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Felixstowe Dock And Railway Bill (By Order)

Volume 122: debated on Tuesday 10 November 1987

The text on this page has been created from Hansard archive content, it may contain typographical errors.

Order read for resuming adjourned debate on amendment—[23 July]—in page 2, to leave out lines 15 to 18.

Question again proposed, That the amendment be made.

8.15 pm

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Within your hearing, Mr. Speaker said that he would not respond to my point of order since it was a matter for the Chairman of Ways and Means and he would leave you to deal with it. In case you were out of earshot, my point, which bears repeating, was that if it became known that a company or individual had offered money directly to a Member in order to persuade him, or to buy his vote, I am sure that that would be a breach of privilege which would be reported to the Privileges Committee. A Member who fell into such temptation would be seriously dealt with.

Since the purpose of the party — which has been called off from wherever it was due to be held outside the House, and in some senses this is worse, is now to be held inside the House — is to ensure that Members are in their place to vote for a Bill, that must be perilously close to being a breach of privilege. I urge you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, if it is within your power, to postpone tonight's business until the matter is properly disposed of.

Let me draw an analogy with what happens in local government. I know that Conservative Members are particularly strong on this point because they believe that the purposes of local government are being subverted by treats, the lavish spending of money, and so on. I can assure you, with my long experience, that if anything like this happened in local government, not only would I be severely chastised but I would land up going to prison for voting on issues in respect of which I had been given money from a private source and on which I had not declared an interest.

This is a matter of great seriousness and I raise it in no sense of levity. I ask you seriously, Mr. Deputy Speaker, to postpone tonight's business until the matter is cleared up, either by direct reference to the Privileges Committee or by you making your own inquiries.

I think that I can help the House by dealing with the additional point that the hon. Gentleman has raised. I clearly have nothing to add to what Mr. Speaker said a few moments ago, in the hearing of the House and of me, that functions that take place outside are not the concern of the Chair. The Chair has no power over those. The hon. Gentleman has now raised the additional point of whether a matter of privilege is involved. The hon. Gentleman and the House know that if they feel that a matter of privilege is involved, they should follow the procedure that is clearly laid down—to write to Mr. Speaker.

Further to that point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I may be able to shed some more light on the subject. My hon. Friend the Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) will be as shocked as I was to hear that over the weekend I received an invitation to the shindig that we are discussing. It would be worthwhile to read that invitation to the House. It is in the name of 11 hon. Members, so it is definitely a matter for the Chair at the very least.

The invitation says:
"Last-minute reminder. Felixstowe Bill. Tomorrow night (Tuesday) this Bill will be carried—or die. Votes will take place from 7 pm onwards. Batting order. It is hoped that one closure motion (and vote) will be accepted by the Chair at approximately 8 pm"—
that is a discourtesy to the Chair at the very least. The invitation goes on:
"A second closure, with further votes, will be sought at approximately 9.30 pm"—
to be perfectly fair, "sought" is underlined—
"but this cannot be guaranteed. At 10 pm we need to carry a vote to suspend the rule. Thereafter votes on up to six more possible closures, each requiring the presence of not less than 100 Members may be expected until a late hour."
Now comes the part to which I and my hon. Friends object the most. This is what my hon. Friend the Member for Bolsover would call the bribery bit. It says:
"Refreshments. From 10.30 pm you are most cordially invited to a late-night champagne supper party at the St. James's Court Hotel. Wives are most welcome too. There will be film shows from midnight onwards. Buses will be available to ferry Members to and from St. James's to the House. A further hospitality suite will be available in the Jubilee Room, off Westminster Hall, for colleagues who might prefer to wait there between some of the divisions. Your support in the lobbies until this Bill has been secured is most earnestly requested—and appreciated. Thank you."
That invitation bears the names of 11 Members. I shall not mention them on the Floor of the House, but I shall give you the document, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I do not want to be discourteous as they were, and I did not have time to tell them that I would be raising this matter in the House tonight. Opposition Members have standards and in these queries to you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, we are trying to uphold the honour of the House. The matters that we have raised should be investigated by you and a ruling given.

Order. I shall listen to those hon. Members who have been rising, but I want to remind the House that we have a lot of business ahead of us. Mr. Speaker has given a clear ruling in one regard and I have given, I hope, a clear ruling with regard to the procedure for an alleged breach of privilege. There really is nothing more that the Chair can add, but I shall listen to the two hon. Members who are rising and then I hope that we can get on with the debate.

Further to that point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I hope, first of all, that you can confirm that the unofficial Whip has not been issued with any collusion with the Chair and that there is no suggestion that closures will be agreed at the times suggested by that unofficial Whip. Secondly, I want to raise questions about the hospitality.

Mr. Speaker suggested that what happened with regard to the wining and dining of hon. Members to encourage them to vote in a particular way was none of his concern. I realise that Mr. Speaker has no responsibility over those functions. However, he must uphold the dignity of the House. I suggest that the activities of P and O have brought the House into disrepute. I am delighted that P and O has cancelled the party across the road. There seems to be some doubt whether the hospitality will continue in the Jubilee Room. However, I received in the post today a letter from Hampshire county council which is promoting another private Bill. In that letter, the council invites hon. Members to participate in refreshments in the not-too-distant future.

It seems that there is a tendency for those promoting private Bills to adopt a new style. I am well aware that in the 18th and 19th centuries, when Canal Bills and Railway Bills were passing through the House, there was all manner of bribery and corruption. However, that seemed to have disappeared with regard to private Bills.

You will be aware, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that with another place we have set up a Joint Committee to look into private Bill procedures. I should have thought that it would be appropriate for that Committee to consider the whole question of wining and dining hon. Members in connection with the private Bill procedure and then make recommendations. That might make it illegal for P and O to behave in this fashion and it might provide some guidance for bodies such as Hampshire county council about appropriate behaviour for wining and dining hon. Members when those bodies are attempting to promote private Bills.

I am sure that you are aware, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that in a sense this is a judicial process. If groups outside the House are to have any respect for private Bills and the right to petition against them, there should be some fairness in the way in which groups with plenty of money try to influence hon. Members in comparison with other groups such as the Ramblers Association and the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds which have different points of view and are clearly not in a position to entertain or provide refreshments for hon. Members to encourage their interest in the Bill.

I want first to deal with the two new points raised by the hon. Gentleman. First, he asked about closures. I assure him and the House that no pressure has been brought to bear on the Chair with regard to closures. Were any hon. Member to be so unwise as to attempt that, it would be wholly counter-productive.

With regard to the private Bill procedures, as the hon. Gentleman has said, a Joint Committee is considering such procedures and I advise him to put his comments to it and ask it to consider them.

Further to that point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I raised a point on 26 July, when you happened to be in the Chair, about a resolution passed in 1975 by the House, to the effect that an entry in the Register of Members' Interests would be sufficient to enable an hon. Member to be acquitted of the charge of not declaring a financial interest when voting.

The point that you made during the consideration of the Local Government Bill on that day was that that Bill was a public measure. Tonight, I want to refer to a private Bill—the Lloyd's Bill. I want to draw your attention to the fact that no register has been published yet. Indeed, a number of hon. Members were going to take part in the vote on the Lloyd's Bill, introduced in 1981, until the question of their membership of Lloyds was raised on the Floor of the House, very much as we are raising points of order today.

Mr. Speaker considered the matter and issued a suggestion. It was no more than a suggestion, but if it had been ignored I suggest that there would have been very serious consequences. He suggested that it would be prudent for members of Lloyd's not to take part in the vote. First, I urge you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, to reiterate the suggestion that anyone with a financial involvement in the Felixstowe Dock and Railway Company should not take part in the vote.

Secondly, in 1976–77, the House was wracked with revelations of scandal and corruption. As a result, the Salmon Commission reported on the standards of conduct in public life in 1977. It cost £250,000 and, to the eternal shame of the House, it has never been debated. Lord Salmon recommended that legislation to make it an offence to bribe an hon. Member should be introduced. It is not an offence at present. As it is not an offence and as a consequence of our experience in this House, it behoves the House to ensure that standards of conduct in public life are of the highest. Recommendations were made for local authorities and the authorities introduced the register of business interests and there are stringent declarations of interest before debates. Indeed, councillors are debarred from taking part in the vote if they have the slightest financial interest in the matter—for example, if they live in a council house.

My suggestion tonight is that the hospitality which would not be allowed in local authorities must be questioned. There is no doubt that if such hospitality happened in a town hall where measures were being discussed, no councillor participating in the hospitality would be allowed to vote. We cannot have double standards. I hope, therefore, that you will give your attention to those serious problems, Mr. Deputy Speaker.

These problems have arisen before. For example, International News Service ran riot in this place during the passage of the Aircraft and Shipbuilding Industries Act 1977. I raised points of order on the Floor of the House then, Mr. Speaker took them seriously and remedial measures were taken.

I believe that that behaviour is being repeated. I know that you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, want to see the standard of conduct in the House maintained at the highest level as an example to local authorities and other institutions. A grave warning should be issued to the people who have organised the hospitality and to those who take part in it, that it will avail them nothing. I trust that there will be a challenge to those who participate in the voting if they receive hospitality. It behoves us all, as Members of the House, whose traditions we want to maintain in some respects, to ensure that the standards of conduct are of the highest. I ask you, Sir, to issue those warnings at the earliest possible moment.

Further to that point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker.

It is on a related matter.

Since I raised my original point of order, my hon. Friend the Member for Worsley (Mr. Lewis) has raised the matter of his letter. I want to submit that that letter, in so far as it relates to hospitality, but does not quantify it, begs the question of the value of the hospitality that is granted. If the value of the hospitality was more than a sum which has not been designated, it might be construed as a pecuniary interest and be a subject of that part of "Erskine May", on page 413, relating to personal interests in votes on private Bills.

We have not quantified the measure of the pecuniary interest which derives from the availability of hospitality this evening. Perhaps one person would drink one bottle of lemonade and his pecuniary interest might be the princely sum of 20p. But it does not say that. The request to attend refers to bottles of champagne.

Champagne is an expensive drink. This is not a flippant point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. If an hon. Member attended an engagement, having been invited so that he might influence the passage of a Bill, and there received — indeed, drank — four bottles of Champagne worth perhaps £30 or £40 a bottle, that hon. Member would have a pecuniary interest of £120 or £130. He might well acquire that pecuniary interest prior to the passage of the Bill.

"Erskine May" is very clear about this. On page 413, we read:
"The votes of Members, who were subscribers to undertakings proposed to be sanctioned by a private bill, or who were otherwise interested in a private bill, have frequently been disallowed."
I wish to refer to specific examples when what was deemed a pecuniary interest was deemed sufficient to warrant the disallowance of a vote.

"Erskine May" tells us:
"In 1800 the votes of three Members were disallowed, as having a direct interest in a bill for incorporating a company for the manufacture of flour, wheat and bread. On 20 May 1825 notice was taken that a Member, who had voted with the ayes on the report of the Leith Docks Bill, had a direct pecuniary interest in passing the bill: he was heard in his place and stated that on that account he had not voted in the committee on the bill, and that he had voted, in this instance, through inadvertence."
That is not an excuse that hon. Members may wish to use tonight. We know that they have been invited by, and are being attracted by, pecuniary advantage in the form of expensive hospitality. It would therefore not be with any sense of inadvertence that they would leave the Jubilee Room or the tavern in St. James's, or wherever it is, and come here with the specific intention of casting a vote in the Division. The excuse of inadvertence, as produced on the occasion of the Leith Docks Bill, is thus not relevant.

"Erskine May" continues:
"His vote was ordered to be disallowed."
That was despite the Member's defence that his action had been inadvertent.
"Motions to disallow the votes of shareholders in the: company which was promoting the bill on which the division was taken have been negatived."
"Erskine May" tells us of another occasion:
"On the second reading of the Birmingham and Gloucester Railway Bill, 15 May 1845, objection was taken to one of the: tellers for the noes, as being a landholder whose property would be injured by the proposed line".
Some Conservative Members might distinguish between a pecuniary interest that derives from an unquantified value placed on hospitality, and one relating to a landowner whose property might be injured. But Parliament has not ruled on that. I put it to you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that tonight's debate provides you with an opportunity to rule.

My first request is that Parliament be suspended pending a ruling on whether this matter can be dealt with tonight, so that we know whether those who receive hospitality during the course of our proceedings before they attempt to vote should be refused the right to do so.

According to "Erskine May",
"on the second reading of the London and North Western Railway Bill, 14 April 1896, objection was taken to the vote of a Member on the ground that he was a director of the company. In both cases the motion for disallowing the vote was withdrawn."
It is interesting to note that those matters were dealt with at the time.

I want to know why tonight there has been no ruling either from your very good self, Mr. Deputy Speaker, or from Mr. Speaker. Each of the instances that I have produced is a variation on the theme of the form that a pecuniary interest can take at the time when a hon. Member may seek to vote in the Division Lobbies.

On 15 July 1872——

Order. I have got the hon. Gentleman's point without his giving any more examples. The procedure on this matter is very long established. I recollect successive Speakers giving rulings on it. I have not the precise words, but the point is direct pecuniary interest, which applies not in the debate but in the eventual vote. The ruling given on the Lloyd's Bill was that if any hon. Member felt that he had a direct pecuniary interest, of which he would be the judge, he must decide whether he was in a position to vote. That is the position, and, as far as I can judge from what the hon. Gentleman has said, exactly the same procedure applies to this Bill. However, the question is hypothetical at present, because we have not reached a vote—and, if we go on like this, it will be some time before we do so.

Further to the point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I accept that hon. Members must make a decision on the matter. The point is that, when we debated these matters on a previous occasion, hon. Members looked to "Erskine May" for guidance, and on pages 413 and 414 they found such guidance, in the examples that I have given tonight.

I put it to you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that this is a new form of unquantified pecuniary interest. There is no precedent in "Erskine May" for us to take as a basis on which hon. Members can decide to vote tonight. It is brand new. It is a novelty. It is a phenomenon.

I have never known of a letter such as the one from which my right hon. Friend the Member for Worsley quoted being produced during proceedings on a Bill—and, I suggest, Mr. Deputy Speaker, neither have you. There is no record in the 1,200 pages of "Erskine May" of any such letter ever being sent to any Member of Parliament. I put it to you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that we should examine precedents. Perhaps, having heard more of them, you will seek to make a statement and advise the House.

On 15 July 1872——

Order. We must not have more cases rehearsed. There is nothing that I can add. The matter is entirely clear. I see nothing unprecedented in what the hon. Gentleman alleges. Certainly, when I was a Back Bencher, I received letters from all and sundry every day of the week. We are all hon. Members of the House, and it is up to each hon. Member to decide whether in the circumstances he is in a position to exercise a vote. The main definition that any hon. Member would consider is whether he has a direct pecuniary interest.

Further to the point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. You are not taking on board my argument. You are making a general reply to a complicated case. I am saying that "Erskine May" contains a series of precedents which require a ruling from the Chair on what constitutes a pecuniary interest. I have given only five; there are at least another four or five.

Order. We are now engaged in a circular argument. I have made it clear to the hon. Gentleman and the House that it is for each individual hon. Member to make a judgment, and I am sure that every hon. Member will do that when, in the fullness of time, we come to a vote—if we do.

Further to the point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. There are wider ramifications to my hon. Friend's point. We are accustomed to the fact that various businesses make substantial contributions to Conservative party funds.[Interruption.] And trade unions contribute to the Labour party. They do so in the general belief, from different directions, that those parties help to sustain their point of view.

We are faced with a peculiar pecuniary problem. Before it was taken over by P and O, the Felixstowe Dock and Railway Company made extraordinarily large contributions, for a company of its size, to Tory party funds. Since it was taken over by P and O, P and O has made substantial contributions to Tory party funds. When sums of this size are handed out by a company that is promoting a private Bill, questions relating to Members' interests have to be asked. Those aspects have not been covered, even by the extensive reading of "Erskine May" by my hon. Friend the Member for Workington (Mr. Campbell-Savours).

The hon. Member for City of London and Westminster, South (Mr. Brooke), who is now the chairman of the Tory party, might be considered to have a pecuniary interest in the Bill, because he is the chairman of an organisation that receives substantial sums of money direct from the promoters of the Bill. Major issues of general significance that do not normally arise have been raised. It is not the habit of most promoters of private Bills to pour money into the pockets of any party that is represented in this House. As we are faced with most extraordinary circumstances, and as you are considering points that have been raised by my hon. Friends about "treating" — which, if accepted by a candidate at a general election, would be contrary to the law — this matter must be ruled on by you, Mr. Deputy Speaker.

It is doubtful whether any member of the Tory party does not have a pecuniary interest in a Bill that is being promoted by P and O, since that company is one of the biggest contributors to Tory party funds. We need a clear ruling on that matter. In his usual innovative way, my hon. Friend the Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) said that we are in a green field situation. We need a ruling from the Chair, if only to help Conservative Members to sustain their position regarding the Salmon Commission report on standards of conduct in public life.

My hon. Friend the Member for Bradford, South (Mr. Cryer) referred to the fact that the Salmon Commission's recommendations were issued as a circular to local authorities. Anybody who fails to follow the provisions of the circular lays himself open to challenge before the court. On standards of conduct in public life, Salmon said that it is not a question of whether people believe that they are straight but whether any reasonable person, seeing them doing what they are doing and knowing of their relations with another body, believes that they are likely to be straight.

8.45 pm

Hon. Members are to be lushed up all night so that they will be here to vote. They have been given an open-ended financial inducement to be here to vote. P and O appears to have spent more time at board meetings deciding whether to make contributions to Tory party funds than thinking about the safety of its ships. We need a ruling on that matter before the House can allow consideration of the Bill to proceed. Because the objections are manifest and manifold, there should be an opportunity to debate them so that the position can be clarified.

This matter has arisen on many occasions, and I have made it clear more than once that it is for every hon. Member to decide whether or not he has a direct pecuniary interest in a private Bill. If he feels that he has a direct pecuniary interest, the advice from the Chair is that it would be wiser if he did not vote. It is for every hon. Member — I stress, every hon. Member — to come to that decision for himself. if any hon. Member is in doubt before a Division, he can take advice.

The hon. Gentleman has answered his other point for himself. He referred to the Select Committee on Members' Interests. If he feels that some area has not been effectively covered, it is a matter not for the Chair but for the Select Committee on Members' Interests. I suggest that the hon. Member should put that matter to the Committee and ask it to consider it.

Order. It is difficult to think of any additional point that can be raised that has not been raised already.

Order. I appeal to hon. Members who are rising not to repeat points on which I have already given a ruling. We have ahead of us what may well be long debates. It is my job in the Chair to protect the business of the House. We have had a long run on these points of order, and I hope that we are rapidly approaching the time when we can get on with the debates.

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I had no intention of raising points of order or of speaking in the debate. The Wrekin is a long way from a port or harbour. However, a number of issues have been raised, the answers to which I do not know. My hon. Friends and I have not seen this document before. It gives rise to a number of questions.

It is already late. Most people outside this building consider that we are strange individuals, as we do not work night shifts, yet this debate has not yet begun. If the debate is to continue for some hours, stamina will be involved. We wonder whether we shall be able to keep going through the night. I must confess that I flag a little at about this time of night.

Order. What is the hon. Gentleman's point of order for me? We are not discussing whether we shall sit throughout the night.

My point of order is that any inducement to hon. Members that enables them to sustain themselves through the night would give one side of the House a considerable advantage over the other.

We do not know, because the document is not sufficiently clear, what hospitality is being provided. However, in the debates in this Chamber there is an element of contest. If one side is being given an unfair advantage in adversarial politics, it is akin to sportsmen taking steroids. Conservative Members will be enabled to sustain themselves through the night while hon. Members like me, who are not night time individuals and who find it difficult to keep awake throughout the night, will be put at a disadvantage.

A point of order that needs considering has been raised. Apart from the financial points, there is a separate point with regard to the sustenance that some people are receiving. One development of that concerns me, but I am unaware of any precedent for it. The document that I have has some of the characteristics of documents that we receive every week in that the statement "Votes will be taken from 7 pm onwards" is underlined three times.

Order. I have dealt with that point, so I will not repeat the ruling that I have given. The hon. Gentleman is beginning to waste the time of the House. I have dealt with the point that he raised and there is nothing further that I can add.

Further to that point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Having ascertained precisely what is on this sheet of paper — my hon. Friend the Member for Worsley (Mr. Lewis) made this point when Mr. Speaker was in the Chair—it appears that this copy is on House of Commons notepaper. There are strict rules about that, so the matter will have to go before the appropriate Committee with a recommendation from the Chair. Many names are mentioned on the bottom of it and it would be as well for hon. Members, notwithstanding what was said before, to know precisely who is involved : the hon. Members for Bury St. Edmunds (Sir E. Griffiths), for Beckenham (Sir P. Goodhart), for Cambridgeshire, South-West (Sir A. Grant), for Harwich (Sir J. Ridsdale), for Cambridge (Mr. Rhodes-James)—I was surprised by that—for Crosby (Mr. Thornton), for Bristol, East (Mr. Sayeed), for Suffolk, Central (Mr. Lord), for Suffolk, South (Mr. Yeo), and so on. The hon. Members for Ipswich (Mr. Irvine) and for Cambridgeshire, South-East (Mr. Paice) are also mentioned. This is a new departure. Members have now started using House of Commons notepaper to assist P and O. This is a point that the Services Committee will have to deal with.

Order. The hon. Gentleman has been helpful and has made a good point. If he feels that the House of Commons has been abused, he should take the advice he has just offered and take it up with the appropriate Committee.

Order. The hon. Gentleman can also take up that point with the appropriate Committee.

Order. We have had a good run on points of order. We have dealt with all the points and I have given a ruling on them. It is now becoming very repetitive and we must now get on with the debate. I call Mr. Snape.

I have not finished. Somebody must go to the Jubilee Room with a breathalyser.

Order. The House has had a good run on this. Hon. Members have been able to get what they want to say on to the record, but this is now becoming an abuse of the time of the House and I am not prepared to listen to further points of order on which I have already ruled.

Further to that point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. We asked Mr. Speaker earlier whether he had received any intimation from the Leader of the House that the Government intend to make a statement on the British Airways-British Caledonian merger. As the Minister for Public Transport is present, will we now be told whether there will be a statement to the House tonight or tomorrow before it is announced to the press? Mr. Speaker has endorsed the view that such matters should be announced to the House before they are announced to the press.

Mr. Speaker dealt with that point of order earlier. The Leader of the House was in his place at the time. I cannot add anything to what Mr. Speaker has already said.

Order. The hon. Gentleman has had a good run and I have dealt with his point of order. We cannot deal with the same point of order over and over again. Does the hon. Gentleman have a different point of order?

Yes, Mr. Deputy Speaker. You have ruled tonight, following the ruling on the Lloyd's Bill that was introduced in 1981, that people must make their own judgment and they have received a warning from you similar to the one that was given on the Lloyd's Bill. However, there is an important difference, because the warning on the Lloyd's Bill was issued before the debate and the point of order was raised in anticipation of the debate. Tonight there is only a handful of hon. Members in the Chamber. Some hon. Members will vote — they are waiting outside—who have not heard your warning. The warning on the Lloyd's Bill was reported in Hansard, was circulated widely and was reported. Therefore, Members had a legitimate chance to say, "We have received this warning; therefore, we can make a judgment".

However, what about an hon. Member who has, for example, a banking interest that may be financing the extension that is sought in the Bill, or who is an adviser to McAlpine's, such as the hon. Member for Harwich (Sir J. Ridsdale), and may have an interest in its construction? No warning has been given to such hon. Members. In the Lloyd's Bill the hon. Member for Blackburn (Mr. Straw) sought guidance and the then hon. Member for Crosby, Sir Graham Page, accepted it. However, there has been no evidence that the hon. Member for Bury St. Edmunds (Sir E. Griffiths) will warn his supporters as Sir Graham Page did in 1981. I do not know what sort of guidance you can give to ensure that the promoters warn all their supporters about this. In the Lloyd's Bill hon. Members with interests in Lloyd's, with one exception, prudently stayed out of the Lobby.

We make it clear that we shall be going through the voting list with a fine-toothed comb. When the register is produced, if people have a pecuniary interest, we shall raise the matter. Therefore, it is important that we have a response from the hon. Member for Bury St. Edmunds (Sir E. Griffiths) in the decent traditions that were begun by the late Sir Graham Page. He said, "I accept guidance". He told the Lloyd's Bill supporters about the then Speaker's guidance. We have had no similar assurance. The hon. Gentleman owes it to the House and to yourself, Mr. Deputy Speaker, to give an assurance.

9 pm

The warning that I have given on many occasions is not new. There really is no need for further warnings to be given to hon. Members. They know the procedures of the House; they are well established. If hon. Members are in any doubt, they know where to seek advice before a vote is taken. I call Mr. Peter Snape.

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker.

I wish to refer to procedure, Mr. Deputy Speaker.

Earlier, when the letter was mentioned, you said that the hon. Member who raised the matter should write about it to Mr. Speaker, because that is the proper procedure to follow when a matter of privilege is raised. A problem arises in respect of the procedure which follows if an hon. Member writes to Mr. Speaker on a private Bill such as one of this nature, stating that it infringes the privileges of the House in a certain way.

If Mr. Speaker concludes that the promoters of a private Bill who take a hospitality room and produce a "whip" showing that hon. Members will be well catered for if they are knocking around and willing to vote for the Bill — that is, "Come with us, have a good night out with your wife at the flicks and have some free champagne" — commit a breach of privilege, the Bill may well have gone through all its stages in the House. I hope that that does not happen.

Is there a retrospective position, or do we just have to hope that our sovereign lady the Queen does not imply her assent to the Bill because the promoters have grossly interfered with the procedures of the House in seeking to influence hon. Members to act in a certain way in regard to a private Bill? What will happen if it is then ruled that that was a breach of privilege?

The hon. Gentleman is dealing with a hypothetical matter. We have not yet come to a vote on the Bill. Some time ago, the House, in its wisdom, decided that matters of privilege should be dealt with in the way that I have described, that is, that the hon. Member who considers that there has been a prima facie breach of privilege should put the matter to Mr. Speaker. The matter will then be dealt with in the way in which the House has decided. Such procedures were decided by the House, and that is the right course for any hon. Member to pursue.

I am sorry to pursue the point, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I take precisely the point that you make. That would obviously arise if, for example, a newspaper article appears or a certain set of circumstances arise before a Bill is actually before the House. The point is that the document has come to light when the Bill is on the Order Paper and we have started our proceedings. As I understand the matter, unless you so rule, there is no way in which we can stop proceeding with the Bill until we have a ruling from Mr. Speaker after my hon. Friends write to him asking whether there has been a breach of privilege. Opposition Members are concerned about the matter. The Bill may be passed and Mr. Speaker may rule that there has been a prima facie breach of privilege to go to the Committee. The Committee may then say that there has been a gross interference with our procedures.

I can only repeat what I have said to the hon. Gentleman. The privilege procedures have been laid down by the House. I am bound by such procedures, as is any other hon. Member. I repeat that all this discussion is hypothetical. My advice, and that of many Speakers over the years, is that the matter arises only when votes take place. At that time, each hon. Member must decide whether he is in a position to vote. The matter is hypothetical at the moment.

Further to that point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. As one of the new hon. Members, I am totally confused about what happens in the House compared with what happens in local government.

The situation is quite clear. As a member of the Wigan metropolitan borough council, I know that, however a letter of this type came, two things would happen. First, the hon. Member concerned would have to declare an interest and leave the meeting and, secondly, as the letter came from someone who was seeking a contract, the tender would immediately be removed from the tender list.

I want to come to the point relating to——

Order. I have got the hon. Gentleman's point. The answer is very simple. The rules for local government are different from the rules of the House. The rules of the House are made by the House, which is sovereign in the matter. I have more than once described to the House the rules and regulations governing the matter.

I understand what you have said, Mr. Deputy Speaker, but I have a second point relating to the Fees Office on which I should like some advice. When I came to the House as a new hon. Member I spent a considerable time at the Fees Office where I sought advice on the use of travel warrants for spouses and for members of my family who wished to come to the House.

It is clear from the letter that we received this evening, written on House of Commons paper, that spouses have been offered hospitality and are therefore coming to the House, not to meet an hon. Member but to enjoy that hospitality. Therefore, hon. Members have used their position and their travel warrants, financed out of public funds, so that their spouses could come to the House not to meet them but to meet the promoters of a private Bill. That is completely contrary not only to the advice of the Fees Office but to the rules of the House. I wish to know whether the hon. Members named in the letter have used their warrants yesterday or today to enable their spouses to attend a function—whether a function that has been cancelled or one that is taking place elsewhere.

It is very important that we should know whether public money has been used to allow spouses to come to the House to enjoy the hospitality of the promoters of a private Bill. The hon. Member for Bury St. Edmunds (Sir E. Griffiths) should give us an answer. Any other hon. Member ——

Order. I have got the hon. Gentleman's point. The answer is that if he feels that there has been an abuse, he should refer it to the appropriate Committee so that it can be properly investigated. For the third time, I call Mr. Snape——

Order. All the points of order raised recently have been repetitions of, or very similar to, the points that I have dealt with already. It is my job to protect the business of the House. Points of order have now been going on for over an hour and it is very important that we should get on with the business before the House. I have done my utmost—as did Mr. Speaker before he left the Chair — to make it clear to hon. Members what the procedures are. There is nothing that I can add that would not be tedious repetition. So we really should get on with the debate.

I will take the hon. Gentleman's point of order if it is a different point of order.

I have listened to the whole sequence of points of order. You will know, Sir, that I have the utmost respect for the Chair and, indeed, for you personally. You see me in somewhat casual garb today. I am wearing the parliamentary crest of the Victorian State Parliament of Australia. I wear that crest with pride, just as I wear the Westminster crest with pride.

I am worried, Sir, by your response to the point of order raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull, North (Mr. McNamara). You said quite properly that my hon. Friend's point was hypothetical. No one could disagree with that observation because clearly the point was hypothetical. That is the whole point. I should hate the Chair generally or you particularly to perhaps be subject to criticism afterwards for a ruling that may well be questioned by history, historians and by the House itself.

I put it to you with the deepest respect that it might be prudent to have perhaps a 10 or 15-minute adjournment so that people can consult on this matter. Clearly this is a one-off. It was discovered and declared to the House after the sitting had started. We have never been in this situation before. Let us not leave the matter as a hypothetical one. Let us pause for breath. Had we done that at 8.30 pm, the matter might be resolved now. Can we pause for 10 minutes to consult outside the Chamber? I appeal to you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, for an adjournment.

The hon. Gentleman and the House know that the Chair never rules on hypothetical questions. The Chair rules when an incident occurs. The hon. Gentleman is an experienced hon. Member and has heard that from the Chair on many occasions. There is nothing I can add to the rulings I have given and I again appeal to the House. It is my job to protect the business of the House. We have had a good run on points of order. Every hon. Member who has been rising on a point of order has been given an opportunity to put it. Hon. Members are now rising for a second and third time and that is unfair to other hon. Members who are anxious to get on with the debate. For the fourth time, I call Mr. Snape.

Order. I am taking no more points of order on this matter. I have been patient and dealt with them.

Order. I am on my feet. I have called at least once those hon. Gentlemen who have been rising and in one case I have called an hon. Gentleman twice. I do not think that there can be any additional points of order that have not been made.

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. It is to do with the promoters' amendments.

Is it to do with the amendments now under discussion? It is more convenient to take points of order on amendments when we reach them on the Order Paper.

It is about what is on the Order Paper which says:

"A copy of the proposed Amendment may be obtained by Members from the Vote Office or inspected in the Private Bill Office."
That is a reference to an amendment to be proposed by the promoters. My point of order has nothing to do with any matter that has been raised by me or my hon. Friends this evening.

You will know and understand, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that there is a procedure that has to be followed by promoters of a private Bill in order to secure the printing of that reference on our Order Paper. That procedure is laid out on page 1035 of "Erskine May" under the heading:
"Rules as to amendments proposed to be moved on consideration … of a Bill."
That section deals with private Bills. It says:
"When the promoters intend to offer any clause, or to propose any amendment on the consideration of any private bill."

I am putting to you a perfectly sensible point of order, but the hon. Member for Lancaster (Mrs. Kellett-Bowman) cannot contain herself for some reason. Would you perhaps deal with her in the way in which she suggested we should be dealt with?

I think that the hon. Gentleman has made his point quite clearly and I can rule on it. If he feels that I have not covered it adequately, I shall call him again. The main point here is that the hon. Gentleman is under a misapprehension. We are dealing not with amendments that have been tabled by the promoters, but with the amendments on the Order Paper, all of which are in the names of hon. Members. They would not be on the Order Paper if they were not in order. I hope that I have answered the hon. Gentleman's point to his satisfaction.

9.15 pm

Yes, I understand that, Mr. Deputy Speaker, but perhaps you could explain the reference in brackets to an amendment to be proposed by the promoters, which states :

"A copy of the proposed Amendment may be obtained by Members from the Vote Office or inspected in the Private Bill Office."——

Order. I can deal with the hon. Gentleman's point. There should really be a line before the words

"Private Business at Seven o'clock".
The amendments refer to the Dyfed Bill [Lords] which was dealt with at 2.30, and have nothing whatever to do with this Bill. It is not often that the hon. Gentleman gets himself into confusions on procedural matters, but that is the short answer.

For the fifth time of asking, I call Mr. Peter Snape.

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. This is a different point of order and relates to unemployment. It has nothing to do with other points of order.

Order. If the hon. Gentleman has a different point of order, I shall hear him, but I hope that he will be brief because he has already had many goes during the past hour.

I think that you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, will be as interested in this as I was. I remember when you were a Minister concerned with social services. You took a keen interest in unemployment benefit. At that time, nobody could lose unemployment benefit for a period of six weeks for leaving work voluntarily. That did not change during the period when you sat on the Front Bench. Today——

Order. I am flattered by what the hon. Gentleman has said. However, my past, when I was in a different incarnation, is now in the mists of history and should not be quoted.

Since that time, there have been some changes. The last change increased the period to 13 weeks and people could lose unemployment benefit for 13 weeks if they left work voluntarily. That happened earlier this year. However, we have had a devastating announcement today in a written answer that the number of weeks will be increased to 26——

Order. The hon. Gentleman is an experienced parliamentarian and knows very well that the matter that he is now raising has nothing whatsoever to do with the Bill. However, I am sure that with his usual skill in parliamentary procedure he will find an appropriate time to raise that important matter. I call Mr. Peter Snape.

All that I am trying to say, Mr. Deputy Speaker, is that there should be a statement.

Hon. Members are wining and dining down there, but people on unemployment benefit——

Order. We have covered this course. The House has had a good run and I have been very patient. However, I repeat that it is the job of the Chair to protect the business of the House and there is much business before us. There is nothing that I can add. I have done my utmost to answer all the points of order that have been put to me. We must now get on with the debate. I call Mr. Peter Snape.

Order. I realise that I have not called the hon. Gentleman. I hope that he will raise a different point of order and not repeat others.

I do not envy your position tonight, Mr. Deputy Speaker, but I think that you should consider the history of the Bill's passage through the House. You will be aware that hon. Members resigned from the Committee that examined the Bill because of their suspicions about the way in which the Bill was conducted. Indeed, a request was made to the Chairman of Ways and Means to consider the way in which the House proceeds with private Bills. There is no doubt that opposition has been growing in the House about what has been happening and that calls not only the House but the credibility of Parliament into disrepute and is sacrificing the long-term objectives of the port transport industry to short-term and doubtful considerations.

I do not for one moment impose upon you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, the responsibility for making decisions about such things. However, it is evident from the strong feelings of hon. Members that, to say the least, question marks hang over the Bill and the way in which it has proceeded through the House.

There is time to stop and think about it. The only way in which that can be done is by the Chair imposing its will. Ultimately. Mr. Speaker is responsible and has to determine whether the credibility of the House outside is sustained. It could not be sustained by the way in which the Bill has proceeded. There has been a catalogue of interventions, suspicions, innuendos and charges against the Bill that should not go unheard by the occupant of the Chair.

Order. I repeat what I said in answer to an earlier point of order. There is a Private Bill Procedure Committee considering private Bill procedure. The correct course is for hon. Members who are dissatisfied to give their views to that Committee. I call Mr. Snape.

There are about 300 ports in this country. I am only glad that we are not debating the other 299 tonight. We would be here for a considerable time if we did.

My hon. Friend has made a very good point at the start of his speech. Does he accept that the Bill will adversely affect 299 of the 300 ports, and provide material advantage only to Felixstowe, while its consequences will ripple through the United Kingdom and maybe further?

My hon. Friend has gazed with his usual perception at least two paragraphs into my speech. I intend to attempt to show the House that the Bill will have an enormous impact not only on British ports but on continental ports. I hope that the hon. Member for Bury St. Edmunds (Sir E. Griffiths) will concede that the proposed development of Felixstowe will have an enormous impact on British ports, both scheme and non-scheme. I hope to show the House that this development is therefore undesirable and that the two amendments that we discussed the last time the Bill was before us, in July, are essential.

Few hon. Members, whatever their views on the Bill, would doubt that British ports are in decline. There are 78 per cent. fewer registered dock workers than there were 20 years ago. Although those statistics may appeal to Conservative Members, they go some way to illustrate the scale of that decline. Under this Government, redundancies among registered dock workers have accelerated considerably. There are 12,000 fewer registered dock workers now than there were in 1979 when the Government took office.

Not only the scope and capacity of British ports and the number of workers have declined since 1979, but investment in the ports has also declined by nearly the same proportion, largely because of the Government's policy to leave the development of the ports to the market place with no assessment of either the needs or the transport requirements of the nation. This Bill, like others introduced by the Government, is designed not only to increase the potential of Felixstowe, a non-scheme port, but to break the power of those who work in the industry by ending the national dock labour scheme, which has protected the conditions of dock workers for more than 40 years.

It is the Government's right—I concede that at the outset—to introduce a Bill, if they so desire, to do just that. However, the Government would not fancy either the industrial confrontation that would result after the introduction of such a Bill or the row that it would cause among their own supporters in the management of the dock industry.

It cannot be denied that the fortunes of all Britain's ports, including Felixstowe, are closely tied to the patterns of foreign trade. All the ports have shared a similar fate to that of Britain's merchant shipping industry, especially over the past 20 years. However, that decline has accelerated dramatically in the past six years. The pattern of development at indivdual ports, especially ports such as Felixstowe, has been closely connected with the demands of the shipowners, the dock companies and the users of the ports.

The Government are adamant that the ports—all of them, including Felixstowe — should develop purely according to the demands of the market place. The Government have removed from the statute book their powers to control port development. The Government believe there was a good reason to remove those powers—they did so rather than make a decision as to whether to allow development to take place some time ago at another port, the Falmouth container depot.

The fact that we do not have any sort of ports policy is a matter of concern not only to my hon. Friends on the Labour Benches, but also to commentators about this industry, be they Labour supporters, Conservative supporters or Liberal supporters—I cannot say alliance supporters as it does not exist any more.

The haphazard development of ports in this country was illustrated by an article in the Financial Times, again not a particularly Labour-oriented newspaper, on 22 December 1986. Kevin Brown, the transport correspondent for that newspaper, wrote an article under the heading:
"Haphazard development of ports criticised."
The article said:
"The Government lacks the political will to reverse the haphazard development of British ports over the past 20 years, according to a report by the National Economic Development Office. The report, written by the civil engineering economic development committee, criticises the abandonment of the Maplin airport and seaport project drawn up in the 1960s, which, it says, caused delays in siting of London's third airport."
That report said:
"During the years that have elapsed, port development has proceeded in a haphazard way and not entirely in a free enterprise environment."
I would have thought that the Conservative party, which professes its devotion to the idea of the free enterprise environment, would——

Not now. If we are to have a serious debate, it is as well that we get things right. It is true that the Government were elected on the philosophy of allowing the market to rule. However, in this Bill it is pretty plain for anybody to see that there is massive Government intervention. In the earlier points of order we heard about other forms of intervention. We are now faced with a different ball game altogether, especially after the stock exchange crash.

My hon. Friend will recall that the Chancellor of the Exchequer came to the House and underwrote the underwriters. Now things are completely different. Indeed, we could be arguing now for the docks that are in the dock labour scheme to be underwritten as opposed to giving help, in this instance, to the Felixstowe scheme. I hope that my hon. Friend will accept that, yes, for some years the monetarist argument prevailed, but now we can see it has fallen around the feet of the people who were trying to project that great, wonderful image.

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his guidance. When it comes to Conservative party policy, I appreciate that he is an expert——

9.30 pm

—because, as he says, he reads the Conservative press as well as the more Left-wing press. I was merely reading an article in the Financial Times. As my hon. Friend will know, mistakes are quite often made in such newspapers because, although they are occasionally guilty of impartiality, that does not happen often. The Financial Times is traditionally a supporter of the system that the Conservative party embraces so fervently.

The hon. Member for Faversham (Mr. Moate) has just arrived. He is anxious to hurry me along. I have been waiting some considerable time to support the amendments, so I hope that he will contain his natural impatience and allow me to make the case for the amendments in my own time, because it is a substantial case. I think that my hon. Friend the Member for Bolsover will accept that it is nonsense to say that ports can develop without any implications for Government. The proposed development will cause damage to the nearby port of Southampton and I have referred during previous debates to a contribution made by the hon. Member for Southampton, Test (Mr. Hill). I acknowledge that the hon. Gentleman, as indeed he acknowledges himself, is a fairly Right-wing member of the Conservative party. Conservative Members who would like to know what the Right wing of their party has to say about the impact of the amendments to the Bill would do well to look at the Official Report of 23 July 1987, as on that day I read into Hansard parts of a speech made by the hon. Gentleman, who, alas, is not with us this evening.

I will paraphrase what the hon. Member for Test said about the port of Southampton, of which he is understandably proud. He said that it was capable of accepting any additional traffic that would be generated by the increase in containerisation worldwide. I trust that the House will accept that I have the gist of his speech right when I say that he said that the developments envisaged under the Bill would have a severe effect on the port of Southampton and that, despite the best efforts of management and trade unionists at that port, its future prospects would be considerably and adversely affected by the uncontrolled growth of a port such as Felixstowe, which is outside the dock work regulation scheme — [Interruption.] I missed that sedentary interjection.

I thought that the hon. Gentleman said earlier that he wanted more dockers, not fewer.

I did not proffer an opinion. I would like to see more dockers. That would be a sign that Britain's trade was improving. All we have at the moment are the honeyed words of the Chancellor of the Exchequer and we cannot stuff them in containers and export them any more than they are imported through ports such as Felixstowe.

Does my hon. Friend mean that he would like to see more registered dockers?

As a member of the National Union of Railwaymen, I take the view that the arrangements made at various ports are a matter between Government—the Government have a role to play, as I am sure the Minister of State will agree — the port employers and the employees, including, of course, the National Union of Railwaymen.

I do not want to debate chapter and verse of working conditions on the Floor of the House. I have always thought that such things are better done by experts. Although my hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull, North (Mr. McNamara) is an expert, with the best will in the world I do not believe that these are the sort of matters in which Conservative Members should be dabbling. In the very nature of things, their knowledge of these issues is bound to be sketchy.

The hon. Gentleman feels that he is being patronised, which shows that he is fairly thin-skinned. I do not know how long he has been in the House — not long, I would have thought — so I hope that he can develop a tougher hide than he now has; otherwise, he will often be upset. I do not seek deliberately to offend him or any other hon. Member. I merely tried to point out in my usual non-controversial manner that the prospect of many Conservative hon. Members negotiating terms and conditions for dock workers or any other industrial group in British society is an unlikely one. If the hon. Gentleman has the experience to prove me wrong, I shall allow him to inform the House of his wide experience in these matters, and I shall apologise for even ruffling his feathers.

If the hon. Gentleman believes that Conservative Members have not negotiated for trade unions, he is wrong. If he believes that we did not take part in negotiations for trade unions before we entered the House, he is equally wrong. If he thinks that my relatives were not trade unionists in the docks and other industries, he is also wrong. He thinks that his side of the House represents one sort of person in society and we represent another, and he is wrong about that, too.

Obviously, I am failing to make myself clear. I never thought for a moment that Conservative hon. Members did not have experience of negotiating trade union conditions from the trade union side. I am happy to concede that the world is full of people who, having started off in life, get a few bob in their pockets and move on to consider themselves——

I was more concerned about what experience the hon. Gentleman had of management, because managers negotiate over working conditions with trade unionists. Again, I was probably wrong. The hon. Gentleman will forgive me for saying that he has a somewhat youthful appearance; perhaps it belies his vast experience in industry. I am prepared to accept that, despite the youthful appearance, for which I commend the hon. Gentleman, he might well have wide managerial experience and competence. He may have done the type of negotiating that I am discussing. If so, I hope that he will concede that he would be an exception on the Conservative Benches. Let us leave it at that, and I hope not to ruffle the hon. Gentleman's feathers again.

I do not know why the hon. Member for Harrow, West (Mr. Hughes) does not intervene and explain what vast experience he has, because I have just been informed that he came here from the BBC. I reckon that he must know something about the Felixstowe dock scheme, so I hope that my hon. Friend will be fair to him and allow him to explain what he knows.

I shall not attempt an explanation in the way my hon. Friend has suggested. The hon. Member for Harrow, West must be doubly unique because, not only has he managerial experience in negotiating trade union conditions on behalf of the management, but he works in the public sector of industry—which is what the BBC is. I welcome this infusion of talent into the Tory ranks, and I must say, as non-controversially as possible, that it. is long overdue. I hope the hon. Gentleman will bring his valuable experience to bear on his right hon. and hon. Friends to convince them that there are good things in the public sector, even if some of them become Conservative Members of Parliament in later life.

I hope I may be allowed to continue with my support for this group of amendments. Coping with the overcapacity in Britain's docks is what the amendments are about. I hope that the Conservative party, and even the hon. Member for Harrow, West, will accept that there is indeed great over-capacity in Britain's docks. If they are not prepared to do so, I shall have to start at square one on the Bill. I think that all of us with even a nodding acquaintance with this industry will accept that there is considerable over-capacity. I hope that the Conservative party will accept that our purpose in tabling the group of amendments is to illustrate not only that that overcapacity exists but that there is a practical way of tackling the problem.

Does my hon. Friend accept not only the over-capacity that has been developed but the potential of further over-capacity since substantial lands at Southampton have been reclaimed for the purpose——

Order. We are on the dock labour scheme and I hope that we will stick to dock labour. Mr. Snape.

Order. The hon. Member for West Bromwich, East (Mr. Snape) cannot give way to an hon. Member who is speaking irrelevantly.

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. The Southampton dock area about which my hon. Friend the Member for Denton and Reddish (Mr. Bennett) was speaking is covered by the dock labour scheme. My hon. Friend was seeking to make the point that——

Order. I heard the hon. Gentleman. He was talking about the availability of land at Southampton. I hope that hon. Members will talk about the availability of labour in the docks and the dock labour scheme.

We will indeed. I am sure that my hon. Friend the Member for Denton and Reddish (Mr. Bennett) will accept your strictures in the spirit in which they were made, Mr. Deputy Speaker. We can continue with the debate about the dock labour scheme and the impact that this great expansion at Felixstowe will have not only on individuals who work within that scheme but on the other non-scheme ports throughout the United Kingdom. As my hon. Friend the Member for — [Interruption.] — no, it was Keighley last time. As my hon. Friend the Member for Bradford, South (Mr. Cryer) ——

The hon. Gentleman should hang on before he tempts me down the road of competence. I am certainly not competent to pose wearing such a vest as the hon. Gentleman did some years ago, so we had better not go down that road either.

The impact that the Bill will have not only on scheme ports but on ports outside the scheme ought to be acknowledged. Although Conservative Members demonstrate time after time that they have no great fondness for the dock labour scheme, I would have thought that they would realise the impact that the Bill will have on ports outside the scheme. They do not have to go far to see that impact. Down the east coast, and particularly in the south of England, there are non-scheme ports at Great Yarmouth, at Harwich, the former British Rail port now owned by Sealink at Kings Lynn and at Lowestoft. I hope the hon. Member for Bury St. Edmunds, who is promoting the Bill on behalf of P and O, will acknowledge that the development proposed within the Bill will have a severe and probably adverse impact on surrounding ports.

I do not want to get involved in the controversy aired earlier about social functions within the precincts of the House or anywhere else. I am sorry that I did not get an invitation, because in that convivial atmosphere I could have explained the view that we would take. I understand that in that convivial atmosphere there might have been an attempt to arrive at a compromise on the Bill. [AN HON. MEMBER: "To withdraw it."] That would be one way of compromising ; I am not sure that it would meet with the approval of the hon. Member for Bury St. Edmunds. It appears that the impact of the Bill on ports adjacent to Felixstowe will be fairly great. Speaking from memory, I think that all those ports are within constituencies held by Conservative Members, although there are not many hon. Members in the Chamber at present to defend the interests of those ports and deal with the adverse impact that the Bill will have on them. I assure those hon. Gentlemen that we shall do our duty and theirs too by pointing out the damage that will be caused unless these amendments are accepted.

9.45 pm

My hon. Friend the Member for West Bromwich, East (Mr. Snape) says that most of the competing ports are in the constituencies of Conservative Members. My hon. Friend will be aware that the Transport and General Workers Union has approached its branches in all those ports. In every case, they oppose the Bill on the basis that their members would lose work, yet hon. Gentlemen seem to be indifferent to the loss of work that will arise in their own constituencies.

Indeed ; it is surprising that, regardless of party affiliations, hon. Members jealously and inderstandably guard employment prospects within their constituencies. It is unusual, and a departure from the normal procedures of the House, that hon. Gentlemen choose not to take part in debates on a Bill such as this.

I should say in fairness to the hon. Member for Test that, although he is not here tonight and was not present when the Bill was debated previously, he has spoken in defence of the port of Southampton and the jobs that would be lost there if these amendments were not accepted.

It is important that we should look again at overcapacity. I must repeat that not only trade unions, to which my hon. Friend the Member for Workington (Mr. Campbell-Savours) referred, have set out the problems of over-capacity in stark terms, and the need to look carefully at development proposals at Felixstowe and elsewhere. In an article in the magazine Transport, published in February 1987, a Mr. N. H. Finney, director of the British Ports Association, pointed to the dangers of over-capacity. Indeed, his article is headed "Coping with Over-Capacity". He said that despite their seemingly good intentions—wecould fall out with him there as he was talking about the Government — the Government have yet to develop a sound policy towards United Kingdom ports, particularly because they seem not to have made up their mind what they want their role to be in the next decade.

He went on:
"There are three classes of "port citizen". Firstly, the non-dock labour scheme, private port—free to raise capital as it wishes and able to diversify without restraint. There is then the traditional trust or company dock labour scheme port — hemmed in by restrictions and unable to raise finance and diversify as it might always wish to. Finally, there is the ex-nationalised sector of the industry — now known as Associated British Ports and Sealink Harbours, collectively owning 25 ports. These are able to use considerable market strength and, in ABP's case, exploit its valuable land bank and use multi-port ownership to boost customer loyalty and develop efficiency."
The kernel of the problem is starkly outlined there by Mr. Finney. I do not know anything of Mr. Finney's political affiliations, but I would hazard a guess that he would not donate much to the election effort of my hon. Friend the Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) or indeed towards mine.[Interruption.] I would send the hon. Member for Faversham a shilling or two if I thought for a moment that he was ever in any danger, but because of his great popularity, he does not need that sort of assistance.

The fact that a director of the BPA speaks in such stark terms of over-capacity will sound a note of caution to those hon. Gentlemen who consider the Bill to be the be-all and end-all of port development.

I referred earlier to a report produced by the civil engineering economic development committee of the National Economic Development Office, entitled
"The Nation's Infrastructure—Sea and Estuarial Ports".
In somewhat sombre terms, the report said that ports in the United Kingdom are constituted in a number of different ways. They include the traditional public trust ports such as London, municipally owned ports such as Bristol, privately owned ports such as Felixstowe and all the British Rail ports now owned by Sea Containers, such as Harwich and Parkeston Quay. It went on to talk about the other important group being the recently privatised Associated British Ports, to which I have already referred.

However, I should say in passing that Mr. Finney, the director of the British Ports Association, includes in his 19 privatised Associated British Ports the ports of Southampton and Hull. Therefore, if one disagrees with what he said it could be argued that he was anxious only to protect Southampton and Hull. However, in fairness it should be recognised that, given the fairly close geographical location of those two ports to Felixstowe, he has a reasonable — or unreasonable — argument to put forward.

Time after time Ministers say that the Bill is essential in order to protect Britain's trade and that the delay that the Opposition have, for good reason, inflicted on the Bill is having a severe impact on British ports. They say that there is a danger of traffic being diverted from United Kingdom ports.[Interruption.] I am asked about the Channel tunnel. I shall come to that, although only in the context of the amendments. My hon. Friends must contain themselves.

Order. I do not think that any dock labour scheme labour is employed or likely to be employed on the Channel tunnel.

I would not dream for a moment of crossing swords with you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, but the impact that the Channel tunnel may well have on Britain's ports industry is enormous. One reason why I support the project, although many of my hon. Friends do not, is that it might well bring great economic advantages to west coast ports that have been sadly run down over the past 20 years, particularly since we joined the EEC — unwisely, in my view. However, I shall not spend any time on that.

The impact on the national dock labour scheme and on ports policy generally of the Channel tunnel is likely to be enormous. I should have thought that, once the Channel tunnel was built, it would be in the interests of shippers of container traffic from North America to dock at Liverpool, instead of sailing round to Rotterdam with British containers.

Liverpool, as my hon. Friend will know, is already part of the electrified west coast main line. They could then proceed directly through the Channel tunnel to whatever was their ultimate destination.

Would it not be logical to put such containers on the M62 and out through Hull to Rotterdam, Copenhagen and so on? When my hon. Friend considers the Channel tunnel and its effect on capacity and employment, should he not consider the deleterious effect that that is likely to have on the east coast ports, the dock labour schemes in those ports, the tradition of sound dock work and expanding ports on the east coast which my hon. Friend's scheme and the Bill will ruin?

It is not "my" scheme, as my hon. Friend erroneously described it. I acknowledge that I had the honour to lead for the Opposition in Committee and in Select Committee, but we are all equal as members of the Select Committee. I hope that the Minister will acknowledge that when he replies.

The scheme's impact on east coast ports and on the national dock labour scheme may be as my hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull, North described. Just as our joining the EEC led to the decline of west coast ports because our markets were skewed from the Atlantic——

Of course it has not "done a deal" for anyone, to use my hon. Friend's earthy phrase. However, whatever our views on the Channel tunnel project, I hope that we can accept what has happened.

Within the context of the amendment, there are important differences in the way in which scheme and non-scheme ports are managed. Because of those important differences, there will be an obvious impact on employment prospects unless the amendment is accepted.

Almost all ports in the United Kingdom are managed by harbour authorities set up and operated under their own statutory powers. That applies as much to the privately owned and municipal ports as to public trust ports. Without lingering long on the point raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Denton and Reddish, who referred to land in Southampton, it is fair to state that any new development outside a statutory harbour authority must be sanctioned by an Act of Parliament, or more rarely through planning permission. That is one of the reasons why we are here tonight and why we have debated this issue on many nights. [Interruption]

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Would you ask hon. Members below the Gangway to hush a little so that we can hear what my hon. Friend the Member for West Bromwich, East (Mr. Snape) has to say?

I hope that hon. Members congregating below the Bar of the House will not conduct conversations in loud voices. That is very distracting and is interrupting business.

Further to that point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I am pleased that you have taken up the issue of the chatter below the Gangway and beyond the Bar of the House. As you know, the Jubilee Room opened for refreshments at 9.30 pm. I know that you are not allowed, Mr. Deputy Speaker, to say that Conservative Members come into the Chamber drunk. However, are you allowed to say that they are half-sober?

I would not pass a comment one way or another.

We are considering the differences between various scheme and non-scheme ports. Apart from the fact that the Secretary of State for Transport appoints members to the boards of most of the larger trust ports, British ports are for the most part independent of Government. I realise that that always appeals to the Conservative party. The Government abolished the statutory right to interfere in those matters fairly early on in the life of this Administration.

Before the Bill sees the light of day, I have an idea that the Government will regret that somewhat arbitrary abolition. It might well have come in handy for them to use a spot of arbitrary legislation with regard to ports, particularly to help out the hon. Member for Bury St. Edmunds, who—I must give him credit—has not moved from his seat since the points of order, regardless of the supposed attractions of the Jubilee Room or the Royal St. James hotel. Although the hon. Gentleman was mentioned as one of the "Felixstowe Eleven", he has clearly put in a substitute. I do not know whether I would carry the hon. Gentleman with me if I said——

It being Ten o'clock, the debate stood adjourned.

Motion made, and Question put,

That, at this day's sitting, the Felixstowe Dock and Railway Bill may be proceeded with, though opposed, until any hour— [Mr. Dorrell.]

The House divided: Ayes 249, Noes 70.

Division No. 48]

[10.00 pm


Alison, Rt Hon MichaelBeggs, Roy
Amess, DavidBeith, A. J.
Arbuthnot, JamesBellingham, Henry
Arnold, Jacques (Gravesham)Bennett, Nicholas (Pembroke)
Arnold, Tom (Hazel Grove)Bevan, David Gilroy
Ashby, DavidBlaker, Rt Hon Sir Peter
Atkins, RobertBoswell, Tim
Atkinson, DavidBottomley, Peter
Baker, Nicholas (Dorset N)Braine, Rt Hon Sir Bernard
Batiste, SpencerBrandon-Bravo, Martin
Beaumont-Dark, AnthonyBrazier, Julian

Bright, GrahamHind, Kenneth
Brooke, Hon PeterHolt, Richard
Brown, Michael (Brigg & Cl't's)Hordern, Sir Peter
Browne, John (Winchester)Howard, Michael
Bruce, Ian (Dorset South)Howarth, Alan (Strat'd-on-A)
Bruce, Malcolm (Gordon)Howarth, G. (Cannock & B'wd)
Buck, Sir AntonyHowell, Rt Hon David (G'dford)
Burns, SimonHowell, Ralph (North Norfolk)
Butcher, JohnHowells, Geraint
Butler, ChrisHughes, Robert G. (Harrow W)
Carlile, Alex (Mont'g)Hughes, Simon (Southwark)
Carrington, MatthewHunt, David (Wirral W)
Channon, Rt Hon PaulHunt, John (Ravensbourne)
Chapman, SydneyHurd, Rt Hon Douglas
Chope, ChristopherIrvine, Michael
Clark, Sir W. (Croydon S)Jackson, Robert
Colvin, MichaelJanman, Timothy
Coombs, Anthony (Wyre F'rest)Jessel, Toby
Coombs, Simon (Swindon)Johnson Smith, Sir Geoffrey
Cope, JohnJohnston, Sir Russell
Couchman, JamesJones, Robert B (Herts W)
Cran, JamesKellett-Bowman, Mrs Elaine
Currie, Mrs EdwinaKilfedder, James
Curry, DavidKing, Roger (B'ham N'thfield)
Davies, Q. (Stamf'd & Spald'g)Kirkhope, Timothy
Davis, David (Boothferry)Kirkwood, Archy
Day, StephenKnapman, Roger
Devlin, TimKnight, Greg (Derby North)
Dorrell, StephenKnight, Dame Jill (Edgbaston)
Douglas-Hamilton, Lord JamesKnowles, Michael
Durant, TonyKnox, David
Emery, Sir PeterLang, Ian
Evans, David (Welwyn Hatf'd)Latham, Michael
Fallon, MichaelLawrence, Ivan
Farr, Sir JohnLee, John (Pendle)
Favell, TonyLeigh, Edward (Gainsbor'gh)
Fearn, RonaldLennox-Boyd, Hon Mark
Fenner, Dame PeggyLester, Jim (Broxtowe)
Field, Barry (Isle of Wight)Lightbown, David
Finsberg, Sir GeoffreyLilley, Peter
Fookes, Miss JanetLivsey, Richard
Forman, NigelLloyd, Sir Ian (Havant)
Forsyth, Michael (Stirling)Lloyd, Peter (Fareham)
Forth, EricLord, Michael
Fox, Sir MarcusLuce, Rt Hon Richard
Franks, CecilLyell, Sir Nicholas
Freeman, RogerMacfarlane, Neil
French, DouglasMacGregor, John
Gale, RogerMacKay, Andrew (E Berkshire)
Gardiner, GeorgeMcLoughlin, Patrick
Garel-Jones, TristanMajor, Rt Hon John
Gill, ChristopherMans, Keith
Goodhart, Sir PhilipMarland, Paul
Goodson-Wickes, Dr CharlesMarshall, John (Hendon S)
Gorman, Mrs TeresaMarshall, Michael (Arundel)
Gower, Sir RaymondMartin, David (Portsmouth S)
Grant, Sir Anthony (CambsSW)Mates, Michael
Greenway, Harry (Ealing N)Mayhew, Rt Hon Sir Patrick
Greenway, John (Rydale)Michie, Mrs Ray (Arg'l & Bute)
Gregory, ConalMiller, Hal
Griffiths, Sir Eldon (Bury St E')Mills, Iain
Griffiths, Peter (Portsmouth N)Mitchell, Andrew (Gedling)
Grist, IanMitchell, David (Hants NW)
Ground, PatrickMoate, Roger
Gummer, Rt Hon John SelwynMoore, Rt Hon John
Hamilton, Hon A. (Epsom)Morrison, Hon C. (Devizes)
Hamilton, Neil (Tatton)Morrison, Hon P (Chester)
Hampson, Dr KeithMoss, Malcolm
Hanley, JeremyMoynihan, Hon C.
Hannam, JohnNeedham, Richard
Hargreaves, A. (B'ham H'll Gr')Neubert, Michael
Hargreaves, Ken (Hyndburn)Nicholson, David (Taunton)
Harris, DavidNicholson, Miss E. (Devon W)
Hawkins, ChristopherOnslow, Cranley
Hayes, JerryPage, Richard
Hayhoe, Rt Hon Sir BarneyPaice, James
Hayward, RobertPatnick, Irvine
Heathcoat-Amory, DavidPawsey, James
Heseltine, Rt Hon MichaelPeacock, Mrs Elizabeth
Hicks, Mrs Maureen (Wolv' NE)Porter, David (Waveney)

Portillo, MichaelTemple-Morris, Peter
Powell, William (Corby)Thatcher, Rt Hon Margaret
Price, Sir DavidThompson, D. (Calder Valley)
Raffan, KeithThompson, Patrick (Norwich N)
Redwood, JohnThorne, Neil
Rhys Williams, Sir BrandonThurnham, Peter
Riddick, GrahamTownend, John (Bridlington)
Ridsdale, Sir JulianTownsend, Cyril D. (B'heath)
Roe, Mrs MarionTracey, Richard
Rossi, Sir HughTredinnick, David
Rowe, AndrewTrippier, David
Ryder, RichardVaughan, Sir Gerard
Sayeed, JonathanWaddington, Rt Hon David
Scott, NicholasWakeham, Rt Hon John
Shaw, David (Dover)Walker, Bill (T'side North)
Shaw, Sir Michael (Scarb')Wallace, James
Shephard, Mrs G. (Norfolk SW)Waller, Gary
Shepherd, Colin (Hereford)Ward, John
Shersby, MichaelWardle, C. (Bexhill)
Sims, RogerWarren, Kenneth
Skeet, Sir TrevorWatts, John
Speed, KeithWheeler, John
Spicer, Jim (Dorset W)Whitney, Ray
Spicer, Michael (S Worcs)Widdecombe, Miss Ann
Stanbrook, IvorWiggin, Jerry
Stern, MichaelWilshire, David
Stevens, LewisWinterton, Mrs Ann
Stewart, Allan (Eastwood)Winterton, Nicholas
Stewart, Andrew (Sherwood)Wood, Timothy
Stewart, Ian (Hertfordshire N)Yeo, Tim
Stradling Thomas, Sir JohnYoung, Sir George (Acton)
Summerson, Hugo
Taylor, Ian (Esher)Tellers for the Ayes:
Taylor, John M (Solihull)Mr. Kenneth Carlisle and Mr. David Maclean.
Taylor, Matthew (Truro)
Tebbit, Rt Hon Norman


Abbott, Ms DianeLeadbitter, Ted
Barnes, Harry (Derbyshire NE)Lewis, Terry
Battle, JohnLloyd, Tony (Stretford)
Beckett, MargaretLoyden, Eddie
Boateng, PaulMcCartney, Ian
Brown, Gordon (D'mline E)McFall, John
Campbell, Ron (Blyth Valley)McKay, Allen (Penistone)
Campbell-Savours, D. N.McNamara, Kevin
Canavan, DennisMahon, Mrs Alice
Clark, Dr David (S Shields)Marshall, David (Shettleston)
Clay, BobMartlew, Eric
Clelland, DavidMeale, Alan
Coleman, DonaldMichie, Bill (Sheffield Heeley)
Cook, Frank (Stockton N)Moonie, Dr Lewis
Cook, Robin (Livingston)Murphy, Paul
Crowther, StanO'Neill, Martin
Cryer, BobPatchett, Terry
Dalyell, TarnPike, Peter
Darling, AlastairPowell, Ray (Ogmore)
Dobson, FrankQuin, Ms Joyce
Eastham, KenReid, John
Evans, John (St Helens N)Roberts, Allan (Bootle)
Ewing, Mrs Margaret (Moray)Rogers, Allan
Fatchett, DerekRooker, Jeff
Foster, DerekRuddock, Ms Joan
Fyfe, Mrs MariaSkinner, Dennis
Garrett, John (Norwich South)Snape, Peter
Golding, Mrs LlinSteinberg, Gerald
Grant, Bernie (Tottenham)Strang, Gavin
Griffiths, Nigel (Edinburgh S)Taylor, Mrs Ann (Dewsbury)
Griffiths, Win (Bridgend)Thompson, Jack (Wansbeck)
Grocott, BruceWareing, Robert N.
Hardy, PeterWelsh, Andrew (Angus E)
Hinchliffe, David
Home Robertson, JohnTellers for the Noes:
Hughes, Robert (Aberdeen N)Mr. Andrew F. Bennett and Mr. George Howarth.
Ingram, Adam
Jones, leuan (Ynys Môn)

Question accordingly agreed to.

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Earlier it was reported that the Monopolies and Mergers Commission report on the proposed British Airways-British Caledonian merger was not to be reported to the House but was to be announced at a press conference tomorrow morning by the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry. When Mr. Speaker was informed of that fact, he said, as he always does, that important announcements would best be made to the House. We have asked the Leader of the House whether there will be a Government statement or whether he will make a business statement tonight on the proposed merger. Have you been informed that the Leader of the House wishes to make such a statement?

The Chair has not been told by any Minister that he wishes to make a statement to the House. As the hon. Gentleman said, Mr. Speaker dealt with a similar point of order earlier and ruled on it. I cannot add to that ruling.

Further to that point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Mr. Speaker said that he thought it would be best if the Government made a statement or said that they intend to make a statement because such matters should be dealt with by statements to the House. There has been considerable passage of time since then and we want to know from the Leader of the House — who is now present and presumably knows the answer — whether there will be a statement tonight or tomorrow or whether the matter will be released to the newspapers by somebody whom even the Prime Minister deemed to be unfit to be the chairman of the Tory party.

Order. Mr. Speaker dealt with the matter earlier. I recall that he expressed the personal view that matters of this kind should be reported to the House first. Of course, neither he nor I, nor any other occupant of the Chair. has any power to direct Ministers on matters of this kind.

10.15 pm

Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. It is quite conceivable that the House of Commons could sit throughout tonight and into the early hours of tomorrow morning.[Interruption.] Conservative Members have made my point. I put it to you, Sir, that the proposed merger between British Airways and British Caledonian is of national interest and has been referred to the Monopolies and Mergers Commission. If the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry, the unelected noble Lord, is to——

The hon. Gentleman has read that once already.

If the hon. Member for Watford (Mr. Garel-Jones) wants me to say it again, I shall do so.

If the Secretary of State is to make any comment about the matter, it should be made in the House of Commons, if it is sitting tonight or tomorrow morning. If the Leader of the House were not prepared to accept that a Minister of the Crown in this House should go to the Dispatch Box when the House is sitting and tell the House of Commons what the Government will do in respect of the referral of the British Airways and British Caledonian merger, it would be the greatest contempt of the House that he could show. [Interruption.]

Order. As the hon. Gentleman reminds us, the Leader of the House is present. He is no doubt aware of the Opposition's view. Perhaps we should get on with the Bill. I call Mr. Peter Snape.

A different sticky problem on the same issue.

I put it to you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that you have a responsibility, though not necessarily to comment on the issues that have been put to you; we understand the difficulty in which you are placed. There is another matter. This is not the first occasion on which Lord Young has decided to make announcements of this nature. It happened on a previous occasion when the takeover of Matthew Brown by Scottish and Newcastle was not announced to the House of Commons. Such announcements are not being made because the noble Lord Young intends to take responsibility for them, but he cannot make statements at the Dispatch Box in the House of Commons because he is unelected. That is why my hon. Friend the Member for Wigan (Mr. Stott) raised the matter of his being an unelected Lord.

An important constitutional point is at issue. Recognising that a peer of the realm cannot make a statement at the Dispatch Box in the House of Commons but yet is unwilling to cede the right to a junior Minister to make that statement, is it right for him to be able to escape Parliament in that way? That is the issue. Surely the——

Order. Such matters are not for the Chair in this House. Doubtless the Leader of the House will have regard to what has been said and the force with which it was said. I call Mr. Peter Snape.

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. You will recall that while you were waiting to take your place in the Chair several points were made about pecuniary interests. We have had a vote on the 10 o'clock motion and from that a question arises about the Register of Members' Interests which, as you know, Mr. Deputy Speaker, is not yet available. Some hon. Members are anxious to discover who voted tonight and to establish what their business interests are. The vote on the 10 o'clock motion was inextricably linked with the Felixstowe Dock and Railway Bill; those who wanted the Bill passed voted for the suspension of the 10 o'clock rule.

I seek your guidance, Mr. Deputy Speaker on what will happen if the Bill is passed—having been given long and meticulous consideration — and a number of hon. Members prove to have had direct pecuniary interests. If there are enough of them, will their votes be cancelled, or will the Bill go through anyway?

The hon. Gentleman asks me to rule on a purely hypothetical matter. His question will be more relevant if and when the situation arises. The question of pecuniary interests is irrelevant to votes on procedural matters. As I said to the hon. Gentleman yesterday when he raised a similar point, I am quite sure that all right hon. and hon. Members will vote in accordance with the Standing Orders and practices of the House.

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. As you have rightly said, you have not been notified whether there will be a statement about the British Caledonian-British Airways merger. You pointed out that it was not a matter for you. However, I put it to you that you have a responsibility to the House. We all remember that in July when the merger of the two companies was initially proposed, the Minister of Trade and Industry, who is Lord Young's counterpart in this House, came here to answer a private notice question about the merger and to tell us whether the matter would be referred to the Monopolies and Mergers Commission.

Were we talking simply about the fact that the report of the Monopolies and Mergers Commission is to be published tomorrow — about the precise timing and location of the report's publication—that would not be a matter for you,' Sir, or for the House, although all hon. Members object from time to time to information being made available to the press before it is made available to us. I understand that Lord Young has said that the report will be published and that a copy will be placed in the Library at 9 o'clock tomorrow morning; so far, so good.

However, much more pertinent is the fact that the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry is to give his decision on the recommendations of the Monopolies and Mergers Commission — on whether the merger is to be allowed to proceed as it stands, or allowed to proceed with conditions. These are matters of very great importance and concern to all hon. Members. I should have thought that Conservative Members who have shown as much concern and interest in these matters as Opposition Members would have supported the proposition that the Minister for Trade and Industry should come to the House at the earliest possible opportunity to make a statement on the decision.

Parallel with that, although it may not be our concern, is the fact that the rights and privileges of their lordships are at stake. The other place is part of Parliament and I should have thought that their lordships would be extremely upset that Lord Young is not to make a statement to them. In the past, the custom and practice has been that parallel statements are made at the same time in this House and in the other place [HON. MEMBERS: "This is disgraceful".] I completely agree with hon. Members who are making comments from a sedentary position. It is quite disgraceful that neither Lord Young nor his counterpart proposes to make a statement to the House.

Order. The hon. Gentleman is retreading ground that has been covered already. I cannot usefully add to what I have said to the House. We should get on.

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. One thing seems to be becoming a behaviour pattern for the Government Front Bench when it comes to informing the House. I should like to refer you, Mr. Deputy Speaker——

My point of order is that the standards we have come to expect as Back Benchers are being flouted by the Government—[Interruption.]

Order. If the hon. Gentleman is raising a point of order, it must be a matter on which the Chair can rule. If it is not a matter on which the Chair can rule, we should proceed with the debate.

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. It is in relation to the letter dated 9 November on House of Commons notepaper and submitted on behalf of the sponsors of the private Bill. It is to do with the film show this evening. I remember that recently Labour Members were refused the opportunity to see the Zircon film and had to ask the permission of the House to show the film. It may well be that the film at issue tonight is not of a security nature and may be to do with summer holidays run by the sponsors P and O. However, have the hon. Members involved obtained permission for the show to take place?

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. It is a new point of order on which I ask you to rule. It arises from the letter mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Makerfield (Mr. McCartney). Several points of order took place on this matter earlier. Towards the end of those points of order the hon. Member for Bury St. Edmunds, (Sir E. Griffiths), visiting our part of the Chamber, presumably to see the sponsors of the Bill, said that he had come to find out what the letter was about because he had only just found out about it. Several hon. Members heard him say that.

I ask for your guidance, Mr. Deputy Speaker. If the lead signatory of a letter on House of Commons notepaper with the crest on it and possibly all the other signatories, or at least more than one of them, had no knowledge of the contents of the letter, a difficulty arises. The letter has been circulated to hon. Members, at the very least to influence them in their behaviour in some way, perhaps to persuade them to stay or to vote in a particular way. The intentions of the letter are clear. It may be that some hon. Members did not know whether to stay behind but looked at the letter and said, "If the hon. Member for Bury St. Edmunds is backing this"——

They may have said that, which would have been extremely unfair to the sponsors of the Bill and would have meant that the letter had backfired, or they may have said, "He's a good chap so we will stay behind and support him." Either way——

Order. The hon. Gentleman does not need to embellish and garnish his point of order in that fashion. My fellow Deputy Speaker dealt with that matter at some length at the commencement of our proceedings. None of the matters raised by the hon. Gentleman is a matter for the Chair and we should get on.

Order. Some of the matters that are now being raised are dangerously close to being bogus points of order and seem to me to be intended to delay our proceedings. We really must get on.

—that all these points of order are ruining the flow of my speech and it may take me some time to return to the main point of my argument.

Order. If I did not make it sufficiently clear I will do so now. I do not think it appropriate for hon. Members to continue to raise points of order at this time.

10.30 pm

Before the 10 o'clock Division I was illustrating the difficulties which the Bill will cause to ports throughout the United Kingdom, and it is important to realise the amount of work that is taking place at various ports and the way in which that will add greatly to the overcapacity about which I spoke earlier.

On the east coast, for example, we must not consider the developments at Felixstowe in isolation. After all, at Hull a new passenger terminal has just been completed for use by North Sea Ferries. Close by, at Grimsby and Immingham, two other ABP ports, there is a graph of rising traffic. At Goole, also not far away, ABP is investing £1 million in container handling equipment. At Grimsby, a new facility operated by Humber Terminals was opened only last year. Close by are the ports of Teesside and Hartlepool. Further north, at Seaham, the port authority is investing £1·3 million on increasing its warehousing capacity. In Sunderland it is planned to develop a new ro-ro berth to serve the recently opened Nissan plant. Various schemes are afoot in the current financial year to improve the port of Tyne.

It should not be thought that the impact of the scheme that we are discussing will be felt simply on the east coast of England. If it gets the go-ahead unamended, problems will be caused, for example, to Scottish ports.

It might be wise for my hon. Friend, before leaving the east coast, to consider the effect of what is proposed on the port of Norwich, which, though it has modest traffic at present, has great scope for expansion, and many people hope that that expansion will come about.

I agree with my hon. Friend. Norwich will certainly be affected. The rules of order prevent me from referring to all 300 ports in the United Kingdom, but if any of my hon. Friends wish to intervene to point out the difficulties that will be caused to their constituencies, I shall be delighted to give way to them.

My hon. Friend referred in passing to the likely effect on Scottish ports. I am sure that all 50 Scottish Labour Members would be interested to hear how these proposals will affect their areas. Will my hon. Friend elaborate on that?

I know that my hon. Friends are anxious to be helpful at this stage in the debate. For example, I think that my hon. Friend the Member for Glanford and Scunthorpe (Mr. Morley) has a question about Scunthorpe and Humberside.

My hon. Friend may care to consider the effect of what is proposed in the Bill on the ports on the Humber estuary, including Goole, Immingham and Hull, plus many wharves along the Trent and the Humber bank. These ports and wharves, by any standard, have adequate capacity to deal with the trade on the east coast and to and from Europe. It makes one wonder about the argument for expansion at Felixstowe and ask where the trade will come from. Although I can understand that there may be an argument for the people of Felixstowe to attract the trade, they must accept that that trade is finite and will be taken away from other ports, which will cause unemployment and——

Order. I advise the hon. Gentleman and the House that the group of amendments before us deal with the dock labour scheme and whether Felixstowe should be excluded from the national dock labour scheme. I hope that hon. Members will direct their remarks to that matter.

May I point out that, in these amendments, we are considering the impact that the proposed scheme will have on ports covered by the national dock labour scheme. I wish it were possible to include Felixstowe in that scheme, although the hon. Member for Bury St. Edmunds (Sir E. Griffiths) might not agree and indeed, the promoters of the Bill would not be over-enthusiastic:

With due respect to you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, my hon. Friend the Member for Glanford and Scunthorpe (Mr. Morley) drew attention to specific ports that will be affected by the proposed scheme, namely Hull, Immingham, Goole and Grimsby on the Humber estuary and to the effect on those fly-by-nights on the wharves who are not members of the dock registered scheme although many of them would now like to be members.

I am grateful, even if you are not, Mr. Deputy Speaker, for that guidance from my hon. Friend. The fact is that the impact of the scheme under discussion would be felt throughout the 300 or so ports within the United Kingdom. For many years the Labour party has criticised the lack of a national ports policy. That lack is amply illustrated by the likely impact of the proposed scheme if the amendments are not accepted.

In south Yorkshire we have ambitions to see the development of Sheffield and the south Yorkshire navigation proceeding at a more acceptable pace to allow our docks to be developed. We have Rother port and——

Order. Nowhere in south Yorkshire is within the scope of the national dock labour scheme.

We wish our inland navigation, and the trade that it carries, to be developed to the point where we could apply to be within the scheme. The problem is—I should like my hon. Friend to comment on it—that the development——

My hon. Friend should try on the next group of amendments.

The confusion that has understandably arisen on this group of amendments is the direct result of the Government's failure to accept the need for any sort of a national ports policy. If the amendments are rejected, chaos will arise at other ports inside and outside the scheme.

We are considering the Bill in the context of all the ports competing against one another, and in our view that competition dramatically illustrates the lack of a national ports policy—a policy which has been advocated by the Labour party since the mid-1960s.

I hope that my hon. Friends will accept that I was undertaking a fairly careful summary tour of the United Kingdom and talking about the impact of the project on ports such as Aberdeen, which has a £31 million investment programme for the next decade. We must also consider the Forth ports. For example, Leith has recently installed a £1 million transit shed. At Belfast a number of projects are under development.

The great problem is that the overcapacity to which I have referred is, in any case, being increased by all the projects that are taking place around the country. But that overcapacity will be made dramatically worse by the Bill.

The purpose of our amendments is to reduce the impact of the project on other United Kingdom ports. The scheme will not marginally increase capacity at Felixstowe. In the past 20 years or so Felixstowe has risen from a virtual greenfield site to the successful port that it is today. It is through containers, which is the sort of traffic that other ports are competing for, that its capacity has increased dramatically in recent years. I make no specific complaint about that, but I hope that even Conservative Members who passionately support the Bill will concede that unless we have the opportunity to restrict growth in ports such as Felixstowe the overcapacity that all hon. Members accept exists, particularly on the east coast and in the south-east, will worsen.

My hon. Friend will be aware that there is presently some control of the development of ports and that those controls complement his arguments about an organised regulated port transport industry. Does my hon. Friend agree that amendments to Bills in the past have virtually given licence to port developers to do what they will, where they will and when they will, and have destabilised the Government's ports policy? Does he also agree that, as an island nation, it is absolutely necessary for us in the long term to have an effective policy? The short-term considerations of developers are placing in jeopardy the whole future of the ports transport industry.

Order. I hope that we can get back to the application of the dock labour scheme to Felixstowe.

My hon. Friend amply illustrated the dangers of uncontrolled expansion for the dock work labour scheme. The infrastructure that grew up around Liverpool was as a result of the expansion of that port in the latter part of the last century and, until the change in traffic patterns to which I referred earlier, particularly containerisation, the infrastructure of the port of Liverpool continued to grow. The problem with the Felixstowe project is that there is no mention of any infrastructure. P and O will not pay the infrastructure costs; it will be the taxpayer. We tabled the amendments because, as my hon. Friend said, the unrestricted growth of ports means that infrastructure costs fall on the taxpayer, even though that growth is damaging Britain's overall capacity. That is because there is a far greater capacity than any projections have envisaged over the next decade.

Does my hon. Friend have any idea what the infrastructure costs will he? Hon. Members who are new to the arguments in the Bill would find it helpful in deciding how to vote if we had some indication of those Costs.

I do not know the costs, but one can easily envisage how those costs will come about. If the amendments are rejected, the development will go ahead, even more containers will pass through the port, and the local authorities, as well as the hon. Member for Bury St. Edmunds (Sir E. Griffiths) and his colleagues from the area, will say that the infrastructure cannot cope with the increased traffic. The construction of a new railway line into the port of Felixstowe is a direct result of this expansion.

10.45 pm

It is unusual for an ex-railwayman to stand at the Dispatch Box and speak in favour of an amendment that will stop railway development. However, despite my concern — some might even say passion — for railway development, I repeat the necessity for a national policy for railways as well as airports, because putting branch lines in one area does not make for an overall national industrial policy. However, I have been led astray by the reference to the new railway development at Felixstowe.

My hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Garston (Mr. Loyden) made a perfectly valid point about the port of Liverpool. My hon. Friend the Member for West Bromwich, East (Mr. Snape) referred to Aberdeen. I should like to draw his attention to Clyde ports——

Order. I thought that I had suggested that the hon. Member for Garston had not made a valid point. The amendments with which we are dealing are about the application of the national dock labour scheme to Felixstowe. They have nothing to do with the Clyde, or Liverpool or anywhere else.

With respect, Mr. Deputy Speaker, the amendments are about the impact of the development on the dock labour scheme nationwide. My hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Shettleston (Mr. Marshall) was quite right about the scheme ports in Scotland. Unless the amendments are accepted, there will be an impact as far afield as Scotland.

No doubt without wishing to cause any offence, my hon. Friend stopped before he touched on the ports on the north side of the River Forth in my constituency. There is a great deal of concern amongst the smaller ports — particularly those to the south of Fife that exist on a marginal basis — about the effects that will ensue from the changes.

Will my hon. Friend, now or later, comment on the problems that might affect ports such as Kirkcaldy, and Burnt Island, which is mainly tied to imports of aluminium oxide that is used in the factory in the area?

Order. If the hon. Member for West Bromwich, East (Mr. Snape) were persuaded to go along those lines he might be ruled out of order by the Chair.

I understand my hon. Friend's concern to bring forward constituency matters. I have to confess that the problems of Kirkcaldy and Burnt Island were not uppermost in my mind when I helped to table the amendments.

I realise that I may have tried your patience, Mr. Deputy Speaker, during my short remarks, but this is a complex matter and group of amendments. It is, as I hope the hon. Member for Bury St. Edmunds agrees, a fundamental group of amendments.

I referred earlier to the NEDO report on "The Nation's Infrastructure Sea And Estuarial Ports". I want to repeat some of its recommendations. It, too, was concerned about the impact of uncontrolled development on existing scheme ports. A considerable amount of the report is devoted to the impact of the fixed link on Britain's ports. Having caused a little controversy by referring in passing to the project earlier, I am anxious to return the House to its normally placid and even tenor at this time of the night. In the chapter headed:
"The future for UK ports"
the report said
"Ports will need to continue to adapt to meet changing needs. They are a service industry and suffer from uneven demands. A certain amount of over-capacity is therefore inevitable and even desirable. It is also accepted that world shipping is at present in a very depressed state and one of the few growth areas is passenger car traffic to the continent."
Paragraph 9.2 it said:
"At the moment a certain amount of rationalisation of dock areas rather than port closures is going on, particularly by the newly privatised ABP company."
Again I have to point out that we are talking about an increase in capacity, a new development, when at the same time ABP is following a process of rationalisation which all of us know full well is the in jargon word for unemployment and redundancies among those who work in ABP ports. Is that what the promoters of the Bill intended? I am sure it is not, but that is what is inadvertently occurring.

In paragraph 9.2 the report also said:
"In other cases improved or new facilities are being constructed to cater for known future shipper needs."
I will paraphrase this part. It talks about new berths at Dover to accommodate the larger ferries which Townsend Thoresen, now part of P and O, will shortly be introducing. Hon. Members will be aware that Dover, too, is outside the scheme. Since the acquisition of Townsend Thoresen by P and O it would appear that here are two non-scheme ports, both expanding, with inevitable damage to other ports where workers are organised directly within the dock labour scheme. In our view that is another strong argument for supporting the amendments.

Paragraph 9.2 also says:
"Sealink Harbours Limited have a programme for updating some of their ports, many of which they acquired in a rather dilapidated condition"—
the cynics could interject immediately that they fixed them up cheaply—
"whilst some port operators take a view that world shipping trade will again increase and are at present taking advantage of relatively cheap construction costs."
Again I press for support for the amendments. In the successful port of Felixstowe we are dealing in isolation with something that will have an enormous impact on other ports.

Can my hon. Friend tell the House whether the promoters of the Bill have considered the capacity of the Eurotunnel and the effect that will have on Felixstowe? Secondly, what effect will P and O's association with the Zeebrugge disaster and the terrible reputation it has gained over that episode have on the construction of ships? Should one not be looking for shorter——

Order. None of these matters seems to me to have anything to do with whether Felixstowe should be excluded from the national dock labour scheme.

Whatever our views on the fixed link, to which my hon. Friend referred, it will have an enormous impact on British ports policy.

Order. I have just made it clear that in the view of the Chair these matters have nothing to do with the amendments under consideration. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will have regard to my ruling.

Of course, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I in no way challenge your ruling. If you stop for a moment, I think that you will agree that a good argument can be made in the context of the amendments on changes in deep sea container shipping patterns, some of which will be caused by Eurotunnel, and on ports that fall directly within the national dock labour scheme as well as Felixstowe and this development. But I shall not follow that line, because I know that at this time of the night we can all burn on fairly short fuses.

I have referred to some of the expansion schemes which would have an impact on this project. The news in other ports, including Greenock—another scheme port—is not good. One could argue that Greenock in Scotland will soon not be affected by the dock labour scheme because that port will close. Earlier this year, the Financial Times ran a report headed, "Scotland to lose container port as Greenock closes". That is an example of the diminution of the market in Scotland, yet there is expansion in the south of England.

That was the very point that I was going to make earlier. Dockers on the Clyde are losing their jobs because of Felixstowe's expansion. This exacerbates the north-south divide and creates two nations. The Bill will worsen the situation.

My hon. Friend has put his finger on the crux of the problem. But if I started to debate the two nations problem and the north-south divide, I fear that even your well-renowned patience would be strained, Mr. Deputy Speaker. My hon. Friend has made the point amply, and perhaps we should leave it at that.

The criticism that is always levelled at the Labour party is that we knock down what the Conservatives put up but do not put forward any alternatives.

I like to kid myself that, if I am still doing this job, I might be involved in that. I make it up as I go along. I can always be outvoted at some time — [Interruption.] I am glad that my hon. Friends endorse this somewhat unorthodox approach to policy review.

The Labour party has tried for some 20 years to bring about the type of national policy which it wants. Such a policy would be embraced if the Bill's promotors were wise enough to accept the amendments. As long ago as the early 1960s the Rochdale committee — I hazard a guess that that was a heavyweight bunch — chronicled the difficulties then being caused to Britain's port structure by the unco-ordinated approach that typified the, in some ways, nonsensical competition between ports, some of them on opposite sides of the same estuary.

Much play has been made of the Government's attitude to these matters. I have a copy of a speech by the former Secretary of State for Transport to the British Ports Association and the National Association of Port Employers on 16 April 1986. To be fair to him — I always like to be fair to Conservative Ministers, but I do not often get the opportunity — he also spoke of the difficulties. The transcript shows that he started his speech by saying:
"Thanks for lunch and for the toast and the courteous speeches both Sir Frederic and Mr. Cooper made."
I am not sure whether it was Sir Frederic Bennett and Mr. Tommy Cooper who were involved in that lunch — [Interruption.] There is plenty more where that came from if hon. Members would like me to go through the speech of the former Secretary of State in detail.

Order. The hon. Gentleman should do that only if it relates to the national dock labour scheme and to Felixstowe.

11 pm

I hope that you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, would not think for a moment that if it did not, I would even draw the attention of the House to the subject. I would not dream of doing such a thing.

In his speech the Secretary of State talked about the problems facing the port industry then. Paraphrasing his comments, he referred to the lack of co-ordination within the port industry and said that that meant that British ports were at a competitive disadvantage against European ports. Again, there is more harmony about this matter than perhaps the hon. Member for Bury St. Edmunds would acknowledge. There are areas of agreement across the Chamber and we should not forget them.

Before the last general election, the Labour party produced a document proposing a proper harmonisation of the ports business in this country through the creation of a national ports authority. I do not know whether the hon. Member for Bury St. Edmunds would agree with me, but I suggest that the creation of that authority would have enabled the owner of the port of Felixstowe—P and O — to put its suggestions for expansion to a national ports authority where it could have been dealt with in the context of its impact on other ports on the east coast and throughout the country.

I hope that Conservative Members will feel that the case for supporting the amendment has been made. I hope that the Minister will readily acknowledge and concede that that case has been made. I do not know whether I have succeeded in convincing you, Madam Deputy Speaker, or the hon. Member for Bury St. Edmunds, but I hope at least that I have succeeded in convincing the Minister that the argument for a national ports authority is unchallengeable and that that argument is accepted by all our competitors or partners—call them what we will—in the EEC who look with some amusement as well as bemusement at the lack of such a policy in the United Kingdom. I commend the amendment to the House on the ground that, by voting for it, the House will be accepting the need for such a policy within the United Kingdom.

I intervene briefly because the Bill is sponsored by my hon. Friend the Member for Bury St. Edmunds (Sir E. Griffiths).

The hon. Member for West Bromwich, East (Mr. Snape) and my hon. Friend the Member for Keighley (Mr. Waller) drew attention to the impact of the expansion of Felixstowe on other ports. If Felixstowe wins business from other ports, that is because exporters find Felixstowe better for their business. That better value means more competitive exports, more business for our manufacturing industry and more jobs among our manufacturers. The hon. Member for West Bromwich, East made it clear that the Labour party advocates a national ports policy which would restrict growth at Felixstowe. The effect of that would be to distort the pattern of transport through our ports and prevent manufacturers from utilising the most economic, cost-effective and appropriate port for their trade.

Does not the Minister understand that we find it very difficult to accept that he can be objective about such matters when the company that we are discussing pays money to the Tory party? How can the Minister convince people in the country that he is being objective when the Conservatives are on the take as a party?

The hon. Gentleman knows perfectly well that my arguments will not be influenced by the point that he has just made. Moreover, my point is valid, whether it relates to Felixstowe or to any other port. I am saying that the Labour party's policies would distort the pattern of trade from what is most economic to what is less economic. The expense of that is in job losses in manufacturing industry, which is not able to utilise the most cost-effective way of moving its goods.

The main purpose of the amendments is to apply the dock labour scheme to the port of Felixstowe. I advise the House to reject them. Felixstowe is a non-scheme port. If the scheme is ever to apply to Felixstowe, it should be done openly by recognised procedure, and not introduced in a partial, back-door way. It would be absurd for most of a port to be outside the scheme, and a small part inside it. It would be equally absurd to classify this part of the site in the scheme port of Ipswich, which is 10 miles up the Orwell.

For those reasons, I recommend that the House reject the amendments.

rose in his place and claimed to move, That the Question be now put.

Question put, That the Question be now put: —

The House divided: Ayes 206, Noes 65.

Division No. 49]

[11.06 pm


Alison, Rt Hon MichaelBeaumont-Dark, Anthony
Arnold, Jacques (Gravesham)Beith, A. J.
Arnold, Tom (Hazel Grove)Bennett, Nicholas (Pembroke)
Ashby, DavidBevan, David Gilroy
Atkinson, DavidBlaker, Rt Hon Sir Peter
Baker, Nicholas (Dorset N)Boswell, Tim