of work and destroying our capacity to produce coal.
Mr. Lofthouse : The hon. Member for Brigg and Cleethorpes (Mr. Brown), the sponsor of the Bill, heard the words expressed by my hon. Friend the Member for Midlothian (Mr. Eadie) about closing coal mines and then reopening them. Only today the chairman of British Coal, Sir Robert Haslam, informed the Energy Select Committee that if a coal mine is closed, it cannot be reopened. The hon. Member for Brigg and Cleethorpes is aware of that.
Column 397situations in the House but we are coming to a sorry pass. The sponsors of the Bill are sitting under the Gallery and there is a South African pin-striped fellow who has not yet opened his eyes. Despite all the talk, he is using the Chamber as a doss house-- [Interruption.]
Madam Deputy Speaker (Miss Betty Boothroyd) : Order. The Chair is accustomed to dealing with tricky situations. However, as the hon. Gentleman knows, one is not supposed to refer to people present but not in the Chamber. However, the point has been taken.
Mr. Barron rose --
Mr. Baron : Does my hon. Friend agree that we could look at no better region than the Scottish coalfields if we are studying the Government's energy policy, or the lack of it? There is a sub judice rule in the House and it is not my intention to comment on any particular case. However, two public bodies--British Coal and the South of Scotland electricity board--are currently in court arguing about contracts. That sums up the Government's commitment to any form of energy policy.
Mr. Eadie : My hon. Friend tempts me to deal with the absurd position in which we now find ourselves. The Government are supposed to reflect the needs of the nation but they are standing back and in the courts we have an expensive legal battle between the South of Scotland electricity board and British Coal.
The situation is becoming a farce. The problems are convoluted by the fact that last year the South of Scotland electricity board decided to import Chinese coal. If one is to depend on a particular area for one's energy supplies, one must look for areas of political stability. I do not regard South Africa as an area of political stability and I do not think that anybody would disagree that China can hardly be deemed as such. When we question the Government, they say that the case in the courts is a matter of commercial judgment for the bodies involved. That is an abdication of what good government should be about.
Mr. Jack Thompson : Is my hon. Friend aware that in May and June this year some of my parliamentary colleagues and I were in China during the student demonstrations? The instability still exists and my hon. Friend was right to say that China is not politically stable. We should not depend upon imports of Chinese coal. It will be 20 or 30 years before that country becomes stable again.
Mr. Eadie : My hon. Friend adds substance to my earlier argument that we have an abundance of indigenous energy. I heard my hon. Friend the Member for Wentworth say that some coal was low in sulphur content. However, some of the coals that we import are high in sulphur content. Earlier, I saw the green Minister, the Secretary of State for the Environment, sitting on the Front Bench. What are his views when the Cabinet decides on imports of coal? The Government supposedly went green. They are not very blue at times, but they are certainly not green either.
The coal deal made by the South of Scotland electricity board was absurd, yet it was done in Parliament's name. The price paid bore no relation to the cost of producing energy indigenously.
Mr. Meale : Is my hon. Friend aware that only this week, 20,000 tonnes of Colombian coal, dug by small children, was imported on the east coast? For the past two years, large amounts of South African coal, dug by slave labour, has been imported via Rotterdam, where it is mixed with cheap coal, imported into this country and distributed. Is my hon. Friend also aware that an ex-employee of British Coal, who was a senior director of British Coal, is one of the directors of the main company involved in the mixing and sale of that coal?
Mr. Eadie : I know many people who are engaged in business and some of them are decent people. However, I also come across many people who argue that if it is good for business, it is justified. This is a question of morality. The analogy is to say that it is right to have cheaper coal even if it is produced by 10 or 11-year-old children. What kind of nation are we if we are prepared to countenance that? We are even encouraging it to some extent by buying such coal. The Prime Minister talks about returning to good Victorian moral values. I do not know what moral values are for 1989 and 1990, but I know that my constituents take gross exception to the fact that as a nation, we argue on the basis that if it is good business and if it is profitable, we must carry on with it. I gave an earlier example which typified the Government's philosophy. When the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry was asked a question today about 12-year-old children having plastic credit cards, he did not say that that was a bit much or unfair, as most people would have said. Instead, he had to bring the business aspect into his answer. He said that there was nothing wrong with it provided that 12-year-old children had the money. A Government who preach such moral values are wrong.
Mr. Hardy : Does my hon. Friend recognise that in addition to the feckless morality and social stupidity of a Government with such a policy, there is also demonstrable incompetence, which allows a current trade deficit of £18 billion a year which will certainly rise? Does my hon. Friend agree that that means that we shall soon see a pound-dollar relationship at least 25 cents lower than it is now? That will mean that although the Government believe that they are signing good deals to import coal from Colombia or elsewhere, in five or six years' time at the most, this country will find that it cannot afford the new price as a result of the changed sterling relationship.
Column 399energy capacity, which is the key to a nation's requirements, and does not have sufficient energy sources, one dies. In the long run, a Government who subscribe to such a policy will be at the mercy of others.
A point was made about the financial problems that Governments encounter when they pursue such policies. Reference was also made to the estimated £20 billion trade deficit. To some extent, the Opposition are trying to help the Government and our constitutents. If we allow the importation of 15 million to 25 million tonnes of foreign coal, we will put extra pressure on our trade balance. Of course, we will never then be able to tackle the £20 billion defecit. It is absolutely crazy that the Government should be conniving. They are either sleeping or whipping the measure through. I cannot understand the crying need for this motion or for this three-hour debate,. It is absolutely unnecessary.
Mr. Eddie Loyden (Liverpool, Garston) : My hon. Friend will have noticed that one of the excuses--it can be put no better than that--given by Conservative Members is that there is a need for a port in that area and that coal was only of secondary importance. My hon. Friend will be aware of my interest in the port transport industry : since the abolition of the dock labour scheme, there has been over-capacity in our ports. We need another port like we need a hole in our national head. I hope that my hon. Friend will dismiss the argument about the need for further port capacity in the United Kingdom.
Mr. Eadie : I greatly appreciate my hon. Friend's intervention. I was seeking to emphasise--perhaps overemphasise--the energy argument. My hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Garston (Mr. Loyden) has brought a new dimension into the argument. Times have changed since this madcap, bastard Bill was introduced. My hon. Friend is saying that events have overtaken the Bill. He pointed out that the argument about port capacity is no longer valid. The House should be grateful to my hon. Friend for making that point. There has been a cloth argument in favour of getting the go- ahead to import more than 15 million tonnes of foreign coal.
Mr. Allen McKay : My hon. Friend is exposing the Secretary of State's double-dealing in his conduct of the Government's energy policy. I have a copy of a leaked document that mentions phasing in coal imports over five years. The Government are already talking about five years. The document states :
"In such a significant closure round, it would be almost impossible to shield the UDM areas from further closures, given that British Coal have already fallen over backwards to maintain in existence relatively high cost pits in Nottinghamshire."
Since the miners' strike, the Government have pursued the closure of NUM pits and kept open the high-cost Nottingham pits, as part of their ideological policy against the National Union of Mineworkers.
Mr. Eadie : I am grateful to my hon. Friend. Perhaps later I shall be able to make the speech that I would like to make, at which time I can deal with the points raised by my hon. Friend. I have all the vital statistics and I am sure that the House would like me to place them on the record. I shall tell my hon. Friend now in case I forget to tell him later that the facts he quotes are correct.
Mr. George J. Buckley (Hemsworth) : Understandably, my hon. Friend has dwelt on the consequences of the Bill on the coal industry. All Opposition Members expressed extreme concern at every stage of the Bill. The promoter of the Bill says that it will have no impact whatever on the mining communities. However, he introduced another dimension which I hope my hon. Friend will consider. He says that the Bill's main purpose is to introduce extra capacity for importing chemicals. Perhaps my hon. Friend will consider that aspect, because it may pose danger to his constituents and to the constituents of other hon. Members. The Bill may result in the transport of toxic chemicals through our constituencies. My hon. Friend the Member for Wentworth (Mr. Hardy) currently has a toxic waste problem in his constituency caused by imported chemicals.
Mr. Eadie : I take the strictures, but I understand how my hon. Friend the Member for Hemsworth (Mr. Buckley) feels. He was a little emotional in describing the matter, but he need not apologise for that because I know that he speaks with great experience of this matter. My hon. Friend's first point was about the impact of the Bill on mining. Anyone who tries to suggest that the provision of facilities capable of handling the import of 15 million tonnes of foreign coal will not have an impact on mining is either not relating himself to reality or is economical with the truth.
We are not merely discussing the impact on one area of imports of coal because the importation of foreign coal touches every part of these islands. It touches south Wales, the north-east, Scotland, Lancashire--I could go through all the regions. It would have an impact throughout the United Kingdom. To some extent that is why the proposition has engendered such emotion in people from every part of the United Kingdom.
My hon. Friend the Member for Hemsworth spoke about toxic waste, a matter of great controversy. At the moment I am concerned about the transportation of such waste by rail, quite apart from the possibility of its being conveyed from the ports. I accept that the toxic waste generated must be disposed of. My major criticism, however, is that, because of Government policy, we have not invested the necessary money to dispose of it by the best technological method available.
Vitrification was proposed long ago--it would not solve the problem of toxic waste, but it would make it easier to handle. Somewhere along the line, however, it was decided not to invest money in that process. The failure to do so has, of course, brought anxiety to my hon. Friend the Member for Hemsworth, to those working at the ports as well as people living in different regions. Some countries approach this problem in a much more realistic manner and they already vitrify toxic waste--despite the fact that we invented that process.
Mr. Terry Fields (Liverpool, Broadgreen) : I know that my hon. Friend has had a long association with the Fire Brigades Union. He will be aware that that union resists the further development of the transportation of chemical waste. The fire brigade performs a tremendous task along with the ambulance service, which has been treated so shabbily by the Government.
Mr. Eadie : Further to the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Broadgreen (Mr. Fields)--it is perfectly in order for me to comment on what he said--I know that the organisations to which he referred support the stand that has been taken in opposition to the Bill. He is entitled to that response from me so that it can go on the record. We are very dependent upon the emergency services--sometimes we do not want to be- -if we are involved in a road accident or a fire. Those people do heroic work. It is right that what my hon. Friend has said should go on the record --they support our opposition to the Bill.
Mr. Michael Welsh : The two electricity generating companies have asked that they be able to reduce the amount of coal that they receive from British Coal from 25 million tonnes to below 60 million tonnes while getting the rest from abroad. Does my hon. Friend agree that that means that one third of British collieries will close? It means that the Nottinghamshire coalfields will disappear. What happens when something goes wrong with the importation of that coal? My hon. Friend will know that the critical life of a pit is 10 to 15 years. One cannot just find new coal. If we import coal we will be going into the unknown and generations of people will suffer as they discover that there is no fuel for them. That is what will happen within 15 years. Does my hon. Friend agree that that scenario is correct?
Mr. Eadie : I confirm what my hon. Friend has said and I hope to do so at even greater length later. A study of the leaked Cabinet paper bears out exactly what my hon. Friend has said. Those suggestions come not from a particular group on the Labour Benches, but from the Government. That is the important thing that we must understand. We are not talking about something that has been cooked up, but about Government statements. Before the debate is concluded I hope that I shall have the opportunity to raise some further questions so that they are put on the record.
Mr. Martin Flannery (Sheffield, Hillsborough) : I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Midlothian (Mr. Eadie) for allowing me to say a few words. I have previously attended debates on this subject because it is one of the most important which we have discussed during my time here. I have listened to the Prime Minister over and over again saying how she hates sanctions against South Africa, that the sanctions would hurt the South African working people, and that working is the way for South African people to obtain their freedom. That is absolutely and directly connected with the issue which we are discussing.
We all know that these ports are a deliberate attack on the miners. The hon. Member for Sherwood (Mr. Stewart), who represents the Union of Democratic
Column 402Mineworkers, knows full well that having used the UDM the Government will ruthlessly sacrifice it and all the workers of South Africa, including the miners. They know that the coal will go to Holland, where there are no mines, and that the coal will come here from specially arranged ports in Holland. We know that and they know that, and the South African workers defend the British workers as we defend them. That is the reality of the struggle which is going on. The Conservative party supports trade unions in Poland, and so it should, but it does not support them here. The Government's sanctions are against the miners of this country. They believe in sanctions against our miners and pretend that they are not in favour of sanctions against South African miners. Such hypocrisy is almost unbelievable and must be fought, even though they have the will of us in the end.
Mr. McCartney : On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. Will you refer to page 227 of Erskine May's "Parliamentary Practice" on the matter of the misconduct of strangers in Galleries? For the third time in this House we have to raise the fact that the representative of the Parliamentary agents, Sherwoods, is guilty of gross discourtesy to this House by sleeping under the Gallery. He is not someone who is a stranger to the House and visiting it for the first time, but a professional, paid individual who knows the practice of this House. In accordance with Standing Orders, will the Serjeant at Arms remove the person because it is a gross discourtesy to this House for such an agent to come here and conduct himself in such a fashion?
Madam Deputy Speaker : I take the hon. Gentleman's point, but hon. Members should not refer to strangers in the Gallery. I assure the hon. Member that I have dealt with the matter in the firmest possible manner.
Mr. Eadie : I must respond briefly to what my hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Hillsborough (Mr. Flannery) has tried to argue in relation to South Africa. If the House has the patience to listen to me I shall describe what has happened in relations to the South African coal miners whose wages and conditions are a disgrace. In the past, I have had the opportunity to speak to some of the leaders of the South African coal miners. I wish to make a point which I have repeatedly tried to make during this debate : the importation of energy does not assist our balance of payments problem. Worse than that, when we have an abundance of such energy of our own, it seems suicidal that we should consider contracting our indigenous energy capacity in order to buy energy supplies from overseas. Such a consideration is bedevilled by the fact that the energy is produced by semi-slave labour in South Africa.
I hope that my hon. Friend the Member for Hillsborough will accept that tonight we have been arguing that we want no part of that. One aspect of this debate has dealt with the morality and ethics involved in this matter. There is no morality in importing coal which is produced by 11-year-old children or slave labour in South Africa. Certainly we are very much against it.
Mr. Peter Griffiths (Portsmouth, North) : I fully accept that the Bill increases port capacity and has implications for the coalmining industry, energy policy and the importation of coal. I have not sought to intervene earlier
Column 403because the Bill does not directly and immediately affect my constituents. However, does the hon. Gentleman agree that at the beginning of this evening's debate many of his hon. Friends were seeking to deal with the motion, which has considerable significance for parliamentary and constitutional procedure, and it would be a great pity if between now and 10 o'clock those who wish to debate the substance of the motion were denied the opportunity to do so?
Mr. Eadie : I make no complaints about the points that the hon. Gentleman is making. If the hon. Gentleman was in the House earlier, he will know that I raised a point of order. I did not like what happened in the House tonight. I told Mr. Deputy Speaker that a way out of the impasse would be to suspend the sitting for 10 minutes to allow the Attorney- General or the Solicitor-General to rule on the legality of the motion. It is only a guess, but we might then have been able to proceed. I do not know what can be done about the legality of the matter. My hon. Friends also have a view on that. The measure should not have been proceeded with tonight.
In the course of my remarks and in trying to respond to interventions, I have been trying to back up that argument. The hon. Gentleman is entitled to disagree, but I hope that he will appreciate that some of the points that my hon. Friends have been putting to me, and some of the points that I have been putting, have sought to substantiate the fact that the Bill is out of date and that this carry-over motion should not have been before us tonight. What happens in the next Session is a matter for us all to play for, but why on earth, with the Government under so much pressure to get their business through and with the House meeting at 3 and 4 o'clock in the morning, is this matter being treated with such urgency? I might be told that I am behaving in an extraordinary way. I am not criticising anybody. The Chairman of Ways and Means may have been duty bound to put this measure on the Order Paper. However, I can say in all sincerity that I have been a Member of the House for getting on for 25 years and I know that any Government who do not want a particular thing generally succeed in their objective if they have the necessary majority.
We are reasonable men. The Leader of the House sent for some of us and we had a discussion. We said, "Look, there doesn't seem to be any problem here. You are saying that this is only a carry-over motion and that the matter will then be debated in the next parliamentary Session regardless of whether the matter is of the minor importance that you suggest." But if the matter has the insignificance that was suggested, why are we spending three hours debating this when the House is chockfull of parliamentary legislation that must be completed before the Queen's Speech?
If the hon. Member for Portsmouth, North (Mr. Griffiths) feels embarrassed by what has happened tonight, we have a solution to the problem. We should not proceed with the motion. Nothing would be lost or gained if we did that and the promoters of the Bill would be completely up to date when they had to produce a fresh proposition to present to the House. The hon. Gentleman and I would be better informed. Since the Bill was first presented to the
Column 404House so many things have happened. That is a reasonable solution as it would do away with all the hassle and all the difficulty. I do not like what has happened here tonight. I have already expressed my views about Parliament, parliamentary democracy, the authority of the Chair and the conduct of business. To some extent, Parliament and the Government have been injured tonight.
The Minister for Public Transport (Mr. Michael Portillo) : I thank the hon. Gentleman for giving way. It is really very kind of him to be so generous with his time. Will he accept from me that we are debating a procedural motion designed to carry the Bill over so that further discussion can take place? It is certainly the Government's view that there is nothing unusual about having a motion in the name of the Chairman of Ways and Means. As the Government are always neutral in respect of private Bills-- [Interruption.] We believe that it is wholly consistent with that position that the motion in the name of the Chairman of Ways and Means for the carry-over should be supported. Therefore, if there is a vote, the Government will recommend to the House that the motion should be carried so that there can be further debate, and all the issues that have been raised this evening could be pursued on Third Reading. Will he therefore accept from me that it would be the Government's recommendation that the carry- over motion should be passed by the House?
Mr. Haynes : On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. Why should we accept a statement like that from the Minister at the Dispatch Box when we know very well that on previous occasions when we have debated this Bill, all the Ministers have been wheeled in, including the Prime Minister and the Secretary of State for Energy, to vote in favour of it? They have a Whip on it--
Mr. Eadie : Let me attempt to cool the anger of my hon. Friends. I want to respond to the Minister. It is unfortunate that the Minister is obviously not privy to what has happened. I do not wish to delay the House, but I could quote verbatim the Government's attitude, as it is contained in the letter I have here about the Bill. The Government argue that they want to be as reasonably objective as possible, but at the end of the day, it is a matter of ways and means. I and my hon. Friends are quite entitled to oppose the motion. The Government may disagree with us, but we are entitled to vote against the motion. But--this is what angers my hon. Friends--we know that there is a Whip on the motion. Therefore, the Government lack the candour that they should show on the matters.
Mr. Eadie : I shall give way to my hon. Friend when I have answered the Minister. I am not revealing any secrets as I respect confidentiality, but I was asked by the Leader of the House and the deputy Leader of the House to go and see them. They asked what was the problem. I have a record of what I said then and also of what I said when we met the Leader of the House and the Secretary of State. We explained the problem to them. I know that the Minister was not privy to our discussions, so I do not