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Felixstowe Dock And Railway Bill (Committee)

Volume 91: debated on Wednesday 12 February 1986

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

7.13 pm

I beg to move,

That leave be given to the Committee on the Felixstowe Dock and Railway Bill to sit with two members to-morrow and thereafter.

I regret that I have found it necessary to take up the time of the House with the motion. Perhaps I should explain the background.

On 13 May 1985, the Felixstowe Dock and Railway Bill was given a Second Reading by a majority of 136. The Bill's main purpose is to extend Felixstowe dock: it is a controversial proposal and a number of local interest groups have petitioned against it. It began its Committee stage before an Opposed Private Bill Committee, consisting of four members, on 3 December. The Committee has so far taken evidence on 14 days and the promoters have indicated to me that a further 12 days may be necessary to complete proceedings.

Both in December and since the House resumed in January, the Committee has been in difficulties over its quorum. The original membership was the hon. Member for Crosby (Mr. Thornton), the hon. Member for Bristol, East (Mr. Sayeed), the hon. Member for Leeds, Central (Mr. Fatchett) and the hon. Member for Cynon Valley (Mrs. Clwyd). On 29 January the hon. Member for Cynon Valley asked to be replaced on the Committee and the Committee adjourned pending the nomination of a replacement by the Committee of Selection. The Committee of Selection, exceptionally, acceded to her request to be replaced, and put the hon. Member for Worsley (Mr. Lewis) on the Committee in her place. However, neither the hon. Member for Worsley nor the hon. Member for Leeds, Central has attended the Committee since it adjourned on 29 January.

I understand that attempts have since been made to find Opposition Members willing to serve on the Committee, but they have been unsuccessful and the Committee now lacks a quorum. Under Standing Order No. 121, it cannot sit in the absence of more than one of its members, except by leave of the House. That leave is what the House will give if it passes this motion.

My responsibility, as Chairman of Ways and Means, is to ensure that arrangements are made to allow the procedures of the House to apply to this Bill: in particular, the promoters of the Bill, and the petitioners against it, should have a proper opportunity to make their case heard in Committee. I believe that it would be a harmful precedent if the progress of a private Bill were to be inhibited in this way, since it would call into question the very procedures which Parliament itself had established. If the Bill were not to be allowed to proceed, it might follow that any private Bill could be blocked if Members of one of the main parties in the House were to refuse to serve on the Committee. I doubt whether that is what the House wishes.

In all the circumstances, allowing the Committee to proceed with a reduced quorum seems to be the most realistic option before the House. Such motions have been passed on previous occasions—in 1890, in 1897 and much more recently in 1965—when Committees on private Bills were unable to proceed for lack of a quorum. The motion does not prevent other members being added to the Committee by the Committee of Selection; nor does it prevent the members of the Committee who have been absent from attending meetings of the Committee. If those concerned could enable the Bill to proceed in either of those ways, I think it would be far more satisfactory. But, unless and until they do so, the need to give both the promoters and the petitioners a full and proper hearing in Committee seems to me overriding.

I hope that the House will share that view and will support the motion.

I must announce to the House that I have not selected the amendment in the name of the hon. Member for Fife, Central (Mr. Hamilton).

7.17 pm

The House may wonder why a Scottish Member has suddenly taken an interest in Felixstowe. I must confess that I am not too much concerned with the merits or demerits of the Bill—

I shall not take instructions on that or any other matter from the hon. Gentleman.

My attention was drawn to the matter by my hon. Friend the Member for Cynon Valley (Mrs. Clwyd) who was elected to the House to represent a constituency in South Wales. There are manifold problems in her constituency, as everyone should know. Moreover, she was appointed as a member of the Committee dealing with the Gas Bill. She judged that her constituents were more interested in the Gas Bill and the purloining of public assets by private enterprise than with what might or might not happen in Felixstowe. She therefore came to me. I do not know why she came to me. Perhaps it was because she is of the same rebellious nature as I am. I advised her to quit the Committee. She sought to make inquiries as to what that might imply. The Committees for private Members' Bills are the only Committees in the House at which attendance is compulsory. If one does not attend, one might be fined. I said to her, "Go down in history, Ann, and be bloody well fined." She wisely took my advice and the consequences are here before us.

Let me make it clear to the Chairman of Ways and Means, for whom I have a great respect and affection, that I know that he is saddled with the problem. By a decision of the House, he is given important discretionary powers and duties to deal with private Bills. That is the matter with which I propose to deal, not the merits of the Bill, although I am bound to say that considerable commercial interests are involved and, if the Bill goes through, substantial profits are to be made from the results.

I took the precaution of looking up in "Erskine May" the history of private Bill procedure, which is briefly referred to on page 858 of the 20th edition. It explains how the practice of private Bills grew out of ancient practice, long before adult enfranchisement, whereby the only way that people who were not represented in the House could make representations to it was by petition.

The rights of petitioners and the power of the House of Commons to deal with petitions were set out in two resolutions of the House of Commons in 1669. That beats the precedents quoted by the Chairman of Ways and Means by about 100 years or so. Those rights were embodied in two resolutions, one dealing with the right to petition and the right of the House to receive petitions, and the other with the right and privilege of the House to judge and determine how far such petitions were fit or unfit to be received. "Erskine May" says:
"These two resolutions of general import formed part of a group of resolutions, the rest of which related specifically to trading matters in the East Indies, and reflected a serious quarrel between the two Houses (the 'Skinner Dispute.')"
That is still going on. "Erskine May" continues:
"In an effort to settle the controversy, the House later acceded to a royal command that the entire group of resolutions be erased from the Journal."
After the first Reform Act, there was a vast increase in the number of petitions presented to the House, so a series of Standing Orders were adopted in 1842 to inhibit the debate on petitions. Consequently, the numbers significantly declined.

"Erskine May" goes on to say that from about 1700 a growing number of private Bills began to be produced and were concerned with matters such as the building and construction of toll roads—we shall be getting back to those soon—canals, railways, reservoirs, and so on, with local government matters. In modern times, most private Bills are those promoted by local authorities and statutory bodies for the better fulfilment of their functions and the conferring of powers that the ordinary law does not give them.

In passing private Bills, Parliament still exercises its legislative functions, but its proceedings also assume a judicial character. In those proceedings, the members of the Committees are generally bored to tears by the vested legal interests who are paid by the hour —unlike us. Hon. Members sit there, but the lawyers present the case for and against, and have a vested interest in prolonging the agony.

The various kinds of private Bills are dealt with at length in "Erskine May" and I do not propose to bore the House by going through them. The Chairman of Ways and Means is given considerable duties and discretions in dealing with the passage of private Bills, dating from 1848 and laid down in various standing orders. I shall quote again from "Erskine May", on page 1002, which deals with a quorum—our problem tonight. It says:
"The committee may not proceed if more than one of the members is absent, unless by special leave of the House; and no member of a committee on an opposed private bill may absent himself, except in case of illness, or by leave of the House. Members absenting themselves are reported to the House at its next sitting.
Formerly the House ordered such members to attend the next sitting of the committee, but if their absence was occasioned by illness, domestic anxiety, or other sufficient cause, no such order was made."
As far as I can gather, there is no fixed limit to the number that can constitute a quorum in a private Bill Committee, but this Committee happens to have four members, two Labour and two Conservative, the Chairman being a Conservative. My hon. Friend the Member for Cynon Valley was not asked but told to serve on the Committee, as is the practice.

I recall that when I first came to the House my Scottish Whip was a venerable grey-haired old gentleman called George Mathers. We used to describe him as God's PPS, he was so gentle. Very soon he came to see me, put his arm around my shoulder, as I remember, and implied that I had been singled out for preferential treatment. It went to my head right away, but that is the closest I have got to any official appointment. I served on that Committee and I vowed that I would never serve on another—I have not. I warn new hon. Members that if their Whip comes around and puts his arm around the shoulders of one of them, he should tell him to go to hell. This procedure is absurd.

My hon. Friend the Member for Cynon Valley properly resented being compelled to attend this nonsense. She is a rebellious, stubborn character—a lady of my own heart. I encouraged her in all her rebellious ways, and I want to put on record one or two facts which might be less amusing to the House. The Chairman of Ways and Means has had to overcome the difficulty presented by my hon. Friend the Member for Cynon Valley and my hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, Central (Mr. Fatchett). No doubt he had appropriate advice from whatever quarters.

I do not know whether there was agreement through the usual channels, but I rather suspect that there might have been and I would not be surprised if there were, but even if there were not it does not matter a hoot to me. I shall state my views on the matter because it is reprehensible that the Chairman of Ways and Means has been authorised by the House to adopt a procedure whereby, if his motion is accepted, we might have the prospect of the Bill going through Committee and its remaining stages by the co-operation of two Conservative Members. They would be sitting in cahoots upstairs deciding that a private company, which has made considerable financial contributions to the Tory party funds—[Interruption.] That prospect is now possible, indeed probable, if the motion is accepted. I have no wish to criticise the Chairman of Ways and Means. He is going through the correct procedures.

My hon. Friend is probably not aware that the system he has just described became even more ludicrous. The Chairman of Ways and Means has already said that I have not attended any meetings. That is true. I received a letter from the Private Bill Office saying that I had been appointed to the Committee, and a certificate which I had to sign to say that I would not vote upon anything on which I had not heard evidence or attended. I was blithely told in the letter of appointment that 14 days of evidence had already been given. That is ludicrous, as I imagine my hon. Friend would agree.

My hon. Friend underlines the need for the House to provide the appropriate machinery to have a good long look at the way in which we deal with private Bills. I see the Chairman of Ways and Means nodding assent, and I think that the sooner we get down to that the better because the dangers, or potential dangers, in this procedure are underlined by the passage of this particular Bill.

I believe that over the past few years this House has increasingly been dominated by outside private financial interests. The stench is growing more objectionable and disturbing every week. I have talked about the company involved in the Bill going through the House. That company has made contributions to Tory party funds for some years. For the year ending December 1977 it paid £10,000; for the year ending December 1978 it paid £15,050; for 1979 the figure was £15,000; for 1980, index linked obviously, the figure was £20,250. For 1981 the figure was £21,000.

My hon. Friend is right. For 1982 the figure was £26,000; in 1983, election year, it was £60,000 and in 1984 it was £33,000. That is democracy. For all I know the Government might have incited the company to bring forward a Bill—

Order. We cannot have two hon. Members on their feet at the same time.

The Government might have incited the company to bring forward a private Bill by saying, "The procedures of the House are such that we can guarantee that the Bill will get through and therefore your profits will be increased and, as a consequence, you can make bigger contributions to our funds". That is typical of what is happening in the House and what has been increasingly happening over the past six years.

I say to the House and the country it is time that this kind of corruption ended. That is why we intend to oppose it tonight.

7.35 pm

There is a certain kind of Committee formed from Members of the House which is of a judicial nature rather than of the normal political nature. That category certainly includes private Bill Committees and the Standing Orders Committee. Whereas in a normal Standing Committee the complexion of the Committee roughly reflects the party strengths on the Floor of the House, and indeed the Committee of Selection usually appoints Members who have expressed a particular interest in the subject in Second Reading debates—

If the hon. Lady had been listening to the proceedings she would have discovered that the hon. Member for Fife, Central (Mr. Hamilton) had finished speaking and that Mr. Deputy Speaker called me.

As I was saying, on a Standing Committee there is a political composition of the Committee. On those Committees which have a judicial function, that most certainly is not so. Moreover, I understand that the Committee of Selection does its best to exclude from such a Committee those who have a personal or constituency interest in its outcome. I should have thought that it was essential for the fair and just dealing between this House and petitioners that private Bill Committees should proceed with reasonable expedition.

A private Bill confers upon an individual or a body corporate of some kind special rights which are not inherent in public general law and which are not commercially available, or it deprives other people of their normal rights under public general law. Therefore, it is essential that those whose rights and interests are affected should be entitled to petition against such private Bills if they want to—but, thank heavens, not necessarily employing lawyers to put their case for them. The important thing is that they can appear in person before such a Committee or, if they want to, they can hire a lawyer. For the private individual, that is a worrying and time-consuming process and it can also be very expensive.

If therefore, members of the Committee abdicate their duty to this House and to those affected affected by the legislation, the result can only be quite unpredictable costs on those whose rights are potentially affected by the legislation, and chaos in their personal lives and in the organisation of their business affairs, because there is no way in which they can tell when their petition will be heard and when they will have an opportunity to speak in favour of it before the Committee.

Does not this debate show the difficulty and ethical problem that arises when any person who is a contributor to any political party seeks to put a Bill through this House? Regardless of which party or which issue is involved, the principle is the same. If people are known financial supporters—

I wish that the hon. Gentleman would listen. Regardless of party, person or matter, the principle is the same. Is that not the ethical problem being demonstrated in this debate?

I can only disagree with the hon. Gentleman. Ordinary duties are carried out by ordinary citizens—not hon. Members—such as serving on a jury. If the person being tried is of a known political persuasion, that does not mean that the juror is entitled to allow that to interfere with the discharge of his duty. That is the implication of the hon. Gentleman's remarks.

Why is it that an ordinary citizen performing a judicial service, which it is his duty to do, can discharge that honourably and correctly, while a Member of this House cannot? Those are the bones of the matter—it has nothing to do with political contributions—[Interruption.] The Opposition appear not to want to hear what I am saying, for reasons that can only be disreputable.

It would be as wrong for Members of this House to allow facts within their knowledge about political contributions to affect their behaviour on a Committee dealing with a private Bill as it would be for a juror to allow such considerations to affect his judgment—[Interruption.] If Opposition Members disagree, they are attacking the whole basis of the jury system. They know that I am not a lawyer; I am merely stating what everyone knows to be the basis of justice in this country.

Does the hon. Gentleman accept that there is a slight fallacy in his argument? The courts go through only one manning procedure, while there are two alternatives for promoting this sort of enterprise—either a private Bill or a public inquiry.

The hon. Gentleman is righty concerned about the rights of the petitioners. However, it is far easier for individuals to appear at and make representations to a public inquiry—and through that, the inspector and, finally, the Minister to the House—than it is to go through the private Bill procedure. If the hon. Gentleman is so concerned about the rights of petitioners, he should advise the company to withdraw the Bill and ask for a local public inquiry. The issues will then be aired by local people who will have the best possible opportunity to object. It can then come to the House for political decision.

I am not in the least concerned with the merits or otherwise of the Bill. The hon. Gentleman's argument could fairly be deployed on Second or Third Reading. We are tonight discussing something wholly different—whether hon. Members who are appointed to a private Bill Committee are entitled to exercise political likes or dislikes to frustrate the purpose for which that Committee was appointed. Of course, the Committee is appointed only if the Bill is opposed by petitioners.

I am firmly of the opinion—which I hope will be widely shared, irrespective of political affiliation—that when hon. Members are appointed to a Committee with a judicial function, they must act judiciously for the honour of this House and the expedition of its business—in fairness judicially both to the objectors via petitions and to the promoters of the Bill. That is their clear duty and they should discharge it.

I wish to ask the hon. Gentleman a simple question; he may wish to consult his hon. Friends on the Treasury Bench. Is it true that the chairman of the Conservative party wrote to some hon. Members asking them to vote on Second Reading of the Bill when it first came before the House? If that is true, does not the House deserve some explanation?

I cannot tell the hon. Gentleman whether it is true or not— [Interruption.] The hon. Gentleman has asked me a question, so perhaps he will do me the courtesy of listening to my answer.

As the chairman of the Conservative party did not address any such letter to me, I can tell the hon. Gentleman quite truthfully that I do not know the answer to his question. His point might be relevant to a Second or Third Reading debate, but it is wholly irrelevant to my submission, namely, that hon. Members appointed to a judicial Committee, whether a private Bill Committee, a Standing Orders Committee, or whatever, have a duty to act faithfully, impartially and judiciously and not from political judgment or spite. That is an absolutely clear obligation. I hope that, on reflection, that obligation is accepted, irrespective of the political affiliations of hon. Members.

7.48 pm

Unlike my hon. Friend the Member for Fife, Central (Mr. Hamilton), I did not get a friendly tap on the shoulder or even a friendly telephone call; all I had was a postcard in the internal mail telling me that I had been appointed to the Committee considering the Felixstowe Dock and Railway Bill.

I had no idea what sort of task was being imposed on me until I turned up for the first sitting and was asked to sign a declaration, which had previously been sent to me in the post, stating that neither I nor my constituents had any financial interest in the subject under discussion. It is interesting that that is the only occasion on which an hon. Member is expected to make such a declaration. It demonstrates the importance that the House has given to those procedures.

I, too, have been searching through "Erskine May". I am pleased to say that some of the things that I read about have not been visited upon me as a result of absenting myself from the Committee. There is a whole paragraph on the strictures that can be applied to hon. Members who refuse to attend. Page 993 states:
"If the Committee of Selection is dissatisfied with a Member's excuse, it will require him to serve upon a committee, when his attendance will become obligatory, and if necessary will be enforced by the House."
The fact that the Speaker and the Deputy Speakers have not attempted to enforce any such measures upon me shows that the House needs reform.

"Erskine May" states that in 1845
"a Member did not attend a committee on a group of railway bills to which he had been nominated, and his absence was accordingly reported to the House in the prescribed manner. He stated to the House that a correspondence had taken place between the Committee of Selection and himself, in which he had informed them that he was already serving on two public committees, and that his serving on the railway group committee was incompatible with those duties. But the House ordered him to attend the railway committee.
In 1846 the Committee of Selection, not being satisfied with the excuses of Mr. Smith O'Brien" —
there is copious correspondence in Hansard between Mr. O'Brien, the Speaker and Officers of the House—
"nominated him a member of a committee on a group of railways bills in the usual manner. He did not attend the committee; his absence was accordingly reported to the House; and he was ordered to attend the committee on the following day. Being again absent, his absence was again reported; he attended in his place in the House and stated that he refused to attend the committee; upon which he was declared guilty of a contempt, and was committed to the custody of the Serjeant at Arms."
I am sure that the Serjeant at Arms is much relieved that he has not been called upon to fulfil the same function with me. Mr. Smith O'Brien's reason for not attending the Committee was that, as an Irish Member, he was not prepared to vote on matters that did not concern Ireland. He was not prepared to vote on matters relating to Scotland and England. He did not mention Wales.

I am sure that the comment of the hon. Member for Bury, North (Mr. Burt) was heard by everybody.

I hope that the people of Wales at the next election will treat the Conservatives in the way that they deserve.

Mr. Smith O'Brien, a Member for Limerick, spent 25 days in prison. Apparently the House of Commons had a prison at that time. It may still be here. He was subsequently discharged, but only after a motion was put forward by some of his hon. Friends. I hope that if anything similar happens to me, my hon. Friends will do likewise.

In reference to Mr. O'Brien's position, Mr. Disraeli said:
"Are we prepared to support this compulsory principle by which we shall enforce the attendance of Members on Committees? I hope not, more especially as the circumstances which had justified that principle are rapidly disappearing . The railway business at one time was supposed to last for seven years; but that anticipated pressure has disappeared, and, having disappeared, it is now open to the House to consider the expediency of enforcing the principle of compulsory attendance; a consideration which, if calmly and dispassionately entered into, might put an end to an occurrence which we all deplore."
Nothing has happened since to change a procedure that existed in 1846. Despite the tempting invitation of my hon. Friend the Member for Fife, Central, who has given me most valuable advice during the two years that I have been in the House—

No, two years. My hon. Friend the Member for Fife, Central said that this was a way of getting my name into the history books. Tempting though that suggestion may have been, my main reason for taking a stand on this issue is that the procedures are archaic and out of date. We should change the procedures and this is the only way to do so. Since I have been an hon. Member, I have believed that the working practices of the House need urgent root and branch reform.

The working hours and conditions, methods of debate, voting procedures, the operation of Select and Standing Committees, the lobbying system and the continuing absence of television have all been criticised. But change has not been given the necessary support by Parliament or any political party, although individual hon. Members have argued for such reforms. I hope that hon. Members will not be expected in future to experience the routine, rigorous and tedious demands on the time of hon. Members the opposed private Bill system puts upon them.

During the six weeks that I have been involved on the Bill, the issues have been about the rights of hon. Members on Committees and the practices and procedures of such Committees. For three days a week, for six weeks, we made our way down the corridors of the House of Lords, past the portraits of Shaftesbury and the hanging judge, Judge Jeffreys, to Committee Room 5. There were four of us and the chairman had a casting vote. I cast no aspersions on the chairmanship of the hon. Member for Crosby (Mr. Thornton). Throughout the procedure he has been a fair and just Chairman. Anything that I say tonight is not a criticism of the hon. Gentleman.

We have listened for long and tedious hours to the promoters of the Bill arguing their case, in excruciating detail, for being allowed to extend their docks into an area of outstanding natural beauty. The proceedings are semi-judicial in nature, because a Committee on a private Bill is not concerned merely with scrutinising the details and drafting of the Bill, as a Committee on a public Bill is or ought to be. Its primary duties are to decide whether the Bill is justified at all, whether the promoters really need it, and whether it is the only way of furthering their aims.

An onerous task is imposed on the Committee. It has to decide whether it is to the public advantage that the Bill should pass into law. Above all, it has to assess the claims of the opponents of the Bill—the petitioners against the Bill—who appear before it.

As has been mentioned, the company in question is owned by European Ferries, which was the sixth largest contributor to Tory party funds in 1983. It is not inconceivable that the former chairman of the Conservative party, the right hon. Member for Suffolk, Coastal (Mr. Gummer) might—I merely make the suggestion—encourage the company, by a nod and a wink, to embark on this extremely costly exercise because it could be sure of success.

No, I am not giving way.

As one of the spokesmen for the objectors put it during our hearings,
"The company has chosen this route because it considers that it is its best chance of success."

No. The hon. Member will have the opportunity to make his speech.

Hon. Members on the Committee are expected, on the evidence, to determine, in effect, United Kingdom port policy and environmental policy. If the Committee agrees to the extension of dock facilities at Felixstowe, there is no doubt that, as my hon. Friends and some Conservative Members know, ports such as Southampton, London, Tilbury, Liverpool and others will lose jobs as a result.

It is important that I should explain some of the background because it illustrates the task that we are putting on members of the Committee. To what extent a Channel tunnel will make the expansion of Felixstowe necessary seems not to have entered—

Order. The hon. Lady is beginning to stray into the merits of the Bill. She has been in order while talking about the difficulties of hon. Members serving on the Committee and the difficulties of obtaining a quorum, but it is not in order to discuss the merits of the Bill.

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Would it not be reasonable for my hon. Friend the Member for Cynon Valley (Mrs. Clwyd) to develop her argument as an illustration? I am sure that you will accept that, although we are dealing with a Felixstowe Bill, the principle involved will extend to the proceedings on the Channel tunnel Bill when that comes before us. If a change in the quorum is made now, there may be arguments about changing the quorum for that Bill. I should have thought that as long as my hon. Friend is using her argument as an illustration she will not be too far out of order.

Discussion of general principles and certain passing references are in order, but detailed discussion of the merits of the Bill is not in order.

Thank you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, for pointing out that I was straying from the main points of the debate. I was making a passing reference and I hope to pass quickly through that reference.

It is pertinent to investigate the relevance of a Channel link to future container traffic. I was told in answer to a parliamentary question on 29 January that the Government would not publish information about their assessment of how much container traffic would use the link. If the Government refuse to give crucial and pertinent information, how can four, three or two hon. Members —or even one hon. Member—decide whether it is in the national interest for Felixstowe docks to expand their container facilities? The company's whole case is built on the potential container handling capacity in the United Kingdom.

If the expansion went ahead, land designated by the Department of the Environment as an area of outstanding natural beauty would be used. The Bill is opposed by all the important environmental groups in Suffolk. The estuary is internationally important for the protection of thousands of wading birds there. Those considerations and others have been spelt out in the House by my hon. Friend the Member for Ipswich (Mr. Weetch) and other hon. Members on several occasions.

Hon. Members appointed to the Committee on the Bill are being asked to determine whether it is in the national interest that the Bill should pass into law. I hope that I have illustrated that that is an important and difficult task. To put that burden on perhaps two hon. Members is unfair, unnecessary and unjust.

In normal circumstances an applicant seeks planning consent from a council. The company in question is making an application for a project that is a departure from the local structure plan, especially as it is in an area of outstanding natural beauty. Such companies should be compelled to seek planning consent. They know that by bypassing the system in this way they have a tremendous advantage, especially with the present Government.

The remedy would be—

Order. I apologise for interrupting the hon. Lady, but she is again straying into the merits of the Bill. Most of what she is saying is in order, but she must not discuss the merits of the Bill.

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. It is inevitable that my hon. Friend the Member for Cynon Valley (Mrs. Clwyd) has to deal with aspects of the Bill. She is arguing that the procedure—

Order. I hope that the hon. Gentleman is not arguing with the ruling of the Chair. I am sure that the hon. Lady has taken the point that I made.

I am moving on to the procedure. We must look at the alternatives. The remedy would be for the company to go through the established planning machinery —to apply for planning permission, to go to appeal, if necessary—and only when permission is granted should it be possible for it to come to Parliament to have some of the minor remaining difficulties ironed out.

Parliament is well equipped to discuss and settle the principle, but it should not have to get bogged down with the minutiae. I argue that hon. Members who have been involved in the Bill are being bogged down in the minutiae. My proposal would remove from Parliament matters that normally and properly come within planning law.

The Bill is an attempt to short circuit planning controls, thereby making it a favoured case. In other words, it seeks planning permission by the back door.

It was totally unfair to expect two hon. Members, possibly even of the same party—I am sure they would not wish to be put in that situation—to make that kind of decision. If the matter became the responsibility of a planning inspector, the examination of the issues could be even more detailed. There would be a very cogent cross-examination of witnesses, and the Secretary of State could appoint independent assessors to assist the inspector. I do not know whether hon. Members are aware, but in Private Opposed Bill Committees hon. Members are hearing subjective evidence from both sides—from the objectors and from the promoters. We are not able to obtain the experts' objective advice, which is necessary if we are to reach a considered decision. If a local planning inquiry were taking place, it is likely that the local objectors would be able to attend it. They would not be expected to crowd into the small space that we allow the public to occupy in Private Opposed Bill Committees.

I have therefore been very much disturbed by such considerations. To add to my reservation about the procedure, there is the ridiculous requirement that attendance by members appointed to such a Committee is compulsory. Although I have tested "Erskine May" on penalties, I have not as yet incurred any of them. The requirement means that, whatever important business is taking place on the Floor of the House or elsewhere, an hon. Member who is placed on such a Committee cannot attend to it. The hon. Members involved are virtually tied to the Committee, spending weeks, or months in this instance, on a matter in which neither they nor their constituents have any interest.

If I and other Committee members considered that we had matters which were more important to attend to, we would be reported to the House and our names would appear on the Order Paper. Even if we were attending the Committee during that day, but we were absent for over an hour, we would be reported on the Order Paper the next day. That is a ridiculous pursuit.

Parliament must re-examine its procedures so that wealthy companies do not obtain planning permission by the back door through private Bill routes. They are able to obtain permission for their proposals without them receiving proper scrutiny. They bypass ministerial decisions on important matters of national policy. Neither should hon. Members' time be spent helping barristers to get richer at the expense of matters which directly affect their constituents, such as mine, in areas of low income, bad housing and high unemployment. Those are the main reasons why I resigned from the Committee. I did so in an attempt to focus attention on a need to reform the present outdated and potentially corrupt system.

8.23 pm

I thank the hon. Member for Cynon Valley (Mrs. Clwyd) for her kind reference to my chairmanship of the Committee, but I cannot find it in my heart to agree with most of what she has had to say. It may well be true that the procedures of this House need to be examined and reviewed. I am sure there are hon. Members on both sides of the House who feel that there are many aspects of the House that should be looked into from time to time. However, that is not the matter before us tonight.

I shall address myself to the procedures of this House and the ability of right hon. and hon. Members to exercise unprejudiced judgments on behalf of the House. The latter is something which we are all asked to do on many occasions in many places on behalf of our colleagues on both sides of the House. I resent bitterly the innuendo that has been present in this Chamber tonight. It has been present on occasions in the Committee, and certainly we have heard it tonight in its most unpleasant and unacceptable form.

I say on behalf of myself and my colleagues who sit with me on the Committee—I believe I can say it, too, on behalf of the other members of this Committee—that I do not believe it is beyond the bounds of credibility to say that we can listen to the evidence and reach a balanced decision and judgment upon it. What we were asked to do was to act on behalf of this House.

No one would question the integrity of hon. Members or question whether they could carry out that function. The question is whether our procedures will be seen to be fair by those outside the House and by those who lose as a result. That is a different matter. Members may not doubt the integrity of those who are members of the Committee but there are those outside who, if they lose, may feel that they have not had a fair deal, and that could be very damaging to democracy.

I do not believe that there will be people outside this House who will refuse to accept that they have not had a very fair hearing, because they have. Certainly I think this will be borne out by the petitioners who appeared before our Committee. I do believe that there are many things said in this House which are not repeated outside, and I wish that some of the things that have been alleged in this Chamber tonight would be repeated outside. It would be interesting to see what happened to them there.

What we are being asked to do tonight is to recognise that, whatever may be the need for a long-term review of the procedure governing private Bills, the House has responsibility to those who come before it to discharge its duty with the best of expedition until the procedure is reviewed.

It is worth mentioning at this stage that the route which has been chosen on this occasion was not another option that they could have picked. We have been told that the private Bill route was the only one available in this instance, and if this House requires that procedure to be followed, it is incumbent upon the Members of this House to discharge their functions as best they may. It is not right that delay and excuses, however sincerely the hon. Lady might believe that she has done the right thing, should be used to frustrate the procedures of the House in this way.

Does the hon. Gentleman agree that there are many occasions when our procedures are designed precisely to protect petitioners, and that many Opposition Members similarly wish to protect petitioners from time to time? It is because of the right of petition to this House, and the redress of grievance and the rest, that we have these procedures. They are precisely to protect those very people, because we want to make sure that they do not get a rotten deal.

My hon. Friend is right to draw this to the attention of the House, because that is true.

The House has decided that the membership of the Committee should be two Members from either side of the House. It is not for me or for anyone sitting on the Government Benches to determine the way in which Opposition Members are appointed or the way in which the Opposition's usual channels operate. When I was asked whether I would agree to serve on the Committee, the time commitment was made perfectly clear. It was made clear to me also that the business would be pre-eminent and that the House would require me to give it priority over everything else that I was seeking to do. In accepting the invitation to serve on the Committee, I accepted those conditions.

It is not good enough for the hon. Member for Cynon Valley or any other hon. Member to use the conditions of membership as an excuse for not sitting on the Committee. It may be that she was not told of the conditions that would apply. It may be also that the hon. Member for Leeds, Central (Mr. Fatchett) was not told either. However, that is a matter for them to take up with their own party channels. They do not have an excuse that can be used to frustrate the workings of the Committee.

I was told that a private Bill Committee takes precedence over other business of the House, but I should like it to be clear that I was conned into accepting membership of the Committee to a certain extent in that I was told that the Committee would sit for only two weeks.

Perhaps we all thought that our time in Committee would be over far sooner than it has proved to be. However, we were aware that we were expected to make every effort to try to facilitate the swift progress of the Bill.

Statements have been made with the intention of casting a slur on myself and my colleagues. It is not good enough to say that they were not meant personally. The remarks have been of an extremely personal nature. My right hon. Friend the Member for Suffolk, Coastal (Mr. Gummer), the Minister of State, Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, who has been mentioned this evening, has been the subject of some of these remarks. It would be strange if the Member in whose constituency the development was taking place did not mention the matter to some of his colleagues if he thought that it was good for his area. This was done in a perfectly proper fashion. It is incredible—

Will the hon. Gentleman give way on that point?

Yes, it is incredible. Will the hon. Gentleman give way on that point? I ask him to give way, on the letter.

Order. We cannot have two hon. Members on their feet at the same time.

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I ask for your advice. The hon. Member for Crosby (Mr. Thornton) may or may not have received a letter from the former chairman of the Conservative party. This could be material to his position—

An important issue has arisen, Mr. Deputy Speaker. It appears that a number of Conservative Members received a letter from the previous chairman of the Conservative party—

Order. I understand the hon. Gentleman's point. He is raising a point of argument and not a point of order.

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

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. If the hon. Member for Crosby (Mr. Thornton) received a copy of the letter, he is not entitled to sit on the Committee.

These are perfectly legitimate issues to raise in debate. They are not points of order for the Chair.

It is extremely important to seek your guidance on this matter, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Is it not the case that a member of the Committee has to declare whether he has any financial interest in the matters that are to be discussed? If the hon. Member for Crosby, who is currently the Chairman of the Committee, received a copy of the letter in question, by that token he should not be sitting on the Committee.

That is a matter for the Selection Committee and not for the Chair.

If Opposition Members had cared to remain seated for a few more minutes, they might have received the answers that they are seeking. They are so used to seeing things which really do not exist and to casting innuendo across the Chamber that they find it impossible to sit still long enough to listen to something which might answer some of their allegations.

My right hon. Friend the Minister of State, Ministry of Agriculture Fisheries and Food, in the proper discharge of his constituency responsibilities on Second Reading—

I am certain that my right hon. Friend mentioned to a number of hon. Members, myself included —[Interruption.] That having happened, I was one of those present in the Chamber to support the Bill on Second Reading. Is it being suggested— [Interruption.] Do Opposition Members want to hear what I am saying or do they not?

If the hon. Gentleman will be quiet for a moment he may learn even more that he can take back to Liverpool. In common with many other hon. Members, I supported the Bill on its Second Reading. Does that mean that anyone who gave that support to the Bill is precluded from serving as a member of the Committee? I cannot believe that that is so.

It has been alleged—this led to some rather disagreeable exchanges in Committee— that the company in question made donations to the Conservative party and that that compromised it and myself and my hon. Friends who were serving on the Committee. The question was asked of the chairman of the company, who answered it honestly and openly in Committee.

Does the hon. Gentleman agree that the issue of donations arose from a question that I asked in Committee? There was no statement. I asked the witness a question.

The hon. Member for Cynon Valley asked the question and the question was answered. The chairman of the company agreed to produce the figures to the Committee the following day, which he did. An exchange took place arising from a line of questioning by the hon. Member for Leeds, Central. Exception was taken by the hon. Member for Cynon Valley to something that was said during that line of questioning. It seemed to me that her reaction went over the top.

The way in which this debate has been conducted brings nothing but discredit upon the procedures of this House—[Interruption.] I am sure, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that the Opposition's false hilarity disguises the fact that there is no substance in their allegations. It is deplorable if all hon. Members are to be subjected to allegations of this kind when they are involved in the procedures of this House.

I am not at all happy about the fact that this procedure is being brought before the House. It is wrong that the Committee should be forced to sit with a quorum that is less than that which the House originally decreed that it preferred. Neither I nor any of my hon. Friends have sought or caused this failure. Those Opposition Members who are responsible for it should examine their consciences.

8.31 pm

The changing of the Committee's quorum means that we are considering a very wide principle. It is also a fundamental democratic principle. This matter has to be examined with great care. If the quorum is changed on this occasion, many hon. Members will feel that a great deal of private business ought also to be dealt with by objection. It is no secret that for a very long time I have been dissatisfied with the private procedures of this House. Instead of trying to adjust those procedures, I suggest that it would be far better to have a wide inquiry into the whole question.

If the quorum is reduced to two, it will result in an absolute farce. At the end of the Committee's deliberations a vote may have to be taken. There will be only two Committee members. If one of those members votes one way and the other member votes the other way, the Chairman will have to use his casting vote —[Interruption.] The not. Member for Bristol, East (Mr. Sayeed) will not need to attend the Committee's proceedings; if he disagrees with the Chairman, in the end the Chairman will have two votes. The hon. Member has only one vote. This would result in a complete farce. By changing the quorum on this occasion we are giving a judicial function to one Member of this House.

The hon. Gentleman is wrong to suggest that the Felixstowe Dock and Railway Bill could follow any other than the private Bill procedure. If the Labour party had not opted out, the Chairman would be unable to exercise his casting vote. There may be a three-to-one vote at the end of the Committee's proceedings. It is necessary to come to the House for a change in the procedure because the Labour party has opted out.

That is not quite correct. If four Committee members were present and they divided two and two, the Chairman would still have the casting vote. The Chairman's power is considerable. We are being asked to approve a procedure that reduces the quorum to two. I suggest that this could lead to one member of the Committee reaching a decision. That is unsatisfactory.

No.

I accept that it is grossly unfair of the Opposition to suggest that because the company had made a considerable contribution to Tory party funds the judgment of the hon. Member for Bristol, East would be affected. However, I refer him to the speech of the hon. Member for Tiverton (Mr. Maxwell-Hyslop) who compared the Committee's function to that of a jury. Could anybody who had received a sum of money either from the accused or from somebody who was involved with the prosecution sit on a jury? However much his integrity might be supported, other people could not and should not be asked to believe in it. If people are acting in a judicial capacity they have to be seen to be absolutely impartial.

The problem in a democracy is to gain the consent not of the majority but of those who do not approve of what the Government are doing. People have to be persuaded that things that they do not like are fair and just. That is a very real problem. How do we persuade somebody that it is right to build a nuclear power station at the bottom of his garden, or that a Channel tunnel marshalling yard should be placed outside his back door? How do we persuade people that they must put up with large numbers of container lorries going past their doors, day after day, night after night? How do we persuade people that mud flats which are the natural habitat of many birds should be destroyed? It is difficult to find the right balance between the rights of the individual and the good of the country, or the good of a company or its profits. We do not have to convince those who win the case that the procedure is fair and just. We have to convince those who lose the case that it is fair and just and that they should put up with something because it is in the national interest.

There are two procedures for making objections. For a long time the only procedure was the private Bill, but since the 1940s the public inquiry procedure has been introduced. The hon. Member for Bristol, East suggested that the public inquiry procedure was not available in this instance. I suggest that it is. After a planning application has been made and a decision reached, it might be necessary to ask for a private Bill to put into effect the result of the planning application. The objectors would be less likely to feel aggrieved if they were able to make objections at a public inquiry and if they were also able to take advantage of parliamentary procedures. They have every right to feel aggrieved at not being allowed to opt for the public inquiry procedure and this type of Bill. The problem for the promoters and the Government is to convince those who object that they have had a fair hearing. Even those who have petitioned against the measure in Committee have not felt that. They make no criticism of the Chair, but they do not feel that the procedures are fair.

The promoters can use their money to employ experts to deploy their case. Groups such as the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds and the Ramblers Association do not have those resources. They are extremely good pressure groups, and have people who have learnt parliamentary procedures carefully going through private Bills. However, most members of the general public do not understand the procedure for introducing a petition or how to make it comply with legal requirements within the required time scale. They have considerable difficulties with the procedure.

The Private Bill Office is extremely good at advising individuals how to do that, and I pay tribute to it. In reality, as the Private Bill Office often points out, if one wants to do a good job, one should get parliamentary agents to do it. That is expensive, and the majority of people cannot afford it. On the other hand, at a public inquiry one can make one's objections. Normally, if one appears on the first day of an inquiry and makes it clear to the inspector that one wants to be heard, one will have that opportunity. It is important to ensure that those who will be dissatisfied with a decision should at least have the satisfaction of making their objections.

As I was a Minister with responsibility for planning for many years, I have sympathy with the hon. Gentleman's comments. However, how does it help those who want their case to be heard by a Committee if some members of that Committee remove themselves from the hearing?

I was not arguing that that helps such people. This case shows that the procedure is not working. It has produced complete dissatisfaction. It no longer matters how the Committee proceeds, because people outside do not feel that they have had a just hearing. If the two Labour Members continue to sit on the Committee, and if the Chairman, with his casting vote, and his colleagues carry the day, it will be felt that justice has not been done.

Regarding the point of my hon. Friend the Member for Bury St. Edmunds (Sir E. Griffiths), are not hon. Members incurring unreasonable cost for the petitioners by refusing to participate in the proceedings? Is not that a reason why they should resume their responsibilities? Why is it that the other hon. Members who have been nominated to the Committee have refused to take part in the proceedings? If they have refused because this is nothing more or less than a Labour plot to frustrate the proceedings, is that not a contempt?

That is an interesting argument. The hon. Gentleman is obviously in conflict with most Conservative Members, who have sought to tell the House that even if only two hon. Members are present, they will be so fair and unbiased that all objectors will have a fair hearing. If the hon. Gentleman suggests that Tory Members will be not influenced by the fact that the Tory party has received money from the company, he is making the same allegation that the Labour party was proposing. I doubt whether that is his hon. Friend's argument.

We must consider our procedures carefully to ensure that people who object feel that they are getting a fair deal. We must do so urgently, because although there have been some objectors to this Bill, we shall soon have a similar procedure on the Channel tunnel, and far more people will present petitions against it. There are differences. For example, the Channel tunnel Bill will be a hybrid Bill, and both the Government and this type of Committee will be involved.

One of the problems will relate to how long the Committee will sit. The hon. Member for Crosby (Mr. Thornton) said that he may have been a little misled about how long their Committee would sit, and I suspect that he misled the other members of the Committee about how frequently they needed to sit. Nothing is laid down in Standing Orders about how frequently a Committee needs to sit. It may use its discretion. If a Committee decides to sit only once a month, the Chairman of Ways and Means may seek a direction from the House that it sit more frequently.

However, the need to sit three days a week through prime time in the House is not required. That is a custom and practice which has developed, but the Committee is not bound by it. Often a Chairman and hon. Members decide that it may be more convenient to sit on a Monday evening rather than on a Tuesday, Wednesday or Thursday. The trouble is that parliamentary agents have tended to ask for the sittings to take place for their convenience because of the problem of instructing and paying for counsel to represent them. There has been an erosion of power. The Chairman said that he had been told that he had to give the Bill priority, which suggests that the Government Whips gave him the impression that he did not have as much choice in the matter as he has.

I wish to clarify the hon. Gentleman's point. Any discussions that I had were not with the Whips, but followed a talk with the Chairman of the Committee of Selection, and, subsequently, were with the Private Bill Office. I endorse his point that the Private Bill Office provides tremendous support for our endeavours. In no way did I mislead the Committee. We discussed a sittings motion informally, and agreed to expedite the business, as is the custom and practice of the House. Subsequently, arising from the obvious difficulties that sitting for three days a week creates for hon. Members, we agreed to vary the sittings of the Committee to facilitate hon. Members attending Question Time in the Chamber. I certainly did not seek to mislead the Committee, nor do I think that any member of the Committee would claim that he or she had been misled.

I fully accept the hon. Gentleman's comments.

There will he considerable difficulties about how often the Committee on the Channel tunnel sits. Hon. Members are often accused of filibustering on Bills. The problem with the Channel tunnel measure will relate to the length of time to which petitioners will be entitled. Indeed, how much time are the petitioners and promoters entitled to take on this Bill? Hon. Members who land on the Channel tunnel Bill, whether because someone puts an arm around their shoulder and encourages them or for another reason, must consider carefully the time implications for them and how far they should give priority to such a Bill over all their other duties in representing their constituents. I suggest that there will be some problems, especially with respect to petitioners. At present, any person is entitled to submit a petition. An objection can be made and the petition goes to the Examiners of Petitions. Once a petition has been accepted as valid, the petitioners have a right to be heard before the Committee.

I suggest that this measure has considerable implications for the Channel tunnel legislation. There is a growing feeling that the proceedings on private Member's Bills take too long, that the promoters develop their case at too great a length and that sometimes, although not often, petitioners take a long time to present their arguments. I suggest that the House should quickly look at this aspect.

Instead of considering whether to change the quorum, would it not be in the best interests of the House to look carefully at the procedures for private Member's Bills? If the motion is passed, some Labour Members may want to question whether private business should continue to operate in its present form. Ninety per cent. of private business is unopposed. If people feel that an issue has become party political and that the procedure has not been particularly fair, the temptation will be to object to more private business. In that case, we shall return to the position last century when there was a great deal of horse trading on private Members' Bills and the Committee debates were only a minor part of the proceedings, the work being done in negotiations outside the Committee between the petitioners and the promoters. Most of the work was done across the Floor of the House and different groups of Members were persuaded to support different interests.

I caution the House that, if it alters one small part of the proceedings, the temptation will be for other people to look carefully at the private Members'Bill procedure and perhaps to increase the flow of objections to that legislation on the grounds that the procedure needs to be urgently reformed. Is it a good idea to change the quorum on the Committee? Would it not be better at this point to initiate urgently an inquiry into the procedure with respect to totally private Bills and hybrid Bills, so that we can ensure that people feel, especially if they lose, that they have had a fair and just hearing?

Does my hon. Friend agree that, if the Government seek tonight to force this issue by asking their supporters to vote for the motion, that would be a first-class disgrace, bearing in mind that the company involved paid £60,000 into the Conservative party coffers at the last election?

That is a fair point, but we should be a little careful. Let us remember that the motion is tabled on behalf of the Chairman of Ways and Means. He is acting as the servant of the House. He is proposing a way out. I suggest that that is not a satisfactory way out and that we need a far-reaching and quick inquiry into procedure.

I think that, at the end of the debate, many hon. Members will not want to vote against a motion in the name of the Chairman of Ways and Means. We do not have to come to a vote. It would be possible for the Chairman of Ways and Means to consider withdrawing the motion so that there can be further discussion on the matter and we can decide whether to reform the procedures. It might even be possible to ascertain whether an hon. Member can be persuaded to proceed with the Bill. That would be another way to avoid the quorum difficulty. There are a few possible alternatives. It will be unsatisfactory if the Government decide to move the closure motion and push hon. Members to a vote. It will mean that we have a short-term solution which will produce further long-term aggravation for the House and all those people who have a just right to object to the legislation.

8.55 pm

Fifty-two Labour Members have signed a motion calling for the quorum on the Bill to remain at three. I wish that that were possible, but it is not. To understand why it is not possible, it is necessary to detail the chronology. It is necessary in passing to understand the lack of competence of the Labour Whips office. It is necessary to note that the genesis of the opposition to the motion in the name of the Chairman of Ways and Means comes from people who are determined only to accept rules which they like, while ignoring or subverting rules with which they disagree.

Many of the 52 Labour Members are not willing to submit to the rules of the House. They are not willing to test their dislike of the private Members' Bill procedure democratically. They are attempting to subvert the will of the House by ignoring its rules and by making its procedures unworkable. I believe that the House will not and should not permit them to do so.

If any Labour Members think that I am being unfair to any of the hon. Members who signed the motion, I make them an offer: I shall unreservedly withdraw my remarks, providing that just one of the 52 Members agrees to join my hon. Friend the Member for Crosby (Mr. Thornton), the hon. Member for Leeds, Central (Mr. Fatchett) and myself on the Committee. That Member must make the proviso that he will read the evidence that has come before the Committee and agree to attend faithfully every meeting, as my hon. Friend the Member for Crosby and I have done. I do not hear any great shouts. I suppose that that lack of offers shouts for itself. Not one of those 52 signatories is prepared to serve on the Committee because those hon. Members do not like the procedure. They want to undermine the procedures of the House.

I accept that it was suggested to me that consideration of the Bill would take only two weeks. I regret to say that it has taken a great deal longer, but I have attended the Committee's meetings every time, and I shall continue to do so.

The Felixstowe Dock and Railway Bill Committee was formed on 13 November. When it was formed every member of the Committee was told, in no uncertain terms, that that Committee took precedence over other business in the House. The hon. Member for Cynon Valley (Mrs. Clwyd) was aware of that. The hon. Lady raised the matter of her sponsorship by the Transport and General Workers Union and asked whether that represented a conflict of interest. She was assured that there was no conflict of interest. Until that time it was open to her to refuse to serve on the Committee—she did not do so.

I thank the hon. Gentleman for giving way. I wish to point out to him that in the past it has not been possible to refuse to serve on this type of Committee. When I refused to serve on the Committee—by permission of the Chairman of Ways and Means, who accepted that I had absented myself from the Committee permanently—that created a precedent. The hon. Gentleman should get his facts straight.

I am glad to answer that point. I checked with the Private Bill Office whether it was open to a member of that Committee—before Committee proceedings had begun and they had agreed to serve on that Committee—to withdraw. The answer was yes. The hon. Lady either did not know this or chose to ignore it.

Would my hon. Friend not agree that it was open to the hon. Lady to have sought an excuse to withdraw from the Committee? Would it not be right for the hon. Lady to tell the House whether she did seek to be excused? Did the other members who were asked whether they would attend that Committee but refused do so as prescribed under Standing Order No. 117?

I do not recall the hon. Lady requesting permission not to serve at the beginning of proceedings. She may have mentioned this to someone else but she certainly did not mention it to me or in my hearing.

The hon. Lady mentioned her belief that her sponsorship by the Transport and General Workers Union may have been considered a conflict of interest. She was assured on that point by the Private Bill Office Clerks.

The sittings motion was agreed unanimously as stated by my hon. Friend the Member for Crosby. It is true that it was later amended at the request of both Labour Members of the Committee. It was amended to assist the Labour Members and such assistance was consistently shown by my hon. Friend as Chairman throughout the 14 days. On 10 December, almost a month after the Committee was formed, the Gas Bill had its Second Reading, and a day later a Committee was formed. The hon. Lady, despite membership of the Felixstowe Dock and Railway Bill Committee, asked to go on the Gas Bill.

In front of witnesses, the hon. Lady asked to be allowed to go on the Gas Bill Committee. This was despite the fact that she ignored the fact that her prior duty was to the Private Bill Committee. This was the first instance of the incompetence of the Labour Whips for they should have known that it was impossible for the hon. Lady to serve on both Committees.

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. The hon. Member, unless I have misheard, appears to be repeating a private conversation that he alleges to have had with my hon. Friend in this House. I thought it was a convention that private conversations were not mentioned in this Chamber but if that were the case this House would be in terrible, terrible trouble.

I was not aware of that convention, Mr. Speaker. I would not, of course, wish to go against any convention of the House, so I apologise to the hon. Lady.

The hon. Lady was put on the Gas Bill Committee by the Labour Whips and it was an example of their extraordinary incompetence. The hon. Lady was already on a Bill to which she owed a prior duty. The most charitable assumption we can make as to why the Labour Whips put the hon. Lady on the Gas Bill Committee was that they were grateful for one more willing body prepared to serve on it. They forgot, however, that she had a prior duty to a Private Bill Committee. Even before the Gas Bill Committee sat, the hon. Lady's attendance was dilatory. After it started to sit, it was derisory.

On 22 January, after we had sat for 14 days and cost the promoters and petitioners some £1·25 million, the hon. Lady, on one of her rare appearances, started to ask questions about political donations. That line of questioning was not germane, but my hon. Friend the Member for Crosby, in his normal generous way, allowed it to proceed. The hon. Lady then seized on a slightly loose answer from the chairman of the Felixstowe Dock and Railway Company to suggest that her honour and integrity were impugned. Any person who was not determined to find any excuse to avoid their responsibilities, and any reasonable person who read the transcript, would realise that the only people who could conceivably have grounds to believe that their integrity was being attacked by that line of questioning were my hon. Friend the Member for Crosby and myself.

The hon. Lady's excuses for leaving the Committee were spurious. I believe her action to have been a deliberate, major and sustained contempt of the House, and I hope that the House will deal with it. A series of meetings followed. I expressed a strong preference for the Committee's membership remaining at four, with a quorum of three, but I said that I believed that the Labour Whips should stipulate that any person willing to join the Committee must find the time to read the transcripts for the 14 previous days and be willing to take part in all future proceedings.

I understand that the Labour Whips Office proposed the hon. Member for Dursley—

—without even asking him. No doubt that assured that the hon. Gentleman had sufficient excuse for not agreeing to serve. The Labour Whips crowned their incompetence by being unable to find, from all the ranks of the Labour party, a second member of that party to serve on the Committee so that we could have a Committee of four and retain a quorum of three.

Perhaps I could correct the hon. Gentleman. My constituency is Worsley, not whatever he called it. I received a letter from the Private Bill Office saying that there had already been 14 sittings. With the letter came a certificate which I was supposed to sign and which the hon. Gentleman had already signed. On it, I was asked to declare that I would not vote on any evidence that I had not heard or about any meeting that I had not attended. That is the most ludicrous thing among many ludicrous things that I have been asked to do in my few years in the House. I should have thought that even the hon. Gentleman could understand that fundamental problem.

I understand the hon. Gentleman's objections to serving on the Committee. I was not blaming him for not wishing to serve on the Committee, although it was open to him to read the transcript. His hon. Friend the Member for Cynon Valley would have been unable to vote at any time had she remained on the Committee as she has not been in touch with what was happening even though she had consistently read the transcripts for all the meetings which she did not attend. Despite all efforts, the Labour party has not been able to put one more hon. Member forward to serve on the Committee, which now numbers three.

Does my hon. Friend agree that it is not so much a question of the Labour party not being enthusiastic about serving on the Committee, as that the Labour party is deliberately ensuring that no one serves on the Committee? Furthermore, the Labour party's actions in this matter are similar to those that it is employing in other parts of the country and in relation to the debate on Friday, the object of which is to ensure that the ordinary democratic procedures of the House and elsewhere are not followed through.

I understand my hon. Friend's points about what is coming up on Friday. However, I do not think that the Labour party is intelligent enough to be that Machiavellian. I believe that the Labour party simply could not find anybody else to serve on the Committee. As a consequence, there will be only three hon. Members on the Committee. There needs to be a buffer of an extra person over the number for a quorum. It is therefore essential that there is a quorum of only two. As a famous right hon. Lady says, there is no alternative.

9.12 pm

We have had a very interesting debate and I am glad to see that the issues of private Bills have generated so much interest throughout the House. It must be a rare occasion to see the Chancellor of the Exchequer and his right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, the chairman of the Conservative party and the former chairman of the Conservative party, the Minister of State, Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, present during a debate. That degree of interest in private Bills is very welcome and I hope that it will lead to a more general discussion of some of the issues that have been raised.

Before I move on to the major themes which I consider to be important, I should like to pick up two points made by hon. Members who are also members of the this private Bill Committee.

The hon. Member for Bristol, East (Mr. Sayeed) said that if an hon. Member did not want to serve on an opposed private Bill Committee, that hon. Member had a right to opt out. I refer the hon. Gentleman to the Standing Orders of the House in relation to private business and particularly Nos. 115 and 116. If the hon. Gentleman reads those orders, he will see that an hon. Member does not have the right to opt out in the way to which he referred. Standing Order No. 116 states:
"The Committee of Selection shall report to the House the name of every member from whom it has not received within a reasonable time such declaration as is mentioned in the last preceding order, filled up and signed as therein mentioned, or, in lieu thereof, an excuse which it deems sufficient."
In other words, if I or my hon. Friend the Member for Cynon Valley (Mrs. Clwyd) wanted to opt out of the Committee we would have to find a reasonable excuse along the lines referred to in the Standing Order and not, as the hon. Member for Bristol, East said, simply walk out of the Committee.

My next point relates to the contribution from the hon. Member for Crosby (Mr. Thornton). The hon. Gentleman said—he may well have made an injudicious use of words and I apologise for picking him up—that there were allegations—

I will not give way but I hope that the advice that he is getting is better than some of the other advice that is around.

The hon. Member for Crosby said that, during the proceedings of the opposed private Bill Committee, allegations were made about the behaviour of the Felixstowe Dock company or European Ferries in relation to donations to the Conservative party. I do not wish to pursue that point in any detail because one or two of my hon. Friends have already referred to it. I hope that hon. Members will regret their decision not to support my private Member's Bill last year which was designed to give ballots to company shareholders. If there had been a ballot of European Ferries' shareholders, its donations to the Conservative party might have had greater legitimacy.

My hon. Friend says that he does not want to go into the subject of the £60,000 given to the Conservative party in 1983 and £33,000 given in 1984, but does he agree that Mr. Parker, who is sitting up there, made serious accusations against my hon. Friend the Member for Cynon Valley (Mrs. Clwyd) which were so disgraceful that he should withdraw?

My hon. Friend mentions the point that I was about to make. There were no allegations made against the company, although that issue has been mentioned this evening. The only allegations made during the proceedings were made by the company and its representative against my hon. Friend the Member for Cynon Valley.

I shall quote what the company's representative said because it is important. It is included in a transcript of the proceedings on 22 January this year. The House may be interested in the background to the series of questions that I asked. My hon. Friend had asked how much the company donated to the Conservative party, but my inquiring mind led me in another direction. I wanted to know why companies donated to the Conservative party because it may not be a sensible investment at the moment. For the benefit of research and information, I wanted that company chairman to give me some detailed answers as to why a company makes such a political donation without reference to its shareholders. I received some interesting answers.

I told Mr. Parker that the criticism made of such donations was that they might provide access to the Conservative party, and through that, access to the wheels of decision-making in the House. I put that criticism because I understand that people sometimes make it about the Conservative party. I always try to defend the Conservative party and say that I have never met a Conservative Member who would be tainted in any way by any business interests. The only allegation made was made by Mr. Parker. He said:
"I suspect the reverse is true of people who contribute to your party"—
in other words, the Labour party—
"like the Transport and General Workers, might also expect you to take a view of their case".

Only one possible construction can be put on those words. I have looked for an alternative construction because I realise that under the pressure of the detailed cross-examination to which I was subjecting Mr. Parker the words he used may not have been thought about with great care. I have looked to see whether there is another possible interpretation. There is not. The only interpretation possible is that my hon. Friend the Member for Cynon Valley will take a view of the case consistent with the policy of the Transport and General Workers Union, because she is sponsored by that union.

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. You may not be aware that my son is a football referee. As a football referee, he is not allowed only to expel footballers from the field for dirty play; he is allowed to expel spectators if they are causing a nuisance. Mr. Parker, the man who insulted my hon. Friend the Member for Cynon Valley (Mrs. Clwyd), is in the Box in the Chamber. Have you the power—

Order. The hon. Gentleman has been here long enough to know that we do not refer to people in the Strangers Gallery. They are, indeed, invisible.

Already there has been a request that the said Mr. Parker, who is listening intently to the debate—

I always accept guidance from you, Mr. Speaker. I did not quite catch what you said.

Would you not think, Mr. Speaker, that the invisible Mr. Parker might have the decency tomorrow —being invisible tonight—to withdraw those offensive remarks that he made to a very honourable Member of whom Opposition Members are all very proud?

I do not think it is as simple as my hon. Friend makes it out to be. If the person to whom reference has been made were to make an apology to my hon. Friend that would be appropriate. I should have thought that any decent person would do that.

There is a deeper argument which I hope my hon. Friends will recognise. It is not just a question of an apology for comments that may have been made loosely; it is question of those comments vitiating the whole character of the Committee. What Mr. Parker said at that stage raises questions about the impartiality of any member of that Committee who is sponsored by a trade union.

Does the hon. Gentleman not agree that the exchange, which he rightly says he took up with Mr. Parker after the initial question by the hon. Lady, was discussed by us at length? Does he not agree also that it was suggested that the exchange took place in, I shall not say lighthearted, but a good-tempered manner? He himself admitted that. Does he also not agree that when Mr. Parker was referring subsequently to the Transport and General Workers Union—

Because he cannot defend himself from an attack that is being made in the House.

Does the hon. Member for Leeds, Central (Mr. Fatchett) agree that the Transport and General Workers Union had already given evidence to the Committee on behalf of the branch in Felixstowe, expressing support for the Bill? Does he not agree that it was the only trade union that had been mentioned and that it was an illustration —no more and no less— from an implied remark? Certainly it was implicit in the remarks that had been made that the company, and therefore Mr. Parker, might have been influenced in another way. He was merely saying that perhaps the converse was true. If the hon. Gentleman is honest about it, he will agree that we discussed the matter and felt that there had been no imputation which Mr. Parker could say the following day had not been intended and was not there.

In his final comments about what may have been seen as an allegation by myself about Conservative party donations the hon. Gentleman said that the converse may be true. Surely if the converse is true in this case it means that if my initial criticism is accepted, a person sponsored by the Transport and General Workers Union must be influenced by that sponsorship and must therefore be expected to support the national policy of that union, which is rightly to object to the extension of Felixstowe docks.

I shall now come to that point.

This evening's argument is that the Committee is expected to serve in a quasi-judicial role. I argue that the comments made by Mr. Parker against my hon. Friend the Member for Cynon Valley vitiate that quasi-judicial role and raise serious questions about the future of the Committee. Further than that, I challenge the whole argument that it is possible for hon. Members to serve on a Committee in what is seen as a quasi-judicial role.

I am not for a moment saying that hon. Members will not act with integrity, common sense or decency. However, a judicial or quasi-judicial role presupposes that political considerations will not be present and will not obtain in the activities of the Committee's procedures. That cannot be the case on a private Bill such as this. To make the argument time and again, as Conservative Members have done this evening, that one can operate in a vacuum without any outside political influence when in a quasi-judicial role is nonsense, and does not bear any examination.

To prove my point, let us look at two sectors that are crucial to the Bill. The first is the expansion of Felixstowe docks and the implication of that expansion for docks in other parts of the country. I refer to docks in Southampton, London and on the west coast, including Liverpool and Bristol. For all of those there will be employment consequences if the Bill goes through, because there will be job losses.

We are told that the Government and the Secretary of State for Transport have no view on the development of port policy. We were told at one stage that what was good for Felixstowe was good for the country. I do not share that view—my political judgment is different. The country needs a dock policy that will ensure good use of resources and capital, and security of employment. How can I approach this matter in Committee without bringing my political prejudices into my answers to the questions raised by the Bill? It is impossible. I cannot be devoid of my political views, and my views on the world and how it should be organised.

That is also true of the second crucial issue, which is whether the company should have the right given to it by Parliament, if we approve the Bill, to encroach into an area of outstanding natural beauty. We cannot approach such a matter without some political consideration. I support the environmentalist argument and recognise that environmental groups have been pressurised and have lost valuable resources. One of the key factors in the development of the country over the next two decades is how we relate to the green arid ecological issues. How can I, with that perception, operate in a quasi-judicial way, when I bring into the procedures some political conceptions which some Conservative Members would think are political misconceptions? Whatever they are. they are political.

The Tory argument against my hon. Friend the Member for Cynon Valley withdrawing from the Committee is that she has not just let the side down, but moved away from the quasi-judicial role. I am not into arguments about letting the side down. It is about time that this club was changed and the basis of legislation was made more democratic. The argument about letting the side down should be dropped once and for all. My hon. Friend the Member for Cynon Valley has been criticised because she will not play a quasi-judicial role. I do not believe that she can do that. I do not believe that the House and its procedures believe that it is possible for that role to be played. Why does the House and its Committee of Selection appoint four members?

I will resist the hon. Gentleman. With his party's record of resisting any advance in democracy for the people in this country, we do not want lessons about democracy from him.

The Committee of Selection appoints a committee of four—two members from the Conservative party and two from the Labour party. Why do we appoint people from different political parties? The reason is not that we believe that they are operating in a judicial role but because we accept the argument and the thesis put forward by my hon. Friend the Member for Denton and Reddish (Mr. Bennett) in his earlier contribution. My hon. Friend said that it is crucial that minorities outside the House have confidence in our procedures and institutions. That is why we appoint two members from the Labour party and two from the Conservative party. We are playing a political role in a political institution.

What will happen if we pass the motion tonight? By agreeing to a quorum of two we are implying that the Committee will have a membership of no more than three in the future. That will shake confidence in the proceedings of the Committee outside the House and it will question the public's confidence about the procedure in the future. We should bear that in mind before we go through the Lobby tonight. The last time a quorum was reduced was in July 1965. My hon. Friend the Member for Denton and Reddish has obviously been studying the history, and I understand that the reason was that there was no time left in the parliamentary Session to find an alternative person to sit on the Committee. Incidentally, the person was discharged because of illness. There was no argument, question or a debate. If we pass the motion tonight we shall challenge the confidence in that Committee and the quorum will be biased against the Labour party by two to one, whatever the argument.

I want to make two final contributions. I have always said that I would serve on the Committee but I have also always said that I would serve on a Committee in which the balance was two Labour members and two Conservative members. I am not prepared to serve on a Committee in which there will not be a parity between the two political parties. My earlier argument gives my reasons for that. I do not see any justification in providing legitimacy or some specious confidence for a Committee which is impaired in the way in which I think that Committee will be. I therefore give notice that unless an additional Labour member is found it is not my intention to serve on the Committee.

Along with my hon. Friend the Member for Denton and Reddish, I have read the sanctions that can be imposed upon hon. Members. I am not looking forward to the process of spending some of the summer in the Tower of London or under Big Ben, which I understand is the greatest sanction which can be imposed upon us. I shall probably become like many of my constituents when they are unable to get employment—a clock watcher rather than a useful Member of Parliament. Whatever happens, I think it would show the stupidity of the procedures. In the debate tonight we have opened up not just the debate about a bad Bill which is against the country's interest and should be opposed; we have opened up and questioned the procedures.

I hope that the House will have the common sense and responsibility to question its procedures, to modernise those procedures and ensure that we do not have a back door route to legislation and to the securing and fostering of particular financial interests. We must stop that and ensure that we have a modern Parliament with modern procedures and no more of this nonsense.

9.35 pm

Since I had the honour to present this Bill to the House on Second Reading, I wish to make it absolutely clear that I have no interest in this Bill nor in the port.

Hon. Members may feel that I have been less than diligent on behalf of my party, but until the matter was raised by Opposition Members I did not know that the Felixstowe Dock and Harbour Company was a contributor to my party's funds. I admit that it might have been wiser for me to have discovered that, but I had no such knowledge when I presented the Bill.

It is fair to tell the House that when, as a Suffolk Member, I considered the case for a Suffolk port, I consulted my right hon. Friend the Member for Suffolk, Coastal (Mr. Gummer) who represents the area involved. As one who has had the privilege, as others have had, of presenting a number of Bills, I was anxious that the Member of Parliament involved should back the proposal.

I hope that my right hon. Friend will not think me churlish, but far from giving it the vigorous public backing that I wanted, he hung back because he thought that it would be wrong for a member of the Government, especially the chairman of the party, to adopt a public position on such a Bill. It is only right that I should put that firmly on the record.

Everyone has a great deal of sympathy and understanding for those of our colleagues who are asked to spend a great deal of time, which could be devoted to other matters, stuck in a private Bill Committee. When I first entered the House, I, too, was conned. I was put on a private Bill Committee where I spent some 12 weeks, when I would have vastly preferred to have been in the Chamber.

However, I learnt something from two rather distinguished Labour Members who had been Chairmen of Committees for many years. They made it plain that I was expected to be in Committee on time, to be there all of the time and to listen to everything that was said. They insisted that Members of Parliament were acting on behalf of this House as a whole, so it was their absolute duty to form an objective view on the evidence put before them. I learnt from those distinguished Labour Chairmen that that was the best way to proceed.

It appears that in respect of the Bill and the discussion, the precepts of those distinguished Labour Members have not been followed. I understand the difficulties encountered by the hon. Member for Cynon Valley (Mrs. Clwyd), and do not complain about that aspect. Perhaps the debate, bad tempered and ragged as it has been, may well lead to a measure of reform. However, at the moment we are using the existing procedure, and whether it should be reformed is not the question before us. That question is only whether we should back the judgment of the Chairman of Ways and Means.

Hon. Members, especially Opposition Members, will join me in paying tribute to the present Chairman who has an immensely difficult task, but who, over many years, has given immeasurable service to the House. The issue is whether the Chairman of Ways and Means has arrived at the right decision in the circumstances.

When the House gave the Felixstowe Dock and Railway Bill a Second Reading, it laid a duty upon the Chairman of Ways and Means to ensure that the Bill would be considered in Committee under the procedures laid down by the House. It was for him to ensure that the promoters had a fair and proper hearing and that the petitioners were equally fairly heard.

The Chairman sought to do his duty by arranging for a Committee to meet. The Committee of Selection did its full duty by providing that hon. Members were available to perform that duty. Unfortunately, it proved impossible to proceed along the lines that have been traditional in the House for some time. The Chairman of Ways and Means, being prevented by circumstances from fulfilling the duty laid upon him by the House, had to take a different view. I am advised that he could have proceeded in one of two ways. In broad terms, he could have sought to discipline hon. Members who were not prepared to attend. We have moved a long way and it would have been exceedingly difficult and unpleasant if he had proceeded in that direction.

In some respects I regret that Parliament has progressed and that that sanction is no longer available to us, However, the Chairman of Ways and Means had to consider reducing the quorum. I do not regard that with any enthusiasm. If the motion had been to reduce the quorum to two members in all future private Bills Committees, I should have opposed it, because that is a major step. A Committee of the House would wish to examine procedural changes of that type with the greatest care before making any decision.

The Chairman had to decide. His decision is that the quorum should be as few as two members. That does not require that the Bill should proceed with only two members. Four members is the correct number, and if the Opposition were prepared to find those two members, they would join the Committee and it would proceed with the proper number. Unfortunately, that decision cannot rest with the Chairman of Ways and Means. He can invite hon. Members to join the Committee, but he cannot make them attend. That is a practical fact that the Chairman must face.

The motion before the House arises from the position in which the Chairman of Ways and Means found himself. We are not here tonight to decide the merits of the Felixstowe Dock and Railway Bill or the political judgment of hon. Members who may sit on that Bill. We must decide whether the House backs the Chairman of Ways and Means in his judgment. That is the only issue on which we have to decide.

9.43 pm

I believe that the House expects me to respond to some of the points raised during the debate. I shall try to do so briefly.

I begin with a confession. When I entered the House a little more than 20 years ago, I was a beneficiary of much of the wisdom and advice of the hon. Member for Fife, Central (Mr. Hamilton). No doubt it is due to his benign influence that I managed to avoid all contact with private Bill Committees until I reached my present position.

We have had a valuable debate. In all the years that I have just mentioned, this is the first time that we have had such a debate about private Bills.

When the House gave me the duties that I now undertake I immediately became involved in and concerned about some of the issues that have been raised in the debate.

The hon. Member for Leeds, Central (Mr. Fatchett) talked about the need to modernise our procedures. The hon. Member for Denton and Reddish (Mr. Bennett), in a contradictory statement, said that we needed an in-depth review to be done quickly. He cannot have it both ways. The hon. Member for Fife, Central talked about the need for a long, hard look. I believe that we need that long, hard look.

The House may be reassured to hear that I have recently taken some exploratory steps to see whether we can carry out a review of the private Bill procedure, the extent to which it is necessary and how such a review could be carried out. Obviously, a number of consultations will be necessary. People outside the House are involved, and the procedure in Scotland is different.

It is also important that we do not carry out a review as a knee-jerk reaction to a particular set of circumstances; we must do it in a proper, organised way. The House will recognise the need for such a review and I hope that hon. Members will be pleased that we have initiated it.

The hon. Member for Fife, Central, echoed by the hon. Member for Cynon Valley (Mrs. Clwyd), spoke about the obligation to attend a private Bill Committee. He said that they were the only Committees where attendance was compulsory and said that a defaulting member may be fined. The fact that the hon. Member for Cynon Valley is not serving on the Committee is a sign of the absence of compulsion. There are provisions in our Standing Orders, but they have to be acted on by the House. It would be for the House to decide whether, in the light of circumstances, disciplinary action— if that is the right expression—would be appropriate. We must examine how we induce hon. Members to serve on Committees. I do not believe that we ought to resort to compulsion and I do not believe that the House would support a motion to compel hon. Members to serve on a Committee.

The hon. Member for Denton and Reddish suggested that I should withdraw the motion to allow time for further discussion, and he pleaded for the normal quorum to be retained, as did other hon. Members. However, the hon. Member for Bury St. Edmunds (Sir E. Griffiths) was right to point out that the passing of the motion would not inhibit the Committee from proceeding with its full membership and with the normal quorum.

I understand that the Committee of Selection has gone to considerable pains to try to obtain the services of other hon. Members to serve on the Committee. The hon. Member for Leeds, Central recognised that he is still a member of the Committee and he is willing to serve in the qualified way that he explained. The hon. Member for Worsley (Mr. Lewis) is also a member of the Committee. The membership exists; all that is necessary is for good will to apply and for the procedures of the House to be made effective. My motion would merely provide a long stop.

We must apply to the Bill the procedures of the House as they are now, and not as hon. Members might like them to be. I have said that I sympathise with those hon. Members and share their view, but the only fair basis on which the House can operate is to recognise that the procedures are included in our Standing Orders and that it is my responsibility to try to make them operate.

In accordance with the normal private Bill procedure, the promoters of the Bill have petitioned Parliament for powers not conferred by the general law. As we have been reminded, they secured substantial support for the Bill on Second Reading and they are entitled to expect that the Bill should be examined in detail in Committee, as long as they retain the support of the House. They are entitled, as are the petitioners against the Bill, to have their case heard by the Committee.

It would be infinitely preferable for that Committee to comprise members of more than one political party. as is usual. This motion will not prevent that, but I think we should not overlook the fact that when the Committee has completed its work the Bill will return to the Floor of the House for hon. Members again to consider it, exercise their judgment, express their opinions and reach their decisions in the remaining stages and procedures of the Bill. The House must defend its procedures to enable it to operate properly, and that is the basis of the motion. I hope that the House will carry it.

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

Question put, That the Question be now put:—

The House proceeded to a Division

(seated and covered): On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. May I say that this is a custom which many of us find most distasteful? We have been discussing other distasteful customs this evening. I was advised that this debate would continue until 10 o'clock, or could do so. In the light of that advice, would it not be possible to suspend the debate until 10 o'clock?

The debate has been going on now for over two hours on a procedural motion. It is not out of order or even against precedent to accept a closure motion offer over two hours, and it is up to the House to decide, by the votes on the closure, whether it wishes the debate to continue.

(seated and covered): Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. During the debate hon. Members were led to believe that it would continue until 10 o'clock, and the voluntary allocation of time between hon. Members has been on that basis. I put it to you that the House undermines the position of individual hon. Members in private negotiations, so that hon. Members are led to expect something that does not automatically follow.

I know of no understanding between hon. Members. All I know is that a number of hon. Members have spoken at great length and that a number of other hon. Members wish to take part. There is no private arrangement that the debate should go on. It is not a matter for me, anyway.

The House having divided: Ayes 231, Noes 113.

Division No. 73]

[9.50 pm

AYES

Aitken, JonathanCrouch, David
Ancram, MichaelCurrie, Mrs Edwina
Arnold, TomDorrell, Stephen
Ashby, DavidDouglas-Hamilton, Lord J.
Ashdown, PaddyDover, Den
Atkins, Robert (South Ribble)du Cann, Rt Hon Sir Edward
Atkinson, David (B'm'th E)Dunn, Robert
Baker, Rt Hon K. (Mole Vall'y)Durant, Tony
Baker, Nicholas (Dorset N)Dykes, Hugh
Batiste, SpencerEdwards, Rt Hon N. (P'broke)
Beaumont-Dark, AnthonyEggar, Tim
Beith, A. J.Evennett, David
Bellingham, HenryEyre, Sir Reginald
Benyon, WilliamFallon, Michael
Bevan, David GilroyFarr, Sir John
Biffen, Rt Hon JohnFavell, Anthony
Blackburn, JohnFenner, Mrs Peggy
Body, Sir RichardFinsberg, Sir Geoffrey
Bonsor, Sir NicholasForsyth, Michael (Stirling)
Boscawen, Hon RobertForth, Eric
Bottomley, PeterFox, Marcus
Bottomley, Mrs VirginiaFranks, Cecil
Bowden, A. (Brighton K'to'n)Fraser, Peter (Angus East)
Bowden, Gerald (Dulwich)Freeman, Roger
Brandon-Bravo, MartinFry, Peter
Bright, GrahamGale, Roger
Brinton, TimGalley, Roy
Brooke, Hon PeterGlyn, Dr Alan
Brown, M. (Brigg & Cl'thpes)Goodhart, Sir Philip
Browne, JohnGow, Ian
Bruinvels, PeterGower, Sir Raymond
Buchanan-Smith, Rt Hon A.Grant, Sir Anthony
Buck, Sir AntonyGregory, Conal
Budgen, NickGriffiths, Peter (Portsm'th N)
Bulmer, EsmondGrist, Ian
Butcher, JohnGround, Patrick
Butler, Rt Hon Sir AdamGummer, Rt Hon John S
Carlile, Alexander (Montg'y)Hamilton, Hon A. (Epsom)
Carlisle, Kenneth (Lincoln)Hamilton, Neil (Tatton)
Carlisle, Rt Hon M. (W'ton S)Hanley, Jeremy
Cash, WilliamHargreaves, Kenneth
Chapman, SydneyHarris, David
Chope, ChristopherHarvey, Robert
Churchill, W. S.Haselhurst, Alan
Clark, Dr Michael (Rochford)Hawkins, C. (High Peak)
Clark, Sir W. (Croydon S)Hawkins, Sir Paul (N'folk SW)
Coleman, DonaldHawksley, Warren
Coombs, SimonHayes, J.
Cope, JohnHayward, Robert
Corrie, JohnHeddle, John

Henderson, BarryRaison, Rt Hon Timothy
Hickmet, RichardRhys Williams, Sir Brandon
Hicks, RobertRoberts, Wyn (Conwy)
Hind, KennethRoe, Mrs Marion
Holland, Sir Philip (Gedling)Rossi, Sir Hugh
Holt, RichardRowe, Andrew
Hordern, Sir PeterRumbold, Mrs Angela
Howard, MichaelSainsbury, Hon Timothy
Howarth, Alan (Stratf'd-on-A)Sayeed, Jonathan
Howell, Rt Hon D. (G'ldford)Shaw, Giles (Pudsey)
Howell, Ralph (Norfolk, N)Shaw, Sir Michael (Scarb')
Hubbard-Miles, PeterShelton, William (Streatham)
Hunt, David (Wirral W)Shepherd, Richard (Aldridge)
Hunt, John (Ravensbourne)Silvester, Fred
Hurd, Rt Hon DouglasSims, Roger
Jenkin, Rt Hon PatrickSkeet, Sir Trevor
Jessel, TobySmith, Tim (Beaconsfield)
Jones, Gwilym (Cardiff N)Soames, Hon Nicholas
Jones, Robert (Herts W)Speed, Keith
Jopling, Rt Hon MichaelSpeller, Tony
Kellett-Bowman, Mrs ElaineSpencer, Derek
Kennedy, CharlesSpicer, Jim (Dorset W)
Kershaw, Sir AnthonySpicer, Michael (S Worcs)
Key, RobertSquire, Robin
King, Roger (B'ham N'field)Stanbrook, Ivor
Kirkwood, ArchySteel, Rt Hon David
Knight, Dame Jill (Edgbaston)Steen, Anthony
Knowles, MichaelStern, Michael
Knox, DavidStevens, Lewis (Nuneaton)
Lamont, NormanStewart, Allan (Eastwood)
Lang, IanStewart, Andrew (Sherwood)
Lawrence, IvanStokes, John
Lee, John (Pendle)Stradling Thomas, Sir John
Leigh, Edward (Gainsbor'gh)Sumberg, David
Lennox-Boyd, Hon MarkTaylor, John (Solihull)
Lilley, PeterTerlezki, Stefan
Lloyd, Ian (Havant)Thomas, Rt Hon Peter
Lloyd, Peter (Fareham)Thompson, Donald (Calder V)
Lord, MichaelThompson, Patrick (N'ich N)
Lyell, NicholasThornton, Malcolm
MacGregor, Rt Hon JohnThurnham, Peter
MacKay, Andrew (Berkshire)Townend, John (Bridlington)
MacKay, John (Argyll & Bute)Tracey, Richard
Maclean, David JohnTrotter, Neville
McNair-Wilson, M. (N'bury)Twinn, Dr Ian
McQuarrie, Albertvan Straubenzee, Sir W.
Madel, DavidViggers, Peter
Malone, GeraldWaddington, David
Mather, CarolWakeham, Rt Hon John
Maude, Hon FrancisWalden, George
Mawhinney, Dr BrianWaller, Gary
Maxwell-Hyslop, RobinWardle, C. (Bexhill)
Mayhew, Sir PatrickWatts, John
Meadowcroft, MichaelWells, Bowen (Hertford)
Merchant, PiersWells, Sir John (Maidstone)
Meyer, Sir AnthonyWhitfield, John
Miscampbell, NormanWhitney, Raymond
Moate, RogerWiggin, Jerry
Morris, M. (N'hampton S)Winterton, Mrs Ann
Morrison, Hon C. (Devizes)Winterton, Nicholas
Murphy, ChristopherWood, Timothy
Neubert, MichaelWoodcock, Michael
Newton, TonyYeo, Tim
Page, Richard (Herts SW)Young, Sir George (Acton)
Parris, Matthew
Pawsey, JamesTellers for the Ayes:
Powell, William (Corby)Sir Eldon Griffiths and
Powley, JohnMr. Robert Rhodes James.

NOES

Adams, Allen (Paisley N)Brown, Ron (E'burgh, Leith)
Alton, DavidCaborn, Richard
Ashton, JoeCallaghan, Jim (Heyw'd & M)
Atkinson, N. (Tottenham)Campbell-Savours, Dale
Bennett, A. (Dent'n & Red'sh)Canavan, Dennis
Bermingham, GeraldCarter-Jones, Lewis
Bidwell, SydneyClark, Dr David (S Shields)
Boyes, RolandClarke, Thomas
Bray, Dr JeremyClay, Robert
Brown, N. (N'c'tle-u-Tyne E)Clelland, David Gordon

Clwyd, Mrs AnnMcKay, Allen (Penistone)
Cohen, HarryMcKelvey, William
Cook, Frank (Stockton North)McNamara, Kevin
Corbett, RobinMcTaggart, Robert
Craigen, J. M.McWilliam, John
Dalyell, TamMadden, Max
Davies, Ronald (Caerphilly)Marek, Dr John
Dobson, FrankMartin, Michael
Douglas, DickMason, Rt Hon Roy
Dubs, AlfredMaxton, John
Duffy, A. E. P.Maynard, Miss Joan
Eadie, AlexMichie, William
Eastham, KenMillan, Rt Hon Bruce
Evans, John (St. Helens N)Morris, Rt Hon A. (W'shawe)
Ewing, HarryNellist, David
Fatchett, DerekO'Brien, William
Faulds, AndrewO'Neill, Martin
Field, Frank (Birkenhead)Park, George
Fields, T. (L'pool Broad Gn)Parry, Robert
Flannery, MartinPavitt, Laurie
Foulkes, GeorgePike, Peter
Freeson, Rt Hon ReginaldPrescott, John
Garrett, W. E.Redmond, Martin
George, BruceRichardson, Ms Jo
Gould, BryanRoberts, Ernest (Hackney N)
Hancock, MichaelRooker, J. W.
Hardy, PeterRoss, Ernest (Dundee W)
Harrison, Rt Hon WalterSedgemore, Brian
Haynes, FrankSheldon, Rt Hon R.
Heffer, Eric S.Short, Ms Clare (Ladywood)
Home Robertson, JohnShort, Mrs R.(W'hampt'n NE)
Hoyle, DouglasSkinner, Dennis
Hughes, Roy (Newport East)Smith, C.(Isl'ton S & F'bury)
Hughes, Sean (Knowsley S)Snape, Peter
Hughes, Simon (Southwark)Soley, Clive
Janner, Hon GrevilleSpearing, Nigel
John, BrynmorStrang, Gavin
Kilroy-Silk, RobertThomas, Dr R. (Carmarthen)
Lambie, DavidThorne, Stan (Preston)
Lamond, JamesWareing, Robert
Leadbitter, TedWelsh, Michael
Lewis, Terence (Worsley)Williams, Rt Hon A.
Litherland, RobertWinnick, David
Lloyd, Tony (Stretford)Young, David (Bolton SE)
Lofthouse, Geoffrey
Loyden, EdwardTellers for the Noes:
McCartney, HughMr. Ken Weetch and
McDonald, Dr OonaghMr. Willie W. Hamilton.
McGuire, Michael

Question accordingly agreed to.

Question put accordingly:

The House divided: Ayes 259. Noes 108.

Division No. 74]

[10.05 pm

AYES

Aitken, JonathanBrandon-Bravo, Martin
Alison, Rt Hon MichaelBright, Graham
Ancram, MichaelBrinton, Tim
Arnold, TomBrooke, Hon Peter
Ashby, DavidBrown, M. (Brigg & Cl'thpes)
Atkins, Robert (South Ribble)Browne, John
Atkinson, David (B'm'th E)Bruinvels, Peter
Baker, Rt Hon K. (Mole Vall'y)Bryan, Sir Paul
Baker, Nicholas (Dorset N)Buchanan-Smith, Rt Hon A.
Batiste, SpencerBuck, Sir Antony
Beaumont-Dark, AnthonyBudgen, Nick
Bellingham, HenryBulmer, Esmond
Benyon, WilliamBurt, Alistair
Bevan, David GilroyButcher, John
Biffen, Rt Hon JohnButler, Rt Hon Sir Adam
Blackburn, JohnButterfill, John
Body, Sir RichardCarlile, Alexander (Montg'y)
Bonsor, Sir NicholasCarlisle, Kenneth (Lincoln)
Boscawen, Hon RobertCarlisle, Rt Hon M. (W'ton S)
Bottomley, PeterCash, William
Bottomley, Mrs VirginiaChapman, Sydney
Bowden, A. (Brighton K'to'n)Churchill, W. S.
Bowden, Gerald (Dulwich)Clark, Dr Michael (Rochford)

Clark, Sir W. (Croydon S)Hughes, Dr Mark (Durham)
Clarke, Rt Hon K. (Rushcliffe)Hughes, Roy (Newport East)
Coleman, DonaldHughes, Sean (Knowsley S)
Coombs, SimonHunt, David (Wirral W)
Cope, JohnHunt, John (Ravensbourne)
Corrie, JohnHurd, Rt Hon Douglas
Cranborne, ViscountJenkin, Rt Hon Patrick
Crouch, DavidJessel, Toby
Currie, Mrs EdwinaJohnson Smith, Sir Geoffrey
Davies, Ronald (Caerphilly)Jones, Gwilym (Cardiff N)
Dorrell, StephenJones, Robert (Herts W)
Douglas-Hamilton, Lord J.Jopling, Rt Hon Michael
Dover, DenKellett-Bowman, Mrs Elaine
du Cann, Rt Hon Sir EdwardKershaw, Sir Anthony
Duffy, A. E. P.Key, Robert
Dunn, RobertKing, Roger (B'ham N'field)
Durant, TonyKnight, Dame Jill (Edgbaston)
Dykes, HughKnowles, Michael
Edwards, Rt Hon N. (P'broke)Knox, David
Eggar, TimLamont, Norman
Evennett, DavidLang, Ian
Eyre, Sir ReginaldLawrence, Ivan
Fallon, MichaelLee, John (Pendle)
Farr, Sir JohnLeigh, Edward (Gainsbor'gh)
Favell, AnthonyLennox-Boyd, Hon Mark
Fenner, Mrs PeggyLilley, Peter
Finsberg, Sir GeoffreyLloyd, Ian (Havant)
Forsyth, Michael (Stirling)Lloyd, Peter (Fareham)
Forth, EricLofthouse, Geoffrey
Foster, DerekLord, Michael
Fox, MarcusLyell, Nicholas
Franks, CecilMacGregor, Rt Hon John
Fraser, Peter (Angus East)McKay, Allen (Penistone)
Freeman, RogerMacKay, Andrew (Berkshire)
Fry, PeterMacKay, John (Argyll & Bute)
Gale, RogerMaclean, David John
Galley, RoyMcNair-Wilson, M. (N'bury)
Glyn, Dr AlanMcQuarrie, Albert
Goodhart, Sir PhilipMcWilliam, John
Gow, IanMalone, Gerald
Gower, Sir RaymondMason, Rt Hon Roy
Grant, Sir AnthonyMather, Carol
Greenway, HarryMaude, Hon Francis
Gregory, ConalMawhinney, Dr Brian
Griffiths, Peter (Portsm'th N)Maxwell-Hyslop, Robin
Grist, IanMayhew, Sir Patrick
Ground, PatrickMerchant, Piers
Gummer, Rt Hon John SMeyer, Sir Anthony
Hamilton, Hon A. (Epsom)Miscampbell, Norman
Hamilton, James (M'well N)Moate, Roger
Hamilton, Neil (Tatton)Morris, M. (N'hampton S)
Hampson, Dr KeithMorrison, Hon C. (Devizes)
Hanley, JeremyMurphy, Christopher
Hannam, JohnNeubert, Michael
Hargreaves, KennethNewton, Tony
Harris, DavidNicholls, Patrick
Harvey, RobertPage, Richard (Herts SW)
Haselhurst, AlanParris, Matthew
Hawkins, C. (High Peak)Pawsey, James
Hawkins, Sir Paul (N'folk SW)Penhaligon, David
Hawksley, WarrenPowell, Raymond (Ogmore)
Hayes, J.Powell, William (Corby)
Haynes, FrankPowley, John
Hayward, RobertRaison, Rt Hon Timothy
Heathcoat-Amory, DavidRhys Williams, Sir Brandon
Heddle, JohnRifkind, Rt Hon Malcolm
Henderson, BarryRoberts, Wyn (Conwy)
Hickmet, RichardRoe, Mrs Marion
Hicks, RobertRossi, Sir Hugh
Higgins, Rt Hon Terence L.Rost, Peter
Hind, KennethRowe, Andrew
Hogg, N. (C'nauld & Kilsyth)Rumbold, Mrs Angela
Holland, Sir Philip (Gedling)Sainsbury, Hon Timothy
Holt, RichardSayeed, Jonathan
Hordern, Sir PeterShaw, Giles (Pudsey)
Howard, MichaelShaw, Sir Michael (Scarb')
Howarth, Alan (Stratf'd-on-A)Shelton, William (Streatham)
Howell, Rt Hon D. (G'ldford)Shepherd, Richard (Aldridge)
Howell, Ralph (Norfolk, N)Silvester, Fred
Hubbard-Miles, PeterSims, Roger

Skeet, Sir Trevorvan Straubenzee, Sir W.
Smith, Tim (Beaconsfield)Viggers, Peter
Soames, Hon NicholasWaddington, David
Speed, KeithWakeham, Rt Hon John
Speller, TonyWalden, George
Spencer, DerekWalker, Bill (T'side N)
Spicer, Michael (S Worcs)Waller, Gary
Squire, RobinWardle, C. (Bexhill)
Stanbrook, IvorWatson, John
Steen, AnthonyWatts, John
Stern, MichaelWells, Bowen (Hertford)
Stevens, Lewis (Nuneaton)Wells, Sir John (Maidstone)
Stewart, Allan (Eastwood)Wheeler, John
Stewart, Andrew (Sherwood)Whitfield, John
Stokes, JohnWhitney, Raymond
Stradling Thomas, Sir JohnWiggin, Jerry
Sumberg, DavidWilkinson, John
Taylor, John (Solihull)Winterton, Mrs Ann
Taylor, Teddy (S'end E)Winterton, Nicholas
Terlezki, StefanWolfson, Mark
Thomas, Rt Hon PeterWood, Timothy
Thompson, Donald (Calder V)Woodcock, Michael
Thompson, Patrick (N'ich N)Yeo, Tim
Thornton, MalcolmYoung, Sir George (Acton)
Thurnham, Peter
Townend, John (Bridlington)Tellers for the Ayes:
Tracey, RichardSir Eldon Griffiths and
Trotter, NevilleMr. Robert Rhodes James.
Twinn, Dr Ian

NOES

Adams, Allen (Paisley N)Clelland, David Gordon
Alton, DavidClwyd, Mrs Ann
Ashdown, PaddyCohen, Harry
Ashton, JoeCook, Frank (Stockton North)
Atkinson, N. (Tottenham)Corbett, Robin
Beith, A. J.Corbyn, Jeremy
Bennett, A. (Dent'n & Red'sh)Craigen, J. M.
Bermingham, GeraldDalyell, Tam
Bidwell, SydneyDeakins, Eric
Boyes, RolandDobson, Frank
Brown, Hugh D. (Provan)Douglas, Dick
Brown, N. (N'c'tle-u-Tyne E)Dubs, Alfred
Brown, Ron (E'burgh, Leith)Dunwoody, Hon Mrs G.
Caborn, RichardEadie, Alex
Callaghan, Jim (Heyw'd & M)Eastham, Ken
Campbell-Savours, DaleEwing, Harry
Canavan, DennisFatchett, Derek
Carter-Jones, LewisFaulds, Andrew
Clay, RobertField, Frank (Birkenhead)

Fields, T. (L'pool Broad Gn)Meadowcroft, Michael
Flannery, MartinMichie, William
Foot, Rt Hon MichaelMillan, Rt Hon Bruce
Freeson, Rt Hon ReginaldMorris, Rt Hon A. (W'shawe)
Garrett, W. E.Nellist, David
George, BruceO'Brien, William
Gould, BryanO'Neill, Martin
Hancock, MichaelOwen, Rt Hon Dr David
Harrison, Rt Hon WalterPark, George
Heffer, Eric S.Parry, Robert
Home Robertson, JohnPavitt, Laurie
Hoyle, DouglasPike, Peter
Hughes, Simon (Southwark)Redmond, Martin
Janner, Hon GrevilleRichardson, Ms Jo
Kennedy, CharlesRoberts, Ernest (Hackney N)
Kilroy-Silk, RobertRooker, J. W.
Kirkwood, ArchyRoss, Ernest (Dundee W)
Lambie, DavidSedgemore, Brian
Lamond, JamesSheldon, Rt Hon R.
Leadbitter, TedShort, Ms Clare (Ladywood)
Lewis, Ron (Carlisle)Short, Mrs R.(W'hampt'n NE)
Lewis, Terence (Worsley)Skinner, Dennis
Litherland, RobertSmith, C.(Isl'ton S & F'bury)
Livsey, RichardSoley, Clive
Lloyd, Tony (Stretford)Steel, Rt Hon David
Loyden, EdwardStrang, Gavin
McCartney, HughThomas, Dr R. (Carmarthen)
McDonald, Dr OonaghThorne, Stan (Preston)
McGuire, MichaelTorney, Tom
McKelvey, WilliamWareing, Robert
McNamara, KevinWelsh, Michael
McTaggart, RobertWinnick, David
Madden, MaxYoung, David (Bolton SE)
Marek, Dr John
Martin, MichaelTellers for the Noes:
Maxton, JohnMr. Willie W. Hamilton and
Maynard, Miss JoanMr. Ken Weetch.

Question accordingly agreed to.

Ordered,

That leave be given to the Committee on the Felixstowe Dock and Railway Bill to sit with two members to-morrow and thereafter.

Peterhead Harbours (South Bay Development) Order Confirmation Bill (By Order)

Order for consideration read.

To be considered tomorrow.