I beg to move amendment No. 33, in page 13, line 45, leave out '10' and insert 'five'.
With this it will be convenient to take the following amendments: No. 34, in page 14, line 1, leave out from 'Act' to 'and' in line 3.No. 35, in page 14, line 15, leave out from 'plans' to end of line 17.
First, it is not only important Scottish business that has been lost, but my ten-minute Bill on the sale of war toys. I know that the Prime Minister is determined that this Bill will pass and I suspect that her real reason is to thwart my attempt to have these toys prohibited. That is typical of her macho approach to politics and all other matters.The Felixstowe Dock and Railway Company has not at any time sought to put its plans through the scrutiny of the normal planning process. Had it done so, these plans would have been rejected by the local planning authority, as all hon. Members realise. Indeed, the Suffolk Coastal district council petitioned against the Bill and opposed it vigorously in Committee. It is worrying for those of us who have been connected with local government for many years to see private Bills being used as a way of getting round normal planning procedures. It is also disturbing that the Government have set up several urban development corporations which have similar powers and do not need to seek planning permission from local authorities. Local communities are extremely worried that their elected representatives, whether sitting on Tory-controlled or Labour-controlled councils, are not allowed to scrutinise development proposals in the interests of the community that will eventually have to endure the development proposal.
Is my hon. Friend aware that that not only happens south of the border but that the same happened in Edinburgh when the Tories controlled the regional council? They wanted to drive a road through the centre of Edinburgh and because they knew that they would not get proper planning permission they tried to succeed through a private Bill. They told the Officers of the House lies when they said that the procedure would last only three weeks. It lasted three and a half months. I know because I was the chairman of the inquiry. It is scandalous that public money should be used in such a way to avoid legitimate objections.
I entirely agree with my hon. Friend's comments. Clearly, this practice has grown up rather disturbingly in recent years and the House should be aware of it. I hope that the Committee looking into the procedures on private Bills will look carefully at private Bills being used as a way of circumventing normal procedures which have been established and accepted for many years.
Does my hon. Friend recall that a few hours ago we received certain assurances from the hon. Member for Bury St. Edmunds, (Sir E. Griffiths)? I am sure that the hon. Gentleman gave them in all sincerity and honesty. He said that local authorities would be consulted on footpaths, footpath signing, the identification of footpaths and literature and advertisements about footpaths. If companies have been afraid to go to authorities regarding planning matters, which are assuredly decisions for local authorities, it throws into question whether local authorities will be consulted on these other matters.
That is a valid point and it throws into question the worth of assurances from Conservative Members and, indeed, the sincerity of the promoters. There are accepted procedures which protect the rights of local people and they are being circumvented. In this particular case we are talking about an extension of normal planning permission, which is given over a five year period, to 10 years. That is the nub of our objection to the Bill and why we tabled this amendment.
I welcome my hon. Friend's argument about planning procedures. He referred to the inquiry of the Chairman of Ways and Means into private Bill procedures. If planning matters continue to come before private Bill procedures it will raise two questions. First, does my hon. Friend agree that our procedures should enable hon. Members who wish to speak against amendments to have the opportunity to do so? At about 2.30 am or 3 am I gave notice that I wanted to speak against amendment No. 15 on a crucial planning issue, but I was not allowed to do so, presumably because the Chairman of Ways and Means assumed that there was a party political split and that all Labour Members would vote one way and all Conservative Members another. On a private Bill that is not necessarily the case.Secondly, if we have private Bill Committee procedures does my hon. Friend agree that it is important that the Chamber should act in a quasi-judicial, objective way on planning matters? In the past 24 hours we have seen a particular company attempt to buy and use influence in this House. That has meant that only Labour Members have been prepared to listen to the arguments. Conservative Members have not listened to crucial planning and environment matters. They have been wheeled in at particular times to cast their vote in favour of the company.
I agree with everything that my hon. Friend has said. I am sure that the Joint Committee on Private Bill Procedure will look carefully at his suggestions. I cannot remember whether it is yesterday, today or tomorrow, but some time during the course of calendar Wednesday Members of the Joint Committee on Private Bill Procedure, of whom I am one, are due to consider further proposals. As you will understand, Mr. Speaker, I do not wish to detain the House long as I wish to attend and raise these points in that Committee.
My hon. Friend makes an interesting point. When he considers the amendment and the private Bill procedure will he bear in mind that those of us who have been present during most of these proceedings have been consistently in difficulty because we are not sure of the precise role of the hon. Member for Bury St. Edmunds (Sir E. Griffiths)? We have been told on some occasions—those that suit him—that he is in charge of the Bill. On other occasions when it has also suited him, he has told the House that he is not in charge of the Bill. The person in charge of the Bill was described by the hon. Member for Bury St. Edmunds as "that Gummer". I understand "that Gummer" to be the right hon. Member for Suffolk, Coastal (Mr. Gummer). He is not only a Minister of the Crown but the Minister of State, Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food and, as such, has a direct ministerial involvement.Will my hon. Friend bear in mind that it is not necessarily or exclusively a matter relating to private Bills? It is a private Bill that is ostensibly in the name of the hon. Member for Bury St. Edmunds, but the guiding hand behind it is that of the Minister.
That point has been raised on many occasions. It is somewhat confusing for Opposition Members. There have been many occasions on which one has considered that the practice and procedure attached to the Bill have been improper. We have had the example of P and O, or its public relations people, trying to arrange champagne receptions. Indeed, from a quick reading of "Erskine May," one would know that such a procedure is close to a breach of parliamentary privilege. No Conservative Member would like to have been found drunk in possession of the Bill during the proceedings.I do not know who is in charge of the Bill, but I know one thing, and that is that the presence of the Prime Minister tonight, her consistent voting, and the way in which Ministers—the payroll voters—have been here on a private Bill, look exceedingly suspicious. Quite frankly, if we were to suggest that there was an element of political corruption in respect of the Bill, I am sure that you would rule me out of order, Mr. Speaker. I do not intend to say that, but Opposition Members have our suspicions.
I did not realise how important my hon. Friend was in serving on the Joint Committee on Private Bill Procedure. He is obviously a big wheel in the House. It is good that his talents have been recognised. The matter that I put to him relates to planning procedures. My hon. Friend will recall that, at an earlier stage in the proceedings, I raised a point of order about the role of the Committee that examined the Bill, and particularly about the role of its chairman. I asked whether, if that Committee is supposed to act in a quasi-judicial manner to examine political procedures, it was appropriate for its chairman to be one of the invitees to the champagne and film party that was going on. I considered that that might have been a transgression of the impartiality of that office. I wonder whether my hon. Friend would comment on that matter, in view of his new-found importance in the House.
Order. I should like to comment on it. I cannot relate the remarks made by the hon. Member for Leeds, Central (Mr. Fatchett) to the amendment, which states:
Perhaps the hon. Gentleman will confine his remarks to the amendment."Page 13, line 45 leave out '10' and insert 'five'."
I am doing my best in that respect, Mr. Speaker. These points arise out of the amendment. The clause in question clearly can be used by the Felixstowe Dock and Railway Company to circumvent the normal planning procedures that exist in the region. That is why it is a matter of great concern for those who are interested in the procedure relating to private Bills. On the face of it, it seems to be most unwise, if not improper, for someone who has been involved in a quasi-judicial consideration of development proposals to be involved with the actual development. If that happened in local government, there would be a row in the newspapers and everyone would scream, "Corruption." We would have another scandal on our hands. Fortunately, wiser counsels prevailed. I understand that the champagne reception was called off.
On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. When this point arose earlier, Madam Deputy Speaker repeated your ruling that the subject had been exhaustively discussed and should not be raised again. I suggest that the hon. Gentleman is raising it yet again.
I do not think that the hon. Gentleman's point of order helps the matter. I have drawn attention to the fact that the party was cancelled. Let us get on with the amendment.
Surely it is not possible, Mr. Speaker, for one of your colleagues to rule that a matter that has been properly and legitimately introduced into the House for debate will never be capable of being introduced at a future time. Surely that is an abuse of the position of Deputy Speaker.
The hon. Member for Pembroke (Mr. Bennett), who raised the matter, is relatively new here. He inadvertently used the word "ruling". It was certainly not a ruling from the Chair; it was a suggestion, which I repeat. We have heard a great deal about the matter. The whole House wants to get on with the Bill.
Order. Let us return to the amendment. I call Mr. Banks.
Further to that point of order. Mr. Speaker.
It is not a point of order. I call Mr. Banks.
I am grateful that you confirmed that I was in order, Mr. Speaker. Since it is a significant matter in respect of the procedures of the House, it will not be left untroubled or untried. We shall refer to it from time to time during the course of whatever is left of Tuesday.
Will my hon. Friend enlighten me and other hon. Members in relation to what transpired last night?
The hon. Gentleman was not here.
Of course I was not here. That is why I seek enlightenment.Will my hon. Friend enlighten me as to what exactly transpired last night? Either the sponsors of the Bill or hon. Members who are anxious that the Bill should get on the statute book laid on a drunken champagne spree——
Order. The hon. Gentleman should not allege that hon. Members laid on anything for Members that was likely to be drunken. [Interruption.]
Order. I am dealing with an intervention.
I withdraw that statement, Mr. Speaker. I am not sure whether the intention was that such a state should be achieved, but I am quite sure that it might well have been achieved later on. I understand that it was free.Is it proper that such an action could take place within the Palace of Westminster, Mr. Speaker? It was mentioned that planning laws have been circumvented by the Bill. It seems that the whole planning proposition has been circumvented, anyhow. We have heard of bribery and corruption outside the House. For bribery and corruption to take place by laying on sprees for people to make—[Interruption.] Some Conservative Members are muttering that it was cancelled. That is what brought me to my feet. That is the public image that they would like to create. Then someone said, "No, it was not cancelled, it just fell flat."
I ask the hon. Gentleman to resume his seat. He may have an opportunity to be called later in the debate. We must get on with the debate.
I am able to assist my hon. Friend, but not in the manner in which I should like. I was here in spirit, rather than under the influence of it. I am sure that we shall return to the matter from time to time.
Will my hon. Friend address his remarks to an aspect that, as far as I know, has not yet been discussed — that is the cancellation of the shindig last night? [Interruption.]
Order. That has nothing to do with the amendment, which states:
I ask the hon. Member for Newham, North-West (Mr. Banks) kindly to get back to the amendment."leave out '10' and insert 'five'."
On a point of order, Mr. Speaker.
Order. If the house continues in this manner, it may be felt that an attempt is being made to delay proceedings. I am anxious that we should get on with the business, and I believe that that feeling is shared by the whole House.
I wish to make a genuine attempt, Mr. Speaker, to assist you and the House. It is obvious that there is considerable confusion surrounding the events of last night, and you have been troubled by some possibly spurious points of order and some unhelpful interventions. Would it be possible for you, Mr. Speaker, to initiate a full investigation into what happened and to make a definitive statement so that we may know whether the charges of corruption and of other things, which I believe have been made wrongly, can be dismissed or substantiated?
I am responsible only for what takes place in the Chamber and for deciding what is in order, not for what happens outside the Chamber. I trust that the hon. Member for Newham, North-West (Mr. Banks) will remain in order.
Of course, Mr. Speaker. I listen always to what you say, and I do not think that I have strayed out of order. I feel that I have been in order throughout. Some of the interventions may have touched on the margin of order, but that is a matter for you, Mr. Speaker, rather than for me. I have delivered only three lines of my speech so far.
I wish to put a serious question to my hon. Friend that is related to the clause. Throughout the night we have been told repeatedly by the supporters of the Bill that we should take account of the fundamental good will and intentions of the Bill's sponsors and supporters more than anything else. if the sponsors and supporters made a promise to a number of hon. Members last night to provide hospitality, an offer that was withdrawn at short notice for reasons that we do not know, what credence can we give to the assurances that the company has given on a range of other matters that are of perhaps greater importance in terms of the Bill than the offer of hospitality? If we cannot give any credence to the promises and assurances that we have been made and given, the assurances that have been given in the Chamber, especially by the hon. Member for Bury St. Edmunds (Sir E. Griffiths), are not worth the Hansard pages on which they will appear.
A private Member's Bill should not be used as a means to allow developers with enough money to employ parliamentary agents and members of the parliamentary Bar to obtain permissions from Parliament that would not be obtained through the normal democratic planning processes. It has been decided to try to steamroller the Bill through its various stages on the Floor of the House, and it was decided that Conservative Members would be entertained at a reception at which champagne would flow like water and films would be shown. It was reported in the newspapers that when Tory Back Benchers asked what sort of films would be shown, the hon. Member for Bury St. Edmunds replied, "What films do you want?" The mind boggles, knowing the artistic tastes of some Conservative Members.
May I draw the attention of my hon. Friend to the role of the Department of the Environment, or the lack of it? Over the past two years the Department and the Government generally have supported the EEC circular on environmental impact analysis. It is stated that such an analysis should take place before planning procedures and large-scale industrial developments are embarked upon. Only recently has the hon. Member for Lewisham, East (Mr. Moynihan), the Under-Secretary of State for the Environment, given permission for the local authority with responsibilities in my constituency to initiate such an assessment prior to the implementation of planning procedures.The two approaches that the Government support are the voluntary procedure and the parliamentary procedure, neither of which has been used in this instance. Indeed, neither of these approaches has been pressed upon the company. Instead, a private Member's Bill has been introduced. With that single act, all the planning procedures and consideration prior to determination to proceed with a major planning application have been lost to the local community, the district council, the county council and all other interested parties. Will my hon. Friend give me an assurance that he will bring this abuse to the notice of the Joint Committee on Private Bill Procedure, bearing in mind that the Government have an obligation, following the EEC circular, to introduce environmental impact analyses?
Certainly I shall give my hon. Friend such an assurance. He has raised a serious matter and it is clear that he has extensive knowledge of it. It is an issue that is worthy of a speech in itself rather than a short intervention. A good speech is always worth two airings at least.
Is my hon. Friend aware that the ill-fated passage of the Bill through the House began when my hon. Friend the Member for Colne Valley (Mr. Riddick) saw that normal planning procedures were being circumvented by the promoters and declined to serve in Committee? Is my hon. Friend aware also that that caused something of a furore? When I was appointed to the Committee, I, too, refused to serve. The establishment of the House then decided to bring the issue to the Floor of the House and to change the rules. All the business that we have had about wining and dining last night has arisen only because we learned of it by accident. I was inadvertently given an invitation to attend, and perhaps that is why everything fell flat. It is possible that, if I had not received the invitation, the function would have gone ahead in secret. We know the throats which the company wanted to water last night within the precincts of the House.Is my hon. Friend aware that the circumvention of normal planning procedures and abuse of the House had brought the House into disrepute? We must find some way of having our just arguments considered again by the powers that be in the House.
Order. I hope that the hon. Member for Newham, North-West (Mr. Banks) will not be tempted to follow that line, which has nothing to do with the amendment. Perhaps the remarks of the hon. Member for Glasgow, Shettleston (Mr. Marshall) have some merit in them, but they do not relate to the amendment. I ask the hon. Member for Newham, North-West to confine himself to the amendment.
I agree, Mr. Speaker, but I am sure that you would admit that it was an exciting intervention and an inviting one for me to follow. However, I understand what you say, Mr. Speaker, and I shall not be taking up my hon. Friend's invitation. Having made rather slow progress with my speech on amendment No. 33, I could murder a bottle of Taitinger 1980.Suffolk Coastal district council would have opposed the development that now arises in the Bill had it had the opportunity through the normal planning procedures to do just that. It is a serious matter because the district council will achieve benefits of some enormity as a result of the Bill's passage in the form of employment and rate revenue. It is on that basis—[Interruption.] There is a buzz in the Chamber, Mr. Speaker, that is not linked to my speech. I should be most grateful if one of my hon. Friends were to intervene to tell me the reason for the excitement. I know that it cannot be my speech that has produced it, for even I am bored with it. However, I shall continue boring myself and perhaps others as well. As I have said, Suffolk Coastal district council would have opposed the development that is proposed within the Bill. It is improper for a private Member's Bill to be used as a way of circumventing democratic planning machinery. When planning permission is granted, either by the local planning authority or the Secretary of State on appeal, it lasts for only five years. That duration is laid down in section 41 of the Town and Country Planning Act 1971. I know that that Act is close to the hearts of all hon. Members on both sides of the House and that it is not necessary for me to rehearse all the detailed provisions of the measure. It is a well-established and accepted feature of the planning system, a system that has saved the countryside from many, although not all, ravages since the parent Act was introduced in 1947. If the development does not begin within the five years laid down by the Act, the permission lapses and a fresh application has to be submitted to the local planning authority. That arrangement allows the local planning authority to respond to changing circumstances and attitudes and it might refuse a second application for a site for which it had previously been minded to grant approval. I hope that I have the attention of the House on an important matter. I suspect that something is about to happen, even if it is only a trap door that will open beneath me.
On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. It is now six and a half hours since we raised with you a point of order arising out of the fact that the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry was announcing to a press conference his decision on the important question of the proposed merger of British Airways and British Caledonian but that no Minister from his Department was prepared to come to the House to give an explanation of that decision. We felt that that was a slight and an insult to the House, but we understand your view on that occasion that there was no action that you could take to compel a Minister to come to the House.I wish now, Mr. Speaker, to draw to your attention a further development. I understand that the Secretary of State is even now responding to a private notice question on this very topic in another place. That adds insult to injury. There can be no doubt that this is an important matter. It goes to the heart of the Government's competition policy and aviation policy. It is of prime importance to the 25,000 jobs that will be affected. Information has been given to a press conference and has been widely debated in the media, and answers are now being given by the Secretary of State in another place. We understand why the Secretary of State cannot come to this House. We regret that. However, we see no reason why the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, who has taken his place, should not he prepared to make the same statement to the House and be subjected to questions on it. I understand that the Government maintain that there is no precedent for such a statement. It is the Government who have put us in this unprecedented position by voting against the motion to adjourn Tuesday's business so that we could proceed to Wednesday's business. We understand the Government's embarrassment and the reluctance of the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster to be taken to account for the Government's decision. It is bad enough that the Secretary of State should be making the statement in another place; but it beggars belief that the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster should remain determined not to subject himself to questions from hon. Members. I urge you, Mr. Speaker, to prevail upon the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster to honour his obligations to the House and to make the statement that is urgently required.
That is not a point of order. It is a matter for the Government; it is not a matter of order. The Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster is here, but I cannot compel him to rise.
Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. I understand that the Opposition have placed themselves in a certain difficulty. They appear to have taken a somewhat excessive interest in a Bill to develop Felixstowe docks and have extended the debate to such a length that they are unable to invite you to consider a private notice question or any of the other procedures that might have been open to them.Having returned from a conference abroad, I came to the House this morning to find out what the arrangements were for a statement that I intended to make this afternoon on space policy, only to find the Opposition engaged in discussing the Felixstowe Dock and Railway Bill. I have been here ever since. I listened to the hon. Member for Dagenham (Mr. Gould) explaining that he has ruled himself out of trying to get a private notice question in this House to match the private notice question which has been asked in another place. If the Opposition wreck the procedures of the House, they cannot expect their Lordships in another place to miss hearing a statement about British Caledonian. However, I am always willing to help facilitate the business of the House. The hon. Member for Dagenham is an ingenious man. He could find ways of raising the matters that he wishes within the rules of order of the House. If he thinks a little harder, I have no doubt that he will find them. He has raised a point of order for you, Mr. Speaker. He will have to ponder the problem with which he and his hon. Friends have faced themselves.
On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Will you confirm that it is entirely in order for the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster to seek the leave of the House to make a statement similar to the statement that is being made in the House of Lords by the Secretary of State? Will the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster now take the opportunity to do that which is in order and which does not bring the House into disrepute or treat it with disdain, as he proposes at present?
Order. I have been asked a question which I shall answer. It would be in order, but at the end of business, to ask for a statement. It is not possible to obtain a statement in the middle of a debate. As the hon. Member knows, there are procedures which would enable him to overcome the difficulty. It is not for me to advise him on tactics. At the end of the debate on the Bill it would be possible for the Minister to make a statement.
Further to the point of order, Mr. Speaker. As the customs of the House have been called into question with you, Mr. Speaker, it is certainly the custom of the House that statements should be made on the same day in the two Houses. I am glad to see the Opposition Front Bench agreeing. But we are not in the same parliamentary day as the other place. If the House had adjourned before 2.30 pm, we would have been in the same parliamentary day as the other place. We are now in the parliamentary day that commenced at 2.30 pm in the afternoon of 10 November. Therefore, the same parliamentary day as the 11th does not commence until after the present proceedings have terminated.
Order. I confirm what the hon. Member has said. That is our dilemma.
We acknowledge the peculiar procedural point that the hon. Member for Tiverton (Mr. Maxwell-Hyslop) has made. It would bring the House into further disrepute if anyone were to suggest that such preposterous points of order should prevent the elected House of Commons from having the opportunity to question the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster on an important matter affecting the future of the British aviation industry and the jobs of 25,000 people.Although at times it may be customary for Ministers to make statements at the end of a debate, it is within your recollection, Mr. Speaker, mine and that of other hon. Members that sometimes Ministers have thought it appropriate to intervene in the middle of business, provided that they have the leave of the House.
The hon. Gentleman is incorrect. It is not customary to intervene in the middle of a debate, unless it is a matter of national emergency or something of that sort. This is not such a matter.
Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. On Friday mornings, Ministers often intervene to make statements at 11 o'clock. It is arrogant of the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster to sit laughing on the Government Front Bench instead of carrying out his responsibilities to the House.
The right hon. Gentleman is correct to say that, on Fridays, the time for statements is 11 o'clock. That is because it is in the Standing Orders.
Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. Would it not be a gross discourtesy to the House and to all those hon. Members who have been present for the debate on the Bill if the Opposition, who have filibustered throughout the day, were allowed to continue to filibuster, so that it would be even later before we concluded the business before the House? It appears that my right hon. and learned Friend the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster has offered the Opposition a statement when the business is finished. It would be grossly discourteous to those hon. Members who have been here for a long time not to complete their business and then hear the statement. Perhaps Opposition Members want to get home to their beds again, but we are willing to stay.
Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. Are you saying that it is possible for Ministers to make statements only at the end of business? If the Minister asked for permission, would it be possible for him to make a statement before then?
Our normal practice is that an emergency statement would be made at the end of business.
Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. Will you confirm that if the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster sought your permission to make a statement now, you would grant that permission? Would it be perfectly in order for him to do so?
If there was another motion before the House to set aside the business, I would do that. But that is not the case. We are in the middle of discussing a Bill.
Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. Is it in order for Ministers to come here and deliberately mislead the House into thinking — [HON. MEMBERS: "Withdraw."] Of course, I withdraw the suggestion that he could possibly deliberately mislead the House. However, yesterday evening, I and my hon. Friend the Member for Fife, Central (Mr. McLeish) overheard the Prime Minister saying to the Leader of the House in the Corridor, "That is it, then. We carry on and lose tomorrow's business." Is it in order for Conservative Members to suggest that Opposition Members were responsible for losing Wednesday's business?
Once we began to discuss in this place what may have been said privately elsewhere in the building, we would be in a lot of trouble.
Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. I understand that my hon. Friends have been pressing hard for a statement on the British Caledonian-British Airways merger. May I ask for your guidance on the possibility of a statement on the White Paper on Scottish housing, which has just been published today? May I put on record again the reason why that statement has not been given? When we moved the adjournment of the debate on the Felixstowe Dock and Railway Bill, the Secretary of State for Scotland and all his hon. Friends went into the Lobby to vote against it, to ensure that Scottish business would not be discussed.3.45 pm Some of us take a poor view of the fact that the Secretary of State is now appearing on every media outlet that he can lamenting the fact that he cannot give a statement or answer questions. Perhaps we can do nothing about question time today, but if there was good will, and if the Secretary of State lived up to his protestations that he wants to make a statement on Scottish housing, could he not come, with the consent of the House, and make that statement? It is bad for the parliamentary process that a Minister, having voted to gag himself and destroy his business, should then parade the idea that he had been prevented from making a statement. I want to help the right hon. and learned Gentleman out of his difficulties, and I ask for your assistance, Mr. Speaker. Could not the Secretary of State make the statement that he alleges he wants to give, but which he has connived at ensuring is impossible under our normal rules of business?
That is not a matter of order. It it a matter for the Secretary of State for Scotland.
Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. Presumably with your permission, I understand that it has become the practice that, at the start of a new Parliament, the Clerks are kind enough to give some instructions on basic procedure to new Members. The House is in some difficulty because of the lack of knowledge of Opposition Front-Bench spokesmen. We understand that it is a new Front Bench, and we have had two examples of that during the past few minutes. The point of order made by the hon. Member for Dagenham (Mr. Gould) in relation to the British Caledonian-British Airways merger was based on completely wrong information and a complete lack of grasp of the procedures of the House. We have now heard a point of order from the shadow Secretary of State for Scotland, who has made a fool of himself twice during the past few hours.For the sake of the efficiency and smooth running of the House, which we all want, perhaps the Clerks could give a crash course on procedure and the workings of the House to the members of the shadow Cabinet, especially its new members.
Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. I always try to remind the Leader of the House of his responsibilities. Would it help you if, to clarify the position in terms of ministerial statements at the close of business, the Leader of the House discharged some of his responsibilities and told the House when we could expect a statement on trade and industry, and especially a statement on Scottish homes?The Secretary of State is appearing on the media belabouring the point about who lost the business and what happened earlier today. He is bemoaning the fact that he could not make a statement in the House because the business was lost. But he voted for the loss of that business. I appeal through you, Mr. Speaker, to the Leader of the House to tell us when a statement will be made. Hon. Members have responsibilities to Committees and would wish to be available to hear statements that may be made at the appropriate time. Will you use your good offices to tell the right hon. Gentleman that that approach would benefit hon. Members on both sides of the House?
Order. A serious point has been raised, but it is not a matter for the Chair. The Leader of the House will have heard what has been said. For reasons that I have already stated, it is not possible to have a statement in the middle of this debate. Surely the sensible course for the House would be to continue with the debate and to bring it to a conclusion, so that many of the possibilities now being canvassed could come about. It is difficult to envisage how that could happen in any other way.
On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Hon. Members had to go to another place to hear a very important statement—[Interruption.] I know of at least one hon. Member who had to do that. Surely that is to be deplored.
On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I wish to seek your advice. I have been here since the start of business some 25 hours ago. More than 120 of my hon. Friends have been here throughout the night, while at times only 20 Opposition Members have been present. There are now many more Opposition Members in the Chamber. We are becoming confused because, at two or three minute intervals, the shadow Leader of the House, the shadow Secretary of State for Scotland and the shadow Secretary of State for Trade and Industry have all asked for statements. If the debate on the Felixstowe Dock and Railway Bill were to be concluded rapidly — for example, by the Opposition desisting from the filibustering tactics that they have employed for the past 25 hours—we could then hear the important statements—[HON. MEMBERS: "Withdraw."] I will not withdraw. Opposition Members do not like to admit that debating wildlife for two hours at a time is filibustering. They do not recognise the meaning of the word.Would it be in order for talks to take place between the usual channels? Could not the Opposition agree a programme with the Government — and then get their Members to stick to it — so that we could rapidly conclude the debate and hear the important statements?
Order. Many of our problems—and this is a problem—could he resolved through the usual channels. That would be the sensible way to proceed, and I hope that that will happen.
On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. My hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Garscadden (Mr. Dewar), the shadow Secretary of State for Scotland, requested a statement on Scottish homes. During the weekend, the Minister with responsibility for housing in Scotland said publicly on television that a statement would be given to Parliament. From his television statement, I understood that the proposals were ready to be submitted to the House—[HON. MEMBERS: "They are."] Hon. Members may say that, but many of my constituents are in Scottish Special Housing Association or in Housing Corporation units allocated through the community-based housing associations. Any proposals would affect their livelihoods. If information is available, surely the Leader of the House could make arrangements for the appropriate Minister to make a statement.On the question of British Caledonian, the Minister constantly tells us that the Scots complain about unemployment and that he is doing his best for employment prospects. Surely he knows that many employees of British Caledonian and British Airways are worried about what will happen. Therefore, would it not help the House if both statements were made now?
On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I seek your guidance and personal protection. As you know, I was most fortunate in drawing the Adjournment debate for tonight — or last night, or tomorrow, whichever it is. The Minister responsible for sport and I have an important engagement on the Floor of the House, and we are entitled to fulfil that engagement — important though British Caledonian and Scottish affairs may be.
Order. If the hon. Gentleman is patient, he may get his Adjournment debate—I hope.
On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Do we not operate in this House both under Standing Orders and precedent? Indeed, some Opposition Members believe that we were sent here to create precedent. Is it not reasonable, therefore, that the Ministers responsible for the two statements for which we have called should come to the Chamber? Given the sort of Bill with which we are dealing—and we clearly have the time to deal with it—statements could be taken either now or later this afternoon, but not at the end of business. That is a perfectly reasonable proposition, and I appeal to you as a most reasonable man.
Order. There is a way out of this difficulty. Although it is not for me to suggest it to the House, the House would be wise to take it.
On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. In view of your wish that the whole problem should be sorted out through the usual channels—and we believe that that would be best, rather than interminable alleged points of order—would it not help if you suspended the sitting for a quarter of an hour to enable the usual channels to consider the matter?
Order. That is a very wise suggestion, and I think that it would be equally wise for the usual channels to get together while I call an hon. Member to speak to the Bill. In that way we could proceed with the business. I therefore call Sir Eldon Griffiths.
On a point of order, Mr. Speaker——
Order. The hon. Gentleman is a Front-Bench spokesman and should set an example to other hon. Members.
Order. I do not want to be forced to take further action on this matter. I call Sir Eldon Griffiths.
Order. I am not prepared to take further points of order. I agree with what was said by the shadow Leader of the House — it is a matter for the usual channels to resolve.
Order. I order the hon. Gentleman to resume his seat.
I am raising a point of order, Mr. Speaker.
I must tell the hon. Gentleman that if he does not obey the Chair, I shall have to take further action that I would very much regret.
Order. I repeat, I would very much regret having to take further action.
Do what you like Mr. Speaker —[Interruption.]
Order. The hon. Gentleman is a Front-Bench spokesman. I know that we are all in an excited state, but the shadow Leader of the House has made a sensible and wise suggestion, with which I agree. Indeed, I hope it will come about. While discussions are taking place, we should get on with the debate and I call Sir Eldon Griffiths again.
Order. I order the hon. Gentleman to resume his seat. I say to him again——
Order. I say to the hon. Gentleman again that if he disobeys the Chair he will have to withdraw from the House for the remainder of today's business.
It might be for the convenience of the House——
On a point of order, Mr. Speaker.
Order. I am not taking any more points of order on this matter.
Order. I have said that I am not taking any more points of order.
No. I call Sir Eldon Griffiths.
In order that the House may make some progress, it might be advantageous for me to reply briefly——
I want briefly to respond to the points made by the movers of the amendments.
On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Mr. Speaker: No.
The effect of amendment No. 33 would be to extend the period.
I am referring to the period of time during which the company could construct——
On a point of order, Mr. Speaker.
Order. I must tell — [Interruption.] I call Sir Eldon Griffiths.
It would be unreasonable to ask the company to accept the amendment because the project has a long lead time——
(approaching the Mace)
It would be unreasonable to ask the company——
(standing by the Mace)
Order. Will the hon. Gentleman get back to his place?
Perhaps I can have a point of order, Mr. Speaker.
Yes. I will give the hon. Gentleman a point of order, but I must say to him before he begins that he is a Member of long standing in this place and it is an absolute abuse to behave in this way.
Sit down, for God's sake.
On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I was about to say that, since the House has now reached high emotional levels, some of which I have witnessed many times over the years, it is up to you, Mr. Speaker, to solve the problem. On each previous occasion, the then Mr. Speaker suspended the sitting of the House for a brief period. I am asking you, Mr. Speaker, in the interests of the House, the nation and the reports that go out of the House, to suspend this sitting for a quarter of an hour.
I am not prepared to do that, for the very reason that I mentioned. The only reason for suspending the House is if things get so out of order that we cannot continue. It is absolutely disgraceful that Members of the House should behave in this way when their own Front Bench has suggested that the matter can be resolved through the usual channels. There is no need, against that background, to have a suspension of the House.
I am not prepared to take a point of order from the hon. Gentleman. Sit down, please.
Why will you not, Mr. Speaker, take a point of order from me when you are prepared to take them from other hon. Members? I have been sent here by my constituents, the same as everyone else. Members of my Front Bench have told me to sit down, but all I want from you is a reasonable response and the courtesy that you extend to other hon. Members.
Order. I must say to the hon. Gentleman again that if he rises and talks to me that way, he will be out of the Chamber for the rest of today's sitting. If he does it again, he will be named.
I beg to move,That further consideration of the Bill be now adjourned. I move the motion because it would be very much for the convenience of the House if we were to have a statement from the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, not only because the House is entitled to a statement but because it gives the lie to the line that I believe that the Minister has been peddling on the media throughout the day to the effect that he is somehow prevented from making that statement. I believe that, Mr. Speaker, as you yourself have confirmed, by that device we can now ensure that no obstacle can be argued to have been placed in the Minister's way in meeting his obligations to the House. Of course we need this important matter, which has now been explained to the press, to the parties to the merger bid, to another place, and, indeed, to everybody in the country other than to the House, to be explained by the Minister in circumstances in which he will be subjected to questions from the House. The reason we need that statement is not only that the matter involved is extremely important, but that the statement, so far as we understand it, and the decision made by his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State, is an extremely muddled statement which leaves substantial parts of Government's policy in disarray—notably the Government's competition and aviation policies. We need to know from the Minister whether there remains any shred or tatter of the previously applying competition policy. Is it still the case that competition remains the only criterion which lies at the base of competition policy? Is not that now manifestly not the case since competition has so clearly been set aside in this instance? Are we not entitled to reach the conclusion that the only basis on which we can now predict where the Government will go on takeover bids of this sort is on the basis that we identify who and where are the Government's political friends? Is not aviation policy also left in a state of considerable confusion? Does not the present situation arise because the Government have completely abandoned their own aviation policy set out clearly as recently as 1984 in their own White Paper and committed to the strategy of a major second carrier? Has not the Government's anxiety to fatten up British Airways in preparation for privatisation destroyed that strategy by cutting the ground from beneath British Caledonian? The fact is that British Caledonian is no longer viable. It no longer has an independent future. It would be disastrous for the British aviation industry if it were taken over by a foreign airline. The only option, the irresistible logic, is that one should accept the merger with British Airways. But that reflects no credit on the Government. It reflects solely the confusion and inconsistency of their own policies. Given that competition policy has been so clearly laid aside in reaching this decision, is it not right that the Opposition should ask what account has been taken of the consumer interest and what consumer protection now subsists? What has the Minister to say about the level of consumer services, which until so recently he said depended on the level of competition, when he has now so clearly extinguished the competition that would provide that better level of service? What account has been taken of article 86 of the treaty of Rome? What reference has been made to the European Commission about competition policy? Will the Minister confirm that British Airways, although voluntarily giving up some of its licences and slots, is nevertheless committed to apply for those licences and slots again? What view will the Civil Aviation Authority and the Government take when that application is made? If the application succeeds, does that not reinforce the point that no competition is built into the solution? If the application fails and those routes, licences and slots are passed to other operators, what is left of the logic of the merger which, surely, could only proceed on the basis that the combined operations of British Caledonian and British Airways would enable the merged British Airways to operate as a megacarrier in the world international market? If the reversal of Government policy which lies behind this decision is not to be the consequence of a muddle which involves competition and aviation policies, the Minister had an obligation to respond and to explain the difficulties and confusions. That explanation is required not least because it has been given elsewhere. It is required by the House and by all those whose jobs and livelihoods depend upon the continued viability of this airline. Unless the Minister can explain how the decision has been reached and how it is meant to secure the objectives of Government policy and the jobs of 25,000 people, Labour Members will believe that he has deliberately resisted his obligations to explain that policy because he knows that he cannot do so.
Order. It might be for the convenience of the House, before I call the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, if I say that it is legitimate in a debate of this kind to canvass what the Front Bench has questioned the Chancellor about. In order that as many hon. Members as possible may be called, I ask for brief contributions, please. It might be for the advantage of the House if I say that the debate should not continue beyond 5·15 pm, when we can resume the other business.
The House was plainly in difficulty a few moments ago and, as you so sensibly suggested, Mr. Speaker, the usual channels may have helped us find the means of resolving that.The hon. Member for Dagenham (Mr. Gould) has spoken on this motion to adjourn to raise the question of the British Airways and British Caledonian merger. I do not want to go back over the difficulties that were raised in the House a few moments ago or to raise them again, but I should like to make it clear that there was no question of the Government avoiding making statements this afternoon. We were in a procedural difficulty. The other House has not had a statement. It has seen an answer to a private notice question. As I said earlier, when I arrived this morning, anticipating that we would be embarking on Wednesday's business, I had hoped to make arrangements to make a statement to the House on space policy and the results of the European Space Agency meeting. Had you, Mr. Speaker, granted a private notice question in this House, I should have expected to have replied to that. However, we got into the procedural difficulties of a few moments ago which, perhaps, can be satisfactorily resolved. I should make it clear that that means that, unlike a statement, I shall not be getting up and down to answer the responses of those hon. Members taking part in what, in effect, will now be a small debate within the rules of order as you, M r. Speaker, have decreed. My hon. Friend the Parliamentary Under-Secretary for Corporate and Consumer Affairs the Member for Warwickshire, North (Mr. Maude) has been closely involved in the decision and if he catches your eye, Mr. Speaker, at the end of the debate, he will seek to answer the various queries that will, no doubt, arise during the debate. With the assistance of the House, perhaps I might proceed to give the House a factual description of the current position. The Monopolies and Mergers Commission report on the proposed merger between British Airways plc and British Caledonian plc was published at nine o'clock this morning. First, I congratulate the MMC on completing its report on this complex issue within three months. After assessing the balance between advantages and disadvantages of the merger proposals as finally developed, the commission concluded that the merger may be expected not to operate against the public interest. In the absence of an adverse public interest finding by the commission, there are no powers for my right hon. and noble Friend the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry to take action on the report. As is clear to all right hon. and hon. Members who read the report, the commission bore very much in mind proposals that British Airways developed during the course of the inquiry to answer the anxieties of the commission. The proposals finally put forward to the commission by British Airways are much more extensive than the proposals that were on the table before the reference was made. I will set out the key points in British Airways' ultimate proposals because they go to the heart of what the hon. Member for Dagenham was talking about a few moments ago when he expressed anxieties about competition policy and even the application of the treaty of Rome and the powers of the commission. 4.15 pm British Airways considerably developed its proposals during the course of the commission's consideration. In its final proposals, first on licences, British Airways will return within a month of merger all British Caledonian's licences on domestic routes, and British Caledonian's licences to operate 10 European routes. Other routes. currently operated by British Caledonian, will be submitted to a review by the Civil Aviation Authority. Although British Airways may reapply to the CAA for reissue of licences, British Airways undertakes not to rely on its rights as an incumbent in reapplying. It also undertakes not to oppose applications from other airlines for licences on the great majority of routes, especially on all domestic routes, all European routes—except those to Italy, and perhaps Portugal—and all routes to the United States and Canada. British Airways will withdraw in the same time scale all British Caledonian's pending appeals against Air Europe licences on eight European routes. On the other problem of the so-called slots especially at Gatwick, British Airways will surrender a minimum of 5,000 slots at Gatwick. Slots associated with licenses returned by and not reissued to British Airways will be surrendered. The Monopolies and Mergers Commission estimated that this could release as many as 20,000 slots at Gatwick if none of the licences returned is reissued to British Airways. So far as airport services are concerned, British Airways will continue to make these available without discrimination to other airlines currently served by British Caledonian. The commission considered those proposals and that the effect of the merger on competition would be reduced considerably by them, especially through the return of licences and slots. The position of the merged airline at Gatwick will be modified considerably, and opportunities for the growth and development of other airlines will be correspondingly increased. For our part, the Government have made it clear that, in the event of a successful offer by British Airways for British Caledonian, we expect British Airways' proposals to be implemented in full. If, at any future time, concerns arise about the competitive situation in the airline industry, we have powers available under the competition legislation. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport and the Civil Aviation Authority also have powers for the regulation of the civil aviation industry. If the merger goes ahead, the chairman of the Civil Aviation Authority has undertaken to report to the Secretary of State for Transport a year later about its implementation on the basis proposed. As I explained earlier, at this stage my right hon. and noble Friend has no legal powers to intervene as the Monopolies and Mergers Commission is satisfied that, on the basis now proposed, the merger may not be expected to operate against the public interest. I hope that the House will agree that, from the point of view of the consumer—as the hon. Member for Dagenham has just reminded us, that is our prime concern in all our policy statements and it remains so — and from the point of view of competition policy, we are now faced with a different situation, compared with the original proposal. Things have moved on a long way since my right hon. and noble Friend acted on the advice of the Director General of Fair Trading to refer this matter to the Monopolies and Mergers Commission three months ago. The commission has satisfied itself about the fears of a potential threat to charter operators at Gatwick and of an over-powerful position in the market and of its other anxieties. The Government have no legal powers to intervene and see no need to do so. The next steps are now for the companies themselves to decide upon.
I know from using airports, especially Glasgow, that many of BCal's staff are worried about being swallowed up by British Airways staff. I should like to know whether the Minister has looked into the job prospects for the smaller company's employees.Services from Glasgow and Edinburgh consist of British Midland Airways Ltd. going to Heathrow, a British Airways shuttle also going to Heathrow, and British Caledonian going to Gatwick. The advantages are obvious because travellers in Glasgow and Edinburgh—I am not familiar with Aberdeen—have a good choice of ways of travelling to London. Those who are involved in international travel can proceed to other destinations. Will the Minister assure us that those services will be improved rather than curtailed? Will he consider the possibility of expanding the excellent service that BCal provides to enable the business community — I declare an interest—to get to Gatwick and catch a direct train from Gatwick to Victoria? Good connections make a big difference to those who travel long distances. It is scandalous that international travellers should be packed like sardines on the underground service when going to Heathrow from the centre of London. That applies not only at busy tourist times, but even at this time of the year. It is deplorable that international travellers are expected to travel in cramped conditions, shoulder to shoulder, from the centre of London out to Heathrow. Such travel does not help British Airways or British Caledonian and it certainly does not encourage the tourist industry.
I remind the House that this is a dilatory motion. I hope that it does not become a precedent for Government statements on dilatory motions. That would be entirely contrary to what has happened before. It would be bad if, every time we wanted a Government statement, the Opposition could move such a motion. I hope that it will be made clear that this is not a precedent because that would be disadvantageous to both sides of the House.Having said that, I wish to ask two questions about the report. It appears that we no longer have two international airlines, but a single British carrier. What will happen about air service agreements concerning dual entry negotiated with foreign nations on the assumption of two British airlines and two foreign airlines coming in and out of Britain? Will it mean that British Airways will be asked to relinquish routes held by British Caledonian so that they can be given to a second British airline? The routes may be to Hong Kong, Tokyo or Los Angeles. Will those routes now be made available to Virgin or to any other company which appeals to the Government? That is of importance, but it is not made clear in the report. Secondly, does the report mean that British Airways and British Caledonian, now combined as a single British Airways, will be able to change slots and routes as they wish? Does it mean that British Airways can move some of its international flights from Heathrow to Gatwick or from Gatwick to Heathrow? That might have considerable effect on the arrangements made with other international airlines coming into Gatwick. If those airlines saw that their competition was being moved from Gatwick to London, they might also ask to be moved to London. That international aspect is not dealt with, either in the statement or in the Monopolies and Mergers Commission report. I hope that the Minister can deal with those two matters, if he catches your eye, Mr. Speaker, before 5.15. It would be useful because that information does not now exist.
The Minister's statement is yet another example of a fudged decision by a British Government. In the last 20 years, the British airline industry has suffered from successive Governments who, instead of making definite decisions, have fudged them.Like my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Springburn, (Mr. Martin), I am interested in what will happen to air travellers from the north of England and from Aberdeen, Glasgow and Edinburgh. I always thought that British Airways was a British airline. Now it is a London airline, dealing with international passengers and serving London, and London alone. The Minister said that the merger was in the public interest. It is not. It is in the interests of British Airways shareholders, Lord King and people who stay in the London area. The rest of us have been thrown to the wolves for so-called private competition. This morning, listening to the radio, I heard that silly gentleman, the noble Lord, Lord Young——
Order. The hon. Gentleman must not cast reflections of that kind on a Member of the other House, who is also a Member of Parliament.
I apologise. I was just speaking from the heart and sometimes one can get into trouble when one does that here.This morning I heard the noble Lord, Lord Young, state that because of competition he had been able to take breakfast on the shuttle from Glasgow to London. After having said that we were to have competition between British Airways, British Midland Airways and British Caledonian, all that Lord Young could say today was that he was able to have breakfast on the Glasgow shuttle. I do not want breakfast on the Glasgow shuttle. I do not want a meal on any short journey between Glasgow or Edinburgh and London. What I want is a cheaper fare. Competition has not reduced the fare from Glasgow to London. British Caledonian loses £7 million on the Glasgow route. British Midland Airways and British Airways are supposed to compete. They are like the petrol companies — they compete on anything but price. Air travellers want a reduction in price, but competition has not led to any reductions in the cost of travel between Glasgow or Edinburgh and London. Fares have gone up every year, in spite of competition. Government Members are always talking about competition, but after an initial burst the entrepreneurs reach a cosy agreement so there can be no competition. The merger is a disaster for the Scottish people. We are being left to the entrepreneurs. When I met Air Europe representatives, I asked whether that company would be willing to take up the British Caledonian routes from London to Scotland. They made it clear that they certainly would not take up those routes. So who will get the routes? This is another disaster for Scotland. We lost Scottish Question Time today. We do not matter in this House, although the Scots form the major group in the House. The sooner Scottish Members revolt in the House — because they will never get proper treatment here—the sooner they will have a Government in Scotland for the Scottish people who can debate their own airline instead of British Airways, which is an airline for London.
I congratulate the Monopolies and Mergers Commission on making such a speedy decision. I hope that it will set an example for the future. The outcome is interesting and exciting, particularly for the independent airlines. It seems from the statement that British Airways is not only to relinquish some routes but to put other routes on the table for review by the Civil Aviation Authority. That is the fairest possible way of behaving. I am amazed that British Airways has agreed to it because the CAA is keen on competition policy. None of the independent companies could criticise the deal.4.30 pm The Monopolies and Mergers Commission is satisfied as far as competition is concerned, which means that it is satisfied as far as consumers are concerned. We have to wait and see what BCaI and British Airways say about the deal going ahead, as there are commercial as well as competition considerations, but I have one question that I hope the Minister does not say should be directed to the Department of Transport. In the statement it was suggested that a number of slots would be given away at Gatwick. At the moment it seems that those slots could well be taken up by the airlines that take the scheduled routes that BCal or BA are to shed. A major charter operator that operates out of Gatwick is Britannia Airways which is one of my constituency companies. Charter operators schedule regular charters and I want to ensure that that airline and others like it are also looked after. That is extremely important because the charter work within the airline business is as important as the scheduled work. It is through charters that many people fly for the first time. When people go on holiday, it is sometimes the only time they fly. With the opportunity we have with this major reorganisation at Gatwick, I want to ensure that there is some protection for charter operators. In terms of what the statement offers for competition and opportunities for the independent airlines, it is the best possible deal that could have been worked out.
Unlike the Conservative Members who have spoken, I congratulate the House on getting around its procedures to have a debate on an industry in which at least 25,000 people work. Mr. Speaker, I also want to thank you for the help that you have given us to secure the debate. Having said that, I wish that we were having the debate about a publicly owned British Airways instead of a privately owned one. As such, I welcome what has happened, although, as has been said by my hon. Friend the Member for Dagenham (Mr. Gould), it does leave the Government's policy in a bit of a shambles.When the Minister replies, will he tell us the position of the routes that are to be given up within a month? There is no way within a month that operators can be allocated those routes. It will take at least six months. Domestic routes, Paris, Brussels and Nice flights are all to be given up immediately. What operator will replace them? I hope that the Minister will be able to inform us about that. Another important consideration in the air transport industry is the order for the A320 airbus. When the Back Bench aviation committee discussed the matter agreement was more or less reached with British Airways that, provided that it did not lose all its European routes, it would go ahead with the airbus order. A lot of jobs depend on that, so I hope that the Minister will reply to that important point. Having seen so many of our manufacturing industries decimated, I am pleased that we still have a strong national carrier that will be able to meet the competition from the megacarriers over the Atlantic—I am pleased about that—who will immediately take up the routes that are to be given up within a month.
The Monopolies and Mergers Commission is to be congratulated, as this was no easy problem. It was a complex problem. As it concerns international and domestic carriers and the European situation, it would have been extremely difficult for anyone to come up with a package that would satisfy all the demands and all the pressures. The Monopolies and Mergers Commission has produced a package that may just be satisfactory and viable to most of the interested parties. That surely must be unique. In all the years that I have been following aviation debates, I cannot remember when an outside body such as the commission has come forward with a proposal such as that contained in its report, which it seems will be accepted by British Airways and British Caledonian. We do not know for sure, however, because there are commercial details to be resolved if the bid goes ahead. Having listened to a number of the independent operators today, and in particular to Michael Bishop, who spoke on radio earlier today, I believe that he and the other independent carriers also believe that the Monopolies and Mergers Commission has produced a proposal that is viable and that will work.I would like the Minister to comment on the situation at Gatwick to which my hon. Friend the Member for Luton, South (Mr. Bright) referred. It is important that the airlines that were first in Gatwick will have their granny rights to slots protected in the proposed changes. Our independent airlines must not feel that they will be squeezed out. At the same time, we must ensure that British Airways, or British Airways and British Caledonian. if they merge, are not disadvantaged because, as Labour Members said, it will become our important flag carrier. I am pleased about that, because British Caledonian's greatest asset is its staff. It was right that Labour Members should draw attention to the concerns of its staff. All the staff I have spoken to at British Caledonian, contrary to what has been suggested, have said quite clearly that they are in favour of the merger. The trade unions have also made their position quite clear. The announced arrangement will guarantee that the bulk of British Caledonian staff will end up with British Airways if the merger goes ahead. I fully agree with the suggestion from the Opposition Benches that something must be done in future about the tube from central London to Heathrow. There is no doubt that the air service from Scotland to Heathrow is superb. There is no other way to describe it. There may be complaints about some of the details, but one cannot complain about the frequency of services or how well it runs. Regardless of how awful the weather is at times, it is surprising how often services arrive on time. The only impediment to the service is that one is put off by having to board a tube. I heartily agree with the suggestion that something should be done about the tube at an early date.
I am pleased with the unusual departure from the debate because we have had a statement from the Government. It is unfortunate that it could not have been coherently timetabled, but I believe we all know the reason for that. Mr. Speaker, I am grateful to you for allowing this important issue to be aired in the House.I shall depart from the sentiments that have been expressed by other hon. Members because my view is that the Monopolies and Mergers Commission made the wrong decision. Notwithstanding the carefully considered caveats that the commission has proposed, I do not believe that it has come down on the right side. The first consequence is that the Government's stated airlines competition policy is in tatters. It is right and proper for us to ask the Government to come to the House at an early opportunity and state what they believe should be the future of airline competition now that the merger is going ahead. The fact that certain routes are being removed from the new airline and offered to independent airlines does not alter the fundamental fact that we shall have one super, mega-airline dominating the scene, and a fragmented group of small fry competing for the crumbs that the mega-airline deigns to leave on or below the table. The Minister and the Government cannot sit back and allow such a situation to develop. Do the Government have any idea about the possibility of all the routes being bid for by one United Kingdom airline? Would the Government favour that? The issue whether we have a significant second-ranking airline in the United Kingdom or one dominant airline and a few minnows is crucial. If the answer is that, in future, there will be no second-ranking airline of substance, the Government must acknowledge that that wholly contradicts their stated policy hitherto. So they must give us clear guidance about the future. What if some of the routes are not bid for? There is some evidence that, given the imbalance of commercial competition that will exist, some of the routes will revert to the new airline because of the commercial weakness of the competitors. If that happens, the position as outlined today by the Monopolies and Mergers Commission will not resemble that in 12 months, two years or five years' time. The new airline's role at Gatwick causes real concern. I accept that the Monopolies and Mergers Commission has addressed itself to that issue, and that giving up some of the 5,000 slots will release routes. I am not satisfied, however, that the assurances that have been given mean that the competitive airlines will get the slots that they need, not only at the time of year when they need them, as the report mentions, but at the time of day. That factor makes the difference between who does and does not obtain the cream of the traffic. Too many things are left to trust in the report — aspects that a dominant carrier cannot be trusted with. The statement in the report that facilities for maintenance and repair will continue to be offered without discrimination at Gatwick is made without qualification or explanation of how it can be guaranteed. Although the commission has considered the arguments, it has been subjected to external pressures — I do not mean improper pressures—that have made it difficult for the commission to detach itself from the emerging British Caledonian role. Of course, no one wants the demise of British Caledonian. What has been recommended in the report should have been done three years ago. If it had been, the merger would not have been necessary and British Caledonian would have been a valid, competitive airline in the world market place. We have created the biggest single airline in the world by adding a small percentage to its size; and if we accept the argument for that—the emergence of super-carriers on the other side of the Atlantic—the logical conclusion is that in a short time British Airways will be telling us that it wants a new super-carrier consisting of British Airways, British Caledonian, Alitalia, Air France and SAS. That would be a super-European airline to compete with the mega-airlines in the United States. If that is the likely development, we in the United Kingdom and the European Community had better consider what we are doing here today. Regrettably, the Monopolies and Mergers Commission has come down on the wrong side of the argument. The Government will have to consider whether the legislation at their disposal is adequate. I should have liked the Secretary of State to overturn the MMC report, but unfortunately I am advised that the Government do not have the power to do that. In future, such power should exist.
I thank you, Mr. Speaker, for making it possible to have a discussion on the Monopolies and Mergers Commission report, which has been submitted to and accepted by my noble Friend the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry this morning.One must bear in mind that civil aviation is a rapidly growing industry operating in fast-changing circumstances. References to second-force airlines — the Edwards report, and CAP 500, which was the civil aviation policy that was thrown on one side—are immaterial in today's circumstances because we have moved on since then. One has only to go to the United States of America to see how that country's captive domestic market, in which more than half of the civil airliners in the world travel, has changed dramatically since the President deregulated it there at a stroke. Today, there is a new breed of megacarriers in the United States. People are beginning — perhaps reluctantly — to accept that they exist. It is difficult for such carriers to grow within the American domestic market other than by gobbling each other up, in which case they have to face the problems of anti-trust legislation. They can only grow overseas. So that is where they will go and that is why we must be in a position—as United Kingdom Limited — to compete effectively with them. 4.45 pm In the end, I welcomed the Secretary of State's decision to refer the matter to the Monopolies and Mergers Commission, having initially been against it. I thought it would have been far better for my noble Friend to accept the initial bid by British Airways for British Caledonian. I knew that a great deal of flak would be flying for a fortnight and then it would stop, and the company could get on with creating the sort of main flag carrier that we wanted. Interestingly, the recommendation made by the MMC was surely not created by it. It has come about because the initial bid by British Airways was not considered by the MMC as being in the public interest. The MMC went back to British Airways and said that it just would not do. British Airways took another look at what it could offer and came up with a different formula. The so-called conditions for the merger, which the hon. Member for Gordon (Mr. Bruce) thinks are the creation of the MMC, are nothing of the sort. They are merely the British Airways revised bid. The genius from British Airways who thought up the formula that seems to have succeeded in being readily accepted by the MMC and hon. Members on both sides of the House—with the sole exception of the hon. Member for Gordon—deserves a medal. I accept what hon. Members have said about the fears of the smaller operators. However, many of those fears have been dealt with in the proposals. The issue of slots at airports may still persist, however. The relinquishment of 5,000 slots at Gatwick will certainly help. If certain routes are disposed of by the merged airline, other slots will become available. A point that I have picked up from the recommendations is the suggestion that British Airways and British Caledonian should operate as one company. What about British Air Tours and British Caledonian's tour operations? At present, those are essentially two other companies. I want them all to be embraced in one company, so that that company can be treated as one unit when it comes to allocation of slots at airports. When we were fishing around for information about how the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry might respond to what the MMC recommended, I picked up a copy of his objectives for the Department since he took office. I noticed that he said:
But civil aviation does not operate in those sorts of conditions. Today has seen the possibility of Britain taking the first steps to creating the type of market conditions in which that operation can take place. Internationally, that does not happen. This is a vastly over-regulated business in which national pride and prestige seek to prevail over the needs of the fare-paying passenger. That is to be deplored. Hopefully, now that Britain has taken the lead, we will see rapid change and reform in the European sphere and will be in a better state to take on and beat the Americans. In its objectives the Department of Trade and Industry also says:"Business flourishes in a competitive and open economy and we aim to secure this both at home and abroad".
Nothing could apply more clearly than that to the civil aviation industry. Generally speaking, this is a good report from the Monopolies and Mergers Commission. This is one of the most complex problems that the commission has had to face for a long time. It solved the problem in three months and five days. Why on earth has it taken six months on every other matter that has been referred to it?"We seek to produce a more competitive market by encouraging competition and tackling restrictive practices, cartels and monopolies".
I had an Adjournment debate on this matter just before the recess but I do not propose to cover that ground other than in one or two sentences. When the Minister replies to the debate on this technical motion, will he tell us what has happened to the Government's competition policy? I refer him to what a former right hon. Member, Mr. Enoch Powell, said about the control of public corporations. He said—and I paraphrase—that the House had managed to devise ways of controlling public corporations but what happened to the vast private corporations that are directly related to public utilities?What happens to our control of British Telecom, British Gas and the newfangled body that will be created under whatever name and that will be a megacarrier? What organisations within the House will be responsible? Perhaps a Select Committee will look at it. We have no direct control, like the control held by the American Congress in relation to competition policy. To set up megacarriers here because they are suitable for operations in the United States is to fly in the face of or to ignore the huge background of legislation that the United States has devised and that goes back to the Sherman Anti-Trust Act 1890 to control such organisations within their economic framework. It is unsatisfactory to argue that this merger gives the United Kingdom the ability to compete in international air traffic markets. We have a responsibility to consumers. However, my constituents will be much more attentively engaged in looking at the neglect of the House by the Secretary of State for Scotland. Today he issued a White Paper called, "Housing: The Government's Proposals for Scotland". This is a great illustration of a newfangled newspeak. It is noticeable that there is not a Scottish Minister on the Government Front Bench, although they have been parading themselves on the media in Scotland. Not one Scottish Nationalist is presently in the House to examine this issue. We have pressed the Secretary of State for Scotland to come to the House and make a statement on this issue. I shall not detain the House very long on it. Thousands of my constituents who are tenants of the Scottish Special Housing Association have protested to me about the Government's proposals. This White Paper unites two disparate bodies, the Scottish Special Housing Association and the Housing Corporation, and is trying to create an organisation to force up rents. I know that time is short but I should like to quote this newspeak. Paragraph 1.25 says:
What the hell does that mean in real terms? It mean that rents will go up and that our folk will be forced to buy or forced to indicate to the public that they are among the poorest sections of the population. My hon. Friend the Member for Cunninghame, South (Mr. Lambie) made a powerful plea about how Scottish Members are treated in the House. We made a great mistake in our treatment of hon. Members on both sides from Northern Ireland. I tell the House that we will not be treated that way. If Conservative Members believe that this is a United Kingdom Parliament and if they are interested in keeping the United Kingdom united, they will need to have a care about how they treat Scottish parliamentary business and Scottish Members. [Interruption.] There is no point in Conservative Members howling at me from sedentary positions. If they want to interrupt me they should get up. We will not wear this trickery and manipulation. We know that a Government with a majority of 100 can win the votes in the House, but if the Government want to respect the United Kingdom they will have to have a care about how they treat hon. Members in all parts of the House. If the Government are really concerned about that, they should not have a repetition of what has happened today. They should not have advised you, Mr. Speaker, in the way that they did, because we had to use flexibility to get out of the situation. I tell Conservative Members that this must be the last time that this type of procedure is used, otherwise Conservative Members will carry the responsibility for the break-up of the United Kingdom."Policies founded on the Government's objectives will inevitably result in a more diverse pattern of rents."
Order. Despite what I said some time ago, I judge it would be helpful to the House if I allowed Back Benchers to go on until 5.15 pm, at which time I will call the Front Benches. May I make a plea for very brief contributions?
I shall be brief. I want to make two points. I support my hon. Friend the Member for Warrington, North (Mr. Hoyle) who welcomed this report by the Monopolies and Mergers Commission. The MMC made the right decision and one that is in the best interests of British airlines and the jobs in the British airline industry.Despite what some hon. Members have said, it is necessary for Britain to have a megacarrier to compete in the hard, real world of airline business. The one criticism that I have about the decision is that I regret that it was necessary to go to the Monopolies and Mergers Commission in the first place. On page 73 of the report, paragraph 8.70 says:
If that is the case, was it really necessary to refer the matter to the MMC? I hope that the Minister will answer that question. Would it not have been far more in the public interest to allow the merger to go ahead? All that has been achieved is a delay of three months and the writing-off of millions of pounds in the value of British Caledonian. There has also been a detrimental effect on shareholders, many of whom are pensioners who have no other income on which to depend. The delay caused unnecessary worry to British Caledonian employees who wondered what their future would be, and had an adverse effect on future bookings for British Caledonian flights. I would far rather that the referral had not taken place and would have preferred that the merger had gone ahead when it was first proposed. I think that that is the view of most of the employees in the industry. In an ideal world both airlines could have continued independently and would have been able to survive. However, it is not an ideal world and this is the best deal that could possibly have been made. The speech by my hon. Friend the Member for Cunninghame, South (Mr. Lambie) contained an inaccuracy. British Caledonian does not lose £7 million a year on the Glasgow to Gatwick route. It loses £7 million on all its United Kingdom domestic flights and benefits to the tune of £25 million as a result of the inter-lining that these flights provide for its other services. My hon. Friend should get his facts right."Before the reference was made, BA offered to the Office of Fair Trading conditional undertakings:
(a) to give up 5,000 slots at Gatwick ; (b) not to oppose any application made to the CAA by any other airline seeking a licence to operate on routes already operated by BA and/or BCAL where the existing services of BA and BCAL would not be artificially constrained ; and (c) to submit to any examination conducted by the CAA of routes currently operated by BCA for the purpose of identifying those where further British competition would be desirable."
What about the workers in Glasgow?
I shall come to that point. It is not often that I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Cunninghame, South, but I agree with him and with my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Springburn (Mr. Martin) about future services provided by British Airways, British Caledonian and British Midland on Scottish-English routes. What guarantee will the Minister give that there will be no deterioration in these services and that jobs will be secure?
I listened with great interest to the dissenting voice of the hon. Member for Gordon (Mr. Bruce). His proposition is perfectly respectable, but does he agree that. in the circumstances in which British Caledonian finds itself, the only alternative policy which the hon. Gentleman could pursue would be a take-over, either by an American or a European airline? In an ideal world, presumably neither he nor I would wish to see that, but, following his logic, it may be the only alternative. It may be instructive, therefore, to know whether the Liberals would prefer to dispose of British Caledonian, not to British Airways, which is after all a British company, but to a company in the United States or Europe.Like many other hon. Members, I am impressed by the speed with which the MMC produced this report, particularly because the report is good for many of the parties involved. It is good for British Airways because it helps it to compete with the large American international airlines. It is undoubtedly good for the independent airlines because, although there is no guarantee that they will be allowed to take over some of the services relinquished by British Airways and British Caledonian, they have been given a new opportunity. In this vale of tears, there are few guarantees. It is an expensive exercise to start up an airline service, but this is a good report because it gives independent airlines a new opportunity. Most hon. Members know that for some years I have acted as an adviser to British Caledonian. The report is also good for British Caledonian. In the ideal world, it would have been preferable if it had not had to relinquish those routes which the joint airline will have to give up. In the circumstances, it is probably a good deal for BCal. It is a good start for an MMC report to be good for British Airways, BCal and independent airlines, but, most important of all, it is good for competition and, therefore, the consumer. That is the principal point with which we should have expected the report to deal. The hon. Member for Gordon indicates dissent, but I must remind him that, in addition to the considerable competition from many foreign airlines against British Airways—and which will continue to face the joint BA-BCal company—there is also an opportunity for new British airlines to compete over a wide area. As many hon. Members have said, this is a good report, which should be pursued at a commercial level. I hope very much that we shall be able to take the matter further.
Like my hon. Friend the Member for Brentwood and Ongar (Mr. McCrindle), I wish to congratulate the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, and, through him, the MMC, which rejected the original proposal made by British Airways to take over British Caledonian. Clearly, that was not in the interests of the consumer or of competition policy in this country. However, these revised proposals most certainly are in the interests of the consumer and of competition.Effectively, most of the route structure that was British Caledonian and still is will now be the responsibility of the Civil Aviation Authority. It will have to consider the various applications from British Airways and from the other independent airlines which over the past few weeks have expressed an interest in these routes and possibly an interest in taking over British Caledonian. In a way, that enhances the Government's competition policy. It allows the Civil Aviation Authority to reconsider many domestic routes into Europe and come up with some proposals which will put the consumer first. I also want to mention the fact that over the next year or so there is the possibility of the deregulation of air fares in Europe. I see that, coupled with the reallocation of routes, as a very positive step. Having said that, I believe that various Opposition Members have mistaken the very intricate way in which competition policy operates within the airline environment. On the one hand, there is international competition between one British carrier — in the main, British Airways—and various other foreign carriers, and on the other hand there is domestic and European competition essentially between a number of British airlines and continental operators. The best aspect of the Monopolies and Mergers Commission report is that it recognises the interests of the independents which operate charter services, domestic flights and flights to Europe. At the same time, the report appreciates the needs of British Airways into the 1990s to ensure that this country has a premier carrier that can compete effectively with other international carriers and most specifically with the American megacarriers. I commend the report as being a very good compromise.
I have been following the merger issue with deep interest because I have a particular constituency interest. When the merger proposals were first mooted, the Rolls-Royce workers at the East Kilbride plant were fearful for their jobs. They were afraid for a specific reason, because the biggest civil contract on the repair and renewal side of the Rolls-Royce plant at East Kilbride relates to the British Caledonian engines. The workers were afraid that, if the merger went ahead, they would lose that contract and consequently lose jobs.Only last week the joint trade unions were assured by the management that they had nothing to fear from the merger. They were told that British Caledonian engines would continue to be maintained at Rolls-Royce East Kilbride because British Airways could not handle the extra capacity which the merger would place upon that company in view of British Airways' current work load. I have read a statement that has been issued about the merger. I found that the merger proposals now mean that, within one month of its acquiring a controlling interest in British Caledonian Group, British Airways will return all British Caledonian licences to operate domestic routes, including routes to the Channel Islands and routes between Gatwick and Paris, Brussels, Nice, Stockholm and Stuttgart. That can only mean one thing. There is panic among the trade unionists in East Kilbride because of today's statement. The trade unionists have interpreted the statement to mean that there will be fewer routes, fewer aircraft and fewer engines to maintain. Therefore, I want the Minister to give us a guarantee that no jobs will be lost in Rolls-Royce East Kilbride as a consequence of the merger. The Government have already caused job losses through the privatisation of Rolls-Royce. Please do not give us any more redundancies as a result of the merger.
I must confess that when the merger arose, I would have numbered myself among those who would have been sceptical about finding any sense in today's report. For that reason, several of my hon. Friends and I tabled an early-day motion. We were convinced that the whole cornerstone which gives the customer the best service at the best price would in some way be compromised. However, against that background, I congratulate my right hon. and learned Friend the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster on having taken the decision to refer the issue to the Monopolies and Mergers Commission. Against that sceptical background, I must admit that the report makes an enormous amount of sense given that if we are sensible and fair-minded on both sides of the House—as we are occasionally—it was always going to be difficult to provide a report which made sense to all of the interests involved. It is also worth reinforcing the case that has already been made, that British Airways was extremely sensible in moving away from its original position to its final stance, which made it a great deal easier to achieve the rapprochement which the Monopolies and Mergers Commission has produced at the end of the day.British Airways may win or lose over the slots issue at Gatwick and the question of the reallocation of routes. I believe that it is up to the independent airlines to state their cases clearly and get into the ring and put their money where their mouths are. I fully expect that the independents will do that. From being a sceptic, I now believe that the report is extremely good. It is good for competition, for the customer and above all — and this will be recognised sooner or later by the smaller airlines—for the smaller airlines as well.
I feel slightly out of place as I am the first non-Caledonian Member on the Opposition Benches to be called in the debate. I am well aware that it is laid out in "Erskine May" that when we are discussing the takeover of British Caledonian, hon. Members must at least have some Caledonian blood.We have heard reference to the fact that the merger has been a great success for the Government's competition policy. However, if the merger had been mentioned at the time of the privatisation of British Airways, I do not believe that it would have gone ahead. The idea was to encourage competition, not to swallow it up within less than two years of that takeover. However, that is not the matter that I want to draw to the attention of the House in the short time remaining to me. I want to raise the matter of the unprecedented and certainly unorthodox way in which the takeover has proceeded, to the extent that Ministers have not been able to take their own decisions. The Monopolies and Mergers Commission has pre-empted that decision and British Airways has pre-empted it by a process of plea bargaining. We have heard that the Monopolies and Mergers Commission was minded to reject the original takeover bid. British Airways then appeared to have sliced away elements of its takeover until it had reached the percentage of British Caledonian that it was to take over which the Monopolies and Mergers Commission regarded as acceptable. That is not the MMC's job. That is the job of Government Ministers responsible to the House. The MMC's job is to discuss takeover bids, not to discuss competition policy in the airline industry. That is the job of this House. The only increase in competition that we have seen as a result of the report and the decision announed today is the increase in competition between the Monopolies and Mergers Commission and the Chancellor of the Exchequer and the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry in another place as to who is really responsible for competition in the airline industry. Paragraph 8.71 of the Monopolies and Mergers Commission report states:
That is plea bargaining and that is not a suitable way for us to decide what level of competition we require in the airline industry. For the airline attempting the takeover to slice away bits of the attempted takeover when it realises that things are going against it initially simply usurps the functions of Ministers and this House to discuss competition policy on the Floor of the House. It would make far more sense if the Monopolies and Mergers Commission said that it did not like a takeover bid, and Ministers could either overturn or agree with its recommendation. But if the MMC must agree the merger, that leaves Ministers with no function at all. We have had a nonsensical discussion today over a takeover bid that Ministers ultimately could not discuss, because the MMC had already agreed it on a plea bargaining basis with British Airways."In response to the objections of various parties, and to anxieties which we expressed ourselves, BA also developed further its proposals for the merger."
I shall be very brief. I should like to say how much I agree with the conclusions of the MMC's report. I congratulate my right hon. Friends on deciding, against a background of controversy, to refer the bid to the commission. I find it remarkable that a number of Opposition Members spoke out against the decision to refer the bid. If we bear in mind that the Opposition Front Bench called for a referral, that shows the lack of an Opposition competition policy. Nevertheless, although there were elements of controversy and doubt, it was absolutely right to refer the bid to the commission.I welcome the report's conclusions. It strikes the right balance between ensuring that there is competition in the aviation industry and, at the same time, preserving for the country a national airline in which we can all take pride.
I should like to ask the Minister certain specific questions.First, does the Minister agree with British Caledonian's statement that the ultimate cause of the present position is the Government's inconsistent airline policy — in particular, the failure to transfer routes as recommended by the CAA in 1984? Does he agree that the concept of a second-force airline is now effectively dead? Does he regret that and does he feel that his Department bears any responsibility? Does the Minister agree with the view of many hon. Members on both sides of the House that the most that can be said for the report is that it makes the best of a bad job? Is he aware of the views of the MMC on the issue of market dominance? Is he aware that the MMC believes that if the merger had gone through without conditions, it would have severely restricted competition, that the conditions will reduce the dangers of a restriction in competition, but that those dangers still remain? Could he quantify those dangers? How likely is it that the availability of competition will be taken up by other airlines? Is it not the case that British Caledonian domestic licences are to be returned? There are 10 European licences to be returned. The merged airline has said that it will not oppose applications on the transnational routes. That is the theoretical framework, but can the Minister tell us what practical assumptions we can make that competition will occur as a result of the availability of licences to other airlines? Has the Department a view on that; and, if so, what is it? Let me take up a point that was made by my hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, West (Mr. Morgan). I understand that British Airways has put certain proposals to the commission, and there has been negotiation about those proposals. Effectively, the report accepts them. I would turn the point round from the way in which it was put by Conservative Members. If the commission report states what British Airways wanted as its negotiating position, should that not give us even greater concern about competition, as British Airways has, in effect, determined the terms of the commission's report? Will the Minister also deal with the number of slots at Gatwick airport? I understand that 5,000 slots must be returned and 20,000 may be returned. Am I right in believing that over 13,000 slots, now held by British Caledonian, will be held by the merged airline?
During his comments to the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, will my hon. Friend make references not only to the substance of his remarks this afternoon, but to their form? I am not sure whether it was a statement, a semi-statement or a thought for the day. I raise the matter because the form of the statement, or lack of statement, is a cover under which later today the Secretary of State for Scotland will deny the House a statement on the Government's proposals on Scottish housing. Through my hon. Friend, can I put the position to the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster? The argument seems to be that he cannot make an official statement to the House today. No doubt the Secretary of State for Scotland cannot either, because today is Tuesday here. Such a statement is appropriate in the other place, because it is Wednesday there. My hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, West (Mr. Morgan) and I——
Order. The hon. Member is intervening in his hon. Friend's speech.
I will be very brief.
That is not fair. The hon. Member must put a question to his hon. Friend.
In that case, Mr. Speaker, will my hon. Friend ask the Minister whether there is not a contradiction? Today, the three people whom I have mentioned have been sitting in a Select Committee on the Dartford-Thurrock Crossing Bill. As it is a hybrid Bill Committee, it is Wednesday for them. The Secretary of State for Scotland cannot make a statement to the House because he is in a different time zone—namely, Tuesday. Will he make the statement to me? I am here on Wednesday, and I promise not to tell my friends.
My hon. Friend has made his point very well. If he is confused by Government statements, he has that in common with the rest of us.Does the Minister agree that what will concern people most following the publication of the report is the position of consumers? What guarantees can he give on prices and fares after the merger, and what will be the effect on jobs? The hon. Member for Pembroke (Mr. Bennett) said that the Government's competition policy was intricate. Those of us who remember their refusal to send the purchase of the Today newspaper by Mr. Rupert Murdoch to the MMC find it anything but intricate or subtle. We were told at the time when British Airways was privatised that privatisation would result in greater competition for the consumer. Where does that leave not only the Government's competition policy, but their privatisation policy?
Perhaps I can initially help the hon. Member for Motherwell, North (Dr. Reid), who raised a complex issue to do with time warps. He was not certain of the nature of the event in which we are participating. Perhaps I can make that clear to him : this is what we call a debate.It has been a useful debate, and a number of hon. Members have raised interesting points on the report of the MMC, which was produced, I believe, in record time. I should also like to join others who have congratulated the chairman and members of the commission on their achievement.
As this is a debate, perhaps you could answer a question. If you cannot make a statement here today——
Order. The hon. Gentleman should not refer to me.
I am sorry, Mr. Speaker. If the Minister cannot make a statement to the rest of the House because it is Tuesday, can he make a statement to the hon. Member for Hayes and Harlington (Mr. Dicks), my hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, West (Mr. Morgan) and myself? All day we have been working on Wednesday's business. Can the Minister give me an answer during the debate?
I had better steer clear of the metaphysics and get on with answering some of the points in the debate.I must congratulate the MMC. Its achievement in completing the inquiry within three months is very remarkable, and I hope that it sets a precedent. It will enable more matters to be referred to the commission where appropriate, because it will not be possible for target companies to argue that the urgency of the financial position prevents a referral. The hon. Member for Dagenham (Mr. Gould) raised a few points. I apologise if I cannot deal with all the detailed points that were raised because many of them were about aviation. I slightly regret that at this time of day we cannot participate in an aviation debate because, as I understand it, the business for the day was supposed to be a debate on transport, in which all those matters could have been raised in greater detail and at great length, and dealt with by a Transport Minister. If the Opposition had not suddenly started to take an interest in the wildlife of Felixstowe, we could have had that debate. It is entirely their fault. With that caveat, I shall do my best to answer some of the points that have been raised. The hon. Member for Dagenham seemed to be in favour of the outcome of the inquiry. He accepted that there is an irresistible logic in the conclusion reached by the MMC. If I can summarise the feelings of most of those who have spoken in the debate, it seems to be the view that, given a difficult competition problem, broadly, the MMC has reached a sensible, practical conclusion, which enables competition to be retained, but also enables the undoubted benefits of the merger to be achieved.
Let me ask the Minister a question that falls squarely within the responsibilities of his Department and has little to do with the Department of Transport. As it is a matter of competition policy, can the Minister now restate the oft-repeated statement by his senior colleagues, including the current Secretary of State, that the essence, indeed the only criterion, of the Government's policy is competition?
I can do no more than refer the hon. Gentleman to the statement that has been made and repeated by my right hon. and noble Friend the Secretary of State, that when a merger or a bid is referred to the MMC, the principal criterion will be competition, but not solely competition. In some cases, there may be a wider public interest, but I am not revealing anything that the hon. Gentleman does not know full well. There is still a wider public interest in some cases, but competition is the principal consideration that will be met.The hon. Member for Glasgow, Springburn (Mr. Martin) was concerned about employment. Of course, the MMC would have taken evidence and made a judgment on the overall public interest involved, taking into account not just competition but employment and other issues. My hon. Friend the Member for Honiton (Sir P. Emery) raised two principal points, the first of which is important. It concerns routes where two airlines are designated and whether the new merged airline will occupy both those routes. The answer is that BA proposes that the merged airline will operate as a single airline for designation purposes. Any airline wishing to take advantage of the bilateral opportunities must first have a licence from the CAA. I cannot speculate on who may apply for licences surrendered by BA or on who should get them. That is for the CAA and, on appeal, for my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport. Some hon. Members were concerned about whether there is likely to be competition to take the licences that are returned. All that I can say is that the independent airlines have said repeatedly that they believe that they can run those services more cheaply than at present. I should be astonished if they did not come forward to take those licences, but I cannot make them apply. All that can be done — as will be done — is that the licences will be surrendered and it will be open for others to apply for them. It opens up an area of competition to the independent airlines which, at present, is not open to them. That must be a benefit for competition and the consumers. I am sure that the opportunity will be taken.
Does the Minister agree that the concept of a second force airline is now dead?
We shall have to see what emerges when the other airlines apply for the slots and the licences that will be available. I cannot speculate on who will apply, and it would not he proper for me to do so. But I have no doubt that successful independent airlines will take advantage of the competitive opportunities and make full use of them.
Will the hon. Gentleman give way?
I am sorry, but I shall not give way any more as it has been a short debate and Mr. Speaker properly said that we want to get back to the other business. I must press on.The second point raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Honiton was about the transfer by BA of scheduled services to Gatwick or vice versa. The MMC considered the point that a merged BA and BCal might transfer its scheduled services to Gatwick, making it more difficult for its competitors to establish effective and profitable services at the airport. However, the MMC considered that it would not necessarily be more difficult for airlines operating from Gatwick to compete with BA operating from both airports than with BA operating from Heathrow and BCal from Gatwick. The commission also considered that the BA proposals to surrender slots will modify considerably the position of the merged airline at Gatwick and the possibility of it taking unfair advantage of its strength, to the detriment of other operators. I understand that slots surrendered by BA will be reallocated by the Gatwick scheduling committee, in accordance with its usual procedures. I share the opinion expressed of the charter airlines by some of my hon. Friends. Those airlines have fully supported that system. My hon. Friend's point is met and will be safeguarded. Because the MMC made no adverse public interest finding, my right hon. Friend——
Will the Minister give way?
I shall not give way any more.
Will the Minister give way?
I shall not give way any more, I am afraid.
There are points to be made about Glasgow.
Any detailed points on aviation matters that have been raised——
The hon. Gentleman knows perfectly well that if his hon. Friends had enabled the business to proceed as scheduled, all those matters could have been dealt with——
On a point of order, Mr. Speaker.
I hope that it is a point of order.
I understood that the Minister told my hon. Friend the Member for Motherwell, North (Dr. Reid) that this was a debate. If it is a debate, let him debate with us.
It is a short debate, principally on the MMC, not on aviation in general. I am here to reply on the competition aspects of the commission's report for which my Department is responsible.
On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I hesitate to interrupt the Minister, but he keeps repeating that he is dealing with competition. The repository of competition in relation to aviation is the CAA. If the Minister cannot answer for the CAA, can a Minister responsible for transport come here to do that?
Order. I do not know what the Minister has in mind, but the truth is that the debate is on the motion that the debate be now adjourned.
You rightly correct me, Mr. Speaker.I should like to deal with the broad competition aspects that were raised. Because of the public interest finding by the commission, my right hon. and noble Friend had no power to do anything other than publish the report. That was done at 9 o'clock this morning.
On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Is it correct that the Minister should not answer the specific points made by Scottish Members about the airlines flying from Edinburgh and Glasgow to London, and back? Surely the Minister can deal with that. You always remind me, Mr. Speaker, that this is a United Kingdom Parliament. If it is, surely Scottish Members are entitled to an answer. We do not accept an English Minister dealing with the report solely as English business. I am interested in jobs in Glasgow and Edinburgh. I am not too worried about jobs in Gatwick.
The Minister must have an opportunity to reply in his own way. It is not for me to dictate to him.
If the hon. Gentleman wants me to reply to his specific point, I shall try to do so. He was concerned that competition on the Glasgow routes had resulted only in airlines offering breakfast where they had not done so before, and that it had had no significant effect on fares. He is wrong—it has had a significant effect on fares and the fares structure. There have been several other benefits in an improvement in the quality of service. If he does not want breakfast on the aeroplane, no one shall make him have it.Some of the hon. Gentleman's colleagues made the reverse point. I was asked to give a binding guarantee that the service on that route would not be impaired in any way. I shall have to sort it out. I have no doubt that competition will continue to operate for the benefit of the consumer as it has — spectacularly — on that route. If anyone has any doubt about the beneficial effect of competition on airline routes, they need only consider the route across the Atlantic, for which fares have been dramatically reduced. I have no doubt that increased competition on domestic and European routes resulting from the proposals which the MMC has found not to be against the public interest will continue to be beneficial to the consumers.
I pressed for an answer and would be interested to know who would take the decision if one airline applied for all the routes that are being shed. What would the Government's reaction be, and who would decide if such a bid were acceptable?
It has been made clear on many occasions that it is the CAA which decides who gets licences on any routes, whether they are returned by British Airways as in this case, or arise for the first time. The CAA makes the allocations. There is a right of appeal to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport, but the CAA makes allocations on the basis it thinks proper. The CAA regards the merits of competition very highly and will have that very much in mind. My right hon. and noble Friend had no power to do other than publish the report. We have done that, and the report has broadly been welcomed.The hon. Member for Cardiff, West (Mr. Morgan) mentioned the form in which the proposals were made. We have made it absolutely clear to British Airways that we expect the proposals to be implemented within the time scale which has been set out. We have the power to make a full monopoly reference in future. Nothing I say can bind the Secretary of State's discretion in future, but we regard competition as crucial. My right hon. and noble Friend would not hesitate to use those powers in an appropriate case. This has been a helpful debate. I am sorry that we could not have a full debate on the aviation aspect, but we have aired the issues. If there are any detailed points that I have not been able to deal with, my hon. Friend the Minister with responsibility for aviation and shipping will write to hon. Members. I advise my hon. Friends to join me in voting against the motion.
The House divided: Ayes 160, Noes 266.
Division No. 65]
|Allen, Graham||Buckley, George|
|Anderson, Donald||Callaghan, Jim|
|Archer, Rt Hon Peter||Campbell, Ron (Blyth Valley)|
|Ashton, Joe||Clark, Dr David (S Shields)|
|Barnes, Harry (Derbyshire NE)||Clarke, Tom (Monklands W)|
|Beckett, Margaret||Clay, Bob|
|Bell, Stuart||Clelland, David|
|Benn, Rt Hon Tony||Cook, Frank (Stockton N)|
|Bermingham, Gerald||Cook, Robin (Livingston)|
|Bidwell, Sydney||Corbett, Robin|
|Blair, Tony||Corbyn, Jeremy|
|Brown, Gordon (D'mline E)||Cousins, Jim|
|Buchan, Norman||Cox, Tom|
|Cryer, Bob||McKelvey, William|
|Cummings, J.||McLeish, Henry|
|Cunliffe, Lawrence||McTaggart, Bob|
|Cunningham, Dr John||Madden, Max|
|Darling, Alastair||Mahon, Mrs Alice|
|Davies, Rt Hon Denzil (Llanelli)||Marek, Dr John|
|Davies, Ron (Caerphilly)||Marshall. David (Shettleston)|
|Davis, Terry (B'ham Hodge H'l)||Marshall, Jim (Leicester S)|
|Dewar, Donald||Martin, Michael (Springburn)|
|Dixon, Don||Maxton, John|
|Dobson, Frank||Meacher, Michael|
|Doran, Frank||Meale, Alan|
|Douglas, Dick||Michael, Alun|
|Duffy, A. E. P.||Michie, Bill (Sheffield Heeley)|
|Dunnachie, James||Millan, Rt Hon Bruce|
|Dunwoody, Hon Mrs Gwyneth||Moonie, Dr Lewis|
|Eastham, Ken||Morgan, Rhodri|
|Evans, John (St Helens N)||Morley, Elliott|
|Ewing, Harry (Falkirk E)||Mowlam, Mrs Marjorie|
|Ewing, Mrs Margaret (Moray)||Nellist, Dave|
|Fatchett, Derek||Oakes, Rt Hon Gordon|
|Fields, Terry (L'pool B G'n)||O'Brien, William|
|Fisher, Mark||O'Neill, Martin|
|Flannery, Martin||Orme, Rt Hon Stanley|
|Flynn, Paul||Patchett, Terry|
|Foot, Rt Hon Michael||Pike, Peter|
|Foster, Derek||Prescott, John|
|Foulkes, George||Primarolo, Ms Dawn|
|Fraser, John||Quin, Ms Joyce|
|Fyfe, Mrs Maria||Reid, John|
|Galbraith, Samuel||Richardson, Ms Jo|
|Galloway, George||Robertson, George|
|Godman, Dr Norman A.||Robinson, Geoffrey|
|Gordon, Ms Mildred||Rogers, Allan|
|Gould, Bryan||Rooker, Jeff|
|Graham, Thomas||Ross, Ernie (Dundee W)|
|Griffiths, Nigel (Edinburgh S)||Rowlands, Ted|
|Griffiths, Win (Bridgend)||Ruddock, Ms Joan|
|Grocott, Bruce||Salmond, Alex|
|Hardy, Peter||Sheerman, Barry|
|Harman, Ms Harriet||Sheldon, Rt Hon Robert|
|Hattersley, Rt Hon Roy||Skinner, Dennis|
|Heffer, Eric S.||Smith, C. (Isl'ton & F'bury)|
|Henderson, Douglas||Smith, Rt Hon J. (Monk'ds E)|
|Hogg, N. (C'nauld & Kilsyth)||Snape, Peter|
|Home Robertson, John||Stott, Roger|
|Hood, James||Taylor, Mrs Ann (Dewsbury)|
|Howarth, George (Knowsley N)||Taylor, Rt Hon J. D. (S'ford)|
|Hoyle, Doug||Thomas, Dafydd Elis|
|Hughes, Robert (Aberdeen N)||Thompson, Jack (Wansbeck)|
|Hughes, Roy (Newport E)||Turner, Dennis|
|Illsley, Eric||Vaz, Keith|
|Ingram, Adam||Wall, Pat|
|Jones, leuan (Ynys Môn)||Walley, Ms Joan|
|Jones, Martyn (Clwyd S W)||Warden, Gareth (Gower)|
|Kaufman, Rt Hon Gerald||Wareing, Robert N.|
|Kinnock, Rt Hon Neil||Welsh, Andrew (Angus E)|
|Lambie, David||Williams, Rt Hon A. J.|
|Lamond, James||Williams, Alan W. (Carm'then)|
|Leighton, Ron||Wilson, Brian|
|Lestor, Miss Joan (Eccles)||Winnick, David|
|Lewis, Terry||Wise, Mrs Audrey|
|Livingstone, Ken||Worthington, Anthony|
|Lloyd, Tony (Stretford)||Wray, James|
|Lofthouse, Geoffrey||Young, David (Bolton SE)|
Tellers for the Ayes:
Mrs. Llin Golding and Mr. Ray Powell.
|McKay, Allen (Penistone)|
|Adley, Robert||Ashby, David|
|Alexander, Richard||Ashdown, Paddy|
|Alison, Rt Hon Michael||Aspinwall, Jack|
|Allason, Rupert||Atkins, Robert|
|Alton, David||Baker, Rt Hon K. (Mole Valley)|
|Amos, Alan||Baker, Nicholas (Dorset N)|
|Arbuthnot, James||Barnes, Mrs Rosie (Greenwich)|
|Arnold, Jacques (Gravesham)||Batiste, Spencer|
|Arnold, Tom (Hazel Grove)||Beaumont-Dark, Anthony|
|Beith, A. J.||Gorman, Mrs Teresa|
|Bellingham, Henry||Gorst, John|
|Bennett, Nicholas (Pembroke)||Gower, Sir Raymond|
|Benyon, W.||Grant, Sir Anthony (CambsSW)|
|Bevan, David Gilroy||Greenway, Harry (Ealing N)|
|Blackburn, Dr John G.||Greenway, John (Rydale)|
|Boswell, Tim||Gregory, Conal|
|Bottomley, Peter||Griffiths, Sir Eldon (Bury St E')|
|Bowden, Gerald (Dulwich)||Griffiths, Peter (Portsmouth N)|
|Braine, Rt Hon Sir Bernard||Grist, Ian|
|Brandon-Bravo, Martin||Gummer, Rt Hon John Selwyn|
|Brazier, Julian||Hamilton, Hon A. (Epsom)|
|Bright, Graham||Hampson, Dr Keith|
|Brittan, Rt Hon Leon||Hannam, John|
|Brown, Michael (Brigg & Cl't's)||Harris, David|
|Browne, John (Winchester)||Hawkins, Christopher|
|Bruce, Ian (Dorset South)||Hayes, Jerry|
|Bruce, Malcolm (Gordon)||Hayward, Robert|
|Buchanan-Smith, Rt Hon Alick||Heathcoat-Amory, David|
|Buck, Sir Antony||Heddle, John|
|Burt, Alistair||Hicks, Mrs Maureen (Wolv' NE)|
|Butcher, John||Holt, Richard|
|Butler, Chris||Howard, Michael|
|Butterfill, John||Howarth, G. (Cannock & B'wd)|
|Carlile, Alex (Mont'g)||Howell, Ralph (North Norfolk)|
|Carlisle, John, (Luton N)||Hughes, Robert G. (Harrow W)|
|Carlisle, Kenneth (Lincoln)||Hunt, David (Wirral W)|
|Carrington, Matthew||Hunt, John (Ravensbourne)|
|Cartwright, John||Hurd, Rt Hon Douglas|
|Chalker, Rt Hon Mrs Lynda||Irvine, Michael|
|Channon, Rt Hon Paul||Janman, Timothy|
|Chapman, Sydney||Jessel, Toby|
|Chope, Christopher||Johnson Smith, Sir Geoffrey|
|Churchill, Mr||Jones, Robert B (Herts W)|
|Clark, Dr Michael (Rochford)||Key, Robert|
|Clark, Sir W. (Croydon S)||King, Roger (B'ham N'thfield)|
|Clarke, Rt Hon K. (Rushcliffe)||Kirkhope, Timothy|
|Colvin, Michael||Kirkwood, Archy|
|Coombs, Anthony (Wyre F'rest)||Knapman, Roger|
|Coombs, Simon (Swindon)||Knight, Greg (Derby North)|
|Cope, John||Knight, Dame Jill (Edgbaston)|
|Couchman, James||Knowles, Michael|
|Cran, James||Knox, David|
|Currie, Mrs Edwina||Lamont, Rt Hon Norman|
|Curry, David||Lang, Ian|
|Davies, Q. (Stamf'd & Spald'g)||Latham, Michael|
|Davis, David (Boothlerry)||Lee, John (Pendle)|
|Day, Stephen||Leigh, Edward (Gainsbor'gh)|
|Devlin, Tim||Lennox-Boyd, Hon Mark|
|Dickens, Geoffrey||Lester, Jim (Broxtowe)|
|Dicks, Terry||Lightbown, David|
|Dorrell, Stephen||Lilley, Peter|
|Douglas-Hamilton, Lord James||Livsey, Richard|
|Dunn, Bob||Lloyd, Peter (Fareham)|
|Durant, Tony||Lord, Michael|
|Eggar, Tim||Lyell, Sir Nicholas|
|Emery, Sir Peter||McCrindle, Robert|
|Fallon, Michael||Macfarlane, Neil|
|Farr, Sir John||MacGregor, John|
|Favell, Tony||MacKay, Andrew (E Berkshire)|
|Fearn, Ronald||Maclean, David|
|Fenner, Dame Peggy||McLoughlin, Patrick|
|Field, Barry (Isle of Wight)||McNair-Wilson, M. (Newbury)|
|Finsberg, Sir Geoffrey||Malins, Humfrey|
|Forman, Nigel||Mans, Keith|
|Forsyth, Michael (Stirling)||Marland, Paul|
|Forth, Eric||Marshall, John (Hendon S)|
|Fox, Sir Marcus||Marshall, Michael (Arundel)|
|Franks, Cecil||Martin, David (Portsmouth S)|
|Freeman, Roger||Maude, Hon Francis|
|French, Douglas||Mayhew, Rt Hon Sir Patrick|
|Gale, Roger||Mellor, David|
|Gardiner, George||Mills, lain|
|Garel-Jones, Tristan||Miscampbell, Norman|
|Gill, Christopher||Mitchell, Andrew (Gedling)|
|Gilmour, Rt Hon Sir Ian||Moate, Roger|
|Glyn, Dr Alan||Monro, Sir Hector|
|Goodhart, Sir Philip||Montgomery, Sir Fergus|
|Goodlad, Alastair||Moore, Rt Hon John|
|Goodson-Wickes, Dr Charles||Morrison, Hon C. (Devizes)|
|Morrison, Hon P (Chester)||Steel, Rt Hon David|
|Moss, Malcolm||Stern, Michael|
|Mudd, David||Stevens, Lewis|
|Neale, Gerrard||Stewart, Allan (Eastwood)|
|Needham, Richard||Stewart, Andrew (Sherwood)|
|Neubert, Michael||Stewart, Ian (Hertfordshire N)|
|Newton, Tony||Sumberg, David|
|Nicholson, David (Taunton)||Summerson, Hugo|
|Nicholson, Miss E. (Devon W)||Taylor, Ian (Esher)|
|Onslow, Cranley||Taylor, John M (Solihull)|
|Oppenheim, Phillip||Taylor, Matthew (Truro)|
|Page, Richard||Taylor, Teddy (S'end E)|
|Paice, James||Tebbit, Rt Hon Norman|
|Patnick, Irvine||Thompson, D. (Calder Valley)|
|Pawsey, James||Thompson, Patrick (Norwich N)|
|Porter, David (Waveney)||Thorne, Neil|
|Portillo, Michael||Thornton, Malcolm|
|Price, Sir David||Thurnham, Peter|
|Raison, Rt Hon Timothy||Townend, John (Bridlington)|
|Rhodes James, Robert||Townsend, Cyril D. (B'heath)|
|Riddick, Graham||Tracey, Richard|
|Ridley, Rt Hon Nicholas||Twinn, Dr Ian|
|Ridsdale, Sir Julian||Viggers, Peter|
|Rifkind, Rt Hon Malcolm||Waddington, Rt Hon David|
|Roberts, Wyn (Conwy)||Wakeham, Rt Hon John|
|Rossi, Sir Hugh||Walker, Bill (T'side North)|
|Rost, Peter||Wallace, James|
|Rumbold, Mrs Angela||Ward, John|
|Sayeed, Jonathan||Watts, John|
|Scott, Nicholas||Wells, Bowen|
|Shaw, David (Dover)||Wheeler, John|
|Shaw, Sir Giles (Pudsey)||Whitney, Ray|
|Shaw, Sir Michael (Scarb')||Widdecombe, Miss Ann|
|Shelton, William (Streatham)||Wiggin, Jerry|
|Shephard, Mrs G. (Norfolk SW)||Wilshire, David|
|Shepherd, Colin (Hereford)||Winterton, Mrs Ann|
|Shersby, Michael||Winterton, Nicholas|
|Sims, Roger||Wood, Timothy|
|Skeet, Sir Trevor||Woodcock, Mike|
|Smith, Sir Dudley (Warwick)||Yeo, Tim|
|Soames, Hon Nicholas||Young, Sir George (Acton)|
|Speller, Tony||Tellers for the Noes:|
|Spicer, Michael (S Worcs)|
Mr. Richard Ryder and Mr. Alan Howarth.
|Stanley, Rt Hon John|
Question accordingly negatived.
We now resume the debate on amendment No. 33.
On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. You will recall that during the small hours several of us had to draw your attention to the fact that several Conservative Members were in what appeared to be a comatose state. Some of my hon. Friends were so unkind as to suggest that perhaps they had been drinking. I rapidly disabused them of that idea because it would be improper for anyone to suggest that hon. Members came into the Chamber under the influence of alcohol.That particular point has some substance on this occasion because, as you will recall, the issue of the champagne party that never was has run throughout the debate. During a Division when I was walking into the Aye Lobby I had to walk through the Conservative Benches. At the back I found a paper cup. Not only was there one paper cup, but there was a pile of them. I have a fairly acute nose and, while I do not have the ability to differentiate one wine from another, I certainly can smell and recognise alcohol. I can assure you that in the very spot where last night there were several comatose Conservative Members there is a pile of paper cups which smell of alcohol. I am not by nature a suspicious man, but I am inclined to put two and two together in this case. It dawns slowly on me that some Conservative Members who last night were obviously in a comatose state had been drinking. Can you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, give some guidance to the House, first, whether it is in order for hon. Members to bring in paper cups and, secondly, if it is in order, whether you can suggest that they restrict their bedtime drinks to cocoa rather than alcohol?
Further to that point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. This is a related matter and perhaps you can deal with both points at the same time. I heard some complaints from Conservative Members that last night when the party was going on Tory Members who went to the beanfeast first got more than their fair whack of drink and food at the expense of P and O and that those who went last had to satisfy themselves with the leftovers.
Order. I can deal with these points. We have been round this course many times before. These are not matters for me. I am sure that the whole House will agree that if we continue having points of order like this, we shall all be comatose. I call Sir Eldon Griffiths.
Before the events of the past two hours——
On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I shall speak to amendments Nos. 34 and 35 which are linked with amendment No. 33. Would it be better for the hon. Gentleman to answer questions on all three amendments together or would he prefer to deal with amendment No. 33 and then the others?
As we have had an intervening debate, perhaps I should have made it clear to the House that we are discussing amendment No. 33, which is being discussed together with amendments Nos. 34 and 35.
I am sure that it is right that I should speak briefly to these amendments because they are all related to each other. The first would reduce the length of time during which the port authority would be required to complete all the works that are authorised by the Bill from 10 years to five years.I have discussed the matter in some detail with the promoters of the Bill, contractors, and those who are skilled in the construction of large-scale works of this type. Their unanimous view is that a lead time of only five years is insufficient to enable the totality of the job to be done right. Of course, as the House would expect, there has been a good deal of pre-planning and preparation. But when one considers the long lead times that are involved in projects of such a large scale and the requirements that the House has rightly placed upon the promoters to have regard to environmental matters—that is, to wildlife and so on — the proposition that the matter could be planned, constructed and opened to meet all the requirements of the port and the legislation within a five-year period, with respect to the movers, is unreasonable. Therefore, the 10-year period should remain in the Bill. Amendment No. 34 would delete the words that enable the Secretary of State, in his judgment, to extend that period of time. That is a fairly normal provision in such legislation. Of course, there can be many changes in the total economic and financial circumstances of the company and the country. Only recently, we saw some of the vagaries of the financial system. We have all gone through periods when, for one reason or another, there have been balance of payments crises when the country has been more prosperous or less prosperous. In such circumstances, it is right that the Secretary of State, having regard to the totality of ports policy and the country's general economic situation, should not be denied the option, if he judged it right — of course, being accountable to the House — to give some extension beyond that time if it seems appropriate. Amendment No. 35 deals with what I call planning arrangements. It has properly been said that the Bill provides the authority with some planning powers that arise from the legislation. Clause 14(b), which amendment No. 35 would affect, was the result of an agreement reached between the dock company and the Suffolk county council when our colleagues were examining the Bill in great detail. Of course, the Suffolk county council is the planning authority. It originally objected to the scheme and was not prepared to withdraw its objections, and, indeed, its potential petition against the Bill, unless it was satisfied, across a whole range of planning matters, that the county planning committee and the county planners quite properly wanted to have settled. Therefore, the arrangement is that the clause as it stands will prevent the dock company from erecting any sort of structure, including stacks of cargo, above a height of 17 m, which I assume to be a good deal short of the height of the Chamber. The company is not permitted to-erect such a structure without going through the normal planning procedures with the local authority. However, for what the House will recognise to be quite obvious reasons, there are some items that any port must have, such as gantries, cranes, jibs, lighting towers and booms, which, by definition, cannot fall within such limits. The Bill provides that those items would be installed by the port without the specific planning consent that is required for other items. 6 pm As I was aware of the concern of many right hon. and hon. Members about the impact of bright lights shining from some height in a rural area, I discussed with the promoters the possibilities of ensuring that any lights that are positioned at a considerable height above the ground are shaded and pointed downwards to help dockers in the course of loading and unloading cargo. I was aware of the concern that such lights should not shine outwards across the estuary or the countryside. I am advised that it is possible to provide shading of a sort that will reduce the environmental impact. It is not possible, of course, to eliminate that impact. If we are trying to build a modern port that is able to compete with ports in the rest of the world, it is necessary that the port authority should be able to use the implements of its business. The full planning requirements apply to any structure over 40ft above the ground save for specific items that cannot, in modern times, be kept below that height. I hope that the House will not press the amendments to a Division. If they were accepted, they would abort the ability of the company to create a modern port to compete with the entire world.
The hon. Member for Bury St. Edmunds (Sir E. Griffiths) has put his finger on the issues that are causing us concern. First, I accept what he has said about 10 years and five years. It would be a massive construction to complete within five years. Discussion on amendment No. 33 has made it clear that the port authority decided to bypass the local authority because it knew that the local authority would not grant it planning permission. Instead, it decided to use the parliamentary system, which means that a local, democratically elected authority need not be involved in the granting of planning permission. I hope that the House will address itself to the implications of the parliamentary system in due course. A local authority that is elected through the ballot box by the public can be placed in a position in which it is unable to express the public's opinion. That is why amendments Nos. 33, 34 and 35 should be accepted by the House.
My hon. Friend has expressed the dissatisfaction that is felt by many with the parliamentary system, as he has described it. He knows as a former member of a local authority that an application that is refused by a local planning authority can be sent ultimately to the Secretary of State for determination. Does he accept that the parliamentary system has no realistic role if it enables local authorities to be bypassed?
My hon. Friend is right. Bills of the sort that we are discussing make Parliament the planning authority. In this instance the issue has come directly to the Secretary of State, and he will make a decision. This means that the Secretary of State is involved politically from the beginning in a planning application. Surely that is not right.Part of clause 14(1)(a) reads:
Again, the Secretary of State is involved politically. If money is available to use the parliamentary system it will be used, but that does not make the system right. Indeed, it makes it wrong. It will be possible for the Secretary of State to be approached and for an application to be made to extend the 10-year provision. There will be no need to make submissions to the local authority. There is not even provision for consultation. It is not necessary to obtain the local authority's views, which are the people's views. The matter can be determined between the Secretary of State and the board. History is littered with those who have determined planning applications and run foul of the law. I am not saying that that will happen in this instance, but it is clear that it could when we have regard to what has happened in the past. That should be noted carefully at a time when we are involving the House as a planning authority and the Secretary of State is using his political powers, the local authority being unable to use the powers that rightly belong to it. In speaking to am"or at the end of such extended period as the Secretary of State may, on the application of the Company, allow".