I welcome the opportunity to debate the future of trust ports. I am grateful for the interest shown by my hon. Friends the Members for Harwich (Mr. Henderson), for Dover (Mr. Prosser) and for Tynemouth (Mr. Campbell) and by those who represent other port constituencies. Unfortunately, others cannot be here, including my hon. Friend Mr. Ainger and Mrs. Brooke. Many hon. Members who noted the subject of today's debate but who were not too well versed on trust ports wondered what was of such great interest. I shall therefore start by sketching out briefly what the debate is about.
Five years ago, in 2000, the Office for National Statistics ruled that trust ports with a turnover above a threshold of £6.6 million, or those with a majority of members appointed by the Government, should be regarded as public bodies and subject to public sector borrowing requirements. Uncertainty over borrowing created various problems for those ports, as a result of which harbour revision orders were issued last year.
Those orders would have resolved the matter but for objections, made most notably by Mr. Chope—I am pleased to see him in his place—and the Major Ports Group. Those objections were raised in order to leave open the option to privatise those ports. Worries about privatisation were reinforced last week by the official Opposition's announcement that they would certainly want to privatise Dover in order to release money for road schemes.