Tees and Hartlepool Port Authority Bill

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 10:18 pm on 22nd October 1990.

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Photo of Mr Edward Leadbitter Mr Edward Leadbitter , Hartlepool 10:18 pm, 22nd October 1990

My hon. Friend the Member for Bradford, South (Mr. Cryer) is right. I have much experience of asset stripping. I used to call them professional enclosures. I used to mix with what was called the high-risk entrepreneurs, who would put their hands in the public purse for grants and loans, and when the time came to repay, would close the shop and go to other countries to open some factories, taking the equipment with them.

There used to be a company in my constituency called Foster Wheelers, which employed a lot of people. Rolls-Royce took it over, and it is now shut. The £15 million worth of defence nuclear orders that we had for many years disappeared, with some of the equipment going to a company in Newcastle called NEI, and some going to Derby. I hear that Parsons is talking of getting rid of 650 men because of the Gulf crisis. That is nonsense. There are not 650 men working out there. It just so happens that Rolls-Royce is working behind the scenes. They call it restructuring and reorganisation.

I have here another question from the minutes. Counsel asked: If we had minutes now, we would find nothing until recent times which would suggest that you were disenchanted with your position. He was referring to the minutes of the authority. Mr. Hackney said, "Yes." The significance of the reference to the minutes is that counsel, who was paid a lot of money for his services, applied to the port authority for a look at the minutes of the undertaking over the previous three years, and was refused. So counsel had to formlate his question in that way to find out when Mr. Hackney and his secretary, and possibly a couple of others, became disenchanted.

I notice that the chairman of the authority has not said a ruddy word. He has been a silent partner—the do-as-you-are-told boy, whose name I do not even know. He was not in the Committee. He thinks that he rules the roost, but he does not. There is a kind of freemasonery working over there. Counsel wanted to get to the meaning of the minutes. He wanted to pinpoint the stage at which there was thought of privatisation. As he could not find that information in the minutes, he had to rely on the word of the chief executive. He asked: At what point were you disenchanted with your position?—only recently? The chief executive replied: That is so. Question: You can carry on Port-related business of every kind under your present powers. What we have to say to one another in this place must not and does not interfere with our regard for one another, but I say to the House, and especially to the hon. Member for Langbaurgh, that when the chief executive answered the question, he simply said yes. That appears on page 11 of the second volume of minutes.

Counsel then asked: Can development sites anywhere in the country be done, financed and invested in if they contribute to the welfare of the port? Mr. Hackney's reply was "Yes". There is no doubt about that answer. He was then asked: Could you establish an outpost, if you wished, on the Continent instead of the service between it and the port provided that it benefited the port? The answer was yes.

The important words are "benefit of the port". As there is a holding company, a successor company and resources generally, surely any operation should be carried out to benefit the port. What is there in the Bill that differs from that?

A member of the committee—my hon. Friend the Member for Derbyshire, North-East—asked a significant question which appears on page 20 of the second volume of minutes. My hon. Friend asked: What advice have you received from the Department of Transport? This was the answer: The Department of Transport advised that the harbour revision route was not a route that the port authority could go down. We were advised by the Government that they would like to pass legislation, but because of the backlog of the legislation business"— that is the enabling Bill— within the House it was unlikely that enabling legislation to enable trust ports to privatise could be passed. We know there was a degree of sympathy. I have a list of the foreign and domestic traffic in the major ports that is split into five groups.