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Associated British Ports (No. 2) Bill

Motion made,

That the Promoters of the Associated British Ports (No. 2) Bill shall have leave to suspend proceedings thereon in order to proceed with the Bill, if they think fit, in the next Session of Parliament, provided that the Agents for the Bill give notice to the Clerks in the Private Bill Office not later than the day before the close of the present Session of their intention to suspend further proceedings and that all Fees due on the Bill up to that date be paid ; That on the fifth day on which the House sits in the next Session the Bill shall be presented to the House ;

That there shall be deposited with the Bill a declaration signed by the Agents for the Bill, stating that the Bill is the same, in every respect, as the Bill at the last stage of its proceedings in this House in the present Session ;

That the Bill shall be laid upon the Table of the House by one of the Clerks in the Private Bill Office on the next meeting of the House after the day on which the Bill has been presented and, when so laid, shall be read the first and second time (and shall be recorded in the Journal of this House as having been so read) and shall be ordered to be read the third time ;

That no further Fees shall be charged in respect of any proceedings on the Bill in respect of which Fees have already been incurred during the present Session.

That these Orders be Standing Orders of the House.-- [The Chairman of Ways and Means.]

7.17 pm

Several Hon. Members rose --

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Paul Dean) : Order. I call Mr. Kevin Barron on a point of order.

Mr. Kevin Barron (Rother Valley) : On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I gave you notice that I wanted to raise a point of order on this issue.

You may recall, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that on Second Reading of the North Killingholme Cargo Terminal Bill on 22 June 1988 I raised a point of order about meetings that had taken place between the Secretary of State for Transport and the promoters of the Bill, Associated British Ports. On that occasion, Mr. Deputy Speaker rightly ruled :

"Discussions that may have taken place outside the House are not a matter for the Chair."--[ Official Report, 22 June 1988 ; Vol. 135, c. 1187.]

It is my understanding that, following a meeting between my right hon. and hon. Friends, the Secretary of State for Energy, the Leader of the House and myself in July, an approach was made to Associated British Ports. They then made an approach to Parliament, and I understand that that approach may have gone, directly or indirectly, to the Chairman of Ways and Means. That suggests to me and to many others than a Government Department has interfered directly with this private Bill. [ Hon. Members :-- "Shame."] I rise on a point of order because those discussions did not take place outside the House. They have taken place in high office. I should like a ruling to be made about whether there are the fingerprints of a Government Department on this Bill. Perhaps it should not fall within the private Bill procedure.

Mr. Deputy Speaker : The hon. Gentleman is quite correct in supposing that the ruling is exactly the same. As he knows, a Committee has considered the private Bill procedure, so he can pursue the matter in whatever way he thinks appropriate. The points which he has made would be entirely in order in the debate on the suspension motion.

Mr. Dennis Skinner (Bolsover) : Further to that point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. This is a matter for you

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because under the private Bill procedure there is not supposed to be whipping. I have heard people talk about the pairing system--although I have not been involved myself--and I know that it does not apply to the private Bill procedure because the Opposition and the Government are not involved. Yet, as my hon. Friend the Member for Rother Valley (Mr. Barron) said, it is significant that the Secretary of State for Energy and the Leader of the House at that time--I know that there have been many changes since then, but in July two people were allocated to those posts--met the miners group to discuss this Bill's future. When that happened, the Bill was taken out of private Bill procedure.

Anybody can look at the matter in any way he or she likes, but the moment that those two Government spokespersons met the miners group they invalidated the private Bill procedure. As soon as those discussions took place in the room of the Leader of the House--not somewhere outside the building--the matter was removed from the private Bill procedure.

If the Government and their Ministers could manage to stop the Bill from proceeding in July, they have every justification--we have even more--for saying to the nation, the miners and others affected that the Bill is very flawed. It was flawed at the beginning because it was political from the outset. The person who took the Chair when the Bill was discussed voted to ensure that not one amendment went through. The Chairman is an adviser to the British Chemical Engineering Contractors Association, which has as one of its members a firm which is helping to sponsor the Bill.

When all those facts are considered, together with the South African connection, the fact that Conservative Members are being paid to take free trips to South Africa to help get the Bill through and the fact that we now have a balance of payments deficit of £20 billion whereas when the Bill started its passage through Parliament there was a balance of payments surplus, it becomes clear that the Bill should be thrown out. It will add a tremendous amount of money to the balance of payments.

For all those reasons, you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, would be totally justified in saying today that the Bill is flawed and should be withdrawn. If Conservative Members want to bring it forward in the next Session, they should start at the beginning and not be allowed to obviate that by a carry -over motion.

Mr. Deputy Speaker : This debate has got off to a good start. The hon. Members for Rother Valley (Mr. Barron) and for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) have raised perfectly legitimate points. My only complaint is that they were not points of order but matters for debate. It would be better if, instead of prefacing the debate with points of order, we got on with it along the lines which have so far been wholly in order.

Mr. Martin Redmond (Don Valley) : Further to that point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. You will recall that when the Bill was introduced I asked whether it was a hybrid Bill. The Chair ruled that it was not hybrid because the Clerk to the Private Bill Committee looked at it and told you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, and the Chairman of Ways and Means that it was perfectly proper and fell within the private Bill procedure. It was impossible for us to question the Clerk any more because he left soon after.

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When we raised the matter of the Bill's hybridity, there was nothing at that time to indicate Government involvement. I understand that the Chairman of Ways and Means, who controls private Bills, has the power, if ever a Bill becomes suspect, to take the appropriate action to remedy the procedure. In the circumstances which have prevailed since the Bill was first introduced, will you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, rule that the Bill has obviously become hybrid? Therefore, will you withdraw the Bill?

Mr. Deputy Speaker : There has been no change in the Bill's structure. The previous proceedings have been in order. We are now dealing with the suspension motion and I hope that we shall come to that so that we can continue to hear the arguments for and against it.

Mr. Peter Hardy (Wentworth) : Further to that point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I do not wish to detain the House, but in addition to considering whether the Bill should continue its passage, the House should be mindful of the fact that we are supposed to be a debating Chamber. When the House last considered the Bill, the only speech in favour of it was one of about 27 words by the hon. Member for Brigg and Cleethorpes (Mr. Brown). I accept that his contribution covered about four columns of Hansard ; there were 14 words in the first bit and 10 or 11 in the second.

I am making a serious point. If the House spends hours and hours debating a Bill and those in favour of it can move it formally, even though they do not have the support of all their hon. Friends--the only Conservative Member to speak, with perhaps one exception, opposed the Bill as we do-- it brings the House into disrepute. It allows us to suggest not merely that we should refuse to allow the Bill to be carried over, but that it should be reviewed and revised before any hon. Member has the gall to present a similar measure in another Session.

Mr. Deputy Speaker : I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman because he helps me by suggesting, as I have said, that the sooner we get on to discussing the suspension motion the better.

Mr. Michael Welsh (Doncaster, North) : Further to that point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I have an important question : can this sitting be adjourned until the Secretary of State for Energy comes and says why, in a letter to me on 26 July, he said that all the coal which was produced would be burnt, whereas a Cabinet document shows that 30,000 miners will be sacked in three years?

When we spoke about this Bill we were not aware of those facts. Therefore, it is right and proper that this debate should be adjourned or the Secretary of State for Energy should come and tell us which is the true document. I am sure that the hon. Member for Brigg and Cleethorpes (Mr. Brown) would not have moved the Bill if he thought that 30,000 miners would be compulsorily sacked within three years. Therefore, can any action be taken along the lines I have requested?

Mr. Deputy Speaker : That was a helpful point and I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman. I noticed that the hon. Member for Brigg and Cleethorpes was rising ; no doubt he wishes to speak to the suspension motion. I also noticed that there was a Minister on the Treasury Bench. The sooner we move on to the suspension motion the sooner we shall hear what those two hon. Members have to say, should they rise to speak.

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Mr. Frank Haynes (Ashfield) : On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. There is an awful smell in this place tonight. It stinks to high heaven. There is something crooked about what is going on and the smell is coming from the Conservative Benches. You know as well as we know what Conservative Members are up to.

I have been sent here by my constituents and they tell me that they do not like what is going on on the Associated British Ports (No. 2) Bill. Mine is a mining constituency, and what my hon. Friend the Member for Doncaster, North (Mr. Welsh) has just said about the report on further pit closures and job losses makes matters worse. There is no doubt that the Government are pulling a fast one and you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, should take note of what we are saying. You saw it with your own eyes when they rolled in the payroll vote and they have a South African mouthpiece who is yawping like billy-oh, not only in here but outside. He stops me in the corridors and talks to me about it. I ask him how many times he has been to South Africa. He has been more than half a dozen times.

This smells ; it really stinks. If the Government get away with this move, it will be at the expense of the British mining industry and the jobs in it, particularly in my constituency. I do not like it, Mr. Deputy Speaker. You should take note of what we are saying. I am not criticising the Chairman of Ways and Means ; he has a job to do.

Mr. Nicholas Bennett (Pembroke) : What is the point of order?

Mr. Haynes : The hon. Gentleman is always raising points of order and more often than not Mr. Speaker has to slap him down because he does not have one.

What I am saying is that this place stinks. The Bill should not be on today's Order Paper. We should not be discussing it tonight. The Government should do the right thing and damn well drop it.

Mr. Deputy Speaker : The points that the hon. Gentleman has made are perfectly in order in debate, but they are not points of order for the Chair.

Mr. Bob Cryer (Bradford, South) : On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I want to raise a number of points with you. First, in view of the association of the Chairman of the Private Bill Committee with the promoters, which has been the subject of previous points of order, would you be prepared to accept a manuscript amendment to the carry-over motion so that it can be examined by the Committee and a recommendation made to the House? That would be the best way of proceeding in these difficult circumstances.

Secondly, the provision of trips to South Africa has been mentioned on several occasions. It appears that the Bill would give an advantage to enterprises in that benighted country to export coal to Britain. I should have thought that that raised the question of a fiduciary interest, as "Erskine May" has defined it.

I would like a clear ruling from you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that if it can be established that peple have received any sort of inducement to go to South Africa, any travel facilities or hospitality, or if anybody has received any sort of assistance tonight--rumours of champagne parties and facilities to keep Members of Parliament here are circulating around the House--that that would constitute a fiduciary interest and would prevent Members of Parliament from voting on the Bill.

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I have raised such matters many times before and I know that the general rubric is that it is up to individual hon. Members of Parliament. That standard is not good enough when this place requires local councillors to make specific declarations and does not even allow them to be present in the committee rooms of council chambers. It is incumbent on the Chair to maintain the standards of the House, which should be such that we can tell local authorities that we have at least the same standards as we impose upon them.

Will you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, make it clear, as was made clear by Mr. Speaker during proceedings on the Lloyd's Bill, a private Bill that was submitted in 1981, that when Lloyd's members were involved they should not vote. People who have been scurrying to the South African Government who impose apartheid and produce coal with black miners' blood should not be allowed to vote in this matter.

Mr. Deputy Speaker : First, it is not possible for me to accept a manuscript amendment on a suspension motion. Secondly, page 354 of "Erskine May" says :

"No Member who has a direct pecuniary interest in a question is allowed to vote upon it ; but, in order to operate as a disqualification, this interest must be immediate and personal, and not merely of a general or remote character."

I hope that I have answered the two points raised by the hon. Gentleman.

Mr. Ian McCartney (Makerfield) : On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. These points of order are not an attempt to delay the proceedings of the House ; they go to the heart of the integrity of the House and its business. This is not the first occasion when we have been dealing with dock legislation that we have had to raise points of order about the direct or indirect pecuniary interests of Conservative Members.

Following representations made to Mr. Speaker, I have had discussions with the Clerk of the House over a number of weeks. It is important to set out the procedure under Standing Order No. 20 and what emerged in relation to the Committee's Chairman and the written evidence that he and others provided who, to my knowledge, have not to this day been called to give witness to that evidence or for that evidence to be checked for its veracity.

Standing Order No. 120 concerns the declaration by members of Committees on opposed Bills and says :

"E ach-- member of a committee on an opposed private bill, or a group of private bills, shall, before he is entitled to attend and vote in such committee, sign the followingdeclaration :--

I, having been selected by the Committee of Selection to serve as a member of the Committee on the Bill or on Group of Private Bills, hereby declare, that my constituents have no local interest, and that I have no personal interest, in the said bill or any bill included in the said group ; and that I will never vote on any question which may arise without having duly heard and attended to the evidence relating thereto."

That is important--

Mr. Deputy Speaker : Order. I am not clear what the point of order is for the Chair. The hon. Gentleman is now going over previous proceedings. He cannot do that. He must relate any point of order that he has directly to the suspension motion that is before the House.

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Mr. McCartney : I can do so, and I am trying to assist in the matter. I have taken a great deal of trouble over this in my discussions with the Speaker's Office and the Clerk of the House and I would be obliged, Mr. Deputy Speaker, if you would let me make the point.

Let me quote now from Hansard :

"I am totally in your pocket and I had better come across to speak to you." --[ Official Report, 23 May 1989 ; Vol. 153, c. 893.] On two occasions the hon. Member for Rochford (Dr. Clark) was challenged by Members of the House. On one occasion the Deputy Speaker made it clear that the hon. Gentleman had better come back into the general discussion and he went from under the Gallery back to his place.

Subsequently, on 24 May I wrote to Mr. Speaker on Standing Order No. 120. Mr. Speaker then arranged for a series of discussions to take place between the Clerk of the House and a number of hon. Members, including myself. I was asked to produce evidence of the allegation and submitted two written statements or affidavits--

Mr. Deputy Speaker : Order. This has nothing to do with the suspension motion. I call Mr. Michael Brown.

7.40 pm

Mr. Michael Brown (Brigg and Cleethorpes) : It is very important that the House supports the carry-over motion-- [Interruption.] Several Hon. Members rose --

Mr. Deputy Speaker : Order. We have had a good run on points of order. I have explained to every hon. Member who has raised a point of order that, apart from those on which I have already ruled, they are not points of order for the Chair, but are perfectly legitimate points to be raised in the debate. I suggest that it would be far better if these points were raised in speeches and not under the guise of points of order.

Mr. Frank Dobson (Holborn and St. Pancras) : Further to the point of order raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Makerfield (Mr. McCartney), Mr. Deputy Speaker. It seems to me that my hon. Friend is referring to quite specific points of order relating to private business that require not the declaration of interest but the absence from a Committee of anyone who has any possible interest to declare. Without challenging your ruling, Mr. Deputy Speaker, it appears that my hon. Friend has raised a most material point of order by suggesting with some validity that the hon. Member who chaired the Committee on this private Bill was out of order in doing so. It would seem to any fair-minded person that my hon. Friend raised a valid point of order.

Mr. Deputy Speaker : Order. It is not possible at this stage to challenge the validity of previous proceedings. We are now dealing with a suspension motion. As I have told the House more than once, it is perfectly in order to raise those arguments in favour of voting against the suspension motion. That is why I said that it would be far better if those perfectly legitimate points were raised not under the guise of points of order but as part of the general debate that has been going on for quite some time.

Mr. Dobson : Surely it cannot be the case that subsequent proceedings validate those that have gone before if they were wrong. Let us suppose that in the case

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of another Bill an hon. Member who sat on an opposed Bill Committee was discovered to have been receiving sums of money from the promoter in clear breach of order. Surely that would invalidate those proceedings and allow them to be questioned at this stage.

Mr. Deputy Speaker : Only a decision of the House could invalidate previous proceedings. If the hon. Gentleman is saying that further information has come to light which would appear to constitute a contempt of the House or a breach of privilege, he knows very well that the appropriate procedure in that case is to write to Mr. Speaker.

Mr. Michael Brown : As I was saying, the carry-over is required because the Third Reading of the Bill now stands adjourned. In those circumstances, it is absolutely necessary-- [Interruption.] Several Hon. Members rose --

Mr. Skinner : People should know what is happening in this cock-eyed place.

Mr. Deputy Speaker : Order.

Mr. John Cummings (Easington) : On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. My point of order follows the points made by my hon. Friend the Member for Doncaster, North (Mr. Welsh). I have a copy of a letter dated 26 July from the then Leader of the House indicating that there was a certain tonnage to be bought and burnt from British Coal. We now have in our possession the leaked Cabinet document showing the implications for coal production--

Mr. Deputy Speaker : Order. What is the point of order for the Chair?

Mr. Cummings : The point is that the Leader of the House has acted with duplicity, having had possession of the document before 26 July, and he should come here tonight and explain his action in calling us into his office--at his request--to discuss these matters.

Mr. Pat Wall (Bradford, North) : On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. My point of order could not be raised in the debate as it concerns the consequences of tonight's debate. I am the only hon. Member present who served on the Committee considering the Associated British Ports Bill. I did so believing that the Bill was about planning permission, only to find myself in the midst of one of the biggest controversies of my two and a half years in the House. I feel that I can raise a point of order in all freedom because I have no coal mining or dock interests. Bradford lost its last coal mine more than 50 years ago. The Leeds-Liverpool canal goes through part of my constituency but there is no docking, although there is a boat yard employing one and a half workers. So I do not have any pecuniary or other interests.

When we debated the Bill on Third Reading, at the end of the debate I was still on my feet. Closure was not called, and as I understand it the debate was incomplete. Had we been debating a Government Bill, presuming the unfortunate event that the suspension motion is carried tonight, I would have the Floor when Third Reading is resumed. Do we have that right on a private Bill and will that be the effect if the carry-over motion is carried tonight?

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Mr. Deputy Speaker : I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his courtesy in giving notice of his point of order, as that enabled me to look into it. The answer is that, if the suspension motion is carried tonight, the House would then proceed in the next Session to a Third Reading debate, and that debate would start from scratch. It would be de novo. The hon. Gentleman would be free to try to catch the eye of the occupant of the Chair, but he would not have the Floor at the start of the Third Reading debate.

Mr. Joseph Ashton (Bassetlaw) : Further to that point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. For many months I have been trying desperately to make a speech on the Bill, but I cannot be called to speak because of the controversy and the continual points of order. If the motion is carried and the Bill proceeds to Third Reading, will it be guillotined, will there be some form of closure and how many hours will the Government allow us to debate the Bill? Can all the hon. Members who wish to speak on the many aspects of the Bill speak on it or will we be curtailed next Session and the Bill bulldozed through?

Mr. Deputy Speaker : That is hypothetical at the moment. Let me clarify to the House the important and genuine point that, if a suspension motion for a private Bill is carried and the Bill is carried over to the next Session, and, as in this case, the Bill had an adjourned Third Reading, the Third Reading will start from scratch. That is the procedure which we operate and that is the answer to both hon. Gentlemen.

Mr. Geoffrey Lofthouse (Pontefract and Castleford) : Further to that point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I wonder whether you can rule on whether the Bill can proceed with the carry-on motion? You and the House will be aware that, in paragraph 26 of the special report, the Committee put conditions on its recommendations, stating :

"In our view it is the Government's duty to take whatever steps are necessary in the overall national interest to protect the coal mining industry."

We have received, no assurance whatsoever from the Government that they will take such action. In fact there has been evidence to the contrary. We have heard about the leaked document revealing that there could be another devastating attack on the coal industry. The recommendations and the conditions laid down in the special report have not been fulfilled, and I respectfully suggest that the Bill should not proceed.

Mr. Deputy Speaker : Again, that is a legitimate point to raise during the debate that we are now having. It is not a point of order.

Mr. Ronnie Campbell (Blyth Valley) : On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Coming to this House after 20 years local authority service, I am absolutely astounded to find that half of the Members on the Conservative Benches have interests in South Africa, interests in coal and shares in coal, yet here we are debating with them-- [Interruption.] The hon. Member for Brigg and Cleethorpes (Mr. Brown) can grin as much as he likes, but I am astounded at the contempt that this House has for our people, especially those in the mining areas. Conservative Members should be ashamed of that, and so

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should you, Mr. Deputy Speaker. You should not allow this debate to continue. You should suspend it-- [Interruption.] You should forget it--

Mr. Deputy Speaker : Order. That is a point for debate, not a point of order for the Chair.

Mr. Harry Barnes (Derbyshire, North-East) : On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. You are in a difficult position because your concern is primarily with the procedures of the House and how the House should advance its business, yet most of the points of order that have been raised have questioned the legality of the measure if it goes through those procedures. I appreciate that some of those matters concern you, but they are also the concern of the Attorney-General and the Solicitor-General. I suggest that the House is adjourned until either one or both legal officers come and make a statement on whether we should proceed with this measure.

Mr. Deputy Speaker : That is not a matter for me. Thank goodness, I have no power to summon Ministers to this House.

Mr. McCartney : On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. We now have at stake the integrity of the discussions that I had with the Clerk of the House and with Mr. Speaker's office. I am quite sincere in this matter because I had detailed discussions with the Clerk on a number of occasions. The Clerk, in absolute good faith and integrity, did all that he could about my complaints.

There are two outstanding matters relevant to Standing Order No. 120. The first is that in the general investigation, the Chairman of the Committee admitted that he had discussions with the sponsors of the Bill ; secondly-- I now quote from a handwritten note by the Chairman--he conceded :

"I was unwise to speak to the sponsor of the Bill when I did." The remaining content of that letter must remain private because it was a private letter--

Mr. Deputy Speaker : Order. If the hon. Gentleman is alleging that there has been a contempt of the House or a breach of privilege by an hon. Member, he knows the procedure that he must follow. He cannot raise the matter during proceedings on the Floor of the House ; he must write to Mr. Speaker. I cannot allow him to proceed with that point if that is the nature of his allegation.

Mr. McCartney : Further to that point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. With all due respect, the establishment in this House is trying to gag Back -Bench Members and to deny us our rights in relation to the Bill. You are asking me to go back three months. I have done all that was asked of me by Mr. Speaker, so all that remains is that hon. Members, at 10 pm or even earlier, will have to vote on the Bill. My cursory investigations show prima facie evidence of a link between Conservative Members and the sponsors of the Bill. That calls into doubt the integrity of this House. Our integrity is now at stake. I implore you, Mr. Deputy Speaker--

Mr. Deputy Speaker : Order. We are now--

Mr. Skinner : The sitting should be suspended until the Attorney- General comes.

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Mr. Deputy Speaker : Order. These points of order have been raised before and I allowed them to have a good run.

Mr. Ronnie Campbell : It is a corrupt Bill.

Mr. Deputy Speaker : Order. I have allowed a good run on points of order. I have called every hon. Member who has risen--

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