Trust Ports

Oral Answers to Questions — Transport – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 21st November 1994.

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Photo of Mr Hartley Booth Mr Hartley Booth , Finchley 12:00 am, 21st November 1994

To ask the Secretary of State for Transport how many trust ports have been privatised; and what plans there are for further privatisation.

Photo of Mr Steven Norris Mr Steven Norris , Epping Forest

Five trust ports—Tees and Hartlepool, Medway, Clyde, Tilbury and Forth—have taken advantage of the Ports Act 1991 and privatised themselves. I am pleased that Dundee has recently announced its intention to privatise and I hope that other trust ports will also come forward, following the clear success of those which have already taken the step.

Photo of Mr Hartley Booth Mr Hartley Booth , Finchley

Does my hon. Friend agree that the removal of constraints on borrowing and the use of trust port land to which privatisation has led has enabled the trust ports—mercifully—to succeed in the private sector? Does he agree that that should continue, so that the ports can not only succeed but help the process of urban regeneration which is a crucial part of the work of the heart of a city that is so often associated with trust ports and with the position of ports?

Photo of Mr Steven Norris Mr Steven Norris , Epping Forest

My hon. Friend has summed up the position excellently. There is no doubt that the performance of ports that have privatized themselves—compared with their previous performance under national ownership—clearly demonstrates the advantages that are available. I hope that other ports that have the opportunity to consider privatisation will look carefully at those examples.

Photo of Joan Walley Joan Walley Shadow Spokesperson (Transport)

How can we possibly have an integrated transport system when we have a transport policy that is based on fragmentation and privatisation? Why does the Minister not tell us that it is the policy of a bankrupt Government? He could easily change the Treasury rules; then there would be no need for trust ports even to adopt that course. Will he tell the House that he will now remove the compulsory privatisation clause that is causing so much concern to people in the towns of Lerwick and Dover, and elsewhere—

Photo of Joan Walley Joan Walley Shadow Spokesperson (Transport)

Yes, indeed. People in those towns are afraid of the compulsory privatisation that is just a sign of the Government's bankruptcy.

In view of the current concern in the trust port of Lerwick, where it is rumoured that more than 200 people from Bulgaria are about to arrive as mercenaries to take over from existing crews, will the Minister now discuss with the Foreign and Commonwealth Office ways of ensuring that the Bulgarians on the ships are properly protected?

Photo of Mr Steven Norris Mr Steven Norris , Epping Forest

I hope that I can remember all that. The first part comprised the hon. Lady's definition of an integrated transport policy—in other words, any policy other than that being pursued by the Government of the day. It is a meaningless phrase that the hon. Lady trots out from time to time without the slightest indication that she has the vaguest idea what it means.

It is absolutely clear that huge advantages have been delivered by the ports that have privatised themselves—and, moreover, have done so voluntarily. They were delighted to do so, and it has been a hugely successful exercise. [Interruption.] I am glad that the hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) agrees.

If the hon. Lady wishes to bring the issue of Lerwick to the Department's attention, I am sure that my noble Friend the Minister for Aviation and Shipping will be happy to consider whatever representations she wants to make.

Photo of Mr John Marshall Mr John Marshall , Hendon South

Does my hon. Friend accept that, whenever a privatisation takes place, it is opposed by the then Opposition, that five years later it is accepted and that 10 years later they say that they will not reverse it? Will not the same happen in 10 years time with the official Opposition in relation to trust ports?

Photo of Mr Steven Norris Mr Steven Norris , Epping Forest

It is clear to me that what my hon. Friend says is right. All of this is just a knee-jerk, incredibly predictable reaction and, of course, a smokescreen for an absolute dearth of policy and for the huge gains that have been made by the privatised ports.