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We shall try to oppose the Bill where we think that it should be opposed, and we shall try to improve it where we think that it should be improved. We feel that that must come first, because it is the business that we are discussing today.
We have a Bill before us. We are not responsible for the management of Government business; it is not up to us to propose Adjournment motions. We have not the power, because we have no majority. It is the Government's responsibility whether or not we proceed.
I intend to proceed. I intend to try to improve the Bill through these amendments. This must be absolutely clear: we do not want misconceptions to arise from the antics of some Conservative Members which might make the public believe that we want to talk out our own business this afternoon. Of course we do not. We want to keep our business this afternoon.
Amendments Nos. 21 and 22 are important. People in Felixstowe, Harwich and East Anglia will be extremely interested in how we proceed. The amendments deal with disturbance to birds and bird life. Many people are members of the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds and an even larger number are desperately worried about the plight of birds and bird life in the United Kingdom. Amendment No. 21 seeks to give the Nature Conservancy Council a little scope—[Interruption.]
I am grateful for my hon. Friend's suggestion. There is much noise, coming from many Conservative Members. The Conservative Front Bench seems to be holding a tripartite conversation. However, things are quietening down and I can continue. At least, I hope that hon. Members on Opposition Benches will be able to hear me.
I do not want to be too long because I have been here throughout the night. I have noticed that there has been a temptation on Conservative Benches to try to move closure motions whenever possible. I have no reason to believe that the Government or the hon. Member for Bury St. Edmunds (Sir E. Griffiths), who is in charge of the Bill, will do any different on this occasion. I suspect, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that you will allow the debate to continue for about two hours, after which a closure motion will be moved. As has happened before, although plenty of points need to be made in this important debate, they will go by the board. We shall be forced into a closure and the debate will be curtailed.
It is a great pity when the Government, with a majority of over 100, cannot organise their business so that proper consideration could be given to previous amendments or to the ones that we are now debating, amendments Nos. 21 and 22. I should have thought that if the Government party was keen on getting the best legislation through the House, as are we in the Opposition, without a shadow of doubt, it would listen to all the arguments and not be keen to move closure motions as soon as possible.
My hon. Friend says that it is the Government party that moves closure motions, but it is obvious it is more than the Government party—it is the Government. It is the Tory Government in receipt of £30,000 a year fom P and O who have hastened the legislation through to such an extent. We have even seen the Prime Minister taking the unusual step of voting on what we are told is private legislation.
I am sure that hon. Members heard what my hon. Friend said. I shall leave it at that, as you suggest, Mr. Deputy Speaker.
I now refer to amendment No. 21. Section 24 of the Felixstowe Dock and Railway Act 1956 deals with the use of explosives. It might be useful to read it out. The Act is inadequate in many ways, and section 24 demonstrates that. It states:
Before any explosive substance is used in exercise of the powers of this Act the Company shall give at least seven days' notice in writing marked "Urgent" (which shall be served by posting by registered post) of the intention to use an explosive substance addressed to the engineer and surveyor of the Felixstowe Urban District Council.
That is all that the section says. Hon. Members will have noticed that there is nothing to stop the company using explosives at any time if it wishes. All that it must do is give at least seven days' notice and mark the letter or document "Urgent". The difficulty is that explosives frighten birds. People who have been to the Fagbury marshes tell me that there are thousands of birds there and that if a shotgun is fired at the wrong time, those birds will fly up.
May I remind my hon. Friend of the Brent geese, which migrates from the USSR to winter in the United Kingdom? They are particularly vulnerable on marshland to cold weather. The Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 provides for the Secretary of State to take action on shotguns. If he can take action on shotguns, what would be the position on explosives? One can only hazard the guess that the thousands of birds in a flock would be frightened by explosives and that explosives would, therefore, greatly endanger the migratory pattern of the geese.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that intervention. I thought that he would anticipate me and make my point, but he made the slightly different point about dangers to migrating birds and migrations.) take his advice on that because he knows more on this subject than I do. I am a mere amateur at bird-watching. My point is slightly different but, I hope, equally valid.
We accept that loud noises disturb birds and that an explosion in midwinter will darken the sky with tens of thousands of birds. Clearly, they will expend much energy. I am told on good authority that in the depths of winter birds do not have enough energy to be continually, or even irregularly, frightened by loud noises. They must spend their time on the mud banks seeking food simply to get enough energy to stay alive. If birds are frightened into the sky, first, they expend energy and, secondly, they are not looking for the food that they need to stay alive.
There are rules against firing shotguns in certain areas and I understand that the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 provides for cold weather orders. Therefore, it is not a question of the House debating something which is absolutely new or that nobody has thought about; such provisions already exist and the danger has been recognised and appreciated by experts and ornithologists. All my hon. Friend the Member for Denton and Reddish (Mr. Bennett) and I are seeking to do is to ensure that the spirit of the cold weather orders is carried into this Bill in relation to the use of explosives. Clearly, it would be anomalous if the company were allowed to use explosives either without any control or with only seven days' notice, while people who shoot — there are plenty who shoot and use shotguns in that area—are rightly barred from doing so because of the cold weather orders.
The amendment does not spell out the matter precisely or make it absolutely clear. It inserts into clause 10:
'(dd) section 24 of the Act of 1956 shall have effect as if after "Council" there were inserted "and the Regional Officer responsible for the County of Suffolk of the Nature Conservancy Council".'.
I shall not bore the House by reading the Bill ; hon. Members can read it and the amendments. If the amendment is accepted, explosives could be used, but only when they do not harm feeding birds, waders and the Brent geese about which my hon. Friend the Member for Makerfield (Mr. McCartney) is rightly concerned.
Amendment No. 22 is slightly different. I support it and hope that it will be accepted, but I confess that I am not completely happy with it. It states:
in page 10, line 28, at end insert 'and with the chief executive of Suffolk Coastal District Council"'.
Section 39 of the Felixstowe Dock and Railway Act 1956 deals with the correction of errors in deposited plans and books of reference. In addition to referring to the county of East Suffolk, section 39 of the 1956 Act requires duly authorised certificates recording details of the error in question to be deposited with
every clerk of a local authority and chairman of a parish council or parish meeting with whom a copy of the deposited plans has been deposited in accordance with the Standing Orders of the Houses of Parliament or who has the custody of any such copy so deposited".
The local district council fits the description, but, subject to any comments that will be made by the hon. Gentleman in charge of the Bill, it does not include the Suffolk Coastal district council. The amendment simply seeks to correct the problem so that all local authorities are involved and none is left out. The Suffolk Coastal district authority is one of the two principal authorities in the region.
Chief executives are mentioned in the amendment. Perhaps my hon. Friend the Member for Denton and Reddish can advise me on the matter. I would prefer the amendment to refer to the chief executive acting on the advice of his council, not in a personal capacity. Most chief executives act on the advice of their district councils, but it seems——
I shall try to help my hon. Friend. I am a recent member of a local authority. It may be that the provision has not caused many difficulties. In most instances, local authority standing orders specifically designate what role a chief executive will perform under the instruction of a committee or council and which roles will be delegated to him. I am absolutely sure that the district council concerned, having considered the issues involved, pursuant to the standing orders, will decide whether a power is delegated to him personally or through the appropriate committee.
I shall finish my remarks and then perhaps my hon. Friend can correct me.
In respect of other matters, the chief executives attending district council planning committees would clearly be acting as agents of such committees.
I bow to my hon. Friend's superior knowledge. I admit that I am not sure about the position of a chief executive when acting as a returning officer in the context of electoral registration. If my hon. Friend says that the drafting of the amendment is satisfactory to him, it is certainly satisfactory to me. As I believe in democracy——
Perhaps my hon. Friend will care to probe the hon. Member for Bury St. Edmunds (Sir E. Griffiths) about how much underwater explosive will be used and the ecological consequences of the use of it. I think that my hon. Friend is right about the issue of Home Office intervention. If we are being asked to make a decision on these matters, we should know whether responsibility rests with the Home Office. My understanding is that it does. I invite my hon. Friend to probe the hon. Member for Bury St. Edmunds on these issues.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Garston (Mr. Lloyd) for raising an important question, which I cannot answer definitely. I would hope that any company would have expertise in the use of explosives and would know the consequences of any discharge of them. I hope that the Minister listened to my hon. Friend's question and will answer it. It is an important issue and the House will want an assurance.
Amendment No. 21 takes up the important issue of the scaring of birds in deep midwinter, thus making life extremely difficult for them. If they are caused to fly in the depths of winter they will expend a considerable amount of energy, and when flying, they will not be able to look for food. That is critical. In the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981. there are safeguards against the use of shotguns. The amendment seeks to widen the scope of that Act to bring within its terms the use of explosives in the context of the Bill. I commend the two amendments to the House.
I address myself to the use of explosives and the effects of discharges of them on communities close to the proposed development. I represent a Lancashire coalfield constituency with one of the largest areas of opencast mining activity in the country. The community which I represent is involved in the problems that are caused by explosives in industrial areas close to built-up areas in which people live and work. I wish to ask the hon. Member for Bury St. Edmunds (Sir E. Griffiths) a number of questions and I hope that he will be able to satisfy me on these matters. If he can, he will perhaps be able to support the amendments.
First, has the company sponsoring the Bill published proposals to deal with expected noise levels and, indeed, the duration of the noise, which is equally important? Very often, it is the duration of noise that creates the largest environmental difficulties for communities close to industrial establishments. We can all deal with the use of explosive substances on a one-off basis from time to time, but their daily use from Monday to Saturday is a different matter. The company should address itself to that difficult and detailed problem. What proposals has it placed before the district or county council in regard to the use of explosive substances and the noise that that creates?
We also need to know the hours of work on the site. That is especially relevant to the area in which the development is to take place, because of its proximity to areas of international importance for wildlife. It is essential to have some information about the likely hours of work and their effect on wildlife and the local community. Has the company, at any stage during the long proceedings on the Bill, consulted the local authorities or local community and environmental groups on the matter?
I gather that the hon. Gentleman wants to know about hours of work on the site because of the possible effect on wildlife. I shall make it my business to get the answer to his question. However, may I ask him what are the hours of work of the wildlife that he is worried about disturbing?
I am worried about hours of work in relation to the use of explosive substances. That is very important in terms of the level and duration of noise, and my hon. Friend the Member for Wrexham (Dr. Marek) has already explained how noise affects migrating birds.
I put it to my hon. Friend that any undertakings given by the company are of no consequence. In large construction contracts, the main contractors subcontract and they invariably find it impossible to enforce conditions imposed upon them by the planning authorities. Whatever conditions the main contractor gives, the chances are that there will be default on the main contract.
Tragically, that is my experience, too, in my present local community and in other communities in which I have lived. However, having said that, I am prepared to give the hon. Member for Bury St. Edmunds the benefit of the doubt, at least during the debate, to allow him to set out proposals. We could then discuss whether those proposals were adequate and what steps the local authority could take to ensure that they were implemented. I would welcome the hon. Gentleman's proposals on these matters.
For local residents, another concern in relation to the use of explosive substances is structural damage, which should be monitored. Local communities often find themselves on the losing end. They give companies the benefit of the doubt, allowing them to use explosive substances, and they subsequently find that their properties suffer structural damage, cracked windows, dust and so on. What arrangements have the promoters made to monitor properties near the site for possible structural damage? Where it occurs, what action will they take to remedy the problem, either by carrying out repairs or by granting compensation to the owners of properties that have been damaged?
In the early hours of the morning, we had a lengthy debate on whether the Bill should include a money resolution to deal with its consequences for local authorities. Our amendment tries to tidy up the position and to make the local authority the body responsible for monitoring the use and effects of explosive substances. What resources will be made available to the district council, whose environmental health officers will have to monitor the regulations to ensure that they are adequately carried out and, where they are not, that action is taken? Capital expenditure will be involved, because the local authority will have to provide the equipment necessary to monitor noise and dust. I should welcome the comments of the hon. Member for Bury St. Edmunds on any discussions that have taken place between the district council and the company.
On the storage of explosives, because of vandalism and for other reasons, problems have arisen in my constituency where companies have stored explosives in such a way that they have fallen into the wrong hands or are used wrongly on site. Has a planning application been made to the district council in relation to the storage of explosives on site or near to the site?
One problem occurred, not with a private company, but in a British Rail establishment in my area. It has happened in other areas. In foggy conditions caps are placed on the line. Young children have taken them, the caps have exploded and the children have been injured. At a property close to where I live, vandals took some explosive substances which could have caused great damage. This is not a spurious point. I am worried not only about the safety of persons on site but about the possibility of vandalism or other reckless action. I hope that hon. Members agree that, where explosive substances are to be used, they should be stored safely. That would be consistent with the Opposition's attitude in seeking assurances that the storage of explosives on the site will he monitored by the environmental health officers. We also want to ensure that adequate attention has been paid to planning methods.
Does not the hon. Gentleman realise that those matters are already covered by the strictest of legislation—for example, the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974? As anyone working in the coal industry knows, there is strict security for any explosives kept on Coal Board property. It is a requirement of law, so there is no need for the hon. Gentleman to ask for assurances.
The hon. Gentleman, quite obviously, has never served on a local authority planning committee. If he had, he would know that anyone wishing to store explosive substances—irrespective of any licence issued by the Health and Safety Executive or the mining authorities — must first have permission from the planning authority for the construction of the physical place in which those explosives are to be stored. There is no better example of that than in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Wigan (Mr. Stott), where an ICI explosives factory has recently extended its production. I served on the planning committee that dealt with the application for that extension, which included the storage of explosive substances.
Another problem will be the noise on industrial sites caused by the repair and storage of vehicles. Can the sponsors of the Bill give me some idea whether the company has consulted the planning authorities and local residents about the number of hours needed to repair vehicles? The repair and storage of vehicles on construction sites can cause considerable difficulties both for local residents and for wildlife. That is especially true at weekends if companies allow such work on heavy plant and machinery.
The proposed site is in a sensitive area, and it would be quite unacceptable to allow either explosive substances to be used or the repair and maintenance of heavy plant and machinery to be carried out during weekends. What discussions have the Bill's sponsors had with the appropriate environmental health officers? It is essential that planning regulations prevent the site from being used at weekends.
I have listened carefully to the hon. Member for Makerfield (Mr. McCartney), who has already spoken on a number of occasions. There was much force in many of his arguments. For a number of years, when I was an Environment Minister, I was chairman of the Noise Council, so I understand the hon. Gentleman's remarks about the impact of explosives—not only on wildlife but on the comfort of those living in the area.
I also listened carefully to the hon. Member for Workington (Mr. Campbell-Savours) on the difficulties of enforcing on subcontractors the undertakings entered into by the prime contractors. Of course, it would be for the public authorities to take action against any subcontractor who caused noise or nuisance that was unacceptable under the general health laws. The laws are there to protect citizens and no contractor, simply because of the Bill, can escape liability under the general noise regulations. Therefore, this Bill could not in any way give immunity from prosecution to anyone whether prime or subcontractor. That is the standard that applies to any legislation.
I have had some private discussions with the hon. Member for Wrexham (Dr. Marek) and I think that I now understand a little more clearly what he and the hon. Member for Makerfield are seeking to achieve.
Section 24 of the Felixstowe Dock and Railway Act 1956 is applied to the Bill by clause 10. In other words, we have taken over from the 1956 Act a requirement that the dock company must give seven days' notice to the Suffolk Coastal district council before it uses any explosives. That is a statutory obligation arising from the previous Act which is now incorporated in clause 10.
Amendment No. 15, with which we have already dealt, would require the dock company to serve a similar notice on the regional officer of the nature Conservancy Council. The dock company has no objection at all to that additional requirement, which we have also considered.
Section 39 of the 1956 Act, as similarly applied to the Bill, provides for the correction of any errors in the deposited plan and the book of reference. That procedure involves an application to the local magistrates court. The magistrate may correct the deposited plan or book of reference and he can then issue a certificate of correction to make sure that the matter is right. That is done by an independent quasi-judicial authority. Section 39(3) requires the dock company to deposit a copy of such a certificate with, among others, the chief executive of Suffolk county council.
Amendment No. 16 would require the dock company to deposit a further copy of that certificate with the chief executive of the Suffolk Coastal district council. Again, the dock company has no objection to that further requirement.
To the extent that those requirements parallel the two amendments that have been moved by the hon. Member for Wrexham, I am sure that the Bill's promoters would be willing to accept amendments Nos. 21 and 22. I shall so recommend to them and I hope that I can confirm in a few moments that if the House is willing to accept those concessions, and not, as happened before, to reject them by Divisions, I hope that the dock company will be prepared to accept the amendments.
The hon. Member for Bury St. Edmunds (Sir E. Griffiths) has done precisely what he has been doing all evening. He has been giving undertakings to the House on behalf of the promoters. Ministers have not been coming to the Dispatch Box to comment on those undertakings, and, when Divisions have been called, his hon. Friends have voted against his undertakings and those given by the promoters.
That means not so much that we have to convince the hon. Gentleman, but that he must convince his hon. Friends. We must convince his hon. Friends, because he cannot give us an undertaking on behalf of his hon. Friends, in the event, that, if any hon. Member were to seek to divide the House so as to allow his constituents to gauge the measure of support given by hon. Members to the amendments——
Let me clarify the point. On behalf of the promoters, I have made a fair offer—to accept the amendments. If there is no Division, those amendments will stand part of the Bill. They become the law—at least, the private law—of the land. Only if an hon. Member insists on seeking to divide the House is there any question of those amendments not becoming part of the Bill. Therefore, Labour Members can have concessions only if they do not seek to divide the House.
That is a remarkable statement by a Member of the House of Commons, who was elected by 50,000 or 60,000 constituents and who now comes to Parliament and says, "If you divide on this issue, you will be defeated." One has a right to divide the House so that constituents may know the way in which their Member of Parliament thinks on such matters. The Division lists of the House of Commons are a gauge that enable people outside to examine and understand the positions taken by their Members of Parliament. I put it to the hon. Gentleman that he has an obligation to convince his hon. Friends that they should not vote against these amendments. He cannot expect to win a debate in this House by default, but that is what he wants. He wants a win by default, rather than one achieved by way of voting judgment. That is an abuse of our procedures. We are perfectly entitled to seek to divide the House and to seek an expression of opinion by hon. Members.
During the night, when I and may hon. Friends were present for all the Divisions, I watched closely those hon. Members who called for Divisions. I noticed that the hon. Gentleman called in an opposite way to the way in which he had spoken during the debate. It must confuse the hon. Gentleman's constituents greatly to hear him speak in favour of an amendment but then shout "No". When there is no distinction or Division in the House on the amendment, it seems quite contrary for the hon. Gentleman to shout against his own amendment and force a Division. It is not surprising that my hon. Friends who have conceded the point feel that if the hon. Gentleman is not prepared to take part in the general undertaking, the undertaking no longer applies to them.
I presume that the hon. Gentleman observes what is happening. He will note, and tomorrow Hansard will confirm, that I have not spoken in the debates that have taken place. Perhaps the hon. Gentleman could tell me when I did so and in what debate I expressed my views. Will he do so?
I apologise to the hon. Gentleman. He may not have made a formal speech, but he gave many expressions of his point of view by intervening in the speeches of other hon. Members.
On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. You will be aware of the strong stricture in "Erskine May" against an hon. Member expressing a voice in one direction when a vote is called, but voting in the opposite direction. I understand that "Erskine May" makes it quite clear that any hon. Member who has a complaint about that should raise it at the first opportunity. If my hon. Friend the Member for Workington (Mr. Campbell-Savours) had possibly committed that error—I am sure that he did not—surely it would be incumbent on any hon. Member making such an allegation to raise it immediately at the end of the Division in question. As it was not raised, surely it is wrong for any hon. Member to come back now, many hours later, and make such an allegation? Would it not be appropriate for the hon. Gentleman to withdraw that allegation?
Further to that point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. I am not in any way seeking to make a complaint about the actions of the hon. Member for Workington (Mr. Campbell-Savours). I understand why he did so. It was to obstruct the Bill's passage because there would he a 15-minute delay in the debate while we had a Division. I understand that. I have no complaint, because that is what I expect.
The reason why I sought to divide the House was as I have already stated. I believe that Divisions should take place so that the public can then measure the views of their Members of Parliament. Most Conservative Members represent rural seats, with large rural communities and a great body of green opinion, or they seek to do so. I want that green opinion to understand that those green expressions are not being represented in the Division Lobbies of the House of Commons. Anyone examining our proceedings will notice that I was one who called Divisions to enable the public to measure the support of Conservative Members for the amendments to the Bill. They will be shocked when they read the Division lists.
The facts are far less sinister than the hon. Gentleman has suggested. The reason why Conservative Members voted against the amendments put forward was that a quid pro quo existed. The agreement was that if the Labour party did not waste time by calling unnecessary Divisions, we would not vote against or object to a minor change in the Bill. However, if the Labour party intends to waste the time of the House, by George, we will get exactly the Bill that we want.
I shall not give way on this matter again. However, hon. Members will know that the Labour party had no Whip on this Bill. Labour Members have been voting freely all night. There was no official Labour position. No one has been required to vote in any way and, indeed, throughout the night, I have voted against the position adopted by my hon. Friends. Therefore, the case put by the hon. Member for Bristol, East (Mr. Sayeed) falls.
The next issue raised by the hon. Member for Bury St. Edmunds—I should be grateful if he would consider this matter, although he is standing behind the Bar—was that subcontractors should be dealt with by local authorities with what he describes as the substantial powers available to those authorities. The truth is that, invariably, local authorities do not exercise those powers and do not do so because of the expenditure involved. Often, the authorities seek undertakings. However, the problem on this occasion is that, within a seven-day period, damage could be done to the environment. That is what we are trying to prevent. Indeed, it is the noise disturbance arising from explosions, dealt with in the amendments, that has led me to put my case today.
I live outside Keswick in the Lake district. I live on the hill that leads to the lowest slopes of the highest mountain in England, Skiddaw. My home is in the middle of a natural habitat for thousands of birds. It is perhaps one of the most bird-infested—that is not the right word because they are a joy—areas of the United Kingdom. I know what happens when men come with their shotguns to disturb the peace and tranquility of the area. Indeed, I believe that the hon. Member for Morecambe and Lunesdale (Mr. Lennox-Boyd), at present sitting on the Treasury Front Bench, also lives in the Lake district in similar environmental surroundings. He will also be aware how explosions can disturb the tranquility of our area.
The proposed Felixstowe dock expansion would involve the construction of new docks in the Orwell estuary. That development would, in turn, lead to the destruction of an area of inter-tidal land providing mud flats, salt marshes and old oyster beds. We have referred to that area as Fagbury flats. I apologise for my slight hesitation, but perhaps it is because I have been here all night. Fagbury flats are of critical importance to the environment and conservation.
The Bill will allow that area to be used for expansion by the Felixstowe Dock and Harbour Company and it is proposed to give in return an area known as Trimley marshes. What worries us is what will happen on those marshes as and when construction work begins on the area that is to be reclaimed in favour of the Felixstowe Dock and Harbour Company. The company has also promised extensive screening with a massive tree-planting programme.
My hon. Friend is dealing with an important point. I am intervening at this time because I am aware that, during the course of the debate throughout the night, he was helpful as he had a number of maps that were useful for guidance. The new reserves are an unsatisfactory gesture. What is the proximity between those new reserves and the area in which the explosions will take place? It will be something of an irony if a new conservancy is set up in an area so close to a site on which there will be explosions that birds will not settle there.
The answer is simple. Trimley marshes is shown on the map as next door to Fagbury flats. Therefore, there would be a disturbance of the new conservancy area. There is to be a promised extensive screening and tree-planting programme. That is significant because that recognises that there is a need to form a barrier between the new conservancy and the old one. That barrier is being set up to deal with the problem that we are considering in the amendment.
Can my hon. Friend indicate the position of the county council to the so-called environmental measures? It is my understanding that at about 3 o'clock this morning it was suggested that the county council considered it wholly inadequate and totally contrary to its policy, despite the discussions that have taken place between itself and the company.
I can only presume that those people in the local authorities who have interests in the environment would support the amendment that we are proposing and would support every effort reduce the number of explosions that are likely to take place and disturb the natural habitat. The natural habitat includes not only the area that is to be the subject of reclamation and the Trimley marshes, but the tributaries of the Orwell. The Orwell is regarded as one of the most beautiful areas of the United Kingdom. I found a book in the Library called "Tideways and Byways in Sussex, Essex and
Suffolk" by Archie White. The book refers to the area as beautiful, quiet and undisturbed. The amendments deal with the effect of explosions on the area, so I shall read this beautiful and delightful poem:
Of Philip de Broke, of 'Chesapeake' fame;
Of Candish who sailed round the world O.
Of Vernon who hatefully watered the rum.
(They nicknamed the felon 'Old Grog O')
But more than all these, I tell of a star
Which shines in the East like a jewel.
Sparkling enchantingly down to the sea
The wonder of Suffolk—The Orwell.
Another beautiful description is to be found in a book called "Suffolk" by William Addison. He described the scenic route along the Orwell:
Skirting Ipswich we pass from the Gipping to the Orwell, where the river changes not only its name but every aspect of its character.
All that is to be shattered by explosions in the development.
The quiet villages of the Gipping are quickly forgotten as the eye sweeps the broad estuary of the Orwell, its waters busy with vessels bearing their merchandise to Ipswich or away to distant ports. Yachts and rowing boats enliven the scene throughout the summer months, and when the tide is out the gulls glide down to stalk about the mud banks, where they chatter in the wind and search the ooze for worms. The pull of the restless tide is felt as it runs out of the spacious estuary, and we feel, too, that we arc on the brink of hazard and adventure".
What beautiful words, evoking a scene that is to be shattered by the explosions.
As one who has lived in the area for the past 25 years or so and cares deeply for it, I must say that, while I appreciate the idyllic picture that the hon. Gentleman is painting with the aid of one of our better writers, the reality is that there is far more noise around in the Orwell. For example, there is the noise from the Ipswich football ground and from the aircraft that take off from military as well as civil airports—and from the substantial amount of heavy industry that we are glad to have in Ipswich. Such occasional sounds are part of the requirements of the construction of civil works.
The villager from Trimley in Suffolk with whom I conversed tells another story. He speaks of the area being disturbed much more than it is by any existing background noise. So I think that the hon. Gentleman may well be egging his cake too much in his defence of the company's proposals.
It seems to me that the discussion of the amendment has centred overwhelmingly on explosives and the noise that they cause. My hon. Friend has used words, such as "shattering", which show that he is thinking of the noise problem. However, the hon. Member for Bury St. Edmunds (Sir E. Griffiths) has just made the point that explosions are, after all, one-off noises. It would be interesting to discuss the United States military bases and other such matters if we were discussing a different type of Bill.
Is my hon. Friend aware of any undertakings having been given about dust arising from explosions? That is not a one-off matter, because the dust can remain for a long time, as can other types of atmospheric disturbance. It is crazy that the new conservancy should be situated next to an area in which explosions will take place. The noise, dust and other types of atmospheric disturbance will make a mockery of it.
Yes ; that is what the villagers of Trimley think. I presume that their village is in the constituency of the hon. Member for Bury St. Edmunds. Their views are not being represented in our debate.
There is another publication to which I should draw the House's attention. It concerns what there is of historical interest in Trimley, which may be damaged by explosions, particularly violent ones. Referring to Trimley, it states:
Another case of two churches sharing the same churchyard. The church of Trimley St. Martin is now mostly 19th century. That of St. Mary has a ruined 14th century west tower with a tine medieval doorway. Inside is a cartoon by an Italian artist showing the Madonna with the Infant Christ and John the Baptist.
All this is placed at risk. Although parts of them are used, these are historic ruins. There is a danger that vigorous and fierce explosions in the area may well further disturb these buildings of historic interest. The publication says:
The buildings of the rapidly expanding port and dock of Felixstowe are encroaching along the river, almost to Trimley.
That opinion is also expressed in Trimley, where people are worried about the development that is likely to take place if the Bill secures Royal Assent. The people of Trimley are worried about the effect that it will have on the village.
It was precisely the issue of residents and the company's desire or otherwise to consult them that I raised in my earlier intervention. The hon. Member for Bury St. Edmunds (Sir E. Griffiths) suggested that he would give us some assurances, but so far he has remained dumb on the matter. My hon. Friend's correspondence shows that the company has made no effort whatever to have genuine consultations with the communities that will be affected by the proposals. That being the case, will my hon. Friend press the hon. Member for Bury St. Edmunds—if that hon. Member can tear himself away for a moment from his discussions with his hon. Friends—to answer the points raised earlier about consultation with residents?
The reason for the hon. Member for Bury St. Edmunds ignoring what is happening in the debate was revealed a few minutes ago when he said "It is just outside my constituency." Perhaps I could use the words that the hon. Gentleman used in the Division Lobby. He said, "It is Gummer's problem." That is the hon. Gentleman's difficulty. He is unwilling to accept that because the right hon. Member for Suffolk, Coastal (Mr. Gummer) cannot speak on the Bill, he should be more ready to take on the burden. The hon. Gentleman wants to talk but not to listen, and that is precisely what he has been doing for the last few minutes. The central point that must be argued again and again is that the Orwell estuary is a natural habitat of outstanding natural beauty, not just in any statutory sense but in every way.
Is my hon. Friend aware that the Nature Conservancy Council was prevented from giving evidence to the Committee in terms of putting forward its points of view about the effects of the Bill on the environment? Does that not lead one to think that the Government and the promoters of the Bill have something to hide in preventing the Nature Conservancy Council from giving its professional advice?
No doubt the hon. Member for Bury St. Edmunds and his right hon. Friend the Member for Suffolk, Coastal took a great interest in the infamous letter, about which many of my hon. Friends will not be aware but which we discussed overnight. The Select Committee Chairman, who was a signatory to the invitation, will know why the Nature Conservancy Council was prevented from giving evidence—if that was the case. That proposition is remarkable, but it seems that it must have happened. Perhaps some hon. Member—the hon. Member for Bury St. Edmunds—could explain why the Nature Conservancy Council was prevented from giving evidence on these matters when they were considered by the Committee.
Is my hon. Friend aware that the Nature Conservancy Council was greatly grieved at riot having been allowed or invited to give evidence on this matter? To that extent the Opposition are inadequately briefed by the main body interested in nature conservancy in this country. To that extent the debate has been handicapped.
I am not surprised at that. I am sure that the council would have wished to make a substantial statement on noise. As I understand it, the Nature Conservancy Council is a statutory body which was set up under the Nature Conservancy Council Act 1973 to have responsibility for the conservation of flora, fauna, geological or physiographical features throughout the United Kingdom. That body would certainly have given evidence about the use of explosives. The council is financed by the Department of the Environment, but, according to information that I have received, it is supposed to he free to express its views. It is either free or it is not free. If it is free, surely it should have been given the opportunity to give evidence to the Select Committee.
The functions of the Nature Conservancy Council include the establishment, maintenance and management of nature reserves. Therefore, the council must have much experience about those matters, and in particular about the problems that arise from excessive noise in parts of the United Kingdom.
In view of the comments that we have just heard about the effect of noise pollution, has my hon. Friend any information whether environmental health officers will be increased in local authorities to monitor the excessive noise pollution in that area as a result of the proposals in the Bill?
I did not quite hear all of my hon. Friend's question. There is a lot of noise going on around me at the moment and I am having great difficulty even hearing myself speak.
If I understood my hon. Friend's question correctly, she asked whether local authorities would have additional personnel to deal with noise which might arise as a result of the Bill reaching the statute book. The answer is that no special provision will be made. Local authorities are required to carry out statutory responsibilities without any extra resources.
We have heard that the Nature Conservancy Council was denied the opportunity to give evidence on noise to the Committee. The council is also responsible for the provision of advice to the Secretary of State or any other Minister for the development and implementation of policies for and affecting nature conservation in the United Kingdom. Further, it has responsibility for the provision of advice and dissemination of knowledge about nature conservation.
The council is also responsible for the commission or support, whether by financial means or otherwise, of research which, in the opinion of the council, is relevant to these matters. I am sure that, given the opportunity, the council would have wanted to research further into noise pollution. It would certainly have wanted to give evidence to the Committee on that matter.
The Nature Conservancy Council also has a duty, under section 28 under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981, to notify owners, occupiers, the local planning authority and the Secretary of State of any area of land which is
of special interest by reason of any of its flora, fauna, or geological or physiographical features.
The council has given notice of its intention so to notify the estuary and inter-tidal land of the River Orwell including the tidal land that is part of the Bill.
It is clear that with those substantial responsibilities to notify, the council would equally want to notify of any dangers that may arise which could endanger the natural assets that exist in the River Orwell area.
The amendment relates to clause 24 of the Felixstowe Dock and Railway Act 1956. That states:
Before any explosive substance is used in exercise of the powers of this Act the Company shall give at least seven days' notice in writing marked Urgent (wich shall be served by posting by registered post) of the intention to use an explosive substance addressed to the engineer and surveyor of the Felixstowe Urban District Council.
The problem is that no urban district councils now exist. That is why the amendment has been introduced. However, it also provides an excellent opportunity to bring the regional officer of the Nature Conservancy Council into the case. In this instance, it is the officer responsible for Suffolk county council. I am sure that he will wish to carry out the responsibilities that I identified in my earlier remarks.
Section 24 of the 1956 Act deals with the use of explosives. The effect of clause 10(d) of the Bill is to make Suffolk coastal district council the successor authority to Felixstowe urban and district council, which was phased out in 1973. It would then become responsible for the purposes of section 24 of the 1956 Act.
Sudden loud, percussive noises are very disturbing to birds. One has only to fire a shotgun in the vicinity of the birds now inhabiting Fagbury mud flats—or, indeed, any estuary—to observe the effects that such noises have. In the depths of winter, during very cold weather, the birds must spend every hour of daylight searching for food if they are to remain alive. For that reason, provision is made in the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 for cold weather orders to be made by the Secretary of State for the Environment banning shooting when conditions are particularly severe. Would it not be thoroughly anomalous if the company were allowed to bang away with explosives while the shooting fraternity was barred from hunting because of the cold weather? The amendment seeks to provide an opportunity for the Nature Conservancy Council to advise the company against explosives if conditions warrant it, but no compulsion would be involved.
The hon. Member for Bury St. Edmunds has by now probably had the few moments for which he asked earlier in which to confirm whether the Bill's promoters are willing to accept the proposition that he put to the House before. As the hon. Gentleman is nodding, I presume that that is the case. However my hon. Friends may have reservations about what may happen in the Division Lobbies. We have no guarantee that some hon. Members will not once again defeat the recommendations of the hon. Member for Bury St. Edmunds and the undertakings given by the promoters.
I took pains in my earlier contribution to tell the hon. Member for Bury St. Edmunds that it was important to hon. Members such as myself, who are not going to divide the House, that he should give certain assurances about the role of the company and its involvement with the community on the environment and on explosive substances. So far, the hon. Gentleman has studiously avoided making the contribution that was promised.
This is important to all of us who are concerned about the issues that we raised with the hon. Gentleman. He indicated, both by nodding and verbally, that he would try to give us an assurance from the sponsors of the Bill, but he has still not done so. It is essential that, before we reach an appropriate vote, I receive assurances about such matters as noise levels, the duration of working hours, notification of residents in relation to structural and physical damage, the storage of explosives and the repair and storage of vehicles. If we are to make progress on the Bill, and if there is to be a positive contribution from either House, it is incumbent on the hon. Gentleman to come clean and give me some pertinent answers.
I know that my hon. Friend has been having that argument with the hon. Member for Bury St. Edmunds, and the hon. Gentleman does not seem to wish to be drawn on the matter, but, for all sorts of reasons, I feel that we must give him the benefit of the doubt.
Perhaps the hon. Gentleman will take the opportunity of replying to me by intervening as I understand that he cannot speak twice during the debate. The only other way in which he can deal with the matter is by asking the Secretary of State to speak after me. Perhaps he can say which alternative he seeks to take.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for allowing me to intervene for the convenience of the House. I cannot speak for my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State who is not, as I understand it, directly involved in the amendments.
As I understand the position, for some time there has been a local liaison committee between the Felixstowe Dock and Railway Company and the county council, the district council and the parish councils, including Trimley. The committee was set up as long ago as 1977 specifically to ensure regular meetings to discuss all aspects of the interaction between the dock company, local organisations and local people. The committee's most recent meeting was in September.
Within the committee there are lively debates. In so far as the statutory bodies that are responsible for safeguarding the environment and have prosecution powers to deal with nuisance or noise are represented on the committee, and in so far as they also reached agreement with the dock company on the Bill, and in reaching agreement, withdrew their objections to it, I have to say to the House that there are ample powers and statutory bodies capable of ensuring that the types of nuisance that the hon. Gentleman is worried about are prevented or, if they are not, that prosecutions can ensue.
I hope that the House will understand that it is not within my gift to say precisely what the working hours will be, nor can I say precisely what the levels of explosion will be in the rare cases where it may be necessary to use explosions to move large quantities of earth. That is not within my gift. Indeed, I doubt whether it is within anyone's gift to give such guarantees.
All I can say is that it is within the authority of local councils to prosecute and within the powers of the clean air and alkaline inspectorate and others to move in if there is any infringement. That is the best that I can do for the House. I have said that the amendments, which lay upon the company some significant requirements, will be accepted by the House, as I understand it, if hon. Members do not divide.
We must not once again enter the argument about what happens if we do not divide. That conditionality of Division appalls me. It smacks of everything that is anti-democratic. We shall not go down that route again. I am sure that Conservative Members know exactly what I am talking about and that privately they will agree with me. They know that the Division list is the true measure of any Member of Parliament. Any constituent has the right to examine it.
The hon. Member for Bury St. Edmunds qualified his substantial statement with the words "as I understand it". In my notes, I always write that as AIUI when I do not want to be held to something. I do not know whether the hon. Gentleman does not want to be held to his statement, but we shall have to take what he says as the truth because I feel that he would wish to withdraw that conditionality from his statement.
The people of Trimley in the neighbouring constituency will note what the hon. Gentleman said to Parliament and will know that we have not pressed this matter to a Division because of the hon. Gentleman's undertaking and the threat of defeat. We are acting on the assumption that the hon. Gentleman's word holds. I hope that when the people of Trimley read Hansard, as they inevitably will if they are seeking to protect their interests, they will note that we were aware of the environmental damage that would arise in that community. Despite that and despite the concession granted by the promoters, I must say that I would want to vote for this amendment in the event of a Division.
I was drawn into this debate only a few minutes ago. [Interruption.] I arrived at the Bar of the House and realised what the amendment was about. [Interruption.] I readily concede that I am not familiar with the Bill.
When I heard that neither the local people nor the NCC had been consulted on the noise of explosives, I thought that it might be to the advantage of the House, and I hope it will prove to be so, for someone to speak with many years' experience of areas where such explosions take place. I am sure that many Conservative Members, with the best will in the world, do not appreciate the havoc that can be caused.
We in mining areas, especially where there is opencast mining, appreciate that such explosions have caused great problems for many years. Noise is difficult to control, even with as many inspectors as we wish and with many weeks and months being spent defending and proving cases in the courts. In the end, some sort of compromise is probably reached, but that never solves the problem of noise.
Most of the noise happens at night. Children wake up and people find their beds shaking. Often, explosions are set off on a ratio basis and perhaps one will not go off. People get back to sleep and then the delayed explosion goes off a couple of hours later. I ask Conservative Members, and certainly those whose areas will be affected to visit these areas. The environment is devastated. What is left of the hedgerows is covered in dust and there is no greenery to be seen in the immediate vicinity.
On some occasions, houses have fallen down. It has never been possible to prove the cause, but owners allege that heavy shot firing in the area has brought that about. Recently, in my area houses have been built on soil where there have been sand workings and those houses have fallen down.
Many people believe that explosives have contributed to the problem. The wildlife that we all like to see in the countryside is nearly non-existent in such areas. We do not like that. Purely and simply, the problem arises out of what has taken place in local industry.
We who have lived in mining areas for many years have had to accept that the staple industries that provide our local economic wealth create such problems. Everybody, including Conservatives Members, must be aware that, if the development goes ahead, problems will increase. Conservative Members have referred to the amount of control that the Bill will provide, but we must ask whether it can work practically. My experience is that it cannot. The people who live in surrounding regions suffer when explosions occur. I hope that the House will consider the problems.
I am sure that, with his wide experience in the House, though not on this Bill, the hon. Gentleman will know that among the original petitoners against the Bill were the county council and the district council. They negotiated with the dock company on a range of issues, including those which the hon. Gentleman mentioned. It was only when the two representative local authorities were satisfied that the dock company had met the reasonable desires of the councils representing the people who were consulted that their objections were withdrawn. Suffolk Coastal district council and Suffolk county council no longer have any objections to the Bill. The matter has been dealt with.
I fully accept that point, but I must point out to the hon. Gentleman that the local authorities to which I referred have examined the matter, put safeguards in place and given planning permission. But that does not solve the practical problems. Indeed, people will have experiences similar to those of we who live in mining areas. We can put what we like on bits of paper and have whatever agreements we want with local authorities, but, at the end of the day, local residents will suffer because of explosions. People must realise that they will not get away with it.
I was interested in my hon. Friend's reply to the hon. Member for Bury St. Edmunds (Sir E. Griffiths) about the overwhelming support from local councils and certain Conservative Members. I refer him to a letter that I received yesterday evening in relation to hospitality. Will my hon. Friend ask the hon. Member for Bury St. Edmunds whether similar hospitality arrangements were made for the councillors prior to their agreeing to the company's proposals?
It is an important point. Yesterday, my hon. Friend the Member for Makerfield (Mr. McCartney) made an important intervention when he referred to the distinction between the arrangements in local government and those in Parliament. He says that if the arrangements take place at the local level, they could be construed as illegal. The fact that they have taken place in Westminster means that they have somehow managed to get around the local government rules. That is significant. I should like an answer to my hon. Friend's question.
I intended to refer to the letter in the conclusion of my speech. I have not seen the letter but I have heard about it. I understand that it refers to this place and to hospitality. I am sure that some would think that such organised hospitality could border on corruption. Events of this sort bring the House into disrepute. Those who accepted the offer of hospitality must have had some understanding with individuals in the private sector. I do not know who provided the hospitality but some of my colleagues may have that knowledge. There were those who provided transport backwards and forwards——
On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. You will recall that yesterday Mr. Deputy Speaker said :
Order. We have covered this course"—
He is referring to this very point of hospitality—
The House has had a good run and I have been very patient. However, I repeat that it is the job of the Chair to protect the business of the House and there is much business before us. There is nothing that I can add. I have done my utmost to answer all the points of order that have been put to me."—[Official Report, 10 November 1987; Vol. 122, c. 247.]
Both Mr. Speaker and. Mr. Deputy Speaker ruled last night that the matter had been dealt with.
I am aware of that. I understand, however, that some hon. Members have not been in the Chamber for every minute throughout the debate.
On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. The difference between the quotation of the hon. Member for Pembroke (Mr. Bennett) from yesterday evening's debate and the statement that was made by the hon. Member for Bury St. Edmunds (Sir E. Griffiths), without any prompting, is the involvement of local government officers and members——
Order. This is not a genuine point of order. I invite the hon. Member for Pontefract and Castleford (Mr. Lofthouse) to continue.
I return to the reason why I intervened in the debate. I wished to bring to the attention of the House that which we in coal mining areas have experienced over many years. It is an experience that I believe will be shared by many others when the Bill is enacted. I hope that all hon. Members will bear that in mind when they make their decisions.
I must say in response to the point of order of the hon. Member for Pembroke (Mr. Bennett) that my reference to the letter was part of my speech and not the basis of a point of order. It is regrettable that the issue has arisen. I understand that in the end the hospitality was not made available——
Order. We dealt with this issue hours and hours ago. I have listened carefully to the remarks of the hon. Gentleman and I have been extremely tolerant. He should refer now to the amendments and not to any letter.
Will my hon. Friend the Member for Pontefract and Castleford (Mr. Lofthouse) press the hon. Member for Bury St. Edmunds (Sir E. Griffiths) on the issue raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Makerfield (Mr. McCartney)? We know that hospitality was on offer and that it was then withdrawn. I find it interesting that no reply has been forthcoming to the suggestion that hospitality was offered to and accepted by members and senior officers of the two local authorities involved. The question has not been put directly to the hon. Member for Bury St. Edmunds. Bearing in mind——
Order. The hon. Member for Sunderland, North (Mr. Clay) was intervening in the speech of the hon. Member for Pontefract and Castleford (Mr. Lofthouse) when the hon. Member for Dover sought to raise a point of order.
We have all been advised, Madam Deputy Speaker, that we should treat fellow hon. Members with respect and, by and large, we try to do so, however much the temperature is raised. Occasionally we go over the top with fellow hon. Members, but it is extremely offensive to go over the top with those who are not here to defend themselves. There have been accusations and suggestions that local councillors have acted improperly. The hon. Gentleman should be stopped from saying such things.
On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. In the light of last night's events it is perfectly reasonable to suggest that my hon. Friend should yet again press the hon. Member for Bury St. Edmunds (Sir E. Griffiths) on this point because the hon. Gentleman has not yet answered the question. What discussions took place, what hospitality was offered and did the right hon. Member for Suffolk, Coastal (Mr. Gummer), who is the real pilot of the Bill and who was chairman of the Conservative party, issue any reminders about donating money to Tory party funds?
The hon. Member for Bury St. Edmunds will have heard that remark, and I shall not repeat it.
I understand that the Bill contains no special arrangements for environmental or other appropriate officers to control the explosions. The present regulations are nowhere near sufficient to control explosions, which create havoc in my area and will create havoc in the area covered by the Bill.
On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. I apologise for interrupting this interesting debate. However, I am informed that following pressure put on the Government last night, there is to be a statement at 3.30 pm about the proposed merger between British Caledonian and British Airways. We are grateful for that. May I suggest to the Government Whip that it would be convenient for the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster to come here this afternoon——
Order. A point of order can only be addressed to the Chair and it must deal with something for which the Chair can carry responsibility.
I shall address my point of order to you, Madam Deputy Speaker. The Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster has returned from a very important meeting regarding Britain's future in space. For the past two days, he has been negotiating with other Ministers in Europe. According to press reports this morning it seems that our nation is not to play a significant part in the future development of European space technology. The Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster should come to the House this afternoon to justify the decisions that he has made on our behalf, and to tell us why he made those decisions. May I ask the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, through you, Madam Deputy Speaker, to make a statement regarding the position that he took in Europe.
Order. I am sure that I am capable of dealing with that point of order straight away. As the hon. Gentleman will understand, it is not a point of order with which the Chair can deal. The Chair has no responsibility for statements that are made, or not made, by Ministers. The Chair always grants requests to make statements, but so far no request has been made on this matter.
Further to the point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. Perhaps you could assist the House by attempting to find out from the Opposition the subjects on which they seek statements. It seems that they are asking for not just one, but two or three statements or more. Who knows how many statements they will request? It would help us in our deliberations on the Bill—we are trying to make progress, although we are being hindered by the Opposition—if we could find out precisely what they want a statement on, when and by whom as there seems to be a multiplicity of requests.
Further to the point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. The hon. Member for Mid-Worcestershire (Mr. Forth) has identified the nature of the problem. If the Government were open and honest and gave forth the information according to precedent, we should not have to raise difficult points of order and put you, Madam Deputy Speaker, in a difficult position.
Further to that point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. Conservative Members want to know what we are asking about. Conservative Members with firms such as Marconi, British Aerospace and Rolls-Royce in their constituencies will find that they are asked to explain our country's role in space following the failure to support the expanded programme agreed by Ministers attending the European Space Agency meeting on 10 and 11 November. Those hon. Members' constituents will want to know what they propose to do about jobs.
We would not necessarily disagree with the attitude of the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, but he must explain to the House exactly what role Britain is to play in space because it affects many thousands of jobs. The Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster has described the European space programme as a fraud and Opposition Members agree with him to a certain extent. We agree that projects such as the Hermes project need to be examined in greater depth. However, we maintain that vital decisions need to be made because of our participation in other collaborative ventures. We need a statement from the right hon. and learned Gentleman so that we can reassure our constituents about the exact future of the reorganised British National Space Centre.
Order. that point was made by the hon. Member for Wigan (Mr. Stott) who raised the original point of order. I have made it abundantly clear that the Chair can do nothing in this matter. We must now proceed with the Bill.
On a slightly different point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. The hon. Member for Mid-Worcestershire (Mr. Forth) suggested that it would be unusual, indeed unprecedented, for more than one statement to be made this afternoon. Could you confirm that it is perfectly in order and quite usual for the Government to make more than one statement? indeed, if the matters involved are sufficiently important, the Government should be making more than one statement.
On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. Having listened carefully to the points that you have made about your responsibility, will you advise the House whether the Secretary of State for Scotland has sought your permission to make a statement at 4 pm to coincide with the publication of the White Paper on Scottish homes? That is very important to Scottish Members, especially as it is possible that Scottish business will be lost for the month.
With this it will be convenient to take amendment No. 27, in page 11, line 44, after `(iii)' insert
`in section 14(2), after the word "foreshore" insert "or any right of way" and'.
Let me expand on what the amendment seeks to achieve. The amendment relates specifically to clause 10(h). To complicate matters at an early stage, it also refers to section 10 of the Felixstowe Dock and Railway Act 1968. Altogether, clause 10 appears to be a most complicated affair, because it bears a detailed relationship to other private Acts passed to enable the Felixstowe Dock and Railway Company to expand its operations. The Felixstowe Dock and Railway Acts 1956, 1968, 1979 and 1981 were introduced to enable works to be carried out.
The amendment relates to the 1968 Act. Section 10 States:
The Company during and for the purpose of the execution of the works may with the consent of the highway authority temporarily stop up and divert and interfere with any highway and may for any reasonable time divert the traffic there from and prevent all persons other than those bona fide going to or from any land, house or building abutting on the highway from passing along and using the same.
The amendment seeks to insert the words:
or seeking access to the foreshore for any legitimate purpose.
We simply wish to give those who want access to the foreshore the legitimate means of achieving it. For those who have access to the 1968 Act, the words in the amendment would be inserted after the word "highway" where it occurs the third time in the penultimate line of section 10.
The major construction that will occur at Felixstowe dock will cause diversions to road traffic, but the area is a site of special scientific interest and of outstanding natural beauty. The House will agree that it is important to enable local residents to have access to the foreshore to go about their legitimate business.
It could be interpreted as including vehicles, but there is no road to the foreshore. The amendment aims to include those who wish to visit the foreshore for recreation, such as taking the dog for a walk, fishing or bird watching—the normal activities that one would associate with an area of outstanding natural beauty which people want to visit. During construction work it is important not to limit access to the foreshore.
That is correct. Regulations concerning the ownership of the land control the access of vehicles. The amendment is aimed at those who wish to walk in the area. The Ramblers Association is anxious that such amendments are made to private development Bills so that people's legitimate access is not interfered with. We are aware of the problems caused by ploughing up rights of access across farms and by the diversion of rights of way through new housing developments. Many rights of way have been lost.
If the amendment is accepted, we shall be protecting the fundamental freedom to enjoy rights of access to that area. If it is not accepted, people may be denied access for a long time. The time element worries me. We do not know from the Bill how long the construction work will continue.
Some of the previous amendments were designed to deal with the time scale of, and the interference that would be caused by, construction work.
The area is so beautiful that it attracts not only local people but people from all over the country. Some of my constituents regularly visit the area. I know one person—a keen bird watcher—who visited the site some years ago to see a Franklin gull, a rare species of North American gull. The area not only serves local people but is nationally important. It is important, not only to maintain rights of access for local people, who use the area most, but to reserve rights of access for the entire community so that everyone can see such areas of outstanding natural beauty. Although there may be times when the road is blocked, pedestrian access must not be frustrated.
Is my hon. Friend saying that if a rare species of bird, such as the Franklin gull, settled on this estuary and it was the only place in the United Kingdom where keen bird watchers could see it, the Bill would make no provision for access for those who were interested in seeing the bird, or in writing about the history of rare birds visiting Britain?
Our major anxiety is the ambiguity of the clause. It is clear that road access can be blocked, but it is not clear whether that will apply to pedestrians. The amendment would make the clause clear, so that there was no doubt about our aim, which is that during construction pedestrians should not be stopped from getting down to the foreshore and going about their legitimate leisure pursuits. Bird watching is one such pursuit. There are many others, such as fishing and the pleasure of walking for its own sake. That is why the amendment is supported by all the countryside organisations, which are worried about access.
I am not familiar with the Franklin gull, but I wonder whether, during the long-drawn-out passage of the Bill, advice was taken on its protection. Has a guarantee been given that this rare bird will survive after the disturbance of its habitat?
I understand from my acquaintance, Mr. Jimmy Morgan, that the bird was seen by many hundreds of people from all over the country.
The site that is threatened by the dock is one of special scientific interest. These sites are not declared that out of the blue. They are designated because of their significance to the local wildfowl. for any bird, whether rare or common, the loss of the mud flats will be catastrophic in the long term. The pressure on our wetlands and estuaries is increasing every year, and that is why we want to amend the Bill. It is an important issue concerning rights of access, and it has national connotations.
We are talking, not about just one rare bird, but about widgeons, oystercatchers, dunlin, redshank and a whole range of birds. If the facility to watch these birds is removed, those who enjoy such pursuits will be prevented from following their interests.
My hon. Friend is correct. We have discussed the problems for wildfowl and bird watchers in great depth, and have noted the numbers of birds that are recorded as visiting that area during winter months. It is at that time of the year and during the migratory period that the site is of particular importance, because many birds, ducks and wildfowl stop there to feed in a secure place. That is why the Ramsar convention identified the site as an important international site. That shows the implications of the scheme for environmental disturbance and damage. We want to ensure that, should the scheme go ahead, we preserve the rights of people both nationally and locally——
Is not this aspect of the Bill rather reminiscent of the cuckoo in the nest? Rather than going through the normal planning procedures, there has been an abuse of the private Bill procedure to foist on an area of outstanding beauty with natural bird and wildlife a scheme where not only the birds, but those who protect them and derive enjoyment from watching them, will be excluded from the area. Is not the Bill even more draconian than the attitude taken by the Ministry of Defence towards rights of way on MOD properties? Perhaps the hon. Member for Bury St. Edmunds (Sir E. Griffiths) will outline clearly the intention of the Bill's promoters.
Indeed, it would help the House if the hon. Member for Bury St. Edmunds (Sir E. Griffiths) told us whether he is prepared to accept the amendment to defend the rights of local people to enjoy their heritage. It is especially important to ensure that local people can enjoy what is left of their heritage if the scheme goes ahead and irreparable damage is done to the area.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his positive response. Unfortunately, I am reminded of an unfortunate incident earlier this morning when a similar undertaking was given, but when the House divided the Government changed their mind and voted against the amendment——
I remind my hon. Friend that that was not a matter for the Government. After all, this is private legislation, as has been made clear throughout the proceedings. The dispute arose from the paternity of the Bill. There was some doubt whether the hon. Member for Bury St. Edmunds (Sir E. Griffiths) was in charge of the Bill. He said, on behalf of the sponsors, that he would accept a particular amendment. He then deliberately arranged to vote in one Lobby while his hon. Friends voted in the other Lobby. During the Division he denied any responsibility for the Bill. He said that it was not he, but his right hon. Friend the Member for Suffolk, Coastal (Mr. Gummer)—now the Minister of State, Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food—who was in charge. Therefore, I suggest that when my hon. Friend receives assurances from the hon. Member for Bury St. Edmunds, he takes them with a pinch of salt.
There is some truth in what my hon. Friend has said. I stand corrected in referring to the Government—I appreciate that it is a private Bill. I tended to think of the Government because the former chairman of the Conservative party—the right hon. Member for Suffolk, Coastal (Mr. Gummer)—has an interest in the Bill. Indeed, the company promoting the Bill donated large sums of money to the Conservative party. That is why I am concerned about the way in which the Bill has come to Parliament. By the use of the private Bill system, normal planning applications are not necessary. People do not have the right to object other than by petition during the Committee stage—and even then the Nature Conservancy Council was prevented from giving evidence. That is deplorable.
Lest there be any misunderstanding, may I point out that we have just debated amendments Nos. 21 and 22? I said that if the House was prepared to accept those amendments the company sponsoring the Bill would be prepared to accept them also. I said that if there were no Division the amendments would be accepted and become part of the Bill. There was no Division, and the amendments are now part of the Bill. I can give the hon. Gentleman the same assurance about this amendment.
I accept that the hon. Member for Bury St. Edmunds gives that assurance in good faith. II is unfortunate that we had a bad experience earlier, which tends to make us a little wary now. However, I sincerely hope that there is common ground between us in seeking to protect access, rights of way and the rights of local people to enjoy their area.
My hon. Friend mentioned that we were now having to be wary. It is important that we protect the natural habitat of wildlife and the rights of people to enjoy that. In my area we had to protect a wildfowl called the smew, which lived only on the Welsh Harp. If it had not been for the vigilance of local organisations, that creature would no longer exist. Obviously, industries are concerned only with their building projects being completed on time, and not with the destruction of the area. In many cases our heritage and rights to enjoy wildlife, as well as the basic rights of those creatures to exist, have been destroyed because we have not been sufficiently vigilant. We must ensure that access to the area is maintained and, in particular, that wildlife is protected.
I agree with my hon. Friend. There have been too many cases of the obstruction of important rights of way by various developments, sometimes after assurances that they would be reinstated or protected.
In view of the assurances given by the hon. Member for Bury St. Edmunds, I shall leave amendment No. 25 and deal with amendment No. 27.
Let me take my hon. Friend back, not a few hours, but three years. Is it not a fact that in the past three years not one dot or comma has been conceded on the Bill, but that, because of the qualitative and quantitative nature of the Opposition in the past 12 or 15 hours, we have seen the deathbed conversion of the hon. Member for Bury St. Edmunds (Sir E. Griffiths)? The champagne that was flowing last night is pretty flat now. The hon. Gentleman's concessions have come because he thinks that the measure may fail as a result of the Opposition's brilliant campaign over the past 15 hours.
I note my hon. Friend's comments. He makes a fair point. The amendments have been tabled for a long time. These are serious issues. There has been some disruption today because of the nature of the debate and the way in which it has been drawn out, yet the debate could have been shortened considerably if these reasonable amendments had been accepted a long time ago.
Before my hon. Friend leaves amendment No. 25, will he deal with one important word in the amendment, with which he has not yet dealt, and at which I may not have looked so carefully had not the hon. Member for Bury St. Edmunds (Sir E. Griffiths) intervened earlier. I am referring to the word "legitimate". We are talking about
access to the foreshore for any legitimate purpose.
If the sponsors of the Bill are willing to accept the amendment, who will define "legitimate purpose"? Will it be the Bill's sponsors, or Members of Parliament?
It would be useful if "legitimate" were defined. It must be interpreted in terms of the use of the area in keeping with the area and within any existing regulations or restrictions. For example, "legitimate" would exclude the use of scramble motor cycles, which would damage the area. I know that that would be disapproved of by responsible scramble clubs, which tend to have their own areas. Therefore, we can feel fairly safe about the meaning of the word "legitimate" in the operation of the amendment.
I cannot speak on the exact interpretation of the word by the Bill's sponsors, but I hope that if they disagree with my interpretation they will give their own.
The hon. Member for Bury St. Edmunds (Sir E. Griffiths) is right. It would be for the courts to decide what was legitimate, but the point that is being made is that there is a long process to be gone through before one asks the courts for their interpretation. We are talking about people being turned away by the company on the grounds that at that moment the company does not accept that the activity is legitimate and within the terms of the Bill.
I do not know what can be done about that now. Perhaps a longer statement from the Bill's supporters would give us the assurances that we need. We have talked at some length about the need for access for people who want to see rare and endangered species of birds. My hon. Friend will know that, because of recent storms, many birds which do not usually come to Britain have been blown off their migratory course and have landed here. I understand that there has been a sighting of the lesser spotted African bush creeper. If ornithologists knew that that bird had landed in this area there would be a panic.
I can confirm that a lesser spotted African bush creeper would cause a great deal of panic among ornithologists if it were seen in the area. There is no denying that.
I have given my interpretation of the word "legitimate". In the end, as has been pointed out, it will be for the courts to decide, given the custom and use of the area.
Amendment No. 27 is complicated by the fact that it refers to previous Felixstowe Dock and Railway Acts. This time the reference is to section 14(2) of the 1968 Act, which was referred to extensively in the debate on the previous amendment.
Clause 14(2) of the 1968 Act deals with work that has been started, but has been discontinued, for whatever reason. It states:
Where a work authorised by this Act, and consisting partly of a tidal work and partly of works on or over land above the level of high water, is abandoned or suffered to fall into decay and that part of the work on or over land above the level of high water is in such condition as to interfere or to cause reasonable apprehension that it may interfere with the right of navigation or other public rights over the foreshore, the Board may include that part of the work, or any portion thereof, in any notice under this section.
The board that is referred to is the old Board of Trade.
We are talking about such things as piers and breakwaters. As hon. Members may be aware, there are many examples of various tidal works or works dealing with erosion which have been left to fall into decay and could be a danger to navigation, to people or to children playing on them.
Amendment No. 27 seek to add the words:
or any right of way".
That gives protection to rights of way that the public use, because they, too, have been known to fall into disrepair or have decayed and become unsafe.
For example, in extending a dock a footbridge may be installed as part of a right of way and, over a period, that footbridge may decay and become dangerous. That would be covered by the addition of the words:
or any right of way".
That would ensure that a structure such as a footbridge, part of a pier, or pilings which may be part of a coastal path which may fall into disrepair could be repaired by the board to ensure the right of access. Hon. Members can see how the amendment is linked with the previous one to ensure right of access for the reasons that I have already outlined, particularly the nature of the area as a site of outstanding natural beauty and people's legitimate right of access to the foreshore.
The hon. Member for Bury St. Edmunds has agreed to accept amendment No. 25, and I thank him for his positive response. I hope that he will also consider amendment No. 27, particularly in view of the examples that I have outlined. I am sure that my hon. Friends can think of other examples of other possible difficulties.
The important thing about the Bill and the amendments is to make it absolutely clear at this stage that we are talking about safeguarding access, safety and other issues, so that there will not be any confusion in future years once the Bill has been enacted—if it is enacted—and local people are not let down and access is not denied them. Those issues should be clarified.
I should like to give the Government's view of amendment No. 27. As the hon. Member for Glanford and Scunthorpe (Mr. Morley) pointed out, it extends the scope of section 14 of the Felixstowe Dock and Railway Act 1968 in its application to works authorised by the Bill. Section 14 is a normal stock provision to require the company to repair or remove works that are both on land and in the water if they are abandoned or get into bad condition and interfere with navigation or public rights on the foreshore.
The amendment would extend the power to works that interfere with rights of way. It would give the Secretary of State. as successor to the Board of Trade, the power to protect rights of way by requiring the company to repair or remove certain works that are in bad condition or abandoned and thus interfere with rights of way. I know of no rights of way that would be affected at present. On behalf of the Government, I have no objection to the amendment and would be prepared to advise the House to accept it.
As I intervened in the speech of the hon. Member for Glanford and Scunthorpe (Mr. Morley) it might be convenient if I follow my right hon. Friend in saying that amendment No. 27 is equally acceptable to the promoters. If the House is mindful to accept amendments Nos. 25 and 27, they will form part of the Bill.
I support my hon. Friend the Member for Glanford and Scunthorpe (Mr. Morley). Amendment No. 25 could be best described as a kind of trespass amendment. It attempts to bring back into the Bill a condition that was fought for in 1926—the right of ramblers and others in free association to cross publicly-owned land. Therefore, it is important that the amendment is part of the Bill, irrespective of its final content.
It is essential that the rights of ramblers and other conservationists are protected in the long-term development of the area that we have been debating for the past 17 hours. Rights of way have taxed the minds of many of us who have been in local government. We can all think of examples from farming or industrial communities in which redevelopment has taken place. The first benefit that is attacked is the right of way of individuals. All too often, local authorities are under considerable pressure to give way to the interests of the developer. Therefore, it is important, even with the assurances that we have been given, that we tell the local authority that we expect the county council concerned to ensure that whatever orders are made will defend public footpaths. In reality, such diversions are worth while and are not simply conveniences to get round this clause and render rights of way meaningless.
Does my hon. Friend not agree that no hon. Member has yet dealt with the specific problem that individual members of the public have a right to know what the rights of way are? It is one thing for assurances to be given that rights of way will be maintained and that suitable diversions will be made, but there is the problem of informing people of the fact that they have a right of way across a piece of land. If a lot of work is to take place in one area, many ordinary members of the public may be unaware of their rights. So far, no hon. Member has mentioned any steps that would ensure that the public are aware of their rights in such a situation.
I thank my hon. Friend for bringing that point to my attention. She is absolutely right that this is a constant problem. Even when one wins the right to retain a footpath or bridleway, there remains the job of informing the public of their rights and, more specifically, the areas where they can traverse a piece of land.
It might be helpful if the hon. Member for Bury St. Edmunds would state whether the promoters of the Bill are prepared to use their own resources to produce a pamphlet for public consumption in the area concerned and for distribution to the Ramblers' Association stating the locations of the footpaths that have been agreed, and what can be seen from them. Such a document would not only refer to rights, but would promote the environment in the community. My own local authority in Wigan does such things on a regular basis. Every time that a footpath is altered, such a facility is provided and I commend that arrangement to the Bill's promoters.
The public in Suffolk will be interested in what will be at stake if the amendment is not passed. The clause as it stands would affect three areas: one is an area of outstanding natural beauty, another is a site of special scientific interest, and the third is the proposed area of the wetland that is covered by the Ramsar convention, which is internationally accepted. The Bill involves not only the loss of rights of way, but the loss of other rights that are associated with some of the most important ecological parts of the United Kingdom. It is essential that those areas are maintained not only for their bird and plant life, but so that, where appropriate, members of the public can traverse them and make use of them. Therefore, I welcome the fact that the Secretary of State and the hon. Member for Bury St. Edmunds have shown support for this aspect of the Bill.
The problems that we have been discussing highlight the problems of the Bill and the way in which it is being handled. Would it not have been better if, at the outset, the company and the promoters had agreed to an environmental impact assessment? If there had been such an assessment and use of the planning procedures, the issues raised on these amendments would have been dealt with three years ago and a common agreement would have been reached between the planning authorities, the company and the community. We would not have had the hassle of the past 17 hours, or the past three years. The community would have been involved. The tragedy of this debate, whenever it ends, is that the only people who have not been involved have been those in the community to which the Bill refers, whether ramblers, the people who live in the local area, or the villagers who have complained to my hon. Friend the Member for Workington (Mr. Campbell-Savours) about not being consulted.
I was pleased that the Secretary of State expressed Government support for amendment No. 27. My local authority, Wigan metropolitan council, of whose planning committee I was recently a member, is well-known to the Department of Transport and the Department of the Environment for pioneering work in relation to what is set out in clause 10. When giving people rights it is essential that the area is maintained to protect the right of way and the natural habitat. If rights of way such as bridlepaths are not properly maintained, far too often ramblers cannot cross areas of land where the habitat has been destroyed. Therefore, it is important not only for the rights of ramblers, but for the protection of the habitat, that rights of way are maintained to a proper standard.
I congratulate the Secretary of State for Transport and the Department of the Environment because, in conjunction with Wigan metropolitan borough council, they have done considerable work with the British Waterways Board and the Countryside Commission in the north-west. Where public assets are under local authority control, large tracts of public bridleways, footpaths and towpaths are being brought back into public use for the first time in many years. In those areas where such paths are still in use they are being protected for the benefit of the natural environment. That is why I believe that it is important that the Secretary of State supports us, because to do otherwise would oppose Government policy.
I hope that other hon. Members will participate in the debate because it is essential to make it clear to the people of Suffolk that the amendment is a people's amendment. Whatever else happens to the Bill, the proposals in amendments Nos. 25 and 27 are for the people's protection and their maximum use. Therefore, I should be pleased if the hon. Member for Bury St. Edmunds could suggest whether he and his colleagues in Suffolk would be prepared to have discussions with both the district authority and the county council about ways of upgrading the footpaths in that area and bringing to the public's attention the use of the footpaths and bridlepaths there as well as the use of those areas close to the wetlands.
May I give the hon. Gentleman two assurances. An arrangement negotiated between the county council and the dock company will mean that more and better footpaths will be provided in the vicinity of the marshes. That is a considerable gain and has been much appreciated by the Suffolk Preservation Society. Secondly, the hon. Gentleman has suggested that my colleagues and I in Suffolk should consult the county council, for example, to see whether ways could be found to draw attention to the rights of access. That is a good suggestion and if the county council is minded to take it up I should be well prepared to assist it in my negotiations with the promoters of the Bill so that the concession that the House has sought and to which the promoters have agreed is made more widely known.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for that contribution and his positive attitude. In an equally positive attitude may I suggest that if such negotiations take place, he should contact Wigan metropolitan borough council which has a countryside planning unit which is nationally known. I am certain that that unit would be prepared to assist the hon. Member for Bury St. Edmunds and the county council to provide the type of information for which we have been asking.
With this it will be convenient to take the following amendments:
No. 30, in page 12, line 5, leave out 'and the Board'.
No. 31, in page 12, line 6, leave out from 'direct' to end of line 7.
When we have heard what the promoters have to say, it may be possible to have separate Divisions on the amendments. I understand that all the amendments refer to navigation safety as a result of works either being completed or being under construction.
Amendment No. 29 sets out to amend clause 10, which in turn amends sections 12 to 17 of the Felixstowe Dock and Railway Act 1968. Amendment No. 29 refers to section 16 of the 1968 Act, which deals with lights on tidal works. Amendments Nos. 30 and 31 refer to section 17, which deals with lights on tidal works during construction. The board mentioned in the 1968 Act was the old Board of Trade, but in the amendment that board is the Harwich harbour board. That may well cause some confusion.
After some discussion with the promoters, they suggested that it would not be possible for Ministers to take on functions which, in this sphere, are private functions. However, it is interesting to note that the 1968 Act is littered with references to functions that would be carried out by the Board of Trade. Therefore, it appears to me that, at least in the 1968 Act, it was possible for the Government to oversee the Felixstowe dock and railway company in the operation of its responsibilities.
The proposed legislation suggests that instead of the safety functions being carried out either by Trinity House or the old Board of Trade that responsibility will be transferred to the Harwich harbour board. Certainly the RSPB is not too happy with the idea that those functions should be carried out by that board. I hope that the promoters can explain why the Harwich harbour board is the appropriate body to carry out those functions rather than either Trinity House or the Department of Transport.
The former Member for Ipswich, who was a strong opponent of the Bill, was, on behalf of Ipswich port authority, anxious to find some way to ensure that Felixstowe would not be able to take Ipswich's water or interfere with the navigation of its waters. Therefore, the two authorities got together and decided that the best arrangement was to have one neutral body, which had an interest in the harbour. It was the agreement between Ipswich and Felixstowe that led to the decision to nominate the Harwich harbour board for this purpose. I should certainly not wish to interfere with a decision that was reached between an authority that was originally opposed to the Bill and a sponsor of the Bill. The arrangement arrived at was good, and both sides are happy with it.
That may explain why the promoters and one of the objectors arrived at that decision, but it does not answer the question that I sought to raise. The RSPB does not feel that it can place a great deal of trust in the Harwich harbour board. What puzzles me is that the hon. Gentleman who is supporting the promoters has not explained why it is necessary to transfer the functions that used to be exercised by the Board of Trade. I understand why we have to modernise and change the name from the old Board of Trade, and I accept that responsibility for that matter should now rest with the Department of Transport, but I cannot understand why we have to take away the Government's function to supervise the safety of either permanent dock features or works undertaken during construction. Secondly, I cannot understand why, if we have to look for a neutral body, we have to take those functions from Trinity House.
Will my hon. Friend ask the hon. Member for Bury St. Edmunds (Sir E. Griffiths) how one is elected to the Harwich harbour board and what procedures for accountability are in operation?
I am sure that the hon. Member for Bury St. Edmunds (Sir E. Griffiths) heard that intervention and may well wish to come back to it when he has an opportunity to reply to the amendments.
Anyone who considers the area of development will appreciate that it is taking place at the point where the estuary narrows substantially. It is also at the point where ships coming into some of the port facilities at Harwich must turn in the estuary. If the proposals for the new dock developments at Harwich go ahead—I understand that parliamentary approval has just about been given for them—there will be an even greater possibility of ships coming in and using that part of the estuary that is right opposite the area where the development proposed in the Bill, will take place.
We have already discussed the problems of dredging. It is important that we make sure that any work undertaken to develop the quay is adequately lighted and quite clear to anyone navigating in the area. It is important that the lighting is safe and that it does not mislead people on vessels in the channel. It is important that the site is safe while work takes place.
I understand from the Bill that the construction can be spread out over a considerable period. Work can start on reclaiming the land anything up to three years before the main work commences. Once any work is started it is important that there is clear lighting on the site. We have to make sure that the people responsible for the lighting and those who supervise safety are not one and the same. I understand that the Harwich harbour hoard will be responsible for some of the lighting, certainly up the centre of the channel, and that the Felixstowe dock and railway company will be responsible for the lighting on its side of the river.
The Felixstowe Dock and Railway Act 1968 says clearly in section 13:
In case of injury to or destruction or decay of a tidal work or any part thereof, the Company shall forthwith notify Trinity House and shall lay down such buoys, exhibit such lights and take such other steps for preventing danger to navigation as Trinity House shall from time to time direct.
The company's responsibility for lighting is made clear. In section 14 it is given the power to
repair and restore the work or any part thereof, or to remove the works and restore the site thereof to its former condition, to such an extent and within such limits as the Board think proper
of tidal works
abandoned or suffered to fall into decay".
The authority has similar powers to ensure access.
Because of the way in which the Bill is framed the functions that were carried out by Trinity House, and in one or two other sections by the old Board of Trade, are to be taken away from those bodies and handed over to the Harwich harbour board. The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds believes that the board will not be as good a safeguard of the general public as would Trinity House or the Government. It also believes that it would be far better to retain the responsibility of the Minister, who is answerable in the House, for safety, rather than to hand that over to the Harwich harbour board, as there is no indication that it would be accountable to anybody if the safety measures were criticised.
Has the change to the legislation in respect of Trinity House anything to do with the changes in its structure? I understand that its functions will he split in two: that it will deal with lightships, and that the responsibility for pilots will be transferred to the port authority. Is that of significance to what is proposed in the Bill?
I should certainly like some comment on the matter from the promoters. Labour Members want clear assurances that safety will he uppermost in the construction work and in the development, if sadly the Bill goes through and eventually the Felixstowe Dock and Railway Company comes up with the money for the development.
Once again I find myself to a great extent in harmony with what has been said. Clause 10 incorporates a number of provisions that were previously contained in the Felixstowe Dock and Railway Act 1968. Those provisions include a number of standard clauses that relate to the statutory duties of the Secretary of State to control tidal works, in that he is obliged to ensure that tidal works shall not become a danger to navigation. I am sure that the whole House, and no one more so than the hon. Member for Glasgow, Garscadden (Mr. Dewar), recognises the importance of the Secretary of State having that absolute duty to prevent new works interfering with navigation.
While I would be perfectly happy to accept amendments Nos. 30 and 31, which deal with the board and the promoters, it is not within my authority as a Back-Bench Member to speak to a matter that touches upon the statutory functions of a Minister. Therefore, I think that the House is bound to listen to what my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has to say.
I am sure that I speak for all my hon. Friends when I say that, given the hon. Gentleman's distinguished service at the Dispatch Box, we would be delighted to hear him, if not speaking as a Minister, bring to bear the normal command of the House that he exercised at the time when he was a Minister. Given the hon. Gentleman's responsibility for the Bill, which he has discharged to the best of his ability, we would accept any assurances from him as coming from the right sort of, perhaps I should say, authentic source. We would rely on those assurances at least as much, I would not say more so, as any assurances that we might receive from his right hon. Friend.
It is essential for the conduct of the business of the House, particularly as we have reached agreement on a number of amendments, that I should in no way go beyond the area that I can deliver. I am unable to say to the House that a private Bill is the right way to change the statutory functions of a Minister of the Crown. Private Bills are designed to achieve the purposes for which the private promoters seek the consent of the House. I can accept amendments Nos. 30 and 31, but amendment No. 29 proposes that a private Bill be used to change the statutory functions of a Minister of the Crown. Having served in the Department of Transport and in other Departments, I am bound to say that it is wrong for a private Bill to seek to alter the functions of a Secretary of State.
I naturally listened to my hon. Friend the Member for Bury St. Edmunds (Sir E. Griffiths) and the hon. Member for Denton and Reddish (Mr. Bennett) during the debate on the amendments. I share the view of the hon. Member for West Bromwich, East (Mr. Snape) about the ability of my hon. Friend in dealing with the amendments, and I congratulate him on the clear way in which he has described and answered questions about them in the course of a long day. I would like to be as helpful as I can.
On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. As we have now passed 2 pm, and as I have been in the House for more than 30 hours, I wonder whether you would confirm, for the convenience of the House, that the business that is scheduled to take place later today is now null and void, and that we shall continue with this Bill? Some of us want to see it on the statute book.
I want to deal first with amendments Nos. 30 and 31. As the House knows, the Bill gives the Harwich Harbour Board a joint say with the Secretary of State in how tidal works shall be lit during their construction. In the case of disagreement, the Secretary of State's decision prevails. The amendments would take out the harbour board and leave the matter entirely to the Secretary of State. In practice, I am sure that any Secretary of State would always seek the advice of the harbour board before deciding what marking or lighting was required, so if the House decides to accept amendments Nos. 30 and 31 I would be happy for it to do so.
However, I have difficulty with amendment No. 29. The Bill requires the promoters to install on the tidal works, after their completion, such permanent lights as Trinity House or the Harwich Harbour Board may, from time to time, direct. The amendment suggests the substitution of the Secretary of State for the harbour board.
I was just coming to the issue of lighting, which is extremely important in the Harwich area and in all the docks and ports that are open in and around Harwich. They have an extremely good record and have taken a great deal of trouble to install up-to-date equipment in a whole variety of ways. I was impressed when I recently visited the area and discussed safety matters with the ports. The works proposed in the Bill are all within Harwich haven. The Harwich Harbour Board is the local lighthouse authority. It is responsible for navigational safety in the haven.
The usual practice would be to determine with Trinity House what lights are appropriate so that the Harwich Harbour Board can carry out its safety duties in that area. It is the authority responsible for safe navigation, and as such it must prescribe these lights. Trinity House and the Harwich Harbour Board are, respectively, the statutory general and local lights authorities. If the amendment were accepted, it would remove the Harwich Harbour Board—the local lights authority—and place the responsibility with the Secretary of State. That is not a function that the Secretary of State fulfils in any other port. There is no reason why Felixstowe and Harwich should be treated any differently. Indeed, that would be inadvisable. There is evidence that the Harwich Harbour Board carries out its lighthouse duties efficiently and well, and I therefore advise the House not to accept amendment No. 29. I am however, happy to advise acceptance of amendments Nos. 30 and 31.
I am sure that the House is grateful to the right hon. Gentleman, particularly as he has been gracious enough to accept amendments Nos. 30 and 31. Nevertheless, I want to press him for a moment or two on his refusal to accept amendment No. 29.
There is a considerable depth of feeling among lights authorities about the additional financial burden that falls on them because of the installation and maintenance of lights. Their concern—and that of my hon. Friend in whose name the amendment stands—was to alleviate that burden on the Harwich Harbour Board. It seems a little unfair that we are told to accept the Bill because it is good for employment in the area, and because P and O is investing a considerable amount of money in and around Felixstow——
And in the Conservative party, as my hon. Friend reminds me. Yet that commercial organisation will reap the benefit of this investment, both in lights for the area and in their maintenance. That strikes us as unfair. Conservative Members continually lecture us about the need to reduce public expenditure. They lecture us about the wastefulness of local authorities and appear intent on concentrating more and more power in the hands of non-elected bodies. The Harwich Harbour Board will not benefit in any way from the legislation. I hope that, in the spirit of amity that has overcome us, the hon. Member for Bury St. Edmunds (Sir E. Griffiths) will agree with me about that. The hoard probably feels somewhat aggrieved that it might suffer some additional financial loss if amendment No. 29 is not accepted. It is manifestly unfair that the Government, who are trying to reduce public expenditure on local authorities and organisations such as the Harwich Harbour Board, are not prepared to be more sympathetic to the aims of the amendment.
I do not know whether my hon. Friend the Member for Denton and Reddish (Mr. Bennett) is satisfied with the explanation that he has heard from the Secretary of State. As is customary on these occasions, I shall leave it to my able hon. Friend to decide whether to pursue the matter to a Division. Reasoned and reasonable though the Secretary of State's explanation was, my hon. Friend might feel it necessary to pursue the matter to a Division because of our desire not to impose any financial penalty on the harbour board, for which the benefits of the legislation are nebulous to say the least, and on which the detrimental financial impact of the maintenance of lights and marks in the harbour will primarily fall.
I, like my hon. Friends, accept the Secretary of State's statement about amendments Nos. 30 and 31, but I cannot accept the excuse that he gave for not accepting amendment No. 29, which was not valid. It is not good enough to say that it is not the duty of the Secretary of State to intervene in these matters. Amendment No. 29 relates to clause 10(i)(v), which would add the Harwich Harbour Board to Trinity House. That is intended to give it the power to direct the company to show lights and marks and to take other measures to prevent danger to navigation. The amendment would make the Secretary of State the additional change to the proposals, in place of the harbour board.
If there is to be a change—and obviously this is the proposal—what excuse does the Secretary of State have to offer that he should not be involved in any changes? To say that this does not happen anywhere else is abysmally inadequate because we can say that about many things—including the poll tax. No one else is to have a poll tax, but we are to have it. The proposition put forward by the Secretary of State—that because it does not happen anywhere else it should not happen here—is not good enough.
Is the hon. Gentleman suggesting in his amendment and by his rejection of what the Secretary of State said that he is prepared to put the safety of shipping in the hands of a Secretary of State rather than in the hands of the experts? We greatly respect the experts on harbour lighting and control because they have kept our vessels safe since time immemorial. Is the hon. Gentleman suggesting that we should take that function out of the hands of the experts and place it in the hands of the Secretary of State? If that is the case, this would be the only port in Britain to be controlled in that way.
It might be unusual for me to seek to defend the Secretary of State, but it is fair to say that since the appalling tragedy earlier this year in Zeebrugge the Secretary of State has demonstrated his determination to put things right in the way that our maritime industries are operated and supervised. The Opposition ought to demonstrate their appreciation of the right hon. Gentleman's concern by defending him from what was, in effect, a scurrilous and disgraceful attack from his hon. Friend.
The House ought to take note of the contribution that has just been made by my hon. Friend because it is very important. If the hon. Member for Littleborough and Saddleworth (Mr. Dickens) feels that the Secretary of State is not the person to be in charge of martime matters, he has every right to pursue the matter with the Prime Minister. I shall support any motion which says that the Secretary of State should resign if he does not have the confidence of Conservative Members.
There must be safety at all times and such safety must remain, despite any change that will take place under the proposals in the Bill. It is against that background that amendment No. 29 is proposed. I hope that the Secretary of State will have a rethink on this. To say that he does not have or that he cannot develop the expertise to ensure that safety is always maintained, is a slur on the Department of Transport. I hope that that matter will be cleared up.
We ought to have regard to other organisations in the area. During his speech on the last group of amendments one of my hon. Friends said that a number of organisations must be consulted. They include local authorities, charitable organisations and organisations that have the good of the area and of the nature reserve at heart. They should be consulted about these issues.[Interruption.]
On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I do not know whether Conservative Members are suffering from champagne withdrawal symptons, but a great deal of conversation is going on. At the very least, it is discourteous to my hon. Friend that Conservative Members are not listening to him.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for drawing to your attention, Mr. Speaker, the babble of noise from Conservative Members. I hope that he will continue to look after the interests of Opposition Members who are making contributions. This is an important matter and some of my hon. Friends have been here all night and all yesterday afternoon. It is right that their interests should be safeguarded. I hope that my hon. Friend the Member for Newham, North-West (Mr. Banks) will continue to safeguard our interests. He is our shop steward and I hope that he will continue in that capacity.
There are matters other than safety to be considered, and one of them is oil pollution in the area. The Secretary of State has some responsibility for this matter and has some interest in the issue. It is not good enough to say that his Department is not the one that should monitor oil pollution. The people who live in the area and hon. Members who have contributed to the debate have the right to protection. Changes and manoeuvres that will further involve the harbour board should not be permitted and the Secretary of State should take responsibility if there is a change. The Secretary of State should reconsider his position and his last comment and say that he is prepared to accept amendment No. 29.
My hon. Friend has raised the specific issue of oil pollution. In the short debate on amendment No. 29 we have heard that vessels will be turning in the narrowest part of the estuary and that the Harwich development will considerably increase traffic in that estuary. What arrangements has the Secretary of State for Transport made to ensure that adequate stocks of anti-pollutants are maintained in all three ports against the possibility of a major oil spillage in that estuary?
Thank you, Mr. Speaker. It is difficult to try to convince hon. Members when so much noise is going on.
Following my reference to oil pollution, my hon. Friend made an important intervention. I am sure that the Secretary of State will accept that this matter should be considered seriously and in some depth. It is a problem that creates difficulties around our coasts. We do not want oil pollution in the harbours and such pollution must be taken seriously.
Organisations such as wildlife conservation bodies have little confidence in the harbour board, and their interests should be considered. The Secretary of State should consult those bodies about what the changes will bring. If there is to be a change of responsibility in that area, amendment No. 29, which gives responsibility to the Secretary of State, should be accepted.
[seated and covered]: On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Anticipating that when the House is reassembled after the Division, you will announce to the House that Wednesday's business has been lost, that means that we are still in Tuesday. As Tuesday is normally a day reserved for Prime Minister's questions, and as it is common knowledge that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister does so very well and the public like to listen to her in action, will there be any opportunity for us to have another dose of Prime Minister's Question Time today?
It is a pleasure to see the hon. Gentleman on the Government Front Bench. I am afraid that I cannot give him any comfort in respect of his request for the Prime Minister's return for further questions, and I shall be making no announcement about the loss of today's business. We remain on Tuesday's business for the remainder of today.
|Division No. 64]||[2.28 pm|
|Adams, Allen (Paisley N)||Loyden, Eddie|
|Anderson, Donald||McAllion, John|
|Archer, Rt Hon Peter||McCartney, Ian|
|Armstrong, Ms Hilary||Macdonald, Calum|
|Barnes, Harry (Derbyshire NE)||McKay, Allen (Penistone)|
|Battle, John||McNamara, Kevin|
|Beckett, Margaret||McTaggart, Bob|
|Bennett, A. F. (D'nt'n & R'dish)||Madden, Max|
|Buckley, George||Mahon, Mrs Alice|
|Campbell, Ron (Blyth Valley)||Marek, Dr John|
|Campbell-Savours, D. N.||Marshall, David (Shettleston)|
|Canavan, Dennis||Marshall, Jim (Leicester S)|
|Clay, Bob||Martin, Michael (Springburn)|
|Clelland, David||Maxton, John|
|Cook, Frank (Stockton N)||Michael, Alun|
|Corbett, Robin||Michie, Bill (Sheffield Heeley)|
|Corbyn, Jeremy||Millan, Rt Hon Bruce|
|Cousins, Jim||Moonie, Dr Lewis|
|Cummings, J.||Morgan, Rhodri|
|Cunliffe, Lawrence||Morley, Elliott|
|Dalyell, Tarn||Mowlam, Mrs Marjorie|
|Davies, Ron (Caerphilly)||Nellist, Dave|
|Davis, Terry (B'ham Hodge H'l)||O'Neill, Martin|
|Dewar, Donald||Orme, Rt Hon Stanley|
|Dixon, Don||Patchett, Terry|
|Dobson, Frank||Powell, Ray (Ogmore)|
|Duffy, A. E. P.||Primarolo, Ms Dawn|
|Dunnachie, James||Quin, Ms Joyce|
|Dunwoody, Hon Mrs Gwyneth||Rees, Rt Hon Merlyn|
|Eastham, Ken||Richardson, Ms Jo|
|Evans, John (St Helens N)||Robinson, Geoffrey|
|Ewing, Harry (Falkirk E)||Rogers, Allan|
|Fatchett, Derek||Rooker, Jeff|
|Fields, Terry (L'pool B G'n)||Ross, Ernie (Dundee W)|
|Flannery, Martin||Rowlands, Ted|
|Foster, Derek||Ruddock, Ms Joan|
|Foulkes, George||Salmond, Alex|
|Fraser, John||Sheldon, Rt Hon Robert|
|Fyfe, Mrs Maria||Shore, Rt Hon Peter|
|Galbraith, Samuel||Skinner, Dennis|
|Galloway, George||Smith, C. (Isl'ton & F'bury)|
|Garrett, John (Norwich South)||Smith, Rt Hon J. (Monk'ds E)|
|Godman, Dr Norman A.||Snape, Peter|
|Golding, Mrs Llin||Steinberg, Gerald|
|Gordon, Ms Mildred||Stott, Roger|
|Griffiths, Win (Bridgend)||Strang, Gavin|
|Grocott, Bruce||Straw, Jack|
|Heffer, Eric S.||Taylor, Mrs Ann (Dewsbury)|
|Henderson, Douglas||Thomas, Dafydd Elis|
|Home Robertson, John||Thompson, Jack (Wansbeck)|
|Hood, James||Turner, Dennis|
|Howarth, George (Knowsley N)||Wall, Pat|
|Hoyle, Doug||Walley, Ms Joan|
|Hughes, Robert (Aberdeen N)||Wareing, Robert N.|
|Hughes, Roy (Newport E)||Williams, Alan W. (Carm'then)|
|Illsley, Eric||Wilson, Brian|
|Ingram, Adam||Winnick, David|
|Jones, leuan (Ynys Môn)||Wise, Mrs Audrey|
|Jones, Martyn (Clwyd S W)||Worthington, Anthony|
|Lambie, David||Wray, James|
|Lamond, James||Young, David (Bolton SE)|
|Lestor, Miss Joan (Eccles)||Tellers for the Ayes:|
|Lewis, Terry||Mr. William O'Brien and Mr. Tony Banks.|
|Lloyd, Tony (Stretford)|
|Adley, Robert||Arbuthnot, James|
|Alexander, Richard||Arnold, Jacques (Gravesham)|
|Alton, David||Arnold, Tom (Hazel Grove)|
|Amos, Alan||Ashby, David|
|Ashdown, Paddy||Hayward, Robert|
|Aspinwall, Jack||Heddle, John|
|Atkins, Robert||Heseltine, Rt Hon Michael|
|Baker, Nicholas (Dorset N)||Hicks, Mrs Maureen (Wolv' NE)|
|Batiste, Spencer||Hind, Kenneth|
|Beaumont-Dark, Anthony||Holt, Richard|
|Bennett, Nicholas (Pembroke)||Howarth, Alan (Strat'd-on-A)|
|Benyon, W.||Howell, Rt Hon David (G'dford)|
|Bevan, David Gilroy||Howell, Ralph (North Norfolk)|
|Blackburn, Dr John G.||Hughes, Robert G. (Harrow W)|
|Boswell, Tim||Hunt, David (Wirral W)|
|Bottomley, Peter||Hunt, John (Ravensbourne)|
|Bowden, Gerald (Dulwich)||Irvine, Michael|
|Bowis, John||Jessel, Toby|
|Brandon-Bravo, Martin||Key, Robert|
|Bright, Graham||King, Roger (B'ham N'thfield)|
|Brooke, Hon Peter||Kirkhope, Timothy|
|Browne, John (Winchester)||Kirkwood, Archy|
|Bruce, Ian (Dorset South)||Knapman, Roger|
|Bruce, Malcolm (Gordon)||Knight, Greg (Derby North)|
|Burt, Alistair||Knight, Dame Jill (Edgbaston)|
|Butler, Chris||Knowles, Michael|
|Carlile, Alex (Mont'g)||Knox, David|
|Carlisle, Kenneth (Lincoln)||Lang, Ian|
|Carrington, Matthew||Lawson, Rt Hon Nigel|
|Channon, Rt Hon Paul||Leigh, Edward (Gainsbor'gh)|
|Chapman, Sydney||Lennox-Boyd, Hon Mark|
|Clark, Hon Alan (Plym'th S'n)||Lightbown, David|
|Clark, Dr Michael (Rochford)||Lilley, Peter|
|Clark, Sir W. (Croydon S)||Livsey, Richard|
|Clarke, Rt Hon K. (Rushcliffe)||Lloyd, Peter (Fareham)|
|Colvin, Michael||Lord, Michael|
|Coombs, Anthony (Wyre F'rest)||Lyell, Sir Nicholas|
|Coombs, Simon (Swindon)||McCrindle, Robert|
|Cope, John||Macfarlane, Neil|
|Cormack, Patrick||MacGregor, John|
|Couchman, James||MacKay, Andrew (E Berkshire)|
|Cran, James||Maclean, David|
|Currie, Mrs Edwina||Major, Rt Hon John|
|Curry, David||Mans, Keith|
|Davies, Q. (Stamf'd & Spald'g)||Marshall, John (Hendon S)|
|Day, Stephen||Martin, David (Portsmouth S)|
|Dickens, Geoffrey||Maude, Hon Francis|
|Dicks, Terry||Mayhew, Rt Hon Sir Patrick|
|Dorrell, Stephen||Michie, Mrs Ray (Arg'l & Bute)|
|Douglas-Hamilton, Lord James||Mills, lain|
|Dunn, Bob||Mitchell, Andrew (Gedling)|
|Emery, Sir Peter||Monro, Sir Hector|
|Evans, David (Welwyn Hatf'd)||Montgomery, Sir Fergus|
|Fairbairn, Nicholas||Moore, Rt Hon John|
|Fallon, Michael||Moss, Malcolm|
|Farr, Sir John||Neale, Gerrard|
|Faulds, Andrew||Needham, Richard|
|Fenner, Dame Peggy||Neubert, Michael|
|Finsberg, Sir Geoffrey||Newton, Tony|
|Fookes, Miss Janet||Nicholson, Miss E. (Devon W)|
|Forsyth, Michael (Stirling)||Page, Richard|
|Forth, Eric||Paice, James|
|Franks, Cecil||Patnick, Irvine|
|Freeman, Roger||Pawsey, James|
|Gale, Roger||Peacock, Mrs Elizabeth|
|Gardiner, George||Porter, David (Waveney)|
|Garel-Jones, Tristan||Portillo, Michael|
|Gill, Christopher||Redwood, John|
|Goodhart, Sir Philip||Rhys Williams, Sir Brandon|
|Gorman, Mrs Teresa||Riddick, Graham|
|Gorst, John||Ridsdale, Sir Julian|
|Gower, Sir Raymond||Rifkind, Rt Hon Malcolm|
|Greenway, Harry (Ealing N)||Rowe, Andrew|
|Greenway, John (Rydale)||Rumbold, Mrs Angela|
|Griffiths, Sir Eldon (Bury St E')||Ryder, Richard|
|Griffiths, Peter (Portsmouth N)||Sackville, Hon Tom|
|Grist, Ian||Sayeed, Jonathan|
|Gummer, Rt Hon John Selwyn||Shaw, David (Dover)|
|Hamilton, Hon A. (Epsom)||Shaw, Sir Michael (Scarb')|
|Hargreaves, A. (B'ham H'll Gr')||Sheldon, Rt Hon Robert|
|Hargreaves, Ken (Hyndburn)||Shephard, Mrs G. (Norfolk SW)|
|Harris, David||Shepherd, Colin (Hereford)|
|Hawkins, Christopher||Shersby, Michael|
|Hayhoe, Rt Hon Sir Barney||Smith, Sir Dudley (Warwick)|
|Soames, Hon Nicholas||Townsend, Cyril D. (B heath)|
|Speed, Keith||Tracey, Richard|
|Speller, Tony||Twinn, Dr Ian|
|Spicer, Jim (Dorset W)||Waddington, Rt Hon David|
|Stanley, Rt Hon John||Wakeham, Rt Hon John|
|Stern, Michael||Walker, Bill (T'side North)|
|Stevens, Lewis||Ward, John|
|Stewart, Ian (Hertfordshire N)||Wells, Bowen|
|Stradling Thomas, Sir John||Wheeler, John|
|Sumberg, David||Widdecombe, Miss Ann|
|Summerson, Hugo||Wiggin, Jerry|
|Taylor, John M (Solihull)||Wilkinson, John|
|Taylor, Matthew (Truro)||Wilshire, David|
|Taylor, Teddy (S'end E)||Wood, Timothy|
|Temple-Morris, Peter||Yeo, Tim|
|Thatcher, Rt Hon Margaret||Young, Sir George (Acton)|
|Thompson, D. (Calder Valley)|
|Thompson, Patrick (Norwich N)||Tellers for the Noes:|
|Thornton, Malcolm||Sir Anthony Grant and Mr. Patrick McLoughlin.|
|Townend, John (Bridlington)|
On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I should like to return to a matter that has already been raised several times—the need for a statement to the House on the Government's decision on the proposed merger between British Airways and British Caledonian. We understand, through the usual channels, that a statement will be made in the House of Lords by the unelected Secretary of State for Trade and Industry. We were led to believe for a time, through the usual channels, that a statement would be made in this House. We now understand that no statement will be made here. and we regard that as outrageous. We would like the Leader of the House and the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster to explain this insult to the elected House of Commons.
On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Is it not the case, when we hold debates in which every hon. Member has a right to participate, that the longer individual hon. Members speak, the more difficult it is for others to get in? More important, we can reach the position that we have reached now. Important Scottish business that we were due to discuss on what is technically tomorrow will not now take place, because we are still on today—which, in some people's minds, was yesterday. We also have the problem of the merger. Dressed as I am, Mr. Speaker, in a kilt, I can claim a clear interest in British Caledonian, which is a very fine Scottish-registered company.
Is it not the case that hon. Members who have made lengthy speeches, many of them lasting well over an hour, and have raised points of order throughout the clay, are the reason that we find ourselves in this position? They are responsible.
Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. Important Scottish business has been lost, a loss that will not be understood by the people of Scotland. Is there any provision for the shadow Secretary of State for Scotland—the hon. Member for Glasgow, Garscadden (Mr. Dewar) — to be brought before the House to make a statement explaining why, one week after he promised a major onslaught against the Government backed by the entire parliamentary Labour party, instead of Scottish business being brought to the fore, we have no Scottish business at all?
Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. It is clear to everyone in Scotland that the irresponsible attitude of the Scottish Labour party last night and this morning is the sole reason for our losing Scottish questions, the so-called Assembly Bill, the statement on Scottish housing and tonight's Adjournment debate. Scotland knows where responsibility lies: it lies with the Conservative party.
On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I wish to raise two points. First, is not the business of the House controlled by the Government? The present Session continues until October 1988. There is therefore plenty of time for this piece of legislation to go through the House of Commons. If they had wanted a Scottish Question Time, would not the Government have the power to allow it? The truth is that they do not want it, because the minority rump does not wish to be asked questions by the majority. Would it not have been possible for a Tory Minister to have moved the closure?
Secondly, Mr. Speaker, is it in your power to instruct Opposition Members representing one of the smallest minority sections in the Scottish political scene—the Scottish National party—to cross the Floor? The sole concern of SNP Members is attacking the Labour party, rather than the Government of the day.
Indeed, Mr. Speaker. We should be having Scottish questions, all of which will be answered anyway, so we are not deprived of the answers by the Secretary of State, who is present with all his Ministers, when only the shadow Secretary of State is present on Opposition Benches. In the debate this morning the Opposition attempted to pretend to try to reach Scottish questions, but how could we have been protected from their filibustering which was aimed at ensuring that we did not reach them?
Order. I confirm what the hon. Member for Tayside, North said, that today is yesterday and we have indeed lost today's business. The concern of the Chair throughout the night has been to ensure that the debate has been in order. The fact that it has been long-winded is not a matter for the Chair, but it has been perfectly in order.
Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. It is not a reflection on the Chair for the hon. Members for Tayside, North (Mr. Walker) and for Dumfries (Sir H. Munro) to describe last night's points of order as frivolous as well as not being points of order? Surely if the Chair accepts a point of order, it is indeed a point of order and is in order. Was not the purpose of last night's points of order to bring out the fact that Sir Jeffrey Sterling, the chairman of P and O, is also the chief adviser to the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry, and to refer to the corruption that was going on last night, in a blatant attempt to buy the votes of hon. Members? Is it not the case that if other people holding public office had conducted themselves in the way which some Conservative Members of Parliament conducted themselves last night, they would have been before the courts today? The truth is that there are now no standards in the House and no one has any authority to lecture anyone about standards in the House after what happened last night.
Order. Before we have further points of order, may I underline what the hon. Gentleman has said. The points of order that have been put to me so far in these exchanges have not been points of order at all, and whether Sir Jeffrey Sterling happens to be an adviser to anyone is not a matter for the Chair. Points of order put to the Chair should be legitimate points of order that the occupants of the Chair can answer. I can answer none of those questions——
Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. I think that you will be aware that over the past three years there has been considerable opposition from Labour Members to the Felixstowe Dock and Railway Company on the basis that there was a fundamental erosion of environmental standards in the area. We were entitled to use the parliamentary means at our disposal to try to oppose the Bill and save that area of wetland, and to ensure that the British Government fulfilled their international agreements to protect the wetland.
Quite rightly, the Chairman of Ways and Means tabled that business for 7 o'clock last night, but it was the Government who chose to table the business motion at 10 o'clock, which enabled the business to continue after that time. It was possible for the Government, at any time after 10 o'clock, to suspend the business so that today's business on Scotland and other matters could take place. It is clear that it is the Government who have decided that they wish to put through private business in that way. Any criticism should be levelled at the Government's decision to support the private Bill, not at Opposition Members who have been legitimately exercising their right to oppose it because of the environmental damage that it would cause.
Order. Let me deal with one point of order at a time. I confirm to the hon. Member for Denton and Reddish (Mr. Bennett) that delay is one of the few weapons given to any Opposition, so that was perfectly in order. It was equally in order for the Government to table a suspension motion.
Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. I should like to raise my point of order with you as the recipient of the next issue of "Erskine May" because the introduction is, by tradition, addressed to the right hon.
Speaker of the House of Commons, and to The Speakers of the Commonwealth, within whose hands the priceless heritage of Parliament is securely held".[Interruption.] No, I am not challenging Mr. Speaker at all. I make my point in all sincerity. Some of us have been here throughout the night. I cannot help observing that, with the honourable exception of the hon. Member for Denton and Reddish (Mr. Bennett), practically everyone on Opposition Benches who has raised a point of order was not here at all. Some of us were and I have completed over 30 hours in the House without a break.
Observing the events of last night, I believed — I admit that I am probably biased — that there were deliberate attempts to obstruct the proceedings of Parliament. On two occasions during two Divisions during the night, I had cause to raise with Mr. Deputy Speaker the fact that there appeared to be obstruction in one of the Lobbies. On one occasion Mr. Deputy Speaker was kind enough to send the Serjeant at Arms, who flushed out four hon. Members who had been in the Lobby and who were delaying proceedings.
Be that as it may, the point that I put to you in all sincerity, Mr. Speaker, in your capacity as the recipient of the next edition of "Erskine May", is this. We all know that the Clerk of the House is charged with the duty of producing "Erskine May". As there is obviously considerable contention over the events during this parliamentary day, will you charge the editor of "Erskine May" to give an impartial account of the events of the 18 or so hours when the House has been sitting on the Bill? Is it possible to insert that in the next edition of "Erskine May", if only as a means of instruction to the Opposition, who have managed to achieve the almost unattainable in these proceedings, by wiping out their own business by their incompetence and piling chaos on confusion?
No. The hon. Member for St. Ives (Mr. Harris) has raised a point of order about "Erskine May" [Interruption.] Will the hon. Gentleman kindly listen to the answer as he raised the point of order with me? He will find in "Eskine May" numerous examples of similar occasions to this. It is nothing new. As I have said, this is a private Bill, so it is not a matter of the Official Opposition seeking to do anything. There are many examples of this happening before. The House should get on with the Bill and bring it to a conclusion.
Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. For the benefit of hon. Members who have not been at Westminster for as long as the hon. Member for St. Ives (Mr. Harris) —he spent some time in another capacity in the House — will you confirm that at 10 pm only a Minister of the Crown can move a motion to suspend the Standing Orders of the House and enable our discussions to continue past that time? Will you also confirm that it is virtually unprecedented for a Minister to move such a motion on private business? Furthermore, was that not the second point of order from the hon. Member for St. Ives on exactly the same point? Did he not move the previous one at 10 minutes past 2 o'clock when he said that because the debate was still under way tomorrow's business had been lost? Is it not deplorable that someone who has spent years in this place, albeit as a hack, does not know the rules of the House and delays business by spurious points of order?