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Mr. Deputy Speaker : Order. I have either given a ruling on the points of order or I have said that they were legitimate points to raise during the debate. It would be far easier if we were to continue with the debate on the motion, and I call Mr. Brown.
Mr. Alexander Eadie (Midlothian) : On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. May I try to assist you in what I appreciate is a difficult position? My hon. Friend the Member for Derbyshire, North-East (Mr. Barnes) asked whether it would be appropriate for either the Solicitor-General or the Attorney-General to come to the House and rule on the legality of proceeding with the measure. You said that that was not a matter for you.
If the House were to put a motion to you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, requesting that the sitting be suspended pending the appearance of either the Attorney -General or the Solicitor-General, would you accept that motion? We might then get out of the impasse and proceed with the business. Could you give me your guidance, please?
Mr. Deputy Speaker : Order. I remind the House once more that I have listened to many points of order. Those that are now being raised are merely a repetition of the points with which I have dealt--[ Hon. Members :-- "Oh no they are not."] Order. I have dealt with the points. I hope that the House will now agree that it would be more sensible and more orderly to continue to discuss the suspension motion.
Mr. Alan Meale (Mansfield) : On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. With due respect to your earlier ruling, and while not wishing to challenge it, the questions asked by my hon. Friend the Member for Makerfield (Mr. McCartney) have not been answered, although they have been heard in the Chamber and await an answer. I have a note of the words used by the Chairman of the Committee when he went under the Gallery. He said :
"Since I am totally in your pocket I had better come across to speak to you. Michael Brown has had a word with me"
Mr. Deputy Speaker : Order. Those points can be raised during the debate ; they are not points of order for the Chair. I am gaining the impression that the House is trying to involve the Chair in political controversy--[ Hon. Members :-- "No."] Order. I am sure that, on reflection, the House will realise that it would be unfair to put the Chair in that position.
Mr. Ashton : On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I have been before the Privileges Committee in regard to a matter concerning contempt. As you know, Mr. Deputy Speaker, points concerning privilege must be dealt with immediately, or they will be ruled out of order. Because of the recess, however, my hon. Friend the Member for Makerfield (Mr. McCartney) did not have a chance to raise the matter at the appropriate time, and Mr. Speaker would now rule it out of order.
In the light of the information that we have received, surely we need the guidance of the Attorney-General on whether there has been a breach of privilege, or corruption behind the scenes. The information in the letter in the possession of my hon. Friend the Member for Mansfield (Mr. Meale) has exposed a serious defect in the Bill, which ought to be examined at the highest level.
Mr. Deputy Speaker : I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman, because he has helped me. As he rightly says, a point of privilege must be raised with Mr. Speaker immediately ; if the point had been raised at the appropriate time, it would have been dealt with at that time. If any hon. Member is suggesting that new information has become available that could amount to a contempt of the House or a breach of privilege, the procedures of the House are wholly clear : the matter should not be raised on the Floor of the House, where I cannot deal with it, but the hon. Gentleman concerned should write to Mr. Speaker.
Mr. McCartney : On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. May I quote from the Standing Orders on Private Business? Standing Order No. 162, on Bills relating to water companies, is entirely relevant. The private Bill at present under consideration clashes with the interests of a water Bill promoted by the Government, and without a ruling on the interpretation of the Standing Order this Bill, in my view, should not proceed.
Standing Order No. 162 states :
"In the case of a bill whereby it is proposed that an existing water company shall be authorised to raise additional capital, provision shall be made for the offer of such capital by puplic auction or tender at the best price which can be obtained, unless the committee on the bill reports that such provision ought not to be required, with the reasons on which its opinion is founded." The Committee has been considering this Bill at the same time as the water privatisation Bill is being considered.
Mr. Michael Brown : The Bill was first presented to the House in November 1987. For some two years, therefore, the House has been able to consider the Bill on Second Reading, and then to instruct the Opposed Private Bill Committee to consider it at the Committee stage. The
Column 386Committee considered the Bill, and reported it to the House without amendment. I remind the House-- [Interruption.]
Mr. Brown : Thank you, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I am trying to remind the hon. Members that the House has had an opportunity to consider the Bill on Second Reading, in Committee and in the first part of the Third Reading debate. The carry-over motion will enable the House to reach a conclusion in the next Session of Parliament. In those circumstances, I believe that it is crucial for the motion to be approved. [Interruption.]
Mr. Redmond rose --
Mr. Redmond : On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. May I ask for your guidance? As I understand it, the House is about to discuss a motion on whether to carry forward a private Bill. Many points of order have been raised about whether the Bill should be dealt with on the Floor of the House this evening. In view of what has been said, Mr. Deputy Speaker, I wish to ask whether Mr. Speaker's office has been called into disrepute by the malingering and gerrymandering on the part of certain Conservative Members. I ask you to suspend the sitting so that you can consult Mr. Speaker on whether the Bill should be carried forward this evening.
Mr. Deputy Speaker : Order. It is my job to ensure that the business before the House is proceeded with. If the motion had not been in order, it would not be on the Order Paper. I hope that we will now get on with the debate : the hon. Member for Brigg and Cleethorpes (Mr. Brown) was interrupted by points of order.
Mr. Michael Brown : I wish to end my speech by saying that the most important point is that the Bill is the subject of controversy among Opposition Members with mining interests, and those interests will not be adversely affected by the Bill. It will probably not reach the statute book until 1990, and by 1992 its provisions will be enacted.
Mr. Deputy Speaker : Order. Let me repeat that we have had a long run on points of order. Some were asking me for a ruling on our procedures, and I have given rulings in answer to them. Most of the others--as I have explained more than once--were perfectly legitimate for the debate on the carry-over motion. It would be more sensible if hon.
Column 387Members made the same points without prefacing them with the words "on a point of order", because they are not points of order.
Mr. Jack Thompson (Wansbeck) : On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Only rarely do I rise to raise a point of order, but I find the position confusing. Along with, I imagine, every other hon. Member present, I have a copy of the special report by the Committee. The doubt cast on the validity of the report, in view of the role and actions of the Committee's Chairman, raise the question whether views that I might express relating to the report would be relevant. Much of what I would have to say bears on its content. It seems that we must question the work of the Committee, and its actions.
Mrs. Alice Mahon (Halifax) : On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I wish to refer to what was said earlier by my hon. Friend the Member for Blyth Valley (Mr. Campbell). I am deeply disturbed that the House is being brought into disrepute. When as many hon. Members are on their feet as I have seen tonight--and I have not witnessed such a sight in two and a half years--it shows the depth of feeling that something very underhand, if not corrupt, is about to take place. I believe that the office of Speaker and Deputy Speaker--one of the highest offices in the House--should address itself to the concern felt by hon. Members. I ask you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, to suspend the sitting, to bring the Law Officers to the House and to make a ruling.
Hon. Members, the press and those in the Public Gallery are not the only people listening to the debate. The eyes of the country are on us, and the country smells something pretty rotten. I ask once again, Mr. Deputy Speaker, what my hon. Friends have already asked : that you bring the Attorney-General to the House, suspend the sitting and give us a ruling.
Mr. Skinner : On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. The Solicitor -General has just poked his nose in. He is available now to have a look at this matter. Therefore, we should suspend the sitting and a discussion should take place between him, the usual channels and representatives of my hon. Friends on the Back Benches. Then we can proceed with the Bill if necessary. You have the power to suspend the sitting. It was suspended last week when Nigel Lawson packed up. The matter is important because it involves the loss of thousands of jobs in various constituencies, money being made in South Africa and Tory Members lining their pockets. It is essential to suspend the sitting so that discussions can take place.
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Mr. Bennett : Yes, Mr. Deputy Speaker. The House is in difficulty because my hon. Friends are worried about rulings on the passage of the Bill. I ask you to consider the business on the Order Paper. The Bill is on the Order Paper because the Chairman of Ways and Means chose to allocate time to it. That was a decision about the priority given to private Bills. As you will be aware, many private Bills have not yet completed their passage through the House. I understand that the Chairman of Ways and Means decides which Bills have carry-over motions and allocates time to them.
My hon. Friends are worried about the propriety of the Bill's rate of progress. In Committee, the promoters asked for an undertaking that no amendments would be tabled so that they could avoid Report stage. Members of the Committee agreed, on the basis that a report would be submitted to the Government before the Bill proceeded any further. That was an odd procedure and it seems strange that the Chairman of Ways and Means found time for a debate on a carry-over motion for this Bill ahead of the long list of other private Bills. The Chairman of Ways and Means has a unique position in the House. Sometimes he is in the Chair and the rest of the time he takes care of private business. It is perfectly legitimate for Opposition Members to challenge his choice and to ask why this Bill was chosen, particularly as it has had a chequered course. I realise that no hon. Member should challenge the Chairman of Ways and Means, but my hon. Friends have legitimate anxieties about why time was allocated to the Bill. Hon. Members have the right to look into private business. It is extremely mysterious that one Bill should move forward at a faster rate than others. The promoters may make requests, but the Chairman of Ways and Means has to make the decision. How can the House influence the decision to allocate time to this Bill in preference to the other 15 or 16 that have not made progress? How soon can
Column 389we debate the report on private Bill procedure? The points of order raised today clearly show that hon. Members on both sides are dissatisfied with the present procedures.
I do not wish to push this matter further, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I am sure that you will appreciate that I am close to challenging the Chairman of Ways and Means in that capacity as opposed to his capacity as Deputy Speaker. The House should have some way of asking questions about priorities in allocating time, without challenging him as an occupant of the Chair.
Mr. Deputy Speaker : I am glad that the hon. Member said that he was not questioning the judgment of the Chairman of Ways and Means, who has a difficult job in finding time for private business. He tabled this motion for today and it is in order. Like Mr. Speaker, he does not have to give his reasons when making a ruling. It will not have escaped the notice of the House that the Bill was on its adjourned Third Reading.
Long before the debate this evening it was felt by hon. Members on both sides of the House that some features of private Bill procedure were unsatisfactory. For that reason, the House set up a Select Committee some time ago. It has reported to the House and there has been a preliminary debate. The matter is now under consideration. If the hon. Member wishes to raise any point on that, he should address it to the Leader of the House, not to the Chair.
Mr. Leigh : Although the port of Immingham could be used for importing coal, what it really needs is to expand. It is crying out for additional facilities so that it can deal, in particular, with steel and chemicals. That point must be made repeatedly.
British ports face stiff competition from Rotterdam and other continental ports. Expansion at Immingham will help Britain compete effectively and allow businesses in my constituency and that of my hon. Friend the Member for Brigg and Cleethorpes (Mr. Brown) to flourish. That is why we support the Bill. Opposition Members emphasise that the Bill is intended to allow imports of foreign coal, but it is not.
Mr. Michael Brown : We owe it to the House to declare the greatest interest of all--the welfare of our constituents. [ Hon. Members :-- "What about our constituents?"] The only crime of which my hon. Friend and I have been accused is supporting the views of our constituents.
Mr. Leigh rose --
Mr. Andrew F. Bennett : On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Is it not a fact that the House is supposed to exercise a judicial function with regard to private Bills? The rules require that the people appointed to consider a private Bill do not have a constituency interest in it but are as disinterested as possible so that they consider it not through the eyes of an hon. Member with a constituency or financial interest but in a detached manner. I realise that we have moved on from Committee stage, but surely it is inappropriate for an hon. Member with a clear constituency interest as opposed to the interest of the promoters at heart to speak for the Bill.
Column 390proceedings were completed some time ago. What hon. Members say in this House must be a matter for their judgment and their judgment alone.
Mr. Leigh : It is a very strange state of affairs when a Member of Parliament who is attempting to ensure that his constituents' interests are safeguarded is criticised by Opposition Members. Mr. McCartney rose --
Mr. Skinner rose --
Mr. Deputy Speaker : Order. I have twice heard the hon. Member for Makerfield (Mr. McCartney) and the hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) on points of order. I hope that they will not continue to interrupt the speech of the hon. Member for Gainsborough and Horncastle (Mr. Leigh), who now has the Floor of the House.
Mr. Leigh : The point that has to be made is that, because of the serious delay, it will be at least 1992 before the facility can be opened. That will provide ample opportunity for the Government, or any future Government, to reach a decision on their coal import policy. The carry-over motion relating to the Bill is not about coal imports. It is about increasing trade and helping to improve the economic outlook of constituencies in south Humberside and north Lincolnshire. It is on that basis that I support the carry-over motion.
Mr. Alexander Eadie (Midlothian) : It is probably silly to say that the Bill arouses a great deal of emotion and concern among my hon. Friends and some Conservative Members, but no hon. Member should feel ashamed about their emotion and concern, particularly when the jobs of their constituents are at stake. Therefore I make no apology for attacking the motion. I said on a previous occasion that this was a bastard proposal. My view has not changed. One could also describe it as a pirate measure. I do not understand why the motion that the Bill should be carried over to the next Session is before the House. The Opposition have said in many of our debates that the Bill should be referred back to the Committee. The case for doing so was overwhelming, consequent upon the information that was coming to light week by week and month by month. Since we last debated it, it has become even more of a pirate measure. In all fairness, therefore, it should go back to the Committee.
Mr. Skinner : My hon. Friend has made an important point about the Bill being sent back to the Committee for re-examination. It would not be the first time that a private Bill was referred back to a Committee for re- examination.
Column 391Does my hon. Friend believe that, if the Bill were to be referred back to the Committee, which any decent legislature would ensure, the Chair of the Committee would have to be changed?
Mr. Eadie : It would be a legal matter, of course. I tried to assist the Chair when I said that, since we were trapped in legalities, the proceedings of the House ought to be suspended so that the Attorney-General or the Solicitor-General could be asked to make a ruling. My hon. Friend asks whether the Committee's Chairman would have to be changed. There might also have to be new Committee members. My hon. Friend has made a valid point.
The Committee felt that what it was being asked to decide was, to a certain extent, out of bounds : that it was considering not just private legislation but a proposal that involved national energy policy. The Committee's view, therefore, was that the Government should respond to that point. The parliamentary group of hon. Members with mining constituencies sought a meeting with the Government. As a result of the far-reaching consequences of the Bill, which I have described as a bastard Bill and as a pirate Bill, we thought that the Government should respond to what the Committee had said about its belief that the proposal involved national energy policy. We were received with the ulmost courtesy by very distinguished people--the former Leader of the House and the then Secreary of State for Energy who is now the Secretary of State for Transport. They undertook to provide us with the Government's view on whether the proposal had any implications for national energy policy. I am in no doubt that that was said to us with the best will in the world. I shall not bore the House with the details. Any independently minded person who examined the proposal with complete objectivity would be bound to agree that since July it has been completely out of date.
Mr. Lofthouse : Does my hon. Friend agree that, as the Committee's recommendations and the conditions that it imposed in its special report have not been met by the Government, the Bill should go back to the Committee?
Part of the difficulty throughout has been that when we met the Government's representatives, they said, "This is not a matter for us. This is a private legislation ; it is a matter for the Chairman of Ways and Means. He must decide when it will be debated in the House."
My hon. Friend the Member for Pontefract and Castleford (Mr. Lofthouse) made a reasonable point. Anyone outside the House listening to what he said would agree that he was developing an argument of sweet reasonableness. The problem is that Conservative Members, with the honourable exception of one or two, are being whipped to defeat whatever arguments are advanced. Mention was made of winning the argument but losing the vote--we have won the argument.
Column 392talking about hon. Members being free to vote. An entry in the Register of Members' Interests on the hon. Member for Brigg and Cleethorpes says :
"Overseas Visits 2-5 February 1988, to South Africa, as the guest of the Office of the South African Coal Industry."
The hon. Member will be entering the Lobby with a direct interest in what happens to the Bill. That is a public scandal which brings the House into total disrepute.
I wish that this debate was being televised. I am a super-idealist, but when people read about their conduct, Conservative Members' day of reckoning will come.
My hon. Friend for Makerfield (Mr. McCartney) should not apologise for feeling emotional, because thousands of jobs are at stake. However, we must continue to argue against this bastard Bill.
Mr. Skinner : Does my hon. Friend agree that if this debate were being televised, anyone watching would say, "It is a fine state of affairs when National Union of Mineworkers-sponsored Members of Parliament were not allowed to sit on the Committee that considered the Bill because they are too close to the subject, but a Tory Member of Parliament can not only sit on the Committee but chair it while he is representing an interest through the British Chemical Engineering Contractors Association"? Would not an independent observer say, "There is something corrupt in the House of Commons when that can be allowed to take place. There is no place for miners, but places for Tory Members to represent the bosses who are pushing the Bill through"? There is something dirty about that.
Mr. Eadie : Of course there is something anomalous in what my hon. Friend says. I was the Minister with responsibilities for coal in the last Labour Government for five and a quarter years. I remember that I received a note from a civil servant saying that I should not be dealing with an aspect of the coal industry because I was so emotionally involved as a coal miner. What a cheek ! I am pleased to say that the Secretary of State made it perfectly clear what responsibilities I had.
Mr. Allen McKay (Barnsley, West and Penistone) : Does my hon. Friend agree that if this had been a report from a local government committee to a full council, the full council would have sent it back to the committee? If that did not happen, Conservative Members would say that the district auditor should investigate such corruption and whether there was a case to answer. If the mother of Parliaments cannot send back to the Committee something that is suspicious, we are worthy of suspicion ourselves.
Mr. Eadie : I know that there are many views of Parliament and that sometimes people are very cynical about it. I say to them that they can be either Members of Parliament or outsiders. Labour Members have more reason to preserve this House than anyone. If we leave here, we have nowhere else to go. This is a forum for discussion, and our forefathers made great sacrifices to ensure that we would have a Parliament in which we can voice the opinions of the people whom we represent. We