Electricity Bill (Consideration)

– in the House of Commons at 5:22 pm on 24th July 1989.

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Photo of Tony Blair Tony Blair , Sedgefield 5:22 pm, 24th July 1989

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. In the statement that we have just heard, the Secretary of State for Energy said, perhaps rightly, that no amendment to the Electricity Bill would be required to facilitate the process that he has described. But surely the proposals have very great consequences that would go to the heart of the privatisation provisions. There would be consequences concerning the structure of whatever company would hold the Magnox stations, for accounting procedures and for personnel and pensions matters. The curious thing about the statement is that the proposal will mean that whole chunks of our debates in Committee and on Report will be rendered otiose or will have taken place on a completely false basis.

May I ask you, Mr. Speaker, as a matter of urgency, to see whether, in accordance with the rules of the House, we can at least postpone consideration of the Bill until such time as arrangements can be made for a full and proper debate on the effects of the statement on the Electricity Bill?

Photo of Mr Harry Ewing Mr Harry Ewing , Falkirk East

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker.

Photo of Mr Bernard Weatherill Mr Bernard Weatherill , Croydon North East

Order. It may help the hon. Gentleman if I say that the only thing that he can do, from the procedural point of view, is to move a motion, which I should be prepared to put to the House.

Photo of Mr Harry Ewing Mr Harry Ewing , Falkirk East

Further to the point of order, Mr. Speaker. I apologise to you; we have got on fine during this Session and the last thing that I would want to do would be to upset you at this late stage. Nevertheless, I have a very important point of order. It concerns the effect of the statement by the Secretary of State, not on the Electricity Bill itself, although my hon. Friend the Member for Sedgefield (Mr. Blair) made an important point, but on the money resolution. The House has already passed a money resolution to the Bill. Whatever the cost of the proposal announced by the Secretary of State—we have had some to-ing and fro-ing across the House with figures of between £4·5 billion and £8 billion—that cost is clearly outside the terms of the money resolution.

Rather than allowing the House to get into difficulty by debating proposals that fall outside the terms of the money resolution, would it not be better to take the Electricity Bill off the list of business for today? I know that you do not have the power to do that—or perhaps you have. It is clear, however, that the proposals must contravene the money resolution and I ask you to look into this matter carefully before we start to debate the Bill.

Photo of Alan Williams Alan Williams , Swansea West

Further to the point of order, Mr. Speaker. I am grateful to you for the guidance that you have given my hon. Friend the Member for Sedgefield (Mr. Blair). Last week, you wisely intervened and agreed to the adjournment of questions on a statement to allow proper information to be made available, and I gather that your are willing to consider the possibility of adjourning the proceedings on the Electricity Bill. We seek your guidance, Mr. Speaker, because you will understand that, as the Secretary of State has said, there need be no further legislation. That means that this is the very last opportunity that we shall have for a debate.

As my hon. Friend the Member for Sedgefield said, our debates over the past few months would undoubtedly have taken a very different form had the information that has been made available today been available before, not just to this House but to the other place, which will now have absolutely no opportunity to absorb the proposals. We would therefore wish to take advantage of the procedural opportunity that you have suggested. Will you please tell us when is precisely the right time to move that we suspend or adjourn further proceedings on the Lords amendments? We shall then do just that.

Photo of Mr Bernard Weatherill Mr Bernard Weatherill , Croydon North East

The right time to move such a motion would be once the Orders of the Day have been read, and I would put the Question upon it forthwith.

Photo of Ian McCartney Ian McCartney , Makerfield

Further to the point of order, Mr. Speaker. The Secretary of State said that there would be no requirement to amend the Bill. He used as his excuse the provisions of paragraph (4) of schedule 12, which refers to his powers to specify by order that the sum may exceed £1,000 million. My hon. Friends and I then asked the Secretary of State specific questions about the setting up of a company, and he admitted that he was setting up a generating company.

Photo of Mr Bernard Weatherill Mr Bernard Weatherill , Croydon North East

Order. None of this is a matter for me. The hon. Gentleman persists in referring to what the Minister said, and I am not responsible for that.

Photo of Ian McCartney Ian McCartney , Makerfield

I understand that, but I am trying to make a point of order regarding the business before us. In bringing this business before the House, the Secretary of State has told you, Mr. Speaker, that amendments to the Bill will not be required. Yet in his statement he said that he would be setting up a generating company to deal with Magnox—

Photo of Mr Bernard Weatherill Mr Bernard Weatherill , Croydon North East

Order. No, the hon. Gentleman must pursue this matter under business relating to statutory instruments. It is not a matter for me.

Photo of Ian McCartney Ian McCartney , Makerfield

Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker.

Photo of Mr Bernard Weatherill Mr Bernard Weatherill , Croydon North East

Order. It is not a matter for me.

Photo of Mr Tony Benn Mr Tony Benn , Chesterfield

But has the Minister made a statement converting the Bill into a hybrid Bill, Mr. Speaker, in which case it is a matter for you? That is the point. The Minister has dropped the Bill today—[Interruption.] Well, he has dropped the main provisions of the Bill. He has said that he proposes to introduce a new Bill involving a public and a private generating provision, as my hon. Friend the Member for Makerfield (Mr. McCartney) has said, and the electricity will therefore come from a hybrid system.

With respect, Mr. Speaker, you will recall the arguments over the Aircraft and Shipbuilding Industries Act in 1975, when hybridity became a very important question. I am asking you, Mr. Speaker, to consider whether it is in order for you to allow a Bill to proceed when a statement has been made that contains a clear indication that hybridity has been introduced and when we are considering the Lords amendments.

Photo of Mr Bernard Weatherill Mr Bernard Weatherill , Croydon North East

At the moment, we are supposed to be discussing Lords amendments. No amendment is to be brought forward by the Minister today.

Photo of Mr Michael Foot Mr Michael Foot , Blaenau Gwent

Further to the point of order, Mr. Speaker. A few minutes ago, in your guidance to the House, you said that the matter would be put to the House and that you would be prepared to consider a motion proposing the adjournment of the debate, and—if I may say so respectfully—that is the very best advice that could be given to the House. I am sure that my hon. Friends on the Front Bench will take up that suggestion and move the adjournment, in which case it will be a debatable motion, will it not?

Photo of Mr Bernard Weatherill Mr Bernard Weatherill , Croydon North East

We have had nearly an hour on this matter, and I would certainly be prepared—

Photo of Ian McCartney Ian McCartney , Makerfield

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Mr. Speaker: No.

Photo of Ian McCartney Ian McCartney , Makerfield

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker.

Photo of Ian McCartney Ian McCartney , Makerfield

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker.

Photo of Mr Bernard Weatherill Mr Bernard Weatherill , Croydon North East

No. I am on my feet, and the hon. Gentleman has been here long enough to know that he must not interrupt the occupant of the Chair.

Following what the right hon. Member for Blaenau Gwent (Mr. Foot) said, I shall put the dilatory motion to the House, if it is moved, for the reasons that we have heard over the past hour. The hon. Member for Makerfield (Mr. McCartney) must not persist in raising points of order with me that are not my responsibility.

Photo of Mr Michael Foot Mr Michael Foot , Blaenau Gwent

May I confirm that the dilatory motion is debatable? I am sure that the House will understand that.

Photo of Mr Bernard Weatherill Mr Bernard Weatherill , Croydon North East

I intend to put the motion forthwith, on the ground that we have had an hour of questions to the Minister.

Photo of Ian McCartney Ian McCartney , Makerfield

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Clause 63(1)(a) says that two companies shall be designated as generating companies". Those words appear on the face of the Bill. The Secretary of State said today that there would be a third generating company, but there are no legislative powers in the Bill for that. That is the point that we have been trying to make. Schedule 12 provides the Secretary of State with the ability to make an order for costs. The Secretary of State does not have the power to amend the Bill today to set up a third generating company, which is precisely what he said in his statement. Clause 63 does not allow him to do that without amendment.

Photo of Mr Bernard Weatherill Mr Bernard Weatherill , Croydon North East

That is as may be, but the Secretary of State has not brought forward an amendment.