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Mrs. Edwina Currie (Derbyshire, South) : I have so far abstained on the Bill, but I intend to support it tonight. I recognise that the Bill has given cause for concern in the coal industry, and those who support it, particularly those who have changed their stance, as I have, should be prepared to meet those arguments head on. The coal industry has been a protected industry for a long time. It has had no competition whatever from overseas and it has had precious little competition from the private sector. I now find that I have rather more coal being mined in my constituency through opencast mining than through deep mining, and I am interested to see just how efficient the private sector is and how competently it deals with the environmental problems--often far more competently these days than deep mining used to in constituencies such as mine. Opencast mining is still bitterly opposed by deep mining interests. I understand that that is because of competition, but they are wrong to do so. The protection that we will still be giving the coal industry if Bills such as this are defeated is not in the interests of the industry. I am sure that it is not in the interests of consumers, particularly consumers of electricity, nor is it in the interests of Britain ; or at least, not for much longer.

Mr. Chris Mullin (Sunderland, South) : Does the hon. Lady understand that, in order to compete with coal coming in from South Africa or Colombia, we would have to reduce wages and all the other conditions in our mines to the same level as in those countries, and it is that that we are anxious to avoid?

Mrs. Currie : If the hon. Gentleman will forgive me, I shall come to potential coal imports in a moment, but many of the arguments against coal imports are misplaced.

Mr. Eric Illsley (Barnsley, Central) : Will the hon. Lady give way?

Mrs. Currie : No, not yet.

Let me explain why I have changed my mind. I have not done so under any pressure but because I have given some thought to the arguments. My first reason for changing my mind is that, as of 31 March this year, the Government have been immensely generous in writing off the coal industry's debts. The total bill for the British taxpayer will be about £5 billion, the biggest write-off that such an industry has ever seen. It wipes the slate clean.

Mr. Redmond : Will the hon. Lady give way?

Mrs. Currie : No, not yet.

On 1 April this year, the industry will start with a completely clean slate. Not many corporations in Britain

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can say that. That puts British Coal at a slight advantage when compared with many businesses, certainly with many privately funded businesses in my constituency.

Secondly, as my hon. Friend the Member for Brigg and Cleethorpes (Mr. Brown) mentioned, British Coal has signed long-term contracts with the successors to the CEGB. Those substantial contracts will tide British Coal over any period of difficulty. They have been concluded in the interests of the coal industry.

Mr. Illsley : The hon. Lady referred to the writing off of the coal industry's debt, but the Coal Industry Bill does not say exactly how much of that debt will be wiped off. As far as I am aware, throughout the Bill's Committee stage, there has been no reference to how much debt will be wiped off. Therefore, for the hon. Lady to say that, as from 1 April, British Coal will be starting with a clean slate is wrong. That will not be the case.

The hon. Lady should also bear in mind that, since 1980, British Coal has given £1.2 billion of that debt to the CEGB in the run-up to privatisation.

Mr. Deputy Speaker : Order. Right hon. and hon. Members should confine their remarks to the Bill that is before the House and not to one that is in Committee upstairs.

Mrs. Currie : I endorse your point entirely, Mr. Deputy Speaker.

Mr. Ted Leadbitter (Hartlepool) : On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. As someone who has an interest in the Bill, I want to know its real purpose. My understanding is that the Bill's promoter gave a firm indication that the ports required the legislation to assist their development, not the importation of foreign coal. However, the hon. Member for Derbyshire, South (Mrs. Currie) made it clear that the Bill will facilitate coal imports. Her remarks cannot be interpreted in any other way. I seek clarification from you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, as to the real purpose of the Bill.

Mr. Deputy Speaker : I am not denying the relevance of debate about the future development of the coal mining industry, but I stress that right hon. and hon. Members should not involve themselves too much in the detail of the Bill directly relating to the coal industry that is already in Committee.

Mr. Redmond : Further to that point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. On previous occasions you have ruled that the measure before the House is not a hybrid Bill. However, the remarks made by the Bill's promoter and by the hon. Member for Derbyshire, South (Mrs. Currie) imply that the Government have an interest in it and that the Bill has national implications. Even at this late stage, I ask you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, to rule that the measure is a hybrid Bill and should be withdrawn from consideration by the House this evening.

Mr. Deputy Speaker : The hon. Gentleman repeats a point that he has made several times before. I reiterate that the Examiners have studied the Bill carefully and are satisfied that no hybridity is involved.

Mrs. Currie : In reply to the hon. Member for Barnsley, Central, (Mr. Illsley), some of my briefing comes from Conservative Central Office. The hon. Gentleman might find it helpful to be aware that the figure of £5 billion was

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just hinted at. That was clearly the figure some Ministers thought that the Government would have to fork out to settle British Coal's debts.

Mr. Redmond : On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. You have just ruled that there is no hybridity involved in the Bill, because the Government have no interest in it. However, if the remark by the hon. Member for Derbyshire, South that part of her brief came from Conservative Central Office is not a sign of Government involvement, I do not know what is.

Mr. Deputy Speaker : I have nothing to add to my earlier ruling.

Mrs. Currie : If the Bill is passed, as I hope it will be, the ports will be a tremendous asset to the north-east. They may be used to import some coal, which is why Opposition Members oppose the measure.

I changed my mind about the Bill because the Government have already dealt very generously with the industry, which also has substantial long-term contracts in the provision of electricity. Its future is secure. British Coal's board has undertaken a major reconstruction of the industry over the past four years or so, and it is to be congratulated on having done so in the teeth of opposition from Labour and the National Union of Mineworkers. Any industry or business that can halve its work force in four and a half years and at the same time double its productivity should be capable of coping with any minor changes and challenges that a tiny amount of coal brought in through one port might produce.

Mr. Andy Stewart (Sherwood) : What I have heard so far from my hon. Friend has appalled me. Given that she was a lady of courage and stood beside the working miners during the difficult period of 1984-85, does she not feel remorse or even a pang of conscience at sticking a knife into their back tonight?

Mrs. Currie : Clearly my hon. Friend has not kept up with developments in my constituency. In the first place, there are no longer any miners there. Secondly, we are about to welcome Europe's biggest inward investment with Toyota. Thirdly, the bulk of British Coal employees in my area now work for bodies involved in mining research, which will continue to serve the whole country so long as such research is needed.

Others serve in workshops, which will also continue to provide a service to the whole country. As and when the industry is privatised, as I firmly hope that it will be, those workshops will be able to provide a service to the engineering industry of the midlands, including the developing car industry there. That is what the workshops should do--not be tied to a limited, non- competitive pattern of contracts from one particular industry.

In reply to the hon. Member for Sunderland, South (Mr. Mullin), we should not worry too much about coal imports. Even if the port does handle coal, it will not be able to introduce so much into the country that it will damage our own industry. That apart, many countries that are currently exporting their coal will need it for their own purposes in future. Poland must be a prime example of that. As the economies of eastern Europe grow and they develop a capitalist approach to life, they will need to keep their coal to meet their own energy requirements.

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The same is true of the developing economies of the far east, which will find themselves competing with us both for imports and exports. If Opposition Members will read the brief available in the Library, they will learn that there is not a huge collection of foreign countries waiting to send their coal to Britain. Most of them have their own markets, including their domestic markets.

Mr. Michael Welsh : If in the short term we allow more coal imports, as the Bill will do, and close our own pits, where shall we turn when those countries now exporting their coal to us decide that they need it for their own purposes? It does not take a great intellect to appreciate that, in those circumstances, we shall have to pay whatever price is demanded. In a country that has no energy of its own, it is very hard to get off your knees--

Mr. Deputy Speaker : Order. The hon. Gentleman should not keep dragging me into his argument.

Mrs. Currie : I have already explained that the "short term" of which the hon. Gentleman speaks cannot begin for several years. The coal industry's contracts with the electricity generating industry have already been signed and will be adhered to.

Mr. Welsh : But they cover only a three-year period.

Mrs. Currie : In my constituency, three years is a very long time. By then, I hope that my majority will have increased again. If there were no proposals to write off the coal industry's debt to leave it struggling, because although the pits were profitable, the industry could not make money because of interest charges if no long-term contracts were already in existence with the electricity generating industry, and if there was no recent history of strong, solid management in the coal industry, then I would not support the Bill.

Mr. Michael Brown : I am grateful to my hon. Friend. Has she considered this issue in the time frame of the next two or three years? Because of the hard work that she did to secure the Toyota factory, which I hope will be operating by that time, her constituency will contribute considerably to Britain's manufacturing export effort. Has my hon. Friend considered that we will need additional port facilities to export the products that her constituents will be at the forefront of making in the years to come?

Mrs. Currie : I could not have put it better myself. That is absolutely right.

My hon. Friend may also be aware that Toyota has also just signed a £50 million contract with PowerGen. That is a competitive contract and Toyota would not have signed it if it did not think there was the potential for coal in Britain to stay closer to world prices. That has to be a good thing for my constituents.

In my view, there are advantages to some competition--not much, just a modicum. More of my constituents, and those of my hon. Friend the Member for Sherwood (Mr. Stewart), would benefit if we had a competitive price for British coal.

The Bill will benefit my constituents in two ways, and that is why I am prepared to vote for it. I think that we are likely to have cheaper electricity in the long run and, as Britain has high prices for fuel, it seems wise to aim to do our bit for inflation by getting down fuel prices, if possible.

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I have two major coal-fired power stations in my constituency, and I hope they will continue to operate. They take coal from the Nottinghamshire coalfield. If coal is sold at a slightly lower price, the future of those power stations is more likely to be guaranteed, and they will be more able to compete. If the coal is high- priced, the electricity generators would want to take power from gas and oil, and that is already beginning to happen. I feel confident that coal will continue to come into the power stations down the merry-go-round from Nottinghamshire and the other coalfields.

One change that convinces me of the merits of the Bill is that I was involved in negotiating the second largest set of contracts that the British Coal Board has ever had--those with the National Health Service. Only when there was a hint that the Yorkshire health authority might consider importing coal if it did not get a decent price for coal did British Coal seem interested in settling a contract. The NHS got a better deal than it would have done if there had been no competition.

I apologise to my hon. Friend the Member for Sherwood, and to my hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham, South (Mr. Brandon-Bravo), but I am convinced that a vote for the Bill tonight will be in the interests of their constituents and mine.

Several Hon. Members rose--

Mr. Deputy Speaker : Order. A large number of hon. Members wish to take part in the debate, which is short. I hope that speeches will be brief.

7.43 pm

Mr. Alexander Eadie (Midlothian) : One of the most significant events in this debate is the speech that we have just heard--not that it was such a distinguished speech, but it shows a break in the ranks of Conservative Members representing constituencies in

Nottinghamshire. That will cause a great deal of embarrassment to the parliamentary colleagues of the hon. Member for Derbyshire, South (Mrs. Currie).

The hon. Member for Derbyshire, South says that she has been converted. I have already taken part in many debates on the Bill, as the sponsor of the Bill has mentioned. My hon. Friends and I have never deviated from our view of the Bill. One of my hon. Friends described it as a hybrid Bill, but I call it a bastard Bill. Many things have happened since the Bill was introduced. The energy situation now is unrecognisable compared with that when the Bill was introduced. Hon. Members are entitled to speak as they believe in the House and I have no objection to that, but when the hon. Member for Brigg and Cleethorpes (Mr. Brown) introduced his contribution to the Third Reading debate, he said that the Bill had been before a private Bill Committee. I do not object to retelling its history, but I object to rewriting it, as the hon. Member did when he told us how the Bill came before that Committee.

As the hon. Gentleman knows well, no amendments were tabled in Committee. The significant fact that emerged was that the private Bill Committee did something that no other Committee has done. It said that it was concerned about the energy implications of the Bill, and--contrary to what the hon. Gentleman told the House--it identified that there would be coal imports. The private Bill Committee report said that the promoters were

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not arguing that there would be no coal imports, as they gave in evidence a figure of 2.5 million tonnes by 1993. The Committee went on to challenge that figure, and said that the level of imports, "if the Bill receives Royal Assent, will be determined by a range of commercial factors at present unknowable. We conclude that it is not possible at this stage to predict with any degree of assurance the amount of foreign coal that may be imported, although we concede that this may be considerably more than the promoters of the bill were prepared to accept in giving evidence."

I think that the hon. Member for Brigg and Cleethorpes should have been more candid and should have told the House what the Committee, on which he served, decided in relation to this issue.

Mr. Michael Brown : This is a private Bill, and I was debarred from serving on the private Bill Committee. The hon. Member for Bradford, North (Mr. Wall) served on the Committee. I sat in the Gallery for most of its proceedings, and I can advise the hon. Member for Midlothian that I heard many amendments tabled by the National Union of Mineworkers, the Union of Democratic Mineworkers and the British Coal board. I believe that he, the hon. Member for Bradford, North and the three other hon. Members had many amendments to consider, but the Bill was reported to the House by that Committee without amendment.

Mr. Eadie : I am obliged to the hon. Gentleman, and I recall that he was not allowed to serve on the Committee. However, that does not minimise the thrust of my argument--that when the hon. Member for Brigg and Cleethorpes introduced the Bill, he said that it would involve no coal imports. The hon. Gentleman says that he sat in the Committee Room while the Bill was being considered. If so, he should have at least done the House the courtesy of reading the deliberations of the Committee.

I am not quoting my view. I am quoting the opinions of the Committee. I could go on, but I do not want to because this subject was covered in the debate.

During the debate the figure for coal imports was put much higher--between 10 and 15 million tonnes. It is dishonest for the sponsors of the Bill to suggest that no coal imports are involved and, to some extent, they are deceiving the House. I hope that the hon. Member for Brigg and Cleethorpes will accept that.

Mr. Redmond : I understood that there would be coal imports. If there were to be no coal imports, Associated British Ports could have accepted what the coal board was saying about its amendment to the Bill. But it refused to accept that amendment, which clearly shows that one of the major functions of the Bill is the importation of coal.

Mr. Eadie : I understand what my hon. Friend is saying, but I should like now to deal with the second significant aspect. It was the hon. Member for Brigg and Cleethorpes who introduced the subject of the private Bill Committee. I see that its Chairman is present ; no doubt he will confirm what I am saying. I do not know whether he intends to catch your eye, Mr. Deputy Speaker, but I do not think that he will dispute my claim, as it is already on the record. The Committee was concerned about the energy implications of the Bill, and took a significant step : it reported, in a special subsection or subparagraph, that the Government should consider those implications. I am

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speaking, as it were, in shorthand, and I hope that the hon. Gentleman will not quote me verbatim, but I think that I am conveying the sense adequately.

The implications of the Bill are, of course, something that the whole House should consider. My right hon. Friend the Member for Salford, East (Mr. Orme) said earlier that, if the Bill contained everything that its sponsor claimed, it should have been introduced by the Government. The miners' parliamentary group--I make no apology for the fact that I am its secretary --tried its best to establish the Government's view. We had a meeting with the then Secretary of State for Energy and the then Leader of the House-- who, incidentally, is now Secretary of State for Energy--and asked for written details of the Bill's implications for the coal industry and the nation's energy. We received our reply in July, by which time it was out of date. Momentous changes had taken place in the industry. A leaked private document showed that--Coal Industry Bill or no Coal Industry Bill--the industry was due for a chop, at a cost of 30,000 jobs. Even more significant, the Government had decided to abandon the thermo-nuclear power programme, or at least cut it, perhaps building just one more pressurised water reactor. That represented a dramatic change in energy policy.

There was a third factor. I hope that the hon. Member for Derbyshire, South is listening. Members of the energy studies group had the privilege of listening to the chief executive of British Gas, telling them that within 10 years he hoped that there would be between 3 and 10 GW of electricity per station. As a GW represents 1, 000 MW, they mean five new power stations.

Mrs. Currie : With respect, I think that the hon. Gentleman is making my point for me. High-priced coal generates competition from other fuels, and I would like a competitive British coal industry. Does the hon. Gentleman agree that one way to ensure competitive coal prices is to allow not enormous levels of imports, but enough to generate competitive pricing?

Mr. Eadie : Let me say, in all kindness to the hon. Lady--who is talking about a subject that she neither understands nor has studied--that it is always a great mistake for hon. Members to come into the Chamber and discuss matters about which they know nothing. I do not think that the hon. Lady listened to my remarks about the significance of the contraction in the thermo-nuclear power industry. Is she aware that the coal industry at present subsidises the nuclear industry? In cost terms, nuclear power was a fraud, as it is much more expensive than coal. In view of the millions of pounds that are spent on nuclear power, let us not hear any lectures about the cost of coal.

There is also an environmental aspect--we are always hearing how environmentally conscious the hon. Lady is. It is well known that foreign coal has a very high sulphur content ; the sulphur content of British coal is much smaller, and my part of the world probably has the lowest levels of all. The coal that we import will pollute the environment.

The more that the Bill has been debated in the House, the more inconsistencies have been revealed. We are meeting the chairman of British Coal on Tuesday, and we

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know that a further contraction of the industry will be announced, involving some pits in the Nottinghamshire area. The coal industry is under threat. When a nation is confronted with a balance-of-payments problem such as ours, it is sheer lunacy to start talking about importing foreign coal. The Bill, however, is designed to import coal, and it will harm not only the coal industry but the nation. The House should vote it down tonight.

7.55 pm

The Minister for Public Transport (Mr. Michael Portillo) : I see that many hon. Members on both sides of the House wish to speak, and I do not wish to detain the House for more than a few moments. Hon. Members always find it helpful to know the Government's attitude, however, and I have pleasure in being able to tell them what it is. Members have had the opportunity to give their views in debates on earlier stages, but tonight we are deciding whether to give the Bill its Third Reading.

Having considered the contents of this private Bill, the Government have no objections in principle to its proposals--the Departments of Energy and Transport do not consider that there are any outstanding problems to be resolved. The Department of Transport's basic policy is that Associated British Ports, or any other port authority, should be free to compete on price and service, and our view is that if ABP thinks that it can make a commercial success of its proposed new facilities at Kings Lynn and South Killingholme, there can be no Government policy objection. It is obviously for ABP to persuade Parliament that the powers that it seeks are justified.

Mr. Redmond : I find it strange that the Minister should say that the Government have no policy view on the Bill, as we were told, in a room in this building, that they intended to ensure that it was passed. If that is not their intention, why should a Minister say what this Minister has said?

Mr. Portillo : I am describing the Government's present attitude, which is that this is a private Bill on which we are neutral. In my closing remarks I shall explain that, in the circumstances, we believe that it should be allowed to proceed--the circumstances being that it has passed through its various stages and has been considered by the private Bill Committee which has decided that it should be allowed to proceed unamended. The Committee, however, made that subject to a binding undertaking from the promoters, which they have given.

Mr. Martin Flannery (Sheffield, Hillsborough) : Surely the Minister is not talking about the reality when he talks of "allowing the Bill to proceed". He knows as well as anyone here that the Government support the Bill. Why does he not say so?

Mr. Portillo : No. The Government's attitude is that a private Bill on which they stand neutral should be allowed to proceed for further consideration in the House. The Bill must then move to another place, where it will be entirely for their Lordships to decide whether it should be amended or should not be allowed to proceed further. All that the Government are saying is that, as the Bill has emerged from the private Bill Committee unamended, it is proposed that we allow it to end its parliamentary progress in another place.

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Dr. Michael Clark (Rochford) : My hon. Friend mentioned that, having imposed two conditions, the private Bill Committee voted that the Bill should proceed to its next stage. He referred to one binding condition-- that the promoters should publicise by placing in the House of Commons Library the amount of coal imported quarterly through the facility, if and when it is constructed. Will my hon. Friend refer to the other condition-- the special report that brought to the Government's attention the fact that if coal were to be imported in the massive quantities suggested by some petitioners it could have a seriously adverse effect on the British coal industry? The Committee decided, with my casting vote, that it was important to have this port facility for other reasons--for grain, iron ore, finished iron products and motor car exports--but that the Government ought to take note of the special report and should be aware of the dangers of massive coal imports. Will my hon. Friend please tell us whether note has been taken of the special report? The Committee has received no notification from the Government as to whether it has been received or read.

Mr. Portillo : My hon. Friend makes two points. First, ports have many uses. They can be used for both imports and exports. It is not clear what effect the Bill would have on any aspect of Government policy. My hon. Friend also referred to the special report that he wishes the Government to consider. I am sure that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Energy will wish to bear it closely in mind.

Mr. Lofthouse : The hon. Member for Rochford (Dr. Clark) was the Chairman of the private Bill Committee. He is also Chairman of the Select Committee on Energy. The hon. Gentleman referred to the fact that the Committee imposed two conditions. The Minister now tells us that the Government have given no assurances whatsoever about those conditions. The Bill should not, therefore, be given a Third Reading. The Committee does not wish it to proceed.

Mr. Portillo : I understand that the Committee sought a binding undertaking from the promoters and that that binding undertaking was forthcoming. My hon. Friend the Member for Rochford (Dr. Clark) said that the Committee also wished the Government to take account of its special report. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Energy will certainly take account of it.

Mr. Hardy : The House considers legislation, not edicts and special reports. We should have been able to secure amendments to the Bill on Report. We were denied that opportunity, on account of the rules and practices of the House. I make no complaint about that. However, on Report we could have sought to embody in the Bill the very conditions that the hon. Member for Rochford (Dr. Clark) has properly drawn to our attention. It is no good the Government saying that they can be neutral on the Bill. By being neutral, an imperfect measure will leave this Chamber because our rules and practices deny us the opportunity to inject that degree of common sense of which the Government now appear to approve.

Mr. Portillo : It is not for the hon. Gentleman, or for me, to change the rules of Parliament. However, it is in the hands of Parliament to change the rules. If Parliament in its wisdom wishes to have Report stages for private Bills even when there have been no amendments, that would be

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a matter for the appropriate Committee to consider. The Labour party's policy is to abolish the House of Lords. However, it is extraordinary that the Opposition are ignoring the fact that the Bill now passes to another place for further consideration. There are two opportunities to amend the Bill--during the Committee stage of the Bill in each of the two Houses. No amendment was made by the private Bill Committee in the House of Commons. For that reason, the Government believe that the Bill ought to be allowed to go to the other place, without any objection but without our active support. The House of Lords will have the opportunity to take into account that point and any other point that it may think is appropriate.

Mr. Martin M. Brandon-Bravo (Nottingham, South) : Will the Minister clarify the Government's position? There has been one formal intervention, and also a sedentary comment, that this is de facto Government business and that it is whipped. My hon. Friend has sat in on all the debates. Will he confirm, from his knowledge, that five Parliamentary Private Secretaries have opposed the Bill consistently from the beginning and that four of them certainly intend to do so tonight? That would surely give the lie to Opposition comments that this is a Government-sponsored Bill.

Mr. Portillo : How right my hon. Friend is! This is not a Government -sponsored Bill. Of course there has been no whipping and there have been no disciplinary proceedings against any of my hon. Friends who voted against the Bill at any stage. Moreover, there will be no disciplinary proceedings. Conservative Members of Parliament will vote in different ways tonight, I have no doubt, and they will be perfectly free to do so.

Mr. Skinner : When he responded to his hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham, South (Mr. Brandon-Bravo) the Minister accepted that some unpaid Parliamentary Private Secretaries, not Government Ministers, had voted against the Bill. Is the hon. Gentleman able to name any Ministers of the Crown who have gone into the Lobby against the Bill? There have been several Divisions on the Bill during the last two years. It is inconceivable that this should be regarded as a free vote if, on every occasion, no paid Minister of the Crown joined a few of his hon. Friends in voting against the Bill. The truth is that, without fail, Ministers of the Crown have either supported the Bill or abstained. Not one of them has joined the Opposition in voting against the Bill.

Mr. Portillo : I do not accept for a moment the hon. Gentleman's premise. If it is the case--I do not know whether it is--that Ministers have voted only in one way, that says nothing about whipping. There has been no whipping on the Bill. It may suggest that there are very few Ministers of the Crown from Nottinghamshire. I hope that that defect will be put right in due course.

Mrs. Currie : Does my hon. Friend recall that on Second Reading only 51 Opposition Members bothered to vote? All the rest went home.

Mr. Portillo : My hon. Friend makes the point in her own way, but she is leading me astray. As a Government Minister, I am giving the Government's view on this private Bill.

Mr. Kevin Barron (Rother Valley) : I may be able to help the Minister about what has been said by Conservative

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Members about the Government's attitude to the Bill. I tabled a question for written answer on 30 October 1989. I asked the Secretary of State for Energy

"what steps the Government are taking to protect the indigenous coal mining industry ; and if he will make a statement on the special report".

In the last paragraph of his reply the Minister said :

"It is not for Government to make a formal response to the special report but for the House to take it into account on Third Reading."--[ Official Report, 30 October 1989 ; Vol. 159, c. 21. ]

If the Chairman of the private Bill Committee or any other Conservative Member is concerned about the contents of the special report, would it not be best to vote against the Bill being given a Third Reading?

Mr. Portillo : If my hon. Friend the Member for Rochford, who is Chairman of that Committee, is concerned about the matter, he may wish to say so during the debate and he may wish to ask hon. Members to bear that in mind. My hon. Friend asked me whether the Government would consider the special report. I am able to tell him that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Energy has considered the report and will bear it in mind. The fact that he has not made a response is neither here nor there.

In the circumstances, I hope that the Bill will be allowed to proceed.

8.8 pm

Ms. Joan Ruddock (Lewisham, Deptford) : Throughout the debates on the Bill a number of distinguished arguments have been advanced by Opposition Members. None of them has, in my view, been adequately answered by the promoters and sponsors. We would not have expected them to do so. We have raised important strategic and economic issues. At stake are major questions concerning the balance of payments, the trade and not least the energy industry of this country.

I remind the House that the private Bill Committee that considered the Bill concluded :

"The decisions on energy and trade policy we have been invited to take are, in our opinion, national decisions which are the ultimate responsibility of the national Government."

That Government are represented here tonight. Despite the voting record of Ministers and of the Conservative party, the Government continue to maintain that they have no view on the Bill and that they are not organising support for it. They may say that they have no view, but clearly they have a considerable responsibility. The proposal to build a dry dock terminal on the Humber cannot be examined as a local constituency issue as the hon. Member for Brigg and Cleethorpes (Mr. Brown) seems to suggest. He told us tonight that the powers are sought simply to bring the port of Immingham into the 21st century and to provide vital revenues to port authorities. I wonder whether he agrees that the port authority would not contemplate such investment without calculating potential markets. He denied that coal imports were being sought and referred to the new contracts between the electricity generating industry and British Coal, but he knows that those contracts are of only three years' duration. Does he deny that if the measures in the Bill were to go ahead, in five years' time planned capacity would reach 10 million tonnes? If that were transmitted

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