Previous Section Home Page

Mr. Taylor : Will the Minister give way ?

Column 780

Mr. Deputy Speaker : Order. The Minister has made it clear that he is not giving way.

Mr. Smith : I do not think that there is anything I can usefully add to what I have said.

Mr. Taylor : Will the Minister give way on that subject ?

Mr. Smith : The hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, North (Mr. McNamara) said that the port of Belfast

Mr. Taylor : On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. We are talking about procedure, and I find myself in great sympathy with what the Minister said.

Mr. Deputy Speaker : Order. That is not a point for me at all. I would think that the hon. Gentleman's point is intended to refer to why the Minister is not giving way. The Minister has made it clear that he is not giving way.

Mr. Smith rose

Mr. Taylor : I need a ruling on what you know, rather than on what you think , Mr. Deputy Speaker.

Mr. Deputy Speaker : It is up to the Minister to give way or not. He has indicated that he is not giving way.

Mr. Smith : The hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, North asked about the clawback of European grants. In certain circumstances, grants could be clawed back.

Mr. John D. Taylor : On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker.

Mr. Deputy Speaker : I hope that it is a different point of order.

Mr. Taylor : It concerns your decision, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Is it right to make a decision on what you think, or on what you know ?

Mr. Deputy Speaker : The Chair has made a decision, so it should be right.

Mr. Smith : As I was saying, in certain instances European grants could be clawed back. If they were, the amount clawed back would be reduced from the proceeds that went to the Treasury.

Mr. McNamara : The Minister is now saying that we would receive a sum, half of which would go to the company, and that any clawback would not be pro rata with the company but would be straight from the Treasury's take. Gosh, that is marvellous. This is a double Dutch order.

Mr. Smith : That is the position. I have answered the hon. Gentleman's question. We have made no decision about the matter. The order is an enabling measure. But he should remember that, if we decide to go ahead with privatisation, bids will be based on the information that I have just given the House.

Ms Walley : Will the Minister give way ?

Mr. Smith : No, because I want to deal with the hon. Gentleman's second point, about a management-employee buy-out. I agree with him that, in many ways, that would be the most desirable outcome, which is why the order makes special provision for such a buy-out, providing help to those who want to make a bid at the appropriate time.

Column 781

The hon. Member for Belfast, East (Mr. Robinson) was concerned about procedure, should we decide to go ahead with compulsory privatisation. As I said, we have made no decision about that, but if we decided to go ahead, we would want to consider carefully whether the matter should be debated on the Floor of the House. I think that it would probably be debated in response to a prayer.

Mr. Trimble : A few moments ago, in reply to the hon. Member for Wolverhampton, South-West (Mr. Budgen), the Minister said that he had great sympathy with his view that this matter was being dealt with inadequately. One way in which he could demonstrate that sympathy is by giving a clear undertaking to the House that, in the event of the Government deciding to make an order for privatisation, the matter will be debated in the House in a proper manner. Will he give that clear undertaking now ?

Mr. Smith : I do not think that that would be sensible. We are discussing a hypothetical proposition. We shall give the matter careful consideration. Obviously, it depends from where the prayer comes. I think that the matter will be of sufficient importance to warrant a debate. Given that the Government have made no decision about the compulsory privatisation of the port of Belfast, and the fact that we have two years during which we shall want to hear the views of various people, not least the harbour commissioners, it would not be sensible to give such an undertaking now.

Several hon. Members rose

Mr. Smith : I shall not give way, as I wish to deal with the point raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Castle Point (Dr. Spink), who asked me about the harbour office. The harbour office is a grade A listed building, and it would continue to enjoy that protection even if the port were privatised.

Mr. Budgen : Does my hon. Friend seriously believe that a procedure that allows for no amendment is a satisfactory way to deal with the privatisation of a port ? Why does he carry on in that way if he wants to achieve the support of the people of Northern Ireland for this institution ?

Mr. Smith : I have already dealt with my hon. Friend's point. I have nothing to add to what I have already said.

The hon. Member for Belfast, North (Mr. Walker) was concerned about the environment and areas of special scientific interest. We would want to take that important matter into consideration if we were considering the compulsory privatisation of the port, but that ASSI status will remain, and the area will enjoy the same protection whether the business remains in the public sector or not. I welcome the fact that my hon. Friend the Member for Brigg and Cleethorpes (Mr. Brown) brought to bear his experience and knowledge of the port of Immingham and the success that the port has enjoyed following privatisation. Many ports in Great Britain have enjoyed similar success following privatisation, which is why I believe that, in certain circumstances, Belfast could benefit similarly.

Ms Walley : I am grateful to the Minister for giving way, but does he accept that there is a difference between voluntary privatisation of trust ports and compulsory privatisation of trust ports, which cannot be properly debated in this place ?

Column 782

Mr. Smith : I certainly accept that there is a difference, and this is an enabling measure. First, we want to discover the opinion of the Belfast harbour commissioners. We want to find out whether they bring forward their own voluntary scheme in the next two years. It will be open to us, as a matter of law, to consider compulsory privatisation only in two years' time. Many of the important matters mentioned in the debate will be relevant to that consideration.

The hon. Member for North Devon (Mr. Harvey) acknowledged that some advantages would accrue from privatisation, and I welcome that. Obviously, there are some very strong arguments in favour of privatisation, and some arguments against it have been adduced during the debate.

The hon. Member for Antrim, South (Mr. Forsythe) was especially worried about the Belfast harbour police. The Belfast harbour commissioners, as the port authority for Belfast harbour, appoint and employ harbour police by virtue of section 79 of the Harbours, Docks, and Piers Clauses Act 1847, to which the hon. Gentleman referred. The responsibility of the harbour police force is to employ a general policing and security service for the harbour estate, which comprises about 2,000 acres, as the hon. Gentleman said.

Training of recruits in general policing matters is carried out by senior officers of the force. All new recruits are given short-term training by the Royal Ulster Constabulary. Training of members of the force in the use of firearms is carried out by a senior harbour police arms instructor, who is a fully qualified instructor, trained by the RUC. Members of the force receive refresher courses in the use of firearms every six months, and each member is issued with written instructions regarding the circumstances in which firearms may be used.

Mr. Mackinlay : What will happen in future ?

Mr. Smith : The answer to the hon. Gentleman's question is that in future the same arrangements will prevail. There will be no change in the present arrangements when--if--the port is privatised. If the port is privatised, there will be the same arrangements for the harbour police.

Mr. Beggs : Will the Minister take the opportunity, as he has the Floor, to explain to those of us who oppose the proposal for privatisation or enabling legislation what he regards as the advantages, if any, that will flow to Belfast harbour commissioners from privatisation ?

Mr. Smith : Given the record of ports privatisation in Great Britain, I believe that considerable good news could follow, as business has held up well in those ports in spite of the recession ; there has been a big improvement in productivity ; financial reconstruction and rationalisation are continuing ; employee involvement in the industry has been extended significantly ; managers are being given the freedom to manage, and are actively seeking out and developing new business opportunities. The Government have made no decision about the privatisation of Belfast port, but I believe that those are some of the advantages that could accrue if they did decide to proceed.

Mr. Trimble : Will the Minister take on board the point that the experience in England is not relevant to a position where one will be disadvantaging Belfast significantly with regard to the capital that it can raise compared with its

Column 783

competitor ? What does he say about the position with regard to European development money, where our grant will be cut from 75 per cent. to 50 per cent. or less, so we shall be disadvantaged ?

Mr. Smith : I dealt with that matter earlier.

It being three hours after the motion had been entered upon, Mr. Deputy Speaker-- put the Question, pursuant to Order [24 June]. The House divided : Ayes 287, Noes 220


Division No. 276] [10.24 pm Ainsworth, Peter (East Surrey)

Aitken, Jonathan

Alison, Rt Hon Michael (Selby)

Allason, Rupert (Torbay)

Amess, David

Ancram, Michael

Arbuthnot, James

Arnold, Jacques (Gravesham)

Arnold, Sir Thomas (Hazel Grv)

Ashby, David

Aspinwall, Jack

Atkins, Robert

Atkinson, Peter (Hexham)

Baker, Rt Hon K. (Mole Valley)

Baker, Nicholas (Dorset North)

Baldry, Tony

Banks, Matthew (Southport)

Banks, Robert (Harrogate)

Bates, Michael

Batiste, Spencer

Bellingham, Henry

Bendall, Vivian

Beresford, Sir Paul

Blackburn, Dr John G.

Body, Sir Richard

Bonsor, Sir Nicholas

Booth, Hartley

Boswell, Tim

Bottomley, Peter (Eltham)

Bottomley, Rt Hon Virginia

Bowis, John

Boyson, Rt Hon Sir Rhodes

Brandreth, Gyles

Brazier, Julian

Bright, Graham

Brooke, Rt Hon Peter

Brown, M. (Brigg & Cl'thorpes)

Browning, Mrs. Angela

Bruce, Ian (S Dorset)

Burns, Simon

Burt, Alistair

Butcher, John

Butler, Peter

Butterfill, John

Carlisle, John (Luton North)

Carttiss, Michael

Cash, William

Chapman, Sydney

Churchill, Mr

Clappison, James

Clark, Dr Michael (Rochford)

Clarke, Rt Hon Kenneth (Ruclif)

Clifton-Brown, Geoffrey

Coe, Sebastian

Colvin, Michael

Congdon, David

Conway, Derek

Coombs, Anthony (Wyre For'st)

Coombs, Simon (Swindon)

Cope, Rt Hon Sir John

Cormack, Patrick

Couchman, James

Cran, James

Currie, Mrs Edwina (S D'by'ire)

Curry, David (Skipton & Ripon)

Davies, Quentin (Stamford)

Davis, David (Boothferry)

Day, Stephen

Deva, Nirj Joseph

Devlin, Tim

Dicks, Terry

Dorrell, Stephen

Douglas-Hamilton, Lord James

Dover, Den

Duncan, Alan

Duncan-Smith, Iain

Durant, Sir Anthony

Dykes, Hugh

Eggar, Tim

Elletson, Harold

Emery, Rt Hon Sir Peter

Evans, David (Welwyn Hatfield)

Evans, Jonathan (Brecon)

Evans, Nigel (Ribble Valley)

Evans, Roger (Monmouth)

Evennett, David

Faber, David

Fabricant, Michael

Fairbairn, Sir Nicholas

Fenner, Dame Peggy

Field, Barry (Isle of Wight)

Fishburn, Dudley

Forman, Nigel

Forsyth, Michael (Stirling)

Forth, Eric

Fowler, Rt Hon Sir Norman

Fox, Dr Liam (Woodspring)

Fox, Sir Marcus (Shipley)

Freeman, Rt Hon Roger

French, Douglas

Gale, Roger

Gallie, Phil

Gardiner, Sir George

Garnier, Edward

Gill, Christopher

Gillan, Cheryl

Goodson-Wickes, Dr Charles

Gorman, Mrs Teresa

Gorst, Sir John

Grant, Sir A. (Cambs SW)

Greenway, Harry (Ealing N)

Greenway, John (Ryedale)

Griffiths, Peter (Portsmouth, N)

Grylls, Sir Michael

Gummer, Rt Hon John Selwyn

Hague, William

Hamilton, Rt Hon Sir Archie

Hamilton, Neil (Tatton)

Hampson, Dr Keith

Hanley, Jeremy

Hannam, Sir John

Hargreaves, Andrew

Haselhurst, Alan

Hawkins, Nick

Next Section

  Home Page